Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Herman Yau's Gong Tau (2007)

Four different opening visual sequences at the beginning:
1. Black and white credit sequences intercut between:

2. A sexy nude woman doing a seductive dance for an unknown onlooker.
3. An intruder in a home, shot partially from the intruder's p.o.v., who disturbingly looks in upon a sleeping baby and then upon a sleeping adult.
4. The beautiful and ominous image of rain at night with a police officer descending the stairs with a title card which reads "Seven Days Later."

These are:

1. Eerie foreshadowing of the visceral and atmospheric horror to come, both disturbing and compelling;
2. A primer of the themes of HK Category III films;
3. The beginning of Gong Tau (2007) by Herman Yau, one of HK's most exciting film makers; and
4. All of the above.

Gong Tau is Chinese black magic. Here we go:

At the police station, Fat Wah is being interrogated by officer Rockman Cheung (Mark Cheng) about a criminal from Malaysia named Lam Chiu (Tak-bun Wong), who thirteen years previously, Cheung shot and arrested for bank robbery. Lam Chiu was released a year ago after a twelve-year sentence, and the police think that Lam Chiu is currently up to no good. Lam Chiu could be pissed about Cheung's shooting him: Lam Chiu's injury left him without the ability to feel physical pain. Cheung gets a cell-phone call from his frantic wife, while Cheung's superior, Sum (Suet Lam) is about to spring Fat Wah for lack of evidence. Cheung's wife is afraid of being alone in the rain, while their newborn baby sleeps in his crib. Cheung should go home, but Sum says that it's Uncle Bill's last night on the job. He's currently standing in the rain, on patrol, at a call box, while Sum and the fellas at the police station have him on speaker phone. Quick cuts show disturbing imagery of chanting and altar-worshipping. Cheung's wife becomes overcome by pain; his baby dies; and Uncle Bill meets an hooded stranger in the rain. Sum and company hear gunshots from Uncle Bill's end of the cell phone. Bill's found strung up in a tree, and Cheung goes home to find his wife in hysterics and an extreme amount of pain and his child dead. Cheung thinks the cop-killing is the work of Lam Chiu, and while Sum doesn't disagree with him, Sum also believes the child murder is the work of black magic. Cheung's wife, Karpi (Maggie Siu) is hexed, and Lam Chiu is targeting Cheung in an act of revenge.This is the initial set up for Gong Tau, and for the viewer who is willing to go further, an exciting thriller plays out with truly horrific and unexpected elements. Be forewarned: the act of infanticide is truly disturbing and is not hidden away from the camera. About every bodily fluid produced by the human body is released, spilled, and cooked and rendered in Gong Tau, and at times, the imagery is truly repellent. However, Gong Tau is an amazingly well-scripted thriller also which is as compelling to watch as it is, at times, disturbingly repellent. The visuals are often brilliant, as well as the pacing and performances. Cheung is a character torn: his wife needs him both emotionally and physically but his anger is propelling him towards finding the killer. Sum puts his hand on his shoulder at the window in a fraternal quiet scene at the police station. Sum begins to tell Cheung about the Gong Tau, and then BAM! a cop comes from atop the stairs and says Lam Chiu is on the phone asking for Cheung. With a nifty audio cue and quick camera follow up the stairs, within seconds Yau changes the tone and ups the excitement. Not only is Cheung's character torn emotionally, it is later revealed that he has quite the interesting recent past. This revelation moves the film in an entirely different direction and was unexpected and quite welcomed.Yau's talent visually is apparent. Still in demand as a cinematographer for others' productions (for example, Dennis Law's Fatal Contact (2006) and Fatal Move (2008), who also executive-produced, here), Yau demonstrates with Gong Tau his mastery of the use of light and dark, effectively at the foreshadowing at the beginning and in the very intense final act. The lighting is so well-done in Gong Tau that it looks as if Yau pointed at the shadows and said, "You sit there," and to the light, "You stay there." His camera movement appropriately captures the emotion of a scene: true visual storytelling. When the goings on in Gong Tau are quiet, I was never prepared for any of the shifts in tone and was literally at the edge of my seat. Finally, there are some scenes that I can't describe why they are so effective. One scene stands out: a drug deal of two men both in hoodies. What the two are dealing ain't the typical street ones (at least not on my block). The hoodies are common attire, but the overwhelming feeling of the exchange is extremely creepy. Superficially, it's just two guys talking in a dark alley in a static shot: I don't know, but maybe, Yau's got his own visual mojo working.Maggie Siu is really vulnerable as Cheung's wife, Karpi: her character has to experience the majority of the terror and also bear the strongest pain and emotions. In a fantastic scene with Cheng, the two parents let their emotions out about the death of their child. It's raw and genuine and it's a scene which takes Gong Tau completely out of the sensational and exploitative arena. Johnnie To-regular, Suet Lam is one of the best actors working in Hong Kong today: Lam has a true command of the entire dramatic range of emotions and is entirely charismatic on screen. He's phenomenal. Tak-bun Wong's performance as Lam Chiu deserves praise as well: his character is appropriately sleazy but has some real depth as well.Once again, with Gong Tau, Herman Yau proves he's one of the most talented working in Hong Kong today. No matter what the subject matter or the budget, Yau cannot hide his talent, and I'll be damned if his films aren't exciting.

1 comment:

Mr.LargePackage said...

I don't know what drugs those guys were selling, but I can almost guarantee that I could find it near my house. I bought magic beans, a kangaroo who wears sunglasses, and turkey casserole from the guy who used to do my lawn. He tried to sell me a mystery box, but I told him that I already have a large package, and that is large and in charge.