The Adventurers (侠盗联盟)

For F*** Magazine

THE ADVENTURERS 

Director : Stephen Fung
Cast : Andy Lau, Shu Qi, Zhang Jingchu, Tony Yang, Jean Reno, Eric Tsang, Sha Yi
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 47m
Opens : 31 August 2017
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

After making inroads into Hollywood as an executive producer and director on the TV series Into the Badlands, Stephen Fung is keeping things international with The Adventurers. The caper centres on an elite team of professional thieves, comprising mastermind Zhang (Lau), hacker Xiaobao (Yang) and slinky recruit Ye Hong (Shu). Zhang has just been released from prison, and because his earlier attempt to steal the priceless three-part Gaia necklace was foiled, hatches a new plan to procure the artefact for King Kong (Tsang), Zhang’s mentor. French detective Pierre Bissette (Reno) has been hot on Zhang’s trail, and is watching his every move following Zhang’s release from jail. Pierre convinces Zhang’s former fiancée, art restoration expert Amber (Zhang), to help him track Zhang down. The team’s mission takes them from Cannes, France to Prague, the Czech Republic, where they must foil state-of-the-art security measures to steal the components of the necklace.

 

The Adventurers is a loose remake of John Woo’s 1991 film Once a Thief. Chow Yun Fat, Leslie Cheung and Cherie Chung played the trio of thieves in that film, with Lau, Yang and Shu stepping into their shoes here. The Adventurers promises glitz, glamour and pulse-pounding action, but only delivers partway. Taking additional inspiration from the Ocean’s Eleven and Mission: Impossible franchises, The Adventurers showcases high-tech gadgetry and scenic locations, but fails to generate sufficient suspense, amounting to a generic “go get the MacGuffin” plot. Action sequences like a car chase down the French Riviera and an All-Terrain Vehicle pursuit through a Czech forest are competently staged, but The Adventurers lacks the daring “Houdini escapes” which have become a trademark of the Mission: Impossible movies. There just isn’t enough here to put audiences on the edge of their seats.

The film is slick and polished, with Fung’s international crew contributing to the fine production values. Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, best known as the guy Christian Bale was yelling at on the set of Terminator: Salvation, captures the European locations in their sweeping, luxe glory. The computer-generated effects are a cut above those often seen in Chinese blockbusters – the spider drones deployed during the climactic sequence are especially impressive. The tone is largely frothy and comedic, and there’s an odd product placement for a novel device called the GoGirl (Google it). While Fung refrains from full-on slapstick, the relaxed vibe hampers the tension from reaching a fever pitch.

The film is well cast, with each of its leads playing to type. Lau, who has played the international man of mystery often in his later career, is convincing as a suave Danny Ocean-type who always has a trick up his sleeve. Shu, who is married to director Fung, tries to affect the ‘tough chick’ shtick ala Michelle Rodriguez and looks to be having fun doing it. Yang is the least remarkable of the trio, and the sexual tension between Xiaobao and Ye Hong is a tired device, but is good for a few laughs. Each character speaks at least a few lines of English dialogue, and the results are mixed. Zhang Jingchu, who was in an actual Mission: Impossible movie, fares best, but her character’s art history knowledge is rarely called upon over the course of the story.

Reno appears to largely be phoning it in, and sticks out a fair bit. There are several scenes in which two French characters are alone looking at security footage or staring agape at an empty vault, but they’re speaking in English. Eric Tsang pops up as a standard-issue Eric Tsang character. Sha Yi nearly steals the show as a wealthy mark who lives in a Czech castle, and on whom Ye Hong works her charms.

As a production of Flagship Pictures, Warner Bros.’ joint venture with China Media Capital, the intention is for The Adventurers to be a blockbuster that can travel. While it’s slickly produced and is bereft of the cringe-inducing excess that often plagues big-budget Chinese movies, The Adventurers stops short of being explosive entertainment, and is a trifle rather than a blast.

Summary: The Adventurers has charismatic leads, gorgeous European locations and strong production values, but its ho-hum caper plot and lack of distinctive action sequences keep it from being Grade A escapism.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Shock Wave (拆彈專家)

For F*** Magazine

SHOCK WAVE (拆彈專家)

Director : Herman Yau
Cast : Andy Lau, Jiang Wu, Ron Ng, Babyjohn Choi, Audrey Song Jia, Philip Keung, Liu Kai Chi, Felix Wong, Louis Cheung, Tony Ho, Shek Sau, Felix Lok, Vincent Wan, Michael Tong
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 59min
Opens : 20 April 2017
Rating : PG13 (Violence)

The original Chinese title of this action thriller translates to ‘Bomb Dismantling Expert’. Not quite as exciting as ‘Shock Wave’, but it is an accurate description of our protagonist, Cheung Choi-san (Lau). Cheung heads up the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau of the Hong Kong Police Department. 18 months ago, Cheung went undercover as a member of notorious criminal Hung Kai-pang’s (Jiang) gang, and Hung has wanted revenge ever since escaping Cheung’s grasp. Now calling himself ‘Blast’, Hung toys with Cheung by planting several bombs for Cheung to defuse. This culminates with Blast rigging Hong Kong’s Cross Harbour Tunnel with explosives, the terrorist and his men holding hundreds of commuters hostage. As Cheung’s girlfriend Carmen (Song) awaits his safe return, the bomb defusal expert must face off against an unstoppable mad bomber, as the city braces for cataclysmic destruction.

Shock Wave reunites star and producer Lau with Herman Yau, who directed him in The Truth and Fascination Amour. As one would expect of a film about a bomb disposal specialist, Shock Wave does not skimp on the explosions. The production values pass muster, with a massive full-scale replica of the Cross Harbour Tunnel entrance built for the film. The computer-generated set extensions are largely seamless.Alas, Shock Wave is also often patently ridiculous. The screenplay by Yau and Erica Li is packed with clichés, with the influence of various Hollywood action thrillers including Blown Away, Speed and The Dark Knight and all the Die Hard movies plain to see. The dialogue is overwrought, emotional scenes are all too maudlin, and when the film should be at its tensest, it’s unintentionally hilarious.

Lau is as suave and charming as he usually is, playing the confident bomb disposal expert. While there is a good amount of action and Lau had to don a bomb disposal suit weighing 31 kg, the role doesn’t require very much of him. Jiang’s villainous Blast is barely menacing, and not just because one is wont to snicker every time the name ‘Blast’ shows up in the subtitles. For all the innocent people who die by his hand, Blast just isn’t scary. He spends the bulk of the film flailing and yelling, when this film clearly requires a cool, droll antagonist along the lines of Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber in Die Hard.

This reviewer often refers to the protagonist’s love interests in action movies as ‘the designated girlfriend’. Song’s Carmen is the designated-est girlfriend who ever girlfriended, barely registering as an entity in the film. She wants Cheung to say “I love you” to her, which he’s holding out on. Cue the eye rolls. Philip Keung plays Cheung’s blustery superior at the police department, spending most of the film throwing a conniption fit. His anger at the situation and his concern for Cheung’s well-being is supposed to be moving, but instead, Keung overplays it to a silly degree. Louis Cheng pops up as a friendly tour guide, lending the film some welcome humanity.

Shock Wave features several clever set pieces and some elaborate, thrilling stunts. There’s also a subplot about the financial impact of the hostage crisis and how the CEO of the firm that operates the tunnel stands to profit from the situation, which isn’t quite as derivative as the rest of the film. This fails to fully mitigate how formulaic the film is, compounded by how every time Yau tries for drama, he ends up with comedy instead. Even with a few surprises flung our way, Shock Wave is largely predictable and is too melodramatic to take seriously.

Summary: Shock Wave might boast grand set-pieces and Andy Lau in fine form, but it’s silly when it should be intense and is comprised of many familiar action thriller ingredients.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Sky On Fire (冲天火)

For F*** Magazine

SKY ON FIRE (冲天火)

Director : Ringo Lam
Cast : Daniel Wu, Zhang Jingchu, Joseph Chang, Amber Kuo, Zhang Ruoyun, Fan Guang Yao
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 40min
Opens : 1 December 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

sky-on-fire-posterIf Katniss Everdeen is the ‘Girl on Fire’, then Ringo Lam is the ‘Man on Fire’ – or at least, he shares that title with Denzel Washington and Scott Glenn. The director of City on Fire, School on Fire, and Prison on Fire I and II has set his sights skywards with this action thriller.

At the futuristic medical facility Sky One, researcher Ko Yuk (Zhang Jingchu) is developing a cure for cancer from ‘ex-stem cells’. Five years earlier, Ko Yuk’s mentor Professor Poon died in a mysterious fire, and Poon’s notebook containing his research perished with him. Ko Yuk was rescued by security guard Chong Tin-Po (Wu), who is now Sky One’s chief of security. Ko Yuk’s husband Tong Wing-Cheung (Fan) is an avaricious businessman whose only priority is turning a profit. Jia-Jia (Chang) and his adoptive sister Jen (Kuo) arrive from Taiwan, in the hopes of treating Jen’s late-stage cancer. They find themselves drawn into the fray as Chi-man (Zhang Ruoyun), Poon’s son, stages a heist to steal the ex-stem cell cure in the hopes of getting to the bottom of his father’s death. As Tin-Po unearths evidence of his boss’ corruption, the security chief must decide where his loyalties lie.

sky-on-fire-daniel-wu-1

Lam is among the most influential action film directors to emerge from Hong Kong, coming into his own alongside peers like John Woo, Johnnie To and Tsui Hark. Sky on Fire is written, directed and produced by Lam, who has set out to make an action thriller with some depth to it. Besides reminding viewers of Lam’s earlier work, the title ‘Sky on Fire’ is also more evocative than the originally mooted ‘Battle of Life’.

sky-on-fire-daniel-wu-2

Despite Lam’s prowess at staging action, Sky on Fire comes off as clumsy and needlessly convoluted. Instead of being emotionally impactful, the multiple characters whose relatives are dying or who have died from terminal illness make the plot melodramatic. There is an attempt at character development, but the film spends most of its time going in circles. It’s not suspenseful, since there isn’t much mystery to the circumstances surrounding Professor Poon’s death. Its plot point of unscrupulous businessmen profiting off ailing hospital patients is heavy-handed and provides no insightful commentary.

sky-on-fire-joseph-chung-and-amber-kuo

Sky on Fire is not lacking in action, and all the vehicular collisions are satisfyingly crunchy – never mind that not a single air bag is deployed. The visual effects work only gets totally ridiculous during the film’s bombastic finale, and for the most part, the stunts are tactile. When this reviewer heard about Sky on Fire’s premise, he expected “Die Hard in a high-tech hospital”. Sky on Fire would’ve benefitted from a more focused approach, and containing the bulk of the action in or around the Sky One tower would’ve been a fun logistical challenge to see Lam tackle. As it stands, the Sky One citadel isn’t enough of a character unto itself, and it’s frustrating to watch the film drift off when its supposed anchor is right there. Thankfully, the medical techno-babble is kept to a minimum.

sky-on-fire-daniel-wu-3

Lam puts effort into giving the characters dimensions, but he struggles to keep his grip on the narrative. Wu is earnest and intense, delivering the action hero goods without coming off as laughably over-the-top. Wu’s performance further cements this reviewer’s opinion that the actor should be a much bigger deal in Hollywood, and is among the Asian movie stars best suited to staging a full-on crossover.

sky-on-fire-zhang-jingchu-and-daniel-wu

As the scientist at the end of her rope, tussling with the dreaded realisation that all her work might be for nought, Zhang Jingchu gives the film a good amount of heart. Chang and Kuo are believable as affectionate siblings who would go to the ends of the earth for each other, even if their subplot is unnecessarily maudlin. Zhang Ruoyun makes a valiant attempt to prove he’s more than a pretty face, playing a satisfyingly complex character. Alas, Fan’s villainous character is too cartoony to pose a significant threat, his over-the-top performance undermining Tong’s despicable actions.

sky-on-fire-zhang-ruoyun-and-amber-kuo

Sky on Fire’s needlessly overwrought plotting robs the film of its potential for punchy, nail-biting thrills. Several appropriately incendiary sequences are an arsonist’s wet dream, but there are almost as many phony CGI flames as there are real ones. We know this might sound over-sensitive, but the imagery of a skyscraper engulfed in fire does reek of an exploitative invoking of 9/11, at odds with Lam’s righteous indignation at the injustice of the rich exploiting the poor. If more of the movie were dedicated to the break-in and the Sky One tower was better utilised as a setting for the action to unfold against, Sky on Fire might’ve had more of a kick.

Summary: While the performances are largely solid and there’s enough action, Sky on Fire’s heavy-handed themes and scattershot execution leave it feeling lukewarm at best.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

iGirl (iGirl •梦情人)

For F*** Magazine

iGirl (iGirl •梦情人)

Director : Kam Ka-wai
Cast : Ekin Cheng, Chrissie Chau, Dominic Ho, Connie Man, Lam Chi-Chung, Joyce Cheng
Genre : Comedy/Romance
Run Time : 95 mins
Opens : 17 March 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Sexual References)

           “Do not go online shopping while drunk” – wiser words have rarely been spoken. In this sci-fi comedy, Evan (Ekin Cheng) drowns his sorrows with his friends Johnny (Ho) and Irwin (Lam), after the three are dumped by their respective girlfriends. Evan stumbles home and goes online, ordering an “iGirl” on a whim. Two days later, a gynoid programmed with his specific preferences arrives at his doorstep. This is model #2017001 (Chau), or 001 for short. On meeting their friend’s new robot beau, Johnny and Irwin immediately want an iGirl of their own. 002 (Man) is delivered to Johnny, with Irwin getting 003 (Joyce Cheng). As the men help their newfound loves adjust to life as human beings, their ex-girlfriends get wind of the new A.I. ladies in their exes’ lives and plot their revenge.

            A movie about a man striking up a relationship with an artificially created woman might be a novel premise to Hong Kong filmgoers, but it’s far from a new idea and we’ve already seen films like Mannequin, Weird Science, Lars and the Real Girl, and recently Her and Ex Machina, to name a few. It’s very safe to say that iGirlis far, far worse than all of the above-mentioned films. The movie’s conceptions of gender roles are distasteful and embarrassingly retrograde. Instead of satirising and cleverly commenting on the objectification of women, iGirl instead reinforces that notion. All of the women in the film are either compliant robots programmed to satisfy every whim of their male “masters”, or conniving, manipulative and intensely jealous gold-diggers. It’s a wish fulfilment fantasy that is frankly repulsive, and it’s quite staggering to see something like this in 2016.

            There is no internal logic to any of the sci-fi elements. With a film that apparently takes place in the present day, it’s natural to expect a pretty good explanation for how such cutting-edge advances in artificial intelligence technology have been made readily available and affordable. No such luck. Believably portraying a robot is a bigger acting challenge than one might think, and none of the three actresses make choices deliberate or distinct enough such that they are convincing as gynoids. The film focuses on three men and their relationships with their respective robot girlfriends; we get a montage showing how they’re progressing and it just so happens that each couple hits exactly the same points in their journey as the other two. The visual effects work is largely cartoony and there’s an inexplicable fight scene towards the film’s conclusion that’s just a mess.

            Ekin Cheng, a heartthrob back in the 90s, seems to be a little past the age to be playing this character, who is written like he should be in his late 20s or early 30s as opposed to Cheng’s 48. There are some reasonably sweet moments that he shares with leading lady Chau, but these are few and far between. The characterisation of Evan’s friends does not go past “Johnny is the vain one and Irwin’s the fat one”. The inventor of the iGirl, ludicrously named “Dr. Intelligence”, is bland instead of enigmatic.


            iGirl is the directorial debut of Kam Ka-wai, but is co-produced by Wong Jing, basically Hong Kong’s equivalent of Michael Bay. In China, iGirl is being released exclusively via the online video service iQiyi, targeting “young netizens”. It seems Wong has severely underestimated the intelligence of said “young netizens”. The possibilities of a relationship between man and shapely machine have proven to be worthwhile fuel for the imaginations of many filmmakers, dating as far back as Fritz Lang, whose expressionist sci-fi Metropoliswas released in 1927. Even earlier, there was the Pygmalion myth. That iGirl fails to do anything interesting with inherently meaty subject matter is disappointing.



Summary: A shallow, misogynistic comedy that fails to add anything remotely meaningful to the canon of films about humankind’s relationship with artificial intelligence.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

SPL 2: A Time For Consequences (杀破狼II)

For F*** Magazine

SPL 2: A TIME FOR CONSEQUENCES (杀破狼II)

Director : Soi Cheang
Cast : Tony Jaa, Louis Koo, Wu Jing, Simon Yam, Zhang Jin, Philip Keung, Ken Lo
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 120 mins
Opens : 2 July 2015
Rating : NC-16 (Violence and Drug Use)
Tony Jaa has no more time for elephants, only a time for consequences in this Hong Kong-Thai action thriller. Jaa plays Chai, a prison guard whose young daughter Sa is battling leukaemia. An unlikely new prisoner lands in the jail where Chai works: Hong Kong undercover cop Kit (Wu), who has had his cover blown while on the trail of organ trafficking ring kingpin Mr. Hung (Koo). Mr. Hung, himself terminally ill, is in Thailand for a heart transplant to save his life, forcing his younger brother (Jun Kung) to be the donor. Kit’s supervisor and uncle Wah (Yam) tracks his nephew down and travels to Thailand to retrieve him. It turns out that Kit is the only bone marrow match for Sa, so Kit and Chai must become unlikely partners to save their own lives and the life of little Sa as fists and bullets fly.


            SPL 2 is rather confusingly named – it is almost completely unrelated to the 2005 film SPL, starring Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung, even though both Simon Yam and Wu Jing were in the earlier movie too. This is a “spiritual sequel”, i.e. some other script with the “SPL” name slapped onto it. The film’s grammatically-impaired English tagline is “Real action. Real fight.” There are fights aplenty and action director Li Chung Chi choreographs some intense battles, including a shootout at a ferry terminal and a stylish climactic showdown in a pristine high-end medical facility. It is also a boon that Tony Jaa, Wu Jing and Zhang Jin are all highly skilled martial artists in their own right and are able to perform their own fights. Those looking purely for “real fight”, however, will probably come away slightly disappointed at the usage of stylised wirework for several of the sequences.

            While it contains enough fisticuffs to satiate action junkies, SPL 2 is burdened with an unexpectedly convoluted, labyrinth story. A key plot device is that of a terminally ill little girl and the search for a bone marrow donor – this seems more at home in a soap opera than in a martial arts flick. The plot has to straddle both Hong Kong and Thailand and this is often done quite clumsily. It seems as if screenwriter Jill Leung Lai-yin was tasked with finding a way to work Jaa into the story and ended up spinning a far knottier yarn that was needed. This is a film in which the two protagonists do not speak the same language, and have to communicate via smart phone translator app. If that doesn’t drive a wedge in the buddy chemistry, we have no idea what will.


            Tony Jaa is very likeable as an action hero and is experiencing something of a career resurgence after completing his stint as a Buddhist monk, making inroads into Hollywood with Fast and Furious 7 and the Dolph Lundgren-starrer Skin Trade. He has the earnestness and intensity down pat but of course, it’s his impressive Muay Thai-trained athleticism that makes more of an impact than anything else. Wu Jing comes from a different martial arts training background and they do complement each other, even though their partnership never feels complete because of the invisible cultural/language barrier that’s always there. Rocking a waistcoat, Zhang Jin is slick and dangerous as the prison warden and main henchman to Mr. Hung. Louis Koo puts aside his usual handsome, healthy appearance as the sickly master criminal; his portrayal sinister but never wholly threatening.

            Instead of having a little fun and being truly inventive with the action sequences, SPL 2 takes itself far too seriously – the faux-portentous subtitle “A Time for Consequences” should have been indication enough. Instead of being gritty and hard-hitting, the film is often frustratingly maudlin, melodramatic and hard to follow. The cliché use of very recognisable pieces of classical music in an attempt to elicit pathos, including Mozart’s Requiem and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (Summer), further mires the film in unintentional hilarity. The filmmakers clearly had access to the resources and talent to make a truly entertaining, breath-taking martial arts extravaganza, but have instead tangled themselves up in too much plot.


Summary: Even though it contains a fair amount of neatly-choreographed action, SPL 2 is slow, difficult to follow and fails to deliver a cohesive team-up between Thai action star Tony Jaa and Hong Kong action star Wu Jing.
RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

Helios (赤道)

For F*** Magazine

HELIOS (赤道)

Director : Longman Leung, Sunny Lok
Cast : Jacky Cheung, Nick Cheung, Shawn Yue, Janice Man, Ji Jin-Hee, Choi Siwon, Wang Xueqi, Chang Chen
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 120 mins
Opens : 30 April 2015
Rating : NC-16
The best and brightest counter-terror experts from Hong Kong and South Korea have to join forces in order to foil a nuclear catastrophe in this action thriller. Wanted terrorist Helios (Chang) has stolen the compact nuclear device “Davy Crockett 8” and 16 uranium spheres from a facility in South Korea. The authorities believe Helios’ right-hand woman “the Messenger” (Man) is responsible for downing an airliner in Liaoning. Chinese envoy Song An (Wang), Inspector Lee Yin-ming (Nick Cheung) of the Hong Kong Counter-Terror Response Unit, South Korean weapons expert Choi Min Ho (Ji) and NIS agent Park Woo Chul (Choi) converge in Hong Kong to recover the weapon. Physics professor Siu Chi-yan (Jacky Cheung) joins the team as a consultant. As they race against the clock to prevent a sale of the DC-8 device from going down, a far-reaching conspiracy begins to unravel.

            Helios is written and directed by Longman Leung and Sunny Luk, the pair behind 2012’s crime thriller Cold War. Things look promising enough: it’s handsomely shot, the production values are solid, the action sequences pack a punch, the visual effects are better than most Hong Kong productions – but it’s not long before Helios falls apart. The film’s style comes off as very self-conscious, but the harder Leung and Luk try to get the audiences to take the film seriously, the more unintentionally funny it becomes. Just like gritting one’s teeth too hard can make one look silly, Helios often ends up embarrassing itself in its attempts at being tough and cool. The writing-directing duo also try to make the plot too convoluted for its own good; running in circles with what should be a straightforward thriller storyline, the film coming off as generic in spite of itself as a result.

            With its attempt to insert geopolitics and ideology clashes into a “stop the nuke from going off” story, Helios often feels like a below-average season of 24, with Nick Cheung in place of Kiefer Sutherland. Nick Cheung’s character is so hard-core, he waterboards a suspect with their shirt – this is silly rather than threatening. Jacky Cheung plays the stereotypical professor, complete with beard, glasses, bow tie and sweater vests. 


Chang Chen is not quite scary enough as the titular big bad, but model/actress Janice Man is surprisingly convincing as an ice-cold assassin. Ji Jin-Hee as a nuclear physicist – at least it’s more believable than Denise Richards in The World is Not Enough. Choi Siwon’s legions of fans will probably be thrilled to see him toting a shotgun and kicking ass as the agent in charge of protecting Ji’s character.

            Helios wants to be smarter than your average shoot ‘em up flick but it falls on its face one too many times. One of the elements that really took this reviewer out of the whole thing is the magic translator earpieces that allow the characters from Hong Kong and Korea to communicate seamlessly. This device, reminiscent of the Babel fish from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, instantly kills any realism or grit the movie is aiming for. One can’t help but wonder what the consequences of a mistranslation resulting from a glitch in the software at such a high level would be. Peter Kam’s musical score is also incredibly unsubtle, blaring and almost pouncing at the audience. It’s meant to create tension, but is so obtrusive it detracts from the atmosphere. The final nail in the coffin is the movie’s ending: there’s a huge plot twist really late in the game, only for the movie to end on an infuriating and frankly quite shameless sequel bait note. By the time said sequel rolls around, we probably would have all but forgotten this one.

Summary: Solid production values and a watchable cast can’t salvage this generic, sometimes unintentionally funny thriller that thinks it’s a lot smarter than it actually is.
RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

            

From Vegas to Macau II (赌城风云II)

For F*** Magazine

FROM VEGAS TO MACAU II (赌城风云II)

Director : Wong Jing
Cast : Chow Yun Fat, Carina Lau, Nick Cheung, Shawn Yue, Kimmy Tong, David Chiang, Angela, Jin Qiaoqiao, Yuan Qiao
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 110 mins
Opens : 19 February 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

This Chinese New Year, the God of Gamblers has returned to grace us mere mortals with his presence in this follow-up to last year’s From Vegas to Macau. Just when he thought he was home free, Master Ken (Chow) continues to be the victim of criminal syndicate D.O.A.’s dogged pursuit. Master Ken’s estranged son Cool (Yue) is on the case, tracking down D.O.A. accountaint Mark (Cheung). It turns out that Mark was an old associate of Ken’s, Ken travelling to Bangkok to rescue Mark and Mark’s young daughter from the clutches of his evil employers. In the meantime, Ken attempts to rekindle his romance with former flame Molly (Lau), the love of his life who has eluded him for years.

            As a Chinese New Year action comedy, a large amount of light silliness is to be expected from From Vegas To Macau II. The film packs in wanton amounts of slapstick tomfoolery – thankfully, Chapman To’s grating comic relief sidekick does not return from the earlier film. That said, director Wong Jing still finds new, stupefying ways to lower the bar. Master Ken has a robot butler who provides stock “malfunctioning A.I.” hijinks, there is a Muay Thai boxing sequence in which Chow Yun Fat does pencil rolls on the boxing ring floor, an attempt at repelling deadly crocodiles by blowing bubbles underwater…we’re barely scratching the surface of the profound idiocy here. Let it not be said that Chow Yun Fat only gets humiliated in Hollywood films like Dragonball Evolution, because this is more embarrassment than he’s ever had to endure in a film. One can only imagine how anyone whose mental image of the superstar is as the suave charmer from The Man in the Net or the badass cop from Hard Boiled will be able to accept Chow subjecting himself to the myriad indignities in From Vegas to Macau II.

            This reviewer has a relatively high threshold for action comedy hijinks – after all, he was one of very few critics to give the recent Mortdecai a positive notice. The gags in Mortdecai were juvenile, but there was an inner consistency to it. Here, Wong Jing takes an “anything goes” approach. Perhaps it is too much to ask for some method to this mo lei tau(nonsense talk) madness. The tonal shifts are jarring to say the least – there are goofy comedy sound effects within minutes of a brutal paramilitary assault on an Interpol safe house involving several head shots. Audiences are apparently meant to be moved by tender scenes between Mark and his young daughter, with maudlin piano and strings playing in the background. The film’s climactic scene is shockingly tragic and melodramatic, set to a weepy torch song, leading into the end credits. Then, there’s a mid-credits scene featuring a goofy surprise star cameo.

            Carina Lau, who starred alongside Chow Yun Fat in Let the Bullets Fly and Tragic Hero, plays the “one true love” of Master Ken’s life. Compared to all the other nonsense in the movie, it’s relatively convincing that these two characters shared a past. Naturally, the chemistry Chow and Lau share is undermined by a plot twist later on. Nick Cheung is decent sidekick material but he is subjected to nearly as much humiliation as Chow is. Shawn Yue replaces Nicholas Tse from the previous film, who was unable to return because of scheduling conflicts. It’s a non-descript cop role, there’s supposed to be some kind of deep rift between Ken and Cool, but that’s forgotten quickly enough.

            Wong Jing further cements his reputation as China’s answer to Michael Bay by packing From Vegas to Macau II with big explosions and leery scenes of scantily-clad women. As if the film itself wasn’t already obnoxious, the director appears in a cameo early on, during a game of strip mahjong. And yet again, we see nothing of Las Vegas itself in a film titled From Vegas to Macau II. We’re thinking “From Bangkok to Macau” might’ve worked a fair bit better.


Summary: Audiences will likely eat up this flailing, tone-deaf, madcap comedy, reminding us that there’s no accounting for taste when it comes to Chinese New Year cash-grab releases.
RATING: 1.5 out of 5Stars

Jedd Jong