IP MAN AND FOUR KINGS (2019) short review

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Years after the Ip Man trend faded, and weeks before Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen’s hotly anticipated Ip Man 4 arrives on the big screen, here’s a straight-to-VOD cash-in starring Michael Tong in the titular role. Here, the grandmaster of Wing Chun is wrongly accused of murder and must both clear his name and break a human-trafficking ring; for this he needs to earn the respect in combat of the “Four Heavenly Kings”: the heads of the gambling, prostitution, alcohol and catering syndicates of the city. Fu Li Wei’s Ip Man and Four Kings is a cheap affair of course, unfolding in sets alternatively bare and slightly-anachronistic, borrowing music in distracting ways (Gabriel Yared and Stéphane Moucha’s score to the German classic The Lives of Others pops up at some point, so does Brad Fiedel’s famous Terminator rhythm), and with fights over-edited in a way that suggests shooting time-constraints. The film starts with a “same-same but different” rip-off of the famed ‘rainy nighttime street’ fight from Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmasters, down to the slow-mo stepping into puddles and the collapsing steel gate, and indeed Michael Tong’s Ip Man has the same white hat as Tony Leung’s Chiu Wai. Yet from then on, it borrows much more from the Wilson Yip/Donnie Yen films’ grammar of evil gweilos and corrupt cops, even acknowledging the events of Ip Man 1 & 2. Tong makes for a passable Master Ip, and would probably have been a fine one with a better script and better production values. And while the fights are sometimes marred by silly wirework, conspicuous under-cranking and the aforementioned over-editing, they’re plentiful in the second half, and solidly entertaining once expectations have been lowered. But who wouldn’t lower expectations before watching a Chinese straight-to-VOD cash-in? **

THE FATAL RAID (2019) review

p2572875993Jacky Lee’s The Fatal Raid was initially announced as a sequel to Wilson Chin’s lackluster Girls With Guns revival Special Female Force, before dropping the connection altogether. Indeed, only three actresses return – in new roles – from the 2016 film: Jade Leung, Jeana Ho and Hidy Yu. Twenty years ago, Hong Kong inspectors Tam (Patrick Tam), Hard Gor (Michael Tong), Fong (Jade Leung), Shirley (Sharon Luk) and the rest of their team conducted a raid in Macao against a group of vicious gangsters, which ended in the deaths of Hard Gor, Shirley and an innocent bystander. Now, still shell-shocked from this botched operation, Tam and Fong must return to Macao to face an anarchist gang that threatens the city’s safety. Backing them is a special female force comprised of Alma (Jeana Ho), Yan Han (Lin Min Chen), Sheila (Hidy Yu) and Yu Yu (Jadie Lin).

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THE UNITY OF HEROES (2018) review

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22 years after his last appearance as folk hero Wong Fei Hung (in the Tsui Hark-directed final episode of the Wong Fei Hung TV series), Vincent Zhao is back, he’s a producer now, and he has barely aged at all, as the first shot of Lin Zhenzhao’s straight-to-VOD revival seems designed to prove: a topless Zhao running with his disciples, looking like it’s still 1996. This leads to a re-staging of the classic “Wong Fei Hung training with dozens at dusk” opening of Tsui Hark’s seminal Once Upon A Time in China, and indeed The Unity of Heroes is a veritable checklist of Wong Fei Hung tropes (something Roy Chow’s flawed Rise of the Legend did consciously avoid). There’s rival martial arts masters, 13th Aunt bringing western culture to Canton and flirting coyly with Wong, disciples Fatty, Bucktooth and Leung Foon bumbling around, some lion dancing, and of course, evil Gweilos. It all feels very familiar – in a nice, nostalgic way – except for one detail: a drug that gives super-human strength to those who take it.

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