BATTLE OF MEMORIES (2017) review

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Set in the near future and in a fictional country called T Nation (the ‘T’ probably stands for Thailand, where the film was shot), Leste Chen’s Battle of Memories imagines that a technology has been developed that allows people to have select memories removed from their brain (à la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and stored safely in places called Master of Memory Centers. Successful novelist Jiang Feng (Huang Bo) goes to the only center in Asia that can perform this procedure: he is divorcing his wife Zhang Daichen (Xu Jinglei) and wants to get rid of the memories of how they fell in love. But when his wife tells him she won’t sign the divorce papers unless he has these memories restored, he goes back to have the procedure reversed (he will then only have 72 hours to have them deleted again, this time inevitably forever). But Jiang Feng quickly realizes the memories that have been restored in his brain, are someone else’s. Someone who seems to have killed two women, both of whom he seemed to love dearly. Haunted by these foreign memories, Jiang discerns that they are connected to a recent murder case, and he shares his uncommon and still muddled knowledge of the killer’s psyche with the police detective on the case, Shen Hanqiang (Duan Yihong). But if he has the killer’s memories, then does the killer have his?

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BUDDIES IN INDIA (2017) review

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With the flood of Monkey King film adaptations in recent and coming years, it is refreshing to see one attempting a radical spin: Wang Baoqiang’s directorial debut Buddies in India transposes the myth to nowadays, following an agile and mischievous monkey trainer called, of course, Wu Kong (Wang Baoqiang) who refuses to sell his house to make way for a vast urban construction project. As Tang Zong, the chairman of the group in charge of the project, feels his end is near after a serious heart attack, he instructs his son Tang Sen (Bai Ke), a lonely geek, to go get his will in Nandu Gaun, India. At the same time, he asks Wu Kong to accompany Sen as a bodyguard, in exchange for which his house will remain untouched. Wu agrees, and the two set off for India, where they are helped by Zhu Tianpeng (Yue Yunpeng), cross paths with Wu Jing (Ada Liu), a woman once scorned by Sen, and are hunted by two Chinese assassins hired by Tang Sen’s devious uncle Chasu (Huang Bo), who wants to inherit the group instead of his nephew.

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MOJIN: THE LOST LEGEND (2015) review

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Three months after Lu Chuan’s Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe comes another adaptation of Tianxia Bachang’s 2006 best-selling (but never translated in English) series of eight novels, Ghost Blows Out the Light. Though set later than the Lu Chuan film in the book’s chronology, Wuershan’s Mojin: The Lost Legend isn’t a sequel: it’s a rival adaptation with an entirely different backing, creative team and cast, as well as a wildly different approach to the source material. Starting in New York but set mostly in the prairies and depths of Inner Mongolia, it follows three adventurers known as the Mojin Xiaowei, who perpetuate the tradition of tomb raiders once sent by emperors in times of need to ‘borrow’ riches from tombs. Shirley Yang (Shu Qi), Hu Bayi (Chen Kun) and Wang Kaixuan (Huang Bo) live in New York, having retired from tomb raiding. But through their associate Grill (Xia Yu), Wang gets hired by a rich and mysterious businesswoman (Liu Xiaoqing) and her cult-like followers to help her find the ancient tomb of a Khitan princess in Inner Mongolia. Initially reluctant but smelling something fishy, Shirley and Hu follow the expedition closely. But once they find the tomb it becomes apparent they’ve been there already : 20 years before when they were in the Communist Youth League, Hu and Wang loved the same woman, Ding Sitian (Angelababy), but lost her and many other comrades when they entered an an abandoned Japanese underground base where the corpses of soldiers mysteriously came back to life and started slaughtering the intruders. Now it appears that the strange businesswoman’s endgame is to find the Equinox Flower, a fabled artifact that can resurrect the dead…

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NO MAN’S LAND (2013) short review

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Being shelved for four years over censorship issues sounds like a death knell for any film, and yet in the case of Ning Hao’s No Man’s Land, it may actually have been a considerable boon : indeed, the four-years delay meant that the film came out after the comedy Lost In Thailand, which starred two of the leads of No Man’s Land (Xu Zheng and Huang Bo), and thus became positioned as their follow-up to what is still the all-time highest-grossing Chinese film in China. It did however lose its potential status as China’s very first modern-day set western – with Gao Qunshu’s Wind Blast having been released in the meantime – though in truth it is closer to a film noir than a western, with moody voice-over and a cynical outlook on human nature. It tells of an arrogant big city lawyer (Xu Zheng) who travels to the far west of China to plead the case of a falcon trafficker (Togbye), then tries to rush back to the city to close a book deal on that very case. But he runs afoul of the trafficker’s scabby assistant (Huang Bo), as well as spiteful cops, angry truck drivers, and sordid petrol station owners, becoming the de facto protector of a desperate prostitute (Yu Nan) in the process. No Man’s Land often recalls Oliver Stone’s U-Turn, with which it shares an almost fantasmagorical level of bad luck and human scum thrust upon an almost unlikeable main character. And like that 1997 film, it starts out delightfully dark and funny, then loses steam with its thudding cynicism and an overdose of plot turns that are less fresh and witty than the director seems to think. Still, it’s a fun ride with great turns from Togbye as a monolithic bandit and Yu Nan as the only likeable character of the film and the incarnation of the softer side of Ning Hao’s pitch dark vision. ***1/2