Movie Review – London Has Fallen

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EXPECTATIONS: Lots of stabbings and headshots, courtesy of terrorist-ridder/knife enthusiast Gerard Butler.

REVIEW: American nationalism is back on-screen once again in full display in the action sequel to Olympus Has Fallen. On a minor note, Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett and others from the previous film are back as well. But seriously, the first film, by director Antoine Fuqua of Training Day fame, was a surprise success at the box office, especially when compared to its more expensive and sleeker competitor, White House Down, by disaster-porn purveyor Roland Emmerich of Independence Day fame. Many thought it was due to the huge disappointment of A Good Day to Die Hard (aka Die Hard 5) and since Olympus Has Fallen had many comparisons to Die Hard, it was seen as the film A Good Day to Die Hard should have been. And now we have London Has Fallen, an inferior yet entertaining sequel that still carries the throwback vibe the first film has and has some other surprises too.

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Gerard Butler reprises his role as knife enthusiast/secret agent Mike Banning, who is still on the guard for President/buddy-buddy Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart). Mike is contemplating about quitting the Secret Service to spend more time with his pregnant wife, Leah (Radha Mitchell) and to prepare for parenthood. Mike and Asher are informed that the British Prime Minister has died. Along with Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett), they are to attend the funeral alongside other world leaders and their security teams. But just when things are going according to plan, a catastrophic terror attack occurs and kills many innocent people, leaving Mike to protect Asher from the vengeful Aamir Bakawi (Alon Moni Aboutboul), the arms dealer/terrorist leader behind the attack.

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First off, if you are offended by any sign of xenophobia, racism and political incorrectness, punch out now. The film is filled to the gills with such moments, that it comes off as propagandistic. What is also present from the first film is the laughably bad CGI. The helicopters, the explosions, the scenes of destruction; they are all a hoot to watch because they are so badly executed. But then again, this was also present in the first film; all the flaws above can be seen as positives with the right frame of mind. Films like Commando, Invasion USA and others were sloppy pieces of film-making but they were genuine in their intent to entertain and they do well in that regard and London Has Fallen is reminiscent of those types of films. If you are expecting a sloppy 80/90’s action throwback like the Schwarzenegger/Stallone/Willis/Norris days of yore, then you will enjoy this movie.

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The actors certainly add to the fun factor. Gerard Butler looks like he is having the time of his life, taking his role serious enough in terms of drama and action while relishing in the silliness of the film. The same goes for Aaron Eckhart, but what is surprising is the fact that they made the two actors go for a buddy comedy-vibe and it really works due to their excellent chemistry. Also a surprise is the higher focus of self-awareness that adds to the entertainment that pays off with some great one-liners. Morgan Freeman, while having less screen-time than the previous film, adds more credibility to the film than necessary. Matter of fact, the entire supporting cast, which consists of Robert Forster, Melissa Leo, Charlotte Riley, Jackie Earle Haley and others, adds credibility to the point that it is amusing that they are actually appearing in a film like this.

As for the action, director Babak Najafi does acceptably well, with some jarring editing problems; particularly in the car chase scene, but the hand-to-hand combat scenes work well and the gun-play is thrilling, especially in the climax where Najafi utilizes long takes that gives off a Call of Duty feel. But what is a letdown is that the villains are not as menacing as they could have been, particularly in comparison to Rick Yune’s performance as the villain in the previous film. Alon Moni Aboutboul does what he can to make the audience take his reasoning for the character’s attack seriously but there is nothing more than that.

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So while the politics in the film are highly questionable and the film-making is more than flawed in addition to the cheesy moments (there’s a scene that involves the Presidential Oath, similar to Melissa Leo‘s scene in the first film) the self-awareness, the committed cast and the entertaining action make London Has Fallen an entertaining time at the movies. By the way, you’ll definitely want to get a glass of water afterwards.

Quickie Review

PROS

Gerard Butler is a blast

Great chemistry between Butler and Eckhart

Action scenes are good for the most part

Self-aware humour hits its mark

CONS

Terrible CGI

Slipshod story

Underused supporting cast

Politically incorrect

SCORE: 6/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Radha Mitchell, Charlotte Riley, Patrick Kennedy, Melissa Leo, Jackie Earle Haley, Robert Forster, Waleed Zuaiter, Sean O’Bryan, Colin Salmon, Nancy Baldwin, Philip Delancy, Alex Giannini, Elsa Mollien, Tsuwayuki Saotome, Penny Downie, Deborah Grant
Director: Babak Najafi
Screenwriter: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Christian Gudegast, Chad St. John

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Movie Review – Grimsby

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EXPECTATIONS: Offensive. Repulsive. Shocking. Unapologetic.

REVIEW: These words above are always associated with a film starring Sasha Baron Cohen as the lead. Films such as Borat, Bruno and The Dictator have brought levels of laughter due shock and wit, and with his latest film, Grimsby, it is no exception. If you hated any of those movies, punch out now. After having dealt with themes of xenophobia, homophobia and dictatorships, Grimsby deals with social class, but like Cohen’s previous films, don’t expect any subtlety whatsoever.


Sasha Baron Cohen stars as Norman “Nobby” Butcher, a dim-witted, yet good-natured English football supporter who is living a great life in the poor town of Grimsby. The most beautiful wife in all of Grimsby, Dawn (Rebel Wilson); 11 children, who some apparently have their own children; and a bunch of mates to spend time watching football in the pub. But there’s a hole in his life that still needs to be filled. That’s not a euphemism. At least, I think it isn’t. He has a long-lost brother, Sebastian Butcher (Mark Strong) who is currently MI6’s top assassin. As the two meet in a spectacularly chaotic fashion, they are both embroiled in a villainous plot, masterminded by Rhonda George (Penelope Cruz) and her henchman, Lukashenko (Scott Adkins). Will they both settle their differences and join together to save the world? Will the hole in Nobby’s life finally be filled by Sebastian?


If you’ve never seen a movie before, be prepared to be shocked at the story’s outcome. The story is haphazardly told and takes long, plot-less detours in settings such as Africa for more comedic opportunities. But seriously, who watches a comedy such as this for the story? The audience clearly comes to watch a movie such as this for the laughs, and Grimsby delivers on that front. The jokes are incredibly gleeful and most of them are without restraint. There are some jokes that are surprisingly subtle, like a scene of mistaken identity that involves a poop joke that is promiscuously delivered in the best kind of way, but the rest are full-bore. There is a scene involving an elephant that is truly unforgettable in the best (or worst) way. Celebrities like Daniel Radcliffe and Donald Trump are referenced in a brutal fashion, AIDS is used as a running gag, and the scenes of physical comedy are so ridiculously over-the-top, it boggles the mind at how the actors can play the film so straight-faced.

Sasha Baron Cohen is surprisingly sweet and good-natured as Nobby, despite his brash and loud-mouthed demeanor but the biggest standout is Mark Strong, as Sebastian. His reactions and his serious line readings to Cohen’s antics is what makes the film hilarious, especially in a scene of his character reacting to what happened to Daniel Radcliffe that had me in stitches. Whenever the two are together, the film takes flight. But what is unfortunate is that the talented supporting cast are sorely underused. Rebel Wilson is amusing as Dawn, particularly with her Basic Instinct impression and Penelope Cruz seems to be having a lot of fun as the villain, but Isla Fisher, Ian McShane, Gabourey Sidibe, Barkhad Abdi and others are all either wasted or just used as generic punch-lines.


A strange choice for a film such as this, director Louis Leterrier brings the usual energy and pacing like in his earlier films such as Now You See Me and the first two Transporter films. But the action scenes, while quite thrilling, are of the fast-cut variety that could cause some headaches. Having martial artist Scott Adkins contributing to the action with his fast footwork was a nice touch though.

In a world that is seemingly drowning in political correctness, it actually is quite refreshing to see a comedy such as this that clearly does not care whether it is offensive or not. It is humour like this that makes me think to myself that I shouldn’t be laughing at the jokes, but the thought of guilt just makes me laugh even harder.

Just expect to feel dirty, guilty and offended afterwards, and you’ll have a great time with Grimsby.

Quickie Review

PROS

Sasha Baron Cohen and Mark Strong make a really effective duo

Refreshing lack of concern for political correctness

Fast-paced, good POV action scenes

CONS

Shock humour does not always hit

Numerous plot holes

Underused supporting cast

SCORE: 7/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Sasha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Isla Fisher, Penelope Cruz, Rebel Wilson, Ian McShane, Gabourey Sidibe, Barkhad Abdi, Scott Adkins, Annabelle Wallis
Director: Louis Leterrier
Screenwriter: Sasha Baron Cohen, Peter Baynham, Phil Johnston

Film-momatic Flashback – Future Cops

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EXPECTATIONS: The poster above says it all.

REVIEW: Wong Jing is one hell of a filmmaker, who has thrived on more crowd-pleasing films than films that were more inclined to artistic fare. Back in the nineties, he had always made films on genres that were in at the time, whether it was the martial arts genre (i.e. High Risk), the erotic thriller genre (i.e. Naked Killer), the gangster genre (i.e. Young and Dangerous) and of course, the broad comedy genre (too many to count). Sometimes, he mashes all of these genres all at once in quick succession, with no care in cohesion. But what is also notable of Wong Jing is that he created the gambling genre, started with the ultra-popular film, God of Gamblers, starring superstars Chow Yun-fat and Andy Lau. And, he made many films with superstar Stephen Chow, that were box-office hits (i.e. Royal Tramp 1 & 2, Hail the Judge!, The Tricky Master and others). But in Future Cops, he has gone all out in terms of star-power and insane genre mash-ups that would easily make it a cult classic, but does it qualify as a film?

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Future Cops starts off in a futuristic world of 2043, where Stephen Chow’s Fight Back to School franchise has reached its 42nd sequel. Seriously, I didn’t make this up; that’s a joke in the movie. We see a megalomaniacal madman with a strange resemblance to Street Fighter’s M. Bison, known as The General (Ken Lo), who is in a high-tech prison, due to some evil deeds. Around that time, The General’s cronies, known as The Future Rascals consisting of Thai King (Billy Chow), Toyota (Tuan Wai-lun) and Kent (Ekin Cheng), create a time machine to use to travel back to 1993 to kill the judge, Yu Ti hung, who sentenced The General to imprisonment. As they are attempting to turn on the machine, The Future Cops, consisting of Ti Man (Andy Lau), Broom Man (Jacky Cheung), Sing (Simon Yam) and Lung (Aaron Kwok), attack them with full force, but unfortunately, the time travel was successful. To save the judge, The Future Cops will go back in time to find Yu Ti Hung before The Future Rascals do or else The General will be free and chaos reigns and blah, blah, blah. In 1993, we meet Tai Hung (Dicky Cheung) a 24 year-old schoolboy loser who gets bullied at school by the school gangster Kei On (Andy Hui) and at home by his sister Chun May (Chingmy Yau). The only thing that keeps his sanity in check is his best friend, Choi Nei (Charlie Young). He then, by some strange coincidence, meets The Future Cops and they all team up to find Yu Ti Hung.

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Judging from the screenshots, this is a movie that is not meant to be taken seriously. If you do, you will possibly get an aneurysm. And also by the screenshots, you can see the characters are obviously inspired by either characters from Street Fighter, Dragonball and even Doraemon. Wong Jing’s love of videogames was evident in City Hunter and My Schoolmate, The Barbarian, but none more than in Future Cops. Originally, the film was meant to be an adaptation of Street Fighter, but the film company couldn’t get the rights, therefore Wong Jing basically compiled new characters and chucked them in a story that is a rip-off of Fight Back to School and The Terminator. And boy, does the slipshod feel of the story show. Story details do not make any sense (What is the point of the electric lying chips?), plot holes are everywhere (Why doesn’t Lung join the Future Cops? How can the characters lie profusely even when they have the chips?) and the performances are dialed up to 11…thousand (I’m looking at you, Dicky Cheung!). Whoa, almost felt the aneurysm coming there. So what is it that makes the film such a cult classic if it breaks all the rules of film-making? The cast, for one thing.

Boy, does this film have star-power! And they are committed to Wong’s direction from beginning to end, which brings out a lot of fun. Andy Lau is pretty much playing another version of himself (complete with dancing) but his performance hews more on charm rather than smarm. Jacky Cheung overacts in such a charming way (or maybe it was his hair) that you  want him to succeed in getting the girl as well as completing the mission. Simon Yam unfortunately is just there, looking glum and probably waiting for another Category III film to overact in. Ekin Cheng (in one of his early roles) exudes some of the cool charisma that is reminiscent of his role as Chan Ho-nam in Young and Dangerous and alongside Aaron Kwok, provide an unintentional teaser for Storm Riders, as they briefly duke it out. The rest of the supporting cast are amusing (i.e. Richard Ng, Kingdom Yuen, Andy Hui) but the female cast members (excluding Kingdom Yuen and Chingmy Yau) are relegated to flower vase roles, like Charlie Young, in her first film role. But the litmus test on enjoying the film depends on how much you can tolerate Dicky Cheung. I like the actor and I thought he was fantastic in his portrayal of Sun Wukong in the Journey to the West HK series, but in a lot of his 90’s movies, he can be infuriatingly hyperactive like in Black Panther Warriors or Holy Weapon and others. In Future Cops, he’s a little mellowed but still, he can definitely put off some people, I guarantee it.

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Another plus to the film is the sheer energy and pacing Wong brings to the table. If a joke does not work, ten more will follow and the audience will get to see if it sticks. A lot of them work due to its visual absurdity and the mimicry of Japanese media, like when Andy Lau and Chingmy Yau are suddenly transported into an arcade game of Super Mario Bros. Guess which of the two plays Luigi? Other jokes work mainly because of the involvement of the stars. There’s a whole music video dedicated to Jacky Cheung singing one of his hit songs, and the video references films like the Patrick Swayze classic, Ghost. Some of the jokes work due to Cantonese wordplay, however esoteric they may be; and of course, there are references to other films that are just random in their inclusion. Also adding to the frenetic feel is Ching Siu-tung’s action choreography. While it may not offset all of the budget problems, the speed and ingenuity of the choreography is a sight to behold. So much so, his videogame style of choreography will be used again in City Hunter and My Schoolmate, The Barbarian. It’s just a shame that there’s very little in terms of fight scenes apart from the beginning and the final act.

To summarize (before I go on a hell of a lot longer), the cast and sheer chutzpah alone makes Future Cops a cult classic that will reward the adventurous film viewers out there. As much as I hate to say it, I do wish they would make more films like this these days. And no, Future X-Cops definitely does not count.

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Quickie Review

PROS

All-star cast give their all

Fight scenes capture the video-game/anime spirit

The pacing is relentless

Incredibly fun tone and random HK humour add to the so-bad-it’s-good insanity

CONS

Performances can be quite annoying (especially from Dicky Cheung)

The low budget really shows

No Leon Lai (although it leads to a funny out-of-nowhere replacement)

Despite the insanity, the story is predictable

Too little amount of fight scenes

Lack of screen-time from Aaron Kwok

SCORE: My heart and my brain are still in conflict about it…

Cast: Andy Lau Tak-Wah, Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin, Jacky Cheung Hok-Yau, Simon Yam Tat-Wah, Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching, Dicky Cheung Wai-Kin, Andy Hui Chi-On, Charlie Young Choi-Nei, Yuen King-Tan, Winnie Lau Siu-Wai, Richard Ng Yiu-Hon, Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing, Chan Bak-Cheung, Billy Chow Bei-Lei, Ken Lo Wai-Kwong, Dennis Chan Kwok-San, Lee Siu-Kei, Tuan Wai-Lun
Director: Wong Jing
Screenwriter: Wong Jing

Movie Review – Let’s Go!

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EXPECTATIONS: A fun Hong Kong take on the Tokusatsu genre marred by Wong Ching-po’s pretentious direction.

REVIEW: Director Wong Ching-po has always been a filmmaker that has disappointed me, since he has so much potential. He can get great performances from his actors, but it is his pretentious direction that turns his films into tedium. After seeing three pretentious crime films of his (Jiang Hu, Mob Sister and Revenge: A Love Story) that were parts compelling and parts laughably overwrought, Wong takes a change of pace and came out with Let’s Go!, a crime film that has elements of tokusatsu (meaning special FX stories in Japan i.e. Power Rangers) filmed within settings of the Hong Kong Housing Commission. With a cast filled with young and veteran talent and a weird premise, does Wong Ching-po break his curse of making pretentious films after another?

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Juno Mak stars as Siu Sheung, a delivery boy at a noodle shop who loves with his mother (Pat Ha) in a house estate in crime-ridden Kowloon. When he was a young boy, he had always enjoyed time with his father, watching the Cantonese-dubbed version of a Japanese anime, Space Emperor God Sigma, and singing along to the opening theme of the anime, sung by the late Hong Kong actor/singer/all-round superstar Leslie Cheung. But all of that came to a sudden stop as his father was killed while trying to apprehend a bank robber and Siu Sheung has been living his life aimlessly ever since. Inspired by the themes of the anime and his father’s last words, Siu Sheung tries to bring justice to the community, alongside his friend, Big Bird (Wen Chao). Meanwhile, Shing (Gordon Lam) a gangster witnesses Siu Sheung’s fighting skills and hires him for security detail in the Matsumoto Syndicate, run by Boss Hon Yu (Jimmy Wang Yu). Having no choice but to join due to financial difficulties, he takes the job and becomes a bodyguard for Hon Yu’s daughter, Annie (Stephy Tang). But a major event between Shing and Hon Yu takes place and Siu Sheung has to take action to protect the people he loves and to stop evil to restore peace to the community.

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Judging by the story, it seems like nothing yet it is also everything Wong Ching-po has done before. All the crime elements that he is usually associated in are there, but the comedic elements and tokusatsu elements are nothing he has every dealt with before. But to my great pleasure, Wong has pulled off the genre mix in a fun, if not completely satisfying manner. It becomes patently obvious that Let’s Go! is more of a personal project for Wong, than it is a business one. First of all, setting the film entirely in Hong Kong (without any China association) adds to the identity of the film, as well as nostalgia factor of how Hong Kong is within the working class. Nostalgia levels are also up through the roof with the use of the Cantonese version of Space Emperor God Sigma, complete with the Leslie Cheung theme. Not only is it used effectively in the opening/end credits, it conveys the overriding theme of justice and harmony in an effective, if quite cheesy manner.

Having the film revolve around the tokusatsu genre was a smart move, especially when stories originating from that genre are very slipshod on plots and off-kilter on themes, which is what Let’s Go does in spades. There are so many plot holes (Why would Siu Sheung join in a crime syndicate if he wants to be heroic as he wanted to be?) and logic is for the most part, thrown out the window. Some amusing jokes and moments happen for no reason other than the fact that it happens in tokusatsu (like Siu Sheung’s sudden superhuman strength or a scene involving regaining a limb). But director Wong’s willingness to play the whole movie straight is a positive in the long run, as it not only adds fun and humour in the proceedings, but much-needed emotional resonance through its dramatic second act.

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Unfortunately, Wong can’t quite achieve the perfect balance between drama and fun. The second act is so melodramatic that it becomes depressing at times. The underdog zero-to-hero formula applies here and is executed with style and conviction from the actors and Wong and it makes the final act very satisfying, but the style/direction from Wong (utilizing noir cinematography, slow-motion, brutal action scenes) makes the dramatic situations so overwrought to the point that it almost feels like Wong is spoofing the drama element of the story. With such a self-referential tone in the first act, it does feel a bit abrupt to be swept up in drama like this, but regarding director Wong’s intentions, it certainly does feel like he’s in on the joke at times. There’s a scene involving Shing eating dinner in front of a statue of his own head, and also behind him are men, beaten, battered and chained up. He shoots them one by one whilst eating his dinner as if it were a normal everyday chore. Just describing the scene feels like it should be part of a parody, but it is played completely straight, that you don’t really know for sure whether to be amused or fearful. Wong’s portentous direction just comes off as amusing to those knowing of the tokusatsu genre or just plain off-putting to mainstream audiences.

Helping matters is the varied cast. Juno Mak is fine as Siu Sheung, although he does well in the physicality of the role, he is not always convincing in being the “everyman” of the character. He comes off as distant at times, and while it certainly makes sense in parts of the story, Mak does not engage as much as he could have. Fortunately, the supporting cast not only add fun to the proceedings, they also add much needed emotional resonance and even open up Mak’s character. Stephy Tang is a hoot as Annie, although her character is incredibly unbelievable. Pat Ha is fantastic as Siu Sheung’s mother, and her scenes with Mak are stirring in the best of ways. Wen Chao, who is famous for his voice sounding eerily similar to Stephen Chow, is great as Big Bird, Siu Sheung’s friend and not only does he bring welcome comic relief, he is also compelling as the voice of reason for Siu Sheung. Ditto on the former for Gary Chaw, an unlikely ally for Siu Sheung. But the biggest standout is Gordon Lam as Shing. Finally given a role to really sink into, Lam is downright frightening as the main villain. But what makes his performance even more impressive, is that he manages to find a way to make his character a little sympathetic. He does not start off as the megalomaniac he eventually becomes, but just a stern man who takes his job seriously; and his transformation is a sight to behold. His men, consisting of Chin Siu-ho, Kenny Wong, Ken Lo and Vincent Sze, are good in their small roles, as is Jimmy Wang Yu in a small role as Boss Hon Yu.

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Overall, Let’s Go! is a well-made (especially for its budget) fun experience that has plenty of meta moments for the initiated, yet it also has a surprising amount of heart that makes it more substantial and memorable than it has any right to. It may be too esoteric to mainstream audiences and for those expecting wall-to-wall tokusatsu antics will be disappointed, but you can’t really hate a movie where Stephy Tang uses a rocket launcher and where Pat Ha uses a machine gun, can you?

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Quickie Review

PROS

The cast all give great performances (Gordon Lam is a standout as the villain)

The genre mash-up of the offbeat tokusatsu and the nihilistic crime genre surprisingly works well

The distinct Hong Kong feel and attitude add heart to the story

The use of the tokusatsu genre excuses the many plot holes

CONS

Not as much tokusatsu or fun as people might expect

Tone shifts are not handled as well as they should have been

Too strange and esoteric for mainstream audiences

SCORE: 7/10

Cast: Juno Mak Chun-Lung, Stephy Tang Lai-Yun, Pat Ha Man-Chik, Gordon Lam Ka-Tung, Wen Chao, Gary Chaw, Jimmy Wang Yu, Dominic Lam Ka-Wah, Hugo Ng Doi-Yung, Ken Lo Wai-Kwong, Chin Siu-Ho, Tony Ho Wah-Chiu, Kenny Wong Tak-Bun, Vincent Sze
Director: Wong Ching-po
Screenwriter: Pak Wing-yan, Simon Lai