THE DEAD END (2015) review

p2262236348Seven years ago, Xin Xiaofeng (Deng Chao), Yang Zidao (Guo Tao) and Chen Bijue (Gao Hu) broke and entered in a house near Xilong City, looking to collect a debt on behalf of a local loan shark. Things went from uglier to much uglier as they ended up not only killing the old couple in debt, but also raping and killing their granddaughter. They were never caught and now live new lives in Xiamen: Xin as a policeman, Yang as a cab driver, and mentally-challenged Chen as a fisherman. Gnawed by remorse and certain they will be caught sooner or later, they jointly care for their adopted daughter Weiba, who may be the daughter of the woman they raped. The expected yet much-feared reckoning draws closer as Xin’s new boss, Yi Guchun (Duan Yihong), comes from Xilong City, and is still obsessed with solving the seven-year old rape and murder case, not yet knowing that the subordinate he’s growing to like and respect, is one of the perpetrators. And things get more complicated when Yi’s younger sister Guxia (Wang Luodan) falls in love with Yang after he rescues her from a purse-snatcher.

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RUN AMUCK (2019) short review

153871c3b2bb4bb552007a5f3625c97a342031In Liu Xiao and Qin Pengfei’s highly amusing straight-to-VOD actioner Run Amuck, a successful Virtual Reality shooting game called ‘Run for your Life’ gathers dozens of contestants for a highly-publicized final game with a winning prize of 10-million RMB, under the purview of the game’s instuctor, the ‘AK Queen’ (Clara Lee). Among the competing players are Baolong (Fang Yan), the cocky number one player, known for his ‘sultry’ victory dances, but also Shen Yue, aka “The Sniper Queen” (Zhang Haoyue), his usual runner-up. Run Amuck was probably shot concurrently to Wen Zhang’s Fat Buddies, as it shares its action director (Qin Pengfei), three cast members (Clara Lee, Zhang Menglu and Jackie Li), and a key desert shooting location with the aforementioned fat-suit comedy. Regardless of this truly fascinating filmmaking tidbit, it’s a fine slice of menatally-challenged, unassuming fun, full of amusing lapses in logic (it takes places in a virtual reality but once in the game the players still need a plane to get to the location of the competition, with one character fearing the parachute drop, even though it’s unreal), effective comic relief (Jackie Li and Zhao Yan are quite fun as a pair of bickering presenters who come to blows on a regular basis), and surprisingly solid – though budget-constrained – action scenes. Overtly comical music often sullies scenes, as do misguided attempts at actual emotion, but there’s enough dimensions to each of the generously-cleavaged characters (each one having a different, real life-based reason to join the game), that there’s the minimum requirement in dramatic tension on top of the desert-set tank-and-snipers action. Living-Goddess statue Clara Lee merely bookends the film, but it’s Zhang Menglu, who after her formidable turn in Fat Buddies steals the show here as a coke-sipping clutz. A sequel is generously set up, a low-stakes yet not unwelcome prospect. **1/2

KNOCKOUT (2020) review

p2597063926The fourth high-profile film in the time of Covid-19 to forgo a delayed theatrical release in favor of a much-advertised VOD release, Roy Chow’s Knockout follows Zhou Shi (Han Geng), an undefeated boxing champion who spends six years in prison after sending a few men to the hospital during a barroom brawl. But as he gets his freedom back, he learns that his girlfriend, pregnant at the time of his incarceration, has died and left him sole custodian of their daughter Blithe (Elena Cai). For her sake, he decides to give up on boxing for a low-paid but safer job as a delivery man; father and daughter bond quickly, but soon their happiness is compromised: his late girlfriend’s mother (Vivian Wu), a wealthy businesswoman, wants custody of Blithe and is ready to sue her father for it. Though his heart breaks at the idea of being separated from his daughter, Shi is soon given no choice: Blithe is diagnosed with leukemia, and he’s unable to afford the best treatment for her. Having surrendered her to her grandmother, he endeavors to regain his champion title, as a symbol for her daughter to keep fighting no matter what.

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THE ENCHANTING PHANTOM (aka A CHINESE GHOST STORY: HUMAN LOVE) (2020) review

p2597931214After bringing back Vincent Zhao’s incarnation of Wong Fei Hung – albeit on the small screens – with The Unity of Heroes, and scripting Detective Dee: Ghost Soldiers (starring Kristy Yang as Empress Wu Zetian), one of the more high-profile and better-rated of the countless straight-to-VOD Detective Dee films, director Lin Zhenzhao tackles another beloved Hong Kong franchise with The Enchanting Phantom, a remake of Tsui Hark and Ching Siu Tung’s classic A Chinese Ghost Story (itself based on a Pu Songling story). Apparently at first destined for at least a modest theatrical release, the Covid-19 pandemic in the end sent it straight to VOD. And so we once again follow naïve scholar Ning Caichen (Chen Xingxu), who falls in love with beautiful demon Nie Xiaoqian (Eleanor Lee), and attempts to free her from the clutches of her dark master, hermaphroditic tree demon Lao Lao (Norman Tsui), with the help of Taoist demon hunter Yan Chixia (Yuen Wah). (more…)