BROTHERHOOD OF BLADES II: THE INFERNAL BATTLEFIELD (2017) review

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Lu Yang’s Brotherhood of Blades was one of 2014’s best surprises, a tightly-scripted, hard-hitting little wu xia pian made on a relatively small budget, and whose muted box-office was compensated by an almost unanimously positive critical response, and a following that has grown in the three years since its release. Now, director Lu Yang is back with a bigger budget, for a prequel – which will be followed by a sequel, following the Infernal Affairs trilogy template – focusing on Chang Chen’s character (with Wang Qianyuan and Ethan Li noticeably absent), and which he again-co-wrote with Chen Shu, while none other than Ning Hao stepped in as a producer.

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RESET (2017) review

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Produced by Jackie Chan and directed by Korean helmer Yoon Hong-seung aka Chang, Reset unfolds in the near future, when time travel is becoming a reality: the discovery and use of portals to parallel universes allows scientists to experiment on sending living tissue back in the past – though only two hours back for now. Xia Tian (Yang Mi) is part of a research team that is on the verge of a major breakthrough, when her son Doudou a kidnapped and held for ransom by a mysterious man (Wallace Huo). If she wants to get her son back, she is to deliver the man all of her research. But even after she complies, her son is killed, and she has no choice but to send herself back two hours in the past to try and save him. With every failed attempt she starts again and in doing so, she creates multiple versions of herself, all dead set on rescuing Doudou.
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DUCKWEED (2017) review

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The second directorial effort of Han Han, a successful – and sometimes controversial – author, singer, prize-winning race car driver and China’s most followed blogger, Duckweed went from production to release in under four months, a rather impressive feat given that the result is as polished as the other Chinese New Year films of 2017, though with much less CGI and a modest small-town setting. Xu Tailang (Deng Chao) is a race car driver who just won a championship, and resentfully dedicates his victory to his father Xu Chengzheng (Eddie Peng), who raised him harshly and tried to stop him from pursuing his dream of racing. Tailang’s mother died giving birth to him, and Chengzheng spent the first six years of his son’s life in prison. Now, he has come to witness his Tailang’s victory, and the estranged father and son go on a car ride to sort out their issues. As they drive through a railroad crossing, their car is hit by a passing train, and they are rushed to the hospital, where Tailang’s life flashes in front of his eyes. But instead of dying, he finds himself transported to a small Chinese town in 1998, a year before he is supposed to be born. There, he meets none other than his father, an energetic young man full of dreams, who fancies himself a gang leader and plans to marry his childhood sweetheart Xiaohua (Zhao Liying). Tailang befriends his own father and joins his harmless gang, becoming the witness of the events that led to his own inauspicious birth.

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THE ADVENTURES OF WEIBAOBAO (2016) short review

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In Brand Tan’s The Adventures of Weibaobao (also known, head-scratchingly, as Provoking Laughter), timid tour guide Wei Baobao (Pan Yueming) is mistaken for a dangerous criminal as a result of a dinner reservation mix-up. Brought in the inner circle of a mob boss (Tan Kai), his lethal girlfriend/enforcer (Lin Peng) and his loyal second-in-command (Archie Kao), Baobao wants to run for his life, but a duo of cops (Chang Yuan and Tao Siyuan) urge him to stay under this unintentional cover and work with their other undercover (Wu Yue). This one of those films that try to be many genres at once but end up a bland amalgamation. There is some “wuss posing as a tough guy” comedy, but it’s undermined by a severe lack of conviction or creativity in the comedic situations. There are some David Mamet-style deadpan twists and turns on the canvas of a Hong Kong-type undercover crime thriller (suffice it to say, everyone is a potential undercover agent), but it’s all too muddled and sluggish to grip and surprise the way it is supposed to. There are also Tarantino-inspired postmodern winks (Ennio Morricone in the soundtrack, animated backstories…) and flashes of ultra-violence, but they appear tired and derivative, sometimes exceeding the production’s obviously limited budget grasp. The film does remain palatable thanks to a short runtime, a few inspired visual gags, one or two plot turns that are mildly surprising, and a solid cast: Pan Yueming might have been excellent with better writing to work with, Lin Peng is striking as a steely henchwoman, Archie Kao has fun acting as shady as possible, and Chin Shih Chieh brings a modicum of class to the whole thing, while Wu Yue would probably be a scene-stealer if there were actually good scenes to steal. **

DETECTIVE CHINATOWN (2015) review

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Chen Sicheng’s second film as director after his successful romantic anthology Beijing Love Story in 2013, Detective Chinatown follows the unlikely duo of Tang Ren (Wang Baoqiang), a Chinese expatriate in Bangkok who calls himself a private investigator but is actually more like a swindler, and Chin Feng (Liu Haoran), his distant cousin who pays him a visit to take his mind off his latest failure to enter police college. The zany Tang and the strait-laced Chin are an unlikely fit, but soon they have to set their differences aside as the former is accused of the murder of an art smuggler. The two competing sergeants of the Bangkok Chinatown police station (Chen He and Xiao Yang) are in a race to bring him to justice, as the one who does so is sure to become the new commissioner. Chased not only by the police, but also by a local crime boss (Chin Shih-Chieh) who thinks Tang stole his gold, and a trio of thieves who actually stole that gold but also think Tang stole it from them (Xiao Shenyang, Sang Ping and Zhao Jingjun), the two cousins can only count on the help of Tang’s landlady (Tong Liya) – whom he no-so-secretly loves – as they try to clear his name by looking for the real killer. It helps that Chin has an almost Sherlock Holmes-like capacity for deduction, and an endless knowledge of detective fiction.

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THE LAST WOMEN STANDING (2015) review

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Shu Qi has had an interesting 2015: in between a critical triumph (Hou Hsiao Hsien’s The Assassin) and a box office high (Wuershan’s Mojin: The Lost Legend) were two romances, both fairly unsuccessful. Richie Jen’s All You Need Is Love was more on the goofy side, while writer Luo Luo’s directorial debut – and adaptation of her own book – The Last Women Standing is a more dramatic affair. It follows Ruxi (Shu Qi), a driven businesswoman who’s great at her job but unlucky in love. Now well past thirty and still single, she’s among what Chinese society labels as “leftover women”. Her concerned parents (Pan Hong and Chin Shih-chieh) set her up with an upright but somewhat dull doctor (Xing Jiadong), but her heart has already chosen Ma Sai (Eddie Peng), a kind, handsome co-worker she just met. Her feelings for him are reciprocal and soon they’re in a dreamy relationship but the trouble is, he’s afraid of commitment.

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BROTHERHOOD OF BLADES (2014) review

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In the year 1627, the Ming dynasty is in its final years as emperor Chongzhen takes over the throne, and in the process expels powerful Chief Eunuch Wei (Chin Shih Chieh) from his position of power. But a large number of court officials are still secretly in the service of the Eunuch, forming the so-called “Clique” that the emperor decides to dismantle. His prime resource in doing that is the “Jinyiwei”, his imperial assassins who are tasked with arresting, getting a confession out of, and/or killing, all presumed members of the Clique. Three Jinyiwei are chosen for the critical mission of finding and killing the Eunuch himself: Shen Lian (Chang Chen), who is in unrequited love with a courtesan (Cecilia Liu) and is saving up to buy her freedom, Lu Jianxing (Wang Qianyuan) who is desperate to meet his father’s standards by getting a promotion and is ready to bribe his way to it, and Jin Yichuan (Ethan Li), who is being blackmailed by a former friend (Zhou Yiwei) who threatens to reveal their criminal past and the fact he stoile a man’s identity to become a Jinyiwei. The fact that their new superior (Nie Yuan) is a pawn of the Eunuch further complicates the matters and soon an intricate web of lies unravels with tragic consequences.

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