VENGEANCE OF AN ASSASSIN (2014) review

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Vengeance of an Assassin bears the sad distinction of being Panna Rittikrai’s final film as a director (his final film as a martial arts choreographer will be Tony Jaa’s upcoming A Man Will Rise, co-starring Dolph Lundgren), after his untimely passing in July 2014, which left a gaping hole in the world of martial arts films. It follows two brothers, Thee (Dan Chupong) and Than (Nantawut Boonrupsup), whose parents were murdered when they were young, and who’ve been brought up by their uncle. Thee has revenge on his mind and leaves his home to become an assassin, much to the grief of his uncle(Ping Lumprapleng), whose last promise to the parents was that he would raise their sons to become normal people. But after Thee refuses spares the life of a woman (Nisachon Tuamsongnern) he had been contracted to kill and goes on the run with her, he is hunted down by a shady businessman’s team of assassins (including Kazu Patrick Tang and Nui Kessarin) and has to enlist the help of his brother, his uncle and the woman’s Chinese doctor (Malaysian actor Ooi Teik Huat) to fight back and get revenge on the businessman, who may also the one who killed his parents.

It is unclear whether Vengeance of an Assassin had finished shooting when Panna Rittikrai passed away, and if so, whether pick-up shots were conducted by a new director. Either way, the film has a glaringly unfinished and fragmentary feel to it when it comes to the plot. It’s like entire scenes are missing, scenes that would at least give continuity and some degree of explanation to the proceedings. As it is, the film suffers from an amateurish lack of clarity, coherence and basic narrative build-up; what explanatory elements there are in between the action scenes and some cringe-worthy melodrama, come in the form of incredibly clumsy transition scenes. For example, this is how we are supposed to realize Thee became an assassin : we see him leaving his home, after which there’s a short, poorly-framed shot of people being gunned down by an unseen killer in a non-descript alley, followed by a shot of Thee sitting in a sofa with a determined look on his face. Even the best Thai martial arts films have never had solid plots, but Vengeance of an Assassin manages to boggle the mind with its narrative vagueness, its empty and anonymous characters, and its unbelievably odd and perfunctory plot turns.

Lazy flashbacks (of the kind that take place 20 years ago but where they just give the characters a wig and film them in the exact same place, with no set changes whatsoever) pad out the runtime, as do protracted scenes of the main characters sobbing about issues on which the film cannot seem to fill its audience in properly. It doesn’t help that Dan Chupong and Nantawut Boonrupsup, while superbly agile, have all the screen presence of a plastic spoon. The only cast members who register are Ping Lumprapleng, who would probably have been poignant if the film had been competently written, Nui Kessarin (revealed in Panna Rittikrai’s Born to Fight in 2004) who at least looks striking and makes her presence known by overacting, and Ooi Teak Huat whose wry and calm power could do wonders in better films.

But of course, the action is what one seeks in a film like Vengeance of an Assassin. The film opens with a stunningly gratuitous action scene : a violent football match where heads are kicked much more often than the ball itself. It’s an impressive but overly showy piece, whose excessive use of slow-motion and total lack of narrative or emotional stakes, coupled with the fact that it’s actually ONLY A DREAM, make it ultimately more head-scratching than pulse-pounding. Elsewhere, there’s a climactic action scene aboard and on top of a train that has good fighting (it demonstrates that a chicken bone can be a fearful weapon), but is marred by atrocious green-screen work, a problem that already plagued 2013’s disappointing Tom Yum Goong 2. It is puzzling to see Thai action cinema get bogged down in amateurish CGI, when its most celebrated films, like Ong Bak, Tom Yum Goong or Born To Fight, were bracingly practical displays of stuntwork and choreography.

Still, the stuntmen in Panna Rittikrai’s team acquit themselves flawlessly and fearlessly once again ; these men are probably made of steel and rubber in equal measure. There’s a few serviceable skirmishes in warehouses and an abandoned factory, where creative and brutal use is made of hooks and pulleys, and a short but delightful fight where the Chinese doctor knocks out a half-dozen henchmen with great ease, but the actual showstopper is a tracking-shot gunfight where Dan Chupong wipes out an entire building’s worth of bad guys with two machine-guns, as the camera follows without blinking. It’s not on a par with the mind-blowing tracking shot fight scene in Tom Yum Goong but still, it’s a bittersweet reminder of how thrilling a Panna Rittikrai action scene could be. But the truth is, Vengeance of an Assassin has more in common with the grainy cheapies the Thai action maestro cut his teeth on in the eighties and nineties, than with the increasingly ambitious action films with which he started rejuvenating his country’s action film industry in the naughties.

Long Story Short : A cheap action film that entertains with its bone-crunching action but baffles with its amateurish plotting and production values. *1/2

RAID ON ROYAL CASINO MARINE (aka THE INSPECTOR WEARS SKIRTS 3) (1990) review

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Following a successful first film and an even more successful second film that was basically a carbon copy of its predecessor, Raid on Royal Casino Marine finally mixes up the Inspector Wears Skirts formula. After spending the last two instalments silently longing for her, instructor Kan (Stanley Fung) is now married to Madam Wu (Sibelle Hu), who has retired but not mellowed : to keep fit she always rope-climbs to her hilltop house, and she’s managed to train her housemaid into a killing machine. When the Hong Kong police decides to mount an operation against an illegal gambling operation aboard a cruise ship, five members of the decommissioned female commando (returning actresses Sandra Ng, Kara Hui and Amy Yip plus new additions San Yip and Wong Wai Kei) are brought back into action to infiltrate the ship, but not before they get whipped back into shape by instructor Kan. As with the previous films, the training is actually closer to an escalating series of pranks between the instructor, his scapegoat/assistant (returning Billy Lau from the previous films’ male squad, which doesn’t return), and the five girls. The training ends more quickly, as the film segues into a God of Gamblers rehash (the immensely successful Wong Jing film had come out shortly after the release of The Inspector Wears Skirts II) for a saggy middle section. Then as the ship gets hijacked by its own captain (Michael Chow, who had a different role in the first film in the series), the film gets its obligatory yet perfunctory action finale (in which Kara Hui is unfortunately underemployed) : the Jackie Chan stunt team doesn’t return, and it shows.

Raid on Royal Casino Marine is, when watched in the right state of mind, an immensely enjoyable, mind-bogglingly weird little film. The previous two instalments were fun, cheesy, sophomoric action comedies full of eye-candy and sprinkled with good action ; this film is a sweetly demented little concoction. Its crazy ideas are muted by Wellson Chin’s pedestrian direction, but that doesn’t make them less odd : this is a film that gives us the be-all and end-all of romantic subplots, a Sandra Ng-Shing Fui On romance. He finally rejects her for money (he’s part of the hijackers gang), but when he decides love is more important after all, Michael Chow shoots him in the kneecaps and groin. After which Sandra Ng rejects him because his genitals have been shot off. After which they end up together anyway and head for Hawaii for genital surgery. If ever a film was robbed for Best Screenplay at the Hong Kong Film Awards, this is it.

Elsewhere the female squad has graduated from extreme pranksters in the previous film, to all-out violence maniacs in this one. They’re first re-introduced beating up a van-driver who’d been teasing them innocuously. At various points in the film they also beat up Billy Lau and Stanley Fung in protracted hammerings, but the ‘best’ is saved for last as they literally castrate one of the bad guys, as Sandra Ng repeatedly kicks his groin while the other girls have him pinned down. And alongside tired jokes like Amy Yip flashing her breasts to opponent numerous times to get a surprise effect, there are more offbeat ones like a bird that Sibelle Hu appoints to surveilling Stanley Fung, by smearing it with the latter’s saliva (!), or a incredibly elaborate prank in which the girls enact scenes from A Chinese Ghost Story, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th to their dazed and terrified instructor. The film is light on the action, save for an amusing finale where Sibelle Hu gets back in action and foreshadows Under Siege by single-handedly wiping out the hijackers, using kitchen utensils and a cloth-hanger. The cute, satisfied look on her face as she makes a molotov cocktail and has it land on a bad guy’s groin (yes, groins are a big thing in this film, believe it or not), is a perfect representation of this film’s noble spirit and lofty ambitions.

 Long Story Short : The Inspector Wears Skirts formula gets shaken up a bit in this third instalment which is derivative and moronic, forcedly referential and unabashedly politically incorrect, but also incredibly weird in an endearingly matter-of-fact way. ***

THE BARE-FOOTED KID (1993) review

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The Bare-footed Kid is unique in Johnnie To’s filmography in that it is his only period martial arts drama, and judging by its quality one can regret he didn’t work more within that genre. In this loose remake of Chang Cheh’s Disciples of Shaolin, Aaron Kwok plays a penniless orphan who seeks out the help of his late father’s friend (Ti Lung), a renegade general who now works under a fake identity in a dyeing factory headed by a kind widow (Maggie Cheung) whose commercial success hinges on a professional secret. They provide the kid with a roof, a job, and most importantly in his eyes, shoes. But when he takes part in a fighting tournament, his impressive martial arts abilities draw the attention of a corrupt official (Eddie Cheung) and a ruthless competitor in the dying business (Kenneth Tsang). He also falls in love with a pretty school teacher (Wu Chien Lien), whom he begs to teach him how to write his name. But soon his naive, suggestible nature and misguided attempts to help his benefactors precipitate a tragic turn of events as he finds himself torn between the lure of power and his devotion to the people who care for him.

Throughout the film, the running metaphor of wearing shoes underlines both his rise in stature and his loss of innocence ; indeed the film is like this metaphor : simple but effective. Told straightforwardly and in a brisk 90 minutes, it is heartfelt, sometimes a bit too melodramatic, but constantly grounded in interesting characters. Ti Lung and Maggie Cheung in particular, beautifully play wounded but strong characters who share a touchingly unspoken love. You’d almost wish they were the film’s primary focus, so strong is their chemistry. But Aaron Kwok is nevertheless quite good in exactly the kind of naive role where he could have been annoying, and he acquits himself quite well already when it comes to martial arts, with a very well rendered mix of carefree strength and puerile brutality. The fighting is superbly choreographed by the legendary Liu Chia Liang, and used sparingly enough that it serves the story rather than having the story serve it like in so many films of that time (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it simply wouldn’t have suited this film). Visually, the role played by dyeing in the story enables Horace Wong, one of Asia’s best directors of photography, to compose gorgeous shots using beautiful dashes of color. And aurally, composer Wu Wai Lap’s wistful main theme is a delight. With so many of Hong Kong’s finest at the top of their game, The Bare-footed Kid is a true pleasure that deserves to be rediscovered.

Long Story Short : A simple, poignant tale that is well-worn but made fresh again by heartfelt performances and assured direction. ****

ROSA (1986) review

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Joe Cheung’s Rosa is a buddy movie produced by Sammo Hung, that pairs the perennially underrated Yuen Biao (who also directs the action) with singer-actor Lowell Lo, with a script (though as often for Hong Kong films of the eighties, ‘outline’ would be a better word) by Wong Kar Wai. But despite that interesting pedigree, it doesn’t truly stick out from the mass of Hong Kong comedies of the decade. Yuen and Lo play cops who get on their superior officer’s (Paul Chun) wrong side but get a chance to redeem themselves by locating a police informant who has critical evidence against a local gangster (James Tien, not exactly cast against type). Their main help in finding him is his girlfriend Rosa (Luk Siu Fan), a model with whom Lo falls in love, while Yuen himself becomes romantically involved with Lo’s sister (Kara Hui). All those feelings, plus the two cops’ constant bickering, slows down the investigation to a crawl, until the gangster decides to take action.

In following the template of Hong Kong action comedies of the eighties, Rosa features a lot of bantering, pratfalls and slapstick, with no real action scene save for an ending warehouse brawl. The comedy is mostly uninspired and often dragged down by Lowell Lo’s loud, hyperactive shtick, though Paul Chun is good fun as the duo’s vain superior officer. Yuen Biao and Kara Hui bring their immense likeability and an easy-going chemistry between each other, and Luk Siu Fan provides the film with ample sexiness (though the film treats her mostly as walking cleavage), but the finale is the only thing that sticks in the mind : Yuen Biao trades blows with Dick Wei as they take the fight to a cold room (it’s a joy to watch but not on a par with their dizzying match-up in Millionaire’s Express), while Kara Hui takes on multiple henchmen and James Tien chases Lowell Lo around with a buzzsaw in a meat locker. If only the whole film had been as inspiredly fun.

Long Story Short : An uninspired comedy that drags along until a fun action finale, Rosa should have been much better considering the talent involved. **

IRON ANGELS (aka ANGEL) (1987) short review

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The first in a trilogy of Girls With Guns films (with only Moon Lee and Alex Fong being in all three films), Teresa Woo’s Iron Angels – which was actually directed by Ivan Lai, according to martial arts choreographer Tony Leung Siu Hung – follows a group of mercenaries (the titular ‘Angels’) composed of Saijo Hideki, Moon Lee and Elaine Lui and headed by a suave David Chiang, who team up with an Interpol agent (Alex Fong Chung Sun) to stop a vicious drug trafficker (Yukari Oshima) who is murdering police officials left and right. The film echoes Charlie’s Angels not only with its title and premise, but also with its cheesiness and general lack of tension. An inordinate amount of time is spent on flirting, pouting, and eye-gouging fashion statements. Still, when it comes to the action there’s a few outstanding moments, especially a final fight between Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima (who eats up the screen as the black widow villain) that is so brutal that it contrasts with the relatively tame proceedings up to then. Ingenuous Moon Lee and slinky Elaine Lui complement each other nicely, though one can tell the latter, in only her second film, was not yet the accomplished screen fighter she’d become in the following decade. **1/2

THE OWL VS. BOMBO (1984) review

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Sammo Hung’s The Owl vs. Bombo (also know as The Owl vs. Dumbo or The Owl vs. Bumbo, if you like fascinating film trivia) revolves around two retired robbers, the gentleman-thief type Owl (George Lam) and the more straightforward and bumbling Bombo (Sammo Hung). A year after their respective last heists, they’re contacted by a Chung (Stanley Fung), a cop who has evidence of their crimes and blackmails them into becoming partners to complete two tasks : to expose a gangster’s (James Tien) real estate fraud, and to assist two social workers (Deannie Yip and Michelle Yeoh) in rehabilitating juvenile delinquents. Mirroring the two tasks, this is a film of two halves, featuring light tension and a (very parsimonious) sprinkling of action when the reluctant duo try to bring down James Tien, and a fairly cheesy redemptive vibe when they try to give the delinquents reason to hope and the will to straighten their lives. The film follows both strands lazily, until they are joined in a finale that, while short and not quite memorable, is the only real fight scene of the film.

But there are nevertheless some pleasures to be found in this film. First, it is Michelle Yeoh’s first film. Sammo Hung and Dickson Poon, co-founders of the D & B film company gave the Malaysian actress her big break (she went on to marry the latter) in the first two In The Line Of Duty films, but here she doesn’t partake in what little fighting there is. Her fairly thankless role as a barely up to the task social worker doesn’t allow her to shine, but still there’s a curiosity factor to seeing a future acting queen grace the screen for the very first time. Then there’s the underdeveloped but sweet romance between Sammo Hung’s character and Deannie Yip’s. In a way it plays as a test run for their more fleshed-out and touching love story in Dragons Forever : their chemistry is flawless and very endearing. And it’s precisely in a scene where the two are on a date and she asks him if he knows how to dance, that the film pulls out an unexpected treat : a dance scene where Sammo Hung brilliantly fuses Gene Kelly’s tap dancing, Charlie Chaplin’s slapstick and his own Peking Opera training into an utterly delightful performance that, for a few minutes, raises the film above mediocrity.

Long Story Short : A lazy, forgettable comedy elevated for a few brief moments by Sammo Hung’s chemistry with Deannie Yip, and a delightful dance number. **

TOUGH BEAUTY AND THE SLOPPY SLOP (1995) short review

5132J64CRFL._SS500_ With its pairing of a stern Mainland police woman and an affable Hong Kong cop, who stage a prison break to infiltrate a drug trafficker’s gang, Yuen Bun’s Tough Beauty and the Sloppy Slop (its original title refers to a kind of speedboat) is a not-too-subtle rehash of Police Story 3, with cheaper alternatives to Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh in the lead roles. In step Yuen Biao, a hugely underrated actor who was at the nadir of his career at the time, and Cynthia Khan, who had already stood in for Yeoh in the In The Line Of Duty series, and whose career was waning quickly by 1994. Indeed this is a cheap film, and while it flashes a lot of familiar, welcome faces besides its leads (Waise Lee, Yuen Wah, Alan Chui who directed the action, and Billy Chow all appear), it is so derivative, loosely narrated and – more damningly for this kind of production – light on action, that it’s hard not to be sorry for Yuen and Khan, who turn in game performances despite having little chemistry together, but deserved so much better. Their short final fight against Billy Chow (scored with Elliot Goldenthal’s Demolition Man score) is the only worthwhile scene in an otherwise flabby little actioner. *

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.

In aiming to be the story of how Wong Fei Hung became Wong Fei Hung, Roy Chow’s Rise of the Legend borrows significant features from various Hollywood origins stories of the past decade. Like Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, it has a chronologically fragmented storyline that constantly hops from the hero’s young adulthood to his troubled childhood, and places a dramatic emphasis on the hero’s father as a doomed figure that imparts him with key personality traits, while also providing the hero with a mountain top education. Like Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale, it withholds signature elements of the character’s filmic persona until the final reel, like his musical theme or his umbrella and hat. And as a footnote, like Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood it casts the younger version of the character with an actor who’s actually older than the last two actors who played him as a fully formed adult : 32-year-old Eddie Peng plays ‘young’ Wong Fei Hung, while Jet Li and Vincent Zhao were 28 and 21 respectively when they took on the role of ‘fully grown-up’ Wong Fei Hung. The story itself is a mix of themes typical of Wong Fei Hung’s cinematic history like foreign interference, clan wars and social justice, with tropes associated with the undercover thriller, a typically Hong Kong genre that reached overkill after the triumph and Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s Infernal Affairs.

All this to say Rise of the Legend is not exactly a beacon of originality, though in fairness that was not needed for it to succeed either artistically or commercially. Christine To’s screenplay packs a fair dramatic punch, though it sometimes twists the chronology in a way that is probably supposed to make the proceedings seem more complex or intricate than they actually are, but doesn’t really work: to show something happening then backtrack 10 minutes earlier is quite often a misguided and clunky device. Also, the film simmers along for too much of its runtime ; there are three action set pieces at the beginning, middle and end, in between which urgency and poignancy are scarce. And while the nineties’ Wong Fei Hung films often had overbearing comic relief, Roy Chow’s film does the exact opposite by being an overly self-serious affair, with the only faint signs of humour coming from Wong Cho Lam’s underused Bucktooth. The aforementionned action set-pieces are efficiently choreographed by Corey Yuen, but marred by the holy trinity of annoying action directing gimmicks : awkward wire-work that never chooses whether to adhere to the laws of physics or not, constant slow-motion that favors shots of stepping into puddles (a la Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmasters) or of faces being distorted by a punch, and ugly, gratuitous CGI meant to make some situations more 3D-friendly (though we can’t comment on that as we saw a 2D version of the film). Still, other than some instances of ill-judged CGI, this is a stunning film to look at, from lavish sets by Lan Bin to low-key and classy costumes by Boey Wong, all bathed in Andy Ng’s tasteful photography.

The casting, much like the rest of the film itself, is of varying quality. At the center of it all (though interestingly, second-billed after Sammo Hung), Eddie Peng is a thoroughly misguided and unconvincing Wong Fei Hung. Not that he’s a bad actor, but Peng carries a contemporary vibe that doesn’t suit the role at all ; imagine Ben Affleck as Robin Hood. But Peng is not helped by the film’s lingering shots of his abdominals and pectorals (is that really what Roy Chow thinks this Wong Fei Hung is about ?) and the way the character is written : this Wong is made to be in turn arrogant, whiny and brooding, and while some of that can be attributed both to the part he’s playing to infiltrate the gang, and to the fact this is not the ‘fully-formed’ Wong Fei Hung, it’s just so far from what the character represents and there’s so little transition to the moment he finally appears as the title’s ‘legend’, that for now he never could be mentionned in the same breath as either Kwan Tak Hing, Jackie Chan, Jet Li or even Vincent Zhao (he is, however, less annoying than Willie Chi in Drunken Master 3, and more memorable than Wong Gok in Heroes among Heroes). Then, of course, there’s the presence of the living legend Sammo Hung, who gets a cool but underwritten role, whose sole feature is that he’s an awe-inspiring man of power. It could have been interesting to provide him with a backstory or with softening elements (Sammo’s brutal mob boss character in S.P.L., for instance, was also a devoted family man), but the script makes him little more than an impressive cardboard cut-out. Luckily, Sammo Hung is pretty good at being awe-inspiring, and he blows Eddie Peng off the screen in every one of his appearances.

Tony Leung Ka Fai hasn’t got much more than an extended cameo as Wong Kei Ying, and it’s too bad Chow and To decided to use him as a traumatic character-building device, rather than having him alive and well in his son’s adulthood like in Tsui Hark’s films, because Leung is perfect in the role. The historical truth however, is halfway between Tsui and Chow : Wong Kei Ying died when his son was about 20. The rest of the cast is fine but underused : Jing Boran in particular cuts a more interesting figure in his limited screentime than Eddie Peng, while Byron Mann has great dangerous charisma as Sammo’s second foster son. Angelababy and May Wang are however left on the sidelines too often. And Wong Cho Lam shows he could be a terrific Bucktooth, if indeed Rise of the Legend sparks a franchise, which at this point is touch and go, given the film’s fairly lukewarm critical and commercial reception ; US$30 million on the Mainland isn’t a disaster, but still a bit of an underperformance. Kwan Tak Hing was 76 when he last played Dr Wong ; at 51, it’s not too late to call back Jet Li.

Long Story Short : A visually stunning but narratively half-baked film that suffers from a miscast Eddie Peng as Wong Fei Hung, Rise of the Legend is solid but as grandiose and bland as its title. **1/2

ANGEL TERMINATORS (1992) short review

Angel_Terminators_dvdcover One of only two films directed by Wai Lit, most of the time a supporting actor in Category III films, Angel Terminators is representative of the more violent and dark variety of ‘Girls with Guns’ films. In a fairly simple plot (no surprise here), it follows the fight to the death between tough policewomen (Sharon Yeung, Kara Hui, Cheng Yuen Man), and a brutal mob boss (Kenneth Tsang) back from exile in Thailand and his henchmen (among whom Alan Chui, Dick Wei and Michiko Nishiwaki), with Carrie Ng as a woman with ties to both sides. Angel Terminators benefits from no-nonsense direction, well-staged – if hardly remarkable – action scenes, and a truly charismatic cast : Sharon Yeung has a steely presence that should have allowed her to do better than end her career in Godfrey Ho cheapies, Kenneth Tsang essays one of his classic scumbag roles, Michiko Nishiwaki is formidable as always, though her smouldering presence is underused, and Kara Hui, while absent for a long stretch, is always a joy to watch. It’s a tough, somber film that takes startlingly unpleasant detours (Carrie Ng’s character goes through an almost overwhelming amount of torment), and speeds violently towards an unforgiving ending, with a striking final shot. ***

GHOST PUNTING (1992) review

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The fifth and penultimate instalment in the Lucky Stars series, Ghost Punting reunites Sammo Hung as portly and well-meaning Kidstuff, Eric Tsang as borderline retarded Buddha Fruit, Charlie Chin as wannabe-womanizer Herb, Richard Ng as occult-obsessed Sandy and Stanley Fung as misanthropic Rhino Hide. These five jobless, hapless and horny losers, who share an appartment and an ever-thwarted goal to get laid, encounter the ghost of a man who’s been murdered by his wife’s lover, a violent mob boss. They report it to their old friend officer Hu (a cameoing Sibelle Hu, back after My Lucky Stars and Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars), who assigns a squad of beautiful lady cops (headed by Elaine Lui) to get proof of the paranormal encounter. As the ghost is seemingly visible only to them, the five losers use him to cheat in games of poker, and in return help him exact his revenge.

Ghost Punting, like previous instalments of the Lucky Stars series, uses a fairly free form of narrative that jumps from action and violence to comedic antics with almost no transition. The first scene of a man (the future ghost) being brutally murdered on a construction site, is immediately followed by scenes of the Lucky Stars going about their business: Buddha Fruit passes himself off as a blind man to get women’s sympathy and, if possible, grope them, Sandy is on his latest occult pursuit, possessing people, and as usual the rest of the gang plays along to better prank him, etc… If one likes the Lucky Stars’ brand of comedy, that heady mix of the childish, the sophomoric and the politically incorrect, Ghost Punting holds a lot of entertainment value. The absence of Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao, whose cameos brought some punch to the first three films, means the film has less memorable moments on the whole, but it is not felt too strongly, as the five actors’ chemistry is immaculate as usual. Adhering to the formula of these films, the last ten minutes see the comedy give way to bone-crunching action, which is here up to the Sammo Hung team’s usual high standards, but with a supernatural spin that recalls classics from the previous decade such as The Dead and the Deadly and Where’s Officer Tuba. The unsung action actress Elaine Lui gets in on the fighting with expectedly excellent results, in a womano a womano fight against Mondi Yau that is also memorable for featuring an almost uncomfortable amount of upskirt angles on the latter’s kicks. But then again, political correctness and good taste are not what one seeks in a Lucky Stars film.

Long Story Short : A serviceable and fun, albeit unmemorable instalment in the Lucky Stars franchise, Ghost Punting has the gang’s usual impeccable chemistry and a typically excellent final reel of action. ***