Oscar-nominated martial arts film The Grandmaster swept the board at the Hong Kong Film Directors' Guild Awards on Wednesday (05Mar14), earning four prizes including Best Film. Wong Kar-wai was also named Best Director, while the movie's stars, Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Zhang Ziyi claimed Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively.
Babyjohn Choi earned the Best Newcomer honour for his role as a tai chi master in The Way We Dance, which also landed Adam Wong the title of Best New Director.
The Hong Kong Film Directors' Guild also had a special award for As the Light Goes Out moviemaker Derek Kwok.
The annual event celebrates the best in Chinese film.
The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
Cannes, after all, is not the Oscars. So it's no surprise when the big winners at the chi-chi film festival assume the largely unknown (to us) names of, uh, Lars von Trier and, er, Wong Kar-wai.
Danish director von Trier's modern-day musical "Dancer in the Dark" nabbed the top prize, the Palm D'Or, for best feature as the 53rd Cannes Film Festival closed out its 12-day run Sunday. The film's first-time actress, Icelandic pop diva Bjork, took home the award for best actress.
"Dancer in the Dark" is about a blind Czech immigrant (played by Bjork) who escapes to an imaginary world of musical fantasies.
Another big winner was Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai, whose "In the Mood for Love" won the best actor award for male lead Tony Leung. The film, set in mid-1960s Hong Kong, follows two neighbors who gradually discover that their spouses are having an affair.
Other winners included a best screenplay nod for Neil Labute's "Nurse Betty," starring Renee Zellweger. "Nurse Betty" was the only U.S. film to be singled out for a main Cannes honor.
Here's the complete list of this year's Cannes winners:
Palm d'Or: "Dancer in the Dark" (Denmark/France/Sweden), directed by Lars von Trier Grand prix: "Devils on the Doorstep" (China), directed by Jiang Wen Best actress: Bjork ("Dancer in the Dark") Best actor: Tony Leung ("In the Mood for Love") Special mention: Ensemble of actors in "The Wedding" Best director: Edward Yang ("A One and a Two ...") Best screenplay: John Richards, James Flamberg ("Nurse Betty") Prix du Jury (shared): "Blackboards" (Iran), directed by Samira Makhmalbaf, and "Songs From the Second Floor" (Sweden), directed by Roy Andersson Palm d'Or for short film: "Anino" (Phillippines), directed by Raymond Red Technical Award: Christopher Doyle, Mark Li Ping-bing, William Chang Suk-ping for "In the Mood for Love" Camera d'Or (best first feature): shared by "Djomeh" (Iran), directed by Hassan Yektapanah, and "A Time for Drunken Horses" (Iran), directed by Bahman Ghobadi International Critics' Association Awards: Best film in an Official Section: "Eureka" (Japan), directed by Shinji Aoyama; Best film in a Parallel Section: "A Time for Drunken Horses" Ecumenical Awards: Best Film: "Eureka"; Special prizes: "Fast Food, Fast Women" (U.S.), directed by Amos Kollek, and "Code Unknown" (France), directed by Michael Haneke Fondation Gan Award: (Best feature in Un Certain Regard): "Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her" (U.S.); Special mention: "Me, You, Them" (Brazil)