What better time for The Monkey King 2 to swing around than in its namesake year in the Chinese calendar? But king or not, there is strong competition for the box-office crown this festive season.
Popular gambling-themed franchise From Vegas To Macau is back for a third round. Singapore box-office champ Jack Neo milks nostalgia with the period family drama Long Long Time Ago.
Hong Kong funnyman Stephen Chow makes a splash with fantasy comedy The Mermaid. Another funnyman, Chapman To, whets your appetite with the culinary comedy Let’s Eat!.
For young children, there is the animated offering Norm Of The North, about a polar bear monkeying about in New York City. It might not exactly be Chinese New Year-themed, but laughter is always festive.
REVIEW / DRAMA
Long Long Time Ago stars (from left) Nurijah Sahat, Suhaimi Yusof and Aileen Tan. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE
LONG LONG TIME AGO (PG13)
111 minutes/opens tomorrow/2.5/5 stars
The cast: Aileen Tan, Mark Lee, Wang Lei, Suhaimi Yusoff
The story: In 1965, pregnant single mother Zhao Di (Aileen Tan) is cast out of her home. She returns to her kampung family, destitute.
The appeal: There are several Jack Neos and this movie shows them not getting along with one another as well as they should in this family saga, told in fitful, episodic chunks.
Writer-director Neo, as storyteller, skilfully spins a tale about a kampung family seen through the eyes of its most vulnerable member, Zhao Di, whose life is unremitting misery.
But Neo the good citizen barges in, entwining her story with that of the birth of the Republic. Neo the showman tries to make it epic- sized by adding a flood and, as the trailer shows, a monster snake attack.
Finally, Neo the businessman sidles in to hawk sponsors’ tonics, biscuits, electric fans and medicated oil in scenes that have little to do with tonics, biscuits, electric fans or medicated oil.
Tan shines as Zhao Di – she could easily have given in to the blubberfest hysterics the role demands of her. But she underplays it wonderfully, a note that Mark Lee as her sweary wastrel brother Ah Kun seems to have missed.
This is part one of a two-parter and the story should see the conclusion of this family saga from March 31, when the second part opens in cinemas.
One hopes that by then, the various Neos would have learnt the value of teamwork.
REVIEW / FANTASY ACTION
THE MONKEY KING 2 (PG13)
119 minutes/opens on Friday/3.5/5 stars
The cast: Aaron Kwok, Gong Li, Feng Shaofeng, Kris Phillips (aka Fei Xiang)
The story: In this sequel to the 2014 hit, the well-known Journey To The West finally gets under way. Released by Tang Sanzang (Feng) from imprisonment, the monkey king Sun Wukong (Kwok) is tasked to escort the monk on his pilgrimage to collect scriptures. Along the way, Sun has to protect his master from the soul-sucking White Bone Demon (Gong) even as she pits teacher against disciple with her cunning manoeuvres.
The appeal: This is an improvement of leaps and bounds over the first instalment.
In just two years, the CGI is no longer risible, but has advanced to the point where the depictions of a ferocious tiger, a horse-eating dragon and the White Bone Demon as a billowing surge of smoke are remarkably realistic.
Kwok, who played the Bull Demon King in the first outing, takes over from Donnie Yen and is persuasive as the proud simian deity, while Gong is resplendent as the silky villain.
REVIEW / COMEDY
Chapman To and Aimee Chan face off in Let’s Eat. PHOTO: CLOVER FILMS
LET’S EAT! (PG)
96 mins/opens on Friday/2.5/5 stars
The cast: Chapman To, Aimee Chan, Patricia Mok, Lo Hoi Pang, C Kwan, Fiona Sit, Mark Lee
The story: Ah Yong Cafe’s head chef Dai Hung (To) is a stickler for using top ingredients in his cooking, at the expense of the restaurant’s profit margin. One day, the heiress to the restaurant, Rosemary (Chan), returns from overseas and decides to overhaul the way the kitchen works and milk it for profit, much to the chagrin of Dai Hung.
The appeal: This is one of those films where the language dubbing ruins everything.
In translating the Cantonese dialogue and repartee into Mandarin for the Singapore market, many of the jokes – whose punchlines hinge on Cantonese puns – get completely lost.
The blooper reel, played in the original Cantonese track during the end credits, shows how much funnier the film would have been – the zippy dialogue as well as the actors’ delivery come across so much more naturally.
The saving grace here are in the cooking scenes, which are certain to whet appetities with all the close-up shots of the glistening chicken rice and steaming soups.
Leading man To, who also makes his directorial debut here, takes some obvious cues from Stephen Chow’s classic comedy God Of Cookery (1996) – even “borrowing” the TV cooking contest parody sequence for the climax, though it feels like a much more earnest movie.
Without the absurd slapstick gags that make Chow’s film work regardless of language, this endeavour fails to translate.
Yip Wai Yee
REVIEW / COMEDY
From Vegas To Macau III stars (from far left) Andy Lau as Michael Chan, Chow Yun Fat as Ken, Nick Cheung as Mark and Li Yuchun as Kitty. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION
FROM VEGAS TO MACAU III (Rating TBA)
113 minutes/opens on Friday/3.5/5 stars
The cast: Chow Yun Fat, Andy Lau, Nick Cheung, Jacky Cheung, Carina Lau
The story: Card sharp Ken (Chow) agrees to be hypnotised by his friend Mark (Nick Cheung) to deal with his daughter’s wedding, but the big day is ruined by an exploding Andy Lau look-alike robot, which was sent by a crazed tycoon (Jacky Cheung). Ken spends much of the rest of the movie in a daze of comedic confusion, hanging out with hustler Michael (Andy Lau), and it feels like 1989 again, when Chow spent much of the movie God Of Gamblers in a daze of amnesia, hanging out with Lau.
The appeal: This is not a movie. This is a party: a merry, insane and sometimes inspired get-together of celebrities (spot South Korea’s Psy and Singapore’s Hanjin Tan), cult favourite characters (Charles Heung is back as Loong Ng, the laconic bodyguard from God Of Gamblers, and Law Kar Ying is a scientist as loony as his 1994 character in From Beijing With Love) and talking, kissing robots.
Cream pies will be thrown, improbable singalongs will be tossed off and a good time will be had, though just as easily forgotten.
Foong Woei Wan
REVIEW / KIDS, ANIMATION
Norm Of The North.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE
NORM OF THE NORTH (PG)
86 minutes/opens tomorrow/2.5/5 stars
The cast (voices): Rob Schneider, Heather Graham, Ken Jeong
The story: Mr Greene, a diabolical real estate mogul (The Hangover’s Ken Jeong), plans to colonise the North Pole with his condominiums. A polar bear named Norm (Schneider) is his homeland’s designated saviour from the invasion because he can speak the human language. So he sets off for New York City, where Mr Greene is planning his coup.
The appeal: Many animated feature movies are marketed to appeal to the whole family. In fact, few satisfy everyone from the parents to the youngest child in the brood. Last year’s Inside Out was a rare offering that could challenge and thrill intellects on many levels.
Norm Of The North has a much narrower appeal – it is fun for preschoolers and, even in their case, they may not leave the cinema hall speaking excitedly about the characters they just watched, let alone bug their parents to buy the toys.
The movie zips by quickly, formulaically and forgettably, leaving few laughs (mostly at the twerking polar bear Norm and his cute lemming friends) to evaporate in the theatre as soon as the whole family stand up from their seats.
THE MERMAID (Rating TBA)
95 minutes/opens on Monday
The cast: Deng Chao, Show Lo, Zhang Yuqi, Lin Yun
The story: A young man (Deng) survives a boat crash when he is miraculously rescued by a mermaid, much to the disbelief of everyone else.
The appeal: Details of the story have been kept under wraps and there is no advance press screening. But with big names such as Deng in the lead, and Taiwanese heart-throb Show Lo playing a giant octopus, this looks like a fun splash.
Hong Kong comedy king Stephen Chow is back with what looks like another nonsensical film, but that is just how we like him.
This time, the director chooses to lavish attention on the mermaid, which, according to the trailer, looks nothing like the sexy, slinky thing commonly depicted in pop culture.
Yip Wai Yee
A version of this story was originally published in The Straits Times on January 3, 2016. For more stories like this, head to www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle.