Friday 20 October 2017

The Current Cinema - Asian film enthusiast John Snadden baulks at SKY HUNTER (Li Chen, 2017) and enthuses over GOD OF WAR (Gordon Chan, 2017)

In the past 7 days, I think I've seen the best and the worst of commercial Mainland Chinese cinema this year.
SKY HUNTER was an attempt to cash in on the uber success of the recent flag waving WOLF WARRIOR 2. It has endeavoured to do this by remaking in the Mandarin language the 1980s Tom Cruise hit, TOP GUN. (Who said Chinese bureaucrats haven't got a sense of humour?)
But considering the money and resources which have been thrown at this movie, it's actually a shoddy production with a script that looks to have been written by a committee between Yum Cha courses. The CGI is woeful and hardly rises above the level of a THUNDERBIRDS episode. The central story takes an eternity to get going, and has China's youngest and most photogenic jet pilots tackling Islamic terrorists, who all seem to be speaking Arabic with Australian accents(?!)

"a career low", Fan Bingbing, Sky Hunter
I do hold some sympathy for the movie's star Fan Bingbing, who in 12 months has gone from a career high in I AM NOT MADAME BOVARY to a career low with SKY HUNTER. 

On the plus side, last weekend I witnessed a ripping return to form from Cantonese director Gordon Chan (FIST OF LEGEND, PAINTED SKIN) and Mainland martial-artist Zhao Wen (THE BLADE), both of whom have had unremarkable careers in recent years. GOD OF WAR is Chan's new film and, in my opinion, it's the best historical adventure pic since John Woo's RED CLIFF.
Set in 1557, Zhao Wen is General Qi Jiguang, who is fighting marauding pirates and Japanese soldiers along China's Southern coastline. Admittedly, GOD OF WAR does borrow liberally from RED CLIFF when it comes to depicting stoic leaders and creative military strategies. The film is well acted, intelligently written and visually captures the beauty of Southern China and the horror of human conflict.
Kurata Yasuaki, God of War
A protracted fight sequence between General Qi and his Japanese nemesis Lord Yamagawa (Kurata Yasuaki) will be a highlight of this movie for many viewers. Kurata Yasuaki nearly steals the film as a once proud military figure who now finds himself surrounded by a rabble who question his authority as their leader.
This pic advertises Canto screen veteran Sammo Hung as a main cast member - but this is incorrect as he is, at best, a supporting player in the role of Yu Dayou, a battle weary Ming commander. HK buffs will spot and thoroughly enjoy a brief but spirited pole fight between Hung and Zhao Wen...which pays homage to a similar scene in the classic action pic, PEDICAB DRIVER. 
For some unknown reason GOD OF WAR didn't receive a theatrical release in Oz, but is now available via a Hong Kong BR disc which offers a very nice transfer.

Director Gordon Chan, Zhao Wen, on the set of God of War

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