DEALER/HEALER (2017) review

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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.

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CALL OF HEROES (2016) review

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One of our most anticipated films of 2016, Call of Heroes is a neo-western set in China during the Warlords era (beginning of the 20th century). Blood-thirsty, demented Commander Cao (Louis Koo), son of Warlord Cao (Sammo Hung) rides into the village of Pucheng, where he kills three people at random. He’s arrested by sheriff Yang (Lau Chin Wan) and sentenced to death, but his second-in-command Zhang (Wu Jing) soon arrives, issuing an ultimatum to the people of Pucheng: to release Cao or to be massacred. But Sheriff Yang stands by his verdict, helped in the face of growing adversity by a wandering swordsman (Eddie Peng), who once was Zhang’s comrade-in-arms.

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HEARTFALL ARISES (2016) review

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A film as grandiose and nonsensical as its title, Ken Wu’s Heartfall Arises follows John Ma (Nicholas Tse), a police detective who killed a serial killer known as The General (Gao Weiguang), but got fatally wounded in the exchange of gunfire, and thus had to be transplanted with the heart of the very man he killed. Months later, it seems a copycat of The General is at work, and John Ma himself feels his new heart is affecting his behavior: he even has memories of a woman (a woefully underused Tong Liya) he never met. Now stop the copycat he must join forces with criminal psychologist Calvin Che (Lau Ching Wan), who himself happens to have been transplanted with The General’s liver! But then why isn’t the film called Liverfall Arising?

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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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INSANITY (2014) review

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David Lee’s second film after the little-seen teen horror thriller Yes, I Can See Dead People, Insanity is produced and co-written by Derek Yee, and tells of Fan (Lau Ching Wan), who became a neurotic shell of a man following the death of his child, and frequently lets out his anger and grief on his wife Wai Ling (Michelle Ye), forbidding her to go out and suspecting her at every turn. Until one night, in a fit of jealous rage, he accidentally kills her by pushing her out of a window. He’s declared insane in court and committed to a psychiatric hospital, where he’s placed under the care of Dr. Chow (Huang Xiaoming) a young and promising doctor who is fast rising to the top of his field, though he’s neglecting his girlfriend Bo Yi (Fiona Sit) in the process. Three years later, Chow vouches for Fan’s release against the advice of his colleague Dr. Lui (Alex Fong), declaring him cured. Life on the outside proves difficult for the former madman, as his former mother-in-law (Paw Hee Ching) keeps harassing him and guilt remains vivid. One night, while attempting to commit suicide, he accidentally kills a homeless junkie. But Dr. Chow, who’s close to becoming hospital director, is determined to safeguard his reputation : if word got out that the patient he vouched for actually killed someone else after being released, the consequences for his career would be dire. And so he covers up the junkie’s death, and things start going from bad to worse.

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OUT OF INFERNO (2013) short review

outofinferno_poster One of two high-profile firefighting films that came out in the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014, the Pang Brothers’ Out of Inferno is a disaster film that plays by all the most well-worn rules of the book. It has a typical ‘wrong place, wrong time’ set up as it takes place on the most humid day of the past 50 years in Guangzhou, in a building whose air conditioning inexplicably malfunctions. And before the fire erupts, forthcoming human drama is set up, that will complement the mayhem, and a roster of diverse characters played by familiar faces is introduced. At the center there’s two estranged brothers : Tai Kwan (Lau Ching Wan) is a sturdy, no-nonsense but conflicted fireman called in to deal with the fire, and whose pregnant wife (Angelica Lee) happens to be visiting her obstetrician in the building ; and Keung (Louis Koo), a former fireman himself and now the building’s director of security is also on the spot, holding a fundraiser whose guests he soon has to take to safety. There’s also a diamond-cutter (Hui Siu Hung) whose employees take advantage of the fire to steal the merchandise, a family guy (Eddie Cheung Siu Fai) whose wife is opening a shop in the building, and a few others. This is an efficiently-directed disaster film with often impressive CGI (though nothing ground-breaking on that front), that suffers from an intense and ever growing sense of ‘been there, done that’ as it borrows from countless films, plays out in completely predictable fashion and possesses little originality in a genre that needs originality to generate any kind of relevance or excitement. The chemistry between Lau and Koo, in their 12th pairing, is the film’s saving grace, but in the end nothing is likely to stick in the spectator’s mind. **1/2

 

THE GREAT MAGICIAN (2011) short review

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In the Warlord era after the Chinese Revolution, a revolutionary group aims to kill a powerful warlord (Lau Ching Wan) to take a step towards reinstating the republic. Said warlord has imprisoned a woman (Zhou Xun) whom he wants to make his new wife, but can’t bring himself to force into mariage. The arrival of a skilled magician (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) with ties to the revolutionary group and a shared past with the imprisoned woman, marks the start of a game of deceit and illusions. Visually, this is an absolutely stunning movie, gorgeously lit, awash in lush production design, and elegantly directed by Derek Yee in a diversion from his more serious contemporary fare. The magician’s scenic tricks are wonderfully executed with seamless CGI and are a joy to behold. Leung, Lau and Zhou are firmly in their comfort zone and their interaction is one of the film’s pleasures, while fun cameos by Tsui Hark and Daniel Wu (among others) spice up the proceedings. Too bad then that the film is so narratively muddled and rhythmically challenged ; the plot proves too meandering for such a playful concoction, which results in an overlong runtime. Still, an enjoyable piece of classy fluff. ***

 

BIG BULLET (1996) review

Bill Chu (Lau Ching Wan), a dedicated but headstrong Hong Kong cop, is demoted to the Emergency Unit for having punched his incompetent commanding officer during a police raid gone awry. There, he butts heads with by-the-book cop Jeff Chiu (Jordan Chan), and keeps trying to stop a gang of international criminals headed by Anthony Wong Chau-Sang and Yu Rongguang. There’s nothing new in this plotline, but there’s Benny Chan behind the camera, a superb cast in front, and a better-than-average script to tie it all in. Today Benny Chan is one of the top directors in Hong Kong and China, but in the middle of the nineties, having been revealed by the A Moment of Romance films, he was only starting to get to really shine, with main HK luminaries such as John Woo, Ringo Lam, Kirk Wong and Tsui Hark off to the United States. Although Big Bullet was a hit in Hong Kong at the time, it is strangely forgotten today, and never crossed over to the West as other HK action films have.

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