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Archive for the ‘Martial Arts’ Category

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…)

Mortal Kombat: Legacy I & II

Thursday, March 11th, 2021

There’s a new MORTAL KOMBAT movie about to enter our realm, and it’s crazy to think they’ve been developing this thing for over a decade! It made me want to journey back to the beginning of that process and revisit what happened when director Kevin Tancharoen tried to reimagine the fighting tournament game turned movie series.

Tancharoen was on the mixing stage at Warner Brothers when he heard talk about hopes to restart the series. He thought there was a way to put a new, gritty spin on it, and wanted to try. One problem: the only movie he’d directed was a glossy musical, the 2009 version of FAME. He was much more established as a choreographer for Britney Spears than as a filmmaker. He knew they weren’t gonna fuckin believe he was the guy to bring back MORTAL KOMBAT unless he showed them. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Devil’s Sword

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021

A few weeks ago I reviewed a 2019 movie I was really excited about called GUNDALA. It’s a pretty great Indonesian martial arts movie directed by Joko Anwar, based on a comic book (also Indonesian) that started in the ‘60s, and it’s supposed to launch an MCU-inspired movie franchise called the Bumilangit Cinematic Universe.

When I read up on the BCU for that review I learned a little bit about the other characters they’ll be making movies about, and some of them have already appeared in movies. IMDb listings of Indonesian films are not very complete, but based on my research I think there’s a 1981 version of GUNDALA; a 1954 version of SRI ASIH; seven (give or take a few erroneous double listings) about Barda Mandrawata – The Blind Man From the Ghost Cave, an incredible sounding character whose new movie is to be directed by Timo Tjahjanto (THE NIGHT COMES FOR US); and three about a wandering warrior named Mandala.

Out of all of those titles I could only locate three, and the first I’ve gotten my hands on is THE DEVIL’S SWORD (1984) starring Barry Prima as Mandala. This character is supposed to be played by Joe Taslim (THE RAID) in the BCU’s MANDALA: THE DEVIL’S SWORD, and if that’s like a slicker, more modern version of this, I can’t wait. This version is directed by Ratno Timoer (who both directed and starred in some of those Barda Mandrawata movies) and it’s kind of a cross between a CONAN THE BARBARIAN wannabe and a low budget kung fu movie (complete with wirework), plus some sexploitation thrown in for flavoring.

(read the rest of this shit…)

No Retreat, No Surrender 3: Blood Brothers

Wednesday, February 24th, 2021

“Well, if it isn’t the Alexander boys.”

Sometimes there are movies I know I should watch, but I save them for when they’re needed. And after almost a year of this pandemic I decided it was time to break the emergency glass on NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER 3: BLOOD BROTHERS (1990).

Like part 2 it’s written by Keith W. Strandberg (SUPERFIGHTS, BLOODMOON) and is not a direct sequel to its predecessor. It was originally intended as an unrelated movie, and I don’t even know if it counts as a thematic or spiritual sequel – at best it’s an attitudinal sequel. The tagline helpfully explains the trilogy: The first was for honour, the second for his country, this time it’s family. So this trilogy pretty much covers the full spectrum of what to do something for.

This is the only one not directed by Corey Yuen. His replacement, first timer Lucas Lowe (who followed this with THE KING OF THE KICKBOXERS and AMERICAN SHAOLIN, also written by Strandberg) was a non-martial arts guy chosen by executive producer Ng See-Yuen (a Shaw Brothers executive who’s in the Criterion Collection because he directed GAME OF DEATH II) on the theory that he would focus more on the story. But in interviews Strandberg laments that Lowe would spend too long setting up and shooting extras, run out of time and then cut a bunch of his dialogue. That may or may not explain why I didn’t understand this joke where the main characters’ dad leaves has a guy gagged and tied to a tree outside of his house. (read the rest of this shit…)

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…)