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Archive for the ‘Martial Arts’ Category

Never Back Down: No Surrender

Monday, July 4th, 2016

tn_nbd3The world needs the NEVER BACK DOWN series. Why? Because we don’t have a currently running NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER series, or a BLOODSPORT series, or a BLOODFIST series. We will soon have more KICKBOXER, but that’s not enough.

If I had to guess I’d say your average citizen on or off the street doesn’t know what the fuck a NEVER BACK DOWN is, so I’m gonna explain it to everybody now. Part 1 was a slick theatrical release, a dumb movie with the admirably ridiculous premise of combining a teen romance type of story with an underground fighting tournament. They’re supposed to be these legendary illegal pitfighters but also they go to the same high school. The hero was Tom Cruise lookalike Sean Faris (STASH HOUSE), the villain was Cam Gigandet (IN THE BLOOD), the mentor was Academy Award nominee Djimon Honsou (ELEPHANT WHITE). Afterwards they all went their separate ways: director Jeff Wadlow went on to do KICK-ASS 2, comic relief nerd Evan Peters went on to become Quicksilver in the X-MEN pictures, love interest Amber Heard went on to become Amber Heard. And that could’ve been the end of never backing down. (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 Bodyguard

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016
tn_bodyguardA few weeks ago at the Seattle International Film Festival I saw THE BODYGUARD, or MY BELOVED BODYGUARD as it’s currently listed on IMDb. It’s the new Sammo Hung vehicle, and his first time directing since ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA AND AMERICA in 1997. That’s a long fucking time! I didn’t realize it had been that long, but it was still thrilling to see the credit “Director and Action Director: Sammo Hung” not only splashed across a big screen, but in front of a sold out crowd. Unfortunately I can’t say the movie fulfilled the promise of those words.

Hung plays Ding, who we hear through both expository dialogue and seemingly-third-person narration was an elite agent in the Hong Kong equivalent of the Secret Service. He recently witnessed a gang murder and might’ve put a major gang figure away, but in the lineup he couldn’t remember him because “We think he has dementia.” (I feel like there might’ve been a more dramatic way to reveal that information than to just have a cop say it in the opening scene.)

There’s a little Clint Eastwood in the movie’s quiet, gentle portrait of Ding’s lonely life fending off advances from his landlord (Qinqin Li) and mourning his relationship with his daughter, who won’t speak to him because he lost her daughter (to a child murderer?) when he was supposed to be watching her. It’s never fully explained, but seems doubly tragic because we can assume his condition played a part in what happened, but his daughter seems to blame it on him just being a piece of shit.

(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.

American Ninja 5 (and Antoine v. Ninja conclusion)

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

tn_an5AMERICAN NINJA 5 is the explosive finale to the AMERICAN NINJA saga, by which I mean it’s an unrelated movie starring David Bradley that they retitled. At least that’s my assumption since he’s named Joe in this one instead of Sean. I could easily accept this character as Sean Davidson, who he played in parts 3 and 4, but they call him the other name so they must not have had that in mind while filming. He also opens the movie training with Tadashi “Bronson Lee” Yamashita, who played the Black Star Ninja in part 1, but this time Yamashita is credited as playing himself.

And I guess they must’ve decided that the title was misleading enough that they didn’t have to have a totally unrelated subtitle like all the other sequels. Something like AMERICAN NINJA 5: GAUNTLET OF FIRE or AMERICAN NINJA 5: IRON CLAW JUSTICE.

By the time this came out in 1993, ninjas were a subject of parody and kiddie fare. In the same year, the older brother of AMERICAN NINJA 5’s young star starred in SURF NINJAS with Rob Schneider and Leslie Nielsen. So this is a PG-13, sometimes jokey movie. Bradley has to take care of his master’s grand-nephew Hiro (introducing Lee Reyes). Also, his master, Master Tetsu, is played by Pat Morita, four years after THE KARATE KID III and the KARATE KID cartoon, one year before THE NEXT KARATE KID. Not very Cannonical. But it does have many elements of an AMERICAN NINJA movie: a scheming evil scientist, an army of multi-colored ninjas with one more visually distinguished lead ninja (with a snake-themed name, even), a kidnapping, sneaking into a foreign land, sneaking into a compound, getting jailed, doing a ninja hand signal meditation thing, child ninjitsu training montage, suppressed memories of childhood ninjitsu training. (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.

American Ninja 4: The Annihilation

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

tn_an4Long before the FAST AND FURIOUS series did it (better), the AMERICAN NINJA series pulled the power move of doing a part 3 with a new lead, only to combine the casts in a later sequel. AMERICAN NINJA 4: THE ANNIHILATION starts with part 3’s Sean Davidson (David Bradley) and later brings back part 1-2’s Joe Armstrong (Michael Dudikoff). The bad news is this is the first one not to include the character of Curtis Jackson (Steve James), so it almost feels like less of a real sequel than part 3.

The dilemma: American servicemen abducted overseas again. Ninja related again. This time it’s worse, because the crazy British Colonel Mulgrew (James Booth, writer of part 2 and AVENGING FORCE and this one) and terrorist Sheik Maksood (Ron Smezarack) plan to burn the four captured Delta Force commandos at the stake and nuke New York City with a suitcase bomb if they aren’t paid $50 million. (It seems like either threat would be enough though, right?) I know that sounds like a boring useless couple of loser villains with nothing to contribute, so fortunately they are also training an army of super ninjas, one of whom wears a silver helmet and mirror eye patch. So they check out. (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.

American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt

Thursday, May 26th, 2016

tn_an3Well, up until now these French waver films and these ninja movies have been virtually indistinguishable to the layman. But we now finally – finally! – have come to a major difference between the American Ninja Joe Armstrong and the 400 Blowing Antoine Doinel: Joe’s not even in his part 3. Instead the story centers on a different American Ninja, Sean Davidson (first timer David Bradley, later of AMERICAN SAMURAI). The connection is Steve James as Curtis Jackson, who’s still relegated to the role of unquestioningly loyal friend and backup who shows up with a Rambo headband for the climax. At least he gets top billing this time.

That forced me to wonder: has Curtis really been the Antoine Doinel character this whole time? Was I being racist by assuming it was Joe? I think Joe has stronger parallels in his background and criminal record, but here Curtis is, like Antoine in STOLEN KISSES, fresh out of the military, on the prowl for beautiful women, and drawn into a mystery. But he probly wasn’t dishonorably discharged, he doesn’t try to make any of the relationships serious, and his mystery involves a private island where a guy called The Cobra (evangelist turned actor Marjoe Gortner) is creating some kind of virus to turn people into killers or something. To sell to a terrorist I believe?

(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.

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?

still_an2-1

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…)

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.

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…)

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.

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…)

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.

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…)

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.

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…)

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.