OPERATION RED SEA (2018) review

101130.52145536_1000X1000

Just under a year and a half after the success of Operation Mekong, Dante Lam is back with Operation Red Sea, another bombastic extrapolation on real events. This time, the evacuation in 2015 of nearly six hundred Chinese citizens from Yemen’s southern port of Aden during the Yemeni Civil War is spun into a hybrid of Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down and Antoine Fuqua’s Tears of the Sun, also closely resembling Wu Jing’s immensely successful Wolf Warrior II with its unbridled patriotism, tank battles and extraction of endangered Chinese citizens in Africa (though it doesn’t count as a rip-off, as it was already done shooting when Wu Jing’s film came out). And so we follow the Jiaolong Assault Team, headed by Captain Yang (Zhang Yi) and operating with the naval support of Captain Gao Yun (Zhang Hanyu, perhaps as the twin brother of his Operation Mekong character Gao Gang?), as it ventures into war-torn Yemen to rescue Chinese citizens – including fearless journalist Xia Nan (Christina Hai) – and foil a terrorist plot to obtain nuclear materials.

(more…)

Advertisements

HANSON AND THE BEAST (2017) review

213224.94087485_1000X1000

Xiao Yang’s Hanson and the Beast follows Yuan Shuai, aka Hanson (William Feng), a failed actor who is now neck deep in debt after taking a hefty loan to direct his own film and getting scammed. Now he’s trying to find himself a rich wife through a matchmaking service, while literally shoveling at a zoo that his now clinically insane father used to own. During a matchmaking date, he meets Bai Xianchu (Liu Yifei), who immediately reveals to him that she’s a fox demon, part of a tribe of animal demons that assume human form to dwell in our world. Hanson saved her life as a kid, when she was a little fox trapped in his father’s zoo and bullied by other kids. Now, she has found him again by chance and is in love with him, despite the warnings of her childhood friend – and cat demon – Hong Sicong (Guo Jingfei). For such a love is strictly forbidden by the commissioner of their tribe, Yun Zhonghe (Li Guangjie), who offers Hanson mountains of cash, provided that he inject her with poison and deliver her to him.

(more…)

THE MONKEY KING 3 (2018) review

143330.41387448_1000X1000

Though Monkey King films – and fantasy films in general – have been produced with remarkable regularity in China in the past six years, few have managed to spawn a franchise, let alone a trilogy. And if we don’t count Jeff Lau’s belated – and dire – A Chinese Odyssey Part III, then Soi Cheang’s The Monkey King 3 bears the distinction of completing the first artistically unified (Soi directed all three films) big screen Chinese fantasy trilogy based on Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West. After a dodgy franchise starter in 2014 that benefited from Donnie Yen’s impressively athletic dedication to portraying a young monkey but sank under the weight of its interminable and poorly-rendered power battles, and a sequel in 2016 that was a marked improvement and was made memorable by Gong Li’s powerhouse White Bone Demon, here comes the third installment, with all the key cast members returning, except for Kelly Chen, who has been replaced in her customary cameo as Guanyin the Goddess of Mercy by Liu Tao – not that too many people will notice.

(more…)

DETECTIVE CHINATOWN 2 (2018) review

102300.49432739_1000X1000

As promised at the end of 2015’s delightful and very successful Detective Chinatown, the unlikely duo of straight-laced amateur detective Chin Feng (Liu Haroan) and his loud, unhinged distant cousin Tang Ren (Wang Baoqiang) are back, this time in New York, where they have been summoned by crime boss Uncle Seven (Kenneth Tsang), along with the other top detectives on a high-standard crime-solving app named “Crimaster”. Uncle Seven’s son was recently killed in a temple, and his heart was removed from his body while he was unconscious but still alive; the crime boss thus offers five million dollars to whoever can catch the killer. Assisted by Chinese-American police officer Chen Ying (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), the rag-tag bunch of detectives – which includes brilliant hacker Kiko (Shang Yuxian), Japanese dilletante Hao Yetian (Stashi Tsumabuki), as well as an Indonesian witch and many more – soon establish a link between this case and the murder of a woman, whose liver was harvested from her body while still alive. This makes Song Yi (Xiao Yang), an illegal Chinese immigrant who was spotted at both crime scenes, the primary suspect. Now it’s a chase to whoever will catch him first and collect the prize money – but Chin Feng knows this is too simple.

(more…)

CHINA SALESMAN (2017) review

153848.56235258_1000X1000

Just a few weeks before Wu Jing’s Wolf Warrior II became the highest-grossing film to date in China (and the 6th highest-grossing worldwide in 2017, beating the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 and Wonder Woman), one film was already waving the Chinese flag in a war-torn African country, but had to settle for 191st in China’s yearly box office ranking: Tan Bing’s China Salesman. Two telecom companies, DH and MTM, are involved in a bidding war to become the main mobile network provider of an African country. But when a civil war erupts, with insurgents led by mercenary Kabbah (Mike Tyson), who is in cahoots with MTM, it’s left to Yan Jian (Ethan Li), DH’s I.T. engineer and salesman, to help the president secure a line of communication throughout the country to fight off the insurrection and restore peace. Also, alcohol is prohibited in the country, but tough-as-nails bar owner Lauder (Steven Seagal) doesn’t care.

(more…)

TILL THE END OF THE WORLD (2018) review

093810.88841806_1000X1000

Bearing the distinction of being the first film shot – at least partly – in Antarctica, Wu You Yin’s Till the End of the World follows Wu Fuchun (Mark Chao), a successful businessman on his way to Antarctica for a bold publicity stunt. On the small plane he chartered is Jing Ruyi (Yang Zishan), a scientist on her way to a polar station to study auroras. But when a snow storm leads the the crash of their plane, Fuchun and Ruyi survive but are left stranded in the immensity of the south pole, with almost no hope of rescue. Though they find shelter in a small cabin with a few supplies, their only hope of salvation is to locate the station to which Ruyi, now immobilized by a leg injury, was headed. With no idea of their location, they decide that Fuchun will venture in all four directions for a few days at a time (at a time of the year when there’s no night), but soon love blossoms between the two survivors.

(more…)

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

101324.76620585_1000X1000

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).

(more…)

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

the-shanghai-job

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.

(more…)

A BETTER TOMORROW 2018 (2018) review

105902.71331155_1000X1000

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.

(more…)

THE GOLDEN MONK (2017) short review

103424.17070417_1000X1000

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*