Sunday, August 21, 2016

This week's Chinese stuff: Line Walker: The Movie and Time Raiders

Thing I've been pondering over the last few weeks (surrounding Fantasia) - multiplexes like the one where I saw both of these films have gotten cannier about scheduling similar movies to make double features harder, haven't they? It's certainly seemed that way every weekend where Boston Common has two Chinese movies, and the special one-show-only booking of Time Raiders really makes it clear: The 9pm showtime just didn't work with Line Walker or Sweet Sixteen at all, meaning I wound up hanging around a couple hours between my two movies. I get it; folks seeing two movies are probably not only not going to buy two snacks, but they might even actually go for that free refill on the large soda. Better to get us to come two separate days.

Line Walker: The Movie

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

It's not exactly fair, but you say "Hong Kong crime movie with lost undercover cops", and my head's going to go to Infernal Affairs, which, as an all-time classic, is setting the bar pretty high, when it's probably enough just to be a decent enough cops and crooks movie. Line Walker: The Movie, is no Infernal Affairs; for all I know, it's not even up to the standard of the TV series that launched it. On the other hand, there ain't no shootout like a Hong Kong shootout, and this does deliver the crime-movie goods quite nicely when it gets down to it.

Two years ago, Deputy Police Commissioner Hong Do-heng of the HKPD's Central Intelligence Bureau was assassinated, but he had just enough time to delete the records of the undercover operatives he was handling before their covers could be blown. The CIB believed that they had brought the whole group in, but one of them, Ding Siu-ka (Charmaine Sheh See-man), receives a message in Hong's code signed "Blackjack", and Inspector Q (Francis Ng Chun-yu) - her boyfriend and the one who tracked down the undercover operatives - says that there was a corrupted file by that name on Hong's computer. The text leads them to a party at an investment firm that also serves as a Triad front, and which gets attacked by the team of Lam (Nick Cheung Ka-fai) and Shiu (Louis Koo Tin-lok), underlings of rival gangster Kwok Ming. They escape before Q and Ding can discover whether either is Blackjack, but the speed with which they were on the scene means that Lam, Shiu, Ming, bodyguard Siu Ying (Clara Lee Ching-man), and big boss Tung Pak-ho all know that there is a mole in their midst, threatening both their local operations and a big drug deal in Brazil.

The Line Walker television series was a massive hit in Hong Kong and China, although one need not be familiar with to follow the film (which is good, because while I'll stream a movie or two to get caught up when the higher-profile sequel comes out, a 31-episode series that does not appear to be legitimately available with English subtitles is something else). There are a couple moments when a character will be introduced with music that hints that the viewer should recognize his significance, and some flashbacks that seem more like reminders than exposition, but Ding and Q are the only returning main characters, with Koo and Cheung fairly big movie stars who are definitely new to the series. Writer Cat Kwan and director Jazz Boon occasionally use that to their advantage, especially in the beginning, establishing things fast so that the newcomers can get up to speed without boring the fans.

Full review on EFC.

Daomu biji (Time Raiders)

* * (out of four)
Seen 20 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

Treasure-hunting stories are currently pretty big in China, and though it's tempting to see something about a nation with a very specific present and targeted future reconciling with a long, very different past, we don't do that with Indiana Jones. Those movies are just extremely well-built adventures. Time Raiders isn't quite so well-built - it's a jumble of things found in cliffhanging adventure stories that takes their awesomeness for granted rather than building something greater than the sun of their individual joys - but when you're in the middle of a tomb raider craze, this can scratch the itch.

Of course, there are tomb raiders and there are tomb raiders. The first one we see is Hendrix (Vanni Corbellini), a Westerner terrorizing mystics near the Tibet/Nepal border to find the lady of "24 Divine Pieces" that will serve as a map to a Chinese secret of immortality, although the monks are saved by Zhang Qiling (Jing Boran), one of their number with preternatural martial-arts skills. Fifty years later, though, there's Wu Xie (Lu Han), a young man from a family that has been robbing graves for centuries, though they imagine a more legitimate future for him. Which means, of course, that he will be the one to discover the secret passage in The Widow's Tomb, leading to a clockwork key that seems far too sophisticated for the Warring Kingdoms era it dates from (though it seems to be counting down to something just a week away), and which leads his uncle Wu Sanxing (Wang Jingchun) to Kunlun Qiala to unearth the legendary tomb of the Snake Empress (Mallika Sherawai) and King Xiang (Sammy Hung). His crew includes someone who is at least a dead ringer for Qiling, but an ageless martial artist may be just what the Wu family needs when a team of well-armed mercenaries financed by Hendrix and led by Captain Ning A (Ma Sichun) arrives on the scene.

Lovers of swashbuckling pulp adventures will likely have a big grin on their faces through at least the first half of Time Raiders, because it has a bit of everything: A young hero whose family wants something better for him than the family's traditional business, even if the centuries mean it's in his blood; a mysterious partner who is silent about his past; an obsessed villain who has devoted a lifetime to his quest; mysterious artifacts hidden in plain sight; a mercenary who is as capable as she is attractive; relics which seem impossibly advanced for their provenance; an impossibly large underground complex. The jaded may yawn at this, reciting dozens of pulps and serials made from the same ingredients, but director Daniel Lee and writer "Uncle Three" roll with this - seem through the eyes of Wu Xie, it is sort of familiar despite his family's attempts to direct his talents elsewhere, but when he encounters these things in real life, there's some awe to be found in discovering a world that is grand, fantastic, and dangerous beyond his own experience.

And then things go downright insane.

Full review on EFC.

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