ONCE UPON A TIME IN SHANGHAI (2014) review

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The sort-of real life story of Ma Wing Jing, a wholesome country boy with stunning fighting skills who comes to Shanghai to escape poverty, only to end up befriending a charismatic but shady mob boss and losing his soul in the process, has already been the subject of two high-profile films, Chang Cheh’s The Boxer from Shantung and Corey Yuen’s masterpiece, Hero. Though that kind of half-folk, half-historical tale is bound to reappear on film every two decades, one would not expect it to be, as Once Upon in Shanghai is, scripted and produced by gargantuan and insanely prolific money-grabber Wong Jing, while being directed by edgy, often pretentious arthouse darling Wong Ching Po. And yet here it is, starring young upstart Philip Ng in the Ma Wing Jing role and the underrated Andy On as the mob boss, with prestigious action directing by Yuen Woo Ping and Yuen Cheung Yan, and a sturdy supporting cast of legends : Sammo Hung as the benevolent master of the community Ma Wing Jing moves into, as well as Yuen Cheung Yan, Fung Hak On and Chen Kuan Tai as a trio of rival mobsters called the Axe Fraternity.

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MOB SISTER (2005) review

After getting his big break in the Hong Kong film industry with the over-indulgent and gaudy Jiang Hu (aka Triad Underworld), director Wong Ching-Po came back to the world of the Triads with Mob Sister, and once again gathered a who’s who of Hong Kong gangster films, from acting gods and Johnnie To regulars Simon Yam and Anthony Wong Chau Sang to Derek Yee’s go-to actors Alex Fong and Liu Kai-Chi, as well as the omnipresent Eric Tsang, and a representative of the Yuen clan in the person of Yuen Wah. Add to that fresh faces like Annie Liu, up and coming mainland actor (at the time, now he’s well-established) Ye Liu and actress Karena Lam, and you get one of the most intriguing and exciting casts in a while. Annie Liu is Phoebe, the adopted daughter of a kind-hearted mob boss (Eric Tsang), who lives a sheltered life surrounded by her father, her three protective uncles (Yam, Wong, and Fong), and her bodyguard (Ye Liu). But when her father is killed, she is called on to replace him as triad boss. The idea of an innocent teenage girl catapulted into the shoes of a mob boss is pure comedy material, but Wong Ching-Po choses – wisely – to not settle on a particular tone, instead oscillating between whimsical, bittersweet and tragic, and peppering his film with animated sequences that illustrate the “mob sister”‘s feelings.

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