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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Totally Under Control

Directors – Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan, Suzanne Hillinger – 2020 – US – Cert. 12 – 123m

***1/2

Documentary looks at the Trump administration’s handling of the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US – in cinemas from Friday, October 23rd and on iTunes, Amazon, Google, BFI Player, Curzon, Sky, Rakuten, Virgin. On BBC iPlayer from Sunday, November 1st.

This is a documentary shot, as it were, on the hoof. It constitutes a record of near-contemporary events as they unfolded in the recent past, in two of three very specific geographic locations. Two or three because the subject is the early months of the 2020 global COVID-19 pandemic in the origin of which the third country, China, specifically the city of Wuhan, played the major part. But this film isn’t really about China beyond that country’s being the source of the infection.

Nor is it really about the second country, South Korea, here quite reasonably held up to the audience as a paragon of virtue in its handling of the crisis. The film is really about the first country, the US, during this period, which had a playbook ready and waiting should such a crisis come to pass.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Over The Moon

Directors – Glen Keane, John Kahrs – 2020 – US, China – Cert. U – 95m

*****

A girl bereaved of her mother builds a rocket to the moon to prove the goddess Chang’e is real and convince her father not to re-marry – animated feature in cinemas from Friday, October 16th and on Netflix from Friday, October 23rd.

In Chinese mythology, archer Houyi’s wife Chang’e consumed an immortality potion then went to the moon where she mourned her lost love. The tale is also the basis of the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival celebrated in many countries in the Far East. Using the mythology as a backdrop, the late screenwriter Audrey Wells crafted an extraordinary story about a girl who fails to properly deal with bereavement when her mother dies.

The figure of Chang’e acts as a metaphor for Fei Fei (voiced by Cathy Ang) who wants her dad (voice: John Cho) to be faithful to his late wife. When dad introduces a new mum Mrs. Zhong (Sandra Oh), with a new and irritating little brother Chin (Robert G. Chiu) in tow, she decides that to convince him to remain true to mum, she must go to the moon and prove Chang’e real, which will convince her dad to do the right thing.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

ManHunt (Zhui bu)

Director – John Woo – 2017 – China, Hong Kong – Cert. 15 – 109m

*****

Hong Kong action director John Woo’s return to form – currently on Netflix.

The late Japanese actor Ken Takakura who died in 2014 appeared in more than 200 films and made his name playing ex-cons and gangsters for Toei studios between the mid-fifties and mid-seventies. He was a major inspiration for Hong Kong director John Woo who here remakes the 1976 Takakura vehicle Manhunt.

Du Qiu (Chinese actor Zhang Hanyu) finds himself in a Japanese bar swapping notes on movies with the mama-san Rain (Korea’s Ha Ji-won). Almost immediately, a loutish group of men in suits storm into the same bar to demand he leaves so she can give them her full attention. Once he’s gone, Rain and her partner Dawn (the director’s daughter Angeles Woo) proceed to gun down the suits, the camera whirling around them as Woo choreographs the mayhem.

Du is a lawyer working for a pharma company. The morning after a huge corporate event he wakes up to find a dead woman (Tao Okamoto) lying next to him in his bed. Implicated in her murder, he goes on the run.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

Capital In The 21st Century

Director – Justin Pemberton – 2019 – France, New Zealand – Cert. 12 – 103m

*****

An adaptation of Thomas Piketty’s controversial economic treatise Capital In The 21st Century – in cinemas from Friday, September 25th

The content of French economist Thomas Piketty’s eponymous book couldn’t be more relevant. Far from being dry economics, Piketty’s thesis begins that there has always been a minority of wealthy people whose wealth derives from nothing more than being born into wealth. They have done nothing to merit wealth. They do not own it because of any sort of achievement.

The industrial revolution, he argues, gave those with capital (financial assets) the means to substantially increase the amount of capital they own.

Throughout history, the rich have not looked after the whole of society but rather have merely defended their own interests, i.e. maintaining and if possible increasing their position of wealth. They have shown a disdain for the other 99% of people. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, society was broken into those two groups, wealthy and poor.

The rise of the middle class after World War One changed everything, with middle class people wanting their say in how things were run. Changes since the 1970s however threaten the power of the middle class and we may be seeing a return to a majority of very poor people beholden to a wealthy minority – unless we take the action necessary to prevent it.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Eight Hundred (Ba Bai)

Director – Guan Hu – 2019 – China – Cert. 15 – 149m – IMAX

****1/2

Hopelessly outnumbered Chinese soldiers take a last stand against the Japanese in a Shanghai warehouse – in cinemas in IMAX from Wednesday, September 16th

1937, the Sino-Japanese War. The Chinese have fallen back to , Shanghai as the Japanese advance. Rounding up Chinese deserters, Colonel Xie (Du Chun) and his men of the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) hole up in the Sihang warehouse on the other side of the Souzou Creek from the International Concession from which the horrified civilians compulsively watch the conflict unfold.

A Western movie covering such a subject would likely introduce us to specific soldier characters at some length, possibly derailing the larger narrative to do this. The Chinese here do it rather differently. They take the overall sweep of the story and drop the characters in to it. There are deserters, there are brave and heroic fighters and there are men who move from the former to the latter group. The writers also sketch civilian characters living across the river. Again, the emphasis is on the Concession as a whole made up of lots of constituent individuals rather than the individuals in their own right.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Love You Forever (Wo Zai Shijian Jintou Deng Ni)

Director – Yoyo Yao Tingting – 2019 – China – Cert. PG – 115m

***1/2

Exclusively in cinemas from Tuesday, August 25th (Chinese Valentine’s Day this year).

Hands write in a notebook. In a voice-over, Lin Ge (Lee Hongchi) describes himself as “a man who doesn’t exist… No memories of me in this world.” He will repeat these words later on. He talks of the past and we see the images of the day in 1991 when his mum died, he got beaten up by a bunch of other little boys and he was rescued by little girl Qiu Qian who became his playmate that summer.

Ge loses a marble in a pond and, looking for it, finds an old, stopped watch. He and Qian start playing the game of “Wolf, Wolf, what’s the time?” until one day her family moves and he runs after the departing car until his little legs will run no more.

As a teenager to the horror of both his teacher and his bereaved father he and two friends set up a business selling “magic bottles”, running breathlessly along multi-storey school walkways to avoid being caught until they / he chance(s) upon a group of boys blocking a gangway, looking at the beautiful new girl recently transferred to the school and doing ballet training.… 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

*****

Fantasia Film Festival 2020 virtual edition from Thursday, August 20 and UK cinemas from Friday, August 21st.

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

Mr. Vampire

Director – Ricky Lau – 1985 – Hong Kong – Cert. 15 – 96m

*****

If your knowledge of vampire lore comes from Western movies about Dracula you’re in for some real surprises with the 1985 Hong Kong movie Mr. Vampire. This is the movie that put the Chinese hopping vampire on the map.

It’s evening, as mortuary assistant Man-choi (Ricky Hui) checks a number of upright standing corpses with talismans affixed to their foreheads. All present and correct. Behind him a corpse without a talisman advances towards him. By the time he’s realised this is fellow mortuary assistant Chau-sang (Chin Siu-ho) playing a prank, the resultant air flow has blown the talismans off the other foreheads and eight vampires are hopping towards them, Man Choi runs to fetch his employer, Master Gau (Lam Ching-ying)…

I review Mr. Vampire for All The Anime to coincide with the film’s UK Blu-ray release from Eureka! See also my Manga Mania review published back in the nineties to coincide with the film’s UK VHS release from Made In Hong Kong.

Clip from Eureka! version:

Trailer (Cantonese, no subs) here:

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Features Live Action Movies

The Killer (Dip huet seung hung)

Director – John Woo – 1989 – Hong Kong – Cert. 18 – 110m

*****

Starring Chow Yun Fat, Danny Lee, Sally Yeh

What’s it all about?

On the verge of retirement, contract killer Chow accidentally blinds singer Yeh during a hit that goes wrong. Guilt-ridden, he undertakes one last killing for the money to pay for the operation to restore her eyesight. Meanwhile, policeman Lee is determined to bring him to book.

Why is it in our top 100?

Because it enabled Woo to cross over from a Hong Kong to an international audience – a much more personal work than A Better Tomorrow (1986) or Hard Boiled (1992), complete with trademark bloody, balletic, bullet-strewn violence and familiar themes of guilt, redemption and brotherhood.

Something to tell your mates

Chow (his surname) is both a huge star in the Far East and an incredibly versatile, talented and charismatic actor comparable to Robert De Niro or Cary Grant. The detail in facial expression lost on VHS video is very much intact on MIHK’s impressive 1994 PAL laserdisc.

Originally published in Home Entertainment as part of a One Hundred Best Movies on Home Entertainment Formats feature.

Trailer:

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Features Live Action Movies

Mr. Vampire

Director – Ricky Lau – 1985 – Hong Kong – Cert. 15 – 94m

*****

This review originally appeared in Manga Mania to coincide with the film’s UK VHS release from Made In Hong Kong. Running time as on VHS sleeve. See also my All The Anime review coinciding with the 2020 Eureka! Blu-ray.

SCREEN GEMS

MR. VAMPIRE

The Far East views vampires through completely different cultural baggage, the extraordinary result of which can be seen in seminal Hong Kong period horror outing Mr. Vampire (1985) – which spawned several sequels and influenced countless genre outings both in Hong Kong live action and Japanese animation.

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Encounters Of The Spooky Kind (1980) sees director Sammo Hung spend the night in a haunted house where he encounters various undead manifestations. It’s no surprise that Hung acted as producer on the later Mr. Vampire, where director Ricky Lau distilled Chinese cadaver / vampire mythology into a subsequent industry staple. As Lam Ching-ying so clearly explains in Mr. Vampire: “There are good men and bad men…corpses and vampires…this corpse is turning into a vampire.” Producer and director went on to make Mr. Vampire 2, 3 and 4, all with corpse‑busting star Lam Ching-ying who returned a fifth time under a different director for the present day Magic Cop / Mr.Read the rest