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Master Cheng (Mestari Cheng)

Director – Mika Kaurismäki – 2019 – Finland – Cert. PG – 114m

*****

A Chinese chef turns up at a restaurant in a remote Finnish village and impresses the locals with his cooking – charming romantic drama is out in cinemas on Friday, March 11th

A restaurant in a remote part of the Finnish countryside. Cheng (Chu Pak Hong from My Prince Edward, Norris Wang, 2019) and small boy Niu Niu (Lucas Hsuan) walk into the local restaurant where the former asks for Fongtron. The owner Sirkka (Anna-Maija Tuokko) hasn’t heard of Fongtron and can’t help. He asks customers the same question, but they don’t know either. Cheng barely speaks Finnish, which scarcely helps. He doesn’t look like he’s going away, and when he asks if there’s a hotel, Sirkka points him towards a room that’s available. She attempts to feed the pair before closing up, but the mobile phone-obsessed Niu Niu won’t touch her Finnish sausage and mash.

And he’s not the only one: When a day or so later, a coachload of Chinese tourists turn up, they’re not very interested either. Cheng, sitting at a table, immediately springs to Sirkka’s aid and parleys with the Chinese.… Read the rest

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The Battle At Lake Changjin II aka Water Gate Bridge (Zhang Jin Hu, 长津湖之水门桥)

Director – Tsui Hark – 2022 – China – Cert. 15 – 153m

**

Ill-considered sequel to box office barnstorming, Chinese war movie fails to match the emotional engagement and excitement of the original – out in cinemas on Friday, February 11th

After the exciting and energetic original, this sequel is a disappointment. It has the same expertise of CG special effects as its predecessor. However the cast is cut down, many of the memorable characters having died heroically in the first film, and there’s no attempt to replace them. Similarly, the spectacular locations are fewer in number because there’s no journey from home through different regions, so this has a smaller geographical palette to play with.

The cast of characters issue would be easy enough to fix within the war genre: members of a military unit die, others come to the fore to replace them in the vacuum created. But no, here all we get are People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) 7th Company commander Wu Qianli (Wu Jing) and his younger brother Wu Wanli (Jackson Lee) and no real attempt to further develop their relationship under fire. The two characters are just there, and the audience is expected to carry over their emotional investment from the first film without the second one providing any reason for doing so.… Read the rest

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A Chinese Odyssey (Sai Yau Gei, 西遊記)

A Chinese Odyssey: Part One – Pandora’s Box (Sai Yau Gei: Yut Gwong Bou Haap, 西遊記第壹佰零壹回之月光寶盒)

A Chinese Odyssey: Part Two – Cinderella (Sai Yau Gei: Sin Leui Kei Yun, 西遊記大結局之仙履奇緣)

Director – Jeffrey Lau – 1995 – Hong Kong – 87 + 98m

***

The Monkey King is banished to earth with loss of memory for a series of encounters with monsters and romantic interludes – screened as part of Focus Hong Kong 2022 Chinese New Year on Saturday January 29th

These two films are the first and second parts of the same story, so it makes sense to screen them together as a double bill. The starting point is the 16th century Chinese novel Journey To The West, which has also spawned such productions as the seminal Chinese animation The Monkey King (Wan Laiming, Cheng Tang; Part One, 1961; Part Two, 1964) and the long-running Japanese TV series Monkey (1978-80). The novel’s plot concerns a monk and his three assistants Pigsy, Sandy and Monkey who journey to the West (i.e. Central Asia and India) to obtain Buddhist texts.

Less an adaptation of the novel than a tangential story that uses the novel’s framework as its starting point, the films are bookended by two sequences, one at the start of Part One, the other at the end of Part Two, which start the tangential story rolling and wrap it up respectively.… Read the rest

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Detective Chinatown 3 (Tang Ren Jie Tan An 3, 唐人街探案3)

Director – Chen Sicheng – 2021 – UK – Cert. 15 – 136m

****

The Chinese franchise’s super-sleuth and bumbling sidekick join forces with their Japanese and Thai counterparts in Japan – out in cinemas on Tuesday, January 25th and 26th only

No sooner have the brilliant crime-solving sleuth Qin Feng (Liu Haoran) and his likeable if barely competent sidekick Tang Ren (Wang Baoqiang) flown in to Tokyo and met their contact there, the sharp and colourful Hiroshi Noda (Satoshi Tsumabuki), than they find themselves embroiled in one of the most seriously bonkers action sequences in the movies in recent years when members of (at least) two gangs suddenly attack in the airport to the inspired accompaniment of the pop song ‘Welcome To Tokyo’ (which gets rolled out again for a cheerful, cast of thousands, song and dance routine accompanying the end credits). Extensive mayhem ensures. A man rolls down a long flight of steps in an oil drum. Two groups of smartly uniformed and skirted women do battle (one group in red, one in blue – stewardesses from rival airlines, perhaps?). Workmen in hard hats and overalls descend from scaffolding to join the melee.

Knowing this will be an impossible act to follow, the film then throws in a pursuer Jack Jaa (Thai martial arts sensation Tony Jaa from Ong-bak, Prachya Pinkaew, 2003) on the Tokyo subway before having the trio flee him on go-karts while he comes unstoppably and hilariously after them by stealing a child’s bicycle with tiny wheels.… Read the rest

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An Autumn’s Tale (Chau Tin Dik Tung Wa, 秋天的童話)

Director – Mabel Cheung – 1987 – Hong Kong – Cert. 15 – 98m

****

A girl leaves her home in Hong Kong and flies to New York where her boyfriend has dumped her, so her cousin looks after her there instead – screening as part of Focus Hong Kong 2022 Chinese New Year on Tuesday, January 25th, 2022 8:15 pm, NFT2, info here

Young and innocent 23-year-old hopeful Jennifer (Cherie Chung from The Story Of Wu-Viet, Ann Hui, 1981; Wild Search, Ringo Lam, 1989; Once A Thief, John Woo, 1991, all co-starring as here with Chow Yun Fat) takes a one-way, 20 hour flight from Hong Kong to New York where she’s enrolled in acting school, something for which she plans to get whatever work she can in order to pay her way. Her other – perhaps her main – reason for the journey is to be reunited with her boyfriend, but when she goes to meet Vincent (Danny Chan Bak-yeung) off the train, she sees he’s with the more sophisticated Peggy (Cindy Ou / Wu Fu-sheng) and no longer interested in her, Jennifer.

Meanwhile, looking out for her is her Big Apple streetwise cousin ‘Figurehead’ a.k.a.… Read the rest

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The 355

Director – Simon Kinberg – 2022 – US – Cert. 12a – 124m

***

Five female agents from different national security agencies team up to prevent a deadly new cyber-weapon falling into the wrong hands – out in cinemas on Friday, January 7th

An illegal deal is going down 150 miles south of Bogotá, Columbia. A ruthless and powerful mercenary (Jason Flemyng) will stop at nothing to get hold of a deadly new cyber-weapon – a hand-sized device which is capable of accessing and utilising any other computer control system and that can be plugged into a laptop. However, things don’t go according to plan when the sellers’ mansion is raided by Colombia’s Dirección Nacional de Inteligencia (DNI) and the cyber-weapon taken by operative Luis (Édgar Ramirez) who pans to sell it on and vanish with the money.

Posing as a married couple, CIA operatives Nick (Sebastian Stan) and Mace (Jessica Chastain) are sent to Paris, France to rendezvous with Luis and buy the cyber-weapon off him. In their temporary apartment, Nick unexpectedly kisses her and they sleep together, but later he is fatally shot when the operation goes wrong because an operative of the German national security organisation the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BDN) Marie (Diane Kruger) snatches the bag.… Read the rest

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Top Ten Movies (and more) 2021

Work in progress – subject to change. Because I am still watching movies released in 2021, so it’s always possible that a new title could usurp the number one in due course. Before that, I have a lot more movies still to add.

All films received either a theatrical or an online release in the UK between 01/01/21 and 31/12/21. Prior to 2020, I’d never included online releases (well, maybe the odd one or two as a special case) but that year saw the film distribution business turned upside down by COVID-19. How 2022 and beyond will look is anyone’s guess.

This version excludes re-releases (Seven Samurai and It’s A Wonderful Life, in that order, would top everything here, while The Shop Around the Corner would also be in my Top Ten). A link to that longer list will be added here in due course.

In addition to re-releases, this version also excludes films seen in festivals which haven’t had any other UK release in 2021. A link to that even longer list will be added here in due course.

Finally, last year’s list is here.

Top Ten (UK theatrical + online movie releases 2021)

Please click on titles to see reviews.… Read the rest

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The Battle At Lake Changjin (Zhang Jin Hu, 长津湖)

Directors – Chen Kaige, Dante Lam, Tsui Hark – 2021 – China – Cert. 15 – 176m

*****

Chinese war movie which has barnstormed the global box office does exactly what it says on the tin – out in cinemas on Friday, November 19th

There is a history of war films with a cast of thousands being directed by several (usually three) directors in an attempt to portray campaigns with huge military logistics on the screen. Probably the best known are The Longest Day (Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernard Wicki, 1962) about the World War Two Allied invasion of Normandy and Tora! Tora! Tora! (Richard Fleischer, Toshio Matsuda, Kinji Fukasaku, 1970) about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Both of those Western (and, as it happens, Twentieth Century Fox) movies presented both sides of the conflict by hiring directors from the different countries concerned.

The big difference between them and Chinese global box office phenomenon The Battle At Lake Changjin is that although the latter film deals with a conflict in which the Chinese are pitted against the Americans, all three directors are Chinese. Tsui (Zu Warriors, 1983; Once Upon A Time In China, 1991) at least has some working knowledge of America, having studied film in Texas.… Read the rest

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Raging Fire (Nou Fo, 怒火)

Director – Benny Chan – 2021 – Hong Kong – Cert.15 – 126m

***1/2

A cop comes up against his former disillusioned protégé who is now the mastermind behind a criminal gang – in cinemas from Friday, November 12th

A big deal is about to go down. Uber-honest cop Cheung Sung-bong (Donnie Yen) heads a unit constantly in trouble with his superiors owing to his refusal to take pay offs and play their corruption game. They consequently repeatedly block him from accessing supplies and equipment he and his men need to properly do their job. This has gone on for years, with officers cracking under the inevitable strain from time to time. One such is his protégé Yau Kong-ngo (Nicholas Tse), booted off the force for beating a suspect to death. Cheung has kept in touch with him in the interim.

The night of the big deal, Cheung is denied his team’s required equipment and consequently arrives late to the scene of the incident. The absence of Cheung’s expertise on site causes a fellow police colleague to be killed along with various gang members. Unbeknownst to Cheung, the second gang involved in the deal – which double-crosses the first – is headed up by the disillusioned Yau.… Read the rest

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A Moment Of Romance (Tin Joek Yau Ching, 天若有情)

Director – Benny Chan – 1990 – Hong Kong – Cert.18 – 92m

***1/2

When a biker and gang member on the lam from a jewel heist takes a well-to-do girl hostage then falls for her, their romance is doomed – from the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF), on now

Gang member Wah (Andy Lau) is the archetypal bad boy who, in the opening sequence, speeds through a narrow gap between two lorries and wilfully breaks a wing mirror on a stationary police vehicle as he rides past. Director Chan keeps up the mayhem with a sequence of two competing lorries on a makeshift racing circuit, each with a pretty girl standing on top – until one of them crashes into a stationery car sending the falling girl through its windscreen and scattering the onlookers as the police approach.

Ascendant gang member Trumpet seems to have it in for Wah and puts him on getaway car duty for a jewel heist. Wah must improvise when cops happen by chance to turn up outside the building while the crime is in progress and during the ensuing pursuit by car, in which he gets the robbers successfully away from the scene, and on foot, his only way of escaping the cops is to take an innocent bystander hostage.… Read the rest