UNDERCOVER PUNCH AND GUN (2019) review

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Produced by Gordon Chan, shot four years ago and formerly known as Undercover vs. Undercover, Frankie Tam and Koon Nam Lui’s Undercover Punch and Gun revolves around Wu (Philip Ng), an undercover cop who’s grown much too attached to Bob (Lam Suet), the mob boss he was supposed to help bring down, to the extent that he’s now dating his daughter (Aka Chio). When Bob is killed during a drug deal gone wrong, Wu finds himself caught between his superior officer (Nicholas Tse) who wants him to go deeper, Bob’s ruthless collaborator and old flame (Carrie Ng) who is suspicious towards him, and Ha (Andy On), a former special agent gone bad, who operates a meth trade from a cargo ship on the high seas, and wants the beleaguered undercover to deliver Bob’s chemist (Susan Shaw) to him. A desperate Wu can only count on the help of his loyal informant (Vanness Wu) and a special agent (Joyce Feng) who used to work with Ha.

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GODDESSES IN THE FLAMES OF WAR (2018) review

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Shot in 2014 and planned for release in 2015, Wu Yigong, Jiang Ping and Li Zuonan’s Goddesses in the Flames of War had to wait for the end of 2018 to finally land on Chinese screens, in general indifference, to dismal box-office despite its starry cast, and three years too late for the 70th anniversary of the end of the Sino-Japanese war, which it was meant to celebrate. It calls to mind The Bombing, another recent, long-delayed all-star war epic also produced by Jiang Ping, but with only a fraction of the budget, and a more unusual focus. Indeed, as its titles indicates, it focuses on the role of women in war, following a dozen female destinies in a village occupied by Japanese invaders, by the Yangtze river. A student (Bai Bing) works for the armed resistance, a seductress (Yin Tao) uses her charms to shield other women from abuse, a wealthy wife (Zhou Dongyu) struggles with her husband’s collaboration with the Japanese, a businesswoman (Yao Chen) uses her influence to find employment for those in need… At the center is He Saifei, the film’s actual lead, as a woman who loses both her husband and her son to the Japanese, and will stop at nothing to protect her last remaining child, and get revenge.

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MY DEAR ELEPHANT (2019) review

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In My Dear Elephant, his most light-hearted film since 2012’s The Great Magician, Lau Ching Wan plays the owner of a traveling circus whose star attraction is a trio of highly-trained elephants. But just as he hopes to bring more stability to his team by joining an in-development amusement park called Dreamland, he’s harassed by a plucky animal rights activist (You Jingru), whose ex-boyfriend (Pan Yueming) is none other than the co-owner of Dreamland. Shot three years ago, Shao Xiaoli’s film was finally released earlier this year, no doubt to scrape a few Yuan from the other circus elephant film of the moment, Disney’s Dumbo.

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CHASING THE DRAGON II: WILD WILD BUNCH (2019) review

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The second film in Wong Jing’s planned Chasing the Dragon trilogy of films based on real-life Hong Kong crimes, Wong Jing and Jason Kwan’s Chasing the Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch (hereafter Wild Wild Bunch) focuses on Logan (Tony Leung Ka Fai), who took advantage of the legal limbo in the few years leading to the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, to establish a kidnapping ring targeting Hong Kong’s elite for extravagant ransoms. From there, the films veers into fiction, as cop Sky He (Louis Koo) is sent undercover in Logan’s gang: his superior Lee (Simon Yam) has been tipped off that the kidnapper, who often uses improvised bombs to threaten his victims, is in need of a new explosive experts. Well-versed in that field, Sky manages to infiltrate the gang, thanks in no small part to Doc (Lam Ka Tung), Logan’s second-in-command, who appears to be playing both sides. The gang’s next target is the richest man in Hong Kong, casino tycoon Stanford He (Michael Wong), but Logan seems to know there’s a mole in his team.

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DESIRE GAME (2019) review

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Ambitiously, Guo Tao has made science-fiction the genre of his directing debut, Desire Game. In it, he plays Guo Shi, the brilliant creator of the Butterfly, a still-in-development, revolutionary virtual reality system. But when his daughter falls to her death while entranced in the immersive effect of the Butterfly, he withdraws from public life and scientific research, becoming estranged from his wife (Mei Ting) and leaving his partner (Fan Wei) in charge of their company. One day, a young woman (Gai Yuexi) whose car broke down takes shelter at his villa; she then seduces him, only to be found dead in his car a few hours later. Guo Shi understands he’s being framed for murder, and can only rely on the help of his former disciple (Jiang Chao) and a homeless girl (Zhang Zifeng).

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CHANGE OF GANGSTER (2019) review

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In Change of Gangster, his long-delayed fifth film as a director and actor, Francis Ng plays Francis Ng, a fading star whose recent failed attempt at an arthouse reinvention leaves him in dire need of a hit. He reluctantly accepts the lead role in The Godfather’s Son, a gangster drama bankrolled by a rich heir (Qiao Shan), whose director (Wen Song) is aiming for all-time greatness, and in which child star Feynman (Feynman Ng, Francis Ng’s actual son) is to play his son. But the has-been and the child actor don’t get along at all, and the beginning of production is plagued by constant strife, until by accident Francis’ head is hit by a falling toolbox. When he wakes up, he thinks he’s actually the gangster he plays in the film, and that Feynman is really his son. Sensing a way to salvage his film, the director decides to follow the brain-injured star around with cameras, as he prances around Hong Kong challenging gangs, while trying to connect with the boy he thinks is his son.

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THE KNIGHT OF SHADOWS: BETWEEN YIN AND YANG (2019) review

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In Yan Jia’s The Knight of Shadows: Between Yin and Yang, Jackie Chan plays an imaginary version of Pu Songling, the late 16th-century, early 17th-century author of Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio – a collection of supernatural stories on which films the A Chinese Ghost Story or the Painted Skin franchise are more or less loosely based. This Pu is a writer too (and one eager to peddle his stories), but he’s also an actual demon hunter who operates from a mountain-top house, assisted by goblins Farty, Happy and Thousand Hands. While helping a hapless sheriff’s assistant (Lin Bohong) catch a jewel thief who’s actually a pig demon, Pu comes across Nie Xiaoqian (Elane Zhong), a demon who along with her sister Jing Yao (Lin Peng) feeds on the souls of young women, after promising them eternal beauty. Also on Nie Xiaoqian’s trail is Yan Chixia (Ethan Juan), a wandering demon hunter who’s none other than her former lover.

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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. ***

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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