Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing (2006) Review

"Undisputed II: Last Man Standing" Japanese DVD Poster

“Undisputed II: Last Man Standing” Japanese DVD Poster

Director: Isaac Florentine
Producer: Boaz Davidson
Cast: Michael Jai White, Scott Adkins, Ben Cross, Eli Danker, Mark Ivanir, Ken Lerner, Daisy Lang, Silvio Simac, Ivaylo Geraskov, Valentin Ganev, Atanas Srebrev, Michail Elenor, Velizar Binev, George Zlatarev
Running Time: 98 min.

By Paul Bramhall

I confess I’m late to the party with Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing, 12 years late to be precise. But in my defence, I have my reasons, the biggest one being I’m simply not a fan of the whole underground tournament genre. However back in 2010, even I found myself caught up in the hype for Undisputed 3: Redemption, and dutifully found myself checking it out as soon as it was released. Let’s be clear, the fight action was amazing, but (and it’s a big but), the plot felt very perfunctory – it was moving us from one fight in the ring to the next. It seemed the only prior knowledge needed to enjoy Undisputed 3 was that Boyka, the iconic character played by Scott Adkins, gets his knee broken by Michael Jai White in the finale of the sequel. So it was, I never felt the urge to hunt down Undisputed 2, after all, why would I when I already knew the ending!?

It wasn’t until the release of Accident Man, which features a stellar throwdown between Adkins and Jai White, that my curiosity was finally piqued. In many ways Undisputed 2 is one of those movies thats reputation precedes it. Made at a time when the American martial arts B-movie was all but dead (Seagal and Van Damme released trash like Attack Force and The Hard Corps the same year), there’s no argument it was the production responsible for putting its stars and director firmly on the map for action fans. Isaac Florentine’s 8th movie, up until this point he’d largely been considered an unremarkable director of DTV action flicks, however in the movie he made prior, Special Forces, he discovered the talents of British martial artist Scott Adkins. While Adkins was used sparingly in their previous collaboration, here he was thrust into co-star status.

Until Undisputed 2 Adkins had been honing his action talents with the best Hong Kong had to offer, taking minor but high impact roles in the likes of The Accidental Spy, Extreme Challenge, Black Mask 2: City of Masks, The Medallion, and Unleashed. However he was still paying the bills by featuring in local British TV drama series, such as Holly Oaks and Holby City. Undisputed 2 put an end to his British TV career, and started his rise to be the king of DTV action. He’s never looked back since. Likewise for Michael Jai White, while his post-2000 filmography had seen him facing off against the likes of Steven Seagal in Exit Wounds, and Michelle Yeoh in Silver Hawk (don’t mention Kill Bill), it was Undisputed 2 that really let him loose. I would daresay that without Undisputed 2, there would be no Black Dynamite. A shudder worthy thought if ever there was one.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Undisputed 2 though, is that it’s surely the first time in history that a DTV sequel has surpassed in popularity its A-list original, a 2002 boxing movie directed by none other than Walter Hill, which starred Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames. While many point out that the sequel can be enjoyed as a standalone story, it’s also worth pointing out that it is a continuation of Hill’s production. Much like Undisputed 3 would make the sequels antagonist the protagonist, so Undisputed 2 pulled the same trick first, by having Jai White play the role that Rhames played 4 years earlier.

This time around Jai White takes the character of George ‘The Iceman’ Chambers, and plays him as a disgraced former heavyweight champion who we meet in Russia, reduced to appearing in local TV commercials for a brand of vodka (if only he could pronounce his Russian correctly). When the local mob boss learns Jai White is in town, he decides to have him framed for drug possession, so that he can force him to partake in an illegal fighting tournament run out of a mob owned prison. The champion of the prison, which sees Adkins in the role of Boyka, has been itching for a worthy opponent to prove his belief that he’s “the most complete fighter in the world”, and so the pair are set on a collision course with each other.

While it seems almost a cliché to say that Adkins nails the role of Boyka, as someone that skipped straight to Undisputed 3 in which his confidence is in tatters, seeing his performance in Undisputed 2 was something of a revelation. Adkins plays Boyka as a palpable ball of rage, where the threat of violence seems only one wrong stare away, and he cuts a physically imposing figure. Intentionally bulking up for the role once he heard he’d be squaring off against Jai White, at one point a character describes him as “an upside down pyramid”, which I don’t think I could improve upon as a visual of his physical stature. Smashing through wooden benches, killing hapless lackeys with a punch to the throat, and armed with a vocabulary as violent as his fists, he’s as much of a presence outside of the ring as he is in it.

Florentine seems to know he has something special on his hands in the casting of Adkins as Boyka, with the opening scenes focusing more on his preparation and execution of a fight, than on our protagonist. Jai White puts in an equally intense performance, and while his boxer may have fallen from grace, he’s still quick to anger and has a tendency to act like a diva. With a pig headed attitude and refusal to show respect towards Boyka or the prison authorities, the combination of having 2 tightly coiled leads in such a confined setting serves to ramp up the tension levels admirably. As such Undisputed 2 feels like much more of a rounded movie than its sequel, with the story coming first, and events between the action not just feeling like filler between fights.

Of course when the action does come, it delivers. Choreographed by J.J. Perry, the lion’s share of the ring fights go to Adkins, who even makes his first entrance into the square circle a memorable one. While Jai White remains resistant to fight for a large portion of the runtime, he does get some chances to show off his stuff in a couple of scuffles outside of the ring. These occurrences are distinctly different from the action in the ring, reminding us of Florentines history of working on the Power Rangers franchise, with Jai White’s blows sending their recipients flying through the air. I liked the contrast, allowing for a strong sense of impact to be conveyed with his fists as a boxer, in comparison to Adkins airborne decimations. Speaking of contrast, slow motion is used far less gratuitously here than it would be in future sequels, so when it is applied the moves really stand out.

After confronting each other in the prison dinner hall and yard, the spite that develops between Adkins and Jai White eventually boils over into not one but two in the ring fights, which don’t disappoint. One of the factors I really appreciated is that neither of them is portrayed as the underdog, which is unusual in this scenario, but works perfectly, making the question of who’ll win seem anything like a foregone conclusion. Both Adkins and Jai White are impressively bulked up, and look like they could punch through a wall, which allow for their confrontations to be suitably hard hitting. After Undisputed 3 and Boyka: Undisputed some may feel that the length of the finale is a tad short, but its 3 round structure crams a lot in, with an intense level of choreography that sees not a single movement wasted (or wire in sight for that matter).

Overall I feel confident in saying that Undisputed 2 represents Florentine’s best work as a director. His love of both westerns and kung fu movies are given subtle nods throughout (my favorite of which has Jai White learning MMA moves from an old crippled master in a wheelchair), and the strong supporting cast featuring the likes of Ben Cross and Eli Danker add an unexpectedly welcome layer of drama to proceedings. While some of my pet hates are still present, the main culprit being the rap metal played over fight scenes, here it’s used more sparingly than in future instalments, to the point of being forgivable. In the Behind the Scenes featurette for Undisputed 2, when Adkins is asked about working with Florentine he responds “I’m really happy to be doing my 2nd film with him, and I hope it won’t be the last.” It wouldn’t be, and for that, we’re all really happy.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7.5/10

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

Gang Dong-Won dies hard in the Trailer for ‘Golden Slumber’

"Golden Slumbers" Theatrical Poster

“Golden Slumbers” Theatrical Poster

On February 23rd, 2018, CJ Entertainment is giving Golden Slumber a limited theatrical run in the U.S.

In the film, a newly elected prime minister is assassinated as part of a conspiracy, and a deliveryman (Gang Dong-Won of A Violent Prosecutor) has to flee for his life when he is framed and the evidence against him begins to accumulate.

Golden Slumber is directed by No Dong-Seok (Boys of Tomorrow) and also stars Kim Eui-Sung (The Priests), Han Hyo-Joo (Always), Kim Sung-Kyun (The Prison), Kim Dae-Myung (Bluebeard), Yoo Jae-Myung (Inside Men), Yoon Kye-Sang (The Outlaws) and Kim You-Jung (The Chaser).

Don’t miss the Trailer for Golden Slumber below:

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Scott Adkins goes to space in the New Poster for ‘Incoming’

"Incoming" Theatrical Poster

“Incoming” Theatrical Poster

With a handful of projects currently under his belt, martial arts sensation Scott Adkins (Accident Man, Eliminators) is without doubt, one of the most active action stars in the business. And now, a new project, titled Incoming, is just around the corner.

This one puts the Savage Dog star in somewhat of a Die Hard-in-space scenario. According to DeadlineIncoming revolves around an International Space Station that now serves as a prison. When the imprisoned terrorists take over the Station and turn it into a missile aimed at Moscow, only a shuttle pilot and a rookie doctor can stop them. Adkins plays a rogue CIA agent who has his own plans for the station and the terrorists within.

Incoming is being helmed by first-time director Eric Zaragoza. The film is written by Jorge Saralegui (Showtime) and based on a story by producer Rick Benattar (producer of Shoot ‘Em Up).

“We’re thrilled to be working with Scott on this exciting new project. It’s a science fiction film but rooted in the realities of our world today. It explores familiar themes and looks at what could be our world in the not-too-distant future,” said producer Benattar (via KWPR).

Be sure to read about Adkins’ other looming projects, such as Twilight ZodiacAltar Rock, Triple ThreatMalevolenceSinners and Saints: Vengeance and Pay Up.

Incoming is currently in post-production with a release date by XLrator Media set sometime in 2018. For now, check out the film’s New Poster.


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Well Go USA’s May Blu-ray for Wilson Yip’s is no ‘Paradox’

"Paradox" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Paradox” Chinese Theatrical Poster

This May, Well Go USA will be releasing the Blu-ray/DVD for Paradox, the latest from director Wilson Yip (Ip Man 3) and producer Soi Cheang (SPL II).

Paradox stars Louis Koo (League of Gods) as a police negotiator who travels to Bangkok to search for his teenage daughter and is aided by local detectives played by Tony Jaa (Skin Trade) and Wu Yue (Journey to the West).

Paradox also stars Gordon Lam (Trivisa), Ken Lo (The Godfather’s Daughter Mafia Blues), Hanna Chan, Stephy Tang (Let’s Go!), Chris Collins and features action choreography by Hong Kong film legend, Sammo Hung (The Bodyguard).

Overseas, Paradox was marketed as part of the SPL/Sha Po Lang crime franchise (or Kill Zone in the U.S., full explanation here), but like SPL 2 to SPL, it should be noted that Paradox is unrelated, story-wise.

Stay tuned for pre-order information.

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The Jade Pendant | DVD (Cinedigm)

The Jade Pendant | DVD (Cinedigm)

The Jade Pendant | DVD (Cinedigm)

RELEASE DATE: May 1, 2018

On May 1, 2018, Cinedigm will releasing the DVD for The Jade Pendant, a drama-thriller from acclaimed director Po-Chih Leong (Hong Kong 1941).

In The Jade Pendant, a young Chinese woman, Ying-Ying, finds herself on a boat to America after escaping the clutches of a bad arranged marriage. But when she arrives in California, nothing is what she s expected she’s been sold to a house of prostitution and murderers roam the streets.

The Jade Pendant stars Godfrey Gao (God of War TV series), Clara Lee (Line Walker), Tzi Ma (Rapid Fire), Russell Wong (Contract to Kill) and Tsai Chin (You Only Live Twice).

Pre-order The Jade Pendant from Amazon.com today! 

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Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass, The (1961) Review

"The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Seijun Suzuki
Producer: Takeo Yanagawa
Cast: Koji Wada, Mayumi Shimizu, Shin Morikawa, Arihiro Fujimura, Nobuo Kaneko, Kotoe Hatsui
Running Time: 85 min.

By Kyle Warner

Charming and sweet aren’t phrases I’d usually use to describe a Seijun Suzuki film, but The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass is not the typical Seijun Suzuki film. Occasionally reminiscent of the Yasujiro Ozu film Floating Weeds, The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass (from here on known simply as Wind-of-Youth) is an old-fashioned road movie about magicians in a jam, a yakuza on the run, and a young man becoming a hero.

Koji Wada (Outlaw: Kill!) plays a student on the road through the mountain towns of Japan. He’s broke but not without capital, as his former boss paid his final paycheck with a box of lingerie. He hitches a ride with a magician troupe and peddles his goods in the next town while plotting his adventure through the countryside. Wada’s student is a good guy but he wants to be the hero of the narrative so badly that he begins to annoy those he seeks to help. And in Wind-of-Youth, there are plenty of people in need of a helping hand.

The magician troupe at the center of the film is down on their luck. Their striptease girl who brought in the crowds has dumped them for greener pastures and the other acts are getting stale. After an attempt to try a dangerous new trick results in tragedy, their main investor is ready to pull the plug on the entire operation. If only they could pull together somehow — with Koji Wada’s help, of course — they may be able to not only save their show but make it better than ever before!

It’s a film with many plot threads, from the girl who seeks to leave the circus behind to the pimp with a limp, all of which Koji Wada walks in and out of like a hoodlum Tora-san. My favorite of the side stories is the former yakuza turned aging clown who is on the run after leaving the yakuza life many years ago. Now that he’s finally been identified underneath all the clown makeup, the yakuza families want him dead. But the clown asks the yakuza hitman to please delay until the final show… and when that show gets pushed back, to please delay the execution even longer. And the hitman, keeping a close eye on the clown for fear that he may make a run for it, becomes like an honorary member of the show’s troupe.

There is a lot going on in Wind-of-Youth, with many characters to keep track of. It’s a tad overstuffed. I mostly didn’t take to remembering character names, but rather appearances and types (the student, the yakuza, the clown, the strongman, etc). But the cast and director Suzuki (Tokyo Drifter) keep up the energy and make for a charming little tale.

You may have to remind yourself now and then that this is a Seijun Suzuki film. Not only is it lacking in the dark underbelly usually seen in Suzuki’s work (even the pimp with a limp is depicted as a half-way decent guy), but the visual flourishes are kept at a minimum. There is one memorable shot, however, where Wada is splashed with one colored liquid after another in the middle of a fight. With each splash, the camera’s lighting changes. Yellow, red, green. It’s clever and effective.

If there’s a major issue with the film it’s Koji Wada’s character. Though I have no problem with how the actor played the part, the heroic student is about the most unnecessary character in the film. Being a man of action, it’s difficult to call him passive, but his life doesn’t really change at all throughout the story. It’s like a hero TV show character that helps save the day and then walks off to the next episode while the “guest stars”, a magic troupe in this case, are more interesting than their hero. By the end of the film, though I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of the traveling magicians, I honestly didn’t much care to see where Koji Wada’s hero went next. The finale has a moment that seems to suggest, like many a wandering hero of that era of Japanese cinema, that Wada’s hero student may be seen again. But as far as I can tell, no sequel ever happened.

The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass is slight entertainment. It’s fun while it lasts, only features a few blemishes, but doesn’t really have enough going for it to make it especially memorable. If nothing else, it’s worth watching for Suzuki fans interested to see the director do something more innocent.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 6/10

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Bruce Willis gets a 1970s-style ‘Death Wish’ Theatrical Poster

"Death Wish" Theatrical Poster

“Death Wish” Theatrical Poster

Prepare yourself to witness a good dose of violent revenge with Eli Roth’s (Cabin Fever) upcoming Death Wish remake, which hits theaters on March 2, 2018.

This new version of Michael Winner’s 1973 classic stars Bruce Willis (Die Hard) as Dr. Paul Kersey, a surgeon who only sees the aftermath of Chicago violence when it is rushed into his ER – until his wife (Elisabeth Shue) and daughter (Camila Morrone) are viciously attacked in their suburban home. With the police overloaded with crimes, Paul, burning for revenge, hunts his family’s assailants to deliver justice.

The original Death Wish – based on the 1972 novel by Brian Garfield – involved a New York City architect (Charles Bronson) who becomes a one-man vigilante squad after his wife is murdered by street punks.

Roth came on board to helm the remake after a number of filmmakers dropped out over creative differences with Paramount-MGM. Previous directors included Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces), Gerardo Naranjo (Miss Bala), and finally Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, the duo responsible for the 2013 cult favorite, Big Bad Wolves.

Back in 2006, Sylvester Stallone expressed interest in his own remake: “Instead of the Bronson character being an architect; my version would have him as a very good cop who had incredible success without ever using his gun. So when the attack on his family happens, he’s really thrown into a moral dilemma in proceeding to carry out his revenge.”

Updates: Check out the film’s New, 70s-style Theatrical Poster.

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New Teaser Poster for ‘Creed II’ (aka ‘Rocky IV’ spin-off)…

"Creed II" Teaser Poster

“Creed II” Teaser Poster

On November 21, 2018, audiences will be entering the stadium for Creed II, the upcoming sequel to Ryan Coogler’s 2015 Rocky spinoff, Creed. For Round 2, Steven Caple Jr. (The Land) takes over as director.

In the first film, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan of Fruitvale Station), the grandson of Apollo Creed (portrayed by Carl Weathers in the Rocky films) is mentored by Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) – now a retired fighter-turned-trainer who takes him under his wing.

In Creed II, newly crowned light-heavyweight champion Adonis faces off against Viktor Drago (played by Romanian boxer Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago from Rocky IV. Stallone and Dolph Lundgren (Female Fight Squad) return as Rocky and Ivan, respectively.

Creed II is currently in pre-production phase.

Updates: Check out the film’s new Teaser Poster (via Stallone).

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1st Footage of Ralph Macchio and William Zabka in ‘Cobra Kai’

"The Karate Kid" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“The Karate Kid” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Not exactly The Karate Kid 4 (or Part 5 if you count The Next Karate Kid), but pretty damn close. A 10-episode half-hour comedy titled Cobra Kai, is in the works. The series, which will debut on YouTube Red, will mark the return of both of Ralph Macchio and William Zabka, playing their respective roles from the highly successful motion picture franchise (the first two were directed by legendary Rocky helmer, John G. Avildsen) that spawned three sequels and a remake.

As per the press release: Thirty years after the events of the 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament, a down-and-out Johnny Lawrence (Zabka) seeks redemption by reopening the infamous Cobra Kai karate dojo, reigniting his rivalry with a now successful Daniel LaRusso (Macchio), who has been struggling to maintain balance in his life without the guidance of his mentor, Mr. Miyagi. The show is about two men addressing past demons and present frustrations the only way they know how: through karate.

According to THR: Josh Heald (Hot Tub Time Machine) as well as duo Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (Harold and Kumar) are penning the script – they will also exec produce alongside Macchio and Zabka. Hurwitz and Schlossberg are directing most of the series.

Look for Cobra Kai in 2018 only on YouTube Red. Until then, here’s a sneak peak at what to expect:

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Asian Extreme Collection | Blu-ray (Cinedigm)

Asian Extreme Collection | Blu-ray (Cinedigm)

Asian Extreme Collection | Blu-ray (Cinedigm)

RELEASE DATE: March 6, 2018

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!

Pre-order Asian Extreme from Amazon.com today! 

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, News | Tagged | 2 Comments

Schwarzenegger joins Michael Fassbender in ‘Kung Fury’

"Kung Fury" Promotional Poster

“Kung Fury” Promotional Poster

David Sandberg – star, writer and director of the viral short, Kung Fury – is bringing his titular character to the big screen. For the feature film version, he’s recruiting Michael Fassbender (Alien: Covenant) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (Aftermath) to star, along with David Hasselhoff, who’ll be back as “Hoff 9000”.

According to Variety, the feature film will be set in 1985 in Miami, which is kept safe under the watchful eye of the police officer Kung Fury through his Thundercops police force. After the tragic death of a Thundercop causes the group to disband, a mysterious villain emerges from the shadows to aid in the Fuhrer’s quest to attain the ultimate weapon.

The 2010 original short is an over-the-top action comedy that featured arcade-robots, dinosaurs, nazis, vikings, norse gods, mutants and a super kung fu-cop called Kung Fury (Sandberg), all wrapped up in an 80s style action packed adventure.

We’ll keep you updated on the film’s progress as we learn more. If you haven’t seen the short, here you go…

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Special Lady, A (2017) Review

"A Special Lady" Korean Theatrical Poster

“A Special Lady” Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Lee An-Gyu
Producer: Kim Mi-Hwa
Cast: Kim Hye-Soo, Lee Sun-Kyun, Lee Hee-Joon, Choi Moo-Sung, Kim Min-Suk, Oh Ha-Nee, Ahn So-Young, Kwon Yool, Cha Soon-Bae, Sun Wook-Hyun
Running Time: 90 min.

By Z Ravas

Any way you slice it, 2017 was a great year for women in action cinema. Guided by one-half of John Wick’s directing duo, Atomic Blonde saw Charlize Theron once again in full-contact combat mode; even if the film’s poe-faced attitude and unnecessarily confusing espionage plot kept it from reaching the heights it could have, it was still a pleasure to watch every time Theron let out a guttural yell and beat a musclebound henchman to death with her high heels. On the other side of the globe, last summer’s The Villainess brought outrageous first-person action sequences to the Korean revenge thriller, and minted Kim Ok-bin as a La Femme Nikita-style icon in the process. The victory lap for this year of lethal women should have easily been A Special Lady, a film whose stylish trailer grabbed the Internet’s attention as soon as it dropped, and which arrived in Korean theaters just five months after The Villainess. Sadly, that’s not the case.

In theory, A Special Lady is headlined by Kim Hye-soo (Coin Locker Girl), a talented actress who first caught my eye as the femme fatale in 2006’s Tazza: The High Rollers – something about the actress’ smoldering looks and elegant demeanor feels born for the noir genre, and some 11 years later I was excited to see her step in front of the camera for her very first action role. I say Hye-soo headlines A Special Lady “in theory,” however, because most of the film’s runtime is spent following Lee Sun-kyun’s character. Sun-kyun is a talented actor in his own right, as evidenced by A Hard Day (easily one of the best films I saw in 2015), but I still couldn’t help but feel that A Special Lady had pulled something of a bait and switch: promising its leading lady Kim Hye-soo in action but seldom delivering it.

The movie opens with a jaw-droppingly salacious sequence as Mr. Kim’s (played by Choi Moo-sung of I Saw the Devil) criminal organization lures several high-profile CEOs, doctors, and even the local District Attorney to a love motel for the sole purpose of filming their sexual proclivities and using said footage as blackmail. Watching from the monitor room is Kim Hye-soo as Mr. Kim’s right hand woman, always cool and collected but nevertheless searching for a way to retire from this underhanded business. Meanwhile, Mr. Kim’s top henchman Lee Sun-kyun pines for Kim Hye-soo’s unreturned affection while doing Mr. Kim’s dirty work; he’s the one who must resort to violence when anyone rebuffs Mr. Kim’s attempts at blackmail, and – as an early flashback shows – he’s the first to take a steak knife in the gut any time a gang war erupts in a parking lot a la New World. After a decade in the business, he’s tired of serving as a glorified lap dog; and when the vengeful District Attorney plants visions of usurping Mr. Kim in Lee Sun-kyun’s head, the stage is set for a bloody confrontation – so just as Kim Hye-soo hopes to walk away from a life of crime, she instead finds herself caught between her boss and the co-worker she’s known since their days together in the orphanage.

The stage is set for a bloody confrontation, sure, but it does take a long time to get there; A Special Lady is one of the more plot-driven revenge thrillers out there, and it feels like a solid hour of scheming and dealing goes by before we see much in the way of action. The increased emphasis on characters and storytelling isn’t exactly a problem, except that the star of the film – Kim Hye-soo – proves conspicuously absent for much of the runtime, as we follow Lee Sun-kyun’s eventual psychological breakdown. A veteran actor of both commercial fare (R Point) and arthouse fodder (Night and Day), Lee Sun-kyun knows how to command the screen, but his character isn’t particularly likable and his arc from faithful henchman to spited employee feels more than a little familiar for the genre.

When the action does finally erupt, we get a scene of Kim Hye-soo wielding off her captors with a hacksaw in a scene that seems to deliberately recall Lee Byung-Hun’s similarly desperate escape in 2005’s A Bittersweet Life. Unfortunately, channeling that modern classic does no help for A Special Lady, as we are only reminded of a far superior film. It must also be said that Kim Hye-soo’s lack of traditional martial arts training certainly shows, so it’s wise that the filmmakers armed her with a massive shotgun and an array of knives for the conclusion. Her ending battle against a room full of guards is easily the highlight of the movie, and possesses the kind of kinetic thrills one wishes had been present throughout the entire production; this climactic bout is less of an intricately choreographed dance than it is a desperate fight for survival, and fans of Korean cinema will likely find themselves satisfied by the blood-letting as Kim Hye-soo stabs back (and stabs again) at her attackers.

In the hands of a more skilled filmmaker, A Special Lady could have had a satisfying character-driven drama peppered with action, along the lines of 2014’s excellent Man in High Heels or the needs-no-introduction The Man From Nowhere; but A Special Lady serves as Lee An-gyu’s directorial debut after assistant director duties on widely seen movies such as The Good, The Bad, the Weird and Blades of Blood. While Lee An-gyu’s future as a filmmaker is not without potential, A Special Lady needed to make a stronger impression to stand out in a genre populated by so many stunners. As such, it’s difficult to recommend that Asian film buffs make their way here before they’ve watched those other, more essential titles. Here’s hoping that Kim Hye-soo’s most ass-kicking role is still ahead of her.

Z Ravas’ Rating: 6/10

Posted in Korean, News, Reviews | 5 Comments

Thousand Faces of Dunjia | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Thousand Faces of Dunjia | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Thousand Faces of Dunjia | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

RELEASE DATE: March 27, 2018

On March 27, 2018, Well Go USA is releasing the Blu-ray & DVD for Yuen Woo-ping’s (True Legend, Ip Man 3, Crouching Tiger, Hidden II) The Thousand Faces of Dunjia, a remake of Miracle Fighter, a supernatural kung fu film he directed in 1982.

Lending a hand will be Tsui Hark (The Taking of Tiger Mountain), who is on board as producer and writer. The film stars Aarif Lee (Kung Fu YogaBruce Lee, My Brother), Ni Ni (Love Will Tear Us Apart), Da Peng (Jian Bing Man) and Zhou Dongyu (The Taking of Tiger Mountain).

The original – which starred Leung Kar Yan (Five Shaolin Masters), Yuen Cheung-yan (Once Upon a Time in Shanghai) and Yuen Yat Chor (The Postman Srikes Back) – follows a kung fu master who learns special skills from a pair of priests to defeat an evil magician.

According to FBA: Yuen says that aside from sharing the title of the film, the remake will tell an entirely new story. He said that if the original film was meant to present an alternative form of wuxia film, the new film intends to redefine it.

Pre-order Thousand Faces of Dunjia from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles, News | Tagged | 5 Comments

Top 5 American Martial Arts Movies Ever Made

Top 5 American Martial Arts Movies Ever Made

A large slice of every video shop was once dedicated to shirtless, blood-dripping men, striking clenched poses and displaying great fighting skills. Taking their key from Hong Kong cinema, the films of Jean-Claude Van Damme (perhaps the man who personifies video more than anyone) and the various sub-Van Dammes was a vibrant and varied industry of fighting tournaments programmers, bar room brawls and cops who knew chop-socky. They were born in a pre-CGI age, when audiences could trust the images as being true. At their best, these films were among America’s most cinematic, visually exciting and occasionally sublime.

Not since Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch was violence glorified so operatically. The “action movie” became part of film language, where time would stand still and a physical action, such as an aerial kick romanticised in slow-motion. But some of these films also represented the most authentic film noir of their time, B-movies about underground kick-boxing, gangsters and gamblers in seedy, neon-lit nightclubs. And like film noir, this genre was a meat and potatoes “people’s cinema”, dropping the hyferlutened for universal myths everyday people could relate to.

The time is right for retrospective, it was after all the American B-grindhouse pictures of the 30s, 40s and 50s that inspired the French New Wave. These films, with their strong style and aesthetics can be inspirational to a new generation…

"No Retreat No Surrender" VHS Cover

“No Retreat No Surrender” VHS Cover

No Retreat No Surrender (1986)

Perhaps the most successful invasion of another country’s film form/style into the American market since German expressionism’s distillation into film noir, this Hong Kong-produced American grindhouse picture brought Chinese cinema sensibilities to American soil for the first time.

Produced by legendary Hong Kong figure Ng See Yuen, directed by Corey Yuen (The Transporter) and inspired by the commercial success of The Karate Kid, Seasonal Pictures went overboard trying to make an “American” film; filled with breakdancing, parties, cold war jingoism and an all-American kid taking revenge on a criminal karate syndicate and Russian-hulk who crippled his father.

The fantastic villain of the picture was an unknown and over-zealous Jean Claude Van Damme, credited as playing “Ivan The Russian”, who actually injured many of the actors by not pulling his kicks and punches. But the broken noses and bones he inflicted resulted in a B-masterpiece, a strange mix of 80’s nostalgia at surface level with its routes found in Chinese Peking opera. How does the teenage all-American take on the muscles from Brussels? – by meeting the ghost of Bruce Lee in an abandoned house for training! Known in Germany with the equally cool title of Karate Tiger.

"Bloodsport" VHS Cover

“Bloodsport” VHS Cover

Bloodsport (1988)

Would you like to better understand the leader of the free world? President Trump has sighted this Cannon classic as one of his favourite films. Shot on location in Hong Kong in the dangerous, lawless “walled city”, Bloodsport stars Jean Claude Van Damme, who enters the infamous underground “Kumite” martial art tournament to avenge the death of his Master’s son.

High-ish production values and a rare perfectionist streak in the genre made this picture reach transcendent heights of poetic violence through the use of Van Damme’s physical performance in slow-motion.

Bloodsport is supported by an international cast of martial arts performers, each with their own distinct styles, such as sumo and monkey kung fu. Partly inspired by the international tournament within Enter the Dragon and even sharing one of its villains: the humongous and frightening Bolo Yung. Legend has it that the fight scenes were not working until Van Damme stepped into the editing suite and helped craft what we see so operatically today.

Bloodsport was a global smash hit that gave JCVD instant stardom and provided cinemas and video shops with a new viable take on the martial arts genre.

"No Retreat No Surrender 3: Blood Brothers" VHS Cover

“No Retreat No Surrender 3: Blood Brothers” VHS Cover

No Retreat No Surrender 3: Blood Brothers (1990)

The most insane martial arts film shot in America incorporates an albino terrorist leader’s plot to kill president George H. W. Bush. In classical Hong Kong-style, Blood Brothers bares no connection to previous NRNS-series instalments, apart from sheer wackiness, creative dance-like use of violence and a tacked-on cold-war nationalism verging on parody.

One of the great screen fighters, Loren Avedon, was brought into the series to replace Kurt McKiney, who broke his contract to return in the sequels. But these mishaps didn’t stop the strange phenomena of this movie series getting better with every sequel.

Seasonal film’s Hong Kong-style production on American soil brought truly daring and dangerous fight sequences to VHS. The other “blood brother” and truly joyous cinematic presence Keith Vitali, had a plaster-cast on his arm for the first few scenes because he genuinely broke it during filming.

Scenery is chewed and successfully digested by bleached blond and English-accented Rion Hunter as the leader of a strange gang of kung fu fighting communist terrorists. This all leads to the assassination plot of George Bush senior, incorporating real footage of the president, which along with strange moments of text used on a blank screen, constitutes the most unlikely tribute to Jean-Luc Godard in cinema.

Cheesy quotable dialogue and severe bone-crunching where it counts, NRNS 3: Blood Brothers is among the very cream of B-cinema and wildly enjoyable.

"Deadly Bet" VHS Cover

“Deadly Bet” VHS Cover

Deadly Bet (1992)

Deadly Bet came out of a wonderful straight-to-video company called PM entertainment, whose philosophy was to put all the money on the screen. Later on they would master the use of multiple flipping cars and pyrotechnic explosions to rival Hollywood, but in their early era, they would focus on smaller kickboxing noir pictures.

Within the world of sub-Van Dammes, Jeff Wincott has always been considered the greatest dramatic actor. This allowed the film more dramatic flexibility as Wincott’s gambling in Vegas gets out of control. The pivotal dramatic moment is when he uses his actual Wife as collateral but loses the bet, something that could only be done in straight to video B-movies. His wife is then forced to stay with Jeff’s nemesis(!) while money owed is somehow recouped.

The rest of the film is spent with Jeff working with gangsters, fighting in underground tournaments and trying to redeem himself . As ridiculous as the film sounds, it’s executed in a sincere way; the standard training montage given a really melancholic twist of moral and not just physical improvement. PM used real Vegas locations and casino interiors, giving this B-picture effective atmosphere. This is a rare treatment of the subject matter, which although still cracking various jaw-breaking punches and kicks, has superior lead actor and genre bit-players to have a noir film’s dramatic impact.

"Drive" VHS Cover

“Drive” VHS Cover

Drive (1997)

Drive is the last truly great American martial arts film, perhaps constituting its very high point before decline. With a medium budget big enough to allow tremendous visual scope and sci-fi themes, but small enough to prevent them from using CGI, Steve Wang’s passion project is the most balletic martial arts picture shot in America.

Hawaiian gymnastic B-Movie star Mark Dacascos stars as a Billion dollar man with a futuristic “power cell” embedded in his chest that makes him super-human. Problem is, that gives him a billion dollar price on his head. It’s a sci-fi road movie with comic relief from co-stars Kadeem Hardison and Brittany Murphy.

Wang’s ambition with this project was to create the most authentic tribute to the great Hong Kong martial arts films, specifically those of Jackie Chan and Dacascos’s amazing screen fighting abilities made him the perfect accomplice. Rather than the intended gun-play and explosions in the original script, Wang rewrote the action scenes to feature wall to wall physical martial arts combat. He warned Dacascos “I want my actors really hitting each other, you will be bruised from head to toe!”. The choreography is thus frenetic, often involving 3 or 4 people kicking and punching a back-flipping and swerving Dacascos at one time.

It’s an action film made with tremendous visual integrity. A confused studio butchered the film by 16min on release, but presented in the DVD is the full directors cut in all its actioned-packed glory.

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Deal on Fire! The Monkey King | Blu-ray | Only $9.99 – Expires soon!

The Monkey King | Blu-ray (Cinedigm)

The Monkey King | Blu-ray (Cinedigm)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for 2014’s The Monkey KingThis fantasy action – based on Wu Cheng’en’s classical novel Journey to the West – is about a heavenly monkey that acquires supernatural powers and must battle the armies of both gods and demons to find his place in the heavens.

Directed by Soi Cheang Pou Soi (SPL II), The Monkey King features an all-star cast that includes Donnie Yen (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II), Chow Yun-fat (Cold War 2), Aaron Kwok (Monk Comes Down the Mountain), Kelly Chen (Tokyo Raiders) and Gigi Leung (Avenging Fist).

Order The Monkey King from Amazon.com today!

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