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Archive for the ‘Martial Arts’ Category

Gundala

Wednesday, February 17th, 2021

I gotta admit, I barely knew Indonesian cinema existed until I saw MERANTAU and THE RAID. We all loved THE RAID and THE RAID 2 and then THE NIGHT COMES FOR US came along and that was arguably even more impressive. It was directed by Timo Tjahjanto, who’d already done another Iko Uwais martial arts movie I loved called HEADSHOT with his long-time collaborator Kimo Stamboel. They also did a horror one called KILLERS that I had to turn off in the opening scene because it was too much for me at the time. Some day I’m gonna get up the guts to go back. These days Stamboel has a heavily hyped horror movie called THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC, written by Joko Anwar. Anwar is the guy who directed SATAN’S SLAVES (which I enjoyed) and IMPETIGORE (which I haven’t seen yet but it was on some best of the year lists).

So clearly there are healthy action and horror scenes over there, and those are my primary interests. But did you know they also have a local answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe? The aforementioned Anwar wrote and directed the 2019 film GUNDALA, based on an Indonesian comic book character created in 1969, and will be overseeing a series called the Bumilangit Cinematic Universe (BCU), with seven more films planned in Volume 1.

I knew there’d be something interesting about an Indonesian take on modern super hero movies, but once again I was caught off guard because you guys, this movie is really good. It certainly takes some inspiration from the Marvel films, and there’s a costumed hero with some powers and some colorful super villains, but mostly it’s a legit martial arts movie with lots of really well directed fights. And it’s interesting to see how a character like this compares and contrasts to the ones that have caught on here. The main difference is that his life has been way harder than any of our guys. (read the rest of this shit…)

Pray For Death

Thursday, February 4th, 2021

PRAY FOR DEATH is a 1985 American ninja movie starring Sho Kosugi. He’d already done the three Cannon ninja movies as well as 9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA, so this was not any kind of a first for him. It’s even the third one he did that co-starred his sons Kane and Shane. But if you’re like me and you like a ninja movie that is watchable and has a ninja in it, this is one of them.

It’s not surprising to see that director Gordon Hessler (KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK) did a bunch of TV shows like Wonder Woman and CHiPs, because that’s kind of what this feels like. His martial arts bonafides include episodes of Kung Fu and The Master. He later did another one with Kosugi, RAGE OF HONOR. What does make this one kind of interesting is that it’s written by James Booth, an English stage and screen actor who was in ZULU, DARKER THAN AMBER and CABOBLANCO. He was once such hot shit that he turned down the title role in ALFIE, but when things slowed down for him he tried out screenwriting, starting with the Charles Grodin movie SUNBURN (1979) and the Gil Gerard TV movie STORMIN’ HOME (1985). (read the rest of this shit…)

Batman: Soul of the Dragon

Thursday, January 28th, 2021

I don’t normally review Batman cartoons (I think the only time I have before is the Suicide Squad one, ASSAULT ON ARKHAM), but I think you will agree that this one falls into my jurisdiction. In fact, it’s so weirdly specific to my particular areas of interest that during the ‘70s-inspired opening credits montage with funky theme song, after seeing the names Mark Dacascos and Michael Jai White, Mrs. Vern turned to me in disbelief and said, “Did they make this only for you?

Yeah, actually, it seems they did, so thanks, guys!

No joke, this is an animated movie set in the 1970s, based in the DC Comics universe but taking most of its template from kung fu movies. Its spy movie opening and funky, wah-wah heavy score are clearly homaging ENTER THE DRAGON, and there’s definitely some Jim Kelly/Blaxploitation influence in there, but its flashback structure mostly splits between an old school kung fu training movie and a getting-the-band-back-together type story. Two of my favorite plot structures in one. (read the rest of this shit…)

Invincible Dragon

Wednesday, January 27th, 2021

I love being able to tip off my readers to a high quality, newish martial arts movie they might not have seen or heard of. Especially one that feels like an instant classic to me, like when I saw SPL 2/KILL ZONE 2 in 2015, and I just knew I had to do what I could to get the word out that it was something special.

But that’s not exactly what we’ve gathered for today. This is a different thread that I’ve been following since KILL ZONE 2. One of the highlights of that movie was Jin Zhang, now known here as Max Zhang, who played the lead henchman – a dapper, suit-wearing psycho with kicks like scalpels. He had such an entirely different vibe as the broody handsome rival in IP MAN 3 that I didn’t even notice it was the same actor. So now I pay more attention to him. His most recent release INVINCIBLE DRAGON (original title: 九龍不敗 [KOWLOON UNBEATEN]) is not in the same ballpark as his very good starring vehicle MASTER Z: THE IP MAN LEGACY (2018), and it’s sloppier and stupider than THE BRINK (2017). But I enjoyed the hell out of it because it has some of that precious Hong Kong action craftsmanship and production value, infused with the “are you kidding me right now?” lunacy of a really off-the-rails DTV movie, while managing to showcase some of the qualities that make Zhang stand out from other action stars. (read the rest of this shit…)

Born to Defence

Wednesday, December 30th, 2020

Recently I was a guest on the podcast Postcards From a Dying World, and the topic of the episode was the films of Jet Li. I’d actually been meaning to rewatch some of Li’s movies, and this pushed me to fill in a few of the ones I hadn’t seen.

BORN TO DEFENCE seemed like an important one, because it’s the only movie Li has directed. It was released in 1986, when he was in his early twenties, only his fourth movie and first without SHAOLIN in the title. Credited as “Jet Lee,” he plays Jet, a hero of WWII who opens the movie flipping and flying through tanks, explosions and machine gun fire. It’s cool but it made me think “Oh shit, I hope this isn’t a war movie.”

Never fear! The war ends and he comes home to Qingdao. Things have changed (there are orphan children for sale on the street – uncool) and his fellow vets are disgusted to find that nobody gives a shit about what they did, giving all the glory to the American sailors who are still stationed there and lording over everybody. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Sorcerer and the White Snake

Wednesday, December 16th, 2020

After I watched DR. WAI IN “THE SCRIPTURE WITH NO WORDS” for the specific reason that it was a Jet Li movie directed by Ching Siu-Tung, I realized I should watch the more recent movie that fits the same description. THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE (2011) is another fantasy martial arts romance, outlandish in a different way than the other one because it’s based on a Chinese legend about animal demons.

Li plays the titular sorcerer, a truck trying to carry explosives across a shaky rope bridge, and of course Whitesnake play themselves, performing many of their hits as well as debuting songs from that year’s album Forevermore. At least I assume that was what Ching intended, but he caved to the bean-counters, so instead Li plays a skilled Buddhist demon hunter called Abbott Fahai, and early in the movie we are abruptly confronted with the sight of two beautiful human lady torsos with scale-covered breasts and giant snake body lower halves, rolling around sexily on top of each other. It’s one of those things where I’m kind of icked out by it but also very happy for whatever number of people there are out there who are into snake ladies and are sorely underserved by mainstream cinema. Merry Christmas, you pervs.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Dr. Wai in “The Scripture With No Words”

Monday, December 14th, 2020

I’m going to be on a podcast soon where the topic of the week is Jet Li movies. There are still many I haven’t seen, so I wanted to fill in a couple of blanks before recording. DR. WAI IN “THE SCRIPTURE WITH NO WORDS” from 1996 seemed like an important one to get to because it’s directed and choreographed by the great Ching Siu-Tung (his directorial followup to WONDER SEVEN, although he choreographed A CHINESE ODYSSEY: PART ONE – PANDORA’S BOX in between). He’s perhaps best known for directing A CHINESE GHOST STORY and action-directing A BETTER TOMORROW II, SHAOLIN SOCCER and HERO, but I also love his outlandish, heightened style in movies like NAKED WEAPON and one of Seagal’s weirdest, BELLY OF THE BEAST.

In the epic opening scene I was ready to get seriously Ching Siu-Tunged… there’s like a hundred guys pulling a giant mechanical ox that looks like a He-Man vehicle, and the guy driving it goes rogue and makes it fart a fire ball. But I quickly found that Ching’s usual fantasy historical period setting of The Martial World is a story-within-a-story, intercut with the marriage troubles of its supposed author, filling his martial arts adventure fiction with childishly autobiographical symbolism where he’s the hero and his wife is the villain. (read the rest of this shit…)

Millionaires’ Express

Tuesday, December 8th, 2020

THE MILLIONAIRES’ EXPRESS (also called SHANGHAI EXPRESS, originally 富貴列車, or FORTUNE TRAIN according to Google Translate) is a 1986 Sammo Hung directing and starring joint all-star period comedy.

In the tradition of LICENCE TO KILL it opens with a fight in snowy Russia, as Sammo’s character Ching Fong-Tin is caught trying to steal from Russian soldiers and they force him to wear women’s underwear and do a sexy dance for them. He kind of pulls a Bugs Bunny, leaning into it, and manages to escape with an impressive window leap while the cabin explodes, but is then captured by a mountain-trapper-looking CIA agent called Fook Loi (Kenny Bee, THE SPOOKY BUNCH), so there’s more fighting. They end up rolling down the hill and making giant snowballs. (read the rest of this shit…)

Naked Killer

Wednesday, November 11th, 2020

NAKED KILLER (not to be confused with NAKED GUN or NAKED LUNCH) is a 1992 Hong Kong action movie, one of the good ones that colors outside of the lines of reasonableness. An unhinged plot, extreme behavior and acrobatic, sometimes gory action make it fun, especially since those qualities tend to overlap.

The film’s central theme is a collision of violence and sexuality – the female lead is an assassin trained to seduce men and then kill them, the male lead is a cop who has been impotent since accidentally shooting his brother to death. It’s kind of a romance, and how’s this for a meet cute? Tom (Simon Yam, BULLET IN THE HEAD, LARA CROFT is the TOMB RAIDER in THE CRADLE OF LIFE) and Kitty (Chingmy Yau, LEGEND OF THE LIQUID SWORD) are in the salon getting their hair cut at the same time. Another hairstylist is hitting on Kitty when his pregnant girlfriend comes in to confront him. Kitty pretends to take his side until she attacks him with a cigarette and stabs him repeatedly in the groin with his scissors. Tom chases her and she steals his gun, which triggers his trauma and makes him puke, so she feels sorry for him and gives it back. This story would make an amazing wedding toast! (read the rest of this shit…)

Wira

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020

WIRA (translation: HERO) is a really good 2019 martial arts movie that’s available on Netflix, and maybe my first Malaysian film? It cold opens with a brutal women’s M.M.A. match that will be an important inciting incident, but you don’t really know the context yet, so instead it works to establish the movie’s level of action reality: somewhat grounded in real moves and sweat and blood, but moving through them very fast, and with absolutely thunderous punching and slamming sounds. Like somebody is gonna get their head knocked off. Reminded me a little bit of the UNDISPUTED sequels, with less spinning in the air.

After the credits we meet a male hero, Hassan (Hairul Azreen, a Taekwondo black belt who’s been acting for a little over a decade), a former elite super duper commando motherfucker drifting back into town after many years, a bag over his shoulder, getting hassled by a cop (Henley Hii) like he’s John Rambo. That’s only one of the beloved action traditions he follows – we also learn that he’s a legendary underground fighter. The aforementioned cop is actually an old friend giving him shit, and Hassan ends up going along with him when he arrests some young guys for fighting. On the way to jail they realize who Hassan is and try to get a selfie with him from the backseat of the police car.

And one of them asks, “You want to avenge your sister, don’t you?” (read the rest of this shit…)