Cast: Tony Leung, Yibo Wang, Chengpeng Dong, Zhou Xun, Eric Wang, Huang Lei, Mori Hiroyuki, Shuying Jiang, Jingyi Zhang
Follows the story of underground workers who risked their lives to send intelligence and defend the motherland, set after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor when the Wang Jingwei regime declared war on Britain and the U.S. – IMDB
The last chapter of Bona Film Group’s China Victory Trilogy (which feature separate stories), Hidden Blade is a World War II espionage thriller. The film is structured from scattered events throughout the Japan-China War of Resistance from the bombings of Guangzhou to Japan’s surrender. Structured in a scrambled timeline of events, the espionage thriller right away implicates that there will the unknown elements of which character is secretly working for their own forces while on the service the characters all work for Japanese espionage agencies performing at times some brutal moments. Between the director’s intricate script and the outstanding cast selected for this film, Hidden Blade delivers a great thriller and will keep the audience keeping its detective hat on to spot who is not who they appear to be.
Hidden Blade is a visually stunning film. Er Cheng crafts a film where every scene is set up beautifully. There is a wonderful and atmospheric use of lighting and the cinematographic grasp of each scene from where the characters of placed all add to the suspense. The artistic element sets its tone right from its first scene with darkened space and Tony Leung’s character sitting on a chair with nothing much around and he just turns to the camera. With that said, the structure of the scrambled storyline is one that relies on having a decent knowledge of what happened between Japan and China with the Chinese Communist Party and Japan’s invasion. While that’s the case, it does give common knowledge like the attack on Pearl Harbor for wider known events which gives a good point of reference for that timeframe.
The script does touch a few details to give it the basic foundation but knowing more does help with grasping how the timeline moves back and forth through different events and scenes. It does help that the film makes the effort to add in the necessary timestamps to make it easier to grasp. Once the different scenes are set up at the beginning, it does become easier to figure out the sequence and follow the story. While the scrambled storyline takes a little bit of time to adjust to, it does help to create the suspense for the characters and their actions. There are certain hints like drops of blood and a newspaper on the table to help hint towards certain events but a lot of the reveals are cleverly written to give its twist in the final act. Another great element of the film is the language it uses and even for Chinese audience, it will still require subtitle reading as it moves between Mandarin, Japanese, Shanghainese and Cantonese.
The cast is a highlight with Hong Kong veteran actor Tony Leung, most notable to the Western audience from In The Mood of Love and more recently, in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. For those familiar with his filmography, this is right up his alley as he has done films before from this era as well like Lust, Caution but also excels in a variety of genres, much like his work in Infernal Affairs. There is no doubt that Tony Leung is the headliner for this film. However, China’s rising young celebrity Yibo Wang is one that does a fantastic job as well. Multitalented musically as his boyband debut in South Korean band Uniq as their rapper and dancer, his recent years of acting has opened up a lot of opportunities, most notable for popular TV series The Untamed (which is currently available on Netflix Canada and Youtube). Hidden Blade is probably the most sophisticated role he has taken on and proved that he is capable of delivering both a subtle character but also not afraid for the action scenes. While his role as Mr. Ye is mostly paired with his partner Mr. Wang, played by Eric Wang, there are some pivotal plot points that deliver some well-choreographed action scenes. The leading cast between these two are very deceptive for the majority of the film.
The supporting actors are also pretty big names. Eric Wang, Huang Lei and Chengpeng Dong are all renowned actors in China. These three all have rather significant roles in Hidden Blade and each has their own twists and reveals. Its as much as praise again to the intricate script and in turn, the character design as none of the characters are what they seem. Its a strong male cast in this film and reasonably so due to the decade and era that its set. However, the limited female cast also gets very little screen time which is most surprising with Zhou Xun as Ms. Chen who is one of the biggest female actresses in China. While Ms. Chen doesn’t have a big role, her character is embedded in a few plot points in Hidden Blade. Unlike her, actress Shuying Jiang mostly known for TV series like The King’s Avatar (currently on Netflix Canada) and Nothing But Thirty who has one scene in Hidden Blade as an alluring character called Ms. Jiang who we can only wish had a bigger role as that one scene was very memorable.
Hidden Blade is a well-executed espionage thriller. It has all the pieces to put together a thoughtful and clever story set in a significant part of history especially for China as they were oppressed by foreign powers. It focuses heavily on the Japanese espionage agencies inner working with its various characters and spends the film making the audience wonder who is not what they seem. Packed with an exceptional cast, visually stunning cinematography and a well-constructed non-linear thriller, Hidden Blade is definitely a great addition to Chinese cinema.
Cast: Daniel Craig, Janelle Monae, Edward Norton, Kate Hudson, Kathryn Hahn, Dave Bautista, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline, Noah Segan
Famed Southern detective Benoit Blanc travels to Greece for his latest case. – IMDB
Glass Onion is something of a sequel to Knives Out and takes place in May 2020 in the midst of the pandemic when a tech billionaire Miles Bron issues puzzle box invitations to his best friends for a little weekend of murder mystery game on a Greek Island. Surprisingly, Southern detective Benoit Blanc who is spending excessive time in the bathtub trying to understand Among Us receives one as well. Like him, the former partner Andi also shows up at the party despite the fallout. As Blanc explores the island, he soon learns that he wasn’t invited by Miles and soon learns that this murder mystery game might not be a game after all when every single guest seems to have their own motive to kill Miles and this search is solidified when a death does happen.
Knives Out is hands-down the best first watch I had in this year so its sequel is one that’s been very high on the anticipated films list (as my main source of new releases are all on Netflix and they have some slim pickings). Knives Out and Glass Onion, while both captivating that Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mystery style, they are both different foundations of cleverness. Knives Out was all about the moment where the rug is pulled from under its audience and how to get away from it but Glass Onion places its cards all on the table and its about catching those details and then creating doubt in those pieces and bringing it all in to make sense. Its purposefully silly but its intended to be that way, which is what gives it that dark comedy element. Comedy, of course, is subjective however it worked for myself incredibly well especially in the final act.
The setting for Glass Onion is also twofold as physically they are heading to an island in Greece which holds the Glass Onion structure, which is also a central piece of its setting but the structural elements of this architecture plays greatly into the mystery and this group of friends on the island. Its setting is used effectively to add more depth to it scene to scene from its smokeless gardens to its actual interior. There is just one detail that feels incohesive and inexplicable in the endgame which involves the setting. The physical element is great but the actual time setting is 2020 during the first few months of the pandemic when everyone was on lockdown which makes some of these characters and moments feel like theres a deeper message behind the whole plot and its characters especially the owner of the Glass Onion who made the murder mystery game.
The cast this time is still pretty incredible as well. Not quite the collection of acting veterans like the first film but still holds quite a few. Rian Johnson also is currently directed four final appearances through his two Knives film with Stephen Sondheim and Angela Lansbury playing as themselves in a cameo as Benoit Blanc’s good friends who are playing Among Us with each other. At one moment in the film, it actually feels like they are reenacting Among Us on the island and its actually pretty neat even though I’m not quite sure whether that was intentional or not. Packed with a rather clueless celebrity Kate Hudson has Birdie and her assistant Peg played by Jessica Henwick, Edward Norton as Miles Bron, Janelle Monae as Andi with some cameos of Hugh Grant, Ethan Hawke, Yo-yo Ma, Serena Williams, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s voice and of course mentioned before, Stephen Sondheim and Angela Lansbury. Edward Norton as the billionaire is truly such a suitable role and his small expressions to the whole feeling of this character really links closely to some billionaires in real life (almost feeling like there’s a hidden statement there). Janelle Monae is a personal favorite of mine as she might not always be in great films but she’s always great in those films and this one is no exception. As for Benoit Blanc, this more comedic version of him actually works really well for Daniel Craig and that Southern air with exclamations of “fiddlesticks” and “shitballs” truly is so much fun.
Overall, Glass Onion is a real treat. In terms of mystery complexity, Knives Out actually pulls ahead on that one with a plot twist that created more shock value. Glass Onion is a different beast but still manages to be incredibly entertaining. The final act is probably one of the best pay-offs that I’ve watched in a long time which teases its audience a little with a lot of “dumb” (as Benoit Blanc calls it). Great casting, beautiful use of the setting, approachable mystery: I’m always one to gripe about those over 2 hour films but Glass Onion just flew by. There is one scene that I feel hasn’t been explained yet and seems like a plot hole perhaps but the whole set-up and twist is so clever that this is one of those cases where a great pay-off can offset those little flaws.
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Joaquim de Almeida, Cheech Marin, Steve Buscemi, Carlos Gomez, Tito Larriva, Danny Trejo, Quentin Tarantino
Former musician and gunslinger El Mariachi arrives at a small Mexican border town after being away for a long time. His past quickly catches up with him and he soon gets entangled with the local drug kingpin Bucho and his gang. – IMDB
Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, Desperado is an action Western film and is the second part of his Mexico trilogy. While I can’t say how much you need to have seen the first part since I went into this pretty clueless about the existence of the trilogy and not quite a fan of Westerns in general, Desperado is a fairly fun romp despite its storyline revolving around a revenge plan, mostly because the film felt a little cheesy at times especially with the romantic interactions between the characters portrayed by Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek, both of them oozing with sex appeal from their chemistry to their appearance. Plus, Desperado does keep a relatively light-hearted tone with a lot of scenes going over the top and the tone is set right from its first scene at the bar with the whole story-telling moment describing the gunslinger.
Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek are two actor and actress that I don’t watch too much of in general. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen them in anything other than voicing Puss in Boots for both of them. While I can’t say that Desperado is the film to showcase the acting talents they possess, their roles are done pretty well as El Mariachi and Carolina respectively. El Mariachi has a pretty epic type of gunslinger action sequence for his introduction and keeps up with building up on his story as the film moves along of why he is exacting this revenge and such. His plan and course of action takes shape throughout the film but perhaps one of the best moments are when he is spending time with the young guitar player and trying to set him on the right path. It adds a lot of depth to his character overall. In contrast, Carolina’s character is a little more shallow as she does save him and has a tough edge when needed but still plays more of a love interest. Of course, the film also includes some fun cameos with Quentin Tarantino and a side character which adds to the whole bad guys plot with Danny Trejo, who doesn’t have any dialogue but because partially a threat.
Desperado isn’t exactly a film to be dissected in depth since it is mostly a fun time with a lot of action. However, that isn’t saying that the execution isn’t good. There are some weird moments like how El Mariachi and Carolina really do move very quickly through their attachment or this one escape scene where this obviously a physics issue that doesn’t seem to make sense which gives the more flair but maybe not quite so much context. There is a lot of building up a moment especially for the El Mariachi’s entrance to the big action scenes where there’s a lot of gun action going on between the two sides and everyone wondering who this El Mariachi fellow is and what his deal is overall. It does put together some stylistic action for him.
While I’m not exactly a fan of Westerns, Desperado does have its fun moments. The story itself especially for El Mariachi might not feel very deep for the film overall but surprisingly does have some pretty good moments. There are some odd transitions for the plot points but still manages to keep it rather fun and focuses enough on the action to make it even more entertaining. I’m pretty late to the party (as my husband constantly reminds me) and didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did so I think this one is winner overall.
Director: Ben Wheatley
Cast: Lily James, Armie Hammer, Kristin Scott Thomas, Keeley Hawes, Ann Dowd
A young newlywed arrives at her husband’s imposing family estate on a windswept English coast and finds herself battling the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca, whose legacy lives on in the house long after her death. – IMDB
Rebecca is one of those memorable book discoveries born out of complete spontaneity for a school project decades ago and yet remains one that I have been meaning to own and re-read at one point. Having watched none of the adaptations, Netflix’s Rebecca fell under the radar for myself also sparked the discovery of the Armie Hammer issues that came to light, making this a rather conflicting watch and whether to review it. However, the film itself regardless of everything, is rather disappointing overall.
Looking at the best parts of Rebecca, it has to go to the costume design, style and the setting itself. The beauty of wherever they were gave life to the scene itself especially with the color palette that it chose. Of course, the manor itself also is a big highlight as it adds the suspense with all its corridors and mystery behind doors and hidden secrets. It usually does come with the whole big manor setting especially when the point of view is through the eyes of the new and young Mrs. de Winter (Lily James) who is only learning about her husband’s first wife and getting an incredible amount of resistance from the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas).
The casting is actually not too bad. The main focus of the film from the point of the view of the new Mrs. de Winter portrayed by Lily James. This is probably one of the more complex roles that I’ve seen her in and she does do a pretty decent job. Especially faced across the housekeeper played by Kristin Scott Thomas who is a rather underrated actress overall but seems to pop up nowadays in films here and there. This role sees her being a housekeeper who has ulterior motives and trying to do many plans against the new Mrs. de Winter through manipulation and such. The strength of these two characters brings so much to the film that the Mr. de Winter character actually falls behind into this annoying and useless sort of character by the end, making the value of his role being the gentleman who sweeps his new bride off her feet and ends up sinking back into a mysterious front when he returns back to his mansion.
Overall, Rebecca is a pretty average film. It brings a bit of the suspense and mystery and visually from setting and costume design, it is quite a bit of eye candy but the film itself overall doesn’t seem to pull together a well-executed plot especially for the outstanding source material that they were working with.
Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train… – Goodreads
Having reached a decent popularity after its release, The Girl On The Train is compared with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (review), which happens to be one of my favorite books. While its not quite the same level as Gone Girl, the novel embraces the culture of people watching to its full potential and structures its point of view between three main female characters as they each experience different sides of the spectrum. The first being Rachel, the girl on the train who lives a routine life and envies the life of this home and couple that the train she commutes on at the same time everyday, making her reminisce her own marriage before it was broken and when she used to live a few houses down from this couple. As she fantasizes about this couple, the second point of view turns to the woman of the house that she looks at, Megan who ends up missing and the police investigation opens for her which leads Rachel to share what she’s seen that could be suspicious and also approach Megan’s husband, Scott which opens up another can of worms as she ends up peaking the attention of her ex-husband’s current wife, Anna who takes up the third point of view. Through these three, the mystery unfolds as to what happens to Megan and who is involved.
The Girl On The Train is a good premise. Mystery thrillers have been rather plentiful to say the least however this one does build up a pretty decent reveal. The novel is well-written and the structure is good as well as the first person view from three characters helps piece together the novel but still with a good amount of unknowns from both their own characters and the people around them. It helps construct these three very different sort of female characters with their own pasts and different values that end up setting up their relationships around them as well. Alternating between characters and point of views is probably one of my own favorite novel structures and this story fits in it really well. This in turn builds up these three characters so that they each can also have their own interpretation. In this case, Rachel takes a center stage since she is “the girl on the train” which is the book is titled after and her character is by far the one with the most depth which crafts her into a rather realistic sort of character who has plummeted into alcohol after her divorce, making most of her life rather blurry and spiraling downwards with this mystery giving her something new to focus on.
The mystery element of the novel is the highlight of the story as a whole. It builds up and is crafted rather well. The thriller element is definitely there mostly because these characters all are rather imperfect in their own ways, making them feel hard to truly erase them from suspicion for one reason or another. However, the thrill is mostly with all the characters, not just the main three female characters but also the other ones who all feel like its one big cycle of waiting for their stories to unfold to rid them of suspicion. It throws a few twists here and there, some land more unexpectedly than others. The big reveal of who is responsible does end up being rather surprising and a decently executed twist.
Overall, The Girl On The Train is pretty good overall. There are some little bits here and there that feel like it could be polished a little better in execution. Sometimes, reading a slew of characters which was completely imperfect also feels a little hard to completely bond into the book and its events as is the situation here which at times feels a bit tiring as it cycles around some events a little too much. However, the mystery is decently crafted, the structure keeps things moving from one side of the story to the next, even if some of it jumps back and forth in the timeline and the thrilling parts are mostly from character development and a believable yet unpredictable reveal.
*This is a mostly spoiler-free review however, some elements discussed may take away from the viewing experience so feel free to return after you’ve seen the series.*
The Squid Game (Season 1, 2021)
Creator: Dong-hyuk Hwang
Cast: Jung-jae Lee, Hae-soo Park, Ha-jun Wi, Young-soo Oh, Ho-yeon Jung, Sung-tae Heo, Joo-ryoung Kim, Tripathi Anupam, Seong-joo You, You-mi Lee
Hundreds of cash-strapped players accept a strange invitation to compete in children’s games. Inside, a tempting prize awaits with deadly high stakes. A survival game that has a whopping 40-million-dollar prize at stake. – IMDB
Survival games in TV series, movies or books aren’t really unseen or uncommon at this point. The Squid Game is a South Korean Netflix thriller series which sets up a survival game where an initial 456 players are invited from their hopelessness in life and desperation for money with no clue of what to expect until the first game starts and it becomes a do or die situation where it claims to provide a fair and equal world where as long as they follow the rule, they will be able to get out with the prize money.
This is the case for most of the characters here as they meet up during the first game: Gi-hun (Jung-jae Lee), Sang-woo (Hae-soo Park), Ali (Tripathi Anupam), Player 1 (Young-soo Oh), Sae-byeok (Ho-Yeong Jung) who end up teaming up while the players also have those who are much more ruthless lead by Deok-su (Sung-tae Heo) and the more uncertain factor with a woman called Mi-Nyeo (Joo-ryoung Kim). These players are core as each of them represent something different in the society and each have their own personality which sees them making it to certain phases as the teams start forming after the lesson of the first game with a very obvious turning point where they need to change. Its not hard to see who will be the changing factors however, these characters do truly grow on the audience throughout that some scenes that struggle between a selfish desire to survive creates these moral dilemmas between the characters that show the wear that it has on them.
The main character Gi-Hun being constantly in that spotlight as his character has some of the biggest changes from the beginning to the ending that feel subtle but can be seen in his decisions and struggles. Much like the cold Sae-Byeok who is judged by her North Korean background but also changes throughout as she starts to find trust in her alliances. Much like a very naive Ali who wants to win this for his family but ends up being constantly used to forward others plans unknowingly. Each game dives into a different moral element and strategy which takes an profound and poignant turn in the 4th game especially with the old neighborhood setup that isn’t as big as the other game settings but manages to create a significant contrast especially after the previous game’s focus on strategy and teamwork.
While it focuses on the players for the most part, the show also has the flip side with a cop Jun-ho (Ha-Jun Wi) that is investigating the disappearance of his brother which leads him to sneaking around the game headquarters undercover blending into different people from the game. Having recently been impressed by Ha-Jun Wi’s performance in Midnight (review), it was such a pleasant surprise to see him in this very different role and doing a fantastic job. Even if the dialogue isn’t quite a lot, his character is very well-executed. With that said, his side of the story shares the operational elements of The Squid Game of what the whole deal is. This element brings in a lot of twists and turns with a lot of unknown elements seeing as the guards and Front Man are all masked for the majority of the film. Having both the players and operations both being shown gives the audience more knowledge than the players to a certain extent and keeps the story balanced with not just death and survival but also mystery and suspense.
There is no doubt that the survival elements of the game is the most thrilling to watch especially with the use of Korean childhood games. Some of which are more familiar to the outside world and some which give it that Korean twist especially with the title game, The Squid Game which adds a cultural element. The sets are fantastically designed and every single one levels up from the previous both in how they creatively add in the danger element and incorporate the strategy while also revealing the characters for their true personality. The set-up is rather brutal to watch for the most part and is done incredibly well. As the games get worse and more unpredictable, the true purpose of The Squid Game is gradually revealed as the operations gets tracked down by the cop character which adds another layer to the story that leads right up to the ending that keeps it wide open for a second season with a lot of unanswered questions and many more possibilities. That ending though does leave a lot to think about whether about the whole plot, the clues that lead to the big reveal and ponder on trust and faith in humanity in general.
In 2024, a mystery virus ravages the entire world. ‘Bat Fever’ is highly contagious and a hundred per cent lethal.
A cottage tucked away in an isolated Norfolk village seems like the ideal place to sit out a catastrophic pandemic, but some residents of Hincham resent the arrival of Jack, Sarah and their friends, while others want to know too much about them.What the villagers don’t know is that beneath Sarah’s cottage is a fully-stocked, luxury survival bunker. A post-apocalyptic ‘des res’.
Hincham isolates itself from the rest of the country, but the deaths continue―and not from the virus. There’s a killer on the loose, but is it a member of the much-depleted community, or someone from outside? As the body count rises, paranoia sets in; friend suspects friend, and everyone suspects the newcomers.
Most terrifying of all is that no one knows who’s next on the list… – Goodreads
Having read two books before by Terry Tyler, The Visitor continues on being able to showcase her ability to craft engaging murder mystery thrillers. The Visitor’s plot benefits from our current pandemic situation as it sets itself in the future after another pandemic has struck the world which is 100% lethal and much more brutal but sets it in a little village where another threat has hit them simultaneously in the form of a murderer which causes the fear to grow in its inhabitants. The backdrop is one that feels almost like it could happen in our current landscape with variants popping up in our current landscape, making it hit home a little more.
There’s a lot to love about The Visitor other than its familiar backdrop. One of them is a familiar form in Terry Tyler’s books which focuses around the point of view from a few of its core characters. In this one, its from the view of the few inhabitants living in the cottage and bunker who ends up there through some connection whether it is the leftover family and companions of friends that had gotten the invitation. As they gather in the bunker and keep it secret, they observe the people around them and get to know the different members of the village. As they each struggle with their own loss and current situation, they each have their own speculations. The benefit of jumping between characters is that it leaves some blind spots and blank spaces giving the unknown to spark. At the same time, who actually knows the depths of someone’s mind although the killer’s perspective usually does draw certain clues from one chapter to the next and slowly does give an idea of who is behind it by the end.
The Visitor also crafts really good characters. The group in the bunker themselves having their own differences and backgrounds and how they get there is one that definitely sets their own character as much as what they do after the settle into the village and each having their own pursuits and responsibilities. Two of them being best friends but also old flames, one of them being a survivalist (but also could be viewed as selfish), one dealing with her massive loss but navigating through being more of a loner: add in their own sort of purpose and personality that grows throughout the story as they get more involved into the village’s affairs and the villagers themselves, human nature is a tricky thing to say the very least.
The great part is how the focus of the novel smoothly shifts from its beginning of the big threat with this mystery virus which takes the front seat and determines their own means to survive and the desperation of the whole situation due to its lethal nature. However, subtly the story shifts to the murder and slowly the routine of surviving through this “post -apocalyptical” world becomes secondary as the murders become more frequent. It almost blends the two together so well that the story and character plot shift is done incredibly well.
Overall, The Visitor is a fantastic murder mystery. Not only does it have well-developed characters but it also builds a great post-apocalyptic world that is not only relatable in the current age but also pushes it further. Perhaps at times it feels a little bit too soon to be already diving into it but it also adds to the unsettling and uneasiness. Smooth plot transition and executed well, The Visitor is a well-paced and engaging thriller to dive into.
Cast: Roy Chiu, Janine Chang, Zhe Yuan Chen, Yi Shang Sha, Xiao Cheng, Victor Ma, Ming Shuai Shi
Strange crimes occur in Thailand as the ranking for the world’s best detective sees a shift. New detectives come into the picture to tackle three difficult cases. Lin Mo is the student of Chinatown’s number one detective. Lin Mo pursues two cases: Four-Faced Buddha and Name of the Rose that not only takes place in Bangkok but also in Kaoshiung. The third case about the Ghost’s Invitation takes the story back to Bangkok and then to Tokyo. – MyDramaList
Where to Watch: iQiYi
Detective Chinatown is adapted from the Detective Chinatown movies (which I have yet to see). However, this series is really three cases wrapped up as a series. Each case being 4 episodes. The first two revolving the detective Lin Mo played by Roy Chiu and directed by Sam Quah who also directs Sheep Without a Shepherd (review). I mention this because he uses a few cast members that make up the cast from that movie. The third case goes off in a completely different direction: set on an island in the middle of the ocean, about e-sports competition and starring a five person team lead by Noda Koji, played by Zheyuan Chen.
In many ways, Detective Chinatown should be seen as three separate stories as the timeline becomes a little fuzzy. The first case feels the most recent as Roy Chiu’s detective and high school substitute teacher character Lin Mo takes on almost this modern day Sherlock Holmes sort of role cooperating with policewoman Sa Sha (Yi Shang Zhang). There’s a level of quirkiness that makes him rather charming to watch. The first case, Four-Faced Buddha is rather intriguing as it investigates a group of girls after one of their friends commit suicide. The case gets quite a bit of twist and turns and gives Lin Mo a fun look at how he is plus there’s a decent amount of comedy with the other inspectors in the police HQ getting involved. Its probably my favorite of the three. The second dives back in the timeline before Lin Mo is part of the Detective Chinatown agency and first encounters the police woman in the first case Sa Sha but actually tells the story of his connection with this mystery assassin group that wants to kill him for some reason and he gets entangled with this flower shop owner Ivy (Janine Zhang).
Where the series feels the most disjointed is the third case where Lin Mo is not part of the story and it switches over to an esports tournament and five people team who gets lured to the island for this tournament as a final battle before this online game shuts down the server but becomes a rouse for a disappeared legendary player setting up an elaborate game. As an individual case, its pretty decent but just doesn’t seem to correlate well with the first 8 episodes. It feels like a completely different world with just a hint of connection at the beginning when Sa Sha is sent to handle this case. It definitely feels like an attempt to promote a new direction for this franchise, maybe a second season especially since the five people team includes a few up and coming celebrities like Arthur Ma and Xiao Cheng along with Zheyuan Chen. These young cast lack the acting experience so they don’t reflect as well especially since Arthur Ma and Xiao Cheng gained popularity through music and the third story has a lot of characters and a lot of the supporting cast are much more seasoned actors.
Overall, running at 12 episodes, Detective Chinatown is very bingeworthy. The three separate stories is a good way to execute this series and the pacing is pretty good. Sure, the third case is a little odd and its a bit overacted but the set up and case development is pretty good. Roy Chiu is honestly fantastic as Lin Mo and well worth a watch just for his performance. Plus, the first 8 episodes are directed by Sam Quah who has a great eye for capturing the atmosphere and how some of the shots are done are very well-executed. Its rare that I watch series like this which is focused on investigation and twisty cases that its a breath of fresh air.
Publication Date: November 17th, 2020 Genre: Thriller/Suspense/Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Anthology Publisher: Suspense Magazine
The sun sets. The moon takes its place, illuminating the most evil corners of the planet. What twisted fear dwells in that blackness? What legends attach to those of sound mind and make them go crazy in the bright light of day? Only Suspense Magazine knows…
Teaming up with New York Times bestselling author Jeffery Deaver, Suspense Magazine offers up a nail-biting anthology titled: “Nothing Good Happens After Midnight.” This thrilling collection consists of thirteen original short stories representing the genres of suspense/thriller, mystery, sci-fi/fantasy, and more.
Readers’ favorites come together to explore the mystery of midnight. The ‘best of the best’ presenting these memorable tales include: Joseph Badal, Linwood Barclay, Rhys Bowen, Heather Graham, Alan Jacobson, Paul Kemprecos, Shannon Kirk, Jon Land, John Lescroart, D. P. Lyle, Kevin O’Brien, and Hank Phillippi Ryan.
Take their hands…walk into their worlds…but be prepared to leave the light on when you’re through. After all, this incredible gathering of authors, who will delight fans of all genres, not only utilized their
award-winning imaginations to answer that age-old question of why “Nothing Good Happens After Midnight”—they also made sure to pen stories that will leave you…speechless.
“NOTHING GOOD HAPPENS AFTER MIDNIGHT is a treat—dark, chilling, and delicious. Grab it.” —Meg Gardiner, Edgar Award-Winning Author of The Dark Corners of the Night
“Something very good happens after midnight…just pick up this brilliant book and be transported—and very afraid!” —Peter James, UK #1 Bestselling Author of the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace Series
Anthologies are a great way for authors to share some short stories and to show off their writing style. With any anthologies, its always a bit of a mixed bag. Nothing Good Happens After Midnight is also somewhat of a mixed bag however as a lot of the writers are much more experienced, they all showcase an array of suspenseful stories that have rather good premises. The stories offer a different set of characters that range in age and the context which gives it a different setting and spin showing off each of the author’s different approach to their writing and story ideas. Across 13 stories from 13 different authors, there is quite a lot of creative ideas. Overall, its a rather enjoyable read.
As with any anthology, there are its own standouts. This will be probably different for each reader. For myself, the standouts are the stories that are more memorable than the others whether on story structure/execution preference or decent angle or the characters itself as well as the ideas all coming together along with a good setting. The first that comes to mind is Easy Peasey by John Lescroart which structures its story in an engaging way about a home invasion plot and jumps from one point of view to the next via its different characters and their different intentions. Night Shift by Linwood Barclay is a type of story that plays on a call that turns into a “negotiation” sort of deal as the characters work with police to try to talk a man out of their killing spree plans all culminating to a fantastic ending (the type of ending that I particularly enjoy).
Midnight in the Garden of Death by Heather Graham, A Creative Defense by Jeffery Deaver and All Aboard by Hank Phillippi Ryan also craft some brilliant stories. The first one crafts a story in a great setting, the second takes a fantastic musical angle of a musical piece that has the power of hynopsis and the third is set on a train as someone overhears a phone conversation. The final story of the anthology called ATM by Jon Land is also a decent one mostly for its unique angle of taking it on a suspenseful route but having a different approach.
A rather successful compilation of short stories in this anthology. While I listed six of the thirteen stories as more memorable. The others not mentioned are also fairly decent. Perhaps the only one that didn’t appeal to myself as much was the first short story since it felt a little familiar. Overall, a fun little suspense anthology. For a fan of suspense stories, this one fulfills.
JEFFERY DEAVER is an international number-one bestselling author. His novels have appeared on bestseller lists around the world. His books are sold in 150 countries and translated into twenty-five languages. He has served two terms as president of Mystery Writers of America.
The author of forty-three novels, three collections of short stories and a nonfiction law book, and a lyricist of a country-western album, he’s received or been shortlisted for dozens of awards. His THE BODIES LEFT BEHIND was named Novel of the Year by the International Thriller Writers association, and his Lincoln Rhyme thriller THE BROKEN WINDOW and a stand-alone, EDGE, were also nominated for that prize. THE GARDEN OF BEASTS won the Steel Dagger from the Crime Writers Association in England. He’s been nominated for eight Edgar Awards.
Deaver has been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, the Strand Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the Raymond Chandler Lifetime Achievement Award in Italy.
His book A MAIDEN’S GRAVE was made into an HBO movie starring James Garner and Marlee Matlin, and his novel THE BONE COLLECTOR was a feature release from Universal Pictures, starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. Lifetime aired an adaptation of his THE DEVIL’S TEARDROP. NBC television is airing the popular prime time series, Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector.
His latest novel is THE GOODBYE MAN, a Colter Shaw thriller.
JOSEPH BADAL grew up in a family where storytelling had been passed down from generation to generation.
Prior to a long business career, Joe served for six years as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army in critical, highly classified positions in the U.S. and overseas, including tours of duty in Greece and Vietnam, and earned numerous military decorations.
Joe is an Amazon #1 bestselling author, with 16 published suspense novels. He has been recognized as “One of The 50 Best Writers You Should Be Reading.” His books have received two Tony Hillerman Awards for Best Fiction Book of the Year, been top prize winners on multiple occasions in the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards competition, received gold medals from the Military Writers Society of America, the Eric Hoffer Award, and Finalist honors in the International Book Awards.
He writes a regular column titled “Inspired by Actual Events” in Suspense Magazine.
LINWOOD BARCLAY, a New York Times bestselling author and with nearly twenty novels to his credit, spent three decades in newspapers before turning full time to writing thrillers. His books have been translated into more than two dozen language, sold millions of copies, and he counts Stephen King among his fans. Many of his books have been optioned for film and TV, a series has been made in France, and he wrote the screenplay for the film based on his novel NEVER SAW IT COMING. Born in the US, his parents moved to Canada just as he was turning four, and he’s lived there ever since. He lives near Toronto with his wife, Neetha. They have two grown children.
RHYS BOWEN is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author of two historical mystery series, as well as three internationally bestselling standalone novels. Her books have won multiple awards and been translated into over twenty languages. A transplanted Brit, Rhys now divides her time between California and Arizona, where she escapes from those harsh California winters.
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, HEATHER GRAHAM, majored in theater arts at the University of South Florida. After a stint of several years in dinner theater, back-up vocals, and bartending, she stayed home after the birth of her third child and began to write. Her first book was with Dell, and since then, she has written over two hundred novels and novellas including category, suspense, historical romance, vampire fiction, time travel, occult, and Christmas family fare.
She is pleased to have been published in approximately twenty-five languages. She has written over 200 novels and has 60 million books in print. She has been honored with awards from booksellers and writers’ organizations for excellence in her work, and she is also proud to be a recipient of the Silver Bullet from Thriller Writers and was also awarded the prestigious Thriller Master in 2016. She is also a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from RWA. Heather has had books selected for the Doubleday Book Club and the Literary Guild, and has been quoted, interviewed, or featured in such publications as The Nation, Redbook, Mystery Book Club, People and USA Today and appeared on many newscasts including Today, Entertainment Tonight and local television.
Heather loves travel and anything that has to do with the water, and is a certified scuba diver. She also loves ballroom dancing. Each year she hosts the Vampire Ball and Dinner theater at the RT convention, raising money for the Pediatric Aids Society, and in 2006 she hosted the first Writers for New Orleans Workshop to benefit the stricken Gulf Region. She is also the founder of “The Slush Pile Players,” presenting something that’s “almost like entertainment” for various conferences and benefits. Married since high school graduation and the mother of five, her greatest love in life remains her family, but she also believes her career has been an incredible gift, and she is grateful every day to be doing something that she loves so very much for a living.
ALAN JACOBSON is the award-winning, USA Today bestselling author of fourteen thrillers, including the FBI profiler Karen Vail series and the OPSIG Team Black novels. His books have been translated internationally and several have been optioned by Hollywood. Jacobson’s debut novel, FALSE ACCUSATIONS, was adapted to film by acclaimed Czech screenwriter Jirí Hubac.
Jacobson has spent over twenty-five years working with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, the DEA, the US Marshals Service, SWAT, the NYPD, Scotland Yard, local law enforcement, and the US military. This research and the breadth of his contacts help bring depth and realism to his characters and stories.
For video interviews and a free personal safety eBook co-authored by Alan Jacobson and FBI Profiler Mark Safarik, please visit http://www.AlanJacobson.com. You can also connect with Jacobson on Facebook (Facebook.com/AlanJacobsonFans), Instagram (alan.jacobson), Twitter (@JacobsonAlan), and Goodreads (alan-jacobson).
PAUL KEMPRECOS is the author of eight novels in the Aristotle “Soc” Socarides private detective series, including COOL BLUE TOMB, winner of a Shamus award from the Private Eye Writers of America for Best Paperback, and SHARK BAIT, nominated for a Shamus in the same category. Grandmaster of Adventure writer Clive Cussler blurbed: “There can be no better mystery writer in America than Paul Kemprecos.” Paul became the first fiction co-author to work with Cussler when they created and wrote the New York Times bestselling NUMA Files series. After collaborating with Cussler on the first eight books in the NUMA Files, Paul wrote two adventure novels including THE MINOAN CIPHER, nominated for a Thriller award by the International Thriller Writers. Paul lives on Cape Cod with his wife Christi, a financial advisor.
SHANNON KIRK is the international bestselling and award-winning author of METHOD 15/33, THE EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY OF VIVIENNE MARSHALL, IN THE VINES, GRETCHEN, VIEBURY GROVE, and short stories in four anthologies: THE NIGHT OF THE FLOOD, NOTHING GOOD HAPPENS AFTER MIDNIGHT, and BORDER NOIR. Shannon is also a contributor to the International Thriller Writers’ Murderers’ Row. Growing up in New Hampshire, Shannon and her brothers were encouraged by their parents to pursue the arts, which instilled in her a love for writing at a young age. A graduate of Suffolk Law School in Massachusetts, Shannon is a practicing litigation attorney and former adjunct law professor, specializing in electronic-evidence law. When she isn’t writing or practicing law, Shannon spends time with her husband, son, and two cats. To learn more about her, visit http://www.shannonkirkbooks.com.
JON LAND is the USA Today bestselling author of more than 50 books, including the award-winning, critically acclaimed Caitlin Strong series, the most recent of which is STRONG FROM THE HEART. He has also penned six novels in the MURDER, SHE WROTE series and has recently taken over Margaret
Truman’s CAPITAL CRIMES series as well. He’s a 1979 graduate of Brown University, lives in Providence, Rhode Island, and can be reached at jonlandbooks.com or on Twitter @jondland.
JOHN LESCROART is the author of twenty-nine novels, nineteen of which have been New York Times bestsellers. Libraries Unlimited places him among “The 100 Most Popular Thriller and Suspense Authors.” With sales of over twelve million copies, his books have been translated into twenty-two languages in more than seventy-five countries, and his short stories appear in many anthologies.
John’s first book, SUNBURN, won the Joseph Henry Jackson Award for Best Novel by a California author. DEAD IRISH, THE 13TH JUROR, and THE KEEPER were nominees for the Shamus, Anthony, and Silver Falchion Best Mystery Novel, respectively; additionally THE 13TH JUROR is included in the International Thriller Writers publication “100 Must-Read Thrillers of All Time.” HARD EVIDENCE made “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Ultimate Reading List.” THE SUSPECT was the American Author’s Association 2007 Book of the Year. THE MOTIVE was an Audie Finalist of the Audio Publishers Association. THE MERCY RULE, NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH, THE SUSPECT, THE FALL, and THE RULE OF LAW have been major market Book Club selections. John’s books have been Main Selections of one or more of the Literary Guild, Mystery Guild, and Book of the Month Club.
P. LYLE is the Amazon #1 Bestselling; Macavity and Benjamin Franklin Award-winning; and Edgar(2), Agatha, Anthony, Shamus, Scribe, and USA Today Best Book(2) Award-nominated author of 22 books, both non-fiction and fiction, including the Samantha Cody, Dub Walker, Jake Longly and Cain/Harper thriller series and the Royal Pains media tie-in novels. His essay on Jules Verne’s THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND appears in THRILLERS: 100 MUST READS, his short story “Even Steven” in ITW’s anthology THRILLER 3: LOVE IS MURDER, and his short story “Bottom Line” in FOR THE SAKE OF THE GAME. He served as editor for and contributed the short story “Splash” to SCWA’s anthology IT’S ALL IN THE STORY.
He hosts the Crime Fiction Writer’s Blog and the Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction podcast series. He has worked with many novelists and with the writers of popular television shows such as Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Diagnosis Murder, Monk, Judging Amy, Peacemakers, Cold Case, House, Medium, Women’s Murder Club, 1-800-Missing, The Glades, and Pretty Little Liars.
Before his thrillers landed him on the New York Times bestseller list, KEVIN O’BRIEN was a railroad inspector. The author of 21 internationally-published thrillers, he won the Spotted Owl Award for Best Pacific Northwest Mystery, and is a core member of Seattle 7 Writers. Press & Guide said: “If Alfred Hitchcock were alive today and writing novels, his name would be Kevin O’Brien.” Kevin’s latest nail-biter is THE BAD SISTER.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s WHDH-TV, winning 37 EMMYs and dozens more journalism honors. A USA Today bestselling author of 12 thrillers, Ryan’s also an award-winner in her second profession—with five Agathas, three Anthonys, and the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. Critics call her “a master of suspense.” Her highly-acclaimed TRUST ME was an Agatha nominee and chosen for numerous prestigious “Best of 2018” lists. Hank’s book THE MURDER LIST is an Agatha, Anthony and Mary Higgins Clark Award nominee. Her newest standalone is THE FIRST TO LIE (Forge Books August 2020). The Publishers Weekly starred review calls it “Stellar.”
SUSPENSE MAGAZINE was founded in 2007 on the premise that every author in the genre needed a platform to have a voice. From that original concept, Suspense Publishing was born in 2010 to publish high quality books in the suspense/mystery/horror/thriller genre. Suspense Publishing’s goal is to be a leader in producing the highest quality books in the genre.
Following a tip-off, a rookie photojournalist sets off to report on a destructive earthquake but soon finds himself on a mysterious journey that questions the line between fact, myth, and sensationalism. – IMDB
The Tremor is one of those movies that is very hard to sell. The plot of it (just like described above) is rather intriguing but the execution is one that is going to test a lot of the viewer’s patience. The Tremor follows an unnamed photojournalist who spends most of his film driving in his car through mountain paths. The movie starts with scenes of the aftermath of an earthquake in first person as it sees trees fallen down and people being carried out in stretchers and there’s this brewing sound effects in the background that gets louder and louder and yet, back on the road, the movie spends a lot of time with a GoPro or dashcam bouncing around in first person of the mountainous roads that he drives on or close-up of his face whether trying to figure out where to go next or smoking.
The few encounters he has turns out to be fairly cryptic with different information being shared about whether an earthquake did happen and where it is exactly. That is where the suspense lies: in the unknown and whether this did happen and whether the tip-off was a real thing because it starts feeling a lot like its misinformation at a certain point. Its what keeps the plot going and the intrigue of following this man drive around the movie and visit different places and climb through mountainous locations and these little villages along the way looking and questioning the people that want to talk to him. Its these little conversations that much like him, the viewers are learning about the location and what happened or has happened.
In reality, what does give The Tremor the most style is the setting. The mountainous roads and the forest along with a deep fog that creeps in from the valley that starts covering up what is going on. It seems to come in slowly and unexpectedly, following him around. The isolated roads and the vast mountain range and valleys and just the emptiness of the whole location gives it so much suspense. As the past is revealed and almost always constant denial, much like the main character, its easy to wonder what is real or myth. If it wasn’t for the mountainous roads that feel like they loop (or maybe they do) and the unknowing direction of just moving forward and keep hitting figurative dead ends of this situation either having never been heard or the connection of a past earthquake that has been lingering in the village’s memory, it all gets a little uncertain and unclear.
In some ways, The Tremor really is quite an outstanding movie. The cinematography, the setting, the soundtrack all give it the suspense and mystery to keep the viewer intrigue. But at the same time, its a grueling experience where it ends and its a wonder how it was one to get into because in reality, its the most basic elements of watching one man drive through a mountain constantly going forward with almost always fruitless effort and it lies on whether the endgame is one that is satisfying enough. For myself, its a little half and half.
*The Tremor is currently playing virtually for Festival du Nouveau Cinema until October 31st, 2020*
Like every year, the final post for Fantasia Festival 2020 is going to be a short film round-up.
Director (and co-writer): Tony Morales
Cast: Virginia Gomez, Beatriz Salas, Carmen Salas
This Spanish horror short running at 11 minutes is set in the bedroom of a little girl when a phone call rings and the two sisters picks up the phone to realize that there’s something outside the little hideaway. While there is a little bit of campiness in the design of the “monster” on hand, the execution and atmosphere is done so well that it is very creepy and unsettling of tension build-up as anticipation of something happening builds up more and more of what will appear and all ends in a startling ending.
Abracitos is an incredible short executed with such a strong sense of horror that just makes you cringe in your seat waiting for what will happen next but never actually knowing when it will happen.
Downs of the Dead (2019)
Director (and co-writer): Even Husby Grodahl
Cast: David Vekony, Svein Andre Hofso Myhre, Eili Harboe, Ivar Lykke, Jeppe Beck Laursen, Elg Elgesem, Giulia Hellesdatter Roi, Trond Halbo
Running at 23 minutes, Downs of the Dead is a horror comedy set in a home for the intellectually disabled when the zombie apocalypse hits. The nurse tries to find a way out with the residents as the people around start turning one by one. The comedy elements of Downs of the Dead is pretty good. The incorporation of the different character groups with both the residents and the nurse’s collaboration to escape taking a different angle while using the visiting music band and the boss who gets turned into another element of added danger. Its all rather entertaining to watch and runs at a decent pacing. Horror comedy set during zombie apocalypse is really a been there done that sort of premise however its characters and setting is really what gives it the unique edge.
Director (and writer): Ben Burghart & Jacob Burghart
Cast: Robert Coppage III, Jelani Talib
Running at a swift 7 minutes, Suspense starts off with an army pilot caught in the canopy of trees after he escapes the crash. As another army pilot reunites with him on land, they realize that something is chasing them in the shadows. Playing a little like Predator, this story takes a turn for the worse really quickly as the invisible enemy is tracked mostly by its sound with the aid of the camera. Its a fast-paced and excitingly intense short film that delivers on executing some thrilling build-up.
Dead Birds (2018)
Director (and co-writer): Johnny Kenton
Cast: Shannon Tarbet, Tara Fitzgerald, Luke Newberry, Synnove Karlsen, Lydia Wilson
A failing teenage badminton player at a Catholic Girls School is visited by a Saint – who agrees to help her if she’ll complete three tasks for him. Dead Birds is a twisted Super Natural Black Comedy about competitive mother daughter relationships, losing your religion and learning how far you’d go to get what you want. – IMDB
Running over 30 minutes, Dead Birds is one of the longer short films in this batch and also that I’ve seen to date. Its a dark comedy that elevates in its intensity gradually and also a horror comedy that doesn’t use zombies but rather the psyche of a badminton player striving for success and recognition to move up before a big competition. Its quite a wild ride with a good execution on the humor (at least for myself) and all builds up to this fairly alarming twist ending that becomes a little apparent by the final moments right before it as things all piece together from the various conversations. Its a fun and engaging short film that feels very different from any that I’ve seen before.
Homo ErecTattoos (2020)
Director (and writer): Kim Tae-woo
A terrible accident leaves a young soldier horribly scarred, but his rediscovery of art heals his wounded soul, in this brief but powerful animated documentary. – Fantasia Festival
If there was any short film that’s unique, it would definitely be this 8 minute South Korean animated short film. One of the most standout points is how it uses its black and white art style to execute each of its scenes as the pictures morph into one and another to progress through the story of a soldier recovering. There’s such a powerful story told here while still keeping it stylish and visually gripping. Its a movie experience that shouldn’t be missed.