Shock Wave (2017) Review

"Shock Wave" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Shock Wave” Chinese Theatrical Poster

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.

Martin Sandison’s Rating: 7/10

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Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume Three | DVD (Well Go USA)

Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume Three | DVD (Well Go USA)

Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume Three | DVD (Well Go USA)

RELEASE DATE: October 3, 2017

On October 3, 2017, Well Go USA is releasing the 3-disc DVD set for Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume Three, a 2008 martial arts series that centers around the legendary Bruce Lee (Volume One and Volume Two are currently available).

Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume Three continues where Volume Two left off. The series stars Danny Chan (Shaolin Soccer and Ip Man 3) as Bruce Lee, Michelle Lang, Gary Daniels (Zero Tolerance), Ted Duran, Natalia Dzyublo, Wang Luoyong, Hazen McIntyre, Ray Park (Star Wars: Episode I), Tim Storms, Micheal Jai White (Falcon Rising), Traci Ann Wolfe, Mark Dacascos (Drive) and Ash Gordey.

Pre-order Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume Three from Amazon.com today!

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

‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ to feature ‘Rebel’ star Veronica Ngo

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" Teaser Poster

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” Teaser Poster

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 Clash with Johnny Tri Nguyen, not to mention a minor role in Yuen Woo-ping’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny with 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 Raid stars 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’s Jiang 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”…

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Tag (2015) Review

"Tag" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Tag” Japanese Theatrical Poster

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 Exposure and Cold Fish director 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 Matrix and 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.

Z Ravas’ Rating: 7.5/10

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Ip Man: Season 1 | Blu-ray & DVD (Cinedigm)

Ip Man: Season 1 | Blu-ray & DVD (Cinedigm)

Ip Man: Season 1 | Blu-ray & DVD (Cinedigm)

RELEASE DATE: October 10, 2017

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:

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

Steven Seagal and Fan Siu Wong team up for ‘Attrition’

"On Deadly Ground" Theatrical Poster

“On Deadly Ground” Theatrical Poster

Steven Seagal (Above the Law) is currently shooting Attrition, a Kurosawa-esque project that Seagal wrote years ago. At once point, Seagal was attached to helm the project (it would have been his first directing gig since 1994’s On Deadly Ground, 22 years ago), but directorial duties were switched over to Mathieu Weschler, the filmmaker behind Covert Operation (aka The Borderland).

Hong Kong cinema fans will be delighted to learn that Fan Siu Wong (Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky) and Yu Kang (Wu Xia) are part of the all-star cast that also includes Vithaya Pansringarm (Lupin the Third, Only God Forgives), Rudy Youngblood (Apocalypto), James P. Bennett (Swelter), Cha-Lee Yoon (Plan B, One Million K(l)icks) and Bayra Bela (Netflix’ Marco Polo).

Attrition is said to be about Axe (Seagal), a warrior who’s in search of a missing Thai girl who possesses mythical powers. “I’ve written something called Attrition, which kind of reminds me of a [Akira] Kurosawa movie. I’m hoping to make that soon, maybe in China, maybe in Hong Kong, maybe in Thailand. We’ve got a lot of great offers out there. We’re going to be getting real busy this year,” Seagal told JoBlo in 2015.

Seagal is producing Attrition along with Bey Logan (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II) and Philippe Martinez (Wake of Death).

Updates: Download the Full Press Release for Attrition, available in .PDF format. The file contains photos from the production, including the first stills of both Seagal and Fan Siu Wong in action.

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Iron Protector | aka Super Bodyguard | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Iron Protector | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Iron Protector | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

RELEASE DATE: September 5, 2017

On September 5, 2017, Well Go USA is releasing the Blu-ray & DVD for Iron Protector (read our review), which is better known as Super Bodyguard (Well Go USA most likely changed its title to avoid confusion with Sammo Hung’s The Bodyguard).

Iron Protector is a new martial arts movie directed by and starring Yue Song (King of the Streets). Song plays Wu-Lin, who chooses a dark path to seek for revenge, and take the law in his own hands. Wu-Lin is not just a regular man, he is the successor of an ancient, once powerful Chinese clan, the “Iron Feet”.

The film also stars Wrath of Vajra’s Shi Yanneng (aka Xing Yu) and Special ID’s Collin Chou.

Pre-order Iron Protector from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles, News | 14 Comments

Deal on Fire! Chuck Norris: Total Attack Pack | Blu-ray | Only $10.31 – Expires soon!

Chuck Norris Total Attack Pack | Blu-ray (MGM)

Chuck Norris Total Attack Pack | Blu-ray (MGM)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray set for MGM’s Chuck Norris: Total Attack Pack. This 4-disc collection includes some of the best titles from Norris’ filmography:

Lone Wolf McQuade (1983), starring David Carradine and Barbara Carrera; Missing in Action (1984), starring James Hong; Code of Silence (1985), starring Henry Silva; and The Delta Force (1986), starring Lee Marvin and Robert Forster.

(All that’s really missing is 1974’s Slaughter in San Francsico with Don Wong)…

Order the Chuck Norris: Total Attack Pack from Amazon.com today!

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Kill ’em All (2017) Review

"Kill 'em All" Japanese DVD Cover

“Kill ’em All” Japanese DVD Cover

Director: Peter Malota
Producer: Rafael Primorac
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Autumn Reeser, Peter Stormare, María Conchita Alonso, Daniel Bernhardt, Kris Van Damme, Mila Kaladjurdjevic, Paul Sampson, Kieran Gallagher, Peter Organ, Eddie Matthews
Running Time: 96 min.

By Kyle Warner

Stunt performers and fight coordinators are awesome individuals that go largely underappreciated by far too many film fans. I tend to think that may not be the case at City on Fire, but the point remains. These men and women know their stuff and they make our movies better with their often unsung contributions. However, when asked to step into the role of actor, writer, or director, sometimes these stunt specialists aren’t always up to task. Kill ’em All is the directorial debut of stuntman and fight choreographer Peter Malota. Malota is not well known to me, but he’s been involved with multiple Jean-Claude Van Damme movies over the years both behind the camera and in front of it, with collaborations such as The Quest, Nowhere to Run, and Double Impact. Those films, which featured JCVD in his prime, showcased good (sometimes great) action and stunt work, so I have no reason to doubt Malota’s abilities in his original field. But a good storyteller he is not.

Kill ’em All is a confusing, poorly paced action movie based around the mystery of a hospital bloodbath and the nurse who survived it. Nurse Suzanne (Autumn Reeser, The Arrangement) is called in for questioning by the FBI. Agent Holman (Peter Stormare, Fargo) doubts her story – for some reason? – and Suzanne decides to start from the beginning, retelling how her skeleton crew hospital took in multiple victims from an apparent assassination attempt all at once. One of them is Philip (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who is sporting a concussion and bleeding from a bad cut on his arm. Suzanne is tending to her patients when a Russian with a gun (Daniel Bernhardt) walks in, shoots the ceiling, and demands to know, “Where is he?!” No one knows who the hell he’s talking about. Nor should they. Dude just shows up with a gun, asks a vague question, and kills people who can’t give him a satisfactory answer. Thing is, I didn’t know who he meant either. I assumed he was talking about JCVD, because well, when a bad guy asks “Where is he?” in a JCVD movie, it’s natural to assume he’s talking about our favorite Muscles from Brussels. But nope. The angry Russian goes over to a dead guy on a gurney, pulls back the sheet, and reveals his recently slain brother. Ahhh. Okay then. Next thing you know, Van Damme draws his gun (because apparently patients who are the survivors of assassination attempts are not disarmed when put under medical care) and he goes out into the hall to deal with the angry Russian. These characters with only the vaguest of motivations shoot at each other in the hospital lobby and Suzanne sticks close to Van Damme because at least he’s not shooting at the ceiling and asking stupid questions. But wait, hold up. Peter Stormare’s FBI guy doesn’t believe this crap so we gotta jump back to the FBI interrogation room. Suzanne says that’s how it happened, the FBI asks why they should believe her, and the audience screams GET ON WITH IT ALREADY. But before we can jump back to the hospital, let’s now explore the backstories of the assassins who are here to kill Philip via a series of flashbacks, with each flashback given its own exact date that seems important at first but I guess not…?

It’s a mess. There is such a thing as trying to do too much. At the core of the story is an assault on a hospital where JCVD must fight off assassins, each of them known for their particular method of murder, while he works his way to the fifth floor where an injured diplomat sleeps in a hospital bed. If the movie wanted to be all about that, we might’ve had something here. But instead, the movie goes every which way. The constant jumping back to the FBI room can be tolerated, if only because Peter Stormare is easily the most entertaining thing in the movie. But the flashbacks are a tiresome bore. One goes as far back as 1981 to show JCVD’s Philip as a child (the kid is all of 12 years old. Which begs the question: is JCVD supposed to be 48 years old in this movie?). There are a few unexpected twists at the end—some of them truly bonkers—and I’d almost give it credit for deciding to go in that direction, if not for the fact that one such twist is so obviously lifted from a far superior film.

As Philip, Jean-Claude Van Damme is… elsewhere. He looks incredibly tired. An argument could be made that he’s too old for this sort of role but I’m not ready to go there because it’s clear that the movie would’ve sucked just as much with someone like Scott Adkins in the lead. Van Damme’s character barely speaks, but when he does speak the script gives him some real doozies. There’s this quiet moment during the hospital mayhem where Philip and Suzanne sit down in a break room to talk. He says to her, “You seem like the type of girl I would like to walk with you in the woods and listen to the birds. Plus, you’re intelligent.” And yes, in addition to being an outrageously bad line, it’s also (one must assume) a flubbed delivery. But who wants to read a line like that twice, right?

The lame dialogue extends to other sections of the film, too. Suzanne, a survivor of bloody mayhem, recounts her story like a drunk novelist crafting a poor first draft (hey, I’ve been there, too). A character that you’d think would be shaken by what she’d endured instead slips into flowery prose like she’s attempting to impress. When Stormare’s FBI agent yells at her to get to the point, I acknowledge that he’s a jerk, but damn if I’m not on his side anyway because this dialogue was meant for the garbage can.

Peter Stormare is the best part of the movie, though that’s admittedly not saying a whole lot. I think he must’ve just come off the set of John Wick Chapter 2 – it’s the same beard, same slicked back hair, it might even be the same suit. I don’t for one second buy him as an FBI Agent but he’s fun. And though he doesn’t get much to say, Daniel Bernhardt makes for an intimidating villain. It’s like a more dramatically invested take on his bodyguard character from John Wick, a heavy who disappeared into the background too much in that film but makes for a standout in Kill’ em All.

The action is average. The film’s wretched editing ruins the thrills. JCVD’s son Kris Van Damme shows off some nice kicks. I don’t believe he says a word in the film but he’s impressive in his fight with his father. Autumn Reeser’s Suzanne has a fight with a femme fatale assassin (model Mila Kaladjurdjevic) but the action is far too brief to hold a lasting memory. The best is saved for last when Van Damme and Bernhardt face off. Not sure if fans will consider it worth the wait but it is a fine fight and both performers pull off a few good moves.

The film is obviously working on a small budget. I don’t hold that against it, but nor do I think that’s reason enough to forgive its many shortcomings. It’s an above average cast for a direct-to-DVD feature but they’re largely wasted on a horrible script and awful pacing. Waste of a cool title.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 3/10

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Ralph Macchio and William Zabka kick in a ‘Karate Kid’ series

"The Karate Kid" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“The Karate Kid” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Not exactly The Karate Kid 4 (or Part 5 if you count The Next Karate Kid), but pretty damn close. A 10-episode half-hour comedy titled Cobra Kai, is in the works. The series, which will debut on YouTube Red, will mark the return of both of Ralph Macchio and William Zabka, playing their respective roles from the highly successful motion picture franchise (the first two were directed by legendary Rocky helmer, John G. Avildsen) that spawned three sequels and a remake.

As per the press release: Thirty years after the events of the 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament, a down-and-out Johnny Lawrence (Zabka) seeks redemption by reopening the infamous Cobra Kai karate dojo, reigniting his rivalry with a now successful Daniel LaRusso (Macchio), who has been struggling to maintain balance in his life without the guidance of his mentor, Mr. Miyagi. The show is about two men addressing past demons and present frustrations the only way they know how: through karate.

According to THR: Josh Heald (Hot Tub Time Machine) as well as duo Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (Harold and Kumar) will pen the script and exec produce alongside Macchio and Zabka. Hurwitz and Schlossberg will direct much of the series. Will Smith’s Sony Pictures Television Studios-based Overbrook Entertainment will exec produce with James Lassiter and Caleeb Pinkett overseeing for the company.

Look for Cobra Kai in 2018 only on YouTube Red. Until then, here’s the Trailer for The Karate Kid 2:

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Tsui Hark to film ‘The Legend of Famen Temple’ in November

"The Legend of Famen Temple" Teaser Poster

“The Legend of Famen Temple” Teaser Poster

Now that Tsui Hark (The Taking of Tiger Mountain) practically has Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings in the can, the acclaimed Hong Kong director will soon begin work on The Legend of Famen Temple, a fantasy adventure based on a novel by Huang Shang Jin Yu.

The film will star frequent Tsui collaborator Kenny Lin (The Great Wall). Rumored stars attached to the project include Lin Yun (The Mermaid), Chen Kun (Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal), Xun Shou (Flying Swords of the Dragon Gate) and Zitao Huang (Railroad Tigers).

If The Legend of Famen Temple is anything like the novel, here what’ you can expect: The story takes place in the Famen Temple in the Tang Dynasty. The stupa, where Buddha’s relic is enshrined suddenly catches fire and flying Apsaras appears on top of it. A teenager named Duan Chengshi and his cousin witnesses all the oddities. Later, Duan’s cousin loses memory, followed by sudden death of people who talk about it. Duan also loses his notes. And someone keeps watch on Duan and even attacks him. After investigation, Duan lays emphasis on a priestess of Zoroastrianism. Then, things get more complicated (via Amazon).

According to AFS, The Legend of Famen Temple begins shooting in November. For now, we leave you with the Trailer for Time and Tide (because we miss Tsui’s modern-setting films):

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Atomic Blonde (2017) Review

"Atomic Blonde" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Atomic Blonde” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: David Leitch
Writer: Kurt Johnstad
Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Bill Skarsgård, Daniel Bernhardt, Sam Hargrave, James Faulkner, Roland Møller, Lili Gesler
Running Time: 115 min.

By Kyle Warner

With a bit of fancy editing and a dash of special effects, movies can make just about anyone into an action hero these days. But every once in a while, a star and a director decide they want to do more than trick you; they want to convince you. All the right things gotta come together for this to happen. The right star, who must be motivated to push themselves physically. And the right director, who knows how to use what their star can do without appearing to hide what they can’t. That duo—plus a hundred other necessary elements—is a rare thing in Hollywood, where things are made fast and with as little risk as possible. But Charlize Theron is a rare type of actress. And her heroine in Atomic Blonde is precisely the sort of role that best shows off her many talents.

Training under director David Leitch’s 87eleven ‘action design’ studio, Theron took the bruises and spent the necessary time to make the punches look real before filming commenced. When she fights off a group of guys with little more than a yellow hose, I was in tune with the action, even audibly expressing my shock when certain spectacular moves were performed. It’s one of the most convincing transformations from attractive Hollywood star to absolute badass I’ve seen.

In Atomic Blonde, Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 spy who’s seen some of the worst of the Cold War. She’s a tough, no-nonsense operative who’s just as willing to use sex appeal as she is a clenched fist of keys to best her opponents. We first see her naked in a tub of ice, covered in bruises. She then reports to her superiors, the British spy played by Toby Jones (Captain America) and the CIA man played by John Goodman (Kong: Skull Island), who grill her on her recent operation in East Berlin leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Another MI6 agent (a man Lorraine is reluctant to admit she was close to) was killed while trying to escape Berlin with microfilm. Lorraine’s mission was to retrieve the microfilm, all the while keeping an eye out for the notorious but faceless traitor known as Satchel.

Lorraine was made as soon as she stepped off the plane. The KGB know her name, they know her contacts, and they knew she was coming. She fights them off—using her high heel shoes—and is picked up by a fellow British spy, David Percival (James McAvoy, X-Men: First Class). From here, she gets the lay of the land and meets with various contacts including the intel salesman (Til Schweiger, Inglourious Basterds), the innocent French woman (Sofia Boutella, Kingsman), the Soviet turncoat (Eddie Marsan, Ray Donovan), and the document forger (Bill Skarsgård, It).

And from there it just sort of… meanders for a bit. There’s not much of a sense of hurry in Lorraine’s mission. The villains are the Russians and they’re everywhere, but they’re a vague threat that exists somewhere in the shadows and only appear when an action sequence is needed. The specter of the traitor known as Satchel isn’t introduced until about Act 2, which seems a little late. As an action movie, Atomic Blonde can be pretty spectacular, but it wants to be a Cold War thriller, too, and that’s where it doesn’t always deliver.

But if you’re coming for action, you should leave the theatre pretty happy. There’s a continuous shot action sequence set primarily in a stairway that rivals the likes of Oldboy and Children of Men. I say ‘continuous shot’ and not ‘single shot’ because I’m sure there are some cuts in there, but they’re all well disguised. It’s an amazing sequence. Another awesome scene has Charlize Theron’s blonde Brit face off against Daniel Bernhardt’s blonde Russian in a movie theatre while Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker plays in the background. Very cool.

The film has a very particular look and feel, some of which feels directly influenced by director David Leitch’s co-director gig, John Wick. Backgrounds covered in spray paint, stars lit by neon, and all set to the tune of 80’s rock, it’s a most peculiar Cold War actioner. But it works. Leitch proves that Wick co-director and fellow former stuntman Chad Stahelski isn’t the only one who can succeed when going it alone. The film suffers pacing issues and the story lacks originality, but Leitch’s visual style and hard-hitting action are reasons to be excited for his future films to come.

No matter how good anyone else is, they are afterthoughts by comparison to Charlize Theron. This is a great character, wonderfully played by an actress willing to go the edge for her art. It’s almost a shame that Theron and Lorraine didn’t find each other years ago, because I can imagine endless sequels with her character. What I also liked is that she was not some invincible heroine. In one extended fight, Lorraine walks off looking to be in worse shape than the men she defeated. Her special skill is that she just doesn’t quit.

It’s just too bad that the film’s story didn’t wow me the same way that its main character did. Atomic Blonde is the battle of some first-rate John Wick-inspired action trapped in a second-rate John le Carré-inspired spy thriller. It’s a mildly disappointing film because when it’s working, it’s really working. Just the same, it’s definitely worth seeing, for Theron if nothing else. I hope to see more of the character in sequels. Hopefully with a more interesting story next time. Atomic Blonde has big franchise material.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 6.5/10

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Bruce accepts the challenge in a New ‘Birth of the Dragon’ clip

"Birth of the Dragon" Theatrical Poster

“Birth of the Dragon” Theatrical Poster

A new Hollywood film revolving around Bruce Lee titled Birth of the Dragon will finally be making its way to theaters on August 25th. The fable-based movie will take a look at the life of legendary martial artist, using disputed bout with Master Wong Jack-Man as the centerpiece of the story.

At the helm of the project is George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau) with a screenplay by Christopher Wilkinson (Ali) and Stephen J. Rivele (Nixon). Noted Hong Kong action director, Corey Yuen (Kiss of the Dragon, No Retreat, No Surrender II) has staged the film’s fight choreography.

Rising Hong Kong actor Philip Ng (Wild City, Sifu vs Vampire, Zombie Fight Club) stars as Bruce Lee. Co-stars include Yu Xia (Dragon Squad) as Wong Jack-Man, Billy Magnussen as Steve McKee, and Jinging Qu (Journey Through China), who’ll be playing Steve’s love interest.

During early screenings of Birth of the Dragon, many critics and fans were upset that the character of Bruce (Ng) took a backseat, while the “white” character of Billy (McKee) was front and center. Due to this backlash, the film’s U.S. publicist has reached out to inform SA: “The version shown at TIFF was unfinished and it has been recut. The character played by Billy is a minor character – not the lead – in this cut, which is what will be shown in theaters. The story is not told from the point of view of the fictional Steve McKee character. It focuses on Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man.”

This isn’t the first time Hollywood has explored the legend of Bruce Lee. Perhaps the most well known example is 1993’s Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, a heavily dramatized biopic from The Fast and the Furious director Rob Cohen that featured Jason Scott Lee (Time Cop 2) in the lead role. And let’s not forget the many Chinese productions, such as 1975’s Bruce Lee I Love You, 1976’s Bruce Lee: The Man, The Myth, 1978’s The Dragon Lives and 2010’s Bruce Lee My Brother.

Updates: Added a New Clip from film, followed by the Trailer:

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Deal on Fire! Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon | Blu-ray | Only $9.20 – Expires soon!

Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Tsui Hark’s Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon (read our review), the prequel to Detective Dee & the Mystery of the Phantom Flame.

Young Detective Dee is the captivating tale of Dee Renjie’s (Mark Chao) beginnings in the Imperial police force. His very first case, investigating reports of a sea monster terrorizing the town, reveals a sinister conspiracy of treachery and betrayal.

Young Detective Dee also stars Feng Shaofeng, Kenny Lin Geng Xin, Kim Bum, Angelababy, Deng Chao, Carina Lau Kar Ling.

Order Young Detective Dee from Amazon.com today!

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Trailer: Bruce Willis makes Eli Roth’s ‘Death Wish’ come true

"Death Wish" Teaser Poster

“Death Wish” Teaser Poster

Prepare yourself to witness a good dose of violent revenge with Eli Roth’s (Cabin Fever) upcoming Death Wish remake, which hits theaters on November 22, 2017.

This new version of Michael Winner’s 1973 classic stars Bruce Willis (Die Hard) as Dr. Paul Kersey, a surgeon who only sees the aftermath of Chicago violence when it is rushed into his ER – until his wife (Elisabeth Shue) and daughter (Camila Morrone) are viciously attacked in their suburban home. With the police overloaded with crimes, Paul, burning for revenge, hunts his family’s assailants to deliver justice.

The original Death Wish – based on the 1972 novel by Brian Garfield – involved a New York City architect (Charles Bronson) who becomes a one-man vigilante squad after his wife is murdered by street punks.

Roth came on board to helm the remake after a number of filmmakers dropped out over creative differences with Paramount-MGM. Previous directors included Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces), Gerardo Naranjo (Miss Bala), and finally Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, the duo responsible for the 2013 cult favorite, Big Bad Wolves.

Back in 2006, Sylvester Stallone expressed interest in his own remake: “Instead of the Bronson character being an architect; my version would have him as a very good cop who had incredible success without ever using his gun. So when the attack on his family happens, he’s really thrown into a moral dilemma in proceeding to carry out his revenge.”

Without further ado, here’s the Trailer for Roth’s take:

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Newest Trailer for the Louis Koo, Tony Jaa actioner ‘Paradox’

"Paradox" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Paradox” Chinese Theatrical Poster

In addition to Jesse V. Johnson’s Triple Threat, which is being described as a martial arts Expendables-type flick starring Tony Jaa (Skin Trade), Tiger Chen (Man of Tai Chi) and Iko Uwais (The Raid 2), there’s another high profile Jaa film on the verge of being released called Paradox (aka Fate).

Directed by Wilson Yip (Ip Man 3) and produced by Soi Cheang (SPL II), Paradox stars Louis Koo (League of Gods) as a police negotiator who travels to Bangkok to search for his teenage daughter and is aided by local detectives played by Jaa and Wu Yue (Journey to the West).

In addition to Koo and Jaa, Paradox also stars Gordon Lam (Trivisa), Ken Lo (The Godfather’s Daughter Mafia Blues), Hanna Chan, Stephy Tang (Let’s Go!), Chris Collins and features action choreography by Hong Kong film legend, Sammo Hung (The Bodyguard).

The film is being marketed as part of the SPL/Sha Po Lang crime franchise (aka Kill Zone), but like SPL 2 to SPL, it should be noted that Paradox is unrelated, story-wise. To add to the confusion, an actual SPL 3 is currently in development.

Paradox will see a domestic release on August 17, 2017.

Updates: Check out the film’s Latest Trailer below:

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Expendable… what mean expendable?

"The Expendables 2" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“The Expendables 2” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Expendables 3’s box office belly flop a few years ago – possibly due to the film’s early online leakage or its undesired PG-13 rating – left the franchise in limbo. And Sylvester Stallone’s recent disagreement with series producer Avi Lerner, may have left the series dead, but we’ll get back into that later.

After the fan backlash of Expendables 3’s PG-13 rating, Stallone stated that he would make the next installation R-Rated: “If I do another one it’s going to be a lot bloodier… hardcore R.” He added: “I believe it was a horrible miscalculation on everyone’s part in trying to reach a wider audience, but in doing such, diminish the violence that the audience expects. I’m quite certain it won’t happen again.”

The fact that the recent release of Marvel’s Deadpool became the third R-Rated movie to cross $300 million domestically (The Passion of the Christ and American Sniper are #1 and #2, respectively), toning down violent films to a PG-13 to reach a wider audience became a thing of the past. Then came the recent release of 2017’s Logan, another hugely successful Marvel flick that followed Deadpool’s R-Rating trend. So, an R-Rated Expendables 4 would no longer be “quite certain,” it would have been a done deal.

To producers, this wasn’t some urgent research paper on what’s morally right or wrong, it was all about making money while still keeping the integrity of the filmmakers’ vision intact. Like Stallone said, making Part 3 PG-13 to sell more tickets was a miscalculation. After all, the Expendables franchise started out as R-Rated. It made money. Lots of it. So to have Expendables 3 come out with with its PG-13 rating was a punch in the face for those who loved the series – I mean, you’ve got the biggest R-rated action stars in the world (okay, they’re has-beens, but they’re still action legends… Rambo, Desperado, Terminator, Lethal Weapon, you get the point…) in one film, and they want their target audience to be people who weren’t even born when most of the cast was at their prime? Sometimes greed teaches you a lesson.

So development on Expendables 4 begins, but wait (!) *insert record scratch sound effect*…

In March 2017, Stallone announces he’s leaving the Expendables series. Turns out, he and Nu Image/Millennium chief Avi Lerner could not find common ground on a new director, on the script and on certain qualitative elements of the film.

So what the heck happened? Did Lerner want John Moore (A Good Day to Die Hard) to direct, leaving Stallone running for his life? Were the studios still pushing for a PG-13 rating? Doubtful, just ask Deadpool. Or maybe Stallone’s new found acclaim with Creed turned him off from the goofy franchise? Possibly, but doesn’t Escape Plan 2 rule that out?

There’s some speculation that Stallone was simply “getting too old for this sh*t.” I personally don’t buy it. If you look at his upcoming projects, he’s got a lot of stuff lined up that’s not exactly voice over work for Pixar: Escape Plan 2: Hades, Escape Plan 3 and Ex-Baghdad (with Jackie Chan). Besides, the more action stars you have in one movie like the Expendables, the less physical work you’d have to do. Not saying it’s easy, but he’s not carrying the film by himself like he did in Rambo or Rocky.

Here’s the bottom line: Everyone changes their mind. In the 80s and 90s, how many times did Stallone say “this is the last Rambo, Rocky, etc.” Since then, he’s made another Rambo, and more Rocky films (yes, we’re including Creed – once you put on that lame black hat and leather jacket, you’ve made another Rocky movie).

If you’re a die hard Expendables fanatic, don’t lose hope. But then again, at 71 years old, time isn’t standing still for Stallone (although he’s in better shape than most twenty somethings). There’s also the chance the Expendables might continue without Stallone, but what fun is there in that? Heck, I don’t even like the Expendables franchise and I don’t want to see that happen.

You know what? Screw Expendables. Give me another one of these babies and I’ll be happy…

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Mel Gibson drags Michael Jai White ‘Across Concrete’

"Tactical Force" Japanese DVD Cover

“Tactical Force” Japanese DVD Cover

Martial arts star Michael Jai White (Falcon Rising, Tactical Force) has joined the cast of Dragged Across Concrete, an upcoming police brutality crime thriller from director S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk). The film sports an all-star cast that includes Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Don Johnson, Jennifer Carpenter and Tattiawna Jones.

Gibson portrays an old guard policeman while Vaughn plays his volatile younger partner. The duos find themselves suspended when a video of their strong-arming tactics become the media’s special du jour. Low on cash and with no other options, these two embittered soldiers descend into the criminal underworld to gain their just due, but instead find far more than they wanted awaiting them in the shadows (via Variety).

The film is currently filming with a release date pending from Lionsgate.

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Michael Dudikoff’s ‘Nam’ Double Feature headed for Blu-ray

"Platoon Leader" Theatrical Poster

“Platoon Leader” Theatrical Poster

Kino Lorber continues their wave of Michael Dudikoff classics with a Blu-ray Double Feature release for Aaron Norris’ Platoon Leader (1988) and Louis Morneau’s Soldier Boyz (1995).

In Platoon Leader, a young officer, just out of West Point is sent to Vietnam, where the men don’t respect him until he gets wounded and returns to be a wiser soldier and a better commander

In Soldier Boyz, a group of prisoners are going to Vietnam to rescue the daughter of a V-I.P. The Ones who survive get their freedom back… but hell awaits them. Also starring Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Tekken 2) and Don Stroud (King of the Kickboxers).

Both films are expected to be released later this year. Stay tuned for pre-order information.

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Deal on Fire! The Last Sentinel | Blu-ray | Only $4.93 – Expires soon!

"The Last Sentinel" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“The Last Sentinel” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for The Last Sentinal, starring 11-time World Kickboxing Champion, Don “The Dragon” Wilson (The Martial Arts Kid).

Before director Jesse V. Johnson unleashed Savage Dog and and the soon-to-be released Triple Threat, he teamed up with “The Dragon” for this sci-fi actioner. In the film, Wilson is an electronically enhanced soldier who rescues Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) from a failed resistance mission.

Fun Trivia: The Last Sentinel is the only Don “The Dragon” Wilson film where he doesn’t use his moniker “Dragon” in the credits.

Order The Last Sentinal from Amazon.com today!

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