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Archive for the ‘Martial Arts’ Category

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Thursday, September 9th, 2021

Believe it or not, I kinda consider myself kind of a Shang-Chi guy. As in, I dig that comic book character, before there was a movie. That’s definitely overstating it, because I don’t know that much more about his history than the next guy, but I’m attached to him because of my fascination with the period that created him, just a couple years before I was born, when American pop culture was catching on to the existence of kung fu and kung fu movies, and trying to cash in.

Shortly after Luke Cage debuted in June 1972 as a super hero response to SHAFT (both SUPER FLY and the coinage of the term “Blaxploitation” happened a few months later), Shang-Chi was conceived as the Marvel Comics version of the hit TV show Kung Fu, and he debuted in the midst of ENTER THE DRAGON mania. He showed up one month in Special Marvel Edition, and two issues later it was retitled The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu. I can’t resist titles like that – that’s why I also know about the DC character Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter (as seen in BATMAN: SOUL OF THE DRAGON) and why I was introduced to Shang-Chi by buying back issues of The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu.

That’s a ‘70s Marvel Magazine, the type you know is gonna include a full page ad for a “complete audiovisual home study course in dynamic KUNG FU & KARATE” for less than 16¢ a lesson with a 10 day no risk money back guarantee. But it’s mainly black-and-white comics about martial arts characters including Shang-Chi, Iron Fist and The Sons of the Tiger interspersed with crude martial arts-related articles. In issue #1, writer J. David Warner visits the Fred Hamilton All-Dojo Martial Arts Tournament, reviews THE CHINESE MECHANIC starring Barry Chan, and has a news column previewing upcoming Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest releases, as well as western movies with co-stars from Asian cinema, like YAKUZA, STONER and PAPER TIGER. It also mentions WHEN TAEKWONDO STRIKES, GOYOKIN, and Ken Russell “preparing for production” of a martial arts movie called KARATE IS A THING OF THE SPIRIT. (If that had gotten off the ground I’d probly obsess over it the way people do THE DEVILS.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Unlucky Stars

Monday, September 6th, 2021

UNLUCKY STARS (2015) is a no-budget indie action movie in this pretty new and rare category of fan-made action movies. That’s kind of selling it short, because these are legit, accomplished stuntmen, martial artists and choreographers, and it’s designed mainly to showcase their work. But they’re also all about throwing in little movie homages and cameos in a way more common to no-budget horror. Like they have a detective agency called Golden Harvest Private Investigations (with the Golden Harvest logo and everything), Simon Rhee has a cameo and is apparently meant to be his BEST OF THE BEST character Dae Han, J.J. “UNDISPUTED II” Perry shows up, there’s a running gag about a reality show for action stars in rehab (and apparently Amy Johnston is on it at some point? I didn’t spot her), and the ending seems to set the heroes up to live the plot of WHEELS ON MEALS.

Oh, and also two of the main characters are supposed to be fringe action stars. Jose Montesinos (director of 5 HEADED SHARK ATTACK) plays Tomas De La Cruz, “Peru’s biggest action star,” who has a $15,000 gambling debt and is trying to do another movie to get it. Sari Sabella (NIGHTMARE WEDDING) plays Sameer Yousef, a Jordanian martial artist who gets fired from his first American movie and sinks into his obsessive De La Cruz fandom. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rurouni Kenshin Part II: Kyoto Inferno

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2021

“Avow Life and Be True”

RUROUNI KENSHIN PART II: KYOTO INFERNO (2014) is an epic sequel that builds on everything I loved about the first one (trust me – check that out if you haven’t!) and expands on this idea of a post-war world where various veterans either try to bring back the violence or maintain (and enjoy) the new order. Our hero is so badass and yet so against killing that he wanders around with a “reverse blade” – a sword sharpened only on the back side – to whoop ass and take names but not lives.

Played by one-time Kamen Rider (and co-star of my beloved SAMURAI MARATHON) Takeru Satoh, Kenshin is younger and prettier than I usually prefer in an action hero. But he makes it almost a badass juxtaposition, and he’s such a cool character – he’s seen shit you never dreamed of, but doesn’t use it as an excuse to brood. He’s quiet but not exactly stoic – he smiles and seems content during peace time, even laughs when he sees himself parodied in a play. Everywhere he goes people seem to recognize him as Battousai, the name he went by when he was a legendary killsword (the government’s teenage super-murdering-the-fuck-out-of-everybody assassin). But his friends call him Kenshin, the name he took after abandoning his bloody sword at the Battle of Toba-Fushimi. The real him.

Admittedly he sounds a little dorky later when he angrily growls the villain’s name to show that he’s had it, but I forgive him. I appreciate that we don’t see that side of him very often. (read the rest of this shit…)

Blind Warrior

Thursday, June 3rd, 2021

Previously on Vern Tries To Learn About Indonesian Super Heroes:

The 2019 film GUNDALA caused me to read up a little bit on the other Indonesian comic book characters who will be part of an MCU-inspired franchise called the Bumilangit Cinematic Universe. It turned out some of them had been in movies before, and I was able to find THE DEVIL’S SWORD, about a character named Mandala who will be played by Joe Taslim in the BCU.

The character that sounded coolest, though, was Barda Mandrawata, The Blind Man From the Ghost Cave, a.k.a. Si Buta (“The Blind” or “The Blind Man”). I was intrigued partly because he’s a warrior who poked out his own eyes to learn how to defeat his blind enemy, partly because he has a pet monkey, and partly because his new movie is to be written and directed by Timo Tjahjanto (HEADSHOT, THE NIGHT COMES FOR US).

I was able to find two ’80s movies about Si Buta. The first was THE WARRIOR AND THE BLIND SWORDSMAN (1983), in which the character crosses over into part 2 of a trilogy starring THE DEVIL’S SWORD’s Barry Prima as a different character. The blind swordsman was cool looking, but I didn’t get very into the story and didn’t have enough to say about it to write a review. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Paper Tigers

Wednesday, May 19th, 2021

THE PAPER TIGERS is a warm-hearted indie underdog comedy set in the martial arts world. It’s about three former American gung fu (that’s the spelling and pronunciation they use) prodigies now living unremarkable middle aged lives, who reunite after their master is killed. It has a smattering of jokes that are too broad for me, but it takes its characters and its martial arts very seriously, and it’s so full of heart it’s hard not to love. So why fight it?

The goofy thing is I only rented this on VOD because Vyce Victus and Adkins Unleashed’s Michael Scott were separately raving about it on Twitter. Then in the cold open I saw what sure looked like the Smith Tower, and the credits were set to a song by Kid Sensation (beatboxing padawan of Sir Mix-a-Lot), and holy shit, this movie is entirely filmed in Seattle (and nearby Shoreline), how did I not know about it already? I’ll go into some Seattle stuff later, but please accept the praise of the above mentioned as evidence that I’m not just rooting for the local product. (read the rest of this shit…)

Bloodsport 4: The Dark Kumite

Thursday, April 29th, 2021

“I have a problem with cold-blooded killers.”

As longtime reader Sternshein has been promising me for a couple years now, BLOODSPORT 4: THE DARK KUMITE is some crazy shit – maybe the strangest sequel in a name brand action franchise. It completes the trilogy of BLOODSPORT sequels starring Daniel Bernhardt (ATOMIC BLONDE, NOBODY), but it doesn’t follow the tradition of framing it as a story told to children. Instead it opens with Bernhardt fighting in a tiled pit that looks like it might be a drained fountain, with sicko spectators above chanting “KILL! KILL! KILL!”

He raises his leg like a sledge hammer above his downed opponent – but abruptly stops himself, and turns to address the crowd. They drop silent.

“No! I will not kill this man! This man fought with skill, and dignity, and you would have me destroy that integrity. And why? To satisfy your lust for death?”

He helps the man up, hugs him, pats him on the back.

“There was a time the Kumite meant honor. But I see now that Kumite here is dead. It has become nothing more than a bloodsport.”

(It should smash cut to a giant ‘4: THE DARK KUMITE’, but no such luck.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Mortal Kombat (2021)

Tuesday, April 27th, 2021

MORTAL KOMBAT (2021) is a perfectly okay movie, especially given the past success rate of video game adaptations. It does a decent job of putting some of the Mortal Kombat characters into a passable modern movie. I found it reasonably entertaining, and had I expected it to be bad I might even have been pleasantly surprised. It also might’ve played better in a theater, if I could go to one.

Here’s the problem: I’m the type of guy who thinks you could make something truly kick ass out of any bullshit that involves colorful characters fighting each other. They’ve been talking about a new Mortal Kombat movie for more than 10 years, with James Wan announced as producer for six of those, and I think the ‘90s incarnations are fun (if ridiculous) movies that have plenty to build upon. So for years now I have been anticipating this movie that ended up being directed by Australian commercial director Simon McQuoid and written by Greg Russo (first credit) and Dave Callaham (DOOM, THE EXPENDABLES, WONDER WOMAN 1984), with a story credit for Oren Uziel (who had been developing it with Kevin Tancharoen after his unlicensed Mortal Kombat: Rebirth short and an episode of the official web series Mortal Kombat: Legacy). And I thought it might be something special. Maybe next time. (read the rest of this shit…)

Bloodsport III

Tuesday, April 20th, 2021

Way back in 2013 I reviewed BLOODSPORT II: THE NEXT KUMITE starring Daniel Bernhardt. But I reviewed it as part of this tournament gimmick I was doing called The Super-Kumite, and the movie lost its round to BLOODFIGHT, so I never followed up with BLOODSPORTs III and IV like I normally would. Until now!

Unlike me, the filmmakers didn’t waste time. Part III (no subtitle) came out in 1996, the same year as part II. Bernhardt (or, as we call him this week, Bob Odenkirk’s fight trainer/co-fight-coordinator/“Bus Goon” on NOBODY) returns as Alex Cardo, the guy who won the sub-titular “NEXT KUMITE” after Van Damme’s Frank Dux in the original.

One odd continuity with part II is that it has a wraparound where the movie is a story being told to a kid. In part II it was Master Sun (James Wong) telling kids in his martial arts class how Alex became a good person. This time it’s Alex telling his ten year old son Jason (David Schatz, AMBROSE BIERCE: CIVIL WAR STORIES) a story about his life “living in the far east as a very successful gambler.” He notices Jason upset late at night, finds out he got suspended from school for beating up three eighth grade bullies, and decides to take him for a camping trip. So Alex figures it’s time to tell his son – who has been training in martial arts – that he was the Kumite champion (“Cool!”) and then about something that happened while he was “living in the far east as a very successful gambler.” It’s pretty cool, because most fathers, when their son gets into trouble at school, aren’t able to whip out a “the time I tried to avenge a murder” story. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rurouni Kenshin Part I: Origins

Friday, April 16th, 2021

I know Rurouni Kenshin was a ‘90s anime series (sometimes called Samurai X) based on a manga and all that. I don’t usually pay much attention to that sort of thing, but also I knew there was a series of live action movies starting in 2012 with this one, RUROUNI KENSHIN I: ORIGINS. And I’ve been hearing for a long time that it has some really good sword fighting in it, so I’ve been meaning to see it.

But man, if I knew what it was about, I wouldn’t have waited so long! It’s true that it has some good sword fighting and other fun samurai shit in it, but also this is that most rare and beautiful type of action movie: the type that fits lots of fun action into a story that preaches against violence. It shows that nothing could be more badass than a guy who can kill a whole mob of people on his own but chooses to prove it to them while not doing it.

To put it another way, the hero Kenshin (Takeru Satoh, SAMURAI MARATHON) was such a scary motherfucker killing people for the government in his teens that everybody knew him as “Battosai the Killsword,” but now he’s so against killing that he travels around with a sword that is only sharpened on the back side of the blade.

So yeah, don’t worry, he’ll still be sword fighting. He’ll just be whapping them instead of slashing them. (read the rest of this shit…)

HiGH&LOW: The Movie

Tuesday, March 16th, 2021

“Even scumbags like us could change the future!”

I bet some of you are way ahead of me on HiGH&LOW, and some of you will be hearing of it for the first time here. Either way I’m excited for us to talk about it. No, this is not related to the Akira Kurosawa classic, and I’m honestly not sure what the title even means. But it it’s how they’ve labelled what Wikipedia describes as an “action media franchise” that has been going on in Japan since 2015. I never heard peep of it until the always with-it Twitter-er @HeadExposure raved about it in August.

You can check out that thread for an explanation and some clips, but I’ll try to sum up my understanding from having watched one movie so far. It’s kind of a fun challenge – I feel like one of those people trying to wrap their head around the FAST & FURIOUS series or Marvel or Star Wars way after the fact.

I believe it was always planned to turn into a movie series, but the story began on TV with HiGH&LOW: The Story of S.W.O.R.D., which lasted for two seasons. Those characters and storylines continued into this movie, which has since had two sequels, three spin-offs, a TV comedy series spin-off and an anime. (The movies, but not the other stuff, are all available on Netflix.)

The part that’s definitely way beyond my understanding is that it was created by a former pop star called Exile Hiro, from a group called Exile, and many of the gangs in the movie are various boy bands/music acts that are part of “The Exile Tribe,” so they have albums and tours and stuff related to this franchise. It kind of seems like if the Back Street Boys had an extended family like the Wu-Tang Clan except way bigger and then they all learned martial arts and made violent action movies together. Or is it more like if everyone in the FAST & FURIOUS movies did a concert tour together? I don’t know, but to quote Marge Simpson, “Music is none of my business.” (read the rest of this shit…)