THE VILLAGE OF NO RETURN (2017) review

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During the first months after the fall of the Qing dynasty and the rise of the Republic of China, Shi Baopi (Eric Tsang), a rich man, is colluding with bandits known as the Cloud Clan to take control of Desire Village, an isolated hamlet which may hide a treasure. But Big Pie, his mole in the village, drops dead after eating a poisoned bun. His widow, Autumn (Shu Qi), is suspected to have killed him, as their marriage was not a happy one : she had been promised to her childhood love, the mayor’s son Ding (Tony Yang), but he vanished after going to the city to pass an exam. Now, just as Autumn is about to be subjected to the wrath of the townsfolk, despite the efforts in her defense of a newcomer to the village and self-professed martial arts master (Joseph Chang), a mysterious man named Fortune Tien (Wang Qianyuan) arrives on a luminous chariot, and presents to the bewildered villagers a strange contraption, the “Worry Rider”. It is a kind of metal helmet that allows for the removal of bad memories from anyone’s mind. Soon, Fortune Tien turns the whole village into happy idiots obeying his every command, and has them digging around for treasure, having made Autumn his wife. But the Cloud clan is still preparing to attack the village, and to complicate matters, Ding finally returns…
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KUNG FU YOGA (2017) review

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A good one month after the delightful Railroad Tigers, Jackie Chan is back on the big screen, and a good 12 years after their flawed but enjoyable – and oddly heartfelt – adventure The Myth, he reunites with Stanley Tong for Kung Fu Yoga (though Tong was a producer on Chinese Zodiac). This Indian-Chinese co-production that follows illustrious archeology professor Jack (Jackie Chan), who goes looking for an ancient Indian treasure with the help of his assistants (Zhang Yixing and Miya Muqi), some old friends (Eric Tsang and Zhang Guoli), a thief  (Aarif Lee) and an Indian princess (Disha Patani). The quest takes them from China to Iceland to Dubai to India, but another, less benevolent search party is also looking for the treasure: Indian heir Randall (Sonu Sood) and his mercenaries.
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SKIPTRACE (2016) review

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After going through director and cast changes (as Renny Harlin and Johnny Knoxville replaced Sam Fell and Seann William Scott, respectively), a tragic on-set death (cinematographer Chan Kwok Hung drowned when shooting boat stunts on Lantau Island) and months of delay (it was initially to be released in December 2015), Skiptrace finally arrived in theaters in July 2016 and gave the Chinese film summer one of its rare hits. Jackie Chan plays Bennie Chan, a dour Hong Kong detective on the trail of a mysterious crime boss known as ‘The Matador’, and who may or may not be businessman Victor Wong (Winston Chao). Nine years ago, after his partner Yung (Eric Tsang) was trapped and killed by The Matador, Chan swore to protect his daughter Samantha (Fan Bingbing). Now she’s in Victor Wong’s clutches and Chan’s only hope is to track down American conman Connor Watts (Johnny Knoxville), who has evidence that could incriminate the Matador. The problem is, Watts doesn’t want to follow Chan to Hong Kong, and he’s himself being hunted by the Russian mob, after knocking up the daughter of a kingpin…

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An Interview with Eugenia Yuan

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The daughter of action queen Cheng Pei Pei, Eugenia Yuan made it clear from the very beginning of her film career that she was to fly with her own wings. Once a rhythmic gymnast for the U.S. Olympic Team, her debut performance on the big screen, in Peter Chan’s Three: Going Home, got her both a nomination for Best Supporting Actress and a win for Best New Performer at the Hong Kong Film Awards. Since then her filmography has been both international and free of genre pigeonholing, and she has shown a remarkable versatility as a performer. Recently her turn as a venomous blind enchantress was one of the best things about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, and she was kind enough to answer our questions.

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AN INSPECTOR CALLS (2015) review

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Considered a true classic of 20th-century English theatre, J.B. Priestley’s three-act play An Inspector Calls has been brought to the stage countless times since it was first performed in 1945, and it’s been a fixture of the BBC’s TV and radio programming (with yet another mini-series in preparation for 2015, starring David Thewlis) but it has comparatively been the object of few big screen adaptations. In fact, Raymond Wong and Herman Yau’s film is the first time the play is adapted for theatrical release since Guy Hamilton’s (of Goldfinger fame) 1954 adaptation. And surely it’s the most unexpected iteration of the story since the 1979 Soviet mini-series Inspector Gull. Screenwriter Edmond Wong transposes the setting from the North Midlands of Great Britain in 1912 to Hong Kong in 2015, but follows J.B. Priestley’s narrative pretty closely : the mysterious inspector Karl (Louis Koo) pays an unexpected visit to the rich Kau family’s estate. Mr. and Mrs. Kau (Eric Tsang and Teresa Mo) are in the final preparations for their daughter Sherry’s (Karena Ng) engagement party as she is soon to marry a handsome young businessman Johnny (Hans Zhang), while their son Tim (Gordon Lam) looks on in contemptuous bemusement, and clearly annoyed at his own girlfriend, socialite Yvonne (Ada Liu Yan). Inspector Karl informs them that a young woman (Chrissie Chau) from Mr. Kau’s factory has been found dead from what appears to be a painful, protracted suicide by disinfectant ingestion. As he starts to interrogate each member of the family in turn, it appears everyone of them was linked to the deceased woman, and everyone may have played a more or less active role in her eventual demise.

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THEY CAME TO ROB HONG KONG (1989) short review

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Clarence Fok’s They Came to rob Hong Kong concerns a violent bank robber (Roy Cheung) who has to flee to the Mainland after being nearly caught by a tough cop (Kara Hui). There, he recruits a ragtag team of hapless morons (among which Eric Tsang, Stanley Fung, Sandra Ng, Dean Shek and Chin Siu Ho) to come back to Hong Kong and attempt a daring heist. Except they’re hapless morons, so nothing goes according to plan. This film is actually a complete rehash of any Lucky Stars film : even though only Fung and Tsang were actually members of the comedic team, other members of the cast fit the usual Lucky Stars profiles, as Chin Siu Ho brings the martial arts that would’ve been Sammo Hung’s turf, and Dean Shek has the same kind of paranormal pretensions that Richard Ng’s character would display. The structure is also the same : an action-packed opening sequence (in this case an impressive and savage fight and chase scene on cluttered rooftops, as the terrific Kara Hui hunts down Roy Cheung) gives way to a comedic middle-section where, among other subplots, the group is given a beautiful woman to lust after (in this case, Chingmy Yau), after which things are wrapped up in a big action finale. Except while the action bookends are fine, the comedic middle is painfully unfunny and interminable. While Eric Tsang is always hilarious, Sandra Ng’s shtick quickly gets wearisome, and the ensemble simply doesn’t have the Lucky Star’s chemistry. **

HOW TO MEET THE LUCKY STARS (1996) review

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The seventh and final film in the Lucky Stars film series, Frankie Chan’s How to Meet the Lucky Stars was meant as a benefit film to help legendary producer Lo Wei (the man who made Bruce Lee a star and almost stopped Jackie Chan from becoming one) who at this point was close to bankruptcy. All the leads worked for free, but sadly not only was the film a box-office flop, but Lo Wei passed away during the shoot. Richard Ng, Stanley Fung and Eric Tsang return, with Michael Miu once again filling in for Charlie Chin after Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars, and Sammo Hung being absent from much of the film despite playing two different roles (his usual Lucky Star character Eric Kidstuff who’s stuck in a hospital, and a policeman). This time the Lucky Stars are recruited to help expose a gambling femme fatale (Gung Suet Fa), whose shady methods have led to the death and dishonor of a gambling star (Chen Kuan Tai). They are joined by a Shaolin monk (don’t ask why) and of course, a gorgeous woman (the stunning Francoise Yip) to drool over, as per the Lucky Stars formula. There’s also a laundry list of cameos, from Cheng Pei Pei as a gambling teacher to Lowell Lo as, erm, some guy.

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GHOST PUNTING (1992) review

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The fifth and penultimate instalment in the Lucky Stars series, Ghost Punting reunites Sammo Hung as portly and well-meaning Kidstuff, Eric Tsang as borderline retarded Buddha Fruit, Charlie Chin as wannabe-womanizer Herb, Richard Ng as occult-obsessed Sandy and Stanley Fung as misanthropic Rhino Hide. These five jobless, hapless and horny losers, who share an appartment and an ever-thwarted goal to get laid, encounter the ghost of a man who’s been murdered by his wife’s lover, a violent mob boss. They report it to their old friend officer Hu (a cameoing Sibelle Hu, back after My Lucky Stars and Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars), who assigns a squad of beautiful lady cops (headed by Elaine Lui) to get proof of the paranormal encounter. As the ghost is seemingly visible only to them, the five losers use him to cheat in games of poker, and in return help him exact his revenge.

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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. **

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