"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Saving General Yang

Thursday, May 4th, 2023

It wasn’t until 2013, a full seven years after directing FEARLESS (and four years after not directing BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE), that Ronny Yu released another film. In interviews he credited the hiatus to only being offered horror scripts in the U.S. “I don’t want to do this kind of thing anymore,” he said. Instead he wanted to “learn more about my Chinese roots.”

Written by Yu with Edmond Wong (DRAGON TIGER GATE, IP MAN 1-4, MASTER Z) and Scarlett Liu Shi-Jia, SAVING GENERAL YANG is based on The Generals of the Yang Family, a famous set of stories about a real military family that lived early in the Song Dynasty. (I didn’t figure this out while watching, but EIGHT DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER comes from the same story, as do THE 14 AMAZONS and several other films.)

Adam Cheng (SHAOLIN AND WU TANG, ZU WARRIORS FROM THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN, SEVEN WARRIORS) plays the titular General, and this is the story of his seven sons (deliberately cast with hearthrob actors, many of them pop stars) coming to rescue him during a battle. But in the opening scene he’s at home, about to whip Sixth Brother Yanzhao (Wu Chun, 14 BLADES) and Seventh Brother Yansi (Fu Xinbo of the boy band BoBo) for “breaking Family Law.” (read the rest of this shit…)

Fear Itself: “Family Man”

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2023

From 2005-2007, Showtime aired 26 episodes of the anthology Masters of Horror, created by SLEEPWALKERS director Mick Garris. Well known directors including Stuart Gordon, Tobe Hooper, Dario Argento, Joe Dante, John Landis, and Takashi Miike were given an hour running time and a TV crew and budget, but few other limitations, to make little mini horror movies. The results were mixed, but there were some good ones (my favorites were by Lucky McKee, Don Coscarelli and John Carpenter) and it was an opportunity to get new material from great directors who for the most part weren’t getting as many opportunities as they should’ve in those days.

When Showtime opted not to renew Masters of Horror for a third season, Garris took basically the same premise to NBC, under the new title Fear Itself. This was kinda different not only because it had a new theme song by Serj Tankian of System of a Down, but because it had commercials and was censored for network TV. So if you haven’t heard of it, that’s why. They made 13 episodes, but NBC only aired five. Along with official Masters of Horror Landis and Gordon were more directors from a younger generation including Breck Eisner (THE CRAZIES), Brad Anderson (THE MACHINIST), and Mary Harron (AMERICAN PSYCHO), plus – you guessed it – the master of such horrors as THE TRAIL, THE OCCUPANT, BLESS THIS HOUSE, BRIDE OF CHUCKY and FREDDY VS. JASON, Ronny Yu. That’s right – his followup to FEARLESS was the opposite, Fear Itself.
(read the rest of this shit…)

Fearless (2006)

Monday, May 1st, 2023

“First level is the physical contact. Use your physical skill against your enemy. That’s most action films doing this kind of genre. The second level is use your knowledge, languages, strategy, everything you could before physical contact to stop your enemy. Third, use your honor, belief, your love, show to your enemy. Turn your enemy into your friend. I tried to share those three levels in the movie.” —Jet Li on FEARLESS


After the success of FREDDY VS. JASON, it seemed like Yu might continue his relationship with New Line Cinema, making the sort of slick studio b-movies both parties were pretty good at in those days. As I mentioned in my review of THE 51ST STATE, Samuel L. Jackson tried to reteam with the director for the company’s weirdly anticipated goof SNAKES ON A PLANE. But Yu believed Jackson’s star power would outshine the snakes, so he wanted his character to be swallowed by a python in the middle of the movie.

“Now the audience is intrigued. Now everyone on the plane will group together and kill the snakes,” he later told Blackfilm. “That’s the way I thought it would be interesting. Of course, they said ‘Take a walk!’”

So walk he did – all the way to Shanghai, China. And there he met up with Jet Li, a fellow Hong Kong cinema export who’d made even more of a go of it in Hollywood than Yu had. Since the handover Li had been the villain in LETHAL WEAPON 4 and then starred in the English language films ROMEO MUST DIE, KISS OF THE DRAGON, THE ONE, CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE and UNLEASHED. (He had also made 2002’s HERO in China, so this was not his official return to Asia like it was for Yu.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Freddy vs. Jason

Wednesday, April 26th, 2023

Now we come not to the end of this Ronny Yu series, or to its peak, but at least to a watershed moment. If you read this whole series, or at least the BRIDE OF CHUCKY review, you don’t need to ask the question “how the hell does the guy who made THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR end up making FREDDY VS. JASON?”

But at the risk of reptitition, let’s run through it again real quick. For starters, Yu had been making horror movies for 20 years (THE TRAIL, THE OCCUPANT, MUMMY DEAREST, BLESS THIS HOUSE), so that part wasn’t out of the blue. Then in the ‘90s two things happened: the new wave of Hong Kong cinema became popular around the world, and many Hong Kong filmmakers began to worry about what would happen to artistic freedom once colonial rule ended in 1997. That combination of circumstances led filmmakers like John Woo, Ringo Lam and Tsui Hark, as well actors like Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung, to start finding opportunities in Hollywood. (read the rest of this shit…)

Great Pretenders

Thursday, April 6th, 2023

GREAT PRETENDERS a.k.a. THE GREAT PRETENDERS is from 1991, and it’s Ronny Yu’s con man comedy. It stars the great Tony Leung (a year before HARD BOILED) in a much broader role than what we normally associate him with. The type of comedy where he’s running around waving his arms. His character has a shaved head to wear different wigs, and there’s a whole sequence about him putting the wig on the wrong way and looking ridiculous, plus a montage of trying on a bunch of other wigs. Strangely, when he pretends to have a mohawk later on it uses a very obvious bald cap. I don’t know if that was a matter of his hair growing out or not wanting to glue the mohawk on, but it’s hard to accept people believing it’s his real hair. Not that it matters in a movie like this.

His character is named Snake Wai (alias “Tony Leung”), and he’s a conman running small time scams on the street. It’s the type of movie where you follow him and hopefully are charmed by him even as he’s lying to everybody, but you won’t feel too bad about it either way because most of the time everybody’s actually in on it or secretly playing their own angle. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mummy Dearest

Wednesday, March 29th, 2023

MUMMY DEAREST (Si yan zai) is from 1985, and it’s another one of the Ronny Yu movies that’s never been available in the U.S. I had initially skipped it while writing this series until I found an affordable English-subtitled VCD. The bad news is it’s not about a mummy, the good news is it’s pretty entertaining. It kind of takes the serious horror + broad comedy formula of THE TRAIL and THE OCCUPANT but switches out supernatural chills for a serial killer story, with a maniac similar to the one in THE SAVIOUR.

The killer is played by Alan Tam (ARMOUR OF GOD), which I think may have been a bit of stunt casting. Maybe I’m wrong, I can’t find out enough about his early filmography to be sure he’d never played a psycho before, but he had started as a Cantopop star, known for singing romantic ballads. There’s even a joke about it in the movie when another character uses the titles of Alan Tam songs to hit on his character’s mother. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Servants / The Saviour

Monday, March 20th, 2023

Ronny Yu is a director whose work I’ve enjoyed since the ‘90s, when I first saw his beautiful wuxia film THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR. Part of what’s interesting about him is that he was so adept at making those lush martial arts fantasies, but he was on a trajectory to come to Hollywood and make something quite different, including two of the more notable and unusual franchise horror films of the late ‘90s and early 2000s.

But he started out in another place entirely – making raw, low budget Hong Kong cop thrillers like his very-hard-to-find first two films, THE SERVANT (1979) and THE SAVIOUR (1980).

Yu was born in Hong Kong in 1950. He suffered from polio as a child, preventing the type of physical play most kids take for granted, and leading him to retreat into his imagination, especially by watching movies. “In the dark I could forget about my problems. I could forget that I couldn’t walk so good,” he later said. He attended a boys school in England, and in the ’70s he wanted to go to UCLA and study filmmaking. His dad wouldn’t pay for that, and told him that to really understand the United States he should live in the heartland. So – figuring commercials were similar to movies – Yu studied marketing and communication at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, the alma mater of Paul Newman and Richard Dean Anderson. Other filmmaker alumni include Joe Eszterhas and Betty Thomas.

Becoming a director was kind of an accident, and it came, strangely, from being friends with a cop. Philip Chan had been a police officer for around 15 years before working as a consultant (and ultimately co-writer) on JUMPING ASH (1976) gave him the bug to be a movie star. He got a few bit parts, but his dream was to be a leading man in a movie about his experiences as a Superintendent in the Anti-Triad Squad of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force. No one was giving him that role, so he had to create it. (read the rest of this shit…)