LEGEND OF THE NAGA PEARLS (2017) review

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Once upon a time in the mythical city of Uranopolis, an apocalyptic battle opposed humans to the the Winged Tribe; the latter was defeated and gradually went almost extinct. Now Xue Lie (Simon Yam), a royal descendant of the Winged Tribe, wants to avenge his his race and restore its glory: he is searching for the Naga Pearls, magical entities that can open a cataclysmic “eye in the sky” that would eradicate the human race. But Ni Kongkong (Darren Wang), a thief, has chanced upon the Naga Pearls and thus becomes the only one who can stop Xue Lie, with the help of Hei Yu (Crystal Zhang), a constable and descendant of the Winged Tribe, and Ge Li (Sheng Guan Sen), the son of the king of Uranopolis, eager to prove himself to his father.

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THE HOUSE THAT NEVER DIES II (2017) review

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Three years after Raymond Yip’s The House that never dies became the highest-grossing Chinese horror film, comes this Gordon Chan-produced sequel, featuring a different cast and a new set of characters, but still taking place at N°81 Chanoei in Beijing, a famous mansion believed to be haunted. This time, engineer Song Teng (Julian Cheung) is working on restoring the old mansion, while neglecting his wife He (Mei Ting), a doctor. The couple has grown estranged following the stillbirth of their child five years before, and Song’s apparent reciprocal fondness for his assistant (Gillian Chung) isn’t helping matters. In an attempt to solidify their marriage, He moves in with her husband in the old house, but soon she is plagued by visions and nightmares, that appear to be memories of a past life: at the beginning of the 20th century, a general (Julian Cheung) who lived in this mansion had to marry the daughter (Gillian Chung) of a warlord, to solidify an alliance and to ensure he would have an heir, after his first wife (Mei Ting) failed to beget him one. But the general’s affections were still for his first wife, and his new bride proved barren as well. And deadly jealous.

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GOD OF WAR (2017) review

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A genre that dominated the 00’s in China and culminated with the massive success of John Woo’s Red Cliff and Peter Chan’s The Warlords, the war epic has been much scarcer in the 10’s, and much less successful in general, as indicated by the high-profile underperformance of passable examples of the genre like Andrew Lau’s The Guillotines and Ronny Yu’s Saving General Yang, not to mention the downright flop of Frankie Chan’s Legendary Amazons. It remains to be seen if Gordon Chan’s God of War can re-ignite the Chinese war epic’s popularity (even the success of Daniel Lee’s Dragon Blade in 2015 didn’t manage that), but it is, on its own merits, one of the finest examples of the genre. Set in the 16th century and based on historical events, it follows the efforts of Ming general Qi Jiguang (Vincent Zhao) and commander Yu Dayou (Sammo Hung) to defeat an army of Japanese pirates and Ronins led by Kumasawa (Yasuaki Kurata), and that has been pillaging the Chinese coastline for the enrichment of a Shogun whose son Yamagawa (Keisuke Koide) is among the pirates but disapproves of their treatment of civilians. General Qi enlists local peasants and trains them into a new and better-equipped army.

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A-1 HEADLINE (2004) short review

 

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A fashion reporter (Angelica Lee) investigates the suspicious death of her ex-boyfriend with the help of her lovestruck assistant (Edison Chen) and an ex-cop turned debt collector (Anthony Wong) who’s equally lovestruck, though less obviously so. Hours before his death from apparent drunk-driving, the ex-boyfriend said he had a major scoop (an ‘A-1 headline’), and the scene of the crash suggests anything but an accident. Various suspects include the reporter’s editor-in-chief (Tony Leung Ka Fai) and a cop in charge of the case (Gordon Lam). A thriller that does its best not to thrill, Gordon Chan and Chung Kai-Cheong’s A-1 Headline doesn’t even simmer; its bid at a more naturalistic approach devoid of artificial thrills is a laudable approach, but the problem is that most of its characters are thoroughly listless and uninvolving, most of all an inert Angelica Lee. A gaunt Anthony Wong is the main attraction here, in a world-weary and oddly poignant performance that probably has stopped many a viewer from giving up on the film. Tony Leung Ka Fai is also his usual reliable self here, even when the film makes him spell out its message on the responsibility of the press thuddingly loud and clear. **

THUNDERBOLT (1995) review

Drawing from Jackie Chan’s own passion for cars and car racing, Gordon Chan’s Thunderbolt has him play Chan, a mechanic who runs a small business with his father (Yuen Chor) in Hong Kong. Occasionally, he also helps the police in checking illegally upgraded cars. That is how he crosses paths with Krugerman (Thorsten Nickel), a psychotic street racer. When Krugerman tries to escape the police, Chan gets in a car and stops him after a very dangerous chase. Later, Krugerman gets revenge by destroying his business and kidnapping his two sisters ; if he wants to get them back alive, Chan must confront him in a race. The most striking thing about Thunderbolt, is that Jackie Chan is extensively – and obviously – doubled in every fight scene. Having injured his ankle while shooting Rumble in the Bronx, Jackie had no choice but to resort to a stunt double, and it shows. The two or three big fight scenes are up to his usual great standards of choreographing excellence and invention, but they are edited mostly in quick cuts and they feature a whole lot of shots where “Jackie Chan” is turning his back to the camera. This makes for a frustrating spectacle : it’s no secret the thrill of watching a Jackie Chan film comes from the knowledge and evidence that he is doing everything we see his character doing. Take away that factor, and even with the same choreography, it all looks mundane.

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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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