BUTTERFLY & SWORD (1993) review

The synopsis for Butterfly & Sword says that the film is about “a loyalist (Michelle Yeoh) who attempts to keep the King’s empire from being overthrown by a revolutionary group.” It’s good to know, especially since you’d never guess that’s what it is about, even after watching the film itself. Still, circa 1993, a Hong Kong film with no discernable plot was not an unusual thing to say the least, and the idea of a film starring not only the magnificent Michelle Yeoh, but also martial arts god Donnie Yen and the actor’s actor that is known as Tony Leung Chiu Wai, should be enough to be lenient with the film’s narrative shortcomings. Well not really after all : Butterfly & Sword is simply too infuriating in its scattershot storytelling and slapdash action scenes.

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IN THE LINE OF DUTY 4 (1989) review

  The second of three urban action thrillers Yuen Woo-Ping and Donnie Yen collaborated on as director and star, In The Line Of Duty 4 is also, you guessed it, the fourth installment in a franchise that only has vague thematic continuity between its installments. The first two In The Line Of Duty films starred Michelle Yeoh and are also known as Yes Madam! and Royal Warriors. For the third film, Yeoh pulled out and was replaced with Cynthia Khan, who introduced the character of Rachel Yeung, which she reprises in this fourth film.

Cynthia Khan emerged as a replacement for Michelle Yeoh in the series and in Hong Kong cinema in general, after Yeoh went on an early and temporary retirement at the end of the eighties. She is just as beautiful and has the same tomboyish style as eighties Michelle Yeoh, but the difference is she is often replaced with an obvious stunt double in the trickier action scenes. Still, she is a charismatic and charming presence, and it’s a pity she vanished from the mainstream in the mid-nineties. Here she is paired with Donnie Yen (then at the beginning of his career and still a protégé of director Yuen Woo-Ping) and they play two cops investigating a drug-trafficking network with possibles international ties. They wind up having to take care of an innocent dock worker (Yuen Yat Chor) who witnessed a murder that is pivotal to the case, and questioning the loyalty of colleague Wong (Michael Wong), who might be playing both side.

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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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TIGER CAGE 2 (1990) review

In the eighties, director and martial arts choreographing god Yuen Woo Ping was trying to push forward in the limelight one of his most gifted disciples, Donnie Yen. First, Yen worked for Yuen as a stuntman, then the pair collaborated on three urban action films under the banner of the ill-fated D&B Films Company: Tiger Cage, In The Line Of Duty 4 and Tiger Cage 2. The latter only has a vague thematic kinship to Tiger Cage: it is not properly speaking a sequel, as Donnie Yen doesn’t even play the same character. Or does he? The truth is, in those late-eighties thrillers Yen always played more or less the same character: a tough, naively macho cop, with an almost childish inability to properly communicate with women. Here he is surrounded with a fairly interesting cast including Shaw Brothers legend Lo Lieh, future Once Upon A Time In China star Rosamund Kwan, the highest-paid actress in Hong Kong (at the time) Carol “Do-Do” Cheung, as well as the Michelle Yeoh-wannabe Cynthia Khan and Robin Shou of Mortal Kombat fame.

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