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Kung fu winners: Lady killer and sleuth Dee

TWO very different and satisfying kung fu films premiere this week, in time for the long National Day holiday.

"Reign of Assassins" by Hollywood-based John Woo and Taiwanese film maker Su Chao-pin, which opens today, is expected to be the box-office sensation and targets an international audience. It's about a retired female assassin in ancient times who just can't seem leave it all behind and live in domestic bliss with her lover.

"Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame," which opens tomorrow, marks Hong Kong director Hark Tsui's return to the martial arts genre, with which he has been so successful.

This one is about "China's Sherlock Holmes" in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), Detective Dee (Andy Lau), who is recalled from banishment by future Empress Wu Zetian to solve the mystery of nobles who suddenly explode in flames - this annoyance could delay her coronation.

'Reign of Assassins'

The film, with no English subtitles, centers on Zeng Jing (Michelle Yeoh), a veteran assassin who hopes to begin a peaceful life with her lover Ah Sheng (Jung Woo-sung). But villains from her past appear and Zeng must protect the remains of a mystical Buddhist monk - the remains give the owner invincible power in the martial arts world.

The film set in the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) has been praised for its noted cast, plot, well-written script, fast-paced action and lack of excessive special effects.

In addition to Yeoh ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," 2000), the film also stars Hong Kong actor Shawn Yue, Taiwanese pop star Barbie Hsu and South Korean actor Jung. Woo's daughter, Angeles, also takes a supporting role of a mysterious killer.

"What the protagonists pursue in this fantasy martial arts world are simple happiness - love, tolerance and a tranquil life," director Woo has said. "Everyone is trying to discover his/her true self and seek a balanced life again. People in modern society will be inspired by this movie and have a clear picture of what they truly want and what it will do for them if they get it."

Chinese critics say the film could be another high-quality martial arts blockbuster, like Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" that opens the world of Chinese culture. It's not always about swordplay - Chinese Zen, traditional Chinese medicine and folk stunts are incorporated.

Dazzling costumes were created by Japanese designer Emi Wada, famous for Oscar-winning creations in Akira Kurosawa's "Ran" (1985) and the Technicolor wardrobes in Zhang Yimou's "Hero" (2001) and "House of Flying Daggers" (2004).

Director Woo says his next project is a war epic about the Flying Tigers, volunteer American pilots who defended China from Japanese attacks during World War II.

"I'm trying to show and commemorate the friendship between the Chinese and American pilots in this war film," Woo says.

'Detective Dee'

After several years' absence from the martial arts genre, noted Hong Kong director Hark Tsui has returned and shows that he's on top of his game with his action, suspense thriller "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame," with both English and Chinese subtitles.

Tsui is considered to have directed around half of the best films of Hong Kong's golden age of cinema. But his recent work "All About Women" (2008) was disappointing due to it uninspired and weird script about modern society.

This time, he's on the mark.

The epic mystery film is set in the Tang Dynasty, around AD 690 inauguration and coronation of Empress Wu Zetian (who assumed the throne after her husband's death). She was the first and only female ruler of China.

The mysterious fiery deaths of a series of loyal subjects makes Wu summon the famous Detective Dee back from an eight-year exile (to which she herself had banished him) to find the murderer.

Earlier this month the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival and received a fairly good response from foreign media critics, who note that it has been a while since Tsui produced a real crowd pleaser, a drama infused with both intrigue and love.

"We don't want to make a simple and superficial martial arts production," director Tsui says. "It was a new attempt for us to add suspense and logical reasoning to the film with fight scenes."

The film features fantasy and special effects to create magnificent scenes, such as a giant Buddha, a mysterious underground water city and the prosperity of the Tang Dynasty.

While Andy Lau plays the sleuth, Hong Kong actress Carina Lau plays Empress Wu, a strong and very complicated woman. Documentaries: Overseas Chinese, museums, Macau Joyce Xu

Documentaries airing over the holiday include one about overseas Chinese, the connections between the Louvre Museum in Paris and the Palace Museum and Beijing, and the development.

The three, which all took several years to make, are produced by Shanghai Media Group's Documentary Channel noted for its recent big-budget successes, "The Bund" and "The Parade."

The five-episode "Overseas Chinese" is airing at 8:30-9:30pm through October 1.

The series documents overseas Chinese dedication and contributions to both China and world civilization over the decades.

For example, in the 19th century thousands of Chinese workers helped build the Central Pacific Railroad, America's first transcontinental railroad linking east and west coasts. It was considered one of the "Seven Wonders of the Industrial World."

"Despite the low pay and misunderstandings these Chinese workers received at that time, they impressed the whole world with their wisdom and courage," says Ying Qiming, a producer of the documentary series.

The series also features documents, photos and other materials showing both the hardships overseas Chinese endured and the recognition they have received.

From October 2 to 13 at 8:30pm, a 12-episode series, "When the Louvre Museum Meets the Palace Museum," sheds light on the differences and delicate connections between East and West.

Its filming was inspired by the exhibition "Napoleon" in 2008, a joint effort of the Louvre Museum and the Palace Museum.

Famous artists and scholars Chen Danqing, Li Gufang, Xu Jiang and Lu Jianguo will give their interpretations of Eastern and Western cultures by comparing some of the cultural relics in each.

Additionally, a two-part production, "Macau Stories," will air from October 14-15 at 8:30pm. It features more than 30 residents of Macau who tell their stories, thus describing Macau's dramatic economic and social development since the former Portuguese colony was returned to the Chinese mainland in 1999.

The three documentaries are expected to be distributed overseas later this year.


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