THE FOUNDING OF AN ARMY (2017) review

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After Han Sanping and Huang Jianxin’s The Founding of an Army and The Founding of a Party, what we like to call “the PRCCU” (People’s Republic of China cinematic universe) gets a third installment with Andrew Lau’s The Founding of an Army, which is backed by no less than forty-six credited producers, and more importantly, by the Chinese state. And so in solemn commemoration of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, ninety years ago, Chinese audiences have been treated to yet another round of episodic, star-studded, title card-ridden, speech-happy propaganda, again with Liu Ye as the charismatic, statuesque, handsome, saintly, selfless, farseeing, and most of all, deeply, deeply humanistic Mao Zedong (note that our use of irony here is about as heavy-handed as the film’s approach to history).

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WU KONG (2017) review

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Based on a successful internet novel by Jin Hezai, Wu Kong is Derek Kwok’s second stab at the Monkey King myth (after co-directing Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons with Stephen Chow), on which it is supposed to offer a new take – a rather hollow claim given that the countless Monkey King adaptations of recent years have all had completely different narratives from one another. An origin story of sorts, it follows Sun Wukong (Eddie Peng), hungry for revenge after goddess Hua Ji (Faye Yu) had his beloved Mount Huaguo ravaged to punish a revolting demon. The Monkey enters the heavenly kingdom with plans to destroy the destiny astrolabe, a giant machine which preordains the fate of everyone on earth. There, he meets Azi (Ni Ni), daughter of his enemy Hua Ji, and is confronted by two immortals, Erlangshen (Shawn Yue) and Tianpeng (Oho Ou). After their fight takes them to earth, where their powers are ineffective, Wukong, Erlangshen and Tianpeng end up joining forces to help a small village on Mount Huaguo defeat a cloud demon. In the process, Wukong and Azi fall in love, Erlangshen finds a surrogate mother, and Tianpeng is reunited with Yue (Zheng Shuang), a long lost love. But soon, Hua Ji restores discipline with a bloodbath.

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FIST & FAITH (2017) review

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In 1931, the northeast region of Manchuria in China was seized by Japan and turned into a puppet state ruled – in appearance – by Puyi, the last Qing emperor. Japanese culture, history and values were taught in schools, so that Chinese culture had to be safeguarded by underground reading societies, which, if exposed, were harshly repressed by the Japanese authorities. Jiang Zhuoyuan’s Fist & Faith takes place against this background, following Jing Hao (Oho Ou) and his friends, Chinese students of a Manchurian university who often battle it out with the Japanese students led by Shibata (Kento Hayashi), the heir to a once-glorious (but now disgraced) clan. When Liu He (Jing Tian), arrives to the university to take a position there as a history teacher, Jing Hao falls head over heels for her, and ends up joining the underground reading society she leads, just so that he can better woo her. But the carefree student is soon confronted to the harsh political reality of his time, as Shibata is hired by the Japanese authorities to violently break up Liu He’s reading society.

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BLOOD OF YOUTH (2016) review

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The fourth film of firefighter-turned-director Yang Shupeng, Blood of Youth follows a young hacker named Su Ang (Oho Ou), who anonymously tips off the police about the remains of a woman buried in the woods near the city of Hangzhou. Detective Zhang (Zhang Yi) discovers the victim was beaten to death almost two decades ago, and starts investigating the events that lead to her death. But at the same time Su Ang also warns the police about a bank robbery about to happen, but just as the robbers led by Shen (Zhou Ziwei) are about to enter the bank, he tips them off too about the presence of the police. His agenda is a mystery, but it may be linked to the fact that a brain injury he sustained during his years in an orphanage is slowly killing him according to his doctor, Han Yu (Yu Nan), especially as he’s not taking the medicine that might save him. And his endgame definitely includes Lin Qiao (Guo Shutong), a young cellist whose libidinous orchestra conductor Li (Guo Xiaodong) is none other than Han Yu’s husband.

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