CHINA STRIKE FORCE (2000) short review

With a cast that is kind of interesting in its own warped way (Hong Kong heartthrob Aaron Kwok, American-born Taiwanese singer Wang Leehom, Miss Japan 1992 Norika Fujiwara, underrated Hawaiian cypher Mark Dacascos and American rapper/awful actor Coolio, no less), and an experienced action director at the helm (Jackie Chan’s main yes man Stanley Tong), China Strike Force is, at least, entertaining. The forgettable and trite plot involves two Chinese agents (Kwok and Wang) tracking drug smugglers (Dacascos and Coolio), and the possible double-agent (Fujiwara) stuck in between. Coolio is punishingly bad and drags the whole thing down, but most of the action scenes are impressive, especially the vertigo-inducing final fight on a pane of glass dangling from the top of a skyscraper. Stanley Tong proves yet again that he’s one of the best action directors around, and Ailen Sit’s choreography is superbly fluid and weirdly balletic. By now, you’ve guessed that China Strike Force only has its action going for it. **

 

SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT (aka LETHAL LADY) (1990) review

Joyce Godenzi, a former Miss Hong Kong of Sino-Australian descent, had a short career as a lead actress, before marrying Sammo Hung Kam-Bo in 1995 and retiring from the film industry. The few films she made as a lead actress were often associated with the successful Girls with Guns sub-genre of action cinema, which in the late eighties and early nineties had people like Michelle Yeoh, Cynthia Khan or Kara Hui as its most famous faces. Her best-known film remains Corey Yuen’s She Shoots Straight, in which she plays a career-oriented policewoman who marries Tsung-Pao (Tony Leung Ka Fai), the only son in the Huang family. She has to face the resentment of her husband’s four sisters, (all of them cops under her command, which makes things more complicated) who do not approve, among other things, of her unwillingness to have a baby just yet. The elder sister Ling (Carina Lau) is also defiant of Mina’s authority on the force, and enraged that her own mother and brother are siding with Mina in every argument. At the same time, they have to put their differences aside to stop a gang of Viet-namese criminals (headed by the great Yuen Wah) on a crime spree through Hong Kong. Sammo Hung Kam-Bo endearingly crops up from time to time, surely to show his future wife some support (he’s also a producer on this film).

(more…)

A CHINESE FAIRY TALE (aka A CHINESE GHOST STORY) (2011) review

Remaking Ching Siu Tung’s 1987 fantasy love story A Chinese Ghost Story was a bold move. The original is still a reverred classic, featuring a legendary screen couple in the person of the late Leslie Cheung and the now-retired Joey Wong, some of Ching Siu Tung’s most inventive choreography, and an effectibe blend of romanticism, tragedy and comedy, with crappy but well meaning special effects and a very popular soundtrack. It gave way to two sequels and a whole wave of fantasy love stories. A remake was always going to face a very tough challenge, especially since the legendary Leslie Cheung committed suicide in the early 2000’s, which adds a sheen of intensely emotional nostalgia to all his greatest successes.

Demon hunter Yan (Louis Koo in the role made famous by Wu Ma) fell in love years ago with demon Siu Sin (Liu Yifei replacing Joey Wong), but due to the forbidden nature of their union, had to leave her after suppressing her memories. Years later, naïve scholar Ning (Yu Shaoqun trying to fill the shoes of Leslie Cheung) is searching the forest trying to find a water source for a small village suffering from a drought, when he comes across a temple where he encounters life-sucking demons, one of whom is none other than Siu Sin. They fall in love with each other as she spares his life, thus finding herself hunted by her fellow demons. Things get more complicated when Yan re-emerges, setting demons, demon hunters, villagers and lovers on a collision course.

(more…)

NAUGHTY BOYS (1986) short review

An amateurishly plotted, not even sporadically funny comedy that inexplicably casts Mars as its lead (great stuntman, not good actor) and the lovely Kara Hui as a plain jane (really?) to Carina Lau’s alpha-female. Logic is absent, the gags are uninspired, and the action (supervised by Jackie Chan’s Stunt Team) is only interesting when Hui gets in on it. The plot involves a hidden loot and a hapless idiot (Mars) hunted by his ex-partners in crime, fresh out of prison (and headed by Phillip Ko). There is a literally blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Jackie Chan (a cameo predictably blown to deceitful proportions in the film’s DVD advertising), but in the end the only thing that sticks in the mind is a short outtake at the end where Jackie Chan demonstrates a dicy stunt to Kara Hui, who replicates it to perfection. *

ON THE RUN (1988) review

Heung Ming (Yuen Biao), is a down-on-his-luck cop who is looking to emigrate to Canada to start anew. But when his ex-wife is killed for digging too much into a case of corruption involving the head of Criminal Police, Lu (Charlie Chin), he finds himself accused of the murder and chased with his young daughter through night-time Hong Kong by Lu’s squad of corrupt cops (Lo Lieh, Yuen Wah and Phillip Ko). Through a bizarre but inevitable twist of fate, he finds that his only ally is Pai (Pat Ha), the very person who killed his ex-wife.

Casting against type can be a cheap way of bringing a sense of novelty to well-worn formulas, but when made right it can also be, as in the case of On The Run, a powerful way of taking the audience aback and hitting harder in the dramatic stakes. The director himself, Alfred Cheung, was and is still better-known for his comedies, and for him to direct such an unflinching noir thriller, is kind of like if Jon Turteltaub was the director of There Will Be Blood. But credit where it’s due : Cheung directs not only with a firm hand, but also with a great eye for dark humor and shocking turns of events. The pace is crisp, with taut, realistic action scenes that are made more hard-hitting not by trying to be too spectacular, but through striking details such as the hitwoman’s almost uncanny ability to kill anyone she fires at with a single, perfectly aimed headshot, even if that person is using a child as a human shield. The gripping pace of brief shootouts and blistering chases only ever lets up for strangely mesmeric interludes, as when Pai, the hitwoman, takes advantage of a moment of respite in a hideout to coyly try on a dress she’s bought before everything went to hell.

(more…)

EASY MONEY (1987) review

Easy Money was Michelle Yeoh’s final film before she went into early retirement to dedicate herself to her marriage with Dickson Poon (who had been her producer via D&B Films on most of her films up to then). That didn’t quite work out and five years later she was back in business, new and improved, making quite the splash by upstaging Jackie Chan in Police Story 3. So this is the last film featuring that former incarnation of Yeoh : a more round-faced, girly-looking actress, already very beautiful and stunt-ready, but not quite as well-rounded a performer, especially in the dramatic department.

Easy Money is actually a thinly-veiled remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, with the spin of a gender-switch : Michelle Yeoh is the gentleman-thief figure formerly played by Steve McQueen and Pierce Brosnan ; former crooner George Lam takes the Faye Dunaway/Rene Russo role of the insurance investigator who gets drawn into a web of deceit and seduction that is half of his making. Kent Cheng is the dogged cop in charge of investigating a multi-million-dollar heist, thus taking the Paul Burke/Dennis Leary role : no gender-switching for this character, merely a waist-enhancing.

(more…)