AN INSPECTOR CALLS (2015) review

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Considered a true classic of 20th-century English theatre, J.B. Priestley’s three-act play An Inspector Calls has been brought to the stage countless times since it was first performed in 1945, and it’s been a fixture of the BBC’s TV and radio programming (with yet another mini-series in preparation for 2015, starring David Thewlis) but it has comparatively been the object of few big screen adaptations. In fact, Raymond Wong and Herman Yau’s film is the first time the play is adapted for theatrical release since Guy Hamilton’s (of Goldfinger fame) 1954 adaptation. And surely it’s the most unexpected iteration of the story since the 1979 Soviet mini-series Inspector Gull. Screenwriter Edmond Wong transposes the setting from the North Midlands of Great Britain in 1912 to Hong Kong in 2015, but follows J.B. Priestley’s narrative pretty closely : the mysterious inspector Karl (Louis Koo) pays an unexpected visit to the rich Kau family’s estate. Mr. and Mrs. Kau (Eric Tsang and Teresa Mo) are in the final preparations for their daughter Sherry’s (Karena Ng) engagement party as she is soon to marry a handsome young businessman Johnny (Hans Zhang), while their son Tim (Gordon Lam) looks on in contemptuous bemusement, and clearly annoyed at his own girlfriend, socialite Yvonne (Ada Liu Yan). Inspector Karl informs them that a young woman (Chrissie Chau) from Mr. Kau’s factory has been found dead from what appears to be a painful, protracted suicide by disinfectant ingestion. As he starts to interrogate each member of the family in turn, it appears everyone of them was linked to the deceased woman, and everyone may have played a more or less active role in her eventual demise.

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THEY CAME TO ROB HONG KONG (1989) short review

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Clarence Fok’s They Came to rob Hong Kong concerns a violent bank robber (Roy Cheung) who has to flee to the Mainland after being nearly caught by a tough cop (Kara Hui). There, he recruits a ragtag team of hapless morons (among which Eric Tsang, Stanley Fung, Sandra Ng, Dean Shek and Chin Siu Ho) to come back to Hong Kong and attempt a daring heist. Except they’re hapless morons, so nothing goes according to plan. This film is actually a complete rehash of any Lucky Stars film : even though only Fung and Tsang were actually members of the comedic team, other members of the cast fit the usual Lucky Stars profiles, as Chin Siu Ho brings the martial arts that would’ve been Sammo Hung’s turf, and Dean Shek has the same kind of paranormal pretensions that Richard Ng’s character would display. The structure is also the same : an action-packed opening sequence (in this case an impressive and savage fight and chase scene on cluttered rooftops, as the terrific Kara Hui hunts down Roy Cheung) gives way to a comedic middle-section where, among other subplots, the group is given a beautiful woman to lust after (in this case, Chingmy Yau), after which things are wrapped up in a big action finale. Except while the action bookends are fine, the comedic middle is painfully unfunny and interminable. While Eric Tsang is always hilarious, Sandra Ng’s shtick quickly gets wearisome, and the ensemble simply doesn’t have the Lucky Star’s chemistry. **

HOW TO MEET THE LUCKY STARS (1996) review

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The seventh and final film in the Lucky Stars film series, Frankie Chan’s How to Meet the Lucky Stars was meant as a benefit film to help legendary producer Lo Wei (the man who made Bruce Lee a star and almost stopped Jackie Chan from becoming one) who at this point was close to bankruptcy. All the leads worked for free, but sadly not only was the film a box-office flop, but Lo Wei passed away during the shoot. Richard Ng, Stanley Fung and Eric Tsang return, with Michael Miu once again filling in for Charlie Chin after Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars, and Sammo Hung being absent from much of the film despite playing two different roles (his usual Lucky Star character Eric Kidstuff who’s stuck in a hospital, and a policeman). This time the Lucky Stars are recruited to help expose a gambling femme fatale (Gung Suet Fa), whose shady methods have led to the death and dishonor of a gambling star (Chen Kuan Tai). They are joined by a Shaolin monk (don’t ask why) and of course, a gorgeous woman (the stunning Francoise Yip) to drool over, as per the Lucky Stars formula. There’s also a laundry list of cameos, from Cheng Pei Pei as a gambling teacher to Lowell Lo as, erm, some guy.

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GHOST PUNTING (1992) review

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The fifth and penultimate instalment in the Lucky Stars series, Ghost Punting reunites Sammo Hung as portly and well-meaning Kidstuff, Eric Tsang as borderline retarded Buddha Fruit, Charlie Chin as wannabe-womanizer Herb, Richard Ng as occult-obsessed Sandy and Stanley Fung as misanthropic Rhino Hide. These five jobless, hapless and horny losers, who share an appartment and an ever-thwarted goal to get laid, encounter the ghost of a man who’s been murdered by his wife’s lover, a violent mob boss. They report it to their old friend officer Hu (a cameoing Sibelle Hu, back after My Lucky Stars and Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars), who assigns a squad of beautiful lady cops (headed by Elaine Lui) to get proof of the paranormal encounter. As the ghost is seemingly visible only to them, the five losers use him to cheat in games of poker, and in return help him exact his revenge.

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BULLET AND BRAIN (2007) short review

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A thriller set in the future for no discernible narrative or metaphorical purpose, and with no visible indicators other than a hideously fake-looking CGI futuristic train and a vaguely advanced-looking gun, Keung Kwok-Man’s Bullet and Brain is actually nothing more than a Wong Jing-produced quickie, albeit a fairly serviceable one. Its story about two mythical hitmen with muddled backstories (the titular Bullet and Brain, played by Anthony Wong and Francis Ng) who are called out of retirement to protect the granddaughter (Tiffany Tang) of a crime boss who’s been betrayed and killed by his second-in-command, serves as an excuse to let Wong and Ng act cool (though they often look more bored than cool), and shoehorns Eric Tsang as shady businessman, letting the short and rotund god of Hong Kong do his ‘affable but menacing’ act from Infernal Affairs and a few other films. It also throws in Alex Fong Lik-Sun as a pretty-boy detective, for a numbingly cutesy romance with Tiffany Tang’s character. Veteran stuntman Mars choreographs the action, which is sadly often mangled by weird editing. In the end it’s up to the film’s central trio of actors to keep things, if not lively, at least vaguely entertaining. **

HORSEPLAY (2014) short review

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Aping the stylish Hollywood capers of the sixties, Lee Chi-Ngai’s Horseplay has a set of attractive actors chase, flirt and double-cross each other across fancy locations, with Kelly Chen as an entertainment reporter who collaborates with the Mainland government and a Hong Kong detective (Ekin Cheng), to recover a priceless ceramic horse that has been targeted by a legendary art thief (Tony Leung Ka Fai). The on-location shooting in Hong Kong, London and Prague is classy, and the cast is tremendously attractive, with Kelly Chen at her most charming and cute, Tony Leung Ka Fai having a lot of fun going through a variety of stupid disguises (at one point he’s a black nun…), Ekin Cheng as laid-back and likeable as he’s ever been, not to mention an absolutely hilarious Eric Tsang in a double-act with Wong Cho Lam, both playing art experts. The problem is a plodding and derivative script that tries hard but lacks wit, with an overdose of flirtatious double-crossing and too much random quirkiness. The soundtrack, with its heavy use of Henry Mancini classic Pink Panther song “Meglio Stasera” and its borrowing of John Williams’ Catch Me If You Can score stylings, only serves to underline how much below its models Horseplay falls. The end titles sequence however, has Leung, Chen and Chang singing and dancing to the Mancini song against quirkily animated  touristic backgrounds and yellow CGI flying piglets. It is delightfully silly, unassumingly sexy, and one wishes the whole film had captured its essence. **1/2

COP ON A MISSION (2001) review

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A year before Infernal Affairs rejuvenated Hong Kong cinema, Eric Tsang was already playing an affable yet brutal mob boss in an ‘undercover cop drama’, Cop on a Mission, which didn’t get much attention but deserved its fair share of it. It tells of Mike (Daniel Wu), a driven cop who is assigned to an undercover mission in triad boss Yum’s (Eric Tsang) circle. But he is soon seduced not only by the glitzy world he has infiltrated, but also by Yum’s beautiful wife Pauline (Suki Kwan). As he grows more and more estranged from his real life, including his kind girlfriend (Anya), and is given more and more power by the trusting Yum, Mike’s moral compass threatens to go awol. It’s not difficult to see why such a film would get overshadowed and somewhat forgotten in the wake of the Infernal Affairs trilogy’s enormous success. Cop on a Mission has an altogether much less polished package, though it is directed with maximum efficiency by hard-working editor Marco Mak (who edited virtually every Hong Kong classic of the nineties) ; the cast is less glamorous (Wu and Tsang being the only big names), and the script is less tortuous. But contrary to many of its kind, Marco Mak’s film doesn’t desperately try to be mind-blowing, it shoots for “fun and engrossing” and hits its target.

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IN THE LINE OF DUTY 3 (1987) review

In 1987, Michelle Yeoh having gone on an early retirement, a novice by the screen name of Cynthia Khan was brought in by the D & B film company to fill her shoes as the star of the In The Line Of Duty series. The first one, Yes Madam!, was directed by Corey Yuen and paired Yeoh with Cynthia Rothrock in a wildly uneven film that was more of a madcap comedy until the bone-crunching finale. The second one, Royal Warriors, was directed by David Chung and was a vast improvement, a blistering action movie in the best eighties’ Hong Kong cinema tradition. In The Line Of Duty 3 (also known sometimes with the subtitle Force of the Dragon), is directed by Brandy Yuen and Arthur Wong, the latter being better known as the ace director of photography of countless classic Hong Kong films.

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MOB SISTER (2005) review

After getting his big break in the Hong Kong film industry with the over-indulgent and gaudy Jiang Hu (aka Triad Underworld), director Wong Ching-Po came back to the world of the Triads with Mob Sister, and once again gathered a who’s who of Hong Kong gangster films, from acting gods and Johnnie To regulars Simon Yam and Anthony Wong Chau Sang to Derek Yee’s go-to actors Alex Fong and Liu Kai-Chi, as well as the omnipresent Eric Tsang, and a representative of the Yuen clan in the person of Yuen Wah. Add to that fresh faces like Annie Liu, up and coming mainland actor (at the time, now he’s well-established) Ye Liu and actress Karena Lam, and you get one of the most intriguing and exciting casts in a while. Annie Liu is Phoebe, the adopted daughter of a kind-hearted mob boss (Eric Tsang), who lives a sheltered life surrounded by her father, her three protective uncles (Yam, Wong, and Fong), and her bodyguard (Ye Liu). But when her father is killed, she is called on to replace him as triad boss. The idea of an innocent teenage girl catapulted into the shoes of a mob boss is pure comedy material, but Wong Ching-Po choses – wisely – to not settle on a particular tone, instead oscillating between whimsical, bittersweet and tragic, and peppering his film with animated sequences that illustrate the “mob sister”‘s feelings.

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MURAL (2011) review

After the huge success that was Painted Skin in 2008, Gordon Chan was back in 2011 with another fantasy film, which was financially almost as successful as his 2008 effort, though critically much less lauded. Deng Chao stars as Zhu, a scholar on his way to the capital with his servant Hou Xia (Bao Bei’er), to pass an exam. After an altercation with a robber, Meng Longtan (Collin Chou), they end up in a Taoist temple where they are welcomed by an affable monk (Eric Tsang). There, Zhu notices a mural depicting beautiful women in a heavenly landscape. When one of the beauties (Zheng Shuang) materializes in front of him, he follows her through a portal that leads to the heavenly landscape of the mural, which is peopled only with beautiful women, and ruled by a ruthless queen (Ni Yan), her trusted second-in-command Shaoyao (Betty Sun) and a mysterious golden warrior (Andy On). Soon, Hou Xia and Meng Longtan and dragged into this world as well, but Zhu has only one goal: to rescue Mudan, the woman who led him to this world and who has been cast to hell by the queen for it.

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