HOUSE OF WOLVES (2016) review

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Vincent Kok’s House of Wolves follows two scoundrels thriving in a small village: Charlie (Francis Ng) is a dognapper who pretends to be sclerotic in order to ingratiate himself to the ladies and avoid suspicion, and whose main ambition is to become a kept man, while Ping (Ronald Cheng) is an incredibly vain mama’s boy who’s also the village chief. They both find themselves vying for the attention of Chun (Jiang Shuying), a young writer who just arrived to the village. Now Chun is actually pregnant with a child whose father she’s running away from, and after inviting the two lovestruck rascals to her house and getting them drunk, she leads them to believe that one of them is the father of the child. Their rivalry as suitors becomes a rivalry as fathers, until they find out they’ve been tricked into surrogate fatherhood, and decide to go to the child’s real genitor.

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CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY (2016) review

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Making a sequel to Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon always seemed both natural and foolish, audacious and misguided. The 2001 film was adapted from one in a series of novels by Wang Du Lu, thus lending itself naturally to follow-ups; but it was so acclaimed that it made for a tough act to follow. There was then a interesting challenge to shooting a second film, but at the same time the absence of Ang Lee or someone with a similarly strong vision at the helm did not bode well, Yuen Woo Ping having always been hit-and-miss as a director. The film’s production was troubled, its release pattern controversial (it premiered on Netflix in the West, prompting many IMAX chains to refuse to screen it in the US), and its English soundtrack head-scratching. But those factors weren’t in and of themselves indicative of failure, especially with so much talent behind and in front of the camera.

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KUNG FU FIGHTER (2007) short review

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Featuring the same sets, costumes and many of the same cast-members as Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle, but only a quarter of its budget and a tenth of its creativeness, Yip Wing-Kin’s Kung Fu Fighter also borrows heavily from the Ma Wing Jing story, as told in the Shaw Brothers film Boxer from Shantung (1972) and Corey Yuen’s Hero (1997). Thus we follow a young country bumpkin (a vacant-eyed Vanness Wu) who comes to Shanghai in search of his father and ends up falling for a beautiful cabaret singer (Emme Wong), getting entangled in a turf war between mob bosses (Chan Kwok Kwan and Tin Kai Man), getting himself a portly sidekick (Lam Chi Chung) and meeting a kind master (an endearing Bruce Leung) who may know a thing or two about his father. It’s a puzzlingly half-baked film, in which some interesting visual flourishes and good choreography (by Fan Siu Wong) get undermined by a complete lack of focus and dramatic momentum and an excess of cartoonish visual trickery, again aping Stephen Chow’s film. The final fight scene is actually quite enjoyable, as Fan Siu Wong injects some charisma into the film by popping up as a dangerous grandmaster, and up-and-comer Max Zhang gets a good staff fight. But it’s not enough to prevent cartoonish surfeit and half-baked drama from dooming the film to mediocrity. *1/2

An Interview with Composer Anthony Chue

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A three-time Golden Horse Film Awards nominee, composer Anthony Chue has worked with some of the biggest names in the Hong Kong film industry, including Derek Yee, Wilson Yip, Law Chi Leung, Ivy Ho, Herman Yau, Jeff Lau, Benny Chan, Patrick Leung and Ann Hui. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Vancouver, he’s also made a name for himself as one of the most sought-after arrangers and keyboardists in Cantopop, becoming a regular collaborator of Aaron Kwok, Vivian Chow, Sammi Cheng and Jacky Cheung among others with whom he’s been touring the world for over a decade.

You can sample his work for films, Cantopop and concert halls on his website, and here are a few questions he graciously agreed to answer.

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ANGEL WHISPERS (2015) short review

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Carrie Ng is now the third Hong Kong cinema stalwart to debut as director with a horror film, after Nick Cheung and Simon Yam. But her start is the least auspicious of the three: Angel Whispers is an often painfully clumsy little horror film, taking place in a decrepit building in Hong Kong where a small whorehouse led by Auntie Lai (Carrie Ng) lives in fear of a prostitute killer that’s making the news. When one of the girls disappears mysteriously, suspicion falls on the building’s janitor Lung (Sammy Hung), who’s been having an unrequited crush on one of them, the melancholic Ching Ching (Kabby Hui). Angel Whispers makes some feeble attempts at fleshing out its ensemble of prostitutes, but they’re too few and drowned in rote horror film proceedings, from the usual ‘splitting in teams to look for the killer in dark corridors’, to bouts of leaky basement torture porn. Carrie Ng and Sammy Hung are fine, but Kabby Hui doesn’t convince in a key role that should have tied the film together. And there’s a half-decent twist in the end that falls flat on its face, because what precedes it has been so underdeveloped and routine. *1/2

EVERYBODY’S FINE (2016) review

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Giuseppe Tornatore’s Stanno Tutti Bene, released to a mostly rapturous reception in 1990 but a bit forgotten nowadays, had already been remade and transposed from Italy to the United States in Kirk Jones’s Everybody’s Fine (2009), and now comes the Chinese remake. But rather than denote a lack of originality, this new version speaks to the universality and strength of the concept: take a revered older actor (here Zhang Guoli taking over from Marcello Mastroianni and Robert De Niro) as a former absentee father who’s now a widower leaving alone in the family house, his four children having scattered across the country and all supposedly thriving in their professional and private lives. When they all cancel their visit for a planned family reunion, the father decides to pack up and go visit each one of them.

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PARIS HOLIDAY (2015) review

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A film for people who think there’s nothing more romantic than cycling in front of the Eiffel Tower, James Yuen’s Paris Holiday (which briefly shot not 100 meters from where yours truly lives) stars Louis Koo as Chun-Kit, a late professional bloomer who arrives in Paris to manage a wine label for a wealthy Hong Kong businessman (Anthony Chan). There, fellow expatriate Michael (Alex Fong) sets him up in a flat share with Xiao-Min (Amber Kuo) an art students who’s still a human wreck from being dumped by the man she thought was her soulmate. In order not too have her feel threatened by a man’s presence, Michael asks Chun-Kit to pretend he’s gay. The cohabitation gets off to a disastrous start, as Chun-Kit has to deal with Xiao-Min’s erratic hygiene and behavior; but after nearly leaving, he decides to stay and help her get back on her feet. A tall order, but he’s just rebounded from a painful break-up himself, and the two soon find themselves in a strange place between love and friendship.

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