Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Wolf Warriors 2 Review 2017 China 战狼2

Wolf Warrior 2 战狼2

Year: 2017
Director: Wu Jing
Writers: Wu Jing, Dong Qun, Liu Yi

Cast: Wu Jing, Celina Jade, Frank Grillo, Hans Zhang, Wu Gang
Running Time: 121 Minutes
Country: China

2017's surprise blockbuster hit Wolf Warrior 2 is one of those rare cases of the sequel not only being better than the original but surpassing the film in every single way.

After the events of Wolf Warrior, Leng Feng (Wu Jing), China's deadliest special forces operative settles into a quiet life on the sea. When sadistic mercenaries begin targeting nearby civilians, he must leave his newfound peace behind and return to his duties as a soldier and protector. A Chinese destroyer arrives to evacuate strictly Chinese civilians caught up in the middle of the civil war, but after overhearing guards talking about needing someone to rescue workers at a factory and an important doctor who knows the vaccination for Lamanla, Leng Feng volunteers.

Viewers will realise within the first few minutes if this film is for them. Kicking off with an immense fight scene between Wu Jing and Somali pirates which takes the fight into the ocean. Cleverly orchestrated, they are submerged underwater into one of the best underwater-fight scenes ever filmed, which is neatly edited to look like one take. It's fun, ridiculously over the top and sets the tone for what's to follow for the next two hours.

Many viewers and critics had issues with the original Wolf Warrior, mainly due to its propaganda feel and the fact it came across like a recruitment video for the Chinese army. This sequel essentially strips all that away. While still being highly Nationalistic, it actually works to the plot and doesn't feel quite as contrived. The film has less in common with The Founding of a Republic and it's more in line with a Chinese version of Rambo. Wu Jing directs the film, as well as starring once again. Wu has improved leaps and bounds as a director and this time he keeps the plot simple and straight to the point, which allows the story to flow without the need to ever over-complicate things. If at any time your mind starts to wander during some of the character development scenes, don't fret because there is another exciting action scene right around the corner.

The location of Africa is also a fresh setting for the series, while not explicitly stating which country the film is set in, it's only ever mentioned as Africa. The setting emerges the viewer right into the heart of Africa. Full of wild interesting locations, including the slums which play host to an exhilarating car chase. There's also the introduction of some very fun African characters. There is a touching relationship with a boy that Wu Jing becomes a godfather too. The boy and his mother are both hilarious characters and inject some humour into the violent action story. The stereotypes of some of the Africans may be bordering on offensive to some, but it all seems in good fun.

Wolf Warrior 2 is probably the best action film of the year thus far! It's filled to the brim with some breathtaking action scenes and set-pieces throughout. The action is on a huge scale and with great stunt work that would make a Hong Kong stuntman proud. There are highly intricate martial arts hand-to-hand fights which Wu Jing shines throughout. There are also plenty of shoot outs full of a wide variety of guns and tanks, topped off with knife fights and loads of explosions. Some of the action scenes are ridiculously over the top, such as Wu Jing stopping a bazooka in the most ridiculous yet entertaining way possible. But that's all part of the fun! Suspend your disbelief and have some fun. Although Scott Adkins is missing from the film, Frank Grillo steps up and plays an excellent villain. Grillo also helps deliver a brutally skilful final fight-scene with Wu Jing which doesn't disappoint at all.

Remain in your seat after the film is finished for a mid-credit Marvel-esque teaser scene that reminded me of a Coors Light commercial... And will give fans of the series something to look forward to.

Wolf Warrior 2 is a highly entertaining film. If you like your old school action films, this is for you. It's fun from start to finish and the action never lets up. Given all of this, it's really not a surprise that the film is doing so well at the box-office. As a side note; this is the first time in years, outside of festivals, that I've watched a film in the cinema that received a round of applause.


Sunday, 20 August 2017

Once Upon A Time 三生三世十里桃花 Review 2017 China

Once Upon A Time - Shi Li Tai Hua - 三生三世十里桃花
Year: 2017
Director: Zhao Xiaoding, Anthony LaMolinara
Starring: Liu Yifei, Yang Yang, Luo Jin, Yan Yikuan
Based on: Three Lives, Three Worlds, Ten Miles Peach Blossoms by TangQi Gongzi
Running Time: 110 mins
Country: China

Once Upon A Time is the latest Chinese CGI-heavy fantasy-romance drama. Big budget Chinese films brimmed of CGI have become increasingly popular over the years but with many previous films not having special effects up to Hollywood's standard, how does Once Upon A Time compare?

This is the story of Bai Qian, a goddess and monarch from the Heavenly Realms. In her first life, she was the disciple of Mo Yuan. Due to a devastating war, Mo Yuan’s soul was destroyed while sealing the Demon Lord. Seventy thousand years later while Bai Qian was trying to reseal the Demon Lord, she was sent to the mortal realm to undergo a trial to become a High Goddess. There, she meets Ye Hua with whom she falls in love and eventually married. However, their love ends tragically. Many years later, the two star-crossed lovers meet again as deities but all her memories have been erased due to her request. Ye Hua, who is now a crown prince black dragon 90,000 years younger than Bai Qian, gets a second chance at love with her.

Sounds confusing? Well, it is. Prior knowledge of the original book "Three Lives, Three Worlds, Ten Miles Peach Blossoms" or maybe even the TV series would have helped. But with this being my first time discovering this story, I was left scratching my head a few times. The confused identities, the forced romance and the convoluted plot would work better over the 58 episode TV series. The enormous task of trying to cram all of this story into under 2 hours was always going to be tricky. That being said, the 2 directors almost manage to pull it off, with only a few of the ideas not entirely clicking. The story revolves around two seemingly star-crossed lovers who continue to encounter each other over numerous lifetimes, in its simplicity. Keep telling yourself that.

Surprisingly Once Upon A Time is actually beautiful to look at. Shot almost entirely against green-screen with limited physical sets and props, the visuals are stunning! Being co-directed with visual-effects artist Anthony LaMolinara, whose credits include Hollow Man and Spider-Man 1 and 2, appears to have certainly helped in that department. The backdrops all look mesmerising and seem to go on for miles; the visual-effects creatures look more real than what most Chinese films have to offer. The costumes are also exquisite with many remarkable embroidered outfits and complex hairstyles which are worthy of recognition. The same praise can be given to the music which is full of traditional sounding Chinese instruments and reminiscent of big blockbuster scores from films such as House of Flying Daggers.

The two lead characters Liu Yifei (Bai Qian) and Yang Yang (Ye Hua) are both great in their respective roles. There is good on-screen chemistry between them and their love story is charming, even if it does seem a little contrived at the beginning. Once you discover more about these complex characters and their stories unfold with twists and turns, it ultimately results in some emotional and heart-warming scenes delivered from the pair.

Another exciting aspect of the film is the action scenes. There is more action in the film than the trailers and advertising would lead you to believe. Some of these are executed fairly well with fun wire-fu sword fighting magic and battles with CGI monsters including a tiger, a dragon and some bizarre giant earth-tree creature. All of these are a welcome break from the drama and they give your brain time to recover.

The film is flawed but still enjoyable overall. With many good elements to it, especially being a treat for your eyes and ears. The plot is bewildering but eventually, the main points become clear and allow you to relax and soak it all in. If you like big fantasy fairy tales then you will enjoy this one, but make sure you keep your thinking cap on!


Saturday, 12 August 2017

Be My Baby Review 2013 Japan 恋の渦

Be My Baby 
Year: 2013
Director: Hitoshi Ohne
Writer: Daisuke Miura
Kenta Niikura, Naoko Wakai, Takumi Matsuzawa, Daisuke Sawamura, Yuki Ueda, Yumi Goto, Kenta Enya, Chihiro Shibata and Aya Kunitake
Running Time: 138 mins

Country: Japan

An unflinching, unflattering and honest voyeuristic look at a group of 9 Japanese twentysomethings and their intertwined relationships.

Unfolding in the two weeks following a casual party at the home of the overbearing Koji, nine 20-something Japanese revellers with long, deeply entwined histories navigate the secrets and lies of contemporary relationships. Touching on issues of self-respect, emotional manipulation, casual viciousness, petty interpersonal politicking, dependency, insecurity, infidelity and misogyny, director Hitoshi One's (Moteki - Love Strikes) satire is as dark as it is soapy with unfortunately recognisable characters with recognisable human flaws.

A surprise hit Japanese indie film that was made for under £7000 and shot in only 4 days. As part of an idea from an actor's workshop, Be My Baby features all newcomers delivering strong performances under director Hitoshi Ohne (Bakuman).

If you have previous knowledge of Japanese youth culture then you are bound to get more out of the film. The opening act can be quite challenging as the viewer is introduced to each character in quick succession, as you try to piece together their motives and intentions it becomes quite overwhelming. The party scene still accomplishes its job of setting up the rest of the plot which thankfully slows down as we get into the meat of the story.

Most of the characters aren't nice people. They are mean and honest and very real. At times it's almost uncomfortable to see them talk about other people behind their back. Viewers will likely all relate to a character or a situation and will know people just like them. We have all met someone who is in a relationship that they don't know if they want to be in anymore. Or someone who is in an emotionally abusive relationship. Or someone who just tries their hardest to fit in with their friends even though they are the complete opposite. Or someone who is mean to just about everyone yet is still popular in his social circle. The majority of the characters aren't likeable and you will find yourself waiting with bated breath for these people to get their comeuppance.

The film could have been trimmed to about the 2-hour mark and would have flowed better overall narratively. However, that doesn't hinder from how great the story is, especially with some strong emotional punches along the way; as well as a shock ending. There is really no fault to find with the actor's performances, each one of them is unique and strong in their own way. If I hadn't read about the actors being newcomers, I would have never guessed. 

Filmed in only 4 locations, all of which are small dingy Japanese apartments. It always feels like you are right there; in amongst the story. This also adds to the uncomfortablity and claustrophobia during some of the scenes as the viewer is so close to the action but also feels helpless and with no escape.


Sunday, 23 July 2017

Planet of the Apes Series ranked best to worst!

This is an Asian Cinema blog but every now and again I do write about other films too.
For fans of Planet of the Apes, this is my ranking of the entire series from best to worst including the latest War for the Planet of the Apes. 
Check it out! 

Now back to Asian films!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Children Who Chase Lost Voices Review 2011 Japan 星を追う子ども

Children Who Chase Lost Voices aka Journey To Agartha 星を追う子ども
Year: 2011
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Writer: Makoto Shinkai
Running Time: 116 minutes
Country: Japan

2011 saw the release of Makoto Shinkai's 3rd film and the follow-up to his highly acclaimed 5 Centimeters per Second. For Children Who Chase Lost Voices his themes and directions completely changed, this time focusing on the realm of fantasy. It's his most ambitious film to date and one that would draw many comparisons to Studio Ghibli.

Asuna Watase lives a lonely and somewhat sheltered life. After her father passed away she spends most of her time herself listening to a radio which was left to her as a memento. The radio uses a strange crystal in place of a diode which picks up music that sounds unfamiliar to her. Asuna randomly encounters a mysterious boy in her hideaway and they begin to have a connection which tragically gets cut short. After a discussion with her substitute teacher Mr. Morisaki, Asuna believes she might have a chance to see the boy again. She goes on a journey to a mysterious world where mythical beasts roam and brave warriors fight for their lives as she is destined to learn about life and death. 

It's impossible to discuss a Makoto Shinkai film without talking about the artwork and animation. In terms of animation, Makoto is one of the very few who can compete with Ghibli for how beautiful his films are to look at; Children Who Chase Lost Voices is no exception. The director transports you to the fictional world of Agartha through backgrounds full of rich stunning colors and exceptional fantasy artwork. With this film being more fast paced than his earlier 5 Centimeters per Second the viewer might not be able to take in all the art as well as you would like as some of the action scenes zoom past before your eyes can process it. The English dub is actually handled extremely well and is a bonus if you want to really get immersed in the film without being distracted by subtitles.

For fans of Makoto, there will be a few familiar elements that are discussed such as separation of loved ones and loneliness. However, there is a whole new genre tackled with the fantasy setting which completely separates it from his other work. The story is somewhat complex and occasionally there is actually too much going on. With the introduction to the new world and its lore, it can get overwhelming trying to keep up with all the new information along with plot twists and various characters and beasts.

There is surprisingly some dark ideas throughout the story as it tackles many adult themes and subject matters. This is actually a breath of fresh air to see some of these topics discussed while watching a bright animated fantasy film. Some of the scenes actually left me a little shocked while contemplating the characters motives for some of their choices. There is also some on-screen violence during the action scenes which caught me off guard; this will be why the film was released in the UK with a 12 rating.

There are many elements and even some characters throughout the film which is reminiscent of Studio Ghibli. Films that look to have been an inspiration of sorts include Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Castle In The Sky. This isn't necessarily a bad trait, however, it does take you out of the film sometimes when you keep seeing images that remind you of Ghibli films.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a fine film in Makoto Shinkai's filmography. While it is fun and stunning to look at, it's not without its flaws. It's still easily one of his most ambitious films and it's a nice stepping stone on the way to his masterpiece Your Name.


See this if you liked:
Your Name
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Princess Mononoke

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Takeshi Kitano's Films Ranked Best To Worst

My first article is up on Taste Of Cinema.
It's a comprehensive list ranking all of Takeshi Kitano's directorial filmography from best to worst.
Give it a read. And let me know what you think.


Saturday, 20 May 2017

Han Gong-ju Review 2013 South Korea 한공주

Han Gong-Ju 한공주
Year: 2013
Director: Lee Su-jin
Writer: Lee Su-jin
Cast: Chun Woo-hee, Jung In-sun, Kim So-young
Running Time: 112 minutes
Country: South Korea

Lee Su-jin directs a powerful and brave coming-of-age story based on real life events of an infamous crime that happened in Miryang, South Korea.

17 year old girl Han Gong-ju is forced to change schools after being involved in a scandalous incident. Her previous school teacher takes it upon himself to help her out by arranging a place for her to hide out, in his mother's home. After starting a new school, Han Gong-ju tries to move on from the incident while keeping to herself but when her new friend Eun-hee discovers that she is a talented singer, she records her and uploads it to the internet on a fansite. Just as Gong-ju's life is starting to come together, her past begins to catch up.

Surprisingly Lee Su-jin tackled such a controversial subject for his directorial debut while also serving as the screen-writer. It proved to be a rewarding choice as the film went on to win numerous top awards around the festival circuit including the Tiger Award at the 2014 International Film Festival Rotterdam, the Golden Star at the 2013 Marrakech International Film Festival and Best New Director and Best Actress at the 35th Blue Dragon Film Awards.

The story is told through a non-conventional narrative and plot structure. Jumping subtly between past and present, it often catches you off guard before you realise what time frame the story is currently in. This adds to the viewers confusion as the mystery starts to unfold leaving you desperate and anxious to know what transpired. The storytelling and pacing is handled expertly as the film reaches it's nail-biting conclusion. With each new flashback, the horrifying incident gets more and more shocking as the viewer discovers exactly what occurred. Although these scenes can be hard to watch, credit to director Lee Su-jin, he never delves in to shock tactics to get a reaction.

Chun Woo-hee at the age of 26 plays a character ten years her junior with finesse and believability. Starring as the traumatised teen she delivers a subtle, yet often highly emotional and convincing performance which encourages you to root for the character as she tries to adjust and move on with her life. Chun Woo-hee's award winning performance would probably net her an Oscar nomination if this was a Hollywood picture.

The story is helped along with some humour and beautiful music and although the film is very dark, it still often feels upbeat. Gong-ju takes up trying to learn to swim once she moves school which adds some light-hearted comic relief moments. As does her new friendship with Eun-hee, which is sweet and adds some much needed charm to the film. Overall the film and story is bold and powerful, and even though it can be a hard watch, it deserves to be seen.

Hang Gong-Ju is a low budget film which went on to receive critical acclaim and break box office records in South Korea for an independent release. The films also elevated two new stars in the lead actress and director who are certainly people you should keep a close eye on.


Sunday, 30 April 2017

Love Off The Cuff Review 2017 Hong Kong 春嬌救志明

Love Off The Cuff 春嬌救志明
Year: 2017
Director: Pang Ho-cheung
Writers: Luk Yee-sum, Wan Chi-man, Pang Ho-cheung
Cast: Miriam Yeung, Shawn Yue, Paul Chun, Jiang Mengjie
Running Time: 120 minutes
Country: Hong Kong-China

Pang Ho-cheung re-teams Shawn Yue and Miriam Yeung for his third installment in the romantic-comedy Love In A Puff series. Is this story starting to show signs of fatigue? Or is this an inevitable set up for a fourth film?

Picking up after the events of 2012's Love In The Buff, Cherie (Miriam Yeung) and Jimmy (Shawn Yue) are now a relatively happy couple, living together and dealing with their daily ups and downs. Jimmy still has trouble growing up and taking the relationship seriously, while Cherie can be a bit overbearing and her demands make it somewhat challenging to live with. Furthering their stress, Cherie's father (Paul Chun) returns to town out of blue to introduce them to his new young fiancee. At the same time, Jimmy's childhood friend, who also happens to be his godmother, comes to visit with the request of wanting Jimmy to father her child through artificial insemination. After a disastrous trip together to Taipei, the couple are finally forced to confront their doubts about their future together.

The plot is very bare, as was the rest of the series, but that's never what drives these films. It's about the characters, their realism and their situations together. It almost has an intimate documentary feel as we peek in to a couples insecurities as we watch Cherie snoop through Jimmy's phone. Or her worrying about their younger lodger walking around the apartment in her bra. Jimmy is constantly doing something wrong or upsetting his partner by accident, which is a character trait that a lot of men, including myself, can relate to. And that's the driving force behind these films, how relatable and real that they feel.

Love Off The Cuff, like the rest of the series, is a very local Hong Kong film. The characters talk and act like Hong Kongers which is part of the appeal of Pang Ho-cheung's work. He isn't afraid to possibly alienate some viewers by keeping it brutally realistic. Some of the humour is distinctive to Hong Kong, so some of the jokes may go over your head. And there are references throughout to HK pop-culture such as jokes about the Young and Dangerous films, Nick Cheung, Leon Lai and even some Canto-pop songs. There is a karaoke scene featuring a pop song(that i'm unfamiliar with) which is used rather effectively and even if you are unfamiliar with the song, you still understand the sentiment. But if you are a local, i'm sure it would have even more depth.

Pang Ho-cheung handles humour excellently in his films, and Love Off The Cuff is dirtier and more outrageous than before. There is a scene involving a gag about "literally shit" as Cherie puts it. It's childish, it's crude, and it's genuinely funny, it received a loud roar of laughter in the cinema hall I was in. There is some situation and shock humour throughout the film, but it's all executed well. A memorable scene has cops finding the 2 leads in a mistaken sexual act situation which gets funnier and funnier as it progresses, this is similar to comedy you may see in American Pie or Superbad. It's not always possible to get humour to work this well for the Hong Kong audience that the Western world also understands, but I think this series has tackled that very well, even if that wasn't their overall intention.

Shawn and Miriam have grew together throughout these films. They have always had great chemistry but now after 7 years, it almost feels like they have became these alter egos and it makes the whole experience more worthwhile. Both do a superb job in their roles, and none of their acting could be faulted. The supporting cast are also great with Cherie's regular friends returning for shenanigans. And her dad played by Paul Chun has some brilliantly funny scenes which boosts the film with some needed energy.

120 minutes didn't feel overly long, but it could have been trimmed down by about 15 minutes or so to help the overall flow of the story progression. There is also one scene which came across as being a bit too dark and startling for this genre of film, it caught me off guard and stayed with me for a while afterwards. But Pang Ho-cheung is a genre busting director at heart, which is evident by his bizarre intros to his films. This time is was a highly entertaining story about Gat Gat Gong... Which almost makes me hope he directs a monster horror film next.

Although I wouldn't go as far to say that fatigue is setting in, I'd rank this film better than part two but not as good as part one, it did feel like more could have been done to progress the characters story further as a lot of the film is familiar territory. With the ending we are left wondering, is this the end of the trilogy? Or will there be a fourth to let us fans know what happens next? I personally think there is enough story left in these characters to make another film. So how about we get the next installment "Love Up The Duff" (That name has been shamelessly stolen from my partner who suggested it after our viewing).


Love Off The Cuff is currently showing from the 28th April in cinemas across Hong Kong, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the UK. For more information check here

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Windstruck Review 2004 South Korea 내 여자친구를 소개합니다

Windstruck 내 여자친구를 소개합니다

Year: 2004
Director: Kwak Jae-yong
Writer: Kwak Jae-yong
Cast: Jun Ji-hyun, Jang Hyuk
Running Time: 123 minutes
Country: South Korea

Windstruck is a Korean Rom-com/Drama that's a spiritual companion piece to My Sassy Girl, featuring the same lead actress and same director. In it's own right, this is still a very good film.

Myung Woo(Jang Hyuk) is a mild-mannered teacher who gets mistaken for a purse snatcher while chasing after the real culprit. An off duty tough as nails police officer Gyeong Jin(Jun Ji-hyun) ends up catching and arresting him to his suprise.
Although this hilarious case of mistaken identity is eventually sorted out, Myung Woo has to return to the police station only a few days later in order to carry out some "community service" by accompanying a police officer while he walks his day-to-day beat. However, Myung Woo is shocked to learn that he's going to be following Gyeong Jin! After spending the entire night handcuffed to his sexy, but dangerous partner as she chases down no-good criminals, Myung Woo begins to discover that he's falling for the brassy, and yet, sassy law enforcement agent!

Windstruck is definitely a film of two halves. The first hour is so entertaining and laugh out loud funny. It's directed so well, that even though many scenes are rom-com cliches the hour passes so quickly that you want the story to just continue you like this, although deep down you know that it can't. Jun Ji-hyun(My Sassy Girl) is brilliant in the lead as usual. Maybe a bit of a stereotypical character for her to play, but she plays the part of the sassy girlfriend so convincingly. She also really gets to exercise her acting chops with some heavy emotional scenes and even a bit of action! Jang Hyuk(Volcano High) is perfectly fine as the love interest in this story. His facial expressions and mannerisms are a little over the top, but they are extremely funny and charming and add to his dim-witted likability. 

However, the second hour marks some drastic changes to the film as the whole story gets flipped upside down. Gone are the light hearted comedy and fun montages and instead we get some heavy melodrama and scenes that will deliberatley tug at your heart strings until you almost feel like you can't take it anymore. The second half is still great, although the change of pacing and direction can be quite jarring. The film also goes in to genre-busting territory as we end up with some quite dark action scenes as the police are involved in some bloody shoot outs with criminals. These scenes might seem out of place for a Rom-Com but I actually found it quite refreshing, especially to split up all the tears and dramatics. The second hour doesn't flow as well as the first, and certain scenes feel like they could have been omitted to help the story flow more organically.

A real highlight of Windstruck in the stunning soundtrack. Whoever chose the music for this film deserves big praise. The use of the classic song Stay by Maurice Williams is used very effectively in a few scenes that will melt your heart and make you fall in love with the characters. There is a sweet cover of Knockin' On Heaven's Door by Youme which sets up the whole film. The use of X Japan - Tears is so perfectly placed it almost feels like it was written for this scene. Another brilliant song on the OST is BK Love by MC Sniper, no idea what the song or lyrics are about because it's Korean rap, but the style, the beat and flow fits perfectly with some of the later darker scenes.

All in all, problems aside, Windstruck is a very good film. Ultimately it doesn't live up to My Sassy Girl, but then again, how many films can? It deserves to be watched and admired in it's own right. But if you are a superfan of My Sassy Girl there are many connections, scenes and easter eggs relating to it. One scene in particular caught me off guard on my first viewing, and it nearly broke me. If you try hard enough, and ignore the plot holes it would create, you could almost link Windstruck and My Sassy Girl together, which is a fun and rewarding task.

This film is definitely worth a watch, especially for fans of Korean romantic dramas


Sunday, 16 April 2017

A Better Tomorrow 2012 Review South Korea 무적자

A Better Tomorrow 무적자
Year: 2010
Director: Song Hae-sung
Writers:Kim Hyo-seok, Lee Taek-gyeong, Choi Geun-mo, Kim Hae-gon
Cast: Joo Jin-mo, Song Seung-heon, Kim Kang-woo, Jo Han-sun
Running Time: 124 minutes
Country: South Korea

This South Korean remake of the original Hong Kong classic is a dramatic action thriller which sadly lacks the charm of the John Woo original.

A Better Tomorrow tells the story of Hyuk (Jin-mo), who lives the fast life as a high-ranking mobster in Busan, South Korea with his closest pal, fellow mobster Lee Young-Chun (Seung-heon). Hyuk is haunted by the memory of leaving behind his younger brother Chul (Kang-woo) and mother as they attempted to flee into South Korea from North Korea. In a set-up, Hyuk by the police and jailed. Three years later, he is released and travels back to Busan to find his younger brother Chul now a high-ranking police officer. Hyuk tries to earn back the trust of his brother, but rejection and betrayal are hard to forget. Things come to a head when Young-Chun pulls Hyuk into doing one last gig. It happen to be the case that Officer Chul is in charge of, and the three brothers meet again one final time.

The first thing you'll notice about this film is how great it looks. The remake is very aesthetically pleasing, with stunning cinematography and exciting locations. In terms of Korean budgets, it looks very well accomplished and a big step up from the original which was produced with a very tight budget.

While it's not a direct shot-for-shot remake, the story still focuses on the themes of loyalty and brotherhood. The theme of 'heroic bloodshed' is still there. But as it's Korean there is a lot more emphasis on the dramatics, even during the wild action scenes. There is actually too much emphasis on the drama without any of the fun and laughs of the original, which helped balance out a violent and somber tale.

To keep the storyline feeling fresh, the writers have changed some elements and plot points and also added in many Korean traits. Most of which works in it's favour. The brothers now have an origin of being North Korean defectors who fled to South Korea for a better life, and in turn, got wrapped up in the world of gangsters. Another plot point which helped the story progress was rather than being counterfeiters like in the original, they now work as arm traffickers. While this doesn't make the characters any more likeable or relatable, it does explain why they have easy access to guns for the shoot outs... and believe me, there are an abundance of guns to go around.

The shoot-outs are all filmed extremely well and the choreography is great. The action is fast paced and relentless. And the hits are violent and bloody. It's everything you really want, only with a bit too much drama sometimes placed in the middle of them, especially in the lead up to the finale when it crosses over in to melodrama territory. 

Each of the main actors did a fine job in their roles. But a big issue is that none of them really stood out or seemed that different from each other. They were all a bit samey. Except of course, Lee Young-choon. He really is a bad-ass character and comes across as tough as nails. Easily the coolest character in the film, but unfortunately he doesn't have the charisma of Chow Yun-fat's Brother Mark. There is a plenty of exposition and character development throughout but you really don't start to care for characters until around the final third of the film, and by then, it's almost too late. But what a bloody exciting finale!

In it's own right, A Better Tomorrow 2010 is a decent enough film. It doesn't ever feel like a waste of time watching it. But the problem is, there are better Korean action films already out there, like The Man From Nowhere and A Bittersweet Life. And, it doesn't have to compete with just them, it also has to match up to the original. Which is ultimately fails at equaling. 


Sunday, 9 April 2017

Money Kills Review 2004 Hong Kong 錢殺人

Money Kills 錢殺人
Year: 2004
Director: Wong Ka Fai
Writer: Aric Lung
Cast: Ken Wong, Lam Suet, Elle Choi
Running Time: 84 minutes
Country: Hong Kong

Wong Ka Fai directs this extremely low budget drama which looks like an American made-for-television movie. And it's about just as exciting.

Lam Suet, Ken Wong and Elle Choi are 3 best friends staying in a small village and living a relativley enjoyable life. After stumbling upon a dead body and a large bag of cash, they decide to hide the cash and keep it for themselves without informing the police. Unfortunately they can't keep their secret for long and trust issues start to develop between the friends which results in other villagers finding out about the loot.

Money Kills is meant to be a dramatic story looking at how money can change people and ruin friendships but unfortunately it doesn't actually get exciting until about an hour in. When it finally starts to pick up, it's over. On paper the idea works, but the idea just wasn't executed properly, mainly due to budget constraints.

The film essentially has a no name cast and Lam Suet, who actually delivers a fine performance, but even he can't help make the film more than painfully average. Elle Choi is another high positive to this film, she lights up the screen any time she is on and gives the story credibility.

The film is short and breezy at under 85 minutes, it never feels like a chore to get through. If you are looking for some fun nostalgia, the film transports us back to days of wearing baggy jeans and loose fitting Quicksilver or South Park tshirts. Everything was much simpler back then... Until you come across a large sum of money that is!

Not really recommended. But there is far worse out there. It killed 90 minutes of my time and I ultimately don't regret watching it. Although, I am in no hurry to watch it again.


Thursday, 16 March 2017

Born Wild Review 2001 Hong Kong 野獸之瞳

Born Wild 野獸之瞳
Year: 2001
Director: Patrick Leung
Writer: Chan Hing-ka, Amy Chin
Cast: Louis Koo, Daniel Wu, Patrick Tam, Jo Kuk
Running Time: 109 minutes
Country: Hong Kong

A dramatic boxing tale that has over stylized fight scenes, a messy plot, uninteresting characters and very bizarre musical choices. But, it's still mostly enjoyable and slightly above average.

Daniel Wu and Louis Koo star as fraternal twins Tide and Tan. After not seeing each other for 8 years, the police show up at Tide's (Wu) home to inform him that his brother Tan (Koo) has been found dead. Tide goes on a mission to discover what happened to his brother, and on his way he befriends Tan's best friend Mann (Patrick Tam) and his girlfriend Sandy (Jo Kuk) before discovering he was involved in underground boxing. Now Tide wants to avenge his brother against the man that murdered him, the undefeated Arion (Wrath White).

On paper this sounds like a pretty generic action storyline, but compliments to the writers, they delve deeper into the plot and motivations for each character. Unfortunately, the characters come off as a bit bland. It is really hard to relate to, or care about the characters, even though none of them deliver a bad performance. Daniel Wu and Louis Koo are both adequate in their roles, Patrick Tam is better. Acting as their best friend, Tam plays Mann, who is one of the most interesting parts of the whole film.

If you are expecting the usual style of Hong Kong action, you are in for disappointment. The fight scenes aren't bad per se. But they hardly even exist. Most of the underground boxing matches are shown in quick clips or montages and they are all heavily edited. Lots of quick cuts, close ups, motion blurs. It's often hard to tell what is actually going on in most of the "fight" scenes. Not too sure if these scenes were shot that way for artistic purposes, or to hide the actors boxing shortcomings. Daniel Wu can more than handle himself in Hong Kong action films.

There is plenty of Daniel and Louis topless on show, if you are into that sort of thing...

All of these issues aside, Born Wild is still bafflingly entertaining. Rather than the action being the high point, it's the dramatics. The side-stories and developing relationships between Tide and Mann, and Tide and Sandy are what drives the narrative. This is what makes the film charming and these are what sticks with you when it's all over.

The film is very stylish, it's just really great to look at, style over substance is very evident. Part of the enjoyment of these types of films is that you can just switch off, not take it too seriously, and look at the pretty pictures. Oddly, some of the musical choices are completely bonkers. Random heavy guitar riffs kicking in with no purpose. Or a random ballad getting belted out by Sandy while a supporting character plays along with the piano. A little jarring, but enjoyable!

Not exactly a film that will change your life or stay with you. But possibly worth a watch if you are a big fan of Daniel Wu or Louis Koo, or ultimately Patrick Tam. An above average Hong Kong film, but only just.


See this if you liked:
Boxing Hero
Fatal Contact

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

10 Upcoming Hong Kong Films You Should Be Excited About!

The golden age of Hong Kong cinema is clearly long gone. And although they still produce some great films every now and again, it's nothing compared to the amount of brilliant films they used to churn out regularly in the 80s and 90s.
However, it looks like that could all be about to change. With lots of exciting new information coming out of this years Filmart, it looks like the next couple of years could be filled with great films. I thought I would focus on some that I am most looking forward to.

Shock Wave (拆彈專家)

An action crime thriller directed by Herman Yau (The Mobfathers) and produced by and starring Andy Lau. Released in Hong Kong in April 2017.

Cheung Choi-san (Andy Lau) is a senior inspector of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau (EOD). Seven years ago, he went undercover and became the protege of Hung Kai-pang (Jiang Wu - A Touch Of Sin), a top wanted criminal specializing in bombs. Cheung successfully disintegrated Hung's criminal gang, but during the operation, Hung manages to escape while his younger brother and allies were captured. To seek revenge for Cheung's betrayal, Hung comes back seven years later and prepares to plant a series bombs in Hong Kong, which creates public panic.

The Brink (狂兽)

Upcoming Hong Kong action thriller directed by newcomer Jonathan Li, and produced by Soi Cheang and Paco Wong.

The Brink follows an ex-cop who gets caught in the line of fire when a smuggler launches a revenge attack on his godfather. Featuring the cast of Max Zhang (Ip Man 3), Shawn Yue (Wild City), Gordon Lam (Trivisa), Janice Man (Helios) and Wu Yue (Cold War 2).

Paradox (貪狼)

Another upcoming action film this time from Hong Kong action director Wilson Yip(Ip Man/SPL). With Sammo Hung handling the action choreography and Louis Koo (Call of Heroes) and Tony Jaa (SPL 2) starring, there is plenty to be excited about.

A police negotiator travels to Bangkok to search for his teenage daughter and is aided by local detectives played by Tony Jaa and Wu Yue. Along the way, he encounters the mastermind of an organ trafficking gang (Chris Collins), leading to a series of hot pursuit.

Drug Warn aka The Fixer (毒。诫)

Lawrence Lau directs Drug Warn previously known as The Fixer. Starring Sean Lau (Mad Detective), Louis Koo (Line Walker), Max Zhang (Ip Man 3) and Gordon Lam (Trivisa).

Drug Warn is a crime drama based on a true story about a Hong Kong gangster due for release later this year.

Taste of Crime (低压槽)

Nick Cheung's (Hungry Ghost Ritual/Keeper of Darkness) third time as a director will be action crime thriller Taste of Crime.

Starring Nick Cheung (Line Walker), Xu Jinglei (The Warlords) and Yu Nan (Wolf Warriors), the film tells the story of an undercover cop who unveils collusion between the highest level of government and the triads.

Love Off The Cuff (春嬌救志明)

Director Pang Ho-Cheung returns with his romantic comedy Love series. The follow up to Love In A Puff and Love In The Buff, is the third in the series Love Off The Cuff. Released in April 2017 in Hong Kong.

Miriam Yeung (Little Big Master) and Shawn Yue (Wild City) return and this time the couple go to Taiwan, their relationship gets tested when Jimmy’s(Yue) childhood friend asks him to donate sperm for her artificial insemination.

Chasing The Dragon (追龍)

Director Wong Jing brings real life 1970s gangster Crippled Ho (Donnie Yen - Ip Man) to life in a new crime drama. Andy Lau (The Great Wall) also stars, reprising his Lee Rock character.

The film follows Ng Sek-ho (aka Crippled Ho) as his days from an illegal immigrant through his rise to becoming one of Hong Kong's most powerful drug lords.

The Invincible Dragon (Made in Kowloon)

Director Fruit Chan (Dumplings) brings us The Invincible Dragon, formally known as Made in Kowloon.

Starring Max Zhang (Ip Man 3), Juju Chan (Sword of Destiny) and MMA icon Anderson Silva, this is an action film which was filmed in Hong Kong and Macau. The story follows a detective on the trail of a serial killer who may have abducted his fiance.

Cheung Tin-Chi

More Max Zhang! Oh Yes!

A spin off from the Ip Man series. Max Zhang's character from Ip Man 3 'Cheung Tin-Chi' gets his own film. Also starring Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Tony Jaa (Skin Trade) and Dave Bautista (Guardians of The Galaxy). And being directed by legendary Yuen Woo-Ping, there is plenty to be excited about!

Going in to production later this year!

Ip Man 4

Wow! Donnie Yen is back as the legendary Ip Man!Wilson Yip is returning as director and Yuen Woo Ping is on fight choreography.

Probably wont be out until late 2018.

There is plenty to be optimistic about and the future of Hong Kong cinema is looking extremely positive!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Complete A-Z List Of Reviews

1911 Revolution

The Admiral: Roaring Currents
The Assassin

Badge of Fury
Beijing Rocks
A Better Tomorrow(South Korea)
Boiling Point
Born Wild

The Cat
Christmas On July 24th Avenue
Children Who Chase Lost Voices
Comrades: Almost A Love Story
Conman In Tokyo
Cops And Robbers
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2: Sword of Destiny

The Detective
Downtown Torpedoes

Eden of The East
Ex-Files 2

For Y'ur Height Only
Fukuchan of Fukufuku Flats

Hang Gong-ju
Happy Ero Christmas
Happy Together

Love In A Puff
Love Off The Cuff

The Mermaid
Merry Christmas
Mifune: The Last Samurai
A Moment of Romance
Money Kills

New Prince of Tennis

Once Upon a Time 

Perhaps Love
Police Story Lockdown (Police Story 2013)

Red Light Revolution
The Rules Of The Game
Running Out Of Time

Sadako 3D
Sake Bomb
Salute! Sun Yat Sen
A Scene At The Sea
The Search For Weng Weng
A Silent Voice
Shaolin Prince
Summer Time Machine Blues
A Snake of June

Three Extremes 2
Tokyo Fist

The Viral Factor

War of The Arrows
The White Storm

The Years Best Films
Best Asian Films of 2012
Best Asian Films of 2013
Best Asian Films of 2015
Best Asian Films of 2016

Top 10 Asian Horror Films
Takeshi Kitano Filmography Ranked Best To Worst
10 Upcoming Hong Kong Films for 2017

Non Asian
Planet of the Apes series ranked best to worst

Beijing Rocks Review 2001 Hong Kong 北京樂與路

Beijing Rocks 北京樂與路
Year: 2001
Director: Mabel Cheung
Writer: Alex Law
Cast: Daniel Wu, Shu Qi, Geng Le, Faye Yu, Henry Ng
Running Time: 109 minutes

Mabel Cheung (An Autumn's Tale/City of Glass) directs another satisfying film this time focusing on the Bejing rock 'n roll culture, a love triangle and social commentary about being Chinese but coming from different cultures and countries.

Michael Ng(Daniel Wu) is a struggling singer-songwriter who has been sent by his father(Richard Ng) to Mainland China to stay while he improves his Mandarin. He discovers a wannabe rock band which catches his interests as does their dancer Yang Yin(Shu Qi) whose boyfriend Ping lu(Geng Le) is the lead singer of the rock group. When they go on a local tour "hole hopping" Michael tags along for the adventure but ends up falling in love with Yang.

The most interesting aspect of Beijing Rocks isn't actually the Rock scene, it's the different character's stories and backgrounds intertwining. Daniel Wu was likely cast as Michael Ng for not only his star power but also his similarity to the character. Michael is a Chinese-American who admits that his Mandarin is terrible, just like his English. He is often teased for his Hong Kong background and seems hesitant to embrace it. Michael appears to not really fit in to Beijing but after discovering the Rock band he sees something in them he can relate to.

Ping Lu is a much more complex character. He is an extremely rebellious rocker, to the point it could be holding back not only his band but also his relationship. In contrast he also has many similar traits that you would find in modern Chinese youth. Ping doesn't just want to play music for the sake of it, he wants to be different, he wants to stand out and he wants to deliver a message. Being a bit of a bad boy he is hard to feel sorry for, but credit to Geng Le, he manages to make you feel for him in some of the more sentimental scenes with his dad.

Shu Qi is loveable as usual. Delivering a sweet performance as Yang, a Taiwan native who has fell in love with a rockstar and believes they are bound to be together, even if her significant other doesn't feel quite as strong. Shu Qi really is a wonderful actress. This performance was still quite early on after her run in Cat III films, and she really got to exercise her acting chops in this role. Showing off some powerful emotive moments while also keeping you glued with her star screen presence.

Beijing Rocks has a road movie feel to it, which makes the story flow better than it probably should. The audio is handled superbly, and at times it almost feels like a rock musical while we endure full songs performed by the band. And I don't use endure lightly. Some of the songs are real stinkers! Not the most accessible music and you can understand why the band hasn't made it big. There is a great musical nostalgia moment during one heart warming scene when Yang has to take over the vocals for a song.

The setting of China is used effectively for the characters and story and it's actually refreshing that it's just used as another country without being soaked in political statements. There are plenty of Chinese landmarks and historical sites on display as we are shown these through the eyes of the tourist Michael and his trusty handycam.

Not without it's flaws, during the last 20 minutes the film changes it's course and the melodrama starts to seep in. The ending, although suited to the theme of the film, does seem a bit rushed and unsatisfactory. It feels like a different approach could have left the characters with a more gratifying conclusion.

None of this takes away from the positives of the film. It has great characters and a very personal and intimate story. Mabel Cheung is an extremely interesting director and her films are always entertaining even if somewhat unconventional.


See this if you like:
An Autumns Tale
City Of Glass
Eight Taels Of Gold

Couldn't actually find a trailer. But here is a MV for the film. Probably best not watching all the way through in case of spoilers. But it gives you a feel for the film.