CALL FOR LOVE (2007) short review

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Zhang Jianya’s Call for Love is a masterclass in how to turn an amusing concept and a dazzling female ensemble into the most average comedy possible. It stars Xu Zheng as a bored salary man who cannot stomach the routine of his marriage anymore. And instead of trying to spice things up, he flat out asks his wife (Jiang Hongbo) for a divorce. She promptly kicks him out, and shortly after, he wanders into a phone-repair shop, whose eccentric owner (Liu Yiwei) lends him a magical phone: each of the ten buttons will allow him to date a different woman, one of whom may be his soulmate. Naturally he is eager to try out the magical phone, but though each of the women he meets is a stunning beauty, there’s always a catch. There’s a naïve party girl (a delightful Eva Huang), a policewoman who dislikes divorcees (a delightful Fan Bingbing), a real estate addict (a delightful Ning Jing), a overly bossy CEO (a delightful Annie Yi), a young debutante (a delightful Bai Bing) controlled by her mother, a dour and demanding career woman (a delightful Qin Hailu), a single mother-to-be (a delightful Song Jia), etc… As a playful showcase of some of China’s talented and promising actresses (though this was ten years ago and not all have seen their career take off), Call for Love is passably enjoyable, though its sitcom-worthy writing, direction and look border on laziness. It has nothing interesting to say about relationships or love, instead unfolding like a series of droll sketches dealing in unsubtle archetypes. Thankfully, mawkishness is scarce. **1/2

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THE MAN BEHIND THE COURTYARD HOUSE (2011) review

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Before he found success with the excellent courtroom thriller Silent Witness, Fei Xing directed The Man behind the Courtyard House, which despite its high-profile cast went fairly unnoticed. Much like Silent Witness, it starts out with a fairly straightforward narrative, whose conclusion arrives a bit too soon to satisfy. Then it rewinds itself not once but twice, each time revealing a new layer that helps not only to make sense of what we saw, but also to see it in a new light. And so after a first segment in which we see a group of backpacking students (Eva Huang Shengyi, Yu Shaoqun, Zhang Kejia and Zhang Shuyu) find shelter in a old traditional house whose sole inhabitant is cold, mysterious Chen Zhihui (Simon Yam) who claims he’s a distant relative of the old couple that is supposed to live there. What follows is a rote slasher where Chen kills the backpackers one by one by banging a nail in their skull, with no apparent motive. But then the film backtracks twice, and we are introduced to his backstory, and people he met in the days before : the old couple who lived in the house, but also an affable state investigator (Chen Sicheng), a recently-widowed hotel owner (Zhang Jingchu) and a desperate but determined ex-con (Wei Zi), among others. Slowly, Chen’s story takes fascinating, poignant shape.

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HIGH KICKERS (2013) short review

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On the surface, High Kickers sounds like a fairly appealing proposition : the beautiful and talented Eva Huang Shengyi in a film highlighting the Korean martial art know as Tae Kwon Do, with a living legend in the person of Gordon Liu (in one of his last roles before a stroke left him tragically diminished) lending credence to the project and support from Hong Kong mainstays Waise Lee and Mark Cheng. The plot, which concerns a young woman (Huang) seeking, and slowly gaining, the mentorship of an ageing Tae Kwon Do instructor (Gordon Liu) with an aim to defeat the champion (Mark Cheng) who accidentally killed her brother in an illegal match, isn’t exactly original or even plausible, but it might have been at least serviceable, had the productions values not been so incredibly dismal, and the directing so direly aimless and vague. Every aspect of the production is handled with a dumbfounding amateurishness. The writing is limp and builds absolutely nothing over the course of the film’s 80-minute runtime. The actors are all professionals that are either horribly miscast (50 year-old Mark Cheng as the national Tae Kwon Do champion), or ridiculously underused (Waise Lee barely registers as Mark Cheng’s coach, Gordon Liu is the only accomplished martial artist in the cast, but doesn’t get to fight). But even more damningly, the fighting is little more than a neverending series of poorly-shot high kicks performed quite obviously by stunt doubles, and limited to short skirmishes in non-descript gymnasiums and dojos. At the center of this anemic whimper of a film is Eva Huang Shengyi, a talented, appealing actress who deserves so much more. *

THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE (2011) review

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Adapted from the same Chinese legend that inspired Tsui Hark’s Green Snake in 1993, Ching Siu-Tung’s The Sorcerer and the White Snake tells of the love between a kindly herbalist (Raymond Lam) and a white snake demon (in human form, that of Eva Huang Shengyi) ; he doesn’t know she’s a snake demon, but abbot Fahai (Jet Li) does. He’s a demon hunter of sorts : when we first meet him, he’s with his assistant Neng Ren (Wen Zhang) vanquishing an ice harpy (Vivian Hsu). Though he can see there is real love between the herbalist and the white snake, Fahai cannot approve of such a union, and issues an ultimatum to the latter. But things get a bit more tangled when Neng Ren himself, having been bitten by a demon, starts taking the appearance of a bat, while falling in love with a green snake demon (Charlene Choi).

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