Wong Jing’s third film as a director, even before he became a film producer, Mercenaries from Hong Kong was the Shaw Brothers’ answer to Andrew V. McLaglen’s The Wild Geese (1978), which itself foreshadowed Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables franchise by throwing a starry team of aging mercenaries in a suicide mission. And so here we have the ever-charismatic Ti Lung as a war veteran/medicine smuggler who is hired for a hefty sum by a powerful, seductive businesswoman (Candice Yu) to kill the man who murdered her father (Philip Ko) who’s hiding in Cambodia with a small guerrilla army. Ti Lung assembles a team comprised of his old friends Michael Chan Wai Man (deadly with knives), Lo Lieh (a peerless marksman), Johnny Wang Lung Wei (a fearful brawler), Wong Yu (a master at picking locks) and, last and least, Nat Chan (a womanizer, admittedly not the most useful skill in the team). But as they prepare for their mission, they must contend with the vengeful brother (Yuen Wah) that Ti Lung gunned down earlier, as well as a mysterious antagonist (a particularly intimidating Lee Hoi San).

Read the full post »

HUNGRY GHOST RITUAL (2014) short review


Interestingly, Nick Cheung is already the third actor in two years to make a horror film for his debut as a director after Juno Mak’s Rigor Mortis and Simon Yam’s segment in Tales from the Dark 1, with Carrie Ng’s upcoming Angel Whispers set to further that small trend. Here Nick Cheung plays Zong, a bankrupt publisher who comes home to Malaysia where his father (Lam Wai) owns an Opera troupe. His arrival provokes varying reactions, from outright hostility from his half-sister (Cathryn Lee) to sweet sympathy from the star performer (Annie Liu). But when his father is hospitalized, Zong is called upon to replace him temporarily as troupe director, even though he knows nothing of the traditions on the artform, least of all the rites to be performed as the Hungry Ghost Festival draws near, a midsummer period where spirits are particularly active and dangerous. Soon Zong is beset with unsettling visions and the troupe members start behaving more and more strangely, with the root of it all possibly buried in the past. Nick Cheung’s recipe for horror is a fairly transparent and derivative one : two parts carefully-CGIed phantasmagorical visions a la Pang brothers, one part white-clad, long-black-haired female ghosts reminiscent of Japanese horror, some Paranormal Activity-style surveillance camera scares thrown in for good measure, and a fairly random and underused reference to the real-life Elisa Lam case to top it off. To his credit, Cheung favors creeping terror over jump scares, and while never truly scary or fresh, his film is never boring and the Cantonese Opera angle is appealing. The actor/director’s dialed-down performance doesn’t exactly pull you in however, and the veterans steal the show : a heartfelt Lam Wai as his father, and especially the fiery Carrie Ng as an aging Opera star. **1/2



Part of the Shaw Brothers’ last batch of films before it ceased big screen productions at the end of 1985, The Master Strikes Back was directed by Sun Chung, who gave the legendary studio some of its most memorable and/or masterful films, like The Drug Connection (1976) and its transposition of Blaxploitation tropes to Hong Kong cinema, The Kung Fu Instructor (1979) and its then-unprecedented use of steadycam to film fights, the unhinged cult horror film Human Lanterns (1982) and more importantly The Avenging Eagle (1978), one of the jewels in the Shaw Brothers crown. Here Ti Lung plays Tong Tie-Cheng, a military instructor (closely resembling his Kung Fu Instructor character) who arrives in a town with his son (Fan Siu Wong) to help an old friend (Ku Feng) whip the soldiers of his garrison back into shape. The town’s main source of business is its brothel, where the soldiers have taken the habit of spending their nights. Tong starts submitting them to a harsh training and forbids them to indulge in whoring. But while it earns him their respect, at first begrudging then undivided, it also threatens to put the brothel out of business, and thus makes him a nightmare for the town’s corrupt chief constable (Michael Chan Wai Man), who co-owns it. Soon Tong becomes the target of increasingly brutal machinations, including a insidious plot to have his son castrated to become a eunuch. At first reluctant to start a fight, the master is inexorably pushed to the edge.

Read the full post »

LEGEND OF THE DRUNKEN TIGER (1990) short review


Legend of the Drunken Tiger was directed by Robert Tai, who at one point was Chang Cheh’s martial arts choreographer of choice, before going back to his native Taiwan to direct increasingly cheap and demented ninja movies. No ninjas here, but a straightforward kung fu comedy in which Chui Kei Wai plays a lovable drunk who uses his martial arts skills to fight his nemesis, a treacherous lord played by good old Ku Feng, and gets betrothed to a beautiful, equally skilled woman (Kara Hui). It’s entirely forgettable though mostly competent, until the halfway point. Then Robert Tai decides to get ambitious, and the plot switches to a much wider canvas involving the Boxer Rebellion of 1899. But with what seems to be a budget of about a hundred bucks, his reach comically exceeds his grasp. And so we’re treated to a “massive” battle scene involving a few dozen extras, and a string of fights involving evil foreign soldiers who know kung fu, played by glaringly Asian stuntmen wearing curly blonde wigs and decked in hilariously mismatched uniforms. All  this is in the service of a disjointed plot that does no favors to Chui Kei Wai, an evidently gifted performer who never made another film. Along with Kara Hui, who’s a sight for sore eyes, he shines in a serviceable action finale that is the one thing to salvage here. *1/2

THE HUNTED HUNTER (1997) short review


Yuen Biao’s last lead role on the big screen before he retreated to supporting parts and TV, Ricky Lau’s The Hunted Hunter is a cheap, limp semi-remake of The Fugitive, set in the Philippines with Yuen as the titular wrongly accused man on the run (here a chief of security accused of murdering a woman in the building he supervises), Zhang Fenyi as the dogged cop on his trail (along with Filipino help from Roi Vinzon and Karen Timbol), and Jessica Hsuan Hester as his wife who has the key to proving his innocence. Jerry Lamb, Chung Fat and a ponytailed Wu Ma also feature. The plot, in which it should be noted the hunted is not a hunter at all, is a toxic mix of convoluted and vague, and while Zhang Fenyi at least tries to look like he’s invested, Yuen Biao gives a lifeless performance, a very unusual sight indeed. Worse : in a numbingly stupid artistic choice, some action scenes which could have been fairly exciting are shot in a blurry semi-slow motion that annihilates any excitement or impact. When shot normally the action is serviceable, with a watchable fighting finale the only competent moment in a slightly depressing film. *1/2



Tony Liu’s Angel Terminators II came out a year after Wai Lit’s Angel Terminators but the only thing the two films have in common is a producer, Georges Lai’s Grandwell Film Production. Other than that, the cast, crew, creative team, characters and general tone are entirely different. The Hong Kong film industry had always had a loose definition of sequelizing, but this is one of the more puzzling title choices. Bullet (Yukari Oshima) just came out of prison after taking the fall for her scummy triad boss (Karel Wong). She is welcomed by her childhood friend Chitty (Moon Lee) and their group of friends, as well as by her estranged cop father (Jason Pai Piao) and his loyal but hot-headed partner (Sibelle Hu, hideously decked in a piss-yellow tracksuit). Bullet aims to get a fresh start in life but things quickly go back to hell when she beats up her former boss who threatened to make Chitty his prostitute, and when one of her friends is drugged and abused by a fake casting agent.

Read the full post »

LOST AND LOVE (2015) review


About 20,000 babies are abducted each year in China. That gut-wrenching statistic was recently the inspiration for two complementary high-profile films released within a few months of each other. Both starred A-list stars having shed all glamor to portray simple people in the pangs of abject grief, in a bid both humanistic (bringing visibility to a gaping social wound) and artistic (showing their mettle as actors). One, Peter Chan’s Dearest, starred Zhao Wei and was concerned chiefly with the agonizing emotional and social complexities resulting from child abduction, but the other, Peng Sanyuan’s debut feature Lost and Love, is a more streamlined film that strives to find beauty and hope amid all the heartbreak. Andy Lau plays Lei Zekuan, a father who has been looking for his abducted son for the past 15 years, criss-crossing a country of 1,3 billion inhabitants on his motorbike decked with flags displaying photos of his child and other abducted children, restlessly handing out leaflets, and doggedly following every single tip from online volunteers. One day, after getting into an accident on a winding mountain road, he meets Zeng Shuai (Jing Boran), a young man who repairs his motorbike, before confiding in him that he was abducted when he was four, and still doesn’t know who his biological parents are. He does not resent his adoptive parents and even loves them, but he will not be a registered citizen with an ID card and a normal life for as long as he won’t be able to prove he’s an abducted child. Thus Zekuan and Shuai decide to travel together and assist each other, forming a powerful bond along the way.

Read the full post »

STONE AGE WARRIORS (1991) short review

stone age warriors dvd video cove

Stone Age Warriors was Stanley Tong’s first solo directing effort after co-directing Iron Angels 2 and 3, and before becoming one Jackie Chan’s most frequent collaborators. It doesn’t feature one single warrior from the Stone Age, but rather tribesmen from the New Guinea Jungle. Admittedly, New Guinea Jungle Tribesmen just can’t compete with Stone Age Warriors when it comes to catchy titles. Elaine Lui plays a Japanese movie star whose father, a wealthy businessman, has gone missing in said jungle. With the help of her father’s insurance representative who also happens to be his girlfriend (Nina Li Chi) and an indigenous guide (Fan Siu Wong) she ventures deep into the jungle, where the only thing more dangerous than the wildlife are the drug smugglers. For an hour or so, Stone Age Warriors is a brisk, harmless and uninspired jungle adventure, as Elaine Lui and Nina Li Chi (who have good chemistry) run afoul of spiders, snakes, Komodo dragons and cannibals, a subplot that doesn’t actually veer into gore. After which, similar to Iron Angels 2, Stone Age Warriors explodes into a big jungle action scene that makes great use of Fan Siu Wong’s remarkable fighting abilities. **1/2

CRYSTAL HUNT (1991) short review


Shot in Thailand and probably back-to-back with 1992’s Cheetah on Fire which has the same cast and crew, Hsu Hsia’s Crystal Hunt opens on a short and brisk action scene featuring Leung Kar Yan and Gordon Liu (who do not appear again afterwards) that has nothing to do with the plot and serves only to pad out the film’s short runtime. Which tells you everything you need to know about its ambitions. Carrie Ng is the daughter of a terminally ill businessman, whose last hope is a legendary healing crystal hidden deep in the Thai jungle. With her boyfriend (Ken Lo), she tasks a scientist (director Hsu Hsia) with finding the crystal. But the scientist is apprehended by a team of mercenaries (headed by Donnie Yen’s gweilo collaborators John Salvitti and Michael Woods), and soon his daughter (Fujimi Nadeki) goes looking for him with the help of two cops (Donnie Yen and Sibelle Hu). Despite an impressive lack of narrative competency, Crystal Hunt is never boring thanks to a healthy serving of action choreographed with budget-defying skill by Donnie Yen’s team. And everybody in the cast is playing within their comfort zone : Carrie Ng is domineering and slightly insidious, Donnie is badass and a bit puerile, Sibelle Hu is a cute woman of action, Ken Lo is a tool who kicks high… It’s all quite familiar and comforting, if mediocre and unchallenging. **1/2

BURNING AMBITION (1989) review


Frankie Chan’s Burning Ambition transposes the plot of Kinji Kukasaku’s The Shogun’s Samurai (1978) to modern-day Hong Kong, with striking results. A Triad boss (Roy Chiao) is thinking about his succession : his elder son Wai (Michael Miu) is an irresponsible womanizer, and so he chooses his more level-headed and business-savvy younger son Hwa (Simon Yam). He’s killed the same evening in a drive-by shooting secretly organized by his brother Hsiong (Ko Chun Hsiung), who’s consumed by the titular burning ambition, and has made Wai his protégé. This triggers a fratricidal war as two camps are formed within the extended Triad family : on one side, the boss’s widow (a steely Seung Yee), the chosen heir Hwa and his trusted uncle Kau Chen (Eddy Ko) ; on the other side, Hsiong, his puppet Wai, his two loyal daughters Tao (Yukari Oshima) and Hong (Kara Hui), as well as his exiled son Chi-Shao (Frankie Chan), who comes back to Hong Kong to assist his father, not knowing, just like his sisters, what treacherous strings Hsiong has been pulling. It all escalates in a series of bloody acts of vengeance.

Read the full post »