JOURNEY OF THE DOOMED (1985) review

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Cha Chuen Yee’s Journey of the Doomed opens on the image of a setting sun, and ends in the complete destruction of desolate period sets. Fitting bookends to what is actually the last martial arts film produced by the Shaw Brothers Studio before it switched completely to TV production. Movie bootlegging and overwhelming competition from rival studio Golden Harvest had led to diminishing returns in the beginning of the eighties, and the legendary studio, after producing close to a thousand feature films, was cutting its losses and would not return to the big screen before 2009. These facts do not lend Journey of the Doomed any crepuscular dimension however, as it is more akin to the kind of cake your mother would make to empty the fridge before leaving on holidays.

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LOVERS & MOVIES (2015) short review

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Niu Chaoyang’s Lovers & Movies is one of those all-star Valentines Day cash-ins based on the blueprint of Gary Marshall’s Valentines Day : criss-crossing love stories across generations, played out by a few stars out for an easy paycheck. And so here we have a fifty-something woman (Kara Hui), who finds out her husband (Simon Yam) is having an affair, while her son is getting into bad ways and pushing away his girlfriend. Also, a cab driver (Francis Ng) is in love with a dance teacher (Yu Nan), whose five year-old son needs snow to win over a girl he likes at school. And a fangirl (Gulnazar) gets to meet her heartthrob idol (Kim Bum), after which they fall in love. It all unfolds in impossibly trite fashion, as platitudes about love are spoken in every scene over a treacly score, and grand romantic gestures are performed in ways that are often actually more creepy than endearing : witness Gulnazar barging in on a film scene being shot in a studio by the man she loves, by jumping off a wall, strapped on cables, with a red streamer that says ‘I love you’. Someone call the cops. The cast, which could have saved the film, is too uneven to manage that. Kara Hui and Yu Nan valiantly try to make unlikable characters worth sticking with, but Francis Ng expresses most emotions by smiling weirdly, and Simon Yam gives a performance so listless he probably took this film as a break from acting. And out of decency, let’s not mention the rest of the cast. *1/2

THEY CAME TO ROB HONG KONG (1989) short review

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Clarence Fok’s They Came to rob Hong Kong concerns a violent bank robber (Roy Cheung) who has to flee to the Mainland after being nearly caught by a tough cop (Kara Hui). There, he recruits a ragtag team of hapless morons (among which Eric Tsang, Stanley Fung, Sandra Ng, Dean Shek and Chin Siu Ho) to come back to Hong Kong and attempt a daring heist. Except they’re hapless morons, so nothing goes according to plan. This film is actually a complete rehash of any Lucky Stars film : even though only Fung and Tsang were actually members of the comedic team, other members of the cast fit the usual Lucky Stars profiles, as Chin Siu Ho brings the martial arts that would’ve been Sammo Hung’s turf, and Dean Shek has the same kind of paranormal pretensions that Richard Ng’s character would display. The structure is also the same : an action-packed opening sequence (in this case an impressive and savage fight and chase scene on cluttered rooftops, as the terrific Kara Hui hunts down Roy Cheung) gives way to a comedic middle-section where, among other subplots, the group is given a beautiful woman to lust after (in this case, Chingmy Yau), after which things are wrapped up in a big action finale. Except while the action bookends are fine, the comedic middle is painfully unfunny and interminable. While Eric Tsang is always hilarious, Sandra Ng’s shtick quickly gets wearisome, and the ensemble simply doesn’t have the Lucky Star’s chemistry. **

THE INSPECTOR WEARS SKIRTS 4 (1992) review

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This is the final film in an enjoyable but trashy film series that had used up its thin concept by the first installment, then rehashed it for a second film, before injecting a big dose of craziness for the third episode. And so it comes to The Inspector Wears Skirts 4, with the only returning cast members being Sandra Ng, Kara Hui and Billy Lau, as well as Wung Fu in the role of the superior officer. A botched operation has led to the disbanding of the female commando : Sandra Ng has become a widow and overbearing single mother, Kara Hui has entered a mental institution after a nasty fall left her nuttier than a Pecan log, and Billy Lau is now a school supervisor, and has married Sheila Chan after a short fling with Sandra that ended in near-castration. A new female commando has been formed, headed by Moon Lee, but is found to fall very short of its tactical objectives, which is why Sandra and Kara are called back, and a tough cop and instructor, played by Cynthia Khan, is brought in to whip them back into shape.

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CHOY LEE FUT KUNG FU (2011) review

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A few years before Donnie Yen gave him an opportunity to demonstrate his actual kung fu skills in The Iceman 3D and Kung Fu Jungle, Wang Baoqiang already demonstrated his martial arts proficiency in John Ching’s Choy Lee Fut Kung Fu (not to be confused with Choy Lee Fut, a film starring Sammo Hung and his son, that came out the same year). Wang plays Danny (Wang Baoqiang), a young martial arts enthusiast who arrives in Hong Kong to head a school of Choy Lee Fut (a combination of Northern and Southern Chinese kung-fu systems) owned by his wealthy father (Ng Man Tat). At the airport, he’s swindled out of his wallet and phone but is given help and shelter by a young woman (Michelle Ye), much to the chagrin of her jealous boyfriend (Miu Tse) and her kind but suspicious mother (Kara Hui). With an important boxing match coming up, Danny is trained by a master of Choy Lee Fut (Norman Tsui), while the school’s janitor (Wong Yat Fei) tries to locate the second half of an old martial arts manuscript, which contains a map to a treasure map.

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RAID ON ROYAL CASINO MARINE (aka THE INSPECTOR WEARS SKIRTS 3) (1990) review

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Following a successful first film and an even more successful second film that was basically a carbon copy of its predecessor, Raid on Royal Casino Marine finally mixes up the Inspector Wears Skirts formula. After spending the last two instalments silently longing for her, instructor Kan (Stanley Fung) is now married to Madam Wu (Sibelle Hu), who has retired but not mellowed : to keep fit she always rope-climbs to her hilltop house, and she’s managed to train her housemaid into a killing machine. When the Hong Kong police decides to mount an operation against an illegal gambling operation aboard a cruise ship, five members of the decommissioned female commando (returning actresses Sandra Ng, Kara Hui and Amy Yip plus new additions San Yip and Wong Wai Kei) are brought back into action to infiltrate the ship, but not before they get whipped back into shape by instructor Kan. As with the previous films, the training is actually closer to an escalating series of pranks between the instructor, his scapegoat/assistant (returning Billy Lau from the previous films’ male squad, which doesn’t return), and the five girls. The training ends more quickly, as the film segues into a God of Gamblers rehash (the immensely successful Wong Jing film had come out shortly after the release of The Inspector Wears Skirts II) for a saggy middle section. Then as the ship gets hijacked by its own captain (Michael Chow, who had a different role in the first film in the series), the film gets its obligatory yet perfunctory action finale (in which Kara Hui is unfortunately underemployed) : the Jackie Chan stunt team doesn’t return, and it shows.

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ROSA (1986) review

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Joe Cheung’s Rosa is a buddy movie produced by Sammo Hung, that pairs the perennially underrated Yuen Biao (who also directs the action) with singer-actor Lowell Lo, with a script (though as often for Hong Kong films of the eighties, ‘outline’ would be a better word) by Wong Kar Wai. But despite that interesting pedigree, it doesn’t truly stick out from the mass of Hong Kong comedies of the decade. Yuen and Lo play cops who get on their superior officer’s (Paul Chun) wrong side but get a chance to redeem themselves by locating a police informant who has critical evidence against a local gangster (James Tien, not exactly cast against type). Their main help in finding him is his girlfriend Rosa (Luk Siu Fan), a model with whom Lo falls in love, while Yuen himself becomes romantically involved with Lo’s sister (Kara Hui). All those feelings, plus the two cops’ constant bickering, slows down the investigation to a crawl, until the gangster decides to take action.

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ANGEL TERMINATORS (1992) short review

Angel_Terminators_dvdcover One of only two films directed by Wai Lit, most of the time a supporting actor in Category III films, Angel Terminators is representative of the more violent and dark variety of ‘Girls with Guns’ films. In a fairly simple plot (no surprise here), it follows the fight to the death between tough policewomen (Sharon Yeung, Kara Hui, Cheng Yuen Man), and a brutal mob boss (Kenneth Tsang) back from exile in Thailand and his henchmen (among whom Alan Chui, Dick Wei and Michiko Nishiwaki), with Carrie Ng as a woman with ties to both sides. Angel Terminators benefits from no-nonsense direction, well-staged – if hardly remarkable – action scenes, and a truly charismatic cast: Sharon Yeung has a steely presence that should have allowed her to do better than end her career in Godfrey Ho cheapies, Kenneth Tsang essays one of his classic scumbag roles, Michiko Nishiwaki is formidable as always, though her smouldering presence is underused, and Kara Hui, while absent for a long stretch, is always a joy to watch. It’s a tough, somber film that takes startlingly unpleasant detours (Carrie Ng’s character goes through an almost overwhelming amount of torment), and speeds violently towards an unforgiving ending, with a striking final shot. ***

CONTROL (2013) short review

control-2013.19916 In an unnamed metropolis of the future, Mark (Daniel Wu) is a modest insurance broker who toils away to save enough money to put his mentally ill mother (Kara Hui) in a luxury retirement home. One day, in exchange for a promotion, he agrees to lie in court to cover his superiors. Soon afterwards, he finds out his bank account has been emptied, and a mysterious caller with proof of his court perjury blackmails him into a escalating of robberies and risky transactions, during which he meets an old flame (Yao Chen) and a thug (Shao Bing), who are both being blackmailed by the same caller, and finds himself on the wrong side of two mobsters (Simon Yam and Leon Dai). Elements of various infinitely more successful films find their way into Kenneth Bi’s Control : shades of The Matrix, Cellular, Die Hard With a Vengeance and a few others are hard to ignore. Equally distracting is the fact that the film is set in the future for no discernible reason : it doesn’t carry a message about surveillance as the marketing might lead you to believe, and its vision of forthcoming times is muddled and half-baked, serving no dramatic purpose. Still, Control is serviceable as a straightforward, undemanding thriller, and while Yao Chen is once again underused, Simon Yam and Leon Dai make an enjoyable double-act of slimy criminals, while Kara Hui seems to be acting in a different, much more affecting film. **1/2

KUNG FU WING CHUN (2010) short review

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Unfortunately more notable for the tragic death of its star Bai Jing than for anything to be found in it, this martial arts comedy by Tung Cho Joe Cheung features more inane comedy than interesting fighting, a shame given its title. Just like Yuen Woo-Ping’s 1994 film Wing Chun (starring the soon-to-be-reunited triumvirate of Yuen, Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen), it plays fast and loose with the already fast and loose origins of Wing Chun kung fu, a fighting style recently kicked into a full-blown trend by Yen’s Ip Man films. The historically baseless story of Wing Chun is that it was taught by buddhist nun Ng Mui to a young girl called Wing Chun, whose only way out of a loveless wedding to a rich kid was defeating him in a fight. Kung Fu Wing Chun more or less sticks to the legend, coating it in some uninspired comedy and akwardly choreographed fights, all very fake looking due to a stuffy studio aesthetic and cheap-looking green-screen work. The late Bai Jing is endearing but no Michelle Yeoh, being a bit short in the charisma department and quite often obviously doubled. Brief relief from mediocrity comes in the form of some illustrious supporting actors, among which Kara Hui as Ng Mui, Collin Chou as the villain of the piece, and the Yuen Wah/Yuen Qiu couple from Kung Fu Hustle. *1/2