I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Archive for the ‘Martial Arts’ Category

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

Okay, so admittedly it’s weird that 17 years after the acclaimed, Academy Award winning CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, The Weinstein Company up and made a sequel without the original director. And filmed it in English. And sold it to Netflix so it was barely released in theaters and may never be available on disc in most countries. It’s not surprising that people seem to have been disappointed, or just confused, or completely unaware of it. But if we think of it in terms of unlikely DTV sequels, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY is in the upper echelon.

No, the director is not Ang Lee, but it’s not nobody either – it’s Yuen Woo-Ping, whose choreography was the life’s blood of the first film. I wouldn’t say he tops it here, but he brings more graceful glides, spinning swords and nimble roof top skips and hops. It’s worth noting that today’s technology is used to create more elaborate magical realism, like when the two leads ride in on horses, block a barrage of spears, leap high into the air, land and begin a sword fight, all in one beautiful shot. (read the rest of this shit…)

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.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON is an important movie to me for a couple reasons. One is personal, but the other is kinda about you guys. I had been writing reviews on my Geocities websight for a bit, but I didn’t really think anybody gave a shit, so I had kind of given it up for a few months when I ran into an old friend who mentioned he liked what I wrote about CROUCHING TIGER and wondered when I was gonna write more reviews. So I did, and then I continued for like 17 years, and here we are. Thank you, Jacob M., for saying that to me that day.

I love CROUCHING TIGER. I wasn’t sure how well it would hold up after all these years. It was such an exciting movie of its time, but it’s been imitated, techniques have evolved, new things have been achieved in martial arts, we’ve changed. And though I still like HULK, the other Ang Lee film I was obsessed with in the early 2000s, it doesn’t quite knock my socks all the way off anymore. Just part way off.

CROUCHING TIGER, I’m happy to discover, still does. And it knocks them off in a deeper, more mature way than it used to. My socks were very impressed.

(read the rest of this shit…)

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.

Weapon of Choice

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

The box says FIST 2 FIST 2: WEAPON OF CHOICE, but it should just be WEAPON OF CHOICE. The distributor retitled it for some reason, but in FIST 2 FIST, writer/director/star Jino Kang played Ken, a former criminal turned martial arts instructor. In WEAPON OF CHOICE he plays Jack Lee, a former criminal who wears martial arts clothing but is not specified to be an instructor. Different guy, in my opinion.

The title refers to his method of showing up at a place – say a private club or warehouse – unarmed, fighting with his hands and feet and the guns and knives and what not he takes away from his opponents. This way he’s not leaving any evidence behind but still manages to get in a big sword duel.

Jack is introduced using this technique to massacre a room full of people at a gangster’s birthday dinner, leaving only one terrified witness to give his boss the message that “my part of the deal is done.” Then we find him six years later living as an ordinary dude with an unnamed regular job, living with his teenage niece Jaime (Kelly Lou Dennis) who he’s raised as his daughter since the death of her real father. But one day the boss finds out this was a scam – ol’ brother-in-law faked his death to escape a debt. So masked men burst in and try to kill Jack and they kidnap Jaime and just for good measure they intend to traffic her. So… they’re bad guys. (read the rest of this shit…)

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.

The Last Airbender

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

It was kinda risky to do a whole series of unpopular or forgotten summer movies, because I could very well have been forcing myself to watch an all star lineup of all the suckiest failures from across a couple decades. A dirty dozen of squirming and boredom. Luckily, many of the movies I chose have been better than their reputations, or even misunderstood gems, and when they’re not it’s still kind of nice, because I’m seeing them from a better position than the people who saw them their respective summers. I don’t go in with high expectations. I don’t hope for the next great summer movie. Just maybe something that’s more interesting than people said at the time.

In this case I also knew not to hope for an M. Night Shyamalan comeback after THE VILLAGE, LADY IN THE WATER and THE HAPPENING, or a good live action version of the popular cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender, which I haven’t seen anyway. Knowing nothing about the cartoon I was able to appreciate the cool concepts they borrowed from it without knowing they apparently did it all wrong. So I have a higher chance of being pleasantly surprised and a lower chance of feeling like I didn’t get my money’s worth. (read the rest of this shit…)

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.

Boyka: Undisputed

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

Note: the Blu-Ray cover calls it BOYKA: UNDISPUTED 4, but you know the rules – I go by what it says onscreen in the actual movie, which is simply BOYKA: UNDISPUTED.

 

Fuck prison fighting circuits. Time for some undisputedness on the outside – doing a flying spinning double kick while breathing the fresh air of freedom, or at least freedomishness. International martial arts superstar Scott Adkins returns to his signature role of Yuri Boyka, defeated villain of UNDISPUTED II who won an international prison fighting tournament in part III and got away at the end. Remember? The first time we ever saw him smile or laugh.

Now we find that new Boyka, the one who has experienced smiling before, in the Ukraine, openly fighting in an underground MMA outfit. The filthy prisoners chanting his name have been replaced by gambler bros in leather jackets. I don’t think it matters to him, because in the now noticeably bigger ring he is alive. I don’t know what kind of new camera/lens/rig they’re using, but it shows him better than ever, putting you in the ring, floating around him, under him, gliding over you like a supernatural force.

When he’s not grouchy he’s broody, because he doesn’t consider the slate clean. He’s still very religious, and feels a duty to donate most of his earnings to his church. The father disapproves of his “violence” and questions whether he can seek salvation while still fighting. But Boyka says “I think God gave me this gift. And I think it would be a sin to waste it.” (read the rest of this shit…)

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.

Undisputed III: Redemption (revisit)

Monday, July 31st, 2017

Well, unlike my first reviews of UNDISPUTED and UNDISPUTED II: LAST MAN STANDING, I’m perfectly happy with what I wrote when UNDISPUTED III: REDEMPTION was first released. So you can follow that link for what the movie’s about and why it’s great, plus my attempt to sell circa 2010 Ain’t It Cool News readers on the works of Scott Adkins and Isaac Florentine, and the concept of DTV action in general. Still, on the occasion of part 4 coming to American video tomorrow I wanted to revisit part III for further analysis and appreciation.

I’d never watched it back-to-back with part II before. That really emphasizes the differences. Though I praised the J.J. Perry fight choreography in II, Larnell Stovall’s work here is something to behold. More fights, longer takes with more consecutive moves, different styles (more throws and groundwork, and capoeira courtesy of Lateef Crowder). As much as I love and don’t want to take away from the classics like KICKBOXER and BLOODSPORT that inspired movies like the UNDISPUTEDs, I think it’s fair to say that the choreography and filming of martial arts sequences has gotten far more sophisticated since those days. (read the rest of this shit…)

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.

Undisputed II: Last Man Standing (revisited)

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

Nine years ago when I caught up to UNDISPUTED II: LAST MAN STANDING I declared it the first DTV sequel better than its theatrical predecessor, and I finally understood the internet love for its star Michael Jai White, who I’d previously thought of as the guy from SPAWN. But I still didn’t appreciate it nearly as much as I do now. Yesterday’s pleasant surprise has become today’s under-recognized genre classic.

Since then we’ve seen White star in more vehicles worthy of his talents (BLOOD & BONE and BLACK DYNAMITE being standouts), we’ve seen choreographer J.J. “Loco” Perry further make his mark with HAYWIRE before moving up to giant movies like FATE OF THE FURIOUS, and we’ve seen villain Scott Adkins grow into a martial arts icon in his own right, often working with this same great director, Isaac Florentine (NINJA, NINJA II: SHADOW OF A TEAR, CLOSE RANGE).

But even looking back, UNDISPUTED II is not a stepping stone to greatness. It’s an example of it.

(read the rest of this shit…)

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.

Satin Steel

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

tn_satinsteelSATIN STEEL is a 1994 Hong Kong cops ‘n martial arts movie that starts off as a bit of a LETHAL WEAPON rip-off, but with women. I wish the heroine was actually named Satin Steel, but instead her name is Jade (Jade Leung, BLACK CAT 1 and 2). Like Riggs, Jade is a maverick police detective with a death wish. And it opens with a similar (though smaller scale) undercover bust where she does something insane to get her collar (it involves a grenade).

She takes crazy risks because she’s depressed that her husband was shot to death (and fell out a high window!) by assassins trying to kill her. We learn this when she’s outside smoking and brooding to a bluesy soundtrack and she witnesses a wedding in progress. When her flashback ends she’s holding her gun to her head. Luckily she snaps out of it, realizes she has caused a scene and goes over to congratulate the newlyweds, but in my opinion you can’t really recover from a faux pas like that. That is just plain poor wedding etiquette, I don’t care what the 2nd amendment says.

Although Jade is a cop who gets her man, she’s obviously hard to deal with, so the boss takes a getting-rid-of-Chris-Tucker-in-RUSH-HOUR type glee in sending her to Singapore to investigate an international arms dealing ring. And something about the American mafia and diamonds and a guy that was involved in the World Trade Center bombing. (read the rest of this shit…)

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.

Bodyguards and Assassins

Monday, April 10th, 2017

BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS is really not fair to the assassins – it’s all about how great and selfless the bodyguards are. I thought I should give that warning to the more sensitive members of the assassin community. I still thought it was good though.

This 2009 film from director Teddy Chan (KUNG FU KILLER) is another one in that IP MAN vein of an Important Historical Drama infused with exaggerated martial arts greatness. I so wish our Oscar bait movies had kung fu in them. Think how much better IMITATION GAME would be!

In 1906, the pro-democracy activist Dr. Sun Wen (Zhang Hanyu, SPECIAL ID, THE GREAT WALL) is about to meet in British-ruled Hong Kong with regional leaders to plan a revolution, but the Chinese government is trying to assassinate him. So this is about the brave rebels who volunteer to escort him to the meeting. (read the rest of this shit…)

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.

Blackbelt II: Fatal Force

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

BLACKBELT II: FATAL FORCE is pretty different from part 1. It has the same producers (Roger Corman and Cirio H. Santiago), and continues the tradition of listing championship titles on the credits, but it doesn’t have the same characters or any story connection or seem like the same type of movie or same level of quality. Also, according to IMDb, it came out three years before part 1. Huh.

This one starts during the Vietnam War, with a very serious narrator telling us stats about the war and MIAs over generic jungle battle scenes. After a bunch of machine gun fire and explosions the American helicopters take off, leaving three soldiers behind.

Now in LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA some beat cops stumble across a night time warehouse arms deal and it turns into a big shootout. It took me almost 10 minutes into the movie to figure which one was gonna be the main character (because nobody seems like an obvious blackbelt) but it’s a cop with the enviable name Brad Spyder (“Blake Bahner – W.K.F. World Kickboxing Champion”) who chases one of the escaping criminals to the top of a building and has a long fight with him, but is horrified when he accidentally kicks him off the roof. He yells “NO!” and catches his hand, but then drops him. The guy’s dad is mad so he shoots Spyder’s partner Lee Stokes (Ronald William Lawrence. (read the rest of this shit…)

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.