REMAIN SILENT (2019) short review

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When popular singer Wan Wenfang (Zhou Xun) is found stabbed to near death in her dressing room just before a performance in Hong Kong, the prime suspect is Jimmy Thomas (Roy Sun), who was the last person to be in her company, and who tried to run away when the police arrived. In the ensuing trial, prosecutor Wu Zhengwei (Francis Ng) finds himself pitted against old flame Duan Mulan (Zhou Xun), who’s chosen to defend Thomas, convinced that he’s innocent, and suspecting instead Tian Jingcheng (Zu Feng), Wan’s devoted agent. Shot in 2015, Zhou Ke’s Remain Silent was originally slated for release in 2016, but gathered dust on a shelf for more than three years, for unclear reasons given that it’s a solid film backed by a thriving studio, and with no content that Chinese censorship might consider subversive. Its routine courtroom scenes can’t hold a candle to the thrills of Fei Xing’s Silent Witness (in whose successful Chinese footsteps Remain Silent seems to want to follow), but the central mystery is a reasonably engaging one, full of red herrings (Zhou Xun plays dual yet seemingly unrelated roles, Zu Feng is superbly ambiguous) and devious flashbacks – as well as, sadly, one or two gaping plot holes. And while the ending revelation isn’t exactly as thunderous as it’s supposed to be, it’s nevertheless a pleasure to watch masters of acting Zhou Xun and Francis Ng spar in and out of the courthouse, sharing unexpected yet impeccable, bittersweet chemistry. **1/2

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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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EXTRAORDINARY MISSION (2017) review

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Felix Chong and Alan Mak, the writers of the classic Infernal Affairs trilogy, are back to the undercover thriller (the former as screenwriter and the latter as co-director with cinematographer Anthony Pun), and they’ve made the anti-Infernal Affairs. Extraordinary Mission follows Lin Kai (Huang Xuan) a cop sent to infiltrate a drug cartel by his superior Li Jianguo (Zu Feng), a former undercover himself. Fiercely motivated by the death of his mother from a drug overdose when he was a child, Lin quickly penetrates the cartel, until he finds an occasion to meet its ruthless, possibly deranged leader Eagle (Duan Yihong), and earn his trust to then dismantle the whole network.

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LEAGUE OF GODS (2016) review

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Sometimes lazily and erroneously branded as a “Chinese X-Men”, a franchise with which it has very little in common beyond CGI and powers, Koan Hui’s League of Gods is actually much closer – in concept, story and visuals – to Alex Proyas’ Gods of Egypt, not that the marketing team would want to play that particular angle, following the much-publicized flop of that film (which we actually liked, for all its faults). It’s set in a mythical ancient China ruled by the evil king Zhou (Tony Leung Ka Fai) and his consort Daji (Fan Bingbing), who’s actually a Nine-Tail Fox demon who pulls the strings on every one of his power-hungry moves. But Zhou is met with resistance from the kingdom of Xiqi, ruled by king Ji Chang (Zu Feng) and old strategist Jiang Ziya (Jet Li). The latter sends his protégé Lei Zhenzi (Jacky Heung), the last of a once-flourishing winged tribe, on a mission to retrieve the Sword of Light, which is the only weapon that can defeat the Black Dragon, the evil and powerful entity from which king Zhou draws his power. In his quest, Lei Zhenzi relies on the help of Ji Fa (Andy On), his childhood friend and the son of king Ji Chang, Nezha (Wen Zhang), a rambunctious warrior who alternatively appears as a baby and a grown man, and Erlangshen (Huang Xiaoming), a mysterious warrior with a truth-seeking third eye. Lei Zhenzi also meets Blue Butterfly (Angelababy) a whimsical young woman with whom he falls in love, but who’s actually a creation of Shengong Bao (Louis Koo), king Zhou’s chief general, who has orders to kill him and his companions.

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