THE ADVENTURES OF WEIBAOBAO (2016) short review

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In Brand Tan’s The Adventures of Weibaobao (also known, head-scratchingly, as Provoking Laughter), timid tour guide Wei Baobao (Pan Yueming) is mistaken for a dangerous criminal as a result of a dinner reservation mix-up. Brought in the inner circle of a mob boss (Tan Kai), his lethal girlfriend/enforcer (Lin Peng) and his loyal second-in-command (Archie Kao), Baobao wants to run for his life, but a duo of cops (Chang Yuan and Tao Siyuan) urge him to stay under this unintentional cover and work with their other undercover (Wu Yue). This one of those films that try to be many genres at once but end up a bland amalgamation. There is some “wuss posing as a tough guy” comedy, but it’s undermined by a severe lack of conviction or creativity in the comedic situations. There are some David Mamet-style deadpan twists and turns on the canvas of a Hong Kong-type undercover crime thriller (suffice it to say, everyone is a potential undercover agent), but it’s all too muddled and sluggish to grip and surprise the way it is supposed to. There are also Tarantino-inspired postmodern winks (Ennio Morricone in the soundtrack, animated backstories…) and flashes of ultra-violence, but they appear tired and derivative, sometimes exceeding the production’s obviously limited budget grasp. The film does remain palatable thanks to a short runtime, a few inspired visual gags, one or two plot turns that are mildly surprising, and a solid cast: Pan Yueming might have been excellent with better writing to work with, Lin Peng is striking as a steely henchwoman, Archie Kao has fun acting as shady as possible, and Chin Shih Chieh brings a modicum of class to the whole thing, while Wu Yue would probably be a scene-stealer if there were actually good scenes to steal. **

MEET THE IN-LAWS (2012) short review

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Despite its title, Li Hai Shu’s Meet The In-Laws isn’t a remake of the successful 2011 Korean comedy, but rather a loose remake of Jay Roach’s 2000 hit comedy Meet the Parents. Xu Zheng (just months before Lost in Thailand dramatically raised his profile) fills in for Ben Stiller as the well-meaning but bumbling future son-in-law, here a psychologist who just started his own clinic and is in blissful love with a teacher played by Lin Peng. Good old Hui Shiu Hung steps in Robert De Niro’s shoes as her overprotective father who’s immediately suspicious of his daughter’s boyfriend, though the similarities end there, and save for a few minor plot points, Meet The In-Laws doesn’t follow Meet the Parents beyond that basic set-up. Here the initial distrust is compounded by the fact that the father realizes that his future son-in-law is none other than the shrink to whom he’s been opening up for months about everything from his erectile dysfunction to his adultery impulses. Add to that two hapless criminals who’ve mistakenly hidden a bag of cash in the trunk of Xu Zheng’s car, and Hui Shiu Hung’s attempt to get sentimental closure with a old college flame – a subplot borrowed three years later in Xu Zheng’s Lost in Hong Kong. It’s a fairly uninspired though fitfully amusing comedy, not a patch on its American model as it’s more preoccupied with wacky situations and repeated pratfalls than making any sort of observations on mariage and family in China. Xu Zheng and Hui Shiu Hung, in roles they know like the back of their hand, don’t have much chemistry and only really click when balanced with the classier touch of Lin Peng and Li Fengxu (as the mother). **

DRAGON BLADE (2015) review

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Note: This is a review of the original, 127-minute cut of the film screened throughout Asia. The international cut runs about 20 minutes shorter and cripples the film. Avoid watching it first if you can.

Daniel Lee’s Dragon Blade isn’t just another Chinese period epic. Its price tag of 65 million dollars makes it the most expensive Chinese film in history, while its opening numbers at the domestic box-office broke records and its final take of 120 million dollars ranks it as the 8th highest-grossing Chinese film. Its cast is truly international : gathered around Chinese A-listers Jackie Chan, William Feng and Karena Lam are Hollywood actors John Cusack and Adrien Brody, Korean actors/pop stars Choi Si Won and Steve Yoo, Australian dancer and scream queen Sharni Vinson, as well as French singer Lorie Pester. And its plot takes considerable licence with history to imagine a meeting of East and West, between the Roman armies and the tribes of Western China.

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