Shock Wave 2
(NC16, 120 minutes, opens Dec 24, 3 stars)
The follow-up to the 2017 bomb-plot thriller features the same star and director - Andy Lau and Herman Yau respectively - in a new and unrelated story. This is typical of Hong Kong franchise movies.
Compare this approach with what Hollywood does, which is to rewrite history so that characters apparently killed in the previous film spring conveniently back to life, and one can see the merits of the Asian style.
Lau is back as yet another bomb disposal officer. This time, he is Poon, a man willing to give his life for his colleagues and the public. He almost does die when a job goes wrong. Months later, after a string of terrorist-planted bombs go off, the finger of suspicion is pointed at him, testing the loyalties of friends and fellow officers such as Tung (Sean Lau) and Pong (Ni Ni).
Yau and screenwriter Erica Lee have shoehorned everything in here - not just from other bomb squad films, but also from entirely different genres. If some works can be called boutique pictures, this one is a mall.
Sequel gigantism - a sickness seen in action movies based on hits - is at fault, but there are also threads that feel superfluous. For example, there is a longish montage featuring an injured Poon getting into shape, presumably to show off the middle-aged Lau's hunk factor.
The film also opens with a massive, megadeath-scale explosion - we are talking nuclear event here - followed by a voice-over saying that a blast like this is one possible future unless good people do their jobs.
For those who recognise landmarks, the sight of the mushroom-topped fury sweeping away Hong Kong International Airport and the surrounding landscape carries the same thrill as watching Marina Bay Sands disintegrate in alien-attack movie Independence Day: Resurgence (2016). It's an insider reference that works, in spite of how much of a storytelling dodge it is.
But you do not watch a Herman Yau movie for minimalism. You watch one because it offers value for money.
He has one problem, though: In accordance with media rules in China, police characters have to be living saints. Yau checks this box with the enthusiasm of a civil servant longing for retirement.
(PG, 106 minutes, opens Dec 25, 4 stars)
The best Pixar movies are not afraid to go to places other animation films dare not. Because a big part of Soul is set in the afterlife, it at first glance appears to be about shuffling off the mortal coil.
Not quite. While it deals with grown-up topics such as the meaning of life, it tip-toes around the idea of mortality, choosing instead to put forward a candy-coloured cosmology that often suffocates its deeper questions under layers of whimsy.
Joe Gardner, voiced by Jamie Foxx, is a music teacher who yearns to play professionally with a jazz outfit. His life is cut short as he is on the verge of achieving his goal.
Unwilling to go peacefully to his eternal rest, he finagles his way to another dimension, one in which freshly-minted souls are prepared for life on Earth. He meets 22, voiced by Tina Fey, a troublemaker who has sabotaged every attempt at being born into a human body.
You will not be surprised to learn that director and co-writer Pete Docter worked on Inside Out (2015), a film that, like Soul, turns abstract concepts into characters.
Here, as in the previous film, the adorability factor is high, helped along by talents such as British actor Richard Ayoade, who plays a before-life counsellor with the bouncy good cheer of a children's television show host. Counsellors like him inhabit a weird yet fully-formed world. Creating a universe from scratch has always been a Pixar strength.
Inside Out told us it is okay to be sad, and the Toy Story films (1995 to 2020) showed us what we lose when we grow up. Soul's central idea remains vague until its final moments, then it is stated quietly, almost reluctantly. Is this Docter and team losing the plot or is it Pixar being subtle?
Here is where the film disappoints. Fey's snarky 22 and Foxx's earnest Joe, the story's unlikely buddies, are meant to offer the usual "loathe, laugh and learn" dramatic pairing.
Fey has a great time being a sassy child and that joy is infectious, so as a comedic device, it works. But her presence also feels like a cynical move, a way of injecting vanilla into a dish some may find too "ethnic".
Joe's story, set in New York's black neighbourhoods, is rich in visual and cultural detail. One wonders how much richer his story, and how much more poignant its resolution, could have been - if not for the time taken by the wisecracking kid.
(PG13, 104 minutes, opens Dec 24, not reviewed)
Based on the video game of the same name, this science-fiction thriller stars Milla Jovovich as the leader of an elite squad who is sent through a portal into a world teeming with deadly creatures, and Tony Jaa as a native who helps her team survive.