LAST LETTER (2018) review

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23 years after Love Letter, Shunji Iwai makes his Chinese-language debut, produced by Peter Chan, with Last Letter, a variation on the same themes of ill-fated romance, missed opportunities and epistolary bonding and healing – and he’s actually already at work on a Japanese remake. Zhihua (Zhou Xun) just lost her sister Zhinan, and is taking care of her niece Mumu (Deng Enxi) and nephew Chenchen. When she attends a high school reunion instead of her sister, to announce her death to her former classmates, she doesn’t find the right moment to do so, and is at a loss when Yin Chuan (Qin Hao) reconnects with her: she used to be in love with him, but he was in love with Zhinan, and now he is mistaking her for her sister. Yet rather than clarifying the situation, she starts sending him letters, thus reviving countless memories of the past, while her own daughter Saran (Zhang Zifeng) and Mumu get in on the correspondence, by a twist of fate. Soon there are revelations, some arriving too late.

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THE GREAT MAGICIAN (2011) short review

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In the Warlord era after the Chinese Revolution, a revolutionary group aims to kill a powerful warlord (Lau Ching Wan) to take a step towards reinstating the republic. Said warlord has imprisoned a woman (Zhou Xun) whom he wants to make his new wife, but can’t bring himself to force into mariage. The arrival of a skilled magician (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) with ties to the revolutionary group and a shared past with the imprisoned woman, marks the start of a game of deceit and illusions. Visually, this is an absolutely stunning movie, gorgeously lit, awash in lush production design, and elegantly directed by Derek Yee in a diversion from his more serious contemporary fare. The magician’s scenic tricks are wonderfully executed with seamless CGI and are a joy to behold. Leung, Lau and Zhou are firmly in their comfort zone and their interaction is one of the film’s pleasures, while fun cameos by Tsui Hark and Daniel Wu (among others) spice up the proceedings. Too bad then that the film is so narratively muddled and rhythmically challenged ; the plot proves too meandering for such a playful concoction, which results in an overlong runtime. Still, an enjoyable piece of classy fluff. ***

 

PAINTED SKIN (2008) review

Wang Sheng (Chen Kun) is a general who rescues a young woman named Xiao Wei (Zhou Xun) during a raid against desert bandits. Hearing that she is alone in the world he takes her as one of his household’s servants back home. But quickly after her arrival, people are found dead in the city, their hearts ripped off. Wang’s wife Peirong (Zhao Wei) suspects Xiao Wei, but the latter has won everyone over with a kindness. When Wang’s brother Pang Yong (Donnie Yen) comes back from a two-year absence, Peirong begs him to investigate the matter, which he does, with the help of Xia Bin (Sun Li), a young woman pretending to be a “demon-buster”. Adapted from Pu Songling’s short stories in Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, Gordon Chan’s Painted Skin was a big hit in Asia, as well as Hong Kong’s submission for the Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2008. But this latter bidd for worlwide recognition fell flat, and understandably so : Gordon Chan’s film is a ghost story, but one that follows conventions quite alien to western ones.

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