DEVIL HUNTERS (aka ULTRA FORCE 2) (1989) review

Mtime.com

Released just a few months after Killer Angels, Devil Hunters was also directed by Tony Liu and was in some places released as a sequel to that film (under the risible title Ultra Force). Of course, there are no narrative connections between the two films, as Devil Hunters follows a vicious gangster (Francis Ng) who will stop at nothing to find his boss’s stash of diamonds. But on his way are policemen (Alex Man and Sibelle Hu), as well as his boss’s daughter (Moon Lee) and former second-in-command (Michael Chan Wai Man), now gone good. It’s a slightly uninvolving plot, that valiantly tries to create surprises in a genre that rarely contained any, narratively speaking. But it ends up feeling muddled, despite Tony Liu’s usual above-average attention to characters and drama: Michael Chan is touching as a reformed gangster inevitably drawn back to violence, while Sibelle Hu and Alex Man have an interesting – if under-developped – tough love relationship.

(more…)

Advertisements

KILLER ANGELS (aka ULTRA FORCE 1) (1989) short review

ultra-force-1-cover

In Tony Liu’s Killer Angels, Moon Lee plays an agent from a crime unit known as the “Blue Angels” (how original), who goes undercover at a night club whose owner (Leung Kar Yan) may be a human trafficker. We won’t delve much more into the plot, which is a half-hearted excuse for a series of full-blooded action scenes. Indeed, this is a rock-solid Girls with Guns actioner, with good pacing and excellent action directing from Chui Fat, and a few interesting touches. For instance, an unexpectedly touching romantic subplot in which Gordon Liu’s cold and efficient hitman falls in love with Moon Lee, much to the chagrin his colleague played by Fujimi Nadeki, an underrated and often underused action actress who here gets to shine as a spiteful and deadly mob enforcer. There’s also a terrific scene where Moon Lee sings and dances to Chai Li’s song “Betray”, in a fetching leather outfit. More than mere fan service, it’s a reminder of what a well-rounded performer she was (well, is, but her last film was almost ten years ago). And there’s Yuen King Tan in only her second film, in a rare action role before being typecast as comic relief ; though a delightful scene where she beats up a sleaze-bag who’s called her “sex kitten” one time too many shows that her comedic chops are already there. And Leung Kar Yan has fun posturing as a charismatic mob boss, before revealing “unsuspected” martial arts proficiency during the spectacular finale. All in all, a real pleasure. ***

IRON ANGELS 3 (aka ANGEL 3) (1989) review

54528_cba73918442d4feac597fa9afb3e9e8c_iron1

In this third installment of Teresa Woo’s seminal Girls with Guns franchise, only Moon Lee, Alex Fong and Kharina Sa return from the previous film (with only the former two having starred in all three films) as the titular ‘Angels’, an elite task force that rids the world of assassins, dictators and terrorists. This time, Moon has to infiltrate a terrorist organization bent on starting a war between Thailand and Vietnam. She succeeds but has to leave her tracking device behind, so that Alex & Kharina, assisted by Thai agent Kwai (Ralph Chen) and a bony gweilo nicknamed Computer, are left running across Bangkok trying to locate her. It isn’t much of a plot, but that was never what the Iron Angels films were about. They were obviously about action, and in this respect this final film is easily the best of the bunch. The former two installments had stunning action, but lopsided structures by which they noodled around for an hour before exploding into non-stop action.

(more…)

THE OLD CINDERELLA (2014) short review

221705-44161663_1000x1000

Co-written and produced by Lu Chuan, Wubai’s The Old Cinderella is a slightly above-average romantic comedy in which a thirty-something tour guide (Zhang Jingchu), divorces her husband of five years (Pan Yueming), after she finds out he cheated on her with a TV presenter. Keeping custody of their son, she moves back to her old flat and lets her best friend (Zhu Zhu) arrange blind dates for her, but the only man who catches her fancy is a young Taiwanese businessman (Kenji Wu). Meanwhile, her ex-husband tries to win her back. Romantic comedies tend to live or die on the appeal of their leads, and The Old Cinderella is certainly blessed by the presence of Zhang Jingchu in a performance that is in turns charming, affecting, sexy and funny, and sometimes, impressively, all at once. The film does tick off a checklist of romantic comedy tropes: funny blind dates, glitzy parties, an exotic, soul-searching location (here Jerusalem), and trying on dresses, to name just a few. But amidst these entertaining but often rote goings-on, there are hints of depth: the emotional toll of divorce is not glossed over, and the burden of failed expectations in initially promising relationships is addressed in some a few heartbreaking scenes where Pan Yueming shines as the ex-husband whose guilt leads to emotional self-destruction. Kenji Wu, who is the focus of the more light-hearted and romantic side of the film, is likable enough, but never matches Zhang’s sheer class. The Old Cinderella 2 came out a year later, but with completely different characters, cast, and crew. ***

ROMANTIC WARRIOR (2017) review

092827-31464833_1000x1000

In an age when amateurs have the tools to make professional-looking films, it beggars beliefs that professionals managed to produce something as amateur as Liu Xiatong’s Romantic Warrior. And we are not using the term “amateur” in the same childishly hyperbolic way as countless so-called film critics for whom competently-assembled films can be called “awful” or “shit”. No, Romantic Warrior truly boggles the mind with its utter lack of anything resembling filmmaking skill. The story unfolds in the thirties and concerns a cowardly Peking Opera actor (Chan Kwok Kwan) who meets a young woman (Xu Dongmei) claiming their marriage was arranged years ago by their now-defunct respective parents. He first tries to sell her to a brothel. Then, seeing she will not leave him in peace, and freshly humiliated by his nemesis (Wang Mei Ying) at an backflipping contest, he accepts her tutorship in martial arts and singing, to make him a better Opera performer. But she may have a hidden agenda.

(more…)

THE ROBBERS (2009) review

043648-61514169_1000x1000

Yang Shupeng’s The Robbers takes places during the Tang dynasty and follows two robbers (Hu Jun and Jiang Wu) who arrive to a small village and are about to rob one of the houses, when a group of soldiers burst into the village and start raping a young woman. The two robbers intervene and kill the soldiers, but they are not met with gratitude from the villagers who, led by a narrow-minded mayor, fear the army’s retaliation. They tie up the robbers to deliver them to the authorities, but when a larger contingent of soldiers arrives to the village and starts ransacking it, the robbers once again intervene and kill them. They then decide to stay for a while, as they are both falling in love with local girls. But the mayor is still intent on giving them up to the authorities.

(more…)

DUCKWEED (2017) review

143745-30475447_1000x1000

The second directorial effort of Han Han, a successful – and sometimes controversial – author, singer, prize-winning race car driver and China’s most followed blogger, Duckweed went from production to release in under four months, a rather impressive feat given that the result is as polished as the other Chinese New Year films of 2017, though with much less CGI and a modest small-town setting. Xu Tailang (Deng Chao) is a race car driver who just won a championship, and resentfully dedicates his victory to his father Xu Chengzheng (Eddie Peng), who raised him harshly and tried to stop him from pursuing his dream of racing. Tailang’s mother died giving birth to him, and Chengzheng spent the first six years of his son’s life in prison. Now, he has come to witness his Tailang’s victory, and the estranged father and son go on a car ride to sort out their issues. As they drive through a railroad crossing, their car is hit by a passing train, and they are rushed to the hospital, where Tailang’s life flashes in front of his eyes. But instead of dying, he finds himself transported to a small Chinese town in 1998, a year before he is supposed to be born. There, he meets none other than his father, an energetic young man full of dreams, who fancies himself a gang leader and plans to marry his childhood sweetheart Xiaohua (Zhao Liying). Tailang befriends his own father and joins his harmless gang, becoming the witness of the events that led to his own inauspicious birth.

(more…)

LOST MINDS (2016) short review

p2405533776Lynn Chen’s Lost Minds follows a couple (Jian RenZi and Andrew Lin) who has been unsuccessfully trying to have a child for a few years, and decides to resort to an old Chinese fertility ritual, that of the “primer”: to temporarily adopt a child, who will open the way for their own progeny. They adopt a quiet 7-year-old girl (Wang Yifei) at an orphanage whose supervisors (Hui Shiu Hung and Pat Ha) are obviously not telling them everything. The adopted child is silent, asocial and constantly draws disturbingly dark pictures of her previous family. It doesn’t help that her new mother is beset with strange visions that threaten her sanity. Like so many mediocre horror films, Lost Minds uses a lead character’s vacillating sanity as an excuse to bombard the audience with nightmare sequences and jump-scare visions that thus don’t need to be justified by the story (since, you know, the character’s sanity is vacillating). There are a few passable red herrings until the final twist – a demystifying one as always in China’s supernatural-free horror genre – brings the film to a thudding close, with belabored exposition and flashbacks, to make sure everyone understands the denouement. Very little tension and virtually no scares are mustered, though the unsettling white glow of the cinematography is rather effective and well-judged, and Jian RenZi’s performance is fairly affecting, while Wang Yifei is an excellent child actress whose alternating creepiness and cuteness are never forced. Andrew Lin sleepwalks through the film, Hui Shiu Hung is wasted in a rare serious role, and the great Pat Ha valiantly makes the best of her poorly-written role. *1/2

BLOOD OF YOUTH (2016) review

095043-32938805_1000x1000

The fourth film of firefighter-turned-director Yang Shupeng, Blood of Youth follows a young hacker named Su Ang (Oho Ou), who anonymously tips off the police about the remains of a woman buried in the woods near the city of Hangzhou. Detective Zhang (Zhang Yi) discovers the victim was beaten to death almost two decades ago, and starts investigating the events that lead to her death. But at the same time Su Ang also warns the police about a bank robbery about to happen, but just as the robbers led by Shen (Zhou Ziwei) are about to enter the bank, he tips them off too about the presence of the police. His agenda is a mystery, but it may be linked to the fact that a brain injury he sustained during his years in an orphanage is slowly killing him according to his doctor, Han Yu (Yu Nan), especially as he’s not taking the medicine that might save him. And his endgame definitely includes Lin Qiao (Guo Shutong), a young cellist whose libidinous orchestra conductor Li (Guo Xiaodong) is none other than Han Yu’s husband.

(more…)