MY WAR (2016) review

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A war film directed by Oxide Pang –  a Hong Kong director whose career, whether solo or with his brother Danny, has consisted mostly of visually elaborate horror films and quirky detective stories, with the odd detour into CGI-heavy fantasy or disaster film – was an intriguing prospect. My War chronicles the trials and tribulations of a battalion of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (CPVA) fighting the Americans during the Korean war in the early 1950’s. Front and center are commander Sun Beichuan (Liu Ye), his friend and subordinate Zhang Luodong (Tony Yang), and Meng Sanxia (Wang Luodan), an army musician they both pine for.

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THE SECRET (2016) review

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Kai-Feng (Leon Lai) just lost his wife Qiu-Jie (Wang Luodan) in an avalanche during a romantic climbing trip in the Himalayas. Unable to cope with this loss, he seeks the counsel of a psychic on how to bring her back. And one morning there she is, seemingly in the flesh, though with only partial memories of her life. But the psychic has warned Kai-Feng: the spirit of his wife can only be seen by those who truly love her, and if she ever learns that she’s a spirit, she will disappear forever. Thus Kai-Feng does his best to maintain the fragile balance through which they can live together blissfully with their son Mu-Mu in their house, though soon his cousin Jimmy (JJ Lin) is in on the secret. One day however, Qiu-Jie realizes some people cannot see her: crushed by the realization that she’s only a spirit, she starts planning her departure from this world. That is, until she hears on the news that a body has been found on the site of the avalanche in the Himalayas…

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LETHAL HOSTAGE (2012) review

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A young woman (Wang Luodan) asks her recently widowed father (Ni Dahong) to bless her marriage to her husband (Sun Honglei): he refuses. A Narcotics detective (Zhang Mo) is on the trail of a drugs carrier (Yang Kun), who manages to elude him and ends up hiding out in a flat next door to a girl (Gao Ye) and her dog. Cheng Er’s Lethal Hostage sets up these two narrative strands in a few minutes, and then unfolds in four chapters set in the past and the present: these strands are of course connected, and there’s much under the surface of what we’ve just seen. To say more would be to start spoiling the film: it is a simple story told in an interesting and meticulously calculated way, much like Fei Xing’s The Man Behind The Courtyard House, which similarly used a non-linear and chaptered structure to elaborate on a seemingly straightforward set-up and evolve into a meditation on fate and the balance of good and evil in man.

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TO THE FORE (2015) short review

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Hong Kong’s puzzling submission to the 88th Academy Awards, Dante Lam To The Fore is no less puzzling as part of Dante Lam’s filmography. Sure, one can imagine the director wanting to recapture the success of his other sports film, 2013’s Unbeatable which already starred Eddie Peng, but that film had a cinegenic discipline, MMA, as well as emotion and compelling characters. To The Fore – previously rather hilariously known as Breaking Wind – has biking which is beautiful in tracking shots but quickly boring in close-up, empty melodrama consisting of a routine love-triangle and a checklist of sports-related woes like doping, a superiority complex, or a crippling handicap to overcome, and stock characters. Interesting nuggets, like Eddie Peng’s love-hate  relationship with his mother who abandoned him, and enjoyably bombastic cycling montages (given considerable momentum by ambitious camera-work, seamless stunt-work and Henry Lai’s grand score) are what keep this somewhat rote saga of competing cyclists afloat. It also helps that Eddie Peng (gifted but prideful), Choi Si-won (charismatic rival), Shawn Dou (always overshadowed), Wang Luodan (resilient, love-triangle fodder) and Andrew Lin (reliable coach) all inhabit their formatted characters with conviction. **1/2

RISE OF THE LEGEND (2014) review

ROTL-FINAL REGULAR-A3-poster_S It’s been 17 years since the folk hero Wong Fei Hung last graced the big screen, in Sammo Hung’s Once Upon a Time in China and America in 1997. Now, as most hits of the nineties are given the reboot treatment, from the ancient legends of The Monkey King to the edgy streets of Young and Dangerous, it seemed obvious that the Chinese martial artist, physician and revolutionary, as well as hero of over 100 films, would make a comeback. Surprisingly, this comeback wasn’t handled by Tsui Hark, who with Flying Swords of Dragon Gate showed a willingness to revisit his earlier films, but by Roy Chow, director of two interesting but sometimes misguided films, Murderer (2009) and Nightfall (2012). This is, as the impressively bland title suggests, an origins story, and it follows Wong Fei Hung (Eddie Peng) both as a kid learning valuable life lessons from his father Wong Kei Ying (Tony Leung Ka Fai) and being scarred forever by his death in a criminal fire, and as a young man infiltrating a ruthless gang led by the formidable Lei (Sammo Hung, who also produces), who controls the docks of Canton, owns opium dens and sells slaves to the usual evil Gweilos. Wong is helped by his childhood friends (Jing Boran, May Wang and Angelababy), but many sacrifices await him.

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