LOST IN WHITE (2016) review

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The directorial debut of cinematographer Xu Wei (who most notably lensed Cheng Er’s Lethal Hostage), Lost in White takes places in the north-east of China, where two bodies have been found under the ice of a frozen lake, their remains made unidentifiable by carnivorous fish, but still bearing the mark of having been dragged with an ice hook. In charge of the investigation is Captain Zhou (Tony Leung Ka Fai), a dedicated cop who’s dragging along his teenage daughter Xinyi (Zhou Dongyu), with whom he should be spending quality time instead, since she’s only with him for a few days. Soon he’s joined by Wang Hao (Tong Dawei) a young Shanghai detective who’s on a missing person case that has led him to the same village where the murders happened. The two cases prove to be connected: the missing person and the two victims were part of a quartet of businessmen who ten years ago opened a refinery in the region, and disposed of chemical waste in an unethical way that has poisoned the waters and led to malformed babies in the following decade. Is the missing businessman the killer, the next victim or a red herring?

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THE GUEST (2016) review

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Im Dae-woong’s Sino-Korean thriller The Guest stars Leon Lai as Kai, an executive who’s made to take the fall for his company when his subordinate makes a grave professional mistake. Now out of a job and owing a hefty sum in compensation to the company for which he’s been working tirelessly for years, while having just started renting an upscale apartment with his wife Lin Lin (Han Chae-young), he goes out and gets drunk to forget his troubles for a few hours. Finding himself completely wasted in the middle of the night, he’s picked up by a mysterious, unregistered cab driver (Geng Le), to whom he drunkenly rants about his professional woes. The cab driver lends him an attentive ear, and the two even stop on the way for some more drinks. But Kai hasn’t got his wallet with him at the moment, so he gives the driver his business card, telling him they’re now friends and he’ll pay him the next day. He doesn’t yet know how much the cab driver is going to take these words to heart…

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MEET THE IN-LAWS (2012) short review

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Despite its title, Li Hai Shu’s Meet The In-Laws isn’t a remake of the successful 2011 Korean comedy, but rather a loose remake of the Jay Roach’s 2000 hit comedy Meet the Parents. Xu Zheng (just months before Lost in Thailand dramatically raised his profile) fills in for Ben Stiller as the well-meaning but bumbling future son-in-law, here a psychologist who just started his own clinic and is in blissful love with a teacher played by Lin Peng. Good old Hui Shiu Hung steps in Robert De Niro’s shoes as her overprotective father who’s immediately suspicious of his daughter’s boyfriend, though the similarities end there, and save for a few minor plot points, Meet The In-Laws doesn’t follow Meet the Parents beyond that basic set-up. Here the initial distrust is compounded by the fact that the father realizes that his future son-in-law is none other than the shrink to whom he’s been opening up for months about everything from his erectile dysfunction to his adultery impulses. Add to that two hapless criminals who’ve mistakenly hidden a bag of cash in the trunk of Xu Zheng’s car, and Hui Shiu Hung’s attempt to get sentimental closure with a old college flame – a subplot borrowed three years later in Xu Zheng’s Lost in Hong Kong. It’s a fairly uninspired though fitfully amusing comedy, not a patch on its American model as it’s more preoccupied with wacky situations and repeated pratfalls than making any sort of observations on mariage and family in China. Xu Zheng and Hui Shiu Hung, in roles they know like the back of their hand, don’t have much chemistry and only really click when balanced with the classier touch of Lin Peng and Li Fengxu (as the mother). **

THE BODYGUARD (aka MY BELOVED BODYGUARD) (2016) review

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Sammo Hung’s first film as a director in nearly 20 years (since 1997’s Once Upon a Time in China and America), The Bodyguard came with a sense of expectation that was compounded by its starry cast of legendary old-timers (Karl Maka, Dean Shek, most of the Seven Little Fortunes) and A-listers both mature (Andy Lau, Tsui Hark, Hu Jun) and on the rise (Eddie Peng, William Feng), as well as a script (by Jiang Jun) that had earned some acclaim at the 3rd Beijing International Film Festival. Sammo Hung is Ding, a retired elite bodyguard who lives alone in his hometown near the Russian border, wracked with guilt after his granddaughter disappeared when he was supposed to watch over her. Dementia is creeping in on him, and despite the care of his lovestruck landlady (Li Qinqin), his only joy in this world is the friendship of his young neighbor Cherry (Chen Pei Yan), who often stays at his house to avoid her father Li (Andy Lau), a gambling addict. When Li goes on the run with a bag of jewels that he stole from the Russian mob to repay his debt to local gangster Choi (Jack Feng), Ding has to break out of his stupor to protect Cherry, who is about to become collateral damage as henchmen both Chinese and Russian hunt down her father.

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An Interview with Eugenia Yuan

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The daughter of action queen Cheng Pei Pei, Eugenia Yuan made it clear from the very beginning of her film career that she was to fly with her own wings. Once a rhythmic gymnast for the U.S. Olympic Team, her debut performance on the big screen, in Peter Chan’s Three: Going Home, got her both a nomination for Best Supporting Actress and a win for Best New Performer at the Hong Kong Film Awards. Since then her filmography has been both international and free of genre pigeonholing, and she has shown a remarkable versatility as a performer. Recently her turn as a venomous blind enchantress was one of the best things about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, and she was kind enough to answer our questions.

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THE INCREDIBLE TRUTH (2013) short review

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Wei Ling (Christy Chung) is the friend and make-up artist of starlet Jia Jia (Ada Liu Yan), who recently left for Japan to visit her boyfriend Hirato (Ikki Funaki) but has ceased all communications. Despite going through a traumatic experience in Japan a year before, Wei Ling decides to go look for Jia Jia, and follows her trace to a forest inn owned by Hirota’s family. There, she hits a wal as everyone says they’ve never seen Jia Jia, but the inn staff’s hostility,  Hirota’s distraught behavior, and frequent visions of her friend tell her another story. Sam Leung’s The Incredible Truth has pleasingly garish cinematography, a reasonably intriguing start, and the welcome sight of Christy Chung in a lead role – looking not a day older than in her late-nineties heyday – as well as watchable supporting turns by Ada Liu and a distinguished Japanese cast. But is all too eager to check a laundry list of horror-mystery clichés (including the heroic duo of lazy mystery plot devices: visions of the disappeared one, and a detailed diary left behind), and relies too much on weird behavior – get ready for a LOT of lurid smiles – and an almost comical, quickly grating amount of jump scares. And it wraps its plot up with one of the laziest twists in recent memory, basically bringing a whole new, never-yet-mentioned character in the story in a desperate attempt at surprising the viewer. *1/2

WHEN A PEKING FAMILY MEETS AUPAIR (2014) short review

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Chen Gang’s When a Peking Family meets Aupair (sic) is a tooth-rottingly maudlin and ear-splittingly shrill family comedy about middle-class Chinese parents (Xu Fan and Chen Jianbin) who hire an au pair from Columbia (Gianina Terranova) to be their daughter’s nanny. Things get off to a shaky start as her recklessness and fun-loving ways clash with the mother’s tightly-wound universe. The film obviously aims to provide some commentary on parenting in today’s China, but remains on a very simplistic level, each character reduced to one dimension: there’s the control-freak, the feisty one, the bitchy one (Fann Wong, of Shanghai Knights), the wise one, and so on. It all unfolds as a series of trite, flatly-shot vignettes, most of which are made unbearable by Gianina Terranova’s truly appalling performance, as she yells out each and every one of her lines in a mix of English and Mandarin, constantly bouncing and dancing around so as to hammer the viewer with the fact that her character LOVES having fun. Xu Fan and Chen Jianbin remain dignified and the film’s only palatable moments are the few scenes they share away from Gianina Terranova. Deceivingly, the film boasts on its poster the presence of Sun Honglei, Guo Tao, Tong Liya and Wang Qianyuan, but none of these estimable actors appear for more than a minute. Sun Honglei, in particular, must have agreed to appear after having lost a bet, so sullen and disconnected he seems in his short appearance. *

THE SECRET (2016) review

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Kai-Feng (Leon Lai) just lost his wife Qiu-Jie (Wang Luodan) in an avalanche during a romantic climbing trip in the Himalayas. Unable to cope with this loss, he seeks the counsel of a psychic on how to bring her back. And one morning there she is, seemingly in the flesh, though with only partial memories of her life. But the psychic has warned Kai-Feng: the spirit of his wife can only be seen by those who truly love her, and if she ever learns that she’s a spirit, she will disappear forever. Thus Kai-Feng does his best to maintain the fragile balance through which they can live together blissfully with their son Mu-Mu in their house, though soon his cousin Jimmy (JJ Lin) is in on the secret. One day however, Qiu-Jie realizes some people cannot see her: crushed by the realization that she’s only a spirit, she starts planning her departure from this world. That is, until she hears on the news that a body has been found on the site of the avalanche in the Himalayas…

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THE VANISHED MURDERER (2015) review

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After 2012’s stylish and entertaining – and much less derivative than it’s been made out to be –  The Bullet Vanishes, Lau Ching Wan’s inspector Song Donglu (Lau Ching Wan) is back, his adventures still written by Yeung Sin Ling, produced by Derek Yee and directed by Law Chi Leung. This time, Song investigates a series of strange suicides: factory workers throwing themselves from atop buildings, to protest their exploitative employer, corrupt businessman Gao Minxiong (Guo Xiaodong). Song surmises that they’ve been ‘forced’ to commit suicide, and has reasons to think that Fu Yuan (Jiang Yiyan), a woman whom he brought to justice after she almost got away with murdering her abusive husband, and who counseled him from her prison cell in The Bullet Vanishes, may have something to do with what’s happening. Indeed, she recently escaped from prison, and it was to bring her back there that Song was in town. Other suspects include Hua (Lam Ka Tung), a professor with a morphine addiction who has been in contact with Fu Yuan and shares her appetite for criminology, and Mao Jin (Rydhian Vaughan), who may or may not be a dirty cop. As the plot thickens, Song can count on the help of Chang Sheng (Li Xiaolu), a woman he left at the altar years ago, and who’s sticking with him, hoping to get closure.

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MY FAIR GENTLEMAN (2009) short review

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A very loose remake of George Cukor’s My Fair Lady, Peter Lee’s My Fair Gentleman was produced – among others – by John Woo and Michelle Yeoh. It actually only retains the idea of making someone fit for high society, ditching almost everything else including the songs and the phonetics angle. It also relocates to China, swaps genders and modifies the stakes, so that instead of a misogynistic phonetics professor transforming a cockney flower girl into a lady for a bet in London, we have an ex-socialite and head of a marketing company Wu (Kelly Lin) who gives uncouth nouveau riche Zeng (Sun Honglei) a makeover both in sartorial elegance and in good manners and culture, so that he may have a chance to woo top model Fong-Na (Ling Hung), in Shanghai. Along the way, of course, Wu and Zeng develop feelings for each other. This harmless little romantic comedy has none of the wit of George Cukor’s film, and its mostly uninspired script is never lifted by Peter Lee’s workmanlike’s direction. Still, it does benefit from the very appealing duet of Sun Honglei, who has a lot of fun in a broad but appealing performance, and Kelly Lin, whose unassuming comic timing comes with a refreshingly down-to-earth charm. And contrary to many Chinese romantic comedies, My Fair Gentleman runs at a reasonable 85 minutes, its briskness compensating for its triteness. **1/2