Criminal (2016) Review

"Criminal" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Criminal” Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Ariel Vromen
Writer: Douglas Cook, David Weisberg
Cast: Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Alice Eve, Gal Gadot, Michael Pitt, Jordi Mollà, Ryan Reynolds, Antje Traue, Scott Adkins, Amaury Nolasco
Running Time: 113 min.

By Paul Bramhall

When not on duty in superhero movies, Commissioner Gordon, the father of Superman, Wonder Woman, Deadpool, and Weapon XI, got together in London to make Criminal. The above mesh-up of DC and Marvel luminaries is of course entirely fictional, but what Criminal does do is bring together the impressive cast of actors who play said characters in their respective movies – Gary Oldman, Kevin Costner, Gal Gadot, Ryan Reynolds, and Scott Adkins. Throw the always reliable Tommy Lee Jones into the mix, and you realise that this is a movie with some serious acting talent on-board.

While Israeli born director Ariel Vromen only has a handful of titles under his belt, having directed just 3 full length features beginning with 2005’s Simple Lies, chances are it was the screenwriting pedigree of Douglas Cook and David Weisberg that attracted the stars to this particular production. Cook and Weisberg were responsible for the story and script behind 1996’s bombastic action flick The Rock, and also penned 1999’s Double Jeopardy, which also featured Tommy Lee Jones. However since then the screenwriting partners dropped off the map, and Criminal marks their first script in 16 years. Sadly it would also mark their final collaboration together, as Cook passed away in July 2015.

Criminal sees Ryan Reynolds furthering his attempts to corner the market of the ‘body swap’ genre. While 2015 saw him starring in Self/less, in which the brain of dying businessman Ben Kingsley is transferred into his body, here we experience the opposite, that see’s the brain of Reynolds’ murdered CIA agent being transferred into the body of Kevin Costner. If the pattern continues, then 2017 will likely feature a movie that has Costner’s brain being transferred into the body of an actor that’s played both sides of the superhero studios (Ben Affleck, we’re looking at you).

Criminal opens with Reynolds being pursued by shadowy figures through the streets of London. His CIA agent is delivering a ransom to a mysterious hacker who goes by the name of ‘The Dutchman’, that’s holding up in a location that only Reynolds knows. However when he’s intercepted and killed (his screen-time is comparable to Steven Seagal in Executive Decision), the CIA director (Gary Oldman) calls in a scientist (Tommy Lee Jones), who’s created an experimental procedure that can transfer memories from one human to another. Oldman is hell bent on finding the location of ‘The Dutchman’ before a crazy Spanish anarchist who wants to start World War III (yes you read that correctly), and a suitable candidate is found to absorb Reynolds’ memories in the form of Kevin Costner. Costner plays a violent redneck prisoner, chained up in solitary confinement due to being dropped as a child, which led to his frontal lobe not developing as it should. As a result, he can’t feel emotions, and enjoys beating people to a pulp. Basically, a dangerous guy, but one whose lack of frontal lobe development makes him the perfect candidate for a brain swap. Go figure.

In short, Criminal is a glorified B movie with a slumming it A list cast. From the moment Costner wakes up from the brain surgery, Oldman starts yelling at him a whole heap of exposition as to why he’s there and what he needs to remember. I could essentially copy and paste Oldman’s tirade here, and it would serve as an effective plot summary, but since I already took the effort to write the previous paragraph, I won’t. Indeed whenever Oldman is onscreen he’s at his scenery chewing best, spitting out the lines of the dubious script with a joyous reckless abandon, almost all of which involve him mentioning ‘The Dutchman’. “We need to find ‘The Dutchman’!”, “Lead us to ‘The Dutchman’!”, “Where is ‘The Dutchman’!?” He seems to be aware that the script is beneath him, so simply goes at it like a madman, all the while being followed around by another agent played by Scott Adkins, who gets a few lines here and there but little else.

Costner on the other hand seems genuinely dedicated to his role, and does his best to inject pathos into his performance, even when the script frequently works against him. The role was originally ear marked for Nicolas Cage, who it was reported turned it down, but it’s easy to imagine if he had accepted it what a completely different performance he would have brought to the character. As it is, Costner’s violent redneck is all grunts and twitches, capable only of monosyllabic communication and punching people in the face. However once he has Reynolds’ memories transferred into his brain, he begins to feel emotions for the first time, emotions such as love. Indeed it would be a fair comparison to say that his character follows much the same arc as Jet Li’s Danny the Dog in Unleashed, only instead of Morgan Freeman and watermelons, we have a bunch of memories and Gal Gadot.

Gadot plays Reynold’s widow, and her first encounter with Costner involves him in a home invasion, in which he covers her mouth with duct tape while she sleeps, wrapping her arms and legs with it to restrain her. It’s an uncomfortable scene, and he seems set to rape her, until Reynolds’ memories interfere and he can’t bring himself to do it, ultimately fleeing the scene. It’s somewhat of a massive leap in believability then, when 30 minutes later Gadot is inviting him to sleep on the couch in their house, and her and Reynolds’ daughter is giving him piano lessons (another replicated scene from Unleashed). Gadot urges him to get in touch with Reynolds’ memories of their wedding day and the birth of their daughter, and for the first time Costner’s frontal lobe allows him to experience the feeling of love, and he begins to learn that having feelings isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Costner’s character is best described as a mix of Danny the Dog meets Jason Bourne, but instead of being a Chinese kung fu fighter or a skilled assassin with no memory, we have a redneck with a heap of new memories. He suddenly finds himself able to speak French, and calmly shoot a group of attackers trying to kill him with a precision aim, while at the same time gradually coming to care about Gadot and her daughter. Despite his new found skills though, the way Vromen films them is sadly lacking in any kind of tension or excitement, with the action scenes frequently falling flat. There’s obligatory explosions, car chases, and even a random missile fired from a submarine just for good measure, but none of them come with any real sense of meaning or danger, resulting in it being an easy task to quickly lose interest.

Events culminate in a particularly generic finale which takes place on a runway, that sees all the characters converge in the one location, including Tommy Lee Jones, who’s spent every scene he’s appeared in looking and sounding terminally bored. What sticks out like a sore thumb in particular though, is how lost the script seems to be in terms of what the final outcome should be for Costner’s character. Lest we forget that without Reynolds’ memories, he was a death-row prisoner chained by the neck and ready to put the beat-down on anyone that got too close to him. Unsurprisingly events head in the direction of a happy ending, and when one of Oldman’s fellow agents asks him what he plans to do with Costner, Oldman declares that he’s going to offer him a job, a line which makes about as much sense as the whole brain swapping concept in the first place.

While actors like Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, and Tommy Lee Jones are always entertaining no matter what production they appear in, Criminal does feel at times that it’s stretching this statement to its limit. For fans of British crime thrillers with a hint of science fiction thrown in, Vromen’s latest could definitely be worth a look, as for everyone else, stick with the stars classic movies. It would be ‘Criminal’ not to.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 5/10

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New poster for Scott Adkins and Marko Zaror’s ‘Savage Dog’

jj_smallAction director Jesse V. Johnson (The Last Sentinel, Green Street Hooligans 2) is currently shooting his next film, Savage Dog, which is described as “A bold, non-stop action epic unlike any other.”

Savage Dog will feature martial arts stars Scott Adkins (Close Range, Zero Tolerance), Marko Zaror (Redeemer), JuJu Chan (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny) and former MMA fighter, Cung Le (Dragon Eyes). Other cast members include Vladimir Kulich (The 13th Warrior), Keith David (The Thing), Sheena Chou (Shanghai Hotel) and Aki Aleong (Pound of Flesh).

As the Cannes sales poster (via Twitch) reveals, Savage Dog is a period actioner that takes place in Indochina, during the merciless 1950s. The film will be released in 2017.

Updates: Check out a brand new marketing poster (via Scott Adkins FB). Also, watch the video below for a pack of set photos from the production:

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Cyborg | aka Slinger (1989) Review

"Cyborg" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Cyborg” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Albert Pyun
Producer: Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Deborah Richter, Vincent Klyn, Dayle Haddon, Alex Daniels, Blaise Loong, Ralf Möller, Haley Peterson, Terrie Batson, Jackson ‘Rock’ Pinckney
Running Time: 82 min.

By Kyle Warner

I had never seen 1989’s Cyborg before last night. The film has something of a reputation both here and elsewhere on the net as the one early Jean-Claude Van Damme movie you would be better off skipping. So of course I had to seek it out.

Cyborg has an unlikely story of how it came into being. The Cannon Films production company was dealing with financial troubles after a series of box office bombs, perhaps chief among them being Tobe Hooper’s troubled Lifeforce in 1986. Cannon had plans to make a sequel to Masters of the Universe and a live-action Spider-Man film with director Albert Pyun (The Sword and the Sorcerer), but financial difficulties forced them to cancel their deals with Mattel and Marvel before the cameras started rolling. In order to best make use of all the costumes and sets they’d already created for both abandoned films, Pyun wrote a screenplay, credited the script to his cat, cast the up-and-coming star Jean-Claude Van Damme, and set to work on Cyborg in an attempt to recoup the studio’s losses. (Some TV guides and film databases confusingly still refer to Cyborg as a He-Man sequel. Even RottenTomatoes, where the film sits at 14%, currently lists the film as Masters of the Universe 2: Cyborg)

Considering the unlikely origins, Cyborg is actually better than you’d expect. Which is not to say that Cyborg is a good film – it isn’t – but it’s an interesting and peculiar one. Unlike many of Van Damme’s other lesser efforts, there’s nothing by-the-numbers here. Pyun may never have been a celebrated director (Ed Wood comparisons are apparently not uncommon), but he does show a particular sense of style.

The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic America, where a plague has wrecked the world and only a female cyborg (Dayle Haddon) has the key to finding a cure. But there’s a problem: the most powerful gang in the wastelands will do anything they can from seeing the scientists succeed in saving the world. As Vincent Klyn’s grunting villain Fender explains it in the opening lines of the movie, “Restore it? Why? I like the death! I like the misery! I like this world!” Fender abducts the cyborg and it’s up to a hero with a sad story (Van Damme) to save the day.

What’s odd is that the cyborg of the title is really the least important part of the movie. She’s the film’s MacGuffin, I suppose, the thing that makes the story go and the object that heroes and villains alike are fighting over. Even the fact that she’s a cyborg is barely important to the story. At one point we get to see her reveal her mechanical brain. It’s a scene where the actress steps out and is replaced by an animatronic, rubber face. It’s an odd effect, straddling the line between realistic and fake, resulting in something uniquely unsettling (think: The Polar Express). Other than this scene and one other that reveals a metal eye, we basically forget she’s a robot. Indeed, we basically forget all about her or the cure because… umm… where’s the plague, exactly? I remember one kid covered in boils but other than that I’m pretty sure the plague is already a distant memory. (Cyborg would get two sequels, one starring Angelina Jolie (!), Jack Palance, and Elias Koteas, the other featuring Malcolm McDowell. I’ve not seen either film but by almost all accounts they’re weaker than Pyun’s original. They do appear to make better use of the sci-fi cyborg aspects of the story, though.)

Cyborg ain’t much of a cyberpunk action movie, nor is it an apocalyptic contagion thriller. Instead, Cyborg owes much to George Miller’s idea of the apocalypse, with many of the villains looking like they’d just failed auditions to join Lord Humungus on the set of The Road Warrior. Extreme costumes, hairstyles, and madness reign supreme in Cyborg. Even Van Damme gets in on the fun, with flashbacks revealing him to have a Revolutionary War haircut that’s not at all silly looking, honest…

Filled with decapitated heads, crucifixions, and all manner of ultra-violence, Cyborg has an unexpected mean streak that you don’t see in many Van Damme features. While I wouldn’t say that the violence makes the film more entertaining, it does result in some shocks that add to the film’s peculiar “charm.” Unfortunately, the action seems to have been edited by throwing the movie into a blender and hitting the highest speed, resulting in breakneck cuts that confuse and draw attention to themselves.

Pyun’s budget constraints are readily apparent from the start. In an odd way that’s difficult to explain, it’s like you can actually see the edges of the set at times. Overactive smoke machines and cheap backdrops are difficult to ignore. And some sets are strange and difficult to figure out. When the heroes are chased through a sewer system, sunlight beams in from the walls. But aren’t they underground? So is it sunlight or artificial light? If it’s artificial light, where’s the sewer getting its electricity, and why? Am I not supposed to ask these things? Too bad!

To sum things up: Cyborg is cheap, silly, and weird, but it’s the fun kind of cheap, silly, and weird. I would never call this a good movie but at least it’s never a boring movie. At times, it’s impossible to look away from. And considering the film’s strange pre-production story, it’s really a wonder it makes as much sense as it does. So, it’s my opinion that Cyborg doesn’t really deserve the reputation of being one of Van Damme’s absolute worst. While it may be totally skippable for the casual fan, I’d watch Cyborg over Death Warrant, The Order, The Quest, Derailed, and Second in Command any day of the week. (But please don’t make me.)

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 5/10

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Witness an icon in the trailer for ‘Mifune: The Last Samurai’

"Yojimbo" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Yojimbo” Japanese Theatrical Poster

A new trailer for an insightful documentary about the life of legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune, titled Mifune: The Last Samurai, has just been released.

Directed by Oscar nominee Steven Okazaki (Heroin: Cape Cod, USA), Mifune: The Last Samurai is narrated by Keanu Reeves (John Wick), and features interviews with Steven Spielberg (Duel), Martin Scorsese (The Departed), and a wealth of Japanese actors and directors.

According to Indiewire, the trailer touches on Akira Kurosawa (Ran) and Mifune’s joint influence on American cinema as well as the actor’s two main vices: alcohol and cars.

If you’re a fan, don’t forget to browse our archive of reviews starring Mifune, which include Rashomon, Stray DogSeven Samurai, The Hidden FortressIncident at Blood Pass and Yojimbo.

Mifune: The Last Samurai will be released in December, courtesy of  Strand Releasing. Don’t miss the film’s trailer below:

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Gunfire, bullets, explosions and more gunfire…

… and that’s seriously all we know about this upcoming war film, titled The Warriors.

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Enter Cityonfire.com’s ‘The Wailing’ Blu-ray Giveaway!

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

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

Cityonfire.com and Well Go USA are giving away 3 Blu-ray copies of The Wailing (read our review) to three lucky Cityonfire visitors. To enter, simply add a comment to this post and describe, in your own words, the video below.

We will be selecting a winner at random. Be sure to include your email address in the appropriate field so we can contact you for your home address. Also, please ‘Like Us‘ on cityonfire.com’s Facebook by clicking here.

The Blu-ray for The Wailing will be officially released on October 4, 2016. We will announce the 3 winners on October 5, 2016.

CONTEST DISCLAIMER: You must enter by October 4, 2016 to qualify. U.S. residents only please. We sincerely apologize to our non-U.S. visitors. Winners must respond with their mailing address within 48 hours, otherwise you will automatically be disqualified. No exceptions. Contest is subject to change without notice.

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Attack on Titan: Part 2 | Blu-ray & DVD (Funimation)

Attack on Titan: Part 2 | Blu-ray & DVD (Funimation)

Attack on Titan: Part 2 | Blu-ray & DVD (Funimation)

RELEASE DATE: December 6, 2016

Funimation presents the Blu-ray & DVD for Shinji Higuchi’s live-action adaptation of Attack on Titan: Part 2.

Attack on Titan: Part 2 (read our reviews for Part I and Part II) takes place in a strange, quasi-medieval world in which giant humanoid creatures named Titans appear and threaten the lives of everyday people. Civilization’s only line of defense against the Titans are teenage soldiers who traverse the Titans’ massive bodies using powerful grappling hooks. | Part 1 is also available.

Pre-order Attack on Titan: Part 2 from Amazon.com today!

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New ‘red’ Blu-ray art for Go Yeong-nam’s ‘Suddenly in the Dark’

Suddenly in Dark Night | Blu-ray (Mondo Macabro)

Suddenly in Dark Night | Blu-ray (Mondo Macabro)

Independent distributor Mondo Macabro will soon release the Blu-ray for 1981’s Suddenly in the Dark (aka 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 in the Dark 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 the Dark 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).

Updates: Mondo Macabro has just released the film’s Blu-ray art. This amazing, almost unknown film is full of uncomfortable sexuality, cheap visual effects, creepy dolls, shamanism, butterflies, and murder – all set to a searing, original synth score! The film hits Blu-ray in early October, so stay tuned for pre-order information. Don’t miss the trailer below:

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Rurouni Kenshin Part II: Kyoto Inferno | Blu-ray & DVD (Funimation)

Rurouni Kenshin Part II: Kyoto Inferno | Blu-ray & DVD (Funimation)

Rurouni Kenshin Part II: Kyoto Inferno | Blu-ray & DVD (Funimation)

RELEASE DATE: December 6, 2016

Funimation presents the Blu-ray & DVD for Keishi Ohtomo’s Rurouni Kenshin Part II: Kyoto Inferno, starring Takeru Satoh (Goemon), Emi Takei (Ai to Makoto), Yusuke Iseya (13 Assassins), Munetaka Aoki (Time Traveller) and Yu Aoi (Space Pirate Captain Harlock).

Former assassin Kenshin Himura and his friends are called back into action when a ghost from the past era rises to wreak havoc across Japan. Makoto Shishio, another ex-assassin, was betrayed, burned, and left for dead at the end of the war. Badly scarred-but very much alive-Shishio has put together an army and aims to overthrow the new government-burning anything and killing anyone who stands in his way.  | Part I is also available.

Pre-order Rurouni Kenshin Part II: Kyoto Inferno from Amazon.com today!

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1st trailer for Rupert Sanders’ live-action ‘Ghost in the Shell’

"Ghost in the Shell" Anime Theatrical Poster

“Ghost in the Shell” Anime Theatrical Poster

Rupert Sanders (White and the Huntsman) is currently prepping DreamWorks’ live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, based on Masamune Shirow’s manga/and anime by Mamoru Oshii of the same name.

Ghost in the Shell follows the exploits a female cyborg cop who hunts a mysterious and powerful hacker called the Puppet Master.

Ghost in the Shell stars Scarlett Johansson (Lucy), Michael Pitt (Funny Games), Pilou Asbæk (A Hijacking), Sam Riley (On the Road), Takeshi Kitano (Beyond Outrage), Juliette Binoche (Chocolat), Kaori Momoi (Sukiyaki Western Django) and Rila Fukushima (The Wolverine).

The film releases on March 31, 2017.

Updates: Watch the first teaser trailer for Ghost in the Shell below:

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New poster for the Luc Besson-backed ‘Warrior’s Gate’

"The Warrior’s Gate" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“The Warrior’s Gate” Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director Matthias Hoene (Cockneys vs Zombies) is putting final touches on Warrior’s Gate, an upcoming French-Chinese co-production that’s being described as a “big production” fantasy film. The movie is being backed by Luc Besson’s (Lucy) EuropaCorp.

Warrior’s Gate stars Mark Chao (Young Detective Dee), Dakota Daulby (iZombie), Ni Ni (Flowers of War), Uriah Shelton (Girl Meets World), Dave Bautista (Kickboxer: Vengeance), Sienna Guillory (Resident Evil: Apocalypse), Ron Smoorenburg (Who Am I?) and Francis Ng (Too Many Ways To Be Number One).

Media: Character posters for Mark Chao, Dave Bautista, Francis Ng and Ni Ni.

Updates: Check out the film’s newest poster.

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Xu Haofeng has a ‘Hidden Blade’ under his sleeve…

"The Sword Identity" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“The Sword Identity” Chinese Theatrical Poster

Before we can even think about Xu Haofeng’s Moonlight Blade (his soon-to-be-shot remake of Chor Yuen’s Shaw Brothers classic, The Magic Blade), our attention should be focused on Hidden Blade (not to be confused with the Yoji Yamada film of the same name), Xu’s fourthcoming period actioner that’s currently in production (via AFS).

Very little is known about Hidden Blade, other than it’s a “martial arts epic” that stars Xu Qing (Flash Point), Jessie Li (Port of Call) and Shaw Brothers legend, Chen Kuan Tai (Shanghai 13Executioners from Shaolin). But given the fact that Xu is at the helm, Hidden Blade has our full attention.

We expect to see marketing materials (theatrical posters, teasers, trailers, etc.) for Hidden Blade to pop up in the next few months, so stay tuned.

For now, if you want to catch up on some of Xu’s earlier films, the DVD for Sword Identity is currently available; the DVD for Judge Archer will go on sale in November; and the Blu-ray/DVD release for his latest film, The Master (aka The Final Master), is expected to be announced soon.

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Well Go USA will have their ‘Call of Heroes’ in December

"Call of Heroes" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Call of Heroes” Chinese Theatrical Poster

Benny Chan’s (ShaolinWho Am I?) highly-anticipated martial arts epic, Call of Heroes (formerly known as The Deadly Reclaim), is coming to Blu-ray and DVD on December 6, 2016, courtesy of Well Go USA.

This period action film – featuring fight choreography by the legendary Sammo Hung (14 Blades, Ip Man) – tells the story of a pack of villagers standing up to a young warlord in the year 1914.

Call of Heroes sports an all-star cast that includes Lau Ching Wan (The Bullet Vanishes), Louis Koo (Flash Point), Eddie Peng (Rise of the Legend), Wu Jing (Wolf Warrior), Liu Kai Chi (The Viral Factor), Philip Keung (Unbeatable), Yuan Quan (Once Upon A Time In Shanghai), Jiang Shuying (So Young), Sammy Hung (Choy Lee Fut) and Berg Ng (The Grandmaster).

The film is getting a limited release on October 4th (check your local listings for more details). A North American trailer and poster are due at anytime, so stay tuned!

Pre-order Call of Heroes from Amazon.com today!

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Deal on Fire! Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning | Only $6.50 – Expires soon!

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning Blu-ray & DVD (Sony)

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning Blu-ray & DVD (Sony)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for John Hyams’ Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (read our review), starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (Cyborg), Scott Adkins (Hard Target 2), Andrei “The Pit Bull” Arlovski (Universial Soldier: Regeneration) and Dolph Lundgren (Skin Trade).

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning also features top notch action choreography by Larnell Stovall (The Raid 2, Falcon Rising, Kickboxer: Vengeance).

In Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, John (Adkins) wakes up from a coma to discover his wife and daughter were slaughtered in a brutal home invasion. Haunted by images of the attack, he vows to kill the man responsible Luc Deveraux (Van Damme).

Order Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning from Amazon.com today!

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Size up the new teaser poster for ‘John Wick: Chapter Two’

"John Wick: Chapter Two" Teaser Poster

“John Wick: Chapter Two” Teaser Poster

David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, the duo behind 2014’s action-packed sleeper hit, John Wick, are currently filming John Wick: Chapter Two, which will be hitting theaters on February 10th, 2017.

This time around, Stahelski will be directing the film solo, while Leitch will stay on board as producer, so he can concentrate on his solo directorial project, The Coldest City.

Here’s what Stahelski had to say in a recent interview with Movies.com: “We have ideas for days and without blinking twice we know we can outdo the action from the original.”

Joining Reeves for John Wick: Chapter Two is actor/rapper Common (Smokin’ Aces, American Gangster), Ruby Rose (Resident Evil: The Final Chapter), Riccardo Scamarcio (Burnt) and Peter Stormare (Fargo). Returning cast members from the original John Wick include: John Leguizamo (Carlito’s Way), Bridget Moynahan (I, Robot), Tom Sadowski (Wild), and Lance Reddick (The Wire).

John Wick (read our review) opened to both commercial and critical success and was noted for its amazingly staged action sequences, which makes perfect sense, since the two were known for staging stunt work and fight choreography in films like 300 (2006), Tron: Legacy (2010) and Safe (2012) long before their directorial debut feature.

John Wick: Chapter Two hits theaters on February 10th, 2017. Until then, here’s the new teaser poster, as well as some footage of Keanu Reeves in action in this behind-the-scenes clip:

 

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Valley of the Double Dragon | aka Fist Fighter (1974) Review

"Valley of the Double Dragon" Theatrical Poster

“Valley of the Double Dragon” Theatrical Poster

AKA: Kung Fu of Taekwondo
Director: Ulysses Au-Yeung Jun
Producer: Lu Ching-Hang
Cast: Kim Jin-pal, Sylvester Williams, Lin Chen Chi, Suen Yuet, Fang Mien, Liu Ping, Ma Cheung
Running Time: 88 min. 

By Paul Bramhall

When it comes to the old-school kung fu genre, it’s fairly standard for titles to sometimes go under different aliases. However Valley of the Double Dragon must surely hold the award for the number of different names it goes by, as in addition to its original title, it’s also been released as – Golden Leopard’s Brutal Revenge, Fist Fighter, King of Kung Fu, Taekwondo, and Kung Fu of Taekwondo. My viewing of the movie came courtesy of the Australian released DVD, which goes under the Fist Fighter moniker, and as far as I’m aware remains the only legitimate physical release on a digital format.

Released a year after Brue Lee’s untimely death, Valley of the Double Dragon came at a time when the kung fu genre was scrambling to find its feet in the midst of losing its biggest star. One of the lasting impacts that both Bruce Lee had on the genre, and also Raymond Chow’s recently set up Golden Harvest studio, was their love of Korean martial arts. Fighting techniques such as Hapkido and Taekwondo quickly found favor for their aesthetically pleasing visuals onscreen, with Bruce Lee casting the likes of Grandmasters Hwang In-shik and Ji Han-jae, in Way of the Dragon and Game of Death respectively. Chow continued to cast In-shik and Han-jae in a number of other Hong Kong productions, while also continuing to scout other Korean talent, such as Jhoon Rhee (When Taekwondo Strikes) and Byong Yu (The Association).

While Rhee and Yu only dabbled in the film industry long enough to make one movie each, before returning to their lives as martial arts instructors, one Korean Hapkido master that did stick around a little longer was Kim Jin-pal. A Hapkido instructor under the tutelage of Han-jae, Jin-pal was the real deal, spending the 60’s acting as a bodyguard for both Korean and U.S. presidents, and teaching the U.S. military in Vietnam as part of the army. At the beginning of the 70’s he moved to Hong Kong and opened the Flying Tiger Hapkido Studio, a nickname he’d earned based on his high flying kicks. As fate would have it, after appearing on Hong Kong television in ’73, he was quickly scouted and cast as the lead in 1973’s Tiger. The movie made him an established star, and he’d go onto make a total of 8 movies in Hong Kong over 2 short years, while becoming the Hapkido instructor for the likes of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Angela Mao.

In Valley of the Double Dragon, Jin-pal plays the leader of a small group of Chinese guerrillas fighting against the Japanese during World War II. Helmed by Ulysses Au-Yeung Jun, the Taiwanese director had a long and varied career, which saw him directing everything from classic kung fu such as Prodigal Boxer, to gritty gangster flicks like Gangland Odyssey. In Valley of the Double Dragon, the wartime setting certainly makes for a unique look and feel, however what makes it even more unique is the inclusion of an African American lead, in the form of Sylvester Williams, here in his one and only movie appearance. Considering Hong Kong cinema is not normally what you’d call ‘racially sensitive’, even over 40 years later Williams role remains the only time a Hong Kong movie has had a black lead.

Proceedings open with a group of U.S. fighter planes being gunned down from the sky by the Japanese. Despite the grainy and worn picture that the movie comes with watching it today, it’s clear that the production appears to have had a decent sized budget behind it. Both Williams and his co-pilot are able to eject and deploy their parachutes, however the co-pilot suffers the misfortune of landing in a brutal tangle of barbed wire, receiving a face full of it, and is captured as a POW. The Japanese also sight Williams coming down, but he manages to land safely and escape immediate capture, instead resulting in the Japanese launching an expansive search to track him down.

It’s while changing clothes that Williams stumbles across the Chinese guerrillas, or rather, they stumble across him. A misunderstanding sees him assume that the guerrillas are the enemy, and, having literally been caught with his pants down, proceeds to get into a fight wearing only a pair of white underpants. Definitely something you don’t see every day. Williams may not be the most graceful fighter, however he knows how to sell his punches, and conveys a considerable amount of power when called upon to throwdown. Thankfully the remainder of his fight scenes involve more clothes. After it’s established that both Williams and Jin-pal’s group of guerrillas are on the same side, they become fast friends, and team up to take down a ruthless Nazi commander, played by none other than Bob Baker.

Baker immortalized himself as the Russian boxer Petrov, who squares off against Bruce Lee in the finale of Fist of Fury, arguably one of the Little Dragon’s most iconic showdowns. His blonde fuzzy afro and handlebar moustache make him instantly recognizable, and off-screen he was in fact a student of Lee’s, which saw the pair develop a close friendship, one that even saw Baker accompany Lee when he went to work in Hong Kong. Unlike the portrayal of his characters in front of the camera though, in reality Baker was much more reserved, and didn’t enjoy the limelight that working in the film industry brought with it. As such, his appearance in Valley of the Double Dragon as a sadistic member of the Gestapo complete with a black leather trench coat, was to be his second and last. He’d go on to be interviewed for a handful of Bruce Lee documentaries, and taught Jeet Kune Do to a small number of private students, however for the remainder of his career up to his passing from cancer in 1993, he stayed out of the spotlight.

While Valley of the Double Dragon marks his final screen appearance, it’s certainly a memorable one. As an imposing member of the Gestapo, he angrily smashes up the contents of a room when he doesn’t get his way, and when spending time with a prostitute, takes it on himself to carve a message into her back with a knife. It’s rare that the villain in an old school movie comes across as intimidating before they’ve even thrown a punch, but Baker’s performance here is one of pure menace, and as an audience you’re rooting to have him get his comeuppance from the moment he’s onscreen.

In many ways Valley of the Double Dragon feels as much of a war time adventure tale as it does an old school kung fu movie, at times perhaps even more so. The action here is far from frequent, with Jin-pal holding off to unleash his kicks until 30 minutes in, and what’s there is far from graceful. However the scarcity of the action only serves to make it more meaningful when it arrives, with each fight scene feeling distinctly rough and intense. The group of Chinese guerrillas eventually disguise themselves as a travelling opera troupe, which also allows for Williams to have his face painted like one of the army generals in Chinese opera, covering his ethnicity (as well as allowing for such clanger lines as, “I never knew a black man could look so authentically Chinese!”). This structuring of the plot is reminiscent of many a western, with character traits like one of the guerrillas having a tiger tattooed onto his body every time he kills a Japanese soldier, also adding to the tone.

Events eventually culminate which see the group of 5 guerrillas holed up in an abandoned house, while surrounded by Baker and a small army of Japanese troops. It’s a satisfyingly brutal finale, which at times resembles a kung fu version of The Wild Bunch, as a bare chested Jin-pal and Williams go for broke empty handed against the multitude of pistol and sword wielding attackers. It’s during these scenes when it’s possible to witness just how powerful Jin-pal’s kicks are, while Williams uses his muscular frame to literally throw his opponents around, and throws in some nice kicks himself. Slow motion is used to great effect, both at highlighting bullet riddled deaths, reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah, but also to emphasise the form of Jin-pal’s kicking. When he’s left to face off against both Baker and a katana wielding Japanese general, there’s a real sense of desperation and urgency, which is rare to see from a 1974 production.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear to see that Valley of the Double Dragon successfully brought together numerous stars from the old-school kung fu era who shined briefly but brightly. The combined filmographies of Kim Jin-pal, Bob Baker, and Sylvester Williams may barely scrape into double figures, but the movies that they’ve left us with are all worthy of a watch, and for that, we should be thankful.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7/10

Beware of spoilers in the following clip from Valley of the Double Dragon:

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Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume One | DVD (Well Go USA)

Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume One | DVD (Well Go USA)

Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume One | DVD (Well Go USA)

RELEASE DATE: November 1, 2016

Well Go USA presents the DVD for Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume One, a 2008 martial arts series that centers around the legendary Bruce Lee.

Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume One contains the first ten episodes. The remaining 20 episodes will soon follow.  Note: Previously, this series was partially released in the U.S. by Lionsgate in a condensed 183 minute “movie” version (trailer below reflects the Lionsgate version). In its original CCTV run, the series’ consisted of 50 episodes.

Young Bruce Lee (Danny Chan of Shaolin Soccer and Ip Man 3) has no interest in studying and is obsessed with martial arts. After losing a street fight, he resolves to master kung fu under the tutelage of Master Ye Wen. Targeted by street gangs after standing up for the weak, Bruce has no other option but to leave Hong Kong for a strange and far off land: America…

Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume One also stars Michelle Lang, Gary Daniels, Ted Duran, Natalia Dzyublo, Wang Luoyong, Hazen McIntyre, Ray Park, Tim Storms, Micheal Jai White, Traci Ann Wolfe, Mark Dacascos and Ash Gordey.

Product Features:

  • Chinese Language (English/English SDH)
  • First ten episodes on 3 DVDs

Pre-order Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume One from Amazon.com today!

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

Gordon Chan’s ‘God of War’ is in place for Well Go USA

"God of War" Chinese Teaser Poster

“God of War” Chinese Teaser Poster

Fresh from finishing The Four trilogy, Gordon Chan (Thunderbolt) is ready to battle it out once again with a period piece entitled God of War, which stars Sammo Hung (The Bodyguard, 14 Blades) and Vincent Zhao (The White Haired Witch of Lunar KingdomWu Dang). The film is currently in post-production with a release date scheduled for March 2017.

According to Variety, Well Go USA has acquired rights in North America, and other English-speaking territories to the film. The same source adds: “The film is the story of how a Chinese general defeated Japanese pirates by using unique stratagems and maverick tactics.”

God of War also stars Yasuaki Kurata (Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen), who is sharing his screen with Sammo Hung for the first time since Millionaire’s Express 30 years ago.

Stay tuned for more updates and a trailer. Until then, here’s a clip of Hung and Kurata duking it out in Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars:

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Mechanic: Resurrection | Blu-ray & DVD (Summit)

"Mechanic: Resurrection" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Mechanic: Resurrection” Japanese Theatrical Poster

RELEASE DATE: November 22, 2016

Summit presents the Blu-ray & DVD for Dennis Gansel’s Mechanic: Resurrection, starring Jason Statham (Redemption).

The Mechanic (Statham) thought he’d escaped his former deadly life and disappeared. But now somebody’s found him, and kidnapped the woman he loves. Neither one of them will get out alive unless he completes a diabolical list of assassinations of the most dangerous men in the world…

Mechanic: Resurrection boasts and all-star cast that includes Jessica Alba (Sin City), Tommy Lee Jones (Rolling Thunder), Michelle Yeoh (Police Assassins), Yayaying Rhatha Phongam (Lupin III) and Natalie Burn (The Expendables 3).

Pre-order Mechanic: Resurrection from Amazon.com today!

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Remake of the Shaw classic ‘Magic Blade’ gets a teaser poster

"Moonlight Blade" Chinese Teaser Poster

“Moonlight Blade” Chinese Teaser Poster

Celestial is partnering with the newly-established Tencent Pictures to produce yet another Shaw Brothers remake titled Moonlight Blade, a re-working of Chor Yuen’s The Magic Blade, a 1976 swordfight-filled martial arts film starring Ti Lung (The Pirate) and Lo Lieh (Bruce’s Deadly Fingers).

Tencent has hired Xu Haofeng (The Master) to direct the project, which he will shoot when he wraps up his current project, Hidden Blade.

Xu made a name for himself by penning the screenplay for Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster. But it was 2011’s The Sword Identity, his directorial debut, which showed Xu’s true talent. Xu is known for presenting martial arts in a less stylized and more realistic manner.

If you’re curious to see what Xu is capable of, be sure to catch The Master (aka The Final Master, read our review), which was recently released by U.S. release by United Entertainment Partners last May. Additionally, Lionsgate will be releasing the DVD for Xu’s Judge Archer in November.

You can also look forward to Derek Yee’s fourthcoming Shaw Brothers remake of Death Duel (1977), starring Kenny Lin Geng-Xin (Young Detective Dee), Peter Ho Yun-Tung (The Monkey King), Jiang Yi-Yan (The Bullet Vanishes) and Jiang Meng-Jie (Kung Fu Man).

We’ll keep you updated with Magic Blade as we hear more!

Updates: Check out the new teaser poster for Moonlight Blade (via AFS).

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