Review: ‘Raging Fire,’ starring Donnie Yen and Nicholas Tse

September 1, 2021

by Carla Hay

Donnie Yen in “Raging Fire” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Raging Fire”

Directed by Benny Chan

Cantonese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Hong Kong, the action flick “Raging Fire” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the middle-class, wealthy and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: An upstanding cop battles against a former protégé, who leads a gang that works for a corrupt and wealthy businessman. 

Culture Audience: “Raging Fire” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Donnie Yen, the late filmmaker Benny Chan and Chinese action flicks that have predictable plots.

Nicholas Tse in “Raging Fire” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Raging Fire” delivers everything you might expect of a formulaic action flick, which means that it delivers nothing surprising or innovative at all. This is strictly a movie for people who just want to see a lot of choreographed violence and don’t care much about having an intriguing story where viewers are challenged to solve mysteries along with the main characters. And that’s a disappointment, considering the protagonist is a police officer who’s been given the task of finding and capturing an elusive, murderous gang and the corrupt businessman who’s hired these thugs.

“Raging Fire” is the last movie directed by Benny Chan, who died of nasopharyngeal cancer in 2020, at the age of 58. It’s not a terrible movie, but it’s certainly not his best. And at 126 minutes, “Raging Fire” is a little too long, considering there’s not much of a plot and the movie has a little too much repetition of similar scenarios. It’s the same old story that dozens of other movies have already had: an ethical cop leader leads a team to take down a group of criminals. And there’s a wealthy person who wants to take over the world—or at least dominate a certain part of the world and get richer by having other people do the dirty work. Yawn.

In “Raging Fire,” which takes place in Hong Kong, the cop in charge is Cheung Sung-bong (played by Donnie Yen), also known as Bong, who works for Hong Kong’s Regional Crime Unit. Bong has a reputation as a fearless leader who can get the job done well. He has an excellent track record of catching major criminals. And therefore, you know exactly how this movie is going to end before it even starts.

Yau Kong-ngo (played by Nicholas Tse), also known as Ngo, is Bong’s former protégé who has gone rogue and formed a gang of criminals. In the beginning of the “Raging Fire,” Bong and his team have raided a warehouse lair of drug dealers. However, Ngo becomes a masked interloper who creates chaos in this raid when he becomes a sniper who kills off some of the people in the building.

Ngo is ruthless and insists on unwavering loyalty from everyone in his gang, which consists primarily of other former cops. Coke Ho (played by Ken Law) and Wong (played by Brian Siswojo) are like the Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum of Ngo’s gang because these two are very close to each other and practically inseparable. There’s also Chiu (played by Henry Mak), who is self-conscious about the burn scar on the right side of his face and is often teased about his scar by other people. Other members of the gang are Mok Yik-chuen (played by Yu Kang) and Chu Yuk-ming (played by German Cheung).

People on Bong’s team include Yuen Ka-po, also known as Beau (played by Patrick Tam), who is Bong’s superior officer. Bong’s Regional Crime Unit subordinates are Chow Chi-chun (played by Deep Ng), token female Turbo Lui (played by Jeana Ho), Kwan Chung-him (played by Bruce Tong) and Cho Ning (played by Angus Yeung). These cops do not have distinct personalities and are just there to literally be backup characters in fight scenes.

A rich bank mogul named Fok Siu-tong (played by Kwok Fung), who owns HK Fortune Banking, is financing Ngo’s gang and is calling the shots in whatever crimes they commit. “Raging Fire” has double crosses, a crystal meth drug bust worth about $48 million, a past kidnapping, a criminal trial and a hostage situation crammed in between the expected fights with fists, guns, knives and bombs.

As is usually the case in action flicks like “Raging Fire,” it’s all about the men, since women are usually reduced to subservient roles. Bong has a pregnant wife named Anna Lam (played by Qin Lan), who’s not much more than the stereotypical “worried wife at home” of the movie’s action hero. Chiu has a mean-spirited girlfriend named Bonnie (played by Leung Ying Ting Rachel), who isn’t in the movie long for the most predictable reason in a movie that doesn’t value women very much.

The fight scenes in “Raging Fire” certainly have a lot of energy but not much imagination. The hostage scene is beyond ridiculous. And as for the movie’s dialogue and acting, let’s just say that this movie is far from award-worthy. “Raging Fire” could be just silly fun for viewers. But considering that these action stars and filmmakers have done much better movies, “Raging Fire” is unfortunately a misfire that will be most-remembered as director Chan’s last film.

Well Go USA released “Raging Fire” in select U.S. cinemas on August 13, 2021. The streaming service Hi-YAH! will premiere the movie on October 22, 2021. The movie’s release date on digital and Blu-ray is on November 23, 2021.

Review: ‘The Rookies’ (2019), starring Talu Wang, Sandrine Pinna, Timmy Xu, Meitong Liu, David Lee McInnis and Milla Jovovich

June 8, 2021

by Carla Hay

Talu Wang in “The Rookies” (Photo courtesy of Shout! Studios)

“The Rookies” (2019)

Directed by Alan Yuen

Mandarin, Hungarian and English with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Hong Kong and in Hungary, the action flick “The Rookies” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some white people) representing law enforcement and criminals.

Culture Clash: Four agents in law enforcement battle a villain who wants to take over the world.

Culture Audience: “The Rookies” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching incoherent and poorly acted action movies.

Milla Jovovich in “The Rookies” (Photo courtesy of Shout! Studios)

Utterly forgettable and messy on every level, “The Rookies” is one of those movies that makes viewers wonder why the filmmakers thought it would be a good idea to get this embarrassing dud made. The acting is cringeworthy, the visual effects are cheap and tacky-looking, and the story is just simplistic garbage made even worse with jumbled and nonsensical action scenes.

“The Rookies” director Alan Yuen seems to have been going for a video-game-inspired tone for the movie. But almost all video games are far superior to this clumsily made film, which was written by Yuen, Yun Cheung and Kong Xu Lei. It has the most boring and over-used concept imaginable for an action flick: heroes chase after a villain who wants to rule the world. Watching this movie is like watching someone saying a bunch of gibberish to answer a simple question.

In “The Rookies,” four special agents in law enforcement team up to stop the bad guy, who happens to be a billionaire. The villain’s name is Iron Fist (played by David Lee McInnis), but his real name is Liam Wonder. At the beginning of the movie, it’s mentioned that he went into hiding after the death of the love of his life named Angelina Kim.

This tidbit of information is the movie’s weak attempt at having a backstory for the villain. The information ends up being irrelevant because “The Rookies” is a movie that consists primarily of badly filmed chase scenes and stupid dialogue. Iron Fist’s master plan to take over the world is to have bombs go off in Budapest and Hong Kong. It’s just a very unimaginative story idea that’s mishandled in the filmmaking.

The four agent pals, who are all in their 20s, waste considerable time bickering with each other, just so the story drags out even more. These four agents are:

  • Zhao Feng (played by Talu Wang), the alpha male of the group who sometimes bungles his way through the job.
  • Miao Yan (played by Sandrine Pinna), an Interpol office who’s a master of disguises and who is struggling with bipolar disorder and depression.
  • Ding Shan (played by Timmy Xu), the group’s nerdy “beta male” who’s the computer/tech expert.
  • L.V. (played by Meitong Liu), who’s got combat skills that catch opponents off-guard because they underestimate her.

Iron Fist has an androgynous accomplice named Bruce (played by Milla Jovovich), an assassin who has a thing for wearing black ties with a black leather jacket and slicked-back hair. As an example of how bad the dialogue is in the movie, in one scene, Bruce faces a group of several men as opponents. Bruce says to them, “Hey boys? Do you like music? How about a fast track?” And then, Bruce fights all of the men by as some fast dance music plays. In another scene, Bruce comments, “Every battle needs a theme song.”

The movie has some filler nonsense where someone has to go to Budapest to hand-deliver a bag that contains something that’s so secret, the person making the delivery can’t even know what’s in the bag. Zhao Feng and Miao Yan have arguments, but it’s really for the most cliché movie reason possible: Deep down, they’re attracted to each other. And throughout the movie, there are cartoonish, animated graphics that just serve as annoying distractions.

“The Rookies” is one of those movies that tries to do too much with some of the action scenes by making them colorful and busy-looking. But it’s all very superficial, because the plot is so jumbled and there’s absolutely nothing memorable about the personalities of the heroes. Jovovich looks like she’s having some fun as she smirks away in her villain role, but clearly this was “just a paycheck” movie for her. She’s been in a lot of terrible movies, but “The Rookies” is easily one of her worst.

The other stars of “The Rookies” have acting talent that ranges from average to almost unwatchable. “The Rookies isn’t the type of horrible movie that’s aggressively offensive. It’s just a complete waste of time for anyone who wants to see an entertaining action flick with a story that doesn’t insult viewers’ intelligence.

Shout! Studios released “The Rookies” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on April 16, 2021. The movie was released in China and other countries in 2019.

Review: ‘Denise Ho — Becoming the Song,’ starring Denise Ho

July 26, 2020

by Carla Hay

Denise Ho in “Denise Ho — Becoming the Song” (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

“Denise Ho — Becoming the Song”

Directed by Sue Williams

Some language in Cantonese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in China (and partially in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom), the documentary “Denise Ho: Becoming the Song” has mostly Asians (and a few white people) discussing the life of pop singer/activist Denise Ho.

Culture Clash: Because she is an outspoken activist against China’s Communist control of Hong Kong, Ho has been banned from China and has lost the majority of her star income due to this ban and because sponsors have dropped her.

Culture Audience: “Denise Ho: Becoming the Song” will appeal primarily to Cantopop fans and people who like documentaries about social activists.

Denise Ho in “Denise Ho — Becoming the Song” (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

How many politically outspoken celebrity entertainers would continue to be as outspoken if it meant that they would lose the vast majority of the income that they’ve been used to getting? This hypothetical question is the reality that singer Denise Ho has been living since 2014, when Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement protests against China’s Communist control ignited a political awakening in her that resulted in her being banned from China, the main source of her income. The compelling documentary “Denise Ho — Becoming the Song” takes an up-close look at Denise Ho’s journey of stepping out from behind a manufactured pop-star image and showing the world her true self, even if it means she has to sacrifice a lot of money and personal safety.

Skillfully directed by Sue Williams, “Denise Ho — Becoming the Song” has the expected biographical details of Ho’s rise to stardom, but the movie gets a lot more interesting when it covers Ho’s social and political activism. Several people are interviewed for the film, including Ho; her mother Janny Ho; her father Henry Ho; and her brother Harris Ho, who is a keyboardist in Denise’s band.

Also interviewed are Asian history specialist Geoffrey Ngo of Georgetown University; John Tsang, former private secretary to Chris Patten, former British governor of Hong Kong; Victoria Hui, associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame; Margaret Ng, a member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council from 1995 to 2012; Jelly Cheng, Denise’s production coordinator; singer Kiri T; and John Tsang, who was Hong Kong’s financial secretary from 2007 to 2017.

Born in 1997 in Hong Kong, Denise spent her formative teenage years in Montreal. Coming of age in Canada had a major influence on her, she says in the documentary, because being in a democratic country that is socially liberal, compared to many other countries, made her realize how precious and crucial the freedoms of a democracy are.

“Canada changed me completely,” Denise says in the film. The emotional impact of her time in Montreal can be seen in a scene in the documentary where she is performing her song “Montreal” in front of a theater-sized crowd, and she breaks down in tears several times before she can begin the song.

Denise’s biggest celebrity idol was Cantopop singer Anita Mui, an entertainer known for her elaborate costumes and unapologetic feminist sex appeal. Denise said that she was so obsessed with Mui that she would even do things such as cut out Mui’s name from newspapers and magazines, just so she could add it to her collection of Anita Mui memorabilia. Denise says that in the 1980s, Mui was bigger in Hong Kong and China than Madonna was.

Denise and her parents say that Denise was fairly shy when she was growing up  and didn’t really show an interest in being a professional entertainer. That changed when Denise was about 15 years old, and she got chance to be a singer in a group of young people doing a charity performance on TV. Denise says that having a solo in the performance boosted her confidence and that’s when she knew that she liked being in the spotlight.

Despite winning a nationally televised talent contest in 1996, Denise’s career stalled because she didn’t get a record deal right away. She eventually signed to Capital Artists, a record company that she says didn’t really know what to do with her. The contest gave Denise a chance to meet her idol Mui, and Denise (though a lot of persistence) eventually became one of Mui’s backup singers.

Mui became an important mentor to Denise, who released her first EP (aptly titled “First”) in 2001. It became an instant hit, with confident anthems, such as “Thousands More of Me” and “Home of Glory.” After Capital Artists shuttered, Denise signed to EMI, where her career continued to flourish, with hit songs such as  “Angel Blues” and “Goodbye … Rosemary.”

But tragedy struck, when Mui died in 2003 of cervical cancer, at the age of 40. Denise said she felt “lost” without her mentor. She adds, “After Anita died, I felt the burden of picking up what she left behind.” Denise continued to have hits, but her on-stage persona was very much in the same mold as Mui.

Denise says of living in the shadow of Mui: “For 10 years, I tried to live on her legacy in the very wrong way, I guess. It was very mixed feelings. I am still very honored to be her disciple, but I really wanted to build my own uniqueness.”

Production coordinator Cheng remembers a performance in 2013, when Denise sang Queen’s “Somebody to Love” and literally shed her costume and sang the song as herself, not as an Anita Mui tribute act. It was a turning point in Denise’s career.

At this point, Denise’s metamorphosis included being more publicly vocal about social issues. In 2008, she did an album called “Ten Days in the Madhouse” and the independent documentary titled “The Decameron,” which focused on mental-health patients struggling to survive in Hong Kong society. Although the movie flopped, she says that it was an important learning experience for her.

Then, in 2012, Denise came out as a lesbian during the annual Hong Kong Pride Parade. She never tried to hide or deny her sexuality when she was famous (some of her song lyrics were love songs to women, and one of her biggest hits was the gay-themed “Lawrence and Lewis”), but she never publicly declared her sexuality until she officially came out of the closet during this Pride event. In doing so, she became the first openly gay female pop star from Hong Kong. In the documentary, neither Denise nor anyone else talks about any of her past or present love interests.

In 2014, she joined in the Umbrella Movement’s pro-democracy protests (mostly involving students and other young people) against the Communist government of China, which gained control of Hong Kong after the territory was under British rule from 1841 to 1997. The Umbrella Movement gets its name because protestors use umbrellas to fight off violence and water-hose deterrents from police officers. The key issues of the movement’s protests are the Chinese government’s changes to any democratic laws, civil rights, and political processes that the people of Hong Kong had previously had for centuries.

Denise became a public figure speaking out against Communist China and participated in the protests in 2014. She was arrested and eventually banned from China, where she says she made about 80-90% of her income, through live performances and sponsorship deals. Over the next two years, major corporate sponsors, including Pepsi and Lancôme, cut ties with her. Her record-company contract was not renewed. She says that she also received several direct and indirect threats to stop speaking out about her political beliefs.

According to Denise, several businesses (including former sponsors  based in Western countries) that will no longer work with her have blacklisted her not necessarily because he Chinese government told them to but because these companies have decided to “self-censor” by distancing themselves from her because she’s been labeled as too controversial.

“Denise Ho — Becoming the Song” includes footage of Denise, who is now an independent artist self-financing her own tours, doing performances in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. At the height of her music career, she was headlining stadiums in Asia. As an independent artist, she now headlines theater-sized venues.

The movie includes Ho’s first-ever performance in New York City, where she did a show at Town Hall in October 2019. By contrast, the documentary shows the last time that Ho headlined a stadium was in 2016 at Hong Kong Coliseum, for her series of Dear Friend concerts, which was financed mainly through crowdfunding.

Also included is footage of Denise on the streets of Hong Kong with protestors when the Umbrella Movement street protests surged again in 2019. Even if her social activism has come at a high financial cost to her, it’s clear that she at least now feels free to be completely herself and commit herself to a higher purpose than just money and fame.

Under the matter-of-fact direction of Williams, the documentary isn’t overstuffed with too many political talking heads, but keeps the focus where it should be: on Denise Ho and how she is living her life. The movie doesn’t portray her as a martyr but as someone who understands that her political activism has come with a cost to a lot of comforts that she previously had. And it’s clear that Denise thinks the sacrifice, although sometimes difficult, has been worth it.

In the documentary, Denise doesn’t express any regrets about being an outspoken and very involved social/political activist. She gives a lot of credit to her immediate family members (who definitely stand by her) and Buddhism for helping her stay emotionally healthy. Denise says that Buddhism is “where my confidence and optimism come from.” And she has this final thought on what the future might hold for the causes she’s fighting for: “One of my strongest beliefs is that humanity always wins.”

Kino Lorber released “Denise Ho — Becoming the Song” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on July 1, 2020.

Hilton Garden Inn debuts in Hong Kong

December 16, 2016

Hilton Garden Inn Hong Kong Mongkok
(Photo courtesy of Hilton Garden Inn Hong Kong Mongkok)

Hilton Garden Inn Hong Kong Mongkok has opened at No. 2 Soy Street, Mongkok, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR, China. Managed by Hilton and owned by Hong Kong China Development Holding, hotel is is the first Hilton Garden Inn in Hong Kong and the first Hilton hotel to open in the SAR since Conrad Hong Kong opened in 1990.

The hotel has 258 guest rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, garden views, work stations with ergonomic chairs, laptop-sized safes, as well as 40-inch flat-screen HD televisions. hypoallergenic pillows and coffee- and tea-making facilities.  Hotel amenities include a rooftop swimming pool, a 24-hour fitness center, a self-service laundry room, a business center, and free Wi-Fi.

Hilton Garden Inn Hong Kong Mongkok is less than a mile from Mongkok MTR station, 13 miles from Hong Kong Disneyland and 19 miles from Hong Kong International Airport. . The hotel is surrounded by shopping malls, street bazaars and nightspots.

The hotel’s event and meeting spaces include a 1,312-square-foot ballroom without pillars that can accommodate up to 300 people.

Dining options at the hotel include:

  • Eagle’s Garden restaurant, which offers panoramic city views, and serves an international breakfast buffet and cooked-to-order breakfasts, as well as authentic Cantonese cuisine for lunch and dinner.
  • The Garden Bar, which serves drinks and light meals after a long day of work, or shopping.
  • The Pavilion Pantry, a 24-hour shop that has snacks and an assortment of drinks.
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