ICEMAN: THE TIME TRAVELER (2018) review

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Law Wing Cheong’s Iceman 3D was, at the time, the most ambitious project of Donnie Yen’s rejuvenated career as a leading man; a remake of Clarence Fok’s cult classic The Iceman Cometh, with a hefty – for the Chinese film industry in 2014 – budget of 33 million dollars, it was conceived as a one-off, until a spiraling budget (Hong Kong’s Tsing Ma bridge had to be rebuilt as a set for a quarter of the film’s budget when permission to shoot on the actual one was refused) and the necessity for ever more reshoots led to the decision to release the film as a two-parter. But Iceman 3D had more scatological jokes than fights, and a shoddy grasp of its time-traveling concepts, puzzlingly eschewing the simple, pulpy pleasures of Clarence Fok’s original for something both more ambitious and less thrilling. It underperformed on release, and now four years later comes Iceman; The Time Traveler, with solid journeyman Raymond Yip taking over the helm from Law Wing Cheong.

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ENDLESS LOOP (2018) short review

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In Wen He’s Endless Loop, a woman whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere hitches a ride with a man who turns out to be a violent psychopath. Not long after, seven people riding a minibus in the same part of the Chinese countryside find themselves in a tunnel that doesn’t seem to end. Worse: when they try to go back the way they came in, they realize the tunnel has apparently become a loop, and what looks like an exit door actually leads then to another looped tunnel, strikingly similar yet with key differences. The seven strangers must work together to find a way out, but the ugliness of human nature in extreme circumstances quickly derails their efforts at survival. With an opening scene not unlike that of Kim Jee-woon’s I saw the Devil, a set-up and some episodes that call to mind Fruit Chan’s The Midnight After, and (SPOILER ALERT) a second-reel twist that turns the film into a near-remake of Tarsem Singh’s The Cell (END SPOILERS), Endless Loop is rather low on originality. Yet it’s briskly-paced, well-acted by a solid ensemble (with the ever-reliable and low-key Nie Yuan at its center), and ends in a flurry of off-the-wall dreamlike sequences that artfully get around budgetary constraints and are tightly connected to the narrative, so that they never feel gratuitous. A step in the right direction for Mainland horror. **1/2

MOJIN: THE WORM VALLEY (2018) review

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A new term should be coined for films like Mojin: The Worm Valley. Based on Tianxia Bachang’s 2006 best-selling series of eight novels, Ghost Blows Out the Light, it thus exists in the same universe and follows the same characters as Lu Chuan’s Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe and Wuershan’s Mojin: The Lost Legend. Yet, being from the same studio as the latter film, it is not a rival adaptation per se. And it’s neither a sequel nor a prequel, as its events and depictions of characters do not fit with The Lost Legend‘s narrative. And it doesn’t seem to be a reboot, as there was word not so long ago of a Mojin Returns, with Chen Kun set to return to the lead. And while Wuershan’s film was a sizable hit – still the 12th highest-grossing Chinese film of all-time – The Worm Valley inexplicably scales things down both in terms of scope and in terms of cast, with Cheng Taishen the only recognizable face in the cast, let alone anyone of the A-list stature of Chen Kun, Shu Qi or Huang Bo. And as Fei Xing’s film looks set, after a few days on Chinese screen, to gross but a tiny fraction of The Lost Legend‘s box-office take, the whole thing appears quite a head-scratching way of managing a successful IP on the part of backers Enlight and Huayi.

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LOST, FOUND (2018) review

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Lv Yue’s Lost, Found is a Chinese take on Hong Eun-mi’s script to the 2016 thriller Missing Woman, directed by Lee Eon-hie. As explained in Derek Elley’s review of the film, the rights to the script were bought before the South-Korean version was even shot – and thus it is not a remake per se. It follows Li Jie (Yao Chen), a ruthless lawyer who has little time for her two-year-old daughter Duo Duo, but is nevertheless fighting for her custody in the aftermath of a divorce from Tian Ning (Yuan Wenkuang). But one day, Duo Duo goes missing, and Li Jie is convinced that she’s been kidnapped by her nanny Sun Fang (Ma Yili), a self-effacing country girl. Increasingly desperate as the police’s chances to find her daughter dwindle by the hour, Li Jie goes on a frantic search for clues as to Sun Fang’s whereabouts, discovering her painful, storied past in the process.

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A COOL FISH (2018) review

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A sleeper hit in China, Rao Xiaozhi’s A Cool Fish interlocks narratives as we follow Cobra (Zhang Yu) and Big Head (Pan Binlong), two hapless criminals who rob a cellphone shop with a stolen gun, run away on a motorbike without knowing the phones they’ve stolen are just non-functioning models for show, and then must keep running away on foot after when their motorbike ends up in a tree due to a clumsy maneuver. They end up in the appartment of Jiaqi (Ren Suxi), a quadriplegic who has given up on life, and is thus not impressed by their attempts at intimidation. Meanwhile, Jiaqi’s brother Xianyong (Chen Jianbin), who was fired from the police and now works as a security guard for property developer Gao Ming (Wang Yanhui), sets off to find his lost shotgun, which is none other than the one used by Cobra and Big Head in their attempt at a robbery. And Xianyong’s daughter, who harbors a world of resentment against him, is trying to cool down her boyfriend Xiang (Ning Huanyu), the son of Gao Ming, who wants to go up against the loan sharks who are threatening his father.

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L STORM (2018) review

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Who could have predicted that David Lam’s modestly-successful financial thriller Z Storm would open the way to a full-blown franchise, yielding four installments in 5 years? In 2016, S Storm doubled its predecessor’s box-office take, before seeing its own financial success doubled by this year’s L Storm. And P Storm will come out in late 2019. Here, Louis Koo is back as William Luk, the handsome ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) agent who looks bored even when he’s chasing a perp down an obstacle-strewn alleyway. Back from S Storm is Lau Po Keung (Julian Cheung) of the JFIU (Joint Financial Intelligence Unit): together, Luk and Lau investigate a money laundering case involving a corrupt customs officer (Michael Tse) and a dangerous criminal mastermind (Patrick Tam). Meanwhile, officer Ching Tak Ming (Kevin Cheng), of the ICAC’s own internal affairs division, has his sights set on Luk, after it is revealed by an informant (Stephy Tang) that he accepted a sizable bribe.

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THE TRADING FLOOR (2018) TV review

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An ambitious mini-series co-produced by FOX, Tencent Penguin and Andy Lau’s Focus Television Group, The Trading Floor was created by Cora Yim and is a rare five-part mini-series in a part of the world where all popular TV dramas count dozens of episodes. It takes place in a fictional version of Hong Kong called Coen City, and follows Anthony Yip (Francis Ng), a former economics teacher turned Secretary of the Minister of Economic Development. Twenty years ago, he created an elite financial team including also Pamela Cheung (Maggie Cheung Ho Yee), Nick Cheuk (Patrick Tam) and Wai Hong (Joseph Chang); but years after working with them to avoid a financial tsunami caused by George Soros in 1997, Yip betrayed his team to obtain more power and a government position. Cheung was killed, Cheuk crippled and Wai exiled to Myanmar. Now having struck an alliance with three financial giants, Eastman Properties, Evergate Construction Materials and Marco Media, in a bid for market manipulation and dominance, Yip calls back Wai from his Burmese exile to help them. But Wai has vengeance on his mind, while Claudia Fang (Yu Nan), an agent from the Securities & Futures Commission, has set her sights on him.

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DREAM BREAKER (2018) review

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While investigating the mysterious disappearance fifteen years before of her father (Tong Dawei), a pioneer in virtual reality, Jiang Han (Chen Duling) finds herself trapped in Souldream, an illegal and dangerous VR game he designed, where players can fight one another for points which allow them to indulge their desires. There, she’s helped by Nan Ji (Song Weilong), an expert player who is himself on the trail of his uncle (Archie Kao). Directed by Han Yan (not the Han Yan who helmed Go Away Mr Tumor and Animal World, mind you), Dream Breaker benefited from the artistic input of visionary, subversive Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono, though it only shows in a few visions of kooky, gaudy chaos.

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THE TROUGH (2018) review

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Nick Cheung’s third film as a director and star, The Trough follows Yu Qiu (Cheung), a cop who’s been undercover so long in the gangs of the fictional Solo City, that his mind is starting to slip: he’s developing a death wish, the limit between the Law and Crime has been blurred out, and between two missions he goes to live as a hermit in the Namibian desert, fighting wild animals. Solo City is a degenerate, crime-riddled sewer, and there’s no shortage of mob bosses for him to take down, under the orders of his handler Jim (He Jiong), a lone man of honor assisted by hacker Jackie (Yu Nan) but surrounded by dirty cops (including Maggie Cheung Ho Yee and Chris Collins). Yu Qiu’s new mission is to unmask and bring down “The Boss”, the hidden mastermind who controls Solo City; and the key to bring him down may be a little girl (Li Yongshan), who was plucked from an orphanage for mysterious reasons, and is now wanted by dirty cops and half the city’s gangsters alike.

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EUROPE RAIDERS (2018) review

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13 years isn’t such a long time for a sequel to arrive, considering Rambo came back after 19 years, Blade Runner after 25 years, and Mad Max after 29. Yet 13 years feels like eons for the sequel to such fluff as Tokyo Raiders and Seoul Raiders to turn up. Not in terms of anticipation, mind you. Tokyo and Seoul were mildly entertaining but quite unmemorable, and haven’t really aged well. Still, they benefitted from attractive casts gathered around the considerable charm of Tony Leung Chiu Wai. Surprisingly, Leung returns for Europe Raiders, despite having become more rare in recent years – perhaps Wong Kar Wai’s role as a producer helped a bit, or perhaps he just wants to have fun: after all, he also appeared in Monster Hunt 2 this year.

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