‘Headshot’ star Sunny Pang shines bright in ‘Diamond Dogs’

"Headshot" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Headshot” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Gavin Lim, director of the acclaimed-short film Subtitle, is getting ready to unleash his full feature debut with Diamond Dogs, a martial arts thriller starring Headshot star, Sunny Pang.

A stage three cancer diagnosis leaves deaf and mute Johnny with little to lose when he is lured into a deadly underground social experiment. Funded by the uber rich, it pits fighters against one another in a test of animalistic aggression and adrenaline. Johnny’s fight to the top is brutal, fueled by the sole desire to exact revenge on the man who caged him in (via FCS).

Diamond Dogs will be making its debut at the Singapore International Film Festival later this month. Until then, check out the film’s Trailer below, which is reminiscent of Jet Li’s Unleashed/Danny the Dog:

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Newest action-packed Trailer for Max Zhang’s ‘The Brink’

"The Brink" Theatrical Poster

“The Brink” Theatrical Poster

Max Zhang – the rising star of The Grandmaster S.P.L. II and Ip Man 3 – is revisiting danger in The Brink, an upcoming thriller by first-time director Jonathan Li.

The Brink follows a group of fishermen who smuggle gold and the cops who chase them. It’s reported that the film will feature an extensive amount of Thunderball-esque underwater action sequences. In the film, Zhang sports blonde hair, just like James Tien did in 1973’s Seaman No. 7, which also featured underwater action sequences.

The Brink also stars Shawn Yue (Wild City), Gordon Lam (Trivisa), Janice Man (Helios), Wu Yue (From Vegas to Macau 2) and Yasuaki Kurata (Shinjuku Incident). Soi Cheang Pou Soi (Accident) will be serving as producer.

Zhang has many other projects in the works, including The Man with the Dragon TattooS.P.L 3: War Needs Lord, Made in Kowloon, Escape Plan 3, Assassins and the Missing Gold, Pacific Rim Uprising, as well as an unofficial Ip Man 3 spin-off, Master Z: Ip Man Legacy.

The Brink is getting a domestic release on November 23, 2017.

Updates: Check out the film’s latest action-packed Trailer:

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Deal on Fire! Lone Wolf and Cub Collection | Blu-ray | Only $49.99 – Expires soon!

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

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

Today’s Deal on Fire is Criterion Collection’s Lone Wolf and Cub Collection on Blu-ray.

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

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

Order Lone Wolf and Cub Collection from Amazon.com today!

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Blade of the Immortal | Blu-ray & DVD (Magnet Releasing)

"Blade of the Immortal" Theatrical Poster

“Blade of the Immortal” Theatrical Poster

RELEASE DATE: February 13, 2018

Magnet Releasing is giving Takashi Miike’s (13 Assassins, Terra Formars) live-action movie adaptation of Hiroaki Samura’s manga, Blade of the Immortal, a Blu-ray & DVD release on February 13, 2018.

This period samurai film stars Takuya Kimura (2046), Hana Sugisaki (Mozu: The Movie), Sota Fukushi (Library Wars), Hayato Ichihara (Yakuza Apocalypse), Erika Toda (Goemon), Ebizo Ichikawa (Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai), Tsutomu Yamazaki (As the Gods Will) and Min Tanaka (The Eternal Zero).

Manji, a highly skilled samurai, becomes cursed with immortality after a legendary battle. Haunted by the brutal murder of his sister, Manji knows that only fighting evil will regain his soul. He promises to help a young girl named Rin avenge her parents, who were killed by a group of master swordsmen led by ruthless warrior Anotsu. The mission will change Manji in ways he could never imagine…

Stay tuned for pre-order information.

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles, News | Tagged | 6 Comments

Taxi Driver, A (2017) Review

"A Taxi Driver" Korean Theatrical Poster

“A Taxi Driver” Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Jang Hoon
Writer: Uhm Yoo-Na, Jo Seul-Ye
Cast: Song Kang-Ho, Thomas Kretschmann, Yu Hae-Jin, Ryoo Joon-Yeol, Park Hyuk-Kwon, Choi Gwi-Hwa, Um Tae-Goo, Jeon Hye-Jin, Ko Chang-Seok
Running Time: 137 min.

By Paul Bramhall

An interesting element of Korean cinema has always been how much the film industries output reflects the political climate of the time. When the nationalistic Park Geun-hye was elected in 2013, a slew of patriotic themed movies filled the theaters, from the saccharine laced Ode to My Father, to the bombastic The Admiral: Roaring Currents. However by the time she was caught up in a number of controversies, from the handling of the Sewol ferry disaster, to sharing government documents with the daughter of a cult leader, so too the film industry changed its tone to reflect a lack of trust for those in authority. Instead of rousing patriotism, movies like Veteran and Inside Men painted an ugly picture of those in power, and Korean audiences lapped them up.

The controversy Geun-hye got caught up in led to her eventual impeachment in early 2017, which resulted in Moon Jae-in being elected as president. A former student activist and human rights lawyer, Jae-in has seen a Korea which is more self-reflective, and the latest Song Kang-ho vehicle (no pun intended), simply titled A Taxi Driver, is arguably a result of current attitudes. The movie takes place over a couple of days during The Gwangju Massacre (May 18th – 27th 1980), one of the most traumatic events in modern Korean history, and the turning point for the countries eventual return to democracy in the late 80’s.

Before getting into the movie itself, it’s important to give some context in regards to what led to those fateful days. Park Chung-hee (the father of Park Geun-hye) had led Korea as an authoritarian dictatorship since 1963, torturing his opponents and restricting civil liberties. When he was assassinated in 1979, many hoped for a return for democracy, but instead a general by the name of Chun Doo-hwan executed a military coup and seized power himself. Citing fears of North Korea infiltrating the South, Doo-hwan imposed martial law, shutting down universities and any political activity, which included dispatching troops to various cities to enforce curfews and alike. In short, one dictatorship was exchanged for another. In May 1980, a group of pro-democracy students in Gwangju took to the streets to protest the military rule, which led to dire consequences.

Doo-hwan ordered his troops to deal with the protestors using any force necessary, which saw many of them clubbed to death in the street. Outraged by the senseless violence being witnessed, within 2 days a protest of 200 people had become more than 10,000. Gwangju went into lockdown, with the military sealing off anyone coming or going from the city. The news stated that a group of communist sympathisers and gangsters had been causing trouble, which the military were controlling with minimum casualties, while in reality hundreds of pro-democracy protestors were violently murdered. It’s one of the darkest events in recent times, and perhaps not the most likely setting for a mainstream blockbuster, however it’s certainly not the first time for it to be featured on film, with the likes of May 18 and Peppermint Candy also using the traumatic days as a backdrop.

One of the most interesting stories to come out of the Gwangju Massacre, is that of a German journalist stationed in Japan, Jurgen Hinzpeter, who after hearing of the impending strife, smelt a scoop and flew to Korea a few days before the massacre began. Posing as a missionary to enter the country (foreign reporters weren’t allowed in at the time), Hinzpeter convinced a Seoul taxi driver by the name of Kim Sa-bok to take him to Gwangju, with the intention of filming an interview with the protestors. As it turned out, he’d become one of the key people to report the truth behind the Gwangju Massacre, with the footage he took revealing the true nature of how the military were senselessly killing civilians. A Taxi Driver is based on the story of Hinzeter and Sa-bok, using their very real story as a framework to construct a very mainstream blockbuster.

A Taxi Driver is the 4th movie from Kim Ki-duk’s former assistant director Jang Hoon. After making his directorial debut with 2008’s excellent Rough Cut, Hoon would go on to work with Song Kang-ho for his sophomore feature Secret Reunion, in 2010. Here reuniting after 7 years, Kang-ho makes the perfect anchor for what’s easily Hoon’s most commercial production to date. As a down-on-his-luck taxi driver, Kang-ho’s character ticks all the boxes – a wife who died from an unnamed illness, a single father to an 11 year old daughter, behind on his rent, and a landlady who looks down on him due to his profession and financial instability. Basically, he’s the archetypal Korean everyman that’s become so popular over the years, but thankfully with an actor as talented as Kang-ho in the role, as an audience we’re fully invested in his predicaments.

While grabbing lunch in a taxi driver’s eatery, he overhears another driver say their next booking is to take a foreigner to Gwangju for a hefty sum, a sum which would be ideal to clear his rent backlog. Seizing a moment of opportunity, Kang-ho grabs the fare instead, and so an awkward relationship begins between him and his stern faced passenger, played by Thomas Kretschmann (King Kong, Wanted). Having an English speaking actor in any Asian production is a daunting prospect, as all too often the exchanges can seem stilted, an example perfectly showcased by Han Suk-kyu and John Keogh in The Berlin File. Even Liam Neeson didn’t come away completely untarnished from Operation Chromite, despite having minimum interaction with the Korean cast. Thankfully no such issues exist in A Taxi Driver, and the language barrier that Kang-ho and Kretschmann experience feels perfectly organic, with the pair sharing a natural chemistry with each other.

Despite knowing the traumatic events that Kang-ho and Kretschmann are literally heading towards, Joon deserves credit for still eliciting laughs from their journey to Gwangju, thanks in no small part to Eom Yoo-na’s nuanced script, as the pair try to figure each other out. The fact that both are headed there for self-gratifying reasons also puts an interesting slant on things, with Kang-ho simply wanting the fare so that he can get going back to Seoul, and Kretschmann looking for the all-important scoop. Needless to say, A Taxi Driver sets itself up to cover a broad amount of territory, both in terms of the journey itself, and the tones invoked. Mainstream Korean cinema has a tendency to pour on the melodrama, even in movies billed as comedies (just check out the recent I Can Speak), and with subject matter such as that which is being covered here, gunning for the tear ducts is a given.

However Joon successfully keeps a steady balance throughout, with the expected tonal shifts flowing into one another rather than jarring against each other. The beginning of the massacre itself is handled particularly well, seen through the eyes of Kretschmann, Kang-ho, and a young activist played by Ryu Jun-yeol, the horrors inflicted are played straight and unflinching, making it a harrowing sight to witness. With a 135 minute run time though, towards the end proceedings do begin to feel slightly bloated. A scene which was likely included to make the movie appeal to as wider audience as possible, that features a completely unrealistic car chase between the taxi drivers (led by the always reliable Yoo Hae-jin, fresh from starring in Confidential Assignment) and the military, could arguably have been removed all together.

This is a minor gripe though, and despite its commercial nature, Joon does a remarkably effective job of capturing the essence of how ordinary lives get caught up in historically tragic moments. It’s as refreshing to see a Korean production that doesn’t rely on the Japanese as its villains, as it is to see one that doesn’t shy away from portraying the atrocities that it inflicted upon itself. Setting a movie such as this against the Gwangju Massacre could potentially be construed as insensitive, however Joon provides us with a tale that both respects the truth, while also delivering an engaging character drama through Kang-ho and Kretschmann’s relationship. Like most taxi rides, it may not be perfect, but all in all A Taxi Driver is one fare that’s worth coughing up for. A tip is optional.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7/10

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Well Go USA plays ‘Along with the Gods’ in this New Trailer

"Along with the Gods" Korean Theatrical Poster

“Along with the Gods” Korean Theatrical Poster

Well Go USA has announced their acquisition of Along with the Gods, a two-part fantasy blockbuster directed by Kim Yong-Hwa (Mr. Go).

According to VarietyAlong with the Gods sees the story of a firefighter who is taken to the afterlife by three guardians. He has to complete seven trials before he can be reincarnated.

The film stars Ha Jung-woo (The Handmaiden), Cha Tae-hyun (My Sassy Girl), Ju Ji-hoon (Asura: The City of Madness), Kim Hyang-gi (A Werewolf Boy), Lee Jung-jae (Operation Chromite) and Doh Kyung-soo (My Annoying Brother) of K-pop boyband EXO.

A release date is still pending. Don’t miss the film’s Trailer below:

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CJ Entertainment to adapt French book ‘The Vanished’

"The Vanished" Book Cover

“The Vanished” Book Cover

CJ Entertainment, South Korea’s leading entertainment conglomerate, announced today that the company will produce a feature film adaption of best-selling French nonfiction book The Vanished for the U.S. market.

The Vanished deal comes on the heels of CJ Entertainment revealing its plan last month to produce and release a minimum of 20 local films overseas in more than 10 languages annually by 2020. The deal also marks the second French novel adaption for CJ Entertainment in the US, following the 2013 hit film Snowpiercer, directed by Bong Joon Ho and starring Chris Evans, Song Kang Ho, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, and Tilda Swinton, which CJ adapted from the French graphic novel titled Le Transperceneige.

Written by Léna Mauger and Stéphane Remael, The Vanished tells the powerful true story of the disappearance of people in Japan. Every year, nearly one hundred thousand Japanese vanish without a trace. Known as the johatsu, or the “evaporated,” they are often driven by shame and hopelessness, leaving behind lost jobs, disappointed families and mounting debts.

In The Vanished, the authors uncover the human faces behind the phenomenon, including those who left, those who stayed behind and those who help orchestrate the disappearances. The quest to learn the stories of the johatsu weaves its way through: A Tokyo neighborhood so notorious for its petty criminal activities that it was literally erased from the maps; Reprogramming camps for subpar bureaucrats and businessmen to become “better” employees; the “suicide” cliffs of Tojinbo, patrolled by a man fighting to save the desperate; and desolate Fukushima in the aftermath of the tsunami.

Cityonfire.com received the above press release from CJ Entertainment. 

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Park Chan-wook to direct spy series ‘The Little Drummer Girl’

"Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" Korean Theatrical Poster

“Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” Korean Theatrical Poster

Visionary director Park Chan-wook (Sympathy for Mr. VengeanceThe Handmaiden) will be directing an entire six-episode AMC/BBC mini-series based on John le Carre’s spy novel The Little Drummer Girl. According to DM, Florence Pugh (The Commuter), the fast-rising young British actress, has landed the starring role.

Here’s what you can expect from the series’ plot, based on the book synopsis for The Little Drummer Girl (via Amazon):

On holiday in Mykonos, Charlie wants only sunny days and a brief escape from England’s bourgeois dreariness. Then a handsome stranger lures the aspiring actress away from her pals—but his intentions are far from romantic. Joseph is an Israeli intelligence officer, and Charlie has been wooed to flush out the leader of a Palestinian terrorist group responsible for a string of deadly bombings. Still uncertain of her own allegiances, she debuts in the role of a lifetime as a double agent in the “theatre of the real.”

The Little Drummer Girl was previously made into a feature film by George Roy Hill (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) in 1984, which starred Diane Keaton (The Godfather) as Charlie (see Trailer below).

We’ll keep you updated on Park Chan-wook’s version as we learn more.

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‘Oldboy’ star Choi Min-Sik gets his ‘Heart Blackened’

"Heart Blackened" Korean Theatrical Poster

“Heart Blackened” Korean Theatrical Poster

On November 10, 2017, CJ Entertainment will be releasing Heart Blackened to theaters. The film is a South Korean thriller directed by Jung Ji-Woo (Fourth Place).

A man (Choi Min-Sik of Oldboy and Admiral: Roaring Currents) who has everything risks it all in order to protect his daughter, who becomes a suspect in his fiancée’s murder.

Heart Blackened also stars Park Shin-Hye (The Beauty Inside), Ryoo Joon-Yeol (A Taxi Driver) and Lee Honey (Fabricated City).

The film is a remake of Fei Xing’s 2013 Chinese film, Silent Witness. For more about the current trend of Asian remakes of Asian remakes, don’t miss our recent feature: Made and (& Remade) in Asia.

Don’t miss the Trailer for Heart Blackened below:

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Jean-Claude Van Damme will return as ‘The Bouncer’

"Knock Off" Japanese DVD Cover

“Knock Off” Japanese DVD Cover

In addition to the upcoming Black Water and continuation of the Amazon series, Jean-Claude Van Johnson – not to mention the completed, but still-to-be-released Full Love/Eagle Path – Jean-Claude Van Damme (Kill ’em All) will be appearing in a Taken-esque action thriller titled The Bouncer, which will be directed by Julien Leclercq (The Assault).

According to Variety (via TAE), Van Damme will star as Lukas, a nightclub bouncer in his fifties who’s taken punches, literally and figuratively, and struggles to raise his 8-year-old daughter. One day, Lukas loses control during an altercation with a client and ends up in jail, while his daughter gets placed under the care of social services. But things take an unexpected turn when Interpol recruits Lukas to bring down a Dutch ringleader operating from Belgium in exchange for his daughter’s custody.

The Bouncer starts shooting in January. For now, here’s the Trailer for Tsui Hark’s underrated gem, Knock-Off:

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