So once again we have survived.

Dragon Eyes

tn_dragoneyes2DRAGON EYES could’ve been my most anticipated DTV movie of the year, but After Dark Films had to go ruin it by releasing it theatrically. A little bit, anyway, as part of their After Dark Action thing next month. I hope it does well.

In the UK, though, it came out on DVD and blu-ray this month, so I ordered it. The cover says it’s “FROM THE PRODUCER OF THE MATRIX AND SHERLOCK HOLMES,” because it’s co-presented by Joel Silver (I didn’t notice his name in the actual credits), but to our people it’s FROM THE DIRECTOR OF UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION, the reigning champeen of DTV action. So it’s a big compliment to say that for most of its running time it lives up to my hopes for the next John Hyams movie. It has many seriously hard-hitting fight scenes, strong atmosphere and continues to show Hyams’ strength for finding the best ways to cinematically showcase non-actors. It turns out he’s also good with the real actors. Go figure.

It’s been called an update of YOJIMBO, but it’s not a straight adaptation like A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS or LAST MAN STANDING. Hong is a mysterious stranger that drives his badass car into St. Jude, one of those small towns that seems to be populated by about 45 criminals and 5 elderly civilians. At first it seems like an accident that he gets into it with the two shakily-truced gangs that run the place, but then he starts infiltrating their warehouses wearing a ninja mask and it seems like maybe he knew what he was doing when he got there.

Sure enough, he didn’t just drift in. There are flashbacks explaining where he came from and why he’s there. He doesn’t strictly play one side against the other – it’s more complicated than that – and he has less humor than Sanjuro or The Man With No Name. That’s not a direction I want to see most action going in, but it’s okay here since it makes him stand on his own and not have to be compared as much to two of the greatest and most influential characters in the history of Badass Cinema.

There’s no equivalent to the scene where Sanjuro tells the coffin maker how many coffins to make for him before a fight. I guess that would be hard to update. Maybe he would be ordering them online using his smart phone and then he changes the quantity in the shopping cart.

mp_dragoneyesHong is played by Cung Le, the Vietnamese-American MMA fighter who was the Strikeforce Middleweight Champion, gave it up to pursue acting, now is fighting in the UFC. He’s been in FIGHTING, PANDORUM, BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS, TRUE LEGEND and has already filmed parts in Wong Kar Wai’s Ip Man movie THE GRANDMASTERS and RZA’s THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS. This is his first starring role other than the unreleased BLIZHNIY BOY: THE ULTIMATE FIGHTER (probly not very good, but I want to see it for that b-movie dream cast).

I’ve seen some of those movies and some of his fights, but he has more screen presence here than I realized. In interviews he seems really friendly and funny (immediately after one of his fights he announced plans to eat a whole bag of chocolate chip cookies), but by keeping him stoic Hyams takes advantage of his tired eyes, his pout and his sort of wide, rectangular shape. He strikes a nice balance between the naive-foreign-farmboy archetype the gangsters first assume he is and a more physically imposing individual. Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum from Jet Li to Oleg Taktarov.

As different as this is from US:R, you can tell it’s by the same director, partly by the strong attention to sound design and music. I love the way he creates atmosphere with the surprisingly high quality hip-hop-by-artists-I-never-heard-of soundtrack drifting out of cars passing through or parked in the neighborhood, at one point overlapped by the noisy metal preferred by the Russian Devil Dogs gang to illustrate the dangerous closeness of their territory. At other times (like when Hong is training, meditating or mourning) it’s more of an intense, John Carpenterish keyboard sound or eerie, echoey, scraped metal and feedback soundscapes.

There’s definitely a modernized spaghetti western type filmatism, especially in the two big face-off scenes that happen on an open block where drug deals take place but that might as well be a western set. Wide shots of Hong walking through, zoom-ins on the faces of tattooed thugs as they watch him, ignoring them as they yell racist shit at him, contemplating what they want to do to him. The bombastic beats and horn samples coming from the car fade into background noise and give the sense of a tense quiet before the inevitable storm. From the opening scene on it’s all about long buildups to sudden explosions of asskicking. Hong just scowls and silently takes the abuse until they go too far (touching his car) and then he beats them.

If you’ve seen any of the trailers you get the idea, but this is a movie with some savage, raw street fighting shit, where the hits seem so hard they might be super-powered. The popular choreographer Larnell Stovall is the stunt coordinator, but Le actually choreographed the fights himself. I like his style. Even though this guy was supposed to be taught by Van Damme his kicks seem more about power than grace. They look painful. Fists tend to send mists of sweat, saliva and blood upon impact. There are Superman punches. Lots and lots of heads and bodies smashing through walls, windows, furniture, cars. He rarely takes it to the ground like he might in a professional fight. It’s more punching, slamming, clothes-lining, some choking. But mostly going for knockouts, not tapouts.

And when he’s done with them there’s a hero shot looking up at his face, and he could top it off with a one-liner. Instead he exhales.

Most of the fights have alot of cuts, not long takes. There are some stylistic devices that I don’t like, including the dreaded “freeze frame with name of character” and some of the digital sucking-out-of-color I’m so sick of. I think there’s an over-reliance on speed-ramping, but at least that does a good job of showing off  the choreography and how real the hits look. For me none of these are dealbreakers, and the fights are so well staged and relentless that it’s hardly relevant. It can’t compete with THE RAID, but it’s a more hardcore blast of bonecrushing hand-to-hand combat than the vast majority of action, especially in the U.S.

One aspect that threw me off at first, but that I loved after I picked up on it, was Hong’s knack for Fight Brotherhood. He beats the shit out of somebody, next thing you know they are his ally, no explanation offered. He must just gain their respect by being such a tough motherfucker. At one point 6th Street Kings leader Dash (Luis Da Silva, Jr., FAST FIVE) busts into Hong’s apartment and tries to shoot him. There is alot of property and structural damage before Hong is standing with his boot on Dash’s throat. Cut immediately to Hong laying down a new set of rules for the gangs and Dash standing beside him yelling for the others to “Shut the fuck up when the man is speaking!” Some guys have to save an enemy’s life to make them their friend; Hong just has to smash their heads and use their bodies to break a bunch of wood and glass.

The supporting cast in this is really good. Most of the gangster characters have a charisma that seems kinda down to earth and not actorly, bringing personality to roles that aren’t all that developed. Dash is a funny kind of twitchy, paranoid guy, and Eastsiders leader Antoine (Edrick Browne, who’s gonna be in DJANGO UNCHAINED), is funny just looking disgusted by Dash’s stupidity.

But the man in charge is Mister V, played by Peter Weller, and he gets to ham it up. I think he’s the chief of police, but he wears a fedora and tacky suit to show that he’s from another time. His character is kind of cool because although he’s the lead villain and mastermind of the town’s corruption he has a good side, or at least a practical side. When Hong tries to institute some new policies to protect civilians from the gangs Mister V decides to back him on it and seems to like doing something good for the town. At least until his money gets stolen.

There’s one really standout scene with this character Beach (Eddie Rouse), a crackhead who Hong is supposed to kill. He’s sitting on a couch with a more reasonable junkie named Tony (Andrew Sikking) and freaking out about a tiger painting on his wall, and they get in an argument about it. This is here just as setup for Cung Le to sneak in like a ninja, but the two actors in the scene are so great I wanted their conversation to go on a lot longer. I looked up Rouse to see who he was, he’s in alot of stuff but one of his first was in Seagalogy introduction writer David Gordon Green’s first movie, GEORGE WASHINGTON.

For some reason the movie it kept reminding me of was GHOST DOG. It’s way more of a straight-forward action movie than that, but it has that combination of dry, quiet scenes and little unexpected bits of personality here and there like Tony’s “Bassmasters” jacket, the Eastsider who wears a “D.A.R.E. To Keep Kids Off Drugs” t-shirt, the young cop who keeps trying to offer his opinion but gets shut down every time.

Van Damme fans should know that he’s basically a guest star. I liked seeing him as Tiano, Hong’s mentor, but honestly his part seems added on as a favor to Hyams to bring more people to the movie. On the other hand JCVD does have some of his regular team involved, including producer Moshe Diamant and his son Kristopher Van Varenburg as Sgt. Feldman, a part maybe even a little bigger than his own. They’re supposedly gonna make a DRAGON EYES 2, and producer Courtney Solomon once claimed Van Damme’s “in 50%, 60% of the movie,” so we’ll see if they get him out of the joint in that one.

My problem with the movie is that the ending is unsatisfying to me. After such skeleton-jangling action earlier on it feels kind of weak to just have a bunch of people pointing guns at each other for the climax instead of trying to stage the best and most personal fight of the movie. But Mister V is not a martial artist, and they have to bring the conflict between all the gangs together somehow, so that’s fine. But I don’t think it quite works emotionally.

I think I get what they’re going for. Hong gets them all to kill each other but still loses an innocent life. He’s doing all this to try to make up for killing an innocent person in the past, but his solution just leads to more pain and suffering. In the last shot he’s literally the last man standing, everybody else is either laying down dead or kneeling in mourning.

But I don’t know, man. I know it’s different, but I don’t really like seeing a bummer ending like that on a movie like this. I want to see him get back in Tiano’s badass ride and roll off into the sunset. I’m not sure the depressing ending is earned.

Still, DRAGON EYES is a very good low-dialogue exercise in style and punching, full of simple pleasures and a few more subtle, unique ones. It’s a good vehicle for Hyams as a director and especially Le as an action star. I look forward to more from both.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, April 19th, 2012 at 5:18 pm and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

72 Responses to “Dragon Eyes”

  1. I just watched this last night, and while I don’t think it’s a particularly good film, I think there’s some excellent filmmaking in here. The use of sound and atmosphere was excellent, so every individual scene had some real weight, even if they didn’t all add up to a satisfying story. I could have done without the flashbacks to the thing he did to get sent to jail, but I liked the Van Damme flashbacks, and especially the Van Damme flashback-within-a-flashback. I agree the ending was weak sauce, but I kind of want to watch the movie again anyway. I think there might be some subtleties I’ll pick up on next go-round.

    Also, has anyone else noticed that Peter Weller always seems like he’s in a film noir nowadays? He’s always wearing fedoras and calling people “slick” and shit like that. It’s like he got infected with the noir virus making NAKED LUNCH and now he brings it everywhere he goes.

  2. Can’t wait to see Cung Le vs. Rich Franklin this summer.

    Definitely going to throw this up on the que asap though.

  3. By the way, Cung Le gets beat up by Dan Henderson in this movie, but it’s not a fight scene. He’s got his hands cuffed behind his back and Henderson is a cop that keeps punching him in the face.

  4. Loved the music, liked the punching, enjoyed the abundant property damage, appreciated the modern urban western aesthetic, mildly laughed at Peter Weller’s bizarre role, wasn’t impressed with the movie overall.

  5. Knox Harrington

    April 20th, 2012 at 2:17 am

    I’m getting a little tired of the let’s-ape-Sergio-Leone thing these days. Probably because most filmmakers make such a poor attempt at it. It’s become such a lazy shorthand. What’s the use of aping one of the masters if you aren’t gonna bring something new to the table?

    I’m pretty sure Tarantino isn’t gonna fuck it up (like Danny Boyle and Paul Thomas Anderson, he’s a master thief and always contributes something new and unique to the mix), but other than him, I don’t want to see anyone else doing it anymore.

  6. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    April 20th, 2012 at 3:15 am

    Damn, that came off as a bit of a disappointment for everyone who’s seen it so far. I will see if I can find a copy somewhere and add my two cents. I really hoped this would by Hyams’ masterpiece. After US:R I’d hyped him up quite a bit to my movie-buff friends.

    Oh well, I thought El Gringo would be the one movie of the ones listed in this thread…

    http://outlawvern.com/2012/04/03/after-dark-action-announces-theatrical-date-for-dragon-eyes-and-4-others/

    …that I would absolutely love. The combination of Michael Jai White, Matt Mullins and Scott Adkins just does it for me somehow. Hopefully it doesn’t disappoint.

    When did Dan Henderson start appearing in movies? Are there other MMA stars making secret careers for themselves doing DTV action movies? Am I going to see GSP or Noguerra’s names start appearing in the credits of late-night action movies on TV any time soon? That would be kinda surreal.

  7. Vern is like the Pauline Kael of DTV movies. That is a compliment.

    So this movie has a depressing ending? That does make me curious to check it out. It’s the happy endings that have to be earned, not the depressing ones. If you come to think about it, with the type of plot that action movies have, the depressing ending should be the natural outcome, something the filmmakers in the late 60s and the 70s, and the filmmakers of the hardboiled thrillers of past decades knew all too well.

    How can an action movie have an happy ending due to what would be the natural consequences of the plotting? It all had to end in tears. If a movie has to have a happy ending, specially an action movie which violence is predominant and the coin of trade, then you really have to earn your happy endings. Sad thing is, most movies can’t be arsed to do the effort, they just shove it. And so often, they do it so badly the movies get that unmistakable aura of mental retardness, because they all felt so stupid. You want a happy ending, you have to earn it, pal! This is why an action movie that dares to go for a depressing ending gains kudos for me. Seems like this Peter Hyams guy knows what he’s doing. The apple didn’t fell far from the tree.

  8. “has anyone else noticed that Peter Weller always seems like he’s in a film noir nowadays?”

    Well, it helps that the dude looks like Death itself. Production value!

  9. Jareth Cutestory

    April 20th, 2012 at 6:47 am

    I think they had Weller wearing a Hawaiian shirt for most of his recent tour of duty on DEXTER. But even then his performance was pretty noir. And he was a corrupt private dick! I figure he’s got the noir the way some singers, like Captain Beefheart, got the blues, deep down in their bones.

  10. That’s one of the roles I was thinking of. He was more seedy noir in that one, with the Hawaiian shirt and Panama hat. Not the P.I. the book would be about, but the rival P.I. who would make deals with the villains.

    It just occurred to me that Weller would now make a great Clarence in the ROBOCOP remake. Sort of like how Michael Keaton would now make a great Joker in TIM BURTON’S BATMAN 1989: THE REMAKE.

  11. I mean, think about this line:

    “Come on, Sal! The Tigers are playing *plays bongos on table* to-night! I never miss a game.”

    Is that a Peter Weller kind of line or what?

  12. Jareth Cutestory

    April 20th, 2012 at 8:19 am

    So long as we finally get to see Robocop’s unicorn, I’d sit through a reboot starring the cast of THAT 70s SHOW.

    RoboCop: Looking for me?
    [shoots Joe mercilessly]
    Joe: Burn!

  13. Peter Weller could play a villain who would make speeches about italian art history.

    In case you guys don’t know, Weller is indeed an italian art historian, he majored in that discipline. The dude is an intellectual.

  14. In fact, Weller passed on making ROBOCOP 3 so he could make NAKED LUNCH with Cronenberg because he’s both a fan of Cronenberg and William S. Burroughs. Respect!

  15. Speaking of my man Croney, anyone see that French teaser for his new movie, COSMOPOLIS? How sick does that shit look? I actively dislike the works of Don DeLillo but if adapting one of his books is what it takes for Cronenberg to unleash his inner flesh fiend, then so be it. Also, I’m naturally skeptical of Detective John Twillight, but since his involvement in COSMOPOLIS likely greased the wheels considerably toward getting it made, I have to give him some respect there. He could have taken the easy paycheck and done a romantic comedy with whatever blonde named Taylor is hot at the moment, but he preferred to work with a real director who could mutate him into something unexpected. The kid might be alright after all.

  16. Mr. Majestyk, you know what’s cool about COSMOPOLIS? The producer is portuguese. Portugal help made a Cronenberg movie. Yeah!! Kick ass!!

  17. Yeah, I was a little disappointed, but thought it was good overall. I was a little unclear on what exactly was happening in the flashbacks explaining why Hong was in prison though.

  18. Robert Patterson (typo?) is actually a good actor. We shouldn’t judge his quality as an actor to those fucking Twilight movies. In fact, he has been quite vocal about his dislike of both the books and the characte rhe plays. He has said he deliberatly plays his sparkling vampire character as an asshole. Respect!

    I’m certain Cronenberg, who’s always good with actors, can get a really good acting job from Patterson.

  19. As: I’ve never seen movie (or even a single scene) with Pattinson in it, so I have no opinion on his acting abilities. I’m just naturally skeptical of anyone who gets outrageously famous without ever doing any work I deem worth checking out. But choosing to star in a perverted little Cronenberg flick when he no doubt had his pick of projects gets him the benefit of the doubt in my book. He also seems like an alright guy in interviews. Somebody really needs to buy him a grilled cheese, though. Dude looks hungry.

    Stu: TOTALLY INESSENTIAL SPOILERS FOR DRAGON EYES AHEAD!

    I think what happened was that we were supposed to think, because of the behind-the-back POV of the flashbacks, that Jimmy Dragoneyes was chasing the guy in the hoodie who shot that blond lady, but then the big twist is that, no, Jimmy Dragoneyes WAS the guy in the hoodie. I guess I had assumed (for no particular reason except that it’s normally what happens in these movies) that Dragoneyes was an ex-cop framed for a murder her didn’t commit, not some random thug convicted for an accidental (?) shooting he did.

  20. Majestyk- Ah, that makes sense, thanks.

    I’m not wont to hate Pattinson personally, but he does himself no favours by starring in a movie where the suprise twist at the end is “and then 9/11 happened”.

  21. Jareth Cutestory

    April 20th, 2012 at 9:33 am

    You know, I wasn’t really sold on Viggo as an actor until I saw A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. I don’t know if Detective John Twilight has the mojo in his DNA to become as awesome as Viggo is, but there probably isn’t a better catalyst than Cronenberg to give it a try. I also really like what Cronenberg did with Ed Harris and William Hurt in that film.

    I think Cronenberg must send his actors into his own version of those pods from THE FLY. Some sort of actor/badass blending occurs prior to shooting. Only James Spader proved immune to the process. And Jude Law.

    Having said that, the COSMOPOLIS trailer I saw looked perhaps a shade too dayglo and choreographed for my tastes, like something Tony Scott might have made if he was documenting rave culture of the 1990s. But that’s more a quibble than a real concern. CRASH was kind of tacky in its own way too, and compensated for it with plenty of fucked-upedness.

  22. Knox, I know what you mean about people aping Leone. But I think this is different because it’s done very sincere and straight, not winky and exaggerated. Usually that style is used to be kind of in your face, and there’s some sort of pseudo Morricone guitar or horn flourish to really nudge you in the ribs. Not the case here, it just takes influence from those techniques and uses them to create a heightened atmosphere. More like Tarantino in the opening of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, although this is not as good of a movie in my opinion. But does have more kicking and punching.

  23. Knox Harrington

    April 20th, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    Yeah, it takes a certain amount of skill, I think, to use someone like Leone’s techniques and still manage to maintain your own tone. Few can pull that off.

    It’s so easy for homage to turn into unintentional parody, and I’m fucking sick of bad parody these days. This entire “Ironical” generation with its self-awareness and meta this and meta that. I’m sick of Robert Downey Jr and Johnny Depp winking at the audience, and I’m tired of writers trying to be Charlie Kaufman. I’m hoping it will all pass soon, so we can go back to sincere storytelling.

    That probably explains my attraction to DTV in general. I love the art of keeping things simple (did you know that Dr Strangelove has less than 20 scenes?). Hyams seems to have the right idea, judging by Regeneration.

  24. Come to think of it, Leone himself used the dreaded Freeze Frame With Name Of Character trick in THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. What does that say?

  25. Knox Harrington

    April 20th, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    That people can take something cool and turn it into something not cool?

  26. Stu, that says he did it best.

  27. It’s called “The Boondocks Saints Principle.”

  28. Knox Harrington

    April 20th, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Hell, I can’t wait for Troy Duffy to make another movie. The commentaries and interviews for Boondock Saints 2 is the most hilarious shit I’ve heard since watching Overnight. Love it when arrogant pricks are given an opportunity to share their wisdom.

    He says he has a serial killer movie planned. Please God, let it happen.

  29. “it feels kind of weak to just have a bunch of people pointing guns at each other for the climax instead of trying to stage the best and most personal fight of the movie. But Mister V is not a martial artist,”
    I wish he’d used his extendable metal baton more. It’s a nice distinctive weapon and it’s brutal nature was a nice counterpoint to how civilised and cool he seemed to want to otherwise appear.

  30. Rudolf Klein-Rogge

    April 21st, 2012 at 5:19 am

    Was slightly disappointed by this. Between the unnecessarily grim tone, boring digital images, and the unengaging narrative, there were simply too few bright spots in this one. I did like the action scenes, but remember little else, and it’s only 10 minutes since the flick ended. The scene were JCVD “ordered” Hong to go to go and clean up the town of St. Jude reminded me of the Monte Hellman directed network prologue to FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, with Harry Dean Stanton as a judge, ordering Eastwood to travel to San Miguel. That was a nice touch, though I’m not sure it was an intetntional homage. In the next shot, Hong was wearing a poncho, which made the whole bit even funnier.

    It’s been more that a decade since I’ve seen the JCVD/John G. Avildsen collaboration known as DESERT HEAT aka INFERNO aka COYOTE MOON aka VAN DAMME’S INFERNO, but I seem to recall that it too was described as a loose YOJIMBO/FISTFUL remake when it came out. That means Van Damme has done two remakes of the same picture, which is pretty badass I guess.

    The new edition of SEAGALOGY finally came in the mail today, by the way. I’m of to the post office to pick it up!

  31. Really did not like this. The fights are good but the plot tries too hard and the twists are an I significant mistery. I much preferred TRANSIT, a fun grindhousey romp despite shakey cam and avid farts.

  32. Here’s a recent NYTimes article on the death of the American action film that I think some people here might enjoy. The author restates his case a little, but overall I think he has a point.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/magazine/how-the-american-action-movie-went-kablooey.html?pagewanted=all

  33. @Knox Harrington: NO! God help us all if Troy Duffy EVER makes another movie.

    He’s already pulled his Lazarus bunny rabbit outta the hat with Boondock Saints 2; no further proof needed.

    Mind you, I love what he managed to do with the first one, and the sequel/pseudo-remake was acceptable, but anything beyond that is pure hubris.

  34. Rudolf Klein-Rogge

    April 22nd, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Thanks for the link RBatty, I enjoyed reading that. This line gave me a good chuckle: “Hong Kong action films have long been better than ours, even after we stole John Woo and brought him to Hollywood and forced him to work with John Travolta”.

    Another thing worth mentioning about DRAGON EYES: The training montage. It could have been longer, but it was pretty classy. Not enough good training montages these days.

  35. How did Tiano get such a big cell though?

  36. Seriously. That shit would be like a $1300 studio apartment in Brooklyn.

  37. Rudolf Klein-Rogge

    April 22nd, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Tiano views his life/environment through wide angle lenses, is my guess. Consequently, so do we.

  38. Life does seem a lot more spacious when you live it without a fourth wall.

  39. I’ve never thought of Leone’s films as action films, despite how heavily they’ve influenced the genre. They are so focused on anticipation that the mood is completely different, so when traditional action films pay homage to/ape Leone’s films it just feels wrong to me, like jamming a square peg in a round hole. It completely takes me out of the movie.

  40. I saw this last night, and even if I really wanted to I didn’t like it. If Hyams’ gonna be a contender he have to stop being weird just for the sake of it. The sepia colors, the constant time jumping and the unexplained scenes where people have suddenly changed side simply doesn’t work. Better luck next time.

  41. Even though I was hugely disappointed in this, I did really like the ending – I like that there’s still a few people standing at the end, including villains, and some of them even have guns in their hands. There’s nothing really stopping them from shooting Le, and nothing stopping him from running over and kicking their heads off. But nobody wants to do anything because they’re so distraught over their friends dying. It’s nothing I’ve seen before in an action film and I wish the rest of the movie was as good.

  42. Just watched this today. I liked it, but I think it was a step down from US:R as far as story, fight scenes, and general badassery. Maybe if Dolph Lundgren had shown up at some point to beat the shit out of Van Damme… who was NOT in the movie near enough as far as I am concerned.

    Good news about the sequel (if it’s true)… I am definitely excited about Hyams and I like that he seems intent to keep making kickass action flicks.

  43. Because of this site’s good word about John Hyams, i’m going to chekc out both UNIVERSAL SOLDIERS: REGENERATION and DRAGON EYES. If John Hyams’s apple has not fallen far from the tree, if he’s a bit like his old man, then he willl be one to look for.

    James Cameron became a bit of a mentor/protector of Hyams since the mid-90s (funny considering that Hyams was far older then Cameron), to the point that Cameron wanted Hyams to direct the Cameron’s script FALLING ANGEL, his script about the impending doom of a comet about to hit Earth. I wonder if Hyams proves his valour, he might not get into his father’s footsteps and finalyl directs that Cameron’s scripted movie. Certainly Holywood is due a good “asteroid/comet on a direct course to Earth” disaster movie, because the ones we got so far have been pretty terrible.

  44. neal2zod, your description of the ending makes me even more curious about this one. Looks like a nice touch for the ending of an action movie. I have become so fed up with cookie cuter happy meal endings in holywood movies, that when one does something slightly different, i dig it and raises a notch up.

  45. Rudolf Klein-Rogge

    April 24th, 2012 at 2:36 am

    Never heard of this Hyams/Cameron collaboration before, but count me in as another ones who’s rather fond of Hyams Sr. His last couple of features have been pretty lackluster, but he’s done a lot of good stuff over the years. OUTLAND is finally coming out on blu this summer! Probably my favourite of his flicks. Hyams also serves as his own DP, and I find his work as a cinematographer much more interesting than, say, Soderbergh. Hyams Sr also shot UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENREATION, though that one, unfortunately, was shot with a Red One, and looked like it…

  46. You guys ever see BUSTING? It’s Hyams’ first theatrical movie, a buddy cop drama with Elliot Gould and Robert Blake that features some really amazing camera work. I’d swear it was the earliest steadicam use I’d ever seen if the movie didn’t come out a year before the steadicam was introduced. If they really didn’t use one then I have no idea how they pulled off some of the shots, particularly one really long take of a gunfight at a crowded market. The movie’s streaming on Netflix. I recommend it.

  47. I just re-watched US:REGENERATION and I must have been pissdrunk last time I saw it (sadly not an uncommon state of mine) cause it really kicks ass on so many levels its ridiculous. The level of atmosphere and sound design is unmatched when it comes to DTV. As much as I liked DRAGON EYES, US:R is better.It´s much more solid in its narrative and the action is better.

  48. And RRA & Mouth have each recommended Peter Hyams’s CAPRICORN ONE in the talkbacks in months gone by. Good action camerawork in that one, too.

    http://outlawvern.com/2011/03/11/expendables-2-exploratory-committee/#comment-464045

  49. Mr. Majestyk, maybe it was a Panaglider. I think it preceded the steadycam by a few years, and it was used to shoot the opening of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN.

  50. The panaglide was created by Panavision to compete with the steadicam, so that couldn’t be it. It was probably just a lightweight handheld camera and a really amazing camera operator. Motherfuckers nowadays oughtta be ashamed of themselves.

  51. Mr. Majestyk, in that case the cameraman must had a very steady hand. Well, back then nobody did shaky-cam deliberatly, and whenever they used handheld cameras, the cameraman wanted to shoot the most steady possible, to emulate a tripoid assisted shot. Sothose cameramen had a lot of grip and ability to do steady shots even when handheld.

    Another great example of a very good and steady handheld camera work is found in the german miniseries DAS BOOT, which was a pratical necessity due to sets. It was onlywhen i saw a making off doc that i realised it was handheld. Great work.

  52. Hyams was his own cinematographer, so I suppose it’s possible he was manning the camera himself for that shot. If so, John Hyams should thank god for his parentage and never shoot another movie without his dad behind the lens, because the man is a genius.

  53. Rudolf Klein-Rogge

    April 25th, 2012 at 9:08 am

    But Peter Hyams did not shoot DRAGON EYES…

    I do agree that CAPRICORN ONE is a real treat, though the storytelling gets lazy towards the end, with some awful cross-cutting and whatnot. Hyams’ scope compositions are a marvel though…almost on Carpenter’s level.

    With regards to steadycam and handheld: the first time the steadycam was used, was in Hal Ashby’s BOUND FOR GLORY. John Boorman used it very memorably a year later in personal fave EXORCIST 2: THE HERETIC. In his autobiography, Boorman discusses the industrial espionage going on at the time, with spies from Panavision sneaking onto the set, trying to figure out how the steadycam rig worked. A great read.

    There was much great handheld work before steady too, of course. I just re-watched CHINATOWN (get it on blu guys!). It has some great handheld work, including a legthy take Steven Soderbergh discusses on the special features.

    Back to Hyams Jr: I wish I had a fonder memory of the sound design in REGENERATION. I’m pretty sure I watched it with the surround turned on, but I can’t recall the soundtrack so enthustiastically described here. Must see it again in the near future.

  54. Man I want to see this one bad!

    Vern, I know it is somewhat off topic & you most likely already know this, but I just read that Gina Carano will be in the next Fast & Furious movie!

  55. I know the elder Hyams didn’t shoot DRAGON EYES. That’s why I said he should never make ANOTHER movie without his dad. DE looked good but it had that shutter-stutter SAVING PRIVATE RYAN thing that I always find distracting, not to mention that phony instagram color correction thing that always looks amateur to me, like you didn’t know how to light it on set so you had the computer guys fix it in post. It wasn’t a bad-looking movie by any means, but the camerawork wasn’t as confident and dynamic as in US:R, not by a long shot.

  56. Rudolf Klein-Rogge

    April 25th, 2012 at 9:38 am

    Sorry for the misunderstanding!

  57. EDIT FROM VERN: THIS POST IS NOT TRUE. ASIMOV CORRECTED HIMSELF LATER IN THE THREAD. SO DON’T GET UPSET WHEN YOU READ THIS FALSE DEATH REPORT.

    Unfortunatly, Peter Hyams died last year.

    He was a pretty good cinematographer in his own right. Reading the opening credits of 2010: THE YEAR WE MADE CONTACT, one wonders what part of the movie he didn’t do, because he directed, produced, wrote the screenplay and was involved in editing and the cinematography of that movie. Busy boy.

  58. What? I didn’t hear that. Shit, now I feel like an asshole.

    I think we should have a group viewing of RUNNING SCARED in belated remembrance.

  59. Rudolf Klein-Rogge, the sound edtor of the movie SEVEN said something quite interesting about sound in films: you should not need top of the art sound systems to know a movie has good sound. This is why whenever he works on a film, he revises his work on a small mono TV. Why? Because if it sounds good in that, then he did his job well.

    There’s more to sound designthen just cool stereo and surround effects. Hack boys like Mickey Ba and JJ Abrams think they can get away with that because they busy the sound of their movies with loud crap blasting everywhere dancing in all columns. But true good sound design is not that. A great example of great sound design is in the MASTER AND COMMANDER movie. There’s no needfor dancing around sound to realise how sound in that movie is used so perfectly to tell the story. Or SEVEN, for that matter.

    I have seen amny movie sin a small Tv with inbuold columns, no auxiliar sound system, and i have bene impressed withy the sound design of many movies. Not because they awe me with dancing around blasting sound, but because how clever it is in it’s use to tell the story. That’s the thing.

  60. Actually, are you sure about that, As? It doesn’t mention his death on imdb or wikipedia. Are you sure you’re not thinking of someone else?

  61. RUNNING SCARED, well, you mean the 1980s movie, of course, not the unrelated 2000s movie with Paul Walker. Long time i see that movie. I remember i liked it, pretty funny thanks to the two leads. Sure a change of pace after 2010.

  62. Mr. Majestyk, jezz, i wassure i had read about his passing away. But you are right, Wiki doesn’t mention it. Well, i’m glad to know the old boy is still around. If he was dead, he had been gone from us way too early.

  63. Rudolf Klein-Rogge

    April 25th, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    Peter Hyams is very much alive thank god. He also has a new project lined up, ENEMIES CLOSER, starring no other than JCVD.

    Asimovlives: My sound system is far from state of the art, but I do have a 5.1 setup, which I find preferable for a movie such as REGENERATION, which was designed with surround in mind anyhow. Surround on + volume up can make for a very immersive experience, and my inexpensive speakers produce a much richer sound than my TV. I’m very much a purist though, and always stick to the original tracks when they are offered. I loathe new mixes being added to discs at the expense of original audio tracks. Worst case scenario must be the Sergio Leone SE’s put out by MGM.

  64. Rudolf Klein-Rogge, while i think sound is very important ina movie, i’m more into appreciation of sound design then how many channels of 5.1 or 10.7 or whatever a movie produces. I have bene to homes of friends who have all those neat sound systems, and never once they made me like a movie better. i have seen too many bad movies, like Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, which rely on full blaststate of the art sound technology to try to impress us to enjoy and none ever worked. So, all that sound immertion thing, it never worked for me to the point it makes me change an opinion of a movie, and help made me more tolerant to bad filmmaking.

    I can notic if a movie have a god sound design even on not so stellar sound like my small TV. It suffices for me, as in, if i can’t afford better, i’m not lamenting. All that 5.1 stuff is nice and fancy, but for me it’s bonus, not the real deal.

  65. Majestyk’s right about BUSTING. Good stuff.

    If it’s possible to be too much of a smartass, then Elliot Gould is definitely in that territory, and somehow his wisecracking partner Robert Blake is a good match, even though he’s not a more silent counterpart to provide script balance or something. They have good rapport throughout, during the shootouts and even in the little [ADR?] throwaway moments during overnight stakeouts.

    “I’m hungry.”
    “Here, have a piece of gum.”
    “Gee, thanks. You got any ketchup?”

    And legendary Hal Needham is credited as BUSTING’s stunt gaffer.

    But yeah, the camera operators & Peter Hyams’s steady-vision are the real stars of the movie. Those tracking shots didn’t seem to involve any wheeled set-ups or rails.

    And the naked dancer in the Electra club is hawt.

  66. DRAGON EYES was much better the second time. The Actionfest print had major sound issues muffling the dialogue. Turns out the plot is somewhat complicated so actually being able to hear the dialogue makes a big difference. And it looks much better in a proper digital print.

    The Q&A with Cung Le, John Hyams and the cast went great. I asked two questions and the audience took it from there, and asked some really smart things. My favorite was an actress who asked the cast what surprised them about seeing the scenes in the final cut, like did music change what they thought about the scene. Really insightful. J.J. Perry was in the house too!

    I think I have a future in this Q&A business. At least I hope so.

  67. Fred Topel did a great interview with Hyams that goes into detail about DRAGON EYES, including the size of the jail cell. Also some cryptic discussion of UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING.

  68. I finally got around to seeing this. I thought it was OK. I think the flashback structure ultimately hurt the film and kept it from attaining its full potential. Told in a straightforward fashion, I think it would’ve worked much better. Van Damme was excellent however. This is the kind of role I’d like to see him do more of. The elder-wiseman-teacher-sensei-Splinter-Miyagi role suits him.

  69. This wasn’t half bad, but not a quarter as good as REGENERATION, and a mile wide of Hyam’s dark classic RECKONING. Closer to the mostly unwatchable Z NATION, which started out fun, but got bleaker and weaker and more repetitive each epsiode. Hyam’s seems to be hit and miss for me. DRAGON EYES needed more goofy shit like the scene with the druggo’s tweaking on the lounge while a ninja stalks them through the house. Really cheap looking warehouse sets, and awful washed out cinematography, Z NATION level.

    Cung Le can fight, though. And he delivers his dialogue with some gravitas (when he does speak) in this. But I liked him more as the unhinged guy with the crazy hair in MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS.

    I don’t know, this just felt cheap and nasty, made on the fly with all the right ingredients but poor direction. I guess I don’t have those Dragon Eyes. I can’t fight for this one.

  70. Finally watched this one after it was sitting on my netflix list for a year or two. I went in cold and thought it was actually a Van Damme flick. Was disappointed for a second but fully on board after the first street brawl. Too bad the movie was a total mess after that. The plot was impossible to follow, the color drain was annoying, and the occasional decent fight was not really worth it.

    That first street fight was pretty bad-ass but it was shot in a really weird way. Like, the way they kept cutting made me think the lead was not even a martial artist. There were a few times when he would start kicking someone and they would cut mid-kick. It made the guy look kind of weak IMO. It wasn’t until later when they showed him shadowfighting in his apartment (without any cuts) that I realized he was way better than I thought. I watched Marko Zaror in Redeemer earlier in the day and those fight scenes are just light years beyond these.

    The freeze-frame and name cards were in El Gringo, too, so maybe that was something that After Dark put in all of these? BTW, El Gringo was much much better than this one.

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