HIDDEN MAN (2018) review

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After 2010’s Sichuan-set Let the Bullets Fly and 2014’s Shanghai-set Gone with the Bullets, Jiang Wen closes his amoral trilogy of Republican China epics with the Beijing-set Hidden Man, where bullets are much scarcer than blades and fists. In 1922, Li Tianran’s (Eddie Peng) adoptive father, a land owner in Northern China, was murdered by Zhu Qianlong (Liao Fan) and Nemoto Ichiro (Sawada Kenya), after refusing to sign over his land to the Japanese for opium cultivation. Tianran nearly escaped and was rescued by American expatriate doctor Wallace Handler (Andy Friend), who sent him to San Francisco to study medicine. Now, 15 years later, he goes by Bruce, is a licensed obstetrician, and more importantly a highly-trained special agent working for a shadowy businessman (Steven Schwankert, in a role initially played by Kevin Spacey but later entirely re-shot for obvious reasons). Tianran still has vengeance on his mind, and so he welcomes the mission to go fight the Japanese in occupied Beijing (renamed Beiping), as it also provides him with an opportunity to exact revenge on Zhu and Nemoto. In Beiping, he’s welcomed and initiated to the city’s volatile political dynamics by Wallace Handler, and must navigate a dangerous web of hidden agendas involving not only Zhu and Nemoto, but also the former’s femme fatale girlfriend Tang Fengyi (Xu Qing), as well as a mysterious – and beautiful – crippled tailor (Zhou Yun), and most of all Lan Qingfeng (Jiang Wen), a powerful businessman seemingly playing all sides.

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BIG BROTHER (2018) review

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The production partnership of Wong Jing and Donnie Yen cannot be accused of a lack of variety: after the gangster epic Chasing the Dragon, and before the fatsuit comedy Enter the Fat Dragon, here comes the inspirational school drama Big Brother, directed by recent Wong favorite Kam Ka Wai (iGirl, Colour of the Game, Queen of Triads). Yen is Henry Chen, an ex-military who after a traumatic war experience and a period of soul-searching and traveling, turns up at his old secondary school of Tak Chi, now struggling amid funding cuts and real estate scheming, and asks to be a teacher of liberal arts, despite a lack of credentials in the field. The school is direly understaffed and so the principal (Dominic Lam) quickly accepts. But Henry Chen’s students are an unruly bunch, the rejects of the flawed Hong Kong school system, and unwilling to listen to him. The new teacher will have to get their attention, inspire them, and in some cases, rescue them from dangerous situations.

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GOD OF WAR (2017) review

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A genre that dominated the 00’s in China and culminated with the massive success of John Woo’s Red Cliff and Peter Chan’s The Warlords, the war epic has been much scarcer in the 10’s, and much less successful in general, as indicated by the high-profile underperformance of passable examples of the genre like Andrew Lau’s The Guillotines and Ronny Yu’s Saving General Yang, not to mention the downright flop of Frankie Chan’s Legendary Amazons. It remains to be seen if Gordon Chan’s God of War can re-ignite the Chinese war epic’s popularity (even the success of Daniel Lee’s Dragon Blade in 2015 didn’t manage that), but it is, on its own merits, one of the finest examples of the genre. Set in the 16th century and based on historical events, it follows the efforts of Ming general Qi Jiguang (Vincent Zhao) and commander Yu Dayou (Sammo Hung) to defeat an army of Japanese pirates and Ronins led by Kumasawa (Yasuaki Kurata), and that has been pillaging the Chinese coastline for the enrichment of a Shogun whose son Yamagawa (Keisuke Koide) is among the pirates but disapproves of their treatment of civilians. General Qi enlists local peasants and trains them into a new and better-equipped army.

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THE VANISHED MURDERER (2015) review

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After 2012’s stylish and entertaining – and much less derivative than it’s been made out to be –  The Bullet Vanishes, Lau Ching Wan’s inspector Song Donglu (Lau Ching Wan) is back, his adventures still written by Yeung Sin Ling, produced by Derek Yee and directed by Law Chi Leung. This time, Song investigates a series of strange suicides: factory workers throwing themselves from atop buildings, to protest their exploitative employer, corrupt businessman Gao Minxiong (Guo Xiaodong). Song surmises that they’ve been ‘forced’ to commit suicide, and has reasons to think that Fu Yuan (Jiang Yiyan), a woman whom he brought to justice after she almost got away with murdering her abusive husband, and who counseled him from her prison cell in The Bullet Vanishes, may have something to do with what’s happening. Indeed, she recently escaped from prison, and it was to bring her back there that Song was in town. Other suspects include Hua (Lam Ka Tung), a professor with a morphine addiction who has been in contact with Fu Yuan and shares her appetite for criminology, and Mao Jin (Rydhian Vaughan), who may or may not be a dirty cop. As the plot thickens, Song can count on the help of Chang Sheng (Li Xiaolu), a woman he left at the altar years ago, and who’s sticking with him, hoping to get closure.

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