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November 07, 2014


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Bing Fung: Chung Sang Chi Mun
Law Wing-cheung - 2014
Well Go USA Region 1 DVD

Would I have liked Iceman a bit more had I not seen the original version? Maybe. Would I have liked Iceman more had I seen it in 3D as did the audience in China? Maybe. But I did see the film from 1989, with the English language title of The Iceman Cometh (and, no, Eugene O'Neill had nothing to do with Clarence Fok's film other than the title).

The story about a frozen Ming Dynasty guard, discovered, and accidentally defrosted in contemporary Hong Kong, was sort of interesting. The real reason for watching Fok's film is to see that martial arts fantasy stolen by Maggie Cheung as the ditzy prostitute who takes the befuddled stranger from another century reluctantly under her wing. Cheung's underused comic chops are on display here, especially in one laugh out loud scene where she fakes an orgasm while with a client, sneaking a glance at her watch. For those unfamiliar with his earlier film, the much respected critic, Jonathan Rosenbaum, includes The Iceman Cometh as one of his one thousand favorite films, primarily for Maggie Cheung's performance.

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As the "Making of . . ." supplements makes abundantly clear, this new version is definitely Donnie Yen's joint, even if Law Wing-cheung is the credited director. Unlike the earlier version, there is nothing and no one to distract from Yen as the most important character here, even with the heavy duty support of Simon Yam, Lam Suet and (the very popular in China) Wang Baoqiang. Eva Huang won't make anyone forget Maggie Cheung, and is seen here as a bar hostess who takes Yen's character for a ride financially when she discovers the value of the little gold pieces he carries in his pocket, but really has a heart of gold in caring for her aging mother.

The major mistake of this new version is that the character of Ying, waking up after a nearly four hundred year sleep, too quickly adapts to his new environment. There is a scene with Ying drinking out of a toilet bowl, one of several scenes of bathroom humor, but it is hard to believe that someone from the past would figure out how to use an internet search on a tablet within days such a radical shift in environment. Funnier is when Wang, as a rival Ming Dynasty guard also frozen in the same avalanche, uses his first pistol, and a more effective means of being a killer.

Much of the film is given over to special effects, making the most of the 3D effects. There is a lot of wire work, with Yen uncharacteristically making high leaps across buildings, lampposts and buses. There is also an elaborate chase of cars and people on one of Hong Kong's busiest bridges, actually shot on a life size reproduction. And as admirable as it is that having past the age of fifty, Donnie Yen is still making films that display his martial arts chops, his character of Ying is barely two-dimensional in this 3D extravaganza.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 7, 2014 07:16 AM