THE GREAT DETECTIVE (2019) review

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Roy Chow’s long delayed (it was originally set for a Summer 2017 release) The Great Detective is based on the popular detective stories of Chen Xiaoqing, an author considered the “Conan Doyle of the East”. It follows Huo Sang (Han Geng), a brilliant private detective who, flanked by his trusty sidekick Bao Lang (Yin Zheng), accepts a fortune in gold from a powerful businesswoman (Carina Lau) to solve the murder of her  aide-de-camp. The apparent culprit is Jiang Nan Yan, a gentleman thief known as the “face-shifter”: an ability to change his face has made him impossible to identify, let alone catch. Eager to help Huo and Bao is Bai Mudan (Zhang Huiwen), a bank teller and wannabe sleuth who is a great admirer of the detective. But soon the trio of investigators find themselves stalked by a mysterious blonde woman, while new murders signed by Jiang Nan Yan make the news.

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REBORN (2018) short review

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Li Hailong’s cyber caper Reborn follows Li Haoming (Han Geng), a hopelessly awkward gamer who used to be a brilliant hacker, but now spends his life playing VR games. Until one day, he’s approached by mercenary Fei Qiao (Rhydian Vaughan) and his partner and lover Su Yi (Li Yuan), who require his unique hacking skills to complete a lucrative mission for shady businessman Takeshi Mori (Tomohisa Yamashita). Soon after, Li is contacted by Hong Kong detective Chow (Liu Kai Chi) who’s on a mission to arrest Fai Qiao, and needs the young hacker to be his informant. The script is low on originality and tension but full of shortcuts (there’s no problem that can’t be solved by hacking into this or that from a phone, at any moment), ludicrous twists (a whole segment of the film is revealed to actually have been an elaborate virtual reality simulation) and loose ends (Liu Kai Chi’s character disappears halfway through, with no resolution of his subplot whatsoever). The action is mediocre, a series of fights where over-editing masks the actor’s lack of fighting ability, and flatly-shot chases. And the cast is either cringe-worthy (Han Geng and Li Yuan play their respective characters like idiotic school kids) or criminally bland (Rhydian Vaughan smirks mysteriously and boringly, Tomohisa Yamashita is an ectoplasm). And with its sensory overload of technology, Reborn already feels dated, the year of its release. *

THE WASTED TIMES (2016) review

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Delayed for more than a year for reasons unclear (censorship issues or belabored editing?), Cheng Er’s third film takes place in Shanghai in the thirties and forties -before, during and after the battle and subsequent capture of the city by the Japanese. It follows various characters all connected to Mister Lu (Ge You), a crime boss: there’s his housekeeper (Ni Yan), his superior (Ni Dahong), the prostitute he occasionally visits (Gillian Chung), an actress he admires and helps (Yuan Quan), another actress (Zhang Ziyi) unfaithfully married to his superior, her lover (Wallace Chung), her other lover (Hang Geng), and more importantly Watabe (Tadanobu Asano), a Japanese man who got married and made his life in Shanghai, and claims he will fight for his city rather than side with his countrymen. When Japanese businessmen approach Mister Lu with plans for a lucrative partnership, he refuses ; death ensues.

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MY KINGDOM (2011) review

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Some films just don’t know what their best assets are. Take Gao Xiaosong’s My Kingdom : it benefits from the considerable talent and gravitas of two great martial arts actors, Yuen Biao and Yu Rongguang, and as long as it is concerned with them, it’s a riveting film. But as soon as the plot calls for their exit, we are left with something far more plodding and average. They play rival Chinese opera stars, master Yu (Yuen Biao) and master Yue (Yu Rongguang). Yu has two pupils, Yilong and Erkui, the latter being the last surviving member of a clan that was executed by the prince regent of the Qing dynasty. One day, as master Yu is being awarded a golden plaque honoring him as the greatest opera performer of his time, master Yue challenges him in a spear duel, and wins. Yu’s defeat means he is not allowed to perform on a stage anymore, and he spends the rest of his life away from the world, teaching his two students the art of opera fighting. When they are ready (and have grown into Wu Chun and Han Geng), they leave for Shanghai with the intent to reclaim the plaque from master Yue and carve out a career in Chinese opera for themselves. They quickly defeat Yue and take over his troupe, among which Mulang (Barbie Hsu), his former mistress. But Yilong and Erkui have different ways of dealing with their newfound stardom…

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