CALL OF HEROES (2016) review

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One of our most anticipated films of 2016, Call of Heroes is a neo-western set in China during the Warlords era (beginning of the 20th century). Blood-thirsty, demented Commander Cao (Louis Koo), son of Warlord Cao (Sammo Hung) rides into the village of Pucheng, where he kills three people at random. He’s arrested by sheriff Yang (Lau Chin Wan) and sentenced to death, but his second-in-command Zhang (Wu Jing) soon arrives, issuing an ultimatum to the people of Pucheng: to release Cao or to be massacred. But Sheriff Yang stands by his verdict, helped in the face of growing adversity by a wandering swordsman (Eddie Peng), who once was Zhang’s comrade-in-arms.

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THE BODYGUARD (aka MY BELOVED BODYGUARD) (2016) review

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Sammo Hung’s first film as a director in nearly 20 years (since 1997’s Once Upon a Time in China and America), The Bodyguard came with a sense of expectation that was compounded by its starry cast of legendary old-timers (Karl Maka, Dean Shek, most of the Seven Little Fortunes) and A-listers both mature (Andy Lau, Tsui Hark, Hu Jun) and on the rise (Eddie Peng, William Feng), as well as a script (by Jiang Jun) that had earned some acclaim at the 3rd Beijing International Film Festival. Sammo Hung is Ding, a retired elite bodyguard who lives alone in his hometown near the Russian border, wracked with guilt after his granddaughter disappeared when he was supposed to watch over her. Dementia is creeping in on him, and despite the care of his lovestruck landlady (Li Qinqin), his only joy in this world is the friendship of his young neighbor Cherry (Chen Pei Yan), who often stays at his house to avoid her father Li (Andy Lau), a gambling addict. When Li goes on the run with a bag of jewels that he stole from the Russian mob to repay his debt to local gangster Choi (Jack Feng), Ding has to break out of his stupor to protect Cherry, who is about to become collateral damage as henchmen both Chinese and Russian hunt down her father.

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An Interview with Actor-Stuntman-Director Bruce Fontaine

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Bruce Fontaine was once a Gweilo actor, that is to say one of those Caucasian performers who were hired in Hong Kong’s action cinema heyday to play – often villainous – supporting parts. A high-level practitioner of Wushu, he appeared in some of the most famous films of that time: Operation CondorOnce Upon A Time In ChinaShe Shoots Straight… But when the well of classic Hong Kong action dried up, his career endured, as he took the knowledge acquired from working with the likes of Jackie Chan, Corey Yuen or the Sammo Hung stunt team, and applied it to a career in Canadian stuntwork, quickly rising through the ranks to become a stunt coordinator, including for American Video Game developer Electronic Arts. And yet his main ambition remained unfulfilled: to direct a feature film. In 2015, he kickstarted the third phase of his film career by completing and premiering Beyond Redemption, an action thriller infused with the soul of Hong Kong action cinema.
From martial artist and Hong Kong film fan to Hong Kong film fighter, from stuntman to director, his is a story of wish-fulfillment through hard work and passion. Now in the preparatory stages for his second feature film, Bruce Fontaine was kind enough to answer my questions.

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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. **

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

CHOY LEE FUT (2011) review

choy-lee-fut In 2001, two films focused on the widely practiced (in China at any rate) martial art known as Choy Lee Fut ; two films films which taken together say less about their subject than 10 minutes of Ip Man conveyed about Wing Chun. Of the two, John Ching’s Choy Lee Fut Kung Fu is the superior film, simply by dint of being funny on purpose. Tommy Law and Sam Wong’s Choy Lee Fut on the other hand, doesn’t seem to realize it’s laughable. Its unbelievably standard storyline concerns a young man (Sammy ‘son of Sammo’ Hung) who moves from London to China with his friend (Kane ‘son of Sho’ Kosugi) in order to learn Choy Lee Fut in a school owned by his father (Sammo Hung) and headed by his uncle (Yuen Wah). But just as they arrive, they are told that the school is about to be bought by a mega-conglomerate, and that the only way to keep ownership of it is to win a martial arts tournament a month later.

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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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THE OWL VS. BOMBO (1984) review

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Sammo Hung’s The Owl vs. Bombo (also know as The Owl vs. Dumbo or The Owl vs. Bumbo, if you like fascinating film trivia) revolves around two retired robbers, the gentleman-thief type Owl (George Lam) and the more straightforward and bumbling Bombo (Sammo Hung). A year after their respective last heists, they’re contacted by a Chung (Stanley Fung), a cop who has evidence of their crimes and blackmails them into becoming partners to complete two tasks : to expose a gangster’s (James Tien) real estate fraud, and to assist two social workers (Deannie Yip and Michelle Yeoh) in rehabilitating juvenile delinquents. Mirroring the two tasks, this is a film of two halves, featuring light tension and a (very parsimonious) sprinkling of action when the reluctant duo try to bring down James Tien, and a fairly cheesy redemptive vibe when they try to give the delinquents reason to hope and the will to straighten their lives. The film follows both strands lazily, until they are joined in a finale that, while short and not quite memorable, is the only real fight scene of the film.

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RISE OF THE LEGEND (2014) review

ROTL-FINAL REGULAR-A3-poster_S It’s been 17 years since the folk hero Wong Fei Hung last graced the big screen, in Sammo Hung’s Once Upon a Time in China and America in 1997. Now, as most hits of the nineties are given the reboot treatment, from the ancient legends of The Monkey King to the edgy streets of Young and Dangerous, it seemed obvious that the Chinese martial artist, physician and revolutionary, as well as hero of over 100 films, would make a comeback. Surprisingly, this comeback wasn’t handled by Tsui Hark, who with Flying Swords of Dragon Gate showed a willingness to revisit his earlier films, but by Roy Chow, director of two interesting but sometimes misguided films, Murderer (2009) and Nightfall (2012). This is, as the impressively bland title suggests, an origins story, and it follows Wong Fei Hung (Eddie Peng) both as a kid learning valuable life lessons from his father Wong Kei Ying (Tony Leung Ka Fai) and being scarred forever by his death in a criminal fire, and as a young man infiltrating a ruthless gang led by the formidable Lei (Sammo Hung, who also produces), who controls the docks of Canton, owns opium dens and sells slaves to the usual evil Gweilos. Wong is helped by his childhood friends (Jing Boran, May Wang and Angelababy), but many sacrifices await him.

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