ON HIS MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (2009) short review

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Wong Jing’s On His Majesty’s Secret Service is as narratively unfocused and packed with non-sequitur scenes as any of the rotund Hong Kong film kingpin’s comedies, but here is the gist of its ‘plot’: an Imperial Guard (Louis Koo) with no martial arts skills but a gift for scientific innovation becomes embroiled both in his fiancée’s (Barbie Hsu) plot to make him love her more by pretending she’s in love with a handsome hitman who’s actually a beautiful hitwoman (Liu Yang), and in an evil eunuch’s (Fan Siu Wong) plot to overthrow the emperor (Liu Yiwei), who is organizing a competition to find a worthy husband for his daughter (Song Jia). Apart from lavish costumes and sets, the direction is lazy and uninspired, while the humor consists of constant and lazy pratfalls, obvious pop-culture references (some are even delivered while literally winking at the camera), some inscrutable (for non-Cantonese speakers) wordplay and a cornucopia of blissfully unhinged comedic acting: Louis Koo is a broad delight, Fan Siu Wong steals all his scenes with his ‘dainty evil’ act, Song Jia shows effortless comedic skills, and while Barbie Hsu’s silliness feels more forced and Sandra Ng seems on autopilot, Tong Dawei and Liu Yang provide fine serious support, the latter being particularly charismatic as a cross-dressing assassin. All in all, it’s a harmless and often amusing comedy which could have stood out more if its numerous action scenes had been choreographed and directed with more verve. **1/2

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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S STORM (aka Z STORM 2) short review

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Two years after the modestly entertaining and modestly successful Z Storm, the valiant knights in tailored suits of the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) are back for a sequel, again directed by David Lam and headed by Louis Koo as William Luk, a character whose sole defining features – even after two films – are righteousness and handsomeness. This time, he has to collaborate with an (almost) equally handsome albeit more conflicted police inspector (Julian Cheung), as well as welcome a new team member (Ada Choi), to investigate the murder of a Jockey Club trader by a mysterious assassin (Vic Chou) and uncover a network of illegal bookmaking. S Storm has the pacing, tension and depth of an episode from a 90’s TV procedural (with much better production values, of course). And with only a forgettable gweilo, an underused Lo Hoi Pang and a barely glimpsed Sek Sau as its bad guys, it comes in a notch below the adequate Z Storm, which at least benefitted from delightfully scummy turns by Michael Wong and Lam Ka Tung. Here, Louis Koo appears bored out of his mind, occasionally emerging from his torpor to share a minor but pleasantly unforced chemistry with Julian Cheung, quite good as by far the most vivid character in the film. Ada Choi is there as a purely decorative device, while Vic Chou is the world’s least threatening hitman. And just like Z StormS Storm is peppered with dialogues that are actually slogans : hear Bowie Lam tell us “ICAC is not a job, it’s faith.” **

LINE WALKER (2016) review

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The spin-off from a highly-successful TVB series of the same title, with only Charmaine Sheh and Hui Shiu Hung’s characters carried over from small to big screen, Jazz Boon’s Line Walker is a riotously enjoyable actioner that merges Infernal Affairs‘ undercover twists, some over-top action scenes from Benny Chan’s playbook, and goofy comedy out of Wong Jing’s less tasteless offerings (Wong is a producer here). The fictional CIB department of police is trying to dismantle a powerful crime organization, but all of its undercovers have been killed after their identities were leaked. Inspector Q (Francis Ng) and his colleague and girlfriend agent Ding (Charmaine Sheh) are contacted by a missing undercover agent known as Blackjack, who may or may not be Shiu (Louis Koo), the right hand man of a fast-rising figure of the crime organization, Blue (Nick Cheung), whose life he once saved.

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LEAGUE OF GODS (2016) review

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Sometimes lazily and erroneously branded as a “Chinese X-Men”, a franchise with which it has very little in common beyond CGI and powers, Koan Hui’s League of Gods is actually much closer – in concept, story and visuals – to Alex Proyas’ Gods of Egypt, not that the marketing team would want to play that particular angle, following the much-publicized flop of that film (which we actually liked, for all its faults). It’s set in a mythical ancient China ruled by the evil king Zhou (Tony Leung Ka Fai) and his consort Daji (Fan Bingbing), who’s actually a Nine-Tail Fox demon who pulls the strings on every one of his power-hungry moves. But Zhou is met with resistance from the kingdom of Xiqi, ruled by king Ji Chang (Zu Feng) and old strategist Jiang Ziya (Jet Li). The latter sends his protégé Lei Zhenzi (Jacky Heung), the last of a once-flourishing winged tribe, on a mission to retrieve the Sword of Light, which is the only weapon that can defeat the Black Dragon, the evil and powerful entity from which king Zhou draws his power. In his quest, Lei Zhenzi relies on the help of Ji Fa (Andy On), his childhood friend and the son of king Ji Chang, Nezha (Wen Zhang), a rambunctious warrior who alternatively appears as a baby and a grown man, and Erlangshen (Huang Xiaoming), a mysterious warrior with a truth-seeking third eye. Lei Zhenzi also meets Blue Butterfly (Angelababy) a whimsical young woman with whom he falls in love, but who’s actually a creation of Shengong Bao (Louis Koo), king Zhou’s chief general, who has orders to kill him and his companions.

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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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PARIS HOLIDAY (2015) review

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A film for people who think there’s nothing more romantic than cycling in front of the Eiffel Tower, James Yuen’s Paris Holiday (which briefly shot not 100 meters from where yours truly lives) stars Louis Koo as Chun-Kit, a late professional bloomer who arrives in Paris to manage a wine label for a wealthy Hong Kong businessman (Anthony Chan). There, fellow expatriate Michael (Alex Fong) sets him up in a flat share with Xiao-Min (Amber Kuo) an art students who’s still a human wreck from being dumped by the man she thought was her soulmate. In order not too have her feel threatened by a man’s presence, Michael asks Chun-Kit to pretend he’s gay. The cohabitation gets off to a disastrous start, as Chun-Kit has to deal with Xiao-Min’s erratic hygiene and behavior; but after nearly leaving, he decides to stay and help her get back on her feet. A tall order, but he’s just rebounded from a painful break-up himself, and the two soon find themselves in a strange place between love and friendship.

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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

 

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