ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE (2015) short review

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Richie Jen and Andy Luo’s All You Need Is Love was the first – and better – of the two Taiwanese romances starring Shu Qi that were released in 2015, the other being the thudding The Last Women Standing. Here she plays Fen, a haughty travel writer visiting Penghu, a sun-drenched archipelago in which she’s booked a Bed & Breakfast owned by Bu (Richie Jen) and his stern father (Ti Lung). Things get off to a bad start as the B&B is much more rustic than what she expected, and her snobbish behavior clashes with Bu’s simple ways. But when her luggage and passport get lost at sea, she has no choice but to bide her time at the B&B, where she slowly gets won over by Bu and the goofy villagers of Penghu. All You Need Is Love basically ticks off all the most common romantic comedy tropes, opposing money and love, city and country, commitment and selfishness, living in the past and seizing the day, all of it against a dreamy touristic backdrop adorned with cute kids and goofy supporting characters. That it all entertains charmingly rather than annoy is down to Shu Qi and Richie Jen’s winning chemistry, the former having a blast as a screechy snob who slowly gets thawed, and the latter too old to be a goofy romantic lead but unassumingly appealing nevertheless. There’s also a touching supporting turn from the great Ti Lung as a steely father who’s also a loving widower; though underdeveloped, it’s a nice subplot that balances out more unfortunate plot turns, like a stupid reality show Bu takes part in. All in all a warm, fuzzy and forgettable little romance. **1/2

MERCENARIES FROM HONG KONG (1983) review

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Wong Jing’s third film as a director, even before he became a film producer, Mercenaries from Hong Kong was the Shaw Brothers’ answer to Andrew V. McLaglen’s The Wild Geese (1978), which itself foreshadowed Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables franchise by throwing a starry team of aging mercenaries in a suicide mission. And so here we have the ever-charismatic Ti Lung as a war veteran/medicine smuggler who is hired for a hefty sum by a powerful, seductive businesswoman (Candice Yu) to kill the man who murdered her father (Philip Ko) who’s hiding in Cambodia with a small guerrilla army. Ti Lung assembles a team comprised of his old friends Michael Chan Wai Man (deadly with knives), Lo Lieh (a peerless marksman), Johnny Wang Lung Wei (a fearful brawler), Wong Yu (a master at picking locks) and, last and least, Nat Chan (a womanizer, admittedly not the most useful skill in the team). But as they prepare for their mission, they must contend with the vengeful brother (Yuen Wah) that Ti Lung gunned down earlier, as well as a mysterious antagonist (a particularly intimidating Lee Hoi San).

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THE MASTER STRIKES BACK (1985) review

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Part of the Shaw Brothers’ last batch of films before it ceased big screen productions at the end of 1985, The Master Strikes Back was directed by Sun Chung, who gave the legendary studio some of its most memorable and/or masterful films, like The Drug Connection (1976) and its transposition of Blaxploitation tropes to Hong Kong cinema, The Kung Fu Instructor (1979) and its then-unprecedented use of steadycam to film fights, the unhinged cult horror film Human Lanterns (1982) and more importantly The Avenging Eagle (1978), one of the jewels in the Shaw Brothers crown. Here Ti Lung plays Tong Tie-Cheng, a military instructor (closely resembling his Kung Fu Instructor character) who arrives in a town with his son (Fan Siu Wong) to help an old friend (Ku Feng) whip the soldiers of his garrison back into shape. The town’s main source of business is its brothel, where the soldiers have taken the habit of spending their nights. Tong starts submitting them to a harsh training and forbids them to indulge in whoring. But while it earns him their respect, at first begrudging then undivided, it also threatens to put the brothel out of business, and thus makes him a nightmare for the town’s corrupt chief constable (Michael Chan Wai Man), who co-owns it. Soon Tong becomes the target of increasingly brutal machinations, including a insidious plot to have his son castrated to become a eunuch. At first reluctant to start a fight, the master is inexorably pushed to the edge.

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THE BARE-FOOTED KID (1993) review

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The Bare-footed Kid is unique in Johnnie To’s filmography in that it is his only period martial arts drama, and judging by its quality one can regret he didn’t work more within that genre. In this loose remake of Chang Cheh’s Disciples of Shaolin, Aaron Kwok plays a penniless orphan who seeks out the help of his late father’s friend (Ti Lung), a renegade general who now works under a fake identity in a dyeing factory headed by a kind widow (Maggie Cheung) whose commercial success hinges on a professional secret. They provide the kid with a roof, a job, and most importantly in his eyes, shoes. But when he takes part in a fighting tournament, his impressive martial arts abilities draw the attention of a corrupt official (Eddie Cheung) and a ruthless competitor in the dying business (Kenneth Tsang). He also falls in love with a pretty school teacher (Wu Chien Lien), whom he begs to teach him how to write his name. But soon his naive, suggestible nature and misguided attempts to help his benefactors precipitate a tragic turn of events as he finds himself torn between the lure of power and his devotion to the people who care for him.

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THE AVENGING EAGLE (1978) review

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While he didn’t achieve the same status as fellow directors Chang Cheh, Yuan Chu or Liu Chia-Liang within the Shaw Brothers roster of talent, Sun Chung has nevertheless given the legendary Hong Kong film studio some of its most original and/or striking classics. From his trailblazing use of steadycam to film martial arts fights in The Kung Fu Instructor, to the unhinged weirdness of Human Lanterns, Sun left an unmistakable though unsung mark in the Shaw catalogue. The Avenging Eagle might just be his best achievement. It follows Chi Min-Sing (Ti Lung), who is part of a brotherhood of assassins known as the Eagles, all raised by and obeying to the cruel Yue Xi-Hong (Ku Feng), who sends them on missions to murder his enemies. When Chi is gravely wounded in one of these missions, he is taken in by a generous man, whose daughter he falls in love with. She urges him to not kill anymore and become a good man, but the pressure from Yue and the Eagles proves too strong : soon Chi is back in the murdering business, and he can’t stop the man who saved him and the woman he loves from being assassinated by his ‘brothers’. But after having committed the unthinkable by murdering a pregnant woman on his master’s order, Chi finally decides to run away from the Eagles and look for the murdered woman’s husband to atone for his crime. During his escape he meets a nameless man (Alexander Fu-Sheng), who decides to help him, seemingly out of the kindness of his heart. But it is soon discovered he has hidden motives, and unsuspected fighting abilities…

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CITY WAR (1988) review

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The poster boy for the game-changing phenomenon that was John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow in 1986 may have been Chow Yun Fat, a moderately famous actor catapulted to icon status, but the real heart of the film was not Chow, it was the friendship between his character and Ti Lung’s. Indeed the pairing of Chow Yun Fat and Ti Lung was so brilliant, their chemistry so complete, it’s no wonder they were reunited just one year after their A Better Tomorrow characters went out in a blaze of glory. Directed by Shaw Brothers veteran Sun Chung (a lesser-known director from that stable but also one of the most interesting), City War is obviously a riff on Lethal Weapon which had come out the year before, and whose pairing of two cops, one by-the-book, one a mad dog, is replicated here, though with an interesting twist. In Lethal Weapon the mad dog cop is a loner, and the by-the-book one is a family man ; here it’s the reverse. Another interesting reversal of expectations is that Chow Yun Fat, whom based on his A Better Tomorrow persona you’d expect to play the loose cannon, here plays Chiu, a cop who likes to play it safe, while Ti Lung is the hot-headed, authority-averse one.

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BUTTERFLY LOVERS (2008) short review

This featherweight retelling of a classic, Romeo and Juliet-like legend (already filmed in Tsui Hark’s The Lovers) is directed by the master of glitz, Jingle Ma, with a sure commercial hand but little in the way of a vision or even basic originality. Wu Chun and Charlene Choi are star-crossed lovers while Hu Ge is the bitter third wheel whose scheming precipitates a strikingly artificial tragic end. Charlene Choi is exceedingly cute, and estimable people like Ti Lung, Xiong Xin Xin or Fan Siu-Wong add a dash of gravitas and martial arts in supporting roles, but Butterfly Lovers remains as bland as its male lead, charisma-challenged Wu Chun. Falsely advertised under the title Assassin’s Blade and with an action-packed cover in some places, it is a corny affair that only really succeeds as eye-candy (and ear-candy, thanks to Chiu Tsang Hei’s score). **

STAR RUNNER (2003) review

  Bond (Vanness Wu) is a high-school student whose real passion is Muay Thai kickboxing, which he practices at a club headed by Lau (Gordon Liu). His ambition is to enter the prestigious Star Runner competition, and he devotes himself to that goal at the expense of his school work. Having to take Summer classes, he meets the young Korean teacher Mei Chiu (Kim Hyun-Joo), and soon enough they’re in love. But as his focus moves from training for the competition to romancing Mei Chiu, someone else is chosen by Lau to represent the club in the competition, and Bond is expelled for having resisted this decision. But not all is lost as Bill (Max Mok), a washed-out former martial arts champion, takes him under his wing and teaches him to incorporate elements from other martial arts into his muay Thai. Together they form a team and enter the Star Runner competition, with an eye on challenging Tank (Andy On), the reigning champion.

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BLADE OF FURY (1993) review

  Blade of Fury is a peculiar film within the abundant filmography of Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, the director : it was an assignment he took to help Lo Wei, the once-prominent director of two Bruce Lee films, Big Boss and Fist of Fury. Now fallen from grace, Lo Wei needed a well-established director badly to step up and direct this Wu Xia Pan during the early-nineties craze for the costumed epics. In came Sammo Hung, but serendipitously, the plot for Blade of Fury is said to have deeply echoed Hung’s personal beliefs, which he seldom got to express in film, given the often lighter tone of his other films as director. In the film, the legendary Ti Lung plays Tan Szu-Tung a government official travelling to Beijing with his disciple (Cynthia Khan), where advancement awaits him. On the road he meets Wong Wu, a lone swordsman (Yeung Fan), who helps him thwart a bandit raid. It’s the beginning of a friendship that will lead to the two joining forces to try and implement reforms in imperial China.

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THREE KINGDOMS : RESURRECTION OF THE DRAGON (2008) review

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the historical novel written by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th century and chronicling the years of constant warfare between kingdoms that marked the end of the Han Dinasty from 169 to 280, has always been the source of many films and TV series, most notably John Woo’s Red Cliff part I & II, and a few months ago the Donnie Yen vehicle THE LOST BLADESMAN. A sprawling epic, it provides a bonanza of characters, events and battles, which means filmmakers can always come back to the tried and tested Three Kingdoms source material, each time concentrating on a different set of characters or a different chunk of the storyline.

Daniel Lee’s Three Kingdoms : Resurrection of the Dragon focuses on Zhao Zilong, one of the “Five Tiger Generals” of the Shu Kingdom. The film fashions itself as a biopic of sorts, but takes more than a few liberties with the source material, which itself is already semi-mythical. We follow Zhao Zilong (Andy Lau) from his enlisting in the Shu army, where he forms a long-standing friendship with Luo Ping An (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo), to his becoming a general nicknamed “The Invincible”, to his heroic death during the Battle of the Phoenix Heights, where his outnumbered army was annihilated by Cao Ying’s ( Maggie Q) Wei Army.

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