BODIES AT REST (2019) short review

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Renny Harlin’s career second wind in China continues: after the success of the passable Jackie Chan vehicle Skiptrace, and the costly flow of the fantasy clunker Legend of the Ancient Sword, here comes Bodies at Rest, in which a Hong Kong public morgue is invaded on Christmas eve by three masked and armed criminals (Richie Jen, Carlos Chan and Feng Jiayi). They are trying to retrieve a incriminating bullet from the body of a woman (the striking Clara Lee, only glimpsed in flashbacks), but Nick Chan (Nick Cheung), the forensic pathologist on duty, and his Mainland intern Lynn Qiao (Yang Zi) are determined not to let them have their way. This is the kind of film that Hollywood churned out relentlessly in the nineties (Renny Harlin’s heyday, of course): a sub-Die Hard game of cat-and-mouse pitting a resourceful everyman against ruthless criminals in a closed location. There’s even reference to John McTiernan’s seminal actioner (of which Harlin directed the sequel, of course): bare body parts on broken glass, air duct escape… It’s a brisk and reasonably entertaining 90 minutes, bolstered by charismatic turns from Nick Cheung (not stretching in any way), Richie Jen (playing efficiently against type) and Yang Zi (more than holding her own next to the two veterans), some welcome flashes of dark humor, and brutal, gripping fight scenes. Yet the film runs of out steam in the final twenty minutes, weighted with too many twists, turns and reversals for such a thin plot and characters, as well as a rote ending. **1/2

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LEGEND OF THE ANCIENT SWORD (2018) review

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It’s been a brutal year for Chinese fantasy on the big screen. Soi Cheang’s The Monkey King 3 underperformed compared to the previous installments in the franchise, Hasi Chaolu’s fantasy take on Genghis Khan went unnoticed despite a starry cast and Jean-Jacques Annaud’s artistic input, Zhang Peng’s Asura was retrieved from theaters a mere three days after opening to dismal box-office numbers, and now Renny Harlin’s Legend of the Ancient Sword has failed to even reach the 2 million-dollar mark, despite a prime launching date during Chinese national holidays. This puts extra pressure on Wuershan’s now-shooting fantasy trilogy Gods, a massive undertaking whose commercial potential isn’t being solidified at the moment.

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