BEAUTIFUL ACCIDENT (2017) short review

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Ho Wi Ding’s Beautiful Accident is the latest installment in that subgenre of comedy where a supernatural occurrence or a unique time lapse brings new perspective to the lead character – think Groundhog Day or Miss Granny. Here, Gwei Lun Mei plays Li Yu Ran, a proudly lonely, career-driven lawyer who after a car accident finds herself in the offices of Fate, where she is told that her death was a clerical error and that she will be able to reintegrate her body in a week. But by then, she is to take the place of a recently-deceased mother. With no choice but to accept, Li Yu Ran finds herself catapulted in the life of a housewife, with an overworked husband (Chen Kun), a resentful teenage daughter (Nana Ouyang), and a young son who is the only to sense this is not his real mother. Droll situations ensue, peppered with the dime-store wisdom and rote use of serendipity often displayed in the subgenre, though the film is quite inspired in its depiction of the offices of Fate as a bureaucratic mess peopled with half-competent employees, let by a delightful Wang Jingchun. This is mostly a one-woman show, and as often in her more commercial film, Gwei Lun Mei overacts wildly; it can be jarring at first, but when the film becomes more heartfelt, she actually brings it much-needed subtlety. Chen Kun laudably steps back to a supporting function, though he puzzlingly often seems to be playing his character as slightly mentally retarded. All in all this is an entertaining and visually pleasing, but unmemorable little comedy. **1/2

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MOJIN: THE LOST LEGEND (2015) review

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Three months after Lu Chuan’s Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe comes another adaptation of Tianxia Bachang’s 2006 best-selling (but never translated in English) series of eight novels, Ghost Blows Out the Light. Though set later than the Lu Chuan film in the book’s chronology, Wuershan’s Mojin: The Lost Legend isn’t a sequel: it’s a rival adaptation with an entirely different backing, creative team and cast, as well as a wildly different approach to the source material. Starting in New York but set mostly in the prairies and depths of Inner Mongolia, it follows three adventurers known as the Mojin Xiaowei, who perpetuate the tradition of tomb raiders once sent by emperors in times of need to ‘borrow’ riches from tombs. Shirley Yang (Shu Qi), Hu Bayi (Chen Kun) and Wang Kaixuan (Huang Bo) live in New York, having retired from tomb raiding. But through their associate Grill (Xia Yu), Wang gets hired by a rich and mysterious businesswoman (Liu Xiaoqing) and her cult-like followers to help her find the ancient tomb of a Khitan princess in Inner Mongolia. Initially reluctant but smelling something fishy, Shirley and Hu follow the expedition closely. But once they find the tomb it becomes apparent they’ve been there already : 20 years before when they were in the Communist Youth League, Hu and Wang loved the same woman, Ding Sitian (Angelababy), but lost her and many other comrades when they entered an an abandoned Japanese underground base where the corpses of soldiers mysteriously came back to life and started slaughtering the intruders. Now it appears that the strange businesswoman’s endgame is to find the Equinox Flower, a fabled artifact that can resurrect the dead…

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ZHONG KUI : SNOW GIRL AND THE DARK CRYSTAL (2015) review

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A prominent figure of Chinese mythology, the rotund and ugly but very powerful demon hunter Zhong Kui has surprisingly not had many film incarnations in the past decades. There was a female version of the character (played by Cheng Pei Pei, and thus not exactly rotund and ugly) in Ho Meng Hua’s The Lady Hermit in 1971, and Wu Ma directed and starred in a version of the myth in 1994’s The Chinese Ghostbuster, which transplanted the character as a fish out of water in 20th century Hong Kong. There has also been a few TV series, but Zhong Kui : Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal is definitely the character’s first blockbuster incarnation, and given the film’s success during the 2015 Chinese New Year period, it’s unlikely to be the last. Directed by Peter Pau, who’s been more celebrated as a cinematographer – a position which he occupies on this film too – than as a director (his last directorial effort was the messy Michelle Yeoh vehicle The Touch in 2002), and Zhao Tianyu, who until now had been a director of much more low-key fare (like 2008’s culinary thriller Deadly Delicious), it incongruously yet somewhat inevitably casts a handsome – some would say pretty – star in the title role, where one would have logically yet somewhat unrealistically expected a more corpulent and rugged actor like Jiang Wu or Zhang Jinsheng.

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PLAYBOY COPS (2008) short review

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Two cops, one from the mainland (Chen Kun), one from Hong Kong (Shawn Yue) ; one is dating the other’s ex-girlfriend (Linda Chung), and they’re both on the trail of a scorpion-tattooed killer. The films starts as an insufferable prance-off between Chen and Yue, the former all douchey smiles and false modesty, the latter proud and sullen but gooey-hearted. At this point their “investigation” doesn’t matter much, as they mostly trade weak barbs, vie for the girl’s affections and fight Xiong Xin Xin in a fun cameo. Then the killer is outed and it is revealed Chen Kun has a bullet lodged in his head that could kill him anytime : these plot turns lead to a stark tonal shift as the film goes from breezy buddy movie to brutal thriller. That shift makes it a bit more interesting, as does a Danny Lee cameo that serves to flesh out Yue’s character a bit. In the end, as directed with glitzy, superficial flair by Jingle Ma, Playboy Cops is a serviceable time-waster, which depending on the circumstances of your watching it can either be a good or a bad thing. **

PAINTED SKIN (2008) review

Wang Sheng (Chen Kun) is a general who rescues a young woman named Xiao Wei (Zhou Xun) during a raid against desert bandits. Hearing that she is alone in the world he takes her as one of his household’s servants back home. But quickly after her arrival, people are found dead in the city, their hearts ripped off. Wang’s wife Peirong (Zhao Wei) suspects Xiao Wei, but the latter has won everyone over with a kindness. When Wang’s brother Pang Yong (Donnie Yen) comes back from a two-year absence, Peirong begs him to investigate the matter, which he does, with the help of Xia Bin (Sun Li), a young woman pretending to be a “demon-buster”. Adapted from Pu Songling’s short stories in Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, Gordon Chan’s Painted Skin was a big hit in Asia, as well as Hong Kong’s submission for the Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2008. But this latter bidd for worlwide recognition fell flat, and understandably so : Gordon Chan’s film is a ghost story, but one that follows conventions quite alien to western ones.

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