SHANGHAI FORTRESS (2019) review

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Based on a 2009 novel by Jiang Nan, Teng Hua Tao’s Shanghai Fortress had been in the works for more than five years, and seemed to arrive at the perfect moment for a resounding success, being the first big-budget Chinese science-fiction film since the triumph of Frant Gwo’s The Wandering Earth. Instead, Teng’s film was released to a derisive reception from critics and the public, and quickly crashed at the box-office, grossing less than 3% of what Gwo’s film did at the beginning of the year. It is set in the year 2035: the great cities of the world are now powered by Xianteng, an super-energy alien material brought back to Earth by a Chinese spaceship. However, this has made our planet a target for a powerful alien race, dubbed “Annihilators” by those who fight them. Unleashing legions of deadly drones from a titanic mothership onto the major cities of the world, the Annihilators have reduced New York, Moscow, Tokyo and more to a pile of ashes; now, the last metropolis standing is Shanghai, where the leaders of 97 nations have culled their last remaining resources for the final fight. Trained and led by commander Lin (Shu Qi), the elite Grey Eagle Squad is being assigned to the AV-38, a new type of fighting jet; among them, the most promising is Jiang Yang (Lu Han), who’s secretly in love with Lin.

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THE FOUNDING OF AN ARMY (2017) review

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After Han Sanping and Huang Jianxin’s The Founding of an Army and The Founding of a Party, what we like to call “the PRCCU” (People’s Republic of China cinematic universe) gets a third installment with Andrew Lau’s The Founding of an Army, which is backed by no less than forty-six credited producers, and more importantly, by the Chinese state. And so in solemn commemoration of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, ninety years ago, Chinese audiences have been treated to yet another round of episodic, star-studded, title card-ridden, speech-happy propaganda, again with Liu Ye as the charismatic, statuesque, handsome, saintly, selfless, farseeing, and most of all, deeply, deeply humanistic Mao Zedong (note that our use of irony here is about as heavy-handed as the film’s approach to history).

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THE WITNESS (2015) review

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A remake of his own successful Korean thriller Blind (2011), Ahn Sang-hoon’s The Witness transposes the action to China but keeps much of the original film’s key plot points. Xing (Yang Mi) is a young cop who lost her brother in a car accident. She blames herself for the tragedy, as she had tied her unruly sibling’s hands in the car to keep him still, leading to his eventual inability to escape the car as it teetered on the edge of a bridge. She also lost her eyesight in the accident, which means she can’t be a cop anymore, and leads a dour, guilt-ridden life. One day she gets into a cab whose driver turns out to be a psychopath (Zhu Yawen) who’s behind a wave of abductions, with all the victims being beautiful young women. As Xing struggles to break free of the driver, the cab hits someone who was crossing the street, and she manages to escape. The next day she reports the incident to the police, and astounds the detective in charge of the investigation (Wang Jingchun) with her astute observations on her would-be abductor : though she’s blind, her astute remaining senses and sharp deduction skills allow her to provide useful information. But soon thereafter a young skater, Chong (LuHan), turns up at the police station : he says he’s witnessed the incident, but his indications don’t match Xing’s. As a wayward youngster his testimony doesn’t weigh much more than that of the blind woman, but things become urgent when Xing realizes she’s dropped her diary in the psychopath’s car, and he may now be stalking her.

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