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Beyond Utopia

Director – Madeleine Gavin – 2023 – US – Cert. 15 – 115m

*****

North Koreans flee their repressive country over the Chinese border and through several communist countries, where repatriation would mean imprisonment, torture and possibly death – heartstopping documentary is out in UK cinemas on Friday, October 27th

Whether you’re coming to the subject of North Korea cold or whether you already know a little about the subject from the documentary Camp 14: Total Control Zone (Marc Weise, 2012), the animated feature True North (Eiji Han Shimizu, 2020) or Korean War movies like Operation Chromite (John H. Lee, 2016) or Nambugan: North Korean Partisan In South Korea (Chung Ji-Young, 1990), this contemporary take on the North Korean refugee experience throws much fresh light on the subject.

To augment its twin central narratives – two entirely separate stories of North Koreans attempting to escape their country – director Gavin helpfully breaks them up with an intermittent primer on North Korea. Much of this comes from Hyeonseo Lee, who fled the country over 20 years ago and has subsequently talked about it in TED and other public speaking forums. Lee was the producer’s original intended subject for the film, which changed considerably as director Gavin began researching the subject.… Read the rest

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The Ex-Files 4:
Marriage Plan
(Qian Ren 4,
前任4:英年早婚)

Director – Yusheng Tian – 2023 – China – Cert. PG – 129m

****

A man in a trial marriage attempts to help his best friend, on the rebound from a failed relationship, navigate the process of finding a new partner – out in UK cinemas on Friday, October 6th

Chinese writer-director Tian’s romantic franchise, now on its fourth entry, has built its previous instalments around characters whose former partners interfere one way or another with their current, ongoing, attempts at relationships. Meng Yun (Han Geng), a character from the original The Ex-Files (2014) is single again following events in The Ex-Files 3: Return Of The Exes (2017), while the relationship of regular character Yu Fei (Zheng Kai) with girlfriend Ding Dian (Zeng Mengxue) has settled down into some sort of stability.

The latter couple are eating out when she suggests, more on a whim than from any basis in fact, that she might be pregnant. His offer to marry her were that to be the case is met with a degree of disbelief in her arguments about being an independent woman, so they agree to a trial marriage. Yu Fei juggles this with trying to help the single Meng find love, enrolling him in a dating site and offering advice as things develop.… Read the rest

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Where
The Wind Blows
(Feng Zai Qi Shi,
風再起時)

Director – Philip Yung – 2022 – Hong Kong – Cert. 15 – 144m

***

The parallel careers of two dishonest Hong Kong cops plays out against the backdrop of corruption in the Hong Kong Police Force between the end of WW2 and the end of the 1960s – out in UK cinemas on Friday, September 8th

Out of the ashes of the Japanese occupation during the Second World War, two men join the Hong Kong Police Force only to discover that it is riddled with corruption, a fact of life they embrace in different ways throughout the 1950s and 60s even as the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) under George Lee (Michael Hui) attempts to investigate them and shut them down. The well-dressed Nam Kong (Tony Leung Chiu-wai from Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, Destin Daniel Cretton, 2021; Lust, Caution, Ang Lee, 2007; Infernal Affairs, Andrew Lau, Alan Mak, 2002) is quietly building a corrupt empire with links to the triads, while Lui Lok (Aaron Kwok from The Storm Riders, Andrew Lau, 1998) attempts to eschew corruption but find its pervasive presence in the force irresistible.

The latter falls for and marries the beautiful Tsai Chan (Du Juan), subsequently taking on Siu Yin (Yixuan Zeng) as his mistress because she reminds him of former girlfriend Xiao Yu (Chun Xia aka Jessie Li) who disguised herself as a male soldier to find her lost brother, was discovered by the Japanese and pressed into service as a comfort woman.… Read the rest

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Creation
Of The Gods
I:
Kingdom
Of Storms
(Feng Shen
Di Yi Bu:
Zhao Ge Feng Yun,
封神第一部
朝歌风云,
lit.
Investiture
Of The Gods
Part I:
Zhaoge Turmoil)

Director – Wuershan – 2023 – China – Cert. 15 – 148m

****

A king’s infatuation with a beautiful woman possessed by a vixen demon threatens to bring down a terrible curse upon his kingdom – first part of epic, period, mythological adventure trilogy is out in UK and Irish cinemas on Friday, September 22nd

This first trilogy instalment of an adaptation of the Xu Zhonglin-attributed novel Investiture Of The Gods, written towards the end of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), deals with the downfall of the Shang dynasty (which existed well before a thousand years BC). While the tale may well contain elements of historical truth, it also mixes in supernatural deities and creatures to cover an awful lot of ground in its two and a half hours’ running length.

The novel is known by a number of titles in Chinese, one of which is Fengshen Bang, an artefact of which name turns up in this film as a sort of MacGuffin, here a mystical scroll endowing its owner with great power which at least one major character seeks to possess, others seek to help him do so and immortals want to make sure it gets into the right (i.e. righteous or deserving) hands rather than his.… Read the rest

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No More Bets
(孤注一掷,
Gu Zhu Yi Zhi)

Director – Shen Ao – 2022 – China – Cert. 15 – 129m

***

A rising star computer programmer and a dropped model are lured into working as forced labour for a fraudulent, foreign online gambling operation – out in UK cinemas on Friday, September 8th

Zhao Dongran (Yong Mei), the knowledgeable head of a well-equipped Chinese police team fighting internet fraud, gives a lecture in which she outlines the story of a top flight programmer lured into the shady world of gambling beyond China’s borders.

The talented Pan Sheng (Lay Zhang), after being passed over for a promotion in favour of a not-especially talented young relative of the boss, opts for his safety net – a job offer from a company in Singapore. Along with a number of other recruits, he boards the plane with company rep Cui (Sunny Sun from The Crossing, Bai Xue, 2018), who is in charge of them, but in Singapore the deal rapidly turns sour when in an alleyway the group are rounded up by thugs with baseball bats to be transported to the corporate compound which amounts to a slave labour camp from which Lu (Eric Wang) runs an online gambling company which is in fact a scam defrauding millions of people, many of them in China.… 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 – out on Radiance Blu-ray from Monday, August 21st 2023 following its screening in the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF) 2021

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

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Joy Ride

Director – Adele Lim – 2023 – US – Cert. 15 – 95m

***1/2

A Chinese-American corporate lawyer visiting China to close a business deal for her boss finds herself on a road trip with three friends which turns into a search for her birth mother – raunchy, gross-out comedy is out in UK cinemas on Friday, August 4th

TL;DR: good fun and occasionally hilarious – provided you don’t watch the trailer first.

White Hills, Seattle. Little girl Audrey Sullivan (Lennon Yee), a Chinese adoptee with white parents, hits it off with new girl in town of the same age Lolo Chen (Chloe Pun) when at a local playground, the latter sees off a white racist boy bully on her behalf. Growing up, the pair become inseparable, yet they are very different characters, with Audrey being the school yearbook’s “most likely to succeed” while Lolo is “most likely to be arrested”. Five minutes into the film, Audrey (Ashley Park) is a highly regarded and highly paid corporate lawyer on the verge of being while Lolo (Sherry Cola) is a struggling artist making sex-positive art (i.e. it centres around representations of male and female genitalia). Audrey is letting the impoverished Lolo stay at her upmarket house.… Read the rest

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Ride On
(Longma Jingshen,
龙马精神)

Director – Larry Yang – 2023 – China – Cert. PG – 126m

****

Ageing stuntman Jackie Chan must fight to retain ownership of the horse he has befriended and trained since rescuing it at birthout on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital in the UK on Monday, July 24th following its release in UK, Irish, Chinese and US cinemas on Friday, April 7th

Why does one go to see a Jackie Chan movie? The usual reasons are the incredible stunts coupled with the likeable, knockabout comedy which is his trademark. Perhaps the star’s winsome personality also plays a part. His best films over the years have probably contained a mixture of all three. While these elements, notably Jackie’s personality, are all present to some degree here, they aren’t really its strengths – which are (1) the depiction of a career, reviewed by a person who is old, past their prime, and forced to confront the fact and (2) the relationship of a man with a horse which he has known from the time of its birth.

The day Ride On was released in both the UK and China was also Jackie Chan’s 69th birthday. While I don’t doubt he keeps himself in good condition, he is clearly no longer the young man he once was.… Read the rest

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Lost In The Stars
(Xiao Shi De Ta,
消失的她)

Directors – Cui Rui, Liu Xiang – 2022 – China – Cert. 15 – 121m

*****

A man’s wife vanishes and is replaced by an imposter; when no-one believes him, he hires a hotshot lawyer to find out what’s happening and get his real wife back – out in UK cinemas on Friday, July 14th

He Fei (Zhu Yilong) walks into a police station to ask for help with finding his wife Li Muzi, who has disappeared. The desk sergeant, who has clearly heard it all before, tells him there’s nothing they can do. Outside the station, in the pouring rain, he is approached by Officer Zheng (Du Jiang) who overheard and helpfully tries to calm him. The couple are holidaying in the island of Barlandia, outside of Chinese jurisdiction. He has recurring nightmares of her (Huang Ziqi) calling out his name for help and feels helpless in the face of them.

The next morning, events take a turn for the worse when He wakes up beside his wife Li Muzi (now played by Janice Man), who is not the real Li Muzi but an imposter he’s never seen before. Yet every piece of evidence he can think of to support his story seems to have changed to support hers– her passport seems genuine and shows that she entered the country at the same time as him, she can answer all manner of questions about the couple’s personal life, she has a scar on her upper thigh that no-one but the two of them know about.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Memories To Choke On,
Drinks
To Wash Them Down
(Ye Heung,
Yuen Yeung,
Sham Shui Po,
夜香・鴛鴦・深水埗)

Directors – Leung Ming Kai, Kate Reilly – 2019 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 15+ – 77m

**1/2

Four stories from contemporary Hong Kong comprise three dramas and a closing documentary segment – plays Focus Hong Kong 2023 on Saturday, June 24th at 3.30pm

An anthology of four stories from contemporary Hong Kong – three fiction and one documentary – showing the city’s diversity: Forbidden City, Toy Stories, Yuen Yeung and It’s Not Going To Be Fun.

Forbidden City features an old lady (Leong Cheok-mei) and her immigrant carer (Mia Mungil). The first time ‘grandma’ mentions that her son is now a big shot but used – as the not quite right subs put it –to scratch his wee-wee when he was young, it’s funny. The second and third times, it becomes obvious she has dementia and keeps repeating the same phrases over and over. Mia initially refuses to accompany her charge to a reunion in town, but after taking a video of the old lady swearing that she won’t take her carer to her son’s office (“if I do that he’ll fire me,” the carer says), she agrees to accompany her on the bus into town.… Read the rest