INTEGRITY (2019) review

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After the over-the-top stylings of his Mainland undercover thriller Extraordinary Mission, Alan Mak returns home to the twisty psychological Hong Kong crime thriller. Co-produced by his brother-in-filmmaking Felix Chong, Integrity follows King (Lau Ching Wan), an officer of the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption, for those who’ve never seen a Hong Kong film of the past 10 years), who is grooming corporate accountant and whistleblower Lui (Nick Cheung) to testify in court against a tobacco trading company and a customs officer (Anita Yuen) accused of collusion and bribery in smuggling cigarettes onto the black market. But on the day of the hearing, Lui absconds to Australia, seemingly struck with cold feet. But as King’s colleague (and estranged wife) Shirley (Karena Lam) is dispatched to Australia to bring him back, it soon appears that he’s much more than a simple whistleblower, and his escape to Australia isn’t motivated by fear.

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THE TROUGH (2018) review

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Nick Cheung’s third film as a director and star, The Trough follows Yu Qiu (Cheung), a cop who’s been undercover so long in the gangs of the fictional Solo City, that his mind is starting to slip: he’s developing a death wish, the limit between the Law and Crime has been blurred out, and between two missions he goes to live as a hermit in the Namibian desert, fighting wild animals. Solo City is a degenerate, crime-riddled sewer, and there’s no shortage of mob bosses for him to take down, under the orders of his handler Jim (He Jiong), a lone man of honor assisted by hacker Jackie (Yu Nan) but surrounded by dirty cops (including Maggie Cheung Ho Yee and Chris Collins). Yu Qiu’s new mission is to unmask and bring down “The Boss”, the hidden mastermind who controls Solo City; and the key to bring him down may be a little girl (Li Yongshan), who was plucked from an orphanage for mysterious reasons, and is now wanted by dirty cops and half the city’s gangsters alike.

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LINE WALKER (2016) review

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The spin-off from a highly-successful TVB series of the same title, with only Charmaine Sheh and Hui Shiu Hung’s characters carried over from small to big screen, Jazz Boon’s Line Walker is a riotously enjoyable actioner that merges Infernal Affairs‘ undercover twists, some over-top action scenes from Benny Chan’s playbook, and goofy comedy out of Wong Jing’s less tasteless offerings (Wong is a producer here). The fictional CIB department of police is trying to dismantle a powerful crime organization, but all of its undercovers have been killed after their identities were leaked. Inspector Q (Francis Ng) and his colleague and girlfriend agent Ding (Charmaine Sheh) are contacted by a missing undercover agent known as Blackjack, who may or may not be Shiu (Louis Koo), the right hand man of a fast-rising figure of the crime organization, Blue (Nick Cheung), whose life he once saved.

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HUNGRY GHOST RITUAL (2014) short review

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Interestingly, Nick Cheung is already the third actor in two years to make a horror film for his debut as a director after Juno Mak’s Rigor Mortis and Simon Yam’s segment in Tales from the Dark 1, with Carrie Ng’s upcoming Angel Whispers set to further that small trend. Here Nick Cheung plays Zong, a bankrupt publisher who comes home to Malaysia where his father (Lam Wai) owns an Opera troupe. His arrival provokes varying reactions, from outright hostility from his half-sister (Cathryn Lee) to sweet sympathy from the star performer (Annie Liu). But when his father is hospitalized, Zong is called upon to replace him temporarily as troupe director, even though he knows nothing of the traditions on the artform, least of all the rites to be performed as the Hungry Ghost Festival draws near, a midsummer period where spirits are particularly active and dangerous. Soon Zong is beset with unsettling visions and the troupe members start behaving more and more strangely, with the root of it all possibly buried in the past. Nick Cheung’s recipe for horror is a fairly transparent and derivative one : two parts carefully-CGIed phantasmagorical visions a la Pang brothers, one part white-clad, long-black-haired female ghosts reminiscent of Japanese horror, some Paranormal Activity-style surveillance camera scares thrown in for good measure, and a fairly random and underused reference to the real-life Elisa Lam case to top it off. To his credit, Cheung favors creeping terror over jump scares, and while never truly scary or fresh, his film is never boring and the Cantonese Opera angle is appealing. The actor/director’s dialed-down performance doesn’t exactly pull you in however, and the veterans steal the show : a heartfelt Lam Wai as his father, and especially the fiery Carrie Ng as an aging Opera star. **1/2

CROSS (2012) short review

cross-2012-2 It took 3 years and 4 different directors to complete Cross‘ sluggish 75 minutes about a man (Simon Yam) who is devastated by his wife’s suicide, which according to his beliefs condemns her to hell, and so decides to save as many souls as he can by killing suicidal people before they can actually do it themselves. He then surrenders himself to the police, only to realize that someone may have been pulling the strings all along. Though it’s often visually arresting, with evocative cinematography conjuring disquieting imagery that combines the mundane with the unnatural, Daniel Chan, Steve Woo, Lau King Ping and Hui Shu Ning’s Cross is too narratively inept to engage in the least. A thudding use of flashbacks and exposition often clashes with the ambiguity the filmmakers so clearly aim for. There’s no pacing to speak of, each scene fading listlessly into the next, with a major twist being so clumsily introduced that you’d be forgiven for not even realizing it’s a twist. Simon Yam is fine in the role of an unflappable killer reminiscent of his character in the infinitely superior The Man behind the Courtyard House (2011), but he simply has too little to work with. Randomly, Nick Cheung crops up in an amusing scene that may have been tacked on to capitalize on the success of Roy Chow’s Nightfall, which already cast him alongside Simon Yam earlier in 2012. *1/2

THAT DEMON WITHIN (2014) review

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Reminiscent of a small wave of psychological thrillers that were released at the end of the nineties and beginning of the naughties (Ringo Lam’s Victim, Law Chi Leung’s Inner Senses and Double Tap come to mind), Dante Lam’s That Demon Within follows a troubled cop (Daniel Wu) who one night offers to give his O- type blood to save a severely wounded man (Nick Cheung), who turns out to be the leader of a vicious gang nicknamed the “Demons” because of their colourful demon masks and cruelty. Their paths are to cross again to disatrous consequences, as the cop start to struggle with deep-buried mental issues and violent urges while the robber locks horns with his double-crossing gang.

This is a tremendously confident film. Dante Lam, who has been on a critical and box-office roll for the past 6 years, makes superb use of every trick in the book to convey psychological torment and collapse : Patrick Tam’s editing is razor sharp, Kenny Tse’s photography is strikingly in-your-face (for instance, sudden red lighting signal Daniel Wu’s violent schizophrenic fits, a trick so obvious and literal it actually works perfectly), and Leon Ko’s masterful score is a bold and propulsive mix of tribal, electronic and orchestral influences, all geared towards maximum expressivity and drive.

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