LEAGUE OF GODS (2016) review

091457.13259170_1000X1000

Sometimes lazily and erroneously branded as a “Chinese X-Men”, a franchise with which it has very little in common beyond CGI and powers, Koan Hui’s League of Gods is actually much closer – in concept, story and visuals – to Alex Proyas’ Gods of Egypt, not that the marketing team would want to play that particular angle, following the much-publicized flop of that film (which we actually liked, for all its faults). It’s set in a mythical ancient China ruled by the evil king Zhou (Tony Leung Ka Fai) and his consort Daji (Fan Bingbing), who’s actually a Nine-Tail Fox demon who pulls the strings on every one of his power-hungry moves. But Zhou is met with resistance from the kingdom of Xiqi, ruled by king Ji Chang (Zu Feng) and old strategist Jiang Ziya (Jet Li). The latter sends his protégé Lei Zhenzi (Jacky Heung), the last of a once-flourishing winged tribe, on a mission to retrieve the Sword of Light, which is the only weapon that can defeat the Black Dragon, the evil and powerful entity from which king Zhou draws his power. In his quest, Lei Zhenzi relies on the help of Ji Fa (Andy On), his childhood friend and the son of king Ji Chang, Nezha (Wen Zhang), a rambunctious warrior who alternatively appears as a baby and a grown man, and Erlangshen (Huang Xiaoming), a mysterious warrior with a truth-seeking third eye. Lei Zhenzi also meets Blue Butterfly (Angelababy) a whimsical young woman with whom he falls in love, but who’s actually a creation of Shengong Bao (Louis Koo), king Zhou’s chief general, who has orders to kill him and his companions.

(more…)

Advertisements

DRAGON FIGHT (1989) short review

dragon-fight-1989-1

Jet Li and Stephen Chow : this is a pairing that throughout the nineties, the noughties and up to this day would spell box-office gold. But in 1989 it was just a few years too early. Jet Li had not yet settled into superstardom with Once Upon A Time In China, and Stephen Chow had not yet established his insanely successful brand of comedy, and was actually still more of a dramatic supporting actor. Whatever the stage of their career they were in, they certainly deserved something better than Billy Tang’s Dragon Fight, a thoroughly mundane action film, in which Jet Li and Dick Wei are part of a Wushu troupe touring the United States, the former left stranded in San Francisco when he misses his flight home for trying to find the latter, who’s decided to stay in America and work his way up the local mafia. Stephen Chow comes in as a Chinese immigrant who helps Jet Li out, but gets himself into trouble with the very same mafia Dick Wei now works for. After a vaguely comedic, uninteresting first part, things get unexepectedly dark and action kicks in thanks to silly plot turns (one of those turns involves someone confusing washing powder and cocaine). Choreographed by Dick Wei himself, it’s fierce and enjoyably realistic, a style Jet Li would only scarcely revisit, though most of the time with scintillating results. Still, here it’s too little too late, and the film also suffers from some of the worst ‘gweilo’ acting (and dubbing) you’ll ever see. **

BADGES OF FURY (2013) review

BpOf

With Jackie Chan celebrating his filmography’s milestones by adding new installments to his most successful franchises, and Donnie Yen getting busier than ever on a variety of action-heavy projects, it’s puzzling to see the wildly different turn Jet Li’s career has taken. Choosing, admirably, to focus on his charity (The One Foundation) and his Tai Chi promotion (Taiji Zen), he has been content for a few years now to appear as a benevolent supporting actor (though always top billed) in films that woefully underuse him both as an actor and as a martial artist. Badges of Fury unfortunately continues that disappointing trend. The real lead here is Wen Zhang, as a cocky young cop who, paired with veteran Jet Li and under the supervision of superior officer Michelle Chen, investigates on a series of murders in which the victims all die with a smile on their face. They cross paths with a stuttering insurance agent (Wu Jing), a whimiscal mob boss (Leung Kar Yan), a Men In Black type supercop (Huang Xiaoming), and many other cameoing stars, but the murders all trace back to an actress who has dated all of the victims (Liu Yan), and her sister (Cecilia Liu) who has made a habit out of stealing her boyfriends.

(more…)

ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA AND AMERICA (1997) review

After his dispute with director Tsui Hark led to his leaving the Once Upon A Time In China franchise and being replaced by Vincent Zhao in the following two films, Jet Li finally came back to his signature role of Wong Fei-Hung in this fifth sequel, directed by Sammo Hung Kam-Bo and produced by Tsui Hark himself. In Once Upon A Time In China And America (heretofore OUATICAA), we meet Wong Fei-Hung in the American far west, on a carriage headed to a small town where his disciple Bucktooth is founding a clinic (named Po-Chi Lam, after Wong’s own clinic in China). With him are franchise regulars Aunt Yee (Rosamund Kwan) and Clubfoot (Xiong Xin Xin). On their way they help out Bill (Jeff Wolfe) a stranded cowboy, who develops a growing sympathy for the Chinese, which is not the case of everyone else in the town, the Chinese immigrants being endlessly segregated and submitted to arbitrary restrictions. But when the carriage is attacked by Indians, Wong hits his head on a rock while trying to rescue Aunt Yee, and his body goes adrift in the nearby river. When he wakes up, he’s in an Indian village and has lost his memory. The plot thickens as a wolf-loving outlaw and his gang rob the town’s bank and the law turns to the Chinese immigrants as scapegoats.

(more…)

THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE (2011) review

313951_2221844102610_1350410278_n

Adapted from the same Chinese legend that inspired Tsui Hark’s Green Snake in 1993, Ching Siu-Tung’s The Sorcerer and the White Snake tells of the love between a kindly herbalist (Raymond Lam) and a white snake demon (in human form, that of Eva Huang Shengyi) ; he doesn’t know she’s a snake demon, but abbot Fahai (Jet Li) does. He’s a demon hunter of sorts : when we first meet him, he’s with his assistant Neng Ren (Wen Zhang) vanquishing an ice harpy (Vivian Hsu). Though he can see there is real love between the herbalist and the white snake, Fahai cannot approve of such a union, and issues an ultimatum to the latter. But things get a bit more tangled when Neng Ren himself, having been bitten by a demon, starts taking the appearance of a bat, while falling in love with a green snake demon (Charlene Choi).

(more…)

BORN TO DEFENSE (1986) review

Most major martial arts actors, like Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen or Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, have often adopted a very hands-on approach in the creative process by action-directing and/or directing, and even sometimes writing, the films they starred in. Jet Li on the other hand has mostly stuck to starring, except in the case of Born To Defense, which he directed, choreographed and starred in in 1986, after The Shaolin Temple (1982) made him an overnight sensation.

In the film, Li (looking like he’s barely out of puberty) plays Jet, a World War II hero who comes homes only to find American soldiers bullying his people. After they destroy his rickshaw, he finds himself penniless and agrees to serve as a sparring partner, or rather glorified punching-bag, for the soldiers. Things escalate when a towering American (Kurt Roland Peterson) challenges Jet, to destructive results. As you can see from this brief synopsis, Born To Defense doesn’t have much of a plot. After an introductory war scene, and a few minutes dedicated to Jet’s cautiously optimistic homecoming, the film devolves into a repetitive succession of scenes featuring either Jet fighting an American, or Americans abusing Jet and his friends.

(more…)

LAST HERO IN CHINA (1993) review

In 1993, near the end of production on Tsui Hark and Jet Li’s third installment in the insanely successful Once Upon A Time In China series, there seemingly was some kind of dispute between director and star, which led to the two not working together for more than a decade, despite their working relationship being as legendary as, say, John Woo and Chow Yun Fat. It also led to Jet Li leaving the Once Upon A Time In China franchise (and being replaced with Vincent Zhao). But less than a year later, Li took the role of Wong Fei-Hung again, in a non-official installment : Last Hero in China.

In a way, Last Hero in China (also called Claws of Steel in some places), is to Jet Li what Never Say Never Again is to Sean Connery: both a loving hommage and a cheeky send-up of the character that made him a superstar. A cheeky send-up, in part because the director is none other than Wong Jing, the ‘master’ of heavy and greasy Hong Kong comedy, but a loving homage, because beneath the comedy, there is still Master Wong’s impeccable mastery of Wushu, choreographed by the great Yuen Woo-Ping (just like the first two Once Upon A Time In China films).

(more…)