Ip Man 3′s Iron Mike Tyson joins ‘Kickboxer: Retaliation’

"Kickboxer: Retaliation" Teaser Poster

"Kickboxer: Retaliation" Teaser Poster

In Kickboxer: Retaliation, the follow up to the soon-to-be released Kickboxer: Vengeance, Alain Moussi is reprising his role as Kurt Sloane. This time around, the kickboxing hero is up against a syndicate of ruthless criminals.

Professional strongman competitor, Hafthor Julius Björnsson (Game of Thrones), will be playing the film’s main villain. Other stars include UFC’s Paige VanZant. Additionally, Jean-Claude Van Damme (Double TeamPound of Flesh), who appears in Kickboxer: Vengeance, is rumored to have a cameo in Kickboxer: Retaliation.

For Kickboxer: Retaliation, Dimitri Logothetis (who directed Moussi in the unreleased Wings of the Dragon) is taking over the director’s chair for John Stockwell (In the Blood). It should be noted that Logothetis is no stranger to the series, since he served as both writer and producer for Kickboxer: Vengeance.

Updates: According to Variety, former world champion boxer Mike Tyson (Ip Man 3) has joined Kickboxer: Retaliation. Tyson will portray a convict forced into a world of fighting behind bars.

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The ‘American Ninja’ saga finally hits Blu-ray in August

American Ninja 1-4 | Blu-ray & DVD (Olive Films)

Ready for an American Ninja overdose? On August 16, 2016, Olive Films will be releasing 1985′s American Ninja, 1987′s American Ninja 2: The Confrontation, 1989′s American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt and 1990′s American Ninja 4: The Annihilation on Blu-ray and DVD.

Join Michael Dudikoff (Avenging Force), David Bradley (American Samurai) and Steve James (The Delta Force) as they take on an army of evil ninja and other baddies in this popular action/martial arts series made famous by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus’s Cannon Films company.

Here’s a glimpse of each title’s special features:

American Ninja (pre-order)

  • Audio Commentary with director Sam Firstenberg
  • “A Rumble in The Jungle” – The Making of American Ninja: Featuring interviews with director Sam Firstenberg, actors Michael Dudikoff and Judie Aronson, Screenwriter Paul De Mielche and Stunt Co-ordinator Steve Lambert
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Optional English SDH subtitles

American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (pre-order)

  • Audio Commentary with director Sam Firstenberg
  • “An American Ninja in Cape Town” – The Making of American Ninja 2: Featuring interviews with Director Sam Firstenberg, actors Michael Dudikoff and Gary Conway, Executive Producer Avi Lerner and Stunt Co-ordinator BJ Davis
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Optional English SDH subtitles

American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (pre-order)

  • “Strike Me Deadly” – The making of American Ninja 3: Featuring interviews with Director Cedric Sundstrom, Executive Producer Avi Lerner, and actor Gary Conway
  • David Bradley Audition Tape
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Optional English SDH subtitles

American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (pre-order)

  • “Last Tango in Lesotho” – The making of American Ninja 4: Featuring interviews with Director Cedric Sundstrom, Executive Producer Avi Lerner, and actor Michael Dudikoff
  • “The Cobra Strikes” Music Video
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Optional English SDH subtitles

*In case you’re wondering, American Ninja 5 is not part of this release wave.

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Martial Arts Master Wong Fei Hung (1992) Review

"Martial Arts Master Wong Fei Hung" VHS Cover

"Martial Arts Master Wong Fei Hung" VHS Cover

AKA: Great Hero from China
Director: Lee Chiu
Producer: Cheung Sin-Gung
Cast: Chin Kar Lok, Lam Ching Ying, Jacqueline Ng Suet Man, Suen Kwok Ming, Kwan Hoi San, Chan Siu Pang
Running Time: 93 min.

By Paul Bramhall

The name of Chin Kar Lok should be one that needs no introduction to anyone who considers themselves a fan of Hong Kong action cinema. The current president of the Hong Kong Stuntman Association and respected action director, back in the golden era of HK action cinema that was the 1980’s, Kar Lok was one the most fearless stuntmen working in the industry. As a member of Sammo Hung’s Stuntman Association, chances are if you were watching a Jackie or Sammo movie and saw a thug go crashing out of a third floor window / get mowed down by a speeding car / take a painful looking fall on the receiving end of a kick or punch, it would be Kar Lok.

As well as the stunt work, his physical dexterity saw him doubling for moves that even someone like Jackie Chan couldn’t pull off. In Dragons Forever, both the head over heels kick performed on the steps of the boat, and the finishing 360 helicopter kick to Benny ‘The Jet’ Urquidez are performed by Kar Lok, a fact that once known becomes blatantly apparent upon watching. So understandably, by the beginning of the 90’s, while Kar Lok’s older brother Chin Siu Ho was already an established leading man in the kung fu movie world, the decision was made to also thrust the younger Chin sibling into starring status.

Kar Lok’s most well remembered leading role remains as the hero in Operation Scorpio, were he famously took on Korean super kicker Won Jin using the unorthodox method of eel kung fu. Outside of Operation Scorpio though, he must also be the only actor to have played three legendary characters in the space of 4 short years – in 1991 he assumed the mantle of Wisely in Bury Me High, then a year later he stepped into the shoes of Wong Fei Hung in Martial Arts Master Wong Fei Hung, before donning the mask of Kato in 1994’s The Green Hornet. Out of the three productions, I always found his take on Wong Fei Hung to be the most curious.

Released the same year as Once Upon a Time in China II, whoever made the decision to go up against Jet Li’s take on the historical figure most likely never worked again. That’s not to say that Martial Arts Master Wong Fei Hung doesn’t come with its own pedigree of talent.  Once Upon a Time in China II may have had Donnie Yen as the villain (all be it before Donnie Yen became ‘Donnie Yen!’), but Kar Lok had a foe in the form of kung fu cinema legend Lam Ching Ying. Made just a couple of years before his untimely death, Ching Ying was well known for wanting to get away from the Mr. Vampire styled Taoist priest roles that he’d found himself typecast in, since taking the lead in the 1985 seminal classic.

Here he plays a wandering Japanese samurai, who’s only wish is to take on the most famous Chinese martial artists in order to prove that he’s the best. Indeed in many ways his character is reminiscent of Frankie Chan’s role in The Prodigal Son, however his musings feel straight out of a Chor Yuen directed Shaw Brothers wuxia, as he dwells on how it’s lonely at the top, and that whoever eventually beats him will be destined to the same loneliness. Deep stuff, however beyond his words he’s very much a 2-dimensional antagonist, one who arrives on the scene via landing on top of a flying coffin and announcing that he wants to challenge Fei Hung’s father. If nothing else, it’s certainly an arrival that serves as a reminder that we’re watching an early 90’s new wave movie.

The pairing of Kar Lok and Ching Ying must have worked well together, as it would be Ching Ying who’d step into the director’s chair for The Green Hornet, giving the lead role to Kar Lok. Beyond having two of the most physically gifted martial artists in the same movie though, much of Martial Arts Master Wong Fei Hung falls flat. It would be easy to blame it on the patchy storyline, one that fails to really build any significant threat or serious villain to propel it forward. There are times when you can almost imagine director Lee Chiu, the man behind such old school efforts as Crippled Kung Fu Boxer and Kung Fu from Beyond the Grave, trying to figure out which way to take the plot.

A perfect example is the fact that Ching Ying actually turns out to be an honourable opponent, however when he first bursts onto the screen he ends up driving a spear through one of Fei Hung’s classmates chest, sending him to his death. It’s a scene which screams your usual Japanese villain, however it turns out that the killing is literally only there as a plot device, so that Fei Hung has an excuse to fight him in the finale. Despite these strained moments, Kar Lok’s budding relationship with Ching Ying’s sister, played by Ng Suet Man, is charming enough, and pre-dates the same Chinese-Japanese romantic relationship theme that would be used in Fist of Legend by a couple of years.

As I mentioned, it would be easy to blame the movie falling short of being a complete success on the ropey storytelling, however that’s really only half the story. The other half is Kar Lok himself. From the mid-90’s his lack of leading roles becomes glaringly conspicuous, as he fell back into supporting parts and TV work, and the reason why becomes immediately apparent whenever watching one of his movies. He has amazing physical talents, but what he doesn’t have is any real charisma or screen presence. The truth is that, whenever he’s onscreen for more than a couple of minutes with no action to perform, things get boring and dull very fast. The same spark that he has whenever his fist or feet are called into action, just wasn’t there when it came to acting, which is essential if you want to carry a whole movie on your shoulders.

Martial Arts Master Wong Fei Hung suffers from this issue like his other movies do, and it’s perhaps telling that for some scenes he disappears all together, instead having the focus turned to inconsequential supporting characters, ones that at least have some energy and character to them. That being said though, the moment Kar Lok does spring into action, your eyes are immediately glued to the screen. The fight choreography here was done by Lau Kar Leung regular Hsaio Hou, and Deadful Melody director Ng Min Kan. Expectedly, the pairing results in a perfect combination of old school meets new wave action. There’s occasional use of wirework, both for jumps and power hits, sending the recipients flying into breakable walls and tables with a satisfying level of impact. However there’s also plenty of grounded action, featuring some fantastic kicking and hand to hand exchanges, thanks not only to Kar Lok, but also the likes of co-stars Suen Kwok Ming and Kong Miu Deng.

While Kar Lok gets to let loose on several occasions during the runtime, I was left with the impression that Ching Ying was somewhat underused. He does get a few fight scenes, however his role as a samurai has all of his fights being performed katana in hand, so we never get to see any of that blistering Wing Chun handwork that was witnessed in the likes of The Prodigal Son. His fights also rely on wirework more than others, and I was unable to decide if the reason why his character is wearing a wide straw hat is because he was being doubled in some shots. That being said, if you can put aside your memory of knowing what Ching Ying is capable of, his character is still an entertaining one, and fans of new wave action will definitely have little to complain about.

The promise of a Chin Kar Lok versus Lam Ching Ying match-up in a period kung-fu movie is of course the reason most fans will be checking out Martial Arts Master Wong Fei Hung, and the said match-up is indeed delivered. It pits an umbrella wielding Kar Lok against Ching Ying armed with a katana, in the confines of a relatively cramped barn (most likely inspired by the Jet Li versus Yen Shi Kwan fight in Once Upon a Time in China, only minus the ladders), and again the choreography goes for a mix of both grounded exchanges and high flying clashes. Surprisingly, the most effective part of the fight is the music. We learn earlier on that Ching Ying trains to the rhythm of his sisters flute playing, and in the finale, as she’s left to watch on as her potential suitor and brother battle each other, she begins to play a melancholy tune. The intensity of the choreography, set to the sombre flute playing, elevated the scene to carry a certain level of feeling and emotion, despite it being admittedly undeserved.

All things considered, Martial Arts Master Wong Fei Hung is a difficult movie to rate. It has plenty of kung fu action, and it’s of a high quality, but it may not be the type of kung fu action audiences are expecting, and in a way that kind of summarises the whole movie. It delivers on what you’re expecting, most likely it just doesn’t deliver how you were expecting it. For those willing to look past Chin Kar Lok’s flat performance, and an occasionally nonsensical plot, then it could well be worth a look, but one thing it definitely isn’t, is Once Upon a Time in China II.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 5.5/10

Notes: (i) It’s probably a fair warning to mention that for those who don’t enjoy animal cruelty, the final fight in the barn involves a couple of pigeons being caught in the crossfire of Lam Ching Ying’s blade, although it’s nothing on the scale of the chickens in the finale of Outlaw Brothers.

(ii) I watched the Dragon DVD version of the movie, a sub-label of the now defunct UK based Soulblade distributors, and on the DVD cover it states ‘A FILM BY JANG LEE HWANG’. As in Hwang Jang Lee – so just to confirm – everyone’s favorite Korean boot master had nothing to do with Martial Arts Master Wong Fei Hung.

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Donnie Yen to return for a 4th ‘Ip Man’ film?

"Ip Man 3" Chinese Teaser Poster

"Ip Man 3" Chinese Teaser Poster

Despite publicly stating that Ip Man 3 was his last Ip Man film, martial arts superstar Donnie Yen (Ip Man 3, Kung Fu Jungle) isn’t ruling out the idea of revisiting the Ip Man character for a fourth time.

In a recent round table discussion (read it here) by our very own Zach Nix, here’s what Donnie had to say: “There’s a potential for a fourth… I don’t know. So far, in Asia, we have broken a lot of records. Never say never.”

Additionally, Donnie vaguely hinted that he may be working on a sequel to his 2007 hit, Flash Point as well. “Yes. I will be producing Flash Point 2,” Yen told MAAC. We assume that he’ll be in front of the camera as well – at least we hope so.

Updates: Looks like a Ip Man 4 may happen. At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, a promotional poster for Ip Man 4 was unveiled. According to Pegasus Motion Pictures’ booth (via NA/DiP), Ip Man 4 is at early conceptual stages and “not to the extent of the script and given actor,” which means that Donnie Yen is not officially tied to the 4th Ip Man film – at least not yet. The article also suggests that Wilson Yip and Raymond Wong – director and producer of the series, respectively – are soon to be in talks for Ip Man 4.

In case you missed it, be sure to read about Max Zhang’s unofficial Ip Man 3 spin-off, which is currently in-development.

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Jackie Chan to visit the sci-fi genre in ‘Bleeding Steel’

"Police Story 4: First Strike" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Police Story 4: First Strike" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Remember when we told you to ignore those early reports of Jackie Chan retiring? Well, here ya go… In addition to Jackie’s recently announced team up flick (VIY 2) with Jason Statham, the martial arts superstar has another project in the works, a sci-fi film, titled Bleeding Steel.

Mike Leeder and Impact reports: “Chan is returning to his former adopted homeland of Australia (which served as the backdrop for Mr.Nice Guy and First Strike) for the sci-fi movie Bleeding Steel, which will shoot in China and Australia over the next six months or so. The action sequences for the film are being coordinated by Jackie protege Max Huang (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Dragon Blade).”

Stay tuned for more information regarding Bleeding Steel.

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Jackie Chan and Jason Statham team up for ‘VIY 2′

"Dragon Blade" Japanese DVD Cover

"Dragon Blade" Japanese DVD Cover

Jackie Chan (Dragon Blade) won’t be joining The Expendables any time soon, but here’s the next best news: he’ll be teaming up with Jason Statham (Blitz) for a long-rumored, period project titled VIY 2, a sequel to 2014′s VIY.

Mike Leeder and Impact reports: “We’ve been aware of this project for some time, but the first official news is just being released for the big budget production VIY 2, which will shoot in Russia and China, and feature fight and stunt sequences choreographed by Jackie and his team. If that’s not good enough news for you, the project stars both Jackie and Jason Statham which should be a major draw for action fans.”

No director or additional castings details are available, but we’ll keep you in the loop as we hear more!

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New poster for ‘Headshot’ loses a chunk of Iko Uwais head

"Headshot" Teaser Poster

"Headshot" Teaser Poster

The Mo Brothers, the filmmaking duo separately known as Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel, are teaming up with The Raid’s Iko Uwais for an action film titled Headshot. Starring alongside Uwais will be fellow Indonesian actresses Chelsea Elizabeth Islan (Refrain) and Julie Estelle (“Hammer Girl” from Raid 2), as well as Sunny Pang (The Collector).

According to Deadline, Headshot focuses on an amnesiac (Uwais) who, Bourne Identity-style, washes ashore with a serious and mysterious head injury. Shortly after being nursed back to health by a young doctor (Islan), his past comes back to haunt him.

If you’re familiar with The Mo Brothers’ work – such as the thrillers Macabre and Killers – expect a serious amount of bloodletting and hardcore violence. Of course, topping it off with Uwais’ fluid martial arts skill, one can only imagine the film’s insane outcome. After all, it is called Headshot.

Other Uwais films in the works include Gareth Evans’ Blister, Peter Berg’s Mile 22 and the upcoming sci-fi film, Beyond Skyline, a sequel to 2010’s Skyline.

Headshot is currently in production – look for it in 2016! Until then, here’s a collection of character posters, as well as the first official still.

Updates: Here’s a glimpse of the film’s newest poster! (via Paul Bramhall).

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Shepherd, The: Border Patrol (2008) Review‏

"The Shepherd: Border Patrol" Japanese DVD Cover

"The Shepherd: Border Patrol" Japanese DVD Cover

Director: Isaac Florentine
Writer: Joe Gayton, Cade Courtley
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Stephen Lord, Natalie J. Robb, Gary McDonald, Daniel Perrone, Scott Adkins, Andrée Bernard, Dan Davies, Miles Anderson, Luis Algar
Running Time: 95 min.

By Kyle Warner

Who needs a giant wall that costs upwards of $18 billion when you could just hire JCVD to man the border between the US and Mexico? Hey folks, that was me trying to make an eight year old film seem topical in a crazy election year. It’s a reach (but only just a bit) to try to make the film feel relevant to the conversations happening today (and, for that matter, relevant to the discussions we’ve been having over the past couple decades). For while The Shepherd: Border Patrol is an action movie dealing with drug smugglers at war with Border Patrol on the US/Mexico border, it manages to say as little as possible about the desperate illegal immigrants or the failing War on Drugs. It’s an action movie starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as a bunny-toting badass sorting out justice on the border—no more, and a little bit less.

Quiet guy Jack Robideux (Van Damme) arrives in a small New Mexico town carrying a rabbit. He’s not in town for more than a day before he’s breaking limbs in a bar fight and getting chewed out by his Border Patrol boss for being a loose cannon. If that sounds like the setup to an awesome action comedy to you, you’re not alone. Alas, the film flirts with comedy from time to time, but it’s clear that the script and the performers aren’t up to the job as most attempts at humor fall flat on their face. Robideux joins the Border Patrol agents at a time when they’re feeling outmatched against a new influx of drug shipments and violent action from across the border. But this isn’t just any cartel they’re dealing with. A group of ex-Army Special Forces has joined together with a Mexican drug cartel, bringing with them dangerous military tactics and a few lessons learned from the terrorists they previously fought in Afghanistan. Though most Border Patrol agents are more than willing to accept a payoff if it means avoiding conflict with ex-Special Forces, Jack Robideux is a standup guy that never backs down from a fight.

In the early goings, the Special Forces guys strap explosive C4 vests to the coyotes smuggling drugs and illegals across the border. The concept is both disturbing and also really effective. If the Border Patrol knows that the guys they’re trying to tackle to the ground are strapped to a bomb, maybe they’ll turn a blind eye. The tactic works… and then it’s immediately abandoned as the Special Forces go into their next phase, which includes turning a bus into a heavily armed mobile fortress. They cruise this thing across the border and end up in a firefight with Robideux, which sets off a series of violent shootouts as the fight heads back to Mexico.

The film features plenty of strong action sequences, mixing shoot ’em up gunplay with well-choreographed hand-to-hand martial arts. Van Damme’s fight scenes in The Shepherd are some of the best you’ll see from him in recent years. The big fight comes at the end when he must square off against Scott Adkins (Wolf Warrior), which allows both stars to pull off some good moves. The action of The Shepherd showcases brutal realism, sometimes bordering on becoming unsettling as we watch helpless innocents get gunned down in the crossfire between heroes and villains. The film is directed by Isaac Florentine (Close Range) and was made as the filmmaker was transitioning from low-budget action movies nobody talked about to the low-budget action movies that seemingly everybody talked about. Florentine’s done far superior work as a director in other films but there are a few flashes of style here that I enjoyed. He employs extreme close-ups and makes good use of every corner of the screen, reminding one of Sergio Leone’s trademark style at times, which fits the film’s Western themes. Florentine also uses zooms here more than most directors today would, which lends it the look of a 1970’s action film.

The story is a bit of a mess, though. Why did the Special Forces soldiers turn their backs on their country and become drug smugglers? Well, it’s a little vague, but I think they were upset that they weren’t celebrated as heroes for their time in Afghanistan… which seems like an unconvincing rallying cry, especially if that’s all it took to convince multiple men to join the cartel, fight the law, and kill civilians. Jack Robideux’s motivations make more sense, even if it’s drawn-out and doesn’t fully excuse Van Damme’s overly somber performance. Turns out his daughter (played by Bianca Brigitte Van Damme) overdosed on drugs, which made the narcos Robideux’s personal nemesis. For his character, this isn’t about saving America from drugs and violence, it’s about striking out at the smugglers—any smugglers—and getting some sweet revenge. There are other inexplicable character moments. Later on, the villains kill a civilian who meant something to Robideux’s boss. When Robideux offers his condolences, we are treated to a flashback to remind us of who he’s talking about—it’s actually a smart move, because the character seemed like little more than a glorified extra before his death, and so we didn’t know we were supposed to care that he died. It’s the sort of addition that feels like a last minute rewrite to add more drama, but they forgot to add that drama earlier on so they just threw it all on the tail end of the story.

There’s some entertainment to be had watching The Shepherd, though it doesn’t make up for the rest of the time when the film is dead on its feet thanks to poor writing and lame acting. A repeated joke has someone spilling coffee on Van Damme’s uniform. In the second instance, everyone’s laughing while he grumbles and walks off to change. That’s comedy! The Special Forces bad guys complain about America not appreciating their sacrifices, while they kill Americans. That’s… I’m not sure what that is. Irony? Credited to Hell on Wheels co-creator Joe Gayton and former Navy SEAL Cade Courtley (his only screenwriting credit to this point), the screenplay is a rambling, tone-deaf sideshow to the complex border situation. If there’s anything it’s actually trying to say about the War on Drugs or the US/Mexico border, the message is lost underneath the stupid tough guy dialogue, caricatures of slimy politicians, and set pieces that test your suspension of disbelief.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 5/10

Posted in All, Asian Related, News, Reviews | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Corpse Party | DVD (Section 23)

"Corpse Party" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Corpse Party" Japanese Theatrical Poster

RELEASE DATE: September 27, 2016

Section 23 presents the DVD for Masafumi Yamada’s Corpse Party, a live action movie adaptation of a survival horror video game series originally created by Makoto Kedoin and developed by Team GrisGris.

On the last day of a high school festival, students are locked up at Tenjin Elementary School, where a horrific murder once took place.

Corpse Party stars Rina Ikoma, Ryousuke Ikeoka, Nozomi Maeda, Jun, Yoko Kita, Reina Visa, Ryotaro, and Ayu Matura. | Trailer.

Pre-order Corpse Party from Amazon.com today.

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases | Leave a comment

The Return of Godzilla | aka Godzilla 1984 | Blu-ray (Kraken)

The Return of Godzilla | aka Godzilla 1984 | Blu-ray (Kraken)

The Return of Godzilla | aka Godzilla 1984 | Blu-ray (Kraken)

RELEASE DATE: September 13, 2016

Kraken presents the Blu-ray for Koji Hashimoto’s The Return of Godzilla (aka Godzilla 1984). The film was also released in the U.S. as Godzilla 1985, which was heavily edited and spliced with different footage for the American market. Please note that this release will be the original, uncut version of The Return of Godzilla.

The Return of Godzilla stars Keiju Kobayashi (Sanjuro), Ken Tankaka (20th Century Boys: Chapter 1: The Beginning of the End), Yasuo Sawaguchi (Spirited Away), Shin Takuma (The 8-Tomb Village) and Yosuke Natsuki (Shogun). | Trailer.

Pre-order The Return of Godzilla from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases | 1 Comment

Coin Locker Girl | aka Chinatown (2014) Review

"Coin Locker Girl" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Coin Locker Girl" Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Han Jun-Hee
Writer: Han Jun-Hee
Cast: Kim Hye-Soo, Kim Go-Eun, Um Tae-Goo, Park Bo-Gum, Ko Gyung-Pyo, Lee Soo-Kyung, Cho Hyun-Chul, Jo Bok-Rae, Lee Dae-Yeon, Jung Suk-Yong, Baek Soo-Jang
Running Time: 110 min.

By Paul Bramhall

As anyone who’s seen any number of Korean gangster movies will know, rarely are they complete without a scene in a basement carpark, a setting which never fails to lend itself to knife wielding figures of the underworld partaking in varying degrees of bloodshed. To that end, Coin Locker Girl jumps straight into the thick of things, as proceedings open with a character already sprawled on the floor of a basement carpark, a knife wielding assailant standing over them as blood drips off the freshly used blade. Had it been any other gangster movie, the scene would probably come across as remarkably familiar, however what sets this scene apart from those that have gone before it, is that both characters are women.

The women in question are played by an almost unrecognizable Kim Hye-soo, and newcomer on the block Kim Go-eun. Hye-soo, known for her roles in the likes of Kick the Moon, and Choi Dong-hoon’s Tazza: The High Rollers and The Thieves, here has her beauty hidden under some very effective aged make-up, a shock of grey hair, and some frumpy body padding. Go-eun on the other hand effectively portrays a young adult, one whose life has been moulded and controlled by influences that are only looking out for their own interests. After being severely miscast in Memories of the Sword, made the same year, her role here shows the same level of talent that initially brought her to the attention of critics and audiences alike, in 2012’s A Muse.

The opening scene with the pair is a refreshing sight in a genre that’s overcrowded with masculinity, and is no doubt thanks to first time director Han Jun-hee, here working from her own script. The female leads aren’t the only aspect of Coin Locker Girl that gives it a distinct feel of its own. As the Korean title suggests, the setting is in Incheon’s small cluster of streets that make up what became Korea’s first Chinatown. With so many Korean movies limited to taking place either in Seoul, or in one of the provincial small towns, it makes for a welcome change to be immersed in the distinctly different streets of Chinatown. It’s immediately noticeable that the buildings have both Chinese language signage as well as Korean, and the gritty dockside location and gloomy whether set up a suitably brooding atmosphere.

The plot of Coin Locker Girl focuses on the tale of a new born baby discovered in a train station coin locker by a homeless man. Seven years later, during a routine clear up of the many homeless people residing in the station, a heavily in debt corrupt detective notices the young child amongst the sea of down and out faces, and makes the decision to sell her off to the loan shark (Hye-soo) he’s indebted to. Fast forward a decade, and the girl (Go-eun) has become part of the loan sharks ‘family’, having become suitably effective at debt collecting. However when one of the debtors she’s sent after turns out to be a kind hearted young man, saddled with his father’s debts who’s escaped to the Philippines, she finds herself unable to go through with the grim ending that most who can’t pay up meet with. When her adopted mother gets wind of the indiscretion, it sets off a trail of bloody violence and revenge.

On paper, the synopsis for Coin Locker Girl may sound like a female take of Kim Jee-woon’s seminal classic A Bittersweet Life, however this would be to dismiss Jun-hee’s debut too easily. While the similarities are undeniably there, A Bittersweet Life cast its focus mainly through the unspoken feelings between Lee Byung-hun’s enforcer and Sin Min-ah’s gangsters moll, while Coin Locker Girl chooses to focus on the dynamics of the relationship between Go-eun and Hye-soo. There’s a running theme throughout Coin Locker Girl, which has Hye-soo bringing up which of her ‘family’ members are still useful, and which have become useless. Initially, Go-eun’s only real goal in life seems to be to remain useful to her adopted Mum, however as the plot progresses, the dynamic is interestingly switched, until it gets to a point were Hye-soo directs her own question at herself.

The journey that Coin Locker Girl takes us on, while never anything less than engaging, is a decidedly dark and grim one. At the end of 110 minutes, there’s not many people left breathing, and many of them have met decidedly painful deaths. The relentlessly dark tone will definitely not appeal to everyone, and Jun-hee’s decision to play things poker faced throughout make some of the events that unfold an unforgiving experience for the viewer. While movies like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance tackle similar dark themes and grim scenarios, director Bong Joon-ho injected his production with some blacker than black humor, which popped up in the most unexpected scenes. Coin Locker Girl could probably have benefitted from a similar deft touch, to lighten proceedings just slightly, however for a directorial debut, this is a minor quibble.

If any aspect of Coin Locker Girl really sticks out like a sore thumb, it would have to be Park Bo-geom’s performance. The young actor plays the son of a businessman who is heavily in debt to Hye-soo, and is apparently working in the Philippines to pay it off. Hye-soo tracks down the address of Bo-geom, and sends Go-eun to collect. However instead of making a run for it, upon arriving at the apartment, he cheerfully invites her in, and is soon cooking up a pasta dish so that she can have something to eat. The intention is obviously to provide a contrast to the cold harsh world Go-eun usually resides in, next to the world of someone that genuinely cares and takes an interest in her life. In fairness to Bo-geom, his overly cheerful demeanour is not the only issue, as the script also goes a little too far. One scene has Go-eun desperately begging him to run away, but all he seems to care about is that her shoelace is undone, even going so far as to bend down and tie it. Scenes such as this only result in taking the viewer out of the movie.

Despite Bo-geom’s character more closely resembling a glowing ray of sunshine than an actual human, his role is integral to the plot, and the consequences of Go-eun’s brief insight into how life could be are both swift and brutal. Indeed in contrast to Bo-geom, Hye-soo’s character of Mom (a term which she’s referred to by everyone) is remarkably detached and cruel, so much so that it’s difficult to relate to what her intentions and motivations could be. Not only is she a loan shark, but she also dabbles in fake ID’s for Chinese immigrants, with an organ trafficking business on the side. The concept of debtors paying what they owe with their organs has been used before in Korean cinema, most notably in Kim Ki-duk’s Pieta, however here it feels particularly nasty and cruel. While we’re given vague hints at Hye-soo’s past, the script stops short of providing us with enough to connect the dots entirely, and as a result even a last act moment of redemption seems questionable against the backdrop of cruelty which has gone before it.

While the motivations of her character remain murky, both Hye-soo and Go-eun’s performances effectively embody the nature of the roles they’re playing, and as is often the case with Korean gangster flicks, the ending doesn’t back down from showing the consequences of their actions. Far from being a bloodbath in the style of A Bittersweet Life or Man in High Heels though, the expected confrontation between the pair is surprisingly low key, a risky decision, but one which perfectly works considering the context in which it’s taking place in.

Despite the familiar plot, Coin Locker Girl marks itself as an impressive debut from Han Jun-hee, thanks in no small part to the performances of its leads. It’s been a long time since there’s been a female-centric gangster movie out of Korea, with the last installment of the My Wife is a Gangster trilogy already a decade old, so many would consider it long overdue. Jun-hee is definitely a talent to keep an eye on, and no doubt fans of the gangster genre will walk away satisfied, which in a genre that’s already overcrowded, should be considered no mean feat.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7/10

Posted in All, Korean, News, Reviews | 1 Comment

Lee Jung-jae and Liam Neeson battle in ‘Operation Chromite’

"Operation Chromite" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Operation Chromite" Korean Theatrical Poster

An upcoming South Korean actioner directed by John H. Lee (71: Into the Fire) is making its way to Korean theaters on July 2016, which falls around the anniversary of the Korean War.

The film stars Lee Jung-jae (Assassination), Jin Se-yun (Enemies In-Law), Lee Beom-su (The Divine Move) and Liam Neeson (Taken), who will portray General Douglas MacArthur.

According to THR, Operation Chromite is the codename for the Battle of Incheon that took place on Sept. 15, 1950, shortly after the Korean War broke out on June 25. It was a surprise attack in which U.N. forces landed in the South Korean harbor city to drive out the North Koreans, and is recognized as a turning point for U.N.-backed South Korea against the communist North. Operation Chromite will focus on eight Korean war heroes.

Considering its star power, expect a North American release date. Until then, don’t miss the film’s trailer!

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Did Daniel Craig turn in his license to kill?

"Casino Royale" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Casino Royale" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Daniel Craig is no longer Bond. According to an LA film source, Craig is hanging up his tux and packing away his Walther PPK for good.

‘Daniel is done – pure and simple – he told top brass at MGM after Spectre. They threw huge amounts of money ($99m) at him, but it just wasn’t what he wanted,’ said the source. Another source told the Mail that ‘executives had finally agreed to let the actor go after growing tired of his criticism of the franchise.’

If this news is officially true, it’s not exactly shocking, considering Craig has openly stated that he’d rather ‘slash his wrists’ than play Bond for a fifth time.

From both a critical and financial point of view, Craig is leaving the franchise on a high note: 2012′s Skyfall has gone on to become the most successful James Bond film of all time, grossing over $1 billion worldwide. Last year’s Spectre, which drew in a lesser audience, plus mixed reviews, took in $879.2 million worldwide. Even though Spectre wasn’t a massive success, it was still a success.

The big question is: Who’ll be playing Bond? Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Damian Lewis (Homeland), James Norton (War and Peace) and Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers) remain firm favorites.

The next big question is: Who’ll direct the next Bond film? Considering Sam Mendes (Skyfall) reluctantly returned for Spectre, a new director is most likely on the radar. Endless names including Danny Boyle (28 Days Later), Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz), Christopher Nolan (Interstellar), Ava DuVernay (Selma), Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) and David Fincher (Gone Girl) have been making rounds on internet rumor sites. Martin Campbell (Goldeneye, Casino Royale) is also a favorite fans are hoping to see return to the director’s chair, but he says: “I’ve had enough of Bond. [laughs] I’ve done it twice.”

Personally, I’d still like to see Quentin Tarantino take a stab at directing a Bond movie. Not only would he do something totally out of the ordinary, he also knows how to film great pieces, as proved in films like Inglorious Basterds and Django. In fact, very few people know that Tarantino was so close – yet so far – to directing Casino Royale. In 2004, the he went public with a desire to make Casino Royale as a period piece, set in the 1960′s, filmed in black and white, with Pierce Brosnan in the lead role. After being shot down as a directorial prospect by EON, it is now revealed that Tarantino tried to secure the rights to the book himself. “It would have been my James Bond film and not a Cubby Broccoli Bond film and I would have done it with Pierce Brosnan,” said Tarantino. (via mi6-hq.com).

As for Craig: He’s wrapping up a 20-part TV series called Purity. Mirror reported that MGM was even willing to push Bond 25 back, which will allow Craig to complete the series. “Daniel leaving the franchise at this moment is something MGM cannot stomach,” a source told The Sun newspaper last February.

So, is MGM’s hunt for the a new Bond official? We’ll keep you in the loop.

Posted in News | 9 Comments

All-star actioner ‘Vigilante Diaries’ gets a release date

"Vigilante Diaries" Theatrical Poster

"Vigilante Diaries" Theatrical Poster

Anchor Bay Entertainment will release the action-comedy film Vigilante Diaries in select theaters and on iTunes on June 24, and On Demand, DVD and Blu-ray on July 5.

The film features an all-star ensemble cast led by Paul Sloan (I Am Wrath), UFC’s Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (A-Team), action icon Michael Jai White (Falcon Rising), Paul Sloan (I Am Wrath), Jason Mewes (Clerks), Michael Madsen (Kill Bill), Jaqueline Lord (Mercenary for Justice), WWE star Sal ‘Chavo’ Guerrero, Jr. and James Russo (Once Upon A Time in America).

Vigilante Diaries is directed by Christian Sesma (Shoot the Hero) from a script co-written by Christian Sesma and Paul Sloan.

In the film, Mewes stars as an in-your-face filmmaker known for his web videos of an urban avenger known only as ‘The Vigilante’ (Sloan). But when The Vigilante terminates a creep with deep connections, it’ll trigger a live-feed bloodbath between the Armenian mob, Mexican cartels, a rogue team of Special Forces commandos, and an international black ops conspiracy that’s about to make things very personal.

Vigilante Diaries is based off the popular web series on Chill.com that ran from 2013-2014. The show was driven by fans, in a unique episodic-funding model, where the money spent by viewers to view the first two episodes, would go towards funding subsequent episodes.

Don’t miss the trailer for Vigilante Diaries.

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Shanghai (2010) Review

"Shanghai" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Shanghai" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Mikael Håfström
Writer: Hossein Amini
Cast: John Cusack, Chow Yun-fat, Gong Li, Ken Watanabe, Rinko Kikuchi, David Morse, Franka Potente, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Hugh Bonneville, Benedict Wong
Running Time: 105 min.

By Kyle Warner

Once upon a time, Shanghai had a considerable amount of buzz surrounding it, with some dreaming up award talk considering its stellar cast of international talent, and others more realistically just hoping for a cool WWII-period thriller. If that seems like a long time ago, that’s because it was. Shanghai took some years to get made and then took just about as long to arrive in US theatres. Despite being a US-based Weinstein Company production, Shanghai made it to international theatre screens in 2010 and was delayed and then seemingly forgotten about for domestic release. Film fans, myself included, waited and waited for the film to finally arrive. In that time, we listened for reactions from foreign audiences… and heard crickets instead. The buzz quickly died and anticipation died with it.

Unless you were paying close attention, you might’ve missed that The Weinstein Company finally gave Shanghai a US release in late 2015, unceremoniously dumping it onto 100 screens for two weeks without any noticeable attempt to promote the film. Shanghai is said to have cost fifty million dollars to make. It raked in $46,425 in domestic sales and close to ten million dollars in foreign tickets. I don’t know why it took such a frustratingly long time to make it to the US, other than to say that the Weinsteins have a history of doing similar things. Was it worth the wait? Sadly, no, but I think we had a strong feeling that it wouldn’t be by now. It’s not a complete failure of a film, and seeing some of the best dramatic stars of Asia square off in a Hollywood production should be fun for some fans. But Shanghai can’t escape the feeling that it’s not half the film it should’ve or could’ve been.

In the final weeks leading up to Pearl Harbor, Shanghai was one of the last major Chinese cities not under Japanese control. At that point, America was not directly involved in the fight in the Pacific, so Americans in Shanghai found themselves in the difficult position of acting neutral to both sides. Spy Paul Soames (John Cusack) arrives in the city looking to unravel the mystery of a murdered friend and colleague (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and a missing Japanese woman (an uncredited Rinko Kikuchi).

*Beware of possible spoilers in the following paragraph*

People make fun of Sean Bean for dying in almost all of his movies, but Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen) has found himself time and again playing the guy that’s killed off in his first scene, with his death sparking major plot developments going forward. It’s so strange. You want a guy to play a murdered comrade? Call up Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Here Morgan plays a spy that’s suspicious of Japan’s intentions in the Pacific. Before he can figure it all out, someone cuts his throat and the mystery then becomes John Cusack’s to solve.

*End of possible spoilers*

With an impressive backdrop of a city in chaos, Cusack meets all the dangerous players of Shanghai. Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai) plays Japan’s top spy and military advisor in the city. Chow Yun-fat (Hard Boiled) plays a Triad kingpin who reluctantly takes orders from the Japanese in order to remain in a position of power. And Gong Li (2046) plays Chow’s wife, who is secretly a high-ranking member of the Chinese Resistance. It’s a nice collection of characters, played by actors who give it their all despite some clunky narrative choices.

It has all the pieces to make for a fine film noir but it never manages the look and feel. Director Mikael Håfström (Escape Plan) worked with Cusack before on the effectively creepy Stephen King adaptation 1408. That film had no shortage of ideas but Håfström’s work in Shanghai shows a lack of any kind of coalescing style and mood, largely bungling the good work done by some of his cast and crew. The film’s a bumpy ride and it sometimes teeters on the edge of becoming a boring one.

The screenplay by Hossein Amini (Drive) has its own issues. The mystery is never as interesting as it should be. We don’t care about Jeffrey Dean Morgan, because who was he to us? Nobody. Similarly, the missing Rinko Kikuchi doesn’t inspire much intrigue, as the stakes of who finds her first is never as clear as it should be. The worst part of the screenplay is the voiceover narration spoken by John Cusack’s character. The voiceover serves to set the film noir mood and fill in the blanks between scenes but it makes for some dull storytelling.

The constant, uninterested droning of Cusack’s spy is probably meant to remind one of a Humphrey Bogart antihero. Instead it just serves as a reminder of how disinterested Cusack can make himself seem. Cusack performs a bit better onscreen than he does when we get to hear the thoughts inside his head, but I think it’s fair to say that he’s the weak link of the headlining cast. Gong Li, who’s as luminous as ever, gives us her best English-language performance as the femme fatale, Anna. Though her forbidden romance with Cusack never smolders, she does good work as the conflicted female lead of the film. Ken Watanabe, the West’s favorite Japanese actor of modern film, manages to find a way to the marrow of his rather simplistic villain. Chow Yun-fat plays the 1940′s gun-toting playboy gangster with effortless skill. Charming, funny, and cool, Chow’s the film’s MVP and Shanghai definitely could’ve used more of him.

Shanghai is not the war-time spy thriller we’d hoped for. But it’s also not the disaster that we’ve been led to believe, either. There are pieces here that work, including its international cast and strong production values that really sell the period setting. However, poor direction and uninteresting plot twists make for a rather dull affair overall. The story within Shanghai is one worth telling… it’s just not told very well.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 5/10

Posted in All, Asian Related, Chinese, News, Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Max Zhang to star in Yuen Woo-ping’s ‘Ip Man 3′ spin-off

"Ip Man 3" Character Poster

"Ip Man 3" Character Poster

Max Zhang – the rising star of The Grandmaster, S.P.L. II and Ip Man 3 – will headline an unofficial Ip Man 3 spin-off directed by legendary martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-ping (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny).

According to AFS, Zhang will reprise his role as Cheung Tin Chi from Ip Man 3. Currently, there are no details regarding plot and/or additional casting, but we’ll be sure to fill you in as news arrives.

Zhang has many other projects in the works, including The Brink and S.P.L 3: War Needs Lord. Yuen currently has Miracle Fighters and Hand Over Fist under his belt.

Stay tuned for more information.

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Fan Bingbing joins Jason Statham for the hunt in ‘Meg’

"Wild Card" Japanese DVD Cover

"Wild Card" Japanese DVD Cover

Meg, Warner Bros.’ giant prehistoric shark movie starring Jason Statham (The Transporter, Wild Card), just gained two more stars: Jon Turtletaub (Last Vegas) and Fan Bingbing (The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom).

The monster movie concerns the threat of a Megalodon, the titular Meg, who terrorizes people off of the coast of China.

Since this is a Warner Bros. production, this marks a major studio lead for Statham, who hasn’t led a major studio film in quite a while, or at least one of this stature. He recently co-starred in Furious 7, but Meg will be his highest profile-leading role for certain.

It’s not often that action stars tackle creature features either. A fairly recent example that comes to mind is Legendary, the DTV monster movie in which Scott Adkins and Dolph Lundgren tackle a giant lizard. As for Statham, I highly doubt that he will be using any martial arts moves on the monster, although he will most likely resort to his charisma and intensity, as well as some weapons training to take down the creature. Martial arts fans will naturally find themselves attracted to this project simply for Statham’s involvement.

Originally to be directed by horror auteur Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel), the film will now be directed by Jon Turtletaub (National Treasure). As Turtletaub is a much different director than Roth, I would expect Meg to adhere more closely to blockbuster adventure than creature feature horror. While it would have been neat to see Roth homage Jaws and possible Jaws rip-offs, as he is a huge fan of B-horror, Turtletaub is probably the safer bet for guiding a blockbuster to box office success.

Meg is currently aiming for a 2017 release date. Principal photography and production will begin later this year in China and New Zealand.

Stay tuned for more updates on this one.

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Deal on Fire! Red Belt | Blu-ray | Only $8.93 – Expires soon!

"Red Belt" Blu-ray Cover

"Red Belt" Blu-ray Cover

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Red Belt, directed by David Mamet (Homicide) and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave). It’s a film that City on Fire can’t recommend enough – read our review!

A fateful event leads to a job in the film business for top mixed-martial arts instructor Mike Terry (Ejiofor).

Red Belt also stars Max Martini (Pacific Rim), Alice Braga (Predators), Randy Couture (The Expendables), Rodrigo Santoro (300), Joe Mantegna, Tim Allen and a special appearance by Dan Inosanto (Game of Death).

Order Red Belt from Amazon.com today!

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Outlaw: Goro the Assassin (1968) Review

"Outlaw: Goro the Assassin" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Outlaw: Goro the Assassin" Japanese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Gangster VIP 4
Director: Keiichi Ozawa
Cast: Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Asao Koike, Jiro Okazaki, Kei Sato, Tatsuya Fuji, Shoki Fukae
Running Time: 87 min.

By Kyle Warner

The Outlaw series dabbles in many genres over the span of its six films. They’re yakuza thrillers, romantic dramas, and action movies with noirish antiheroes. Hell, director Toshio Masuda views the original Gangster VIP as a youth picture. The fourth film, Outlaw: Goro the Assassin, plays like an epic tragedy painted on a film noir’s canvas. It’s gritty and mean and hopeless, often striking out at the ones most deserving of a happy ending. It’s also the best film in the series since the first one.

In the opening, Goro and his friend take out a rival yakuza boss. His buddy is badly wounded in the fight and they’re both sent to jail. Though Goro is eventually released, his friend dies in prison and is buried in the prison cemetery because no family ever comes to claim his body. Vowing to keep his word to his friend, Goro searches for the sister who never visited her dying brother, a search that takes him far from home and into the path of the vengeful gang he’d fought those years ago.

In the search for the dead man’s sister, Goro meets many other women who are in some way impacted by the yakuza. That seems to be the theme here: the cruelty the yakuza inflict on their own men and how they hurt the women in their lives. In addition to the missing sister, there’s Chieko Matsubara’s hotel receptionist (another new character for Chieko) who is hounded by yakuza, plus a young hostess who’s viewed as an untapped “money tree” for her yakuza friend, and dozens of other women who are exploited by the yakuza and tricked into sexual slavery in the red light district.

Goro the Assassin is essentially an indictment of the yakuza and their immoral practices. These men aren’t outlaws so much as they are a cancer in human form, corrupting and/or murdering everything they touch. The victims are often innocent in this chapter, left scarred and bloody because they got too close to the yakuza world. “Why are all yakuza like this?” Goro wonders aloud at one point when the treachery becomes almost too much to bare. And at another point one of the women says something to the effect of, “All yakuza would be better off dead,” a sentiment that the film strongly suggests to be true.

It’s after watching film four where I’m forced to reanalyze the Outlaw series. Gangster VIP and Gangster VIP 2 were closely tied together but the films that followed them seem to be more like ‘episodes’ in Goro’s life. Perhaps it would be incorrect to call them prequels or sequels in the typical sense. With zero ties to the other films and a constantly reshuffling cast, every Outlaw film (with the exception of Gangster VIP 2) stands well on its own. You could watch Goro the Assassin without ever watching the three films that came before it. Same goes for Outlaw: Heartless. And I’m willing to bet the same can be said about the remaining films, Black Dagger and Kill! (But we’ll just have to wait and see.) It’s worth remembering that Outlaw is based on the written work of former yakuza Goro Fujita. This film again opens with a reminder that none of the story is based on truth and characters are all fictional, but of course we know that Goro Fujiwara was a stand-in for Goro Fujita, so fact and fiction likely blend together often in this series. I’ve never read Fujita’s books (I don’t think they’ve ever appeared in English) but I’m left to wonder if his stories were sampled from for the sequels instead of being directly adapted, thus lending to the series’ episodic nature after Gangster VIP 2.

By film four, Tetsuya Watari has settled into the role of Goro to the extent that you forget you’re watching an actor. This is the best I’ve ever seen from Watari. At first considered Nikkatsu’s new Yujiro Ishihara, Watari was now beginning to make a name for himself and step out from Ishihara’s shadow. Watching the Outlaw series, you can basically see the young leading man grow into a more formidable acting talent. Playing opposite Watari is once again Chieko Matsubara. I had some complaints about her casting in the previous film where she played an overly-familiar love interest. I have less to complain about this time around. Though I still might’ve preferred a different actress in the role, Matsubara’s new female lead at least stands out enough from the parts she’d previously played in the series. Here she’s more self-confident and less naïve about how the world works. Like Watari, Matsubara is really good here, giving us the most believable character she’s played in the series so far.

Returning to directing duties is Keiichi Ozawa, who’d previously made his directorial debut with Gangster VIP 2. In the short time since making that film, Ozawa’s apparently figured some things out and brings us a stronger directorial vision with Goro the Assassin. Though his skills filming action do not match what Toshio Masuda did with the original Outlaw film, Ozawa finds nice depth in the drama and elevates his gangster pic to a tragedy. I didn’t think much of what Ozawa did in Gangster VIP 2 but he might’ve redeemed himself with this film. From here on, the series belongs to Ozawa and I’m curious to see how he closes things out.

I thought Goro the Assassin was really solid. I’m putting it a notch below the first film, which featured better action and visual style. That being said, Outlaw: Goro the Assassin may feature some of the series’ best drama, thanks in large part to the work of the performers and a dark screenplay. A great sequel and just an all-around good film.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 7.5/10

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Scorsese, De Niro and Pacino reload for ‘The Irishman’

"Goodfellas" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Goodfellas" Japanese Theatrical Poster

After circulating to buyers for several years, Martin Scorsese’s upcoming mob picture, The Irishman, was finally picked up by the newly founded STX Studios for international rights (for an astonishing $50 million).

According to Deadline, The Irishman has been adapted for the screen by one of the best screenwriters working today — Steve Zaillian (Gangs of New York) — from the Charles Brandt book I Heard You Paint Houses, which is the deathbed story from mob hitman Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran about the disappearance and death of the former Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa.

Variety reports that The Irishman will reunite Scorsese with Robert De Niro for the first time since 1995’s Casino. It will also mark his first collaboration with Al Pacino. Joe Pesci may join the project, but the actor is not yet attached, according to sources.

We’ll keep you updated on The Irishman as we hear more.

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Jet Li is back in the first poster for ‘League of Gods’

"League of Gods" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"League of Gods" Chinese Theatrical Poster

After a 2-year hiatus, Jet Li (High Risk, The Sorcerer and the White Snake) is returning for a supernatural action epic, titled League of Gods (aka Feng Shen Bang 3D). The upcoming film – directed by both Koan Hui (Snow Blossom) and newcomer, Vernie Yeung – will be based on the 16th-century Chinese novel by Xu Zhonglin titled Investiture of Gods.

Also starring in League of Gods is Louis Koo (Flash Point), Huang Xiaoming (Ip Man 2), AngelaBaby (Mojin: The Lost Legend), Tony Leung Ka-Fai (A Better Tomorrow III), Fan Bingbing (The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom), Wen Zhang (The Mermaid) and Jacky Heung (From Vegas to Macau III).

Cecilia Cheung (Legendary Amazons) was previously attached (some of her scenes were actually filmed), but was ultimately replaced by Zhang, due to reported “out-of-control behavior on set.” Shu Qi (The Assassin) was also attached to the film, but dropped out for unknown reasons. | First teaser trailer.

Updates: Here’s the first poster for League of Gods.

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Cityonfire.com’s ‘Kill Zone 2′ Giveaway

"Kill Zone 2" Theatrical Poster

"Kill Zone 2" Theatrical Poster

Cityonfire.com and Well Go USA are giving away Kill Zone 2 related prizes, which consists of a collector’s Kill Zone 2 book and the movie itself!

Three Winners will receive an exclusive Kill Zone 2 book (see photo). This hardcover, spiral-bound, 40+ page promotional book (with its original name, SPL II: A Time for Consequences), featuring directors’ statement, cast and crew bio, and exclusive concept art and photographs not included in the film. In addition to the book, the winners will also receive an iTunes code to download Kill Zone 2.

Two Winners will receive an iTunes code to download Kill Zone 2 (which means you’ll be seeing it ahead of its Blu-ray/DVD release date!)

To enter, simply add a comment to this post and describe, in your own words, this video.

Kill Zone 2 will be hitting theaters on May 13th, followed by a Blu-ray & DVD release, which will hit retail outlets on July 19, 2016 (pre-order from Amazon.com).

CONTEST DISCLAIMER: You must enter by May 20, 2016 to qualify. U.S. residents only please. We sincerely apologize to our non-U.S. visitors. Winners must respond with their mailing address within 48 hours, otherwise you will automatically be disqualified. No exceptions. Contest is subject to change without notice.

WINNERS: Tomas F., Andrew H., and David will receive the book and iTunes code. 31FilmTalk and Matt will receive iTunes code.

Posted in News | Tagged | 31 Comments

New poster for Steven Seagal’s actioner ‘Perfect Weapon’

"Perfect Weapon" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Perfect Weapon" Japanese Theatrical Poster

A Steven Seagal actioner titled The Perfect Weapon will be released later this year. Despite its name, this upcoming movie has no connection with 1991′s The Perfect Weapon, which starred Jeff Speakman.

The first trailer for The Perfect Weapon hints an influence from both Universal Soldier and Hitman: Agent 47. Even though the words “Steven Seagal” headline the film’s marketing materials, the Above the Law star appears to have more of a co-starring role – as the film’s villain – second to Johnny Messner (Kill ‘Em All).

Perfect Weapon is directed by Titus Paar (The Refugees) and produced by Andre Relis (War Pigs) and Rafael Primorac (Wesley Snipes’ Game of Death).

The film also stars Sasha Jackson (Jarhead 3), Richard Tyson (Simon Says), Vernon Wells (Commando), Kimberly Battista (Hot Summer Nights) and Lance E. Nichols (13 Sins).

Official Plot: In a not too distant future, a totalitarian state run by ‘The Director” (Seagal) controls all aspects of life. All enemies of the state are dealt in the harshest way. Most of them are executed by the secret government’s assassins. The best operative is code-named “Condor” (Messner) – an elite agent and hit man for the government. However, in his latest assignment, “Condor” fails to kill an opposition leader, and finds himself on the run from the very same government agency that he works for. This sets in motion a chain of events with unforseen consequences for all involved. But “Condor” just might survive the hunt because he is… The Perfect Weapon.

Perfect Weapon is just one project in a list of upcoming titles with Seagal’s name attached. Others include Contract to KillCode of Honor, Under Siege 3, CypherThe Asian ConnectionEnd of a Gun, Killing Salazar, Four Towers, China Salesman., as well as Seagal’s next directorial feature, Attrition.

A release date for Perfect Weapon is still pending. Stay tuned.

Updates: Check out the film’s new Japanese poster.

Posted in News | 2 Comments

Clones of Bruce Lee, The (1980) Review

"The Clones of Bruce Lee" Theatrical Poster

"The Clones of Bruce Lee" Theatrical Poster

AKA: Death Penalty on Three Robots
Director: Joseph Kong
Producer: Dick Randall, Chang Tsung Lung
Cast: Dragon Lee, Bruce Le, Bruce Lai, Bruce Thai, Jon Benn, Bolo Yeung, Alexander Grand, Kong Do, Cheng Kei-Ying, San Kuai, Steve Mak Fei-Hung, Tam Bo
Running Time: 90 min.

By Paul Bramhall

I have a confession, and I’ll admit that it’s one that won’t be popular. Not only am I a Bruceploitaiton fan, but I usually find the Bruce Lee clone movies to be more entertaining than the Little Dragon’s own output. While I respect the man and his martial arts, who doesn’t, if you were to make me choose, then I’d say give me Dragon Lee vs. Casanova Wong in Enter the Invincible Hero, give me Bruce Le vs Hwang Jang Lee in Bruce Strikes Back, or give me Bruce Li vs Philip Ko Fei in The Gold Connection. For me all these movies serve up more entertainment and repeated viewing value than Bruce Lee’s tragically short filmography, but who knows, there could be some Bruce fans out there who disagree.

It’s fair to say that the number of ‘Bruceploitation’ movies, as the genre fondly came to be referred as, could well reach into triple figures, as almost every country in Asia spawned its very own Bruce Lee-alike. From Hong Kong, to Korea, to Thailand, to the Philippines… in the late 70’s and early 80’s productions trying to cash in on Bruce Lee’s popularity, with actors that vaguely resembled him, were everywhere. In that respect, it’s really a numbers game, if you have 100 movies but only 10% of them are worth a watch, that’s still double the amount of productions Bruce Lee starred in, so it’s important to keep things in perspective.

Despite my fondness for the genre, one of its most infamous entries had eluded my viewing for many years, the notoriously titled The Clones of Bruce Lee. I’m not sure why it managed to escape me for so long, considering that for a fan of Brueploitation, it has a dream cast. Instead of only getting one Bruce Lee-alike, you get three in the starring roles, with Koreans Dragon Lee and Bruce Lai, and Hong Kong star Bruce Le. It’s a movie which is so overloaded with Bruceploitation, that it even has Thai Bruce Lee-alike, the imaginatively titled Bruce Thai, playing a non-clone role (he plays the local contact once the action moves to Bangkok), not to mention the instantly recognizable Bolo Yeung from Enter the Dragon.

The plot for The Clones of Bruce Lee is well known, but to cover it very briefly, when Bruce Lee dies in hospital, the British Secret Service enlist a scientist, played by John Benn (the mafia boss from Way of the Dragon), to use his body and attempt to clone the departed star. Many of these productions paid little attention to being respectful or tasteful, and The Clones of Bruce Lee is no different, so we have real footage of Bruce Lee’s funeral, and shots of Bruce in the casket, mixed into the plot. Benn succeeds, and doesn’t produce just one clone, but three! In one of many bizarre moments, he ritualistically names them Bruce Lee 1 (Dragon Lee), Bruce Lee 2 (Bruce Lai), and Bruce Lee 3 (Bruce Le). The British Secret Service use them to complete missions around the world to assassinate corrupt movie directors and scientists, until Benn himself goes mad, and attempts to use the clones for his own evil means.

Such a synopsis sounds like exploitation gold, and with a three-for-the-price-of-one triple threat of Bruce Lee-alikes tearing up the screen, what could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately, almost everything does. Despite its outlandish premise The Clones of Bruce Lee somehow manages to succeed in being an incredibly dull affair, thanks to a severely disjointed plot (yes, I’m criticising a Bruceploitation movie for having a disjointed plot), and even more so, incredibly repetitive fight action.

To elaborate a little more on the disjointed plot, the main reason for this is that apart from the opening and closing scenes, the clones as a trio don’t appear together at all. After being brought to life by Benn, Dragon Lee is sent on a mission to kill a movie director, who’s using his production company as a front for smuggling illegal gold. This essentially leads to a third of the movie becoming a Dragon Lee flick, as he battles the director’s lackeys and a pair of hitmen (amusingly played by two gweillos). Then once he’s done, Bruce Le and Bruce Lai are told to go to Thailand and find a mad scientist, who’s concocted a formula that turns human skin to steel (cue a bunch of Thai extras in their underwear, covered in cheap gold paint). Their mission in Thailand makes up another third of the movie, with the remaining third consisting of the opening and closing scenes.

Despite not being a cut-and-paste production, the style of editing that Godfrey Ho became notorious for, which consisted of editing scenes from two movies together, and then attempting to dub them into a coherent story, there are times in The Clones of Bruce Lee when you’d swear it was. Dragon Lee’s mission is particularly dull, and the choreography frustratingly leans towards him utilising the mantis fist, rather than unleashing with the kicks that he was known for. Bruce Le and Bruce Lai don’t fare much better, with a mission that consists of almost 90% fighting. The routine goes – get closer to the bad guys lair, group of lackeys come out of nowhere and surround them, fight and proceed a little closer, until another group of lackeys appear and surround them, repeat. This is fine, it’s a kung fu movie after all, but the fight action is ridiculously simple and repetitive, with Le constantly jumping into the air to deliver mini flying kicks that look like they wouldn’t hurt a leaf.

For what consolidation it is, for the fan of exploitation cinema there’s some gloriously random female nudity in the Thailand segment. In a scene which has Bruce Thai and Bruce Lai (wearing a pair of swimming briefs that practically redefine the word ‘brief’) taking a stroll to the beach, Lai spots a man ogling at a bevy of naked women frolicking in the sand. When Lai enquires as to what they’re doing (even though it’s quite apparent – they’re rubbing sun cream on themselves in slow motion), Thai tells him that they’re “just playing around”. Sure enough, the girls are giggling away and proclaiming that they have everything they need except a man. When they spot the admirer who’s been checking them out from afar, they chase after him on the beach, before all falling into the water together. Who is the man? Why are all the girls naked? What’s the connection of the scene to the rest of the plot? Nothing.

The finale eventually brings all three clones back onscreen together, as Benn decides that he’s going to use the strongest of them to help him rule the world, so orders them to fight each other to the death. This results in the exciting prospect of a clone vs clone match, as Dragon Lee and Bruce Le get to face off against each other, but it turns out to be as dull as the rest of the action. Indeed the most energy any of the performers seem to put into the fights, is in the shapes they pull before breaking into a pose. It’s a sad day when the best fight action in a kung fu movie involves only one character being onscreen. Dragon Lee also gets to face off against Bolo, which should have been another dream match-up, especially considering that Lee did most of his work in Korea, so the Bolo showdown was a rare opportunity. But once again it fizzles out quickly.

Low budget old school kung fu movies such as this tend to live and die on the quality of their fight scenes, so to see a cast, which includes the likes of Kong Do and Cheng Kei-Ying, being involved in such sloppily executed choreography is a shame. From seeing participants hesitate before throwing a punch or kick, to bizarre choices such as when Dragon Lee breaks out his famous 1-stick nunchuck, proceeds to whirl it around for a few seconds, then inexplicably throws it away and starts fighting. Director Joseph Velasco and producer Dick Randall would go on to churn out much more entertaining movies, with the likes of the previously mentioned Bruce Strikes Back, but here there’s very little to recommend both to lovers of the kung fu genre or to fans of so bad it’s good cinema.

Having now watched The Clones of Bruce Lee from start to finish, it’s easy to understand why many consider it to be a more entertaining movie to read about than it is to actually watch. There’re many unanswered questions about the production, not least the year of release. Hkcinemagic lists 1977, while the Hong Kong Movie Database lists 1980, with the Korean Movie Database pinning it down to 1981, that’s 3 potential release date in 5 years! (Note for this review we’ll go with the Hong Kong Movie Database) Release dates aside, the disappointment of having such an amazing cast of Bruceploitation talent, and managing to make an under 90 minute runtime seem like such an endurance test, are perhaps indicative that in this case, as the expression goes – too many clones spoil the broth.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 4/10

Posted in All, Bruceploitation, Chinese, News, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

First trailer for the Luc Besson-backed ‘Warrior’s Gate’

"Warriors Gate" Teaser Poster

"Warriors Gate" Teaser Poster

Director Matthias Hoene (Cockneys vs Zombies) is putting final touches on Warrior’s Gate, an upcoming French-Chinese co-production that’s being described as a “big production” fantasy film. The movie is being backed by Luc Besson’s (Lucy) EuropaCorp.

Warrior’s Gate stars Mark Chao (Young Detective Dee), Dakota Daulby (iZombie), Ni Ni (Flowers of War), Uriah Shelton (Girl Meets World), Dave Bautista (Kickboxer: Vengeance), Sienna Guillory (Resident Evil: Apocalypse), Ron Smoorenburg (Who Am I?) and Francis Ng (Too Many Ways To Be Number One).

Update: Watch the first trailer for Warrior’s Gate (via AFS), which releases later this year.

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Exclusive: Interview with martial arts star Tony Jaa

I recently had the pleasure to conduct an interview with Tony Jaa (Ong Bak, Skin Trade), one of the stars of the upcoming Kill Zone 2 (also known as SPL II: A Time for Consequences), which in and of itself is a spiritual sequel to 2005’s modern martial arts classic, Kill Zone (SPL). As someone who has seen the film, I can’t say enough good things about it, as it is one of the best Hong Kong productions in years. It even matches the artistic highs of Infernal Affairs and the original SPL. Therefore, it was a great opportunity to lob some questions at Tony in order to learn more about the film as well as his experience making it. We also discussed his breakout hit Ong Bak, and the upcoming blockbuster sequel, XXX: The Return of Xander Cage.


Tony Jaa is getting ready to demolish the room in "Kill Zone 2"

ZACH NIX: Many critics and fans of martial arts cinema state that the original SPL (Kill Zone) was a response from Hong Kong cinema to Ong Bak’s breakout success in 2003. How does it feel to finally come full circle and star in the spiritual sequel to the film that was more or less a response to your breakout hit?

TONY JAA: The original SPL was great, I think it was an original expression of action and martial arts. With the quality of the cast, I don’t think it was a reaction to Ong Bak, I think it was unique in its own right.

ZN: Did you feel that there were any expectations or challenges that came with tackling the follow up to SPL?

TJ: Any time you follow in the foot-steps of a really good movie the pressure is there to live up to the standards already in place.

"Ong-Bak" International Teaser Poster

"Ong-Bak" International Teaser Poster

ZN: Through the usage of a cell phone app, your character, Chatchai, is able to over come the language barrier that prevents you from communicating as easily with other characters in the film. Was there a similar language barrier in real life on the set at all, and were you able to communicate easily with your co-stars Max Zhang and Wu Jing?

TJ: I speak English fairly well these days, as does Max. Wu Jing is still brushing up on his English, but can express himself rather well. Whatever might have been missing vocabulary was made up for in camaraderie.

ZN: Kill Zone 2 gives martial arts fans several dream match ups to drool over. How was it filming the several fight scenes that you have against Wu Jing, as well as the final three-way fight with Max Zhang?

TJ: We are all very friendly, so frankly we had a lot of fun on set. During breaks from shooting we hung out together and had a lot of laughs.

ZN: Now that you have Kill Zone 2 under your belt, could you see yourself participating in any more Hong Kong productions?

The emotional side of Tony Jaa in "Kill Zone 2"

The emotional side of Tony Jaa in "Kill Zone 2"

TJ: For me it is always about the story and whom I am working with. I am very open to another Hong Kong production.

ZN: With the release of last year’s Skin Trade and Furious 7, as well as next year’s XXX: The Return of Xander Cage, you have made quite a transition in to English language productions. How has it been moving from Thai martial arts films to big budget Hollywood productions?

TJ: I enjoyed these films and the people I worked with. I made a number of new friends who I continue to stay in regular contact with. The Hollywood budget gives a lot of flexibility in how a film is shot. I still enjoy Thai martial arts, so I hope to find a center point between both places.

ZN: You are currently filming XXX: The Return of Xander Cage with its titular star Vin Diesel, but also Donnie Yen, who was the star and orchestrator of SPL. I have to ask, since you and Donnie are two of martial arts cinemas most beloved performers. Do you two fight or thrown down with one another in the film?

Tony Jaa with Donnie Yen on the set of "XXX: The Return of Xander Cage"

Tony Jaa with Donnie Yen on the set of "XXX: The Return of Xander Cage"

TJ: You will have to watch the movie.

ZN: As a fan of action films myself, I was curious if you have any favorite action or martial arts films that you like to watch?

TJ: I really think that Enter the Dragon is unique.

ZN: I interviewed Scott Adkins (read the interview) last year, and asked him whom he would love to work with in the future. He mentioned you first, and stated he would love to develop a project with the two of you. Would you like to work with Scott as well, and have you two talked about any sort of future collaboration?

TJ: We are friends, and Scott is nothing short of amazing. I would always welcome a chance to work together.

ZN: On a final note, do you have any career goals or aspirations at the moment?

TJ: Keep doing what I am doing. Thanks for the interview Zach. Best Wishes, Jaa…

I’d like to thank Tony Jaa, Well Go USA, and Alexandra Drapac for making this interview happen. Kill Zone 2 can be seen in U.S. theaters, or on V.O.D., starting May 13th. It will also be released on Blu-ray and DVD come July 16th.

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Scott Adkins and Marko Zaror join forces in ‘Savage Dog’

"Savage Dog" Teaser Poster

"Savage Dog" Teaser Poster

Action director Jesse V. Johnson (The Last Sentinel, Green Street Hooligans 2) his prepping his next film, Savage Dog, which is described as “A bold, non-stop action epic unlike any other.”

The film will feature martial arts stars Scott Adkins (Close Range, Zero Tolerance), Marko Zaror (Redeemer) and JuJu Chan (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny).

As the Cannes sales poster (via Twitch) reveals, Savage Dog is a period actioner that takes place in Indochina, during the merciless 1950s.

Savage Dog starts filming this June. Stay tuned!

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New trailer for Mark Dacascos’ all-star ‘Showdown in Manila’!

"Showdown in Manila" Theatrical Poster

"Showdown in Manila" Theatrical Poster

Martial arts star Mark Dacascos (Drive) is getting ready to unleash Showdown in Manila, an Expendables-esque movie that he not only stars in, but also directs.

The upcoming film marks the second directorial project for Dacascos, following his unreleased, Russian-produced debut feature, Changing Lives. Andrzej Bartkowiak (Romeo Must Die), who worked with Dacascos in 2003′s Cradle 2 the Grave, is producing.

The film also stars Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers), Matthias Hues (No Retreat, No Surrender II), Cynthia Rothrock (Shanghai Express), Olivier Gruner (Nemesis), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Perfect Weapon), Monsour del Rosario (Bloodfist 2), Don “The Dragon” Wilson (White Tiger), Alexander Nevsky (Black Rose), Tia Carrere (Showdown in Little Tokyo), Iza Calzado and Monsour del Rosario. | First trailer.

In addition to Showdown in Manila, Dacascos has several projects in pre-production/post-production status, including Ultimate Justice, Operation Rogue, Beyond the Game and Maximum Impact.

Updates: Watch the new trailer for Showdown in Manila (via FCS).

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‘Chaser’ director finally returns with ‘The Wailing’

"The Wailing" Theatrical Poster

"The Wailing" Theatrical Poster

Two years after it was initially announced, Na Hong-jin’s (The Chaser, The Yellow Sea) third movie, The Wailing, will have its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival this month – and thanks to Well Go USA, the film will be hitting U.S. screens on May 27th.

The Wailing involves a local cop investigating a series of violent unexplained murders. When his own daughter falls ill and shows signs of possession, a shaman is called in to assist with the investigation.

The Wailing stars Hwang Jeong-min (Veteran), Kwak Do-won (Tazza: The Hidden Card), and Japanese actor Jun Kunimura (Why Don’t You Play in Hell?), in the role that Beat Takeshi (Beyond Outrage) was originally attached to.

If this film captures even half the entertainment value of The Chaser or The Yellow Sea, we’ll be happy campers. Don’t miss the first trailer for The Wailing (via Paul Bramhall). Na Hong-jin…. welcome back!

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Lee Byung-Hun drops out of John Woo’s ‘Manhunt’

"Manhunt" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Manhunt" Japanese Theatrical Poster

John Woo, the man behind action classics such as A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, Bullet in the Head and Hard Boiled, is finally making a return to the genre that made him an internationally acclaimed director.

After years making Hollywood films and big budget Chinese epics like Red Cliff and the recent The Crossing, Woo is going to remake the 1976 Japanese classic action thriller Manhunt (starring the late Ken Takakura), which is the story of a man who is accused of multiple crimes and trying desperately to clear his name.

According to AD (via Kevin Ma), Zhang Hanyu (The Taking of Tiger Mountain), Lee Byung-Hun (I Saw the Devil) and Ha Ji-Won (Sector 7) are attached to the project. Masaharu Fukuyama (Suspect X) is currently in talks to join as well.

Filming for Manhunt will begin later this year. The film will be set and shot in Japan; and feature Chinese, English and Korean dialogue. Media Asia is distributing the film with an attached release date set for 2017 (via Martin Sandison). Until we have more details, don’t miss the film’s teaser poster here.

Updates: According to AFS, Lee Byung-Hun has dropped out of Manhunt, due to scheduling conflicts.

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