Crime

Hookers in Revolt

Taking its inspiration from Animal Farm, Hookers in Revolt is the story of a group of street prostitutes who finally decide that theyve had enough mistreatment at the hands of their pimps. Adopting the slogan “all women are equal to men,” they band together, pool their resources and start to look out for each other.

Success, however, breeds corruption and as the manipulative Cleopatra (Olivia Lopez) takes control of the collective, the rest of the prostitutes find that they were no better off than before. Indeed, for many of them, things take a distinct turn for the worse.

Hookers in Revolt is certainly an ambitious film, and writer/director Sean Weathers does have a lot to say. Unfortunately, it doesnt quite come together and I think that this is largely down to the fact that more time has been spent developing the films message and its themes than has been spent developing the characters and the plot.

The plot has a very jumpy feel. Scene follows scene and stuff happens, but there is no real sense of cohesion to hold it all together. No plot is perfect, of course, and I may have been willing to overlook the weaknesses here if there had been a strong central character to hold my interest. Unfortunately, the characters tended to feel more like stereotypes than people making it very difficult to care about any of them.

There is a lot in here and the film, quite bravely, aims to be both an intelligent social satire and an out and out exploitation romp. However, by trying to do so much, the film ends up falling short on both counts.

There are a fair few fun moments in here, as well as plenty of skin and no shortage of soft-core sex scenes. Unfortunately, the parts are better than the whole which doesnt quite live up to its title.

The Deed to Hell

The Deed to Hell certainly starts strongly with a man – riddled with bullet holes – staggering into a tattoo parlour. We soon learn that the man (Frank Franconeri) is called Andy and that this unlucky would-be robber has been the victim of the double-crossing Sal (Glenn Andreiev).

Andy isnt the only person who has been double-crossed by Sal and, recognising that its time to get out, he leaves the country, heading for Europe. On the plane he meets Lynell (Shawna Bermender) who is heading to Paris in the hope of meeting touring rocker Zad Zolock (James Ian Rankin).

Lynell, we later learn, is having an affair with Vince (Roy Frumkes), the hen-pecked husband of harridan Anna (Wendy Marquez), a woman for whom keeping up with the Joneses is less of an obsession than it is a religion.

Rather than being a single linear narrative, The Deed to Hell gives us three interlinked stories all of which revolve around the same characters and themes. This approach is remarkably effective, primarily because of the script.

This is a very well plotted film in which the various narrative strands hold up very well, both as individual stories and as part of the overarching plot. Although there are a few jarring moments, these stories do fit together in a nicely consistent manner and connect to each other in a way that feels reasonably unforced.

It also helps, of course, that where it matters the acting is consistently reliable. Shawna Bermender puts in a very strong lead performance and Wendy Marquez does a great turn as the materialistic mother who cant see how destructive her Behaviour is.

Also worth a mention is Frank Franconeri who, although he spends much of the film in a hospital bed, manages to bring real depth to his character – the first to have seen a glimpse of what lies beyond. And it isnt pretty. Unfortunately, this brings me to the one real weakness of the film.

Although pitched as a horror film, The Deed to Hell is more a cross between a crime film and a dysfunctional family drama with some horror/fantasy elements thrown in. The problem here is that the horror elements jar a bit with the rest of the film and feel more like a religiously inspired addendum than an integral part of the plot.

That said, Glenn Andreiev has made a very ambitious film and one that does intelligently address some genuinely interesting themes of revenge, redemption, pride, avarice and the way in which our actions can cave unintended consequences for those around us.

This is the second of Andreievs films that I have seen and he is clearly improving as a filmmaker. The Deed to Hell is worth checking out if you get the chance, but I think his next film could be well worth looking forward to.

PTU: Police Tactical Unit

Johnny To has already established himself as one of the better directors to come out of Hong Kong in recent years and he’s on fine form with this stylish crime thriller.

Following a run-in with a gang of thugs led by Ponytail, Sergeant “Fatty” Lo (Lam Suet) loses his gun and turns to the brutally efficient Sergeant Mike Ho (Simon Yam) of the PTU to help him retrieve it. It’s late and Lo agrees to search for the gun until dawn, after which he will follow procedure and report the missing weapon.

Things take a turn for the worse as Fatty’s search for his gun intersects with a gangland assassination that threatens to escalate into an all out war on the streets of the city. Of course, a murder such as this doesn’t go unnoticed by the police and the CID, led by Inspector Leigh Cheng (Ruby Wong) becomes involved. Cheng is also very interested to know what Fatty and the PTU are up to…

Taking place over the course of a single night and against a background of dark and often deserted streets, PTU has a very noir feel which comes across in both the cinematography and the pacing of the film.

Tos cinematographer, Siu-keung Chengs portrayal of Hong Kong is remarkably unique. The shops have closed and most of the population are at home, leaving the PTU operating in an almost eerie netherworld. Its a look which, while being neither tense nor intrusive in itself, manages to convey a genuinely menacing airr throughout.

The pacing of the film is also remarkably restrained, almost static in places, and its with this steady progress through the accumulating events that To reveals the casual brutality of the police. And in the middle of it all is Yams frighteningly impassive sergeant for whom every beating is nothing more than another step towards achieving his goal.

Although PTU does feel like a character driven film, the characters portrayed are very much archetypes rather than rounded individuals and, as coincidence and bad luck pile up on each other, it becomes increasingly apparent that they are not in control of events. But, bound together by overlapping loyalties, they continue to try to clean up the growing mess.

All this makes for a very fatalistic crime drama which touches on themes of honour, loyalty and friendship as it progresses, almost fatalistically, towards a genuinely explosive climax.

PTU: Police Tactical Unit may be a little light on substance, but the style of the film more than makes up for this.

Desmond Coy

One of the most rewarding parts of running a site such as this is the number of short films that come my way. There are some incredibly talented people out there turning out superbly focussed pieces of twisted brilliance that really do deserve to be seen by a much wider audience. Desmond Coy is just such a film.

In the opening scene we meet our protagonist, played by Kerr Hewitt. Hes bruised, battered and bloody and pleading for mercy. And, just for good measure, whoever has kidnapped him had decided to hold him in a bathful of water. The film then goes on to reveal how he came to be in this position.

Writer, Jeff Spriet has managed to pack a surprisingly large amount of plot into the films short running time, and the story is very efficiently told. There is no padding here and everything that happens has a narrative value. Because of the way that the film is structured, this is not always immediately apparent but, by the end of the film, everything has been neatly slotted into place to ensure that the conclusion of the film is suitably satisfying.

Kerr Hewitts performance also deserves a mention. His character goes through a lot over the course of the film and Hewitt does a great job here of taking us from a mild dislike of his smug yuppie to genuine sympathy for the brutalised victim he becomes.

Visually, Desmond Coy is very effective indeed. There are basically three sets and, in each case, the design and the lighting perfectly captures the mood of the events – from the height of overconfidence to very low indeed. And when things do go wrong for our hero, the stylishly grimy violence of the film becomes almost painful to watch.

Desmond Coy is an exceptionally stylish film that tells a very solid story, and tells it well. The film is about to start its festival run and is well worth seeking out.

Exiled

Exiled poster Set in Macao in 1998, just before the handover of the colony from Portugal to China, Exiled (Fong Juk) is a story of gangsters, loyalty, honour and courage.

Wo (Nick Cheung), an exiled gangster, has unwisely returned to the area with his wife and child and now two pairs of men are looking for him. The first two to warn him of the danger he’s in, the second two to execute him. Wo is not at home when the men come looking for him, so they wait. As they do so, it emerges that they know each other – and they know Wo.

When Wo finally puts in an appearance, two of the waiting men follow him indoors and the first of many spectacular set pieces follows – this one being a shootout that is one part Mexican standoff, one part western style gunfight.

The action is halted by Wo’s crying baby and the men agree to sit down and talk. But before they can do so, they repair the damage and help Wo bring his new furniture indoors. Over dinner, it emerges that all five were childhood friends and all five became mobsters together and, even now when they are on opposite sides, old loyalties remain.

Between them, the five men come up with a scheme that honours both their old loyalties and the new realities. Once they try to put their plan into action, however, things start to go horribly wrong.

Visually, Exiled is a spectacular film, packed with iconic images drawn from Sergio Leone by way of early John Woo. Johnny To’s films have been described as a hallmark of quality filmmaking in Hong Kong over the last ten years and, in this film, you can see why. Every time you think he’s exhausted a particular scene or sequence, he demonstrates how much more can be done with an inventiveness that leaves you stunned.

But the film is much more than a series of action set-pieces. The plot itself is pretty straight-forward and, in lesser hands, could well have started to drag – especially in the few cases where the characters’ behaviour appears to be driven more by the need to keep things moving than any aspect of their personalities so far revealed.

The film is redeemed, however, by both the playful sense of humour that is apparent throughout the film and by the characters, who – while not being entirely likeable – are certainly well-rounded enough for you to genuinely care about what happens to them.

All five of the lead actors put in very solid performances here and play well as an ensemble, allowing their characters to develop and their history and conflicts to emerge naturally. But the real driving force of the film is Josie Ho who, as Wo’s wife, really does stamp her powerful presence on the proceedings and drives things forward to film’s spectacular conclusion.

All in all, then, Exiled is a full-on action film and one that expertly makes use of all the tropes of the various action sub-genres. It is, by turns, a gangster movie, a western, a road movie and a tragedy – and there are also plenty of dramatic and comedic moments thrown into the mix as well. Johnny To brings all of these elements together expertly to make a film that is not only spectacular but also takes a long look at modern ideas of honour and loyalty.

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