Z STORM (2014) short review

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A tale of greed, corruption, and wire-tapping in the Overheard mould but with only a fraction of the star-power and production values,  Z Storm follows an ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) team that has less than a week to expose the wide network of corruption surrounding the forthcoming IPO of the Z Hedge Fund, a US operation in which the government has invested 15 billion dollars. Director David Lam made the unwise choice to combine over-complicated (to the uninitiated at least) financial jargon and palaver with a fairly simplistic narrative and a self-righteous tone that borders on parody and/or propaganda. All ICAC agents are portrayed as knights in shining armors (or rather, in tailored suits) with some lines sounding more like slogans than something anyone would naturally say : other reviews have rightly singled out “Where’s there’s corruption, there’s the ICAC too”, but we also like the impressed “You have outstanding men at your service”, that a cameo-ing Alfred Cheung intones to the head of the ICAC. Nevertheless Z Storm is never boring, and while Louis Koo sleepwalks handsomely throughout the film, Lam Ka Tung and Michael Wong as a corrupt cop and a corrupt lawyer respectively, both cut strikingly despicable figures, and provide the film with some life and sparkle. **

 

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BROTHERHOOD OF BLADES (2014) review

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In the year 1627, the Ming dynasty is in its final years as emperor Chongzhen takes over the throne, and in the process expels powerful Chief Eunuch Wei (Chin Shih Chieh) from his position of power. But a large number of court officials are still secretly in the service of the Eunuch, forming the so-called “Clique” that the emperor decides to dismantle. His prime resource in doing that is the “Jinyiwei”, his imperial assassins who are tasked with arresting, getting a confession out of, and/or killing, all presumed members of the Clique. Three Jinyiwei are chosen for the critical mission of finding and killing the Eunuch himself: Shen Lian (Chang Chen), who is in unrequited love with a courtesan (Cecilia Liu) and is saving up to buy her freedom, Lu Jianxing (Wang Qianyuan) who is desperate to meet his father’s standards by getting a promotion and is ready to bribe his way to it, and Jin Yichuan (Ethan Li), who is being blackmailed by a former friend (Zhou Yiwei) who threatens to reveal their criminal past and the fact he stoile a man’s identity to become a Jinyiwei. The fact that their new superior (Nie Yuan) is a pawn of the Eunuch further complicates the matters and soon an intricate web of lies unravels with tragic consequences.

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OUT OF INFERNO (2013) short review

outofinferno_poster One of two high-profile firefighting films that came out in the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014, the Pang Brothers’ Out of Inferno is a disaster film that plays by all the most well-worn rules of the book. It has a typical ‘wrong place, wrong time’ set up as it takes place on the most humid day of the past 50 years in Guangzhou, in a building whose air conditioning inexplicably malfunctions. And before the fire erupts, forthcoming human drama is set up, that will complement the mayhem, and a roster of diverse characters played by familiar faces is introduced. At the center there’s two estranged brothers : Tai Kwan (Lau Ching Wan) is a sturdy, no-nonsense but conflicted fireman called in to deal with the fire, and whose pregnant wife (Angelica Lee) happens to be visiting her obstetrician in the building ; and Keung (Louis Koo), a former fireman himself and now the building’s director of security is also on the spot, holding a fundraiser whose guests he soon has to take to safety. There’s also a diamond-cutter (Hui Siu Hung) whose employees take advantage of the fire to steal the merchandise, a family guy (Eddie Cheung Siu Fai) whose wife is opening a shop in the building, and a few others. This is an efficiently-directed disaster film with often impressive CGI (though nothing ground-breaking on that front), that suffers from an intense and ever growing sense of ‘been there, done that’ as it borrows from countless films, plays out in completely predictable fashion and possesses little originality in a genre that needs originality to generate any kind of relevance or excitement. The chemistry between Lau and Koo, in their 12th pairing, is the film’s saving grace, but in the end nothing is likely to stick in the spectator’s mind. **1/2

ONCE UPON A TIME IN SHANGHAI (2014) review

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The sort-of real life story of Ma Wing Jing, a wholesome country boy with stunning fighting skills who comes to Shanghai to escape poverty, only to end up befriending a charismatic but shady mob boss and losing his soul in the process, has already been the subject of two high-profile films, Chang Cheh’s The Boxer from Shantung and Corey Yuen’s masterpiece, Hero. Though that kind of half-folk, half-historical tale is bound to reappear on film every two decades, one would not expect it to be, as Once Upon in Shanghai is, scripted and produced by gargantuan and insanely prolific money-grabber Wong Jing, while being directed by edgy, often pretentious arthouse darling Wong Ching Po. And yet here it is, starring young upstart Philip Ng in the Ma Wing Jing role and the underrated Andy On as the mob boss, with prestigious action directing by Yuen Woo Ping and Yuen Cheung Yan, and a sturdy supporting cast of legends : Sammo Hung as the benevolent master of the community Ma Wing Jing moves into, as well as Yuen Cheung Yan, Fung Hak On and Chen Kuan Tai as a trio of rival mobsters called the Axe Fraternity.

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ANGEL WARRIORS (2013) review

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A stunningly atrocious concoction from the brilliant mind who gave us Kung Fu Hip-hop, Angel Warriors is unfortunately less laugh-out-loud ridiculous than its plot synopsis might lead you to expect. Our heroes, as an ugly anime introduction makes it clear, are a group of five stunning women, all modern adventurers thirsting for new experiences : one is a company CEO (Yu Nan), one is an archeologist/polyglot, one is a wildlife protectionist, one is a dancer and a martial artist, and the last one is, we kid you not, the owner of an online shop for outdoors clothing. Real screenwriting gold right there. Their latest adventure is a trek inside the Kana Jungle, home of the Tiger tribe. Their guide is Sen (Shi Yanneng) a member of that tribe who doubles as the pidgin-English narrator of the film, bragging about how he’s going to marry soon and bringing the audience up to date anytime it is unclear what’s happening onscreen (that is, quite often). Also joining the girls are Wang (Collin Chou), a military friend of Yu Nan’s late brother, and a National Geographic team headed by Dennis (Andy On). But soon it transpires that it is not actually a National Geographic team, but a mercenary outfit on a search for the Tiger tribe’s precious jewels. All hell breaks loose as the girls and the mercenaries part ways and are both hunted down by the tribe.

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KUNG FU JUNGLE (aka KUNG FU KILLER) (2014) review

Kungfu Jungle Official Poster Ever since his excellent turn in Peter Chan’s superb Wu Xia in 2011, martial arts spearhead Donnie Yen’s career had been a bit underwhelming, with films either overdosing on special effects (The Monkey King), lacking in any kind of script to tie the amazing fight scenes together (Special ID), getting lost in juvenile comedy (The Iceman 3D) or worse, casting him as a romantic leading man named ‘Cool Sir’ (Together). Kung Fu Jungle, as I’m happy to report, is a definite step up in quality. Donnie is Hahou Mo, a martial arts master who is first seen surrendering himself to the police after killing another master (a barely glimpsed Bey Logan). Three years later he’s peacefully nearing the end of his sentence but a TV report of the murder of a Kung Fu master sends him in a frenzy to contract the inspector in charge of the investigation (Charlie Yeung). He understands the motives of the killer, a demented fighter (Wang Baoqiang) who overcame a leg defect and is challenging all the greatest masters, to the death. But when Hahou Mo is allowed to get out of prison and assist the inspector, it becomes obvious that he has a hidden agenda, part of which involves his girlfriend (Michelle Bai Bing).

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