Khamis, 17 Oktober 2013

The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

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The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

Donnie Yen keeps it real


Ip Man who? With a new film out, Donnie Yen is hoping fans will see him in a different light.

DONNIE Yen is not Ip Man.

Almost as soon as we sat down for an exclusive one-on-one interview with the martial arts superstar last week to chat about his new movie Special ID, Yen was distancing himself from the role that made him a global superstar.

"Ip Man has been really popular and now everyone thinks Donnie Yen is like Ip Man. Hence, I've put a lot of effort trying to break away from that. This (Special ID) role is so radical ... it's the complete extreme opposite of Ip Man," he stressed.

Never mind the role, Yen himself could not be more different from the legendary Wing Chun master he played in the two Ip Man movies. Looking sharp in his dapper dark grey suit, the 50-year-old seems humble and self-effacing at first, but exudes an aura of immense self-confidence and calm power.

When you look him in the eye, you can see a hint of danger behind that steely stare, which immediately reminds you that this is a man who can go toe-to-toe with some of the greatest martial arts actors in the world. Even when he flashes that gentle, humble smile that his Ip Man is so well-known for, you still get a sense that this is a man whom you really don't want to mess with, ever.

Yen was in town last Thursday to promote Special ID, a visit that included a meet-the-fans session at Paradigm Mall as well as closed door meet-and-greet event for UOB Bank Privilege Banking customers.

Directed by Clarence Fok, the movie has Yen on triple duty — besides starring in the film, he is also the action choreographer as well as the producer of a film for the very first time.

Donnie Yen

Donnie Yen delivers another power-packed performance in Special ID

In the film, Yen plays Chen Zilong, an undercover police officer within one of China's most ruthless underworld gangs, whose leader, Xiong (Collin Chau), has made it his priority to weed out every single mole within his organisation.

With his fellow undercover agents disappearing one by one, Chen must now risk everything to take down the gang once and for all, and reclaim his life and his identity before it is too late. The movie also stars Andy On, Zhang Hanyu, Ronald Cheng and China actress Jing Tian.

Calling Special ID an "upgraded version of SPL and Flash Point" in terms of production values and martial arts techniques, Yen said he made a conscious decision to make sure his role was as different as possible from that of Ip Man.

"I don't think the audience has ever seen me play a role like this. It's very different from what I've done before," he explained. "Here, I'm undercover as a gangster, the fighting style is very MMA (mixed martial arts), and the character is very violent and very aggressive."

Special ID marks a return to the contemporary MMA action he utilised in SPL and Flash Point, and the brutal action of the film is a distinct contrast to the almost Zen-like qualities of the Ip Man movies.

"I've studied many martial arts before, but my favourites are still contemporary ones especially the MMA styles," he said. "Ten years ago in SPL, I was the first one to recognise the potential of MMA and put it in a movie. People were asking what is this style about. Is it judo? What is it?"

Thanks to the popularity of competitions such as Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), MMA is now well-known throughout the world, but SPL and Flash Point remain the benchmark for incorporating MMA into movies.

"I know many UFC fighters and action filmmakers all over the world who used my movies as textbooks for how to make MMA look good on a film," he said, beaming proudly. "Movie-making is very different from the actual fighting. It's not as simple as getting a couple of UFC champions and putting them in a film — it just wouldn't look right."

Say hello to my little friend: Jing Tian has Donnie Yen in her crosshairs.

Say hello to my little friend: Jing Tian has Donnie Yen in her crosshairs.

According to him, the action in Special ID really sets the bar higher on how to deliver MMA fighting on film. The fighting in it certainly seems more aggressive and brutal in this movie than in SPL or Flash Point, a perception Yen puts down to the nature of his character.

"I don't think it's the MMA techniques that are brutal, but the character itself. The character, Chen, contains a lot of rage, so it appears to be more brutal. Chen is a badass, aggressive fighter, so he wouldn't react the same way Ip Man does," he said.

"Ip Man would go home and have dinner, before accepting the challenge and then pick the opponent up after it is done. That's Ip Man. Chen? He would stomp your face and make sure you're crushed!"

Eye for a fight

So much has been said about his roles and fighting styles that sometimes people forget that Yen is also an acclaimed action choreographer who, over the years, has developed a unique style and an eye for action scenes.

His first credit as an "action director" was in 1988's Tiger Cage, and since then, he has gone on to direct the fight sequence in movies such as Blade II, The Twins Effect (for which he won his very first Golden Horse and Hong Kong film awards as an action choreographer), The Lost Bladesman and many others.

For him, the hardest part of action choreography is directing other actors, whether it is a seasoned veteran or a newbie.

"There's a different tactic to directing someone like Sammo (Hong) or Jackie (Chan). When I directed Jackie in The Twins Effect, I knew he was only coming in for only four days and was busy with other things, so I wasn't going to ask him to jump off buildings or something like that!" he said with a laugh.

"I knew he was coming in to do a cameo and have fun, so I created a Jackie Chan scene for the movie with a lot of comedy, acrobatics and so on. I asked him what he would like to do, and interacted with him (while planning the scene)."

It was slightly harder with a newbie like his Special ID co-star Jing Tian though, especially since this was her first action film and he had to train her to do things that were out of her usual range.

"With Andy (On), it was easier because I've worked with him before. He is quite experienced with action movies and is quite a martial artist himself. But Jing has never done an action movie before, let alone a Donnie Yen high-level kind of action movie!" he explained.

"When I work with actors, I study their physical potential and determine what they can do on screen. I require full contact and perfect precision, and that alone is very intimidating for Jing because she's a very fragile girl.

Hey, what are YOU staring at? Yen gets himself in a bit of a mess in Special ID.

Hey, what are YOU staring at? Yen gets himself in a bit of a mess in Special ID.

"But I really wanted to make her look like the best female fighter out there, which is Michelle Yeoh. That's the standard I wanted her to reach," he said.

All the same, Yen was fully aware that Jing was no Yeoh, so he and the actress had to work on building the character through training, practising and choreographing.

To help her along, he also gave Jing one outstanding action sequence that you need to see to believe, in which she gets into a brilliantly choreographed fight with On inside a car.

"We made them fight with jujitsu inside the car, which had never been done before! I think that her performance in the car scene really set high standards not just for herself, but also any other female actresses who want to do fighting scenes," he said.

"Try something that has never been done before" — that is the philosophy behind Yen's action direction.

"I will always try to feel and think about a scene from the point of view of the audience. What would I like Donnie Yen to do? I like the audience to think, 'What did he do?' and try to copy it, but end up not being able to! That's how I try to do it," he said, adding that although he has turned 50, he is not looking to retire and go behind the camera full-time just yet.

"I still have a lot of fire, even though I've been getting a lot more injuries. It takes me longer to recover now, but I can still generate the same kind of speed and precision (I used to). Would I make my own scenes easier to film? There are no easy scenes in my films. I'm always trying to think of something difficult to do!" he concluded with a laugh.

> Special ID opens in cinemas nationwide tomorrow.

First look: Woody Allen’s ‘Magic In The Moonlight’


Director's film brings together the talent of Marcia Gay Harden and Emma Stone.

Two promotional images have been released for the film shot in the South of France by the 77-year-old director earlier this year. The feature now also has an official title: Magic In The Moonlight.

The film marks Woody Allen's return to France after Midnight In Paris (2011). Emma Stone and Colin Firth will headline the prolific filmmaker's eighth film set in Europe. While plot details have been kept under wraps until now, the period costumes and vintage cars in the stills suggest that the action will be set in the years following World War I.

The cast of Magic In The Moonlight also features Marcia Gay Hadren, Jacki Weaver and Eileen Atkins. The film is slated for worldwide release before summer 2014 after premiering at a prestigious international film festival, such as Berlin in February or Cannes in May.

For the time being, Woody Allen is basking in the success of Blue Jasmine. The comedy drama, starring Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins, has been warmly received by critics and moviegoers alike. – RelaxNews

Flipping over flops


Why surprises at the box office are becoming more common.

THE numbers said Kick-Ass 2 was going to do just that.

Before its theatrical release, audience tracking surveys estimated the superhero action-comedy could gross as much as US$25mil (RM79.5mil) in its opening weekend.

Instead, the sequel took in only US$13mil (RM41.3mil), finishing far behind the civil rights drama Lee Daniels' The Butler and earning Kick-Ass 2 an instant reputation as a flop.

For decades, tracking was used by studios to determine filmgoer interest ahead of a new movie's release and tell marketing executives where to spend their advertising dollars.

Now trade publications, national dailies, blogs, TV newscasts and even drive-time radio shows share the once closely-held numbers with everyday moviegoers.

Tracking establishes financial expectations for a new film as well as an A-list star's ability to "open" a movie. The estimates effectively declare a winner before the weekly box office battle begins.

But at a time when tracking's influence on a film's fate at the box office has never been greater, chronic inaccuracies have led industry observers and some studio chiefs to conclude that tracking may no longer be a dependable barometer. With a cluster of Oscar-worthy films now heading into theatres, the pre-release surveys are increasingly coming under attack.

"Tracking is broken. There's no doubt about it," said Vincent Bruzzese, chief executive of the tracking firm Worldwide Motion Picture Group. "It's been asking the same questions since 1980. It isn't predictive anymore. And it doesn't cover the way consumers make choices anymore."

This summer, several movies were damaged by inaccurate tracking. The Lone Ranger, The Wolverine and The Hangover Part III were said to have "underperformed" when they had openings at least US$10mil (RM32mil) below estimates. All went on to sputter domestically after bad word of mouth and earlier-than-expected exits from theatres.

Even a hit film can fall victim to bad tracking. Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 opened at No 1 but is seen as having underperformed by grossing US$10mil less than estimates predicted.

When movies exceed expectations, they generate positive buzz that can increase returns. Recently, Gravity took in US$55mil (RM174.9mil) — US$10mil more than the most optimistic pre-release surveys indicated it would earn. Man Of Steel, The Conjuring and Now You See Me earned much more than tracking predicted.

"You can say, 'The testing was great'," said one respected studio marketer who, like other top executives interviewed for this story, declined to be identified for fear of jeopardising his industry standing.

"But you know in your heart you don't believe in the testing anymore. And if you do, you're fooling yourself."

Because of the sheer volume of movies being released — 660 last year — as well as seismic social media changes, tracking service executives say, pre-release audience awareness and anticipation have never been more difficult to gauge. This is especially true, experts say, for non-sequel films and films popular with minority moviegoers, who can be harder to survey because they are a statistically small and not reliably representative cross-sampling of respondents.

Even with tracking's accuracy increasingly doubted, it's such a dominant part of the Hollywood conversation that none of its studio detractors interviewed for this article voiced willingness to give up the service.

Studios receive tracking information over a three-week to two-month pre-release window. The estimates sample audience awareness, "definite interest" in seeing a movie and the proportion of respondents ranking the movie as their first choice, as well as projected breakdowns by gender and age.

Firms crunch their polling results, comparing the movies with previous titles by genre and release window to yield an estimated opening-weekend gross.

But because respondents must self-identify as moviegoers who see at least six films per year, a sizable population remains under-accounted. Especially difficult to predict is audience turnout for faith-based films and movies based on TV shows such as Sex And The City.

Citing issues similar to those faced by election-year pollsters, some studio marketing executives privately fear that tracking's respondents are not only less diverse but have been over-polled, succumbing to a kind of survey fatigue.

"The phone rings, you don't answer if you don't recognise the call. And nobody answers the land line anyway," a studio marketer said. "It's one of the real challenges." — Los Angeles Times / McClatchy-Tribune Information Services


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