A HOME WITH A VIEW (2019) short review

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Adapted from a play by Cheung Tat Ming, Herman Yau’s A Home with a View follows a property agent, Lo Wai Man (Francis Ng), who shares a small, cluttered apartment in Hong Kong with his ailing father (Cheung himself), beautiful wife (Anita Yuen) and two kids (Ng Siu Hin and Jocelyn Choi). Surrounded by noisy neighbors and perpetually counting pennies to make ends meet, the family has one daily relief: their view on the sea. So when that view is blocked by a billboard erected by the mysterious Wong (Louis Koo), they’re ready to resort to any means, legal or illegal, to make him take it down. A Home with a View starts like a trite sitcom (with endless shouty bickering and plenty of slammed doors), morphs into a kafka-esque examination of contemporary Hong Kong (where absurd property prices and constant financial pressure lead to a volatile, near dog-eat-dog climate), before plunging headfirst into unexpected depths of macabre – still amusingly belied at that point by the bright hues of the cinematography. Its occasionally stagey feel (no wonder) and disappointingly scattered narrative (intriguing characters, like Anthony Wong’s lovestruck government worker, come and go before amounting to anything) weigh it down, but Francis Ng, Anita Yuen, Cheung Tat Ming and Louis Koo are all on fine form, especially the latter going for less-is-more for the whole film before letting loose in the hilarious, pitch dark final ten minutes. ***

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KUNG FU MONSTER (2018) review

 When a foreign kingdom gifts a rare monster to the Ming Emperor, Ocean (Louis Koo) is put in charge of taming it, but evil eunuch Crane (Alex Fong) has nefarious plans for it. Having grown attached to the beast, and having named it Lucky, Ocean decides to free it, thus becoming a hunted outlaw in the process. When he’s captured by Crane’s second-in-command (Wu Yue), his lover Bingbing (Hayden Kuo) hatches a plan to rescue him, enlisting under false pretenses a couple of hapless swordsmen (Zhou Dongyu and Cheney Chen), two even more hapless bandits (Pan Binlong and Kong Liangshun), a mysterious vagrant (Bao Bei’er), and more.

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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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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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MEOW (2017) review

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Cats are actually aliens. They come from planet Meow, and those of them that exist on earth are actually there to colonize the planet, but they have been lulled into inaction by human love and food. And so a Meowian warrior, Pudding, is sent to earth with a magical weapon, to galvanize the troops and initiate a global takeover. Except that upon landing, Pudding loses the weapon and undergoes a transformation, due to the earth’s atmosphere, from alpha-feline warrior to chubby, oversized cat, while a mix-up leads to him being adopted by a family. The father (Louis Koo), is a well-meaning but hopelessly childish ex-football star, the mother (Ma Li) an highly-strung aspiring actress, the son (Andy Huang) a wannabe-film director who for know mainly collaborates with his pets, and the daughter (Liu Chutian) suffers from a bad leg which keeps her away from the sporting activity she would like to join in. At first, Pudding – now renamed Xixili – plans to break up the family, but soon he is won over by their kindness.

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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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ON HIS MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (2009) short review

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Wong Jing’s On His Majesty’s Secret Service is as narratively unfocused and packed with non-sequitur scenes as any of the rotund Hong Kong film kingpin’s comedies, but here is the gist of its ‘plot’: an Imperial Guard (Louis Koo) with no martial arts skills but a gift for scientific innovation becomes embroiled both in his fiancée’s (Barbie Hsu) plot to make him love her more by pretending she’s in love with a handsome hitman who’s actually a beautiful hitwoman (Liu Yang), and in an evil eunuch’s (Fan Siu Wong) plot to overthrow the emperor (Liu Yiwei), who is organizing a competition to find a worthy husband for his daughter (Song Jia). Apart from lavish costumes and sets, the direction is lazy and uninspired, while the humor consists of constant and lazy pratfalls, obvious pop-culture references (some are even delivered while literally winking at the camera), some inscrutable (for non-Cantonese speakers) wordplay and a cornucopia of blissfully unhinged comedic acting: Louis Koo is a broad delight, Fan Siu Wong steals all his scenes with his ‘dainty evil’ act, Song Jia shows effortless comedic skills, and while Barbie Hsu’s silliness feels more forced and Sandra Ng seems on autopilot, Tong Dawei and Liu Yang provide fine serious support, the latter being particularly charismatic as a cross-dressing assassin. All in all, it’s a harmless and often amusing comedy which could have stood out more if its numerous action scenes had been choreographed and directed with more verve. **1/2

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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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.” **

LINE WALKER (2016) review

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The spin-off from a highly-successful TVB series of the same title, with only Charmaine Sheh and Hui Shiu Hung’s characters carried over from small to big screen, Jazz Boon’s Line Walker is a riotously enjoyable actioner that merges Infernal Affairs‘ undercover twists, some over-top action scenes from Benny Chan’s playbook, and goofy comedy out of Wong Jing’s less tasteless offerings (Wong is a producer here). The fictional CIB department of police is trying to dismantle a powerful crime organization, but all of its undercovers have been killed after their identities were leaked. Inspector Q (Francis Ng) and his colleague and girlfriend agent Ding (Charmaine Sheh) are contacted by a missing undercover agent known as Blackjack, who may or may not be Shiu (Louis Koo), the right hand man of a fast-rising figure of the crime organization, Blue (Nick Cheung), whose life he once saved.

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