THE CLIMBERS (2019) review

p2569090715In 1960, Fang Wuzhou (Wu Jing) and Qu Songlin (Zhang Yi), members of the Chinese National Mountaineering Team, reached the summit of Mount Everest (known as Qomolangma in Tibetan) from the North Ridge, a perilous achievement that cost the life of their captain. Worse, it later went unrecognized by the international community: after losing their camera during the ascent, the Chinese climbers were unable to provide the necessary photographic proof of their exploit. Since then, Fang and Qu have lived in shame, considered frauds by most. So when an opportunity to renew the exploit arises fifteen years later, they set out to train a new team of climbers, including Li Guiliang (Jing Boran), Yang Guang (Hu Ge), and meteorologist Xu Ying (Zhang Ziyi), with whom Fang has long been in love.

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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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EXPLOSION (2017) review

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Zhao Xudong (Duan Yihong) is a “blaster”, an explosives engineer working in coal mines, in the northern province of Shanxi. One day, one of his carefully prepared explosions goes wrong, and four miners die while Zhao survives, with a concussion. Mine owner Li Yi (Lu Peng) pays him off to keep his mouth shut about the incident, which appears to be linked to a current power struggle between Li and a local businessman, Cheng Fei (Cheng Taishen). But Zhao’s childhood friend, police detective Xu Feng (Wang Jingchun) is already sniffing around for clues, and soon Zhao is stuck in the middle of a turf war and a police investigation, trying to clear his name and protect his pregnant girlfriend Xiao Hong (Yu Nan), while a killer (Yu Ailei) is on his trail.

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THE FOUNDING OF AN ARMY (2017) review

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After Han Sanping and Huang Jianxin’s The Founding of an Army and The Founding of a Party, what we like to call “the PRCCU” (People’s Republic of China cinematic universe) gets a third installment with Andrew Lau’s The Founding of an Army, which is backed by no less than forty-six credited producers, and more importantly, by the Chinese state. And so in solemn commemoration of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, ninety years ago, Chinese audiences have been treated to yet another round of episodic, star-studded, title card-ridden, speech-happy propaganda, again with Liu Ye as the charismatic, statuesque, handsome, saintly, selfless, farseeing, and most of all, deeply, deeply humanistic Mao Zedong (note that our use of irony here is about as heavy-handed as the film’s approach to history).

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BEAUTIFUL ACCIDENT (2017) short review

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Ho Wi Ding’s Beautiful Accident is the latest installment in that subgenre of comedy where a supernatural occurrence or a unique time lapse brings new perspective to the lead character – think Groundhog Day or Miss Granny. Here, Gwei Lun Mei plays Li Yu Ran, a proudly lonely, career-driven lawyer who after a car accident finds herself in the offices of Fate, where she is told that her death was a clerical error and that she will be able to reintegrate her body in a week. But by then, she is to take the place of a recently-deceased mother. With no choice but to accept, Li Yu Ran finds herself catapulted in the life of a housewife, with an overworked husband (Chen Kun), a resentful teenage daughter (Nana Ouyang), and a young son who is the only to sense this is not his real mother. Droll situations ensue, peppered with the dime-store wisdom and rote use of serendipity often displayed in the subgenre, though the film is quite inspired in its depiction of the offices of Fate as a bureaucratic mess peopled with half-competent employees, let by a delightful Wang Jingchun. This is mostly a one-woman show, and as often in her more commercial film, Gwei Lun Mei overacts wildly; it can be jarring at first, but when the film becomes more heartfelt, she actually brings it much-needed subtlety. Chen Kun laudably steps back to a supporting function, though he puzzlingly often seems to be playing his character as slightly mentally retarded. All in all this is an entertaining and visually pleasing, but unmemorable little comedy. **1/2

THE WITNESS (2015) review

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A remake of his own successful Korean thriller Blind (2011), Ahn Sang-hoon’s The Witness transposes the action to China but keeps much of the original film’s key plot points. Xing (Yang Mi) is a young cop who lost her brother in a car accident. She blames herself for the tragedy, as she had tied her unruly sibling’s hands in the car to keep him still, leading to his eventual inability to escape the car as it teetered on the edge of a bridge. She also lost her eyesight in the accident, which means she can’t be a cop anymore, and leads a dour, guilt-ridden life. One day she gets into a cab whose driver turns out to be a psychopath (Zhu Yawen) who’s behind a wave of abductions, with all the victims being beautiful young women. As Xing struggles to break free of the driver, the cab hits someone who was crossing the street, and she manages to escape. The next day she reports the incident to the police, and astounds the detective in charge of the investigation (Wang Jingchun) with her astute observations on her would-be abductor : though she’s blind, her astute remaining senses and sharp deduction skills allow her to provide useful information. But soon thereafter a young skater, Chong (LuHan), turns up at the police station : he says he’s witnessed the incident, but his indications don’t match Xing’s. As a wayward youngster his testimony doesn’t weigh much more than that of the blind woman, but things become urgent when Xing realizes she’s dropped her diary in the psychopath’s car, and he may now be stalking her.

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