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 (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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