Enter the Warrior’s Gate (2016) Review

"Enter the Warrior's Gate" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Enter the Warrior’s Gate” Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Warrior’s Gate
Director: Matthias Hoene
Producer: Mark Gao, Luc Besson
Cast: Mark Chao, Ni Ni, Uriah Shelton, Dave Bautista, Francis Ng, Sienna Guillory, Ron Smoorenburg, Dakota Daulby, Kara Hui, Dakota Daulby, Zha Ka
Running Time: 108 min.

By Z Ravas

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a meek and bullied young Anglo kid finds himself transported to a distant world of Chinese mysticism and martial arts, where he teams with a band of powerful warriors who teach him how to stand up for himself. If you think I’m describing the plot of 2008’s Jackie Chan and Jet Li team-up The Forbidden Kingdom, you’d be right. But it’s also the plot of last year’s Enter the Warrior’s Gate, which is undeniably writer/producer Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen’s take on the same basic premise.

The film represent the first real French-Chinese collaborative production for Besson, who has long had a fascination with Chinese action cinema. Made on a budget of about $48 million, and shot in British Columbia as well as China’s Hengdian World Studios (the largest film studio in the world), the movie landed at the box office with a resounding thud. Thanks entirely to the Chinese box office, Enter the Warrior’s Gate grossed a measly $3.2 million, while in North America it’s more or less been delivered straight to Netflix. In comparison, The Forbidden Kingdom crossed an impressive $127 million back in 2008. But did Warrior’s Gate deserve such a dismal fate?

The story follows teenage Jack (Uriah Shelton), who – in a Gamer-esque wrinkle – is mistaken by the residents of another realm as a powerful warrior because he happens to be good at video games. He’s drafted by Mark Chao’s soldier to help protect a Princess, played by the perfectly charming actress Ni Ni. In our world, Jack and the Princess spend some time gallivanting around a Canadian mall, eating ice cream and developing a crush on one another, when the Princess is kidnapped and taken back to her own land by a fierce barbarian (Kickboxer: Vengeance’s Dave Bautista). Aided by Mark Chao and an eccentric wizard portrayed by Hong Kong stalwart Francis Ng, Jack has to summon his inner courage and rescue the Princess before she becomes Bautista’s bride-to-be.

And that’s about it. Along the way, Jack and Chao are briefly waylaid by a black-garbed witch (played by Kara Hui of My Young Auntie fame), but mostly their journey involves male bonding and brief martial arts training before they confront Bautista and his armada. It’s then that they engage in skirmish after skirmish with the barbarian horde, including a scene where Bautista’s right hand man – the imposing actor Zha Ka, whom you may recognize from Police Story: Lockdown and The Taking of Tiger Mountain – transforms into a computer-generated giant. If you’re hoping that Bautista gets to show off his mixed martial arts skills, you’ll be disappointed, as the hulking bruiser mostly sticks to swinging a sword around. To his credit, lead actor Uriah Shelton – who apparently is most known for his role on TV’s Girl Meets World – trained in martial arts as a kid, though he mostly does a lot of spinning and sliding over tables to avoid bad guys here.

Which gets to my main point: despite the presence of fan favorite actors such as Dave Bautista and Francis Ng, any adult viewer of Enter the Warrior’s Gate is bound to have a sinking realization. This is a movie produced for and targeted exclusively at 12 year-old boys. By all rights, German director Matthias Heone (Cockneys vs. Zombies) should have cut the few instances where side characters are skewered by swords and gone for a PG-rating, as – in terms of its tone and the low-intensity of the action scenes – this film is PG through and through.

There’s no harm in producing an East-meets-West, introductory kung fu movie aimed at kids. Certainly many parents may be looking for the right movie to show children who are slowly developing an interest in martial arts. Unfortunately, I don’t think Enter the Warrior’s Gate is the right movie. The action is shot in an uninspired manner, few of the martial arts-trained actors are given the chance to shine, and at 108 minutes Enter the Warrior’s Gate is about 18 minutes too long. I’m not even mentioning how Besson forced poor Mark Chao, dressed in ancient Chinese battle armor, into an embarrassing dance routine while the credits play.

A studio like Pixar knows how to tell a story to captivate viewers of all ages and transcend the young demographic their films are marketed to. Luc Besson is no Pixar. While some of the script’s one-liners are more clever than you might expect, and it’s fun to see Hong Kong icons like Kara Hui and Francis Ng in a movie so squarely aimed at Western audiences, Enter the Warrior’s Gate has too many flaws to make it an easy recommend. And if you have a 12 year-old in your life who is begging to watch a kung fu flick, may I suggest a convenient alternative? A little known movie called The Forbidden Kingdom

Z Ravas’ Rating: 4/10

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Ready for the ‘Expendables’ of kung fu legends and myths?

"Once Upon a Time in China IV" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Once Upon a Time in China IV” Chinese Theatrical Poster

In addition to his latest production, Heavyweight Assassin, veteran Hong Kong director/writer Jeff Lau (Treasure Hunt) is currently shooting the all-star martial arts actioner Kung Fu Alliance (aka Kung Fu Big League). Considering the project’s impressive line up and the respective characters they’re playing, Kung Fu Big League is essentially “The Expendables of kung fu legends and myths.”

Vincent Zhao will once again portray Wong Fei Hung, as he did in Once Upon a Time in China IV-V and the 1996 TV Wong Fei Hung Series; Dennis To will once again portray Ip Man, as he did in The Legend is Born – Ip Man; frequent “Bruce Lee” actor, Danny Chan, will portray Chen Zhen (made famous by Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury); and Andy On will portray Huo Yuan Jia (previously portrayed by Jet Li in Fearless).

Kung Fu Alliance also stars Bruce Leung (Kung Fu Hustle), Leung Kar Yan (Shanghai 13) and recording artist, Zhang Yao.

Stay tuned for more updates regarding Kung Fu Alliance. Until then, here’s some behind-the-scenes-photos from the production (via AFS):

Kung Fu Alliance

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Kino Lorber breaks their ‘Code of Silence’ for Chuck Norris

"Code of Silence" Theatrical Poster

“Code of Silence” Theatrical Poster

On December 5th, 2017, Kino Lorber will be releasing a Special Edition Blu-ray for 1985′s Code of Silence (read our review), directed by Andrew Davis (Under Siege, The Fugitive) and starring the one, the only, Chuck Norris (Slaughter in San Francisco).

This gritty cop flick is highly regarded as one of Norris’ best. The film’s climax is noted for its menacing crime-fighting robot, “Prowler” (hey, it was the 80’s).

Eddie Cusack (Norris) is a Chicago detective who plays by his own rules – a dangerous habit, especially when he breaks the “code of silence” to blow the lid off a deadly police cover-up. Now an outcast, he receives little help from his embittered fellow officers when he’s hurled into a blistering battle against rival drug kingpins.

Code of Silence also stars Henry Silva (Ocean’s 11), Dennis Farina (Midnight Run), Ron Dean (The Fugitive) and Molly Hagen (Navy Seals vs. Zombies).

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary by director Andrew Davis
  • Interview with screenwriter Michael Butler
  • Interview with actor Ron Dean
  • Interview with actress Molly Hagen
  • Interview with composer David Michael Frank
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

Stay tuned for pre-order information.

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‘Everly’ helmer makes Steven Yeun go kill crazy in ‘Mayhem’

"Mayhem" Theatrical Poster

“Mayhem” Theatrical Poster

On December 26, 2017, Image Entertainment will be releasing the Blu-ray & DVD for Mayhem, a thriller that may serve as the perfect companion piece to the recent The Belko Experiment, a Battle Royale-esque tale where blood-soaked survival makes its way into an office environment.

Joe Lynch, the director of the underrated action flick, Everly, returns with the story of a virus that infects a corporate law office on the day attorney Derek Cho (The Walking Dead’s and Okja’s Steven Yeun) is fired after being framed by a co-worker. The infection is capable of making people act out their wildest impulses. Trapped in the quarantined office building, Derek is forced to savagely fight for not only his job, but also his life.

Mayhem also stars Samara Weaving, Dallas Roberts, Claire Dellamar, Kerry Fox, Caroline Chikezie and Steven Brand.

Expect a Trailer to be popping up soon. Until then, here’s the Trailer for Lynch’s overlooked action flick, Everly:

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Ninja Hunter | Blu-ray & DVD (Funimation)

Ninja Hunter | Blu-ray & DVD (Funimation)

Ninja Hunter | Blu-ray & DVD (Funimation)

RELEASE DATE: November 14, 2017

On November 14th, 2017, Funimation will be releasing the Blu-ray + DVD combo for Seiji Chiba’s Ninja Hunter, a 2015 martial arts flick starring Mitsuki Koga (Bushido Man: Seven Deadly Battles).

Tao, a ninja from the Iga clan, wakes up in a cave surrounded by dead bodies, including a beautiful female ninja. Suffering from amnesia, he can’t remember how or why he’s there, or if he’s the one responsible for this massacre. As Tao fights various other ninja, he begins to piece together his memories with their stories. But instead of solving the enigma, a web of betrayal unfolds.

Ninja Hunter also stars Mei Kurokawa (Killers), Masanori Mimoto (Alien vs. Ninja), Kentaro Shimazu (Bushido Man: Seven Deadly Battles) and Kazuki Tsujimoto (Azumi).

Pre-order Ninja Hunter from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles, News | Tagged | Leave a comment

Jackie Chan blows sh*t up in the Newest ‘Foreigner’ Trailer

"The Foreigner" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“The Foreigner” Chinese Theatrical Poster

Perhaps Jackie Chan (Police Story 2013) is taking a page from Liam Neeson’s playbook and realizing that, even at the ripe age of 62 years-old, there’s no reason he has to retire from a life of action. That would explain why the concept for the actor’s next, project The Foreigner, sounds so much like a movie Charles Bronson might have starred in his heyday.

In the film, Jackie Chan plays a humble restaurant owner who is pushed to violence after a band of terrorists take his daughter’s life in an attack. The movie is based on Stephen Leather’s 2008 novel The Chinaman.

Directing The Foreigner is everyone’s favorite 007 filmmaker, Martin Campbell (Casino Royale). Co-starring with Chan is former James Bond himself, Pierce Brosnan (Tomorrow Never Dies, No Escape). According to TW, Brosnan will play a former IRA member-turned-government official. The project will unite Campbell and Brosnan for the first time since 1995’s Goldeneye.

The Foreigner also stars Charlie Murphy (’71), Katie Leung (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), Simon Kunz (GoldenEye) and Roberta Taylor (Green Street 3: Never Back Down).

In addition to The Foreigner, Chan currently has many movies on his agenda, including The Civilian, Chinese Zodiac 2, Five Against a Bullet, Bleeding Steel and Journey to China. And don’t miss our reviews for his latest films, Railroad Tigers and Kung Fu Yoga.

The Foreigner is expected to hit U.S. theaters on October 13, 2017.

Updates: Watch the film’s New Trailer below:

Posted in News | 29 Comments

Tiger Chen leaps in time in a New Trailer for ‘Kung Fu Traveler’

"Kung Fu Traveler" Teaser Poster

“Kung Fu Traveler” Teaser Poster

Looks like Tiger Hu Chen (Monk Comes Down the Mountain) will be giving Jean Claude Van Damme’s Timecop a run for its money in an upcoming movie that sounds like it’s another concept that meshes martial arts and time traveling into one complete package.

The Yuen Woo-ping protege who made his starring debut in Keanu Reeves’ Man of Tai Chi is joining forces with Wang Zhi (Drug War) in Zhang Xianfeng’s upcoming sci-fi action film, Kung Fu Traveler, which opens domestically on September 21, 2017.

Another film Chen will be involved with is Triple Threat, an Expendables-type actioner also starring Tony Jaa (Skin Trade) and Iko Uwais (The Raid 2).

Updates: Watch the new Trailer for Kung Fu Traveler below:

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Well Go USA has a killer release with ‘Memoir of a Murderer’

"Memoir of A Murderer" Korean Theatrical Poster

“Memoir of A Murderer” Korean Theatrical Poster

Well Go USA continues to kill the competition with their upcoming release of the highly-anticipated thriller, Memoir of a Murderer (not to be confused with Bong Jun-Ho’s similarly titled Memories of Murder) from director Won Shin-Yeon (The Suspect).

Based on the novel by Kim Young-Ha, Memoir of a Murderer involves a former serial killer with Alzheimer’s who fights to protect his daughter from her psychotic boyfriend. The film stars Sol Kyung-Gu (Public Enemy), Kim Nam-Gil (The Pirates), Seol Hyun (Gangnam Blues) and Oh Dal-Su (Tunnel).

A U.S. release date is still pending, but we expect it to to coincide with the film’s domestic release date in September. Until then, don’t miss the film’s killer Trailer below:

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Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years. Vol. 1 | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years. Vol. 1 | Blu-ray (Arrow Video)

Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years. Vol. 1 | Blu-ray (Arrow Video)

RELEASE DATE: November 28, 2017

On November 28th 2017, Arrow Video is releasing the 4-disc Blu-ray + DVD set for Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years. Vol. 1 – Seijun Rising: The Youth Movies. Read the official details below:

Making their home-video debuts outside Japan, this diverse selection of Nikkatsu youth movies (seishun eiga) charts the evolving style of the B-movie maverick best known for the cult classics Tokyo Drifter (1966) and Branded to Kill (1967).

The Boy Who Came Back (1958) marks the first appearances of “Nikkatsu Diamond Guys” and regular Suzuki collaborators Akira Kobayashi and Jo Shishido, with Kobayashi cast as the hot-headed hoodlum fresh out of reform school who struggles to make a clean break with his tearaway past. The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass (1961) is a carnivalesque tale of a young student who hooks up with a down-at-heels travelling circus troupe. Teenage Yakuza (1962) stars Tamio Kawaji as the high-school vigilante protecting his community from the extortions of mobsters from a neighbouring city. The Incorrigible (1963) and Born Under Crossed Stars (1965), both based on Toko Kon’s novels about young love, represent Suzuki’s first films set in the 1920s era later celebrated in his critically-regarded Taisho Trilogy.

Limited Edition Contents:

  • Limited Edition Dual Format Collection [3000 copies]
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation
  • Optional English Subtitles
  • New introduction to the films by critic Tony Rayns
  • 60-page illustrated collector’s book featuring new writing by critic and author Jasper Sharp

Pre-order Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years. Vol. 1 from Amazon.com today!

No Trailers are available for the set’s titles, so here’s the next best thing:

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Deal on Fire! The Assassin | Blu-ray | Only $9.10 – Expires soon!

The Assassin | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

The Assassin | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for The Assassin (read our review), by acclaimed director Hou Hsiao-Hsien (A City of Sadness) and starring Shu Qi (Journey to the West).

In 9th-century China, Nie Yinniang (Qi) is a woman who was abducted in childhood from a general and raised by a nun who trained her in the martial arts. After 13 years of exile, she is returned to the land of her birth as an assassin.

The film also stars Zhou Yun (Bodyguards and Assassins), Chang Chen (Helios) and Tsumabuki Satoshi (Waterboys).

Order The Assassin from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Deals on Fire!, News | 1 Comment

‘Rebel’ and ‘Clash’ actress’ directorial film gets a U.S. release

"Tam Cam: The Untold Story" Vietnamese Theatrical Poster

“Tam Cam: The Untold Story” Vietnamese Theatrical Poster

Cleopatra Entertainment, the company that recently unleashed the Kazakhstan spectacle, Diamond Cartel, now brings us Tam Cam: The Untold Story, Vietnam’s action-packed answer to Cinderella. The film is getting a limited theatrical release in September, followed by a DVD release in November.

Tam Cam: The Untold Story marks the directorial debut of Veronica Ngo (House in the Alley), who is mostly known for her work in the acclaimed Vietnamese martial arts features The Rebel and Clash with Johnny Tri Nguyen. She was also featured in Yuen Woo-ping’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny with Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen.

In addition to directing the film, Ngo also co-stars alongside Huu Chau, Isassc, Jun, Ninh Duong Lan Ngoc, Son Thach, Loc Thanh, Ngoc Trai, Ha Vi and Will.

Ngo will continue her exposure to Western audiences when she appears in the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Last Jedias well as David Ayer’s upcoming thriller, Bright, with Will Smith.

Don’t miss the U.S. trailer for Tam Cam: The Untold Story below:

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Doberman Cop (1977) Review

Doberman Cop | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

Doberman Cop | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Writer: Buronson, Koji Takada
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Janet Hatta, Eiko Matsuda, Masaru Shiga, Tatsuo Endo, Hideo Murota, Koichi Iwaki, Takuzo Kawatani, Hiroki Matsukata, Ryuji Katagiri
Running Time: 90 min.

By Kyle Warner

An Okinawa girl’s been murdered, the latest in what appears to be the work of a serial killer. She was strangled and then her apartment was set on fire, making any positive identification unlikely. The Tokyo cops are stumped, so they call in an Okinawa cop who knows something about the supposed victim. Yes, that’s right, this looks like a case for… Doberman Cop. Sonny Chiba enters frame to the tune of Japanese rock & roll. He’s dressed like a country farmer with a tattered old hat. He’s carrying an angry pig over his shoulder. He’s all wonder and uncertainty, a fish out of water in the big city. This is our hero, as you’ve rarely seen him before.

Chiba’s Detective Kano is a bit unorthodox, to say the least. When he arrives in Tokyo, he offers his pig to the Police Chief in thanks. The Chief doesn’t want it, but Kano insists. The pig meanwhile is screaming and kicking and biting as it attempts to get free of the men pushing it back and forth. Finally able to convince Kano that the pig is unwanted, the pig then becomes Kano’s pet for the rest of the picture.

Kano is there to help solve the murder of the Okinawa girl, who the people have identified as Yuna Tamashiro. Kano doesn’t believe it’s her; he knew Yuna very well, plus Yuna’s priestess mom says she feels that her daughter yet lives, and Kano throws down some seashells that he says prove she’s still alive. As a result, the Tokyo cops think he’s an idiot. But when he saves the singer Miki Haruno (Janet Hatta) from a knife-wielding maniac by rappelling down a 40 story building (with no net!), the cops reassess Kano. He’s not just an idiot, he’s a madman.

The rest of the film continues on this course: the cops search for the serial killer, Kano searches for Yuna who he believes to still be alive, and the singer Miki (with her ex-yakuza manger, Hiroki Matsukata) keep turning up in both storylines. It’s a mystery wrapped in an exploitation film fueled by action and gifted with a dark sense of humor. I could complain that some plots are resolved long before the others, but I’m not in the mood. I enjoyed the hell out of this film.

Chiba is great as Detective Kano. He’s called ‘Doberman Cop’ only once and ‘Tarzan Cop’ far more frequently, but perhaps that title wouldn’t sell the same (worth noting: the film is based on a popular manga series from the period). I enjoyed his more wide-eyed performance, as it made for a nice change from his usual hissing, karate kicking, steely-eyed badass. To be sure, Chiba still beats the living hell out of people (“my arms are like iron and my legs are even stronger!”), but there’s an added dose of comedy because everyone underestimates him all the time. Plus I liked seeing him carrying around a pig like it’s a puppy. It’s a good role and it’s a shame that the movie didn’t make more money at the time of its release to warrant seeing a sequel.

The rest of the cast is pretty solid. Hiroki Matsukata (13 Assassins) is great as the slimy ex-yakuza talent manager. Eiko Matsuda (In the Realm of the Senses) is a lot of fun as the stripper who falls in love with Kano and his pig. The stressed out strip club manager played Takuzo Kawatani (Empire of Passion) also makes for some nice bits of comedy. And Hotshot, a street bike gang member played by Koichi Iwaki (Silver Hawk), is a good unlikely ally for the out-of-town cop. The majority of the rest of the cast are Kinji Fukasaku and Toei regulars, all performing admirably in the chorus of chaos that the director frequently creates. The weak link is Janet Hatta (Proof of the Man), who doesn’t put much into her performance. Her character is supposed to be doped up in multiple scenes, so perhaps that explains her overly understated performance. But in a film full of high strung characters, Hatta’s Miki stands out in the wrong way.

Doberman Cop arrives on Blu-ray for the first time in the US from Arrow Video. The movie looks nice, sounds good, and comes with a little over 30 minutes of new special features. You get interviews with Japanese film expert Sadao Yamane, screenwriter and frequent Fukasaku collaborator Koji Takada, and another sit-down with Sonny Chiba as he talks about his career. Each interview subject is entertaining and informative. I only wish they were longer interviews.

After watching Wolf Guy earlier this year, I gave up trying to predict what to expect from the obscure entries of Sonny Chiba’s filmographyGoofier than most Kinji Fukasaku films but no less gritty, Doberman Cop is an odd little movie; a more thoughtful, character-driven, intricately plotted story than you’d ever expect it to be. It’s a culture clash action comedy with a pig and a dash of Dirty Harry. And I love that such a thing exists. Some won’t enjoy the competing tones, but if it gets its hooks into you just right, hold on because you’re in for a ride. Me, I had a blast.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 8/10

Posted in All, Japanese, News, Reviews | Tagged , | 1 Comment

‘Creed’ star leads the Hollywood remake of ‘A Bittersweet Life’

"A Bittersweet Life" Korean Theatrical Poster

“A Bittersweet Life” Korean Theatrical Poster

Back in 2012, it was reported that Albert Hughes, one half of the Hughes Brothers (Book of Eli), was tapped by Fox to remake the 2005 Korean film A Bittersweet LifeNow, 5 years later, Fox has switched up directing duties to Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2-3) and signed Fruitvale Station and Creed star, Michael B. Jordan, to take over the role originally played by Lee Byung-hun (Master).

According to Deadline: 21 Laps Entertainment’s Shawn Levy (Stranger Things), Dan Levine (Arrival) and Dan Cohen (Fist Fight) are producing in conjunction with CJ Entertainment, the latter of which made the original film.

The original A Bittersweet Life was a breakout hit for director Kim Jee-woon (The Age of Shadows), who has since become internationally known in the wake of I Saw the Devil. The film revolved around a mob enforcer (Lee) tasked with keeping an eye on his boss’ mistress.

We’ll keep you you updated on the remake as we learn more.

Posted in News | 1 Comment

New Trailer for John Woo’s highly-anticipated film ‘Manhunt’

"Manhunt" Teaser Poster

“Manhunt” Teaser Poster

After years making Hollywood films and big budget Chinese epics like Red Cliff and the recent The Crossing, John Woo, the man behind action classics such as A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, Bullet in the Head and Hard Boiled, is finally making a return to the genre that made him an internationally acclaimed director with Manhunt.

Manhunt is a remake of the 1976 Japanese classic action thriller (starring the late Ken Takakura), which tells story of a man who is accused of multiple crimes and trying desperately to clear his name.

The remake, which obviously follows the same theme, is about a prosecutor, played by award-winning Chinese actor Zhang Hanyu (The Taking of Tiger Mountain), who is framed for robbery, rape and multiple murders and sets out on a difficult solo mission to clear his name. Japanese heartthrob actor and singer Masaharu Fukuyama (Suspect X) plays the detective chasing Zhang’s character (via Variety). Ha Ji-Won (Sector 7) and newcomer Qi Wei also star.

Updates: Manhunt will premier at the 74th Venice Film Festival, which runs on Aug. 30 to Sept. 9. Watch the film’s New Trailer below:

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Female Fight Squad (2016) Review

Female Fight Squad | DVD (Lionsgate)

Female Fight Squad | DVD (Lionsgate)

AKA: Female Fight Club
Director: Miguel A. Ferrer
Cast: Amy Johnston, Cortney Palm, Rey Goyos, Sean Faris, Dolph Lundgren, Shaun Brown, Levy Tran, Folake Olowofoyeku, Michelle Jubilee Gonzalez, Jeanette Samano, Briana Marin, Chuck Zito
Running Time: 90 min.

By Z Ravas

Hot on the heels of Lady Bloodfight’s Netflix debut, Lionsgate has released Amy Johnston’s other martial arts film, the movie formerly known as Female Fight Club, via On Demand services. Unfortunately for fans of the talented stuntwoman-turned-actress, this movie fails to deliver exactly what its title promises: there may be plenty of women in the cast, but there is precious little fighting to be had during its 95 minute runtime. It’s hard to say exactly where the production went wrong, but when hulking Swede Dolph Lundgren is the highlight of a movie that’s supposed to be about female empowerment, you know you’re in trouble.

Female Fight Squad starts out promisingly enough: Amy Johnston plays a troubled young woman who has fled her violent, street fighting past in Las Vegas to live the quiet life of an animal shelter worker in Los Angeles. It’s in these scenes that Johnston is at her most likable: it’s easy to relate to her passion for animals, and the affection she shows to a three-legged dog who remains unadopted is touching. However, when some shady dog fighters show up to the animal shelter looking for their pitbull, Johnston is forced to throw down; the resulting beating she delivers to the two much larger men ends up on YouTube thanks to the shelter’s security cameras, and all of a sudden Johnston finds herself in the fighting world spotlight once again. Her sister, played by Courtney Palm, arrives on her doorstep with some bad news: she’s deep in debt to a shady promoter (Rey Goyos), and the only way out is for Johnston to train her sister’s team (the titular Female Fight Squad) and earn back the dough in the ring.

With that, Johnston heads back to her old stomping grounds, reconnecting with both the owner of her former gym (portrayed by Chuck Zito, veteran stuntman, actor, and former president of the New York chapter of the Hell’s Angels) and an old flame, played by Never Back Down’s Sean Faris. She trains her sister’s fighters, including some charismatic actresses like Levy Tran, although the ‘training’ mostly involves Johnston dropping them to the mat with a well-placed kick or two. The investment Johnston makes into teaching them ends up feeling like a waste of both her character’s time and the viewer’s time, however, as the Female Fight Squad fails to stand a chance against the current street-fighting champ Claire the Bull (stunt performer Michelle Jubilee Gonzalez).

Female Fight Squad commits two cardinal sins of the direct-to-video action movie genre: there is precious little fighting, and director Miguel A. Ferrer wastes too much film on an over-the-top bad guy (Goyos) whose misjudged performance seems to be trying to channel a Nicolas Cage level of quirkiness. There’s an early encounter between Johnston and Goyos in a library, in which his Goyos expresses his fondness for crafting bird houses as his way of offering a home for broken things. This comes across as a metaphor for his underground club, one that might reveal something about this character’s psychology and his desire to cultivate female fighters. Only the metaphor is completely undone later when Johnston arrives at Goyos’ warehouse and finds a bunch of birdhouses strewn about – a silly image that couldn’t make the villain seem any less threatening. Another moment sees the actor trying to glower menacingly while eating an ice cream bar on top of a freezer stuffed full of body parts. To describe this character as ridiculous would be an understatement.

It must be said Dolph Lundgren is not in the movie much, but he makes the most of his small turn, portraying Johnston’s tough-as-nails father serving a prison term for a murder he may or may not have committed. He gets one fairly hard-hitting fight scene in jail that might be the highlight of the movie – perhaps tellingly, it’s the one scene from Female Fight Squad that Miguel A. Ferrer includes in his director’s reel. Dolph even makes a winking joke about his character having a Masters degree in Chemical Engineering (spoiler: Dolph has one in real life). His role continues the trend of Johnston’s characters having martial arts-trained fathers, a nod to the actress’ own dad. Chuck Zito serves as another paternal figure in the movie, and his Sylvester Stallone-esque fighting coach offers some much needed warmth to the movie.

The problem with Female Fight Squad is that it fails to show us just what Johnston can do. Her turn in Lady Bloodfight, along with her stunt work in movies like Suicide Squad and Deadpool, proved that Johnston possesses formidable fighting skills, but the action scenes in Squad are frustratingly brief and few and far between. It must be said that the fighting on display is captured in a fairly respectful manner – free of choppy editing or claustrophobic framing – and I’m sure budgetary and time constraints played a part in the lack of martial arts work. It may be worth pointing out that this is director Miguel A. Ferrer’s debut feature, and his previous credits primarily include short films and music videos. Everybody has to start somewhere, but at this point the direct-to-video world is a crowded market filled with some fairly quality and action-packed titles. As such, I can’t recommend this film to anyone but Johnston’s most ardent fans, those who will be content just to witness the actress in another starring role. For my part, I consider myself along those fans – and while I don’t regret watching Female Fight Squad at all, I have to be honest and say I walked away from the movie disappointed. Here’s hoping that Amy Johnston is allowed to shine with her supporting turn in Jesse V. Johnson’s upcoming comic book adaptation Accident Man.

By Z Ravas’ Rating: 4/10

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Mark Dacascos’ ‘Ultimate Justice’ finally hits DVD in October

"Ultimate Justice" Theatrical Poster

“Ultimate Justice” Theatrical Poster

On October 3, 2017, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is releasing the DVD for Martin Christopher Bode’s Ultimate Justice, the long-awaited, all-star actioner led by martial arts sensation, Mark Dacascos (Drive, Brotherhood of the Wolf).

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.

Ultimate Justice also stars Matthias Hues (No Retreat, No Surrender II), Brandon Rhea (Infernal Affairs 2), Mike Moeller (One Million K(L)icks), Matthis Landweher (Kampfansage), Mike Leeder (Pound of Flesh), Wolfgang Riehm (Atomic Eden), Henry Mueller, Yasmeen Baker and Martin Baden.

Pre-order Ultimate Justice from Amazon.com today!

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Adventurers, The (2017) Review

"The Adventurers" Theatrical Poster

“The Adventurers” Theatrical Poster

Director: Stephen Fung
Producer: Andy Lau, Stephen Fung
Cast: Andy Lau, Shu Qi, Zhang Jingchu, Tony Yang, Jean Reno, Eric Tsang, Sha Yi, You Tianyi, Zhang Yiqun
Running Time: 107 min.

By Paul Bramhall

Much like the classic 1989 triad movie, Casino Raiders, 2017’s The Adventurers opens with Andy Lau being released from prison after serving his time. However The Adventurers is not a remake of Casino Raiders, nor is it a remake of Ringo Lam’s 1995 production of the same name, which also starred Lau. Instead, director Stephen Fung’s latest production is a re-imagining of John Woo’s Once a Thief. The same scorn that comes with any news of a John Woo title being re-made was largely spared for The Adventurers, most likely due to the fact that for many, Once a Thief was a surprisingly light and breezy effort from the master of heroic bloodshed. Made in-between Bullet in the Head and Hard Boiled, even today many fans dismiss it as an anomaly in Woo’s filmography, despite its many strengths.

With The Adventurers, director Fung doesn’t so much opt for a straight up remake, but rather takes many of those strengths from the original, and uses them to craft a thematically similar tale for a modern audience. Replacing the trio of thieves which consisted of Chow Yun Fat, Leslie Cheung, and Cherie Chung, is Andy Lau, Yo Yang, and Shu Qi. Notably, The Adventurers was the last movie that Lau completed before suffering a serious pelvic injury, when he was thrown off a horse while shooting a commercial in Thailand during January 2017. It also marks the first time for Stephen Fung and Shu Qi to work together since tying the knot in September 2016. Despite being billed as a remake of Once a Thief though, the influence which looms largest over The Adventurers is Tom Cruise’s latter day entries in the Mission: Impossible series, with Lau’s suave thief armed with an array of gadgets and devices to assist him in pulling off a heist.

Indeed for those familiar with Hong Kong cinema, just like Lau spent most of the late 80’s and early 90’s as a triad youth, so in recent years he seems to be constantly cast in roles which see him as a kind of Chinese 007. From Switch, to Mission Milano, and now The Adventurers, his character is one that’s been seen many times before, and brings nothing new to the table in his latest outing. The same could be applied to Shu Qi, who’s sassy thief feels equal parts the identical character she played in 2005’s Seoul Raiders, mixed with Jeon Ji-hyeon’s cat burglar from Korea’s The Thieves. However what can’t be argued is that both Lau and Qi have charisma to spare, and Fung seems to know it, sometimes allowing proceedings to coast along based solely on the fact they’re onscreen together. As a result, Taiwanese actor Yo Yang often seems to fade into the background, as he struggles to bring the same level of screen presence that his older co-stars effortlessly pull off.

The Adventurers certainly marks the biggest production Fung has worked on to date. After making his directorial debut with 2004’s Enter the Phoenix, here he’s back in the director’s chair for the first time since Tai Chi Zero and Tai Chi Hero, made 5 years earlier. The direction is confident, and the French locales are taken full advantage of, providing plenty of gorgeous backdrops (complimented by a seemingly permanent blue sky) for the trios thieving shenanigans to take place against. The casting of Jean Reno is also used well, here starring in his 2nd heist flick of 2017 (the first being the local French production Family Heist), as a weary cop determined to prove that Lau hasn’t gone straight since being released. He even gets behind the wheel for a car chase through the streets of Cannes, which for many will no doubt bring back happy memories of John Frankenheimer’s classic, Ronin.

However for all the gloss and high production values that The Adventurers comes with, as events progress through its 1:45 hour runtime, certain cracks begin to show that are difficult to be ignored. The real plot can essentially be described as Lau trying to figure out who it was that sold him out 5 years earlier, leading to his incarceration, after stealing a piece of jewellery that would allow for a priceless necklace to be complete. However it’s rarely the focus of what’s taking place onscreen, with large swathes of screen-time given to Jean Reno and Zhang Jing-Chu, who plays Lau’s estranged fiancé (and who also played his wife in Switch), and Lau and his teams plans to steal a component of the necklace from a Chinese wine merchant, played by Sha Yi.

The significant downside of this is that, while The Adventurers opens strongly and maintains a brisk pace throughout, by the time the finales comes around, the stakes don’t feel any higher than they were at the beginning. Somewhere along the way the task of building up tension, and making sure that there’s something truly meaningful on the line, was lost amongst the pretty scenery, impressively rendered CGI robotic spiders, and Mission: Impossible style sleights of hand. Going hand in hand with this issue, is the fact that none of the characters really develop from the time they’re introduced. Sure there are the standard double crosses and (blatantly telegraphed) reveals that are expected from the genre, but Lau in particular is missing any real arc that allows us to feel that we’ve shared a journey with him.

Of course the same could be said for plenty of Hong Kong action movies from the golden age, however they were usually bolstered (the original Once a Thief included) by outlandish set pieces and high impact stuntwork, factors that often made even the sloppiest storyline forgivable. While The Adventurers isn’t sloppy, it does make several stumbles, and the fact that there are no standout action scenes to punctuate the runtime makes them all the more glaring. Once a Thief may not have contained Woo’s trademark blood squib filled bullet ballets, but it still provided plenty of his undeniable flair for action. In 2017 Fung may have a high enough budget for decent CGI and a polished look, but that flair is missing, and the lack of any real set piece to hinge everything on makes the final stretch feel a little plodding. Fung needed a Burj Khalifa, or even a pack of razor sharp playing cards and a fishing rod, but things stay a little too restrained.

It is worth mentioning that, with large portions of The Adventurers being spoken in English, the majority of the cast acquaint themselves very well with a language that isn’t there own. There are no cringe inducing moments such as those found in Bounty Hunters and Lupin the Third, with Zhang Jing-Chu in particular delivering her lines almost as if she was a native speaker. I think the last time English was so competently used in a Hong Kong movie was most likely Ringo Lam’s Undeclared War from 1990. It’s also a pleasure to see Andy Lau and Jean Reno pointing a gun at each others heads, in a scene that recalls the finer moments of the heroic bloodshed genre, performed by a pair of actors who have played so many iconic roles in the last 30 years. Unfortunately, due to some inexplicable storytelling logic, Reno’s cop is completely absent from the finale. How great would it have been to see Leon himself unloading some clips in a HK action movie?

With that being said, if expectations are kept fairly low, there’s still plenty to enjoy in The Adventurers. Fung’s latest effort is far from being a bad movie, its real crime is that it’s unremarkable and average. During the 80’s and 90’s John Woo was an innovator when it came to action cinema, and directors are still copying the type of action found in his movies to this day. The main issue with The Adventurers isn’t that it’s a remake, it’s that so much of its inspiration comes from Hollywood movies, rather than creating its own distinct style. There was a time when people would watch Hong Kong cinema because it delivered something Hollywood didn’t, so to see productions now copying the very industry we once celebrated it being different from, is sadly a painful truth. The Adventurers real goal is that it aspires to be a Hollywood style heist flick, and for me at least, its biggest problem is that it’s successful in doing so.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6/10

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They Call Me Bruce? | Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

They Call Me Bruce | Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

They Call Me Bruce | Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

RELEASE DATE: October 24, 2017

On October 24, 2017, Kino Lorber is releasing the Blu-ray for 1982’s They Call Me Bruce?, a comedy by Elliott Hong (Kill the Golden Goose) that stars Johnny Yune (The Cannonball Run) and Margaux Hemingway (Lipstick).

They Call Me Bruce? is an outrageous comedy caper that takes on the mob, the FBI and just about everything else and leaves you holding your sides with laughter.

This zany film features the celebrated Korean comic Johnny Yune (They Still Call Me Bruce?) as a bumbling Bruce Lee lookalike who secretly dreams of emulating the kung fu king. This loveable klutz finally gets his chance when his job as an Italian chef takes him unsuspectingly into the dangerous world of the mafia. His new bosses send him off across the country delivering what Bruce thinks is Chinese flour, but is really cocaine.

Special features include original Theatrical Trailer (subject to change).

Pre-order They Call Me Bruce? from Amazon.com today!

Posted in DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles, News | Tagged | 1 Comment

‘Raid’ stars kick alien a$$ in the New ‘Beyond Skyline’ Trailer

"Beyond Skyline" Theatrical Poster

“Beyond Skyline” Theatrical Poster

The Raid badasses, Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, will star alongside Frank Grillo (Purge: Anarchy) in Beyond Skyline, an upcoming sequel to Skyline. The upcoming sci-fi actioner will be about a tough-as-nails detective embarks on a relentless pursuit to free his son from a nightmarish alien warship.

Also appearing in Beyond Skyline are Bojana Novakovic, Callan Mulvey, Valentine Payen, Betty Gabriel, Jack Chausse, Kevin O’Donnell, Antonio Fargas (“Huggy Bear” from the original Starsky and Hutch TV series) and Singaporean actress, Pamelyn Chee (Point of Entry).

For those of you who are not familiar with Skyline, it’s that 2010 alien invasion flick that hit the box office jackpot, despite its atrocious reviews from audiences and critics alike.

Visual effects artist Liam O’Donnell – and writer of the original Skyline – will be taking over directing duties for Greg and Colin Strause (aka The Brothers Strause). The sequel is said to take place at the same time of the events in the first Skyline.

No details on who Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian will be playing in Beyond Skyline, but let’s just hope they’re kicking ass in some way, shape, or form. According to Variety, producer Greg Strause said he tapped the Uwais and Ruhian because, “We’re showcasing a new kind of alien combat, so who better to collaborate with than the most innovative fight team in the world?”

A domestic release date for Beyond Skyline is still pending. Stay tuned!

Updates: Watch the film’s New International Trailer below:

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Official Bruce Lee biopic shoots in Sept; AR Rahman to score

"Little Dragon" Teaser Poster

“Little Dragon” Teaser Poster

George Nolfi’s Birth of the Dragona fable-based movie about Bruce Lee (portrayed by Wild City’s Philip Ng), will finally be making its way to theaters on August 25th – but Bruce Lee better watch out, because Bruce Lee is coming for him… (wait, what?!)

Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, is currently location scouting in Penang, Malaysia for Little Dragon, which will start shooting in September. According to MMO, a major portion of Little Dragon will be shot there. “We are looking for sites to replicate the 1950s period in Hong Kong when my father was growing up,” Shannon stated at a news conference.

The same source adds that 5,000 people around the world have auditioned for the role of a 17 to 18-year-old Bruce Lee – one of the four shortlisted is a Malaysian actor.

Filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, who helmed Elizabeth (1998) and New York, I Love You (2008), will be directing/co-writing Little Dragon, which is being produced/co-written by Bruce Lee Entertainment, the company operated by Shannon, making the film an official, authorized biopic of martial arts legend Bruce Lee.

According to Variety, Little Dragon is a contemporary dramatization of the 1950s Hong Kong social and political forces that shaped Bruce Lee into both the most famous martial arts star of all time and a significant modern day philosopher. Themes include family disappointment, young love, true friendship, betrayal, racism, deep poverty and an inner fire that threatened to unravel his destiny.

“I always thought that a film about how my father’s life was shaped in his early years in Hong Kong would be a worthwhile story to share so we could better understand him as a human being and a warrior,” said Lee. “I’m really excited that Shekhar will breathe life into the first film from Bruce Lee Entertainment.”

Bruce Lee Entertainment has also enlisted Oscar award-winning composer, AR Rahman, to compose the film’s soundtrack (via CN). Rahman is known for his work on Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours and Million Dollar Arm.

Little Dragon will be just one of the many films centering on the life of Bruce Lee. During the 70s, a string of biopics were made that included 1974’s Dragon Story and 1976’s Bruce Lee: The Man, The Myth (both starring Ho Chung Tao); in 1993 came Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (starring Jason Scott Lee); in 2010, Bruce Lee My Brother (starring Aarif Lee) was produced with the full support of Bruce’s brother, Robert Lee (Lady Killer); and most recently, Birth of the Dragon (starring Philip Ng), a soon-to-be-released, fable-based movie that focused on Lee’s disputed bout with Master Wong Jack-Man was completed.

Little Dragon is expected to be released in late 2018. We’ll keep you updated as we learn more. In the meantime, here’s the Trailer for Birth of the Dragon, which opens August 25th:

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