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Archive for the ‘Martial Arts’ Category

Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Monster

Monday, September 16th, 2019

Before Regular Age Detective Dee, it only stands to reason, there was Young Detective Dee. Three years after Tsui Hark’s crowd-pleasing supernatural action mystery blockbuster DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME he recast with Mark Chao (THE WARRIOR’S GATE) in place of Andy Lau and gave us a case from early in his career: YOUNG DETECTIVE DEE: RISE OF THE SEA DRAGON.

As the title implies, it starts with some kinda kraken. I have too much respect for you to make a pun out of that. But you can imagine one. Something attacks the Chinese navy, they think it’s a sea monster, so obviously

1) they’re gonna sacrifice Yin Ruiji (Angelababy, INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE) to the monster and

2) Empress Wu (returning Carina Lau, SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT) threatens to execute Yuchi (Feng Shaofeng, THE MONKEY KING 2 and 3) if he doesn’t figure out who attacked the fleet in ten days. Kind of a tough boss. (read the rest of this shit…)

Return of the Street Fighter

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

RETURN OF THE STREET FIGHTER (which, it’s important to note, is “filmed in Actionscope”) has the same director as THE STREET FIGHTER (Shigehiro Ozawa) and came out in the same year (1974). And I’m sure that was possible partly because it’s only 80 minutes long and padded with black and white flashbacks to two of the first movie’s fights, as well as the same childhood flashback, and it has a pretty long section that’s just the people from different karate schools demonstrating different weapons and techniques that will be used against evil-code-of-conduct-following anti-hero Takuma Tsurugi (Sonny Chiba) – punching through stacks of rock plates, or swinging “NUNCHAKU CLUB” or “SAI DAGGERS” or whatever the on screen text calls them in the American release. Somehow it’s still a great fuckin movie. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Street Fighter

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019

“I may in fact be worse than the villains. But I know the way they think and act.”

Sonny Chiba is… THE STREET FIGHTER, a.k.a. Takuma Tsurugi (or Terry in the English dub). He’s an A+ anti-hero because he’s just straight up a bad person, but he’s so cool he keeps luring us into rooting for him.

And he’s definitely in the Bad Motherfucker Hall of Fame. We’re introduced to him disguised as a Buddhist monk to visit Tateki Shikenbaru (Masashi Ishibashi, SHOGUN’S NINJA) on death row. Shikenbaru is apparently a murderer, but he seems like an honorable guy who’s excited when he realizes he gets to have a karate duel in his cell with someone as good as Tsurugi. But Tsurugi hits him with a special delayed-asphyxiation blow that causes him to collapse just before execution. The prison officials decide they legally and/or ethically have to transport him to a hospital, at which point Tsurugi and his sycophantic partner Rakuda (Goichi Yamada, DOUBLE SUICIDE AT NISHIJIN) ambush the ambulance, abduct the prisoner and send him to Hong Kong. (read the rest of this shit…)

Tai Chi Master

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019

By now you’ve probly noticed that I like searching for wisdom in martial arts movies the way some people do religious texts. Sorry, they’re just more fun to me than holy scripture. But man, when I find one that speaks to me I feel spiritually invigorated. TAI CHI MASTER (a.k.a. TWIN WARRIORS) (1993) is just such a sermon. It’s one of those stories full of symbolism that

1) seems easily applicable to life

and

2) makes for strong, mythical drama

And since it’s directed and choreographed by the great Yuen Woo-ping (in between IRON MONKEY and WING CHUN) it would already be worth watching just for the beautiful fights full of wild flourishes and ingenious gimmicks. This is a world where people frequently kick logs and barrels at each other and back, where most people have the ability to leap into the air and spin or flip several full rotations, where you fly up and swing on a chandelier and the lamp oil spills and makes the floor slippery so you land on top of the people who have fallen down and slide around on them like they’re snowboards. (read the rest of this shit…)

Shadow

Tuesday, August 13th, 2019

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? SHADOW is the 2018 film by Zhang Yimou, the director best know to people like me for giving us HERO and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS. It’s his followup to THE GREAT WALL, a pretty silly but impressive international production that has a bad reputation in the U.S. for exceedingly stupid reasons (basically, a great Chinese director wanting to make a movie with Matt Damon was mischaracterized as whitewashing). SHADOW is another gorgeous and meticulous period martial arts epic. Though quieter and less action-oriented than the others I’ve listed here it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. One of those ones that crept up on me. Slowly luring me in until I’m in awe of it by the end, and love it the more I think about it. I was lucky enough to see it theatrically, but waited for its arrival on Blu-Ray and DVD this week to finish my review, so that more people would be able to check it out.

This is a movie that’s a little under two hours and builds to a large battle with some really cool weaponry gimmicks and that thing I love where they come up with a philosophy-based martial art to defeat the enemy. But that’s really the cherry on top – it’s mostly about palace shenanigans. It’s about the kingdom of Pei, who lost the city of Jingzhou to rival kingdom Yang when Commander Ziyu (Deng Chao, DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME, MERMAID) lost a duel to Yang Cang (Hu Jun, RED CLIFF, BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS, FIRESTORM). Most of the people of Pei are still sore about it, but King Peiliang (Zheng Kai, THE GREAT WALL) is a coward and just wants to forget about Jingzhou. So he gets pissed and, to the outrage of the military, strips Ziyu of his title when he finds out he challenged Yang Cang to a rematch. (read the rest of this shit…)

Kickboxer (and the conclusion of The Last Summer of ’80s Action)

Wednesday, August 7th, 2019

As with LETHAL WEAPON 2 and ROAD HOUSE, KICKBOXER is a classic that I’ve already reviewed, and I stand by what I wrote about it the first time. But I thought it might be worth revisiting 11 years later, after also writing about its sequels, remake and remake sequel, and in the context of these other ’89 movies. It hit some European countries in April and August of that year, and the U.S. on September 8th, making it a good closer to THE LAST SUMMER OF ’80S ACTION.

Earlier in the series we had fighting circuit movies from an old Disney live action director (FIST FIGHTER), the World Wrestling Federation (NO HOLDS BARRED), and a guy that did Dorf movies (CAGE). Not surprisingly it was Cannon Films that gave us the season’s slickest version of the form, building off the success of BLOODSPORT (1988) for an in my opinion even better vehicle for shiny new splits-doer Jean-Claude Van Damme. I mean that literally, by the way – in the climax the camera really focuses on the reflectiveness of his muscles as an illustration of how ready he is to triumph. (read the rest of this shit…)

Wheels On Meals

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

WHEELS ON MEALS is the 1984 Hong Kong action classic starring Chinese opera bros for life Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung (also director), fresh off of WINNERS AND SINNERS and PROJECT A. Jackie and Biao star as Thomas and David, dorky cousins who live together in Barcelona, sharing a bedroom that has separate doors right next to each other for no reason other than a visual gag. In the opening we see them getting up, working out and practicing on kung fu dummies, so that when they’re amazing fighters through the rest of it there’s a foundation for it. (But we never see them practice again.)

Sammo plays a guy named Moby, who’s introduced sporting shades and a perm that almost looks like jheri curls. He’s working (without pay) for a sleazy p.i. (Herb Edelman, a.k.a. Dorothy’s ex-husband Stanley on Golden Girls) who leaves town to hide from a gambling debt and leaves Moby in charge, causing him to strut around town dressed like he’s in the “Smooth Criminal” video, whisper-bragging to everyone that he’s “Acting Chairman of Matt’s Detective Agency.” He also takes a case to find a woman from an old photograph (oh my god this could turn into THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO) and it seems like all he really knows how to do is look for some guy named Fatso to ask him about it. (read the rest of this shit…)

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum

Friday, May 17th, 2019

I don’t want to raise anyone’s expectations too high. I know some are saying JOHN WICK CHAPTER 3: PARABELLUM is fun but lesser, and that could very well end up being the conventional wisdom. In my mind, though, it’s more than that. It’s an outstanding achievement, a new action classic that outdoes the excellent CHAPTER 2 in both garish spectacle and elaboration on the strange mythology of this secret world of elite assassins.

Like all JOHN WICK movies, it’s full of things you never knew you needed to see, things that are ludicrous, but treated with knowing seriousness, increasing their level of awesomeness. For example, you know that cliche where a character you like gets shot and drops to the ground and you have to wait and hope for the reveal that they were saved by a bullet proof vest? That happens with a dog.

And what about John Wick walking through a desert, but dressed like John Wick? If James Bond goes out into the desert – hell, even if Batman does – he wears different gear. But there is no Desert Action John Wick. When he treks through Moroccan sand dunes he wears the same suit and tie we just saw him wearing in a New York downpour. I suppose maybe he cancelled his debit card when he came back and doesn’t know how to buy new clothes without access to his usual services. But I think it’s more because he’s an icon. That’s his uniform. That’s John Wick. And because director Chad Stahelski knows it’s surreal to see this guy in drastically different settings across the world without changing his blood-stained clothes. (read the rest of this shit…)

Alien Agent

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

ALIEN AGENT is a 2007 made-for-Sy-Fy collaboration between Mark Dacascos and director Jesse V. Johnson. For Dacascos it might’ve been the type of quickie affair he could do for fun and profit between hosting Iron Chef America and appearing in occasional higher profile movies like CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE* and CODE NAME: THE CLEANER. For Johnson it was definitely a gig for hire, his fifth movie as a director but still a learning experience a decade before he started dominating the low budget action world with SAVAGE DOG, ACCIDENT MAN, THE DEBT COLLECTOR and TRIPLE THREAT. So it’s not a career best for either, but it’s a scrappy, entertaining little cheapie with some pleasingly odd touches stirred through the humble sparseness of its production.

Dacascos plays Rykker, a guy who drives around acting like a fed, even flashing a badge, but then steals a police car and sleeps with his tie on in a closed church. He seems to be in an ongoing one-man guerrilla war against a gang of leather-jacket-wearing thugs led by a hot tattooed badass lady named Isis (Amelia Cooke, SPECIES III). In truth they’re all aliens from the same dying planet, and Rykker is sort of a conscientious objector trying to stop Isis’s group from enslaving the human race. Apparently they used to date, and they seem to still kind of like each other, but he believes their people can find an uninhabited world to colonize, and she thinks that’s not enough of a sure thing, so they fight. (read the rest of this shit…)

Kickboxer 5: The Redemption

Monday, May 13th, 2019

“He’s a butcher. A madman. His charm and intelligence make him more dangerous than a cobra.”

Life is cheap in the world of KICKBOXER. Every time the hero doesn’t do a sequel, he gets unceremoniously murdered. It happened to Kurt Sloane (by way of a lookalike) in KICKBOXER 2, and now it happens to David Sloane (through the medium of silhouetted double) in KICKBOXER 5. David (offscreen) refuses to join a new South African kickboxing league, and they have him beaten to death. At least he manages to break the leg of one of his attackers (Tony Caprari, TARZAN AND THE LOST CITY), who will be on crutches for the rest of the movie.

Also worth very little in this series: subtitles. Maybe THE ROAD HOME has legitimate interpretations, and THE ART OF WAR could apply to pretty much anything, but THE AGGRESSOR was a headscratcher and THE REDEMPTION has no practical plot application. Maybe that’s where the American distributors got the idea to rename THE RAID.

But if we follow my usual rule of going by what it says on the opening titles, it’s just THE REDEMPTION, no KICKBOXER in the title at all. And for what it’s worth, the fake David Sloane smashes that title with a flying kick. (read the rest of this shit…)