In The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful, Madame Tang (Hui) colludes and mediates between the government and the private businesses for the benefits of her all-female family. One case does not go according to plan, and an entire family close to Madame Tang fall victim to a gruesome murder. Ambition, desire and lust eventually change Tang’s relationships with her own family forever.
The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful is directed by Yang Ya-che (Orz Boyz) and also stars Ke-Xi Wu (The Road to Mandalay) and Vicky Chen (Liquidator).
The film opens on November 24, 2017. Don’t miss its Trailer below (via AFS):
Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Jackie Chan’s Skiptrace, an action comedy directed by Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2).
For years, by-the-book Hong Kong detective Benny Chan (Chan) has tried to avenge his partner’s murder at the hands of a drug lord. When Benny learns that freewheeling American gambler Connor Watts (Johnny Knoxville) has the evidence he needs, he teams with Connor to get justice. Now all Benny and Connor have to do is survive the fight of their lives—and each other!
Director: Fletcher Poon, Alan Mak Writer: Felix Chong Man-Keung Cast: Huang Xuan, Duan Yi-Hong, Zu Feng, Lang Yue-Ting, David Wang Yao-Qing, Xing Jia-Dong, Wang Yan-Hui, Ding Yongdai, Xiao Cong, Li Xiaochuan Running Time: 122 min.
By Paul Bramhall
Extraordinary Mission suffered extraordinarily bad timing in terms of when it was released. Hitting screens within months of popular director Dante Lam’s big budget spectacular Operation Mekong, many (including myself) glanced over the awkwardly titled production, in part due to its marketing making it look like a poor man’s version of Lam’s latest. Both movies involve undercover agents working to take down a drug ring in the Golden Triangle, and for those that did check out the bombastic Operation Mekong, it left little appetite to return to the land of opium poppies quite so soon after the last visit.
It’s unfortunate, as the reality is that Extraordinary Mission delivers one of the most entertaining movies to come out of both China and Hong Kong in the last 10 years. Part thriller, part action movie, it becomes apparent when you take a look at the names behind the production as to where the quality comes from. Written by the Infernal Affairs trilogy scribes Felix Chong and Alan Mak, the latter of which also directs along with regular Benny Chan cinematographer Fletcher Poon, here making his directorial debut, the combination of the trio’s talents proves to be a winning one.
Huang Xuan, last seen in The Great Wall, plays a cop deep undercover as a drug trafficker in China. When a deal goes wrong, he ends up rescuing a member of the rival gang his crew were making a deal with, played by David Wang. Far from being grateful though, instead he’s thanked with a gun to the head, and taken to the gang’s headquarters deep in the jungles of Thailand. It’s there that he meets the facially scarred leader, played by Duan Yi-Hong (who’s character Eagle, ironically has more than a passing resemblance to Korean star Eagle Han Ying), and realizing it’s an opportunity to take down an even bigger fish, takes the risk of proposing a business partnership with Yi-Hong.
While the undercover plot has been done plenty of times before, and shades of Infernal Affairs sometimes resonate in the script, thanks to the gritty locales and solid performances here it still succeeds at feeling fresh. Xuan makes for an engaging lead, and has the same ability as Tony Leung Chiu-Wai to express a lot of emotion with just a facial expression. As he treads the fine line between bluffing his way into Yi-Hong’s trusted circle, and relaying the intel he’s gathering back to his superior (played by Zu Feng, last seen in League of the Gods), there’s hardly a scene that goes by in which the sense of danger from being exposed is absent. As a result there’s a constant feel of being on a knife edge throughout Extraordinary Mission, as it’s never made clear if Xuan’s identity is still safe, or if his cover has been blown and he’s simply being played with.
Despite the abundance of similar Chinese genre movies using Thailand as a setting in recent years, including SPL II: A Time for Consequences and The White Storm, the locales used in Extraordinary Mission set it apart in terms of the look and feel. This is most likely due to having an established cinematographer like Fletcher Poon in the director’s chair, as the lensing is top quality throughout. Whether it be capturing the grimy streets of the Chinese towns were the traffickers operate, the claustrophobic nature of the container yards the deals take place in, or the vastness of the drug den in Thailand, the camerawork does a fantastic job at conveying a sense of scale and depth.
At 2 hours, Extraordinary Mission covers a lot of ground, however it succeeds were Operation Mekong fails by making it about the characters rather than the circumstances. The trio of Xuang, Zu Feng, and Yi-Hong are all fleshed out with backstories, and the fact that the villain is given as much attention as the good guy provides a welcome depth, one which recent movies like Wolf Warrior 2 arguably missed the mark on. Yi-Hong, despite his status as the leader of a drug cartel, is given a relatable reason for having the motives that he does, while Xuang’s haunted by the memory of a mother that overdosed when he was a child.
For 90 minutes the plot keeps things sizzling along at a steady pace, and maintains a constant undercurrent of tension. The regular beatings, brief bursts of gunplay, and sudden outbreaks of violence ensure proceedings never get dull, with the style and tone at times almost feeling more like a Korean production than a Chinese one (I say that in the most complimentary was possible.) However Mak and Poon know when to turn up the heat, and events eventually culminate in an all-out finale that’s sustained for a lengthy 25 minutes.
While some may possibly find fault with the movies switch from a brooding undercover thriller to a Heat influenced urban warfare shoot ‘em up, the transition is handled well, and it feels like a natural payoff to what’s been building up. Just like in SPL II: A Time for Consequences, the way the lives of the main characters interconnect to each other is slightly contrived, however by the time such revelations are revealed, as a viewer you’re already too invested in them to dwell on it too much. When the execution is this good, such details are largely extraneous.
The action is handled by another regular Benny Chan collaborator in the form of Nicky Li. However unlike Chan, who tends to do little to reign in Li’s wire-work heavy action tendencies (or any other aspects of his movies), here Mak and Poon have kept the action directors wild side firmly in check. The finale sees a whole town under siege, and the principle behind the action seems to be one of minimum CGI and maximum realism. With CGI becoming so dominant in action movies of late, I’d almost convinced myself I can no longer tell the difference, that was until I saw the bombardment of practical effect muzzle flashes and vehicular destruction on display here.
If Wolf Warrior 2 was all about how bombastic the action scenes could be, then Extraordinary Mission is all about the realism. There’s plenty of neat little touches on display, such as when Xuang shoots the tyres of a stationery car, so that it becomes safer to take cover behind by being lower to the ground. Admittedly Li allows himself some extravagances once Xuang mounts a motorcycle, like jumping it from one building to another, and even dodging an RPG, but these elements entertain rather than detract. Poon’s cinematography compliments Li’s action well, here working in Thailand together for a 2nd time after The White Storm, with the camera capturing falls, head shots, and bullet trajectories in a way that perfectly understands the relationship between space and distance. In short, the finale is a joy to watch.
If any gripes could be picked with Extraordinary Mission, it’s that some of the relationships outside of the main characters could have been given a little more attention. The flashbacks to Xuang’s childhood with his mother are there in purely a perfunctory role, and a relationship is sometimes hinted at between Xuang and Yi-Hong’s daughter, played with a mostly silent intensity by Lang Yue-Ting, however ultimately amounts to nothing. These are minor gripes though in a movie that consistently entertains from start to finish. In an era when reviewing mainstream Chinese movies can often be a chore, Extraordinary Mission is the first time since Johnnie To’s Drug War when I’ve felt a sense of hope regarding things to come. The closing scene hints at a sequel, which I personally hope will be called Phenomenal Mission, but whatever title it ends up with, I’ll be first in line to check it out.
Renny Harlin, noted Finnish Hollywood film director known for his 90’s blockbusters Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger, has started work on Witness, a thriller starring Nick Cheung (Keeper of the Darkness, The White Storm) and Yang Zi (Death and Glory in Changde).
Following 2016’s Skiptrace (with Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville) and the soon-to-be-released Legend of the Ancient Sword (with Leehom Wang), Witness marks the 3rd Chinese production for the filmmaker.
According to AFS, Witness has started filming. Unfortunately, little is known of the plot at this time, but we’ll fill you in as more news arrives.
On December 26, 2017, Image Entertainment will be releasing the Blu-ray & DVD for Mayhem, a thriller that may serve as the perfect companion piece to the recent The Belko Experiment, a Battle Royale-esque tale where blood-soaked survival makes its way into an office environment.
Joe Lynch, the director of the underrated action flick, Everly, returns with the story of a virus that infects a corporate law office on the day attorney Derek Cho (The Walking Dead’s and Okja’sSteven Yeun) is fired after being framed by a co-worker. The infection is capable of making people act out their wildest impulses. Trapped in the quarantined office building, Derek is forced to savagely fight for not only his job, but also his life.
Mayhem also stars Samara Weaving, Dallas Roberts, Claire Dellamar, Kerry Fox, Caroline Chikezie and Steven Brand.
Last year, Amazon’s original pilot for Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Jean Claude Van Johnson, an action/comedy that’s along the lines of Van Damme’s semi-reality themed JCVD(2008), was picked up as a full season by Amazon. Now, a newly released Full Trailer for its continuation has made its way online.
JCVD (Kill ’em All) is a global martial arts and film sensation…and, operating under the simple alias of ‘Johnson,” the most dangerous undercover operative in the world. Unhappily retired, he’s now whiling away his days in superficial Hollywood… until a chance encounter with a lost love lures him back into the game, eventually forcing him to confront the greatest enemy he’s ever faced: a Bulgarian drug cartel. Just kidding it’s himself.
Jean-Claude Van Johnson also stars Kat Foster (Your Family or Mine), Moises Arias (The Middle), and Phylicia Rashad (Creed).
This isn’t the first time Van Damme is visiting television and comedy. In 2011 came Jean-Claude Van Damme: Behind Closed Doors, a 2011 fly on the wall-style reality show that aired on United Kingdom’s ITV4. In 2013, the martial arts star successfully showcased his comedy chops in Welcome to the Jungle.
Don’t miss the Trailer for Jean Claude Van Johnson below. The series premieres December 15th on Amazon Prime:
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.
Director: Gregory Hatanaka Cast: Mathew Karedas, Mark Frazer, Bai Ling, Kayden Kross, Tommy Wiseau, Janis Farley, Cranston Komuro, Laurene Landon, Mel Novak, Gerald Okamura, Kristine DeBell, Melissa Moore, Joe Estevez, Lexi Belle, Melissa Moore, Nicole Bailey, Mindy Robinson, Thomas J. Churchill Running Time: 93 min.
By Paul Bramhall
The expression “so bad it’s good” gets thrown around a lot more than it deserves when it comes to cinema. In truth, many of the productions I’ve seen it applied to were just a whole lot of bad, regardless of how outlandish their premise or awful the acting. The reality is, there are very few movies able to reach that elevated level of being so impossibly bad, they become a work of accidental comedic genius. It takes a certain type of alchemy that can never be intentionally manufactured, and hence the true examples of “so bad it’s good” movies are few and far between. Iranian director Amir Shervan’s 1991 production Samurai Cop is one such example, an almost unfathomable mix of spiteful acting, bad wigs, one take only action scenes, and dialogue that has to be heard to be believed. In short, it’s so bad it’s good.
Its status as a revered work of cult cinema was further cemented by the fact many considered the productions star, Matt Hannon, to be dead. So it was a surprise to everyone (well, at least fans of the movie) when, in 2013, Hannon appeared on YouTube (going by the name Mathew Karedas) in a video explaining that he was very much alive and well. For fans of cult cinema, it was the equivalent of the second coming. A year later distributor Cinema Epoch had given Samurai Cop the treatment it arguably didn’t deserve (but we were nonetheless thankful for), releasing it on Blu-ray, and brining the movie to the attention of a whole new audience – myself included. What wasn’t expected though, was for Cinema Epoch founder, Gregory Hatanaka, to announce plans to make a sequel to Samurai Cop, almost 25 years after the originals release.
Hatanaka is a director himself, with a handful of movies with titles like Mad Cowgirl and Violent Blue to his name, and he’d be stepping into Shervan’s shoes for the sequel. Not only did he secure a whole host of Samurai Cop’s original cast to return for the sequel, but he also roped in a cast of B-movie names that would make even Lloyd Kaufman jealous. Cue two successful crowdfunding campaigns later, and Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance was born. The question is of course, how do you intentionally make a bad movie? It’s not an easy one to answer, and the very point of a sequel existing to such a unique piece of celluloid obscurity is one that doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny.
The cast list of Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance reads like an attempt to provide an answer. Hatanaka went intentionally out of his way to fill it with a who’s who of bad cinema – we get Tommy Wiseau from The Room as a screaming man-child, Bai Ling being, well, Bai Ling, Mel Novak who looks like he’s already half embalmed, and Joe Estevez as the constantly infuriated police captain. Throw in porn stars Lexi Belle, Kayden Kross, and Zoey Monroe (here credited as Nicole Bailey – not fooling anyone), and the approach seems to be one of throw everyone onscreen together, and wait for the magic to happen.
As expected, that magic fails to show itself. Instead, we get a sequel which involves a bunch of bad actors frequently yelling over each other, and hamming up their already bad acting credentials (something that’s clear from the BTS clips was encouraged by Hatanaka) like there’s no tomorrow. Everyone is aware of what they’re doing, seemingly of the belief that the more OTT they go, the more cult status is a given. However it’s that exact level of self-awareness that makes Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance such a chore, and often embarrassing, spectacle to watch. The amateur moments from the original, which saw Mark Frazer delivering reaction shots directly to camera, are now done intentionally, and more than once. Unless you’re George Lazenby (who was originally part of the cast, but had to drop out due to illness – a blessing in disguise), don’t try that stuff.
Even more ridiculous is the fact that the sequel delivers an inexplicably confusing plot, one which even now I’m not entirely sure what was going on (and I have no intention of re-watching it to clarify). From what I could make out, it amounts to two rival yakuza gangs battling for territory, but regardless of the intricacies, so much time is spent on it that, aside from a brief pre-credits sequence, Karedas himself doesn’t even show up until the 20 minute mark. Considering his constantly befuddled and (in his own words) disgusted performance is what makes Samurai Cop such a joy to watch, that’s a long time to make the audience wait. Someone needs to remind Hatanaka that he’s not making a Superman or Batman movie here.
It’s ironic then, that it’s the performance of Karedas that seems most out of place in Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance. Think about it, the guy hasn’t acted since the original, he innocently posts a YouTube clip to clarify he’s still alive, and next thing you know he’s roped into making a sequel to a movie he’s embarrassed of starring in from almost 25 years ago. Suddenly finding yourself in the starring role of a production such as this one must have been a bewildering experience, and there are various moments when it visibly shows on his expression (a sign that his acting obviously hasn’t improved in the time passed). Whether it be getting it on with an adult movie star, partaking in a fight in front of the worse green screen ever witnessed, or riffing on certain lines from the original, he frequently feels like a lost tourist in his own movie.
Instead it’s Mark Frazer, as the Samurai Cop’s faithful partner, that seems to be having the best time out of everyone. He clocks a significant amount of screen-time, and can’t quite seem to believe he’s managed to appear in a movie again after nearly a quarter of a century off the radar. If only the good time he’s having could be transferred to the audience. Likewise for Lexi Belle, who happily rampages around with a machine gun, and even indulges in a naked katana duel, which invokes the spirit of Reiko Ike for all the right reasons. I’d make a joke about her handling a different type of sword than she’s used to, but that would be in bad taste. As for Tommy Wiseau though, the less said about the self-styled actor/writer/director the better. Despite only appearing in a handful of scenes, his completely over the top performance as an incomprehensible screaming man child is painful to watch, even more so to listen to.
The smattering of action throughout is also guilty of utilizing some of the most low budget CGI blood in recent memory. It’s the type of CGI blood that makes the Z-grade Japanese splatter flicks from recent years look like they’ve been created by Industrial Light & Magic. This is supposed to be low budget fun, and I’d rather have seen someone squeezing a bottle of ketchup than the lame effects that have ended up onscreen. It’s decisions like this that really highlight the fact that nobody involved truly understands the charm of Samurai Cop, at least not those who are directly responsible for this sequels creation. Nobody is watching Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance to see a midriff baring Japanese assassin stand in front of the camera while CGI blood spurts from a slash in her chest.
Considering how much of an ill-advised idea making a sequel to a movie like Samurai Cop was from the very beginning, it was the fact it still got made that saw me drawn to checking it out, in part due to sheer morbid curiosity. Surely if it managed to get green lit, then the filmmakers must have had something up their sleeve that none of us could have expected. This sadly isn’t the case, and Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance is just as bad and misguided as you expect it to be, maybe even a little more.
Martin Tillman (Adkins), a former-champion boxer is incarcerated in the most dangerous prison in Indochina. When Tillman is due for release, he just wants to return home, but the corrupt forces running the jail will do everything in their power to keep him locked down.
Director: Wong Jing Cast: Donnie Yen, Andy Lau, Kent Cheng, Phillip Keung, Wilfred Lau, Yu Kang, Kent Tong, Michelle Hu, Xu Dong-Dong, Felix Wong, Bryan Larkin, Philip Ng, Jonathan Lee, Lawrence Chou, Wang Qian-Yu, Kenneth Tsang, Chan Wai-Man, Terence Yin Chi Wai Running Time: 112 min.
By Martin Sandison
By the age of 14 my appetite for martial arts movies was voracious, so every visit to the local video shop resulted in a new find. One day I came across the movie In the Line of Duty (aka In the Line of Duty 4: Key Witness). This was my first exposure to the legend that is Donnie Yen. From this point on, I was hooked.
Yen’s raw physical ability in many different styles of martial arts, coupled with his head for choreography, resulted in some of the all time classics. Some of my favourites are the Ip Man Trilogy, Once Upon a Time in China 2, Iron Monkey, Tiger Cage 2, SPL and Flashpoint. Now with the success of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the man can do as he pleases, and many fans were pleased to see his return to Hong Kong cinema with a new interpretation of the legendary Hong Kong gangster Crippled Ho in Chasing the Dragon. So, does the movie live up to its first class billing? The answer is a mixed bag.
The movie begins with the struggling Crippled Ho and his friends arriving in Hong Kong in the early 60’s from Mainland China. When a mass brawl breaks out between gangs, Ho proves his fighting skills and is taken under the wing of Lee Rock (Andy Lau, The Great Wall), a corrupt policeman. Soon, Ho rises through the ranks to become a powerful drug overlord, making many enemies, not least a British policeman called Hunter (Bryan Larkin, Outpost 3). This sets in motion a plot full of twists, turns, action and melodrama.
I’ve followed director Wong Jing’s career for a long time, and obviously he is known for low brow cinema. However, despite absolute misfires like From Vegas to Macau 3, recently he has proved his worth as a director with The Last Tycoon – to my mind this is the best-directed film from Wong I have ever seen. In that vein, the first half of Chasing the Dragon is superbly immersive, with a grimy, but stylish aesthetic. One long take shot in a reconstruction of the Kowloon Walled City – set to the classic funk song The Ghetto, as Ho walks around – is the highlight of the movie. Ho’s rise is depicted with a lot of narrative and visual panache, and Yen brings a swaggering bravado, yet humanistic, quality to the role.
Andy Lau reprises his role as Lee Rock (he starred in a pair of movies as the character in the early 90’s) and reinvents him as a suave, sophisticated, multi-layered cop. It’s a typical Lau performance that brings pathos and charisma to the role, and the scenes between him and Yen are electrifying. Kent Cheng has a cameo part as a go-between cop, looking no different from his heyday in films such as Jackie Chan’s Crime Story. Unfortunately, Bryan Larkin (despite coming from East Kilbride in Scotland, just around the corner from where I type) as Hunter, the antagonist, is only decent at best, and suffers from an underwritten character, but he succeeds in conveying the nasty side of his character well. A highlight for me was seeing the legendary Chan Wai Man (The Club) in a cameo role – I wish he was in the movie more.
A problem, come the second half of the movie, is that peripheral characters who have been given no screen time or dialogue to speak of, are killed off. These scenes are typically melodramatic and sentimental, which in the golden age was part of the charm, but now they fail to convince. A lot has changed in Hong Kong cinema since then, and the time when hundreds of movies were released per year with low budgets now translate to bigger budgets and less films being made. These aspects, now smack of bad writing, hint that there may be a lot of stuff cut out. I would hope there is a director’s or extended cut, and I could reappraise the film.
Those seeking to see Yen in martial arts action mode will be disappointed, with only a few fights taking place, which are choreographed as brawls. Of course this fits in with the subject matter and style of the film, so there should be no complaining. However, it is disappointing to see Yen take on Phillip Ng (Birth of the Dragon) in a fight that lasts less than a minute and features no martial arts. A mid-film chase/gunplay scene is the action highlight, with Lau negotiating the Kowloon Walled City with gangsters on his tail and Yen coming to his rescue. The tension, release and seamless editing proves Wong still has what it takes when it comes to fashioning a good action scene. Gunplay on the whole is handled well, despite some dodgy CGI – I just wish there was more of it. Some of the violence on display is pretty extreme, with a highlight being Yen cutting off the ear of a rival gansgter and nonchalantly chucking it away.
A lot has been made of Chasing the Dragon getting passed the Chinese censors by painting the British as the villains of the piece. Personally, being British, I didn’t find this aspect particularly stuck in my craw. My knowledge of the time and subject matter in Hong Kong isn’t great, and it’s to the film’s credit that now I want to find out more about it. Actually. I have still yet to see Poon Man Kit’s To Be Number 1, the 90’s movie made about Crippled Ho which won the Hong Kong Film Award for best picture in 1992, so I can’t compare the two.
Chasing the Dragon succeeds for the most part, it’s just a shame the second half does not match up to the first.
Disclaimer: cityonfire.com does not own any of the photos contained in the blog. cityonfire.com was made merely to pay homage to these films, directors, talent, etc. and not for any profit or commercial reasons. No copyright infringement intended. The photos are copyrighted and courtesy by their respective owners.
cityonfire.com is a non-profit website for the private use and entertainment and/or parody purposes.
"Copyright Disclaimer, Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statue that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, education or personal use tops the balance in favor of fair use."