THE MONKEY KING 3 (2018) review

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Though Monkey King films – and fantasy films in general – have been produced with remarkable regularity in China in the past six years, few have managed to spawn a franchise, let alone a trilogy. And if we don’t count Jeff Lau’s belated – and dire – A Chinese Odyssey Part III, then Soi Cheang’s The Monkey King 3 bears the distinction of completing the first artistically unified (Soi directed all three films) big screen Chinese fantasy trilogy based on Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West. After a dodgy franchise starter in 2014 that benefited from Donnie Yen’s impressively athletic dedication to portraying a young monkey but sank under the weight of its interminable and poorly-rendered power battles, and a sequel in 2016 that was a marked improvement and was made memorable by Gong Li’s powerhouse White Bone Demon, here comes the third installment, with all the key cast members returning, except for Kelly Chen, who has been replaced in her customary cameo as Guanyin the Goddess of Mercy by Liu Tao – not that too many people will notice.

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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. *