Erotic Nightmare (Wai-Man Cheng, Hong Kong, 1999)

Cracking, sexy variation on the old ‘dreams can kill’ scenario with the great Anthony Wong as a sexually frustrated husband (wife has a heart problem) stitched up like a kipper by an occultist who offers him sizzlingly hot erotic dreams for a price. At first it’s great fun for our Anthony but corpses soon begin to turn up around the house because the occultist turns out to have complete control over Wong’s actions in his dreams. He can force the guy to do whatever he wants and ends up blackmailing our hero for control of his business. Poor Anthony doesn’t have a chance. So it’s up to Wong’s brother and the occultist’s much battered female assistant to take down the bad guy and save the day.

So what can I say about this delirious slice of highly enjoyable sleaze? Well for starters the girls are hot, hot, HOT! It’s softcore but the sex scenes are pushed about as far as they can and unlike the usual joyless/embarrassing/tedious excuse for humping that passes in so much of genre cinema the dreams – in which Wong is seduced by some willingly submissive schoolgirl babes – manage to be really erotic and really hilarious. The POV blowjob amused me no end and I couldn’t stop laughing at the scene in which Wong is a PE teacher urging the line up of luscious babes in front of him to bend lower so he can cop a better eyeful of their gorgeous tits practically bursting out of those tight gym tops. With blood soaked dismembered corpses and sexy dreams that always end badly for Anthony (in one memorable scene his shagging is interrupted by an old lady who charges him with a pair of garden shears determined to cut off his knob) it’s classic Hong Kong exploitation cinema, wild, demented and yet somehow just holding together through sheer zest. It’s also a winner because not only do the actresses seem up for a laugh but Anthony Wong shows just why he’s so damn good in this sort of stuff. He can play it straight and serious but beneath the surface one senses a gleefully devilish streak in him that’s clearly loving every second of it. Equally effective is that the villain turns out to be a right sadistic sod in torturing and beating the shit out of his assistant so much that when the tables are turned and it’s the occultists’s turn to be put to sleep – even as he fights desperately to stay awake – his assistant’s crooning of ‘Go to sleep little baby’ proves a delightful, delicious moment of well earned revenge on a creep who ends up trapped in a dream hell being fucked in the ass by a couple of big black dudes for all eternity. Serves him right!

Big Bullet (Benny Chan, Hong Kong, 1996)

Courageous but hot-tempered officer Bill Chu (Lau Ching-wan) finds himself demoted after assaulting a superior officer responsible for a raid gone disastrously wrong. After being reassigned as a patrol officer with the Emergency Unit Bill’s old boss is killed in a restaurant shootout and Bill’s determination to catch the men responsible drags his inexperienced EU comrades into a full on shoot out with the gang when they snatch $9 million from Interpol headquarters and hatch a plan to smuggle the haul out of the country on a British military transport plane.

If Fox Hunter was a naff title for a way above average genre entry then Big Bullet deserves some sort of award for sheer laziness. I mean, how long did they spend thinking that one up? Or maybe there’s some sort of secret formula at work here. As in the better the movie the lamer the title. Come to think of it that must be it since Big Bullet is a gem of 90’s Hong Kong action cinema. I knew I was going to like it when the first person to show up onscreen as a brave cop named Bill Chu who doesn’t suffer fools gladly was Milky Way regular Lau Ching-wan. And then when Francis Ng turned up as Lau’s boss I thought ‘Alright! Now all we need is a great villain’ and lo and behold there was the great Anthony Wong playing a long-haired, ruthless and seemingly perpetually self-amused killer named Bird whose own survival depends upon him retrieving nine million dollars from the security of an Interpol bank vault that he’d failed to steal previously. For this he needs the help of an ex-cop turned banking executive, or more precisely said ex-cop’s hand, a brutal sequence which culminates in an absolutely barnstorming shootout on the streets of Hong Kong that for sheer visceral intensity rivals the urban shootout in Heat or pretty much any other movie you can think of.

It’s a great first act action setpiece but the film is up and running right from the off as Lau’s cop, Sergeant Bill Chu, is demoted to street patrol after punching out a slimy superior officer. Lau, an actor who specializes in offbeat characters is here cast as more of a straight arrow action hero but he still manages to find quirks in the character, delivers superbly and gives his supercop a nice line in self-deprecating humour. The script by Benny Chan, Susan Chan and Joe Ma (the latter of whom co-wrote the terrific A War Named Desire) gives us peeks into the private lives of Chu’s new team during their downtime in scenes both comic and touching as well as his friction with a by-the-book cop played by Jordan Chan, who has his own problems with a brother who used to be in the force but has since left and turned criminal. The resolution of this sub-plot which is virtually the last scene of the film is a lovely heartwarming moment. The plot twist it reveals may seem obvious in retrospect but at the time it took me completely by surprise. And Theresa Lee as the patrol’s sole female member and computer expert (‘I’ve just deleted my overseas call charges!’ she winningly tells Bill after hacking into Interpol’s computers) is a delight. By the time Wong and his men make their move the combination of humour and character development has made its mark; the camaraderie between them is rock solid, we really like these people, don’t want to see them hurt and that elevates the movie significantly. The climax – an exciting nocturnal fight both inside and on top of a British military cargo plane as it trundles down a runway – is a skillful combination of action and humour. Big Bullet works on every single level. It doesn’t break any new ground but it is so confidently done that it makes all the usual cliches of the genre seem fresh again.

Time And Tide (Tsui Hark, Hong Kong, 2000)

A young bodyguard named Tyler (Nicholas Tse) and an experienced mercenary called Jack (Wu Bai) become friends, then enemies, then friends again in order to protect the pregnant women they love, Ah Hui and Ah Jo (Candy Lo and Cathy Tsui) from a gang of South American killers known as the Angels. When the Angels try unsuccessfully to blackmail Jack into carrying out an assassination Jack kills their leader and Tyler finds himself not only suspected by the police of involvement with the killers but caught up in the crossfire as all out war breaks out.

Witty, thrillingly kinetic action drama told in a breathless, almost elliptical, style. Tse and Bai (the former trying to raise enough money to look after the lesbian cop he accidentally knocked up after a drunken one night stand eight months earlier, the latter on the warpath after his former comrades try to blackmail him into a hit by threatening his heavily pregnant wife) are very likeable, Lo and Tsui as the two women in their lives pretty much match them and Anthony Wong has a small supporting role as Tyler’s luckless employer. The sight of Lo’s implacably hostile femme cop gradually thawing in the face of Nicholas Tse’s repeated kindnesses is irresistibly sweet and Cathy Tsui gets a cracking sequence where she’s forced into wielding a handgun in order to fend off an assassin while simultaneously giving birth! The villains – far from being the usual cannon fodder – display a degree of intelligence all too rare in modern action movies and it makes them formidable, scary opponents while the action sequences emphasise tactics and strategy on both sides, not merely the expenditure of vast amounts of ammunition at each other. Hark’s staging of the action – especially one much commented on sequence in which his camera literally plummets down on top of Bai and a bad guy as the pair rappel down the side of a vertiginous Hong Kong apartment block – is particularly impressive, as are the wire-work enhanced stunts. Even a couple of ‘bullet time’ effects feel well integrated into the action rather than just being there for effect and Hark doesn’t go over the top with the violence either. The result is a preposterous and yet compelling adventure in which themes of life and hope duke it out with despair and death. The final (charmingly eccentric) shot typifies Hark’s romantic vision of men and women struggling through pain and despair to finally (yay!) get it together.

Secret (Jay Chou, Taiwan, 2007)

Je (Jay Choo), a talented piano student who lives with his teacher father (Anthony Wong) begins his training at a prestigious music school and finds himself the object of attention from two girls in his class, the friendly Qingyi (Alice Tzeng) and the mysterious, enigmatic Rain (Guey Lun Mei), a girl who captures Je’s interest yet seems to come and go at will. After Rain tells Je about a mysterious melody hidden in the school’s soon to be demolished ballroom she seems to vanish altogether. To Je’s astonishment his friends all deny knowing or ever having seen him with Rain despite the time they spent together during class and in the corridors and grounds of the school. But when Je discovers a decades old old photo of Rain (looking exactly the same age) standing alongside his father it leads him to the ballroom and a desperate performance of a secret melody which if performed correctly will let him travel through time to reunite with the girl who waits for him 20 years in the past.

Basically Somewhere In Time for teens but as awful as that sounds actually imaginatively written and well acted – especially by Lun Mei as the enigmatic love interest who journeys across time from 20 years earlier to be with our hero. Jay Choo’s confident direction (this is not only the multi-talented Taiwanese musician’s debut as director but he also plays the lead, composes the evocative melody heard in the movie and came up with the original story!) coupled with the across the board good performances from veterans like Anthony Wong as Je’s dad engage even as the story’s mystery keeps you guessing. The very idea of a piece of music that can transport you forward or backward in time is of course a deliriously romantic conceit and one the film does full justice too in its playful encounters between Je and Lu. In these scenes one can sense something going on – some bit of information regarding one or more of the characters we’re not privy too. Yet rather than coming over as frustrating such omission prove intriguing. We want to know more. It’s only in the latter half of the movie that the penny drops and we begin to understand just what it is that’s unfolding here. Indeed for the first half I was increasingly convinced this was another Sixth Sense and that at least one of the two girls pursuing our hero would turn out to be long dead and a ghost that only he can see. Indeed a pivotal flashback sequence seems to confirm that. The truth however turns out to be something else again. If Secret has a weakness it’s that supporting players such as Wong and the actress playing Rain’s forlorn mother come across as so sympathetic we’d really like to see more of them but, alas, we never get the chance. That aside Secret is cracking stuff. An early piano duel/duet between newcomer Je and the reigning school music champ is an good-natured and invigorating showpiece and there’s effective comic relief from a pair of dunderheaded sports jocks befriended by our hero. It all builds to a climactic sequence in which Je must perform a note perfect rendition of the melody in order to be reunited with his love even as the grand old ballroom he’s in comes crashing down under the wrecking ball of a demolition team. It’s quite exciting and reflecting on the movie after viewing increases ones admiration for just how cleverly constructed Secret is, how well we’ve been misled and how satisfying the revelations are when they come. Very good indeed.