HIDDEN MAN (2018) review


After 2010’s Sichuan-set Let the Bullets Fly and 2014’s Shanghai-set Gone with the Bullets, Jiang Wen closes his amoral trilogy of Republican China epics with the Beijing-set Hidden Man, where bullets are much scarcer than blades and fists. In 1922, Li Tianran’s (Eddie Peng) adoptive father, a land owner in Northern China, was murdered by Zhu Qianlong (Liao Fan) and Nemoto Ichiro (Sawada Kenya), after refusing to sign over his land to the Japanese for opium cultivation. Tianran nearly escaped and was rescued by American expatriate doctor Wallace Handler (Andy Friend), who sent him to San Francisco to study medicine. Now, 15 years later, he goes by Bruce, is a licensed obstetrician, and more importantly a highly-trained special agent working for a shadowy businessman (Steven Schwankert, in a role initially played by Kevin Spacey but later entirely re-shot for obvious reasons). Tianran still has vengeance on his mind, and so he welcomes the mission to go fight the Japanese in occupied Beijing (renamed Beiping), as it also provides him with an opportunity to exact revenge on Zhu and Nemoto. In Beiping, he’s welcomed and initiated to the city’s volatile political dynamics by Wallace Handler, and must navigate a dangerous web of hidden agendas involving not only Zhu and Nemoto, but also the former’s femme fatale girlfriend Tang Fengyi (Xu Qing), as well as a mysterious – and beautiful – crippled tailor (Zhou Yun), and most of all Lan Qingfeng (Jiang Wen), a powerful businessman seemingly playing all sides.





One of the most memorable characters in the Ip Man franchise, ambitious Wing Chun master Cheung Tin Chi (Max Zhang), gets his own well-deserved spin-off in Yuen Woo Ping’s Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy. After being defeated – behind closed doors – by Ip man at the end of the third installment, the humbled Cheung is now living peacefully with his son in Hong Kong, where he owns a small grocery store. His days as a martial arts teacher are over, and so is his side-job as a thug, which doesn’t sit well with his former employer (Yuen Wah). Cheung can’t stay out of trouble for long: after he defends bar hostesses Julia (Liu Yan) and Nana (Chrissie Chau) against local mobster Tso Sai Kit (Kevin Cheng) and his henchmen, his store is burnt down as retribution. Now homeless and tracked down by a mysterious assassin (Tony Jaa) working for his former employer, Cheung is helped by Fu (Shi Yanneng), the owner of a local bar, for whom he starts working as a waiter. And two dangerous figures loom large over him: mobster Tso Ngan Kwan (Michelle Yeoh), the sister of Tso Sai Kit, and Owen Davidson (Dave Bautista), a restaurant owner and philanthropist who’s also a drug trafficker.


THE SCOUNDRELS (2018) short review


Rui (JC Lin) was once a rising star in the world of basketball, but a scuffle with a heckler ended his career prematurely. Now broke from having to pay the gravely injured heckler’s hospital bills, the disgraced star is reduced to working for a local mobster (Frederick Lee), putting tracking devices on cars targeted for theft. One day, he crosses paths with the infamous ‘raincoat thief’ (Wu Kang Ren), a man responsible for robbing several armored trucks in the previous months, using brutal but non-lethal methods. At first recruited by force by the thief to help him, Rui soon starts to enjoy the freedom and sense of retribution he gets from abetting him. But is he an accomplice set to share the spoils, or a tool to be tossed away after use? Hung Tzu Hsuan’s The Scoundrels is a promising debut feature, a pacey little thriller centered on the well-matched JC Lin and Wu Kang Ren’s love/hate bromance, the former coarsely juvenile yet admirably scrappy, the latter smoothly confident yet an amoral cypher. Undeterred by the visibly limited budget, Hung (who also co-wrote the film) infuses his film with a playful energy: minor surprises keep coming, and fight scenes are plentiful and choreographed – by rising Taiwanese fight coordinator Hong Shi Hao – with a distinctly Korean flair, all brutal slapstick and controlled chaos, highlighting the poetry of missed punches and kicks; it is reminiscent in particular of Jung Doo-hong’s work on Ryoo Seung-wan’s Veteran. A streak of unforced dark humor runs through the film, right to a conclusion that makes the prospect of a sequel a welcome one. It won’t happen: the film’s freshness in the current Taiwanese filmscape wasn’t rewarded by local audiences. ***1/2

THE BIG SHOT (2019) review


After headlining the 2017 Chinese remake of the 2014 Korean thriller A Hard Day, and before headlining the 2019 Chinese remake of the 2013 Korean thriller Montage, Wang Qianyuan headlines the 2019 Chinese remake of the 2015 Korean thriller Veteran. And so we follow Sun Dasheng (Wang), a headstrong cop who despite – or because of – unconventional methods and a loose relationship to hierarchy, gets the job done and has acquired a reputation as a star detective, along with his team (including Wang Yanhui and Qu Jingjing). Under pressure from his wife (Mei Ting) to enter a lottery for housing in a school-friendly area for their son, Sun is introduced by a friend to Zhao Tai (Bao Bei’er), a property developer, heir to the powerful Zhao Shi conglomerate. Brutal, arrogant and entitled to the point of psychosis, Zhao thinks himself above the law, objectifying and humiliating everyone around him with no fear of repercussion. But when a friend of Sun’s, who went to Zhao to complain about having his home destroyed by his company with no compensation, is is left in a coma by an apparent suicide attempt, Sun Dasheng decides to get to the bottom of things, in the process starting a war with Zhao Tai.