ANIMAL WORLD (2018) review

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Adapted – and transposed to China – from Nobuyuki Fukumoto’s manga Ultimate Survivor Kaiji, Han Yan’s Animal World follows Kaisi (Li Yifeng), a young man adrift: ever since his father was killed when he was 8, he’s had violent urges and visions of himself as a clown – and of the people around him as grotesque monsters. He cares for his mother who is in a coma, but neglects his girlfriend Qing (Zhou Dongyu), a nurse who refuses to give up on him. Riddled with debts after a childhood friend coaxed him into a failed real estate scheme, Kaisi is approached by Anderson (Michael Douglas), a mysterious and powerful man who offers him a chance to write off his debt, and possibly make a lot of money, by joining dozens of players on the ship Destiny. There, the players have to engage in an elaborate game of ‘rock-paper-scissors’, with very specific rules but no ban on cheating, and a dire fate for the many who lose the game, while rich men watch and take gambles of their own.

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LOBSTER COP (2018) review

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The directing debut of actress Li Xinyun, Lobster Cop follows Yufei (Wang Qianyuan), Hua Jie (Yuan Shanshan), Neng (Liu Hua) and Chen (Zhou Yu), a squad of down-on-their-luck police detectives trying to bring to justice a dangerous trafficker known as The General. While staking out what they suspect to be an operating base for the General’s accomplices, they realize that a neighboring, decrepit lobster restaurant, owned by a nutcase (Shen Teng), would be a perfect vantage point to keep an eye on the activities of the suspects’ house. They gather enough money to buy the restaurant, clean it up and pretend to be a family, but Neng’s delicious spicy crayfish recipe unexpectedly turns what should have been just a front into an instant success, and the targets of their surveillance become regular customers. And soon, the four cops uncover a wider conspiracy.

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An Interview with Composer Elliot Leung

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To call Elliot Leung an overnight sensation would be incorrect, as it would be ignoring several years of praised work in video game, advertisement and documentary music. And yet there is indeed something meteoric about his arrival in the A-List of Chinese film composers: his thrilling score for Dante Lam’s spectacularly successful Operation Red Sea – now second only to Wolf Warrior II on the list of highest-grossing movies in China and still the fifth highest-grossing film worldwide for 2018 – marks the beginning of a promising big screen career, with no less than four high-profile films already on his dance card. A busy schedule in spite of which he graciously agreed to answer our questions.

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GENGHIS KHAN (2018) review

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There have been more than a few films made about the great 12th-century Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan – the most successful and closest to reality probably being Sergei Brodov’s Mongol (2007) with Tadanobu Asano – but none that have offered such a wild fantasy spin on his rise to power as Hasi Chaolu’s Genghis Khan. William Chan stars as Temujin (later known as Genghis Khan, which means “universal ruler”), a young Mongol boy whose romance with Borte (Lin Yun), a girl from a neighboring tribe, is abruptly interrupted when his father is killed during a battle by Kuchuru (Hu Jun), an evil warlord. But after being beheaded in combat, the warlord is resurrected by the love of his life, the witch Dodai (Zhang Xinyi). However, the resurrection comes at a price: Dodai is now hostage to the King of Hell, who thus has Kuchuru do his bidding: soon, an alignment of planets will signal the perfect moment for him to lead an army of orcs and skeletons to invade the grasslands of Mongolia. Years pass, and a now grown-up Temujin sets out to find Borte and marry her, but fate as other plans. Like his ancestor Cina, armed with the mighty spear Soledin, the Mongol hero is called to unite the tribes of Mongolia and take the fight for his land into the depths of hell.

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KEEP CALM AND BE A SUPERSTAR (2018) short review

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Tiezhu (Li Ronghao), a private detective, is recruited by the police to investigate action star Yuen Bao’s (Eason Chan) links to a Thai drug trafficker. But after he saves the actor from a set accident, the two become friends. Tiezhu is hired to work on The Time Traveler, the film Bao is shooting, and falls in love with his co-star Tong Tong (Li Yitong). Meanwhile, Bao’s manager Tai (Chan Kwok Kwan) is obviously up to no good. Vincent Kok’s Keep Calm and be a Superstar amuses faintly with its parody of Jackie Chan’s persona through the character of Yuen Bao – a self-absorbed, happy-go-lucky, martial arts star yearning for acting awards. A lampooning of the classic end-credits bloopers of Chan’s film is particularly funny. But this also gives the film a dated feel: this phase of Chan’s career has been over for a while – imagine a 2018 US comedy based on a parody of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action heyday. The film doesn’t become fresh either through its spoofing of Infernal Affairs (albeit worth a chuckle), and its references to Cold War, though less dated, are also less inspired. The rest is very wild mugging by Eason Chan (one scene where he over-emotes in the way Jackie Chan often did a while ago is admittedly quite funny), overshadowing Li Ronghao at every turn, a dash of passable action choreographed by Sammo Hung’s third son Jimmy Hung, and some reliable supporting turns by the great Hui Shiu Hung (always the most welcome of sights in any film) and the underrated Chan Kwok Kwan, who seems primed for a career revival soon. **

HOW LONG WILL I LOVE U (2018) review

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Gu Xiaojiao (Tong Liya), a broke thirty-something luxury sales assistant, wakes up one morning next to a complete stranger, Lu Ming (Lei Jiayin), an equally broke real estate salesman. The thing is, they’ve both been living in the same flat, but she occupies it in 2018, and he occupied it in 1999. And through a freak space-time disruption, the flat has become a crossroads between both years: the entrance door now has a handle on the left and a handle on the right: if they open one they’re in 1999, and if they open the other they’re in 2018. After some initial hostility and adjustments, Xiaojiao and Ming decide to use this anomaly to their advantage.

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LEGEND OF THE DEMON CAT (2017) review

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Based on a best-seller by Japanese author Baku Yumemakura, this massive, 200-million dollars production – whose enormous sets are soon to become an amusement park – is a uniquely ambitious co-production between Mainland China, Japan and Hong Kong. It takes place in the year 805, as a mysterious black cat stalks the imperial palace in Chang’an, just as the gravely ill emperor Dezong dies from a violent fit ; the same cat appears to Chen Yunqiao (Qin Hao), captain of the imperial guard, and to his wife Chunqin (Zhang Yuqi), revealing to them a cache of money, but asking in return to be fed eyes – the eyes of any creature, including humans. Buddhist monk Kukai (Shota Sometani), who had arrived from Japan to meet the emperor and senses the presence of the black cat, joins forces with scholar, poet and newly-fired imperial scribe Bai Letian (Huang Xuan) to unravel the mystery: they soon realize it takes its root thirty years before, when Tang emperor Xuanzong (Zhang Luyi) had his consort – and legendary beauty – Yang Yuhuan (Sandrine Pinna) killed. A known historical fact, about which Bai Letian has been writing a poem for the past few years: and yet it may be a lie, as the personal account of Abe no Nakamaro (Hiroshi Abe), a scholar who knew the emperor and his consort, seems to reveal.

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THE UNITY OF HEROES (2018) review

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22 years after his last appearance as folk hero Wong Fei Hung (in the Tsui Hark-directed final episode of the Wong Fei Hung TV series), Vincent Zhao is back, he’s a producer now, and he has barely aged at all, as the first shot of Lin Zhenzhao’s straight-to-VOD revival seems designed to prove: a topless Zhao running with his disciples, looking like it’s still 1996. This leads to a re-staging of the classic “Wong Fei Hung training with dozens at dusk” opening of Tsui Hark’s seminal Once Upon A Time in China, and indeed The Unity of Heroes is a veritable checklist of Wong Fei Hung tropes (something Roy Chow’s flawed Rise of the Legend did consciously avoid). There’s rival martial arts masters, 13th Aunt bringing western culture to Canton and flirting coyly with Wong, disciples Fatty, Bucktooth and Leung Foon bumbling around, some lion dancing, and of course, evil Gweilos. It all feels very familiar – in a nice, nostalgic way – except for one detail: a drug that gives super-human strength to those who take it.

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SPECIAL MISSION (2018) review

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Yin Chenyang’s Special Mission follows an elite mercenary (Fan Siu Wong) who joins forces with a detective (Augusta Xu-Holland) to find and rescue a Middle-Eastern princess who’s been kidnapped in Bangkok by a shady criminal known as ‘Black Star’ (Si Ligeng). As bland and generic as its title, the film clocks in at barely 70 minutes and isn’t much more than a string of perfunctory scenes trying hard to resemble recent Chinese hits. There’s tanks and a unit called “The Wolves” (Wolf Warrior 1 & 2: check), there’s naval officer determinedly pacing on a military vessel’s deck (Operation Red Sea: check), and more importantly there’s a duo of operatives investigating in Thailand (Operation Mekong: check). Of course, while it’s all shot and edited with a basic amount of technical competence, everything looks puny in comparison to the aforementioned blockbusters. So instead of a drawn-out speedboat chase on the Mekong, you’ll have to make do with a short jet ski chase on the Chao Phraya.

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A OR B (2018) review

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Zhong Xiaonian (Xu Zheng) is a ruthless businessman who made a fortune using insider trading and blackmail, with the help of his old partner Tang Wanyuan (Wang Yanhui). But this has been at the expense of his marriage with Wei Simeng (Wang Likun), who gave up her journalism career for him, but is now at the end of her tether and wants a divorce. One day, Zhong wakes up alone in his mansion: he’s been locked up in his bedroom, and the windows have been boarded up. A mysterious caller informs him that he has to play a game: he will be given a series of impossible choices between an agonizing option A (for example, publicly reveal he’s been evading taxes) and a no less agonizing option B (such as sacrificing a friend) – not choosing will result in both options being enforced. While trying to escape and discover the identity of his tormentor, Zhong can only count on the help of Tian Yu (Duan Bowen), a journalist he managed to contact with a talkie-walkie.

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