"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Archive for the ‘Martial Arts’ Category

Broken Path (a.k.a. Attack of the Yakuza)

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

BROKEN PATH (2008) is a humble but impressive low budget production, simple in story and filmmaking, but with a high volume of work put into its virtually non-stop action scenes. A little like last year’s NIGHTSHOOTERS, it has the feel of an indie horror movie, but its attraction is high quality fight choreography. It’s what happens when some passionate people get together a little money to make a violent home invasion movie, but those passionate people happen to be a star, director/choreographer and stunt team (Alpha Stunts) from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

I had a hard time getting a hold of this obscure footnote in the history of western martial arts movies of the oughts. I’m not sure I can call it under the radar, because I’ve had it recommended to me a few times over the years and seen it on an underrated action movies list. It never got American distribution though, so when I looked for it years ago I couldn’t find it. But it’s directed by GUYVER 2 and DRIVE choreographer Koichi Sakamoto, so Jack Thursby (and possibly another person on Facebook – sorry that I can’t find your comment) reminded me of it when I did Steve Wang Week earlier this year. This time I was able to order it on a German DVD under the title ATTACK OF THE YAKUZA. I think there’s also a UK release as BROKEN FIST. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

“I make the impossible possible. Takami Tsurugi. Remember that if you want to live long.”

The thrilling conclusion to Sonny Chiba’s STREET FIGHTER trilogy is called THE STREET FIGHTER’S LAST REVENGE, but it doesn’t really feel like a finale. It feels more like another in what should be an endless series of adventures. Though released in 1974, the same year as the other two, Chiba’s black-clad anti-hero-for-hire Tsurugi seems to have evolved his operation. After taking a recruitment call he rotates the phone attached to his wall, opening a secret door to a room full of uniforms, wigs and latex masks. He’s a fuckin master of disguise now!

His mission is to retrieve Go Owada (Akira Shioji, who played a different character in the first movie) from the midst of a violent worker strike at a chemical plant. Tsurugi impersonates a member of the riot squad and breaks ranks to bust through the window, go in and beat the shit out of everybody, steal a specified black mah jong case, arrest Owada, steal a police car and bring him to the mobsters who hired him.

But they pay him with a briefcase full of shredded newspaper, which was not the deal in my opinion, so he fights them and they’re enemies now. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Brink

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

I first paid attention to Max Zhang (aka Zhang Jin) because of the modern classic KILL ZONE 2 (SPL 2). He played the villain’s #1 henchman, a daintily dressed psycho with a fighting style like whirling scalpels. But I’ve come to know him more as a dreamy long-haired brooder like his character in IP MAN 3, who was spun off into the hero of MASTER Z: IP MAN LEGACY. And that’s closer to Sai Gau, the rule-breaking cop character he plays in the, uh, aquatic police thriller THE BRINK (2017).

He’s introduced just going fuckin berserk in a one-man raid on a… penthouse crackhouse? It’s some sort of trashed drug den with broken windows high enough for him to throw people out of and have them destroy the police cars they land on. Psychedelically lit with primary colored lights and with a questionable amount of electric guitars on the soundtrack, he spins and kicks and chops through crowds of criminals. Not all of them survive. (read the rest of this shit…)

Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019

As much as I enjoyed the first two Detective Dee pictures (MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME and RISE OF THE SEA DRAGON), the third one, DETECTIVE DEE: THE FOUR HEAVENLY KINGS, far surpasses them. It has the same kind of fun characters and storytelling, but the FX and design are much improved, it has more action and spectacle, and it’s more packed full of weird factions and creatures with cool costumes and gimmicky weapons, often elegantly gliding around on wires. It’s a total blast.

They’ve dropped the “Young” from the title, even though it’s continuing the prequel story starring Mark Chao. I guess the moment he gets his rank and trademark weapon he becomes a man. That’s where it starts: the end of RISE OF THE SEA DRAGON, with our hero receiving the Dragon-Taming Mace and the duty to keep the imperial court in check, at which point Empress Wu (Carina Lau, PROJECT A PART II, the only actor in all three movies) conspires to have the mace stolen from him. This is one thing I love in period martial arts movies: when a specific weapon is treated with reverence, even though it’s just a piece of metal, not some doomsday device. There turns out to be a really good explanation for why she needs to get it away from him, but it wouldn’t matter to me if there wasn’t. All I need is that it’s a legendary badass weapon like the Green Destiny Sword, so they can’t let him have it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon

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, the 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…)