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Archive for the ‘Martial Arts’ Category

Life After Fighting

Wednesday, June 19th, 2024

LIFE AFTER FIGHTING is a 2024 indie action movie starring, written, directed, and choreographed by Australian martial artist Bren Foster. He even has writing credits on some of the songs on the soundtrack. That sounds like a vanity project, which I wouldn’t necessarily be against, but if “vanity project” is someone forcing their way onto the screen when they don’t really belong there, this is not that. This guy is a natural, and it’s a good movie, delivering well within the traditions of the genre and occasionally even transcending them a little. I kinda loved it.

Foster is close to my age, and has been on screen since a bit part in the crazy made-for-TNT kung fu movie INVINCIBLE in 2001. More recently I’ve heard he was good as the villain in DEEP BLUE SEA 3 and as Max in the Mad Max video game. I knew the name was familiar, and sure enough I first encountered him as one of the younger co-stars who takes on most of the fighting in a couple of the later Seagal movies. I didn’t mention him in my MAXIMUM CONVICTION review, but in FORCE OF EXECUTION I noted that he’s basically the main character even though on the cover he’s only seen as a tiny reflection in one lens of Seagal’s sunglasses. I praised his fighting but wrote that “when he’s talking instead of kicking ass he lacks the charisma to be captivating. Maybe it’s partly because he fakes an American accent. Shoulda gone full Van Damme and not worried about it.” Here he does in fact get to use his real accent, but also I think he’s just more comfortable in something coming from his heart. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Last Kumite

Tuesday, June 18th, 2024

THE LAST KUMITE is a movie designed for a very specific demographic some of you may be familiar with. It’s a throwback to ‘90s tournament fighting movies, its cast is heavily populated with venerated icons of the genre, and they even managed to get a score by Paul Hertzog (BLOODSPORT, KICKBOXER), his first since 1991’s BREATHING FIRE. Best of all it features two new songs by the king of montage rock, Stan Bush (if you’re not familiar he did multiple songs on KICKBOXER and BLOODSPORT and “The Touch” from TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE).

Knowing all that, and that it was partly funded with Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns, you could reasonably expect it to be directed by some young fanboy, but in fact it’s from someone who’s been in the trenches of legit DTV martial arts movies since the ‘90s. Ross W. Clarkson got his start doing cinematography for Ringo Lam (he’s worked with him on five movies) and he did Dolph Lundgren’s THE MECHANIK, Isaac Florentine’s UNDISPUTED II and III and NINJA I and II, and Michael Jai White’s NEVER BACK DOWN: NO SURRENDER. So he knows what he’s doing.
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3 Ninjas Kick Back

Wednesday, May 8th, 2024

It’s tempting to say that 3 NINJAS KICK BACK is the bottom of the barrel for a kids movie, mainly because of the amount of farting that happens in a particular scene. But I checked my review of the first 3 NINJAS and I called it “some real bottom of the barrel dreck, almost as bad as any off brand DTV throwaway kiddy garbage you’ll ever encounter,” so that one might’ve been worse. The best thing I can say about this first released 3 NINJAS sequel is that in the tradition of THE TOXIC AVENGER PART II and THE KARATE KID PART II they go to Japan for part of it. That takes some effort.

I say “first released” because they actually made 3 NINJAS KNUCKLE UP in the same year as the first movie but they had some kind of distribution problem and didn’t release it until 1995. Can you imagine? A whole two years where 3 NINJAS KNUCKLE UP was a lost film. That’s why part 2 recasts two of the kids but part 3 returns to the original line up at their original age. (read the rest of this shit…)

Elektra (second review)

Tuesday, March 5th, 2024

Revisiting DAREDEVIL obviously made me want to watch ELEKTRA again – this time in a director’s cut, but the differences are minimal compared to DAREDEVIL’s. It’s a different situation anyway because I actually did enjoy ELEKTRA when I saw it on video back in the day, and even wrote a review of it. So instead of “maybe I’ll like it better now” it was a “will I still like it?” situation. The answer is yes, I did.

That’s not a popular opinion. It was a big flop, and scoffed at from all quarters. Roger Ebert called it “a collision between leftover bits and pieces of Marvel superhero stories.” Manohla Dargis called it “The latest Hollywood movie to give comic books a bad name.” Mick LaSalle wrote, “It’s garbage” and complained that it was “twisted” to open with this contract killer character assassinating someone when “we don’t know what he did to deserve this.” At least David Edelstein said it was “only maybe two-fifths” bad because “these Marvel pictures are starting to blur together” (which now seems like a funny thing for someone to have said then), and he was wise enough to say it paled in comparison to A CHINESE GHOST STORY, THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR and THE HEROIC TRIO rather than X-MEN or SPIDER-MAN. Because that’s what it is: one of the American movies that’s not nearly as good as Hong Kong movies. But I still like them. (read the rest of this shit…)

Sixty Minutes

Wednesday, January 31st, 2024

SIXTY MINUTES (60 Minuten) is a really impressive new addition to the Netflix library of international action, this one hailing from Germany. It feels very modern in the execution of its hard-hitting martial arts action, but it’s classical in its simplicity. A straight forward set up, an easy to understand goal, an emotional underpinning.

Here’s how it works. Octavio Bergmann (Emilio Sakraya, Warrior Nun), nickname Octa, is an MMA fighter successful enough to have his own gym in Berlin. He has a fight scheduled for today but it keeps getting delayed, and his team are trying to keep him warmed up, but he’s preoccupied because it’s his daughter Leonie (Morik Heydo)’s seventh birthday and he wants to make sure not to miss her party.

It must be said that this man is a bit of a fuck up. No one seems to think he’s been there enough for his daughter, who he had when he was 19 and didn’t stay with the mother, Mina (Livia Matthes, “Model,” CHARLIE’S ANGELS). On phone calls both his daughter and his ex don’t seem to believe he’ll really show up. And it’s implied that it was out of his control, but somehow he agreed to a fight on her birthday. The English title could’ve been DEADBEATDOWN. (read the rest of this shit…)

Throw Down

Tuesday, January 30th, 2024

Man, what am I doing leaving all these Johnnie To movies unseen? Whenever I watch one I seem to fall in love. Case in point, THROW DOWN (2004). As far as I knew it wasn’t even one of his more popular ones when Criterion released it in 2021, at least not in the U.S. It was just a forgotten Tai Seng DVD from the aughts. But now it is the recipient of the prestigious The Best Thing I’ve Seen Lately award.

Most of To’s movies I’ve seen have been crime movies. They have good action but they’re more notable for their visual beauty and operatic emotion. They usually feel more poetic than badass, though they can be both. THROW DOWN technically has some crime in it, but that’s not the main topic, and to my surprise this is largely a comedy. Not the broad type of humor I associate with Hong Kong cinema, but a very dry, offbeat sort of humor of different characters matter-of-factly following their idiosyncratic pursuits into strange situations and never making a big deal out of it. Never mugging, never underlining. (read the rest of this shit…)

Monk Comes Down the Mountain

Thursday, January 25th, 2024

Chen Kaige is an acclaimed Chinese filmmaker I have no familiarity with. Too classy for me, I guess. Now I finally watched one, but not one of his famous ones from the ‘80s or ‘90s, it’s his 14th film, a straight up kung fu movie from 2015 called MONK COMES DOWN THE MOUNTAIN. And the reason is because it’s based on a book by Xu Haofeng, who wrote Wong Kar Wai’s THE GRANDMASTER and directed THE SWORD IDENTITY, JUDGE ARCHER and THE FINAL MASTER. I adore his style and his themes and his two most recent (THE HIDDEN SWORD and 100 YARDS) aren’t available here yet, so I’ll take what I can get.

This is a good one but totally different from those other movies I mentioned. The ones Xu directs have a very artful economy and restraint to them, the compositions and camera movements are often very classical, the fighting styles are uniquely straightforward, often based around quick, simple movements rather than flying around all over the place. Don’t get me wrong, obviously I love flying around all over the place, but I like how distinct this other approach is.

MONK COMES DOWN THE MOUNTAIN is not that. Nor is it a TV movie starring Tony Shalhoub. It’s a big show-offy kung fu fantasy, with lots of digital FX, some of them pretty goofy. It was released in 3D Imax, and (unlike American movies, which are too cowardly to do 3D stuff in 3D movies) you can tell. And it’s often comedic in a broad, muggy kind of way. Xu’s movies tend to have a much dryer humor. (read the rest of this shit…)

Sakra

Monday, November 27th, 2023

SAKRA is Donnie Yen’s 2023 passion project, which he stars in and co-directed (with Kam Ka-Wai, second assistant director of IP MAN 1 and 2). It’s a wuxia story based on a famous novel with the tough-sounding title Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils by Jin Yong.

Yen stars as Qiao Feng, an orphan raised by a couple in the Song Empire. He grows up to become the leader of the powerful Beggar Gang, whose legendary badassness is introduced in one of those classic scenes where somebody is being an asshole in public and our guy is quietly listening for a while and then gets inolved (see also: Blue Eye Samurai). A monk (Tsui Siu-Ming, KUNG FU KILLER) comes to this restaurant dragging a cage he says contains an “unruly” person he’s going to sacrifice, and Qiao Feng is sitting at a table on the balcony of a whole different establishment across the way when he starts loudly talking shit without even looking at him. The monk is like “What the fuck – is that guy talking to me?(read the rest of this shit…)

Justice Ninja Style

Thursday, November 2nd, 2023

JUSTICE NINJA STYLE is a shot-on-video but very enthusiastic independent action picture made in 1986 in the town of De Soto, Missouri (population 6,449 as of 2020), that came out on an extras-packed blu-ray earlier this year courtesy of the Vinegar Syndrome partner label VHShitfest.

Most of the regional movies like this that I’ve come across have been horror, and usually if those aren’t shot on film I turn them off, but I’m glad I gave this one a chance. It has the right balance of amateurishness, lack of self consciousness, underdog competence, and capturing of a particular time, place, and group of people, to be a fun one of these. And it soars by in 70 minutes (though the blu-ray includes a 15-minutes-longer alternate cut I didn’t get a chance to watch called NINJA THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR). (read the rest of this shit…)

Kowloon Walled City

Wednesday, July 19th, 2023

KOWLOON WALLED CITY (2021) is a diverting and pretty stylish period martial arts movie I found on Hi-YAH!. It takes place I believe in the early ’70s, mostly in the titular Imperial-Chinese-military-fort-turned-enclave-between-Kowloon-and-British-Hong-Kong. But it begins somewhere to the north with its protagonist, the gruff street fighter A’neng (Xing Yu, IP MAN, IRON PROTECTOR), storming through a gangster gambling den and into an opulent bath house to confront a fellow student he blames for the death of his master.

We don’t know who he is yet but he drags people around by their hair and fights through an army of men (and one woman) wearing only towels. Great attention is paid to knocking people through walls and doors, cracking heads on multiple sinks, crunching various ledges and tiled walls with people’s heads, sliding bodies across the wet floor, faces jiggling from the power of fists, bones banging against other bones, making loud thuds or crunching sounds. A’neng carries a small tombstone-shaped tribute to his fallen master, which his opponent kicks in half. A’neng beats him until he’s begging for his life and then stumbles out into the snow, where a drunk man’s singing inspires him to go to Hong Kong. Never underestimate the power of music. (read the rest of this shit…)