THE WHITE STORM 2: DRUG LORDS (2019) review

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Louis Koo’s third sequel of 2019, after P Storm and Chasing the Dragon II, and before Line Walker 2, Herman Yau’s The White Storm 2: Drug Lords (hereafter Drug Lords) is an in-name-only follow up (for obvious heroic bloodshed reasons) to Benny Chan’s hugely enjoyable 2013 actioner The White Storm. Koo plays Dizang, a triad member who gets severely punished by his boss (Kent Cheng) for peddling drugs in one of his night clubs. Reluctantly dishing out the punishment is his longtime friend Yu (Andy Lau), who cuts three of his fingers. Fifteen years later, Dizang has risen through the triad ranks and become a feared drug lord, while Yu has left the triads and become a billionaire financial expert, married to a successful lawyer (Karena Lam), and founder of an anti-drug charity. But when his illegitimate son Danny falls to his death while high on cocaine, Yu takes his fight against drugs to the next level, promising a 100-million $ bounty to whoever kills Dizang.

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P STORM (2019) review

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Less than five years after 2014’s modestly successful Z Storm, David Lam’s ICAC franchise is still strongly storming through the alphabet: with each new installment, box office results grow, while the light in Louis Koo’s eyes gets dimmer and dimmer. He returns as officer William Luk, a poster boy for the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption, lest anyone forgot), a character which after four films still has the depth of, well, a poster. This time, Luk goes undercover in a prison where corruption runs rampant between a few powerful inmates – including wealthy heir Cao (Raymond Lam) – and most of the wardens, headed by superintendent Sham (Patrick Tam). There, his mission is made all the more risky by the presence of Wong (Gordon Lam), a former detective Luk himself put behind bars in Z Storm.

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CHASING THE DRAGON II: WILD WILD BUNCH (2019) review

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The second film in Wong Jing’s planned Chasing the Dragon trilogy of films based on real-life Hong Kong crimes, Wong Jing and Jason Kwan’s Chasing the Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch (hereafter Wild Wild Bunch) focuses on Logan (Tony Leung Ka Fai), who took advantage of the legal limbo in the few years leading to the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, to establish a kidnapping ring targeting Hong Kong’s elite for extravagant ransoms. From there, the films veers into fiction, as cop Sky He (Louis Koo) is sent undercover in Logan’s gang: his superior Lee (Simon Yam) has been tipped off that the kidnapper, who often uses improvised bombs to threaten his victims, is in need of a new explosive experts. Well-versed in that field, Sky manages to infiltrate the gang, thanks in no small part to Doc (Lam Ka Tung), Logan’s second-in-command, who appears to be playing both sides. The gang’s next target is the richest man in Hong Kong, casino tycoon Stanford He (Michael Wong), but Logan seems to know there’s a mole in his team.

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THE BRINK (2017) review

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Sai Gau (Max Zhang) is a violent police detective who narrowly avoided jail-time for the involuntary manslaughter of a corrupt colleague, whose daughter (Cecilia So) he now supports financially, out of a sense of duty rather than guilt. With an empty personal life, a single-minded approach to his job, a disapproving, pencil-pushing boss (Lam Ka Tung) and a debt-ridden partner on the cusp of an early retirement (Wu Yue), he is dead set on bringing Shing (Shawn Yue), a cruel gold smuggler, to justice. Shing has just gotten rid of his mentor (Tao Bo) and his rival (Derek Tsang) ; he’s now aiming to get to a $50 million stash of gold hidden in an underwater cache in the high seas (thus out of police jurisdiction), and belonging to Triad boss Blackie (Yasuaki Kurata). The violent cop and the brutal smuggler are on a collision course.

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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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DEALER/HEALER (2017) review

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Lawrence Ah Mon’s Dealer/Healer tells the true story of Chen Hua (Lau Ching Wan), a drug dealer and drug addict turned philanthropist, from his teenage years in the Tsz Wan Shan district of Kowloon, the start of a lasting friendship with fellow hellraisers Cat (Max Zhang) and Bullhorn (Lam Ka Tung) and of a romance with plucky waitress Kerou (Jiang Yiyan), to his time as a drug dealer in the infamous Kowloon Walled City, where he encountered drug lord Halei (Louis Koo) and reached the nadir of his addiction, and then to his reformed life – following a few years in prison – and his work in a Christian rehabilitation centre, while still mediating mob disputes to limit damage and avoid violence.

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CHERRY RETURNS (2016) short review

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Twelve years after she was kidnapped and thought dead, Cherry Yuan (Cherry Ngan) is found in a basement after her kidnappers are killed in a police raid. She is reunited with her family but seems to be a shell of her former self, and seems to barely remember her close ones, who are all wracked with guilt: her father (a fine Chen Kuan Tai) called the cops – against the kidnappers’ indications – all those years ago, which led to her being thought dead; her mother (Josephine Koo), wasn’t watching over her on the fateful day when she was kidnapped; her sister (Song Jia) was always full of resentment against, for being more loved by the parents; and her uncle (Jason Pai Piao) clearly knows things. But as the family attempts to heal, a police detective (Gordon Lam) investigates the strange circumstances of her kidnapping and rescue, while a mysterious hooded figure (Hu Ge) appears to be stalking Cherry. Though visually bland and marred at key moments by ridiculous CGI (one character’s fall from a skyscraper is quite comical), Chris Chow’s Cherry Returns is a nicely convoluted thriller that teases the audience with seemingly supernatural details and peels away layers of deceit at an enjoyable pace, ending with a startlingly somber conclusion. The cast is mostly solid, with a fiercely sympathetic Song Jia and a deftly ambiguous Cherry Ngan at its center, but most of the characters are either very thinly-defined (Gordon Lam struggles to make his stock police detective interesting) or given motivations that defy human logic or emotion (Hu Ge’s character is almost a parody unto itself), and so while the plot is sometimes cleverly constructed, it is difficult to care about it. **1/2

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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A-1 HEADLINE (2004) short review

 

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A fashion reporter (Angelica Lee) investigates the suspicious death of her ex-boyfriend with the help of her lovestruck assistant (Edison Chen) and an ex-cop turned debt collector (Anthony Wong) who’s equally lovestruck, though less obviously so. Hours before his death from apparent drunk-driving, the ex-boyfriend said he had a major scoop (an ‘A-1 headline’), and the scene of the crash suggests anything but an accident. Various suspects include the reporter’s editor-in-chief (Tony Leung Ka Fai) and a cop in charge of the case (Gordon Lam). A thriller that does its best not to thrill, Gordon Chan and Chung Kai-Cheong’s A-1 Headline doesn’t even simmer; its bid at a more naturalistic approach devoid of artificial thrills is a laudable approach, but the problem is that most of its characters are thoroughly listless and uninvolving, most of all an inert Angelica Lee. A gaunt Anthony Wong is the main attraction here, in a world-weary and oddly poignant performance that probably has stopped many a viewer from giving up on the film. Tony Leung Ka Fai is also his usual reliable self here, even when the film makes him spell out its message on the responsibility of the press thuddingly loud and clear. **

BROTHERS (2007) short review

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Derek Chiu’s Brothers was notable at the time of its release for reuniting the “Four Tigers” of Hong Kong TV network TVB, that is to say its four most successful actors in the eighties : Andy Lau, Michael Miu, Felix Wong and Ken Tong. Beyond that central quartet, the film also has a fairly impressive, albeit not uncommon, Hong Kong cast. The plot follows a terminally ill triad boss (Michael Miu), who with the help of his lover/lawyer (Crystal Huang) and his adoptive brother/ bodyguard (Felix Wong), navigates in a sea of aggressive rivals (Ken Tong and Henry Fong) and dogged cops (Andy Lau and Gordon Lam), to go clean and make his little brother (Eason Chan) his successor. The film is a meat and potatoes triad drama that possesses little in the way of originality but manages to feel reasonably fresh thanks to a steady pace, a lack of excess and most of all a strong cast on mostly fine form. Michael Miu anchors the film impressively with a thoughtful, tragic, nuanced performance that makes one wish he’d venture out of TV more often. Despite being by far the film’s biggest star, Andy Lau takes an admirable backseat, while injecting some unforced and much-needed comic relief at key moments. There’s quite a few interesting characters around them, not many of them developed enough, but all of them played in low-key, nuanced fashion, from Eason Chan’s naïve but steadfast little brother to Huang Yi’s strong but conflicted lawyer, with Yu Rongguang, Gordon Lam and Wang Zhiwen also leaving a mark. A bit uncomfortably, the film is too long for its fairly simple plot and overused tropes, but too short for its engaging and varied set of characters. ***