FINAL RUN (1989) short review

FinalRun+1989-4-bA mainstay of Hong Kong action cinema, Philip Ko directed fifty-four films in twenty-two years (including eight films in 1987 and nine films each for 1999 and 2001…). Of course, this prodigious output was in great part due to a resort to patchwork filmmaking – a method he shared with his regular collaborator Godfrey Ho – by which a film is made mostly with disparate bits of stock footage and recycled or unused scenes from other films. Thus a lot many of his fifty-four directorial efforts are near-unwatchable; a few (like Killer’s Romance) are quite solid, and a film like Final Run falls in between. The plot, about corrupt cops working with Golden Triangle drug traffickers and a customs officer getting stuck in the middle, is paradoxically so generic and plodding that it becomes hard to follow. Action is mostly absent for a whole hour, but if one survives that trial by boredom, one is rewarded with a good twenty-five minutes of blistering action. Par for the course, then, for this kind of second rate Hong Kong actioner. The cast is full of charismatic players, most of whom either have extended cameos (Francis Ng keeps a silly grimace at all times as a smug Golden Triangle warlord, Simon Yam is all lazy smarm as a mobster, Leung Kar Yan appears randomly near the end to dish out a few kicks), or supporting roles: Dick Wei gets a rare sympathetic role, and the magnificent Yukari Oshima disappears for fifty minutes, but when she reappears, it’s worth the wait, as she gets some of her most brutal and acrobatic fights – she had a hand in choreographing them, the only time she received an ‘action director credit’. The leads, Cheung Kwok Keung and Michael Miu, make much less of an impression. As was often the case at the time, Harold Faltermeyer’s score to The Running Man is heavily tracked-in. **

LITTLE Q (2019) review

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Far from an exploration of Maggie Q’s childhood, Law Wing Cheong’s Little Q is an adaptation of the Japanese novel The Life of Quill, the Seeing-Eye Dog, by Ryohei Akimoto and Kengo Ishiguro, itself based on a true story and already brought to the small and big screens in Japan. Here, Simon Yam plays Lee Bo Ting, a renowned chef who after going blind has become perpetually angry and despondent. His sister (Gigi Leung) encourages him to get a guide dog, and a resourceful golden retriever by the name of Little Q is chosen for the task. Proud to a fault, Lee doesn’t want to rely on a dog, but soon Little Q starts melting his defenses, and a beautiful friendship is born.

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QUEEN’S HIGH (1991) short review

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Queen’s High sometimes absurdly goes by the title In the Line of Duty: The Beginning, even though it is one of the few films in which Cynthia Khan doesn’t play a cop. One of only five – mostly little-known – films directed by unsung action director Chris Lee Kin Sang (who choreographed the first-rate fights in films such as In the Line of Duty 3 or Ringo Lam’s masterpiece Burning Paradise), it is the simple story of a woman (Khan) whose father – a prominent mobster – is assassinated by a rival gang. Not long after, her family is targeted on her own wedding day, resulting in the death of her husband (Cha Chuen Yee) and her brother (Simon Yam). Thus she has no choice but to take over the family business, and bloody revenge is on the agenda. Queen’s High takes its sweet time getting started, with a good thirty minutes of uninvolving mafia talks – which is probably why the film starts with a narrative prolepsis of the tragic wedding. Yet this talky first third ensures that, by the time all hell breaks loose, we’re well-acquainted with the characters, which don’t have much depth but are played by a likable ensemble, including a particularly dashing Simon Yam. Then comes the wedding day attack, a shocking and riveting set piece that only occasionally dips into silliness, and ups the film’s intensity by quite a few notches. From then on, the steady stream of retribution makes for a rather gripping watch: Chris Lee directs with style, favoring Peckinpah slow-motion, capturing the statuesque and charismatic Cynthia Khan like an angry empress, and orchestrating gorgeously brutal fights in which one can witness the birth of Nick Li Chung Chi’s trademark fluid yet gritty, almost cyclical ballet of kicks. The warehouse finale is one of the best in an era when warehouse finales were as common as sky beam finales have been in 2010s Hollywood blockbusters. ***

FATAL TERMINATION (1990) short review

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Despite its amusingly redundant and over-the-top title, Andrew Kam’s Fatal Termination is quite tame for two thirds of its runtime: its routine plot involves an arms dealer (Philip Ko) who hijacks a weapons shipment destined for Indian terrorists, with the help of a corrupt customs officer (Robin Shou) whose honest colleague (Michael Miu) becomes a scapegoat, the prime suspect to the cop (Simon Yam) in charge of the investigation. Ray Lui and Moon Lee play Miu’s brother and sister-in-law, concerned bystanders for most of the film but thrust into action for the last third, after he’s killed and their daughter is targeted for kidnapping as they get too close to the truth. This last third is in sharp contrast with the boring simmer of what came before: it is an explosion of brutality that is some of the most inspired chaos ever conjured up in a Hong Kong action film, courtesy here of action directors Ridley Tsui and Paul Wong. The kidnapping scene, where the little girl is dangled by her hair out of a speeding car, to the hood of which a desperate Moon Lee clings while attacking the driver, is a gobsmacking tour-de-force of action-directing and fearless stunt-work, and yet a mere starter. Subsequently, there’s hook-impaling a la Cobra, people strapped with explosives and blown to pieces, a child is shot to death, and it all ends with a relentless ballet of dueling cars and helicopters on brownfield land. With a more interesting plot, better pacing, and actual characters for the talented ensemble of Yam, Miu, Lee, Lui, Ko and Shou to sink their teeth into, this could have been a stone-cold classic of Hong Kong action cinema. James Horner provides most of the music, though he of course had no idea: his score for Gorky Park is heavily tracked-in. **1/2

CHASING THE DRAGON II: WILD WILD BUNCH (2019) review

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The second film in Wong Jing’s planned Chasing the Dragon trilogy of films based on real-life Hong Kong crimes, Wong Jing and Jason Kwan’s Chasing the Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch (hereafter Wild Wild Bunch) focuses on Logan (Tony Leung Ka Fai), who took advantage of the legal limbo in the few years leading to the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, to establish a kidnapping ring targeting Hong Kong’s elite for extravagant ransoms. From there, the films veers into fiction, as cop Sky He (Louis Koo) is sent undercover in Logan’s gang: his superior Lee (Simon Yam) has been tipped off that the kidnapper, who often uses improvised bombs to threaten his victims, is in need of a new explosive experts. Well-versed in that field, Sky manages to infiltrate the gang, thanks in no small part to Doc (Lam Ka Tung), Logan’s second-in-command, who appears to be playing both sides. The gang’s next target is the richest man in Hong Kong, casino tycoon Stanford He (Michael Wong), but Logan seems to know there’s a mole in his team.

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CHANGE OF GANGSTER (2019) review

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In Change of Gangster, his long-delayed fifth film as a director and actor, Francis Ng plays Francis Ng, a fading star whose recent failed attempt at an arthouse reinvention leaves him in dire need of a hit. He reluctantly accepts the lead role in The Godfather’s Son, a gangster drama bankrolled by a rich heir (Qiao Shan), whose director (Wen Song) is aiming for all-time greatness, and in which child star Feynman (Feynman Ng, Francis Ng’s actual son) is to play his son. But the has-been and the child actor don’t get along at all, and the beginning of production is plagued by constant strife, until by accident Francis’ head is hit by a falling toolbox. When he wakes up, he thinks he’s actually the gangster he plays in the film, and that Feynman is really his son. Sensing a way to salvage his film, the director decides to follow the brain-injured star around with cameras, as he prances around Hong Kong challenging gangs, while trying to connect with the boy he thinks is his son.

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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. *

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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