Death Note (2017) Review

"Death Note" Poster

“Death Note” Poster

Director: Adam Wingard
Cast: Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Shea Whigham, Paul Nakauchi, Jason Liles, Willem Dafoe, Jack Ettlinger, Matthew Kevin Anderson, Chris Britton, Timothy Lambert, Kwesi Ameyaw
Running Time: 100 min.

By Z Ravas

The Hollywood remake of Death Note is a project that’s been passed like a hot potato from filmmaker to filmmaker for the better part of a decade. Back in 2011, it looked like Lethal Weapon scribe and Iron Man 3 director Shane Black would be the unlikely creator behind the camera; once he left the project due to creative differences with Warner Brothers, indie auteur Gus Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho) was even floated as a possible contender. Instead, the movie quietly found a home in 2015 with both Netflix and director Adam Wingard, who may have already had a relationship with the company thanks to his films like You’re Next and V/H/S finding the majority of their audience through the streaming service.

Two years later and the movie has finally made its debut, only to immediately be met with derision and scorn from fans of the popular manga and anime, who have balked at the notion of condensing a 15 hour anime into a single film as well as the casting of a white lead (despite the story being relocated from Tokyo to suburban Seattle). In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll say my prior experience with the series is an appreciation of Shusuke Kaneko’s (Gamera: Guardian of the Universe) two-part live-action adaptation, which astonishingly came out over a decade now. Rather than compare Netflix’s Death Note to that release, or even the 12-volume manga, I chose to approach this movie on its own terms as the next film from promising young director Adam Wingard… since it is the next film from Adam Wingard.

If you wondered why the producers of Netflix’s Death Note would secure Wingard for this adaptation of the Japanese property, it becomes abundantly clear early on in that they must have been massive fans of his 2014 film The Guest. That movie served as a loving homage to Eighties horror/thrillers like The Terminator, and launched the big screen career of Beauty and the Beast’s Dan Stevens; it also featured the best Steven Seagal-style bar fight since Steven Seagal stopped having fights in bars. From the sleek neon lighting and ceaseless downpour of Seattle rain, to the moody electronic score and doomed high school dance, there’s much of this Death Note that at times feels like a redux of The Guest. If you’re like me, and consider The Guest to be one of the best genre flicks of the last decade, you’ll likely be simultaneously pleased and struck with familiarity, like hearing a pleasant cover song.

The Eighties horror movie theatrics feel entirely appropriate, given the dark premise at the heart of Death Note: a social outcast named Light (Nat Wolff) receives a supernatural journal that allows him to strike dead anyone he wishes just by visualizing their face and writing their name in its pages. It isn’t long before Light confesses his secret to his high school crush Misa (Margaret Qualley from HBO’s The Leftovers), like some perverse reversal of the ‘superhero revealing their identity’ trope. The duo quickly become lovers and vigilante executioners, seeking to rid the world of its worst terrorists and predators while creating a global cult to their imaginary death god Kiro. However, when Light’s own father – a Seattle cop played by Shea Wingham (Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans) – teams up a renowned junior detective named L (Get Out’s Keith Stanfield), the net tightens around Light and his murderous crusade against crime.

In contrast to Shusuke Kaneko’s adaptation, in which the quirky and candy-addicted L stole the movie as a teenage Batman-esque detective (complete with his own Alfred-like butler!), it’s clear that Wingard’s fascination lies more with Light and his girlfriend Misa. The young couple’s repeated use of the Death Note allows them to feel above the rest of humanity thanks to a Crime and Punishment-esque superiority complex; but seeds of mistrust are sown between the two once they develop very different ideas about how to best utilize the lethal tome. It’s here that Wolff and Qualley really shine as the kind of disaffected duo who, in the absence of the Death Note, may have formed a suicide pact or shot up their school. To the actors’ credit, they manage to keep this kids highly watchable despite the fact that they’re stone cold sociopaths; less convincing is the film’s attempt to sell us on the worldwide cult of personality that has developed around Kiro since the screenplay rarely leaves the state of Washington.

Death Note’s secret weapon may be its breathless pacing. Perhaps it’s merely due to its presence on Netflix, but Wingard’s film often feels like an eight episode mini-series edited down to a brisk 100 minutes; Wingard wastes no time and puts Light in possession of the Death Note and committing his first murder by the ten minute mark, in an elaborate Rube Goldberg-esque sequence of events that recalls the Final Destination series. Unfortunately, these quite fun – and quite gory – death setpieces (deathpieces?) all but disappear during the second half as the movie turns into a straight ahead cat-and-mouse thriller between Light and his rival L. The mental chess game between these two may have been the highlight of the Japanese version, but here I found the exaggerated origin of L – an orphan raised by birth to be an international supercop who works outside the law but with the law’s assistance – only clashed with the relatively realistic tone Wingard strikes. Or at least as realistic as you can get with an eight foot-tall demon lurking in the shadows.

Yes, I would be amiss if I didn’t at least mention Ryuk, the avatar of death who serves as the custodian of the Death Note. He’s a creepy-looking creation right out of the early Tim Burton playbook, and here is ably voiced by Willem Dafoe, an actor who can do sinister and menacing in his sleep. That said, the screenplay doesn’t find much for Ryuk to do other than glower from the corner of the frame; he’s mostly here to remind Light of the Death Note’s various binding rules, and – going back to Final Destination – is perhaps not dissimilar to Tony Todd’s character in those movies.

The fact that Death Note ends with much of its story left unresolved, cryptically teasing the motivations for a possible sequel, is not likely to help Netflix win over fans who already regard this American remake with ill will. Fortunately, those folks will always have their beloved manga and anime to continue to enjoy. Approaching this Death Note on its own terms, as a straight-to-streaming horror movie, I found it to be a fairly solid Adam Wingard film – with a slick look, dreamy soundtrack, and a few creative applications of the Death Note concept. Some have called Netflix’s remake a crime against cinema; this Asian film aficionado would simply call it a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Z Ravas’ Rating: 7/10

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Red Band Trailer for Takashi Miike’s ‘Blade of the Immortal’

immortal

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 limited theatrical release on November 3rd.

This upcoming 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).

Samurai Manji has taken a lot of lives, both innocent and guilty, and now lives life in feudal Japan as a criminal. After being cursed with immortality until he kills enough evil men, Manji meets a young girl who enlists him to be her body-guard. Swearing loyalty, protection and vengeance against the group of sword fighters who slaughtered her family, the unlikely duo set on a remarkable quest to make right against those who did them wrong.

Don’t miss film’s New Red Band Trailer below:

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Ready for the ‘Expendables’ of kung fu legends and myths?

kungfualliance

In addition to his latest production, Heavyweight Assassin, veteran Hong Kong director/writer Jeff Lau (Treasure Hunt) is currently shooting the all-star martial arts actioner Kung Fu Alliance (aka 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.”

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).

Kung Fu Alliance also stars Bruce Leung (Kung Fu Hustle), Leung Kar Yan (Shanghai 13) and recording artist, Zhang Yao.

Stay tuned for more updates regarding Kung Fu Alliance. Until then, here’s new shot of Chen Zhen (Danny Chan), Wong Fei Hung (Vincent Zhao), Huo Yuan Jia (Andy On) and Ip Man (Dennis To), via AFS:

kungfualliancecast

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Well Go USA Goes Green for its ‘Memoir of a Murderer’ Poster

"Memoir of A Murderer" Theatrical Poster

“Memoir of A Murderer” Theatrical Poster

Well Go USA continues to kill the competition with their upcoming release of the highly-anticipated thriller, Memoir of a Murderer (not to be confused with Bong Jun-Ho’s similarly titled Memories of Murder) from director Won Shin-Yeon (The Suspect).

Byeong-soo, a retired serial killer, lives a quiet life with his daughter Eun-hee, who has cared for him ever since his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. When Eun-hee brings home her new boyfriend Tae-joo, Byeong-soo realizes Tae-joo is also a serial killer. To save his daughter, Byeong-sop must fight Tae-joo as well as his own mind.

Memoir of a Murderer stars Sol Kyung-Gu (Public Enemy), Kim Nam-Gil (The Pirates), Seol Hyun (Gangnam Blues) and Oh Dal-Su (Tunnel).

The film opens in selected theaters on September 8th.

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First Trailer for Xu Haofeng’s ‘The Hidden Sword’ swings in

"The Hidden Sword" Teaser Poster

“The Hidden Sword” Teaser Poster

Before we can even think about Xu Haofeng’s Moonlight Blade (his soon-to-be-shot remake of Chor Yuen’s Shaw Brothers classic, The Magic Blade), our attention should be focused on The Hidden Sword, his fourthcoming period actioner that hits screens later this year.

Very little is known about The Hidden Sword (aka The Hidden Blade), other than it’s a martial arts epic that revolves around a very special sword that apparently pretty badass. The film stars Xu Qing (Flash Point), Jessie Li (Port of Call) and Shaw Brothers legend, Chen Kuan Tai (Shanghai 13Executioners from Shaolin).

Xu Haofeng (The Final Master) made a name for himself by penning the screenplay for Wong Kar-Wai’s The GrandmasterBut it was 2011’s The Sword Identity, his directorial debut, which showed Xu’s true talent. Xu is known for presenting martial arts in a less stylized and more realistic manner.

Updates: Watch the New Trailer for The Hidden Sword below (via AFS):

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Schwarzenegger returns in the wacky actioner ‘Killing Gunther’

"Killing Gunther" Theatrical Poster

“Killing Gunther” Theatrical Poster

After decades of muscle-bound mayhem, Arnold Schwarzenegger still continues to pump out the goods in a consistent manner. Although he may not be the box office sensation he once was in the 80s and 90s, he’s still giving the fans what they desire most: Action.

After a couple of serious outings (AftermathMaggie)  – and fresh off his recent announcement to reunite with James Cameron for a future Terminator movie – Schwarzenegger gets back to blowin’ stuff up in Killing Gunther, an action/comedy to hit select theaters and on demand on October 20th.

Killing Gunther tells the story of Gunther (Schwarzenegger), the world’s greatest hitman. There are plenty of reasons to want to kill him: he’s arrogant, he’s a show-off, and he steals jobs. The assassin community is tired of it. Determined to retire Gunther for good, a group of eccentric killers from across the globe come together to set the perfect trap. But their master plan quickly turns into a series of embarrassing fails as Gunther always appears one step ahead.

Killing Gunther marks the directorial debut of Taran Killam (writer/producer of Brother Nature). The film also stars Cobie Smulders, Hannah Simone, Allison Tolman, Steve Bacic, Aaron Yoo, Bobby Moynihan, Peter Kelamis and the director himself.

Killing Gunther definitely isn’t the typical, straight action film you’d expect from Schwarzenegger, but it’s proof that he shows no signs of slowing down.

Check out the film’s Trailer below:

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God of War | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

"God of War" Blu-ray Cover

“God of War” Blu-ray Cover

RELEASE DATE: October 17, 2017

On October 17, 2017, Well Go USA is bringing the battle home with the Blu-ray & DVD for God of War, a period actioner directed by Gordon Chan (Thunderbolt) that stars Sammo Hung (14 Blades) and Vincent Zhao (The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom).

During the 16th century, pirates rule the Chinese coastline, pillaging the small villages and terrorizing the citizens. When maverick leader Commander Yu (Hung) enlists the help of a sharp young general (Zhao), they devise a plan to defeat the pirates. A violent clash of wit and weapons will decide who will rule the land in this sweeping historical epic from veteran action director Gordon Chan.

God of War also stars Wan Qian (Butterfly Lovers) and Yasuaki Kurata (Legend of the Fist), who is sharing his screen with Hung for the first time since Millionaire’s Express 30 years ago.

Pre-order God of War from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles, News | Tagged | 2 Comments

They Call ‘Em Bruce: People who played Bruce Lee

They Call Them Bruce People who have played Bruce Lee

The following feature is about the many people who have portrayed Bruce Lee in movies, TV and advertisements. In an effort to put together the most comprehensive list, I’ve also included those who portrayed him in ways that I can’t explain. It should also be noted that the term “biopics” should be taken lightly, as ALL biopics listed are extremely sensationalized. Yes, even the ones endorsed, produced and blessed by The Bruce Lee Estate.

Keep in mind this is NOT a Bruceploitation article; in other words, you won’t see Dragon Lee (aka Moon Kyoung-seok) on the list – why? – well, despite capturing the essence of Bruce Lee (his image, mannerisms, Cheshire Cat-smile, clothes, etc), he never actually played Bruce Lee, unless you count The Clones of Bruce Lee, which is where I draw the line (“clones” being the key word, but Bruce Lee “ghosts” are accepted).

This article is not meant to review or rate any of the titles or performances, but that’s not to say I won’t go off track with some criticism here and there. But I do warn you: If you’re one of those sensitive Bruce Lee nuts who thinks the guy walks on water – or if you have your lips firmly planted on Shannon Lee’s ass – parts of the article may feel like a nunchuck to the face.

Enough chit chat. Let’s not keep our Bruces waiting…

Philip Ng

Philip Ng

PHILIP NG WAN-LUNG

Since Birth of the Dragon is opening this week, we’ll start off the list with Philip Ng Wan-lung, the newest “Bruce Lee” actor to hit the big screen. Born in Hong Kong, with a good portion of his youth spent in America, Ng is an avid practitioner/teacher of various forms of martial arts, including Hung Gar, Wing Chun and Taekwondo. He also founded the Wing Chung Association during his attendance at the University of Illinois. As both an actor and fight choreographer, he’s had a solid film career in his homeland since the early 2000s. If you look at his filmography, you’ll see that he’s already worked with some of the best in the industry, such as Ringo Lam, Donnie Yen, Corey Yuen, Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan.

Birth of the Dragon is a huge turning point in Ng’s career. Not only is it his first Hollywood gig he’s appearing/starring in, but he’s also portraying Bruce Lee, so expectations for his performance are set high (playing Bruce is comparable to playing James Bond for the first time). With that said, my guess is that Shannon Lee – daughter of Bruce, head of The Bruce Lee Estate – and a horde of small-minded, crybabies are probably annoying the shit out of Ng. For Shannon, it’s about money, since she has no direct financial gain from the project; as for the other whiners? They have absolutely no excuse. But let’s not go there. Actually, let’s do…

After Birth of the Dragon made its rounds at early screenings, Shannon, who watched the movie out of necessity, went public and described it as “a travesty on many levels” and “a step backward for Asians in film.” She also said the film’s portrayal of Bruce Lee was “inaccurate and insulting.” Remember her words.

Apparently, many fans shared Shannon’s unfavorable views. They were also upset that the character of Bruce (Ng), the Asian, took a backseat, while the character of Steve (Billy Magnussen), the white guy, was front and center; in other words, they accused the filmmakers of “white washing” the film. Due to the negative backlash, director George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau) was forced to recut Birth of the Dragon, so it now focuses more on Bruce, and less on Steve. Re-editing a movie isn’t uncommon after a film’s test screening, but for the reasons stated here, it’s downright ridiculous. Keep in mind that first Trailer for Birth of the Dragon makes it perfectly clear the story is told through Steve’s eyes, so none of this should have been a surprise.

The irony about this alleged “white washing” thing is that Birth of the Dragon (despite its title, it’s NOT a biopic) is centered around Bruce’s legendary fight with Wong Jack Man (Yu Xia). This real-life, controversial bout was initiated due to Lee’s teaching of Chinese martial arts to non-Chinese, which was a big no-no to Chinese traditionalists at the time. The deal behind the fight was simple: if Bruce won, he’d earn the right to teach non-Asians; if he lost, he’d have to give up these teachings. To put it simply, it’s a movie about the right to educate ALL races in complete harmony.

With this perspective, all this white washing nonsense (“step backward for Asians in film”) are some of the most idiotic allegations I’ve ever heard. One has every right to dislike a film because the acting is bad, or the writing sucks, or because it’s generally not a great movie – that’s called an opinion – but accusing the filmmakers of being racist? Totally absurd.

If Birth of the Dragon ends up being a let down, I think I’ll pretend to like it based on principle alone.

Alright. Time to stay focused…

Jason Scott Lee

Jason Scott Lee

JASON SCOTT LEE

To mainstream audiences, Chinese/Hawaiian actor Jason Scott Lee (no relation) is the most widely recognized person to ever portray Bruce. In 1993, he starred in Rob Cohen’s Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, which was the first Hollywood project to explore Bruce’s life.

Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story is based on the 1975 book, Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew, by Bruce’s widow, Linda Lee, who gave the film her complete blessing (at the time, she was head of The Bruce Lee Estate). If the book’s title is an indication of truth, then Bruce’s blood parents, blood brothers and blood sisters have no idea who the hell Bruce ever was, despite living with him during his most crucial years in Hong Kong. In fact, it’s open for debate if the demonic samurai appearing in Bruce’s nightmares really happened, but only Linda would know that – after all – she’s the only one who knew Bruce. Heck, not even Shannon knew him (she thinks her daddy loved to drink whiskey, but we’ll get back to that later). Anyway, back to Jason…

To prepare for the role, Jason trained in Jeet Kune Do under the late, white Jerry Poteet (Why didn’t they get Danny Inosanto or Taky Kimura? Is this called behind-the-scenes white washing?), who was one of Bruce’s actual students. Poteet would go on to become Jason’s personal fight choreographer again for both 1998’s Solider and 2003’s Timecop 2: The Berlin Decision (Asian guy to replace a white guy? Straight up racist.).

Since then, Jason has become a certified Jeet Kune Do instructor himself. Til this very day, he still uses his JKD skills, but now, they’re laced with computer enhancements, as recently noted in 2016’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny. Hey, just like Bruce says,”There are no limits!”

Danny Lee

Danny Lee

DANNY LEE SAU YIN

Hong Kong director/producer/star Danny Lee Sau Yin (again, no relation) is perhaps best known for starring in John Woo’s 1989 ultra-violent masterpiece, The Killer, opposite Chow Yun-fat. But if you dig deeper into his decades-long career, you’ll eventually come across a sleazy, Shaw Brothers-produced oddity that goes by a number of sexy titles like: 1) Bruce Lee: His Last Days, His Last Nights2) I Love You, Bruce Lee, 3) Bruce Lee & I and my personal favorite, 4) Sex Life of Bruce Lee.

This biopic centers on Bruce’s final days, as told through the eyes of Betty Ting Pei, who reenacts her slutty ways. Here’s a little background info on her so you have a clear understanding: In the late 60s/early 70s, Betty was a Taiwanese actress who was known for appearing in sleazy films, often as a sex symbol, seductress, or some sort of bad girl. Her popularity grew when she became romantically linked with Bruce towards the tail end of his film career. She became notorious to the public and Hong Kong press for being the last person to talk to – and see – Bruce just hours before his death, as he was found unconscious in her apartment, in her bedroom and on her bed. Somehow I doubt they were having a conversation about puppy dogs and ice cream. But let’s get back on topic…

In the film, Danny’s portrayal of Bruce involves smoking lots of weed, getting drunk, picking fights with white people, swallowing mysterious prescription drugs and having sex, lots of it, but not with Linda. At this point, if you’re not interested in seeing this movie out of sheer curiosity, your name is either Linda or Shannon.

Danny Chan

Danny Chan

DANNY CHAN KWOK-KWAN

Stephen Chow’s 2001 Blockbuster hit, Shaolin Soccer, featured a Bruce Lee-wannabe played by newcomer Danny Chan Kwok-kwan. His breakout performance in the film earned him steady work in a number of movies, most notably 2004’s Kung Fu Hustle, which became another box office smash for Chow, in turn, giving Danny yet another career boost. But regardless of the characters Danny played, he was stuck as the “Bruce Lee dude in Shaolin Soccer.” Film producers took note of this and Danny became the go-to guy when a “Bruce Lee” was needed for a project.

His first real portrayal as Bruce Lee came in the form of 2008’s The Legend of Bruce Lee, a 50-episode series that centered on Bruce’s life starting from his early Hong Kong years to his untimely death. Although the series was executively produced by Shannon, it’s embellished with so much melodrama and historical inaccuracies that it makes Dragon: The Bruce Lee story look like Das Boot. Seriously, if Shannon thinks Birth of the Dragon is “inaccurate” she needs to go back and watch the stuff she actually produced – but hey – the check cleared, right? Back to Danny…

Danny’s next gig as Bruce came in the form of a 90-second television commercial for Johnnie Walker Blue Label whiskey. For the advertisement, Danny’s face was digitally altered to resemble Bruce as accurately as possible (the final product resembles a PS3-era video game with no evidence of Danny being present). As for Bruce’s connection with whiskey? Let’s ask Shannon…

Shannon says that the reason she agreed to take money from work with Johnnie Walker was because their “Keep Walking” campaign so closely reflected Bruce’s own “Walk On” philosophy (is this the best answer she was able to come up with?). Little did Shannon realize, Bruce, a known health enthusiast, was quoted as saying: “No, I don’t drink coffee or alcohol… They’re bad for my body.” Ouch. Using Bruce’s face as a logo for a marijuana dispensary company would make sense, but whiskey? So, anyway…

Danny’s assistance was once again needed for 2015’s Ip Man 3, starring Donnie Yen. Originally, the plan was for Ip Man 3 to feature a computer generated version of Bruce (over a real guy, laced with CGI, just like they did for his favorite beverage), but due to a last minute legal threat from The Bruce Lee Estate, the CGI idea was ditched. Note: The Bruce Lee Estate owns Bruce’s likeness, image, name, persona, voice, signature, DNA and the air he used to breathe.

Eventually, an agreement was made between Ip Man 3 producers and The Bruce Lee Estate to bring Danny back as Bruce. Perhaps it was Danny’s association with Shannon’s The Legend of Bruce Lee and Johnnie Walker that saved Ip Man 3 from scrapping Bruce from the storyline completely? Make sense.

Aarif Rahman

Aarif Rahman

AARIF RAHMAN

In 2010, a rising heartthrob named Aarif Rahman (aka Aarif Lee, no relation) – who is of mixed Arab, Malay and Chinese descent – portrayed Bruce in Raymond Yip and Manfred Wong’s Bruce Lee, My Brother (aka The Young Bruce Lee), a Bruce Lee biopic that takes place between 1940 and 1959.

Bruce Lee, My Brother is noted for being produced by Robert Lee, Bruce’s younger brother (the film even opens with an introduction by him and his older sister, Phoebe Lee), which gives the movie a sense of credibility, hence the film’s title. Unfortunately, the film has yet to see an official release in the U.S., due to legal clashes with The Bruce Lee Estate. Okay, so let me get this straight, Shannon’s an advocate for making sure something is not “a step backward for Asians in film” yet she’s stopping Bruce Lee, My Brother from getting a wider audience?

Even before Bruce Lee, My Brother went into production, Robert approached Shannon about the details of the film’s investors: “Then she didn’t want to work with me. She wanted the whole deal to herself,” he said. “We don’t talk as much as I would like to. They don’t want to collaborate with us. We are one family. There is no reason why we shouldn’t collaborate. We share different parts of Bruce’s life.” (via SCMP)

Shame on you Shannon. You have offended your family. You have offended the Shaolin Temple.

Aarif never portrayed Bruce or played Bruce Lee-like characters again, but his singing and acting career continues to flourish in a number of high profile projects. He recently co-starred with Jackie Chan in 2017’s Kung Fu Yoga, where he was able to show more of his fighting skills. Come to think of it, he had more action scenes than Jackie himself.

Ho Chung-tao

Ho Chung-tao

HO CHUNG-TAO

Ho Chung-tao, a Taiwanese actor/martial artist who goes by the screen name, Bruce Li, has played Bruce so many times, that it’s nearly impossible to give you an accurate list of his Bruce-related titles.

Although he’s not not the first person to play Bruce (technically, some dude’s sweaty back in 1972’s Fist of Unicorn gets that honor), he was the first to portray him in the first ever biopic, Bruce Lee: A Dragon Story, which was a cheaply produced, 1974 Chinese production filmed months after Bruce’s death. Ho would go on to play Bruce again in a handful of biopics such as 1975’s Super Dragon, 1976’s Story of the Dragon and 1978’s The Dragon Lives.

Of all Ho’s biopics, the one that’s considered the most legitimate was 1976’s Bruce Lee: The Man, The MythIt had a big budget, was shot on location in Hong Kong, USA, Korea and Rome, and it had one hell of a director, Ng See Yuen (The Secret Rivals), whose Seasonal Films Corporation would skyrocket both Yuen Woo-ping and Jackie Chan – with 1978’s Snake in the Eagles Shadow and Drunken Master – into a new level stardom.

It was because of Ho’s biopic output that a planned 1975 Hollywood movie titled Bruce Lee: His Life and Legend never saw the light of day. The film was to be directed by Robert Clouse (Enter the Dragon), in association with Linda Lee. Producers had even found their “Bruce” with Alex Kwok (aka Alex Kwon). Ultimately, the project was shelved due to the oversaturated market of Chinese-made biopics. So because of Ho, Alex Kwok isn’t on this list.

Ho would go on to star in a number of acclaimed projects that had little or nothing to do with Bruce. Films like 1977’s Last Strike, 1979’s The Golden Connection and 1981’s The Chinese Stuntman, which he also directed, proved that Ho could stand on his own, without the help of his marketable idol. By mid-late 80s, Ho semi-retired from film industry, before completely quitting the scene by 1990.

Huang Chien Lung

Huang Chien Lung

HUANG CHIEN LUNG

If Ho Chung-tao is the “Walmart” of Bruce Lee-inspired actors, then Huang Chien Lung was the “Walmart Bargain Bin” of Bruce Lee-inspired actors. Ho had some oddballs in his filmography, but Huang takes the cake for making movies that resembled the cheapest Filipino exploitation films – in fact, a handful of them were actually made in the Philippines.

Better known as Bruce Le this Chinese-Burmese native, and avid martial artist, got his start as taking minor roles in a number of films produced by the famous Shaw Brothers studios.

When Bruceploitation-era was taking shape in the 70s, Huang’s likeness to Bruce Lee caught the eye of producers, and he was eventually cast as Cheng Chao-an’s brother in 1976’s The Big Boss Part II (Bruce Lee played Cheng Chao-an in the 1971 original). The same year came Bruce’s Deadly Fingers, starring Huang as a very Bruce-like character, where he teamed up with frequent Bruce Lee co-star, Nora Miao (Way of the Dragon).

From this point forward, Huang would churn out titles like 1978’s Enter the Game of Death (it was Fist of Fury meets Game of Death), 1980’s Clones of Bruce Lee (with Dragon Lee, Bruce Lai and Bruce Thai), 1982’s Bruce Strikes Back (with Hwang Jang Lee, Casanova Wong, Harold Sakata) and 1986’s Future Hunters (starring Terminator 2’s Robert Patrick and directed by Filipino film legend Cirio H. Santiago).

But the reason why Huang is even on this list is because he actually plays Bruce Lee in 1980s King of Kung Fu, a highly fabricated biopic he also directed. The film features main Enter the Dragon villain, Sek Kin, as well as Bolo Yeung (which is really nothing special, since he’s in everything).

Today, Huang is still going at it, but mainly behind the camera as a director. One of his recent projects include 2014’s Eyes of Dawn (a redux of his 1992 film, Comfort Women) and he has just wrapped up the war movie, Bloody Hero. He’s also keen on going back to martial arts movies with a dream project that would be a worthy successor to Enter the Dragon.

Kim Tai-chung

Kim Tai-chung

KIM TAI-CHUNG

If there’s one guy that qualifies as a certified “Bruce Lee” actor, it’s Korean martial arts star, Kim Tai-chung, who also goes by his Chinese screen name, Tong Lung.

A few years after the death of Bruce Lee in 1973, Golden Harvest Studios (the company behind all of Bruce’s films) started pre-production on Bruce’s incomplete film, Game of Death. Bruce had already shot the film’s action finale, which meant that all that was left to shoot was… well… the rest of the damn movie. This meant they needed someone who could not only fight like Bruce, but also walk, move, and capture his overall essence.

After an exhaustive search, producers finally found their leading man in Kim Tai-chung. With the help of some cardboard cut outs, sunglasses, a prosthetic beard, Bruce’s actual corpse, two or three other body doubles and footage from Bruce’s other completed films, they were able to finally complete 1978’s Game of Death, which was directed by Robert Clouse (Enter the Dragon). The film features a cast consisting of so many white people that’s probably the most white washed movie ever made. They even threw in clips of Chuck Norris to give it a little financial boost.

Despite its sloppy finished product, Game of Death was a box office smash. The demand for more Bruce Lee was obviously evident, so Golden Harvest called Kim called back for 1981’s Tower of Death (aka Game of Death II). This time around, Kim was able to fully sell himself, as he was playing his own character (let’s just say he’s supposed to be Bruce’s brother). Together with director Corey Yuen (Raging Thunder), choreographer Yuen Woo Ping (Dance of the Drunken Mantis) and the perfect villain in Hwang Jang LeeTower of Death is considered one of the greatest Brucepoitation movies ever made. There was even a Korean cut of the film, which proved that Kim was becoming a star in his homeland.

After Tower of Death, Kim returned to Korea where he immediately began work on 1981’s Miss, Please Be Patient (our very own yellow washed Paul Bramhall premiered the film at the Korean Culture Office in Sydney) and then came 1982’s Jackie vs. Bruce to the Rescue, where Kim, as a Bruce-like character starred alongside a Jackie Chan-like character, played by Lee Siu-Ming.

Even though I just went through a bunch of paragraphs regarding Kim’s Bruceploiation output, the main reason he makes this list is because of his role as Bruce Lee’s ghost in 1985’s No Retreat, No Surrender. The film, which reunites Kim with Corey Yuen, follows the Karate Kid mold, only instead of Pat Morita, we get the ghost of Bruce Lee and better fight choreography. Above of all, No Retreat, No Surrender is predominantly remembered for launching the career of Jean-Claude Van Damme (who is now doing shit like Kill ’em All).

Shortly after the release of No Retreat, No Surrender, Kim retired from acting to pursue a successful career in business. Sadly, Kim passed away in 2011, due to a stomach hemorrhage.

Leung Siu-lung

Leung Siu-lung

LEUNG SIU-LUNG

Just as producers did with Ho Chung-tao (Bruce Li) and Huang Chien Lung (Bruce Le), Leung Siu-lung was given the name Bruce Leung to help market his movies as Bruce Lee products. But unlike Li and Le, only a couple of Bruce-centric titles made their way into Leung’s 65+ filmography.

Legend has it that Leung once took on 13 armed attackers and defeated them single-handedly (too bad Smartphones and YouTube didn’t exist back then), which eventually led to his film career. Trained in the Cantonese Opera, as well as various forms of karate and kung fu, Leung spent the most of the early 70s taking minor roles or action directing in a number of movies. It wasn’t until Ng See Yuen’s 1975 film, Little Superman, that Leung finally gained momentum as a kung fu star.

In 1978, Leung co-starred in Magnificent Bodyguards with Jackie Chan (who was only months away from becoming an overnight sensation). Directed by Lo Wei (The Big Boss), the film is groundbreaking for being Hong Kong’s first ever 3D film (it’s also infamously known for ripping off John Williams’ Star Wars score). Then in 1979, Leung teamed up with Ho Chung-tao (Bruce Li) in Bruce and the Iron Finger. Although neither of the two technically connected to Bruce Lee, the “Bruce” the title is referring to is for Ho, since he’s the first-billed star (makes sense to me).

But let’s jump back to 1976’s Dragon Lives Again, which is one of the reasons Leung is qualified for this list. Taking place after Bruce Lee’s passing in 1973, this over-the-top flick starts with “Bruce Lee” (Leung) rising from his death and waking up in a mysterious after-life universe where people like James Bond, The Godfather, The Blind Swordsman, The One Armed Swordsman, Clint Eastwood, Dracula, Emmanuelle (yes, you guessed right), Zombies, Mummies and Popeye (played by Eric Tsang) roam the streets. Bruce takes on most of these guys (sometimes, in his Kato outfit).

Leung played Bruce again in the 2010 TV series, Jeet Kune Do. This time around, he portrays an elderly version of Bruce who mentors a character played by Chen Tian Xing (Nunchucks), who actually happens to be one of the newest additions of Bruceploitation era.

For the most part, Leung has had a steady career that still goes strong, but it was his memorable role as “The Beast” in Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle that gave him a second wind of success not seen since his 70s glory days.

Stephen Au

Stephen Au

STEPHEN AU KAM-TONG

In 1999, rising Hong Kong actor Stephen Au Kam-Tong directed, starred-in and wrote What You Gonna Do, Sai Fung?, which focused on Bruce Lee’s turbulent years in Hong Kong during the late 1950s.

If you’re wondering who the film’s title is referring to, here’s the explanation: In the film, Stephen’s character doesn’t go by the name Bruce, he goes by the name Sau Fung (or Sai Fon), which was Bruce’s childhood name that meant Little Unicorn.

It was said that Bruce’s family gave him this nick name (a substitute for his real name, Lee Jun-fan) which was actually a girl’s name. They believed that evil spirits did not like boys in the family (their firstborn was a son who died in infancy). So, by calling him Sau Fung, they were able to trick demonic spells into thinking Bruce was female. Come to think it, maybe Linda was right about that demonic samurai in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story? Hmmm.

I’ve never seen What You Gonna Do, Sai Fung?, but judging from the footage, Stephen is almost a spitting image of a late 1950s-era Bruce Lee. Since Stephen holds a Black Belt in Karate, he’s probably not too shabby in the action department either.

Prior to What You Gonna Do, Sai Fung?, Stephen appeared in yet another 1992 Bruce Lee biopic (not as Bruce), which is the subject of our next Bruce Lee actor.

Today, Stephen is still very active in the industry. Some of his film’s include 2000’s The Blood Rules, 2009’s Overheard, 2014’s That Demon Within and just recently, 2016’s Three.

David Wu

David Wu

DAVID WU DAI-WAI

I’m going to struggle with this one. All I have to say is thank God for Wikipedia…

David Wu Dai-Wai (aka Wu-Man) is Chinese-American actor and TV personality. In 1992, he took a stab at playing Bruce Lee in the ATV series, Spirit of the Dragon.

I’ve never seen the series, but there is a character named Linda, played by Gwennie Tam (reverse white washing, right? Okay, maybe it’s not Linda Lee, but a random character named Linda, but I couldn’t resist). Of special note, the series features Lau Kar-leung, Nick Cheung, Eddy Ko Hung and of course the guy you just read about, Stephen Au.

Since 1985, David has had a solid career as he’s appeared in a number of films, including 1990’s Tiger Gage 2, 1991’s Robotrix, 1995’s Full Throttle and 1996’s Temptress Moon.

I’m telling you, those white/Asian half-breeds are good looking. A little white skin always makes things better.

Jiang Dai-Yan

Jiang Dai-Yan

JIANG DAI-YAN 

There have been many of child actors – some infants, possibly some fetuses – who have played Bruce, but I’m excluding them because their roles weren’t substantial enough (even if they were included, we wouldn’t be able to properly identity them).

When the original Ip Man movie came out in 2008, its trailers, posters, TV spots and other advertising material were branded with the words “Mentor of Iconic Legend Bruce Lee” – it was as if both Ip Man, the master of Wing Chun, and Donnie Yen, a top martial arts action star, were living in the shadow of Bruce Lee (even Donnie himself has had his share of Bruce-like performances in the 1995 Fist of Fury TV series, as well as 2010’s Legend of the Fist). If anything, it was proof that the words “Bruce Lee” were a powerful marketing tool.

Ip Man would go on to become a box office smash and its leading man, Donnie Yen, went from star to international superstar (for more on this, read How ‘Ip Man’ made Donnie Yen ‘The Man’). Instantly, the public wanted more Ip Man. They also wondered if a Bruce Lee character would be making an appearance in future Ip Man sequels. Let’s face it, most of the general public wouldn’t even know who Ip man was if it weren’t for Bruce’s close association with him. Besides, the two names were practically synonymous with each other (imagine making a John Woo biopic without the appearance of a Chow Yun-fat character).

When Ip Man 2 finally made its way to theaters in 2010, the audience was treated to a nice surprise during the last few minutes of the movie: A digit old version of Bruce, played by Jiang Dai-Yan. Depending on how big of a Bruce Lee fan you are – and depending if you were expecting him or not – the cameo is worthy of goose bumps.

To date, Ip Man 2 was the first and only acting gig for Jiang. There are a number of premier/press conference photos of him performing kung fu stances in front of cast and crew, so this establishes that he’s had some martial arts training. What’s next for him? Only time will tell.

I managed to not bash Shannon for the last several Bruces, so let me get back to that…

Johnny Walker

Johnny Walker

Walk on…

Despite criticizing Shannon Lee, there’s a part of me that can’t blame her for running the The Bruce Lee Estate with an iron fist. After all, you have to protect your brand. If someone or some company is selling unlicensed Bruce Lee products, by all means, put your foot down.

And if you own the license, use it. Go ahead and make all the Bruce Lee video games, watches, clothes, comic books, action figures and dildos you want. While you’re at it, slap Bruce’s face on bottles of whiskey, cans of soda and packs of cigarettes and enjoy the royalties. Make Bruce Lee the digitized spokesperson for Walmart if you have to. That’s perfectly fine.

But here’s what’s not fine about Shannon:

If her name isn’t attached to a Bruce Lee-related product, it’s automatically a disgrace to her father’s legacy. Plain and simple. She doesn’t even try to be slick about it. So I’m basically calling her out on her bullshit.

Shannon is currently in process of producing her own biopic (read about it here, because regardless of how I feel about her, I don’t discriminate). At time of writing this article, a “Bruce Lee” hasn’t been casted for her film, or at least officially announced. When the movie comes out, Shannon has my money, but I’ll be watching it very closely.

Johnny Saxon

Johnny Saxon

About the white washing thing…

Now that we’ve established Shannon Lee’s nonsensical/hypocritical ways, I’m going to focus on the other people who think Birth of the Dragon (or any other Hollywood movie) is racist, white washed, or whatever dumb word that was popularized out of someone’s social media shit hole.

I haven’t seen Birth of the Dragon. It might be good, it might be bad, maybe it’s accurate, maybe it’s way off. Whatever. It’s a fucking movie. But I can assure you that it doesn’t hate Asians. I can also assure you that it doesn’t think white people are better than Asians. Let me tell you why…

Sure, racism does exist in every aspect of our lives, but Hollywood (and the entire entertainment industry in general) isn’t driven by race, it’s driven by money. It’s a business. They don’t care if you’re black, yellow, white or green – you can even be a pudgy rapper from South Korea or an Olympic athlete-turned-transgender celebrity – but once you generate enough money, you’ll be famous, you’ll be all over the tube, and you’ll be on a pedestal until your time is up (just ask Macaulay Culkin or Gary Coleman).

Pissed off about Scarlett Johansson appearing as the lead in Ghost in the Shell? Too bad, because investors wanted their money back and then some (in this case, their forecasting was off). Sorry, but casting an unknown Asian wouldn’t have driven ticket sales. If there was a leading female Asian star who was a proven box office success globally, I guarantee she’d be up for that role. And, uh, by the way, some of these investors are Asian. So it’s not about race, or studios being racially insensitive (sugar coat it all you want, but that still means “racist”), it’s about MONEY.

And here we are… Philip Ng (unknown Asian in a Hollywood movie), playing Bruce Lee, in a movie about the right to educate ALL races in complete harmony. And still, the “victimized Asians” and “white wash accusers” have found something to bitch and moan about. It’s a reflection of their own insecurities.

And if they want to scream diversity (whether it be for age, sex, gender or whatever), good luck. It’s out of your control. You want control? Find a way to get money and be your own studio. Be Robert Rodriguez. Instead of sitting around and bitching about how he doesn’t see enough Mexicans in action movies, what does he do? The guy creates a cinematic empire, and now, he can’t seem to make a movie without a Mexican(s) in it. But hey, not everyone has the talent, so let’s get back to reality…

Final note. I promise:

You want to see more Asians on the big screen? Move to Asia. But don’t complain about the lack of white actors.

– Jeff (an Asian)

Posted in Features, News | 25 Comments

Sly Stallone hints a dark return to the ‘Expendables’ franchise

"Expendables 4" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Expendables 4” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Expendables 3’s box office belly flop a few years ago, possibly due to its early online leakage, left the franchise in limbo. It also didn’t help that the film’s final cut was a narrowed to a PG-13, which created a fan backlash since the first two in the series were known for their R-rated content.

Shortly after Part 3’s release, Sylvester Stallone himself admitted that making it PG-13 was a miscalculation, and promised that the next film would be a Rated R.

Then in March 2017, it was reported that Stallone left the series after a disagreement with Avi Lerner. According to Deadline: “Stallone and Nu Image/Millennium chief Avi Lerner could not find common ground on a new director, on the script and on certain qualitative elements of the film.”

But now, nearly 5 months later, Stallone has had a change of heart and things might be looking up for an Expendables 4. Just recently, Stallone posted a picture with a caption saying: The Expendables about to get ”…very dark”…. again… (via Instagram).

Unfortunately, that’s where Stallone left off, but if it becomes a reality, we should be getting some official news – possibly when Lionsgate releases The Expendables 3-Film Collection in October.

We’ll keep you updated as we hear more about Expendables 4. In the meantime, Stallone has a number of films under his belt that include Escape Plan 2: Hades, Ex-Baghdad (with Jackie Chan) and Creed II (which may mark the return of Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago from Rocky IV).

Hopefully Stallone’s indecisive mind will bring him to another one of these…

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Deal on Fire! Takashi Miike’s Hara-Kiri | Blu-ray | Only $7 – Expires soon!

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai | Blu-ray (Tribeca)

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai | Blu-ray (Tribeca)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Takashi Miike’s (13 Assassins, Terra Formars) Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, starring Ebizo Ichikawa (Space Battleship Yamato), Koji Yakusho (The World of Kanako) and Hikari Mitsushima (Love Exposure).

Hara-Kiri tells the story of a samurai who arrives at the doorstep of his feudal lord, requesting an honorable death by ritual suicide. The lord threatens him with the brutal tale of Motome, a young ronin who made a similar request, only to meet a grisly end. Undaunted, the samurai begins to tell a story of his own, with an ending no one could see coming.

Order Hara-Kiri from Amazon.com today!

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The Monkey King | Blu-ray (Cinedigm)

The Monkey King | Blu-ray (Cinedigm)

The Monkey King | Blu-ray (Cinedigm)

RELEASE DATE: September 26, 2017

Is this a sign of more Asian film releases from Cinedigm Entertainment? In addition to October’s Ip Man: Season 1, the company has announced a Blu-ray release (first time in the U.S.) for 2014’s The Monkey King, which hits on September 26, 2017.

Directed by Soi Cheang Pou Soi (SPL II), this fantasy film (read our review) features an all-star cast that includes Donnie Yen (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II), Chow Yun-fat (Cold War 2), Aaron Kwok (Monk Comes Down the Mountain), Kelly Chen (Tokyo Raiders) and Gigi Leung (Avenging Fist).

Pre-order The Monkey King from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles, News | Tagged | Leave a comment

Enter the Warrior’s Gate (2016) Review

"Enter the Warrior's Gate" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Enter the Warrior’s Gate” Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Warrior’s Gate
Director: Matthias Hoene
Producer: Mark Gao, Luc Besson
Cast: Mark Chao, Ni Ni, Uriah Shelton, Dave Bautista, Francis Ng, Sienna Guillory, Ron Smoorenburg, Dakota Daulby, Kara Hui, Dakota Daulby, Zha Ka
Running Time: 108 min.

By Z Ravas

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a meek and bullied young Anglo kid finds himself transported to a distant world of Chinese mysticism and martial arts, where he teams with a band of powerful warriors who teach him how to stand up for himself. If you think I’m describing the plot of 2008’s Jackie Chan and Jet Li team-up The Forbidden Kingdom, you’d be right. But it’s also the plot of last year’s Enter the Warrior’s Gate, which is undeniably writer/producer Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen’s take on the same basic premise.

The film represent the first real French-Chinese collaborative production for Besson, who has long had a fascination with Chinese action cinema. Made on a budget of about $48 million, and shot in British Columbia as well as China’s Hengdian World Studios (the largest film studio in the world), the movie landed at the box office with a resounding thud. Thanks entirely to the Chinese box office, Enter the Warrior’s Gate grossed a measly $3.2 million, while in North America it’s more or less been delivered straight to Netflix. In comparison, The Forbidden Kingdom crossed an impressive $127 million back in 2008. But did Warrior’s Gate deserve such a dismal fate?

The story follows teenage Jack (Uriah Shelton), who – in a Gamer-esque wrinkle – is mistaken by the residents of another realm as a powerful warrior because he happens to be good at video games. He’s drafted by Mark Chao’s soldier to help protect a Princess, played by the perfectly charming actress Ni Ni. In our world, Jack and the Princess spend some time gallivanting around a Canadian mall, eating ice cream and developing a crush on one another, when the Princess is kidnapped and taken back to her own land by a fierce barbarian (Kickboxer: Vengeance’s Dave Bautista). Aided by Mark Chao and an eccentric wizard portrayed by Hong Kong stalwart Francis Ng, Jack has to summon his inner courage and rescue the Princess before she becomes Bautista’s bride-to-be.

And that’s about it. Along the way, Jack and Chao are briefly waylaid by a black-garbed witch (played by Kara Hui of My Young Auntie fame), but mostly their journey involves male bonding and brief martial arts training before they confront Bautista and his armada. It’s then that they engage in skirmish after skirmish with the barbarian horde, including a scene where Bautista’s right hand man – the imposing actor Zha Ka, whom you may recognize from Police Story: Lockdown and The Taking of Tiger Mountain – transforms into a computer-generated giant. If you’re hoping that Bautista gets to show off his mixed martial arts skills, you’ll be disappointed, as the hulking bruiser mostly sticks to swinging a sword around. To his credit, lead actor Uriah Shelton – who apparently is most known for his role on TV’s Girl Meets World – trained in martial arts as a kid, though he mostly does a lot of spinning and sliding over tables to avoid bad guys here.

Which gets to my main point: despite the presence of fan favorite actors such as Dave Bautista and Francis Ng, any adult viewer of Enter the Warrior’s Gate is bound to have a sinking realization. This is a movie produced for and targeted exclusively at 12 year-old boys. By all rights, German director Matthias Heone (Cockneys vs. Zombies) should have cut the few instances where side characters are skewered by swords and gone for a PG-rating, as – in terms of its tone and the low-intensity of the action scenes – this film is PG through and through.

There’s no harm in producing an East-meets-West, introductory kung fu movie aimed at kids. Certainly many parents may be looking for the right movie to show children who are slowly developing an interest in martial arts. Unfortunately, I don’t think Enter the Warrior’s Gate is the right movie. The action is shot in an uninspired manner, few of the martial arts-trained actors are given the chance to shine, and at 108 minutes Enter the Warrior’s Gate is about 18 minutes too long. I’m not even mentioning how Besson forced poor Mark Chao, dressed in ancient Chinese battle armor, into an embarrassing dance routine while the credits play.

A studio like Pixar knows how to tell a story to captivate viewers of all ages and transcend the young demographic their films are marketed to. Luc Besson is no Pixar. While some of the script’s one-liners are more clever than you might expect, and it’s fun to see Hong Kong icons like Kara Hui and Francis Ng in a movie so squarely aimed at Western audiences, Enter the Warrior’s Gate has too many flaws to make it an easy recommend. And if you have a 12 year-old in your life who is begging to watch a kung fu flick, may I suggest a convenient alternative? A little known movie called The Forbidden Kingdom

Z Ravas’ Rating: 4/10

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Kino Lorber breaks their ‘Code of Silence’ for Chuck Norris

"Code of Silence" Theatrical Poster

“Code of Silence” Theatrical Poster

On December 5th, 2017, Kino Lorber will be releasing a Special Edition Blu-ray for 1985′s Code of Silence (read our review), directed by Andrew Davis (Under Siege, The Fugitive) and starring the one, the only, Chuck Norris (Slaughter in San Francisco).

This gritty cop flick is highly regarded as one of Norris’ best. The film’s climax is noted for its menacing crime-fighting robot, “Prowler” (hey, it was the 80’s).

Eddie Cusack (Norris) is a Chicago detective who plays by his own rules – a dangerous habit, especially when he breaks the “code of silence” to blow the lid off a deadly police cover-up. Now an outcast, he receives little help from his embittered fellow officers when he’s hurled into a blistering battle against rival drug kingpins.

Code of Silence also stars Henry Silva (Ocean’s 11), Dennis Farina (Midnight Run), Ron Dean (The Fugitive) and Molly Hagen (Navy Seals vs. Zombies).

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary by director Andrew Davis
  • Interview with screenwriter Michael Butler
  • Interview with actor Ron Dean
  • Interview with actress Molly Hagen
  • Interview with composer David Michael Frank
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

Stay tuned for pre-order information.

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‘Everly’ helmer makes Steven Yeun go kill crazy in ‘Mayhem’

“Mayhem” Theatrical Poster

“Mayhem” Theatrical Poster

On December 26, 2017, Image Entertainment will be releasing the Blu-ray & DVD for Mayhem, a thriller that may serve as the perfect companion piece to the recent The Belko Experiment, a Battle Royale-esque tale where blood-soaked survival makes its way into an office environment.

Joe Lynch, the director of the underrated action flick, Everly, returns with the story of a virus that infects a corporate law office on the day attorney Derek Cho (The Walking Dead’s and Okja’s Steven Yeun) is fired after being framed by a co-worker. The infection is capable of making people act out their wildest impulses. Trapped in the quarantined office building, Derek is forced to savagely fight for not only his job, but also his life.

Mayhem also stars Samara Weaving, Dallas Roberts, Claire Dellamar, Kerry Fox, Caroline Chikezie and Steven Brand.

Expect a Trailer to be popping up soon. Until then, here’s the Trailer for Lynch’s overlooked action flick, Everly:

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Ninja Hunter | Blu-ray & DVD (Funimation)

Ninja Hunter | Blu-ray & DVD (Funimation)

Ninja Hunter | Blu-ray & DVD (Funimation)

RELEASE DATE: November 14, 2017

On November 14th, 2017, Funimation will be releasing the Blu-ray + DVD combo for Seiji Chiba’s Ninja Hunter, a 2015 martial arts flick starring Mitsuki Koga (Bushido Man: Seven Deadly Battles).

Tao, a ninja from the Iga clan, wakes up in a cave surrounded by dead bodies, including a beautiful female ninja. Suffering from amnesia, he can’t remember how or why he’s there, or if he’s the one responsible for this massacre. As Tao fights various other ninja, he begins to piece together his memories with their stories. But instead of solving the enigma, a web of betrayal unfolds.

Ninja Hunter also stars Mei Kurokawa (Killers), Masanori Mimoto (Alien vs. Ninja), Kentaro Shimazu (Bushido Man: Seven Deadly Battles) and Kazuki Tsujimoto (Azumi).

Pre-order Ninja Hunter from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles, News | Tagged | 2 Comments

Tiger Chen leaps in time in a New Trailer for ‘Kung Fu Traveler’

"Kung Fu Traveler" Teaser Poster

“Kung Fu Traveler” Teaser Poster

Looks like Tiger Hu Chen (Monk Comes Down the Mountain) will be giving Jean Claude Van Damme’s Timecop a run for its money in an upcoming movie that sounds like it’s another concept that meshes martial arts and time traveling into one complete package.

The Yuen Woo-ping protege who made his starring debut in Keanu Reeves’ Man of Tai Chi is joining forces with Wang Zhi (Drug War) in Zhang Xianfeng’s upcoming sci-fi action film, Kung Fu Traveler, which opens domestically on September 21, 2017.

Another film Chen will be involved with is Triple Threat, an Expendables-type actioner also starring Tony Jaa (Skin Trade) and Iko Uwais (The Raid 2).

Updates: Watch the new Trailer for Kung Fu Traveler below:

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Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years. Vol. 1 | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years. Vol. 1 | Blu-ray (Arrow Video)

Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years. Vol. 1 | Blu-ray (Arrow Video)

RELEASE DATE: November 28, 2017

On November 28th 2017, Arrow Video is releasing the 4-disc Blu-ray + DVD set for Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years. Vol. 1 – Seijun Rising: The Youth Movies. Read the official details below:

Making their home-video debuts outside Japan, this diverse selection of Nikkatsu youth movies (seishun eiga) charts the evolving style of the B-movie maverick best known for the cult classics Tokyo Drifter (1966) and Branded to Kill (1967).

The Boy Who Came Back (1958) marks the first appearances of “Nikkatsu Diamond Guys” and regular Suzuki collaborators Akira Kobayashi and Jo Shishido, with Kobayashi cast as the hot-headed hoodlum fresh out of reform school who struggles to make a clean break with his tearaway past. The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass (1961) is a carnivalesque tale of a young student who hooks up with a down-at-heels travelling circus troupe. Teenage Yakuza (1962) stars Tamio Kawaji as the high-school vigilante protecting his community from the extortions of mobsters from a neighbouring city. The Incorrigible (1963) and Born Under Crossed Stars (1965), both based on Toko Kon’s novels about young love, represent Suzuki’s first films set in the 1920s era later celebrated in his critically-regarded Taisho Trilogy.

Limited Edition Contents:

  • Limited Edition Dual Format Collection [3000 copies]
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation
  • Optional English Subtitles
  • New introduction to the films by critic Tony Rayns
  • 60-page illustrated collector’s book featuring new writing by critic and author Jasper Sharp

Pre-order Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years. Vol. 1 from Amazon.com today!

No Trailers are available for the set’s titles, so here’s the next best thing:

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Deal on Fire! The Assassin | Blu-ray | Only $9.10 – Expires soon!

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

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

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for The Assassin (read our review), by acclaimed director Hou Hsiao-Hsien (A City of Sadness) and starring Shu Qi (Journey to the West).

In 9th-century China, Nie Yinniang (Qi) is a woman who was abducted in childhood from a general and raised by a nun who trained her in the martial arts. After 13 years of exile, she is returned to the land of her birth as an assassin.

The film also stars Zhou Yun (Bodyguards and Assassins), Chang Chen (Helios) and Tsumabuki Satoshi (Waterboys).

Order The Assassin from Amazon.com today!

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Doberman Cop (1977) Review

Doberman Cop | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

Doberman Cop | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Writer: Buronson, Koji Takada
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Janet Hatta, Eiko Matsuda, Masaru Shiga, Tatsuo Endo, Hideo Murota, Koichi Iwaki, Takuzo Kawatani, Hiroki Matsukata, Ryuji Katagiri
Running Time: 90 min.

By Kyle Warner

An Okinawa girl’s been murdered, the latest in what appears to be the work of a serial killer. She was strangled and then her apartment was set on fire, making any positive identification unlikely. The Tokyo cops are stumped, so they call in an Okinawa cop who knows something about the supposed victim. Yes, that’s right, this looks like a case for… Doberman Cop. Sonny Chiba enters frame to the tune of Japanese rock & roll. He’s dressed like a country farmer with a tattered old hat. He’s carrying an angry pig over his shoulder. He’s all wonder and uncertainty, a fish out of water in the big city. This is our hero, as you’ve rarely seen him before.

Chiba’s Detective Kano is a bit unorthodox, to say the least. When he arrives in Tokyo, he offers his pig to the Police Chief in thanks. The Chief doesn’t want it, but Kano insists. The pig meanwhile is screaming and kicking and biting as it attempts to get free of the men pushing it back and forth. Finally able to convince Kano that the pig is unwanted, the pig then becomes Kano’s pet for the rest of the picture.

Kano is there to help solve the murder of the Okinawa girl, who the people have identified as Yuna Tamashiro. Kano doesn’t believe it’s her; he knew Yuna very well, plus Yuna’s priestess mom says she feels that her daughter yet lives, and Kano throws down some seashells that he says prove she’s still alive. As a result, the Tokyo cops think he’s an idiot. But when he saves the singer Miki Haruno (Janet Hatta) from a knife-wielding maniac by rappelling down a 40 story building (with no net!), the cops reassess Kano. He’s not just an idiot, he’s a madman.

The rest of the film continues on this course: the cops search for the serial killer, Kano searches for Yuna who he believes to still be alive, and the singer Miki (with her ex-yakuza manger, Hiroki Matsukata) keep turning up in both storylines. It’s a mystery wrapped in an exploitation film fueled by action and gifted with a dark sense of humor. I could complain that some plots are resolved long before the others, but I’m not in the mood. I enjoyed the hell out of this film.

Chiba is great as Detective Kano. He’s called ‘Doberman Cop’ only once and ‘Tarzan Cop’ far more frequently, but perhaps that title wouldn’t sell the same (worth noting: the film is based on a popular manga series from the period). I enjoyed his more wide-eyed performance, as it made for a nice change from his usual hissing, karate kicking, steely-eyed badass. To be sure, Chiba still beats the living hell out of people (“my arms are like iron and my legs are even stronger!”), but there’s an added dose of comedy because everyone underestimates him all the time. Plus I liked seeing him carrying around a pig like it’s a puppy. It’s a good role and it’s a shame that the movie didn’t make more money at the time of its release to warrant seeing a sequel.

The rest of the cast is pretty solid. Hiroki Matsukata (13 Assassins) is great as the slimy ex-yakuza talent manager. Eiko Matsuda (In the Realm of the Senses) is a lot of fun as the stripper who falls in love with Kano and his pig. The stressed out strip club manager played Takuzo Kawatani (Empire of Passion) also makes for some nice bits of comedy. And Hotshot, a street bike gang member played by Koichi Iwaki (Silver Hawk), is a good unlikely ally for the out-of-town cop. The majority of the rest of the cast are Kinji Fukasaku and Toei regulars, all performing admirably in the chorus of chaos that the director frequently creates. The weak link is Janet Hatta (Proof of the Man), who doesn’t put much into her performance. Her character is supposed to be doped up in multiple scenes, so perhaps that explains her overly understated performance. But in a film full of high strung characters, Hatta’s Miki stands out in the wrong way.

Doberman Cop arrives on Blu-ray for the first time in the US from Arrow Video. The movie looks nice, sounds good, and comes with a little over 30 minutes of new special features. You get interviews with Japanese film expert Sadao Yamane, screenwriter and frequent Fukasaku collaborator Koji Takada, and another sit-down with Sonny Chiba as he talks about his career. Each interview subject is entertaining and informative. I only wish they were longer interviews.

After watching Wolf Guy earlier this year, I gave up trying to predict what to expect from the obscure entries of Sonny Chiba’s filmographyGoofier than most Kinji Fukasaku films but no less gritty, Doberman Cop is an odd little movie; a more thoughtful, character-driven, intricately plotted story than you’d ever expect it to be. It’s a culture clash action comedy with a pig and a dash of Dirty Harry. And I love that such a thing exists. Some won’t enjoy the competing tones, but if it gets its hooks into you just right, hold on because you’re in for a ride. Me, I had a blast.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 8/10

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‘Creed’ star leads the Hollywood remake of ‘A Bittersweet Life’

"A Bittersweet Life" Korean Theatrical Poster

“A Bittersweet Life” Korean Theatrical Poster

Back in 2012, it was reported that Albert Hughes, one half of the Hughes Brothers (Book of Eli), was tapped by Fox to remake the 2005 Korean film A Bittersweet LifeNow, 5 years later, Fox has switched up directing duties to Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2-3) and signed Fruitvale Station and Creed star, Michael B. Jordan, to take over the role originally played by Lee Byung-hun (Master).

According to Deadline: 21 Laps Entertainment’s Shawn Levy (Stranger Things), Dan Levine (Arrival) and Dan Cohen (Fist Fight) are producing in conjunction with CJ Entertainment, the latter of which made the original film.

The original A Bittersweet Life was a breakout hit for director Kim Jee-woon (The Age of Shadows), who has since become internationally known in the wake of I Saw the Devil. The film revolved around a mob enforcer (Lee) tasked with keeping an eye on his boss’ mistress.

We’ll keep you you updated on the remake as we learn more.

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