Helios (赤道)

For F*** Magazine


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


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