Review: ‘One and Only’ (2023), starring Huang Bo and Wang Yibo

August 14, 2023

by Carla Hay

Wang Yibo in “One and Only” (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)

“One and Only” (2023)

Directed by Da Peng

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Hangzhou, China, in 2022, in comedy/drama film “One and Only” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with a few white people and one black person) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A talented street dancer is recruited as a stand-in on a high-ranking street dancing team that will be competing for a national championship, but he and the team’s coach have obstacles along the way, including a jealous and wealthy rival who threatens the team’s existence.

Culture Audience: “One and Only” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching modern dance movies that have great choreography and well-acted stories.

Huang Bo in “One and Only” (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)

“One and Only” is one of the best dance films of the year. The choreography and cinematography are dazzling. This comedy/drama about an underdog street dancer and his conflicted coach also has a compelling and heartfelt story told with skillful acting. The story’s overall plot is entirely predictable, but viewers are taken on a thoroughly entertaining ride along the way.

Directed by Da Peng (who co-wrote the “One and Only” screenplay with Siu Bao), “One and Only takes place primarily in Hangzhou, China, in 2022. Hangzhou is the hometown of Chen Shuo (played by Wang Yibo), a talented street dancer in his late teens or early 20s. Shuo is juggling three different jobs to help pay the bills for his family, which includes his widowed mother Du Li Sha (played by Liu Min Tao) and his mother’s brother (played by Yue Yunpeng), who all live in the same household. (The movie doesn’t say how Shuo’s father died. Shuo’s maternal uncle doesn’t have a first name in the movie and is only identified as Uncle Du in the end credits.)

Shuo works in the small, casual restaurant owned by his mother, who used to be a professional singer. He also has a job at a car wash. And in his spare time, Shuo does dance jobs on the street or at parties. For his dancing gigs, Shuo works with his uncle Xie (played by Xiaoshenyang), who is the brother of Shuo’s deceased father. Xie, who is very supportive of Shuo, also acts as a quasi-manager/agent to Shuo.

Shuo’s dream is to become a professional street dancer, just like Shuo’s father was. Shuo is in awe of E-Mark, the hottest street dance team in Hangzhou, and he goes to as many of E-Mark’s performances as possible. An early scene in the movie shows Shuo rushing from completing a street dancing gig that pays him ¥300 (which is about $41 in U.S. dollars in 2022) so that he can watch E-Mark compete in the finals of the Zhejiang Street Dance Competition. The winner will have a chance to go on to the National Street Dance Competition.

Winning the National Street Dance Competition has been an elusive goal for E-Mark and for E-Mark’s coach/team owner: the scruffy and dance-obsessed Ding Lei (played by Huang Bo), who is a former professional street dancer in his late 40s. It has always bothered Lei that he has never won a national championship as a solo dancer or as part of a group. During his heyday as a dancer, Lei had the unflattering nickname Eternal Runner-up. Lei wants to live out his dream of getting a national championship through E-Mark.

Shuo is thrilled to see E-Mark win the Zhejiang Street Dance Competition, against tough competition from another talented group called Dancing Machine. E-Mark’s star dancer is Kevin (played by Casper), who is rich and arrogant. Lei is in a difficult situation because Kevin has been paying the rent on E-Mark’s rehearsal space.

Kevin holds this financial power over Lei as an excuse for Kevin to act as if Lei needs Kevin, in order for E-Mark to survive At the Zhejiang Street Dance Competition, Kevin shows up very late and almost misses the time to dance with his team. Later, when Lei confronts Kevin about his tardiness, Kevin dismisses it and says that the team couldn’t have won without him. Kevin’s bad attitude is starting to really annoy Lei. Kevin and Lei get into arguments.

And to make matters worse, Lei finds out that Kevin has not paid the rent for the rehearsal space for the last three months. Lei is now stuck with this overdue bill that he has to pay in 30 days. After another argument, Kevin (or people he hired) remove all of E-Mark’s trophies out of the rehearsal space without asking permission. Kevin has a “yes man” business manager named Liu Hongliang (played by Zhang Zixian), who has a small role in the movie but it’s a comic relief role.

Viewers soon find out what Lei plans to do about the problems that Kevin has caused. One day, Shuo is doing a job where he is dressed up as a Power Ranger who breakdances at a children’s party. At the party, Xie and Shuo are approached by Lei, who somehow found out about Shuo’s talents. Lei asks Shuo if he is interested in being a stand-in for Kevin.

It’s essentally an internship, but it’s a paid internship: Lei says that Shuo will be paid ¥5,000 a month, which is about $686 a month in U.S. dollars in 2022. Shuo is ecstatic and eagerly accepts the job, even though Lei tells Shuo that there’s no guarantee that this internship will lead to Shuo getting a permanent place on the E-Mark team. This “internship” is really Lei’s way of seeing if Shuo can eventually replace Kevin.

“One and Only” isn’t just a “hey kids, let’s put on a dance show” movie. The story does a very good job of showing who the main characters are when they’re not immersed in dance rehearsals or dance competitions. Lei is a divorced bachelor with no children. His entire life revolves around E-Mark, but he’s going through financial struggles to keep the team afloat. He treats the members of E-Mark (except for the difficult Kevin) as if they were his own children.

Lei’s ex-wife Dan Dan (played by Qi Xi) occasionally appears to give “One and Only” viewers some glimpses into what Lei’s past life is like. Dan Dan dresses like a successful business person (although the movie never says what she does for a living), and she has not remarried. In a scene where Lei happens to see Dan Dan, he jokes about how he’s going to convince her that they will get back together again. Even though the movie never says why Lei and Dan Dan got divorced, this scene has some good acting that shows there was a lot of heartache in that relationship.

As for Shuo’s personal life, he’s a shy loner who is socially awkward when it comes to dating. He’s a dutiful and obedient son to his mother, who adores him, although she’s somewhat fearful of all the rejections that Shuo will experience as an entertainer. Her restaurant is quirky: It features celebrity wax statues made by Shuo’s maternal uncle. (The celebrity wax statues include Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Chan, Albert Einstein and Michael Jackson.)

There’s a scene in “One and Only” where Xie tells Shuo some family history that Shuo didn’t know about: Uncle Du dropped out of art school when he was younger to take care of his ailing father. After the father died, Uncle Du had a nervous breakdown. When Shuo finds out this information, Shuo feel compassion for Uncle Du, whom Shuo used to think of as just a weird uncle who was a failed artist. These are the types of details in “One and Only” that give meaningful character development to the story.

Shuo has a love interest: Li Mingzhu (played by Song Zu Er), who is a journalist intern at a local newspaper. Mingzhu and Shuo, who are about the same age, know each other casually because they were classmates in high school. Shuo has had a crush on her a while, but he’s very insecure about asking her out on a date. Mingzhu drops major hints that she wants Shuo to ask her out on a date, but he’s so inexperienced in dating, he doesn’t pick up on these clues right away.

When Shuo arrives at the E-Mark rehearsal space, he is welcomed immediately by an adorable girl named Tang Tang (played by Molly Han), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Tang Tang is the daughter of E-Mark’s only female dancer: Chilli (played by Fei, no last name), who is a single mother dating another E-Mark dancer named Dragon (played by George, no last name), who has an apt nickname because of Dragon’s fiery personality. Dragon has very strong opinions and doesn’t like the idea of E-Mark being a “sell-out” dance group that will do embarrassing things for money.

The other members of E-Mark have distinctive looks and memorable names, but not much is done in the movie to make their personalities stand out from each other. The actors portraying these E-Mark members are real-life street dancers playing versions of themselves with the same or similar names that they have for their characters in the movie. They are Patrick (played by Patrick), Luffy (played by Luffy Liao, also known as Liao Bo), Jr. Taco (played by Jr. Taco), Snakeman (played by Snakeman), Forest (played by Forest), Wukong (played by David Ye), Prohecy (played by Big Ason) and Sniper (played by Sniper).

Lei becomes desperate for money to pay off his debts. And he gets an offer from a dorky young businessman named Dong Er Lang (played by Jiang Long), who used to be a street dancer but who now sells a product line of “smart” trash cans called Daxi. Lang can best be described as an E-Mark fanatic/groupie. When Lang finds out that Lei needs money fast, Lang makes a sponsorship offer that becomes the first major turning point in Shuo’s affiliation with E-Mark.

“One and Only” doesn’t have any big surprises, but it’s interesting to see how the character dynamics play out in the movie. Kevin predictably becomes jealous of Shuo. Lei becomes torn between choosing to stick with Kevin for Kevin’s money and talent (even if Kevin’s huge, problematic ego is part of the package), or to take a bif risk on unknown, super-talented dancer Shuo, who is humble and likable but who doesn’t guarantee financial security for E-Mark.

In between these dilemmas, “One and Only” has a lot of great footage of dancing that incorporates many acrobatic and gymnastic elements. Through it all, Huang as Lei and Wang as Shuo give very convincing performances as two men from different generations who bond over dancing. It’s lovely to see how Huang helps build Shuo’s self-confidence, while Shuo inspires Lei to remember the enthusiastic energy that Lei used to have as a young man before financial concerns made Lei very jaded about the business. “One and Only” isn’t just a celebration of dance. It’s also a celebration of appreciating loyal family and friendships.

CMC Pictures released “One and Only” in select U.S. cinemas and in China on August 11, 2023.

Review: ‘Never Say Never’ (2023), starring Wang Baoqiang, Chen Yong Sheng and Shi Peng Yuan

August 1, 2023

by Carla Hay

Wang Baoqiang in “Never Say Never” (Photo courtesy of China Lion Distribution)

“Never Say Never” (2023)

Directed by Wang Baoqiang

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place from approximately 2001 to 2017, in unnamed cities in China, the dramatic film “Never Say Never” (inspired by real events) features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with a few white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A former boxing champ trains orphaned boys between the ages of 7 and 11 to be mixed-martial arts (MMA) fighters, but he gets arrested for child abuse after a filmed video of one of the cage fights goes viral.

Culture Audience: “Never Say Never” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching sports dramas based on true stories and don’t mind if the movie looks a one-sided and often-unrealistic showcase for questionable actions.

Wang Baoqiang (standing in the center) in “Never Say Never” (Photo courtesy of China Lion Distribution)

“Never Say Never” is an off-kilter drama that clumsily tries to mix grit with sentimentality. The movie never does a credible job of justifying exploitation of childen who are forced to train as MMA fighters. The movie is based on true events but often looks very phony.

Directed by Wang Baoqiang (who stars in the movie and who co-wrote the “Never Say Never” screenplay with Qi Qi), “Never Say Never” (also known as “Octagonal”) takes place from approximately 2001 to 2017, with a lot of jumping around in the timeline. The movie opens by showing a video of two boys, who are about 7 or 8 years old, who are doing MMA fighting in public in a cage. Someone has filmed this disturbing fight, and the video has gone viral.

The next scene shows that in 2011, an adult has been arrested for being responsible for this fight, and he is being held in an interrogation room for questioning. His name is Xiang Tenghui (played by Wang), and he is a 43-year-old former boxing champ. Tenghui is very defensive about this viral video that has gotten him in trouble. He wants to know who filmed the video. He also defensively says that the video is “old” and was taken many years ago.

The movie then flashes back to 2001. Tenghui is going through rough times. He operates a small business and hasn’t been able to pay his workers for the past six months. Tenghui has been so financially desperate, he sold all of his boxing medals to a local businessman named Wang Feng (played by Wang Xun), who also loaned money to Tenghui and wants the loan repaid.

One day, Tenghui is attacked by a group of boys who rob him and a colleague. The attack leaves both men with head injuries, but the injuries aren’t serious enough for them to need professional medical treatment. Tenghui tracks down some of these boys and finds out that they’re homeless orphans. Feng is the one who actually gives Tenghui the idea to take these boys and train them to become MMA fighters, as a way for Tenghui to make money of off them.

It isn’t long before Tenghui has assembled a group of seven or eight boys to be in his “fight club.” Tenghui gives them shelter and food (there’s a scene showing how hungry the children are by how fast they eat the food), but he also puts them through rigorous and cruel physical training (including making them wear chains) in a remote country area. The movie tries to make it look like Tenghi is building the boys’ characters and physical strength, but it’s really a form of child abuse.

There is no good reason to train children in this age group (7 to 11 years old) to get the types of bloody, bone-breaking injuries that are common in MMA fighting. Tenghui has a reason though: greed. “Never Say Never” constantly tries to make Tenghui look like a “rescuer” for taking these boys off of the streets and giving them a “purpose” in life. But surely, he could have taught them other skills that would be more productive for their lives, not MMA fighting that is appropriate for teenagers and adults.

Another reason why this type of “training” is abusive is that these kids really had no choice. The only person who was giving them shelter and regular meals was the same person forcing them to go through this “training” that is the very definition of child endangerment. Children this young cannot legally consent, which is why Tenghui chose vulnerable orphans.

“Never Say Never” makes all of these orphans fairly generic except for three. Wang Jingfu (played by Xiao Yang as a teenager and adult) is the tallest and is the most problematic, right from the start, because of his bad attitude. It comes as no surprise that he eventually ends up in jail as a teenager.

The other two orphan characters who stand out are brothers Su Mu (played by Shi Peng Yuan as a teenager and young adult) and Ma Hu (played by Chen Yong Sheng as a teenager and young adult), who are stereotypical opposites. Mu is the “obedient” brother. Hu is the “rebellious” brother. They have a sister (played by Zhang Yi Tong) who’s about 10 years than Ma and Hu. She knew about their MMA training when Mu and Hu were children. She approved of it because she was a single mother who couldn’t afford to take care of Mu and Hu at the time.

The movie has back-and-forth repetition in showing the awful training that the boys were forced to endure and showing which ones pursued careers in professional MMA fighting as adults. It’s very off-putting how “Never Say Never” relentlessly pushes an agenda that Tenghui was a “hero” who showed “tough love” to these kids. The child abuse shown in the movie is bad enough, which means in real life, the abuse was probably worse.

“Never Say Never” also tries to gloss over the fact that Tenghui kept the money that he made off of these kids when they were under his guardianship. There is no mention of a trust fund that he set aside for any of them. The acting in “Never Say Never” is very mediocre, while the movie’s direction is horrifically unfocused. There’s a big MMA match that serves as the movie’s dramatic climax, but it all looks like a fake spectacle and a pathetic attempt to get viewers to forget the child abuse that was shown in the movie and can’t be unseen.

China Lion Distribution released “Never Say Never” in select U.S. cinemas on July 28, 2023. The movie was released in China on July 27, 2023, with a wider expansion in China on August 3, 2023.

Review: ‘The Procurator,’ starring Johnny Huang, Bai Baihe, Bao Bei’er, Fengyan Zong, Feng Shaofeng, Wang Qianyuan and Wang Likun

July 22, 2023

by Carla Hay

Bai Baihe, Feng Shaofeng and Johnny Huang in “The Procurator” (Photo courtesy of China Lion Distribution)

“The Procurator”

Directed by Alan Mak

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in China, the dramatic film “The Procurator” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A university professor goes on trial for murdering the wealthy man who was accused of raping one of her students, and an ambitious procurator finds out there’s more to the story.

Culture Audience: “The Procurator” will appeal primarily to people who like legal/crime dramas with plot twists and plenty of action.

Wang Likun and Bao Bei’er in “The Procurator” (Photo courtesy of China Lion Distribution)

“The Procurator” is a very good but not outstanding legal thriller with some intriguing layers to the story. The movie starts off looking like it’s about one particular case, but the investigation reveals a lot more secrets. Solid acting and adrenaline-packed action make “The Procurator” better than the average film of this type, but the somewhat jumbled last 30 minutes of this nearly two-hour movie prevent “The Procurator” from being a classic film.

Directed by Alan Mak and written by Zhao Peng, “The Procurator” (which takes place in an unnamed city in China) begins by showing the opening day of a murder trial. The person on trial is a former university professor named Xia Wei (played by Wang Likun), who is accused of using an elegy stone to murder a wealthy and corrupt businessman named Chen Xin (played by Bao Bei’er), who had his own troubles with the law.

Not long before he was murdered, Xin was accused of raping a young woman named Ye Xiaohuan (played by Liang Song Qing), who owed him money. Xiaohuan was one of Wei’s students, and she committed suicide by slitting one of her wrists during one of Wei’s classes. Is it a coincidence? Wei has refused to talk to anyone during the trial. Is Wei’s silence all an act, or is Wei really going through an emotional trauma that has rendered her mute?

It’s shown fairly early in the movie that Xin did in fact rape Xiaohuan, but he intimidated her into changing her story, so the charges against him were dropped. The movie jumps back and forth in the timeline and has numerous flashbacks. Xin was a “loose cannon” business associate of Wei’s husband Hong Junshan (played by played by Feng Shaofeng, also known as William Feng), who is as smooth and polished as Xin was rough and uncouth. Wei, who has been married to Junshan for 20 years, never thought highly of Xin and called Xin a “beast.”

Junshan has been trying to form an alliance with the city’s mayor, Yan Zhi Tian (played by Wang Jin Song), who wants this very messy case to be resolved as soon as possible. Junshan has a younger brother named Hong Qiming (played by Su Ke), who works with Junshan. The two brothers have a close bond and are very loyal to each other. A flashback shows that one of the things that Junshan and Hong did together when they were younger was go on an archeological dig with a professor named Lu Yongqiang (played by Zong Fengyan), whom Junshan met through Wei.

The lead procurator (a prosecutor who is also an investigator) in Wei’s murder trial is Ou Sheng (played by Johnny Wang), who is smart, resourceful and ambitious. He firmly believes that Wei is guilty of murder, and he’s determined to prove it and win the case. Li You Cheng (played by Wang Qian Yuan) is Sheng’s supervisor, who can be tough and impatient.

It just so happens that Wei’s defense attorney is Sheng’s ex-girlfriend Tong Yu Chen (played by Bai Bai He), whom Sheng dated when they were both university students. Chen is also very intelligent and competitive about winning the case. Fueling this rivalry is the fact that Sheng and Chen both have unresolved issues over their breakup.

“The Procurator” alternates between showing the trial, showing the investigations that uncover more evidence, and showing some of the events that led up to the trial. All of the cast members deliver believable performances, although Bao is a little over-the-top in portraying sleazy villain Xin. “The Procurator” is a slick, sometimes-violent thriller that should please viewers who don’t want the answers to murder mysteries to be too obvious.

China Lion Film Distribution released “The Procurator” in select U.S. cinemas on June 23, 2023. The movie was released in China on April 29, 2023.

Review: ‘Love Never Ends,’ starring Ni Dahong, Kara Wai, Leung Ka Fai Tony and Cecilia Yip Tung

July 14, 2023

by Carla Hay

Cecilia Yip Tung, Leung Ka Fai Tony, Kara Wai and Ni Dahong in “Love Never Ends” (Photo courtesy of Shanghai Film Group)

“Love Never Ends”

Directed by Han Yan

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed part of China, the dramatic film “Love Never Ends” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Four elderly people navigate romantic love as couples while facing challenges over health and grief.

Culture Audience: “Love Never Ends” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching dramas about romance among people in the later stages of their lives.

Ni Dahong and Kara Wai in “Love Never Ends” (Photo courtesy of Shanghai Film Group)

“Love Never Ends” is a sometimes-uneven but ultimately well-acted drama about finding love later in life. The movie is occasionally repetitive, but the story is compelling enough to maintain viewer interest. Although the movie’s tone overall is serious, there are occasional moments of levity that brighten up a story dealing with some depressing subject matter.

Directed by Han Yan, “Love Never Ends” is based on Kang Full’s comic book “I Love You.” Cheng Li wrote the adapted screenplay for “Love Never Ends.” The movie (which takes place in an unnamed city in China) is about four different elderly people, but the person whose perspective is shown the most is an eccentric widower named Chang Weije (played by Ni Dahong), who is a retired zoo maintenance worker. Weije has been a widower for the past 10 years. His wife also used to work at the same zoo.

The movie begins with a scene of Weije being told during a visit with a doctor that Weije has hyperthyroidism, a condition that causes a thyroid to make and release high levels of thyroid hormone. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include weight loss, increased appetite, rapid heart beat, sweating, shaky hands, muscle weakness and anxiety. Weije keeps this diagnosis a secret from most people he knows.

Weije lives in an area that could be considered working-class poor. The apartment buildings are run-down, and there’s a lot of garbage strewn over the area. Weije is familiar to many people in the community because he stands out: He likes to wear a long-sleeved black Nirvana shirt, and he likes to use a whip in public for no other reason than to show he can crack a whip. He doesn’t use a whip to scare or harm people but to show that he’s agile enough to use a whip.

Weije has another health problem besides hyperthyroidism. He also abuses alcohol. Although it’s never really said if he’s a full-blown alcoholic, his alcohol abuse has become detrimental to his health and to many of his relationships with people. Weije has an adult son and an adult daughter who know about Weije’s drinking problem, and they worry about his getting arrested for doing something illegal while he’s drunk. Certain people in the neighborhood want to see Weije arrested because they think he’s a nuisance who can be reckless.

Early on on the story, Weije meets Li Huiru (played by Kara Wei), a feisty widow who’s about the same age as he is. Wei is a caretaker and a tenant of an elderly woman named Qui Huaxing (played by Cecilia Yip Tung, also known as Cecilia Yip), who is living with dementia and sometimes uses a wheelchair. Huaxing’s devoted husband Xi Dingshen (played by Leung Ka Fai Tony) is very attentive to Huaxing, but he is feeling the strain of he health issues.

“Love Never Ends” shows how the relationships between these four people evolve over time. Weije gets to know Huiru better, and a romance gradually develops between them. Huiru confides in Weije that she’s ashamed that she and Dingshen often have to collect gabarge to recycle for small amounts of money.

Eventually, Weije starts to help take care of Huaxing when he sees her. Dingshen starts to rely on Weije to help with the physical aspects of taking care of Huaxing. For example, in a scene where Huaxing accidentally falls down outside, Dingshen yells at Weije (who was nearby during this fall) for not helping Huaxing get up right away.

In their own ways, Weije and Huiru are grieving over their deceased spouses and are reluctant to get involved in a serious romance with anyone else. They also feel that they’re too old to fall in love again. It’s a myth that is often perpetuated by society that often thinks of elderly people as people who are just passing time until they die.

The ups and downs of being in love with someone who has serious health issues are handled in a mostly realistic and often tender way in “Love Never Ends.” There’s a long stretch of this nearly two-hour movie that is a “will they or won’t they get together” storyline for Weije and Huiru. This part of the story should have been shorter, since it’s very obvious (and also shown in the movie’s trailer) that Weije and Huiru will get together.

“Love Never Ends” is mostly worth watching for the admirable performances of the four main cast members. In addition to the romantic love that the couples have for each other, all four of these characters develop a genuine friendship that is depicted in a refreshingly candid way. Too often, elderly people in scripted movies are presented as people who are mocked or pitied. “Love Never Ends” doesn’t fall into that trap. It’s not a perfect movie, but it handles some of its most difficult topics with charm and grace.

Shanghai Film Group released “Love Never Ends” in select U.S. cinemas and in China on July 7, 2023.

Review: ‘Lost in the Stars’ (2023), starring Zhu Yilong, Janice Man, Du Jiang, Ni Ni and Huang Ziqi

July 13, 2023

by Carla Hay

Zhu Yilong and Janice Man in “Lost in the Stars” (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)

“Lost in the Stars” (2023)

Directed by Rui Cui and Xiang Liu

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place on the fictional Asian island country of Balandia, the dramatic film “Lost in the Stars” (based on the play and movie “Trap for a Lonely Man”) features an nearly all-Asian cast of characters (with one white person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: While on an anniversary trip with his wife, a man finds her missing and another woman insisting that she is his wife.

Culture Audience: “Lost in the Stars” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching unpredictable mysteries.

Ni Ni in “Lost in the Stars” (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)

“Lost in the Stars” is a stylish and twist-filled thriller that delivers an appealing combination of suspense and plausible acting. What isn’t so believable is a certain aspect of this conspiracy story, but most of the movie is better than its flaws. It’s the type of movie that will keep viewers guessing until the last 15 minute when secrets are revealed.

Directed by Rui Cui and Xiang Liu, “Lost in the Stars” is based on Robert Thomas’ 1960 play “Trap for a Lonely Man,” which was then made into the director Alexey Korenev’s 1990 movie of the same name. Chen Sicheng, Gu Shuyi and Yin Yixiong wrote the adapted screenplay for “Lost in the Stars,” which takes place mostly on the fictional Asian island of Balandia. There are also several flashbacks that take place in China, the native country of the main characters in the story.

He Fei (played by Zhu Yilong) is a former scuba diving instructor who is on a wedding anniversary vacation with his wife Li Muzi (played by Huang Ziqi, also known as Kay Huang) in Balandia. Things seems to be gong well during this romantic getaway. But then, not long after Fei and Muzi arrive in Balandia, Muzi disappears. A glamorous-looking stranger (played by Ni Ni) then appears in the couple’s hotel room and claims to be Muzi.

Fei calls the local police to report this bizarre situation. Zheng Cheng (played by Du Jiang), the police officer who arrives to investigate, is skeptical, to say the least. The woman whom Fei claims is impersonating his wife has photo IDs and other things that she offers as proof that she is Muzi. Fei’s credibility is further called into question when surveillance video from a local bookstore shows that the woman who says she’s Muzi is shown with Fei on the day before Fei says Muzi disappeared.

The woman who says that she is Fei’s wife tells Officer Zheng that Fei has a tendency to be forgetful. She also says that Fei can be abusive. Fei denies it all and insists that the woman who’s claiming to be his wife is the one who’s lying. However, several hotel employees and other eyewitnesses back up the woman’s claims.

The plot gets a little shaky when Fei calls someone in China to ask that person to email photos of the real Muzi. There’s a rushed explanation that the WiFi service is unreliable on this island, so the email doesn’t arrive. The local police are satisfied with the eyewitness statements that the woman claiming to be Muzi is the same woman they saw with Fei the day before Fei claims that Muzi disappeared.

Fei is very disturbed by the woman claiming to be Muzi. She knows a lot about Muzi and has seemingly taken over her identity. Fei isn’t willing to give up so easily in proving that he’s telling the truth. At a bar, he is told about a “hotshot attorney” who might be able to help him.

The attorney’s name is Chen Mi (played by Janice Man), who is intelligent and has a no-nonsense attitude. Mi agrees to help Fei investigate and find out what happened to Muzi. The rest of the movie is a race against time to solve the mystery before Fei’s visitor visa expires.

As Fei and Mi begin to get to know each other better, Fei opens up to her about how he and Muzi met (she was a student taking scuba diving lessons from him) and their whirlwind courtship. Of course, viewers will keep wondering why this mystery woman is impersonating Muzi, or if it’s all just a delusion from Fei. Zhu and Man give the standout performances in “Lost in the Stars,” as Fei and Mi start off having a prickly relationship that appears to turn into gradual respect.

“Lost in the Stars” has definite influences from Alfred Hitchcock films, in terms of cinematography and pacing. However, parts of the story get too convoluted and hard to believe. The big “reveal” at the end is meant to be shocking, but it just raises more questions that the movie never answers. Even with this shortcoming, there are more than enough entertaining aspects of “Lost in the Stars” that should satisfy people who like watching mysteries that don’t follow the usual formulas.

CMC Pictures released “Lost in the Stars” in select U.S. cinemas on July 7, 2023. The movie was released in China on June 23, 2023.

Review: ‘Yesterday Once More’ (2023), starring Chen Feiyu and Zhou Ye

May 16, 2023

by Carla Hay

Chen Feiyu (also known as Arthur Chen) and Zhou Ye in “Yesterday Once More” (Photo courtesy of Wanda Pictures)

“Yesterday Once More” (2023)

Directed by Lin Hsiao Chien (also known as Gavin Lin)

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in China, the dramatic film “Yesterday Once More” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A toy designer reunites with a female friend from his childhood, and they fall in love, but when she dies in an accident, he has a choice on whether or not to go back in time and prevent her death.

Culture Audience: “Yesterday Once More” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching sentimental but well-acted romantic dramas with a sci-fi twist.

Zhou Ye and Chen Feiyu (also known as Arthur Chen) in “Yesterday Once More” (Photo courtesy of Wanda Pictures)

“Yesterday Once More” is a time-travel love story that gets a little too convoluted in order to cover up some possible plot holes. However, the performances in this drama are engaging. The movie also gives a worthwhile look at fate versus freedom of choice.

Directed by Lin Hsiao Chien (also known as Gavin Lin) and written by Xu Yi, “Yesterday Once More” is the type of earnest romantic drama that will appeal to viewers who believe in soul mates and who believe that love transcends time. It’s the type of movie that has some science-fiction elements. Therefore, suspension of disbelief is required for a great deal of the story.

“Yesterday Once More” (which takes place in unnamed cities in China) begins with the movie’s adult narrator Gu Yuxuan (played by Chen Feiyu, also known as Arthur Chen) saying, “If you had a chance to go back in time, what would you do?” The scene then shows Yuxuan at about 7 or 8 years old (played by Fu Bohan) by himself in a garden. A girl who’s about he same age as Yuxuan approaches him in a friendly manner.

Her name is Han Shuyan (played by Luo Yichun), who will end up changing Yuxuan’s life. Yuxuan tells Shuyan that today is his birthday. Shuyan says, “Let me celebrate with you.” Yuxuan and Shuyan become fast friends that day, as they frolic around the garden. They both find out that they like stuffed animal toys and are fascinated with time travel.

But the developing friendship between these two children is short-lived. After this first meeting, Yuxuan finds out that Shuyan, who lived nearby, suddenly moved away with her family. Yuxuan is emotionally crushed, because he’s a lonely child who lives in fear of his abusive, alcoholic father (played by Yang Zihua), a widower who uses alcohol as a way to cope with his grief. Yuxuan’s mother (played by Sui Jin, shown briefly in a flashback scene) died of an unnamed terminal illness. When Yuxuan was a child, his mother made birthday candles for him.

“Yesterday Once More” then fast-forwards about 15 years later. Now in his early 20s, Yuxuan is a toy designer who is happy in his career, but he has been unlucky in love, since he hasn’t found anyone who has captured his heart in the way that Shuyan did on his birthday all those years ago. As fate would have it, Yuxuan will see Shuyan again.

It happens at the wedding of Yuxuan’s best friend/co-worker Teddy (played by Sun Tianyu), who has asked Yuxuan to be the best man at the wedding. Teddy is getting married to a gorgeous social media influencer named Olivia (played by Zhao Xiaotang), who has 10 million followers on social media. Olivia and Teddy’s relationship is a case of “opposites attract,” since she is very high-maintenance and image-conscious, while Teddy is more laid-back and unpretentious.

Before the wedding ceremony starts at a banquet hall, Olivia is frantic about a problem with the wedding cake, because part of the cake has collapsed. Yuxuan goes back in the kitchen and sees a friend of Olivia’s skillfully working on fixing the cake. He joins in to help too,. And then, it dawns on Yuxuan that the woman he is working with is Shuyan (played by Zhou Ye), the long-lost “instant friend” from his childhood.

However, Shuyan doesn’t recognize Yuxan, and he’s too shy to say anything to her to remind her of their first meeting. The wedding cake get fixed. Olivia and Teddy’s lavish wedding ceremony happens without any further mishaps. At the wedding reception, Yuxan and Shuyan are seated at the same table. Yuxan is still too bashful to say anything to her or to ask for her contact information, but he steals glances at her and finds out that his feelings for Shuyan have not changed.

Yuxuan thinks he will probably never see Shuyan again. But one day, he sees her again on a bus. This time, Yuxuan decides he’s going to remind Shuyan how they met. First, he strikes up a conversation with her, because he knows she will remember him from the wedding. And then, Yuxuan gives a toy to Shuyan that he designed himself: a Time Machine Cat. And that’s how Shuyan remembers that she and Yuxuan met in their childhood on his birthday.

Shuyan and Yuxuan begin dating, fall in love, and move in together. Their relationship is serious enough where Yuxuan wants to propose marriage to Shuyan. The only problems in their relationship are some family-related issues and money troubles. Shuyan’s unnamed mother (played by Juan Zi) doesn’t approve of Shuyan’s goal to open her own bakery because she doesn’t think it’s a stable or well-paying career choice. Shuyan’s father (played by Liu Penggang) is more supportive of his daughter’s bakery dreams.

Yuxuan’s father has died and left behind large debts owed to a local thug, who threatens Yuxuan to pay back the money. Yuxuan doesn’t want to burden Shuyan with this information, so he doesn’t tell her. He also promised to help her open a bakery. As a result, his financial problems become more complicated.

However, the burden of keeping this secret, as well as Yuxuan’s grief over his father’s death, cause a strain on the relationship between Yuxuan and Shuyan. Meanwhile, Teddy and Olivia are having marital problems because she gets jealous of him spending time with another woman, and Olivia is suspicious that Teddy has been cheating on her. Teddy and Olivia separate. It looks like Olivia and Teddy could be headed for a divorce.

Teddy notices that Yuxuan is distressed over personal problems, so he recommends that Yuxuan visit an elderly book author (played by Yue Yueli), who wrote a children’s book called “Yesterday Once More.” Teddy says that this author is known to be very wise and could possibly be a psychic. Yuxuan reads “Yesterday Once More” and notices that the book doesn’t seem to have a definitive ending. The author tells Yuxuan: “Maybe what will happen was destined earlier.”

It’s already revealed in the trailer for “Yesterday Once More” that Shuyan gets killed in an accident. It happens on December 31, 2022. The movie then becomes about Yuxuan trying to prevent this accident with things that involve what the mysterious book author told him and the birthday candles that Yuxuan’s mother gave to him. There’s also a female counterpart (played by Wu Xuxu) to the book author, and she also plays a pivotal role in the story.

“Yesterday Once More” isn’t overly saccharine. It offers bittersweet observations about how childhoods can affect the way that people handle romantic relationships when they’re old enough to have these relationships. Like many children of alcoholics/addicts, Yuxuan has a pattern of keeping shameful secrets at all costs, even if it can possibly destroy the most relationship in his life. Shuyan also has to deal with self-esteem issues because of the turbulent relationship that she has with her domineering mother that goes all the way back to Shuyan’s childhood.

The movie doesn’t portray having a “soul mate” romance as the answer to life’s problems. Instead, “Yesterday Once More” admirably shows that the right relationships are meant to help people better cope with problems rather than magically make those problems disappear. Chen and Zhou are absolutely charming in their portrayals of soul mates Yuxuan and Shuyan. Some viewers might not like some of the twists and turns in the movie, but people who are fans of stories about time travel and romance will find a lot to like about “Yesterday Once More.”

Wanda Pictures released “Yesterday Once More” in select U.S. cinemas on May 5, 2023, The movie was released in Singapore on May 11, 2023.

Review: ‘Hachiko’ (2023), starring Feng Xioagang and Joan Chen

May 3, 2023

by Carla Hay

Feng Xioagang and Joan Chen in “Hachiko” (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)

“Hachiko” (2023)

Directed by Xu Ang

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in China, the dramatic film “Hachiko” (based on a true story) features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A college professor convinces his wife to let their family keep a stray Akita puppy that he found, and the puppy grows up to be a very loyal companion, even after tragedy strikes the family.

Culture Audience: “Hachiko” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching heartwarming stories (with some tearjerking moments) about family pets.

Pictured clockwise, from far left: Yang Bo, Feng Xioagang, Eponine Huang and Joan Chen in “Hachiko” (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)

“Hachiko” is a worthy remake of the original film of the same name. This drama about a loyal family dog has some dull moments, but the movie has good performances. The tone is sentimental without overloading on schmaltz. Because the movie is based on a true story, many people might already know how this story is going to end. That doesn’t make watching the movie any less emotionally poignant.

Directed by Xu Ang, “Hachiko” makes some changes to the real story, as well as to previous movie versions of this true story. Xu co-wrote the “Hachiko” screenplay with Zhang Hansi, Li Liangwen and Li Lin. The movie is based on a true story of a male Akita dog named Hachikō, who lived in Japan, from November 1923 to March 1935. Hachikō showed unusual loyalty to his closest companion: a Tokyo-based college professor named Hidesaburō Ueno, who adopted Hachikō from a farm when Hachikō was a puppy.

This story has been made into several movies, beginning with the 1925 Japanese film “Hachikō.” The most famous and most commercially successful movie about this story is the 1987 drama “Hachikō Monogatari,” which was Japan’s biggest hit film of the year. An American movie version of the story, titled “Hachi: A Dog’s Story,” starring Richard Gere, was released in 2009.

The 2023 “Hachiko” movie is the Chinese version of the story. The movie takes place over a 15-year period. The dog is still an Akita, but the entire movie takes place in early 21st century China, not in the 1920s or 1930s.

The name of the dog in “Hachiko” is actually not Hachiko but is BaTong. That’s because in real life, Hachiko (which means “eighth prince” in Japanese) was the eighth puppy born in his litter. In the Chinese “Hachiko” movie, the dog is not adopted from a farm but is found as a stray puppy in a rural area. The professor who finds the dog and keeps him has no idea what the background information is for this puppy.

In the beginning of “Hachiko,” Chen Jingxiu (played by Feng Xioagang) is a mild-mannered professor who is living a comfortable but dull and stagnant life. The main disruption to his peace is when his cranky homemaker wife Li Jiazhen (played by Joan Chen) nags Jingxiu about the fact that he could be making more money if he had the talent and ambition to become a tenured professor. Jingxiu has been an associate professor for years without getting a job promotion.

Jingxiu and Jiazhen have two children—a son (played by Yang Bo) and a daughter (played by Eponine Huang)—who are teenagers at the beginning of the story and are in their 30s by the end of the story. Jiazhen spends a lot of time play mah jong with her female friends. And because Jiazhen gets irritated easily, she often says, “So annoying,” when she doesn’t like something.

The movie’s opening scene shows Jiazhen and her two children going back to visit the house that they lived in for years before moving away, for a reason explained later in the movie. The house is now abandoned and in a state of disrepair. This visit leads to Jiazhen to reminice about the years that she and her family lived there, beginning 15 years earlier. Most of the “Hachiko” is a flashback to those years.

During this flashback part of the movie, it shows early on how BaTong came into Jingxiu’s life. He and six or seven colleagues are riding on a private bus together, because they’re attending an event. The bus is going though a rural area in Yunyang County, China, when it gets stuck in the mud.

The passengers disembark from the bus to help the driver get the bus un-stuck. When all of a sudden, they see a 3-month-old Akita puppy underneath the bus. Jingxiu is immediately charmed by this frightened puppy. He picks up the dog and comforts the dog.

While the others are tending to the bus, Jingxiu walks around in the area to ask people in nearby houses if they know anything who might own this puppy. No one he asks knows anything about the dog, so Jingxiu decides to keep the dog, even though he knows that his wife Jiazhen doesn’t like dogs. He decides to name the puppy BaTong.

Jiazhen is predictably upset at the sight of the dog. She has a fear of dogs, ever since she was bitten by a dog when she was a child. Before she and Jingxiu got married, she made him promise that they would never have a dog in their household. Jingxiu tells her that he’s only going to keep this stray dog temporarily until he can find a permanent home for this adorable pup.

Jingxiu goes through the motions of putting up flyers around town to solicit adoption of the puppy. But he rejects people who answer the ads, for various reasons. Of course, we all know that Jingxiu doesn’t really want to give away this dog, and he ends up keeping it. Jingxiu becomes very attached to BaTong, by treating the dog as his best friend. Eventually, Jiazhen warms up to the dog and considers BaTong to be a member of the family too.

“Hachiko” shows that it isn’t all smooth sailing for Jingxiu and BaTong. When BaTong is a puppy and small enough to hide in a backpack, Jingxiu secretly brings the dog to work (he keeps the dog in his office), even though it’s against the campus policy for pet dogs to be the work offices.

BaTong’s presence on the campus isn’t a secret for long: One day, the escapes through an open office door while Jingxiu is teaching in a classroom. And you can easily predict the rest. Jingxiu doesn’t get in a lot of trouble for it, but BaTong is now officially banned from being in any building on the campus.

As BaTong grows up, he has a routine of accompanying Jingxiu to and from work, with BaTong patiently waiting outside in a campus area for his Jingxiu at the end of each day. BaTong has a routine of sitting on the same seat. A newsstand operator (played by Qian Bo) nearby gets to know BaTong and is friendly with the dog. The newsstand operator sometimes feeds treats to BaTong.

Jingxiu’s close bond with Batong comes at a price. It’s later revealed that Jingxiu’s son feels that Jingxiu treats the dog better than Jingxiu treats his own son. After the on graduates from college, there’s a subplot about the son contemplating taking a job as a web designed in Beijing. Jingxiu doesn’t seem very concerned about the son’s decision will be and tells him that the son can make his own decisions.

The son interprets it as Jingxiu not really caring at all, because what the son really wants are for Jingxiu to give him some advice or some indication that the son will be missed if he moves away from home. Surprisingly, the usually prickly Jiazhen is the more nurturing parent in this situation.

“Hachiko” then takes a tragic turn, which won’t be revealed in this review, because some people watching this movie won’t know what happened in real life. It’s enough to say that it’s a bittersweet part of this story about family love and loyalty. The cast members’ performances, as well as directing and screenplay, are perfectly competent but not outstanding. Overall, “Hachiko” is exactly what you might expect from a movie about a beloved family pet and how that family copes with loss and grief.

CMC Pictures released “Hachiko” in select U.S. cinemas on April 14, 2023. The movie was released in China on March 31, 2023.

Review: ‘Full River Red,’ starring Shen Teng and Jackson Yee

April 10, 2023

by Carla Hay

Shen Teng, Yue Yunpeng and Jackson Yee in “Full River Red” (Photo courtesy of Edko Films Ltd.)

“Full River Red”

Directed by Zhang Yimou

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Tianjin, China, in the year 1146, the comedy/action film “Full River Red” (loosely based on some real-life historical figures) features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: A deputy commander and a soldier get involved in a political conspiracy that includes spying, murder and a rivalry between the Song dynasty and the Jin dynasty.

Culture Audience: “Full River Red” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching convoluted but comedic spy thrillers based on ancient history.

Wang Jiayi and Zhang Yi in “Full River Red” (Photo courtesy of Edko Films Ltd.)

“Full River Red” is a fictional action political thriller with inspiration from China’s ancient history. The comedy is cheeky and sometimes silly, but it works because of the right tone set by the energetic direction and the cast members’ performances. It’s not always easy to have jokes in a violent spy movie, but “Full River Red” accomplishes that intention.

Directed by Zhang Yimou (who co-wrote “Full River Red” with Chen Yu), “Full River Red” is a little too long (159 minutes) and could have had a better and tighter narrative if it didn’t go off on a few unnecessary tangents. Despite these flaws, viewers who like twist-filled mysteries with plenty of action should remain interested. However, this movie is not for people who don’t like plots that have the potential to be confusing.

The two central characters in “Full River Red” (which takes place in China in the year 1146) are Sun Jun (played by Jackson Yee) and Zhang Da (played by Shen Teng), who are part of a tried-and-true action movie formula of a older man paired with a younger man, and they often clash with each other as they learn to work together. Jun is a recently promoted deputy commander of a guard battalion, while Da is a new soldier for the Chinese army, and he doesn’t have any ranking yet. “Full River Red” goes against stereotypes by having the younger man (Jun) with the higher ranking in this seemingly mismatched duo.

At this point in time, there is a fierce rivalry between the Song dynasty and the Jin dynasty. A murder has recently occurred in the home of Song dynasty grand chancellor/prime minsiter Qin Hui (played by Lei Jiayin), and there is a conspiracy to cover up who committed murder. Meanwhile, Da gets captured by Wang Biao (played by Guo Jingfei), commander of the house battalion, who forces Da to become a spy for the Song dynasty. Da is placed under the command of Jun, as they work to find an informant who has an important letter.

The rest of the movie shows various encounters in this caper, with a lot of the comedy coming from Jun and Da having contrasting personalities. Jun is impulsive and more likely to start a fight, while Da is more level-headed and more likely to want to outwit someone with negotiating and a clever plan. Other characters in the movie include the villainous He Li (played by Zhang Yi), who is a lord and a general manager of the grand chancellor bureau; a dancer named Zither (played by Wang Jiayi), who becomes Da’s love interest; Wu Yichun (played by Yue Yunpeng), the vice general manager of the grand chancellor bureau; and Liu Xi (played by Yu Ailei) a peasant horseman, who has a pivotal role in the story.

Describing more of the movie would be giving away too many spoiler details. But it’s enough to say that people who like “unlikely partner” movies will find a lot to like about “Full River Red,” since the performances of Yee and Teng as Jun and Da are charismatic anchors of this occasionally repetitive movie that has above-average cinemataography. Some of the violence in “Full River Red” will be too intense for some viewers. “Full River Red” is not a groundbreaking film by any means, but it’s an entertaining portrayal of spies and political intrigue in ancient China.

Edko Films Ltd. released “Full River Red” in select U.S. cinemas on March 17, 2023.

Review: ‘The Grandmaster of Kung Fu,’ starring Dennis To

March 11, 2023

by Carla Hay

Dennis To in “The Grandmaster of Kung Fu” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“The Grandmaster of Kung Fu”

Directed by Cheng Si-Yu

Mandarin and Japanese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Tianjin, China, in 1894 or 1895, the action film “The Grandmaster of Kung Fu” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: As Japan begins to take over parts of China, the martial arts city of Tianjin resists this invasion, and a Chinese porter becomes an unlikely kung fu hero against the Japanese invaders. 

Culture Audience: “The Grandmaster of Kung Fu” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Dennis To and no-frills kung-fu movies.

A scene from “The Grandmaster of Kung Fu” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“The Grandmaster of Kung Fu” does nothing groundbreaking, but it delivers what it’s supposed to deliver: an action-filled, uncomplicated story with interesting characters. Kung fu fans should at least be moderately entertained by this briskly paced movie. “The Grandmaster of Kung Fu” has a total running time of 74minutes, which is just the right amount of time, because the plot didn’t need to be stretched out to an overly long run time.

Directed by Cheng Si-Yu, “The Grandmaster of Kung Fu” takes place in Tianjin, China, in 1894 or 1895, when Japan invaded China. Tianjin is considered one of the top martial-arts cities in China. The movie begins by showing a martial-arts contest where the winner will be named the leader of the Wushu Association, which oversees the martial-arts activities in Tianjin.

The elderly Master Yu (played by Zhou Pengcheng) is retiring as the leader of the Wushu Association. The arrogant Master Zhao (played by Yin Jian) is expected to be easily named as Master Yu’s successor. But an unlikely contender steps forward to enter this contest: a humble porter named Huo Yuanjian (played by Dennis To, also known as Dennis To Yu-hang), who is laughed at by many people in the crowd, because Yuanjian is much smaller than Master Zhao.

Master Zhao doesn’t take Yuanjian seriously as an opponent. However, a colleague named Master Feng (played by Yin Zhiwei) taunts Master Zhao, by saying: “Are you afraid to fight a porter? He’s challenging you right now. Don’t be a coward!”

Yuanjian says he is from Mi Zong Chinese boxing, but this experience doesn’t help him in his fight against Master Zhao, who quickly defeats him. Yuanjian is embarrassed, but he graciously accepts the defeat. Yuanjian doesn’t know it yet, but he and Master Zhao will cross paths again

The Japanese want to open their own martial-arts school called Hong Hua in Tianjin, but the residents of Tianjin are suspicious of this idea. The Japanese officials who have arrived in Tianjin—including an imperious military leader named Yoshida Masaichi and the would-be Hong Hua school leader Mr. Takeda—try to make the school sound like a friendly cultural exchange of Japanese and Chinese cultures. However, the presence of Japanese in this area represents acceptance of Western culture that the Chinese think will denigrate Chinese culture.

The Japanese have a champion martial artist named Anbei, who wants to do things the Japanese way. Anbei is very prejudiced against the Chinese way of martial arts, because he thinks it’s inferior to the Japanese way. (Curiously, the actors who portray the Japanese actors are not listed in the movie’s end credits.) Anbei is obviously presented as the villain of the story, especially since he has a bullying personality. It’s already revealed in the trailer for “The Grandmaster of Kung Fu” that Yuanjian will get involved in some kind of showdown with Anbei to defend the honor of the Chinese people.

“The Grandmaster of Kung Fu” has some supporting characters who don’t add much depth to the story, but are worth mentioning. Chen Zhen (played by Deng Wei), a handyman for the Wushu Association, asks Yuanjian to mentor him. Yuanjian has a wife (played by Gao Xuemei) and and son named Dongge, who’s about 6 or 7 years. Yuanjian’s wife doesn’t have much to do in the movie, except to play a stereotypical “worried wife at home” role.

Of course, part of the story is about Yuanjian overcoming his self-doubt and people’s perceptions of him, in order to become a hero on his own terms. Alliances shift, as national pride take precedence over individual grudges. You know how this movie is going to end. Lo (who is best known for the “Ip Man” movie series) lives up to his reputation for doing some memorable fight scenes. Ultimately, “The Grandmaster of Kung Fu” is like a quicky and tasty snack for people who have an appetite for kung fu movies.

Hi-YAH! premiered “The Grandmaster of Kung Fu” on November 4, 2022. Well Go USA released the movie on digital, VOD, Blu-ray and DVD on January 31, 2023.

Review: ‘The Wandering Earth II,’ starring Andy Lau, Wu Jing, Li Xuejian, Sha Yi, Ning Li, Wang Zhi and Zhu Yanmanzi

March 3, 2023

by Carla Hay

Wu Jing and Wang Zhi in “The Wandering Earth II” (Photo courtesy of China Film Group Corporation and Well Go USA)

“The Wandering Earth II”

Directed by Frant Gwo

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place on Earth and in outer space, from 2044 to 2058, the sci-fi action film “The Wandering Earth II” (a prequel to 2019’s “The Wandering Earth,” features a cast of predominantly Asian characters (with some white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Scientists, engineers and other people frantically try to prevent the moon from crashing into Earth, and there are disagreements on the best way to do it. 

Culture Audience: “The Wandering Earth II” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners, “The Wandering Earth,” and epic sci-fi disaster movies.

Andy Lau in “The Wandering Earth II” (Photo courtesy of China Film Group Corporation and Well Go USA)

In the sci-fi action movie “The Wandering Earth II,” the novelty has worn off a little bit from the movie’s predecessor, 2019’s “The Wandering Earth.” After all, how many times can there be a “Wandering Earth” movie about another planet being on a collision course toward Earth? “The Wandering Earth II,” which is a prequel to “The Wandering Earth,” repeats this concept with generally entertaining but long-winded results: “The Wandering Earth II” is nearly three hours long.

Frant Gwo, who directed “The Wandering Earth,” returns to helm “The Wandering Earth II,” which he co-wrote with Gong Ge’er. “The Wandering Earth II” is an over-the-top sci-fi spectacle that doesn’t lose sight of the human stories in this saga about trying to avert an outer-space disaster. In other words, the movie delivers exactly what viewers can expect from “The Wandering Earth” franchise.

“The Wandering Earth II,” which takes place from 2044 to 2058, is about scientists, engineers and other people trying to prevent the moon from crashing into Earth. In “The Wandering Earth,” which takes place from 2058 to 2078, is about scientists, engineers and other people trying to prevent Jupiter from crashing into Earth.

All of this is happening because the sun is expanding and could destroy Earth in the 22nd century if Earth doesn’t get out of the way and move to a safer part of the universe. However, changing Earth’s location can cause problems if could cause other planets to crash into Earth. These problems are at the crux of “The Wandering Earth” movies, which are based on Liu Cixin’s 2000 short story of the same name.

It’s not necessary to see “The Wandering Earth” before seeing “The Wandering Earth II,” since “The Wandering Earth II” is a prequel. However, since “The Wandering Earth” before seeing “The Wandering Earth II” gives better context to some of the motivations of the characters.

In “The Wandering Earth II,” the United Nations has been renamed the United Earth Government (UEG) and is backing the Moving Mountain Project, which will use gigantic ion engines to move Earth out of the current solar system into a safer part of the universe. UEG has shut down a radical opposition group called Digital Life Project (DLP), which believes that the future of human survival is by making humans into digital form and uploading everything using the advance mind technology.

In China, a former DLP computer scientist named Tu Hengyu (played by Andy Lau) agrees to work on the Moving Mountain Project, but he secretly continues his research into the digital mind upload technology that he thinks is still the better way for humans to survive any interplanetary disaster. Hengyu has a personal reason for wanting to make humans immortal in digital form: His wife and daughter died in a car crash, when his daughter Yaya was about 4 or 5 years old. Hengyu keeps looking at a digital simulation of Yaya that can only lasts two minutes at a time. Hengyu wants the technology to be developed so that people can bring back and preserved their deceased loved ones in digital form.

Meanwhile, from 2044 to 2058, UEG has developed enough ion engines to stop Earth’s rotation, a necessary first step in getting it out of the current solar system. The Moving Mountain Project has now been renamed the Wandering Earth Project. But something goes terribly wrong when Hengyu uploads the digital memories of Yaya into the 550W supercomputer that Hengyu helped invent. It leads to the moon going on a collision course toward Earth.

Several people who work for UEG are involved in this disaster prevention mission. Liu Peiqiang (played by Wu Jing) is a UEG astronaut who represents the “everyday” man in the story who finds his inner hero when he is called on to save lives. Someone who was a trainee in the astronaut program is Han Duoduo (played by Wang Zhi), who has confidence and intelligence that Peiqiang immediately finds attractive.

Much of the earlier part of “The Wandering Earth II” chronicles a shy and awkward Peiqiang trying to court Duoduo, who rebuffs his advances but the warms up to him. It’s not spoiler information (since it’s already in “The Wandering Earth”) that Peiqiang and Duoduo eventually fall in love with each other, get married, and start a family together.

Another important person in Peiqiang’s life is Zhang Peng (played by Sha Yi), a senior-level UEG fighter pilot who becomes Peiqiang’s mentor. Other supporting characters in the story are Zhou Zhezhi (played by Li Xuejian), who is China’s ambassador to UEG; Hao Xiaoxi (played by Zhu Yanmanzi), who is Zhezhi’s personal assistant; Ma Zhao (played by Ning Li), who works with Hengyu as a quantum computing researcher; and Mike (played by Andy Friend), the U.S. ambassdor to UEG; and Andre Graschnov (played by Vitalli Makarychev), a Russian senior-level UEG fighter pilot. There’s also a cute computer robot named Benben.

“The Wandering Earth” packs in a lot of action and suspense, which are expected. However, the movie also skillfully weaves together the parallel stories of Hengyu and Peiqiang. Hengyu is working outside the UEG system with his secretive, behind-the-scenes computer research. Peiqiang is working inside the UEG system and is on the front lines of the battles to save lives. Peiqiang has a mentor. Hengyu does not. Both men experience grief related to a death in the family.

Beyond the explosions and races against time, “The Wandering Earth” explores issues related to hope and faith in humanity. It’s also an emotionally moving story about what personal sacrifices can mean if they are for a cause that’s bigger than one person’s needs. No one is going to win any major acting awards for “The Wandering Earth II,” but the cast members are believable in their roles. It doesn’t matter if viewers understand all the sci-fi jargon in the movie, because the greater message of “The Wandering Earth” is about the lengths that people will go to for their survival and the survival of future generations.

China Film Group Corporation and Well Go USA released “The Wandering Earth II” in U.S. cinemas on January 22, 2023, the same date the the movie was released in China and several other countries. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on May 9, 2023.

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