PROJECT GUTENBERG (2018) review

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Project Gutenberg is Felix Chong’s second solo project – that is, away from Alan Mak – after the underrated triad comedy Once a Gangster nine years ago. It follows Lee Man (Aaron Kwok), a painter of mediocre inspiration who discovers that he’s peerless at copying works of art. Soon, he’s hired by Ng Fuk Sang (Chow Yun Fat), aka Painter, the charismatic and ruthless head of a money-counterfeiting gang. Lee quickly becomes an invaluable part of the gang, and though he’s repelled by Painter’s violent ways, he sticks around in the hopes that the rewards showered upon him by the leader, will help him win back the love of his old flame Yuen Man (Zhang Jingchu), a now successful artist. At the same time, the counterfeiting gang is in the crosshairs of Inspector Ho (Catherine Chow) and her team.

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PRINCESS MADAM (1989) review

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As a director, erstwhile Chang Cheh assistant Godfrey Ho is known as a master of schlock, many of his films being facepalm-inducing patchworks of stock footage, recycled scenes from older films, gratuitous sex scenes and quite often, random ninja appearances. He’s like the dark flip-side of that other Chang Cheh assistant, John Woo. Yet, a film like Princess Madam is proof that Ho was more than capable of delivering a solid, coherent and at times even affecting actioner. Moon Lee and Sharon Yeung star as police officers Mona and Lisa (aheheh), assigned to the protection of a key witness in bringing mob boss Lung (Yueh Hua) to justice for murdering a cop. During a failed ambush on the witness and her police escort, Mona kills the lover of assassin Lily (Michiko Nishiwaki), who later retaliates by seducing, then kidnapping her husband. But matters are complicated further by the fact that Lisa’s adoptive father (Kenneth Tsang) was complicit in Lung’s crime, which poses an agonizing dilemma to her.

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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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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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THE TRADING FLOOR (2018) TV review

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An ambitious mini-series co-produced by FOX, Tencent Penguin and Andy Lau’s Focus Television Group, The Trading Floor was created by Cora Yim and is a rare five-part mini-series in a part of the world where all popular TV dramas count dozens of episodes. It takes place in a fictional version of Hong Kong called Coen City, and follows Anthony Yip (Francis Ng), a former economics teacher turned Secretary of the Minister of Economic Development. Twenty years ago, he created an elite financial team including also Pamela Cheung (Maggie Cheung Ho Yee), Nick Cheuk (Patrick Tam) and Wai Hong (Joseph Chang); but years after working with them to avoid a financial tsunami caused by George Soros in 1997, Yip betrayed his team to obtain more power and a government position. Cheung was killed, Cheuk crippled and Wai exiled to Myanmar. Now having struck an alliance with three financial giants, Eastman Properties, Evergate Construction Materials and Marco Media, in a bid for market manipulation and dominance, Yip calls back Wai from his Burmese exile to help them. But Wai has vengeance on his mind, while Claudia Fang (Yu Nan), an agent from the Securities & Futures Commission, has set her sights on him.

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REBORN (2018) short review

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Li Hailong’s cyber caper Reborn follows Li Haoming (Han Geng), a hopelessly awkward gamer who used to be a brilliant hacker, but now spends his life playing VR games. Until one day, he’s approached by mercenary Fei Qiao (Rhydian Vaughan) and his partner and lover Su Yi (Li Yuan), who require his unique hacking skills to complete a lucrative mission for shady businessman Takeshi Mori (Tomohisa Yamashita). Soon after, Li is contacted by Hong Kong detective Chow (Liu Kai Chi) who’s on a mission to arrest Fai Qiao, and needs the young hacker to be his informant. The script is low on originality and tension but full of shortcuts (there’s no problem that can’t be solved by hacking into this or that from a phone, at any moment), ludicrous twists (a whole segment of the film is revealed to actually have been an elaborate virtual reality simulation) and loose ends (Liu Kai Chi’s character disappears halfway through, with no resolution of his subplot whatsoever). The action is mediocre, a series of fights where over-editing masks the actor’s lack of fighting ability, and flatly-shot chases. And the cast is either cringe-worthy (Han Geng and Li Yuan play their respective characters like idiotic school kids) or criminally bland (Rhydian Vaughan smirks mysteriously and boringly, Tomohisa Yamashita is an ectoplasm). And with its sensory overload of technology, Reborn already feels dated, the year of its release. *

CALL OF HEROES (2016) review

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One of our most anticipated films of 2016, Call of Heroes is a neo-western set in China during the Warlords era (beginning of the 20th century). Blood-thirsty, demented Commander Cao (Louis Koo), son of Warlord Cao (Sammo Hung) rides into the village of Pucheng, where he kills three people at random. He’s arrested by sheriff Yang (Lau Chin Wan) and sentenced to death, but his second-in-command Zhang (Wu Jing) soon arrives, issuing an ultimatum to the people of Pucheng: to release Cao or to be massacred. But Sheriff Yang stands by his verdict, helped in the face of growing adversity by a wandering swordsman (Eddie Peng), who once was Zhang’s comrade-in-arms.

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THAT DEMON WITHIN (2014) review

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Reminiscent of a small wave of psychological thrillers that were released at the end of the nineties and beginning of the naughties (Ringo Lam’s Victim, Law Chi Leung’s Inner Senses and Double Tap come to mind), Dante Lam’s That Demon Within follows a troubled cop (Daniel Wu) who one night offers to give his O- type blood to save a severely wounded man (Nick Cheung), who turns out to be the leader of a vicious gang nicknamed the “Demons” because of their colourful demon masks and cruelty. Their paths are to cross again to disatrous consequences, as the cop start to struggle with deep-buried mental issues and violent urges while the robber locks horns with his double-crossing gang.

This is a tremendously confident film. Dante Lam, who has been on a critical and box-office roll for the past 6 years, makes superb use of every trick in the book to convey psychological torment and collapse : Patrick Tam’s editing is razor sharp, Kenny Tse’s photography is strikingly in-your-face (for instance, sudden red lighting signal Daniel Wu’s violent schizophrenic fits, a trick so obvious and literal it actually works perfectly), and Leon Ko’s masterful score is a bold and propulsive mix of tribal, electronic and orchestral influences, all geared towards maximum expressivity and drive.

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