RAILWAY HEROES (2021) short review

Yang Feng’s directing debut Railway Heroes follows the resistance fighters of the Shandong Rail Corps, who relentlessly fought the Japanese invaders during the Second Sino-Japanese War, from 1937 to 1945. A team of railroad workers led by Hong (Zhang Hanyu) conducts sabotage operations against Japanese trains headed for the battlefront in East China, with station operator Wang (Fan Wei) as their source of intel. It’s a much more somber take on that time in history than Ding Sheng’s Jackie Chan vehicle Railroad Tigers in 2016, but not necessarily a more realistic one. Therein lies the film’s problem: it never chooses between being a rip-roaring, over-the-top semi-patriotic spectacle like Dante Lam’s Operation Mekong and Red Sea for example, or being a realistic, reverent historical account like, Feng Xiaogang’s Assembly. There’s merit in choosing the middle ground, but what results in a long simmer of a film. It’s beautiful to look at with its almost monochrome snowbound cinematography (courtesy of the director himself), never less than entertaining thanks to the unimpeachable charisma of Zhang Hanyu and Fan Wei in roles they know like the back of their hand (the rugged leader of men and the jovial yet wily bear, respectively), and it’s capped off by a stunning and bloody action scene across train cars, yet there’s fire missing in the belly of this steel beast. The supporting cast is largely unmemorable and barely fleshed out (either selfless Chinese fighters or smirking Japanese devils), and there’s neither enough action scenes to get the pulse racing, nor enough historical detail to educate. Thankfully, wide-eyed patriotism is confined to a single scene of resistance fighters being sworn into the Communist Party – amusingly, it might be the film’s most bombastic moments, with composer He Min’s fine score thundering away like the Avengers are landing in East China. ***



p2618059405In 2017, Sherwood Hu released part one of a diptych based on a 2003 novel by Hong Ying: Lord of Shanghai. The concurrently-shot second part, Concubine of Shanghai, was to be released a few weeks later, but Lord‘s box office flop led to a delay of more than three years, with Concubine debuting straight on VOD in late 2020. Lord of Shanghai was a clumsy, occasionally shoddy gangster epic, kept afloat by the charisma of esteemed actors like Hu Jun and Yu Nan, but hurtling through event, as if existing just to set up its epic conclusion. Concubine of Shanghai, sadly, only compounds the flaws of its opener. It picks up ten years later: Xiao Yuegui (Yu Nan), is now the powerful concubine of powerful Shanghai mobster Yu Qiyang (Rhydian Vaughan) after having loved two previous generation of Shanghai lords, Chang Lixiong (Hu Jun) and Huang Peiyu (Qin Hao). Now, she welcomes her estranged daughter Lili (Amber Kuo) back to Shanghai, but the young woman, dreaming of movie stardom, gets involved with a director (Duan Bowen) who may not be what he seems.


An Interview with Composer Elliot Leung


To call Elliot Leung an overnight sensation would be incorrect, as it would be ignoring several years of praised work in video game, advertisement and documentary music. And yet there is indeed something meteoric about his arrival in the A-List of Chinese film composers: his thrilling score for Dante Lam’s spectacularly successful Operation Red Sea – now second only to Wolf Warrior II on the list of highest-grossing movies in China and still the fifth highest-grossing film worldwide for 2018 – marks the beginning of a promising big screen career, with no less than four high-profile films already on his dance card. A busy schedule in spite of which he graciously agreed to answer our questions.