Reviews

A glorious goodbye and some painful viewing

You know that summer blockbuster season is winding down when a hole appears in the franchise schedule. This week, there's not an exploding planet, alien or superhero in sight. Here are odds and ends - a music documentary, a science-fiction thriller and a cop action flick.

Buena Vista Social Club: Adios (PG, 110 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3.5/5 stars) is a follow-up to the acclaimed 1999 documentary Buena Vista Social Club, itself a spin-off of the 1997 hit album of the same name.

Both the album and the earlier film opened the world's ears to the splendour of 1950s Cuban dance-hall music, making global stars of musicians in their 60s and 70s, forgotten even in the land of their birth: Compay Segundo, Eliades Ochoa, Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo.

The success of the two works would not have been possible if the music had not been glorious.

Quick refreshers on the performances that electrified the first movie (helmed by Wim Wenders) are offered. New shows, performed by surviving members, are also included.

It is all interwoven with mini-biographies, illustrated with archive footage from their 1950s heyday. After this brief flowering, they will be sidelined by the Cuban Revolution until their renaissance 40 years later.

 Adios.
Above: Musicians Eliades Ochoa and Omara Portuondo in Buena Vista Social Club: Adios. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

The film mourns the passing of prominent players, but those moments are fleeting. Post-Fidel Castro politics and the country's fraught relations with the United States are also left to the margins.

If it all feels a touch fluffy and worshipful, it might be because British director Lucy Walker's cut was slashed by producers seeking less journalism and more adulation. Still, as nostalgia trips go - was 1999 almost two decades ago? - this offers a fairly even balance of news update, fan service and, as the title implies, a goodbye.

 In Paradox, Louis Koo plays a Hong Kong detective whose daughter is missing in Thailand.
Above: In Paradox, Louis Koo plays a Hong Kong detective whose daughter is missing in Thailand. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

Wilson Yip, the Hong Kong-based helmer of the immensely successful Ip Man series (the fourth instalment is expected soon), turns his hand to the 1980s-style action-cop genre in Paradox (M18, 100 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2/5 stars).

Lee (Louis Koo) is a Hong Kong detective whose daughter Wing Chi (Hanna Chan) is missing in Thailand. Thai cop Chui Kit (Chinese actor Wu Yue) takes a personal interest in the case, which involves political fixer Cheng Hon Sau (Gordon Lam). Tony Jaa makes an extended cameo as Chui Kit's cop buddy, Tak.

Martial arts and gunplay feature strongly, as they have in the two films (SPL: Sha Po Lang, 2005; SPL II: A Time For Consequences, 2015) that make up a universe in which actors, directors and producers play musical chairs with each release.

When Lee (Koo) is not turning over clues, he is beating or being beaten by thugs in big gongfu setpieces. Too bad that fight director Sammo Hung's 1980s choreography feels dated, while Yip's syrupy daddy-love moments - featuring Singapore-born, Hong Kong-based actress-model Michelle Saram in a cameo as Lee's wife - make for painfully awkward watching.

While on the subject of awful, here is the science-fiction thriller Kill Switch (PG13, 92 minutes, opens tomorrow, 1.5/5 stars), which previously bore the mathematics-tinged title Redivider.

Porter, played by Dan Stevens from television's Legion, is a scientist bent on discovering the cause of catastrophic events taking place after a free-energy device is built.

But no high-concept premise saves this from looking like a long, confusing aerobics video, with Porter running and evading men and killer drones as plot exposition tumbles out of his mouth in between breaths.

French actress Berenice Marlohe pops up frequently to offer an inscrutable backstory about parallel worlds.

The computer graphics, intended to be this video game-inspired work's selling point, are as lifeless, cartoon-like and unmemorable as the rest of the story.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2017, with the headline 'A glorious goodbye and some painful viewing'. Print Edition | Subscribe