WU DANG (2012) short review

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Vincent Zhao’s unremarkable comeback continues with this barely lukewarm adventure in which he plays a professor/adventurer in the Indiana Jones mould. He is seeking seven mythical treasures, and a vital clue leads him to Mount Wu Dang, where a martial arts tournament is taking place in the famous monastery of the same name. There’s a good cast, with martial arts actors Fan Siu Wong and Dennis To as Wu Dang disciples, Xu Jiao as Zhao’s daughter, the ubiquitous Yang Mi as a rival adventurer, and Shaun ‘son of Ti Lung’ Tam as a gangster. Corey Yuen provides the action, which is sometimes palatable (a balletic martial arts duet with Zhao and Yang taking on Tam’s men is particularly nice) but often forgettable and tame : who wants to see pretty Yang Mi fight kiddy Xu Jiao is one of the lamest film tournaments ever ? There’s no sense of adventure (the bad CGI doesn’t help matters), and the romantic subplots are either massively creepy (40-years-old Fan and 14-years-old Xu aren’t exactly a match made in heaven) or simply cold (Vincent Zhao and Yang Mi have no chemistry whatsoever). A failure, but in an amiable kind of way. **

 

CITY WAR (1988) review

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The poster boy for the game-changing phenomenon that was John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow in 1986 may have been Chow Yun Fat, a moderately famous actor catapulted to icon status, but the real heart of the film was not Chow, it was the friendship between his character and Ti Lung’s. Indeed the pairing of Chow Yun Fat and Ti Lung was so brilliant, their chemistry so complete, it’s no wonder they were reunited just one year after their A Better Tomorrow characters went out in a blaze of glory. Directed by Shaw Brothers veteran Sun Chung (a lesser-known director from that stable but also one of the most interesting), City War is obviously a riff on Lethal Weapon which had come out the year before, and whose pairing of two cops, one by-the-book, one a mad dog, is replicated here, though with an interesting twist. In Lethal Weapon the mad dog cop is a loner, and the by-the-book one is a family man ; here it’s the reverse. Another interesting reversal of expectations is that Chow Yun Fat, whom based on his A Better Tomorrow persona you’d expect to play the loose cannon, here plays Chiu, a cop who likes to play it safe, while Ti Lung is the hot-headed, authority-averse one.

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SEA WOLVES (aka IN THE LINE OF DUTY 7) (1991) short review

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Sometimes marketed as the 7th installment in the In The Line Of Duty franchise (and indeed, 90% of Cynthia Khan’s filmography could be from that franchise), Sea Wolves actually puts an emphasis on Gary Chau (a D&B Films protégé whose career never took off) and Simon Yam, as two Vietnamese friends separated by fate after emigrating to Hong Kong: Yam joins a gang of modern-day pirates who prey on Vietnamese boat people (how is that a logical step for a Vietnamese immigrant?), while Chau loses his sister in a pirate raid by that very same gang, subsequently finding himself stranded in Hong Kong, deprived of his memory by a nasty fall on his head. Cynthia Khan comes into play as a tough female cop on the trail of the pirate gang, and Norman Tsui adds another fine bad guy to his scintillating repertoire of villainy. For one hour the film noodles around pleasantly but unfortunately not thrillingly, with some tame comedy and slightly overwrought drama, but also thankfully the welcome grit and efficiency that can be expected from those late eighties, early nineties action films churned out by the D&B film company. Ultimately though, only the ever-reliable Simon Yam, the beautiful Cynthia Khan and a brutal, thrilling final action scene on a boat elevate Sea Wolves slightly above mediocrity. **1/2

BADGES OF FURY (2013) review

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With Jackie Chan celebrating his filmography’s milestones by adding new installments to his most successful franchises, and Donnie Yen getting busier than ever on a variety of action-heavy projects, it’s puzzling to see the wildly different turn Jet Li’s career has taken. Choosing, admirably, to focus on his charity (The One Foundation) and his Tai Chi promotion (Taiji Zen), he has been content for a few years now to appear as a benevolent supporting actor (though always top billed) in films that woefully underuse him both as an actor and as a martial artist. Badges of Fury unfortunately continues that disappointing trend. The real lead here is Wen Zhang, as a cocky young cop who, paired with veteran Jet Li and under the supervision of superior officer Michelle Chen, investigates on a series of murders in which the victims all die with a smile on their face. They cross paths with a stuttering insurance agent (Wu Jing), a whimiscal mob boss (Leung Kar Yan), a Men In Black type supercop (Huang Xiaoming), and many other cameoing stars, but the murders all trace back to an actress who has dated all of the victims (Liu Yan), and her sister (Cecilia Liu) who has made a habit out of stealing her boyfriends.

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