COLOUR OF THE GAME (2017) review

144858.33924257_1000X1000

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.

(more…)

Advertisements

LEAGUE OF GODS (2016) review

091457.13259170_1000X1000

Sometimes lazily and erroneously branded as a “Chinese X-Men”, a franchise with which it has very little in common beyond CGI and powers, Koan Hui’s League of Gods is actually much closer – in concept, story and visuals – to Alex Proyas’ Gods of Egypt, not that the marketing team would want to play that particular angle, following the much-publicized flop of that film (which we actually liked, for all its faults). It’s set in a mythical ancient China ruled by the evil king Zhou (Tony Leung Ka Fai) and his consort Daji (Fan Bingbing), who’s actually a Nine-Tail Fox demon who pulls the strings on every one of his power-hungry moves. But Zhou is met with resistance from the kingdom of Xiqi, ruled by king Ji Chang (Zu Feng) and old strategist Jiang Ziya (Jet Li). The latter sends his protégé Lei Zhenzi (Jacky Heung), the last of a once-flourishing winged tribe, on a mission to retrieve the Sword of Light, which is the only weapon that can defeat the Black Dragon, the evil and powerful entity from which king Zhou draws his power. In his quest, Lei Zhenzi relies on the help of Ji Fa (Andy On), his childhood friend and the son of king Ji Chang, Nezha (Wen Zhang), a rambunctious warrior who alternatively appears as a baby and a grown man, and Erlangshen (Huang Xiaoming), a mysterious warrior with a truth-seeking third eye. Lei Zhenzi also meets Blue Butterfly (Angelababy) a whimsical young woman with whom he falls in love, but who’s actually a creation of Shengong Bao (Louis Koo), king Zhou’s chief general, who has orders to kill him and his companions.

(more…)

COLD WAR 2 (2016) review

102821.64543147_1000X1000

Four years after their directing debut Cold War became the top film of the year at the Hong Kong box-office as well as an awards magnet (8 HK Film Awards and 3 additional nominations), Sunny Luk and Longman Leung finally deliver on its final cliffhanger: after implementing operation ‘Cold War’ to rescue five police officers that had been hijacked with their armored van, and arresting Joe Lee (Eddie Peng), the main suspect and the son of Deputy Police Commissioner M.B. Lee (Tony Leung Ka Fai), newly promoted Police Commissioner Sean Lau (Aaron Kwok) is contacted by mysterious masked men who have just kidnapped his wife, and want to switch her for Joe Lee. Putting his career at stake, Lau agrees on the terms, but the exchange takes a disastrous turn when a bomb goes off in a subway station where he’s escorting the handcuffed suspect. The latter is freed by an accomplice, and while Lau’s wife is rescued mostly unscathed, the whole incident draws judiciary scrutiny on the beleaguered commissioner, who is believed to have abused power. Part of the jury in an impeachment proceeding against Lau is Oswald Kan (Chow Yun Fat), a retired high court judge and independent member of the judicial council, who is being courted by a consortium of high-ranking officials conspiring to control the whole system, and whose ranks the soon-to-be retired M.B. Lee seems to have joined…

(more…)

WEB OF DECEPTION (1989) short review

Deception+1989-2-b

Web of Deception looks appealing on the outside, a Tsui Hark production directed by talented cinematographer David Chung (of Royal Warriors), and starring an all-female cast (and good old Waise Lee) headed by the great Brigitte Lin. It’s a Hitchcockian cat-and-mouse thriller in which Lin plays Lin, a successful businesswoman who’s being pressured by an unseen blackmailer, who she suspects might be either her insecure assistant May (Pauline Wong) or her slightly fishy broker Chow (Elizabeth Lee). As Lin makes arrangements to pay the blackmail money, things are complicated by May’s roommate Queenie (Joey Wong), whose twin sister Cat (Joey Wong too) owes big money to the Triads, and who plans to steal the ransom money to pay up the debt. This leads to plenty of double-crosses and murder attempts, as events unfold almost exclusively in Lin’s big house. Unfortunately, Web of Deception is narratively too pedestrian to engage : outside of one or two moments of real tension and shock, the film focuses on the characters’ endlessly wobbly agendas, as they hesitate, give up or take action in incredibly half-assed ways. It all makes for a very tedious experience, with Chiu Man-Hoi’s cheap score ramming every point home with cheesy synth noodling. David Chung’s experience as a cinematographer means it’s a pretty film to look at (except in a baffling ‘day for night’ scene, where a blue filter is applied to make day look like night, but they forgot to avoid showing white clouds in the frame…), and Brigitte Lin is commanding as always alongside the underrated Pauline Wong, but Joey Wong doesn’t manage to make her two roles interesting or even different from each other, despite the supposedly very different personalities. **

THE AVENGING QUARTET (1992) short review

51DKD1ZDVKL There are few films in the genre of Hong Kong action films more misguided than Stanley Siu Wing’s The Avenging Quartet. Its plot, about a Mainland cop (Cynthia Khan) who comes to Hong Kong to look for her boyfriend (Waise Lee) with the help of a kind but ass-kicking Hong Konger (Moon Lee) and a overeager cop (Chin Kar Lok), only to find out he is involved in the theft of a priceless painting that he’s about to sell to Japanese gangsters (among whom Yukari Oshima and Michiko Nishiwaki), is neither better nor worse than the average screenplay in the Girls With Guns sub-genre. Its title is misleading because the four actresses never join forces, but misleading or over the top titles were commonplace at the time. No, the film’s hugely grating shortcomings are the following : it sets itself up as a tough action film, but is content to just noodle around for more than an hour, as Cynthia Khan and Moon Lee plays video-games, go shopping and look for Waise Lee ; it casts Yukari Oshima and Michiko Nishiwaki, two smouldering, statuesque and charismatic actresses, only to give them about 15 minutes of combined screen time ; and most jarringly, it suddenly breaks up its fairly light tone to feature an ugly rape and torture episode that is completely out of place. The final 10 minutes finally deliver on the film’s promise by having the four actresses fighting each other in a house on fire, and it’s a suitably intense and brutal finale, but it’s simply too little, too late. *1/2

TOUGH BEAUTY AND THE SLOPPY SLOP (1995) short review

5132J64CRFL._SS500_ With its pairing of a stern Mainland police woman and an affable Hong Kong cop, who stage a prison break to infiltrate a drug trafficker’s gang, Yuen Bun’s Tough Beauty and the Sloppy Slop (its original title refers to a kind of speedboat) is a not-too-subtle rehash of Police Story 3, with cheaper alternatives to Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh in the lead roles. In step Yuen Biao, a hugely underrated actor who was at the nadir of his career at the time, and Cynthia Khan, who had already stood in for Yeoh in the In The Line Of Duty series, and whose career was waning quickly by 1994. Indeed this is a cheap film, and while it flashes a lot of familiar, welcome faces besides its leads (Waise Lee, Yuen Wah, Alan Chui who directed the action, and Billy Chow all appear), it is so derivative, loosely narrated and – more damningly for this kind of production – light on action, that it’s hard not to be sorry for Yuen and Khan, who turn in game performances despite having little chemistry together, but deserved so much better. Their short final fight against Billy Chow (scored with Elliot Goldenthal’s Demolition Man score) is the only worthwhile scene in an otherwise flabby little actioner. *

HIGH KICKERS (2013) short review

high-kickers-2012-1

On the surface, High Kickers sounds like a fairly appealing proposition : the beautiful and talented Eva Huang Shengyi in a film highlighting the Korean martial art know as Tae Kwon Do, with a living legend in the person of Gordon Liu (in one of his last roles before a stroke left him tragically diminished) lending credence to the project and support from Hong Kong mainstays Waise Lee and Mark Cheng. The plot, which concerns a young woman (Huang) seeking, and slowly gaining, the mentorship of an ageing Tae Kwon Do instructor (Gordon Liu) with an aim to defeat the champion (Mark Cheng) who accidentally killed her brother in an illegal match, isn’t exactly original or even plausible, but it might have been at least serviceable, had the productions values not been so incredibly dismal, and the directing so direly aimless and vague. Every aspect of the production is handled with a dumbfounding amateurishness. The writing is limp and builds absolutely nothing over the course of the film’s 80-minute runtime. The actors are all professionals that are either horribly miscast (50 year-old Mark Cheng as the national Tae Kwon Do champion), or ridiculously underused (Waise Lee barely registers as Mark Cheng’s coach, Gordon Liu is the only accomplished martial artist in the cast, but doesn’t get to fight). But even more damningly, the fighting is little more than a neverending series of poorly-shot high kicks performed quite obviously by stunt doubles, and limited to short skirmishes in non-descript gymnasiums and dojos. At the center of this anemic whimper of a film is Eva Huang Shengyi, a talented, appealing actress who deserves so much more. *

INNER SENSES (2002) review

The worldwide triumph of The Sixth Sense in 1999 led to a wave of horror films from everywhere, trying to be as narratively clever, emotionally grounded and atmospherically potent as M. Night Shyamalan’s masterpiece. Of course, Hong Kong tried its hand at it, but while its most famous outing in this genre was undoubtebly The Pang brothers’ The Eye in 2002, Law Chi Leung’s Inner Senses pre-dates it by a few months and beats it by a few notches in quality. It has the tragic distinction of being superstar Leslie Cheung’s last film before his suicide in 2002, aged only 46. The suicide note he left pointed towards some kind of long-lasting, hidden sense of despair, which happens to find an eerie echo in film’s plot.

(more…)