LEGEND OF THE DEMON CAT (2017) review

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Based on a best-seller by Japanese author Baku Yumemakura, this massive, 200-million dollars production – whose enormous sets are soon to become an amusement park – is a uniquely ambitious co-production between Mainland China, Japan and Hong Kong. It takes place in the year 805, as a mysterious black cat stalks the imperial palace in Chang’an, just as the gravely ill emperor Dezong dies from a violent fit ; the same cat appears to Chen Yunqiao (Qin Hao), captain of the imperial guard, and to his wife Chunqin (Zhang Yuqi), revealing to them a cache of money, but asking in return to be fed eyes – the eyes of any creature, including humans. Buddhist monk Kukai (Shota Sometani), who had arrived from Japan to meet the emperor and senses the presence of the black cat, joins forces with scholar, poet and newly-fired imperial scribe Bai Letian (Huang Xuan) to unravel the mystery: they soon realize it takes its root thirty years before, when Tang emperor Xuanzong (Zhang Luyi) had his consort – and legendary beauty – Yang Yuhuan (Sandrine Pinna) killed. A known historical fact, about which Bai Letian has been writing a poem for the past few years: and yet it may be a lie, as the personal account of Abe no Nakamaro (Hiroshi Abe), a scholar who knew the emperor and his consort, seems to reveal.

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NAMIYA (2017) review

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Mere months after the Japanese adaptation of Keigo Higashino’s best-selling novel The Miracles of the Namiya General Store, comes a Chinese adaptation directed by Han Jie, with input from popular novelist, blogger and director Han Han. Three orphans, Xiaobo (Karry Wang), Tong Tong (Dilraba Dilmurat) and Jie (Dong Zi Jian) burglarize a rich woman’s house on new year’s eve, then run away in her car. They decide to lay low in an abandoned general store, but strange things start happening: a letter is dropped in an old letterbox at the front of the shop, and seems to have been written by someone more than twenty years before. The orphans decide to answer it, and get an almost immediate, handwritten answer through the same letterbox, once again apparently from the past. They learn that the store used to belong to a kind old man (Jackie Chan) who would impart wise advice to anonymous people in need through letters dropped in front and behind the store.

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LORD OF SHANGHAI (2017) review

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After Law Wing Cheong’s Iceman and John Woo’s The Crossing, the ambitious diptych format took another hit with Sherwood Hu’s Lord of Shanghai, whose box office flop has led to the release date of its second installment (known as Lord of Shanghai II or The Concubine of Shanghai) being pushed back indefinitely. Based on a 2003 novel by Hong Ying, Lord of Shanghai starts in 1905, with the city controlled by western powers and dangerous triads. Chang Lixiong (Hu Jun), charismatic head of the Hong triad, is butting heads with Commander Song (Liu Peiqi) over the arrival of revolutionary agent Huang Peiyu (Qin Hao): in the last years of the Qing dynasty, Chang has chosen the side of the revolution. Chang and Song are also adversaries in the whorehouse of Madam Xin (Bai Ling), as they both covet the same newly-arrived peasant girl, Xiao Yuegui (Li Meng, then Yu Nan after years have passed). As their feud escalates, Yuegui becomes much more important than a mere prize.

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