WHO AM I 2015 (aka AMNESIA) (2015) review

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What a strange idea to remake Jackie Chan’s Who Am I. While a success, the 1998 action film – which Chan co-directed with Benny Chan – wasn’t so popular that its title would become a brand name or rank among Chan’s greatest hits, and its premise of an elite agent who loses his memory in a botched operation then tries to piece back what happened while fending off a high-reaching conspiracy has been more than played out since, most notably and successfully in the Bourne films. What’s even more puzzling is that Song Yinxi’s Who Am I 2015, which was produced by Chan himself and stars mostly friends and protégés of his, actually has very little in common with the film of which it positions itself as a redo. The main character (here, Wang Haixiang) isn’t an elite agent anymore, he’s a bike courier with a penchant for extreme sports, and he’s not encroached in a vast conspiracy but simply chased by a shady boss’ henchmen (Ken Lo, Zhang Lanxin and director Song Yinxi himself) after witnessing the murder of a businessman. They frame him for the murder and he can only count on the help of a shrill hitchhiker (Yao Xingtong) and a mysterious ex-cop (Yu Rongguang), while suffering not from amnesia as in the original film, but from prosopagnosia (aka face blindness), a rare pathology that makes it difficult to recognize faces, even one’s own.

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DRAGON BLADE (2015) review

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Note: This is a review of the original, 127-minute cut of the film screened throughout Asia. The international cut runs about 20 minutes shorter and cripples the film. Avoid watching it first if you can.

Daniel Lee’s Dragon Blade isn’t just another Chinese period epic. Its price tag of 65 million dollars makes it the most expensive Chinese film in history, while its opening numbers at the domestic box-office broke records and its final take of 120 million dollars ranks it as the 8th highest-grossing Chinese film. Its cast is truly international : gathered around Chinese A-listers Jackie Chan, William Feng and Karena Lam are Hollywood actors John Cusack and Adrien Brody, Korean actors/pop stars Choi Si Won and Steve Yoo, Australian dancer and scream queen Sharni Vinson, as well as French singer Lorie Pester. And its plot takes considerable licence with history to imagine a meeting of East and West, between the Roman armies and the tribes of Western China.

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CZ12 (aka CHINESE ZODIAC) (2012) review

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Meant to be the third installment in Jackie Chan’s ‘Asian Hawk’ series (following 1986′ Armour of God and 1991’s Operation Condor), touted for an international day-and-date release (which didn’t happen), and heralded as Jackie Chan’s final big action movie (which he later clarified meant “his last movie to feature him performing dangerous stunts”), CZ12 manages to disappoint on all three of these fronts. It is neither a franchise finale, nor an international blockbuster, nor even a worthy bookend to Chan’s “death-defying” career phase. Jackie Chan plays JC, a treasure hunter who leads his team of tech experts (plus a Chinese student and a French heiress) on a search for 12 Zodiac bronze heads, artifacts that were stolen from China in the 19th century looting of the Old Summer Palace by foreigners.

As a producer, writer, director and star (not to mention a host of other credits that earned him a Guinness Book record for ‘most credits on a single film’), Jackie Chan pulled all the stops to make CZ12 a resounding finale to his daredevil years. Filmed in China, Australia, France, Vanuatu, Taiwan and Latvia, featuring a cast that is international (Oliver Platt from the United States, Laura Weissbecker from France, Kwon Sang Woo from South Korea, Vincent Sze from Hong Kong, to name a few), cameo-rich (Shu Qi, Daniel Wu, Chan’s wife Joan Lin), and full of martial arts guest stars (martial arts world champions Caitlin Dechelle, Alaa Safi and Zhang Lanxin), and costing a hefty 30m$ (a big deal in China), it’s a major enterprise. And taken in light of the key assets we’ve just enumerated, a major failure.

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NAUGHTY BOYS (1986) short review

An amateurishly plotted, not even sporadically funny comedy that inexplicably casts Mars as its lead (great stuntman, not good actor) and the lovely Kara Hui as a plain jane (really?) to Carina Lau’s alpha-female. Logic is absent, the gags are uninspired, and the action (supervised by Jackie Chan’s Stunt Team) is only interesting when Hui gets in on it. The plot involves a hidden loot and a hapless idiot (Mars) hunted by his ex-partners in crime, fresh out of prison (and headed by Phillip Ko). There is a literally blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Jackie Chan (a cameo predictably blown to deceitful proportions in the film’s DVD advertising), but in the end the only thing that sticks in the mind is a short outtake at the end where Jackie Chan demonstrates a dicy stunt to Kara Hui, who replicates it to perfection. *

THUNDERBOLT (1995) review

Drawing from Jackie Chan’s own passion for cars and car racing, Gordon Chan’s Thunderbolt has him play Chan, a mechanic who runs a small business with his father (Yuen Chor) in Hong Kong. Occasionally, he also helps the police in checking illegally upgraded cars. That is how he crosses paths with Krugerman (Thorsten Nickel), a psychotic street racer. When Krugerman tries to escape the police, Chan gets in a car and stops him after a very dangerous chase. Later, Krugerman gets revenge by destroying his business and kidnapping his two sisters ; if he wants to get them back alive, Chan must confront him in a race. The most striking thing about Thunderbolt, is that Jackie Chan is extensively – and obviously – doubled in every fight scene. Having injured his ankle while shooting Rumble in the Bronx, Jackie had no choice but to resort to a stunt double, and it shows. The two or three big fight scenes are up to his usual great standards of choreographing excellence and invention, but they are edited mostly in quick cuts and they feature a whole lot of shots where “Jackie Chan” is turning his back to the camera. This makes for a frustrating spectacle : it’s no secret the thrill of watching a Jackie Chan film comes from the knowledge and evidence that he is doing everything we see his character doing. Take away that factor, and even with the same choreography, it all looks mundane.

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DRAGONS FOREVER (1988) review

Dragon Forever was the last film (or is the last film so far, as I like to think) to feature the mighty trio of Sammo Hung Kam-Bo (aka Biggest Brother), Jackie Chan (aka Big Brother) and Yuen Biao (aka Little Brother). After that film, their friendship would go through rocky times, with Sammo resenting Jackie’s superior degree of success, and Biao wanting to make a career for himself without always being tied to his illustrious big brothers. Well, at least the “three dragons” went out with a bang, because Dragon Forever is a marvel of breath-taking action, zany humour and, more unexpectedly, heart-warming sweetness. Jackie Chan is Jackie Lung, a lawyer who is more interested in money than justice, and who is a bit of a ladykiller, too. He is hired by Mr. Wah (Yuen Wah), the owner of a chemical plant against whom the owners of a fish farm (Deannie Yip and Pauline Yeung) are pressing charges for polluting the water. To gather information and exert pressure on the two women, Jackie calls upon two friends, Luke (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo) and the slightly deranged Tak-Biao (Yuen Biao). But when they proceed to bug their house and monitor their actions, the unexpected happens as Jackie falls in love with one of them and Luke with the other. On top of that, they find out that the chemical plant is actually a drug refining plant and decide to take action.

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SUPERCOP 2 (aka PROJECT S) (1993) review

After having taken a 5-year break from 1987 to 1992 to dedicate herself to her mariage with producer Dickson Poon, Michelle Yeoh made a triumphant comeback as Jackie Chan’s female counterpart in Police Story 3 : Supercop. She made such an impression in it, more than holding her own in the fight scenes next to Chan, that her character in that film, Mainland police officer Jessica Yang, got her own spin-off the following year : Supercop 2 (also known as Project S). When her boyfriend David (Yu Rongguang) decides to leave for Hong Kong to try and make a better living, Jessica Yang refuses to go with him, out of dedication to her work as a police officer. Later, she is herself called to Hong Kong to help fight against a huge crime wave in the city. What she doesn’t know yet is that David has crossed over to the other side of the law and is one of the masterminds behind this crime wave.

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ISLAND OF FIRE (1990) review

The most obvious thing Island of Fire has going for it, is its cast : Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, Andy Lau, Jimmy Wang Yu, and Tony Leung Ka-Fai. This is, absolutely speaking, one hell of a line-up, but of course at the time Andy Lau, though having been in countless films already, was still more successful as a singer than an actor, Sammo Hung was on the decline after his break-up with the almighty Golden Harvest Studio, Jimmy Wang Yu was nearing his self-imposed exile from films, and Tony Leung Ka-Fai had never had a leading role before. All in all, Jackie Chan was the only member of the cast to truly be at the height of his popularity (a height he has barely left ever since). However, Chan is not the lead here : Leung is, and even he is sidelined for entire chunks of the film. Actually, if there was to be a real leading role here, it would be the island itself, or rather the prison that is on this island.

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