Wednesday, April 23, 2008

RUN PAPA RUN: Sylvia Gets Whimsical

RUN PAPA RUN (crime drama)

Cast: Louis Koo, Rene Liu, Nora Mioa and Ti Lung
Director: Sylvia Chang
Time: 115 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? As writer-director, Sylvia Chang has given us some of the most touching movies like the 1995 "Siao Yu", "Tempting Heart" (1999) and "20,30,40" in 2004. The themes of her movies combine serious social issues (like gay affairs) with comical touches that often tug at our heart-strings. In "Run Papa Run", Chang seems to adopt a whimsical, campy approach, like having the characters speak directly to the audience and breaking into song. It is enjoyable enough as a popcorn movie but certainly not one of Chang's best works.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? "Run Papa Run" reunites Louis Koo and Rene Liu after their lead roles in last year's "Happy Birthday". Koo is Lee Tin-Yun, a young and brash triad boss who aims to muscle into Hong Kong's lucrative underworld. Liu is Mabel Chan, a buidding lawyer who dumps her career for marriage to Tin-Yun after getting herself pregnant by him. They have a daughter, Haiyi, on whom Tin-Yun dotes. Soon Tin-Yun gets so protective of his daughter that he decides to keep his triad activities a secret from the child.

For this, he even goes to the extent of getting baptised as a Catholic (despite worshipping the diety Guan Gong), starting a tuition centre to mask his gangland dealings, and saving up so that he can get out of the grip of the underworld. The rest of the movie shows the multitude of problems Tin-Yun faces trying to keep his secret and start a new life.

HITS & MISSES: The earlier part of the movie feels like its was trying to emulate Bollywood. When the characters break into song, we kind of expect extras to join them for some dance routines. This does not happen but it serves to lend a nostalgic, fairy-tale touch to the quicky love story between Mabel and Tin-Yun. As the leads, Liu and Koo are just passable but not impressive enough to get us rooting for them. Those who have followed the TV series "The Sopranos" will be able to see how 'watered-down' the crime sequences look here.

Still, the message about a father's love remains relevant and intact, and almost every scene with Tin-Yun and Haiyi is effective. The supporting cast, especially Nora Miao as Tin-Yun long-suffering mother, helps to lend colour to the story. Veteran kungfu star Ti Lung, however, seems to ham his way through as Mabel's father.

Director Chang seems to pander to the demands of Asian censors (that crime does not pay) by ending the movie with a 'question mark'. But she has provided enough clues as to how the ending should have been.

THE LOWDOWN: Let's write this off as one of the few 'commercial efforts' of Sylvia Chang's career.


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