THE ENCHANTING PHANTOM (aka A CHINESE GHOST STORY: HUMAN LOVE) (2020) review

p2597931214After bringing back Vincent Zhao’s incarnation of Wong Fei Hung – albeit on the small screens – with The Unity of Heroes, and scripting Detective Dee: Ghost Soldiers (starring Kristy Yang as Empress Wu Zetian), one of the more high-profile and better-rated of the countless straight-to-VOD Detective Dee films, director Lin Zhenzhao tackles another beloved Hong Kong franchise with The Enchanting Phantom, a remake of Tsui Hark and Ching Siu Tung’s classic A Chinese Ghost Story (itself based on a Pu Songling story). Apparently at first destined for at least a modest theatrical release, the Covid-19 pandemic in the end sent it straight to VOD. And so we once again follow naïve scholar Ning Caichen (Chen Xingxu), who falls in love with beautiful demon Nie Xiaoqian (Eleanor Lee), and attempts to free her from the clutches of her dark master, hermaphroditic tree demon Lao Lao (Norman Tsui), with the help of Taoist demon hunter Yan Chixia (Yuen Wah). (more…)

ETERNAL WAVE (2017) review

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A loose remake of Wang Ping’s 1958 spy film The Eternal Wave, Billy Chung’s Eternal Wave follows Communist resistance fighter and political commissar Lin Xiang (Aaron Kwok) who in 1937 is sent to Japanese-occupied Shanghai to rebuild the resistance network in the city, after it was near-dismantled by a Japanese raid on its secret headquarters. There, his cover is that of a businessman, and He Lanfang (Zhao Liying) a comrade from the Communist underground is to pose as his wife. Using radio telegraphy to circulate information, Lin slowly solidifies the network again, but he soon comes  under suspicion from Japanese Intelligence officer Masako (Zhang Lanxin) and Chinese traitor Qin Fengwu (Simon Yam).

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SHEEP WITHOUT A SHEPHERD (2019) review

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A Chen Sicheng-produced remake of the successful 2015 Hindi thriller Drishyam (itself a remake of a Malayalam film from two years earlier), Sam Quah’s Sheep without a Shepherd follows Li Weijie (Xiao Yang), a Chinese immigrant in Thailand and owner of a modest IT company, living a peaceful life with his wife Ayu (Tan Zhuo) and two daughters Ping Ping (Audrey Hui) and An An (Zhang Xiran). But it all goes to hell when Ping Ping is drugged and raped by Suchat (Bian Tianyang), the wayward son of a local power couple, chief of police Laoorn (Joan Chen) and mayoral candidate Dutpon (Philip Keung). Suchat has filmed his deed and is planning to use the footage to coerce Ping Ping into sexual favors; Ayu, whom she confided to, tries to intervene, but as he assaults her in a fit of blind rage, the distraught daughter kills him by accident. With his mother being the chief of police, and corruption running rampant in the town’s police force, Weijie knows his wife and daughter will be sent to jail regardless of having acted in self-defense. Drawing on his love of classic thrillers, he hatches a plan which he hopes will clear them of suspicion, but Laoorn is a formidable investigator.

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THE GUILTY ONES (2019) review

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A remake of Jeong Keun-seob’s 2013 Korean thriller Montage, Wang Yu’s The Guilty Ones stars Wang Qianyuan (now leading his third Chinese remake of a Korean film, after Peace Breaker and The Big Shot) as Chen Hao, a cop who ten years ago failed to catch the kidnapper and murderer of single mother Bai Lan’s (Song Jia) daughter. Ten years later, he’s not closer to finding the culprit, and has resigned from the police, while Bai Lan is now in the terminal phase of lung cancer. Yet both are still determined to find the killer, so when the daughter of a lawyer is kidnapped and held for ransom in the exact same modus operandi as ten years ago, both the cop and the grieving mother make a last attempt at solving the case.

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THE BIG SHOT (2019) review

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After headlining the 2017 Chinese remake of the 2014 Korean thriller A Hard Day, and before headlining the 2019 Chinese remake of the 2013 Korean thriller Montage, Wang Qianyuan headlines the 2019 Chinese remake of the 2015 Korean thriller Veteran. And so we follow Sun Dasheng (Wang), a headstrong cop who despite – or because of – unconventional methods and a loose relationship to hierarchy, gets the job done and has acquired a reputation as a star detective, along with his team (including Wang Yanhui and Qu Jingjing). Under pressure from his wife (Mei Ting) to enter a lottery for housing in a school-friendly area for their son, Sun is introduced by a friend to Zhao Tai (Bao Bei’er), a property developer, heir to the powerful Zhao Shi conglomerate. Brutal, arrogant and entitled to the point of psychosis, Zhao thinks himself above the law, objectifying and humiliating everyone around him with no fear of repercussion. But when a friend of Sun’s, who went to Zhao to complain about having his home destroyed by his company with no compensation, is is left in a coma by an apparent suicide attempt, Sun Dasheng decides to get to the bottom of things, in the process starting a war with Zhao Tai.

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A BETTER TOMORROW 2018 (2018) review

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There’s probably no Hong Kong film more seminal and iconic than John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow. Mixing his own richly melodramatic sensibility with his mentor Chang Cheh’s themes of heroic brotherhood, Sam Peckinpah’s throbbing, elegiac brutality and Jean-Pierre Melville’s urban Bushido, Woo brought to life the Heroic Bloodshed genre and its visual grammar of slow-motion, bullet-riddled valor and gut-wrenching montages. He also revitalized Shaw Brothers stalwart Ti Lung’s career, made Leslie Cheung a star, and turned Chow Yun Fat from an affable TV lead to a true film icon. A Better Tomorrow was then milked for an entertaining sequel, a solid prequel, a mediocre Wong Jing re-run (1994’s Return to a Better Tomorrow) and a more recent, passable Korean remake. Announced concurrently to a rival remake to be directed by Stephen Fung (of which nothing has been heard since), Ding Sheng’s A Better Tomorrow 2018 isn’t the first time he tries his hand at an iconic Hong Kong property, and the flawed but interesting Police Story 2013 has shown that the writer/director isn’t one to slavishly regurgitate a franchise’s formula.

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THE THOUSAND FACES OF DUNJIA (2017) review

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A (very) loose remake by Yuen Woo Ping of his 1982 classic Miracle Fighters, The Thousand Faces of Dunjia (henceforward Dunjia) completes a trilogy of sorts, with which writer-producer Tsui Hark has been attempting to revitalize the Wu Xia Pian by going back to classics of the seventies, eighties and nineties and enhancing them with ambitious set pieces full of CGI and 3D enhancements, while leaving the core components and tropes of the genre largely untouched. After 2011’s mediocre but successful Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (in which a sleepy Jet Li let Chen Kun act circles around him while Tsui kept throwing 3D wood splinters at the audience), and 2016’s passable but unsuccessful Sword Master (in which a bland Kenny Lin let Peter Ho act circles around him while Derek Yee kept throwing 3D stone splinters at the audience), comes Dunjia, the better film of the three, and based on its first days of box-office, set to land in between in terms of box-office.

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PEACE BREAKER (2017) review

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A remake of Kim Seong-hun’s devilishly entertaining Korean thriller A Hard Day (2014), Lien Yi Chi’s Peace Breaker follows Gaojian Xiang (Aaron Kwok), a mildly dirty cop whose team is under investigation for corruption, and who on one fateful night, while driving slightly inebriated to his mother’s funeral, crashes into a man on the road, killing him instantly. Unwilling to deal with the consequences, Xiang puts the body in his car, and later that night, hides it in his mother’s coffin. But just as he thinks the problem is dealt with, it turns out that the man he involuntarily killed is a wanted drug dealer that is police team is being assigned to track down. And to make things worse, Chen Changmin (Wang Qianyuan), a shady cop, knows what happened that night, and is determined to force Xiang to bring him the body, which holds particular value to him…

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HIDE AND SEEK (2016) review

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A very close remake of Huh Jung’s 2013 Korean sleeper hit of the same title, Liu Jie’s Hide and Seek tells of Zhang Jiawei (Wallace Huo), who enjoys a comfortable life in Qingdao City, running a high-end coffee shop and living in a luxury building with his wife Pingzhi (Wan Qian) and their daughter. This idyllic picture is only marred by his struggle with mysophobia and visions of his older brother, with whom he severed all ties after he went to prison for a rape he may not have committed. Now the brother is out and lives in a rundown, soon-to-be-demolished block of flats. One day, Jiawei is contacted by his brother’s landlord, who claims he has not been paid rent for a while. After visiting the old building, talking to the landlord and meeting a terrorized single mother (Qin Hailu), he realizes his brother may have become a stalker and worse, may be the murderer of a young woman (Jessie Li) who lived next door to him.

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SUPER EXPRESS (2016) short review

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A loose remake of Hervé Renoh’s French comedy Coursier (2010), Xiao Song’s Super Express follows Ma Li (Chen He), a former motorbike champion turned motorcycle courier who crosses paths with a French thief (David Belle) who stole a priceless ancient Egyptian Bastet statue from a museum in Marseilles and had it smuggled to China in the luggage of an unsuspecting tourist (Xiao Yang). The chief of security of that museum (Song Ji-hyo) is on his trail and must enlist the help of Ma Li to find and reclaim the artifact. This hyperactive – and thus thankfully short – action comedy is powered by Chen He’s relentless and sometimes overbearing comic energy (Chen tends to be much more palatable as a supporting actor, like in Detective Chinatown where he was a lot of fun) and has a few delightful set pieces, including a hilarious scene where the courier makes his way through a narrow alleyway while dodging the various projectiles its irate inhabitants throw at him. Song Ji-hyo is a delightfully spunky and sexy foil to Chen, while Parkour founder David Belle works some of his magic: though the film doesn’t give anything too spectacular to do, he can still work his way through the heights of a building complex or a busy street with feline ease. The film becomes a bit of a chore past the one hour mark, however, as shenanigans keep piling up to tiring effect, and the film’s spectacle reach exceeds its budget grasp: a speedboat’s jump over a bridge is rendered in CGI so rudimentary one wonders why they didn’t just delete that scene. **1/2