Donnie Yen wants ‘To Be Number One’ in a new gangster flick

"Flash Point" Japanese DVD Poster

“Flash Point” Japanese DVD Poster

Donnie Yen (Ip Man 3) has accepted the title role of real-life gangster Ng Sek-ho (aka Crippled Ho) in Chasing the Dragon, a remake of the classic Hong Kong gangster movie To Be Number One. Wong Jing (Mercenaries from Hong Kong) will produce and Andy Lau (The Bodyguard) is currently in talks to co-star. Reowned cinematograpber Jason Kwan (As the Light Goes Out, Helios) will be directing (via DIP).

The original 1991 film centered on the rise and fall of Ng Sek-ho, as portrayed by Ray Lui (Flash Point). The film also starred Kent Cheng (Ip Man 3), Cecilia Yip (Organized Crime and Triad Bureau), Amy Yip (Miracles), Waise Lee (The Big Heat), Kenneth Tsang (Angel Terminators) and Lo Lieh (The Deadly Kick).

It was last reported that Yen’s next film would be Wesley, loosely followed by Dragon City and City of Darkness. For now, all these titles have now found their place in Yen’s long list of off again/on again titles, along with The Master, Noodle Man, a possible Ip Man 4/Flash Point 2 and of course, Ice Man 2One Donnie Yen project you can count on is Star Wars: Rogue One, which hits theaters on December 16, 2016.

Shooting for the To Be Number remake is expected to start next month.

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Kickboxer: Vengeance (2016) Review

"Kickboxer: Vengeance" Theatrical Poster

“Kickboxer: Vengeance” Theatrical Poster

Director: John Stockwell
Writer: Dimitri Logothetis, Jim McGrath
Cast: Alain Moussi, Georges St-Pierre, T.J. Storm, Matthew Ziff, Sam Medina, Dave Bautista, Sue-Lynn Ansari, Darren Shahlavi, Gina Carano, Hawn Tran, Sara Malakul Lane, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Tanzpol Chuksrida, Joshua Tran
Running Time: 90 min.

By Zach Nix

Kickboxer: Vengeance is a remake/reboot of the original and classic Jean-Claude Van Damme martial arts film, Kickboxer, which was released in 1989. While there were a string of Van Damme-less Kickboxer sequels released in the 90s starring Sasha Mitchell and Marc Dacascos, Kickboxer: Vengeance is the latest entry within the franchise after a solid twenty-year dry spell. Director John Stockwell (In the Blood) and screenwriters Dimitri Logothetis and Jim McGrath aim to not only pay tribute to the original, but also to start up a new series of sequels, to which there is already one, entitled Kickboxer: Retaliation, in production as I write this review. In a world filled with big budget remakes of hugely iconic intellectual properties, it’s nice to have a reboot of a smaller action and martial arts film, as cult classics tend to get swept under the rug in favor of larger reboots.

While some may argue as to whether Kickboxer: Vengeance is a remake, reboot, or reimagining of the original film, I would argue that it is a reboot-quel, as it feels like a sequel in nature due to Van Damme’s inclusion but also as a reboot to a long defunct franchise by passing the torch from one generation of stars and fans to the next. Similar reboot-quels as of recent include Terminator: Genisys, Mad Max: Fury Road, Creed, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, all films that aimed to revitalize franchises who had not seen an installment in several years through the incorporation of previous cast, crew, and canon. As for Kickboxer: Vengeance, I am glad to report that the reboot-quel not only successfully pays tribute to the original, but also one-ups it as a much superior film whilst paving the road for more sequels to come.

The plot, as fans of the classic will immediately recognize, is as follows. Kurt Sloane (Alain Moussi) is the manager of his karate champion brother, Eric Sloane (Darren Shahlavi). When Eric is offered a large amount of money by a fight organizer, Marcia (Gina Carano), to take part in an underground fight in Thailand against Muay Thai champion Tong Po (David Bautista), he accepts, although his brother stresses him not too. Unfortunately, Eric dies in the fight, leaving Kurt enraged against Tong Po and in mourning. After a failed attempt to murder Tong Po, Kurt seeks out Eric’s trainer, Master Durand (Jean-Claude Van Damme), to teach him Muay Thai in order to defeat Tong Po in a one-on-one fight.

Fans can relax knowing that Kickboxer: Vengeance doesn’t shamelessly rehash the original film’s plot points beat for beat, as it mostly uses the frame work of the original to tell the same story, whilst also throwing in new sub-plots, situations, and action scenes that never occurred within the original. The film shakes things up by dropping you into the middle of the conflict, as it than flashes back three months earlier to set up the exposition that fans will recognize, although this time Kurt’s brother is murdered, not simply paralyzed. Thankfully, the film shakes up the monotony of the training sequences by throwing in new action scenes and situations in the middle of the picture that never occurred in the original and providing a sub-plot concerning corrupt cops and their involvement with the illegal underground fights that was nowhere within the original as well. Overall, Kickboxer: Vengeance outdoes the original by packing slightly more meat into its narrative and for shaking up the formula a bit, whilst also providing far superior fights and numerous action stars and sports fighters to boot.

Kickboxer: Vengeance features a very impressive cast of recognizable and experienced sports fighters that turns the film into a celebration of all things mixed martial arts, sort of the same way that Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables paid tribute to the by gone era of the eighties action picture with its cast. Alain Moussi fills in Van Damme’s shoes as the franchise’s newest Kurt Sloane. While he is hardly a dramatically compelling actor, Moussi proves himself a solid physical performer, taking part within many fights that demonstrate his physical commitment to the production. Bautista also does solid work as the franchise’s newest Tong Po, using his imposing physical stature to great affect. Other small supporting roles within the film include Gina Carano as a villainous fight organizer, George St. Pierre as a desperate fighter whose allegiances seem shaky, and Darren Shahlavi as Kurt’s brother in his final screen performance. It’s extremely sad to watch Tong Po kill Shahlavi’s character early on in the film, as the scene carries more emotional weight to it considering that Shahlavi died in 2015 and that his death in the film is so particularly brutal. Shahlavi’s part may be small, but it is also quite affective, and a nice send off to one of martial arts’ late greats, may he rest in peace.

While martial arts fans would have turned out for Kickboxer: Vengeance regardless of who was in it, Van Damme’s inclusion is a huge coup. Kickboxer: Vengeance could be considered Van Damme’s Creed, as he, much like Stallone, goes full circle from the apprentice of the original film to the master in the reboot, more than twenty years later. He’s not going to be snagging an Oscar nomination like Stallone did, but Van Damme truly does give one of his career best performances here. He blends both sternness and maturity with his trademark goofiness, offering up a wink and a smile here and there, almost as a nod to his fans for always sticking by him all of these years. This is the perfect kind of role for Van Damme to play in his latter years, as it acknowledges his youthful past, gives him a few chances to show off his still impressive moves, and allows him to demonstrate his maturity in a role as wise master. The other great thing about Van Damme in this film is that he is in the entire movie, not simply a scene or two like some of the other stars in the film. He has a ton of screen time, participates in several fights, and is always involved with the story at hand. Unlike John Hyams’ Dragon Eyes, which featured Van Damme in a limited but affective mentor role, Kickboxer: Vengeance places Van Damme front and center to Moussi’s lead.

Unfortunately, there is one notable flaw about Van Damme’s part in the film. While he appears to be a good sport throughout, performing what appears to be all of his own moves on screen, there are a few very notable instances within the film where his voice is dubbed by someone other than himself. I immediately picked up on it early on, and had flashbacks to some of Steven Seagal’s worst post-dubbing moments in many of his own direct to video films. While it only appears here and there, and is honestly quite hard to pick up on unless you have an ear for this kind of stuff, it is extremely noticeable during the final fight when nearly every word that comes out of Van Damme’s mouth, especially ones depicted on screen, are not his own. It’s a shame that this otherwise technically proficient film features such obvious post-dubbing that plagues the worst of direct to video cinema. It’s a minor flaw in the grand scheme of things, and the only element of the film that outright hurts its theatrical quality, but it’s a shame that it appears within one of Van Damme’s best performances.

Besides its stellar cast, Kickboxer: Vengeance boasts an abundance of martial arts fights within its swift ninety minute run time. Moussi participates in almost every fight of the film, and has a one on one match with just about every one in the cast. Even Van Damme participates in several of the film’s fights, including a surprise throw down between him and St. Pierre. While not a direct tournament fighter film, although it does share similarities with the sub-genre, Kickboxer: Vengeance avoids the trapping of redundant one on one matches by throwing in several action scenes where Moussi specifically has to go up against multiple opponents amidst different settings, whether it be on the streets of Thailand or in the halls of a prison. While most martial arts fans would have been fine with numerous one on one matches, I for one appreciated Stockwell’s decision to craft several different kind of action scenes throughout, thereby making each one unique and different from the last.

Although some martial fans will always see the original Kickboxer as an undisputed classic that cannot be topped, I for one am here to argue and proclaim that Kickboxer: Vengeance is not only a great update and reboot of the original, but a far superior film. Before all of you Van Damme and martial arts fans come after me, let me explain my case. In all honesty, I always felt that the original Kickboxer was a flawed and slightly boring martial arts picture that only got by based upon the nostalgia its fans had attached to it, no offense to fans of said picture. That being said, Kickboxer: Vengeance not only gives you the familiar story of the original, but also offers up a greater variety of action scenes, a far more involving training process, an immensely stellar cast, as well as sub-plots that add more meat to the narrative. What I am getting at here, is that Kickboxer: Vengeance has the advantage over the original simply because it offers up more entertainment bang for your buck. There are also some very fun nods to the original that fans will get a real kick out of. I dare not spoil them for those who have not seen the film yet, but they elevate the picture that much higher for its respect of the original.

All insults of the original aside, the reboot is not entirely perfect either. As I stated before, the most glaring error of the picture is Van Damme’s obvious voice dubbing, which pulls the viewer directly out of the picture. It’s a shame that the worst error of Seagal’s direct to video cinema not only found its way into a Van Damme picture, whom is typically never dubbed over by someone else, but also within one of the better American martial arts pictures of recent years. Another error of the picture is that it moves at too swift a pace at times, gliding quickly over rather important scenes that need more time in order to drive their effect home, most notably Eric Sloane’s death. It also doesn’t help that the classic Kickboxer story is not the world’s most dramatically compelling tale, as it is mostly an excuse to craft a vehicle for martial artists to show off their moves. However, the pros of this reboot outweigh its cons by a long shot. It’s not often that martial arts fans get a reboot, let alone a film, of this stature with such a notable budget and ensemble cast. The fights are uniformly excellent too, from both their hard-hitting choreography to their smooth cinematography. And Van Damme’s involvement in the film makes it a must see event, brining his career full circle from the young ambitious wannabe star to full-fledged action veteran. There’s no doubt about it, Kickboxer: Vengeance is not only a solid martial arts picture, but also superior to the original Kickboxer in every way.

Zach Nix’s Rating: 7/10

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The Legend of Bruce Lee: The Early Years | DVD (Well Go USA)

wellgo-usa-DVD-caseRELEASE DATE: November 1, 2016

Well Go USA presents the DVD for The Legend of Bruce Lee: The Early Years, a martial arts biopic that centers around the legendary Bruce Lee.

The Legend of Bruce Lee: The Early Years follows the years of Bruce Lee’s life prior to playing Kato in The Green Hornet (1966–1967) and his first leading role in The Big Boss (1971), which catapulted him to international stardom.

Pre-order The Legend of Bruce Lee: The Early Years from Amazon.com today!

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Double Impact (1991) Review

"Double Impact" Theatrical Poster

“Double Impact” Theatrical Poster

Director: Sheldon Lettich
Writer: Sheldon Lettich, Jean-Claude Van Damme
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Geoffrey Lewis, Alonna Shaw, Bolo Yeung, Alicia Stevenson, Paul Aylett, Alan Scarfe, Philip Chan, Corrina Everson, Julie Strain, Wu Fong Lung, John Sham, Sarah-Jane Varley, Kamel Krifa
Running Time: 107 min.

By Kyle Warner

Few things scream “90’s” quite like Jean-Claude Van Damme starring opposite himself in an action movie. The concept of taking an action star and having them play two roles in the same movie is something that producers keep coming back to, often with lackluster results. Jet Li fought his alternate dimension doppelganger in The One, Jackie Chan teamed up with his twin in Twin Dragons, and Van Damme himself has returned to the concept more than once, playing twins in Maximum Risk, a clone in Replicant, and… there’s probably more. Pretty sure he might’ve crossed paths with himself from a different timeline in Timecop. And did Van Damme fight Van Damme in a Universal Soldier movie? No? Well, I just gave them an idea for a sequel. You’re welcome (I’m sorry).

Double Impact kicks off with a Western businessman named Paul Wagner who’s just cut the ribbon on an important tunnel for trade and transportation in Hong Kong. That night, while driving home, Mr. and Mrs. Wagner are assassinated by Triads who’re in league with the businessman’s partner, Nigel Griffith. The only members of the Wagner family to survive are the twin baby boys. The family’s nanny takes one baby and runs off into the night while the Wagner’s bodyguard Frank (frequent Clint Eastwood co-star Geoffrey Lewis) takes the other baby and flees the country. Fast forward 25 years and we find Frank as the surrogate father to Chad Wagner (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who has grown up to be a karate and yoga instructor in Los Angeles. In the years since the incident, Frank has been trying to find out what happened to the other Wagner twin, and photographic evidence places the grown-up Alex Wagner (Van Damme with slicked back hair) in Hong Kong. Frank tells Chad as little as possible before he books them a flight to Hong Kong so that they may go in search of Alex and reclaim their family’s fortunes.

Because Chad knows little or nothing about the reasons behind the trip to Hong Kong, he’s a understandably confused when people in the city act like they know him. One guy gives him “cash money” and a girl reaches down his pants as soon as they get a moment alone. If this sounds familiar to how the unwitting French twin in Maximum Risk was treated upon arrival in the US, that’s because it is! Except here it’s mostly played for laughs. The Hong Kong Van Damme named Alex shows up, head-butts LA’s Chad, and we enter exposition time.

As Frank family tells it, the Wagner brothers need revenge even if they don’t know it. Alex has lived a tough life as a smuggler but he knows next to nothing about his parents and doesn’t seem to care. Chad is more curious, but he’s lived a smiley, happy-go-lucky existence until now, so I’m not sure that revenge or claiming a Hong Kong tunnel really rated high on his to-do list. But revenge must happen, because the loyal bodyguard wills it! And so the twins team up to kill a whole bunch of bad guys in their quest to get their tunnel back… The tunnel seems to be the ultimate goal, even though it’s only glimpsed at the opening and its importance seems ambiguous at best (also, it’s a tunnel).

The chief villain who betrayed Mr. Wagner 25 years back is the real estate mogul Nigel Griffith (Lethal Weapon 3’s Alan Scarfe). Griffith is described as a squeaky-clean businessman and is compared to NY’s Donald Trump. But if you spend just five minutes in a room with Griffith, you realize he’s actually a power mad supervillain (also like Donald Trump). Teamed up with Griffith is Triad boss Zhang (Hard Boiled’s Philip Chan), an equally power mad gangster. Both bad guys have their moments where they’re slimy and evil and fun, but it’s their henchmen that make for more memorable villains. Griffith’s right-hand-lady is the female bodybuilder Corinna Everson, who makes for an intimidating baddie that seems like she just stepped off a Bond movie set. Zhang’s henchman is Moon, a scarred, one-eyed muscle man played by Bolo Yeung (Bloodsport). Bolo demands the viewer’s attention at all times, taking over scenes even when he has nothing to do but just stand there. It’s another cool villain for the veteran who’s played a long line of villains in his career.

There is some good action in the movie, particularly in the finale, which features a few creative, cringe-worthy deaths. Van Damme’s fight with Bolo is the film’s highlight. The two impressive physical specimens make for a good fight when duking out with lesser mortals so when pitted against one another it’s really something for the fans to enjoy.

The ‘twin thing’ is gimmicky and occasionally lame, with subpar special effects, eyelines that don’t match, and contrived reasons to keep the brothers at odds with each other. Van Damme has said that he wanted to do the film as a means to help change his image, as one twin is a violent man and the other is a more innocent average guy, and he got to play with comedy, romance, and drama in the film. Van Damme’s performances in the film are two opposite extremes, neither one of them particularly endearing. Chad is a wide-eyed nice guy with a questionable sense of fashion and Alex is a cigar chewing, hard drinking smuggler. Though Alex is more a product of action movies, Chad is just as unbelievable and silly. Van Damme’s performances usually land somewhere between the extremes of Chad and Alex—it’s a comfort zone the actor has abused, but it’s also where he’s best. Here, when forced to the polar opposites of both characters, you see that the star still had much to learn about the acting craft. Outside of the action scenes, I can’t say that Double Impact is some of Van Damme’s best work.

Any movie with long lost twins fighting bad guys is automatically going to be a little bit silly. Speaking only for myself, I can mostly laugh off Double Impact’s stupidity and enjoy the movie anyway. The action is pretty well done, the villains are memorable and mean, and though Van Damme’s performance is lacking, he cannot be accused of phoning it in. It’s a stupid movie but I rather like it.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 6.5/10

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Trailer for ‘Rings’ uploads Koji Suzuki’s VHS footage online

"Rings" Theatrical Poster

“Rings” Theatrical Poster

Brace yourself for Rings, a new chapter in the beloved Ring horror franchise (originated by Koji Suzuki and Hideo Nakata in 1998’s Ringu and last seen in the recent Sadako vs Kayako, aka The Ring vs The Grudge).

In Rings, a young woman becomes worried about her boyfriend when he explores a dark subculture surrounding a mysterious videotape said to kill the watcher seven days after he has viewed it. She sacrifices herself to save her boyfriend, and in doing so makes a horrifying discovery: there is a “movie within the movie” that no one has ever seen before…

Rings is directed by F. Javier Gutierrez (Before the Fall) and produced by Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy). The film stars Laura Wiggins (Hard Drive), Johnny Galecki (The Master Cleanse), Aimee Teagarden (Scream 4) and Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket).

The film hits screen on October 28, 2016. Until then, don’t miss the film’s trailer:

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Judge Archer | DVD (Lionsgate)

Judge Archer | DVD (Lionsgate)

Judge Archer | DVD (Lionsgate)

RELEASE DATE: November 1, 2016

Lionsgate presents the long-awaited U.S. release for Haofeng Xu’s Judge Archer on DVD, which stars Yu Chenghui (The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom), Lvy Lee (Poor Rich Father) and Song Yang (The Final Master).

Haofeng Xu (The Final Master) made a name for himself by penning the screenplay for Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster but due to that film’s lengthy production process, Haofeng has managed to make not one but two movies of his own in the interim. The first was his directorial debut, 2011’s The Sword Identity, which received a release in North America from Lionsgate.

2013’s Judge Archer (aka Arrow Arbitration) features Haofeng’s trademark of presenting the martial arts in a less stylized and more realistic manner, perhaps not unlike the 2007 Japanese film Black Belt or David Mamet’s 2011 MMA flick, Redbelt.

Judge Archer is a historical picture that follows the title character as he resolves disputes between various martial arts schools, but is unable to put an end to the romantic and familial struggles that arise in his own home.

Media: Original trailer. | New North American trailer.

Pre-order Judge Archer from Amazon.com today.

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

Deal on Fire! Legend of the Fist | Blu-ray | Only $9.99 – Expires soon!

"Legend of the Fist" Blu-ray Cover

“Legend of the Fist” Blu-ray Cover

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Donnie Yen’s Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, directed by Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs).

In Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, Donnie Yen plays Chen Zhen, a role made famous by Bruce Lee in the 1972 film Fist of Fury. It’s set in Shanghai International Settlement, seven years after the events of the Bruce Lee classic!

Legend of the Fist also stars Shu Qi (Storm Riders), Anthony Wong (Punished) and Shawn Yue (Motorway).

Order Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen from Amazon.com today!

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Li Bingbing replaces Fan Bingbing in Jason Statham’s ‘Meg’

"Wild Card" Japanese DVD Cover

“Wild Card” Japanese DVD Cover

Meg, Warner Bros.’ giant prehistoric shark movie starring Jason Statham (The Transporter, Wild Card), just gained two more stars: Jon Turtletaub (Last Vegas) and Fan Bingbing (The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom).

The monster movie concerns the threat of a Megalodon, the titular Meg, who terrorizes people off of the coast of China.

Since this is a Warner Bros. production, this marks a major studio lead for Statham, who hasn’t led a major studio film in quite a while, or at least one of this stature. He recently co-starred in Furious 7, but Meg will be his highest profile-leading role for certain.

It’s not often that action stars tackle creature features either. A fairly recent example that comes to mind is Legendary, the DTV monster movie in which Scott Adkins and Dolph Lundgren tackle a giant lizard. As for Statham, I highly doubt that he will be using any martial arts moves on the monster, although he will most likely resort to his charisma and intensity, as well as some weapons training to take down the creature. Martial arts fans will naturally find themselves attracted to this project simply for Statham’s involvement.

Originally to be directed by horror auteur Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel), the film will now be directed by Jon Turtletaub (National Treasure). As Turtletaub is a much different director than Roth, I would expect Meg to adhere more closely to blockbuster adventure than creature feature horror. While it would have been neat to see Roth homage Jaws and possible Jaws rip-offs, as he is a huge fan of B-horror, Turtletaub is probably the safer bet for guiding a blockbuster to box office success.

Meg is currently aiming for a 2017 release date. Principal photography and production will begin later this year in China and New Zealand.

Stay tuned for more updates on this one.

Updates: According to AFS, Li Bingbing (Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal) is replacing Fan Bingbing (The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom) in Meg.

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Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (1972) Review

"Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Shunya Ito
Story: Toru Shinohara
Writer: Fumio Konami, Hirn Matsuda, Shunya Ito
Cast: Meiko Kaji, Fumio Watanabe, Kayoko Shiraishi, Yukie Kagawa, Yuki Arasa, Hideo Murota, Kyoichi Sato
Running Time: 94 min.

By Kyle Warner

In the opening moments of Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41, we find our antihero Matsu the Scorpion (Meiko Kaji) chained up in solitary confinement. She’s been locked away for a year after the bloodshed she caused in the previous film. The series’ familiar theme song “Urami Bushi” plays over the credits while Matsu grips a stolen spoon between her teeth and sharpens it against the cement floor. By the time the song is done, the spoon is sharpened to a point and made into an effective prison shiv. For while the injustice that landed her in jail has been resolved, she’s made new enemies in prison, and not all of them ended up dead by the end of the first film. Like the scorpion she is named after, Matsu bides her time, allows her opponents to think they have the upper hand, and at the last second… she strikes.

The cruel Warden Goda (Fumio Watanabe), left forever scarred by Matsu in the original film, has made it his personal mission to see her suffer. With a high-ranking bureaucrat arriving to inspect the prison, Goda allows Matsu a one-day reprieve from solitary so that she may enjoy the sun and greet the inspector on her own two feet. Matsu is barely able to stand during the inspection, making Goda believe he’s finally broken her. But when he gets too close, the dagger that had once been a spoon stabs at his face, leaving a new scar for him to remember her by.

The attack reignites the legend of Scorpion among the other female inmates, so Goda decides to humiliate her in the worst way possible. While the other women work, Matsu is tied to a tree—essentially crucified—and then gang-raped by guards in masks. The women look on in a mix of horror and disgust while Goda grins. The rape and a subsequent beating leave Matsu in terrible shape. She’s then loaded onto a truck with six other women, basically dead. However, in mid-transport, Matsu comes back to life, and kills one of the guards. Seizing their chance, the seven women make a break for it and disappear into the hills.

While the Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion takes place primarily behind bars, Jailhouse 41 is about the law’s hunt for the fugitives. Matsu becomes an unlikely leader to the other women. In the group she also finds a new nemesis in the child killer Hide Oba (Kayoko Shiraishi), though the two women are more alike than either would ever likely admit. The women go from one forgotten (haunted?) town to the next, playing hit-and-runs with Warden Goda’s men all the while trying to avoid the many traps that have been set for them.

In almost every way imaginable, Jailhouse 41 is a darker chapter than the one that came before it. It’s also a better film, I think. There is still plenty of objectionable content in the sequel, but the director’s intent seems clearer, as does his symbolism. Women again face horrific situations at the hands of men in Jailhouse 41 but, unlike the original film, here it’s clear that the filmmakers share our horror, and the camera is not caught ogling the ladies. For exploitation cinema, it’s a delicate balancing act between showing an offensive act and appearing to glorify it. Jailhouse 41 performs that balancing act better than the original.

I mentioned symbolism in the previous paragraph; there’s a lot of in in Shunya Ito’s Scorpion films. Ito looked up to Nagisa Oshima and Luis Bunuel, both of whom mixed politics with surrealism in their films, and it’s clear that Ito’s trying to say something about Japan and the country’s nationalist past. However, beyond the Japanese flag appearing at odd times in the original Scorpion, I must confess I didn’t understand everything he was going for. In Jailhouse 41, political and social commentary is easier to read, making for a deeper film experience. One sequence has a couple rowdy Japanese men on a tour bus fondly recalling “the good old days” of the war when they could rape Chinese women at gunpoint and get away with it. That they then see one of the female escapees as a similarly disposable human being is no big stretch of the imagination. The Scorpion films, with perhaps Jailhouse 41 in particular, are a raging war cry against Japanese nationalism and power. And because the “hero” of Scorpion is a woman behind bars, Japanese power is here represented as corrupt lawmen—but the perhaps the more important thing is that they are men. In a way, Matsu the Scorpion more closely resembles the haunted ghosts of Ringu, The Grudge, and Retribution than any mortal avenger of Japanese film. She is a wraith. She is feminist rage with a prison shiv, and she seeks to not only satisfy her own need for vengeance but also (when it’s convenient) exact revenge on behalf of fellow women who’ve been wronged by lecherous and deceitful men.

Meiko Kaji (Stray Cat Rock) further settles into the role of Matsu the Scorpion. Don’t hold me to it, but I don’t think Matsu speaks a word until we’re over an hour into the film. (Kaji’s songs are played often, though, each of them cool and haunting.) In total Kaji might have three different lines of dialogue in the entire movie. Though given a mostly silent role, Kaji is no less intimidating, and really sells Matsu the Scorpion as one of the baddest, meanest antiheroes in all of cinema. I’m still not convinced that the Scorpion series doesn’t belong on the horror shelf. Matsu the Scorpion’s kills certainly belong alongside the best of Voorhees and Myers. One such kill in Jailhouse 41 finds a dead guard’s manhood replaced by a large tree branch. It’s… pretty messed up.

One complaint about the film would be that five out of the six women Matsu is in league with are basically interchangeable. We know them by their crimes (which are read off by a ghost woman reminiscent of the prophet specter from Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood), but beyond their past misdeeds we never get to know them much better. Only Kayoko Shiraishi’s Hide gets some serious character development, and the audience is put into knots trying to decide whether to sympathize with her or hate her guts. Whereas Meiko Kaji performs her role with steely silence, Shiraishi (Yamato) is loud, abrasive, and has all the crazed energy of an angry hyena. From the start, Matsu and Hide hate one another, but as they’re forced to rely on each other they become unlikely allies, making for some of the most interesting character interactions of the series.

Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 is one of the most thought-provoking and visually striking pieces of exploitation cinema you’re ever likely to see. It’s definitely not for all audiences, but I thought it was excellent.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 8/10

About this release: Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 arrives on Blu-ray in the US and the UK in the box set of the four original Scorpion films from Arrow Video. As of right now, Arrow has not said whether they have plans to make the films available individually, like the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series. On the Jailhouse 41 disc, we get a few new interviews; critic Kier-La Janisse, Japanese film expert Jasper Sharp, and Scorpion production designer Tadayuki Kuwana. My favorite of the interviews is with Janisse. She puts the Scorpion series (and Jailhouse 41 in particular) into historical perspective not just as a female revenge movie or a women’s prison film, but explains its importance as a piece of feminist cinema. It’s the longest of the disc’s interviews and the most interesting. Jasper Sharp gives us a rundown of director Shunya Ito’s credits, most of which remain totally obscure to Western audiences. Ito only has 14 credits as a director in his four decade long career, with his latest coming in 2013. I for one would be very happy to see some of Ito’s other works, just to see if they’re as crazy and visually interesting as his Scorpion films. Tadayuki Kuwana shares some of his memories of working alongside Ito on the Scorpion films. The series’ production design is a big part of its success so I enjoyed hearing from his experiences on set.

Now then, I must comment on the picture quality of the new Blu-rays: it’s definitely lacking. Arrow says they were supplied original film negatives from Toei and they gave it a 2K restoration for this release, so this seems to be a case of poor source materials and not a transfer gone wrong. Murky, grainy, and very blue (I’m talking A Snake of June levels of blue at times), the first two films of the set don’t look all that great in comparison to other films from the time period that’ve been ported to Blu-ray, by this company or many others. Having not seen the films in theatres and with no instant access to the previous DVDs, I can’t say whether this picture is representative of how the films have always looked, or if this is a noticeable upgrade from the picture of the old DVD. The mono soundtrack is good, at least. It’s a very impressive box set (lovely original art, too), but the video definitely does leave something to be desired.

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

Watch the new trailer for Oxide Pang’s action epic ‘My War’

"My War" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"My War" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Oxide Pang (Bangkok Haunted), 1/2 of the directing duo known as The Pang Brothers (The Eye, The Eye 2), is back with My War, an epic blockbuster starring Liu Ye (The Last Supper), Wang Luodan (Rise of the Legend) and Tony Yang (Phantom of the Theatre). My War hits Chinese theaters on September 30, 2016.

According to sources, My War tells of the romance and friendship among a group of soldiers who fought in the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (CPVA) in the early 1950s, during the Korean War. | 1st trailer.

Updates: Watch the film’s newest trailer (via FCS).

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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: 15th Anniversary Edition | Blu-ray/4K (Sony)

cthd

RELEASE DATE: October 18, 2016

Details have emerged for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s upcoming 15th anniversary 4K Blu-ray (pre-order here) and Blu-ray editions (pre-order here) of director Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Named “Best Picture of the Year” by over 100 critics nationwide! Two master warriors (Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh) are faced with their greatest challenge when the treasured Green Destiny sword isstolen. A young aristocrat (Zhang Ziyi) prepares for an arranged marriage, but soon reveals her superior fighting talents and her deeply romantic past. As each warrior battles for justice, they come face to face with their worst enemy – and the inescapable, enduring power of love.

The upcoming releases (both the 4K Blu-ray and Blu-ray) will be sourced from a new 4K master and will offer exclusive new and never-before-seen features.

Extra Features:

  • New! Six never-before-seen deleted scenes
  • New! Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: A Retrospective with director Ang Lee, screenwriter James Schamus, and editor Tim Squyres
  • New! The Making of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • New! A Love Before Time Music Videos
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Audio commentary with dierctor Ange Lee and screenwriter James Schamus
  • Audio commentary with cinematographer Peter Pau
  • Conversation with actress Michelle Yeoh – Featurette

Technical Specs:

  • Mandarin/Taiwan Dolby Atmos track (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 compatible)
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Subtitles
  • English, French, Portuguese, Czech, Russian, Slovak, Polish, Croatian, Korean, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Hebrew, Slovene, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Romanian, Thai, Spanish, Greek, Turkish, Japanese

 

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles, News | Tagged | 4 Comments

‘Raid 2’ stars are back in new teaser posters for ‘Headshot’

"Headshot" Teaser Poster

"Headshot" Teaser Poster

The Mo Brothers, the filmmaking duo separately known as Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel, are teaming up with The Raid’s Iko Uwais for an action film titled Headshot. Starring alongside Uwais will be fellow Indonesian actresses Chelsea Elizabeth Islan (Refrain) and Julie Estelle (“Hammer Girl” from Raid 2), as well as Sunny Pang (The Collector).

According to Deadline, Headshot focuses on an amnesiac (Uwais) who, Bourne Identity-style, washes ashore with a serious and mysterious head injury. Shortly after being nursed back to health by a young doctor (Islan), his past comes back to haunt him.

If you’re familiar with The Mo Brothers’ work – such as the thrillers Macabre and Killers – expect a serious amount of bloodletting and hardcore violence. Of course, topping it off with Uwais’ fluid martial arts skill, one can only imagine the film’s insane outcome. After all, it is called Headshot.

Other Uwais films potentially in the works include Gareth Evans’ Blister and Peter Berg’s Mile 22. You can also catch him in the upcoming sci-fi film, Beyond Skyline, a sequel to 2010’s Skyline.

Media: Character posters. | Teaser poster. | Stills.

Updates: Enjoy six new character posters from tiff.

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Blood Father (2016) Review

"Blood Father" Theatrical Poster

"Blood Father" Theatrical Poster

Director: Jean-François Richet
Writer: Peter Craig, Andrea Berloff
Cast: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna, Michael Parks, William H. Macy, Elisabeth Rohm, Thomas Mann, Dale Dickey, Daniel Moncada, Raoul Trujillo, Richard Cabral
Running Time: 88 min.

By Zach Nix

Mel Gibson (Lethal Weapon, Mad Max) is one of cinema’s most rewarding figures. He’s worn many faces over the decades: actor, action star, filmmaker, and even comedian. Although he’s been successful on all fronts and always been a reliable entertainer, I personally believe that Gibson shines best as an action star. While the initial years of his career were filled with successful action classics here and there, Gibson seems to have struggled to re-establish himself as the mainstream action star he once was, which is a shame. In the last six years, Gibson has more or less devoted his career to action cinema, appearing within four action films of varying quality and as varying characters: a mournful father out for revenge in Edge of Darkness, a down on his luck getaway driver in Get the Gringo, a cartoonish super villain in Machete Kills, and a mercenary with a grudge in The Expendables 3. While all of those films are from perfect, I think everyone can agree that the best part of those four movies is none other than Gibson. The point being, Gibson always brings his A-game to every film that he does, even when the film is undeserved and even if mass audiences refuse to flock to his movies as they used too.

This all brings us to Gibson’s latest and purest genre offering, Blood Father. The neo-western, directed by French filmmaker Jean-Francois Richet (Assault on Precinct 13, Mesrine) advertises a dirtier and grittier Gibson than ever seen before. The Australian star has dabbled in hard-edged films before, but none as pure and vengeful as Blood Father. While the film’s basic genre premise and B-movie imagery seemed promising, I am sad to report that the film is fairly disappointing, especially for those hoping for a simplistic and streamlined action vehicle. Besides Gibson, who shines thanks to an immense amount of pathos and memorable but short action scenes, just about every other element of this pulpy action thriller hinders it from being the emotional and viscerally affective genre picture that it could have been.

Blood Father tells the story of John Link (Mel Gibson), a father of one and survivor of alcoholism who lives by himself in a run down trailer. However, it’s his daughter, Lydia (Erin Moriarty), who is the true basket case. After running off to live with gangsters, Lydia comes to regret her decisions, especially when she accidentally shoots her gangster boyfriend, Jonah (Diego Luna). When Lydia comes crawling back into the arms of her father, John must than take it upon himself to protect his daughter from various hit men and assailants out to kill her.

In a post-Taken world, it seems almost impossible to watch any action film about a protective father and not think about Liam Neeson’s modern classic. But alas, that’s what happens when a successful action film permeates the zeitgeist through an affective premise that can be easily duplicated. (see action cinema post-Die Hard for a similar example). However, Blood Father fails where Taken succeeded due to its confounding narrative through line and an all around lack of narrative momentum. In its defense, the film starts off strong, establishing that Link is both desperate and loving while his daughter is unappreciative and immature. Once Link and a group of gangsters throw down, the film’s narrative is set into effect, as father must now protect daughter whilst bonding with her. And yet, Richet can’t seem to affectively deliver this premise, as his film quickly becomes a bore to sit through. Many uninteresting dialog scenes and dull character exchanges permeate the entire picture from this point forward and ruin any sense of energy or momentum that the film possessed. The narrative even feels as if it were made up along the way, almost as if there was never a completed script, even though the film was based upon a book. If one were to trace the through line of the narrative from scene to scene, it all comes out rather jumbled and unnatural in terms of story progression. Numerous plot detours also overly complicate the picture and send it into direct to video (DTV) territory at points as well, including a smattering of technical flaws that I will get to in a bit. While it’s clear that Richet wanted to take a genre film and focus on the dramatic elements at its core, it’s a shame that he can’t provide an affective and engaging story when all of the pieces for success are right there in front of him.

Blood Father is such a missed opportunity, as it easily could have been the perfect comeback vehicle for Gibson were it advertised and made better. The film is almost a miniature celebration of Gibson, as several visual cues and elements recall previous films of his. From Gibson’s handling of a sawed off shotgun (Mad Max), to his residence within a beat up trailer (Lethal Weapon), to even the film’s story concerning a father who loves his daughter (Edge of Darkness), Blood Father is almost a greatest hits collection of Gibson’s cinema, but unfortunately nowhere near as good as his previous efforts. With that being said, Gibson himself brings his A-game, and further proves that he is still one of action cinema’s all time greatest stars.

Without Gibson, Blood Father would be dead in the water and nothing but stagnant entertainment. Gibson is so physically ripped and huge in this role that one could easily draw comparisons to Sylvester Stallone’s physical transformation in Rambo. He not only looks like a beast, but a literal bear as well, especially with his shaggy beard and leather like face. Gibson’s face appears to be so worn that he looks like he has been through decades of turmoil and remorse, almost resembling Charles Bronson’s weathered face from his seventies cinema (i.e. Death Wish, The Mechanic). Gibson exudes immense pathos not simply through his character’s actions and wishes, but also through his puppy dog like stare. I never fully realized how truly apathetic and caring Gibson’s face is; it’s one of his winning attributes. All in all, Blood Father is yet another reminder that Gibson is one of our premiere entertainers, no matter how good or bad the film he participates in.

While Gibson may be first rate, his supporting cast is fairly forgettable and in dire need of stronger direction. The biggest offender of the film is Erin Moriarty as Lydia, Link’s daughter. Not only is Moriarty painfully over dramatic, but her character is especially grating and immature. I understand that her character is supposed to start out unappreciative of her father’s actions in order for her to arc into a caring and loving person, but her eventual transformation occurs out of nowhere and so close to the film’s end that it was simply unbelievable. Other supporting performances by Michael Parks (Django Unchained), William H. Macy (Fargo), and Diego Luna (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) are fine, but are otherwise wasted and unconvincing within a jumbled genre picture that can’t even keep its story straight. Gibson fans will appreciate an appearance by Raoul Trujillo, the main antagonist from Apocalypto, as an unnamed hit man though. While the names within the film are impressive and noteworthy, the supporting cast doesn’t do the feature any favors and leave all of the heavy lifting on Gibson’s shoulders.

Besides Gibson, who is thoroughly excellent from start to finish, every other element of Blood Father disappoints or frustrates. For starters, the film’s action quota, which is minimal, is mostly affective. Shot selection, action choreography, sound design, and special effects are typically solid. However, the action scenes are so short, that they are nothing more than short bursts of violence. While I understand that Richet wanted to focus on the dramatic elements of the film more so than the action parts, it’s a shame that there isn’t a wealth of action to fall back onto as the relationship at the core of the film failed to engage me. A similar example from this year is Criminal, an unsuccessfully emotional action film that fails to engage the viewer but occasionally dazzles with excellent but short action scenes. That being said, the minimal action within Blood Father is uniformly solid, from a short gun attack on Link’s trailer, to a small motorcycle chase, to even the film’s bad ass final confrontation. Genre junkies will be in heaven when Gibson picks up a gun and goes to town on villainous henchmen at various points in the film. Unfortunately, there is simply too little action to fall back on too.

Technical merits are a mixed bag, ranging from affective and visceral to confounding and amateurish. As I stated before, the action is uniformly solid, except for a confrontation within the opening scene that was almost visually incomprehensible. However, the film’s biggest technical problem tends to be its weak photography and editing during dialog sequences. There are so many close ups, cuts, and angle changes during character exchanges, that conversations become virtually unwatchable and visually distracting. It’s almost as if the editor and cinematographer were so bored with the dialog and performances at hand, that they couldn’t help but visually shake up the screen in order to make things appear livelier. An exchange between Link and a prisoner inside of a jail is plagued by so many mind boggling close ups and angle changes that I couldn’t help but throw up my hands and laugh quietly to myself. Moments like these enforce the film’s DTV nature, despite its otherwise beautiful Western imagery outside of close up dialog exchanges.

Blood Father sells itself as a gritty, cruel, and unforgiving genre picture with a dramatic relationship at its core. While this is true, as the film’s violence is graphic and the father/daughter story tried and true, it can’t fully deliver on either of its promises and gel into an all around cohesive action thriller. Richet, who seems proficient in terms of action direction, squanders a father/daughter story by sending off his characters on a journey of survival that never feels momentous. The film bounces from scene to scene with little feasible through line to any of it; almost making little sense at times, overly complicating things, and turning an action thriller into a dull chore to endure. Therefore, Blood Father fails on nearly all accounts because it doesn’t feature a compelling story or affective action to compliment its story. The pieces are there, and some moments shine bright, but Blood Father barely amounts to a recommendable piece of action entertainment. Were it written better and placed in the hands of a more competent filmmaker, Blood Father easily could have been a slam dunk a-la Taken or even Gibson’s similar but lighter Edge of Darkness. Gibson fans will want to check out the film anyways for the Aussie’s excellent performance and kick ass action scenes, but beyond that, viewers will find themselves dancing dangerously on the edge of genre hell with Blood Father. Proceed with caution.

Zach Nix’s Rating: 4/10

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

Ken Watanabe is full of ‘Rage’ in Sang-il Lee’s new thriller

"Yurusarezaru Mono" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Yurusarezaru Mono" Japanese Theatrical Poster

After previously collaborating on the remake of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, director Sang-il Lee (Hula Girls) and actor Ken Watanabe (Inception) are set to premiere their next artistic collaboration, the murder mystery Rage (aka Anger, Ikari).

The plot description from the Toronto International Film Festival: A grisly unsolved murder links three seemingly unrelated stories in three different Japanese cities, in this arresting ensemble thriller from director Sang-il Lee.

In addition to Ken Watanabe, the thriller’s cast includes Kenichi Matsuyama (Gantz), Aoi Miyazaki (Nana), Satoshi Tsumabuki (The World of Kanako), Go Ayano (Lupin the 3rd), Suzu Hirose (Our Little Sister), and Mirai Moriyama (20th Century Boys). The film is based on a novel by Shuichi Yoshida, whose writing also inspired Sang-il Lee’s 2010 feature, Villain.

Rage will make its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (which runs from September 8th to the 18th), followed by a theatrical release in Japanese cinemas on September 17th. No word about a US release date or distributor yet but we’ll keep you posted.

Until then, check out the film’s TIFF trailer.

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Well Go USA digs deep into Kim Seong-hun’s ‘Tunnel’

"Tunnel" Theatrical Poster

"Tunnel" Theatrical Poster

On August 26, 2016, Well Go USA Entertainment will be releasing Kim Seong-hun’s Tunnel, a South Korean thriller starring Ha Jung-Woo (Assassination), Doona Bae (A Girl at My Door, The Host) and Oh Dal-su (Veteran).

Jung-soo, an ordinary car salesman finds himself in a most extraordinary event when the tunnel he’s driving through collapses, trapping him. Nothing is around him but wreckage, and all he has is 78% of his phone battery, two bottles of water, and his daughter’s birthday cake.

The initial news throws South Korea into a frenzy and makes Jung-soo a media darling. But once his phone dies, and the days and weeks start to drag on, people begin to lose interest. To top it off, the rescue effort is interfering with the opening of a new tunnel nearby, and public opinion becomes divided over the expensive, complex rescue operation that seems doomed to fail, and is causing nasty traffic back-ups.

A fantastic and fascinating take (in the vein of The Host and Train to Busan) about the role of the media in shaping public opinion, the perceived ineptitude of the South Korean government, and the true character of the general public, this is a disaster film like no other. Ruling the box office during its opening last week in South Korea, the film now comes to the US from the distributor that brought you The Wailing and Train to Busan.

Well Go USA’s official trailer should premier soon, so until then, here’s the film’s original Korean trailer.  And be sure to check your local listings for show times!

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Trailer for Mondo Macabro’s ‘Suddenly in Dark Night’ Blu-ray

"Suddenly in Dark Night" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Suddenly in Dark Night" Korean Theatrical Poster

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).

Updates: Mondo Macabro has just released the film’s trailer. 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.

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All jokes aside: Jared Leto joins Villeneuve’s ‘Blade Runner 2’

"Blade Runner" Japanese Promotional Poster

"Blade Runner" Japanese Promotional Poster

Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) will soon start shooting Blade Runner 2, which has a theatrical release date set for October 6, 2017.

This sequel to the ground-breaking 1982 science fiction classic, which will take place some years after the first film concluded, has Harrison Ford returning as Rick Deckard. Ryan Gosling (Drive), Dave Bautista (Kickboxer: Vengeance), Robin Wright (State of Grace) and Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) will co-star.

Ridley Scott, director of the original, is serving as one of the film’s producers and writers. Hampton Fancher, who also worked on the original, is back on board as screenwriter. Michael Green (Green Lantern) is co-writing.

According to Scott (via Variety), Ford loves the screenplay: “I sent him this (script) and he said, ‘Wow, this is the best thing I’ve ever read,’ so it’s very relevant to what happened (in) the first one.” Scott continued: “I’m not just doing a sequel with lots of action and see how far we can go with the special effects because you can’t really. Blade Runner kind of landed on a somehow very credible future. And it’s very difficult to change that because it’s been so influential with everything else.”

Here’s a look at some Blade Runner 2 concept art, courtesy of Victor Martinez/Entertainment Weekly. We’ll keep you updated on Blade Runner 2 as we hear more. Stay tuned!

Updates: Variety reports that Jared Leto (Suicide Squad) has joined the film. No details of his character are currently available.

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Scorsese, De Niro and Pacino unite for ‘The Irishman’ in 2018

"Goodfellas" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Goodfellas" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Back in May, Martin Scorsese’s upcoming mob picture, The Irishman, was finally picked up by the newly founded STX Studios for international rights (for an astonishing $50 million).

According to Deadline, The Irishman has been adapted for the screen by one of the best screenwriters working today — Steve Zaillian (Gangs of New York) — from the Charles Brandt book I Heard You Paint Houses, which is the deathbed story from mob hitman Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran about the disappearance and death of the former Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa.

The Irishman will reunite Scorsese with Robert De Niro for the first time since 1995’s Casino. It will also mark his first collaboration with Al Pacino. There are talks that Joe Pesci may join the project, but word of this is still unofficial.

There are reports suggesting that The Irishman will use Benjamin Button-esque special effects, which will be applied to flashback scenes making De Niro and Pacino appear younger looking.

Updates: Deadline is reporting that the movie is eyeing a 2017 production for a late 2018 domestic release date.

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Antony Szeto’s ‘Fist of the Dragon’ finally makes its U.S. debut

"Fist of the Dragon" Thai DVD Cover

"Fist of the Dragon" Thai DVD Cover

2000’s Moving Target, which starred 11-time World Kickboxing Champion Don “The Dragon” Wilson, has been loosely redone in the form of Fist of the Dragon, a U.S./Chinese co-production that puts Strikeforce World Lightweight Champion, Josh “The Punk” Thomson, in Wilson’s shoes. As with the original, Roger Corman’s New Horizons Pictures is producing.

Fist of the Dragon is directed by Antony Szeto (Wushu) and also stars Juju Chan (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny), Maria Tran (Truy Sat), Rambo Kong (Dragon the Bruce Lee Story) and Daniel Whyte (Ultraviolet). The film features martial arts choreography by Trung Ly (Truy Sat).

Here’s the official synopsis: Damon, an MMA fighter (Thomson) retires and goes to China to meet his new love, Meili. But things take an immediate turn when he inadvertently takes a package sought by an underground arms dealer. Now he must fight to save himself and his loved one.

Don’t miss the the trailer for Fist of the Dragon.

Updates: According to Impact’s Mike Leeder, 2014’s Fist of the Dragon will be finally getting its U.S. premier at this year’s Action on Film Festival on September 9th 2016. Members of the cast and crew will be accompanying the the screening. Up until now, the film has only been officially released in Thailand on DVD, so if you live around the Los Angeles area, visit aoffest.com for details on how you can attend.

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‘Jean-Claude Van Johnson’ gets a teaser trailer (hurry!)

"Jean-Claude Van Johnson" Poster

"Jean-Claude Van Johnson" Poster

Scott Free Productions – a company founded by brothers Ridley (Alien) and the late Tony Scott (True Romance) – has developed an Amazon original pilot 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).

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.

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

Updates: Watch a new teaser (hurry before it’s taken down!).

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Steven Seagal has balls in the 1st trailer for ‘End of a Gun’

"End of a Gun" Japanese DVD Cover

“End of a Gun” Japanese DVD Cover

Steven Seagal (Exit Wounds) is teaming up with Keoni Waxman (A Dangerous Man) for the 7th time in End of a Gun, an upcoming action flick from Lionsgate written by Chuck Hustmyre (House of the Rising Sun). Producers are Daniel Grodnik (Drive Hard) and Binh Dang (Force of Execution).

According to Variety, Seagal will play an ex-ATF agent who comes across a woman being beaten by her boyfriend in a mall parking lot. He’s forced to kill the assailant and finds himself facing possible criminal charges and an offer from the woman to help her steal $2 million hidden in the trunk of her boyfriend’s car in the police impound lot.

End of Gun is one of many Seagal films to look forward to, others include: Above the Law 2AttritionChina SalesmanContract to KillCypher, GunfighterDeadly Arsenal and Four Towers, as well as his latest completed titles: Code of Honor, The Asian Connection and Perfect Weapon.

Updates: Watch the trailer for End of Gun, which releases on September 23rd in select theaters and on iTunes.

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Phantom of the Theatre | DVD (Well Go USA)

Phantom of the Theatre | DVD (Well Go USA)

Phantom of the Theatre | DVD (Well Go USA)

RELEASE DATE: October 11, 2016

Well Go USA presents the DVD for Phantom of the Theatre, a thriller starring Ruby Lin (Blood Stained Shoes), Tony Yang (The Crossing), Simon Yam (Cross) and Huang Lei (CJ7).

A haunted theatre, filled with the vengeful spirits of a tragically-trapped performance troupe murdered in a fire 13 years ago, waits for the once-grand palatial playhouse to re-open with a new show… and bring in new victims…

Be very afraid to watch the film’s trailer (or not?).

Pre-order Phantom of the Theatre from Amazon.com.

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, News | 1 Comment

Kung fu, retro games and metal collide in ‘Metal City Mayhem’

"Metal City Mayhem" Promotional Poster

“Metal City Mayhem” Promotional Poster

Get ready to bang some heads with Metal City Mayhem, a proposed action/comedy series by Dan Jackson and Savage Storm Studios.

Metal City Mayhem draws inspiration from cult classic films like Warriors and arcade favorites such as Double Dragon and River City Mayhem. It also fuses Hong Kong-influenced choreography with old-school, heavy metal pop culture.

In the tradition of Hobo With a Shotgun, Machete, and Black Dynamite – all of which started out as “fake” genre movie trailers for titles that didn’t exist yet – a 4-minute “concept trailer” for Metal City Mayhem is now available.

“The trailer was shot on a shoestring, over the course of many weekends and pizzas, all over the South Florida area. We employed guerilla film-making tactics, using ‘found locations,’ alleyways, parks, abandoned locations and other public areas as our backdrops,” says Jackson.

As stated on the project’s Kickstarter (now cancelled): consider the trailer a “rough draft.” With the help of some backers, Jackson promises the final product to be bigger, better, bolder and LOUDER.

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Lone Wolf and Cub Collection | Blu-ray & DVD (Criterion)

Lone Wolf and Cub Collection | Blu-ray & DVD (Criterion)

Lone Wolf and Cub Collection | Blu-ray & DVD (Criterion)

RELEASE DATE: November 8, 2016

Criterion Collection presents the Lone Wolf and Cub Collection on Blu-ray & DVD.

Based on the best-selling manga series, the six intensely kinetic Lone Wolf and Cub films elevated chanbara to bloody, new heights. The shogun’s executioner, Itto Ogami (Tomisaburo Wakayama), takes to wandering the countryside as an assassin—along with his infant son Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa) and an infinitely weaponized perambulator—helping those he encounters while seeking vengeance for his murdered wife.

Delivering stylish thrills and a body count that defies belief, Lone Wolf and Cub is beloved for its brilliantly choreographed and unbelievably violent action sequences as well as for its tender depiction of the bonds between parent and child.

Disc features include:

  • New 2K digital restorations of all six films, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-rays
  • High-definition presentation of Shogun Assassin, the 1980 English-dubbed reedit of the first two Lone Wolf and Cub films
  • New interview with Kazuo Koike, writer of the Lone Wolf and Cub manga series and screenwriter on five of the films
  • Lame d’un père, l’âme d’un sabre, a 2005 documentary about the making of the series
  • New interview in which Sensei Yoshimitsu Katsuse discusses and demonstrates the real Suio-ryu sword techniques that inspired those in the manga and films
  • New interview with biographer Kazuma Nozawa about filmmaker Kenji Misumi, director of four of the six Lone Wolf and Cub films
  • Silent documentary from 1937 about the making of samurai swords, with an optional new ambient score by Ryan Francis
  • Trailers
  • New English subtitle translations
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay and film synopses by Japanese pop culture writer Patrick Macias

Pre-order Lone Wolf and Cub Collection from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles, News | Tagged | 4 Comments

Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (1972) Review

"Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Shunya Ito
Story: Toru Shinohara
Writer: Fumio Konami, Hiro Matsuda
Cast: Meiko Kaji, Rie Yokoyama, Yayoi Watanabe, Yōko Mihara, Akemi Negishi, Keiko Kuni, Yumiko Katayama, Emi Jo, Isao Natsuyagi, Fumio Watanabe
Running Time: 87 min.

By Kyle Warner

Almost every ambitious leading man or lady is on the lookout for that iconic role that will shoot them to superstardom, netting them a legion of fans and hopefully a mountain of cash. Roles that earn awards can prove your worth as a great actor but it’s often the iconic, larger-than-life characters that make one a star. One concern, however, is that the signature role will come too early in an actor’s career, thus casting a shadow over everything else that follows. David Duchovny still hasn’t managed to escape Fox Mulder’s shadow, for example. And the same can probably be said for Meiko Kaji, who in her mid-twenties was cast in the role of Scorpion, a vengeful antihero that best utilized Kaji’s natural acting talents and sex appeal. The role of ‘Matsu the Scorpion’ became something of a pop culture icon, with the long black hair, the dark trench coat, and the floppy, lopsided hat that could obscure much of the woman’s face when worn a certain way. Not only would Kaji revisit the signature look in other roles and tap into the same fury in other performances, the character also spawned sequels and remakes that were made without Kaji’s involvement. (‘Miss Scorpion’ was also the crossdressing disguise of the hero in Sion Sono’s weird masterpiece Love Exposure.) The shadow of Scorpion loomed large, and with the exception of the fantastic Lady Snowblood films which were made at roughly the same time as the Scorpion series, Kaji never really found another role quite as popular as the one she first brought to life in 1972.

Based on a comic book, Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion was a project long in development before first-time director Shunya Ito (Gray Sunset) put it to film. With its prison setting, the studio supposedly imagined it to be the female-led version of their popular Abashiri Prison series, but director Ito brought a fever dream vision to the film, making it equal parts crime movie, exploitation skin flick, and rage-filled horror story. Meiko Kaji herself sings over the opening credits as a parade of nude women walk through the prison while the guards watch for hidden weapons or contraband. Kaji’s song is one of betrayal, telling the tale of an ordinary young woman who was used by a man and thrown away. Kaji’s character Nami Matsushima loved a narcotics cop, but he allowed her to be raped by a group of men just so that he could catch them unawares and make his drug bust. Matsushima soon confronts the cop, not even taking the time to change out of her torn clothes, and attempts to stab him to death on the steps of the police station. Her attack fails, the cop survives, and Matsushima is sent to prison for attempted murder.

The prison is a hell hole. The film is sure to make it clear at the beginning that the prison is in no way based on truth, and that’s all well and good but the vision presented here is ugly, demeaning, and despicable. Women are raped, beaten, and starved. Matsushima slowly changes from the normal, brokenhearted girl to a monster hell-bent on revenge. Guards and cruel gangs try to put Matsushima in her place but she takes it all and dishes out some of her own in return, earning the reputation of a dangerous loner behind bars with the nickname of Scorpion. When the dirty cop learns that Matsushima still represents a problem for him, he decides to hire one of the inmates to off his former girlfriend, and that’s when things really get messy.

I’d seen Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion once before. My opinion of it then was that it was an ugly, misogynistic film which happened to feature a startling performance by Meiko Kaji at the center of it. Watching it again, I still think it’s a nasty piece of work, and some of the violence against women is reprehensible, but it’s also not quite as shocking as I remember it. Maybe the shock is in the first punch, not the second. Or maybe it’s just that Scorpion was one of my first introductions to the dark-edged exploitation films of Japan. A different time and a different culture resulted in some very dark movies that still shock and disturb all these decades later. As a fan of Japanese cinema, I must say that their exploitation genre is not a favorite of mine. But I recognize Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion as a classic of the genre anyway and that’s in large part thanks to the dramatic work of Meiko Kaji.

As Matsu the Scorpion, Meiko Kaji barely says a word for much of the film. She is the embodiment of rage and works with one hell of an intense glare. Seriously, I’d rather face Sonny Chiba’s fists than Meiko Kaji’s angry glare any day. And it’s because of her performance and her character that the movie is more than just a nasty story full of inhumane treatment and misogyny. Occasionally I have issues with tales of revenge because, well, it’s difficult for me to root for a murderer for 2 hours straight even if I sympathize with their motivations to an extent. In the case of Matsushima, though, holllllly shit everyone deserves exactly what they have coming to them. Matsu the Scorpion bides her time, waits for the opportune moment, and then begins crossing off her opponents. Everything can be grueling to endure up until that point, but when a villain gets hanged from the roof of a skyscraper, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take some enjoyment in seeing justice served in a most brutal fashion.

The original four Female Prisoner Scorpion series arrives on Blu-ray and DVD in an 8-disc box set from Arrow Video. Each film is on its own disc and comes with new and archival special features. For the first film, we get a 2006 interview with director Shunya Ito, plus two new interviews, one with assistant director Yutaka Kohira and one with filmmaker and Scorpion fan Gareth Evans (The Raid, The Raid 2). All interviews are enjoyable and informative, though each contain spoilers (and not just for the first film), so choose when to watch them with care. The Shunya Ito interview has the director looking back on how he’d fought to rise up from being an assistant director to making his feature directorial debut with Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion and his artistic intentions with the film. Yutaka Kohira would later direct New Female Prisoner Scorpion: #701 starring Yumi Takigawa as Matsu the Scorpion, but his interview is mostly about his time working on the original four films as assistant director. It’s a funny, honest interview where he shares his memories of Meiko Kaji getting angry about her nudity and how the assistant director had originally shown disrespect to Yasuharu Hasebe (Sex Hunter) when Hasebe took Ito’s place as the director of the fourth Scorpion film. Gareth Evans’ appreciation of the film shares some of my personal reservations; basically that it’s a cool and stylish movie but the treatment of women is indefensible at times. Evans also speaks on how he was inspired by some of the film’s visual style and is a big fan of the antihero’s dark origin story. All interviews are definitely worth a look.

Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion is the tale of evil men in positions of power who meet their match at the hands of a scorned woman with a glare that could stop a raging bull in its tracks. Though Scorpion is trashier than I typically like my movies, I must acknowledge a well-made film when I see one. A dark story of revenge told with wild visuals, the Scorpion series continues to influence films today and should appeal to fans of directors like Takashi Miike, Quentin Tarantino, Seijun Suzuki, and Sion Sono.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 7/10

Posted in All, Japanese, News, Reviews | Tagged | 4 Comments

Watch the new Japanese trailer for ‘Star Wars: Rogue One’

"Star Wars: Rogue One" Teaser Poster

"Star Wars: Rogue One" Teaser Poster

Releasing on December 16, 2016 is Star Wars: Rogue One (aka Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), which will be the first theatrical Star Wars spin-off.

In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.

Star Wars: Rogue One is directed by Gareth Edwards (2014’s Godzilla) and is based on a screenplay written by John Knoll, Chris Weitz (Cinderella), Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli) and Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation).

The film stars Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler), Diego Luna (Blood Father), Ben Mendelsohn (Killing Them Softly), Forest Whitaker (Bloodsport), Donnie Yen (Ip Man 3), Jiang Wen (Let the Bullets Fly), Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal) and the voice of Alan Tudyk (Firefly).

During a recent Reddit AMA (see photo), when asked his thoughts on being involved with Star Wars and how Rogue One will compare to the other movies, Donnie Yen replied with: “I think it’s really flattering to be the first Chinese actor in the Star Wars universe and I have full confidence Rogue One will do extremely well, because the force is with me.” Yen also promised the New York Daily News that he’ll do more than just pilot an X-Wing in the film, leading fans to believe he’ll display his martial arts prowess over the course of Rogue One.

Media: Teaser trailer. | Celebration reel. | TV spot. | 1st trailer.

Updates: Watch the film’s new Japanese trailer.

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Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams | Blu-ray & DVD (Criterion)

Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams | Blu-ray & DVD (Criterion)

Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams | Blu-ray & DVD (Criterion)

RELEASE DATE: November 15, 2016

Criterion Collection presents the Blu-ray & DVD for Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams.

Unfolding in a series of mythic vignettes, this late work by Akira Kurosawa brings eight of the beloved director’s own nighttime visions, informed by tales from Japanese folklore, to cinematic life. In a visually sumptuous journey through the master’s unconscious, tales of childlike wonder give way to apocalyptic visions: a young boy stumbles on a fox wedding in a forest; a soldier confronts the ghosts of the war dead; a power-plant meltdown smothers a seaside landscape in radioactive fumes.

Interspersed with reflections on the redemptive power of art, including a richly textured tribute to Vincent van Gogh (played by Martin Scorsese), Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams is both a showcase for its maker’s imagination at its most unbridled and a deeply personal lament for a world at the mercy of human ignorance.

Disc features:

  • New, restored 4K digital transfer, supervised by cinematographer Masaharu Ueda, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New audio commentary featuring film scholar Stephen Prince
  • Making of “Dreams” (1990), a 150-minute documentary shot on-set and directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi
  • New interview with assistant director Takashi Koizumi
  • New interview with production manager Teruyo Nogami
  • Kurosawa’s Way (2011), a fifty-minute documentary by director Akira Kurosawa’s longtime translator Catherine Cadou, featuring interviews with filmmakers Theodoros Angelopoulos, Bernardo Bertolucci, Clint Eastwood, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Bong Joon-ho, Abbas Kiarostami, Hayao Miyazaki, Martin Scorsese, Julie Taymor, Shin’ya Tsukamoto, and John Woo
  • Trailer
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Bilge Ebiri and Kurosawa’s script for a never-filmed ninth dream, introduced by Nogami

Pre-order Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams from Amazon.com today!

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Deal on Fire! Kiss of the Dragon | Blu-ray | Only $9.02 – Expires soon!

"Kiss of the Dragon" Blu-ray Cover

"Kiss of the Dragon" Blu-ray Cover

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for 2001’s Kiss of the Dragon (read our reviews), starring Jet Li (Flying Swords of the Dragon Gate) and directed by Chris Nahon (Blood: The Last Vampire).

Along with Unleashed, Kiss of the Dragon is one of the most hardest-hitting of Jet’s English-language films. Gotta love that Fist of Fury-esque dojo fight, courtesy of Hong Kong’s legendary action choreographers, Corey Yuen (Raging Thunder). The film also stars Tchéky Karyo (La Femme Nikita) and Cyril Raffaelli (District 13: Ultimatum).

Order Kiss of the Dragon from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Deals on Fire!, News | 1 Comment

Byung-Hun Lee takes center in a new ‘Magnificent 7’ poster

"The Magnificent Seven" Korean Theatrical Poster

"The Magnificent Seven" Korean Theatrical Poster

A remake of John Sturges 1960 classic, The Magnificent Seven, is shooting to theaters on September 23, 2016. Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer) is directing the film, which is based off a script by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) and Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective).

The original The Magnificent Seven (read our review) – a remake itself of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai – starred Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, and Horst Buchholz. The plot involved seven American gunmen who are hired to protect a small village in Mexico from a group of Mexican bandits.

Fuqua brings his modern vision to a classic story. With the town of Rose Creek under the deadly control of industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), the desperate townspeople employ protection from seven outlaws, bounty hunters, gamblers and hired guns consisting of Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee of I Saw the Devil), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).

Media: 1st trailer. | 2nd trailer.

Updates: Byung-Hun Lee takes the center in film’s new Korean poster.

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Dragon Chen is all action in the new ‘Ultimate Hero’ trailer

"Ultimate Hero" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Ultimate Hero" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Dragon Chen (aka Chen Star), the martial artist who paid homage to Bruce Lee in movies like Jeet Kune Do and Nunchucku, is back in Ultimate Hero, an upcoming actioner he’s once again helming (with the aid of co-director Lei Cui).

In Ultimate Hero, Chen takes on a gang of arms smugglers in Africa. Martial arts sequences, explosions, car chases and shoot ’em up scenes – it’s all there, so we’re all there. The film is getting a Chinese release on August 19th, but if it pops up in North America, you’ll be the first to know.

Media: Teaser | 1st trailer.

Updates: Watch the film’s latest action packed trailer.

Posted in News | 2 Comments