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December 2, 2001

Movie Review – Goodbye Mr.Cool (2001)

by Master Pillow

The knock against Hong Kong thespians has always been that they are chosen primarily for their looks rather than skill.  It didn’t matter if a lamp post or ape gave a more gripping performance since it would still not be hired by anyone in Hong Kong.  Granted, Hollywood can also be labeled guilty in this manner but the talent pool available is undeniably larger meaning more thespians can and will be used primarily for their skill not their appearance.

Ekin Cheng has been largely vilified by many for being in the pretty boy but lousy acting category, a label that has stuck like crazy glue although he’s perhaps the most well known Hong Kong actor (still only in HK films) of the past few years due to his involvement with high-profile movies like The Storm Riders, A Man Named Hero or Legend of Zu.  Now with Goodbye Mr. Cool, Ekin Cheng finally rises to the occasion with his superb turn as a former triad leader who desires to retire to a life of anonymity.  Too bad the rest of the movie fails to even register a heartbeat.

The film chronicles the exploits of Cool Dragon (Ekin Cheng) who, as the movie begins, is released from prison and enters the real world once again.  Before his stay in jail, Cool was one of the most highly respected leaders whose charisma and intellect drew supporters from every walk of life.  However, due to his past, Cool is crippled in one leg and limps around sometimes with the help of a cane.  Finally released and reformed, Cool decides that it’s time to settle down to become nothing more than any other hard-working decent citizen.

For a time this succeeds as Cool finds a job working in a small restaurant content to take orders and deliver food.  Some of his former followers drop by to visit him but find he has no desire to return to his former profession.  Most of them respect his decision though others, especially the remaining triad leaders, refuse to believe the truth.  Wary of their tenuous position and jealous that Cool still commands the respect of their underlings they begin to scheme against him.

Things become even more complicated for Cool when he meets his long-lost son and his comely teacher.  It’s only a matter of time before we expect sparks to appear but thankfully it doesn’t degenerate into frequent romps in the sack.  Cool starts to bond with his son and the two begin to rely upon one another but before long the plot turns darker as Cool’s ex lover (Karen Mok) appears, now a highly respected triad leader herself.  She attempts to win back Cool not only romantically but professionally.  It seems she has cooked up a mega deal and wants him as her partner but due to his constant refusals she finds herself vilified by other gangsters who take the erroneous view that Cool is playing possum and truly intends to take over in some nefarious grand plot.

Goodbye Mr. Cool surprisingly works well in its quieter moments, those depicting the central characters and their conversations.  Even though it takes place with underworld figures and situations there’s not much violence at all save for the rather unfortunately staged climax.  Ekin Cheng spends much of the movie in a quasi-subdued state, sometimes without a hint of emotion on his visage but it fits well with Cool’s new found serenity.  There are frequent flashbacks showing us his violent past that paint a much different man and here lies the film’s greatest message – that one can always change for the better.  It might not exactly be a groundbreaking concept but here it’s done all the while grounded in reality and not some cockamamie epiphany where our hero switches gears for no apparent reason.

The other actors involved are functional in their limited roles although Karen Mok’s jilted lover is very one dimensional.  She’s the epitome of a possessive female character and initiates some rather brutally inane schemes in order to gain back her former man.  Still, her character at least has a defined arc of enlightenment, something which can’t really be said for Cool’s son or his teacher who seem to wander onto the frame just to give a chance for Cool to espouse.  As a side note the child actor is quite horrendous in acting ability and blurts lines with as much emotion as a hypnotized cow.  I have no problem with kids in a film but they have to really put themselves into their roles to be effective (think any of the children in Spy Kids or The Sixth Sense).

The film’s Achilles’ heel lies in its rather poor pacing that sleepwalks rather than excites.  Even for a drama as this, when events occur that endanger our characters director Jingle Ma doesn’t start turning on the gas, content to let the movie idle on in neutral.  Even worse, the focus on dialogue and interaction erodes to an altogether phony and staged ending that takes place on a rooftop where a violent fist fight occurs.  That wouldn’t be so bad in and of itself but then the movie takes a u-turn and throws in a final sequence so haphazard that you can’t help but think both the director and screenwriter couldn’t figure out a coherent way to end it all.

This final brawl works to undermine everything that occurred in the previous 90 minutes.  Cool’s character works because he’s managed to contain and control his violent tendencies using words and calm logic to think his way out of trouble.  By having him resort to his old self and beat the tar out of someone shows an utter lack of respect for the material and message they were trying to portray.  Goodbye Mr. Cool is one of those flawed films that is worth a look or two for those Ekin Cheng or triad film fans but its contradictory morals and snail’s pace serve to make the whole project seemed like a semi-baked cake that just does not fully satisfy.

**1/2 out of ****

2001, Hong Kong, 101 Min
Directed by Jingle Ma

Ekin Cheng: Cool Dragon
Karen Mok: Helen
Stephanie Che: JoJo
Lam Suet: Kong
Chapman To: Long Hair
Rain Li: Ms.Mung
Jackie Lui Chung-yin: Volcano

© 2001 The Galactic Pillow

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