MIDNIGHT DINER (2019) review

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For his feature debut as a director, Tony Leung Ka Fai chose to adapt Yaro Abe’s celebrated manga series Shin’ya Shokudo, from which have already been derived a Japanese TV series in four seasons, two Japanese feature films, a Korean TV series, and a Chinese TV series. The concept here stays the same: a small restaurant, open from midnight to seven in the morning, whose enigmatic but kind chef can cook anything his clients ask for, bringing them solace sometimes without them realizing it. Though the chef (Tony Leung Ka Fai) is central, we follow his clients’ stories – he’s the only connection between them.

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THE INVINCIBLE DRAGON (2019) review

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After making a strong impression in 2015 with scene-stealing turns in Soi Cheang’s SPL2: A Time for Consequences and Wilson Yip’s Ip Man 3, Max Zhang seemed destined to be the next big thing in Chinese-Hong Kong action cinema, and was showered with lead roles in solid mid-range productions. Now, four years later, his career has sadly not gained much traction: the action thriller The Brink was a flop, and so was the drama Dealer/Healer, in which he displayed fine dramatic chops. The Ip Man spin-off Master Z did respectable business and is getting a sequel, but its critical and box-office impact is a mere fraction of that of the Donnie Yen franchise from which it’s derived. His supporting roles in Hollywood sequels Pacific Rim: Uprising and Escape Plan: The Extractors have gone by unnoticed, and now comes Fruit Chan’s The Invincible Dragon, which died a quick death upon its Chinese and Hong Kong release. In an unfortunate one-two punch, it may go towards putting an end both to Zhang’s shot at the big time (for the time being at least), and to Fruit Chan’s commercial ambitions, following the failure of his previous China-ready mainstream venture Kill Time.

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SHANGHAI FORTRESS (2019) review

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Based on a 2009 novel by Jiang Nan, Teng Hua Tao’s Shanghai Fortress had been in the works for more than five years, and seemed to arrive at the perfect moment for a resounding success, being the first big-budget Chinese science-fiction film since the triumph of Frant Gwo’s The Wandering Earth. Instead, Teng’s film was released to a derisive reception from critics and the public, and quickly crashed at the box-office, grossing less than 3% of what Gwo’s film did at the beginning of the year. It is set in the year 2035: the great cities of the world are now powered by Xianteng, an super-energy alien material brought back to Earth by a Chinese spaceship. However, this has made our planet a target for a powerful alien race, dubbed “Annihilators” by those who fight them. Unleashing legions of deadly drones from a titanic mothership onto the major cities of the world, the Annihilators have reduced New York, Moscow, Tokyo and more to a pile of ashes; now, the last metropolis standing is Shanghai, where the leaders of 97 nations have culled their last remaining resources for the final fight. Trained and led by commander Lin (Shu Qi), the elite Grey Eagle Squad is being assigned to the AV-38, a new type of fighting jet; among them, the most promising is Jiang Yang (Lu Han), who’s secretly in love with Lin.

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THE LONGEST SHOT (2019) review

A milestone Chinese-Australian coproduction and the debut feature of advertisement director Xu Shunli, The Longest Shot is set in 1930s Shanghai, and follows aging, solitary hitman Zhao (Wang Zhiwen), whose early onset of Parkinson’s disease spells the end of both his dangerous job and his hobby as a watchmaker. Still haunted by the death of his son and by a fatal mistake he made years ago, he decides to take a final job, brought to him by his friend and middleman Du (Li Lichun). This final job is actually two final jobs, two targets to be eliminated on the same day and the same place: Peter (Christopher Downs) and Libo (Xu Yajun), two Shanghai kingpins who’ve been at each other’s throats for a while, threatening the order of things in the French Concession. But nothing is what it seems, strings are being pulled left and right, and the aging hitman finds himself in the center of a tangled web of deceit.

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A CITY CALLED MACAU (2019) short review

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Based on a 2012 novel by Yan Geling – and co-adapted for the screen by Yan herself – Li Shaohong’s A City called Macau follows Xiao Ou (Bai Baihe), a casino broker in Macau: she guides wealthy clients around the city, introducing them to games and securing loans for them. Over more than a decade (the film takes place between 2002 and 2014), two of her clients will change the course of her life: property developer Duan (Wu Gang), sucked ever deeper in debt by his gambling addiction and forever making empty promises to come clean, and sculptor Shi (Huang Jue), who goes as far as leaving his wife and child to pursue Macau’s mirage of wealth. With its ploddingly episodic structure (every time the narrative starts building steam there’s a jump forward in time), relentless explanative voice-over from Bai Baihe, trite sense of romance (walks on the beach, floating lanterns…), florid music begging you to feel, and – most damningly – thudding, repetitive storytelling (two hours of tension-free gambling and people getting in and out of debt), A City called Macau is a chore to get through. The drama is hopelessly contrived, with every single man in Xiao Ou’s life becoming a gambler (even her slapworthy son), and not one character seems worth caring for, except perhaps Chin Siu Ho’s Cat, her loyal – perhaps lovestruck – colleague. Xiao Ou herself is a strange and unlikeable mix of catty rashness and hopeless gullibility, with Bai Baihe giving a weirdly tone-deaf performance, mouth agape, permanently looking like she’s just been eating week-old sushi. Wu Gang is much more compelling, Huang Jue is livelier than his usual, and Geng Le makes the most of his short screen-time (as Bai’s ex-husband, also a degenerate gambler, of course), but their characters are merely hand-puppets for the film’s on-the-nose message on the price of gambling. Carina Lau and Eris Tsang make classy cameos; there’s a feeling the film would have been so much more interesting if it had focused on them, a steely, worldly casino owner and a tough, honorable businessman respectively. *1/2

LINE WALKER 2: INVISIBLE SPY (2019) review

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2016’s Line Walker was a loose spin-off from the highly-successful TVB series of the same title, with the characters of Charmaine Sheh and Hui Shiu Hung the only ties between small and big screen; this Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy is a thematic sequel, with all narrative connections to the TV show now severed, as Sheh and Hui don’t return. Louis Koo, Nick Cheung and Francis Ng do return however, in new roles. When a hacker (Jiang Peiyao), arrested for her connection to a terrorist car crash in the center of Hong Kong, reveals that there may be a network of undercover terrorists in the Hong Kong police, everyone becomes a potential suspect, including the three officers in charge of retrieving a hard-drive containing a list of the moles from a location in Burma: Ching (Nick Cheung), Cheng (Louis Koo) and Yip (Francis Ng). Ching and Cheng are both former students of Yip, but they may share a far older bond, while their allegiances soon prove mysterious.

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PROJECT GUTENBERG (2018) review

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Project Gutenberg is Felix Chong’s second solo project – that is, away from Alan Mak – after the underrated triad comedy Once a Gangster nine years ago. It follows Lee Man (Aaron Kwok), a painter of mediocre inspiration who discovers that he’s peerless at copying works of art. Soon, he’s hired by Ng Fuk Sang (Chow Yun Fat), aka Painter, the charismatic and ruthless head of a money-counterfeiting gang. Lee quickly becomes an invaluable part of the gang, and though he’s repelled by Painter’s violent ways, he sticks around in the hopes that the rewards showered upon him by the leader, will help him win back the love of his old flame Yuen Man (Zhang Jingchu), a now successful artist. At the same time, the counterfeiting gang is in the crosshairs of Inspector Ho (Catherine Chow) and her team.

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THE ROOKIES (2019) review

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More than five years after his promising and successful directing debut Firestorm, screenwriter-turned-director Alan Yuen is back with The Rookies, which died a very quick death at the Chinese box-office, and doesn’t seem destined for much of an international career, despite the presence of Milla Jovovich in a sizable role. It follows Zhao Feng (Darren Wang), a minor social media celebrity who scales skyscrapers live in Hong Kong for his fans’ entertainment. One day, as he’s parachuting down from a building, he unwittingly ends up in the middle of a dangerous transaction, and is mistaken by a shady businessman (Chan Kwok Kwan) as his contact. After managing to wing his way out of this delicate situation, he’s recruited by Bruce (Mille Jovovich), an elite agent from a secret organization called the Order of the Phantom Knighthood.

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WHISPER OF SILENT BODY (2019) review

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Based on a popular series of novels written by real-life forensic pathologist Qin Ming, and which has already yielded three successful TV series, Li Haishu and Huang Yanwei’s Whisper of Silent Body stars Yan Yikuan as forensic pathologist Qin Ming (yes the author made his hero a handsome and brilliant alter-ego to himself, how cute), a man of extreme dedication to his job, a legend in his field and a popular media figure in the fictional city of Chongjian. Together with his new intern Fan Jiajia (Dai Si), who’s not-so-secretly in love with him, he collaborates with police detective and frenemy Lin Tao (Geng Le), who’s not-so-secretly in love with Fan, on investigating the murder of a loan shark, with the prime suspect being crazed former martial arts champion Kou Yong (Shi Yanneng). But it soon appears that this case is directly connected to several recent deaths in the city.

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PRINCESS MADAM (1989) review

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As a director, erstwhile Chang Cheh assistant Godfrey Ho is known as a master of schlock, many of his films being facepalm-inducing patchworks of stock footage, recycled scenes from older films, gratuitous sex scenes and quite often, random ninja appearances. He’s like the dark flip-side of that other Chang Cheh assistant, John Woo. Yet, a film like Princess Madam is proof that Ho was more than capable of delivering a solid, coherent and at times even affecting actioner. Moon Lee and Sharon Yeung star as police officers Mona and Lisa (aheheh), assigned to the protection of a key witness in bringing mob boss Lung (Yueh Hua) to justice for murdering a cop. During a failed ambush on the witness and her police escort, Mona kills the lover of assassin Lily (Michiko Nishiwaki), who later retaliates by seducing, then kidnapping her husband. But matters are complicated further by the fact that Lisa’s adoptive father (Kenneth Tsang) was complicit in Lung’s crime, which poses an agonizing dilemma to her.

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