BURY ME HIGH (1991) short review

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Tsui Siu Ming’s Bury Me High is an interesting mix of action and fantasy, along unusual lines, using feng shui as not just a plot point, but a full-blown narrative stake. It concerns a burial ground in a mountainous region of a Asian banana republic, whose unique feng shui location guarantees immense wealth to those interred there. A corporate executive (Moon Lee), a feng shui scholar (Tsui Siu Ming) and a hacker (Chin Kar Lok, stretching belief as popular hero Wisely, who is said to have an IQ of 200) go in search of this location, but they have to contend with the republic’s cruel new dictator (Yuen Wah, quite superb), who covets the burial ground to strengthen his power and wealth; his sister (Sibelle Hu) is more conflicted. There’s a very enjoyable sweep and ambition to the film, unfolding against majestic Vietnamese locations, and lavishing special care on its action scenes, which are scarce for the first two thirds, but plentiful in the final 30 minutes. A night fight on a rickety bridge unfolds in the middle of a vast torch-bearing circle of soldiers, there’s a full-blown battle scene involving tanks, and Yuen Wah and Chin Kar Lok’s amazing agility makes their final fight a thing of beauty, especially when the great Moon Lee cuts in. It is a lopsided film that doesn’t engage until its final tier, and the feng shui stakes are often a bit abstruse, but the finale is worth the wait. **1/2

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THE BODYGUARD (aka MY BELOVED BODYGUARD) (2016) review

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Sammo Hung’s first film as a director in nearly 20 years (since 1997’s Once Upon a Time in China and America), The Bodyguard came with a sense of expectation that was compounded by its starry cast of legendary old-timers (Karl Maka, Dean Shek, most of the Seven Little Fortunes) and A-listers both mature (Andy Lau, Tsui Hark, Hu Jun) and on the rise (Eddie Peng, William Feng), as well as a script (by Jiang Jun) that had earned some acclaim at the 3rd Beijing International Film Festival. Sammo Hung is Ding, a retired elite bodyguard who lives alone in his hometown near the Russian border, wracked with guilt after his granddaughter disappeared when he was supposed to watch over her. Dementia is creeping in on him, and despite the care of his lovestruck landlady (Li Qinqin), his only joy in this world is the friendship of his young neighbor Cherry (Chen Pei Yan), who often stays at his house to avoid her father Li (Andy Lau), a gambling addict. When Li goes on the run with a bag of jewels that he stole from the Russian mob to repay his debt to local gangster Choi (Jack Feng), Ding has to break out of his stupor to protect Cherry, who is about to become collateral damage as henchmen both Chinese and Russian hunt down her father.

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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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CHOY LEE FUT (2011) review

choy-lee-fut In 2001, two films focused on the widely practiced (in China at any rate) martial art known as Choy Lee Fut ; two films films which taken together say less about their subject than 10 minutes of Ip Man conveyed about Wing Chun. Of the two, John Ching’s Choy Lee Fut Kung Fu is the superior film, simply by dint of being funny on purpose. Tommy Law and Sam Wong’s Choy Lee Fut on the other hand, doesn’t seem to realize it’s laughable. Its unbelievably standard storyline concerns a young man (Sammy ‘son of Sammo’ Hung) who moves from London to China with his friend (Kane ‘son of Sho’ Kosugi) in order to learn Choy Lee Fut in a school owned by his father (Sammo Hung) and headed by his uncle (Yuen Wah). But just as they arrive, they are told that the school is about to be bought by a mega-conglomerate, and that the only way to keep ownership of it is to win a martial arts tournament a month later.

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KICKBOXER (1993) short review

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Directed by Wu Ma and sometimes billed as Once Upon A Time In China 6, which it is definitely not, Kickboxer instead focuses on a disciple of Wong Fei Hung (who is absent from the whole film), Yuen Biao’s Lau Zhai, who after being wrongly accused of smuggling opium into China, has to infiltrate a Opium gang led by Chairman Wah (Yuen Wah), with the help of his friend Bucktooth (Wu Ma) and constable Panther (Yen Shi Kwan). Produced not only to cash in on the success of Tsui Hark’s Once Upon A Time In China series, but also to provide Yuen Biao with a starring role worthy of his talents following his sidelining in the first film of Tsui Hark’s series, Kickboxer was unfortunately made with much less money, resulting in a far cheaper look. More disappointingly, despite its ambition to better showcase Yuen Biao, the film relies too much on comedy and not enough on fights. It has crazy moments, like what can only be described as a kung fu chess game between Yuen and Yen Shi Kwan, but overall has the feel of a TV knockoff. Things do get a bit more memorable in final fight between Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah (always an exciting match-up), but in the end, Kickboxer isn’t that much less a waste of Yuen’s massive talents than Once Upon A Time In China was. **

 

KUNG FU WING CHUN (2010) short review

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Unfortunately more notable for the tragic death of its star Bai Jing than for anything to be found in it, this martial arts comedy by Tung Cho Joe Cheung features more inane comedy than interesting fighting, a shame given its title. Just like Yuen Woo-Ping’s 1994 film Wing Chun (starring the soon-to-be-reunited triumvirate of Yuen, Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen), it plays fast and loose with the already fast and loose origins of Wing Chun kung fu, a fighting style recently kicked into a full-blown trend by Yen’s Ip Man films. The historically baseless story of Wing Chun is that it was taught by buddhist nun Ng Mui to a young girl called Wing Chun, whose only way out of a loveless wedding to a rich kid was defeating him in a fight. Kung Fu Wing Chun more or less sticks to the legend, coating it in some uninspired comedy and akwardly choreographed fights, all very fake looking due to a stuffy studio aesthetic and cheap-looking green-screen work. The late Bai Jing is endearing but no Michelle Yeoh, being a bit short in the charisma department and quite often obviously doubled. Brief relief from mediocrity comes in the form of some illustrious supporting actors, among which Kara Hui as Ng Mui, Collin Chou as the villain of the piece, and the Yuen Wah/Yuen Qiu couple from Kung Fu Hustle. *1/2

 

SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT (aka LETHAL LADY) (1990) review

Joyce Godenzi, a former Miss Hong Kong of Sino-Australian descent, had a short career as a lead actress, before marrying Sammo Hung Kam-Bo in 1995 and retiring from the film industry. The few films she made as a lead actress were often associated with the successful Girls with Guns sub-genre of action cinema, which in the late eighties and early nineties had people like Michelle Yeoh, Cynthia Khan or Kara Hui as its most famous faces. Her best-known film remains Corey Yuen’s She Shoots Straight, in which she plays a career-oriented policewoman who marries Tsung-Pao (Tony Leung Ka Fai), the only son in the Huang family. She has to face the resentment of her husband’s four sisters, (all of them cops under her command, which makes things more complicated) who do not approve, among other things, of her unwillingness to have a baby just yet. The elder sister Ling (Carina Lau) is also defiant of Mina’s authority on the force, and enraged that her own mother and brother are siding with Mina in every argument. At the same time, they have to put their differences aside to stop a gang of Viet-namese criminals (headed by the great Yuen Wah) on a crime spree through Hong Kong. Sammo Hung Kam-Bo endearingly crops up from time to time, surely to show his future wife some support (he’s also a producer on this film).

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ON THE RUN (1988) review

Heung Ming (Yuen Biao), is a down-on-his-luck cop who is looking to emigrate to Canada to start anew. But when his ex-wife is killed for digging too much into a case of corruption involving the head of Criminal Police, Lu (Charlie Chin), he finds himself accused of the murder and chased with his young daughter through night-time Hong Kong by Lu’s squad of corrupt cops (Lo Lieh, Yuen Wah and Phillip Ko). Through a bizarre but inevitable twist of fate, he finds that his only ally is Pai (Pat Ha), the very person who killed his ex-wife.

Casting against type can be a cheap way of bringing a sense of novelty to well-worn formulas, but when made right it can also be, as in the case of On The Run, a powerful way of taking the audience aback and hitting harder in the dramatic stakes. The director himself, Alfred Cheung, was and is still better-known for his comedies, and for him to direct such an unflinching noir thriller, is kind of like if Jon Turteltaub was the director of There Will Be Blood. But credit where it’s due : Cheung directs not only with a firm hand, but also with a great eye for dark humor and shocking turns of events. The pace is crisp, with taut, realistic action scenes that are made more hard-hitting not by trying to be too spectacular, but through striking details such as the hitwoman’s almost uncanny ability to kill anyone she fires at with a single, perfectly aimed headshot, even if that person is using a child as a human shield. The gripping pace of brief shootouts and blistering chases only ever lets up for strangely mesmeric interludes, as when Pai, the hitwoman, takes advantage of a moment of respite in a hideout to coyly try on a dress she’s bought before everything went to hell.

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MOB SISTER (2005) review

After getting his big break in the Hong Kong film industry with the over-indulgent and gaudy Jiang Hu (aka Triad Underworld), director Wong Ching-Po came back to the world of the Triads with Mob Sister, and once again gathered a who’s who of Hong Kong gangster films, from acting gods and Johnnie To regulars Simon Yam and Anthony Wong Chau Sang to Derek Yee’s go-to actors Alex Fong and Liu Kai-Chi, as well as the omnipresent Eric Tsang, and a representative of the Yuen clan in the person of Yuen Wah. Add to that fresh faces like Annie Liu, up and coming mainland actor (at the time, now he’s well-established) Ye Liu and actress Karena Lam, and you get one of the most intriguing and exciting casts in a while. Annie Liu is Phoebe, the adopted daughter of a kind-hearted mob boss (Eric Tsang), who lives a sheltered life surrounded by her father, her three protective uncles (Yam, Wong, and Fong), and her bodyguard (Ye Liu). But when her father is killed, she is called on to replace him as triad boss. The idea of an innocent teenage girl catapulted into the shoes of a mob boss is pure comedy material, but Wong Ching-Po choses – wisely – to not settle on a particular tone, instead oscillating between whimsical, bittersweet and tragic, and peppering his film with animated sequences that illustrate the “mob sister”‘s feelings.

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HERO (1997) review

Corey Yuen has action-directed countless films, but also directed quite a few, generally falling into two categories : chick-action flicks (Yes Madam!, So Close, Dead or Alive…) or Jet Li vehicles (The Enforcer, The Defender, the Fong Sai Yuk films…). Most of these film are enjoyable fluff, but not much else. But ironically, his very best film, one that stands in a league of its own compared to the others, is also his least famous. Released in 1997, Hero gave Takeshi Kaneshiro his first leading role in a big action film, and saved Yuen Biao from his Philippines-set career degeneration. Kaneshiro plays Ma Wing Jing, a young man who comes to Shanghai with his brother Tai Cheung (Yuen Wah) to escape the poverty of his village. He finds that life is no less hard in the city, working as coolie and being paid almost nothing. After saving the life of benevolent mobster Tam See in an ambush by his rival Yang Shuang (Yuen Tak), Ma Wing Jing is catapulted to the head of one of Tam’s nightclubs, where he falls in love with Kim (Jessica Hester Hsuan), a singer. But Yang Shuang is scheming with the local corrupt authorities to take full control on the town, and he may be getting help from the conniving Yam (Valerie Chow), Tam See’s former girlfriend.

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