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It is unlikely that you will enjoy yourself while watching this zombie flick, but there are some truly bizarre sequences that will make you sit up and stare, 3 July 2017
6/10

The title of this zombie horror flick makes people guffaw. Why "Enjoy Yourself Tonight" when there are undead corpses running after you? Or does the enjoyment belong to the zombies? Something about the title tells us that the movie has the potential to be a cult classic with out of this world characters and crazy sequences that will be long remembered in the history of Hong Kongcinema.

Indeed there are out of this world characters: watch out for a giant stuffed chicken that – gasp - may just be a figment of imagination leading to the fact that the whole story is nothing but an episode happening inside the protagonist's head. How trippy is that! Does this mean that this 107 minute movie is an existentialist piece of work that is deeper than what it appears to be?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Alan Lo makes his directorial feature length debut with a screenplay based on a popular novel and his own 2012 short film Zombie Guillotines (search for it online).

After taking home the Best Supporting Actor and Best New Performer prizes at the 35th Hong Kong Film Awards and the Best Supporting Actor accolade at the 52nd Golden Horse Awards for his memorable performance in Port of Call (2015), Michael Ning plays a young man who believes that he is a world saving superhero. He is joined by an equally eccentric friend played by Louis Cheng (Line Walker), and together, the duo battles zombies after an unexpected outbreak happens in the city.

In the mix is a Cantonese opera singer (Carrie Ng), a father who suddenly shows up after spending 15 years in prison (Alex Man) and a paranormal nerd who happens to be really cute (Cherry Ngan).

World War Z (2013) and Train to Busan (2016) this is not. Just when you thought it will be a straightforward chase and run zombie flick that you can enjoy without much thinking, the last bit of the movie throws things off balance.

First, there are those ridiculous exploding eggs that reduce human heads into skulls while leaving the bodies intact. Yup, you read correctly – exploding eggs. The somewhat hilarious weapons of choice were novel for a while, before you realise the good guys are just dodging from these eggs shooting out of nowhere. Then comes the giant stuffed chicken. You will giggle at the absurdity of the setup, before realising that the filmmakers are using it to explore teen angst. We are not sure how all these exactly add up.

The best parts of the movie are helmed by Ng and Man, two veteran actors older viewers would find familiar. Ng plays a cripple, and Man (who has put on quite a bit of weight since we saw him on local TV series Golden Pillow and Brave New World) plays the man responsible for that unfortunate accident. The two effortlessly play out the chemistry between the two characters, proving that the older generation of actors still have what it takes to command the screen.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Hardly as witty or laugh-out-loud crazy as it should be, this part-martial arts, part-superhero spoof is nevertheless a harmless time-killer of uninspired inanity, 30 June 2017
5/10

Two decades after it was first released, 'A Chinese Odyssey Part Two: Cinderella' was re-released in Mainland cinemas earlier this year with about ten minutes of additional footage. By the time it ended its month-long run, the Stephen Chow cult classic had become the top- grossing re-release ever. Despite critics' decrying it as a blatant cash grab that adds little to the original cut's interpretation, audiences were seemingly unfazed, demonstrating just how much love there is for Chow as well as the 'mo-lei-tau' brand of wacky anachronistic period comedy which he and writer-director Jeffrey Lau patented in the late 1980s and early 1990s. And yet ironically, the greater your sense of nostalgia, the more you will be disappointed by Lau's attempts in the past few years to recapture the same comedic spirit. From 2010's 'Just Another Pandora's Box' to 2011's 'East Meets West 2011' to 2014's 'Just Another Margin' and right up to last year's in-name only sequel 'A Chinese Odyssey Part Three', not one has come close to matching the genius of Lau's earlier films.

His latest, titled 'Soccer Killer', unfortunately belongs more to the former than the latter. Written and directed by Lau, it tells of how Princess Changping (Gillian Chung) of the Song Dynasty recruits the masters of the eight once-glorious martial arts sects to play in a soccer match against a formidable team named the Eagle Claws under the charge of the Mongolian barbarian Leopard Khan. At stake is the very sovereignty of the kingdom itself, no thanks to the corrupt Prime Minister Qin (played by Lau himself). As we learn from the prologue, no less than the likes of Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Storm, Cyclops, Spider-Man, Logan and Captain Fantastic make up the Eagle Claws; though we're quite sure Marvel will be none too happy to learn what their band of superheroes have been doing in between blockbusters; by the time we get to the pivotal match, no less than the Monkey King, the Eight Immortals and Buddha will have come to the Song's rescue – and that is fair warning of just how illogical you'll have to prepare it will get in this spoof where anything goes.

Frankly, that isn't a deterrent in and of itself; indeed, such silly, even nonsensical, humour has always been a defining feature of Lau's comedies. What distinguishes the classics of the past from the ignominies of the more recent is the hilarity of the gags within, which this latest again comes up short. Among the three chapters the movie divides itself into, the most entertaining is in fact the first titled 'The Phoenix becomes the Pheasant', in reference to how Princess Changping sheds her image of royalty to adopt a male disguise in order to recruit the eight Sect masters. As it turns out, these masters – including Sword Master Guo Huaqiang (Corey Yuen), Palm Master Zhang Sanfeng (Li Jing), abbess Miejue (Stephy Tang) and abbot Master Yideng (Lam Tze Chung) – are but a pale shadow of their former glorious selves, and between them and the two disciples – Lang (He Jiong) and Ling (Charlene Choi) – of a ninth now-defunct Mount Mao Sect, there is plenty of good humour to be had spoofing the genre elements of the typical 'wuxia' film.

In comparison, the ensuing two chapters prove duller and a lot less inspired. The middle chapter titled 'Finding True Love in Adversity' develops a budding romance between Lang and Princess Changping as both are held captive at a remote mountain village after being kidnapped by a band of assassins who call themselves the Jiangdong 108; but their unlikely relationship has few laughs and little chemistry. A running gag sees Lang introduce the villagers to Super Barbie inflatable dolls which become instant playmates for the children as well as companions for the grown-up males, but it is at best bemusing and never quite amusing. The obviously titled third chapter 'Kingdom of Xianglong versus the Eagle Claws' sees Prime Minister Qin exploit the romantic rivalry between Ling and Princess Changping for Lang's affections, before culminating in an over-the- top duel between the aforementioned teams that stands out as a showcase of terrible CGI. Not even the references to Pandora's Box can save the last act from being creatively bereft, nor for that matter the invocation of mythological Chinese characters for an eventual Eastern-meets-Western superheroes showdown.

Certainly, not the combined star power of the TWINS or the 'Happy Camp' hosts are a match for the powerhouse combo of Chow, Athena Chu, Karen Mok, Ng Man-tat and Law Kar-ying, but that isn't the main reason why 'Soccer Killer' is barely even a poor cousin of 'A Chinese Odyssey' – simply, it just isn't as witty or as laugh-out-loud crazy as it should be. Lau himself seems to acknowledge the same at the obligatory happily-ever-after ending, with one of the palace servants reflecting on everything that has happened and telling his partner that it is no better than a stupid movie which should be quickly forgotten – though frankly, that's hardly a tall order given how unmemorable the events within are. If for whatever reason you feel you have nothing better else to do and find yourself in the mood for some inanity however uninspired that may be, then 'Soccer Killer' is an 84-minute harmless time-killer you probably won't mind.

Overdrive (2017)
2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
A couple of well-choreographed, exciting chase sequences and some unexpected narrative twists and turns make this heist thriller enough escapist fun, 24 June 2017
6/10

To its credit, 'Overdrive' never does try to be a 'Fast and Furious' movie; instead, it draws its inspiration from heist thrillers like 'The Italian Job', 'Gone in 60 Seconds' and even the 'Ocean's Eleven' series to deliver decent escapist fun within a brisk 96 minutes.

The prize here is a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, owned by local mob boss Max Klemp (Fabian Wolfrom), which half-brothers Andrew (Scott Eastwood) and Garrett Foster (Freddie Thorp) offer to steal for another mob boss Jacomo Morier (Simon Abkarian) as trade for their lives. Andrew and Scott had earlier on stolen Morier's 1937 Bugatti right after the man had paid $41 million euros for it at a Sotheby's auction, and Morier had agreed to the exchange only because Klemp is his longtime business arch-rival. Besides Andrew and Garrett, the crew consists of Andrew's gorgeous soon-to-be fiancé Stephanie (Ana de Armas), Stephanie's serial pickpocket friend Devin (Gaia Weiss), demolitions expert Leon (Joshua Fitoussi) and a bevy of other nameless professional drivers. The plan is textbook masquerade – roll up to Max's sprawling residence pretending to be GIGN on a raid, then drive the car away after Leon has fled from the compound.

As you can probably expect, there are more than a few complications along the way. Mourier sends a distant cousin Laurent (Abraham Belaga) to join in the mission, in order to make sure that the Foster brothers carry through their end of the bargain. Two Interpol officers pop up midway through their planning preparations, threatening to keep a close watch on Andrew and Garrett. Stephanie is kidnapped the day before they are scheduled to execute the heist, intended as Mourier's further leverage against Andrew. Screenwriters Michael Brandt and Derek Haas also throw in a web of shifting alliances to keep us guessing. Is Andrew and Garrett working for Mourier or Klemp? Whose side is Laurent on? What about Stephanie and Devin? There are surprisingly more twists and turns to the plotting than we'd expected, and for the most part, these are satisfactorily resolved by the time the engines cool and the credits roll.

Not surprisingly, with so much going on amidst the car chase sequences we will get to below, there isn't much attention paid to character dynamics. One of the earlier scenes has Andrew telling Garrett that he wants their life of crime no more, content instead to settle down with Stephanie after this job is done, to which Garrett responds with indignation. Yet their potential falling out never quite develops into anything substantial; instead, the relationship between Andrew and Garrett continues to be defined no deeper than the playful jibes they take at each other. Ditto that between Andrew and Stephanie, which stays stuck at the former being overprotective of the latter. Perhaps the only relationship that sees some progress over the course of the movie is that between Garrett and Devin, who find themselves unable to resist the other and end up falling in love and in bed with each other.

But frankly, our low expectations heading into the movie were still pleasantly exceeded with an unexpectedly knotty plot as well as the exciting setpieces: the first which sees Andrew and Garrett steal the Bagutti from a moving truck; the second which has them pursued by Mourier's men along the streets of Marseille; and the last which puts them in vintage cars engaged in a high-speed chase along the French Riviera. Though he is credited only as producer, Pierre Morel's handprints are unmistakable, emphasising practical stunts over CGI and medium to wide shots in order to keep the action real, palpable and discernible (yes, Morel is the director of the very first 'Taken', before his fellow French compadre ruined it all with 'Bourne'-style jerky-cam). Such is the stuff that the 'Fast and Furious' movies were borne out of, and the pedal-to-metal action is choreographed and executed here with flair, imagination and sheer white-knuckle suspense.

To be sure, 'Overdrive' never rises above its B-movie trappings, but director Antonio Negret harbours no such ambition from start to finish. Rather, he knows his audience is here to see cars chasing each other – and on that count alone, he succeeds admirably, inserting enough narrative amidst the action to keep you engaged throughout. You'll need to set your expectations right in order to enjoy this one, but if you, like us, expected no more than a string of thrilling French-set action sequences, then you'll find that there is more than enough juice here in the can to make your adrenaline go into overdrive.

6 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
The absolute worst of the 'Transformers' franchise, this fifth - and hopefully last - entry by Michael Bay lacks even the thrill of his signature action bombast, 23 June 2017
4/10

Michael Bay had said that 'The Last Knight' would be his last 'Transformers' movie. We'd thought at first that he would go out on a hurrah; after all, despite their barrage of criticism, the last two entries 'Age of Extinction' and 'Dark of the Moon' had each managed to clear US$1billion at the global box office. We'd thought too that the writers room, comprising such notable Hollywood screenwriters as 'Iron Man' scribes Art Marcum and Matt Halloway, 'Black Hawk Down' scribe Ken Nolan and even 'A Beautiful Mind' scribe Akiva Goldsman, would have ensured a more compelling story, a hope that was further boosted by the intriguing twist of Autobots leader Optimus Prime going rogue. Alas, this fifth instalment is even worse than all its predecessors: the plot is even more incoherent, the dialogue is even more grating, and the action is almost thrill-less.

It starts off as a King Arthur/ Lancelot ripoff, going back to the Dark Ages when the fate of Britain was hanging in the balance. A hopelessly sloshed Merlin (Stanley Tucci) approaches an alien spacecraft to beg for help to save his country, and receives in return a magical staff as well as a fire-breathing metal dragon. There is no secret King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table end up winning the war, but even better, they are joined around the Table by twelve guardians who swear to protect the staff. Fast-forward to 1,600 years later and things have apparently only gotten worse on Earth despite the Autobots' victory at the end of 'Extinction': humans have gotten even more jaded of the robots, establishing a new paramilitary force dubbed the TRF to keep them in check; Prime remains MIA in deep space, leaving his fellow Autobots Bumblebee, Hound (John Goodman) and Drift (Ken Watanabe) in limbo; Mark Wahlberg's scruffy reluctant hero Cade Yeager is on the run from the authorities for harbouring the Autobots, forced to spend his days at a junk yard apart from his daughter; and there is no seeming end in sight to the robots who keep raining down from the sky to threaten Earth's peace.

It will end as an Independence Day ripoff, fuelled by maniacal villainess Quintessa (voiced by Gemma Chan) who brainwashes Prime into helping her retrieve Merlin's staff to revive their once- majestic planet Cybertron. Cade, along with a skeptical British historian Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock) and a loose alliance comprising of TRF and US Army forces led by returning character Colonel William Lennox (Josh Duhamel), will eventually have to fly up 21,000 feet into the sky, evade Decepticons disguised as fighter jets, and destroy the chamber where Quintessa is using the power of the staff to drain Earth's core. Everything else in between is just filler – including a somewhat supercilious English lord Sir Edmond Burton (Anthony Hopkins) who dutifully helps Cade and Vivian unpack the Arthurian/ Transformers legend, a precocious 14-year-old orphan Izabella (Isabella Moner) who insists on tagging along with Cade, and the new Transformers additions of a smart-talking C3PO-ripoff butler Cogman (Jim Carter), a French-accented bot Hot Rod (Omar Sy) capable of freezing time as well as a cute but ugly BB8- ripoff Sqweeks that Izabella puts into service.

Whatever promise that Prime turning against his Autobots might have suggested turns out to be little more than a gimmick – not only is Prime missing for about three-quarters of the movie, his confrontation with Cade, Lennox and eventually Bumblebee lasts for ten minutes at most. That leaves the rest of the story a largely crude recycled assembly: some parts adapted from 'The Da Vinci Code', some parts from 'Terminator' and even one part from straight out of a World War II movie. The banter, frenetic as ever, is shockingly devoid of humour. Besides a scene where Edmond chides Cogman for adding unnecessary dramatic emphasis to his narration of the revisionist Merlin legend, the back-and-forth between the characters is leaden and even exasperating, with often no other purpose than to fill out whatever silence is left between the clanging of metal and the overbearing Steve Jablonsky score. If there is any consolation, it is that Wahlberg proves a more engaging leading man than Shia LaBeouf ever was and that Hopkins adds dignity that none of the other chapters ever had.

But perhaps the most disappointing element of 'The Last Knight' is its action, which is terrible by Bay's standards. You could argue that the sequences in 'Age of Extinction' were somewhat protracted, but they had at least proper rhythm and pacing. Here, except for the finale, Bay never seems to finish what he starts. The prologue with Arthur's army besieged by enemy forces never gets a rousing end; the confrontation between Cade and the TRF at a no-go zone in Chicago ends prematurely when Lennox shows up; a surprise attack by the Decepticons on Cade's hideout stops abruptly with the former's retreat; the TRF's pursuit of Cade, Vivian and Sir Edmond unfolds in stops and starts and never builds into anything engaging; and last but not least, a showdown between an Autobot submarine and one of the US navy's ships concludes with two warning shots. Even the climax lacks scale, scope and impact that should be expected of no less than global annihilation, reduced to aerial shootouts and a lot of weightless spinning.

If the last four critically derided 'Transformers' stood for anything, it was for Bay-hem – in other words, Bay's signature bombastic, overblown action complete with slo-mo shots and plenty of explosions – and the fact that 'The Last Knight' cannot pass muster on that account makes it an unmitigated failure. Like we said at the start, we'd thought Bay would go out on a bang. This isn't just a whimper unfortunately; it's an unmitigated disaster that leaves us hoping that it will indeed be the final, the end, the last ever 'Transformers' movie we'd have to endure.

Mad World (2016)
Anchored by career-best performances from Shawn Yue and Eric Tsang, 'Mad World' is a deeply meaningful and genuinely moving portrait of mental illness, 15 June 2017
8/10

'Mad World' is not an easy film to watch, but it is well worth the discomfiting experience. Not quite enough attention has been paid to the plight of mental health patients who try to re-integrate into the community, and certainly too little attention has been placed on the frustration and even exasperation of their caregivers. While the former often find their best attempts thwarted by the fears, biases and outright discrimination of general society, the latter has to contend not only with the same but also the outbursts of their loved ones struggling to overcome their condition, so much so that many often end up in burnout.

Both perspectives are vividly portrayed in director Paul Chun's feature debut, which follows Tung's (Shawn Yue) acclimatisation to the outside world after spending a year in a mental hospital for bipolar disorder. Seeing little more that institutionalisation can do for Tung, the hospital contacts his estranged father Wong (Eric Tsang) to look after him, but the latter is frankly completely ill- prepared. A cross- border truck driver who was often absent from home, Wong had pretty much abandoned his mentally disturbed wife (Elaine Jin) and Tung years ago, which Tung inevitably still begrudges him for; after all, that had led to Tung needing to quit his job to take care of her when she became bedridden, and that stress of being the only caregiver, aggravated by her verbally abusive ways, had ultimately led to her accidental death one day and his subsequent admission into psychiatric care.

There is plenty in the past that Tung needs to come to terms with on his own, and equally just as much in the present. His friends had deserted him ever since the much-publicised incident a year earlier, and his surprise appearance at a former colleague's wedding soon after his discharge shows how ignorant and bigoted they can be. He wants to make things right with his former fiancée Jenny (Charmaine Fong), who had to repay not just the flat they had bought together but also the moneylenders Tung owed because of a huge loan he took out to finance some risky investments that eventually went south. It doesn't help that social media has fuelled a gallery of judgmental jury, who seize on his unfortunately public meltdown after hearing Jenny's emotive confession of her ordeal to question his mental state and weigh if he should be sent back to hospital after all.

Oh yes, the title could refer to Tung's own mind as much as it could of the external environment he has to navigate – and Wong takes swipes at everything from our prejudice against the mentally ill, to the terrible living conditions of Hong Kong's lower-class, and even to the spate of 'banker' suicides in the financial district back in 2014/15. It is to his credit as well as that of screenwriter Florence Chan that their movie never feels the need to scream at or, for the lack of a better word, get mad at these social ills; rather, both display remarkable restraint at simply keeping it authentic, letting their audience make their own discernments rather than lay out the critique for us.

In fact, 'Mad World' is much better off by simply remaining at its heart a frank and intimate portrait of Tung's struggle to get back on his feet, anchored by the initially tense but ultimately tender father-son relationship between Tung and Wong. Like we said at the beginning, the struggle is as much Tung's as it is Wong's. Through the course of the movie, Wong has to seriously evaluate if he has the means and wherewithal to care for Tung, especially given how little support he has from his family (his eldest son, or Tung's older brother, has resettled in the United States, staying conspicuously absent and callously disengaged throughout), friends and fellow tenants – and let's just say it says a lot when another caregiver at a carer support programme Wong enrols himself in advises him to consider re-admitting Tung back into hospital under the false pretence that the latter is suicidal.

Though more commonly known for his comedic roles, Eric Tsang is in top form here as Wong. In perfectly low-key fashion, Tsang lays bare his character's uncertainties and anxieties at the beginning when asked to look after Tung, subsequent guilt and pain when forced to confront the sins of his past, and eventually resolve to not 'outsource' his responsibilities as a father. Tsang doesn't overplay or overstate Wong's dilemmas, allowing his audience to make sense of his character on their own terms. For that matter, so does Yue, who eschews histrionics in his portrayal of Tung's manic/ depressive state. Proving his mettle as one of the most underrated actors of his generation, Yue gives a layered, nuanced performance that earns empathy without ever playing the 'pity' card.

Aside from the fact that Tung's journey to reintegrate back into the community is not an easy one, 'Mad World' is also not an easy fact simply because there are no easy solutions to the issues faced by people like Tung. At the individual level, it isn't easy for the caregiver, as Wong's own experience here shows. At the community level, it isn't easy for neighbours, friends and even relatives to put aside their fears or biases. And at the societal level, it isn't easy to change mindsets borne out of ignorance or worse convenience. But like the quote which bookends the movie, it starts with having a heart for these individuals we often shun, so that however idealistic it may sound, the world may be a little less crazy for them and for us.

10 out of 24 people found the following review useful:
Nowhere near as clever, funny or sweet as its predecessors, this threequel is a disjointed jumble of some amusing, some tedious and mostly under-developed parts, 15 June 2017
5/10

As the 'Minions' movie demonstrated, too much of the adorable, pill- shaped, banana-obsessed creatures isn't necessarily a good thing; indeed, they were probably best in smaller and supporting doses, playing bumbling sidekicks alongside Gru as he went about his villainous, then anti-villainous, ways in 'Despicable Me' and 'Despicable Me 2' respectively. Unfortunately, they aren't given much, if anything, to do in this threequel, who as it turns out, are fed up of working for a good guy and decide to part ways with Gru early in the movie. That means they are here no better than occasional irreverent comic distractions, much like how Scrat was in the 'Ice Age' movies, notwithstanding a laugh-out-loud jailbreak sequence set to Pharrell Williams's hit 'Freedom'.

And unfortunately, that sums up how 'Despicable Me 3' feels as well – always distracted, sometimes amusing, but never really engaging. It wants to be about the rivalry between Gru (Steve Carell) and all-new supervillain Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), the latter a disgruntled former 80s child TV star who had fallen out of favour with the general public after hitting puberty and has since turned to a life of crime. It wants to be about Gru's new fellow super-agent wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig), who is trying to be a mother to his three adopted daughters – Margo, Edith and Agnes. It wants to be about Gru reconciling with his long-lost twin brother Dru, an empty-headed but successful pig farmer who yearns to follow in their father's footsteps of being a super-villain. Amidst all this, it also wants to be about Agnes and her longing to find a unicorn.

No wonder then that the sweetness between Gru and his daughters from the earlier two movies is somewhat lost here. No wonder too that the Looney Tunes-esque gags seem to unfold at an almost breakneck pace, sacrificing wit and inventiveness for sheer visual spectacle. No wonder that it all feels drawn-out and overstuffed, cramming too many plot lines without ever developing any satisfactorily – except perhaps for the complicated sibling relationship between Gru and Dru, seeing as how the former tricks the latter into helping him break into Bratt's Rubik's Cube-like fortress perched at the tip of a pyramid. It is understandable how returning writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul had felt the need to up the ante with each subsequent instalment of the franchise, but like the 'Minions' spin off, less is sometimes a lot, a lot more.

There are good bits though: Bratt, complete with shoulder pads, pump sneakers and 80s pop tunes of Michael Jackson, Van Halen, a-Ha and Madonna among others, is a hoot; so too the barrage of other 80s references, including Bratt's army of weaponised figurines christened 'Bratt Pack'. Carell and Wiig lose none of their verve reprising Gru/ Dru and Lucy, and Parker is a lively, dynamic addition to the ensemble voice cast – in particular as a substitute to Russell Brand, whose Dr. Nefario spends the movie frozen in carbonite. Co-directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda try their best-est to keep up the energy and enthusiasm from start to finish, and largely succeed in spite of a somewhat tedious detour on Dru's fictional European island in the middle act.

Yet even on the same level of fun as its predecessors, 'Despicable Me 3' falls way short. We wish it were simply that what was once fresh has now become familiar; but oh no, the gags are nowhere near as funny nor as clever, and even the minions are starting to lose their subversive edge. Whether that is the cause or consequence of having too many things going on at the same time is anybody's guess, but the sum of some hilarious bits, some tedious ones and a lot of underdeveloped elements in between is a sporadically amusing affair that hardly lives up to the charm of the previous two chapters. When even kids below the age of five find their patience tested, it's as sure a sign as any that this franchise is fast turning yellow.

Despite failing to bring its emotional saga to a satisfying finish, there is poignancy and meaning in this true-to-life portrayal of the emotional upheavals of relationships, 6 June 2017
7/10

How many times will you forgive the one you love? According to author and screenwriter Erica Li, who adapts her own novel of the same time for this modern-day romance, forgiving someone seven times isn't enough; 70 x 7 times is too much, so 77 times sounds just about right. And so upon purchasing the titular journal from a pop-up bookstore run by a brother and sister couple named Heartbeat and Shutter respectively (played by Gillian Chung and Francis Ng in cameos), Eva (Charlene Choi) starts to take note of the occasions when she had forgiven her boyfriend Adam (Pakho Chau) for being selfish or irresponsible or insensitive or dishonest. In fact, when we first meet Adam and Eva, she had already reached occasion number 77, which prompts her to decide that enough is enough and move out of the apartment she had shared with him since graduating from law school. Distraught, Adam gets himself drunk at his student Mandy's (Michelle Wai) birthday party, and the pair end up spending the night together at his place, where Mandy will find Eva's journal and read her account of their relationship together.

'77 Heartbreaks' therefore unfolds in two parallel timelines: first, in the present, where Adam and Eva adjust to life apart from each other; and second, as flashbacks, to the numerous occasions that Eva had pencilled in her journal. The former sees Adam succumbing to his worse tendencies without Eva looking out for him, such as deliberately spiting his father whom he begrudges for divorcing his mother and making him study law when he had no intention or interest to do so, and contending with the advances of Mandy, who seems almost desperate to hook up and even get married with Adam. On the other hand, Eva immerses herself in legal work as a divorce lawyer no less – not only pointing out to clients the unreasonableness of their demands but also fending off the advances of one particularly philandering rich man – and spends the rest of her time with her girlfriends (played by Candy Lo, Yumiko Cheng and J.Arie). She also moves in with one of them briefly before moving back to stay with her widowed mother (Kara Wai), following the death of her father (Lawrence Cheng) in an accident.

Li's screenplay jumps back and forth between past and present often without warning, so you may be a little caught off-guard at the start of each scene where to situate it. Notwithstanding, she and director Herman Yau at least maintain the consistency of keeping Adam and Eva apart from the point they separate till their reunion at the end, so it's safe to assume that anytime you're seeing them together is in fact sometime from the past. Of these, only the first and the seventy-seventh are noted, with enough of those in between for us to understand the nature of their disagreements, how Adam's stubborn, self-righteous and self-centred nature has led to one heartbreak after another, and most importantly how much Eva must love Adam to have stayed with him despite his shortcomings. Whether out of coincidence or otherwise, the dynamic between Adam and Eva is not unlike that between Jimmy and Cherie of Pang Ho-cheung's contemporary romantic trilogy, i.e. that of a more mature woman and a less mature, even childish, boyfriend.

Trying though they may be to see Adam repeatedly behaving so self- absorbed, it is precisely through these episodes that the movie finds poignancy. Not simply because they are well-acted by Choi and Chau, these episodes will resonate with any couple because their disagreements are based on fundamentals that each and every relationship couple will have to work through – be it discussing each other's decisions in life when it comes to work and/or family, or determining who it is will plan a vacation to its details, or simply when to give-and-take to accommodate each other's parents. More than what Adam said or did, or what Adam did not say or do, are the basic values that undergird every healthy and happy relationship, i.e. values of mutual respect, consideration, trust, self-sacrifice, and above all honesty. Not to spoil the surprise, it is the absence of the last that causes Eva to ultimately end their relationship, and indeed on the basis of an honest confession by Adam of his faults and shortcomings in the past that moves Eva to re-consider her decision after all in the tearful but moving finale.

This is the ever-prolific Yau's third studio release this year, and competent though the veteran director may be, there is also an unmistakable workmanlike quality here that undercuts the emotional impact of the last third. As significant as the seventy-seventh heartbreak is, it is over and dealt with too quickly, not only turning it somewhat into a narrative cliché but also diminishing the psychological scar that it would leave on any female. It should also be said that those looking for a happy ending will not get it, for Eva's discovery of his one-night stand with Mandy dooms their happily-ever-after reunion and indeed leaves the door wide open for a sequel. And so, though it begins on an intriguing note and follows through compellingly to reveal the in-and-outs of a loving but troubled relationship, '77 Heartbreaks' fails to bring its saga to a satisfying close. Notwithstanding, it does bear meaningful lessons for relationships in general and, despite their upheavals, has a perfectly adorable couple in Adam and Eva that we do root for to be together. As antithetical as it may sound, this is still a sweet and touching film that is a timely reminder of just how important forgiveness and empathy is to any successful relationship.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A lot better when it is dealing than healing, this bad-guy-makes-good drama is strong on Hong Kong flavour and nostalgia but weaker on character, narrative and theme, 25 May 2017
6/10

'Dealer/ Healer' is the 'bad-guy-makes-good' story of Chen Hua (Sean Lau), the once infamous gang leader of the '13 Tsz Wan Shan' who renounces his bad habits of drug abuse and trafficking after a prison stint and starts a rehabilitation centre to help those who were lost like him but are looking to turn over a new leaf. Chen also had a reputation for being a 'fixer', often acting as a mediator between two rival gangs before their enmity threatened to get out of hand and necessitated formal police action. Chen was also known to be fiercely loyal to his two buddies – Trumpet (Lam Ka Tung) and Kitty (Zhang Jin) – whom he made sure kicked the drug habit with him after they were released from prison. And last but not least, he was just as fiercely loyal to his one true love, Ke Rou (Jiang Yiyan), whom he first courted as a brash teenager, gave plenty of grief as a reckless gangster, and tries to win back the favour of upon his transformation.

It's a lot to (pardon the pun) deal with in the span of just 100 mins – indeed, these events span in real life over three decades and could arguably be material for an entire TVB series – and true enough, veteran director Lawrence Lau's movie could really do with some (pardon the pun, again) healing of its own. Chiefly, neither Lau nor his screenwriters, Chan Man Keung and Lin Huiju, are sure of just what they want their movie to be or what they want their viewers to take away from it, so much so that it simply ends up being completely scattershot. As a cautionary tale on drugs, it is hardly compelling enough; as a tale on brotherhood, it fails to convey that deep sense of loyalty between Chen Hua, Trumpet and Kitty; and as an inspirational story, it lacks a strong enough character arc for us to identify and empathise with Chen Hua's decision, determination and conviction to make a fresh start. Probably the only thing it does fairly well is to transport you back to Hong Kong in the 1970s and 1980s, when crime was rampant, cops were corrupt and gangsters were the rage.

As much as this China-approved production doesn't intend to glamourise the heydays of the triads, 'Dealer/ Healer' is ironically much more engaging when portraying the ins and outs of how drugs were peddled by these organised thugs. Oh yes, you can almost feel the conscious effort by the producers to denounce such behaviour by interrupting scenes of Chen Hua and his cohort dealing drugs in Kowloon's infamous Walled City with that of Chen Hua being interviewed by a panel assessing his suitability for the 'The JCI Hong Kong Ten Outstanding Young Persons' award many years later, where he describes how and why he had renounced his erroneous ways of the past. And yet the former is probably the most captivating part of the film, portraying vividly the dark, dank alleyways of the City carved into districts by various gangs, the addicts hooked to its lifeblood and the police officials which help the gangs safeguard their turf and/or muscle into their rivals' territories.

One of these aforementioned officials is Halley (Louis Koo), who saves Chen Hua's life when the latter is found trafficking drugs on his own outside the gang and will come to develop a close bond of friendship with when he is released from prison. Unfortunately, Halley is treated as much an afterthought as Trumpet and Kitty, ultimately squandering the strong chemistry between Lau and Koo in no less than their sixteenth collaboration together. Ditto for Trumpet and Kitty, who aside from underscoring how Chen Hua remained loyal to his childhood buddies through the years, don't seem important enough to warrant much attention or detail – and therefore manifestly wasting the talents of two over-qualified supporting actors Lam and Zhang.

Undoubtedly, both wouldn't have passed on the chance to star beside Lau, who is not only one of the most well-respected Hong Kong actors of our time but also one of the very best. Lau brings his everyman likability to a role that could easily have come across as sanctimonious especially in the latter half; instead, he plays the redeemed Chen Hua with dignity and humility, and is the reason we still manage to root for his character (such as to reunite with Ke Rou) despite the script's slipshod character work. Lau also proves his versatility yet again playing an entirely different Chen Hua in the early bits of the film, so consumed by his own drug habit that he fails to see how that is destroying his relationship with Ke Rou as well as endangering the lives of his own buddies.

Truth be told, 'Dealer/ Healer' would probably be a tidy little drama were it made in director Lawrence Lau's heydays in the 1990s, given its strong distinctive Hong Kong flavour in theme, character and backdrop. Lau's sensibilities, as well as probably that of veteran screenwriter Chan Man Keung, have not changed since that era, and on that account of being a full-bodied Hong Kong movie, 'Dealer/ Healer' would surely be good enough to recommend. Yet in the wake of much more arresting drug-themed movies like Derek Yee's 'Protégé', Johnnie To's 'Drug War' and Benny Chan's 'The White Storm', 'Dealer/ Healer' comes off a lot less outstanding for its unfocused narrative and under-developed characters. And like its title suggests, it is also ultimately bipolar in how it wants to 'deal' and 'heal', the former half proving to be intriguing and even gripping compared to a latter half that is always bland and occasionally boring.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A perfect combination of screwball humour, heartfelt intimacy and infectious chemistry, this 'opposites attract' rom-com is 'Michelin-grade' excellent, 29 April 2017
7/10

At its core, 'This is Not What I Expected' is about two diametrically opposite individuals who start off butting heads with each other but end up falling in love.

On one hand is Lu Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), the CEO of a multibillion international company called VN Group who flies around the world evaluating hotels for their worthiness before deciding whether to acquire them or not.

On the other is Gu Shengnan (Zhou Dongyu), a junior sous-chef at the boutique hotel Rosebud in Shanghai where Lu Jin and his subservient assistant Richard Meng (Sun Yizhou) has just checked into for business (not pleasure, mind you).

It isn't just their statuses that are different; their personalities are just as dissimilar – Lu Jin is a tightly wound, clinical individual who prides himself at being a perfectionist; whereas Shengnan is by and large a free-wheeling lark whose blithe attitude to life is only disturbed by her recent breakup with the hotel's  (douche-bag) general manager Cheng Zixian (a very suave-looking Tony Yang).

As much as scriptwriters Li Yuan and Xu Yimeng draw from the oldest trick in the rom-com playbook, their adaptation of renowned web novelist Lan Bai Se's 'A Long Time Coming' is no means stale. Oh no, the result is quite the contrary in fact. Mixing the familiar elements of an 'opposites attract' rom-com with the ingredients of a culinary comedy has proved quite the inspiration, and even if it does feel familiar on the whole, there's no denying that veteran editor Derek Hui's directorial debut still tastes fresh, delightful and often hilarious.

Benefiting immensely from his years working with some of the best in the industry including Peter Chan himself, Teddy Chan and even Chen Kaige, Hui demonstrates confidence, discipline and clarity right from the get-go, displaying none of the shortcomings that usually plague first-time directors.

That is clear right from the get-go: within the prologue, he establishes succintly not only Lu Jin's exacting standards in the food he eats, but also the businesslike approach with which he handles staff performance, telling an under-performing senior manager seated across a long table that he is fired. And then without letting up, Hui stages the first meet-cute between Lu Jin and Shengnan in a classic case of mistaken identity, as the former catches the latter vandalizing the hood of his car to avenge her heartbroken female buddy Xu Zhaodi (Meng Xi) and only agrees not to call the police after she lets him humiliate her, i.e. by writing on her forehead the telephone number of the company she is supposed to call to fix the damage she caused to his car.

Oh yes, there is a precision to the way Hui approaches his scenes, such that each makes its point without outlasting its welcome. That same exactness also ensures the movie remains pacey – from the point Lu Jin steps into the Rosebud criticizing the customer service, room soundproofing and Michelin-starred food in turn; to his enchantment with the last-minute dish prepared by Shengnan and each one of her exquisitely plated dishes thereafter; to the series of encounters between Lu Jin and Shengnan that reinforce his annoyance towards her before he discovers she is the chef he has been enamored with; and last but not least to the pranks he plays on her before she realizes that he already knows her identity.

There is plenty of screwball humour in between, and before the madcap antics turn repetitive, the second half switches gears for intimacy and even pathos. Over a nicely edited montage, we see Lu Jin turning up unannounced at Shengnan's messy but homely apartment where she lives with her dog named 'Boss', treating her as his personal chef, turning her place into his own home, and in the process discovering a much more human side to himself that he has been repressing. There is both sweetness and tenderness in a whimsical sequence where both hallucinate rain after having some poisonous blowfish for steamboat, and end up taking an umbrella out for a walk around the neighbourhood and on board a bus through Shanghai's beautifully lit streets. A late twist that sees Lin Chiling emerge as Lu Jin's personal chef is somewhat under-developed, but still makes the point of reinforcing how food has been a special bond between their hearts.

And as a final note, it is admirable that Hui stays true to the quirks and eccentricities of his characters as well as their relationship during the heartfelt finale. That same consistency extends to Takeshi Kaneshiro and Zhou Dongyu's performances, so that we not only believe that their characters are authentic but are also invested emotionally in them.

True to its title, 'This is Not What I Expected' is an unexpectedly enjoyable rom-com – the jokes land mostly where they should, the romance is sweet but never cloying, and the presentation is brisk, lively and engaging. It also boasts a pair of leads with sharp comic timing and great chemistry that you'll miss hanging out with the minute it's over, and with the venerable Peter Ho-sun Chan and his regular partner Jojo Hui as producers, you can be assured of a finale that is touching, poignant and genuine. Just be sure not to go into it hungry, because the wonderfully delectable food porn shots within will make sure that it isn't just your heart that will be stirred.

11 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Loud, over-the-top action that's also inventively conceived and impeccably executed, this latest FF chapter is everything fans want and love about the franchise, 17 April 2017
7/10

Coming off 'Fast and Furious 7', this eighth instalment was always going to pale in comparison – not because this latest would not be able to top its predecessor with even bigger stunts but because it would simply be impossible to echo the latter's emotional poignancy brought on by the sudden and tragic death of lead star Paul Walker. To newcomer director F. Gary Gray and recurring writer Chris Morgan's credit, 'Fast and Furious 8' has the dignity to leave the honorable departure of Walker's character intact. Indeed, there are only two mentions throughout the whole film of Brian: one, when the newly wedded Mrs Toretto (Michelle Rodriguez) reminds their peacockish supporting player Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) to leave Brian and Mia to their idyllic family life; and two, Dom (Vin Diesel) makes a personal dedication to Brian.

If you've seen any of the ubiquitous promotional materials, you'll know that this first chapter of a brand new trilogy intended as the grand finale of the series is premised on Dom turning his back against his 'family', joining hands with a mysterious cyberterrorist named Cipher (Charlize Theron) to steal an EMP device, a suitcase of Russian nuclear launch codes and last but not least a nuclear submarine. Oh yes, we're a long way from the street racing-centred action/ crime thrillers of before; in the words of former federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), no less than World War III is at stake here. How such a save-the-world mission would fall in the hands of a couple of street racers and some career criminals defies logic or explanation, but neither need be present in order to enjoy the testosterone-driven pleasures which this movie offers; in fact, this joyride is all about indulging in utterly over-the-top action amidst some infectious cast chemistry, both of which it delivers in spades.

Demonstrating from the get-go that it is worth every bang for your buck, the movie opens with a terrific street duel in Havana, Cuba, where Dom is honeymooning with Letty. As you may imagine, the race is uneven – whereas his opponent is driving the 'fastest car in Havana', Dom is stuck in a stripped-down jalopy with a tank of nitrous oxide hooked up to the engine. By the end of the chase, Dom will be driving the car in reverse, its engine fully engulfed in flames. It is ridiculous no doubt, but inventively conceived and impeccably executed, and you'll not only find yourself on the edge of your seat by the time Dom crosses the finish line but also pumping your fist in the air. Most race and chase adventures would probably be content to end on such a high note, but it speaks to the spirit and ambition of 'Fast and Furious 8' that this is only warm-up compared to the later two even more outrageous set-pieces.

The one in the middle act set in New York City has Cipher's minions commandeering an army of hacked auto-driving 'zombie' cars to stop the Russian defense minister's security convoy, before finally pinning down the target among a jumble of vehicles that have rained down from a multistory parking garage. And the piece de resistance is set in the Arctic's Barents Sea, where after failing to stop Cipher from gaining control of a Russian submarine, Dom and his crew have to outrun it before it reaches open waters. It gets as absolutely nonsensical as Luke stepping out of his vehicle to gently nudge the course of a speeding torpedo with just his bare hands, but boy oh boy if it isn't gorgeously choreographed from start to finish.

Certainly, the later 'Fast and Furious' movies would not be what they are without the crackling chemistry between its leads. Gibson's banter with Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges' Tej Parker is still entertaining as ever, especially as each tries to undermine the other in order to win the affection of whip-smart computer whiz Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel). Kurt Russell's enigmatic special agent Mr Nobody shows up from time to time to join the fun, together with his new sidekick/ underling played by Scott Eastwood. But the most laughs belong to Johnson and Statham, whose incessant macho bickering is among the film's main pleasures – the latter in particular steals the show by parkour-ing out of a maximum-security prison and in a cheeky sequence atop an airplane taking out a whole handful of baddies while juggling a baby bassinet. Between them, Diesel's brooding, tortured act here is somewhat overshadowed, lacking Walker's Brian as his perfectly matched rational complement.

Like we said at the start, 'Fast 7' was always going to be a tough act to follow, but this follow-up ratchets up the action in wholly insane but unexpectedly delightful ways. As a popcorn movie built and fueled by sheer adrenaline, it is not in the least disappointing and at times in fact immensely satisfying. As an ensemble piece, it boasts great chemistry and plenty of wisecracks. As the latest addition into the 'Fast and Furious' canon, it is not just fast and furious despite its two-hour plus runtime but also an absolutely worthy entry that gives fans exactly what they want. And as to the proverbial question whether this franchise has run out of gas or running on fumes, let's just say that there is plenty left in the tank for two more rounds, and it's safe to say that where this fast-car enterprise goes next is no longer bound by the laws of gravity.


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