MANHUNT (2017) review

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In John Woo’s Manhunt, a remake of the classic 1976 Japanese thriller of the same title, Zhang Hanyu is Du Qiu, a successful lawyer who’s been working in Japan for a big and shady pharmaceutical company headed by Sakai (Jun Kunimura), who is passing the torch to his son Hiroshi (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi). But when Du wakes up with a dead woman (Tao Okamoto) in his bed, no recollection of what happened but all clues conveniently pointing to his being the murderer, he must go on the run. Hunted by hard-boiled cop Yamura (Masaharu Fukuyama) as well as by two female assassins, Rain (Ha Ji-won) and Dawn (Angeles Woo), who work for Sakai, Du can only rely on the help of Mayumi (Qi Wei), a mysterious woman linked to his past.

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SEVENTY-SEVEN DAYS (2017) short review

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Based on a true story, Zhao Hantang’s Seventy-Seven Days follows Yang Liusong (Zhao himself), a man determined to cross the desolate, uninhabited area of Changtang, at more than 4,500 meters of altitude on the Tibetan plateau, and to cross it horizontally, which is the most perilous way of going about it, and will take him at least 80 days, exposing him to extreme weather, lack of water and hostile wildlife including yaks, bears and wolves. But the memory of a brief yet intense encounter in Lhasa with a wheelchair-bound woman, Lan Tian (Jiang Yiyan), keeps him going forward even when all seems lost. The majestic, austere beauty of the Tibetan landscapes – lovingly captured by demi-god cinematographer Mark Lee Ping Bing – is almost overshadowed by the beauty of Jiang Yiyan in this passable travelogue. It was shot at the same altitude as the events it depicts and is full of interesting details about the dangers of the Tibetan plateau, such as how blissful snow, ending a life-threatening water-shortage for Liusong, can turn into a nightmare as it melts into a flood. But life-affirming platitudes about freedom (often worthy of a facebook inspirational slideshow) abound, and little is explained or shown of why Liusong has embarked on such an adventure, and thus the film’s emotional resonance lands squarely on Jiang Yiyan’s shoulders. Her vivid, heartbreaking performance as a woman putting on a brave front but crumbling inside, leaves a much stronger mark on the film than Zhao Hantang’s slightly bland lead. **1/2

TIK TOK (2016) review

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A Korean-Chinese co-production, Li Jun’s Tik Tok takes place in Seoul and follows Korean cop Jiang (Lee Jung-jae), who is investigating the kidnapping of a footballer’s wife, mere hours before he is supposed to play in a momentous match in an Asian championship. By tracking the kidnapper’s phone, Jiang is led to Guo Zhida (Wallace Chung), a Chinese gambling addict who wears a mask after being disfigured in a factory fire, and suffers from severe mental illness, for which he is being treated by Yang Xi (Lang Yueting), a Chinese psychiatrist hired by his brother Zhihua (also Wallace Chung). Zhida has placed several bombs in the stadium where the football match is taking place, and now Jiang must play his sick game of riddles and bets to get him to tell where they are, before it’s too late.

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SKY HUNTER (2017) review

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Wu Di (Li Chen), Zhao Yali (Fan Bingbing), Gao Yuan (Leon Lee) and few others are the elite of the Chinese air force, and have started training under the strict leadership of flying legend Ling Weifeng (Wang Qianyuan) to be a part of the Sky Hunter task force, when a terrorist organization led by Rahman (Tomer Oz) takes dozens of Chinese citizens hostage in the fictional state of Mahbu, demanding one of theirs be released from prison.  But when the freshly-released terrorist is gunned-down by a vengeful father, it’s left to Wu Di and his comrades to rescue the hostages in a daring attack on the terrorists’ base.

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THE FOUNDING OF AN ARMY (2017) review

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After Han Sanping and Huang Jianxin’s The Founding of an Army and The Founding of a Party, what we like to call “the PRCCU” (People’s Republic of China cinematic universe) gets a third installment with Andrew Lau’s The Founding of an Army, which is backed by no less than forty-six credited producers, and more importantly, by the Chinese state. And so in solemn commemoration of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, ninety years ago, Chinese audiences have been treated to yet another round of episodic, star-studded, title card-ridden, speech-happy propaganda, again with Liu Ye as the charismatic, statuesque, handsome, saintly, selfless, farseeing, and most of all, deeply, deeply humanistic Mao Zedong (note that our use of irony here is about as heavy-handed as the film’s approach to history).

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PEACE BREAKER (2017) review

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A remake of Kim Seong-hun’s devilishly entertaining Korean thriller A Hard Day (2014), Lien Yi Chi’s Peace Breaker follows Gaojian Xiang (Aaron Kwok), a mildly dirty cop whose team is under investigation for corruption, and who on one fateful night, while driving slightly inebriated to his mother’s funeral, crashes into a man on the road, killing him instantly. Unwilling to deal with the consequences, Xiang puts the body in his car, and later that night, hides it in his mother’s coffin. But just as he thinks the problem is dealt with, it turns out that the man he involuntarily killed is a wanted drug dealer that is police team is being assigned to track down. And to make things worse, Chen Changmin (Wang Qianyuan), a shady cop, knows what happened that night, and is determined to force Xiang to bring him the body, which holds particular value to him…

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WU KONG (2017) review

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Based on a successful internet novel by Jin Hezai, Wu Kong is Derek Kwok’s second stab at the Monkey King myth (after co-directing Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons with Stephen Chow), on which it is supposed to offer a new take – a rather hollow claim given that the countless Monkey King adaptations of recent years have all had completely different narratives from one another. An origin story of sorts, it follows Sun Wukong (Eddie Peng), hungry for revenge after goddess Hua Ji (Faye Yu) had his beloved Mount Huaguo ravaged to punish a revolting demon. The Monkey enters the heavenly kingdom with plans to destroy the destiny astrolabe, a giant machine which preordains the fate of everyone on earth. There, he meets Azi (Ni Ni), daughter of his enemy Hua Ji, and is confronted by two immortals, Erlangshen (Shawn Yue) and Tianpeng (Oho Ou). After their fight takes them to earth, where their powers are ineffective, Wukong, Erlangshen and Tianpeng end up joining forces to help a small village on Mount Huaguo defeat a cloud demon. In the process, Wukong and Azi fall in love, Erlangshen finds a surrogate mother, and Tianpeng is reunited with Yue (Zheng Shuang), a long lost love. But soon, Hua Ji restores discipline with a bloodbath.

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SHOCK WAVE (2017) review

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For Shock Wave, Herman Yau was given the biggest budget of his directing career, and was rewarded with his biggest commercial success yet. Andy Lau plays JS Cheung, a superintendent of the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) Bureau finds himself in the crosshairs of a dangerous terrorist, Hung Kai Pang (Jiang Wu), in whose gang he had gone undercover years ago, and whose brother (Wang Ziyi) he put behind bars. Hung, a deranged bomb specialist, is hungry for revenge and wants his brother out of prison; after challenging Cheung with carefully crafted explosive devices left in public places, he takes hundreds of civilians hostage in Hong Kong’s Cross-Harbour Tunnel, which he has rigged with 1000kg of C-4 explosive.

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FIST & FAITH (2017) review

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In 1931, the northeast region of Manchuria in China was seized by Japan and turned into a puppet state ruled – in appearance – by Puyi, the last Qing emperor. Japanese culture, history and values were taught in schools, so that Chinese culture had to be safeguarded by underground reading societies, which, if exposed, were harshly repressed by the Japanese authorities. Jiang Zhuoyuan’s Fist & Faith takes place against this background, following Jing Hao (Oho Ou) and his friends, Chinese students of a Manchurian university who often battle it out with the Japanese students led by Shibata (Kento Hayashi), the heir to a once-glorious (but now disgraced) clan. When Liu He (Jing Tian), arrives to the university to take a position there as a history teacher, Jing Hao falls head over heels for her, and ends up joining the underground reading society she leads, just so that he can better woo her. But the carefree student is soon confronted to the harsh political reality of his time, as Shibata is hired by the Japanese authorities to violently break up Liu He’s reading society.

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THE ADVENTURERS (2017) review

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Initially rumored to be a remake of John Woo’s Once a Thief, Stephen Fung’s The Adventurers is actually simply a caper in the same spirit, with only European locations and a central duo of thieves in common with the 1991 film. Dan Zhang (Andy Lau), a highly-skilled thief, has just been released after serving a four-year prison sentence. Right upon becoming a free man again, and despite being closely watched by French detective Pierre Bissette (Jean Reno), he immediately goes back to his old ways, stealing a priceless necklace in Cannes, with the help of his trusted partner Bao (Tony Yang) and Red (Shu Qi), a talented aspiring thief. Next, Zhang sets his sight on another piece of invaluable jewelry that is in the possession of a Chinese billionaire (Sha Yi), safely kept in his castle in Czech Republic. But Bissette is still on his trail, and teams up with Amber Li (Zhang Jingchu), an art expert who’s none other than Zhang’s long-suffering girlfriend.