Freddy Krueger fingers Daniel Lee’s ‘Song of the Assassins’

"Song of the Assassins" Teaser Poster

“Song of the Assassins” Teaser Poster

Daniel Lee, the Hong Kong director behind films such as Jet Li’s Black Mask, Donnie Yen’s 14 Blades, Leon Lai’s White Vengeance and Jackie Chan’s Dragon Blade, is currently in pre-production-phase with the upcoming wuxia thriller, Song of the Assassins.

According to AFSSong of the Assassins sees the filmmaker re-uniting with his White Vengeance and Dragon Blade co-star William Feng (Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon).

Plot details are thin, but if the film’s Teaser Poster (and banner) is any indication, expect some flesh-slicing action from a weapon similar to Freddy Krueger’s famous glove.

Stay tuned for more updates.

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HBO: The New Home of Kung Fu? *UPDATE*

HBO: The New Home of Kung Fu?

When you think of the famous studios responsible for producing some of the most popular kung fu classics, some names that will likely spring to mind are Golden Harvest, Shaw Brothers, and Cathay, to name but a few. One name that certainly wouldn’t be near the top of anyone’s list, or even on it at all for that matter, is American cable channel HBO. However at the end of 2016, the networks Asian channel, suitably titled HBO Asia, announced they’d be airing a pair of new, exclusively made for HBO, kung fu movies. Both would focus on famous characters from Chinese history, ones that should need no introduction for fans of kung fu cinema. Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong Kei-Ying tells a tale of Wong Fei-Hung’s father, and his battles to rid China of opium, while Master of the Drunken Fist: Beggar So, tells the origin story of the legendary Drunken Master.

"Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong Kei-Ying" Promotional Poster

“Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong Kei-Ying” Promotional Poster

While neither tales are likely to break any new ground when it comes to kung fu movie storytelling, the decision for HBO Asia to make these movies at all most definitely is a ground breaking one. Naturally, the biggest question of all is – why? It’s no secret that China’s burgeoning middle class has boomed over the last 10 years, and with it, going to the cinema has come to be one of the countries favourite past times (often regardless of the movie in questions quality). In 2015 alone, China saw 22 new cinema screens opening daily. Daily! While the US continues to wrestle with rampant piracy of new movies, the willingness of Chinese audiences to visit the cinema, combined with a potential box office from a population of over 1 billion, has seen the Hollywood studios keen to ensure their productions have China-appeal.

However as much of a no-brainer as it is, making a movie that can be shown in China isn’t quite as simple as it sounds, with production companies using an increasing number of workarounds to ensure distribution. The most obvious one – China’s quota for foreign productions which can be shown, has largely been circumnavigated by Hollywood making its movies as Chinese co-productions. Throw in some China-specific content, and you’re good to be screened. Now you know why China saved the day in The Martian, and the reason behind the jaunt to Hong Kong in Transformers: Age of Extinction. Remember at the beginning of Looper how Joseph Gordon-Levitt is determined to move to Paris, but then the script simply drops it and has him re-locate to Shanghai instead?  That’s because the productions Hollywood budget didn’t stretch to a shoot in France, so the Chinese co-producer stepped in and offered to pay for location shooting in Shanghai.  A few script adjustments later, and China saves the day.

"Master of the Drunken Fist: Beggar" Promotional Poster

“Master of the Drunken Fist: Beggar So” Promotional Poster

Then you have the culturally (or more specifically, politically) sensitive issues to be mindful of. There were mass accusations of white-washing, when the Tibetan mystic from the Doctor Strange comics was changed to a Celtic woman (played by Tilda Swinton), for the movie. But really, look closer, and it’s easy to see that there was no way a production with a main character that’s both Tibetan, and a practitioner of the supernatural, would be shown on Chinese shores. With that much box office at stake, again, the decision to change things was a no-brainer. However, with a president that’s implemented a renewed push to make the Communist Party relevant again, Hollywood’s rush to please China could be about to come undone. In 2016 alone, in addition to the existing bans on such themes as the supernatural, now time travel, one-night stands, and even cleavage have been given the chop from being shown. Had Looper been made now, I guess there’d be no Chinese producers to step in.

In August of the same year, the national media regulator warned local news programs not to “express overt admiration for Western lifestyles”, and authorities have been actively discouraging broadcasters from adopting imported TV formats, such as The Voice of China. Throw in the governments closing down of both Walt Disney Co.’s movie streaming service and Apple’s, and it seems that the noose is tightening on Hollywood’s attempts to drink from China’s cash coated well. This background of course, makes it all the more interesting for HBO Asia to dip its toes into Chinese waters at such a time. While this may be the first time for the channel to deal specifically with the Chinese market, it’s not the first time they’ve dabbled in the Asian market, with their 2012 production Dead Mine aiming to capitalise on appealing to a pan-Asian demographic.

The movie, which starred Japanese actress Miki Mizuno, well known for her roles in the likes of the Hard Revenge Milly series and Sono Sion’s Guilty of Romance, and a fresh from starring in The Raid: Redemption Joe Taslim, was a complete bomb. Shot in English, the Indonesian productions attempt to throw Japanese, Indonesian, and Western actors together, for a tale of undead Samurai warriors in an abandoned Japanese bunker from World War II, simply didn’t mesh together. Undeterred however, HBO continued on with the Australia-Singapore co-produced TV series Serangoon Road, a 1960’s noir detective series set in Singapore and starring Joan Chen. Again, the series was shot entirely in English, and again, it bombed.

After a double-whammy of flops, HBO Asia Chief Executive Jonathan Spink readily acknowledged that, co-productions made with the intent of pleasing two completely different markets, simply don’t work. So it was time for a change of tactics, if it wasn’t possible to gain viewership by appealing to several different countries with one product, what country was capable of providing a high level of viewership as a single entity? Of course, the answer was simple – China. While HBO Asia is not widely heard of in China, let alone available (it’s mostly limited to high end hotels), the network revealed an ace up its sleeve by partnering with the China Movie Channel, which is, most significantly, a division of state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV). What that means for the average Chinese TV viewer is that they don’t need HBO Asia, as CCTV will handle local distribution, while HBO Asia can concentrate on marketing both movies across the rest of Asia.

The greater advantage for HBO Asia is that, by partnering with a state-run TV channel, anything they make has essentially already been given the stamp of approval for being shown before the cameras even start rolling. It’s a smart move for both HBO Asia and CCTV, and not the first time the pair have worked together. In the past CCTV has licensed and aired HBO TV movies, such as The Gathering Storm, however this is the first time that they’ve come together to co-produce content. With CCTV’s domestic audience of more than 1 billion, and HBO Asia’s presence across Asia, their partnership has the potential to be a powerful one. For HBO Asia specifically, the fact that CCTV is a state-run entity puts them in a strong position to stay on the good side of the Chinese authorities, and position themselves as distributors of Chinese culture to the world.

The impact of Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong Tei-Ying and Master of the Drunken Fist: Beggar So has already exceeded the expectations of both HBO Asia and CCTV. Speaking in August 2016, senior vice president of new business at HBO Asia, Beibei Fan, had stated there were no plans to show the movies outside of HBO Asia, indicating that the Chinese audience figures alone were enough to justify making them. However as of January 2017, both became available in the US via iTunes and the usual platforms, thanks mainly to a small but dedicated western fan base of kung fu movies who had gotten wind of the productions, and began increasingly asking how they could be seen. Ironically, most of the interest from western shores focused on the involvement of veteran choreographer Corey Yuen, the director of the likes of Ninja in the Dragon’s Den and Yes, Madam! However Yuen’s involvement was only limited to that of executive producer.

Of course like any good marketing department knows, that didn’t stop the promotional posters made for a US audience plastering on top of them – ‘Executive Producer Corey Yuen (X-Men, Lethal Weapon 4 and The Expendables)’ – in a bid to draw in more viewers. Indeed the choice of movies from Yuen’s extensive filmography are indicative of just that, with HBO clearly aiming to draw in not only kung fu fans, but also more casual viewers with references to big budget Hollywood action movies and superhero flicks. Amusingly, it is perhaps the first time a production has referenced Lethal Weapon 4 as a selling point since the 2001 Billy Zane vehicle Invincible, which was, ironically, also a TV movie. Fifteen years prior, the long forgotten cash-in on The Matrix came with the proud tagline of – ‘Executive Produced by Mel Gibson And Jet Li’ – which, if I’m not mistaken, is not even grammatically correct.

The actual man in the director’s chair for both productions is Guo Jian-Yong, a former stuntman and action director in his own right. Yuen and Jian-Yong are well acquainted, with Jian-Yong playing a part in Yuen’s Mahjong Dragon as far back as 1997, as well as action directing on Yuen’s post-millennium efforts such as So Close and DOA: Dead or Alive. Jian-Yong seems well aware of his role as the man responsible for ensuring the movies deliver, with plans already announced that if they’re well received, HBO and CCTV would consider making further instalments. Beibei Fan explained that the approach for both productions was to look at them “almost like pilots”, with Spink further elaborating that the plan is not to be another US studio or network trying to fit into China, but rather the goal “is about taking great content out of China.”

Jian-Yong echoes Spink’s words in particular, explaining that “We have the endorsement of the HBO brand, but it has to be authentic Chinese if it’s going to work, it can’t be half-Western and half-Chinese or audiences will be confused.” True to his word, Jian-Yong has filled both movies with genuine martial artists and stunt performers, with likely the most recognizable face for most kung fu fans coming in the form of Chen Zhi-Hui. The only actor to be given prominent roles in both movies, Zhi-Hui can be recognized for his roles in the likes of Fearless, Ip Man, and Rise of the Legend, usually playing authoritative older figures or masters. This should come as good news to kung fu fans, as while most genres would frown upon made for TV fare, the kung fu genre has had as much action unfold on the small screen as it has the big, with the likes of channels such as TVB producing a large number of martial arts themed serials.

With both productions weighing in at a lean 90 minutes, I decided to watched them back to back, which after the flip of a coin saw Master of the Drunken Fist: Beggar So being viewed first, and Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong Kei-Ying second. It’s the latter movie that caught my attention the most though, as while the plot of ridding China of opium has been covered countless times before, Wong Fei-Hung’s father Wong Kei-Ying has had surprisingly few screen appearances as a main character. Usually taking a back seat to his sons adventures, Kei-Ying has been notably played by Kong Yeung (Challenge of the Masters), Lam Kau (Drunken Master), Ti Lung (Drunken Master 2), and even Adam Cheng (Drunken Master 3). However as far as headlining a movie, the only time that springs to mind is when Donnie Yen stepped into his shoes for Yuen Woo-Ping’s 1993 classic Iron Monkey.

This time around, he’s played by newcomer Sun Hao-Ran. Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong Kei-Ying is, as expected, far from ground-breaking, however what it does do is deliver a solid little kung fu movie, regardless of if it’ll likely be forgotten soon after watching. Hao-Ran is a capable lead, and in much the same way as when Jet Li played Wong Fei-Hung in the Once Upon a Time in China series, all he’s really called upon to do is to act suitably stoic and upstanding. What counts is that he does it well, and clearly has the moves to back it up. It’s easy to recall Fan’s words of how the productions should be treated as pilots when watching, however Jian-Yong looks to have made the most of the limited budget he was given to work with.

While the fights come frequently, there’s also a surprisingly high level of violence on display, including a decapitated arm, and a throat being cut with a Chang Cheh level of blood splatter. These, and several other instances of bloodletting, play their part to ensure proceedings never feel too much like, well, a HBO TV movie. Jian-Yong also seems to be a fan of old school kung fu movies himself, with the villains Peking opera mask an obvious nod to The Five Venoms, and the revelation that an old master has stitched a secret kung fu manual under his skin (and the subsequent gory procedure to remove it) recalling a similar scene in Shaolin: The Blood Mission.

The fights themselves are well paced, and flow at a nice speed with no signs of undercranking, although purists will no doubt bawk at some of the wire assisted moves. The finale in particular sees inspiration being drawn from Fearless, as Hao-ran has to face off against a Muay Thai fighter, a fencer, and the villain himself. What makes the fights work so well is what’s at stake, with Hao-ran’s acquaintance, aunt, and son (Wong Fei-Hung himself, who does nothing but whine incessantly for the whole movie) all captured by the villains. During the round with the Muay Thai fighter, for each of Hao-ran’s limbs that touches the ground, the corresponding limb of his tied up acquaintance is broken. During the round with the fencer, for every part of Hao-ran’s clothing that gets sliced, the corresponding piece is ripped off from his aunt, resulting in a kind of bizarre game of strip kung fu.

The setup results in a welcome sense of immediacy, and perhaps thanks to the grittier and more bloody version of Wong Fei-Hung that was recently presented in 2014’s Rise of the Legend, the fights finish on a suitably brutal note. It surprises me that I actually enjoyed Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong Kei-Ying more than I did Rise of the Legend, despite, in terms of production values at least, Roy Chow’s movie being superior in every way. In an attempt to make Wong Fei-Hung relevant for a modern audience though, for me Rise of the Legend sacrificed too much of what makes Wong Fei-Hung the enduring character that he is, and perhaps more specifically, what he stands for. Here there’s a balance, with Wong Kei-Ying still being the impeccably upright character we know Wong Fei-Hung will become, but when it comes to facing off against the bad guys, he also knows when it’s time to show no mercy.

It’s interesting then, that the elements that make Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong Kei-Ying work, are somehow almost entirely absent from Master of the Drunken Fist: Beggar So. As a movie, it seems to be aware of how easily it could stand in the shadow of 2010’s True Legend, however does nothing to differentiate itself from such inevitable comparisons. The titular character of Beggar So, a character played by everyone from Simon Yuen to Donnie Yen to Vincent Zhao, here has his shoes (or should that be bottle of wine?) filled by another newcomer in the form of Jun Cao. However Jian-Yong seems to struggle to do anything beyond creating a simpler, less ambitious, retelling of Beggar So’s origins, compared to what audiences have already seen in True Legend.

The long hair and spinning on your back breakdancing move are both present and accounted for, however instead of battling Gordon Liu and Jay Chou on a mountain in an alcohol fuelled dream, Cao has an outer-body experience (after being hit by lightning), and drunkenly staggers around with CGI water drops. It all seems very derivative of what we’ve seen before, only on a smaller budget and with more pedestrian direction. Short of simply writing off Master of the Drunken Fist: Beggar So as a poor man’s version of True Legend, the production also has plenty of its own issues to contend with. While the TV format sees a much less devastating event than his family’s death lead to Cao’s inebriated state, the aftermath, and lack of any interesting supporting characters, sees a disproportionate amount of the run time dedicated to watching him wallow in his own misery.

This is likely due more to the script and direction than Cao’s performance, who at times resembles the spitting image of a Story of Ricky era Fan Siu-Wong, however that doesn’t make it any more tolerable to sit through. The training sequences also feel like a miss, as despite being surrounded by several props, apart from a brief scene of balancing on bamboo poles, Cao’s entire regime seems to consist of staggering around in an open space performing drunken boxing. Training scenes are a grand tradition in any old school kung fu movie, and allow the action directors to get creative regardless of how little the budget they’re working with is. So to see none of the props in plain sight get utilised, in favour of endless scenes of drunken forms, seems like a missed opportunity.

While Cao does eventually get to use his drunken boxing skills against an evil eunuch, it all comes a little too late, and ultimately feels underwhelming. The fight scenes in Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong Kei-Ying may not be a significant improvement, however they come at frequent intervals, which allows proceedings to maintain a steady pace and keep the viewers interest. That sense of pacing isn’t there with Master of the Drunken Fist: Beggar So, with far too much time spent with a character, who most will already be family with, feeling sorry for himself, and not enough on the business of people beating each other up.

The contrast in both movies, despite them being unmistakably made for TV, is a noticeable one – with Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong Kei-Ying being an example of how to keep a TV movie interesting, despite an unremarkable story and archetypal characters, and Master of the Drunken Fist: Beggar So suffering all the pit falls that one would expect from such a production. For western audiences in particular, it’s difficult to imagine coughing up the money for both features if Master of the Drunken Fist: Beggar So is the one chosen to be watched first. Back over in Asia however, as Beibei Fan pointed out, the viewers in China alone, who can watch them for free, are more than enough to justify the cost of making them, so the western market is really just an afterthought.

Most likely HBO Asia’s decision to appeal specifically to the Chinese market is something we’ll be seeing more and more of in future. When Jackie Chan picked up his honorary Oscar in November 2016, he recalled that when he first went to Hollywood to make Battlecreek Brawl, nobody cared for his opinions or wanted to listen to his ideas. But he went on to explain that “Today, they ask me what Chinese people like to see. They need to consider every aspect of China because China has gotten strong, and China’s film industry has gotten strong.” While not everyone may agree, it’s arguably true, and if that means that HBO get to make more kung fu movies on a higher budget and with more time to film, then it’s definitely not a bad thing. Maybe a few years from now we’ll have Master of the Chain Punch: Ip Man and Master of the Iron Skin Technique: Fong Sai-Yuk.

Time will tell, but until then, it’ll be interesting to see if other networks decide to follow the same route of abandoning appeal-to-all co-productions, and instead choose to focus specifically on the Chinese audience. Netflix already abandoned its attempts to launch in China at the end of 2016, due to the government regulations over foreign digital content simply being too strict to overcome, so it seems like a very real possibility. However not every filmmaker is as enthusiastic about working under such restrictive conditions, a sentiment reflected in comments made by Troma Entertainment President Lloyd Kaufman, during a panel discussion held during the Chinese American Film Festival last year. “How are you going to learn from American producers if we have to conform to a system controlled by bureaucrats from the top down?” said Kaufman, indicating that we’re likely not going to get a Chinese version of The Toxic Avenger anytime soon.

Whatever the future may hold, HBO will be remembered as the first network to boldly branch out into Chinese territories, and there are certainly far worse ways to do so than with a couple of kung fu movies. Jian-Yong himself seems to understand the universal appeal of the genre, insisting that he wanted all of the action and stunts to be performed by the actors with no CGI or special effects, adding that “audiences across all cultures can appreciate that.” Indeed, I doubt there’ll be many people reading this article who’d disagree.

Updates: Making good on their promise to produce more kung fu, it’s been reported that the vice president of the China Movie Channel, Zhang Ling, has confirmed they’ll be making 2 more movies with HBO.

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter shortly before the China Night Party took place as part of the Cannes Film Festival, Ling had this to say – “We were very pleased with how our first collaboration turned out, so we are very happy to be partnering with HBO on two more high-quality TV movies that celebrate Chinese culture and history.” While no further details were provided, based on Beibei Fan’s comments from 2016, expectations are that once again each movie will be a stand-alone story of a martial arts hero from Chinese history.

As we hear more, we’ll be sure to keep you updated!

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Aaron Kwok is having ‘A Hard Day’ in ‘Peace Breaker’

"Peace Breaker" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Peace Breaker” Chinese Theatrical Poster

On August 18th, Aaron Kwok (Monk Comes Down the Mountain) is going to have one heck of a day in Lien Yi-Chi’s Peace Breaker (aka Perpetrators), a Chinese remake of the 2014 Korean thriller, A Hard Day. Wang Qianyuan (Brotherhood of the Blades) co-stars.

If Peace Breaker is anything like the original, here’s what you can expect: In a 24 hour period, a detective (originally played by Lee Sun-Hyun) receives a divorce notice from his wife; next, his mother passes away; he then becomes the focus of a police investigation; to make matters worse, on the way to his mother’s funeral, he commits a fatal hit and run…

Updates: Added the Poster (via AFS). A Trailer is due soon, so until then, don’t miss the original film’s Trailer:

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Well Go USA nabs Yuen Woo-ping’s ‘Ip Man 3’ spin-off

"Cheung Tin-chi" Teaser Poster

“Cheung Tin-chi” Teaser Poster

Max Zhang – the rising star of The Grandmaster, S.P.L. II and Ip Man 3 – is headlining an unofficial Ip Man 3 spin-off directed by legendary martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-ping (Dance of the Drunken Mantis). Zhang will reprise his role as Cheung Tin-chi from Ip Man 3, hence the film’s title, Cheung Tin-chi. 

Cheung Tin-chi will also star Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny), Tony Jaa (xXx: Return of Xander Cage) and Dave Bautista (Kickboxer: Vengeance).

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

Updates: Well Go USA has secured rights to Cheung Tin-chi, which is currently in pre-production phase.

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Universal Soldier (1971) Review

"Universal Soldier" VHS Cover

“Universal Soldier” VHS Cover

Director: Cy Enfield
Producer: Donald Factor, Frederick Schwartz
Cast: George Lazenby, Ben Caruthers, Robin Hunter, Edward Judd, Alan Barnes, Cy Enfield, Germaine Greer, Rudolph Walker, Chrissie Townson, Guy Deghy, Edward Judd, Ronan O’Rahilly
Running Time: 94 min.

By Jeff Bona

While promoting 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, model-turned-actor, George Lazenby, the film’s “New James Bond” star, was literally a signature away from playing Bond again, until his then-manager, Ronan O’Rahilly, convinced him not to take the deal: “Bond is [Sean] Connery’s gig,” O’Rahilly told Lazenby. “Make one and get out.” Lazenby listened, only to admit later that he had taken bad advice: “Yes, I turned down doing another [Bond] film… It was hippie time and getting laid in a suit was difficult. You had to have long hair and bell bottoms. It was the time of Easy Rider. Bond was part of the establishment.” (*)

Ultimately, Lazenby turned down a seven picture/$1 million upfront deal to return as 007 (Connery ended up coming back for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever) and instead decided to downgrade his newfound acting career by taking a lead role in Universal Soldier, a low budget, art-house drama directed by Cy Enfield (Zulu).

Universal Soldier was everything a Bond production wasn’t: Low on action, slow-paced and contrary to the cutting edge camera work of a Bond flick, it was shot guerilla-style, using the fly-on-the-wall approach – an unconventional method similar to what was applied to Easy Rider, which was the type of film Lazenby desired to be a part of.

Additionally, Lazenby’s clean cut, tailored-suit appearance was replaced with shaggy long hair, an extreme pornstache, bell-bottoms, and a black leather trench coat; also gone was the cool cigarette dangling from his mouth, which was swapped with wacky tobacky (one scene shows him inhaling smoke through an actual gun; a “golden gun” no less – see alternative VHS artwork).

In the film, Lazenby is Ryker, a mercenary soldier/weapons expert who takes part in a scheme to overthrow an African dictator. To do the job, he reunites with some former associates – Jesse (Ben Carruthers), Freddy (Robin Hunter) and Temple (Alan Barnes) – and together they plan their strategy, which mostly involves the testing and shipment of military-grade firearms. In the process, Ryker, who suffers from a slight case of shell shock, has a change of heart and begins to question his morality, which intensifies even more when he falls for a young woman (Chrissie Townson, who would later become Lazenby’s real-life, first wife).

Despite the film being incoherent with no real sense of direction or solid plot line, Universal Soldier is an interesting viewing, but for all the wrong reasons. To put it simply, it’s Lazenby’s post-Bond involvement that gives the movie a certain appeal, especially in the context of these points: Lazenby became Bond by luck; Lazenby was an exceptional Bond; Lazenby was Bond in a great Bond movie; Lastly, Lazenby voluntarily gave up playing Bond ever again so he can sport long hair, smoke grass, partake in hippie sex orgies and star in an Easy Rider-wannabe that most-likely paid chunk change compared to the goldmine he would have received from the Bond franchise. Definitely not Lazenby’s wisest choice, but you have to respect the guy’s honorable decision. Obviously, the Age of Aquarius was more important to him than money.

In spite of what you’d expect from the film’s title, there is hardly any action going on, other than some weapon testing scenes, a brief car chase and a short fight sequence. The lack of action didn’t stop the producers from marketing it as an “action movie” (see poster), which may have played a part to why it bombed at the box office. Let’s get real here: If a film is titled Universal Soldier and it stars a former Bond, then who wouldn’t expect a decent amount of violence? Even today, the film has been completely overshadowed by the 1992 Van Damme/Dolph Lundgren all-out actioner of the same name, which, as you may have already guessed, is 100% unrelated to the former.

What stands out the most about Universal Soldier is its catchy soundtrack, which features a handful of melodic songs by Phillip Goodhand-Tait. In fact, if you have a decent imagination, you can pretend the film, along with its accompanying music, is an unofficial sequel to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (just think: Bond resigns from the British Secret Service to become a hippie, but takes odd mercenary jobs to make ends meet), not to mention a metaphor for Lazenby’s actual life and career choices. The following is an excerpt from the prophetic lyrics to Goodhand-Tait’s song, “One Road,” which plays during the film’s opening credit sequence:

One road leads to sadness
One road leads to pain
One road shows you life is a game
One road leads to darkness
One road leads to light
One road leads you right to love 

I wouldn’t be surprised if some film connoisseurs out there consider Universal Soldier Lazenby’s masterpiece, which isn’t totally unrealistic. As epic and innovative as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was, it was still a Bond film, i.e. a blockbuster extravaganza, one that was first and foremost designed to make lots of money. And as entertaining as Lazenby’s exploitative Italian/Hong Kong/Hollywood films that followed – 1972’s Who Saw Her DieStoner, 1974’s Stoner, 1975’s The Man from Hong Kong1976’s A Queen’s Ransom and 1978’s Death Dimension – they all lacked any real artistic merit, when judged from a film snob’s point of view.

With its artsy, unorthodox approach, Universal Soldier is somewhat of a hidden gem. And considering its anti-war/pacifist overtones, together with Lazenby’s natural acting abilities, it passes as a well-crafted film with a message. As long as you’re a fully caffeinated Lazenby fan, it’s well worth checking out.

Jeff Bona’s Rating: 6/10

Posted in All, Cults & Classics, Reviews | Tagged | 2 Comments

Sh*t gets ‘Real’ in the Trailer for Lee Jung-Sub’s noir thriller

"Real" Korean Theatrical Poster

“Real” Korean Theatrical Poster

Writer/director Lee Jung-Sub, the filmmaker perhaps best known for co-writing Romantic Island and Perfect Couple, is opening his directorial debut with a bang in Real, an upcoming neo noirish actioner starring Kim Soo-hyun (The Thieves).

Real is the story about a colorful city controlled by the underworld, where a troubleshooter, Jang Tae-yeong (Kim), who is good at dealing with “dark business,” solves all requests, but things change for him after he meets a former detective reporter (via WP).

Real also stars Sung Dong-il (Iris 2), Lee Sung-min (A Violent Prosecutor) and Lee Geung-young (The Prison).

Real is getting a domestic release in June 2017. Don’t miss the film’s Trailer below:

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Schwarzenegger’s ‘Legend of Conan’ isn’t dead after all…

"Conan the Barbarian" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Conan the Barbarian” Japanese Theatrical Poster

For the last few years, Legend of Conan (aka King Conan or Conan the Conqueror) – the proposed ‘true’ sequel to 1982’s Conan the Barbarian – has been in an off again/on again status by Universal. The film was most likely pushed aside, numerous times, due to “higher priority” projects (i.e. Terminator Genisys) that involve the series’ returning star, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Over the years, City on Fire has collected news updates regarding the development Legend of Conan. Here’s what we learned in the process:

1. Schwarzenegger will return to the title role and the movie is “100% happening,” says Frederik Malmberg, Paradox Entertainment’s President and CEO.

2. Legend of Conan will ignore both 1984’s Conan the Destroyer and 2011’s Conan reboot that starred Jason Momoa. It will pick up exactly where John Milius’ 1982 movie ended, focusing on an older Conan who has survived countless wars and bedded even more women as he searches for his life’s final battle.

3. Chris Morgan will serve as both producer and screenwriter for Legend of Conan. His credits include Wanted and Fast Five: “We think this is a worthy successor to the original film. Think of this as Conan’s Unforgiven,” says Morgan. Andrea Berloff (World Trade Center) is also one of the writers.

4. During a Q&A screening of 2013’s The Last Stand, Arnie explained that Universal admitted ‘the previous regime has missed the boat’ and they wanted to produce a serious action movie with a top director and top writers: “[Universal] finally came forward and said, ‘You’re absolutely right. The previous regime has missed the boat here. We want to pick it up. We’re going to buy the rights and we’re going to be serious about it and make a quality film with an A-director and with A-writers and so on. And we want you to participate in this. We want you to star and you to play Conan. We’re going to take a story where Conan is at that age so it’s totally believable and you’re not looking like a 30-year old action guy.”

5. Paul Verhoeven (RobocopTotal Recall) has expressed his love for 1982’s Conan and he has openly stated that he’s interested in directing Legend of Conan if given the chance.

6. Fredrik Malmberg, one of Legend of Conan’s producers, had this to say: “We want to polish up the script, specifically about the characters…” He adds: “A lot of directors have come fourth and expressed interest… we have been in touch with old great names and new fresh faces. We’re excited about finding the right guy for that.”

7. Schwarzenegger has supposedly invited Shankar (Anniyan, I) to direct Legend of Conan. Shankar is known for directing high budget Tamil films (he’s considered the pioneer of vigilante movies in Tamil).

8. Chris Morgan, Legend of Conan’s producer/co-writer told TAF: “We plan nothing more than to immerse ourselves in the world Milius envisioned from Robert E. Howard’s unforgettable stories and Frank Frazetta’s stunning artwork. I can’t give specifics (nobody likes a spoiler!), but know we are honoring the locales, the religions and the traditions of the ’82 film.” He also mentioned that three characters are returning from the first Conan movie.

9. “…I’m sitting on the throne for years and years – decades, and then all of the sudden, the time comes when they want to overthrow me. So that story WILL be told and that movie WILL be done,” said Arnold.

10. After all these years, Legend of Conan is moving forward. Just recently, Schwarzenegger (via The Arnold Fans) mentioned that he will be soon meeting Shane Black (the director of the upcoming Predator movie) to discuss a possible role (as Dutch?). And he also said this: “There’s also a meeting coming up soon about Conan, about the project moving forward.”

11. On April 7th, 2017, the 3rd Conan film was looking like it was dead in the water. Here’s what Chris Morgan, the film’s would-be producer, recently had to say: “At the end of the day, the studio decided that they weren’t gonna make that,” Morgan told EW. “I gotta say, it’s honestly a heartbreak. I love that first movie so much, so much, it’s one of my favorite movies… ultimately, the budget was big, the studio was not really sure of the title, and the relevance in the marketplace.”

Updates: In a recent chat with SD, here’s what Arnie said about the Conan film: “It’s being rewritten…the idea is to do it.” We’re crossing our fingers…

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Well Go USA to release Max Zhang’s ‘Invincible Dragon’

"The Invincible Dragon" Teaser Poster

“The Invincible Dragon” Teaser Poster

Max Zhang – the rising star of The Grandmaster and Ip Man 3 – will once again appear alongside his SPL II co-star, Louis Koo (and again, in newly announced Greedy Wolf), in The Invincible Dragon.

Formerly known as both Made in Kowloon and The Man with the Dragon Tattoo, the thriller is directed by Fruit Chan (Made in Hong Kong). Along for the ride are Annie Liu (Hungry Ghost Ritual), Richard Ng (The Pilferer’s Progress) and UFC champ Anderson Silva.

Details on The Invincible Dragon are thin, but according to AFS, Zhang and Silva will have a match, a la Donnie Yen vs. Mike Tyson in Ip Man 3.

Zhang has many other projects in the works, including The Brink, S.P.L 3: War Needs Lord, as well as an unofficial Ip Man 3 spin-off. As for Koo, well, the guy has a new film every week (just scroll down and you’ll see his name pop up as if he were a common word).

Updates: Well Go USA has secured rights to Invincible Dragon, which is currently in post-production phase. Expect a 2018 release date.

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Arnie to re-team with James Cameron for new ‘Terminator’

"Terminator" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Terminator” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Despite backlash and lukewarm domestic box office returns, 2015’s Terminator Genisys performed well in international markets. In fact, here’s a tidbit you probably weren’t aware of: Terminator Genisys is the second-highest grossing film of the entire franchise (behind only T2: Judgment Day) on a global scale.

With that said, the following news from last January (via Deadline) shouldn’t have come as a surprise: “James Cameron, who regains certain rights to his prized creation The Terminator in 2019, is godfathering a new iteration of the film that might finally get it right in drawing a close in the battle between humans and Skynet. Sources said that Cameron, whose copyright reversion happens 35 years after the release of the 1984 classic, is in early talks with Deadpool director and VFX wiz Tim Miller to direct a reboot and conclusion of one of cinema’s great science fiction tales.”

We’re not sure what “reboot and conclusion” means, but our guess is the Cameron/Miller Terminator film will most-likely take place after T2 and will ignore the rest of them. And considering the near-flawless CGI going around these days, the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected.

Updates: Arnold Schwarzenegger will be returning for the new Terminator film, which will be produced its creator, James Cameron. “It is back,” commented Schwarzenegger, who revealed that he had met Cameron recently and discussed the project. “It is moving forward. He [Cameron] has some good ideas of how to continue with the franchise,” the actor added, “I will be in the movie.” (via SD)

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New Poster for Ding Sheng’s ‘A Better Tomorrow 4’

"A Better Tomorrow 4" Teaser Poster

“A Better Tomorrow 4” Teaser Poster

If Song Hae-Seong’s 2010 Korean remake of A Better Tomorrow didn’t quite do it for you, then get ready for a couple more variations of John Woo’s 1986 seminal gangster classic. That’s right, a couple of ’em.

Two A Better Tomorrow remakes are in the works: One with Stephen Fung (who is also working on a Once a Thief remake) directing; the other with Ding Sheng (Little Big Soldier) directing.

Sheng’s movie, which is currently filming, stars Darren Wang (Railroad Tigers), Ma Tianyu (Surprise) and Wang Kai (Railroad Tigers), who will be playing Mark “Gor” Lee (the character made famous by Chow Yun-fat in the original).

Updates: Check out a New Poster (previous Teaser Poster), as well as photos of Darren Wang, Ma Tianyu and Wang Kai from  A Better Tomorrow 4 below (via AFS):

ABT4

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Trust means nothing in the New ‘Merciless’ Trailer

"The Merciless" Korean Theatrical Poster

“The Merciless” Korean Theatrical Poster

In the tradition of Nah Hyeon’s recent film, The Prison, comes The Merciless (aka Hoodlum), an upcoming crime thriller by writer/director Byun Sung-Hyun (Whatcha Wearin’?).

The Merciless involves a couple of prisoners (Sol Kyung-Gu of Another Public Enemy and Siwan of The Attorney) and their search for higher power in the criminal world.

The film also stars Kim Hee-Won (The Man from Nowhere), Jeon Hye-Jin (Tell Me Lies), Lee Kyoung-Young (The Prison), Kim Sung-Oh (A Bittersweet Life) and Heo Jun-Ho (The Restless).

CJ Entertainment will be giving The Merciless a domestic release in May. Until then, don’t miss the film’s New Trailer below:

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Well Go USA to unleash the Blu-ray for ‘Final Master’ in July

"The Final Master" Theatrical Poster

“The Final Master” Theatrical Poster

Well Go USA is finally releasing Haofeng Xu’s highly-anticipated, award-winning martial arts film The Final Master (read our review) on DVD, Blu-ray and On Demand on July 25, 2017.

Xu made a name for himself by penning the screenplay for Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster. But it was 2011’s The Sword Identity, his directorial debut, which showed Xu’s true talent. Then came his acclaimed second film, 2012’s Judge Archer (aka Arrow Arbitration).

Xu’s trend in both films was presenting the martial arts in a less stylized and more realistic manner, perhaps not unlike the 2007 Japanese film Black Belt or David Mamet’s 2008 MA-themed Redbelt.

Xu’s knack for realistic hand-to-hand combat in The Final Master is sure to please. The upcoming movie stars Liao Fan (Black Coal, Thin IceChinese Zodiac), Song Yang (The Sword Identity), Jia Song (On His Majesty’s Secret Service), Li Xia (The White Dragon), Huang Jue (Founding of the Party) and Chin Shih-Chieh (The Brotherhood of Blades).

Watch the film’s Trailer below:

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New Poster for ‘Operation Red Sea’ channels ‘Mad Max’

"Operation Red Sea" Teaser Poster

“Operation Red Sea” Teaser Poster

Director Dante Lam (Unbeatable) might just be the hardest working man in Hong Kong cinema. The filmmaker has been reliably turning out hard-hitting films that have helped expand the scope of the action/thriller genre in Hong Kong – his most recent film, Operation Mekong, is currently making waves, and now, Lam has yet another creamy trick under his sleeve: Operation Red Sea.

Operation Red Sea is an upcoming actioner that stars Zhang Yi (Brotherhood of Blades 2), Huang Jingyu (Drug War) and Du Jiang (Mr. High Heels).

According to the official synopsis (via Variety), “the Jiaolong Assault Team, one of the special forces of the world’s largest military force, People’s Liberation Army, is given a potentially fatal assignment, leading a small eight-man unit to evacuate Chinese residents from a North African republic in the throes of a coup d’état.”

Operation Red Sea hits theaters later this year. Don’t miss the promotional footage below:

Updates: Added the film’s New Poster.

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New Trailer for Wu Jing’s ‘Wolf Warrior II’ is hellishly violent

"Wolf Warrior II" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Wolf Warrior II” Chinese Theatrical Poster

On July 28th, 2017, the sequel to Wu Jing’s Wolf Warrior is exploding its way to theaters. Wu (SPL II) is once again starring and directing. Yu Nan (The Taking of Tiger Mountain), who starred in the original, also returns.

This time around, Wolf Warrior II will feature Olympic gymnast Zou Kai, Celina Jade (Skin Trade), Hans Zhang (Youth Never Returns) and Frank Grillo (The Grey), who will be playing a mercenary commander who goes head-to-head with Wu’s character.

For Wolf Warrior II, which takes place in a war-torn African country, Wu aims to topple the original. He enlisted Hong Kong veteran Jack Wong (SPL II) and Sam Hargrave (fight coordinator for Blood and Bone) for the action. Hollywood heavies, The Russo Brothers (Captain America: Civil War), were also brought in to help elevate the action.

Updates: Watch the film’s Newest Trailer below:

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Bluebeard | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

"Bluebeard" Theatrical Poster

“Bluebeard” Theatrical Poster

RELEASE DATE: August 15, 2017

South Korean writer/director Lee So-Youn (The Uninvited) is back with more thrills and chills with Bluebeard, a new film that’s getting a Blu-ray & DVD release on August 15, 2017 from Well Go USA.

When a doctor learns a murderous secret from a sedated patient, he finds himself in the middle of an unsolved serial murder case. As dismembered bodies start showing up close to home, the doctor races to solve the riddle before the killer realizes what he may know.

Bluebeard stars Cho Jin-Woong (The Handmaiden), Shin Goo (The Foul King), Kim Dae-Myung (Inside Men) and Lee Chung-Ah (The Good, the Bad, the Weird).

Pre-order Bluebeard from Amazon.com today!

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Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Silvering Spear’ screenplay to be filmed

"The Hidden Fortress" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“The Hidden Fortress” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Three months ago, it was reported that Chinese entertainment company Huayi Brothers (Mojin: The Lost Legend, Dragon Blade) announced the production of The Mask of the Black Death, an upcoming film based on a script by one of the most important and influential filmmakers in the history of cinema, Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress).

Now, another never-before-filmed Kurosawa screenplay, Silvering Spear, has been acquired by Jinke Entertainment from Kurosawa Production Co. for a big screen adaptation. The film will be the first of nine, un-filmed screenplays purchased by Jinke.

According to THR,“Silvering Spear tells the story of a samurai named Ishigaki Jyube who demonstrates remarkable marksmanship while living during the Warring States period, a turbulent time in Japan’s history. Ishigaki Jyube searches for a way to utilize his special talents, while not exploiting them for personal gain.”

Silvering Spear is scheduled to shoot next year. Stay tuned for details.

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News Alert!!! Well Go USA is planning a ‘Bitcoin Heist’

Bitcoin Heist | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Bitcoin Heist | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

On July 4, 2017, Well Go USA will be releasing the Blu-ray & DVD for Bitcoin Heist (aka Sieu Trom), a Vietnamese action film directed by Ham Tran (Hollow), who is perhaps best known for his editing work on the martial arts gems, The Rebel and Clash

In Bitcoin Heist, hackers have become the bank robbers in the new world of crypto-currency. In order to catch the most wanted hacker, The Ghost , an Interpol special agent assembles a team of thieves to plan the ultimate heist. But as any good criminal knows, there is no honor among thieves.

Bitcoin Heist stars Kate Nhung (Sut), Thanh Pham (She’s the Boss), Petey Majik Nguyen (The Lost Dragon), Suboi, Jayvee Mai The Hiep (Sword of the Assassin), Lam Thanh My (How to Fight in Six Inch Heels), Veronica Ngo (House in the Alley) and Teo Yoo (Codename: Jackal).

Pre-order Bitcoin Heist from Amazon.com today!

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New details on Chow Yun-fat and Aaron Kwok’s ‘Unparalleled’

"A Better Tomorrow" International Theatrical Poster

“A Better Tomorrow” International Theatrical Poster

Felix Chong, the co-director of Donnie Yen’s The Lost Bladesman, will be re-teaming up with his frequent collaborator Alan Mak (Infernal Affairs) for an upcoming Hong Kong action film titled Project Gutenberg (previously known as Unparalleled). Chong is directing a script he co-wrote with Mak.

Project Gutenberg stars Chow Yun Fat (A Better Tomorrow) and Aaron Kwok (Monk Comes Down the Mountain).

According to Variety, the story sees Hong Kong police hunting a gang of exceptional currency counterfeiters. Through a gang member (Kwok) whom they extradite from Thailand, the police find themselves on the trail of the gang’s shadowy mastermind (Chow).

Also on board is Zhang Jingchu (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), Liu Kai Chi (Z Storm) and Catherine Chau (Heaven in the Dark).

Shooting for Project Gutenberg has officially started, with a release date set in 2018. See the photo below (via AFS/Mtime).

CYF

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Kung Fu Yoga | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

"Kung Fu Yoga" Theatrical Poster

“Kung Fu Yoga” Theatrical Poster

RELEASE DATE: August 8, 2017

Jackie Chan reunites with noted Hong Kong director Stanley Tong (Rumble in the Bronx) for the action comedy, Kung Fu Yoga (read our review), which hits Blu-ray & DVD on August 8, 2017, courtesy of Well Go USA.

Jack (Chan), a world-renowned archaeology professor, and his team set out on a grand quest to locate the lost ancient Indian treasure of Magadha when they are ambushed by a team of mercenaries and left for dead. Using his vast knowledge of history and kung fu, Jack leads his team on a race around the world to beat the mercenaries to the treasure and prevent an ancient culture from being lost forever.

Jackie Chan and Stanley Tong created magic together in a string of some of Chan’s most loved films of the 90s, including 1992’s Police Story 3: Supercop, 1995’s Rumble in the Bronx and 1996’s Police Story 4: First Strike. Kung Fu Yoga will mark their first feature together since 2005’s The Myth.

Co-starring with Chan are Lay Zhang (of the K-pop group EXO), Miya Muqi (Tomb Robber), Aarif Rahman (Bruce Lee, My Brother) and Indian film stars Sonu Sood (Arundhati) and Ileana D’Cruz (Happy Ending).

Pre-order Kung Fu Yoga from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles, News | Tagged | 15 Comments

Mark Dacascos brings ‘Ultimate Justice’ for all…

"Ultimate Justice" Theatrical Poster

“Ultimate Justice” Theatrical Poster

Martial arts star Mark Dacascos (Drive, Brotherhood of the Wolf, Only the Brave) is back in action with a new thriller titled Ultimate Justice. The upcoming film will be backed by Mike Leeder’s Silent Partners, the production company also responsible for the recent One Million K(L)icks.

Ultimate Justice, tells the story of a team of former Special Ops elite soldiers, whose friendship was forged in battle and years after they thought they had lain down their weapons for good, they are drawn back into action when the family of one of their own is threatened, friendships and loyalties are tested, battlelines are drawn, and Ultimate Justice will be served.

Joining Dacascos will be Matthias Hues (No Retreat, No Surrender II), Matthis Landweher (Kampfansage) and Mike Moeller (One Million K(L)icks), who will also be handling the fight choreography. The film also stars Sandra Bertalanffz, Wolfgang Riehm, Wing Tsung Sifu Henry Mueller, Yasmeen Baker, Martin Baden, Brandon Rhea and of course, Mike Leeder (Pound of Flesh) himself.

Updates: Added the film’s New Poster.

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