WOLF WARRIOR (2015) review

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Wu Jing’s second film as a director after 2008’s Legendary Assassin, which he co-directed with his martial arts choreographer of choice Nicky Li Chung Chi, Wolf Warrior is also his first lead role in the seven years since that film’s release, and the first time he co-wrote a film. He plays Leng Feng, a sniper who is expelled from the army after he solved a hostage crisis by ignoring orders and shooting down the hostage-taker with a hazardous maneuver. While in confinement, he is approached by officer Long Xiaoyun (Yu Nan) with an offer to join an elite tactical team known as the Wolf Warriors. He accepts, and soon he’s in the forest with his new team for a field exercise. But things take a tragic and dangerous turn when they run afoul of a team of foreign mercenaries headed by Tomcat (Scott Adkins) and hired by an international criminal (Ni Dahong) seeking revenge for the death of his brother, who is none other than the hostage-taker killed by Leng Feng. While supervised by Long Xiaoyun from a control room, Leng and two of his comrades must retaliate for the death of one of the Wolf Warriors, and prevent the team from crossing the Chinese border again.

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DEADLY DELICIOUS (2008) review

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Chen Jiaoqiao (Francis Ng) is a wealthy businessman whose relationship with air hostess Coco (Jiang Yiyan) is blighted only by the fact that he’s a gourmet and she’s a terrible cook. He’s also prone to mood swings and sometimes disappears for long stretches of time, a fact Coco attributes to her dubious cooking skills. But then she meets and befriends TV gourmet chef Gu Xiaofan (Yu Nan), who offers to teach her how to win back her boyfriend through his stomach. The collaboration between the two women is a success, as Jiaqiao grows fonder of his girlfriend now that she can meet his gourmet expectations. However, he soon starts losing hair and getting seizures, growing weaker by the day; doctors conclude to a rare form of poisoning, brought about by the combination of different kinds of edible ingredients. But then where does he get the food that combines in a deadly way with Coco’s cooking? It becomes obvious that Xiaofan is not who she claims to be and has a hidden, possibly vengeful agenda.

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NO MAN’S LAND (2013) short review

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Being shelved for four years over censorship issues sounds like a death knell for any film, and yet in the case of Ning Hao’s No Man’s Land, it may actually have been a considerable boon : indeed, the four-years delay meant that the film came out after the comedy Lost In Thailand, which starred two of the leads of No Man’s Land (Xu Zheng and Huang Bo), and thus became positioned as their follow-up to what is still the all-time highest-grossing Chinese film in China. It did however lose its potential status as China’s very first modern-day set western – with Gao Qunshu’s Wind Blast having been released in the meantime – though in truth it is closer to a film noir than a western, with moody voice-over and a cynical outlook on human nature. It tells of an arrogant big city lawyer (Xu Zheng) who travels to the far west of China to plead the case of a falcon trafficker (Togbye), then tries to rush back to the city to close a book deal on that very case. But he runs afoul of the trafficker’s scabby assistant (Huang Bo), as well as spiteful cops, angry truck drivers, and sordid petrol station owners, becoming the de facto protector of a desperate prostitute (Yu Nan) in the process. No Man’s Land often recalls Oliver Stone’s U-Turn, with which it shares an almost fantasmagorical level of bad luck and human scum thrust upon an almost unlikeable main character. And like that 1997 film, it starts out delightfully dark and funny, then loses steam with its thudding cynicism and an overdose of plot turns that are less fresh and witty than the director seems to think. Still, it’s a fun ride with great turns from Togbye as a monolithic bandit and Yu Nan as the only likeable character of the film and the incarnation of the softer side of Ning Hao’s pitch dark vision. ***1/2

SILENT WITNESS (2013) review

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Lin Mengmeng (Deng Jiajia), the daughter of famous, wealthy and arrogant entrepreneur Lin Tai (Sun Honglei), is accused of having killed her stepmother, a famous singer called Yang Dan, after confronting her over her infidelities to her father, made public in a paparazzi video showing her having a one-night stand with an actor. Lin Tai claims his daughter is innocent and hires China’s highest-paid lawyer, Zhou Li (Yu Nan), while public prosecution is handled by Tong Tao (Aaron Kwok), a brilliant lawyer with a spotless record, who’s been trying to nail Lin Tai for years over finally unproven charges of fraud. But after CCTV footage and a key testimony lead, on the first day of the highly-publicized trial, to the slightly too convenient conclusion that the father’s driver is the actual culprit, the truth starts to unravel as both defense and prosecution claw to the truth and receive clues from a mysterious source as to what lies beneath the clear-cut appearances.

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ANGEL WARRIORS (2013) review

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A stunningly atrocious concoction from the brilliant mind who gave us Kung Fu Hip-hop, Angel Warriors is unfortunately less laugh-out-loud ridiculous than its plot synopsis might lead you to expect. Our heroes, as an ugly anime introduction makes it clear, are a group of five stunning women, all modern adventurers thirsting for new experiences : one is a company CEO (Yu Nan), one is an archeologist/polyglot, one is a wildlife protectionist, one is a dancer and a martial artist, and the last one is, we kid you not, the owner of an online shop for outdoors clothing. Real screenwriting gold right there. Their latest adventure is a trek inside the Kana Jungle, home of the Tiger tribe. Their guide is Sen (Shi Yanneng) a member of that tribe who doubles as the pidgin-English narrator of the film, bragging about how he’s going to marry soon and bringing the audience up to date anytime it is unclear what’s happening onscreen (that is, quite often). Also joining the girls are Wang (Collin Chou), a military friend of Yu Nan’s late brother, and a National Geographic team headed by Dennis (Andy On). But soon it transpires that it is not actually a National Geographic team, but a mercenary outfit on a search for the Tiger tribe’s precious jewels. All hell breaks loose as the girls and the mercenaries part ways and are both hunted down by the tribe.

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WIND BLAST (2010) review

To earn enough money to run away with his girlfriend Sun Jing (Charlie Yeung), Zhang Ning (Yu Xia), accepts an offer from a mysterious employer to kill a mob boss. As a safeguard, he secretly takes a picture of this employer. But having carried out the hit, he finds himself and his girlfriend chased through the Gobi desert not only by four policemen (Duan Yihong, Ni Dahong, Jacky Wu Jing and Zhang Li), but also by two mysterious bounty hunters (Francis Ng and Yu Nan).

Wind Blast is obviously directed by Gao Qunshu (who co-directed the great The Message) as a thrill-ride with overtones of the western genre, be it the barren landscape in which everything unfolds or chases on horseback and mexican stand-offs. The story itself is pared down to its essentials, and Gao does a good job (he also wrote the film) of slowly revealing the dynamics that exist between the characters of this ensemble. It helps that he has a great cast to work with : the quartet of cops makes for an endearing team with Duan Yihong charismatic enough as the purposeful cop, Ni Dahong on fine form as the wise but jaded superior, Zhang Li striking in a long white coat, and a very fun Jacky Wu Jing as an almost childish auxiliary who insist on being called “Knight”. Yu Xia is an ambiguous presence as the fugitive, but you could say Charlie Yeung is wasted in a nothing role as her long-suffering girlfriend. But the real sparks come from Francis Ng and Yu Nan as the bounty hunters. Ng rocks a strange haicut (for a change…) and is his reliable self, providing the quartet of cops with a rather formidable opponent, while Yu Nan takes a very thinly written role and makes it a force to be reckoned with her almost reptilian menace offset by a sullen demeanor. Watching her here as a kick-ass hitwoman, it’s not difficult to understand why she was cast as a member of the Expendables in the second film.

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