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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ANGEL WHISPERS (2015) short review

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Carrie Ng is now the third Hong Kong cinema stalwart to debut as director with a horror film, after Nick Cheung and Simon Yam. But her start is the least auspicious of the three: Angel Whispers is an often painfully clumsy little horror film, taking place in a decrepit building in Hong Kong where a small whorehouse led by Auntie Lai (Carrie Ng) lives in fear of a prostitute killer that’s making the news. When one of the girls disappears mysteriously, suspicion falls on the building’s janitor Lung (Sammy Hung), who’s been having an unrequited crush on one of them, the melancholic Ching Ching (Kabby Hui). Angel Whispers makes some feeble attempts at fleshing out its ensemble of prostitutes, but they’re too few and drowned in rote horror film proceedings, from the usual ‘splitting in teams to look for the killer in dark corridors’, to bouts of leaky basement torture porn. Carrie Ng and Sammy Hung are fine, but Kabby Hui doesn’t convince in a key role that should have tied the film together. And there’s a half-decent twist in the end that falls flat on its face, because what precedes it has been so underdeveloped and routine. *1/2

HUNGRY GHOST RITUAL (2014) short review

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Interestingly, Nick Cheung is already the third actor in two years to make a horror film for his debut as a director after Juno Mak’s Rigor Mortis and Simon Yam’s segment in Tales from the Dark 1, with Carrie Ng’s upcoming Angel Whispers set to further that small trend. Here Nick Cheung plays Zong, a bankrupt publisher who comes home to Malaysia where his father (Lam Wai) owns an Opera troupe. His arrival provokes varying reactions, from outright hostility from his half-sister (Cathryn Lee) to sweet sympathy from the star performer (Annie Liu). But when his father is hospitalized, Zong is called upon to replace him temporarily as troupe director, even though he knows nothing of the traditions on the artform, least of all the rites to be performed as the Hungry Ghost Festival draws near, a midsummer period where spirits are particularly active and dangerous. Soon Zong is beset with unsettling visions and the troupe members start behaving more and more strangely, with the root of it all possibly buried in the past. Nick Cheung’s recipe for horror is a fairly transparent and derivative one : two parts carefully-CGIed phantasmagorical visions a la Pang brothers, one part white-clad, long-black-haired female ghosts reminiscent of Japanese horror, some Paranormal Activity-style surveillance camera scares thrown in for good measure, and a fairly random and underused reference to the real-life Elisa Lam case to top it off. To his credit, Cheung favors creeping terror over jump scares, and while never truly scary or fresh, his film is never boring and the Cantonese Opera angle is appealing. The actor/director’s dialed-down performance doesn’t exactly pull you in however, and the veterans steal the show : a heartfelt Lam Wai as his father, and especially the fiery Carrie Ng as an aging Opera star. **1/2

CRYSTAL HUNT (1991) short review

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Shot in Thailand and probably back-to-back with 1992’s Cheetah on Fire which has the same cast and crew, Hsu Hsia’s Crystal Hunt opens on a short and brisk action scene featuring Leung Kar Yan and Gordon Liu (who do not appear again afterwards) that has nothing to do with the plot and serves only to pad out the film’s short runtime. Which tells you everything you need to know about its ambitions. Carrie Ng is the daughter of a terminally ill businessman, whose last hope is a legendary healing crystal hidden deep in the Thai jungle. With her boyfriend (Ken Lo), she tasks a scientist (director Hsu Hsia) with finding the crystal. But the scientist is apprehended by a team of mercenaries (headed by Donnie Yen’s gweilo collaborators John Salvitti and Michael Woods), and soon his daughter (Fujimi Nadeki) goes looking for him with the help of two cops (Donnie Yen and Sibelle Hu). Despite an impressive lack of narrative competency, Crystal Hunt is never boring thanks to a healthy serving of action choreographed with budget-defying skill by Donnie Yen’s team. And everybody in the cast is playing within their comfort zone : Carrie Ng is domineering and slightly insidious, Donnie is badass and a bit puerile, Sibelle Hu is a cute woman of action, Ken Lo is a tool who kicks high… It’s all quite familiar and comforting, if mediocre and unchallenging. **1/2

ANGEL TERMINATORS (1992) short review

Angel_Terminators_dvdcover One of only two films directed by Wai Lit, most of the time a supporting actor in Category III films, Angel Terminators is representative of the more violent and dark variety of ‘Girls with Guns’ films. In a fairly simple plot (no surprise here), it follows the fight to the death between tough policewomen (Sharon Yeung, Kara Hui, Cheng Yuen Man), and a brutal mob boss (Kenneth Tsang) back from exile in Thailand and his henchmen (among whom Alan Chui, Dick Wei and Michiko Nishiwaki), with Carrie Ng as a woman with ties to both sides. Angel Terminators benefits from no-nonsense direction, well-staged – if hardly remarkable – action scenes, and a truly charismatic cast: Sharon Yeung has a steely presence that should have allowed her to do better than end her career in Godfrey Ho cheapies, Kenneth Tsang essays one of his classic scumbag roles, Michiko Nishiwaki is formidable as always, though her smouldering presence is underused, and Kara Hui, while absent for a long stretch, is always a joy to watch. It’s a tough, somber film that takes startlingly unpleasant detours (Carrie Ng’s character goes through an almost overwhelming amount of torment), and speeds violently towards an unforgiving ending, with a striking final shot. ***