• Hong yi xiao nu hai 2 / The Tag-Along 2 (2017)

    The Haunted 2, also known as The Tag-Along 2, is the sequel to the successful Taiwanese horror movie released two years before this film. This movie revolves around the complicated relationship of a busy, nervous and severe single mother and social worker with her stubborn, proud and pregnant teenage daughter who mysteriously disappears in the mountains. Along with the father of the unborn child, a mother with a sinister past who overprotects her daughter and the young woman who survived the terrifying events in the first film, the desperate mother tries to save her daughter by confronting the vengeful ghost of a deceased little girl.

    This movie is a decent sequel. It gives us some interesting background information about the vengeful spirit and also provides information what happened to the characters of the first movie. The new characters are fairly unique and viewers will care about their fates. The movie has a sinister vibe from start to finish. The locations consisting of abandoned amusement parks, creepy hospitals and foggy forests in the mountains are very efficient. The film has a few scary scenes but also convincingly ventures into the drama genre.

    However, this film can't keep up with the very good predecessor. The film has a few lengths in the middle section. The special effects are more used than in the first movie which wasn't a great choice since they look cheaply made. The weirdest thing is however the teenage daughter's boyfriend who is at times the host of a mysterious god known as the Master Tiger. When possessed, this unusual characters is shown wandering, sniffing and roaring around like an animal. Those scenes may be connected to Taiwanese culture but they look unintentionally humorous or even ridiculous.

    If you have watched and liked the predecessor, you may as well give this film a try. It's less intense at times and includes a few awkward ideas but it's still very atmospheric and highly entertaining. It's not a great but still a good horror movie that can be recommended to genre fans around the world.

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  • Hong yi xiao nu hai / The Tag-Along (2015)

    The Haunted, also known as The Tag-Along, is a highly entertaining Taiwanese horror movie. An elderly woman from a vast apartment complex has mysteriously disappeared and her worried best friend starts having strange visions and hearing weird noises. Soon after, the disappeared woman suddenly returns and is in a confused state of shock. She remembers being held captive in the mountains outside of Taipeh and pronouncing her best friend's name who has now also disappeared under strange circumstances. Her busy grandson and his fragile girlfriend start investigating with the help of an elderly security guard. They soon realize that numerous recent disappearances in the region are related to the ghost of a little girl living in the mountains. While they are getting closer to uncovering the truth, they start risking their own lives facing abominable witchcraft.

    This overlooked movie convinces on numerous levels. First of all, it's one of the most important Taiwanese horror movies, starting a popular franchise and being the first of its kind to get limited international release. While this movie might seem like another ghost story at first sight, the movie incorporates numerous elements of Taiwanese culture that add a fresh perspective. The locations are perfectly chosen from desolate apartments over gloomy hospitals to foggy forests in the mountains. The round characters are intriguing and especially the difficult relationship between the ambitious son and his fearful girlfriend is cleverly developed throughout the movie. Being a horror movie, the film has an uneasy vibe right from the start and showcases a few unsettling moments while always favouring atmosphere over jump scare tropes. With a length of one hour and a half, the film doesn't overstay its welcome and remains dynamic from start to finish. The production values are above average as the movie makes the best out of a low budget.

    I'm glad that I was able to pick up this movie along with its good but not as convincing sequel in a collective set for only seven bucks. However, this movie is worth much more than what I've paid for it and will certainly convince international horror movie enthusiasts. The combination of Taiwanese culture and a creepy ghost story adds something new to horror cinema and I can only encourage genre fans to give obscure international filmmakers a chance instead of only focusing on Hollywood reboots, remakes and sequels.

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  • Yao Mao Zhuan / Legend of the Demon Cat (2017)

    Legend of the Demon Cat is a colourful Sino-Japanese fantasy movie. It follows a former Chinese government official and poet who teams up with a Japanese monk to investigate strange events at court leading to injuries, illnesses and deaths. The dynamic youngster and the calm intellectual soon realize that all those events are related to a vengeful cat. They need to figure out the secret behind the mysterious animal in order to stop further catastrophes.

    This movie convinces on several levels. The costumes are colourful and eye-catching. The locations look diversified and elegant. The two different lead characters complete each other in a balanced way. The first half of the movie sets a mysterious tone but also has solid pace.

    Things get worse in the dragging and disjointed second half. The second hour mostly consists of lengthy flashbacks and the two intriguing main characters simply become listeners or spectators. The story also becomes more predictable and one would have hoped for a more spectacular outcome.

    In the end, this movie should please to fans of colourful fantasy movies and those interested in traditional Asian culture. The mysterious parts of the story vanish in the second half, the dramatic elements become predictable and the crime elements are replaced by complicated flashbacks. It's regrettable that a movie that showed much promise in its first half changes so drastically in its second half. The director and scriptwriter tried to experiment and innovate but a fluid pace and clearer structure would have been the better options in this case.

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  • Jangsa-ri 9.15 / Battle of Jangsari (2019)

    Battle of Jangsari is the second part in a loose trilogy about the Korean War that started with the brilliant Operation Chromite three years before this film. It tells the story of a group of students who only had a few days of military training that must participate in a diversionary manoeuvre on the West Coast of the Korean peninsula. The movie follows different characters such as a native North Korean who has to confront his own cousin, a protective brother and his disguised sister who participates in the battle under a false identity and an ambitious soldier who is seen as the family's black sheep and wants to make them proud. The young soldiers successfully manage to storm the beach under difficult circumstances and surprise the North Korean Army but the enemy is soon sending massive reinforcements while the South Korean soldiers don't get their expected support and realize that they are on a suicide mission.

    This movie convinces on almost all levels. The story is tense and gripping from start to finish, analyzes a historical battle appropriately and criticizes some actions by the South Korean and American commanders. The characters are intriguing, diversified and authentic as viewers will care about their fates. The fight scenes are realistic, intense and brutal as they bring the horrors of war to life. The locations look splendid from stormy oceans over poor villages to heavily fortified outposts. The outcome of the different characters' fates remains unpredictable and will keep your eyes glued to the screen until the heartbreaking conclusion.

    The only element that was unnecessary were the few scenes involving Megan Fox as war correspondent and George Eads as tough general. The two characters have a handful of conversations that always sound exactly the same. Megan Fox's character cares about the lives of the teenage soldiers while George Eads' character claims that there is nothing that can be done to save them. It seems that these two American actors are only in the film to attract international viewers but they are by far the worst actors and characters in the entire movie. The film should have either cut this entire story line or worked out a more detailed side story with more dedicated actors.

    Despite that one major letdown, the rest of the movie is excellent. This action-drama is intense from start to finish and tells a story few people have heard about. Paying tribute to these inexperienced teenage soldiers is essential. Battle of Jangsari isn't as intense as Operation Chromite but comes quite close and can be considered the best war movie of the year along with critically acclaimed 1917. The third and final part of this already outstanding trilogy can't come soon enough.

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  • Gong Fu Lian Meng / Kung Fu League (2018)

    Kung Fu League is a quirky Hong Kong action-comedy movie that goes back to the genre's golden era in the late eighties and early nineties. You will only fully appreciate this film if you are familiar with those movies as the four characters from the past who help the protagonist are obviously inspired by historical figures but also popular movies such as the Once Upon a Time in China and Ip Man franchises.

    The story itself is rather nonsensical. A shy comic book artist has a romantic interest in a cute colleague and former school pal but their head manager also has an eye on her and humiliates the artist quite often. The depressed protagonist summons four legendary martial arts masters from his stories to help him. They arrive in present-day Hong Kong and are quite confused by contemporary customs. Upon meeting the shy artist, they want to help him participate in a martial arts tournament to face off against his bully and impress his love interest. The bully however has no intention to give his opponent a chance and turns out being even nastier than expected as he attempts to reach his goals by any means necessary. Things also start getting complicated among the four martial arts masters as three of them have a relationship with the same woman while the other one is an untalented impostor.

    This movie convinces with excellent situation comedy and numerous quirky allusions to Hong Kong cinema classics. The fight sequences are intriguing and especially the final duels are truly intense. The clumsy protagonist and his innocent love interest are sympathetic and it's easy to root for them to get together.

    On the negative side, the movie overuses special effects from time to time which gets particularly obvious in the final duels. A more natural approach to those scenes would have made them even more energetic. Not all the slapstick jokes work particularly well as some scenes are rather silly but the film's steady pace makes you forget those minor inconveniences rather quickly.

    Invite your friends, switch your brain off and enjoy this nostalgic but energetic Hong Kong action-comedy movie to the fullest. It might not win any awards for creativity but it's thoroughly entertaining. Kung Fu League is a feast for genre fans and much better than its negative reputation.

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