SKY ON FIRE (2016) review

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2015’s Wild City, which marked the end of Ringo Lam’s twelve-year hiatus from directing feature films, was an unremarkable but solid and heartfelt crime thriller, which while nowhere near the artistic heights of the Hong Kong director’s career, was especially heartening when thought of as a lead up to more ambitious films. A bit over a year later (a half-second when compared to that twelve-year wait), Sky on Fire is indeed more ambitious in terms of themes and spectacle, but it’s also oddly underwhelming. Five years ago, Dr. Pan, a scientist who was making major advances in cancer research, died in a possibly criminal fire while he was working in his lab. Now, her protégé Dr. Gao (Zhang Jingchu) and her husband Dr. Tong (Fan Guangyao), under the banner of their pharmaceutical company Sky One, have used his notes to discover a revolutionary cancer-curing medicine, X-stem cells. But the truck carrying the first of these curative cells is hijacked both by the son of Dr. Pan, Ziwan (Zhang Ruoyun), and by Jia (Joseph Chang), a man desperate to save his cancer-stricken sister Jen (Amber Kuo). Caught in the crossfire is Chong (Daniel Wu), the head of security for Sky One, who must take sides as hidden agendas are revealed.

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FINAL RECIPE (2013) review

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Having premiered in various festivals in 2013 and 2014, Gina Kim’s Final Recipe had to wait two years to get released anywhere, and has still only come out in Mainland China. A South Korean-Thai production shot in English and Mandarin, it tells of Mark (Henry Lau), a student who was raised by his grandfather Hao (Chang Tseng), after his mother died and his father left on a business trip and never came back. Hao owns a restaurant but his exacting standards and bad temper have chased customers and employees away, and foreclosure is impending. Thus Mark decides to join a TV cooking competition called Final Recipe, hosted and run by Julia Lee (Michelle Yeoh) and her husband David Chan (Chin Han), who lost a son years ago before meeting her. In order to enter the show, Mark has to pose as a Russian contestant who didn’t show up, and soon rises through the ranks under the name Dimitri Bekmambetov. But one day as Julia Lee tastes a pork dish the young man just made, she is instantly reminded of the first time she met her husband, fifteen years before…

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HORRIBLE MANSION IN WILD VILLAGE (2016) short review

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Horrible Mansion in Wild Village (with “Mansion” spelled as “Masion” in posters and credits), is a shockingly amateurish little horror film in which a reckless young biker (Cai Juntao) has an accident and ends up seeking help in a decrepit old mansion inhabited by a little girl (Jia Lin) and her stern grandmother (Kara Hui). And a terrifying and mysterious horned creature. And a mute girl locked up in the attic. From this familiar but decent premise, director Lu Shiyu makes his film an endless – though only 80 minutes long – series of shrieky nightmare sequences (the main character wakes up with a jolt roughly once every two minutes), ham-fisted flashbacks and trite stalking scenes. The mansion set is effective (though you can easily picture the director yelling “more cobwebs! I want more cobwebs!”) and Kara Hui, who has probably never phoned in a single performance in her career (more than 150 films), is suitably creepy, but the laughable and repetitive script keeps tension low, and resorts to the mother of all lame twists in order to make its overt supernatural elements palatable to Chinese censorship. Mainland Chinese horror has no high points yet, but it does have a new low point. 1/2*