GODDESSES IN THE FLAMES OF WAR (2018) review

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Shot in 2014 and planned for release in 2015, Wu Yigong, Jiang Ping and Li Zuonan’s Goddesses in the Flames of War had to wait for the end of 2018 to finally land on Chinese screens, in general indifference, to dismal box-office despite its starry cast, and three years too late for the 70th anniversary of the end of the Sino-Japanese war, which it was meant to celebrate. It calls to mind The Bombing, another recent, long-delayed all-star war epic also produced by Jiang Ping, but with only a fraction of the budget, and a more unusual focus. Indeed, as its titles indicates, it focuses on the role of women in war, following a dozen female destinies in a village occupied by Japanese invaders, by the Yangtze river. A student (Bai Bing) works for the armed resistance, a seductress (Yin Tao) uses her charms to shield other women from abuse, a wealthy wife (Zhou Dongyu) struggles with her husband’s collaboration with the Japanese, a businesswoman (Yao Chen) uses her influence to find employment for those in need… At the center is He Saifei, the film’s actual lead, as a woman who loses both her husband and her son to the Japanese, and will stop at nothing to protect her last remaining child, and get revenge.

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DREAM BREAKER (2018) review

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While investigating the mysterious disappearance fifteen years before of her father (Tong Dawei), a pioneer in virtual reality, Jiang Han (Chen Duling) finds herself trapped in Souldream, an illegal and dangerous VR game he designed, where players can fight one another for points which allow them to indulge their desires. There, she’s helped by Nan Ji (Song Weilong), an expert player who is himself on the trail of his uncle (Archie Kao). Directed by Han Yan (not the Han Yan who helmed Go Away Mr Tumor and Animal World, mind you), Dream Breaker benefited from the artistic input of visionary, subversive Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono, though it only shows in a few visions of kooky, gaudy chaos.

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ON HIS MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (2009) short review

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Wong Jing’s On His Majesty’s Secret Service is as narratively unfocused and packed with non-sequitur scenes as any of the rotund Hong Kong film kingpin’s comedies, but here is the gist of its ‘plot’: an Imperial Guard (Louis Koo) with no martial arts skills but a gift for scientific innovation becomes embroiled both in his fiancée’s (Barbie Hsu) plot to make him love her more by pretending she’s in love with a handsome hitman who’s actually a beautiful hitwoman (Liu Yang), and in an evil eunuch’s (Fan Siu Wong) plot to overthrow the emperor (Liu Yiwei), who is organizing a competition to find a worthy husband for his daughter (Song Jia). Apart from lavish costumes and sets, the direction is lazy and uninspired, while the humor consists of constant and lazy pratfalls, obvious pop-culture references (some are even delivered while literally winking at the camera), some inscrutable (for non-Cantonese speakers) wordplay and a cornucopia of blissfully unhinged comedic acting: Louis Koo is a broad delight, Fan Siu Wong steals all his scenes with his ‘dainty evil’ act, Song Jia shows effortless comedic skills, and while Barbie Hsu’s silliness feels more forced and Sandra Ng seems on autopilot, Tong Dawei and Liu Yang provide fine serious support, the latter being particularly charismatic as a cross-dressing assassin. All in all, it’s a harmless and often amusing comedy which could have stood out more if its numerous action scenes had been choreographed and directed with more verve. **1/2

LOST IN WHITE (2016) review

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The directorial debut of cinematographer Xu Wei (who most notably lensed Cheng Er’s Lethal Hostage), Lost in White takes places in the north-east of China, where two bodies have been found under the ice of a frozen lake, their remains made unidentifiable by carnivorous fish, but still bearing the mark of having been dragged with an ice hook. In charge of the investigation is Captain Zhou (Tony Leung Ka Fai), a dedicated cop who’s dragging along his teenage daughter Xinyi (Zhou Dongyu), with whom he should be spending quality time instead, since she’s only with him for a few days. Soon he’s joined by Wang Hao (Tong Dawei) a young Shanghai detective who’s on a missing person case that has led him to the same village where the murders happened. The two cases prove to be connected: the missing person and the two victims were part of a quartet of businessmen who ten years ago opened a refinery in the region, and disposed of chemical waste in an unethical way that has poisoned the waters and led to malformed babies in the following decade. Is the missing businessman the killer, the next victim or a red herring?

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