CALL FOR LOVE (2007) short review

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Zhang Jianya’s Call for Love is a masterclass in how to turn an amusing concept and a dazzling female ensemble into the most average comedy possible. It stars Xu Zheng as a bored salary man who cannot stomach the routine of his marriage anymore. And instead of trying to spice things up, he flat out asks his wife (Jiang Hongbo) for a divorce. She promptly kicks him out, and shortly after, he wanders into a phone-repair shop, whose eccentric owner (Liu Yiwei) lends him a magical phone: each of the ten buttons will allow him to date a different woman, one of whom may be his soulmate. Naturally he is eager to try out the magical phone, but though each of the women he meets is a stunning beauty, there’s always a catch. There’s a naïve party girl (a delightful Eva Huang), a policewoman who dislikes divorcees (a delightful Fan Bingbing), a real estate addict (a delightful Ning Jing), a overly bossy CEO (a delightful Annie Yi), a young debutante (a delightful Bai Bing) controlled by her mother, a dour and demanding career woman (a delightful Qin Hailu), a single mother-to-be (a delightful Song Jia), etc… As a playful showcase of some of China’s talented and promising actresses (though this was ten years ago and not all have seen their career take off), Call for Love is passably enjoyable, though its sitcom-worthy writing, direction and look border on laziness. It has nothing interesting to say about relationships or love, instead unfolding like a series of droll sketches dealing in unsubtle archetypes. Thankfully, mawkishness is scarce. **1/2

EXTRAORDINARY MISSION (2017) review

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Felix Chong and Alan Mak, the writers of the classic Infernal Affairs trilogy, are back to the undercover thriller (the former as screenwriter and the latter as co-director with cinematographer Anthony Pun), and they’ve made the anti-Infernal Affairs. Extraordinary Mission follows Lin Kai (Huang Xuan) a cop sent to infiltrate a drug cartel by his superior Li Jianguo (Zu Feng), a former undercover himself. Fiercely motivated by the death of his mother from a drug overdose when he was a child, Lin quickly penetrates the cartel, until he finds an occasion to meet its ruthless, possibly deranged leader Eagle (Duan Yihong), and earn his trust to then dismantle the whole network.

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GOD OF WAR (2017) review

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A genre that dominated the 00’s in China and culminated with the massive success of John Woo’s Red Cliff and Peter Chan’s The Warlords, the war epic has been much scarcer in the 10’s, and much less successful in general, as indicated by the high-profile underperformance of passable examples of the genre like Andrew Lau’s The Guillotines and Ronny Yu’s Saving General Yang, not to mention the downright flop of Frankie Chan’s Legendary Amazons. It remains to be seen if Gordon Chan’s God of War can re-ignite the Chinese war epic’s popularity (even the success of Daniel Lee’s Dragon Blade in 2015 didn’t manage that), but it is, on its own merits, one of the finest examples of the genre. Set in the 16th century and based on historical events, it follows the efforts of Ming general Qi Jiguang (Vincent Zhao) and commander Yu Dayou (Sammo Hung) to defeat an army of Japanese pirates and Ronins led by Kumasawa (Yasuaki Kurata), and that has been pillaging the Chinese coastline for the enrichment of a Shogun whose son Yamagawa (Keisuke Koide) is among the pirates but disapproves of their treatment of civilians. General Qi enlists local peasants and trains them into a new and better-equipped army.

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THE WARRIORS (2016) short review

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Another in a long line of slickly-packaged Chinese propaganda war films, The Warriors was directed by Ning Haiqiang (whose oeuvre includes 2015’s The Hundred Regiments Offensive), is set in 1935 and follows a regiment of the People’s Liberation Army – then known simply as the Red Army – led by commander Huang Kaixiang (Ethan Li), as it races towards a key bridge that has to be taken in order to stop the Kuomintang troups’ progress in the region. It’s an incredibly thinly-written film, with sparse historical detail, entirely interchangeable characters (all stalwart, selfless, heroic, saintly would-be martyrs) given the faintest of backstories, and a constantly solemn, clenched-jaw, single-tear tone that borders on unintentional comedy. This makes the film’s episodic structure – it simply hurtles from skirmish to skirmish – all the more laborious and plodding; the copious action scenes are competently staged (action maestro Bruce Law is to thank for that) but devoid of any emotional pull, narrative momentum or epic sweep. For all the explosions and machine gun fire on display, The Warriors feels like listening to a particularly heavy-handed recruiting sergeant drone on for 100 minutes. *