CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY (2016) review

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Making a sequel to Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon always seemed both natural and foolish, audacious and misguided. The 2001 film was adapted from one in a series of novels by Wang Du Lu, thus lending itself naturally to follow-ups; but it was so acclaimed that it made for a tough act to follow. There was then a interesting challenge to shooting a second film, but at the same time the absence of Ang Lee or someone with a similarly strong vision at the helm did not bode well, Yuen Woo Ping having always been hit-and-miss as a director. The film’s production was troubled, its release pattern controversial (it premiered on Netflix in the West, prompting many IMAX chains to refuse to screen it in the US), and its English soundtrack head-scratching. But those factors weren’t in and of themselves indicative of failure, especially with so much talent behind and in front of the camera.

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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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TAI CHI II (1996) review

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Billed as a sequel of sorts to the great Tai Chi Master, Tai Chi II is actually not only narratively unrelated to the illustrious Jet Li/Michelle Yeoh pair-up (also directed by Yuen Woo-Ping), but also spiritually disconnected from it : there’s not much Tai Chi in it. It tells of Jackie, a young Tai Chi disciple (ok, that’s the main Tai Chi connection) who spends his time pissing off his parents (a likeable pairing of Yu Hai and Sibelle Hu in her last film role), a beautiful girl’s (gorgeous Christy Chung) current boyfriend (Mark Cheng), and more dangerously, a gang of opium smugglers led by an angry Gweilo (Darren Shahlavi) who spouts such penetratingly written lines as “Damn you devil Chinaman”. It is notable for being Yuen Woo-Ping last feature film as a director before a 14-year hiatus that ended with 2010’s True Legend. But it is also the feature film debut of Jacky Wu Jing, a national Wushu champion who once seemed destined to be the next Jet Li, but through some bad career management has for now ended up a very reliable and likeable martial arts supporting actor instead (he was recently superb in Benny Chan’s Shaolin).

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MADAM CITY HUNTER (1993) short review

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Bearing not even the faintest connection to the famous City Hunter character which received its Jackie Chan-starring film adaptation the same year, Madam City Hunter is a bafflingly-scripted action comedy in which a tough police officer (Cynthia Khan) is framed for murder and takes advantage of her suspension to investigate on her shady young stepmother (Kara Hui), who may be a venomous gold-digger with ties to the mob. She is helped by her love-struck commissioner (Tommy Wong Kwong-Leung) and a private investigator (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) and his hyperactive girlfriend (Sheila Chan). It’s a film that noisily goes nowhere, a string of lazy gags peppered with bouts of fairly inspired action (Yuen Woo Ping produces and had a hand in the fights). The trite comedy balances between playing ground-level hijinks and viagra jokes. Still, outside of the scant fight scenes, the film’s one redeeming aspect is its cast: Cynthia Khan may not be quite at home in that kind of comedy, but Anthony Wong Chau-Sang is always eminently watchable, Kara Hui ramps up the sexy and has a lot of fun, and Tommy Wong Kwong-Leung is enjoyably cast against type as Khan’s swooning, well-meaning superior officer. A fun film, in an obnoxious way. **

RED WOLF (1995) review

It’s no secret the success of John McTiernan’s Die Hard led to all kinds of rip-offs, good and bad, throughout the nineties, but here is an example of the formula “man in the wrong place at the wrong moment foils bad guys in a circumscribed space” that actually hails from Hong Kong : Red Wolf, directed by martial arts supremo Yuen Woo-Ping in 1995. It stars Kenny Ho in the John McClane role of a head of security on a cruise ship who has to fight a crew of terrorists who have taken advantage of the New Year’s Eve celebrations to hijack the boat, aboard which there is a large quantity of uranium that they aim to steal.

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IN THE LINE OF DUTY 4 (1989) review

  The second of three urban action thrillers Yuen Woo-Ping and Donnie Yen collaborated on as director and star, In The Line Of Duty 4 is also, you guessed it, the fourth installment in a franchise that only has vague thematic continuity between its installments. The first two In The Line Of Duty films starred Michelle Yeoh and are also known as Yes Madam! and Royal Warriors. For the third film, Yeoh pulled out and was replaced with Cynthia Khan, who introduced the character of Rachel Yeung, which she reprises in this fourth film.

Cynthia Khan emerged as a replacement for Michelle Yeoh in the series and in Hong Kong cinema in general, after Yeoh went on an early and temporary retirement at the end of the eighties. She is just as beautiful and has the same tomboyish style as eighties Michelle Yeoh, but the difference is she is often replaced with an obvious stunt double in the trickier action scenes. Still, she is a charismatic and charming presence, and it’s a pity she vanished from the mainstream in the mid-nineties. Here she is paired with Donnie Yen (then at the beginning of his career and still a protégé of director Yuen Woo-Ping) and they play two cops investigating a drug-trafficking network with possibles international ties. They wind up having to take care of an innocent dock worker (Yuen Yat Chor) who witnessed a murder that is pivotal to the case, and questioning the loyalty of colleague Wong (Michael Wong), who might be playing both side.

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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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TIGER CAGE 2 (1990) review

In the eighties, director and martial arts choreographing god Yuen Woo Ping was trying to push forward in the limelight one of his most gifted disciples : one Zhen Zidan, best known as Donnie Yen. First Donnie Yen worked for Yuen as a stuntman, then the pair collaborated on three urban action films under the banner of the ill-fated D&B Films Company : Tiger Cage, In The Line Of Duty 4 and Tiger Cage 2. The latter only has a vague thematic kinship to Tiger Cage : it is not properly speaking a sequel, as Donnie Yen doesn’t even play the same character. Or does he ? The truth is in those late-eighties thrillers Yen always played more or less the same character : a tough, almost naively macho cop, with an almost childish incapability to properly communicate with women. Here he is surrounded with a fairly interesting cast including Shaw Brothers legend Lo Lieh, future Once Upon A Time In China star Rosamund Kwan, the highest-paid actress in Hong Kong (at the time) Carol “Do-Do” Cheung, as well as the Michelle Yeoh-wannabe Cynthia Khan and Robin Shou of Mortal Kombat fame.

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