CRAZY ALIEN (2019) short review

p2541901817

Ning Hao’s Crazy Alien caps off his ‘Crazy’ trilogy of Huang Bo-led dark comedies (after Crazy Stone and Crazy Racer) with a box-office bang. After The Wandering Earth, it was the second most successful release of Chinese New Year 2019, and like that blockbuster, it is based – albeit loosely – on a novella by Liu Cixin, A Village Teacher (Ning Hao also cameos in The Wandering Earth, while Lei Jiayin cameos in both). It follows down-on-his-luck monkey trainer Geng Hao (Huang Bo), whose small circus will soon have to close if he doesn’t prove its commercial viability to the manager of the amusement park that houses it. One day, after an aborted inter-species exchange in outer-space, an alien comes crashing into Geng’s circus. Believing him to be a rare monkey, Geng decides to train it, while his friend Da Fei (Shen Teng) tries to convince him to sell it. Meanwhile, the American government (re-named Amanikan government) is sending its special forces to track down the alien. Beyond the A-list but oddly chemistry-free pairing of Huang Bo and Shen Teng, and the passable CGI rendering of the alien creature, it’s difficult to understand the success of Crazy Alien. It’s consistently mean-spirited, but never in a good way: the darkness of its comedy entails mostly caricaturing Americans and their government – as if their perceived arrogance wasn’t mirrored in China – and more uncomfortably, the ill-treatment of animals. It’s not just the alien that’s mistreated by the leads, but also the trained monkey: while it never gets too grievous, it’s still impressively unfunny, and coupled with a video that surfaced of a dog being abused on set, it leaves a bitter aftertaste. There’s also amusing but tired references to Steven Spielberg’s E.T, and to the Monkey King. But with no trace of humanity, no perceivable depth, and a dull stop-and-go pace, Crazy Alien is an oddly inert film. **

Advertisements

THE ISLAND (2018) review

104730.35516317_1000X1000

In his directing debut The Island, Huang Bo is Ma Jin, a humble worker who pines hopelessly over his colleague Shan Shan (Shu Qi), and dreams with his childhood friend Xing (Zhang Yixing) of winning the lottery. One day, while on a sea-faring team-building trip with his co-workers, he realizes that he just won a whopping 60 million RMB at the lottery. But shortly after, a massive asteroid grazes planet Earth, unleashing a fierce tsunami: the group is left stranded on an uninhabited island island, with Wang (Wang Baoqiang) emerging as the de facto – and abusive – leader in the survival effort. But as the floating carcass of a polar bear alerts them to the fact that the world as they know it may not exist anymore, the small group must try to organize a new society.

(more…)

BATTLE OF MEMORIES (2017) review

104114.20650291_1000X1000

Set in the near future and in a fictional country called T Nation (the ‘T’ probably stands for Thailand, where the film was shot), Leste Chen’s Battle of Memories imagines that a technology has been developed that allows people to have select memories removed from their brain (à la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and stored safely in places called Master of Memory Centers. Successful novelist Jiang Feng (Huang Bo) goes to the only center in Asia that can perform this procedure: he is divorcing his wife Zhang Daichen (Xu Jinglei) and wants to get rid of the memories of how they fell in love. But when his wife tells him she won’t sign the divorce papers unless he has these memories restored, he goes back to have the procedure reversed (he will then only have 72 hours to have them deleted again, this time inevitably forever). But Jiang Feng quickly realizes the memories that have been restored in his brain, are someone else’s. Someone who seems to have killed two women, both of whom he seemed to love dearly. Haunted by these foreign memories, Jiang discerns that they are connected to a recent murder case, and he shares his uncommon and still muddled knowledge of the killer’s psyche with the police detective on the case, Shen Hanqiang (Duan Yihong). But if he has the killer’s memories, then does the killer have his?

(more…)

BUDDIES IN INDIA (2017) review

104010.55507687_1000X1000

With the flood of Monkey King film adaptations in recent and coming years, it is refreshing to see one attempting a radical spin: Wang Baoqiang’s directorial debut Buddies in India transposes the myth to nowadays, following an agile and mischievous monkey trainer called, of course, Wu Kong (Wang Baoqiang) who refuses to sell his house to make way for a vast urban construction project. As Tang Zong, the chairman of the group in charge of the project, feels his end is near after a serious heart attack, he instructs his son Tang Sen (Bai Ke), a lonely geek, to go get his will in Nandu Gaun, India. At the same time, he asks Wu Kong to accompany Sen as a bodyguard, in exchange for which his house will remain untouched. Wu agrees, and the two set off for India, where they are helped by Zhu Tianpeng (Yue Yunpeng), cross paths with Wu Jing (Ada Liu), a woman once scorned by Sen, and are hunted by two Chinese assassins hired by Tang Sen’s devious uncle Chasu (Huang Bo), who wants to inherit the group instead of his nephew.

(more…)

MOJIN: THE LOST LEGEND (2015) review

Mojin-Poster-1080

Three months after Lu Chuan’s Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe comes another adaptation of Tianxia Bachang’s 2006 best-selling (but never translated in English) series of eight novels, Ghost Blows Out the Light. Though set later than the Lu Chuan film in the book’s chronology, Wuershan’s Mojin: The Lost Legend isn’t a sequel: it’s a rival adaptation with an entirely different backing, creative team and cast, as well as a wildly different approach to the source material. Starting in New York but set mostly in the prairies and depths of Inner Mongolia, it follows three adventurers known as the Mojin Xiaowei, who perpetuate the tradition of tomb raiders once sent by emperors in times of need to ‘borrow’ riches from tombs. Shirley Yang (Shu Qi), Hu Bayi (Chen Kun) and Wang Kaixuan (Huang Bo) live in New York, having retired from tomb raiding. But through their associate Grill (Xia Yu), Wang gets hired by a rich and mysterious businesswoman (Liu Xiaoqing) and her cult-like followers to help her find the ancient tomb of a Khitan princess in Inner Mongolia. Initially reluctant but smelling something fishy, Shirley and Hu follow the expedition closely. But once they find the tomb it becomes apparent they’ve been there already : 20 years before when they were in the Communist Youth League, Hu and Wang loved the same woman, Ding Sitian (Angelababy), but lost her and many other comrades when they entered an an abandoned Japanese underground base where the corpses of soldiers mysteriously came back to life and started slaughtering the intruders. Now it appears that the strange businesswoman’s endgame is to find the Equinox Flower, a fabled artifact that can resurrect the dead…

(more…)

NO MAN’S LAND (2013) short review

7A944745985BD2C5C99988CDE9C5FCEF_B1280_1280_1280_1787

Being shelved for four years over censorship issues sounds like a death knell for any film, and yet in the case of Ning Hao’s No Man’s Land, it may actually have been a considerable boon : indeed, the four-years delay meant that the film came out after the comedy Lost In Thailand, which starred two of the leads of No Man’s Land (Xu Zheng and Huang Bo), and thus became positioned as their follow-up to what is still the all-time highest-grossing Chinese film in China. It did however lose its potential status as China’s very first modern-day set western – with Gao Qunshu’s Wind Blast having been released in the meantime – though in truth it is closer to a film noir than a western, with moody voice-over and a cynical outlook on human nature. It tells of an arrogant big city lawyer (Xu Zheng) who travels to the far west of China to plead the case of a falcon trafficker (Togbye), then tries to rush back to the city to close a book deal on that very case. But he runs afoul of the trafficker’s scabby assistant (Huang Bo), as well as spiteful cops, angry truck drivers, and sordid petrol station owners, becoming the de facto protector of a desperate prostitute (Yu Nan) in the process. No Man’s Land often recalls Oliver Stone’s U-Turn, with which it shares an almost fantasmagorical level of bad luck and human scum thrust upon an almost unlikeable main character. And like that 1997 film, it starts out delightfully dark and funny, then loses steam with its thudding cynicism and an overdose of plot turns that are less fresh and witty than the director seems to think. Still, it’s a fun ride with great turns from Togbye as a monolithic bandit and Yu Nan as the only likeable character of the film and the incarnation of the softer side of Ning Hao’s pitch dark vision. ***1/2