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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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Animation Features Movies

White Snake (Baishe: Yuanqi)

Directors – Amp Wong, Ji Zhao – 2019 – China – 99m

****

A young man falls in love with a demon resembling alternately a woman and a giant snake, in this Chinese animated feature – now available on Amazon Prime

Conceived as a prequel to China’s White Snake legend which has spawned numerous adaptations including Green Snake / Ching se (Tsui Hark, 1993), this computer animated Chinese epic concerns demon sisters Blanca and Verta (voiced by Zhang Zhe and Tang Xiaoxi) who look to all intents and purposes like beautiful women but are actually demon snakes in disguise – a white snake and a green snake as you might guess from their names. With her power and form enhanced by her sister’s gift of a green hairpin, Blanca leaves the demon world and visits ours for a showdown with a human General trying to prove his worth to the Emperor by dabbling in occult rituals involving snakes. When the showdown doesn’t go as planned, Blanca finds herself alone and suffering a complete loss of memory as to who (and indeed what) she is.

She awakes in a small, human, rural village where the local economy is built on catching snakes for the General.… 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

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Assassins

Director – Ryan White – 2020 – US – Cert. – 104m

*** 1/2

Documentary explores how two women unwittingly assassinated ruling Korean family member Kim Jong-nam at Malaysia Airportin virtual cinemas and on VoD from Friday, January 29th

In 2017, Kim Jong-nam, half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was killed at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) by two young women who appeared out of nowhere – one of them clad in a T-shirt bearing the legend LOL – to press VX nerve agent, apparently the deadliest chemical on earth, into his eyes. The whole thing was captured on security cameras and the two women arrested soon after. Stranger still, neither seemed to know why they were being arrested.

This is one of those current affairs documentaries where the makers have been fortunate to stumble on an incredible story. Although the film details the assassination at some length, its real subject matter is the fall guys – or, more specifically, fall girls. Neither was Malaysian: both were immigrants – Siti Aisyah from Indonesia, Doan Thi Huong from Vietnam. We are introduced to the world of the social media video prank, where for example a woman will appear and hold the hand of a man she’s never met before or unexpectedly kiss him in public for the camera, as a comic episode.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

76 Days

Directors – Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, Anonymous – 2020 – China, US – Cert. 12– 93m

***1/2

A US documentary edited out of footage shot on the Wuhan Covid-19 hospital frontline by two Chinese reporters allowed access – on VoD from Friday, January 22nd

Documentary film making is a curious medium – one might even say genre – and this is a curious piece of work. On the level subject matter, it hits paydirt. The city of Wuhan, China has a population of 11 million. When it went into lockdown on January 23rd, 2020 as the authorities attempted to curtail the spread of Covid-19, who knew a global pandemic was coming? Few if any in the West and perhaps no-one in China either.

Be that as it may, two journalists, Chen and one who has kept his / her name off from the film, started shooting what was happening in four hospitals in that city, a lockdown which continued for the eponymous 76 days until the local outbreak was considered safely under control. Given what happened later, interest in the footage they shot and the film subsequently made is now far greater than they may have initially imagined.

Documentary film maker Wu was appalled by China’s initial cover-up of what was happening in Wuhan and sought out journalists who’d had access to events and documented them on camera with a view to exchanging information and making a film himself about the pandemic situation in the US, a project eventually cancelled.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Vast Of Night

Director – Andrew Patterson – 2019 – US – Cert. 12 – 91m

*****

A radio DJ and a young switchboard operator discover strange noises in the ether which may possibly be of great significance to the small US town where they live in the fifties – on Amazon Prime since Friday, May 29th 2020

Bookended with a curious and somewhat redundant framing device which sets up an episode of black & white, fifties TV show Paradox Theater called The Vast Of Night, to which the otherwise colour film periodically and pointless returns from time to time, this is an enigmatic little tale set in the small rural US town of Cayuga where the local high school is set to host a basketball team for a match.

Older teenager Everett (Jake Horowitz) is trying to sort out technical problems before the game gets under way: Sam reminds him that last time this happened, it was a squirrel that had chewed through a wire and the wire was still in its mouth. This story seems to crop up every few minutes as yet another character relates their own abridged telling of it. And 16 year old Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick) wants him to show her how the tape recorder she’s just bought works.… Read the rest