THE FALLEN (2019) short review

A powerful crime syndicate, responsible for most of the crystal meth production in Southeast Asia, is in danger of being torn apart between Vulcan (Eddie Chen) and Tempest (Kenny Kwan), both potential heirs to megalomaniac current leader “The Don” (Melvin Wong), until a wild card is introduced: Rain Fuyu (Irene Wan), The Don’s adoptive daughter, trained by him to one day succeed him, until she disappeared 20 years ago. Now she’s back, and she meets the much younger Snow Fuyu (Hanna Chan), herself The Don’s illegitimate daughter. Lee Cheuk Pan’s The Fallen feels a little bit like the kind of film you would get if, say, Wong Kar Wai and Godfrey Ho ever co-directed a Category III film: it’s got the shallow grasp of logic and sleazy, exploitative tendencies of the latter, but the visual flair and elliptic storytelling of the former. All of this under a thick coat of pretentious – yet often inspired – oneiric imagery. Its non-linear narrative allows for a surprise or two, but most of its characters are either cackling grotesques (Kenny Kwan makes our ears bleed with his wild-eyed, language-hopping performance, while Eddie Chen thinks he’s playing Satan himself) or boring cyphers (Hanna Chan has all the mystery of a low-energy teenager). It’s nice to see good old Melvin Wong, in his first film in 17 years and still excelling in charismatic scumbag roles, and the evergreen Irene Wan could have had here a fine comeback role. But Lee Cheuk Pan is more interested in incestuous sex, filial cruelty and endless meth trips to let the heart of the story (the portrait of a survivor, Rain Fuyu) beat properly. **

CIRCUS KIDS (1994) short review

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Wu Ma’s last film as a director (though he kept on appearing in films for twenty more years), Circus Kids stands out simply by being the only time – so far – that martial arts greats Yuen Biao and Donnie Yen have been in the same film. Both were about to experience a unfortunate career wane in the second half of the nineties, and indeed Circus Kids is not up to their talent. It follows the various misfortunes of a circus troupe (led by Wu Ma himself and including Yuen Biao) during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai around 1910. Forced to move and take up jobs at a factory when their tent is destroyed in a Japanese bombing, they are thrust in the middle of political machinations and opium trafficking, but find an ally in a constable (Donnie Yen) who has feelings for the troupe’s trapeze artist (Irene Wan). Much of the goings-on in Circus Kids are tedious, thinly-written melodrama, which coupled with the film’s short running time and fairly low budget, don’t allow it to develop any kind of epic sweep or even dramatic poignancy. It is also fairly light on martial arts, with Donnie Yen and Yuen Biao only trading blows for a few seconds. Still the film’s stunning final fight, which sees Yuen take on fearful kicker Ken Lo (who the same year fought Jackie Chan in Drunken Master 2‘s unforgettable finale), is worth the wait, and a welcome relief from the mediocrity that precedes it. **

TOUCH AND GO (aka POINT OF NO RETURN) (1991) review

What could a collaboration between Sammo Hung Kam-Bo and Ringo Lam in the early nineties look like, since the former was at the time known more for his hard-hitting but breezy comedies, and the latter already celebrated for his brutal and pessimistic style and outlook (having already directed such classics as City on Fire and Prison on Fire). In a way, this is a similar kind of pairing as when two years later the realistically-inclined Kirk Wong paired up with the perennially sunny (at least at the time) Jackie Chan for Crime Story. But Touch and Go didn’t fare quite as well as Crime Story would, artistically or financially. It tells of Goose (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo), a cook who witnesses the murder of a cop by a gang of sex traffickers headed by Tiger (Tommy Wong Kwong-Leung) with ties and “customers” high up even in the Hong Kong police. Goose agrees to testify against Tiger, but the latter is bailed out and proceeds to burn his restaurant down to scare him away from testifying. A terrified Goose finds help with Pitt (Yeung Ming Wan), the murdered cop’s partner, as well as his sister Angel (Teresa Mo) and a kind-hearted Mainlander May (Irene Wan) who was lured to Hong Kong only to be exploited by Tiger, who actually may have feelings for her…

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