L STORM (2018) review

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Who could have predicted that David Lam’s modestly-successful financial thriller Z Storm would open the way to a full-blown franchise, yielding four installments in 5 years? In 2016, S Storm doubled its predecessor’s box-office take, before seeing its own financial success doubled by this year’s L Storm. And P Storm will come out in late 2019. Here, Louis Koo is back as William Luk, the handsome ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) agent who looks bored even when he’s chasing a perp down an obstacle-strewn alleyway. Back from S Storm is Lau Po Keung (Julian Cheung) of the JFIU (Joint Financial Intelligence Unit): together, Luk and Lau investigate a money laundering case involving a corrupt customs officer (Michael Tse) and a dangerous criminal mastermind (Patrick Tam). Meanwhile, officer Ching Tak Ming (Kevin Cheng), of the ICAC’s own internal affairs division, has his sights set on Luk, after it is revealed by an informant (Stephy Tang) that he accepted a sizable bribe.

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LEGEND OF THE ANCIENT SWORD (2018) review

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It’s been a brutal year for Chinese fantasy on the big screen. Soi Cheang’s The Monkey King 3 underperformed compared to the previous installments in the franchise, Hasi Chaolu’s fantasy take on Genghis Khan went unnoticed despite a starry cast and Jean-Jacques Annaud’s artistic input, Zhang Peng’s Asura was retrieved from theaters a mere three days after opening to dismal box-office numbers, and now Renny Harlin’s Legend of the Ancient Sword has failed to even reach the 2 million-dollar mark, despite a prime launching date during Chinese national holidays. This puts extra pressure on Wuershan’s now-shooting fantasy trilogy Gods, a massive undertaking whose commercial potential isn’t being solidified at the moment.

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THE LEAKER (aka THE LEAKERS) (2018) review

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2018 will have been a quiet kind of year for Herman Yau; The Leaker is one of only two films he’ll have had in theaters (the other being comedy A Home with a View, starring Louis Koo and Francis Ng, and out in December). Still, he’s already got two films in the can for 2019, with two more already planned, so no cause for alarm. The Leaker starts with the outbreak in Malaysia of a new and deadly disease carried by mosquitoes. The only available cure is an experimental drug manufactured by Amanah, a powerful pharmaceutical company. But when the elder son of Amanah’s CEO Teo Jit Sin (Kent Cheng) is found murdered, and his second son is kidnapped by a shady organisation claiming to have incriminating information to leak about Teo Jit Sin, Malaysian detective Lee Weng-kan (Julian Cheung) must team up with journalist Carly Yuen (Charmaine Sheh) and Hong Kong cop Wong Dai Wai (Francis Ng) to uncover the truth.

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ALWAYS BE WITH YOU (2017) review

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Always Be With You may be a somewhat clumsy title, but it’s still better than Troublesome Night 20, which is nevertheless what this Herman Yau film is. Louis Koo was in seven of these late-nineties, early-naughties horror films that often crossed narratives and mixed some comedy into the mildly tense supernatural goings-on. Now he’s back, surrounded with a cast of newcomers to the franchise (except Law Lan, who was in 17 of the previous installments). A handful of people are brought together by fate on the night of a car accident that claims several lives: there’s a cab driver (Julian Cheung), drunk after learning he is terminally ill, a couple of cops (Louis Koo and Charmaine Sheh), their exorcist auntie (Law Lan) a shopkeeper and his wife (Lam Suet and Kingdom Yuen), a young, freshly-engaged couple (Charlene Choi and Alex Lam), and a few more. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the ones who survived are haunted by those who died, and yet those who died are not necessarily the ones we think.
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THE HOUSE THAT NEVER DIES II (2017) review

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Three years after Raymond Yip’s The House that never dies became the highest-grossing Chinese horror film, comes this Gordon Chan-produced sequel, featuring a different cast and a new set of characters, but still taking place at N°81 Chanoei in Beijing, a famous mansion believed to be haunted. This time, engineer Song Teng (Julian Cheung) is working on restoring the old mansion, while neglecting his wife He (Mei Ting), a doctor. The couple has grown estranged following the stillbirth of their child five years before, and Song’s apparent reciprocal fondness for his assistant (Gillian Chung) isn’t helping matters. In an attempt to solidify their marriage, He moves in with her husband in the old house, but soon she is plagued by visions and nightmares, that appear to be memories of a past life: at the beginning of the 20th century, a general (Julian Cheung) who lived in this mansion had to marry the daughter (Gillian Chung) of a warlord, to solidify an alliance and to ensure he would have an heir, after his first wife (Mei Ting) failed to beget him one. But the general’s affections were still for his first wife, and his new bride proved barren as well. And deadly jealous.

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S STORM (aka Z STORM 2) short review

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Two years after the modestly entertaining and modestly successful Z Storm, the valiant knights in tailored suits of the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) are back for a sequel, again directed by David Lam and headed by Louis Koo as William Luk, a character whose sole defining features – even after two films – are righteousness and handsomeness. This time, he has to collaborate with an (almost) equally handsome albeit more conflicted police inspector (Julian Cheung), as well as welcome a new team member (Ada Choi), to investigate the murder of a Jockey Club trader by a mysterious assassin (Vic Chou) and uncover a network of illegal bookmaking. S Storm has the pacing, tension and depth of an episode from a 90’s TV procedural (with much better production values, of course). And with only a forgettable gweilo, an underused Lo Hoi Pang and a barely glimpsed Sek Sau as its bad guys, it comes in a notch below the adequate Z Storm, which at least benefitted from delightfully scummy turns by Michael Wong and Lam Ka Tung. Here, Louis Koo appears bored out of his mind, occasionally emerging from his torpor to share a minor but pleasantly unforced chemistry with Julian Cheung, quite good as by far the most vivid character in the film. Ada Choi is there as a purely decorative device, while Vic Chou is the world’s least threatening hitman. And just like Z StormS Storm is peppered with dialogues that are actually slogans : hear Bowie Lam tell us “ICAC is not a job, it’s faith.” **