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Plot: can Anna save Christmas from the maws of the living dead?

Is it possible to re-enact an earlier movie almost verbatim, spice it up just enough with that original touch that only great directors possess, and pass it off as something new? Apparently, the answer to that is: yes, you can. Anna and the Apocalypse is the Scottish answer to Shaun Of the Dead (2004) – but is centered around young adults and has a musical backbone. Perhaps Rachel Bloom’s limited series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015-2019) has left a more of an impact on Hollywood than we’d give it credit for. No matter how much Anna and the Apocalypse steals from the original Edgar Wright classic it somehow staunchly remains its own thing. Anna and the Apocalypse is incredibly vanilla on all fronts, but especially so on the horror aspect. This is not a valentine to George A. Romero nor to all things living, dead, and undead for that matter. At heart this is your average, albeit expertly photographed, teen drama – be it with a zombie apocalypse.

What sets Anna and the Apocalypse apart from more conventional zombie horror is that before anything and everthing else it’s a teen drama first. It does the exact opposite of what Shaun Of the Dead (2004) famously did before. Where Edgar Wright made a zombie horror with a rom-com subplot, Anna and the Apocalypse is a rom-com with a zombie horror subplot. And it plays it completely straight too. Whenever the music swells characters will break into impromptu song-and-dance numbers. These numbers arrive at logical places in the story (especially for anybody who has a passing familiarity with either Bollywood or musicals in general) and enhance characterisations in ways that dialogue can’t. As such Anna and the Apocalypse is more of the The Breakfast Club (1985) and Freaks and Geeks (1999) persuasion with colorful production design and feel-good writing etching towards Enchanted (2007) on a limited budget. If the late John Hughes ever did a zombie horror, it’d probably have looked like this. Except that it’s obviously never as swooning and sophisticated as anything Hughes ever did.

Little Haven, Scotland is the sort of sleepy town where never much of anything happens. Anna Shepherd (Ella Hunt) is about to finish school and supposed to attend the university of her choice. Instead she’d love to travel for a year and see the world, but she doesn’t want to disappoint her widower father Tony (Mark Benton). Her best friend John (Malcolm Cumming) is an art student – and madly in love with her. Anna is too preoccupied with the unpleasant rumors that her ex boyfriend Nick (Ben Wiggins) keeps spreading about her to notice. Her friend Chris (Christopher Leveaux) is an amateur filmmaker and currently struggling with an assigment from Ms. Wright (Kirsty Strain), and his girlfriend Lisa Snow (Marli Siu) will be performing at the Christmas recital. Transfer student and budding investigative journalist Steph North (Sarah Swire) has difficulty selling an article critical about the growing housing - and vagrancy problem in the area to tyrannical principal Arthur Savage (Paul Kaye). Anna and John are working at the local bowling alley and Chris and Steph are volunteering at the homeless shelter when that night a zombie apocalypse occurs. The next morning Anna wakes up completely oblivious to the shambling living dead around her. Anna decides to return to the bowling alley and there she and Steph are forced to kill cleaning lady Mrs. Hinzmann (Janet Lawson). When the army send in to evacuate the school and the town is devoured by the undead the gravity of the situation dawns upon them. The only way to rescue their loved ones is to face and oppose the hordes of walking dead blocking the way.

Anybody who has seen Shaun Of the Dead (2004) will immediately notice how blatant and obvious Anna and the Apocalypse is about its naked homaging thievery. Yet despite repurposing the Shaun Of the Dead (2004) plot almost entirely and even re-enacting key scenes what makes Anna and the Apocalypse work is the pervading feel-good Christmas spirit and the rom-com undercurrent. John McPhail must have loved Freaks and Geeks (1999) because he dresses Ella Hunt exactly like Linda Cardellini in that series. The interludes alternate between angsty teenybopper songs that are surprisingly emotional and edgy self-aware songs with bitingly ironic lyrics. Lisa’s raunchy Christmas carol is an unrelenting barrage of spicy double-entendres, racy witticisms, and a boatload of unbridled sexual innuendo and is side-splittingly hilarious for exactly those reasons. Since horror was never its primary focus the winks and nods to classic zombie cinema are, understandably, far and few between. Mrs. Hinzmann is the most obvious, directly referencing Bill Hinzman or the first zombie that Barbra encounters in Night Of the Living Dead (1968). Ms. Wright is a direct, and obvious, nod to Edgar Wright. Anna riding John around in a shopping cart kinda-sorta resembles the corresponding scene with Peter and Roger in Dawn of the Dead (1978). Principal Savage’s demise at the hands of the undead at least in part evokes that of Rhodes’ in Day Of the Dead (1985). The scene with Anna and John bonding in the snow is reminiscent of Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine Of the Spotless Mind (2004).

The cast consists mostly of workhorse television actors and while nobody’s acting is particularly awful, only Ella Hunt and Marli Siu transcend the material in the positive sense. Hunt had starred in Robot Overlords (2014) prior and was an extra in Les Misérables (2012). Other than that there isn’t really a whole to say, either positively or negatively, here. The effects work is delightfully old-school with a good amount of in-camera practical effects with digital enhancement and computer imagery for the more ambitious shots. In a time where apparently everything is now done digitally (from exit wounds, blood spatters to muzzle flashes and atmospheric effects) it makes you long for those now distant simpler times when practical effects wizards as Stan Winston, Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero, John Carl Buechler, and Kevin Yagher were in constant demand. The ubiquity and affordability of digital effects has become somewhat of a bane to modern cinema and while we understand it from an economic viewpoint practical effects had a charm all their own. Anna and the Apocalypse is probably not going to usher in a new age of practical effects, it’s a little too vanilla for that, but at least its heart is in the right place. Plus the whole Christmas theme is merely decorative, never serving to either distract or annoy.

While your mileage obviously may, can, and likely will, vary Anna and the Apocalypse works well enough as both a rom-com and as a zombie horror. What it lacks in flavor, bite, and personality as far the horror aspect is concerned it more than compensates by being a colorful Christmas-themed romance that banks heavily on the feel-good. As these things go, you could do far, far worse. Don’t go in expecting any major revelations or grand deviations from a well-established formula. This is not that kind of movie. Anna and the Apocalypse never diverges from the well-trodden path and its adherence to formula and convention is what makes it a very easy viewing. Which isn’t to say that this is some overlooked classic. It obviously is not. It’s just as light as it is vapid. For those of whom who always wanted a Shaun Of the Dead (2004) for the young adult crowd, this is your chance. There’s a time and place for stuff like this. Anna and the Apocalypse is good for what it is, even if it never aspires to be anything more.

Plot: beach babes defend their favorite resort from greedy developers.

Before Kick Ass Girls (2013) there was Beach Spike, or a Mainland China sports movie that is part Sunset Cove (1978) (without the rampant nudity), part Shaolin Soccer (2001) or Blue Crush (2002), and all fun. Instead of surfing or soccer Beach Spike (released domestically as 熱浪球愛戰, or Heatwave Love, which makes about as much sense as the title it ended up being internationally released under) is about beach volley, or just a preamble to put a bunch of cute Chinese models in tiny bikinis and have ‘em bounce around in the sand. It was the first time Chrissie Chau Sau-Na, DaDa Lo Chung-Chi, and Hidy Yu Xiao-Tong co-starred together, and they would reunite for the amiable kickboxing romp Kick Ass Girls (2013). There’s probably worse ways of spending an hour and a half than in the company of giggly, hard-bodied Chinese girls in tiny candy-colored bikinis. In the years since Tony Tang Tung-Ming hasn’t exactly been prolific as either a director, screenwriter, or special effects artisan, but that doesn’t make Beach Spike any less entertaining. Beach Spike in all likelihood was one of Chrissie Chau’s earliest hits as it was fourth highest-grossing titles at the Hong Kong box office in its opening week. Not bad at all for what’s essential a rom-com/sports movie hybrid.

If Beach Spike was indicative of anything it was that Chrissie Chau Sau-Na was destined for bigger and better things than the rank ghost horror and romantic comedies she had been making a living with by that point. Chau rose to fame as a lang mo model with her 2009 and 2010 photobooks. Chrissie was the subject of a legendary Slim Beauty boutique commercial in 2009, directed by Tony Tang Tung-Ming, and that the two would end up working together again was all but inevitable. Chau won several Yahoo Asia Buzz Awards including "Yahoo! Entertainment Spotlight Person" in 2009, four for "Most Searched Photos on Yahoo!" in 2009–2012, and "Most Popular Actress Award". Cutting a dashing 32D figure the Chinese once-and-future queen of cleavage would become spokesmodel for luxury lingerie brand Lamiu, launched her own multi-million ShowNa Collection (秀娜系列) bra line in 2012, and heads up her own business empire with LAANAA. Not that bad for a young Sino girl without any formal model training.

On the acting front miss Chau appeared in a seemingly endless - and frequently interchangable - barrage of ghost horrors, action, and fantasy wuxia webmovie features including, but not limited to, Cold Pupil (2013), Lift to Hell (2013), Kick Ass Girls (2013), The Extreme Fox (2013), and the Jing Wong comedy iGirl (2016). After a decade in the dregs of Mainland China cinema Chau won the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actress for 29+1 (2017) and a year later would legitimize herself as an A-lister on Yuen Wo-Ping’s Master Z: Ip Man Legacy (2018). Not bad at all for the girl that became an internet phenomenom in 2009, and was publicly ridiculed and called a “bimbo” by veteran actor Raymond Wong. For Beach Spike Chrissie received the “Award of Merit: Leading Actress" from The Accolade Competition. Chau has worked in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and Malaysia, and but it’s unlikely that she’ll ever breakthrough internationally the way Ni Ni, Yu Nan, Fan Bingbing, or Jade Xu have done as sweet Chrissie speaks little English, or that’s the impression she’s giving off at least.

In Hong Kong there lies a seaside resort called Paradise Cove and working in the beach restaurant are the sisters Sharon (Chrissy Chau Sau-Na) and Bee (Theresa Fu Wing). They live with their uncle and auntie Tao (Lo Meng and Sharon Yeung Pan-Pan) who have instructed them in the ways of martial arts and have them busting tables. The sisters love volleyball and are adored by everyone for their bright smiles and high spirits. One day Sharon nearly drowns while swimming and is rescued by Tim (Law Chung-Him), one of the waiters in uncle Tao’s restaurant and the eldest scion of the wealthy and well-connected Bu dynasty. Sharon and Tim spent a lot of time in each other’s company and the two fall madly in love. Tim’s sisters Natasha (Phoenix Valen) and Natalie (Jessica Cambensy, as Jessica C) consider Sharon and Bee bad news and challenge them to a volleyball match. Sharon and Bee suffer a humiliating defeat and in the aftermath Mrs. Bu (Candice Yu On-On) issues an eviction note. The resort will be sold off to developers and turned into a luxurious playground for the rich and famous. The only way to keep Paradise Cove is to win the Hong Kong Beach Volleyball Championship. Sharon and Bee agree to a rigorous training regimen from uncle Tao, but do the girls have what it takes to save their beloved resort from being sold?

If DOA: Dead or Alive (2006) was a pretty composite adaptation of the Dead Or Alive series then Beach Spike is that Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball adaptation the world never got. As a romantic comedy (what this really is before becoming a fairly standard, and thus pedestrian, underdog sports movie) it has the same trappings that made Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball a popular sub franchise. That is to say, there’s plenty of opportunity to get an eyeful of the girls bouncing around in tiny bikinis, to have them go on dates, splash in the sea, and generally be giggly and fun-loving. The other reason to stick around, besides Chrissie Chau Sau-Na, is much in-demand model Jessica Cambensy (who comes from an American father and Chinese-Filipino mother) who has worked in Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Japan as a brand hostess for Cliniqué, L'Oreal, Max Factor and appeared in Marie Claire and CosmoGirl. As always with international versions a few character names change. Depending on the print Chau is either called Sharon or simply Chrissie, and Bee becomes Kim. Likewise, Jessica C and Phoenix Valen become Natalie and Natasha, respectively with their last name Brewster instead of Bu. Law Chung-Him’s Tim, for obvious reasons, remains intact.

The reason to see Beach Spike isn’t so much the sports element which is utilitarian at best, but to gawk at the assembled bronzed hard bodies of Chau, Wing, Jessica C, and Phoenix Valen as well as DaDa Lo Chung-Chi, and Hidy Yu Xiao-Tong. For the women there’s the bared chest of Alex Lam Chi-Sin that gets plenty of screen time too. Kudos to Chrissie Chau, Alex Lam Chi-Sin, and DaDa Lo Chung-Chi for pulling double duty while this was being filmed as they were engaged in filming the Jing Wong produced Marriage with a Liar (2010) during the night with Patrick Kong Pak-Leung. Also to be seen is sometime Hong Kong martial arts – and action star Sharon Yeung Pan-Pan and wuxia regular Candice Yu On-On. Pan-Pan worked frequently with Godfrey Ho Chi-Keung and shared the screen with wuxia pillars as Lo Lieh, Ti Lung, and Casanova Wong as well as 80s HK Girls with Guns action stars Moon Lee, Oshima Yukari, Sibelle Hu Hui-Chung, and Kara Hui Ying-Hung. On-On on the other hand got her start with Goldig Films but was quickly and frequently employed by Shaw Brothers. Sharon Yeung Pan-Pan was responsible for the action choreography and her routines are fluent, graceful, and stylish but never excessive or overly flashy. As expected Beach Spike never engages in Hong Kong styled antics, and whether that is to its advantage or to its detriment is entirely up to one’s personal preferences for these things.

For those of whom DOA: Dead or Alive (2006) was lacking on the beach volleyball front Beach Spike is probably a good alternative. That she ended up working with master philistine Jing Wong is not all that surprising considering the amount of comedies Chau has done over the years. In recent years Chau has worked very hard to legitimize herself after spending what seems like a small eternity in the Mainland China webmovie circuit. She may not be as versatile as, say, Ni Ni or willing to lower herself to Category III the way Daniella Wang Li Danni has, and that’s admirable to say the least. It sort of makes you wish Chrissie Chau would end up working with Tsui Hark, or somebody of similar repute. If anything Beach Spike was a start, and ample evidence that Chrissie is a pretty good comedic actress if the material suits her. In all other cases Beach Spike is an enjoyable Mainland China take on Shaolin Soccer (2001) – and knowing how annoying and kinetic Sino comedy can get, this could have been far, far worse.