Deal on Fire! Wrath of Vajra | Blu-ray | Only $7.42 – Expires soon!

The Wrath of Vajra | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

The Wrath of Vajra | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Law Ching Cheong’s The Wrath of Vajra.

In The Wrath of Vajra, a top Chinese martial artist (Yu Xing, star of the upcoming Super Bodyguard) sets his sights on a Japanese death cult after they abduct innocent Chinese children and train them to be assassins.

The film also stars Steve Yoo Seung Jun (Dragon Blade), Jiang Baocheng (Painted Skin 2: The Resurrection), Yasuaki Kurata (Shinjuku Incident) and Hiroyuki Ikeuchi (Ip Man).

Order Wrath of Vajra from Amazon.com today!

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Nicolas Tse and Lau Ching Wan return for ‘Heartfall Arises’

"Heartfall Arises" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Heartfall Arises" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Currently being prepped for release is Ken Wu’s Heartfall Arises, a crime-thriller that reunites the two stars of 2012’s The Bullet Vanishes: Nicolas Tse (The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom) and Lau Ching Wan (Too Many Ways to Be Number One). Other cast members include Tong Liya (Wild City) and Mavis Fan (The Silent War).

This $25M (US) production, which is being described as a “high IQ crime movie,” is set across four countries: China, Hong Kong, Thailand and Taiwan.

Heartfall Arises will be released this year in both 2D and 3D. In case you missed it, here’s the film’s first trailer, as well as a “making of” featurette.

Updates: Watch the film’s newest trailer.

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‘The Rebel’ and ‘Bay Rong’ star has an ‘Untold Story’ to tell

"Once Upon A Time in Vietnam" Vietnamese Poster

"Once Upon A Time in Vietnam" Vietnamese Poster

Vietnamese actress/model Veronica Ngo (House in the Alley) – best known for her martial arts action roles in Lua Phat, Bay Rong, The Rebel and the recent Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II – is getting ready to release her directorial debut, Tam Cam: The Untold Story, fantasy-adventure is based on the Vietnamese fairy tale The Story of Tam and Cam (Vietnam’s take on Cinderella).

In addition to directing, Ngo also stars in the film alongside Ha Vi, Ninh Duong Lan Ngoc, Thanh Loc, Ngoc Giau and Huu Chau.

If you’re expecting nothing but a family-friendly flick, think again, because the newly released trailer (via FCS) for Tam Cam: The Untold Story promises some action. The film hits Vietnamese theaters this summer.

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Deadly Kick, The | aka Dragon King (1976) Review

"The Deadly Kick" Korean Theatrical Poster

"The Deadly Kick" Korean Theatrical Poster

AKA: The Rival
Director: Go Yeong-nam, Lo Lieh
Cast: Lo Lieh, Bobby Kim, Pearl Lin Yin Zhu, Han Mi-ja, Im Eun-ju, Kim Ki-ju, Jin Bong-jin, Gam Kei Chu, Bruce Cheung Mong, Chan Feng Chen, Chiu Chun, Han Myeong-hwan
Running Time: 93 min.

By Paul Bramhall

In 1972 the Shaw Brothers production King Boxer was released in the US, under the title of Five Fingers of Death, and is largely considered to be the movie which kicked off the kung fu craze for western audiences. Starring popular thespian Lo Lieh, King Boxer was actually directed by a well-respected Korean filmmaker named Jeong Chang-hwa. Because of Chang-hwa’s popularity in Korea, not only did the movie travel stateside, but it also received a Korean dub and was released on his home soil. Perhaps because of this, Lo Lieh became a recognizable face in Korea, and 4 years later he’d go on to star and co-direct a pair of Korean movies alongside local taekwondo star Bobby Kim.

Bobby Kim was one of those Korean stars who, much like Han Yong-cheol, made his most popular movies in Korea during the 70’s, and never transitioned to Hong Kong productions like Casanova Wong, Hwang Jang Lee, and Kwon Yung Moon did to great effect in the later part of the decade. Kim eventually emigrated to Denver, where he setup a taekwondo school, and featured in a number of mostly no-budget local martial arts productions (Kill Line being a good example).

Lieh and Kim would pair up in both International Police and The Deadly Kick in 1976, and both movies contain almost identical casts and crew, so it’s safe to assume they were filmed at exactly the same time. In The Deadly Kick Lieh plays a sex crazed alcoholic, the self-proclaimed “king of the nether regions”, who’s just gotten out of a 5 year stint in prison. In flashback we learn that Lieh and Kim used to be students under the same martial arts master, however Lieh’s quick temper and jealousy led him to rape the master’s daughter, during which he uses his eagle claw technique to gauge her eyes and blind her. You may assume this makes Lieh the despicable villain of the piece, however, in a decision that’s beyond explanation, he’s actually the main character.

Through a series of muddled events, 15 minutes in we finally meet Bobby Kim, playing an Interpol agent on the trail of a stolen $100,000. A criminal organization are also after the money, who hire Lieh to track it down, and the pair form an uneasy partnership to try and locate it together. The Deadly Kick looks and feels like a sleazy incomprehensible mess, and it leaves a distinct impression that the dubbing has seriously flubbed some of the plot points. Random events simply pop up through abrupt scene changes, such as the master’s daughter suddenly showing up and announcing that, “even though I’m blind, I’ve practiced martial arts all day every day.” Her practice entails having a young girl (it’s never explained who she is) follow her around, who jangles a bell to signal were the daughter should attack. However when the confrontation with Lieh finally happens, he simply kills the little girl with one strike, and then wonders off back to resume his mission.

Lieh’s style of kung fu is also likely to draw looks of confusion. Clearly channelling his King Boxer stances, whenever he springs into action the camera cuts to directly in front of his face, as he busts out various tiger, eagle, and snake hand gestures, which for the uninitiated could well be mistaken for shadow puppetry. However best of all, is that each animal gesture is spliced with images and sounds of said animal. So we get brief glimpses of a tiger mask being thrust at the camera, complete with growls, a stuffed eagle being shaken about by a hand just off-screen while headache inducing squawks play over it, and a rubber snake held so close to the camera you can hardly make it out at all. Oh, and by the way apparently snakes don’t hiss, they squeak intermittently.

It’s difficult to tell what tone The Deadly Kick was really going for. At times it feels like an Asian version of 007, with Bobby Kim being captured and trapped in a gas chamber, disguising himself as a waiter to save Lieh from a guillotine trap that would make Blofeld proud, and even being chased by bad guys throwing grenades from a helicopter. However at other times it feels like a cheap basher, with a trio of henchmen (two of which are played by Korean kung fu luminaries Kwon Il-soo and Chiu Chun in early screen appearances) being a highlight. While two of them utilise a shuriken and blow dart respectively, the third member, played by Chun, uses a brick, which he smashes over his head and then throws the pieces at whoever he’s trying to kill. Who thought this would be a good idea!? That being said, the blow dart prop doesn’t fare much better, with the henchman unable to muster up enough breath to propel it more than a few inches in front of him. Thankfully, the editing would have us believe it lodged in a hapless victim’s skull several meters away.

You’d think a production that contains a scene in which a helicopter flies so low, it almost clips the person it’s chasing after, could afford a more effective blow dart mechanism. The actual martial arts action also mostly falls into the basher category. For over an hour, it’s frustratingly filmed in a way which has either Lieh or Kim striking at the camera, then cutting away to the person whom the strike is supposed to have connected with falling to the ground. However the fact that no physical connection is ever shown damages the impact of these scenes significantly. Essentially Lieh or Kim could have been filmed in one location, and the recipient of their blows might as well have been filmed in another. However at just over the hour mark Kim finally gets into a decent scuffle, which allows us to see his kicks physically interacting with his opponents. The action is filmed in a frantic style by the camera, very much reminiscent of the karate exploitation flicks coming out of Japan at the time, spearheaded by Sonny Chiba.

However what makes any basher worthy of its title is the sense of desperation conveyed in the fight scenes. The term ‘basher’ was mostly used for productions from the 70’s, which displayed more of a ‘punch and block’ style of fighting, as compared to the more intricate choreography style which would come a few years later, popularly known as ‘shapes’. The style was particularly effective in modern day set action movies of the time, and names like Jimmy Wang Yu, Chan Sing, and Yasuaki Kurata would become synonymous with the genre. The final 30 minutes of The Deadly Kick cranks out some worthy basher action, particularly when Lieh has to fight his way through a series of sliding door rooms to get to the main Japanese villain, reminiscent of a similar scene that would take place 30 years later in Ryoo Seung-wan’s City of Violence (only Seung-wan’s production was minus the animal sounds).

Bobby Kim also gets some worthy kicks in, with one shot in particular standing out which has the camera positioned on the floor, some distance away from the fight action. Kim then kicks one of the henchmen, who proceeds to slide across the floor face first straight into the camera lens. The image of the henchman looking directly into the camera is one that will linger for a while after watching. Indeed The Deadly Kick manages to remain watchable mainly due to these constantly random moments, seemingly played completely poker faced, popping up with frequent regularity. The white haired villain of the piece lives behind a fake wall, with only a stuffed owl to keep him company, and the wall slides back whenever he has to dish out orders to his henchman. Exactly what he’s sitting there staring at whenever the wall is closed is a mystery.

Other worthy mentions include the inclusion of 3 shirtless bodybuilder thugs, who must have been given the direction to laugh while flexing their pecks at the same time, which was clearly a lot harder to do than it sounds. My favorite scene of randomness though occurs when Lieh thrusts his fist into a henchman’s stomach, and rips out their intestines. These aren’t just some cheaply made prosthetic intestines though, they’re fresh, sloppy, very real animal intestines, which he then proceeds to throw into the face of poor Park Dong-yong, before grabbing them and strangling him to death with them. I can only imagine the conversation that took place between the director and Dong-yong before the scene – “So you just need to stand there, and Lo Lieh is going to throw the animal innards into your face, ok?” Kudos to him for being so game, and the scene pre-dates the same intestine strangulation technique used in The Story of Ricky by 16 years.

That being said, the sexual violence won’t appeal to everyone, and rightfully so. When Lieh’s crime syndicate love interest is captured by the Japanese, she’s stripped naked and tied up in front of a room comprising only of men. The main Japanese villain then proceeds to repeatedly stab her between the legs with a fencing sword, set to her ear piercing screams. Even though no nudity is shown, it’s an uncomfortable scene. To keep with the exploitative nature of the situation, every scene which then takes place within the room, including the fights, is awkwardly framed from between her thighs. If the preceding torture hadn’t been so cruel, such a technique would have been bizarrely entertaining, but as it is, the scene leaves a bad taste.

For those who are wondering, the plot is coherent enough to have Kim remember what Lieh did to their master’s daughter, and the finale delivers a Bobby Kim vs Lo Lieh showdown. Keeping with the bizarre nature of the production, it becomes an almost mystical confrontation, with Lieh calling on what I can only presume is the God of Eagle Claw, and Kim channelling the powers of the Buddha. Onscreen, this translates to lots of blowing leaves, and spliced scenes of the stuffed eagle facing a statue of the Buddha. As a fight, I challenge anyone who’s seen it to explain exactly what happens, but as an exercise in 70’s kung fu oddities, The Deadly Kick certainly qualifies as a contender.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 5/10

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New trailer for Kim Jee-woon’s ‘Age of Shadows’ is irresistible

"The Age of Shadows" Theatrical Poster

"The Age of Shadows" Theatrical Poster

Kim Jee-woon’s (I Saw the Devil) The Age of Shadows (aka Secret Agent) will finally see a release date in September of 2016 in Korean theaters (we assume a company like Well Go USA is on top of it).

Set in the late 1920s, the film follows the cat-and-mouse game that unfolds between a group of resistance fighters trying to bring in explosives from Shanghai to destroy key Japanese facilities in Seoul, and Japanese agents trying to stop them (via SD).

The Age of Shadows stars Song Kang-Ho (Snowpiercer), Gong Yoo (The Suspect), Han Ji-Min (The Fatal Encounter), Um Tae-Goo (Veteran), Shin Sung-Rok (The Prison), and Seo Young-Joo (Moebius).

The Age of Shadows will mark the 4th collaboration between Song (Snowpiercer) and Kim. The two previously worked together in The Foul King (2000), The Quiet Family (2002) and The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008).

Updates: The film’s trailer is now available to watch!

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Cynthia Rothrock has an ‘Asian Ghost Story’ to tell…

"Asian Ghost Story" DVD Cover

"Asian Ghost Story" DVD Cover

On September 13, 2016, Rapid Heart Pictures is releasing Asian Ghost Story to DVD. This ultra low-budget (we repeat, ultra low-budget) horror/martial arts flick revolves around the spirit of a dead Chinese railway worker who seeks revenge in the form of a lethal Ninja.

Asian Ghost Story stars MMA’s sensation Josh Van Meurs, Nicholas Simmons (Evil Exhumed) and Cassidy Alexa (School of Fish). Of special note, the film also features martial arts legend, Cynthia Rothrock (Shanghai Express) – despite headlining the DVD artwork, we believe she may only have a cameo.

Without further ado, here’s the trailer (and Rothrock is nowhere to be found in it). Proceed with caution…

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Sea Fog | DVD (Film Movement)

Sea Fog | DVD (Film Movement)

Sea Fog | DVD (Film Movement)

RELEASE DATE: August 2, 2016

Sea Fog, the debut film of Sim Sung-Bo (writer of Memories of Murder), is heading to DVD on August 2, 2016, courtesy Film Movement.

Sourced from the 2007 stage play of the same name, Sea Fog (aka Haemoo) is the story of a Korean fishing vessel and the thrilling events the crew members face while on their deadly journey. The film is based on actual events.

Sea Fog stars Kim Yun-Seok (The Chaser), Park Yoo-Chun (Dance Subaru), Han Ye-Ri (Kundo), Lee Hee-Joon (The Unjust) and is produced by Bong Joon Ho (The Host, Snowpiercer). | Trailer.

Pre-order Sea Fog from Amazon.com today!

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Black Tavern, The (1972) Review

"The Black Tavern" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"The Black Tavern" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Teddy Yip
Writer: Yip Yat Fong
Producer: Run Run Shaw
Cast: Shih Szu, Ku Feng, Dean Shek Tien, Tung Li, Wong Hap, Yue Fung, Kong Ling, Kwok Chuk Hing, Lee Ho, Barry Wai Ji Wan, Chan Chan Kong, Unicorn Chan, Cheung Hei, Chiang Nan, Chu Gam, Ho Kei Cheong, Law Hon
Running Time: 83 min.

By Matija Makotoichi Tomic

Seems it’s impossible to write a review about The Black Tavern without mentioning King Hu. When it comes to inn-based wuxia films, who could match the skill and the vision of this undisputed master? After seeing what Hu can do, did it really make sense making a movie that probably owes it’s very existence to the classics he has blessed us with? Well, actually it did, becuase even though Teddy Yip lacks that touch of zen that made Hu the King of the genre, his movie follows a different formula but ultimately delivers and should be recommended for it’s pure entertainment value if nothing else.

When a shabby monk sings a song about the corrupt official who’s heading south carrying treasure he mounted through the years, the greedy bunch of no-goods surrounding him starts scheming on how to get their hands on the loot. Soon, they begin gathering at the remote inn waiting for their target to come.

Director Teddy Yip had an interesting directing career. In 1971, he made a movie called The Blade Spares None, lovely swordplay with Nora Miao as Miss Ho, a heroine dressed in red known by her nickname “The Blade That Spares None.” It was his first and only movie for Golden Harvest, followed later that same year with The Eunuch, his first movie made for Shaw Brothers studio.

The Black Tavern came next and was his second and last SB movie. Not having a major studio to support him didn’t slow Teddy Yip down, he continued his work and eventually ended up directing some very well known and well-reputed Beardy flicks. Even though it was only his third movie, The Black Tavern is made with considerable skill. Teddy used what he had to maximum efficiency starting with the inn that he turned into a stage on which he successfully gave life to his vision. It is the combination of those inn shots with the snow covered exteriors that give this movie a unique atmosphere; imagine The Hateful Eight with swordsmen, an inn in place of a haberdashery and SB sets covered with false snow instead  of the beautiful, 70mm snowy Colorado scenery. Needless to say that the lack of real snow or location shooting didn’t result in ruining the general impression, nor the atmosphere for that point.

What makes the whole inn gathering situation so interesting is the fact that it seems there aren’t any good guys as they all seem to have bad intentions. It will take until the final third of the movie to filter the potentialy good ones from the rest of the thieving lot. Here’s where Ku Feng takes his chance to shine and be proven best while he is the worst of them all. His is the role of the infamous Whipmaster and his perfomance is flawless. Even the whip action he delivers is more impressive than what can be seen in Lo Wei’s 1971, SB classic The Shadow Whip with Chang Pei Pei doing the whipping.

Another rightful legend appears in The Black Tavern: it is pale-faced Wu Ma as the false corpse herder with a deceitful plan which includes the Five Ghosts of Xiang Xi he’s the leader of. Dean Shek has the role of the aforementioned singing monk. His character is (as expected) not a serious one and his performance only borderline goofy this time.

Last but not least is Shih Szu, SB beauty who gets more and more screen time as the movie reaches its end. She is Caibing (Cuiping), a student of Lady Hermit, obviously reprising her role from Ho Meng-Hua’s The Lady Hermit made one year prior to this movie. These movies share the same writer, Yip Yat-Fong, so that explains  the connection. While in the first movie Caibing was searching for Lady Hermit wanting to become her student, here she’s continuing her master’s quest to cleanse the martial arts world from scum.This connection is not enough to make The Black Tavern a sequel to The Lady Hermit but could in a way be considered its spin-off.

Even though Chang Cheh deflowered the martial arts audience shedding heroic blood all over his films, somehow it still surprises me to see an old schooler as bloody as this one is. There are a few imaginative decapitations which are all but boring and already seen, and the villain takeout should be filed under: legendary. Violence here is satisfactorily brutal and spices up what is already a fine action.

If you ask me, I would say The Back Tavern is definitely above average. I was watching old SB stuff randomly these days and I can say this one succeded where others have failed. First of all, in keeping my attention for the whole time but also in getting that smile on my face that means I’ve just seen a really good movie. So, if you’re not on a mission to watch every martial arts movie SB studio ever produced but are interested in more than just the best of, you won’t miss with this one. I doubt Tsai Ming-Liang would ever consider making a movie called Goodbye Black Tavern since it’s not major league material as King Hu’s masterwork, but it offers more than expected in less than 90 minutes of your time.

Matija Makotoichi Tomic’s Rating: 7.5/10

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God of Gamblers: The Phenomenon

"God of Gamblers" Japanese DVD Cover

"God of Gamblers" Japanese DVD Cover

If you have not heard of the God of Gamblers franchise yet then it’s time you treat yourself to some classic Hong Kong action comedy-drama. God of Gamblers and its subsequent films, was the creation of scriptwriter and director Wong Jing and has an impressive, all-star cast featuring Chow Yun-fat and Andy Lau. It has spawned a series of films, official and unofficial.

The Beginning

Essentially the first God of Gamblers film is about betrayal, action and friendship. The plot follows Ko Chun, played by Chow Yun-fat, who is a famous gambler. He is renowned for winning games of chance, so much so that he is named the “God of Gamblers”. His identity is secret, but three of his characteristics are known to the public: his slick-backed hair, jade pinky ring and love of Feodora chocolates.

If we’re drawing parallels to a deck of cards – and this is a gambling franchise after all – Ko Chun is the refined King of spades, the King of Kings card. The King of Spades is a master of anything he puts his mind to and he does not merely dabble through life, like a Jack does. So, it is interesting when the film takes a turn for the worse for Ko Chun and he ends up in the care of a Jack of Diamonds, Little Knife.

Little Knife, played by Andy Lau, worships the God and is a mediocre gambler himself. Like the Jack of Diamonds, he is young at heart, social, playful and with a nimble mind. He is a wheeler and dealer, but lacks the ambition and drive of a king. He has set a trap for his neighbor as a joke, however, after a ruckus on a train between Ko Chun and a henchman sent by rivals, Ko falls into Little Knife’s trap, banging his head. He suffers severe brain damage, reverting to a childlike state with amnesia. Little Knife takes in Ko Chun and gives him the name “Chocolate”. Little Knife soon discovers that Ko Chun has a natural talent for gambling and starts to exploit his abilities.

While this is happening, Ko Chun’s girlfriend, Janet, is looking for him. Janet is our beautiful Queen of Hearts. This figure card, the “Mother of love”, represents someone who able to keep her emotions in check, while she’s still in touch with them: she has empathy, compassion and powerful communication skills. She is left with Ko Yee, the cousin and assistant, who is jealous of Ko Chun and makes a move on Janet. She refuses so Ko Yee tries to force himself on her. During the struggle Janet is pushed off a balcony and killed.

Photo courtesy of Daily Motion.

Photo courtesy of Daily Motion.

The necessary for any intriguing film evil, deceitful character Ko Yee is the Ace of Diamonds. Totally focused on fulfilling their own material needs, an Ace of Diamonds is determined and independent and often damages relationships as a result of their single-minded focus.

We don’t want to give away much more of the plot, as we really feel that this is the start of a series you should watch and enjoy. However, we will say that there are many more twist and turns where we see our characters play against each other.

Drawing even more parallels to a game of poker, only one of the dozens of casino games played during the films, none of our characters would make for a strong winning hand. If you look at traditional poker hand ranks you will see that the highest card we can win with is a straight flush, the best possible being a royal flush, whereas our cards of characters interestingly sit in competing suits. It’s not material for a good poker hand but they certainly make for good cinematic conflict.

Little Knife and Ko Yee are in the same suit, and they both have criminally minded tendencies. However, our Jack of Diamonds, Little Knife, plays with a King, and not his high ace card. Perhaps you could argue, just like in a game of poker, that he’s taking his bets on a good card, and a strong hand. We’re glad that he did, as the end of this film led onto a series of fantastic sequels that have catapulted an eager audience into Hong Kong cinema.

Beyond The First Film

For many, God of Gamblers is considered a transitional film enjoyed by both Asian and Western audiences. It’s generated interest in Hong Kong cinema, and catapulted Wong Jing’s career. Just like James Bond in casino royal, there’s a glamour that poker and casino games bring to the table, and audiences seem to love it.

Photo courtesy of mubi.com.

Photo courtesy of mubi.com.

Once you’ve had your first bite of God of Gamblers you can move on to God of Gamblers II, which again features Little Knife, (Andy Lau), where he has become the Knight of Gamblers. This is not the true sequel to God of Gamblers, but trust us, it does make sense to watch the films in this order.

Following God of Gamblers II is God of Gamblers III. This film does not feature the God of Gamblers or Knight of Gamblers at all but now moves to the Saint of Gamblers, played by Chow. It’s a nice transition to watch these three films in order, since although they are not true sequels there is a story that they follow.

The true sequel to the original film is God of Gamblers Returns. Again, it’s directed by Wong Jing, and the actual God of Gamblers is back in the picture. Here Ko Chun’s followers, Little Knife and Sing, have become pretty good poker players themselves: the Knight of Gamblers and the Saint of Gamblers. See why it’s making sense to do follow our suggested order now!?

After this you have God of Gamblers 3: The Early Stage, which is a prequel, so if you want to make this a watchathon on five you could start or end with it. Following all five is From Vegas to Macau. It’s not an official sequel but brings together Wong Jing and Chow Yun-fat and sees many parallels to the God of Gamblers series. At the center of all of them, gambling, betrayal and deceit are running themes. They are all big on action and have larger than life characters, which is common in Asian cinema culture.

There’s a great progression through all of the films, especially if you watch the first four in order, in our opinion. They are great examples of Hong Kong comedy, action films – so brush up on your poker skills, get the popcorn in and enjoy some classic cinema.

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House (1977) Review

"House" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"House" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Writer: Chigumi Obayashi, Chiho Katsura
Cast: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Ai Matubara, Kumiko Oba, Mieko Sato, Eriko Tanaka, Masayo Miyako, Yoko Minamida, Kiyohiko Ozaki, Saho Sasazawa, Haruko Wanibuchi
Running Time: 88 min.

By Martin Sandison

Ten years ago my knowledge of Japanese cult cinema was lacking to say the least. Then the best cinema in Scotland, The Filmhouse, put on a season where I caught 11 movies in two weeks. The titles I watched included Kihachi Okamoto’s Sword of Doom (my favourite Samurai movie), Yakuza Graveyard (which introduced me to the superb Yakuza films of Kinji Fukasaku) and Shunya Ito’s Female Convict: Scorpion.

However, the film that made a big impression on me, which I caught it again on the huge screen at Udine Far East Film Festival, was House, one of the most famous Japanese cult films ever made; every time I see it I can’t believe my eyes. The audience at FEFF was lucky enough to watch the movie in the company of its director, Nobuhiko Obayashi, where he received the Golden Mulberry Lifetime Achievement award.

House is like a film from another world; every aspect of it is combined to make a film so unique that even almost 40 years after it was made, it’s still ahead of its time. For me, visuals are what makes a film truly great, and House has this in abundance alongside its haunting soundtrack.

The plot merely serves as a springboard for the film to lift into the stratosphere, and is very simple. A group of schoolgirls led by Angel (Kimiko Ikegami) decide to spend their summer holidays in Angel’s Aunt’s House up in the mountains, not realizing the house is haunted. Each girl is like a caricature with them being named: Kung Fu (the tough one), Prof (the logical one), Fantasy (the daydreaming one), Mac (the hungry one) and Melody (the musical one). This set up has the girls use their skills (or lack of) against the house.

There are so many standout scenes, psychedelic visuals and insane editing that every frame is interesting and vibrantly alive. Some are creepy and scary, but a quirky sense of humor is evident throughout. One scene features a demon cat’s meow being mixed into the soundtrack that had me in stitches. Others include a disembodied head biting one of the girls; a piano that eats people alive; and a peripheral character with a bucket stuck on his ass. These scenes speak of a singular vision that makes House almost unclassifiable; there really is no other film like it!

Surprisingly, House was director Obayashi’s debut feature (he helmed thousands of commercials before it). The imagination and invention in filmmaking on show belies both facts, so it’s no surprise that Obayashi would become the celebrated director that he is today. Actually, House is just the tip of a very eclectic iceberg in his career; his other films, such as the Manga-based The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Exchange Students exhibit similar traits to House. Interestingly, most of the actresses playing the lead roles were aged 18-19, and went on to have lucrative careers in Japanese television. Some of them are still working today, especially the lead Ikegami. She plays the role of both Angel and Angel’s mother, shown in some wonderfully, off-the-wall flashback scenes shot in black and white.

Most of the effects are done with painting on the film, creating a visual palette that screams low budget, but is so well done and in-keeping with the “out there” tone of the film –  that it works! In fact, everything in House works so well it’s hard to believe. A comparison could be made with Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, as both directors had to be insanely creative to keep up with the challenge of a small budget. It’s as if Obayashi wanted to create a microcosm of filmmaking up to the point House was made; there is such a gleeful exploration of cinematic technique and genre tropes that you can’t help but smile and sit in awe of the film’s audacity. The soundtrack, though mostly a repetitive melody, is beautiful and compliments the dream-like imagery of the film.

Many movies transcend genre, but House transcends cinema. I would urge anyone whose interest has been piqued by this review to check it out. It’s a masterpiece.

Martin Sandison’s Rating: 10/10

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Deal on Fire! The King of the Streets | Blu-ray | Only $9.82 – Expires soon!

The King of the Streets | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

The King of the Streets | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for The King of the Streets, a Chinese-language action film hailed as China’s first street-fighting movie.

Yue Feng (Song) is a thug with exceptional streetfighting abilities. He will stop at nothing to defeat all challengers – until he kills a fellow competitor and is sent to prison.

Eight years later, Yue Feng emerges a changed man. Upon his release from prison, a family member is murdered, and a loved one humiliated. Now, he has no choice but to unleash his power in the name of justice.

Order The King of the Streets from Amazon.com today!

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Until Death (2007) Review

"Until Death" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Until Death" Japanese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Detective
Director: Simon Fellows
Writer: Dan Harris, James Portolese
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Gary Beadle, Stephen Rea, Mark Dymond, Selina Giles, Rachel O’Meara, William Ash, Stephen Lord, C. Gerod Harris, Wes Robinson
Running Time: 101 min.

By Kyle Warner

In the decade since Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the American film industry has found a second home in the city. After (and in some cases before) cleanup crews made the city pristine again, new tax credits brought film crews to New Orleans in droves. While some films or TV shows made a point to display what the city had been through (Déjà Vu, Treme, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), more often the Big Easy was just an interesting backdrop. Despite taking place in New Orleans only a year after the storm, sadly 2007’s Until Death finds itself in the latter category.

Jean-Claude Van Damme plays Anthony Stowe, the least popular cop in New Orleans. He’s an alcoholic, he’s a drug addict, he’s neglecting his wife, and he’s angering his colleagues at the station. The fact that he’s a dedicated cop barely seems to matter when everything else about him says that he’s an asshole. This is, I think, one of Van Damme’s best performances. In the role of Stowe, Van Damme doesn’t rely on high kicks to wow the audience. Instead, he dives into the nitty-gritty emotional center of an unlikable, self-loathing character, with often very believable results.

With the New Orleans setting and the criminal cop, it’s fair to draw some interesting comparisons to Werner Herzog’s 2009 film Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, which gave us Nicolas Cage’s best performance of the last decade or more. Van Damme, like Cage, was brave enough to appear ugly inside and out for the lead role. However, director Simon Fellows (Second in Command) is no Werner Herzog, and the second half of Until Death takes us on a hard right as the character begins his search for redemption, something Cage’s Lieutenant only seemed to happen upon largely by accident.

Anthony Stowe’s nemesis is the gangster Gabriel Callaghan (Stephen Rea), who’s using police corruption and excessive violence to help spread his narcotics throughout the city. A stakeout goes wrong, resulting in two cops getting killed and Callaghan disappearing into the city. While Stowe is blamed for the cop’s deaths, he goes off in hunt of Callaghan alone, even though he’s pumped so full of drugs and booze that he shouldn’t even be standing. Stowe is led into an ambush and one of Callaghan’s goons puts a bullet through his head… but, against all odds, Stowe survives.

While the first half of Until Death is a dark character study of a deeply flawed man in a position of power, the second half is more well-meaning. Stowe goes into a coma and awakens a new man. Now gifted with a second chance at life, Stowe hopes to redeem himself and set things right.

If the whole plot sounds familiar to you, then you’re one step ahead of me. It’s strongly suggested that this is an uncredited remake of Johnnie To’s 1995 film Loving You, starring Lau Ching Wan as the depraved cop who gets shot in the head and comes out of his coma a changed man. I’ve never seen Loving You but everything I’ve read on the film sounds just like Until Death.

Until Death’s script is credited to screenwriters Dan Harris (X2: X-Men United) and James Portolese (It’s Alive). While there’s some awkward dialogue, I feel like the film’s key issues stem from poor direction and a lost looking supporting cast. Director Simon Fellows apparently lacked the confidence to leave his film alone, mixing in useless slow-motion shots at odd times and splicing noise and hidden imagery between scene transitions. The stumbling attempts at style look cheap. The attention to detail is also lacking. Until Death’s climactic action sequence begins at day, with sunlight streaming through the windows of a warehouse. When the characters step outside the warehouse, it switches to the dark of night in a matter of seconds. But on the whole, Simon Fellows’ work here is a step up from his previous collaboration with Van Damme, Second in Command. That’s admittedly not saying much, but still.

And though Van Damme makes a strong impression as the film’s center, the same cannot be said about the characters that exist on the periphery. Even Oscar nominee Stephen Rea disappoints. When I saw Rea was involved with the film, I thought he’d make for a nice change from the usual C-list level actors who play villains opposite Van Damme, but he actually didn’t end up bringing anything special to the film. The only thing Rea’s missing from his performance is a villain’s mustache to twirl during his monologues.

Until Death has two different endings. The ending you get depends on where you’re watching it. In the US, we get a longer, more positive finale that ties things up into a neat little bow. In the UK, the ending is much shorter and more downbeat. I actually think the American ending fits the themes better, whereas the UK ending feels more like an attempt to get the film in closer to the 90 minute mark. (If you’re not in the US or the UK, I don’t know what ending you’ll see.)

Part Bad Lieutenant, part Regarding Henry, and part Johnnie To, Until Death isn’t the most original flick, but the various parts added together make for an entertaining, if flawed, action movie. Fans of Jean-Claude Van Damme should give it a look. Van Damme’s work as the dirty cop Anthony Stowe hints at the dramatic powerhouse performance he would give in JCVD the following year. Until Death has a lot of things wrong with it, but Van Damme saw the opportunity to do something different and made the most of it.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 6/10

Posted in All, Asian Related, Cults & Classics, News, Reviews | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Colin Firth returns for ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’

"Kingsman: The Secret Service" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Kingsman: The Secret Service" Korean Theatrical Poster

If you’ve seen 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, chances are, you want more and you want it now. The good news is it’s definitely coming. The bad news is it doesn’t arrive until mid-2017.

For Kingsman 2, now titled Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) is returning to the director’s chair. Jane Goldman, who co-wrote the original’s screenplay with Vaughn is also returning.

Taron Edgerton and Mark Strong will be back as Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin and Merlin, respectively. Edward Holcroft, the young villain in the first Kingsman, will be returning as Charlie. New additions include Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights), Halle Berry (Die Another Day), Channing Tatum (The Hateful Eight), Jeff Bridges (Tron), Vinnie Jones (Midnight Meat Train) and singer, Elton John.

Here’s a recent update that comes from the film’s star himself (via Collider):

“With Kingsman, we’re shooting in the summer at present. There’s a script, it’s brilliant. There’s only so much I can say but what I can say is that we shot [the first] one all in the U.K., that won’t be the case with the next one. It’s a far more international story, we’re going to some incredible places, and we have a villain to rival Samuel L. Jackson—this new one is so brilliantly written I wish I could play it. It’s amazing,” says Egerton.

Click here to view a peak at Kingsman: The Golden Circle’s concept art (via Empire Magazine). According to CBM, we see destroyed Kingsman HQ, the Statesman HQ (which is the American version of the spy organisation), and Poppyland, the secret lair of lead villain Poppy (played by Moore). It’s after that attack that Eggsy and Merlin head to the US, an organisation led by a “swaggering, sharpshooting cowboy” called Jack and Halle Berry’s Ginger.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle hits theaters in June 10, 2017.

Updates: A recently released poster for Kingsman: The Golden Circle left fans confused as it was teasing Colin Firth’s return (if you’ve seen the first movie, you’ll know why it’s strange) – but now, it has been confirmed from a new set photo (via Instagram) that Firth is definitely back as Harry Hart. A flashback maybe? Only time will tell.

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Keeper of Darkness (2015) Review

"Keeper of Darkness" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Keeper of Darkness" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Nick Cheung
Writer: Yeung Sin-ling
Cast: Nick Cheung, Amber Kuo, Louis Cheung, Sisley Choi, Xing Yu, Philip Keung, Karena Lam, Lawrence Ng
Running Time: 103 min.

By Paul Bramhall

Nick Cheung has been a presence within the Hong Kong movie industry for over 25 years, but it’s his recent collaborations with director Dante Lam that really brought him to the fore. With scene stealing turns in Beast Stalker, Stool Pigeon, Unbeatable, and That Demon Within, Cheung showed a range and screen presence which hadn’t previously been witnessed. His charismatic turn’s saw plenty of offers coming in, and since playing a conflicted child kidnapper in 2008’s Beast Stalker, by the end of 2015 he’d featured in over 20 productions.

One of those productions happened to mark his directorial debut, with 2014’s Hungry Ghost Ritual. A new Hong Kong horror movie is always welcomed, and just a year prior another long-time HK thespian, Simon Yam, also tried his hand at directing, with the similarly horror themed Stolen Goods segment in the Tales from the Dark 1 anthology. Much like Yam’s effort though, Hungry Ghost Ritual was met with a luke-warm response, and many considered it to be a missed opportunity to recapture the atmosphere of HK horror flicks from yesteryear.

However as the expression goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try try again, and 2015 saw Cheung return to the director’s chair for his sophomore feature, again staying within the horror genre for Keeper of Darkness. As with Hungry Ghost Ritual, Cheung again casts himself as the main character, but this time he’s playing what could best be described as a modern day incarnation of Lam Ching Ying’s Taoist priest from the Mr. Vampire series. Tattooed, tanned, with bleached white hair, Cheung has a unique way of dealing with the spirits and demons who lurk in the Hong Kong shadows – rather than performing any type of fancy Taoist ritual, he sits down and negotiates with them.

It’s a novel concept, but one which works surprisingly well onscreen, as we’re introduced to him having a heated discussion with a possessed woman in an apartment kitchen while her husband watches on. Unbeknownst to Cheung though, the whole encounter has been filmed, and once it’s uploaded onto social media it quickly goes viral, leading to a reporter, played by Sisley Choi, constantly pestering him for an interview. He soon has bigger concerns to worry about though with the appearance of a vengeful spirit, who’s rampaging around killing other masters of the supernatural, due to unjustly perishing in a fire with his young daughter. Oh, and it should also be mentioned that Cheung lives with a ghost, played by Amber Kuo, who thanks to dying in a bathtub leaves a trail of water wherever she goes, resulting in Cheung having to constantly mop his apartment floor.

If that plot description doesn’t seem entirely coherent, it’s because it’s not. This is both the biggest strength and weakness of Keeper of Darkness, in that it successfully recaptures the ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ feel of those older HK movies that we know and love so well. What’s especially charming is that Cheung has recaptured it without even intending to, with the end result coming about more as a by-product of his energetic direction. Of course back then there was no internet to dissect and nit-pick every minute detail of a production, and it’s easy to argue that had there been, many of the movies we consider as classics would probably be passed off as incoherent messes in today’s world. However with Keeper of Darkness, Cheung successfully shows that incoherent messes can still be a lot of fun.

From the outset Cheung seems set to give us a scare filled tale of a vengeful spirit with dark intentions, one which he laces with some quirky black humor to offset the ghastly happenings. Indeed the opening 30 minutes contain at least one effective jump scare, an unsettlingly tense locked in a room with a ghost scene, and a laugh out loud sight gag. However by the time the narrative settles down to allow us some time to know Cheung’s character a little better, the middle of the movie begins to feel more like a supernatural romance, as he rides around Hong Kong with Kuo hovering on the back of his bike, and they pantomime table tennis to each other in the apartment. By the time the focus turns back to the main plot of finding out why the vengeful spirit and his daughter died the way they did, the tone has shifted completely away from the creeping dread of the opening scenes, and goes the route of an action horror flick, complete with chickens being randomly thrown into saunas, and a restaurant brawl with a possessed exorcist.

But are these jarring tonal shifts really a negative? In the context of the way Keeper of Darkness plays out, I’d argue no. Cheung’s movie may be all over the place, but it still feels controlled, and while the events playing out onscreen do pull the viewer in a variety of different directions, asking us to feel horrified, excited, amused, and all fuzzy inside from one minute to the next, a sense of purpose is maintained. The vengeful spirit himself ultimately earns a get-out-of-jail free card thanks to the jarring shifts. An imposingly tall blue spectre, with an oblong like head, the first couple of scenes he appears in deliver a suitable impact of foreboding terror. However the more he appears onscreen, the more anyone familiar with HK cinema will likely begin asking themselves, “Isn’t that Xing Yu’s face squashed and imposed onto the spirits head?” And indeed they’d be right, it is Xing Yu that plays the nemesis of the piece, and once you recognize him, suddenly the spirit just isn’t scary anymore.

Thankfully by the time this recognition takes place, his appearances are no longer expected to make you jump in your seat, as he becomes just another of the many apparitions that populate the world Cheung has created. Which brings us to the effects. All of the ghosts and demons are created with CGI, and look convincing enough to be a part of the environment in which they appear in. There’ll no doubt be purists out there who’ll cry foul that any supernatural movie with CGI shouldn’t be compared to the likes of Mr. Vampire etc., but I’d happily argue that good CGI is better than lazy practical effects. I mean, can anyone really say the vampires in movies like Mr. Vampire 2 spent more than 5 minutes in the make-up room?

It’s not completely perfect, and a scene which requires Cheung to visit the underworld is the only time when the effects stumble, as both the environment and demons become 100% computer generated. The scene is brief and far from awful, however the inclusion of a couple of demons, who seem to have their movements set on a playback loop, damage the integrity, immediately taking the viewer out of the movie. But this is really a minor gripe, with the rest of the run-time more than compensating for the visual discrepancy. By far the biggest strength of Keeper of Darkness is that it looks and feels like a Hong Kong horror movie, complete with all the randomness that they come saddled with. Kuo, a Mainland actress, is even dubbed into Cantonese, which is nothing short of a miracle in today’s climate, which often has Cantonese actors and actresses being dubbed into Mandarin.

While even the briefest amount of time contemplating the events that take place in Keeper of Darkness will likely bring up an endless amount of questions – such as why, if the video of Cheung’s exorcism has become so popular, is a single female reporter seemingly the only person with any interest in him? And why, when Amber Kuo’s ghost character is involved in a car crash, does gravity affect her exactly the same way it affects the other (very much alive) passengers? Far from being a detractor though, these gaps in logic add to the quirkiness of the production, indicating a playful feel that’s reflective of Cheung’s real life personality.

Throw in a bunch of familiar faces from the Hong Kong movie industry, including Karena Lam, Shawn Yu, and perhaps the biggest crowd pleaser of all, Chin Kar Lok as a fellow exorcist master, and the feeling of nostalgia is one that permeates throughout Cheung’s second feature. The final scene in Keeper of Darkness involves a cameo from one of the biggest names in the HK film industry, as a mysterious black suited spirit viewed from afar, hopefully indicating that we’ll be seeing more of Cheung’s exorcist master in a second installment. As a potential Mr. Vampire series for the 2010’s, if we do get a sequel, you can count me in.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7.5/10

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Pack of posters for the Luc Besson-backed ‘Warrior’s Gate’

"Warrior's Gate" Teaser Poster

"Warrior's Gate" Teaser Poster

Director Matthias Hoene (Cockneys vs Zombies) is putting final touches on Warrior’s Gate, an upcoming French-Chinese co-production that’s being described as a “big production” fantasy film. The movie is being backed by Luc Besson’s (Lucy) EuropaCorp.

Warrior’s Gate stars Mark Chao (Young Detective Dee), Dakota Daulby (iZombie), Ni Ni (Flowers of War), Uriah Shelton (Girl Meets World), Dave Bautista (Kickboxer: Vengeance), Sienna Guillory (Resident Evil: Apocalypse), Ron Smoorenburg (Who Am I?) and Francis Ng (Too Many Ways To Be Number One). | 1st Trailer.

Update: New posters featuring Mark Chao, Dave Bautista, Francis Ng and Ni Ni (via AFS).

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Jackie Chan, Jason Statham and Steven Seagal for ‘Viy 2′?

"Dragon Blade" Japanese DVD Cover

"Dragon Blade" Japanese DVD Cover

Jackie Chan (Dragon Blade) and Steven Seagal (Above the Law) won’t be joining The Expendables any time soon, but here’s the next best news: they’ll be teaming up with Jason Statham (Blitz) for a period project titled Viy 2: A Journey to China, a sequel to 2014’s Viy, the highest grossing Russian film of all-time.

Mike Leeder and Impact originally reported: “We’ve been aware of this project for some time, but the first official news is just being released for the big budget production Viy 2, which will shoot in Russia and China, and feature fight and stunt sequences choreographed by Jackie and his team. If that’s not good enough news for you, the project stars both Jackie and Jason Statham which should be a major draw for action fans.”

News of Steven Seagal joining Viy 2: A Journey to China comes from AAG: The original Viy, directed by Oleg Stepchenko, is a dark fantasy/adventure film set in the early 18th century starring Jason Flemyng. Despite mixed reviews and a troubled production, the film was a major commercial success. The film caught the eye of Chinese producers who wanted a wuxia inspired sequel. Steven Seagal will also star in the film which is big news for action fans as this will mark the first time Jackie Chan and Steven Seagal are involved in the same movie. Actress Yao Xingtong who previously co-starred with Chan in the 2012 reboot of CZ12 is said to have a major leading role in the movie.

Information on this movie is very dodgy, but we’ll see what happens…

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Steven Seagal and Dolph Lundgren are ‘Deadly Arsenal’

"Submerged" Japanese DVD Cover

"Submerged" Japanese DVD Cover

Action greats Steven Seagal (Submerged) and Dolph Lundgren (Skin Trade) are teaming up for Deadly Arsenal, an upcoming thriller that sees Seagal saving the world from a deadly virus stolen by an ex-military mad man, played by Lundgren. Frequent Lundgren co-star, Gianni Capaldi (Puncture Wounds) will also be appearing.

Deadly Arsenal will be directed by Brian Skiba, a cult filmmaker known for Blood Moon Rising (2009) and .357 (2013).

Other pending Seagal films include AttritionChina SalesmanContract to KillCypher, Gunfighter, End of a Gun and Four Towers. His latest completed films include Code of Honor, The Asian Connection and Perfect Weapon.

Deadly Arsenal is currently in pre-production. Stay tuned.

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Deal on Fire! Outlaw Gangster VIP Collection | Blu-ray | Only $47.77 – Expires soon!

Outlaw Gangster VIP Collection | Blu-ray (Arrow Video)

Outlaw Gangster VIP Collection | Blu-ray (Arrow Video)

Today’s Deal on Fire is for Arrow Video’s Blu-ray for the Outlaw Gangster VIP Collection.

In 1968, acclaimed director Toshio Masuda (Rusty Knife, Tora! Tora! Tora!) and rising star Tetsuya Watari (Tokyo Drifter) teamed up for Outlaw: Gangster VIP, a gritty yakuza yarn based on the writings of real life ex-gangster Goro Fujita

The series offers up a depiction of the Japanese underworld that was unprecedented in its realism and its sympathetic portrayal of its protagonist as a man haunted by his past, unable to escape a life of crime. The success of the initial instalment spawned five sequels, continuing the story of the lone wolf “Slasher” Goro and his quest for redemption

The films presented a new kind of realism and violence that would prefigure Kinji Fukasaku’s Battles Without Honor and Humanity series, with their winning combination of brutal violence, gang warfare and sweeping romance, these films make for a unique and unforgettable viewing experience

The set includes six films in the Outlaw series released for the first time in the west: Gangster VIP, Gangster VIP 2, Heartless, Goro the Assassin, Black Dagger, and Kill!

  • Limited Edition Box Set (3000 copies) containing all six films in the Outlaw series, available with English subtitles for the first time on any home video format
  • High Definition digital transfers of all six films, from original film elements by Nikkatsu Corporation
  • Original uncompressed mono audio
  • Newly translated English subtitles
  • Audio commentary on Outlaw: Gangster VIP by Jasper Sharp
  • Visual essay covering the entire series by Kevin Gilvear
  • Original trailers for all six films
  • Extensive promotional image galleries for all six films
  • Exclusive gatefold packaging featuring brand new artwork by Tonci Zonjic
  • Booklet featuring an interview with director Toshio Masuda by Mark Schilling, plus new writing by Schilling, Chris D and Kevin Gilvear

Order the Outlaw Gangster VIP Collection from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Deals on Fire!, News | 2 Comments

Hard Target 2 | Blu-ray & DVD (Universal)

"Hard Target 2" Blu-ray Cover

“Hard Target 2” Blu-ray Cover

RELEASE DATE: September 6, 2016

A Jean-Claude Van Damme-less sequel to 1993’s Hard Target is making its way on Blu-ray and DVD on September 6, 2016.

Martial arts star Scott Adkins (Close RangeZero ToleranceWolf Warrior) is filling in Van Damme’s shoes for the sequel; and filmmaker Roel Reiné (Death Race 2-3) is taking over directing duties for renowned Hong Kong filmmaker, John Woo, who directed the original 1993 classic.

Hard Target 2 will continue “the human hunt” in the jungles between Burma and Thailand. “What an honor to work for one of your idols. Hard Target 2 should be an ode to the old films John Woo made in Hong Kong,” said Reiné (via Manly Movie).

The film also stars Robert Knepper (Prison Break), Rhona Mitra (Shooter), Ann Truong (Sonnigsburg), Temuera Morrison (Green Lantern), Adam Saunders (A Heartbeat Away), Jamie Timony (The Hunter), Peter Hardy (Chopper), Sean Keenan (Lockie Leonard), Michael Dudikoff (American Ninja), Sahajak Boonthanakit (Zero Tolerance), Patrick Kazu Tang (Dragonwolf) and Anteo Quintavalle (D is for Detroit). Yanin Vismitananda (Chocolate) is also attached to appear.

In a recent interview, here’s what Adkins had to say about Hard Target 2: I guess I am continuing to walk the path previously walked by JCVD (laughing) It’s just a coincidence I promise you, but yes, I do keep getting involved with projects that are sequels to his earlier work or I am co-starring with him… the director really knows how to shoot action and get the best look and epic production value for his movies… there are moments that pay homage to the original and we are doing everything we can to deliver a worthy sequel… and a hell of an action film in its own right.”

Hard Target 2: Unrated Edition (pre-order from Amazon.com) premieres exclusively on Blu-ray™, DVD and Digital HD on September 6, 2016 from Universal 1440 Entertainment.

Blu-ray & DVD Special Features:

  • Deleted Scenes
  • Hard Target 2: Through the Lens
  • Deleted Shot Montage
  • Into the Jungle: On Location of Hard Target 2
  • A Fighting Chance: Behind-the-Scenes of Hard Target 2
  • Thrill of the Hunt – Learn more about the characters in the film and their backstories
  • Feature Commentary with Director Roel Reiné and Stars Scott Adkins and Robert Knepper, Composer Trevor Morris, and Camera Operator Rolf Dekens

Pre-order Hard Target 2 from Amazon.com today!

Updates: Watch the new trailer for Hard Target 2.

Posted in DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles, News | Tagged | 22 Comments

The most popular ninjas?

"9 Deaths of the Ninja" Theatrical Poster

"9 Deaths of the Ninja" Theatrical Poster

Ninjas have long been part of Japanese folklore, in fact folktales surrounding ninja activity date back as far as the 14th century. Ninjas burst onto the scene in Western culture in the 1960’s thanks to James Bond movie You Only Live Twice. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most popular ninjas.

10. Miho from Sin City
Many film fanatics watched A Dame to Kill For especially for Miho’s return. It’s unclear whether she is actually a ninja, however, her tendency to rely on stealth, evasion, and counterattacks to outwit enemies suggests that she may be a female ninjutsu practitioner. Miho’s skills therefore can afford with the kunoichi title.

9. Grey Fox of Metal Gear Rising

There are several films based on the deviances of CIA but Metal Gear Sword is something special. Frank Jaeger, or Grey Fox as he’s better known is a child solider turned mercenary turned CIA experiment. A hard time on the battlefield, not to mention away from it, Fox’s dealings with the CIA end with him having several cybernetic enhancements, including a metal exoskeleton. The ninja meets a tragic end, shockingly at the hands of Solid Snake, whom he had a mixed relationship with.

8. Marvel’s Elektra

Like Miho, Elektra Natchios is a highly skilled ninja. The Frank Miller creation is a Greek assassin turned ninja after training from none other than Ninja Turtle Raphael. Although Miller may be a fan of ancient Japanese weaponry, Daredevil was pretty uninspiring, and definitely one of the poorer of the Marvel series. That said, the Netflix post-creation of Daredevil has been rather successful in comparison, Jennifer Garner Elektra puts on a pretty good display that the original Elektra would be proud of.

7. Storm Shadow from G.I. Joe

Storm Shadow’s involvement in assassin activities is inherited, his family have rich history in said industry. Shadow has been a member of the Cobra and G.I. Joe, however, he realised he warned to create his own Ninja Force and shunned their brainwashing tactics to pursue his own destiny.

6. Ruy Hayabusa of Ninja Gaiden

Ruy Haybusa’s story sits a bit deeper than the background of your average ninja. He’s on a mission to avenge his dead father. He is now an ultimate dragon warrior, not to be messed with having progressed from an old-school arcade game. Ninja Gaiden also has its fair of humor, as Hayabuda’s arch nemesis Yaiba Kamikaze’s potty mouth adds some light humour to the series.

5. Scorpion from Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat is undoubtedly a popular series and Scorpion can take the accolade of being the most popular fantasy ninja of such a series. The ninja turns into a bitter spectre hell-bent on revenge for those responsible on the downfall of his clan and the tragic death of his family.

4. Raven of Tekken

Whilst Raven may not be Japanese, that does not prevent him from possessing the skills required to be a top ninjutsu practitioner. The incredible skill and accuracy of Raven allows for perfect execution of his enemies. The way he wields his two kunai which is attached to a rope is a sight which is a joy to behold by fellow ninjas and ninja fanatics.

3. Jubei Kibagami from Ninja Scroll

Jubei Kibagami is a wandering ninja who is troubled by his past. The ninja, armed with a katana must battle his personal demons as well as inhuman monsters. Tough whilst a lot of ninja’s wish to defeat their enemies or seek vengeance, Kibagami just wishes to be left alone in peace.

2. Naruto Uzumaki from Naruto

Konohagkure’s very own hero, Naruto Uzumaki lets you know he is there and is dubbed the Noisy Ninja. His nine-tailed fox Kurama sealed inside his spirit not only gives him extra energy for his taijutsu or fighting techniques but also the edge over his rivals. Like foxes, Uzumaki is efficient, hunts his enemies and knows how to survive in tough environments.


1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

You guessed it, how can these guys not be our favorite? Even if you’re not into ninja type films or series, you more than likely grew up watching this loveable quarter. Their love for pizza and want for justice was so easy to relate to, for kids and adults alike. Trained in the sewers of New York City, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started a revolution on the ninja scene. The 80s and 90s hit brought bo-staff, nunchaku, sai daggers and katana swords and embedded them into the ninjutsu world.

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Mel Gibson is a lethal weapon in the new ‘Blood Father’ trailer

"Blood Father" Theatrical Poster

"Blood Father" Theatrical Poster

After a string of shoot ’em up titles such as Get The Gringo, Machete Kills and Expendables 3, Mel Gibson is out for more blood in Blood Father, an upcoming action-drama directed by Jean-Francois Richet (Mesrine) and written by Peter Craig (The Town).

Blood Father is about an ex-con (Gibson) who reunites with his estranged wayward 16-year old daughter (Erin Moriarty) to protect her from drug dealers who are trying to kill her. The film also stars William H. Macy, Thomas Mann, Elisabeth Rohm, Diego Luna and Michael Parks. Don’t miss this behind-the-scenes feature for Blood Father. | 1st trailer.

Mel Gibson is definitely back and the fun doesn’t end with Blood Father. The legendary actor/director is also heavily involved with Xiao Feng’s Chinese-language World War II film, titled The Bombing, which has him working behind the scenes as the film’s art director and executive producer. More importantly, look out for Gibson’s next directorial feature, Hacksaw Ridge, which hits theaters on November 4th 2016.

Blood Father will be released by Lionsgate Premiere in theaters August 12, 2016.

Updates: Don’t miss the film’s newest trailer.

Posted in News | 2 Comments

First set photo from Scott Adkins’ actioner ‘Savage Dog’

"Savage Dog" Teaser Poster

"Savage Dog" Teaser Poster

Action director Jesse V. Johnson (The Last Sentinel, Green Street Hooligans 2) his prepping his next film, Savage Dog, which is described as “A bold, non-stop action epic unlike any other.”

The film will feature martial arts stars Scott Adkins (Close Range, Zero Tolerance), Marko Zaror (Redeemer) and JuJu Chan (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny). Former MMA fighter, Cung Le (Dragon Eyes), is also attached.

As the Cannes sales poster (via Twitch) reveals, Savage Dog is a period actioner that takes place in Indochina, during the merciless 1950s.

Updates: Savage Dog started filming in June. Here’s a set photo, featuring Adkins and his stunt double, Morgan Benoit (via FB).

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Midnight After, The (2014) Review

"The Midnight After" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"The Midnight After" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Fruit Chan
Writer: Chan Fai-hung, Kong Ho-yan
Cast: Wong You Nam, Janice Man Wing San, Kara Hui Ying Hung, Simon Yam, Sam Lee Chan Sam, Chui Tien You, Lam Suet, Vincci Cheuk Wan Chi, Fiona Sit Hoi Kei
Running Time: 124 min.

By Kyle Warner

I haven’t seen a whole lot of director Fruit Chan’s work, but I’ve seen enough to know that the man doesn’t pull punches and is fully capable of shocking an entire audience full of people. Take Three Extremes for example, an anthology horror film featuring three shorts from a few of Asia’s most extreme filmmakers including Chan-wook Park (Oldboy), Takashi Miike (Audition), and Fruit Chan (Made in Hong Kong). As a fan of both Park and Miike, I was stunned to find that the less well-known Chan had actually delivered the most unflinching thriller of that anthology. His short film Dumplings (which he later made into a feature length film) is horrifying. It’s the sort of horror story that, upon eventually revisiting Three Extremes, I may actually skip Chan’s entry because it disturbed me so much. So, it was with some dread that I wandered into the world of Fruit Chan’s 2014 horror film, The Midnight After.

The Midnight After is based on an online novel written by the Hong Kong author, Pizza (to any writers out there: don’t worry about your silly sounding pen name. This Pizza guy did just fine). The original story was called Lost on a Red Mini Bus to Tai Po. Apparently it was something of an interesting success story for young Mr. Pizza, as the novel was first published on a forum as a serial and then later put to paper for bookstores. The story can be likened to multiple speculative fiction sources, from The Twilight Zone to The Mist, but perhaps the most obvious of which can be picked out from the work’s original title; Lost. Like the ABC hit, a group of strangers boards a vehicle (a bus instead of a plane, in this case) and, before they reach their destination, finds themselves in a world that doesn’t make sense.

The bus goes into a tunnel and when it comes out, the streets are empty. In the city of Tai Po, the lights are on but nobody’s home. Realizing that something is amiss, everyone calls their loved ones via their cell phones, but they can’t get anybody to answer. Even the police don’t answer the phone. Group dynamics begin to break down and people split up, intent on searching the city by themselves or in smaller groups, with the understanding that they will meet up again in the morning. During their search, each member of the group is simultaneously contacted over the phone, only to hear a screeching signal coming from the other line. When they meet up again later, they sort out the facts: the city is deserted, a man in a gas mask was spotted once, and this all has something to do with an old David Bowie song. Oh, and people have a tendency to spontaneously combust or suddenly turn into stone, which is strange but also not the strangest thing you’ll see in this movie. All the characters have different reactions to these troubling events. Most characters in the movie are archetypes, like the hotheaded former athlete (Kill Zone 2s Simon Yam), a tech expert (Contagions Chui Tien You), a mysterious young woman (Nightfall’s Janice Man), an angry bus driver (Trivisas Lam Suet), and an underachiever who’s both our most relatable and our most suspicious character (Gallants’ Wong You Nam). Though the characters are written broadly, each actor brings a lot to the ensemble, selling both the fear and the absurdity of their situation.

The film begins as a creepy look at a silent sort of apocalypse, like the world’s moved on and left our group behind. And like the characters of Lost, the bus passengers have all sorts of big theories, some of which may sound familiar to fans of the show (most notably, what if we’re all dead?). But by the time the nerd of the group jumps on a table and starts singing Space Oddity with a broom for a guitar and a toilet scrubber as a microphone, the audience realizes that all bets are off. Things are now allowed to get really, really weird. And they do! And for the most part, it’s an immensely satisfying experience, mixing comedy, sci-fi, and horror to great success. But, like LostThe Midnight After poses more questions than it is willing to answer.

The film ends before solving the majority of its mysteries. It’s frustrating, because up until that point I was happy to be along for the ride. Then, it felt like it’d been a ride to nowhere. It just ends, leaving you hanging. Imagine if Lost got cancelled half-way through the series. And believe me, I’m not someone that needs all questions answered by the end… but answering one or two of the big, lingering questions would’ve been nice. Is a Midnight After sequel forthcoming? I hope so.

The Midnight After has some politics on its mind, most of which will go over the head of Western viewers (including myself at times). Comments about the next Chief Executive and metaphors for leaving Hong Kong are somewhat lost in translation. Allusions to Fukushima, a disaster I think we all know something about, also don’t make that much sense in the greater scheme of things. One can’t help but think that the film likely means more to a domestic audience than it ever could to someone like me, watching it half a world away.

Some issues aside, I enjoyed The Midnight After. It’s clever science fiction with a wicked sense of humor. Hong Kong doesn’t make many of these sorts of movies, something that one of the characters from the film seems fully aware of when she exclaims, “Hong Kong doesn’t do sci-fi!” Well, maybe they should. Science fiction is one of the best genres for expressing anger against events that appear beyond our control. That seems to be what Fruit Chan has done here, making a flashy and crazy film by which to sneak in some comments about Hong Kong and the current state of things. I may not have understood all of the politics in play but I enjoyed my time with these characters in the weird, abandoned world they occupy.

If there’s a sequel—and there better be!—I’m going to be one of the first in line.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 7/10

Posted in All, Chinese, News, Reviews | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Andy Lau to headline Stephen Fung’s ‘Once a Thief’ remake

"Once a Thief" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Once a Thief" Chinese Theatrical Poster

A remake of John Woo’s Once a Thief – the 1991 classic about art thieves, played by Chow Yun Fat, Cherie Chung and Leslie Cheung – has been in development for two years.

Originally, it was reported to begin production in 2015, with Huang Xiaoming, Kim Soo Hyun and Michelle Chen attached for starring roles. For whatever reason, the project was put on hold.

But now, new details have emerged that the project is moving forward with a new cast: Andy Lau (The Bodyguard), Shu Qi (The Assassin), Tony Yang (Cold War 2) and Jean Reno (Leon: The Professional). There were previous reports that William Feng (Dragon Blade) and Stephen Fung (Gen-X Cops) himself would also appear as well.

Also, the production is now titled The Adventurers and is  being described as a “loose remake” rather than a straight remake (via AFS).

That’s all we have for now, but we’ll be sure to keep you updated as we hear more.

Posted in News | 2 Comments

Latest action trailer for Yue Song’s ‘Super Bodyguard’

"Super Bodyguard" Theatrical Poster

"Super Bodyguard" Theatrical Poster

2016 promises the birth of a new kung fu superstar. Faster. Stronger. Tougher. No visual effects, no camera tricks, no stuntmen. The art of kung fu will be revolutionized. Bones will be snapped. Blood will be spilled. A new Bruce Lee is coming…

What you just read are the key points advertised in the new trailer for Super Bodyguard (not to be confused with the Sammo Hung’s forthcoming film), an upcoming martial arts movie directed by Yue Song (King of the Streets). The film stars Wrath of Vajra’s Shi Yanneng (aka Xing Yu) and Special ID’s Collin Chou.

Super Bodyguard is definitely making some bold statements, but if the actual film is anything like the trailer, then count us in. | 2nd trailer.

Updates: Extended trailer. | International trailer.

Posted in News | 7 Comments

Inside Men: The Original (2015) Review

"Inside Men: The Original" Theatrical Poster

"Inside Men: The Original" Theatrical Poster

Director: Woo Min-Ho
Writer: Yoon Tae-Ho, Woo Min-Ho
Cast: Lee Byung-Hun, Cho Seung-Woo, Baek Yoon-Sik, Lee Kyoung-Young, Kim Hong-Fa, Jo Jae-Yun, Bae Sung-Woo, Kim Dae-Myung, Jo Woo-Jin, Yoo Jae-Myung
Running Time: 180 min.

By Paul Bramhall

Based on a web-comic by Yoon Tae-ho, who was also responsible for the web-comic behind the excellent Moss, when Inside Men hit Korean cinema screens in 2015, its tale of political corruption strongly resonated with audiences, making it one of the most successful movies of the year. The news that director Woo Min-ho had shaved 50 minutes off the movies original 3 hour run-time, in order to have a wider theatrical distribution, soon had fans requesting that the director’s cut should also have a chance to be seen on the cinema. It was a request that quickly gained momentum, and by the end of the year, the full 3 hour version was also given a theatrical run, under the moniker of Inside Men: The Original.

For full disclosure, I’ll confess to not having seen the trimmed down theatrical version of Inside Men, so I’m unable to do a comparison of the two. Having watched Min-ho’s original vision in its entirety, there’s something about human nature which leaves me with no inclination to watch a version with any of the wonderfully dark story forcibly left on the cutting room floor. With that being said, when I first came across the production, despite featuring an impressive amount of talent in front of the camera, the news that it was being directed by Min-ho was enough to make me give it a pass all together. Prior to Inside Men, Min-ho’s filmography consisted of 2 titles – Man of Vendetta and Spy – a pair of movies which were both painfully misguided and equally painful to watch. With Memories of the Sword already taking the 2015 prize at proving that a talented cast in front of the camera, doesn’t make up for a lack of talent behind it, I wasn’t going to hold my breath.

Thankfully though, it turns out that while in some cases an excellent cast can get dragged down to the level of a poor director, the flip side of the coin is that a (so far) poor director can be elevated to the level of his excellent cast. This is very much the case with Inside Men, as the end product is one that sees everyone involved working in synchronicity with each other. The cast is somewhat of a reunion for actors Jo Seung-woo and Baek Yoon-sik, who worked so well together as the student-mentor team in Choi Dong-hoon’s entertaining 2006 caper flick Tazza: The High Rollers. Lee Byung-hun rounds out a trio of main characters, here in his 3rd movie of the year after appearing in Terminator: Genisys and the previously mentioned Memories of the Sword.

The plot for Inside Men I dare say is difficult to do justice with in words, for fear of making it sound dull. It revolves around a slush fund that was set up by a pair of conglomerates, to bankroll the presidential campaign of a sleazy congressman, and Seung-woo plays a seemingly incorruptible prosecutor who’s about to get his hands on a document which prove the existence of the fund. However before he can, it ends up in the hands of a gangster, played by Byung-hun. It’s revealed that Byung-hun has a history with a politically influential journalist, played by Yoon-sik, and as a favor he passes on a copy of the document to Yoon-sik, should he ever decide to break the story. However when the congressman catches wind that Byung-hun had possession of said document, Byung-hun wakes up to find himself tied to a chair in a brightly lit room, which ends in a rather graphic encounter with a saw.

Spanning a 2 year period, Inside Men pulls you in from the opening minutes, which has Byung-hun decked out in a white suite, sat in a darkened room about to detail his story to a journalist. It almost feels like a film noir, as he launches into a monologue revolving around Jack Nicholson’s character in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, and how he relates to the characters predicament. Indeed while both Seung-woo and Yoon-sik are essential to the story, Inside Men feels very much like Byung-hun’s show. His small time gangster has a sense of reckless bravado and comical timing which quickly endear you to his character. In a year which saw Byung-hun embattled from local media in Korea, it was a ballsy role to take, especially considering some of the scenarios have a level of overlap with reality, most glaringly when, at one point, he’s accused of having inappropriate relations with a member of a K-pop group.

Whatever the case, Inside Men put Byung-hun’s career firmly back on track. As a gangster who has a love of old Hollywood classics, and even goes so far to run a casting agency as a front to his more dubious activities, he quickly becomes the heart of the movie. Similar to how Chow Yun Fat’s role in A Better Tomorrow had many Hong Kong youths chewing on toothpicks, here Byung-hun hilariously minces a classic line, declaring to Seung-woo “Let’s drink Maldives in the Mojito”, a line which could be heard everywhere in Korea after the movie’s release. For viewers who’ve been wanting to see him in a role similar to that which put him on many peoples radars in the first place, as the enforcer in Kim Ji-woon’s A Bittersweet Life, Inside Men grants them their wish. There’s a familiarity to his character, that of a gangster who isn’t completely bad, seeking revenge on those that did him wrong despite being in completely over his head, however it’s never a familiarity that feels stale.

Indeed as much as Byung-hun is hell bent on going after those who were behind his unfortunate encounter with a saw, so Inside Men as a whole seems to be hell bent on delivering a condemning indictment against Korean society. From the corporate conglomerates and media outlets that fund politicians behind closed doors, down to the level of Seung-woo’s prosecutor who can’t get a promotion due to his lack of family connections higher up, Min-ho’s script takes a merciless swipe at all of it, and does so with conviction. There’s an underlying feel of seething hatred that permeates throughout Inside Men, a hatred at the greed and corruption that have led to more than one tragedy in Korea during recent times, and that hatred often manifests itself in sudden bursts of violence throughout the run-time.

Despite Byung-hun and a handful of his cohorts being the only fully fledged gangsters in the movie, their portrayal often feels like we’re watching the best of a bad bunch. It’s the politicians and media that are framed as the real gangsters, a feeling which is enforced further through Jo Young-wook’s pulsating electronic score, occasionally recalling scenes from Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage. The only difference being of course that in Kitano’s movie, the characters are gangsters. Inside Men also draws another, all be it superfluous, similarity with Outrage, in that there’s barely a single female character in the whole movie. What female presence there is, usually comes in the form of a chorus line of naked girls in a karaoke room, set to partake in whatever debauchery their customers demand, or an ill-fated wannabe actress. However even this in itself is a criticism of the circles that Inside Men takes place in, the lack of female roles glaringly apparent from the word go.

The 3 hour run-time builds up to a satisfyingly constructed payoff in the finale, one that’s not earmarked by violence and bloodshed, but rather takes a chance by assuming we’re invested in the characters enough to see them deliver revenge in their own way. That they do, and perhaps most telling of all, when the credits roll, it doesn’t feel like 3 hours have gone by at all. Inside Men effortlessly marks itself as one of the best movies to come out of Korea in recent years, being all at once a political thriller, gangster flick, and a revenge fuelled drama. After a couple of misfires, Min-ho proves that as the expression goes, third times a charm, and while it’s certainly a big ask, here’s hoping his next movie is at least on par with what he’s pulled off here. If I could give the director one piece of advice, it would be to stay angry, it seems to suit him.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 8.5/10

Posted in All, Korean, News, Reviews | Tagged | 4 Comments

Deal on Fire! Curse of the Golden Flower | Blu-ray | Only $6.55 – Expires soon!

"Curse of the Golden Flower" Blu-ray Cover

"Curse of the Golden Flower" Blu-ray Cover

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Curse of the Golden Flower, directed by Zhang Yimou (Jet Li’s Hero).

It’s a tale of drama, revenge, romantic intrigue – and of course – martial arts action, as choreographed by the great Ching Siu-tung (Duel to the Death).

Curse of the Golden Flower stars Chow Yun-Fat (The Postman Strikes Back), Gong Li (2046) and Jay Chou (The Viral Factor).

Order Curse of the Golden Flower from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Deals on Fire!, News | 2 Comments

The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

RELEASE DATE: August 9, 2016

Park Hoon-jeong, the director of The New World, is back with Well Go USA’s Blu-ray & DVD for The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale, which stars Choi Min-sik (The Admiral: Roaring Currents, Old Boy).

The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale (read our review) is set in the final days of the Joseon era, when Korea was under Japanese rule. Min-sik will play a local hunter who’s given the task of hunting down the last tiger in Korea.

Much like The Admiral: Roaring Currents and Ode to my Father, this looks to be plugging into the current trend of Korean patriotism, as Min-sik’s characters main motivation seems to be to not let the tiger die at the hands of the Japanese.

Pre-order The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale from Amazon.com today.

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, News | 1 Comment

Swift Knight, The (1971) Review

"The Swift Knight" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"The Swift Knight" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Jeong Chang Hwa
Writer: Jeong Chang Hwa
Producer: Runme Shaw
Cast: Lo Lieh, Yau Lung, Chan Shen, Wong Hap, Margaret Hsing Hui, Chin Han, Fang Mien, Chai No, Tung Lam, Wong Chung Shun, Fan Mei Sheng, Hsu Yu, Mama Hung, Lau Kar Wing, Lee Pang Fei, Ou-Yang Sha Fei, Shum Lo
Running Time: 81 min.

By Matthew Le-feuvre

Up to his much lamented death in 2002 from heart failure, former stalwart, international cult icon and introspective celebrity, Lo Lieh will be fondly remembered in martial arts film circles for being cast as perennial miscreats, anti-heroes or unsympathetic characters. Yet, beyond all the demoniacal frowning, sadism and (the) obligatory mocking guffaws, there was so much more depth and refinement to this late star than critics would dare like to admit.

Overworked, underpaid and definitely underrated, Lieh’s frenetic career could almost be perceived as a dereliction of his true creativity in spite of kickstarting the whole “Kung Fu craze” in the West with the enormously influential King Boxer (1972) – better known as Five Fingers of Death – essentially, the first Hong Kong import from the prestigious Shaw Brothers to be marketed and distributed by Warners. Sadly, Lieh never received the credit he was due. He was just another stock-actor in a field of many, defined only as ‘a number’ until executives kept reanimating him like some contractual golem – submissive and robotic to the commands of a studio director (whose sole objective was to be on budget for an expedited release) – and even then, Lo Lieh was constantly overshadowed by the princely leads of David Chiang, Ti Lung and Fu Sheng. These were a handful of reasons why other contemporar­ies such as Chi Kuen Chun (not to be confused with fellow traditionalist, Chen Kwan Tai) couldn’t wait to escape their legal agreement(s) with the Shaws’.

However, there was a time when Lieh illuminated the jade screen as a hero of chivalrous magnificence, expressing a quiet charm, grace and spiritual enigmatism that was far more appealing in (polar) contrast to his iniquitous behaviour on offer within the narrative of stapled classics: 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978), Mad Monkey Kung Fu (1979) and Dirty Ho (1979) for instance, as well as the creme dela creme of ethnic prejudice (as) allegorized through the representation of fighting styles; this of course is Wang Yu’s seminal trendsetter, The Chinese Boxer (1970). In it, Lieh apes with cocksure barbarity, as he struts, chops and fly kicks his way through an echelon of brave, but inexperienced mainlanders, leaving behind a pyre of broken bodies while his Japanese accomplices specialize in eye-gouging and dismemberment. Surprisingly, this was a far cry from Lieh’s previous excursion into the mindset of heroic patriotism or, contrarily, self sacrifice in the aid of the exploited.

Here, snarls aside – before Lieh took up the quentessential ‘vill­ian’ mantle full-time – pictures shot and essembled in a similar vein to The Swift Knight (1971) feel innocuous, formal and yet idiosyncratic compared to The Chinese Boxer, and future incarnations such as the demented Chao Chin from The Human Lanterns (1982) or the odious Pei Mei (believed to be a joint catalyst behind Shaolin’s inital destruction). Lieh, naturally, reveled in his portrayal for Lau Kar Leung’s master­piece Executioners from Shaolin (1977). He later reprised this role for his own version or remake, depending on one’s own perspect­ive. It was a challenge indeed for the Indonesian-born star, but the result, otherwise generally titled in certain territo­ries as Clan of the White Lotus (1980), apparently thrilled packed houses into a frenzy as open mouthed audiences marveled at Gordon Liu’s desperate attempts to find the secret of Pei Mei’s alternating life-force.

For some fans, this was the pinacle of Lieh’s repertoire. After that, the inevitability of typecasting would take precedence over the luxury of personal choices, and nostalgic recalls of Lieh in his heyday would be confined to the ebbing memories of plaudits old enough to be around at a time when Wu Xia was dominant, experimental and downright exhilarating. The Swift Knight, although again ‘essembled’ in that habitual manner we’ve all come too appreciate, lovingly encapulates all these qualities regard­less of a patent script, carbon sub-characters or an over familarity with (studio constructed) bamboo forests, isolated taverns, bustling gambling houses or elaborate palace interiors where a corrupt sovereign determines the fates of the working classes. Evocatively, all these nuances are – if one deeply observes – innumerably recycled to the point of being a requis­ite necessacity.

The Swift Knight is directed by future Lo Lieh collaborator, Jeong Chang Hwa (King Boxer, The Association). This Korean-born filmmaker, unlike the prolific Chang Cheh, wasn’t interested in the theme of brotherhood per se or political metaphors. Instead, his target was to pepper the human senses through simple story­ telling, less complex action choreography (despite the inclusive tools of wire-work and trampolines) and minimal dialogue; especially from Lieh, who tends too convey his character’s soul through expressionless glares and slow-eye movements. When confronted, he erupts into a balletic dynamo, scything through a barrage of inferior antagonists with ease and majestic presence. His sword, truthfully and quite literally, becomes an extension of himself, eventhough Lieh’s motives are primarily somewhat ambivalent, largely because the screenplay centres around the Prince Regent’s drastic search to eliminate his half brother/sister, Qin Rue and Xian Qin (Margaret Hsing); heirs apparent to the throne.

Interacting with the sibblings (each incognito as lowly peasants), via a shared providence, is Lei Fan (Lieh) aka ‘the swift knight,’ a wanderer who embezzles tax funds from magitrates to finance his solitary lifestyle; a vagabond named Lu Xian Ping (Chin Han), who’s actually a secret service general dispatched to find the heirs and safely deliver them to the Emperor; and a discredited guard (Fan Mei Sheng). Their paths intertwine while pursued by the Prince’s loyal Assassin, Zu Pao, a relentless brute posing as part of an imperial envoy. However, his identity is exposed along­with the Regent’s inimical ambitions to seize power. It all becomes a deadly race against time, and numerous foes, as the once incongruous trio unite to restore a semblance of political harmony under Xian Qin’s rule.

Verdict: Mixing romance with political intrigue, The Swift Knight richly deserves to be catagorized into that niche of signifi­cant landmark pictures: The One Armed Swordsman (1967) or Have Sword will Travel (1969) continually springs to mind for the majority. Sadly, The Swift Knight, unwillingly, for some critics fits into that mould in “Not quite being a classic!” Nevertheless, there is still enough breathtaking imagery: particularly the opening credits of Lei Fan striding across open praries; nocturnal rooftop encounters; as well as kinetic swordplay sequences, featuring Lieh’s almost supernatural deployments against Zu Pao’s impaling projectiles.

Matthew Le-feuvre’s Rating: 7.5/10

Posted in All, Chinese, News, Reviews, Shaw Brothers | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Redemption | aka Hummingbird (2013) Review

"Redemption" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Redemption" Japanese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Hummingbird
Director: Steven Knight
Writer: Steven Knight
Cast: Jason Statham, Agata Buzek, Vicky McClure, Benedict Wong, Ger Ryan, Youssef Kerkour, Anthony Morris, Victoria Bewick, Christian Brassington, Danny Webb, Sang Lui
Running Time: 100 min.

By Zach Nix

British actor Jason Statham is mainly recognized as an action star in cinematic circles due to his appearances in such action franchises as the Transporter series, the Crank series, The Expendables series, and even standalone films like The Killer Elite, Safe, and Parker. However, people need to remind themselves that Statham got his start not as an action star, but as an actor in Guy Ritchie’s witty and gritty crime comedies Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. He began his career playing confident and cockneyed wise guys in character driven British productions, not ass kicking brawlers in action heavy blockbusters. However, all it took was The Transporter, a French/Chinese co-production, and Statham became more or less the last successful international action star of the post 2000s.

Statham is and always will be a great action star, but the true, or at least original Statham, is the dramatic Brit who works within British productions underneath British filmmakers. Case in point: 2013’s Redemption (a.k.a. Hummingbird). This under seen and nearly forgotten London based crime drama is not only a return to form for Statham the actor, but also one of his very best films, bolstered by one of his greatest performances under the helm of writer/director Steven Knight (Locke). While a few storytelling flaws permeate the picture, Knight’s directorial debut is otherwise a thoroughly engrossing crime drama that consistently surprised me every step of the way.

Statham plays Joseph Smith, an ex-Special Forces soldier who abandoned his post in Afghanistan. He now resides in London as a homeless drunk, leaving behind his previous life and responsibilities in order to avoid being arrested for going AWOL. When he and his bunkmate, Isabel, are attacked one night, Joseph crawls into an apartment, only to discover its owner to be on vacation for the rest of the summer. Joseph takes advantage of the opportunity, thereby cleaning himself up and taking on the identity and bank account of the man who lives there. As Joey emerges from hiding, his summer slowly but surely becomes eventful, as he bonds with Sister Cristina (Agata Buzek), a good-hearted nun who provides food for the homeless, becomes a drug runner and money collector for the Chinese mob, and seeks vengeance on the death of Isabel. All of these various plot threads collide over the course of the picture as Joseph’s morals and beliefs are put to the test.

One of Redemption’s greatest assets is its premise, which is undeniably interesting and engrossing. On the surface, Redemption is simply a tale of, well, you guessed it, redemption, as a homeless man cleans himself up and turns his life around whilst facing the sins of his past. It’s also neat to watch a protagonist’s turnaround come along with the perks of an abandoned apartment that they accidentally stumbled upon. Talk about some luck? However, what makes the film so compulsively watchable and unpredictable is that it goes places that you wouldn’t expect and covers far more ground than expected. Redemption is not just the story of Joseph’s redemption, but also the story of Cristina’s inner conviction with her own morals, faith, and past sins. Redemption is just as much Joseph’s picture as it is Cristina’s, as both she and Joseph go hand in hand with each other as flawed humans who try to live one life whilst escaping the realities of another. It doesn’t matter that one is a bone breaking gangster and the other a flawed religious nun, they both admire one another’s ambitions and bond over their similarities. On top of that, the film also tackles themes regarding war related PTSD, substance abuse, revenge, and human trafficking. While Knight may bite off more than he can chew by tackling so many issues within one film, albeit a short 100 minute long feature, he is to be commended for providing so many complex layers within a surface level “redemption” story.

Knight is a great writer and director, as evident by both Redemption and his latter film Locke. He clearly has an eye for broken and flawed characters whom are also redeemable and relatable, thereby making them all the more realistic and interesting as protagonists. He also seems to enjoy playing within the neo-noir genre, imbuing both dramatic and criminal aspects within his character driven pieces. Another aspect of Knight that shines is that he understands the power of planting seeds early on within a picture to bring back later on to great effect. For example, Joseph discovers that the man who owns the apartment he stumbles upon will not return until October 1st. This date is brought up again later on when Cristina purchases a ticket to the farewell show of a ballet on none other than October 1st. The characters point out that this information is fate, but it’s also careful planning on Knight’s part as a filmmaker, as he crafts a saga that lasts an entire summer and builds anticipation until one fateful date.

Although Redemption is clearly a crime noir, its focus is not placed on drug deals and bursts of violence, but instead more so on the relationship between Statham’s character and Polish actress Agata Buzek. Statham and Buzek’s scenes are so beautifully performed and shot that one won’t even wonder when the next action scene or violent beat down will occur, as the two actors command all attention. Many of Statham and Buzek’s scenes are shot in very long takes, which makes their conversations and friendship all the more believable, and extremely adorable as well. Seriously, these two actors are the heart of the film. Statham has never shone brighter than here, giving truly one of the best performances of his career. And Buzek, who was previously unknown to me, gives a beautifully gentle and nuanced performance. Although both characters experience significant arcs that are immensely gripping, it’s a shame that Knight was not able to stick the landing of his film’s finale, as it somewhat brings his characters back to square one.

As I stated before, Knight weaves numerous plot threads together that eventually build to an inevitable finale where Joseph’s morals are tested. Unfortunately, these threads produce nothing more than a rather lackluster conclusion that pales in comparison to its build up. Without going into spoilers, it’s clear that Knight was trying to deliver an ending similar to the ones found within Gran Torino and Taxi Driver in which the protagonist sets their well being aside in order to stand for a greater cause or to send a message to society. However, the emotional climax of the film fails to be nearly as satisfying or affective as it should have been, as Knight seems to rush the story to a point that unsatisfactorily places his characters seemingly back at square one, all but making the eventful summer in London a somewhat wasteful one. You may see the ending differently than me, but that was simply my gut reaction to it all.

That major narrative criticism aside, Redemption is nothing but technically stellar, boasting both incredible cinematography and bone crunching action scenes to boot. Lensed by Chris Menges, the film is lush as can be with a neon blue, pink, and purple color palette that makes the film look positively extravagant. Menges and Knight also make affective choices as to where to place the camera and when to move it during scenes, such as the previously discussed dialogues between Statham and Buzek. As far as the film’s action scenes come, they are few and far between. After all, this is a crime drama first and foremost. That being said, the very few fights that occur are positively bad ass and viscerally affective, from an early beat down where Statham confronts a group of a drunk patrons at a restaurant to his eventual vengeance against two gangsters responsible for killing his old friend Isabel. To be honest though, the viewer will be so invested in Statham’s journey that they won’t even wonder when the next fight will occur, as the story will be enough to please them.

After spending the first portion of this review discussing Statham’s career as an actor, I personally believe that Redemption is the perfect blend of both his action and dramatic sensibilities. Statham shows off immense vulnerability here as a flawed and wounded character whom one wouldn’t normally associate with the rest of his action centric characters. Even though it comes as a shock seeing Statham act for such long periods of time instead of beating down enemies within the film, it should be a reminder that Statham possesses the magnetism and charisma of a good actor, not just a physical action star. When he does bust out the chops though, his experience from his martial arts centric pictures shows, bringing a welcome believability to his action scenes. If anything, Redemption should prove that Statham has the complete package, in that he can both act and kick ass. Although Statham’s action career has been far from perfect (i.e. Transporter 3, The Killer Elite, Parker), Redemption ironically redeems the actor of all past sins, once again placing him atop the pedestal of the previous generations’ reigning action stars.

As far as Redemption comes as a film, and not just as a Statham vehicle, it’s quite superb. Although I pointed out that the film flounders towards its finale and tackles a tad too many sub-plots and themes, it’s mostly affective and admirable in its ambitions. Somewhere within this very good crime drama is a great movie, positively even one as great as the somewhat similar Taxi Driver or even Clint Eastwood’s swan song Gran Torino. But alas, I’ll settle for the very good drama that it is, as it completely engrossed me from start to finish. I thank it for introducing me to Agata Buzek, who is an excellent actress, and for confirming that Steven Knight is a great filmmaker to look out for. All in all, Redemption is a stupendous crime saga, and a great reminder that checking out under seen or smaller films can sometimes result in the most pleasant of discoveries.

Zach Nix’s Rating: 8/10

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