Deal on Fire! Chinese Zodiac | Blu-ray | Only $7.88 – Expires soon!

Chinese Zodiac | Armour of God III: CZ12 | Blu-ray & DVD (Universal)

Chinese Zodiac | Armour of God III: CZ12 | Blu-ray & DVD (Universal)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Chinese Zodiac (read our review), an action/adventure written, directed and starring Jackie Chan.

Chan returns as Asian Hawk (his iconic character from Armour of God and Operation Condor) – this time scouring the globe for the bronze head statues of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals, which were sacked by the French and British armies!

The film also stars Liao Fan (Black Coal, Thin Ice), Laura Weissbecker (France Boutique), Oliver Platt (Chef), Yao Xing Tong (Who Am I 2015) and Kwon Sang-woo (Once Upon a Time in High School)

Order Chinese Zodiac from Amazon.com today!

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‘The Final Master’ gets new marketing for its June release!

"The Final Master" Theatrical Poster

"The Final Master" Theatrical Poster

United Entertainment Partners is releasing Haofeng Xu’s highly-anticipated, award-winning martial arts film, The Master, re-titled as The Final Master.

Xu made a name for himself by penning the screenplay for Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster. But it was 2011′s The Sword Identity, his directorial debut, which showed Xu’s true talent. Then came his acclaimed second film, 2012′s Judge Archer (aka Arrow Arbitration).

Xu’s trend in both films was presenting the martial arts in a less stylized and more realistic manner, perhaps not unlike the 2007 Japanese film Black Belt or David Mamet’s 2008 MA-themed Redbelt.

Xu’s knack for realistic hand-to-hand combat in The Final Master is sure to please. The upcoming movie stars Liao Fan (Black Coal, Thin IceChinese Zodiac), Song Yang (The Sword Identity), Jia Song (On His Majesty’s Secret Service), Li Xia (The White Dragon), Huang Jue (Founding of the Party) and Chin Shih-Chieh (The Brotherhood of Blades).

Don’t miss the first trailer for The Final Master, which is getting a limited theatrical release on June 3rd, 2016.

Updates: Feast your eyes on three new posters ( 1 | 2 | 3 ), as well as a new trailer.

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The Midnight After | DVD (Well Go USA)

The Midnight After | DVD (Well Go USA)

The Midnight After | DVD (Well Go USA)

RELEASE DATE: June 21, 2016

Are you ready for more post-apocalyptic madness? If so, Well Go USA is scheduled to release Fruit Chan’s (Made in Hong Kong) thriller, The Midnight After, on DVD in June!

The film – based on the web-novel, Lost on a Red Mini Bus to Taipo – revolves around a minibus full of passengers that travels through a tunnel late at night. When the bus gets to the other side, the city appears to have been destroyed by deadly virus.

The Midnight After after stars Wong You Nam (Gangster Pay Day), Janice Man (Nightfall), Kara Hui (Angel Terminators), Simon Yam (SPL II: A Time for Consequences), Sam Lee (Wild City), Chui Tien You (Kick Ass Girls), Lam Suet (Trivisa), Vincci Cheuk Wan Chi (12 Nights) and Fiona Sit Hoi Kei (Girls). | Don’t miss the film’s trailer.

Pre-order The Midnight After from Amazon.com today!

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

Rising ‘Ip Man 3′ co-star is on ‘The Brink’ of destruction

"The Brink" Chinese Teaser Poster

"The Brink" Chinese Teaser Poster

Max Zhang – the rising star of The Grandmaster S.P.L. II and Ip Man 3 – is revisiting danger in The Brink, an upcoming thriller by first-time director Jonathan Li.

According to AFS, The Brink follows a group of fishermen who smuggle gold and the cops who chase them. It’s reported that the film feature an extensive amount of Thunderball-esque underwater action sequences. Currently, it’s unclear whether martial arts battles will be showcased as well.

The Brink also stars Shawn Yue (Wild City), Gordon Lam (Trivisa), Janice Man (Helios) and Wu Yue (From Vegas to Macau 2). Soi Cheang Pou Soi (Accident) will be serving as producer.

The Brink releases later this year. Expect a trailer soon!

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Bong Joon-ho’s creature feature ‘Okja’ starts production

"The Host" Korean Theatrical Poster

"The Host" Korean Theatrical Poster

Bong Joon-ho (The Snowpiercer), the acclaimed director of the 2006 Korean monster masterpiece The Host, has just started shooting Okja.

According to Paste, Okja is the story of a young girl named Mija (Seohyun An) who befriends Okja, a genetically engineered animal. When the creature grows to a massive size, his powerful corporate creators reclaim him, forcing a now-teenaged Mija to undertake a rescue mission.

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).

Much like the recent Beasts of No Nation and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, Okja will debut on the Netflix streaming service in 2017.

We’ll have more updates as we hear more!

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The Mermaid | Blu-ray & DVD (Sony Entertainment)

Mermaid | Blu-ray & DVD (Sony Entertainment)

Mermaid | Blu-ray & DVD (Sony Entertainment)

RELEASE DATE: July 5, 2016

Sony presents the Blu-ray & DVD for Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid (read our review).

The Mermaid stars Deng Chao (Jian Bing Man), Lin Yun (L.O.R.D), Show Luo (Journey to the West), Zhang Yuqi (CJ7) and Kris Wu (xXx: The Return of Xander Cage).

The film is also available as a double feature with Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle, which stars Yuen Wah (Kick Boxer), Yuen Qiu (Man with the Golden Gun), Bruce Leung (Invincible Eight) and Danny Chan (Ip Man 3).

Pre-order The Mermaid from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles | Leave a comment

‘Jason Bourne’ destroys Las Vegas in the new trailer

"Jason Bourne" Theatrical Poster

"Jason Bourne" Theatrical Poster

Matt Damon (The Martian) and director Paul Greengrass (United 93Captain Phillips) are back with the long-awaited 5th chapter of the Bourne franchise – simply titled Jason Bourne – which finds the CIA’s most lethal former operative (Damon) drawn out of the shadows.

The film also stars Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), Julia Stiles (The Bourne Identity), Tommy Lee Jones (Rolling Thunder), Vincent Cassel (Mesrine 1 and 2), Riz Ahmed (Star Wars: Rogue One), Ato Essandoh (Blood Diamond), Neve Gachev (Skyfall) and Stephen Kunken (The Wolf of Wallstreet). | Teaser trailer.

Jason Bourne hits theaters on July 29, 2016.

Updates: Watch the film’s new trailer!

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Joe Lewis’ ‘Force: Five’ forces its way onto Blu-ray!

Force: Five | Blu-ray (Scorpion Releasing)

Force: Five | Blu-ray (Scorpion Releasing)

Scorpion Releasing has just announced the Blu-ray release for 1981′s Force: Five, a martial arts cult classic directed by Robert Clouse (Enter the DragonThe Big Brawl).

In the film, a martial arts expert (Joe Lewis) leads a team of fighters to rescue a senator’s daughter from an island ruled by the evil leader (Bong Soo Han) of a fanatical religious cult.

Force: Five also stars Richard Norton (Mission Terminate), Benny “The Jet” Urquidez (Wheels on Meals), Mel Novak (Game of Death) and Sonny Barnes (Gymkata).

A release date is still pending, but check back with us for further details. For now, enjoy the film’s original trailer.

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How ‘Ip Man’ made Donnie Yen ‘The Man’

Donnie Yen’s career in the film industry has been one that’s certainly been more interesting than most. Discovered by Yuen Woo Ping, his debut as the lead in 1984’s Drunken Tai Chi for many represents the last movie of the old-school era. Yen’s performance left little doubt that there was a major new talent on the scene, and his ongoing collaborations with Woo Ping produced a steady stream of Hong Kong classics – In the Line of Duty 4, Tiger Cage 2, Once Upon a Time in China 2, and Iron Monkey.

It’s no secret that in many of Yen’s early interviews, the person who had the biggest amount of faith in his abilities seemed to be himself. Treading the fine line between confidence and arrogance, for many Hong Kong cinema fans opinion was divided. While there was no doubt that onscreen he was a joy to watch, his outspoken opinions and tendency to openly criticise his co-stars did little to endear audiences to him as a person.

As his career progressed, it became clear that Yen’s opinion of himself as a fight choreographer, was becoming just as important as his belief in himself as an action star. Yen’s style of action direction eventually put him at odds with the man that discovered him, and things came to a head during the 1994 movie Wing Chun, which Woo Ping was directing and Yen was starring in. Unable to see eye to eye on how certain fight scenes should be choreographed, after production wrapped the decade long relationship between master and student was brought to an end. It would be over 20 years until they would reunite.

While instances of falling out between cast and crew are not such a big deal in a film industry like Hollywood, in the tight knit Hong Kong action community of the 80’s and 90’s, it was quite the opposite. Word spread quickly that Yen was difficult to work with, and for the next 10 years he didn’t headline a single Hong Kong action movie. However Yen wasn’t one to simply fade away, and instead of embracing his fate as a fallen Hong Kong action star, he spent the rest of the 90’s toiling away in low budget Philippines and Taiwan productions such as High Voltage, Iron Monkey 2, and City of Darkness.

While these movies allowed him to pay the bills, Yen took the opportunity to start developing his own distinctive action aesthetic. Amidst the low budget Hong Kong TV series in which he’d ape Bruce Lee, Yen stepped into the director’s chair twice in the 90’s. Making his debut with 1997’s Legend of the Wolf, and following it up with Ballistic Kiss a year later, while both productions clearly show that Yen was still very much his own biggest fan, the action showed a promise which would be fully realised a few years later.

As the 90’s came to a close and the new millennium was rung in, Yen started to embrace the role of action choreographer more and more, working on a diverse range of projects. From a German TV pilot called Code Puma, to the Highlander sequel End Game, to Japanese sci-fi with The Princess Blade, to a role in Blade II. By the time it was 2002, Yen had built up enough of a respectable reputation that he gained a notable role in a highly anticipated Chinese production, his first since parting with Woo Ping 8 years prior. Although essentially an extended cameo, Yen’s role as Sky in acclaimed director Zhang Yimou’s Hero was a memorable one, thanks to providing him with a rematch against Jet Li. The pair had previously faced off against each other under the choreography of Woo Ping in Once Upon a Time in China 2, exactly 10 years earlier.

Hero was a significant hit, both in China and overseas, receiving the most amount of attention lavished on an Asian production since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon made 3 years prior. However only a year later, an Asian action movie well and truly broke into the international market like no other, and it wasn’t a Chinese or Hong Kong movie. It was Thai. Ong Bak became something of an international phenomena, starring a completely unknown Thai actor named Tony Jaa, it was the type of movie that even the people you know who didn’t have the slightest interest in Asian movies had seen. Jaa became an overnight sensation, as an audience who previously had no interest in reading subtitles gushed about how “the guy knees him right through the floor!”, “this dude runs on top of people’s heads!”, “he hits him so hard the motorcycle helmet breaks!” Ong Bak appealed to audiences on the most primitive level that action cinema should – it was visceral, hard hitting, and most of all, it was real.

While Yen never openly said it out loud, it’s easy to sense that he felt rather befuddled at this Thai sensation who appeared to come out of the blue. Yen had expressed his desire to break into Hollywood in several interviews, and here was Tony Jaa, proving that breaking into Hollywood wasn’t necessary, with one movie everyone seemed to know his name already. A year after the release of Ong Bak, it was revealed that Yen had teamed with director Wilson Yip to make a Hong Kong action movie called Sha Po Lang. It would be the first time for him to headline a Hong Kong production since Wing Chun. In one of the interviews leading up to the movies release, Yen stated that the world had become focused on Thailand action cinema, and that it was time for him to put Hong Kong action cinema back on the map.

It may have been a throwaway statement, but it was a loaded one, one which basically said ‘forget about Ong Bak…I’m back’. Truth be told, it wouldn’t have taken too much to impress fans of Hong Kong action cinema in 2005. The industry had been going through an extended dry spell in terms of action movies, particularly martial arts based ones, so anything which managed to feature some decent punches or kicks being thrown would have been enough to get fans excited. Upon its release Sha Po Lang did indeed put Hong Kong action cinema back on the map. Yen’s action direction in particular elevated it beyond the standard crime thriller that it would be otherwise, successfully infusing the back and forth flow of Hong Kong choreography with the new trend of MMA, both Yen’s fights against Wu Jing and legend Sammo Hung are timeless classics. However did Sha Po Lang have the same international impact that Ong Bak did? Using this measurement as a level of its success, it certainly didn’t.

The reasons why are fairly obvious. Sha Po Lang is at its heart a crime thriller with a couple of standout fight scenes, and foreign audiences simply aren’t that interested in going to see a subtitled crime thriller. Ong Bak was something more, its story was so simple that it hardly qualified as a movie, instead choosing to sell itself on one thing and one thing only – the action. Re-jigging the tagline that Jackie Chan used for Rumble in the Bronx, the marketing campaign for Ong Bak was all about Jaa having no stunt double and no wires, he was the real deal, a true action star. This simplicity, and the sheer audacity of the action scenes in Ong Bak, made pretty much everyone overlook its shortcomings, which were many. Sha Po Lang on the other hand wanted to be taken seriously, and for lovers of HK cinema it was, but it didn’t have people who had never heard of Donnie Yen before suddenly proclaiming his name.

What couldn’t be argued though, is that Yen was back on the Hong Kong cinema scene in a big way. After small parts in the likes of The Twins Effect 2, Sha Po Lang provided the foot in the door that he’d been looking for. A world away from the low budget productions of just a few years earlier, suddenly Yen found himself working with directors like Gordon Chan, on a re-make of King Hu’s Painted Skin, and Tsui Hark on Seven Swords, in which he got to star alongside kung fu legend Lau Kar Leung. Thanks to the previously non-existent Mainland cinema going audience, Yen quickly became a hot commodity. Here was a guy who could be a leading man, and throw down in a way that the stars of yesteryear no longer could, which lead to articles being printed in Chinese media that declared him “The King of Action”. Yen’s real stroke of luck though was the successful working relationship he developed with director Wilson Yip.

Like Yen, Yip had only had moderate success in his career so far, making forgettable fare such as the 2004 wuxia The White Dragon, and the 1998 horror comedy Bio Zombie. However paired with Yen, the duo of director and action director proved to be a winning one. After Sha Po Lang they went on to adapt a Chinese comic book with Dragon Tiger Gate in 2006, and another modern day crime thriller in the form of Flash Point, made a year later. However 2008 would prove to be the real turning point, and it was arguably one they probably didn’t see coming. It was announced that Yip and Yen’s next movie would be about Ip Man, the guy who up until this point was simply known in most circles as Bruce Lee’s Wing Chun teacher. Most surprising of all was that Yen, who still had questionable acting skills and was mainly known for playing angry cops, would be the one stepping into Ip Man’s shoes.

Everything about it seemed like an ill fit. The fans were clamouring for Yen to continue making modern day action movies like Sha Po Lang and Flash Point, and to confound things even further, it was widely known that Wong Kar Wai was also in the process of developing a movie about Ip Man, with Tony Leung taking the role. At the time it was the equivalent of learning that Steven Seagal was to make a movie playing Jake La Motta. It just didn’t make sense. Then there was the other question, it was a Donnie Yen movie, so who was he going to fight? In recent years audiences had enjoyed him facing off against such talent as Wu Jing, Sammo Hung, Xing Yu, and Colin Chou. All certified martial artists, however Ip Man cast Hiroyuki Ikeuchi to be Yen’s main opponent, a name which drew 1000 blank stares from the kung fu cinema loving community.

However upon release something about Ip Man simply clicked. In a role reversal from Sha Po Lang, Sammo Hung took on choreography duties. The man behind what many consider to be the best Wing Chun movie of all time, The Prodigal Son, being in charge of choreographing Hong Kong’s own prodigal son, would prove to be a winning formula. Gone were the classic Yen trademarks like the split flying kick and the wind-up punch, replaced by the close quarter intricacy of Wing Chun performed at an incredible speed. The action in Ip Man is arguably what helped it to break through not only in the local Chinese market, but on an international level as well. It may not have been released, in the US at least, until a couple of years after its initial screenings, however it quickly found an audience. Suddenly, just like Ong Bak, I found myself having conversations with my co-workers which had them declaring themselves as kung fu movie fans.

Upon prompting them to reveal what specific kung fu movies they liked, it often led to the same conversation – no one could remember the exact name of it, but they all explained that there was a scene were “the guy punches another guy right into the ground”. The scene in question of course, takes place during what’s still considered the best fight sequence of the series, which has Yen single handedly facing off against 10 karate experts. In the midst of the fight, Yen utilises an intense barrage of chain punches to literally pummel one opponent to the floor, where he continues to rain down blows into the face of his attacker in a relentless flurry of fists. That was it, that was the breakthrough. Just like Ong Bak had that ‘moment’, those few seconds that deliver something that’s never been seen before – the scene of Tony Jaa double-kneeing someone straight through the floor – the chain punching scene in Ip Man was Donnie Yen’s equivalent.

The irony of course, is that it wasn’t an enraged cop character delivering a flying foot to the face on the neon drenched streets of Hong Kong that made people finally recognise Yen, as I’m sure he was convinced it always would be, instead, it was a quiet and humble kung fu master. While it’s easy to say that it was solely the action that made Ip Man a success, to a degree this would be short changing the other aspects of the production. Ip Man is simply a well put together movie, with a strong story and characters at its heart that anyone can easily relate to. The arrival of the Japanese forces in China provided Yen with an opportunity he’d rarely been given with the characters he’d played so far, which was a chance to really show his vulnerability. Against a brutal and oppressive military regime, the character of Ip Man wants nothing grander than to provide for his pregnant wife, and who isn’t going to root for that guy?

Ip Man would be a pivotal role for Yen, one which saw him playing a different type of hero – gone was the brash and cocky super cop that audiences had become so familiar with, and almost expected Yen to play, and instead we were presented with a quietly spoken, mild mannered family man (albeit one who happened to be able to dish out some serious pain if the need arose). Yen himself also seemed to have lost that same brashness that was displayed in his earlier interviews, and in the press junkets to promote Ip Man came across as a confident and mature martial artist, whose passion around the science of screen fighting was both engaging and inspiring.

If it was Sha Po Lang that gave Yen his foot in the door back into the world of Chinese cinema, then Ip Man saw him chain punching it off the hinges. Ip Man fever quickly took hold in China, rapidly transitioning from the man simply known as Bruce Lee’s Wing Chun teacher, to a national icon overnight. Much like Wong Fei Hung, Ip Man became destined to become an almost mythical figure, impossible to tell fact apart from fiction. Soon there were TV series’ focusing on Ip Man, there was a movie about Ip Man’s younger years (Ip Man – The Legend is Born) that had Dennis To taking on the role, there was a movie about Ip Man’s older years (Ip Man – Final Fight) that had Anthony Wong taking on the role, and the list goes on. When Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster finally came out in 2012, with Tony Leung, audiences were almost suffering from Ip Man fatigue.

But amongst all of the different variations and adaptions, it was the image of Donnie Yen which remained as the representation of Ip Man that stuck in people’s minds the most. When it was announced that there was going to be a sequel to Yen and Yip’s take on the master, it was major news. Director Yip and his king of action seemed to be putting together a cast of kung fu heaven – British powerhouse Darren Shahlavi, Venoms star Lo Meng, old school legend Fung Hak On, and there was even going to be a Sha Po Lang re-match of Yen vs Sammo Hung. Despite the cast though, Ip Man 2 was a decided let down after such a well told original instalment. In many ways, looking back now it could be said that Ip Man 2 buckled under the pressure of all the expectations it was burdened with.

In the 2 short years since the first Ip Man, Yen had become one of the most bankable stars in China – the action crown was his – and there was nobody to take it away from him. The result was a sequel which shoved Ip Man’s wife and friends well into the background, in favor of moulding the character into the hero of China, the one who would stand against the corrupt British forces and all those that dare to insult Chinese integrity. Gone was the vulnerability, and in its place was just an avatar for Chinese righteousness and honour. Ip Man was no longer someone we could relate to, weakly held up by a rather dull storyline of him trying to get established in Hong Kong amongst the other kung fu schools. Frankly, it just wasn’t that interesting.

Shahlavi himself expressed his dissatisfaction with the character he played, a British boxer called Twister, shortly after its release, stating that he was repeatedly told to me be more OTT and aggressive, essentially turning him into a villainous caricature which was impossible to take seriously. The fight choreography, once again done by Sammo Hung, also had an abundance of issues, all of which come to the fore during a table top fight challenge between Yen and the masters of the other schools. Employing some bizarre wirework choices, even Sammo himself is apparently able to glide across the top of chairs like a sugarplum fairy, and perform flying kicks from a standing position, a stark contrast to the more grounded approach of the original. It was later revealed that Sammo was suffering from health problems during the production, which included a visit to hospital for a heart bypass, and wasn’t performing at the peak of his abilities. Sadly the issues he was experiencing are reflected onscreen, and combined with a story which looked to capitalise on the character of Ip Man’s new found popularity, the final product divided audiences down the middle.

Most significantly though, were Donnie’s own feelings about portraying Ip Man. The elephant in the room for the sequel had always been the Bruce Lee connection, and sure enough, Ip Man 2 closes out with a tagged on scene of a child actor playing Lee, visiting Ip Man to ask for Wing Chun lessons. Many fans speculated on if there would be a third instalment that would focus exclusively on the relationship between Ip Man and the Little Dragon, however it seemed unlikely. Notwithstanding permission issues from the Bruce Lee Estate, the thought of a whole movie based around Ip Man teaching Bruce Lee Wing Chun was hardly an exciting one, regardless of what the Bruce Lee fan base blindly wanted to believe. But more than any of these factors was the shock announcement that Yen made, declaring he would no longer be playing Ip Man for any future instalments.

Yen had stated he was of the belief that no more could be done with the character, and that the market was already saturated with Ip Man related TV series and movies, so it was time to move on to other pastures. As it happened, it turned out that Yen’s decision to no longer play the role triggered the start of audiences’ gradual loss of interest in Ip Man. Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster eventually found itself onto cinema screens in 2012, and Herman Yau cast Anthony Wong as the aging master in 2013’s Ip Man – Final Fight, but neither of them generated the same excitement as a Yen starring Ip Man picture. Ip Man 2 also seemingly marked the end of the Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen collaborations, and despite rumors of them working together on a Wisely tale, another movie involving the director and star didn’t appear to be on the cards.

Despite Ip Man 2 not being on par with the original, it was still hugely successful in China, and only served to secure Yen’s status as a local superstar. The general downturn in Ip Man mania was perhaps indicative that, it wasn’t the character of Ip Man himself that was the sole driver behind the adaptations popularity, it was in fact the presence of Donnie Yen. In just two movies, much like Kwan Tak-Hing’s name had become synonymous with Wong Fei Hung, Donnie Yen had become synonymous with Ip Man. In the wake of the sequel the number of productions Yen was involved in each year was almost off the charts, and all of them were big budget affairs. From the legendary General Guan in The Lost Bladesman, to the Shaw Brothers influenced 14 Blades and Wu Xia, taking on Yuen Biao’s role in a remake of The Iceman Cometh, the mischievous Sun Wukong in The Monkey King, and returning to his angry cop roots in Special ID and Kung Fu Killer. From 2011 – 2014 Yen made appearances in a whopping 10 movies, you couldn’t get away from him even if you wanted to.

Yen’s popularity went from strength to strength, with the number of movies he was reported to be involved in far outweighing what any single person could possibly manage in reality. News formed of him creating his own production company, named Super Hero Films Co, which would kick off with two movies called The Master and Dragon City, both of which, at the time of writing, are not even close to getting started. Then there’s the previously mentioned Wisely movie with Wilson Yip. Not to mention a Hollywood production, Noodle Man, which was to also star Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. To top it all off, Part 2 of the Iceman Cometh remake, Iceman 3D, has been in post production limbo for what seems like forever. However despite all of these false starts and rumors, one announcement got everyone’s attention – 5 years on, 2015 would see Yen returning to the role of Ip Man for a third instalment.

The news sent the internet abuzz with speculation and anticipation – can Yen still handle the physical demands of the role? Would Sammo Hung be returning as choreographer? Would it be about Ip Man’s relationship with Bruce Lee? Who would be the antagonist? The news filtered through slowly but surely, with every piece of new information justifiably generating a lot of excitement. The fact that Yen would be re-teaming with Wilson Yip should have been big news in itself, but what was to become Ip Man 3 had a few cards up its sleeve that made their reunion seems like a minor detail. First up, it was revealed that Sammo Hung wouldn’t be involved in the production, and that choreography duties would go to Yuen Woo Ping. This was a huge surprise, as it would mark the first time that Yen and Woo Ping had worked together since creative differences led to them parting ways after Wing Chun, over 20 years earlier.

Secondly was the inclusion of legendary boxer Mike Tyson as a member of the cast, with a confirmed confrontation to take place between him and Yen. To round things off, after much speculation (including one ridiculous rumor of a 100% CGI creation), it was confirmed that Shaolin Soccer goalkeeper Danny Chan would be stepping into the shoes of Bruce Lee. Ip Man, Mike Tyson, and Bruce Lee all in the same movie, the hype was going to be a lot to live up to. The third instalment finally arrived on cinema screens in late December 2015, and Yen made a very visible push to ensure it gained the same level of international recognition as the first, flying to the US and doing a promotional tour with Mike Tyson to get the word out there.

The heavy promoting turned out to be a worthwhile exercise, as Ip Man 3 did in fact go a long way to putting right everything that was wrong with its predecessor. Gone was the image of Ip Man as the hero of China, and proceedings were dialled back to make him a relatable human again, as he deals with greedy property developers, and more significantly, his ill wife. Perhaps a sign of Yip and Yen’s indifference to Ip Man’s connection to Bruce Lee, just as Ip Man 2 closed out with a throwaway scene of the child Bruce Lee meeting him for the first time, Ip Man 3 opens with a throwaway scene of the young adult Bruce Lee meeting Ip Man again. Most glaringly, despite the character of Bruce Lee having aged around 10 years, Yen hardly looks a year older than he does in the previous installment.

If any more confirmation was needed, it’s these closing and opening scenes which prove that Yip and Yen’s Ip Man movies were no longer about portraying Ip Man the historical character, they were about Donnie Yen playing Ip Man. Out of all the installments, the third sees Yen at his most comfortable in the role, and despite a slightly meandering structure, the relationship with his wife resonates on an emotional level so well that you almost forget you’re watching a kung fu movie. But a kung fu movie it is, and Woo Ping’s take on Wing Chun choreography provided a breath of fresh air, succeeding in generating the excitement that was felt when watching the original for the first time.

The fight with Tyson turned out to be an unexpected highlight, and a finale which pits Yen against Max Zhang, one of the brightest martial arts talents working in the industry, provides one of the purest kung fu showdowns in a movie that’s been seen for a long time. In many ways Ip Man 3 went the direction of showing that less is more, a direction which even dared to throw in an extended segment of Yen not fighting at all, as he drops everything to look after his ailing wife in her time of need. It might not have a ruthless military regime to root against like the original, or the brash over the top action of the second, but Ip Man 3 succeeds in delivering a simple tale of a man who wanted to live peacefully and happily with his family. It’s a story that resonates, and while it can easily be argued the tale has strayed way off the path of how Ip Man’s life really played out, that’s not really what movies are for. Yen ends Ip Man 3 sat down, cup of tea in hand, looking out of the window. It’s a scene which both suitably closes out the tale of Ip Man, and proves that Donnie Yen was indeed the best man to do it.

Ip Man 3 is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Well Go USA Entertainment. Also be sure to read our interview with Ip Man 3 stars, Donnie Yen and Mike Tyson.

Posted in Features, News | 3 Comments

Steven Seagal to play an old-school lawman in ‘Gunfighter’

"Out for a Kill" Japanese DVD Cover

"Out for a Kill" Japanese DVD Cover

Another Steven Seagal (Above the Law, Out for a Kill) movie has just been added to the action star’s evergrowing filmography. Just a week after the announcement of AttritionSeagal’s first directorial project in 22 years – new information has surfaced about Seagal starring in Gunfighter.

According to VMI, Gunfighter centers on an old-school lawman who battles a ruthless, deadly gang that has invaded his small town to pull off a brazen daylight heist. Chuck Hustmyre, who wrote the yet-to-be-released Seagal film, End of a Gun, will also write Gunfighter. There are currently no others stars or a director attached.

As a side note, Gunfighter sounds slightly similar to 2013′s The Last Stand – the Hollywood debut feature of Kim Ji-woon (I Saw the Devil) – which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as a small town sheriff who protects his town from a dangerous drug lord.

Other Seagal films “in the works” include AttritionContract to KillEnd of a GunCypher, Four Towers and Under Siege 3. Seagal can be seen next in one of the following, forthcoming titles: The Asian ConnectionKilling Salazar, Perfect Weapon and Code of Honor.

Stay tuned for more news regarding Gunfighter.

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Watch the new trailer for Oxide Pang’s action epic ‘My War’

"My War" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"My War" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Oxide Pang (Bangkok Haunted), 1/2 of the directing duo known as The Pang Brothers (The Eye, The Eye 2), is back with My War, an epic blockbuster starring Liu Ye (The Last Supper), Wang Luodan (Rise of the Legend) and Tony Yang (Phantom of the Theatre).

According to sources, My War tells of the romance and friendship among a group of soldiers who fought in the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (CPVA) in the early 1950s, during the Korean War.

My War hits Chinese theaters on September 30, 2016. Until then, don’t miss the film’s trailer (via AFS).

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Cityonfire.com’s ‘Ip Man 3′ Blu-ray Giveaway! – WINNER’S ANNOUCED!

Ip Man 3 | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Ip Man 3 | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Cityonfire.com and Well Go USA are giving away 3 Blu-ray copies of Ip Man 3 to three lucky Cityonfire visitors. To enter, simply add a comment to this post and describe, in your own words, the video.

We will be selecting a winner at random. Be sure to include your email address in the appropriate field so we can contact you for your home address. Additionally, you must ‘Like Us‘ on cityonfire.com’s Facebook by clicking here.

The Blu-ray & DVD for Ip Man 3 will be officially released on April 19, 2016. We will announce the 3 winners the following day.

CONTEST DISCLAIMER: You must enter by April 19, 2016 to qualify. U.S. residents only please. We sincerely apologize to our non-U.S. visitors. Winners must respond with their mailing address within 48 hours, otherwise you will automatically be disqualified. No exceptions. Contest is subject to change without notice.

WINNERS: Alan T, Ritchie C and Ronald O.

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Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai are preparing for ‘War’!

Johnnie To (Fulltime Killer, Office), one of the most diverse directors in the world, has announced that he’ll be making a fantasy epic titled The War Between Huang Di and Chiyou, which will be based on China’s Battle of Zhuolu, an event mostly seen as mythical by historians.

Frequent To collaborator Wai Ka Fai (Too Many Ways to be Number One, The Longest Nite) is on board, presumably as co-writer/co-producer. Cast details are non-existent at the moment, but news should be popping up soon.

Until then, check out the film’s effects-driven teaser trailer.

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Deal on Fire! John Wick | Blu-ray | Only $9 – Expires soon!

John Wick | Blu-ray & DVD (Lionsgate)

John Wick | Blu-ray & DVD (Lionsgate)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for David Leitch and Chad Stahelski’s John Wick (read our review), starring Keanu Reeves. Reeves plays John Wick, an infamous, retired assassin who now leads a peaceful lifestyle. But when a series of unfortunate events distort his daily routine, Wick has no choice but to revisit his sinister past and go on one hell of a kill crazy rampage.

The Blu-ray for John Wick includes the follow extras: Audio Commentary, Featurettes: Don’t F^#% with John Wick, Calling in the Calvalry, Destiny of A Collective, Assassin’s Code, Red Circle and NYC Noir.

Order John Wick from Amazon.com today!

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Lee Jung Jae races to save thousands of lives in ‘Tik Tok’

"Tik Tok" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Tik Tok" Korean Theatrical Poster

Get ready to see Lee Jung Jae (Big Match, Assassination) race against the clock to save thousands of lives in Tik Tok, a Li Jun-directed Korean/Chinese thriller that also stars Wallace Chung (Drug Wars).

According to FCSTik Tok pits a cop against suspect in the wake of a bombing during a soccer game between China and South Korea.

Judging from the trailer, Tik Tok has all the ingredients of a summer blockbuster: suspense, martial arts action, shoot-outs, explosions and a Sudden Death-like arena setting.

Tik Tok releases in theaters on July 15, 2016.

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Hardcore Henry (2015) Review

"Hardcore Henry" Theatrical Poster

"Hardcore Henry" Theatrical Poster

Director: Ilya Naishuller
Writer: Ilya Naishuller
Producer: Timur Bekmambetov
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett, Tim Roth, Andrei Dementiev, Cyrus Arnold, Ilya Naishuller, Will Stewart, Dasha Charusha, Svetlana Ustinova
Running Time: 96 min.

By Zach Nix

Hardcore Henry, written and directed by Russian musician/filmmaker, Ilya Naishuller, will go down in history as the first feature length first person point of view (POV) action film ever made. Naishuller previously experimented with the first person style in the music videos for Biting Elbow’s songs, “Bad Motherf*****” and “The Stampede.” While those videos are energetic and momentous, most people wouldn’t dare to expand said first person style from short film to feature length, simply because of how daunting the task would be. However, that challenge didn’t stop Naishuller, as he has blown up his idea from a short film sans dialog to a feature length picture with the energy of his music videos. After so many found footage horror films featuring first person camera techniques over the last decade, it’s about time that someone apply the style to an action film.

The video game-esque film is not only directed by newcomer Naishuller, but produced by successful Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov of Night Watch, Day Watch, Wanted, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter fame. Hardcore Henry injects the same wave of energy into action cinema that Bekmambetov’s own Russian/American co-productions have done in the past. While the film is undeniably impressive from a technical standpoint, it features little to no character or story to pull the viewer in. Therefore, those who are willing to forgive a lack of compelling drama will find them selves dazzled by highly stylized action unlike much they’ve seen before.

Hardcore Henry starts off when Henry, as seen through the viewer’s eyes, hence the first person POV, wakes up on an operating table. His wife, Estelle (Haley Bennett), puts him back together using robotic ligaments and reveals to him that he was injured. Before Estelle can activate his voice chip (thereby enhancing the viewer’s immersion into the film), Akran (Danila Kozlovsky), the telekinetic villain of the picture, breaks into the lab and threatens to kill Henry and Estelle. After Henry and Estelle are separated, he sets out to rescue her. With the help of the ever changing Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), Henry gets all of the advice and help that he needs to keep his cyborg body alive long enough to take down Akran and save his wife in a plot that adheres to contemporary video game logic like no film before it.

Naishuller’s debut feature is truly an exploitation/grindhouse picture for the millennial generation in every way possible. The film is a gloriously trashy action fest, filled with gory and over the top kills, excessive cursing and nudity, as well as a body count higher than most video games. Therefore, video gamers and members of the gaming community will find themselves right at home with the film, as it possesses the energy of a first person video game, as well as a “screw you” attitude that will appeal to younger millennials.

Speaking of millennials, the film represents the pros and cons of the millennial generation, as seen through the pros of its stylistic ingenuity, hence the impressive first person camera technique, and the cons of its short mindedness and weak attention span, hence the rapid pace and high amount of sharp turns in the story. There are rarely any breaks in the entire film, as the narrative is somewhat disorienting and constantly shifting. Once Henry meets up with the source of Jimmy’s avatar characters, the film starts to take shape and make more sense, which than leads into an insane, but expected, finale of action and mayhem. It may be a double edged sword, but Hardcore Henry proves that as long as other cinematic to video game adaptations fail to recreate video game thrills, than this is the best bet for cinematic gaming, as it at least offers up the non-stop thrills and believable immersion of a first person shooter.

Unfortunately, style and energy can only get a film so far when story and character are nowhere in sight. Besides some light exposition, Hardcore Henry offers up little story beyond that of a voiceless protagonist who fights off hordes of enemies and a telekinetic super villain in order to save his wife. I guess that’s the trade off you make when you remove charisma and voice work from your lead character when you want to make the film as immersive as possible from a first person stand point. Therefore, only fans of video games and action cinema will find anything to latch onto here, as those hoping for character development or an engaging story will want to look elsewhere.

That being said, one can’t help but admire the incredible technical achievements of the film. While I initially felt that the POV camera work was a tad disorienting, I eventually settled into it and found myself enjoying it. I even forgot I was watching a first person action film after awhile, as the constant bombardment of action in my face became a norm. As for the film’s stunt work and action, it’s quite a mixed bag. Some of the fights and shootouts are immersive and realistic, while others are absurd and wildly uneven. Most of the action towards the beginning of the film is quite empty and hollow as Henry is constantly going from location to location without much explanation. However, when Henry has a clear mission, such as when he needs to protect the crippled Jimmy in an elevator shaft set within an abandoned hotel, the action excels and the film fully realizes its first person potential. There’s no denying that every action scene in the film is impeccably crafted, but Hardcore Henry’s madness works best when the viewer has something to care about, which is unfortunately few and far between.

Although it goes without saying that Hardcore Henry is a violent film, it should probably be emphasized how “hardcore” the film truly is. Those with a weak stomach will probably want to stay away from this one, as the gore borders on horror territory at times. Bodies are shredded into nothingness, limbs are ripped apart, and heads are spliced in half in the most gruesome ways possible. Fans of the V/H/S horror anthology series will find themselves right at home with this one, as it heavily resembles the shorts found within that series. The film’s first persona camera techniques, coupled with its no limits gore and lack of story, almost makes it feel like one of the short V/H/S segments was blown up to feature length. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ilya Naishuller appears as a director on the next V/H/S or ABC’s of Death sequel, as his no holds barred madness and creative ingenuity is perfect for those horror series.

On a final note, it should be mentioned that although the stunt work and action is the true star of the film, there are two noteworthy performances amidst all of the mayhem. Sharlto Copley plays Jimmy, a scientist who can switch between avatar-like bodies of his own. Jimmy has the most screen time and dialog of any character in the film and provides most of the humor to great effect. Jimmy can almost be seen as the second player to Henry’s player one, or even as a tutorial narrator constantly helping him out on his mission. Copley, who has proven himself an immensely diverse actor within director Neil Blomkamp’s daring science fiction films, fits well within the mad world that is Hardcore Henry.

The other notable performance comes from Danila Nozlovsky as the lead villain, Akran, a telekinetic psychopath. Nozlovsky is so over the top and unpredictable within the film, that his character will most likely make the viewer feel quite terrified and unsettled, especially when he hurls a naked woman at the screen with no care. He also has telekinetic powers for some reason, which is never explained. This disregard for reason or explanation plays into the video game mindset of the film, as anything goes. Nozlovsky also strongly resembles and sounds like Tommy Wiseau, the cult favorite actor/director of the most infamous “so bad, it’s good” film, The Room. Therefore, Nozlovsky’s similarity to Wiseau adds a whole other layer of entertainment to the picture. If only he spouted the line, “Oh, hi Henry!”

It was interesting to finally see a first person action film, although I don’t think that more should be made unless they can be improved upon, or that the style even become a trend or catch on like found footage horror films. If I were to compare Naishuller’s first person action style to an actual trend in modern gaming, than it would be that of the walking simulator, as exemplified by games like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and Firewatch. While it may be interesting to experience a story by walking around within it through a first person POV, it shouldn’t become the norm by which all games are made. Much the same way that Hardcore Henry’s first person POV defines its action, traditional action filmmaking will never go out of style. Therefore, Hardcore Henry makes for a fun distraction for those looking for a temporary alternative to the norm, much the same way that found footage horror films differ from their traditional horror counterparts.

While Hardcore Henry may be getting torn apart by other critics and not scoring the box office dollars its producers hoped its gimmick hook would score, the film is destined to become a cult classic amongst fans of action cinema and video games. My personal opinion lands somewhere between those of the critics who dislike it and the adolescent millennials who enjoy it. I acknowledge that the rapid pace, lack of story, and non-existent character development is disappointing, but heavily enjoy the superficial action and stylistic tendencies of the film. All in all, the film is a fun experience, and a true midnight movie for the cult movie crowd. Unfortunately, Hardcore Henry is the definition of style over substance, no matter how cliché that may be to admit.

Zach Nix’s Rating: 6/10

Posted in All, Cults & Classics, News, Reviews | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Ready to witness the heavenly glory of Bruce Lee in 4K?

"The Big Boss" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"The Big Boss" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Get ready to upgrade your hardware! This year’s Udine Far East Film Festival will be screening restored 4K versions of Bruce Lee’s The Big Boss (1971), Fist of Fury (1972), Way of the Dragon (1972) and of course, the partial Bruce Lee classic, Game of Death (1978) – inevitably, upcoming 4K Blu-rays for these titles will follow.

If you’re not familiar with 4K digital technology restoration, here’s the breakdown: it has around four times more resolution than the common 1080p and produces a clearer picture. Keep in mind that you need a 4K TV and a 4K Blu-ray player to play a 4K film.

We’ll keep you updated on the 4K Bruce Lee releases as we hear more. Stay tuned!

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Chang Cheh’s ‘Five Element Ninjas’ returns to Blu-ray!

"Five Element Ninjas" Blu-ray Cover

"Five Element Ninjas" Blu-ray Cover

British distributors 88 Films will be releasing the 1982 Shaw Brothers classic Five Element Ninjas (aka Chinese Super Ninjas) on Blu-ray this Summer.

Since it will be a UK release, you’ll need multi-region hardware to play it. Given the fact that Tokyo Shock’s out-of-print Blu-ray release of Five Element Ninjas goes for nearly $200 on Ebay, upgrading to a multi-region player may be an option, especially considering the euphoric entertainment value of this acclaimed Chang Cheh classic.

If you haven’t seen the movie, you’re in for a real treat. If you don’t believe us, skim through our reviews.

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Friend 2 | aka Chingoo 2 (2013) Review

"Friend 2" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Friend 2" Korean Theatrical Poster

AKA: Friend: The Great Legacy
Director: Kwak Kyung-Taek
Writer: Kwak Kyung-Taek
Cast: Yoo Oh-Sung, Kim Woo-Bin, Joo Jin-Mo, Jung Ho-Bin, Lee Cheol-Min, Jang Young-Nam, Lee Joon-Hyuk, Gi Ju-Bong, Bae Sung-Jong, Ji Seung-Hyun, Joo Suk-Tae
Running Time: 124 min.

By Kyle Warner

Kwak Kyung-taek’s 2001 gangster drama Friend is widely considered to be a modern classic in South Korean cinema. I like the movie but you could probably say that I’m not one of Friend’s biggest fans. I rewatched it recently before sitting down to watch the sequel (something I strongly recommend to anyone considering Friend 2). Friend is a good movie. I do think it’s a bit slow and heavy-handed, though, and its disjointed storyline of chapters in a trio of friend’s lives does make it easy for a viewer to check out from time-to-time. The one major thing that struck me about 2001’s Friend was how authentic it felt. Told primarily from the POV of a young man who’s watching his two friends turn to a life of crime, Friend feels like the true account of the downfall of two promising young men.

Friend 2 is made up of very different thematic substance from its predecessor. This is a gangster movie, not a coming-of-age tale or a story about lost innocence. From the beginning, this film is told from the POV of criminals and killers. 95% of Friend 2’s characters exist on the wrong side of the law. It’s not nearly as authentic and honest as the original film, but in focusing on just being a crime movie I think it’s a more cohesive film overall. Not saying it’s a better film! Just saying that, by trying to do less, the film’s storyline feels more polished.

As I talk a bit about this film’s storyline, I’m bound to drop some spoilers for the first film. So, if you’re unfamiliar with the original Friend, I suggest you wait until after you’ve seen that film before you read the review for the sequel.

Taking place 17 years after the original film (actually filmed 12 years later), Friend 2 finds Joon-seok (Yu Oh-seong) in the final year of his prison term for ordering the hit on his friend Dong-soo. It’s in prison that he meets Sung-hoon, the rebellious son of a former flame. Throughout his childhood, Sung-hoon (Kim Woo-bin) grew up looking for a father figure in the absence of his real dad, becoming a violent street gangster with a grudge against authority in the process. When Sung-hoon goes to prison for attacking some of Joon-seok’s gang, the older gangster is put in a difficult situation when his former flame asks him to look after Sung-hoon on the inside. So begins a strained teacher/student relationship between an old-school hood with a history of killing his friends and a young punk who’s at war with the world.

Once out of prison, Joon-seok seeks to reclaim his spot near the top of his gang’s hierarchy, but he finds that relentlessly ambitious Eun-ki (Jung Ho-bin) has risen in the ranks and is trying to push both Joon-seok and the gang’s old president out of power. When Sung-hoon is finally released from prison, Joon-seok takes the kid under his wing and plans to take over the city’s criminal empire.

Like the original film, Friend 2 is full of violent machinations but it’s held together by some strong characters. Yu Oh-seong doesn’t get as much variety to play with in the older, more world-weary Joon-seok. Despite being the series’ most violent and ruthless individual, the original Friend also showed Joon-seok to be the most likable. Here he’s sterner, with a constantly furrowed brow that’s bound to give the actor a headache. The violent youth Sung-hoon played by Kim Woo-bin gets more room to emote and show off. Though essentially a character driven by rage in almost every scene, one can at least sense something deeper hidden beneath the surface.

The original film was all about the childhood friendship of boys who grew into young men and lost their way. Friend 2 tries to squeeze in a subplot involving a different trio of friends but it feels unnecessary. Years ago, Sung-hoon was one of three friends who hung out with girls, raced motorcycles, and got into mischief. A tragedy turned the trio into a duo and set the two surviving friends on radically different paths; Sung-hoon became a gangster and his buddy became a monk. The two clash into each other again and Friend 2 tries to recapture the same drama found in the first film’s similar sequences, but here the friendship is completely unnecessary to the story. One kid turned into a thug and one became a holy man—that’s it, that’s the end of that subplot, and having the two run into each other again and again changes nothing about either character.

In addition to giving Sung-hoon some background by looking to his childhood, the film also jumps back to the 60s and shows the rise of Joon-seok’s father in the criminal world. Again, some of this feels like unnecessary padding (or maybe an attempt to go for a Godfather Part II kind of vibe?), but the fact that it’s gangster drama at least helps these scenes mesh with the rest of the story.

The film is at its best when Joon-seok and Sung-hoon focus their sights on their nemesis Eun-ki. Nobody in the film can really be called a hero but Eun-ki is certainly the villain and I enjoyed how Jung Ho-bin played the part as a man who acts generous and caring but is secretly plotting murder if he doesn’t get his way. The gentleman criminal makes for a nice parallel with the more emotional Joon-seok and Sung-hoon.

Despite huge expectations from audiences, the sequel doesn’t have lofty ambitions and is more than happy to give some decent character development to a large cast and then brutalize those characters with pipes and knives. I guess you could say it’s something of a dumbed-down sequel. But I liked it. I watched both Friend and Friend 2 this week. I walked away from Friend admiring the young cast, the authenticity of the screenplay, and the director’s gritty vision of youths entering the criminal underworld. There’s less to admire about Friend 2 but it’s a perfectly fine gangster movie, directed with style and competently acted by an ensemble cast. If you enjoyed Friend, give the sequel a look.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 7/10

Posted in All, Korean, News, Reviews | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Lee Min-Ho and Fan Siu Wong are ‘Bounty Hunters’

"Bounty Hunters" Teaser Poster

"Bounty Hunters" Teaser Poster

Get ready to witness extreme bounty hunting in Shin Tae-Ra’s Bounty Hunters, an upcoming South Korea, China, Hong Kong co-production that features a colorful combination of explosive action, martial arts, humor and sex appeal.

The film revolves around a pack of bounty hunters, led by Lee Min-Ho (Gangnam Blues), who seek their prey throughout South Korea, China, Hong Kong and Thailand.

Bounty Hunters also stars Tiffany Tang (Storm Warriors), Wallace Chung (Drug War), Karena Ng (Ip Man 3) and Fan Siu Wong (The Legend is Born – Ip Man). | Watch the trailer.

Look out for it in 2016 – check out the newest trailer!

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Tazza: The Hidden Card (2014) Review

"Tazza: The Hidden Card" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Tazza: The Hidden Card" Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Kang Hyung-Chul
Writer: Kang Hyung-Chul, Lee Byeong-Hun
Cast: Seung-Hyun Choi, Shin Se-Kyung, Kim Yun-Seok, Yu Hae-Jin, Lee Ha-Nui, Kwak Do-Won, Lee Kyoung-Young, Kim In-Kwon, Oh Jung-Se, Park Hyo-Joo, Ko Su-Hee
Running Time: 147 min.

By Paul Bramhall

Director and screenwriter Choi Dong-hoon successfully found his niche in recent years with the hugely entertaining ensemble pieces The Thieves, and more recently, Assassination. While both movies clicked with audiences not just on their home soil in Korea, but also internationally, it would be unfair to say that Dong-hoon only hit his stride with these latest efforts. His 2006 movie, Tazza: The High Rollers, made between his 2003 debut with the caper flick The Big Swindle, and his 2009 fantasy action adventure Jeon Woo Chi: The Taoist Wizard, showed the same level of confidence and assured direction that he’d come to be associated with in later years.

Tazza: The High Rollers starred Jo Seung-woo as an amateur player of the Korean card game Go-Stop, who loses his sisters life savings when one of his gambling sessions doesn’t turn out the way he hoped. However, upon discovering he’d been swindled by a group of professional Go-Stop hustlers, he goes on a mission to not only regain the money back, but become the greatest Go-Stop hustler in the land. While the premise sounds like it would have limited appeal outside of Korean shores, thanks to an eclectic cast of characters, made up of a cast featuring the likes of Kim Hye-soo, Baek Yoon-sik, Yoo Hae-jin, and Kim Yoon-seok (who’s featured in every one of Dong-hoon’s movies with the exception of Assassination), Tazza: The High Rollers is pure entertainment from start to finish.

In a brief period of time when the Korean film industry seemed to show a fledging interest in making sequels to some of the productions that kicked off the Korean new wave (2013 also gave us Friend 2, a follow-up to the 2001 classic), 2014 gave us Tazza: The Hidden Card. Dong-hoon decided not to return for the sequel, neither in the capacity of director or writer, so the reins were handed over to Kang Hyeong-cheol. A director and screenwriter known for his warm and fuzzy comedy dramas, notably 2011’s hugely popular Sunny, the prospect of him creating a sequel to Dong-hoon’s original was an interesting one.

The end result certainly lives up to the expectation of being interesting. Most glaringly, The Hidden Card is barely a sequel to The High Rollers at all, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. Choi Seung-hyeon, better known as T.O.P. from the hugely popular K-pop group Big Bang, stars as a street wise kid who likes to gamble. While getting involved in small town skirmishes, Seung-hyeon stumbles across the sister of one of his gambling rivals, played by Shin Se-kyeong, and falls instantly in love with her. Despite barely exchanging a full sentence, Seung-hyeon declares he’s going to go to Seoul, make his millions, then come back to sweep her off her feet. That basically summarises the plot.

The Hidden Card is one of those sequels that does just about everything wrong you can imagine. I’ll start with Seung-hyeon. As a member of Big Bang, he may be worshipped by female fans around the world (or just Asia, I’m not sure), but as an actor he doesn’t really cut it. To be fair, he was suitably effective as a cold blooded assassin in the Lee Byung-hun starring 2009 TV drama IRIS, which mostly involved him delivering intense stares and shooting people. However further attempts to push him as leading man material on the big screen have been less successful, with debatable performances in the likes of the war movie 71 – Into the Fire, and the action flick Commitment. The Hidden Card does him no favours, with one particularly glaring scene playing out as if he’s posing for one of his many photo books, rather than acting in a legitimate movie. The believability simply isn’t there.

Of course the script doesn’t help matters, which is so clunky and unconvincing it feels more like a first draft than a finished screenplay. Seung-hyeon and Se-kyeong have absolutely no reason to want to be together, however the whole concept rests on the fact that Seung-hyeon wants to make enough money to impress her, even though the interest she showed in him during their brief screen time together was minimal at best. When Seung-hyeon falls foul of a gambling gang boss, played with a suitable amount of smarm by Kwak Do-won, and it’s suddenly revealed that Se-kyeong is working for him, it’s supposed to be an epic twist with a heap of emotional punch behind it. However as the script has put zero effort into creating any kind of romantic tension or meaning between the pair, the reaction from most will likely be one of shrugging the shoulders.

After the reveal proceedings veer off the rails into an increasingly laughable series of melodramatic and graphically violent scenarios, which are at complete odds with the initial tone that the movie kicked off with, not to mention the brisk and colourful pacing of the original. Soon Seung-hyeon has had one of his kidneys forcibly removed, and not long after is stabbing himself through the hand, actions which are so ridiculously over the top when considering the context that they’re taking place in, that they result in bafflement rather than shock. The more the cumbersome 147 minute runtime chugs along, the more a distinct impression is formed that Hyeong-cheol has bitten off more than he could chew by taking on this sequel.

In an attempt to at least create some connectivity to the original, along the way Yoo Hae-jin reprises his role, and like in the original with Seung-woo, here he teams up with Seung-hyeon in an attempt to hustle the hustlers. Hae-jin is a welcome presence, as he is in most movies, and whenever he’s onscreen things become a little more bearable, unfortunately though he’s not onscreen nearly as much as I’d have liked him to be. Kim Yoon-seok also reprises his role from the original, shoe horned into the last 30 minutes almost as if the producers thought that his presence would be enough to save everything which has come before (and also give them an excuse to put his character on the promotional material). Indeed while Yoon-seok was only a supporting player in the original, his character was one of the most memorable ones, with a scarred face and a zero tolerance policy for anyone that he catches cheating, his method of dealing with hustlers with a hammer was wince inducing in the best possible way.

Here though there’s the distinct impression he’s simply clocking in for a pay cheque, as his character arrives in the movie for little other reason than to provide his house for one last showdown of Go-Stop. To get to the finale though, viewers will have to endure what amounts to close to an hour of little more than double cross upon double cross, once again exposing a script that appears to be so eager to come across as clever, it forsakes any chance of being fun. By the time the last round of successive backstabbing has taken place, most will have likely given up on caring what takes place during the penultimate game, as proceedings ensure what little investment we did have in the characters is trampled all over in the name of fitting in as many twists as possible.

The Hidden Card saves the last nail in its coffin for the finale, in which all of the key players gather round a table for a game of Go-Stop that raises the stakes to the level of life and death. In a move which leaves a particularly bad taste, Do-won states that to eliminate the chance of anyone cheating, the game should be played naked. Onscreen the suggestion plays out as ridiculous as it sounds on paper, and seems to blatantly be included for no other reason than to have Se-kyeong strip down to her underwear, in a scene which also includes her having to be searched for a hidden card (finally, a connection to the title!). While I’ve no doubt the filmmakers would argue that everyone else in stripped down as well, the camera seems to enjoy lingering on Se-kyeong with a lack of subtlety which come across as exploitative. It speaks volumes that Kim Hye-soo revealed much more in the original, however despite featuring less nudity, the scene in The Hidden Card feels forced at best.

As the closing credits rolled, I was left with a sense of relief that the sequel is essentially a stand-alone story, as had Hyeong-cheol decided to make a direct continuation of Dong-hoon’s original, I’m sure the damage would have been even worse. Like any good hustler, it’s always best to have a few cards up your sleeve, however if Tazza: The Hidden Card was one of them, up your sleeve is probably the best place to keep it.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 3.5/10

Posted in All, Korean, News, Reviews | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Introducing the new ‘Han Solo’…

"The Empire Strikes Back" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"The Empire Strikes Back" Japanese Theatrical Poster

After months of trying to find the perfect actor to portray a young Han Solo – the sarcastic, reckless smuggler of the Star Wars saga made famous by Harrison Ford – Disney and Lucasfilm have finally found their man in Alden Ehrenreich (photo), an American actor, mostly known for his breakout performance in Ethan Joel Coen’s Hail, Caesar!

According to Deadline, the untitled Han Solo spin-off – to be directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie) and written by Lawrence Kasdan (Star Wars: Episode V-VII)  and Jon Kasdan (In the Land of Women) – will focus on Solo’s days before he linked up with the rebel alliance.

The untitled Han Solo movie, which shoots in January, has a scheduled release in May 25th, 2018. Stay tuned!

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Cynthia Rothrock and Sammo Hung to reunite in ‘Dragons’?

"Shanghai Express" Japanese DVD Cover

"Shanghai Express" Japanese DVD Cover

If you’re a fan of old school Hong Kong action films, get ready for this exciting news: A project titled The Amazing Shanghai Dragons – which will reunite Cynthia Rothrock with her Shanghai Express co-star, Sammo Hung – is currently in early stages of development.

Here’s what Rothrock had to say (paraphrased, via FB): “Be on the lookout for The Amazing Shanghai Dragons, starring Sammo Hung and myself. We will be doing a kickstarter campaign to raise money. My first big budget picture and I get to reunite with Sammo. Mark Grove (Dragon and the Hawk), genius director will be coming out to film the campaign teaser Sunday, and should be up in a few weeks. It will be my biggest film to date and a dream to work with Sammo again.”

Throughout the 80s and 90s, until now, Rothrock (No Retreat, No Surrender II, China O’Brien) has had a successful run in low budget actioners in the United States, but her film career originally took off in Hong Kong, where she showcased her incredible martial arts ability by co-starring/appearing in a string of kung fu films that include Millionaire’s Express, Right Wrongs, Magic Crystal, City Cops, Inspector Wears Skirts and Prince of the Sun. It was within this era that Rothrock was fighting alongside – and with – names such as Michelle Yeoh, Yuen Biao, Andy Lau, Lam Ching-ying and many more.

If The Amazing Shanghai Dragons gets made, the film will mark the first time, in 30 years, that Rothrock and Hung will share the screen together (via TAE). We’re hoping that Richard Norton, who also appeared in Shanghai Express, will also have a role.

For now, be sure to catch Rothrock in the soon-to-be-released Showdown in Manila, White Tiger, Enter the Fist and the Golden Fleecing, Bitchfight and Star Raiders: The Adventures of Saber Raine. Her newest release, The Martial Arts Kid, (with Don “The Dragon” Wilson), is currently available for pre-order.

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Scott Adkins gets Marvel-ously ‘Strange’… 1st trailer!

"Doctor Strange" Teaser Poster

"Doctor Strange" Teaser Poster

Martial arts star Scott Adkins (Close Range, Zero Tolerance) has joined the cast of Marvel’s Doctor Strange, an upcoming film about a sorcerer who protects Earth from mystical threats.

According to The Wrap: Adkins’ role is being kept under wraps, though insiders suggest he’ll have several major action scenes featuring hand-to-hand combat.

Although Adkins is primarily known for straight-to-video titles, he’s definitely no stranger to getting parts (albeit bit) in bigger Hollywood motion pictures (i.e. The Medallion, Unleashed, The Bourne Ultimatum, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Zero Dark Thirty and the upcoming The Brothers Grimsby).

Doctor Strange is directed by Scott Derrickson (Sinister) and stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor (Red Belt), Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen and Tilda Swinton.

The film is currently in production and has a release date set for November 4, 2016. Stay tune for more details regarding Adkins’ role.

Updates: Watch film’s first trailer. We couldn’t spot Scott Adkins. Can you?

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Charlize Theron says yes to ‘Mad Max Fury Road’ sequel

"Mad Max Fury Road" Japanese Poster

"Mad Max Fury Road" Japanese Poster

Based on the positive reception of George Miller’s Mad Max Fury Road, a sequel is definitely in the air. According to Miller himself (via The Playlist), the follow-up already has a screenplay, a novella and a title: Mad Max: The Wasteland (formerly Mad Max: Furiosa) – all developed while Fury Road was delayed from its original 2013 release date.

Earlier reports suggest that Tom Hardy is obligated to play Max Rockatansky for two more movies. Charlize Theron’s involvement, however, is questionable, considering her heated feud (via Esquire) with Hardy: “We f*ckin’ went at it, yeah. And on other days, he and George Miller went at it. It was the isolation, and the fact that we were stuck in a rig for the entire shoot. We shot a war movie on a moving truck – there’s very little green screen. It was like a family road trip that just never went anywhere.”

We’ll be sure to keep you in the loop as we hear more. Stay tuned!

Updates: When MTV asked Theron if she’d be up for a sequel, here’s what she replied with: “I would love to bring her [Imperator Furiosa] back to life, are you kidding?… To have people react to something like that where you went and worked your balls off (laughs), it’s really, really nice, it kind of just puts everything into perspective. I can see how people are responding to her and I look at my little girl and I’m like, ‘Yeah I’d love to play this woman again, definitely.’

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Pilferer’s Progress, The | aka Money Crazy (1977) Review

"The Pilferer's Progress" International Theatrical Poster

"The Pilferer's Progress" International Theatrical Poster

Director: John Woo
Writer: John Woo
Producer: Raymond Chow
Cast: Richard Ng, Ricky Hui, Lee Hoi San, Angie Chiu, Cheung Ying, Lam Ching Ying, Mars, Billy Chan, Tai San, Fung Hak On, Fung King Man, Gam Gwan, Helena Law Lan, Lin Ke Ming, Eric Tsang, Yu Ming, Dai Sai Aan, Kok Lee Yan, Lee Pang Fei
Running Time: 98 min.

By Martin Sandison

John Woo is my favourite director. His run of movies from A Better Tomorrow to Hard Target are some of the greatest and the action genre would be very different without them. By 1977, Woo had directed a few martial arts films; Hand of Death had come and gone, and was not a success. Woo decided to turn his hand to comedy, and his first movie of this type was the The Pilferer’s Progress. Thankfully, it became a smash hit in Hong Kong and set up Woo’s first run of hit movies. Fortune Star released the film, alongside a lot of his other comedies, some years ago and I saw it back then. When I heard it was being shown in my local great Independent cinema here in Edinburgh, I had to go see it again. Despite being a bad print with burnt on subtitles, it was a unique experience seeing such an early Woo film in the cinema.

Dragon (Richard Ng) Is a small-time conman who keeps running in to Poison (Ricky Hui), a nice guy who keeps happening to lose his job. The two have a running battle at first, but ultimately combine their talents to scam a rich businessman. Along the way they encounter colourful and strange characters, such as a father and daughter, who have a grudge against the same businessman.

Richard Ng is better known for playing various roles in the Lucky Star films, wherein he had some of the best jokes. The Pilferer’s Progress is one of his first acting roles, and he throws himself in to the world of the film. Interestingly, Ng retired and moved to London a while back, and I was surprised to see him pop up in a deleted scene from the British sitcom Black Books.

Sam Hui, one of the supremely talented Hui brothers, plays the down-on-his-luck loveable urchin brilliantly. A successful musician, the theme song for the film is a great piece of 70’s Cantonese rock co-written by Ricky and Sam Hui.

Appearing in a hilarious part is that great classic kung fu movie villain Lee Hoi San. His credits stretched from Jackie Chan movies such as The Young Master to Woo’s later Last Hurrah for Chivalry, and Tang Chia’s three self-directed films. Cameos come from the legendary Mars, Lam Ching-Ying and Billy Chan as three hitmen. Billy Chan directed one of the most rare Hong Kong movies of all time, Licence to Steal.

When I first started to watch the early Woo comedies, I was in awe of their innate Hong Kong-movie-ness. They really are insane; seemingly impromptu, containing intense energy and having a dark undercurrent. The Pliferer’s Progress being his first, it is very sketchy and not as adrenalin-pumping and interesting as his later comedies, especially my favourite one From Rags to Riches. However, the running gags and well-choreographed action mean it’s never boring.

The choreographer for The Pliferer’s Progress is the late Fung Hak On, who imbues the fist fights and vehicle chases with a wonderful off-kilter style. The battles between Ng and Hui are superb brawls, and this extends as they fight the businessman’s gang, led by Lee Hoi San. The funniest joke comes here as San falls into a bronze liquid, referencing the classic 18 Bronzemen, complete with sound effects. Some sequences hint at the magic to come from Woo, with tightly directed and edited sequences such as a wonderful mid-film attempted robbery by the two.

Overall, The Pliferer’s Progress is well-constructed, silly fun. It’s great to see Ng and Hui hamming it up with some decent screen chemistry. Just don’t expect anything approaching the level of Woo’s best movies in terms of film-making and depth.

Martin Sandison’s rating: 6.5/10

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Code of Silence (1985) Review

"Code of Silence" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Code of Silence" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Andrew Davis
Producer: Raymond Wagner
Cast: Chuck Norris, Henry Silva, Bert Remsen, Mike Genovese, Nathan Davis, Ralph Foody, Allen Hamilton, Ron Henriquez, Joe Gualdo, Molly Hagan, Ron Dean, Wilbert Bradley, Dennis Farina, Gene Barge, Mario Nieves
Running Time: 101 min.

By Zach Nix

Code of Silence is widely regarded by critics and fans as Chuck Norris’ strongest film in his lengthy and varied filmography of martial arts actioners. Produced by Orion Pictures in 1985, the film is a great representation of the mature and respectable actioners that their production company churned out in the 80s that somewhat resembled but always eclipsed the kind of action films put out by Cannon Pictures, who housed most of Norris’ own 80s output in the first place (Invasion U.S.A. and Missing in Action 2: The Beginning were released the same year). In a sense, Orion was the more successful and professional version of Cannon, producing films with larger budgets, bigger stars, accomplished box office receipts, and favorable critical reviews. While it’s no secret that Norris is a fantastic martial arts performer, he’s not a particularly good screen actor. However, Code of Silence presents Norris at his most dramatically compelling, thanks to a helping heaping of police drama and cop centric action. Although Norris’ trademark punches and kicks are mostly sidelined, Code of Silence offers up a unique kind of Norris action picture that could have catapulted him to A-list stardom had he played his cards right.

The film is not just a showcase of Norris’ dramatic elements, but also the exemplary skills of its at the time novice director, Andrew Davis. Although he would go on to greater success with Above the Law, Under Siege, and The Fugitive, all action classics in their own right, Davis showcases early mastery of action and suspense within his first hit action film. In a sense, Code of Silence is the origin of Davis’ astounding filmmaking abilities, an important stepping-stone in his tale of minor Hollywood dominance.

Davis is one of action cinema’s most underrated directors. He’s a rare filmmaker who knows how to build tension and than deliver with satisfying action. He also lets his characters speak mostly through actions instead of their words. This attribute is applied well to Norris, who after all can barely act to save his own life. Davis was and truly is the B-picture comparison to crime auteur Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral), whose own career flourished at the same time as Davis.’ However, Davis separated himself from the rest of the B-picture filmmakers because his B-pictures possessed the maturity and skill of an A-picture, which made them more like crime dramas than simple genre pictures. It’s no surprise that Davis eventually went on to make big budget A-movies, and eventually made a film that scored a Best Picture nomination in 1993, quite the feat for a filmmaker who started out directing Chuck Norris. While it is unfortunate that Davis was never able to strike gold with successive films after his Best Picture nominee, The Fugitive, it is about time that someone recognize the director for his contributions to the action and suspense genre.

Code of Silence is tightly intertwined with Davis’ 1988 film, Above the Law, most widely remembered as Steven Seagal’s debut action film. Both films share many similarities, such as Davis’ tight direction, several repeating character actors, grounded action sequences, Chicago settings, mature themes for supposed B-pictures, and music by David Michael Frank. The Chicago setting is especially notable, as both films feature numerous shots of Chicago locales, including train tracks, bridges, moon lit rivers, and sun lit cityscapes. The plots are also similar in how each depicts the police force’s war against drugs. However, each includes mature sub-plots that add depth and complexity to the film overall, thereby elevating them above the rest of the B-picture crowd. Code of Silence takes time to tackle the moral implications of police corruption while Above the Law addresses the corruption within the CIA, something that two seemingly basic B-pictures would typically never tackle. Code of Silence was truly an important building block for Davis in order to knock Seagal’s breakout film out of the park, much the same way that Above the Law is an extension of the themes and action depicted in Code of Silence.

However, Code of Silence is a Chuck Norris picture, not simply an underrated thrill by Davis. Therefore, it would be unfair to only focus upon Davis’ contributions, although they are crucial to the film’s success. Norris plays Sergeant Eddie Cusack, a likable character for Norris to play with a tad more depth than most of his protagonists. In a sense, Cusack is very similar to Harry Callahan from Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry series, although a tad quieter, burlier, and likes to play with a Rubix Cube for some reason. Cusack is made more than just a gritty cop because he takes a stand against police corruption whilst never outing the corrupt individuals, thereby never making him a rat. In fact, the sub-plot about police corruption not only imbues more humanity into Cusack and the other characters, but also justifies why Cusack goes up against an army of criminals by himself at the film’s end. Therefore, Davis gives a legitimate reason for the nonsensical B-picture action that all of us action fans soak up like a sponge. Talk about good filmmaking. While Norris may be an excellent physical performer, every line that comes out of his mouth is tonally the same. Regardless, Davis’ direction and usage of Norris finds a way to get the best out of the martial arts performer in a cop thriller that suits him well. Davis may just be the best director that Norris ever worked with, alongside Bruce Lee from Way of the Dragon.

Although Code of Silence is a mature B-picture with A-picture sensibilities, it still can’t help but give into the B-picture silliness of its era, especially once a crime-fighting robot is introduced. Early on in the film, a controllable tank, entitled The Prowler, is introduced as the future of crime fighting. The robot is sort of a primitive ED-209 from RoboCop, but on wheels, which is all the more ironic given that Orion would go on to produce RoboCop two years later. Anyways, it’s odd to see a police robot in the film, as it clashes with the grounded and gritty tone of the rest of the picture. It also feels like something that you would find in a Cannon picture, as anything goes in their movies. It’s worth mentioning that Code of Silence was previously written as a Dirty Harry picture, which is no surprise given the similarities of the series and Davis’ film. However, can you imagine if Harry Callahan had fought crime alongside a robot? I rest my case. Although the robot’s appearance makes the final action sequence all the more awesome and enjoyable, it clashes with the rest of the grounded picture. Than again, I could just be a sour puss, as who doesn’t want to watch Chuck Norris fight alongside an armed robotic tank?

The final key to Code of Silence’s success is Davis’ ability to understand the value of a good supporting cast within a starring vehicle, as he tends to give a solid amount of screen time to his supporting players that most directors would leave to the back ground. The late Dennis Farina (Manhunter, Snatch), one of the all time great character actors, is featured all throughout the film as a good friend of Norris.’ He adds a lot of humor and naturalism to the cast, as he was an actual police officer at the time of shooting. Henry Silva, one of the most underrated villain performers in all of cinema, has a minor but memorable role as the film’s lead villain. While it’s a shame that he is criminally underused, a mistake that Davis corrected with Above the Law, Silva always makes any movie all the more watchable simply by appearing on screen. And finally, Code of Silence features a nice treat for 90s kids, a key supporting performance by Ralph Foody, most notable as the murderous gangster from the film within the film in the Home Alone series, who famously proclaims, “Merry Christmas, you filthy animal!” Next time you watch an action film starring a notable action lead, take into account how much time is given to the smaller supporting characters. You’ll be surprised at how kind Davis is to his supporting players, and how affective it can be to include them in on the fun.

If one reads up on the critical reviews and box office receipts at the time of Code of Silence’s release, they will discover that the film was rather successful. The film is still to this day the most critically well received action picture that Norris ever headlined, not counting films in which he appeared in a supporting or cameo role. It was also his second most financially successful action picture that he headlined, right behind Cannon’s Missing in Action. While other action stars have made far more successful films, I for one find the success story of Code of Silence quite impressive, especially given Davis’ novice standing at the time and Norris’ B-list standing that he was never able to escape. Action fans expecting martial arts due to Norris’ involvement will be disappointed, but those with a taste for crime dramas and cop actioners will find a lot to love with Code of Silence, an underrated action thriller released smack dab in the middle of the 80s that deserves to be discussed along with the best of the rest.

Zach Nix’s Rating: 7/10

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Bodyguards and Assassins | Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)

Bodyguards and Assassins | Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)

Bodyguards and Assassins | Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)

RELEASE DATE: June 14, 2016

Shout! Factory presents the Blu-ray for Donnie Yen’s Bodyguards and Assassins, a 2009 martial arts film directed by Teddy Chen (Kung Fu Jungle).

Bodyguards and Assassins (read our review) also stars Leon Lai (White Vengeance), Wang Xueqi (Helios), Tony Ka-fai Leung (The Taking of Tiger Mountain), Nicholas Tse (As the Light Goes Out), Simon Yam (SPL II: A Time for Consequences), Eric Tsang (Jian Bing Man), Philip Ng (Wild City), Cung Le (The Grandmaster).

Pre-order Bodyguards and Assassins from Amazon.com today!

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

The ‘Race’ for an ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ sequel begins…

"Edge of Tomorrow" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Edge of Tomorrow" Japanese Theatrical Poster

While attending the premiere for last year’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (read our review), Tom Cruise had this to say about a sequel to Edge of Tomorrow: “I pitched it to Christopher McQuarrie and Doug Liman. We were there one night and I was like, I’ve got an idea for it,” Cruise said, but didn’t reveal plot elements. Cruise did, however, say that he already talked to Emily Blunt about returning. Her response: “give me another year, please.”

Today, news has emerged that a Edge of Tomorrow II is officially moving forward. According to Deadline, Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse – a writing duo known for their recent work on the Jesse Owens’ bio-pic Race – have been tapped to write the sequel.

Despite its box office fumble, 2014′s Edge of Tomorrow was praised by both critics and viewers alike. The film involved a military officer (Cruise) who is brought into an alien war against an extraterrestrial enemy who can reset the day and know the future. When this officer is enabled with the same power, he teams up with a Special Forces warrior (Blunt) to try and end the war.

Edge of Tomorrow is based on 2004′s All You Need Is Kill, a Japanese novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. Upon its Blu-ray & DVD release, Edge of Tomorrow was re-marketed as Live. Die. Repeat.

We’ll keep you updated as we hear more about an Edge of Tomorrow sequel. Stay tuned!

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Great Hypnotist, The (2014) Review

"The Great Hypnotist" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"The Great Hypnotist" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Leste Chen
Writer: Endrix Ren, Leste Chen
Cast: Xu Zheng, Karen Mok, Hu Jing, Li Fangcong, David Wang, Lu Zhong, Yang Kaidi, Guan Le, Dai Ming, Song Ci, Jiang Ditong, Jin Shunzi, Yin Hang, Song Yanzhou
Running Time: 102 min.

By Kyle Warner

You know how sometimes you’re watching a film and think, ‘I bet so-and-so would really enjoy this movie’? Well, I’m willing to bet that M. Night Shyamalan would really dig The Great Hypnotist. A psychological thriller that withholds its secrets until the final act and then yanks you on a hard right, throws a plot twist at you that completely changes your understanding of the film’s world, and leaves you putting together the pieces like a drunk working on a puzzle in the dying light. When the plot twist is delivered, I suspect half the audience is going, “Now hold on one gosh-darned minute,” while the other half is muttering to themselves, “Ohhhh, now I see…” And then the solitary figure of M. Night Shyamalan stands up in the middle of the crowded theatre and exclaims, “What a twist!” … Yep, it’s that kind of a movie.

Before the twist, we have two main characters that dominate the film. Xu Zheng plays famous psychiatrist Dr. Ruining Xu, who specializes in hypnotherapy. A former teacher comes to him with a difficult case: a woman who claims she can see ghosts. Xu reluctantly agrees to meet the woman after hearing how she’s scared off all other psychiatrists and has proven exceptionally difficult to treat. Karen Mok’s Ren walks into his office and so begins a battle of wills as she tries to convince the doctor of what she’s seen while he tries to cure her of her delusions. But there’s more at play here. The questions begin mounting up and reality starts to bleed away as we’re left unsure of who to believe, doctor or patient.

Thankfully, The Great Hypnotist is more than just a ‘twist movie,’ giving us plenty of dramatic content before the finale. Most the narrative takes place in Dr. Xu’s office while doctor and patient recount stories from the past. When Dr. Xu hypnotizes Ren, he doesn’t exactly follow her into her dreams, but the film’s style suggests something similar. In these moments, it’s like Inception meets HBO’s In Treatment. What I found interesting is that the film gives us two unreliable narrators to tell the story. Dr. Xu is a skeptic that’s more hell-bent on exposing lies than he is in helping people and Ren’s ghostly visions don’t match up with our perceived reality. Who to trust?

Or perhaps more importantly, who do we want to trust? Well, that one’s easy: Ren. The film’s chief flaw is that Dr. Xu is a completely unsympathetic person and I wanted him to be wrong. Arrogant, short-tempered, and showing very little empathy for the people he’s assigned to help… I thought he was a complete asshat. Maybe that was the point? Fiction and film are full of psychiatrists that do more harm than good and it can’t be ignored that the character’s full name is Ruining Xu. I mean, that’s a little on the nose, isn’t it? Still, whatever the intentions of the character, I turned against him long before the end, so some of the later plot developments fell flat for me. Xu Zheng taps into the educated arrogance of the character but fails to find any redemptive qualities (self-pity doesn’t count). He’s good in the back-and-forth with Karen Mok, though, and keeps his side of the story interesting enough when the film is little more than a two part argument in a nicely lit office. I have seen very little of Xu Zheng’s work but he’s fast becoming one of the most popular and profitable actors in China, having starred in and directed two of the country’s biggest box office sensations, Lost in Thailand and Lost in Hong Kong. While I didn’t like his character here, he’s clearly a capable performer and I expect to see much more of him in the future.

Karen Mok has long been one of today’s most underrated actresses, playing basically any part under the sun. With the character of Ren, Mok gets to play with many interesting emotional states that would normally be spread out across multiple roles. Ren is part femme fatale, part confused victim, part scheming intellectual, and part creepy ghost whisperer. It’s a great role and Mok navigates the complicated eccentricities with exceptional skill. The movie will try to draw you in with creepy supernatural promises and a male lead in the prime of his career, but make no mistake; Karen Mok’s the best part of The Great Hypnotist.

The film is directed by Taiwanese filmmaker Leste Chen, who made his directorial debut with 2005’s ghost story The Heirloom. Chen and his crew make their film suitably creepy while also keeping you guessing about whether Ren really sees ghosts or if she’s just a creative liar. However, I found that the supernatural business started strong and then faded before the end. There’s one moment early on that elicited a verbal, “Oh shit!” from this viewer, and I thought that this was Chen setting the tone for things to come. But unfortunately that was the only such moment from the film, and the rest rarely attempts to surprise you and instead only hopes to outwit you.

The film’s not able to remain consistently interesting, perhaps due to its setting or its unlikable male lead. I felt a bit fatigued by the back-and-forth nature of truth and lies before the finale. Despite some ghostly happenings, it’s not a horror film. And despite the twists and turns, it’s not much of a thriller either. The Great Hypnotist is a mystery movie at heart, one that’s sure to appeal to film fans that love it when a story takes them in unexpected directions. Stylish and thought-provoking, The Great Hypnotist is more clever than the usual psychological thriller, but because it fails to forge a connection to its audience it fails to ever become truly involving.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 6/10

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