An Interview with Composer Henry Lai


In the twenty year since his film music debut in 1994, Henry Lai Wan Man has secured a firm spot on the short A-list of Chinese film composers, next to fixtures like Chan Kwong Wing or Peter Kam. A four-time Hong Kong Film Awards nominee, his talents have been sought by some of the most high-profile directors in China and Hong Kong, including Dante Lam, Daniel Lee, Mabel Cheung, Alex Law, Gordon Chan, Felix Chong and Alan Mak. And rightly so : his scores show a great versatility, an ability to adapt to different genres and to integrate illustrious musical influences (Ennio Morricone, John Barry, Hans Zimmer…) while never forsaking his own style.

For a primer of Henry Lai’s talents you can listen to his rousing, heroic theme for 14 Blades, the wistful and folkloric “Paddy Field Song” from The Lost Bladesmanthe heartbreaking lament for Nick Cheung’s character in The Beast Stalker, the driving investigation theme from The Four, the triumphant Russian-flavoured training music in Star Runner, the tense, pulsating action music from The Sniper, the touching, delicate score for Echoes of the Rainbow, the Morricone-inspired music in A Fighter’s Blues, the ominous main titles cue from Fire of Conscience, the gripping percussive music (one of Lai’s specialties) of White Vengeance, or the gloriously epic main theme of Three Kingdoms : Resurrection of the Dragon.

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THE WITNESS (2015) review


A remake of his own successful Korean thriller Blind (2011), Ahn Sang-hoon’s The Witness transposes the action to China but keeps much of the original film’s key plot points. Xing (Yang Mi) is a young cop who lost her brother in a car accident. She blames herself for the tragedy, as she had tied her unruly sibling’s hands in the car to keep him still, leading to his eventual inability to escape the car as it teetered on the edge of a bridge. She also lost her eyesight in the accident, which means she can’t be a cop anymore, and leads a dour, guilt-ridden life. One day she gets into a cab whose driver turns out to be a psychopath (Zhu Yawen) who’s behind a wave of abductions, with all the victims being beautiful young women. As Xing struggles to break free of the driver, the cab hits someone who was crossing the street, and she manages to escape. The next day she reports the incident to the police, and astounds the detective in charge of the investigation (Wang Jingchun) with her astute observations on her would-be abductor : though she’s blind, her astute remaining senses and sharp deduction skills allow her to provide useful information. But soon thereafter a young skater, Chong (LuHan), turns up at the police station : he says he’s witnessed the incident, but his indications don’t match Xing’s. As a wayward youngster his testimony doesn’t weigh much more than that of the blind woman, but things become urgent when Xing realizes she’s dropped her diary in the psychopath’s car, and he may now be stalking her.

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FULL STRIKE (2015) short review


Derek Kwok and Henry Wong’s Full Strike does for badminton what Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer did to soccer, that it to say power it with an anime sensibility, slather it in cartoonish excess, and inject it with martial arts film tropes. It tells of a disgraced, depressed badminton champion (Josie Ho), who after witnessing a shuttlecock-shaped meteor falling to earth, teams up with her grandmother (Susan Shaw), a trio of ex-cons looking to go clean (Ekin Cheng, Edmond Leung and Wilfred Lau), and their drunk coach (Lam Man Chung), to compete in a big badminton tournament, where her main rival is her cousin (Ronald Cheng). Full Strike has a lovable ensemble of actors : Ekin Cheng is getting more appealing with age, Josie Ho is an oasis of restraint among all the wackiness, Ronald Cheng does some of his best mugging, but Lam Man Chung is the highlight as a drunk, unpredictable coach that is both awesome and pathetic. The humor is zany but doesn’t muffle the trite but reasonably engaging emotional stakes. But the film’s problem is that there’s just not that much one can do with badminton onscreen. The directors struggle to make the matches interesting and spectacular, but in the end it all amounts to repetitive close-ups of CGI shuttlecocks, slow-mo reaction shots and un-involving wide angle views. Still, Full Strike is fun and unassuming entertainment. ***



In an unexpected move, director Lu Chuan has made his fifth film an effects-heavy blockbuster far-removed from the arty and often demanding works that made him a justly celebrated auteur and festival darling. His previous film, the long-delayed epic The Last Supper (2012), had suffered commercially both from its stone-cold arthouse leanings, and from being released months after a much more appealing film on the same topic, Daniel Lee’s White Vengeance (2012). And once again, with Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe, Lu Chuan found himself directing one of two competing films, both based on Tianxia Bachang’s 2006 best-selling novel Ghost Blows Out the Light, the other being Wuershan’s Mojin – The Lost Legend. This time however, Lu got his film out of the gate first, and by the same token his first major commercial hit.

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HEAT TEAM (2004) short review


Dante Lam’s Heat Team is an action-comedy based solely on the passable chemistry between Aaron Kwok and Eason Chan, with the plot a vaguely convoluted afterthought, and the runtime already overlong at 95 minutes. The film follows two Interpol agents – one righteous and earnest (Kwok), the other a smarmy womanizer (Chan) – as they track down a jewel thief. Well, that’s the through line at least. There are countless digressions as the two cops bicker and flirt with their attractive colleague (Yumiko Cheng), indulge in dick-measuring contests (like determining who’s the best shooter with a paintball match in the office, or who can eat the spiciest), try to ingratiate themselves with their chief (an amusingly self-deprecating Danny Lee), and at some point, come very close to french-kissing each other. Even the investigation is actually more of a random series of encounters, the most memorable being a hilarious Hui Shiu-Hung cameo. It’s a frustratingly unfocused film that’s rarely as cool or as funny as it seems to think, with a sprinkling of action scenes that are average at best. Truly not the excellent Dante Lam’s proudest hour. **

HE-MAN (aka THE UNDERDOG KNIGHT 2) (2011) review


He-Man was a surprising project from director Ding Sheng : a direct sequel to his 2007 action-comedy The Underdog Knight, which was an interesting but flawed little film that barely registered at the box-office. To follow up on this film more than four years later, and with a far less prestigious cast (Liu Ye returns, but Anthony Wong, Sun Honglei, Yu Rongguang and Yong You don’t, and there’s no one on their level here), was an unexpected move. But the thing is, sequels at best can be a way to fine tune a formula while returning to a compelling character or set of characters, and that is exactly what He-Man does. The Underdog Knight had the awkwardness of a directing debut, but He-Man shows the sure hand of a director who’s found his style and cut his teeth, namely with the funny and soulful Little Big Soldier.

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BROTHERS (2007) short review


Derek Chiu’s Brothers was notable at the time of its release for reuniting the “Four Tigers” of Hong Kong TV network TVB, that is to say its four most successful actors in the eighties : Andy Lau, Michael Miu, Felix Wong and Ken Tong. Beyond that central quartet, the film also has a fairly impressive, albeit not uncommon, Hong Kong cast. The plot follows a terminally ill triad boss (Michael Miu), who with the help of his lover/lawyer (Crystal Huang) and his adoptive brother/ bodyguard (Felix Wong), navigates in a sea of aggressive rivals (Ken Tong and Henry Fong) and dogged cops (Andy Lau and Gordon Lam), to go clean and make his little brother (Eason Chan) his successor. The film is a meat and potatoes triad drama that possesses little in the way of originality but manages to feel reasonably fresh thanks to a steady pace, a lack of excess and most of all a strong cast on mostly fine form. Michael Miu anchors the film impressively with a thoughtful, tragic, nuanced performance that makes one wish he’d venture out of TV more often. Despite being by far the film’s biggest star, Andy Lau takes an admirable backseat, while injecting some unforced and much-needed comic relief at key moments. There’s quite a few interesting characters around them, not many of them developed enough, but all of them played in low-key, nuanced fashion, from Eason Chan’s naïve but steadfast little brother to Huang Yi’s strong but conflicted lawyer, with Yu Rongguang, Gordon Lam and Wang Zhiwen also leaving a mark. A bit uncomfortably, the film is too long for its fairly simple plot and overused tropes, but too short for its engaging and varied set of characters. ***

ULTERIOR MOTIVE (2015) review


Ulterior Motive is Arthur Wong’s first film as a director in 28 years ; his last directorial effort had been the enjoyable, hard-hitting In The Line of Duty  3 in 1987. Not that he has been slacking off in the meantime : Wong is one of Hong Kong and China’s most illustrious cinematographers, having lensed everything from The 36th Chamber of Shaolin and Once Upon A Time In China to The Warlords and Painted Skin. We encourage you to have a look at his filmography, it’s a head-spinning list of some of the most gorgeously-shot films in Hong Kong and China. For his return to the director’s chair, he has chosen a noirish thriller about a rich heiress (Qin Lan), whose husband (Archie Kao) and daughter are kidnapped and held for ransom. The cop in charge of the investigation is her ex-boyfriend (Gordon Lam), an acutely intuitive sleuth who quickly targets her father (Simon Yam) as a prime suspect, after finding out troubling similarities between this kidnapping case and one he was involved in 20 years ago, that ended in murder.

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About Yu Nan


Born and raised in the northeastern city of Dalian in China, Yu Nan studied at the Beijing Film Academy, where she was noticed by Wang Quan’an, a visiting alumnus looking to cast the lead role of his feature film debut. The story goes that he entered a classroom where the teacher was reprimanding students, all of them bowing their heads in shame, except Yu Nan who audaciously held hers high, staring back in defiance. Wang was won over both artistically and sentimentally, and the two would share the following ten years of their life, on and off screen. As early as her debut performance as a woman with a double life in Wang’s Lunar Eclipse (1999) Yu Nan gained international attention : she won the best actress award at the Deauville Asian Film Festival in France. There she attracted the attention of French director Karim Dridi who cast her in Fureur (2003), an interracial love story set in the Parisian Chinatown. Already not one to half-ass any role, Yu learned French so as to not have to speak her lines phonetically ; later she nurtured her mastery of the language by sharing an apartment in Beijing for a few years with a French-speaking Italian.

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THE PALE SKY (1998) short review


Yan (Sammo Hung), a modest salesman, is pronounced dead after a fatal collision with a car ; on his body the doctors find an organ donor card, which is lucky for Daniel (Kenny Bee), a rich businessman who’s just lost his genitals in an car accident. The problem is, a few hours after the transplant, Yan miraculously comes back to life and quite expectedly wants his manhood back, especially as his lack thereof would interfere with his forthcoming marriage to Nam-sum (Alice Lau), whose father (Richard Ng) hasn’t blessed their union yet. With the help of his friend (Emotion Cheung) and a lawyer (Kim Yip), Yan sets out to get back what’s his, but unexpectedly befriends the new owner of his junk, thus complicating matters even more. With a plot like this one, one would expect Takkie Yeung’s The Pale Sky to be a long string of dick jokes and yet, somewhat impressively, crass humour is mostly eschewed in favor of a sporadically amusing – and even more sporadically touching – dramedy that noodles around with the concept of manhood and how much of it has to do with one’s penis. The cast fares unequally, from a very obnoxious Emotion Cheung to the great Richard Ng on fine curmudgeonly form, with a one-note hangdog performance from Sammo Hung in the middle, though his chemistry with Kenny Bee is fine. But in the end, the film is undone by its painfully long runtime : almost two hours of whining and bickering over a penis is stretching it a bit, if we may say so. **