RAILROAD TIGERS (2016) review

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After the superb tragicomic elegy Little Big Soldier and the flawed but interesting single-setting thriller Police Story 2013, Ding Sheng has proven to be one of Jackie Chan’s most interesting collaborators, respectful of the myth but not a yes-man, and able to bring ambitious ideas to star vehicles. Now the two have reunited for a wartime adventure set in the winter of 1941, as Japan takes control of Southeast Asia, using the railways for military transportation and supply. Ma Yuan (Jackie Chan) is a railroad worker who doubles as a Robin Hood figure, using his knowledge of the railroad network to ambush, sabotage and steal supplies from the Japanese convoys to feed the Chinese people, assisted by a team of freedom fighters called the “Railroad Tigers” (including Huang Zitao and Jaycee Chan). One day they offer shelter to a wounded Chinese soldier (Darren Wang), who tells them of a bridge that has to be blown up to cut the Japanese army’s supply route and cripple its war effort. The Railroad Tigers, helped by a former sharp-shoother (Wang Kai) thus set out on their biggest and most dangerous mission yet, while Japanese officers Yamaguchi (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) and Yuko (Zhang Lanxin) try to stop them.

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HEARTFALL ARISES (2016) review

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A film as grandiose and nonsensical as its title, Ken Wu’s Heartfall Arises follows John Ma (Nicholas Tse), a police detective who killed a serial killer known as The General (Gao Weiguang), but got fatally wounded in the exchange of gunfire, and thus had to be transplanted with the heart of the very man he killed. Months later, it seems a copycat of The General is at work, and John Ma himself feels his new heart is affecting his behavior: he even has memories of a woman (a woefully underused Tong Liya) he never met. Now stop the copycat he must join forces with criminal psychologist Calvin Che (Lau Ching Wan), who himself happens to have been transplanted with The General’s liver! But then why isn’t the film called Liverfall Arising?

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S STORM (aka Z STORM 2) short review

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Two years after the modestly entertaining and modestly successful Z Storm, the valiant knights in tailored suits of the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) are back for a sequel, again directed by David Lam and headed by Louis Koo as William Luk, a character whose sole defining features – even after two films – are righteousness and handsomeness. This time, he has to collaborate with an (almost) equally handsome albeit more conflicted police inspector (Julian Cheung), as well as welcome a new team member (Ada Choi), to investigate the murder of a Jockey Club trader by a mysterious assassin (Vic Chou) and uncover a network of illegal bookmaking. S Storm has the pacing, tension and depth of an episode from a 90’s TV procedural (with much better production values, of course). And with only a forgettable gweilo, an underused Lo Hoi Pang and a barely glimpsed Sek Sau as its bad guys, it comes in a notch below the adequate Z Storm, which at least benefitted from delightfully scummy turns by Michael Wong and Lam Ka Tung. Here, Louis Koo appears bored out of his mind, occasionally emerging from his torpor to share a minor but pleasantly unforced chemistry with Julian Cheung, quite good as by far the most vivid character in the film. Ada Choi is there as a purely decorative device, while Vic Chou is the world’s least threatening hitman. And just like Z StormS Storm is peppered with dialogues that are actually slogans : hear Bowie Lam tell us “ICAC is not a job, it’s faith.” **

LINE WALKER (2016) review

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The spin-off from a highly-successful TVB series of the same title, with only Charmaine Sheh and Hui Shiu Hung’s characters carried over from small to big screen, Jazz Boon’s Line Walker is a riotously enjoyable actioner that merges Infernal Affairs‘ undercover twists, some over-top action scenes from Benny Chan’s playbook, and goofy comedy out of Wong Jing’s less tasteless offerings (Wong is a producer here). The fictional CIB department of police is trying to dismantle a powerful crime organization, but all of its undercovers have been killed after their identities were leaked. Inspector Q (Francis Ng) and his colleague and girlfriend agent Ding (Charmaine Sheh) are contacted by a missing undercover agent known as Blackjack, who may or may not be Shiu (Louis Koo), the right hand man of a fast-rising figure of the crime organization, Blue (Nick Cheung), whose life he once saved.

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THE WASTED TIMES (2016) review

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Delayed for more than a year for reasons unclear (censorship issues or belabored editing?), Cheng Er’s third film takes place in Shanghai in the thirties and forties -before, during and after the battle and subsequent capture of the city by the Japanese. It follows various characters all connected to Mister Lu (Ge You), a crime boss: there’s his housekeeper (Ni Yan), his superior (Ni Dahong), the prostitute he occasionally visits (Gillian Chung), an actress he admires and helps (Yuan Quan), another actress (Zhang Ziyi) unfaithfully married to his superior, her lover (Wallace Chung), her other lover (Hang Geng), and more importantly Watabe (Tadanobu Asano), a Japanese man who got married and made his life in Shanghai, and claims he will fight for his city rather than side with his countrymen. When Japanese businessmen approach Mister Lu with plans for a lucrative partnership, he refuses ; death ensues.

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SWORD MASTER (2016) review

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As an actor, Derek Yee had gotten his break playing handsome swordsmen in numerous Shaw Brothers film, including Chu Yuan’s Death Duel (1977). As a director however, he has mostly favored contemporary, urban and often gritty fare. Now in a full circle he offers Sword Master, a remake of Death Duel co-produced and co-written with Tsui Hark, whose early career had seen him help Hong Kong cinema move past the classicism of Shaw Brothers films, but whose recent films have tried to both recapture and update their narrative and technical tenets. This interesting pair-up has yielded a flawed but stimulating film.

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An Interview with Composer Dave Klotz

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Gemini-nominated composer Dave Klotz is one of the prized “guests from the West” in the Hong Kong film industry. Much like Xavier Jamaux, he’s an international composer whose talents Johnnie To and his Milkyway Image partners have called upon repeatedly, often alongside Guy Zerafa (before his untimely death). Among other achievements, it could be said their score to Exiled is an integral part of that film’s artistic success, and one of the most memorable of its decade in Hong Kong. A performer, an arranger and a music producer in addition to being a composer (for film but also for TV and for dance choreography), Klotz also struck up a lasting professional relationship with the great Ringo Lam, right up to his latest film, Sky on Fire, now out in China and the US. He graciously agreed to answer our questions.

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