This weekend ASFF selects five films from around the globe set to be released over the Christmas week. Hailing from America, China and Hong Kong, these range from traditional literary adaptations to animated comedy to martial arts biopic. Among the themes explored: racism, first love and the importance of family bonds.
Little Women (Sony Pictures)
Greta Gerwig follows her Oscar-nominated directorial debut Little Women with a safe-but-satisfying sophomore effort. Adapting Louisa May Alcott’s 19th Century tale of sisterhood – now the sixth time it’s made it to the big screen – the huge plus-point is the casting, led by Saoirse Ronan as aspiring author Jo March and featuring stand-out work from Florence Pugh as her fiery sister Amy. With Meryl Streep also on imperious form as their aunt, it’s the ideal Boxing Day treat.
Playing With Fire (Paramount)
A family comedy from Andy Fickman (Race To Witch Mountain), Playing With Fire follows a group of firefighters (John Cena, Keegan-Michael Key, John Leguizamo) who rescue three unruly kids, who are soon running amuck in the firehouse. Yes, it’s basically a riff on Three Men and a Baby, only in fireman uniforms, which will probably do it for some people. Among the youngsters causing havoc is Brianna Hildebrand, last seen as Negasonic Teenage Warhead in Deadpool.
James Bond meets Birdman – well, sort of – this CG animation sees secret agent Lance Sterling (Will Smith) on the run, then accidentally turned into a pigeon by his Q-like assistant Walter (Tom Holland). Inspired by the 2009 short Pigeon: Impossible, first-time directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane conjure a brightly-coloured action-adventure with gadgets and gags aplenty, as the avian-shaped Lance and Walter must try and stop a killer drone. With Ben Mendelsohn (who else?) voicing the villain, it should fill the gap until the next Pixar movie comes along.
Not to be confused with the Eugene O’Neill play, Chinese director Bi Gan’s virtuoso tale, which first appeared on the horizon in Cannes 2018, is a noir-ish tale inspired by Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity. Starring Huang Jue as a man returning to the hometown he fled years earlier in search of a lost love, the film’s second half is entirely captured in one breathtaking single take – in 3D, no less. It won’t get the same love as Sam Mendes’ forthcoming 1917, which pulls similar tricks, but it’s bravura filmmaking.
The fourth and final film in the series starring Donnie Yen as the real-life martial arts teacher who famously instructed Bruce Lee. The latter has a small part to play in this installment, as Ip leaves Hong Kong, with the knowledge that he has throat cancer, to find a private school for his son in America. While this journey never happened in real life, director Wilson Yip focuses on the fight against racist bullies – one punch at a time.
All films released by 27 December.
1. Still from Long Day’s Journey Into Night.