"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Archive for the ‘Martial Arts’ Category

Blade of the 47 Ronin

Tuesday, January 24th, 2023

You know me – I’ve always been fascinated with DTV sequels. One of their endearing qualities is that their modest budgets allow for a different type of crass commercialism than regular Hollywood – they try to cash in on familiar (or even unfamiliar) titles that would never fly on the big screen. That gave us the miracle of the UNDISPUTED sequels, but mostly just stuff where it was funny that it existed – loosely connected followups or branded rehashes of CRUEL INTENTIONS, WILD THINGS, ROAD HOUSE and HOLLOW MAN, for example, many of which I reviewed for The Ain’t It Cool News at the time.

Thanks to Universal’s direct-to-video division, 1440 Entertainment, that tradition is still going strong, and arguably making a comeback. Back in the aughts they brought us SCORPION KING and DEATH RACE sequels, they revived Chucky in the great CURSE OF CHUCKY, they started making JARHEAD sequels for some reason, and brought to life such unlikely part 2s as THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS 2, KINDERGARTEN COP 2 and HARD TARGET 2. In 2018 they even made a DTV sequel to UNBROKEN, that war drama directed by Angelie Jolie, and in 2019 they did BACKDRAFT 2, INSIDE MAN: MOST WANTED, DOOM: ANNIHILATION and UNDERCOVER BROTHER 2. That last one I tried to watch because Michael Jai White is in it, but I gave up when his character went into a coma near the beginning. Still, I appreciate its existence because it keeps me on my toes. It reminds me that any movie, no matter how old, no matter how forgotten, no matter how how-the-fuck-would-you-make-a-sequel-to-that, could suddenly have a DTV sequel. And it would already be filmed and have cover art by the time I found out they were doing it. You gotta be aware at all times. (read the rest of this shit…)

Heatseeker

Wednesday, December 14th, 2022

THE TAPE RAIDER TRIBUTE TO ALBERT PYUN PART 2: HEATSEEKER

Yes friends, here’s another Albert Pyun film that has only been released on VHS in the U.S., HEATSEEKER. It came to us in 1995, #2 of 3 between SPITFIRE and NEMESIS 2: NEBULA. Pyun has a story credit, with the screenplay written by Christopher Borkgren (whose only other credit is SPITFIRE).

Set in the futuristic New America of 2019 A.D. (“After Dollman?”) it’s the story of kickboxing champion Chance O’Brien (Keith Cooke, CHINA O’BRIEN I & II) trying to keep doing his thing in a changing world. Combat sports are beginning to be dominated by new models of cyborgs, including those created by the sinister Sianon Corporation, who try to bait “the greatest human fighter in the world” into entering their imaginatively titled event “The Tournament.” (read the rest of this shit…)

Knights

Tuesday, December 13th, 2022

At the end of last month we lost Albert Pyun, prolific and perhaps infamous b-movie auteur, chronicler of kickboxing cyborgs, mounter of simultaneous productions, and occasional blurrer of lines between drive-in exploitation and abstruse art movie.

I did not always have generous things to say about his films, but something about them kept me coming back, so over the years I’ve reviewed DANGEROUSLY CLOSE, CYBORG, CAPTAIN AMERICA, KICKBOXER 2: THE ROAD BACK, NEMESIS, KICKBOXER 4: THE AGGRESSOR, and MEAN GUNS, and of course I have chapter in Seagalogy about his Seagal movie, TICKER.

When I reviewed KICKBOXER 2 back in 2009 the man himself showed up in the comments and thanked me for the review, even though it included the line, “The director is Albert Pyun, but I never would’ve guessed that because it’s both watchable and kind of good.” He had a very gracious and self-deprecating attitude, promising “I hope I am improving to at least an almost semi-coherent level of competence,” and he came back a few times responding to questions and comments. Too bad he dodged my question about how he made it look like a dead Van Damme in KICKBOXER 2 (claiming it was someone who died from watching the beginning of ALIEN FROM L.A.). (read the rest of this shit…)

Rage and Honor

Thursday, May 5th, 2022

RAGE AND HONOR (1992) opens in black and white – first, grainy high contrast footage of the city, maybe 16mm, then camcorder footage with scanlines – following leather-jacketed Kris Fairfield (Cynthia Rothrock) in an empty high school class room, finishing up her day of work and heading home. I assumed this was a reference to the Michelle Pfeiffer tough-and-inspirational-inner-city-teacher movie DANGEROUS MINDS, which also opened in black and white, until I realized that this came out three years earlier. This is another TOP-GUN-coming-out-after-IRON-EAGLE situation. I got one very suspicious and insinuating eye on you, Mr. Bruckheimer. You’re on notice.

The biggest surprise about this movie is that after the opening it’s never relevant or mentioned that she’s a high school teacher. I was so confused by it that I reloaded the DVD two different times thinking I must’ve misinterpreted something. But it’s true – she has a classroom, a chalkboard, she leaves with papers to grade, she runs into a student named Paris (Patrick Malone, THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES) and gives him his paper, she seems to be his history teacher. It’s too bad they didn’t stick with the idea, because a Rothrock version of THE SUBSTITUTE or ONLY THE STRONG would be right up my alley. She really does seem like a cool teacher. (read the rest of this shit…)

Tiger Claws II / Tiger Claws III

Wednesday, May 4th, 2022

TIGER CLAWS II (1996) starts with part I’s Tiger Claw kung fu serial killer Chong (Bolo Yeung) in jail, and ends with him on another astral plane. During that same period the quality of the movie takes a similar journey, going from very promising to something else entirely.

Chong is sitting cross-legged on the floor of his cell when a shithead cop comes in and asks “Who’s the gorilla?” Hearing that Chong has just finished a 9 month psych evaluation and will plead insanity tomorrow, the cop (who didn’t even know who the guy was) insists “He’s not crazy!” and goes into the cell to “teach him some manners” by hitting him with a club and yelling at him.

(I do totally believe this part actually.)

Chong sits and meditates, ignoring him at first, then casually taking the club from him. Unfortunately he doesn’t do anything with it.

Meanwhile our boy Tarek (Jalal Merhi) is busting a gloriously-ponytailed arms dealer named Victor (Evan Lurie, DOUBLE IMPACT, MARTIAL LAW II, AMERICAN KICKBOXER 2). There are fiery explosions, he gets his man, but his partner dies, and while he’s distracted some guys in a white van free Victor. (read the rest of this shit…)

Tiger Claws

Thursday, April 21st, 2022

TIGER CLAWS (1991) is the second film starring the Canadian Dragon (I made that name up) Jalal Merhi. After filming BLACK PEARL, a.k.a. FEARLESS TIGER, he brought along some of his cast and writer J. Stephen Maunder, hooked up with Shapiro-Glickenhaus, and kicked off Film One Productions, which produced 19 movies between 1991 and 2015, almost all of them starring or directed by Merhi.

For this first film, crucially, they hired Canadian TV director Kelly Makin, making his feature film debut. He would soon make a bigger mark directing filmed segments for The Kids in the Hall, and later their movie BRAIN CANDY. I’m guessing he’s the reason TIGER CLAWS has more wit and style than many comparable DTV action movies of the era (including this film’s sequels).

Even more crucially, Merhi was able to co-star with Cynthia Rothrock. She’d already made her mark in Hong Kong with YES, MADAM!, etc., and in the west with NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER 2, CHINA O’BRIEN I and II, the first MARTIAL LAW and even FAST GETAWAY, so I hope he realized how lucky he was to share the lead with her. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Final Master

Tuesday, April 19th, 2022

THE FINAL MASTER (2015) is the third movie from writer/director Xu Haofeng, again based on his own novel. I remember seeing a trailer for this and thinking about going to see it – man, I blew it, I could have had these great movies in my life years ago!

This one continues the stylistic and historical progression from THE SWORD IDENTITY (Ming Dynasty) and JUDGE ARCHER (1920s), taking place in the city of Tianjin starting in 1932. It explores some of the same themes of fighters navigating the staid traditions of martial arts to make sure their preferred styles can be passed on to the next generation – aging men trying to secure their legacies and young men trying to prove themselves. This one involves the last Wing Chun Grandmaster Chen (Liao Fan, BLACK COAL, THIN ICE) striking a deal with ready-to-retire Grandmaster Zheng (Chin Shi-chieh, REIGN OF ASSASSINS, THE GUILLOTINES, THE GRANDMASTER) to help him set up a school in Tianjin. (read the rest of this shit…)

Judge Archer

Wednesday, April 13th, 2022

JUDGE ARCHER (2012) is the second film directed by martial artist/novelist/writer of THE GRANDMASTER Xu Haofeng. It’s arguably more accessible than his debut, THE SWORD IDENTITY, because it’s bigger, has way more action, and is not too hung up on realism to exaggerate the martial arts. But by the end the story had taken so many oddball turns that even I couldn’t quite follow it all.

That’s okay. It’s an unusual martial arts experience that I recommend if you’re open minded and enjoy the good things in life such as duels, arrows, swords, etc.

Song Yang (who also starred in THE SWORD IDENTITY) plays a young man who goes mad after an atrocity that has just happened when the opening titles end. We don’t have to see anything, but the way it’s depicted is horrifying: a rough wind blows through the corn fields, and three farmers stand watching as two men pin him down. Just over a hill he can hear his sister screaming, and then a guy comes over the hill, pulling his pants up, and leaves with the other two men.

Suddenly we find our guy bound and gagged in a monastery. The monks found him in a rage, blaming himself for not being able to stop the attack on his sister. They perform a ritual for him to be reborn, telling him “When you jump over the wall, the words spoken by the first person you meet will be your new name.” On his journey he hears someone yelling “Judge Archer!” followed by gun shots, so when an old monk hiding in the bushes asks him his name he says, “Judge Archer.” (read the rest of this shit…)

Reign of Assassins

Monday, April 11th, 2022

I’m an idiot so it took me more than a decade to get around to watching REIGN OF ASSASSINS (2010), even though it’s directed by John Woo. Well, sort of – it’s actually directed by Su Chao-pin (SILK [2006]), but Woo was with him the whole time to mentor him, so he got a co-director credit. He says he gave advice, but never imposed his style. And I definitely wouldn’t confuse it for his movies.

It is a pretty enjoyable wuxia movie though, and it stars Michelle Yeoh, so I’m glad I finally got my shit together.

The story concerns various killers fighting over the mummified corpse of “the powerful monk Bodhi” because, according to the narrator of the prologue, “They say that whoever possesses the Bodhi remains will rule the martial arts world.” Through some not-great illustrations and freeze frame/bullet time character introductions we learn that members of “The Dark Stone, a secret guild of the world’s deadliest assassins” killed Minister Zhang Haiduan and stole the remains, but “amidst the chaos an assassin, Shi Yu (apparently called “Drizzle” in some translations), discovers Grandmaster Bodhi’s remains and disappears into the night…” All the other assassins try to kill her to get a reward. (read the rest of this shit…)

Everything Everywhere All At Once

Wednesday, April 6th, 2022

It’s hard not to think of EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE as some kind of miracle movie. I had no idea it was something I needed, or something that anyone would think to make, until a couple months ago when the trailer came out. It stars Michelle Yeoh in her best ever English language role, a very layered character who gets to be funny and goofy and troubled and kind of an asshole but totally lovable and yes, she also does some kung fu. It co-stars Ke Huy Quan, who we knew as a child star in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM and THE GOONIES, but who hasn’t been in a movie in almost 20 years, making a triumphant return in surely his best part ever (and he also gets to fight).

It would be worth celebrating just for putting those two actors together, even if it didn’t entirely work. But this thing is much more advanced than that. Written and directed by “Daniels” (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, of SWISS ARMY MAN and various music videos), it’s a very original movie, but if I had to give it a short hand description based on other people’s work I’d go with “if Michel Gondry made THE MATRIX.” Or if that scares you, substitute Stephen Chow. It uses a convoluted sci-fi gimmick as a vehicle for some absurd humor, artfully hand-crafted imagery and outlandish action, which all weaves together to explore ideas about life and relationships and family and happiness. That title is no lie. (read the rest of this shit…)