FATAL TERMINATION (1990) short review

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Despite its amusingly redundant and over-the-top title, Andrew Kam’s Fatal Termination is quite tame for two thirds of its runtime: its routine plot involves an arms dealer (Philip Ko) who hijacks a weapons shipment destined for Indian terrorists, with the help of a corrupt customs officer (Robin Shou) whose honest colleague (Michael Miu) becomes a scapegoat, the prime suspect to the cop (Simon Yam) in charge of the investigation. Ray Lui and Moon Lee play Miu’s brother and sister-in-law, concerned bystanders for most of the film but thrust into action for the last third, after he’s killed and their daughter is targeted for kidnapping as they get too close to the truth. This last third is in sharp contrast with the boring simmer of what came before: it is an explosion of brutality that is some of the most inspired chaos ever conjured up in a Hong Kong action film, courtesy here of action directors Ridley Tsui and Paul Wong. The kidnapping scene, where the little girl is dangled by her hair out of a speeding car, to the hood of which a desperate Moon Lee clings while attacking the driver, is a gobsmacking tour-de-force of action-directing and fearless stunt-work, and yet a mere starter. Subsequently, there’s hook-impaling a la Cobra, people strapped with explosives and blown to pieces, a child is shot to death, and it all ends with a relentless ballet of dueling cars and helicopters on brownfield land. With a more interesting plot, better pacing, and actual characters for the talented ensemble of Yam, Miu, Lee, Lui, Ko and Shou to sink their teeth into, this could have been a stone-cold classic of Hong Kong action cinema. James Horner provides most of the music, though he of course had no idea: his score for Gorky Park is heavily tracked-in. **1/2

THE BOMBING (aka UNBREAKABLE SPIRIT, aka AIR STRIKE) (2018) review

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Xiao Feng’s The Bombing was reportedly the most expensive Chinese film at the time it was produced. But after extensive reshoots and accusations of financial fraud (part of a wider tax evasion scandal in China that has had Fan Bingbing as its official face), the film is now being released a full three years after production, without much fanfare despite a massive cast and the participation of Mel Gibson – a man who knows a thing or two about making a fine war film – as an artistic consultant. Set in 1939 during the second Sino-Japanese war, it weaves together three main storylines: U.S Air Force commander Jack Johnson (Bruce Willis), who trains Chinese pilots Lei Tao (Nicholas Tse), An Minxun (Song Seung-heon), Cheng Ting (William Chan) and many others to fend off Japanese air raids (of which there were 268 between 1938 and 1943); civilians in Chongqing trying to live a semblance of a life despite the repeated bombings, with a Mahjong competition being organized in a teahouse owned by Uncle Cui (Fan Wei); and former pilot Xue Gangtou (Liu Ye), tasked with taking a truck carrying precious and mysterious crates to a military base, and who on the way picks up a scientist (Wu Gang) carrying two pigs of a leaner, faster-reproducing breed that may be key in fighting the famine, a nurse (Ma Su) bringing orphans to a school, as well as a shady stranger (Geng Le).

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THE BRAVEST ESCORT GROUP (2018) review

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Released concurrently on streaming services and in a handfuls of theaters in Mainland China, Tao Mengxi’s The Bravest Escort Group isn’t about a group of resourceful call-girls, contrary to what its clumsy title might lead you to believe. Rather, it follows a band of courageous bodyguards headed by Yang Liu An (Fan Siu Wong), and tasked by General Ma Bao (Ray Lui) with escorting his daughter Chen Yuanyuan (Lanni Li), concubine to the recently deceased Ming emperor Wu Sangui, and her son, the last hope of the Ming Dynasty, to safety. En route, they must fend off the attacks of enemy general Hala (Chen Zhi Hui), as well as Ma Bao’s treacherous second-in-command Ma Biao (Shi Yanneng), all the while being closely watched by the mysterious Zhu You (Andrew Lin). Though Wu Sangui and Chen Yuanyuan are real historical figures, the film plays fast, furious and loose with history, and presents itself like a late little brother to Teddy Chen’s Bodyguards and Assassins, on a wider geographical scale but – obviously – smaller spectacular scale.

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DEVIL HUNTERS (aka ULTRA FORCE 2) (1989) review

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Released just a few months after Killer Angels, Devil Hunters was also directed by Tony Liu and was in some places released as a sequel to that film (under the risible title Ultra Force). Of course, there are no narrative connections between the two films, as Devil Hunters follows a vicious gangster (Francis Ng) who will stop at nothing to find his boss’s stash of diamonds. But on his way are policemen (Alex Man and Sibelle Hu), as well as his boss’s daughter (Moon Lee) and former second-in-command (Michael Chan Wai Man), now gone good. It’s a slightly uninvolving plot, that valiantly tries to create surprises in a genre that rarely contained any, narratively speaking. But it ends up feeling muddled, despite Tony Liu’s usual above-average attention to characters and drama: Michael Chan is touching as a reformed gangster inevitably drawn back to violence, while Sibelle Hu and Alex Man have an interesting – if under-developped – tough love relationship.

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