An Interview with Composer Wong Kin Wai

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Breaking into the film music business in China and Hong Kong isn’t easy. The A-list of Chinese film composers is a short and exclusive one that gets most of the high-profile assignments, with the rest often going to seasoned foreign composers. And yet in just a few years, Wong Kin Wai has managed to go from composing TV jingles to creating his own company, Fun Track Music ltd, and scoring one the biggest Chinese films of the 2016 summer: Benny Chan’s Call of Heroes. No wonder, he’s a versatile and ambitious new musical voice, one that will most probably be heard more and more in the coming years in the fast-expanding Chinese film industry.

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THE STRANGE HOUSE (2015) short review

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Danny Pang’s sixth film not to be co-directed by his brother Oxide (though only his third without any official involvement whatsoever from the latter), The Strange House slipped completely under the radar in its summer 2015 China release. The set-up is reasonably interesting: Ye Zi (Xu Jiao) is a young hairdresser with money problems. Just as she is threatened with eviction, she is approached by Le Zijun (Cheung Siu Fai), a psychologist who makes her a strange offer: his mother is in the throes of death, and all her family is with her except one, Le Rong, who died a year ago and to whom Ye Zi bears a striking resemblance. Everyone kept Le Rong’s death a secret from the matriarch, fearing the tragic news would precipitate her illness, but now in her final days she’s asking for her granddaughter. Thus for a generous sum of money, Ye Zi is to impersonate Le Rong and bring closure to the dying woman. She accepts, but once in the family house she’s faced with bizarre hostility from the rest of the family, and plagued with visions of a dead boy. After an interesting and fairly unsettling start, and despite nicely ambiguous performances from Xu Jiao and Cheung Siu Fai, The Strange House quickly devolves into the usual broth of jump scares, belabored exposition (has a person ever died mysteriously without leaving a detailed diary behind?) and censorship placating: the SARFT‘s “no supernatural elements” rule means the film ends with the same old twist generally used in Mainland Chinese horror to justify the apparent presence of ghosts. To its credit, the film does add a clever narrative and visual footnote to this twist, as if to compensate for how derivative and contrived it is. **

OUT OF INFERNO (2013) short review

outofinferno_poster One of two high-profile firefighting films that came out in the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014, the Pang Brothers’ Out of Inferno is a disaster film that plays by all the most well-worn rules of the book. It has a typical ‘wrong place, wrong time’ set up as it takes place on the most humid day of the past 50 years in Guangzhou, in a building whose air conditioning inexplicably malfunctions. And before the fire erupts, forthcoming human drama is set up, that will complement the mayhem, and a roster of diverse characters played by familiar faces is introduced. At the center there’s two estranged brothers : Tai Kwan (Lau Ching Wan) is a sturdy, no-nonsense but conflicted fireman called in to deal with the fire, and whose pregnant wife (Angelica Lee) happens to be visiting her obstetrician in the building ; and Keung (Louis Koo), a former fireman himself and now the building’s director of security is also on the spot, holding a fundraiser whose guests he soon has to take to safety. There’s also a diamond-cutter (Hui Siu Hung) whose employees take advantage of the fire to steal the merchandise, a family guy (Eddie Cheung Siu Fai) whose wife is opening a shop in the building, and a few others. This is an efficiently-directed disaster film with often impressive CGI (though nothing ground-breaking on that front), that suffers from an intense and ever growing sense of ‘been there, done that’ as it borrows from countless films, plays out in completely predictable fashion and possesses little originality in a genre that needs originality to generate any kind of relevance or excitement. The chemistry between Lau and Koo, in their 12th pairing, is the film’s saving grace, but in the end nothing is likely to stick in the spectator’s mind. **1/2