BUDDIES IN INDIA (2017) review

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With the flood of Monkey King film adaptations in recent and coming years, it is refreshing to see one attempting a radical spin: Wang Baoqiang’s directorial debut Buddies in India transposes the myth to nowadays, following an agile and mischievous monkey trainer called, of course, Wu Kong (Wang Baoqiang) who refuses to sell his house to make way for a vast urban construction project. As Tang Zong, the chairman of the group in charge of the project, feels his end is near after a serious heart attack, he instructs his son Tang Sen (Bai Ke), a lonely geek, to go get his will in Nandu Gaun, India. At the same time, he asks Wu Kong to accompany Sen as a bodyguard, in exchange for which his house will remain untouched. Wu agrees, and the two set off for India, where they are helped by Zhu Tianpeng (Yue Yunpeng), cross paths with Wu Jing (Ada Liu), a woman once scorned by Sen, and are hunted by two Chinese assassins hired by Tang Sen’s devious uncle Chasu (Huang Bo), who wants to inherit the group instead of his nephew.

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DETECTIVE CHINATOWN (2015) review

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Chen Sicheng’s second film as director after his successful romantic anthology Beijing Love Story in 2013, Detective Chinatown follows the unlikely duo of Tang Ren (Wang Baoqiang), a Chinese expatriate in Bangkok who calls himself a private investigator but is actually more like a swindler, and Chin Feng (Liu Haoran), his distant cousin who pays him a visit to take his mind off his latest failure to enter police college. The zany Tang and the strait-laced Chin are an unlikely fit, but soon they have to set their differences aside as the former is accused of the murder of an art smuggler. The two competing sergeants of the Bangkok Chinatown police station (Chen He and Xiao Yang) are in a race to bring him to justice, as the one who does so is sure to become the new commissioner. Chased not only by the police, but also by a local crime boss (Chin Shih-Chieh) who thinks Tang stole his gold, and a trio of thieves who actually stole that gold but also think Tang stole it from them (Xiao Shenyang, Sang Ping and Zhao Jingjun), the two cousins can only count on the help of Tang’s landlady (Tong Liya) – whom he no-so-secretly loves – as they try to clear his name by looking for the real killer. It helps that Chin has an almost Sherlock Holmes-like capacity for deduction, and an endless knowledge of detective fiction.

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IMPOSSIBLE (2015) short review

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A mind-bogglingly ill-conceived and misguided film, Sun Zhou’s Impossible tells of a truck driver (Wang Baoqiang), who encounters a powerful alien entity named Muah Muah that’s the shape of a tennis ball but very powerful, and has come to earth to study its inhabitants. The entity provokes the curiosity and greed of various people including the truck driver’s boss (Xiao Shenyang) who’s bankrupt and owes money to loan sharks, his long-time customer (Xin Zhilei) who’s in the dilemmas of unplanned pregnancy, and a scummy rival (Da Peng) who seeks to further expand his successful business and wants to control Muah Muah’s powers. Impossible never chooses what it wants to be: its humor is resolutely lowbrow, essentially a combination of relentlessly mugging actors (Xiao Shenyang and Da Peng are on a constant mug-off) and cutesy pratfalls (Muah Muah was clearly conceived to catch on in a Minion sort of way), yet the film revolves around the traumatic loss of a child, and milks it relentlessly for tears in its second half. The ‘studying earthlings’ subplot is merely a footnote and yields not one single clever observation, while the film occasionally switches to jarring violence: this is a film that has a cute, chipmunk-voiced alien AND a scene of dental torture. In the final stretch the weirdness goes off the charts, as it borrows from District 9 (a man mutates horribly into a tentacular alien) and, even more risibly, from 2001, A Space Odyssey (let’s just say there’s a foetal space trip). And despite being an unhinged oddity, the film still manages to be preachy, telling us how parents should care for their children and sometimes we must be able to let go of the past. A teaching we’ll gladly apply to this film. *

CHOY LEE FUT KUNG FU (2011) review

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A few years before Donnie Yen gave him an opportunity to demonstrate his actual kung fu skills in The Iceman 3D and Kung Fu Jungle, Wang Baoqiang already demonstrated his martial arts proficiency in John Ching’s Choy Lee Fut Kung Fu (not to be confused with Choy Lee Fut, a film starring Sammo Hung and his son, that came out the same year). Wang plays Danny (Wang Baoqiang), a young martial arts enthusiast who arrives in Hong Kong to head a school of Choy Lee Fut (a combination of Northern and Southern Chinese kung-fu systems) owned by his wealthy father (Ng Man Tat). At the airport, he’s swindled out of his wallet and phone but is given help and shelter by a young woman (Michelle Ye), much to the chagrin of her jealous boyfriend (Miu Tse) and her kind but suspicious mother (Kara Hui). With an important boxing match coming up, Danny is trained by a master of Choy Lee Fut (Norman Tsui), while the school’s janitor (Wong Yat Fei) tries to locate the second half of an old martial arts manuscript, which contains a map to a treasure map.

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KUNG FU JUNGLE (aka KUNG FU KILLER) (2014) review

Kungfu Jungle Official Poster Ever since his excellent turn in Peter Chan’s superb Wu Xia in 2011, martial arts spearhead Donnie Yen’s career had been a bit underwhelming, with films either overdosing on special effects (The Monkey King), lacking in any kind of script to tie the amazing fight scenes together (Special ID), getting lost in juvenile comedy (The Iceman 3D) or worse, casting him as a romantic leading man named ‘Cool Sir’ (Together). Kung Fu Jungle, as I’m happy to report, is a definite step up in quality. Donnie is Hahou Mo, a martial arts master who is first seen surrendering himself to the police after killing another master (a barely glimpsed Bey Logan). Three years later he’s peacefully nearing the end of his sentence but a TV report of the murder of a Kung Fu master sends him in a frenzy to contract the inspector in charge of the investigation (Charlie Yeung). He understands the motives of the killer, a demented fighter (Wang Baoqiang) who overcame a leg defect and is challenging all the greatest masters, to the death. But when Hahou Mo is allowed to get out of prison and assist the inspector, it becomes obvious that he has a hidden agenda, part of which involves his girlfriend (Michelle Bai Bing).

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