COCK AND BULL (2016) review

100142-72126214_1000x1000

After three films that oscillated between the tragic and the bittersweet (The Equation of Love and DeathEinstein and Einstein and The Dead End), writer-director Cao Baoping returns to his first love, rural dark comedy. In Cock and Bull, a mechanic named Song (Liu Ye) has to deal with two exigent issues. First, he is under pressure from a big mining company to move his ancestors’ graves so that a big mining operation may proceed on his land, which he steadfastly refuses to do, out of a deep-rooted sense of filial duty. But equally pressingly, he must clear his name after a fellow villager is murdered and suspicion falls on him, because he had a fight with him weeks before. Song thus sets out to find the real killer, who may be either a local delinquent (Duan Bowen) who somehow is in possession of the victim’s motorcycle, or a shaky nightclub owner (Zhang Yi) hard up for cash who moonlights as a hitman for local mobsters.

(more…)

MY WAR (2016) review

093735-18291775_1000x1000

A war film directed by Oxide Pang –  a Hong Kong director whose career, whether solo or with his brother Danny, has consisted mostly of visually elaborate horror films and quirky detective stories, with the odd detour into CGI-heavy fantasy or disaster film – was an intriguing prospect. My War chronicles the trials and tribulations of a battalion of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (CPVA) fighting the Americans during the Korean war in the early 1950’s. Front and center are commander Sun Beichuan (Liu Ye), his friend and subordinate Zhang Luodong (Tony Yang), and Meng Sanxia (Wang Luodan), an army musician they both pine for.

(more…)

NIGHT PEACOCK (aka LE PAON DE NUIT) (2016) review

094951.93339448_1000X1000

The sixth film of Chinese-French author and director Dai Sijie, Night Peacock tells of Elsa (Crystal Liu Yifei), a musician who spends her time between France and China. In the western city of Chengdu, she meets Ma Rong (Leon Lai) an expert player of the Shakuhachi flute who owns a silkworm factory. Elsa soon becomes both fascinated by silkworms – living beings that have to be sacrificed so that precious silk may be extracted – and infatuated with Ma Rong. But she also meet Lin (Yu Shaoqun), a young opera singer who’s in love with her to the point of following her around, breaking into her room and trying on her high-heels. But the film unfolds in non-linear fashion, with the other half of the scenes taking place later in Paris, where Elsa learns she’s pregnant (we don’t know whom from yet), and meets Ma Rong’s younger brother Ma Jianmin (Liu Ye), an undocumented tattoo artist who marvels at her skin and offers to adorn her back with a tattoo of a night peacock, a beautiful but rare and short-lived butterfly. Soon, Elsa and Jianmin are in love.

(more…)

SAVING MR. WU (2015) review

090236.31691090_1000X1000

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.

(more…)

HE-MAN (aka THE UNDERDOG KNIGHT 2) (2011) review

180138.38216306

He-Man was a surprising project from director Ding Sheng : a direct sequel to his 2007 action-comedy The Underdog Knight, which was an interesting but flawed little film that barely registered at the box-office. To follow up on this film more than four years later, and with a far less prestigious cast (Liu Ye returns, but Anthony Wong, Sun Honglei, Yu Rongguang and Yong You don’t, and there’s no one on their level here), was an unexpected move. But the thing is, sequels at best can be a way to fine tune a formula while returning to a compelling character or set of characters, and that is exactly what He-Man does. The Underdog Knight had the awkwardness of a directing debut, but He-Man shows the sure hand of a director who’s found his style and cut his teeth, namely with the funny and soulful Little Big Soldier.

(more…)

THE BOUNDARY (2014) short review

The-Boundary-2014-1 Wang Tao’s The Boundary is a psychological thriller about a cop (Ye Liu) who’s become a shell of a man since his wife disappeared mysteriously ten years before. His prime suspect has always been a wealthy businessman (Vincent Zhao), whose wife he had to shoot dead a bit before, when she tried to murder a woman she suspected of having an affair with her husband. Now ten years later, the businessman’s attractive new partner is brutally killed in a parking lot by a woman whom the surveillance cameras reveal to be his dead wife… The victim’s daughter thus enlists Ye Liu’s help to seek the truth, and a lot of painful secrets are about to be revealed. For half of its runtime, The Boundary is simply too vague for its own good : the stakes are introduced in such a hazy way that it’s difficult to care. Then the film starts boiling down to its more essential components and manages to gather some tension and a few genuine surprises, especially as it tickles Mainland China’s censorship rules about the supernatural, but the endlessly simmering atmosphere and deadening use of redundant flashbacks make it a slog. It’s nevertheless interesting to see a fine performance from Vincent Zhao in a rare non-martial arts role, all the more so as he’s generally much more interesting as an ambiguous villain (like in Jacob Cheung’s The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom), than as the squeaky-clean hero he plays in most of his films. **

BLOOD BROTHERS (2007) review

Alexi Tan’s Blood Brothers has been called a remake of John Woo’s Bullet in the Head, but it is really more of a “partquel” if you will, in that it only reworks a segment of the original, and even then, it reworks it pretty loosely. The plot points that remain are mainly the three friends (here, Daniel Wu, Liu Ye and Tony Yang) leaving their hometown to try their luck in the world (here, in Shanghai), and getting violently estranged by fate, one of them going bad and working for the mob. Carried over from John Woo’s film are also the beautiful singer (here, Shu Qi) and the mysterious killer (here, Chang Chen). The similarities stop there, as Alexi Tan’s film goes in a different direction entirely with this set of characters. So the three friends (actually two brothers and a friend) come to Shanghai where they get work in a fancy nightclub held by a charismatic but cruel mob boss (Sun Honglei). Things go bad when one of the friends (Liu Ye) starts going to seed and showing a proclivity for killing, and another (Daniel Wu) falls in love with the mob boss’ trophy girlfriend (Shu Qi), who is herself having an affair with one of his enforcers (Chang Chen).

(more…)

MOB SISTER (2005) review

After getting his big break in the Hong Kong film industry with the over-indulgent and gaudy Jiang Hu (aka Triad Underworld), director Wong Ching-Po came back to the world of the Triads with Mob Sister, and once again gathered a who’s who of Hong Kong gangster films, from acting gods and Johnnie To regulars Simon Yam and Anthony Wong Chau Sang to Derek Yee’s go-to actors Alex Fong and Liu Kai-Chi, as well as the omnipresent Eric Tsang, and a representative of the Yuen clan in the person of Yuen Wah. Add to that fresh faces like Annie Liu, up and coming mainland actor (at the time, now he’s well-established) Ye Liu and actress Karena Lam, and you get one of the most intriguing and exciting casts in a while. Annie Liu is Phoebe, the adopted daughter of a kind-hearted mob boss (Eric Tsang), who lives a sheltered life surrounded by her father, her three protective uncles (Yam, Wong, and Fong), and her bodyguard (Ye Liu). But when her father is killed, she is called on to replace him as triad boss. The idea of an innocent teenage girl catapulted into the shoes of a mob boss is pure comedy material, but Wong Ching-Po choses – wisely – to not settle on a particular tone, instead oscillating between whimsical, bittersweet and tragic, and peppering his film with animated sequences that illustrate the “mob sister”‘s feelings.

(more…)