Director Dante Lam (Unbeatable) might just be the hardest working man in Hong Kong cinema. The filmmaker has been reliably turning out hard-hitting films that have helped expand the scope of the action/thriller genre in Hong Kong – his most recent film, Operation Mekong, recently made waves, and now, Lam has yet another creamy trick under his sleeve: Operation Red Sea.
Operation Red Sea is an upcoming actioner that stars Zhang Yi (Brotherhood of Blades 2), Huang Jingyu (Drug War) and Du Jiang (Mr. High Heels).
According to the official synopsis (via Variety), “the Jiaolong Assault Team, one of the special forces of the world’s largest military force, People’s Liberation Army, is given a potentially fatal assignment, leading a small eight-man unit to evacuate Chinese residents from a North African republic in the throes of a coup d’état.”
Well Go USA has picked up Operation Red Sea for North American distribution, so expect theatrical, Blu-ray and DVD dates to be revealed soon. Until then, don’t miss the film’s Trailer:
Director: Dimitri Logothetis Cast: Alain Moussi, Christopher Lambert, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mike Tyson, Sara Malakul Lane, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, Sam Medina, Steven Swadling, Miles Strommen, Renato Sobral, Renzo Gracie Running Time: 110 min.
By Paul Bramhall
It’s been 2 years since the reboot of the Kickboxer franchise hit the screens with Kickboxer: Vengeance, however even before its release it had been announced that a further 2 instalments were on the way. In 2018 the first of them has arrived with Kickboxer: Retaliation, a sequel that’s existence is as much a surprise to me as it is to anyone. To say that Kickboxer: Vengeance had a rocky road to the screen is an understatement. Originally set to be directed by Stephen Fung, with a cast including Tony Jaa and Scott Adkins, all dropped out in the pre-production stages. Fung was replaced by In the Blood director John Stockwell, but after financial issues left crew members that worked on the New Orleans shoot unpaid, he never returned, and the move ended up being completed by writer and producer Dimitri Logothetis.
It’s Logothetis that remains in the director’s chair for the sequel, and unlike the original franchise, he’s at least been able to bring along key members of the cast from Kickboxer: Vengeance. Alain Moussi maintains his role as Kurt Sloane, the character Jean Claude Van Damme played in the original, with Thai model Sara Malakul Lane returning as his wife, and Van Damme himself back as Master Durand (now blind, but at least he’s not dubbed by someone else this time around). Kickboxer: Retaliation hasn’t been without its drama though, with rumours abound of embattled executive producer Bey Logan being kicked off the project, and how many movies do you see a ‘Film Completion Guarantor’ listed in the credits? It seems confidence wasn’t running high for certain backers, but despite this, the 3rd instalment (Kickboxer: Armageddon) still appears to be on track.
The plot for the sequel is remarkably simple. After killing Tong Po at the end of the previous instalment, Moussi is now a successful MMA fighter in the States, having just won his latest match (against Renato Sobral) in Las Vegas. However for reasons that are never entirely made clear, new bad guy on the block Christopher Lambert turns up, the apparent head of an underground kumite, who wants Moussi back in Thailand for another death match. His opponent comes in the form of Icelandic man mountain Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (who’s described as “4 x Tong Po”), a bioengineered killing machine. Or so the script would have us believe, really he just has a fondness for adrenaline injections. So it is Moussi finds himself sedated, wakes up in a Thai prison, and after initially disagreeing, eventually finds a reason (hint: it involves his wife) to fight Björnsson.
All of the above is stretched over a whopping 105 minutes, of which I’m still trying to figure out exactly what they filled with. Kickboxer: Retaliation is one of those movies that pays no attention to the basic elements of filmmaking, instead expecting that if a slow motion kick is thrown every few minutes, the audiences who clock into this type of movie will be happy. Wrong. Granted, the narrative structure does manage to maintain some vague string of coherency, although admittedly there are a few head scratching moments, the real issue is that there’s nothing going on even remotely interesting. Lambert wants Moussi to fight Björnsson, that’s it. Very dull.
It’s so dull that even the head scratching doesn’t last long for lack of caring. For example when Moussi is sedated, the scene suggests his wife is taken as well, therefore giving him a reason to fight. But then she suddenly shows up in Thailand trying to find him, with no explanation as to how she’d know he was there, or what happened to her back in the US. It’s bewildering. Proceedings get more bizarre when Moussi is befriended by Mike Tyson and Ronaldinho in prison. Why they’re there we never know, but Tyson has a connection to Van Damme, so soon the 3 of them get together to train Moussi in how to take on the 6’10 Icelandic strongman. Cue Ronaldinho kicking balls at Moussi in slow motion, and Tyson teaching him how to punch a breeze block. What exactly is the goal of this training is never clearly defined, so these scenes just kind of play out like time filler montages.
Van Damme’s blindness is also treated in a bewildering fashion. Basically he’s the Belgian DareDevil, in that he’s able to “feel the air move”. However the visuals don’t follow the dialogue, instead showing that he’s able to see people’s moves before they make them, like a premonition. There seems to be no distance limitation on this air feeling either, as when he’s an audience member for the final fight, he’s able to cheer and whoop whenever Moussi lands a blow on Björnsson. Or maybe they just forgot he’s supposed to be blind. Van Damme is also followed around by his son this time, played by complete unknown Miles Strommen, who apart from having irritatingly foppish hair literally has nothing to do during the whole movie. It’d be easier to kick myself in the face than it is to ascertain what his purpose is in Kickboxer: Retaliation, and also more enjoyable.
Eventually Moussi’s wife actually does get kidnapped, which is likely what many will think happened in the first place, and as expected it puts him on track for a confrontation with Björnsson. Despite this expected turn of events, there’s an inescapable feeling that nothing is really at risk, which makes even the fight scenes a slog to get through. We already know Moussi can fight, so it’s difficult to feel that he’s getting much out of his training, and he has no personal vendetta against Björnsson, like he did against Dave Bautista in the first instalment (despite a late in the game attempt to give one).
The action itself is uninspiring. The talent in front of the camera all have the moves, it’s the reason they were cast, however the choreography is flat, relying on slow motion to the point you can probably count the number of kicks thrown at normal speed on one hand. The slow motion is likely what resulted in the bloated runtime, and is perhaps Kickboxer: Retaliation’s biggest detriment. When whole fights consist of a series of edited together money shots, the awe of some of the moves being performed is quickly lost, as fatigue sets in at seeing another chiselled torso go flying through the air. There is some initial promise, with Moussi’s stroll through prison taking out various attackers being a brief highlight, and the Thai stuntmen are particularly game at throwing themselves into various awnings, and absorbing some painful looking falls.
The rest of the fights don’t fare so well, which include a homage to Enter the Dragon, with Moussi taking on a pair of bikini clad bodyguards (complete with glow in the dark tattoos and lipstick) in a hall of mirrors, amusingly located in Lambert’s apartment. However the scene that really takes the cake is a fight on top of a train, a realization of a dream sequence from the opening scene, it features some of the most hilariously bad green screen work I’ve ever seen. I mean it makes a similar scene is Panna Rittikrai’s Vengeance of an Assassin look like it was created by Industrial Light and Magic, and I’m also pretty sure that if you perform a flying kick on top of a moving train, you wouldn’t land in the exact same spot.
It feels strange to be talking about a fight flick and have nothing to really say about the finale itself, however there’s a first for everything, and for me Kickboxer: Retaliation is it. Perhaps it’s simply because the pairing of Moussi versus Björnsson plays out exactly the way you expect it to, with zero surprise moments. Moussi spends most of it acting like he’s putting together footage for a falls demo reel, as he gets punched and thrown around like a ragdoll, before deciding to go with some blindfolded “feel the air” nonsense to gain the advantage. Who would of thought there’d come a time when it’s ok to say that Naked Weapon executed an idea better than another movie?
The fact is that while Kickboxer: Retaliation may achieve its goal of recreating the 90’s American martial arts B-movie, if that was in fact its goal, in reality we’ve all moved on from it. Guys like Scott Adkins have raised the bar, and that bar should be the standard, not the exception. Those that enjoyed Kickboxer: Vengeance will likely also enjoy its sequel, perhaps even more so, however with a lifeless script, questionable acting, and distracting cameos, it’s ultimately too throwaway to linger in the memory more than a few hours after watching. The rebooted Kurt Sloane may want to be the new Uri Boyka, but in reality, he’s closer to the new Jake Raye.
Filipino director Erik Matti (Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles) hit the nail right on its head with his 2013 contract killer-themed thriller On the Job. His recent film, Honor Thy Father (no relation to that 1973 Godfather knock off), has met with similar praise.
Now, Matti is taking a stab at the martial arts genre with in an upcoming action flick titled Buy Bust. The project will star American-Filipino MMA sensation, Brandon Vera (Kamandag), and Filipino-Australian actress, Anne Curtis (Blood Ransom).
There’s no word on the plot, but considering it’s called Buy Bust, we expect a story involving cops, drug dealers and gangsters intertwined with hard-hitting martial arts choreography.
Buy Bust will incorporate traditional styles of Filipino martial arts (the most common are the arnis, eskrima and kali systems) and according to an article by SA, expect “no digital cheating and with no body doubles.”
Buy Bust is getting a domestic release on February 28, 2018.
Update: Check out the film’s Newest Trailer below:
On April 3, 2018, Funimation will be releasing the Blu-ray & DVD for Kentaro Hagiwara’s Tokyo Ghoul, a live-action feature film adaptation of Sui Ishida’s popular manga series.
Ken Kaneki’s only chance for survival is an organ donation that turns him into a ghoul-human hybrid. Confused and alone, he finds sanctuary at Anteiku—a café run by the people he once considered monsters. When the innocent members of this ghoul safe house are threatened by humanity’s taste for vengeance, Kaneki will risk life and limb to protect the very world that changed his own.
Tokyo Ghoul stars Masataka Kubota (Rurouni Kenshin), Fumika Shimizu (Happy Landing), Nobuyuki Suzuki (7 Days Report), Yo Oizumi (I Am a Hero) and Yu Aoi (Zipang Punk).
Don’t miss the film’s Trailer below. And stay tuned for pre-order information.
Former MMA champ-turned-star Gina Carano (Haywire, Kickboxer: Vengeance) is back in action with Scorched Earth, an upcoming thriller that will potentially give Italian western and post-apocalyptic film buffs something to drool over.
The film is directed by Peter Howitt (Johnny English) and co-stars John Hannah (The Mummy Returns), Ryan Robbins (The Confirmation), Stephanie Bennett (Travelers), Dean S. Jagger (Game of Thrones), Alisha Newton (The Hollow) and Nathan Mitchell (iZombie).
The planet has suffered an environmental collapse; the air became dangerous to breathe, the water became toxic, and billions of people died. Generations later, mankind has finally re-established a rudimentary society, in an attempt to pick up the pieces that continue to blister in the sun. Attica Gage (Carano) is a bounty hunter with a chance at the bounty of a lifetime: to bring down the ruthless outlaw, Elijah Jackson. Gage infiltrates Jackson’s gang, and everything is going to plan until she meets a slave girl who reminds her of her dead sister.
Scorched Earth hits Theaters on iTunes on February 2, 2018, followed by a Blu-ray & DVD release on March 6, 2018. Don’t miss the film’s Trailer below:
On March 6, 2018, North American entertainment company Cinedigm will be releasing the Asian Extreme Blu-ray set, which will include the following films:
R100 (read our review): A mild-mannered family man with a secret taste for S&M finds himself pursued by a gang of ruthless dominatrices each with a unique talent in this hilarious and bizarre take on the sex comedy from Japanese comedy giant Hitoshi Matsumoto (Big Man Japan).
The World of Kanako (read our review): A nonstop visual and emotional assault to the senses as it follows troubled ex-detective Akikazu on the hunt for his missing teenage daughter, Kanako. What he discovers in his search is an unsettling and harrowing web of depravity surrounding both Kanako and himself.
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (read our review): Based on a screenplay he wrote nearly fifteen years ago, this movie is Sion Sono’s (Love Exposure) very best work. There’s a war going on, but that won’t stop the inexperienced but eager wannabe film crew The F Bombers from following their dreams of making the ultimate action epic. And The F Bombers are standing by with the chance of a lifetime: to film a real, live yakuza battle to the death… on 35mm!
On April 3, 2018, Cinedigm Entertainment will be releasing Zhang Xianfeng’s sci-fi actioner Kung Fu Traveler to DVD. The film stars Tiger Chen (Monk Comes Down the Mountain) and Wang Zhi (Drug War).
In the film, aliens have invaded and overtaken the Earth. Trying to escape defeat, a Chinese General (Chen) is accidentally sent back in time while trying to devise a way to defeat the alien invaders.
Is this Tiger Chen’s answer to Timecop? In addition to Kung Fu Traveler, the Yuen Woo-ping protege, who made his starring debut in Keanu Reeves’ Man of Tai Chi, is also involved with Triple Threat, an Expendables-type actioner also starring Tony Jaa (Skin Trade) and Iko Uwais (The Raid 2).
Director: Mark Dacascos Cast: Alexander Nevsky, Casper Van Dien, Matthias Hues, Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, Olivier Gruner, Mark Dacascos, Tia Carrera, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, Jake Macapagal, Moises Magisa, Monsour Del Rosario, Dmitriy Dyuzhev Running Time: 86 min.
By Paul Bramhall
Russian bodybuilder turned fledging action hero Alexander Nevsky, the Tommy Wiseau of the action genre, returned to screens in 2016 with Showdown in Manila, which marks the directorial debut of Mark Dacascos. Much like Nevsky’s last movie to get a release stateside, Black Rose, so his latest effort has also spent a couple of years sat on a shelf unreleased. It was ITN Distribution that plucked Black Rose out of obscurity, providing Nevsky’s 2014 directorial debut with a limited theatrical run in the States during April 2017, and the same distributors have saved Showdown in Manila from the edge of limbo. Completed in 2015, while Showdown in Manila screened in Russia, it wasn’t until early 2018 that it eventually turned up on American shores.
If you’re anything like me, you’re likely asking what it is about Nevsky’s movies that prevents them from flying off the shelf as soon as they’re put on the market, however after watching just a couple of minutes of Showdown in Manila, the answer becomes blatantly obvious. They’re pretty bad. I don’t know what it is about these former USSR countries, and their ability to make action movies with casts that read like a who’s who of 90’s American B-movies, but just like Beyond the Game and Diamond Cartel, Showdown in Manila crams them in. Matthias Hues, Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, Olivier Gruner, Mark Dacascos, Tia Carrera, and Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa all turn up for varying amounts of screentime. Dacascos appears in his own movie for less than 2 minutes, while Hiroyuki-Tagawa looks catatonic whenever he’s onscreen. It’s certainly never dull.
The plot involves Nevsky as a former New York cop who, after an operation gone wrong, is now running a private detective agency in Manila. A docile looking man mountain with zero screen charisma, and who sometimes sounds like he’s trying to imitate his idol Arnold Schwarzenegger (yes, a Russian trying to imitate an Austrian’s English accent, it’s not pretty), we learn that Nevsky is capable of crushing knee caps with his bare hands, and has an affinity for denim waistcoats. He runs the agency with Casper Van Dien, playing a former L.A. cop who’s a recovering sex addict, that escaped to Manila after being caught with his sergeant’s wife. It’s as dumb as it sounds. Van Dien, who randomly shows up after 20 minutes as the co-star with zero explanation, brings the most energy to Showdown in Manila, desperately attempting to breathe life into a horrendously clunky script.
Nevsky and Van Dien are hired by Tia Carrera (looking like her face has had a showdown with Botox), who it’s explained is a police sketch artist vacationing in the Philippines, when her FBI agent husband, played by Dacascos, is murdered in broad daylight by dialling-it-in bad guys Hiroyuki-Tagawa and Matthias Hues. I confess there’s something poetic in the way Dacascos chose to show up in his own movie for the sole purpose of being killed. Perhaps it reflects his attitude towards the whole experience of directing. In an interview I conducted with the 2nd unit director Sonny Sison in July 2017, he explained that it was Nevsky that approached Dacascos to direct, so exactly how much influence Dacascos had in the director’s chair is open to debate (and I’m sure it wasn’t his decision to include a cameo from a Russian pop star). However regardless of the truth, I feel confident in saying this will likely be the first and last time we see Dacascos the director.
He has worked with the writer of Showdown in Manila before though, Craig Hamann, when he took the lead role in Hamann’s directorial debut, with 1998’s Boogie Boy. What’s interesting is that, based on the details found on IMDB, it would appear that writing the script for Showdown in Manila is Hamann’s first significant credit since Boogie Boy, which would likely explain why the dialogue seems so rusty and lacking spark. Of course the fact the Nevsky and Van Dien have zero chemistry together also plays a factor, but with a better script, perhaps it could have been slightly less painful.
One person that Dacascos definitely has worked with before, albeit not in the film industry, is his father Al Dacascos. A Black Belt Hall of Famer, Dacascos Sr. is a highly respected American martial arts practitioner, and the founder of the hybrid style Wun Hop Kuen Do. It’s understandable that he be brought on board as the fight choreographer for Showdown in Manila, however there really isn’t enough martial arts action on show, to judge if he’s capable of transferring the realism of his style to a screen fighting aesthetic. Sison mentioned in our interview that Dacascos Sr. would usually come up with the moves, and then he’d interpret them to appeal to the camera. This is only really noticeable in a brief burst of action that Cynthia Rothrock busts out, when she takes on multiple attackers using Escrima, but outside of these few seconds there’s nothing of note.
Speaking of Rothrock and Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, who seem to come as a package deal recently following appearances together in The Martial Arts Kid and Death Fighter, their appearance here is as incomprehensible as everything else. When proceedings shift to the jungle for the finale, a change in location which is fuzzily explained at best, Nevsky and Van Dien are met on a riverbank by a pair of Nevsky’s former comrades, played by Olivier Gruner and fellow Russian Dmitriy Dyuzhev. Gruner introduces Rothrock and Wilson to Nevsky as people that can help them in their mission to take down Hiroyuki-Tagawa and Hues, to which Nevsky responds “I’ve seen a few of their films.” I’m not sure if it was supposed to be a moment of meta-humor, but considering Nevsky’s monotone delivery of his lines, it’s difficult to tell. Either way, it felt like a face palm moment.
Not content with simply being an unremarkable action B-movie, unfortunately Showdown in Manila makes the ill-advised decision to open with a setup identical to The Raid. The influence of Gareth Evans’s 2011 classic can be seen in several movies in the years since, from Hong Kong’s Zombie Fight Club, to Bollywood’s Rocky Handsome, to Cambodia’s Jailbreak. However while those movies aimed to match the visceral thrill that The Raid provided, Showdown in Manila settles for delivering a rather dull and lifeless raid on a compound by the Violent Crime Unit Strike Force, culminating in a yawn inducing gun fight. It’s the very definition of a by-the-numbers action scene, and when Nevsky takes a bullet in the scenes finale, the fact that he doesn’t seem to have taken any stunt-fall training is equally painful to watch, as he carefully falls to the ground.
Despite Nevsky’s unremarkable track record as an action star, there’s something morbidly admirable about his can-do attitude. He’s already prepping Black Rose 2 during 2018, and is the star of Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 the Grave director Andrzej Bartkowiak’s (who serves as executive producer here) next feature Maximum Impact, which will also feature Mark Dacascos and Matthias Hues. However rather than the talent he surrounds himself elevating his performance to their level, it seems the case that those who appear in Nevsky’s vanity projects end up being dragged down to his level. He may have lofty ambitions and dreams, but you need to have the talent to back it up. With stiff acting, lifeless line delivery, and a distinct absence of screen presence, at this point even if he got Donnie Yen to appear in his next title, I’d likely give it a pass.
Showdown in Manila may be a bad movie, however I admit seeing so many familiar faces show up to embarrass themselves did keep it mildly entertaining. Even respectable Filipino actors, such as Jake Macapagal and Moises Magisa from Metro Manila show up, along with vintage action star Monsour Del Rosario in a blink and you’ll miss it appearance (albeit one that provides a reunion with Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, as Del Rosario played a fighter in Wilson’s 1990 sequel Bloodfist II). Towards the end of Showdown in Manila’s mercifully short 85 minute runtime, Wilson declares “Enough of this, let’s kick some ass.” If only he’d said it at the beginning, maybe it would have been less of a chore to get through. Maybe, but not likely.
Immortal Demon Slayer – The Legend of Wu Kong | Blu-ray & DVD (Cinedigm)
RELEASE DATE: March 6, 2018
Cinedigm/Crimson Forest Films presents the Blu-ray & DVD for Immortal Demon Slayer – The Legend of Wu Kong (aka WuKong), a fantasy/martial arts film directed by Derek Kwok (As the Lights Goes Out).
Within just a few years, Kwok firmly established himself as one of Hong Kong’s hottest directors. His last featureFull Strike, was a co-directorial effort just like his previous films, Gallantsand Journey to the West…
But now, Kwok is back to directing solo with Immortal Demon Slayer – The Legend of Wu Kong, which 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).
This year will see the release of the fantasy-adventure Asura (not to be confused with the Korean crime film), the directorial debut of noted stunt coordinator Peng Zhang (The Wrath of Vajra, Kick-Ass). The big budget film is said to be the first in a trilogy to be released at a later date.
The story is set in Asura, the dimension of pure desire according to ancient Buddhist mythology. The mythical realm is threatened by a coup from a lower heavenly kingdom and the story follows from there.
Asura is known having a high-profile backing from a list of international talent: It’s written by Zhenjian Yang (Painted Skin: The Resurrection); features costume designs by Oscar winner Ngila Dickson (The Lord of the Rings); Martín Hernandez (The Revenant) serves as the audio director; and Charlie Iturriaga (Deadpool) is handling the film’s visual effects.
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