South Korea has its own ‘Bad Lieutenant’ to deal with

"Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" Japanese DVD Cover

"Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" Japanese DVD Cover

Is South Korea remaking Abel Ferrara’s 1992 cult classic film Bad Lieutenant? There’s a possibility it’s “by title” only, but according to THR, casting is definitely underway for a Korean-language film called Bad Lieutenant, which will see a 2017 release.

The original Bad Lieutenant followed a corrupt, drug ‘n gambling-addicted cop (played by Harvey Keitel) who investigates the murder of a young nun. The movie is known for its unpleasant, intense nature, yet praised for Keitel’s strong performance.

Despite having a very similar plot, Werner Herzog’s 2009 film, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (with Nicolas Cage), technically isn’t related to Ferrara’s film; according to Kyle Warner, Herzog never considered it a remake and supposedly never saw or heard of the original.

Regardless if the upcoming Korean remake is related to either one of these films, one thing is certain: it’ll be the third movie under the Bad Lieutenant banner, and it will obviously be about a “Bad Lieutenant” (unless they mean “bad” as in “bad ass,” but we doubt it).

We’ll keep you updated on this project as more news comes.

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The Phone (2015) Revew

"The Phone" Korean Theatrical Poster

"The Phone" Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Kim Bong-Joo
Writer: Kim Bong-Joo
Producer: Suk Jae-Seung, Gu Sung-Mok
Cast: Son Hyun-Joo, Uhm Ji-Won, Bae Sung-Woo, Hwang Bo-Ra, Roh Jeong-Eui, Jang In-Sub, Jo Dal-Hwan, Lee Sheol-Min, Park Ji-So, Hwang Suk-Jung, Kim Jong-Goo
Running Time: 114 min.

By Paul Bramhall

The Phone joins the ranks of that great Korean tradition – the movie which contains something about a phone in its title. Alongside the 2002 horror movie, which went for the simplistic Phone, and the 2009 thriller, which decided to shake things up with the title Hand Phone, first time director Kim Bong-joo differentiates his own production with the inclusion of a The prefix. It’s as good a differentiator as any, and will surely raise the bar for the next movie which comes along which requires a Phone in the title. Bong-joo is certainly not a newcomer to the Korean film industry, having worked as a member of the directing department on the likes of The Divine Weapon, Running Turtle, and The Yellow Sea. However this is the first time for him to sit in the director chair, one which has him working off his own script.

It’s hard to know whether to feel sorry for or to admire actor Son Hyeon-joo. He’s made a career of playing rather plain and unremarkable characters, cast in equally pedestrian mid-budget movies. In 2013 it was Hide and Seek, and in 2015 we got a double whammy, with both Chronicles of Evil and The Phone. He works just as frequently in the expansive field of the Korean TV drama, and it’s easy to see why, as he brings a reliable presence to whatever character he’s called on to play. You’re not going to get a knockout performance, but you’ll get a believable one, and I highly doubt anyone’s ever spoke the line, “Hyeon-joo was pretty unconvincing in that role”.

The Phone sees him in another mid-budget production, but this time it’s one with a twist. Playing a lawyer in the middle of transitioning to a new role, his wife and daughter find themselves harassed by the death threats frequently found in the mail box, due to his involvement in an animal rights case. On the day he wins the case, he’s due to meet his wife for a long overdue dinner date, but the victory quickly sees a celebratory work drinks session take priority, leaving his nearest and dearest unfairly dumped. On the same day, it also happens that a solar flare is set to be interrupting phone services, explained rather uninterestingly through a TV news segment. The solar flare is bad timing, because on the same night a killer has been sent to off Hyeon-joo at his home, however as he’s out getting drunk, his wife ends up being murdered instead.

Skip forward one year, and there’s going to be another solar flare, as it turns out that these things are an annual occurrence, and specifically affect mobile phones in Korea. While at work, at the exact same time as one year ago, Hyeon-joo receives the exact same call from his wife. However it’s not some kind of time echo, it’s actually his wife on the phone, and he’s able to interact and talk to her. The difference is of course, she’s in 2014, and he’s in 2015. Naturally Hyeon-joo, after some initial disbelief, seizes the opportunity to be able to save his better half, and so goes the central premise of The Phone.

Is it a science fiction movie? It is a supernatural flick? It’s hard to say, however on paper, The Phone most closely resembles a mix of Frequency meets Cellular. Onscreen though, events play out in a way that resemble neither science fiction nor supernatural. The fact that his wife is calling from a year earlier is simply a plot device, giving a slight twist to what is ultimately a rather pedestrian and dull crime thriller. It’s a shame, as initially the premise shows some potential. The wife, played by Eom Ji-won, is able to change things enough so that instead of being outright killed, she gets into a struggle with the assailant in the living room. Hyeon-joo is standing in the exact same spot one year later, and as his wife fends off the killer, sending ornaments and shelves smashing everywhere, so they disappear in present day.

The effect of the past affecting the present day as it happens provides a welcome sense of immediacy to proceedings, and it continues to propel the plot forward until ultimately, events transpire in the past that see Hyeon-joo framed as the murder suspect in present day. It’s a worthy twist, however it’s also one that derails the movie, as it changes the whole focus from Hyeon-joo trying to save his wife in the past, to him trying to clear his name in the present. The sense of immediacy that the phone call from the past plot device brought quickly evaporates, as The Phone descends into a low budget version of bigger and better movies. So instead of the motorbike chase through the streets of Seoul that we got in Ryoo Seung-wan’s Veteran, we get Hyeon-joo frantically pedalling a push bike instead, with the police meagrely in pursuit, and other such scenarios.

The loss of focus on attempting to save his wife also results in the audience losing interest, just long enough to begin questioning some of the logic behind the plot. Why did the call go through to the 2015 Hyeon-joo anyway, when the 2014 Hyeon-joo is still very much alive and well? Why does the calls taking place at the exact same time as they did a year ago element get completely discarded by the end of the movie? In fairness, even before the loss of focus, The Phone has some believability stretching moments. These aren’t really due to the actor’s performances though so much as a weak script. The fact that the murdered Ji-won is calling a year after her death should be a sizable emotional blow for Hyeon-joo, but his acceptance of it seems to happen incredibly quickly. It felt like just a couple of minutes after the call he’s already over the emotional trauma of speaking to his dead wife, and is calmly explaining to her that he’s in 2015, while she’s in 2014.

The bad guy of the piece comes in the form of Bae Seong-woo, easily one of the busiest supporting actors in Korea. In 2014 – 2015 alone he featured in eighteen movies, including the likes of The Divine Move, Big Match, Veteran, and The Office. Chances are if you’ve watched more than a handful of Korean movies from the last couple of years, Seong-woo would have been in at least one of them. In The Phone his tall stature lends him an imposing presence to the scenes he appears in, playing a corrupt cop whose debts have led him to working as a hitman for a gang on the side, and with a more polished script he could have been a more worthy villain to root against. As it is, apart from some throwaway scenes with his young daughter, he effectively shows up to murder Hyeon-joo and his family with little other purpose.

As a directorial debut I’m always willing to give a little leeway. A movie doesn’t need to have the best script in the world, or even be completely coherent, as long as it shows some promising ideas, a flair for cinematography, or creates an atmosphere which immerses the viewer its world, then it’s still worthy of recommending. The Phone however is simply too much of a damp squib to fully enjoy. The fact that the central plot device, which involves a man receiving a phone call from his murdered wife, hardly seems to matter by the mid-way point, is perhaps the biggest indicator that Bong-joo was trying to cover too many bases with his first screenplay and directing gig. Unfortunately once the focus moves from the central premise, proceedings play out in such a way that The Phone becomes more like a B-movie version of a Ryoo Seung-wan or Kim Seong-hoon flick, a change in direction that does it no favors.

Perhaps the best approach would be for Bong-joo to pass The Phone off as an extended commercial for the Samsung S6 Edge, or alternatively, wait for the next solar flare to happen one year later, when hopefully he’ll read this review from the past and skip making it all together.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 5/10

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1st trailer for Zhang Yimou’s ‘Great Wall’ with Matt Damon

"The Great Wall" Theatrical Poster

"The Great Wall" Theatrical Poster

Acclaimed filmmaker Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of the Flying Daggers) is currently on post-production for The Great Wall, a 15th century period flick revolving around the origin and construction of the Great Wall of China. The film, which will be released in 3D on February 17, 2017 (December 2016 in China), will be Yimou’s first English-language project.

For those expecting a historic lesson, think again. The Great Wall is being described as a “fantasy epic,” as well as an “action blockbuster” by Zhang himself.

This is what Zhang had to say about The Great Wall: (via THR): “It is an action blockbuster…The story is very important, and I have to do a lot of preparation for the various cultural elements in the film. Then comes the visual effects and action, which I like a lot. It’s very different from my last film.”

The Great Wall stars Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones), Willem Dafoe (John Wick), Andy Lau (Infernal Affairs), Jing Tian (Special ID), Zhang Hanyu (The Assembly), Eddie Peng (Rise of the Legend), Lu Han (Miss Granny), Lin Gengxin (Young Detective Dee), Zheng Kai (The Running Man), Chen Xuedong (Tiny Times 3), Huang Xuan (Blind Massage), Wang Junkai, Yu Xintian and Liu Qiong.

Updates: Watch the film’s first trailer.

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1st trailer for Mel Gibson’s ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is truly brave

"Hacksaw Ridge" Teaser Poster

"Hacksaw Ridge" Teaser Poster

On November 4th 2016, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge is making its way to the big screen. This World War II action/drama, based on the true story of Desmond T. Doss, a soldier who achieved a Congressional Medal of Honor, despite his refusal to kill or carry weapons of any sort.

Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider‑Man) leads an all-star cast that includes Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths and Vince Vaughn. Hacksaw Ridge marks Gibson’s first directorial gig since 2006’s Apocalypto – and as with Apocalypto and 2004′s The Passion of the Christ, Gibson won’t be appearing, only directing.

According to THR, “Doss made himself a legend when he saved 75 men during the Battle of Okinawa. He helped evacuate the wounded near enemy lines, braved fire while tending to soldiers on the field, and in one overnight battle, was wounded by a grenade and later hit by a sniper while saving grunts. Doss also received two Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts.”

Gibson’s next starring role (as an actor) will be in Blood Father, a thriller about an ex-con who reunites with his estranged wayward 16-year old daughter to protect her from drug dealers who are trying to kill her. Blood Father has a scheduled release in August.

Additionally, Gibson is heavily involved with Xiao Feng’s Chinese-language World War II film, titled The Bombing. Gibson is working behind the scenes as the film’s art director and executive producer.

We don’t know about you guys, but we’re rooting for Mel Gibson. Welcome back!

Updates: Watch the 1st trailer for Hacksaw Ridge.

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U.S. poster for Park Chan-wook’s ‘The Handmaiden’

"The Handmaiden" Theatrical Poster

"The Handmaiden" Theatrical Poster

Visionary director Park Chan-wook (Old Boy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) is currently hard-at-work on a film adaptation of Sarah Waters’ 2002 novel, Fingersmith. The movie, titled The Handmaiden, will be Park’s first full length South Korean production since 2009′s Thirst.

The Handmaiden revolves around a group of female thieves and their plan to swindle a heiress in early 20th century London. Park’s version will take place in Korea.

The Handmaiden stars Kim Min-hee (No Tears for the Dead), Kim Tae-ri and Ha Jung-woo (Kundo: Age of the Rampant). | First trailer.

Updates: The film’s new U.S. poster has emerged – and judging from it, Amazon Studios/Magnolia definitely have a say in its North American release. In case you missed it, watch the film’s newest trailer.

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Steven Seagal to bring back Nico from ‘Above the Law’?

"Above the Law" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Above the Law" Japanese Theatrical Poster

The man, the myth, the mystique that is Steven Seagal started with 1988′s Above the Law, his gritty debut feature by director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive). The film put Seagal on the map in the late 80s/early 90s and from that point on, his movies would get bigger, louder and more successful for the next 4 years or so.

Just recently, the Exit Wounds star “officially” tweeted the idea of bringing back Nico Tuscani (his character from Above the Law). Of course, this tweet most likely means nothing, but we couldn’t help to make a post about it. With the resurgence of titles such as Samurai Cop 2Kickboxer: Vengeance and xXx 3, anything is possible, right? Just don’t be expecting Davis to return to the director’s chair – expect someone like Keoni Waxman (Force of Execution), Seagal’s frequent filmmaker of choice of recent times.

If it doesn’t happen, fans still have a mountain full of pending Seagal films to look forward to that include AttritionChina SalesmanContract to KillCypher, Gunfighter, End of a GunDeadly Arsenal and Four Towers. His latest completed films include Code of Honor, The Asian Connection and Perfect Weapon.

If an Above the Law sequel materializes, you’ll definitely hear from us.

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Wade Barrett and Gary Daniels want ‘Vengeance’

"Vengeance" Teaser Poster

"Vengeance" Teaser Poster

Stu Bennet (formerly known as WWE’s Wade Barrett) and martial arts star Gary Daniels (Zero Tolerance, Tekken 2) are teaming up for Vengeance, an upcoming film by UK cult director Ross Boyask (Left for Dead).

According to Mike Leeder, Vengeance is a fast-paced revenge thriller that kicks off when an ex-soldier learns of the murder of his best friend and sets off on the road for (you guessed it) vengeance.

Vengeance is produced by Evolutionary Films, the company that unleashed one of our favorite martial arts films of 2014, One Million K(l)icks.

Vengeance is currently in production. Stay tuned.

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Death Warrant | aka Dusted (1990) Review

"Death Warrant" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Death Warrant" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Deran Sarafian
Producer: Mark DiSalle
Writer: David S. Goyer
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Robert Guillaume, Cynthia Gibb, George Dickerson, Patrick Kilpatrick, Dean Colbby, Art LaFleur, Abdul Sazaam El Razzac, Joshua John Miller, Hank Stone, Conrad Dunn, Al Leong, Paulo Tocha
Running Time: 90 min.

By Kyle Warner

When Jeffrey Bona, operator of City on Fire, told me that he’d like to see every Jean-Claude Van Damme flick reviewed at the site, I might’ve laughed. Figuring that sure, we’ll review a JCVD movie here and there, but c’mon man, all of ‘em? It can’t be done—and what’s more, I’m not sure that it should be done! Some dreams are best left as just that: dreams. But when 1990’s Death Warrant showed up on my doorstep, I realized this was no laughing matter. The man was serious! And what’s more; it’d apparently fallen to me to tackle much the rest of the actor’s filmography. Should I feel honored or terrified? Perhaps both, for to navigate the long-forgotten parts of Van Damme’s career can be compared to a film buff’s journey into the heart of darkness. And remember, one should never get off the boat. You’re absolutely goddamn right, Chef.

Death Warrant is the movie where Van Damme goes to prison to sort out justice. And as a prison movie, I think it probably has more in common with Ernest Goes to Jail than The Shawshank Redemption. From the start, it’s unclear if this is a bad action movie or a very sly comedy. (I remain convinced that it was going for comedy at least part of the time, though the delivery is so lacking that it results in zero laughs, only groans.) Jean-Claude Van Damme is a total badass cop out of Canada that’s looking for revenge against the serial killer who murdered his partner. It’s the usual “Wait for backup!” vs. “He killed my partner!” argument as Van Damme goes rogue and attacks the serial killer known as the Sandman. Flash-forward a bit and Van Damme’s given a new and (it seems) totally unrelated assignment: go undercover in a prison to find out the cause of a series of suspicious deaths. Seems someone’s been driving a spike through the brains of various inmates. Van Damme’s first assumption is that it’s a serial killer, because he’s just dealt with the Sandman, and this is the 90’s where serial killers were everywhere! But other lingering theories hold more water: it could be an illegal program run by corrupt guards, or perhaps ritual killings by one of the many gangs in the prison. Van Damme must find out! So, he assumes the identity of a carjacker, slips into the jail, and starts asking questions.

In prison, Van Damme meets every prisoner stereotype imaginable and a more than a few “That Guy” character actors (Robert Guilluame, Art LaFleur, Armin Shimerman). Van Damme asks seemingly every sane inmate he can find about the dead guys with the scrambled brains but everyone’s suspiciously hush-hush about it. Are they scared? Is it a cover-up? Do they just not want to talk to him because he’s Canadian? Fear not, Van Damme will discover the truth, even if we don’t really care!

Directed by Deran Sarafian (Terminal Velocity), Death Warrant presents us with the most stylized and unbelievable of movie prisons. One can imagine that Sarafian’s major screen directions were, “More smoke! More lights!” It ends up looking like a popstar music video. If only Van Damme could sing… Van Damme spends most his time in prison busting out of his shirts that are two sizes too small. So, umm, maybe it’ll appeal to a different sort of Van Damme fan than myself.

Today, Death Warrant might be best recognized as the first writing credit for screenwriter David S. Goyer, who has since made a name for himself as the go-to writer in superhero cinema. In his writing and his story credits, Goyer has given us some of the best (Batman Begins, Blade II, The Dark Knight) and some of the worst (Batman v Superman, Blade: Trinity, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) of the modern superhero film. Death Warrant is a different sort of movie, obviously, but it serves as a reminder that sometimes it takes a while for a creative talent to come into his or her own. Death Warrant is a stupid movie and much of that starts with the screenplay, which has a half-baked plot, lame dialogue, forced romance, and a finale that goes off the rails. I do appreciate Goyer’s attempts of working slasher horror into the prison movie genre, though. The Sandman and the killings happening behind bars are reminiscent of the sort of stuff you’d see in Halloween or Scream. So, when Van Damme must come face to face with these evils, there is some fun to be had in watching a martial artist take on a wannabe Jason Voorhees.

The film’s final moments are so rushed that I think the characters were more than ready to leave the theatre and beat the audience to the doors. Though Death Warrant may lack the name recognition of Derailed and Cyborg, don’t be fooled; this is one of Van Damme’s weakest films. Dumb, unintentionally silly, and lacking in surprises, I gotta recommend you skip this one unless you’re a JCVD superfan.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 4/10

Posted in All, Asian Related, News, Reviews | Tagged , | 4 Comments

First look at John Woo’s upcoming actioner ‘Manhunt’

"Manhunt" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Manhunt" Japanese Theatrical Poster

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.

After years making Hollywood films and big budget Chinese epics like Red Cliff and the recent The Crossing, Woo is going to remake the 1976 Japanese classic action thriller Manhunt (starring the late Ken Takakura), which is the story of a man who is accused of multiple crimes and trying desperately to clear his name.

According to AD (via Kevin Ma), Zhang Hanyu (The Taking of Tiger Mountain), Ha Ji-Won (Sector 7) and newcomer Qi Wei are starring in the project. Masaharu Fukuyama (Suspect X) is currently in talks to join as well.

The film will be set and shot in Japan; and feature Chinese, English and Korean dialogue. Media Asia is distributing the film with an attached release date set for 2017 (via Martin Sandison). Until we have more details, don’t miss the film’s teaser poster here.

Updates: Here’s the first look at Manhunt, featuring Zhang Hanyu and Qi Wei (via AFS).

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Blu-ray for Korean horror film ‘Suddenly in Dark Night’ is near

"Suddenly in Dark Night" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Suddenly in Dark Night" Korean Theatrical Poster

Word on the street is that independent distributor Mondo Macabro will soon release the Blu-ray for 1981′s Suddenly in Dark Night, an obscure, critically-acclaimed Korean thriller directed by Go Yeong-nam (Korean Connection). The upcoming release will feature all-new interviews with Korean film critics and producers.

Koreanfilm.org’s Darcy Paquet cited Suddenly at Midnight as a rare example of 1970s-80s Korean horror that was genuinely frightening, describing it as “a mysterious psychological study… that beguiles the viewer right up to its bizarre closing image.” Cityonfire.com’s Paul Bramhall says “I’m excited at least!”.

Suddenly in Dark Night stars Kim Young-ae (Confession of Murder), Yoon Il-bong (Love on a Rainy Day), Lee Gi-seon (Lost Youth), Hyeon Hye-ri (Unconditional Love) and Kim Geun-hui (Encounter).

Stay tuned for more release details regarding Suddenly in Dark Night.

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Deal on Fire! Killers | Blu-ray | Only $8.68 – Expires soon!

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

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

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Killers, a Japanese/Indonesian thriller directed by Timo Tjahjant and Kimo Stamboel (Macabre) – the duo also known as The Mo Brothers – and produced by Gareth Evans (The Raid 2).

Killers (read our review) follows a well-dressed serial killer who preys on women in Tokyo, as well as the ruthless Indonesian vigilante he begins engaging in a twisted ‘competition’ with – over the internet! The film stars Kazuki Kitamura, Oka Antara, Rin Takanashi, Luna Maya and Mei Kurokawa.

Order Killers from Amazon.com today!

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Dark Water | Blu-ray (Arrow Video)

Dark Water | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

Dark Water | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

RELEASE DATE: October 11, 2016

Just in time for Halloween! Arrow Video is releasing Hideo Nakata’s Dark Water to Blu-ray & DVD on October 11, 2016. This 2-disc, special edition is jam-packed with extra features that include new interviews with the film’s writer, director and much more.

After terrifying audiences worldwide with the blockbuster J-horror classic Ring and its sequel, director Hideo Nakata returned to the genre for Dark Water (read our review), another highly atmospheric, and critically acclaimed, tale of the supernatural which took the common theme of the dead wet girl to new heights of suspense and drama.

Based upon on a short story by Ring author Koji Suzuki, Dark Water follows Yoshimi, a single mother struggling to win sole custody of her only child, Ikuko. When they move into a new home within a dilapidated and long-forgotten apartment complex, Yoshimi begins to experience startling visions and unexplainable sounds, calling her mental well-being into question, and endangering not only her custody of Ikuko, but perhaps their lives as well.

Beautifully shot by the same cinematographer as Ring and Pulse, and featuring an especially unnerving sound design, Dark Water successfully merges spine-tingling tension with a family s heart-wrenching emotional struggle, creating one of the very finest and most unsettling contemporary Japanese horror films.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  • High Definition digital transfer
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original 5.1 audio (DTS-HD on the Blu-ray)
  • Brand new interview with director Hideo Nakata
  • Brand new interview with novelist Koji Suzuki
  • Brand new interview with cinematographer Junichiro Hayashi
  • Archive interview with actress Asami Mizukawa
  • Original Making of documentary
  • Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain
  • First pressing only: Illustrated collector’s booklet containing new writing by David Kalat, author of J-Horror: The Definitive Guide to The Ring, The Grudge and Beyond, and an examination of the American remake by writer and editor Michael Gingold

Pre-order Dark Water today from Amazon.com.

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

‘Abyss’ finally coming to Blu-ray, but where’s ‘True Lies’?

"True Lies" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"True Lies" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Where art thou classics of James Cameron? Back in 2014, Tom Arnold confirmed that he and the rest of the cast shot interview material for James Cameron’s True Lies: 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, which was supposed to be released in 2015, but for reasons unknown, the Blu-ray never saw the light of day.

But now we have confirmation for the next best thing: While promoting the upcoming 30th anniversary Blu-ray release of Aliens at 2016 Comic-Con in San Diego, Cameron publicly confirmed that The Abyss has been recently remastered in 4K and will be released on Blu-ray in 2017.

With that said, maybe True Lies is around the corner as well? We’ll see…

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Exit Wounds (2001) Review

"Exit Wounds" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Exit Wounds" Japanese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Dengeki
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Producer: Joel Silver, Dan Cracchiolo
Cast: Steven Seagal, DMX, Isaiah Washington, Anthony Anderson, Michael Jai White, Bill Duke, Jill Hennessy, Tom Arnold, Bruce McGill, David Vadim, Eva Mendes
Running Time: 101 min.

By Zach Nix

Steven Seagal is one of action and martial arts cinema’s most fascinating creatures. He broke out onto the action scene almost out of nowhere with several fantastic vehicles, such as Above the Law, Hard to Kill, and Marked for Death, that showcased his martial arts and acting abilities. After experiencing a minor taste of A-list stardom with Under Siege, Seagal’s career seemed to immediately tank after words with the release of his deeply personal and widely mocked environmental directorial debut, On Deadly Ground. From there, Seagal’s star faded as he experienced an interesting transitional period made up of minor hits (Under Siege 2, Executive Decision) and notable failures (The Glimmer Man, Fire Down Below).

While some action fans claim that Seagal’s stardom ended in the late 90s, many forget that Seagal experienced a very minor but notable comeback in the early 2000s with Exit Wounds, an urban action thriller that honestly should have catapulted him back to A-list stardom had he played his cards right. Exit Wounds may not be nearly as brutal, simple, or personal as Seagal’s earliest efforts, but it’s still one of his best films and quite honestly one of the most underrated pictures in his filmography.

Seagal plays Orin Boyd, a detective who is clearly underappreciated amongst his peers, as evident by the film’s opening prologue in which he risks his life to save the Vice President of the United States and is instead punished by being moved to the worst precinct in Detroit, Michican. Upon arriving there, Boyd continually stumbles upon crimes and drug dealings linked throughout the city that connect to a mysterious man named Latrell Walker (DMX). As Boyd investigates into the case, he realizes that there may be more to Walker than meets the eye, and that the cops within the precinct may be dirty and linked to the crimes as well.

The first striking realization that action fans will notice upon watching Exit Wounds is that Seagal looks physically fit. He apparently lost a lot of weight to get back into shape for the film, and it shows. He not only looks fantastic, but also cut his pony tail off. Going from The Patriot, to Exit Wounds, and than to Ticker and Half Past Dead is quite shocking, as Seagal’s weight and build drastically changed in between all of those films. Besides looking absolutely great within the film, Exit Wounds was not only a return to form for “The Sensei,” but a bonafide box office hit. Made for a solid $33 million, the film grossed $79 million worldwide, making it both profitable and commercially successful. Therefore, based upon the film’s box office returns and Seagal’s physical image, Exit Wounds could be declared a through and through comeback, something that few action stars ever experience.

However, Seagal immediately wasted his comeback by starring in 2002’s Half Past Dead, a terribly incoherent picture that featured the plotting of his DTV work but with the budget of a studio picture. It was such a failure, that Seagal did not return to the big screen until 2010’s Machete, although he only has a cameo in that picture. Therefore, Exit Wounds is a unique anomaly within Seagal’s filmography in that it helped reestablish his place back at the top of action cinema, only for him to dive right back into incoherent action with a major studio flop and successive DTV films.

Nevertheless, Exit Wounds is not just a Seagal picture, as it is also notable for being directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak and co-starring DMX, a rapper who was very popular at the time. Therefore, it is quite impressive that the film turned out somewhat competent, given that it had to balance the egos and stardom of both Seagal and DMX, two entertainers whose glory days are long behind them now. Bartkowiak is remembered by action fans for also directing Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 the Grave, two of Jet Li’s English language films. Those two films, along with Exit Wounds, form a trilogy of urban action films that feature hip-hop soundtracks and several of the same recurring actors, most notably DMX, Isaiah Washington, Anthony Anderson, and Tom Arnold. This trilogy was most definitely a product of what was popular at the time, as seen through its extensive wire-work and hip-hop soundtrack.

As someone who was a director of photography on many action films for several years, it makes sense that Bartkowiak was able to do such a solid job with action when promoted to director, as he has a great eye for visual flair and flashy bouts of violence. Barkowiak crafts a competent studio picture that is undeniably entertaining from start to finish thanks to helping heaping of action nearly every ten or so minutes. This might just be one of Seagal’s most action packed films, as shootouts, car chases, and fist-fights are literally around the corner of nearly every dialog scene.

Exit Wounds doesn’t waste any time getting to the action, as Seagal racks up a kill count a mere seven minutes into the film. The opening shootout is one of the best set pieces of the picture, as Seagal’s character fights off a group of armed assassins atop a bridge as they attempt to take out the Vice President of the United States. There’s also a great climactic shootout at the end of the film where all of the characters come together for a dramatic conclusion to the film’s many plot threads. Hong Kong cinema fans will notice a shout out, or blatant steal, from the Hong Kong buddy cop film Tiger on the Beat during the final action scene when DMX wraps his belt around a shotgun and throws it into the air in order to shoot at enemies that he cannot see. One can only wonder if producer Joel Silver, who is a huge fan of Hong Kong cinema and even cast Tiger on the Beat’s Conan Lee in Lethal Weapon 4, came up with that moment.

Although Exit Wounds is a cop thriller, it also has plenty of fist-fights featuring Seagal, DMX, Michael Jai White, and other characters. The fights are hardly brutal or cruel along the lines of early Seagal efforts, opting to be tamer, safer, and flashier. Arms and bones still break, but there’s rarely any audible sound effects when victims suffer said injuries. It’s all fairly middle ground stuff, although squibs and gore shots abound throughout during the shootouts, keeping it somewhat hard edged. The fights in the film are also notable amongst Seagal fans for their obvious incorporation of wirework, something that Seagal typically doesn’t delve into, Belly of the Beast aside.

It makes sense that there is some wire work in the film, as just about every action film released post-Matrix dabbled in the stuff for a few years, especially ones produced by Joel Silver. The wire-work is most obvious during a club brawl in which Seagal flips over a bouncer and even bounces off a string of chains. There’s also some obvious and quite hilarious wire-work in the final showdown between Seagal and Jai White as the two flip through the air whilst holding giant cutting blades. It’s all a ton of fun, and further adds to the flashy studio nature of the picture, but it’s a far cry from the greatness that was Seagal’s brutal hand-to-hand fights of the early years.

While the film is undeniably entertaining from an action standpoint, it leaves much to be desired storytelling wise. First off, the main plot of the picture takes awhile to get going. Much like other Seagal pictures such as Marked for Death and even latter DTV efforts like The Keeper, Exit Wounds opens with a prologue that sets the stage for the rest of the picture. Unfortunately, the first thirty or so minutes of the picture are completely unnecessary in the long run, as they should have been trimmed down significantly in order to get to the more gripping (if you could even call it gripping) story at the center of the picture, Seagal and DMX’s hunt for corrupt officers.

And speaking of DMX, his character’s motives are mostly kept in the shadows and not revealed until two acts into the picture. I always find withholding crucial information like this to be a cheap way to “surprise” the audience, as it proves that the filmmakers don’t know any other way to keep viewers engaged other than to string them along.

Based upon the novel of the same name, Exit Wounds offers up characters and themes consistent within Seagal’s filmography and personal beliefs. His character, Orin Boyd, is a cop whom is simply disgruntled with the rules of the system. When he risks his life to save the Vice President, he is reprimanded, moved elsewhere, and declared everything but a hero. While this opening portion of the film only serves the purpose to explain how Seagal ends up in a new precinct, it also represents Seagal’s continuing and innate frustration with law enforcement and the system that surrounds him. Making Exit Wounds a Seagal vehicle was a good idea because it also deals with internal affairs and dirty cops. These themes concerning shady protective agencies appear within other Seagal ventures, and always reinforce his best work. After all, Seagal does such a great job embodying characters who fight for what is right and protect the innocent, whilst also rebelling against the system that employs him.

And last but not least, one can’t go without mentioning that Exit Wounds is not only one of Seagal’s more overtly comedic films, but successfully comedic as well. Let it be known that Seagal actually got a couple laughs out of me in this film, especially during an anger therapy group scene where he declares, “Do you see this face? This is a happy face! You all, would be lucky, to be as happy as I am.” Most of the humor is fairly silly and mainstream-esque in nature, such as Seagal being too big for a classroom chair or him being forced to direct nearly uncontrollable traffic, but it honestly works. Comic actors Anthony Anderson and Tom Arnold don’t serve the narrative very much, and easily could have been chopped out of the picture altogether, but the two go a long way in adding laughs and charisma to the picture. Their joke a second fest during the end credits could be a stand up comedy act in and of itself, and yet it’s attached to the end of a Seagal/DMX venture. Go figure. Unlike The Glimmer Man, which is one of Seagal’s most painfully unfunny action films, Exit Wounds has some pretty reliable comedy that helps liven the mood when things get more serious. You may disagree with me, so watch The Glimmer Man and Exit Wounds back to back, and than you’ll most likely side with Exit Wounds as to which of the two is funnier. On second thought, scratch that. Don’t watch The Glimmer Man, it’s an abysmal picture.

Although the story takes a while to take form and a large cast of characters over crowd the film’s narrative, Exit Wounds is a thoroughly entertaining crime thriller from start to finish thanks to a somewhat reliable narrative, a pulsating sense of energy, and a non-stop variety of action sequences. I would go so far as to say that Exit Wounds is leaps and bounds better than some of Seagal’s lesser 90s work, such as The Glimmer Man, Fire Down Below, and The Patriot, as it is never boring and mostly competent. Whenever people mention how Seagal’s downfall began in the late 90s, make sure to always pull out the Exit Wounds card in order to tear down their theory and to prove that “The Sensei” still had the chops, even in 2001.

Zach Nix’s Rating: 7/10

Posted in All, Asian Related, News, Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Martial Law: Complete Series | DVD (Visual Entertainment)

Martial Law: The Complete Collection | DVD (Visual Entertainment)

Martial Law: The Complete Collection | DVD (Visual Entertainment)

RELEASE DATE: September 30, 2016

On September 30, 2016, Visual Entertainment will be releasing Martial Law: The Complete Collection, which will include the entire series on 10 discs, plus two bonus crossover episodes and much more.

Martial Law is an American/Canadian crime drama that aired on CBS from 1998 to 2000. The title character, Sammo Law, portrayed by Hong Kong action legend Sammo Hung (The Bodyguard), was a Chinese law officer and martial arts expert who came to Los Angeles in search of a colleague and remains in the US.

The show was a surprise hit, making Hung the only East Asian headlining a prime-time network series in the United States. At the time, Hung was not fluent in English, and he reportedly recited some of his dialogue phonetically. In many scenes, Hung did not speak at all, making Martial Law perhaps the only US television series in history that featured so little dialogue from the lead character.

Martial Law also stars Kelly Hu (Cradle 2 the Grave), Arsenio Hall (Coming to America), Gretchen Egolf (Journeyman) with appearances by Tzi Ma (Rapid Fire), Sung Kang (Bullet to the Head), Elaine Lui (The Bride with White Hair), James Hong (The Perfect Weapon), Eugenia Yuan (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny), Mako (The Big Brawl), Byron Mann (The Corruptor), Billy Blanks (The Master), Mark Dacascos (Only the Brave), Loren Avedon (Raging Thunder), Shannon Lee (Enter the Eagles), Aki Aleong (Pound of Flesh), Johnny Nguyen (The Rebel), Roger Fan (Finishing the Game), Olivier Gruner (Nemesis), Simon Rhee (Furious), Ron Yuan (Revenge of the Green Dragons) and Steve Tartalia (Operation Condor).

The set will also include the following extras:

  • Produced by Carlton Cuse (Lost, Nash Bridges, Bates Motel)
  • Includes all 44 episodes plus two Bonus crossover episodes from Walker: Texas Ranger and Early Edition.
  • Bonus audio commentary from creator Carlton Cuse on series premiere, Shanghai Express.

Pre-order Martial Law: The Complete Series from Amazon.com today!

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

‘Kickboxer: Vengeance’ kicks in a new theatrical poster

"Kickboxer: Vengeance" Theatrical Poster

"Kickboxer: Vengeance" Theatrical Poster

Radar Pictures’ highly-actipated reboot of 1989′s Kickboxer, titled Kickboxer: Vengeance, will finally be hitting the big screen and VOD on September 2nd.

The upcoming film is directed by John Stockwell (In the Blood) and written by Jim McGrath (1990′s Elvis TV series) and Dimitri Logothetis (Wings of the Dragon).

Newcomer Alain Moussi (click here to read our interview with him) takes the lead role of Kurt Sloan (previously played by Jean-Claude Van Damme in the original).

Other stars include WWE star Dave Bautista (The Man with the Iron Fists), UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Gina Carano (Haywire), Darren Shahlavi (Ip Man 2), Jean-Claude Van Damme (Kickboxer), T.J. Storm (Punisher: War Zone), Matthew Ziff (The Martial Arts Kid) and Sara Malakul Lane.

Martial arts star Tony Jaa (Skin Trade) was attached, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. Also attached was Scott Adkins (Zero Tolerance, Wolf Warrior), who declined the role of  David after realizing how small his role would be. Both of their roles were replaced by Van Damme and the late Darren Shahlavi, respectively.

Kickboxer: Vengeance tells the story of David and Kurt Sloan, the descendants of a well-known Venice, Calif., fighting dynasty. When David wins the Karate World Championship, a promoter lures him to Hong Kong, despite his brother’s protestations that the man is a crook. When Kurt travels to Thailand to meet his brother, he discovers he has died, and seeks his revenge.

Media: Official still, which has Dave Bautista (Spectre) as Tong Po, double wielding swords. | Click here to see 12 official stills. | Photo featuring Moussi vs. Bautista and fists of glass! | First teaser trailer.

Updates: Check out the latest poster for Kickboxer: Vengeance. Also, in case you missed it, watch the film’s most recent trailer!

Posted in News | 19 Comments

Donnie Yen to do a ‘Wesley’ film (and it’s not ‘Passenger 57′)

"Flash Point" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Flash Point" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Donnie Yen (Ip Man 3Kung Fu Jungle, Flash Point) and producer Raymond Wong have announced that their next project in the line is the Indiana Jones-esque film, Wesley (via AFS).

Wesley (or Wisely) will be based on the fictional character of the same name created by legendary Chinese novelist/screenwriter Ni Kuang. Wesley’s adventures have been covered in many novels, comic books and movies, including 1986′s The Seventh Curse with Chow Yun Fat and 1987′s The Legend of the Wisley with Sam Hui.

Despite Yen’s The Noodle Man (his first would-be Hollywood starring role) being put on the back burner, fans of Yen still have his high-profile appearances to look forward to in the upcoming xXx 3 and Star War: Rogue One.

As far as Yen’s long list of off again/on again projects – which include The Master, Dragon City, a possible Ip Man 4/Flash Point 2 and of course, Ice Man 2let’s just say, we’ll keep you updated!

Posted in News | 1 Comment

John H. Lee’s ‘Operation Chromite’ attacks U.S. theaters

"Operation Chromite" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Operation Chromite" Korean Theatrical Poster

John H. Lee’s (71: Into the Fire) upcoming South Korean actioner, Operation Chromite, is taking the battle to U.S. theaters on August 12.

Operation Chromite stars Lee Jung-jae (Assassination), Jin Se-yun (Enemies In-Law), Lee Beom-su (The Divine Move) and Liam Neeson (Taken), who will portray General Douglas MacArthur.

According to THR, Operation Chromite is the codename for the Battle of Incheon that took place on Sept. 15, 1950, shortly after the Korean War broke out on June 25. It was a surprise attack in which U.N. forces landed in the South Korean harbor city to drive out the North Koreans, and is recognized as a turning point for U.N.-backed South Korea against the communist North. Operation Chromite will focus on eight Korean war heroes.

Don’t miss the new North American trailer for Operation Chromite.

Posted in News | 2 Comments

New commemorative Jackie Chan ‘Skiptrace’ posters

"Skiptrace" Chinese Teaser Poster

"Skiptrace" Chinese Teaser Poster

Jackie Chan is teaming up with director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2) for Skiptrace, an upcoming action-comedy about a detective from Hong Kong (Jackie Chan) who teams up with an American gambler (Johnny Knoxville) to battle against a notorious Chinese criminal.

You can watch Skiptrace exclusively on DirecTV on July 28 before its theatrical and digital/VOD release on September 2.

Skiptrace also stars Fan Bingbing (The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom), WWE’s Eve Torres (The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power), Michael Wong (Zombie Fight Club) and Eric Tsang (The Last Blood).

Media: Making of featurette. | 1st trailer. | 2nd trailer. | 3rd trailer.

Updates: A series of Skiptrace commemorative posters have been released for 2016′s Skiptrace, 2015′s Dragon Blade, 2010′s Little Big Soldier, 2005′s The Myth, 1998′s Who Am I?, 1993′s City Hunter, 1991′s Armor of God 2, 1985′s Police Story and 1978′s Drunken Master (via AFS).

Posted in News | 11 Comments

Van Damme’s ‘Jean-Claude Van Johnson’ hits in August

"Welcome to the Jungle" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Welcome to the Jungle" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Scott Free Productions – a company founded by brothers Ridley (Alien) and the late Tony Scott (True Romance) – has developed an Amazon original series for Jean-Claude Van Damme (Pound of Flesh) titled Jean Claude Van Johnson, a comedy that’s along the lines of Van Damme’s semi-reality themed JCVD (2008).

According to DeadlineJean-Claude Van Johnson will debut on Amazon Prime members in August 19 for the U.S., UK, Germany, Austria and Japan.

Jean-Claude Van Johnson will star Van Damme as a version of himself — a famous actor and martial-arts pro who comes out of retirement to resume his alter-ego: an undercover private contractor by the name of Jean-Claude Van Johnson. The comedy-action thriller will see Johnson’s cover as the lead role in a reimagined action film version of Huckleberry Finn that lands him back in the midst of the danger he secretly always craves. It also brings him back in the orbit of Vanessa, his fellow operative and the love of his life that got away (via THR).

Jean-Claude Van Johnson also stars Kat Foster (Your Family or Mine), Moises Arias (The Middle), and Phylicia Rashad (Creed).

This isn’t the first time Van Damme is visiting television and comedy. In 2011 came Jean-Claude Van Damme: Behind Closed Doors, a 2011 Fly on the wall-style reality show that aired on United Kingdom’s ITV4. In 2013, the martial arts star successfully showcased his comedy chops in Welcome to the Jungle.

We expect a Jean Claude Van Johnson series trailer soon. Keep it here!

Posted in News | 2 Comments

Bruce Lee: Tracking the Dragon | DVD (MVD Visual)

Tracking the Dragon | DVD (MVD Visual)

Tracking the Dragon | DVD (MVD Visual)

RELEASE DATE: October 25, 2016

It’s been 43 years since the passing of Bruce Lee, yet the spirit of the martial arts icon is more powerful than ever. In addition to George Nolfi’s upcoming Bruce Lee biopic, Birth of the Dragon, as well as a Chinese film titled Double Dragon, a new Bruce Lee project is headed your way.

On October 25, 2016, MVD Visual will be releasing a new, 100-minute Bruce Lee documentary titled Tracking the Dragon on DVD.

Bruce Lee expert John Little (A Warrior’s Journey) tracks down the actual locations of some of Bruce Lee’s most iconic action scenes. Many of these sites remain largely unchanged nearly half a century later. At monasteries, ice factories, and on urban streets, Little explores the real life settings of Lee’s legendary career.

This film builds on Little’s earlier short, Pursuit of the Dragon, to present a comprehensive view of Lee’s work that will change the way you see the films. In such pivotal films as The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, The Way of the Dragon and Enter the Dragon, Lee staged the elaborately choreographed action sequences that revolutionized the martial arts field. They took on a mythic status and it is mindboggling to see how he expertly built traditional locations into his story lines to give them added dimension.

No one has ever taken on the task of finding what remains of this Bruce Lee’s world. The revelations are nothing short of astounding for fans of Bruce Lee, martial arts, and action movies.

Pre-order Tracking the Dragon from Amazon.com today!

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

Donnie Yen and Andy Lau in 70′s set police thriller?

"Dragon Tiger Gate" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Dragon Tiger Gate" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Martial arts action star Donnie Yen (Ip Man 3) will be teaming up with Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau (The Bodyguard) for an upcoming police thriller that will be set in the 70′s (via Mike Leeder).

Although this untitled film sound similar to the long-rumored Dragon City – which would have Yen fighting crime in the Kowloon Walled City in the 70s – it’s apparently a totally different project.

Dragon City has been on the radar for a few years, with Derek Kwok (Full Strike, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons) attached to helm the project.

One thing’s for sure: Yen isn’t doing any of these 70′s-set cop flicks until he wraps up his next film, Wesley. In the meantime, Yen fans have Star Wars: Rogue One and xXx 3 to look forward to. And don’t forget about Yen’s long list of off again/on again titles, which include The Master, a possible Ip Man 4/Flash Point 2 and of course, Ice Man 2.

We’ll keep you in the loop as we hear more. Stay tuned!

Posted in News | 12 Comments

Train to Busan (2016) Review

"Train to Busan" Theatrical Poster

"Train to Busan" Theatrical Poster

Director: Yeon Sang-Ho
Writer: Park Joo-suk
Producer: Lee Dongha
Cast: Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-Seok, Jung Yu-Mi, Choi Woo-Sik, Ahn So-Hee, Kim Soo-Ahn, Kim Eui-Sung
Running Time: 118 min.

By Paul Bramhall

Korea’s film industry is one which is rarely associated with the medium of animation, however one name that may change all that is director Yeong Sang-ho, who’s been successfully carving out a name for himself within the animated arena. His hard hitting features like King of Pigs and The Fake, which display a biting social commentary towards modern day Korea, have drawn international acclaim, and were widely screened on the festival circuit. Sang-ho ventured outside the realistic trappings of his most recognised work for the 2015 feature Seoul Station, which deals with a zombie outbreak in the Korean capital, and a year later he followed it up with an immediate sequel in the form of Train to Busan.

What makes Train to Busan a unique sequel is that, instead of being animated, it’s a live action follow-up. Similar to Hollywood director Brad Bird, who after rising to prominence with the likes of The Incredibles decided to take on live action with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, so fans of Sang-ho have also been looking forward to seeing the director work on a live action production. The fact that his first foray was to involve Korea being overrun by a zombie outbreak was a welcome bonus.

Rather than drawing on comparisons to other zombie flicks though, the movie that immediately springs to mind when watching Train to Busan is fellow Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer. Despite one revolving around an outbreak of the undead, and one being a futuristic vision of humans surviving on a train in an earth which has frozen over, both share the same thematic overtones and setting. Far from being a visceral thrill ride of an undead bloodbath, Sang-ho has constructed a tale which is more about the invisible divides that exist between the social classes, the members of whom are very much alive.

As expected, proceedings unfold which see a group of survivors on a train travelling from Seoul, located in the north of South Korea, travelling to Busan, a coastal city in the South. Gong Yoo plays the main character, most recognizable as the lead from the 2013 action movie The Suspect. His character is that of a stereotypical salary man, one who is so involved in his work that he’s already divorced, with a young daughter that wants to go and stay with her Mum in Busan. For his daughter’s birthday, he agrees to take her to Busan to meet her mother, until of course events get interrupted by a zombie outbreak.

The cast of characters who convene to form the group of survivors are like a who’s who of disaster movie archetypes – we have the good hearted working class couple, played by Ma Dong-seok (the stocky muscular guy from any Korean movie made within the last 10 years) and Jeong Yu-mi. There’s a slimy middle aged business man who’ll happily sacrifice others to save himself played by Kim Eui-seong, a faithful train driver, a pair of old ladies, a teenage couple, and a homeless guy just for good measure.

Sang-ho wastes no time getting down to business, and within 15 minutes we’re already on the train watching events unfurl, as a stray zombie who managed to get on-board just before it pulls away from the platform begins to wreak havoc. For the remainder of the almost 2 hour runtime, we stay within the confines of the train, or never far from it. As a result of almost 75 minutes being spent in train carriages, there are times when the action begins to strain. At the end of the day, its zombies on a train, and as expected, most of the tension is wringed from the survivors frantically dashing from one carriage to the other, closing the door seconds before a horde of the undead pile up in pursuit. It’s initially effective, but by the umpteenth time we see it, all sense of danger has effectively dissipated.

Sang-ho’s script also makes the most interesting characters the supporting ones. Gong Yoo’s fund manager who doesn’t have time for his family is as dull as dishwater, despite being the main character. Before the first five minutes are over, it’s obvious that he’s going to take the train with his daughter, be put in peril, and realise that family is more important than work. It’s a cliché that’s been recycled time and time again in Korean cinema, and both the script and Yoo’s bland performance add nothing new to it. Dong-seok’s dedicated husband on the other hand stands out, both relatable and willing to do anything to protect his heavily pregnant wife, he easily steals the show whenever he’s onscreen.

One of the best scenes has Dong-seok round up Yoo and a teenage baseball player, to single handedly fight their way through several carriages of zombies, in order to get to a group of stranded passengers further down the train. Watching his burly frame punch and wrestle though several waves of the undead almost makes you wish that he was the main character, and it’s certainly a breath of fresh air to see zombies being dispatched with plain old brute force rather than the traditional bullet in the head. However for those checking in hoping to see a Korean version of Dawn of the Dead, those expectations should be adjusted accordingly. Despite several victims falling prey to the zombies insatiable appetite, Train to Busan feels like a tame affair when it comes to violence, with very little imagination shown when it comes to the nitty gritty of zombies doing what they do best.

Indeed it seems that rather than going for visceral thrills, Sang-ho is more interested in using the outbreak as a plot device in which to frame his commentary on the questionable decisions of those in authority. There’s been a number of Korean movies of late which take swipes at the countries government, a prime example being the excellent Inside Men, and Train to Busan also comes with a message for its audience. The issue is that it’s not a subtle one, and the moments when Sang-ho’s script wants to say something, it does so in a way which sticks out like a sore thumb. A newsreader announces “We must keep calm and trust the government” over images of a burning cityscape, and in another scene an employee, who knows the orders he received will condemn people to certain death, questions that it’s not his fault if he’s just doing what he’s told to do.

The lack of imaginative violence, social commentary, and a particularly awkward change in tone that switches to a melodramatic finale, all point to Sang-ho looking to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. The issues is that when you want to appeal to such a broad audience, a movie can easily lose its identity. To a degree that seems to be the main issue with Train to Busan. Is it a Korean zombie flick? Is it a scathing commentary on those in authority? Is it the tale of a father and daughter reconciling their relationship? Sang-ho has tried to make it all of those things, and it doesn’t quite succeed at being any of them, at least not in a way which effectively connects with those watching.

The zombies don’t feel scary enough, the characters aren’t fleshed out enough, and the swipes at the authorities aren’t subtle enough. With that being said, it’s unfair to write off Train to Busan as a bad movie. It’s not, and to Sang-ho’s credit it remains watchable throughout, even if by the end it has worn out its welcome ever so slightly. As a first foray into live-action, Sang-ho hasn’t quite hit the mark, but his talent is still very much on display, with the distinct visual style present in his animated productions successfully carried over into a live action environment. Next time, hopefully he’ll return with a sharper and more focused script, and when that happens I’ll be more than happy to buy a return ticket. But for now, Train to Busan is thankfully just a one-way trip.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6/10

Posted in All, Korean, News, Reviews | Tagged | 2 Comments

The Search for Weng Weng | DVD (Wild Eye)

"D’Wild Wild Weng" Theatrical Poster

"D’Wild Wild Weng" Theatrical Poster

RELEASE DATE: November 8, 2016

On November 8, 2016, Wild Eye is releasing the DVD for The Search for Weng Weng, a documentary that investigates the life of Weng Weng (aka Ernesto de la Cruz), a forgotten icon of Pinoy exploitation cinema who starred in the films For Y’ur Height Only, The Impossible Kid and D’Wild Wild Weng.

Join Andrew Leavold’s personal quest to find the truth behind its dwarf James Bond superstar Weng Weng, who took the movie world by storm in the 1970s, and who has since become a viral internet sensation. He is listed in the Guinness World Records as the shortest adult actor in a leading role. | Trailer.

Pre-order The Search for Weng Weng from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles, News | Tagged | 3 Comments

Watch a deleted “waterboard torture” clip from ‘Kill Zone 2′

Kill Zone 2 | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Kill Zone 2 | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Today marks the anticipated release of Well Go USA’s Blu-ray & DVD for Kill Zone 2 (read our review), which is also widely known as  SPL II: A Time for Consequences.

To celebrate its release, we have uploaded an exclusive clip featuring the film’s controversial deleted “waterboard torture” scene, with Wu Jing (Wolf Warrior) and Tony Jaa (Skin Trade). Click here or scroll below.

And don’t forget, today is the last day to enter our giveaway for your chance to win a Blu-ray copy of the film (enter the contest).

When an undercover cop gets too close to revealing the mastermind of a drug syndicate, his cover is blown. Double-crossed and under a false identity, he’s thrown into a Thai prison, where a guard discovers the inmate – claiming he’s a cop – is a bone marrow match for his dying daughter… and his warden may have an even deadlier operation hidden within the prison walls.

This Cheang Pou-soi (The Monkey King) directed film also stars Louis Koo (White Storm), Simon Yam (Wild City) and Zhang Jin (Ip Man 3). | Watch the film’s trailer.

You can currently order Kill Zone 2 from Amazon.com. But for now, don’t miss the following exclusive clip:

Posted in News | 2 Comments

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

"The Wailing" Theatrical Poster

"The Wailing" Theatrical Poster

RELEASE DATE: October 4, 2016

Two years after it was initially announced, Na Hong-jin’s (The Chaser, The Yellow Sea) third movie, The Wailing, will be hitting Blu-ray & DVD, courtesy of Well Go USA.

The Wailing (read our review) involves a local cop investigating a series of violent unexplained murders. When his own daughter falls ill and shows signs of possession, a shaman is called in to assist with the investigation.

The Wailing stars Hwang Jeong-min (Veteran), Kwak Do-won (Tazza: The Hidden Card), and Japanese actor Jun Kunimura (Why Don’t You Play in Hell?), in the role that Beat Takeshi (Beyond Outrage) was originally attached to.

If this film captures even half the entertainment value of The Chaser or The Yellow Sea, we’ll be happy campers. Don’t miss the first trailer for The Wailing Na Hong-jin…. welcome back!

Pre-order The Wailing from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, News | Tagged | 6 Comments

Full trailer for Vin Diesel’s ‘xXx 3′ w/Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa

"xXx" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"xXx" Japanese Theatrical Poster

A third xXx sequel, titled xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, is currently in full swing. The upcoming film, directed by DJ Caruso (The Salton Sea), sees Vin Diesel reprising the role of Xander, the extreme sports-lovin’ secret agent who likes his Mountain Dew shaken, not stirred.

Joining Diesel is Ice Cube, who is co-starring as Darius Stone, the other agent, who took on the title character in 2005′s xXx 2: State of the Union.

Also along for the ride are martial arts superstars Donnie Yen (Ip Man 3) and Tony Jaa (SPL II: A Time for Consequences). Other cast members include Kris Wu (Journey to the West 2, Mermaid), Hermione Corfield (Mr. Holmes, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), Indian mega star Deepika Padukone (Piku), Michael Bisping (Beatdown) and former NFL star Tony Gonzalez.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage hits theaters on January 20, 2017.

Media: Teaser for Vin Diesel; teaser for Tony Jaa; and teaser for Donnie Yen.

Updates: Watch the film’s full trailer.

Posted in News | 7 Comments

Watch the newest trailers for Jet Li’s ‘League of Gods’

"League of Gods" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"League of Gods" Chinese Theatrical Poster

After a 2-year hiatus, Jet Li (High Risk, The Sorcerer and the White Snake) is returning for a supernatural action epic, titled League of Gods (aka Feng Shen Bang 3D). The upcoming film – directed by both Koan Hui (Snow Blossom) and newcomer, Vernie Yeung – will be based on the 16th-century Chinese novel by Xu Zhonglin titled Investiture of Gods.

Also starring in League of Gods is Louis Koo (Flash Point), Huang Xiaoming (Ip Man 2), AngelaBaby (Mojin: The Lost Legend), Tony Leung Ka-Fai (A Better Tomorrow III), Fan Bingbing (The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom), Wen Zhang (The Mermaid) and Jacky Heung (From Vegas to Macau III).

Cecilia Cheung (Legendary Amazons) was previously attached (some of her scenes were actually filmed), but was ultimately replaced by Zhang, due to reported “out-of-control behavior on set.” Shu Qi (The Assassin) was also attached to the film, but dropped out for unknown reasons.

Media: 1st teaser trailer. | 2nd teaser. | Teaser for Jet Li’s character | Teaser for Wen Zhang’s character. | Teaser for Fan Bing-Bing’s character | Teaser for Huang Xiao-Ming’s character. | Teaser for AngelaBaby’s character. | Full trailer.

Updates: Teaser for Jacky Heung’s character.

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Female Prisoner Scorpion: The Complete Collection | Blu-ray (Arrow Video)

"Female Prisoner Scorpion: The Complete Collection" Blu-ray Cover

"Female Prisoner Scorpion: The Complete Collection" Blu-ray Cover

RELEASE DATE: August 8, 2016

Arrow Video is back it with its ongoing storm of Japanese cult classics. On July 26th, the company is releasing the Blu-ray set for the Female Prisoner Scorpion: The Complete Collection, which will include Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion, Jailhouse 41, Beast Stable and Grudge Song.

Check out the press release below:

Starring the iconic and beautiful Meiko Kaji (Lady Snowblood, Stray Cat Rock) in a role that came to define her career, the four-film Female Prisoner Scorpion series charts the vengeance of Nami Matsushima, who assumes the mantle of “Scorpion,” becoming an avatar of vengeance and survival, and an unlikely symbol of female resistance in a male-dominated world.

Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion introduces Nami, a gullible young woman unjustly imprisoned, who must find a way to escape in order to exact revenge upon the man who betrayed her. The visually avant-garde Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 sees director Shunya Ito and star Meiko Kaji re-unite as Nami and six other female convicts escape prison once more. The Gothic horror-inspired Beast Stable finds Nami branded public enemy #1 and on the run. She soon finds refuge with a sympathetic prostitute, but runs afoul of a local gang. The final film in the series, #701′s Grudge Song (from director Yasuharu Hasebe, Retaliation, Massacre Gun), shows a gentler side of Nami as she falls in with Kudo, an ex-radical suffering from physical and psychological trauma caused by police torture.

Spiritual kin to Ms. 45, Coffy and The Bride Wore Black, the Female Prisoner Scorpion is the pinnacle of early 1970s exploitation cinema from Japanese grindhouse studio Toei, and one of the greatest female revenge sagas ever told.

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

  • Limited Edition Blu-ray collection (3000 copies)
  • Brand new 2K restorations of all four films in the series presented on High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD
  • Original mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays) for all films
  • Optional English subtitles for all films
  • Double-sided fold out poster of two original artworks
  • Reversible sleeves for all films featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Ian MacEwan
  • Booklet featuring an extract from Unchained Melody: The Films of Meiko Kaji, an upcoming book on the star by critic and author Tom Mes, an archive interview with Meiko Kaji, and a brand new interview with Toru Shinohara, creator of the original Female Prisoner Scorpion manga

FEMALE PRISONER #701: SCORPION

  • Newly filmed appreciation by filmmaker Gareth Evans (The Raid, The Raid 2)
  • Archive interview with director Shunya Ito
  • New interview with assistant director Yutaka Kohira
  • Theatrical Trailers for all films in the series

FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: JAILHOUSE 41

  • Newly filmed appreciation by critic Kier-La Janisse
  • Japanese cinema critic Jasper Sharp looks over the career of Shunya Ito
  • New interview with production designer Tadayuki Kuwana
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: BEAST STABLE

  • Newly filmed appreciation by critic Kat Ellinger
  • Archive interview with director Shunya Ito
  • New visual essay on the career of star and icon Meiko Kaji by critic Tom Mes
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: #701’s GRUDGE SONG

  • Newly filmed appreciation by filmmaker Kazuyoshi Kumakiri (Kichiku: Banquet of the Beasts)
  • Archive interview with director Yasuharu Hasebe
  • Japanese cinema critic Jasper Sharp looks over the career of Yasuharu Hasebe
  • Visual essay on the Scorpion series by critic Tom Mes
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

Pre-order the Female Prisoner Scorpion: The Complete Collection from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases | Tagged | 3 Comments

House in the Alley (2012) Review

"House in the Alley" Vietnamese Poster

"House in the Alley" Vietnamese Poster

Director: Le-Van Kiet
Writer: Le-Van Kiet
Producer: Dan Trong Tran
Cast: Veronica Ngo, Son Bao Tran, Van Hai Bui
Running Time: 93 min.

By Kyle Warner

It’s been my experience that some of the finest horror films work so well because they build their dread and terror by taking their time, letting the scares linger, allowing the horror to slowly bubble over. An in-your-face horror film like Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man is a visceral thrill but a slow-burn horror tale like Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse (aka Kairo) hits on a more psychological level (I love both films, by the way). Thing is, when a slow-burn horror film misses, it can be accused of being boring by more than just the general audiences… And I think even the most hardcore of horror fans will find House in the Alley rather dull and drawn out.

House in the Alley is a Vietnamese horror movie about a wife who’s going crazy and a husband who keeps falling off the roof every 20-30 minutes. There’s more to the movie than that, but not much more. After a bloody childbirth results in a stillborn baby, wife Thao (The Rebels Veronica Ngo) is beside herself with grief. She won’t allow the baby to be buried, instead keeping the little coffin inside the master bedroom of their dreary, leaky house. Her husband Thanh (Son Bao Tran) is upset, too, but he’s ready to move on and try again. Thanh is also dealing with difficulties at work and a terribly unsympathetic mother (who’s also his boss), so coming home to a depressed and sometimes irrational wife isn’t easy for him. But Thao’s not just depressed, she’s apparently losing her mind. She confesses to a friend that she often thinks about chopping her husband into pieces. Hubby Thanh doesn’t pick up on any of this—he thinks the best way to coax his wife out of her depression is sexy fun time, an activity that’s almost constantly on his mind.

Add to the marital discord some creepy sounds, ghostly children on the patio, and a bouncing ball with no owner, and you get a supernatural ghost story about a dying marriage and severe postpartum depression. The supernatural happenings seem like an afterthought, though—a theory pretty much confirmed when the film tacks on an answer to the hauntings in the finale that seems to belong to a different story altogether. Writer/director Le-Van Kiet (Gentle) goes for the classics with spooky stains, giggling ghost children, the sound of running footsteps in an empty house, and black cats abruptly crossing our path (for what it’s worth, the cat gave me a jump).

House in the Alley is not original in its scares and nor is it terribly effective in how it delivers them. Le-Van Kiet’s film is almost without form, fading from one scene to the next without much in the way of buildup. The characters also suffer from behaving stupid under the circumstances (something that’s common in horror, to be fair). Husband Thanh wanders his house in the middle of the night to find the source of the sounds he keeps hearing. In his searches, he inevitably finds himself hanging from the side of his house, and then falls to the ground below. This happens three times, I think. It’s a peculiar thing to keep revisiting. Also, later in the film when the events have reached their boiling point, a character actually thinks that the best place to hide from someone with an axe is behind a clear glass window. Surprise! That axe is coming through the window with no problem at all. You big dummy.

I feel like the filmmakers could’ve done more with the fact that there’s a dead baby’s coffin watching over husband and wife in bed—that’s original imagery, if nothing else—but the film’s not terribly interested in making a mark visually. House in the Alley does seem to have something in mind regarding women’s roles in modern Vietnam, though. The wife Thao is expected to get over it, to move on and please her overworked husband. Even her mother-in-law wants to remind Thao of her place in the marriage. That Thao’s depression is viewed so dispassionately is sometimes troubling, and it certainly doesn’t help us like her husband any better, nor make us fear for his well-being. Without the haunting aspects of the film, Thao’s crazy behavior later in the film could almost be seen as an ugly depiction of a ‘hysterical’ woman. The supernatural justifies her behavior, and in doing so saves House in the Alley from being a nasty, dispassionate piece of work. One thing I did enjoy was the gender swap of horror situations. Often when a spouse goes mad in horror cinema, it’s the husband that’s threatening to the wife (The Shining, for example). Here, it’s the wife whose behavior is threatening to the husband, and that makes for a few interesting scenes.

When a movie review uses the phrase “deliberately paced,” most readers probably think that’s critic-talk for “boring.” I really don’t want to call House in the Alley a boring film but… I do think the movie tests the audience’s patience too often without delivering enough of the goods to make it worth your time.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 4.5/10

Posted in All, News, Reviews, Vietnamese | Tagged , | 2 Comments