Ready for a heavy dose of fantasy-infused martial arts action? If so, then Yang Lei’s Legend of the Naga Pearls is right up your alley. This upcoming film stars Darren Wang (Railroad Tigers), Crystal Zhang (The Founding of an Army), Sheng Guansen (City Monkey), Simon Yam (The Midnight After) and Xing Yu (Call of Heroes).
After being defeated by humans centuries ago, the Winged Tribe has lost their ability to fly. Seeking vengeance, a royal descendant of the tribe has begun searching for the magical Naga Pearls, which he plans to use to destroy the humans. When the legendary pearls fall into – and out of – the hands of Heiyu, a wily human street punk, he must join a team of unlikely heroes as they race to prevent the destruction of their people in this magical fantasy adventure.
Legend of the Naga Pearls is getting a U.S. release from Well Go USA on August 25th, 2017.
“Once Upon a Time in China IV” Chinese Theatrical Poster
In addition to his latest production, Heavyweight Assassin, veteran Hong Kong director/writer Jeff Lau (Treasure Hunt) will soon shoot an all-star martial arts actioner titled Kung Fu Big League. Considering the project’s impressive line up and the respective characters they’re playing, Kung Fu Big League is essentially “The Expendables of kung fu legends and myths.”
According to AFS, Vincent Zhao will once again portray Wong Fei Hung, as he did in Once Upon a Time in China IV-V and the 1996 TV Wong Fei Hung Series; Dennis To will once again portray Ip Man, as he did in The Legend is Born – Ip Man; frequent “Bruce Lee” actor, Danny Chan, will portray Chen Zhen (made famous by Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury); and Andy On will portray Huo Yuan Jia (previously portrayed by Jet Li in Fearless).
Stay tuned for more updates regarding Kung Fu Big League. Until then, here’s a look at Vincent Zhao from Once Upon a Time in China V:
Director: Huh Jung Writer: Huh Jung Producer: Kim Eui-Sung Cast: Son Hyun-Joo, Jeon Mi-Sun, Moon Jeong-Hee, Jung Joon-Won, Kim Soo-Ahn, Kim Ji-Young, Kim Won-Hae Running Time: 107 min.
By Paul Bramhall
It’s always refreshing when an Asian horror movie is released that doesn’t revolve around long haired black ghosts or tormented spirits, so when director and screenwriter Huh Jung made his debut with 2013’s Hide and Seek, it came as a welcome addition to the genre. The hook was simple yet terrifying, posing the question of what if someone else was living in your property other than just you, but you had no idea? While it’s not an idea that’s never been used before, Kim Ki-duk’s 2004 production 3 Iron notably used the same concept but with romantic trappings, the decision to use it as a basis for a horror movie was an undeniable stroke of genius.
The opening of Hide and Seek sets a deliberately creepy tone. Taking place in a dreary and dilapidated port side town, we follow a smartly dressed young woman as she makes her way home late night from the office, briskly walking past the rows of parked trucks and the sleeping drivers within. The apartment block she’s staying in has clearly seen better days, its stained walls and criss-crossing concrete structure providing a distinctly foreboding feel, as it becomes apparent that she lives there. Upon arriving in her apartment, she soon notices some of her belongings aren’t in the same place she left them. Convinced that it’s her weird next door neighbour that’s been creeping around in her place, she promptly goes to confront him, furiously banging on his front door and demanding he come out, but all to no response. However when she returns to her own apartment to cool off, it’s soon revealed that she’s not alone.
It’s a textbook opening of how to immediately get an audience’s attention, and it works perfectly. The brief sighting of a figure, their head covered by an old motorcycle helmet, decked out fully in black, effectively plugs into the primitive fear of a stranger that could be hiding in the very place we feel the most safe. After the unsettling opening, we’re introduced to the principle characters of the piece. Son Hyun-joo (The Phone) and Jeon Mi-seon (Mother) play husband and wife along with their two kids, who have re-located back to Seoul from America, and now live in one of the Korean capitals modern apartment complexes. It’s a world away from the run down environment of the opening, and the cinematography does a stellar job of conveying the bright and clean contemporary look of their home.
However despite the contrast in environments, Jung keeps an almost constant sense of underlying tension. While they appear like the perfect nuclear family, it soon becomes apparent that Hyun-joo has a serious case of OCD. It’s never overtly stated, but rather conveyed in seemingly throwaway shots, such as his insistence on turning every can in the fridge label forward, and Mi-seon casually mentioning if he’s been taking his pills, all of which play their part in hinting that not everything is as idyllic as it seems. The plot really kicks in though when Hyun-joo receives a call that his brother, who’s recently been released from prison, has gone missing. The police found Hyun-joo’s number scrawled in a notebook in the apartment he was residing in, along with a note stating that he’s going to disappear for a while, and as expected, the apartment is the one next door to the woman we follow in the opening.
Jung deserves credit for weaving together a tale with a number of both openly conveyed and indirect sub-plots, and for a debut director he balances them all with a level of confidence that belies his relative lack of experience. Apart from the most obvious question of whether Hyun-joo’s missing brother is the murderer, as an audience we feel equally invested in knowing why Hyun-joo developed OCD, why was his brother in prison, and why does Hyun-joo seem surprised that he’s been released? The casting of Hyun-joo was a smart choice, in a performance that makes him both a believable husband and father, while also portraying the nuances of someone who it gradually becomes increasingly clear is harbouring some dark secrets. He may not be a familiar name, but he’s played the lead in a countless number of mid-budget productions, and is always a reliable presence.
Almost as much of a character as the actors in Hide and Seek, is the dilapidated apartment building that the brother lives in. Hyun-joo and his family initially go there together, looking as out of place in the neighbourhood as a steak in a vegan restaurant. While initially disgusted by what they find in the filthy abode, Hyun-joo’s personality soon sees him sticking around to try and root out the answers he’s looking for. Eventually he meets with another family living there, a shabby looking mother and daughter who are initially welcoming, but upon learning that the man Hyun-joo is looking for is his brother, violently scream at him to leave and make his brother “stop peeping” at them. The suggestion that the woman wasn’t the only target for the mysterious masked figure ups the ante considerably, and Hyun-joo’s discovery of strange markings under each door buzzer only cranks things up even more, especially when the same markings appear in his own apartment block.
Jung crafts some wonderful scenes of terror into the tight 1 hr 45 min runtime. One of my favorites of which has the mysterious figure knocking on the door of Hyun-joo’s apartment, knowing that only the two kids are at home, which draws its suspense from the natural urge anyone has to open the door in such a situation. With their mother on the phone, the more she tells them to ignore it, the more frantic the knocking becomes, until the door is almost being pounded off the hinges, all the while with the kids sitting right in front of it. It’s executed perfectly, with the camera angle looking up at the door from the kid’s perspective, knowing that some unseen terror is just on the other side of it.
However, as much as it pains me to say it, Hide and Seek throws in a twist about two thirds of the way in, which simply beggars belief. There has been so much build up for most of the movie – flashbacks to Hyun-joo and his brothers past, the revelation that his brother had been enquiring into who the true owner of Hyun-joo’s property is, the daughter constantly feeling under the weather after visiting the apartment, and even a homeless guy who attempts to abduct the kids. Part of the appeal of all these separate elements is waiting to see how they’ll fit together, but in Hide and Seek, they don’t. Almost everything implicated in the bulk of the movie is simply ignored, and it randomly becomes like a Korean version of Dream Home.
My only theory with this is that Jung must have started his story backwards, knowing how he wanted to end it, then looked at how he could incorporate in as many red herrings as possible to throw the audience off the true nature of what’s happening. However the huge problem with this is that, what turn out to be the red herrings are actually the most interesting parts of Hide and Seek, so for them to suddenly be revealed to have no bearing on the conclusion is a deflating experience. The finale also decides to throw logic out of the window. A big part of the creepiness that permeated the old apartment building was its state of disrepair and age, making it feel perfectly plausible that someone could move between the units without being noticed. That could never work in Hyun-joo’s modern security monitored abode, however Jung’s script wants us to believe that it could.
This stretches into the final shot of Hide and Seek, one which is clearly telegraphed thanks to the character it involves being completely absent from a prior sequence that, for all intents and purposes, should have seen them involved front and center. While knowing what you want the final shot of your movie to be is all well and good, you at least need to respect filmmaking logic in order to arrive at it, and here it’s completely ignored. The other fatal error is the key point that, not knowing who’s behind the mask is one of the scariest elements about the mysterious figure, so revealing the identity naturally dissipates that terror of the unknown. When the twist does come, the identity is immediately revealed, and the nature of the reveal renders any sense of fear null and void.
These elements make Hide and Seek a frustrating experience, as for the best part of an hour it’s a remarkably strong and genuinely scary effort, but it serves as proof that one bad decision can unravel everything that’s come before. Still, there’s enough good in Hide and Seek to mark Jung as a director to keep an eye on, and in 2017 he’ll release his sophomore feature in the form of The Mimic, which sees him sticking with the horror genre. For now though, to go back to an earlier reference, Hide and Seek is like ordering a well done steak, only for you to get half way through eating and find the rest is only rare. It’s still a steak, but it’s not what you wanted.
Ever since the release of 2015’s Spectre, the state of the James Bond franchise – as well as its current leading man – has been more or less in limbo (seems to happen constantly with the series every few years or so… helps to get rid of the bad blood), but as we get closer to the end of 2017, the fate of 007’s 25th adventure is looking much brighter.
Back in May of 2016, sources told DM: ‘Daniel is done – pure and simple – he told top brass at MGM after Spectre. They threw huge amounts of money at him, but it just wasn’t what he wanted,’ said the source. Another source told the Mail that ‘executives had finally agreed to let the actor go after growing tired of his criticism of the franchise.’ And let’s not forget that Craig stated that he’d rather ‘slash his wrists’ than play Bond for a fifth time (he said this shortly after the release of Spectre).
Then in October of the same year, Craig apparently had a change of heart since his wrist comment. During a recent appearance at The New Yorker Fest in Manhattan BMD reporter Phil Nobile Jr. (via Collider) shot video of Craig saying the following:
When you’re asked 20 feet from the end of a marathon whether you’d do another marathon, the answer is simple. It’s like, “No, I won’t.” But the things I get to do on a Bond movie and what the type of work it is, there is no other job like it, there is no other job like, and if I were to stop doing it, just say, I would miss it terribly because you are working with — I maybe disparagingly said the movie industry’s getting a little bit of, you know, of the focus group thing and the whole thing. A Bond movie doesn’t work like that, it’s literally from the skin of your teeth you get it out and then it’s released less than six months later after you finish it. There’s no time for focus groups. There’s no time for that. You make the movie, it gets out. It’s one of the most thrilling things as an actor you can do.
And in April 2017 (via PS), it was reported that Bond producer Barbara Broccoli has all but persuaded Daniel Craig to play 007 for the historic 25th movie in the series. Daniel’s talks with Barbara were going in the right direction. They have a script — screenwriting duo Neal Purvis and Robert Wade [who’ve penned several Bond movies] are writing and they’ll go into production as soon as Daniel is ready to commit.” The source added, “Plus, Barbara Broccoli doesn’t like Tom Hiddleston, he’s a bit too smug and not tough enough to play James Bond.”
From both a critical and financial point of view, whether or not Craig leaves the franchise, it’ll be on high note: 2012’s Skyfall has gone on to become the most successful James Bond film of all time, grossing over $1 billion worldwide. Last year’s Spectre, which drew in a lesser audience, plus mixed reviews, took in $879.2 million worldwide. Even though Spectre wasn’t a massive success, it was still a success.
If Craig is indeed done, the big question is: Who’ll be playing Bond? Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Michael Fassbender (Jobs), Damian Lewis (Homeland), James Norton (War and Peace) and Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers) remain firm favorites. Also, Jamie Bell (Snowpiercer) was supposedly talking with producers.
The other biggie is: Who’ll be directing Bond? Everyone from Drive’s Nicolas Winding Refn (who is currently working on Avenging Silence, his own take of a spy flick after turning down Spectre) to Guy Ritchie (who penned last year’s similarly themed The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) have been attracted to the idea. Other filmmakers who have expressed interest include Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk) and Chad Stahelski (John Wick: Chapter 2).
For now, Craig is wrapping up a 20-part TV series called Purity. (Mirror reported that MGM was even willing to push Bond 25 back, which would allow Craig to complete the series). Craig can be seen next in Steven Soderbergh’s Lucky Logan, a heist film, which releases in August.
Updates: TT reports that Craig has signed up for Bond 25, which has a potential release date in 2018. Additionally, Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk) is still in talks and producers are hoping to get Adele to return to perform another Bond theme (she won the franchise its first Oscar with her theme for Skyfall). We’ll keep you updated on anything Bond-related as we hear more. Until then, here’s the Trailer for one of our favorites, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, as recently reviewed by our own British spy who is currently on a mission in Manila.
Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for 1984’s Ninja III: The Domination, directed by Sam Firstenberg (American Ninja).
This 3rd sequel to Enter the Ninja and Revenge of the Ninja teams Lucinda Dickey (Breakin’) with the legendary Sho Kosugi (9 Deaths of the Ninja). The film also stars David Chung (Missing in Action 2: The Beginning) and James Hong (Big Trouble in Little China).
Ninja III: The Domination is arguably the most memorable of the unrelated Ninja Trilogy, due to its wacky “The Exorcist meets Ninja” premise and bloody “Ninja goes postal” opening sequence.
On September 5, 2017, Well Go USA is releasing the Blu-ray & DVD for Iron Protector, which is better known as Super Bodyguard (Well Go USA most likely changed its title to avoid confusion with Sammo Hung’s The Bodyguard).
Iron Protector is a new martial arts movie directed by and starring Yue Song (King of the Streets). Song plays Wu-Lin, who chooses a dark path to seek for revenge, and take the law in his own hands. Wu-Lin is not just a regular man, he is the successor of an ancient, once powerful Chinese clan, the “Iron Feet”.
According to Deadline: Nicolas Pesce, who is known for the critically acclaimed The Eyes of My Mother (2016), has been set to rewrite and direct the reboot. Other noted producers for the reboot include Sam Raimi (Hard Target) and Taka Ichise (Dark Water), who produced nearly every Ju-on/Grudge project to date.
2002’s Ju-on: The Grudge (there were two direct-to-video productions before it) revolved around a vengeful spirit that pursues anybody who dares enter the house in which it resides. The film spawned several sequels (including the recent “The Ring vs The Grudge” thriller, Sadako vs Kayako) and the aforementioned 2004 U.S. remake starring Sarah Michelle Gellar.
Until more news arrives, enjoy the Japanese Trailer for original Ju-on:
AKA: The Unicorn Palm Director: Tang Ti Cast: Unicorn Chan, Meng Hoi, Gam Dai, Kitty Meng Chui, Yasuaki Kurata, Wang In Sik, Tong Dik, Mars, Lily Chen, Tina Chin, Chow Siu Loi, Goo Man Chung, Alexander Grand, Tai Yee Ha, Tong Kam Tong, Paul Wei, Ji Han Jae Running Time: 82/90 min.
By Jonathan Mitchell
Fist of Unicorn (also known as Bruce Lee and I and The Unicorn Palm) is a film noted for its minimal, but direct, association with Bruce Lee rather than for the quality of the film itself. The only movie to have been choreographed by Lee apart from his own starring vehicles, Fist of Unicorn features Unicorn Chan in the leading role. Chan was Lee’s closest friend, and as children they had performed together in films like Kid Cheung. (The viewer will recognize him as “Jimmy”, one of the waiters in Lee’s self-directed The Way of the Dragon.) Here, Chan portrays a reluctant hero who resorts to violence only after his opponents have spilled innocent blood. Despite the fact that they were staged by Bruce Lee, the fight scenes bear no resemblance to his other work and Lee does not appear onscreen… at least not in the original version of the film.
Unicorn Chan plays Lung, a drifter in search of room and board. He befriends Tiger (Meng Hoi), a bald, garrulous adolescent who persuades his widowed mother to give Lung a job as a fixup man. One day, mischievous Tiger incurs the wrath of some thugs employed by Mr. Wong, a wealthy weapons trafficker who runs the town. Lung refuses to fight, but receives some welcome assistance from a martial arts instructor (Ji Han-jae, the hapkido fighter from Bruce Lee’s Game of Death, in a brief cameo role). Meanwhile, Mr. Wong’s stuttering son (Gam Dai, Lee’s comic foil in Way of the Dragon) has developed a crush on a young woman (Kitty Meng Chui) who belongs to a troupe of wandering acrobatic performers. The thugs, led by veteran Hong Kong movie villains Yasuaki Kurata and Hwang In-shik, slaughter the entire troupe except for the woman, who barely escapes with her life. Lung finds her, and she takes refuge in the home of Tiger’s mother. When Mr. Wong’s hired goons come to call, they kill the mother and kidnap Tiger and the young woman. Thus begins a series of lengthy fight scenes in which Lung squares off against the bad guys. Having dispatched a small army of thugs, Lung defeats a Russian karate expert (Alexander Grand, who regularly portrayed Caucasian villains in low-budget Chinese martial arts films) before the mysterious Mr. Wong finally emerges. He’s played by the film’s director Tang Ti — best known as “Smiling Face” in The One-Armed Swordsman—and the final confrontation ends with Mr. Wong dead and Lung, apparently, mortally wounded.
The preceding was a summary of the original Chinese-language version of the film. When the folks at Sing Hui Film Company were preparing Fist of Unicorn for international release, they had a trick up their sleeves: they had secretly filmed a few seconds of Bruce Lee on set (despite the fact that he had expressly declined to appear in the film at all), and this wobbly footage was added to international prints of the movie. But that wasn’t all. The filmmakers appended a prologue which revealed that Mr. Wong had murdered Lung’s parents when Lung was a boy, and in which Unicorn Chan shared screen time with a Bruce Lee double filmed from behind. In the ensuing years, there has been some controversy regarding Chan’s involvement in this fiasco. Was he a willing participant in Sing Hui’s efforts to exploit his best friend’s star power, or not? The embarrassing, poorly edited scene to which I have just referred should lay any doubts permanently to rest. Chan knew what he was doing, and understood the filmmakers’ intent. (Not surprisingly, Lee filed a lawsuit against the company.) The English opening credits in the international version of Fist of Unicorn are a sight to behold: Chan is billed as “Sheau C. Lin” (a mangled romanization of his stage name, Hsiao Chi-lin) while Yasuaki Kurata becomes, for some unfathomable reason, “Tsant T.B. Jau”.
With its standard revenge motif, a stolidly righteous hero and almost cartoonishly unpleasant villains, this is a by-the-numbers kung fu film in every sense. (An eerily surreal scene in which Mr. Wong’s stammering son realizes that the “woman” he’s been romancing is actually a man in drag is handled with unexpected cinematic flair. The discovery is made off-screen: the viewer sees nothing but the curtain drawn around the son’s bed suddenly billowing in a phantom breeze as he gasps in horrified surprise. It’s as though Tang Ti were channeling King Hu or Akira Kurosawa, but the inspiration was fleeting; the rest of the film plods along artlessly.) The fights themselves are competent but not extraordinary. The most interesting thing about them is that, with the exception of a few punches aimed directly at the camera, they fall well within the boundaries of traditional Hong Kong choreography. Because the rapid-fire style in which Bruce Lee staged the action scenes in his own movies was not suitable for Fist of Unicorn, he opted for a more conventional approach, and the ease with which he shifted gears speaks to his capacity for adaptation (a key element of his martial philosophy).
Fist of Unicorn was released on DVD (on the disreputable VideoAsia label) in 2003, and the disc is still available. It contains the original Mandarin version, with burned-on English subtitles, as well as the English-dubbed international version with the extra footage; both prints are heavily battered, but watchable. Unicorn Chan died in a car accident in 1987, having never broken the big time. It’s bitterly ironic that one of the few films in which he managed to secure a starring role was responsible for setting in motion the unsavory phenomenon of Bruceploitation — even before Lee’s untimely death!
South Korean superstar, Song Kang-Ho (The Age of Shadows, Snowpiercer), is back in A Taxi Driver, an upcoming film from director Jang Hun (The Front Line) that Well Go USA is releasing to theaters on August 11th.
No, it’s not a remake of the 1976 Martin Scorsese classic Taxi Driver (nor is it a remake of the David Chiang film). This Taxi Driver is based on the true story of Korean taxi driver and his adventures with a German reporter during the violent Gwangju Uprising.
A Taxi Driver also stars Thomas Kretschmann, Yu Hae-Jin (Veteran) and Ryoo Joon-Yeol (No Tomorrow).
“Outrage: Final Chapter” Japanese Theatrical Poster
Takeshi Kitano (Mozu: The Movie) is back for another dose of Yakuza brutality (the first film did for dental offices what Jaws did for the beach) in Outrage: Final Chapter (aka Outrage 3 or Outrage Saishusho), the follow up to Outrageand Beyond Outrage.
If you’re fan of Tokyo Raiders (2000) and its sequel, Seoul Raiders ( 2005), then get your stylish gadgets ready for Europe Raiders, which is once again directed by Jingle Ma (Silver Hawk). It should also be mentioned that this 3rd entry of the series is produced by Wong Kar-wai (The Grandmaster), which is a departure from the arthouse-style projects his name is usually associated with.
In Europe Raiders (aka Paris Raiders), Tony Chiu-Wai Leung (Hard Boiled) reprises his role as a detective who wears a jacket full of neat toys and a mean umbrella. This time around, Leung is joined by Kris Wu (xXx: Return of Xander Cage), Tiffany Tang (The Storm Warriors), Du Juan (Lost in Hong Kong), and last but not least, Thai martial arts sensation JeeJa Yanin (Chocolate).
Europe Raiders is getting a domestic release later this year. Until then, here’s a blast to the past with the original Trailer for Tokyo Raiders:
In addition to the English language remake of Drug War in development (read about it here), South Korea will also have their own version of the 2012 Johnnie To film of the same name.
The Korean remake will star Cho Jin-woong (A Hard Day), Ryu Jun-yeol (A Taxi Driver), Kim Joo-hyuk (Say Yes) and Cha Seung-won (Man On High Heels), with Lee Hae-young (The Silenced) in the director’s chair (via KJD).
The original Drug War – which starred Louis Koo, Sun Honglei, Crystal Huang and Wallace Chung – revolves around a drug cartel boss who is arrested in a raid and is coerced into betraying his former accomplices as part of an undercover operation.
Keep it here for more updates. In the meantime, here’s the Trailer for the original film:
In addition to Jesse V. Johnson’s Triple Threat (and possibly APES), which is being described as an martial arts Expendables-type flick starring Tony Jaa (Skin Trade), Angelababy (Mojin: The Lost Legend), Tiger Chen (Man of Tai Chi) and Iko Uwais (The Raid 2), there’s another high profile martial arts film in-the-works that Jaa is co-starring in called Paradox (aka Fate).
Directed by Wilson Yip (Ip Man 3) and produced by Soi Cheang (SPL II), Paradox stars Louis Koo (League of Gods) as a police negotiator who travels to Bangkok to search for his teenage daughter and is aided by local detectives played by Jaa and Wu Yue (Journey to the West).
Lu Yang is getting ready for more slicin’ and dicin’ in Brotherhood of Blades 2, the follow up to the filmmaker’s 2014 wuxia actioner, Brotherhood of Blades. The sequel will get a theatrical release domestically on August 11th, 2017.
Director: Bong Joon-ho Writer: Bong Joon-ho, Jon Ronson Cast: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Ahn Seo-hyun, Byun Hee-bong, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Yoon Je-moon, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, Devon Bostick, Choi Woo-shik, Giancarlo Esposito, Jake Gyllenhaal Running Time: 120 min.
By Kyle Warner
“Here, you’ve got to try this,” is something I think we’ve all heard from somebody in the presence of food. And maybe we’ve even been secretly waiting for such an invitation to sample from the plate of another. There have been films that’ve asked us to rethink this before. Soylent Green is a fine example, a movie about overpopulation and hunger where the solution is to make food out of people. Food Inc. was a documentary about genetically modified foods that forever changed the way I look at what was on my plate. Now we come to Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, a film that, on the surface anyway, does not appear to be subtle about what it wants to say or do. The characters are colorful, the horrors of capitalism are established in the opening credits, and then there is the small issue of the superpigs. And yet, the way the story is told does manage to sneak up on you. Okja never tells you what to think, never directly asks you to consider a new point of view. It’s a film that makes you fall in love with a girl and her beast, then you watch in terror as the world rips them apart.
It’s a film of two distinct halves. The first hour has young Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) living in the mountains of South Korea with her superpig, Okja. The multinational company Mirando has ‘discovered’ these superpigs and thinks they’ll not only solve world hunger but potentially combat global warming as they leave a much smaller carbon footprint than cows. Mirando, under the leadership of the tense and twitchy Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), gives a baby superpig to farmers all over the globe. The superpigs will be raised and then judged years later to show the world the very best superpig. Okja is undoubtedly the best of them, but that’s not important to Mija, or her grandfather (Byun Hee-bong), or to the audience. Adventures in nature and warm moments at home make us fall in love with this odd beast. There are quite a few laughs, as well.
Animal show host Dr. Johnny (Jake Gyllenhaal), the friendly face of Mirando, arrives in the mountains and is stunned by the beauty of Okja. And though Mija is at first welcoming to the VIP guest, she doesn’t understand that this means her time with Okja is at an end. While she’s distracted, Dr. Johnny and the Mirando people take Okja away so that she may appear in their Best Superpig celebration. But Mija’s not having any of that, so she takes off by herself to rescue Okja, making unlikely allies with an animal right’s group run along the way.
Then things take a turn. I have never seen a movie that’s all joy and wonder turn into a horror show mirror for the world like this before. The subject of animal cruelty, cruel scientific testing, and massive slaughterhouses becomes a focal point going forward. Okja may be the best superpig but she’s still just a walking slab of meat to the people at Mirando. Indeed, much the world apparently feels the same, and can we blame them? While I don’t know anyone who looks at a living animal and drools at the thought of eating them, I do know plenty who will put the animal out of their mind so that they can enjoy their meal. Okja makes that impossible, at least for two hours. We’ve come to love the big and beautiful Okja, we know what she means to Mija, and we can’t stand the idea of her inevitable fate, nor the fate of other superpigs just like her. The movie does not tell you to feel this way, it comes naturally. And it means something because, though our world does not feature a Mirando company or a superpig species, everything else feels like it’s about us, today. The capitalist greed, the game show tackiness, the lack of empathy, the needy supply and demand. You’ll laugh at first, then you’ll feel horror and sadness. It’s an amazing dramatic maneuver. There is a wordless moment in the final 15 minutes that is among the saddest things I’ve ever seen in a genre movie.
The cast is mostly wonderful. Bong Joon-ho and co-writer Jon Ronson (Frank) imbue energy and life in even the most minor characters. It’s impossible to come away from Okja and not be impressed by young actress Ahn Seo-hyun (Monster), who gives the most dramatic and soulful (human) performance of the movie. Tilda Swinton, who worked previously with Bong in Snowpiercer, is brilliant as Lucy Mirando. She’s a villain, yes, but she’s not monstrous, as Swinton gives her enough insecurity to make you almost feel bad for her. Swinton and Bong can make movies together forever and that’d be fine by me. Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood) is great as the leader of Animal Liberation Front, an animal activist group who aids Mija in her quest to save Okja. Dano’s character is like a Wes Anderson action hero and it’s so much cooler than it sounds. Jake Gyllenhaal… goes over the top. I’m not sure what to make of what Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler) was trying to do here. I appreciate any actor who’s willing to make himself look like a fool or look ugly for a part and Gyllenhaal accomplishes both with the same performance. So, props for that. But I would’ve asked him to tone it down some.
The rest of the ensemble cast makes the most of their limited speaking roles and still manages to make their characters feel full of life. Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead) has a solid supporting role as one of the less noble members of Dano’s animal rights group. Yuen and Dano are joined by Lily Collins (To the Bone), a red-haired activist with a homemade bazooka. Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad) is good as the ‘normal’ guy in Mirando who sees madness and greed all around him and does not blink. And Woo-sik Choi (Train to Busan) has a cameo as a truck driver that gets some of the best laughs in the movie.
There’s been some controversy about Okja after its debut at Cannes and I want to touch on that for a second. Okja is a Netflix movie (it is one of the production company’s best feature films along with Beasts of No Nation). Being a Netflix movie means that, under the company’s current release strategy, it goes streaming day-and-date with its very limited theatrical release. This has led some at Cannes and some within the film critic community to question whether Okja is a real film, as if being a Netflix property made it, what? A web movie? I disagree with this notion. For while I would’ve gladly accepted Netflix putting Okja in theatres a month before making it available to stream, no method of release makes a movie any less of a movie. It’s like suggesting that an ebook is not the same as a paperpack or that music on your iPod isn’t the same as the music in your CD player. We can argue about whether an ebook should cost less than a paperback—I would agree, by the way—but that doesn’t mean the words printed in either are worth any more or less. The same goes for a Netflix movie. This is a real film, full of heart, horror, and wonder, and no method of release can possibly change that. What’s more, Netflix gives Bong a large international audience, and fans of the director can see his new movie now as compared to waiting many months due to the fact that it’s not playing locally in theaters. We can talk about whether Netflix should consider changing its release strategy (Amazon Studios takes a far more traditional approach, giving their films more of a chance at the box office), but the suggestion that being available to stream Day 1 makes it any lesser than Bong’s other directorial efforts gets a big nope from me.
According to Bong, Netflix gave him complete creative freedom. And it shows. You’d be hard-pressed to find a stranger, angrier, goofier, more thought-provoking modern genre movie than Bong’s movie about superpigs. The shifts in tone will put some people off, and others simply won’t want to acknowledge what Okja has to say. But for those who can handle a movie that goes in all directions and talks about some ugly truths, Okja is pretty dang special. It’s not uncommon for a monster movie to suggest that ‘man is the real monster’ but rarely has that ever felt truer than when watching Okja. I’ll now repeat my first lines of this review: you’ve got to try this.
There’s another Expendables-ish Asian action film in the works – not to be confused with Jesse V. Johnson’s upoming actioner Triple Threat (aka The Makeshift Squad) – titled Asia Pacific Elimination Service (or A.P.E.S.).
Earlier this year at Filmart (via THR), the $12 million project had Tony Jaa (Tom Yum Goong 2), Tiger Chen (Monk Comes Down the Mountain) and David Wu attached, but upon further research, Max Zhang (SPL 2 aka Kill Zone 2) and Iko Uwais (The Raid 2) are also potential cast members (via CM). Additionally, director Adrian Teh (King of Mahjong) is listed as director for the project.
For now, we advise you take A.P.E.S. with a grain of salt, but don’t exactly dismiss it either (preliminary poster).
Buffalo Boys will reunite Wiluan with Headshot cohorts Sunny Pang (The Night Comes for Us) and Zack Lee (The Raid 2). Also starring are Ario Bayu (Macabre), Tio Pakusadewo (The Raid 2), Pevita Eileen Pearce (Single), Happy Salma (Capres), Donny Damara (2014), Mikha Tambayong (Fallin’ in Love) and El Manik (Carok), with action choreography by Kazu Patrick Tang (Hard Target 2).
We’ll keep you updated on Buffalo Boys as we hear more. For now, don’t miss Headshot, which is currently streaming on Netflix.
Veteran Hong Kong director/writer Jeff Lau (Treasure Hunt) is currently shooting Heavyweight Assassin, a martial arts film starring Max Zhang (SPL 2), Ada Choi (Fist of Legend), Andy On (Outcast) and Hung Yan Yan (Double Team), who is also handling the film’s action choreography.
Heavyweight Assassin is about a group of assassins attempting to track down a stash of hidden gold, according to SD.
After his smash hit Veteran, Ryoo Seung-wan is now preparing to release Battleship Island, a big budget action thriller. The upcoming film, set on Hashima Island in Japan, will revolve around the story of Korean laborers force to work by the Japanese military during World War II, who plan to escape to the island.
Veteran star Hwang Jeong-min leads a cast that includes So Ji-Sub (Company Man), Song Joong-Ki (Five Senses of Eros), Lee Jung-Hyun (Night Fishing), Yoon Dae-Yul (Kundo: Age of Rampant) and Kim Soo-Ahn (Train to Busan).
It sounds like Battleship Island could be more similar to Tsui Hark’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain, than The Berlin File and his other efforts – either way, any new Ryoo Seung-wan movie is a reason to celebrate! (via Paul Bramhall).
Battleship Island is getting a limited release on August 4th. Watch the Trailer below:
Director: Yoon Hong-seung Writer: Zha Muchun Producer: Jackie Chan Cast: Yang Mi, Wallace Huo, King Shih-Chieh, Liu Chang, Hummer Zhang, Anita Wang, Zhao Shuting Running Time: 106 min.
By Paul Bramhall
While Mainland Chinese blockbusters continue to grow in budget and scope, the actual talent behind them frequently proves to be poorly prepared to create a coherent piece of filmmaking. In perhaps as close as a sign of acknowledging this problem as we’ll get, Korean director Shin Tae-ra was brought on-board to handle 2016’s bombastic action comedy Bounty Hunters. While Tae-ra’s involvement arguably resulted in no difference when it came to the final product, Bounty Hunters must have been successful enough for the concept of bringing a Korean director in to make a Chinese movie to be considered a good one. So that brings us to 2017’s Reset, which has Jackie Chan of all people in the producers chair, but otherwise has an almost 100% Korean crew working behind the camera, and was shot in Busan.
The man in the director’s chair is Yoon Hong-seung, who more popularly is simply known as Chang. This marks his first time directing a Chinese cast, in a movie made for a Chinese audience, however on local soil he directed the 2008 high-school horror movie Death Bell, and was also responsible for the Korean remake of the French movie Point Blank, in the form of 2014’s The Target. Reset has a record breaking budget for a Chinese and Korean co-production, and considering its science fiction genre leanings, it’s encouraging to see a suitable level of investment has been put into it. Sci-fi, more than any other genre, has always been a tricky beast within Asian cinema. Most recently Korea gave us the poorly received time travel flick 11 AM, which features a number of similarities to Reset, while China gave us the likes of the Collin Chou starring Ameera. If you’ve never heard of it, there’s a good reason for that.
The plot of Reset could probably best be described as Connected meets The One. Popular Chinese actress Yang Mi takes the lead role, who must hold some kind of record for featuring in a total of 18 movies in 2012, as a single mother who’s on the cusp of creating a time travel machine. It’s explained that the machine works by sending the subject into a parallel universe, which represents the events of the past. Or something like that. However when her son is abducted by Taiwanese actor Wallace Huo (who’s looking more and more like a clone of Aaron Kwok), who wants to steal the research on the machine, she takes the chance to use it on herself, and go back in time to save him. There are of course several catches along the way, the first being that the furthest back in time anyone can go is 1 hour 50 minutes, and the second being that any live matter that goes through the machine starts to experience DNA instability a few days after using it.
Interestingly both Yi and Huo have featured in Chinese remakes of Korean movies previously, with Mi taking on Kim Ha-neul’s role in the 2015 remake of Blind, titled The Witness, and Huo taking on Son Hyun-joo’s role in the 2016 remake of Hide and Seek, which used the same title. So it’s perhaps ironic that they now both feature together in what’s essentially a Korean production made for Chinese audiences. Notably this isn’t the first time for producer Jackie Chan to get involved in the Korean side of things either, as in 2014 he put together the K-pop boyband group JJCC, who are still active and Chan is said to personally manage.
Things get bombastic pretty quickly in Reset. From the moment Mi learns that her son has been abducted, she begins to act like a fish out of water, literally. Staggering about, constantly falling over, and walking into anyone and anything that’s within a 5 meter radius. Clearly she’s a desperate woman, and events build up in a way that result in there being three versions of Mi populating the same timeline. These can be broken down as 1. The stuck in the lab facility original Mi, 2. The running around the city trying to save her son Mi, and 3. The dark and brooding, looks kind of evil Mi. As an actress there’s no doubt it must have been a lot of fun to play the different roles, and we even get a recreation of a scene from Bullet in the Head with the three Mi’s thrown in for good measure.
However Reset quickly begins to derail once the actual motive behind the sons abduction is revealed. After establishing a concept which, while it’s been done before, at least provides a unique slant on the usual tropes that action movies are based on, the feeble reasoning that’s given for everything that’s taking place is a frustrating one. As a result, Reset almost immediately feels reduced to a Mystery Science Theater 3000 B movie, which is a shame. There’s also a completely unnecessary scene thrown in that has Wallace Huo explaining the tragic reason behind why he decided to become a bad guy. I can only assume this must have been required to appease the Mainland China censorship board, as the scene has no relevance to the rest of the plot, and seems to only exist to make us understand that hey, this guy isn’t really all bad.
There’s also an unfortunate lack of restraint in the visual effects. It’s revealed that the building itself is an integral part of the time machine, visualised as an isolated structure on its own island and featuring external elevators, it seems to have taken a few ill-advised notes from the Sky One tower that Ringo Lam’s Sky on Fire took place in. While the constant presence of holographic screens (and their obligatory chirpy sound effects), and the process of the time travel journey itself, are well rendered and look good onscreen, the use of CGI in the action sequences doesn’t fare as well. At one point two hummers crash into a shipping container that’s being partially lifted onto a ship, and both the hummers and the container are all CGI. The problem is the CGI is replacing the real hummers and container that were onscreen just a few seconds before, and the disparity is glaring, effectively ruining the climax of the scene.
The score also proves to be a source of frustration, as it frequently builds to a climatic crescendo, leading us to believe the scene is about to close, only for it to then start again a moment later as the scene in question drags on. The perfect example of this is when Mi decides to use the time travel machine. One shot slowly pans down the cylindrical mechanism above her head as the score builds up. It then stops for a brief moment, focuses on Mi, then the shot pans back up the cylindrical mechanism, and the score starts again. The only effect such musical editing has is to make the audience wish for the scene to hurry up and get on with it, as it gives the impression that the time is simply being padded out.
Director Chang does make some interesting choices along the way. There’s a completely random homage to The Shining thrown in that somehow works, and the ability to plant a mini-bomb under someone’s skin reminded me of a similar technique that’s used in Mission: Impossible III. However, the more Reset progresses, the more you begin to get the feeling that almost everything that happens in some way is a reminder of when something similar happened in another movie, but done better. As I mentioned the sci-fi genre has always been tricky to tackle in Asian cinema, and here it seems to at least partly indicate that this is due to a lack of original ideas. It’s ironic, considering that out of all the genres out there, science fiction is the one that provides the most scope for imagination, but there’s not much on offer in Reset that won’t make you feel that you haven’t seen it before.
As the credits roll on Reset, complete with a silly added on scene of Mi and her son living in a mobile home, there’s a distinct impression that China still has a long way to go when it comes to making a blockbuster that won’t be forgotten a few hours after watching it. Either because the viewer wants to forget it, or that it simply didn’t leave much of an impression to warrant remembering. Reset is somewhat of a mixture of both, in that it started with a strong concept, however as it progresses it becomes clear that the ability to put a story together around that concept was half baked at best. The good news is that if ever a machine is invented that allows us to go back 1 hours 50 minutes in time, that’ll be just the right length to make the decision to not bother watching it again.
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