KILLER’S ROMANCE (1990) review

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1990 saw the release of two competing – and loose – adaptations of Kazuo Koike’s manga Crying Freeman, which had ended its serialized run two years earlier in Japan. Clarence Fok’s Dragon from Russia, a cartoonish mess with a terribly miscast Sam Hui in the title-role, came out three months after Philip Ko’s Killer’s Romance but nevertheless won the box-office battle, grossing more than three times as much as Ko’s film. But Killer’s Romance is the superior film. In it, Simon Yam plays Nidaime, the son of a Japanese mobster who’s just been murdered by Chinese rivals (including Philip Ko, Lau Siu Ming and Jason Pai Piao). He rushes to London to get his revenge, but as he dispatching one of his targets, a young Chinese expatriate (Joey Wong) out to take photos witnesses him in the act. Now Nidaime must get rid of this loose end, but instead the killer and the witness fall in love. But soon it appears the killer has been double-crossed by his own side.

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LOOKING FOR MR. PERFECT (2003) short review

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A rare light, glitzy and non-urban film in Ringo Lam’s distinguished filmography, Looking for Mr. Perfect tells of a young cop (Shu Qi) who’s been dreaming about the perfect boyfriend but is stuck with two awkward and clingy suitors (Raymond Wong Ho Yin and Godfrey Ngai). Things change when she follows her roommate (Isabel Chan) to Malaysia, where she meets her Hong Kong informer (Chapman To), a libidinous talent agent (Lam Suet), a flamboyant arms dealer (Simon Yam), a hapless mercenary (Hui Shiu Hung), as well as his hunky associate (Andy On), who may just be Mr. Perfect. Misunderstandings abound as the two young women get embroiled in the hunt for a prized missile guidance system. Sense and logic go out the window very early on in this overstuffed little action-comedy; Chapman To, Lam Suet and Hui Shiu Hung do their shtick pleasingly, Shu Qi, Isabel Chan and Andy On look very attractive, and Simon Yam steals the show as a tap-dancing, relentlessly finger-snapping villain. The film’s uneven and somewhat repetitive comedy gets compensated for by two very fun action set pieces choreographed by Nicky Li Chung Chi: one a spectacular jet-ski chase and the other a protracted finale starting with impressive motorbike stunts, powering on as Andy On and Simon Yam go at each other with a variety fruits (needless to say, durians come in contact with arses), and ending with a fun visual punchline involving a kite and a speedboat. Oh, and there’s giggling animated sunflowers, too. **1/2

PHANTOM OF THE THEATRE (2016) review

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With Phantom of the Theatre, director Raymond Yip continues his recent streak of horror films that also includes Blood-Stained Shoes (2012), The House that Never Dies (2014) and Tales of Mystery (2015). Set in Shanghai during the 1930s, it unfolds in and around an abandoned theatre that is said to be haunted by the ghosts of an acrobatic troupe that was killed in a fire 13 years before. In comes Gu Weibang (Tony Yang) a young film director with plans to shoot a romantic ghost story in this very theatre; after a chance encounter with up-and-coming actress Meng Sifan (Ruby Lin), he offers her the lead role in his film and she accepts. But on the very first day of shooting in the theatre, the film’s lead actor dies horribly, mysteriously burnt from inside. Soon, one of the film’s investors meets the same fate, just as a strange cloaked figure is seen stalking the playhouse’s corridors. Despite all this, Gu Weibang – who has replaced the lead actor and is developing requited feelings for his co-star – keeps shooting his film, under the disapproving eye of his father, warlord Gu Mingshan (Simon Yam).

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INSIDE OR OUTSIDE (2016) review

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Directed by Gary Mak Wing Lun, whose filmography as an assistant-director is much more illustrious than his filmography as a director, Inside or Outside follows a pair of private detectives: Fei Xin (Simon Yam) is a cool, collected retired police sergeant and Qiu Le (Wallace Huo) is a hothead who got expelled from the police. One day, successful writer Nanfang (Rayza) calls on their services to follow her husband Ou Jian (Jang Hyuk), whom she suspects of having an affair. She’s just given birth, and Ou’s coldness to her and the baby makes her think he doesn’t love her and married her for her father’s money and business connections. It turns out Ou is infertile but hasn’t told his wife, and thus believes she cheated on him and the baby is from another man. To complicate matters, a man from his past resurfaces: Xie Tianyou, his former business partner, against whom he testified in a trial and who subsequently went to jail. Xie is actually a dead-ringer for Qiu Le (and thus also played by Wallace Huo), which complicates matters even furtherer.

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MAGIC CARD (2015) review

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An impressively ill-conceived little caper, Keung Kwok Man’s Magic Card start with a quick-cut montage explaining that credit card fraud is widespread and complex, followed by the introduction of a well-organized credit card fraud gang. Then it sets all this aside for most of the film, before returning to it in the final 10 minutes. It’s as if the screenwriters bookended one screenplay with the introduction and conclusion of another, unrelated screenplay. The title refers to a card that the hero uses to determine if a bank terminal is fraudulent or not, but that card is not seen or mentioned in the film more than a few seconds in one single scene. And for most of its runtime, Magic Card tells of a computer expert (Kimi Qiao) who travels to Pavia (a idyllic town near Milan) to follow his foster sister (Dada Chan) and her vain, ineffectual and filthy rich boyfriend (Kainan Bai), as the latter prepares to buy and level an entire street to turn it into casinos and karaokes, much to the dismay of the locals, represented by a fortright lawyer (Maria Grazia Cuccinotta). Stepping in as a mediator is a rich Chinese businessman (Simon Yam), with whose daughter (Viann Zhang) the computer expert falls in love.

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ULTERIOR MOTIVE (2015) review

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Ulterior Motive is Arthur Wong’s first film as a director in 28 years ; his last directorial effort had been the enjoyable, hard-hitting In The Line of Duty  3 in 1987. Not that he has been slacking off in the meantime : Wong is one of Hong Kong and China’s most illustrious cinematographers, having lensed everything from The 36th Chamber of Shaolin and Once Upon A Time In China to The Warlords and Painted Skin. We encourage you to have a look at his filmography, it’s a head-spinning list of some of the most gorgeously-shot films in Hong Kong and China. For his return to the director’s chair, he has chosen a noirish thriller about a rich heiress (Qin Lan), whose husband (Archie Kao) and daughter are kidnapped and held for ransom. The cop in charge of the investigation is her ex-boyfriend (Gordon Lam), an acutely intuitive sleuth who quickly targets her father (Simon Yam) as a prime suspect, after finding out troubling similarities between this kidnapping case and one he was involved in 20 years ago, that ended in murder.

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BURNING AMBITION (1989) review

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Frankie Chan’s Burning Ambition transposes the plot of Kinji Kukasaku’s The Shogun’s Samurai (1978) to modern-day Hong Kong, with striking results. A Triad boss (Roy Chiao) is thinking about his succession : his elder son Wai (Michael Miu) is an irresponsible womanizer, and so he chooses his more level-headed and business-savvy younger son Hwa (Simon Yam). He’s killed the same evening in a drive-by shooting secretly organized by his brother Hsiong (Ko Chun Hsiung), who’s consumed by the titular burning ambition, and has made Wai his protégé. This triggers a fratricidal war as two camps are formed within the extended Triad family : on one side, the boss’s widow (a steely Seung Yee), the chosen heir Hwa and his trusted uncle Kau Chen (Eddy Ko) ; on the other side, Hsiong, his puppet Wai, his two loyal daughters Tao (Yukari Oshima) and Hong (Kara Hui), as well as his exiled son Chi-Shao (Frankie Chan), who comes back to Hong Kong to assist his father, not knowing, just like his sisters, what treacherous strings Hsiong has been pulling. It all escalates in a series of bloody acts of vengeance.

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TWO THUMBS UP (2015) review

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With Two Thumbs Up, screenwriter Lau Ho Leung makes his directorial debut after writing quite a few prominent Chinese/Hong Kong films for people like Derek Yee, Daniel Lee, Gordon Chan and Dante Lam, among others. It’s a film that commands a lot of upfront goodwill by being part of a dying breed, an all-Hong Kong film not calibrated in any way to appeal to the Mainland, and also by casting a quartet of Hong Kong staples: Simon Yam, Francis Ng, Mark Cheng and Patrick Tam. They play four ex-criminals who decide to come back to their old ways when one of them hatches a plan he thinks is foolproof : steal a Police Emergency Unit van, dress as cops, then rob anyone that comes their way all the more easily, especially a shady funeral service that smuggles money through the border by hiding it in corpses. In the absence of an actual EU van, the plan is put into execution by painting a mini-bus, and soon the four friends are cruising Hong Kong as fake cops. But unexpectedly, they end up fighting for justice : after saving a girl from rape, they run afoul of another team of crooks (who have the same plan of disguising as cops but decidedly more ruthless methods) and decide to stop them. Meanwhile, a young cop (Leo Ku) is hot on their trail.

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LOVERS & MOVIES (2015) short review

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Niu Chaoyang’s Lovers & Movies is one of those all-star Valentines Day cash-ins based on the blueprint of Gary Marshall’s Valentines Day : criss-crossing love stories across generations, played out by a few stars out for an easy paycheck. And so here we have a fifty-something woman (Kara Hui), who finds out her husband (Simon Yam) is having an affair, while her son is getting into bad ways and pushing away his girlfriend. Also, a cab driver (Francis Ng) is in love with a dance teacher (Yu Nan), whose five year-old son needs snow to win over a girl he likes at school. And a fangirl (Gulnazar) gets to meet her heartthrob idol (Kim Bum), after which they fall in love. It all unfolds in impossibly trite fashion, as platitudes about love are spoken in every scene over a treacly score, and grand romantic gestures are performed in ways that are often actually more creepy than endearing : witness Gulnazar barging in on a film scene being shot in a studio by the man she loves, by jumping off a wall, strapped on cables, with a red streamer that says ‘I love you’. Someone call the cops. The cast, which could have saved the film, is too uneven to manage that. Kara Hui and Yu Nan valiantly try to make unlikable characters worth sticking with, but Francis Ng expresses most emotions by smiling weirdly, and Simon Yam gives a performance so listless he probably took this film as a break from acting. And out of decency, let’s not mention the rest of the cast. *1/2

CROSS (2012) short review

cross-2012-2 It took 3 years and 4 different directors to complete Cross‘ sluggish 75 minutes about a man (Simon Yam) who is devastated by his wife’s suicide, which according to his beliefs condemns her to hell, and so decides to save as many souls as he can by killing suicidal people before they can actually do it themselves. He then surrenders himself to the police, only to realize that someone may have been pulling the strings all along. Though it’s often visually arresting, with evocative cinematography conjuring disquieting imagery that combines the mundane with the unnatural, Daniel Chan, Steve Woo, Lau King Ping and Hui Shu Ning’s Cross is too narratively inept to engage in the least. A thudding use of flashbacks and exposition often clashes with the ambiguity the filmmakers so clearly aim for. There’s no pacing to speak of, each scene fading listlessly into the next, with a major twist being so clumsily introduced that you’d be forgiven for not even realizing it’s a twist. Simon Yam is fine in the role of an unflappable killer reminiscent of his character in the infinitely superior The Man behind the Courtyard House (2011), but he simply has too little to work with. Randomly, Nick Cheung crops up in an amusing scene that may have been tacked on to capitalize on the success of Roy Chow’s Nightfall, which already cast him alongside Simon Yam earlier in 2012. *1/2