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Features Live Action Movies

Youth (Fang Hua 芳华)

Director – Xiaogang Feng – 2019 – China – Cert. N/C 15+ – 135m

*****

In 1970s Maoist China, a dancer with a troubled past suffers bullying in a military dance troupe – available to rent online in the UK & Ireland as part of the Domestic Hits strand in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 which runs until Wednesday, May 12th

Almost from the moment talented dancer He Xiaoping (Miao Miao) from Beijing joins an out of town PLA (People’s Liberation Army) troupe, she puts her foot in it. Top of her to do list is to get a picture of herself in uniform. Unfortunately, she won’t have a uniform for the first week, so without asking, she borrows one off one of her roommates planning to return it before anyone notices. Not only does her roommate notice, but when the company is unexpected deployed to another location, the journey takes the troupe past the photographer’s where the picture is displayed in the window. Now Xiaoping has the reputation of a thief and a number of the other girls pick on her.

The kindly Liu Feng (Hwang Xuan), who may be the only one of her contemporaries to have seen her file, takes pity on her.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Daughter Of Shanghai

Directors – Michelle Chen Miao, Hilla Medalia – 2019 – China – Cert. N/C 15+ – 90m

****1/2

A chronicle of the life and on-off career of Chinese-born, RADA-trained actress and screen legend Tsai Chin – available to rent online until Wednesday, May 12th in the UK & Ireland in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 as part of the Approaching Reality documentary strand

“I was born in a trunk when my parents were on tour in Tianjin.” The daughter of legendary Peking Opera star Zhou Xinfang, Tsai Chin came to London towards the end of her  seventeenth year when she was the first Chinese person to be accepted at RADA where she found herself alongside the likes of high-born, Welsh socialite Elizabeth Rees-Williams who in footage alongside her now husband Jonathan Aitken is one of the main interview subjects here. As well as a recent interview with Tsai Chin herself, the other main interviewee is the late lawyer Carlo Colombotti, a personal friend and a wealthy lawyer who moved in the same London circles in the sixties.

Her story, although it contains specific international and cross-cultural reference points, is, basically, an actor’s life: early success on stage and screen through the fifties and sixties, followed by a period in the seventies and eighties in relative obscurity and a later period when her rediscovery by Hollywood in the nineties restarted her career.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Sheep Without A Shepherd (Wu Sha)

Director – Sam Quah – 2019 – China – Cert. 15 – 112m

*****

A family stands together when their daughter kills the local police chief’s son who is both a rapist and blackmailer – available to rent online in the new Chinese Cinema Season 2021 in the UK & Ireland.

This opens with a prison break in which the escapee ends up interred in a coffin next to the corpse of the man who was trying to get him out. That turns out to be a story told by Li Wiejie or Jie for short (Xiao Yang), an insatiable watcher of detective and crime thrillers. The film lays its cinematic cards on the table almost immediately by referencing Hitchcock, montage, sound effects, excitement and The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994). Sheep Without A Shepherd is in thrall to the West’s suspense movies and plays out like one while at the same time retaining its distinctive Chinese character with its emphasis on the importance of family ties and loyalty.

Jie and his wife (Tan Zhuo) run a small store in Thailand. Their daughter Ping known in the family as PingPing (Audrey Hui) persuades dad to fund her to go to summer camp where she is drugged and videoed being gang-raped by privileged brat Su Cha (Beety) and his pals.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Crossing (Guo Chun Tian)

Director – Bai Xue – 2018– China – Cert. 12a – 99m

***1/2

Border crossings of no return. A Chinese teenage girl who regularly travels from Shenzhen into Hong Kong becomes involved with a gang smuggling iPhones across the frontier – available to rent online in the new Chinese Cinema Season 2021 in the UK & Ireland.

Sixteen-year-old Peipei (Huang Yao) lives in Shenzhen, but goes to school in neighbouring Hong Kong. She has to cross the China-Hong Kong border on a daily basis, waved through by border officials with better things to do than stop, question or search schoolgirls. She lives in a cramped apartment. Her father is rarely there because he works the night shift at a shipping yard, where she sometimes visits him. Her gambling mother often invites friends over to play Mahjong… Read more.

The Crossing is available to rent online in the new Chinese Cinema Season 2021 in the UK & Ireland.

Trailer:

UK Theatrical: Friday, March 22nd 2019.

Festivals: London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF) 2018.

Review originally published in DMovies.org.

Categories
Animation Features Live Action Movies

Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain (Shu Shan – Xin Shu shan jian ke)

Director – Tsui Hark – 1983 – Hong Kong – Cert. 12 – 98m

*****

One of the greatest special effects action movies ever made, this groundbreaking epic delivers non-stop, near unbelievable, visually entrancing vistas of Chinese mythology – online in the UK as part of Hong Kong Focus 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th and available on Blu-ray

There are films which seem almost single-handedly to define cultures. There are plenty of elements in Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain that can be found elsewhere in Hong Kong cinema – martial arts stunts, flying wire work, period costumes, stock figures, airborne drapery – and yet the precise way this mixes these elements up then adds in others and adds in lots of 2D effects animation makes it a unique work, even by Tsui’s extraordinary standards.

With the ancient world in which he lives in a state of chaos due to constantly warring human factions, a man gets swiftly out of his depth when he sidesteps all that to follow a hero in the hope of becoming his disciple as the hero battles the forces of evil. If this sounds very highbrow… well, perhaps it is. Or perhaps it’s just an excuse to put together a series of truly extraordinary special effects action set-pieces that transport the viewer to mythological otherworlds the exact like of which have never been seen onscreen before or since.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

In The Mood For Love (Fa Yeung Nin Wah ) / 2046

In The Mood For Love

Director – Wong Kar-wai – 2000 – Hong Kong – Cert. PG – 94m

*****

2046

Director – Wong Kar-wai – 2004 – Hong Kong – Cert. 12 – 123m

*****

In the Mood For Love is a romantic drama set in 1962 with 2046 a sequel which follows what happened to the man some time after – out now on BFI Player Rental in 4K restorations as part of a wider Wong Kar-wai season. (Originally reviewed for Third Way on both films’ UK DVD release in the mid-2000s when they were available both separately and as a double pack).

On the same day in 1962, two couples move into neighbouring apartments in Hong Kong. The husband of secretary Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) is away on business in Japan, while the wife of journalist Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) is often absent for similar reasons. It gradually dawns on Su and Chow that their respective spouses are having an affair. Their shared predicament leads the stranded couple into a romance they dare not consummate.

In The Mood For Love

That’s the plot of Wong Kar-wai’s dazzling ITMFL. Surprisingly, his follow-up alleged Sci-Fi epic 2046 turns out to be a sequel in which Chow, obsessed with the long since departed Su, works his way through a series of relationships carnal and otherwise with women (played by Carina Lau, Zhang Ziyi, Faye Wong and Gong Li) and recycles some of his experiences in the steamy, erotic pulp SF potboiler 2046 he’s writing, some of which is realised as voiceover and imagery on screen.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies Music

Mogul Mowgli

Director – Bassam Tariq – 2020 – UK – Cert. 15 – 90m

****

A UK British Pakistani rap artist is stopped in his career tracks by an auto-immune system suppression illness – in cinemas from Friday, October 30th and on BFI Player Subscription Exclusive from Friday, February 5th

This opens with British Pakistani rapper Zed (Riz Ahmed, who also co-wrote the film) waiting in the wings then going on stage to perform before a massively enthusiastic New York crowd. I had fairly high expectations and my heart sank. Ahmed’s performance as the singer was leaving me absolutely cold. (To be fair, I’m not a huge fan of rap music.) Happily I was much more impressed with almost everything that followed.

This opening performance turns out to be the final leg of a tour. Zed has a major European Tour planned imminently. Back in Britain, he gets into a street fight with a fan/stalker and in the course of the resultant fight starts to experience severe stomach pains. He wakes up in the local hospital to learn that he’s suffering from an auto-immune system suppression illness and consequently will be unable to tour. He’s horrified by the the suggestion from his trusted manager Vaseem (Anjana Vasam) that his admirer and rival performer RPG (Nabhaan Rizwan), whom Zed despises, can cover for him on the European Tour.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Muscle

Director – Gerard Johnson – 2019 – UK – Cert. 18 – 110m

****

Pump it up! A man dissatisfied with his life comes under the influence of a manipulative bodybuilding trainer – in cinemas and on BFI Player, Curzon Home Cinema, iTunes, Sky Store, Virgin and other VoD platforms from Friday, December 4th; digital download from Monday, January 18th; Blu-ray and DVD from Monday, February 1st

Newcastle, UK. Simon (Cavan Clerkin) is at a dead end working days in a dodgy telesales job he hates and coming home at night to his partner Sarah (Polly Maberly) who no longer loves him. Whatever attracted her to him has gone. Looking for a way to move forward, Simon sees a man walk confidently out of a doorway and on realising it’s a local gym, decides to join. It’s not long before he’s under the influence of fellow member Terry (Craig Fairbrass), an ex-forces type who takes him under his wing as a personal trainer to help him transform his body. Under Terry’s influence, Simon changes his diet, reduces his drinking with colleagues to virtually nil and is suddenly achieving top sales at work. None of that is enough to stop Sarah leaving him.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Possessor

Director – Brandon Cronenberg – 2020 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 103m

*****

A woman possesses other people’s bodies via technology to assassinate selected targets – on VoD via BFI Player and Crouch End Arthouse from Friday, November 27th and on Digital HD from Monday, February 1st following its debut in the BFI London Film Festival 2020 on Friday, October 16th.

Anyone who’s seen Brandon Cronenberg’s earlier Antiviral (2012) will know that he is a force to be reckoned with, operating in much the same area as his father David (whose Crash, 1996, is currently out on VoD and is released on UHD and BD on December 14th) but with his own, highly individual slant. And equally impressive.

His protagonist here is assassin Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) whose boss Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) inserts Vos’ consciousness into others so she can carry out hits on designated targets while occupying their bodies and consciousnesses. Lately, though, things haven’t been going quite to plan. In the body of Holly (Gabrielle Graham), Vos picks up a cutlery knife then repeatedly and bloodily stabs her target with it rather than simply shooting him with the supplied gun. Although Vos gives all the right answers in the psychological evaluation tests following her return, Girder is concerned.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Synchronic

Directors – Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead – 2019 – US – Cert. 15 – 102m

*****

Two New Orleans paramedics stumble upon a designer drug causing weird hallucinations and inexplicable deaths in this mind-bending science fiction yarn – on VoD from Friday, January 29th

The prior films of creative partners Benson & Moorhead (The Endless, 2017; Spring, 2014; Resolution, 2012) inevitably set the bar high since they’ve consistently astonished audiences with their mind-bending narratives. Normally I watch films once then review them, but on this occasion I’ve had the privilege of wilfully watching Synchronic three times in the last year or so. This in itself tells you something about this film’s narrative pleasures. And given that Marvel recently signed the duo up to direct episodes of Moon Knight for Disney+, it would seem Hollywood is of a similar opinion.

Its extraordinary story involves two New Orleans paramedics whose characters completely engage you and pulls you in. Which is just as well because they stumble on some pretty strange stuff in the course of their work – in particular, calls involving trauma and sometimes death in the aftermath of bad drug trips.

It opens with a couple at home taking some hallucinogenic drugs and seeing / experiencing some extremely weird goings on.… Read the rest