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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WHEN A PEKING FAMILY MEETS AUPAIR (2014) short review

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Chen Gang’s When a Peking Family meets Aupair (sic) is a tooth-rottingly maudlin and ear-splittingly shrill family comedy about middle-class Chinese parents (Xu Fan and Chen Jianbin) who hire an au pair from Columbia (Gianina Terranova) to be their daughter’s nanny. Things get off to a shaky start as her recklessness and fun-loving ways clash with the mother’s tightly-wound universe. The film obviously aims to provide some commentary on parenting in today’s China, but remains on a very simplistic level, each character reduced to one dimension: there’s the control-freak, the feisty one, the bitchy one (Fann Wong, of Shanghai Knights), the wise one, and so on. It all unfolds as a series of trite, flatly-shot vignettes, most of which are made unbearable by Gianina Terranova’s truly appalling performance, as she yells out each and every one of her lines in a mix of English and Mandarin, constantly bouncing and dancing around so as to hammer the viewer with the fact that her character LOVES having fun. Xu Fan and Chen Jianbin remain dignified and the film’s only palatable moments are the few scenes they share away from Gianina Terranova. Deceivingly, the film boasts on its poster the presence of Sun Honglei, Guo Tao, Tong Liya and Wang Qianyuan, but none of these estimable actors appear for more than a minute. Sun Honglei, in particular, must have agreed to appear after having lost a bet, so sullen and disconnected he seems in his short appearance. *

MILLION DOLLAR CROCODILE (2012) short review

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Announced as the very first Mainland Chinese creature feature, Lin Lisheng’s Million Dollar Crocodile is actually more of a comedy, with only a few (attempted) scares along the way. A big crocodile escapes from the restaurant backyard where it was supposed to be slaughtered and cooked. On the way back to its former habitat, it swallows Barbie Hsu’s bag, which contains her savings of the past 8 years. The pixellated saurian thus finds itself trailed by the shrill Taiwanese star, as well as an underdog cop (Guo Tao), the seedy restaurant owner (Lam Suet, God bless him), the owner of its former zoo (the excellent Shi Zhaoqi) and a little boy who befriended it (Ding Jiali). This gallery of characters is fun enough (and there’s a cameo from a very funny Xiong Xin Xin) that the film unfolds passably, going from droll situations to mildly tense predicaments, meekly trying to get a crocodile-conservation message across while flaunting its arguably well-rendered creature (though it is not always seamlessly integrated to the live-action). In the end you get the feeling nobody quite knew what Million Dollar Crocodile should be exactly. **