THE INVINCIBLE DRAGON (2019) review

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After making a strong impression in 2015 with scene-stealing turns in Soi Cheang’s SPL2: A Time for Consequences and Wilson Yip’s Ip Man 3, Max Zhang seemed destined to be the next big thing in Chinese-Hong Kong action cinema, and was showered with lead roles in solid mid-range productions. Now, four years later, his career has sadly not gained much traction: the action thriller The Brink was a flop, and so was the drama Dealer/Healer, in which he displayed fine dramatic chops. The Ip Man spin-off Master Z did respectable business and is getting a sequel, but its critical and box-office impact is a mere fraction of that of the Donnie Yen franchise from which it’s derived. His supporting roles in Hollywood sequels Pacific Rim: Uprising and Escape Plan: The Extractors have gone by unnoticed, and now comes Fruit Chan’s The Invincible Dragon, which died a quick death upon its Chinese and Hong Kong release. In an unfortunate one-two punch, it may go towards putting an end both to Zhang’s shot at the big time (for the time being at least), and to Fruit Chan’s commercial ambitions, following the failure of his previous China-ready mainstream venture Kill Time.

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MASTER Z: THE IP MAN LEGACY (2018) review

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One of the most memorable characters in the Ip Man franchise, ambitious Wing Chun master Cheung Tin Chi (Max Zhang), gets his own well-deserved spin-off in Yuen Woo Ping’s Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy. After being defeated – behind closed doors – by Ip man at the end of the third installment, the humbled Cheung is now living peacefully with his son in Hong Kong, where he owns a small grocery store. His days as a martial arts teacher are over, and so is his side-job as a thug, which doesn’t sit well with his former employer (Yuen Wah). Cheung can’t stay out of trouble for long: after he defends bar hostesses Julia (Liu Yan) and Nana (Chrissie Chau) against local mobster Tso Sai Kit (Kevin Cheng) and his henchmen, his store is burnt down as retribution. Now homeless and tracked down by a mysterious assassin (Tony Jaa) working for his former employer, Cheung is helped by Fu (Shi Yanneng), the owner of a local bar, for whom he starts working as a waiter. And two dangerous figures loom large over him: mobster Tso Ngan Kwan (Michelle Yeoh), the sister of Tso Sai Kit, and Owen Davidson (Dave Bautista), a restaurant owner and philanthropist who’s also a drug trafficker.

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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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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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KUNG FU FIGHTER (2007) short review

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Featuring the same sets, costumes and many of the same cast-members as Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle, but only a quarter of its budget and a tenth of its creativeness, Yip Wing-Kin’s Kung Fu Fighter also borrows heavily from the Ma Wing Jing story, as told in the Shaw Brothers film Boxer from Shantung (1972) and Corey Yuen’s Hero (1997). Thus we follow a young country bumpkin (a vacant-eyed Vanness Wu) who comes to Shanghai in search of his father and ends up falling for a beautiful cabaret singer (Emme Wong), getting entangled in a turf war between mob bosses (Chan Kwok Kwan and Tin Kai Man), getting himself a portly sidekick (Lam Chi Chung) and meeting a kind master (an endearing Bruce Leung) who may know a thing or two about his father. It’s a puzzlingly half-baked film, in which some interesting visual flourishes and good choreography (by Fan Siu Wong) get undermined by a complete lack of focus and dramatic momentum and an excess of cartoonish visual trickery, again aping Stephen Chow’s film. The final fight scene is actually quite enjoyable, as Fan Siu Wong injects some charisma into the film by popping up as a dangerous grandmaster, and up-and-comer Max Zhang gets a good staff fight. But it’s not enough to prevent cartoonish surfeit and half-baked drama from dooming the film to mediocrity. *1/2