Director: Lee Zoo-young Producer: Kang Myung-chan Cast: Lee Byung-hun, Gong Hyo-jin, Ahn So-hee, Jack Campbell, Yang Yoo-jin, Annika Whiteley, Kei Ekland, Baek Soo-jang, Choi Joon-young, Lee Seung-ha, Leeanna Walsman, Benedict Hardie Running Time: 97 min.
By Paul Bramhall
If there was ever an example of an under the radar movie, then you’d be hard pressed to come across a better one than A Single Rider. Headlined by Korea’s most well-known actor, Lee Byung-hun, the low key production was his fifth movie in 2016. From headlining the Korean blockbuster Master, to roles in the Hollywood flicks Misconduct and The Magnificent Seven, to a cameo in Kim Ji-woon’s The Age of Shadows. Perhaps understandably, A Single Rider was largely overlooked (despite it being Warners Brothers 2nd foray into Korean cinema, the first being Age of Shadows) . The same goes for his co-star Gong Hyo-jin, who received considerable praise as a mysterious Chinese babysitter in Missing, also released in the same year. As a result, the debut of writer and director Lee Zoo-young seemed to come and go as quietly as the movie itself.
For the curious, the question of how a debut director managed to secure such established names for their first feature is one that comes with rewarding answers. It’s been over a decade since Byung-hun headed a straight up drama, with the last time being Once in a Summer in 2006. His star has grown considerably in the subsequent years, from his collaborations with Kim Ji-woon (The Good, The Bad, The Weird, I Saw the Devil), to his forays into Hollywood (RED 2, Terminator: Genisys), to his recent roles in Korean period pieces (Masquerade, Memories of the Sword). Similarly, Gong Hyo-jin is one of those actresses who’s been in more movies than memory initially suggests. From early appearances in the likes of Guns and Talks and Volcano High, to roles in Lee Myung-se’s M and Ryoo Seung-wan’s Dachimawa Lee.
In A Single Rider Byung-hun plays a successful fund manager whose wife and son are living in Sydney, Australia. They’ve been there for the past 2 years, and are due to return to Korea soon, having originally left on Byung-hun’s insistence that their son should learn English there. However when the company he works for declares bankruptcy, combined with news from his wife that they want to delay their return home, he suddenly finds his world crashing down around him. After spending a night alone with a bottle of whisky in front of his computer, he makes the brash decision to book a flight to Australia. With nothing left to lose, he heads down under with nothing more than the clothes on his back, his passport, and his wife’s address scrawled on his hand.
Sure enough, Byung-hun locates the address in question, set in the leafy suburbia of Bondi Beach, however before he can knock on the door, he overhears the sounds of his wife’s voice and a male companion. Choosing to sneak around the back of the house, he observes his wife, played by Hyo-jin, giggling and acting affectionately with an Australian man, played by popular Australian TV actor Jack Campbell. Rather than confront them, he backs away in silent shock, and it’s this decision which really defines the movie that A Single Rider becomes. Developing into what can almost be described as an otherworldly hybrid of Alexander Payne’s The Descendants and Kim Ki-duk’s 3-Iron, Byung-hun spends all of his time in Sydney watching Hyo-jin and Campbell from a distance, as he attempts to establish if she’s really having an affair.
As a result, despite characters often making inconsequential chatter in the background, there are significant stretches of A Single Rider with no dialogue, instead relying on Byung-hun’s ability to convey a range of emotions with just his expressions, and a hauntingly minimalistic piano score. Bereft of the expected cathartic confrontation between husband and wife, instead Byung-hun’s fears and regrets slowly come to the surface through his interactions with a variety of other characters. He befriends a young female backpacker also from Korea, is viewed suspiciously by an elderly neighbour of his wife, and even interacts with members of Campbell’s family. Indeed the closest relationships he establishes are with the Korean backpacker, played by Ahn So-hee (the high school student in Train to Busan) and Hyo-jin’s dog, which decides to follow him around.
Byung-hun reluctantly ends up agreeing to help So-hee after she’s duped out of almost $20,000 by a trio of shady Korean youths, who offer to exchange her currency to Korean Won for a more favourable exchange rate than the banks. After initially observing her from a restaurant window driving off with the trio, when she suddenly reappears visibly dazed and unable to walk straight, he assists her to get back to the hostel she’s staying in, and eventually the pair attempt to track down those responsible for stealing her money. Notably this part of the story is inspired by the real life case of another Korean backpacker, who was murdered in Brisbane in 2013 following a similar scenario. Despite their differences, Byung-hun and So-hee form a bond through their shared feelings of being lost in a foreign land, and their dire circumstances.
For a first time director, Zoo-young shows a remarkable grasp of pacing and tone. Sydney is filmed lavishly, capturing the beauty of iconic landmarks like the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, however at the same time she imbues it with a sense of isolation and loneliness. The more Byung-hun comes to realise how integrated Hyo-jin and their son are to the overseas life he’s responsible for sending them too, the more he seems incapable of bringing himself to interact with her. In brief flashback scenes to their life together in Korea, we see Hyo-jin lose interest in her passions such as music, weighed down by the expectations of being a wife to a high flying fund manager. However in Sydney she’s been free to rediscover everything that she’d given up on. This is really what A Single Rider is about – the power of regret, and how we only have a limited time to do something about it.
The question of whether that distance can be bridged is one that keeps A Single Rider so engaging, even during its quietest moments, and the singular focus on viewing everything from Byung-hun’s perspective allows the narrative to flow in unexpected directions. Indeed we never really know if his decision to help So-hee is out of genuine intent, or if it’s more of a diversion to make himself feel better for the years he put his career ahead of everything else, including his own family. That same focus also allows for some of A Single Rider’s weaker moments to be forgiven. While the main characters are all well written and developed, those that lack any significant amount of screentime don’t fare so well.
The trio of Koreans that dupe So-hee out of her money seem only to be interested in what visa they can get to stay in Australia, and a scene in which the police take Hyo-jin’s concern that her dog has gone missing as a valid reason for investigation is mildly laughable. However these are minor grievances, and Byun-hun’s performance anchors A Single Rider so whole heartedly that it’s difficult to imagine its existence without him. While Zoo-young has used the flavour of the month depicting the corruption of those in power, this setup is quickly established to simply be a framework, one which unfolds into a tale that’s much more personal and smaller scale than recent blockbusters covering the same.
With an unusually lean runtime for a Korean movie of 95 mins, perhaps expectedly Byung-hun’s visit to find his wife and son comes with a twist. There’s no doubt that some hardened viewers of this genre will likely see it coming, however even for those that don’t (myself included), it’s delivered in such a beautifully poignant and melancholic way that it delivers the expected emotional punch. More than 10 years ago A Bittersweet Life ended with Byung-hun staring at his reflection in a window, A Single Rider contains a similar scene, one which encapsulates the essence of that movies title in a profoundly moving way. For those looking for something a little different from Korean cinema, then A Single Rider comes strongly recommended.
Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray/DVD collection for the New Battles Without Honour and Humanity Trilogy. Check out the official details below:
The New Battles Without Honour and Humanity films are important links between the first half of Fukasaku’s career and his later exploration of other genres. The set will include New Battles Without Honor and Humanity, New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: The Boss’s Head and New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Last Days of the Boss.
In the early 1970s, Kinji Fukasaku’s five-film Battles Without Honour and Humanity series was a massive hit in Japan, and kicked off a boom in realistic, modern yakuza films based on true stories. Although Fukasaku had intended to end the series, Toei Studio convinced him to return to the director’s chair for this unconnected, follow-up trilogy of films, each starring Battles leading man Bunta Sugawara and telling separate, but fictional stories about the yakuza in different locations in Japan.
In the first film, Bunta Sugawara is Miyoshi, a low-level assassin of the Yamamori gang who is sent to jail after a bungled hit. While in stir, family member Aoki (Tomisaburo Wakayama) attempts to seize power from the boss, and Miyoshi finds himself stuck between the two factions with no honourable way out. In the second entry, The Boss’s Head, Sugawara is Kuroda, an itinerant gambler who steps in when a hit by drug-addicted assassin Kusunoki (Tampopo’s Tsutomu Yamazaki) goes wrong, and takes the fall on behalf of the Owada family, but when the gang fails to make good on financial promises to him, Kuroda targets the family bosses with a ruthless vengeance. And in Last Days of the Boss, Sugawara plays Nozaki, a labourer who swears allegiance to a sympathetic crime boss, only to find himself elected his successor after the boss is murdered. Restrained by a gang alliance that forbids retributions against high-level members, Nozaki forms a plot to exact revenge on his rivals, but a suspicious relationship with his own sister (Chieko Matsubara from Outlaw: Gangster VIP) taints his relationship with his fellow gang members.
Making their English-language home video debut in this limited edition set, the New Battles Without Honour and Humanity films are important links between the first half of Fukasaku’s career and his later exploration of other genres. Each one is also a top-notch crime action thriller: hard-boiled, entertaining, and distinguished by Fukasaku’s directorial genius, funky musical scores by composer Toshiaki Tsushima, and the onscreen power of Toei’s greatest yakuza movie stars.
Limited Edition Contents:
High Definition digital transfers of all three films
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
Original uncompressed mono audio
New optional English subtitle translation for all three films
Beyond the Films: New Battles Without Honor and Humanity, a new video appreciation by Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane
New Stories, New Battles and Closing Stories, two new interviews with screenwriter Koji Takada, about his work on the second and third films in the trilogy
Original theatrical trailers for all three films
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Reinhard Kleist
Illustrated collector’s book featuring new writing on the films, the yakuza genre and Fukasaku’s career, by Stephen Sarrazin, Tom Mes, Hayley Scanlon, Chris D. and Marc Walkow
The Monkey King (Aaron Kwok) is at it for a 3rd time in The Monkey King 3: Kingdom of Women (aka The Monkey King 3: Land of Beauty), once again directed by Soi Cheang Pou Soi’s (SPL 2, The Monkey King, The Monkey King 2).
Won Jin, the legendary Sonny the Scorpion from the 1992 classic Operation Scorpio (read our interview here), has confirmed he’s recently completed action directing duties for the upcoming Korean crime thriller Brothers in Heaven. Jin has been applying his action directing skills in China as of late, so this marks the first time for him to return to his native Korea since choreographing the action in 2013’s The Suspect, in which he also has a small but memorable role.
Brothers in Heaven is the sophomore feature from director Park Hee-joon (Mandate), and stars K-drama actor Jung Hoo in his movie debut, and Jo Han-sun (A Better Tomorrow) as twin brothers that were separated at birth, and grow up on opposite sides of the law. When fate brings them together 20 years later, as expected, a healthy dose of gritty violence ensues.
Brothers in Heaven will also feature Hong Kong actor Simon Yam, in his third Korean movie after turns in The Thieves and Cold Eyes. Hitting domestic screens in January, we’ll keep you in the loop of the latest news. In the meantime, check out the trailer below:
Longtime James Cameron fans who have watched his post-Titanic career with curiosity know that the director has long mulled over a live-action adaptation of Kishiro Yukito’s manga Alita: Battle Angel, but it was another case where Cameron was waiting for technology to catch up with his vision – that is – until it was announced that Robert Rodriguez (Machete) would be helming the project with Cameron producing.
Rodriguez is currently putting finishing touches on Alita: Battle Angel, which is due in theaters on July 20, 2018.
The film stars Rosa Salazar (Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials), Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained), Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage), Ed Skrein (Deadpool), Michelle Rodriguez (The Assignment), Jackie Earle Haley (Shutter Island), Jeff Fahey (The Lawnmower Man), Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers) and martial arts star Marko Zaror (Redeemer).
According to THR, Alita: Battle Angel is about a female cyborg that is discovered in a trash yard by a scientist. With no memory of her previous life except her deadly martial arts training, the woman becomes a bounty hunter, tracking down criminals.
For the first time, the film will be released in widescreen High Definition and produced from a new 2K scan from the 35mm original negative.
In this 1976 classic, a kung fu master (Heung Kim Lung) returns to Hong Kong on a single minded quest to discover the truth of his late mentor (Bruce Lee), who passed away under super-extraordinary conditions.
“Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.” – (Bruce Lee, 1940 – 1973)
Bruce Lee is one of those rare actors who transcended the movies he appeared in to become an almost mythical figure. He is the embodiment of the martial artist, an accomplished actor and a positive role-model for Asian Americans. Lee was single-handedly responsible for a surge of interest in Asian martial arts in the late 60s and 70s, his fame extending far beyond the reach of the four movies that made his name. Today he is more icon than man, a representation of martial arts, of Asian masculinity and of what was a very new type of action hero in the America of the 1970s.
Born in San Francisco, the young Lee Jun-Fan was raised in Hong Kong until he was a teenager. His father was an actor and his mother came from a wealthy family, meaning that the young Lee grew up in relatively affluent surroundings. Despite that, his neighbourhood became a more dangerous place in later years, with various gangs operating in the area, and Lee was beaten up on a number of occasions. This prompted his father to send 16-year-old Lee to take martial art lessons, and it was not long before the young teen started to display startling quickness and agility. He also took up boxing in his new high school, and aged 17 won the Hong Kong schools boxing tournament. It was clear that this was a very special talent, and that he would soon become famous beyond the confines of Hong Kong.
As Lee continued to become embroiled in street violence, his parents decided that moving back to the States was the best way to protect their son. Lee continued his martial arts training in America, studying under a variety of different teachers. Feeling that many martial artists neglected the physical conditioning aspect of their sport, Lee devoted himself to maintaining peak physical condition. A martial arts exhibition at Long Beach in 1964 brought Lee to the attention of Hollywood. With his father being an actor, the young Lee had appeared in a number of Hong Kong films as a child actor, but had given up on the idea of making movies after moving to the US. However, with Lee gaining fame as a high-profile martial artist, he was selected to play the role of Kato for the TV show The Green Hornet which aired from 1966 to 1967. He also made guest appearances in the iconic Batman show as the same character at this time. While the TV show only lasted for one season, Lee had made enough of an impression to ensure that he was at the front of Hollywood casting agents’ minds when it came to looking for Asian martial artists.
Lee’s first Hollywood role came in the 1969 movie ‘Marlowe’, where he briefly made an appearance as a henchman hired to try and rough up the titular private eye character. This would be the type of role offered to the young Lee, but he was not destined to be a bit-part player in life. Dissatisfied with being type-cast as a supporting player, Lee moved back to Hong Kong to take on some leading roles: roles which would define him as the greatest martial arts actor of all time. Unbeknownst to Lee, The Green Hornet had been shown in Hong Kong, except that over there it was known as ‘The Kato Show’. This meant that Lee was a star by the time he set foot back in the place where he grew up, and as a result he had little difficulty in obtaining a contract to appear as the star of two movies. Due to the success of the early releases, two would become four, and these four movies which Lee starred in between the years of 1971 to 1973 would cement his reputation forever. These were, in chronological order, ‘The Big Boss’, ‘Fist of Fury’, ‘Way of the Dragon’ and ‘Enter the Dragon’; names that will be instantly familiar to anyone with even a slight knowledge of martial arts in cinema.
Upon the release of ‘Big Boss’, it quickly went on to smash box office records all across Asia, making Lee a star in the region in the process. Fresh from the success of ‘The Big Boss’, ‘Fist of Fury’ was released in 1972, and this movie would go on to smash the records set by the first one. The success of the two movies left Bruce in a very strong position to negotiate a deal for two more Hong Kong pictures, and for movie number three he was given control of choreography, writing, producing, and directing, as well as being the star. ‘Way of the Dragon’ was a critical and commercial success, and introduced the world to karate champion Chuck Norris, whom Lee had met year earlier in the Long Beach martial arts exhibition. The final movie that Bruce Lee would make was ‘Enter the Dragon’, in most people’s eyes the best of his collection. This movie became one of the year’s biggest box office successes, and to date it has earned more than $200 million; a staggering return for the $4 million (adjusted for inflation) that it cost to make in 1973. Unfortunately, Bruce Lee would not have the opportunity to make any more films, although the work he had done on the unfinished movie ‘Game of Death’ was used to release the movie, with a stand-in doubling for Lee in some scenes.
Over the years, Bruce Lee has become more than simply a man, and has instead morphed into an iconic brand. In fact, from our perspective in time it can be quite difficult to separate one from the other. Bruce Lee has adorned the bedroom walls of so many college student dorms that his image has become iconic: close your eyes and you can probably conjure up the picture of Lee standing in fight pose. Similarly, you can find countless Bruce Lee branded t-shirts, shoes, headphones, Lego models, playing cards, pens, jewellery, stamps and action figures. There are even Bruce Lee branded online slot games featuring the martial artist in various threatening poses, as well as video games with the Hong Kong master as the hero. Think of a collectable item, and you can be sure that there is a version of it featuring the king of martial arts. Even to this day, ask anybody to name a famous martial arts expert and chances are that Bruce Lee’s name will be one of the first to be mentioned. For that reason, the man and the brand have become intertwined, and the iconic figure of Bruce Lee – a man who came to global fame in the early 1970s – is still proving to be a hit well into the 21st century.
Sadly, Lee would die before his final ‘full’ movie, ‘Enter the Dragon’, could be released. The actor passed away due to complications from some medication he had taken, dying at the tender age of 32. However, his all-to-brief life spawned the legend of Bruce Lee, a legend which endures to this day. Bruce Lee passed away while still at the height of his powers, leaving behind the impression of a young man frozen in time, still invincible and powerful. As with any unexpected celebrity death, rumours and conspiracy theories have done the rounds regarding Lee’s untimely passing. These ranged from the mundane to the outlandish, such as claiming that there was a curse on the family, or that Chinese mafia had poisoned the action star. Despite these claims, medical and forensic experts determined that the cause of death was simply an unfortunate accident, and that no foul play was involved.
Bruce Lee has left an impressive legacy behind him, remaining an iconic figure to this day. Time Magazine named him as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, which places him in very exalted company. June 8 was named ‘Bruce Lee Day’ in Los Angeles, and in the Chinatown of that city a seven-foot statue of 5 foot 8-inch Lee has stood since 2013. There are more statues of Lee in Hong Kong, China, and even Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as a star on the Hollywood walk of fame. It seems that we will never grow tired of this martial arts superstar, and indeed he has inspired generations of martial artists who have followed in his wake. Indeed, even Dana White, the outspoken president of the incredibly popular UFC, has credited Bruce Lee as being the ‘father of mixed martial arts’. It is a rare person indeed who transcends their sport, not to mention the movies in which he or she appears, to become a global superstar and an inspirational figure to millions of people around the world. That is the true legacy of Bruce Lee.
Manga has become iconic in Japan, but that’s not the only place its influence has been felt. Although early Manga illustrations were seen as popular works sold to the masses in the 17th century, according to japantimes.co.jp, the style took off in the 19th century. From here, illustrators found a home in comics and that gave rise to the Manga styling that we know and love today.
While Manga comics have now become staple reading for people in Japan, this isn’t the only place where the artwork can be seen. Indeed, as you scan popular culture around the world, the funky characters and engaging storylines have been used to enliven everything from movies to art and even games. For instance, the 1973 movie Golgo 13 was based on Manga that started in 1968. Although the 1983 Anime version of Golgo 13 achieved greater success, the movie was released in the West and stands as a testament to the popularity of Manga around the world.
Fusing Style and Substance to Create a Manga Slot Game
Beyond the movies, the Japanese style has become popular with games developers. Final Fantasy by Square Enix is a game that clearly draws inspiration from the worlds of Manga and Anime, as do games such as Gantz: The Game and J-Stars Victory Vs. However, it’s not just the video game community that’s embraced Manga. In the last two years, software developer NetEnt has brought the theme to the online casino world. The brand is known for its themed slots such as Planet of the Apes and Emojiplanet. Through these games, the developer has developed a reputation for creating games that are as artistic as they are lucrative.
According to the reviewers at online-casinos-canada.ca/netent-casinos, NetEnt has not only won Mobile Slot Supplier of the Year three times in a row because of their jackpots but because of their gameplay. Describing the design and themes as “elite level”, the reviewers suggest that NetEnt is among the top software providers in the iGaming industry. In 2015, this reputation was solidified thanks to the release of Manga-styled slot called Koi Princess. Like the comics it’s inspired by, the lead character, Koi Princess, and her surroundings are drawn in an edgy cartoon style. On top of this, the numbers and card symbols have a Japanese look to them that complements the Manga theme.
However, and this is why reviewers such as Online Casinos Canada rate NetEnt so highly, it’s not just the drawings that stand out. In a bid to fuse style and substance, the developer has included animations and bonus features that fit in with the Manga style you’d see at manga.com. For example, as you spin the five reels, three fish (koi carp) will appear at random intervals and ask you to pick them. Much like a Manga character encounters certain people or beings who define their path in life, the fish each hold a unique bonus that can change your fate.
This ability to take a concept and bring it to life through gameplay as well as visuals is something NetEnt does extremely well. Of course, without the popularity of Manga, this would count for nothing. Indeed, despite its Japanese roots, it’s clear to see that this style has become a fantastic device for creative types in a variety of mediums.
Another popular Manga slot is Panda Manga. Taking a slightly more tongue-in-cheek look at the genre, this game features everything from geishas and waving pandas to sushi. However, as entertaining as this game is on the surface, it lacks the depth of a spinner such as Koi Princess. Where NetEnt’s creation has features that fit into the Manga narrative (i.e. choosing your destiny), Panda Manga is more straightforward. What we mean by this is that wilds and scatter symbols unlock simple free spin and multiplier bonuses.
Of course, there’s certainly nothing wrong with this. In fact, it’s all a matter of perspective. For players that simply like the look of a game and enjoy the artwork of Manga, a slot like Panda Manga is great. However, for those that want slightly more depth, Koi Princess from NetEnt is perfect. Whichever way you look at it, the one thing that’s clear is that Manga is a fantastic theme. Whether it’s in the slots world or another entertainment medium, the ability to offer stunning visuals and/or a clever storyline is the reason people around the world love Manga.
The legendary Jackie Chan (The Foreigner) is tapping into the sci-fi genre with Bleeding Steel, a big budget actioner written and directed by Leo Zhang (Chrysanthemum to the Beast).
In Bleeding Steel, Chan stars as a hardened special forces agent who fights to protect a young woman from a sinister criminal gang. At the same time, he feels a special connection to the young woman, like they met in a different life.
The film also stars Show Luo (The Mermaid), Nana Ouyang, Erica Xia-Hou, Tess Haubrich (Alien: Covenant) and Callan Mulvey (Beyond Skyline).
Bleeding Steel hits theaters on December 22, 2017. Watch the film’s Newest Trailer below:
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