THE WASTED TIMES (2016) review

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Delayed for more than a year for reasons unclear (censorship issues or belabored editing?), Cheng Er’s third film takes place in Shanghai in the thirties and forties -before, during and after the battle and subsequent capture of the city by the Japanese. It follows various characters all connected to Mister Lu (Ge You), a crime boss: there’s his housekeeper (Ni Yan), his superior (Ni Dahong), the prostitute he occasionally visits (Gillian Chung), an actress he admires and helps (Yuan Quan), another actress (Zhang Ziyi) unfaithfully married to his superior, her lover (Wallace Chung), her other lover (Hang Geng), and more importantly Watabe (Tadanobu Asano), a Japanese man who got married and made his life in Shanghai, and claims he will fight for his city rather than side with his countrymen. When Japanese businessmen approach Mister Lu with plans for a lucrative partnership, he refuses ; death ensues.

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LETHAL HOSTAGE (2012) review

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A young woman (Wang Luodan) asks her recently widowed father (Ni Dahong) to bless her marriage to her husband (Sun Honglei): he refuses. A Narcotics detective (Zhang Mo) is on the trail of a drugs carrier (Yang Kun), who manages to elude him and ends up hiding out in a flat next door to a girl (Gao Ye) and her dog. Cheng Er’s Lethal Hostage sets up these two narrative strands in a few minutes, and then unfolds in four chapters set in the past and the present: these strands are of course connected, and there’s much under the surface of what we’ve just seen. To say more would be to start spoiling the film: it is a simple story told in an interesting and meticulously calculated way, much like Fei Xing’s The Man Behind The Courtyard House, which similarly used a non-linear and chaptered structure to elaborate on a seemingly straightforward set-up and evolve into a meditation on fate and the balance of good and evil in man.

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