CHASING THE DRAGON II: WILD WILD BUNCH (2019) review

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The second film in Wong Jing’s planned Chasing the Dragon trilogy of films based on real-life Hong Kong crimes, Wong Jing and Jason Kwan’s Chasing the Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch (hereafter Wild Wild Bunch) focuses on Logan (Tony Leung Ka Fai), who took advantage of the legal limbo in the few years leading to the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, to establish a kidnapping ring targeting Hong Kong’s elite for extravagant ransoms. From there, the films veers into fiction, as cop Sky He (Louis Koo) is sent undercover in Logan’s gang: his superior Lee (Simon Yam) has been tipped off that the kidnapper, who often uses improvised bombs to threaten his victims, is in need of a new explosive experts. Well-versed in that field, Sky manages to infiltrate the gang, thanks in no small part to Doc (Lam Ka Tung), Logan’s second-in-command, who appears to be playing both sides. The gang’s next target is the richest man in Hong Kong, casino tycoon Stanford He (Michael Wong), but Logan seems to know there’s a mole in his team.

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SKIPTRACE (2016) review

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After going through director and cast changes (as Renny Harlin and Johnny Knoxville replaced Sam Fell and Seann William Scott, respectively), a tragic on-set death (cinematographer Chan Kwok Hung drowned when shooting boat stunts on Lantau Island) and months of delay (it was initially to be released in December 2015), Skiptrace finally arrived in theaters in July 2016 and gave the Chinese film summer one of its rare hits. Jackie Chan plays Bennie Chan, a dour Hong Kong detective on the trail of a mysterious crime boss known as ‘The Matador’, and who may or may not be businessman Victor Wong (Winston Chao). Nine years ago, after his partner Yung (Eric Tsang) was trapped and killed by The Matador, Chan swore to protect his daughter Samantha (Fan Bingbing). Now she’s in Victor Wong’s clutches and Chan’s only hope is to track down American conman Connor Watts (Johnny Knoxville), who has evidence that could incriminate the Matador. The problem is, Watts doesn’t want to follow Chan to Hong Kong, and he’s himself being hunted by the Russian mob, after knocking up the daughter of a kingpin…

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Z STORM (2014) short review

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A tale of greed, corruption, and wire-tapping in the Overheard mould but with only a fraction of the star-power and production values,  Z Storm follows an ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) team that has less than a week to expose the wide network of corruption surrounding the forthcoming IPO of the Z Hedge Fund, a US operation in which the government has invested 15 billion dollars. Director David Lam made the unwise choice to combine over-complicated (to the uninitiated at least) financial jargon and palaver with a fairly simplistic narrative and a self-righteous tone that borders on parody and/or propaganda. All ICAC agents are portrayed as knights in shining armors (or rather, in tailored suits) with some lines sounding more like slogans than something anyone would naturally say : other reviews have rightly singled out “Where’s there’s corruption, there’s the ICAC too”, but we also like the impressed “You have outstanding men at your service”, that a cameo-ing Alfred Cheung intones to the head of the ICAC. Nevertheless Z Storm is never boring, and while Louis Koo sleepwalks handsomely throughout the film, Lam Ka Tung and Michael Wong as a corrupt cop and a corrupt lawyer respectively, both cut strikingly despicable figures, and provide the film with some life and sparkle. **1/2

 

LEGACY OF RAGE (1986) review

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In the middle of the 1980’s, Brandon “son of Bruce” Lee was looking to get into the business of film, though more as a straight dramatic actor than an action star. He was trying to make a name for himself outside of his father’s long-reaching shadow, but naturally producers were mostly interested in having him take up that mantle and he was quickly offered action films both in America and Hong Kong. In his tragically short career, Ronny Yu’s Legacy of Rage was Brandon Lee’s first leading role as wellas the only film he made in Hong Kong. The film was a success (though precise box office figures are hard to find) and netted him a Hong Kong Film Awards nomination as Best New Peformer. Despite that, Lee decided to pursue a career mostly in the United States, where he shot a few solid actioners before dying at the tragically young age of 28 on the set of The Crow.

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THUNDERBOLT (1995) review

Drawing from Jackie Chan’s own passion for cars and car racing, Gordon Chan’s Thunderbolt has him play Chan, a mechanic who runs a small business with his father (Yuen Chor) in Hong Kong. Occasionally, he also helps the police in checking illegally upgraded cars. That is how he crosses paths with Krugerman (Thorsten Nickel), a psychotic street racer. When Krugerman tries to escape the police, Chan gets in a car and stops him after a very dangerous chase. Later, Krugerman gets revenge by destroying his business and kidnapping his two sisters ; if he wants to get them back alive, Chan must confront him in a race. The most striking thing about Thunderbolt, is that Jackie Chan is extensively – and obviously – doubled in every fight scene. Having injured his ankle while shooting Rumble in the Bronx, Jackie had no choice but to resort to a stunt double, and it shows. The two or three big fight scenes are up to his usual great standards of choreographing excellence and invention, but they are edited mostly in quick cuts and they feature a whole lot of shots where “Jackie Chan” is turning his back to the camera. This makes for a frustrating spectacle : it’s no secret the thrill of watching a Jackie Chan film comes from the knowledge and evidence that he is doing everything we see his character doing. Take away that factor, and even with the same choreography, it all looks mundane.

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IN THE LINE OF DUTY 4 (1989) review

  The second of three urban action thrillers Yuen Woo-Ping and Donnie Yen collaborated on as director and star, In The Line Of Duty 4 is also, you guessed it, the fourth installment in a franchise that only has vague thematic continuity between its installments. The first two In The Line Of Duty films starred Michelle Yeoh and are also known as Yes Madam! and Royal Warriors. For the third film, Yeoh pulled out and was replaced with Cynthia Khan, who introduced the character of Rachel Yeung, which she reprises in this fourth film.

Cynthia Khan emerged as a replacement for Michelle Yeoh in the series and in Hong Kong cinema in general, after Yeoh went on an early and temporary retirement at the end of the eighties. She is just as beautiful and has the same tomboyish style as eighties Michelle Yeoh, but the difference is she is often replaced with an obvious stunt double in the trickier action scenes. Still, she is a charismatic and charming presence, and it’s a pity she vanished from the mainstream in the mid-nineties. Here she is paired with Donnie Yen (then at the beginning of his career and still a protégé of director Yuen Woo-Ping) and they play two cops investigating a drug-trafficking network with possibles international ties. They wind up having to take care of an innocent dock worker (Yuen Yat Chor) who witnessed a murder that is pivotal to the case, and questioning the loyalty of colleague Wong (Michael Wong), who might be playing both side.

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ROYAL WARRIORS (aka IN THE LINE OF DUTY 2) (1986) review

Royal Warriors, also known as In The Line Of Duty, was at the time Michelle Yeoh’s second fully-fledged film role (after bit parts in two Sammo Hung films) ; the first one had been Yes Madam!, where she had more of a supporting role next to Cynthia Rothrock, but had one or two big fight scenes. So it’s safe to say Royal Warriors, where Yeoh has top-billing, was the real introduction to her talent(s). Directed by David Chung (who would direct Yeoh once again the following year in Magnificent Warriors), Royal Warriors is about a cop (Yeoh), an Japanese ex-cop (Hiroyuki Sanada) and an air security agent (Michael Wong) who together foil the hijacking of a plane, by killing the two persons who attempted it. As a result, two blood brothers of the killed hijackers swear revenge on the ‘heroic trio’. The plot is fairly simple, but the film does a number of things much better than a lot of Hong Kong action films of the time (like Tiger Cage 2, for instance).

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