The Crossing II (太平轮:惊涛挚爱)

For F*** Magazine

THE CROSSING II (太平轮:惊涛挚爱)
Director : John Woo
Cast : Zhang Ziyi, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Song Hye-Kyo, Huang Xiaoming, Tong Dawei, Masami Nagasawa, Amanda Qin, Yu Feihong, Tony Yang, Qianyuan Wang, Bowie Lam
Genre : Drama/Romance
Run Time : 126 mins
Opens : 13 August 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Disturbing Scenes)

The second and final part of John Woo’s historical disaster epic washes ashore. Picking up where the first film left off, we continue following the three central romances as all parties are swept up in the aftermath of the Chinese Revolution in 1949. Taiwanese Doctor Yan Zekun (Kaneshiro) is caught in a bind, his mother intending that he marry Meifang (Angeles Woo), the widow of his brother. Zekun’s heart still belongs to Masako (Nagasawa), who has been writing letters to him, letters that Mrs. Yan has burned in the hopes of putting an end to that relationship. Yuzhen (Ziyi) is desperate to get on a boat out of Shanghai, believing that her fiancé is waiting for her in Taiwan. At the hospital where she volunteers, she is briefly reunited with a severely wounded Tong Daqing (Tong). Yunfen (Song), the pregnant wife of General Lei Yifang (Huang), boards the steamer Taiping with her family. The Taiping, overladen with passengers and cargo, embarks on its fateful voyage for Taiwan, a voyage the vessel will not complete.

Just when we thought nothing could be more pointless that The Crossing: Part 1, Part 2 comes along. Essentially, audiences were being told “before you get to the big sinking, let’s spend some time with the characters and get to know them.” “Some time” turns out to be one and half movies, by which point most viewers will have to restrain themselves from yelling “just sink already!” at the screen. The first film was filled with languid romantic interludes of lovers gazing longingly into each other’s eyes, in between requisite battlefield carnage. Instead of getting right into the action, we are saddled with even more set-up, in which characters rattle off long passages of exposition establishing how the main characters are connected. It turns out that it’s coincidence and not love that holds the world together in the most tumultuous of times.

The Crossing has been called “the Chinese Titanic” and it seems director Woo doesn’t mind the comparison: after all, Titanic is the second highest-grossing film of all time. The similarities are apparent: both films aspire to be sweeping period romances that revolve around fictional characters and are set against a historical disaster at sea. While Titanic is often regarded as cheesy, The Crossing surpasses it in this regard by far. At every turn, the film is melodramatic rather than moving. While Titanic had one romantic relationship as its focus, The Crossing has to split its time between three romances that have to converge in a triumph of contrivance. The intention seems to be that the audience is equally invested in each of the three love stories presented, but that is ultimately too much to ask.

Huang Xiaoming and Tong Dawei take a backseat in this installment, with the bulk of the screen time going to Takeshi Kaneshiro and Zhang Ziyi. Kaneshiro is effective as a noble figure forced into a bind and it certainly helps that he’s very easy on the eye. Zhang Ziyi continues to essay Yuzhen’s tenacity, and one of the film’s few genuinely heart-breaking moments is when Yuzhen agrees to have sex with sleazy businessman Peter (Lam) for a boat ticket. In the midst of the unpleasant act, she peeks through a small crack in the wall, looking expectantly at the ferry moored in the harbor.

The actual sinking of the Taiping is an adequately spectacular sequence of unfolding chaos, even if the computer-generated effects lack polish. The sets and practical effects are well done and it does feel like our protagonists are in legitimate danger. However, after more than three hours of build-up over two films, it’s far from sufficient payoff. We are aware that we sound like heartless beasts, baying for more carnage and less interpersonal drama, but the film’s selling point is, after all, the sinking.

With the conclusion of the two-part movie, Woo has created something that’s not so much sweeping and epic as it is waterlogged. Thrill at people folding paper cranes, composing love songs and taking very long walks through the tall silvergrass! Often unbearably, painfully cheesy, it’s difficult to truly appreciate the authenticity of crowd scenes such as mass student protests being broken up by the military police, and indeed the climactic disaster itself. Treacly and sentimental rather than emotional and containing far from enough spectacle for the slow parts to be tolerable, The Crossing is stranded adrift at sea.

Summary: John Woo’s attempt at re-creating an Old Hollywood-style wartime disaster epic ends up drowning in its own cheesiness.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

A-cross the Universe: The Crossing Press Conference

A-CROSS THE UNIVERSE                      
John Woo, Zhang Ziyi and Tong Dawei in Singapore for The Crossing – Part 1
By Jedd Jong
Five years after the release of Red Cliff – Part 2, director John Woo returns with the two-part romantic epic The Crossing. The film, which focuses on three central romances that converge aboard the ill-fated steamer Taipingduring the Chinese Civil War in 1949, has been chosen as a special presentation for the opening night of the 25th Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF).
Woo, along with stars Zhang Ziyi, Tong Dawei and his daughter Angeles, are in Singapore to kick off the SGIFF festivities. F*** was at the press conference held at the ArtScience Museum in Marina Bay Sands Singapore.
Woo, known for his “heroic bloodshed” Hong Kong action films such as A Better Tomorrow and Hard Boiledand his Hollywood efforts including Face/Offand Mission: Impossible 2, isn’t necessarily a director one would associate with the romance genre. “I believe in love, I believe that love can bring strength and warmth,” he enthuses. “Seeing as this is a romance that takes place in tumultuous times, it is very moving. Making the film was a challenge because of the upheaval that took place during this period in history, making it a very painful chapter in time.” He goes on to explain that the two-parter looks at how the three central romances go through a trial by fire in the face of war and disaster.

Star Zhang Ziyi says that while making the film was far from a walk in the park, it was worth it for the chance to work with the famed director. “Everyone endured the hardships of making this film for the opportunity to work with John Woo. I was very moved after reading the script because the characters within are all drawn very vividly. Everyone hopes to be able to work with John Woo. He is a good person, he cares for us all very much.”

It is Tong Dawei’s first time in Singapore and he wonders aloud what sweet treats he should take back home for his kid. Zhang suggests he get some pandan cake from the airport. Tong last worked with director Woo on Red Cliff. Regarding The Crossing, Tong says “I feel that this is the most challenging film I’ve worked on to date. We were filming for nearly a whole year and be it for the actors or filmmakers, there were many firsts that we encountered. It was physically demanding and there were a lot of special effects involved.” The major set piece in Part 2 of the film is the dramatic sinking of the Taipingand shooting that required the actors to spend hours shooting in a water tank.

On the subject of working with Zhang Ziyi, Tong reveals “Ziyi and I have been good friends for a while but this is the first time we are working on a film together. On the first day, it was a little awkward because under normal circumstances, we don’t really discuss work. All of a sudden, we were working together and it was a little weird. Furthermore, we had to film a pretty heavy scene on the first day, the farewell scene.”

However, Woo confirms that the actors were able to get into the swing of things quickly, saying he was moved by their performances. “They are both very skilled actors and brought real emotion to the roles, there was genuine feeling to it. While I was watching them, I started tearing up.”

The Crossing is something of a family affair for Woo. His wife Annie Woo Ngau Chun-lung has a cameo in the film and his daughter Angeles Woo, also present at the press conference, has a supporting part as the sister-in-law of Takeshi Kaneshiro’s character. “It’s my first time working with my dad on a feature film. It’s my first time in Singapore too so I’m very excited,” Angeles says. “It’s something I never thought would happen and I’m very fortunate to be able to experience it in this film and it’s something that I’ve learned a lot from as an actress.” She adds that having grown up mostly in Los Angeles, it was challenging to play a character from a very different place and time. The role required her to brush up on her Mandarin and also learn Min Nan, the Taiwanese dialect. Host Danny Yeo jests that a scene in which Angeles tucks Takeshi Kaneshiro into bed must make her the envy of many of the heartthrob’s fans.
Zhang Ziyi states that she is not a believer in over-preparing for a role. “Acting is an emotional process and a lot of these emotions manifest themselves on the day as you play opposite the other actors. It’s also influenced by the environment; the costumes and the sets. If you’re in a special environment, it will draw out emotions that you cannot prepare for. A lot of it is in the moment…if you spend too much time worrying about every last technical detail of your performance, it becomes rote. I don’t think that’s what performing is about.”

Touching on the myriad struggles that her character in The Crossing must endure, Zhang says “both Dawei and I portray characters of the lowest social strata. They’re like wild grass, even though they grow in a rough environment, they are very resilient. After the war, she goes to Shanghai and has to become a prostitute. To a person this low on the social ladder, the challenges in her life are great. She has a resilience, an ability to persevere. This resilience is something that all successful people, be they men or women, have to possess.”

A reporter bravely broaches a personal question, asking Zhang about starting a family with her boyfriend, rocker Wang Feng.” It’s actually not me pushing him to get married, it’s the media,” she says with a chuckle. “I have never given him any actual pressure. I feel that marriage has to happen naturally. There’s no way to rush it, we never know what tomorrow may bring. In the meantime, we have to care for each other.” Zhang gets her own back at the reporter, who asked the question in English, with a dash of condescension. “Do you understand? You won’t misquote me, right?”

The film was post-converted into 3D and is being released in IMAX 3D. Woo explains his personal attitudes towards the stereoscopic format, saying “there are battle scenes and a disaster at sea, there were large-scale sequences that justify the use of 3D effects so the decision was made to convert it. It was more challenging while I was making the film because I had to pay special attention to angles and focus. That was a challenge because I still look at films as a 2D medium.” He admits that 3D doesn’t really excite him because of the limitations in making a film in that format. “I still think it’s better to make movies in 2D because I look at making movies as like painting, composing a frame. I feel that sometimes, 3D movies feel fake. There’s a sense of artifice, a house can look like a doll’s house and cars and buildings look like toys. However, there are advantages to the format but I still prefer traditional 2D movies. “

The director famous for stylishly violent action movies reveals his softer side when discussing the romantic elements of the film. “Normally, I’m more of a shy person. I have to find ways to express my romantic side. Sometimes, on my way back, I’ll pick a flower from the yard to give as a present to my wife.” Woo and his wife have been married for 38 years. In the film, there is a waltz sequence shared by Huang Xiaoming and Song Hye-kyo. Woo shares that when he was younger, he enjoyed dancing with his wife, dedicating the scene to her. He also believes in leaving his work on the movie set, saying “the general in the film doesn’t bring the war home and spares his wife from the ugly side of war. Similarly, I don’t bring my work home, I just want to support and care for my wife. That’s how I express ‘romance’.”

Angeles corroborates this, saying “At home he’s very caring and he doesn’t bring the work home and he likes to make dinner for everyone, that’s just another way of showing his affection. In this film, he used some memories past to really illustrate the love story happening and that’s a very nice touch. “

“Even though there are tragic elements to the romances in this film, I don’t want it to be a depressing experience for the audience and I hope for audiences to ultimately find it hopeful and uplifting,” the director concludes.

The Crossing – Part 1 opens on 4 December. Part 2 is due in May 2015.

The Crossing – Part 1 (太平轮: 乱世浮生 –上)

THE CROSSING – PART 1(太平轮: 乱世浮生 –上)

Director : John Woo
Cast : Zhang Ziyi, Song Hye Kyo, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Huang Xiaoming, Tong Dawei, Masami Nagasawa, Hitomi Kuroki, Lin Mei Hsiu, Jack Kao
Genre : Romance/Drama
Run Time : 129 mins
Opens : 5 December 2014
Rating : NC-16 (Battle Scenes)
It’s been five years since the release of Red Cliff – Part 2 and director John Woo is back with the first film of another two-part historical epic, albeit one of a different stripe. It is 1945 and Chinese general Lei Yi Fang (Huang) defeats the Japanese troops, resulting in the capture of Yan Ze Kun (Kaneshiro), a Taiwanese doctor working for the Japanese army. Lei falls in love with Zhou Yun Fen (Song), who comes from a wealthy Shanghainese family. After Yan is released from the prisoner-of-war camp, he discovers his girlfriend Masako (Nagasawa) has been repatriated back to Japan. In 1948, as the Chinese Revolution begins to take shape, Lei is thrown back into the thick of battle. In the meantime, signaller Tong Daqing (Tong) has a chance encounter with volunteer nurse Yu Zhen (Zhang), with whom he is immediately smitten. Unbeknownst to him, Yu Zhen has to moonlight as a prostitute in order to make ends meet. We follow these three couples as their paths converge, leading them to the Taiping, a Chinese steamer bound for Taiwan, a last ray of hope as the Revolution heats up.

            Everyone has been referring to this film as the Chinese equivalent of Titanic. Well, that will have to wait until Part 2. First, we have to sit through what can be described as the Chinese equivalent of Pearl Harbour, a big, tragic wartime romance. Just as Michael Bay, a filmmaker known for bombastic action films, struggled with the hokey romance in Pearl Harbour, John Woo seems to have difficulty reconciling the tender love stories with the battlefield carnage in The Crossing – Part 1. The film lurches awkwardly from bodies being blasted apart in combat to lovers casting longing glances at each other, without ever really gelling. This is a decidedly unsubtle film and to call it “overwrought” would be an understatement. Every last wartime romance cliché in the book is flung into Wang Hui-ling’s screenplay – there’s even a “wife writes a love letter as we cut to the husband caught in battle” scene. This isn’t just cheesy, it’s cheese that’s set on fire and one can almost hear director Woo exclaiming “Saganaki!” in the background.

            Yes, this can be called “lush”, with faithful period recreations of post-war Shanghai and explosive battle scenes, but the beautiful cinematography by Zhao Fei is undercut by stilted editing and transitions, not to mention gobs of slow-motion even where it’s plainly unnecessary. The film’s pacing suffers in places and it is often painfully obvious that things are being padded out so the story can be split into two films. This is a war movie that features a subplot in which a woman struggles to compose a song for her husband. While it is evident that this is a big-budget production (by Mainland Chinese film standards), there are lapses in production values such as some unconvincing digital seagulls. We saw the 2D version but even then, a moment in which a tank hatch hurtles straight at the audience is embarrassingly gimmicky. If you have a thing for trucks flipping over as they explode, then the climactic battle between the Nationalists and Communists will leave you satisfied.

            The three male leads are appealingly charming in their own ways. Huang Xiaoming is classically heroic and dashing, Takeshi Kaneshiro has the sexy/vulnerable thing down pat and Tong Dawei’s goofy earnestness does provide welcome respite from the heaviness of the rest of the film. Unfortunately, the female characters are somewhat side-lined and mostly relegated to the role of “pining for significant other while he is out at war”. Of the women in the film, Zhang Ziyi has the most significant role, paring down her usual glamour to play the poor, illiterate Yu Zhen. Of the three central relationships, that between Tong Daqing and Yu Zhen is the most interesting – having never met before, Daqing takes a phony “family photo” with Yu Zhen and a random baby so he can be granted extra rations. It’s a shame that Lei Yi Fang and Zhou Yun Feng’s love story is downright dreary in comparison.

            The Crossing – Part 1 is a better war movie than it is a sweeping romance, and even then it isn’t an outstanding war movie at all. Constructed as a crowd-pleasing historical epic, the film’s transitions from brutal war violence to soppy sentimentality are jarring to say the least. John Woo is in his element for less than half the time here and at least there’s an all-star cast to enact all the shop-worn tropes. Here’s hoping Part 2, centred on the sinking of the Taiping itself, is more focused.

Summary: The Crossing – Part 1 is unsuccessful at being a passionate romantic epic and fares only slightly better as an explosive war movie. Also, you’ll have to wait until May 2015 for any actual “crossing” to happen.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong