DREAMING THE REALITY (1991) review

img.phpSolid Hong Kong journeyman director Tony Liu united ‘Girls with Guns’ mainstays Moon Lee, Yukari Oshima and Sibelle Hu three times, in 1993 in the minor classic Angel Terminators II, the comedy The Big Deal in 1992, and before that, the rock solid actioner Dreaming the Reality. In it, Lee and Oshima play Silver Fox and Black Cat, two assassins trained to kill since childhood by ruthless mob boss Fok (Eddy Ko). Though Black Cat is unwavering in her missions, Silver Fox is starting to feel the weight of the deaths she’s caused on her conscience. One day on a mission gone wrong in Thailand, she loses her memory after taking a nasty fall while escaping the police. She wakes with no memory of who she is, and is helped by wry ex-cop Si Lan-Fa (Sibelle Hu) and her brother Rocky (Ben Lam), a boxer. But Black Cat is on her blood sister’s trail, tasked by Fok with bringing her back into the fold.

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BINDING SOULS (2019) short review

p2568663031After the middling exorcism film Daughter, director Chan Pang Chun returns to the horror genre and reunites with Kara Hui with Binding Souls, a mind-bogglingly laughable and cheap exercise in regurgitating the lamest, most overused horror tropes. Get a load of this plot: a group of college students (there’s the horny one, the bookish one, the sexy one, the scaredy one…) decide to spend a few days in an abandoned school that was once used by the Japanese army as a place to torture, rape and conduct experiments on Chinese prisoners. While the school has been closed for almost a decade, its old principal (Yuen Cheung Yan) still hangs around, as does a troubled janitor (Kara Hui), whose daughter disappeared years ago at the school, and who keeps hoping she’ll turn up. The youngsters plan to have some fun, but soon they’re plagued with visions of hostile ghosts. Over the course of the film’s skimpy yet overlong 88 minutes, there’s simply not a single fresh idea and not the least bit of suspense. The ghosts are standard-issue white-clad, black-hair-over-the-face, standing-at-the-back-of-a-corridor clichés. Ridiculousness – without any self-awareness of course – is omnipresent, from 33 years-old Carlos Chan cringingly playing a college student (one of the worst performances in a theatrically-released film this year, no doubt), to some very, very sad CGI. There’s no sense of atmosphere and the final twists arrive very late after any awake audience member saw them coming; only the first scene, a very nasty scene of wartime Japanese horror, raises the pulse somewhat, but it’s an ugly an exploitative sight. Kara Hui pops up from time to time, a sight for sore eyes made heavy by the blissful temptation of sleep. no stars

GUILT BY DESIGN (2019) short review

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Paul Sze, Kenneth Lai and Lau Wing Tai’s debut feature (under the guiding hand of producer Derek Yee), Guilt by Design follows Xu Lisheng (Nick Cheung), a former master of hypnotherapy who is selected for jury duty with six other people (Kent Cheng, Elaine Jin, Jolane Koo, Cecilia So, Babyjohn Choi and Lee Sheung Ching) in the highly-publicized trial of the heir of a major corporation, accused of murdering her uncle for his inheritance. There’s ample evidence that the defendant is innocent, but minutes before jury deliberation is set to start, Xu is contacted by a dirty cop (Eddie Cheung), who has kidnapped his daughter: if he wants to get her back in one piece, he must hypnotize the jury into finding the defendant guilty. From this rather fresh concept, the three writers-directors extract an enjoyable little thriller, refreshingly streamlined and un-convoluted contrary to many Hong Kong film of its ilk,  bracingly concise at 90 minutes, and relentlessly preposterous: more than suspended, disbelief should be shredded, burnt and then its ashes scattered at sea. This is a film where a juror can have a covert conversation with another juror, under the very table where the jury is deliberating at the same time, with only one person in the whole room noticing it; and this is the rare courtroom drama that ends with a little girl dangling from a helicopter, itself dangling from the top of a skyscraper. Yet it all goes down a treat, thanks to the aforementioned brisk pace, some strikingly inventive visuals for the hypnosis scenes, and a fine cast bringing life to barely-sketched out roles: Nick Cheung coasts efficiently on his enigmatic charisma, while old pros Kent Cheng and Eddie Cheung, and token Mainland cast-member Han Zhang are all game for the ridiculousness at hand. ***

LITTLE Q (2019) review

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Far from an exploration of Maggie Q’s childhood, Law Wing Cheong’s Little Q is an adaptation of the Japanese novel The Life of Quill, the Seeing-Eye Dog, by Ryohei Akimoto and Kengo Ishiguro, itself based on a true story and already brought to the small and big screens in Japan. Here, Simon Yam plays Lee Bo Ting, a renowned chef who after going blind has become perpetually angry and despondent. His sister (Gigi Leung) encourages him to get a guide dog, and a resourceful golden retriever by the name of Little Q is chosen for the task. Proud to a fault, Lee doesn’t want to rely on a dog, but soon Little Q starts melting his defenses, and a beautiful friendship is born.

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ENTER THE FAT DRAGON (2020) review

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Not a remake of Sammo Hung’s 1978 action comedy despite sharing a title and rotund lead with it, Kenji Tanigaki’s Enter the Fat Dragon follows Fallon Zhu (Donnie Yen), a well-meaning but slightly unhinged cop who becomes overweight after suffering a break-up from his longtime girlfriend, TV actress Chloe (Niki Chow), and a demotion to the archive room of his precinct. He jumps at the opportunity to get back to the field with a mission to escort a Japanese suspect back to Tokyo, where Chloe is coincidentally staying at the same time, hoping to expand her career to the Japanese market. But when the suspect is murdered by none other than the shady businessman (Go Hayama) sponsoring Chloe’s Japanese experience, and the inspector in charge (Takenaka Naoto) proves to be corrupt, Fallon teams up with a former undercover cop turned restaurant owner (Wong Jing) to bring them to justice.

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S.W.A.T. (2019) review

142640.57599544_1000X1000The latest in the ‘Glorified recruiting video’ subgenre of Chinese cinema (see the first Wolf Warrior, The Warriors or Sky Hunter, and many others), Ding Sheng’s S.W.A.T. follows the Blue Sword Commandos, an elite SWAT team, as they train arduously and go up against a ruthless drug trafficker (Robert Knepper) and his team of mercenaries. That’s about it for the plot: built like a banal network TV show, the film alternates between training sequences (in a hangar, in a plane, on the shooting yard), skirmishes (in a metro station, atop a skyscraper), and scenes of evil Gweilos going about their business, until a drawn-out action finale on an island. Subtlety is absent, and the usual racial paradigm of these Chinese propaganda actioners applies more than ever: Chinese are good, Africans are funny, Caucasians are evil.

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LOST IN RUSSIA (2020) review

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Lost in Russia, the latest installment in writer-producer-director-actor Xu Zheng’s franchise of box-office juggernauts (Lost in Thailand was for a while the highest-grossing Chinese title ever with 208 million dollars, with Lost in Hong Kong topping that impressive tally three years later with 254 million dollars) has known a drastically different fate upon its release. It was among the half-dozen high-profile Chinese New Year film releases cancelled due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus in China. Except while films like Dante Lam’s The Rescue, Chen Sicheng’s Detective Chinatown 3 or Stanley Tong’s Vanguard, among others, are for now biding their time, Lost in Russia was released online for free in the middle of the downcast festivities, as a result of a deal between the film’s studio Huanxi Media, and streaming giant ByteDance.

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TWO TIGERS (2019) review

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In Li Fei’s Two Tigers, Ge You plays Zhang Chenggong, a rich, lonely businessman who gets kidnapped by hapless loser Yu Kaixuan (Qiao Shan): acting alone, Yu asks for a one million RMB ransom, under threat of death. But Zhang quickly realizes that his abductor is rather harmless and out of his depth, and he strikes a deal with him: if Yu completes three tasks for him, he will give him double the expected ransom. The first task is to deliver a message to his ex-girlfriend Zhou Yuan (Zhao Wei), an actress whose career is declining. The second one is to help him make amends to Master Fan (Fan Wei), an old comrade from his army days, who went blind when he refused to lend him money for eye surgery. And the final task is to deliver a letter to his father, with the help of an old flame, Caixia (Yan Ni). Along the way, the prisoner and his abductor form an unlikely bond.

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THE CHINESE SOLDIERS (2019) short review

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Whatever happened to Huang Yi? Not so long ago, she was well on her way to the A-list, with classy supporting roles in upscale productions like Alan Mak and Felix Chong’s Overheard 2 and 3, Derek Chiu’s The Road Less Traveled and Johnnie To’s Romancing in Thin Air and Drug War, not to mention a very promising lead in Herman Yau’s The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake. Now here she is, headlining one of the many straight-to-VOD knock-offs of Operation Mekong and Operation Red Sea, that have been flooding Chinese streaming services for a few years. Xu Mingwen’s The Chinese Soldiers follows Shengnan (Huang Yi), an officer of the Border Defense Corps, who loses part of her leg in an explosion during a hostage situation. Now fitted with a prosthetic leg and back to civilian life, she starts working as a head of security for a Taiwanese contractor (Wong Yat Fei) in Thailand, and soon runs afoul of gun traffickers. The Chinese Soldiers bounces around genres: a drama about disabled soldiers, a silly Wong Yat Fei comedy, a piece of clenched-jaw propaganda (the sentence “Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping, they’re the nicest people in the world” is uttered in all seriousness), and an action thriller (a la Mekong, which a final infiltration and eradication scene that’s of course a very pale copy of that film’s finale). It does none of these genres well, and it’s a sad sight seeing Huang Yi stranded in such mediocrity. Gweilo actor Karl Eiselen, however, amuses to no end with one of the most head-scratching and tone-deaf portrayals of a white devil in a while. *

SHEEP WITHOUT A SHEPHERD (2019) review

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A Chen Sicheng-produced remake of the successful 2015 Hindi thriller Drishyam (itself a remake of a Malayalam film from two years earlier), Sam Quah’s Sheep without a Shepherd follows Li Weijie (Xiao Yang), a Chinese immigrant in Thailand and owner of a modest IT company, living a peaceful life with his wife Ayu (Tan Zhuo) and two daughters Ping Ping (Audrey Hui) and An An (Zhang Xiran). But it all goes to hell when Ping Ping is drugged and raped by Suchat (Bian Tianyang), the wayward son of a local power couple, chief of police Laoorn (Joan Chen) and mayoral candidate Dutpon (Philip Keung). Suchat has filmed his deed and is planning to use the footage to coerce Ping Ping into sexual favors; Ayu, whom she confided to, tries to intervene, but as he assaults her in a fit of blind rage, the distraught daughter kills him by accident. With his mother being the chief of police, and corruption running rampant in the town’s police force, Weijie knows his wife and daughter will be sent to jail regardless of having acted in self-defense. Drawing on his love of classic thrillers, he hatches a plan which he hopes will clear them of suspicion, but Laoorn is a formidable investigator.

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