CHERRY RETURNS (2016) short review

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Twelve years after she was kidnapped and thought dead, Cherry Yuan (Cherry Ngan) is found in a basement after her kidnappers are killed in a police raid. She is reunited with her family but seems to be a shell of her former self, and seems to barely remember her close ones, who are all wracked with guilt: her father (a fine Chen Kuan Tai) called the cops – against the kidnappers’ indications – all those years ago, which led to her being thought dead; her mother (Josephine Koo), wasn’t watching over her on the fateful day when she was kidnapped; her sister (Song Jia) was always full of resentment against, for being more loved by the parents; and her uncle (Jason Pai Piao) clearly knows things. But as the family attempts to heal, a police detective (Gordon Lam) investigates the strange circumstances of her kidnapping and rescue, while a mysterious hooded figure (Hu Ge) appears to be stalking Cherry. Though visually bland and marred at key moments by ridiculous CGI ( one character’s fall from a skyscraper is quite comical), Chris Chow’s Cherry Returns is a nicely convoluted thriller that teases the audience with seemingly supernatural details and peels away layers of deceit at an enjoyable pace, ending with a startlingly somber conclusion. The cast is mostly solid, with a fiercely sympathetic Song Jia and a deftly ambiguous Cherry Ngan at its center, but most of the characters are either very thinly-defined (Gordon Lam struggles to make his stock police detective interesting) or given motivations that defy human logic or emotion (Hu Ge’s character is almost a parody unto itself), and so while the plot is sometimes cleverly constructed, it is difficult to care about it. **1/2

THE VANISHED MURDERER (2015) review

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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.

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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. **

BROTHERS (2007) short review

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Derek Chiu’s Brothers was notable at the time of its release for reuniting the “Four Tigers” of Hong Kong TV network TVB, that is to say its four most successful actors in the eighties : Andy Lau, Michael Miu, Felix Wong and Ken Tong. Beyond that central quartet, the film also has a fairly impressive, albeit not uncommon, Hong Kong cast. The plot follows a terminally ill triad boss (Michael Miu), who with the help of his lover/lawyer (Crystal Huang) and his adoptive brother/ bodyguard (Felix Wong), navigates in a sea of aggressive rivals (Ken Tong and Henry Fong) and dogged cops (Andy Lau and Gordon Lam), to go clean and make his little brother (Eason Chan) his successor. The film is a meat and potatoes triad drama that possesses little in the way of originality but manages to feel reasonably fresh thanks to a steady pace, a lack of excess and most of all a strong cast on mostly fine form. Michael Miu anchors the film impressively with a thoughtful, tragic, nuanced performance that makes one wish he’d venture out of TV more often. Despite being by far the film’s biggest star, Andy Lau takes an admirable backseat, while injecting some unforced and much-needed comic relief at key moments. There’s quite a few interesting characters around them, not many of them developed enough, but all of them played in low-key, nuanced fashion, from Eason Chan’s naïve but steadfast little brother to Huang Yi’s strong but conflicted lawyer, with Yu Rongguang, Gordon Lam and Wang Zhiwen also leaving a mark. A bit uncomfortably, the film is too long for its fairly simple plot and overused tropes, but too short for its engaging and varied set of characters. ***

ULTERIOR MOTIVE (2015) review

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Ulterior Motive is Arthur Wong’s first film as a director in 28 years ; his last directorial effort had been the enjoyable, hard-hitting In The Line of Duty  3 in 1987. Not that he has been slacking off in the meantime : Wong is one of Hong Kong and China’s most illustrious cinematographers, having lensed everything from The 36th Chamber of Shaolin and Once Upon A Time In China to The Warlords and Painted Skin. We encourage you to have a look at his filmography, it’s a head-spinning list of some of the most gorgeously-shot films in Hong Kong and China. For his return to the director’s chair, he has chosen a noirish thriller about a rich heiress (Qin Lan), whose husband (Archie Kao) and daughter are kidnapped and held for ransom. The cop in charge of the investigation is her ex-boyfriend (Gordon Lam), an acutely intuitive sleuth who quickly targets her father (Simon Yam) as a prime suspect, after finding out troubling similarities between this kidnapping case and one he was involved in 20 years ago, that ended in murder.

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AN INSPECTOR CALLS (2015) review

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Considered a true classic of 20th-century English theatre, J.B. Priestley’s three-act play An Inspector Calls has been brought to the stage countless times since it was first performed in 1945, and it’s been a fixture of the BBC’s TV and radio programming (with yet another mini-series in preparation for 2015, starring David Thewlis) but it has comparatively been the object of few big screen adaptations. In fact, Raymond Wong and Herman Yau’s film is the first time the play is adapted for theatrical release since Guy Hamilton’s (of Goldfinger fame) 1954 adaptation. And surely it’s the most unexpected iteration of the story since the 1979 Soviet mini-series Inspector Gull. Screenwriter Edmond Wong transposes the setting from the North Midlands of Great Britain in 1912 to Hong Kong in 2015, but follows J.B. Priestley’s narrative pretty closely : the mysterious inspector Karl (Louis Koo) pays an unexpected visit to the rich Kau family’s estate. Mr. and Mrs. Kau (Eric Tsang and Teresa Mo) are in the final preparations for their daughter Sherry’s (Karena Ng) engagement party as she is soon to marry a handsome young businessman Johnny (Hans Zhang), while their son Tim (Gordon Lam) looks on in contemptuous bemusement, and clearly annoyed at his own girlfriend, socialite Yvonne (Ada Liu Yan). Inspector Karl informs them that a young woman (Chrissie Chau) from Mr. Kau’s factory has been found dead from what appears to be a painful, protracted suicide by disinfectant ingestion. As he starts to interrogate each member of the family in turn, it appears everyone of them was linked to the deceased woman, and everyone may have played a more or less active role in her eventual demise.

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Z STORM (2014) short review

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A tale of greed, corruption, and wire-tapping in the Overheard mould but with only a fraction of the star-power and production values,  Z Storm follows an ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) team that has less than a week to expose the wide network of corruption surrounding the forthcoming IPO of the Z Hedge Fund, a US operation in which the government has invested 15 billion dollars. Director David Lam made the unwise choice to combine over-complicated (to the uninitiated at least) financial jargon and palaver with a fairly simplistic narrative and a self-righteous tone that borders on parody and/or propaganda. All ICAC agents are portrayed as knights in shining armors (or rather, in tailored suits) with some lines sounding more like slogans than something anyone would naturally say : other reviews have rightly singled out “Where’s there’s corruption, there’s the ICAC too”, but we also like the impressed “You have outstanding men at your service”, that a cameo-ing Alfred Cheung intones to the head of the ICAC. Nevertheless Z Storm is never boring, and while Louis Koo sleepwalks handsomely throughout the film, Lam Ka Tung and Michael Wong as a corrupt cop and a corrupt lawyer respectively, both cut strikingly despicable figures, and provide the film with some life and sparkle. **1/2