HORSEPLAY (2014) short review

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Aping the stylish Hollywood capers of the sixties, Lee Chi-Ngai’s Horseplay has a set of attractive actors chase, flirt and double-cross each other across fancy locations, with Kelly Chen as an entertainment reporter who collaborates with the Mainland government and a Hong Kong detective (Ekin Cheng), to recover a priceless ceramic horse that has been targeted by a legendary art thief (Tony Leung Ka Fai). The on-location shooting in Hong Kong, London and Prague is classy, and the cast is tremendously attractive, with Kelly Chen at her most charming and cute, Tony Leung Ka Fai having a lot of fun going through a variety of stupid disguises (at one point he’s a black nun…), Ekin Cheng as laid-back and likeable as he’s ever been, not to mention an absolutely hilarious Eric Tsang in a double-act with Wong Cho Lam, both playing art experts. The problem is a plodding and derivative script that tries hard but lacks wit, with an overdose of flirtatious double-crossing and too much random quirkiness. The soundtrack, with its heavy use of Henry Mancini classic Pink Panther song “Meglio Stasera” and its borrowing of John Williams’ Catch Me If You Can score stylings, only serves to underline how much below its models Horseplay falls. The end titles sequence however, has Leung, Chen and Chang singing and dancing to the Mancini song against quirkily animated  touristic backgrounds and yellow CGI flying piglets. It is delightfully silly, unassumingly sexy, and one wishes the whole film had captured its essence. **1/2

THE CONSTABLE (2013) review

997F273241EDAE19DBE9CDA5AC64EFC67764F0ACD8E71_950_1348 A real estate magnate and a chairman and executive producer at Johnnie To’s Milkyway Image, Dennis Law has had a strange career for the past ten years or so, with the law of diminishing returns, both critically and financially, leading him from the excellent and mildly successful Fatal Contact (Wu Jing’s best film as a lead), to the abysmal and little-seen Vampire WarriorsThe Constable, though even less seen, can however be counted as a return to form of sorts. It follows Kuen (Simon Yam) a transportation officer in the Hong Kong police, who is also a single parent since his wife left, unable as she was to cope with the fact their son (Li Jin-Jiang) has Down syndrome. He is nevertheless helped by Yan (Niu Mengmeng) a kind girl whose lame, up to no good boyfriend (Sam Lee) is close to being recruited by local gangster Kim (Ken Lo) for an upcoming hold-up. We also follow clumsy rookie cop Mei (Zi Yi), and his burgeoning romance with a colleague (Maggie Li). Kuen’s colleague (Lam Suet) and superior officer (Maggie Siu) also pop up from time to time.

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CONTROL (2013) short review

control-2013.19916 In an unnamed metropolis of the future, Mark (Daniel Wu) is a modest insurance broker who toils away to save enough money to put his mentally ill mother (Kara Hui) in a luxury retirement home. One day, in exchange for a promotion, he agrees to lie in court to cover his superiors. Soon afterwards, he finds out his bank account has been emptied, and a mysterious caller with proof of his court perjury blackmails him into a escalating of robberies and risky transactions, during which he meets an old flame (Yao Chen) and a thug (Shao Bing), who are both being blackmailed by the same caller, and finds himself on the wrong side of two mobsters (Simon Yam and Leon Dai). Elements of various infinitely more successful films find their way into Kenneth Bi’s Control : shades of The Matrix, Cellular, Die Hard With a Vengeance and a few others are hard to ignore. Equally distracting is the fact that the film is set in the future for no discernible reason : it doesn’t carry a message about surveillance as the marketing might lead you to believe, and its vision of forthcoming times is muddled and half-baked, serving no dramatic purpose. Still, Control is serviceable as a straightforward, undemanding thriller, and while Yao Chen is once again underused, Simon Yam and Leon Dai make an enjoyable double-act of slimy criminals, while Kara Hui seems to be acting in a different, much more affecting film. **1/2

I CORRUPT ALL COPS (2009) review

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Insanely prolific filmmaker Wong Jing (in 30 years, close to 200 films as a producer, a director and/or a writer) is known mainly for his shameless cash-grabbing, exploitative proclivities, extreme mining of film trends and taste for crass humor, but once in a while he decides to write and direct a film that can actually be taken seriously. 2002’s Colour of the Truth was one such film, the recent The Last Tycoon (2012) was another, and in between you have I Corrupt All Cops, which charts the circumstances in which Hong Kong’s Independant Commission Against Corruption came to exist. In the seventies, rampant corruption in the Hong Kong Police (which thus amounted to little more than another triad) was drastically reduced thanks to the efforts of agents from the newly-formed ICAC, who had to sustain tremendous pressure and threats.

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THAT DEMON WITHIN (2014) review

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Reminiscent of a small wave of psychological thrillers that were released at the end of the nineties and beginning of the naughties (Ringo Lam’s Victim, Law Chi Leung’s Inner Senses and Double Tap come to mind), Dante Lam’s That Demon Within follows a troubled cop (Daniel Wu) who one night offers to give his O- type blood to save a severely wounded man (Nick Cheung), who turns out to be the leader of a vicious gang nicknamed the “Demons” because of their colourful demon masks and cruelty. Their paths are to cross again to disatrous consequences, as the cop start to struggle with deep-buried mental issues and violent urges while the robber locks horns with his double-crossing gang.

This is a tremendously confident film. Dante Lam, who has been on a critical and box-office roll for the past 6 years, makes superb use of every trick in the book to convey psychological torment and collapse : Patrick Tam’s editing is razor sharp, Kenny Tse’s photography is strikingly in-your-face (for instance, sudden red lighting signal Daniel Wu’s violent schizophrenic fits, a trick so obvious and literal it actually works perfectly), and Leon Ko’s masterful score is a bold and propulsive mix of tribal, electronic and orchestral influences, all geared towards maximum expressivity and drive.

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