Tak Sakaguchi rose to fame with the 2001 cult favorite Versus, a movie that managed to combine the low-budget charms of Evil Dead-like horror with blistering martial arts and gunplay. The actor later scored another cult hit with Battlefield Baseball, but has most recently hitched his wagon to the Sushi Typhoon production company.
In April of 2013, new broke out that Tak was retiring from acting, which left an unknown fate for his recently announced role in Death Trance II, not to mention a long-rumored sequel to Versus.
In late 2014, Cityonfire.com was contacted by director Yuji Shimomura (Death Trance) with breaking news that Tak was out of retirement to make Re:Born, which the actor calls his “very last” and “most superb” action movie:
“After I retired, I found myself having a passion for action that was still smoldering inside of me. After a conversation with action director Yuji Shimomura, I wanted to thrive one more time and create the very last and most superb action movie with my utmost power and passion for the sake of a closure to my entire career. I am convinced that I have to give my very best one last time. That is how I feel about this project. I didn’t realize how many people chose to support a person like myself until after I retired. I hope this movie will be satisfying enough for them to feel absolutely alright for me to go. This is for them.”
Media: “Audition” video (Part 1) for Re:Born featuring Tak in some intense sparring action. | Footage (Part 2) of Sakaguchi getting in shape. | 3rd chapter of promo footage (Part 3). | New “training” footage (Part 3.5) featuring supervision from Tak’s one and only master, Yoshitaka Inagawa, who has established the “Zero Range Combat” technique. “Tak mastered it in months when one does in years,” says Inagawa, who will be handling the film’s action choreography. | 1st teaser trailer.
Deadline reports that Cinemax has given a pilot order for Warrior, a project based on unpublished writings by the late Bruce Lee, which were recently discovered by his daughter, Shannon Lee.
Justin Lin (Star Trek Beyond, Finishing the Game) is attached to produce and possibly direct. Jonathan Tropper, co-creator of Banshee, is penning pilot.
Warrior tells the story of a young martial arts prodigy, newly arrived from China, who finds himself caught up in the bloody Chinatown Tong wars. The story will be set against the backdrop of San Francisco’s Chinatown in the aftermath of the Civil War.
Director: Michael Baumgarten
Producer: James Wilson, Cheryl Wheeler-Duncan
Cast: Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, Jansen Panettiere, Kathryn Newton, Matthew Ziff, T.J. Storm, Brandon Tyler Russell, R. Marcos Taylor, Chuck Zito, Nassim Faras Lahrizi, Kayley Stallings, Robert Peters
Running Time: 103 min.
By Jeff Bona
Don “The Dragon” Wilson (Bloodfist) and Cynthia Rothrock (Shanghai Express) are back to doing what they do best in The Martial Arts Kid, a coming of age, martial arts-themed tale directed by Michael Baumgarten (The Guest House).
The Martial Arts Kid follows a rebellious teenager named Robbie (Jansen Panettiere) who, under the recommendation of his grandmother, moves to Florida to “clean up his life” by living with his Aunt (Rothrock) and Uncle (Wilson). Once there, Robbie immediately finds himself in more trouble when he stumbles upon a beautiful girl named Rina (Kathryn Newton of Paranormal Activity 4), whose boyfriend, Bo (Matthew Ziff of Kickboxer: Vengeance), decides to make Robbie’s life a living hell. But with the strong mentorship of his Aunt and Uncle, Robbie overcomes his problems by discovering martial arts, which leads to self discipline, a stronger spirit and a greater consciousness of himself – oh, and to finally defend himself and kick the living sh*t out of Bo as well.
If you want to get the most out of The Martial Arts Kid, know this before diving in: It’s a PG-rated teen drama fused with martial arts action and has the words “family” and “message” written all over it. That’s not to say there isn’t a good amount of ass kicking – there definitely is – but if you’re wishing for puddles of blood, dismemberments and high body counts, you’ll be left disappointed. I mean, come on… it’s called The Martial Arts Kid.
Before it was even completed, The Martial Arts Kid was being criticized for ripping off movies like The Karate Kid and to a lesser extent, No Retreat, No Surrender. Without doubt, it’s very similar to the aforementioned films, but it stands on its own for having a much deeper focus on the true meaning martial arts, which is something you wouldn’t find in a mainstream flick starring Ralph Macchio or Jaden Smith. Besides, if you’re looking for pure originality, you’re living in the wrong era.
The inclusion of both Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock are obviously the film’s main attraction. Wilson, the 11-time World Kickboxing Champion – mostly known to the general public for his Bloodfist and Ring of Fire films that dominated video shelves in the late 80s/early 90s – feels very “at home” as the Mr. Mayagi-type teacher who leads Robbie in the right direction. Unlike Mayagi (portrayed by the late Pat Morita in The Karate Kid franchise), Wilson applies more of a real-life, father figure approach without all the philosophical mumbo jumbo (at one point Wilson says to his student: “You can wash on, wash off all you want, but you’re not going to be driving any of our cars.”) Wilson’s prior films aren’t exactly masterpieces, but for what it’s worth, he’s certainly at his best in The Martial Arts Kid, both in his non-action and action scenes (courtesy of James Lew, who is currently coordinating fight scenes for Netflix/Marvel original series, Luke Cage).
5-time World Champion in forms and weapons, Cynthia Rothrock – who has also had a successful career in B-movie favorites and Hong Kong action classics – gives the audience exactly what they’d expect from her. She gets to strut her physical ability in a series of injected fight scenes throughout the film. She’ll never be compared to Meryl Streep in the acting department, but Rothrock proves that she hasn’t missed a beat from her China O’Brien days almost 30 years ago.
Although Wilson and Rothrock both get some heavy screen time, the main face of The Martial Arts Kid is Jansen Panettiere, who plays Robbie. The producers couldn’t have picked a better lead. Panettiere is a natural. He’s humble, charismatic and charming. He has a tendency to overact at times, but regardless, the camera loves him. He has that “misfit” look, yet he still manages to capture the whole idol thing without coming across like a pretentious little douche. And he’s not too shabby during his fight sequences either.
The Martial Arts Kid is far from perfect. With some tighter editing, its overall pacing could have been a lot more stable. There’s a few instances that are out-of-place and cringe-worthy, but in the context of being a low-ley project that doesn’t have the big budget backing of a major studio, The Martial Arts Kid delivers what it promises: A family-oriented action movie with a strong, positive message.
The Martial Arts Kid also stars T.J. Storm (Kickboxer: Vengeance), Nassim Faras “Young Dragon” Lahrizi, R. Marcos Taylor (Straight Outta Compton), a cameo by Chuck Zito (Homefront), as well as special appearances from martial arts masters Robert Goldman, Christine Rodriguez, Jeff W. Smith, Olando Rivera and Glenn C. Wilson.
Bullies beware: A Martial Arts Kid sequel is currently in the works and I’m 100% for it.
Back in September 2014, pre-production f0r The Night Comes For Us – an anticipated action film by Indonesian director Timo Tjahjanto of the “Mo Brothers” directing duo (Macabre, Killers) – was halted for unknown reasons. But now, it appears that The Night is indeed coming.
From Timo’s recent Instagram post (via FCS): “Since its out there in the open, yes we are finally resurrecting this one. What hopefully will be a lean and (very) mean kill fest. Thanks to a dear and old friend Gareth Evans for his blessing.”
Not much is known about The Night Comes For Us, other than it will be “a neo-noir hitman thriller.” As of 2014, here’s the information that was gathered up: Joe Taslim (The Raid, Star Trek Beyond) and Julie Estelle (The Raid 2, Macabre) were both attached as the film’s main stars. Gareth Evans (director of The Raid and The Raid 2) was on board as action director, along with Iko Uwais (Merantau, The Raid, The Raid 2), who would handle fight choreography. Even Sony Pictures Classics nabbed North American distribution rights before it was eve shot.
Since it has been two years, we expect some of the above information has changed. But for now, Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel are most likely focusing on their forthcoming film, Headshot. In addition, the two are also working on a sequel to Macabre.
We’ll fill you in on The Night Comes For Us as we hear more. Stay tuned.
The Wailing (read our review) involves a local cop investigating a series of violent unexplained murders. When his own daughter falls ill and shows signs of possession, a shaman is called in to assist with the investigation.
Kickboxer: Vengeance | Blu-ray & DVD (Image Entertainment)
RELEASE DATE: November 8, 2016
Image Entertainment presents the Blu-ray & DVD for Kickboxer: Vengeance (read our review), starring Alain Moussi and David Bautista.
Kurt Sloane (Moussi) has always been there for his brother, Eric (Darren Shahlavi), who’s known in the martial arts world as a modern-day warrior. But when the ruthless and undefeated fighter Tong Po (Bautista) brutally ends Eric’s life in a no-holds-barred match in Thailand, Kurt devotes himself to training with a master (Jean-Claude Van Damme) in a quest for redemption… and revenge.
Directed and written by Ding Sheng, Litte Big Soldier (read our review) is definitely one of the best Jackie Chan flicks of the last 10 years. I know we’re all sick of period films (especially one titled Little Big Solider), but trust me, this is one movie you don’t want to miss.
Director: John Stockwell Writer: Dimitri Logothetis, Jim McGrath Cast: Alain Moussi, Georges St-Pierre, T.J. Storm, Matthew Ziff, Sam Medina, Dave Bautista, Sue-Lynn Ansari, Darren Shahlavi, Gina Carano, Hawn Tran, Sara Malakul Lane, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Tanzpol Chuksrida, Joshua Tran Running Time: 90 min.
By Zach Nix
Kickboxer: Vengeance is a remake/reboot of the original and classic Jean-Claude Van Damme martial arts film, Kickboxer, which was released in 1989. While there were a string of Van Damme-less Kickboxer sequels released in the 90s starring Sasha Mitchell and Marc Dacascos, Kickboxer: Vengeance is the latest entry within the franchise after a solid twenty-year dry spell. Director John Stockwell (In the Blood) and screenwriters Dimitri Logothetis and Jim McGrath aim to not only pay tribute to the original, but also to start up a new series of sequels, to which there is already one, entitled Kickboxer: Retaliation, in production as I write this review. In a world filled with big budget remakes of hugely iconic intellectual properties, it’s nice to have a reboot of a smaller action and martial arts film, as cult classics tend to get swept under the rug in favor of larger reboots.
While some may argue as to whether Kickboxer: Vengeance is a remake, reboot, or reimagining of the original film, I would argue that it is a reboot-quel, as it feels like a sequel in nature due to Van Damme’s inclusion but also as a reboot to a long defunct franchise by passing the torch from one generation of stars and fans to the next. Similar reboot-quels as of recent include Terminator: Genisys, Mad Max: Fury Road, Creed, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, all films that aimed to revitalize franchises who had not seen an installment in several years through the incorporation of previous cast, crew, and canon. As for Kickboxer: Vengeance, I am glad to report that the reboot-quel not only successfully pays tribute to the original, but also one-ups it as a much superior film whilst paving the road for more sequels to come.
The plot, as fans of the classic will immediately recognize, is as follows. Kurt Sloane (Alain Moussi) is the manager of his karate champion brother, Eric Sloane (Darren Shahlavi). When Eric is offered a large amount of money by a fight organizer, Marcia (Gina Carano), to take part in an underground fight in Thailand against Muay Thai champion Tong Po (David Bautista), he accepts, although his brother stresses him not too. Unfortunately, Eric dies in the fight, leaving Kurt enraged against Tong Po and in mourning. After a failed attempt to murder Tong Po, Kurt seeks out Eric’s trainer, Master Durand (Jean-Claude Van Damme), to teach him Muay Thai in order to defeat Tong Po in a one-on-one fight.
Fans can relax knowing that Kickboxer: Vengeance doesn’t shamelessly rehash the original film’s plot points beat for beat, as it mostly uses the frame work of the original to tell the same story, whilst also throwing in new sub-plots, situations, and action scenes that never occurred within the original. The film shakes things up by dropping you into the middle of the conflict, as it than flashes back three months earlier to set up the exposition that fans will recognize, although this time Kurt’s brother is murdered, not simply paralyzed. Thankfully, the film shakes up the monotony of the training sequences by throwing in new action scenes and situations in the middle of the picture that never occurred in the original and providing a sub-plot concerning corrupt cops and their involvement with the illegal underground fights that was nowhere within the original as well. Overall, Kickboxer: Vengeance outdoes the original by packing slightly more meat into its narrative and for shaking up the formula a bit, whilst also providing far superior fights and numerous action stars and sports fighters to boot.
Kickboxer: Vengeance features a very impressive cast of recognizable and experienced sports fighters that turns the film into a celebration of all things mixed martial arts, sort of the same way that Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables paid tribute to the by gone era of the eighties action picture with its cast. Alain Moussi fills in Van Damme’s shoes as the franchise’s newest Kurt Sloane. While he is hardly a dramatically compelling actor, Moussi proves himself a solid physical performer, taking part within many fights that demonstrate his physical commitment to the production. Bautista also does solid work as the franchise’s newest Tong Po, using his imposing physical stature to great affect. Other small supporting roles within the film include Gina Carano as a villainous fight organizer, George St. Pierre as a desperate fighter whose allegiances seem shaky, and Darren Shahlavi as Kurt’s brother in his final screen performance. It’s extremely sad to watch Tong Po kill Shahlavi’s character early on in the film, as the scene carries more emotional weight to it considering that Shahlavi died in 2015 and that his death in the film is so particularly brutal. Shahlavi’s part may be small, but it is also quite affective, and a nice send off to one of martial arts’ late greats, may he rest in peace.
While martial arts fans would have turned out for Kickboxer: Vengeance regardless of who was in it, Van Damme’s inclusion is a huge coup. Kickboxer: Vengeance could be considered Van Damme’s Creed, as he, much like Stallone, goes full circle from the apprentice of the original film to the master in the reboot, more than twenty years later. He’s not going to be snagging an Oscar nomination like Stallone did, but Van Damme truly does give one of his career best performances here. He blends both sternness and maturity with his trademark goofiness, offering up a wink and a smile here and there, almost as a nod to his fans for always sticking by him all of these years. This is the perfect kind of role for Van Damme to play in his latter years, as it acknowledges his youthful past, gives him a few chances to show off his still impressive moves, and allows him to demonstrate his maturity in a role as wise master. The other great thing about Van Damme in this film is that he is in the entire movie, not simply a scene or two like some of the other stars in the film. He has a ton of screen time, participates in several fights, and is always involved with the story at hand. Unlike John Hyams’ Dragon Eyes, which featured Van Damme in a limited but affective mentor role, Kickboxer: Vengeance places Van Damme front and center to Moussi’s lead.
Unfortunately, there is one notable flaw about Van Damme’s part in the film. While he appears to be a good sport throughout, performing what appears to be all of his own moves on screen, there are a few very notable instances within the film where his voice is dubbed by someone other than himself. I immediately picked up on it early on, and had flashbacks to some of Steven Seagal’s worst post-dubbing moments in many of his own direct to video films. While it only appears here and there, and is honestly quite hard to pick up on unless you have an ear for this kind of stuff, it is extremely noticeable during the final fight when nearly every word that comes out of Van Damme’s mouth, especially ones depicted on screen, are not his own. It’s a shame that this otherwise technically proficient film features such obvious post-dubbing that plagues the worst of direct to video cinema. It’s a minor flaw in the grand scheme of things, and the only element of the film that outright hurts its theatrical quality, but it’s a shame that it appears within one of Van Damme’s best performances.
Besides its stellar cast, Kickboxer: Vengeance boasts an abundance of martial arts fights within its swift ninety minute run time. Moussi participates in almost every fight of the film, and has a one on one match with just about every one in the cast. Even Van Damme participates in several of the film’s fights, including a surprise throw down between him and St. Pierre. While not a direct tournament fighter film, although it does share similarities with the sub-genre, Kickboxer: Vengeance avoids the trapping of redundant one on one matches by throwing in several action scenes where Moussi specifically has to go up against multiple opponents amidst different settings, whether it be on the streets of Thailand or in the halls of a prison. While most martial arts fans would have been fine with numerous one on one matches, I for one appreciated Stockwell’s decision to craft several different kind of action scenes throughout, thereby making each one unique and different from the last.
Although some martial fans will always see the original Kickboxer as an undisputed classic that cannot be topped, I for one am here to argue and proclaim that Kickboxer: Vengeance is not only a great update and reboot of the original, but a far superior film. Before all of you Van Damme and martial arts fans come after me, let me explain my case. In all honesty, I always felt that the original Kickboxer was a flawed and slightly boring martial arts picture that only got by based upon the nostalgia its fans had attached to it, no offense to fans of said picture. That being said, Kickboxer: Vengeance not only gives you the familiar story of the original, but also offers up a greater variety of action scenes, a far more involving training process, an immensely stellar cast, as well as sub-plots that add more meat to the narrative. What I am getting at here, is that Kickboxer: Vengeance has the advantage over the original simply because it offers up more entertainment bang for your buck. There are also some very fun nods to the original that fans will get a real kick out of. I dare not spoil them for those who have not seen the film yet, but they elevate the picture that much higher for its respect of the original.
All insults of the original aside, the reboot is not entirely perfect either. As I stated before, the most glaring error of the picture is Van Damme’s obvious voice dubbing, which pulls the viewer directly out of the picture. It’s a shame that the worst error of Seagal’s direct to video cinema not only found its way into a Van Damme picture, whom is typically never dubbed over by someone else, but also within one of the better American martial arts pictures of recent years. Another error of the picture is that it moves at too swift a pace at times, gliding quickly over rather important scenes that need more time in order to drive their effect home, most notably Eric Sloane’s death. It also doesn’t help that the classic Kickboxer story is not the world’s most dramatically compelling tale, as it is mostly an excuse to craft a vehicle for martial artists to show off their moves. However, the pros of this reboot outweigh its cons by a long shot. It’s not often that martial arts fans get a reboot, let alone a film, of this stature with such a notable budget and ensemble cast. The fights are uniformly excellent too, from both their hard-hitting choreography to their smooth cinematography. And Van Damme’s involvement in the film makes it a must see event, brining his career full circle from the young ambitious wannabe star to full-fledged action veteran. There’s no doubt about it, Kickboxer: Vengeance is not only a solid martial arts picture, but also superior to the original Kickboxer in every way.
Director: Sheldon Lettich Writer: Sheldon Lettich, Jean-Claude Van Damme Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Geoffrey Lewis, Alonna Shaw, Bolo Yeung, Alicia Stevenson, Paul Aylett, Alan Scarfe, Philip Chan, Corrina Everson, Julie Strain, Wu Fong Lung, John Sham, Sarah-Jane Varley, Kamel Krifa Running Time: 107 min.
By Kyle Warner
Few things scream “90’s” quite like Jean-Claude Van Damme starring opposite himself in an action movie. The concept of taking an action star and having them play two roles in the same movie is something that producers keep coming back to, often with lackluster results. Jet Li fought his alternate dimension doppelganger in The One, Jackie Chan teamed up with his twin in Twin Dragons, and Van Damme himself has returned to the concept more than once, playing twins in Maximum Risk, a clone in Replicant, and… there’s probably more. Pretty sure he might’ve crossed paths with himself from a different timeline in Timecop. And did Van Damme fight Van Damme in a Universal Soldier movie? No? Well, I just gave them an idea for a sequel. You’re welcome (I’m sorry).
Double Impact kicks off with a Western businessman named Paul Wagner who’s just cut the ribbon on an important tunnel for trade and transportation in Hong Kong. That night, while driving home, Mr. and Mrs. Wagner are assassinated by Triads who’re in league with the businessman’s partner, Nigel Griffith. The only members of the Wagner family to survive are the twin baby boys. The family’s nanny takes one baby and runs off into the night while the Wagner’s bodyguard Frank (frequent Clint Eastwood co-star Geoffrey Lewis) takes the other baby and flees the country. Fast forward 25 years and we find Frank as the surrogate father to Chad Wagner (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who has grown up to be a karate and yoga instructor in Los Angeles. In the years since the incident, Frank has been trying to find out what happened to the other Wagner twin, and photographic evidence places the grown-up Alex Wagner (Van Damme with slicked back hair) in Hong Kong. Frank tells Chad as little as possible before he books them a flight to Hong Kong so that they may go in search of Alex and reclaim their family’s fortunes.
Because Chad knows little or nothing about the reasons behind the trip to Hong Kong, he’s a understandably confused when people in the city act like they know him. One guy gives him “cash money” and a girl reaches down his pants as soon as they get a moment alone. If this sounds familiar to how the unwitting French twin in Maximum Risk was treated upon arrival in the US, that’s because it is! Except here it’s mostly played for laughs. The Hong Kong Van Damme named Alex shows up, head-butts LA’s Chad, and we enter exposition time.
As Frank family tells it, the Wagner brothers need revenge even if they don’t know it. Alex has lived a tough life as a smuggler but he knows next to nothing about his parents and doesn’t seem to care. Chad is more curious, but he’s lived a smiley, happy-go-lucky existence until now, so I’m not sure that revenge or claiming a Hong Kong tunnel really rated high on his to-do list. But revenge must happen, because the loyal bodyguard wills it! And so the twins team up to kill a whole bunch of bad guys in their quest to get their tunnel back… The tunnel seems to be the ultimate goal, even though it’s only glimpsed at the opening and its importance seems ambiguous at best (also, it’s a tunnel).
The chief villain who betrayed Mr. Wagner 25 years back is the real estate mogul Nigel Griffith (Lethal Weapon 3’s Alan Scarfe). Griffith is described as a squeaky-clean businessman and is compared to NY’s Donald Trump. But if you spend just five minutes in a room with Griffith, you realize he’s actually a power mad supervillain (also like Donald Trump). Teamed up with Griffith is Triad boss Zhang (Hard Boiled’s Philip Chan), an equally power mad gangster. Both bad guys have their moments where they’re slimy and evil and fun, but it’s their henchmen that make for more memorable villains. Griffith’s right-hand-lady is the female bodybuilder Corinna Everson, who makes for an intimidating baddie that seems like she just stepped off a Bond movie set. Zhang’s henchman is Moon, a scarred, one-eyed muscle man played by Bolo Yeung (Bloodsport). Bolo demands the viewer’s attention at all times, taking over scenes even when he has nothing to do but just stand there. It’s another cool villain for the veteran who’s played a long line of villains in his career.
There is some good action in the movie, particularly in the finale, which features a few creative, cringe-worthy deaths. Van Damme’s fight with Bolo is the film’s highlight. The two impressive physical specimens make for a good fight when duking out with lesser mortals so when pitted against one another it’s really something for the fans to enjoy.
The ‘twin thing’ is gimmicky and occasionally lame, with subpar special effects, eyelines that don’t match, and contrived reasons to keep the brothers at odds with each other. Van Damme has said that he wanted to do the film as a means to help change his image, as one twin is a violent man and the other is a more innocent average guy, and he got to play with comedy, romance, and drama in the film. Van Damme’s performances in the film are two opposite extremes, neither one of them particularly endearing. Chad is a wide-eyed nice guy with a questionable sense of fashion and Alex is a cigar chewing, hard drinking smuggler. Though Alex is more a product of action movies, Chad is just as unbelievable and silly. Van Damme’s performances usually land somewhere between the extremes of Chad and Alex—it’s a comfort zone the actor has abused, but it’s also where he’s best. Here, when forced to the polar opposites of both characters, you see that the star still had much to learn about the acting craft. Outside of the action scenes, I can’t say that Double Impact is some of Van Damme’s best work.
Any movie with long lost twins fighting bad guys is automatically going to be a little bit silly. Speaking only for myself, I can mostly laugh off Double Impact’s stupidity and enjoy the movie anyway. The action is pretty well done, the villains are memorable and mean, and though Van Damme’s performance is lacking, he cannot be accused of phoning it in. It’s a stupid movie but I rather like it.
In Rings, a young woman becomes worried about her boyfriend when he explores a dark subculture surrounding a mysterious videotape said to kill the watcher seven days after he has viewed it. She sacrifices herself to save her boyfriend, and in doing so makes a horrifying discovery: there is a “movie within the movie” that no one has ever seen before…
Rings is directed by F. Javier Gutierrez (Before the Fall) and produced by Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy). The film stars Laura Wiggins (Hard Drive), Johnny Galecki (The Master Cleanse), Aimee Teagarden (Scream 4) and Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket).
The film hits screen on February 3, 2017. Until then, don’t miss the film’s trailer:
Haofeng Xu (The Final Master) made a name for himself by penning the screenplay for Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster – but due to that film’s lengthy production process, Haofeng has managed to make not one but two movies of his own in the interim. The first was his directorial debut, 2011’s The Sword Identity, which received a release in North America from Lionsgate.
2013’s Judge Archer (aka Arrow Arbitration) features Haofeng’s trademark of 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 2011 MMA flick, Redbelt.
Judge Archer is a historical picture that follows the title character as he resolves disputes between various martial arts schools, but is unable to put an end to the romantic and familial struggles that arise in his own home.
Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Donnie Yen’s Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, directed by Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs).
In Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, Donnie Yen plays Chen Zhen, a role made famous by Bruce Lee in the 1972 filmFist of Fury. It’s set in Shanghai International Settlement, seven years after the events of the Bruce Lee classic!
Legend of the Fist also stars Shu Qi (Storm Riders), Anthony Wong (Punished) and Shawn Yue (Motorway).
"Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41" Japanese Theatrical Poster
Director: Shunya Ito
Story: Toru Shinohara
Writer: Fumio Konami, Hirn Matsuda, Shunya Ito
Cast: Meiko Kaji, Fumio Watanabe, Kayoko Shiraishi, Yukie Kagawa, Yuki Arasa, Hideo Murota, Kyoichi Sato
Running Time: 94 min.
By Kyle Warner
In the opening moments of Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41, we find our antihero Matsu the Scorpion (Meiko Kaji) chained up in solitary confinement. She’s been locked away for a year after the bloodshed she caused in the previous film. The series’ familiar theme song “Urami Bushi” plays over the credits while Matsu grips a stolen spoon between her teeth and sharpens it against the cement floor. By the time the song is done, the spoon is sharpened to a point and made into an effective prison shiv. For while the injustice that landed her in jail has been resolved, she’s made new enemies in prison, and not all of them ended up dead by the end of the first film. Like the scorpion she is named after, Matsu bides her time, allows her opponents to think they have the upper hand, and at the last second… she strikes.
The cruel Warden Goda (Fumio Watanabe), left forever scarred by Matsu in the original film, has made it his personal mission to see her suffer. With a high-ranking bureaucrat arriving to inspect the prison, Goda allows Matsu a one-day reprieve from solitary so that she may enjoy the sun and greet the inspector on her own two feet. Matsu is barely able to stand during the inspection, making Goda believe he’s finally broken her. But when he gets too close, the dagger that had once been a spoon stabs at his face, leaving a new scar for him to remember her by.
The attack reignites the legend of Scorpion among the other female inmates, so Goda decides to humiliate her in the worst way possible. While the other women work, Matsu is tied to a tree—essentially crucified—and then gang-raped by guards in masks. The women look on in a mix of horror and disgust while Goda grins. The rape and a subsequent beating leave Matsu in terrible shape. She’s then loaded onto a truck with six other women, basically dead. However, in mid-transport, Matsu comes back to life, and kills one of the guards. Seizing their chance, the seven women make a break for it and disappear into the hills.
While the Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion takes place primarily behind bars, Jailhouse 41 is about the law’s hunt for the fugitives. Matsu becomes an unlikely leader to the other women. In the group she also finds a new nemesis in the child killer Hide Oba (Kayoko Shiraishi), though the two women are more alike than either would ever likely admit. The women go from one forgotten (haunted?) town to the next, playing hit-and-runs with Warden Goda’s men all the while trying to avoid the many traps that have been set for them.
In almost every way imaginable, Jailhouse 41 is a darker chapter than the one that came before it. It’s also a better film, I think. There is still plenty of objectionable content in the sequel, but the director’s intent seems clearer, as does his symbolism. Women again face horrific situations at the hands of men in Jailhouse 41 but, unlike the original film, here it’s clear that the filmmakers share our horror, and the camera is not caught ogling the ladies. For exploitation cinema, it’s a delicate balancing act between showing an offensive act and appearing to glorify it. Jailhouse 41 performs that balancing act better than the original.
I mentioned symbolism in the previous paragraph; there’s a lot of in in Shunya Ito’s Scorpion films. Ito looked up to Nagisa Oshima and Luis Bunuel, both of whom mixed politics with surrealism in their films, and it’s clear that Ito’s trying to say something about Japan and the country’s nationalist past. However, beyond the Japanese flag appearing at odd times in the original Scorpion, I must confess I didn’t understand everything he was going for. In Jailhouse 41, political and social commentary is easier to read, making for a deeper film experience. One sequence has a couple rowdy Japanese men on a tour bus fondly recalling “the good old days” of the war when they could rape Chinese women at gunpoint and get away with it. That they then see one of the female escapees as a similarly disposable human being is no big stretch of the imagination. The Scorpion films, with perhaps Jailhouse 41 in particular, are a raging war cry against Japanese nationalism and power. And because the “hero” of Scorpion is a woman behind bars, Japanese power is here represented as corrupt lawmen—but the perhaps the more important thing is that they are men. In a way, Matsu the Scorpion more closely resembles the haunted ghosts of Ringu, The Grudge, and Retribution than any mortal avenger of Japanese film. She is a wraith. She is feminist rage with a prison shiv, and she seeks to not only satisfy her own need for vengeance but also (when it’s convenient) exact revenge on behalf of fellow women who’ve been wronged by lecherous and deceitful men.
Meiko Kaji (Stray Cat Rock) further settles into the role of Matsu the Scorpion. Don’t hold me to it, but I don’t think Matsu speaks a word until we’re over an hour into the film. (Kaji’s songs are played often, though, each of them cool and haunting.) In total Kaji might have three different lines of dialogue in the entire movie. Though given a mostly silent role, Kaji is no less intimidating, and really sells Matsu the Scorpion as one of the baddest, meanest antiheroes in all of cinema. I’m still not convinced that the Scorpion series doesn’t belong on the horror shelf. Matsu the Scorpion’s kills certainly belong alongside the best of Voorhees and Myers. One such kill in Jailhouse 41 finds a dead guard’s manhood replaced by a large tree branch. It’s… pretty messed up.
One complaint about the film would be that five out of the six women Matsu is in league with are basically interchangeable. We know them by their crimes (which are read off by a ghost woman reminiscent of the prophet specter from Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood), but beyond their past misdeeds we never get to know them much better. Only Kayoko Shiraishi’s Hide gets some serious character development, and the audience is put into knots trying to decide whether to sympathize with her or hate her guts. Whereas Meiko Kaji performs her role with steely silence, Shiraishi (Yamato) is loud, abrasive, and has all the crazed energy of an angry hyena. From the start, Matsu and Hide hate one another, but as they’re forced to rely on each other they become unlikely allies, making for some of the most interesting character interactions of the series.
Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 is one of the most thought-provoking and visually striking pieces of exploitation cinema you’re ever likely to see. It’s definitely not for all audiences, but I thought it was excellent.
Kyle Warner’s Rating: 8/10
About this release: Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 arrives on Blu-ray in the US and the UK in the box set of the four original Scorpion films from Arrow Video. As of right now, Arrow has not said whether they have plans to make the films available individually, like the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series. On the Jailhouse 41 disc, we get a few new interviews; critic Kier-La Janisse, Japanese film expert Jasper Sharp, and Scorpion production designer Tadayuki Kuwana. My favorite of the interviews is with Janisse. She puts the Scorpion series (and Jailhouse 41 in particular) into historical perspective not just as a female revenge movie or a women’s prison film, but explains its importance as a piece of feminist cinema. It’s the longest of the disc’s interviews and the most interesting. Jasper Sharp gives us a rundown of director Shunya Ito’s credits, most of which remain totally obscure to Western audiences. Ito only has 14 credits as a director in his four decade long career, with his latest coming in 2013. I for one would be very happy to see some of Ito’s other works, just to see if they’re as crazy and visually interesting as his Scorpion films. Tadayuki Kuwana shares some of his memories of working alongside Ito on the Scorpion films. The series’ production design is a big part of its success so I enjoyed hearing from his experiences on set.
Now then, I must comment on the picture quality of the new Blu-rays: it’s definitely lacking. Arrow says they were supplied original film negatives from Toei and they gave it a 2K restoration for this release, so this seems to be a case of poor source materials and not a transfer gone wrong. Murky, grainy, and very blue (I’m talking A Snake of June levels of blue at times), the first two films of the set don’t look all that great in comparison to other films from the time period that’ve been ported to Blu-ray, by this company or many others. Having not seen the films in theatres and with no instant access to the previous DVDs, I can’t say whether this picture is representative of how the films have always looked, or if this is a noticeable upgrade from the picture of the old DVD. The mono soundtrack is good, at least. It’s a very impressive box set (lovely original art, too), but the video definitely does leave something to be desired.
Details have emerged for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s upcoming 15th anniversary 4K Blu-ray (pre-order here) and Blu-ray editions (pre-order here) of director Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Named “Best Picture of the Year” by over 100 critics nationwide! Two master warriors (Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh) are faced with their greatest challenge when the treasured Green Destiny sword isstolen. A young aristocrat (Zhang Ziyi) prepares for an arranged marriage, but soon reveals her superior fighting talents and her deeply romantic past. As each warrior battles for justice, they come face to face with their worst enemy – and the inescapable, enduring power of love.
The upcoming releases (both the 4K Blu-ray and Blu-ray) will be sourced from a new 4K master and will offer exclusive new and never-before-seen features.
New! Six never-before-seen deleted scenes
New! Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: A Retrospective with director Ang Lee, screenwriter James Schamus, and editor Tim Squyres
New! The Making of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
New! A Love Before Time Music Videos
Original Theatrical Trailer
Audio commentary with dierctor Ange Lee and screenwriter James Schamus
Audio commentary with cinematographer Peter Pau
Conversation with actress Michelle Yeoh – Featurette
Director: Jean-François Richet
Writer: Peter Craig, Andrea Berloff
Cast: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna, Michael Parks, William H. Macy, Elisabeth Rohm, Thomas Mann, Dale Dickey, Daniel Moncada, Raoul Trujillo, Richard Cabral
Running Time: 88 min.
By Zach Nix
Mel Gibson (Lethal Weapon, Mad Max) is one of cinema’s most rewarding figures. He’s worn many faces over the decades: actor, action star, filmmaker, and even comedian. Although he’s been successful on all fronts and always been a reliable entertainer, I personally believe that Gibson shines best as an action star. While the initial years of his career were filled with successful action classics here and there, Gibson seems to have struggled to re-establish himself as the mainstream action star he once was, which is a shame. In the last six years, Gibson has more or less devoted his career to action cinema, appearing within four action films of varying quality and as varying characters: a mournful father out for revenge in Edge of Darkness, a down on his luck getaway driver in Get the Gringo, a cartoonish super villain in Machete Kills, and a mercenary with a grudge in The Expendables 3. While all of those films are from perfect, I think everyone can agree that the best part of those four movies is none other than Gibson. The point being, Gibson always brings his A-game to every film that he does, even when the film is undeserved and even if mass audiences refuse to flock to his movies as they used too.
This all brings us to Gibson’s latest and purest genre offering, Blood Father. The neo-western, directed by French filmmaker Jean-Francois Richet (Assault on Precinct 13, Mesrine) advertises a dirtier and grittier Gibson than ever seen before. The Australian star has dabbled in hard-edged films before, but none as pure and vengeful as Blood Father. While the film’s basic genre premise and B-movie imagery seemed promising, I am sad to report that the film is fairly disappointing, especially for those hoping for a simplistic and streamlined action vehicle. Besides Gibson, who shines thanks to an immense amount of pathos and memorable but short action scenes, just about every other element of this pulpy action thriller hinders it from being the emotional and viscerally affective genre picture that it could have been.
Blood Father tells the story of John Link (Mel Gibson), a father of one and survivor of alcoholism who lives by himself in a run down trailer. However, it’s his daughter, Lydia (Erin Moriarty), who is the true basket case. After running off to live with gangsters, Lydia comes to regret her decisions, especially when she accidentally shoots her gangster boyfriend, Jonah (Diego Luna). When Lydia comes crawling back into the arms of her father, John must than take it upon himself to protect his daughter from various hit men and assailants out to kill her.
In a post-Taken world, it seems almost impossible to watch any action film about a protective father and not think about Liam Neeson’s modern classic. But alas, that’s what happens when a successful action film permeates the zeitgeist through an affective premise that can be easily duplicated. (see action cinema post-Die Hard for a similar example). However, Blood Father fails where Taken succeeded due to its confounding narrative through line and an all around lack of narrative momentum. In its defense, the film starts off strong, establishing that Link is both desperate and loving while his daughter is unappreciative and immature. Once Link and a group of gangsters throw down, the film’s narrative is set into effect, as father must now protect daughter whilst bonding with her. And yet, Richet can’t seem to affectively deliver this premise, as his film quickly becomes a bore to sit through. Many uninteresting dialog scenes and dull character exchanges permeate the entire picture from this point forward and ruin any sense of energy or momentum that the film possessed. The narrative even feels as if it were made up along the way, almost as if there was never a completed script, even though the film was based upon a book. If one were to trace the through line of the narrative from scene to scene, it all comes out rather jumbled and unnatural in terms of story progression. Numerous plot detours also overly complicate the picture and send it into direct to video (DTV) territory at points as well, including a smattering of technical flaws that I will get to in a bit. While it’s clear that Richet wanted to take a genre film and focus on the dramatic elements at its core, it’s a shame that he can’t provide an affective and engaging story when all of the pieces for success are right there in front of him.
Blood Father is such a missed opportunity, as it easily could have been the perfect comeback vehicle for Gibson were it advertised and made better. The film is almost a miniature celebration of Gibson, as several visual cues and elements recall previous films of his. From Gibson’s handling of a sawed off shotgun (Mad Max), to his residence within a beat up trailer (Lethal Weapon), to even the film’s story concerning a father who loves his daughter (Edge of Darkness), Blood Father is almost a greatest hits collection of Gibson’s cinema, but unfortunately nowhere near as good as his previous efforts. With that being said, Gibson himself brings his A-game, and further proves that he is still one of action cinema’s all time greatest stars.
Without Gibson, Blood Father would be dead in the water and nothing but stagnant entertainment. Gibson is so physically ripped and huge in this role that one could easily draw comparisons to Sylvester Stallone’s physical transformation in Rambo. He not only looks like a beast, but a literal bear as well, especially with his shaggy beard and leather like face. Gibson’s face appears to be so worn that he looks like he has been through decades of turmoil and remorse, almost resembling Charles Bronson’s weathered face from his seventies cinema (i.e. Death Wish, The Mechanic). Gibson exudes immense pathos not simply through his character’s actions and wishes, but also through his puppy dog like stare. I never fully realized how truly apathetic and caring Gibson’s face is; it’s one of his winning attributes. All in all, Blood Father is yet another reminder that Gibson is one of our premiere entertainers, no matter how good or bad the film he participates in.
While Gibson may be first rate, his supporting cast is fairly forgettable and in dire need of stronger direction. The biggest offender of the film is Erin Moriarty as Lydia, Link’s daughter. Not only is Moriarty painfully over dramatic, but her character is especially grating and immature. I understand that her character is supposed to start out unappreciative of her father’s actions in order for her to arc into a caring and loving person, but her eventual transformation occurs out of nowhere and so close to the film’s end that it was simply unbelievable. Other supporting performances by Michael Parks (Django Unchained), William H. Macy (Fargo), and Diego Luna (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) are fine, but are otherwise wasted and unconvincing within a jumbled genre picture that can’t even keep its story straight. Gibson fans will appreciate an appearance by Raoul Trujillo, the main antagonist from Apocalypto, as an unnamed hit man though. While the names within the film are impressive and noteworthy, the supporting cast doesn’t do the feature any favors and leave all of the heavy lifting on Gibson’s shoulders.
Besides Gibson, who is thoroughly excellent from start to finish, every other element of Blood Father disappoints or frustrates. For starters, the film’s action quota, which is minimal, is mostly affective. Shot selection, action choreography, sound design, and special effects are typically solid. However, the action scenes are so short, that they are nothing more than short bursts of violence. While I understand that Richet wanted to focus on the dramatic elements of the film more so than the action parts, it’s a shame that there isn’t a wealth of action to fall back onto as the relationship at the core of the film failed to engage me. A similar example from this year is Criminal, an unsuccessfully emotional action film that fails to engage the viewer but occasionally dazzles with excellent but short action scenes. That being said, the minimal action within Blood Father is uniformly solid, from a short gun attack on Link’s trailer, to a small motorcycle chase, to even the film’s bad ass final confrontation. Genre junkies will be in heaven when Gibson picks up a gun and goes to town on villainous henchmen at various points in the film. Unfortunately, there is simply too little action to fall back on too.
Technical merits are a mixed bag, ranging from affective and visceral to confounding and amateurish. As I stated before, the action is uniformly solid, except for a confrontation within the opening scene that was almost visually incomprehensible. However, the film’s biggest technical problem tends to be its weak photography and editing during dialog sequences. There are so many close ups, cuts, and angle changes during character exchanges, that conversations become virtually unwatchable and visually distracting. It’s almost as if the editor and cinematographer were so bored with the dialog and performances at hand, that they couldn’t help but visually shake up the screen in order to make things appear livelier. An exchange between Link and a prisoner inside of a jail is plagued by so many mind boggling close ups and angle changes that I couldn’t help but throw up my hands and laugh quietly to myself. Moments like these enforce the film’s DTV nature, despite its otherwise beautiful Western imagery outside of close up dialog exchanges.
Blood Father sells itself as a gritty, cruel, and unforgiving genre picture with a dramatic relationship at its core. While this is true, as the film’s violence is graphic and the father/daughter story tried and true, it can’t fully deliver on either of its promises and gel into an all around cohesive action thriller. Richet, who seems proficient in terms of action direction, squanders a father/daughter story by sending off his characters on a journey of survival that never feels momentous. The film bounces from scene to scene with little feasible through line to any of it; almost making little sense at times, overly complicating things, and turning an action thriller into a dull chore to endure. Therefore, Blood Father fails on nearly all accounts because it doesn’t feature a compelling story or affective action to compliment its story. The pieces are there, and some moments shine bright, but Blood Father barely amounts to a recommendable piece of action entertainment. Were it written better and placed in the hands of a more competent filmmaker, Blood Father easily could have been a slam dunk a-la Taken or even Gibson’s similar but lighter Edge of Darkness. Gibson fans will want to check out the film anyways for the Aussie’s excellent performance and kick ass action scenes, but beyond that, viewers will find themselves dancing dangerously on the edge of genre hell with Blood Father. Proceed with caution.
After previously collaborating on the remake of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, director Sang-il Lee (Hula Girls) and actor Ken Watanabe (Inception) are set to premiere their next artistic collaboration, the murder mystery Rage (aka Anger, Ikari).
The plot description from the Toronto International Film Festival: A grisly unsolved murder links three seemingly unrelated stories in three different Japanese cities, in this arresting ensemble thriller from director Sang-il Lee.
In addition to Ken Watanabe, the thriller’s cast includes Kenichi Matsuyama (Gantz), Aoi Miyazaki (Nana), Satoshi Tsumabuki (The World of Kanako), Go Ayano (Lupin the 3rd), Suzu Hirose (Our Little Sister), and Mirai Moriyama (20th Century Boys). The film is based on a novel by Shuichi Yoshida, whose writing also inspired Sang-il Lee’s 2010 feature, Villain.
Rage will make its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (which runs from September 8th to the 18th), followed by a theatrical release in Japanese cinemas on September 17th. No word about a US release date or distributor yet but we’ll keep you posted.
Jung-soo, an ordinary car salesman finds himself in a most extraordinary event when the tunnel he’s driving through collapses, trapping him. Nothing is around him but wreckage, and all he has is 78% of his phone battery, two bottles of water, and his daughter’s birthday cake.
The initial news throws South Korea into a frenzy and makes Jung-soo a media darling. But once his phone dies, and the days and weeks start to drag on, people begin to lose interest. To top it off, the rescue effort is interfering with the opening of a new tunnel nearby, and public opinion becomes divided over the expensive, complex rescue operation that seems doomed to fail, and is causing nasty traffic back-ups.
A fantastic and fascinating take (in the vein of The Host and Train to Busan) about the role of the media in shaping public opinion, the perceived ineptitude of the South Korean government, and the true character of the general public, this is a disaster film like no other. Ruling the box office during its opening last week in South Korea, the film now comes to the US from the distributor that brought you The Wailing and Train to Busan.
Well Go USA’s official trailer should premier soon, so until then, here’s the film’s original Korean trailer. And be sure to check your local listings for show times!
Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) will soon start shooting Blade Runner 2049 (aka Blade Runner 2), which has a theatrical release date set for October 6, 2017.
This sequel to the ground-breaking 1982 science fiction classic, which will take place some years after the first film concluded, has Harrison Ford returning as Rick Deckard. Ryan Gosling (Drive), Dave Bautista (Kickboxer: Vengeance), Robin Wright (State of Grace), Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) and Jared Leto (Suicide Squad) will co-star.
Ridley Scott, director of the original, is serving as one of the film’s producers and writers. Hampton Fancher, who also worked on the original, is back on board as screenwriter. Michael Green (Green Lantern) is co-writing.
According to Scott (via Variety), Ford loves the screenplay: “I sent him this (script) and he said, ‘Wow, this is the best thing I’ve ever read,’ so it’s very relevant to what happened (in) the first one.” Scott continued: “I’m not just doing a sequel with lots of action and see how far we can go with the special effects because you can’t really. Blade Runner kind of landed on a somehow very credible future. And it’s very difficult to change that because it’s been so influential with everything else.”
Here’s a look at some Blade Runner 2049concept art, courtesy of Victor Martinez/Entertainment Weekly. We’ll keep you updated on Blade Runner 2 as we hear more. Stay tuned!
Back in May, Martin Scorsese’s upcoming mob picture, The Irishman, was finally picked up by the newly founded STX Studios for international rights (for an astonishing $50 million).
According to Deadline, The Irishman has been adapted for the screen by one of the best screenwriters working today — Steve Zaillian (Gangs of New York) — from the Charles Brandt book I Heard You Paint Houses, which is the deathbed story from mob hitman Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran about the disappearance and death of the former Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa.
The Irishman will reunite Scorsese with Robert De Niro for the first time since 1995’s Casino. It will also mark his first collaboration with Al Pacino. There are talks that Joe Pesci may join the project, but word of this is still unofficial.
There are reports suggesting that The Irishman will use Benjamin Button-esque special effects, which will be applied to flashback scenes making De Niro and Pacino appear younger looking.
Updates:Deadline is reporting that the movie is eyeing a 2017 production for a late 2018 domestic release date.
2000’s Moving Target, which starred 11-time World Kickboxing Champion Don “The Dragon” Wilson, has been loosely redone in the form of Fist of the Dragon, a U.S./Chinese co-production that puts Strikeforce World Lightweight Champion, Josh “The Punk” Thomson, in Wilson’s shoes. As with the original, Roger Corman’s New Horizons Pictures is producing.
Here’s the official synopsis: Damon, an MMA fighter (Thomson) retires and goes to China to meet his new love, Meili. But things take an immediate turn when he inadvertently takes a package sought by an underground arms dealer. Now he must fight to save himself and his loved one.
Don’t miss the the trailer for Fist of the Dragon.
Updates: According to Impact’s Mike Leeder, 2014’s Fist of the Dragon will be finally getting its U.S. premier at this year’s Action on Film Festival on September 9th 2016. Members of the cast and crew will be accompanying the the screening. Up until now, the film has only been officially released in Thailand on DVD, so if you live around the Los Angeles area, visit aoffest.com for details on how you can attend.
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