Initial D (2005) Review

"Initial D" Japanese DVD Cover

"Initial D" Japanese DVD Cover

Director: Andrew Lau Wai Keung
Writer: Alan Mak Siu Fai, Felix Chong Man Keung
Cast: Jay Chou, Jordan Chan Siu Chun, Edison Chen Koon Hei, Anne Suzuki, Shawn Yue Man Lok, Anthony Wong Chau Sang, Chapman To Man Chat, Kenny Bee, Will Liu Keng Hung
Running Time: 107 min.

By Ningen

Based on the anime and manga of the same name, Initial D is about an ace drifter named Takumi (played by Jay Chou) who delivers food for his dad Bunta (Anthony Wong) in the same car he uses to race rival street-racers. Takumi prefers to be anonymous, but when he gets challenged by some cheap competitors, he’s forced to ask his dad to pimp his ride. In the mean-time, he has to deal with an awkward relationship with a more out-going(a little too out-going, actually) girlfriend named Natsuki (played by Anne Suzuki).

Chou comes off like Keanu without a pulse, but he does have a strong presence which suggests he could do serious roles one day. His hip-hop skills, however, are lacking; and playing his music in the background, during races, serves to undermine the tension. By the time the film’s done, you definitely will wish they had gone for Eurobeat. Anne Suzuki’s character is charming, but essentially serves as the window dressing for the film. Anthony Wong steals the show as the easy-going dad with all the answers.

The races themselves have some nice cars and believable stunts, but nothing gripping. That might have to do with the emphasis being placed more on the drivers than their tricks. Overall, though, Initial D is a decent leave-your-brain type of film you can appreciate, so long as you don’t expect to be left breathless as well.

Ningen’s Rating: 5.5/10


By Owlman

For those of you who haven’t heard about it before, Initial D is a very successful Japanese series of manga, anime, and video games throughout most of East Asia. Set in the world of drift racing, the story follows Takumi Fujiwara (Jay Chou), son of Bunta Fujiwara (Anthony Wong) who was a former legend on the street racing scene. Bunta doesn’t race much anymore and, in this movie, he’s running a tofu delivery service during the day and drinking away his sorrows at night. He’s got Takumi delivering the goods nowadays since he’s usually too drunk to do it himself. Since Takumi usually has to take the winding route through Mount Akina, he’s learned to be very adept at racing through the twists and turns at high speed.

This catches the attention of Ryusuke (Edison Chen) and Takeshi (Shawn Yue) who enjoy racing through the same stretch of road at night. Takumi inadvertently beats Takeshi during a tofu delivery run and while initially reluctant to join in the street racing circuit, he gradually falls into it.

Andrew Lau is the director here and his marquee name is usually synoymous with the same kind of output that Michael Bay puts out – very flashy and, more often that not, shallow to the bone. And, not so surprisingly, Initial D isn’t any different but, to its credit, any movie about street racing isn’t bound to have a lot of depth in characterization or storyline.

My sons enjoyed the movie but they love anything that has car chases whether they’re bad or good – and they’re okay in this movie, albeit few and far between. And save for a stupid love story with a “twist” and a couple of curse words, the movie is actually a pretty fair movie to show to kids.

On a technical side, the DTS soundtrack on the DVD is well done with the clear hum of engines and the screeching noise of tight corner turns coming out from the proper speakers.

However, there are two things that I really didn’t like…

* Jay Chou can’t act his way out of a wet cardboard box. Not only does his Cantonese make Michael Wong’s delivery look amazing, his “acting” abilities make Aaron Kwok look like Laurence Olivier in comparison. Even Edison Chen put in a better acting effort! As I was watching the movie with my sons, one of them asked me why Takumi (Chou) always stuttered. Since I didn’t want to explain to him my opinion of the concept of acting, I just told him that Takumi was retarded.

* I still don’t understand the thrill behind drift racing. To be honest, I have never read the manga nor have I seen the anime prior to watching this film. Maybe they can explain the thrill behind fishtailing a car normally used for pizza delivery – this movie doesn’t do it.

Bottom line: stick to playing Gran Turismo.

Owlman’s Rating: 4/10

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Dragon Lord | aka Young Master in Love (1982) Review

"Dragon Lord" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Dragon Lord" Japanese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Dragon Strike
Director: Jackie Chan
Writer: Jackie Chan, Edward Tang, Barry Wong
Producer: Raymond Chow
Cast: Jackie Chan, Mars, Chan Wai Man, Paul Chang, Suet Lee, Tien Feng, Wang In Sik, Tai Bo, Cheng Hong Yip, Kwan Yung Moon, Danny Chow Yun Kin, Fung Fung, Fung Hak On
Running Time: 95 min.

By Reefer

Dragon Lord begins as two sons from rich families prepare for a team contest involving some bamboo pyramid with a football resting at the top. The opening lines of dialogue go something like this:

Mars: Hey guys, have come up with a game plan yet?
Jackie: We will make up the plan on the way!

This is ironic because it seems that Jackie followed his own advice in putting together this very enjoyable kung fu comedy. More comedy than kung fu, the story is like Starbucks; it’s all over the place. You get the impression that he invited a hundred pals together AND THEN decided what to do. Even without much logical flow, Jackie’s natural charisma and athleticism, as usual, persuades the audience to follow him anywhere.

This is also a rare Jackie role where the kung fu isn’t central to the story. While he is a martial arts student, he spends most of the time trying to avoid his studies and fool his father to the contrary with the help of his servants and teacher. The film’s outcome does not depend on Jackie’s ability to master a fighting style beat a foe. I personally think it is more about growing out of boyish selfishness and caring for something bigger than himself like the Chinese antiques (read: national honor) imperiled by the end of the film.

But Jackie fans don’t care about explication. They want action. Here is where Dragon Lord runs a little thin. Besides the excellent and complicated brawl of the finale and a humorous scuffle with two soldiers, there really isn’t much in terms of kung fu. There are, however, some quite wonderful and dangerous scenarios involving Jackie stranded on a rooftop with bad guys jamming spears through the shingles at Jackie’s slightest movement and a Look-what-I-can-do stunt with Jackie jumping over a huge lit candelabra of which he has absolutely no business clearing with such ease.

Note: For some reason, two sequences where included that chronicle the events of a funky sport that is best described as a cross between badminton and soccer and the aforementioned bamboo pyramid thing. Both are so poorly edited that you cannot follow the action, but also requiring such skillful timing and athletic ability. I enjoyed the audacity of it, but ultimately found it to be filler in a film with plenty of it already.

Reefer’s Rating: 7/10


By Ro

I have to say I was surprised by my reaction to this film. I expected to dislike the sports, since I was so bored by the car racing in Thunderbolt, but they were the best part of the movie for me! The initial competition (some kind of football) was balletic and brutal at the same time. These guys managed graceful acrobatic leaps and falls while losing none of the raw energy of the ‘sport’. The shuttlecock competition was equally mesmerizing. The incredible precision of movement really showcased Jackie and his team’s ability to do anything athletic superbly.

The fights were a bit of a disappointment, though. I enjoyed the first big one in the temple (after waiting almost an hour for it!), but the final showdown was a little too frenetic and sloppy for me. And I’ll eat this review if it wasn’t undercranked! I know, in past reviews of this time period, I complained that the pace was too slow and now I’m saying it was too fast (apparently there’s no pleasing me!).

As for the plot, it’s best left unmentioned. All in all, it’s infinitely better than anything by Lo Wei, but nowhere near the league of what he would accomplish in just a year, with Project A. After reading his book, I know where his head was, so all I can say is I’m glad that he realized he was out of control and got centered again, with the help of his Opera School brothers.

Ro’s Rating: 6.5/10


By Andrew

This was one of my favorite JC films. I know it’s kind of old, and some of the dialogue is stupid, (who would watch these things or dialogue anyways?) but this film has awesome action sequences, and fights that outclass special effects. I love playing rugby and hacky sack, so when I saw the bun race and the shuttlecock soccer scenes I was pretty stoked. I got some people to watch this one with me, but they didn’t believe that Jackie was really doing all the stuff he did. If you’ve seen this one already and only thought it was so-so you need to watch it again and look for what’s realy going on in some of the better fighting scenes.

A few of my favorites: Intro/Race to the Top: Four teams are climbing a flimsy wooden tower to retreive a rugby ball they call the “bun”. When Jackie is almost to the top someone pulls on his jersey and he loses his grip. If you look closely you’ll see that he tumbles all the way to the ground! Rooftop Kite Sequence: Jackie is on top of the bad guys hideout trying to get his kite back (unlikely, but hey it’s a movie) when they start shoving REAL spears through the roof to try and stab him. You know that they coreographed this sequence, but many of those spears are less than half-a-second away from stabbing him when they go through the roof. This is the kind of buster keatonesque madness that makes Jackie great.

Shuttlecock kick: In the hacky sack match Jackie shoots halfway across the court to make the winning kick. This may not seem like much, but it’s harder than it looks. It took 1000 takes to get this one right, but it has paid off. In many of his later movies you can see him kick something at someone with pinpoint accuracy. This is a direct result of practicing this kick. Fight in the temple: Jackie fights two thugs in a temple. His character in this film is not the greatest fighter, and he does take a few hits. But check out the scene where he does a standing jump over a candle rack. He clears it by so little that he actually puts the candles out! Try that one Van Damme! Fight in the barn: I love it when Jackie clobbers that guy in the end. “Do you think he is dead?” “If he’s not we are in real trouble!” There’s a point though when Jackie goes over the railing, flips on a cross bar, and lands on- Cowboy. That’s right, Mars is there to break Jackie’s fall, and both hurt their backs. Ow!

If I were going to introduce someone to JC films and I could show them any three of his movies I would probably show this one, along with Police Force and First Strike. These are all good overall films which showcase his abilities in a different way.

Andrew’s Rating: 8.5/10


By Numskull

This opens up with a nifty contact sport that looks quite painful, but then it goes into a lame-assed storyline about Jackie and his friend competing for the attention of some girl. It was funny enough watching Jackie cheat off his shoe and get pissed on, but for the most part, the middle of this movie is a drag. Worst of all is the ultra-tedious game played with a badminton birdie. When you reach that part of the movie, it’s a good time to read WAR AND PEACE if you haven’t done so already. The film redeems itself at the end, though, especially with the nice and crippling fight in the barn (although it’s fairly difficult to sympathize with a character who doesn’t even question whether or not a few old pots are worth getting killed for). Overall the movie is good but not great… as with Fearless Hyena, I would have preferred less dipshit humor and more serious fighting.

Numskull’s Rating: 6/10


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Yakuza, The | aka Brotherhood of the Yakuza (1975) Review

"Yakuza" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Yakuza" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Sydney Pollack
Producer: Sydney Pollack
Writer: Paul Schrader, Robert Towne, Leonard Schrader
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Richard Jordan, Ken Takakura, Brian Keith, Herb Edelman
Running Time: 112 min.

By Woody

When you rent a film with high expectations and get even more than you bargained for, you know you’ve got a great film on your hands.

In “The Yakuza”, Robert Mitchum is Harry Kilmer, a man who returns to Japan after 15 years to rescue the kidnapped daughter of his pal Tanner (Keith) from the clutches of the Yakuza. Once there, Kilmer is forced to enlist the aid of his former lover Eiko’s brother, Ken (Takakura Ken).

The main emphasis of this film is the relationship between Kilmer and Ken. While Ken was believed dead in the war, Kilmer was taking care of his sister and young niece. Everything seemed to be going great for Eiko and Kilmer until Ken miraculously returned from the war, and Eiko refused to marry Kilmer. Ken resents Kilmer because of his sister’s relationship with him, a gaijin, but is also in great debt to him for taking care of his family in his absence, and that is why he agrees to help rescue the girl. After the rescue goes bad and two Yakuza are killed, both Ken and Kilmer are in danger, and feel an obligation to help one another out. The relationship between these two characters, Ken and Kilmer, is what drives the film, and Takakura Ken and Robert Mitchum give such believable performances, that the tension is quite convincing. To see two of the world’s greatest actors ever in one film is a delight.

“The Yakuza” is perhaps best known as the writing debut of Paul Schrader, the writer of “Taxi Driver”, and the director of “Affliction” and “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters”. Like Schrader’s other films, this isn’t a light piece of entertainment. This film deals with themes of honor and self sacrifice in a more honest way then one would expect, and the themes and images of this film are apparent in many of Schrader’s works, most notable “Mishima” and “Taxi Driver”. This film is a real testament to Schrader’s skill, for there are many plot twists and surprises, but they never come at the expense of the plot or characters.

The action is also really well handled, and is never used just for the sake of having action. Each time something violent occurs, it affects the plot and characters. And let me tell you, for a 1975 Warner Bothers production, this movie kicks! It mixes samurai inspired swordplay with surprisingly well choreographed gunfighting in a very unique, yet pretty believable, (and violent!) way. The final piece of action (this film does not end at the final action scene like most action movies) in this film, featuring Takakura on the swords and Mitchum on the firearms is something to behold.

My only real problem with this film is that there are pauses in the narrative to explain Japanese culture, a culture I am pretty well versed in. Of course, for the casual viewer, this may not be a problem.

In conclusion, this is a great movie. Robert Mitchum and Takakura Ken, together in a filmscripted by Paul Schrader…need I say more? Oh, and a quick warning: If you are a fan of pinky fingers, you may want to avoid this film like the plague…OUCH!

Woody’s Rating: 9.5/10

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Midnight Meat Train, The (2008) Review

"The Midnight Meat Train" Korean Theatrical Poster

"The Midnight Meat Train" Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Ryuhei Kitamura
Writer: Jeff Buhler, Clive Barker
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Brooke Shields, Roger Bart, Ted Raimi, Peter Jacobson, Barbara Eve Harris, Tony Curran, Vinnie Jones
Running Time: 100 min.

By Ningen

Ryuhei Kitamura’s American debut didn’t exactly go off with a bang. Due to some in-fighting at Lion’s Gate, this action/horror adaptation of a Clive Barker short story ended up on the company’s straight-to-video list, while classic horror fans had to snooze through those boring trailers of Repo! The Genetic Opera and that remake of My Bloody Valentine-the latter of which has to resort to being in 3-d to get people to notice it. In fact, Barker reportedly burned his bridges so boldly-to the point that he allegedly cursed off the company at a SDCC screening-that LG chose to flip him off by dumping the flick in $1 theaters. Barker’s story was that the go-to producer for horror was let go, and, as a result, his projects with the company in general got the short end of the stick. [But to be fair, how could Barker possibly compete with the “genius” of Disaster Movie?]

Still, in spite of being set on a course of failure, there were actual fans of his work-and I assume Kitamura’s work, too-who flocked en masse to see this film-at least in L.A. One midnight screening with Kitamura in person actually sold out, and that was before Halloween! So I was actually fortunate to catch another show a few months later with Barker this time. When I asked Barker at a New Beverly screening about whether there was any double-standard for Meat Train’s mistreatment, because of Kitamura’s Asian background, he acknowledged that it’d be a different story if it was a white director who spoke English, even though he felt Kitamura’s English was very good. [Catching Kitamura at an Azumi panel a few years earlier, I’d have to agree with Barker. I think it has to do with his time in Australia, but that’s another story.] But the real problem was, in his eyes, that the studios have a narrow-minded view of what audiences might like in a horror film. For example, when he talked about how he wants to make “the best damn film” he could, and the audience applauded, he noted that the reaction shows the state of the genre at the moment. If it was 25 years ago when he said that, no one would be impressed, since they assumed the director was getting paid well either way.

As for the actual premise of Midnight Meat Train, it’s about a professional photographer named Leon who’s coaxed into shooting more unsettling images of his city for an exhibit. He manages to save a girl who nearly gets assaulted (and raped?) by a gang, but who ironically gets killed on the subway train she leaves on that same evening. She winds up as a missing person on the news, and Leon subsequently feels obligated to solve the mystery behind her murder. What he learns is that there’s some beefy guy who likes using metallic objects to bludgeon bystanders who happen to take the train at night. He decides to find out why it’s happening, and what he discovers is that it’s part of a massive conspiracy and cover-up.

If you’re expecting Kitamura’s typical b-action style of filming, you might be in for a disappointment. Where this picture excels is through its various close-up and lighting shots which emphasize the mellow, but ominous, mood which establishes the scary moments. Also, the wardrobes of the actors playing the urbanites look like people you actually might encounter in the Big City, and not just people dressed to impress-as is the norm in these settings nowadays. These subtle touches add to the “You are there” experience.

But in general, Midnight Meat Train is more an exploration of the monster myth than a typical slasher film. It highlights the culture behind the contemporary fantasy of the serial killer, rather than focusing on the lives of the victims. That’s not to say that it’s cold-blooded like Saw, or “ironic” like Scream; it’s just that the setting becomes serves to help “explain” the attacker better, and what about his dwelling makes him so frightening.

This is also not to say that it’s some sort of existential bore-fest like Blair Witch. No, you will encounter gory and disgusting scenes of torture in ‘Meat Train. But these moments aren’t just inserted into the frames for the sake of shock value. No, they deliver on the tension already built through the previous scenes of the film.

Unfortunately, depending on how well you pay attention to the movie, the “surprise” at the end might not be that unexpected. However, it doesn’t necessarily hurt the impact of the work as much as enhance it. Also, for some reason, the scenes of intimacy feature the characters clothed. But if you’re just looking for a good thrill with some a sense of realism, you can’t go wrong with Midnight Meat Train.

Ningen’s Rating: 7.5/10

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Ninja III: The Domination (1984) Review

"Ninja III: The Domination" American Theatrical Poster

"Ninja III: The Domination" American Theatrical Poster

AKA: Ninja 3
Director: Sam Firstenberg
Writer: James R. Silke
Producer: Yoram Globus, Menahem Golan
Cast: Sho Kosugi, Lucinda Dickey, Jordan Bennett, David Chung, Dale Ishimoto, James Hong
Running Time: 92 min

By Owlman

Ninja III: The Domination was released in 1984 and directed by Sam Firstenberg (Revenge of the Ninja, American Ninja). The film stars Lucinda Dickey (Breakin’) as Christie, a telephone maintenance technician and part-time aerobics instructor possessed by the spirit of an evil ninja assassin.

(Excuse me while I laugh for a minute…okay, done)

As the film starts, the evil Black Ninja (David Chung) is making his way to a posh golf and country club on a mission to kill some important dude. After killing the guy, Black Ninja then proceeds to slay pretty much everyone else in the vicinity. Police show up, chase him around the fields, and suffer plenty of casualties as a result. However, they finally do surround Black Ninja and start blasting him with some good ol’ guns. After being nailed with about 80 or so bullets, Black Ninja disappears after tossing a smoke bomb.

Meanwhile, Christie is up on a telephone pole nearby doing some repairs. Black Ninja, obviously wounded but still alive, manages to make his way towards her and hands her his sword. Little does Christie know that his spirit is infused in the sword and after she touches it, said spirit is then transferred to her body.

The possession begins slowly but surely and Christie ends up killing off almost all of the police officers that blasted Black Ninja that day. Note I said almost… that’s because she also finds the time to fall in love with one of those cops, Secord (Jordan Bennett).

Anyway, another ninja named Yamada (Sho Kosugi) shows up and figures out that Christie is possessed by that dastardly Black Ninja. He spews some wise proverbs along the lines of “Only a ninja can kill a ninja” and is determined to rid Christie of Black Ninja’s spirit.

What’s Good About This Movie?

Honestly, this isn’t a good movie, even with Sho Kosugi being in it. That doesn’t prevent it from being a guilty pleasure or one of thosegreat movies to watch while stoned.

What’s Bad About This Movie?

Pretty much everything. Prior to starring in this film, Lucinda Dickey had appeared in a couple of movies capitalizing on the breakdancing craze of the 80s. While I might have thought that breakdancing and ninjas together in a movie was cool at 10 years old, at 29 years old, it just seems absolutely mind-boggling.

Plus, there are just too many laughable scenes in this film. Among them include the following:

  • The cops surrounding Black Ninja in a circle and blasting him with their guns. Perhaps these cops were of the bulletproof kind but I think I’d be kinda hurt by crossfire if I was part of a shooting circle.
  • The fact that, after being shot full of lead, Black Ninja still manages to have his limbs intact and can still stand is amazing. What were the cops shooting him with? Potato guns?
  • The sex scene between Christie and Secord borders on fetish – V8 down a semi-naked body isn’t a turn on unless you’re Nosferatu. And poor Secord… you’d think that maybe the guy could have shaved that back of his just a bit.
  • This film also played up a lot of that mystical ninja crap that was so prevalent in these 80s films. I remember I was at a school trip to the Japanese Embassy and one moron kid asked the guide if ninjas could really transfer their sprits to other hosts and, if so, where could he find one? The guide just shook his head and replied, “Go climb a pole. I’m sure he’ll find you.”

Conclusion

Absolute trash where the only redeeming quality is the fact that Sho Kosugi is in it… and everybody knows that Sho is the baddest ninja out there!

But that one line that he says still resonates with me…”Only a ninja can kill a ninja”. Well, bullets certainly didn’t do the trick but really bad ninja movies like this one certainly hastened it.

Owlman’s Rating: 2/10

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Knock-Off (1998) Review

"Knock-Off" American Theatrical Poster

"Knock-Off" American Theatrical Poster

AKA: Knock Off
Director: Tsui Hark
Writer: Steven E. De Souza
Producer: Shi Nansun
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Rob Schneider, Lela Rochon, Paul Sorvino, Carman Lee, Wyman Wong, Glen Chin, Michael Wong, Moses Chan, Michael Ian Lambert, Mike Miller
Running Time: 90 min.

By Alexander

Usually when I answer the phone in the other room I quickly press pause on the remote fearful I’ll miss a vital piece of dialogue or important plot twist in whatever movie is spinning wildly in my DVD player. Yet when my wife called me halfway through “Knock Off” the other night I not only left the film running, but was hoping the movie had ended in the few minutes I was away. No such luck. When I lazily crawled back onto the futon Jean Claude Van Damme and Rob Schneider were still wackily interacting; Michael Wong and Lela Rochon still looked embarrassed; and Russian mobsters were still trying to commit some heinous crime involving plastic dolls and bad dubbing.

Sure, I could have stopped the DVD and resume watching Spanish language videos on L.A. T.V., but then I wouldn’t have felt comfortable submitting a review to cityonfire.com on a film I hadn’t watched all the way through. This is all you need to know about “Knock Off”: There is one scene early in the film that features Van Damme, clad in knock-off “Pumma” sneakers, competing in an illegal high-stakes rickshaw race. He’s pulling bug-eyed Rob Schneider through the streets of Hong Kong desperate to reach the finish line before his midget-pulling rival. Russian mobsters intervene and Carmen Lee gets hit in the head by a can of something tossed by Rob Schneider. Har har.

Alexander’s Rating: 3.5/10


By Yates

This film is cooler than it should be. When I rented this I didn’t expect much. Maybe that is why I liked it so much. No, this movie is no masterpiece, but it is quite enjoyable, due to great direction (Tsui Hark is the man) and well done action scenes. The leads aren’t bad (Even Van Damme ain’t too bad), but all of the extras and bit characters suck ass. Michael Wong has great screen presence as always and thankfully doesn’t have much dialogue.

The action scenes are for the most part very inventive and well choreographed. What makes this film better than most of it’s kind is Tsui Hark’s direction. The camera seems to always be moving, and there are some strange as hell POV shots (a foot going into a shoe, a throat being cut as seen from inside the throat, etc.). This movie really has the feel of an HK film. But the best thing about the film isn’t the direction, the action, Michael Wong. It’s the fact that Dennis Rodman is not in it. Oh yeah, you gotta love those Pummas! Recommended.

Yates’ Rating: 8/10


By James H.

It’s a general rule to be skeptical with every Van Damme movie on the shelf. Even his legitimate looking movies (“Hard Target”, “Maximum Risk”) aren’t sure things. “Knock Off” is Van Damme’s first truly entertaining film.

Van Damme plays a Hong Kong fashion dealer, who gets mixed up in all sorts of trouble. He and his business partner (Rob Schnieder) are coaxed into helping the CIA take down a group of knock off artists. The paper thin plot does all that it needs to. It doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a clothesline for action scenes and some bad (and some good) jokes.

The story is admittedly, rather stale and by-the-numbers. What keeps it interesting is Steven E. DeSouza’a script. There are some interesting situations and moments of creativity.

What pushed “Knock Off” above the mark is Tsui Hark’s excellent and competent direction. The action is top-of-the-line. Hark’s action scenes usually seem like John Woo Lite (if you don’t believe or agree with me, watch “A Better Tomorrow III”). In “Knock Off” they take a whole new spin. The film is directed with more style than you can shake a stick at. It is easily one of the most visually impressive American action movies of the last five years.

James H’s Rating: 7.5/10


By S!DM

Bad Script. Horrible. Atrocious. Wickedly awful dubbing. “A-movie” gone “B.” Good, arty direction. – Unfortunately, all of the above describe this movie. Oh wait, how did the last one slip in there? By Tsui Hark, that’s how. Sadly, the direction is the only semi-redeeming factor of this movie, appropriately named “Knock-off,” because it succeeds in knocking-off almost every action film of recent times. Not to waste too much space on this review, I will describe the plot in ten words or less: Van Damme rips off jeans, gets caught, gets chased. That’s the whole plot, and I even fluffed it a little bit.

One thing that bugs me is the presence of Rob Schneider, the hilariously UNfunny Billy Crystal wannabe that makes guest appearances in Adam Sandler’s overrated garbage. Why is he in this movie? He is not funny in this movie! Why do we need him when the dialogue is so unintentionally laughable and disappointing? Good question.

Tsui Hark must have felt sorry for a potentially great action star, and decided to help him out again. He saves this movie from becoming a total bomb. Van Damme is actually pretty good here, and if the movie took away all the distracting “humor” and “acting” and the rest of the “supporting” characters, this movie would have been a good 3-star action flick. Too bad. Good premise, but bad script. Aside from that, the action scenes are directed by Sammo Hung, but none of the fight scenes last longer than 15 seconds! Too bad.

Anyway, Michael F. Wong seems to be the best thing in the movie, and you know that when this happens, you better stay away.

S!DM’s Rating: 5/10


By Amir

Although this highly entertaining film was produced by the powers in Hollywood and scripted by Stephen de Souza, the writer of Die Hard (one of the coolest America action pictures of all time), Knock Off is without a doubt a pure Hong Kong effort. Its cleverly directed by Hong Kong King Tsui Hark. The director’s camera and unique style of editing moves the action along fast. The choreography, designed with the help of Samo Hung contains some of the most stylish movements captured in a long time. The dialogue is horrendously dubbed, giving it the feel of an old style chop-socky flick, which makes Knock Off an instant cult classic, one that will gather more following and be remembered as one of Van Damme’s most unusual and undoubtedly best film. Speaking of the star, Van Damme makes one great HK action star; he flips, kicks, and chews off bad dialogue with style and confidence.

On its theatrical release, Knock Off was ignored by both the critics and audiences alike, even more surprisingly, the fans of HK cinema also viewed the film negatively. Obviously, the film flew over their heads faster than Hark’s camera movements. Those who expected Lethal Weapon or Tango and Cash were disappointed, and those who wanted the pure HK film felt betrayed by the casting of Van Damme. Moreover, it seems that no one got the idea behind the film, Knock Off is truly a knock off, its low budget credits, awful special effects, laughable plot, and every other aspect of its cheese-like-value is part of its charm, it’s the soul of the film, and it makes the whole experience fun.

Knock Off is an exciting surprise, and a must see for every HK/Kung Fu fanatic. Like other films that first went unnoticed (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) but later gained respect for their originality, Knock Off should receive another chance and be recognized not for what it should have been, but for what it is: One freaky/messed up/furious mother of a movie.

Amir’s Rating: 8/10

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In Hell | aka The Savage (2003) Review

"In Hell" Japanese DVD Cover

"In Hell" Japanese DVD Cover

AKA: aka The Shu
Director: Ringo Lam
Producer: Boaz Davidson
Cast: Michael Bailey Smith, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Marnie Alton, Velizar Binev, Assen Blatechki, Milos Milicevic
Running Time: 96 min.

By Reefer

Holding a copy of Ringo Lam/Jean-claude Van Damme’s straight to video In Hell in my hand at the video store, I had the same thought that most action movie fans had who wasted money, time, and brain cells on their previous collaborations. Why has Ringo Lam subjected himself, his career, and his fans to mindless tripe starring the JCVD?

My presumptions, then, proceeded to melt away after the first five minutes of this fascinating attempt at transforming the “Muscles from Brussels” into an honest-to-god actor. Nowhere in this film is the flex’n pecks attitude of Van Damme’s early career or the heavy-handed dopeyness of his more recent outings. With his tragic demeanor and bad haircut, this is a very different guy.

The film opens with Kyle (Van Damme) having a conversation with his wife on his way home. Suddenly he hears her scream and realizes that she is under attack by an intruder. In a brilliantly intense action sequence, we see him speeding home while his wife fights for her life. Kyle discovers his wife fatally stabbed, but the killer still lurks within the house. So the fight is on. Here is where the viewer first understands that this will be a different experience for Kickboxer or Bloodsport. There are no slow motion scissor kicks or fancy movements. Just brutal, grounded, desperate action.

And that desperation never stops. This is a very bleak film, showing the brutality of a world without justice. Kyle is eventually sent to prison for exacting revenge in the name of his wife. A horrible place. A place where fights are set up by prison officials for fun and profit. A place where young men are ushered to an empty room in order to be raped by the “champion” as some kind of sick reward. Ringo Lam’s rendering of prison life is an unflinching and humorless exercise in barbarism and self hate. And Van Damme’s acting as Kyle really deserves some recognition because he doesn’t play him flashy or as some kind of vibrant martyr of justice. Kyle closes himself off. You can’t get into his head. Van Damme conveys this and all of the character’s feelings with only about 5 minutes of dialogue in the whole film. Don’t get me wrong. He is not deserving of an Oscar nod or anything, but this is a considerable step for a guy who routinely attempted character development by taking off his shirt.

Its unfortunate that In Hell offers us such a half-hearted Shawshank-type ending. It tries to be inspiring, but comes off like the filmmakers really didn’t know where to go with it. One of the film’s strangest missteps includes a supporting role by none other than former pro football linebacker Laurence Taylor as a advice spouting Green Mile-type mountain of muscle who defies the prison officials by refusing to fight. I think he was meant to be a source of inspiration for Kyle but his motives are murky at best.

I must say that its refreshing to speak well of a Jean Claude Van Damme film for once. Sorta vindicates me for all the times I thought I would give him another shot but ultimately paid for it by witnessing films like Double Team or The Order or Desert Heat etc. I hope this is an example of Van Damme wisely submitting to the vision of a director and sacrificing for the sake of art instead of a man hanging by a thread professionally and personally. Who knows? This very well could be the beginning of something great.

Reefer’s Rating: 7/10

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Kids Return (1996) Review

"Kids Return" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Kids Return" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Takeshi Kitano
Writer: Takeshi Kitano
Producers: Masayuki Mori, Yasushi Tsuge, Takio Yoshida
Cast: Masanobu Ando, Ken Kaneko, Leo Morimoto, Hatsuo Yamaya, Mitsuko Oka, Ryo Ishibashi, Susumu Terajima, Koichi Shigehisa, Michisuke Kashiwaya, Yuko Daike, Atsuki Ueda, Ren Osugi, Masami Shimojoe
Running Time: 108 min.

By Equinox21

Kids Return was not even close to being my favorite Takeshi Kitano movie, but it wasn’t bad in the least. It didn’t really even feel as much like a Kitano movie as one might expect, because there’s much more dialogue and much more happens as opposed to an almost minimalist style of film-making (like his others).

The plot follows two friends in high school, Masaru and Shinji, who are slackers and bullies. They’re going nowhere with their lives and donât ever study. Getting beat up motivates Masaru to take up boxing, and convinces Shinji to do the same. As Shinji gets better at it, Masaru quits school and boxing to join the Yakuza. The movie follows them for a few years as Shinji gets better and better at boxing and Masaru gets higher and higher in Yakuza ranks, and they grow further apart.

This movie seemed to me to involve lots of familiarity and then almost inevitable changes to that which the characters (and through them, us) find familiar. A number of restaurant scenes in which the same things happen repeatedly, but then one day change, is an example of this. Shinji’s training regimen is another example. He runs the same places every day, trains the same way, but then one day it is changed due to circumstances that are a somewhat key part of the plot (which I won’t spoil).

I did notice that this movie employs a theme that Kitano seems to use in a couple of his other movies. Without giving anything away, I’ll simply state it as being the rise and fall of characters in their particular focuses. Think Brother with the rise and fall of the gang in LA and Scene at the Sea with the rise and fall of Shigeru in his surfing career. It’s not as drastic in Kids Return, but is still fairly prominent and in perfect fitting with the title of the film.

This is yet another great Kitano film with a terrific Hisaishi score. You’d be wise to check it out if you like Kitano’s films at all.

Equinox21’s Rating: 8/10

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Crows Zero | aka Crows 0 (2007) Review

"Crows Zero" International Theatrical Poster

"Crows Zero" International Theatrical Poster

AKA: Crows: Episode 0
Director: Takashi Miike
Producer: Mataichiro Yamamoto
Cast: Shun Oguri, Kyosuke Yabe, Takayuki Yamada, Shunsuke Daito, Meisa Kuroki, Tsutomu Takahashi, Goro Kishitani
Running Time: 131 min.

By Ningen

A new kid in town named Genji enrolls in a “bad” school where he meets a thug named Tamao who runs the place. Aspiring to head his own yanki[Japanese JD] empire, in order to impress his yakuza pop, Genji challenges Tamao for his position. However, since he’s up against a formidable army, he has to beat and win over the factions under Tamao’s control, in order to have some back-up for his final match. Whether by fist or communication, Genji slowly builds his own army against Tamao.

Based on a manga, Crows Zero will appeal to people looking for the school-yard fight equivalent to 300. While that’s not the only thing going on in the movie, that pretty much sums up what you can expect. Genji does have a potential love interest whose girlfriends he tries to use to win over one of his rivals. But she’s mostly there for the bad, but “motivational”, country hip-hop montage. Otherwise, she’s just the obligatory comic relief and eye candy in a sea of sausage. Genji also has a “confidante” in the form of a Barney Fife-like yakuza who’s trying to re-live his youth through Genji while trying to stop a war between his “family” and Genji’s “family”. Ken also teaches Kenji what it takes to be an Alpha Male.

While I generally enjoy the laguid direction of Crows Zero, it suffers from too many supporting characters and subplots. Each different yanki punk has different motivations for their actions. And while that does give some depth to the overall story, it also takes away the impact from the beat-downs, since the focus tends to shift to other issues, such as Tamao’s buddy being in the hospital. I know the whole point of the movie is to suggest that there’s more to life than being Top Dog, but the ending which segues into the inevitable sequel undermines that argument, since Genji still continues to spar with others.

So the real glue which holds the movie together is the metal soundtrack which sounds like a Japanese imitation of the South Park guys’ musical parodies played straight. The rock basically sums up how the characters feel, so they don’t have to do it themselves, and they can just get to the bruising. The fights themselves range from brutal to absurdly melodramatic. Every (stereo)type of Japanese gang is thrown into the mix, and they basically just pound away at each other, usually as dirtily as possible. It does get boring after a while, but it doesn’t lose its impact. I just wish the action was a bit faster, and less “busy” with all the extras on-screen. But if you need a “leave your brain at the door” flick, you can’t grow wrong with Crows Zero.

Ningen’s Rating: 8/10 for the small fights, 6.5/10 for the big fights, 6/10 for the pointless side-stories, and 7.5/10 for the overall entertainment value

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City of Lost Souls, The | aka The Hazard City (2000) Review

"The City of Lost Souls" International Theatrical Poster

"The City of Lost Souls" International Theatrical Poster

AKA: The City of Strangers
Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Seishu Hase (novel), Ichiro Ryu
Cast: Teah, Michelle Reis, Patricia Manterola, Mitsuhiro Oikawa, Koji Kikkawa, Ren Osugi, Akaji Maro, Anatoli Krasnov, Sebastian DeVicente, Terence Yin, Atsushi Okuno, Akira Emoto, Eugene Nomura, Marcio Rosario, Ryushi Mizukami
Running Time: 99 min.

By Joe909

Tarantino haters take note: Asian cinema is now ripping-off your whipping boy. QT is always scorned for “lifting” scenes, images, and plots from Asian action movies; now that same scorn can be directed back at the East. Of course, the QT bashers will never do this; in their hypocrisy they’ll just say that Tarantino’s getting what he deserves, or they’ll go to absurd lengths to explain away any and all similarities between these movies and his.

I present to you City of Lost Souls, aka Hazard City, which not only plot-wise is a direct lift of QT’s superior “True Romance,” but also is nearly a scene-by-scene reconstruction of the film. However, whereas the two leads in “True Romance” are likeable, down-and-outers who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, the male and female leads in Hazard City (Teah as Mario, and Michelle Reis looking fantastic as Kei) are too cool for words, and willingly put themselves in dangerous positions.

Like “True Romance,” these two share a wild and crazy love, and will go to great lengths for each other. There’s also the requisite goons and gangsters whom they interact with, and the old steal-a-bag-that-turns-out-to-contain-a-shitload-of-cocaine gag. Just like Clarence and Alabama, Mario and Kei decide to sell the coke and make off to a better life. As in both films, things don’t go as planned.

The most obvious filmic theft in City of Lost Souls occurs during a standoff between a pair of yakuza thugs and a group of Chinese triads. The triad boss relates a story about how the Chinese tried to educate an “island of monkeys in the East” in the ways of the Chinese, but the “monkeys,” (aka the Japanese) just couldn’t get it. This story causes both parties to laugh crazily, before guns are drawn. A bullseye rip-off of the infamous scene between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper in “True Romance.” It’s just not as good here, or as effective.

But beyond all the nit-picking, City of Lost Souls isn’t so bad a movie. It has a modern-day fairy tale quality (jumping safely out of helicopters without parachutes, magical tattoos), just like “True Romance” did (woops, there’s another comparison); but TR got it right by living up to that fairy tale aspect and giving us a happy ending (in the film, at least, but also bear in mind that in QT’s script, Alabama survived). City of Lost Souls goes the downer route, which is just becoming tired and outdated these days. I don’t know why so many screenwriters think it’s “shocking” and “unique” to kill off main characters in the last act. I guess they think it will make them seem like original filmmakers. It doesn’t.

That being said, there are some cool moments in this movie. The CGI cockfight is so stupid it’s great, and the many action scenes are slick and well-made. Unfortunately, they just don’t last very long, and the actor playing Mario doesn’t look comfortable holding a gun. He’s got the look and the attitude, but he just can’t carry it off. Michelle Reis, however, is pure badass, and the part where she lights some poor sap on fire is probably the film’s highlight.

There are several gunfights (one of which ends with an unexpected game of ping-pong), old-fashioned beatdowns aplenty, and a few one-liners. There’s also a cool bit of caprioera, as several Brazilians try to take out Mario, but director Miike cops out by not letting us see the fight itself. I wouldn’t consider City of Lost Souls to be a straight-up action film, though. It’s more of a post-modern “offbeat gangster” sort of flick, with a mishmash of languages and the occasional, grotesque image. This is of course required, this being a Japanese film; I think it’s written somewhere that all Japanese movies must have at least one gross-out factor. In the case of City of Lost Souls, it’s a few pieces of shit floating in a toilet as some guy gets his head dunked in. Scatology for the sake of scatology, it’s totally unnecessary.

A last word: the Hong Kong dvd release is one of those “Side A” and “Side B” deals. This means that once you get halfway through the movie, you have to flip the disc over and continue watching. It’s like regressing back to the days of laserdiscs, and it annoys the hell out of me.

Joe909’s Rating: 7.5/10


By Loonieweed

City of Lost Souls was my first venture into the crazy and fucked up mind of Takashi Miike. After hearing so much about the guy for such a long time, I was eagerly excited to check out one of his films; although, IMO, I was somewhat let down with the film, but I knew there would be a lot more to see from Miike. Granted, nothing beats the midget overdosing on the bench, the odd POV shot inside of a toilet, jumping out of a helicopter and surviving, and of course, two guys hanging out and falling in love. Awww, isn’t that sweet? While the film was entertaining, I was expecting more after hearing about Ichi, Audition, and of course, the DOA trilogy. It’s not to say anybody else will hate CoLS, just make sure you don’t watch it thinking you’ll experience something along the lines of Ichi The Killer. Just think of CoLS as True Romance Lite, minus Elvis fucking and Gary Oldman.

Loonieweed’s Rating: 6.5/10

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Audition (2000) Review

"Audition" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Audition" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Daisuke Tengan, Ryu Murakami
Cast: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Miyuki Matsuda, Renji Ishibashi, Tetsu Sawaki, Jun Kunimura
Running Time: 115 min.

By Alexander

Takashi Miike’s Audition scared the hell out of me. Even though I figured out the “twist” early in the film, and I knew exactly where the story was headed, I was still unprepared for a handful of its shocking scenes and revelations. Three-fingered hands, man-dogs, dismembered tongues, razor wire, oral sex and a plethora of other fucked-up details left me wishing I’d saved Audition for the next afternoon. (A BRIGHT afternoon with plenty of sunlight streaming though my windows, birds chirping a happy song and the sounds of… lawnmowers or something in the background. Y’know, for comfort.)

I’d recommend Audition because of the scares alone. While above I may have sounded like a complete pussy, I actually do have a high tolerance for horror and gore. And while Audition isn’t one of the most violent movies I’ve ever seen, it’s certainly one of the creepiest and atmospheric.

However, what truly makes Audition a classic of the genre are the performances of Ryu Ishibashi (as Ryo) and Miyaki Matsuda (as Eihi). Both offer nuanced, believable performances. (I say “believable” because it’s necessary the audience believe Ryu would fall for Eihi; that he would pursue her despite his rational nature and the many hints that the object of his desires isn’t as demure and marriage-worthy as he initially believes. She’s plenty fucked-up, y’all.) Because of the recent spate of Hollywood remakes of Asian films, I’ve gotten into the habit of imagining which American actors would best suit the roles of their Asian counterparts. Ishibashi and Matsuda are so convincing in their parts, that I couldn’t think of anyone, from television or film, who could capture the characters quite the way these two do. Brilliant.

Alexander’s Rating: 8.5/10


By Dragon Ma

Seriously, I’m at a loss for words to describe this film, I’d heard about being very slow and that it’s better going into it without knowing much about it. I think that works in the film’s favour because the first moves very slowly and it takes forever to go anywhere but in a way you get a feel for the characters and in a film like this, that’s essential. For the first half, this film moves along like it’s a drama with nothing much happening and then Miike slaps you in the face, although, to be fair, he drops hints here and there but nothing to prepare you for what’s coming.

For those unfamiliar, Ryo Ishibashi plays Aoyama a producer who, after the death of his wife decides to have an audition to find a replacement. Now that idea doesn’t put Aoyama in a very favorable light but he’s not totally in love with the idea but and it’s his partner who manages to convince him but it still seems very manipulative. I won’t say anything more than that. Now, I don’t mean to spoil anything, so if you haven’t seen it, stop reading, go and watch it, come back and continue reading.

HOLY SHIT, Miike really kicks you in the nuts in the second half, the torture scene in the living room is probably the most gut-wrenching scene I’ve ever seen, I was literally sweating and I wondered if Miike was going to leave you clutching your nuts or deliver another swift kick.

Dragon Ma’s Rating: 9/10


By Woody

Takashi Miike’s cinematic “fuck you” to the audience succeeds brilliantly in shattering audience expectations, and will leave you either in awe or in utter disgust. Or, as it was in my case, both. But that’s the point, isn’t it?

The plot is simple. Ryo Ishibashi is a middle aged widower with a nice teenage son. Lonely, and with prodding from his son, Ryo tells a producer friend he wants to find a wife. The producer decides that they will hold a fake film audition. Ryo is immediately smitten with the stunning and angelic former dancer Eihi Shiina. After the audition, Ryo and Eihi go on dates. Everything might just work out for the two. But lest we not forget, this is a Takashi Miike film.

The performances, cinematography, direction, all of that is good and dandy. Eihi Shiina is chilling and beautiful. Ryo Ishibashi is a great everyman hero. The cinematography is wonderful. The direction is brilliant.

I loved this movie. It fucked me up. When I let friends borrow it, it fucks them up. It is right up there with “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” and “The Untold Story” in the pantheon of fucked up, unforgettable movies you just can’t forget.

There isn’t too much I can say without giving it all away. I don’t want to be like other reviewers, who have ruined it for so many others. All I can say is, be prepared. This movie will get to you.

Takashi Miike is a madman. Don’t believe me? Watch this on a triple bill with “Ichii The Killer” and “Visitor Q”.

deeper…deeper…deeper…

Woody’s Rating: 10/10


By Len

In a perfect world, people would see this film without hearing anything of it beforehand. I can only imagine the emotional impact this movie might have to people who haven’t heard of this before going to the cinema. So if you haven’t seen this one yet, please stop reading this review now and go watch this film.

Now, on with the actual review (spoilers ahead, but I tried to reveal as little as possible about the twists and turns of the story), this movie is utterly sick. I don’t consider myself to be particulary squeamish, but the finale in Audition made me feel somewhat ill. I had heard much of this film, mainly praises on how this movie manages to shock people who aren’t prepared for it. So unfortunately, I knew pretty much what to expect. Even if I hadn’t heard anything, the back of the DVD case (Universe, Region3) spoiled the ending for me with it’s amusing plot synopsis:

“But he just can’t imagine that this woman, looking innocent, is a horrible and bloody maniac instead. He has never been that scaring and painful…”

So yeah, I was prepared for the bloodbath in the ending. But what surprised me was the sadistic nature of the violence as it was very unlike anything I had seen in a horror film previously. There’s something very disturbing about a scene where the lovely Shiina Eihi happily does some DYI piercing on the main character while slowly humming “Kiri-Kiri-Kiri”, inserting needles on his face. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s followed by a scene of amputation with a steel wire. Service with a smile indeed.

Anyways, enough of the horrible things happening in the film. The main idea of the film is rather simple. A middle aged Japanese film exec wants to get remarried and the perfect girl turns out to be a sadistic psychopath.

Combining a tender romantic tale with Lynchian dream sequences and a dose of sadistic violence in the finale, Audition is kept together by the clever direction of Takeshi Miike. In the beginning, the film seems almost like a Japanese version of a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan lovestory, until it suddenly starts being more like a psychological horror story that comes to a shocking conclusion. I’m not planning on seeing this again anytime soon, but I have to admit that this film is definately worth seeing once. Infact, I would call this film somewhat a must-see, due to this being something that most people haven’t seen before.

Oh, and the ending rocks. Very much. Hollywood slashers could learn a thing or two from it.

Len’s Rating: 8/10

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Brother (2000) Review

"Brother" International Theatrical Poster

"Brother" International Theatrical Poster

AKA: Aniki, Mon Frère (French title)
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Writer: Takeshi Kitano
Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Omar Epps, Kuroudo Maki, Masaya Kato, Susumu Terajima, Royale Watkins, Lombardo Boyar, Ren Osugi, Ryo Ishibashi, James Shigeta, Tatyana Ali, Makolo Ohtake, Kouen Okumura, Naomasa Musaka, Rino Katase
Running Time: 114 min.

By Woody

Ignore the critics, this is a great flick. One of Kitano’s best? That’s hard to say. Almost any film pales in comparison to classics like “Hana-bi” and “Sonatine”. Maybe it was my lowered expectations, but I really loved this one.

In “Brother”, Beat Takeshi plays a yakuza who is forced to join his younger brother in Los Angeles when it is apparent that a war is going to break out. When he arrives, he learns that his brother has dropped out of school and is now pushing drugs with some buddies. After some initial anger, Takeshi decides to help his brother and his buddies in taking down LA’s other suppliers in order to build a successful criminal organization.

Like all of Kitano’s crime movies, the focus of this film is not on action. The focus here is on the little things. A game of basketball between Japanese and American gangsters. A football game on the beach. A dice game between Kitano and his brother’s friend. A paper airplane gliding between two buildings. A punch in the stomach from a disappointed older brother. The look on the face of a young man witnessing his first murder. Lesser directors would emphasize the bloodier moments, and while there are plenty (and I mean plenty) violent, bloody moments in the film, they take a backseat to observation and the comparing of Eastern and Western ways.

Kitano also shows that he hasn’t lost his knack for creating likable characters with the minimum amount of dialogue possible. He also has a large cast in this one, with a lot of small characters. Both those factors could potentially make it pretty hard to comment on the performances, but if there is one thing Kitano knows how to do, it is to create a likable cast. Kitano is great, playing in his usual quiet, understated style. Omar Epps, who has the biggest non-Japanese performance here, is very good, and the relationship between his character, Denny, and Kitano’s, Aniki, is fun to watch and believable. All of the supporting actors are pretty good, too, and it’s nice to see Claude Maki in another Kitano film (he was the star of Kitano’s seminal “A Scene at the Sea”).

It is also worth mentioning the score of the film, which is very nice (as is usually the case in a Kitano film). It consists mostly of laid back jazz, which perfectly compliments this laid back movie. Only Kitano can make a bloody, violent crime movie and still give it a laid back feeling.

In conclusion, this is one to own. A laid-back, thoughtful East Meets West crime flick with great acting and virtually no stereotypes. Kitano is one of the great living directors, and hopefully this film will get him more recognition in the western hemisphere. It gets my fullest recommendation.

Woody’s Rating: 9.5/10


By Tequila

Weeeeeeelll then, Kitano eh? Everybody’s favourite stand up comic/journalist/sadistic gameshow host/artist/actor returns in what I believe is his ninth directed film, but I could (read: probably am) be wrong.

Brother came out in 2000, but has only just been released in some territories (i.e. USA which is surprising seeing half of it was filmed in LA and it has US actors in it) and has been rated as “the worst Kitano movie” by a lot of people. But fuck that opinion. It may well be the worst Beat Takeshi flick, but it’s still bloody brilliant and I don’t mean that “bloody” as just a way of getting my point across.

Brother follows disgraced Yakuza Yamamoto (Kitano), known as Aniki (big brother) for most of the film to LA where he plans to meet his little brother whom he sent to America many years ago when they left their orphanage. Thing is, while Aniki is a big-time Yakuza, his lil’ bro is a small time drug dealer working for Mexicans in his black/latino/japanese gang. The comic relief that crops up in almost all Kitano movies is here in it’s usual dark form – for example how Aniki introduces himself to Denny (Omar Epps): Denny tries to scam Aniki by walking into him and dropping a bottle of wine before claiming it cost $200. Aniki calmly bends down and picks up the broken bottle…and stabs Denny in the eye with it, before giving him some knuckles to the belly.

The violence is pretty damn graphic and you see intestines, severed fingers and heads and several stabbings and shootings and the acting is usual Kitano: excellent, although some of the support is nothing special. The story is gripping and the action is very quick and noisy and will probably make you jump a few times.

Overall, I would say that Kitano’s aim of getting a Yakuza-style movie into the American mainstream has failed as it is certain of an NC-17 certificate if not higher in it’s uncut form and it is too arty for it to be a hit. If compared to a HK movie, I’d say that the movie plays out like The Longest Nite with more violence and less stylish moments (i.e. the mirrors gunfight).

Still, see it, it’s unBeatable (groan).

Tequila’s Rating: 9/10 – A great addition to the black comedy crime drama genre

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No Blood No Tears (2002) Review

"No Blood No Tears" Korean Theatrical Poster

“No Blood No Tears” Korean Theatrical Poster

AKA: Neither Bloods Nor Tears
Director: Ryoo Seung-wan
Writer: Ryoo Seung-wan, Jeong Jin-Wan
Cast: Jun Do-Yeon, Lee Hye-Yeong, Jung Jae-Young
Running Time: 116 min.

By Dragon Ma

I managed to watch this last night and and it came as complete surprise, I’d heard good things about this film, although mostly people compared it to films like ‘Snatch’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’. The film definitely retains the same style as ‘Snatch’ but somehow weaves it’s own charm. For those who haven’t seen it I’ll lay it out for you:

Kyong-Son is an ex-female gangster, all washed up and left driving a taxi after being left high and dry by her ex-husband, she’s also saddled with the debt he owes to some gangsters. Soo-Jin wants to be a singer in Japan but she’s stuck with an abusive boyfriend who regularly beats her when he either gets drunk or just generally feels like it. Soo-Jin and Kyong-Son meet after crashing in a street. Soo-Jin’s boyfriend runs an illegal dogfight ring but he has plans to make a big score with an a boxing match. Soo-Jin decides to rip him and enlists Kyong-son to help her.

Now there’s more but the story jumps around a lot and there are many characters but each character plays a role, there are no throwaway characters in this film. This film exudes style like there’s no tomorrow, it makes no apologies for it’s roots in pulp noir. The one thing that did jump out at me was the level of violence in this film, there’s no cartoon violence here, it’s real and it’s brutal. There’s a fight at the end involving both women a guy and it’s almost painful to watch because really get hit HARD, they don’t simply get slapped, they get majorly f***** up. I have to give it up for both of the lead actresses in this film, they’re both superb, Lee Hye Young for her world weariness and toughness. Jeon do Heong as Soo-Jin takes what seems like a shallow role and turns it into something of substance.

I won’t say this film is perfect, some of the fight scenes are choppy and it’s very difficult to tell what’s going on. It does move at a slow pace and it’s relentlessly brutal. Sometimes it does look like the director was showing off with slow motion shots and computer effects to enhance some of the fight scenes. All this is fairly minor and it’s still a fun little film despite how brutal it can be.

I also have to say this film has one of the best badasses I’ve seen in awhile. He doesn’t have a word of dialogue but he’s the best Jet Li style badass I’ve seen in ages, he even wears a tunic like Jet did in FOL. He’s played by Jung Du Hong who also did stuntwork/fight choreography for Musa and he’s THE premiere korean fight choreographer. After seeing his work here, I’m impressed, he seems to favor impact and realism rather than making it look pretty. He kicks major ass in this film.

That said, it’s a great little crime film, there are plenty of twists that aren’t telegraphed and the two women are great, what more could you want.

Dragon Ma’s Rating: 9/10


By Equinox21

A less appropriate name for a movie I have never heard. Not that this is the bloodiest movie made, far from it, just that every character bleeds somehow at some point in this movie. Perhaps they should have just called it No Tears, but that just wouldn’t have sounded as cool. And “cool” is a word that really does describe NBNT. I award an A- for style to this one, losing a bit for the fight between Dok-Bul (Jae-yeong Jeong [the guy who plays the ultra-cool sniper in Guns & Talks to damn near perfection]) and the Silent Man (Doo-hong Jung). The fight wasn’t bad, except that a good part of it was shot far too close up and edited too choppy, too Hollywood, so that you couldn’t see all that was going on. This was minor, as most of the rest of the fights (and there were plenty of them) were superbly choreographed and looked amazing. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a martial arts film (though there were elements of martial arts in some of the fights as Doo-hong Jung is a martial artist who did the martial arts direction for Musa); the fighting more resembled Fight Club than anything. The style element also comes from a very strong “Ritchie-esque” story. Think Snatch, without the comedy but with all the style.

The story is really about two women, Su-ji (Do-yeon Jeon) and Kyeong-seon (Hye-yeong Lee), who meet by accident (literally, a car accident), who end up working together to steal money from Su-Ji’s abusive boyfriend. There’s more than enough lying, cheating, backstabbing and good, old fashioned violence to keep everyone interested. Like any good movie, there are no real “bad guys” or “good guys”, only shades of gray. Everyone in the movie has a sordid past and their own motives for their actions. Plus there’s a nice catfight, which is never a bad thing.

No Blood No Tears, despite the highly misleading title, is a very cool movie. I’d recommend it to anyone who liked Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance or Snatch.

Equinox21’s Rating: 8/10

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Boiling Point (1990) Review

"Boiling Point" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Boiling Point" Japanese Theatrical Poster

AKA: San Tai Yon X Jujatsu; 3-4x Jugatsu
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Writer: Takeshi Kitano
Producer: Hisao Nabeshima, Takio Yoshida, Masayuki, Mori
Cast: Masahiko Ono, Yuriko Ishida, Takahito Iguchi, Minoru Iizuka, Makoto Ashikawa, Hisashi Igawa, Bengal, Johnny Ohkura, Katsuo Tokashiki, Takeshi Kitano (Beat Takeshi)
Running Time: 98 min.

By The Reviewer With No Name

Boiling Point seems to be one of the lesser liked/known of films in Kitano’s filmography (It’s actually the last Kitano film I’ve seen so far besides Dolls and Zatoichi), that I can’t really understand. Most people just see Brother, Sonatine or Hana Bi first and then move onto his other works like Kikujiro, A Scene at the Sea and Violent Cop then eventually sit through Getting Any?. Most regard Violent Cop as the basis of how Takeshi came to have such a subtle laid back style in his movies. Well, I think they’re half wrong and half right. Boiling Point is more experimental then Violent Cop in terms of characters, direction, acting, plot, humor and even violence whereas Violent Cop was more like the experimental showcase for Takeshi’s style of violence and dark humor. But Violent Cop was partly done with the cast and most of the script, I like to think of it this way. When you’re asked to finish half of a puzzle that’s already completed is like how Takeshi came to make Violent Cop. But when Takeshi tried to make the puzzle himself with this film. Hense why Violent Cop felt more full-on with the characters and story.

There’s a lot of negatives in this film but I’ll touch opon those a bit later on. But now, I’ll rant about the good things and I’ll stop the Violent Cop to Boiling Point comparisons.

I’ll go on about the story and plot before I get to that. Masaki’s a slacker-type individual whose character really goes nowhere in the film. He’s kinda depressing to look at in some scenes where he basically never reacts to anything that goes on around him. The story itself is something you can tell someone about a friend of a friend of a friend of yours who got into some kinda trouble with a gang, then sorted it out with unnecessary ideas or plans, that’s basically it. IN between the weak but on-going story is a bunch of events and situations that take place in the film, some of which not involving ANY of the main characters at all. They’re funny situations but have no real place in the film itself. The second half of the film is completely different then the first half really. Only two main characters really go on to Okinawa in search of a gun. And that’s Dankan and Masaki really. The subplot is Uehara’s method of revenge against the yakuza who want HIM dead. He plot veers away from the actual story again with Uehara’s story.

A great positive about the film is that it’s totally unpredictable. I mean the plot veers away from the actual story for the first 45 minutes. The main incident occurs about 15 minutes in and a few others regarding the plot and story but that’s basically it. Just the main character Masaki sitting back and watching many different incidents occur within his eyes. The film is downright hilarious, it may be the second funniest film Kitano’s ever made that’s above Kikujiro and below Sonatine. The characters are your typical stereotypes/jerks but they have some kinda charm that makes you laugh. Especially the ex-yakuza baseball coach Iguchi, whom of which takes shit from NO ONE, not even the yakuza gang Masaki goes up against. He’s the second most badass character in this film then Kitano himself. He looks like an easy going fellow at first, but then you dig into his character and you see him for what he really is. A jerk. Like the one scene where he beats a yakuza named Muto (another great character) and has a minute and a half long deal with how Muto disrespected him back at the yakuza HQ when Muto said he’d call him Iguchi instead of Mr. Iguchi. So when Iguchi beats him down outside, he says “stop it Mr. Iguchi” then the rest goes on with them both saying “Iguchi” Mr. Iguchi” to each other, until Muto says Iguchi. Then Iguchi proceeds to knock him out with a crate on the ground. The comedy in Boiling Point works very, very well where most of it is used (this isn’t a film to take seriously). Like the second baseball game where two of the funniest scenes in the movie take place, Iguchi telling off the empire, then chasing a player from the different team down the field. It’s all subtle and somewhat lightweight but it works really well.

The humor in the second half of the film where Kitano’s character Uehara comes into the film is WAY more dark and absurd. Like Kitano gleefully raping his friend to bulling and intimidating both characters and non-characters. His attitude is totally disrespectful and brutish. He’s the only character who seems to be different then the rest, because like I said before, all of the characters are just your average folks. Uehara on the other hand is a moody, mean person who is unexpected badass. But Uehara has nice companions along with him for his part, his girlfriend who he treats like shit and his guy-friend who he rapes happily. Kitano’s character is a big thumbs up for the movement of the plot and how he fits into this scheme which really he has nothing to do with. Awesome

There is more hilarious moments of humor throughout the film like jump cutting implied fights and motorcycle accidents to Iguchi’s exploits. Masaki himself does a few funny (and dim-witted things) during the film, but his character is more like an audience member watching all of these events and situations unfold in front of him. Dankan also makes a worthy debut in a Kitano film as Masaki’s buddy who tags along for the ride and gets into more then one funny accident himself. One of which is him knocking out some spoiled kid who trys to come onto him (it seemed like that) and another where (it’s tasteless really) he can’t wipe his ass after taking a shit in the bushes, so he runs into the ocean to clean out his colon.

Now for the negatives of the film. The pace of the film in almost excruciatingly slow, the baseball game is like 8 minutes and there’s no real highlights there except the introduction to Iguchi, Masaki, Dankan and Akira (Akira pops up a few times as the happy-go-lucky friend of Masaki). It’s a slow and kinda tedious way to start the film, but almost everything after that works out fine besides an overlong scene at an airport.

Another thing that bugged me was the ending. The ending has to be one of the biggest letdowns I’ve ever seen. It’s one of the only times that Takeshi attempted something extremely cliché, and Takeshi failed tring that. But it’s more or less another experimental thing that Takeshi tries out. But there’s many things you must know before watching this film.

– The film’s very, very slow. If you don’t like that, then stay away.
– I recommend not seeing this one first outta the fact that it’s nothing like Sonatine or Hana Bi.
– There’s no musical score or anything like that. No Hisaishi tunes, just Dankan’s AWFUL singing.
– Takeshi is in the film for only 20 minutes.
– There’s very minimal violence, but when it shows up, it’s quite brutal.
– The main character has approximately 7 or 8 lines in the film, people speak for him.
– Don’t expect depth or any real symbolism.
– ALL of the humor is subtle, no Getting Any? Style shit.
– The ending fucking blows.
– The direction is pretty sloppy and incoherent, most of the humor and events have less to do with the actual story.

Regarding the violence, the film has a very brutal feel to it, like the feel in Pulp Fiction whereas that film wasn’t violent but people dismissed it as extremely violent. Boiling point is the same, everything seems more violent in nature or real life then if you interpret the violence in Boiling Point as a movie “universe” itself like with Brother and Violent Cop.

I can’t quite understand the message that the film portrays. Because what I really saw was a theme of standing up to the enemy or asshole who wrongs you. Like Iguchi with people in general, Masaki with the yakuza and Uehara with the other yakuza’s, And another theme of anti social or just sociopathic people in general. Masaki doesn’t communicate with anyone throughout the film and he seems rather embarrassed with his actions when he trys to look good or try at something. Uehara on the other hand is the exact opposite of Masaki, he’s a loudmouth with select friends and many, many enemies who takes shit from no one but gives shit to everyone (it’s gratuitous almost). Think of that while watching the film then look at the ending and notice the little difference in Masaki.

The feel and tone is like every one of Takeshi’s yakuza/crime films. It’s gritty and bleak but has a very down-to-earth laid back feel. The ending is very abrupt and pretty bleak. But out of ALL of Kitano’s films, this is the one that feels the most realistic/down-to-earth.

So anyways, I find this to be one of my favorite Kitano films, it’s just weird, funny and at times absurd, with great characters, and humor. I’d recommend it if you’ve seen most of Kitano’s other films and you know his style for subtle humor and aesthetic violence/scenery. Bah fuck it, just buy it if you want too, but keep this review (or rant) in mind while watching it.

The Reviewer With No Name’s Rating: 8/10

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Brotherhood of the Wolf (2002) Review

"Brotherhood of the Wolf" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Brotherhood of the Wolf" Japanese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Le Pacte des Loups
Director: Christophe Gans
Producer: Richard Grandpierre, Samuel Hadida
Cast: Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Emilie Dequenne, Monica Bellucci, Jérémie Rénier, Mark Dacascos, Jean Yanne, Jean-François Stévenin
Running Time: 143 min.

By Numskull

Gregoire du Fronsac, royal naturalist, is sent to the rural county of Gevaudan to investigate a series of murders blamed on a rampaging, wolf-like beast. His assistants are Mani, his Iroquois blood brother, and Thomas d’Apcher, the grandson of the nobleman under whose roof he sleeps during his stay…that is, for the nights when he’s not bedding Sylvia, the prize attraction at the local brothel. During daylight hours, the aristocratic Marianne de Morangias is the target of his affections, and her arrogant, overbearing brother Jean-Francois is his adversary…at least, the one that walks on two legs.

I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I adore this film unconditionally. The first time I saw it, my reaction was one of perfect, pants-wetting joy, and had I not been confined to bed with an absolute motherfucker of a flu bout (sickest I’ve been in my life) so shortly thereafter, I probably would have been wandering the streets telling complete strangers to go see it. With its outstanding music, deafening sound effects, gorgeous sets and locations, and unapologetic mixture of genres, it was…and is…a true feast for the eyes and ears. I had never thought that tri-corner hats and eight layers of clothing could look so fucking cool.

Now? Well, the gushiness has faded, but the love hasn’t. There are flaws…a weak cut here, a bit of substandard CGI there…but this is minor, minor stuff. Brotherhood of the Wolf is almost certain to remain one of my very favorite films until the day I die. That doesn’t mean I want to watch it all the time…far from it…but it’ll always be present on my mental Top Whatever list, in the distinguished company of Seven, Fight Club, Braindead, Mr. Vampire, Musa, Falling Down, Ravenous, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

There are certain films where one’s adoration is such that you think anyone who doesn’t like them must be clinically insane. In this case…hey, I’m realistic. Incest, ecclesiastic conspiracies, and monster-hunting in 18th century France aren’t for everybody. I can only imagine how disappointed some people must have been when they got this after being led to expect a “kung fu werewolf movie” thanks to all of the idiot critics out there who came up with asinine comments like:

“An 18th Century version of The Matrix…” -Lou Lumenick, New York Post

“This is a kung-fu movie…” -Jeffrey M. Anderson, The San Francisco Examiner

“An unexpected touch of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” -Jami Bernard, The New York Daily News (she’s the one who compared The Passion of the Christ to WWII-era Nazi propaganda films, by the way)

“…slo-mo martial-arts scenes out of The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon…” -Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

No.

No, no, no, no, no.

Were these people on crack? Had they never seen swords or subtitles before Crouching Tiger? Did they think that slow motion, long coats, and people hitting each other didn’t exist before The Matrix? Or were they just too fucking lazy to write reviews that were actually accurate?

These are the things that keep me awake at night.

One common complaint about BOTW…and I know that some people reading this have it, I can smell it on you…is that it’s “scatterbrained”; that it “doesn’t know what it wants to be” or some such nonsense. To those people, I say: That’s not what you mean. What you REALLY mean is: “I am confused and frightened by this movie’s refusal to fit neatly into one established category that has been around for as long as cinema itself, and rather than accept it for what it is, I shall scold it for not being something else like the mewling halfwit I am.” There, now. Isn’t it a relief for the truth to come out?

Another common complaint about BOTW is that it’s too long, and I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that the people who say so would be the first ones to whine that the film made no sense if it were shortened to accommodate their feeble attention spans. The film isn’t two and a half hours because Christophe Gans, Sebastien Prangere and David Wu don’t know what the fuck they’re doing; the film is two and a half hours because there are more than two important characters and because the story requires attention to detail. Of course, some of these poor souls were probably under the impression that this was a “kung fu werewolf movie” before they saw it, and while complaining about the film’s length they were probably STILL “thinking” (?) that it was supposed to be a “kung fu werewolf movie”. One would think that the large chunks of plot development between fight scenes, as well as the complete absence of lycanthropes in the film, would have made them aware that this, in fact, is NOT a “kung fu werewolf movie” in intention or execution and that they had been led astray by indolent critics. Alas…

The theatrical cut, released in the U.S. by Universal, is serviceable, but the extended version (available from TVA Films in Canada for us Region 1 types) is far better. Aside from several extra scenes integrated into the film, there are two discs full of supplementary material, much more interesting than the usual promotional stuff where everybody just sings one another’s praises. Actor Samuel le Bihan (Fronsac) and fight (NOT “kung fu”) choreographer Philip Kwok (of “Venoms” fame), for example, are generally pleased with the fruits of their labor but are also rather critical of each other’s methods. A notable disappointment is the lack of input from composer Joseph LoDuca, whose musical score for the film…one of my favorites, second only to Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings work…is never less than superb.

I trust I’ve made my views clear. BOTW is, to me, at the top of the cool movie mountain. An absolute treasure, now and forever.

Numskull’s Rating: 10/10


By Reefer

Filled with guns, crossbows, martial arts, monsters, boobs, male bonding, and action, Brotherhood of the Wolf is a sixteen-year-old boy’s fantasies come to life. I mean, where else can you find such a collection of guilty pleasures? French director Christopher Gans seems to have gone out of his way to bring out the playful kid in his audience and succeeds on all counts.

BOTW begins as a traditional monster movie. Women and children fear attack from some crazed beast terrorizing the French countryside. The king sends two men to help investigate, Fronsac and Mani. Fronsac is a boyish intellectual and Mani is the strong silent warrior.

The heroic twosome arrive during a rain shower just in time to teach some scoundrels not to beat up on a woman and an old man. Mani beats them soundly with a staff, showing lots of slo-mo close-ups of splashing mud puddles and pouring rain. The photography throughout the film is a highlight. Later on, they and cohort discuss catching the beast while firing guns, throwing knives, and shooting crossbows at a bunch of pumpkins on some posts. Cut to: slow motion pumpkin explosions. I just sat there grinning from ear to ear. Totally guy stuff. When not beating ass or eviscerating pumpkins, our boys frequent the local brothel where lots of boobage is on display. No wonder this film is almost two and half hours long!!!

Based on actual events, BOTW also suggests enough conspiracy theories to make Oliver stone proud. Fortunately, the movie dumps most of the politics in favor of some very satisfying action sequences, choreographed to perfection by Philip Kwok (Mad Dog from Hard-boiled). One criticism, near the end when Fronsac is forced to fight, he does so like a skilled warrior, but his skills were never even alluded to previously. Mark Dacascos’s Mani did all the ass kicking. To me, this seemed like a cheat. Like they just decided to make Fronsac go Bruce Lee at the end of the film. Then I checked the Deleted Scenes on my DVD. Seems that in the original cut, Frontac actually takes part in the very first fight of the film, but that footage was cut out. I consider it a shame that it wasn’t included. Ignore the critics who couldn’t get past such mixing of genres. Forget that Mani, an Iroquois Indian, knows Asian kung fu. This is a highly entertaining romp of a film. Better enjoyed if you can find that kid inside of you.

Reefer’s Rating: 8/10


By Joe909

It’s hard to give an accurate description of this movie. It’s not exactly kung-fu, nor is it horror. It isn’t a love story, although there’s a heavy romantic subplot. I’d say it’s an old-fashioned romance in the original definition of the word: “a fictitious tale of heroes and adventure,” as quoted from Webster’s. It’s an adventure with two very cool heroes, a crazed villain, claw-wielding, kung-fu fighting peasants, wacky, demonic swords that break apart and re-form, two visits to a bordello (each with nudity included), a great monster (one of the few instances in which cgi effects look very realistic; in other words, better than “Phantom Menace” and all that crap), and a great climax.

Brotherhood of the Wolf looks like a modern-day Shaw Brothers movie, only filmed in French. The peasant warriors especially resemble Shaw extras, what with their long hair and home-made weapons. Maybe choreographer Philip Kwok had something to do with this. And speaking of choreography, the fights throughout are excellent, though there is the occasional, irritating use of slow motion and other filmic trickery. Not exactly Matrix-like, but close enough. Luckily, everyone sticks to the ground and there’s no flying around or any of that nonsense.

Mark Dascosos is one bad muther in this movie, believe you me. Gans apparently directed him with the early Arnold Schwarzenegger method: give the actor only a modicum of lines; let his grimace and toughguy bearing do all the talking. Plus they somehow achieved the impossible: Dascosos for once doesn’t look like an alternate member of N’Sync, there’s no prettyboy at all left in him. He’s just pure, face-painting, loincloth wearing, shroom-eating savage in this movie. He has probably one of the best kung-fu fights ever towards the end of the movie, as he takes on an epic amount of warriors in the monster’s crypt. There’s also a cool showdown with the monster, in which Dascosos’ character Mani paints himself up, just like Arnold did in “Predator.”

The main lead, Samuel Le Bihan, is just as much of a badass as Mani, though we as viewers don’t get a taste of this until later in the movie, although it’s pointed out in the very beginning that the guy is a war hero. His character gets probably the best scenes in the movie, what with his climactic battle in the villain’s lair, with henchmen and the villain himself.

This and “Versus” are the two best movies I’ve seen this year. If I had to choose between the two, I’d pick Brotherhood. Mostly because there’s more story (maybe too much of one, as the political subterfuge that runs throughout might throw off someone unfamiliar with French history; I had to explain the ending to my girlfriend, who really couldn’t have cared less, anyway), and because this is just more of a movie. “Versus” was great, but it’s mostly just guys running through a forest and killing each other. Brotherhood of the Wolf offers something for everyone, and if you’re looking for something fresh, exciting, and original, I would direct you to this great film.

Joe909’s Rating: 9.5/10

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Big Hit, The (1998) Review

"The Big Hit" Japanese DVD Cover

"The Big Hit" Japanese DVD Cover

Director: Kirk Wong
Writer: Ben Ramsey
Producer: Terence Chang, Wesley Snipes, John Woo
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Lou Diamond Phillips, Christina Applegate, Avery Brooks, Bokeem Woodbine, China Chow, Antonio Sabato Jr., Lainie Kazan, Elliott Gould, Sab Shimono, Robin Dunne, Lela Rochon, Danny Smith, Joshua Peace
Running Time: 91 min.

By Numskull

If I really hated this movie, I wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to call it “The Big Shit”. Fortunately I don’t hate it, so you need never fear hearing that too-easy-to-be-funny reference from me again.

In terms of crafting an enjoyable American debut film, Che-Kirk Wong succeeds where John Woo, Ringo Lam, Tsui Hark and Ronnie Yu all failed. The Big Hit is by no means perfect but it’s got a lot going for it. With a $10 million budget, it can’t be considered one of those “icky, little” movies that almost nobody sees (twits), but at the same time, that figure (low by Hollywood standards) eased the pressure to deliver a hyper-mega-super-blockbuster and made it easy for the film to turn a profit. Plus, John Woo and Terence Chang helped out behind the scenes, Mark Wahlberg makes a pretty likable killer-for-hire, and, most importantly, the script has a fantastic sense of humor. Consequently, there is no point in the entire movie where it even comes within 500 miles of taking itself too seriously.

A good thing, that; the basic plotline is somewhat less than epic. Kinda like a sitcom with guns. The kidnapping and betrayal, mercifully, take center stage most of the time, rather than the budding romance between kidnapper and kidnappee and the fact that kidnapper is banging two women at once (engaged to one, borrowing money from another).

The supporting cast is a mixed bag. First and foremost: Lou Diamond Phillips. This guy is quite good at being annoying. Whether that’s a pro or a con is up to the individual viewer. The big boss man (Avery Brooks) is also a highlight. Christina Applegate? Sorry, I just can’t shake the spectre of “Married…With Children” when I see her. Her parents are reasonably funny, though. The trace-busting guy who can never think of the right word to say tries too hard. He ain’t no good. And then there’s China Chow, making her…uh…”acting” debut. Seriously, I won’t say her performance totally sucks, but it’s painfully obvious that she was selected for the role just because of her looks. One day, by God, the aesthetically challenged will take Hollywood by force, and the streets will run red with the blood of models both super and regular…

One guy here really deserves a special mention: Danny Smith, who plays the snotty, zit-faced clerk at Big Top Video. The part is small but I’m convinced he was born to play it. His delivery is hilarious. With the right material, this guy could have a successful “niche” career, kinda like a geeky Jim Carrey (only much, MUCH funnier).

Danny reminds me of a guy named Dave that I used to know in high school.

I wonder what ol’ Dave is up to these days?

Guess I’ll never know.

Anyway…

There are a few well-done action scenes and some penis jokes. The DVD has deleted scenes, including one in which has Melvin’s girlfriend says “I suck your dick like I’m drowning and your balls are full of oxygen.” They shoulda left that in there. Excerpts from “Taste the Golden Spray” (fuck me, that’s funny) would have been nice, too.

I guess I’m done. This isn’t the kind of movie you can have really deep thoughts about. Just give it a rental, and quit bitching about American action movies in general. Sometimes you have to watch something just for fun, regardless of how dirty you feel for it afterwards.

Numskull’s Rating: 7/10


By Joe909

The Big Hit is one of those movies that makes me wish I could magically transport myself into the world of the film. Why? So I could beat the living shit out of Lou “Diamond” Philips. Damn, I hate this guy. And damn, I hate this movie. But back to the Diamond-bashing. The Big Hit isn’t that good to begin with, but Philips makes it even worse with his horrible, macho posturing, overuse of “hip” slang, and by generally just being a prick. I didn’t like most of the other characters, either. They all try to talk and act “hip,” but instead come off like a suburban high school drama club performing their rendition of “New Jack City.”

There’s only one good scene in this entire movie, and that’s the opening hit on the crook who peddles in slavery. It’s a pretty neat action setpiece, as Marky Mark takes on everyone with a pair of nitesite goggles and a bag of weapons. He even spins around on the floor and shoots people. But that’s it. That’s the only good scene. The opening credits sequence alone, which is no doubt the joy of gay men and pre-teen girls everywhere, in which we watch a nearly-nude Marky Mark work out on his gym bag, gives you an idea of what you’re in for: a bunch of MTV-style shit. All posturing, no substance. Even the music is absolutely horrendous. The Big Hit captures every essence of what makes bad Hong Kong movies bad: bland, stereotypical characters, “comedic” bits that aren’t funny, and a boring, frustrating subplot that adds nothing to the movie, and only serves to detract from it. By this I refer to Marky Mark’s fiancé and her annoying parents, whose bumbling fussiness only served to make me reach for the fast forward button.

I guess you could just take this movie as a fluff piece, but even then, it doesn’t cut it. Nothing makes any sense in the movie. For example, China Chow and Marky Mark bond as they prepare a kosher meal for those annoying, would-be in-laws. MM goes to kiss CC, but then she bashes him in the head. Marky ties her back up and deposits her back in the trunk of a car. However, mere minutes later, they’re together in a car, talking about how they want to be together forever. WTF? And what about when Marky’s car is run off the road and lands on a tree, threatening to plummet to the ground, far, far below? MM and China get out of the car: and the very next scene they’re in the middle of a forest! And just a second before getting knocked off the cliff, they seemed to be in a residential area! I can buy people flying through the air, like in Swordsman 2, but shit like this irks the hell out of me.

I know some people like this movie, but I’m not one of them. I can’t think of one good thing to say about it, other than Lou “Diamond” Philips’s character gets stabbed in the chest and dies.

Oh, and no offense to those who like the gifted Mr. Wahlberg. I myself think he’s a fine actor (when the material’s good); I just like to call him “Marky Mark,” so no one will ever forget who this man once was. The world might have moved on, but I still (unfortunately) remember his and the “Funky Bunch’s” butchering of “Good Vibrations.”

Joe909’s Rating: 3/10 (for the opening fight sequence alone)


By James H.

Once upon a time, a studio executive said, “Let’s make a funny action movie.” Millions of dollars were invested and a funny action movie was made, giving birth to what we all know and love; the action/comedy. Throughout the centuries many action comedies have been made. There have been some good ones and some bad ones. Fortunately, The Big Hit is one of the good ones.

Mark Wahlberg stars as a hit man with the unlikely name Melvin Smiley. He just wants to be liked. He also has co-dependency issues with his fiancé (Christina Applegate) and his girlfriend on the side (Lela Rochon). Wahlberg plays the character cool, and tongue firmly in cheek.

No matter how talented and likeable Wahlberg is with Melvin, the show is stolen by Lou Diamond Phillips in a brilliantly over-the-top role. He plays Cisco, one of Melvin’s partners, another contract killer. He has a plan to make some extra money on the side by kidnapping the daughter of a wealthy Japanese industrialist. Unfortunately, the wealthy industrialist has gone bankrupt after his film “Taste the Golden Spray” tanked. Here’s the hitch though, the daughter is also the goddaughter of Paris (Avery Brooks), Melvin and Cisco’s boss.

For the most part, the action takes a back seat, save the opening and the finale. The real focus is the comedy. The laughs in the film are genuine, and never forced. The film takes on several forms of humor too. There are several big laughs throughout, like the scene where Lou Diamond Phillips’ character tries to call the Japanese industrialist to inform him his daughter has been kidnapped. There are subtle small laughs too, like how the henchmen ride around in Dodge Caravans, or that it seems like King Kong Lives is everyone’s favorite movie. I loved, too, the little comment about suburbia’s look-a-like houses from Melvin’s neighbor (“Wrong house again, asshole!”).

The film was directed by Kirk Wong who also did the below average Organized Crime and Triad Bureau and the stellar Crime Story. Here he makes his North American debut, that shattered all of my expectations, giving the film a highly stylistic and electric feel to it. The action is very well done, edited expertly, and is very exciting.

The Big Hit is one of those fun, if somewhat predictable action comedies that will grab you and entertain you for 91 minutes and leave you with a smile on your face. It’s got style, action, great performances all around, and plenty of charm.

James H’s Rating: 9/10

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American Ninja (1985) Review

"American Ninja" American Theatrical Poster

"American Ninja" American Theatrical Poster

Director: Sam Firstenberg
Producer: Yoram Globus, Menahem Golan
Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Judie Aronson, Tadashi Yamashita, Guich Koock, John Fujioka, Don Stewart, John LaMotta, Phillip Brock, Tony Carreon, Roi Vinzon
Running Time: 95 min.

By Owlman

Directed by Sam Firstenberg (Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination), this 1985 film starred Michael Dudikoff as Joe Armstrong, an American soldier who has been trained well in the martial arts and uses those skills to fight a band of ninja mercenaries under the employ of Ortega (Don Stewart with a horrible French accent), an illegal arms trader.

Through a series of flashbacks, we see that Joe was orphaned at a young age, found by Shinyuki (John Fujioka), and raised by the old ninjitsu master. During those younger years, Joe was trained in the ways of the ninja. This intensive training of the body and mind apparently consisted of tree climbing and slicing coconuts. Once in a while, the sensei would pull out the weapons but I don’t think young Joe saw much kitana or shuriken time. No, it’s more tree climbing and coconut slicing for this young boy. Not exactly the stuff of ninja legends.

Anyway, after an explosion or something, young Joe ended up with a bit of amnesia which separated him from his sensei/surrogate father. After bouncing around some foster homes, he turns up in the Army.

Due to his brooding personality, Joe doesn’t quite get along with his fellow soldiers and gets harassed regularly, especially by Curtis “Bad Ass” Jackson (Steve James). A martial arts trainer for the Army, Curtis ends up in a scrap with Joe who easily bests him by tossing him around like a little hamster. After the fight, Joe earns the undying respect from Curtis and his fellow soldiers.

Joe also finds the time to romance the Colonel’s daughter, Patricia (Judie Aronson). Eventually, we discover that her father is part of a conspiracy to sell smuggled weapons from the Army through Ortega.

We also find out that Ortega has a massive ninja training camp, led by Black Star Ninja (Tadashi Yamashita), a real bad ass ninja. I don’t know what kind of training camp this is supposed to be but it can’t possibly be ninjas. This camp has ninjas dressed in some of the most ridiculous colours – bright blue ninjas and yellow ninjas are bouncing all over the place. Now, I usually think of ninjas as being all about stealth…y’know, smooth and silent killers that you don’t see and all that jazz. If a bright blue ninja is coming my way, I’m going to see him from a mile away, even without my glasses on. Maybe he’ll be all stealth when he’s in Smurfland but not in my neighbourhood.

Anyway, to make a long story short, Joe finds out that his sensei is the mute gardener of Ortega who trains him for the final battle. And what a battle it turns out to be! Joe shows up at Ortega’s complex, bitch slaps a bunch of people, and just when you think he’s backed himself into a corner, up comes Curtis Jackson with the rest of the Army crew to blast ninjas with some good ol’ guns.

The final fight with Black Star Ninja ends up being a farce as that bad ass ninja pulls out a bag of tricks worthy of Inspector Gadget – lasers and bullets from his wrist! That’s one hell of a Seiko watch that Black Star’s got on. Turns out to be useless though and the swords come out.

What’s Good About This Movie?

Not a whole lot. The fights, although very cool when I was 11 years old, look very dated now. In fact, they seem very poorly choreographed, especially when you see Steve James pull out his kung fu moves. The guy looks like he’s going to fall on his ass every time. The funky chicken dance would be more appropriate.

What’s Not Good About This Movie?

C’mon, read the summary – the movie is a laughable attempt at making a martial arts movie. The 80’s saw a bunch of really stupid ninja movies being made to cash in on the demand from snot nosed kids like me. This movie is one of them.

Conclusion

Like I said earlier, the movie was really cool when I was 11 years old. After watching it again recently on cable, I went through one of those “What the Hell Was I Thinking?” kind of phases.

Owlman’s Rating: 5/10

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Bullet in the Head (1990) Review

"Bullet in the Head" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Bullet in the Head" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: John Woo
Writer: Patrick Leung, John Woo
Producer: Terence Chang, John Woo
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Jacky Cheung, Waise Lee, Yolinda Yan, Simon Yam, Fennie Yuen, Lam Chung, Yee Tin Hung, Chang Gan Wing, Ernest Mauser
Running Time: 118/136 min.

By Joseph Kuby

The Second Best Film of All Time! (behind Citizen Kane)

Many words can describe Bullet in the Head: Excellent! Brilliant! Superb! Splendid! Wonderful! Marvelous! Magnificent! Fantastic! Spectacular! It really is that great! This film is a true masterpiece of cinema! It’s certainly a classic!

If anyone had only been acquainted with Woo through films like Hard Target and Broken Arrow, they’d probably say something like…

“To think that the director of those American action flicks could direct something on such a profound scale is really astonishing!”

Speaking of quotations, here is British director John Boorman’s (of Burt Reynold’s Deliverance fame) description of Bullet in the Head:

“Over two hours of remorseless mayhem: balletic deaths, ingenious killings, delightful detonations, rivers of blood, acrobatic fights…an explosion of vast energy.”

John Woo’s tour-de-force is truly ground-breaking on every level – story, acting, action, direction, editing, etc.

According to Stephen Teo, author of Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions, the film was made in the fall of 1989 (the same year when John Woo made The Killer with Chow Yun Fat) but released in 1990.

It’s amazing how John mixes genres – subtle martial arts street-fighting, war, gangster genre, humour, romance, drama and contemporary action (complete with shootouts, car chases and explosions).

As far as mixing genres is concerned, Woo is up there with Wong Jing, Johnnie To and Quentin Tarantino. The film is also inspired by countless sources of material but still manages to find its own identity and become a unique film.

The influences of Bullet in the Head are Hamlet, Of Mice & Men, filmmaker David Lean (who made epic films), Who’s That Knocking on my Door?, Rebel Without a Cause, West Side Story, Treasure of Sierra Madre, Taxi Driver, The Man Who Would Be King, Mean Streets, Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Platoon and Blood Brothers* (a.k.a. Dynasty of Blood – he worked on this film as an assistant director with martial arts movie director Chang Cheh).

The structure of the film is indeed very similar to The Deer Hunter:

Three friends get involved in a wedding and want to go to Vietnam in the hopes of making a difference. The main friends makes a promise to his best friend that he won’t leave him behind. Things don’t go as smoothly as they hoped, the friends see the true horrors of war, they get captured, tortured and get coerced into a “game” involving shooting before they make a daring escape.

Despite surviving, the friendship amongst the three is still kind of strong until they go their separate ways in the battlefield resulting in one of them getting shot in the head.

Another similarity is that the main protagonist goes to see another friend (who has suffered a permanent injury) who tells him where the missing friend is and when he sees the missing friend, it turns out that he’s become a mentally traumatized drug addict. He tries to get through to him but he dies right in front of his eyes before the main protagonist returns to his homeland with the remains of his friend to honour his death.

One peculiar similarity is how both films foreshadow the fate of the traumatized character. There’s a scene in The Deer Hunter where Christopher Walken is lying on the front of this vehicle and everyone’s positioned in a way which foreshadows his funeral. A similar scene can be found in Bullet in the Head. All three men have this bicycle race which results in Ah Fai almost falling into the harbour resulting in Ah Bee trying to save him whilst Ah Wing is too busy celebrating his victory of winning (sort of hinting the selfishness of his soon-to-be betrayal).

John Woo is certainly one of the best directors to ever have worked in the field of film-making. His directorial style transcends words and into the realm of images, it’s this craftsmanship which remains to be subtle!

The film is bleak but uplifting as it shows that with the right humane and morale anything is possible as long as you’re willing to be selfless and interdependent. I don’t wish to spoil the story as it ruins the experience for all of you concerned so thus I will tell a brief summary: Bullet in the Head is a tale about four men – one who struggles with his humanity, one who cheaply sells his humanity, one who loses his humanity and one who regains his humanity. Ingenious.

The most controversial topic of discussion concerning this movie is the car chase ending. A lot of people think that the boardroom ending was the original just because it’s the one they prefer whereas John Woo made the car chase ending first, which makes sense when you consider that the film was already over-budget by the time talk of a second ending came into commission, not to mention the violence was too much to stomach after already being subjected to a lot of carnage.

I think a lot of confusion which emerged from this whole mess was that on Western releases, the car chase was retained to satisfy overseas markets so as to recoup the lost profit (the film didn’t make enough money to cover its costs and was a big flop – savaged by the critics who dismissed it as a Deer Hunter rip-off, among other things).

I think the car chase ending is perfect for the film since it helps get across one of the main themes John is wanting to inform to the audience: the pointlessness of revenge. Woo seems to be making a point that revenge just leads to more trouble and a far more tragic chain of events in terms of cause and effect.

There are four instances of revenge which effects the fates of the characters: when the Hong Kong gang leader is killed, when the Vietnamese gang leader is killed, when Ah Bee decides to kill the Vietnamese captain than make sure that Ah Fai doesn’t get betrayed by Ah Wing and when Ah Bee decides to take revenge against Ah Wing.

Whilst The Killer could be described as Woo’s best film due to it not being as unfortunately trimmed as this film, Bullet has also been described by other critics as the best film of all time.

The film was originally over three hours long (let’s say three and a half {210 minutes} – coincidentally the original length of Mission: Impossible 2, also directed by John Woo) and in some spots it’s obvious to see where footage had been removed and it’s easy to imagine where the bulk of the footage lie when deciphering the film’s plot. Prior to watching the film, I can remember reading a review of the Hong Kong Legends DVD that said this version of the film (126 minutes long) is missing some of the music cues that can be found on the 136 minute version (the version of the film which was long rumoured to be the uncut version and which was shown in film festivals around the world).

The critic also complained that the music cues used instead are weak (it was either a case of some scenes being played with no music at all or certain scenes where weaker/cheaper music cues were used to replace the original ones). The original VCD release of the film contained some of the extra scenes and had a different score on the Mandarin track.

While I can see this weakness of the current soundtrack (the POW camp sequence for instance), it still doesn’t change the fact that this film (especially in its uncut form) is top quality (something which the critic acknowledged himself).

It comes as a bit of a disappointment that Hong Kong Legends couldn’t acquire the rights to Woo’s version (too much legal hassle, probably). Besides the three versions stated above, there have been heavily truncated versions with the following running times in minutes – 80, 96, 100 and 116. Reviews on the net reference a Russian Roulette scene with children, a still on the net shows Tony Leung’s character with dual guns on the battlefield and the original Hong Kong trailer (as displayed on the HKL DVD) shows three deleted scenes…

1) A protestor, during the Vietnam protestation sequence, is being clubbed to death on the head by members of the Vietnamese troops (complete with blood squirts).

2) The infamous scene where Ah Bee (Ben), Ah Fai (Frank) and Ah Wing (Paul) are forced to drink urine after Mr Leong suspects them of wanting to take Sally away from him.

3) There’s a segment in the Bolero action sequence where Ah Fai, armed with dual pistols, is shooting a long array of Vietnamese baddies who are standing in this corridor.

On the HKL DVD audio commentary by Bey Logan, he says there was more footage of Ringo being hit head on the head repeatedly during the scene where Ah Bee and Ah Fai take vengeance on Ringo and his cohorts.

Also, Bey referred to three more deleted scenes…

1) When we first see Ah Lok (Luke) take out that greedy Vietnamese businessman in the men’s room, there were more bullets being fired into the latter’s body.

2) When Ah Lok teaches the three young men how to deal with firearms (this also draws parallels to a similar scene featured in Tsui Hark’s A Better Tomorrow III: Love & Death in Saigon).

3) A Russian roulette scene during the POW camp sequence involving children pulling the triggers on their captors (a few movie reviews have mentioned this, something Bey also confirmed) which is surprisingly similar to Sammo Hung’s Eastern Condors** (whose film also had a scene where someone’s forced to drink urine).

Ironically, Sammo Hung’s Vietnam epic was trimmed as badly as Woo’s Vietnam epic – both films went up to over three hours in length (The Deer Hunter was originally four hours in length).

A friend of mine (the owner of this site) had told me that he suspects the scene where all three friends are on a Hong Kong hilltop at night-time (after the Ringo fiasco) may have been longer. If you look carefully, one of them looks at the other person (presumably Ah Bee looking at Ah Fai) like as if he’s about to say something (this makes sense when given what Bee says in the boardroom when he tells Wing about the promise he made to Fai about not leaving him behind in Vietnam, akin to what Mike said to Nick in Deer Hunter).

This type of near-missed dialogue can be spotted when Bee and Fai rescue Sally from her room, look at Bee’s lips it’s clear he was about to say something.

I read a few reviews of the film (and several descriptions on eBay which look to have come from one of the HK DVDs) that Bee’s mother falls ill, goes to the hospital and Bee refuses to see her in her dying moments because he doesn’t look good (presumably due to his gang fighting – I suppose it was alluded to in the storyline that his mother made him a promise not to get involved in fights). It’s also stated that they not only have to pay for the wedding bills but for the funeral ones as well (which might explain why Fai went to the loan shark as friends and relatives could only pay for the funeral).

Also, I’ve seen stills of Bee holding a pistol in the external (i.e. not in Bolero) areas of Vietnam, I don’t quite recollect seeing this particular image in the film. These stills can be seen on eBay (one that is part of a Spanish lobby card collection and the other which forms the basis of one of the HK DVD covers).

The POW camp sequence seems to be cut as well if you look at the way the scenes quickly go by (though Woo’s careful transitions almost betray the sequence’s trimmings – strangely enough the film won an award for best editing at the Hong Kong film awards, probably given how much the film had been trimmed without being too incoherent). I can remember reading an article by one of the American POW camp extras who claimed that he had a larger part (one with dialogue) than what was seen in the current version (he’s the soldier who tries to escape but gets shot).

There’s a review of Bullet in the Head which contains a web page listing down the differences between various versions of the film (though it only references the 136 minute version shown in film festivals rather than the three hour+ version).

Speaking of which, John seems to love making epic movies and has this habit of making three hour+ long versions of his movies i.e. A Better Tomorrow 2 was originally three hours long (hence the inconsistency and incoherency apparent in the current version) and Mission: Impossible 2 was originally three & a half hours long.

Unless there’s someone here who’s seen the 136 minute version (or 180+ version) and can comment on what’s missing, then we might as well throw in reasonably sensible and logical conjecture on what could be missing.

Besides using conjecture as a way to find out what may have been deleted, if you want to locate longer versions of the film you might have more luck going on Asian DVD sites (not the ones based outside of Asia but within Asia itself like Yes Asia, Sensasian and CD Japan).

Just for some fun trivia…

1) Chow Yun Fat was originally going to be playing Simon Yam’s role as he was really impressed with the script but John Woo had told him that his character was not the essential character of the story (though a pivotal one nonetheless) and that it might not have complimented his leading man status as it was really a supporting role (or more precisely – fourth leading role).

2) Tom Cruise claimed that this is his favourite John Woo film.

Just a bit more trivia (this time concerning the behind the scenes making of the film)…

1) In order to get a much more stronger reaction out of Tony for the POW sequence (or more specifically the part where Ah Fai is forced to execute American prisoners), Woo wanted tears and went to great lengths to get them. First he got dressed up in an American soldier’s costume then he briefed one of his stunt guys to shoot him with an AK47 (loaded with blanks) when the camera started rolling. So that’s what happened – surely the last thing Leung was expecting.

Woo later on explained that even though the gun was shooting blanks, he was getting shot at close range and was in severe pain. His clothes were torn and he got burns on his body. He ended up rolling around in a puddle in front of Leung. He did this for *seven* takes (the first being unusable because, instead of tears, Leung registered total shock and astonishment). Since Leung and Woo are close friends, the idea of Woo being gunned down in front of him was enough to elicit the sought after tears.

2) The film’s production went way over time and money, costing Golden Princess (the film’s financial backer) lots of money. Whilst Jackie Chan’s Miracles was the most expensive film made in Hong Kong at the time, his was still considered a big hit in Hong Kong (although these costly affairs didn’t stop them from making Armour Of God 2: Operation Condor and Hard Boiled).

3) During a Q & A session for the American Cinematheque (April 2002) at the Egyptian theater in Hollywood, Woo hinted that the original ending was the car chase ending and not the boardroom ending. He said that the film was released in Hong Kong without the final car-chase scene. Woo put the car chase back in for the international release (including the Hong Kong DVD, minus the VCD).

4) In the Q & A session, Woo mentioned a couple of scenes in Bullet In The Head that were direct “quotes” from the films of Scorsese and Peckinpah.

I’ve just read a recent article where John talks about his favourite films (from other filmmakers) and he mentioned how for Bullet In The Head, the characters of Frank and Paul were based on his friends i.e. one friend became the leader of a triad gang while the other became a drug addict.

Simon Yam was satisfied working with John Woo on the film, but he was disappointed because he didn’t get any publicity for the film. In the long run, at least his performance has been appreciated, it’s maybe his best.

Regardless of the lack of publicity on his behalf, Yam did have some good things to say about working on Bullet in the Head and working with John Woo:

“Well, it was a pleasure of course. John Woo is a very good director, he doesn’t rush you, too much in Hong Kong people are rushed. Movies are made very quickly, that is the way of Hong Kong life. But John tells you to take your time. He wants the best shot, and he knows if you just do it for the sake of it, it won’t look good. So that is why I like him, he knows what he wants and doesn’t push you to get the shot done quickly. At the time of shooting that movie, I was also making four other movies, so it was nice to go on the set and know I could take it a little bit easy!”

Simply put, this film is not only one of the best films of all time. It’s the best film period. To find out more info on the film, go here and here.

* Coincidentally or not coincidentally, John Woo is producing a film called Blood Brothers. He has claimed the movie is not an adaptation of Bullet in the Head. Still, first time director Chen Yili admitted he was greatly inspired by Woo’s film.

** For those who’ve read my review of The Killer, you’re probably wondering if Sammo and John talked about movie ideas once. Heck, they should make a movie together sometime – it would be a treat.

Joseph Kuby’s Rating: 10/10


By Tequila

John Woo’s “Bullet In The Head” is, quite simply put, the best film I have ever seen. I was fortunate enough to find a subtitled, uncut version of this film and I was not disappointed. The acting is too intense for words, the way the story pans out is sublime and it is also very moving. It is very rare to find an action film that can make people cry openly. This is not for the weak of stomach, as you see arteries pierced and arms blown off, but for quality I am yet to see a better piece of film.

Tequila’s Rating: 10/10 (but if you can’t take much violence this is a rental, as you won’t want to watch it any more.)


By Alexander

Essentially a remake of Cimino’s harrowing “Deer Hunter,” “BITH” is nonetheless a fantastic and tragic film that remains one of Woo’s best. In addition to Woo’s trademark shootouts and intense action, “BITH” offers both a distinctly unique perspective of the Vietnam War and a level of characterization lacking in Woo’s other notable films including “The Killer,” “Hardboiled,” “ABT 1” and “2,” and all of his American releases. The performances are appropriately over-the-top at times which only further emphasizes each character’s anguish and anger. Yet another tale of honor and brotherhood, but a film that remains one of Hong Kong’s best.

Alexander’s Rating: 10/10


By James H.

Bootlegs are shifty things. On one hand they provide a rather inexpensive way to see movies that are hard to find. On the other hand, they are not very reliable. Quality varies, and the films themselves tend to vary (I’ve seen two “Police Story 2” bootlegs: 92 and 110 minutes). To my understanding there are several versions of “Bullet in the Head” available. I have seen the version that is the most widely available (115 minutes in length). That version, unfortunately, is missing two rather key scenes (they are: the scene where the good guys escape from the restaurant, and the scene right before the car chase).

Other than the fact that I had to do research on what happened in those two scenes, this is an excellent film. It is essentially “The Deer Hunter” seen through the eyes of John Woo. The plot concerns three friends who flee from Hong Kong to Vietnam (unfortunately) during the war. There, they see first hand the horrors of war, and their friendship is put to the test.

Definitely one of Woo’s top five films (it’s number three on my list), it perfectly mixes action and drama. It also stays on the side of believable until the preposterous, yet enthralling, car chase at the end.

There’s not much more that can be said. The cast gives a stellar performance, and the story and action is great. A damn near perfect film.

James H’s Rating: 9.5/10

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Dragons Forever | aka Cyclone Z (1988) Review

"Dragons Forever" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Dragons Forever" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Sammo Hung, Corey Yuen
Writer: Szeto Cheuk Hon
Producer: Leonard Ho
Cast: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Pauline Yeung, Deannie Yip, Yuen Wah, Benny Urquidez, Philip Ko, Billy Chow, Crystal Kwok, Peter Chan, Chen Jing, Roy Chiao, Chin Kar Lok, Kong Lung, David Lam Wai, Lee Ka Ting, Leung Hak Shun, Lo Lieh, Shum Wai, Siu Tak Foo, Tai Bo, James Tien, Dick Wei, Pauline Wong, Wu Fung, Stanley Fung
Running Time: 94 min.

By Numskull

Superb action comedy from the greatest trio of performers ever to grace the big screen severely tarnished by unbelievably lame, ham-fisted attempts to expose the sensitive, romantic sides of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung. Sammo’s megaphone scene and Jackie’s courtroom scene near the end set new standards in sappiness. Fortunately, Yuen Biao…perpetual underdog that he is…escapes this cornball predicament by being the only one of the three brothers not to get set up with some whiny, good-for-nothing chick. He’s got an apartment full of birds and fish. The birds, flying this way and that without a care in the world, are the disciples of capitalism and the fish, constantly moving forward through special tubes and never looking back symbolize communism. They’re all the companions necessary to keep Yuen company. Any other beast…like, say, a cat, lounging around and doing nothing but looking good and acting snotty…would be a waste. I guess what I’m trying to say here is…Yuen doesn’t need any worthless pussy hanging around!

Behind-the-scenes tension between Jackie and Sammo helped make this one a box office flop (at least by “three brothers” standards), but since when is the amount of money a movie makes an accurate gauge of its quality? Since…well, never. Whether or not this is the “best” Jackie/Sammo/Yuen collaboration is subject to debate (Project A is my pick), but I think this one best illustrates the onscreen chemistry amongst the men. They have plenty of scenes together, mostly for comic relief and storytelling purposes, but the three-way-fight, short though it may be, is the most noteworthy. They’re just squabbling here, but it really makes you wonder what they could come up with in a hardcore fight to the finish. *Sigh*…

For my money, Jackie’s showdown with Benny “The Jet” Urquidez (eyelashless) in Dragons Forever beats the one from Wheels On Meals. As far as one-on-one fights go, it’s one of Mr. Chan’s finest moments. Sammo Hung’s fighting bears his usual excellence, and leave us not forget Yuen Biao, whose performance here, in my eyes, outshines those of his two brothers despite his slightly lower amount of screen time.

A lot of you folks out there probably have a good idea of what to expect from a film with the cast this one has, action-wise, so let me just say that if there had been a little more focus on the brothers raising hell together and a LOT LESS focus on the retch-inducing romance, this could be an all-time top five film for all three of its stars…and, as it is, it’s still plenty of fun, so give it a try. And if you don’t like it, you will, at the very least, be able to place your finger squarely on the reason why.

Numskull’s Rating: 8/10


By Andrew

This one is THE three brothers film. In fact one of the alternate titles of this film is ‘The Three Brothers’. (makes a lot more sense that the other alternate title ‘Cyclone Z’) The three brothers each play screwball characters in this one- Samo is an arms dealer with a kind heart, Yuen Biao is certifiable lunatic, and Jackie is an unscrupulous lawyer who can’t get from his office to the courtroom without hitting on some unsuspecting woman.

At first Jackie takes a case representing some super-evil corporation, and then he employs the other two to help him spy on the opposition. Things get complicated when Samo and Yuen start fighting, but it really gets ridiculous when Jackie falls in love with the prosecution’s client and turns against his own client. Fortunately the corporation folks pick a fight, so the three brothers give them a fight. All I want to know is- where’s the outtakes man?

Andrew’s Rating: 8/10


By Ro

Wow! Jackie as a slick lawyer who works for mobsters and hits women (OK, it was only one woman… and she hit him first… after he saved her from a bunch of bad guys – but he still HIT her!), Samo as an arms dealer of realistic fakes, and Yuen as a crazy who’s so neurotic that the ‘Lone Gunmen’ from The X-Files wouldn’t take him! How do they think this stuff up? Oh, yeah, right, they don’t worry about plot! Of all the ‘3 Brothers’ movies I saw, this one makes the best use of Samo and especially Yuen and it definitely increases the excitement of the film. The only thing better than these guys beating up goons is them beating up each other! Which they do a lot in this one. Add a show down fight with Jackie vs. Benny Urquidez and you have a winner.

These guys amaze me! Yuen defies nature with the way he uses his body. Samo defies all known rules of gravity with the way he almost ‘floats’ thru the air when he should be firmly planted on the ground. And Jackie! You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but he’s like Superman in this film. In a suit he’s a perfectly tailored lawyer, then he takes off the jacket and shirt and I just gasp, “Where was he hiding those muscles? In his pocket?” (Unlike Benny, who looks like a brute even in a suit!)

I have to add a word about the video I got from Advantage (it’s a Tai Seng video) – subtitled and letterbox and it looks great! The subtitles are crystal clear, white with black edges. If you’re looking to buy, I recommend this version. Oh, and in this one, just about everybody gets to use part of their own name, not just Jackie! Oh well, why not?

This movie almost edged out Project A as my favorite ‘3 Brothers’ film, but not quite. Maybe it was because the leading lady, while gorgeous (since when does Jackie act opposite anything under a 10?) gave an excellent impression of life imitating cardboard. Or maybe it was because I just wanted to smack Samo silly for shooting so many fight scenes in the dark! Hey, Samo, this is why we watch these movies! This is why we buy them! We want to be able to see the fights! Despite all that, this movie still gets:

Ro’s Rating: 10/10


By Master of the Stick

This movie is definitely one of the best collaborations between Jackie, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao. On the plus side, it actually has a decent plot, so I never got bored. Also, Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung get to show off their skills a lot in this movie – for a fat guy, Sammo can really move! The way the three interacted was hilarious, and I loved the Three Stooges-esque scenes where they beat each other up.

The concept of Jackie Chan as a sex-starved lawyer was pretty cool, too, and I liked the court scenes. The final fight between Jackie and Benny was great, but it wasn’t as long of as unbelievably cool as the one in Wheels on Meals. Basically, there’s nothing wrong with Dragons Forever, but it isn’t spectacular.

Master of the Stick’s Rating: 8/10


By The Great Hendu

SAMMO SPEAKS: “Hey guys, let’s all get together with the cast from Wheels and do a sequel”

YUEN SPEAKS: “Okay, but just for the sake of not repeating ourselves, let’s change our characters a little bit”

JACKIE SPEAKS: “Hey can I be a lawyer who’s a loser with women?”

SAMMO SPEAKS: “Yeah, sure. And Yuen can be your insane friend who keeps his pet fish in a tube.”

YUEN SPEAKS: “And we can all fight with each other and look like the kung-fu stooges… twice!”

JACKIE SPEAKS: “And I can beat up Benny “The Jet” again! Boy, this should be lot of fun!”

Well, it sounded like a recipe for success, but I feel a bit let down. Sure, the fight with Urquidez was good, but not as good as the one in Wheels on Meals. I mean two women, a love story, Jackie and Sammo both gettin’ dumped, who the heck cares if it all “adds to the plot”, it killed a potentially good flick.

Let me ask this question: All those in favor of watching Jackie be a lawyer, raise your hand… (is that Ken Starr back there waving his arm frantically? Sorry Ken, you suck)… All those in favor of watching Sammo, Yuen and Jackie whoop up on some sorry excuses for bad guys raise your hand………. (1,2,3,4… 500… 20,000… 7,000,000)… that’s what I figured.

The Great Hendu’s Rating: 7.5/10


By Dan-O

What a huge, fetid, stinking piece of cinematic trash… whoops, just kidding, heh heh. In this one, Jackie plays a lawyer who, after a case, relaxes by beating the silly piss out of his clients. This is a classic simply because it’s one of the few Chan/Hung/Biao team-up flicks. I thought the love story was, what’s the word, tacky, but the scene where Sammo’s girlfriend beans him in the head with a wrench, and he just stands there, blood streaming down his head, not reacting whatsoever, was heart-breaking, and that’s saying a lot coming from a heartless bastard such as myself. Speaking of Sammo, can someone explain to me the physics of how this paunchy guy can move the way he does? Is he from another dimension? Does he take extra vitamins? I don’t get it, but I’m not really supposed to, am I? Is the plot any good? Who gives a crap?! I sure don’t. Something about drugs and chemicals and whatnot…. don’t worry about it. It’s not about “flubber”, and that’s all that matters.

Did anyone see “The Deadliest Art” besides myself? Well, I don’t really care, but I’ll bet one of you nutcases out there said “I DID!” out loud. They showed quite a few scenes from this movie in it, and evidently in my copy of D.F., the fight scenes have been, say it with me, sped up. Yeah, I know I harp on this WAAAAAY too often, but it’s my firm belief that such a practice of speeding up scenes of a movie by a distributor is about as vomitous an act as colorizing a black and white film or editing it of “objectionable” content. All timing and sense of awe are stripped away in order to make these people appear to move faster than they actually can, which is deceptive, and that bothers me. For instance, when I first saw the scene (in the above mentioned documentary) where Benny Urkidez fights Jackie in the lab, I was simply astonished by the fierce skill and flawless timing of both fighters. In the sped up version however, the movements are so goddamn fast your eye almost can’t keep of it. The scene, in affect, loses it’s impact, and… Aah, forget it. I’m probably just typing to myself anyhow.

Dan-O’s Rating: 8/10 (9/10 for the “original” version)


By Vic Nguyen

Isn’t this film great or what! The teaming of Jackie Chan, Samo Hung, and Yuen Biao can be considered as one of the greatest trios in film history. In here, Jackie plays a lawyer that is caught between his client [a chemical plant owner that is secretly manufacturing narcotics] and love [the cousin of the owner of a lake that is suing the chemical plant owner]. Jackie must decide between them with the help of his two friends [Samo Hung and Yuen Biao]. This film is great in action, but what I remember most is the comedy. Yuen Biao’s performance is hilarious as the mentally ill friend of Jackies. The fights are nifty to, including the final fight between Jackie and Benny “The Jet” Urquidez. This film is another must see from Jackie.

Vic Nguyen’s Rating: 10/10

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Crime Story | aka Serious Crime Squad (1993) Review

"Crime Story" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Crime Story" Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Hard to Die
Director: Kirk Wong
Writer: Teddy Chan, Cheung Chi-sing
Cast: Jackie Chan, Kent Cheng, Law Kar Ying, Au-Yeung Pooi San, Christine Ng, William Tuan Wai Lun, Ken Lo, Wan Faat, Stephen Chan, Poon Ling Ling, Chris Chan, Chan Daat Gong, Johnny Cheung, Chung Fat, James Ha, Blacky Ko, Rocky Lai
Running Time: 107 min.

By Numskull

Jackie Chan in a Category III movie? Yes folks, it’s true. What’s more, it’s good. Not Project A good or Police Story good, but good. Good as long as you watch the real version rather than the Miramax one. Otherwise, it’s not good. In fact, it’s bad. I don’t like bad movies. I get the feeling most of you don’t like bad movies either.

Jet Li was originally slated to play the lead in this movie, but when that ball was dropped, Jackie Chan took it, ran with it, and scored a touchdown; he won the 1993 Golden Horse Award – Best Actor for his portrayal of not-quite-mentally-stable Inspector Eddie Chan, which came as quite a shock to many people. One of the problems Chan faces as such a unique performer is that when he deviates from his (mostly self-imposed) norm, it generates more attention than it really ought to. So many people see this as The Jackie Chan Movie That Is Not Like Other Jackie Chan Movies that it has been held back from getting the reputation it deserves as, simply, A Movie. Those who watch Crime Story expecting to see a light-hearted action comedy typical of its star are in for a rude awakening, and those who won’t watch it because “Jackie Chan is the guy from Rumble in the Bronx, ’nuff said” are missing out. Watch his body language and facial expressions in this movie and you’ll see that he fully deserves to be referred to as an ACTOR, instead of just an “action star” or what have you. Despite what I just said, this film does kind of fit into a “something different” category of some sort where Jackie Chan is concerned, in the fine company of Heart of the Dragon and The Accidental Spy.

A mood-setting soundtrack and visual style nicely complement the fact-based story about a miserly Hong Kong business tycoon getting abducted, which is grim without being depressing, and simplified for the sake of marketability (as if having Asia’s most popular movie star in the lead role wasn’t enough). The ringleader of the kidnappers is a two-faced cop (played by Kent Cheng) whose diatribes about the lack of certainty in the future for members of his profession are not unique in pre-1997 Hong Kong films. This is definitely better than a stereotypical villain with cheesy diabolical laughter.

No shortage of in-your-face, albeit semi-restrained violence to be found in Crime Story’s handful of action scenes, with the highlight being the fight near the end where some bastard unwillingly gets his hands thrust into boiling water, or whatever that stuff is. The film makers declined to include any significant “Jackie-esque” moments or “Chanisms” which would have seriously detracted from the film’s tone and seemed flippant in consideration of the deceased law enforcement agents to whom Crime Story is dedicated.

A very polished JCMFPWDNLJCM (Jackie Chan Movie For People Who Do Not Like Jackie Chan Movies) as well as a good movie in general, Crime Story should not be overlooked or marginalized by anyone. The only real problem is the generic title. It’s so generic, in fact, that Miramax didn’t even bother to change it.

Numskull’s Rating: 7/10


By Ro

This is based on a true story in Hong Kong. A corrupt police officer assists in the kidnapping of a prominent business man. Jackie plays the inspector who unknowingly partners the dirty cop in trying to solve the crime. This film is very different from Jackie’s other movies (he was actually asked to play the part after the original actor backed out). It’s deadly serious, with no comedy whatsoever. If you’re looking for a typical Chan-O-Rama of fun, this isn’t the movie for you. However, the plot is well developed, with some fine acting (I consider this his best ‘serious’ role) and there’s still plenty of fighting and action.

The police psychiatrist in the beginning is pretty annoying, however. She looks more like she’s trying to seduce him than counsel him. Thank God we don’t see much of her. But what’s up with that bad guy kiss???? And don’t think this is the first time I noticed a guy kissing another guy or fondling his hair in Jackie movies – is that the ultimate sign of disrespect in Asia or something?

I read somewhere that Jackie did NOT dub his own voice, but it sure sounded like him to me.

Ro’s Rating: 7.5/10


By James H.

Sometimes when you read other reviews, or even your own, you can see certain things in another light. This is the case with Crime Story. Reading the other reviews, and a long evening, prompted me to re-watch this film.

Some have said that Crime Story is not a “real” Jackie Chan film. For those who say that it is not, I ask why? Why is it not a true Jackie Chan film? Because there aren’t enough fights? Bullshit. No one has ever said something like, “Regarding Henry isn’t a true Harrison Ford movie because he doesn’t kick anyone’s ass.” My theory is that if Jackie stars in it (or directs it) that constitutes a Jackie Chan film.

This film has a very serious tone to it, which is a refreshing change from his other movies. In Crime Story, Jackie plays a Hong Kong cop tracking down a gang of kidnappers. What he does not know is that one of the kidnappers is a cop. Jackie and the corrupt cop are paired together to find the kidnappers. Tension is built throughout the film between the two characters, until it explodes in the climax.

I would like to point out that Kirk Wong is an exceptional director. Crime Story was very well paced and the action exceptionally well done. The opening shootout is great and the end fight is exhilarating. The scene where Jackie confronts the corrupt cop is brilliantly executed as well.

I saw the Dimension release of the film and must say how I was somewhat disappointed with it. Although the picture quality was great, I was appalled with the dubbing. People had told me that the guy who dubbed Jackie was utterly atrocious. I thought that they were exaggerating. There was no hyperbole in that statement. The voice actor was horrible, plain and simple. The music, however, was not horrible. Nor was it exceptional. There were some above average pieces that fit the film perfectly.

Overall, a magnificent film. The only thing now is to convince the video companies (New Line, Dimension, etc.) to release Jackie’s film letterboxed with nice yellow subtitles.

James H’s Rating: 9/10


By Vic Nguyen

Jackie Chan has proven himself over the years, but I never would have expected him to take a turn from his usual slapstick to a crime drama.

Jackie plays Inspector Chan, a cop who will stop at nothing to reduce crime in Hong Kong. Here he meets Wong Tak-Fai, a wealthy business man who believes that someone is plotting to kidnap him, he has no proof, but calls it “a gut feeling”. Later, while driving home, he is kidnapped by masked men in a sequence that has to be seen to be believed [Jackie even lifts a car in this sequence!]. Jackie is assigned to the case, partnering him with Detective Hung, who secretly is connected to the kidnapping. Jackie then suspects Hung is connected and will stop at nothing to find out the truth!

Jackie’s impressive performance as a dramatic star won him the 1993 Hong Kong Film Award for best actor. This movie is not for those who love the slapstick films Jackie has made over the years, but is filled with many incredible action sequences, especially a fight on top of a ceiling of bamboo poles. Definetly recommended and is easily accesible at all Blockbuster video chains across the country.

Vic Nguyen’s Rating: 7/10 (for those who like the usual Jackie slapstick); 10/10 (for those who dont care and like action and drama in films)


By Dan-O

Possibly the first Chan flick in which I actually gave a rats dingus about the supporting characters ( or the story for that matter). The only thing that REALLY stuck in my craw was the schmo they got to POORLY impersonate Jackies’ broken english. Listen closley…that AIN’T his voice. I realize Jackie doesn’t exactly speak The Queens English, but he does pretty damn well for a guy who never learned to read or write even in Cantonese. He speaks, what, 4 languages? I KNOW Chan speaks more fluent English than that. And while I’m bitching up a storm here, I’m so disgusted with these dildo-heads who pitch a shitfit if there’s not enough kung-fu to suit their limited taste. Hey folks, in my insignificant little opinion, you oughta be damned delighted that this man still has any kung-fu, wu-shu, or what-have-you left in his broken lil’ body, considering the level of abuse he’s put it through. Put THAT in your bong and smoke it!

Dan-O’s Rating: 8.5/10

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