LEGEND OF THE DEMON CAT (2017) review

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Based on a best-seller by Japanese author Baku Yumemakura, this massive, 200-million dollars production – whose enormous sets are soon to become an amusement park – is a uniquely ambitious co-production between Mainland China, Japan and Hong Kong. It takes place in the year 805, as a mysterious black cat stalks the imperial palace in Chang’an, just as the gravely ill emperor Dezong dies from a violent fit ; the same cat appears to Chen Yunqiao (Qin Hao), captain of the imperial guard, and to his wife Chunqin (Zhang Yuqi), revealing to them a cache of money, but asking in return to be fed eyes – the eyes of any creature, including humans. Buddhist monk Kukai (Shota Sometani), who had arrived from Japan to meet the emperor and senses the presence of the black cat, joins forces with scholar, poet and newly-fired imperial scribe Bai Letian (Huang Xuan) to unravel the mystery: they soon realize it takes its root thirty years before, when Tang emperor Xuanzong (Zhang Luyi) had his consort – and legendary beauty – Yang Yuhuan (Sandrine Pinna) killed. A known historical fact, about which Bai Letian has been writing a poem for the past few years: and yet it may be a lie, as the personal account of Abe no Nakamaro (Hiroshi Abe), a scholar who knew the emperor and his consort, seems to reveal.

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THE GOLDEN MONK (2017) short review

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The eponymous golden monk of this Wong Jing quickie is the same folk hero played by Stephen Chow in Johnnie To’s The Mad Monk (1993), Buddhist monk Ji Gong. Here played by Zheng Kai as a superpowered monk who when crossing paths with demon hunter Jade (Zhang Yuqi), realizes they have been lovers lifetimes ago in Heaven, while trying to fend off the evil dragon Beihai Dulong’s plot to overthrow the emperor. Co-directed by Billy Chung, The Golden Monk is a painful bore and an eyesore from start to finish. Its humour is the usual stodgy Wong Jing cocktail of tired Mo Lei Tau, tiresome pratfalls and cringe-worthy references to recent hits (here, the Marvel universe), while the action is plagued by truly embarrassing CGI, with poorly-rendered monsters jerking around endlessly against flat backgrounds. With its formula of demon-hunting, origin story, unhinged humour and a romantic tragedy involving a monk and a feisty hunter, the film desperately apes Stephen Chow’s infinitely superior Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, a sorry sight indeed. While Zheng Kai has solid presence and comic timing, a vast supporting cast of Hong Kong, Mainland and Taiwanese comedians gesticulate hopelessly around him, while Zhang Yuqi seems to have mentally checked out very early into the film. And so should the audience. 1/2*

LOST IN THE PACIFIC (2016) review

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In 2014, Vincent Zhou directed the Chinese thriller Last Flight, starring Ed Westwick and Zhu Zhu, about a red-eye flight under attack from mutant cats. Made on a budget of $10 millions, the film garnered only $5.9 millions at the box-office and yet less than two years later, here comes Lost in the Pacific, made on roughly the same budget but this time a US-China coproduction, with a – very slightly – starrier cast, but mostly the same plot adorned with a few futuristic enhancements: it takes place in 2020 on the inaugural flight of a luxury aircraft, for which all the passengers are celebrities here to create buzz, with a journalist (Jiang Mengjie) in tow to publicize the whole thing. When a freak storm forces the captain (Zhang Yuqi) to make an emergency landing on a deserted island in the Pacific, the plane is attacked by a pack of mutant red-eyed cats, as well as two shady paramilitaries (Bernice Liu and Kaiwi Lyman) who quickly take command and redirect the flight towards a mysterious aircraft carrier. It’s left to the captain and the ex-special forces cook (Brandon Routh looking like an overgrown Jason Schwartzman playing Casey Ryback) to save the day.

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