THE DEVIL INSIDE ME (2011) short review

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Another entry in the “transplanted organ horror” sub-genre that was started by the Pang Brothers’ The Eye in 2002, Zhang Qi’s The Devil Inside Me follows Lin Yan (Kelly Lin), who gets a heart transplant but soon thereafter starts to get flashes of the final days of the heart donor. The latter turns out to have been a piano teacher (Anya) who died under strange circumstances, and together with her grieving boyfriend (Victor Huang), Lin Yan starts to investigate her savior’s final days, under the watchful eye of the surgeon who performed the transplant (Tony Leung Ka Fai), who obviously isn’t telling her everything. The Devil Inside Me is often visually pleasing thanks to good cinematography by Zhang Xuewen, and there’s an interesting concept at the center of it, but after an intriguing start it devolves into a mess of screechy, unimaginative nightmare sequences, tired jump scares, and dull, predictable twists. There’s a scene that beggars belief in such a serious, gloomy film, where Kelly Lin realizes in sheer terror that she cannot stand up from the toilet because an invisible force is compelling her. That such a moment is played for scares and not for laughs tells you everything you need to know about Zhang Qi’s command of horror filmmaking. Tony Leung Ka Fai elevates the film with an expertly ambiguous performance, while Kelly Lin does her best with a thankless role that was probably passed on by Angelica Lee. Lin hasn’t made a film since, let’s hope it’s a long hiatus and not retirement, she’s too talented an actress to stop so soon, and too talented also for this kind of film. **

THE SOONG SISTERS (1997) review

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Mabel Cheung’s The Soong Sisters, though a bit forgotten nowadays, was a momentous project and an awards magnet at the time of its making and release, coming out in the year of Hong Kong’s retrocession to China and raking in Hong Kong Film Awards (or nominations) for most of its key players. It cast three of the most high-profile Asian actresses at the time as the titular sisters : daughters of catholic missionary, printing magnate and political activist and revolutionary Charlie Soong (Jiang Wen), himself a figure worthy of a 4-hour film, they each married a major figure of that infinitely troubled and transformative time in China’s history. Elder sister Ai-Ling (Michelle Yeoh) married H. H. Kung (Niu Zhenhua), one of the biggest fortunes in China and the future minister of industry, commerce and finance in the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) government. Then her sister Ching-Ling (Maggie Cheung) wedded the revolutionary saint and first president and founding father of the Republic of China, Sun Yat Sen (Winston Chao), a union that estranged her from her outraged father, himself a close friend of Dr. Sun. And finally, youngest sister Mai-Ling got married to Sun Yat Sen’s ally and successor as head of the Kuomintang and as president of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-Shek (Wu Hsing-Kuo). Each of these marriages took a toll on the family’s unity, but more importantly, the Soong sisters were much more than simply wives of powerful men. They were powerful women whose choices and sacrifices helped shape China’s history. Think of them as 20th-century women general of the Yang family.

As we’ve tried, somewhat awkwardly, to convey with this heavy-handed plot synopsis, The Soong Sisters is a film that carries the combined weight of Chinese historiography and gender politics, a double burden which it doesn’t always assuredly carry. As aforementioned, its inception took place at the time when Hong Kong sovereignty was to be transferred back to China, and a desire to placate the new overlords (and be allowed to shoot in Mainland China) is apparent throughout. Indeed script approval was secured after five months of rewrites, and after the film was shot, 14 minutes had to be removed, a lot of it going towards softening the depiction of Chiang Kai-Shek (not a popular figure in Mainland China to say the least). Conversely, Sun Yat Sen is portrayed as a saint (a fixture of Chinese propaganda), while the communists are never personified beyond images of courageous students or toiling proletarians. Still, calling The Soong Sisters propaganda would be unfair : it thankfully never goes into caricature or into its polar opposite, hagiography : while Sun Yat Sen is portrayed as a saint, he is also shown in his moments of doubt and anger ; and while Chiang Kai-Shek is portrayed without sympathy, he is never made a villain either. Mao Zedong doesn’t appear once, even though he was a key figure in many of the events depicted in the film : perhaps Mabel Cheung knew she could never even begin to portray him realistically without being barred from shooting or releasing the film in China (that however is pure speculation on our part).

But there’s a sense throughout the film that the director didn’t intend The Soong Sisters to be a accurate historical depiction so much as she wanted it to be an act of feminism. Here again there are problems. While the film is laudable and important in its affirmation of the often pivotal, but sadly seldom celebrated, role of women in history, there are fallacies in her approach that are hard to ignore. The Soong sisters actually had three brothers, one of which played an equally important role in their country’s history. While the decision to focus on the sisters is a logical one considering the film’s feminist stance, the fact that the brothers are not once shown or even mentioned severely undermines the director’s vision by placing the film in some kind of alternate reality that belies the very real, historical and societal points she is trying to make. This becomes all the more jarring when Cheung depicts events in which said brother, T.V. Soong, took an integral part alongside his sisters. Giving the brother his due or at least paying him lip service wouldn’t have undercut Mabel Cheung’s aim one bit. Simply put, her noble agenda is not well served by such inaccuracies. Nevertheless, the film’s message is unadulterated in its conciliatory dimension : despite internal strife and the crushing weight of history, the Soong sisters remained united, the bonds of family proving stronger than the divisions of politics. It’s an uplifting message, and one needed more than ever today. At the end of the film, Ai-Ling leaves for Hong Kong, while Ching-Ling stays in China, and Mai-Ling is destined to go to Taiwan to retreat to Taiwan with the Nationalist Party. Three political entities but the same family : it’s a once an elegy and a message of hope.

On a purely artistic level,, The Soong Sisters is a gorgeous film. Mabel Cheung, art director Eddie Ma and peerless cinematographer Arthur Wong have crafted a truly stunning reconstitution, vivid, detailed, and evocative. There’s a truly epic sweep to it, even though as a sprawling biopic that clocks in under 150 minutes, it is too elliptical in nature to really earn its big emotional payoffs. That’s where the immensely talented cast comes in handy. Mabel Cheung picked an impressive trio of actresses : Maggie Cheung gets the most to do and go through (no doubt because her character was to become Honorary President of the People’s Republic of China, and thus to the censors, the most commendable of the sisters) and is as subtle and affecting as ever, while Michelle Yeoh is fine but unfortunately often sidelined and gets the least screen time (maybe as a consequence of her character’s less flashy achievements), and Vivian Wu actually impresses the most with a less clear-cut, more nuanced role. The three of them share a great chemistry that consistently elevates the film. As their parents, Jiang Wen and Elaine Kam provide strong support, the former chewing the scenery a bit too much at times as the father, but the latter particularly moving as the mother who never loses faith in her daughters. Winston Chao here plays Sun Yat Sen for the first of five times, and he’s already perfect for the government-approved, very clean and clear-cut version of the character, in addition to looking like the real Sun a lot ; last but not least, Wu Hsing Kuo brings great charisma and nuance to the role of Chiang Kai-Shek, it’s a shame he was ignored by the Hong Kong Film Awards. Look out for a young Wang Xuebing as a servant of the Soong family.

Long Story Short : Historically inaccurate and politically compromised, The Soong Sisters nevertheless carries a noble message, and is as visually stunning as it is vividly acted by a trio of magnificent actresses. ***

 

AMEERA (2014) short review

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Where to begin with a film like Xiao Xu’s Ameera. Or rather, how to end as quickly as possible. A deadening excuse for ogling would-be starlet Patricia Hu (whose only other notable film is the equally numbing Angel Warriors) as she essays an array of slinky “secret agent” outfits to fight a stock evil organization (headed by Andrew Lin and a cartoonish old cripple with hooks for hands) for which she finds out her boyfriend (Ambrose Hsu) is a double-agent. Along the way there’s talk of such things as “a micro laser device condensed from synthesized nanometers”, which wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the film didn’t take itself so very seriously, no mean feat considering it consists in eye-gouging CGI, fussy, weightless fights and endless moping sessions. Adding insult to injury, the film’s soundtrack is actually a collage of tracks from other, far more entertaining and satisfying films (music from the Bourne trilogy, The Expendables and Tony Scott’s Déjà Vu is heard repeatedly), and there are fleeting cameos by estimable martial arts actors Collin Chou and Leung Kar Yan, who could have alleviated the awfulness had they had more screen-time. 1/2*

 

FEED ME (2015) review

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Shot in 2012 but only released 3 years later, perhaps because of lead actress Yu Nan’s heightened profile after being in two of the biggest Chinese hits of the past months (Tsui Hark’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain and Wu Jing’s Wolf Warrior), Yang Yazhou’s Feed Me also bears the distinction of starring Lin Hao, a boy who had become a national hero after rescuing several of his classmates in his collapsing school building during the devastating Sichuan earthquake of 2008. The hero-turned-actor plays a country boy who lives with his grandfather (Tao Zeru) on a boat, making regular trips to Shanghai to sell rapeseed. It is on one of those trips that upon returning to the boat, they find a pregnant woman (Yu Nan) who seems to be running away from something or someone. Soon she gives birth, and the grandfather lets her stay onboard both for the sake of the baby and because he’s been diagnosed with early senile dementia and worries as to who will take care of his grandson when he no longer can. But in the nearby village there’s gossip and disapproval of this situation, especially from a doctor (Vivian Wu) he is trying to woo. As for the boy, he grows more and more fascinated by this woman he sees as a  potential surrogate mother.

Feed Me is a frustrating little film, squandering gorgeous cinematography and an obvious gift for evocative imagery by remaining stubbornly opaque throughout. Scenes are often interrupted gratuitously, abruptly, and are thus rarely allowed to gather any dramatic or emotional steam. No actual depiction of rural life in China is made, as the film mostly stays within the confines of the boat and the surrounding rapeseed field (admittedly a very cinegenic setting). And the film’s attempts at meaning are undermined by the fact that almost every character is annoyingly one-note : Tao Zeru is a shaky shell of a man, Lin Hao a yelly bumpkin, and Vivian Wu a nosy ice queen. It all quickly starts looking like one incredibly dull and static puppet show. Only Yu Nan gets to sink her teeth into an actual role, as she portrays a woman awakening to motherhood and re-awakening to life with her customary subtlety and vibrancy. Too bad her efforts are lost in the film’s general self-defeating pretentiousness.

Long Story Short : Sometimes visually gorgeous but always opaque and pretentious, Feed Me is a frustrating experience that squanders a typically strong performance by Yu Nan. *1/2

GOOD-FOR-NOTHING HEROS (2012) short review

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Fu Yong’s Good-For-Nothing Heros (a misspelling that doesn’t seem to be of the ironic “Inglourious Basterds” kind) tells of Peng (Kimi Qiao) and Long (Lam Suet), two amiable losers who find the lost will of a wealthy hotel owner (Kent Cheng), who just fell into a coma. They decide that Peng will pose as the owner’s son and leverage his new-found clout to save their neighborhood from relocation. But one big obstacle in the owner’s associate Danny (Francis Ng), who smells a rat and sends a private eye (Jack Kao) to check on Peng’s background. Beyond the crippling implausibility of the plot, what makes Good-For-Nothing Heros sink so far below average is its absence of pace, its muddled exposition, its often sappy tone and its incredibly tired gags. Seeing Lam Suet in a lead role is a real pleasure and gives the film what little sparks it possesses,  especially as he gets to share an underdeveloped but quietly offbeat romantic subplot with Christy Chung, in a rare turn as a plain (well, as plain as the stunning Chung can appear : make-up can only go so far), frumpy, big-hearted street food vendor. Unsurprisingly, Francis Ng knows what kind of film he’s in, and does some charismatic sleepwalking. *1/2

 

TWO THUMBS UP (2015) review

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With Two Thumbs Up, screenwriter Lau Ho Leung makes his directorial debut after writing quite a few prominent Chinese/Hong Kong films for people like Derek Yee, Daniel Lee, Gordon Chan and Dante Lam, among others. It’s a film that commands a lot of upfront goodwill by being part of a dying breed, an all-Hong Kong film not calibrated in any way to appeal to the Mainland, and also by casting a quartet of Hong Kong staples : Simon Yam, Francis Ng, Mark Cheng and Patrick Tam. They play four ex-criminals who decide to come back to their old ways when one of them hatches a plan he thinks is foolproof : steal a Police Emergency Unit van, dress as cops, then rob anyone that comes their way all the more easily, especially a shady funeral service that smuggles money through the border by hiding it in corpses. In the absence of an actual EU van, the plan is put into execution by painting a mini-bus, and soon the four friends are cruising Hong Kong as fake cops. But unexpectedly, they end up fighting for justice : after saving a girl from rape, they run afoul of another team of crooks (who have the same plan of disguising as cops but decidedly more ruthless methods) and decide to stop them. Meanwhile, a young cop (Leo Ku) is hot on their trail.

Two Thumbs Up possesses a feature shared by many a directorial debut : it tries a bit too hard. The film is a frenzy of quirky montages, quick-cut flashbacks, madcap chases and unhinged shouting matches, coated in offbeat voice-over and a slightly forced attention to detail : the number of recurring visual motifs verges on overbearing at times. There are also visual tricks, like on-screen penciled diagrams or asymmetrical split-screen, that overstay their welcome after a while. Other tidbits work better, like the fact that Leo Ku’s police number is the same as Francis Ng’s prison number, play nicely into the film’s message that a book should not be judged by its cover (though the French equivalent of that phrase is more fitting : “L’habit ne fait pas le moine”, meaning “Wearing a cassock doesn’t make you a monk.”), or Simon Yam’s brief but endearing friendship with a little girl, but overall it’s too much, too often. Still, these are flaws found mostly in big-hearted films, and big-hearted Two Thumbs Up is. It also obviously benefits from its quartet of actors, with the spotlight chiefly – and expectedly – set firmly on Simon Yam and Francis Ng, who make good use of their unmistakable personas, attention-grabbing haircuts and knack for chewing the scenery into an unctuous puree. If Tony Leung Ka-Fai and Anthony Wong Chau Sang had joined the cast, Hong Kong might have been obliterated in a deflagration of almighty unhinged charisma. Instead, we have Mark Cheng and Patrick Tam, who are quite fine in their own right, and actually help balance out Yam and Ng by bringing an equally effective but more low-key presence. And for all its faults, Two Thumbs Up makes us wish we’ll see this quartet again.

Long Story Short : Two Thumbs Up consistently tries too hard, but its big heart and great cast make it worthwhile. ***

SIFU VS VAMPIRE (2014) review

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Amazingly, Daniel Chan Yee Heng’s Sifu vs Vampire is Hong Kong legend Yuen Biao’s first lead role in a feature film since Corey Yuen’s Hero in 1997. We could imagine a better comeback vehicle than a crass Wong Jing-produced comedy, but we’ll take what we can get. Yuen plays Master Chiang, a Taoist priest and exorcist who together with his disciple Lingxin (Jiang Luxia) teams up with a pair of hapless gangsters (Ronald Cheng and Philip Ng) to fight – and sometimes fall in love with – vampires old and new. There’s a definite throwback quality to the film, as it harks back to the vampire comedies of the eighties and beginning of the nineties, most notably the Mr Vampire series which already featured Yuen Biao. Contrary to Juno Mak’s impressive Rigor MortisSifu vs Vampire is straightforward and unpretentious, a loosely calibrated mix of (very) broad laughs, (very) mild scares and (very) sparse fighting.

The humour comes in the form of a long string of dick jokes, peppered with boob jokes, with a side-serving of ass jokes for good measure. The horror is carried out through sometimes effective cinematography and endearingly sloppy special effects. And the action, credited to Yuen Cheung Yan and Philip Ng would be effective if it weren’t limited to very short bursts. And the only protracted fight scene, where Philip Ng and Jiang Luxia lay the smackdown on a corridor full of vampires, is shown through a distorting filter, surely the stupidest decision imaginable considering it could have been one of the film’s few real pleasures. In the end, if the film manages to be just about palatable, it’s because of its cast. Yuen Biao is the straight man here, a bit of a pity considering he’s such a gifted comedic actor, and he fights very little but still, with his gravitas and easy-going charisma he’s a sight for sore eyes. Ronald Cheng does his schtick and Philip Ng demonstrates an welcome sense for physical comedy and unhinged goofiness, while Jiang Luxia finally graduates from playing dour tomboys to playing a dour woman. The four of them actually work quite well together, and to say they deserve a better film is a truism.

Long Story Short : Sifu vs Vampire is a sloppy and crass vampire comedy that manages to entertain thanks to an entertaining quartet of actors. **

 

LOVERS & MOVIES (2015) short review

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Niu Chaoyang’s Lovers & Movies is one of those all-star Valentines Day cash-ins based on the blueprint of Gary Marshall’s Valentines Day : criss-crossing love stories across generations, played out by a few stars out for an easy paycheck. And so here we have a fifty-something woman (Kara Hui), who finds out her husband (Simon Yam) is having an affair, while her son is getting into bad ways and pushing away his girlfriend. Also, a cab driver (Francis Ng) is in love with a dance teacher (Yu Nan), whose five year-old son needs snow to win over a girl he likes at school. And a fangirl (Gulnazar) gets to meet her heartthrob idol (Kim Bum), after which they fall in love. It all unfolds in impossibly trite fashion, as platitudes about love are spoken in every scene over a treacly score, and grand romantic gestures are performed in ways that are often actually more creepy than endearing : witness Gulnazar barging in on a film scene being shot in a studio by the man she loves, by jumping off a wall, strapped on cables, with a red streamer that says ‘I love you’. Someone call the cops. The cast, which could have saved the film, is too uneven to manage that. Kara Hui and Yu Nan valiantly try to make unlikable characters worth sticking with, but Francis Ng expresses most emotions by smiling weirdly, and Simon Yam gives a performance so listless he probably took this film as a break from acting. And out of decency, let’s not mention the rest of the cast. *1/2

DRAGON BLADE (2015) review

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Daniel Lee’s Dragon Blade isn’t just another Chinese period epic. Its price tag of 65 million dollars makes it the most expensive Chinese film in history, while its opening numbers at the domestic box-office broke records and its final take of 120 million dollars ranks it as the 8th highest-grossing Chinese film. Its cast is truly international : gathered around Chinese A-listers Jackie Chan, William Feng and Karena Lam are Hollywood actors John Cusack and Adrien Brody, Korean actors/pop stars Choi Si Won and Steve Yoo, Australian dancer and scream queen Sharni Vinson, as well as French singer Lorie Pester. And its plot takes considerable licence with history to imagine a meeting of East and West, between the Roman armies and the tribes of Western China.

Jackie Chan is Huo An, who as a Hun orphan was raised by a Chinese general (William Feng) who passed on to him ideals of peace and racial harmony. Now grown up, Huo An is the head of the Silk Road Protection Squad, a group of soldiers mediating strife between the dozens of tribal groups who cohabit this border region, and policing the trade route without using violence, like the ancient equivalent of U.N. peacekeepers. But after being framed for smuggling gold through the border, Huo An and his squad are arrested and sent to Wild Geese Gate, a derelict outpost they are tasked with rebuilding. There, they meet a Roman army headed by General Lucius (John Cusack), who has fled with a few hundred men to protect the life of a noble child (Jozef Waite), whose power-hungry brother Tiberius (Adrien Brody) murdered their father, Consul Crassus (Gregory Allen). After a brief fight, Huo An and Lucius decide to make peace and the Roman fugitives are welcomed into Wild Geese Gate, which they help rebuild with their architectural expertise. But as Chinese and Roman soldiers start to fraternize, the threat of Tiberius taking over the Silk Road looms large, and a confrontation becomes inevitable.

Dragon Blade was written and directed by Daniel Lee, and bears many of the hallmarks of this extremely underrated filmmaker. If anything, it works almost as a spectacular summary (and thus, a simplification) of the themes he tackled in the past decade. The relation between heroism and memory – here embodied by William Feng’s General Huo who is seen in flashbacks and whose armor, set on top of a pillar at Wild Geese Gate, towers over most of the action – is carried over from 2008’s Three Kingdoms : Resurrection of the Dragon. The weight of fratricide, an act that recurs in different ways in Dragon Blade, and the figure of the renegade are spliced from 2010’s 14 Blades. And the concept of rewritten history, as carried out not only narratively but also visually through creative and purposely inaccurate costume design, pervaded both Three Kingdoms and 2011’s White Vengeance. But despite the presence of these Daniel Lee hallmarks along with some of his weaknesses, such as often muddled power play and exposition, Dragon Blade Jackie Chan’s own brand equally, with a big, simplistic message that is endearingly humanistic though sometimes thuddingly patriotic.

The endearingly humanistic part of the message concerns equality among ethnic groups and peace between nations. Nothing subtle, but a big heart doesn’t need subtlety, and for all the fighting and battling to be found in the film, some of the best scenes are actually scenes of peaceful friendship. As Roman and Chinese soldiers come together to rebuild the outpost, we are treated to a wonderfully uplifting, not to mention visually stunning, series of sequences where they exchange architectural techniques, training methods, fighting styles and, in an especially stirring moment, inspiring songs (composed by Henry Lai, whose score as a whole is rich and beautiful). The more thuddingly patriotic side, which had dragged down Chan’s CZ12 quite a bit and was the whole raison d’être of his previous film 1911, is thankfully muted but still present in some slightly cringe-inducing lines, like when Huo An tells Lucius “Roman soldiers are trained to kill, but Chinese soldiers are trained to save lives”. But of course they are.

Still, Dragon Blade is first and foremost a grand spectacle and a visual treat. As usual, Daniel Lee’s art direction (with Eddy Wong and Thomas Chung) is gorgeous, with a special challenge being set and gloriously met for the costumes by the presence of a dozen different ethnic groups on screen. The photography by Lee’s cinematographer of choice, Tony Cheung, is splendid, with the bronze luster of the daytime images being complemented by some stunning chiaroscuro in nighttime scenes. Unexpectedly and despite its sizable budget, the film only has one battle scene, a superb set piece which, in a wonderful flourish reminiscent of Three Kingdoms : Resurrection of the Dragon, is scored in the scene, as each army comes with its musicians and percussionists. The rest of the action is made up of duels, all choreographed with grace and brutality by Jackie Chan’s Stunt Team, as Romans and Chinese trade fighting skills, and Chan consecutively fights Lin Peng, John Cusack and Adrien Brody. Each duel has the same desert setting but a distinct identity (a testament to artful choreography), with the first one being an almost comical pas de deux, the second a dynamic dialogue of fighting skills where both fighters are almost more invested in impressing each other than hurting each other, and the third one a full-on agression. Jackie Chan is still remarkably dynamic and eschews most of his traditional methods in favor of straightforward sword-fighting, and it’s a joy to watch. It must also be said that John Cusack acquits himself superbly with the fighting, a fact that is not so surprising considering he has a black belt in Kickboxing and has been taught by world champion – and Chan’s adversary in Meals on Wheels and Dragons Forever – Benny Urquidez.

The international cast fares unequally. Anchoring everything is Jackie Chan in a warm and hearty performance that mixes his traditional squeaky-clean, happy-go-lucky persona, with the gravitas and emotional weight he’s been accumulating in the past decade with his more serious roles. At 60, he’s still a joy to watch. A lot of people have expressed concern over the casting of John Cusack as a Roman general ; and granted, it’s unexpected casting as Cusack usually carries a very contemporary dry wit and irony, and has rarely fought onscreen. But it works : not only as his world-weary persona is quite fitting for the role of a weathered, disillusioned general, but also because he’s a gifted actor with much more ability to stretch than given credit for (for proof see him as a chilling serial killer in The Frozen Ground, or as a sleazy convict in The Paperboy). He gives a soulful but steely performance and has good chemistry with Chan, and most of all with child actor Jozef Waite, as their characters share an affecting and sweet bond. Adrien Brody makes for a formidable, if completely caricatural villain : the kind of villain who licks his blade after killing an enemy. Still, he too shows good fighting form, and his charismatic overacting at least provides the film with a strong antagonist. It must also be noted that most of the Caucasian supporting roles and extras are much better than the horrid Gweilo actors usually employed in Chinese productions.

Elsewhere, Lin Peng is delightful as a lovestruck bow-wielding Hun warrior, while Sammy Hung cuts a striking figure as her comrade in arms. Korean star Choi Si Won however, gets almost nothing to do, and mere minutes of screen time, even though he’s on the poster. Karena Lam comes back from a five-year hiatus from films, in a sequence set in modern day where two archeologists (Lam and Vanness Wu sporting a laughable curly haircut) find the remains of an ancient city built from Wild Geese Gate, and use a virtual 3D simulator to visualize it. It’s a pointless, misguided sequence that has thankfully been excised from the international cut. Other blemishes that might still be fixed include a sometimes awkward use of fades to black (where a simple cut would be much more seamless) and the fact that, even though each Asian ethnic group is made to speak its own language (with Hun, Uyghur and a few others being heard), the Romans still speak English.

Long Story Short : Though sometimes clumsy, Dragon Blade is a rousing, heartfelt and visually stunning epic that successfully merges Jackie Chan and Daniel Lee’s styles. ****

I DO (2012) short review

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Sun Zhou’s I Do follows Tang Weiwei (Li Bingbing), a thirty-something business woman who’s given her all to her career, neglecting her love life after being left heartbroken a decade before by her boyfriend Wang Yang (Duan Yihong), a struggling graphic designer she had supported through difficult times. Now she’s finally ready to get in a relationship again, and in comes Yang Nianhua (Sun Honglei), a former publisher gone bankrupt, whose easy-going charm and selfless devotion make him a prime suitor. But things get complicated as Wang Yang suddenly reappears in Weiwei’s life : now a wealthy businessman, he plans to win her back. It’s the tried and true rom-com formula of the woman torn between two opposites: here, the rich old flame or the modest but charming new leaf. The dilemma unfolds in a thuddingly talky way, each of the usual stakes (does wealth matter more than devotion, can we forgive someone who’s broken our heart once, etc…) being discussed at length against the backdrop of fancy restaurants, sleek offices and luxury apartments, while several subplots involving under-developped supporting characters either fall flat or go nowhere. And if I Do remains watchable, it’s because it has in Li Bingbing a lead actress of tremendous class and subtlety, whose chemistry with Sun Honglei (in a full-on charm attack) and Duan Yihong (excellent in a more thankless role) is immaculate. Would that all romantic comedies had such appealing leads. **1/2