Posts tagged "China"

Bleeding Steel (Review)

Bleeding Steel

aka 機器之血
Bleeding Steel
2017
Story by Leo Zhang Li-Jia
Screenplay by Cui Si-Wei and Erica Xia-Hou
Directed by Leo Zhang Li-Jia

Bleeding Steel
In the climax of Bleeding Steel, Jackie Chan battles goth cyborgs on a Star Destroyer in the futuristic world of 2020 to save his dead daughter who was revitalized with magic blood and a robot heart. That is just the tip of the iceberg here, folks! Moviepass has become a blessing, enabling me to go catch the various Asian flicks that sporadically appear unannounced at the local multiplex for a few days before vanishing into the ether. Chasing the Dragon, Never Say Die, and The Thousand Faces of Dunjia were all benefits of this, and when Bleeding Steel popped up in the listings while I was trying to find times for The Shape of Water, I knew merman love could wait a day! And thank goodness it did, because Bleeding Steel is one of the most bonkers films I have seen all year, it delights in being insane, continually going over the top and then continuing to climb and climb. I filled two pages of notes and then gave up because things were happening too fast to keep up with, and just enjoyed the ride!
Bleeding Steel
Jackie Chan is a super cop named Lin, who leaves his young daughter Xixi dying in the hospital (how many kids has Jackie buried in films now?) because he needs to lead the police escort of a mad scientist named Dr. James, who has switched sides and brought the magic biotech he was working on along with him. Despite there being around 50ish heavily armed police officers, that is not even slightly enough. The villain Andre appears (Callan Mulvey, from Captain America Winter Soldier and Batman v Superman) along with four goons dressed as Cobra B.A.T.S., armed with high powered weapons and a robot snake that plants bombs (and is never seen again or even acknowledged!) Andre is dressed like Emperor Palpatine, bald with pale white skin but his entire jaw is painted black (probably from chewing all the scenery!) He randomly fires grenades at the cops, and when a repeatedly shot Jackie Chan tries to run him over, Andre starts shoving the car! Jackie Chan does manage to blow up Andre, but Chan’s daughter dies alone, Jackie almost dies, every cop except Su (Erica Xia-Hou Qi-Yu) is dead, and the scientist is mortally wounded.
Bleeding Steel
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - December 24, 2017 at 4:28 pm

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The Thousand Faces of Dunjia (Review)

The Thousand Faces of Dunjia

aka 奇門遁甲 aka Qi Men Dun Jia
Thousand Faces of Dunjia
2017
Written by Tsui Hark
Directed by Yuen Woo-ping

Ni Ni Thousand Faces of Dunjia
The Thousand Faces of Dunjia isn’t just another martial arts film, it is a wuxia fantasy with science fiction elements, including alien invaders in search of weapons of ultimate power. It’s directed by Yuen Woo Ping,a remake of his 1982 The Miracle Fighters, except it is completely different, more of a remake in concept only. The script is by Tsui Hark, and it stars some great actors like Zhou Dongyu and Da Peng. The film should have worked, which makes the fact that it didn’t even more disappointing.

Ultimately The Thousand Faces of Dunjia falls into the same trap that has ensnared so many other Chinese films, it becomes as soulless as the big budget blockbusters it tries to live up to. In a weird example, the best scene in the entire movie is a mid-credits scene where they basically roast on some of the more ridiculous concepts that happened earlier. It’s the kind of heart and good-natured ribbing the rest of the film should have been filled with. There were some humorous scenes, but mostly slapstick style humor, nothing that is basically on the same level.

Despite the group of heroes being made up of a solid core of actors, the villains are largely CGI creatures. They mind control a few martial arts masters into their bidding, but it is largely just CG villains arguing with each other and vaguely working against the heroes. Basically the entire villain side of the film completely fails, and that sort of sucks. Of the CGI monsters, the initial fish monster is the most fun, largely because they designed it to look like a crazy stop motion creation running around. When the larger villains show up, one is made of a bunch of red tendrils while the other is like a gargoyle. One of the heroes also turns into a CGI character, a blue phoenix that is vaguely symbolic.
Zhou Dong-Yu Thousand Faces of Dunjia
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - December 21, 2017 at 6:57 am

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Never Say Die (Review)

Never Say Die

aka 羞羞的铁拳 aka Xiu Xiu De Tie Quan
Never Say Die
2017
Directed by Yang Song and Chiyu Zhang
Never Say Die
A fun body swap comedy that throws any sort of sexual politics to the wayside in favor of lots of wacky antics, Never Say Die often runs into mo lei tau territory. That is fantastic, there just hasn’t been enough weird, fun stuff coming from Chinese cinema, and if they have to crib from Stephen Chow’s playbook to do it, fine with me. Never Say Die has been rewarded for being funny with some good box office returns (some of which might even be legitimate!), and gets the TarsTarkas.NET Seal of Approval! (Note: Seal of Approval does not contain actual seals.)

The film is merciless towards ultimate fighting, depicting it as an incredibly corrupt institution controlled by a family that profits off of the use and destruction of the other fighters, while promoting their son, Fight King Wu Liang (Xue Haowen) as the undefeated champion for years. Edison (Allen Ai Lun) is even introduced as being part of this machine, his first appearance is holding own on throwing a fight while demanding more money, and his character is coming off a suspension for giving bribes to the Fight King (for a match Edison lost and had his arm broken during) Later fighters are obviously bribed, including one who complains that the fighter won’t even try to attack them so they can fake lose.

Reporter Ma Xiao (Ma Li) is a no-nonsense sports reporter who will do whatever it takes to get her story, which is usually about how awful the various ultimate fighters are. Which is ironic, given that she is engaged to the Fight King himself! As Edison is announcing his big comeback for a rematch with the Fight King (provided he wins enough qualifying matches to do so), she harasses him at the press conference and then overhears him discussing with his manager, Ma Dong (Tian Yu), about how Ma Dong bribed enough fighters to take a dive to ensure a rematch. An attempt by Edison to retrieve Ma Xiao’s take with incriminating evidence results in the two switching bodies thanks to the power of accidentally kissing while falling in a swimming pool when lightning strikes. You know, the usual stuff. The fun then begins as they both walk several miles in each others shoes and realize things aren’t as simple as they first appear (or as I have described them above!)
Never Say Die
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - November 2, 2017 at 7:19 am

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This Is Not What I Expected (Review)

This Is Not What I Expected

aka 喜欢你
This Is Not What I Expected
2017
Written by Yuan Li and Yimeng Xu
Based on the book Finally I Get You by Lan Bai Se
Directed by Derek Hui Wang-Yu

This Is Not What I Expected
You better eat before you sit down to watch This Is Not What I Expected, because the lavish and constant footage of the porniest of food porn is enough to send any viewer’s stomach rumbling (spoiler alert, even the main characters have growling stomachs in the final scene!) From the opening shot of a steak on the grill to the intricately timed details for the perfect instant ramen bowl, the food becomes the media the rest of the romantic comedy is built around.

Let’s just ignore the implausibility of parts of the plot (that’s par for the course in a romantic comedy!) and just focus on the chemistry of the leads, the infusion of the plot elements, and whether the male character goes into stalker creeper mode. Things do get a bit messed up later on down the line, but it is nothing an extra line or two couldn’t have fixed. This is Derek Hui’s feature debut, usually spending time as an editor (Wu Xia, Man of Tai Chi). He does a some neat sequences and montages that give it a visual edge over the average romantic comedy, but it also made me greedy for more.

Gu Shengnan (Zhou Dong-Yu – Under the Hawthorn Tree) is introduced scratching rude words into the hood of a car, revenge on her friend’s cheating boyfriend (her friend Xu Zhaodi is played by model Ming Xi) It turns out to be the wrong car, belonging to billionaire investor Lu Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro – K-20: Legend of the Mask), who after some convincing promises not to call the police if she gets the hood repaired at his preferred shop before a certain time. Her life isn’t going well, as her boss who is also her secret boyfriend dumps her, and she feels her chef job is going nowhere. Gu Shengnan is 29, while in the US there is pressure for ladies to marry before they are 30, in China it is even worse where 29 is considered by many to be so old the women are a lost cause.
This Is Not What I Expected
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - October 20, 2017 at 7:19 am

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Gone with the Bullets (Review)

Gone with the Bullets

aka 一步之遙 aka Yi Bu Zhi Yao aka 隨子彈飛 aka One Step Away
Gone with the Bullets
2014
Written by Jiang Wen, Wang Shuo, Guo Jun-Li, and Shu Ping
Directed by Jiang Wen

Gone with the Bullets
Jiang Wen’s followup to Let the Bullets Fly goes in a completely different direction, a period satire of the entertainment industry, a scandalous crime, and a China carved up by colonial forces. Basically they gave Jiang Wen a dump truck full of money and he made the most ridiculous razzle-dazzle he could craft that also spent a good portion of the film mocking the very razzle-dazzle it celebrated. Yet the whole thing is hard to engage with, not even bothering to spend time to keep the audience and just flies off in whatever direction it feels like as the story rumbles along. It is certainly a spectacle, but the whole thing just isn’t my cup of tea.

Jiang Wen is Ma Zouri, a local scam artist who is so good at self-promotion that a warlord’s son comes to him for advice in an effort to switch from new money to old money to impress foreign women. Ma Zouri and his partner in crime Xiang Feitian (Ge You) see this as the perfect opportunity to fleece this guy out of all his money while simultaneously putting on the biggest talent show for ladies of the night in the history of the world, which will put Shanghai on the map. The pageant for President of Escort Nation features women from across the globe and is a huge production with multiple numbers, but in the end Wanyan Yin (Shu Qi) emerges victorious. She’s a former flame of Ma Zouri as they were growing up together, and soon the pair are racing around town high on opium until Wanyan Yin is dead in a car accident and Ma Zouri is on the run, assumed to be her killer.
Gone with the Bullets
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - July 3, 2017 at 7:55 am

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Life After Life (Review)

Life After Life

aka 枝繁叶茂 aka Zhi Fan Ye Mao
Life After Life
2016
Written and directed by Zhang Hanyi
Life After Life
In a desolate landscape wracked by the cruelty of winter, a dying community slated for removal for industrialization is the site of a haunting ghost story. Life After Life presents a world where a wife returns from beyond the grave for a mission of moving a tree that will help guide her soul into her next life. To do so she possesses the body of her young son, and her husband must then embark on her quest.

Life After Life is slow and methodical. The scenes are long takes, the characters pause for long beats between line deliveries, and even the plot takes a while to get going thanks to a series of setbacks and side quests. Ming Chun (Zhang Mingjun) is basically a lost family provider, what is left of his ancestral community is being relocated, his daughter has already moved away to the big city, and his son is frustrated and eager to run off himself. Ming Chun seems like he’s wandering alone, but soon the spirit of his late wife possesses his son, and finally he has a purpose even if her return doesn’t magically turn him energetic.

Son Leilie’s (Zhang Li) entire body language changes when he’s possessed by the spirit of Xiuying. He goes from a confident and angry young make to a soft-spoken and slumped figure, completely transforming into a new character. It’s also obvious as to why Xiuying and Ming Chun were perfect for each other, they both have the same slow personality that gels well. Xiuying needs a tree that they planted as newlyweds moved so it will help her spirit in the afterlife, as strange trees that don’t know you well enough run the risk of assigning you a less ideal new life. Leilie being possessed by Xiuying is accepted without question by everyone they encounter, which helped speed up scenes without reconvincing everyone. Ming Chung and Xiuying even visit Ming Chun’s parents in their next lives, his father is now a dog while his mother is a bird.

The crumbling cave house structures of the old community work with the bleak winter landscape to help strip all color from the frames, only the clothes worn by Leilie seem to have any sort of pop. The community is already the walking dead, but the countryside has preceded it (it’s implied the orchards were poisoned by industrial pollutants). Despite the dawdling pace, there are bits of life and whimsy. We see a giant rock wiggling down the side of the mountain, but it’s not until our heroes drive by it that we see it is because several workers are working the rock downhill via wiggling it with ropes. Later we see Ming Chun and Xiuying moving the tree by a similar method, both bringing to mind mythological tales.
Life After Life
Zhang Hanyi’s debut isn’t for everyone, it’s definitively art house. But it’s really good at doing what it wants to do, capture an eerie landscape and story with echoes of the industrialization of China with the old clashing with the new, presented from a rural slow-paced direction. And as one of our criteria is judging films on if they do what they want to do, Life After Life knocks that out of the park. As much fun as all the slow paced styling is, by the time they were getting around to moving the tree I was already fine with the town being bulldozed over. Life has already passed them by, maybe the moved tree can help the community find their way in the big city, or at least stop pausing for 30 seconds after every sentence. The low energy scenes were in complete contrast with the film I saw directly afterwards at SFIFF, The Incredible Jessica James, which was so full of energy and color and life that it was like cinematic whiplash! But that’s another review…

(I’ll also put in a warning that they show real animals being killed as a goat is killed for dinner, so be warned if you are like me and not into that stuff! Yep, the first two films I saw at SFIFF had dead animals in them, lucky me!)

SFIFF 2017

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Posted by Tars Tarkas - April 27, 2017 at 9:43 am

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