THE APOSTLES (2014) short review

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Joe Chien’s The Apostles tells of Lu Yun (Josie Ho), a novelist who after a car accident has been suffering from nightmares and short-term memory loss. After her husband dies in plane crash, she is contacted by Hab Bin (Xia Fan), a man whose girlfriend also died in that crash, and who found a cellphone belonging to Lu Yun’s husband in her remains. Realizing their respective partners were having an affair and were planning to go to a mysterious desolate town called X, Lu Yun and Hab Bin decide to head for that town in search of answers. Mixing elements from the Silent Hill games and films (a haunting phantom town), Christopher Nolan’s Memento (investigating a spouse’s death while coping with memory loss) and Sidney Pollack’s Random Hearts (a man and a woman brought together by the infidelity and tragic death of their respective spouses), The Apostles starts out in fairly derivative fashion, but nevertheless manages to gather tension and atmosphere, especially thanks to effective and haunting nightmare sequences, unsettling situations and the excellent Josie Ho’s affecting performance. Then just as it seems the film is fading out into the usual cognitive shortcuts (show mysterious images then explain them away as figments of the lead character’s imagination), it starts unraveling a final revelation so narratively and visually bold that it deserves quite a bit of admiration. For in daring to so strikingly and assuredly jump the shark, The Apostles rises well above most of Chinese horror. ***

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HOUSE OF WOLVES (2016) review

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Vincent Kok’s House of Wolves follows two scoundrels thriving in a small village: Charlie (Francis Ng) is a dognapper who pretends to be sclerotic in order to ingratiate himself to the ladies and avoid suspicion, and whose main ambition is to become a kept man, while Ping (Ronald Cheng) is an incredibly vain mama’s boy who’s also the village chief. They both find themselves vying for the attention of Chun (Jiang Shuying), a young writer who just arrived to the village. Now Chun is actually pregnant with a child whose father she’s running away from, and after inviting the two lovestruck rascals to her house and getting them drunk, she leads them to believe that one of them is the father of the child. Their rivalry as suitors becomes a rivalry as fathers, until they find out they’ve been tricked into surrogate fatherhood, and decide to go to the child’s real genitor.

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FULL STRIKE (2015) short review

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Derek Kwok and Henry Wong’s Full Strike does for badminton what Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer did to soccer, that it to say power it with an anime sensibility, slather it in cartoonish excess, and inject it with martial arts film tropes. It tells of a disgraced, depressed badminton champion (Josie Ho), who after witnessing a shuttlecock-shaped meteor falling to earth, teams up with her grandmother (Susan Shaw), a trio of ex-cons looking to go clean (Ekin Cheng, Edmond Leung and Wilfred Lau), and their drunk coach (Lam Man Chung), to compete in a big badminton tournament, where her main rival is her cousin (Ronald Cheng). Full Strike has a lovable ensemble of actors : Ekin Cheng is getting more appealing with age, Josie Ho is an oasis of restraint among all the wackiness, Ronald Cheng does some of his best mugging, but Lam Man Chung is the highlight as a drunk, unpredictable coach that is both awesome and pathetic. The humor is zany but doesn’t muffle the trite but reasonably engaging emotional stakes. But the film’s problem is that there’s just not that much one can do with badminton onscreen. The directors struggle to make the matches interesting and spectacular, but in the end it all amounts to repetitive close-ups of CGI shuttlecocks, slow-mo reaction shots and un-involving wide angle views. Still, Full Strike is fun and unassuming entertainment. ***