Salamat Mukhammed-Ali’s The Whole World at Our Feet, a Kazakhstan-produced action film, will finally be released later this year by Cleopatra Entertainment under the new title, Diamond Cartel (via Deadline).
Not much is known of the plot, but judging from what we’ve seen, it looks like a whole lotta fun with its off-the-wall, ultra-violent Mad Max/Machete-style approach.
For whatever reason, Diamond Cartel had one heck of a time getting its feet off the ground, considering production started back in 2011, only to be completed in 2013, followed by some marketing that teased a 2015 release date.
Updates: Watch the film’s latest Trailer (via FCS):
We first heard about this Yuen Woo-ping (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny) project back in 2012, but apparently, there’s no sign of its lingering coming to a full stop any time soon. Thanks to AFS, a new preliminary banner poster has made its way online (see above).
Here’s what we know about Vigilantes so far: Yuen will direct and choreograph this English language, Chinese/Canadian produced trilogy. The first film in the series is titled Vigilantes: The Lost Order, which is billed as ‘The Matrix meets Wall Street.’ Now give your brain a moment to recover from imagining that crossover.
Vigilantes: The Lost Order follows a young female assassin who sets out to hunt down the villains that destroyed her family and along the way uncovers a global financial conspiracy ruling the world.
The crucial role of Vigilantes’ leading lady, or any other cast members, has yet to be announced. Considering Yuen seemingly has his hands full with Miracle Fighters, Hand Over Fist and Eight & a Half, we’re guessing the wheels will be in motion in 2018.
Until then, here’s the classic Trailer for Yuen’s 1980 classic, The Buddhist Fist:
Cult favorites Mel Novak (Black Belt Jones, Game of Death) and Kristine DeBell (The Big Brawl, Meatballs), who both starred in some of Robert Clouse’s (Enter the Dragon) most memorable martial arts flicks, are getting together in the new indie horror film, Holy Terror.
Believing the strange disturbances in their home are their deceased son reaching out from the other side, Molly and Tom ask a medium to make contact. But instead of their child, the three accidentally invite a vengeful demon to cross over….
Written and directed by Rich Mallery (Sociopathia) and executive-produced by Gregory Hatanaka (Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance), Holy Terror also stars Lisa London (Private Resort), Kelly Reiter (The Z Virus), Jesse Hlubik (All Cheerleaders Die), Nicole Olson, Scott Butler (Winer Dog Internationals) and Vida Ghaffari (Jimmy Kimmel Live!).
Director: Richard Yeung Writer: Lam Yee Hung Producer: Mona Fong Cast: Norman Chu Siu Keung, Philip Ko Fei, Tin Mat, Maria Yuen Chi Wai, Wong Yung, Wai Ga Man, Hung San Nam, Pak Man Biu, Jaime Chik Mei Jan, Erik Chan Ga Kei Running Time: 86 min.
By Martin Sandison
Beginning with 1975’s Black Magic, the legendary Shaw Brothers studio began to make horror movies which became increasingly grotesque, darkly funny and gory. Most of these centred around the practices of Chinese black magic, and Seeding of a Ghost was one of the last examples of this genre before the studio closed its doors. While a little formulaic, the film is a great example of extreme cinema that had been birthed around the world, with movies as notorious as Cannibal Holocaust pushing the boundaries of what can be seen onscreen.
The movie stars two of the greatest martial arts actors of the time, Phillip Ko Fei (Techno Warriors) and Norman Tsui Siu Keung (Sword Master). They had appeared together in two of the classics of independent kung fu cinema just previous to Seeding of a Ghost, The Loot and the Challenger. A complete change of pace for both, the film does feature a couple of fights but they are presciently in the style of the Heroic Bloodshed films that revolutionised Hong Kong cinema.
In Seeding of a Ghost, Ko is a taxi driver who runs over a master of the dark arts who tells him never to become involved in his practices or he will perish. Tsui plays a successful businessman who seduces Ko’s wife Irene (Maria Yuen Chi Wai). One night, Tsui and Irene have an argument and she runs off only to be raped by a couple of delinquents. Ko goes after the two and Tsui, but to no avail. He decides to visit the Master, who puts into action the titular seeding of a ghost ceremony…
The Blu-ray release of the movie, by 88 films in the UK, is brilliant. The film looks like it could have been made yesterday, and it’s great to see a movie as schlocky as this one be given the HD treatment. There’s some really disgusting stuff on show here: A man puking up worms, a person having sex with a corpse that has come back to life and a pregnant women’s stomach exploding. The effects are on the whole animatronic, organic and great; even a little computer effect doesn’t look dated.
The influences are plain to see; mostly body horror movies that came out around the time such as David Cronenberg’s genre defining Videodrome. The biggest influence is from my favourite horror film of all time, John Carpenter’s The Thing. While of course not on the scale of the shape-shifting aliens of that masterpiece, the ending has some great shots and is on a par in terms of gore. The roots of the genre come in the form of the ideas of Chinese black magic, which could not be shown in Mainland Chinese movies post-Mao. This gives it a distinct Hong Kong style and flavour, one that could only have come out of the former Colony. An extra on the Blu-ray is a piece by film critic Calum Waddell, which goes into this historical context in detail, is very enlightening.
Director Richard Yueng Kuen, who also directed Phillip Ko Fei in the Independent kung fu classic Duel of the 7 Tigers, had a career that began in the 1960’s and stretched in to the early 1990’s. He didn’t direct much for Shaw Brothers, but shows an aptitude for the extremes of the genre. The lighting and camerawork are of a high standard, even the animatronic corpse doesn’t look too bad. Being an exploitation movie there is also a lot of nudity and sex scenes – they’re quite racy, but not too explicit. The rape scene is drawn out and hard to watch, but the act is over in a matter of a few seconds. Ko and Tsui put in two of their best performances here, especially the former who depicts the desperation of his character superbly.
Seeding of a Ghost works so well on the level of pure shlock and gore that you would be forgiven for thinking it’s without depth; at the tailend of the Shaw Brothers filmography, the studio began to embrace these types of movies – and with others of its ilk ushered in the Category 3 film, which would eventually become more explicit a few years later in Hong Kong cinema. Highly recommended.
Martin Sandison’s Rating: 8/10
Beware of spoilers in the following clip from Seeding of a Ghost:
Even 43 years after his passing, not only does Bruce Lee continue stay relevant, he also gains more and more global popularity with each passing year – and 2016/2017 is definitely no exception. Between now and the next few months, brace yourself for a load of newly released Bruce Lee-releated features. If you’re a die hard fan, Bruce is about to attack and he’s aiming right for your wallet…
The Chinese Connection: 4K Collector’s Edition | Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)
U.S. versions of these 4K remasters, from Shout! Factory, are also available: Fists of Fury (featuring an all-new commentary by The Big Boss-obsessed Brandon Bentley) and Chinese Connection were released last month. Shout! has released these as their original U.S. titles, but they will feature reversible sleeves with optional international artwork (Enter the Dragon will most likely not be released by Shout!, since Warner holds the film’s North American rights).
Update: Shout! has just announced 4K remasters of Way of the Dragon and Game of Death, which will be available later this year!
Tracking the Dragon | DVD (MVD Visual)
Note: If you’re not familiar with 4K digital technology restoration, here’s the breakdown: 4K has around four times more resolution than the common 1080p and produces a clearer picture. Technically, you’ll need a 4K TV and a 4K Blu-ray player to get the most out of 4K disc. However, the aforementioned titles are standard Blu-rays made from a 4K master, so you will not need a 4K Blu-ray player.
In addition to all the 4K news, MVD Visual has recently released a new, 100-minute Bruce Lee documentary on DVD titled Tracking the Dragon(read our review). Building on his earlier documentary, Pursuit of the Dragon, Bruce Lee expert John Little (A Warrior’s Journey) tracks down the actual locations of some of Bruce’s most iconic action scenes. Many of these sites remain largely unchanged nearly half a century later. At monasteries, ice factories, and on urban streets, Little explores the real life settings of Lee’s legendary career.
The Legend of Bruce Lee: Vol. 1
Last October saw the release of Well Go USA’s Ip Man Trilogy (non-steel book version) on Blu-ray. Although it’s not a direct Bruce Lee product, this award winning adaptation is based on the life of Ip Man (Donnie Yen), the grandmaster of Wing Chun and later teacher and mentor to Bruce, who makes an appearance (obviously by actors) in Ip Man 2-3. The set will contain all three Ip Man films.
Also, an upcoming Hollywood film about Bruce Lee titled Birth of the Dragon will be making its way to theaters later this year. This fable-based movie – directed by George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau) – will take a look at the life of legendary martial artist (portrayed by Philip Ng of Wild City), using Lee’s disputed bout with Master Wong Jack-Man (Yu Xia) as the centerpiece of the story.
Last but not least, Cinemax has given a pilot order for Warrior, a project based on unpublished writings by the late Bruce Lee, which were recently discovered by his daughter, Shannon Lee. Justin Lin (Star Trek Beyond, Finishing the Game) is attached to produce and possibly direct. Warrior will tell the story of a young martial arts prodigy, newly arrived from China, who finds himself caught up in the bloody Chinatown Tong wars. The story will be set against the backdrop of San Francisco’s Chinatown in the aftermath of the Civil War.
We’ll keep you updated on any Bruce Lee-related news as we hear more. As always, stay tuned!
For the sequel (not to be confused with the other West films that are currently in development), Hark takes over directing duties, while Chow produces. Shu Qi, Wen Zhang, and Huang Bo will return for the sequel. Joining them this time around is Vicky Zhao (14 Blades), Kris Wu (The Mermaid)and Kenny Lin (The Taking of Tiger Mountain).
The original, which was directed by Chow (read our review), centered on Tang Sanzang, a Buddhist trying to protect a village from three demons, his emerging feelings for Miss Duan, the demon hunter who helps him repeatedly, and Sanzang’s transformative encounter with the Monkey King.
For whatever reason, White Tiger, a martial arts movie that has been completed for nearly 3+ years, is having a hard time securing a rock solid release date (it supposedly premiered at the American Film Market last November).
We’ve recently discovered that the powers that be are taking a different marketing approach by retitling the film to Death Fighter, a title with a better selling-point, especially for fans of the action/martial arts genre (it also avoids any confusion with the other White Tiger movies that are currently circulating).
Death Fighter is anticipated due to its notable cast and crew that includes Matt Mullins (Mortal Kombat: Legacy), Cynthia Rothrock (Yes, Madam), Don “The Dragon” Wilson (Martial Arts Kid) and the late, legendary martial arts star, Joe Lewis (Force: Five).
It’s also directed by Toby Russell (Death by Misadventure), a name synonymous with low budget martial arts and Hong Kong film, at least to die hard enthusiasts. Death Fighter is produced by Karen Kaing and features fight choreography by Kazu Patrick Tang (BKO: Bangkok Knockout).
We hope to see Death Fighter soon. Until then, don’t miss the film’s Trailer:
The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake(read our review) based on the real-life of Qiu Jin (Huang Yi), a Chinese revolutionary, feminist, writer and kung fu badass. Her steadfast resolve to improve the plight of women and her bravery in the face of tyranny led her to the executioner – but her determination to topple the status-quo changed a nation forever.
Director: Bruce Fontaine Producer: Bruce Fontaine, Theo Kim Cast: Brian Ho, Don Lew, Paul Wu, Paul Wu, Anthony Towe, Nickolas Baric, Eddy Ko Hung, Raymond Chan, Peter Chao, Osric Chau, Josette Jorge, Valerie Tian Running Time: 89 min.
By Kyle Warner
Even as a kid, when I watched Jackie Chan movies I was always well aware that, as awesome as Jackie was, the performers he shared his fight scenes with had to be on a high level, too. Jackie might’ve gotten the larger share of the hero moves, near-death escapes, and giant stunt pieces, but it was his opponents that added that dramatic tension to the fights. I’ll never learn the names of half these guys and gals who helped make these movies what they are. But one name I did pick up on was Bruce Fontaine, perhaps best known as one of the bad guys in Operation Condor. The fight on the moving platforms in Operation Condor as Jackie fights off multiple villains (including Fontaine) is one of the best sequences in the entire Jackie Chan filmography, and part of that credit belongs to the stuntmen who helped make it happen.
Though Fontaine remains an active stunt coordinator and performer today, he has not been featured in on-screen roles as much lately. Fontaine’s last acting credit for a Hong Kong film was Benny Chan’s 1996 action movie Big Bullet. Now Fontaine is onto a new stage in his film career: director.
Beyond Redemption is a Canada based action movie about a cop undercover in an Asian gang. Fontaine fills his cast with stunt performers, most of whom have only acted sparingly in speaking roles. The film’s writer’s room also shows little experience. This is about as indie, do-it-yourself as filmmaking can get. And, just so we’re clear, I applaud such an effort. I really do. For while I don’t think Beyond Redemption is a great movie, that can-do spirit is always evident.
The plot is somehow overly simple and also confusing at the same time. Billy (Brian Ho) is an undercover cop, but this is only confirmed to us about 1/3 into the picture. Billy’s posing as a new member of a gang led by Yuan (Don Lew). And though it seems that Billy’s seen enough violence and drugs to easily get the gang convicted, he wants to hold off until a mysterious home invasion plot unfurls.
Elsewhere in the story, Xi Long (Anthony Towe), a tech businessman with links to the Triads, is involved with selling a new program to an interested Middle Eastern buyer. Before the end of the film, these two parallel stories will collide. However, until that time, it’s a little unclear just why Xi Long and his business partners are important to the film.
It’s a poor screenplay. The story is rife with concepts we’ve seen done better in other, similar undercover crime pics. The way the plot unfolds is a little confusing, as it keeps some things secret or vague for too long. And the dialogue is all testosterone and profanity.
The actors aren’t bad. It’s clear that they’re rather inexperienced but I thought they were a likable bunch. Brian Ho (Outcast) could use more work in dramatic line readings, but he’s convincing and cool in the action scenes. Don Lew (Star Trek Beyond) is solid as the bad guy, Yuan. I particularly liked Paul Wu (The Package) as Bosco, the lead henchman, who’s a big, intimidating figure. Hong Kong legend Eddy Ko (Duel to the Death) has a cameo appearance as an ally of Xi Long, and it was cool to see him again even if his role is minor. Popular internet personalities Paul Chao, The Chengman, and Leenda Dong also have supporting roles in the film.
Director Bruce Fontaine appears to be a big fan of the late Tony Scott, here adopting the visual style found in many of Scott’s later films. He gives the film a blurry, drunk-at-a-concert vibe, and I actually think it’s pretty cool. He even borrows the use of exaggerated, stylized subtitles that were seen in Scott’s Man on Fire. (A further note on the subtitles in Beyond Redemption: though the film is mostly in English, there is some subtitled Chinese dialogue. And considering there’s so little of it, one would’ve hoped it’d be better proofread so as to be rid of typos.) In the action scenes, Fontaine films things well, and we get to see the film’s stars show off their stuff. But one wishes his editing was tighter, so as to keep the movie flowing better.
In this reviewer’s opinion, Beyond Redemption isn’t a very good film. As a low-budget action movie, the film’s plot and characters are not interesting enough to rise above certain amateurish aspects of the production. Still, it’s not all bad, and one can see potential here for both director Fontaine and his cast.
I hope to see actors Brian Ho, Don Lew, and Paul Wu, go onto bigger and better things, and I’ll explain why: there are not nearly enough roles for Asian men and women in North America’s film productions. Unless we’re talking about familiar action stars like Jackie, Jet, and Donnie, most Asian actors are relegated to background roles in Hollywood. Debates continue about why, why, WHY are there not more Asian men and women in a film like 2017’s Ghost in the Shell. And—though I do not defend that film’s reasoning and I think Max Landis is a punk—I will say that our film industry has not done enough to foster Asian acting talent at home. Hollywood prefers instead to import an international actor once their star has grown bright enough. And if such a star doesn’t exist, then things like Ghost in the Shell starring Scarlett Johansson happen. There need to be more films like Beyond Redemption, movies where actors like Brian Ho can grow, refine their craft, and hopefully gain some new fans. This film was not all that it could’ve been but I appreciate the effort to showcase Asian talent in a North American film and hope to see more (hopefully superior) films like it in the future.
Writer/director Eran Creevy (Welcome to the Punch) is back with dual dose of style ‘n action with his 3rd film, Collide (aka Autobahn). The upcoming flick stars Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road), Felicity Jones (Star Wars: Rogue One), Anthony Hopkins (Mission: Impossible II) and Ben Kingsley (Hugo).
In Collide, a young American couple Casey (Hoult) and Juliette (Jones) are plunged into an adrenaline-pumping game of cat and mouse across Germany when they find themselves caught between two ruthless feuding criminals (Hopkins and Kingsley).
Collider will be finally hitting U.S. theaters on February 24th, 2017. Don’t miss its newest Trailer below:
AKA: Strike 4 Revenge Director: Chang Cheh Cast: David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan Tai, Wang Chung, Cheng Li, Lily Li, Yasuaki Kurata, Tina Chin Fei, Tina Chin Fei, Chan Chuen, Chan Dik Hak, Chui Fat, Dang Tak Cheung, Fung Hak On, Ho Hon Chau, Ho Pak Kwong Running Time: 104 min.
By Paul Bramhall
The period from 1971 – 1972 could well be referred to as ‘The Iron Triangle on Tour’ era. The term ‘Iron Triangle’ came about as a reference to the collaborations between director Chang Cheh, and his two favourite leading men of the era, Ti Lung and David Chiang. Many of their collaborations proved to be a recipe for box office success, and the trio churned out 9 movies alone during the 2 years mentioned, all for the Shaw Brothers studio. During 1971 they went to Bangkok together, and made Duel of Fists, then hit the streets of Tokyo a year later to make a sequel, titled The Angry Guest. However Thailand and Japan weren’t their only destinations during this period, as they also travelled to Korea, during which time they made Four Riders.
By 1972 the Shaw Brothers studio already had a number of Korean talents working for them. During the same year director Cheng Chang-ho made the seminal classic King Boxer, while fellow director Chang Il-ho made The Deadly Knives and The Thunderbolt Fist (which also had a Korean star in the form of James Nam). Surprisingly then, outside of the location shooting and some of the extras, Four Riders features no local Korean talent. In a way it’s understandable, Golden Harvest founder Raymond Chow also travelled to Korea the same year and made Hapkido, which was the first time for the likes of Whang In-shik and Ji Han-jae to really show off their talents. By the end of the decade, the thought of filming a production in Korea and featuring zero Taekwondo or Hapkido practitioners would be an unthinkable one.
While this could be considered a missed opportunity (especially when you consider how much Muay Thai was showcased in Duels of Fists and The Angry Guest), the fact that Four Riders is from the era when everyone involved was in their prime, makes it easy to forgive. Lung and Chiang weren’t the only pair with whom Cheh had forged a successful working relationship, with action choreographers Lau Kar Leung and Tong Gaai equally contributing to the popularity of his output. By the time of Four Riders, Kar Leung and Gaai had choreographed over 20 of the directors movies together, dating back to The Magnificent Trio from 1966. Here the duo had plenty of martial arts talent to work with, as joining Lung and Chiang to complete the Four Riders of the title, are fellow Shaw regulars Chen Kuan Tai and Wong Chun.
The title is a reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as read by a bible brandishing Chen Kuan Tai to his nurse girlfriend, and alluding to the characters themselves. The best thing about this scene is that, as Kuan Tai reads the passage, scenes of the horsemen in battle play concurrently via a split screen, indicating that if Chang Cheh had ever decided to make a biblical adaptation, it would have been suitably epic and bloody. I question whether these scenes were filmed specifically for this sequence, or if perhaps they’re unused footage from The Heroic Ones made 2 years prior, however in either case, they work within the context of the scene.
The setting for the movie itself is July 1953, immediately after the end of the Korean War. Ti Lung plays a Chinese G.I. stationed in one of the Korean army bases, and having declared to his superior that he no longer works for him now that the war’s over, tears off his stripes and instigates a mass brawl. While the other G.I.’s are busy fighting each other, Lung takes the opportunity to steal a jeep. Armed with his army pay-out and no plans for the future, his only goal is to drive to Seoul and live it up for as long as he can. On the way he picks up another wandering G.I., played by Wong Chun (who amusingly jumps off a wall into the jeep as it’s driving past, reminding us that amongst all of Cheh’s trademark macho heroics, he always had an eye for the goofy), and the pair make their way to Seoul together.
Much like Cheh’s Thailand and Japan set productions, the pairs drive into the Seoul cityscape plays out like a travelogue, as the camera lingers and takes in the surrounding sights and monuments, all the while played to a funky 70’s lounge track. Indeed despite the setting supposedly being 1953, it’s a hard sell to say the least. The music, fashion, and even surroundings are all distinctly 1972. Most glaringly, in a latter nightclub scene, Cheh can’t seem to resist the opportunity to do a similar travelogue like montage of Seoul’s neon sign lit streets, further indicating that the reference to 1953 is almost supposed to be taken as thematic rather than literal. Chun has plans to visit his friend in hospital that was wounded in action, played by Chen Kuan Tai, and the pair go their separate ways upon arriving in the Korean capital.
It’s worth noting that Chiang also plays a G.I., one who is already in Seoul, and spends all of his time witling away his money in a hostess bar (amusingly named ‘Hello John!’) with Shaw Brothers starlet Lily Li. Chiang doesn’t actually meet the others until over an hour in, but he’s present throughout, as the story establishes his friendship with Lung. It’s when Lung is framed for murder that he’s reunited with Chun, as the hospital also doubles as a temporary prison, and his insistence that he’s innocent prompts his new friend to get to the bottom of what’s gone down. In fact Lung has been framed by the gangster than runs ‘Hello John!’, which acts as a front to recruit money hungry and jobless G.I.’s to act as drug mules to shift product, imported from Japan, to the U.S.
The Japan connection is significant, as it explains the casting of a fresh faced Yasuaki Kurata as the gangster in question. It was director Cheh that gave Kurata his break in Hong Kong, with The Angry Guest being his debut from the same year. Interestingly the Japanese star spent the remainder of the 70’s in independent bashers, only once returning to the Shaw Brothers studio to feature in Lau Kar Leung’s 1978 masterpiece, Heroes of the East. Decked out in a sharp black suit, he certainly looks the part, and exudes a menacing cool. Until we get to the scenes in which he interacts with his American boss, and he’s suddenly dubbed into English by what sounds like a softly spoken teenage boy. In fact all of the cast are dubbed at various points in the movie, either to speak English, or more frequently to speak Korean.
Four Riders deals with some interesting themes, even if they’re not explored in a particularly competent way. Chang Cheh was, after all, called the Godfather of the Kung Fu Film, not the Godfather of Existentialism. However the theme of the G.I.’s becoming aimless wanderers after the war creates some moments that resonate. In one particular scene, a guards asks Lung why everyone is fighting as he drives out of the base in his newly acquired jeep, to which he responds, “I wouldn’t know. But still, it’s been a long war. They’ve got to fight somebody.” The movie also opens and closes with wide shots of Korea’s snow covered countryside, which play out in silence, allowing us to occasionally glimpse the outline of 4 figures wading through the harsh landscape, before focusing on a single flower that’s bloomed from the bitter conditions. Indeed the war may be over, but beauty takes time to return.
However more than anything, Four Riders is, like any Chang Cheh flick, about the action. While there are several brawls throughout, including an intense throwdown between Chiang and Kurata at the 40 minute mark, the extended finale is really the highlight. Lung, Chun, and Kuan Tai face off against a horde of about 50 attackers in a gymnasium (which of course, comes with a trampoline), in a skirmish that literally has bodies flying all over the screen, while Chiang throws down against an equally ferocious group of attackers in the bar. Watching this particular scene again now, I can’t help but feel that Gareth Evans was giving it a nod with the scene in The Raid 2, in which Yayan Ruhian is ambushed in a remarkably similar setting. Chiang has never looked more furious than he does here, even more so than in the finale of Vengeance!, as he stomps on heads, delivers kicks to the face, and even scalps someone amidst a joyous amount of collateral damage.
The brawl in the gym is equally energetic, which has Lung at one point brandishing a barbell as a weapon, providing the Shaw Brothers fake blood department with plenty of work. The scene even throws in an early example of heroic bloodshed, giving an indicator of how Cheh’s apprentice John Woo developed his style. The sheer number of opponents the trio have to fend off, and the flow of choreography to coordinate such a mass showdown, is a joy to watch. Even Kurata enjoys it, who spends the initial stages calmly brandishing a Winchester rifle as he watches on, cigarette hanging from his lips. Watching any Chang Cheh movie of this nature, you know how it’s going to end, and Four Riders delivers the characters of its title a worthy finale, providing a liberal helping of fists, feet, bullets, and bloody mayhem.
As a self-confessed fan of this era from Chang Cheh’s filmography, for me Four Riders is on par with the likes of The Duel and Blood Brothers as the cream of the crop. Sure it gets goofy, such as the surveillance camera in the gangsters office being able to follow a fight around the room when being watched on TV. But for every goofy scene, you have one that exudes macho cool, like when Chiang confidently swigs directly from a bottle of Johnnie Walker, and Kurata calmly puts a bullet through it courtesy of a gun fitted with a silencer. For whatever reason, Four Riders often seems to be overlooked when discussing Cheh’s best movies, so if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour and check it out.
After his smash hit Veteran, Ryoo Seung-wan is now preparing to release Battleship Island, a big budget action thriller. The upcoming film, set on Hashima Island in Japan, will revolve around the story of Korean laborers force to work by the Japanese military during World War II, who plan to escape to the island.
Veteran star Hwang Jeong-min leads a cast that includes So Ji-Sub (Company Man), Song Joong-Ki (Five Senses of Eros), Lee Jung-Hyun (Night Fishing), Yoon Dae-Yul (Kundo: Age of Rampant) and Kim Soo-Ahn (Train to Busan).
It sounds like Battleship Island could be more similar to Tsui Hark’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain, than The Berlin File and his other efforts – either way, any new Ryoo Seung-wan movie is a reason to celebrate! (via Paul Bramhall).
Battleship Island hits theaters this Summer. Watch the Trailer below:
Takashi Miike began his prolific career as a director in ‘V-Cinema,’ Japan’s direct-to-video film productions. His first film that was meant as a theatrical release from the very start was his 1995 dark crime picture, Shinjuku Triad Society: Chinese Mafia War. And though Miike would return to V-Cinema afterwards, with notable movies such as Full Metal Yakuza and Visitor Q, Shinjuku Triad Society put theatres on notice; the madness of Miike could no longer be contained on VHS and DVD alone.
The Black Society Trilogy is one of Miike’s earliest and best works as an auteur in extreme cinema. The three films—Shinjuku Triad Society, Rainy Dog, and Ley Lines—all tell stories about outsiders in Japan’s underworld and the violent hardships they must endure. The Black Society Trilogy is a ‘trilogy’ only in the loosest sense. Like Chan-wook Park’s Vengeance Trilogy, Miike’s trio of dark crime dramas is connected by shared themes and cast members, but not by any continued plot thread.
“I know a love story both sickening and sweet,” begins Shinjuku Triad Society, a film about devotion told with buckets of blood. Detective Kiriya (Kippei Shiina) is looking to dismantle the Taiwanese Triad group known as the Dragon’s Claw. The leader of the Dragon’s Claw remains unknown to the police, but the streets are now overflowing with blood and guns. Working his way up the food chain, Det. Kiriya identifies the leader to be Wang (Tomorowo Taguchi), a gay Taiwanese gangster whose criminal enterprise appears to be international in scope.
Making matters worse is the fact that Det. Kiriya’s younger brother is an attorney for the Dragon’s Claw group. And though Kiriya would like to save his brother from getting further involved with the criminal underworld, it becomes increasingly clear that his brother does not want to be saved.
The way the cops eliminate leads and work their way up to Wang is slightly reminiscent of procedurals like The Wire, but only on the surface. This film is quintessential Miike, made at a time when he most enjoyed pushing the extremes, even if that meant giving in to some unfavorable thematic obsessions. When intimidation does not work to break the will of a male suspect, Det. Kiriya orders a fellow cop to rape the man from behind. It’s sick. Perhaps even more disgusting is that Kiriya himself rapes a female suspect later in the film in the same fashion, and that the woman enjoys it enough to come back to her rapist and ask for more. This is lurid, offensive, and typically Miike. During this stage of the director’s career, sexual violence was a norm. Yes, one can argue that it always serves a point in the story, and at least it’s never made to appear sexy (the entirety of Shinjuku Triad Society has a dirty, in-need-of-a-shower aesthetic), but this does not make me feel better about these sections in the film, or similar scenes in other works from Miike.
Others have found issue with the amount of homosexual acts included in the film. However, unlike the two situations noted above, these moments are consensual and highly suggestive in the ways in which they’re filmed. It would be fair to say that Shinjuku Triad Society belongs to be mentioned in the LGBT sub-genre of crime dramas, and that may indeed turn off some potential viewers, but I hardly think it’s the most provocative thing about the movie.
Still, I do tend to think that Miike hopes to offend you. What’s more, I think he aims to disgust you. The most unpleasant sound effects are turned up extra loud, so that even if you wish to close your eyes you still cannot hope to escape the nastiness as it unfolds. One moment, totally pointless beyond setting tone for the film and its central city, has a cop step on a pile of crap in the middle of the street. Squish! The cop stops, takes a closer at the crap, and wonders out loud, “Is that… human?”
What ultimately makes the movie hum is the solid character work from the film’s leads. Kippei Shiina (Outrage) is a character actor with a wide range. He’s very good as Det. Kiriya, a flawed character that blurs the line between antihero and co-villain in the picture. Raised by a Japanese father and a Taiwanese mother who can’t speak Japanese, Kiriya does not fit in with others either in his homeland Taiwan or in his adult life in Japan. He’s corrupt, he’s abusive… he makes Dirty Harry look like a by-the-book detective. But the one thing he loves is his family, and he does everything to protect it, even if that means going to war with the Triads to save his brother. I found it impossible to like Kiriya, but I appreciate Shiina’s work in the role.
Wang, a villain involved in organ harvesting, gun running, and prostitution, is almost the more likable character of the two leads. Tomorowo Taguchi (Tetsuo: The Iron Man) has a pair of the darkest, most interesting eyes you’ll ever see. They almost look like they’re permanently dilated. In a good guy role, it gives Taguchi the look of a wide-eyed innocent. As a villain, Taguchi looks positively mad without having to speak a word. Taguchi’s villain Wang almost seems like an early prototype for later Miike villains like Tadanobu Asano’s Kakihara in Ichi the Killer. Taguchi is the best part of the movie.
There’s good work from other members of the supporting cast, too. Miike favorite Takeshi Caesar (Fudoh) has a fun part as a yakuza who’s trying to learn Mandarin to better converse with his new boss, Wang. Cult filmmaker SABU (Unlucky Monkey) plays Kiriya’s equally corrupt partner. And popular character actor Ren Osugi (Shin Godzilla) has a minor part as a rival yakuza boss.
The Black Society Trilogy arrives on Blu-ray in the US and UK from Arrow Video. Shinjuku Triad Society looks dark on Blu-ray, but that’s largely because that’s how the film was made; very dark and very rough around the edges. Though Miike’s early films feature the same frenetic energy we’ve come to expect from the director, but it took him some time to improve behind the camera in terms of setting a scene. The sound included on the new Blu is really good, though. Shinjuku Triad Society shares disc 1 with Rainy Dog (the best film in the trilogy, reviewed earlier by Martin Sandison). Also included on the disc are trailers for the two films and new audio commentaries by Miike expert Tom Mes. Though the release will never be a considered reference quality Blu-ray, I’ve seen the old ArtsMagic DVD and can attest that it’s an upgrade.
With Shinjuku Triad Society you can see Takashi Miike at an early stage of development. He gives in to his worst impulses, he shoots scenes with a devil-may-care sense of style, and yet, at the end he manages to hold the film together with spit and blood, thanks in no small part to his solid cast. And though the film has a crude quality to it, you can sense the burgeoning talent behind the camera. There’s no other director quite like Takashi Miike. Rough and unpleasant, dark and weird, Shinjuku Triad Society is unmistakably Miike.
On February 28, 2017, Kimstim Entertainment is releasing the Japanese thriller Creepy to DVD. The film (read our review) is directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who made his name with the classics Cure and Bright Future.
A year after a botched hostage negotiation with a serial killer turned deadly, ex-detective Koichi (Hidetoshi Nishijima), and his wife move into a new house with a deeply strange new neighbor (Teruyuki Kagawa). His old cop colleagues come calling for his help on a mysterious case, which may be related to the strange goings-on next door, in this insidiously-constructed narrative that braids plot twists on top of plot twists and shock on top of shock.
Master Jino Kang is the real deal in that he knows how to perform the moves that appear on screen frontwards and backwards due to his dedication to his craft and history with martial arts. However, Kang separates himself from the rest of the action star pack in that he is also a director and writer, a true triple threat. There are a few action stars whom have dabbled in direction before, most notably Sylvester Stallone and occasionally Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme, but none whom have primarily produced all of their films from the ground up such as Kang.
The best way that I can describe Kang to those who are unfamiliar with him, is to imagine if writer/director Robert Rodriguez became an action star himself and chose to incorporate his personal believes and skills a-la Seagal into the stories that he tells. While he only has a trilogy of martial arts action under his belt that spans a decade and a half, Kang is a real treat for martial arts fans.
His debut feature, Blade Warrior, was released around the turn of the century. Upon first watch, I was struck by how much the film reminded me of Rodriguez’s debut, El Mariachi. Both films are about as raw as they come, ultra-low budget features that utilize friends, settings, and equipment already available to the filmmakers. Whereas El Mariachi is a neo-western with John Woo touches, Blade Warrior is more so a martial arts cop actioner at a street level.
“Blade Warrior” DVD Cover
In all honesty, Blade Warrior somewhat falls in line with other low budget cult favorites like Miami Connection and Samurai Cop with its low production value and ever present martial arts. And while I won’t say that Blade Warrior is the greatest martial arts film ever made, what differentiates it from other “so bad, they’re good” martial arts films is Kang’s filmmaking earnestness and goal to convey a philosophical message that is important to him. There are some rather dynamic shots throughout and an ever present message about self-discipline that showcases an artistic fervor underneath the raw low production value. In my interview with Kang, he called Blade Warrior his ‘student film,’ and therefore, it should be viewed as such. It’s an introduction to an action star who wouldn’t appear on camera again until a whole decade later.
In his second feature, Fist 2 Fist (originally titled Hand 2 Hand), Kang shows an improvement as a filmmaker and as an action star. After all, Fist 2 Fist is quite the production upgrade from the raw 16mm of Blade Warrior. Here, Kang plays essentially the same kind of character from Blade Warrior, a man whom turns his back on violence to focus on teaching martial arts to those whom need self-betterment. With its numerous martial arts training sequences and slightly similar plot, Fist 2 Fist can be seen as an extension of Blade Warrior to the point where it’s a more fully realized version of a similar story. While Fist 2 Fist may have less action than Blade Warrior, or at least from my opinion, the story, themes, and characters are clearer, and in doing so, makes the overall experience much stronger. I couldn’t particularly take the characters from Blade Warrior that seriously, mostly due to the 16mm rawness, but with Fist 2 Fist, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I enjoyed the rag tag group of Kang and his martial arts students.
“Weapon of Choice” Theatrical Poster
Kang’s most recent feature, Weapon of Choice (alternately titled Fist 2 Fist 2: Weapon of Choice), is much different from the likes of his previous two films. Whereas his first features are purely martial arts films in every way imaginable, his third film goes for a much broader approach, in that it can be enjoyed by any one, not just martial arts fans. Unlike his first two films, Kang does not play a martial arts teacher or own a school. Instead, Weapon of Choice finds Kang diving into a seedy under world of kidnapping gangsters whom push him to the limit. Therefore, with its kidnapping plot and broader spectrum of action that now includes shootouts along with the fist fights, Weapon of Choice is more along the lines of Taken in that it can be enjoyed by anyone, not just action fans. If I were to compare Kang’s career choice to another’s, think when Sho Kosugi went from Pray for Death to Rage of Honor. They’re both B-action pictures, but one is more focused and centered around martial arts while the other shoots for a broader audience. Overall, Kang’s current martial arts trilogy showcases an artist who is eager to please and dedicated to his craft.
I recently had the pleasure and opportunity to speak with Kang in an interview where we covered a broad selection of topics, ranging from his own filmography, to his martial arts roots, and even what films he admires and looks forward too. In all honesty, it felt more like a conversation than an interview, as Kang was incredibly sweet and very easy to speak with. It was especially fun to geek out with him over other martial arts performers and films:
ZACH NIX: Your films seem very connected in that they incorporate reoccurring themes of self-discipline and martial arts. Is it important to you to incorporate these themes into your films when you set out to make them?
JINO KANG: Yes, because of my martial arts background and all of the other disciplines that I study, it’s definitely an inherent part of me. It’s like one of those things where, it’s in my blood. I like to portray that aspect in my films. I hope I did that.
ZN: Within the first few minutes of watching your debut film, Blade Warrior, I was immediately reminded of Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi, an action film with a similar low budget ‘do-it-yourself’ style. Has anyone ever pointed out the similarities between yours and Rodriguez’s film before, and was it possibly a stylistic influence on your own film?
JK: You’re the first!
JK: Yeah, yeah. Because they were both shot in 16mm. It has a very grainy look to it. I was actually a fan of El Mariachi as well, I just love the action and the story line of that film. But like Mr. Rodriguez, I shot the opening scene while attending college in the film department. And we borrowed the equipment from there, and we learned how to produce and load the film magazines, and learn the chops. And I think all of that was very similar to El Mariachi and the way it was produced. I call it my student film.
Jino Kang and Katherine Celio in Weapon of Choice.
ZN: Speaking of that opening scene, I have to ask, was that a real apple that you crushed in your hand, or was it a prop designed to be crushed?
JK: No, that is one of my traits that I can do. But I did practice. It’s one of those things that was taught by my father, who was a grandmaster. It’s about having mental and physical strength. I did recently post a video on Facebook, which you can search, but I did it with two hands because it takes a lot of training to do it with one hand. But the scene in the movie was done with one take and one hand.
ZN: After haven watched all of your films, it’s clear that Blade Warrior comes from a different time period than Fist 2 Fist and Weapon of Choice. Why was there such a big gap in between Blade Warrior and your other films?
JK: Many different aspects that came along. When Blade Warrior came out in 2000, late 1999, it was picked up and then there was another year to get it distributed. It was picked up by Saidra Films, and at the time they agreed to do another feature with me. I submitted my script and they loved it, and we were about to do it, and they went bankrupt. And I was training so hard for it and ready to go. And I still have the script and it’s in my back pocket now, I’m too old to do that film now, it’s called Trained to Kill. But one day I’d like to direct that. But that took another year or two years. And you can’t rely on that, you have to make a living. And at the time I was running a martial arts school, which really exploded and took off. And we did really well.
So during mid 2005-06, the school is doing well, and some of the new students came, and you wouldn’t believe all of the resources at my school. Kurt Angle a producer, Christine Lam, whose a line producer, we talked about doing another film. Once that happened, I wrote another script, that’s when Fist 2 Fist was born. It was originally titled Hand 2 Hand, which I preferred, but the distributor changed it. The original title fits the premise of the film, but they changed it because there’s a cage fight in it. It was a little small budget film, under $100,000. We shot about every weekend, and that took another year, and then a year to edit. And in 2009, it was picked up, and was released in 2010, and that went everywhere. It went to Red Box and Blockbuster when it was still around.
ZN: Rest in peace, Blockbuster.
JK: Yeah, I miss it! (laughs) But yeah you name it, it went to all media markets. And then it took another year to write another script, and then another year to get funding. Because I funded myself through private investors, which takes a long time. We shot Weapon of Choice in 2013, and it was picked up immediately, and then distributed in 2014, and released everywhere in 2015.
ZN: Okay, so movie making is a lot of hard work it seems.
JK: Yeah! (laughs)
Jino shot first.
ZN: I personally believe that Fist 2 Fist features a more dramatically compelling story and a stronger attention to character than Blade Warrior, if you don’t mind me saying. What did you learn as a filmmaker from your first film to your second that helped to shape you as a stronger story teller?
JK: When Blade Warrior came out, even though it was picked up right away, I got bashed from everyone. People were saying, crappy story, crappy lighting, crappy everything. But I personally thought, hey it’s my story. I want to tell it the way I want too, including philosophies and such. My thought is, if you look at a lot of martial arts films they have no story or plot, and I really want to concentrate on the story and compelling characters who drive the film, and now that I’m looking back, I can see that if there’s no internal struggle than there’s no film. It has to have that arc of the character who has to overcome something and go against odds which makes a compelling story.
ZN: Whereas Fist 2 Fist feels like a definite extension of Blade Warrior, Weapon of Choice feels different from both in that it has a broader appeal due to its gun centric action and kidnapping plot. Was this a specific artistic choice that you made going into the film when making it?
JK: Yeah, I wanted Weapon of Choice to have a universal appeal instead of just martial arts fanatics. I wanted to broaden the appeal to everyone, while still having a cool character with an internal struggle, coming from a hitman to caring about his niece, to becoming a normal person, but because of his dark past, it’s a payback for his sins.
ZN: You are the star, director, and writer of all of your films. Could you ever see yourself playing a supporting, or even a lead role, in a film directed by someone other than yourself?
JK: Yeah! I haven’t put myself out there enough, but the goal for 2017 is to get myself out there more, and I just got an agent. And I’ll put myself out there and we’ll see what roles I can get. I’ll take bad guys, anything, as long as it’s in my range. I would love to do a real dark bad guy. That would be fun.
ZN: Jino, you are clearly the real deal, in that you aren’t just an actor, but a martial arts practitioner first. There was once a time when physically able bodied performers, like yourself, were turned into main stream stars based upon your physical abilities. Unfortunately, times have changed in that actors are now trained to learn the kind of fighting styles and moves that people like yourself know backwards and forwards, instead of the other way around. Do you have an opinion on this shift in mainstream action stardom and how action leads are handled now?
JK: I might (laughs). I think they do a great job, but people like myself have keen eyes, and we can tell when the action and martial arts portrayed is not the real deal. They’ll usually cover it up with shaky camera and insane close ups, to where I’ll say what the heck is happening? I can see he’s punching a guy several times, but I can’t see what’s happening. That’s my feeling, they’re covering up the action and the actors, because they don’t have the ability. They can get away with some of it. But for someone like me, I can see that the ability is not there.
Fist to Fist, literally.
ZN: They also use a lot of obvious stunt doubles where you can’t see their faces.
JK: Yeah, I agree with that.
ZN: This seems to be a common topic amongst a lot of martial arts performers that I’ve spoken with regarding this tactic in mainstream action films.
JK: I also respect the actors, and if you think from Hollywood’s stand point, the actors need to be able to act. I see Hollywood’s point of view, so for people like me, where martial arts is my foremost ability, they should go out and study acting. I do the same thing, when I’m going to do a new part, I’ll take acting classes for a year to sharpen up. So it goes both ways.
ZN: Are there any action films from the past that are either your favorite or influenced you in one way or another?
JK: Definitely all of the Kurosawa films: Yojimbo and Sanjuro. And of course Bruce Lee films. And most recently I would say Ip Man 1 and 2, I haven’t seen 3 yet. And The Raid1 and 2. High action in those. And if you look at those films, the cameras way back, you can see full figure and see the action because they’re real marital artists. I’m a huge fan of those.
“Yojimbo” Japanese Theatrical Poster
ZN: Most definitely. Those are all great films. Are there any current martial art performers or action stars that you enjoy or have great respect towards?
JK: Yes, I think Scott Adkins is the most phenomenal martial artist out there who is active. He’s on the top of the list. And Cung Le is up and coming. I can’t remember the new actor in Kickboxer: Vengeance.
ZN: Oh yeah, I’m going to butcher his first name, Alain Moussi.
JK: Yeah, he’s Canadian, I think. He’s terrific. He’s a little tight, but if he’d loosen up he’d be great. And also Michael Jai White. Blood and Bone I love that one.
ZN: I just recently watched that one for the first time. I waited a little while to see that one, but as soon as I watched it I was blown away, it was fantastic.
JK: Yeah, it’s a low budget film but with terrific marital arts.
ZN: Yeah, that’s cool you mentioned Cung Le and Scott because they’re in the upcoming Savage Dog together.
“If you look at anyone whose great, there was a lot of hard work involved. Just get out there and work hard.”
JK: Yeah, Savage Dog, directed by Jesse Johnson. Yeah, that’s coming up. I can’t wait to see that.
ZN: Wow, you know your stuff Jino. We could talk each other’s ears off about action films all day probably.
JK: Yeah, yeah!
ZN: Okay, my final question, do you have any parting words of wisdom to fans of martial arts or those trying to make it in the movie business?
JK: Most important thing is to study your craft and really hone it. Get out there and do it. Don’t let fear stop you from what you want to do. Before you know it, you’re old. You’ve got to get out there and do your work and work hard. You’ll get there. Some people win LOTTO’s, but if you look at anyone whose great, there was a lot of hard work involved. Just get out there and work hard.
ZN: Well thank you very much Jino. It was a great conversation and I had a great time speaking with you today.
JK: Thank you Zach, great questions by the way too!
Special thanks to David J. Moore for setting up this interview.
From the film’s partial press release (via David J. Moore):
A veteran of stellar action and martial arts films, Scott Adkins remarks on the action in Savage Dog: “The fights in this film are more realistic than most of my other films. We’re not doing so much the long takes or the flashy techniques; we’re trying to be more brutal and gritty because that goes with the story that we’re trying to tell and the character I play.” As the film is set in Indochina in the 1950’s, Adkins observes: “A white guy doing martial arts in the ’50s doesn’t necessarily make sense, but my character Martin is living in Indochina, so we’re saying he’s had some experience training with some Thai fighters.”
On his co-star Marko Zaror, he states, “Marko and I worked on Undisputed III together. He’s an incredible martial artist, and one of the best in the business in screen fighting. We’re quite similar in many ways.”
Mixed Martial Arts star crossover action star Cung Le, who plays antagonist Boon remarks on his role in the film: “My character Boon is just trying to make a living, but because of his military background, he sometimes works for people that he doesn’t necessarily like.” He also discusses why he took on this project: “I jumped on this because it was a chance to work with Scott Adkins and ultimately do a big fight with him. The centerpiece fight we have is savage!”
Savage Dog will be released in theaters and on all VOD platforms summer 2017 from XLrator Media. Until then, check out the film’s new Teaser Trailer below:
“xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” Korean Theatrical Poster
Director: D. J. Caruso Writer: F. Scott Frazier Cast: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev, Toni Collette Samuel L. Jackson, Nicky Jam, Rory McCann Running Time: 107 min.
The original xXx, released in 2002, was most definitely a product of its time. Directed by Rob Cohen, the blockbuster was a sports and adrenaline charged take on the espionage genre at a time when even James Bond himself was giving into the schlock that xXx so proudly touted. It was also an action vehicle designed around its up and coming star, Vin Diesel, who was churning out hit after hit with the likes of Pitch Black and The Fast and the Furious. When it came time for a sequel though, Diesel chose to opt out, the same as he did with his now coveted Fast and Furious series, and decided to cash his checks on continuing his Riddick series.
Therefore, xXx chose to go the route of choosing a new lead with each new installment. The first sequel, xXx: State of the Union, released in 2005, put rapper Ice Cube in the lead, with none other than Die Another Day director Lee Tamahori at the helm. It’s no surprise that the director of the schlockiest modern Bond film would go on to continue the xXx series, an already silly series, to increasingly silly results. Although the original xXx was no masterpiece, at least it took its time to introduce its characters and have an ounce of tension to its spy filled proceedings. It was also a tad longer and more blockbuster centric, which made it feel all the more eventful. State of the Union has those blockbuster flourishes, but flies by so quickly and so painfully rests upon a plot that few would care for, that it seemed more so a cash grab meant to bring in some audiences desperate for some more xXx action. It’s a guilty pleasure alright, but far from a true sequel to the original despite Samuel L. Jackson’s appearance.
Fast forward many years later, and Diesel has now chosen to return to all of his original franchises one a time. When Diesel returned to the Fast and Furious series in 2009, he helped steer it back on track to not only become hugely successful again, but become one of the biggest franchises on the entire planet. When he returned to Riddick in 2013, he didn’t necessarily break the bank with that one, but gave die-hard fans the R rated return that they wanted and helped pay off some of those debts from the failed Chronicles of Riddick. And now in 2017, we come to xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, the third entry in its series and the second with Diesel, a whopping fifteen years after his previous appearance in the series. Diesel surely didn’t need to come back to Xander Cage, as he is making bank off of Fast and Furious like nobody’s business, but it’s a nice treat for fans of Diesel’s action films to see him resurrect such a dated series for the modern age.
The Return of Xander Cage is a gloriously ridiculous and over the top return if there ever was one, a sequel in a thought to be deceased series that finds some creative juices and opportunities for impossible action. This third entry isn’t as douchey and sports driven as the first film, although there are light touches of those qualities throughout, as this series, much like Fast and Furious, knows and respects its roots, despite how silly they are. In a sense, it feels as if Diesel has Fast and Furious-ified his own xXx series, as he places the focus onto the team more so than himself. While xXx was through and through a Diesel vehicle, The Return of Xander Cage sports a large ensemble that even includes martial arts superstars Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa, which maximizes international appeal and turns the film into a must see event for martial arts fans.
The plot is as silly as they come, with Xander Cage (Vin Diesel), the original xXx, forming a team of his own to go after another team of xXx’s, led by Agent Xiang (Donnie Yen), whom are responsible for the death of a friend near and dear Cage. This new team of xXx’s has gone rogue and currently possess the Pandora’s Box, a device that allows them to crash satellites to the Earth. By the way, I have to point out how lazy a name like Pandora’s Box is for a plot device, as it’s just about as lazy as the God’s Eye, the name of the all-powerful device from Furious 7. That complaint aside, the name of the game here is not story or character, but attitude and action, and The Return of Xander Cage has it in spades.
There’s some silly but fun call backs to the previous two films in the series, such as lines of dialog and visual motifs. I don’t think that I’m crazy, but I’m pretty sure that Xander Cage’s puffy coat has actually gotten bigger, as he now resembles the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz. It’s also nice to see State of the Union actually get some recognition for how forgotten of a film that it is. There’s also a great cameo from a previous character in the series, and while I don’t want to spoil it for those who don’t know, thinking about who it could be really only leaves you with one person who could possibly show up (hint: it’s not Asia Argento, although how crazy would that have been?).
Diesel is fine as always, essentially playing himself. Both he and the script tone down the video game references and obsession with sports, which is nice, as they were possibly the lamest aspects of the original. However, Diesel isn’t the biggest draw of the film, as he comes along with a rather huge supporting cast of notable name and up and coming actors. The biggest and best of them all is Donnie Yen, who outright steals the film and gets to perform numerous action sequences that shows off his amazing skills. It’s clear that the producers fully understood what they had with Yen, as opposed to Disney who truly sidelined him within Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s worth mentioning that Yen’s part was to be originally played by Jet Li, who eventually backed out of the role and was replaced by Yen. It’s a shame that Li wasn’t able to be in the film, as it would have provided a much needed boost for the star stateside. However, that boost will now go to Yen, whose currently on a roll stateside that can’t be stopped.
Yen takes part in several fights where he goes up against multiple opponents in showcases of martial arts that are quite impressive for an American production. He also squares off against Diesel in a fight and foot chase upon a high way (Kung Fu Killer any one?) that serves as the duo’s big one on one face off. The two also partake in a rather hilarious set piece where they chase one another on motorcycles that convert to surf a top waves. After the one-two punch of Rogue One and The Return of Xander Cage, it’s nice to see Yen front and center in American cinema again after his minor appearances in the early 2000s with Blade II and Highlander: Endgame. Here’s to hoping that he’ll get better parts in American productions where he doesn’t just show off his moves and can inhabit stronger characters along the lines of his work in Ip Man, Wu Xia, and SPL.
Speaking of parts where one simply shows off their moves, Tony Jaa also appears, only to really show off some of his trademark impressive moves, such as a scene where he slides underneath an open car door. Unfortunately, he’s not in the film that much, and also does not fight Donnie Yen, which is a real disappointment. However, Jaa’s screen time here is much greater than his time in Furious 7, where he wasn’t even given a real introduction. He also gets to showcase a sense of liveliness in a few scenes where he dances around and acts silly, which is quite refreshing. So take it as is. Overall, both Yen and Jaa’s inclusion adds some serious martial arts credibility to the film.
Unfortunately, just about every other supporting character is hugely forgetful, but that’s also because none of them are a part of the action game in the way that Diesel, Yen, and Jaa are. Ruby Rose is probably the most notable, since she’ll also be seen in John Wick: Chapter Two, so we clearly cannot ignore her. Deepika Padukone is fine too, as she, much like Rose, isn’t given much to work with. Toni Collette is quite fine as a feisty and no nonsense replacement for Sam Jackson’s Gibbons character. However, no one is as bad as Nina Dobrev, who is especially grating and annoying as a “humorous” tech character. In all honesty, I’ll find myself slightly more embarrassed to own this film in the future simply because of her performance. All in all, The Return of Xander Cage has a supporting cast that is probably way too large for its own good, although it does add a lot of diversity and international appeal to the mix.
Whereas the first two films in the series featured a lot of gadgetry, this entry seems to tame down the espionage elements for a more simplistic and streamlined action picture. Although the first xXx was designed to introduced a new breed of secret agent to the cinematic world, The Return of Xander Cage is hardly a secret agent picture at all, but more so a streamlined action picture primed for international appeal. There’s still villains who want to rule the world, undercover secret agents, and government tech rooms, but it hardly feels very spy-esque if you ask me. Much the same way that Fast Five tamed down the street racing for a more heist centric direction for its franchise, The Return of Xander Cage tames down the espionage with an attitude angle for a more team driven international action blockbuster.
I can’t in my right mind give this movie a rating higher than an eight, because it’s all plot, no story, and features some of the worst dialog I have ever heard within a film. But excess is the name of the game here, and The Return of Xander Cage makes for one of the most entertaining theatrical experiences that I’ve had in a long time. I even saw it in IMAX 3D, which further added to the absurdity of it all, although I never recommend watching a Donnie Yen fight in 3D, as it’ll hurt your eyes and head. In conclusion, The Return of Xander Cage excels as a reboot to its series as it brings back elements of the original, slightly updates them for a new audience, and throws in a helping hand of martial arts for a blockbuster of a good time. It may be too early to call, but I’ll be surprised if the film doesn’t end up on my top ten action films of the year list by the year’s end.
According to AFS, Wolf Warrior II will be set in a war-torn African country. Other confirmed cast members include Olympic gymnast Zou Kai, Celina Jade (Skin Trade) and Frank Grillo (The Grey) who will be playing a mercenary commander who goes head-to-head with Wu Jing.
For Wolf Warrior II, Jing aims to topple the original. He’s even enlisted the help of Hollywood heavies, The Russo Brothers (Captain America: The Winter Soldier): “We’re helping Wu Jing out on Wolf Warrior 2. We introduced him to some of our relationships in the business, like a stunt team that’s going to come in and work hard with him to elevate the action on the film because the second time out he really wants to up his game and outperform the first movie, which did incredibly well,” Joe Russo told LA Times.
Severin Films has ventured back into the vaults to bring chop socky fans another invincible collection of treachery, brutality, swordplay, wirework, darting daggers, flying fists and the most insane fighting styles ever unleashed on celluloid. Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury contains over two more hours of the greatest martial arts madness in motion picture history, newly transferred in 2K!
Experience 35 original trailers from The Golden Age of Martial Arts Cinema, starring such legends as Angela Mao, Bolo Yeung, Don Wong, Chang Yi, Bruce Li, Leanne Liu, Lo Lieh and even Chuck Norris. It’s an indomitable dynasty of Hong Kong classics that includes Yellow-Faced Tiger, Bruce and the Iron Finger, Revenge of the Shaolin Kid, The Avenging Boxer, Snuff-Bottle Connection, Hell’s Wind Staff, Thundering Mantis, The Legendary Strike, Kung Fu Killers, Crazy Horse & Intelligent Monkey, Shaolin Invincible Sticks and more!
Audio Commentary with experts Ric Meyers (Films of Fury)
Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival)
Martial Arts Instructor Greg Schiller and Rick Stelow of Drunken Master Video
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