HERO (1997) review

Corey Yuen has action-directed countless films, but also directed quite a few, generally falling into two categories : chick-action flicks (Yes Madam!, So Close, Dead or Alive…) or Jet Li vehicles (The Enforcer, The Defender, the Fong Sai Yuk films…). Most of these film are enjoyable fluff, but not much else. But ironically, his very best film, one that stands in a league of its own compared to the others, is also his least famous. Released in 1997, Hero gave Takeshi Kaneshiro his first leading role in a big action film, and saved Yuen Biao from his Philippines-set career degeneration. Kaneshiro plays Ma Wing Jing, a young man who comes to Shanghai with his brother Tai Cheung (Yuen Wah) to escape the poverty of his village. He finds that life is no less hard in the city, working as coolie and being paid almost nothing. After saving the life of benevolent mobster Tam See in an ambush by his rival Yang Shuang (Yuen Tak), Ma Wing Jing is catapulted to the head of one of Tam’s nightclubs, where he falls in love with Kim (Jessica Hester Hsuan), a singer. But Yang Shuang is scheming with the local corrupt authorities to take full control on the town, and he may be getting help from the conniving Yam (Valerie Chow), Tam See’s former girlfriend.

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MURAL (2011) review

After the huge success that was Painted Skin in 2008, Gordon Chan was back in 2011 with another fantasy film, which was financially almost as successful as his 2008 effort, though critically much less lauded. Deng Chao stars as Zhu, a scholar on his way to the capital with his servant Hou Xia (Bao Bei’er), to pass an exam. After an altercation with a robber, Meng Longtan (Collin Chou), they end up in a Taoist temple where they are welcomed by an affable monk (Eric Tsang). There, Zhu notices a mural depicting beautiful women in a heavenly landscape. When one of the beauties (Zheng Shuang) materializes in front of him, he follows her through a portal that leads to the heavenly landscape of the mural, which is peopled only with beautiful women, and ruled by a ruthless queen (Ni Yan), her trusted second-in-command Shaoyao (Betty Sun) and a mysterious golden warrior (Andy On). Soon, Hou Xia and Meng Longtan and dragged into this world as well, but Zhu has only one goal : to rescue Mudan, the woman who led him to this world and who has been cast to hell by the queen for it.

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DRAGONS FOREVER (1988) review

Dragon Forever was the last film (or is the last film so far, as I like to think) to feature the mighty trio of Sammo Hung Kam-Bo (aka Biggest Brother), Jackie Chan (aka Big Brother) and Yuen Biao (aka Little Brother). After that film, their friendship would go through rocky times, with Sammo resenting Jackie’s superior degree of success, and Biao wanting to make a career for himself without always being tied to his illustrious big brothers. Well, at least the “three dragons” went out with a bang, because Dragon Forever is a marvel of breath-taking action, zany humour and, more unexpectedly, heart-warming sweetness. Jackie Chan is Jackie Lung, a lawyer who is more interested in money than justice, and who is a bit of a ladykiller, too. He is hired by Mr. Wah (Yuen Wah), the owner of a chemical plant against whom the owners of a fish farm (Deannie Yip and Pauline Yeung) are pressing charges for polluting the water. To gather information and exert pressure on the two women, Jackie calls upon two friends, Luke (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo) and the slightly deranged Tak-Biao (Yuen Biao). But when they proceed to bug their house and monitor their actions, the unexpected happens as Jackie falls in love with one of them and Luke with the other. On top of that, they find out that the chemical plant is actually a drug refining plant and decide to take action.

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BUTTERFLY & SWORD (1993) review

The synopsis for Butterfly & Sword says that the film is about “a loyalist (Michelle Yeoh) who attempts to keep the King’s empire from being overthrown by a revolutionary group.” It’s good to know, especially since you’d never guess that’s what it is about, even after watching the film itself. Still, circa 1993, a Hong Kong film with no discernable plot was not an unusual thing to say the least, and the idea of a film starring not only the magnificent Michelle Yeoh, but also martial arts god Donnie Yen and the actor’s actor that is known as Tony Leung Chiu Wai, should be enough to be lenient with the film’s narrative shortcomings. Well not really after all : Butterfly & Sword is simply too infuriating in its scattershot storytelling and slapdash action scenes.

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MILLIONAIRE’S EXPRESS (aka SHANGHAI EXPRESS) (1986) review

Millionaire's_Express2
Though Sammo Hung Kam-Bo as a director is better known for his films showcasing the mighty trio of Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao and himself, his filmography as a director/screenwriter/actor includes a gem of a film that is not nearly as famous and celebrated as it should be : Millionaire’s Express, a crazy hybrid of martial arts film, western and comedy, a combination later applied by Jackie Chan in Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights, but executed here with more ambition and creativity. In the film, Sammo plays Ching, a man who once brought great misfortune on his hometown by blowing up the dam that supplied it with water. After a few years of exile and run-ins with the law, he returns home with a plan to make things right : he will sabotage the nearby railway so that the “Millionaire’s Express”, a luxury train, will be stopped, and its wealthy passengers will have to go to the town and spend money there. That’s only the tip of the iceberg, as many subplots emerge, including the prostitutes Ching has brought along with him (including Rosamund Kwan), the head of security of the town (Eric Tsang) who’s also an arsonist and a bankrobber, Japanese swordsmen (including Yasuaki Kurata) who carry a mysterious map, a gang of outlaws who plan to rob the train (including Richard Norton and Cynthia Rothrock), a man who desperately tries to cheat on his wife (Richard Ng), and a fireman who has the responsibility of the security of the town thrust upon him (Yuen Biao). And I’m still omitting some for the sake of brevity.

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IN THE LINE OF DUTY 4 (1989) review

  The second of three urban action thrillers Yuen Woo-Ping and Donnie Yen collaborated on as director and star, In The Line Of Duty 4 is also, you guessed it, the fourth installment in a franchise that only has vague thematic continuity between its installments. The first two In The Line Of Duty films starred Michelle Yeoh and are also known as Yes Madam! and Royal Warriors. For the third film, Yeoh pulled out and was replaced with Cynthia Khan, who introduced the character of Rachel Yeung, which she reprises in this fourth film.

Cynthia Khan emerged as a replacement for Michelle Yeoh in the series and in Hong Kong cinema in general, after Yeoh went on an early and temporary retirement at the end of the eighties. She is just as beautiful and has the same tomboyish style as eighties Michelle Yeoh, but the difference is she is often replaced with an obvious stunt double in the trickier action scenes. Still, she is a charismatic and charming presence, and it’s a pity she vanished from the mainstream in the mid-nineties. Here she is paired with Donnie Yen (then at the beginning of his career and still a protégé of director Yuen Woo-Ping) and they play two cops investigating a drug-trafficking network with possibles international ties. They wind up having to take care of an innocent dock worker (Yuen Yat Chor) who witnessed a murder that is pivotal to the case, and questioning the loyalty of colleague Wong (Michael Wong), who might be playing both side.

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