DEVIL HUNTERS (aka ULTRA FORCE 2) (1989) review

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Released just a few months after Killer Angels, Devil Hunters was also directed by Tony Liu and was in some places released as a sequel to that film (under the risible title Ultra Force). Of course, there are no narrative connections between the two films, as Devil Hunters follows a vicious gangster (Francis Ng) who will stop at nothing to find his boss’s stash of diamonds. But on his way are policemen (Alex Man and Sibelle Hu), as well as his boss’s daughter (Moon Lee) and former second-in-command (Michael Chan Wai Man), now gone good. It’s a slightly uninvolving plot, that valiantly tries to create surprises in a genre that rarely contained any, narratively speaking. But it ends up feeling muddled, despite Tony Liu’s usual above-average attention to characters and drama: Michael Chan is touching as a reformed gangster inevitably drawn back to violence, while Sibelle Hu and Alex Man have an interesting – if under-developped – tough love relationship.

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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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LINE WALKER (2016) review

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The spin-off from a highly-successful TVB series of the same title, with only Charmaine Sheh and Hui Shiu Hung’s characters carried over from small to big screen, Jazz Boon’s Line Walker is a riotously enjoyable actioner that merges Infernal Affairs‘ undercover twists, some over-top action scenes from Benny Chan’s playbook, and goofy comedy out of Wong Jing’s less tasteless offerings (Wong is a producer here). The fictional CIB department of police is trying to dismantle a powerful crime organization, but all of its undercovers have been killed after their identities were leaked. Inspector Q (Francis Ng) and his colleague and girlfriend agent Ding (Charmaine Sheh) are contacted by a missing undercover agent known as Blackjack, who may or may not be Shiu (Louis Koo), the right hand man of a fast-rising figure of the crime organization, Blue (Nick Cheung), whose life he once saved.

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HOUSE OF WOLVES (2016) review

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Vincent Kok’s House of Wolves follows two scoundrels thriving in a small village: Charlie (Francis Ng) is a dognapper who pretends to be sclerotic in order to ingratiate himself to the ladies and avoid suspicion, and whose main ambition is to become a kept man, while Ping (Ronald Cheng) is an incredibly vain mama’s boy who’s also the village chief. They both find themselves vying for the attention of Chun (Jiang Shuying), a young writer who just arrived to the village. Now Chun is actually pregnant with a child whose father she’s running away from, and after inviting the two lovestruck rascals to her house and getting them drunk, she leads them to believe that one of them is the father of the child. Their rivalry as suitors becomes a rivalry as fathers, until they find out they’ve been tricked into surrogate fatherhood, and decide to go to the child’s real genitor.

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GOOD-FOR-NOTHING HEROS (2012) short review

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Fu Yong’s Good-For-Nothing Heros (a misspelling that doesn’t seem to be of the ironic “Inglourious Basterds” kind) tells of Peng (Kimi Qiao) and Long (Lam Suet), two amiable losers who find the lost will of a wealthy hotel owner (Kent Cheng), who just fell into a coma. They decide that Peng will pose as the owner’s son and leverage his new-found clout to save their neighborhood from relocation. But one big obstacle in the owner’s associate Danny (Francis Ng), who smells a rat and sends a private eye (Jack Kao) to check on Peng’s background. Beyond the crippling implausibility of the plot, what makes Good-For-Nothing Heros sink so far below average is its total lack of a pace, its muddled exposition, its often sappy tone and its incredibly tired gags. Seeing Lam Suet in a lead role is a real pleasure and gives the film what little spark it possesses, especially as he gets to share an underdeveloped but quietly offbeat romantic subplot with Christy Chung, in a rare turn as a plain (well, as plain as the stunning Chung can appear : make-up can only go so far), frumpy, big-hearted street food vendor. Unsurprisingly, Francis Ng knows what kind of film he’s in, and does some charismatic sleepwalking. *1/2

TWO THUMBS UP (2015) review

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With Two Thumbs Up, screenwriter Lau Ho Leung makes his directorial debut after writing quite a few prominent Chinese/Hong Kong films for people like Derek Yee, Daniel Lee, Gordon Chan and Dante Lam, among others. It’s a film that commands a lot of upfront goodwill by being part of a dying breed, an all-Hong Kong film not calibrated in any way to appeal to the Mainland, and also by casting a quartet of Hong Kong staples: Simon Yam, Francis Ng, Mark Cheng and Patrick Tam. They play four ex-criminals who decide to come back to their old ways when one of them hatches a plan he thinks is foolproof : steal a Police Emergency Unit van, dress as cops, then rob anyone that comes their way all the more easily, especially a shady funeral service that smuggles money through the border by hiding it in corpses. In the absence of an actual EU van, the plan is put into execution by painting a mini-bus, and soon the four friends are cruising Hong Kong as fake cops. But unexpectedly, they end up fighting for justice : after saving a girl from rape, they run afoul of another team of crooks (who have the same plan of disguising as cops but decidedly more ruthless methods) and decide to stop them. Meanwhile, a young cop (Leo Ku) is hot on their trail.

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LOVERS & MOVIES (2015) short review

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Niu Chaoyang’s Lovers & Movies is one of those all-star Valentines Day cash-ins based on the blueprint of Gary Marshall’s Valentines Day : criss-crossing love stories across generations, played out by a few stars out for an easy paycheck. And so here we have a fifty-something woman (Kara Hui), who finds out her husband (Simon Yam) is having an affair, while her son is getting into bad ways and pushing away his girlfriend. Also, a cab driver (Francis Ng) is in love with a dance teacher (Yu Nan), whose five year-old son needs snow to win over a girl he likes at school. And a fangirl (Gulnazar) gets to meet her heartthrob idol (Kim Bum), after which they fall in love. It all unfolds in impossibly trite fashion, as platitudes about love are spoken in every scene over a treacly score, and grand romantic gestures are performed in ways that are often actually more creepy than endearing : witness Gulnazar barging in on a film scene being shot in a studio by the man she loves, by jumping off a wall, strapped on cables, with a red streamer that says ‘I love you’. Someone call the cops. The cast, which could have saved the film, is too uneven to manage that. Kara Hui and Yu Nan valiantly try to make unlikable characters worth sticking with, but Francis Ng expresses most emotions by smiling weirdly, and Simon Yam gives a performance so listless he probably took this film as a break from acting. And out of decency, let’s not mention the rest of the cast. *1/2

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. **

DEADLY DELICIOUS (2008) review

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Chen Jiaoqiao (Francis Ng) is a wealthy businessman whose relationship with air hostess Coco (Jiang Yiyan) is blighted only by the fact that he’s a gourmet and she’s a terrible cook. He’s also prone to mood swings and sometimes disappears for long stretches of time, a fact Coco attributes to her dubious cooking skills. But then she meets and befriends TV gourmet chef Gu Xiaofan (Yu Nan), who offers to teach her how to win back her boyfriend through his stomach. The collaboration between the two women is a success, as Jiaqiao grows fonder of his girlfriend now that she can meet his gourmet expectations. However, he soon starts losing hair and getting seizures, growing weaker by the day; doctors conclude to a rare form of poisoning, brought about by the combination of different kinds of edible ingredients. But then where does he get the food that combines in a deadly way with Coco’s cooking? It becomes obvious that Xiaofan is not who she claims to be and has a hidden, possibly vengeful agenda.

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MIDNIGHT BEATING (2010) short review

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The marketing for Zhang Jiabei’s Midnight Beating called it the first real horror film made in Mainland China, no small feat in itself considering Chinese censorship’s ‘no ghosts, no gore’ directives. The film ultimately plays by these rules, but the fact that it’s so un-scary and indeed, boring, cannot be solely attributed to content restrictions. It is quite simply direly written and limply directed, its story – about a hospital that is haunted by a murdering ghost, and whose grieving doctor (Simon Yam) and philandering psychologist (Francis Ng) hold pivotal secrets – unfolding with little to no urgency or atmosphere. Simon Yam’s poignant performance and Yasuda Fumio’s classy score stick out in a swamp of TV-grade production values, tired jump scares, deadening exposition and shrill emotional displays, not to mention Francis Ng’s bored face and a staggeringly stupid scene involving a website that allows visitors to watch their own memories of departed loved ones as videos. *