THE PALE SKY (1998) short review

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Yan (Sammo Hung), a modest salesman, is pronounced dead after a fatal collision with a car ; on his body the doctors find an organ donor card, which is lucky for Daniel (Kenny Bee), a rich businessman who’s just lost his genitals in an car accident. The problem is, a few hours after the transplant, Yan miraculously comes back to life and quite expectedly wants his manhood back, especially as his lack thereof would interfere with his forthcoming marriage to Nam-sum (Alice Lau), whose father (Richard Ng) hasn’t blessed their union yet. With the help of his friend (Emotion Cheung) and a lawyer (Kim Yip), Yan sets out to get back what’s his, but unexpectedly befriends the new owner of his junk, thus complicating matters even more. With a plot like this one, one would expect Takkie Yeung’s The Pale Sky to be a long string of dick jokes and yet, somewhat impressively, crass humour is mostly eschewed in favor of a sporadically amusing – and even more sporadically touching – dramedy that noodles around with the concept of manhood and how much of it has to do with one’s penis. The cast fares unequally, from a very obnoxious Emotion Cheung to the great Richard Ng on fine curmudgeonly form, with a one-note hangdog performance from Sammo Hung in the middle, though his chemistry with Kenny Bee is fine. But in the end, the film is undone by its painfully long runtime : almost two hours of whining and bickering over a penis is stretching it a bit, if we may say so. **

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THE GAMBLING GHOST (1991) review

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Mixing the ‘ghost comedy’ genre with which Sammo Hung had been quite successful in the eighties, with the gambling craze initiated by Wong Jing’s God of Gamblers in 1989, Clifton Ko’s The Gambling Ghost follows Fat Bo (Sammo Hung), a lowly valet who squanders what money he earns on misguided and startlingly unlucky gambling, much to the chagrin of his dour father (Sammo Hung again), whose own father (Sammo Hung, yet again) was a gambler himself and was killed by a mob boss. One day, the ghost of the grandfather appears and strikes a deal with his grandson : he’ll make him rich by helping him cheat at gambling and by using his ghostly powers to make him win the lottery, but in return Fat Bo must get revenge for him. The Gambling Ghost follows a familiar Hong Kong comedy pattern : a drawn-out, episodic start, which suddenly accelerates to an action-packed finale in the last third (here finely choreographed by Meng Hoi, who also plays Fat Bo’s gambling partner). And indeed, the idea of a ghost forcing a man into getting him revenge or closure is one that Sammo had already used in 1982’s The Dead and the Deadly and 1986’s Where’s Officer Tuba, and that he would again play out in 1992’s Ghost Punting.

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SLICKERS VS KILLERS (1991) short review

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Success Hung (Sammo Hung) is an accomplished phone salesman whose world is turned upside down in a matter of days as his wife (Yu Li) starts cheating on him with a young policeman (Collin Chou), while a fierce rival (Carol ‘Dodo’ Cheng) is assigned by his company to work with him, and he witnesses the murder of a mobster (Tommy Wong Kwong Leung) by two deranged hitmen (Jacky Cheung and Lam Ching Ying). Despite a enticing cast (Joyce Godenzi also stars as Hung’s therapist, while Richard Ng cameos as one of his customers), and Sammo Hung’s impressive credentials as a director, Slickers vs. Killers is scattershot and unfunny, basing its comedy on shrill, interminable bickering and an uncomfortable amount of jokes about rape. There’s too little action to relieve the comedy’s shortcomings, and the subplot involving Jacky Cheung’s demented murderer is jarringly dark. But most damningly, it all revolves around a set of wholly unlikable characters that are either selfish, deluded, deranged or all of the above, with the exception of the therapist played by Joyce Godenzi, who proves what a well-rounded performer she was by showing a lighter, more offbeat side to her usually steely persona. *1/2

LICENCE TO STEAL (1990) short review

LicenseToSteal_DongFangXu_SC36 In Billy Chan’s Licence to Steal, a cat burglar (Joyce Godenzi) is betrayed by her partner (Agnes Aurelio) and sent to prison for three years. Upon her release, she aims to get revenge on the double-crosser, and teams up with a dogged cop (Richard Ng), his young partner (Collin Chou) and his idealistic, slightly unhinged nephew (Yuen Biao). Licence to Steal avoids the numbing effect of overabundant action, as well as the annoyance of crass humor. It is often, as so many films of that time and place, too scattershot in its progression to really engage, but the cast is uniformly appealing, from the always classy and charismatic Joyce Godenzi to Yuen Biao playing a variation on his irresistible Dragons Forever role, not to mention the always funny and reliable Richard Ng. The fights, as choreographed by Corey Yuen, are brisk and delightful, if often frustratingly short : there’s a one-minute, dizzying bout between Yuen and Chou, that should have gone on at least four more minutes. And the same year as their savage, thundering fight in She Shoots Straight, Godenzi and Aurelio get a re-match in a masterful, stealthy fight in a warehouse, where they go at each other while avoiding being seen or heard by patrolling guards. A very pleasant action comedy.  ***

HOW TO MEET THE LUCKY STARS (1996) review

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The seventh and final film in the Lucky Stars film series, Frankie Chan’s How to Meet the Lucky Stars was meant as a benefit film to help legendary producer Lo Wei (the man who made Bruce Lee a star and almost stopped Jackie Chan from becoming one) who at this point was close to bankruptcy. All the leads worked for free, but sadly not only was the film a box-office flop, but Lo Wei passed away during the shoot. Richard Ng, Stanley Fung and Eric Tsang return, with Michael Miu once again filling in for Charlie Chin after Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars, and Sammo Hung being absent from much of the film despite playing two different roles (his usual Lucky Star character Eric Kidstuff who’s stuck in a hospital, and a policeman). This time the Lucky Stars are recruited to help expose a gambling femme fatale (Gung Suet Fa), whose shady methods have led to the death and dishonor of a gambling star (Chen Kuan Tai). They are joined by a Shaolin monk (don’t ask why) and of course, a gorgeous woman (the stunning Francoise Yip) to drool over, as per the Lucky Stars formula. There’s also a laundry list of cameos, from Cheng Pei Pei as a gambling teacher to Lowell Lo as, erm, some guy.

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GHOST PUNTING (1992) review

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The fifth and penultimate instalment in the Lucky Stars series, Ghost Punting reunites Sammo Hung as portly and well-meaning Kidstuff, Eric Tsang as borderline retarded Buddha Fruit, Charlie Chin as wannabe-womanizer Herb, Richard Ng as occult-obsessed Sandy and Stanley Fung as misanthropic Rhino Hide. These five jobless, hapless and horny losers, who share an appartment and an ever-thwarted goal to get laid, encounter the ghost of a man who’s been murdered by his wife’s lover, a violent mob boss. They report it to their old friend officer Hu (a cameoing Sibelle Hu, back after My Lucky Stars and Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars), who assigns a squad of beautiful lady cops (headed by Elaine Lui) to get proof of the paranormal encounter. As the ghost is seemingly visible only to them, the five losers use him to cheat in games of poker, and in return help him exact his revenge.

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ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA AND AMERICA (1997) review

After his dispute with director Tsui Hark led to his leaving the Once Upon A Time In China franchise and being replaced by Vincent Zhao in the following two films, Jet Li finally came back to his signature role of Wong Fei-Hung in this fifth sequel, directed by Sammo Hung Kam-Bo and produced by Tsui Hark himself. In Once Upon A Time In China And America (heretofore OUATICAA), we meet Wong Fei-Hung in the American far west, on a carriage headed to a small town where his disciple Bucktooth is founding a clinic (named Po-Chi Lam, after Wong’s own clinic in China). With him are franchise regulars Aunt Yee (Rosamund Kwan) and Clubfoot (Xiong Xin Xin). On their way they help out Bill (Jeff Wolfe) a stranded cowboy, who develops a growing sympathy for the Chinese, which is not the case of everyone else in the town, the Chinese immigrants being endlessly segregated and submitted to arbitrary restrictions. But when the carriage is attacked by Indians, Wong hits his head on a rock while trying to rescue Aunt Yee, and his body goes adrift in the nearby river. When he wakes up, he’s in an Indian village and has lost his memory. The plot thickens as a wolf-loving outlaw and his gang rob the town’s bank and the law turns to the Chinese immigrants as scapegoats.

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IN THE LINE OF DUTY 3 (1987) review

In 1987, Michelle Yeoh having gone on an early retirement, a novice by the screen name of Cynthia Khan was brought in by the D & B film company to fill her shoes as the star of the In The Line Of Duty series. The first one, Yes Madam!, was directed by Corey Yuen and paired Yeoh with Cynthia Rothrock in a wildly uneven film that was more of a madcap comedy until the bone-crunching finale. The second one, Royal Warriors, was directed by David Chung and was a vast improvement, a blistering action movie in the best eighties’ Hong Kong cinema tradition. In The Line Of Duty 3 (also known sometimes with the subtitle Force of the Dragon), is directed by Brandy Yuen and Arthur Wong, the latter being better known as the ace director of photography of countless classic Hong Kong films.

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MILLIONAIRE’S EXPRESS (aka SHANGHAI EXPRESS) (1986) review

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Though Sammo Hung Kam-Bo as a director is better known for his films showcasing the mighty trio of Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao and himself, his filmography as a director/screenwriter/actor includes a gem of a film that is not nearly as famous and celebrated as it should be : Millionaire’s Express, a crazy hybrid of martial arts film, western and comedy, a combination later applied by Jackie Chan in Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights, but executed here with more ambition and creativity. In the film, Sammo plays Ching, a man who once brought great misfortune on his hometown by blowing up the dam that supplied it with water. After a few years of exile and run-ins with the law, he returns home with a plan to make things right : he will sabotage the nearby railway so that the “Millionaire’s Express”, a luxury train, will be stopped, and its wealthy passengers will have to go to the town and spend money there. That’s only the tip of the iceberg, as many subplots emerge, including the prostitutes Ching has brought along with him (including Rosamund Kwan), the head of security of the town (Eric Tsang) who’s also an arsonist and a bankrobber, Japanese swordsmen (including Yasuaki Kurata) who carry a mysterious map, a gang of outlaws who plan to rob the train (including Richard Norton and Cynthia Rothrock), a man who desperately tries to cheat on his wife (Richard Ng), and a fireman who has the responsibility of the security of the town thrust upon him (Yuen Biao). And I’m still omitting some for the sake of brevity.

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