THE VILLAGE OF NO RETURN (2017) review

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During the first months after the fall of the Qing dynasty and the rise of the Republic of China, Shi Baopi (Eric Tsang), a rich man, is colluding with bandits known as the Cloud Clan to take control of Desire Village, an isolated hamlet which may hide a treasure. But Big Pie, his mole in the village, drops dead after eating a poisoned bun. His widow, Autumn (Shu Qi), is suspected to have killed him, as their marriage was not a happy one : she had been promised to her childhood love, the mayor’s son Ding (Tony Yang), but he vanished after going to the city to pass an exam. Now, just as Autumn is about to be subjected to the wrath of the townsfolk, despite the efforts in her defense of a newcomer to the village and self-professed martial arts master (Joseph Chang), a mysterious man named Fortune Tien (Wang Qianyuan) arrives on a luminous chariot, and presents to the bewildered villagers a strange contraption, the “Worry Rider”. It is a kind of metal helmet that allows for the removal of bad memories from anyone’s mind. Soon, Fortune Tien turns the whole village into happy idiots obeying his every command, and has them digging around for treasure, having made Autumn his wife. But the Cloud clan is still preparing to attack the village, and to complicate matters, Ding finally returns…
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WHEN A PEKING FAMILY MEETS AUPAIR (2014) short review

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Chen Gang’s When a Peking Family meets Aupair (sic) is a tooth-rottingly maudlin and ear-splittingly shrill family comedy about middle-class Chinese parents (Xu Fan and Chen Jianbin) who hire an au pair from Columbia (Gianina Terranova) to be their daughter’s nanny. Things get off to a shaky start as her recklessness and fun-loving ways clash with the mother’s tightly-wound universe. The film obviously aims to provide some commentary on parenting in today’s China, but remains on a very simplistic level, each character reduced to one dimension: there’s the control-freak, the feisty one, the bitchy one (Fann Wong, of Shanghai Knights), the wise one, and so on. It all unfolds as a series of trite, flatly-shot vignettes, most of which are made unbearable by Gianina Terranova’s truly appalling performance, as she yells out each and every one of her lines in a mix of English and Mandarin, constantly bouncing and dancing around so as to hammer the viewer with the fact that her character LOVES having fun. Xu Fan and Chen Jianbin remain dignified and the film’s only palatable moments are the few scenes they share away from Gianina Terranova. Deceivingly, the film boasts on its poster the presence of Sun Honglei, Guo Tao, Tong Liya and Wang Qianyuan, but none of these estimable actors appear for more than a minute. Sun Honglei, in particular, must have agreed to appear after having lost a bet, so sullen and disconnected he seems in his short appearance. *

SAVING MR. WU (2015) review

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In 2004, popular TV actor Wu Ruofu was kidnapped and held for ransom for 21 hours, before being rescued by the police, psychologically traumatized but physically unscathed. Now more than a decade later here he is, co-starring in the story of his ordeal, in the role of one of the cops whose tireless investigation led to his rescue, and with superstar Andy Lau playing him. Wu was offered his own role, but refused to relive the events so directly ; shooting – and watching – the film must have been quite the cathartic experience for him, though he has remained tight-lipped about the whole thing. And so in a tight time-frame of 21 hours, Ding Sheng’s Saving Mr. Wu recounts the kidnapping of movie star Wu (Andy Lau) and everyman Dou (Lu Cai) by cunning and ruthless criminal Zhang (Wang Qianyuan), and the subsequent race against time as the police (headed by Liu Ye and the laterally titular Wu Ruofu) catches the latter and tries to have him give out the whereabouts of his victims before it’s too late: they know the abductees are to be killed whether or not the ransom is paid.

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BROTHERHOOD OF BLADES (2014) review

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In the year 1627, the Ming dynasty is in its final years as emperor Chongzhen takes over the throne, and in the process expels powerful Chief Eunuch Wei (Chin Shih Chieh) from his position of power. But a large number of court officials are still secretly in the service of the Eunuch, forming the so-called “Clique” that the emperor decides to dismantle. His prime resource in doing that is the “Jinyiwei”, his imperial assassins who are tasked with arresting, getting a confession out of, and/or killing, all presumed members of the Clique. Three Jinyiwei are chosen for the critical mission of finding and killing the Eunuch himself: Shen Lian (Chang Chen), who is in unrequited love with a courtesan (Cecilia Liu) and is saving up to buy her freedom, Lu Jianxing (Wang Qianyuan) who is desperate to meet his father’s standards by getting a promotion and is ready to bribe his way to it, and Jin Yichuan (Ethan Li), who is being blackmailed by a former friend (Zhou Yiwei) who threatens to reveal their criminal past and the fact he stoile a man’s identity to become a Jinyiwei. The fact that their new superior (Nie Yuan) is a pawn of the Eunuch further complicates the matters and soon an intricate web of lies unravels with tragic consequences.

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