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“South Shaolin vs. North Shaolin” Korean Theatrical Poster
Director: Wu Chia Chun Co-director: Casanova Wong Writer: Go Seong-ui Producer: Park Jong-gu Cast: Casanova Wong, Eagle Han Ying, Ma Chin Ku, Wang Kuan Hsiung, Chiang Cheng, Gang Myeong-hwa Running Time: 87 min.
By Paul Bramhall
In 1982, a year prior to the release of South Shaolin vs. North Shaolin, the movie that launched Jet Li into stardom, and triggered a wave of wushu influenced Shaolin movies, captured the imagination of Asian audiences in the form of Shaolin Temple. Made at a time when Chang Cheh’s own Shaolin Cycle series had been out of fad since the mid-70’s, suddenly Shaolin was cool again, and many filmmakers looked to jump on the bandwagon. This is the background that led to Korea and Taiwan creating a couple of co-productions together focusing on the exploits of the kung fu practicing Shaolin monks, both from 1983, with the other being Shaolin vs. Tai Chi.
While Taiwanese director Wu Chia-Chun helmed Shaolin vs. Tai Chi solo (and indeed, only the opening scene from this movie was filmed in Korea), for South Shaolin vs. North Shaolin, which was shot entirely on location in Korea, it provided star and choreographer Casanova Wong his first opportunity to try sitting in the director’s chair. Wong would go on to direct several notoriously unavailable Korean action movies, such as The Magic Sword and Bloody Mafia, but South Shaolin vs. North Shaolin can be considered his directorial debut. Chi-Chun was a logical decision to be co-director, as he’d already had experience working in Korea, co-directing such productions as Jackie and Bruce to the Rescue.
As with almost any Korean kung fu movie, what can be considered to be the true uncut version is an almost impossible discussion to have. A version was shot for Taiwan with additional scenes of the Taiwan cast, and another version was shot for Korea with additional scenes of the Korean cast, then somewhere in between, you have the horrible hybrid that is the English dubbed version. For western audiences then, the plot of South Shaolin vs. North Shaolin involves two babies who are said to be princes being smuggled away from murderous Qing soldiers, led by Eagle Han Ying. In a scene that doesn’t make it apparently clear what happens to the other, one gets away via being throw into a tree (so far, so Fury in Shaolin Temple), and ends up being raised by monks in the Shaolin Temple. Growing up to become Casanova Wong, he’s never forgotten his revenge, and intends to kill Han Ying as soon as he’s skilled enough to do so.
At this point you may well be asking what the relevance of the title is to what actually unfolds onscreen, so I’ll be upfront and say none whatsoever. There is no battle of the geographically opposing Shaolin Temples, so for those looking for some inter-Shaolin action, best stick with Invincible Shaolin. What we do have is the rare sight of a shaven headed Casanova Wong in the role of a monk, and what’s more, in one of his first fight choreographer gigs, he decided to move the focus away from his kicks, and instead shift more towards a reliance on weapons. This can again be traced back to the Shaolin Templeinfluence, which suddenly made the flowery acrobatic flourishes of wushu weapons handling incredibly popular, and the action here clearly shows that influence.
This is the first of South Shaolin vs. North Shaolin’s problems, Wong is a boot master, not a weapons guy. While his trademark kicks are still there, they’re never the focus, and seeing his jaw dropping kicking abilities side-lined in favour of only average weapons work is a serious error in judgement. The second problem comes in the form of one of the most irritating cast of characters ever assembled. It begins to become apparent fairly quickly that proceedings are going down the comedic route, but literally every character seems to have gone to the Dean Shek School of Comedy Acting, including Wong himself. I don’t consider it too much of a spoiler to say that, when Han Ying mercilessly kills pretty much everyone except Wong, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief as each gurning idiot gets kicked to death on the receiving end of his boots.
Indeed it’s fair to say that it’s Han Ying who looks the best out of everyone, apart from the aesthetically pleasing dyed red stripe running through the middle of his hair, he’s the only martial artist who really gets to show off what he’s good at – kicking. The rest of the action delivers entertainment value not so much from its quality, but more the laugh out loud bizarreness of it. As with so many of these movies, the intentional comedy falls flat, but the unintended variety provides plenty of laughs. In the opening scene ninjas, which are clearly mannequins, burst out of the ground bolt upright, thanks to a spring loaded mechanism which would break any real persons back. It’s a laugh inducing sight. They then proceed to awkwardly crawl along the ground on their side, in what I can only assume was supposed to keep them out of sight from their targets, but considering they’re crawling on a completely clear patch of land, it ends up looking ridiculous.
The ninjas do provide some of the movies most entertaining moments though. After almost an hour of intolerable comedy, there’s a scene in which a gang of them ambush Wong, which involves him having to tackle flying ninjas armed with flame throwing blow pipes and bamboo traps. The ninjas finishing move is also worth a mention, which sees them pile up on top of their target, then when they jump off the victim is already buried in an instantly made grave! However these brief glimpses of entertainment are few and far between, and the more South Shaolin vs. North Shaolin progresses, the more desperate it seems to become. In the latter half we suddenly have random horror elements thrown in for no apparent reason whatsoever. First we have Wong practicing against a dummy thats head is actually a real skull, which is naturally covered in creepy crawlies, but the most bizarre scene has Wong arriving in a deserted funeral parlour in the middle of the night.
Here he’s suddenly confronted by 4 long black haired cross dressing ghosts, who seem more interested in getting it on with Wong than they do fighting him, but their advances are treated with kicks to the face. Words are difficult to find to do justice to the bizarreness of this scene, so I’ll simply leave it at that. In any case, Wong’s visit to the parlour ends with him fending off several flying coffins, all of which have absolutely nothing to do with the plot itself. Most of the scenes also seem to be of the one take only variety. There’s a scene which has one of Han Ying’s lackeys running over to him in a field to deliver some news, however as he’s just a few paces away he clearly almost falls over due to the uneven ground, but it’s in the movie. In another during the final battle, two monks are taking on one of the villains, and one of them, obviously meant to be standing out of shot until it’s his turn to spring into action, instead is seem simply standing there at the side of the frame.
Events eventually culminate in Han Ying and his four main lackeys heading over to Shaolin Temple, knowing that the monks are harbouring Wong’s brother, who grew up to become a prince in hiding. You may be wondering why I’m so casually throwing in a line about Wong’s brother turning up, a fairly significant plot point if you consider the synopsis, however it’s handled so clumsily that it’s barely worth a mention. Not only does Wong never find out it’s his brother, but we also never find out what happens to the him at the end, he simply disappears without explanation. What it does leave us with, is a Shaolin Temple style finale with the monks taking on the villains. My favorite part of this scene is perhaps what was supposed to be an acrobatic flourish, which sees a row of about 10 monks, all of whom must be about 50 metres from the fight action, decide against charging into the fray, and instead do rolls until they reach the enemy. If there was an award for the lamest attacking tactic ever, this would have to be a candidate.
Wong does of course eventually turn up, which leads to an exhaustive 10 minute one-on-one against Han Ying. This should have been a dream matchup, and indeed Wong gets some of his trademark kicks in – including both the take-three-guys-out-in-one flying kick from The Master Strikes, and the awesome over the table flying kick seen in ‘Warriors Two’, just minus the table. However again the overall focus on weapons make the whole fight fall considerably short of what it could have been. Wong brandishes a 3 sectioned staff for a large portion of it, taking on Han Ying who interchanges between a sword and spear, however his handling of it is so slow that the 3rd staff often ends up dangling limply, or barely completing its rotation around Wong’s torso due to a lack of momentum. In the end he simply drops it on the floor, which looks to be more out of relief than anything else.
By the time a fire breathing villain is thrown into the fray, and Wong ends up in a tree fending off ninjas in addition to Han Ying, there’s a distinct feeling that everyone is out of ideas. Perhaps the biggest lesson to come out of South Shaolin vs. North Shaolin, is that wushu practitioners would be best left to show off their wushu skills, and taekwondo practitioners would be best left to show off their taekwondo skills. While it’s admirable to see Wong attempting to break out of the type of roles he usually got cast in for his directorial debut, when it comes to martial arts, sometimes sticking with what you know is best.
Co-starring are Teodora Duhovnikova (Corpse Collector), Alon Aboutboul (The Dark Knight Rises), Julian Vergov (Until Death) and Valentin Ganev (Undisputed II).
In the fourth installment of the Undisputed franchise, Boyka is shooting for the big leagues when an accidental death in the ring makes him question everything he stands for.
This time around, Todor Chapkanov (Viking Quest) directs, while Isaac Florentine (Close Range, Undisputed II–III) serves only as producer. The film’s action will be handled by Tim Man (Ong-Bak 2). David N. White (Undisputed II–III,Ninja: Shadow of a Tear) is back as screenwriter.
Tak Sakaguchi rose to fame with the 2001 cult favorite Versus, a movie that managed to combine the low-budget charms of Evil Dead-like horror with blistering martial arts and gunplay. The actor later scored another cult hit with Battlefield Baseball, but has most recently hitched his wagon to the Sushi Typhoon production company.
In April of 2013, new broke out that Tak was retiring from acting, which left an unknown fate for his recently announced role in Death Trance II, not to mention a long-rumored sequel to Versus.
In late 2014, Cityonfire.com was contacted by director Yuji Shimomura (Death Trance) with breaking news that Tak was out of retirement to make Re:Born, which the actor calls his “very last” and “most superb” action movie:
“After I retired, I found myself having a passion for action that was still smoldering inside of me. After a conversation with action director Yuji Shimomura, I wanted to thrive one more time and create the very last and most superb action movie with my utmost power and passion for the sake of a closure to my entire career. I am convinced that I have to give my very best one last time. That is how I feel about this project. I didn’t realize how many people chose to support a person like myself until after I retired. I hope this movie will be satisfying enough for them to feel absolutely alright for me to go. This is for them.”
Re:Born is getting a domestic release in August, followed by U.S. release by XYZ Films on a soon-to-be-announced date. Stay tuned!
Sony Entertainment presents the Blu-ray & DVD for S.W A T.: Under Siege, an upcoming actioner directed by Tony Giglio (Chaos).
When a D.E.A. and S.W.A.T. cartel takedown ends in a shootout, S.W.A.T. Agent Travis Hall (Sam Jaeger) seizes a mysterious prisoner and takes him into custody. Before long, the S.W.A.T. compound is under siege by wave after wave of assault teams attempting to recover the prisoner known as “The Scorpion” (Michael Jai White) for the tattoo blazed across his back.
Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray set for the complete Ip Man Trilogy, which contains 2008’s Ip Man, 2010’s Ip Man 2 and 2015’s Ip Man 3.
One Great Man. One Inspiring Story. And now, one quintessential collection. This biographical martial arts film based on the life of Yip Man (played by Donnie Yen), the grandmaster of the martial art Wing Chun and teacher of Bruce Lee.
Steven Seagal (End of a Gun, Perfect Weapon), who previously tackled the small screen in the True Justice series, as well as the reality show Lawman, is hitting the tube once again for General Commander, an upcoming, 12-episode actioner directed by Philippe Martinez, who is perhaps best known for directing Jean-Claude Van Damme’s 2004 film, Wake of Death.
According to DTVE: General Commander follows the missions of a top secret, rogue international paramilitary unit that fights major criminal organizations in a bid to stop World War III.
Bey Logan (who is also currently working with Seagal on Attrition) and Martinez are writing General Commander, which starts filming in Europe and Asia in September, ahead of a premiere on Filmbox channels in 2018.
We’ll keep you updated on this project as we hear more. Until then, check out the Trailer for Martinez’ Wake of Death:
But now, Kwok is back to directing solo with WuKong (aka The Tales of Wukong), an action-fantasy that tells the story of Sun Wukong (played by Operation Mekong’s Eddie Peng) before he became the Monkey King. The film also stars Ni Ni (The Warriors Gate), Shawn Yue (Reign of Assassins) and Zheng Shuang (No Limit).
WuKong is getting a domestic release on July 13, 2017. Don’t miss the film’s New Trailer below:
No one dies well in a Kinji Fukasaku gangster movie. A director who fuels nearly every scene with rage or panic, his characters always seem to either be screaming at each other or tripping over one another in an attempt to escape a murderer’s blade. You feel every death, because nothing seems stylized for film. It is like a docudrama about street crime, starring some of Japan’s most recognizable stars covered in blood. Cops vs. Thugs, a film about gangland warfare and the police efforts to stymie the carnage, kicks into overdrive at the half-way point when Detective Kuno (Bunta Sugawara) fails to solve the crisis in his less traditional fashion. An exciting bit of vehicular mayhem (rare in Japanese film) where gangs drive at full speed, firing at one another just one lane apart, gives way to an even crazier bicycle chase, which ends in decapitation. You might understandably think that the film had peaked too early here, but Cops vs. Thugs largely maintains this new level of anarchy, eventually leading to a finale which ranks among the best in Japanese crime cinema.
Rival gang bosses Kawade (Mikio Narita) and Hirotani (Hiroki Matsukata) are on the verge of all-out war and the cops know it’ll look bad for the city, so Detective Kuno offers to take the lead on the operation. Kuno is close with Hirotani. It would be accurate to call Kuno a dirty cop. Kuno takes bribes, he drinks with the men he should be locking up, and in one scene he even helps Hirotani select the thug who should take the fall for a three-year prison sentence. But it’s also true that Kuno sees something in Hirotani and that, if the young yakuza is handled properly, they might have peace in the city with a more agreeable crime element. Kuno may be corrupt, but at least he’s committing wrongs for the right reasons. Wakade, on the other hand, is ambitious and connected to big money represented by the dirty city assemblyman played by Nobuo Kaneko (in what is pretty much the same performance he gave in Battles Without Honor and Humanity). Greedy attempts at land grabs cancel out Kuno’s attempts for a peaceful resolution (partly because he’s so dead-set on seeing his pal Hirotani come out on top) and the violence spills out into the streets.
It’s then that police HQ calls in the big guns; Lt. Kaida (Tatsuo Umemiya), a by-the-books hardass who literally starts judo throwing the city cops until they fall in line with his vision of zero corruption. This puts Kuno in a tough spot. Not only does Kaida view him with suspicion, but Hirotani doesn’t understand why he’s no longer getting Kuno’s tips about police raids. Kuno must figure out how to save his own skin and try to prevent his yakuza buddies from getting themselves killed at the same time.
Cops vs. Thugs plays a lot like the director’s earlier Battles Without Honor and Humanity series, which was a gangster epic with a gritty, ripped from the headlines tone. Battles writer Kazuo Kasahara also scripts Cops vs. Thugs, making this feel like a natural extension of the themes of the earlier films. It’s also amusing to see how the Battlescast got reshuffled for Cops vs. Thugs, which shares many of the same players. I don’t mean to suggest that Cops vs. Thugs a rip-off of an earlier success—but rather, if you enjoyed those films, you should enjoy this as well (and vice versa).
Despite the simplistic, B-movie title, Cops vs. Thugs is very much a mature crime drama. The usual traditions of the yakuza are followed, but they feel like background noise to the lawlessness and greed. And though I found subplots about land purchases less than involving, I thought the film made up for that with a strong focus on character and action. Cops vs. Thugs’ notes of tragedy are also well done, making the film unexpectedly sad in places.
Bunta Sugawara delivers one of his best performances as the conflicted cop Detective Kuno. He’s corrupt but he’s still the closest thing the audience has to a figure we can root for—not that it’s always easy. One scene depicts Kuno and his partner beating a suspect senseless in an interrogation room, going so far as to strip him naked in order to humiliate him. Somehow, either by grace of good storytelling or a willing performance, Kuno never falls into cliché, not even when the subplot of an angry wife demanding a divorce rears its head. (The angry, soon-to-be ex-Mrs. Kuno is actually a decent addition to the story, as she is the only woman in the film with any agency of her own. I believe it would be fair to call Cops vs. Thugs a sexist film, as all other women are merely sex objects and hostesses/servants in the story.) Hiroki Matsukata does a good job playing off Bunta Sugawara as the yakuza Hirotani. Matsukata (also seen in Battles) plays Hirotani as a man of reason one moment and a live-wire maniac the next, showing why Kuno might believe in him as a leader but also maintaining that dangerous edge that separates him from his cop friend. The rest of the cast is fairly excellent. Tatsuo Umemiya (Yakuza Graveyard) is intimidating as the straight-laced Kaida, Nobuo Kaneko is the embodiment of slime, Akira Shioji (The Street Fighter) supplies some much needed comic relief as a cop who thinks everything’s about Communism, Tatsuo Endo (Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword) is oddly sympathetic as a recently released don who is now a pathetic old man, and Kunie Tanaka (Kwaidan) has a cameo role as that don’s cellmate and apparent boyfriend.
Cops vs. Thugs arrives on Blu-ray from Arrow Video with strong picture and sound. Special features are a bit light. Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane gives a 10-minute overview of the famed director’s shifting focus over the course of his career, detailing how Fukasaku stayed ahead of the curve when the Japanese film industry started to have problems. Film scholar Tom Mes gives a brief talk on cops and criminals in Fukusaku’s cinema. One note Mes makes stuck with me, that the ‘vs’ of the Cops vs. Thugs title may not refer to competition but rather comparison, which I thought was an interesting observation. Also included: a trailer and an archival 5-minute look at Fukasaku on the set of the film, where he gets a bit philosophical talking about violence in film.
Kinji Fukasaku is best remembered for Battle Royale and Battles Without Honor and Humanity and that’s never going to change. But he made other kick ass, awesome movies without Battle somewhere in the title, and it’s about time that Cops vs. Thugs got some new love on Blu-ray and DVD. Full of morally ambiguous characters and filmed as though we are witnesses to a crime, Cops vs. Thugs has just about all you could want from a yakuza action movie and then some.
Steven Seagal (Above the Law) will direct and star in Attrition, a Kurosawa-esque project that Seagal wrote years ago. In addition, Seagal will also produce. If all goes as planned, the movie will be his first directorial project since 1994’s On Deadly Ground, 22 years ago.
Seagal will play Axe, a warrior who’s in search of a missing Thai girl who possesses mythical powers. “I’ve written something called Attrition, which kind of reminds me of a [Akira] Kurosawa movie. I’m hoping to make that soon, maybe in China, maybe in Hong Kong, maybe in Thailand. We’ve got a lot of great offers out there. We’re going to be getting real busy this year,” Seagal told JoBlo in 2015.
Attrition is currently in pre-production phase.
Updates: There’s some news circulating that Steven Seagal will no longer be directing Attrition. Instead, Mathieu Weschler, the filmmaker behind Covert Operation (aka The Borderland), will be taking over directing duties. In addition, Kaosayananda’s Kaos Entertainment has moved on due to production delays. Bey Logan (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II), of the Hong Kong-based film company, B&E Productions, has stepped in as producer. And last but not least: Tiger Hu-Chen (Man of Tai Chi), Fan Siu Wong (Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky) and Yu Kang (Wu Xia) are attached as cast members. Until any of the above news is made official, please take this information with a grain of salt (via SS.net).
Cinemax has given a 10-episode, straight-to-series order for Warrior, a project based on unpublished writings by the late Bruce Lee, which were recently discovered by his daughter, Shannon Lee. News of this project was originally ordered as a pilot.
Justin Lin (Star Trek Beyond, Finishing the Game) is attached to produce and possibly direct. Jonathan Tropper, co-creator of Banshee, is penning pilot.
According to Deadline: Warrior is described as a gritty, action-packed crime drama set during the brutal Tong Wars of San Francisco’s Chinatown in the second half of the 19th century. The series follows Ah Sahm, a martial arts prodigy who immigrates from China to San Francisco under mysterious circumstances, and becomes a hatchet man for one of Chinatown’s most powerful tongs (Chinese organized crime family).
In addition to Warrior, Bruce Lee fans have much to look forward to, including George Nolfi’s upcoming fable-based Birth of the Dragon, as well as Shekhar Kapur’s Little Dragon, an official, authorized biopic.
We’ll keep you updated on Warrior as new details emerge. Until then, we leave you with the Trailer for the 1975 Shaw Brothers biopic, I Love You, Bruce Lee (aka Bruce Lee & I):
Director: Kurando Mitsutake Writer: Kurando Mitsutake Cast: Hayate, David Sakurai, Asami, Katarina Leigh Waters, Mana Sakura, Kirk Geiger, Noriaki Kamata, Kirk Geiger, Tomm Voss, Jeffrey James Lippold Running Time: 85 min
By Paul Bramhall
Japanese action cinema has a history of making movies that act as a showcase for the karate skills of the stars that headline them, from Ken Kazama in Karate from Shaolin Temple back in 1976, to Rina Takeda in 2009’s High Kick Girl. Unfortunately, outside the likes of Yasuaki Kurata, and Japan Action Club alumni Sonny Chiba, Estsuko Shihomi, and Hiroyuki Sanada, few action stars from Japan have really shown a level of longevity compared with their Hong Kong counterparts. In part, this can be put down to the karate movie rarely being seen as something other than exploitation fare. While there have been a handful of more serious attempts in recent years (Shunichi Nagasaki’s Black Belt springs to mind), for many, karate movies will call to mind images of Sonny Chiba ripping some hapless fools balls off, or chopping someone in the head so hard their eye balls pop out.
At the end of the day, perhaps this isn’t such a bad thing, many of the 70’s karate movies that starred the likes of Chiba and Shihomi are fondly remembered for their hyper-violent nature and trashy approach to storytelling. Indeed it’s fair to say that one never has to look too far, to find someone willing to say they wish Japan would make a karate movie like they used to. Well, for those that miss those rib ripping, skull crushing, flesh flashing days of old, director Kurando Mitsutake is here to make your wish come true, and in the grand tradition of old, he’s doing so via showcasing the skills of a new karate talent.
Originally from Tokyo, Mitsutake graduated from the California Institute of Arts, and remains partly based in Los Angeles. After debuting in 2007 with Monster’s Don’t Get to Cry, the first signs of his style started to show in 2009’s sushi-western Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf, in which he also took on the lead role. However his real breakthrough came with 2014’s Gun Woman, which quickly gained a reputation thanks to featuring splatter genre stalwart and former pink actress Asami completely naked for most of the movies 2nd half. Gun Woman went on to win the Special Jury Prize at the 24th Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, and it was at this same festival that the idea for Karate Kill was birthed.
The man who would go on to become Karate Kill’s executive producer, Naoki Kubo, was also at the festival, and came with some cast members from the first movie he produced, the Rina Takeda featuring Danger Dolls. One of the lackeys from the movie, played by a gentleman simply called Hayate, was included in the entourage, however thanks to a mix of Yubari being a small town, and Hayate leaving it late to book accommodation, it looked to be impossible to find a place to stay. In the end, Kubo offered for Hayate to crash on his rooms couch, and at the time, Hayate had no idea how much of a martial arts enthusiast Kubo was, and Kubo has no idea that Hayate was a practitioner of karate of over 20 years.
Of course the pair got talking, and when Kubo asked Hayate to show him some moves, the producer was blown away, immediately declaring that he needed to make a movie with him as the star. As fate would have it, Kubo would also attend a screening of Gun Woman, and after being equally impressed by its insane finale, insisted that whoever directed it would be the perfect candidate to introduce Hayate’s lethal karate skills to the world. Hence, Karate Kill was born. So you have one karate practitioner with no acting experience and no passport, agreeing to star in a movie that’s going to be mostly filmed in the U.S., with a director at the helm who sites movies like Cannibal Holocaust and Lucio Fulci as influences. What can go wrong?
Thankfully, not a whole lot does, with Karate Kill indeed invoking the look and feel of those trashy karate exploitationers of the 70’s. The story is wafer thin – Hayate works a number of part-time jobs to support his sister studying in the U.S., since their parents died when they were still kids. However when she stops making contact for an extended period of time, he packs his bags and heads stateside to see what the deal is. It turns out she’d taken on work at a hostess bar to help make ends meet, and while there was abducted by a cult called Capital Messiah who stream snuff videos on the net, brainwashing their victims to pledge allegiance. With the help of a former abductee who managed to escape, played by Asami, the pair plan to both rescue Hayate’s sister, and wipe out the cult for good. Clocking in at a lean and mean 85 minutes, beyond the above description there’s little time for anything else.
Literally opening with Asami firing a gun point blank at the camera, swiftly followed by a close-up of a strippers butt, Mitsutake certainly knows how to get a viewer’s attention, and we’re not even 30 seconds in at this point. The brisk pacing of Karate Kill is definitely one of its biggest strengths, with no fat on the bone here whatsoever. Unlike similar movies that see Asian action stars cast in a U.S. set story, such as Jet Li in The Master or Jackie Chan in Rumble in the Bronx, Karate Kill foregoes any fish-out-of-water shenanigans, and keeps Hayate as a walking killing machine throughout. He’s a man of few words, so regardless of if you speak English or Japanese, if someone is involved with his sisters abduction they’re likely to either receive a fist to the throat, or have a body part ripped off bare handed.
The action was a collaboration between both Hayate himself in the role of karate and parkour coordinator (yes, he’s also a parkour practitioner, which he puts to good use), and action director Keiya Tabuchi, who previously worked with Mitsutake on Gun Woman. The lead and action director worked together for 3 months prior to filming, in order for Tabuchi to assist Hayate in making his rather unique style of karate look good onscreen, and it was certainly time well spent. An action highlight comes in the form of Hayate’s initial visit to the hostess bar his sister used to work at, which sees him taking on multiple attackers, and in one part has the camera perform a full 360 degree rotation which is both dizzying and effectively done.
Karate Kill also takes a chance on addressing the question of how a martial arts practitioner should deal with the issue of guns, that takes the form of an entertaining Remo Williams-esque training sequence, in which he practices with Asami to dodge bullets. It is of course completely outside the realms of reality, however in the context of the schlocky world Karate Kill takes place in, it’s perfectly believable. On the subject of schlocky, the costumes and make-up of the cult members give them the appearance of what can best be described as post-apocalyptic ISIS members. The three core members of the group, played by Kirk Geiger, Tomm Voss, and former WWE star Katarina Leigh Waters, are hilariously over the top, and their antics are certainly not for the easily offended. Best of all is the fact that Hayate and Leigh Waters even have a knock down drag out fight, one which ends on a suitably gory note.
The horror leanings of Mitsutake are clear to see, and are incorporated well into the action found in Karate Kill, with some of the hyper violence on display reminding me of Johnny Yong Bosch’s performance in Broken Path. While a lot of the blood splatter is done via passable CGI, there’s also plenty of practical effects work on display, with mangled hands and eye gouging presented in a way guaranteed to make the audience squirm. Mitsutake’s script is also laced with plenty of laugh out loud dark humour and scenarios, which pop up with enough regularity to remind us that nothing we’re seeing should be taken too seriously. From Hayate’s first opponent being introduced with his face firmly lodged in a voluptuous nun’s naked posterior, to Geiger incorrectly believing Tom Yum Goong to be a style of martial arts.
All in all Karate Kill does exactly what it says on the tin. An unashamed barrage of karate punches, gore, and nudity, those looking for a movie which presents philosophical musings on the meaning of martial arts, or a clean cut tale of heroics, had best look elsewhere. Hayate makes a worthy first impression as a lead, conveying an early Steven Seagal style level of bad assery, and one which will hopefully be capitalised on in future productions. Mitsutake delivers his best looking movie so far, with none of the cheap aesthetics of his previous productions in sight, and a firm grasp of how a movie like this should be paced. If Japan ever decides to reboot Takuma “Terry” Tsurugi, then Mitsutake and Hayate would be the perfect pair to do so.
Director Yoon Hong-seung (The Target) is joining forces with Jackie Chan for an upcoming Korean/Chinese production titled Reset, which will be released on June 30th from Well Go USA. This time around, Chan is behind the scenes as producer and will not be appearing in the film.
According to AV, Reset is a sci-fi movie that follows a scientist (Yang Mi of The Bullet Vanishes) as she tries to develop a method to time-travel through black holes. During the process, her son is kidnapped by a mysterious man (Wallace Huo) who wants to know the technology behind time-traveling.
Reset also stars Chin Shih-chieh (Brotherhood of Blades) and Liu Chang (A Journey Through Time With Anthony).
A live-action Chinese film adaptation of Konami’s 1987 arcade hit, Contra (aka Kontora or Gryzor), is in the works. The film will be produced by Wei Nan (Soul Transfer Station) and backed by Beijing Starlit Movie and TV Culture.
The highly popular video game involved two Rambo-like characters who take on an alien army. The character design of the boss aliens were highly influenced by H.R. Giger’s Necronom IV, which were the source for the Xenomorphs in the Alien film franchise. The original game spawned several versions and sequels, branching out on various home computers and game consoles.
Here’s what you can expect from the adaptation’s plot (via CFI): “In 1988, a huge meteorite lands on an uninhabited island in the South China Sea. Chen Qiang and Li Zhiyong investigate but come up empty handed. 29 years later, Chen sends commandos Bill and Lance into a combat mission there to neutralize the villainous Red Falcon Organization, but end up facing a different enemy altogether.”
As COF writer Paul Bramhall observed in his recent Operation Mekong review, Contra is another addition to the highly popular Rambo-esque adventures currently making waves in China.
As of now, there are no names linked to the role of Bill and Lance – there is, however, some speculation that Jing Tian (The Great Wall, Special ID) may appear, as she has starred in many projects associated with the two companies backing Contra: Beijing Starlit Movie and TV Culture.
Updates: Check out 5 New Posters for Contra. If these posters are accurate, the movie should be hitting theaters on June 6th, 2018 (exactly 1 year from now…).
On the back of the great success of his wonderful and moving new film, Mad World, Eric Tsang appeared at the 19th Far East Film Festival in Udine. Prior to the screening he was presented with the Golden Mulberrry Lifetime Achievement Award, a fitting tribute to one of Hong Kong’s great filmmakers. Alongside such memorable roles as Hon Sam in Infernal Affairs, Tsang has worked as a director, producer, presenter and screenwriter throughout The Golden Age of Hong Kong cinema. Some of my favourite films he has worked on are: Enter the fat Dragon, Aces Go Places, The Loot and Armour of God. We were lucky enough to secure a short interview with him, wherein he was as affable, funny and charming as I thought he would be. Here it is…
Eric Tsang and Martin Sandison get cozy.
Martin Sandison: Hi, I’m Martin from City on Fire.
Matija Makotoichi Tomic: I’m Matija, also from City on Fire.
Eric Tsang: Hi! Nice to meet you!
MS: The first question is about Mad World. I saw the movie last night, I love it (read Martin’s review). It’s my favourite movie of the festival. I was wondering how you approached the subject matter, and how you got the role and prepared for it?
ET: I appreciate very much that you enjoyed the movie. So first of all, you know my personality: I’m a happy, go lucky person. I always want to amuse the audience and make something pleasant and entertaining, that is my style. So at first, I wouldn’t have considered this role. But I have known the director Wong Chung from before and I have worked with him collaborating on a short film. I really like his work, it is very solid and good. So we talked about having another collaboration for a while. So he told me “Yes, I have another project that I’ve been writing and working on this for more than two years, and I want to approach you you for it. I have written a character in the movie that is most suitable for you. Would you consider it?” At first I thought, my God this is such a heavy story, I really don’t want to take it! But I shouldn’t refuse it without even reading the script. So I took the script back and read it, and thought it was a very good script, so I ended up taking the role and making the movie.
“Mad World” Chinese Theatrical Poster
I always support and nurture new directors, and one thing I always do is help them find funding for their movies, and find better stronger costars. So I understood with this particular project they already had funding from a special award, which was HK $2 Million dollars. But this is not a lot of money, so it would be hard to find superstars to be in the movie. I didn’t want the filmmakers script to be spoiled by amateur or inexperienced actors. Because a good actor can enhance the outcome. So I found Shawn Yue, and convinced Shawn to make the movie. We did the movie pro bono, so this was a big support for the director. Even Elaine Jin who played the mum worked pro bono. So all three main actors made the movie for free.
MS: That’s great.
ET: Yeah because $2 million is nothing.
MS: And the movie has been so successful.
ET: Yes, everybody is very happy with this outcome. The movie has come out in Hong Kong, and is getting good box office. In almost every film festival we have had recognition and awards.
“The Challenger” Chinese Theatrical Poster
MT: I wanted to ask about your beginning as a director. So the first two movies you directed (The Challenger and The Loot) were kung fu movies. How did it come about that you directed the two movies? And can you tell us anything about the shoot of them, anything interesting?
ET: First of all if you know my career, I started off as a stuntman. So if you ask me why I chose the kung fu movie genre to make my first movie, that’s because it’s what I knew at that point in my life and career. It’s everything I’ve learned as a stuntman. Maybe not as a director, but I had a lot of knowledge and experience I wanted to share. That’s the same experience for any new director. When you first start with your first project, it is your most passionate project. Its something you have held close in your heart for a long, long time. So we all share that. Another thing is if you know me personality wise, I always like humour, comedy. So kung fu comedy became my first style, and set my tone of film making.
MT: In those movies one of the actors was Phillip Ko Fei.
ET: Ko Fei? Yes.
MT: He recently passed. Could you say something about him? Were you good friends, even after making those films?
“The Loot” Chinese Theatrical Poster
ET: First of all, the fact that you mentioned Ko Fei means you really follow Hong Kong cinema closely. We were good friends, a long time ago. One thing I always thought was that Ko Fei always had this high energy level, he was also tireless. His energy level was so strong that he actually drives everybody on the set and made everybody work very hard. Because even when we shot those movies and it was so hot in Hong Kong, so humid. So the minute the actors put on the costumes they were sweated through. So it was a very, very tough environment, and yet Ko Fei didn’t complain and worked very hard. Besides all that, he was the best action actor. So I was very happy to work with him, and Ko Fei was in both movies. Our friendship continued, because as you may know I was a professional soccer player, before I worked in the entertainment business! Ko Fei was also a soccer player, and we were both key members of the star soccer team with all the stars! (laughter) We continued playing soccer, outside of being colleagues.
MS: I wanted to ask you about Infernal Affairs. The movie is obviously one of the best Hong Kong films ever made, everyone agrees it’s a masterpiece. Could you share some memories of the shoot, and how you approached the character?
On the set of Jackie Chan’s Armour of God, which Eric co-produced.
ET: First of all, I myself love that movie. It’s one of the movie projects I have made that will be in my memory forever, I will never forget it. I was very honoured to be part of the project. Even though I’ve made a lot of movies to be in such a serious production and costarring with all of these very strong drama actors like Tony Leung, Andy Lau and Anthony Wong, going to the set every day was like the beginning of a new battle. I was combating with all of these strong actors. We pushed each other, especially when you work with costars who are so strong.
The director Andrew Lau when he came on set on the first day, he said very seriously this is how I want to do this and that. The minute he finished talking, Andy Lau has an idea, Tony Leung has an idea, Anthony Wong also had an idea! Everybody including me! (laughter) In the end, Andrew Lau said “ok you all demonstrate.” So we did a master shot of everybody demonstrating, and in the end it was the best outcome. So since then I have changed my style of directing, it’s become more collaborative. Everybody will come up with an idea and then we start shooting, then we will reach a consensus.
As “Hon Sam” in Andrew Lau’s Infernal Affairs.
I’ll share a memory from Infernal Affairs. When I was in the Police station, I had a lunch box. In that particular scene, it was my idea how to shoot it. I brought my own lunchbox to work that day, and on the set I showed Andrew Lau the lunchbox, and he said “Ok, let’s shoot it!” (laughter)
MS: Ok, thank you very much!
ET: Thank you!
MS: Could I get a quick picture, and could you sign this? (I take out my Infernal Affairs DVD cover)
ET: Wow! Of course.
Thanks again to Martin Sandison, Matija Tomic, Eric Tsang and Sophia Wong Boccio for translating.
Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray set for the Chuck Norris Total Attack Pack. This 3 disc collection includes three of Chuck Norris’ (Yellow Faced Tiger) most acclaimed films, including an early one by filmmaker Andrew Davis (The Fugitive, Under Siege):
1983’s Lone Wolf McQuade, starring David Carradine; 1985’s Code of Silence (read our review), starring Henry Silva; and 1986’s The Delta Force, starring Lee Marvin and Robert Forster.
Former heavyweight champ, Mike Tyson (Ip Man 3) and Aikido sensation Steven Seagal (Exit Wounds), have an appearance in China Salesman (aka Chinese Salesman), an action film written and directed by Tan Bing (aka Geng Weiguo).
Other cast members include Janicke Askevold (My Way), Eriq Ebouaney and Dong-xue Li (1911). Hong Kong legend Ching Siu Ting (Dragon Inn), who worked with Seagal on 2003’s Belly of the Beast, is rumored to be involved.
Currently, no other details are known about China Salesman, other than the film has a domestic release date set for June 16th, 2017.
On July 18, 2017, Dark Cuts is bringing Kurando Mitsutake’s (Gun Woman) Karate Kill to Blu-ray & DVD.
When a mysterious loner and Karate master Kenji’s (Hayate) little sister goes missing in Los Angeles, whoever stands in his way of finding her will face the wrath of a lethal Karate Kill!
Karate Kill also stars Asami (Prison Girl), Kamata Noriaki (Gun Woman), Jeffrey James Lippold (Samurai Avenger), Carlee Baker (L.A. Slasher), Katarina Leigh Baker and Akihiro Kitamura (Why Don’t You Play in Hell?).
Director: Shinsuke Sato Writer: Kengo Hanazawa, Akiko Nogi Cast: Yo Oizumi, Kasumi Arimura, Masami Nagasawa, Hisashi Yoshizawa, Yoshinori Okada, Nana Katase, Jin Katagiri, Makita Sports, Muga Tsukaji, Yu Tokui, Toru Kazama Running Time: 126 min.
By Paul Bramhall
It’s rare for Asian movies to break out into the mainstream, and when they do, they’re normally of the martial arts variety. So in 2016, when the Korean zombie movie Train to Busan started getting global attention, thanks largely to word of mouth, it was something of a phenomena. Sure enough, the concept of a zombie outbreak occurring within the confines of a moving train was a unique one, and even though personally I didn’t feel that the whole added up to the sum of its parts, there were plenty of people out there that did. However there was another zombie movie released just a year prior to Train to Busan, and that came in the form of Japan’s I Am a Hero, a title which, for all intents and purposes, gives no indication to its subject matter.
In all fairness, people can be forgiven for writing off the Japanese zombie genre, and paying little attention to any new additions. The short lived wave of Japanese splatter flicks, churned out in the 5 year period from 2008 – 2012, quickly found audiences fatigued of a genre that, while initially fun in their over the top nature, soon came to rely on cheap and unconvincing CGI. Productions such as 2008’s Zombie Hunter Rika and 2010’s Helldriver are both poor excuses for feature length movies, and most audiences agreed. Micro-budgets, excessive CGI blood splatter, and little to no story, proved that even the most hardened zombie fan likes at least a little reasoning and quality control to their undead fix.
With that background, it’s perhaps understandable that I Am a Hero hasn’t quite made the same waves as its Korean counterpart. The lack of recognition is unfortunate, as not only is I Am a Hero a far superior slice of zombie entertainment, I’d go so far as to say it’s the most entertaining zombie flick I’ve seen since 28 Days Later revived the genre back in 2002. The ‘hero’ in question is played by Yo Oizumi, a struggling manga artist who, after winning the Best Newcomer award 15 years ago, has failed to fulfil the bright future that once seemingly lay ahead. Within the first 10 minutes, we witness his latest idea for a comic get rejected, and his long term girlfriend reach breaking point in her wait for their lives to improve, leading to her kicking him out of their apartment with only his shotgun (and his licence for it, we’ll get to that later) for company.
Indeed during the opening of I Am a Hero you’d have no indication that it’s a zombie movie at all. The only hint comes from a news broadcast casually playing in the background of the confined Manga studio, covering a story in which a woman was bitten by a dog, during which, as the story comes to a close, the anchor apologies and confirms that it was actually the other way around. However, after receiving a phone call from his ex, sounding distinctly under the weather and apologetic, Oizumi rushes over to the apartment to check up on her, leading to the first scene in a zombie movie which I can say legitimately scared the living daylights out of me in a long time. Needless to say, ‘under the weather’ is an understatement, and soon more and more people are falling victim to the strange virus that turns them into blood thirsty members of the walking dead.
One of the most welcome elements of I Am a Hero are the zombies themselves. Their look is refreshingly gruesome, with no half-baked makeup, or reliance on extras pacing around with their mouths open. The transformation, which involves the eyes bulging out and flesh immediately rotting, is brilliantly done, and a significant reliance on practical effects aided by CGI, rather than the other way around, makes a huge difference. Unlike Train to Busan’s rather toothless approach to gore, I Am a Hero positively embraces it, and does so with top level special effects that put it in an entirely different league than the productions mentioned earlier. Heads explode, limbs are torn off, and faces are ripped apart in a manner that’s never less than convincing.
At its core though, is Oizumi himself, a haplessly timid character who insists on doing everything by the book. He’s the exact opposite of the typical hero found in a zombie movie, the constant rejection he’s faced draining any kind of ambition out of him. Precisely because of his completely average nature, as an audience you’re constantly torn between being frustrated, and at the same time, being able to understand his actions. Such a setup also allows for plenty of darkly comical moments, such as his stubborn refusal to use his shotgun in public, as it’s against the law, and his reluctance to let anyone else use it, as they don’t have a licence. However his character also allows for I Am a Hero’s most human moments, such as when he fails to save an acquaintance, even when he had the opportunity to do so, leading to him angrily questioning himself as to why he’s so useless.
The story itself is based on a Manga by Kengo Hanazawa, and was brought to the big screen by director Shinsuke Sato. Sato got his directorial debut by cutting his teeth on the Donnie Yen choreographed Princess Blade in 2001, and has since then been behind many of the 2-part manga adaptions that plague mainstream Japanese cinema, such as Gantz and Gantz: Perfect Answer, and more recently Library Wars and Library Wars: The Last Mission. Whatever discussion took place behind the scenes that resulted in the decision to not make I Am a Hero another 2-parter, is one that we should all be thankful for. The 20-volume Manga has been stripped down to a lean and mean 2 hour production that works perfectly, with zero time wasted on such unnecessary sub-plots as romantic interests, and most significantly for a Japanese mainstream movie, a welcome lack of lengthy exposition.
The 2nd half of I Am a Hero heads into familiar territory, as Oizumi and a schoolgirl he saved along the way, played by Kasumi Arimura, come across a group of survivors camped out on the rooftop of an outlet mall. Interestingly, as a piece of trivia the location of the mall is actually one that went out of business a few years ago in Korea, as the strict gun laws in Japan meant the producers couldn’t get permission to use firearms at any suitable locations in Japan itself. The nod to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is an obvious one, however it never becomes derogatory. The mall also expands on what we know about the zombies, as one survivor explains that once turned, they revert to behaving in a way which reflects whatever they were most used to doing. One zombie is observed standing motionless, his arm outstretched holding onto an invisible rail, as if on the train to the office, while another desperately attempts to enter the mall so they can shop.
Of course, the initially welcoming leader of the group, played by Hisashi Yoshizawa, soon reveals a darker side, and it’s eventually the combination of both the zombies, and the dark side of human nature, that finally forces Oizumi to stop running away and take action. His decision to step up is not only a punch the air moment, but it also leads into one of the most excessively bloody zombies versus humans confrontations that’s been witnessed onscreen for quite some time. While I’d stop short of saying it rivals the lawnmower madness of Peter Jackson’s Braindead, there’s no denying that there’s a cathartic joy of witnessing Oizumi’s decision to finally put his shooting hobby into practice, as they become more and more surrounded by hordes of the undead.
I Am a Hero ultimately proves to be a suitably ironic title, something that will only be understood after watching it, which I’d recommend everyone to do without hesitation. That rare combination of a character driven zombie flick that, on top of being a character piece, also wants to be an unapologetic gore fest. It’s not so much a case that such a combination has never been successfully pulled off, but rather, is hardly ever attempted. Horrifying, funny, and exhilarating in equal measures, I Am a Hero is everything a zombie movie should be, and maybe even a little more.
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