So once again we have survived.

Archive for the ‘Martial Arts’ Category

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

tn_babycarttohadesWhen you’re the shogun’s executioner and your wife is murdered and you’re set up and your life is ruined and you choose to take your son on the demon’s path and become an elite assassin for hire, you do alot of wandering around having adventures. Part 3 of the LONE WOLF AND CUB series (or, if you prefer it dubbed and edited to be dumber, part 2 of the SHOGUN ASSASSIN series) is episodic in a good way. They cross a couple different enemies, get offered a couple different gigs, get into some shit with the Yagyu Clan, and their nemesis Retsudo is mentioned but not seen, like The Emperor in STAR WARS.

On their travels, Ogami Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama) and son Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa) are jumped by a bunch of ninjas, so he kills them. (SPOILER)

Along a road there are some watari-kachi, mercenaries, drifters who go around trying to get gigs, often just “hired for show when someone needs more men in their procession” because the kind of lords they work for can’t afford to hire them full time. (see also: film critics) They’re sitting around with Master Kanbei (Go Kato, SWORD OF THE BEAST), who they consider uptight, so they try to take him down a notch. “You’re really peculiar. You don’t drink, you don’t touch women.” They don’t get him because they figure the only reason it’s worth having their job is to “have fun,” which we quickly realize means to rape women along the highway.

Master Kanbei chooses not to participate when these pricks run off to attack a passing mother and daughter, knocking out their male servant. But he doesn’t stop them either – not until he hears them brag about who they’re all working for. Then Kanbei intervenes in a very calm, business-like manner: he kills the servant, then the two victims, then makes the three mercenaries draw straws so that one can be killed and blamed for the murders. (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 Martial Arts Kid

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

tn_martialartskidTHE MARTIAL ARTS KID is about a young man who gets in trouble too much so he gets sent far away to live with his aunt and uncle. He meets a nice girl he likes, but she has an asshole sports car driving bully boyfriend who threatens him just for talking to her. And the boyfriend is part of a bad crowd and they end up in competition over the girl and in sports. And he has an older mentor that trains him.

Remind you of any other movie? Me too. THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT. Or maybe you were thinking THE KARATE KID, but in that one he just moved because his mom moved, he wasn’t a troublemaker. Totally different. Also, that’s about a kid who specifically does karate. This is a kid who does martial arts in general. I don’t really see a comparison.

Okay, maybe I do. I just like to mention TOKYO DRIFT whenever I can. This is a weirdly transparent KARATE KID rehash, arguably closer to a straight up retelling than the official remake with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. There’s even a wax on/wax off reference like some remakes would want to do, and it plays with your expectations of him being given a nice car as a gift. Instead he gets a bike, which he rides around the suburbs, keeping him a Martial Arts Kid when he seems to be on the verge of Martial Arts Manhood. (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.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

tn_ninjaturtles2TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS takes the world of photorealistic animated humanoid amphibian vigilantes established in part 1 off in more fantastical directions. “The Shadows” of the subtitle are the levels of secrecy they require, fighting New York City ninja crime from their secret sewer home, hiding their existence by giving credit for part 1’s heroics to local news cameraman Vern (no relation) (Will Arnett, announcer voice for the DON’T trailer in GRINDHOUSE). But they get alot of teenage mutant ninja angst about having to watch the Knicks game from inside the Jumbotron like a bunch of lepers.

(note: it actually looks like amazing seats)

The turtles’ armored ninja ringleader arch-nemesis Shredder (now played by Brian Tee from TOKYO DRIFT) gets busted out during a prison transfer in a cool vehicle stunt sequence that totally would’ve existed without DARK KNIGHT, it’s only a coincidence. But the beauty of it is that

1) It’s arranged by a scientist in goofy “nerd” glasses and bow tie played by Tyler Perry (ALEX CROSS)

2) Shredder accidentally gets teleported to another dimension and is assigned a mission by a talking brain monster with robot body (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.

Seven Warriors

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

tn_sevenwarriorsDon’t get your hopes up as high as I did, but SEVEN WARRIORS is kind of cool because it’s the 1989 Hong Kong take on the SEVEN SAMURAI story. So that means the version with the most complex and acrobatic action.

I had been under the impression it was a Sammo Hung movie, which is not accurate. The credited director, Terry Tong, has a total of nine directing credits, mostly movies that have not made it to the States. He has bit parts in DANGEROUS ENCOUNTERS OF THE FIRST KIND and TWIN DRAGONS, so maybe he is a Sammo associate, and maybe IMDb has a reason to list Sammo as co-director. But the credits and other reference sources do not. He does have a small cameo in the opening scene, which is a weird place for a cameo. It’s a much smaller part than Bruce Campbell in CONGO.

The screenwriter is Kan-Cheung Tsang, who wrote ROYAL WARRIORS and a bunch of Stephen Chow’s movies including SHAOLIN SOCCER and MERMAID. He sets this version in “the Warlord Era” or “Chaotic Era” of China, when veterans wander around as mercenaries or thieves, some of them led by hairy-mole-faced Piu (Lo Lieh, CLAN OF THE WHITE LOTUS) to terrorize and extort a defenseless village. So of course a couple of the villagers go into town and they find Chi (Adam Cheng, ZU: WARRIORS FROM THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN), a once respected, now alcoholic commander who was in the war with Piu, to gather up some of his old troops. They’re a colorful set of characters, the most impressive being the suave knife thrower and Karl, the big blacksmith who walks away from repairing some lady’s pan the second the Commander asks for help. He carries around a giant spiked club, almost as big as a person, which is enjoyable in any genre. We could use more of those in cinema. (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.

Kickboxer: Vengeance

Monday, September 5th, 2016

tn_kickboxervengeanceIn this age of reboots one thing I didn’t see coming was a respectful attempt to resurrect the magic of KICKBOXER. Produced by Cannon when Jean-Claude Van Damme was still a new star, the original is a seminal film in the foundation of the western-star martial arts movie. Part of the beauty of the era it helped ignite was its disposability; there was such a hunger for this stuff on VHS that they kept churning out KICKBOXERs and BLOODSPORTs and BLOODFISTs with whatever Next Jean-Claude Van Damme they could get. And the combination of these basic story formulas and the appeal of seeing thick-accented martial artists try to act cool between flying kicks made for many enjoyable evenings for people all around the world.

Things have changed. Far fewer straight up action movies are made than in the ’80s and ’90s, and viewing them is not as common of a ritual for young people growing up. The fringe market of DTV has mostly shifted to VOD, a riskier business model since people actually have to watch the movies for them to make money. So, weirdly, this new KICKBOXER (released to VOD on Friday) was made with care, in hopes of people liking it. You can tell they’re genuinely trying to recapture what was fun about those movies, but in a modern context – by which I only mean it has nice digital cinematography of sunny Thailand and many of the opponents are played by famous UFC fighters. (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.

Blade Warrior

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

tn_bladewarrior“When I was a kid our neighborhood was our universe. A universe of friendship and laughter. But something changed along the way. Gang violence took the place of family values.”

There’s a certain type of movie I like where an accomplished martial artist thinks it would be fun to star in a movie, and they put together a low budget production based around their school. An example would be Andre Lima’s “true story” BEYOND THE RING. It’s all based in cliches, and doesn’t quite have what you would call a visual style, but it has a certain amateur charm.

BLADE WARRIOR is another such movie, but it’s infused with a more impressive kind of DEADBEAT AT DAWN type energy, where they don’t really know what they’re doing but they’re dying to make a cool movie any way they can. It’s obvious that they’ve got friends and relatives, or maybe community theater people at best, in the cast, and storage rooms made up to look like a police station and stuff like that. And they’re not always convincing as a guy who wears a trenchcoat or talks like a tough guy. But it has enough of a home-made feel that some of the small things they pull off – like having legit martial artistry – seem really impressive.

Writer/director/producer Jino Kang plays Jack Lee, a cop who also practices Hapkido and runs his dad’s mini-mart. In the opening scene he combines all three by fighting and arresting a colorful gang of thugs who come in looking for protection money. (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.

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.