GOLDEN JOB (2018) review

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After a cameo in Da Peng’s Jianbing Man (2015) and a successful concert tour seemed to indicate the audience was ready for more of the Young and Dangerous quartet of Ekin Cheng, Jordan Chan, Jerry Lamb, Michael Tse, here they are reunited for a whole film, for the first time in 20 years, since 1998’s Young and Dangerous 5. Their co-star in the latter film, Chin Ka Lok, here directs, choreographs the action and co-stars again. While Jason Chu, an original member of the Young and Dangerous gang, is nowhere to be seen, he will indeed star with Jordan Chan, Jerry Lamb and Michael Tse – but without Ekin Cheng – in Wilson Chin action thriller The Lonely War, while Ekin Cheng, Michael Tse and Jerry Lamb will appear together – without Jordan Chan and Jason Chu – in Lv Kejing’s fantasy thriller Love Illusion in late 2018. Do keep up, our point is that Golden Job is a rare alignment of stars.

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JUST ANOTHER MARGIN (2014) review

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Jeff Lau’s Just Another Margin is one of those films that are seemingly tailored for Lunar New Year entertainment but don’t quite have the star power or marketing push required to compete in that prized calendar slot, and are thus slipped in a bit before or after on the release schedule. And it did go by relatively unnoticed, which is not all that surprising considering how uninspired it appears in the Jeff Lau canon of costumed mo lei tau. It stars Betty Sun as Jin Ling, a young woman whose magical yueqin (a kind of round guitar) compels people tell to the truth. One day this creates a humiliating situation for Mrs Zhao (Guo Degang), a rich businesswoman who punishes her by arranging her marriage with the town’s hunchback Mao Da-Long (Lam Suet), with whose brother Mao Song (Ekin Cheng) Jin Ling ends up falling in love. That doesn’t sit well with Shi Wen Sheng (Ronald Cheng) Mrs Zhao’s libidinous cousin, who wants the young woman for himself and plots to take the Mao brothers out of the picture. To complicate things, two aliens from planet B16 named Tranzor and Shakespeare (Patrick Tam Yiu-Man and Alex Fong Lik-Sun) arrive in town in search of a long-lost member of their species. They’re not the only aliens around however, as a fearful entity known as the Black Emperor is hiding somewhere.

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FULL STRIKE (2015) short review

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Derek Kwok and Henry Wong’s Full Strike does for badminton what Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer did to soccer, that it to say power it with an anime sensibility, slather it in cartoonish excess, and inject it with martial arts film tropes. It tells of a disgraced, depressed badminton champion (Josie Ho), who after witnessing a shuttlecock-shaped meteor falling to earth, teams up with her grandmother (Susan Shaw), a trio of ex-cons looking to go clean (Ekin Cheng, Edmond Leung and Wilfred Lau), and their drunk coach (Lam Man Chung), to compete in a big badminton tournament, where her main rival is her cousin (Ronald Cheng). Full Strike has a lovable ensemble of actors : Ekin Cheng is getting more appealing with age, Josie Ho is an oasis of restraint among all the wackiness, Ronald Cheng does some of his best mugging, but Lam Man Chung is the highlight as a drunk, unpredictable coach that is both awesome and pathetic. The humor is zany but doesn’t muffle the trite but reasonably engaging emotional stakes. But the film’s problem is that there’s just not that much one can do with badminton onscreen. The directors struggle to make the matches interesting and spectacular, but in the end it all amounts to repetitive close-ups of CGI shuttlecocks, slow-mo reaction shots and un-involving wide angle views. Still, Full Strike is fun and unassuming entertainment. ***

ONCE A GANGSTER (2010) review

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When triad boss Kerosene (Alex Fong) decides to retire due to crippling debts, he names Roast Pork (Jordan Chan) his successor, but the latter doesn’t want the job : though a fearless henchman, his true calling is as a chef and restaurant owner alongside his wife (Michelle Ye) and kids. Another contender is Swallow (Eking Cheng) who just got out of jail after a 20-year sentence for killing a snitch to cover his comrades, and who’s being actively championed by his drug addict mother (Candice Yu). But Swallow doesn’t want the job either : while in prison he’s become passionate about economics and plans to earn a master’s degree. The final contender is Scissors (Conroy Chan), a triad goon so incompetent that he’s the only one not to realize that his right-hand man Chen (Wilfred Lau) is blatantly an equally incompetent undercover cop. Reluctant contenders and overeager challengers are now set on a collision course.

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HORSEPLAY (2014) short review

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Aping the stylish Hollywood capers of the sixties, Lee Chi-Ngai’s Horseplay has a set of attractive actors chase, flirt and double-cross each other across fancy locations, with Kelly Chen as an entertainment reporter who collaborates with the Mainland government and a Hong Kong detective (Ekin Cheng), to recover a priceless ceramic horse that has been targeted by a legendary art thief (Tony Leung Ka Fai). The on-location shooting in Hong Kong, London and Prague is classy, and the cast is tremendously attractive, with Kelly Chen at her most charming and cute, Tony Leung Ka Fai having a lot of fun going through a variety of stupid disguises (at one point he’s a black nun…), Ekin Cheng as laid-back and likeable as he’s ever been, not to mention an absolutely hilarious Eric Tsang in a double-act with Wong Cho Lam, both playing art experts. The problem is a plodding and derivative script that tries hard but lacks wit, with an overdose of flirtatious double-crossing and too much random quirkiness. The soundtrack, with its heavy use of Henry Mancini classic Pink Panther song “Meglio Stasera” and its borrowing of John Williams’ Catch Me If You Can score stylings, only serves to underline how much below its models Horseplay falls. The end titles sequence however, has Leung, Chen and Chang singing and dancing to the Mancini song against quirkily animated  touristic backgrounds and yellow CGI flying piglets. It is delightfully silly, unassumingly sexy, and one wishes the whole film had captured its essence. **1/2

TOKYO RAIDERS (2000) review

When her wealthy Japanese fiancé Takahashi (Toru Nakamura) doesn’t show up at their wedding, Macy (Kelly Chen) decides to head for Tokyo and look for him. Yung (Ekin Cheng), their interior decorator, decides to tag along, because the bills haven’t been payed and he wants his money. In Tokyo, the bickering pair runs into mob boss Ito (Hiroshi Abe)’s men, and are rescued by fellow Chinese and private eye Lin (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), who is also looking for Takahashi. But, of course, nobody is what they say they are, though everyone has the same goal : find Takahashi.

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THE LEGEND OF SPEED (1999) review

In the years following the 1997 retrocession of Hong Kong, when there were concerns over the fate of the Hong Kong film industry, one artistic collaboration was a beacon of hope, churning out nearly two films every year, most of them big hits : director Andrew Lau and actor/singer Ekin Cheng. Hot off the considerable success of Storm Riders and A Man Called Hero, they again collaborated on The Legend of Speed in 1999. It is surprising to see how similar The Legend of Speed is to the Fast & Furious films, and at the same time to note that Andrew Lau’s film actually pre-dates Rob Cohen’s first installment of the famous street-racing franchise. So this is not a case of Hong Kong cinema ripping off Hollywood successes. But the basic ingredients are the same : bad boys going toe to toe in street races, surrounded by hot babes. The main difference would be that there is no criminal dimension in The Legend of Speed ; it is more of a genuine sports film.

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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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