TOWARDS THE RIVER GLORIOUS (2019) short review

100729.77428655_1000X1000One of several propaganda war films released in 2019 to commemorate the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, Oxide Pang’s Towards the River Glorious was, like all of them, a flop – though probably a less pricey flop than Li Shaohong’s Liberation. While it may be surprising to see Hong Kong genre filmmaker Pang at the helm, it’s actually his second offering to his PRC overlords, after 2016’s My War – which was already, you guessed it, a flop (despite a much bigger budget and starrier cast than the present film). It’s still a strange assignment for the more talented half of the Pang Brothers, and one to which he brings little else than his trademark showiness: heavy filters (one battle scene is so damn orange it would give even the late, great Tony Scott a seizure), extreme slow-motion, a few first-person-shooter angles, and that’s about it. The plot follows two brothers (bland Zhang Tong and much more interesting Yang Yi), each on one side of the fratricide war, as their paths cross repeatedly in the lead up to the momentous final battle of the Yangtze River Crossing Campaign. Of course, the brother who’s on the Nationalist side is very wrong, but will get redemption by switching his allegiance and fighting for the Communists. The Nationalist flag will fall in slow motion, the Communist flag will be waved rapturously, and it will all end in one big parade – much like in Liberation, fratricide slaughter is quickly forgotten once you can parade in your uniform. A fixture of such low-budget propaganda, Nie Yuan pops up for a very small cameo, while Sammy Hung broods in the background for much of the film. Corners are constantly being cut (scenes on a British warship make hilariously shoddy use of CGI): Towards the River Thrifty would have been a more accurate title. *1/2

THE BIG CALL (2017) review

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Ding Xiaotian (Cheney Chen) is a young cop who just witnessed his former teacher commit suicide after losing all his money to a phone scam. The case is thus personal, and soon Ding is recruited by Tan Sirong (Eddie Cheung) of the ATFC (Anti-Telecommunication Fraud Centre) to help expose two master fraudsters, Lin Ahai (Joseph Chang) and Liu Lifang (Gwei Lun Mei), who operate a vast fraud network across Southeast Asia, with headquarters and call center in Thailand. ATFC agent Xu Xiaotu (Jiang Mengjie), who’s also Ding’s ex-girlfriend, has infiltrated these headquarters, and as the noose tightens around the fraudsters, suspicion from Liu falls on her.

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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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OUT OF INFERNO (2013) short review

outofinferno_poster One of two high-profile firefighting films that came out in the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014, the Pang Brothers’ Out of Inferno is a disaster film that plays by all the most well-worn rules of the book. It has a typical ‘wrong place, wrong time’ set up as it takes place on the most humid day of the past 50 years in Guangzhou, in a building whose air conditioning inexplicably malfunctions. And before the fire erupts, forthcoming human drama is set up, that will complement the mayhem, and a roster of diverse characters played by familiar faces is introduced. At the center there’s two estranged brothers : Tai Kwan (Lau Ching Wan) is a sturdy, no-nonsense but conflicted fireman called in to deal with the fire, and whose pregnant wife (Angelica Lee) happens to be visiting her obstetrician in the building ; and Keung (Louis Koo), a former fireman himself and now the building’s director of security is also on the spot, holding a fundraiser whose guests he soon has to take to safety. There’s also a diamond-cutter (Hui Siu Hung) whose employees take advantage of the fire to steal the merchandise, a family guy (Eddie Cheung Siu Fai) whose wife is opening a shop in the building, and a few others. This is an efficiently-directed disaster film with often impressive CGI (though nothing ground-breaking on that front), that suffers from an intense and ever growing sense of ‘been there, done that’ as it borrows from countless films, plays out in completely predictable fashion and possesses little originality in a genre that needs originality to generate any kind of relevance or excitement. The chemistry between Lau and Koo, in their 12th pairing, is the film’s saving grace, but in the end nothing is likely to stick in the spectator’s mind. **1/2