THIS IS NOT WHAT I EXPECTED (2017) review

145056.78798122_1000X1000

The directing debut of editor Derek Hui, who in his relatively young career has already cut films for Derek Yee, Chen Kaige, Teddy Chan and Peter Chan (who is a producer here) among others, This Is Not What I Expected stars Takeshi Kaneshiro as Lu Jin, a filthy-rich hotel acquisition consultant with exacting expectations when it comes to accommodation, service and food in the establishments he visits. As he appraises the luxurious Rosebud Hotel, he finds much with which to be dissatisfied, until he tastes a dish prepared by young sous-chef Gu Shengnan (Zhou Dongyu). It’s a revelation for Jin, and though he keeps butting heads with Shengnan outside of the hotel, he finds himself enthralled by her culinary skill, as she keeps surpassing herself in the hopes to save the hotel from a buyout. Slowly, unexpected feelings start burgeoning between the germaphobe perfectionist and the quirky, hyperactive chef.

Read the full post »

LORD OF SHANGHAI (2017) review

151827.77521963_1000X1000

After Law Wing Cheong’s Iceman and John Woo’s The Crossing, the ambitious diptych format took another hit with Sherwood Hu’s Lord of Shanghai, whose box office flop has led to the release date of its second installment (known as Lord of Shanghai II or The Concubine of Shanghai) being pushed back indefinitely. Based on a 2003 novel by Hong Ying, Lord of Shanghai starts in 1905, with the city controlled by western powers and dangerous triads. Chang Lixiong (Hu Jun), charismatic head of the Hong triad, is butting heads with Commander Song (Liu Peiqi) over the arrival of revolutionary agent Huang Peiyu (Qin Hao): in the last years of the Qing dynasty, Chang has chosen the side of the revolution. Chang and Song are also adversaries in the whorehouse of Madam Xin (Bai Ling), as they both covet the same newly-arrived peasant girl, Xiao Yuegui (Li Meng, then Yu Nan after years have passed). As their feud escalates, Yuegui becomes much more important than a mere prize.

Read the full post »

THE GAME CHANGER (2017) review

115431.63225908_1000X1000

In 2007, director Gao Xixi had remade the classic 1980 TVB show The Bund (which made Chow Yun Fat a star in Hong Kong) into Shanghai Bund (in which Huang Xiaoming stepped in for Chow, five years before pairing up with him in another old Shanghai tale, Wong Jing’s The Last Tycoon), retaining many plot points but also changing quite a few (in the meantime, Adam Cheng had starred in a 1996 retelling, and the same year Leslie Cheung in a feature film by Poon Man Kit). Now, Gao has brought the story to the big screen, but has kept only the narrative beats from his 2007 remake, so that the similarities between the original 1980 TV show and this 2017 feature are entirely superficial, in what has been like a creative game of telephone. We hope you’ve been following.

Read the full post »

COOK UP A STORM (2017) review

172451.33786780_1000X1000

After three seasons of his successful cooking show “Chef Nic”, Nicholas Tse takes his passion for culinary arts to the big screen with Raymond Yip’s Cook up a Storm, in which he plays Sky Ko, an Cantonese street cook whose well-loved restaurant in a picturesque alley of Hong Kong is threatened by property developers. Now, Michelin-starred chef Paul Ahn (Jung Yong Hwa) is opening a high-end restaurant right opposite Sky’s modest but welcoming diner. The two start butting heads, and soon they find themselves pitted against each other in a TV culinary competition. Whoever wins will get to go head to head with the “God of Cookery” Mountain Ko (Anthony Wong), who’s none other than Sky’s selfish and driven father, having left him at a young age in the hands of his friend Seven (Ge You), a wise and kind chef. Sky loses to Paul, who in turn is betrayed by his girlfriend and sous-chef Mayo (Michelle Bai), and thus the two initially hostile chefs but join forces to claim the title of “God of Cookery”.

Read the full post »

BUDDIES IN INDIA (2017) review

104010.55507687_1000X1000

With the flood of Monkey King film adaptations in recent and coming years, it is refreshing to see one attempting a radical spin: Wang Baoqiang’s directorial debut Buddies in India transposes the myth to nowadays, following an agile and mischievous monkey trainer called, of course, Wu Kong (Wang Baoqiang) who refuses to sell his house to make way for a vast urban construction project. As Tang Zong, the chairman of the group in charge of the project, feels his end is near after a serious heart attack, he instructs his son Tang Sen (Bai Ke), a lonely geek, to go get his will in Nandu Gaun, India. At the same time, he asks Wu Kong to accompany Sen as a bodyguard, in exchange for which his house will remain untouched. Wu agrees, and the two set off for India, where they are helped by Zhu Tianpeng (Yue Yunpeng), cross paths with Wu Jing (Ada Liu), a woman once scorned by Sen, and are hunted by two Chinese assassins hired by Tang Sen’s devious uncle Chasu (Huang Bo), who wants to inherit the group instead of his nephew.

Read the full post »

CHERRY RETURNS (2016) short review

094317.95414636_1000X1000

Twelve years after she was kidnapped and thought dead, Cherry Yuan (Cherry Ngan) is found in a basement after her kidnappers are killed in a police raid. She is reunited with her family but seems to be a shell of her former self, and seems to barely remember her close ones, who are all wracked with guilt: her father (a fine Chen Kuan Tai) called the cops – against the kidnappers’ indications – all those years ago, which led to her being thought dead; her mother (Josephine Koo), wasn’t watching over her on the fateful day when she was kidnapped; her sister (Song Jia) was always full of resentment against, for being more loved by the parents; and her uncle (Jason Pai Piao) clearly knows things. But as the family attempts to heal, a police detective (Gordon Lam) investigates the strange circumstances of her kidnapping and rescue, while a mysterious hooded figure (Hu Ge) appears to be stalking Cherry. Though visually bland and marred at key moments by ridiculous CGI (one character’s fall from a skyscraper is quite comical), Chris Chow’s Cherry Returns is a nicely convoluted thriller that teases the audience with seemingly supernatural details and peels away layers of deceit at an enjoyable pace, ending with a startlingly somber conclusion. The cast is mostly solid, with a fiercely sympathetic Song Jia and a deftly ambiguous Cherry Ngan at its center, but most of the characters are either very thinly-defined (Gordon Lam struggles to make his stock police detective interesting) or given motivations that defy human logic or emotion (Hu Ge’s character is almost a parody unto itself), and so while the plot is sometimes cleverly constructed, it is difficult to care about it. **1/2

THE VILLAGE OF NO RETURN (2017) review

110044.52937497_1000X1000

During the first months after the fall of the Qing dynasty and the rise of the Republic of China, Shi Baopi (Eric Tsang), a rich man, is colluding with bandits known as the Cloud Clan to take control of Desire Village, an isolated hamlet which may hide a treasure. But Big Pie, his mole in the village, drops dead after eating a poisoned bun. His widow, Autumn (Shu Qi), is suspected to have killed him, as their marriage was not a happy one : she had been promised to her childhood love, the mayor’s son Ding (Tony Yang), but he vanished after going to the city to pass an exam. Now, just as Autumn is about to be subjected to the wrath of the townsfolk, despite the efforts in her defense of a newcomer to the village and self-professed martial arts master (Joseph Chang), a mysterious man named Fortune Tien (Wang Qianyuan) arrives on a luminous chariot, and presents to the bewildered villagers a strange contraption, the “Worry Rider”. It is a kind of metal helmet that allows for the removal of bad memories from anyone’s mind. Soon, Fortune Tien turns the whole village into happy idiots obeying his every command, and has them digging around for treasure, having made Autumn his wife. But the Cloud clan is still preparing to attack the village, and to complicate matters, Ding finally returns…
Read the full post »

KILLER’S ROMANCE (1990) review

killer_s_romance

1990 saw the release of two competing – and loose – adaptations of Kazuo Koike’s manga Crying Freeman, which had ended its serialized run two years earlier in Japan. Clarence Fok’s Dragon from Russia, a cartoonish mess with a terribly miscast Sam Hui in the title-role, came out three months after Philip Ko’s Killer’s Romance but nevertheless won the box-office battle, grossing more than three times as much as Ko’s film. But Killer’s Romance is the superior film. In it, Simon Yam plays Nidaime, the son of a Japanese mobster who’s just been murdered by Chinese rivals (including Philip Ko, Lau Siu Ming and Jason Pai Piao). He rushes to London to get his revenge, but as he dispatching one of his targets, a young Chinese expatriate (Joey Wong) out to take photos witnesses him in the act. Now Nidaime must get rid of this loose end, but instead the killer and the witness fall in love. But soon it appears the killer has been double-crossed by his own side.

Read the full post »

BURY ME HIGH (1991) short review

5jwoi2rnp4ewizkmhzgnb34bk1z

Tsui Siu Ming’s Bury Me High is an interesting mix of action and fantasy, along unusual lines, using feng shui as not just a plot point, but a full-blown narrative stake. It concerns a burial ground in a mountainous region of a Asian banana republic, whose unique feng shui location guarantees immense wealth to those interred there. A corporate executive (Moon Lee), a feng shui scholar (Tsui Siu Ming) and a hacker (Chin Kar Lok, stretching belief as popular hero Wisely, who is said to have an IQ of 200) go in search of this location, but they have to contend with the republic’s cruel new dictator (Yuen Wah, quite superb), who covets the burial ground to strengthen his power and wealth; his sister (Sibelle Hu) is more conflicted. There’s a very enjoyable sweep and ambition to the film, unfolding against majestic Vietnamese locations, and lavishing special care on its action scenes, which are scarce for the first two thirds, but plentiful in the final 30 minutes. A night fight on a rickety bridge unfolds in the middle of a vast torch-bearing circle of soldiers, there’s a full-blown battle scene involving tanks, and Yuen Wah and Chin Kar Lok’s amazing agility makes their final fight a thing of beauty, especially when the great Moon Lee cuts in. It is a lopsided film that doesn’t engage until its final tier, and the feng shui stakes are often a bit abstruse, but the finale is worth the wait. **1/2

ANGEL OF VENGEANCE (1993) short review

angel_of_vengeance
Liu Sung Pai’s Angel of Vengeance is two films rolled into one: a revenge thriller where Yukari Oshima looks for her sister with the help of Alex Fong and Alexander Lo Rei, only to find she’s been sold to a brothel by a mob boss played by an unhinged Chung Fat; and a rapesploitation drama in which a student writing a thesis on “love and lust” decides to research life in a brothel (operated by her mother) by dressing up (unconvincingly, of course) as a man. The two subplots are connected by the fact that Yukari’s sister has been sold to the same brothel that the student is trying to infiltrate. Unfortunately, the revenge subplot, which opens the film with two excellent fights where the Japanese action queen fights off a dozen henchmen, and closes it with a ridiculous but entertaining action finale where Chung Fat and his formidable blind henchwoman (played by Tu Kei Hua) start flying and moving at the speed of light and Alex Fong pulls a bow and arrow out of nowhere (in what has been, so far, a grounded and realistic film) only gets a third of the film’s runtime, with the rest spent on the implausible and exploitative ‘brothel research’ subplot. And there it’s a series of gratuitous rape scenes, scored sometimes with jaunty music, other times with melodramatic music, and other times yet with horror music. What an ugly little film. *