CLOSE ESCAPE (1989) short review

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Tung (Michael Miu) is a cop whose cancer gives him only a few months to live. Determined to leave his younger brother Leung (Max Mok) with enough money to go study medicine in the United States, and unable to do so on his meager cop salary, he robs diamonds from smuggler Chiu (Dick Wei), who has him killed and has Leung framed for murder. The latter can then only count on the help of his cop friend Ben (Aaron Kwok) and Miko (Yukari Oshima), a mysterious Japanese journalist. Chow Jan Wing’s Close Escape was Aaron Kwok’s big screen debut, shot at a time when he was just a jobbing actor in TVB shows, and was just about to break out as a singer. It’s a competent but wholly routine Hong Kong thriller that spends too much time on its efficient but bland plot and some clunky melodrama, while keeping the fine, Philip Kwok-choreographed fighting to the final ten minutes. Still, the housebound finale is a delight, especially when Yukari Oshima and Dick Wei trade kicks with immaculate precision and unmistakable power. **

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NEW YORK NEW YORK (2016) short review

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The first film of cinematographer Luo Dong, New York New York was produced by Stanley Kwan and is set in the early-nineties; it tells of the on-again, off-again love between the ambitious head bellboy (Ethan Juan) of a luxury hotel in Shanghai and an equally ambitious young woman (Du Juan), as they cross paths with a shady businessman (Michael Miu) who has plans to start a luxury hotel in New York. It’s hard to be more specific about the film’s plot, because while it’s always quite clear, it’s also spectacularly vacuous and free of tension or emotion. The film always looks pretty, sometimes even quite stylish in its nightly, neon-lit scenes, but it is a relentlessly boring affair, following bland, unlikable characters as they struggle to take uninteresting decisions and carry around ill-defined and uninvolving emotional baggage. Countless forgettable subplots fill out the film, with an occasional voice-over narration laboring to give some sort of tragic sweep to what unfolds languidly onscreen. Ethan Juan and Du Juan make for a strikingly bland couple, their complete lack of charisma or chemistry as actors adding insult to the injury of their poorly-written characters: the former is only remarkable for the stupidity of his decisions (and lack thereof), while the latter is a dead-eyed combination of affected coldness and risible emotional brittleness – there’s an unwittingly hilarious scene where a shrewish rival throws her drink in her face, and she reacts by quaking like the shell-shocked victim of a terrorist attack. What little weight the film possesses is down to veterans Michael Miu and Cecilia Yip, whose strong presence is constantly wasted in favor of the tedious leads. *1/2

BROTHERS (2007) short review

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Derek Chiu’s Brothers was notable at the time of its release for reuniting the “Four Tigers” of Hong Kong TV network TVB, that is to say its four most successful actors in the eighties : Andy Lau, Michael Miu, Felix Wong and Ken Tong. Beyond that central quartet, the film also has a fairly impressive, albeit not uncommon, Hong Kong cast. The plot follows a terminally ill triad boss (Michael Miu), who with the help of his lover/lawyer (Crystal Huang) and his adoptive brother/ bodyguard (Felix Wong), navigates in a sea of aggressive rivals (Ken Tong and Henry Fong) and dogged cops (Andy Lau and Gordon Lam), to go clean and make his little brother (Eason Chan) his successor. The film is a meat and potatoes triad drama that possesses little in the way of originality but manages to feel reasonably fresh thanks to a steady pace, a lack of excess and most of all a strong cast on mostly fine form. Michael Miu anchors the film impressively with a thoughtful, tragic, nuanced performance that makes one wish he’d venture out of TV more often. Despite being by far the film’s biggest star, Andy Lau takes an admirable backseat, while injecting some unforced and much-needed comic relief at key moments. There’s quite a few interesting characters around them, not many of them developed enough, but all of them played in low-key, nuanced fashion, from Eason Chan’s naïve but steadfast little brother to Huang Yi’s strong but conflicted lawyer, with Yu Rongguang, Gordon Lam and Wang Zhiwen also leaving a mark. A bit uncomfortably, the film is too long for its fairly simple plot and overused tropes, but too short for its engaging and varied set of characters. ***

BURNING AMBITION (1989) review

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Frankie Chan’s Burning Ambition transposes the plot of Kinji Kukasaku’s The Shogun’s Samurai (1978) to modern-day Hong Kong, with striking results. A Triad boss (Roy Chiao) is thinking about his succession : his elder son Wai (Michael Miu) is an irresponsible womanizer, and so he chooses his more level-headed and business-savvy younger son Hwa (Simon Yam). He’s killed the same evening in a drive-by shooting secretly organized by his brother Hsiong (Ko Chun Hsiung), who’s consumed by the titular burning ambition, and has made Wai his protégé. This triggers a fratricidal war as two camps are formed within the extended Triad family : on one side, the boss’s widow (a steely Seung Yee), the chosen heir Hwa and his trusted uncle Kau Chen (Eddy Ko) ; on the other side, Hsiong, his puppet Wai, his two loyal daughters Tao (Yukari Oshima) and Hong (Kara Hui), as well as his exiled son Chi-Shao (Frankie Chan), who comes back to Hong Kong to assist his father, not knowing, just like his sisters, what treacherous strings Hsiong has been pulling. It all escalates in a series of bloody acts of vengeance.

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THE OUTLAW BROTHERS (1990) short review

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James and Bond (Frankie Chan and Max Mok) are professional luxury car thieves who get caught between a mobster (Kong Do) who wants to exploit their gift, and a cop (Yukari Oshima) who’s bent on arresting them, with the help of her lovestruck underling (Michael Miu in a fun turn). Though the title suggests a focus on Frankie Chan (who also directs) and Max Mok’s characters, they are very often sidelined in favor of Yukari Oshima’s character and her cat and mouse flirting with Chan. The plot, or lack thereof, wanders aimlessly, springing the great Michiko Nishiwaki as a kind of black widow in the last 30 minutes, and breaking its lull of tame comedy with an impressive action finale in, wait for it, a warehouse. But The Outlaw Brothers is mostly a showcase for Oshima, who displays not only charisma and lightning moves, but also a lighter side that her often brutal roles at the time didn’t show, and the same goes for Nishiwaki, who doesn’t fight much but is gleefully flamboyant. Frankie Chan and Max Mok may be the outlaw brothers, but Yukari Oshima and Michiko Nishiwaki are the reason to watch The Outlaw Brothers. **1/2

HOW TO MEET THE LUCKY STARS (1996) review

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The seventh and final film in the Lucky Stars film series, Frankie Chan’s How to Meet the Lucky Stars was meant as a benefit film to help legendary producer Lo Wei (the man who made Bruce Lee a star and almost stopped Jackie Chan from becoming one) who at this point was close to bankruptcy. All the leads worked for free, but sadly not only was the film a box-office flop, but Lo Wei passed away during the shoot. Richard Ng, Stanley Fung and Eric Tsang return, with Michael Miu once again filling in for Charlie Chin after Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars, and Sammo Hung being absent from much of the film despite playing two different roles (his usual Lucky Star character Eric Kidstuff who’s stuck in a hospital, and a policeman). This time the Lucky Stars are recruited to help expose a gambling femme fatale (Gung Suet Fa), whose shady methods have led to the death and dishonor of a gambling star (Chen Kuan Tai). They are joined by a Shaolin monk (don’t ask why) and of course, a gorgeous woman (the stunning Francoise Yip) to drool over, as per the Lucky Stars formula. There’s also a laundry list of cameos, from Cheng Pei Pei as a gambling teacher to Lowell Lo as, erm, some guy.

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