A BETTER TOMORROW 2018 (2018) review

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There’s probably no Hong Kong film more seminal and iconic than John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow. Mixing his own richly melodramatic sensibility with his mentor Chang Cheh’s themes of heroic brotherhood, Sam Peckinpah’s throbbing, elegiac brutality and Jean-Pierre Melville’s urban Bushido, Woo brought to life the Heroic Bloodshed genre and its visual grammar of slow-motion, bullet-riddled valor and gut-wrenching montages. He also revitalized Shaw Brothers stalwart Ti Lung’s career, made Leslie Cheung a star, and turned Chow Yun Fat from an affable TV lead to a true film icon. A Better Tomorrow was then milked for an entertaining sequel, a solid prequel, a mediocre Wong Jing re-run (1994’s Return to a Better Tomorrow) and a more recent, passable Korean remake. Announced concurrently to a rival remake to be directed by Stephen Fung (of which nothing has been heard since), Ding Sheng’s A Better Tomorrow 2018 isn’t the first time he tries his hand at an iconic Hong Kong property, and the flawed but interesting Police Story 2013 has shown that the writer/director isn’t one to slavishly regurgitate a franchise’s formula.

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THE THOUSAND FACES OF DUNJIA (2017) review

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A (very) loose remake by Yuen Woo Ping of his 1982 classic Miracle Fighters, The Thousand Faces of Dunjia (henceforward Dunjia) completes a trilogy of sorts, with which writer-producer Tsui Hark has been attempting to revitalize the Wu Xia Pian by going back to classics of the seventies, eighties and nineties and enhancing them with ambitious set pieces full of CGI and 3D enhancements, while leaving the core components and tropes of the genre largely untouched. After 2011’s mediocre but successful Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (in which a sleepy Jet Li let Chen Kun act circles around him while Tsui kept throwing 3D wood splinters at the audience), and 2016’s passable but unsuccessful Sword Master (in which a bland Kenny Lin let Peter Ho act circles around him while Derek Yee kept throwing 3D stone splinters at the audience), comes Dunjia, the better film of the three, and based on its first days of box-office, set to land in between in terms of box-office.

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PEACE BREAKER (2017) review

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A remake of Kim Seong-hun’s devilishly entertaining Korean thriller A Hard Day (2014), Lien Yi Chi’s Peace Breaker follows Gaojian Xiang (Aaron Kwok), a mildly dirty cop whose team is under investigation for corruption, and who on one fateful night, while driving slightly inebriated to his mother’s funeral, crashes into a man on the road, killing him instantly. Unwilling to deal with the consequences, Xiang puts the body in his car, and later that night, hides it in his mother’s coffin. But just as he thinks the problem is dealt with, it turns out that the man he involuntarily killed is a wanted drug dealer that is police team is being assigned to track down. And to make things worse, Chen Changmin (Wang Qianyuan), a shady cop, knows what happened that night, and is determined to force Xiang to bring him the body, which holds particular value to him…

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HIDE AND SEEK (2016) review

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A very close remake of Huh Jung’s 2013 Korean sleeper hit of the same title, Liu Jie’s Hide and Seek tells of Zhang Jiawei (Wallace Huo), who enjoys a comfortable life in Qingdao City, running a high-end coffee shop and living in a luxury building with his wife Pingzhi (Wan Qian) and their daughter. This idyllic picture is only marred by his struggle with mysophobia and visions of his older brother, with whom he severed all ties after he went to prison for a rape he may not have committed. Now the brother is out and lives in a rundown, soon-to-be-demolished block of flats. One day, Jiawei is contacted by his brother’s landlord, who claims he has not been paid rent for a while. After visiting the old building, talking to the landlord and meeting a terrorized single mother (Qin Hailu), he realizes his brother may have become a stalker and worse, may be the murderer of a young woman (Jessie Li) who lived next door to him.

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SUPER EXPRESS (2016) short review

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A loose remake of Hervé Renoh’s French comedy Coursier (2010), Xiao Song’s Super Express follows Ma Li (Chen He), a former motorbike champion turned motorcycle courier who crosses paths with a French thief (David Belle) who stole a priceless ancient Egyptian Bastet statue from a museum in Marseilles and had it smuggled to China in the luggage of an unsuspecting tourist (Xiao Yang). The chief of security of that museum (Song Ji-hyo) is on his trail and must enlist the help of Ma Li to find and reclaim the artifact. This hyperactive – and thus thankfully short – action comedy is powered by Chen He’s relentless and sometimes overbearing comic energy (Chen tends to be much more palatable as a supporting actor, like in Detective Chinatown where he was a lot of fun) and has a few delightful set pieces, including a hilarious scene where the courier makes his way through a narrow alleyway while dodging the various projectiles its irate inhabitants throw at him. Song Ji-hyo is a delightfully spunky and sexy foil to Chen, while Parkour founder David Belle works some of his magic: though the film doesn’t give anything too spectacular to do, he can still work his way through the heights of a building complex or a busy street with feline ease. The film becomes a bit of a chore past the one hour mark, however, as shenanigans keep piling up to tiring effect, and the film’s spectacle reach exceeds its budget grasp: a speedboat’s jump over a bridge is rendered in CGI so rudimentary one wonders why they didn’t just delete that scene. **1/2

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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MEET THE IN-LAWS (2012) short review

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Despite its title, Li Hai Shu’s Meet The In-Laws isn’t a remake of the successful 2011 Korean comedy, but rather a loose remake of Jay Roach’s 2000 hit comedy Meet the Parents. Xu Zheng (just months before Lost in Thailand dramatically raised his profile) fills in for Ben Stiller as the well-meaning but bumbling future son-in-law, here a psychologist who just started his own clinic and is in blissful love with a teacher played by Lin Peng. Good old Hui Shiu Hung steps in Robert De Niro’s shoes as her overprotective father who’s immediately suspicious of his daughter’s boyfriend, though the similarities end there, and save for a few minor plot points, Meet The In-Laws doesn’t follow Meet the Parents beyond that basic set-up. Here the initial distrust is compounded by the fact that the father realizes that his future son-in-law is none other than the shrink to whom he’s been opening up for months about everything from his erectile dysfunction to his adultery impulses. Add to that two hapless criminals who’ve mistakenly hidden a bag of cash in the trunk of Xu Zheng’s car, and Hui Shiu Hung’s attempt to get sentimental closure with a old college flame – a subplot borrowed three years later in Xu Zheng’s Lost in Hong Kong. It’s a fairly uninspired though fitfully amusing comedy, not a patch on its American model as it’s more preoccupied with wacky situations and repeated pratfalls than making any sort of observations on mariage and family in China. Xu Zheng and Hui Shiu Hung, in roles they know like the back of their hand, don’t have much chemistry and only really click when balanced with the classier touch of Lin Peng and Li Fengxu (as the mother). **

MY FAIR GENTLEMAN (2009) short review

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A very loose remake of George Cukor’s My Fair Lady, Peter Lee’s My Fair Gentleman was produced – among others – by John Woo and Michelle Yeoh. It actually only retains the idea of making someone fit for high society, ditching almost everything else including the songs and the phonetics angle. It also relocates to China, swaps genders and modifies the stakes, so that instead of a misogynistic phonetics professor transforming a cockney flower girl into a lady for a bet in London, we have an ex-socialite and head of a marketing company Wu (Kelly Lin) who gives uncouth nouveau riche Zeng (Sun Honglei) a makeover both in sartorial elegance and in good manners and culture, so that he may have a chance to woo top model Fong-Na (Ling Hung), in Shanghai. Along the way, of course, Wu and Zeng develop feelings for each other. This harmless little romantic comedy has none of the wit of George Cukor’s film, and its mostly uninspired script is never lifted by Peter Lee’s workmanlike’s direction. Still, it does benefit from the very appealing duet of Sun Honglei, who has a lot of fun in a broad but appealing performance, and Kelly Lin, whose unassuming comic timing comes with a refreshingly down-to-earth charm. And contrary to many Chinese romantic comedies, My Fair Gentleman runs at a reasonable 85 minutes, its briskness compensating for its triteness. **1/2

EVERYBODY’S FINE (2016) review

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Giuseppe Tornatore’s Stanno Tutti Bene, released to a mostly rapturous reception in 1990 but a bit forgotten nowadays, had already been remade and transposed from Italy to the United States in Kirk Jones’s Everybody’s Fine (2009), and now comes the Chinese remake. But rather than denote a lack of originality, this new version speaks to the universality and strength of the concept: take a revered older actor (here Zhang Guoli taking over from Marcello Mastroianni and Robert De Niro) as a former absentee father who’s now a widower leaving alone in the family house, his four children having scattered across the country and all supposedly thriving in their professional and private lives. When they all cancel their visit for a planned family reunion, the father decides to pack up and go visit each one of them.

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THE WITNESS (2015) review

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A remake of his own successful Korean thriller Blind (2011), Ahn Sang-hoon’s The Witness transposes the action to China but keeps much of the original film’s key plot points. Xing (Yang Mi) is a young cop who lost her brother in a car accident. She blames herself for the tragedy, as she had tied her unruly sibling’s hands in the car to keep him still, leading to his eventual inability to escape the car as it teetered on the edge of a bridge. She also lost her eyesight in the accident, which means she can’t be a cop anymore, and leads a dour, guilt-ridden life. One day she gets into a cab whose driver turns out to be a psychopath (Zhu Yawen) who’s behind a wave of abductions, with all the victims being beautiful young women. As Xing struggles to break free of the driver, the cab hits someone who was crossing the street, and she manages to escape. The next day she reports the incident to the police, and astounds the detective in charge of the investigation (Wang Jingchun) with her astute observations on her would-be abductor : though she’s blind, her astute remaining senses and sharp deduction skills allow her to provide useful information. But soon thereafter a young skater, Chong (LuHan), turns up at the police station : he says he’s witnessed the incident, but his indications don’t match Xing’s. As a wayward youngster his testimony doesn’t weigh much more than that of the blind woman, but things become urgent when Xing realizes she’s dropped her diary in the psychopath’s car, and he may now be stalking her.

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