JOHN WICK CHAPTER 4 is the culmination of one of the great movie series of our time, and a masterwork of its genre, one of the few American action movies to arguably outdo overseas epics like THE RAID 2, THE NIGHT COMES FOR US and THE VILLAINESS. Like its predecessors it expands on JOHN WICK’s distinct style of martial-arts-and-guns ultraviolence, introduces colorful new allies and enemies, and invents even more astounding ideas for types of action spectacle you haven’t seen before. But this one adds an extra layer of emotion through heroic bloodshed style bonding and a deeper realization that everything John Wick does in these movies only digs his hole deeper.
I’ll warn you before I get into the biggest spoilers, but as usual this review will be better for reading after you’ve seen it. If you’re just wondering how good it is compared to other chapters, I believe the first film stands on its own and then the sequels get better the more spectacular they become. So CHAPTER 3 was the best but has now been usurped by CHAPTER 4. (But I love the Halle Berry and Mark Dacascos stuff in 3 so much it’s not an easy choice.) (read the rest of this shit…)
You may be surprised to hear that I had never seen IRON MONKEY (1993) until now. I rented it many years ago but it turned out to be some Miramax dubbed and chopped version, so I decided to hold off, and I guess I got sidetracked. Now, upon the occasion of a new blu-ray release, I finally watched it. So I’m happy to be the last to tell you this is a straight up martial arts classic!
It’s directed by Yuen Woo-ping (he followed it with TAI CHI MASTER and WING CHUN – that’s a hell of a trilogy!) and written and produced by the prolific Tsui Hark. I could also say “the visionary Tsui Hark” or “the lovable weirdo Tsui Hark,” but I said “prolific” this time because THE EAST IS RED and ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA IV (which he wrote) and ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA III and GREEN SNAKE (which he wrote and directed) all came out that same year.
The titular Iron Monkey (Yu Rongguang, TSUI HARK’S VAMPIRE HUNTERS) is a Zorro-meets-Robin-Hood-meets-kung-fu folk hero known for leaping around on rooftops at night, stealing the ill-gotten gains of corrupt government officials, and leaving his loot as gifts for refugees and the poor. Our story begins with the authorities battening down the hatches to catch Iron Monkey if he comes for the new governor (James Wong, TIGER ON BEAT), who is cowering in a bed with his mistress (Cheung Fung-lei) and a net set up for protection. But Iron Monkey flips in in his black costume and gaiter and defeats the guards and Shaolin monks guarding the governor. (He either implies the monks are imposters or sell outs, I’m not sure which.) He gets the gold and escapes through the ceiling. Don’t fuck with Iron Monkey. (read the rest of this shit…)
BUTTERFLY AND SWORD is from 1993, so it’s after Michelle Yeoh had already done YES, MADAM! and even SUPERCOP, but it’s her first straight up wuxia movie. Let me put it this way: in the opening scene in “West Chamber, Eunuch Li’s Mansion,” I do believe we see a guy’s face get ripped off and thrown into a pile of snakes. So this is not a drill. This is the unadulterated, berserk kind of kung fu fantasy film where there pretty much aren’t characters who don’t jump 25 feet in the air and shoot some kind of weapon.
Our male lead Brother Sing (Tony Leung, HARD BOILED, RED CLIFF, THE GRANDMASTER) is introduced bouncing off a string to fly through the air like an arrow, causing at least half a dozen dudes to explode as he hits them. He also has a cool method of holding a bow behind his back and firing his sword. Yeoh’s character Lady Ko gets a quicker but even more fanciful introduction flying in with a fanfare of confetti and a web of unfurling purple silk scarves. (read the rest of this shit…)
IP MAN 4: THE FINALE is from the makers of the IP MAN trilogy, according to the giant standee in the multiplex lobby that made me aware of its Christmas day release. I’m grateful to be able to see movies like this on the big screen.
IP MAN is a series released across 11 years with stories spanning from the 1930s to the 1960s, with the great Donnie Yen (HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME) not only showcasing his great fighting skills (in a style he hadn’t previously practiced), but also giving his greatest acting performance as this distinctly gentle and polite asskicker. That’s why I wish it could go on forever. I’m sure we’ll get other great Donnie Yen movies, but I’ll miss him playing this character.
The final Ip Man adventure begins with the 1964 Long Beach International Karate Championships and takes place primarily in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Back home in Hong Kong, Ip lives in a tiny apartment with his moody teenage son Ip Ching, who has been kicked out of school for fighting (actually defending himself with too much enthusiasm). The principal and others convince Ip he should send his son to study abroad, so he decides to use a plane ticket sent to him by his former student Bruce Lee (Danny Chan, the Bruce-lookalike goalie from SHAOLIN SOCCER who subsequently played Lee in the TV series The Legend of Bruce Lee and then IP MAN 3) to try to get him admitted into a school in San Francisco. (read the rest of this shit…)
It is the futuristic year of 2000. In the real world, HIGHLANDER II‘s prediction of solar radiation creating the necessity for an electromagnetic shield over the earth has not come to pass. Instead we got President George W. Bush and Ron Howard’s upcoming HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS!.
It has been six years since HIGHLANDER III, which did not make back its production costs at the box office. But in that time the mythology of the Immortals has taken on a new life on television, with Connor MacLeod’s younger friend Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul) entertaining fans through 117 episodes (not including the two he wasn’t in). Though the show ended in 1998 and its spin-off The Raven in 1999, they have clearly left behind a fan base that takes this shit seriously. From 1994-2000 there was an annual convention called “The Gathering” in Denver, Colorado, with Paul and other stars as guests of honor. From 1997-1999 there were three “Highlander Clan Cruises.” 1997 gave Australia the first of eight “Highlander Down Under” conventions. And the list goes on. Clearly this is a group of loyal fans waiting to be exploited. I mean catered to.
And so here on the cusp of the millennium we find the immortal movie series resurfacing in the Weinstein-Brothers-cheapass-franchise-exploitation era.
In WING CHUN, the 1994 Yuen Woo-Ping classic, the great Michelle Yeoh plays Yim Wing Chun, a legendary character who was supposedly the first disciple of the Shaolin nun who invented the Wing Chun style of kung fu after seeing a crane fight a snake. The movie’s not about that, but it’s a reworking of a famous story about Wing Chun using her skills to ward off an asshole trying to force her to marry him. I’m not sure, but I think it’s kind of like in western culture if you do a new version of Zorro, Dracula, Hansel and Gretel or whatever you’re probly not gonna directly adapt the version people know, you’re gonna try to take the famous elements and put a different spin or twist or perspective on them. (read the rest of this shit…)
Okay, so admittedly it’s weird that 17 years after the acclaimed, Academy Award winning CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, The Weinstein Company up and made a sequel without the original director. And filmed it in English. And sold it to Netflix so it was barely released in theaters and may never be available on disc in most countries. It’s not surprising that people seem to have been disappointed, or just confused, or completely unaware of it. But if we think of it in terms of unlikely DTV sequels, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY is in the upper echelon.
No, the director is not Ang Lee, but it’s not nobody either – it’s Yuen Woo-Ping, whose choreography was the life’s blood of the first film. I wouldn’t say he tops it here, but he brings more graceful glides, spinning swords and nimble roof top skips and hops. It’s worth noting that today’s technology is used to create more elaborate magical realism, like when the two leads ride in on horses, block a barrage of spears, leap high into the air, land and begin a sword fight, all in one beautiful shot. (read the rest of this shit…)
BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS is really not fair to the assassins – it’s all about how great and selfless the bodyguards are. I thought I should give that warning to the more sensitive members of the assassin community. I still thought it was good though.
This 2009 film from director Teddy Chan (KUNG FU KILLER) is another one in that IP MAN vein of an Important Historical Drama infused with exaggerated martial arts greatness. I so wish our Oscar bait movies had kung fu in them. Think how much better IMITATION GAME would be!
In 1906, the pro-democracy activist Dr. Sun Wen (Zhang Hanyu, SPECIAL ID, THE GREAT WALL) is about to meet in British-ruled Hong Kong with regional leaders to plan a revolution, but the Chinese government is trying to assassinate him. So this is about the brave rebels who volunteer to escort him to the meeting. (read the rest of this shit…)
“You obviously do not know who you are fucking with!”
On one hand, it’s hard to believe that BLADE II was fifteen damn years ago. I mean – I reviewed it when it came out. And I’d already been around for a few years. Am I really that old? On the other hand, an awful lot has changed since the movie came out.
Let’s start with Wesley Snipes (“Blade”). He made a part 3, had a falling out with the writer, they made a Blade TV show without him, he got relegated to DTV, got busted for tax evasion, did time, got out, now is sort of back and still the Man and hopefully will achieve more greatness. Guillermo del Toro (director) became better known and beloved for his specific visual style and obsessions, was nominated for a best screenplay Oscar for PAN’S LABYRINTH, continued to alternate between Spanish language art films and Hollywood productions, but never did a for-hire gig again, unless you count THE HOBBIT, which he toiled on for a few years before quitting. David S. Goyer (writer) directed part 3, co-wrote Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy and went on to mastermind the DC movie universe, as if trying to earn the extreme hatred many comic fans had long held for him for some reason. Donnie Yen (martial arts choreographer, “Snowman”) had a huge career resurgence at home in Hong Kong, particularly with the IP MAN series, and recently finally had success in English language movies playing the best characters in ROGUE ONE and xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE. Norman Reedus (“Scud”) also became a geek icon by playing Daryl on The Walking Dead, as did Ron Perlman (“Reinhardt”) by reteaming with del Toro to play Hellboy in two live action films and two animated (plus starring in many seasons of Sons of Anarchy). Luke Goss (“Jared Nomak”) was a former pop star from the boy band Bros who had been in a few movies. This breakthrough role led to playing the elf equivalent of Nomak in del Toro’s HELLBOY 2 and eventually being a frequent face of DTV, including starring as Frankenstein in DEATH RACE 2 and 3. Matt Schulze (“Chupa”) – okay, he didn’t become a big thing, but to me he’s an icon because he’s the villain in Seagal’s OUT OF REACH and Vince in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS and FAST FIVE.
Maybe more notably than any of this, the techniques del Toro pioneered to combine live action stunts with animated doubles for super-powered fights and camera moves evolved into the modern style of comic book action (and blockbusters in general). His smart ways of adding digital effects to practical ones have also been influential. Getting a genuine visionary to do the sequel to a movie like BLADE is one of those things you always wish for as a movie fan but shouldn’t hold your breath for. This time you could’ve, though. It happened. (read the rest of this shit…)
It’s weird how long I’ve been anticipating xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE. I didn’t actually like the first one very much other than the lovably ridiculous first chunk before the actual mission starts. The second one starring Ice Cube is a fairly enjoyable B movie, but doesn’t live up to part 1 director Rob Cohen’s talk before he and Diesel left. He really sparked my imagination in the interview where he said one of the scripts he was developing “takes place in Washington DC, where, I think, our most colorful character will go up against all the grey men. I can see him mountain-biking on the top of the Capitol Dome, where in a domestic context, as opposed to an exotic context, he gets to shake up old George Bush and all that he represents.”
Nevertheless, ever since Diesel announced his intention to star in a xXx part 3 ten years ago (!) I’ve been anxiously awaiting it. And that optimism, though unearned, wasn’t wrong. RETURN OF XANDER CAGE (no “THE” for some reason) is just the stupid movie I always wanted out of this series. (read the rest of this shit…)
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