Line Walker (使徒行者)

For F*** Magazine

LINE WALKER (使徒行者)

Director: Jazz Boon
Cast : Nick Cheung, Louis Koo, Charmaine Sheh, Francis Ng, Benz Hui, Li Guangjie, Zhang Huiwen, Jade Leung
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1 hr 48 mins
Opens : 11 August 2016
Rating : PG13 (Violence)

Line Walker poster“I keep my eyes wide open all the time” – so sang Johnny Cash in I Walk the Line. In  this crime thriller, undercover cops embedded deep within organised crime networks have to watch their backs, lest said backs get stabbed. Undercover agent Ding Jie (Sheh) receives an encrypted text message from a mysterious figure known only as ‘Blackjack’, who claims to be an undercover agent who is out in the cold after the death of his handler. Ding’s superior at the Criminal Intelligence Bureau (CIB), Q (Ng), launches a search for Blackjack. Q discovers that a financial firm is involved in a drug deal in Brazil, narrowing down the true identity of Blackjack to the firm’s advisor Lam (Cheung) or his right-hand man Shiu (Koo). Both are working with Foon-hei (Hui), a triad boss previously thought dead. When the triads catch wind of a possible mole in the ranks, suspicion and betrayal threaten to throw the crucial drug deal into chaos.

Line Walker Nick Cheung and Louis Koo 2

Line Walker is a continuation of the hit TVB action drama series of the same name. Of the show’s main cast, only Sheh and Hui return, with Raymond Lam notably absent. Lam, who played Bao Seed in the series, reportedly turned down an offer to star in the movie, much to the disappointment of fans. Ideally, a big screen spin-off of a TV show should stand well enough on its own while tossing out tidbits and Easter Eggs for loyal fans. Unfortunately, Line Walker starts out confusing and only ties itself in increasingly complicated knots. The double crosses and red herrings are stacked haphazardly in a pile, such that by the time the conclusion rolls around, the story resembles a wobbly Jenga tower. Yes, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect a few twists and turns in a crime thriller, but the number of times Line Walker announces “but wait, there’s more!” is nigh absurd, and more tiresome than actually dramatic.

Line Walker Nick Cheung and Louis Koo

One can tell that considerable resources have been sunk into Line Walker, and it’s quite the lavish production: in addition to shooting in Hong Kong, parts of the movie were filmed at Macau’s new Studio City resort and in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The action sequences, choreographed by Chin Ka-lok, are brutal and relatively elaborate, with quite a bit of blood being drawn during the fights. It’s a shame that these flourishes come off as bells and whistles instead of actually enriching the story.

Line Walker also suffers from serious tonal issues: Sheh’s first scene, in which she’s astride a motorcycle being pursued by bad guys also on bikes, is packed with slapstick. Later, while exiting a car in an evening gown, her dress gets caught in the door. Elsewhere in the movie, there are overwrought confrontations and tearful dying confessions. A villain even slits another character’s throat, and gouges out someone else’s eyes. Thankfully, we’re spared from seeing that grisliness in all their graphic detail, but the effect is still pretty jarring.

Line Walker Charmaine Sheh and Francis Ng

Sheh may have gained a great amount of popularity from her role as Ding Jie in the Line Walker series, but all of the pouty, whiny cutesiness she exhibits feels patently out of place in what’s supposed to be an intense, explosive thriller. Cheung and Koo play off each other well enough, but both performers seem like they’re trying to out-cool the other, to the point where all their posturing being pretty silly. A major revelation with regards to Hui’s character was delivered in the show’s final episode – in which Foon-hei also supposedly bit the dust. The explanation for his return amounts to little more than, if you’ll excuse the pun, a cop-out. The fresh-faced Zhang Huiwen, star of Zhang Yimou’s Coming Home, is unconvincing as Lam’s badass bodyguard.

Line Walker Benz Hui

Line Walker is at once overblown and undercooked, packed with big-budget sound and fury but pointlessly frustrating instead of riveting. Director Jazz Poon is unable to keep the story from spiralling into a tangled mess, which is likely to alienate fans of the TV show and newcomers alike.

Summary: Line Walker substitutes nuanced underworld intrigue with often laughable bombast and plot twists that will make your head spin but won’t blow your mind.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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Nine Lives

For F*** Magazine

NINE LIVES

Director : Barry Sonnenfeld
Cast : Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Garner, Malina Weissman, Robbie Amell, Christopher Walken, Mark Consuelos, Cheryl Hines
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 27 mins
Opens : 5 August 2016
Rating : PG

Nine Lives posterTo paraphrase Brad Pitt’s David Mills in Se7en, “aww, what’s in the litterbox?” Kevin Spacey is forced to embrace his feline side in this family comedy. Spacey plays Tom Brand, the owner of the multi-billion-dollar corporation Firebrand. The company is on the verge of unveiling its new headquarters in New York, set to be the tallest skyscraper in the Northern Hemisphere. Preoccupied with beating a competing high-rise being constructed in Chicago, Tom neglects his wife Lara (Garner) and young daughter Rebecca (Weissman). He also refuses to give David (Amell), his son from his first marriage who is also a Firebrand employee, the time of day. Rebecca wants a cat for her birthday, so Tom begrudgingly heads to a pet store to get her one. Felix Grant (Walken), the proprietor of a pet store named ‘Purrkins’, sells Tom a Norwegian Forest cat dubbed ‘Mr. Fuzzypants’. After an accident leaves Tom in a coma, his spirit is transferred into Mr. Fuzzypants. The cat has to convince Lara and Rebecca that he actually is Tom, while Firebrand exec Ian (Consuelos) threatens to take over the company.

Nine Lives Malina Weissman, Kevin Spacey and Christopher Walken

There’s something fishy going on here, and it’s quite possible that the story behind the making of Nine Lives is a fascinating showbiz farce involving lost bets and blackmail. We can’t prove this, of course, so we would like the EuropaCorp lawyers to hold off. Yes, this comes from Luc Besson’s production company, stars Kevin Spacey and is directed by Barry Sonnenfeld of Men in Black fame. It’s a weird set of people to be collaborating on a family movie which would be right at home on the Disney Channel. And it’s so obvious we shouldn’t need to point it out, but yes, this is a wholesale rip-off of Disney’s own The Shaggy Dog – a rip-off that required a staggering five screenwriters to assemble. Even weirder, Sonnenfeld has a self-professed dislike for cats and is allergic to them. “Dogs can be trained, but dogs work for love and food,” he said in an interview “Cats don’t care about love and really don’t care that much about food, either.” This total lack of a desire to be there does show in the work.

Nine Lives Malina Weissman

“I’ve got a wife, an ex-wife and two kids. I don’t need another thing to feed,” Tom scoffs early on in the movie. It’s a cliché through and through – the ambitious businessman consumed by his job, placing no value on human connections, who has to be taught a lesson by way of some magical realism. It’s never exactly explained what products or services Firebrand offers, though Tom’s face on the cover of Wired magazine implies it’s some sort of tech juggernaut. It’s hard to imagine that Spacey is aching for cash, what with insiders speculating that his per-episode salary on House of Cards is $1 million. Still, he isn’t exactly phoning it in, and for the bulk of the movie he’s performing Mr. Fuzzypant’s inner monologue (so no CGI mouths grafted onto actual cats). The deadpan delivery makes the lines a fair bit funnier than they have any right to be. And it’s not like it’s possible for a performer like Spacey to make material like this worse. Norwegian Forest cats Jean, Philmon, Connery, Roxy and Yuri are credited as playing Mr. Fuzzypants – they may not be Oscar winners like Spacey is, but credit where credit is due.

Nine Lives Jennifer Garner and Malina Weissman

Garner’s recent filmography features a significant proportion of safe family comedies, and there’s not too much to say about her performance here. Weissman, whom some might recognise as young Kara on Supergirl, is sufficiently likeable as a daughter yearning for her father’s care and attention. Cheryl Hines is reasonably funny as Tom’s catty ex-wife, and the hunky Amell is believably earnest as a son seeking his father’s approval. Walken is basically reprising his role from Click as the mystical store-owner who gives our protagonist a dose of self-reflection. Walken is a reliable ‘one scene wonder’, but his scene-stealing prowess is not on display here.

Nine Lives Robbie Amell

If you’re a cat-lover, there are plenty of adorable shenanigans performed by both animal actors and computer-generated felines to take in. However, a stiltedness and insincerity permeates Nine Lives. There really aren’t too many wildly inappropriate jokes beyond the standard “cats peeing/getting neutered” chestnuts, but one has to question the decision of having a company’s Initial Public Offering be a crucial plot point in a family film. The movie’s climax also takes an unexpectedly dark turn. The visual effects work is conspicuous, but not laughably terrible. On the level of a “so bad it’s good” curiosity, Nine Lives is fodder for a drunken movie night with friends and there’s a degree of enjoyment in seeing Spacey muse about urinating in a handbag. That said, it’s hard to recommend spending even one dollar on Nine Lives.

Summary: Director Barry Sonnenfeld coughs up quite the cinematic hairball. We’re still very curious about what made Kevin Spacey say yes to this one.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Suicide Squad

For F*** Magazine

SUICIDE SQUAD

Director : David Ayer
Cast : Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Karen Fukuhara, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, Cara Delevingne, Jay Hernandez, Adam Beach, Ben Affleck
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 2 hrs 3 mins
Opens : 4 August 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

Suicide Squad posterThe heroes of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) have been pretty sullen thus far, so here we get to know if bad guys really have more fun (spoiler: they do). Government official Amanda Waller (Davis) assembles ‘Task Force X’, a covert team of supervillains coerced into doing her dirty work. On the roster are hitman Deadshot/Floyd Lawton (Smith), the unhinged ex-psychiatrist Harley Quinn/Harleen Quinzel (Robbie), cannibalistic beast Killer Croc/Waylon Jones (Akinnouye-Agbaje), Aussie bank robber Captain Boomerang/Digger Harkness (Courtney), pyrokinetic gangster El Diablo/Chato Santana (Hernandez), assassin Slipknot/Christopher Weiss (Beach) and the possessed archaeologist Enchantress/June Moone (Delevingne). Wrangling the team are elite operative Rick Flag (Kinnaman) and swordswoman Katana/Tatsu Yamashiro (Fukuhara). When a powerful mystical entity throws Midway City into chaos, Task Force X are sent in to mitigate the situation. Between the in-fighting, Waller’s machinations and the intervention of the Joker (Leto), the object of Harley’s affections, it will be anything but smooth sailing.

Suicide Squad group shot 1

This year’s Batman v Superman took quite the beating from critics and while many conceded that the extended Ultimate Edition was a massive improvement, the damage was done. The DCEU has a great deal of catching up to do, seeing as how Marvel continues to rule the roost at the cinemas. A Suicide Squad movie is a step in the right direction: it’s smaller than your typical superhero blockbuster so it won’t feel bloated, DC has a rich menagerie of villains to play with, and it won’t take itself too seriously. Writer-director David Ayer is an excellent get: he has a proven track record of grimy, street-level flicks carried by characters who wouldn’t normally be considered likeable. This is messy fun, akin to splashing about in mud. It’s not always pleasant, nor is it meant to be, but it’s enjoyable in its own way.

Suicide Squad Margot Robbie and Jared Leto

There’s plenty of dark comedy to be mined from the inherent dysfunction of the titular team, and while some of the jokes feel crowbarred in, the tone is generally appropriate for the material. The dialogue occasionally sounds like it’s trying too hard to sound tough, but the interplay within the team is engaging. At 123 minutes, it’s a smidgen too long, with multiple flashbacks required to fill the audience in on the backstories of our many characters. However, it scuttles along at a satisfactory pace and the action flies thick and fast. It’s far from the most aesthetically pleasing comic book film and it’s easy to see why several design choices (most having to do with Joker and Harley) have been decried by fans. However, there are moments that are visually exciting, and the lack of polish belies a healthy amount of visceral thrills.

Suicide Squad Will Smith and Joel Kinnaman

Ayer does a decent job of juggling quite a number of characters, by delineating which ones are worthy of exploration, and which ones just serve to fill a slot on the attendance sheet. The film retains the key component of Deadshot’s attachment to his daughter, and casting Will Smith means no matter how many times the character proclaims he’s a “bad guy”, we’ll have at a least a little sympathy for him. The emotional moments don’t work as well as they should, but Deadshot is appropriately quippy and cocky, with Smith’s charisma serving as a rallying point for the rest of the film. Does his star power pull one out of it? It turns out, not as much as you’d expect.

Suicide Squad Margot Robbie

Harley Quinn is a fan-favourite for many reasons, and when the character was reinvented during DC’s New 52 comics reboot, writer Adam Glass even received death threats. As such, Robbie’s performance won’t fit the ideal Harley in everyone’s heads, but this reviewer feels she displays a good understanding of the character, sprightly physicality and is immense fun to watch. Harley’s twisted joie de vivre is faithful to the source material, even if the outfit she sports for the bulk of the movie isn’t.

Suicide Squad Jared Leto

The Joker is wisely not overused. Leto’s on-set antics, including mailing a severed pig’s head to co-star Davis, raised a lot of eyebrows. He makes for a fine Joker who feels like he fits right into this particular cinematic universe, and it might sound silly, but this reviewer was thrilled to hear Harley call the Joker “Puddin’” and “Mistah J” on the big screen. It’s not as virtuosic a performance as the late Heath Ledger’s, but it fits the requirements of the story. Similarly, the way Batman is used in the narrative is just right – it’s not a sizeable part, but he does make an impact and provides connective tissue to the rest of the DCEU.

Suicide Squad Viola Davis

A key factor in making the audience buy the outlandish premise is by putting someone scary enough in charge, and Davis’ authoritative presence anchors Suicide Squad. Her Amanda Waller is nigh perfect, no-nonsense and manipulative without being one-note, and Davis’ gravitas is a force to be reckoned with. Kinnaman is probably a better fit for the straight arrow soldier than the originally-cast Tom Hardy would’ve been.

Suicide Squad Jai Courtney and Karen Fukuhara

Courtney is a hoot here – he may have had little success as a cookie cutter action hero, but as the crass Aussie thug, he’s right on the money. Hernandez provides a surprising amount of heart as the repentant former gangster, while Akinnuoye-Agbaje competently fills the role of burly big guy (Croc’s head just seems too big for his body). Alas, Delevingne isn’t convincing as an archaeologist or as an ancient witch. The central antagonist, whose identity we shan’t spoil, serves as a formidable physical and psychological threat to the Squad while not requiring too much characterisation, so we can focus on the team members themselves. It’s also convenient that the villain’s minions are faceless monsters, so they can get shot at and hacked apart in graphic fashion without breaking the PG-13 limit.

Suicide Squad group shot 2

Suicide Squad has its flaws, but the film scores a victory in not trying to ape the Marvel Studios formula. Like its central characters, it’s unpolished and rough around the edges. It’s spirited and entertaining without sacrificing too much of the graveness that has become DC’s calling card at the movies. The story is relatively easy to follow even for a neophyte, but fans will be rewarded with a couple of cool cameos and plenty of Easter Eggs, including a respectful nod to writer John Ostrander, who co-created the Suicide Squad team in the comics. Stick around for a mid-credits scene after the main-on-end titles.

Summary: It won’t please everyone, but Suicide Squad is an ideal marriage of director and comic book property. Jump on in and get messy.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Train to Busan (부산행)

For F*** Magazine

TRAIN TO BUSAN (부산행)

Director : Yeon Sang-ho
Cast : Gong Yoo, Kim Su-an, Jung Yu-mi, Ma Dong-seok, Choi Woo-shik, Sohee, Kim Eui-sung
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 1 hr 58 mins
Opens : 4 August 2016
Rating : NC-16 (Violence)

Train to Busan posterBecause walking is too pedestrian, the (un)dead are taking the train in this Korean thriller. Seok-woo (Gong) is an overworked fund manager living in Seoul who is in the midst of divorcing his wife. It’s his young daughter Su-an’s (Kim Su-an) birthday, and she wants to see her mother in Busan. They board the high-speed KTX train for what should be a routine journey. It turns out to be anything but when the train is overrun by zombies; the infection traced back to a biotech plant in Ansan. The other passengers on the train include Sang-hwa (Ma) and his pregnant wife Seong-kyeong (Jung), a school baseball team including Young-guk (Choi) and cheerleader Jin-hee (Sohee), and Yong-seok (Kim Eui-sung), the COO of a bus company. It’s a desperate fight for survival as the infected swarm the train, with the passengers attempting to ensure their survival at any cost.

Train to Busan Gong Yoo and Kim Su-an

Genre films have long been used as vehicles to deliver thought-provoking allegories, and Train to Busan depicts not only the clash between the living and the undead, but conflicts across social strata. Writer-director Yeon, known mostly for his dark animated films, makes an assured live-action debut with this taut, intense thriller. Some commentary is made on societal attitudes – Sang-hwa derisively describes Seok-woo as a “bloodsucker” when he learns Seok-woo is a fund manager, and Yong-seok warns Su-an that she will end up like a homeless man if she doesn’t study hard enough. Thankfully, these moments are organically woven into the film’s fabric, instead of coming across as on-the-nose. Yeon has said in interviews that because Korean audiences at large are generally unfamiliar with zombie fiction, it was important for him to establish a relatable, realistic starting point so it would be easier for them to buy the premise. This definitely pays off.

Train to Busan Ma Dong-seok

The primary setting of a high-speed train gives the film a focus, with the scope of the unfolding chaos conveyed through news broadcasts and videos posted online. The claustrophobia is put to excellent use in nail-biting sequences wherein our heroes have to sneak past and outsmart the undead hordes in a confined space. Unfortunately, there are several moments of unintentional comedy, with the zombies occasionally coming off as silly instead of unsettling. There’s a fair amount of blood, to be sure, but little gore – zombies with their entrails hanging out might not be strictly necessarily, but body horror of that type might have helped the creatures make more of an impact. As with any piece of zombie fiction, the action can get repetitive in spots, with multiple sequences involving the uninfected bracing against doors to stop the zombies from breaking through.

Train to Busan Kim Su-an

Disaster films often resort to simplistic caricatures so the audience can be introduced to a bunch of characters as quickly as possible before calamity strikes. Here, there’s just enough characterisation such that we know a sufficient amount about the key passengers without it feeling like a drag. The career-minded father who has neglected his daughter is a well-worn trope, but both Gong Yoo and child actress Kim Su-an are able to sell the relationship. Kim Su-an might actually be the most nuanced of all the performers, since there is a bit of a tendency among the cast to over-act. Yeon is unafraid to give the de-facto hero plenty of foibles – his selfish actions might earn the audience’s dislike, but it’s highly possible that most of us would behave just as Seok-woo does if we were in his shoes.

Train to Busan Jung Yu-mi and Ma Dong-seok

Putting a child and a pregnant woman in jeopardy is another hoary disaster movie cliché, but in Yeon’s hands, it never gets egregiously manipulative. Ma Dong-seok serves as both the comic relief and, surprisingly enough, the action hero, with his character emerging as the most physical. Jung Yu-mi brings a quiet warmth to Seong-kyeong, with the married couple bickering kept to a reasonable amount. The high school sweethearts, who would typically come off as annoying in films of this type, are very tolerable here. A pair of elderly sisters also provide additional heart. Portraying an elitist, snivelling exec, Kim Eui-sung will have viewers readily jeering.

Train to Busan Kim Eui-sung

We’d like to think crisis only brings out our better angels, but there’s no denying that worse demons often bare their fangs in such situations. Yeon toes the line such that Train to Busan doesn’t come off as overly cynical or laughably schmaltzy, with just enough verisimilitude for the zombie mayhem to be built upon. While these are far from the scariest zombies to have lunged across the screen, tension is sustained throughout and Train to Busan ends up being quite the gripping ride.

Train to Busan Gong Yoo bloodied

Summary: Boasting a mix of frenzied thrills and social commentary, Train to Busan is very much alive on arrival.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong