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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SPECIAL FEMALE FORCE (2016) review

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Wilson Chin’s Special Female Force is a loose remake of Wellson Chin’s (not the same guy) The Inspector Wears Skirts, following a dozen sexy young women who enter a stringent boot camp where they bond in the hardships of training and flirt with the male team, before being thrust into their first mission, to stop a terrorist – who twenty years ago decimated the previous iteration of the Special Female Force – from spreading a deadly virus. Tiny subplots from the original films (there were four of them) also crop up, like the male instructor’s crush on the female one (Ken Lo and Jade Leung step in for Stanley Fung and Sibelle Hu), but on the whole Wilson is largely rebooting Wellson’s concept, while adding an unfortunate layer of teary drama on top of it. The Inspector Wears Skirts were no masterpieces, but they knew their place and remained jokey displays of eye-candy with some hard-hitting action thrown in. Special Female Force is plagued by tragic subplots that lead to cringe-worthy moments of tone-deaf emotional acting from the main cast. Philip Ng has a few scenes and a few spin kicks as an ungrateful boyfriend, in another soap-worthy little nugget of plot.

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MISSION MILANO (2016) short review

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This caper about an Interpol agent (Andy Lau) who joins forces with a gentleman-thief (Huang Xiaoming) to stop a terrorist organization from using a revolutionary invention known as the Seed of God (a seed that can grow even in the most barren places) for evil purposes could very well be a From Vegas to Macau film, as it sees Wong Jing follow the exact same recipe as in his successful Chinese New Year franchise: pair up a handsome legend with a handsome younger star, surround them with comedians (including here a very funny Shen Teng and a so-so Wong Cho Lam) and cameos (hello, Sammi Cheng) and one or two martial artists (good old Ken Lo and up-and-comer Wu Yue), offer spectacle that combines a five-year old boy’s sense of narrative logic, a ten year-old boy’s taste for absurd high-tech gadgets, and a fifteen year-old boy’s fixation on leather-clad beauties (hello, Michelle Hu and many others). Add a dash of gambling (but not too much, the Hong Kong market is second served), one or two exotic locations, a lot of derivative elements (including a Resident Evil death corridor, Wolverine claws, John Powell’s The Bourne Supremacy soundtrack tracked in the action scenes…) and one or two incongruously straight-faced dramatic moments. In the end, it is indeed a lowbrow but entertaining formula, and Mission Milano is actually more palatable than any of the From Vegas to Macau films. Andy Lau is a delight (Huang Xiaoming seems less comfortable), there are some moderately inspired pratfalls, sight gags and situations, and Dion Lam’s action is cartoony and amusing. All in all, this film deserves the following faint praise: a Mission Milano 2 sounds more tempting than a From Vegas to Macau 4**1/2

WHO AM I 2015 (aka AMNESIA) (2015) review

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What a strange idea to remake Jackie Chan’s Who Am I. While a success, the 1998 action film – which Chan co-directed with Benny Chan – wasn’t so popular that its title would become a brand name or rank among Chan’s greatest hits, and its premise of an elite agent who loses his memory in a botched operation then tries to piece back what happened while fending off a high-reaching conspiracy has been more than played out since, most notably and successfully in the Bourne films. What’s even more puzzling is that Song Yinxi’s Who Am I 2015, which was produced by Chan himself and stars mostly friends and protégés of his, actually has very little in common with the film of which it positions itself as a redo. The main character (here, Wang Haixiang) isn’t an elite agent anymore, he’s a bike courier with a penchant for extreme sports, and he’s not encroached in a vast conspiracy but simply chased by a shady boss’ henchmen (Ken Lo, Zhang Lanxin and director Song Yinxi himself) after witnessing the murder of a businessman. They frame him for the murder and he can only count on the help of a shrill hitchhiker (Yao Xingtong) and a mysterious ex-cop (Yu Rongguang), while suffering not from amnesia as in the original film, but from prosopagnosia (aka face blindness), a rare pathology that makes it difficult to recognize faces, even one’s own.

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CIRCUS KIDS (1994) short review

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Wu Ma’s last film as a director (though he kept on appearing in films for twenty more years), Circus Kids stands out simply by being the only time – so far – that martial arts greats Yuen Biao and Donnie Yen have been in the same film. Both were about to experience a unfortunate career wane in the second half of the nineties, and indeed Circus Kids is not up to their talent. It follows the various misfortunes of a circus troupe (led by Wu Ma himself and including Yuen Biao) during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai around 1910. Forced to move and take up jobs at a factory when their tent is destroyed in a Japanese bombing, they are thrust in the middle of political machinations and opium trafficking, but find an ally in a constable (Donnie Yen) who has feelings for the troupe’s trapeze artist (Irene Wan). Much of the goings-on in Circus Kids are tedious, thinly-written melodrama, which coupled with the film’s short running time and fairly low budget, don’t allow it to develop any kind of epic sweep or even dramatic poignancy. It is also fairly light on martial arts, with Donnie Yen and Yuen Biao only trading blows for a few seconds. Still the film’s stunning final fight, which sees Yuen take on fearful kicker Ken Lo (who the same year fought Jackie Chan in Drunken Master 2‘s unforgettable finale), is worth the wait, and a welcome relief from the mediocrity that precedes it. **