THE HUMAN COMEDY (2019) short review

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Once a purveyor of polished, classy star vehicles – having directed Gong Li is Breaking the Silence and Zhou Yu’s Train, and Li Bingbing in I Do –  Zhou Sun seems to have devolved into a tone-deaf hack, on the evidence of the dire 2015 sci-fi comedy Impossible, and The Human Comedy, a criminally unfunny caper. It follows Allen Ai as a debt-ridden radio presenter who, much to the chagrin of his wife (Wang Zhi), becomes embroiled in a spoilt kid’s (Lu Nuo) ill thought-out scheme to repay his debt to a gangster (Simon Yam) by faking his own kidnapping and getting his rich father (Jin Shi Jie) to pay a ransom. The hitch is that said father isn’t too keen on getting back his son, whom he considers a massive failure. Speaking of massive failures, The Human Comedy is visually drab (lifeless, grey-ish cinematography and listless handheld camerawork reek of laziness), narratively muddled (the countless twists and double-crosses bore quickly), and never funny one second. Veterans Simon Yam and Jin Shi Jie are lone flickers of life, the talented Wang Zhi can do nothing with her thankless ‘resentful wife’ role, while Allen Ai and Lu Nuo gesticulate annoyingly – and with no chemistry whatsoever. This is an artistic nadir for Zhou Sun; let’s hope the only way for him is up. *

 

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ICEMAN: THE TIME TRAVELER (2018) review

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Law Wing Cheong’s Iceman 3D was, at the time, the most ambitious project of Donnie Yen’s rejuvenated career as a leading man; a remake of Clarence Fok’s cult classic The Iceman Cometh, with a hefty – for the Chinese film industry in 2014 – budget of 33 million dollars, it was conceived as a one-off, until a spiraling budget (Hong Kong’s Tsing Ma bridge had to be rebuilt as a set for a quarter of the film’s budget when permission to shoot on the actual one was refused) and the necessity for ever more reshoots led to the decision to release the film as a two-parter. But Iceman 3D had more scatological jokes than fights, and a shoddy grasp of its time-traveling concepts, puzzlingly eschewing the simple, pulpy pleasures of Clarence Fok’s original for something both more ambitious and less thrilling. It underperformed on release, and now four years later comes Iceman; The Time Traveler, with solid journeyman Raymond Yip taking over the helm from Law Wing Cheong.

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THE BOMBING (aka UNBREAKABLE SPIRIT, aka AIR STRIKE) (2018) review

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Xiao Feng’s The Bombing was reportedly the most expensive Chinese film at the time it was produced. But after extensive reshoots and accusations of financial fraud (part of a wider tax evasion scandal in China that has had Fan Bingbing as its official face), the film is now being released a full three years after production, without much fanfare despite a massive cast and the participation of Mel Gibson – a man who knows a thing or two about making a fine war film – as an artistic consultant. Set in 1939 during the second Sino-Japanese war, it weaves together three main storylines: U.S Air Force commander Jack Johnson (Bruce Willis), who trains Chinese pilots Lei Tao (Nicholas Tse), An Minxun (Song Seung-heon), Cheng Ting (William Chan) and many others to fend off Japanese air raids (of which there were 268 between 1938 and 1943); civilians in Chongqing trying to live a semblance of a life despite the repeated bombings, with a Mahjong competition being organized in a teahouse owned by Uncle Cui (Fan Wei); and former pilot Xue Gangtou (Liu Ye), tasked with taking a truck carrying precious and mysterious crates to a military base, and who on the way picks up a scientist (Wu Gang) carrying two pigs of a leaner, faster-reproducing breed that may be key in fighting the famine, a nurse (Ma Su) bringing orphans to a school, as well as a shady stranger (Geng Le).

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COLOUR OF THE GAME (2017) review

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A belated third installment in Wong Jing’s ‘Colour’ series of Triad thriller – after Colour of the Truth (2003) and Colour of the Loyalty (2005) – Wai Ka Fai’s Colour of the Game centers on Dahua (Simon Yam), a weary Triad enforcer who’s given one last mission before retirement: to find and kill the degenerate son of gangster Brother Nine (Waise Lee), Robert (Ye Xiangming), who raped and killed Triad boss Dragon (Lau Siu Ming). Dahua enlists the help of his old comrades in arms Chun (Jordan Chan), fresh out of prison, and BBQ, retired with a bad leg but willing to assist his brother one last time, as well as Gao (Philip Ng), his protégé, Liqiang (Sabrina Qiu), his tough daughter, and Superman (Oscar Leung), a newcomer eager to prove his worth. The team gets to work, but as they’re being repeatedly ambushed by Robert’s men and followed closely by the police, they soon realize there’s a mole among them.

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A OR B (2018) review

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Zhong Xiaonian (Xu Zheng) is a ruthless businessman who made a fortune using insider trading and blackmail, with the help of his old partner Tang Wanyuan (Wang Yanhui). But this has been at the expense of his marriage with Wei Simeng (Wang Likun), who gave up her journalism career for him, but is now at the end of her tether and wants a divorce. One day, Zhong wakes up alone in his mansion: he’s been locked up in his bedroom, and the windows have been boarded up. A mysterious caller informs him that he has to play a game: he will be given a series of impossible choices between an agonizing option A (for example, publicly reveal he’s been evading taxes) and a no less agonizing option B (such as sacrificing a friend) – not choosing will result in both options being enforced. While trying to escape and discover the identity of his tormentor, Zhong can only count on the help of Tian Yu (Duan Bowen), a journalist he managed to contact with a talkie-walkie.

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MRS K (2016) review

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Mrs K (Kara Hui) is wife to a meek gynecologist (Wu Bai) and mother to a pouty fifteen year-old (Siow Li Xuan), living a peaceful life in a quiet suburban neighborhood. But, as her lightning-fast reflexes might indicate when two hapless burglars get into her house, her past is not as benign as her present. It soon emerges that more than a decade ago she took part in a brutal heist – and her partners in crime (played by directors Fruit Chan, Kirk Wong and Dain Said) are now getting killed one after the other by Scarface (Simon Yam), a dirty cop who played both sides during the heist, and ended up with a bullet in the head from Mrs K. Driven mad by the migraines and sleep-deprivation that resulted from this injury, Sarface kidnaps Mrs K’s daughter and demands a hefty ransom.

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OPERATION RED SEA (2018) review

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Just under a year and a half after the success of Operation Mekong, Dante Lam is back with Operation Red Sea, another bombastic extrapolation on real events. This time, the evacuation in 2015 of nearly six hundred Chinese citizens from Yemen’s southern port of Aden during the Yemeni Civil War is spun into a hybrid of Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down and Antoine Fuqua’s Tears of the Sun, also closely resembling Wu Jing’s immensely successful Wolf Warrior II with its unbridled patriotism, tank battles and extraction of endangered Chinese citizens in Africa (though it doesn’t count as a rip-off, as it was already done shooting when Wu Jing’s film came out). And so we follow the Jiaolong Assault Team, headed by Captain Yang (Zhang Yi) and operating with the naval support of Captain Gao Yun (Zhang Hanyu, perhaps as the twin brother of his Operation Mekong character Gao Gang?), as it ventures into war-torn Yemen to rescue Chinese citizens – including fearless journalist Xia Nan (Christina Hai) – and foil a terrorist plot to obtain nuclear materials.

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THE SHANGHAI JOB (aka S.M.A.R.T. CHASE) (2017) review

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Danny Stratton (Orlando Bloom) is a private security agent whose career suffered a deadly blow when a priceless Van Gogh painting was stolen on his watch by Long Fei (Shi Yanneng), a mysterious thief. Now his company S.M.A.R.T. (Security Management Action Recovery Team), which also includes Mach (Simon Yam), J. Jae (Hannah Quinlivan) and Ding Dong (Leo Wu), has been given a shot at redemption: to escort a valuable antique Chinese vase from Shanghai to London. But they’re once again ambushed, and once again Long Fei is the thief: it soon appears that he works for Tara Yen (Liang Jing), a wealthy arts dealer. Danny and his team decide to track her down and retrieve not only the vase, but also the Van Gogh. But things keep escalating as Tara Yen has Danny’s girlfriend Ling Mo (Lynn Xong) kidnapped.

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LEGEND OF THE NAGA PEARLS (2017) review

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Once upon a time in the mythical city of Uranopolis, an apocalyptic battle opposed humans to the the Winged Tribe; the latter was defeated and gradually went almost extinct. Now Xue Lie (Simon Yam), a royal descendant of the Winged Tribe, wants to avenge his his race and restore its glory: he is searching for the Naga Pearls, magical entities that can open a cataclysmic “eye in the sky” that would eradicate the human race. But Ni Kongkong (Darren Wang), a thief, has chanced upon the Naga Pearls and thus becomes the only one who can stop Xue Lie, with the help of Hei Yu (Crystal Zhang), a constable and descendant of the Winged Tribe, and Ge Li (Sheng Guan Sen), the son of the king of Uranopolis, eager to prove himself to his father.

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FATHER AND SON (2017) review

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Fan Xiaobing (Da Peng) is a thirty-something aspiring entrepreneur who idolizes Bill Gates and Steve Jobs but never manages to convince investors to back his ideas, and keeps borrowing money from his close ones. He’s a big disappointment to his father Fan Yingxiong (Fan Wei), a retired army commander, and to his longtime friend Liu Wen (Crystal Zhang), who obviously fancies him, but towards whom he has not yet made a single step. Now Xiaobing is in deep trouble, as he has borrowed a hefty sum from a particularly cruel loan shark (Simon Yam), who is sending his goons to collect, including the bumbling Fang Jian (Qiao Shan). Left with little time to gather a hefty sum, Xiaobing decides to send his father on a trip, to then pretend he is dead, organize a fake funeral and collect donations from the family and friends who attend. But the father returns earlier than expected…

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