MILLION DOLLAR CROCODILE (2012) short review

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Announced as the very first Mainland Chinese creature feature, Lin Lisheng’s Million Dollar Crocodile is actually more of a comedy, with only a few (attempted) scares along the way. A big crocodile escapes from the restaurant backyard where it was supposed to be slaughtered and cooked. On the way back to its former habitat, it swallows Barbie Hsu’s bag, which contains her savings of the past 8 years. The pixellated saurian thus finds itself trailed by the shrill Taiwanese star, as well as an underdog cop (Guo Tao), the seedy restaurant owner (Lam Suet, God bless him), the owner of its former zoo (the excellent Shi Zhaoqi) and a little boy who befriended it (Ding Jiali). This gallery of characters is fun enough (and there’s a cameo from a very funny Xiong Xin Xin) that the film unfolds passably, going from droll situations to mildly tense predicaments, meekly trying to get a crocodile-conservation message across while flaunting its arguably well-rendered creature (though it is not always seamlessly integrated to the live-action). In the end you get the feeling nobody quite knew what Million Dollar Crocodile should be exactly. **

 

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FATAL CONTACT (2006) review

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In 2005, after a few false starts, Wushu champion Jacky Wu Jing finally made a dent in Hong Kong cinema by playing Sammo Hung’s creepy, deadly henchman in the superlative S.P.L.. The following year he was given the second lead role of his young career by director Dennis Law, a former property developper who had produced Johnnie To’s Election diptych. Wu Jing plays Kong, a martial arts champion from China’s national Wushu team, who’s spotted by shady triad types led by Ma (Eddie Cheung Siu Fai) during a tour of performance in Hong Kong. As they offer him to fight for them in underground boxing matches, he initially refuses but ends up accepting when pushed by the lovely Siu Tin (Miki Yeung), who also offers to act as his agent. Assigned to assist them is Captain (Ronald Cheng), a down on his luck triad goon who’s also well-versed in martial arts and starts coaching the naïve Kong. The fact is that Kong is first and foremost a showman, and as he’s faced with opponents of escalading brutality, he must learn to tap into his beastly side, something that makes his rise in the underground boxing network akin to a descent into hell.

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DRAGON FIGHT (1989) short review

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Jet Li and Stephen Chow : this is a pairing that throughout the nineties, the noughties and up to this day would spell box-office gold. But in 1989 it was just a few years too early. Jet Li had not yet settled into superstardom with Once Upon A Time In China, and Stephen Chow had not yet established his insanely successful brand of comedy, and was actually still more of a dramatic supporting actor. Whatever the stage of their career they were in, they certainly deserved something better than Billy Tang’s Dragon Fight, a thoroughly mundane action film, in which Jet Li and Dick Wei are part of a Wushu troupe touring the United States, the former left stranded in San Francisco when he misses his flight home for trying to find the latter, who’s decided to stay in America and work his way up the local mafia. Stephen Chow comes in as a Chinese immigrant who helps Jet Li out, but gets himself into trouble with the very same mafia Dick Wei now works for. After a vaguely comedic, uninteresting first part, things get unexepectedly dark and action kicks in thanks to silly plot turns (one of those turns involves someone confusing washing powder and cocaine). Choreographed by Dick Wei himself, it’s fierce and enjoyably realistic, a style Jet Li would only scarcely revisit, though most of the time with scintillating results. Still, here it’s too little too late, and the film also suffers from some of the worst ‘gweilo’ acting (and dubbing) you’ll ever see. **

MY KINGDOM (2011) review

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Some films just don’t know what their best assets are. Take Gao Xiaosong’s My Kingdom : it benefits from the considerable talent and gravitas of two great martial arts actors, Yuen Biao and Yu Rongguang, and as long as it is concerned with them, it’s a riveting film. But as soon as the plot calls for their exit, we are left with something far more plodding and average. They play rival Chinese opera stars, master Yu (Yuen Biao) and master Yue (Yu Rongguang). Yu has two pupils, Yilong and Erkui, the latter being the last surviving member of a clan that was executed by the prince regent of the Qing dynasty. One day, as master Yu is being awarded a golden plaque honoring him as the greatest opera performer of his time, master Yue challenges him in a spear duel, and wins. Yu’s defeat means he is not allowed to perform on a stage anymore, and he spends the rest of his life away from the world, teaching his two students the art of opera fighting. When they are ready (and have grown into Wu Chun and Han Geng), they leave for Shanghai with the intent to reclaim the plaque from master Yue and carve out a career in Chinese opera for themselves. They quickly defeat Yue and take over his troupe, among which Mulang (Barbie Hsu), his former mistress. But Yilong and Erkui have different ways of dealing with their newfound stardom…

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