George Nolfi’s Birth of the Dragon, a fable-based movie about Bruce Lee (portrayed by Wild City’s Philip Ng), will finally be making its way to theaters on August 25th – but Bruce Lee better watch out, because Bruce Lee is coming for him… (wait, what?!)
Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, is currently location scouting in Penang, Malaysia for Little Dragon, which will start shooting in September. According to MMO, a major portion of Little Dragon will be shot there. “We are looking for sites to replicate the 1950s period in Hong Kong when my father was growing up,” Shannon stated at a news conference.
The same source adds that 5,000 people around the world have auditioned for the role of a 17 to 18-year-old Bruce Lee – one of the four shortlisted is a Malaysian actor.
Filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, who helmed Elizabeth (1998) and New York, I Love You (2008), will be directing/co-writing Little Dragon, which is being produced/co-written by Bruce Lee Entertainment, the company operated by Shannon, making the film an official, authorized biopic of martial arts legend Bruce Lee.
According to Variety, Little Dragon is a contemporary dramatization of the 1950s Hong Kong social and political forces that shaped Bruce Lee into both the most famous martial arts star of all time and a significant modern day philosopher. Themes include family disappointment, young love, true friendship, betrayal, racism, deep poverty and an inner fire that threatened to unravel his destiny.
“I always thought that a film about how my father’s life was shaped in his early years in Hong Kong would be a worthwhile story to share so we could better understand him as a human being and a warrior,” said Lee. “I’m really excited that Shekhar will breathe life into the first film from Bruce Lee Entertainment.”
Bruce Lee Entertainment has also enlisted Oscar award-winning composer, AR Rahman, to compose the film’s soundtrack (via CN). Rahman is known for his work on Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours and Million Dollar Arm.
Little Dragon will be just one of the many films centering on the life of Bruce Lee. During the 70s, a string of biopics were made that included 1974’s Dragon Story and 1976’s Bruce Lee: The Man, The Myth (both starring Ho Chung Tao); in 1993 came Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (starring Jason Scott Lee); in 2010, Bruce Lee My Brother (starring Aarif Lee) was produced with the full support of Bruce’s brother, Robert Lee (Lady Killer); and most recently, Birth of the Dragon (starring Philip Ng), a soon-to-be-released, fable-based movie that focused on Lee’s disputed bout with Master Wong Jack-Man was completed.
Little Dragon is expected to be released in late 2018. We’ll keep you updated as we learn more. In the meantime, here’s the Trailer for Birth of the Dragon, which opens August 25th:
Van Damme plays a dual role as Alex and Chad, twins separated at the death of their parents. Chad is raised by a family retainer in Paris, Alex becomes a petty crook in Hong Kong. Together, they join forced to find their parent’s killer.
This 1991 production most likely gave Jackie Chan the inspiration for Twin Dragons (1992).
Director: Toby Russell Writer: Lawrence Riggins Cast: Matt Mullins, Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, Chiranan Manochaem, Joe Lewis, Jawed El Berni, Gigi Velicitat, Yuhkoh Matsuguchi, Prasit Suanphaka, Wirat Kemklad, Mark Gerry
Running Time: 88 min.
The movie once known as White Tiger, now titled Death Fighter, has seen a long and winding road to release. I say this primarily because the film represents the last appearance by Joe Lewis, Karate Champion and friend of Bruce Lee, before his untimely death… in 2012! Reportedly, filming on Death Fighter wrapped shortly before Lewis’ passing, but various production lawsuits and the lack of a distributor kept the film on the shelf for years and years. Fortunately for fans of martial arts, any behind-the-scenes strife doesn’t show in the finished product: I’m happy to report Death Fighter is an appreciable throwback to the action movies of old, pitched somewhere between classic Hong Kong martial arts cinema and Cannon Video guilty pleasures like American Ninjaor Delta Force.
As the story opens, FBI Agent Michael Turner (played by Matt Mullins of Blood and Boneand Mortal Kombat: Legacyfame) is on vacation with his girlfriend in Bangkok, Thailand. Only, his girlfriend can’t get his attention to save her life. That’s because Michael’s ulterior motive for the trip is to help his longtime mentor at the FBI, portrayed by Joe Lewis, track down a notorious gold smuggler and human trafficker named Draco, who operates somewhere on the Thai/Burmese border. It’s barely ten minutes into the movie before Matt Mullins and Joe Lewis raid one of Draco’s shady warehouse dealings, with Mullins facing off – ever so briefly – against martial arts veteran Cynthia Rothrock and newcomer Jawed El Berni (Ninja: Shadow of a Tear, The Viral Factor). Even Joe Lewis gets in a few licks – I should mention here his character is not in the movie for very long, but I have a feeling his loyal followers will be pleased to see him in action just the same.
After Mullins finds himself temporarily defeated and no closer to stopping Draco, a local police chief puts him in touch with Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson’s Bobby Pau, an ex-Special Forces member turned mercenary and alcoholic. While Wilson is at first reluctant to join forces with the hotheaded American on a quest for revenge, he eventually agrees and drafts his pal Otto (played by newcomer Prasit Suanphaka) for good measure. It’s here that the pace slows somewhat, with the trio making their way through the jungles of Thailand before stopping in the village of a local doctor, portrayed by Thai television actress Chiranan Manochaem.
Fortunately, this village serves as the backdrop for one of the film’s biggest action sequences, and from here on out Death Fighter’s momentum rarely lags. After a few outings that were said to disappoint fans (namely Hard Target 2), fight choreographer Kazu Patrick Tang puts his full talent on display, planning intricate battles for each member of the cast. Matt Mullins showcases some devastating flying kicks that would even make Undisputed’s Uri Boyka duck, while Don the Dragon Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock acquit themselves well considering their age, as both were nearly 60 at the time of filming. Surprisingly, it’s Prasit Suanphaka as Otto who impressed me the most: despite being no taller than five feet, he fights with an unrelenting speed and ferocity that brings to mind The Raidseries’ Yayan Ruhian. IMDB tells me Suanphaka still doesn’t have another credits to his name, but I would happily watch anything he does next. Female lead Chiranan Manochaem acquits herself well during action scenes, especially since I don’t believe she has any formal training.
The movie builds to the kind of finale you’d hope for, with Matt Mullins and Jawed El Berni squaring off in a rematch that delivers. Even if Russian baddie Draco ends up being more of a wannabe Scarface rather than a credible villain, it doesn’t spoil the fun. Fortunately, the fight choreography is captured in medium shots and free of the kind of fast cutting that so often cripples low-budget action movies like this. There’s probably a reason the martial arts are filmed with such reverence here: director Toby Russell, while having few narrative movies to his credit, was responsible for the infamous 1994 documentary Cinema of Vengeance, which sang the praises of Hong Kong filmmaking and for years was the only place I’d ever seen any footage of heroic bloodshed favorite My Heart is that Eternal Rose. Clearly, Russell studied those Hong Kong moviemaking techniques with a close eye, and he incorporates that style here, only with the updated and hard-hitting feel of Panna Rittikrai’s films such as Born to Fightand Bangkok: Knockout.
And while the storyline is mostly a serviceable framework designed to set up a bunch of fight scenes, it’s worth noting that this is the most charismatic I’ve ever found Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson onscreen. His acting here has the natural ease of someone who’s spent more than two decades in front of the camera. Wilson appears genuinely invested in his role of a down on his luck mercenary prone to the drink, and his more lively performance contrasts nicely with Matt Mullins’ smoldering anger. Then again, maybe that smoldering wasn’t from anger: it must have been hotter than hell when they shot Death Fighter in Thailand, as there are several scenes where the actors’ faces appeared to be drenched in sweat, even outside of the jungle.
It’s not often a movie can sit on the shelf for five years and still feel like a breath of fresh air upon release. It’s also rare that a direct-to-video action title delivers the goods. Death Fighter accomplishes both. No matter who you’re a fan of in the star-studded cast, you should find plenty to enjoy with this film. If you’ve found yourself saying “They don’t make ’em like they used to” as of late, here’s one they did.
Kill and Kill Again | Blu-ray (Scorpion Releasing)
RELEASE DATE: October 3, 2017
On October 3, 2017, Scorpion Releasing is delivering the Blu-ray for 1981’s Kill and Kill Again, the follow up to 1976’s Kill or Be Killed. The film is directed by the late South African cult favorite, Ivan Hall (Funeral for an Assassin).
James Ryan is back as Steve Chase, four-time World Martial Arts Champion. Chase is hired to save Nobel Prize winning chemist, Dr. Horatio Kane, from the hands of a demented billionaire named Marduk and his martial arts army. Steve enlists the aid of four martial arts experts, and is accompanied by Dr. Kane’s daughter, Kandy (Anneline Kriel). En route to Marduk’s stronghold, they are ambushed, but finally make it to the fortress, only to be put in an arena to fight for their lives.
Kill and Kill Again also stars Ken Gampu (American Ninja 4: The Annihilation), Norman Robinson (Kill or Be Killed) and Stan Schmidt (Kill or Be Killed).
The film is notable for being the first live-action feature to use visual effects known as “bullet-time,” a term that would later be popularized in The Matrix franchise.
New Remaster from the original interpositive
Audio interview with star James Ryan
On-camera interview with writer John Crowther
Isolated music track from the original 3 track Mag sound
AKA: Lady Bloodsport Director: Chris Nahon Writer: Bey Logan, Judd Bloch Cast: Amy Johnston, Muriel Hofmann, Jenny Wu, Kathy Wu, Jet Tranter, Mayling Ng, Sunny Coelst, Rosemary Vandebrouck, Lisa Cheng Running Time: 100 min.
By Z Ravas
Ever wonder what happened to Chris Nahon? After helming Kiss of the Dragon – what many fans consider to be one of Jet Li’s best English-language films, if not the best – way back in 2001, the filmmaker chose to keep a relatively low profile rather than capitalize on his potential as a martial arts director. He reemerged a full eight years later with the dubious anime adaptation Blood: The Last Vampire, but that endeavor didn’t seem to live up to the potential of the Blood license nor Nahon’s abilities as an action stylist. That’s precisely why I was so curious to sit down and watch last year’s Lady Bloodfight once it made its way to Netflix. Had time weakened Nahon’s talent behind the camera – or was I about to witness the French filmmaker’s triumphant return to the world of bone-crunching kung fu action?
There was another reason to be excited about Lady Bloodfight: the film represents the headlining debut of Amy Johnston, a stunt professional who has more than paid her dues over the years. In addition to her stunt work on movies like Captain America: Winter Soldier (in which she doubled for Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow), Suicide Squad, and Deadpool, Johnston is a trained martial artist whose passion for the pursuit no doubt dates back to her childhood (her father was a kickboxing champion). I had high hopes that Johnston might shine in her first turn as a female lead. Even the presence of Bey Logan on writing and producing duties wasn’t enough to damper my enthusiasm.
(Okay, hey, I don’t mean to knock Logan, as the man has been closely associated with Hong Kong cinema for almost as long as I’ve been alive, but I think we all heard the horror stories that came out of his 2010 effort Blood Bond: Shadowguard.)
So, after all that fanfare, how is Lady Bloodfight? In a word, I found it perfectly entertaining. The plot is simple enough, in fact it’s more or less borrowed wholesale from the 1988 Jean-Claude Van Damme classic Bloodsport – actually, the film’s original title was Lady Bloodsport, until someone in the production likely wised up and realized they were headed for legal trouble. Amy Johnston stars as a young woman named Jane who travels to Hong Kong in order to take place in an ancient martial arts tournament known as The Kumite (sing it with me: KUMITE! KUMITE! KUMITE!). Jane wants to test her mettle in the ring, naturally, but she also longs to find out what happened to her father, who mysteriously disappeared after nearly winning the Kumite many years ago.
It’s a little puzzling that Lady Bloodfight never actually addresses why all of the fighters in this particular Kumite are women – the viewer is left to wonder, is there a separate Kumite for men and women each year? Regardless, it doesn’t really matter, as the classic ‘fighting tournament’ story structure is deployed in effortless fashion. Jane goes on a personal journey as she is taken under the wing of a wise instructor (Mariel Huffman), befriends a sassy Australian gal (the charming Jet Tranter), and squares off against a fierce Russian fighter (Wonder Woman’s Mayling Ng in quite a bit of makeup) so terrifying she could make Bolo Yeung cry ‘uncle’ in the ring… seriously.
I’m sure most by now most readers are asking: how are the fights? They’re serviceable. Nothing here matches the classic, Hong Kong-style grace and fluidity of Kiss of the Dragon, making me wonder if Corey Yuen wasn’t behind the camera for the action scenes in that movie, but nor are they a choppy, rapidly edited Bourne-esque jumble either. Instead, Chris Nahon splits the difference, landing somewhere between the clear cut style you’d hope for in a martial arts movie of this ilk and a more flashy, Hollywood-esque mode. The action scenes make it quite clear that Amy Johnston knows her stuff, but I suspect we won’t really see her full onscreen capabilities until we see her in stuntman-turned-director Jesse V. Johnson’s Accident Man later this year.
Surprisingly, it might be the storyline that held my attention the most in Lady Bloodfight. The movie is actually invested in Jane’s character and her journey to discover just what happened to her father, and Johnston delivers a commendable performance. Her teacher, Shu, has her own path to take as she seeks to reconcile – or defeat – her rival (Jenny Wu) and her rival’s pupil (Kathy Wu). Refreshingly, few of the characters in the movie are out-and-out right villains, except for the aforementioned Russian Svietta (whose baddie looks like she was raised by Ivan Drago and Bond villain Jaws), and each has their own particular motivation. Lady Bloodfight likely won’t transform Amy Johnston into a martial arts icon overnight the same way Bloodsport did for Van Damme, but this certainly seems the beginning of a promising career in front of the camera.
To Western audiences, Nguyen and Ngo are known for their breakout performances in The Rebel and Clash. The former film was a major hit in its native country, both financially and critically; the latter, though not as successful, was a passable follow-up and is regarded as a notable title among martial arts fans.
Since Vietnam’s controversial decision to ban Nguyen’s 2013 martial arts thriller Chinatown(the film has yet to be released anywhere), Nguyen has been starring in less violent, more light hearted projects, including supporting roles in Indian films. He’s also the host/spokesperson for a Vietnam-based MMA show.
Ngo – in addition to starring in Dustin Nguyen’s Once Upon a Time in Vietnam, as well as maintaining her singing and modeling career – has directed two films (The Lost Dragon and Tam Cam: The Untold Story) and was featured in Yuen Woo-ping’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destinywith Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen. She’ll continue her exposure to Western audiences when she appears in the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Last Jedi, as well as David Ayer’s upcoming thriller, Bright, with Will Smith.
As always, we’ll keep you you updated on their projects as we hear more. For now, check out the promotional short film for Blade & Soul below:
It’s the Sung Dynasty versus the Chin invaders as David Chiang (New One-Armed Swordsman) and Ti Lung (The Pirate) truly hit their stride with this crowd-pleasing kung fu epic. When a handsome prince is taken captive and guarded by a martial arts master, it’s up to two powerful patriots to fight overwhelming odds. From the first fascinating minute to the final desperate battle to the death, culminating in an unforgettably evocative conclusion – this duo is dynamic as well as deadly.
The DVD for Death Fighter is finally available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment! Previously known as White Tiger, this all-star martial arts actioner stars Matt Mullins (Mortal Kombat: Legacy), Cynthia Rothrock (Yes, Madam), Don “The Dragon” Wilson (Martial Arts Kid) and the late Joe Lewis (Force: Five).
When an American cop (Mullins) witnesses his mentor’s (Lewis) murder in a trade deal gone wrong, he finds himself on the wrong side of the law in Thailand. But despite the bounty on his deal and pressure to leave the country, he teams up with an ex-military mercenary (Wilson) out to settle a score of this own to bring the killers to justice. Their quest for vengeance brings them face-to-face with a band of notorious criminals (Rothrock) who vow to take them down if the jungle’s natural elements don’t kill them first.
Filmed over 3 years ago, Death Fighter is directed by Toby Russell (Death by Misadventure), a name closely associated with low budget martial arts and Hong Kong film – at least to die hard enthusiasts. The film also features fight choreography by Kazu Patrick Tang (Rocky Handsome, BKO: Bangkok Knockout). With this said, fans should expect off the wall, Hong Kong-style action.
Check out an exclusive clipsfrom the movie, featuring Mullins and Wilson:
Director: Kurando Mitsutake Writer: Kurando Mitsutake Cast: Asami, Kairi Narita, Noriaki Kamata, Matthew Floyd Miller, Dean Simone, Tatsuya Nakadai Running Time: 86 min.
By Z Ravas
It’d be easy for detractors to label 2014’s Gun Woman another case of low-budget sleaze – after all, Japanese AV turned action star Asami spends most of the film’s climax stark naked and drenched in blood – but director Kurando Mitsutake is far too savvy a filmmaker for that. Since 2009’s Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf, the writer/director/occasional-actor has managed to accomplish the seemingly impossible: he’s kept Japanese action cinema alive through a series of micro-budgeted movies that hold appeal for both grindhouse aficionados and martial arts buffs alike.
While the more recent Karate Killmight be said to be Mitsutake’s strongest effort to date, and makes one salivate at the possibility of the filmmaker being granted an even bigger budget to realize his outsized ambitions, there’s no denying that Gun Woman is the movie that put Mitsutake on most genre fans’ radar. For that reason, and others, it’s worth taking a look back at Gun Woman, which is conveniently streaming on Netflix.
At first brush, Gun Woman’s plot may sound overly familiar: after a brilliant Doctor’s (played by Into the Sun’s Kairi Narita) wife is murdered before his eyes by the insane son of a Japanese business magnate (in a positively unhinged performance from Noriaki Kamata), he swears revenge. Crippled himself in the attack, the Doctor has no choice but to look for aid in realizing his ambitions, and thus kidnaps a homeless, drug-addicted young woman (Asami, who broke into the mainstream with several Sushi Typhoon efforts) to train as the perfect assassin. If you think the writers of La Femme Nikita might be looking to sue after hearing that synopsis, rest assured that Mitsutake lampshades the fact early on by having a side character remark, “What is this, some kind of Japanese manga or Luc Besson film?” It’s a tacit admission from the filmmakers that they know their material owes a creative debt to the great action movies that have come before, and also tells the viewer to lighten up and enjoy the ride.
And what a ride it is. Most of the movie comprises of Asami’s lengthy training sequences, which involves a good deal of psychological torture since the Doctor transforms Asami into a killing machine against her will. The dynamic between these two characters is quite interesting, if not disturbing: the Doctor may have saved Asami’s life by forcing her to kick her drug habit, but by fashioning her into the instrument of his own revenge, he continues to put her in harm’s way again and again. For her part, Asami begins to develop a bit of Stockholm Syndrome – it’s fairly fascinating stuff as, even if it’s not exactly Oscar-worthy material, the characters are far more ambitious than your standard micro-budget B-Movie.
Bear in mind, this all plays out against the backdrop of a demented villain who wouldn’t be out of place in a Toxic Avenger movie or one of Takashi Miike’s most off-the-wall pictures like Fudoh: The New Generation. Many viewers will no doubt balk or be offended by Gun Woman’s cadre of necrophiliac baddies (yes, you read that right), but – in contrast with other films of similar ilk such as Hobo With a Shotgun – I never felt like Kurando Mutsutake was wallowing in and celebrating the depravity of his rogues gallery. Rather, the script goes to great lengths to make you despise its cast of demented degenerates, such that you can’t wait to see Asami take them out. Mission accomplished.
Once Asami becomes, well, the Gun Woman (bear in mind this is a taut and fast-moving flick at 86 minutes so it doesn’t take long), and is unleashed on Noriaki Kamata and his bodyguards, the bullets fly and the bodies drop. While the climax is certainly smaller scale than the extended finale of Karate Kill, it’s no less impressive to watch Asami go up against goons who tower over her diminutive size, especially when she’s so, well, vulnerable. The movie goes to great lengths to justify why Asami has to enter the bad guy’s complex wearing only her birthday suit. Of course, the reasoning is rather ridiculous but – what can you do? Its a creative decision that certainly got people talking and, surprisingly, Mitsutake and his team do such a good job choreographing the ending sequence that, after awhile, you just kind of forget that Asami is fighting evil with nary a stitch to wear.
Okay, so Gun Woman isn’t exactly high art. It’s still a dynamite example of what can be accomplished by a team who is passionate about independent filmmaking and high-octane action. Asami delivers a performance that radiates both vulnerability and steely-eyed determination at once, and she acquits herself extremely well during the fight sequences for someone who has no formal martial arts training. I have no doubt team behind Gun Woman will continue to craft bigger and better films, but this is the effort that put them on the map – and rightly so. If low-budget exploitation cinema gets your blood running hot, you have a new friend in Kurando Mitsutake.
Considered one of the greatest kung fu films of all time, 36th Chamber of Shaolin (read our review) is about a young man (Liu) who learns Shaolin kung fu so he can avenge his family and friends, who were killed by Manchu henchmen.
If Peace Breaker is anything like the original, here’s what you can expect: In a 24 hour period, a detective (originally played by Lee Sun-Hyun) receives a divorce notice from his wife; next, his mother passes away; he then becomes the focus of a police investigation; to make matters worse, on the way to his mother’s funeral, he commits a fatal hit and run…
Peace Breaker gets a domestic release on August 18, 2017. Watch the film’s Newest Trailer below:
“Confidential Assignment” Korean Theatrical Poster
Director: Kim Sung-Hoon Writer: Yoon Hyun-Ho Cast: Hyun-Bin, Yu Hae-Jin, Kim Ju-Hyeok, Jang Young-Nam, Yoona, Park Min-Ha, Lee Hae-Young, Lee Dong-Hwi, Kong Jung-Hwan, Jeon Kuk-Hwan Running Time: 125 min.
By Paul Bramhall
It’s been interesting to watch the portrayal of North Korean characters develop since the beginning of the Korean wave in the late 90’s. Back then, while still commercially appealing in their nature, movies like Shiri and J.S.A. portrayed the South’s north of the border counterparts as characters with their own internal conflicts and personalities. Since then, mainstream Korean cinema has largely resorted to using North Korea as an origin for agents with their own hidden agendas, usually played by good looking young actors, crossing into the South to perform undercover missions. This particular trend peaked in 2013, which gave us the bombardment of Commitment, The Suspect, and Secretly, Greatly.
Out of all the mainstream movies to use the undercover North Korean agent trope though, for me the one that did it best was 2010’s Secret Reunion. Essentially a buddy movie in the guise of a North vs South tale, director Jang Hoon cast Song Kang-ho as a detective, that gets fired after a mission to catch a North Korean spy goes horribly wrong. During the same mission, another North Korean agent escapes, played by Kang Dong-won, but ultimately finds himself stranded in the South. They both briefly glimpse each other, and when their paths cross by chance six years later, neither believes the other recognizes them. Circumstances ultimately lead them to form a private detective agency together, with both of their intentions to steal information from the other. The end result was a surprisingly effective action comedy, and in more ways than one, 2016’s Confidential Assignment uses an identical template in the hope of recreating the same winning formula.
Thankfully director Kim Seong-hoon tweaks the plot of Secret Reunion enough to make Confidential Assignment an entertaining piece of action comedy in its own right. Yoo Hae-jin, who after years of playing supporting roles is finally enjoying his second co-starring role in as many years (the first being Luck.Key), plays a clumsy middle aged detective, that finds himself ordered to unofficially pair with a North Korean detective. His counterpart is played by Hyeon Bin, who before becoming a popular romantic lead in both TV dramas and movies, was the co-star in 2004’s taekwondo movie Spin Kick. Hyeon’s character is part of a North Korean delegation attending a North & South government meeting, however secretly both are after a North Korean agent who’s gone rogue, and is hiding out in Seoul. The crux is that neither are completely honest with each other, with both having their own ulterior motives for getting to the rogue agent before the other.
There should be no mistake that Confidential Assignment is as commercial a movie as they come, clearly created to appeal to as broader audience as possible with its mix of hard hitting action for the guys, Hyun Bin to attract the female demographic, and comedy that’s suitable for the whole family. As a result, it’s difficult to argue that it feels like anything other than a by-the-numbers thriller that we’ve seen plenty of times before. The production is Seong-hoon’s sophomore effort, having previously directed the 2012 musical drama My Little Hero, and may not be the obvious choice to helm an action comedy, but the direction is confident, and the pace remains brisk throughout. Indeed it’s the pacing of Confidential Assignment which is one of its biggest strengths, as despite the potential for melodrama never being far away, thankfully Seong-hoon resists the decision to ever delve into it.
Instead, the focus is kept squarely on both the action and the comedy. Much like Kang Dong-won ends up moving in with Song Kang-ho in Secret Reunion, the same plot device is used here, as Hae-jin ends up inviting Hyeon to stay with his family in their homely Seoul apartment. There was no doubt that Hyeon would have little more to do in Confidential Assignment than look handsome and deliver the action, but he has a likable presence, and is never overwhelmed by the more experienced Hae-jin. A comedic highlight comes when Hae-jin fits him with a GPS ankle bracelet, usually reserved for sex criminals, explaining that it’s what all South Korean detectives wear in order to discreetly identify each other. However when Hyeon spends some time alone at a viewpoint overlooking the city, he’s approached by another man also wearing one, who proceeds to excitedly ask him what he’s into, leading to a hilariously played out misunderstanding.
His action scenes, of which there are many, also provide a convincing sense of physicality and excitement. From a thrilling foot chase through the streets of Seoul, that ends with him clinging onto a moving car, to a one against many fist fight, which sees a unique use of a toilet roll. He also gets a couple of one-on-one throwdown against a towering Kong Jung-hwan, which under the guidance of martial arts team members Choi Tae-hwan and Kim Tae-hwan, deliver a satisfyingly visceral level of punishment. Hae-jin understandably takes a back seat when it comes to the action, however one particular scene is noteworthy thanks to its hilarious nature, when he also finds himself up against a group of attackers, and frantically attempts to figure out how Hyeon had used the toilet roll from an earlier fight.
Confidential Assignment’s other big plus is the chemistry between Hae-jin and Hyeon. The pair form a convincing onscreen bond, from their initial hostility towards each other, to the gradual trust that, while never becoming completely unconditional, develops enough for them to gain a mutual respect of one another. We may have seen Hae-jin’s struggling family man detective a hundred times before, and Hyeon’s wardrobe is clearly fashioned from the Won Bin Man from Nowhere look (at one point Hae-jin’s wife asks him if he only brought the one black suit with him), but their portrayal of their characters is still convincing.
Special mention should also go to Kim Joo-hyeok, who plays the rogue agent that everyone is after, and acts as the villain of the piece who we should all be rooting against. His character is perhaps the most interesting, as his decision to go rogue was largely based on seeing through the North’s cult of personality based regime, and realising that he could make it rich in the South. While his motivations are not necessarily the reason for him being the villain (anyone who realises that the North’s regime is an illusion should surely be considered a character worthy of our sympathies), his villainy comes in the form of the ruthless way he chooses to make his escape to the South. While these complexities aren’t explored in any particular depth, and nor should they be in a piece of popcorn entertainment such as this, it does give an interesting slant to proceedings.
This also leads into the other interesting element that Confidential Assignment presents the audience with. Unlike so many other similar productions, were the character from the North usually chooses to stay in the South, here it’s never questioned that Hyeon will go back home after the mission is complete. In that regard, he completes his mission to find the rogue agent, and stays true to the regime, returning back to Pyongyang once it’s complete. While in the movie itself the fact is not presented as a big deal, I don’t think I can recall another production in which a similar scenario is presented, and the North doesn’t become the over-arching super villain at some point. Even Secret Reunion decides to go down this route by the end, with Dong-won’s North Korean agent successfully defecting to the South. If anything, Confidential Assignment is the complete opposite, ending with a scene of Hae-jin and Hyeon together in Pyongyang.
While it’s easy to pin the success of Confidential Assignment on the chemistry between Hae-jin and Hyeon, that wouldn’t be entirely fair. At the end of the day, Seong-hoon has looked to craft an entertaining action comedy, and to that end the final product delivers both funny comedy and exciting action, which is exactly what it was aspiring to do. While it’s certainly never going to be considered a classic, as a brisk piece of popcorn entertainment, you can certainly do a lot worse.
Charlize Theron’s Atomic Blonde better brace herself, because there’s another unstoppable killer on the way. Pierre Morel, the director of 2008’s Taken, is tackling Peppermint, an upcoming female-centric actioner. And word on the street is that Jennifer Garner (Elektra) is currently in talks to play the title character.
According to Deadline, Peppermint is a high-action revenge thriller, with a premise likened to John Wick and John Wick 2, only with a female protagonist. When her husband and daughter are gunned down in a drive-by, the heroine wakes up from a coma and spends years learning to become a lethal killing machine. On the 10th anniversary of her family’s death, she targets everyone she holds responsible, the gang that committed the act, the lawyers that got them off, and the corrupt cops that enabled the murderous incidents.
In addition to Peppermint, there’s another female John Wick spin-off in the works that will based off Shay Hatten’s script for Ballerina (read about it here).
Updates to follow. For now, say hi to this female assassin:
Director: Herman Yau Writer: Herman Yau, Erica Lee Cast: Andy Lau, Jiang Wu, Song Jia, Philip Keung, Ron Ng, Wang Ziyi, Felix Wong, Shek Sau, Liu Kai-chi, Cheung Chun-kit, Louis Cheung, Babyjohn Choi, Felix Lok Running Time: 118 min.
By Martin Sandison
Superstar actor/singer Andy Lau (The Great Wall, God of Gamblers) has had one of the most enduring careers of any Hong Kong celebrity, and he keeps going strong. Despite the setback of his injury while filming a commercial earlier this year (he fell off a horse), Lau is almost fully recovered and will continue to make movies soon. His latest film, Shock Wave, is a high budget, Hong Kong/Mainland co-production that boasts a good performance from Lau and some bombastic action set pieces.
Lau stars as Cheung Choi San, a member of the Bomb Disposal Unit in Hong Kong. Seven Years previous, Cheung had solved a case involving a criminal called Blast (Jiang Wen, A Touch of Sin), as he had gone undercover with his gang. However, Blast managed to escape and swore revenge. As Cheung climbs the ladder in the unit, Blast begins his retribution by holding hostages and planting bombs in the super-busy Cross Harbour Tunnel.
Having the biggest budget he has worked with (allegedly $23 million US), director Herman Yau (The Sleep Curse, Untold Story) really lets rip with the set pieces in Shock Wave. In fact, a set was built to approximate the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, which the film utilizes to great effect during the last 20 minutes. There are tense moments, superbly creative action and solid acting in this section of the film, although there is a tendency to fall into the trap of overwrought melodrama. Yau utilises all of the tricks and camera innovation he can, with visually pleasing results. There is even some extreme violence thrown in, such as an arm being ripped off by a speeding car, which will please fans of Yau. One tracking shot, which moves through an entire tunnel during a gunfight, had me in raptures.
Lau, as usual, is more than convincing in his role as a moralistic cop. Wen is inventively savage and charismatic as the villain, and steals every scene he is in, especially towards the end of the film. Felix Wong does a good job as Superintendent Chow, Lau’s superior (he is perhaps best known as playing Fishmonger Tsan in the classic Drunken Master 2, where he goes toe to toe with Jackie in a memorable fight). The Westerners in the film suffer from the usual problems, e.g terrible voice acting and stilted performances. Unfortunately, the romantic subplot involving Song Jia (Red Cliff, The Bodyguard) is outrageously cheesy and doesn’t do the film any favours.
A problem with Shock Wave is one we’ve all heard before: it panders to Mainland China. The message of the film being “Chinese cops are great! Don’t challenge them or you’re f*cked!” Saying that, there are some moments in the film wherein the patriotic stuff does work, whether you like it or not. They’re too spoilerific to mention here.
Ultimately, Shock Wave misses out on being a classic, but it’s certainly not a failure. It looks like this is the kind of movie we’ll see come out of Hong Kong and the Mainland more often – and that’s certainly not (really) a bad thing.
J.J. Abrams’Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the continuation of the original Star Wars trilogy created by George Lucas, was a massive success for Disney, hitting the $2 billion global box office mark. Likewise can be said about Gareth Edwards’ spin-off, Star Wars: Rogue One, which surpassed the $1 billion mark. But now it’s time to put our geek-focus on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which has writer/director Rian Johnson (Looper) at the helm.
Returning cast members include Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Andy Serkis and of course, the late Carrie Fisher. New cast members include Laura Dern (Jurassic Park) and Benicio Del Toro (Sicario), who’ll be playing one of the film’s key villains.
But if there’s one new cast member we’re extra excited to see in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it’s Vietnamese filmmaker, actress, singer and model, Veronica Ngo Thanh Van (House in the Alley). To Western audiences, the multi-talented star is mostly known for her work in the acclaimed Vietnamese martial arts features The Rebel and Clashwith Johnny Tri Nguyen, not to mention a minor role in Yuen Woo-ping’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destinywith Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen. But in her Native country, she’s practically a household name.
In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Ngo will portray Paige Tico, a gunner in the Resistance. We’re not sure how much screen time she’ll have, but if this action figure (click here for photo) is any indication, we’re expecting more than a “blink or you’ll miss” appearance.
Ngo continues the trend of Asian action stars appearing in the new wave of Star Wars films. In 2015, The Raidstars Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian had cameos in Star Wars: The Force Awakens; then in 2016, Ip Man’s Donnie Yen and Let the Bullets Fly’sJiang Wen were predominant co-stars in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
In addition to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, there’ll be another ‘Paige’ turned in her career: Ngo will also have a role in David Ayer’s upcoming thriller, Bright, with Will Smith, which opens a week after Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s December 15, 2017 date.
Until then, here’s Ngo’s Showreel below. As you’ll see, “The force is strong with this one”…
Director: Sion Sono Writer: Yusuke Yamada, Sion Sono Cast: Reina Triendl, Mariko Shinoda, Erina Mano, Yuki Sakurai, Maryjun Takahashi, Sayaka Isoyama, Aki Hiraoka, Ami Tomite, Mika Akizuki, Makoto Kikuchi Running Time: 85 min.
By Z Ravas
In 2015, Takashi Miike, a filmmaker known for his ceaseless work ethic, eased his output to a relaxed – by his standards – two movies a year. For his part, Love Exposureand Cold Fishdirector Sion Sono seemed determined to pick up the slack. That same year, Sion saw his name attached to no less than six – count ’em, six! – features. While some critics have accused the Japanese auteur, known for his commitment to extreme cinema, of spreading himself a little too thin, I imagine that most die-hard Sono fans will find plenty to enjoy with 2015’s Tag.
Likely owing to its slick, commercial visuals and winsome cast of Japanese schoolgirls, Tag is one of the few recent Sion Sono movies to achieve wide distribution in North America; in fact, you can even queue it up on Netflix. The plot, based on a novel by Yusuke Yamada, is about a Japanese teenager named Mitsuko who finds herself trapped in the day from hell, almost like Bill Murray in a plaid skirt (how’s that for a visual?). On a school field trip, she is forced to watch as a mysteriously violent wind slices her schoolmates in half – and that’s before the ten minute mark! Things only grow stranger from there as a desperate and on-the-run Mitsuko joins up with a group of young strangers who insist she’s been their beloved classmate all along. Soon enough, Mitsuko finds herself in a fight for her life against powerful, reality-hopping forces… and fight she will.
To say much more beyond that would spoil the fun, though rest assured plenty of bullets are fired and bodies split in half before the credits roll. The plot, as wild and careening as it is, seems to take liberal influence from mind-bending storylines like The Matrixand Total Recall, as well as the generous schoolgirl body count of Battle Royale. But there’s also a surprisingly tender romance/friendship at play between Mitsuko and her newfound classmate Aki, the kind that wouldn’t be out of place in a well-done indie drama, and the dream-like atmosphere of the entire production is aided greatly by Sion Sono’s liberal use of the 11-minute instrumental post-rock song “Pure as Snow (Trails of the Winter Storm)” by Japanese band MONO.
If Tag has a weakness, it’s in its stop-and-start pacing. The movie doesn’t seem to have much of a story to tell once Mitsuko figures out what’s behind her sudden Alice in Wonderland-like existence, as though the tale is all wind-up and no pitch. As such, there are times when it feels like Sion Sono is spinning his wheels in order to ensure the film’s runtime hits the measly 85 minute mark – perhaps most noticeable during the myriad of sequences in which Mitsuko fearfully runs away from the wind as though she’s starring in a Japanese schoolgirl remake of The Happening.
Despite some admitted lulls, Tag’s highs are just about as deliriously high as anything in Sion Sono’s oeuvre. Fans of the filmmaker should know what they’re in for – and know that they’re in for a good, wild time. He’s one of the few living directors who could dream up a scene in which a pig-headed man jump-kicks a marathon-runner, and have it entirely make sense in the context of the plot. Tag appears to want to say something about the nature in which women, particularly young women, are exploited by the Japanese entertainment industry for the pleasure of a male populace… but mostly it’s another launchpad for Sono’s delirious imagination, and in that regard it does not disappoint.
On October 10, 2017, North American entertainment company Cinedigm will be releasing the Blu-ray & DVD set for Ip Man: Season 1, a 2013 Chinese television series starring Kevin Cheng (The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake) as the the legendary grandmaster of Wing Chun.
The Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man (Cheng) spends all his life in pursuit of the authentic martial arts realm. Gaining enlightenment throughout his childhood and adolescence, Ip Man undergoes a transformation and becomes a kung fu legend, ascending to the highest ranking of martial arts. After fleeing to Hong Kong, Ip Man deliberately keeps a low-profile, but he is inevitably engaged in conflicts.
The series also stars Cecilia Han (The Golden Doll), Chrissie Chau (12 Golden Ducks), Yu Rong-Guang (Police Story 2013), Yuen Wah (The Bodyguard), Bruce Leung (The Dragon Lives Again) and Leung “Beardy” Kar-Yan (Shanghai 13). Ip Man’s real sons, Ip Chun and Ip Ching, serve as the martial arts consultants on this series.
Ip Man: Season 1 is currently available for pre-order at Amazon.com. Don’t miss the series’ Trailer below:
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