If Peace Breaker is anything like the original, here’s what you can expect: In a 24 hour period, a detective (originally played by Lee Sun-Hyun) receives a divorce notice from his wife; next, his mother passes away; he then becomes the focus of a police investigation; to make matters worse, on the way to his mother’s funeral, he commits a fatal hit and run…
Peace Breaker gets a domestic release on July 18, 2017.
When an undercover cop gets too close to revealing the mastermind of a drug syndicate, his cover is blown. Double-crossed, he’s thrown into a Thai prison, where a guard discovers the inmate – claiming he’s a cop – is a bone marrow match for his dying daughter… and his warden may have an even deadlier operation hidden within the prison walls.
Tak Sakaguchi rose to fame with the 2001 cult favorite Versus, a movie that managed to combine the low-budget charms of Evil Dead-like horror with blistering martial arts and gunplay. The actor later scored another cult hit with Battlefield Baseball, but has most recently hitched his wagon to the Sushi Typhoon production company.
In April of 2013, new broke out that Tak was retiring from acting, which left an unknown fate for his recently announced role in Death Trance II, not to mention a long-rumored sequel to Versus.
In late 2014, Cityonfire.com was contacted by director Yuji Shimomura (Death Trance) with breaking news that Tak was out of retirement to make Re:Born, which the actor calls his “very last” and “most superb” action movie:
“After I retired, I found myself having a passion for action that was still smoldering inside of me. After a conversation with action director Yuji Shimomura, I wanted to thrive one more time and create the very last and most superb action movie with my utmost power and passion for the sake of a closure to my entire career. I am convinced that I have to give my very best one last time. That is how I feel about this project. I didn’t realize how many people chose to support a person like myself until after I retired. I hope this movie will be satisfying enough for them to feel absolutely alright for me to go. This is for them.”
Re:Born is getting a domestic release in August, followed by U.S. release by XYZ Films on a soon-to-be-announced date. Stay tuned!
On September 15th, Lionsgate will be releasing American Assassin into the theaters. This upcoming action thriller is directed by Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger) and based on a series of novels by the late Vince Flynn.
The film stars Dylan O’Brien (The Maze Runner) as a special agent who carries out covert counter-terrorist operations. Co-starring is Michael Keaton (Jackie Brown), who plays Stan Hurley, Rapp’s instructor/mentor.
According to Deadline, the pair are enlisted by CIA Deputy Director (Sanaa Lathan) to investigate a wave of random attacks on military and civilian targets. Together the three discover a pattern in the violence leading them to a joint mission with a Turkish agent (Shiva Negar) to stop an operative (Taylor Kitsch) intent on starting a world war in the Middle East.
The most notable star, at least to City on Fire visitors, is the inclusion of martial arts sensation Scott Adkins (Eliminators, Hard Target 2). But as with his role in Criminal, don’t expect to see him get an ample amount of screen time, because we’re thinking his role is more of an “appearance” (hope we’re wrong).
“xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” Korean Theatrical Poster
The H Collective, a newly formed film company – headed by veteran producers Sid Ganis, Nancy Hult Ganis, Mark Johnson, Joe Roth and Jeff Kirschenbaum – has its first project on its to-do list: xXx 4 (via TW).
xXx 4 is at early stages of development, but considering the xXx franchise has the potential to pull in high profile action stars from around the world, the possibilities are limitless (we’re sure Iko Uwais’ agent is on The H Collective’s speed dial).
Max Zhang – the rising star of The GrandmasterS.P.L. IIand Ip Man 3 – is revisiting danger in The Brink, an upcoming thriller by first-time director Jonathan Li.
The Brink follows a group of fishermen who smuggle gold and the cops who chase them. It’s reported that the film will feature an extensive amount of Thunderball-esque underwater action sequences. In the film, Zhang sports blonde hair, just like James Tien did in 1973’s Seaman No. 7, which also featured underwater action sequences (see trailer below).
Bong Joon-ho (The Snowpiercer), the acclaimed director of the 2006 Korean monster masterpieceThe Host, will debut his latest film Okja (read our review) on Netflix June 28th
Meet Mija (Seohyun An), a young girl who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend – a massive animal named Okja. Following her across continents, the coming-of-age comedy drama sees Mija’s horizons expand in a way one never would want for one’s children, coming up against the harsh realities of genetically modified food experimentation, globalization, eco-terrorism, and humanity’s obsession with image, brand and self-promotion.
Okja also stars Tilda Swinton (The Snowpiercer), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Paul Dano (Love & Mercy), Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead), Lily Collins (Abduction), Devon Bostick (Regression), Byun Heebong (The Host), Shirley Henderson (Filth), Daniel Henshall (The Babadook), Yoon Je Moon (Fists of Legend) and Choi Wooshik (Big Match).
Action director Jesse V. Johnson (The Last Sentinel, Green Street Hooligans 2) is currently prepping his next film, Savage Dog(read our review) which is described as “A bold, non-stop action epic unlike any other.”
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 (limited) on August 4th, followed by VOD platforms on August 8th from XLrator Media. Until then, check out the film’s new Teaser Trailer below:
If you’re a fan of Jean-Claude Van Damme, chances are you’ve heard of the completed, but unreleased The Eagle Path (aka Full Love or Soldiers). The action drama is Van Damme’s first directorial effort since 1996’s The Quest. The project was shot on a budget of about $5 million (much of it, financed by Van Damme himself) on location in Thailand and eventually screened out of competition at the Cannes in 2010.
Audiences at the Cannes screening offered a mixed reaction (watch Van Damme’s intro). There were even some critics who compared the film’s more ‘out there’ sequences to 2001: A Space Odyssey or Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life. Fans had to wonder: had Van Damme gone arthouse?
Van Damme was reportedly unhappy with his final cut. Rumors suggested he wouldn’t release the movie in the West, even on DVD, until he was able to do another edit.
But then, in mid-2011, the The Eagle Path suddenly appeared on Amazon.com’s UK website with a Blu-ray and DVD pre-order date set for June 20, 2011 by Revolver Entertainment. I pre-ordered the film myself (received this confirmation), only to receive a notification that the Blu-ray/DVD was getting pushed back to August. Then again to October 3, 2011. Finally, on October 4, 2011, I receive this in my in-box. It’s at this point that I never hear from Amazon.com again.
A year later, Impact reports that producer Moshe Diamont (Universal Soldier: Regeneration) has come onboard to help initiate reshoot for The Eagle Path. The reshoots were done to help clarify the story and beef up the action sequences, which were inspired by Garath Evans’ The Raid.
Around this time, Van Damme took to Facebook to assure fans of the status of the film: “The Eagle Path took longer than what I have expected but that is because I did some recent re-shooting with more ACTION scenes! The movie is going to be re-titled to SOLDIERS. Thank you for your patience… soon, wait for its huge première!”
2 years later on June 20, 2014, the film, now back to its original title, Full Love (see photo), premieres at the Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF). Strangely enough, no reviews have surfaced regarding the film’s screening at the SIFF.
In 2015, “official” release dates started to show up on Imdb.com. “January 8, 2016” was the first date listed. It was later changed to “January 16, 2016” on both Imdb.com and Wikipedia. Just recently, the latter now has the release date with a “TBA” (to be announced) next to it. Given Wikipedia’s “written collaboratively by the people who use it” set up, the individual updating it is either someone (producer, production or distribution company) officially connected to the film or simply a “Van Damme Fan” who wants to make sure the info is accurate.
Whatever the case, “TBA” is most accurate word describing its release date. Amidst all of this confusion, loyal Van Damme fans are losing patience. A forum member who calls himself ‘lpstkd’ (via Vandammefan.net) had this to say: “Sorry to say, but at this point, Van Damme should give The Eagle Path Blu-ray to someone, and that someone [should] leak it on the internet. Enough is enough.”
Still, we should remain optimistic for an official release date. The big questions is: Will it be worth the wait? More importantly, do most JCVD fans even care at this point?
For now, we have the film’s original trailer and a few clips ( 1 | 2 | 3 ) to go by.
Updates: According to Van Damme himself (via FB), there’s a chance we may see Full Love soon. In fact, here’s the newly released Trailer:
We here at City on Fire enjoy passing along the latest news, features, interviews, and reviews for our readers. But we need a break. Not a long one! We promise. We’ll be back in a couple weeks, probably less – just enough time to relax and recharge.
“South Shaolin vs. North Shaolin” Korean Theatrical Poster
Director: Wu Chia Chun Co-director: Casanova Wong Writer: Go Seong-ui Producer: Park Jong-gu Cast: Casanova Wong, Eagle Han Ying, Ma Chin Ku, Wang Kuan Hsiung, Chiang Cheng, Gang Myeong-hwa Running Time: 87 min.
By Paul Bramhall
In 1982, a year prior to the release of South Shaolin vs. North Shaolin, the movie that launched Jet Li into stardom, and triggered a wave of wushu influenced Shaolin movies, captured the imagination of Asian audiences in the form of Shaolin Temple. Made at a time when Chang Cheh’s own Shaolin Cycle series had been out of fad since the mid-70’s, suddenly Shaolin was cool again, and many filmmakers looked to jump on the bandwagon. This is the background that led to Korea and Taiwan creating a couple of co-productions together focusing on the exploits of the kung fu practicing Shaolin monks, both from 1983, with the other being Shaolin vs. Tai Chi.
While Taiwanese director Wu Chia-Chun helmed Shaolin vs. Tai Chi solo (and indeed, only the opening scene from this movie was filmed in Korea), for South Shaolin vs. North Shaolin, which was shot entirely on location in Korea, it provided star and choreographer Casanova Wong his first opportunity to try sitting in the director’s chair. Wong would go on to direct several notoriously unavailable Korean action movies, such as The Magic Sword and Bloody Mafia, but South Shaolin vs. North Shaolin can be considered his directorial debut. Chi-Chun was a logical decision to be co-director, as he’d already had experience working in Korea, co-directing such productions as Jackie and Bruce to the Rescue.
As with almost any Korean kung fu movie, what can be considered to be the true uncut version is an almost impossible discussion to have. A version was shot for Taiwan with additional scenes of the Taiwan cast, and another version was shot for Korea with additional scenes of the Korean cast, then somewhere in between, you have the horrible hybrid that is the English dubbed version. For western audiences then, the plot of South Shaolin vs. North Shaolin involves two babies who are said to be princes being smuggled away from murderous Qing soldiers, led by Eagle Han Ying. In a scene that doesn’t make it apparently clear what happens to the other, one gets away via being throw into a tree (so far, so Fury in Shaolin Temple), and ends up being raised by monks in the Shaolin Temple. Growing up to become Casanova Wong, he’s never forgotten his revenge, and intends to kill Han Ying as soon as he’s skilled enough to do so.
At this point you may well be asking what the relevance of the title is to what actually unfolds onscreen, so I’ll be upfront and say none whatsoever. There is no battle of the geographically opposing Shaolin Temples, so for those looking for some inter-Shaolin action, best stick with Invincible Shaolin. What we do have is the rare sight of a shaven headed Casanova Wong in the role of a monk, and what’s more, in one of his first fight choreographer gigs, he decided to move the focus away from his kicks, and instead shift more towards a reliance on weapons. This can again be traced back to the Shaolin Templeinfluence, which suddenly made the flowery acrobatic flourishes of wushu weapons handling incredibly popular, and the action here clearly shows that influence.
This is the first of South Shaolin vs. North Shaolin’s problems, Wong is a boot master, not a weapons guy. While his trademark kicks are still there, they’re never the focus, and seeing his jaw dropping kicking abilities side-lined in favour of only average weapons work is a serious error in judgement. The second problem comes in the form of one of the most irritating cast of characters ever assembled. It begins to become apparent fairly quickly that proceedings are going down the comedic route, but literally every character seems to have gone to the Dean Shek School of Comedy Acting, including Wong himself. I don’t consider it too much of a spoiler to say that, when Han Ying mercilessly kills pretty much everyone except Wong, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief as each gurning idiot gets kicked to death on the receiving end of his boots.
Indeed it’s fair to say that it’s Han Ying who looks the best out of everyone, apart from the aesthetically pleasing dyed red stripe running through the middle of his hair, he’s the only martial artist who really gets to show off what he’s good at – kicking. The rest of the action delivers entertainment value not so much from its quality, but more the laugh out loud bizarreness of it. As with so many of these movies, the intentional comedy falls flat, but the unintended variety provides plenty of laughs. In the opening scene ninjas, which are clearly mannequins, burst out of the ground bolt upright, thanks to a spring loaded mechanism which would break any real persons back. It’s a laugh inducing sight. They then proceed to awkwardly crawl along the ground on their side, in what I can only assume was supposed to keep them out of sight from their targets, but considering they’re crawling on a completely clear patch of land, it ends up looking ridiculous.
The ninjas do provide some of the movies most entertaining moments though. After almost an hour of intolerable comedy, there’s a scene in which a gang of them ambush Wong, which involves him having to tackle flying ninjas armed with flame throwing blow pipes and bamboo traps. The ninjas finishing move is also worth a mention, which sees them pile up on top of their target, then when they jump off the victim is already buried in an instantly made grave! However these brief glimpses of entertainment are few and far between, and the more South Shaolin vs. North Shaolin progresses, the more desperate it seems to become. In the latter half we suddenly have random horror elements thrown in for no apparent reason whatsoever. First we have Wong practicing against a dummy thats head is actually a real skull, which is naturally covered in creepy crawlies, but the most bizarre scene has Wong arriving in a deserted funeral parlour in the middle of the night.
Here he’s suddenly confronted by 4 long black haired cross dressing ghosts, who seem more interested in getting it on with Wong than they do fighting him, but their advances are treated with kicks to the face. Words are difficult to find to do justice to the bizarreness of this scene, so I’ll simply leave it at that. In any case, Wong’s visit to the parlour ends with him fending off several flying coffins, all of which have absolutely nothing to do with the plot itself. Most of the scenes also seem to be of the one take only variety. There’s a scene which has one of Han Ying’s lackeys running over to him in a field to deliver some news, however as he’s just a few paces away he clearly almost falls over due to the uneven ground, but it’s in the movie. In another during the final battle, two monks are taking on one of the villains, and one of them, obviously meant to be standing out of shot until it’s his turn to spring into action, instead is seem simply standing there at the side of the frame.
Events eventually culminate in Han Ying and his four main lackeys heading over to Shaolin Temple, knowing that the monks are harbouring Wong’s brother, who grew up to become a prince in hiding. You may be wondering why I’m so casually throwing in a line about Wong’s brother turning up, a fairly significant plot point if you consider the synopsis, however it’s handled so clumsily that it’s barely worth a mention. Not only does Wong never find out it’s his brother, but we also never find out what happens to the him at the end, he simply disappears without explanation. What it does leave us with, is a Shaolin Temple style finale with the monks taking on the villains. My favorite part of this scene is perhaps what was supposed to be an acrobatic flourish, which sees a row of about 10 monks, all of whom must be about 50 metres from the fight action, decide against charging into the fray, and instead do rolls until they reach the enemy. If there was an award for the lamest attacking tactic ever, this would have to be a candidate.
Wong does of course eventually turn up, which leads to an exhaustive 10 minute one-on-one against Han Ying. This should have been a dream matchup, and indeed Wong gets some of his trademark kicks in – including both the take-three-guys-out-in-one flying kick from The Master Strikes, and the awesome over the table flying kick seen in ‘Warriors Two’, just minus the table. However again the overall focus on weapons make the whole fight fall considerably short of what it could have been. Wong brandishes a 3 sectioned staff for a large portion of it, taking on Han Ying who interchanges between a sword and spear, however his handling of it is so slow that the 3rd staff often ends up dangling limply, or barely completing its rotation around Wong’s torso due to a lack of momentum. In the end he simply drops it on the floor, which looks to be more out of relief than anything else.
By the time a fire breathing villain is thrown into the fray, and Wong ends up in a tree fending off ninjas in addition to Han Ying, there’s a distinct feeling that everyone is out of ideas. Perhaps the biggest lesson to come out of South Shaolin vs. North Shaolin, is that wushu practitioners would be best left to show off their wushu skills, and taekwondo practitioners would be best left to show off their taekwondo skills. While it’s admirable to see Wong attempting to break out of the type of roles he usually got cast in for his directorial debut, when it comes to martial arts, sometimes sticking with what you know is best.
Despite the departure of director Etan Cohen (Get Hard), a remake of Cannonball Run is still in gear. According to Deadline, Warner is now negotiating with Night At The Museum’s Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant to write and Central Intelligence’s Rawson Thurber to direct the film.
The original Cannonball Run franchise consisted of three movies – produced in 1981, 1984 and 1989 (the 3rd film was titled Speed Zone aka Cannonball Fever) – where known for their car-related stuntwork, as well as their all-star cast which included names like Burt Reynolds, Frank Sinatra, Roger Moore, Dean Martin, Richard Kiel, Michael Hui, Sammy Davis Jr, Dom DeLuise, John Candy, Eugene Levy, Brooke Shields and many more.
To Asian cinema fans, the first two Cannonball Run films are mostly remembered for the inclusion of Jackie Chan, who was fairly unknown to most Americans in the early 80s.
We’ll keep you posted on Cannonball Run as we hear more. Stay tuned!
Sony Entertainment presents the Blu-ray & DVD for S.W A T.: Under Siege, an upcoming actioner directed by Tony Giglio (Chaos).
When a D.E.A. and S.W.A.T. cartel takedown ends in a shootout, S.W.A.T. Agent Travis Hall (Sam Jaeger) seizes a mysterious prisoner and takes him into custody. Before long, the S.W.A.T. compound is under siege by wave after wave of assault teams attempting to recover the prisoner known as “The Scorpion” (Michael Jai White) for the tattoo blazed across his back.
Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray set for the complete Ip Man Trilogy, which contains 2008’s Ip Man, 2010’s Ip Man 2 and 2015’s Ip Man 3.
One Great Man. One Inspiring Story. And now, one quintessential collection. This biographical martial arts film based on the life of Yip Man (played by Donnie Yen), the grandmaster of the martial art Wing Chun and teacher of Bruce Lee.
Steven Seagal (End of a Gun, Perfect Weapon), who previously tackled the small screen in the True Justice series, as well as the reality show Lawman, is hitting the tube once again for General Commander, an upcoming, 12-episode actioner directed by Philippe Martinez, who is perhaps best known for directing Jean-Claude Van Damme’s 2004 film, Wake of Death.
According to DTVE: General Commander follows the missions of a top secret, rogue international paramilitary unit that fights major criminal organizations in a bid to stop World War III.
Bey Logan (who is also currently working with Seagal on Attrition) and Martinez are writing General Commander, which starts filming in Europe and Asia in September, ahead of a premiere on Filmbox channels in 2018.
We’ll keep you updated on this project as we hear more. Until then, check out the Trailer for Martinez’ Wake of Death:
But now, Kwok is back to directing solo with WuKong (aka The Tales of Wukong), an action-fantasy that tells the story of Sun Wukong (played by Operation Mekong’s Eddie Peng) before he became the Monkey King. The film also stars Ni Ni (The Warriors Gate), Shawn Yue (Reign of Assassins) and Zheng Shuang (No Limit).
WuKong is getting a domestic release on July 13, 2017. Don’t miss the film’s New Trailer below:
No one dies well in a Kinji Fukasaku gangster movie. A director who fuels nearly every scene with rage or panic, his characters always seem to either be screaming at each other or tripping over one another in an attempt to escape a murderer’s blade. You feel every death, because nothing seems stylized for film. It is like a docudrama about street crime, starring some of Japan’s most recognizable stars covered in blood. Cops vs. Thugs, a film about gangland warfare and the police efforts to stymie the carnage, kicks into overdrive at the half-way point when Detective Kuno (Bunta Sugawara) fails to solve the crisis in his less traditional fashion. An exciting bit of vehicular mayhem (rare in Japanese film) where gangs drive at full speed, firing at one another just one lane apart, gives way to an even crazier bicycle chase, which ends in decapitation. You might understandably think that the film had peaked too early here, but Cops vs. Thugs largely maintains this new level of anarchy, eventually leading to a finale which ranks among the best in Japanese crime cinema.
Rival gang bosses Kawade (Mikio Narita) and Hirotani (Hiroki Matsukata) are on the verge of all-out war and the cops know it’ll look bad for the city, so Detective Kuno offers to take the lead on the operation. Kuno is close with Hirotani. It would be accurate to call Kuno a dirty cop. Kuno takes bribes, he drinks with the men he should be locking up, and in one scene he even helps Hirotani select the thug who should take the fall for a three-year prison sentence. But it’s also true that Kuno sees something in Hirotani and that, if the young yakuza is handled properly, they might have peace in the city with a more agreeable crime element. Kuno may be corrupt, but at least he’s committing wrongs for the right reasons. Wakade, on the other hand, is ambitious and connected to big money represented by the dirty city assemblyman played by Nobuo Kaneko (in what is pretty much the same performance he gave in Battles Without Honor and Humanity). Greedy attempts at land grabs cancel out Kuno’s attempts for a peaceful resolution (partly because he’s so dead-set on seeing his pal Hirotani come out on top) and the violence spills out into the streets.
It’s then that police HQ calls in the big guns; Lt. Kaida (Tatsuo Umemiya), a by-the-books hardass who literally starts judo throwing the city cops until they fall in line with his vision of zero corruption. This puts Kuno in a tough spot. Not only does Kaida view him with suspicion, but Hirotani doesn’t understand why he’s no longer getting Kuno’s tips about police raids. Kuno must figure out how to save his own skin and try to prevent his yakuza buddies from getting themselves killed at the same time.
Cops vs. Thugs plays a lot like the director’s earlier Battles Without Honor and Humanity series, which was a gangster epic with a gritty, ripped from the headlines tone. Battles writer Kazuo Kasahara also scripts Cops vs. Thugs, making this feel like a natural extension of the themes of the earlier films. It’s also amusing to see how the Battlescast got reshuffled for Cops vs. Thugs, which shares many of the same players. I don’t mean to suggest that Cops vs. Thugs a rip-off of an earlier success—but rather, if you enjoyed those films, you should enjoy this as well (and vice versa).
Despite the simplistic, B-movie title, Cops vs. Thugs is very much a mature crime drama. The usual traditions of the yakuza are followed, but they feel like background noise to the lawlessness and greed. And though I found subplots about land purchases less than involving, I thought the film made up for that with a strong focus on character and action. Cops vs. Thugs’ notes of tragedy are also well done, making the film unexpectedly sad in places.
Bunta Sugawara delivers one of his best performances as the conflicted cop Detective Kuno. He’s corrupt but he’s still the closest thing the audience has to a figure we can root for—not that it’s always easy. One scene depicts Kuno and his partner beating a suspect senseless in an interrogation room, going so far as to strip him naked in order to humiliate him. Somehow, either by grace of good storytelling or a willing performance, Kuno never falls into cliché, not even when the subplot of an angry wife demanding a divorce rears its head. (The angry, soon-to-be ex-Mrs. Kuno is actually a decent addition to the story, as she is the only woman in the film with any agency of her own. I believe it would be fair to call Cops vs. Thugs a sexist film, as all other women are merely sex objects and hostesses/servants in the story.) Hiroki Matsukata does a good job playing off Bunta Sugawara as the yakuza Hirotani. Matsukata (also seen in Battles) plays Hirotani as a man of reason one moment and a live-wire maniac the next, showing why Kuno might believe in him as a leader but also maintaining that dangerous edge that separates him from his cop friend. The rest of the cast is fairly excellent. Tatsuo Umemiya (Yakuza Graveyard) is intimidating as the straight-laced Kaida, Nobuo Kaneko is the embodiment of slime, Akira Shioji (The Street Fighter) supplies some much needed comic relief as a cop who thinks everything’s about Communism, Tatsuo Endo (Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword) is oddly sympathetic as a recently released don who is now a pathetic old man, and Kunie Tanaka (Kwaidan) has a cameo role as that don’s cellmate and apparent boyfriend.
Cops vs. Thugs arrives on Blu-ray from Arrow Video with strong picture and sound. Special features are a bit light. Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane gives a 10-minute overview of the famed director’s shifting focus over the course of his career, detailing how Fukasaku stayed ahead of the curve when the Japanese film industry started to have problems. Film scholar Tom Mes gives a brief talk on cops and criminals in Fukusaku’s cinema. One note Mes makes stuck with me, that the ‘vs’ of the Cops vs. Thugs title may not refer to competition but rather comparison, which I thought was an interesting observation. Also included: a trailer and an archival 5-minute look at Fukasaku on the set of the film, where he gets a bit philosophical talking about violence in film.
Kinji Fukasaku is best remembered for Battle Royale and Battles Without Honor and Humanity and that’s never going to change. But he made other kick ass, awesome movies without Battle somewhere in the title, and it’s about time that Cops vs. Thugs got some new love on Blu-ray and DVD. Full of morally ambiguous characters and filmed as though we are witnesses to a crime, Cops vs. Thugs has just about all you could want from a yakuza action movie and then some.
Cinemax has given a 10-episode, straight-to-series order for Warrior, a project based on unpublished writings by the late Bruce Lee, which were recently discovered by his daughter, Shannon Lee. News of this project was originally ordered as a pilot.
Justin Lin (Star Trek Beyond, Finishing the Game) is attached to produce and possibly direct. Jonathan Tropper, co-creator of Banshee, is penning pilot.
According to Deadline: Warrior is described as a gritty, action-packed crime drama set during the brutal Tong Wars of San Francisco’s Chinatown in the second half of the 19th century. The series follows Ah Sahm, a martial arts prodigy who immigrates from China to San Francisco under mysterious circumstances, and becomes a hatchet man for one of Chinatown’s most powerful tongs (Chinese organized crime family).
In addition to Warrior, Bruce Lee fans have much to look forward to, including George Nolfi’s upcoming fable-based Birth of the Dragon, as well as Shekhar Kapur’s Little Dragon, an official, authorized biopic.
We’ll keep you updated on Warrior as new details emerge. Until then, we leave you with the Trailer for the 1975 Shaw Brothers biopic, I Love You, Bruce Lee (aka Bruce Lee & I):
Director: Kurando Mitsutake Writer: Kurando Mitsutake Cast: Hayate, David Sakurai, Asami, Katarina Leigh Waters, Mana Sakura, Kirk Geiger, Noriaki Kamata, Kirk Geiger, Tomm Voss, Jeffrey James Lippold Running Time: 85 min
By Paul Bramhall
Japanese action cinema has a history of making movies that act as a showcase for the karate skills of the stars that headline them, from Ken Kazama in Karate from Shaolin Temple back in 1976, to Rina Takeda in 2009’s High Kick Girl. Unfortunately, outside the likes of Yasuaki Kurata, and Japan Action Club alumni Sonny Chiba, Estsuko Shihomi, and Hiroyuki Sanada, few action stars from Japan have really shown a level of longevity compared with their Hong Kong counterparts. In part, this can be put down to the karate movie rarely being seen as something other than exploitation fare. While there have been a handful of more serious attempts in recent years (Shunichi Nagasaki’s Black Belt springs to mind), for many, karate movies will call to mind images of Sonny Chiba ripping some hapless fools balls off, or chopping someone in the head so hard their eye balls pop out.
At the end of the day, perhaps this isn’t such a bad thing, many of the 70’s karate movies that starred the likes of Chiba and Shihomi are fondly remembered for their hyper-violent nature and trashy approach to storytelling. Indeed it’s fair to say that one never has to look too far, to find someone willing to say they wish Japan would make a karate movie like they used to. Well, for those that miss those rib ripping, skull crushing, flesh flashing days of old, director Kurando Mitsutake is here to make your wish come true, and in the grand tradition of old, he’s doing so via showcasing the skills of a new karate talent.
Originally from Tokyo, Mitsutake graduated from the California Institute of Arts, and remains partly based in Los Angeles. After debuting in 2007 with Monster’s Don’t Get to Cry, the first signs of his style started to show in 2009’s sushi-western Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf, in which he also took on the lead role. However his real breakthrough came with 2014’s Gun Woman, which quickly gained a reputation thanks to featuring splatter genre stalwart and former pink actress Asami completely naked for most of the movies 2nd half. Gun Woman went on to win the Special Jury Prize at the 24th Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, and it was at this same festival that the idea for Karate Kill was birthed.
The man who would go on to become Karate Kill’s executive producer, Naoki Kubo, was also at the festival, and came with some cast members from the first movie he produced, the Rina Takeda featuring Danger Dolls. One of the lackeys from the movie, played by a gentleman simply called Hayate, was included in the entourage, however thanks to a mix of Yubari being a small town, and Hayate leaving it late to book accommodation, it looked to be impossible to find a place to stay. In the end, Kubo offered for Hayate to crash on his rooms couch, and at the time, Hayate had no idea how much of a martial arts enthusiast Kubo was, and Kubo has no idea that Hayate was a practitioner of karate of over 20 years.
Of course the pair got talking, and when Kubo asked Hayate to show him some moves, the producer was blown away, immediately declaring that he needed to make a movie with him as the star. As fate would have it, Kubo would also attend a screening of Gun Woman, and after being equally impressed by its insane finale, insisted that whoever directed it would be the perfect candidate to introduce Hayate’s lethal karate skills to the world. Hence, Karate Kill was born. So you have one karate practitioner with no acting experience and no passport, agreeing to star in a movie that’s going to be mostly filmed in the U.S., with a director at the helm who sites movies like Cannibal Holocaust and Lucio Fulci as influences. What can go wrong?
Thankfully, not a whole lot does, with Karate Kill indeed invoking the look and feel of those trashy karate exploitationers of the 70’s. The story is wafer thin – Hayate works a number of part-time jobs to support his sister studying in the U.S., since their parents died when they were still kids. However when she stops making contact for an extended period of time, he packs his bags and heads stateside to see what the deal is. It turns out she’d taken on work at a hostess bar to help make ends meet, and while there was abducted by a cult called Capital Messiah who stream snuff videos on the net, brainwashing their victims to pledge allegiance. With the help of a former abductee who managed to escape, played by Asami, the pair plan to both rescue Hayate’s sister, and wipe out the cult for good. Clocking in at a lean and mean 85 minutes, beyond the above description there’s little time for anything else.
Literally opening with Asami firing a gun point blank at the camera, swiftly followed by a close-up of a strippers butt, Mitsutake certainly knows how to get a viewer’s attention, and we’re not even 30 seconds in at this point. The brisk pacing of Karate Kill is definitely one of its biggest strengths, with no fat on the bone here whatsoever. Unlike similar movies that see Asian action stars cast in a U.S. set story, such as Jet Li in The Master or Jackie Chan in Rumble in the Bronx, Karate Kill foregoes any fish-out-of-water shenanigans, and keeps Hayate as a walking killing machine throughout. He’s a man of few words, so regardless of if you speak English or Japanese, if someone is involved with his sisters abduction they’re likely to either receive a fist to the throat, or have a body part ripped off bare handed.
The action was a collaboration between both Hayate himself in the role of karate and parkour coordinator (yes, he’s also a parkour practitioner, which he puts to good use), and action director Keiya Tabuchi, who previously worked with Mitsutake on Gun Woman. The lead and action director worked together for 3 months prior to filming, in order for Tabuchi to assist Hayate in making his rather unique style of karate look good onscreen, and it was certainly time well spent. An action highlight comes in the form of Hayate’s initial visit to the hostess bar his sister used to work at, which sees him taking on multiple attackers, and in one part has the camera perform a full 360 degree rotation which is both dizzying and effectively done.
Karate Kill also takes a chance on addressing the question of how a martial arts practitioner should deal with the issue of guns, that takes the form of an entertaining Remo Williams-esque training sequence, in which he practices with Asami to dodge bullets. It is of course completely outside the realms of reality, however in the context of the schlocky world Karate Kill takes place in, it’s perfectly believable. On the subject of schlocky, the costumes and make-up of the cult members give them the appearance of what can best be described as post-apocalyptic ISIS members. The three core members of the group, played by Kirk Geiger, Tomm Voss, and former WWE star Katarina Leigh Waters, are hilariously over the top, and their antics are certainly not for the easily offended. Best of all is the fact that Hayate and Leigh Waters even have a knock down drag out fight, one which ends on a suitably gory note.
The horror leanings of Mitsutake are clear to see, and are incorporated well into the action found in Karate Kill, with some of the hyper violence on display reminding me of Johnny Yong Bosch’s performance in Broken Path. While a lot of the blood splatter is done via passable CGI, there’s also plenty of practical effects work on display, with mangled hands and eye gouging presented in a way guaranteed to make the audience squirm. Mitsutake’s script is also laced with plenty of laugh out loud dark humour and scenarios, which pop up with enough regularity to remind us that nothing we’re seeing should be taken too seriously. From Hayate’s first opponent being introduced with his face firmly lodged in a voluptuous nun’s naked posterior, to Geiger incorrectly believing Tom Yum Goong to be a style of martial arts.
All in all Karate Kill does exactly what it says on the tin. An unashamed barrage of karate punches, gore, and nudity, those looking for a movie which presents philosophical musings on the meaning of martial arts, or a clean cut tale of heroics, had best look elsewhere. Hayate makes a worthy first impression as a lead, conveying an early Steven Seagal style level of bad assery, and one which will hopefully be capitalised on in future productions. Mitsutake delivers his best looking movie so far, with none of the cheap aesthetics of his previous productions in sight, and a firm grasp of how a movie like this should be paced. If Japan ever decides to reboot Takuma “Terry” Tsurugi, then Mitsutake and Hayate would be the perfect pair to do so.
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