TWO TIGERS (2019) review

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In Li Fei’s Two Tigers, Ge You plays Zhang Chenggong, a rich, lonely businessman who gets kidnapped by hapless loser Yu Kaixuan (Qiao Shan): acting alone, Yu asks for a one million RMB ransom, under threat of death. But Zhang quickly realizes that his abductor is rather harmless and out of his depth, and he strikes a deal with him: if Yu completes three tasks for him, he will give him double the expected ransom. The first task is to deliver a message to his ex-girlfriend Zhou Yuan (Zhao Wei), an actress whose career is declining. The second one is to help him make amends to Master Fan (Fan Wei), an old comrade from his army days, who went blind when he refused to lend him money for eye surgery. And the final task is to deliver a letter to his father, with the help of an old flame, Caixia (Yan Ni). Along the way, the prisoner and his abductor form an unlikely bond.

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HUNT DOWN (2019) short review

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From director Li Jun, a respected TV director (2018’s Peace Hotel) who had his big screen debut three years ago with the slightly wobbly Chinese-Korean thriller Tik Tok, Hunt Down follows Zhao Hongyu (Jiao Junyan), a narcotics cop reassigned to the ‘art and relics’ division (which fights tomb-raiding and relics-trafficking) because her estranged Wan Zhenggang (Fan Wei) is closely linked to a suspected trafficker of relics. Posing as a delinquent, she is to reunite with her father – whom she hasn’t seen in years – to better investigate the case. While the unsuspecting Wan does all he can to mend bridges with his daughter, his new wife Lin Baiyu (Chen Shu), an influential TV personality, is both angry and suspicious at the new arrival in the family. Shaking up its thriller formula in a few interesting ways – a non-linear structure peeling the plot like an onion, the unusual ‘tomb-raiding’ angle – Hunt Down also benefits from an excellent lead trio: Fan Wei is superb as a conflicted scholar, a role with too many shades of grey to count, Jiao Junyan matches him as the spunky cop trying to navigate both an investigation and her own family turmoil, and Chen Shu is a delight as a powerful, seductive, dangerous stepmother right out of a fairy tale (Song Yang, as the cop in charge of the investigation, makes much less of an impression). Yet the aforementioned non-linear structure and unusual setting can’t hide the fact that, once unfolded, this is a rather rote and ordinary plot peppered with faintly ridiculous elements (a phone application that can authentify ancient artifacts…), and Li Jun’s direction is painfully workmanlike, especially in one or two limp action scenes. **1/2

DESIRE GAME (2019) review

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Ambitiously, Guo Tao has made science-fiction the genre of his directing debut, Desire Game. In it, he plays Guo Shi, the brilliant creator of the Butterfly, a still-in-development, revolutionary virtual reality system. But when his daughter falls to her death while entranced in the immersive effect of the Butterfly, he withdraws from public life and scientific research, becoming estranged from his wife (Mei Ting) and leaving his partner (Fan Wei) in charge of their company. One day, a young woman (Gai Yuexi) whose car broke down takes shelter at his villa; she then seduces him, only to be found dead in his car a few hours later. Guo Shi understands he’s being framed for murder, and can only rely on the help of his former disciple (Jiang Chao) and a homeless girl (Zhang Zifeng).

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THE BOMBING (aka UNBREAKABLE SPIRIT, aka AIR STRIKE) (2018) review

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Xiao Feng’s The Bombing was reportedly the most expensive Chinese film at the time it was produced. But after extensive reshoots and accusations of financial fraud (part of a wider tax evasion scandal in China that has had Fan Bingbing as its official face), the film is now being released a full three years after production, without much fanfare despite a massive cast and the participation of Mel Gibson – a man who knows a thing or two about making a fine war film – as an artistic consultant. Set in 1939 during the second Sino-Japanese war, it weaves together three main storylines: U.S Air Force commander Jack Johnson (Bruce Willis), who trains Chinese pilots Lei Tao (Nicholas Tse), An Minxun (Song Seung-heon), Cheng Ting (William Chan) and many others to fend off Japanese air raids (of which there were 268 between 1938 and 1943); civilians in Chongqing trying to live a semblance of a life despite the repeated bombings, with a Mahjong competition being organized in a teahouse owned by Uncle Cui (Fan Wei); and former pilot Xue Gangtou (Liu Ye), tasked with taking a truck carrying precious and mysterious crates to a military base, and who on the way picks up a scientist (Wu Gang) carrying two pigs of a leaner, faster-reproducing breed that may be key in fighting the famine, a nurse (Ma Su) bringing orphans to a school, as well as a shady stranger (Geng Le).

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FATHER AND SON (2017) review

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Fan Xiaobing (Da Peng) is a thirty-something aspiring entrepreneur who idolizes Bill Gates and Steve Jobs but never manages to convince investors to back his ideas, and keeps borrowing money from his close ones. He’s a big disappointment to his father Fan Yingxiong (Fan Wei), a retired army commander, and to his longtime friend Liu Wen (Crystal Zhang), who obviously fancies him, but towards whom he has not yet made a single step. Now Xiaobing is in deep trouble, as he has borrowed a hefty sum from a particularly cruel loan shark (Simon Yam), who is sending his goons to collect, including the bumbling Fang Jian (Qiao Shan). Left with little time to gather a hefty sum, Xiaobing decides to send his father on a trip, to then pretend he is dead, organize a fake funeral and collect donations from the family and friends who attend. But the father returns earlier than expected…

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