CLOSE ESCAPE (1989) short review

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Tung (Michael Miu) is a cop whose cancer gives him only a few months to live. Determined to leave his younger brother Leung (Max Mok) with enough money to go study medicine in the United States, and unable to do so on his meager cop salary, he robs diamonds from smuggler Chiu (Dick Wei), who has him killed and has Leung framed for murder. The latter can then only count on the help of his cop friend Ben (Aaron Kwok) and Miko (Yukari Oshima), a mysterious Japanese journalist. Chow Jan Wing’s Close Escape was Aaron Kwok’s big screen debut, shot at a time when he was just a jobbing actor in TVB shows, and was just about to break out as a singer. It’s a competent but wholly routine Hong Kong thriller that spends too much time on its efficient but bland plot and some clunky melodrama, while keeping the fine, Philip Kwok-choreographed fighting to the final ten minutes. Still, the housebound finale is a delight, especially when Yukari Oshima and Dick Wei trade kicks with immaculate precision and unmistakable power. **

JOURNEY OF THE DOOMED (1985) review

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Cha Chuen Yee’s Journey of the Doomed opens on the image of a setting sun, and ends in the complete destruction of desolate period sets. Fitting bookends to what is actually the last martial arts film produced by the Shaw Brothers Studio before it switched completely to TV production. Movie bootlegging and overwhelming competition from rival studio Golden Harvest had led to diminishing returns in the beginning of the eighties, and the legendary studio, after producing close to a thousand feature films, was cutting its losses and would not return to the big screen before 2009. These facts do not lend Journey of the Doomed any crepuscular dimension however, as it is more akin to the kind of cake your mother would make to empty the fridge before leaving on holidays.

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THE OUTLAW BROTHERS (1990) short review

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James and Bond (Frankie Chan and Max Mok) are professional luxury car thieves who get caught between a mobster (Kong Do) who wants to exploit their gift, and a cop (Yukari Oshima) who’s bent on arresting them, with the help of her lovestruck underling (Michael Miu in a fun turn). Though the title suggests a focus on Frankie Chan (who also directs) and Max Mok’s characters, they are very often sidelined in favor of Yukari Oshima’s character and her cat and mouse flirting with Chan. The plot, or lack thereof, wanders aimlessly, springing the great Michiko Nishiwaki as a kind of black widow in the last 30 minutes, and breaking its lull of tame comedy with an impressive action finale in, wait for it, a warehouse. But The Outlaw Brothers is mostly a showcase for Oshima, who displays not only charisma and lightning moves, but also a lighter side that her often brutal roles at the time didn’t show, and the same goes for Nishiwaki, who doesn’t fight much but is gleefully flamboyant. Frankie Chan and Max Mok may be the outlaw brothers, but Yukari Oshima and Michiko Nishiwaki are the reason to watch The Outlaw Brothers. **1/2

ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA 5 (1994) review

  Jet Li’s departure from the Once Upon A Time In China series that had made him a superstar didn’t stop producer/director Tsui Hark from proceeding with the franchise, thus recasting the central character of Wong Fei-Hung with another Mainland Wushu champion, Vincent Zhao. This led to a fourth episode, directed by a Yuen Bun, that ended up being far less successful than any of the Jet Li installments. It did have fixtures of the franchise like Max Mok’s Leung Fu or Xiong Xin Xin’s Clubfoot, but the absence not only of Jet Li, but also of Rosamund Kwan’s Aunt Yee, another major character in the franchise, coupled with uninspired direction, made it look like a bargain bin iteration of the Chinese hero’s adventures. And so for the fifth episode, Tsui Hark returned to the director’s chair, signed his protege for the lead role again, managed for Rosamund Kwan to return, but more importantly tweaked the formula of the series a little bit by making it more akin to a serial, mostly by including pirates and a treasure into the mix.

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STAR RUNNER (2003) review

  Bond (Vanness Wu) is a high-school student whose real passion is Muay Thai kickboxing, which he practices at a club headed by Lau (Gordon Liu). His ambition is to enter the prestigious Star Runner competition, and he devotes himself to that goal at the expense of his school work. Having to take Summer classes, he meets the young Korean teacher Mei Chiu (Kim Hyun-Joo), and soon enough they’re in love. But as his focus moves from training for the competition to romancing Mei Chiu, someone else is chosen by Lau to represent the club in the competition, and Bond is expelled for having resisted this decision. But not all is lost as Bill (Max Mok), a washed-out former martial arts champion, takes him under his wing and teaches him to incorporate elements from other martial arts into his muay Thai. Together they form a team and enter the Star Runner competition, with an eye on challenging Tank (Andy On), the reigning champion.

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