Monday, February 08, 2016

Have some sequels for Chinese New Year: The Monkey King 2 & From Vegas to Macau III

I'm not exactly up on my time zones and how Lunar New Year works, but it may have come already by the time this posts, especially in China, where it's a big time for new-release movies, and as those are increasingly arriving in the U.S. day-and-date, a chance for some big Chinese movies to hit here. And, because this sort of action/adventure movie lagged behind romances and dramas, it means that the problem of sequels arriving before their predecessors are available is still a thing with them.

I tried to get caught up, but the order I placed at DDDHouse (a Hong Kong-based retailer that has some insanely good prices) for The Monkey King and From Vegas to Macau II last week didn't ship until this Tuesday, and that doesn't get them across the Pacific and North America in time for me to watch them before the weekend. Of course, it doesn't look like that was a huge deal - both have a lot of cast turnover between entries - so I went anyway.

Sadly, they weren't good, although they were both high-gloss productions shot in 3D (though only The Monkey King 2 screened that way here) with star-studded casts. The auditoria were pretty much empty as well, although that could be because I was seeing 10:30am shows to fit the Boston Sci-Fi Film festival in later. Maybe they were packed in the afternoon and evening.

It's a good thing I have a few other movies coming in that order, though, because I can't say I'm looking forward to catching up on the parts of these series I've missed that much.

Xi You Ji Zhi San Da Bai Gu Jing (The Monkey King 2)

* * (out of four)
Seen 6 February 2016 in AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

Believe it or not, this is not the first Chinese fantasy sequel I've seen where not having seen the predecessor was no big deal because it starts with "500 years have passed..." This is a good thing, because the first movie in an expected Monkey King trilogy never made it to the U.S. (a recurrent event as day-and-date releases become more common). Given that the general word is that this one fixed some of what was wrong with the first, I'm not necessarily eager to catch up; it's a sleek but dull take on the mythology.

As mentioned, the Monkey King Sun Wukong (Aaron Kwok Fu-shing) has been imprisoned within the Five Elements Mountain since the "Havoc in Heaven" he caused in the last film, but prophecy says he will escort a monk to the west to retrieve a set of scriptures, and that happens right away, with Tang Xuanzang (William Feng Shaofeng) removing the spell that binds Wukong only for another to take effect. They soon meet up with a pair of demonic but friendly traveling companions in Zhu Bajie (Xiao Shenyang) and Sha Wujing (Him Law), but another demon along the way will not be so friendly: The White Bone Demon (Gong Li) is about to reincarnate but has no desire to become human again, and it is said that consuming Xuanzang will grant immortality in one's current form.

The clash with the White Bone Demon is just one of many chapters of Journey to the West, though a pivotal one, featuring a sharp conflict between Xuanzang and Wukong - Wukong can see through demons' disguises with his Fiery Eyes of Truth while the naive Xuanzang can only see him killing what appear to be innocent people. It proves to be less material than the movie needs, though, the plot frequently stalls and a detour involving a king who is drinking the blood of children and allowing the demon to take the blame feels more like stalling than an interesting twist. There's a classic structure to this story, but it could do with less repetition and more progress.

Full review on EFC.

Du cheng feng yun III (From Vegas to Macau III)

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 7 February 2016 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

When I saw the first From Vegas to Macau at a festival a couple years ago, I figured that I was just a victim of bad expectations, not prepared for something so silly, especially thinking of Chow Yun-fat as an icon of cool. This time, I knew what I was getting into, so maybe it would go over better. No such luck; as much as the zaniness occasionally appeals, it's sloppy and too self-satisfied to work for long stretches.

It opens with the wedding of legendary gambler Ken Shek's protege Vincent (Shawn Yue Man-lok) to his Ken's daughter Rainbow (Kimmy Tong Fei)... Well, not quite; we initially see gambler and arms dealer JC (Jacky Cheung Hok-yau) in his mad scientist lair in Thailand, looking at a woman suspended in a bubble and vowing revenge on Ken Shek, which means he's the guy behind the android with a bomb inside it that goes off at the ceremony. This (and the hypnosis, and a tasering) has Ken off his game, although his partner Mark (Nick Cheung Ka-fai) friend Michael (Andy Lau Tak-wah) is there to help him out.

Andy Lau apparently popped up as Michael in From Vegas to Macau 2 (which, like the first, has not had an official North American release in theaters or on video despite the third being released on both sides of the Pacific simultaneously), reprising his part from Knight of Gamblers, also known as "God of Gamblers II", with the actual God of Gamblers II released in the US as "God of Gamblers Return", and if that sounds confusing, I haven't yet mentioned that Ken is not Chow Yun-fat's character from those films, but that he also reprises his role as Ko Chun, and the two looking alike was apparently explained in the second, which also seems to be where this series went from busting money launderers with slapstick to Ken having "Robot Stupid" as a butler, brains in jars, and explosive androids.

Full review on EFC.

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