FINAL RECIPE (2013) review

092620-99459258_1000x1000

Having premiered in various festivals in 2013 and 2014, Gina Kim’s Final Recipe had to wait two years to get released anywhere, and has still only come out in Mainland China. A South Korean-Thai production shot in English and Mandarin, it tells of Mark (Henry Lau), a student who was raised by his grandfather Hao (Chang Tseng), after his mother died and his father left on a business trip and never came back. Hao owns a restaurant but his exacting standards and bad temper have chased customers and employees away, and foreclosure is impending. Thus Mark decides to join a TV cooking competition called Final Recipe, hosted and run by Julia Lee (Michelle Yeoh) and her husband David Chan (Chin Han), who lost a son years ago before meeting her. In order to enter the show, Mark has to pose as a Russian contestant who didn’t show up, and soon rises through the ranks under the name Dimitri Bekmambetov. But one day as Julia Lee tastes a pork dish the young man just made, she is instantly reminded of the first time she met her husband, fifteen years before…

(more…)

CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY (2016) review

Mtime.com

Making a sequel to Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon always seemed both natural and foolish, audacious and misguided. The 2001 film was adapted from one in a series of novels by Wang Du Lu, thus lending itself naturally to follow-ups; but it was so acclaimed that it made for a tough act to follow. There was then a interesting challenge to shooting a second film, but at the same time the absence of Ang Lee or someone with a similarly strong vision at the helm did not bode well, Yuen Woo Ping having always been hit-and-miss as a director. The film’s production was troubled, its release pattern controversial (it premiered on Netflix in the West, prompting many IMAX chains to refuse to screen it in the US), and its English soundtrack head-scratching. But those factors weren’t in and of themselves indicative of failure, especially with so much talent behind and in front of the camera.

(more…)

THE SOONG SISTERS (1997) review

tumblr_ni8z9gQbg71qzogw6o1_500

Mabel Cheung’s The Soong Sisters, though a bit forgotten nowadays, was a momentous project and an awards magnet at the time of its making and release, coming out in the year of Hong Kong’s retrocession to China and raking in Hong Kong Film Awards (or nominations) for most of its key players. It cast three of the most high-profile Asian actresses at the time as the titular sisters : daughters of catholic missionary, printing magnate and political activist and revolutionary Charlie Soong (Jiang Wen), himself a figure worthy of a 4-hour film, they each married a major figure of that infinitely troubled and transformative time in China’s history. Elder sister Ai-Ling (Michelle Yeoh) married H. H. Kung (Niu Zhenhua), one of the biggest fortunes in China and the future minister of industry, commerce and finance in the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) government. Then her sister Ching-Ling (Maggie Cheung) wedded the revolutionary saint and first president and founding father of the Republic of China, Sun Yat Sen (Winston Chao), a union that estranged her from her outraged father, himself a close friend of Dr. Sun. And finally, youngest sister Mai-Ling got married to Sun Yat Sen’s ally and successor as head of the Kuomintang and as president of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-Shek (Wu Hsing-Kuo). Each of these marriages took a toll on the family’s unity, but more importantly, the Soong sisters were much more than simply wives of powerful men. They were powerful women whose choices and sacrifices helped shape China’s history. Think of them as 20th-century women general of the Yang family.

(more…)

THE OWL VS. BOMBO (1984) review

OwlVsBombo_UniverseLaser&Video_SC36

Sammo Hung’s The Owl vs. Bombo (also know as The Owl vs. Dumbo or The Owl vs. Bumbo, if you like fascinating film trivia) revolves around two retired robbers, the gentleman-thief type Owl (George Lam) and the more straightforward and bumbling Bombo (Sammo Hung). A year after their respective last heists, they’re contacted by a Chung (Stanley Fung), a cop who has evidence of their crimes and blackmails them into becoming partners to complete two tasks : to expose a gangster’s (James Tien) real estate fraud, and to assist two social workers (Deannie Yip and Michelle Yeoh) in rehabilitating juvenile delinquents. Mirroring the two tasks, this is a film of two halves, featuring light tension and a (very parsimonious) sprinkling of action when the reluctant duo try to bring down James Tien, and a fairly cheesy redemptive vibe when they try to give the delinquents reason to hope and the will to straighten their lives. The film follows both strands lazily, until they are joined in a finale that, while short and not quite memorable, is the only real fight scene of the film.

(more…)

WONDER SEVEN (1994) review

l_p0001745225

A gang of seven martial artists/bikers (whose more recognizable members are Kent Cheng and Xiong Xin Xin) working for the law who butt heads with a rogue agent working for an international crime organization. That’s about all I remember of the plot, and I saw the film last week. What I do remember : when this film was made, in 1994, director/choreographer Ching Siu-Tung’s action style was being overused in Hong Kong cinema, and overextended by its instigator ; Wonder Seven is a prime example of that. Never mind the lack of a discernible dramatic structure (outside of the fact it all ends in climactic overkill), the non-existent characterization that means that the titular “Wonder Seven” are even less subtly delineated than the Seven Dwarves, or even the puzzling attempts at humor : while these faults aren’t a fixture of Hong Kong cinema, they are at least recurring defects in the more commercial section of that industry, that can often be ignored through sheer sensory elation. But here Ching’s style has reached a point where it was not only feeling very redundant at the time, but still today out of the context of its release looks and feels tired and over-indulgent.

(more…)

EASY MONEY (1987) review

Easy Money was Michelle Yeoh’s final film before she went into early retirement to dedicate herself to her marriage with Dickson Poon (who had been her producer via D&B Films on most of her films up to then). That didn’t quite work out and five years later she was back in business, new and improved, making quite the splash by upstaging Jackie Chan in Police Story 3. So this is the last film featuring that former incarnation of Yeoh : a more round-faced, girly-looking actress, already very beautiful and stunt-ready, but not quite as well-rounded a performer, especially in the dramatic department.

Easy Money is actually a thinly-veiled remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, with the spin of a gender-switch : Michelle Yeoh is the gentleman-thief figure formerly played by Steve McQueen and Pierce Brosnan ; former crooner George Lam takes the Faye Dunaway/Rene Russo role of the insurance investigator who gets drawn into a web of deceit and seduction that is half of his making. Kent Cheng is the dogged cop in charge of investigating a multi-million-dollar heist, thus taking the Paul Burke/Dennis Leary role : no gender-switching for this character, merely a waist-enhancing.

(more…)

BUTTERFLY & SWORD (1993) review

The synopsis for Butterfly & Sword says that the film is about “a loyalist (Michelle Yeoh) who attempts to keep the King’s empire from being overthrown by a revolutionary group.” It’s good to know, especially since you’d never guess that’s what it is about, even after watching the film itself. Still, circa 1993, a Hong Kong film with no discernable plot was not an unusual thing to say the least, and the idea of a film starring not only the magnificent Michelle Yeoh, but also martial arts god Donnie Yen and the actor’s actor that is known as Tony Leung Chiu Wai, should be enough to be lenient with the film’s narrative shortcomings. Well not really after all : Butterfly & Sword is simply too infuriating in its scattershot storytelling and slapdash action scenes.

(more…)

SUPERCOP 2 (aka PROJECT S) (1993) review

After having taken a 5-year break from 1987 to 1992 to dedicate herself to her mariage with producer Dickson Poon, Michelle Yeoh made a triumphant comeback as Jackie Chan’s female counterpart in Police Story 3 : Supercop. She made such an impression in it, more than holding her own in the fight scenes next to Chan, that her character in that film, Mainland police officer Jessica Yang, got her own spin-off the following year : Supercop 2 (also known as Project S). When her boyfriend David (Yu Rongguang) decides to leave for Hong Kong to try and make a better living, Jessica Yang refuses to go with him, out of dedication to her work as a police officer. Later, she is herself called to Hong Kong to help fight against a huge crime wave in the city. What she doesn’t know yet is that David has crossed over to the other side of the law and is one of the masterminds behind this crime wave.

(more…)

ROYAL WARRIORS (aka IN THE LINE OF DUTY 2) (1986) review

Royal Warriors, also known as In The Line Of Duty, was at the time Michelle Yeoh’s second fully-fledged film role (after bit parts in two Sammo Hung films) ; the first one had been Yes Madam!, where she had more of a supporting role next to Cynthia Rothrock, but had one or two big fight scenes. So it’s safe to say Royal Warriors, where Yeoh has top-billing, was the real introduction to her talent(s). Directed by David Chung (who would direct Yeoh once again the following year in Magnificent Warriors), Royal Warriors is about a cop (Yeoh), an Japanese ex-cop (Hiroyuki Sanada) and an air security agent (Michael Wong) who together foil the hijacking of a plane, by killing the two persons who attempted it. As a result, two blood brothers of the killed hijackers swear revenge on the ‘heroic trio’. The plot is fairly simple, but the film does a number of things much better than a lot of Hong Kong action films of the time (like Tiger Cage 2, for instance).

(more…)

SILVER HAWK (2004) review

Following her rise to international fame thanks to CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, Michelle Yeoh founded Mythical Films with her then-companion Thomas Chung, with an eye towards giving herself tailor-made roles in films with an international ambition. The venture led to Peter Pau’s THE TOUCH, a sporadically enjoyable Indiana Jones-wannabe that was successful in China but not anywhere else, and to SILVER HAWK, which replicated The Touch’s pattern of success. Both films are vanity projects of sorts for Yeoh, as she cast herself first as a fearless adventurer then as a fearless super-heroine, in films that glorified the grace of her moves and the flawlessness of her skin. Not that there’s anything wrong with the idea of a film glorifying Michelle Yeoh. One of the most beautiful actresses in the world, a skillfull martial artists of unparalleled grace in action, but also a powerful dramatic actress (as evidenced in films like the aforementioned Ang Lee film and FAR NORTH, among many others), Yeoh is the very definition of a true movie star. But the cold, hard truth is that SILVER HAWK is as misguided a star vehicle as it gets.

(more…)