A HOME WITH A VIEW (2019) short review

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Adapted from a play by Cheung Tat Ming, Herman Yau’s A Home with a View follows a property agent, Lo Wai Man (Francis Ng), who shares a small, cluttered apartment in Hong Kong with his ailing father (Cheung himself), beautiful wife (Anita Yuen) and two kids (Ng Siu Hin and Jocelyn Choi). Surrounded by noisy neighbors and perpetually counting pennies to make ends meet, the family has one daily relief: their view on the sea. So when that view is blocked by a billboard erected by the mysterious Wong (Louis Koo), they’re ready to resort to any means, legal or illegal, to make him take it down. A Home with a View starts like a trite sitcom (with endless shouty bickering and plenty of slammed doors), morphs into a kafka-esque examination of contemporary Hong Kong (where absurd property prices and constant financial pressure lead to a volatile, near dog-eat-dog climate), before plunging headfirst into unexpected depths of macabre – still amusingly belied at that point by the bright hues of the cinematography. Its occasionally stagey feel (no wonder) and disappointingly scattered narrative (intriguing characters, like Anthony Wong’s lovestruck government worker, come and go before amounting to anything) weigh it down, but Francis Ng, Anita Yuen, Cheung Tat Ming and Louis Koo are all on fine form, especially the latter going for less-is-more for the whole film before letting loose in the hilarious, pitch dark final ten minutes. ***

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THE HUMAN COMEDY (2019) short review

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Once a purveyor of polished, classy star vehicles – having directed Gong Li is Breaking the Silence and Zhou Yu’s Train, and Li Bingbing in I Do –  Zhou Sun seems to have devolved into a tone-deaf hack, on the evidence of the dire 2015 sci-fi comedy Impossible, and The Human Comedy, a criminally unfunny caper. It follows Allen Ai as a debt-ridden radio presenter who, much to the chagrin of his wife (Wang Zhi), becomes embroiled in a spoilt kid’s (Lu Nuo) ill thought-out scheme to repay his debt to a gangster (Simon Yam) by faking his own kidnapping and getting his rich father (Jin Shi Jie) to pay a ransom. The hitch is that said father isn’t too keen on getting back his son, whom he considers a massive failure. Speaking of massive failures, The Human Comedy is visually drab (lifeless, grey-ish cinematography and listless handheld camerawork reek of laziness), narratively muddled (the countless twists and double-crosses bore quickly), and never funny one second. Veterans Simon Yam and Jin Shi Jie are lone flickers of life, the talented Wang Zhi can do nothing with her thankless ‘resentful wife’ role, while Allen Ai and Lu Nuo gesticulate annoyingly – and with no chemistry whatsoever. This is an artistic nadir for Zhou Sun; let’s hope the only way for him is up. *

 

ABDUCTION (2019) review

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17 years after they co-starred – at the very beginning of their respective careers – in one of the worst films of all time, Tsui Hark’s Black Mask 2: City of Masks, Scott Adkins and Andy On are back together, this time in a Chinese straight-to-vod executive-produced by Roger Corman, no less. Behind the camera is Ernie Barbarash, whose output includes the bad (Cuba Gooding Jr vehicle Hardwired), the middling (Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicles Assassination Games and Pound of Flesh) and the solid (Michael Jai White vehicle Falcon Rising and another JCVD, Six Bullets). Fortunately, Abduction falls into the latter category. It follows Quinn (Scott Adkins) a man who following the kidnapping of his daughter in 1985, wakes up in 2018 Saigon, having not aged one bit, and with vague recollections of fighting inter-dimensional beings. To find his daughter, he teams up with Conner (Andy On), a soldier turned enforcer whose wife was just abducted by the same beings, and with Anna (Truong Ngoc Anh), a doctor who’s the only one to believe them.

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SAVAGE (2019) review

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The feature debut of screenwriter Cui Siwei, whose recent output includes films as different as the subpar Jackie Chan vehicle Bleeding Steel and Huang Bo’s own fine directing debut The Island, Savage follows Wang Kanghao (Chang Chen) and Han Xiaosong (Li Guangjie), two police detectives in a small snow-swept town at the foot of Baekdu Mountain, both vying for the affections of local doctor Sun Yan (Ni Ni). One day, the two cops’ routine is disrupted by the daring theft of an armored truck’s whole shipment of gold bullions. Their confrontation with the perpetrators (Liao Fan, Zhang Yicong and Huang Jue) leaves Han dead and Wang full of guilt – and a thirst for revenge.

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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. **

HIDDEN MAN (2018) review

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After 2010’s Sichuan-set Let the Bullets Fly and 2014’s Shanghai-set Gone with the Bullets, Jiang Wen closes his amoral trilogy of Republican China epics with the Beijing-set Hidden Man, where bullets are much scarcer than blades and fists. In 1922, Li Tianran’s (Eddie Peng) adoptive father, a land owner in Northern China, was murdered by Zhu Qianlong (Liao Fan) and Nemoto Ichiro (Sawada Kenya), after refusing to sign over his land to the Japanese for opium cultivation. Tianran nearly escaped and was rescued by American expatriate doctor Wallace Handler (Andy Friend), who sent him to San Francisco to study medicine. Now, 15 years later, he goes by Bruce, is a licensed obstetrician, and more importantly a highly-trained special agent working for a shadowy businessman (Steven Schwankert, in a role initially played by Kevin Spacey but later entirely re-shot for obvious reasons). Tianran still has vengeance on his mind, and so he welcomes the mission to go fight the Japanese in occupied Beijing (renamed Beiping), as it also provides him with an opportunity to exact revenge on Zhu and Nemoto. In Beiping, he’s welcomed and initiated to the city’s volatile political dynamics by Wallace Handler, and must navigate a dangerous web of hidden agendas involving not only Zhu and Nemoto, but also the former’s femme fatale girlfriend Tang Fengyi (Xu Qing), as well as a mysterious – and beautiful – crippled tailor (Zhou Yun), and most of all Lan Qingfeng (Jiang Wen), a powerful businessman seemingly playing all sides.

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MASTER Z: THE IP MAN LEGACY (2018) review

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One of the most memorable characters in the Ip Man franchise, ambitious Wing Chun master Cheung Tin Chi (Max Zhang), gets his own well-deserved spin-off in Yuen Woo Ping’s Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy. After being defeated – behind closed doors – by Ip man at the end of the third installment, the humbled Cheung is now leaving peacefully with his son in Hong Kong, where he owns a small grocery store. His days as a martial arts teacher are over, and so is his side-job as a thug, which doesn’t sit well with his former employer (Yuen Wah). Cheung can’t stay out of trouble for long: after he defends bar hostesses Julia (Liu Yan) and Nana (Chrissie Chau) against a local mobster Tso Sai Kit (Kevin Cheng) and his henchmen, his store is burnt down as retribution. Now homeless and tracked down by a mysterious assassin (Tony Jaa) working for his former employer, Cheung is helped by Fu (Shi Yanneng), the owner of a local bar, for whom he starts working as a waiter. And two dangerous figures loom large over him: mobster Tso Ngan Kwan (Michelle Yeoh), the sister of Tso Sai Kit, and Owen Davidson (Dave Bautista), a restaurant owner and philanthropist who’s also a drug trafficker on the side.

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