WEB OF DECEPTION (1989) short review

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Web of Deception looks appealing on the outside, a Tsui Hark production directed by talented cinematographer David Chung (of Royal Warriors), and starring an all-female cast (and good old Waise Lee) headed by the great Brigitte Lin. It’s a Hitchcockian cat-and-mouse thriller in which Lin plays Lin, a successful businesswoman who’s being pressured by an unseen blackmailer, who she suspects might be either her insecure assistant May (Pauline Wong) or her slightly fishy broker Chow (Elizabeth Lee). As Lin makes arrangements to pay the blackmail money, things are complicated by May’s roommate Queenie (Joey Wong), whose twin sister Cat (Joey Wong too) owes big money to the Triads, and who plans to steal the ransom money to pay up the debt. This leads to plenty of double-crosses and murder attempts, as events unfold almost exclusively in Lin’s big house. Unfortunately, Web of Deception is narratively too pedestrian to engage : outside of one or two moments of real tension and shock, the film focuses on the characters’ endlessly wobbly agendas, as they hesitate, give up or take action in incredibly half-assed ways. It all makes for a very tedious experience, with Chiu Man-Hoi’s cheap score ramming every point home with cheesy synth noodling. David Chung’s experience as a cinematographer means it’s a pretty film to look at (except in a baffling ‘day for night’ scene, where a blue filter is applied to make day look like night, but they forgot to avoid showing white clouds in the frame…), and Brigitte Lin is commanding as always alongside the underrated Pauline Wong, but Joey Wong doesn’t manage to make her two roles interesting or even different from each other, despite the supposedly very different personalities. **

THE DEVIL INSIDE ME (2011) short review

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Another entry in the “transplanted organ horror” sub-genre that was started by the Pang Brothers’ The Eye in 2002, Zhang Qi’s The Devil Inside Me follows Lin Yan (Kelly Lin), who gets a heart transplant but soon thereafter starts to get flashes of the final days of the heart donor. The latter turns out to have been a piano teacher (Anya) who died under strange circumstances, and together with her grieving boyfriend (Victor Huang), Lin Yan starts to investigate her savior’s final days, under the watchful eye of the surgeon who performed the transplant (Tony Leung Ka Fai), who obviously isn’t telling her everything. The Devil Inside Me is often visually pleasing thanks to good cinematography by Zhang Xuewen, and there’s an interesting concept at the center of it, but after an intriguing start it devolves into a mess of screechy, unimaginative nightmare sequences, tired jump scares, and dull, predictable twists. There’s a scene that beggars belief in such a serious, gloomy film, where Kelly Lin realizes in sheer terror that she cannot stand up from the toilet because an invisible force is compelling her. That such a moment is played for scares and not for laughs tells you everything you need to know about Zhang Qi’s command of horror filmmaking. Tony Leung Ka Fai elevates the film with an expertly ambiguous performance, while Kelly Lin does her best with a thankless role that was probably passed on by Angelica Lee. Lin hasn’t made a film since, let’s hope it’s a long hiatus and not retirement, she’s too talented an actress to stop so soon, and too talented also for this kind of film. **

THE SOONG SISTERS (1997) review

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Mabel Cheung’s The Soong Sisters, though a bit forgotten nowadays, was a momentous project and an awards magnet at the time of its making and release, coming out in the year of Hong Kong’s retrocession to China and raking in Hong Kong Film Awards (or nominations) for most of its key players. It cast three of the most high-profile Asian actresses at the time as the titular sisters : daughters of catholic missionary, printing magnate and political activist and revolutionary Charlie Soong (Jiang Wen), himself a figure worthy of a 4-hour film, they each married a major figure of that infinitely troubled and transformative time in China’s history. Elder sister Ai-Ling (Michelle Yeoh) married H. H. Kung (Niu Zhenhua), one of the biggest fortunes in China and the future minister of industry, commerce and finance in the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) government. Then her sister Ching-Ling (Maggie Cheung) wedded the revolutionary saint and first president and founding father of the Republic of China, Sun Yat Sen (Winston Chao), a union that estranged her from her outraged father, himself a close friend of Dr. Sun. And finally, youngest sister Mai-Ling got married to Sun Yat Sen’s ally and successor as head of the Kuomintang and as president of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-Shek (Wu Hsing-Kuo). Each of these marriages took a toll on the family’s unity, but more importantly, the Soong sisters were much more than simply wives of powerful men. They were powerful women whose choices and sacrifices helped shape China’s history. Think of them as 20th-century women general of the Yang family.

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AMEERA (2014) short review

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Where to begin with a film like Xiao Xu’s Ameera. Or rather, how to end as quickly as possible. A deadening excuse for ogling would-be starlet Patricia Hu (whose only other notable film is the equally numbing Angel Warriors) as she essays an array of slinky “secret agent” outfits to fight a stock evil organization (headed by Andrew Lin and a cartoonish old cripple with hooks for hands) for which she finds out her boyfriend (Ambrose Hsu) is a double-agent. Along the way there’s talk of such things as “a micro laser device condensed from synthesized nanometers”, which wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the film didn’t take itself so very seriously, no mean feat considering it consists in eye-gouging CGI, fussy, weightless fights and endless moping sessions. Adding insult to injury, the film’s soundtrack is actually a collage of tracks from other, far more entertaining and satisfying films (music from the Bourne trilogy, The Expendables and Tony Scott’s Déjà Vu is heard repeatedly), and there are fleeting cameos by estimable martial arts actors Collin Chou and Leung Kar Yan, who could have alleviated the awfulness had they had more screen-time. 1/2*

FEED ME (2015) review

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Shot in 2012 but only released 3 years later, perhaps because of lead actress Yu Nan’s heightened profile after being in two of the biggest Chinese hits of the past months (Tsui Hark’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain and Wu Jing’s Wolf Warrior), Yang Yazhou’s Feed Me also bears the distinction of starring Lin Hao, a boy who had become a national hero after rescuing several of his classmates in his collapsing school building during the devastating Sichuan earthquake of 2008. The hero-turned-actor plays a country boy who lives with his grandfather (Tao Zeru) on a boat, making regular trips to Shanghai to sell rapeseed. It is on one of those trips that upon returning to the boat, they find a pregnant woman (Yu Nan) who seems to be running away from something or someone. Soon she gives birth, and the grandfather lets her stay onboard both for the sake of the baby and because he’s been diagnosed with early senile dementia and worries as to who will take care of his grandson when he no longer can. But in the nearby village there’s gossip and disapproval of this situation, especially from a doctor (Vivian Wu) he is trying to woo. As for the boy, he grows more and more fascinated by this woman he sees as a  potential surrogate mother.

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GOOD-FOR-NOTHING HEROS (2012) short review

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Fu Yong’s Good-For-Nothing Heros (a misspelling that doesn’t seem to be of the ironic “Inglourious Basterds” kind) tells of Peng (Kimi Qiao) and Long (Lam Suet), two amiable losers who find the lost will of a wealthy hotel owner (Kent Cheng), who just fell into a coma. They decide that Peng will pose as the owner’s son and leverage his new-found clout to save their neighborhood from relocation. But one big obstacle in the owner’s associate Danny (Francis Ng), who smells a rat and sends a private eye (Jack Kao) to check on Peng’s background. Beyond the crippling implausibility of the plot, what makes Good-For-Nothing Heros sink so far below average is its total lack of a pace, its muddled exposition, its often sappy tone and its incredibly tired gags. Seeing Lam Suet in a lead role is a real pleasure and gives the film what little spark it possesses, especially as he gets to share an underdeveloped but quietly offbeat romantic subplot with Christy Chung, in a rare turn as a plain (well, as plain as the stunning Chung can appear : make-up can only go so far), frumpy, big-hearted street food vendor. Unsurprisingly, Francis Ng knows what kind of film he’s in, and does some charismatic sleepwalking. *1/2