“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Archive for the ‘Martial Arts’ Category

Triple Threat

Friday, March 15th, 2019

TRIPLE THREAT is the long-awaited international co-production that teams Tony Jaa (ONG BAK, THE PROTECTOR, KILL ZONE 2), Iko Uwais (THE RAID, HEADSHOT, THE NIGHT COMES FOR US) and Tiger Chen (MAN OF TAI CHI, KUNG FU TRAVELER). That in itself is an event, but wait until I tell you who plays the villains. Directed by Jesse V. Johnson (THE BUTCHER, SAVAGE DOG), it’s not an envelope-pusher like some of the modern classics each of those three have under their belts, but it’s a solid action romp with tons of clearly shot fighting, taking advantage of all the possible match-ups and varying martial arts styles.

Jaa is first billed and shown first, but Uwais is the protagonist and the one with the best hair*. Jaa and Chen play mercenaries duped into a “humanitarian mission” that’s actually an attack on a village in which Uwais’ character’s (very briefly glimpsed) wife and friends are killed. Seeking revenge, he tracks the two to their day jobs as underground fighters… and gets beat up. But they recognize him from the village, explain themselves and become his on again, off again allies as he uses them to try to lure out the criminal syndicate responsible. Meanwhile those two try not to be killed by the gang for knowing too much, as well as to protect a Chinese heiress (Celina Jade, LEGENDARY ASSASSIN, SKIN TRADE, WOLF WARRIOR 2) they discover is being targeted by them. (read the rest of this shit…)

Iron Protector

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019

a.k.a. THE BODYGUARD
a.k.a. SUPER BODYGUARD

IRON PROTECTOR (2016) is a fun and pulpy if not groundbreaking modern Chinese martial arts picture with a little bit of a throwback feel. The opening credits are throbbing with kung fu, c.g., three dimensional letters, fire and explosions, and the movie maintains that level of shameless flash, but it’s old school in the sense that it has lines like “Brother, your iron fist has improved alot,” and “Brother, everyone in my bodyguard company is a champion in his own right,” and “I let you help me start my bodyguard company because I wanted to develop the spirit of the Iron Kick,” and “You must live on for the spirit of the Iron Kick.” Also they make a big deal about writer/director/star Yue Song doing all his own stunts and not using wires.

It’s style is not unimpeachable. It has a cheesy transition effect that I think is supposed to remind you of a comic book. I always hate that shit. I guess that’s why reviews like this one on Cinapse call it a superhero movie, but it doesn’t seem to me like super powers as much as just classical martial arts mythology. Our hero Wu-Lin (Song) is the last master of a secret fighting style, the Iron Kick. His feet have stayed encased in metal boots for ten years as part of mastering the technique, so that’s where the Iron comes in. (read the rest of this shit…)

BuyBust

Wednesday, January 16th, 2019

(as in a bust during a buy)

Every so often in the world of action movies something or someone comes along that throws down the gauntlet and inspires others around the world to try to match it or top it. THE MATRIX, TAKEN and JOHN WICK are three that might qualify based on imitation alone. I think ONG BAK really started something with its insane stunts and flying knees and elbows originating from a country not previously known for movies. More recently THE RAID ignited an Indonesian action film scene and inspired people in other parts of the world to push the envelope in their own ways.

I’m not just talking about copycats. They might even become classics in their own right. Case in point: the amazing 2018 Philippine drug raid epic BUYBUST, which would’ve definitely made my best of the year write-up if I’d seen it in time. It’s kind of like THE RAID meets ELITE SQUAD. A highly trained team of drug enforcement agents go into a favela-like part of town tailing an informant (Alex Calleja) who is wearing a wire for a transaction with the vicious druglord Chongki (Levi Ignacio) in an attempt to draw out his boss, the elusive Biggie Chen (Arjo Atayde). It turns out to be a setup, the drug gang guns down most of the team and the surviving agents have a long, grueling night battling their way through endless attackers in a labyrinth of narrow, crowded passages and corrugated roofing while trying to figure out who betrayed them and where to find Biggie. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Night Comes For Us

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

THE NIGHT COMES FOR US is another outstanding gauntlet of gory martial arts violence and honor among killers from Timo Tjahjanto, writer-director of the excellent HEADSHOT. Once again the action is choreographed by Iko Uwais (star of THE RAID), and he’s in it and he’s great, but Joe Taslim gets to play the lead this time. Taslim played Jaka in THE RAID and was also in the best FAST & FURIOUS movie (FURIOUS 6) but he doesn’t seem to get noticed like Iko and Yayan. Or at least he didn’t get to be eaten by a monster in THE FORCE AWAKENS with them. So every time I read his name I think of it to the tune of this:

Taslim’s character Ito is one of the “Six Seas,” elite enforcers for the Triads who from the sounds of it are kinda like the Seal Team Six of international crime. For his job he has to be ridiculously skilled and completely heartless, but one day during a routine massacre-of-entire-village he doesn’t feel like killing the last survivor, a little girl named Reina (Asha Kenyeri Bermudez). Instead he guns down his own team and takes off to hide the kid in Jakarta. And sure, this doesn’t erase all the people he’s killed in his three years on the job, but it’s like when the Grinch’s heart grows at the end of his story. Let’s give the man credit for changing. (read the rest of this shit…)

Yes, Madam!

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018

(a.k.a. POLICE ASSASSINS on the DVD I watched)

YES, MADAM! is a 1985 Hong Kong action classic starring the one and only Michelle Yeoh as Senior Inspector Ng, hard working cop who should be on vacation and instead ends up searching for some damn microfilm.

She ends up on the case due to a crazy pile-up of coincidences. Her old instructor Richard Nordon (Michael Harry, AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE) is meeting in his hotel room with a thug named Mr. Dick (Dick Wei, EASTERN CONDORS), who ends up killing him. Immediately after that, two thieves disguised as bellboys happen to break into the room. They happen to steal Nordon’s passport, which happens to contain the microfilm of a forged contract that Mr. Dick was after in the first place. And then Inspector Ng happens to come to the room to meet with her old mentor, just in time to see the fake bellboy fleeing the scene and try to chase him.

There’s a dramatic moment in the lobby when Mr. Dick thinks she’s made him and is ready to shoot her. (read the rest of this shit…)

Paradox

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

Remember the great Donnie Yen/Sammo Hung movie SPL, or KILL ZONE as the Weinsteins retitled it in the U.S.? If not, do you at least remember SPL 2/KILL ZONE 2, the even greater Wu Jing/Tony Jaa movie that knocked our asses and hearts into the stratosphere a couple years ago? Well, PARADOX was made as SPL 3. That’s why I got antsy and ordered an import from YesAsia before I read that Well Go is putting it out in the U.S. on May 8th.

Once again it’s not a normal followup, but a thematic sequel, or a spiritual sequel, or a sequel in name only, or a remix. Some of the connective tissue cast-and-crew-wise is that it’s directed by Wilson Yip (who directed the first SPL and produced the second), it’s produced by Cheang Pou-soi (who directed part 2), it stars Louis Koo (who played the crime boss who needs a transplant in part 2), it has a “special appearance” by Tony Jaa (who was the co-lead of part 2), Ken Lo (part 2) is in it too, and the action director is Sammo Hung (choreographer and co-star of part 1).

Also the cool American cover has a wolf on it, which must be a reference to the weird metaphorical encounter at the end of the last one. I do believe this one is wolf-free. (read the rest of this shit…)

Kung Fu Traveler

Monday, April 9th, 2018

Here’s a new sci-fi/kung fu hybrid that’s honestly not up to my standards of martial arts movie quality – to be fair it was made for cable and a streaming service in China – but it’s such a joyfully ludicrous storyline that I can’t help but sort of recommend it if you’re ever in a b-movie mood. It stars Tiger Chen (from Keanu Reeves’ excellent MAN OF TAI CHI and Jesse V. Johnson’s upcoming TRIPLE THREAT) and it can best be described as a cross between a TERMINATOR movie and a period kung fu movie like, say, FEARLESS starring Jet Li.

It opens in a future where aliens have conquered much of the earth. Chen plays a general in a military force that’s fighting back. He and his partner (Wang Zhi, DRUG WAR) are out in the field battling some aliens when he’s able to defeat one of them using kung fu.

This is the craziest part of the movie, reminding me of BEYOND SKYLINE, where the RAID guys fought against tall alien monster guys. There they got to use animatronic suit effects, here it’s digital, looking like a very ambitious SyFy Channel premiere. But, I mean, I can’t not enjoy shit like this:


He also has a robot arm that goes over one of his regular arms.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Headshot

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

We all know Iko Uwais as the star of THE RAID [REDEMPTION] and THE RAID 2. Those movies showcase him as a likable hero and incredible martial artist, but they’re also a strong collaboration with co-star/co-choreographer Yayan Ruhian and director Gareth Evans. Having also loved their earlier film MERANTAU I want to see that team keep working together as long as possible. Uwais without the others – as is the case with the 2016 film HEADSHOT – is still exciting, so I was frustrated that I couldn’t find it in theaters or on-demand when it came out. But for some reason by the time it finally came to video I sort of took my time getting around to it.

Big mistake! HEADSHOT is fantastic, a reminder to never underestimate Uwais as a performer or choreographer. The directors are Kimo Stamboel & Timo Tjahjanto, also known as the Mo Brothers. They’re known more for horror than for action, having done a segment of the anthology TAKUT: FACES OF FEAR (2008), a feature called MACABRE (2009), and (with Evans) a segment of V/H/S/2 (2013). I tried watching their serial killer movie KILLERS (2014) and it seemed very well made, but the opening was legitimately disturbing and I think I was going through something and I decided I didn’t need it in my life at that time and turned it off. That doesn’t happen to me often! (read the rest of this shit…)

The Loose Canon: Blood and Bone

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018
Every now and then I write a more-in-depth-than-usual study of a movie I consider important and influential in the evolution of Badass Cinema, or in this case one that I simply think is great. It’s a movie I believe most fans of the genre would love and all should see and have an opinion on. I call this series THE LOOSE CANON.

The Loose Canon: BLOOD AND BONE (2009)

There have been two proud moments in my getting-close-to-20-years of writing about action movies when a truly special one appeared inconspicuously in the DTV market and I was the first person I’m aware of to point to it and say holy shit you guys, check this out. One was John Hyams’ UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION, which later gained attention from some of the more respectable critics thanks to its great and very arty followup UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING. The other is BLOOD AND BONE, directed by Ben Ramsey (LOVE AND A BULLET). I do think it has grown something of a following, but not the credit it deserves as a perfect showcase for an under-recognized star in peak form, or as a stone cold classic of its genre. Like another Michael-Jai-White-starring DTV favorite, UNDISPUTED II: LAST MAN STANDING, BLOOD AND BONE isn’t even available on region A Blu-Ray. What the fuck, video industry? Too badass for hi-def?

The ten year anniversary of BLOOD AND BONE is coming up next year, so I’m giving the rights-holders and the gatekeepers a heads up. I want to see a cool, respectful collector’s edition Blu-Ray with added extras and a painted cover and shit. I want to see theatrical screenings. I am positive this will play great with audiences. Make it happen. A parade would be cool too, but that’s negotiable. (read the rest of this shit…)

Blade of the Immortal

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL is a 2017 samurai epic from director Takashi Miike. It’s his 100th film! Can you believe that shit? I haven’t gotten into his trademark pervert madman vibe in movies like ICHI THE KILLER, but nothing I’ve seen by him has been a slapdash Fred Olen Ray type affair. There is real effort and craft involved, and he’s made a few excellent samurai films. Instead of remaking an old school chanbara as with 13 ASSASSINS and HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI this one is adapting a manga that ran for about twenty years, so it’s less classically structured, more unwieldy, with supernatural elements and outrageous imagery (crazy face paint, strange weapons, goofy anime hair).

This aesthetic looks particularly cool in the stark black and white of the prologue, where we learn the bloody, convoluted origins of the titleistical immortal. As a young samurai, Manji (Takuya Kimura, Howl in HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE) was tricked into assassinating a whistleblower. He thought it would right things to kill the corrupt officials behind the scheme, but one was his little sister Machi (Hana Sugisaki, Mary in MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER)’s husband, and the grief drove her insane. (read the rest of this shit…)