MISSION MILANO (2016) short review

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This caper about an Interpol agent (Andy Lau) who joins forces with a gentleman-thief (Huang Xiaoming) to stop a terrorist organization from using a revolutionary invention known as the Seed of God (a seed that can grow even in the most barren places) for evil purposes could very well be a From Vegas to Macau film, as it sees Wong Jing follow the exact same recipe as in his successful Chinese New Year franchise: pair up a handsome legend with a handsome younger star, surround them with comedians (including here a very funny Shen Teng and a so-so Wong Cho Lam) and cameos (hello, Sammi Cheng) and one or two martial artists (good old Ken Lo and up-and-comer Wu Yue), offer spectacle that combines a five-year old boy’s sense of narrative logic, a ten year-old boy’s taste for absurd high-tech gadgets, and a fifteen year-old boy’s fixation on leather-clad beauties (hello, Michelle Hu and many others). Add a dash of gambling (but not too much, the Hong Kong market is second served), one or two exotic locations, a lot of derivative elements (including a Resident Evil death corridor, Wolverine claws, John Powell’s The Bourne Supremacy soundtrack tracked in the action scenes…) and one or two incongruously straight-faced dramatic moments. In the end, it is indeed a lowbrow but entertaining formula, and Mission Milano is actually more palatable than any of the From Vegas to Macau films. Andy Lau is a delight (Huang Xiaoming seems less comfortable), there are some moderately inspired pratfalls, sight gags and situations, and Dion Lam’s action is cartoony and amusing. All in all, this film deserves the following faint praise: a Mission Milano 2 sounds more tempting than a From Vegas to Macau 4**1/2

RISE OF THE LEGEND (2014) review

ROTL-FINAL REGULAR-A3-poster_S It’s been 17 years since the folk hero Wong Fei Hung last graced the big screen, in Sammo Hung’s Once Upon a Time in China and America in 1997. Now, as most hits of the nineties are given the reboot treatment, from the ancient legends of The Monkey King to the edgy streets of Young and Dangerous, it seemed obvious that the Chinese martial artist, physician and revolutionary, as well as hero of over 100 films, would make a comeback. Surprisingly, this comeback wasn’t handled by Tsui Hark, who with Flying Swords of Dragon Gate showed a willingness to revisit his earlier films, but by Roy Chow, director of two interesting but sometimes misguided films, Murderer (2009) and Nightfall (2012). This is, as the impressively bland title suggests, an origins story, and it follows Wong Fei Hung (Eddie Peng) both as a kid learning valuable life lessons from his father Wong Kei Ying (Tony Leung Ka Fai) and being scarred forever by his death in a criminal fire, and as a young man infiltrating a ruthless gang led by the formidable Lei (Sammo Hung, who also produces), who controls the docks of Canton, owns opium dens and sells slaves to the usual evil Gweilos. Wong is helped by his childhood friends (Jing Boran, May Wang and Angelababy), but many sacrifices await him.

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HORSEPLAY (2014) short review

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Aping the stylish Hollywood capers of the sixties, Lee Chi-Ngai’s Horseplay has a set of attractive actors chase, flirt and double-cross each other across fancy locations, with Kelly Chen as an entertainment reporter who collaborates with the Mainland government and a Hong Kong detective (Ekin Cheng), to recover a priceless ceramic horse that has been targeted by a legendary art thief (Tony Leung Ka Fai). The on-location shooting in Hong Kong, London and Prague is classy, and the cast is tremendously attractive, with Kelly Chen at her most charming and cute, Tony Leung Ka Fai having a lot of fun going through a variety of stupid disguises (at one point he’s a black nun…), Ekin Cheng as laid-back and likeable as he’s ever been, not to mention an absolutely hilarious Eric Tsang in a double-act with Wong Cho Lam, both playing art experts. The problem is a plodding and derivative script that tries hard but lacks wit, with an overdose of flirtatious double-crossing and too much random quirkiness. The soundtrack, with its heavy use of Henry Mancini classic Pink Panther song “Meglio Stasera” and its borrowing of John Williams’ Catch Me If You Can score stylings, only serves to underline how much below its models Horseplay falls. The end titles sequence however, has Leung, Chen and Chang singing and dancing to the Mancini song against quirkily animated  touristic backgrounds and yellow CGI flying piglets. It is delightfully silly, unassumingly sexy, and one wishes the whole film had captured its essence. **1/2