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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CALL OF HEROES (2016) review

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One of our most anticipated films of 2016, Call of Heroes is a neo-western set in China during the Warlords era (beginning of the 20th century). Blood-thirsty, demented Commander Cao (Louis Koo), son of Warlord Cao (Sammo Hung) rides into the village of Pucheng, where he kills three people at random. He’s arrested by sheriff Yang (Lau Chin Wan) and sentenced to death, but his second-in-command Zhang (Wu Jing) soon arrives, issuing an ultimatum to the people of Pucheng: to release Cao or to be massacred. But Sheriff Yang stands by his verdict, helped in the face of growing adversity by a wandering swordsman (Eddie Peng), who once was Zhang’s comrade-in-arms.

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OPERATION MEKONG (2016) review

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In 2011, two Chinese commercial boats were attacked by Burmese pirates on the Mekong river, while passing through the Golden Triangle, one of the world’s biggest hotbeds of drug production, situated at the intersection of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. Thirteen Chinese sailors were summarily executed at gunpoint then dumped in the river, while 900,000 methamphetamine pills were found on the scene of the killings. The following investigation and hunt for the man responsible for the massacre, a ruthless drug lord called Naw Khar, is the main narrative thrust of Dante Lam’s Operation Mekong, which follows a team of elite narcotics officers led by Captain Gao (Zhang Hanyu), joined by Fang (Eddie Peng), an intelligence officer who’s been operating in the Golden Triangle for a few years. They soon discover that the drugs were planted by Naw Khar on the Chinese ships, and endeavor to bring him to justice, at the price of many lives.

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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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THE BODYGUARD (aka MY BELOVED BODYGUARD) (2016) review

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Sammo Hung’s first film as a director in nearly 20 years (since 1997’s Once Upon a Time in China and America), The Bodyguard came with a sense of expectation that was compounded by its starry cast of legendary old-timers (Karl Maka, Dean Shek, most of the Seven Little Fortunes) and A-listers both mature (Andy Lau, Tsui Hark, Hu Jun) and on the rise (Eddie Peng, William Feng), as well as a script (by Jiang Jun) that had earned some acclaim at the 3rd Beijing International Film Festival. Sammo Hung is Ding, a retired elite bodyguard who lives alone in his hometown near the Russian border, wracked with guilt after his granddaughter disappeared when he was supposed to watch over her. Dementia is creeping in on him, and despite the care of his lovestruck landlady (Li Qinqin), his only joy in this world is the friendship of his young neighbor Cherry (Chen Pei Yan), who often stays at his house to avoid her father Li (Andy Lau), a gambling addict. When Li goes on the run with a bag of jewels that he stole from the Russian mob to repay his debt to local gangster Choi (Jack Feng), Ding has to break out of his stupor to protect Cherry, who is about to become collateral damage as henchmen both Chinese and Russian hunt down her father.

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TO THE FORE (2015) short review

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Hong Kong’s puzzling submission to the 88th Academy Awards, Dante Lam To The Fore is no less puzzling as part of Dante Lam’s filmography. Sure, one can imagine the director wanting to recapture the success of his other sports film, 2013’s Unbeatable which already starred Eddie Peng, but that film had a cinegenic discipline, MMA, as well as emotion and compelling characters. To The Fore – previously rather hilariously known as Breaking Wind – has biking which is beautiful in tracking shots but quickly boring in close-up, empty melodrama consisting of a routine love-triangle and a checklist of sports-related woes like doping, a superiority complex, or a crippling handicap to overcome, and stock characters. Interesting nuggets, like Eddie Peng’s love-hate  relationship with his mother who abandoned him, and enjoyably bombastic cycling montages (given considerable momentum by ambitious camera-work, seamless stunt-work and Henry Lai’s grand score) are what keep this somewhat rote saga of competing cyclists afloat. It also helps that Eddie Peng (gifted but prideful), Choi Si-won (charismatic rival), Shawn Dou (always overshadowed), Wang Luodan (resilient, love-triangle fodder) and Andrew Lin (reliable coach) all inhabit their formatted characters with conviction. **1/2

MY DNA SAYS I LOVE YOU (2007) short review

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An unfathomably odd little romantic comedy from Taiwan, Lee Yun Chan’s My DNA Says I Love You follows to twenty-something roommates who both work at a bio-tech company that develops medication meant to suppress certain genes, such as the “fat gene” or the “clean freak gene” (yes, a lot of thought and research went into this film’s science). One of them (Terri Kwan) meets and falls in love with a charming but sloppy prosthetic engineer (Peter Ho), and starts taking a pill that represses her “clean freak gene”, while the other (Yu Nan) is wooed by her charming landlord (Eddie Peng) but rejects her because she’s afraid he’ll discover she’s obesity-prone and needs to take pills that repress her “fat gene”. My DNA Says I Love You is every bit as head-scratchingly bizarre as that plot synopsis might lead you to believe. At its core it’s nothing more than a trite romantic comedy with attractive people that alternatively pursue and reject one another until they finally get on the same page. But it’s dressed with the aforementioned shoddy scientific premise, some incredibly weird plot turns (one subplot features yellow slimy mold literally coming to life and overrunning an apartment) and a sitcom-grade aesthetic with matching cheap soundtrack. The cast is appealing, especially a fun and likable Eddie Peng in only his second film: a scene where he tries to get in a Tango show by mumbling fake Spanish to the ushers is one of the film’s only genuine laughs. Terri Kwan indulges in tooth-rotting cuteness, while Peter Ho does what he can with a character named Anteater. Yu Nan however seems a bit out of place, giving an affecting performance that clashes with the silliness that surrounds it. *1/2

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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RISE OF THE LEGEND (2014) review

ROTL-FINAL REGULAR-A3-poster_S It’s been 17 years since the folk hero Wong Fei Hung last graced the big screen, in Sammo Hung’s Once Upon a Time in China and America in 1997. Now, as most hits of the nineties are given the reboot treatment, from the ancient legends of The Monkey King to the edgy streets of Young and Dangerous, it seemed obvious that the Chinese martial artist, physician and revolutionary, as well as hero of over 100 films, would make a comeback. Surprisingly, this comeback wasn’t handled by Tsui Hark, who with Flying Swords of Dragon Gate showed a willingness to revisit his earlier films, but by Roy Chow, director of two interesting but sometimes misguided films, Murderer (2009) and Nightfall (2012). This is, as the impressively bland title suggests, an origins story, and it follows Wong Fei Hung (Eddie Peng) both as a kid learning valuable life lessons from his father Wong Kei Ying (Tony Leung Ka Fai) and being scarred forever by his death in a criminal fire, and as a young man infiltrating a ruthless gang led by the formidable Lei (Sammo Hung, who also produces), who controls the docks of Canton, owns opium dens and sells slaves to the usual evil Gweilos. Wong is helped by his childhood friends (Jing Boran, May Wang and Angelababy), but many sacrifices await him.

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