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Archive for the ‘Martial Arts’ Category

American Ninja 2: The Confrontation

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

“That damn American ninja. Fights like a tiger. We’ll have to get rid of him.”

tn_an2The opening credits of AMERICAN NINJA 2: THE CONFRONTATION feature a badass theme song (composer George S. Clinton, who had already done AVENGING FORCE for Cannon and Dudikoff, joins the series) as three dudes confidently cruise on their motorcycles, journeying through mountain roads. They’re wearing tinted helmets, so we wonder is this is Joe Armstrong, the American Ninja, and some other Army guys? Is it some scary villains he’s gonna have to face? Who is it?

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They turn out to be some weinery dudes who drive up to a bar and immediately get bullied. One of them, Tommy Taylor (Jonathan Pienaar, BLOOD DIAMOND), steps away and cowers nearby while his friends get beaten up, and then all the sudden a bunch of ninjas walk in and carry them away.

In this enjoyable sequel Joe (Michael Dudikoff) and Curtis Jackson (Steve James) are still best friends, and still in the Army, now as Rangers. They seem to receive more respect now, and maybe I’m naive but when they’re sent on the mission that the last guys (the guys at the bar) disappeared on it really seems to be because of faith in their abilities, not to get rid of them. (read the rest of this shit…)

American Ninja

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

tn_americanninjab“You know, loners don’t go too far in this outfit.”

AMERICAN NINJA is a Cannon Films classic starring model-turned-action-star Michael Dudikoff as army-rookie-with-a-mysterious-ninja-past Joe Armstrong. I already reviewed it several years ago and in my opinion it was a well-written review with some points and some jokes that I wouldn’t have thought of now. For example I said that the ninjas in the yellow costumes would be good at hiding in a banana tree or a field of dandelions. You gotta have that youthful eye of the tiger to come up with that one.

But today I am revisiting AMERICAN NINJA for an important new series in which we will compare each installment of Francois Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel series to each installment of Golan and Globus’s AMERICAN NINJA series. Why, does the AMERICAN NINJA series follow the same character as he ages? Well, not really, I don’t think so, but I can’t think of a better pairing of quintologies to represent the full spectrum of cinema art from the respected and high brow (“brilliantly and strikingly reveals the explosion of a fresh creative talent… a picture that encourages an exciting refreshment of faith in films” wrote Bosley Crowther in The New York Times) to the… other kind (“Woefully acted, abysmally written… an embarrassment even when held to the low standards of grade C exploitation movies” wrote Candice Russell in The Sun Sentinel). By alternating between them and comparing and contrasting how they approach each chapter I hope we’ll find the true meaning of art or whatever. (read the rest of this shit…)

Black Cobra

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

tn_blackcobraBLACK COBRA was another one of my blind rentals, and I wouldn’t say it’s a surprise gem, but it’s definitely more interesting than I bargained for. The last thing I rented without knowing anything about it was BILLY BOY, which turned out to be a shitty South African movie about white people, filmed during apartheid, so it’s a cool coincidence that this is a competent (if sorta home made) one with a black South African hero after apartheid. And the first fight scene is against a group of white South Africans trying to treat him like it’s the old days.

T.J. Storm sounds like the name of a fictional action hero that a kid in a movie idolizes, but that’s the handle of the martial arts champ and stuntman who plays Sizwe Biko, a guy who “won a couple of titles” and whose father is a jailed hero of the South African revolution. (Whether or not they’re related to Steven Biko is never mentioned.) His father wouldn’t confess his crimes to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, so he was never let out, and now they’re conspiring to kill him in prison. Sizwe learns that he could get him out by bribing a certain judge, so he digs up the family’s secret diamond stash and takes them to L.A. to fence.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Hard Target

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

tn_hardtargetwoozoneusaThere was a time, I must admit, when I didn’t properly appreciate HARD TARGET. I had already been intoxicated by the unadulterated John Woo of THE KILLER, BULLET IN THE HEAD and HARD BOILED (in that order, I believe) so when I watched his 1993 Hollywood debut I could only see the compromises. American Woo was less violent, less stylish, less emotional and built around the stiff toughness of Van Damme instead of the smooth charisma of Chow Yun Fat.

But with the passage of time comes wisdom and context. From the perspective of today we can see that HARD TARGET stepped deeper into the Woo Zone than any of his subsequent American films save for FACE/OFF. More importantly, it’s clearly a masterpiece among Van Damme vehicles, themselves an enjoyable body of work that can benefit from some Woo. A pessimist sees HARD TARGET as Woo watered down with Van Damme. But I’m an optimist now so I know it’s a refreshing glass of Van Damme spiked with a shot of Woo tequila. (read the rest of this shit…)

Kill Zone 2 (SPL 2: A Time For Consequences)

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

tn_spl2btislSPL 2: A TIME FOR CONSEQUENCES (or KILL ZONE 2 in the U.S.) is not truly a sequel to SPL/KILL ZONE, the great 2005 martial arts/police thriller that Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung and director Wilson Yip did together before the IP MAN movies. Instead it’s an even better movie with Tony Jaa (THE PROTECTOR), Louis Koo (DRUG WAR) as the villain and Zhang Jin (THE GRANDMASTER) as the main henchman. Wu Jing (WOLF WARRIOR) and Simon Yam (MAN OF TAI CHI) both return in lead roles, but not as the same characters from the first one.

Director Cheang Pou-soi (DOG BITE DOG, MOTORWAY, THE MONKEY KING) and action director Li Chung-chi (team leader of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team who also choreographed GEN-X COPS 2, VENGEANCE and IP MAN: FINAL FIGHT) have come up with some next level shit that’s pretty much everything I could hope for in a serious Hong Kong action movie: an intense, involving story with a strong, dramatic tone, building carefully to powerful explosions of violence including large scale shootouts and vehicle mayhem but primarily martial arts with a wide variety of styles that express things about the characters and situations. (read the rest of this shit…)

Redeemer

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

tn_redeemerIn REDEEMER, Marko Zaror plays The Redeemer, a mysterious, drifting avenger with a thing for Catholicism. He used to be a cartel hitman, now he’s fulfilling a big time penance. He’s got a full back tattoo of the crucifixion, carries a portable altar and various idols and penants of the saints, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wears socks sewn out of a corner of the Shroud of Turin. For 95% of the movie he keeps the hood of either his sweatshirt or his jacket up. It’s not raining, so I think it’s to make him look like a monk. And every day he kneels and does a prayer ritual. The weird part of it is when he rubs a bullet with a scorpion painted on it against his forehead, then plays Russian roulette. Kind of a quirky thing to do every single day, right? I guess maybe that’s a thing though. I wouldn’t know, I was raised Presbyterian.

Anyway this individual The Redeemer is wandering through Chile on foot when he comes across some jerks beating up a fisherman. He watches for a while before he saves the guy. He’s real good with guns, but he’s Marko Zaror, so he’s also got some incredible kicks and punches. By rescuing the guy and taking shelter in the nearby home of a single mother they all end up involved in the man’s troubles: he found a bunch of money in his fishing net, he took it, it turned out to belong to gangsters, they are not real understanding about it. So The Redeemer and friends hide in a cave while he broods and prays and doesn’t talk and makes plans to clear all this up.

Plan A: Get the gangsters to promise no harm in exchange for their money back.

Plan B: Kill them all and use the money for the mom’s kid’s operation. (read the rest of this shit…)

Bangkok Revenge

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

tn_bangkokrevengeBANGKOK REVENGE is a story about, yes, some type of revenge that takes place in or near Bangkok. It starts out almost like a Thailand-set remix of HARD TO KILL where the good cop attacked by the corrupt cops is not that hard to kill, he dies instead of going into a coma, so it’s his son who has to set things straight years later. The kid, Manit, got shot in the head, but he survived, and like Sonny Storm (or the Skywalker twins) he was hidden away from the bad guys. In this case it’s a kind nurse who sneaks him to a friend who, reluctantly at first, gives him shelter and martial arts training.

Actually, at this point it switches to KICKBOXER. Young Manit trains on roped posts and hanging coconuts, aging to adulthood (and the actor Jon Foo) during a montage. They even do the scene where the teacher takes him to a bar and convinces a bunch of toughs that he talked smack about them so he’ll have to fight them off. The fight is done in an interesting, partially successful handheld POV type approach. (read the rest of this shit…)

Close Range

Monday, February 1st, 2016

tn_closerangeCLOSE RANGE is the new one from the DTV action power team of star Scott Adkins and director Isaac Florentine. That’s an event because it’s been two years since NINJA 2, and it seems like longer.

I think this is Adkins’ gruffest performance without a Russian accent (he plays American). This time his character Colton MacReady is

1) an ex-Special Forces guy who’s
2) now on the run because he
3) “disobeyed an order that would’ve disgraced him and his uniform” and then
4) “put his superior officer in the hospital” so
5) “He’s been on the run ever since.”

That’s a backstory that could’ve been created with a refrigerator magnet set of action movie cliches, but I’m not against that. Those are good magnets. (read the rest of this shit…)

Ip Man 3

Thursday, January 28th, 2016

tn_ipman3I’ve watched and enjoyed all the movies made about Ip Man so far, but IP MAN 3 is the first one I’ve seen on the big screen. A really big screen at a multiplex with only four other people in the audience. I feel like I should send AMC a thank you card.

After three years Donnie Yen returns to what has become one of his greatest roles, the real life Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man, most famous here as a guy who taught Bruce Lee. Director Wilson Yip (SPL/KILL ZONE) and writer Edmond Wong (DRAGON TIGER GATE) also return, but the great fight choreographer Sammo Hung has been replaced by the also great Yuen Woo Ping. The weird thing about that is that Yuen did Wong Kar Wai’s rival Ip Man movie THE GRANDMASTER.

Part 2 took place in the early ’50s, with Ip Man and his family moving to Hong Kong, where he set up a Wing Chun school. Now it’s ’59 and he’s still living humbly in a small apartment with his wife (still played by Lynn Hung) and youngest son. We don’t really see him teaching anymore but apparently he is because he still has all his fiercely loyal disciples, and he’s getting into trouble with the wife and the kid’s school (math and reading type school, not fighting) for always working too late.

Once again this story involves a public challenge by another martial arts teacher trying to prove superiority over the local legend. This time it’s not a different style against Wing Chun, it’s a guy saying that he has pure Wing Chun and Ip Man is peddling some bullshit watered down autotune Wing Chun. This guy shouldn’t be fuckin with Ip Man, but he’s a sympathetic enough character that I didn’t initially realize he was gonna be the antagonist. (read the rest of this shit…)

Balance of Power

Monday, January 18th, 2016

tn_balanceofpowerIn BALANCE OF POWER, Billy Blanks plays Niko, one of those martial arts instructors who teaches disadvantaged kids, in one of those neighborhoods where gangs go door-to-door demanding protection money. He makes the kids pick up litter in the neighborhood and lectures them if they think “the most important thing about karate” is “kicking some butt, man.” Niko is sensitive and truly cares about the kids, but he maintains a tough love exterior, hoping it will keep them in line. He’s especially worried about Billy (Adam Bonneau) because he told him not to ever go to the playground (inhabited by scary gang members) and then the dumbass went there for a girl.

Meanwhile Niko’s in trouble because the mob guys just noticed that they have mistakenly forgotten to ever shake him down for money. Embarrassing blunder there. So some thugs, including long-haired Shinji Takamura (James Lew, MISSION OF JUSTICE), come in, he refuses, they break some glass and give him an ultimatum. When he still doesn’t pay up the main enforcer guy drives a car by the playground and one of his ski masked guys does a drive-by on Billy. (read the rest of this shit…)