So once again we have survived.

Archive for the ‘Martial Arts’ Category

Blackbelt II: Fatal Force

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

BLACKBELT II: FATAL FORCE is pretty different from part 1. It has the same producers (Roger Corman and Cirio H. Santiago), and continues the tradition of listing championship titles on the credits, but it doesn’t have the same characters or any story connection or seem like the same type of movie or same level of quality. Also, according to IMDb, it came out three years before part 1. Huh.

This one starts during the Vietnam War, with a very serious narrator telling us stats about the war and MIAs over generic jungle battle scenes. After a bunch of machine gun fire and explosions the American helicopters take off, leaving three soldiers behind.

Now in LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA some beat cops stumble across a night time warehouse arms deal and it turns into a big shootout. It took me almost 10 minutes into the movie to figure which one was gonna be the main character (because nobody seems like an obvious blackbelt) but it’s a cop with the enviable name Brad Spyder (“Blake Bahner – W.K.F. World Kickboxing Champion”) who chases one of the escaping criminals to the top of a building and has a long fight with him, but is horrified when he accidentally kicks him off the roof. He yells “NO!” and catches his hand, but then drops him. The guy’s dad is mad so he shoots Spyder’s partner Lee Stokes (Ronald William Lawrence. (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.

Blackbelt

Monday, March 13th, 2017

a.k.a. KICKBOXER COP

In my experience, a good Don “The Dragon” Wilson vehicle is one where he goes routinely through standard action formulas, provides his kicking expertise and likable personality, and the filmatists throw on just enough flair to make it stand out from the pack a little. In this one that flair comes in the form of the weirdo villain played by Matthias Hues, the 6′ 5″ German-born martial artist best known as the evil alien in Craig Baxley’s I COME IN PEACE.

Hues plays John Sweet, who when we first see him is about to have a romantic encounter with a woman (Mia Ruiz, WILD AT HEART) in a hotel. He seems like he’s leaving to get a bottle of champagne or something, and she hums to herself and strips while she waits. But he knocks on the door of a nearby room where some criminals are meeting, and he kills them all with his bare hands.

Then he goes back to the room like nothing happened. I thought he was a rival gangster or vigilante but then he murders this poor woman (who turns out to be a prostitute, despite her enthusiasm) and cuts off her ring finger.

We meet our hero Jack Dillon (Don “The Dragon” Wilson) as the opposite of a guy killing a prostitute: he’s a guy beating up a pimp. “The broken nose is for the girl. The vasectomy’s free.” And he brings one of the pimp’s stable back to her mother. Dillon is not for-hire, though. He refuses payment because “I don’t charge to take out the garbage.” Or, I assume, to unload the dishwasher. (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.

John Wick Chapter 2

Monday, February 13th, 2017

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 is the solid sequel we always hoped (in fact assumed) it would be. The first film – already a certified modern action classic – had a perfect combination of elegant high concept (legendary assassin comes out of retirement to avenge some dipshits who killed his dog) and interesting world (a society of killers with their own rules, services and even currency). Rehashing the former would make for diminishing returns, so returning screenwriter Derek Kolstad (ONE IN THE CHAMBER, THE PACKAGE) digs deeper into the latter, showing us more about the operations and codes of the Continental Hotel and its affiliates as Wick is forced to repay a debt, getting himself into more and more trouble and testing the limits of his unkillableness.

He’s still trying to retire. The movie has a sense of humor about it without undermining his sincerity. Moments after he finishes cementing his weapons back into the basement floor the doorbell rings and you think “Jesus, what now?” Well, it’s Italian gangster Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio, THE BEST OF YOUTH), who helped him escape the business and now is cashing in his favor to drag him back in. Wick would have to get into the Vatican to assassinate Santino’s sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST). Throughout the movie Wick finds himself backed into corners and all he can do is keep killing his way out of them. And the more killing the more corners. (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.

Fist 2 Fist

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Writer/director/actor/martial artist Jino Kang’s first film BLADE WARRIOR had a bit of an EL MARIACHI passionate-no-budget-debut energy to it. It was shot over a few years and bridged the independent film world’s switch from film to digital. (I like the grainy film look better, but of course we’re not gonna see much of that anymore.)

His second film FIST 2 FIST (the distributor changed it from his preferred title HAND 2 HAND, which was meant to have a double meaning) was released a decade later, in 2011. It looks a little more slick and professional and normal, but he still feels like an underdog filmmaker, and with age he’s become an even more interesting leading man.

There’s little flash or ego to Kang’s persona playing Ken, a former criminal turned martial arts instructor for at risk youth. He’s the serious, responsible, grownup badass, the positive role model of asskicking. (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.

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.