Out and about: Chasing the Dragon

October has been amazing month of cinema releases for me. The last I am going to write about is Chasing The Dragon. Hong Kong cinema is considered to be in its death throws. There are small independent films of course, but its far from its hey day with production houses known around the world like Shaw Brothers, Golden Harvest or Media Asia.

Mainland productions have the money and many technical experts and directors now work across the border. Korea has come on in leaps and bounds taking up the overseas arthouse audience.

There aren’t many new stars coming through, even in Chasing the Dragon; character actors and main stars are largely industry veterans since the 1990s. However, Chasing the Dragon gives me some hope for the Hong Kong film. Its an unashamedly Hong Kong film focusing on the economic boom of the 1960s and mid-1970s. It is a technical tour-de-force. Much of the Hong Kong shown in the film from old Wan Chai to the Kowloon walled city only exist in fading photographs. So much of it was green screened in instead.

It is probably too local for a mainland audience to fully appreciate the nuances and historical references. It shows a Hong Kong on the ascendancy, rather than suffering under a century of shame. It also holds up an unflinching view of British colonialism with its rampant individual corruption.

A modern British audience would have very little idea of how serving British police officers at all levels and government officials were central cogs in the corruption. Eventually the stench got to much when chief superintendent Peter Godber was found to have over $600,000 US stashed away.

Andy Lau plays ‘Lee Rock’ a clear analogue of Lui Mo Lok (呂慕樂) a corrupt policeman known as the The Five-Hundred-Million-Dollar Inspector by Hong Kong people. In some respects one can view Chasing The Dragon as a reboot of the 1991 film Lee Rock II where Lau played the same character through the same time period. Chasing the Dragon adds verve, detail and taunt storytelling to the mix.

The film is being shown at the Odeon in Panton Street.

 

Out and about: The Villainess (Ak-Nyeo)

This month has been a vintage month for cinema in London. The Villainess is a Korean film built around actress Kim Ok-bin. It is a vengeance film and there will be comparisons to the likes of Oldboy. There are also hints of Nikita and Kill Bill (which in turn raided Asian cinema mercilessly).

The Villainess

It is the most ‘kinetic’ film that I have seen in a long time with visceral action scenes, fast editing and amazing steadicam work. The plot has a number of twists and turns in it.

Get out, watch it (it has been running at the Prince Charles cinema).

Out and about: Blade Runner 2049

*** No plot spoilers*** Where do you start when talking about the most hyped film of the year?

Blade Runner 2049 starts up some 20 years after the original film. It captures the visuals of the original film, moving it onwards.  The plot has a series of recursive sweeps that tightly knit both films together which at times feels a little forced, a bit like the devices used to join Jeremy Renner’s Bourne Legacy to the Matt Damon canon.

Blade Runner 2049

The 1982 film took the neon, rain and high density living of Hong Kong in the late summer and packaged it up for a western audience.  Ever since I first saw  it represented a darker, but more colourful future. I felt inspired, ready to embrace the future warts and all after seeing it for the first time.

The new film is a darker greyer vision largely devoid of hope. You still see the Pan Am and Atari buildings of the first film, now joined with brands like Diageo. The police cars are now made by Peugeot. It also captures the visual language of the book, something that Scott hadn’t done in the original to the same extent. In the book, Dick (and the Dekkard character) obsess on how the depopulated world’s crumbling ephemera is rapidly becoming dust.

Visually the film dials down its influences from Hong Kong, Tokyo or Singapore and instead borrows from the crumbling industrial relics of the west and third world scrap driven scavenging from e-waste in China and Ghana to the ship breaking yards of Bangladesh. The filthy smog and snow is like a lurid tabloid exposé of northern China’s choking pollution during the winter. It paints a vision more in tune with today. Automation and technology have disrupted society, but orphans are still exploited for unskilled labour and vice is rampant.

Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford do very capable performances. And they are supported by a great ensemble of cast members of great character actors at the top of their game. Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, Barkhad Abdi (Eye in The Sky) and David Dastmalchian (MacGyver, Antman, and The Dark Knight). The one let down is Jared Leto – who now seems to play the same character in every film since his career high point of Dallas Buyer’s Club – I suspect that this is as much a problem with casting as performance. I think he needs to be cast against type more.

For a three-hour film it still manages to hold your attention and draw you in to its universe without feeling tired. It’s also a film that forces you to think, so if you are looking for visual wallpaper for the mind a la Marvel’s Avengers series of films it won’t be for you.

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Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week:

Want to know what all the fuss is about with regards WeChat? Vivienne Wei put together this great (if unstructured) video about how WeChat is the swiss army knife of apps in China. Check it out

Carl Jr is a casual eating restaurant chain in the US. It is owned by the same people who won Hardee’s. Carl Jr is known for producing frat boy / brogrammer-friendly adverts like these

Wiser heads seem to have prevailed in the marketing department, so they came up with this ad to press reset using humour rather than the indignation of political correctness

Vice and New Balance have put together a documentary on the Japanese adoption of the footwork sub-culture. Japan has a history of adopting a subculture (like dancehall) and elevating it. Chicago’s footwork skills look like they are getting the same treatment

The King of Monster Island Godzilla is back in an anime film. The plot looks like Avatar – humans coming to wipe out planet for commercial / political benefits. Of course all of that plan will go to shit when they find out the inhabitants aren’t lanky blue people but the original kaiju bad boy and friends.

I got to see Baby Driver. It is a curious mashup of

  • 1980s style films popularised by John Hughes
  • 1990s to the present day gritty heist films

The iPod makes a come back in the film in a spectacular way, expect a minor cultural backlash against ‘radio’ as music service currently popular. Personally curated, shareable music and physical artefacts come to the fore. (Though I still can’t see young men proudly carrying rhinestone encrusted pink iPods just yet).

Takeaways: In2 Innovation Summit

I got invited to The Holmes Report‘s innovation summit. This happened earlier in the day than The Sabre EMEA awards. 

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Here were my takeouts in no particular order:
 
  • Brad Staples presentation on reputation in a fake news environment gave me deja vu. It reminded me of corporate communications thinking when social media came to prominence. In many respects the symptoms are the same. The agenda running out-of-control like a force of nature. Yet, it is only the momentum has changed, core principles to address reputation are the same. There was an increased emphasis on monitoring. Monitoring and response became even more important than with social media’s rise
  • The age-old tension between specialist and generalist continues to roll onwards. Alan Vandermolen saw medium-sized agencies as sitting in a ‘Goldilocks’ position. Small enough for your business to matter and being able to move fast. Large enough to have the right expertise and scale in place. The challenge to his argument is global agencies consolidating a one-stop shop offering. Vandermolen didn’t address the move away from being a ‘PR agency’. The Holmes Report had highlighted their concern in a recent opinion piece. Vandermolen was also concerned with the disappearance of PR professionals on the client side. He cited United Airways customer problems from broken guitars to dragging passengers off planes. The discussion didn’t cover how the airline’s focus on shareholder value had corrupted customer-centricity
  • Matt Battersby and Dan Berry looked at public relations and behavioural economics. What I found interesting is how this provided a direct linkage to return on investment. Yet the audience didn’t pick up on this in questions. It also represented a content challenge to agencies. It flips the typical messages that they would look deliver (driven by what’s news)
  • There was a tension between what agencies could do and what clients wanted. Abby Guthkelch wanted a more agile approach to content that was also more cost effective. This meant that she often worked with inhouse staff and content development agencies. There was a strong sense that creative ideas and concepts were not worth paying for. This puts little value in communications agencies. Content marketing poses an existential threat to PR agencies margins. It was interesting that marketing automation didn’t come up in discussions. Inhouse panelists preferred to move capability inhouse rather than relying on offshoring work
  • Finally, there was the evergreen theme of marketers and PRs speaking different languages. PRs need to get comfortable with data and charts. They need to think about testing. This needs to happen whilst budgets are static or in decline. A way forward is to move down the marketing funnel to be closer to the sale in e-commerce and via social channels. I found the continued faith in influencers of interest. I was surprised at the lack of concern shown on the agency side for zero-based budgeting at clients
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