ON HIS MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (2009) short review

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Wong Jing’s On His Majesty’s Secret Service is as narratively unfocused and packed with non-sequitur scenes as any of the rotund Hong Kong film kingpin’s comedies, but here is the gist of its ‘plot’: an Imperial Guard (Louis Koo) with no martial arts skills but a gift for scientific innovation becomes embroiled both in his fiancée’s (Barbie Hsu) plot to make him love her more by pretending she’s in love with a handsome hitman who’s actually a beautiful hitwoman (Liu Yang), and in an evil eunuch’s (Fan Siu Wong) plot to overthrow the emperor (Liu Yiwei), who is organizing a competition to find a worthy husband for his daughter (Song Jia). Apart from lavish costumes and sets, the direction is lazy and uninspired, while the humor consists of constant and lazy pratfalls, obvious pop-culture references (some are even delivered while literally winking at the camera), some inscrutable (for non-Cantonese speakers) wordplay and a cornucopia of blissfully unhinged comedic acting: Louis Koo is a broad delight, Fan Siu Wong steals all his scenes with his ‘dainty evil’ act, Song Jia shows effortless comedic skills, and while Barbie Hsu’s silliness feels more forced and Sandra Ng seems on autopilot, Tong Dawei and Liu Yang provide fine serious support, the latter being particularly charismatic as a cross-dressing assassin. All in all, it’s a harmless and often amusing comedy which could have stood out more if its numerous action scenes had been choreographed and directed with more verve. **1/2

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MISSION MILANO (2016) short review

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This caper about an Interpol agent (Andy Lau) who joins forces with a gentleman-thief (Huang Xiaoming) to stop a terrorist organization from using a revolutionary invention known as the Seed of God (a seed that can grow even in the most barren places) for evil purposes could very well be a From Vegas to Macau film, as it sees Wong Jing follow the exact same recipe as in his successful Chinese New Year franchise: pair up a handsome legend with a handsome younger star, surround them with comedians (including here a very funny Shen Teng and a so-so Wong Cho Lam) and cameos (hello, Sammi Cheng) and one or two martial artists (good old Ken Lo and up-and-comer Wu Yue), offer spectacle that combines a five-year old boy’s sense of narrative logic, a ten year-old boy’s taste for absurd high-tech gadgets, and a fifteen year-old boy’s fixation on leather-clad beauties (hello, Michelle Hu and many others). Add a dash of gambling (but not too much, the Hong Kong market is second served), one or two exotic locations, a lot of derivative elements (including a Resident Evil death corridor, Wolverine claws, John Powell’s The Bourne Supremacy soundtrack tracked in the action scenes…) and one or two incongruously straight-faced dramatic moments. In the end, it is indeed a lowbrow but entertaining formula, and Mission Milano is actually more palatable than any of the From Vegas to Macau films. Andy Lau is a delight (Huang Xiaoming seems less comfortable), there are some moderately inspired pratfalls, sight gags and situations, and Dion Lam’s action is cartoony and amusing. All in all, this film deserves the following faint praise: a Mission Milano 2 sounds more tempting than a From Vegas to Macau 4**1/2

LINE WALKER (2016) review

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The spin-off from a highly-successful TVB series of the same title, with only Charmaine Sheh and Hui Shiu Hung’s characters carried over from small to big screen, Jazz Boon’s Line Walker is a riotously enjoyable actioner that merges Infernal Affairs‘ undercover twists, some over-top action scenes from Benny Chan’s playbook, and goofy comedy out of Wong Jing’s less tasteless offerings (Wong is a producer here). The fictional CIB department of police is trying to dismantle a powerful crime organization, but all of its undercovers have been killed after their identities were leaked. Inspector Q (Francis Ng) and his colleague and girlfriend agent Ding (Charmaine Sheh) are contacted by a missing undercover agent known as Blackjack, who may or may not be Shiu (Louis Koo), the right hand man of a fast-rising figure of the crime organization, Blue (Nick Cheung), whose life he once saved.

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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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SIFU VS VAMPIRE (2014) review

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Amazingly, Daniel Chan Yee Heng’s Sifu vs Vampire is Hong Kong legend Yuen Biao’s first lead role in a feature film since Ricky Lau’s Hunted Hunter in 1997. We could imagine a better comeback vehicle than a crass Wong Jing-produced comedy, but we’ll take what we can get. Yuen plays Master Chiang, a Taoist priest and exorcist who together with his disciple Lingxin (Jiang Luxia) teams up with a pair of hapless gangsters (Ronald Cheng and Philip Ng) to fight – and sometimes fall in love with – vampires old and new. There’s a definite throwback quality to the film, as it harks back to the vampire comedies of the eighties and beginning of the nineties, most notably the Mr Vampire series which already featured Yuen Biao. Contrary to Juno Mak’s impressive Rigor MortisSifu vs Vampire is straightforward and unpretentious, a loosely calibrated mix of (very) broad laughs, (very) mild scares and (very) sparse fighting.

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BULLET AND BRAIN (2007) short review

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A thriller set in the future for no discernible narrative or metaphorical purpose, and with no visible indicators other than a hideously fake-looking CGI futuristic train and a vaguely advanced-looking gun, Keung Kwok-Man’s Bullet and Brain is actually nothing more than a Wong Jing-produced quickie, albeit a fairly serviceable one. Its story about two mythical hitmen with muddled backstories (the titular Bullet and Brain, played by Anthony Wong and Francis Ng) who are called out of retirement to protect the granddaughter (Tiffany Tang) of a crime boss who’s been betrayed and killed by his second-in-command, serves as an excuse to let Wong and Ng act cool (though they often look more bored than cool), and shoehorns Eric Tsang as shady businessman, letting the short and rotund god of Hong Kong do his ‘affable but menacing’ act from Infernal Affairs and a few other films. It also throws in Alex Fong Lik-Sun as a pretty-boy detective, for a numbingly cutesy romance with Tiffany Tang’s character. Veteran stuntman Mars choreographs the action, which is sadly often mangled by weird editing. In the end it’s up to the film’s central trio of actors to keep things, if not lively, at least vaguely entertaining. **

I CORRUPT ALL COPS (2009) review

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Insanely prolific filmmaker Wong Jing (in 30 years, close to 200 films as a producer, a director and/or a writer) is known mainly for his shameless cash-grabbing, exploitative proclivities, extreme mining of film trends and taste for crass humor, but once in a while he decides to write and direct a film that can actually be taken seriously. 2002’s Colour of the Truth was one such film, the recent The Last Tycoon (2012) was another, and in between you have I Corrupt All Cops, which charts the circumstances in which Hong Kong’s Independant Commission Against Corruption came to exist. In the seventies, rampant corruption in the Hong Kong Police (which thus amounted to little more than another triad) was drastically reduced thanks to the efforts of agents from the newly-formed ICAC, who had to sustain tremendous pressure and threats.

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ONCE UPON A TIME IN SHANGHAI (2014) review

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The sort-of real life story of Ma Wing Jing, a wholesome country boy with stunning fighting skills who comes to Shanghai to escape poverty, only to end up befriending a charismatic but shady mob boss and losing his soul in the process, has already been the subject of two high-profile films, Chang Cheh’s The Boxer from Shantung and Corey Yuen’s masterpiece, Hero. Though that kind of half-folk, half-historical tale is bound to reappear on film every two decades, one would not expect it to be, as Once Upon in Shanghai is, scripted and produced by gargantuan and insanely prolific money-grabber Wong Jing, while being directed by edgy, often pretentious arthouse darling Wong Ching Po. And yet here it is, starring young upstart Philip Ng in the Ma Wing Jing role and the underrated Andy On as the mob boss, with prestigious action directing by Yuen Woo Ping and Yuen Cheung Yan, and a sturdy supporting cast of legends : Sammo Hung as the benevolent master of the community Ma Wing Jing moves into, as well as Yuen Cheung Yan, Fung Hak On and Chen Kuan Tai as a trio of rival mobsters called the Axe Fraternity.

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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.

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LAST HERO IN CHINA (1993) review

In 1993, near the end of production on Tsui Hark and Jet Li’s third installment in the insanely successful Once Upon A Time In China series, there seemingly was some kind of dispute between director and star, which led to the two not working together for more than a decade, despite their working relationship being as legendary as, say, John Woo and Chow Yun Fat. It also led to Jet Li leaving the Once Upon A Time In China franchise (and being replaced with Vincent Zhao). But less than a year later, Li took the role of Wong Fei-Hung again, in a non-official installment : Last Hero in China.

In a way, Last Hero in China (also called Claws of Steel in some places), is to Jet Li what Never Say Never Again is to Sean Connery: both a loving hommage and a cheeky send-up of the character that made him a superstar. A cheeky send-up, in part because the director is none other than Wong Jing, the ‘master’ of heavy and greasy Hong Kong comedy, but a loving homage, because beneath the comedy, there is still Master Wong’s impeccable mastery of Wushu, choreographed by the great Yuen Woo-Ping (just like the first two Once Upon A Time In China films).

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