COOK UP A STORM (2017) review

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After three seasons of his successful cooking show “Chef Nic”, Nicholas Tse takes his passion for culinary arts to the big screen with Raymond Yip’s Cook up a Storm, in which he plays Sky Ko, an Cantonese street cook whose well-loved restaurant in a picturesque alley of Hong Kong is threatened by property developers. Now, Michelin-starred chef Paul Ahn (Jung Yong Hwa) is opening a high-end restaurant right opposite Sky’s modest but welcoming diner. The two start butting heads, and soon they find themselves pitted against each other in a TV culinary competition. Whoever wins will get to go head to head with the “God of Cookery” Mountain Ko (Anthony Wong), who’s none other than Sky’s selfish and driven father, having left him at a young age in the hands of his friend Seven (Ge You), a wise and kind chef. Sky loses to Paul, who in turn is betrayed by his girlfriend and sous-chef Mayo (Michelle Bai), and thus the two initially hostile chefs but join forces to claim the title of “God of Cookery”.

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A-1 HEADLINE (2004) short review

 

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A fashion reporter (Angelica Lee) investigates the suspicious death of her ex-boyfriend with the help of her lovestruck assistant (Edison Chen) and an ex-cop turned debt collector (Anthony Wong) who’s equally lovestruck, though less obviously so. Hours before his death from apparent drunk-driving, the ex-boyfriend said he had a major scoop (an ‘A-1 headline’), and the scene of the crash suggests anything but an accident. Various suspects include the reporter’s editor-in-chief (Tony Leung Ka Fai) and a cop in charge of the case (Gordon Lam). A thriller that does its best not to thrill, Gordon Chan and Chung Kai-Cheong’s A-1 Headline doesn’t even simmer; its bid at a more naturalistic approach devoid of artificial thrills is a laudable approach, but the problem is that most of its characters are thoroughly listless and uninvolving, most of all an inert Angelica Lee. A gaunt Anthony Wong is the main attraction here, in a world-weary and oddly poignant performance that probably has stopped many a viewer from giving up on the film. Tony Leung Ka Fai is also his usual reliable self here, even when the film makes him spell out its message on the responsibility of the press thuddingly loud and clear. **

BULLET AND BRAIN (2007) short review

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A thriller set in the future for no discernible narrative or metaphorical purpose, and with no visible indicators other than a hideously fake-looking CGI futuristic train and a vaguely advanced-looking gun, Keung Kwok-Man’s Bullet and Brain is actually nothing more than a Wong Jing-produced quickie, albeit a fairly serviceable one. Its story about two mythical hitmen with muddled backstories (the titular Bullet and Brain, played by Anthony Wong and Francis Ng) who are called out of retirement to protect the granddaughter (Tiffany Tang) of a crime boss who’s been betrayed and killed by his second-in-command, serves as an excuse to let Wong and Ng act cool (though they often look more bored than cool), and shoehorns Eric Tsang as shady businessman, letting the short and rotund god of Hong Kong do his ‘affable but menacing’ act from Infernal Affairs and a few other films. It also throws in Alex Fong Lik-Sun as a pretty-boy detective, for a numbingly cutesy romance with Tiffany Tang’s character. Veteran stuntman Mars choreographs the action, which is sadly often mangled by weird editing. In the end it’s up to the film’s central trio of actors to keep things, if not lively, at least vaguely entertaining. **

I CORRUPT ALL COPS (2009) review

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Insanely prolific filmmaker Wong Jing (in 30 years, close to 200 films as a producer, a director and/or a writer) is known mainly for his shameless cash-grabbing, exploitative proclivities, extreme mining of film trends and taste for crass humor, but once in a while he decides to write and direct a film that can actually be taken seriously. 2002’s Colour of the Truth was one such film, the recent The Last Tycoon (2012) was another, and in between you have I Corrupt All Cops, which charts the circumstances in which Hong Kong’s Independant Commission Against Corruption came to exist. In the seventies, rampant corruption in the Hong Kong Police (which thus amounted to little more than another triad) was drastically reduced thanks to the efforts of agents from the newly-formed ICAC, who had to sustain tremendous pressure and threats.

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MADAM CITY HUNTER (1993) short review

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Bearing not even the faintest connection to the famous City Hunter character which received its Jackie Chan-starring film adaptation the same year, Madam City Hunter is a bafflingly-scripted action comedy in which a tough police officer (Cynthia Khan) is framed for murder and takes advantage of her suspension to investigate on her shady young stepmother (Kara Hui), who may be a venomous gold-digger with ties to the mob. She is helped by her love-struck commissioner (Tommy Wong Kwong-Leung) and a private investigator (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) and his hyperactive girlfriend (Sheila Chan). It’s a film that noisily goes nowhere, a string of lazy gags peppered with bouts of fairly inspired action (Yuen Woo Ping produces and had a hand in the fights). The trite comedy balances between playing ground-level hijinks and viagra jokes. Still, outside of the scant fight scenes, the film’s one redeeming aspect is its cast: Cynthia Khan may not be quite at home in that kind of comedy, but Anthony Wong Chau-Sang is always eminently watchable, Kara Hui ramps up the sexy and has a lot of fun, and Tommy Wong Kwong-Leung is enjoyably cast against type as Khan’s swooning, well-meaning superior officer. A fun film, in an obnoxious way. **

FIST POWER (2000) review

Shot on the cheap and in less than a fortnight by the exact same team responsible for the dubious Body Weapon one year earlier (director Aman Chang, producer Wong Jing and star Vincent Zhao mainly), Fist Power is a small, harmless action film about Chau, a Hong Kong policeman (Anthony Wong Chau Sang) who holds an entire school hostage in a desperate attempt to reclaim custody of his son. It’s left to Chiu, a Mainland security expert (Vincent Zhao) whose nephew is in said school, to find the son and bring it to Chau before he blows up the place.

Narratively, Fist Power is pretty straightforward : after half-an-hour spent setting things up, the film becomes a basic race against the clock for its remaining hour. The only obstacle Chiu meets in his quest to bring Chau’s son to him are thugs at the service of Chau’s estranged wife, and so the film is always alternating between our hero running from a point A to a point B, and scenes of our hero beating up some anonymous thugs. All that being interspersed with scenes of Sam Lee trying to provide comic relief, and as usual, alienating the audience in the process. That would be fine if the director were able to ramp up the tension, but instead he seems more interested in throwing every cheap, direct-to-video-reeking editing trick at the spectator, undermining not only the film’s already flimsy suspense, but also its numerous action scenes. This is all the more annoying as Fist Power has a lot of talent in front of the camera.

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MOB SISTER (2005) review

After getting his big break in the Hong Kong film industry with the over-indulgent and gaudy Jiang Hu (aka Triad Underworld), director Wong Ching-Po came back to the world of the Triads with Mob Sister, and once again gathered a who’s who of Hong Kong gangster films, from acting gods and Johnnie To regulars Simon Yam and Anthony Wong Chau Sang to Derek Yee’s go-to actors Alex Fong and Liu Kai-Chi, as well as the omnipresent Eric Tsang, and a representative of the Yuen clan in the person of Yuen Wah. Add to that fresh faces like Annie Liu, up and coming mainland actor (at the time, now he’s well-established) Ye Liu and actress Karena Lam, and you get one of the most intriguing and exciting casts in a while. Annie Liu is Phoebe, the adopted daughter of a kind-hearted mob boss (Eric Tsang), who lives a sheltered life surrounded by her father, her three protective uncles (Yam, Wong, and Fong), and her bodyguard (Ye Liu). But when her father is killed, she is called on to replace him as triad boss. The idea of an innocent teenage girl catapulted into the shoes of a mob boss is pure comedy material, but Wong Ching-Po choses – wisely – to not settle on a particular tone, instead oscillating between whimsical, bittersweet and tragic, and peppering his film with animated sequences that illustrate the “mob sister”‘s feelings.

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BIG BULLET (1996) review

Bill Chu (Lau Ching Wan), a dedicated but headstrong Hong Kong cop, is demoted to the Emergency Unit for having punched his incompetent commanding officer during a police raid gone awry. There, he butts heads with by-the-book cop Jeff Chiu (Jordan Chan), and keeps trying to stop a gang of international criminals headed by Anthony Wong Chau-Sang and Yu Rongguang. There’s nothing new in this plotline, but there’s Benny Chan behind the camera, a superb cast in front, and a better-than-average script to tie it all in. Today Benny Chan is one of the top directors in Hong Kong and China, but in the middle of the nineties, having been revealed by the A Moment of Romance films, he was only starting to get to really shine, with main HK luminaries such as John Woo, Ringo Lam, Kirk Wong and Tsui Hark off to the United States. Although Big Bullet was a hit in Hong Kong at the time, it is strangely forgotten today, and never crossed over to the West as other HK action films have.

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