REVIEW: Cliff Walkers [2021]

Everything will be fine when the sun rises. The mission: parachute into Manchukuo (an area of China under the unofficial control of Japan during the 1930s), find escaped comrade Wang, and escort him to freedom. It’s what Communist party operatives Zhang (Zhang Yi), Yu (Qin Hailu), Chuliang (Zhu Yawen), and Lan (Liu Haocun) have trained to accomplish during years spent in the USSR and they’re willing to give their lives towards that goal. It shouldn’t therefore be surprising when a last-minute order necessitates them splitting up into pairs that in…

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REVIEW: Do Not Split [2020]

Good guys don’t join the police. It’s hardly a new concept. If you start to blame people for something they aren’t doing, there’s a good chance they’ll start doing it. This is true for teenagers accused of trouble during school wondering what the point of being good is if they’ll just be blamed for being bad anyway and it’s true for peaceful protestors constantly getting confronted by armed police treating them like they are violent rioters by default. What choice do they therefore have besides becoming exactly that to survive?…

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FANTASIA20 REVIEW: 返校 [Fanxiao] [Detention] [2019]

I don’t remember anything. As a subversive poem (according to the Chinese Nationalist Party that ruled Taiwan under martial law during the period known as the White Terror from 1947 until 1987) read by Miss Yin (Cecilia Choi) to the members of her and Mr. Chang’s (Meng-Po Fu) underground high school book club relates: a tree’s roots never ask to be repaid by the fruit that blooms as a result of their effort. It’s a succinctly beautiful metaphor for the education system and its liberal teachers doing all they can…

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FANTASIA20 REVIEW: Chihuo Quan Wang [Chasing Dream] [2019]

Don’t drown yourself in mistakes from the past. We live in an era where celebrity has become more about fame than talent as those wishing for adulation do what they can to mimic the greats that came before them without ever worrying about proving whether they possess an ounce of originality. You want to impress the judges on “American Idol”? Show them you can be Madonna, Lady Gaga, and Rihanna all at once. You want to be the talk of the fighting world by unleashing your strength in the Ultimate…

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FANTASIA19 REVIEW: 白蛇:緣起 [Baishe: Yuanqi] [White Snake] [2019]

Do you ever have to do what you don’t want to do? Filmmakers Amp Wong, Ji Zhao (directors), and Damao (screenwriter) have taken the Chinese fable Legend of the White Snake and reformatted it into a prequel/remake with sequel possibilities (if a mid-credits sequence is any indication). The concept of reincarnation keeps the characters the same despite letting them meet five hundred years in the past. That’s how long snake spirit Blanca (Zhang Zhe‘s Xiao Bai) has practiced Taoist magic while waiting to achieve Immortal status alongside her sister Verta…

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REVIEW: The Farewell [2019]

It’s a good lie. Billi (Awkwafina) heads to her parents’ home to clean laundry after discovering she’s now two months behind on her rent only to hear her father (Tzi Ma‘s Haiyan) is “asleep” … at 6pm. Her mother (Diana Lin‘s Jian) dismisses the time as a byproduct of them being very busy, but she goes to his room to see for herself anyway. Haiyan sits despondent on the bedside, something obviously wrong. When neither can bear her questions anymore (“Did you have a fight? Were you drinking again?”), Jian…

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REVIEW: 大鱼海棠 [Dayu haitang] [Big Fish & Begonia] [2016]

Without happiness, what’s the meaning of longevity? In 2004, directors Xuan Liang and Chun Zhang created a Flash animation for an online contest. From there they would expand it into a feature length film steeped in Chinese supernatural legend. And despite some funding snags over its twelve-year production schedule, 大鱼海棠 [Dayu haitang] [Big Fish & Begonia] would ultimately turn its approximately five million-dollar budget (in today’s US dollars) into just shy of one hundred million at the Chinese box office. It’s no surprise then that it would make its way…

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REVIEW: 路边野餐 [Lù biān yě Cān] [Kaili Blues] [2016]

“You took a photo and stole my soul” While the calling card for Gan Bi‘s feature debut 路边野餐 [Lù biān yě Cān] [Kaili Blues] is its magnificent 41-minute long take, that scene is but a movie within a movie. Its brilliance is in the way it takes his main character Chen Sheng (played by the writer/director’s uncle Yongzhong Chen) and us away from the tragic reality of death, disappointment, and frustration. For the first thirty minutes (before the title card even arrives), we’re simply getting to know this ex-con doctor…

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REVIEW: Hooligan Sparrow [2016]

“Hey Principal: get a room with me and leave the kids alone!” First-time director Nanfu Wang‘s documentary Hooligan Sparrow proves how a single piece of paper explaining a child’s rights can cause a ripple within a sea of oppression and catalyze justice. That document came from the hand of Wang Yu, a lawyer who followed and supported the titular “Sparrow” (Ye Haiyan) on a journey to expose the heinous acts of the Chinese government. Yu is now in prison and has been for two years without trial. Haiyan and her…

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REVIEW: 龍門客棧 [Long men kezhan] [Dragon Inn] [1967]

“You still want noodles?” When I told a friend I was going to be watching King Hu‘s 龍門客棧 [Long men kezhan] [Dragon Inn], she surprisingly told me she’d already seen it. I wondered where considering the Janus Films restoration had just released this year and her response was, “El Rey.” Yes, Robert Rodriguez‘s television channel known for grindhouse content. I was taken aback. I had seen A Touch of Zen last month and found myself mesmerized by the artistry and scope, it’s epic tale the type of austere cinema for…

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REVIEW: 俠女 [Xia nü] [A Touch of Zen] [1971]

“One should rather believe in ghosts than not” It’s enlightening to read writer/director King Hu‘s press notes that accompanied the Cannes premiere of his then newly-cut 俠女 [Xia nü] [A Touch of Zen]. 1975 was four years removed from the film’s original release—as two parts, a format his producers demanded to try recouping some of its ballooning budget—and six years after he began constructing the elaborate sets utilized during a long, piecemeal shooting schedule to combat changing seasons from ruining continuity. He finally received the ability to restore his three-hour…

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