THE MYSTERY OF DRAGON SEAL (aka VIY 2, aka JOURNEY TO CHINA: THE MYSTERY OF IRON MASK) (2019) review

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Who could have imagined that two of the most iconic movie stars in the world, Jackie Chan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, would one day share the screen not in a Hollywood buddy movie, but in a Russian-Chinese fantasy swashbuckling adventure vaguely derived from Nikolai Gogol, in which Arnie would play a British warden, and the two would have a swordfight? Now we want to see Sylvester Stallone and Chow Yun Fat arm-wrestle in a Polish-Vietnamese western indirectly adapted from Victor Hugo. Anyway, Oleg Stepchenko’s The Mystery of Dragon Seal is the sequel to Viy, a Russian fantasy adventure – Gogol-derived, as aforementioned – starring Jason Flemyng and Charles Dance, that found healthy international ancillary success after becoming the third highest-grossing Russian film in Russia in 2014. Conceived to work as a stand-alone film – thanks to a recapitulation of the previous episode – and geared towards the China market, this sequel has been a flop both there and in Russia.

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BODIES AT REST (2019) short review

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Renny Harlin’s career second wind in China continues: after the success of the passable Jackie Chan vehicle Skiptrace, and the costly flow of the fantasy clunker Legend of the Ancient Sword, here comes Bodies at Rest, in which a Hong Kong public morgue is invaded on Christmas eve by three masked and armed criminals (Richie Jen, Carlos Chan and Feng Jiayi). They are trying to retrieve a incriminating bullet from the body of a woman (the striking Clara Lee, only glimpsed in flashbacks), but Nick Chan (Nick Cheung), the forensic pathologist on duty, and his Mainland intern Lynn Qiao (Yang Zi) are determined not to let them have their way. This is the kind of film that Hollywood churned out relentlessly in the nineties (Renny Harlin’s heyday, of course): a sub-Die Hard game of cat-and-mouse pitting a resourceful everyman against ruthless criminals in a closed location. There’s even reference to John McTiernan’s seminal actioner (of which Harlin directed the sequel, of course): bare body parts on broken glass, air duct escape… It’s a brisk and reasonably entertaining 90 minutes, bolstered by charismatic turns from Nick Cheung (not stretching in any way), Richie Jen (playing efficiently against type) and Yang Zi (more than holding her own next to the two veterans), some welcome flashes of dark humor, and brutal, gripping fight scenes. Yet the film runs of out steam in the final twenty minutes, weighted with too many twists, turns and reversals for such a thin plot and characters, as well as a rote ending. **1/2

THE CAPTAIN (2019) review

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In May 2018, on a Sichuan Airlines flight from Chongqing to Lhasa, the cockpit windshield shattered suddenly while the plane was 30,000 feet above the Tibetan Plateau. In the subsequent cabin depressurization, a co-pilot was half-sucked out of the plane and many passengers lost consciousness or succumbed to panic. Yet against all odds, the plane’s pilot (Zhang Hanyu) managed a miraculous emergency landing, with all aboard safe and sound, including the co-pilot. Less than four months later, Andrew Lau was already re-creating these events for the big screen, surely a record when it comes to rushing to cash in on true events.

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