Wolf Warrior II | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Wolf Warrior II | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Wolf Warrior II | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

RELEASE DATE: December 12, 2017

On December 12, 2017, the highly successful sequel to Wu Jing’s Wolf Warrior is exploding its way to Blu-ray & DVD, courtesy of Well Go USA.

China’s deadliest special forces operative (Wu Jing of SPL II) settles into a quiet life on the sea. When sadistic mercenaries begin targeting nearby civilians, he must leave his newfound peace behind and return to his duties as a soldier and protector.

Wolf Warrior II (read our review) also stars Olympic gymnast Zou Kai, Celina Jade (Skin Trade), Hans Zhang (Youth Never Returns), Frank Grillo (The Grey) and Yu Nan (The Taking of Tiger Mountain).

Pre-order Wolf Warrior II from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles, News | Tagged | 18 Comments

New action-packed Trailer for Dante Lam’s ‘Operation Red Sea’

"Operation Red Sea" Teaser Poster

“Operation Red Sea” Teaser Poster

Director Dante Lam (Unbeatable) might just be the hardest working man in Hong Kong cinema. The filmmaker has been reliably turning out hard-hitting films that have helped expand the scope of the action/thriller genre in Hong Kong – his most recent film, Operation Mekong, is currently making waves, and now, Lam has yet another creamy trick under his sleeve: Operation Red Sea.

Operation Red Sea is an upcoming actioner that stars Zhang Yi (Brotherhood of Blades 2), Huang Jingyu (Drug War) and Du Jiang (Mr. High Heels).

According to the official synopsis (via Variety), “the Jiaolong Assault Team, one of the special forces of the world’s largest military force, People’s Liberation Army, is given a potentially fatal assignment, leading a small eight-man unit to evacuate Chinese residents from a North African republic in the throes of a coup d’état.”

Operation Red Sea hits theaters later this year.

Updates: Watch the film’s New Trailer below

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Cyborg: Collector’s Edition | Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)

Cyborg" Collector's Edition | Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)

Cyborg” Collector’s Edition | Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)

RELEASE DATE: January 30, 2018

On January 30th 2018, U.S. label Scream Factory (subsidiary to Shout! Factory) will release a Special Edition Blu-ray for Cyborg, a 1989 actioner from cult director Albert Pyun (The Sword and Sorcerer, Nemesis) that stars martial arts sensation Jean-Claude Van Damme (Death Warrant).

Cyborg takes place in a post-apocalyptic America, where a plague has wrecked the world and only a female cyborg (Dayle Haddon) has the key to finding a cure. But there’s a problem: the most powerful gang (headed by Vincent Klyn) in the wastelands will do anything they can from seeing the scientists succeed in saving the world. Read Kyle Warner’s full review.

So what kinds of features will this Special Edition include? Only time will tell. Perhaps they’ll throw in Pyun’s director’s cut of the film (aka Slinger), which has only been available in foreign markets. For now, he’s what Shout! has shared so far…

Special Features and Specs:

  • Brand New Remaster
  • New Bonus Features in progress
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature

Pre-order Cyborg from Amazon.com today!

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Fists, the Kicks and the Evil, The (1978) Review

"The Fists, the Kicks and the Evil" DVD Cover

“The Fists, the Kicks and the Evil” DVD Cover

AKA: Fists, Kicks and the Evils
Director: To Lo Po
Cast: Bruce Leung Siu Lung, Philip Ko Fei, Bolo Yeung Tze, Chiang Cheng, Ku Feng, Lau Hok Nin, Ma Chao, Chan Lau, Lin Ke Ming, Kei Ho Chiu, Ricky Wong
Running Time: 84 min.

By Matthew Le-feuvre

In that rare and exclusive echelon of celebrated kicking tactic­ians, Leung Siu Liang – otherwise known in international circles as Bruce Leung – seemed to be throughout his career designated at the lower end of the martial arts acting fraternity, despite (or in spite of) spearheading or supporting a myriad of fight legends, notably: Jackie Chan (Magnificent Bodyguards); Angela Mao Ying (Broken Oath); Ho Tung Tao (Bruce vs. Iron Finger) to the more recent Stephen Chow film (Kung Fu Hustle). Observedly, his only problem – per se in securing instant recognition – was a diminutive stature.

Moreover Leung was neither physically blessed with a standard “action man” persona, nor was he photogenic in a way many of his contemporaries were, at least from a matinee idol perspective. What Leung had to offer was an affable disposition bordering on the goofy; an everyman in equal semblance of an outsider caught between political subversion and paternal revolt until conditions intercede the presence of a wise and patient master. These were commonplace building blocks to the majority of Hong Kong/Taiwan­ese screenplays: ergo the maturity of the underdog who breaks the shackles of oppression by (A): resisting exoteric influences to (B): learning an arcane combative doctrine.

Leung’s adequate career more or less treaded a conventional path. Born in 1948 and raised in Hong Kong, he learned the rudiments of kung fu from his father, a well respected Canton Opera Sifu, prior to augmenting his physical perspicuity in both the Wing Chun and Goju Rye systems. As a veteran of 75 films (to his credit), Leung originally acquiesced to a typical contract with the Shaw Brothers scraping a meagre, often toilsome living as an expendable extra/stuntman: look carefully, and he can be glimpsed assailing the now-long forgotten Shi Szu in The Lady Hermit (1971).

With timed regularity, Leung eventually graduated to larger or more meaty support roles before landing critical lead vechicles, for example Kidnap in Rome (1976), opposite the generally overlooked Mang Hoi; My Kung Fu 12 Kicks (1979) and the rather distasteful Bruce­ploitation romp, The Dragon Lives Again (1976). Surprisingly the latt­er did less damage to Leung’s profession than one would gather. Yet the very concept of promoting a metaphysical dimension in which Lee’s spirit combats a hierarchy of nefarious archetypes from ‘Dracula’ to a ‘Clint Eastwood’ imitator was indeed an exercise in derision, at best, skirting on levity. However, regardless of a variably indistinct filmography, perceptively, the equivalent could not be affirmed of The Fists, the Kicks and the Evil.

Set against the backdrop of those ordinarily haughty ‘Manchu’ (Qing) subjugators, Leung reunites with (the frequently referred) Schlockmeister, To Lo Po (Fist of Fury 3) for a physically eruptive, superbly choreographed tale of loss and retribution. Nevertheless these script ingredients are requisite despite an almost pedestrian feel as the story arc, in part, is loosely based upon the formative years of Wong Yan Lam – apparently one of the founding members of the legendary ‘Ten Tigers of Kwantung’. Although Lam’s latter real-life exploits were objectively as well as collectively motivated on restoring the ‘Han’ administration, here, the premise is undividedly focused on Lam’s schooling in the graceful art of (Lama) White Crane Kung Fu, an extremely complex, yet pliant style where the rigorous demands of honing wrist/finger strength whilst the hands are emulous of a crane’s beak is equally important as balance and co-ordination.

The beauty of this picture, which for some maybe contentiously unoriginal or repetitive even, is Lam’s metamorphosis from a rambunctious neophyte filled with misdirected anger towards, intrinsically, a political ideology based on class discrimination into that of a disciplined, confident fighting tactician. Naturally there is always in place ‘a catalyst’ for Lam’s external transformation. In this case (a familiar theme not always saluted by critics), it is the unprovoked, as well as blatant, patricide of his father played, nonchalantly, by the (consistently) great Ku Feng, an actor who by general occupation was under a very strict contract with the Shaw Brothers. Here, Feng was allocated creative manoeuvrability to engage outside the machination providing it was conducted in a minor capacity.

Refreshing, though obligatory, as principle Manchu nasties – support from the otherwise ice-cold Ko Fei (Techno Warriors) and his sadistic subordinate, the ever voluminous Bolo Yeung, each chew up recognizable Taiwanese sceneries, and/or extant locales with gleeful abandon. Negligible… perhaps?! But all essential paradigms, right down to the basics of staid dialogue and formulaic typecasting. Of course, neither would amicably work without the other – a sort of symbolic scaffold for an obviously innovative conclusion whereby Lam deftly manages too ‘showcase’ as well as ‘negotiate’ his manifold techniques within a bamboo forest. Dazzling!

Matthew Le-feuvre’s Rating: 9/10

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New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Last Days of the Boss (1976) Review

"New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Last Days of the Boss" Blu-ray Cover

“New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Last Days of the Boss” Blu-ray Cover

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Writer: Koji Takada
Cast: Bunta Sugawara, Isao Bito, Takeo Chii, Takuya Fujioka, Seizo Fukumoto, Eiji Go, Ryuji Katagiri, Takuzo Kawatani, Chieko Matsubara, Kan Mikami, Michiro Minami, Sanae Nakahara, Kōji Nanjo
Running Time: 91 min.

By Kyle Warner

1976 just happened to be a leap year. And on February 29th, a woman with a drug problem is murdered. The first suspect is the yakuza Imamura, her known supplier. But then Imamura turns up dead a couple days later. The cops round up the usual suspects and demand answers. The criminal underworld was tense already but now the murder investigation is making business difficult. The yakuza take it upon themselves to solve the murder – with bullets! Tensions boil over and all-out war breaks out between rival clans. Bombings and shootings occur in broad daylight. Bosses and underlings alike are getting murdered. The war rages on until the thing that sparked it, the mysterious murders of Imamura and the woman, is but a distant memory.

Unlike other Battles Without Honor and Humanity films (old or New), Kinji Fukasaku makes no effort to set up the board or name the alliances before dumping us into the action. The final New Battles film, Last Days of the Boss, is a frenetic, noisy action movie that rarely ever slows down. It’s lewd, mean, sometimes shockingly funny, and just full to the brim with the angry violence that the director is known for.

We’ve already sat through a good portion of the film before our hero, Bunta Sugawara, finally swaggers up wearing a yellow hardhat and looking nothing like the yakuza he played in the original series. Here Sugawara plays Nozaki, an orphan who was raised by a decent, honorable yakuza but is working as a blue-collar dockworker. Nozaki is not unfamiliar with the yakuza world, though. While he’s on good terms with his adoptive father and his father’s gang, Nozaki was dead set against his little sister Asami (Chieko Matsubara) marrying a yakuza from a rival gang, which created a schism between brother and sister.

When Nozaki’s adoptive father is assassinated, the mantle of boss for his small Kyushu gang falls to Nozaki. The outsider Nozaki reluctantly takes the position and swears to get revenge for his father’s death. However, his blood feud – which must be satisfied if he is to be considered a respectable yakuza – comes at a bad time, as those above him are beginning to discuss a peace accord with the competition in Osaka.

Nozaki is told to wait on vengeance, see how negotiations progress. But something goes wrong. An assassin jumps the gun, resulting in more senseless bloodshed, canceling out any idea of peace. It’s all the encouragement that Nozaki needs to commit his gang to war in a desperate struggle to kill off the bosses that lead the Osaka crime families.

The Battles series was among the first Japanese crime sagas to directly criticize the yakuza and strip them of their ‘Honor and Humanity.’ Until then, yakuza movies told tales of chivalrous anti-heroes with codes to uphold. Last Days of the Boss plays like a strong criticism of the classic, chivalry yakuza films, but it also shares more of their DNA than the other Battles films. This is a much pulpier, melodramatic, and stylized crime movie than the Battles movies that came before it. What saves it from becoming another chivalry picture, I think, are two important things. One: it’s super violent and that violence often appears to solve nothing (the film’s final frame hammers this home and might be the best moment in the movie).  And two: the characters, acting on a personal code of honor, come across like crazy people. Nozaki wants vengeance, and I get that, but the lengths which he’s willing to go to achieve it are nuts. He’s the closest thing to a hero in Last Days of the Boss but he’s hardly a relatable figure.

Other bits of un-Battles-like melodrama include the brother/sister relationship between Nozaki and Asami. Rumors say they were *ahem* very close once. And as the gang war rages on, those rumors eat away at Asami’s husband, Nakamichi (Koji Wada). Soon, not only is Nozaki fighting the Osaka bosses, but now he has to worry about his brother-in-law, too.

Perhaps it’s a sign of the changing times – Last Days of the Boss is the only Battles film to take place in modern day (1976 at the time) – but the yakuza repeatedly reach out to contract killers in this film. The hitmen featured are a little larger than life, like the transvestite with a knife and the Korean soldier with a machine gun. The characters might’ve felt out of place in an earlier Battles film, but they fit the pulpy tone that Last Days of the Boss went with.

Kinji Fukasaku’s influence on cinema — and on the yakuza genre specifically — would continue for years to come. Hell, this isn’t even the lastBattles film. The Battles series would continue without Fukasaku with Aftermath of Battles Without Honor or Humanity in 1979 from director Eiichi Kudo (11 Samurai). The series was then revived again in 2000 with Another Battle from director Junji Sakamoto (Face). Another Battle was actually written by Last Days of the Boss screenwriter Koji Takada, but that appears to be one of the only links to the original films. I know very little about those films and don’t expect to see them available on DVD anytime soon. Then again, I once thought the same thing about the New Battles trilogy, and here we are.

Last Days of the Boss is a perfectly enjoyable final entry to the New Battles trilogy. I can’t say I liked the New Battles films as much as the original series – being standalone films, they cannot hope to achieve the epic scale of the original Battles films – but I do quite like these films just the same. If the original Battles Without Honor and Humanity series had a ‘ripped from the headlines’ feeling to it, then I’d say that New Battles feels ripped from the tabloids. They’re generally nastier, weirder, and less grounded in reality. The Boss’s Head is the finest chapter of the New Battles trilogy but Last Days of the Boss isn’t far behind. Fast-paced and in-your-face, it’s remarkably fresh for what is the eighth film of the Battles brand.

One marvels at how Fukasaku’s eight Battles movies were all made between 1973 and 1976. Not only am I in awe of what had to be an insane production schedule, but also that the quality of the films ranged from the good to the brilliant. And those weren’t the only movies Fukasaku directed during that time — great films like Cops vs. Thugs and Graveyard of Honor were also made during that same time period (not to mention the other, less well-known films). Now, at the end of the New Battles trilogy, I find myself wishing Fukasaku had made more of these films. But then I consider all of this and I think, you know, maybe that makes me sound just a little bit greedy.

About this release: New Battles Without Honor and Humanity is now available in a box set with three Blu-rays and three DVDs. It’s a very handsome looking set. Yes, I care about packaging, I’m one of those people. Picture quality is middle of the road, likely the result of source materials. And the special features are a little bit light, unfortunately. On the first film’s disc, Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane stammers his way through trying to describe what he thinks of the trilogy. New interviews with Koji Takada appear on the other discs. Takada talks about how he was brought in to fix the script for The Boss’s Head versus how he was the lead writer from day one for Last Days of the Boss. We also get trailers. I would’ve liked more, frankly.

The best extra is the 58-page booklet. Stephen Sarrazin focuses on New Battles Without Honor and Humanity. Tom Mes talks about The Boss’s Head and Hayley Scanlon talks about Last Days of the Boss, and they both talk about the growing importance of women in the series. Chris D. shares some info on Fukasaku’s contemporaries, Junya Sato (Bullet Train) and Sadao Nakajima (Memoir of Japanese Assassins), who helped create the new wave of darker, more reality-based crime dramas. I enjoyed every piece in the booklet, but might’ve liked Chris D.’s the most because it named about 20 films I gotta track down now. Marc Walkow talks about Kinji Fukasaku’s career, who became something of a chameleon after the 70’s, where you could never predict just what a Fukasaku film was anymore. And finally interpreter Toshiko Adilman remembers working with Fukasaku on the set of his film Virus.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 7.5/10

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Deal on Fire! The Last Supper | Blu-ray | Only $7.49 – Expires soon!

The Last Supper | Blu-ray & DVD (Random Media)

The Last Supper | Blu-ray & DVD (Random Media)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for The Last Supper, directed by Lu Chuan (Founding of the Party).

During the tumultuous last days of the Qin dynasty, the commander of the era’s most powerful army recognizes great potential in an inexperienced laborer named Liu. When he gives Liu command of thousands of officers, he unwittingly sets in motion a chain of events that will put his own life in peril and determine the fate of a nation.

The Last Supper features an impressive cast, including Yu Liu (The Monkey King), Daniel Wu (Sky on Fire), Qin Lan (Ulterior Motive), Yan Ni (Kung Fu Dunk), and Chen Chang (Crouching Tigger, Hidden Dragon).

Order The Last Supper from Amazon.com today!

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‘Raid’ stars kick alien a$$ in ‘Beyond Skyline’ this December

"Beyond Skyline" Theatrical Poster

“Beyond Skyline” Theatrical Poster

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

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

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

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

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

Vertical Entertainment is giving the film a U.S. release date in December 15th. Don’t miss its Trailer below:

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The New Trailer for ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ has arrived

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” Theatrical Poster

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” Theatrical Poster

The newest Trailer for Rian Johnson’s (LooperStar Wars: The Last Jedi is now online (see below). The film is the follow up to J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which itself was the official continuation of the original Star Wars trilogy created by George Lucas.

Returning cast members include Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Andy Serkis and of course, the late Carrie Fisher. New cast members include Laura Dern (Jurassic Park) and Benicio Del Toro (Sicario), who’ll be playing one of the film’s key villains.

But if there’s one new cast member we’re extra excited to see in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it’s Vietnamese filmmaker, actress, singer and model, Veronica Ngo Thanh Van (House in the Alley). To Western audiences, the multi-talented star is mostly known for her work in the acclaimed Vietnamese martial arts features The Rebel and Clash with Johnny Tri Nguyen, not to mention a minor role in Yuen Woo-ping’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny with Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen. But in her Native country, she’s practically a household name.

In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Ngo will portray Paige Tico, a gunner in the Resistance. We’re not sure how much screen time she’ll have, but if this action figure (click here for photo) is any indication, we’re expecting more than a “blink or you’ll miss” appearance.

Ngo continues the trend of Asian action stars appearing in the new wave of Star Wars films. In 2015, The Raid stars Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian had cameos in Star Wars: The Force Awakens; then in 2016, Ip Man’s Donnie Yen and Let the Bullets Fly’s Jiang Wen were predominant co-stars in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

In addition to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, there’ll be another ‘Paige’ turned in her career: Ngo will also have a role in David Ayer’s upcoming thriller, Bright, with Will Smith, which opens a week after Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s December 15, 2017 date.

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Acts of Vengeance | aka Stoic (2017) Review

Acts of Vengeance | Blu-ray (Lionsgate)

Acts of Vengeance | Blu-ray (Lionsgate)

Director: Isaac Florentine
Writer: Matt Venne
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Cristina Serafini, Atanas Srebrev, Karl Urban, David Sakurai, Paz Vega, Robert Forster, Mark Rhino Smith, Isaac Florentine
Running Time: 85 min.

By Paul Bramhall

Ever since Liam Neeson took that fateful phone call in Taken, now almost a decade ago, the no nonsense over-50 action star has become something of a sub-genre in Hollywood. While Neeson himself has cranked out plenty of titles in a similar mould since, he’s been joined along the way by everyone from Denzel Washington in The Equalizer, to Keanu Reeves in John Wick, to Bruce Willis in the Death Wish remake. Even everyone’s favorite no-frills action star Jason Statham has just turned 50. Frankly, being an older gentleman has never been so cool. What all of these movies have in common though, is that they ditch the self-awareness that productions like The Expendables franchise come packaged with, and deliver the action beats with a straight forward poker face. These guys have been wronged, and they’re going to make you pay. Keep it simple.

In 2017, Antonio Banderas has clearly decided that he wants a piece of the action. An actor of 35 years, for many Banderas first registered as the El Mariachi of Desperado, director Robert Rodriguez’s big screen English language debut from 1995. Since then, Banderas has frequently flitted in and out of the action genre, with his most recent excursion seeing him feature in the lamentable third instalment of The Expendables. In 2017 though, he’s decided to take the plunge into the DTV action arena, cranking out Security, Gun Shy, and Acts of Vengeance. Depending on which way you look at it, if he keeps things up at this rate Steven Seagal is going to have some competition.

Out of the three, it was Acts of Vengeance that got my attention. Initially titled Stoic in the early stages of production, it offers the intriguing proposition of partnering Banderas with frequent Scott Adkins collaborators Isaac Florentine and Tim Man, as director and fight choreographer respectively. Florentine has been in the directing game since the early 90’s, however it’s his partnership with British martial arts star Scott Adkins which usually get action fans salivating, which dates back to 2003’s Special Forces. Florentine’s projects without Adkins on-board tend not to fare as well, as any review of his 2012 movie Assassin’s Bullet, starring Christian Slater, will prove.

Swedish fight choreographer Tim Man on the other hand has gone from strength to strength in recent years, with 2017 providing one of his busiest periods yet, handling the choreography not only for Acts of Vengeance, but also the Scott Adkins vehicles Accident Man and Triple Threat. To see how Banderas would adapt to the physically demanding style of screen fighting, that Man has a talent for putting together in a very short space of time, was an element of Acts of Vengeance I was looking forward to.

Just like the title suggests, the structure of Florentine’s latest is split into 6 acts. Proceedings open in the middle of act 4, which see’s Banderas beating up on a kitchen hand in a diner, before flashing back to allow us to understand how he reached this apparent boiling point. Much like the less action oriented Assassin’s Bullet, the first half hour of Acts of Vengeance shows all of Florentine’s weaknesses as a director. The story and characters trudge along in a way which has been done hundreds of times before, and usually better. Banderas is a hot shot lawyer who rarely loses a case, however his dedication to the job means that his personal life is suffering. When work commitments prevent him from attending his daughters school concert (which just to make things worse, she’s singing his favorite song at), his life is turned upside down when both of them are discovered murdered later on the same night.

Despite the traumatic nature of the event, everything feels perfunctory, almost as if Florentine himself wants to speed through the early parts of Matt Venne’s script, so he can get to the stuff he knows he’s good at. While Banderas is drowning his sorrows in the bottom of a liquor bottle, he just so happens to stumble across an illegal fighting tournament, apparently taking place behind nothing more than a set of curtains at the back of the bar. To punish himself, he starts partaking in the fights, allowing his opponent to beat the living daylights out of him as self-penance for not being there for his family. It’s only when he’s propositioned by a 15 year old prostitute, and promptly thrown through the window of a second hand book store by her pimps, that he comes across the book Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. The Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD, the book contains his thoughts and ideas on Stoic philosophy (hence the original, more interesting, title).

Its passages from the book which are used as the titles for each act, and a part which can essentially be boiled down to saying that actions speak louder than words, make Banderas decide to take a vow of silence until he finds his families killer. Once this decision is made, thankfully the pace picks up, and Banderas has good chemistry with his co-stars Paz Vega and Judge Dredd himself, Karl Urban, here playing a cop sympathetic to his case. While Banderas still provides occasional narration, considering the clichéd nature of the opening third, minimising his lines works in favour of Acts of Vengeance, allowing him to emote with expressions only.

In many ways Florentine’s latest feels like a hodgepodge of the over-50 action star genre efforts that we’ve seen over the years. I felt sure that Banderas was going to take the teenage prostitute under his wing once he’d recovered, and rescue her from the pimps, just like Denzel Washington does in The Equalizer, but instead she (and the pimps) are never heard from again. Likewise when Banderas takes on a group of thugs and their dog. Once he’s laid the smack down on the two-legged goons, they run off and leave the dog behind, which takes a liking to Banderas and proceeds to follow him around for the rest of the movie. A grieving husband whose lost his wife finding consolation in a dog? It could well be argued that Acts of Vengeance is an unintended prequel to John Wick.

Thankfully just like his peers though, Banderas proves he’s capable of turning himself into a driven fighter. Once he comes to his senses, we’re treated to a montage which sees him taking martial arts lessons from both Florentine and Man, appearing in brief cameos doing what they do best. Then at the 40 minute mark we finally get to see the result of his training regime, as he confronts 4 thugs in the previously mentioned confrontation with the dog. It’s a brief fight, but has all of the distinctive hallmarks of a Florentine/Man collaboration, with the stop-start slow motion for added impact, and a hard hitting flow. Seeing Banderas lay on the pain with an extendable baton he disarms one of the thugs of will no doubt bring a smile to many.

However Acts of Vengeance is just as focused on the “who dunnit?” aspect of the murders as it is the action beats, a balance which is well maintained, but for those expecting to see Banderas as perhaps an older version of Colt MacReady, there’ll likely be a sense of disappointment. It’s no spoiler to say that he does indeed track down the murderer, and it allows Acts of Vengeance to deliver a worthy one-on-one finale between Banderas and someone who it would be a spoiler to reveal the identity of here. What I most enjoyed about the 3 minute throwdown, is that Banderas isn’t made out to suddenly be some kind of efficient killing machine, and he actually spends the majority of the fight on the receiving end of some heavy punishment. It’s a welcome touch of realism, establishing him as the underdog and allowing the audience to root for his victory.

All in all Acts of Vengeance is far from the disaster that was Assassin’s Bullet, and Florentine is to be admired for stepping outside of his comfort zone of working with Scott Adkins. It achieves its goal of being a straight forward revenge thriller, which is no doubt exactly what it was aiming to be, so as long as expectations are set accordingly, Acts of Vengeance should find its audience.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6/10

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Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in high gear for ‘Rush Hour 4’?

"Rush Hour 3" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Rush Hour 3” Japanese Theatrical Poster

For the last several years, both Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker (Rush Hour 1-3) have kept the possibility of a Rush Hour 4 in the air. But now, the 4th installment of the successful action comedy is a lot closer to reality than ever.

Just recently, Chan gave a radio interview in which he teased that a Rush Hour 4 in very much in the works — the first misadventure in the series since 2007. “For the last seven years, we’ve been turning down the script, turning down the script,” Chan told L.A. outlet Power 106’s The Cruz Show. “Yesterday, we just agreed.” (via Deadline).

But don’t start pumpin’ up Jay Z’s “Can I Get A…” quite yet. All this “Rush Hour 4 is definitely happening” stuff has been going on for years. And Chan has openly expressed his  love/hate relationship with the franchise, so until cameras start rolling, don’t believe anything.

In a 2013 interview with Singapore’s CO, Chan had this to say: “We just finished meeting last month in L.A. with Chris Tucker and two writers. The first draft, I don’t really like it. It’s just boring. Nothing is exciting anymore. I know Warner Bros. really wanted to do Rush Hour 4. Both Chris Tucker and I agreed to do another one, but we need to see the script first. So far, it’s Jackie goes to Hong Kong, no, Jackie goes to America… Chris Tucker goes to Hong Kong. Then we go to Paris. What’s next? It’s difficult.”

Chan currently has many movies on his agenda, including The CivilianChinese Zodiac 2Five Against a BulletBleeding Steel and Journey to China. And don’t miss our reviews for his latest films, Railroad Tigers and Kung Fu Yoga. His latest films, The Foreigner, hits theaters on October 13th.

We’ll keep you posted on Rush Hour 4 news as we hear more.

 

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Director Jesse V. Johnson wants Scott Adkins to ‘Pay Up’

"Eliminators" Japanese DVD Cover

“Eliminators” Japanese DVD Cover

As fellow COF writer Paul Bramhall points out in his recent review for Savage Dog, action filmmaker Jesse V. Johnson (The Last Sentinel) seems to have found a new muse in the form of martial arts sensation Scott Adkins (Eliminators).

The two are currently busy wrapping up post-production on The Pay Up, an upcoming actioner that’ll mark their 4th feature together (5th if you count 2005’s Pit Fighter).

Details for the film are scarce, but it is confirmed that Michael Paré (Streets of Fire), Tony Todd (The Crow), Louis Mandylor (Martial Law) and Vladimir Kulich (Savage Dog), David William No (Mr. Nice Guy) are also part of the cast (via FB).

Stay tuned for more details about The Pay Up. Until then, fans have Triple Threat and Accident Man to look forward to from the duo (other Adkins upcoming projects include Incoming, Altar Rock and a bit part in American Assassin.)

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Hwang Dong-Hyuk’s ‘Fortress’ secures a U.S. release date

"The Fortress" Korean Theatrical Poster

“The Fortress” Korean Theatrical Poster

From the acclaimed filmmaker behind Silenced and Miss Granny comes The Fortress (aka Namhansanseong), the newest feature from South Korean director Hwang Dong-Hyuk (My Father). Based on the novel by Kim Hoon, this epic thriller stars Lee Byung-Hun (Master), Kim Yun-Seok (The Chaser) and Park Hae-Il (The Host).

In 1636, the Qing dynasty attacks Joseon. King Injo (Park) and his retainers, including Choi Myung-Kil (Lee) and Kim Sang-Hun (Kim), hide in the mountain fortress city of Namhansanseong. They are isolated from the outside. Meanwhile, Choi Myung-Kil insists that they enter into negotiations with the Qing dynasty, but Kim Sang-Hun proposes that they keep fighting (via AW).

CJ Entertainment is releasing The Fortress in select U.S. Theaters on October 20, 2017.

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Bluebeard (2017) Review

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

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

Director: Lee So-Youn
Producer: Choi Jae-Won
Cast: Cho Jin-Woong, Shin Goo Kim, Dae-Myung, Lee Chung-Ah, Song Young-Chang, Yoon Se-Ah
Running Time: 117 min.

By Kyle Warner

In recent years, serial killer thrillers have fallen out of favor in Hollywood. The reason, I think, is that movies like The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en gave filmmakers a solid blueprint to follow, and many screenwriters followed it too closely. There’s a reason why fictionalized wannabe screenwriters in the movies are often writing a serial killer script — it’s like an inside joke that the audience only kinda gets. There is one place that’s still putting out serial killer thrillers with the regularity we used to see in Hollywood; South Korea. Why they’re still finding success with the sub-genre is that their killer films are bolder, more willing to buck the blueprint and do their own thing. The Chaser, I Saw the Devil, Memories of Murder, these are brilliant, masterful films, but even lesser-known films like Tell Me Something, Confession of Murder, and Blood Rain are productions worth talking about. Now, we come to Bluebeard, director Lee So-youn’s first feature since her popular debut, The Uninvited.

Colonoscopy specialist Dr. Seung-hoon (Jo Jin-woong) has fallen on hard times. A nasty divorce and a failing private practice have forced him to move from Gangnam to a small town along the Han River. He’s renting an apartment above a family run butcher shop and doing his best not to get spooked by the town’s history of unsolved crimes. One day, when the rest of the doctor’s office is out to lunch, Dr. Seung-hoon pushes his landlord (Goo Shin) to the front of the line for an appointment. Now, Seung-hoon is used to hearing all sorts of strange mumblings from his patients while they’re under anesthetic. But his landlord starts whispering about body parts… human body parts… hidden across the city and dumped into the lake. “Fingerprints? If you’re worried, cut off the fingers…” Deeply disturbed, Dr. Seung-hoon just stares at his sedated landlord. Then the landlord wakes up from his stupor and wonders why the doc has that funny look on his face.

When a headless, limbless torso washes up in the thawing Han River, Dr. Seung-hoon starts to really worry about the family that lives below him. He starts snooping. The landlord’s son, the butcher Sung-geun (Kim Dae-myung), is an approachable guy, so the doctor starts there. He drinks with the butcher until they’re both good and drunk. When the butcher steps away for a moment, Seung-hoon slips into the butcher shop’s freezer… and discovers what appears to be a head in a black, plastic bag.

Mysteries abound in Bluebeard. Seung-hoon’s paranoia becomes our own. Is the family that lives below him a pack of killers? What’s in the black bag? Whose body washed up on the shore? And what’s up with the old man in the bucket hat hanging around the doctor’s waiting room without an appointment day after day? Seung-hoon is a big fan of mystery novels because, as a doctor, he says he likes that the books always present an answer at the end. As the audience, we become desperate for an answer to this mystery, and it quickly becomes apparent that perhaps Seung-hoon is the last man we want as our detective. Seung-hoon begins imagining things. He wakes up screaming night after night. Imagination and reality begin to blur. He is the very definition of the unreliable narrator.

Bluebeard is full of twists. It’s a clever film. However, for my part, I need to be invested in the movie for a twist to wow me. Bluebeard teases and cheats its audience too often. Many of the best scenes are revealed to be nightmares as Seung-hoon wakes up screaming just when things are getting good. It’s interesting, because we’re watching a man whose fear is making him fall apart. But I never shared that fear. One or two ‘it was all a dream’ reveals are acceptable. But when that’s the film’s go-to trick, I start to tune out.

Jo Jin-woong is excellent as the rattled and paranoid Dr. Seung-hoon. He’s in total command of the screen, starting as a totally sympathetic character before gradually evolving into an enigma of a man. He may not be the most recognizable name to film fans in the West, but after Bluebeard and a fantastic sleazy performance in The Handmaiden, expect to see more of him in the coming years. Kim Dae-myung (Pandora) is great as the butcher who keeps us wondering ‘is he a monster or isn’t he?’ And Song Young-chang (Thirst) is good as the mystery man in the waiting room who has a story to tell.

Director Lee So-Youn’s film is good looking and well-paced. A thick layer of sweat seems to cover everything. The gradual uncovering of secrets only serves to create new mysteries. At the end, when all is revealed, we’re told, ‘Wait, there’s more,’ and even more bombshells are dropped on us.

It’s a twisty film. One wishes it was a little more twisted, though, I suppose. The ‘just a dream’ fake-outs get a little old and grant the viewer a feeling of safety that such a film probably shouldn’t have. I did like the unreliable narrator expertly played by Jo Jin-woong but the way the mystery unfolded kept me at arm’s length.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 6.5/10

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Acts of Vengeance | Blu-ray & DVD (Lionsgate)

Acts of Vengeance | Blu-ray (Lionsgate)

Acts of Vengeance | Blu-ray (Lionsgate)

RELEASE DATE: November 28, 2017

Director Issac Florentine (Close Range, The Shepherd: Border Patrol) will soon unleash Acts of Vengeance (aka Stoic), an action thriller starring starring Antonio Banderas (Expendables 3, Desperado), Paz Vega (Cat Run, Sex and Lucia) and Karl Urban (Dredd, Star Trek Beyond).

In Acts of Vengeance (read our review), a fast-talking lawyer (Banderas) transforms his body and takes a vow of silence, not to be broken until he finds out who killed his wife and daughter and has his revenge. The film will feature fight choreography from Tim Man (Eliminators).

Judging from the Trailer below, looks like Acts of Vengeance will give Eli Roth’s upcoming Death Wish remake a run for its money. The film hits Blu-ray & DVD on November 28, 2017.

Pre-order Acts of Vengeance from Amazon.com today!

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Deal on Fire! Rush Hour Trilogy | Blu-ray | Only $15.47 – Expires soon!

Rush Hour: Trilogy | Blu-ray (Warner)

Rush Hour: Trilogy | Blu-ray (Warner)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray set for Warner Bros’ Rush Hour Trilogy. This set includes Rush Hour 1-3, plus a bonus disc with a brand new featurette documentary titled Brett & Jackie: A Look Back at Rush Hour. Additionally, this all new, 4-disc collector’s set will feature custom illustrations by the stylish Mondo group.

The Rush Hour Trilogy also stars Tom Wilkinson, Tzi Ma, Chris Penn, George Cheung, Roger Fan, John Lone, Ziyi Zhang, Roselyn Sanchez, Kenneth Tsang, Maggie Q, Max von Sydow, Hiroyuki Sanada, Yuki Kudo, Noémie Lenoir, Jingchu Zhang, Roman Polanski and many others.

See the full details below:

Rush Hour (Disc 1):

  • A Piece of the Action: Behind the Scenes of Rush Hour
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Dru Hill “How Deep Is Your Love?”
  • Heavy D & The Boyz “Nuttin’ But Love”
  • What Ever Happened to Mason Reece
  • Trailer
  • Commentary
  • Music Only Track

Rush Hour 2 (Disc 2):

  • Commentary with Director Brett Ratner and Writer Jeff Nathan
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Attaining International Stardom
  • Culture Clash: West Meets East
  • Evolution of a Scene – Chicken Chop
  • Evolution of a Scene – Slide for Life
  • Evolution of a Scene – The Bomb
  • Fashion of Rush Hour 2
  • Introduction by Visual Effects Supervisor Kevin Lingenfelse
  • Jackie Chan’s Hong Kong – Introduction
  • Kung Fu Choreography
  • Lady Luck With Commentary By Brett Ratner
  • Language Barrier
  • Making Magic Out of Mire
  • Visual Effects Deconstruction
  • Trailers

Rush Hour 3 (Disc 3):

  • Outtakes Reel
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Making Rush Hour 3
  • Visual Effects Reel
  • “Le Rush Hour Trois”: Production Diaries

Bonus Feature (Disc 4):

  • Brett & Jackie: A Look Back at Rush Hour – The director of Rush Hour reflects on his favorite scenes, lines, and moments from the film. (25 min)

Order The Rush Hour Trilogy from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Deals on Fire!, News | 1 Comment

Ultimate Justice (2017) Review

Ultimate Justice | DVD (Sony)

Ultimate Justice | DVD (Sony)

Director: Martin Christopher Bode
Writer: Marco Theiss, Mike Leeder
Cast: Mark Dacascos, Brandon Rhea, Matthias Hues, Mike Möller, Mike Leeder, Wolfgang Riehm, Martin Baden, Henry Muller, Verena Konietschke, Bartholomäus Kowalski, Yazmeen Baker, Gerrit Grass, Mathis Landwehr
Running Time: 93 min.

By Paul Bramhall

After a tumultuous couple of years of post-production, in 2017 the sophomore feature from production company Silent Partners (made up of Hong Kong film industry veteran Mike Leeder, and German producer Ruediger Kuemmerle) finally hit DVD in the US in the form of Ultimate Justice. Unlike their first feature, the German language One Million K(l)icks, which was primarily an action vehicle for Mike Möller, Ultimate Justice is an ensemble piece, and contains a cast which speaks a mix of both English and German. It’s worth noting that Ultimate Justice has suffered the same fate as One Million K(l)icks for its release from Sony Pictures, meaning that all of the German speakers have been dubbed into English. If future releases in other territories will feature the original language track is still a question that’s unable to be answered, but for now, the dubbed version is the one being referred to in this review.

As mentioned Ultimate Justice is an ensemble piece, but thankfully the previously mentioned martial arts wunderkind Mike Möller is still a part of it, here playing a member of an A-team like group of soldiers for hire. The group is led by Mark Dacascos, who appears to be making a habit of appearing in ensemble productions in recent years, just check out the cast lists for Beyond the Game and Showdown in Manila. The majority of the rest of the team have worked together previously as well. Producer Mike Leeder plays a shot gun totting Brit, Brandon Rhea plays a torture specialist, who featured in both One Million K(l)icks alongside Möller, and has worked with Leeder before as the Belgian fighter in Fearless. Martin Baden, who plays the computer expert, is another returning cast member from One Million K(l)icks, and then you have the hulking German Matthias Hues, who worked alongside Dacascos on both of the movies mentioned.

Everything is going well with the team, until during a mission one of their own is killed, which leads Dacascos to disband the group and sell off the agency they work under. Everyone seems happy to go their separate ways except their commander, played by Wolfgang Riehm, who reluctantly agrees it’s the best thing to do. While having parting drinks, Dacascos and Riehm playfully compete for the attention of a lady, who ultimately finds Riehm to be the smoother operator. Skip forward 8 years, and everyone has gone their separate ways – Riehm is happily married to the same girl with a young daughter, Leeder is running a pub, Rhea has become a monk, Hues is running a burger truck (!?), and Möller has become a petrol station attendant (!!??). However when Riehm’s property is invaded my masked assailants, who murder his wife and kidnap his daughter, leaving him for dead, Dacascos makes the decision to bring the team back together and seek (you guessed it) Ultimate Justice!

All the ingredients are there for a fun filled slice of B-movie action, and to a certain extent, Ultimate Justice delivers. Just like in One Million K(l)icks, whenever Mike Möller is onscreen, he lights it up. Möller is also the fight choreographer, and his scenes are electrifying to watch. Not even 5 minutes have passed and he’s already jumped into action, throwing in both a shoryuken dragon punch and a Won Jin double footed flying kick. His style of choreography also lends itself well to his fellow German co-star Matthias Hues, with his 6’ 5” stature being taken full advantage of. The man mountain is given frequent opportunities to kick and throw around various assailants with a satisfying amount of impact, and together they deliver a healthy dose of physical mayhem to proceedings. What is disappointing is to see Dacascos himself largely restricted to firearms, with only the odd kick thrown here and there, especially considering what he’s capable of.

Outside of the action though Ultimate Justice suffers from various instances of illogical editing, and several gaping plot holes, which give the impression some key scenes have been inexplicably left on the cutting room floor. In one scene a key member of the team gets killed in action during a group melee, and in the next scene the death is ignored all together, leaving proceedings to carry on as if the character never existed! My favorite example of bizarre editing though happens when Möller is asked to check on a prisoner. He does so, however refuses to let the prisoner free despite their pleas to visit the bathroom. In the next scene, suddenly the prisoner is free, has knocked unconscious a member of the team, and then Möller appears looking completely confused as to what’s gone down. Trust me, he isn’t the only one.

While I hesitate to include the dubbing as another issue, as it was likely not a part of the original production, it’s an inescapable fact that the American accents attributed to the likes of Möller and Baden are an unwelcome distraction. The person who dubbed Riehm at least attempts to carry off the tone of a strict sounding military man, and despite the fact that it ultimately results in him sounding like a character from an old-school kung fu movie, I confess it kind of adds to the charm. This is none more so apparent than in a scene which takes place outdoors, and his voice sounds like he’s standing in the middle of an empty room, completely removing any semblance of reality. Of course the likes of Dacascos are spared the dub treatment, as is Rhea, who also speaks English.

For those who are willing to forgive the haphazard editing and the dubbing though, on the action front Ultimate Justice keeps the goods coming at regular enough intervals that fans shouldn’t be left wanting. Even Mike Leeder gets his own fight scene, here playing a much more significant role than his most recent turns in the likes of Helios and Tracer, and his shotgun blasts have the satisfying effect on sending those on the receiving end flying through the air. The highlights, as expected, all belong to Möller, from taking on 4 thugs harassing a woman at the petrol station (apparently in Germany petrol stations are prime spots for picking up), to a fantastic 2-versus-1 that has all involved armed with steel baseball bats. It’s enough to make one wish that Ultimate Justice had been another starring vehicle for Möller, rather than having him as only a supporting player, but for that we’ll have to wait for Two Million K(l)icks.

The finale decides to pull what I like to refer to as ‘China Strike Force Syndrome’, which refers to the practice of removing all the legitimate action talent from the plot before the expected big showdown. Ironically in that movie it was Mark Dacascos that got written out of proceedings far too early, and while that’s not the case here, considering how under-utilised his martial arts background is, I feel confident to say the same applies. What did come as a surprise though, is that this decision doesn’t result in any detriment to the conclusion of Ultimate Justice, mainly due to the inclusion of a twist that actually made me gasp when it came. Considering its status as an action B-movie, the closing revelations almost feel as if they come from a different movie all together, however that’s in no way a criticism. The twist works, and adds a surprising amount of weight to everything that’s come before.

Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, Ultimate Justice marks the full length feature debut from director Martin Christopher Bode, and it’s fair to say he’s crafted a movie that certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome. While the continuity issues, along with the failure to fully utilise the martial arts skills of Mark Dacascos, prevent it from reaching its full potential, there’s still enough bullets, fists, and kicks flying about to make it an easy recommendation. After all, who doesn’t want to live in a world where you can get your car refilled by Mike Möller, buy a burger from Matthias Hues, then grab a pint from Mike Leeder?

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6/10

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Sho Kosugi and JCVD’s ‘Black Eagle’ to land on Blu-ray

"Black Eagle" Theatrical Poster

“Black Eagle” Theatrical Poster

The MVD Entertainment Group/Rewind Collection have announced an upcoming Blu-ray release for Black Eagle, a 1988 actioner starring Sho Kosugi (9 Deaths of the Ninja) and Jean-Claude Van Damme (Kill ’em All). The film is directed by cult director Eric Karson, who helmed Chuck Norris’ The Octagon and Olivier Gruner’s Angel Town.

One of the US Air Force’s most modern tactical aircrafts, a F-100 with a new laser guidance system, crashes into the sea near Malta – a region where the Soviet forces are highly present, too. The CIA immediately sends out their best secret agent Ken Tami (Kosugi) to salvage the system before it falls into enemy hands. To ensure his loyalty, they bring his two young sons to a nearby hotel on the island. Ken Tami’s tough opponent is KGB agent Andrei (Van Damme).

The film also stars Kane Kosugi (Zero Tolerance), Shane Kosugi (Pray for Death), Doran Clark (The Warriors), Bruce French (Mission: Impossible III), Vladimir Skomarovsky (Martial Outlaw) and William Bassett (Black Dynamite).

Black Eagle is due to hit retailers early next year. Special features for the film will be announced soon, so stay tuned!

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New Trailer for Chapman To’s artsy Karate film ‘Empty Hands’

"The Empty Hands" Teaser Poster

“The Empty Hands” Teaser Poster

Hong Kong actor Chapman To (Infernal AffairsMen Suddenly in Black) is the director of The Empty Hands (previously known as simply Karate), an upcoming martial arts-themed film that will be led by singer turned actress, Stephy Tang (Let’s Go).

According to SD, the film tells the story of a young girl whose only wish is to sell her father’s karate dojo when he dies, but discovers that 51% of the business was left to one of his worst pupils.

The Empty Hands also stars Yasuaki Kurata (Four Riders) and Stephen Au Kam-tong (Z Storm, Trivisa), a black belt in full contact karate, who is also training Tang for her physically demanding role.

Judging from the film’s newly released Trailer (below), The Empty Hands appears to be more of an arthouse drama, which is an unexpected surprise, coming from the mostly-comedic To, who made his directorial debut feature with the light-hearted Let’s Eat!

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Game Changer, The (2017) Review

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

Director: Gao Xixi
Cast: Peter Ho, Huang Zitao, Guli Nazha, Wang Xueqi, Choo Ja-hyun, Jack Kao, Long Meizi
Running Time: 133 min.

By Paul Bramhall

The 1980 TVB gangster series The Bund has had a long lasting influence on Hong Kong cinema. As well as giving Chow Yun Fat one of his earliest memorable screen roles, it’s been remade both on TV and for the big screen in the years since, perhaps most notably in the Andy Lau and Leslie Cheung starring Shanghai Grand from 1996. That’s not to mention the countless productions that also decided to make the glitzy streets of 1930’s Shanghai their setting, which is still evident today with the likes of Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, Once Upon a Time in Shanghai, and The Last Tycoon. In 2017 director Gao Xixi decided to throw his hat into the ring with his own retelling of The Bund, in the form of The Game Changer, which casts Peter Ho and Edison Huang as the respective leads.

For Ho it’s his second time headlining a remake in as many years, after playing Swordsman Yen in Sword Master, Derek Yee’s 2016 remake of the Shaw Brothers movie Death Duel. He was the highlight of that movie, and he also remains the highlight here, his muscular presence and steely gaze bringing a welcome level of machismo, that matches the productions testosterone fuelled tone. Alongside him, former K-pop boyband member Huang cuts a slight figure, however still throws himself into the action scenes with aplomb, and has a decent set of acting chops. The Game Changer marks only his fourth time in an acting role, and first as a lead, after supporting turns in the likes of Railroad Tigers alongside Jackie Chan.

However much more than any of the previous incarnations of The Bund, here it quickly becomes apparent that the setting will only be used as a framework to tell the story. The look and feel of The Game Changer resembles something much closer to a 2017 version of the many gangster B-movies that populated HK cinema during the early 90’s. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and for those (you know who you are) that complain Chinese cinema has become too glossy and lost the rawness of its heyday, the hyper-reality that Xixi decides to utilise makes for some gloriously over the top macho moments. The first half an hour consists almost entirely of a series of action scenes, with little to no explanation of what exactly is going on, or indeed how any of them connect to each other, but they’re entertaining enough for us not to care.

An assassin jumps out of a top floor window of a building, blasting away with a handgun in each hand, before landing safely on top of a car as if gravity doesn’t exist. In another scene a grenade just happens to be randomly discovered under the seat of a car, which is quickly utilised to see off another vehicle hot in pursuit. My favorite scene though involves a horse and cart mount an elevated level of some bamboo scaffolding, while a car drives underneath them, smashing through each of the bamboo poles supporting the whole structure. As if a horse and cart flying through the air wasn’t ludicrous enough, another character chasing on a push bike ends up sliding it sideways across the middle of the road, while he stands on it like a surfboard and blasts away – as expected – with a handgun in each hand.

Such scenes cry out to be ridiculed as a misguided attempt at recreating John Woo’s bullet ballet golden era, and indeed the scenes in question are completely and utterly ridiculous, however to see them being pulled off with such a straight face somehow prevents me from doing so. The very fact that not only did someone come up with these completely improbable and over the top action sequences, but that also a producer then read them and gave them the green light, is nothing short of a miracle. Sure, there is some dodgy green screen work here and there, and the editing is frequently as illogical as the events unfolding onscreen, but somehow it works. Maybe it’s because the CGI is kept to a minimum, maybe it’s the way the performers look so invested in the ridiculousness they’re taking part in, exactly why I can’t put my finger on, but it works.

Eventually proceedings slow down enough to allow a plot to form, which with a 130 minutes runtime, comes as a welcome relief if the audience’s attention is expected to be held. Huang plays the adopted son of a Shanghai crime boss played by Wang Xue-Qi, most recently seen in Helios and Monk Comes Down the Mountain, who’s been helping the Japanese wipe out any revolutionaries. At the beginning of the movie we meet Huang in prison, where during an escape attempt he’s assisted by Ho, ultimately leading to the pair of them escaping together, and Xue-Qi making Ho another of his adopted sons thanks to him helping Huang get out. So far, so The Raid 2. Unbeknownst to both Xue-Qi and Huang though, is that Ho is one such revolutionary, who now inadvertently finds himself in the inner circle of a crime boss his band of revolutionaries wish to assassinate.

For added drama, Ho’s girlfriend who he believed died at the hands of Xue-Qi during a riot, played by Korean actress Choo Ja-hyun, is discovered to still be alive and in a relationship with Xue-Qi. Huang also has a girlfriend in the form of Xue-Qi’s daughter, played by Coulee Nazha (recognizable from Police Story 2013), however when Ho saves her from the crossfire of a rival gangs assassination attempt on Huang, she finds herself falling for the undercover revolutionary. Yes, not only does The Game Changer serve up a healthy dose of over the top action, it also delivers not one but two love triangles. While romance is largely looked at as an unwelcome distraction in the action genre, here it actually helps to reign things in after the action filled opening 30 minutes, which almost feel as if they were designed to cater to someone with attention deficit disorder.

Perhaps the reason why it works so well, is that the melodramatic circumstances surrounding the love triangles are on par with the excessiveness of the action. This is a movie were everything is turned up to 11, and while the execution sometimes leaves a lot to be desired, the sheer bombastic nature of it all, combined with a lack of pretention, result in a pace which rarely dips. Despite this though, there can be no doubt that some minor trimming could have benefitted The Game Changer, as audiences rarely clock into such genre efforts expecting to still be around after 2 hours. Xixi does well to fill the majority of the runtime, with a seemingly endless amount of slow motion rainfall, black leather trench coats with oversized collars, and fedora hats, however a little longer in the editing room could have resulted in a much tighter narrative overall.

Stories like this usually only have one outcome, and sure enough The Game Changer doesn’t stray from the expected conclusion, but it does get there in style. By the time Ho decks himself out in a chest bearing leather vest, armed to the nines with guns and a machete, his final one-man assault on Xue-Qi’s mansion comes across like a combination of the finale’s from A Better Tomorrow 2 and Commando.  Bodies and bullets fly in every direction, in a way which recalls the glory days of the HK action B-movie, when enemies would apparently regenerate at will for the sole purpose of running into a stream of gunfire, and cheap and cheerful pyrotechnics were the order of the day.

Let’s be clear, The Game Changer isn’t going to win any awards – not for the acting performances, not for the direction, and most likely not even for the action design.  However it’s a movie that carries itself with a sense of self confidence despite its flaws and frequent bursts of ridiculousness, that makes black leather trench coats look effortlessly cool even though they shouldn’t, and makes surviving a hail of bullets seem perfectly feasible. It’s far from high art, but when the credits rolled, I realised I hadn’t had that much fun with a Chinese gangster flick for a long time.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7/10

Posted in All, Chinese, News, Reviews | 10 Comments

‘Friend’ helmer no longer friendly with ‘Resurrected Victims’

"RV: Resurrected Victims" Korean Theatrical Poster

“RV: Resurrected Victims” Korean Theatrical Poster

Kwak Kyung-Taek, the acclaimed South Korean director of Friend and Friend 2 is back with a not-so-friendly movie RV: Resurrected Victims.

In the near future, murder victims have begun coming back to life with the sole purpose of avenging their deaths. Jin-hong (The Prison’s Kim Rae-won) is a cold-hearted prosecutor who’s obsessed with catching the man that killed his mother – but when she returns home, intent on killing him, he quickly becomes the lead suspect.

RV: Resurrected Victims also stars Kim Hae-Sook (Tunnel), Sung Dong-Il (The Chase), Jeon Hye-Jin (The Merciless), and Jang Young-Nam (Friend 2).

The film hits theaters on October 20th from Well Go USA. Trailer below:

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