THE GAME CHANGER (2017) review

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In 2007, director Gao Xixi had remade the classic 1980 TVB show The Bund (which made Chow Yun Fat a star in Hong Kong) into Shanghai Bund (in which Huang Xiaoming stepped in for Chow, five years before pairing up with him in another old Shanghai tale, Wong Jing’s The Last Tycoon), retaining many plot points but also changing quite a few (in the meantime, Adam Cheng had starred in a 1996 retelling, and the same year Leslie Cheung in a feature film by Poon Man Kit). Now, Gao has brought the story to the big screen, but has kept only the narrative beats from his 2007 remake, so that the similarities between the original 1980 TV show and this 2017 feature are entirely superficial, in what has been like a creative game of telephone. We hope you’ve been following.

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SWORD MASTER (2016) review

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As an actor, Derek Yee had gotten his break playing handsome swordsmen in numerous Shaw Brothers film, including Chu Yuan’s Death Duel (1977). As a director however, he has mostly favored contemporary, urban and often gritty fare. Now in a full circle he offers Sword Master, a remake of Death Duel co-produced and co-written with Tsui Hark, whose early career had seen him help Hong Kong cinema move past the classicism of Shaw Brothers films, but whose recent films have tried to both recapture and update their narrative and technical tenets. This interesting pair-up has yielded a flawed but stimulating film.

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THE PRECIPICE GAME (2016) review

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Mainland Chinese horror consists mainly of ghost stories that end with rational twists in order to avoid the SARFT‘s censorship of supernatural elements, which makes Wang Zao’s The Precipice Game an exception: it’s a straightforward slasher with Saw overtones, and no fake ghosts in sight. It stars Ruby Lin as Chen Chen, a surgeon whose wealthy mother (Wang Ji) is a control freak who disapproves of most of her relationships. One day her current boyfriend Chuan (Kingscar Jin) offers to take her on a treasure-hunt aboard a massive cruise ship, with only a select few other players (Peter Ho, Gai Yuexi, Li Lin and Li Shangyi). Things start off weird, with an oddly elaborate game of life-sized but harmless Russian roulette, before taking a turn for the horrific, as players are killed one by one in a series of inventively sadistic traps.

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MURDER AT HONEYMOON HOTEL (2016) short review

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A former assistant-director to Kim Ki-duk, director Jang Cheol-soo makes his Chinese-speaking debut with Murder at Honeymoon Hotel, about a luxury hotel that is the site of a series of variably grisly incidents. There’s a movie star (Zhang Jingchu), here to pay off a mysterious blackmailer who threatens to reveal a secret from her past, there’s a smarmy plastic surgeon (Peter Ho, who’s been on a overacting spree recently) in heavy debt to loan sharks, there’s a beautiful woman (Ni Hongjie) planning revenge on a client of the hotel, and in the middle is stuck a penniless bellboy (Kim Young-min) who’s getting married and hopes his boss will let him use the presidential suite for his honeymoon. Black comedies can seldom afford to be clumsy: this is a genre that requires real confidence and assured legerdemain. Murder at Honeymoon Hotel possesses the former but not the latter, marred as it is by sitcom-worthy acting and a surfeit of plot holes and unconvincing narrative turns. Still, this entertaining little film does have a a few deliciously twisted moments, and benefits greatly from the starry presence of Zhang Jingchu, whose unhinged, blazingly sexy femme fatale act enlivens the proceedings considerably. **1/2

BROTHERS (2016) review

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Tiejin (Ethan Li) and Bingsheng (Peter Ho) grew up together, two homeless boys looking out for each other in an unnamed dangerous city, until one day Bingsheng was sent to prison for killing a mobster who was attacking his brother. A decade later he’s released, now a hardened, cynical beast of a man. Not long after they’re reunited the brothers get into more trouble and are drafted by force in the army. After a failed attempt at desertion they’re separated again, and through a twist of fate Tiejin finds himself fighting for the opposite side. Years pass and he has now become a tough squadron leader, tasked with escorting an all-women orchestra to a remote fort where they are to perform for the morale of the troops. It’s not long before they’re under attack from the enemy, and the brothers are reunited again, this time pointing a gun at each other.

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MY DNA SAYS I LOVE YOU (2007) short review

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An unfathomably odd little romantic comedy from Taiwan, Lee Yun Chan’s My DNA Says I Love You follows to twenty-something roommates who both work at a bio-tech company that develops medication meant to suppress certain genes, such as the “fat gene” or the “clean freak gene” (yes, a lot of thought and research went into this film’s science). One of them (Terri Kwan) meets and falls in love with a charming but sloppy prosthetic engineer (Peter Ho), and starts taking a pill that represses her “clean freak gene”, while the other (Yu Nan) is wooed by her charming landlord (Eddie Peng) but rejects her because she’s afraid he’ll discover she’s obesity-prone and needs to take pills that repress her “fat gene”. My DNA Says I Love You is every bit as head-scratchingly bizarre as that plot synopsis might lead you to believe. At its core it’s nothing more than a trite romantic comedy with attractive people that alternatively pursue and reject one another until they finally get on the same page. But it’s dressed with the aforementioned shoddy scientific premise, some incredibly weird plot turns (one subplot features yellow slimy mold literally coming to life and overrunning an apartment) and a sitcom-grade aesthetic with matching cheap soundtrack. The cast is appealing, especially a fun and likable Eddie Peng in only his second film: a scene where he tries to get in a Tango show by mumbling fake Spanish to the ushers is one of the film’s only genuine laughs. Terri Kwan indulges in tooth-rotting cuteness, while Peter Ho does what he can with a character named Anteater. Yu Nan however seems a bit out of place, giving an affecting performance that clashes with the silliness that surrounds it. *1/2

COLD STEEL (2011) review

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As an editor, David Wu Dai Wai has had an illustrious career, cutting together the films of John Woo, Tsui Hark, Johnnie To, Ann Hui and many others. As a director, his list of credits is more modest, comprised as it is of mainly American TV movies and a few fairly unsuccessful Hong-Kong films (with the exception of The Bride With White Hair 2 in 1994). Cold Steel is actually his first Mainland film as a director, and is adapted – by Wu himself – from a popular 2009 novel by Li Xiaomin. Set in central China in 1938 during the Sino-Japanese war, it follows a young hunter, Mu Liangfeng (Peter Ho), who falls in love with Liu Yan (Song Jia), a woman whose teahouse has been turned into a temporary infirmary. But soon, Mu is enrolled by force in a sniper unit after using his marksmanship skills to rescue a Nationalist Army convoy from a Japanese sniper attack. The unit is headed by the grizzled veteran Zhang Mengyi (Tony Leung Ka Fai), and its new assignment is to assassinate four Japanese generals in the city of Jingzhou, to slow down the Japanese army. After the mission goes awry, they manage to escape but a Japanese colonel (Wilson Guo) is tasked with hunting them down with his own sniper squad.

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