Film picks: John Wick: Chapter 4, Full River Red and A Man Called Otto

Keanu Reeves in John Wick: Chapter 4. PHOTO: LIONSGATE

Action Thriller

John Wick: Chapter 4 (M18)

170 minutes

4 stars

Following the events of the previous film John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019), John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is still hiding from the elites known as the High Table.

He flees to Osaka, Japan, to enlist the aid of old friend Koji Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada), but realises that the only way to truly free himself is to kill the High Table leader, The Marquis (Bill Skarsgard).

Director Chad Stahelski’s preferred way of combating repetitiveness is to switch weapons, locations and opponents. And, in the new film, the set piece battles are fabulous.

The fourth movie’s almost-three-hour length feels like a swan song though.

It is as if the star and director want to go out with a bang. As a send-off, it works, not least because it is clear that Reeves is no longer as quick as he used to be, and some fight scenes look more balletic than brutal.

On the flip side, despite the attempts at novel backdrops, fight fatigue creeps in. For streaming audiences, though, they should provide high rewatch value, which was perhaps the point of the excess.

Comedy Mystery

Full River Red (NC16)

(From left) Shen Teng and Jackson Yee in Full River Red. PHOTO: mm2 Entertainment

159 minutes

4 stars

Zhang Yimou directs a 12th-century Song Dynasty mystery surrounding a visiting enemy state envoy, who is found murdered in his sleep on the eve of his meeting with the prime minister (Lei Jiayin). Most critically, a letter in his possession destined for the emperor goes missing.

This historical comedy whodunnit has grossed more than four billion yuan (S$778 million) at the domestic box office, surpassing Cliff Walkers (2021) to be the biggest commercial success in Chinese Fifth Generation auteur Zhang’s 35-year career. Deservedly so, as it is such wily entertainment with nimble wordplay and excellent performances.

Pop idol Jackson Yee and comedian Shen Teng are the starring duo of an ambitious battalion commander and his lowly soldier nephew, who are tasked with tracking down the letter.

This enthralling thriller recalls the director’s 2018 masterpiece Shadow in its labyrinthine dynastic intrigues as well as elegant inky visuals.

Comedy Drama

A Man Called Otto (NC16)

Tom Hanks in A Man Called Otto. PHOTO: SONY PICTURES

126 minutes

3 stars

Sweden’s 2015 Academy Award nominee A Man Called Ove, based on the 2012 bestseller of the same name, has been relocated to suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Starring in this American update is Tom Hanks as misanthropic retiree Otto Anderson, whose life gets upended by the arrival of a rambunctious immigrant family across the street.

Dewy flashbacks, featuring Hanks’ son Truman Hanks as a young Otto, explain how Otto came to be a grouch, and how his depression has deepened since the death of his beloved wife (Rachel Keller). There is a running gag of new neighbour Marisol’s (Mariana Trevino) unannounced visits interrupting his repeated suicide attempts.

But so well-established is Hanks’ benign persona, it sabotages his effort to play against type. It also lessens the dramatic friction in this story of a curmudgeon redeemed by his community’s affection.

The director is Marc Forster of Monster’s Ball (2001). For sure, his saccharine movie is not hard to like, if only because he is a pro at manipulating heartstrings and Hanks cannot help but be affable, however ill-suited for his role here.

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