Sunday, September 25, 2011

Movie Review: 9th September

At Gweilo's Guide, we celebrate what makes Chinese movies weird and fresh and unusual from the gweilo's perspective.  Random, nonsensical film-making strategies are a big part of the fun here.  That's the whole point of the WTF meter. 
The Gweilo's Movie Ratings for 9th September
The Chinese movie review continues below this info box!
Category Rating
WTF Meter 5 out of 5
MST3K-Ability 3 out of 5
OVERALL QUALITY 1.5 out of 5
Chinese Movie 9th September

Director Lam Chin Wai
Actors Michael Chow Man-Kin, Simon Loui Yu-Yeung, Anita Lee Yuen-Wa
Year 2000
Format Viewed VCD (Universe VCD 2259)

However, as any B-movie fan will tell you, the weirdness can pile up to a point where it stops being amusingly weird, and it starts being just weird weird, in a bad way.  A movie can get random to the point where it’s difficult to make any sense of it at all.  9th September boldly pushes past this boundary within the first few minutes of the film without even breaking a sweat.  In fact, 9th September sets out to discover if there's an even farther boundary, where the accumulated weirdness hits a kind of critical mass, and turns good again. 

I'll give you a rundown of the first five minutes of the movie so you can understand what I'm talking about.  A baby is born in a kind of tense panic (the woman's water breaks while she's on the way to the hospital).  It doesn't matter, though, because we never see these people again!  Instead, a narrator tells us that it's certainly very weird and unlucky to be born on September 9th.  (If that's your birthday, sorry!)  While the narrator's talking, we see a hiker named Ken Chow climbing a mountain, then screaming loudly for no apparent reason at all (Joie de vivre?) with a big, goofy smile on his face.  While he happily screams like an idiot, the scene cuts to some partially mummified corpses.  So was it supposed to be a scream of horror?  Apparently not, because the hiker, who was so full of life and screams, is now apparently just as full of urine.  He starts peeing vigorously from his mountain ledge, causing two other hikers on the trail below him to remark that it's started raining, then getting pissed off (sorry) when they realize the truth.

Peeing on those hikers sets in motion a rapid-fire sequence of events that results in Ken falling hundreds of feet down a cliff in an avalanche (which he survives!), and grabbing a skull.  Grabbing the skull somehow causes the nearby stone pillars to explode, releasing two 1980's style disco demons from a rock (they look like extras from a Cindi Lauper music video).  The 1980's disco demons start to dance, fly about, and pose.  While this would have made very little sense in the 1980's, it makes even less sense in 2000, which is when 9th September was made.  This posturing is followed by a sudden stampede of dozens of people through this remote, empty landscape who weren't there a moment before, then some very improbable kung fu, a foursome of "ghostly" children chanting nursery rhymes, and so on.

OK, that's the first 5 minutes.  One of the "ghostly" children hangs around and sums up the opening scene of the movie this way:
I couldn't agree more!

But this movie is only warming up.  As it unfolds, we are introduced to Michael, a celebrity, superstar bartender.  Yes, dear viewer, the world of 9th September apparently has famous, celebrity, superstar bartenders.  This one is extremely famous for his excellent method of “shaking wine.”  He's also the same guy as Ken Chow, but never mind that.  More interestingly, he has the ability to travel into the future and back again(!)  But for some reason this special ability only confuses him, and when he uses his special ability, he uses it really, really stupidly. 

For example, at one point he learns the next day’s winning lottery numbers.  But he doesn't do what you or I would do with this information.  Instead of buying a lottery ticket he tells the winning number to a friend.  Of course the friend neglects to buy a ticket.  OK.  Meanwhile there's dance scenes, scenes of acrobatic acts, and some weird scene of a guy looking at knives, all of them spliced haphazardly into the movie.  Along with this comes a generous helping of mafioso gangsters, night club owners, car crashes, a machete wielding lunatic concubine, a mysterious vaudeville performer/Taoist priest, a violently sexy (sexily violent?) female ghost, and so much more.

That's already enough to ping the WTF meter.  In fact, it might be too much.  There's so much weird in this movie, coming at you so fast, that it becomes something of a challenge to appreciate all of it (or appreciate it at all).  What brings this to the next level though, is the extremely sloppy (or brilliant?) editing.

The strange editing only gets stranger as this Chinese movie progresses.  For example, in the middle of a fight scene, they suddenly cut to a stage and introduce someone’s acrobat act, which we see for a bit before going back to the fight.  What's more, if you keep a sharp eye out, eventually you start to recognize duplicate clips from other parts of the movie, interspersed where they don’t belong.  You might be thinking “Wow, that sounds like some really sloppy film editing!” and you'd probably be right.  However, I choose to believe that this was intentional, that director Lam Chin Wai was going for some kind of Avant-garde confusing-time-travel-aesthetic in the editing and presentation of 9th September.  Think about it:  It's a movie where the protagonist starts traveling in time, and is very confused by what's happening.  How better to make your audience live that experience than to randomly splice the film itself together!

Yeah, that's probably a stretch.

Bottom Line of this Chinese Movie Review:  For most people, 9th September will only suck.  From the Gweilo's perspective, however, it's well worth the experiment.

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