INTEGRITY (2019) review

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After the over-the-top stylings of his Mainland undercover thriller Extraordinary Mission, Alan Mak returns home to the twisty psychological Hong Kong crime thriller. Co-produced by his brother-in-filmmaking Felix Chong, Integrity follows King (Lau Ching Wan), an officer of the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption, for those who’ve never seen a Hong Kong film of the past 10 years), who is grooming corporate accountant and whistleblower Lui (Nick Cheung) to testify in court against a tobacco trading company and a customs officer (Anita Yuen) accused of collusion and bribery in smuggling cigarettes onto the black market. But on the day of the hearing, Lui absconds to Australia, seemingly struck with cold feet. But as King’s colleague (and estranged wife) Shirley (Karena Lam) is dispatched to Australia to bring him back, it soon appears that he’s much more than a simple whistleblower, and his escape to Australia isn’t motivated by fear.

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WARRIORS OF THE NATION (aka THE UNITY OF HEROES 2) (2018) review

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After Lin Zhenzhao’s The Unity of Heroes proved an online hit earlier this year, a sequel was fast-tracked then released – straight to VOD again – a mere seven months later, marking the third time Vincent Zhao has reprised the role of Wong Fei Hung in 2018 (Jeff Lau’s starrier and big screen-released Kung Fu League was a flop, however). Taking over directing duties from Lin, is journeyman Hong Kong filmmaker Marco Mak, no stranger to Wong Fei Hung films, having edited all six films in the Once Upon a Time in China series. The plot for The Unity of Heroes 2 moves away from the first instalment’s pulpy vibe, trading evil gweilos for Japanese devils (Kenya Sawada is on villain duties again after Jiang Wen’s Hidden Man), and enhanced fighters for mild political intrigue involving corrupt officials and the White Lotus Sect (with the opening ritual scene a direct borrow from Tsui Hark’s Once Upon a Time in China II).

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KUNG FU MONSTER (2018) review

 When a foreign kingdom gifts a rare monster to the Ming Emperor, Ocean (Louis Koo) is put in charge of taming it, but evil eunuch Crane (Alex Fong) has nefarious plans for it. Having grown attached to the beast, and having named it Lucky, Ocean decides to free it, thus becoming a hunted outlaw in the process. When he’s captured by Crane’s second-in-command (Wu Yue), his lover Bingbing (Hayden Kuo) hatches a plan to rescue him, enlisting under false pretenses a couple of hapless swordsmen (Zhou Dongyu and Cheney Chen), two even more hapless bandits (Pan Binlong and Kong Liangshun), a mysterious vagrant (Bao Bei’er), and more.

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CRAZY ALIEN (2019) short review

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Ning Hao’s Crazy Alien caps off his ‘Crazy’ trilogy of Huang Bo-led dark comedies (after Crazy Stone and Crazy Racer) with a box-office bang. After The Wandering Earth, it was the second most successful release of Chinese New Year 2019, and like that blockbuster, it is based – albeit loosely – on a novella by Liu Cixin, A Village Teacher (Ning Hao also cameos in The Wandering Earth, while Lei Jiayin cameos in both). It follows down-on-his-luck monkey trainer Geng Hao (Huang Bo), whose small circus will soon have to close if he doesn’t prove its commercial viability to the manager of the amusement park that houses it. One day, after an aborted inter-species exchange in outer-space, an alien comes crashing into Geng’s circus. Believing him to be a rare monkey, Geng decides to train it, while his friend Da Fei (Shen Teng) tries to convince him to sell it. Meanwhile, the American government (re-named Amanikan government) is sending its special forces to track down the alien. Beyond the A-list but oddly chemistry-free pairing of Huang Bo and Shen Teng, and the passable CGI rendering of the alien creature, it’s difficult to understand the success of Crazy Alien. It’s consistently mean-spirited, but never in a good way: the darkness of its comedy entails mostly caricaturing Americans and their government – as if their perceived arrogance wasn’t mirrored in China – and more uncomfortably, the ill-treatment of animals. It’s not just the alien that’s mistreated by the leads, but also the trained monkey: while it never gets too grievous, it’s still impressively unfunny, and coupled with a video that surfaced of a dog being abused on set, it leaves a bitter aftertaste. There’s also amusing but tired references to Steven Spielberg’s E.T, and to the Monkey King. But with no trace of humanity, no perceivable depth, and a dull stop-and-go pace, Crazy Alien is an oddly inert film. **