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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THE BIG SHOT (2019) review

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After headlining the 2017 Chinese remake of the 2014 Korean thriller A Hard Day, and before headlining the 2019 Chinese remake of the 2013 Korean thriller Montage, Wang Qianyuan headlines the 2019 Chinese remake of the 2015 Korean thriller Veteran. And so we follow Sun Dasheng (Wang), a headstrong cop who despite – or because of – unconventional methods and a loose relationship to hierarchy, gets the job done and has acquired a reputation as a star detective, along with his team (including Wang Yanhui and Qu Jingjing). Under pressure from his wife (Mei Ting) to enter a lottery for housing in a school-friendly area for their son, Sun is introduced by a friend to Zhao Tai (Bao Bei’er), a property developer, heir to the powerful Zhao Shi conglomerate. Brutal, arrogant and entitled to the point of psychosis, Zhao thinks himself above the law, objectifying and humiliating everyone around him with no fear of repercussion. But when a friend of Sun’s, who went to Zhao to complain about having his home destroyed by his company with no compensation, is is left in a coma by an apparent suicide attempt, Sun Dasheng decides to get to the bottom of things, in the process starting a war with Zhao Tai.

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LOBSTER COP (2018) review

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The directing debut of actress Li Xinyun, Lobster Cop follows Yufei (Wang Qianyuan), Hua Jie (Yuan Shanshan), Neng (Liu Hua) and Chen (Zhou Yu), a squad of down-on-their-luck police detectives trying to bring to justice a dangerous trafficker known as The General. While staking out what they suspect to be an operating base for the General’s accomplices, they realize that a neighboring, decrepit lobster restaurant, owned by a nutcase (Shen Teng), would be a perfect vantage point to keep an eye on the activities of the suspects’ house. They gather enough money to buy the restaurant, clean it up and pretend to be a family, but Neng’s delicious spicy crayfish recipe unexpectedly turns what should have been just a front into an instant success, and the targets of their surveillance become regular customers. And soon, the four cops uncover a wider conspiracy.

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SKY HUNTER (2017) review

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Wu Di (Li Chen), Zhao Yali (Fan Bingbing), Gao Yuan (Leon Lee) and few others are the elite of the Chinese air force, and have started training under the strict leadership of flying legend Ling Weifeng (Wang Qianyuan) to be a part of the Sky Hunter task force, when a terrorist organization led by Rahman (Tomer Oz) takes dozens of Chinese citizens hostage in the fictional state of Mahbu, demanding one of theirs be released from prison.  But when the freshly-released terrorist is gunned-down by a vengeful father, it’s left to Wu Di and his comrades to rescue the hostages in a daring attack on the terrorists’ base.

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PEACE BREAKER (2017) review

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A remake of Kim Seong-hun’s devilishly entertaining Korean thriller A Hard Day (2014), Lien Yi Chi’s Peace Breaker follows Gaojian Xiang (Aaron Kwok), a mildly dirty cop whose team is under investigation for corruption, and who on one fateful night, while driving slightly inebriated to his mother’s funeral, crashes into a man on the road, killing him instantly. Unwilling to deal with the consequences, Xiang puts the body in his car, and later that night, hides it in his mother’s coffin. But just as he thinks the problem is dealt with, it turns out that the man he involuntarily killed is a wanted drug dealer that is police team is being assigned to track down. And to make things worse, Chen Changmin (Wang Qianyuan), a shady cop, knows what happened that night, and is determined to force Xiang to bring him the body, which holds particular value to him…

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THE VILLAGE OF NO RETURN (2017) review

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During the first months after the fall of the Qing dynasty and the rise of the Republic of China, Shi Baopi (Eric Tsang), a rich man, is colluding with bandits known as the Cloud Clan to take control of Desire Village, an isolated hamlet which may hide a treasure. But Big Pie, his mole in the village, drops dead after eating a poisoned bun. His widow, Autumn (Shu Qi), is suspected to have killed him, as their marriage was not a happy one : she had been promised to her childhood love, the mayor’s son Ding (Tony Yang), but he vanished after going to the city to pass an exam. Now, just as Autumn is about to be subjected to the wrath of the townsfolk, despite the efforts in her defense of a newcomer to the village and self-professed martial arts master (Joseph Chang), a mysterious man named Fortune Tien (Wang Qianyuan) arrives on a luminous chariot, and presents to the bewildered villagers a strange contraption, the “Worry Rider”. It is a kind of metal helmet that allows for the removal of bad memories from anyone’s mind. Soon, Fortune Tien turns the whole village into happy idiots obeying his every command, and has them digging around for treasure, having made Autumn his wife. But the Cloud clan is still preparing to attack the village, and to complicate matters, Ding finally returns…
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WHEN A PEKING FAMILY MEETS AUPAIR (2014) short review

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Chen Gang’s When a Peking Family meets Aupair (sic) is a tooth-rottingly maudlin and ear-splittingly shrill family comedy about middle-class Chinese parents (Xu Fan and Chen Jianbin) who hire an au pair from Columbia (Gianina Terranova) to be their daughter’s nanny. Things get off to a shaky start as her recklessness and fun-loving ways clash with the mother’s tightly-wound universe. The film obviously aims to provide some commentary on parenting in today’s China, but remains on a very simplistic level, each character reduced to one dimension: there’s the control-freak, the feisty one, the bitchy one (Fann Wong, of Shanghai Knights), the wise one, and so on. It all unfolds as a series of trite, flatly-shot vignettes, most of which are made unbearable by Gianina Terranova’s truly appalling performance, as she yells out each and every one of her lines in a mix of English and Mandarin, constantly bouncing and dancing around so as to hammer the viewer with the fact that her character LOVES having fun. Xu Fan and Chen Jianbin remain dignified and the film’s only palatable moments are the few scenes they share away from Gianina Terranova. Deceivingly, the film boasts on its poster the presence of Sun Honglei, Guo Tao, Tong Liya and Wang Qianyuan, but none of these estimable actors appear for more than a minute. Sun Honglei, in particular, must have agreed to appear after having lost a bet, so sullen and disconnected he seems in his short appearance. *

SAVING MR. WU (2015) review

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In 2004, popular TV actor Wu Ruofu was kidnapped and held for ransom for 21 hours, before being rescued by the police, psychologically traumatized but physically unscathed. Now more than a decade later here he is, co-starring in the story of his ordeal, in the role of one of the cops whose tireless investigation led to his rescue, and with superstar Andy Lau playing him. Wu was offered his own role, but refused to relive the events so directly ; shooting – and watching – the film must have been quite the cathartic experience for him, though he has remained tight-lipped about the whole thing. And so in a tight time-frame of 21 hours, Ding Sheng’s Saving Mr. Wu recounts the kidnapping of movie star Wu (Andy Lau) and everyman Dou (Lu Cai) by cunning and ruthless criminal Zhang (Wang Qianyuan), and the subsequent race against time as the police (headed by Liu Ye and the laterally titular Wu Ruofu) catches the latter and tries to have him give out the whereabouts of his victims before it’s too late: they know the abductees are to be killed whether or not the ransom is paid.

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BROTHERHOOD OF BLADES (2014) review

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In the year 1627, the Ming dynasty is in its final years as emperor Chongzhen takes over the throne, and in the process expels powerful Chief Eunuch Wei (Chin Shih Chieh) from his position of power. But a large number of court officials are still secretly in the service of the Eunuch, forming the so-called “Clique” that the emperor decides to dismantle. His prime resource in doing that is the “Jinyiwei”, his imperial assassins who are tasked with arresting, getting a confession out of, and/or killing, all presumed members of the Clique. Three Jinyiwei are chosen for the critical mission of finding and killing the Eunuch himself: Shen Lian (Chang Chen), who is in unrequited love with a courtesan (Cecilia Liu) and is saving up to buy her freedom, Lu Jianxing (Wang Qianyuan) who is desperate to meet his father’s standards by getting a promotion and is ready to bribe his way to it, and Jin Yichuan (Ethan Li), who is being blackmailed by a former friend (Zhou Yiwei) who threatens to reveal their criminal past and the fact he stoile a man’s identity to become a Jinyiwei. The fact that their new superior (Nie Yuan) is a pawn of the Eunuch further complicates the matters and soon an intricate web of lies unravels with tragic consequences.

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