THE LAST WOMEN STANDING (2015) review

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Shu Qi has had an interesting 2015: in between a critical triumph (Hou Hsiao Hsien’s The Assassin) and a box office high (Wuershan’s Mojin: The Lost Legend) were two romances, both fairly unsuccessful. Richie Jen’s All You Need Is Love was more on the goofy side, while writer Luo Luo’s directorial debut – and adaptation of her own book – The Last Women Standing is a more dramatic affair. It follows Ruxi (Shu Qi), a driven businesswoman who’s great at her job but unlucky in love. Now well past thirty and still single, she’s among what Chinese society labels as “leftover women”. Her concerned parents (Pan Hong and Chin Shih-chieh) set her up with an upright but somewhat dull doctor (Xing Jiadong), but her heart has already chosen Ma Sai (Eddie Peng), a kind, handsome co-worker she just met. Her feelings for him are reciprocal and soon they’re in a dreamy relationship but the trouble is, he’s afraid of commitment.

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IMPOSSIBLE (2015) short review

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A mind-bogglingly ill-conceived and misguided film, Sun Zhou’s Impossible tells of a truck driver (Wang Baoqiang), who encounters a powerful alien entity named Muah Muah that’s the shape of a tennis ball but very powerful, and has come to earth to study its inhabitants. The entity provokes the curiosity and greed of various people including the truck driver’s boss (Xiao Shenyang) who’s bankrupt and owes money to loan sharks, his long-time customer (Xin Zhilei) who’s in the dilemmas of unplanned pregnancy, and a scummy rival (Da Peng) who seeks to further expand his successful business and wants to control Muah Muah’s powers. Impossible never chooses what it wants to be: its humor is resolutely lowbrow, essentially a combination of relentlessly mugging actors (Xiao Shenyang and Da Peng are on a constant mug-off) and cutesy pratfalls (Muah Muah was clearly conceived to catch on in a Minion sort of way), yet the film revolves around the traumatic loss of a child, and milks it relentlessly for tears in its second half. The ‘studying earthlings’ subplot is merely a footnote and yields not one single clever observation, while the film occasionally switches to jarring violence: this is a film that has a cute, chipmunk-voiced alien AND a scene of dental torture. In the final stretch the weirdness goes off the charts, as it borrows from District 9 (a man mutates horribly into a tentacular alien) and, even more risibly, from 2001, A Space Odyssey (let’s just say there’s a foetal space trip). And despite being an unhinged oddity, the film still manages to be preachy, telling us how parents should care for their children and sometimes we must be able to let go of the past. A teaching we’ll gladly apply to this film. *

SPEED ANGELS (2011) short review

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Jingle Ma’s Speed Angels bears the distinction of being an all-female racing film – a rare thing indeed – but squanders it with a soapy, mechanical plot and an absolute lack of excitement in the racing scenes. Its tale of a washed-up racing legend (Rene Liu), her rival both on the tracks and in love (Cecilia Cheung) and her gifted new partner (Tang Wei) whose gift for speed is hindered by confidence issues, is a reasonably solid dramatic spine, but it’s constantly undercut by cringeworthy melodrama wherein all female and male characters (here an assorted bunch of pan-Asian heartthrobs who get overshadowed by the main trio) are connected by a tangled web of love, whether it be puppy love, unrequited love, love triangles, tough love or self-interested love. And the racing is as uninvolving as the plotting: races amount to a stale alternation of in-cockpit shots and truly baffling all-CGI exterior shots. As often with Jingle Ma the film is all bathed in blinding levels of white light, except this time there’s also a whole lot of purple ; it is, quite sincerely, one of the purplest films ever. What little traction Speed Angels gets comes from Rene Liu, whose charisma makes her too good for that kind of film, and Tang Wei, who shows a delightful lighter side that her often dark or tragic roles don’t allow her to display. She also wears a different headband in every scene (possibly even every shot). Cecilia Cheung doesn’t register much: like in many of her post-comeback roles there’s a muted, awkward quality to her presence. Martial arts queen Cheng Pei Pei has fun in a small quirky role: she obviously knows what kind of film she’s in. **

MAGIC CARD (2015) review

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An impressively ill-conceived little caper, Keung Kwok Man’s Magic Card start with a quick-cut montage explaining that credit card fraud is widespread and complex, followed by the introduction of a well-organized credit card fraud gang. Then it sets all this aside for most of the film, before returning to it in the final 10 minutes. It’s as if the screenwriters bookended one screenplay with the introduction and conclusion of another, unrelated screenplay. The title refers to a card that the hero uses to determine if a bank terminal is fraudulent or not, but that card is not seen or mentioned in the film more than a few seconds in one single scene. And for most of its runtime, Magic Card tells of a computer expert (Kimi Qiao) who travels to Pavia (a idyllic town near Milan) to follow his foster sister (Dada Chan) and her vain, ineffectual and filthy rich boyfriend (Kainan Bai), as the latter prepares to buy and level an entire street to turn it into casinos and karaokes, much to the dismay of the locals, represented by a fortright lawyer (Maria Grazia Cuccinotta). Stepping in as a mediator is a rich Chinese businessman (Simon Yam), with whose daughter (Viann Zhang) the computer expert falls in love.

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MOJIN: THE LOST LEGEND (2015) review

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Three months after Lu Chuan’s Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe comes another adaptation of Tianxia Bachang’s 2006 best-selling (but never translated in English) series of eight novels, Ghost Blows Out the Light. Though set later than the Lu Chuan film in the book’s chronology, Wuershan’s Mojin: The Lost Legend isn’t a sequel: it’s a rival adaptation with an entirely different backing, creative team and cast, as well as a wildly different approach to the source material. Starting in New York but set mostly in the prairies and depths of Inner Mongolia, it follows three adventurers known as the Mojin Xiaowei, who perpetuate the tradition of tomb raiders once sent by emperors in times of need to ‘borrow’ riches from tombs. Shirley Yang (Shu Qi), Hu Bayi (Chen Kun) and Wang Kaixuan (Huang Bo) live in New York, having retired from tomb raiding. But through their associate Grill (Xia Yu), Wang gets hired by a rich and mysterious businesswoman (Liu Xiaoqing) and her cult-like followers to help her find the ancient tomb of a Khitan princess in Inner Mongolia. Initially reluctant but smelling something fishy, Shirley and Hu follow the expedition closely. But once they find the tomb it becomes apparent they’ve been there already : 20 years before when they were in the Communist Youth League, Hu and Wang loved the same woman, Ding Sitian (Angelababy), but lost her and many other comrades when they entered an an abandoned Japanese underground base where the corpses of soldiers mysteriously came back to life and started slaughtering the intruders. Now it appears that the strange businesswoman’s endgame is to find the Equinox Flower, a fabled artifact that can resurrect the dead…

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