ICEMAN: THE TIME TRAVELER (2018) review

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Law Wing Cheong’s Iceman 3D was, at the time, the most ambitious project of Donnie Yen’s rejuvenated career as a leading man; a remake of Clarence Fok’s cult classic The Iceman Cometh, with a hefty – for the Chinese film industry in 2014 – budget of 33 million dollars, it was conceived as a one-off, until a spiraling budget (Hong Kong’s Tsing Ma bridge had to be rebuilt as a set for a quarter of the film’s budget when permission to shoot on the actual one was refused) and the necessity for ever more reshoots led to the decision to release the film as a two-parter. But Iceman 3D had more scatological jokes than fights, and a shoddy grasp of its time-traveling concepts, puzzlingly eschewing the simple, pulpy pleasures of Clarence Fok’s original for something both more ambitious and less thrilling. It underperformed on release, and now four years later comes Iceman; The Time Traveler, with solid journeyman Raymond Yip taking over the helm from Law Wing Cheong.

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ENDLESS LOOP (2018) short review

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In Wen He’s Endless Loop, a woman whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere hitches a ride with a man who turns out to be a violent psychopath. Not long after, seven people riding a minibus in the same part of the Chinese countryside find themselves in a tunnel that doesn’t seem to end. Worse: when they try to go back the way they came in, they realize the tunnel has apparently become a loop, and what looks like an exit door actually leads then to another looped tunnel, strikingly similar yet with key differences. The seven strangers must work together to find a way out, but the ugliness of human nature in extreme circumstances quickly derails their efforts at survival. With an opening scene not unlike that of Kim Jee-woon’s I saw the Devil, a set-up and some episodes that call to mind Fruit Chan’s The Midnight After, and (SPOILER ALERT) a second-reel twist that turns the film into a near-remake of Tarsem Singh’s The Cell (END SPOILERS), Endless Loop is rather low on originality. Yet it’s briskly-paced, well-acted by a solid ensemble (with the ever-reliable and low-key Nie Yuan at its center), and ends in a flurry of off-the-wall dreamlike sequences that artfully get around budgetary constraints and are tightly connected to the narrative, so that they never feel gratuitous. A step in the right direction for Mainland horror. **1/2

MOJIN: THE WORM VALLEY (2018) review

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A new term should be coined for films like Mojin: The Worm Valley. Based on Tianxia Bachang’s 2006 best-selling series of eight novels, Ghost Blows Out the Light, it thus exists in the same universe and follows the same characters as Lu Chuan’s Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe and Wuershan’s Mojin: The Lost Legend. Yet, being from the same studio as the latter film, it is not a rival adaptation per se. And it’s neither a sequel nor a prequel, as its events and depictions of characters do not fit with The Lost Legend‘s narrative. And it doesn’t seem to be a reboot, as there was word not so long ago of a Mojin Returns, with Chen Kun set to return to the lead. And while Wuershan’s film was a sizable hit – still the 12th highest-grossing Chinese film of all-time – The Worm Valley inexplicably scales things down both in terms of scope and in terms of cast, with Cheng Taishen the only recognizable face in the cast, let alone anyone of the A-list stature of Chen Kun, Shu Qi or Huang Bo. And as Fei Xing’s film looks set, after a few days on Chinese screen, to gross but a tiny fraction of The Lost Legend‘s box-office take, the whole thing appears quite a head-scratching way of managing a successful IP on the part of backers Enlight and Huayi.

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