GOD OF WAR (2017) review

103041.68136933_1000X1000

A genre that dominated the 00’s in China and culminated with the massive success of John Woo’s Red Cliff and Peter Chan’s The Warlords, the war epic has been much scarcer in the 10’s, and much less successful in general, as indicated by the high-profile underperformance of passable examples of the genre like Andrew Lau’s The Guillotines and Ronny Yu’s Saving General Yang, not to mention the downright flop of Frankie Chan’s Legendary Amazons. It remains to be seen if Gordon Chan’s God of War can re-ignite the Chinese war epic’s popularity (even the success of Daniel Lee’s Dragon Blade in 2015 didn’t manage that), but it is, on its own merits, one of the finest examples of the genre. Set in the 16th century and based on historical events, it follows the efforts of Ming general Qi Jiguang (Vincent Zhao) and commander Yu Dayou (Sammo Hung) to defeat an army of Japanese pirates and Ronins led by Kumasawa (Yasuaki Kurata), and that has been pillaging the Chinese coastline for the enrichment of a Shogun whose son Yamagawa (Keisuke Koide) is among the pirates but disapproves of their treatment of civilians. General Qi enlists local peasants and trains them into a new and better-equipped army.

(more…)

Advertisements

THE BOUNDARY (2014) short review

The-Boundary-2014-1 Wang Tao’s The Boundary is a psychological thriller about a cop (Ye Liu) who’s become a shell of a man since his wife disappeared mysteriously ten years before. His prime suspect has always been a wealthy businessman (Vincent Zhao), whose wife he had to shoot dead a bit before, when she tried to murder a woman she suspected of having an affair with her husband. Now ten years later, the businessman’s attractive new partner is brutally killed in a parking lot by a woman whom the surveillance cameras reveal to be his dead wife… The victim’s daughter thus enlists Ye Liu’s help to seek the truth, and a lot of painful secrets are about to be revealed. For half of its runtime, The Boundary is simply too vague for its own good : the stakes are introduced in such a hazy way that it’s difficult to care. Then the film starts boiling down to its more essential components and manages to gather some tension and a few genuine surprises, especially as it tickles Mainland China’s censorship rules about the supernatural, but the endlessly simmering atmosphere and deadening use of redundant flashbacks make it a slog. It’s nevertheless interesting to see a fine performance from Vincent Zhao in a rare non-martial arts role, all the more so as he’s generally much more interesting as an ambiguous villain (like in Jacob Cheung’s The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom), than as the squeaky-clean hero he plays in most of his films. **

ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA 4 (1993) short review

OnceUponATimeInChina4_GoldenSwallow_SC36

In 1993, Wu Shu champion Vincent Zhao had the uneasy task of replacing Jet Li as the iconic Wong Fei Hung in a fourth installment of Tsui Hark’s Once Upon A Time In China series, following a highly successful trilogy of films. Once Upon A Time In China IV (henceforth Ouatic IV) is not actually directed by Tsui Hark, but by Yuen Bun, who had choreographed the action in the third film. The film is on a smaller scale, and its story, while still musing on themes of national pride and foreign influence, is both more anecdotal and a rehash of the second film’s plot (with the ‘Red Lantern’ sect replacing the ‘White Lotus’ sect). Zhao is an adequate replacement : he’s not as charismatic as Jet Li, but his martial arts ability and grace doesn’t suffer by comparison. The problem is that the film features drawn-out scenes of lion-dancing, a venerable tradition that must be stunning in real life, but tends to bore this writer on screen, and despite the stunning design of some of those parade ornaments, is a weak substitute for actual fight scenes, which are too scarce here. Elsewhere, Jean Wang provides a fine replacement for Rosamund Kwan’s absent Aunt Yee, and Xiong Xin Xin is close to stealing the film away from Zhao with his humorous performance (complemented of course by his awe-inspiring kicks). But like the former film, Ouatic IV lacks a proper villain, with Chin Kar-Lok and Billy Chow forming a striking but grossly underused duo of baddies. An entertaining but forgettable installment. **1/2

 

WU DANG (2012) short review

Wu-Dang

Vincent Zhao’s unremarkable comeback continues with this barely lukewarm adventure in which he plays a professor/adventurer in the Indiana Jones mould. He is seeking seven mythical treasures, and a vital clue leads him to Mount Wu Dang, where a martial arts tournament is taking place in the famous monastery of the same name. There’s a good cast, with martial arts actors Fan Siu Wong and Dennis To as Wu Dang disciples, Xu Jiao as Zhao’s daughter, the ubiquitous Yang Mi as a rival adventurer, and Shaun ‘son of Ti Lung’ Tam as a gangster. Corey Yuen provides the action, which is sometimes palatable (a balletic martial arts duet with Zhao and Yang taking on Tam’s men is particularly nice) but often forgettable and tame : who wants to see pretty Yang Mi fight kiddy Xu Jiao is one of the lamest film tournaments ever ? There’s no sense of adventure (the bad CGI doesn’t help matters), and the romantic subplots are either massively creepy (40-years-old Fan and 14-years-old Xu aren’t exactly a match made in heaven) or simply cold (Vincent Zhao and Yang Mi have no chemistry whatsoever). A failure, but in an amiable kind of way. **

 

ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA 5 (1994) review

  Jet Li’s departure from the Once Upon A Time In China series that had made him a superstar didn’t stop producer/director Tsui Hark from proceeding with the franchise, thus recasting the central character of Wong Fei-Hung with another Mainland Wushu champion, Vincent Zhao. This led to a fourth episode, directed by a Yuen Bun, that ended up being far less successful than any of the Jet Li installments. It did have fixtures of the franchise like Max Mok’s Leung Fu or Xiong Xin Xin’s Clubfoot, but the absence not only of Jet Li, but also of Rosamund Kwan’s Aunt Yee, another major character in the franchise, coupled with uninspired direction, made it look like a bargain bin iteration of the Chinese hero’s adventures. And so for the fifth episode, Tsui Hark returned to the director’s chair, signed his protege for the lead role again, managed for Rosamund Kwan to return, but more importantly tweaked the formula of the series a little bit by making it more akin to a serial, mostly by including pirates and a treasure into the mix.

(more…)

FIST POWER (2000) review

Shot on the cheap and in less than a fortnight by the exact same team responsible for the dubious Body Weapon one year earlier (director Aman Chang, producer Wong Jing and star Vincent Zhao mainly), Fist Power is a small, harmless action film about Chau, a Hong Kong policeman (Anthony Wong Chau Sang) who holds an entire school hostage in a desperate attempt to reclaim custody of his son. It’s left to Chiu, a Mainland security expert (Vincent Zhao) whose nephew is in said school, to find the son and bring it to Chau before he blows up the place.

Narratively, Fist Power is pretty straightforward : after half-an-hour spent setting things up, the film becomes a basic race against the clock for its remaining hour. The only obstacle Chiu meets in his quest to bring Chau’s son to him are thugs at the service of Chau’s estranged wife, and so the film is always alternating between our hero running from a point A to a point B, and scenes of our hero beating up some anonymous thugs. All that being interspersed with scenes of Sam Lee trying to provide comic relief, and as usual, alienating the audience in the process. That would be fine if the director were able to ramp up the tension, but instead he seems more interested in throwing every cheap, direct-to-video-reeking editing trick at the spectator, undermining not only the film’s already flimsy suspense, but also its numerous action scenes. This is all the more annoying as Fist Power has a lot of talent in front of the camera.

(more…)