NAMIYA (2017) review

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Mere months after the Japanese adaptation of Keigo Higashino’s best-selling novel The Miracles of the Namiya General Store, comes a Chinese adaptation directed by Han Jie, with input from popular novelist, blogger and director Han Han. Three orphans, Xiaobo (Karry Wang), Tong Tong (Dilraba Dilmurat) and Jie (Dong Zi Jian) burglarize a rich woman’s house on new year’s eve, then run away in her car. They decide to lay low in an abandoned general store, but strange things start happening: a letter is dropped in an old letterbox at the front of the shop, and seems to have been written by someone more than twenty years before. The orphans decide to answer it, and get an almost immediate, handwritten answer through the same letterbox, once again apparently from the past. They learn that the store used to belong to a kind old man (Jackie Chan) who would impart wise advice to anonymous people in need through letters dropped in front and behind the store.

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ALWAYS BE WITH YOU (2017) review

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Always Be With You may be a somewhat clumsy title, but it’s still better than Troublesome Night 20, which is nevertheless what this Herman Yau film is. Louis Koo was in seven of these late-nineties, early-naughties horror films that often crossed narratives and mixed some comedy into the mildly tense supernatural goings-on. Now he’s back, surrounded with a cast of newcomers to the franchise (except Law Lan, who was in 17 of the previous installments). A handful of people are brought together by fate on the night of a car accident that claims several lives: there’s a cab driver (Julian Cheung), drunk after learning he is terminally ill, a couple of cops (Louis Koo and Charmaine Sheh), their exorcist auntie (Law Lan) a shopkeeper and his wife (Lam Suet and Kingdom Yuen), a young, freshly-engaged couple (Charlene Choi and Alex Lam), and a few more. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the ones who survived are haunted by those who died, and yet those who died are not necessarily the ones we think.
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THE THOUSAND FACES OF DUNJIA (2017) review

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A (very) loose remake by Yuen Woo Ping of his 1982 classic Miracle Fighters, The Thousand Faces of Dunjia (henceforward Dunjia) completes a trilogy of sorts, with which writer-producer Tsui Hark has been attempting to revitalize the Wu Xia Pian by going back to classics of the seventies, eighties and nineties and enhancing them with ambitious set pieces full of CGI and 3D enhancements, while leaving the core components and tropes of the genre largely untouched. After 2011’s mediocre but successful Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (in which a sleepy Jet Li let Chen Kun act circles around him while Tsui kept throwing 3D wood splinters at the audience), and 2016’s passable but unsuccessful Sword Master (in which a bland Kenny Lin let Peter Ho act circles around him while Derek Yee kept throwing 3D stone splinters at the audience), comes Dunjia, the better film of the three, and based on its first days of box-office, set to land in between in terms of box-office.

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SEVENTY-SEVEN DAYS (2017) short review

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Based on a true story, Zhao Hantang’s Seventy-Seven Days follows Yang Liusong (Zhao himself), a man determined to cross the desolate, uninhabited area of Changtang, at more than 4,500 meters of altitude on the Tibetan plateau, and to cross it horizontally, which is the most perilous way of going about it, and will take him at least 80 days, exposing him to extreme weather, lack of water and hostile wildlife including yaks, bears and wolves. But the memory of a brief yet intense encounter in Lhasa with a wheelchair-bound woman, Lan Tian (Jiang Yiyan), keeps him going forward even when all seems lost. The majestic, austere beauty of the Tibetan landscapes – lovingly captured by demi-god cinematographer Mark Lee Ping Bing – is almost overshadowed by the beauty of Jiang Yiyan in this passable travelogue. It was shot at the same altitude as the events it depicts and is full of interesting details about the dangers of the Tibetan plateau, such as how blissful snow, ending a life-threatening water-shortage for Liusong, can turn into a nightmare as it melts into a flood. But life-affirming platitudes about freedom (often worthy of a facebook inspirational slideshow) abound, and little is explained or shown of why Liusong has embarked on such an adventure, and thus the film’s emotional resonance lands squarely on Jiang Yiyan’s shoulders. Her vivid, heartbreaking performance as a woman putting on a brave front but crumbling inside, leaves a much stronger mark on the film than Zhao Hantang’s slightly bland lead. **1/2