Winning Wong

2046 extras add layers to interpretation

Rating: NNNNN


(Sony, 2004) D: Wong Kari-wai w/Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang. Rating: NNNN

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In this sort-of sequel to Wong Kar-wai’s multi-award winner In The Mood For Love, Tony Leung’s failed lover turns into a cad. Now he takes his thin pleasures from getting women to fall in love with him, then rejecting them while he remains hopelessly hung up on the memory of lost love.

Here’s an occasion for an orgy of great acting moments, mostly involving heartbreak, from a quartet of Asia’s top female actors. Ziyi Zhang, Gong Li, Carina Lau and Faye Wong give it their all, and the director helps them make the most of it with languid, gliding camera and pace, sensuous score and gorgeous costumes. Leung neither vanishes in the face of all this power nor steals scenes. He plays into his partners, highlighting their moments while adding complexity to his own character.

It’s remarkable work, more so because it teeters so close to Casablanca-like kitsch. Make Leung’s character noble or add a happy ending and the whole thing would tip into arty soap opera.

It’s dense with allusions to Wong’s earlier works and to other movies, so the making-of doc and the explanation of the sources and uses of the score add layers of meaning that aren’t necessarily apparent on first viewing. That’s a result of an unscripted shoot spread over four years. Wong’s produced dreadful tedium with that method in the past, but it looks like his days of being wild are behind him at last.

Extras Making-of doc Wong Kar-wai, Leung and Zhang interviews deleted scenes alternate ending music montage music doc numbers doc CGI doc. Wide-screen. Cantonese/Mandarin soundtrack. English, Spanish subtitles.

Have Gun – Will Travel, the complete third season

(Paramount, 1959) creators: Herb Meadow, Sam Rolfe, w/ Richard Boone. Rating: NNNN

Gunsmoke, 50th anniversary, vols. 1 & 2

(Paramount, 1955-74) creator: John Meston, w/ James Arness, Amanda Blake. Rating: NNN

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Back when episodic westerns made up half of prime time on the three U.S. networks, these were two of the best, pitched to an adult audience and built on solid writing and acting. There’s no question that Gunsmoke is the better box, a best-of collection in which every episode’s a winner. The standout among standouts, though, is the final entry in volume 2. Bette Davis stars, along with Bruce Dern and a very young Tom Skerritt. Davis turns in a fiery performance, and Dern’s stellar commentary ranges from the importance of episodic westerns to the shame of seeing Bette Davis reduced to guesting in one.

But Have Gun – Will Travel is by far the more interesting series. The extras are nothing, a few printed bios, and the DVD covers a single season, best and worst included. But where Gunsmoke is a conventional television show with its little gang of regulars providing coziness, and a standard western in its law-and-order stance, HGWT turns those expectations upside down and stomps all over them.

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Series hero Paladin is a gun for hire. He lives the good life in San Francisco, all lace cuffs and elegant women, but works in the dirt of the Wild West, taking on whatever commissions come his way. They’re not always clean, and he doesn’t always win. He’s an educated, cultured, philosophical man in a world of brutal yokels obsessed with vengeance and cruelty. Paladin is just as savage when need be (in one episode he literally forgives a man to death), but he’s painfully aware of his own contradictions.

The overt metaphor is the Arthurian knight and his chivalric code, but the series is written and played like film noir. It values urbanity and education over American heartland gun lust, while the moral dodginess of all concerned echoes thoughtful samurai flicks like Yojimbo and foreshadows 70s corrupt cops like Dirty Harry, whom HGWT writer Harry Julian Fink went on to create.

Though there’s no shortage of strong guest turns, method actor Richard Boone carries the series. It’s a great performance. Gunsmoke’s James Arness, as Dodge City’s Marshall Dillon, doesn’t come close. Gunsmoke is fun nostalgia. HGWT still packs a punch.

Extras Have Gun – Will Travel: actor bios and production notes, selected episodes. Full frame, b&w. Spanish subtitles. Gunsmoke: John Wayne series intro, Arness intro on all episodes, actor commentary on selected episodes, bloopers, cast appearances on other shows. Full frame, b&w and colour.

The White Dragon

(Sony, 2004) D: Wilson Yip, w/ Cecilia Cheung, Francis Ng. Rating: NN

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Don’t be fooled by the box. this isn’t a Crouching Tiger- or Hero-style wuxia extravaganza it’s a mild romance with a bit of stylized wire-work swordplay at each end, a bit of silly comedy scattered throughout and a whole lot of sentimental mooning around.

She’s the spoiled rich girl with martial arts superpowers. He’s the blind assassin she’s sworn to kill. Then she breaks her leg and he nurses her back to health so much for her pending marriage to the prince.

It’s all handsomely mounted and pleasantly done but never achieves more than a few moments of mild amusement. But what do you expect from a movie whose hero calls himself Chicken Feathers?

Extras Wide-screen. Cantonese, English, French soundtracks. English, French, Spanish, Portuguese subtitles.

Into The Blue

(MGM, 2005) D: John Stockwell, w/ Paul Walker, Jessica Alba. Rating: NN

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As we hunker down in the depths of Canadian winter, there are many worse ways to waste 110 minutes of our only lives than watching hotties and hunks frolic with the fishes in the spectacularly photographed, shark-infested waters of the Bahamas.

Which is what we do here for the first hour, except when Scott Caan is onscreen as our hero’s sleazeball best friend. He brings lots of comic energy to the kind of character we’re praying the sharks will get. Ditto for Ashley Scott as his equally slimy girlfriend. Beside them, Paul Walker and Jessica Alba look like the hard-body walking dead.

Eventually, a moderately engaging thriller wanders in, strewing sunken treasure, sunken cocaine, cranky drug lords and crankier sharks. Happily, much of it plays out underwater, so it doesn’t interfere with the movie’s primary source of pleasure.

Extras Director commentary, making-of doc, deleted scenes, screen tests. Wide-screen. English, French soundtracks. English, French subtitles.

Coming Tuesday, January 10

Sam Peckinpah Legendary Westerns Collection

(WB) The Wild Bunch two-disc edition (1969), Ride The High Country (1962), Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (1973), The Ballad Of Cable Hogue (1970) – four of the director’s best.

The Constant Gardner

(Alliance, 2005) Ralph Fiennes in a John Le Carré suspense tale.

Red Eye

(DreamWorks, 2005) Suspense from horrormeister Wes Craven.

Hustle & Flow

(Paramount, 2005) Highly acclaimed character study of a pimp in mid-life crisis.

= Critics’ Pick

NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact

NNNN = very good

NNN = worth a peek

NN = Mediocre

N = Bomb

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