J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Triumph in the Skies: Hong Kong’s Favorite Way to Fly

Where American networks failed with shows like Pan Am and LAX, Hong Kong found tremendous success with a prime time airliner drama. While it had the benefit of some star power from Francis Ng and Michelle Ye, it was really the multi-character romances that were powering the show. How big was it? Big enough to snag a New Year’s theatrical release for the big screen edition. Hearts will be broken on multiple continents in Wilson Yip & Matt Chow’s Triumph in the Skies (trailer here), which is now playing in New York and select markets.

By-the-book Captain “Sam” Tong and his not-so-by-the-book co-pilot Jayden Koo used to be a regular flight crew, but they have split up. Tong is still the senior officer with Skylette, but the new boss’s son and heir apparent, Branson Cheung, has assigned him to serve as the technical advisor for their new commercial starring rock-star diva TM Tam. Nobody on-set wants to hear his quibbles, except maybe Tam. There are such polar opposites, they naturally start to attract.

Cheung, who also serves as a Skylette flight captain, is rather surprised to find his old flame Cassie Poon Ka-sze is part of the crew on his newly assigned plane. She is still disappointed he put their relationship on hold to please his father, but the sparks are still there. Meanwhile, Koo or “Captain Cool,” has landed a cushy job as the private pilot of a party plane, where he meets the seemingly ambitionless Kika Sit. However, he realizes almost too late there is far more to her story.

If you have seen a few Chinese romantic comedies you will basically know what to expect here, but Yip & Chow’s execution is wildly slick and lethally effective. You are not likely to see a sparklier movie anytime soon. Triumph has so much jet-setting, it makes Sex in the City look like EastEnders.

Sure, it is tons of manipulative, yet each of the three primary story arcs works surprising well, with the best being Tong’s halting flirtation with Tam. It is also the best written braided-storyline, featuring some wry, understated dialogue and terrific chemistry between series veteran Francis Ng and Sammi Cheng. You can almost think of it as an HK version of a James L. Brooks late middle-age relationship film. She also performs a catchy punk version of “Over the Rainbow” that will make you think that was what Harold Arlen & Yip Harburg really had in mind the whole time.

In contrast, Triumph totally goes for the tears with Captain Cool’s possibly tragic romance, but Amber Kuo just lights up the screen as Kika Sit. Of course, Julian Cheung is not exactly is not exactly a jowly sourpuss either—and they both know how to crank up the cute in their big feature spots.

The third romance starring Louis Koo is a lot like an HK rom-com starring Louis Koo, but it is still one of the better ones. Again, he and Charmaine Sheh have surprisingly strong chemistry. However, the notion of an attractive working woman sitting around waiting for the man who walked out of her life to saunter back might not sit too well with American audiences.


Despite the vaguely Leni Riefenstahl-ish title, Triumph in the Skies is a pleasingly upbeat and colorful film. These days, it is just no fun whatsoever to fly on a commercial airliner or schlep through an airport, but it would be worth taking off your belt and shoes to fly with the ridiculously good looking crews of Skylette. Maybe it is a guilty pleasure, but it is fun. Recommended for those looking for an entertaining movie romance that pretty much covers all the bases, Triumph is now playing in New York at the AMC Empire.

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