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Archive for the ‘Martial Arts’ Category

Ip Man 4: The Finale

Monday, December 30th, 2019

IP MAN 4: THE FINALE is from the makers of the IP MAN trilogy, according to the giant standee in the multiplex lobby that made me aware of its Christmas day release. I’m grateful to be able to see movies like this on the big screen.

IP MAN is a series released across 11 years with stories spanning from the 1930s to the 1960s, with the great Donnie Yen (HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME) not only showcasing his great fighting skills (in a style he hadn’t previously practiced), but also giving his greatest acting performance as this distinctly gentle and polite asskicker. That’s why I wish it could go on forever. I’m sure we’ll get other great Donnie Yen movies, but I’ll miss him playing this character.

The final Ip Man adventure begins with the 1964 Long Beach International Karate Championships and takes place primarily in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Back home in Hong Kong, Ip lives in a tiny apartment with his moody teenage son Ip Ching, who has been kicked out of school for fighting (actually defending himself with too much enthusiasm). The principal and others convince Ip he should send his son to study abroad, so he decides to use a plane ticket sent to him by his former student Bruce Lee (Danny Chan, the Bruce-lookalike goalie from SHAOLIN SOCCER who subsequently played Lee in the TV series The Legend of Bruce Lee and then IP MAN 3) to try to get him admitted into a school in San Francisco. (read the rest of this shit…)

Clash

Tuesday, December 17th, 2019

CLASH is an earlier (2009) vehicle for Vietnamese action star Veronica Ngo that I rented after loving this year’s FURIE. (Thanks for the recommendation, everybody.) This one also uses Ngo’s considerable dramatic acting chops for some emotional scenes (they took her daughter again), but it’s a little less melodrama, alot more exaggerated, more in the vein of a flashy modern Hong Kong crime movie of slightly above average quality. (In fact, one character accuses the heroine of being “so cheesy like a Hong Kong movie.”)

Ngo’s character is known as Phoenix, and she’s the hard-ass leader of a crew doing an arms deal as a ploy to steal a certain laptop with access to— well, doesn’t really matter. Whatever. The international conflict is of no interest to her, she just needs it because her boss (Hoang Phuc Nguyen, CYCLO) needs it, and he’s a scary guy who wears white suits and shades and thinks he’s really cool and deep for repeatedly comparing human beings to the pieces on the go/chess type game he plays in his limo. Fuck this guy. (read the rest of this shit…)

Furie

Monday, November 25th, 2019

I sorta knew of Veronica Ngô Thanh Vân, a.k.a. Veronica Ngo, from CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY (she played Mantis) and STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (she played Paige Tico, Rose’s sister who dies heroically at the beginning). But now that I’ve seen her star in FURIE… holy shit. I’ll have to see more.

This is a really good action vehicle because it introduces her as a cool, morally ambiguous anti-hero, then reveals her vulnerability, then throws her into a classical action scenario (kidnapped daughter, like COMMANDO or TAKEN) that leads to a whole lot of asskicking and stunt work but also inspires a layered, emotional acting performance. I’m completely ignorant of Vietnamese cinema and have no idea if this is representative at all, but it’s like some of the action and some of the melodrama of a Thai martial arts movie, but much more organically fused into one thing. (read the rest of this shit…)

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…)