BLOOD OF YOUTH (2016) review

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The fourth film of firefighter-turned-director Yang Shupeng, Blood of Youth follows a young hacker named Su Ang (Oho Ou), who anonymously tips off the police about the remains of a woman buried in the woods near the city of Hangzhou. Detective Zhang (Zhang Yi) discovers the victim was beaten to death almost two decades ago, and starts investigating the events that lead to her death. But at the same time Su Ang also warns the police about a bank robbery about to happen, but just as the robbers led by Shen (Zhou Ziwei) are about to enter the bank, he tips them off too about the presence of the police. His agenda is a mystery, but it may be linked to the fact that a brain injury he sustained during his years in an orphanage is slowly killing him according to his doctor, Han Yu (Yu Nan), especially as he’s not taking the medicine that might save him. And his endgame definitely includes Lin Qiao (Guo Shutong), a young cellist whose libidinous orchestra conductor Li (Guo Xiaodong) is none other than Han Yu’s husband.

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MY DNA SAYS I LOVE YOU (2007) short review

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An unfathomably odd little romantic comedy from Taiwan, Lee Yun Chan’s My DNA Says I Love You follows to twenty-something roommates who both work at a bio-tech company that develops medication meant to suppress certain genes, such as the “fat gene” or the “clean freak gene” (yes, a lot of thought and research went into this film’s science). One of them (Terri Kwan) meets and falls in love with a charming but sloppy prosthetic engineer (Peter Ho), and starts taking a pill that represses her “clean freak gene”, while the other (Yu Nan) is wooed by her charming landlord (Eddie Peng) but rejects her because she’s afraid he’ll discover she’s obesity-prone and needs to take pills that repress her “fat gene”. My DNA Says I Love You is every bit as head-scratchingly bizarre as that plot synopsis might lead you to believe. At its core it’s nothing more than a trite romantic comedy with attractive people that alternatively pursue and reject one another until they finally get on the same page. But it’s dressed with the aforementioned shoddy scientific premise, some incredibly weird plot turns (one subplot features yellow slimy mold literally coming to life and overrunning an apartment) and a sitcom-grade aesthetic with matching cheap soundtrack. The cast is appealing, especially a fun and likable Eddie Peng in only his second film: a scene where he tries to get in a Tango show by mumbling fake Spanish to the ushers is one of the film’s only genuine laughs. Terri Kwan indulges in tooth-rotting cuteness, while Peter Ho does what he can with a character named Anteater. Yu Nan however seems a bit out of place, giving an affecting performance that clashes with the silliness that surrounds it. *1/2

About Yu Nan

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Born and raised in the northeastern city of Dalian in China, Yu Nan studied at the Beijing Film Academy, where she was noticed by Wang Quan’an, a visiting alumnus looking to cast the lead role of his feature film debut. The story goes that he entered a classroom where the teacher was reprimanding students, all of them bowing their heads in shame, except Yu Nan who audaciously held hers high, staring back in defiance. Wang was won over both artistically and sentimentally, and the two would share the following ten years of their life, on and off screen. As early as her debut performance as a woman with a double life in Wang’s Lunar Eclipse (1999) Yu Nan gained international attention : she won the best actress award at the Deauville Asian Film Festival in France. There she attracted the attention of French director Karim Dridi who cast her in Fureur (2003), an interracial love story set in the Parisian Chinatown. Already not one to half-ass any role, Yu learned French so as to not have to speak her lines phonetically ; later she nurtured her mastery of the language by sharing an apartment in Beijing for a few years with a French-speaking Italian.

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FEED ME (2015) review

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Shot in 2012 but only released 3 years later, perhaps because of lead actress Yu Nan’s heightened profile after being in two of the biggest Chinese hits of the past months (Tsui Hark’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain and Wu Jing’s Wolf Warrior), Yang Yazhou’s Feed Me also bears the distinction of starring Lin Hao, a boy who had become a national hero after rescuing several of his classmates in his collapsing school building during the devastating Sichuan earthquake of 2008. The hero-turned-actor plays a country boy who lives with his grandfather (Tao Zeru) on a boat, making regular trips to Shanghai to sell rapeseed. It is on one of those trips that upon returning to the boat, they find a pregnant woman (Yu Nan) who seems to be running away from something or someone. Soon she gives birth, and the grandfather lets her stay onboard both for the sake of the baby and because he’s been diagnosed with early senile dementia and worries as to who will take care of his grandson when he no longer can. But in the nearby village there’s gossip and disapproval of this situation, especially from a doctor (Vivian Wu) he is trying to woo. As for the boy, he grows more and more fascinated by this woman he sees as a  potential surrogate mother.

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LOVERS & MOVIES (2015) short review

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Niu Chaoyang’s Lovers & Movies is one of those all-star Valentines Day cash-ins based on the blueprint of Gary Marshall’s Valentines Day : criss-crossing love stories across generations, played out by a few stars out for an easy paycheck. And so here we have a fifty-something woman (Kara Hui), who finds out her husband (Simon Yam) is having an affair, while her son is getting into bad ways and pushing away his girlfriend. Also, a cab driver (Francis Ng) is in love with a dance teacher (Yu Nan), whose five year-old son needs snow to win over a girl he likes at school. And a fangirl (Gulnazar) gets to meet her heartthrob idol (Kim Bum), after which they fall in love. It all unfolds in impossibly trite fashion, as platitudes about love are spoken in every scene over a treacly score, and grand romantic gestures are performed in ways that are often actually more creepy than endearing : witness Gulnazar barging in on a film scene being shot in a studio by the man she loves, by jumping off a wall, strapped on cables, with a red streamer that says ‘I love you’. Someone call the cops. The cast, which could have saved the film, is too uneven to manage that. Kara Hui and Yu Nan valiantly try to make unlikable characters worth sticking with, but Francis Ng expresses most emotions by smiling weirdly, and Simon Yam gives a performance so listless he probably took this film as a break from acting. And out of decency, let’s not mention the rest of the cast. *1/2

WOLF WARRIOR (2015) review

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Wu Jing’s second film as a director after 2008’s Legendary Assassin, which he co-directed with his martial arts choreographer of choice Nicky Li Chung Chi, Wolf Warrior is also his first lead role in the seven years since that film’s release, and the first time he co-wrote a film. He plays Leng Feng, a sniper who is expelled from the army after he solved a hostage crisis by ignoring orders and shooting down the hostage-taker with a hazardous maneuver. While in confinement, he is approached by officer Long Xiaoyun (Yu Nan) with an offer to join an elite tactical team known as the Wolf Warriors. He accepts, and soon he’s in the forest with his new team for a field exercise. But things take a tragic and dangerous turn when they run afoul of a team of foreign mercenaries headed by Tomcat (Scott Adkins) and hired by an international criminal (Ni Dahong) seeking revenge for the death of his brother, who is none other than the hostage-taker killed by Leng Feng. While supervised by Long Xiaoyun from a control room, Leng and two of his comrades must retaliate for the death of one of the Wolf Warriors, and prevent the team from crossing the Chinese border again.

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DEADLY DELICIOUS (2008) review

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Chen Jiaoqiao (Francis Ng) is a wealthy businessman whose relationship with air hostess Coco (Jiang Yiyan) is blighted only by the fact that he’s a gourmet and she’s a terrible cook. He’s also prone to mood swings and sometimes disappears for long stretches of time, a fact Coco attributes to her dubious cooking skills. But then she meets and befriends TV gourmet chef Gu Xiaofan (Yu Nan), who offers to teach her how to win back her boyfriend through his stomach. The collaboration between the two women is a success, as Jiaqiao grows fonder of his girlfriend now that she can meet his gourmet expectations. However, he soon starts losing hair and getting seizures, growing weaker by the day; doctors conclude to a rare form of poisoning, brought about by the combination of different kinds of edible ingredients. But then where does he get the food that combines in a deadly way with Coco’s cooking? It becomes obvious that Xiaofan is not who she claims to be and has a hidden, possibly vengeful agenda.

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NO MAN’S LAND (2013) short review

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Being shelved for four years over censorship issues sounds like a death knell for any film, and yet in the case of Ning Hao’s No Man’s Land, it may actually have been a considerable boon : indeed, the four-years delay meant that the film came out after the comedy Lost In Thailand, which starred two of the leads of No Man’s Land (Xu Zheng and Huang Bo), and thus became positioned as their follow-up to what is still the all-time highest-grossing Chinese film in China. It did however lose its potential status as China’s very first modern-day set western – with Gao Qunshu’s Wind Blast having been released in the meantime – though in truth it is closer to a film noir than a western, with moody voice-over and a cynical outlook on human nature. It tells of an arrogant big city lawyer (Xu Zheng) who travels to the far west of China to plead the case of a falcon trafficker (Togbye), then tries to rush back to the city to close a book deal on that very case. But he runs afoul of the trafficker’s scabby assistant (Huang Bo), as well as spiteful cops, angry truck drivers, and sordid petrol station owners, becoming the de facto protector of a desperate prostitute (Yu Nan) in the process. No Man’s Land often recalls Oliver Stone’s U-Turn, with which it shares an almost fantasmagorical level of bad luck and human scum thrust upon an almost unlikeable main character. And like that 1997 film, it starts out delightfully dark and funny, then loses steam with its thudding cynicism and an overdose of plot turns that are less fresh and witty than the director seems to think. Still, it’s a fun ride with great turns from Togbye as a monolithic bandit and Yu Nan as the only likeable character of the film and the incarnation of the softer side of Ning Hao’s pitch dark vision. ***1/2

SILENT WITNESS (2013) review

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Lin Mengmeng (Deng Jiajia), the daughter of famous, wealthy and arrogant entrepreneur Lin Tai (Sun Honglei), is accused of having killed her stepmother, a famous singer called Yang Dan, after confronting her over her infidelities to her father, made public in a paparazzi video showing her having a one-night stand with an actor. Lin Tai claims his daughter is innocent and hires China’s highest-paid lawyer, Zhou Li (Yu Nan), while public prosecution is handled by Tong Tao (Aaron Kwok), a brilliant lawyer with a spotless record, who’s been trying to nail Lin Tai for years over finally unproven charges of fraud. But after CCTV footage and a key testimony lead, on the first day of the highly-publicized trial, to the slightly too convenient conclusion that the father’s driver is the actual culprit, the truth starts to unravel as both defense and prosecution claw to the truth and receive clues from a mysterious source as to what lies beneath the clear-cut appearances.

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ANGEL WARRIORS (2013) review

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A stunningly atrocious concoction from the brilliant mind who gave us Kung Fu Hip-hop, Angel Warriors is unfortunately less laugh-out-loud ridiculous than its plot synopsis might lead you to expect. Our heroes, as an ugly anime introduction makes it clear, are a group of five stunning women, all modern adventurers thirsting for new experiences : one is a company CEO (Yu Nan), one is an archeologist/polyglot, one is a wildlife protectionist, one is a dancer and a martial artist, and the last one is, we kid you not, the owner of an online shop for outdoors clothing. Real screenwriting gold right there. Their latest adventure is a trek inside the Kana Jungle, home of the Tiger tribe. Their guide is Sen (Shi Yanneng) a member of that tribe who doubles as the pidgin-English narrator of the film, bragging about how he’s going to marry soon and bringing the audience up to date anytime it is unclear what’s happening onscreen (that is, quite often). Also joining the girls are Wang (Collin Chou), a military friend of Yu Nan’s late brother, and a National Geographic team headed by Dennis (Andy On). But soon it transpires that it is not actually a National Geographic team, but a mercenary outfit on a search for the Tiger tribe’s precious jewels. All hell breaks loose as the girls and the mercenaries part ways and are both hunted down by the tribe.

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