SWORD MASTER (2016) review

144356-75188942_1000x1000

As an actor, Derek Yee had gotten his break playing handsome swordsmen in numerous Shaw Brothers film, including Chu Yuan’s Death Duel (1977). As a director however, he has mostly favored contemporary, urban and often gritty fare. Now in a full circle he offers Sword Master, a remake of Death Duel co-produced and co-written with Tsui Hark, whose early career had seen him help Hong Kong cinema move past the classicism of Shaw Brothers films, but whose recent films have tried to both recapture and update their narrative and technical tenets. This interesting pair-up has yielded a flawed but stimulating film.

(more…)

MEET THE IN-LAWS (2012) short review

meet-the-in-laws-2012-7

Despite its title, Li Hai Shu’s Meet The In-Laws isn’t a remake of the successful 2011 Korean comedy, but rather a loose remake of Jay Roach’s 2000 hit comedy Meet the Parents. Xu Zheng (just months before Lost in Thailand dramatically raised his profile) fills in for Ben Stiller as the well-meaning but bumbling future son-in-law, here a psychologist who just started his own clinic and is in blissful love with a teacher played by Lin Peng. Good old Hui Shiu Hung steps in Robert De Niro’s shoes as her overprotective father who’s immediately suspicious of his daughter’s boyfriend, though the similarities end there, and save for a few minor plot points, Meet The In-Laws doesn’t follow Meet the Parents beyond that basic set-up. Here the initial distrust is compounded by the fact that the father realizes that his future son-in-law is none other than the shrink to whom he’s been opening up for months about everything from his erectile dysfunction to his adultery impulses. Add to that two hapless criminals who’ve mistakenly hidden a bag of cash in the trunk of Xu Zheng’s car, and Hui Shiu Hung’s attempt to get sentimental closure with a old college flame – a subplot borrowed three years later in Xu Zheng’s Lost in Hong Kong. It’s a fairly uninspired though fitfully amusing comedy, not a patch on its American model as it’s more preoccupied with wacky situations and repeated pratfalls than making any sort of observations on mariage and family in China. Xu Zheng and Hui Shiu Hung, in roles they know like the back of their hand, don’t have much chemistry and only really click when balanced with the classier touch of Lin Peng and Li Fengxu (as the mother). **

MY FAIR GENTLEMAN (2009) short review

213708.64574890_1000X1000

A very loose remake of George Cukor’s My Fair Lady, Peter Lee’s My Fair Gentleman was produced – among others – by John Woo and Michelle Yeoh. It actually only retains the idea of making someone fit for high society, ditching almost everything else including the songs and the phonetics angle. It also relocates to China, swaps genders and modifies the stakes, so that instead of a misogynistic phonetics professor transforming a cockney flower girl into a lady for a bet in London, we have an ex-socialite and head of a marketing company Wu (Kelly Lin) who gives uncouth nouveau riche Zeng (Sun Honglei) a makeover both in sartorial elegance and in good manners and culture, so that he may have a chance to woo top model Fong-Na (Ling Hung), in Shanghai. Along the way, of course, Wu and Zeng develop feelings for each other. This harmless little romantic comedy has none of the wit of George Cukor’s film, and its mostly uninspired script is never lifted by Peter Lee’s workmanlike’s direction. Still, it does benefit from the very appealing duet of Sun Honglei, who has a lot of fun in a broad but appealing performance, and Kelly Lin, whose unassuming comic timing comes with a refreshingly down-to-earth charm. And contrary to many Chinese romantic comedies, My Fair Gentleman runs at a reasonable 85 minutes, its briskness compensating for its triteness. **1/2

EVERYBODY’S FINE (2016) review

094314.86681308_1000X1000

Giuseppe Tornatore’s Stanno Tutti Bene, released to a mostly rapturous reception in 1990 but a bit forgotten nowadays, had already been remade and transposed from Italy to the United States in Kirk Jones’s Everybody’s Fine (2009), and now comes the Chinese remake. But rather than denote a lack of originality, this new version speaks to the universality and strength of the concept: take a revered older actor (here Zhang Guoli taking over from Marcello Mastroianni and Robert De Niro) as a former absentee father who’s now a widower leaving alone in the family house, his four children having scattered across the country and all supposedly thriving in their professional and private lives. When they all cancel their visit for a planned family reunion, the father decides to pack up and go visit each one of them.

(more…)

THE WITNESS (2015) review

7077dc1djw1exlrtcbl68j20xc1aktpo

A remake of his own successful Korean thriller Blind (2011), Ahn Sang-hoon’s The Witness transposes the action to China but keeps much of the original film’s key plot points. Xing (Yang Mi) is a young cop who lost her brother in a car accident. She blames herself for the tragedy, as she had tied her unruly sibling’s hands in the car to keep him still, leading to his eventual inability to escape the car as it teetered on the edge of a bridge. She also lost her eyesight in the accident, which means she can’t be a cop anymore, and leads a dour, guilt-ridden life. One day she gets into a cab whose driver turns out to be a psychopath (Zhu Yawen) who’s behind a wave of abductions, with all the victims being beautiful young women. As Xing struggles to break free of the driver, the cab hits someone who was crossing the street, and she manages to escape. The next day she reports the incident to the police, and astounds the detective in charge of the investigation (Wang Jingchun) with her astute observations on her would-be abductor : though she’s blind, her astute remaining senses and sharp deduction skills allow her to provide useful information. But soon thereafter a young skater, Chong (LuHan), turns up at the police station : he says he’s witnessed the incident, but his indications don’t match Xing’s. As a wayward youngster his testimony doesn’t weigh much more than that of the blind woman, but things become urgent when Xing realizes she’s dropped her diary in the psychopath’s car, and he may now be stalking her.

(more…)

WHO AM I 2015 (aka AMNESIA) (2015) review

19891118_2015062410095447866300

What a strange idea to remake Jackie Chan’s Who Am I. While a success, the 1998 action film – which Chan co-directed with Benny Chan – wasn’t so popular that its title would become a brand name or rank among Chan’s greatest hits, and its premise of an elite agent who loses his memory in a botched operation then tries to piece back what happened while fending off a high-reaching conspiracy has been more than played out since, most notably and successfully in the Bourne films. What’s even more puzzling is that Song Yinxi’s Who Am I 2015, which was produced by Chan himself and stars mostly friends and protégés of his, actually has very little in common with the film of which it positions itself as a redo. The main character (here, Wang Haixiang) isn’t an elite agent anymore, he’s a bike courier with a penchant for extreme sports, and he’s not encroached in a vast conspiracy but simply chased by a shady boss’ henchmen (Ken Lo, Zhang Lanxin and director Song Yinxi himself) after witnessing the murder of a businessman. They frame him for the murder and he can only count on the help of a shrill hitchhiker (Yao Xingtong) and a mysterious ex-cop (Yu Rongguang), while suffering not from amnesia as in the original film, but from prosopagnosia (aka face blindness), a rare pathology that makes it difficult to recognize faces, even one’s own.

(more…)

THE BARE-FOOTED KID (1993) review

The_Bare_Footed_Kid

The Bare-footed Kid is unique in Johnnie To’s filmography in that it is his only period martial arts drama, and judging by its quality one can regret he didn’t work more within that genre. In this loose remake of Chang Cheh’s Disciples of Shaolin, Aaron Kwok plays a penniless orphan who seeks out the help of his late father’s friend (Ti Lung), a renegade general who now works under a fake identity in a dyeing factory headed by a kind widow (Maggie Cheung) whose commercial success hinges on a professional secret. They provide the kid with a roof, a job, and most importantly in his eyes, shoes. But when he takes part in a fighting tournament, his impressive martial arts abilities draw the attention of a corrupt official (Eddie Cheung) and a ruthless competitor in the dying business (Kenneth Tsang). He also falls in love with a pretty school teacher (Wu Chien Lien), whom he begs to teach him how to write his name. But soon his naive, suggestible nature and misguided attempts to help his benefactors precipitate a tragic turn of events as he finds himself torn between the lure of power and his devotion to the people who care for him.

(more…)

A CHINESE FAIRY TALE (aka A CHINESE GHOST STORY) (2011) review

Remaking Ching Siu Tung’s 1987 fantasy love story A Chinese Ghost Story was a bold move. The original is still a reverred classic, featuring a legendary screen couple in the person of the late Leslie Cheung and the now-retired Joey Wong, some of Ching Siu Tung’s most inventive choreography, and an effectibe blend of romanticism, tragedy and comedy, with crappy but well meaning special effects and a very popular soundtrack. It gave way to two sequels and a whole wave of fantasy love stories. A remake was always going to face a very tough challenge, especially since the legendary Leslie Cheung committed suicide in the early 2000’s, which adds a sheen of intensely emotional nostalgia to all his greatest successes.

Demon hunter Yan (Louis Koo in the role made famous by Wu Ma) fell in love years ago with demon Siu Sin (Liu Yifei replacing Joey Wong), but due to the forbidden nature of their union, had to leave her after suppressing her memories. Years later, naïve scholar Ning (Yu Shaoqun trying to fill the shoes of Leslie Cheung) is searching the forest trying to find a water source for a small village suffering from a drought, when he comes across a temple where he encounters life-sucking demons, one of whom is none other than Siu Sin. They fall in love with each other as she spares his life, thus finding herself hunted by her fellow demons. Things get more complicated when Yan re-emerges, setting demons, demon hunters, villagers and lovers on a collision course.

(more…)

EASY MONEY (1987) review

Easy Money was Michelle Yeoh’s final film before she went into early retirement to dedicate herself to her marriage with Dickson Poon (who had been her producer via D&B Films on most of her films up to then). That didn’t quite work out and five years later she was back in business, new and improved, making quite the splash by upstaging Jackie Chan in Police Story 3. So this is the last film featuring that former incarnation of Yeoh : a more round-faced, girly-looking actress, already very beautiful and stunt-ready, but not quite as well-rounded a performer, especially in the dramatic department.

Easy Money is actually a thinly-veiled remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, with the spin of a gender-switch : Michelle Yeoh is the gentleman-thief figure formerly played by Steve McQueen and Pierce Brosnan ; former crooner George Lam takes the Faye Dunaway/Rene Russo role of the insurance investigator who gets drawn into a web of deceit and seduction that is half of his making. Kent Cheng is the dogged cop in charge of investigating a multi-million-dollar heist, thus taking the Paul Burke/Dennis Leary role : no gender-switching for this character, merely a waist-enhancing.

(more…)

BLACK CAT (1991) review

After being released in 1990, Luc Besson’s Nikita, with its haywire young woman who after acidentally killing a cop gets a second chance as a government assassin, spawned countless knock-offs, but also more than a few straight remakes. In 1993, John Badham directed Point of No Return with Bridget Fonda as the assassin re-named Nina ; the film was actually close to a shot-for-shot remake, which wasn’t the case of the successful TV series La Femme Nikita, which ran for five seasons and considerably glamorized the concept, with the statuesque Peta Wilson in the title role. And in 2010, it was Maggie Q’s turn to have a try at the character, in another successful series that was this time aimed squarely at teenagers. But the least-known of the Nikita remakes is also the earliest one: Stephen Shin’s Black Cat, which was produced by the D&B Film company (of the Tiger Cage and In The Line Of Duty films) in 1991, just one year after Besson’s seminal film.

(more…)