BROTHERS (2007) short review

Brothers+2007-2-b

Derek Chiu’s Brothers was notable at the time of its release for reuniting the “Four Tigers” of Hong Kong TV network TVB, that is to say its four most successful actors in the eighties : Andy Lau, Michael Miu, Felix Wong and Ken Tong. Beyond that central quartet, the film also has a fairly impressive, albeit not uncommon, Hong Kong cast. The plot follows a terminally ill triad boss (Michael Miu), who with the help of his lover/lawyer (Crystal Huang) and his adoptive brother/ bodyguard (Felix Wong), navigates in a sea of aggressive rivals (Ken Tong and Henry Fong) and dogged cops (Andy Lau and Gordon Lam), to go clean and make his little brother (Eason Chan) his successor. The film is a meat and potatoes triad drama that possesses little in the way of originality but manages to feel reasonably fresh thanks to a steady pace, a lack of excess and most of all a strong cast on mostly fine form. Michael Miu anchors the film impressively with a thoughtful, tragic, nuanced performance that makes one wish he’d venture out of TV more often. Despite being by far the film’s biggest star, Andy Lau takes an admirable backseat, while injecting some unforced and much-needed comic relief at key moments. There’s quite a few interesting characters around them, not many of them developed enough, but all of them played in low-key, nuanced fashion, from Eason Chan’s naïve but steadfast little brother to Huang Yi’s strong but conflicted lawyer, with Yu Rongguang, Gordon Lam and Wang Zhiwen also leaving a mark. A bit uncomfortably, the film is too long for its fairly simple plot and overused tropes, but too short for its engaging and varied set of characters. ***

Advertisements

WHO AM I 2015 (aka AMNESIA) (2015) review

19891118_2015062410095447866300

What a strange idea to remake Jackie Chan’s Who Am I. While a success, the 1998 action film – which Chan co-directed with Benny Chan – wasn’t so popular that its title would become a brand name or rank among Chan’s greatest hits, and its premise of an elite agent who loses his memory in a botched operation then tries to piece back what happened while fending off a high-reaching conspiracy has been more than played out since, most notably and successfully in the Bourne films. What’s even more puzzling is that Song Yinxi’s Who Am I 2015, which was produced by Chan himself and stars mostly friends and protégés of his, actually has very little in common with the film of which it positions itself as a redo. The main character (here, Wang Haixiang) isn’t an elite agent anymore, he’s a bike courier with a penchant for extreme sports, and he’s not encroached in a vast conspiracy but simply chased by a shady boss’ henchmen (Ken Lo, Zhang Lanxin and director Song Yinxi himself) after witnessing the murder of a businessman. They frame him for the murder and he can only count on the help of a shrill hitchhiker (Yao Xingtong) and a mysterious ex-cop (Yu Rongguang), while suffering not from amnesia as in the original film, but from prosopagnosia (aka face blindness), a rare pathology that makes it difficult to recognize faces, even one’s own.

(more…)

COLD STEEL (2011) review

cold-steel-poster

As an editor, David Wu Dai Wai has had an illustrious career, cutting together the films of John Woo, Tsui Hark, Johnnie To, Ann Hui and many others. As a director, his list of credits is more modest, comprised as it is of mainly American TV movies and a few fairly unsuccessful Hong-Kong films (with the exception of The Bride With White Hair 2 in 1994). Cold Steel is actually his first Mainland film as a director, and is adapted – by Wu himself – from a popular 2009 novel by Li Xiaomin. Set in central China in 1938 during the Sino-Japanese war, it follows a young hunter, Mu Liangfeng (Peter Ho), who falls in love with Liu Yan (Song Jia), a woman whose teahouse has been turned into a temporary infirmary. But soon, Mu is enrolled by force in a sniper unit after using his marksmanship skills to rescue a Nationalist Army convoy from a Japanese sniper attack. The unit is headed by the grizzled veteran Zhang Mengyi (Tony Leung Ka Fai), and its new assignment is to assassinate four Japanese generals in the city of Jingzhou, to slow down the Japanese army. After the mission goes awry, they manage to escape but a Japanese colonel (Wilson Guo) is tasked with hunting them down with his own sniper squad.

(more…)

DEADEND OF BESIEGERS (1992) short review

600full-deadend-of-besiegers-cover A Mainland Chinese production, Cheung Sing Yim’s Deadend of Besiegers differs from most martial arts films of the time in a few ways, most notably in that it is a fairly old-fashioned film that has none of the wild angles and choreography in vogue at the time in Hong Kong cinema, and is actually reminiscent of an Shaw Brothers or Golden Harvest film of the late seventies. It stars Yu Rong-Guang as a disgraced karateka who flees Japan and finds himself tagging along with a gang of Japanese pirates. When the pirates raid a Chinese village, the karateka breaks free from them and saves a little Chinese girl, who in turn helps him get accepted into the village, as he seeks to learn a new fighting technique from her aunt (Cynthia Khan). The film’s main asset is Yu Rong-Guang, a fairly unsung martial arts actor who here both stars in the film, giving a warm and sympathetic performance that develops an endearing chemistry with the little girl, and choreographs the fighting with earthbound flair and engaging classicism. Cynthia Khan is a welcome presence and has some nice sparks with Yu. Really, the only thing ground-breaking about Deadend of Besiegers is the awkwardness of its title, but that doesn’t stop it from being an enjoyable, well-made martial arts film, that even manages to carry a more conciliatory message on Sino-Japanese relations than most films of its time. ***

FOX HUNTER (1995) review

img.php

Don’t be fooled by the official poster for Fox Hunter : Jade Leung and Jordan Chan sitting on a bench, she in a sexy dress, playfully brandishing a gun, and he with tape on his mouth and a pair of pineapples at his feet. You might be lead to believe this is a fun caper or some kind of buddy comedy, but it is something quite different, and it certainly doesn’t contain any scene of pineapples being laid at Jordan Chan’s feet. One of the few directing efforts of prominent (though somewhat underrated) action director and martial arts choreographer Tung Wei, it is actually a straightforward chase thriller, and a first-rate one at that. It follows a modest beat cop (Jade Leung), who’s repeatedly failed the test to become a detective, but is given an opportunity for promotion: she must pass herself as a call girl to nail a dangerous drug dealer (Ching Fung), with the help of a spineless pimp (Jordan Chan). The operation is a success, but the drug dealer manages to escape, kills Jade’s uncle in retaliation and rapes her. Now revenge is all that is on her mind, and she decides to pursue him to Mainland China where he has fled. For that she enlists Jordan Chan’s help by force, and once on the Mainland she must manage to find and kill her formidable opponent, all the while stopping her reluctant sidekick from escaping and dodging the local police, headed by Yu Rong-Guang.

(more…)

MAN WANTED (1995) short review

Image 1

Lok (Simon Yam) has been working for two years as an undercover cop, gaining the trust and friendship of drug lord Feng (Yu Rongguang). When the time comes to arrest him, Lok reluctantly reveals his true identity to him, but the arrest goes awry and Feng is presumed dead after his flaming car falls into the sea. Shaken by conflicting feelings of duty and remorse, Lok decides to support Feng’s girlfriend Yung (Christy Chung), but slowly falls in love with her. A year later Feng reappears, asking for Lok’s help on one more job, for old times’ sake. But his real intention is to get revenge… A relatively small film by Benny Chan’s standards, Man Wanted nevertheless benefits from the director’s usual impressive flair for action, and while the story is really nothing new, the chemistry shared by Simon Yam and Yu Rongguang (the latter being particularly excellent here) ensures the film never bores. It is however frequently weighed down by the heavy-handed romantic subplot, despite Christy Chung’s good performance, miles away from her overacting in Red Wolf the same year. ***

 

MY KINGDOM (2011) review

kingdom-poster1

Some films just don’t know what their best assets are. Take Gao Xiaosong’s My Kingdom : it benefits from the considerable talent and gravitas of two great martial arts actors, Yuen Biao and Yu Rongguang, and as long as it is concerned with them, it’s a riveting film. But as soon as the plot calls for their exit, we are left with something far more plodding and average. They play rival Chinese opera stars, master Yu (Yuen Biao) and master Yue (Yu Rongguang). Yu has two pupils, Yilong and Erkui, the latter being the last surviving member of a clan that was executed by the prince regent of the Qing dynasty. One day, as master Yu is being awarded a golden plaque honoring him as the greatest opera performer of his time, master Yue challenges him in a spear duel, and wins. Yu’s defeat means he is not allowed to perform on a stage anymore, and he spends the rest of his life away from the world, teaching his two students the art of opera fighting. When they are ready (and have grown into Wu Chun and Han Geng), they leave for Shanghai with the intent to reclaim the plaque from master Yue and carve out a career in Chinese opera for themselves. They quickly defeat Yue and take over his troupe, among which Mulang (Barbie Hsu), his former mistress. But Yilong and Erkui have different ways of dealing with their newfound stardom…

(more…)

SUPERCOP 2 (aka PROJECT S) (1993) review

After having taken a 5-year break from 1987 to 1992 to dedicate herself to her mariage with producer Dickson Poon, Michelle Yeoh made a triumphant comeback as Jackie Chan’s female counterpart in Police Story 3 : Supercop. She made such an impression in it, more than holding her own in the fight scenes next to Chan, that her character in that film, Mainland police officer Jessica Yang, got her own spin-off the following year : Supercop 2 (also known as Project S). When her boyfriend David (Yu Rongguang) decides to leave for Hong Kong to try and make a better living, Jessica Yang refuses to go with him, out of dedication to her work as a police officer. Later, she is herself called to Hong Kong to help fight against a huge crime wave in the city. What she doesn’t know yet is that David has crossed over to the other side of the law and is one of the masterminds behind this crime wave.

(more…)

BIG BULLET (1996) review

Bill Chu (Lau Ching Wan), a dedicated but headstrong Hong Kong cop, is demoted to the Emergency Unit for having punched his incompetent commanding officer during a police raid gone awry. There, he butts heads with by-the-book cop Jeff Chiu (Jordan Chan), and keeps trying to stop a gang of international criminals headed by Anthony Wong Chau-Sang and Yu Rongguang. There’s nothing new in this plotline, but there’s Benny Chan behind the camera, a superb cast in front, and a better-than-average script to tie it all in. Today Benny Chan is one of the top directors in Hong Kong and China, but in the middle of the nineties, having been revealed by the A Moment of Romance films, he was only starting to get to really shine, with main HK luminaries such as John Woo, Ringo Lam, Kirk Wong and Tsui Hark off to the United States. Although Big Bullet was a hit in Hong Kong at the time, it is strangely forgotten today, and never crossed over to the West as other HK action films have.

(more…)

THREE KINGDOMS: RESURRECTION OF THE DRAGON (2008) review

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the historical novel written by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th century and chronicling the years of constant warfare between kingdoms that marked the end of the Han Dinasty from 169 to 280, has always been the source of many films and TV series, most notably John Woo’s Red Cliff parts I & II, and a few months ago the Donnie Yen vehicle The Lost Bladesman. A sprawling epic, it provides a bonanza of characters, events and battles, which means filmmakers can always come back to the tried and tested Three Kingdoms source material, each time focusing on a different set of characters or a different chunk of the storyline.

Daniel Lee’s Three Kingdoms : Resurrection of the Dragon follows Zhao Zilong, one of the “Five Tiger Generals” of the Shu Kingdom. The film fashions itself as a biopic of sorts, but takes more than a few liberties with the source material, which itself is already semi-mythical. We follow Zhao Zilong (Andy Lau) from his enlisting in the Shu army, where he forms a long-standing friendship with Luo Ping An (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo), to his becoming a general nicknamed “The Invincible”, to his heroic death during the Battle of the Phoenix Heights, where his outnumbered army was annihilated by Cao Ying’s (Maggie Q) Wei Army.

(more…)