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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THREE (2016) review

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Sixteen years after Help!!!, Johnnie To is back within the confines of a hospital, this time to tell the story of a brain surgeon (Zhao Wei) who is reeling with guilt after committing two medical mistakes that cost one patient his mobility and another his consciousness. And things are not getting better, as a cop (Louis Koo) and his squad barge into her medical unit with a wounded criminal (Wallace Chung). There’s a bullet in his head but he’s still conscious and full of calculated sardonic playfulness. It soon appears that he was shot in the head while unarmed, during a violent interrogation where he was threatened and roughed up, until one the cops’ gun went off by accident. Thus the cop is walking on eggshells as he needs to both cover his squad and get information from the criminal in order to stop his accomplices, who are still on a robbery spree in Hong Kong. This puts him at odds with the brain surgeon, who is not ready to lose another patient, whether he be a ruthless gangster or not.

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LOOKING FOR MR. PERFECT (2003) short review

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A rare light, glitzy and non-urban film in Ringo Lam’s distinguished filmography, Looking for Mr. Perfect tells of a young cop (Shu Qi) who’s been dreaming about the perfect boyfriend but is stuck with two awkward and clingy suitors (Raymond Wong Ho Yin and Godfrey Ngai). Things change when she follows her roommate (Isabel Chan) to Malaysia, where she meets her Hong Kong informer (Chapman To), a libidinous talent agent (Lam Suet), a flamboyant arms dealer (Simon Yam), a hapless mercenary (Hui Shiu Hung), as well as his hunky associate (Andy On), who may just be Mr. Perfect. Misunderstandings abound as the two young women get embroiled in the hunt for a prized missile guidance system. Sense and logic go out the window very early on in this overstuffed little action-comedy; Chapman To, Lam Suet and Hui Shiu Hung do their shtick pleasingly, Shu Qi, Isabel Chan and Andy On look very attractive, and Simon Yam steals the show as a tap-dancing, relentlessly finger-snapping villain. The film’s uneven and somewhat repetitive comedy gets compensated for by two very fun action set pieces choreographed by Nicky Li Chung Chi: one a spectacular jet-ski chase and the other a protracted finale starting with impressive motorbike stunts, powering on as Andy On and Simon Yam go at each other with a variety fruits (needless to say, durians come in contact with arses), and ending with a fun visual punchline involving a kite and a speedboat. Oh, and there’s giggling animated sunflowers, too. **1/2

JUST ANOTHER MARGIN (2014) review

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Jeff Lau’s Just Another Margin is one of those films that are seemingly tailored for Lunar New Year entertainment but don’t quite have the star power or marketing push required to compete in that prized calendar slot, and are thus slipped in a bit before or after on the release schedule. And it did go by relatively unnoticed, which is not all that surprising considering how uninspired it appears in the Jeff Lau canon of costumed mo lei tau. It stars Betty Sun as Jin Ling, a young woman whose magical yueqin (a kind of round guitar) compels people tell to the truth. One day this creates a humiliating situation for Mrs Zhao (Guo Degang), a rich businesswoman who punishes her by arranging her marriage with the town’s hunchback Mao Da-Long (Lam Suet), with whose brother Mao Song (Ekin Cheng) Jin Ling ends up falling in love. That doesn’t sit well with Shi Wen Sheng (Ronald Cheng) Mrs Zhao’s libidinous cousin, who wants the young woman for himself and plots to take the Mao brothers out of the picture. To complicate things, two aliens from planet B16 named Tranzor and Shakespeare (Patrick Tam Yiu-Man and Alex Fong Lik-Sun) arrive in town in search of a long-lost member of their species. They’re not the only aliens around however, as a fearful entity known as the Black Emperor is hiding somewhere.

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SAVING MR. WU (2015) review

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In 2004, popular TV actor Wu Ruofu was kidnapped and held for ransom for 21 hours, before being rescued by the police, psychologically traumatized but physically unscathed. Now more than a decade later here he is, co-starring in the story of his ordeal, in the role of one of the cops whose tireless investigation led to his rescue, and with superstar Andy Lau playing him. Wu was offered his own role, but refused to relive the events so directly ; shooting – and watching – the film must have been quite the cathartic experience for him, though he has remained tight-lipped about the whole thing. And so in a tight time-frame of 21 hours, Ding Sheng’s Saving Mr. Wu recounts the kidnapping of movie star Wu (Andy Lau) and everyman Dou (Lu Cai) by cunning and ruthless criminal Zhang (Wang Qianyuan), and the subsequent race against time as the police (headed by Liu Ye and the laterally titular Wu Ruofu) catches the latter and tries to have him give out the whereabouts of his victims before it’s too late: they know the abductees are to be killed whether or not the ransom is paid.

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GOOD-FOR-NOTHING HEROS (2012) short review

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Fu Yong’s Good-For-Nothing Heros (a misspelling that doesn’t seem to be of the ironic “Inglourious Basterds” kind) tells of Peng (Kimi Qiao) and Long (Lam Suet), two amiable losers who find the lost will of a wealthy hotel owner (Kent Cheng), who just fell into a coma. They decide that Peng will pose as the owner’s son and leverage his new-found clout to save their neighborhood from relocation. But one big obstacle in the owner’s associate Danny (Francis Ng), who smells a rat and sends a private eye (Jack Kao) to check on Peng’s background. Beyond the crippling implausibility of the plot, what makes Good-For-Nothing Heros sink so far below average is its total lack of a pace, its muddled exposition, its often sappy tone and its incredibly tired gags. Seeing Lam Suet in a lead role is a real pleasure and gives the film what little spark it possesses, especially as he gets to share an underdeveloped but quietly offbeat romantic subplot with Christy Chung, in a rare turn as a plain (well, as plain as the stunning Chung can appear : make-up can only go so far), frumpy, big-hearted street food vendor. Unsurprisingly, Francis Ng knows what kind of film he’s in, and does some charismatic sleepwalking. *1/2

THE CONSTABLE (2013) review

997F273241EDAE19DBE9CDA5AC64EFC67764F0ACD8E71_950_1348 A real estate magnate and a chairman and executive producer at Johnnie To’s Milkyway Image, Dennis Law has had a strange career for the past ten years or so, with the law of diminishing returns, both critically and financially, leading him from the excellent and mildly successful Fatal Contact (Wu Jing’s best film as a lead), to the abysmal and little-seen Vampire WarriorsThe Constable, though even less seen, can however be counted as a return to form of sorts. It follows Kuen (Simon Yam) a transportation officer in the Hong Kong police, who is also a single parent since his wife left, unable as she was to cope with the fact their son (Li Jin-Jiang) has Down syndrome. He is nevertheless helped by Yan (Niu Mengmeng) a kind girl whose lame, up to no good boyfriend (Sam Lee) is close to being recruited by local gangster Kim (Ken Lo) for an upcoming hold-up. We also follow clumsy rookie cop Mei (Zi Yi), and his burgeoning romance with a colleague (Maggie Li). Kuen’s colleague (Lam Suet) and superior officer (Maggie Siu) also pop up from time to time.

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MILLION DOLLAR CROCODILE (2012) short review

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Announced as the very first Mainland Chinese creature feature, Lin Lisheng’s Million Dollar Crocodile is actually more of a comedy, with only a few (attempted) scares along the way. A big crocodile escapes from the restaurant backyard where it was supposed to be slaughtered and cooked. On the way back to its former habitat, it swallows Barbie Hsu’s bag, which contains her savings of the past 8 years. The pixellated saurian thus finds itself trailed by the shrill Taiwanese star, as well as an underdog cop (Guo Tao), the seedy restaurant owner (Lam Suet, God bless him), the owner of its former zoo (the excellent Shi Zhaoqi) and a little boy who befriended it (Ding Jiali). This gallery of characters is fun enough (and there’s a cameo from a very funny Xiong Xin Xin) that the film unfolds passably, going from droll situations to mildly tense predicaments, meekly trying to get a crocodile-conservation message across while flaunting its arguably well-rendered creature (though it is not always seamlessly integrated to the live-action). In the end you get the feeling nobody quite knew what Million Dollar Crocodile should be exactly. **

 

DIVERGENCE (2005) review

Benny Chan’s DIVERGENCE proceeds directly from the overwhelming and international success of the INFERNAL AFFAIRS trilogy. It is not a cash-in, mind you : the kinship here is mainly to be seen in the tight storytelling refusing to be overly explanatory, the cold urban aesthetics and the stellar cast. The Hong-Kong superstar Aaron Kwok plays Suen, a cop whose girlfriend disappeared 10 years ago, and who’s never stopped looking for her, including at the morgue. He has been assigned to the protection of a key witness in the high-stakes trial of a corrupt businessman. The businessman’s lawyer (portrayed by Ekin Cheng) happens to be married to a woman looking remarkably like his long-lost girlfriend. That, coupled with the fact that the witness gets killed by a hitman called Coke (played by Daniel Wu), triggers a chain of events that put Suen’s mental and physical health to the test.

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