THE MYSTERY OF DRAGON SEAL (aka VIY 2, aka JOURNEY TO CHINA: THE MYSTERY OF IRON MASK) (2019) review

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Who could have imagined that two of the most iconic movie stars in the world, Jackie Chan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, would one day share the screen not in a Hollywood buddy movie, but in a Russian-Chinese fantasy swashbuckling adventure vaguely derived from Nikolai Gogol, in which Arnie would play a British warden, and the two would have a swordfight? Now we want to see Sylvester Stallone and Chow Yun Fat arm-wrestle in a Polish-Vietnamese western indirectly adapted from Victor Hugo. Anyway, Oleg Stepchenko’s The Mystery of Dragon Seal is the sequel to Viy, a Russian fantasy adventure – Gogol-derived, as aforementioned – starring Jason Flemyng and Charles Dance, that found healthy international ancillary success after becoming the third highest-grossing Russian film in Russia in 2014. Conceived to work as a stand-alone film – thanks to a recapitulation of the previous episode – and geared towards the China market, this sequel has been a flop both there and in Russia.

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THE CLIMBERS (2019) review

p2569090715In 1960, Fang Wuzhou (Wu Jing) and Qu Songlin (Zhang Yi), members of the Chinese National Mountaineering Team, reached the summit of Mount Everest (known as Qomolangma in Tibetan) from the North Ridge, a perilous achievement that cost the life of their captain. Worse, it later went unrecognized by the international community: after losing their camera during the ascent, the Chinese climbers were unable to provide the necessary photographic proof of their exploit. Since then, Fang and Qu have lived in shame, considered frauds by most. So when an opportunity to renew the exploit arises fifteen years later, they set out to train a new team of climbers, including Li Guiliang (Jing Boran), Yang Guang (Hu Ge), and meteorologist Xu Ying (Zhang Ziyi), with whom Fang has long been in love.

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THE KNIGHT OF SHADOWS: BETWEEN YIN AND YANG (2019) review

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In Yan Jia’s The Knight of Shadows: Between Yin and Yang, Jackie Chan plays an imaginary version of Pu Songling, the late 16th-century, early 17th-century author of Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio – a collection of supernatural stories on which films the A Chinese Ghost Story or the Painted Skin franchise are more or less loosely based. This Pu is a writer too (and one eager to peddle his stories), but he’s also an actual demon hunter who operates from a mountain-top house, assisted by goblins Farty, Happy and Thousand Hands. While helping a hapless sheriff’s assistant (Lin Bohong) catch a jewel thief who’s actually a pig demon, Pu comes across Nie Xiaoqian (Elane Zhong), a demon who along with her sister Jing Yao (Lin Peng) feeds on the souls of young women, after promising them eternal beauty. Also on Nie Xiaoqian’s trail is Yan Chixia (Ethan Juan), a wandering demon hunter who’s none other than her former lover.

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BLEEDING STEEL (2017) review

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On a fateful night in 2007, UN Special Forces agent Lin (Jackie Chan) is faced with a cruel dilemma: to be with his daughter Nancy in the hospital as she desperately clutches to life in the final phases of leukaemia, or to protect Doctor James, a geneticist who entered the witness-protection program after creating for an arms dealer a biochemical weapon whose formula, in the wrong hands, could bring about international chaos. Doctor James has been targeted by Andre (Callan Mulvey), a soldier enhanced with that biomechanical invention. Having painfully chosen international security over his daughter, Lin barely survives an attack by Andre that claims the life of most of his team. The same evening, his daughter dies. Fast forward thirteen years later, and Nancy is apparently still alive, attending high school under the watchful eye of Lin, who poses as a cafeteria worker at her school. Nancy is beset with recurring nightmares, and little does she know that she is the target not only of Andre and his right-hand woman (Tess Haubrich), but also of Leeson (Show Lo), a thief who found her profile in the files of a successful fiction writer.

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NAMIYA (2017) review

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Mere months after the Japanese adaptation of Keigo Higashino’s best-selling novel The Miracles of the Namiya General Store, comes a Chinese adaptation directed by Han Jie, with input from popular novelist, blogger and director Han Han. Three orphans, Xiaobo (Karry Wang), Tong Tong (Dilraba Dilmurat) and Jie (Dong Zi Jian) burglarize a rich woman’s house on new year’s eve, then run away in her car. They decide to lay low in an abandoned general store, but strange things start happening: a letter is dropped in an old letterbox at the front of the shop, and seems to have been written by someone more than twenty years before. The orphans decide to answer it, and get an almost immediate, handwritten answer through the same letterbox, once again apparently from the past. They learn that the store used to belong to a kind old man (Jackie Chan) who would impart wise advice to anonymous people in need through letters dropped in front and behind the store.

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RESET (2017) review

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Produced by Jackie Chan and directed by Korean helmer Yoon Hong-seung aka Chang, Reset unfolds in the near future, when time travel is becoming a reality: the discovery and use of portals to parallel universes allows scientists to experiment on sending living tissue back in the past – though only two hours back for now. Xia Tian (Yang Mi) is part of a research team that is on the verge of a major breakthrough, when her son Doudou a kidnapped and held for ransom by a mysterious man (Wallace Huo). If she wants to get her son back, she is to deliver the man all of her research. But even after she complies, her son is killed, and she has no choice but to send herself back two hours in the past to try and save him. With every failed attempt she starts again and in doing so, she creates multiple versions of herself, all dead set on rescuing Doudou.
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KUNG FU YOGA (2017) review

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A good one month after the delightful Railroad Tigers, Jackie Chan is back on the big screen, and a good 12 years after their flawed but enjoyable – and oddly heartfelt – adventure The Myth, he reunites with Stanley Tong for Kung Fu Yoga (though Tong was a producer on Chinese Zodiac). This Indian-Chinese co-production that follows illustrious archeology professor Jack (Jackie Chan), who goes looking for an ancient Indian treasure with the help of his assistants (Zhang Yixing and Miya Muqi), some old friends (Eric Tsang and Zhang Guoli), a thief  (Aarif Lee) and an Indian princess (Disha Patani). The quest takes them from China to Iceland to Dubai to India, but another, less benevolent search party is also looking for the treasure: Indian heir Randall (Sonu Sood) and his mercenaries.
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RAILROAD TIGERS (2016) review

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After the superb tragicomic elegy Little Big Soldier and the flawed but interesting single-setting thriller Police Story 2013, Ding Sheng has proven to be one of Jackie Chan’s most interesting collaborators, respectful of the myth but not a yes-man, and able to bring ambitious ideas to star vehicles. Now the two have reunited for a wartime adventure set in the winter of 1941, as Japan takes control of Southeast Asia, using the railways for military transportation and supply. Ma Yuan (Jackie Chan) is a railroad worker who doubles as a Robin Hood figure, using his knowledge of the railroad network to ambush, sabotage and steal supplies from the Japanese convoys to feed the Chinese people, assisted by a team of freedom fighters called the “Railroad Tigers” (including Huang Zitao and Jaycee Chan). One day they offer shelter to a wounded Chinese soldier (Darren Wang), who tells them of a bridge that has to be blown up to cut the Japanese army’s supply route and cripple its war effort. The Railroad Tigers, helped by a former sharp-shoother (Wang Kai) thus set out on their biggest and most dangerous mission yet, while Japanese officers Yamaguchi (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) and Yuko (Zhang Lanxin) try to stop them.

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SKIPTRACE (2016) review

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After going through director and cast changes (as Renny Harlin and Johnny Knoxville replaced Sam Fell and Seann William Scott, respectively), a tragic on-set death (cinematographer Chan Kwok Hung drowned when shooting boat stunts on Lantau Island) and months of delay (it was initially to be released in December 2015), Skiptrace finally arrived in theaters in July 2016 and gave the Chinese film summer one of its rare hits. Jackie Chan plays Bennie Chan, a dour Hong Kong detective on the trail of a mysterious crime boss known as ‘The Matador’, and who may or may not be businessman Victor Wong (Winston Chao). Nine years ago, after his partner Yung (Eric Tsang) was trapped and killed by The Matador, Chan swore to protect his daughter Samantha (Fan Bingbing). Now she’s in Victor Wong’s clutches and Chan’s only hope is to track down American conman Connor Watts (Johnny Knoxville), who has evidence that could incriminate the Matador. The problem is, Watts doesn’t want to follow Chan to Hong Kong, and he’s himself being hunted by the Russian mob, after knocking up the daughter of a kingpin…

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An Interview with Actor-Stuntman-Director Bruce Fontaine

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Bruce Fontaine was once a Gweilo actor, that is to say one of those Caucasian performers who were hired in Hong Kong’s action cinema heyday to play – often villainous – supporting parts. A high-level practitioner of Wushu, he appeared in some of the most famous films of that time: Operation CondorOnce Upon A Time In ChinaShe Shoots Straight… But when the well of classic Hong Kong action dried up, his career endured, as he took the knowledge acquired from working with the likes of Jackie Chan, Corey Yuen or the Sammo Hung stunt team, and applied it to a career in Canadian stuntwork, quickly rising through the ranks to become a stunt coordinator, including for American Video Game developer Electronic Arts. And yet his main ambition remained unfulfilled: to direct a feature film. In 2015, he kickstarted the third phase of his film career by completing and premiering Beyond Redemption, an action thriller infused with the soul of Hong Kong action cinema.
From martial artist and Hong Kong film fan to Hong Kong film fighter, from stuntman to director, his is a story of wish-fulfillment through hard work and passion. Now in the preparatory stages for his second feature film, Bruce Fontaine was kind enough to answer my questions.

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