THE ROOKIES (2019) review

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More than five years after his promising and successful directing debut Firestorm, screenwriter-turned-director Alan Yuen is back with The Rookies, which died a very quick death at the Chinese box-office, and doesn’t seem destined for much of an international career, despite the presence of Milla Jovovich in a sizable role. It follows Zhao Feng (Darren Wang), a minor social media celebrity who scales skyscrapers live in Hong Kong for his fans’ entertainment. One day, as he’s parachuting down from a building, he unwittingly ends up in the middle of a dangerous transaction, and is mistaken by a shady businessman (Chan Kwok Kwan) as his contact. After managing to wing his way out of this delicate situation, he’s recruited by Bruce (Mille Jovovich), an elite agent from a secret organization called the Order of the Phantom Knighthood.

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KUNG FU LEAGUE (2018) review

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Bringing together four martial arts folk heroes in a time-travel adventure: it’s an idea both far-fetched and obvious – an oxymoron that Jeff Lau embodies film after film. And so Kung Fu League unites Wong Fei Hung (no introduction needed), Huo Yuan Jia (most notably portrayed by Jet Li in Ronny Yu’s Fearless), his most famous student Chen Zhen (who really existed but was given a fictional heroic fate in Lo Wei’s Fist of Fury) and Ip Man (no introduction needed either, not even a discreet wikipedia link). It doesn’t matter that these grandmasters are played by their respective ‘Plan B’ actors (Vincent Zhao instead of Jet Li, Dennis To instead of Donnie Yen, Chan Kwok Kwan instead of Bruce Lee…): the curiosity remains strong.

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KEEP CALM AND BE A SUPERSTAR (2018) short review

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Tiezhu (Li Ronghao), a private detective, is recruited by the police to investigate action star Yuen Bao’s (Eason Chan) links to a Thai drug trafficker. But after he saves the actor from a set accident, the two become friends. Tiezhu is hired to work on The Time Traveler, the film Bao is shooting, and falls in love with his co-star Tong Tong (Li Yitong). Meanwhile, Bao’s manager Tai (Chan Kwok Kwan) is obviously up to no good. Vincent Kok’s Keep Calm and be a Superstar amuses faintly with its parody of Jackie Chan’s persona through the character of Yuen Bao – a self-absorbed, happy-go-lucky, martial arts star yearning for acting awards. A lampooning of the classic end-credits bloopers of Chan’s film is particularly funny. But this also gives the film a dated feel: this phase of Chan’s career has been over for a while – imagine a 2018 US comedy based on a parody of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action heyday. The film doesn’t become fresh either through its spoofing of Infernal Affairs (albeit worth a chuckle), and its references to Cold War, though less dated, are also less inspired. The rest is very wild mugging by Eason Chan (one scene where he over-emotes in the way Jackie Chan often did a while ago is admittedly quite funny), overshadowing Li Ronghao at every turn, a dash of passable action choreographed by Sammo Hung’s third son Jimmy Hung, and some reliable supporting turns by the great Hui Shiu Hung (always the most welcome of sights in any film) and the underrated Chan Kwok Kwan, who seems primed for a career revival soon. **

ROMANTIC WARRIOR (2017) review

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In an age when amateurs have the tools to make professional-looking films, it beggars beliefs that professionals managed to produce something as amateur as Liu Xiatong’s Romantic Warrior. And we are not using the term “amateur” in the same childishly hyperbolic way as countless so-called film critics for whom competently-assembled films can be called “awful” or “shit”. No, Romantic Warrior truly boggles the mind with its utter lack of anything resembling filmmaking skill. The story unfolds in the thirties and concerns a cowardly Peking Opera actor (Chan Kwok Kwan) who meets a young woman (Xu Dongmei) claiming their marriage was arranged years ago by their now-defunct respective parents. He first tries to sell her to a brothel. Then, seeing she will not leave him in peace, and freshly humiliated by his nemesis (Wang Mei Ying) at an backflipping contest, he accepts her tutorship in martial arts and singing, to make him a better Opera performer. But she may have a hidden agenda.

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KUNG FU FIGHTER (2007) short review

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Featuring the same sets, costumes and many of the same cast-members as Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle, but only a quarter of its budget and a tenth of its creativeness, Yip Wing-Kin’s Kung Fu Fighter also borrows heavily from the Ma Wing Jing story, as told in the Shaw Brothers film Boxer from Shantung (1972) and Corey Yuen’s Hero (1997). Thus we follow a young country bumpkin (a vacant-eyed Vanness Wu) who comes to Shanghai in search of his father and ends up falling for a beautiful cabaret singer (Emme Wong), getting entangled in a turf war between mob bosses (Chan Kwok Kwan and Tin Kai Man), getting himself a portly sidekick (Lam Chi Chung) and meeting a kind master (an endearing Bruce Leung) who may know a thing or two about his father. It’s a puzzlingly half-baked film, in which some interesting visual flourishes and good choreography (by Fan Siu Wong) get undermined by a complete lack of focus and dramatic momentum and an excess of cartoonish visual trickery, again aping Stephen Chow’s film. The final fight scene is actually quite enjoyable, as Fan Siu Wong injects some charisma into the film by popping up as a dangerous grandmaster, and up-and-comer Max Zhang gets a good staff fight. But it’s not enough to prevent cartoonish surfeit and half-baked drama from dooming the film to mediocrity. *1/2