PEACE BREAKER (2017) review

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A remake of Kim Seong-hun’s devilishly entertaining Korean thriller A Hard Day (2014), Lien Yi Chi’s Peace Breaker follows Gaojian Xiang (Aaron Kwok), a mildly dirty cop whose team is under investigation for corruption, and who on one fateful night, while driving slightly inebriated to his mother’s funeral, crashes into a man on the road, killing him instantly. Unwilling to deal with the consequences, Xiang puts the body in his car, and later that night, hides it in his mother’s coffin. But just as he thinks the problem is dealt with, it turns out that the man he involuntarily killed is a wanted drug dealer that is police team is being assigned to track down. And to make things worse, Chen Changmin (Wang Qianyuan), a shady cop, knows what happened that night, and is determined to force Xiang to bring him the body, which holds particular value to him…

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ONE NIGHT ONLY (2016) review

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The directorial debut of Taiwanese actor Matt Wu (seen in Reign of Assassins and Sweet Alibis, among others), One Night Only stars Aaron Kwok as Gao Ye, a hopelessly compulsive gambler in heavy debt with ruthless loan sharks who are threatening to dismember him if he doesn’t pay up. Just after being submitted to a violent shakedown with an assorted ultimatum, he’s visited in his dingy hotel room by Momo (Yang Zishan), a prostitute he didn’t call for, but who insists on staying with him for forty minutes, lest her pimps think she’s not working hard enough. Having noticed Momo has a bundle of banknotes in her handbag, Gao Ye ensnares her into a gambling spree with the promise of profitable returns. Initially reluctant, she soon starts going along with it, and over the course of one long night, the two underdogs get into ever deeper trouble as they cross paths with an unhinged gambling rival (Andy On). They also grow closer to each other, slowly unraveling their most painful secrets.

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CLOSE ESCAPE (1989) short review

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Tung (Michael Miu) is a cop whose cancer gives him only a few months to live. Determined to leave his younger brother Leung (Max Mok) with enough money to go study medicine in the United States, and unable to do so on his meager cop salary, he robs diamonds from smuggler Chiu (Dick Wei), who has him killed and has Leung framed for murder. The latter can then only count on the help of his cop friend Ben (Aaron Kwok) and Miko (Yukari Oshima), a mysterious Japanese journalist. Chow Jan Wing’s Close Escape was Aaron Kwok’s big screen debut, shot at a time when he was just a jobbing actor in TVB shows, and was just about to break out as a singer. It’s a competent but wholly routine Hong Kong thriller that spends too much time on its efficient but bland plot and some clunky melodrama, while keeping the fine, Philip Kwok-choreographed fighting to the final ten minutes. Still, the housebound finale is a delight, especially when Yukari Oshima and Dick Wei trade kicks with immaculate precision and unmistakable power. **

COLD WAR 2 (2016) review

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Four years after their directing debut Cold War became the top film of the year at the Hong Kong box-office as well as an awards magnet (8 HK Film Awards and 3 additional nominations), Sunny Luk and Longman Leung finally deliver on its final cliffhanger: after implementing operation ‘Cold War’ to rescue five police officers that had been hijacked with their armored van, and arresting Joe Lee (Eddie Peng), the main suspect and the son of Deputy Police Commissioner M.B. Lee (Tony Leung Ka Fai), newly promoted Police Commissioner Sean Lau (Aaron Kwok) is contacted by mysterious masked men who have just kidnapped his wife, and want to switch her for Joe Lee. Putting his career at stake, Lau agrees on the terms, but the exchange takes a disastrous turn when a bomb goes off in a subway station where he’s escorting the handcuffed suspect. The latter is freed by an accomplice, and while Lau’s wife is rescued mostly unscathed, the whole incident draws judiciary scrutiny on the beleaguered commissioner, who is believed to have abused power. Part of the jury in an impeachment proceeding against Lau is Oswald Kan (Chow Yun Fat), a retired high court judge and independent member of the judicial council, who is being courted by a consortium of high-ranking officials conspiring to control the whole system, and whose ranks the soon-to-be retired M.B. Lee seems to have joined…

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An Interview with Composer Anthony Chue

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A three-time Golden Horse Film Awards nominee, composer Anthony Chue has worked with some of the biggest names in the Hong Kong film industry, including Derek Yee, Wilson Yip, Law Chi Leung, Ivy Ho, Herman Yau, Jeff Lau, Benny Chan, Patrick Leung and Ann Hui. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Vancouver, he’s also made a name for himself as one of the most sought-after arrangers and keyboardists in Cantopop, becoming a regular collaborator of Aaron Kwok, Vivian Chow, Sammi Cheng and Jacky Cheung among others with whom he’s been touring the world for over a decade.

You can sample his work for films, Cantopop and concert halls on his website, and here are a few questions he graciously agreed to answer.

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HEAT TEAM (2004) short review

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Dante Lam’s Heat Team is an action-comedy based solely on the passable chemistry between Aaron Kwok and Eason Chan, with the plot a vaguely convoluted afterthought, and the runtime already overlong at 95 minutes. The film follows two Interpol agents – one righteous and earnest (Kwok), the other a smarmy womanizer (Chan) – as they track down a jewel thief. Well, that’s the through line at least. There are countless digressions as the two cops bicker and flirt with their attractive colleague (Yumiko Cheng), indulge in dick-measuring contests (like determining who’s the best shooter with a paintball match in the office, or who can eat the spiciest), try to ingratiate themselves with their chief (an amusingly self-deprecating Danny Lee), and at some point, come very close to french-kissing each other. Even the investigation is actually more of a random series of encounters, the most memorable being a hilarious Hui Shiu-Hung cameo. It’s a frustratingly unfocused film that’s rarely as cool or as funny as it seems to think, with a sprinkling of action scenes that are average at best. Truly not the excellent Dante Lam’s proudest hour. **

THE BARE-FOOTED KID (1993) review

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The Bare-footed Kid is unique in Johnnie To’s filmography in that it is his only period martial arts drama, and judging by its quality one can regret he didn’t work more within that genre. In this loose remake of Chang Cheh’s Disciples of Shaolin, Aaron Kwok plays a penniless orphan who seeks out the help of his late father’s friend (Ti Lung), a renegade general who now works under a fake identity in a dyeing factory headed by a kind widow (Maggie Cheung) whose commercial success hinges on a professional secret. They provide the kid with a roof, a job, and most importantly in his eyes, shoes. But when he takes part in a fighting tournament, his impressive martial arts abilities draw the attention of a corrupt official (Eddie Cheung) and a ruthless competitor in the dying business (Kenneth Tsang). He also falls in love with a pretty school teacher (Wu Chien Lien), whom he begs to teach him how to write his name. But soon his naive, suggestible nature and misguided attempts to help his benefactors precipitate a tragic turn of events as he finds himself torn between the lure of power and his devotion to the people who care for him.

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SILENT WITNESS (2013) review

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Lin Mengmeng (Deng Jiajia), the daughter of famous, wealthy and arrogant entrepreneur Lin Tai (Sun Honglei), is accused of having killed her stepmother, a famous singer called Yang Dan, after confronting her over her infidelities to her father, made public in a paparazzi video showing her having a one-night stand with an actor. Lin Tai claims his daughter is innocent and hires China’s highest-paid lawyer, Zhou Li (Yu Nan), while public prosecution is handled by Tong Tao (Aaron Kwok), a brilliant lawyer with a spotless record, who’s been trying to nail Lin Tai for years over finally unproven charges of fraud. But after CCTV footage and a key testimony lead, on the first day of the highly-publicized trial, to the slightly too convenient conclusion that the father’s driver is the actual culprit, the truth starts to unravel as both defense and prosecution claw to the truth and receive clues from a mysterious source as to what lies beneath the clear-cut appearances.

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CHINA STRIKE FORCE (2000) short review

With a cast that is kind of interesting in its own warped way (Hong Kong heartthrob Aaron Kwok, American-born Taiwanese singer Wang Leehom, Miss Japan 1992 Norika Fujiwara, underrated Hawaiian cypher Mark Dacascos and American rapper/awful actor Coolio, no less), and an experienced action director at the helm (Jackie Chan’s main yes man Stanley Tong), China Strike Force is, at least, entertaining. The forgettable and trite plot involves two Chinese agents (Kwok and Wang) tracking drug smugglers (Dacascos and Coolio), and the possible double-agent (Fujiwara) stuck in between. Coolio is punishingly bad and drags the whole thing down, but most of the action scenes are impressive, especially the vertigo-inducing final fight on a pane of glass dangling from the top of a skyscraper. Stanley Tong proves yet again that he’s one of the best action directors around, and Ailen Sit’s choreography is superbly fluid and weirdly balletic. By now, you’ve guessed that China Strike Force only has its action going for it. **

 

DIVERGENCE (2005) review

Benny Chan’s DIVERGENCE proceeds directly from the overwhelming and international success of the INFERNAL AFFAIRS trilogy. It is not a cash-in, mind you : the kinship here is mainly to be seen in the tight storytelling refusing to be overly explanatory, the cold urban aesthetics and the stellar cast. The Hong-Kong superstar Aaron Kwok plays Suen, a cop whose girlfriend disappeared 10 years ago, and who’s never stopped looking for her, including at the morgue. He has been assigned to the protection of a key witness in the high-stakes trial of a corrupt businessman. The businessman’s lawyer (portrayed by Ekin Cheng) happens to be married to a woman looking remarkably like his long-lost girlfriend. That, coupled with the fact that the witness gets killed by a hitman called Coke (played by Daniel Wu), triggers a chain of events that put Suen’s mental and physical health to the test.

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