Review: Urban Fantasy Hanson and the Beast is Men in Black meets chick flick

Millions of years ago, aliens, now known as  yaoguai or demons, landed on Earth. To blend in, they hide their animal forms by shapeshifting into humans. To make sure their secrets are hidden from the humans, the Bureau of Transformers was formed to monitor yaoguai actions in our world.     When young arctic fox demon Bai Qianchu (Liu Yifei) comes to the human world to repay an act of kindness and accidentally exposes her true form, she’s being chased after by the bureau’s agents.

Her object of interest is zookeeper and swindler Yuan Shuai (Feng Shaofeng), who saved her when he was a child.  When Bai Qianchu falls for Yuan Shuai, the two become caught at the center of a power struggle in the demon world between those who want to live apart from humans and those who want to cohabit the world with humans.

Urban fantasy film Hanson and the Beast takes the exciting concept of an alien registration agency and made a rom-com whose main feature is Liu Yifei being charming and beautiful. Luckily, it does that well enough if you like Liu Yifei.  Plus, unlike her last blockbuster,  the rest of the cast can actually act and the set-up is refreshing enough that you sit through it and enjoy Liu Yifei. A drama spinoff of the series starring Wang Ziwen and Chen He was released last week.

Liu Yifei as a fox pup

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Suddenly Seventeen is now free on YouTube legally w/ English subs

One of my favorite chick flicks, Suddenly Seventeen 28岁未成年, is now available with English subtitles for free on YouTube legally.  The directorial debut of Zhang Mo stars Ni Ni, Wallace Huo, Wang Ta-lu, and Ma Su in a charming tale of finding yourself.

Review: The Wandering Earth is an imaginative spectacle that launches Chinese films into the space age.

The Wandering Earth is the historical breakthrough Chinese sci-fi has been waiting for a long time.

Faced with the threat of the sun swallowing up the Earth, humans chose to embark on a 2500 year journey to find a new place in the universe for their home, Earth. The ambitious plan involves three hundred years of scientists around the world building ten thousand propellers around the Earth, stopping the  Earth’s rotation, and then finally propelling the Earth into its long journey into the dark night. But first, they must get out of the solar system by escaping Jupiter’s gravitational pull.

The almost as ambitious film The Wandering Earth 流浪地球 is half disaster film, half space thriller,  and a full classic holiday film about the importance of going home for the holidays. While not nearly as polished as Hollywood blockbusters (and with a fraction of the budget), the film offers uniquely Chinese visions of the future that makes it stand-out.  Despite its clear flaws,  the Frant Gwo-direct film has a solid plot, suspenseful and well-shot action scenes for both its earth disaster and space scenes, plenty of scenes that appeals to your inner holiday spirit,  and solid CGI combined with imaginative setups that makes this the historical breakthrough Chinese sci-fi has been waiting for a long time.

imax trailer for the film: 

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Review: Forever Young is a poignant love letter to the world

 I cried three times in the process of editing this review. This sweepingly beautiful but simple ode to Tsinghua University is a tear-jerker for all seasons.

Set against one of the most stunning visuals of the year, Forever Young 无问西东 tells its simple tales with an incredibly romantic lens that makes it difficult not to admire.  Director Li Fangfang (Heaven Eternal, Love Everlasting) always manages to play my emotions just right to evoke all my emotions for the world she captures.

The film from centers around four loosely connected stories of six characters (played by Wang Leehom, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Huang Xiaoming, Tie Zheng, and Chen Chusheng) facing their true selves through making difficult choices, from scary ones like life-and-death decisions to the even scarier decision of picking a college major. Continue reading

Review: Suddenly Seventeen

Verdict:  You would probably like it if you like chick flicks, and not if otherwise. 

A  cross between Freaky Friday and Seventeen AgainSudden Seventeen 28岁未成年 is a fun, heartwarming, albeit  cliched chick flick that surprisingly does not have a romantic message.  It’s also a monumental tribute to the beauty of Ni Ni.  

“Today is the tenth day of Summer (Ni Ni) being a perfect housewife.  Like the 3650 days before today, she got up at 7 am, had perfect hair and a perfect outfit, made breakfast, and is ready for her beau (Wallace Huo) to awake up. But today was different. She had seen a ring in his coat and he was going to propose.”

When it turns out the ring was for someone else, Summer breaks down and in the midst of her breakdown, sees an advertisement for chocolates that will make her happy again.  It turns out that a bite of the chocolate makes her … drumroll…. seventeen again.   Continue reading

Review: Detective Chinatown 2

[Image: Sorry there’s no image, I already wasted enough time to write a synopsis for this potentially great film tainted by too much poo. ]

Verdict:  A sequel whose quality lives up to the original, with a tight, intriguing detective story and almost no wasted plot points.  Unfortunately, the humor moves from voyeurism and verbal misogyny to straight-up sexual harassment from the leads, and ended with a  huge  f- you to the audience  from the director Chen Sicheng that made me decide to never see another movie by him again.

In Detective Chinatown 2, scriptwriter-director Chen Sicheng proves himself once more as a talented scriptwriters and directors, but also the  misogynistic jerk we all know he is. The sequel features a whodunnit story that’s just as compelling, full of plot twists, and sharply written as the first one.  Tang Ren (Wang Baoqiang) and  ( Liu Haoran) once shine as the buddy cop pair, this time joined by the welcomed addition of Xiao Yang, the new guy framed for a series of mysterious murders in New York City.

Unfortunately, the story’s treatment of its female characters left me with so much bitter taste it’s hard to enjoy it.   With two women in fridges, multiple sexual harassments and one incident that I think looked like sexual assault by Tang Ren, a cheap plot of “she-left-me-for-money” to get rid of the former female lead (Tong Liya), the story was oozing with misogyny.

*spoiler below* Continue reading

Review: Detective Chinatown

Easily one of the best mysteries and best comedies of the past few years, Detective Chinatown is a sure crowd pleaser.

A belated review for one of my favorite films of 2016 to get ready for the sequel. Detective Chinatown 2 will be distributed by Warner Bros in the U.S. and will open in 48 markets (biggest in a long time for a Chinese film).

A clean and twist-filled mystery embellished with well-executed humor and splashes of romance kept me on the edge of my seats  for Detective Chinatown 唐人街探案. The buddy cop flick from actor-turned-director Chen Sicheng  proves that he continues to be one of China’s best young commercial directors.
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Review: A Better Tomorrow 2018

A Better Tomorrow 2018 is a bold visual and auditory delight and a boatload of fun.

From some of the boldest music choices to drastic switches in tone of cinematography to one of the most interesting shootout scenes in a while,   A Better Tomorrow 2018英雄本色 2018 felt like a firework so  bursting with life that  it left me too busy savoring every minute details of brilliance to think about its flaws. You can just feel how much love and thought director Ding Sheng and the cast put into every scene.  Even all the jokes avoid lazy one-liners but instead are all carefully set-up earlier to land perfectly.

Spoiler level: little more than what you would know from the trailers

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Review: Once Upon a Time

When designer Lawrence Xu puked rainbow unicorns over Liu Yifei and Yang Yang.

Liu Yifei is pretty much the definition of fairylike for me, and so I was so excited when she announced she’ll be playing a fox immortal in Once Upon a Time三生三世十里桃花.  Unfortunately, even her and Yang Yang’s face could not savage the film’s undeveloped characters, zero chemistry, poor acting, and atrocious aesthetics. 

The film opens as Bai Qian (Liu Yifei), a fox fairy that is 30,000-years-old, runs through the forest like fairies do and then enters a giant jellyfish carriage to attend a wedding.    There we find out that the immortals have terrible taste in fashion, and Bai Qian  finds a wandering child  who speaks like Siri.    Soon we learn that Bai Qian looks just like the child’s mother, and the child’s father is her betrothed (Yang Yang) . What a small world!

It’s hard to criticize this face, but it’s about the only thing going for the film.

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Review: Brotherhood of Blades II: The Infernal Battlefield

Promotional theme song: Deep love is as subdued as you by Zhou Shen (still on repeat in my playlist)

Aptly titled The Infernal Battlefield, the second instalment of the Brotherhood of Blades film series brings together a talented cast of actors in one of the best wuxia epics in recent years. The story formula hasn’t really changed since the first movie, but it’s worth watching for the cinematography and action choreography alone. Minor spoilers ahead.

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