FURIE (aka HAI PHƯỢNG) (2019) review

MV5BZWY2N2Y3NTEtYjJmZC00ZDYwLTg2NjMtNjhhNzZlNTVlNzIzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjAzNzkxMDA@._V1_

After roles unworthy of her talents in two major Hollywood blockbusters, David Ayer’s Bright and Rian Johnson The Last Jedi, Veronica Ngo is back to leading woman status in Le Van Kiet’s Furie. She plays Hai Phuong, a former gangster who left Saigon after she became a single mother, and now lives in the countryside where she works as a debt collector, an occupation that marginalises her within the community and makes her daughter Mai (Mai Cat Vi) the target of bullying. One day, Mai is kidnapped by members of a powerful, tentacular organ-trafficking organization. Desperate and unstoppable, Hai Phuong sets off on her trail, which leads her back to Saigon and brings back the ghosts of her former life as a gangster, with only a lone cop (Phan Thanh Nhiên) to help her.

Read the full post »

Advertisements

PEGASUS (2019) review

p2543270558

Pegasus is the third directorial effort of Han Han, an artist with a great many strings to his bow: best-selling author, influential blogger, prize-winning rally racer, singer-songwriter and of course, hit-making film director. It follows Zhang Chi (Shen Teng), a former glory of the Chinese rally racing world who after taking part in a dangerous and illegal parking lot race against his then-nemesis (William Feng), was stripped of his driver’s license and racing rights. Now, after five years away from racing, spent as a street cook and taking care of his adoptive son Fei (Li Qingyu), Zhang is staging a comeback. But he’s got no driving license, no car, no money, no sponsor, and only the bumbling poet Yuqiang (Yin Zheng) as his teammate. All he’s got is a deep love of car racing, and will to show the newer generation of drivers, including wunderkind Lin Yidong (Johnny Huang Jingyu), that’s he’s still the best.

Read the full post »

THE GREAT DETECTIVE (2019) review

p2546253802

Roy Chow’s long delayed (it was originally set for a Summer 2017 release) The Great Detective is based on the popular detective stories of Chen Xiaoqing, an author considered the “Conan Doyle of the East”. It follows Huo Sang (Han Geng), a brilliant private detective who, flanked by his trusty sidekick Bao Lang (Yin Zheng), accepts a fortune in gold from a powerful businesswoman (Carina Lau) to solve the murder of her  aide-de-camp. The apparent culprit is Jiang Nan Yan, a gentleman thief known as the “face-shifter”: an ability to change his face has made him impossible to identify, let alone catch. Eager to help Huo and Bao is Bai Mudan (Zhang Huiwen), a bank teller and wannabe sleuth who is a great admirer of the detective. But soon the trio of investigators find themselves stalked by a mysterious blonde woman, while new murders signed by Jiang Nan Yan make the news.

Read the full post »

ICEMAN: THE TIME TRAVELER (2018) review

102319.80415304_1000x1000

Law Wing Cheong’s Iceman 3D was, at the time, the most ambitious project of Donnie Yen’s rejuvenated career as a leading man; a remake of Clarence Fok’s cult classic The Iceman Cometh, with a hefty – for the Chinese film industry in 2014 – budget of 33 million dollars, it was conceived as a one-off, until a spiraling budget (Hong Kong’s Tsing Ma bridge had to be rebuilt as a set for a quarter of the film’s budget when permission to shoot on the actual one was refused) and the necessity for ever more reshoots led to the decision to release the film as a two-parter. But Iceman 3D had more scatological jokes than fights, and a shoddy grasp of its time-traveling concepts, puzzlingly eschewing the simple, pulpy pleasures of Clarence Fok’s original for something both more ambitious and less thrilling. It underperformed on release, and now four years later comes Iceman; The Time Traveler, with solid journeyman Raymond Yip taking over the helm from Law Wing Cheong.

Read the full post »

ENDLESS LOOP (2018) short review

103239.24214571_1000X1000

In Wen He’s Endless Loop, a woman whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere hitches a ride with a man who turns out to be a violent psychopath. Not long after, seven people riding a minibus in the same part of the Chinese countryside find themselves in a tunnel that doesn’t seem to end. Worse: when they try to go back the way they came in, they realize the tunnel has apparently become a loop, and what looks like an exit door actually leads then to another looped tunnel, strikingly similar yet with key differences. The seven strangers must work together to find a way out, but the ugliness of human nature in extreme circumstances quickly derails their efforts at survival. With an opening scene not unlike that of Kim Jee-woon’s I saw the Devil, a set-up and some episodes that call to mind Fruit Chan’s The Midnight After, and (SPOILER ALERT) a second-reel twist that turns the film into a near-remake of Tarsem Singh’s The Cell (END SPOILERS), Endless Loop is rather low on originality. Yet it’s briskly-paced, well-acted by a solid ensemble (with the ever-reliable and low-key Nie Yuan at its center), and ends in a flurry of off-the-wall dreamlike sequences that artfully get around budgetary constraints and are tightly connected to the narrative, so that they never feel gratuitous. A step in the right direction for Mainland horror. **1/2

MOJIN: THE WORM VALLEY (2018) review

113327.64305686_1000X1000

A new term should be coined for films like Mojin: The Worm Valley. Based on Tianxia Bachang’s 2006 best-selling series of eight novels, Ghost Blows Out the Light, it thus exists in the same universe and follows the same characters as Lu Chuan’s Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe and Wuershan’s Mojin: The Lost Legend. Yet, being from the same studio as the latter film, it is not a rival adaptation per se. And it’s neither a sequel nor a prequel, as its events and depictions of characters do not fit with The Lost Legend‘s narrative. And it doesn’t seem to be a reboot, as there was word not so long ago of a Mojin Returns, with Chen Kun set to return to the lead. And while Wuershan’s film was a sizable hit – still the 12th highest-grossing Chinese film of all-time – The Worm Valley inexplicably scales things down both in terms of scope and in terms of cast, with Cheng Taishen the only recognizable face in the cast, let alone anyone of the A-list stature of Chen Kun, Shu Qi or Huang Bo. And as Fei Xing’s film looks set, after a few days on Chinese screen, to gross but a tiny fraction of The Lost Legend‘s box-office take, the whole thing appears quite a head-scratching way of managing a successful IP on the part of backers Enlight and Huayi.

Read the full post »

LOST, FOUND (2018) review

p2535274703

Lv Yue’s Lost, Found is a Chinese take on Hong Eun-mi’s script to the 2016 thriller Missing Woman, directed by Lee Eon-hie. As explained in Derek Elley’s review of the film, the rights to the script were bought before the South-Korean version was even shot – and thus it is not a remake per se. It follows Li Jie (Yao Chen), a ruthless lawyer who has little time for her two-year-old daughter Duo Duo, but is nevertheless fighting for her custody in the aftermath of a divorce from Tian Ning (Yuan Wenkuang). But one day, Duo Duo goes missing, and Li Jie is convinced that she’s been kidnapped by her nanny Sun Fang (Ma Yili), a self-effacing country girl. Increasingly desperate as the police’s chances to find her daughter dwindle by the hour, Li Jie goes on a frantic search for clues as to Sun Fang’s whereabouts, discovering her painful, storied past in the process.

Read the full post »

A COOL FISH (2018) review

113649.53821190_1000X1000

A sleeper hit in China, Rao Xiaozhi’s A Cool Fish interlocks narratives as we follow Cobra (Zhang Yu) and Big Head (Pan Binlong), two hapless criminals who rob a cellphone shop with a stolen gun, run away on a motorbike without knowing the phones they’ve stolen are just non-functioning models for show, and then must keep running away on foot after when their motorbike ends up in a tree due to a clumsy maneuver. They end up in the appartment of Jiaqi (Ren Suxi), a quadriplegic who has given up on life, and is thus not impressed by their attempts at intimidation. Meanwhile, Jiaqi’s brother Xianyong (Chen Jianbin), who was fired from the police and now works as a security guard for property developer Gao Ming (Wang Yanhui), sets off to find his lost shotgun, which is none other than the one used by Cobra and Big Head in their attempt at a robbery. And Xianyong’s daughter, who harbors a world of resentment against him, is trying to cool down her boyfriend Xiang (Ning Huanyu), the son of Gao Ming, who wants to go up against the loan sharks who are threatening his father.

Read the full post »

L STORM (2018) review

115801.88686597_1000X1000

Who could have predicted that David Lam’s modestly-successful financial thriller Z Storm would open the way to a full-blown franchise, yielding four installments in 5 years? In 2016, S Storm doubled its predecessor’s box-office take, before seeing its own financial success doubled by this year’s L Storm. And P Storm will come out in late 2019. Here, Louis Koo is back as William Luk, the handsome ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) agent who looks bored even when he’s chasing a perp down an obstacle-strewn alleyway. Back from S Storm is Lau Po Keung (Julian Cheung) of the JFIU (Joint Financial Intelligence Unit): together, Luk and Lau investigate a money laundering case involving a corrupt customs officer (Michael Tse) and a dangerous criminal mastermind (Patrick Tam). Meanwhile, officer Ching Tak Ming (Kevin Cheng), of the ICAC’s own internal affairs division, has his sights set on Luk, after it is revealed by an informant (Stephy Tang) that he accepted a sizable bribe.

Read the full post »

THE TRADING FLOOR (2018) TV review

0

An ambitious mini-series co-produced by FOX, Tencent Penguin and Andy Lau’s Focus Television Group, The Trading Floor was created by Cora Yim and is a rare five-part mini-series in a part of the world where all popular TV dramas count dozens of episodes. It takes place in a fictional version of Hong Kong called Coen City, and follows Anthony Yip (Francis Ng), a former economics teacher turned Secretary of the Minister of Economic Development. Twenty years ago, he created an elite financial team including also Pamela Cheung (Maggie Cheung Ho Yee), Nick Cheuk (Patrick Tam) and Wai Hong (Joseph Chang); but years after working with them to avoid a financial tsunami caused by George Soros in 1997, Yip betrayed his team to obtain more power and a government position. Cheung was killed, Cheuk crippled and Wai exiled to Myanmar. Now having struck an alliance with three financial giants, Eastman Properties, Evergate Construction Materials and Marco Media, in a bid for market manipulation and dominance, Yip calls back Wai from his Burmese exile to help them. But Wai has vengeance on his mind, while Claudia Fang (Yu Nan), an agent from the Securities & Futures Commission, has set her sights on him.

Read the full post »