ASH (2017) review

110020.69720928_1000X1000

In Chongqing, police detective Chen Weikun (Nie Yuan) investigates the murder of one Ma Xudong (Yang Yiwei), whose throat was cut with surgical precision in a theater. His suspicions land squarely on the victim’s stepson Xu Feng (Xin Peng), a young factory worker who visibly loathed his violent, abusive stepfather, and would have wanted to protect his mother – but both have a strong alibi. Then there’s a mysterious figure stalking the crime scene, wearing a surgical mask, but detective Chen cannot prove anything, and the case goes cold, until ten years later he spots a prominent surgeon, Wang Dong (Luo Jin) wearing the same mask – a coincidence which rekindles his will to solve the case. Yet it turns out that this is not a coincidence, as a series of flashbacks show that Wang Dong once knew Xu Feng.

Read the full post »

Advertisements

THE BOLD, THE CORRUPT, AND THE BEAUTIFUL (2017) review

174806.87390051_1000X1000

Madame Tang (Kara Hui) is the head of a shady syndicate colluding with the government and private interests to speculate on real estate. She is also the matron of a family of three women, which also includes her daughter Tang Ning (Wu Ke Xi), damaged from being instrumentalized in her mother’s dealings and attempting faint rebellion against her while drowning her sorrow in sex and drugs; and Tang Chen (Vicky Chen), still a teenager, observing quietly the corruption around her, pining for Marco (Wu Shu Wei), the lover of her friend Pian-Pian (Wen Chen Ling), while being groomed by Madame Tang as her new accessory of charm. But when the family of one of Madame Tang’s government associates is massacred (with the daughter, Pian-Pian, the only survivor, though in a coma), the matriarch comes under scrutiny of a police investigation and must claw, threaten and back-stab her way out of trouble, while Marco becomes a scapegoat, Tang Ning starts a fling with the policeman in charge of the investigation, and Tang Chen gets thrust even more deeply into her mother’s immoral world.

Read the full post »

BUTTERFLY CEMETERY (aka ON FALLEN WINGS) (2017) review

121054.36321158_1000X1000

Joe Ma’s Butterfly Cemetery, based on a novel by Cai Jun (whose works also “inspired” Law Chi Leung’s Curse of the Deserted, Fruit Chan’s Kill Time or Joe Chien’s The House that Never Dies II) follows Shang Xiaodie (Zhang Li), a ballet dancer still reeling from the mysterious disappearance of her lover Ming Ye (Vivian Dawson), with a vague newspaper obituary her only element of closure. When she receives an offer to spend one month in Budapest to train a Chinese ballet company founded by the wealthy Zhuang family, she takes it as an opportunity to clear her mind. But once in Hungary, she realizes her lost lover is still alive and is none other than the eldest son of the Zhuang family, that his fate is linked to a mysterious mausoleum on the Zhuang’s property, and that their first encounter in the past was far from random.

Read the full post »

WINE WAR (2017) review

103402.47188527_1000X1000

Leon Lai’s second film as a director, Wine War follows two friends who grew up together in an orphanage, Wei Li (Leon Lai) and Zhang Shui (Zhang Hanyu). While the former was adopted by a wealthy Frenchman and now lives an opulent and carefree life as a wine expert in France, the latter stayed in China where he’s now a cop. One day, out of the blue after they’ve lost contact for a while, Zhang Shui calls Wei Li and tells him he’s coming to France and needs his help bidding at the auction of a priceless bottle of wine from the 19th century, made from a secret recipe brought to Europe by a Chinese wine-maker of the Yuan dynasty. The auction is organized by LK (Nan Fulong) and his half-sister Li Fang (Du Juan), the last in a Mongol-Chinese lineage established in France, at their chateau in the Pays de la Loire. But as Zhang Shui arrives in France and is reunited with his childhood friend, it soon appears that there are hidden agendas, and that no one is who they say they are, especially not Fang Changfang (David Wang), one of the other potential buyers.

Read the full post »

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.

Read the full post »

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.

Read the full post »

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.

Read the full post »

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.

Read the full post »

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.

Read the full post »

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.

Read the full post »