THE CLIMBERS (2019) review

p2569090715In 1960, Fang Wuzhou (Wu Jing) and Qu Songlin (Zhang Yi), members of the Chinese National Mountaineering Team, reached the summit of Mount Everest (known as Qomolangma in Tibetan) from the North Ridge, a perilous achievement that cost the life of their captain. Worse, it later went unrecognized by the international community: after losing their camera during the ascent, the Chinese climbers were unable to provide the necessary photographic proof of their exploit. Since then, Fang and Qu have lived in shame, considered frauds by most. So when an opportunity to renew the exploit arises fifteen years later, they set out to train a new team of climbers, including Li Guiliang (Jing Boran), Yang Guang (Hu Ge), and meteorologist Xu Ying (Zhang Ziyi), with whom Fang has long been in love.

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An Interview with Composer Henry Lai

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In the twenty year since his film music debut in 1994, Henry Lai Wan Man has secured a firm spot on the short A-list of Chinese film composers, next to fixtures like Chan Kwong Wing or Peter Kam. A four-time Hong Kong Film Awards nominee, his talents have been sought by some of the most high-profile directors in China and Hong Kong, including Dante Lam, Daniel Lee, Mabel Cheung, Alex Law, Gordon Chan, Felix Chong and Alan Mak. And rightly so : his scores show a great versatility, an ability to adapt to different genres and to integrate illustrious musical influences (Ennio Morricone, John Barry, Hans Zimmer…) while never forsaking his own style.

For a primer of Henry Lai’s talents you can listen to his rousing, heroic theme for 14 Blades, the wistful and folkloric “Paddy Field Song” from The Lost Bladesmanthe heartbreaking lament for Nick Cheung’s character in The Beast Stalker, the driving investigation theme from The Four, the triumphant Russian-flavoured training music in Star Runner, the tense, pulsating action music from The Sniper, the touching, delicate score for Echoes of the Rainbow, the Morricone-inspired music in A Fighter’s Blues, the ominous main titles cue from Fire of Conscience, the gripping percussive music (one of Lai’s specialties) of White Vengeance, or the gloriously epic main theme of Three Kingdoms : Resurrection of the Dragon.

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DRAGON BLADE (2015) review

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Note: This is a review of the original, 127-minute cut of the film screened throughout Asia. The international cut runs about 20 minutes shorter and cripples the film. Avoid watching it first if you can.

Daniel Lee’s Dragon Blade isn’t just another Chinese period epic. Its price tag of 65 million dollars makes it the most expensive Chinese film in history, while its opening numbers at the domestic box-office broke records and its final take of 120 million dollars ranks it as the 8th highest-grossing Chinese film. Its cast is truly international : gathered around Chinese A-listers Jackie Chan, William Feng and Karena Lam are Hollywood actors John Cusack and Adrien Brody, Korean actors/pop stars Choi Si Won and Steve Yoo, Australian dancer and scream queen Sharni Vinson, as well as French singer Lorie Pester. And its plot takes considerable licence with history to imagine a meeting of East and West, between the Roman armies and the tribes of Western China.

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STAR RUNNER (2003) review

  Bond (Vanness Wu) is a high-school student whose real passion is Muay Thai kickboxing, which he practices at a club headed by Lau (Gordon Liu). His ambition is to enter the prestigious Star Runner competition, and he devotes himself to that goal at the expense of his school work. Having to take Summer classes, he meets the young Korean teacher Mei Chiu (Kim Hyun-Joo), and soon enough they’re in love. But as his focus moves from training for the competition to romancing Mei Chiu, someone else is chosen by Lau to represent the club in the competition, and Bond is expelled for having resisted this decision. But not all is lost as Bill (Max Mok), a washed-out former martial arts champion, takes him under his wing and teaches him to incorporate elements from other martial arts into his muay Thai. Together they form a team and enter the Star Runner competition, with an eye on challenging Tank (Andy On), the reigning champion.

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WHAT PRICE SURVIVAL (1994) review

The one-armed sworsman is a fixture of Chinese cinema, from the original Shaw Brothers trilogy directed by Chang Cheh and starring first Wang Yu, then David Chiang, to countless crossovers (including Zatoichi vs. the One-armed Swordsman) and variants (for instance The One-armed Swordsmen or The One-armed Swordswoman). But by 1994, when Daniel Lee’s What Price Survival was released, it had all but disappeared, due in part to the fact it had been done to death, and in part to the fact that Wu Xia Pan’s and costumed epics in general weren’t that popular anymore during the eighties.

What Price Survival is Daniel Lee’s very first film and, as he wrote it, one of his most personal. Its setting is contemporary, but in a timeless way by which people still carry swords. Visually, as with any Daniel Lee film (save for the odious Black Mask), it is a treat : gorgeous snowy landscape captured by Lee’s DP of choice Tony Cheung, dozens of men in black long coats wielding swords, two lovers playfully fighting through lonely rays of light in an abandoned mansion… Narratively however, the struggle for coherence begins.

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THREE KINGDOMS: RESURRECTION OF THE DRAGON (2008) review

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the historical novel written by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th century and chronicling the years of constant warfare between kingdoms that marked the end of the Han Dinasty from 169 to 280, has always been the source of many films and TV series, most notably John Woo’s Red Cliff parts I & II, and a few months ago the Donnie Yen vehicle The Lost Bladesman. A sprawling epic, it provides a bonanza of characters, events and battles, which means filmmakers can always come back to the tried and tested Three Kingdoms source material, each time focusing on a different set of characters or a different chunk of the storyline.

Daniel Lee’s Three Kingdoms : Resurrection of the Dragon follows Zhao Zilong, one of the “Five Tiger Generals” of the Shu Kingdom. The film fashions itself as a biopic of sorts, but takes more than a few liberties with the source material, which itself is already semi-mythical. We follow Zhao Zilong (Andy Lau) from his enlisting in the Shu army, where he forms a long-standing friendship with Luo Ping An (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo), to his becoming a general nicknamed “The Invincible”, to his heroic death during the Battle of the Phoenix Heights, where his outnumbered army was annihilated by Cao Ying’s (Maggie Q) Wei Army.

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