BIG BROTHER (2018) review

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The production partnership of Wong Jing and Donnie Yen cannot be accused of a lack of variety: after the gangster epic Chasing the Dragon, and before the fatsuit comedy Enter the Fat Dragon, here comes the inspirational school drama Big Brother, directed by recent Wong favorite Kam Ka Wai (iGirl, Colour of the Game, Queen of Triads). Yen is Henry Chen, an ex-military who after a traumatic war experience and a period of soul-searching and traveling, turns up at his old secondary school of Tak Chi, now struggling amid funding cuts and real estate scheming, and asks to be a teacher of liberal arts, despite a lack of credentials in the field. The school is direly understaffed and so the principal (Dominic Lam) quickly accepts. But Henry Chen’s students are an unruly bunch, the rejects of the flawed Hong Kong school system, and unwilling to listen to him. The new teacher will have to get their attention, inspire them, and in some cases, rescue them from dangerous situations.

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THE BRAVEST ESCORT GROUP (2018) review

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Released concurrently on streaming services and in a handfuls of theaters in Mainland China, Tao Mengxi’s The Bravest Escort Group isn’t about a group of resourceful call-girls, contrary to what its clumsy title might lead you to believe. Rather, it follows a band of courageous bodyguards headed by Yang Liu An (Fan Siu Wong), and tasked by General Ma Bao (Ray Lui) with escorting his daughter Chen Yuanyuan (Lanni Li), concubine to the recently deceased Ming emperor Wu Sangui, and her son, the last hope of the Ming Dynasty, to safety. En route, they must fend off the attacks of enemy general Hala (Chen Zhi Hui), as well as Ma Bao’s treacherous second-in-command Ma Biao (Shi Yanneng), all the while being closely watched by the mysterious Zhu You (Andrew Lin). Though Wu Sangui and Chen Yuanyuan are real historical figures, the film plays fast, furious and loose with history, and presents itself like a late little brother to Teddy Chen’s Bodyguards and Assassins, on a wider geographical scale but – obviously – smaller spectacular scale.

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THE SECRET OF IMMORTAL CODE (2018) review

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A (very) rare Chinese sci-fi horror film, Li Wei and Zhang Nan’s The Secret of Immortal Code is set in the middle of the 22nd century: the Rafael pharmaceutical company, headed by the enigmatic Doctor Yao (Zhao Lixin), claims to be close to perfecting a cure for cancer, and proposes to cryopreserve – for a price – patients in the final stages of the disease, so that they may survive until the cure is finally ready. Yet 20 years later, it seems no closer to delivering the promised drug, and families are suing for commercial fraud. Lin Ziqi (Liang Jing) is in the same situation: her cancer-stricken sister Yuqi (Landi Li) has been in cryo-sleep for 18 years. One day, she receives a notification that Yuqi has been unplugged for no reason, which gives her only a few days to live. When she confronts Doctor Yao about this, he invites her to join him on a sea expedition to the Arctic, when a Rafael research station may hold the key to finally perfecting the cure.

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THE ISLAND (2018) review

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In his directing debut The Island, Huang Bo is Ma Jin, a humble worker who pines hopelessly over his colleague Shan Shan (Shu Qi), and dreams with his childhood friend Xing (Zhang Yixing) of winning the lottery. One day, while on a sea-faring team-building trip with his co-workers, he realizes that he just won a whopping 60 million RMB at the lottery. But shortly after, a massive asteroid grazes planet Earth, unleashing a fierce tsunami: the group is left stranded on an uninhabited island island, with Wang (Wang Baoqiang) emerging as the de facto – and abusive – leader in the survival effort. But as the floating carcass of a polar bear alerts them to the fact that the world as they know it may not exist anymore, the small group must try to organize a new society.

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