THE WARRIORS GATE (aka ENTER THE WARRIORS GATE) (2016) review

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A major co-production between China and France, The Warriors Gate is the brainchild of Luc Besson, who in addition to producing it, co-wrote it with his The Fifth Element/Kiss of the Dragon/Taken/The Transporter partner Robert Mark Kamen. It follows Jack (Uriah Shelton), a stereotypical American geek who shares his time between video games, biking and being bullied by the jocks in his class. His father is out of the picture and his sweet mother (Sienna Guillory) can’t quite make ends meet, so they might have to move out of their house if she can’t make a payment soon. His only friends are an obese fellow geek who calls himself the “octoman” and Chang, a Chinese shopkeeper who employs him from time to time. One day, the latter gives an ancient Chinese box to Jack, who starts using it as a container for his dirty laundry. But one night, a princess named Su Lin (Ni Ni) and her bodyguard Zhao (Mark Chao) emerge from that box, right into his bedroom. They come from Ancient China and are looking for the Black Knight, a fearless hero who is none other than Jack’s video game avatar. Despite the mix-up, Zhao leaves Su Lin in the custody of this scrawny teenager, until a few days later barbarians barge into the house through the same box and kidnap Su Lin. Jack is transported into Ancient China, where he’s welcomed by a zany wizard (Francis Ng) and reluctantly embarks on a quest with Zhao to rescue the princess from the hands of the barbarian king Arun (Dave Bautista).

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LEAGUE OF GODS (2016) review

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Sometimes lazily and erroneously branded as a “Chinese X-Men”, a franchise with which it has very little in common beyond CGI and powers, Koan Hui’s League of Gods is actually much closer – in concept, story and visuals – to Alex Proyas’ Gods of Egypt, not that the marketing team would want to play that particular angle, following the much-publicized flop of that film (which we actually liked, for all its faults). It’s set in a mythical ancient China ruled by the evil king Zhou (Tony Leung Ka Fai) and his consort Daji (Fan Bingbing), who’s actually a Nine-Tail Fox demon who pulls the strings on every one of his power-hungry moves. But Zhou is met with resistance from the kingdom of Xiqi, ruled by king Ji Chang (Zu Feng) and old strategist Jiang Ziya (Jet Li). The latter sends his protégé Lei Zhenzi (Jacky Heung), the last of a once-flourishing winged tribe, on a mission to retrieve the Sword of Light, which is the only weapon that can defeat the Black Dragon, the evil and powerful entity from which king Zhou draws his power. In his quest, Lei Zhenzi relies on the help of Ji Fa (Andy On), his childhood friend and the son of king Ji Chang, Nezha (Wen Zhang), a rambunctious warrior who alternatively appears as a baby and a grown man, and Erlangshen (Huang Xiaoming), a mysterious warrior with a truth-seeking third eye. Lei Zhenzi also meets Blue Butterfly (Angelababy) a whimsical young woman with whom he falls in love, but who’s actually a creation of Shengong Bao (Louis Koo), king Zhou’s chief general, who has orders to kill him and his companions.

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TASTE OF LOVE (2015) review

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The enormous success of Stephen Chow’s Journey To The West: Conquering the Demons, Soi Cheang’s The Monkey King and Tian Xiaopeng’s animated Monkey King: Hero is Back has sparked a literal avalanche of  films based on Wu Cheng’en’s seminal 16th century novel. Expected in the coming years are Tsui Hark’s Journey To The West 2, Soi Cheang’s The Monkey King 3, Derek Kwok’s Wu Kong, Wang Baoqiang’s contemporary transposition Buddies in India, Jeff Lau’s A Chinese Odyssey 3, Tian Xiaopeng’s Monkey King: Havoc in Heaven, and probably a few more that haven’t yet been announced. They’ll leverage medium to massive budgets and feature some of the most popular actors of today, including Kris Wu, Yao Chen, Aaron Kwok, Gong Li, William Feng, Eddie Peng, Shawn Yue, Ni Ni, Wu Jing, Karen Mok, and a lot of others we won’t mention for brevity’s sake. And kind of like the Asylum productions that pick up the crumbs left by big Hollywood Summer tentpoles (think Transmorphers, Atlantic Rim or The Almighty Thor), Miao Shu’s Taste of Love got a head start on all the aforementioned A-list productions with a December release where it didn’t register in the least at the box office.

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ZHONG KUI : SNOW GIRL AND THE DARK CRYSTAL (2015) review

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A prominent figure of Chinese mythology, the rotund and ugly but very powerful demon hunter Zhong Kui has surprisingly not had many film incarnations in the past decades. There was a female version of the character (played by Cheng Pei Pei, and thus not exactly rotund and ugly) in Ho Meng Hua’s The Lady Hermit in 1971, and Wu Ma directed and starred in a version of the myth in 1994’s The Chinese Ghostbuster, which transplanted the character as a fish out of water in 20th century Hong Kong. There has also been a few TV series, but Zhong Kui : Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal is definitely the character’s first blockbuster incarnation, and given the film’s success during the 2015 Chinese New Year period, it’s unlikely to be the last. Directed by Peter Pau, who’s been more celebrated as a cinematographer – a position which he occupies on this film too – than as a director (his last directorial effort was the messy Michelle Yeoh vehicle The Touch in 2002), and Zhao Tianyu, who until now had been a director of much more low-key fare (like 2008’s culinary thriller Deadly Delicious), it incongruously yet somewhat inevitably casts a handsome – some would say pretty – star in the title role, where one would have logically yet somewhat unrealistically expected a more corpulent and rugged actor like Jiang Wu or Zhang Jinsheng.

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A CHINESE FAIRY TALE (aka A CHINESE GHOST STORY) (2011) review

Remaking Ching Siu Tung’s 1987 fantasy love story A Chinese Ghost Story was a bold move. The original is still a reverred classic, featuring a legendary screen couple in the person of the late Leslie Cheung and the now-retired Joey Wong, some of Ching Siu Tung’s most inventive choreography, and an effectibe blend of romanticism, tragedy and comedy, with crappy but well meaning special effects and a very popular soundtrack. It gave way to two sequels and a whole wave of fantasy love stories. A remake was always going to face a very tough challenge, especially since the legendary Leslie Cheung committed suicide in the early 2000’s, which adds a sheen of intensely emotional nostalgia to all his greatest successes.

Demon hunter Yan (Louis Koo in the role made famous by Wu Ma) fell in love years ago with demon Siu Sin (Liu Yifei replacing Joey Wong), but due to the forbidden nature of their union, had to leave her after suppressing her memories. Years later, naïve scholar Ning (Yu Shaoqun trying to fill the shoes of Leslie Cheung) is searching the forest trying to find a water source for a small village suffering from a drought, when he comes across a temple where he encounters life-sucking demons, one of whom is none other than Siu Sin. They fall in love with each other as she spares his life, thus finding herself hunted by her fellow demons. Things get more complicated when Yan re-emerges, setting demons, demon hunters, villagers and lovers on a collision course.

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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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MURAL (2011) review

After the huge success that was Painted Skin in 2008, Gordon Chan was back in 2011 with another fantasy film, which was financially almost as successful as his 2008 effort, though critically much less lauded. Deng Chao stars as Zhu, a scholar on his way to the capital with his servant Hou Xia (Bao Bei’er), to pass an exam. After an altercation with a robber, Meng Longtan (Collin Chou), they end up in a Taoist temple where they are welcomed by an affable monk (Eric Tsang). There, Zhu notices a mural depicting beautiful women in a heavenly landscape. When one of the beauties (Zheng Shuang) materializes in front of him, he follows her through a portal that leads to the heavenly landscape of the mural, which is peopled only with beautiful women, and ruled by a ruthless queen (Ni Yan), her trusted second-in-command Shaoyao (Betty Sun) and a mysterious golden warrior (Andy On). Soon, Hou Xia and Meng Longtan and dragged into this world as well, but Zhu has only one goal : to rescue Mudan, the woman who led him to this world and who has been cast to hell by the queen for it.

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PAINTED SKIN (2008) review

Wang Sheng (Chen Kun) is a general who rescues a young woman named Xiao Wei (Zhou Xun) during a raid against desert bandits. Hearing that she is alone in the world he takes her as one of his household’s servants back home. But quickly after her arrival, people are found dead in the city, their hearts ripped off. Wang’s wife Peirong (Zhao Wei) suspects Xiao Wei, but the latter has won everyone over with a kindness. When Wang’s brother Pang Yong (Donnie Yen) comes back from a two-year absence, Peirong begs him to investigate the matter, which he does, with the help of Xia Bin (Sun Li), a young woman pretending to be a “demon-buster”. Adapted from Pu Songling’s short stories in Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, Gordon Chan’s Painted Skin was a big hit in Asia, as well as Hong Kong’s submission for the Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2008. But this latter bidd for worlwide recognition fell flat, and understandably so : Gordon Chan’s film is a ghost story, but one that follows conventions quite alien to western ones.

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