JUST ANOTHER MARGIN (2014) review

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Jeff Lau’s Just Another Margin is one of those films that are seemingly tailored for Lunar New Year entertainment but don’t quite have the star power or marketing push required to compete in that prized calendar slot, and are thus slipped in a bit before or after on the release schedule. And it did go by relatively unnoticed, which is not all that surprising considering how uninspired it appears in the Jeff Lau canon of costumed mo lei tau. It stars Betty Sun as Jin Ling, a young woman whose magical yueqin (a kind of round guitar) compels people tell to the truth. One day this creates a humiliating situation for Mrs Zhao (Guo Degang), a rich businesswoman who punishes her by arranging her marriage with the town’s hunchback Mao Da-Long (Lam Suet), with whose brother Mao Song (Ekin Cheng) Jin Ling ends up falling in love. That doesn’t sit well with Shi Wen Sheng (Ronald Cheng) Mrs Zhao’s libidinous cousin, who wants the young woman for himself and plots to take the Mao brothers out of the picture. To complicate things, two aliens from planet B16 named Tranzor and Shakespeare (Patrick Tam Yiu-Man and Alex Fong Lik-Sun) arrive in town in search of a long-lost member of their species. They’re not the only aliens around however, as a fearful entity known as the Black Emperor is hiding somewhere.

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HOUSE OF WOLVES (2016) review

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Vincent Kok’s House of Wolves follows two scoundrels thriving in a small village: Charlie (Francis Ng) is a dognapper who pretends to be sclerotic in order to ingratiate himself to the ladies and avoid suspicion, and whose main ambition is to become a kept man, while Ping (Ronald Cheng) is an incredibly vain mama’s boy who’s also the village chief. They both find themselves vying for the attention of Chun (Jiang Shuying), a young writer who just arrived to the village. Now Chun is actually pregnant with a child whose father she’s running away from, and after inviting the two lovestruck rascals to her house and getting them drunk, she leads them to believe that one of them is the father of the child. Their rivalry as suitors becomes a rivalry as fathers, until they find out they’ve been tricked into surrogate fatherhood, and decide to go to the child’s real genitor.

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FULL STRIKE (2015) short review

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Derek Kwok and Henry Wong’s Full Strike does for badminton what Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer did to soccer, that it to say power it with an anime sensibility, slather it in cartoonish excess, and inject it with martial arts film tropes. It tells of a disgraced, depressed badminton champion (Josie Ho), who after witnessing a shuttlecock-shaped meteor falling to earth, teams up with her grandmother (Susan Shaw), a trio of ex-cons looking to go clean (Ekin Cheng, Edmond Leung and Wilfred Lau), and their drunk coach (Lam Man Chung), to compete in a big badminton tournament, where her main rival is her cousin (Ronald Cheng). Full Strike has a lovable ensemble of actors : Ekin Cheng is getting more appealing with age, Josie Ho is an oasis of restraint among all the wackiness, Ronald Cheng does some of his best mugging, but Lam Man Chung is the highlight as a drunk, unpredictable coach that is both awesome and pathetic. The humor is zany but doesn’t muffle the trite but reasonably engaging emotional stakes. But the film’s problem is that there’s just not that much one can do with badminton onscreen. The directors struggle to make the matches interesting and spectacular, but in the end it all amounts to repetitive close-ups of CGI shuttlecocks, slow-mo reaction shots and un-involving wide angle views. Still, Full Strike is fun and unassuming entertainment. ***

SIFU VS VAMPIRE (2014) review

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Amazingly, Daniel Chan Yee Heng’s Sifu vs Vampire is Hong Kong legend Yuen Biao’s first lead role in a feature film since Ricky Lau’s Hunted Hunter in 1997. We could imagine a better comeback vehicle than a crass Wong Jing-produced comedy, but we’ll take what we can get. Yuen plays Master Chiang, a Taoist priest and exorcist who together with his disciple Lingxin (Jiang Luxia) teams up with a pair of hapless gangsters (Ronald Cheng and Philip Ng) to fight – and sometimes fall in love with – vampires old and new. There’s a definite throwback quality to the film, as it harks back to the vampire comedies of the eighties and beginning of the nineties, most notably the Mr Vampire series which already featured Yuen Biao. Contrary to Juno Mak’s impressive Rigor MortisSifu vs Vampire is straightforward and unpretentious, a loosely calibrated mix of (very) broad laughs, (very) mild scares and (very) sparse fighting.

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FATAL CONTACT (2006) review

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In 2005, after a few false starts, Wushu champion Jacky Wu Jing finally made a dent in Hong Kong cinema by playing Sammo Hung’s creepy, deadly henchman in the superlative S.P.L.. The following year he was given the second lead role of his young career by director Dennis Law, a former property developper who had produced Johnnie To’s Election diptych. Wu Jing plays Kong, a martial arts champion from China’s national Wushu team, who’s spotted by shady triad types led by Ma (Eddie Cheung Siu Fai) during a tour of performance in Hong Kong. As they offer him to fight for them in underground boxing matches, he initially refuses but ends up accepting when pushed by the lovely Siu Tin (Miki Yeung), who also offers to act as his agent. Assigned to assist them is Captain (Ronald Cheng), a down on his luck triad goon who’s also well-versed in martial arts and starts coaching the naïve Kong. The fact is that Kong is first and foremost a showman, and as he’s faced with opponents of escalading brutality, he must learn to tap into his beastly side, something that makes his rise in the underground boxing network akin to a descent into hell.

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