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Archive for the ‘Martial Arts’ Category

Magnificent Warriors

Friday, March 20th, 2020

After two great turns playing cops in YES, MADAM! and ROYAL WARRIORS, Michelle Yeoh (credited as Michelle Kheng on the DVD I rented) got a chance to do sort of her version of Indiana Jones. In MAGNIFICENT WARRIORS (1987) she plays Fok Ming Ming, a whip-swinging, bi-plane-piloting granddaughter of a legendary revolutionary. During the credits we see her booted feet and leather-gloved hands as she loads a bunch of heavy crates onto a wagon, before it pans up to say that’s right, it’s a LADY. Can you fucking BELIEVE IT? As if we didn’t already know we were here to see a Michelle, uh… Kheng movie.

The most notable thing about the opening, and arguably the movie as a whole: her smile. She’s so happy in most of this. Of course I’m not telling women and/or Michelle Yeoh to smile more often, but I’m used to her seriousness, so it’s novel to see her playing this type of character. Ming Ming doesn’t have to act tough. She just is. Doesn’t stop her from being delightful and having a fun time. I guess that makes her a little more THE PHANTOM than Indy.

She’s been hired as a driver for some gun runner (Chan Ging, SEVEN WARRIORS, THE STORY OF RICKY) trying to sell boxes of rifles to a remote village. To test out the merchandise the buyers shoot him dead, so Ming Ming has to fight them all to get her money. She kicks them, whips them, sets their huts on fire, rides off chased by a sword-wielding mob, and turns around to shoot their bridge out with a gatling gun. And a smile.

(read the rest of this shit…)

The Master

Monday, March 16th, 2020

“Man in other country, it’s a long story” —translation of lyric from beach montage song

THE MASTER – not the Philip Seymour Hoffman one, the original – is a Tsui Hark movie made in 1989. Its claim to fame is that it was released in 1992 after ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA made Jet Li a superstar, but what makes it interesting is that it’s an ‘80s Hong Kong movie filmed in L.A. It has a theme of Chinese immigration, the idea that the people of China travel all over the world and bring their culture with them.

The primary practicioner of that philosophy, Uncle Tak (Yuen Wah, FIST OF FURY, ENTER THE DRAGON, CLEOPATRA JONES AND THE CASINO OF GOLD, GAME OF DEATH, HEROES SHED NO TEARS, SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT, DRAGON FROM RUSSIA, THE BODYGUARD, MASTER Z, action director of EASTERN motherfuckin CONDORS), is one of three masters the title could be referring to. He owns an herb shop in L.A. within view of the Library Tower (and next to a video store, but we never see inside it). He’s a very good healer and does bone settings for pro-wrestler-looking-dudes who come in after getting injured in fights. (read the rest of this shit…)

Catch the Heat

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020

Have you ever noticed what a hell of year 1987 was for action movies? Not only did it give us several stone cold unimpeachable classics, but most of them have a distinct, super-charged, roided out, larger-than-life 1987ness to them that could only really happen at that moment on the verge of ’80s excess sugar crash, between everybody wanting to be RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II and everybody wanting to be DIE HARD. We had PREDATOR, ROBOCOP, LETHAL WEAPON and EASTERN CONDORS. And also we had THE RUNNING MAN, STEEL DAWN, WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE, AMERICAN NINJA 2, STEELE JUSTICE and MIAMI CONNECTION. Some day, after finishing some other passion projects, I’d love to write a book just reviewing all the action movies of 1987. Get the Pulitzer ready.

So whenever I come across something that seems like maybe I should see it and then I realize it was released in 1987, that moves it up the list. And I found this one that, while I’m not sure it’s on par with most of the movies on that list, it wouldn’t be too out of place either. It’s a special movie because it’s the only action vehicle for a unique talent named Tiana Alexandra, who was reportedly the first female student of Bruce Lee as well as the first Vietnamese-American to join SAG. She was in THE KILLER ELITE and then the mini-series PEARL and a couple other movies, but this is a full-on showcase for her talents written by her husband Stirling Silliphant, Academy Award winning writer of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, as well as student and friend of Bruce Lee who wrote him into the show Longstreet and the movie  MARLOWE and concocted what became CIRCLE OF IRON with him. (He’s also the writer of VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, SHAFT IN AFRICA, THE ENFORCER, and yes, 1987’s OVER THE TOP). (read the rest of this shit…)

True Vengeance

Wednesday, February 19th, 2020

TRUE VENGEANCE is a 1997 Daniel Bernhardt movie that I bought specifically because it was written by Kurt Johnstad. I think I was looking him up because he wrote ATOMIC BLONDE, and I remembered that he was the guy who wrote 300, 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE and ACT OF VALOR. I saw all of those in the theater and liked all of them, and it turns out his only other movie is this earlier DTV one that never even came out on DVD in the U.S. It’s directed by David Worth (KICKBOXER, LADY DRAGON 1 and 2), and I think you can understand why that combination of people made it something I needed to see.

Benhardt plays Griffin, who was a Navy SEAL and then a hired killer of some kind but after the death of his wife he quit the life to take care of his daughter Emily (Tessa Sugay, “Club Girl (uncredited),” TOKYO DRIFT, “Dancer (uncredited)” THE SOCIAL NETWORK). After a brief, incoherent sniper prologue we meet him cutely joking around with his daughter pretending he doesn’t know it’s her birthday. So yes, she is going to be kidnapped.

He has an older guy he calls his best friend named Sam (Harrison Young, Ryan as an old man in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN), who I think runs a garage and kind of seems like he could be the landlord like the guy in ROAD HOUSE? He’s involved in a great bit of b-movie flavor when he’s doing a crossword puzzle, asking for a word for “something that haunts.” Griffin suggests ‘ghost,’ but Sam says it has to be four letters, and just then a scary dude named Adachi (Keo Woolford, “Airport Worker,” GODZILLA) steps in looking for Griffin, who dramatically declares that “The Griffin you knew… is dead.” (read the rest of this shit…)

THE STUNTWOMAN a.k.a. AH KAM

Wednesday, February 12th, 2020

We owe this review to 1-900-MIXALOT, who was kind enough to recommend THE STUNTWOMAN in the comments for SUPERCOP. I found it at Scarecrow Video under the title AH KAM. I’m sure it’s not easy to come by, but as I write this there’s one copy available for $30 on Amazon, so it’s not unobtanium.

Like all right thinking citizens of the world I revere Michelle Yeoh as a superstar of martial arts films, and also respect her great gravitas as a dramatic actress. I don’t think there’s anyone else who is iconic on the level of Jet Li and Donnie Yen in kung fu films, but also has Yeoh’s level of success in non-action drama roles (including English language ones like SUNSHINE, CRAZY RICH ASIANS and Star Trek: Discovery). THE STUNTWOMAN is a 1996 Hong Kong film, her followup to WING CHUN, that bridges those two worlds. I definitely consider it a drama, not an action movie, but because she plays the titleistical stuntwoman we see her doing some of the good shit, and she also has one very satisfying opportunity to bust out a little bit of kung fu on some motherfuckers. (read the rest of this shit…)

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…)