GUARDIANS OF THE TOMB (aka 7 GUARDIANS OF THE TOMB) (2018) review

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After fighting giant robots alongside Expendable Kelsey Grammer in Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, and before fighting a giant shark alongside Expendable Jason Statham in Jon Turteltaub’s The Meg, Li Bingbing is fighting giant spiders alongside Expendables Kellan Lutz and Kelsey Grammer (again) in Kimble Rendall’s Guardians of the Tomb. The Expendable-to-Creature ratio in her career is thus higher than that of, say, Angelababy (who only fought giant aliens alongside Expendable Liam Hemsworth in Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day: Resurgence) or Huang Yi (who merely fought a giant lizard alongside Expendables Dolph Lundgren and Scott Adkins in Eric Styles’ Legendary).

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THE SHANGHAI JOB (aka S.M.A.R.T. CHASE) (2017) review

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Danny Stratton (Orlando Bloom) is a private security agent whose career suffered a deadly blow when a priceless Van Gogh painting was stolen on his watch by Long Fei (Shi Yanneng), a mysterious thief. Now his company S.M.A.R.T. (Security Management Action Recovery Team), which also includes Mach (Simon Yam), J. Jae (Hannah Quinlivan) and Ding Dong (Leo Wu), has been given a shot at redemption: to escort a valuable antique Chinese vase from Shanghai to London. But they’re once again ambushed, and once again Long Fei is the thief: it soon appears that he works for Tara Yen (Liang Jing), a wealthy arts dealer. Danny and his team decide to track her down and retrieve not only the vase, but also the Van Gogh. But things keep escalating as Tara Yen has Danny’s girlfriend Ling Mo (Lynn Xong) kidnapped.

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A BETTER TOMORROW 2018 (2018) review

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There’s probably no Hong Kong film more seminal and iconic than John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow. Mixing his own richly melodramatic sensibility with his mentor Chang Cheh’s themes of heroic brotherhood, Sam Peckinpah’s throbbing, elegiac brutality and Jean-Pierre Melville’s urban Bushido, Woo brought to life the Heroic Bloodshed genre and its visual grammar of slow-motion, bullet-riddled valor and gut-wrenching montages. He also revitalized Shaw Brothers stalwart Ti Lung’s career, made Leslie Cheung a star, and turned Chow Yun Fat from an affable TV lead to a true film icon. A Better Tomorrow was then milked for an entertaining sequel, a solid prequel, a mediocre Wong Jing re-run (1994’s Return to a Better Tomorrow) and a more recent, passable Korean remake. Announced concurrently to a rival remake to be directed by Stephen Fung (of which nothing has been heard since), Ding Sheng’s A Better Tomorrow 2018 isn’t the first time he tries his hand at an iconic Hong Kong property, and the flawed but interesting Police Story 2013 has shown that the writer/director isn’t one to slavishly regurgitate a franchise’s formula.

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THE GOLDEN MONK (2017) short review

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The eponymous golden monk of this Wong Jing quickie is the same folk hero played by Stephen Chow in Johnnie To’s The Mad Monk (1993), Buddhist monk Ji Gong. Here played by Zheng Kai as a superpowered monk who when crossing paths with demon hunter Jade (Zhang Yuqi), realizes they have been lovers lifetimes ago in Heaven, while trying to fend off the evil dragon Beihai Dulong’s plot to overthrow the emperor. Co-directed by Billy Chung, The Golden Monk is a painful bore and an eyesore from start to finish. Its humour is the usual stodgy Wong Jing cocktail of tired Mo Lei Tau, tiresome pratfalls and cringe-worthy references to recent hits (here, the Marvel universe), while the action is plagued by truly embarrassing CGI, with poorly-rendered monsters jerking around endlessly against flat backgrounds. With its formula of demon-hunting, origin story, unhinged humour and a romantic tragedy involving a monk and a feisty hunter, the film desperately apes Stephen Chow’s infinitely superior Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, a sorry sight indeed. While Zheng Kai has solid presence and comic timing, a vast supporting cast of Hong Kong, Mainland and Taiwanese comedians gesticulate hopelessly around him, while Zhang Yuqi seems to have mentally checked out very early into the film. And so should the audience. 1/2*

EXPLOSION (2017) review

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Zhao Xudong (Duan Yihong) is a “blaster”, an explosives engineer working in coal mines, in the northern province of Shanxi. One day, one of his carefully prepared explosions goes wrong, and four miners die while Zhao survives, with a concussion. Mine owner Li Yi (Lu Peng) pays him off to keep his mouth shut about the incident, which appears to be linked to a current power struggle between Li and a local businessman, Cheng Fei (Cheng Taishen). But Zhao’s childhood friend, police detective Xu Feng (Wang Jingchun) is already sniffing around for clues, and soon Zhao is stuck in the middle of a turf war and a police investigation, trying to clear his name and protect his pregnant girlfriend Xiao Hong (Yu Nan), while a killer (Yu Ailei) is on his trail.

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BLEEDING STEEL (2017) review

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On a fateful night in 2007, UN Special Forces agent Lin (Jackie Chan) is faced with a cruel dilemma: to be with his daughter Nancy in the hospital as she desperately clutches to life in the final phases of leukaemia, or to protect Doctor James, a geneticist who entered the witness-protection program after creating for an arms dealer a biochemical weapon whose formula, in the wrong hands, could bring about international chaos. Doctor James has been targeted by Andre (Callan Mulvey), a soldier enhanced with that biomechanical invention. Having painfully chosen international security over his daughter, Lin barely survives an attack by Andre that claims the life of most of his team. The same evening, his daughter dies. Fast forward thirteen years later, and Nancy is apparently still alive, attending high school under the watchful eye of Lin, who poses as a cafeteria worker at her school. Nancy is beset with recurring nightmares, and little does she know that she is the target not only of Andre and his right-hand woman (Tess Haubrich), but also of Leeson (Show Lo), a thief who found her profile in the files of a successful fiction writer.

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THE LOOMING STORM (2017) review

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The directing debut of cinematographer Dong Yue, The Looming Storm takes place in a drab, perpetually rainy small industrial town, where young women, often prostitutes, are being murdered by a serial killer. Yu Guowei (Duan Yihong) is the head of security of a factory close to which one of the victims was found, and with the local police severely understaffed for such an investigation, his appetite for detective work is put to use by the police chief (Du Yuan). Though an amateur detective, Yu manages to have a close encounter with the killer, whose hooded face he cannot see, and who manages a close escape. More and more determined, despite the death of his sidekick as the result of nasty fall while they were chasing the killer in an abandoned factory, Yu gets closer to a kind prostitute (Jiang Yiyan), whom he decides to use as bait, as she fits the profile of the previous victims. But is the noose tightening around the bait, the killer, or the detective?

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GOLDBUSTER (2017) review

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Produced by Peter Chan, Sandra Ng’s directing debut GOLDBUSTER follows the seven tenants of a derelict building: a widower doctor (Zhang Yi) and his son (Li Yihang), a webcam girl (Papi), two over-the-hill Hong Kong gangsters (Francis Ng and Alex Fong) and a couple of inventors (Jiao Junyan and Pan Binlong). They believe their building is haunted by a tall, red ghost, but actually this is just a ploy used by a wealthy businessman (Shen Teng) and his son (Yue Yunpeng) to push them to move out, so that they can build a new modern residence. The frightened tenants call upon the services of ghost hunter Ling (Sandra Ng) to exorcize the building and, having realized the deception, to beat the expropriators at their own game.

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THE LIQUIDATOR (2017) review

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Adapted from a best-selling book by Lei Mi, Xu Jizhou’s The Liquidator follows Fang Mu (Deng Chao) is a brilliant forensic psychologist (already played last summer by Li Yifeng in Xie Dongshen’s Guilty of Mind) assisting detective Mi Nan (Cecilia Liu) in tracking down a serial killer who calls himself “the Light of the City”, and targets people who have been the subject of public ire: a harsh teacher who inadvertently pushed one his students to suicide, an unscrupulous lawyer who helped frame an innocent woman… Channeling public opinion through the social networks, the killer even goes so far as to live-stream an execution, and let netizens decide if the victim should be spared or murdered. But Fang doesn’t yet realize that the murders are connected to an event from his own past, and that a former schoolmate of his, Jiang Ya (Ethan Juan), may be none other than the “Light of the City”.

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THE BRINK (2017) review

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Sai Gau (Max Zhang) is a violent police detective who narrowly avoided jail-time for the involuntary manslaughter of a corrupt colleague, whose daughter (Cecilia So) he now supports financially, out of a sense of duty rather than guilt. With an empty personal life, a single-minded approach to his job, a disapproving, pencil-pushing boss (Lam Ka Tung) and a debt-ridden partner on the cusp of an early retirement (Wu Yue), he is dead set on bringing Shing (Shawn Yue), a cruel gold smuggler, to justice. Shing has just gotten rid of his mentor (Tao Bo) and his rival (Derek Tsang) ; he’s now aiming to get to a $50 million stash of gold hidden in an underwater cache in the high seas (thus out of police jurisdiction), and belonging to Triad boss Blackie (Yasuaki Kurata). The violent cop and the brutal smuggler are on a collision course.

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