The second half of this week’s Panahi double-feature puts another girl in a basic situation with higher potential danger – this time she’s been left behind at school and has to figure out which bus to take home. Unfortunately this girl has a shrill-little-kid voice that gets on my nerves, and the busy streets and bus stations don’t make for as warm a viewing experience. But halfway through the drama, the girl quits acting and goes home with her mic still on, so Panahi bowfingers her voyage home to complete his movie. Each half ends up pretty good, but the rupture in the middle is groundbreaking.

Little girl in Tehran wants to buy a new year’s goldfish even though her family has a goldfish pond, gets a few bucks and hits a series of obstacles, mainly in the form of adults (street performers, shopkeepers) with confusing motives. Her older brother finds her, but the money has fallen down a street grate and they need help reaching it. Unbelievable movie, almost entirely because of this girl’s big and real reactions.

I love when no-prestige 1990’s studio flicks appear on Criterion Channel – here in a revisionist black-and-white version. Much better than I first thought, made by an ambitious artist who got caught in the Hollywood crap machine. The new coloring and the passage of time help you see “the movie that was in the movie.”

A prize winner in Berlin – Xie Fei’s followup, with the supremely uncatchy title Woman Sesame Oil Maker, would win the golden bear. This movie’s star Jiang Wen is better known – as a director and an actor from Zhang Yimou to Star Wars.

Young Jiang is out of jail and back in Beijing, his friends either imprisoned or dead, nobody happy to see him. He gets a tip and starts selling merchandise on the sidewalk, doing an impressive amount of business. Starts giving rides home to a girl who sings at his regular bar. All seems to be going ok until his buddy Chazi escapes from labor camp and comes visiting, then our boy’s life on the edges of the underworld starts catching up to him. The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance, part 30506.

Royals Maggie Cheung and Kenny Bee (Shanghai Blues) are in trouble, pursued through the bamboo forest by enemies sent by throne-stealer The 14th Prince, until whale(!) warrior Andy Lau helps them out. They visit the Lord of Lanling for advice and pick up his daughter Anita “Moony” Mui. But the wicked prince (Kelvin Wong of Supercop the same year) has a spy in Maggie Cheung, who attacks our heroes in a black disguise. Things settle down, Andy goes home and the 13th Prince is set to marry Moony, when baddies attack Andy’s village and murder babies, and Maggie double-crosses 14th and he kills her in front of the others. This is all too much violence to stand, so Andy’s orca Sea-Wayne whups 14th’s fuckin’ face, then the tomb of the ancestors smooshes his head in. Almost everyone dies, but Andy and his whale are okay, so there really should’ve been a sequel.

Imprisoned bad guy Mak Kwan (Francis Ng of The Mission) gets sprung by his gang, so the Mad Detective (Lau Ching-wan) follows the baddie’s girl (Amanda Lee of Human Pork Chop), correctly thinking they’ll connect, while the escapee plots a big heist of a racetrack vault.

The gang watching their bomb trap go boom:

Pretty good cops-n-robbers movie, in which almost everybody involved gets killed horribly. People love Ringo Lam, but I dunno. Sean Gilman’s letterboxd at least gives you something to think about, calling this movie The End of Hong Kong:

Sure the genre, and Hong Kong, goes on. But everything that follows, your Johnnie Tos and Andrew Laus and so on, is different. Less immediate, less solid. A level removed from what was. Films about films or ideas or ideas of films.

Mak Kwan’s great success, with a few minutes to live:

Opens with the story of a flower on a snowy peak that can cure illness and restore youth – I’ve heard this one before… Green Snake? The Spine of Night?

A hazy, gauzy, unexpectedly hot movie with some Ashes of Time slo-blur-mo in the action. I don’t usually know what is happening but I had a good time. Sensitive Leslie Cheung is told that he has to be fierce and brutal. His main girl Brigitte Lin doesn’t even get white hair until the last ten minutes, after which she immediately kills every other woman in the movie.

Ann Hui plays the director who casts passer-by Lee as a body floating in the river, after which he starts having serious pain in his neck and back. Running into his dad in a cruisy bathhouse doesn’t help (dad Miao Tien is a Goodbye/Dragon Inn star), while mom (Lu Yi-Ching of Stray Dogs and everything else) deals with water leaking into their apartment. The same three actors play the family in Rebels of the Neon God, so I’ll have to go even further back.