Jeffrey Lau

Jeffrey Lau

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Combination Platter Review


Good
Robert (Jeffrey Lau) works at the Szechuan Inn in the burgeoning Chinatown of Flushing, Queens. Robert is from Hong Kong and, like most of his co-workers, he doesn't have his green card. He speaks Cantonese and a little English, whereas the kitchen staff speaks mostly Mandarin and the American-born Chinese hostess and white busboy only English. The hostess is picking up a few words in Cantonese, such as "mild," for the sake of the cooks. The busboy wants to know how to say "fuck you." Robert's only friend is another Hong Kong immigrant who has a plan to get Robert his green card; when the Chinese-American woman he introduces Robert to asks for fifty thousand dollars, rather than the twenty-five thousand agreed upon, to provide him with citizenship by marrying him, Robert is introduced instead to a white American woman named Claire (Colleen O'Brien). Robert wonders why this American woman would want to date him. Maybe she's just lonely, his friend explains. Robert and Claire spend time together, but Robert's limited English prevents any real relationship from developing and his conscience nags at him. Meanwhile Immigration is sweeping Chinese restaurants in the area, hauling undocumented workers away in handcuffs. How long before Robert gets hauled away, too?

Combination Platter, which took the screenwriting award at Sundance in 1993 and subsequently played a limited theatrical run to positive reviews, is in many ways the ideal independent feature. Its outside-the-mainstream perspective -- that of an undocumented, specifically Asian immigrant -- is one that a studio would never touch; or, if it did, the perspective would be broadened so that, like Dirty Pretty Things, the film encompassed the experiences of outsiders of many different types. Combination Platter remains specific to the plight of Chinese immigrants, and it recasts a familiar American landscape in a new light. While all of us are familiar with restaurants like the Szechuan Inn, bare apartments like the one Robert retires to nightly, the bodegas and delis that dot urban street corners, Robert's necessarily low-profile existence is more or less confined to a circuit of locations like these, and the viewer is introduced to an America parallel to, but more restricted than, the one we know. In Robert's small world, Americans are the outsiders, customers mostly, although all of them are to be treated with suspicion since any of them -- and especially the customers -- might prove to be Immigration agents. Meanwhile Robert's Chinese acquaintances are sometimes nearly as foreign to him as the Americans: there are the Mandarin-speakers, those more assimilated than he, and Chinese such as the hostess who were born and raised in America.

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Kung Fu Hustle Review


Excellent
Stephen Chow's Shaolin Soccer was a unique genre potpourri in which sports films, The Matrix, and science fiction animés all irreverently coalesced into a frantically funny tale of victorious underdogs. The filmmaker's signature cartoon craziness - an idiosyncratic mixture of Buster Keaton's physical comedy and Dragonball Z's lunatic action - likewise permeates Kung Fu Hustle, a similarly ridiculous medley of gangster pictures, musicals, and martial arts films. A period piece about a 1940s-era Shanghai village forced to defend itself from the oppressive mobster outfit, The Axe Gang, Chow's latest is not quite as infectiously hilarious as its predecessor. Yet this tour de force compensates for a shortage of belly laughs with an astute portrait of mid-20th century social inequality, as well as an exuberant momentum, its kinetic slapstick amplifying with each subsequent fight scene until, with its building-smashing finale, it reaches a crescendo of absurd insanity that would make even Jackie Chan gasp.

Kung Fu Hustle (written by Chow, Tsang Kan Cheong, Xin Huo, and Chan Man Keung) follows despondent wannabe gangsters Sing (Chow) and Brother Sum (Kwok Kuen Chan) - two inept bunglers with dreams of criminal fame and fortune - as their attempts to impress the Axe Gang bring chaos to the working-class town of Pig Sty. There, a screaming landlady (Qiu Yuen) and her licentious husband (Wah Yuen) maintain order and obedience with an iron fist. However, after the arrival of the Axe Gang - a group of suit-wearing toughs whose leader (Hsiao Liang) likes to orchestrate choreographed line dances after killing his adversaries - the town's landlords, as well as three seemingly ordinary men, reveal themselves to be superpowered kung fu masters. What ensues is inventive, frenzied combat of the fantastical variety, highlighted by a Wachowski-esque battle involving innumerable (and identical looking) Axe Gang members swarming Pig Sty's enclosed courtyard for a chance to vanquish the unretired martial arts heroes. Throughout such visually hectic set pieces, Chow's direction proves a model of efficiency, presenting every special effects-enhanced roundhouse kick, aerial jump and flaming fireball with a lucidity that allows for spatial coherence. Assured and exhilarating, the filmmaker's dynamic staging and blocking allows him to stretch the boundaries of his confiding frame, culminating in a high-flying, earth-shattering climax that virtually leaps off the screen.

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