TOWARDS THE RIVER GLORIOUS (2019) short review

100729.77428655_1000X1000One of several propaganda war films released in 2019 to commemorate the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, Oxide Pang’s Towards the River Glorious was, like all of them, a flop – though probably a less pricey flop than Li Shaohong’s Liberation. While it may be surprising to see Hong Kong genre filmmaker Pang at the helm, it’s actually his second offering to his PRC overlords, after 2016’s My War – which was already, you guessed it, a flop (despite a much bigger budget and starrier cast than the present film). It’s still a strange assignment for the more talented half of the Pang Brothers, and one to which he brings little else than his trademark showiness: heavy filters (one battle scene is so damn orange it would give even the late, great Tony Scott a seizure), extreme slow-motion, a few first-person-shooter angles, and that’s about it. The plot follows two brothers (bland Zhang Tong and much more interesting Yang Yi), each on one side of the fratricide war, as their paths cross repeatedly in the lead up to the momentous final battle of the Yangtze River Crossing Campaign. Of course, the brother who’s on the Nationalist side is very wrong, but will get redemption by switching his allegiance and fighting for the Communists. The Nationalist flag will fall in slow motion, the Communist flag will be waved rapturously, and it will all end in one big parade – much like in Liberation, fratricide slaughter is quickly forgotten once you can parade in your uniform. A fixture of such low-budget propaganda, Nie Yuan pops up for a very small cameo, while Sammy Hung broods in the background for much of the film. Corners are constantly being cut (scenes on a British warship make hilariously shoddy use of CGI): Towards the River Thrifty would have been a more accurate title. *1/2

CALL OF HEROES (2016) review

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One of our most anticipated films of 2016, Call of Heroes is a neo-western set in China during the Warlords era (beginning of the 20th century). Blood-thirsty, demented Commander Cao (Louis Koo), son of Warlord Cao (Sammo Hung) rides into the village of Pucheng, where he kills three people at random. He’s arrested by sheriff Yang (Lau Chin Wan) and sentenced to death, but his second-in-command Zhang (Wu Jing) soon arrives, issuing an ultimatum to the people of Pucheng: to release Cao or to be massacred. But Sheriff Yang stands by his verdict, helped in the face of growing adversity by a wandering swordsman (Eddie Peng), who once was Zhang’s comrade-in-arms.

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ANGEL WHISPERS (2015) short review

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Carrie Ng is now the third Hong Kong cinema stalwart to debut as director with a horror film, after Nick Cheung and Simon Yam. But her start is the least auspicious of the three: Angel Whispers is an often painfully clumsy little horror film, taking place in a decrepit building in Hong Kong where a small whorehouse led by Auntie Lai (Carrie Ng) lives in fear of a prostitute killer that’s making the news. When one of the girls disappears mysteriously, suspicion falls on the building’s janitor Lung (Sammy Hung), who’s been having an unrequited crush on one of them, the melancholic Ching Ching (Kabby Hui). Angel Whispers makes some feeble attempts at fleshing out its ensemble of prostitutes, but they’re too few and drowned in rote horror film proceedings, from the usual ‘splitting in teams to look for the killer in dark corridors’, to bouts of leaky basement torture porn. Carrie Ng and Sammy Hung are fine, but Kabby Hui doesn’t convince in a key role that should have tied the film together. And there’s a half-decent twist in the end that falls flat on its face, because what precedes it has been so underdeveloped and routine. *1/2

TASTE OF LOVE (2015) review

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The enormous success of Stephen Chow’s Journey To The West: Conquering the Demons, Soi Cheang’s The Monkey King and Tian Xiaopeng’s animated Monkey King: Hero is Back has sparked a literal avalanche of  films based on Wu Cheng’en’s seminal 16th century novel. Expected in the coming years are Tsui Hark’s Journey To The West 2, Soi Cheang’s The Monkey King 3, Derek Kwok’s Wu Kong, Wang Baoqiang’s contemporary transposition Buddies in India, Jeff Lau’s A Chinese Odyssey 3, Tian Xiaopeng’s Monkey King: Havoc in Heaven, and probably a few more that haven’t yet been announced. They’ll leverage medium to massive budgets and feature some of the most popular actors of today, including Kris Wu, Yao Chen, Aaron Kwok, Gong Li, William Feng, Eddie Peng, Shawn Yue, Ni Ni, Wu Jing, Karen Mok, and a lot of others we won’t mention for brevity’s sake. And kind of like the Asylum productions that pick up the crumbs left by big Hollywood Summer tentpoles (think Transmorphers, Atlantic Rim or The Almighty Thor), Miao Shu’s Taste of Love got a head start on all the aforementioned A-list productions with a December release where it didn’t register in the least at the box office.

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DRAGON BLADE (2015) review

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Note: This is a review of the original, 127-minute cut of the film screened throughout Asia. The international cut runs about 20 minutes shorter and cripples the film. Avoid watching it first if you can.

Daniel Lee’s Dragon Blade isn’t just another Chinese period epic. Its price tag of 65 million dollars makes it the most expensive Chinese film in history, while its opening numbers at the domestic box-office broke records and its final take of 120 million dollars ranks it as the 8th highest-grossing Chinese film. Its cast is truly international : gathered around Chinese A-listers Jackie Chan, William Feng and Karena Lam are Hollywood actors John Cusack and Adrien Brody, Korean actors/pop stars Choi Si Won and Steve Yoo, Australian dancer and scream queen Sharni Vinson, as well as French singer Lorie Pester. And its plot takes considerable licence with history to imagine a meeting of East and West, between the Roman armies and the tribes of Western China.

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CHOY LEE FUT (2011) review

choy-lee-fut In 2001, two films focused on the widely practiced (in China at any rate) martial art known as Choy Lee Fut ; two films films which taken together say less about their subject than 10 minutes of Ip Man conveyed about Wing Chun. Of the two, John Ching’s Choy Lee Fut Kung Fu is the superior film, simply by dint of being funny on purpose. Tommy Law and Sam Wong’s Choy Lee Fut on the other hand, doesn’t seem to realize it’s laughable. Its unbelievably standard storyline concerns a young man (Sammy ‘son of Sammo’ Hung) who moves from London to China with his friend (Kane ‘son of Sho’ Kosugi) in order to learn Choy Lee Fut in a school owned by his father (Sammo Hung) and headed by his uncle (Yuen Wah). But just as they arrive, they are told that the school is about to be bought by a mega-conglomerate, and that the only way to keep ownership of it is to win a martial arts tournament a month later.

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