At the Spot – Taipei Film House (台北光點) cafe on a sunny weekend afternoon, Hong Kong's award-winning veteran music video director Susie Au (區雪兒) sat with local press for an in-person exposition on her alternately enthralling and unfathomable feature debut Ming Ming, which mixes martial art with love story elements to create a strange filmic world out of the familiar materials.
"I've always had a keen interest in the lady Robin Hood genre films popular in Hong Kong during the 1960s. It was later developed into sub-genres with female secret agents that had the look of low-budget James Bond movies. The recurring motif of a search for identity and the presence of a strong heroine is what fascinates me and inspires my works," Au said, explaining the genre-mixed Ming Ming in a nutshell, perhaps.
China's beloved actress Zhou Xun (周迅) stars in dual roles, first as Ming Ming, a gothic-looking kung fu heroine falling for D (Daniel Wu), a desirable enforcer of triad boss Brother Cat (Jeff Chang), who will run off to Harbin with any of his female admirers who can give him five million dollars. In order to be with the man of her dreams, Ming Ming robs Brother Cat for the necessary cash. She also takes a mysterious wooden box that the ringleader is keen to have back at any price.
Fending off the pursuing thugs with her other-worldly martial art skills that involve shooting black beads to injure opponents, Ming Ming hands over the money to her secret admirer and street punk Tu (Tony Yang). During a chase with the goons, the boyish ally runs into Nana (also played by Zhou Xun), an orange-haired Ming Ming look-alike with a sassier, more girlish manner. The two become reluctant traveling companions in the search for the whereabouts of D as Nana, yes, you've guessed it, is also one of D's girlfriends.
Directed By: Susie Au (區雪兒)
Starring: Zhou Xun (周迅)As Ming Ming
And Nana; Daniel Wu (吳彥祖) As D; Tony Yang (楊祐寧)As Tu; Jeff Chang (張信哲) As Brother Cat
Language: In Mandarin, Cantonese And Shanghainese With Chinese And English Subtitles
Taiwan Release: Today
Meanwhile, D is in Shanghai pursuing his own quest: looking for his long-lost mother. As the four are left dismayed and disappointed in their searches across the maze-like metropolis, the pending connection between D's tortured past and the wooden box eventually comes to a shocking revelation that no one in the audience is likely to guess.
The film relies on recycling and collage. With abundant references to pop culture and MV-influenced filmmaking styles that dazzle and awe, the movie is a cinematic cocktail of familiar images and music.
Citing Jean-Luc Godard as her favorite director, Au speaks of Ming Ming's cinematic references in relation to the French New Wave of the 1960s. The New York-educated director believes that to eschew a conventional filmmaking route doesn't necessitate being anti-traditional, and allows for revisiting the familiar to cast new light on it.
Cut into the movie is footage from a 1960s black-and-white lady Robin Hood movie. This sets the tone early in the film as the heroine embodies the enduring spirit that allows people to change their fate, said Au.
This theme may explain the surprising coda that seems to come from nowhere. "Rather than being narratively built up according to a conventional formula, the last 10 minutes of the film can be seen as a symbol, a metaphor and the spirit of the film," Au said.
Blessed with top-notch cinematography, art direction and sound track, the sometimes excessive visual acrobatics however lend the film a tension that oscillates between a purely sensory pop-art experience and thematic depth. Freeze frames, disjointed, hip editing and rapid cuts are executed with flair and the highly gratifying sound track is well produced by the talented Anthony Wong Yiu-Ming (黃耀明), among others. While the style alone seems enough to carry the film, the unevenly delivered and disconnected story lines and overly stylized look fail to provide a substantial dramatic weight and are likely to alienate audiences instead.