Mystery of Chess Boxing | aka Ninja Checkmate (1979) Review

"Mystery of Chess Boxing" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Mystery of Chess Boxing” Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Double Chained Horses
Director: Joseph Kuo
Writer: Joseph Kuo
Cast: Lee Yi Min, Mark Long, Jack Long, Jeanie Chang, Siu Foo Dau, Simon Yuen, Ricky Cheng, Wong Chi Sang, Wong Wing Sang, Mau Ging Shun
Running Time: 90 min.

By Chris Hatcher

Rumor has it that in 1979, the release of Joseph Kuo’s Mystery of Chess Boxing on New York City’s famed 42nd Street in Times Square caused near-riots due to its massive popularity. The film earned rave reviews and was so well-received by the public it played continuously in NYC theaters for nearly two years… an impressive feat for a 70s kung fu film not starring Bruce Lee. So, does MOCB really live up to the hype of its iconic fan-love beginnings in The City That Never Sleeps? In short… yes it does, on a number of fronts.

For starters, we’re talking about Joseph Kuo, one of the paramount directors of Taiwanese martial arts movies and most prolific filmmakers of the old school era. Kuo’s success spanned many genres (including romance!) with his most well-known being Wuxia and traditional kung fu films. His 7 Grandmasters was a definitive masterpiece with Born Invincible, World of Drunken Master, and Dragon’s Claws being other great works. Mystery of Chess Boxing is right there in the mix as one of his best (ranking just below 7 Grandmasters, in my opinion).

Secondly, Kuo’s usual suspects – Jack Long, Mark Long, and Lee Yi Min – turn in some great work for MOCB. This is especially true of Mark Long as Ghost Face Killer Wan Chun San, one of the most notorious villains in old school fu film history (made even more famous by early 90s rapper Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan). He looks, and sounds, fantastic in the role with flowing gray hair, wicked laugh, and some of the strongest kung fu of his career. In some respects, GFK is at the center of the story as a man on a mission to take out the martial arts masters who once conspired to kill him.

Thirdly, Kuo skillfully interweaves many short but great fight scenes of GFK dispatching masters with the story of Ah Pao (Lee Yi Min), a young man who wants to learn kung fu and avenge his father’s death. Each master displays different techniques to challenge Ghost Face Killer’s Five Elements style, an approach that keeps the fights fresh and exciting. And that’s a good thing, too; when Ah Pao joins a school only to become the whipping boy of its students, you’ll be thankful for the intermittent fights as the sillier parts of his initiation begin to drag out. It’s one of the few complaints I have of MOCB; it gets a bit too silly for the level of seriousness demonstrated by the fights and the back story. More gung fu and less goofy antics would have been preferred here.

Another minor complaint is Simon Yuen’s underdeveloped role as the school’s cook. One minute he’s giving wise sage advice and showing Ah Pao a trick or two and the next he’s dead on a slab (supposedly at the hands of GFK, though the signature amulet left on every GFK victim is never shown or mentioned in connection with the death of Yuen’s character). Revealing this doesn’t give away anything of significance because it happens off screen and in the blink of an eye. What it does show is a rare misstep by Kuo in reducing the role of an actor whose storied career should have garnered more respected screen time.

(Note: Yuen died of a sudden heart attack early in the same year MOCB was released. Though I could find no evidence in my research, this may have inadvertently played a part in the lack of screen time for Yuen’s character if the film was unfinished at the time of his death. Read my review on Dance of the Drunk Mantis to get the full Simon Yuen treatment).

Issues aside, Mystery of Chess Boxing’s bread-and-butter scenes take place over the final 35 minutes or so as Chess King Chi Siu Tien (Jack Long) takes in Ah Pao and teaches him the ways of chess boxing (i.e. applying the skills of mastering chess to how one masters kung fu). In this we’re treated to some good training sequences with Lee Yi Min looking sharper, faster, and more determined as the truth of his connection to Ghost Face Killer is revealed. By the time Jack Long gets into the training mix and subsequent showdown with GFK as one of the co-conspirators, all jokes are aside and MOCB really shines as a kung fu spectacle. He and Yi Min make a great tandem, and their combining of chess terms with a tag team approach to fighting in the finale is an outright adrenaline rush! (Speaking of spectacles, keep your eyes on Ghost Face Killer’s arms when Ah Pao applies one of his strength training exercises in the final fight… the incredibly obvious use of prosthetics will have you gasping and laughing at the same time!)

On a personal note, Jack Long’s fight-filled role in 7 Grandmasters is one of my all-time favorites and I wish his skills had been as frequently showcased in MOCB. He dons his fantastically long gray wig in both outings, but his participation in the action is reduced by more than half in this one. Knowing MOCB is more a vehicle for Lee Yi Min and Mark Long, the adage better late than never kicks in and Jack Long’s work in the third act offsets any disappointment. And though his form doesn’t appear quite as crisp in Mystery of Chess Boxing compared to 7 Grandmasters, any Jack Long is better than no Jack Long in my book.

In closing, one of my favorite old school quotes comes from Chi Siu Tien when he tells Ah Pao: “To master this game, you have to be… very calm. But also quick of wit, sharp of eye, fast of mind, slow of tongue, quick to see.” It’s a classic line that beautifully ties the connotations of learning chess and kung fu together, and well-represents Mystery of Chess Boxing as a classic of the old school genre.

Chris Hatcher’s Rating: 8/10

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Racial tensions reach a boiling point in Justin Chon’s ‘Gook’

"Gook" Teaser Poster

“Gook” Teaser Poster

Justin Chon (Revenge of the Green Dragons) writes, directs and stars in Gook, an upcoming thriller that examines the relationships between Korean and African American communities set around the 1992 L.A. Riots.

Eli (Chon) and Daniel (David So) are two Korean American brothers that run their late father’s shoe store in a predominantly African American community of Los Angeles. These two brothers strike up an unlikely friendship with an 11-year-old African American girl, Kamilla (Simone Baker). As Daniel dreams of becoming a recording artist and Eli struggles to keep the store afloat, racial tensions build to a breaking point as the “infamous” L.A. Riots break out.

In fact, tomorrow will mark the 25th Anniversary of the 1992 L.A. Riots, an event that instantly ignited after the acquittal of four officers responsible for the beating of Rodney King. Gook isn’t the first film to take place during L.A. Riots; in 1997, Riot, a made-for-TV movie that starred Dante Basco, Mako, Luke Perry, Mario Van Peebles and Lucy Liu explored a similar structure.

Gook hits theatres August 1st, 2017. Watch the Trailer below:

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Crazy, all-star actioner ‘Diamond Cartel’ gets a DVD release

"Diamond Cartel" DVD Cover

“Diamond Cartel” DVD Cover

Salamat Mukhammed-Ali’s Diamond Cartel (read our review), a Kazakhstan-produced action film, will finally be seeing a DVD release on August 8th, 2017 (or you can watch it right now, via Amazon Video).

In addition, the film’s soundtrack, which promises “a unique collection that perfectly captures the roller coaster ride experience of the film” is also currently available.

Diamond Cartel (aka The Whole World at Our Feet) stars Armand Assante (Judge Dredd), Bolo Yeung (Clones of Bruce Lee), Don “The Dragon” Wilson (The Martial Arts Kid), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Tekken 2), Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister (Jackie Brown), Micheal Madsen (Kill Bill Vol. 2) and Peter O’Toole (Lawrence of Arabia).

Pre-order Diamond Cartel from Amazon.com today!

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McG drops out, ‘Batman’ screenwriter joins ‘He-Man’

"Masters of the Universe" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Masters of the Universe” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Despite years in development hell, Sony Pictures is still keen on bringing Masters of the Universe (aka He-Man) back to the big screen. In fact, they already have a release date in mind: December 18, 2019.

The latest news (via EW) is that the film has lost McG (Terminator Salvation) as its director, but has gained a screenwriter in David S. Goyer (Batman Begins). The same source adds that the studio is actively looking for McG’s replacement.

Other filmmakers previously attached to helm include Jon M. Chu (G.I. Joe: Retaliation), Harald Zwart (The Karate Kid remake), Chris McKay (Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III) and Mike Cahill (I Origins).

Terry Rossio (The Lone Ranger), Jeff Wadlow (Kick-Ass 2), Alex Litvak (Predators) and Christopher Yost (Thor: Ragnarok) all worked on early screenplays for Masters of the Universe.

There are currently no stars officially attached to the role of He-Man, but names like Dwayne Johnson, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Heughan, Charlie Hunnam, Terry Crews and Jason Momoa have been favorites in online discussions.

The live-action Masters of the Universe isn’t the only He-Man-related project in the works. The makers of Turtle Power and Nintendo Quest have teamed together for a documentary titled Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, with the help of fans (click here to watch their impressive teaser trailer).

The He-Man franchise – consisting of the Mattel toy line and the cartoon series – exploded in the 1980’s. Despite its decreasing popularity during the years that followed, cartoon reboots and new toy lines managed to keep the franchise afloat.

Back in 1987, Cannon Films produced Masters of the Universe, a live-action film directed by Gary Goddard (Poseidon’s Fury: Escape from the Lost City) which starred Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Courteney Cox and Meg Foster.

We’ll keep updated on Masters of the Universe as we learn more.

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New Trailer for Van Damme/Lundgren actioner ‘Black Water’

"Black Water" Teaser Poster

“Black Water” Teaser Poster

Jean-Claude Van Damme (Cyborg) and Dolph Lundgren (Skin Trade) – the action duo known for their team up in the popular Universal Soldier franchise – are joining forces once again for Black Water.

Black Water is the story of a CIA operative (Van Damme) who is imprisoned in a CIA black site on a nuclear submarine after being framed as a traitor. He has to prove his innocence with the help of fellow inmate (Lundgren) and clear his name before he disappears forever…

The film also stars Patrick Kilpatrick (Death Warrant), Al Sapienza (Sopranos), Jasmine Waltz (Poker Run) and Kristopher Van Varenberg (Assassination Games).

Black Water (aka Submerge, obviously no relation to Steven Seagal’s Submerged) is written by Chad Law (Close Range) from a story by Tyler W. Konney (Blue Line), and is produced by Richard Switzer (Altitude).

We’ll keep you updated on Black Water as we learn new details. In the meantime, we’ll soon be seeing more of Van Damme in Amazon’s Jean-Claude Van Johnson, as well as the forthcoming Kill ’em All, not to mention a possible 2017 release for the long-awaited Full Love.

Updates: Here’s the Trailer for Black Water (it may be leaked, so watch it while you can):

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The Kung fu Golden Era… had the Internet been around

computerAs someone who got into the kung fu movie scene during the late 90’s, there’s always been a part of me which feels envious of those who got to experience the movies from the 70’s and 80’s golden era first hand, be it in a grindhouse cinema, or on an overly priced VHS tape. The sense of mystery, that came with movie watching back then, had essentially dissipated by the time the internet era was in full flow, as a wealth of websites and forums ensured you’d go into a movie most likely knowing a whole lot more than you wanted to, intentional or not.

The age of the internet of course also brought along with it a platform for anyone and everyone to voice their opinion, and when it comes to movies of any genre, there’s never a shortage of cynics. Looking at some of the comments that get posted when an upcoming movies trailer gets posted for the first time, or news of the cast and crew involved is announced, is sometimes the equivalent of throwing a piece of meat to a flock of hungry vultures.

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The internet produced a culture in which even before movies are released, opinions have already been formed and conclusions already drawn, often with very little value given to if the voices behind the opinions have even seen the full movie or not. More often than not, the most active discussions revolve around hacking a movie to pieces, and as a reviewer myself, I get it. It’s much easier to write about a movie that sucked than a movie that you thought was awesome.

However, in my opinion at least, such a culture has seen many movies released over the last 10 years get lambasted, that I’d consider to be bonafide action classics. Movies like Wu Xia, Ong Bak 2, and Merantau are all perfect examples of the martial arts genre done well, however each have also had terms such as boring, derogatory, and incoherent levelled against them more than once.

So that got me thinking. What kind of discussion would it be likely to generate, if the internet had been around when the movies that we consider untouchable classics first got released? Of course there’d be fans out there who believe they’re witnessing greatness from the moment they saw the trailer, but as I mentioned earlier, saying a movie looks great is easy. So instead, I decided to focus on what kind of comments the movies would bring from the inescapable naysayers.

The below is entirely tongue in cheek, and only meant as some harmless fun. Let’s not just stop at the movies listed though, if you have your own, feel free to contribute in the comments section!

Enter the Dragon (1973)
Comment taken from the ‘Bruce Lee’s Hollywood Debut!’ thread.

“I understand Bruce Lee wants to break Hollywood, but really, is it necessary for him to share top billing with a low budget TV actor like John Saxon, and Jim Kelly, a guy with just a single movie credit to his name? As for the villain of the piece, as much as I respect Shek Kin, he’s not an ideal match for Lee’s fighting style. I don’t have high hopes for this one, and imagine a couple of years after its release it’ll have already been forgotten. If Lee is going to stay in Hollywood, then I’ll stick with Jimmy Wang Yu.”

Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976)
Comment taken from the ‘Jimmy Wang Yu’s Next One Armed Adventure’ thread.

“You know kung fu cinema is on its last legs when a fake weapon becomes popular, and it doesn’t get much lamer than this. To make things even worse, Wang Yu continues to recycle his one armed swordsman, boxer, cleaner, whatever it is he’ll come up with next. & just to ensure everything is politically correct, his adversary here is blind. When did kung fu become all about the gimmicks? Give me Wang Yu beating up vampire toothed Japanese, that’s what it’s all about, and I don’t see much of that here. Next.”

Drunken Master (1978)
Comment taken from the ‘HK now Rebooting Movies in the Same Year That They’re Made!?’ thread.

“It seems that the same team who made Snake in the Eagles Shadow earlier in the year are getting together again for Drunken Master. Again Jackie Chan will face off against Hwang Jang Lee, again under the direction of Yuen Woo Ping. Am I missing something here? Isn’t this exactly the same as Snake in the Eagles Shadow, even down to the types of character they’ll be playing? If movies are now getting rebooted just months after the original, then this is a serious concern. Hopefully both Jackie Chan and Hwang Jang Lee don’t get typecast after this double whammy of recycled kung foolery.”

Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980)
Comment taken from the ‘Next Movie from the director of ‘The Victim’!’ thread.

“Not sure what exactly Sammo Hung is trying to achieve here. Hopping vampires, battling magicians, and what looks to be a lot of comedy. Isn’t a pure kung fu flick enough of a reason to have such a group of talented martial artists in the same movie together anymore!? I still think Sammo is capable of greatness, but judging by the trailer it looks like I’ll be waiting for this one to hit Netflix.”

The Prodigal Son (1981)
Comment taken from the ‘Star of ‘Knockabout’ returns in Second Lead Role’ thread.

“According to sources, it seems that this will be Sammo Hung’s second Wing Chun themed movie after Warriors Two a few years earlier. Apparently the lead role will be going to Yuen Biao, a stuntman who’s doubled extensively for anyone and everyone, and was also the lead in Knockabout. Not sure if he’s leading man material yet, but I’m willing to give him a chance. The major red flag with this production is composer Frankie Chan being cast as the villain, I mean, a composer!? What’s next, will we start seeing Hong Kong pop-stars being cast in kung fu movies as well!?”

Ninja in the Dragon’s Den (1982)
Comment taken from the ‘Has Jackie Chan been Cloned?’ thread.

“Not satisfied with giving us inferior lookalikes of Bruce Lee, it seems that the kung fu movie world now wants to give us a lookalike of Jackie Chan, with the debut of Conan Lee who’ll be starring in Ninja in the Dragon’s Den. Whereas Jackie Chan has been described as the clown prince of kung fu, Lee looks like to be more of an actual clown, as it appears there’ll be a fight scene performed on stilts. If I want to see guys prancing about on stilts, I’ll go to a circus thanks. Sad to say but Corey Yuen is losing his touch. Conan Lee even faces off against Hwang Jang Lee, just as Jackie Chan did. Is some originality really that hard to ask for? This is one title I’ll be skipping.”

Police Story (1985)
Comment taken from the ‘The Fearless Hyena Returns to Hong Kong’ thread.

“It pains me to see Jackie Chan selling out so early on in his career, seems like his time in America has knocked the kung fu bug out of him. Sliding down a shopping mall pole? Driving a car through a bunch of sheds on a hill? Give me a break, and since when does glass being smashed reflect the impact of a punch or kick? Sorry but no one is fooled by this one, Chan needs to call Lo Wei and beg for forgiveness, then maybe we can get back to some real kung fu goodness.”

So in summary, we should all be thankful that the internet wasn’t around when the movies that we now consider classics were originally released!

Posted in Features, News | 11 Comments

The New ‘Alien: Covenant’ Prologue fills ‘Prometheus’ gap

"Alien: Covenant" Korean Theatrical Poster

“Alien: Covenant” Korean Theatrical Poster

Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created in Alien with Alien: Covenant, the second chapter in a prequel trilogy that began with Prometheus — and connects directly to Scott’s 1979 seminal work of science fiction. The film hits theaters on May 19th, 2017.

Before it was known as Alien: Covenant, the movie went through a few titles, including Paradise, Alien: Paradise Lost and the obvious, Prometheus II.

Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, the crew of the colony ship Covenant discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world — whose sole inhabitant is the “synthetic” David (Michael Fassbender), survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition.

Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace are the only cast members returning from Prometheus. They’ll be joined by some new characters, including Katherine Waterston (Steve Jobs), James Franco (127 Hours), Danny McBride (Eastbound and Down), Demian Bichir (The Hateful 8), Billy Crudup (Spotlight), Guy Pearce (Memento), Amy Seimetz (Upstream Color), Jussie Smollet (Empire), Carmen Ejogo (Selma) and Callie Hernandez (La La Land).

It should also be noted that director Neill Blomkamp (District 9) ultimately decided put his Alien sequel on hold in an effort to avoid confusion with Alien: Covenant. Blomkamp’s sequel would serve as a direct continuation to 1986’s Aliens, but would ignore all other subsequent Alien films.

Media: Watch the Trailer. | 5-Minute Prologue. | 2nd Trailer. | Red Band Trailer.

Updates: Added the film’s New Prologue below:

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Iron Monkey 2 (1996) Review

"Iron Monkey 2" Japanese DVD Cover

“Iron Monkey 2” Japanese DVD Cover

Director: Chiu Lo-Kong
Producer: Lan Tin Hung, Lee Shin
Cast: Donnie Yen, Billy Chow Bei Lei, Wu Ma, Alan Lee, Yuen Man Hing, Cheung, Kin Li, Li Wing, Han Wan Chong
Running Time: 92 min.

By Paul Bramhall

There are some movies out there that, with the very mention of their name, seem to cause confusion, and Iron Monkey 2 is without doubt one of those. A sequel to Yuen Woo Ping’s 1993 new wave classic that featured Yu Rong-Guang as the titular character, and Donnie Yen as Wong Kei-Ying, the sequel has a remarkable amount of misinformation about it floating around on the net. As good a place to start a review as any, is at least by attempting to debunk some of the claims that seem to be out there regarding the production.

For starters, there are some sites that claim Iron Monkey 2 isn’t a true sequel to Iron Monkey at all, and is in fact a re-title, similar to how in the UK, 1991’s The Last Blood was re-titled Hard Boiled 2, despite the fact that Hard Boiled was made a year later. The recurring theme to these claims, is that none of them mention the name of the movie that they believe it to be, and there’s a reason for that – Iron Monkey 2 is in fact a true sequel, despite the significant differences to the original (we’ll get to those later). Next up comes the claim that the sequel, like the original, was directed by Yuen Woo-Ping. The US Tai Seng DVD is the guilty party in question as the source of this, however it was in fact directed by Chiu Lo-Kong, a prolific assistant director, but as a solo outing he only directed 3 movies, of which Iron Monkey 2 was his last.

However the action is credited to Woo-Ping, which makes it more interesting considering it’s well documented that he and his protégé, Donnie Yen, had a falling out during the making of Wing Chun in 1994, a couple of years prior. Yen here returns not as Kei-Ying, but as the Iron Monkey character (although just to confuse matters further, not the Iron Monkey that Rong-Guang plays in the original, as the sequel takes place in a different era). Yen’s role in the production is less clear, with some sources quoting him as saying he was only supposed to have a cameo appearance, but his role kept on being expanded, much to his dismay. Others sources say that Yen’s sporadic appearances are due to his own poor onset behaviour, which resulted in many scenes being filmed without him. We’ll likely never know the truth, however as the title character, it would be somewhat odd for him to only have a cameo appearance. Imagine watching Ip Man to find out he only appears for 10 minutes.

Whatever the case maybe, Iron Monkey 2 is a baffling entry in the filmographies of both Yen and Woo-Ping, not entirely for all negative reasons. The opening 10 minutes alone are sheer insanity, which have us introduced to a mullet adorned bad guy (played by Chang Jian-Li, a stalwart of such Taiwan new wave classics like 21 Red List and Revanchist), feature a flying guillotine which decapitates someone’s head, and gives us Yen as Iron Monkey, wearing a pointy brass hat and cape while flying up the screen. Yes, this is a world away from the original. Gone are the black ninja like threads that were the choice of Iron Monkey guise 3 years earlier, and in their place is one of the campest getups you’ve ever seen. Keeping with the bizarre tone that permeates throughout the sequel though, outside of these standalone scenes that have Yen flying vertically up the screen in his pointy brass hat and cape, he doesn’t actually wear the costume in any other scene.

Due to the nature of Yen’s there one minute, gone the next performance, the story doesn’t really have any focus. He’s the title character, but in fact the main story doesn’t really involve him at all. Jian-Le plays the Japanese army general bad guy, doing the usual routine of supressing the Chinese, and a pair of mischievous brother and sister orphans (who, should be noted, are adults) get involved in a scheme to overthrow him, when the town offers a reward to Iron Monkey if he’ll help them. Of course, as nobody knows the identity of Iron Monkey, the brother orphan declares that he’s the Iron Monkey, and takes the payment. Somewhere in-between, another orphan, played by Liu Geng-Hong, shows up trying to track down his father, who is played by Wu Ma (but he doesn’t know that Wu Ma is his father). Ma is friends with Yen, as they have soulful conversations together in church, and somehow all five of them unconvincingly end up connected to each other in order to take down Jian-Le.

If you’re thinking the above is a particularly sloppy effort at a plot description, allow me to defend myself and say that it’s only as sloppy as it appears onscreen. The characters and circumstances they find themselves in are completely unconvincing, which ultimately result in it being rather unclear as to what the point of everything is. But let’s keep it simple – basically Yen, Wu Ma, and a trio of orphans will try to take down Jian-Le and the assassin that he hires, played by super kicker Billy Chow. While Chow doesn’t appear until an hour in, he does provide the main opponent for Yen to face off against in the finale. It’s also worth noting that Geng-Hong has some impressive action chops, and displays some fine displays of aerial kicking that are a pleasure to watch, even with the undercranking.

Despite Woo-Ping’s title of action chorographer, it bears surprisingly few of his trademarks, in fact the hyper undercranking and completely over the top wirework are more suggestive that the choreography was a collaboration between Yen and Jian-Li. Nothing says mid-90’s Donnie Yen choreography as when he unleashes his punches and kicks in a 100mph flurry of motion. Iron Monkey 2 would be the last production that Yen would feature in before going on to try his hand at directing with 1997’s Legend of the Wolf, and the choreography is similar enough to warrant the opinion that Woo-Ping likely had very little involvement, despite his name being attached.

The lack of Woo-Ping’s trademark choreography isn’t a completely bad thing though, as the action in Iron Monkey 2 is of such a manic nature, that it certainly entertains if expectations are set accordingly. I mentioned that the action could possibly have input from Jian-Li, as the style of the scenes is remarkably similar to the super powered throwdowns found in 21 Red List and Revanchist. The finale in particular is essentially a hand-to-hand version of the insane bullet ballet that closes Revanchist. Taking place in a large hall (again very similar to Revanchist), Yen and Geng-Hong team up to take on Jian-Le and Chow, and proceed to destroy the whole interior of the hall in the process. Scaffolding is kicked into deadly projectiles, bannisters are decimated, and at one point Yen even kicks up a whole row of floor boards at Chow. It’s completely ridiculous, but if you forget about the original for a minute, the gratuitous destruction is wildly entertaining to watch.

Outside of the action, the cheap production values of Iron Monkey 2 also serve in providing a certain level of entertainment. You remember the scenes in Ip Man when the streets are adorned with Japanese Imperial Army flags? Well, Iron Monkey 2 is going for a similar aesthetic, only the flags the streets are lined with are the same type you’d find in an international pub, so instead you have the American, UK, Germany, Japan, and various other countries flags all next to each other. Lo-Kong must have bought them from the nearest party supplies store, and they’re so out of place that it’s impossible not to smile. The same set is also recycled throughout, with the church that Yen and Wu Ma meet in also doubling as the same area the finale takes place in, given away by the fact the colourful windows are exactly the same in both scenes.

Throw in a gweilo arms dealer dressed as the Man with no Name (complete with hat and poncho), bodies doubled with exploding papier-mâché figures, and one of the most hilariously cruel death scenes for the main villain that you’re likely to see in a kung fu movie, and you have Iron Monkey 2. Is the sequel deserving of the poor reputation that it comes with? Yes and no. Both the original Iron Monkey and the sequel received DVD releases around the same time in the west, so many fans may have watched them very close to each other, which would have been a jarring experience to say the least. However taken on its own, Iron Monkey 2 is a worthwhile slice of mid-90’s HK madness, with enough action and ‘only in HK cinema’ moments to classify it as worth a watch. Now if only there was more of the pointy brass hat and cape.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6/10

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Sky on Fire | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Sky on Fire | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Sky on Fire | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

RELEASE DATE: June 6, 2017

Hong Kong’s legendary action director, Ringo Lam, is back at it with Sky on Fire (read our review) his follow up to his 2015 “comeback” film, Wild City. Well Go USA is releasing it digitally on May 9, then on Blu-ray & DVD on June 6, 2017.

In this driving, non-stop action thriller, the chief security officer at a top-secret medical facility (Daniel Wu) finds himself caught in an explosive battle when a young thief and his accomplices steal a groundbreaking curative medicine. After discovering the true origins of the medicine, the officer must decide who he can trust to protect the cure from falling into the wrong hands and prevent an all-out war from bringing the city to its knees.

Sky on Fire also stars Amber Kuo (Jian Bing Man), Joseph Chang (Wild City), and Jingchu Zhang (Switch).

Wu (That Demon Within), the film’s leading star, is describing it as City on Fire 2: “I said yes without even reading the script because John Woo, Ringo Lam and Tsui Hark are the guys who have initiated this new wave of classic Hong Kong and I always wanted to work with them. The movie is called Sky on Fire, but it could just as well be described as City on Fire 2,” said Wu, in reference to Lam’s seminal 1987 classic, City on Fire.

Pre-order Sky on Fire from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, News | Tagged | 9 Comments

Zhu Zhu to star in a Chinese remake of ‘Run, Lola Run’

"Run, Lola Run" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Run, Lola Run” Japanese Theatrical Poster

A Chinese remake of Tom Tykwer’s 1998 German thriller Run, Lola Run is currently in the works. Zhu Zhu (Marco Polo), who is set to star and produce, will play the titular role originally played by Franka Potente (The Bourne Identity). There is currently no director attached to the project (via CFI).

The original Run, Lola Run is about a a woman who needs to obtain 100,000 Deutschmarks in twenty minutes to save her boyfriend’s life. The film is known for its fast-paced editing and time loop narrative (similar to 1993’s Groundhog Day and the 1997 Hong Kong gangster film, Too Many Ways to Be Number One).

We’ll keep updated on the remake as we hear more. Until then, here’s the Trailer to the 1998 original:

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Matthew Vaughn does it his way for the ‘Kingsman 2’ Trailer

"Kingsman: The Secret Service" Korean Theatrical Poster

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” Korean Theatrical Poster

Director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) is back with more super spy action with Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the sequel to 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, which is based on the comic book The Secret Service, created by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar.

When their headquarters are destroyed and the world is held hostage, the Kingsman’s journey leads them to the discovery of an allied spy organization in the US. These two elite secret organizations must band together to defeat a common enemy.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle stars Taron Edgerton, Mark Strong, Edward Holcroft, Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights), Halle Berry (Die Another Day), Channing Tatum (The Hateful Eight), Jeff Bridges (Tron), Vinnie Jones (Midnight Meat Train), Elton John and last but not least, Colin Firth (if you’ve seen the first movie, his inclusion is strange).

Kingsman: The Golden Circle hits theaters in September 22, 2017.

Updates: Watch the film’s New Trailer below:

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Aftermath (2017) Review

"Aftermath" Theatrical Poster

“Aftermath” Theatrical Poster

Director: Elliott Lester
Writer: Javier Gullón
Producer: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Scoot McNairy, Maggie Grace, Martin Donovan, Hannah Ware, Mariana Klaveno, Kevin Zegers, Larry Sullivan, Teri Clark Linden
Running Time: 92 min.

By Zach Nix

Although Arnold Schwarzenegger (Maggie) is an internationally recognized commodity who was the biggest movie star on the planet in the late 80s and early 90s, he is no longer the hot topic that he used to be, at least not in the United States. His recent one-off starring ventures, such as The Last Stand and Sabotage, did not turn profits. And although team up and franchise pictures of his, such as the Expendables series, Escape Plan, and Terminator: Genisys, were more successful, they scored most of their box office numbers from over sea audiences. Therefore, Arnold is no longer the marketable and successful name that he used to be in America, which is a real shame given his past successes.

However, there is a silver lining to this period of old man Arnold’s career, and it is that he is willing to take more chances within low budget dramatic features that he probably would have never tackled during his bigger days. While general audiences are failing to see the appeal of the aged actor, he is reinventing himself like never before, which makes him all the more interesting to die-hard fans of his. The first sign of this side of Arnold came with the release of the off beat Maggie, a zombie family drama in which Arnold tries to protect his infected daughter. To see Arnold star within a zombie movie where he doesn’t go around killing zombies is quite the subversion of what one might expect from the actor and the genre, but that’s what makes his selection of said role all the more fascinating. Also, the decision to appear within a non-action film forces Arnold to flex his dramatic muscles, thereby proving his strengths as an actor, the main part of him that his critics have never been too kind about over the years.

The latest in Arnold’s purely dramatic ventures is Aftermath, a recent VOD and limited theatrical release title. Unlike Maggie, which had a bit of a genre appeal, Aftermath is a purely dramatic film with no action whatsoever. Therefore, it’s Arnold at his realest without any one-liners or massive guns to tout. And although Arnold does a fantastic job in the lead role and carries the entire picture, director Elliot Lester’s handling of the material leaves much to be desired, as the whole ordeal moves along at a rather slow pace and tends to go in circles until its bonkers finale.

Aftermath deals with, you guessed it, the aftermath of an airplane collision that results in the death of the wife and pregnant daughter of Roman (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a construction worker. It turns out that the incident was an accident brought upon by Jacob (Scoot McNairy), an air traffic controller, who had to deal with too many issues at once and did not notice two planes’ trajectories towards one another. Each man struggles with their day to day life as they try to cope with the massive tragedy. Roman handles the incident rather well and remains calm, although he demands an explanation and an apology from the airline. Jacob on the other hand takes the incident much harder, growing distant from his own family and hating himself for what he caused. Both Roman and Jacob cope with the incident over the course of the next year, until they inexplicably come in contact with one another in an inevitable confrontation.

The biggest takeaway from Aftermath, and probably the main reason anyone will bother to watch it in the first place, is for Arnold’s performance as a grieving widow. Arnold showcases immense pathos and pain here, remaining calm and cold under the surface in some scenes and openly emotional and weeping in others. While it’s clear that Arnold has to flex his emotional muscles here and not his action ones, I personally believe that his giant stature adds to his character, as I personally find large saddened people to be emphatic and interesting, as you simply want to hug and comfort them. I’d also go so far as to say that Arnold has gotten adorable with age, resembling a kind old man whom you can’t help but love and root for. It’s also intriguing to see an action hero of Arnold’s stature made so helpless even though he saves the day countless times in previous films of his. He doesn’t showcase immense range here, as Arnold is mostly kept to being as cold and silent as possible, but Aftermath should further give Arnold fans the evidence they need to throw at the Austrian’s naysayers when it comes to his dramatic acting abilities.

The supporting cast is solid too, although Lester directs everyone to be as simplistic and morose as possible. Although Arnold is the takeaway, co-lead McNairy (Sleepless) has just as much, if not more screen time as the grieving air traffic controller. Poor McNairy might have to suffer more than Arnold’s character here, as he earns everyone’s hatred after his unfortunate accident, including his own. He puts his son and wife, played by Maggie Grace (Taken), through even more pain and suffering, as he grows emotionally distant from them to the point where even they move away from him. Hannah Ware (Hitman: Agent 47) also shows up as an author writing a book on the entire incident, but she only has a few scenes here and there. Even though Aftermath may not be an action film, at least it features a cast of character actors whom have made appearances within said genre.

Lester’s abilities as a director fluctuate throughout the picture, as he directs some sequences to rousing tension and dramatic effect, while others flounder and become a dull slog, turning the whole experience into a taxing affair. Early on in the film, Lester generates immense tension as McNairy handles multiple situations at once while in an air traffic tower that ultimately leads to the fateful mid-air collision. Another highlight includes a scene where Arnold arrives upon the site of the plane crash and lies that he is not related to anyone involved in the incident just so he can investigate the site himself in order to locate his family. It’s a tense and harrowing scene that results in possibly the saddest moment I have ever seen in an Arnold film. Tense and dramatic scenes like these convey the dangers of air travel and the pain of familial loss, thereby making the film all the more relatable and powerful.

Unfortunately, once both Arnold and McNairy deal with the initial tragedy, Aftermath settles into a monotonous routine where it simple goes around in circles and doesn’t progress any further beyond the basic tragedy at hand for far too long. It’s not until the one hour mark where the film finally becomes interesting and heads into juicy Lifetime Channel territory and a bonkers finale that completely caught me off guard. While I can say that I felt confident in knowing where the film was headed, the conclusion completely shocked me and turned a rather dull affair into a seemingly worthwhile one, even though the ending didn’t feel earned. Therefore, know that Aftermath features flashes of brilliance, but nary an emotionally affective whole.

As far as airplane themed dramas come, Aftermath is a bit of an afterthought, although undeniably gripping in parts. You’ll find more gripping tension and a better sense of the human condition in Clint Eastwood’s Sully. And you’ll also probably find more juicy drama in the headlines concerning United Airline’s forced ejection of an unfortunate passenger. However, Aftermath is solid for what it is, and elevated several notches due to Arnold’s superb performance and a silly ending that I dare not spoil. Overall, there isn’t much to say about this rather simplistic picture, but genre fans should support the almighty Arnold by at least renting it.

Zach Nix’s Rating: 6/10

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Fantasy and martial arts collide in ‘Legend of the Naga Pearls’

"Legend of the Naga Pearls" Teaser Poster

“Legend of the Naga Pearls” Teaser Poster

Ready for a heavy dose of fantasy-infused martial arts action? If so, then Yang Lei’s Legend of the Naga Pearls is right up your alley. This upcoming film stars Darren Wang (Railroad Tigers), Crystal Zhang (The Founding of an Army), Sheng Guansen (City Monkey), Simon Yam (The Midnight After) and Xing Yu (Call of Heroes).

According to DP.com, Legend of the Naga Pearls is set in the fictional world of Novoland and tells the story of a thief, a constable and a prince. Each of them have their own goals but a chance encounter brings the unlikely trio together. In spite of their initial distrust for each other, they learn to work together to stop a greater evil.

Legend of the Naga Pearls releases domestically on August 4, 2017.

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New Battles Without Honour & Humanity | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

battlesRELEASE DATE: July 18, 2017

Back in December 2015, Arrow Films released Kinji Fukasaku’s original Battles Without Honour and Humanity Collection. Now, Arrow is bringing some new Yakzua tales back with the New Battles Without Honour and Humanity Trilogy to Blu-ray & DVD on July 18th. Check out the official details below:

The New Battles Without Honour and Humanity films are important links between the first half of Fukasaku’s career and his later exploration of other genres. The set will include New Battles Without Honor and Humanity, New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: The Boss’s Head and New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Last Days of the Boss.

In the early 1970s, Kinji Fukasaku’s five-film Battles Without Honour and Humanity series was a massive hit in Japan, and kicked off a boom in realistic, modern yakuza films based on true stories. Although Fukasaku had intended to end the series, Toei Studio convinced him to return to the director’s chair for this unconnected, follow-up trilogy of films, each starring Battles leading man Bunta Sugawara and telling separate, but fictional stories about the yakuza in different locations in Japan.

In the first film, Bunta Sugawara is Miyoshi, a low-level assassin of the Yamamori gang who is sent to jail after a bungled hit. While in stir, family member Aoki (Tomisaburo Wakayama) attempts to seize power from the boss, and Miyoshi finds himself stuck between the two factions with no honourable way out. In the second entry, The Boss’s Head, Sugawara is Kuroda, an itinerant gambler who steps in when a hit by drug-addicted assassin Kusunoki (Tampopo’s Tsutomu Yamazaki) goes wrong, and takes the fall on behalf of the Owada family, but when the gang fails to make good on financial promises to him, Kuroda targets the family bosses with a ruthless vengeance. And in Last Days of the Boss, Sugawara plays Nozaki, a labourer who swears allegiance to a sympathetic crime boss, only to find himself elected his successor after the boss is murdered. Restrained by a gang alliance that forbids retributions against high-level members, Nozaki forms a plot to exact revenge on his rivals, but a suspicious relationship with his own sister (Chieko Matsubara from Outlaw: Gangster VIP) taints his relationship with his fellow gang members.

Making their English-language home video debut in this limited edition set, the New Battles Without Honour and Humanity films are important links between the first half of Fukasaku’s career and his later exploration of other genres. Each one is also a top-notch crime action thriller: hard-boiled, entertaining, and distinguished by Fukasaku’s directorial genius, funky musical scores by composer Toshiaki Tsushima, and the onscreen power of Toei’s greatest yakuza movie stars.

Limited Edition Contents:

  • High Definition digital transfers of all three films
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original uncompressed mono audio
  • New optional English subtitle translation for all three films
  • Beyond the Films: New Battles Without Honor and Humanity, a new video appreciation by Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane
  • New Stories, New Battles and Closing Stories, two new interviews with screenwriter Koji Takada, about his work on the second and third films in the trilogy
  • Original theatrical trailers for all three films
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Reinhard Kleist
  • Illustrated collector’s book featuring new writing on the films, the yakuza genre and Fukasaku’s career, by Stephen Sarrazin, Tom Mes, Hayley Scanlon, Chris D. and Marc Walkow

Pre-order New Battles Without Honour & Humanity from Amazon.com today!

Also, don’t miss our reviews for the original Battles Without Honor and Humanity:

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Missing You (2016) Review

"Missing You" Korean Theatrical Poster

“Missing You” Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Mo Hong-jin
Writer: Mo Hong-jin
Producer: Kim Dae-Geun
Cast: Shim Eun-Kyung, Yoon Je-Moon, Kim Sung-Oh, Ahn Jae-Hong, Kim Won-Hae, Kim Hong-Fa, Oh Tae-Kyung
Running Time: 108 min.

By Paul Bramhall

There can be no doubt that 2016 was a big year for Korean cinema, with several of the industry’s most prominent talents returning to the screen. After their ventures into Hollywood, directors Park Chan-wook and Kim Ji-woon returned to home soil, releasing The Handmaiden and Age of Shadows to both critical and audience acclaim. Na Hong-jin also returned to the director’s chair, unleashing The Wailing after a 6 year absence. Then you have up and coming talents like Kim Seong-hoon, who followed up his 2013 breakthrough A Hard Day with the disaster flick Tunnel, not to mention Yeong Sang-ho’s Train to Busan, which became the number 1 highest grossing Korean movie outside of Korea in history.

With so much attention on the movies that Korea’s established talents have brought to the big screen, it’s understandable that some of the smaller productions have been overlooked. One such example is Missing You, which marks the directorial debut of Mo Hong-jin. Having previously written and produced Jeong Gil-yeong’s 2007 murder mystery Our Town, Hong-jin is also behind the script for this latest feature, and almost a decade later clearly felt confident enough to take on the directorial reigns as well.

While on paper, Missing You may sound like one of the many female-driven revenge thrillers that have become popular in Korean cinema recently, onscreen it plays out in such a way to make it stand out from the crowd. The story opens with an alleged serial killer, played by Kim Seong-oh (most recognizable as the brother who gets blown to pieces in The Man from Nowhere), standing trial as a serial killer. One of his alleged victims was a police officer, and the victim’s young daughter watches on tearfully in the courtroom. However, due to only having enough evidence to prove that Seong-oh is behind one of the murders, he receives the comparatively light sentence of 15 years. After the verdict is read, the daughter (played by child actress Han Seo-jin) silently walks backwards out of the room, while another cop, played by the ever reliable Yoon Je-moon, swears he’ll get enough evidence together to ensure Seong-oh gets the death penalty.

In the next scene, 15 years have passed, and as he leaves prison Seong-oh is greeted by a block of tofu being thrown into the back of his head by Je-moon. As a cultural note, it’s tradition in Korea that when someone leaves prison, the first thing they receive is a block of tofu. A similar scene can be witnessed in Park Chan wook’s Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. It has to be mentioned that the only indicator that 15 years have passed, is that the victims daughter from the courtroom is now played by Sim Eun-kyeong (who notably also had a special appearance in Train to Busan). So it’s safe to assume that (a) once Koreans hit adulthood, they age very slowly, and (b) Je-moon obviously didn’t gather any evidence in the last 15 years that would prove Seong-oh is guilty of the other murders.

In fairness, there’s are numerous elements of Missing You that don’t necessarily add up on closer inspection. Despite this though, Hong-jin keeps things moving at a steady pace, and there’s never a moment that as a viewer you’re not engaged with what’s going on onscreen. This comes down to a number of factors. The main element is that the mystery card is played very effectively. When Seong-oh is released, dead bodies soon start appearing again. However things are turned on their head, when it’s revealed that there are two other characters who could potentially be responsible for the killings. This not only results in the audience being kept on their toes, but in a smart example of script writing, none of the potential killers are also aware of each other, so each one of them, to varying degrees, is also left trying to figure out who exactly is behind the killings.

Furthermore, all three of the potential killers make for interesting characters. The script sometimes seems to play with almost making Seong-oh a sympathetic character, as he gets beaten up by police for murders he didn’t commit, before it swings around to remind us of his true identity. As an actor, he manages to be both strikingly gaunt and completely ripped at the same time, and one particular image of him standing shirtless in the bathtub, arm outstretched in front of him wielding a kitchen knife, will be one that remains for quite some time after the movie finishes. As a young adult, Eun-kyeong does an excellent job of portraying a character who appears to be a cheerful but simple minded cleaner, who’s been adopted by the local police station. However the more time we spend with her, the more we question if her cheerful demeanour is really just a front, as her apartment is revealed to have a wall covered in Post-It notes adorned with handwritten Nietzsche quotes, while news clippings related to the murders are pasted all over the floor.

The third party, a butcher played by Oh Tae-kyeong, serves to keep things interesting, especially as he’s also present in the opening courtroom scene, but to go into any further detail would result in spoiler territory. With that being said though, it brings me back around to my comment about not everything that takes place in Missing You necessarily standing up to a deeper scrutiny. Missing You is one of those movies were you can tell many scenes have likely been left on the cutting room floor, and rightly so, as it moves along at a perfect pace and never bores. However as a result, some narrative logic has arguably been lost, and audiences would be forgiven for questioning what exactly the relationship is between some of the characters.

Despite some gaps, or rather leaps, in storytelling, for me Missing You still hit the mark. Perhaps the biggest factor that works in its favour, is that Hong-Jino took the decision to not shy away from the gorier elements of the story. There are several scenes of graphic violence on display throughout the runtime, which hark back to the early days of the Korean new wave, when similar scenes populated the likes of Tell Me Something, and H. Stabbings are dished out, throats are slit, heads are cracked, and unlike so many other mid-budget Korean productions, which have a tendency to play out like extended TV movies, Hong-jin seems to embrace the bloodier side of the content, relishing the opportunity to put it on display. That’s not to say that the content is exploitative in any way, far from it, however it feels like a long time has passed since a director so unapologetically displayed the gorier side of such tales.

Hong-jin should also be credited with, despite the above flaws, on a purely visceral level keeping things refreshingly realistic. At one point Seong-oh is in pursuit of Eun-kyeong, and unlike so many similar movies, rather than indulging in an extended chase scene, he catches up with her in seconds. In normal filmmaking logic, she should have fallen over a few times, gotten back up, constantly been glancing over her shoulder, and still be some distance away from her pursuer. Not so here, as soon as Seong-oh breaks into a sprint, he’s on top of her in a moment. While all of these points can be easily passed off as of an aesthetic nature, which is true, it’s the fact that they’re so lacking in similar genre productions that makes Missing You such a welcome breath of fresh air.

Hong-jin has, whether intentionally or not, created a movie which has a consistently changing focus, which translates to ensuring that as an audience, our attention never wanders. Part police procedural (early in the movie we even get a scene dedicated to a new recruit, played by Ahn Jae-hong, that gives the impression proceedings are going to be told from his point of view – they’re not), part revenge thriller, part murder mystery. The genre hopping nature of the story, wrapped in a tightly knit narrative, ultimately results in a movie which is far from perfect, but at the same time is a title I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to fans of any of the above mentioned genres. Despite all of the narrative leaps, Missing You ends with a scene that satisfyingly concludes all that’s come before, and ensures I’ll be keeping an eye on whatever Hong-jin creates next.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7/10 

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Richard Norton to take on Maria Tran in ‘Tiger Cop’?

"Tiger Cop II" Promotional Poster

“Tiger Cop II” Promotional Poster

Vietnamese actress, martial artist, producer and director, Maria Tran (Truy Sát aka Tracer) is currently working on Tiger Cop, a project backed by Fresh Blood, a joint initiative between ABC and Screen Australia.

Tiger Cop, which will consist of three 5-minute segments, will be based on a throwback concept inspired by Hong Kong’s Girls with Guns sub-genre made popular by titles like Royal Warriors and In the Line of Duty 3.

Adrian Castro will direct/write, Tran will star/produce, Mike Leeder (Pound of Flesh) will serve as associate producer. Also appearing are comedian Steven Oliver (Black Comedy), Clariza Filipowski, Gemma Laurelle, Phillip Kane, Ken Wang, Graig Anderson, Khanh Trieu and Leo Fong.

Here’s the official synopsis: Two mismatched cops Inspector Tiger (Tran) and Detective Wombat (Oliver) are on a mission to take down a Hong Kong crime lord, The White Ghost.

“We got the funding (Yippie!!) and are on our way to pre-production for Hong Kong actionesque Tiger Cop series! This is gonna be kick-ass/bad dubbing awesomeness! Shall be doing some casting soon for all ya’ll actioneer type actors as well as additional crew in Sydney, Australia,” Tran posted on FB (via Mike Leeder).

In 2015, a short film (presented as “trailers” – see video below) for Tiger Cop I and Tiger Cop II were released. The short, also directed by Castro, featured choreography by Trung Ly (Truy Sát) and cinematography by Justin Gong. All involved with the short captured the essence of a 1980s-produced Hong Kong action film.

We’ll keep you in the loop about Tiger Cop as we hear more.

Updates: Popular Australian martial artist/action star Richard Norton (Mission: Terminate, Future Hunters) will be making a cameo appearance in Tiger Cops. Norton is mostly known for “bad guy” roles in numerous Hong Kong action films such as Mr. Nice Guy, City HunterTwinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars and Millionaire’s Express (via Maria Tran).

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Deal on Fire! Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection | Blu-ray | Only $59.99 – Expires soon!

"Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection" Packaging

“Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection” Packaging

Today’s Deal on Fire is for Shout! Factory’s Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection. The set includes both Blu-ray and DVD copies for 1971’s The Big Boss (aka Fists of Fury), 1972’s Fist of Fury (aka The Chinese Connection), 1972’s Way of the Dragon (aka Return of the Dragon) and 1978’s Game of Death.

Also included are three full-length documentaries: 1983’s Bruce Lee: The Legend, 1973’s Bruce Lee: The Man, The Legend and 2012’s I Am Bruce Lee, plus a bonus disc featuring two hours of exclusive content. The Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection also comes packaged in a full color, bookcase-style packaging.

Order The Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection from Amazon.com today!

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Updated: China’s Live-action adaptation of Konami’s ‘Contra’

"Contra" Videogame Cover

“Contra” Videogame Cover

A live-action Chinese film adaptation of Konami’s 1987 arcade hit, Contra (aka Kontora or Gryzor), is in the works. According to AFS, 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.

We’ll keep you updated on Contra as we hear more, so stay tuned.

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Billy Jack (1971) Review

"Billy Jack" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Billy Jack” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Tom Laughlin
Writer: Tom Laughlin, Delores Taylor
Cast: Tom Laughlin, Delores Taylor, Clark Howat, Victor Izay, Julie Webb, Debbie Schock, Teresa Kelly, Lynn Baker, Stan Rice, David Roya, John McClure
Running Time: 114 min.

By Zach Nix

Steven Seagal is one of the most interesting action stars to ever grace the screen and achieve a significant amount of success. He’s always been a personal obsession of mine, especially because his output ranges from the highest of highs (i.e. Above the Law, Hard to Kill) to the lowest of lows (Attack Force, Kill Switch). The greatest compliment that I can pay Seagal, and the reason why he finds himself towards the top of my list of the greatest action stars of all time, is because he has always remained true to himself, no matter the quality of his films. Sure, he’s gotten lazy and resorted to body doubles and voice dubbing, almost not even caring whether or not the action in his films looks goods. However, his moral and political values have remained just about the same across all of his films and characters, with some slight adjustments here and there. That’s something you definitely cannot say about every action star out there. Therefore, Seagal will always hold a special place within my heart for being the uniquely political, ecological, philosophical, and physical force that he is.

After haven seen many of his films and read numerous articles and essays on them, I discovered several comparisons of Seagal’s work to that of Tom Laughlin, the actor and director of the infamous Billy Jack series. Lately, nothing interests me more than discovering the lesser known or underappreciated origins of a more successful entertainer and/or piece of cinema. Therefore, I finally decided to watch the most famous and notable film in the series, 1971’s Billy Jack, in order to see how similar the property and its creator was to Seagal’s own persona and body of work. As someone who has seen many of Seagal’s films, I can attest that the comparisons are blinding, as Laughlin’s message infused genre cinema essentially laid the groundwork for Seagal’s own brand of bone crunching entertainment with a heart. Although the narrative and directorial quality of Billy Jack is far from perfect, the historical and artistic significance that surrounds the film is not to be ignored, as Laughlin proved himself a true originator and activist of independent cinema, martial arts, and Native American injustices.

Billy Jack is technically the second film in a four-part saga about Billy Jack, a quasi-Native American martial artist who stands up for what he believes in and challenges the corruption that surrounds him. The first film in the series, 1967’s Born Losers, was the first true introduction of the character. However, much like the Mad Max franchise, the second entry in the series stands as the one that most people seem to remember, with some even going so far as to mistake it as the first entry in the series. In Billy Jack, the titular protagonist finds himself clashing head to head with the police and citizens of a nearby town in regards to an ongoing ordeal concerning a hippie-themed school run on Native American land. When the troubled daughter of the town’s corrupt sheriff finds solace at the school, he and the county’s political boss make it their goal to shut down the school and rid the land of Native Americans. However, they’ll have to go through Billy in order to get the sheriff’s daughter back.

As far as titular heroes come, Laughlin’s Billy Jack is the ultimate mythic American hero. He’s a larger than life figure whom fights for what’s right, ultimately putting his own self being on the line in order to stand up for what he believes in. He has little patience for authority, especially corrupt figures within power, such as the town’s corrupt sheriff and political figure. Much like Seagal’s characters in his own movies, Billy eventually takes the law into his hands, going after those whom believe themselves to be above the law. He also practices martial arts, specifically hapkido, and uses it to dispatch those he disagrees with. From Billy’s innate frustration with the system that surrounds him, to his whispered performance, to even his awesome brutal fist fights, there’s no doubt that Billy, and Laughlin in general as an artist, were the seeds for how Seagal would mold himself as a performer.

Another unique aspect of Billy is that he is part Native American, specifically of the Navajo tribe. Throughout the film, he tries to shed light on the injustices done to Native Americans by cruel racists, while also enlightening others to the ways of the Native American, through both his uniform and cultural practices. It’s interesting that Laughlin was enamored with the Native Americans, especially the spiritual aspect of them, just as Seagal showed interest in them within his own directorial debut, 1994’s On Deadly Ground. (Note: It’s quite ironic that both Billy Jack and On Deadly Ground feature oodles of ADR, essentially proving just how artistically linked the two performers were). While I cannot confirm that the practices or garb demonstrated within the film are culturally accurate, Laughlin’s ambitions are to be commended, as just about no one else in American cinema was making an effort to demonstrate the woes of the Native Americans, especially within a contemporary setting, a specific element that was all but absent from First Cinema representations of Native Americans.

At the time of its release, Billy Jack failed to drum up commendable box office dollars or word of mouth. After all, it was just a small independent feature made outside of the system. However, once Laughlin himself obtained ownership of the film and distributed his own way, it became a box office smash hit and essentially established the blockbuster format of theatrical distribution. After Laughlin obtained over one thousand copies of his own film, he released them across the nation in several theaters upon the same day, which was unheard of at the time. Therefore, he essentially established the now traditional format of Hollywood’s theatrical distribution. By the end of its theatrical run, Billy Jack drummed up a whopping $35 million off of a $800,000 budget. If one were to take inflation into account, then Billy Jack’s numbers would soar even more, proving how hugely successful it was at the time. The franchise’s second sequel, The Trial of Billy Jack, would also employ this distribution method, scoring huge box office numbers as well. Whenever someone says that Jaws was the first blockbuster for the umpteenth time, remember to pull the Billy Jack card on them, and break the foundation of their argument thanks to Laughlin’s hugely influential release strategy.

If all of those accomplishments weren’t enough, then also remember that Laughlin more or less introduced American audiences to martial arts. Although in no way a straight action film, Billy Jack features a few scenes of hapkido action, including a stand out set piece where Billy goes to town on a group of men in the center of a park. This sequence alone will get martial arts fans’ blood pumping, as it features some rather brutal take downs and good cinematography, choreography, and editing. While martial arts cinema had already been on the rise in the early 70s, especially with the arrival of Bruce Lee, Laughlin helped introduce the art form and sub-genre to American audiences all within his message infused drama.

All compliments and praise aside, Billy Jack is not immune to criticism, as the independent film unfortunately features some notable flaws. Although Laughlin made great stride from a historical stand point, his immediate direction is far from great. For starters, the story of his film is fairly unfocused and sort of bounces around from sub-plot to sub-plot with little of a through line, in case you classify theme as a through line. Some sub-plots, such as Billy’s ever increasing struggle with the town’s racist citizens, provide the best highlights of the film. However, all of the scenes involving the freedom school students and their efforts to bond with the townspeople come out the weakest. It’s clear that these scenes were fairly improvised, as the younger actors feel amateur and their conversations loose. A major problem with these scenes is that they run for far too long and feel entirely unfocused. Laughlin could have chopped a whopping 30 minutes from his two-hour film if he were to shorten these far more.

Speaking of time, Billy himself has very little screen time, even to the point where he’s not much of a protagonist. He vanishes from the film for long stretches of time, even to the point where I had trouble remembering what occurred in his most recent scene. My theory as to Laughlin’s extended absences are as follows: 1) Laughlin’s dedication to directing from behind the camera probably swallowed up a lot of his time and prevented him from being in as many of the film’s scenes as possible, and 2) those dang freedom school improv scenes that run for far too long and swallow up whole chunks of time fill in the gaps where Billy vanishes altogether. In all honesty, I believe that the towns people, the freedom school students, and the police have more screen time than Billy. While it’s too late to change anything now, I bet that a far more polished script, as well as more time and money (as it was an independent production after all), could have resulted in a far better film with a stronger focus.

Nowadays, cinematic franchises that dominate the public’s interest due to their marketable intellectual property bore me. The Star Wars, Marvel, and Transformers films of recent don’t excite me the way they do everyone else. It’s mostly because they all feel stale and take zero risks, as they reek of board room meddling. Therefore, I tend to find my excitement in the bygone films of yesteryear, or even daring contemporary ones, especially the obscure risk takers. Case in point: Billy Jack. Laughlin’s martial arts infused message movie utterly captivates me, as it tackles many subjects and comes out a mixed blender of ideas and entertainment that is unlike much else before or after it, save for Seagal’s cinema. It’s astounding how historically significant the film and its creator was, as blockbuster distribution, Native American activism, and martial arts cinema owes a huge debt to Laughlin and his Billy Jack, even though his film was far from perfect. With the recent announcement of Shout Factory’s Complete Billy Jack Blu-ray Collection, which will finally replace the long out of print DVD set, it seems that it’s Billy Jack’s time to shine in the light again, and for cinema buffs to rediscover the pleasures of Laughlin’s fascinating cinema.

Zach Nix’s Rating: 7/10

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Hell in the Pacific | Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

Hell in the Pacific | Blu-ray & DVD (Kino Lorber)

Hell in the Pacific | Blu-ray & DVD (Kino Lorber)

RELEASE DATE: June 27, 2017

Kino Lorber has announced the Blu-ray for 1968’s Hell in the Pacific, a survival/thriller by director by John Boorman (Deliverance) that stars Lee Marvin (Point Blank) and Toshiro Mifune (Incident at Blood Pass).

During World War II, an American pilot (Marvin) and a marooned Japanese navy captain (Mifune) are deserted on a small uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean. There, they must cease their hostility and cooperate if they want to survive, but will they?

Hell in the Pacific is one of three films that share a common theme. The others being Frank Sinatra’s None but the Brave (1965) and Wolfgang Petersen’s Enemy Mine (1985).

Pre-order Hell in the Pacific from Amazon.com today!

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