THE LOOMING STORM (2017) review


The directing debut of cinematographer Dong Yue, The Looming Storm takes place in a drab, perpetually rainy small industrial town, where young women, often prostitutes, are being murdered by a serial killer. Yu Guowei (Duan Yihong) is the head of security of a factory close to which one of the victims was found, and with the local police severely understaffed for such an investigation, his appetite for detective work is put to use by the police chief (Du Yuan). Though an amateur detective, Yu manages to have a close encounter with the killer, whose hooded face he cannot see, and who manages a close escape. More and more determined, despite the death of his sidekick as the result of nasty fall while they were chasing the killer in an abandoned factory, Yu gets closer to a kind prostitute (Jiang Yiyan), whom he decides to use as bait, as she fits the profile of the previous victims. But is the noose tightening around the bait, the killer, or the detective?



SEVENTY-SEVEN DAYS (2017) short review


Based on a true story, Zhao Hantang’s Seventy-Seven Days follows Yang Liusong (Zhao himself), a man determined to cross the desolate, uninhabited area of Changtang, at more than 4,500 meters of altitude on the Tibetan plateau, and to cross it horizontally, which is the most perilous way of going about it, and will take him at least 80 days, exposing him to extreme weather, lack of water and hostile wildlife including yaks, bears and wolves. But the memory of a brief yet intense encounter in Lhasa with a wheelchair-bound woman, Lan Tian (Jiang Yiyan), keeps him going forward even when all seems lost. The majestic, austere beauty of the Tibetan landscapes – lovingly captured by demi-god cinematographer Mark Lee Ping Bing – is almost overshadowed by the beauty of Jiang Yiyan in this passable travelogue. It was shot at the same altitude as the events it depicts and is full of interesting details about the dangers of the Tibetan plateau, such as how blissful snow, ending a life-threatening water-shortage for Liusong, can turn into a nightmare as it melts into a flood. But life-affirming platitudes about freedom (often worthy of a facebook inspirational slideshow) abound, and little is explained or shown of why Liusong has embarked on such an adventure, and thus the film’s emotional resonance lands squarely on Jiang Yiyan’s shoulders. Her vivid, heartbreaking performance as a woman putting on a brave front but crumbling inside, leaves a much stronger mark on the film than Zhao Hantang’s slightly bland lead. **1/2

DEALER/HEALER (2017) review


Lawrence Ah Mon’s Dealer/Healer tells the true story of Chen Hua (Lau Ching Wan), a drug dealer and drug addict turned philanthropist, from his teenage years in the Tsz Wan Shan district of Kowloon, the start of a lasting friendship with fellow hellraisers Cat (Max Zhang) and Bullhorn (Lam Ka Tung) and of a romance with plucky waitress Kerou (Jiang Yiyan), to his time as a drug dealer in the infamous Kowloon Walled City, where he encountered drug lord Halei (Louis Koo) and reached the nadir of his addiction, and then to his reformed life – following a few years in prison – and his work in a Christian rehabilitation centre, while still mediating mob disputes to limit damage and avoid violence.


SWORD MASTER (2016) review


As an actor, Derek Yee had gotten his break playing handsome swordsmen in numerous Shaw Brothers film, including Chu Yuan’s Death Duel (1977). As a director however, he has mostly favored contemporary, urban and often gritty fare. Now in a full circle he offers Sword Master, a remake of Death Duel co-produced and co-written with Tsui Hark, whose early career had seen him help Hong Kong cinema move past the classicism of Shaw Brothers films, but whose recent films have tried to both recapture and update their narrative and technical tenets. This interesting pair-up has yielded a flawed but stimulating film.




After 2012’s stylish and entertaining – and much less derivative than it’s been made out to be –  The Bullet Vanishes, Lau Ching Wan’s inspector Song Donglu (Lau Ching Wan) is back, his adventures still written by Yeung Sin Ling, produced by Derek Yee and directed by Law Chi Leung. This time, Song investigates a series of strange suicides: factory workers throwing themselves from atop buildings, to protest their exploitative employer, corrupt businessman Gao Minxiong (Guo Xiaodong). Song surmises that they’ve been ‘forced’ to commit suicide, and has reasons to think that Fu Yuan (Jiang Yiyan), a woman whom he brought to justice after she almost got away with murdering her abusive husband, and who counseled him from her prison cell in The Bullet Vanishes, may have something to do with what’s happening. Indeed, she recently escaped from prison, and it was to bring her back there that Song was in town. Other suspects include Hua (Lam Ka Tung), a professor with a morphine addiction who has been in contact with Fu Yuan and shares her appetite for criminology, and Mao Jin (Rydhian Vaughan), who may or may not be a dirty cop. As the plot thickens, Song can count on the help of Chang Sheng (Li Xiaolu), a woman he left at the altar years ago, and who’s sticking with him, hoping to get closure.


DEADLY DELICIOUS (2008) review


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.