THE WHITE STORM 2: DRUG LORDS (2019) review

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Louis Koo’s third sequel of 2019, after P Storm and Chasing the Dragon II, and before Line Walker 2, Herman Yau’s The White Storm 2: Drug Lords (hereafter Drug Lords) is an in-name-only follow up (for obvious heroic bloodshed reasons) to Benny Chan’s hugely enjoyable 2013 actioner The White Storm. Koo plays Dizang, a triad member who gets severely punished by his boss (Kent Cheng) for peddling drugs in one of his night clubs. Reluctantly dishing out the punishment is his longtime friend Yu (Andy Lau), who cuts three of his fingers. Fifteen years later, Dizang has risen through the triad ranks and become a feared drug lord, while Yu has left the triads and become a billionaire financial expert, married to a successful lawyer (Karena Lam), and founder of an anti-drug charity. But when his illegitimate son Danny falls to his death while high on cocaine, Yu takes his fight against drugs to the next level, promising a 100-million $ bounty to whoever kills Dizang.

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PRINCESS MADAM (1989) review

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As a director, erstwhile Chang Cheh assistant Godfrey Ho is known as a master of schlock, many of his films being facepalm-inducing patchworks of stock footage, recycled scenes from older films, gratuitous sex scenes and quite often, random ninja appearances. He’s like the dark flip-side of that other Chang Cheh assistant, John Woo. Yet, a film like Princess Madam is proof that Ho was more than capable of delivering a solid, coherent and at times even affecting actioner. Moon Lee and Sharon Yeung star as police officers Mona and Lisa (aheheh), assigned to the protection of a key witness in bringing mob boss Lung (Yueh Hua) to justice for murdering a cop. During a failed ambush on the witness and her police escort, Mona kills the lover of assassin Lily (Michiko Nishiwaki), who later retaliates by seducing, then kidnapping her husband. But matters are complicated further by the fact that Lisa’s adoptive father (Kenneth Tsang) was complicit in Lung’s crime, which poses an agonizing dilemma to her.

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QUEEN’S HIGH (1991) short review

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Queen’s High sometimes absurdly goes by the title In the Line of Duty: The Beginning, even though it is one of the few films in which Cynthia Khan doesn’t play a cop. One of only five – mostly little-known – films directed by unsung action director Chris Lee Kin Sang (who choreographed the first-rate fights in films such as In the Line of Duty 3 or Ringo Lam’s masterpiece Burning Paradise), it is the simple story of a woman (Khan) whose father – a prominent mobster – is assassinated by a rival gang. Not long after, her family is targeted on her own wedding day, resulting in the death of her husband (Cha Chuen Yee) and her brother (Simon Yam). Thus she has no choice but to take over the family business, and bloody revenge is on the agenda. Queen’s High takes its sweet time getting started, with a good thirty minutes of uninvolving mafia talks – which is probably why the film starts with a narrative prolepsis of the tragic wedding. Yet this talky first third ensures that, by the time all hell breaks loose, we’re well-acquainted with the characters, which don’t have much depth but are played by a likable ensemble, including a particularly dashing Simon Yam. Then comes the wedding day attack, a shocking and riveting set piece that only occasionally dips into silliness, and ups the film’s intensity by quite a few notches. From then on, the steady stream of retribution makes for a rather gripping watch: Chris Lee directs with style, favoring Peckinpah slow-motion, capturing the statuesque and charismatic Cynthia Khan like an angry empress, and orchestrating gorgeously brutal fights in which one can witness the birth of Nick Li Chung Chi’s trademark fluid yet gritty, almost cyclical ballet of kicks. The warehouse finale is one of the best in an era when warehouse finales were as common as sky beam finales have been in 2010s Hollywood blockbusters. ***

 

FATAL TERMINATION (1990) short review

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Despite its amusingly redundant and over-the-top title, Andrew Kam’s Fatal Termination is quite tame for two thirds of its runtime: its routine plot involves an arms dealer (Philip Ko) who hijacks a weapons shipment destined for Indian terrorists, with the help of a corrupt customs officer (Robin Shou) whose honest colleague (Michael Miu) becomes a scapegoat, the prime suspect to the cop (Simon Yam) in charge of the investigation. Ray Lui and Moon Lee play Miu’s brother and sister-in-law, concerned bystanders for most of the film but thrust into action for the last third, after he’s killed and their daughter is targeted for kidnapping as they get too close to the truth. This last third is in sharp contrast with the boring simmer of what came before: it is an explosion of brutality that is some of the most inspired chaos ever conjured up in a Hong Kong action film, courtesy here of action directors Ridley Tsui and Paul Wong. The kidnapping scene, where the little girl is dangled by her hair out of a speeding car, to the hood of which a desperate Moon Lee clings while attacking the driver, is a gobsmacking tour-de-force of action-directing and fearless stunt-work, and yet a mere starter. Subsequently, there’s hook-impaling a la Cobra, people strapped with explosives and blown to pieces, a child is shot to death, and it all ends with a relentless ballet of dueling cars and helicopters on brownfield land. With a more interesting plot, better pacing, and actual characters for the talented ensemble of Yam, Miu, Lee, Lui, Ko and Shou to sink their teeth into, this could have been a stone-cold classic of Hong Kong action cinema. James Horner provides most of the music, though he of course had no idea: his score for Gorky Park is heavily tracked-in. **1/2

THE FATAL RAID (aka SPECIAL FEMALE FORCE 2) (2019) review

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Jacky Lee’s The Fatal Raid was initially announced as a sequel to Wilson Chin’s lackluster Girls With Guns revival Special Female Force, before dropping the connection altogether. Indeed, only three actresses return – in new roles – from the 2016 film: Jade Leung, Jeana Ho and Hidy Yu. Twenty years ago, Hong Kong inspectors Tam (Patrick Tam), Hard Gor (Michael Tong), Fong (Jade Leung), Shirley (Sharon Luk) and the rest of their team conducted a raid in Macao against a group of vicious gangsters, which ended in the deaths of Hard Gor, Shirley and an innocent bystander. Now, still shell-shocked from this botched operation, Tam and Fong must return to Macao to face an anarchist gang that threatens the city’s safety. Backing them is a special female force comprised of Alma (Jeana Ho), Yan Han (Lin Min Chen), Sheila (Hidy Yu) and Yu Yu (Jadie Lin).

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P STORM (2019) review

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Less than five years after 2014’s modestly successful Z Storm, David Lam’s ICAC franchise is still strongly storming through the alphabet: with each new installment, box office results grow, while the light in Louis Koo’s eyes gets dimmer and dimmer. He returns as officer William Luk, a poster boy for the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption, lest anyone forgot), a character which after four films still has the depth of, well, a poster. This time, Luk goes undercover in a prison where corruption runs rampant between a few powerful inmates – including wealthy heir Cao (Raymond Lam) – and most of the wardens, headed by superintendent Sham (Patrick Tam). There, his mission is made all the more risky by the presence of Wong (Gordon Lam), a former detective Luk himself put behind bars in Z Storm.

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UNDERCOVER PUNCH AND GUN (2019) review

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Produced by Gordon Chan, shot four years ago and formerly known as Undercover vs. Undercover, Frankie Tam and Koon Nam Lui’s Undercover Punch and Gun revolves around Wu (Philip Ng), an undercover cop who’s grown much too attached to Bob (Lam Suet), the mob boss he was supposed to help bring down, to the extent that he’s now dating his daughter (Aka Chio). When Bob is killed during a drug deal gone wrong, Wu finds himself caught between his superior officer (Nicholas Tse) who wants him to go deeper, Bob’s ruthless collaborator and old flame (Carrie Ng) who is suspicious towards him, and Ha (Andy On), a former special agent gone bad, who operates a meth trade from a cargo ship on the high seas, and wants the beleaguered undercover to deliver Bob’s chemist (Susan Shaw) to him. A desperate Wu can only count on the help of his loyal informant (Vanness Wu) and a special agent (Joyce Feng) who used to work with Ha.

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GODDESSES IN THE FLAMES OF WAR (2018) review

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Shot in 2014 and planned for release in 2015, Wu Yigong, Jiang Ping and Li Zuonan’s Goddesses in the Flames of War had to wait for the end of 2018 to finally land on Chinese screens, in general indifference, to dismal box-office despite its starry cast, and three years too late for the 70th anniversary of the end of the Sino-Japanese war, which it was meant to celebrate. It calls to mind The Bombing, another recent, long-delayed all-star war epic also produced by Jiang Ping, but with only a fraction of the budget, and a more unusual focus. Indeed, as its titles indicates, it focuses on the role of women in war, following a dozen female destinies in a village occupied by Japanese invaders, by the Yangtze river. A student (Bai Bing) works for the armed resistance, a seductress (Yin Tao) uses her charms to shield other women from abuse, a wealthy wife (Zhou Dongyu) struggles with her husband’s collaboration with the Japanese, a businesswoman (Yao Chen) uses her influence to find employment for those in need… At the center is He Saifei, the film’s actual lead, as a woman who loses both her husband and her son to the Japanese, and will stop at nothing to protect her last remaining child, and get revenge.

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MY DEAR ELEPHANT (2019) review

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In My Dear Elephant, his most light-hearted film since 2012’s The Great Magician, Lau Ching Wan plays the owner of a traveling circus whose star attraction is a trio of highly-trained elephants. But just as he hopes to bring more stability to his team by joining an in-development amusement park called Dreamland, he’s harassed by a plucky animal rights activist (You Jingru), whose ex-boyfriend (Pan Yueming) is none other than the co-owner of Dreamland. Shot three years ago, Shao Xiaoli’s film was finally released earlier this year, no doubt to scrape a few Yuan from the other circus elephant film of the moment, Disney’s Dumbo.

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CHASING THE DRAGON II: WILD WILD BUNCH (2019) review

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The second film in Wong Jing’s planned Chasing the Dragon trilogy of films based on real-life Hong Kong crimes, Wong Jing and Jason Kwan’s Chasing the Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch (hereafter Wild Wild Bunch) focuses on Logan (Tony Leung Ka Fai), who took advantage of the legal limbo in the few years leading to the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, to establish a kidnapping ring targeting Hong Kong’s elite for extravagant ransoms. From there, the films veers into fiction, as cop Sky He (Louis Koo) is sent undercover in Logan’s gang: his superior Lee (Simon Yam) has been tipped off that the kidnapper, who often uses improvised bombs to threaten his victims, is in need of a new explosive experts. Well-versed in that field, Sky manages to infiltrate the gang, thanks in no small part to Doc (Lam Ka Tung), Logan’s second-in-command, who appears to be playing both sides. The gang’s next target is the richest man in Hong Kong, casino tycoon Stanford He (Michael Wong), but Logan seems to know there’s a mole in his team.

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