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. *

JUST ANOTHER MARGIN (2014) review

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Jeff Lau’s Just Another Margin is one of those films that are seemingly tailored for Lunar New Year entertainment but don’t quite have the star power or marketing push required to compete in that prized calendar slot, and are thus slipped in a bit before or after on the release schedule. And it did go by relatively unnoticed, which is not all that surprising considering how uninspired it appears in the Jeff Lau canon of costumed mo lei tau. It stars Betty Sun as Jin Ling, a young woman whose magical yueqin (a kind of round guitar) compels people tell to the truth. One day this creates a humiliating situation for Mrs Zhao (Guo Degang), a rich businesswoman who punishes her by arranging her marriage with the town’s hunchback Mao Da-Long (Lam Suet), with whose brother Mao Song (Ekin Cheng) Jin Ling ends up falling in love. That doesn’t sit well with Shi Wen Sheng (Ronald Cheng) Mrs Zhao’s libidinous cousin, who wants the young woman for himself and plots to take the Mao brothers out of the picture. To complicate things, two aliens from planet B16 named Tranzor and Shakespeare (Patrick Tam Yiu-Man and Alex Fong Lik-Sun) arrive in town in search of a long-lost member of their species. They’re not the only aliens around however, as a fearful entity known as the Black Emperor is hiding somewhere.

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BROTHERS (2007) short review

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Derek Chiu’s Brothers was notable at the time of its release for reuniting the “Four Tigers” of Hong Kong TV network TVB, that is to say its four most successful actors in the eighties : Andy Lau, Michael Miu, Felix Wong and Ken Tong. Beyond that central quartet, the film also has a fairly impressive, albeit not uncommon, Hong Kong cast. The plot follows a terminally ill triad boss (Michael Miu), who with the help of his lover/lawyer (Crystal Huang) and his adoptive brother/ bodyguard (Felix Wong), navigates in a sea of aggressive rivals (Ken Tong and Henry Fong) and dogged cops (Andy Lau and Gordon Lam), to go clean and make his little brother (Eason Chan) his successor. The film is a meat and potatoes triad drama that possesses little in the way of originality but manages to feel reasonably fresh thanks to a steady pace, a lack of excess and most of all a strong cast on mostly fine form. Michael Miu anchors the film impressively with a thoughtful, tragic, nuanced performance that makes one wish he’d venture out of TV more often. Despite being by far the film’s biggest star, Andy Lau takes an admirable backseat, while injecting some unforced and much-needed comic relief at key moments. There’s quite a few interesting characters around them, not many of them developed enough, but all of them played in low-key, nuanced fashion, from Eason Chan’s naïve but steadfast little brother to Huang Yi’s strong but conflicted lawyer, with Yu Rongguang, Gordon Lam and Wang Zhiwen also leaving a mark. A bit uncomfortably, the film is too long for its fairly simple plot and overused tropes, but too short for its engaging and varied set of characters. ***