Stranger and the Gunfighter, The | aka Bloody Money (1975) Review

"The Stranger and the Gunfighter" International Theatrical Poster

"The Stranger and the Gunfighter" International Theatrical Poster

Director: Antonio Margheriti
Writers: Miguel De Echarri, Barth Jules Sussman
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Lo Lieh, Wong Hap, Chan Shen, Cheng Miu, Yen Shi Kwan, Patty Shepard, Femi Benussi, Karen Yeh, Julián Ugarte, Erika Blanc
Running Time: 96 min.

By Joseph Kuby

One of the original Eastern Westerns!

Going by the trailer I saw somewhere, I was expecting an American quality film if not exactly a combo mix of Chang Cheh and Sergio Leone or Chor Yuen and Sergio Corbucci (or even Lo Wei and Enzo Girolami). Alas, the film comes off like a Hong Kong movie except shot in English (though dubbed in English as well) and shot in the West.

Some of the acting is terrible. The main villain, as played by Julian Ugarte, verily hams it up as a pantomine Warner Bros. cartoon style villain. Responsively, though Lee’s class and Lo’s style give this film much needed admiration.

The martial arts action is incredibly average (though I suppose watching this as a martial arts movie is like watching The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe as a Western) and the sound effects used for when Lo jumps in the air are cartoony to say the least (they make the ones back home seem realistic in comparison) and it makes it come off like a Kung Fu western equivalent to The Six Million Dollar Man.

Respectively, this should be watched as a Western than a Kung Fu film as the fight scenes are okay and (at the very best) good (like the final one between Lo Lieh and this Native American prize fighter) but the real highlight comes when Lee uses a Gatling gun to take on the hoodlums at the end (which Sammo payed homage to in his Eastern Western Millionaire’s Express).

I saw the UK DVD entitled Blood Money. The visual quality was atrocious and the film print faded to green sometimes, falling way below the same quality as the one depicted in the trailer with vibrant colors and widescreen image. This version is hideously cropped and it miserably spoils the action. What’s worse was that the print featured in the UK disc came from a VHS source. It indubitably doesn’t do the production values any favors.

I read somewhere the distillery fight sequence is missing, which is a pity. However, the film is still enjoyable. Lee and Lo make a great team, it’s regrettable that there was no sequel (I think it’s quite obvious it would have been more like Rush Hour 2 with Lee being the fish-out-of-water). It’s a pudency that no-one interviewed either Lo or Lee about their involvement in this film; it would have been nice to know how well they got along with each other as well as what the atmosphere was like on set and various other anecdotes.

When these two are on screen together, you realize Eastwood and Wang Yu could have been a wonderful duo. Joe Monco from the Dollars Trilogy teaming up with the One Armed Swordsman (or Boxer). Looking back at the ’70s, there were a lot of missed opportunities for crossover success. Ti Lung and David Chiang starring opposite Terence Hill and Bud Spencer would have been spectacular. Yul Brynner and Gordon Liu would have been delightfully canny in the possibilities stemming from such a union. Angela Mao and Carter Wong alongside John Wayne and Burt Lancaster would have been splendid.

Heck if you can have Mifune paired with Bronson, a Zatoichi vs. One Armed Swordsman movie, a Zatoichi vs. Yojimbo movie and even a movie featuring the two one-armed swordsmen then by all means the above were tangible ideas.

Strangely enough, despite the low budget exploitation feel (complete with the 70s music) there’s a substantial emphasis on character interaction and plotting than action (at least martial arts action) which isn’t too bad as the story is original, immersing and very funny (intentionally).

The film has some odd alternate titles. During pre-production, the film was announced to the Spanish press as Blood Currency before being known as Karate, The Colt and The Imposter. The Italian title was Here, Where it Does Not Strike the Sun. It was announced to the German press as Kung Fu in Wild West before being released as In My Rage, I Weigh 400 Weights. The French title is The Rough One, The Colt and Karate.

On a historical note, I don’t know much about what the impact of this film was at the American and Hong Kong box office. As far as I know it’s a pretty obscure movie but maybe it’s one of those films that was famous then but not now.

This film is one of many Eastern Westerns, the others are Dragon Blood, Red Sun, The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe, Sun Dragon (a.k.a. A Hard Way to Die), Once Upon a Time in China & America and Shanghai Noon.

Kung Fu fanatics would be well advised to check out Dragon Blood as it pits John Liu against Philip Ko.

Then in Hong Kong, there’s films set in turn-of-the-20th-century China where they absorb the atmosphere of westerns such as Peace Hotel (starring Chow Yun Fat).

Shanghai Noon remains, by far, the most well-rounded but this one isn’t too far behind.

Joseph Kuby’s Rating: 6.5/10

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Two Champions of Shaolin (1980) Review

"Two Champions of Shaolin" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Two Champions of Shaolin” Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: 2 Champions of Death
Director: Chang Cheh
Producer: Mona Fong Yat Wah
Cast: Lo Meng, Chiang Sheng, Candy Wen, Lu Feng, Chin Siu Ho, Yeung Hung, Lam Chi Tai, Sun Chien, Chui Tai Ping, Yeung Jing Jing, Chan Hon Kwong, Chan Hung, Chan Shu Kei, Choi Kwok Keung, Chui Shing Chan, Ha Kwok Wing
Running Time: 101 min.

By Joe909

Back in Spring semester of 1994, my friends and I started up a weekly kung-fu movie night. One of our favorite flicks to watch was Two Champions of Shaolin. In fact, once we had a viewing with the college basketball team. These were hardcore dudes, mostly from the inner city, Brooklyn especially, guys who started a riot when our campus cable provider lost the BET network.

I remember they were mesmerized by Two Champions, and it’s easy to see why. This movie has a total charm, even if it’s shallow as far as plot and storytelling go, and even if head Venom Kuo Choi is nowhere to be found onscreen. But what it lacks in those areas is made up for by a total, unabashed desire to thrill the viewer with acrobatic displays of martial fortitude and blood-drenched violence. For God’s sake, a guy’s balls get ripped off in this movie.

One thing always mentioned in reviews for this film is that Kuo Choi chose not to appear in it, due to a falling out with Lu Feng, over who was going to become the lead choreographer. Kuo remained behind the scenes, acting as fight instructor; this was balanced out when Lu Feng didn’t appear in the next Venoms film, Ode To Gallantry. Kuo Choi generally took the lead role in the Venoms movies, but his absence doesn’t harm this film at all. In fact, it gives co-Venoms Lo Meng and Sun Chien a chance to shine.

The story is a myriad of revenge schemes; everyone in this movie wishes to kill someone. It opens with Lo Meng, a Manchu by birth who’s been raised at Shaolin after his parents were killed by fellow Manchu, leaving the Temple to get his revenge. The Wu-Tang clan, Shaolin’s rival, has aligned with the Manchu, and so Lo has to watch his back out in the real world. Lo discovers this real quick, as he’s attacked in broad daylight by a knife-wielding Wu-Tang fighter (Yu Tai-Ping, the only actor who was in all of the Venoms films).

Lo barely manages to get away alive. He stumbles into a house owned by noble warrior Sun Chien and his cute but deadly sister, Yeung Jing-Jing. Turns out these two have specialized in a style that counters the Wu-Tang knife-throwing technique; this style was taught to them by their father, an influential man who was, coincidentally, killed by Yu Tai-Ping. So these two are also seeking revenge. Lo goes back out into the city to take on Yu, and there he meets Chiang Sheng, who plays the role of Hu Hui-Gan (the same role Chi Kuan-Chun played in Men from the Monastery), a Shaolin rebel famed for his skills. The two hit it off.

They lure Yu back to Sun Chien’s place, where the four of them waste the poor bastard and his cronies. Now the Wu-Tang, lead by Yu’s brother Wang Li, want revenge. Only one of them stays distant from all of the vengeance, however: young Chien Hsao-Hao, in a role originally intended for Kuo Choi. He plays a young man who was raised by the Wu-Tang after his family was killed by the goddamn Manchu. Instead of vengeance, he just wants peace with his fellow Chinese, and understands why Shaolin is rebelling against these foreign Chings. His Wu-Tang brothers ignore his pleas.

The best part of the movie arrives with a tournament between the top Wu-Tang fighters and Chiang Sheng and Lo Meng. Squaring off in one-on-one combat, this segment of the film makes the Mortal Kombat movie look like the cheesy sh*t it was. Lots of carnage on display here, including the aforementioned ball-ripping. After killing more enemies, Lo and Yeung decide to get married. But weddings never go well this early in a film; Wang Li and his comrades launch an attack, with the departed Yu’s daughter Candy Wen arriving to gain vengeance personally, wasting Lo’s brand-new wife in cold blood. Lots of lives are lost here, and Lo’s taken captive. Chiang Sheng, meanwhile, is in a drunken stupor and misses everything.

Back at Wu-Tang, Chien Hsao-Hao manages to keep his brothers from murdering Lo, and then helps him escape. Lo then runs into Lu Feng, who, unbeknownst to Lo, is a Manchu assassin sent here to kill the Shaolin rebels. The movie gets a bit dry here, with Lu seemingly wanting to feed every human being he comes across. Finally Lu sets his trap, and we’re treated to a finale that ranks up there with the best Venoms climax, despite Kuo Choi’s absence. We have dudes in monkey masks, poisonous darts, massive spears, metal hoops, brains getting bashed out, and opponents being broken in half at the waist.

There are only two things that keep this movie from being perfect. One, the downward spiral that occurs directly after Lo Meng’s wedding. The preceding hour is awesome entertainment, and every time I watch this half of the movie I can’t believe how good it all is. But after that it’s obvious Chang’s killing time until the finale. This leads to the second problem: It seems that Kuo’s departure really messed up the script, and instead of rewriting everything they just cut down the time devoted to his intended character. The ending was also affected, of course; I highly doubt Kuo Choi would be as little involved in the final battle as Chien Hsao-Hao is. However, one thing that distinguishes this from other Chang movies is that there are no clear-cut villains, other than Lu Feng. Wang Li, for example, has as much a right to vengeance as our “heroes” Lo Meng and Sun Chien, as does the wife-killing Candy Wen.

Regardless of the middle-half slump, this is a great movie. The costuming, sets, and choreography are all the usual Venoms quality. The costumes are different than the normal Chang Cheh kung-fu garb; everyone wears silk kung-fu uniforms. The Wu-Tang get the coolest clothes, with nice black and white patterns. I’m also impressed by the tournament stage, which is a large platform that’s encircled by paintings of dragons. Weapons used are nice and bizarre; there’s a part at the end where Chiang Sheng tells his men to “bring the weapons.” You might expect swords or spears, but the guys come out with hoops and a metal baton.

The Celestial remastered release is the usual flawless presentation. I can’t believe how well they’ve cleaned up these old classics. I recommend all Venoms/Shaw Brothers fans to seek this movie out, despite the fact that Kuo Choi was too busy sulking to appear in it.

Joe909’s Rating: 9/10

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Five Deadly Venoms, The (1978) Review

"The Five Deadly Venoms" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"The Five Deadly Venoms" Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: 5 Venoms of Death
Director: Chang Cheh
Writer: Chang Cheh, Ni Kuang
Producer: Runme Shaw
Cast: Chiang Sheng, Sun Chien, Philip Kwok Chung Fung, Lo Meng, Lu Feng, Wai Pak, Dick Wei, Johnny Wang Lung Wei, Suen Shu Pau, Ku Feng, Chan Hung, Chow Kin Ping, Chui Tai Ping, Fong Yue, Ha Kwok Wing, Lai Yau Hing
Running Time: 96 min.

By Joe909

I was lucky when I first saw Five Venoms: I’d never seen a Venoms movie, and so I was actually held in suspense throughout. I was also young, which helped. Moreso a mystery than a kung-fu epic, one of the main draws of Five Venoms is you don’t know who is who. Part of the fun is trying to determine who the Scorpion is, and if the evil judge is secretly a member of the Poison Clan. This is surely the effect this movie had on first-time viewers back in the day, but now it’s such a part of the kung-fu mainstream that the actors are referred to by the parts they play. This sucks for the first-time viewer, because the movie doesn’t yield all of its secrets until the very end.

A caveat reviewers often provide is that this movie isn’t very action-packed. It isn’t, at least compared to other Venoms movies, but that’s not to say it’s slow, or boring. In fact, it’s more like an earlier Chang Cheh piece, as it puts just as much importance on story as it does on action. Later Chang movies usually recycled the same story over and over (I’m not complaining, mind you), with all of the flash zooms and occasionally-lazy directing that might imply. But in Five Venoms Chang was still in touch with the energetic camera control he possessed in earlier times.

I wonder if the success of director Chor Yuen’s swordplay/mysteries had any bearing on Chang’s direction for this. Chor made all manner of movies (Killer Clans, Death Duel, Clans of Intrigue) which toyed with viewers, holding them in suspense throughout. Much different than Chan Cheh’s straight-up tales of vengeance. Anyway, whatever his inspiration, Chang invested the movie with his full talent; probably he was just driven by I Kuang’s tight script, which itself was a takeoff on ideas he’d first presented in the Chor Yuen-directed 1976 film Web of Death.

Probably everyone knows the plot, but it goes like this: Chiang Sheng, a young disciple who’s been taught bits and pieces of each Venoms style, is sent by his dying master to seek out five former students, each a master of one of the five styles. Chiang doesn’t know who any of them are, as they each wore masks when being trained, and now go under different names. Luckily, it seems that all of them are now in one city in particular, where they scheme to steal the treasure of another of the master’s former students. Instead of making this into an all-out action extravaganza, Chang Cheh and I Kuang have bigger plans, and turn the above plot into a tightly-knit web of intrigue and conspiracy. The story takes precedence over the action and skill of the Venoms; those looking for examples of their acrobatic talents are directed to later films in the Venoms catalog.

My favorite part of this movie has always been the opening credits sequence. The murky lair in which the Venoms are taught their styles is cool enough, but the Venoms in their crazy masks are one of the coolest images in film ever. I wish they’d worn them more in the movie, but only the Scorpion hangs onto his for the duration of the film. The Toad’s mask is just plain goofy, though. The Lizard gets the coolest mask, and the Snake’s is cool, too, sort of a Peking Opera-style version of Gene Simmon’s KISS makeup.

The choreography is good, but not up to the insane level of later Venoms movies. There are also no bizarre weapons, as most of the characters fight empty-handed. The violence level as well is minimal when compared to later Venoms movies, though one of the characters gets pretty bloody when placed into an iron maiden. The film also features several murders more in line with a horror movie. Costuming is great across the board, and I’ve always liked Wei Pai’s flashy garb. The sets all seem claustrophobic, ramming home the Gothic element of the script.

It was a treat to see the remastered Celestial DVD. As usual, their restoration is amazing, and the film looks brand new. This is one of those movies where I know the English dub like the back of my hand, but I already prefer the original Mandarin track. It clears up several things that were confusing in the English dub, like when Kuo Choi tells some guy to leave and stay at the same time. I know it sounds stupid, but seeing these movies in their original language almost makes them seem more like “real” films. Not that I ever looked down on them (far from it!), but even though I always have and always will love the English dubbing in old school movies, seeing them this way gives me a whole new appreciation for them. That being said, the English dub does have its charm: compare the English dub’s “Poison Clan rocks the world!” with the subtitled version’s “The Five Venoms are out and the world is settled.”

So how would I rank Five Venoms? Well, I love all of the Venoms movies, pure and simple. I’d rate this one high for many reasons, but I’m not sure if it’s the best Venoms movie, because it doesn’t show off their individual skills. The story predominates, and Chiang Sheng especially is brushed to the side, unable to provide much of an idea of his phenomenal talents. That being said, the story for this movie pulls me in more than any of the other Venoms movies.

When it comes down to it, though, there is no perfect Venoms movie. Each has its own positives. Five Venoms was the first and has the tightest story, Crippled Avengers has the acrobatics and the coolest villain (Lu Feng with his metal hands), Kid with the Golden Arm has the bizarre characters, Invincible Shaolin has the drama, Killer Army has the tightest choreography, Masked Avengers has the Satanic bad guys, and House of Traps has the, well, house of traps. And that’s only a few that I’ve mentioned. Regardless, Five Venoms is regarded as a classic for a reason, and I’ve rated it as such.

Joe909’s Rating: 10/10

By Alvin George

I borrowed a VHS copy of “Five Deadly Venoms” from one of my friends. For a guy who hated “Five Fingers of Death,” I was surprised at how effective “Five Deadly Venoms” was. It actually has depth. My favorite villain was the snake dude, whatever his name was. His moves seemed reminiscent of Jackie Chan during his Lo Wei phase. I’m not the biggest fan of old-school martial-arts cinema by any stretch of the imagination, but for those looking for a different-looking old-school flick, “Five Deadly Venoms” is something of a standout.

Alvin George’s Rating: 7.5/10

By Numskull

Director Chang Cheh hit upon an extremely successful formula for this landmark kung fu film featuring a very talented cast and a genuinely involving story that goes far beyond the threadbare “I must avenge Teacher” and “kill the Japs” stuff that gives the old school martial arts genre a bad name. In fact, the plot overshadows the action to a certain extent; fight scenes in this movie are not particularly long, intense, or numerous. As it is, it’s very good fun, and its impact on the genre is tremendous. But, with some beefing up, it could have been that much greater as a film in and of itself and as a springboard for its prolific stars.

A Poison Clan sifu feels death fast approaching, and begins to worry that five of his former pupils may be using their lethal skills for all the wrong reasons, so he sends Yang Tieh, a green but very loyal student, to investigate their activities. The problem is, the names and faces of these pupils remain secret. The teacher knew them only by the fighting styles in which he schooled them, each related to a poisonous (or at least “icky”) animal of some kind, and during their training, they wore Chinese opera-style masks. The five students are as follows:

CENTIPEDE (Lu Feng): adept at overwhelming the enemy with raw, blinding speed

SNAKE (Wei Pai): a flexible fighter who lashes out at vital areas with his fingertips with plenty of power and precision

SCORPION (Sun Chien): mimics the strength and crushing power of the animal’s pincers

LIZARD (Kuo Choi/Philip Kwok): highly agile, with the unique ability to cling to sheer surfaces and thus attack from advantageous positions

TOAD (Lo Meng): packed with brute force and immune to many attacks thanks to rock-hard skin

In the hands of a lesser director, this premise probably would have led to little more than a series of battles in which Yang Tieh finds some clever way to eliminate the other Poison Clan students one by one, then walks off into the sunset with some bimbo on his arm. Happily, that’s not even close to how it works out. Although it is established in the early going which one(s) has/have turned bad and which one(s) has/have not, Yang Tieh’s quest to unveil the identities of his master’s former disciples before a cache of treasure can be claimed by the villainous one(s) makes for a very enjoyable film despite the slightly restrained action content. The last fight is well done, but don’t expect a whole lot aside from that.

No women in this movie. Stag kung fu, I guess. The role of Snake was supposedly intended for a woman, but for one reason or another it went to Wei Pai instead.

Subsequent “Venoms” movies used the same stars in different stories and roles with varying degrees of success, and the bunch of them eventually moved on to other things. Probably the most well known is Philip Kwok, who, besides appearing on camera in a number of films, directed “Ninja in the Deadly Trap” and choreographed stunts and fight scenes for films as diverse as Hard Boiled, Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky, Tomorrow Never Dies, and Brotherhood of the Wolf (God bless that man). Director/co-writer Chang Cheh, as you probably know, passed away in June of 2002, leaving a large and impressive kung fu filmography behind him.

“Poison Clan rocks the world!”

Numskull’s Rating: 7/10

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Arahan (2004) Review

"Arahan" Korean Theatrical Poster

“Arahan” Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Ryoo Seung-wan
Writer: Ryoo Seung-wan
Producer: Kim Mi-Hee
Cast: Ryu Seung-Beom, Yun So-Yi, Ahn Seong-Gi, Jeong Du-Hong, Yun Ju-Sang, Kim Young-In, Baek Chan-Gi, Kim Ji-Young
Running Time: 114 min.

By Alexander


I’ve FINALLY seen a FUN Asian film. YAY! No live squids being eaten here. No rapes. No severed Achilles tendons. No punctured jugulars. No cannibal babies. Just a lot of comedy, some fantastic martial arts action, a virtuosic performance by Ryu Seung-beom, and the super-fine Yun So-Yi. And before you scream “But what about the fun romantic comedy My Sassy Girl starring Korea’s darling Jeon Ji-Hyun?!”

Hated it.

I’ve no patience right now to summarize the complex plot (work beckons), but I’d recommend you do as both Equinox21 and I did: watch the film without knowing a thing about it.


So stop reading this review.

I’m warning you.

Alright. Up to you.

Anyway, I assumed I was going to be watching a Musa-like period piece. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to discover something akin to a cotemporary super-hero story with some fight scenes seemingly ripped from the pages of Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu comic.

Ryu Seung-beom as Sang-hwan is the best thing about Arahan. While his whiny, rubber-faced shtick is grating early in the film, Seung-beom dials the antics down considerably and actually emerges as a pretty convincing action hero late in the film. His transformation from super-geek to world-saving martial artist is gradual and believable. The rest of the cast is nearly as stellar, and Yun So-Yi is absolutely stunning (and kicks a ton of ass, to boot).

There are also many shout outs to other films in Arahan. Part of the fun of watching Arahan stems from trying to identify the many movie references. Reservoir Dogs, Power Rangers, 5 Lucky Stars, Taxi Driver, George of the Jungle, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan all get referenced in some form or another.

Highly recommended.

Alexander’s Rating: 9/10

By Iuxion

With a somewhat novel premise, Arahan tells the story of the world of Tao, which exists alongside the normal modern world that everyone else seems to be stuck in. In the world of Tao, there are seven legendary Tao masters (read: kung fu badasses), who protect mankind or something like that. Everything is a little tongue-in-cheek, cleverly put together, and overall it makes for a pretty entertaining movie. The plot revolves around a dorky police officer (Ryu Seung Beom), who gets involved with the seven masters, and ends up having to save the world. Yeah, it all sounds a little cliché, but the film plays around with them (the clichés, that is), and it just ends up making the whole experience better.

While the comedy’s good, the action can’t quite keep up. A restaurant fight scene is well done, and some training sequences are fine, but I felt that the final fight sequence dragged on a little too long for my tastes, and none of the fights really contained outstanding choreography or technique, although perhaps they were just not to my tastes (most people enjoyed them just fine, from what I’ve read). Regardless, if you like a good Korean comedy and are into (or have been into) martial arts movies, Arahan is a must see.

Iuxion’s Rating: 8/10

By Equinox21

I usually love popping in a DVD and knowing nothing about the movie. Sometimes, depending on how nice the packaging is, I’m really anticipating it and sometimes I’m really dreading it. I know they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but you can usually tell a lot about a movie based on how much effort went into designing a nice package for it. Well, this is the case with Arahan. The only thing I knew about it was that it was directed by Ryu Seung-wan (his follow up to one of the coolest Korean flicks yet, No Blood No Tears) and it starred his brother, Ryu Seung-beom.

Arahan turned out to be a flick that remided me a little bit of a Korean comedy version of The Matrix (minus the computers ruling the world bit). There is the real world that everyone knows, but then there’s the secret Tao world in which people are masters Kung-fu style fighting and have the ability to walk on water and walls, levitate, use a “Palm Blast” type maneuver and are all around defenders of peace and justice. Such is the case with Wi-jin, to everyone she’s a simple convenience store cashier, but when she senses crime in progress she excuses herself and chases down the mugger’s motorcycle. Also on the mugger’s trail is a lowly traffic cop, Sang-hwan (Seung-beom), who gets blasted off his feet as Wi-jin fires her notoriously hard to aim palm blast. This starts a strange relationship as Sang-hwan is discovered to have some of these Taoist powers dormant in his body, and has them unlocked through secret acupuncture techniques performed by Wi-Jin’s father, Ja-woon (Ahn Sung-ki).

It’s kinda a long complex story, but it’s sprinkled with great comedy and amazing special effects. There are great fights of all kinds. You get terrific hand to hand fights and some slick weapons duels. All trying to take out a guy who has some seriously bad Tao powers.

Everyone should see this movie, if only for the enjoyable martial arts, incredible one-shot during the big swordfighting scene near the end and the Brothers Ryu. Seriously.

Equinox21’s Rating: 9.5/10

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Antarctic Journal (2005) Review

"Antarctic Journal" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Antarctic Journal" Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Yim Pil-sung
Producer: Cha Seung-Jae
Cast: Song Gang-Ho, Yu Ji-Tae, Kim Gyeong-Ik, Park Hee-Sun, Yun Je-Mun, Choi Deok-Mun, Kang Hye-Jeong
Running Time: 115 min.

By Owlman

I have to admit something here. I got suckered into buying Antarctic Journal from the selling line at YesAsia – “Suspense and danger lurk everywhere, even at the South Pole!” The premise of a team of explorers trekking through the Antarctic seemed very interesting at the time so I placed my order for the movie.

Prior to receiving it, I read Equinox’s poor review of the movie and got antsy. I was really hoping he got bombed out of his mind watching the movie, couldn’t remember any of it, and wrote some crap about it being bad. Either that, or he was wrong (it wouldn’t be the 1st

Well, unfortunately, he was right. Antarctic Journal was about as enjoyable as a vasectomy without any of the necessary purpose behind the latter. It started off well, with sweeping shots of snow dunes and mountain ranges. It also had some interesting characters to begin with. And, quite frankly, when you’re setting a movie in the wasteland of the Antarctic, you’re only going to get these two things to play with.

As the movie progressed, however, the scenery became nothing more than just white. Mind you, the Antarctic is a wasteland so the scenery is all you can play with. But, c’mon, when you start off with some interesting scenery shots and then jump right into what obviously looks like some piss-poor studio backdrop, it’s bound to disappoint. It reminded me a lot of when I saw the Dune miniseries – special effects were interesting but the studio backdrops were poor that you would expect somebody to accidentally punch through the sun on the wall. Luckily for Dune, it had a rich story and a multitude of characters to utilize.

Therefore, one would assume that the characters of Antarctic Journal would come out to the forefront. Nope – pretty soon, most of them are killed off without ever understanding who they were, nor what purpose they really served in the expedition itself. As some form of thrill, the director has put in hints of the supernatural in the movie but never fleshes that out, too. The more I think about it, Antarctic Journal reminds me a bit of The Abyss but at least that movie was fairly interesting.

What a disappointment. Did I mention already that Equinox was right? Well, he was wrong in one aspect – he was far too generous with his rating.

Owlman’s Rating: 2/10

By Equinox21


Unfortunately, Song Kang-ho’s last two films have, in my opinion, been fairly boring. I really didn’t care much for The President’s Barber and Antarctic Journal just adds to my disappointment in his recent choice of movies. It wouldn’t be so bad if he were starring in more than just one film per year, but as it is now, he’s 0 for 2 since 2003’s brilliant film Memories of Murder.

Antarctic Journal is the story of a team of explorers from South Korea trying to reach the POI (Pole of Inaccessibility, or the point in Antarctica furthest from any of the ocean’s, reached just once by a Russian team in 1957). Of course, in such an inhospitable climate, it takes everything the group has to get there Enter a 24 hour day, endless fields of snow, frostbite, insanity, relics from a failed 1922 British exploration and just all around spooky music, it sounds like the premise for a terrific film. Unfortunately, it just fails to live up to any sort of expectation.

It’s not that it’s a bad movie, or maybe it’s just that I keep telling myself that because I can’t bear the thought of Song Kang-ho starring in such a crapfest, but Antarctic Journal just fails in all respects. None of the explorers seems to want the group to succeed. The one that does just ends up royally screwing it up for everyone else (and thus letting most of them die). Of course, there’s also the clichéd character that wears glasses and is blind without them. When he first came on screen and I saw the glasses, I already knew they’d be a plot point sooner or later. And, surprise surprise, he doesn’t have a backup pair, so when his main pair get destroyed, what does he do? Kills himself. Of course. Makes perfect sense.

Don’t waste your time with Antarctic Journal. If you want to see the beautiful landscape of snow filled emptiness, don’t bother with this movie, just come visit me in Wisconsin in January. I promise not to hacksaw your foot off if you get frostbite.

Equinox21’s Rating: 5/10

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Lady Snowblood: Blizzard from the Netherworld (1973) Review

"Lady Snowblood: Blizzard from the Netherworld" UK DVD Cover

"Lady Snowblood: Blizzard from the Netherworld" UK DVD Cover

AKA: Blood Snow, Shurayukihime
Director: Toshiya Fujito
Writer: Osada Norio, Koike Kazuo, Kamimura Kazuo
Cast: Meiko Kaji, Toshio Kurosawa, Masaaki Daimon, Miyoko Akaza, Noboru Nakaya, Takeo Chii, Yoshiko Nakada, Kaoru Kashiwada, Akemi Negishi, Sanae Nakahara
Running Time: 97 min.

By Reefer

It is unfortunate that Fugita Toshiya’s Lady Snowblood might be remembered most only for it serving as the main source material for Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 hit and Asian cinema tribute Kill Bill. I guess I should just be happy that it was remembered at all. Because without QT’s extensive reference to Lady Snowblood, I might not have checked it out in the first place. So thanks Quentin. Well, kind of.

I hesitate to display my appreciation more fully because Kill Bill was such a complete sampling that its almost a modern day retelling of the film. So honestly, I felt kind of cheated. But that’s Kill Bill. This review is about Lady Snowblood. A film that simply blows Tarantino out of the water despite it all. Using a mixed up chronology before it was cool, Fugita Toshiya’s film begins with a young woman encountering some men traveling on a snowy path. Unknown to them, she has another purpose other than getting from here to there. Soon, swords are drawn and much blood (entirely theirs) stains the ground on which they lay. The woman named Yuki moves on.

We learn that her father, a school teacher, was brutally murdered and that her mother was beaten, raped, and imprisoned. From her dying mother’s lips on the day she was born, she learns that she was born for the express purpose of revenge. Think about that for a minute. Her mother had sex with every creep and prison guard in order get pregnant and spawn an instrument of death and revenge. So now Yuki’s quest is to kill the four villains, three men and a woman, who destroyed her parents even though she never actually knew her them. It is chillingly explained by her mother that “karma can stain the unborn”.

As you might expect, this is not an uplifting film. The experience is harrowing and hard, but you are pulled along with her because of her incredible sense of duty and the horrible acts perpetrated. This is clearly “eye for an eye” stuff. No credit given for good behavior. Yuki is set to kill whether or not life has rewarded or punished after the crime. There are no rollicking action sequences here to be rewound and watched again. There is, however, plenty of swords and gore, filmed in the blunt, straight forward style of something absolutely inevitable. The violence here still shocks as it must have in 1973 at the time of its release.

If there was a part that I didn’t like about Lady Snowblood, I would say that the narrative periodically falls into a history lesson format accompanying the introduction of each of the four chapters that the film is split into. But even those sequences are well made, employing almost a comic strip feel and presentation. And yea, that is another element Tarantino included in Kill Bill.

Please. Please. Anyone who enjoys Asian cinema should see this film. Forget about Tarantino or Miramax’s exploitation. See the film that was meant to be seen. Ignore the reruns.

Reefer’s Rating: 10/10

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Failan (2001) Review

"Failan" Korean DVD Cover

"Failan" Korean DVD Cover

Director: Song Hae-Seong
Producer: Song Hae-Seong
Cast: Choi Min-Sik, Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi.
Running Time: 116 min.

By Klotera

This is a very unique film. At a very general level, one would call it a drama. But, it is more like a character based gangster film put together with a romance film that has no romance. Yes, it sounds strange, but it really works. Let me break it down:

Choi Min Sik plays a gangster, Kang-jae, but he has kind of just fallen into that place by being lifelong friends with the gang’s leader. He is angry, aggressive, and violent – but sucks at all the gangster stuff and has earned a bad reputation within his gang for it. After a drunken fight that turns deadly, the gang’s leader suddenly appreciates him again…. because he wants him to take the fall. But, Kang-jae soon gets news that his wife, Failan, has died and he must travel to make final arrangements about her death.

Failan (Cecilia Cheung) had come to Korea to live with family there. She finds out they are no longer there, but cannot go back to China because she has no family there anymore. She has no one and is a stranger in a foreign land. In order to stay, a “convenience” marriage is a arranged and Kang-jae is the one she marries. Of course, this is a business arrangement and she will have to work off the money that a sponsor has put up. She cannot work as a girl in his club, though, because she is very sickly so she goes to work in a small village doing laundry. She never meets her husband and falls sicker with the disease.

The film takes its time to set up Kang-jae’s character and then follows his travels to make arrangements after Failan’s death. It is on this journey that he learns about her short life in Korea.

The film does an interesting job of showing us how he learns about Failan. Through her letters and the stories of others, he learns about a young woman who has made life for herself in a foreign country and appreciates everything she has. Despite his greedy reasons for marrying her, she still says he is the sweetest of all – because he married her. We see this irritable, hard nosed character learn the value of appreciating things in life that many take for granted and begin to develop feelings for this woman he never met during her life. This changes him and to see how these discoveries change him in such a short time is what makes the movie so interesting.

The film is very well done in most respects. Due to the strange nature of the story and the slow pace of the film (particularly, the long amount of time devoted to developing Kang-jae in the beginning), some viewers may be turned off. But, I believe the pay-off is worth the patience. Despite the slow pace, the development is necessary to the impact of the film. All the acting is very good, particularly Cecilia, who does very well as the young woman in a strange land with basically no one. When she spends her first night at her job and begins crying, it hurts.

Overall, this film is definitely a recommended viewing, as it really does show a unique story that has some real character and emotion to it. If you are looking for a traditional tear-jerker romance movie, this is definitely not it. Have some patience with it and you’ll find a great story of a young woman who appreciates even the smallest things and a hard-nosed gangster who learns from that.

Klotera’s Rating: 8.5/10

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Green Fish (2001) Review

"Green Fish" American DVD Cover

"Green Fish" American DVD Cover

Director: Lee Chang-Dong
Producer: Myeong Kye-Nam
Writer: Oh Seung-Wuk
Cast: Han Seok-Kyu, Shim Hye-Jin, Moon Seong-Keun, Myeong Kye-Nam, Kim Yong-Man, Lee Ho-Seong, Han Seon-Kyu, Oh Ji-Hye, Sohn Young-Sun, Cha Yu-Kyeong
Running Time: 111 min.

By Equinox21

The story of a guy who can’t find a job so he ends up involved in gangs is nothing new, but don’t let that dissuade you from seeing this one. There is plenty to keep your interest, even if the story isn’t entirely original. If you are at all a fan of Wong Kar-Wai’s work, you will enjoy Green Fish.

Because the plot is nothing special, I won’t bore you with the details about it. Instead I’ll enlighten you to the great points of this movie (and there were many). One stand out point is the acting. It was some of the best I’ve seen. Han Suk-kyu is one of Korea’s most lauded actors, and he deserves every bit of praise he receives. He doesn’t play a tough guy, he doesn’t play a high-ranking member of a gang, instead he merely plays a regular guy who can’t find work, ends up in a gang and eventually makes a bad decision, which costs him dearly. Along the way he falls for the boss’ girlfriend, the gorgeous Shim Hye-jin. She positively glows in her role. The very end was truly moving, and it was all because of her. Rumor had it (though I am having a hard time verifying this) that she’d have a role in Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046, if that’s the case then 2046 jumped from my most anticipated film of the year to my most anticipated film of all-time! I sure hope it’s true.

The music in this movie was another aspect that worked extremely well. Every song sounded perfect and enhanced the emotion of every scene in just the right way. In the same way a Wong Kar-Wai soundtrack perfectly suits the film, so did the soundtrack for Green Fish.

Another superb aspect of this film was the direction. There were many terrific shots, and many scenes that would have fit perfectly in a Wong Kar-Wai film. I am starting to think that Lee Chang-dong (Oasis, Peppermint Candy) MIGHT be Korea’s answer to WKW. Both directors have very similar styles, and both generally write and direct their own films (Lee Chang-dong was a novelist before getting into the Korean Film industry). I’ll still have to check out more of this director’s work before making a final decision on this, however.

While not the best movie of this genre, it’s really not the plot nor the genre that you should see this movie for. You should see it for the acting, the soundtrack, the direction and the absolutely, positively gorgeous Shim Hye-jin.

Equinox21’s Rating: 8/10

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Exclusive: Interview with Loren Avedon

If you were in contact with martial arts films in the early 90’s, you probably know Loren Avedon. While Van Damme and Seagal were breaking box office records on the big screens, Loren was nearly breaking every bone in his body delivering “Hong Kong-style” action films to our local video stores. Starring in classics such as Corey Yuen’s “No Retreat No Surrender II” and Lucas Lo’s “King of the Kickboxers,”it obvious that Loren was ahead of his time and very underrated. – MPM, January 2002

With Keith Cooke in "King of the Kickboxers" (1991)

With Keith Cooke in "King of the Kickboxers" (1991)

Tell me about your martial arts background and how you got into it?

I was about 11 and was living in England. I saw Bruce Lee in “Chinese Connection” as it was called in Britain. I was hooked. It wasn’t ’til 6 years later that I started training, after I graduated High School in the Summer of ’80 I walked into a Dojang and signed up and started going everyday. I was fortunate to have great instructors like Simon and Phillip Rhee as well as Bill Wallace teaching occasionally as well as the Master of that Tae Kwon Do School. I am currently a 4th dan in Tae Kwon Do and 2nd Dan in Hap Ki Do. I am awaiting a 5th dan certification after I test in January ’02.

Who are some of your idols in the martial arts community and film?

Hwang Jang Lee, Bruce Lee, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood and many others.

What got you into acting?

I was a commercial actor when I was a kid because my mom was a commercial producer and director, so I was always doing the commercials she directed if there was a kid needed. I blew my big chance to really capitalize on that when I was 5; the ad agency told me I would have to do the commercial live in front of millions of people – that’s not what you say to a 5 year old – so I turned it down. The early films and acting came from people calling the Dojang looking for fighters to do scenes in a movie they were shooting. Back then, the stunt men didn’t have a lot of kicking skills so they’d call Karate schools for talent. “Ninja Turf” (1985) was produced by my master and starred Phillip Rhee. I got into acting on a lark when I was 21. I was invited to an acting class and asked to perform a scene. I didn’t like it that I was so nervous in front of only 12 people, so I started taking the class. I loved it and the challenge. I figured I could use it in whatever direction life took me.

Corey Yuen's "No Retreat, No Surrender 2" (1987) - aka "Karate Tiger 2"

Corey Yuen's "No Retreat, No Surrender 2" (1987) - aka "Karate Tiger 2"

Describe to me how you got discovered for your first starring role in Corey Yuen’s No Retreat, No Surrender 2.

Actually, Van Damme had turned down the film so they chose Matthius Hues for his part. I replaced Kurt McKinney. I was at the Karate school at about 9:30 PM on a Friday night. I had just come back from Africa where I had been on safari with my dad for 8 weeks. I was broke and had a job selling used cars at a Dodge dealership in town. I hadn’t sold a car all week and was at the school beating the ^%$& out of the heavy bag to take out my frustrations when the phone rang. The Latin guy who answered the phone did not understand what the caller was saying, the caller turned out to be Roy Horan from Seasonal films. A week later and after he had seen about 75 other candidates, I signed a 3 picture deal and was on a plane to Thailand.

What was is like working with the legendary Corey Yuen? Is he demanding? Tell me some of the experiences you’ve had with him on the set. Did you expect you’d be doing some serious HK-style action or did you have to pick up on this while on the set?

I had not seen the original No Retreat, No Surrender so I had no idea what to expect. All I knew is that I could do it; whatever they wanted, I could do it. The first thing they did when we got off the plane was set up a meeting. Roy Horan seemed very serious; then an audition there with Corey Yuen took place to test our reactions and the next day I [had] a screen test – with me and Matthius, Roy Horan was pushing for us – we passed the test,  then they took our passports. We had no choice. The American crew and everyone there other than the Thai’s and Chinese had turned over their passport to Ng See Yuen, the Exec producer. He was a tough task master and I could go on and on about the experiences; just the journey every day to the jungle set was an adventure. The Chinese stunt men are great people, they are so tough, so dedicated; they really motivated me, so did Corey Yuen. He is a great director. He yelled at me several times, I couldn’t understand him, but in the end, he would crack a charming smile, scratch his head and say “Jesus,” but he would say it really fast and it was really funny. His way to break the tension… he would always gamble with the crew when it was per diem day… he always won!!! Then he would give them their money back by taking them to dinner that night or somehow he would lose it all in one hand on purpose. I was so lucky to work with him. He would always tell you exactly what he wanted, even without speaking the same language… great director.

You’ve worked with many well-known martial artists on and off film, tell me about some of your experiences with stars such as: Simon Rhee, Phillip Rhee, James Lew, Roy Horan, Hwang Jang Lee , Billy Blanks, Cynthia Rothrock, Keith Vitali, Jalal Merhi, Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, Keith Cooke and Carter Wong.

Wow… all of them great people. Don’t forget about Karen Shepard. I can’t say enough about those people. I have been lucky enough to meet and work with them. I have been really blessed. Can’t say enough good things about all of them!

With Billy Blanks in "King of the Kickboxers" (1991)

With Billy Blanks in "King of the Kickboxers" (1991)

Since you’ve worked with Billy Blanks, how many copies of Tai Bo videotapes were you forced to buy?

Actually none… lol. I still go by Billy’s school in the San Fernando valley once in a while. He always stops what he is doing to say hi to me. He is the salt of the earth, a great man, a great martial artist, a great motivator. I can tell you this… when we were shooting in Thailand, the book by his bed was the Bible and all he wanted to do was a good job and get back to his wife, family and his school…he kicks like a mule!!! But has a heart of gold. His brother Michael is really something special, too; he can jump higher than anyone I’ve ever seen – just like his brother.

Out of all your films you’ve done, which is your personal favorite and why?

My personal favorite has got to be No Retreat, No Surrender 2. That’s the one that I spent 4 months on and was only 23 at the time. It changed my life, that’s why it’s my favorite. Not because [of] the fact that it was released in 1400 theaters around the U.S., or because of the action or the great fights. I’ve had many great fights in my movies, such as the one with Matthius, which is the second favorite fight I ever did. My first favorite is the Billy Blanks fight in King of the Kickboxers. That took two weeks to shoot and just about every part of my body was bruised or battered, cut or scraped. Imagine fighting 4 different karate tournaments in one day, round robin all the way to Gold medal; then doing it again, and again, and again… for 14 hours a day, 6 days a week in 100 degree heat with costume, smoke and plenty of impact. Talk about a character building experience!

With Cynthia Rothrock in "No Retreat, No Surrender 2" (1987)

With Cynthia Rothrock in "No Retreat, No Surrender 2" (1987)

Speaking of No Retreat, No Surrender 2, that has to be your most involved movie, as far as overall action goes. I’ve tried to catch body doubles here and there but couldn’t. Either the production did a really good job or you are the ‘gwailo’ version of Jackie Chan. So, how much was you?

Most of it, except for the hard falls and flips; but the snake market, all me. The stunt double “Rocky” that did the jump from the top of the doorway to Matthius’ chest – he was paralyzed in a film shortly thereafter – the other stunt men were so cool, they are the best!

What was it like traveling to all those exotic places like Thailand?

Wonderful… to be an emissary of my country … I always tried to behave like a gentleman. Even in Lebanon while at gun point at a Syrian checkpoints in Beirut – with Russian tanks and itchy trigger fingers – I loved every minute of every place I ever went, not knowing what was around the corner, going into a cave opening no higher than my waist on the River Kwai, and finding a 30 foot Buddha, covered in a long monks cloth with flowers and candles everywhere. One thing I can say is that people are the same everywhere. Everyone in whatever culture can share a smile – a gesture of kindness or friendship. Everyone from every land wants the same thing… to be accepted, to be understood, to give love and to receive it, to share, whatever is there. I have been to many poor places. Even though I am not a millionaire nor wealthy by any means monetarily, I am rich beyond my dreams in experience with people and places; not just from movies, but from my childhood and even now in my fatherhood; we all go [to] many places, sometimes exotic, but always interesting. Life… any life is what you make of it. I am very fortunate for my experiences and hope to have many, many more before I’m through….

"King of the kickboxers" (1990)

"King of the kickboxers" (1990)

In the beginning of King of the Kickboxers, when you change your mind about your mission, you do a “Sly Sallone” type yell. My question is, how many takes did it take you to get it down right?

You mean how many did it take to make me not laugh?  just kidding… I was told by the director what to do and I did it… I think 4 or 5 times… I hated that … I thought it was not the right choice… I wanted to take the tape and throw it into the fire, then call the captain and have my moment after the phone call to be pensive, a stroke of the cheek and then I fall apart knocking over some furniture. It was a rented house – no props for that – so they didn’t go for it. They wanted the scream… so I did the best I could. The scene with Richard Jackel was shot completely independently, on another day, neither of us knew how the other played it. You can kinda tell can’t you?

Now that you mention it, yeah, I can tell…In No Retreat, No Surrender 2, did you get to try any of those insects or snake’s blood?

I passed on the snake blood but Max Thayer drank 4 shots of that snake blood. God Bless ’em… they tried to put rotten tofu into the bowl during the scene with the girl in NRNS II at the floating restaurant – that was Roy Horan trying to be cute. I caught it before they rolled camera. Funny thing: Corey Yuen asked me how I thought the scene should be shot. I told him to run 3 cameras one master two shot and two over the shoulder so we could get everything in one take if it went well; problem is that usually in Hong Kong movies you don’t get a master; you do everything in pieces, kinda hard to pick things up in the middle when you haven’t shot the beginning… but that’s part of the craft….

Give us your opinions on some of the big names working in mainstream martial-arts films today such as: Van Damme, Seagal, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen and Michelle Yeoh.

Haven’t met any of them. They wouldn’t want me near them most likely… competition… I can give you an opinion from some personal friends and their experiences. Van Damme… wife beater, jerk… thinks he’s all that and a bag of Fritos; his career has been over for a while now. Same with Seagal… I can’t believe the Dalai Lama made him some high priest… what was the Lama thinking? Must have had too much incense that day. Jackie Chan I have nothing but respect for, although he is notorious for not liking Guai Lo’s… Donnie Yen, Jet Li, I have never met nor Michelle Yeoh, although I’d like to meet her. She is so awesome. I think I might have met her in Hong Kong at a club… great night life in Asia.

What do you think of the recent boom in Asian actors making their crossover into Hollywood films?

Thought it would happen sooner. You know a lot of those films that were released with Jackie and Jet are just repackaged films they made 5 or 10 years before. Just wait… John Woo is just getting started.

What do you think of the legendary Bruce Lee being digitally reincarnated for the new film Dragon Warrior?

Don’t know… but I won’t see it… sacrilege!!!!

You’ve mentioned that many things have changed in the movie industry. Explain some of these changes and do you have any regrets?

No regrets… but one… the actress Sheri Rose. Bad mouthed me after the King of the Kickboxers… I told her to ‘shut up’ one day when she was pitching a fit out in the jungle, acting like a prima donna. No time or place for that and I told her. She came back and got a deal with PM Entertainment who wanted to sign me for 3 pictures. I should have done it, it would have been me instead of Don “The Dragon” Wilson, but I was trying to hold out and she ended up getting the deal with Lorenzo Lamas, who had broken my nose and cheek on the set of a video he was shooting. I had to sue him to get my medical fees, can you believe that jerk? Anyway, between the two of them and those two experiences, my name was mud to producers after 1991. If I had not done that video and if I had just let Sheri have her fit and kept my mouth shut, I think I could have had a much more successful career; but now it’s all water under the bridge. If I come back, it will be under different circumstances. I always fought for quality – if that is wrong – then I don’t want to be right, know what I mean? But the way I see it, everything happens for a reason… maybe on one of these other movies I didn’t get, I might have been hurt or I might not have my daughter now… I don’t regret … but hindsight is always 20/20 isn’t it?

"Manhattan Chase" (2000)

"Manhattan Chase" (2000)

Tell me more about the Lorenzo Lamas incident.

He is Fernando’s son… he had a career the minute he was born. He was a student of mine and I helped him on a Self Defense Video he was doing. For about 5 minutes ’til during the blocking of the first choreographed demo, he promptly broke my nose and cheek with an elbow across the face that was supposed to miss me by a mile. Lorenzo called me crying the next day. I said “just send me some flowers and come and visit me and we’ll call it cool”… he never called, never visited. And when his manager called me to say that he would take care of everything… that’s when I got a lawyer. I was born at night, but I wasn’t born last night, know what I mean? So, I took care of myself. I was paid well for that accident. My girlfriend Christine Chu was on the set, thank God. She took me to the emergency room and to a great doctor that same day to have my face put back. Nice guy Lorenzo,  but no honor in my eyes…

Are there any movies or roles you have turned down in the past?

Many. I just turned one down that I convinced the director to put my best friend JJ Perry into. It’s being shot in Brazil. It’s called Sunland Heat… boy did they made a mess of things. Even though we had talked about the film for years and they raised the money with my name, the director/producer put his girlfriend in it as the female lead (the producer is married) and also made many more really ridiculous mistakes, so I turned it down, cause I know it will be chaos down there. I’d have loved to go to Brazil for a month, no matter what, but I thought, do I want my last film to be a piece of $#@* even though some of my films are pretty close? I can afford to be a bit picky now, especially when I know they are going to make money and have already from my name! And I won’t see any of it. Not fair. We’ll see what the future brings. I’m not out of the business by any means.

In the late 80’s/early 90’s, your films dominated the martial arts video market. You have fans all over the world. Did you ever have higherexpectations of becoming a household name, like Norris or Van Damme? Or appearing in bigger-budget martial-arts films like Mortal Kombat or Universal Soldier?

Of course… but because of the reason above and lousy representation, I never made it. Not to say that I still can’t, who knows, maybe some big producer/director will read this article and decide that it’s time to bring back the Clark Kent character and have a star that can really kick ass that is just a regular… guy… I’m a Keanu Reaves without the “dude” quality. Now more mature and seasoned. I’m ready.

Loren Avedon with "Manhattan Chase" crew

From right to left: Gini Lui (line prod), Nicole Zanzarella (costar), Steve Tartalia (lead baddie/stunt coordinator), Loren Avedon, Cynthia Rothrock (costar), Godfrey Ho (Veteran HK director) and Johny Koo (Veteran HK cinematographer - one of Sammo's favorites!)

You are definitely “more mature and seasoned” and it shows in 1999’s Manhattan Chase. That film has Hong Kong action written all over it. What was it like working with Godfery Ho? How did you get hooked up with him?

Thank you Jeff. You are definitely paying attention. Despite the low, low budget, we made a cool movie. It’s because of my friend Steve Tartalia, who was a producer on this film. I met him in Hong Kong in ’90 when making King of the Kickboxers… he, Vincent Lyn and Mark King were all in the first scene of King of the Kickboxers with Jerry Trimble. Vincent was in Armor of God II, so was Steve. Mark King has been in countless Hong Kong movies. We still stay in touch through Steve. Steve is a good friend and called me when he was getting together the cast of what was then titled Dying to Live. Cynthia Rothrock was slated to star in the movie. She told me about the film and I found out later that Steve was the producer. I sent my head shot/resume and demo tape to NYC and about 2 weeks later we had made a deal. Godfrey was cool. He is a very creative man and has the patience of a Saint. We had no money, but a lot of talent. I had a lot of fun working on that movie during the summer of ’98 in Manhattan. We did it down and dirty. I was my own stunt man, know what I mean? Working in NY was great. The people are great. My half-sister lives there, so I stayed with her after the shoot. I got to see some friends in NY. Let me explain: when I was a kid I’d go back to visit my dad in Manhattan over the summers or for Christmas, so I have friends in NY. I had a great time working there. I love that city, but I’m a Cali boy. I go crazy if I’m in NYC for too long. I can’t see the Sun, nothing but concrete. Great city for movie-making though, plenty of production value everywhere you go. My heart is there everyday. After the horrible events of 9-11-01, I pray for the city. I know 4 people that were on flight 175. God Bless ’em and rest their precious souls.

Do you have any intention to make another Hong Kong-style martial arts movie if the opportunity came?

Not much opportunity. The HK guys are all trying to do it big here since ’97 or just keep doing it there… the producers and market have changed… I have stepped away a bit so I can’t say really … but I can tell you I think the timing is good for an old fashioned reluctant hero movie… with action that is not so far fetched that it is believable… know what I mean? HK’s magic was doing it before computers… people want to see that again… I know I do… use the wires and the gags… just loose the CGI and morphing and cheat camera angles and tight shots to make up for lack of perfection … and go back to the technical ability of a great martial artist and stunt team… the choreography of a creative masterminds action with flesh and blood as the canvas.

"Silent Force" (2001) with Karen Kim

"Silent Force" (2001) with Karen Kim

Tell us about some of your future projects coming out?

I’ve got re-release on right now of Silent Force. Other than that, I have no upcoming projects. I have written some of my own scripts and have ideas and a lot of potential. In all honesty what I need is about $850,000.00 and I can make a film like King of the Kickboxers and make the investor rich. The problem is where I live. Anybody with that kind of cash in Hollywood has heard it all. I would just be another person knocking on their door. I have tried, the numbers are there, the possibility is there… I tried with two films to start my own production company, but on both occasions the greed of one of the producers ended up railroading the project into legal situations or worse. Next time I want to do it clean. I will not have that power entrusted to any third party again. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; fool me again, I don’t think so… not in this lifetime.

Since you’ve worked with Corey Yuen and Lucas Lo, you might know the answer to this: How much do those wires hurt your twigs and berries? And what’s the main difference between working for these Hong Kong guys and a typical American/Hollywood production/director?

I’m still fertile if that’s what you want to know. And yes, the berries and “log” – It ain’t a twig … hurt… ! lol…. The difference is in creativity and artistry. The Americans have the money to do it. The Chinese take nothing and make something out of it. Americans take something and make nothing – not true in all cases – but look at the action in Lethal Weapon 4. Dick Donner is brilliant to have turned over the set to Yuen Kwai for the action… literally… whatever he wanted to do. An American director will do it his way and get the tight shot to sell it, etc. and will focus too much on one aspect, but will not get the coverage and cool angles that a Chinese director would use to thrill an audience with, even the simplest activity.

If you ever fought someone like Van Damme, how many seconds would it take for you to truly kick his ass?

First, as a Martial Artist, I would never fight with someone for ego; only to protect myself and my family and/or the ones I love. I would rather do nothing and take a punch than lower myself to battle with someone, when I know in the end it will serve no purpose. I have nothing to prove. However, if I ever fought with anybody, it would be over before they knew it. When you fight for real there are no rules. Only a fool has principles in a fight. In a fight, or in battle, you do what you have to do to survive; overcome or to disable your opponent so he cannot pursue you or continue to fight you that day or another. Fighting itself is stupid. There is no art in it. It is pure survival.

Do you have any interest in entering a ‘No Holds Barred’ competition? Do you study ground grappling?

I have studied enough grappling to know that Bruce Lee was right… “the toughest opponent to face is a good athlete in great shape who knows nothing, he will come at you with angles you have never seen before… born out of the moment, with no counter but your own instinct in that situation” I don’t see much art in those fights. I do see some great technicians that are out to prove they are the best. It all boils down to the man. Look at Tank what’s his name… who won and became a pro fighter with his right hand and good timing… a warrior always knows his weakness… the key is to make the opponent worry about his… so you can take him out while he’s thinking… I mean really, on any given day … one man can beat the other. One day it might be you, the next day him. The key is to pick the day, the time, the moment… and always on your terms….

Loren, I’m waiting for another hardcore martial arts flick from you, when are you gonna deliver that to your fans?

Me too. don’t know. I’m open to any ideas. As long as the money is there to make the idea happen, let’s go!!!!

1978's "Drunken Master," Loren's favorite martial arts movie of all time.

1978's "Drunken Master," Loren's favorite martial arts movie of all time.

What’s the greatest martial arts flick in your opinion?

The original Drunken Master. I like it cause I first saw it on Kung Fu theater, way back in the day when they would show Hong Kong movies once a week on a local station. I was amazed at the action. I always admired the creativity, the story and comic book characters. They are so charming. I totally get into it. Also because of my friend Hwang Jang Lee. He is a great man. I’ll tell you a little story about him: When I first arrived from America to Bangkok, Hwang trained me in the art of film fighting – Matthius as well. We would meet in the Gym at the Ambassador Hotel on Sukamvit Road in Bangkok and he taught us over the period of three days about selling punches and kicks. Amazing the power of that man. Truly amazing. I heard stories of his experiences Vietnam. He was paid to train the Special Forces. Wow. Anyway… about two weeks into it, we were in Saraburi Thailand, a small town at the junction of three major roads in Thailand. That is where we stayed when shooting the jungle scenes. I was so sick that Hwang was genuinely concerned about me. He is such a sincere man. He helped me get well. He made me drink hot water and used acupressure to help me, but what really touched my heart was when he asked me: “Loren, what did you eat that made you sick?” I said: “American Fried Rice.” He called over the waiter and he said “Give me an American Fried Rice.” I looked at him. He said, “I’ll get sick too.” As if to say and show me that he would go through hell with me. That is a true account. And he ate all the rice and he made me feel better, and he never got sick! Great man….

For more about No Retreat, No Surrender 2, No Retreat, No Surrender 3: Blood Brothers and King of the Kickboxers, please read our interview with Keith W. Strandberg, the writer and producer of these movies.

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Returner | aka The Returner (2002) Review

"Returner" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Returner" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Takashi Yamazaki
Producer: Toru Horibe
Cast: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Ann Suzuki, Kirin Kiki, Goro Kishitani, Yukiko Okamoto, Mitsuru Murata
Running Time: 117 min.

By Equinox21

Say you are a Japanese film-maker, how do you make an extremely cool sci-fi action movie? Here’s the recipe; start with an alien invasion (ala ID4), sprinkle in a healthy dose of Terminator (humanity’s last hope is to send someone back in time to stop the war before it starts). Stir into this characters dressed to kill so they’d fit right in in The Matrix. For added flavor add dashes of Back to the Future, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Transformers and excellent computer graphics. Top it all off with terrific actors and you’re sure to please!

I love this movie. Sure, it borrows heavily from a few of the movies mentioned above, but it puts enough interesting spins on it to make it unique and fun as hell. In the year 2084, humanity is all but wiped out after an alien invasion. They manage to send one human, Milly (Anne Suzuki), who took over for a soldier who was killed before he could jump into the time warp, through time to 2002 as their base is being overrun by the alien onslaught. The year 2002 is when the first alien showed up and the plan is for Milly to kill the first alien on Earth to stop the invasion before it can start. Upon her entry into the year 2002 she runs into Miyamoto (Takeshi Kaneshiro), and forces him to help her with her mission. Eventually, however, she discovers the truth and the problem with her plan, and is left with only a few days to complete her new mission with the help of Miyamoto. Meanwhile, Miyamoto is gunning for Mizoguchi (Goro Kishitani), who has been kidnapping street kids (including Miyamoto’s best friend, 15 years ago), killing them and harvesting their organs to make heaps of money for his Triad boss back in China. The movie takes place almost entirely in the year 2002 with “flashbacks” to Milly’s past in 2084 and to Miyamoto’s past in 1987.

The action and special effects are absolutely the most astounding I’ve seen in any Asian film thus far. There are action sequences that worked very much like the Jet Li movie The One, in that everyone is moving in slow-motion except for one character that is moving at regular speed. But the effect in The Returner works far better than it did in The One, and it looks far more realistic and cool than Bullet-time does in The Matrix, all thanks to some extremely well done CGI.

The three main actors in Returner were all perfectly cast. Takeshi Kaneshiro is easily one of the best Asian actors there is, in action, drama, or comedy. Unfortunately, this is the only movie he’s done in 2 years, but at least he knows how to pick them! Anne Suzuki is a tough girl and super cute albeit underage. Milly is only a teenager, about 15 or 16 (though we’re never specifically told her exact age), but she is definitely wise beyond her years, due to being brought up in the war zone that is Earth of the future, and Ms. Suzuki plays this to maximum effect. Goro Kishitani plays a stereotypical evil Triad lieutenant, but he succeeds in making Mizoguchi pretty despicable. The characters couldn’t have been played by better actors.

If you’re at all a fan of sci-fi movies, specifically Terminator or Matrix style movies, be sure to check out The Returner. It has a story that is unique enough to give it legs of its own, even though elements are heavily borrowed from other classics. But fear not, this movie is one hell of a ride!

Equinox21’s Rating: 9/10

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Casshern (2004) Review

"Casshern" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Casshern" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Kazuaki Kiriya
Cast: Yusuke Iseya, Kumiko Aso, Akira Terao, Kanako Higuchi, Fumiyo Kohinata, Hiroyuki Miyasako, Jun Kaname, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Mitsuhiro Oikawa, Susumu Terajima, Hideji Otaki, Tatsuya Mihashi, Toshiaki Karasawa
Running Time: 140 min.

By Ningen

A scientist can’t get funding for artificial organs which he hopes to use to save his ailing wife. He gives in to an offer from a general to fund his project, but the general’s only exploiting his work to create a new enemy to fight.

Unfortunately, the mutants kidnap the scientist’s wife, and he’s forced to resurrect his dead son to rescue her. The cyborg which he becomes-Casshern-is conflicted, because the Neo-Sapiens-as they’re called-are just trying to live their lives, and are only attacking an imperialistic nation which doesn’t even respect the lives of its fellow humans.

Having never seen the anime, I’d have to say that Casshern is gorgeous and thought-provoking, but also a mess. It introduces too many supporting characters who barely have any importance, and it drags out interactions between them beyond any value to the central plot.

I will give credit to the director for choosing not to make a traditional sci-fi action flick to the point that the hero questions his choices, and isn’t much of a fighter, either. The backdrops have beautiful use of color, and the cg ships and robots don’t feel cg. But the problem is that the themes are too complex and demanding of the audience’s attention for a film which can’t seem to decide on which characters are central to the story.

The actual hand-to-hand combat is realistically bloody, but the bot-to-bot combat is cartoonish, further diluting the film’s impact on the viewer.

Casshern is clearly ambitious, but doesn’t quite deliver on its ideas or approaches to the genre.

Ningen’s Rating: 8/10 for style, 5/10 for substance, 6/10 if you don’t watch it in one sitting.

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Zatoichi | aka The Blind Swordsman Zatoichi (2003) Review

"Zatoichi" American Theatrical Poster

"Zatoichi" American Theatrical Poster

Director: Takeshi Kitano
Writer: Takeshi Kitano, Kan Shimozawa
Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Tadanobu Asano, Yui Natsukawa, Michiyo Ookusu, Gadarukanaru Taka, Yuuko Daike, Daigor Tachibana, Ittoku Kishibe, Saburo Ishikura, Akira Emoto
Running Time: 116 min.

By Equinox21

I’m very pleased to say that Zatoichi did not let me down. I was afraid that not having any previous knowledge about the franchise and seeing a Kitano movie that didn’t involve yakuza vs. cops would make it a less enjoyable experience for me. But fear not, loyal readers, Zatoichi delivers on the goods.

Even though this movie takes place in or around the 18th century, Kitano manages to work in the organized criminal element to the story. There are 3 criminal bosses vying for power in a town, and their underlings’ loyalties are constantly tested and often change. They make their money through running gambling houses, extortion of local merchants, and all the other usual ways that criminals have been making their money for hundreds of years. When one of the bosses starts taking over, a woman (who Zatoichi had previously helped out) gets in their way. He takes it upon himself to help her and some other friends they meet along the way.

Well, if that’s not the worst plot description of all time, I don’t know what is. But, like many Kitano films, it’s virtually impossible to actually EXPLAIN the plot without going into pages of detail. Suffice it to say, it was enjoyable. There was enough sword fighting action to keep everyone happy. The most confusing things were the random bursts of violence (in which Zatoichi would be surrounded by a dozen swordsmen and be forced to kill them all) and the random flashbacks. But by the end, it ends up all making sense and you are able to enjoy it for what it is.

The worst element of the movie was the distracting CGI blood effects. It just didn’t look real (not that I’d know what a real sword wound looks like, but I can pretty much guarantee that it wouldn’t look like it did in this movie), but it got the point across and wasn’t completely distracting.

I did enjoy Zatoichi and it really did feel like a regular Kitano movie (albeit, set about 300 years before his other ones). But I have to say that I hope he doesn’t try to start the franchise back up with himself in the title role, because I want to see him do other kinds of movies and not just one type over and over. Not a bad flick to check out, but not Kitano’s best. And that dance at the end? Awesome.

Equinox21’s Rating: 8/10

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Getting Any? (1995) Review

"Getting Any?" International DVD Cover

"Getting Any?" International DVD Cover

Director: Takeshi Kitano
Writer: Takeshi Kitano
Producer: Masayuki Mori, Hisao Nabeshima, Takio Yoshida
Cast: Moeko Ezawa, Hakuryu, Tokie Hidari, Yojin Hino, Minoru Iizuka, Takeshi Kitano, Akiji Kobayashi, Yuuji Minakata, Masumi Okada, Ren Osugi, Shintaro Takado, Susumu Terajima, Kanji Tsuda, Yuurei Yanagi, Tetsuya Yuuki
Running Time: 105 Min.

By Mairosu

It’s often said that the western world doesn’t know real Beat Takeshi. To us, the mention of his name is usually associated with a tough, silent yakuza prototype, or a cop with unorthodox methods. Almost exclusively, his roles are rough and stoic, his characters resorting to violence as a solution. Truth under all that is, Takeshi is none of what you might assume. He’s first and foremost an impish comedian and a prankster, always wearing a happy face and ready to pounce on the unsuspecting viewer. He padded his resume in the 70s as a stand-up manzai comic, part of an act called “Two beats” (hence his nickname “Beat” Takeshi, the other “Beat” was Kyoshi), then expanded his work into television, radio and whatnot. In a recent interview he gave, he explains that he didn’t like the fact that audience laughed at him at a screening of his first film “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” (directed by Nagisa Oshima), so he resolved to play hard boiled mofos until they recognize him as an actor with range and capability.

Getting Any ?, thus, is a rare sighting in Takeshi’s cinematic oeuvre, an exercise in true gross-out comedy which delighted the Japanese TV viewer over the years. The film was long time shelved for the western audiences, and the moment you pop it in you’ll understand why – it’s crude, near-childish and has enough clever references about Japan to put Joe Average off, but for those that care, it still can hit the spot.

The story revolves around Asao (Dankan, also to be seen in Takeshi’s Boiling Point as one of the goofy ballplayers), who just can’t get laid (an instant explanation of the film title, right there). In order to score, he starts drifting through various schemes which will, in his opinion, enhance his chances. His first fixation is car sex – so he gets a car. But with his money, all he could buy is some little cramped junk, so he sells his grandfather’s organs and buys a cabrio. Which proceeds to break down. Disillusioned, Asao resolves to rob a bank, which doesn’t happen after a string of comical scenes. Then, he tries his hand in movie business (a riotous segment which involves pointed jabs at Kurosawa and Zatoichi), and finally, he decides it’s airplanes which chicks dig, this fascination fueled by a couple of hilarious vignettes which appear out of the blue.

Since Asao can’t afford a big jumbo jet cruise, he reserves a spot in a little Cessna for a brief sightseeing flight, where he exchanges identities with Jo Shishido (for the uninformed, a regular “tough guy” in the 60s-70s ninkyo eiga films, most memorably in Seijun Suzuki’s Branded to Kill). And just about somewhere there, the film shifts another gear – the plot is discarded, and the whole second half of the film is a seemingly endless barrage of bizarre and often tasteless jokes, including spoofs on Ghostbusters, Michael Jackson, samurai films, yakuza films, giant monster films, H.G. Wells, one particular David Cronenberg film (you’ll see which one) and Lord knows what not. Not surprisingly, Takeshi himself appears in the final quarter of the film as a zany scientist who is determined to make his invisibility experiment work, but not even his presence keeps this one on course – it simply floats wildly like a rudderless ship in a tropical storm. By the time the shitty (pun very much intended) finale comes knocking, your attention span should be well off and desire for absurd humour long time satiated, so it falls pretty much flat.

Overall, Getting Any is a harmless way to spend 100 and something minutes, but it might have been a better film if Takeshi just stuck with the original idea which kept the first half of the film going. The final 40 or so minutes are just an exercise in audience tolerance, so consider yourself warned.

Mairosu’s Rating: 5/10

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Fireworks | aka Hana-Bi (1997) Review

"Fireworks" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Fireworks” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Literally: Fire Flowers
Writer: Takeshi Kitano
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Kayoko Kishimoto, Ren Osugi, Susumu Terajima, Tetsu Watanabe, Hakuryu, Yasuei Yakushiji, Taro Istumi, Kenichi Yajima, Makoto Ashikawa, Yûko Daike
Running Time: 103 min.

By Equinox21

Hana-bi was the first Takeshi Kitano film (directed) I’d seen. I really wish I’d waited until I’d seen some of his others first, because none of the others even compare. As much as I love all his films, Hana-bi was heads and shoulders above the rest.

I won’t spoil the story, because that’s not really the important thing about the film, anyway. The important thing about the film is Nishi’s (Kitano) relationship with his wife, his former partner, Detective Horibe, and the yakuza thugs that are constantly hounding him. It’s amazing to see how sensitive (yet distant, at the same time) he can be with his wife, then how close he can be with his former police detective partner (who was wounded in the line of duty and is now wheelchair bound), and how he can turn all that right around and be an unflinching killer of the yakuza thugs.

The music, the paintings, the cinematography, the direction and the acting in Hana-bi all add up to one of the most heartfelt, moving and personal movies Kitano could have come up with, while still including his signature flashes of extreme violence. Hisaishi’s brilliant and distinct score just adds to the dramatic, isolated and tragic feel of the movie. It would simply not have been the same with a score by anyone else.

Anyone who is a fan of film at all needs to do themselves a favor and see Hana-bi as soon as possible. Kitano’s masterpiece is guaranteed not to disappoint.

Equinox21’s Rating: 10/10

By Jesse

Dark. Deep. Poetic. Beautiful. Violent. Harsh. Depressing. Optimistic. Stark. Amazing. These are just a few words that can be used to describe Takeshi Kitano’s brilliant 1997 film Hana-Bi, or Fireworks as it is known in English-speaking countries.

Kitano stars as Nishi, a cop with a haunted past and a grim future. Nishi is in debt to a group of high-ranking Yakuza after borrowing money to help pay for the treatment of his wife’s (Kayoko Kishimoto) cancer. Early on in the film, Nishi’s partner Horibe (Ren Osugi) is shot and is forced to live the rest of his days confined to a wheelchair. Horibe’s family disowns him, and Nishi does the best that he can do to help his good friend get through the hard times. While at the same time Nishi plans to rob a bank in order to pay off his debts and take his wife on one last trip before she is gone forever. As Horibe discovers hope in the form of art, Nishi begins his downfall, taking orders from no one and stopping at nothing to get what he wants. One man is reborn while the other continues on an increasing path of self-destruction and pain.

What makes Hana-Bi such a great movie? Let’s start off with all the standard features typically found in a Kitano film: a story that is simple yet very complex in its thematic value, a magnificent score by Joe Hisaishi that is both subtle and rousing at the same time, the long pauses that create a tense atmosphere and Kitano’s ability to film scenes without any flashy camera trickery, and finally the extraordinary performance by the always dependable Takeshi Kitano as the lead.

Hana-Bi is very slow paced and not much happens during the first 50 minutes or so, but those slow moments help develop and enrich the characters in the film and create a steady build-up to the heartbreaking and explosive finale.

Kitano’s Nishi is a man who does not avoid violence, but at the same time acts as an extremely gentle and loving husband to his dying wife. He is quick to deal out the necessary carnage when facing the low-life thugs who want his money, but shows great amounts of compassion for his suicidal ex-partner and cancer-stricken wife. As Nishi plans the bank robbery to get the money that he needs to go on the vacation with his wife and get the Yakuza off his back, he calmly prepares for what might be the end for him and any of those persons that are close to him.

In a collection of playful and humorous scenes, we watch as Nishi purchases a stolen car and spray paints it as he gets ready for the big heist. During those same moments, the wheelchair-bound Horibe is touched by a group of paintings that he comes across and nearly breaks down as he discovers what will keep him from losing all control and ending his life. Nishi robs the bank without any trouble and he and his wife journey to the beach where they spend their final moments together.

The brutally dark tone of the film is momentarily lifted as we see Nishi and his wife joking around and doing the things that any happy couple would do on an outing together. A hint of nihilism hangs over the whole time, but for those brief moments of joy, Nishi and his wife (and the viewer) experience bliss as they forget all their problems and indulge in life’s pleasures.

The climax of the film is certainly something that will either fill your eyes with water or leave you feeling somewhat cold on the inside (or both), but the downbeat conclusion does not erase the good times that Nishi and his wife spent together as both their worlds came crashing down.

Hana-Bi is reminiscent of the French New Wave films of the 60’s with its eccentric characters and outbursts of violence in a poignant setting. The actors’ outstanding performances combined with Kitano’s spot-on direction make Hana-Bi a modern classic that is also a huge roller coaster ride filled with emotion.

Hana-Bi is a film that is not to be missed.

Jesse’s Rating: 9/10


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Sonatine (1993) Review

"Sonatine" American Theatrical Poster

"Sonatine" American Theatrical Poster

Director: Takeshi Kitano
Writer: Takeshi Kitano
Producer: Masayuki Mori, Hisao Nabeshima, Taiko Yoshida
Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Aya Kikumai, Tetsu Watanabe, Masanobu Katsumura, Susumu Terajima, Ren Ohsugi, Eiji Minakata
Running Time: 90 min.

By Len

One word: Genius. I could write 400 words on how much I love this film and it still wouldn’t be enough. To me, this represents all that is good in Kitano’s cinema.

Kitano plays Murakawa, a respected leader of a group of Yakuza who are sent to the tropical island of Okinawa to intervene in a gang war. However, instead of bringing peace, after their arrival, things go terribly wrong and Murakawa’s group is soon forced to go hiding on a small seaside hideaway. They start killing time by playing various beach games but can’t escape the eventual showdown.

I first saw this film when I was fifteen. I remember my reaction being something like “WTF? This is fucking queer” and went back to watch the last 30 minutes of Hard-Boiled again. How idiotic I was. This film is pure excellence. In every way. From the touching score by Joe Hisaishi to the amazing acting talent (especially Susumu Terajima and that old yakuza guy were brilliant), this film’s got it all.

One thing that struck me first was that this film is absolutely hilarious. Here it’s easy to see Kitano’s comedian background, from the small comedic dialogues between characters to the absurd pranks and games played by the yakuza gangsters on the beach, this film never ceases to amuse the viewer. That is, when it’s not shocking the audience with some pretty gruesome violence (not quite as bad as Hana-Bi or Violent Cop though).

However, even though Sonatine is certainly very violent and has plenty of hilarious scenes, it’s still a typical Kitano film and does have depth. Especially the main characters are all interesting, and feel like real people. Pretty weird people, but real anyways. I especially liked the philosophic ideas of Kitanos character. He wants to die because his fear of dying makes his life not worth living, and death would merely put an end to his fear and misery. This kind of absurd logic is what makes Kitano’s films generally very interesting to watch, and while some might say that Sonatine lacks the tranquil meditation about human nature that Hana-Bi for example has, I think that in it’s own way, Sonatine is a film of many layers, and should not be treated merely as a violent black comedy.

Len’s Rating: 10/10

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Violent Cop (1989) Review

"Violent Cop" International Theatrical Poster

"Violent Cop" International Theatrical Poster

Director: Takeshi Kitano
Writer: Takeshi Kitano
Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Maiko Kawakami, Makoto Ashikawa, Shiro Sano, Shigeru Hiraizumi, Mikiko Otonashi, Hakuryu, Ittoku Kishibe, Ken Yoshizawa, Hiroyuki Katsube, Noboru Hamada, Yuuki Kawai, Ritsuko Amano, Taro Ishida, Katsuki Muramatsu
Running Time: 103 min.

By Len

Flawed but promising would be the two adjectives I’d use to describe Takeshi Kitano’s directing debut. While watching this film, some characteristics that we have gotten used to with Kitano’s later movies are clearly visible, like the slow tempo matched with shocking violence or the beautiful cinematography. On the other hand, the storyline isn’t all that interesting and it’s a bit obvious that Kitano was still trying to find his style when it comes to storytelling. All the visual trademarks of a Kitano film are already here, but the storyline lacks the simple punch that his later films tend to have.

Woody already did a good job explaining the story, so I won’t go there.

However, one thing that should be noted is that this is the only one of Kitano’s films that isn’t actually written by him. Violent Cop was originally being developed by Kinji Fukasaku and when he couldn’t finish the project, the studio asked Kitano if he was interested in directing it. Having done comedy all his life, he agreed but demanded rights to rewrite parts of the story. That might be the reason why this film does seem somewhat uneven at times.

Still, even though I do consider this film to be somewhat flawed, it’s still a pretty decent film. Not one of Kitano’s best works (I’d say that this is one of his worst, but that’d be ignoring the crapness of his godawful Getting Any. Nothing else Kitano has ever done comes even near that piece of shit when it comes to bad films.), but still a film worth checking out. But if you’re new to Kitano, I’d suggest seeing Sonatine or Hana-Bi first.

Len’s Rating: 6/10

By Woody

Grim, tough, and realistic directorial debut from Takeshi Kitano, one of Japan’s hugest stars. I’ll forewarn you right now, if you don’t like grim, depressing movies, don’t even bother with this one. Another thing I should mention before I get into this review is that this is not in any way a brainless action movie. There are no Woosian slow-mo double gun shootouts. There is no kung fu. There is nothing intricate or choreographed about the violence in this film. It looks real. I should also note that some of the violence, particularly towards the end, is quite graphic. So if you are squeamish, easily depressed, or a mindless action nut, you will most likely not care for this movie.

To get it out of the way, the plot of this film concerns Azuma (Takeshi Kitano), the violent cop of the title. The opening scene is a pretty good indicator of what’s to come. As the film opens, a group of schoolboys beat and humiliate an old man. After they are finished and the old man is lying on the ground motionless, Azuma, who has been watching at a distance, follows one of the boys home. After the boy goes up to his room, Azuma knocks on the door of the house. The mother tells Azuma that the boy is in his room, so he jogs up to the room, forces the boy to let him in, and proceeds to smack the shit out of the kid. He then tells the kid to turn himself in in the morning. This scene illustrates Azuma’s character pretty well. He’s not the kind of cop to try to thwart a crime. He likes to let the criminals do their job so that he can do his. He’s also very brutal. Shouting “Rodney King” isn’t going to get you out of a beatdown with this guy. He probably wouldn’t even know who you’re talking about anyways (the film was made in 1989).

Getting on with it, the plot, well…it’s hard to describe without giving a lot away, so I’ll do the best I can while keeping it relatively short. Things just aren’t going good for Azuma. His younger sister, who is released from a mental institution at the beginning of the film, is a whacked out (I believe) nymphomaniac. He’s assigned a young, inexperienced partner. His superiors disagree with his brutal tactics. But things go from bad to worse when Azuma starts investigating a murder case involving the death of a drug dealer. That’s about all I can say without spoiling a really great story and riddling this review with spoilers.

Now for the point in this review where I mercilessly kiss ass. Takeshi Kitano’s directing is great; it’s hard to believe this is his debut film. His directorial style is the polar opposite of someone like John Woo, Wong Kar-wai, or Takashi Miike. Kitano is much more reminiscent of older Kurosawa. There is no fast cutting or roaming cameras here. I think Kitano was going for more of a documentary feel here. Slow motion is used in only one scene, in which a cop is brutally beaten with a metal baseball bat. The musical score is also very well done, and not overused at all. Kitano has said in interviews that a good film needs only to rely on images to get the story across. Music, dialogue, etc. is unimportant. That is apparent here. Kitano gives a nice, understated performance, but rarely speaks. There are never any long explanation scenes, monologues,etc. Whether he is beating suspects, ordering sake, being yelled at by his superiors, or trying to talk to his looney toons sister, Kitano keeps the same deadpan look on his face. The only time he really lets loose is at the end of the film, but I won’t spoil it for you.

The end of this film can be described in one word: brutal. This is one of those films that slowly rises in intensity until it explodes in an orgy of violence. Yes, I know, that sounds like something you would read on a box cover a B-grade action pic, but hey, I lost my thesaurus. This is a hard film for me to describe. The best comparison I can make with this movie is to the Radiohead song “Exit Music (For A Film)”, off of their 1997 album OK Computer. Both the film and the song start slow and quietly, build up slowly in intensity, and then culminate in an outburst of all of the repressed and muted emotion that came before it. If you’ve never heard the song, then that will mean nothing to you. Don’t let that stop you from seeing the movie, though.

In conclusion, this review is long and rambling and does not do the film justice. See it. This is one of those movies that really gets to you and has you feeling shitty after watching it. While I don’t like feeling shitty, I never forget when I feel shitty, and as a result, I’ll never forget this film. This film stays with you long after you have seen it, and that is as good a reason as any to see it. Very few films affect me in any way these days, but this one sure as hell did, and by doing so it gets my full recommendation. So there.

Woody’s Rating: 9.5/10

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Shaolin Temple 2: The Kids from Shaolin (1984) Review

"Shaolin Temple 2" International Theatrical Poster

"Shaolin Temple 2" International Theatrical Poster

Director: Cheung Sing Yim
Cast: Jet Li, Wong Chiu Yin, Hu Chien Chiang, Yu Hai, Yu Cheng Wai, Din Nan, Ji Chuan Wah, Sun Jien Hwu, Liu Huai Liang
Running Time: 99 min.

By Numskull

This is a sequel to Shaolin Temple in name only; there is no continuation of the first film. In fact, it barely has anything to do with the Shaolin temple. It would probably be better off, were this not the case. The film is about two families, one of which consists of a bunch of boys (Jet Li being the eldest) cared for by their uncle, the other of which just can’t seem to produce a male heir; each newborn daughter is valued at 10 cows. Wonder what the legions of soccer moms would say to that?

The story may not be garden variety chop socky fare, but it still doesn’t warrant a whole lot of elaboration. The characters are subject to some of the wildest mood swings you’ve ever seen, and the villains are a gang of bandits that are so laughably “opposite of badass” that it’s impossible to imagine them winning (it takes them a whole decade to come up with the awe-inspiring plan of getting revenge on the Dragon family by turning the Phoenix family against them. What, exactly, were they doing in the meantime…working for Miramax?). Sloppy writing rears its ugly head in other ways, like Jet and San Feng apparently gaining the temporary power of either invisibility or teleportation to escape an execution. Also, when the Phoenix patriarch finally gets a son, he’s so overjoyed that he kisses and plays with the newborn kid’s penis. Next stop for him: the Catholic priesthood (oh, man, that was low, even for me. See you in Hell).

Despite these shortcomings, you just gotta appreciate a movie where a whole shitload of characters fight like hell for 20 minutes or so at the end, partially making up for the lack of serious action in the rest of the film. You can skip ahead to that part without missing anything really entertaining; most of the brats will just annoy you.

Numskull’s Rating: 5/10

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Shaolin Temple (1982) Review

"The Shaolin Temple" International Poster

"The Shaolin Temple" International Poster

Director: Cheung Sing Yim
Cast: Jet Li, Yu Cheng Wai, Yu Hai, Din Nan, Chang Jien Wun, Ji Chuan Wah, Hu Chien Keung, Wong Kwang Chuan, Sun Jien Hwu, Yin Tee Wah
Running Time: 95 min.

By Numskull

Watch enough modern-day cop stories and Americanized Hong Kong films, and a straight-out chop socky flick like this almost seems new and innovative. Shaolin Temple is an above average kung fu movie, in most ways much like a million others from the 1970s, remarkable mostly for being Jet Li’s first film (and for possibly setting some sort of record for animal cruelty; a toad, a dog, and some sheep all bite the dust before the half-way point). He certainly got off to a better start than Jackie Chan did; this movie is clearly superior to most of Jackie’s drek with Lo Wei, The Man With No Clue. A few of them, admittedly, provided a modicum of amusement (especially Dragon Fist), but this film is more endearing somehow, and does not pretend to be anything more than what it is (Spiritual Kung Fu was supposed to be funny).

The plot is about as hackneyed as they come, with Jet Li training in Shaolin kung fu to avenge his father’s death (how many times have those last five words been used to describe martial arts movies?). As silly as that is, it’s kind of hard not to like a film that concludes with about 20 minutes of almost non-stop fighting involving dozens of warriors. Jet and the supporting players duke it out on other occasions as well, with no high-flying or little exploding thingies…just old-as-the-hills hand-to-hand combat the way it was meant to be, from back in the days when it took more than special effects and a pretty face to appear in a martial arts movie and not make a fool of yourself. The result is a fun little flick that kind of makes you want to go out and beat up some bad guys, and maybe expand your culinary horizons as well (dead dog and ram’s penis, yum yum).

Numskull’s Rating: 7/10

By Yi-Long

Jet Li’s first movie and one of the best martial arts movies ever made! Although it is a very basic story, it is extremely well done, lighthearted and fast, and it immediately showcases Jet Li’s undeniable screen-presence, charisma and (of course) his perfect Wushu skills. All wushu performers in this movie are real-life martial arts masters, and apparently no tricks whatsoever were used in the action scenes (no wires, no trampolines etc), not even for that 900-degrees spin Jet performs!

This movie showcases many different kung fu styles, like drunken-boxing, sword-fights, mantis-style etc etc etc (a lot okay!?). All of the fight scenes are really outstanding, except for the final one in which Jet kills the bad guy (ah duuuhhh….) rather easily, which is fairly short.

This is also a Mainland China production (which was 3 years in total production time), so the viewer gets to see the REAL shaolin temple, as well as some other beautiful scenery. This is a pretty old movie however, so most viewers are probably already spoiled with the experiences of more recent HK-Kung fu movies, in which is the action is faster and the camerawork and the choreography is more daring and faster.

Just enjoy the action and be amazed by the unbelievable talents of Jet Li and Co.

Yi-Long’s Rating: 9/10

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Iceman Cometh, The | aka Time Warrors (1989) Review

"The Iceman Cometh" International Poster

"The Iceman Cometh" International Poster

Director: Clarence Ford
Writer: Johnny Mak, Stephen Shiu
Producer: Stephen Shiu
Cast: Yuen Biao, Maggie Cheung, Yuen Wah, Sarah Lee, Tai Bo, Lam Chung, Alvina Kong, Ann Mui, Tan Lap Man, Frankie Ng, Chen Jing, Stanley Fung, Lai Yin Saan, Lam Siu Lau, Helena Law, Liu Wai Hung, Jackson Ng, Walter Tso, Elvis Tsui, Anthony Wong, Wong Jing, Corey Yuen
Running Time: 114 min.

By Reefer

Two opposing Ming Dynasty warriors fall into an ice crevice and are unthawed in the early 1990’s to a drastically changed world. The good warrior (Yuen Biao) finds a home with a quirky prostitute played by Maggie Cheung. The bad warrior (Yuen Wah), a rapist-murderer, simply picks up where he left off centuries ago. At first they are unaware that the other still exists until Wah’s handiwork shows up again. At the heart of this film is a simple fish-out-of-water story with the naive Biao, thinking that women are the rulers of this new world, plays slave to Cheung’s ditsy hooker. This provides many amusing moments situations for Biao to react and ultimately softens the movie’s tone.

My only real gripe with this movie is the nastiness of the truly evil Wah character. His brutal murder-rape scene that just doesn’t belong in this kinda movie mars all the light moments. He plays his character way over-the-top in most of his scenes. Agreed, many of us enjoy HK cinema because of its audacity and ability to mix genres and tones, but the brutality of the scene, much of it shown onscreen, is simply much too shocking.

Finally, the opponents discover each other and the fight begins (there are a couple of doozies this one). There is one featuring both Yuens fighting on top of a car hanging from a crane, a sword duel at the beginning, and the end fight that makes use of guns, swords, and then hand-to-hand combat. The combatants during the end fight take some nasty falls (none using stunt doubles!). It is a truly spectacular sequence that I would compare to Drunken Master 2.

Reefer’s Rating: 8/10

By Numskull

A rare thing: a Hong Kong action movie that exceeds 100 minutes. Sadly, the increased running time doesn’t mean a more intricate plot or any additional daredevilry. It just means that the movie plods. I’m not some sound-bit-spoiled simpleton with an attention span as wide as a pubic hair, but watching the chronologically misplaced Yuen Biao do menial chores for the ungrateful whore played by Maggie Cheung wears thin in a hurry. Drinking from the toilet only generates enough laughs to carry you so far, y’know? And then there’s the big bad villain Yuen Wah, who wantonly rapes and kills simply because it gives him that “special feeling”. Talk about a cardboard antagonist. The Iceman Cometh certainly isn’t the only offender in THAT department, but it really sticks out here because of the distinct lack of action for most of the film.

A sword fight in the beginning, a dull mass beating a little later on, one-half of a shootout in the embryo stage, and the baddie catching bullets and flicking them back at their originators like freshly-picked boogers. That’s what there is to sustain the viewer until the end, where we’re treated to a fairly cool “how-far-do-you-dare-to-plummet” stunt and the two Yuens go at it tooth and nail in a fight scene which is remakrable not only because the rest of the movie is a snore, but also because it perfectly illustrates the fact that Yuen Biao’s physical abilities are right up there with those of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, the two older “brothers” whose careers have unjustly overshadowed his for far too long.

Sorry folks, but a good ending fight does nothing to remedy such a lame story, nor does it single-handedly boost the movie from the status of the 98-pound weakling who gets sand kicked in his face at the beach to that of the guy who does the kicking. The Iceman Cometh is a weak link in Yuen Biao’s cinematic chain.

Numskull’s Rating: 4/10

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Not Scared to Die | aka Fist of Anger (1973) Review

"Fist of Anger" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Fist of Anger” Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: In Eagle Shadow Fist
Director: Zhu Mu
Writer: Su Lan
Producer: Hoi Ling
Cast: Wong Ching, Alex Lung Ji Fei, Lee Man Tai, Yam Ho, Kok Lee Yan, Yuen Qiu, Yuen Cheung Yan, Lau Kar Wing, Jackie Chan, Chiang Nan, Fung Hak On
Running Time: 85 min.

By Numskull

Let’s see here. Multiple alternate titles: check. Evil Japanese invaders incessantly harassing the women and old folks: check. Jackie Chan, before anyone knew who he was: check. Absurdly abundant and even more absurdly fake-looking blood: check. Pitifully small selection of sound effects for fight scenes: check.

Yup, sounds like a recipe for crap to me. This is probably the movie that Jackie Chan wishes he could forget more than any other…and perhaps he has, since he’s taken so many blows to the head and made so many other shitfests since its completion. Avoid like the cliche…er, the plauge.

Numskull’s Rating: 2/10

By Alvin George

A stupid ’70s movie about actors in China who go up against the Japanese during WWII This film has it all: bad dubbing, grainy filmstock, mediocre fight scenes, and an incredibly lame plot. A young Jackie Chan, wearing a buzz cut, dies about halfway through the movie and I just about died too. In fact, after he died, I didn’t watch this movie any further. I wish Mike and the ‘bots from “Mystery Science Theater 3000” were around to make fun of this awful film.

Alvin George’s Rating: 0/10

By Cody

This is one of the films that I have listed as one of Jackie’s worst movies. The reasons that I don’t like this movie are quite obvious. JACKIE DIES! You will not believe how angry I was when Jackie died in the middle of the film. I felt like whooping the manager of the Blockbuster by my house’s ass. Another thing I hate about this film is the plot, which is the usual “Fist of Fury/ I hate Japs” deal.

After watching it a second time, I tried to ingnore Jackie dying and consentrated on the film itself, but it still didn’t help. The fights are terrible, especially the finale. The chinese renegade and the japanese fighter fight through a mountain, a plain, a jungle, a pond, and finally back to the mountain where the chinese guy sticks his fingers in the japanese’s eyes and then throws him down the mountain.

Don’t go through the horror that I have been through, please don’t rent this movie.

Cody’s Rating: 0/10 “Jackie, what are you doing?” “Killing Japs!”

By Vic Nguyen

You know, I always thought that the word “shit” meant excrements coming out of your ass. After watching this film, I finally found out the true meaning of this word. Jackie only makes a 15 minute supporting character role, which really sucks hairy dick!!

This movie is so crappy that it is beyond comprehension. It is so crappy that it makes “The Protector” look Oscar worthy. It is so crappy that I would rather spend my time getting together with all the guest reviewers on this page and take turns sandwiching Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp. Heck, I wouldn’t mind having the president join in, just as long as I’m not watching this film! It is so crappy that I would rather spend time drinking lighter fluid and stick a match up my ass to see what the effect was! It is so crappy that I would rather go to a Hanson concert, hop on stage, and beat the living crap out of those fags (I might just do that anyway), then spend the next couple of years imprisoned in an LA county jail with a cellmate named Bertha than watch this film.

Stay away from this film! A good use for the tape besides being a paperweight is that it makes a good flaming douche bag filler upper. In case that you haven’t got the message, stay away from the film, believe me, you’d rather stick your nose up a horse’s ass than watch a film like this. You could trust me on this one. (I know, I’m doing a cheap and very lame Numskull imitation, but it’s alot of fun though)

Vic Nguyen’s Rating: Just take 0/10, subtract it by the first 10 digit number that comes to your head, and divide it by 2 (This is only because that eye part at the end was cool, but good luck sitting through it til the end)

By Jim Carrey

I don’t know about ya’ll, but this is how Dimension would release this film in the theaters in a land filled with horrible movies: There’s never a descent actor around when you need him but when this actor’s around, one is all you need – Jackie Chan in his worst movie ever EAGLE SHADOW FIST….Well I’ll be fair, we learned 2 things from this picture: We now know the color of blood is a bright neon red and women, children, and the blind can be killed on screen with no remorse – And talk about the actor playing the hero, I’m not crackin’ on the guy or anything, but facially, every time I saw him, I felt like saying “It’s Howdy Doody Time, It’s Howdy Doody Time…”.

It hurts me to say what I’m about to – The action director for the film was Yuen Cheung-Yan, that’s right, the brother of Yuen Wo-Ping, he’s even in the movie at the beginning. He plays the head of the Japanese soldiers who march backstage to capture Jackie and Howdy Doody. Even worse, another Yuen Clan member, Yuen Yat-Chor also has a cameo as one of the guys hiding in the bushes who kill Jackie. I can’t believe the action director for this piece of crap was the same guy who did the action for “Once Upon A Time In China”, “Fire Dragon”, “Sword of Many Loves”, “King of Beggars”, “Operation Pink Force 2” and “Miracle Fighters”.

Now that I’ve disclosed this horrible secret I feel my life may be in danger from the Yuen Clan. I’m not scared though, I’ll just hire Wang Yu for protection — after all, I am one who loved Fantasy Mission Force.

Jim Carrey’s Rating: 1/10

By Andrew

Once a friend and I were watching an old James Bond film with lousy acting, stupid gags, and a really stupid plot. Every five minutes he would shout out “THIS JAMES BOND SUCKS!” Six months later I got my hands on this film, and watched it with my friend. His reaction was exactly the same- “THIS JACKIE CHAN SUCKS!” Other comments included “They were learning how to use fake blood in this one” and “stupid”.

I really can’t explain it, all I know is that this film fails to entertain on any level. There’s no comedy, the acting was a tragedy, and the fighting scenes were all pathetic, usually consisting of one guy pounding on another guy’s chest once and watching him die. There was one cool camera trick where a solid object looked liquid when it was out of focus. That was the only entertaining clip in the entire film.

Andrew’s Rating: 0/10

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