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.
Acclaimed director Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine, Monk Comes Down the Mountain) is putting finishing touches on Legend of the Demon Cat, a period actioner that releases domestically on December 22, 2017.
The team behind the film has decided to transform their $200 million sets into a theme park once they’ve finished shooting. After all, “an entire [Tang Dynasty] city with lakes, rivers, palaces, caves, glamorous buildings, and parks” were constructed (via TMS).
According to Variety, Legend of the Demon Cat sees a Chinese poet and a Japanese monk join forces to investigate the influence of a demonic cat, which has possessed a general’s wife, wreaked havoc on the royal court and killed legendary courtesan Yang Guifei. The film, originally presented under the title Kukai, is adapted from a bestselling four-volume novel about love, death and revenge by Yumemakura Baku.
Director: Gordon Chan Cast: Vincent Chiu, Sammo Hung, Yasuaki Kurata, Regina Wan, Keisuke Koide, Wang Ban, Wu Yue, Jiang Luxia, Liu Junxiao, Micheal Tong, Timmy Hung Running Time: 90 min.
By Kyle Warner
Ming soldiers advance on a fortified gate. Blood from a previous battle runs like a stream over the mud. Thousands of Japanese pirates wait on the other side of the gate, their latest attempt at a land grab to expand the reach of the Japanese empire. Sammo Hung’s General Yu leads China’s Ming soldiers on the offensive; his attacks are by the book, his timing predictable. General Yu is an old man fighting old-fashioned battles against an enemy that’s ready for the new world. Defeated once again, General Yu retreats back through the mud and the blood to find that his replacement is waiting back at camp.
Enter Vincent Zhao’s General Qi, war tactician and future national hero to China. He’s young, even-tempered, and dangerously smart. Qi takes one look at the pirate’s gate and breaches the Japanese defenses on the first go. Yu soon joins Qi and together they get the pirates on the run. The battle is over but the threat remains, and it’s clear that Qi, not Yu, should be the one chosen to chase the pirates back to Japan.
It’s an exciting first act full of action, war tactics, and some unexpected characters. The film sets a realistic tone with graphic violence and an emphasis on strategy. But then the first act ends, General Qi is tasked with training an army for the express purpose of defeating pirates, and the film gets lost in a sagging middle section with no surprises for almost a hour straight. The all too common appeals to patriotism also repeatedly rear their head during this section. It’s not offensively bad but you do notice it–more on the level of Michael Bay than The Founding of a Republic. The extended moment when family members see their men off to war plays a bit like an ad for joining the military.
General Qi may be a national hero in China, and as such Chinese audiences may not demand much character development. However, as someone unfamiliar with and with no attachment to Qi’s accomplishments, I feel the film never makes him into an interesting character. I don’t know his story well enough to accuse the film of hero worship but all the signs are there. Qi is a brilliant general, Vincent Zhao’s (True Legend) martial arts skills make him a formidable fighter, and he has just enough issues with his wife to establish that he’s married to a woman as tough as he is. The shortcomings in writing Qi might not have been so noticeable if the second act of the film wasn’t such a slog – and if the second act wasn’t carried almost expressly by Qi, making us miss the other, more interesting characters we were introduced to in the first act.
Sammo Hung (The Bodyguard) makes a strong impression in a dramatic role as the unimaginative, but no less dedicated, General Yu. Sadly, he exits the film early. The best performance comes from Yusuaki Kurata (Fist of Legend). The veteran actor plays the leader of the Japanese pirates as a student of war and the perfect nemesis to General Qi. Unlike many Chinese historical dramas, the Japanese are not depicted as outrageously evil men. They’re the bad guys, no doubt, but an attempt to give them an honest portrayal goes a long way to enhancing the dramatic tension.
After a dull middle, things pick up again in the action heavy finale. The fights, both big and small, are well filmed and expertly played. There is a moment—what I would call a medieval jet ski action sequence—where the attention to realism falls away. But the moment passes and we’re treated to a thrilling final act between Qi’s men and the last of the pirates.
God of War is not everything I could’ve hoped for from a Gordon Chan historical epic with this kind of cast. But it’s definitely not bad. A sizeable step above many other similar films to come out of China recently. Zhao is great in the action scenes, Kurata is excellent as the villain, and the attention to strategy in the battles makes for a welcome change. If not for the sagging middle, God of War could’ve been great. As is, there’s still enough recommend it to curious viewers.
On December 12th, 2017, Kino Lorber will be releasing a Special Edition Blu-ray for 1985′s Code of Silence(read our review), directed by Andrew Davis (Under Siege, The Fugitive) and starring the one, the only, Chuck Norris (Slaughter in San Francisco).
This gritty cop flick is highly regarded as one of Norris’ best. The film’s climax is noted for its menacing crime-fighting robot, “Prowler” (hey, it was the 80’s).
Eddie Cusack (Norris) is a Chicago detective who plays by his own rules – a dangerous habit, especially when he breaks the “code of silence” to blow the lid off a deadly police cover-up. Now an outcast, he receives little help from his embittered fellow officers when he’s hurled into a blistering battle against rival drug kingpins.
Code of Silencealso stars Henry Silva (Ocean’s 11), Dennis Farina (Midnight Run), Ron Dean (The Fugitive) and Molly Hagen (Navy Seals vs. Zombies).
Audio commentary by director Andrew Davis
Interview with screenwriter Michael Butler
Interview with actor Ron Dean
Interview with actress Molly Hagen
Interview with composer David Michael Frank
Theatrical Trailers for Code of Silence, The Package, An Eye for an Eye, Hero and the Terror and Delta Force 2
Lionsgate presents the DVD for Cops and Robbers, an upcoming actioner directed by Windhauser (Dead Trigger).
Bullets fly and rage-explodes as Michael Jai White (Skin Trade) and UFC champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (The A-Team) go head to head. A hostage negotiator (White) struggles to end a tense standoff with Jesse, a bank robber (Jackson). As the two men learn each other’s identity, they realize they have a shared past… Also starring Tom Berenger (Sniper) and Victoria Pratt (Heartland).
Kino Lorber continues their wave of Michael Dudikoff (American Ninja) classics with a Blu-ray Double Feature release for Aaron Norris’ Platoon Leader (1988) and Louis Morneau’s Soldier Boyz (1995), which hits retailers on December 12th.
In Platoon Leader, a young officer, just out of West Point is sent to Vietnam, where the men don’t respect him until he gets wounded and returns to be a wiser soldier and a better commander. Also starring Robert F. Lyons (Death Wish 2), Michael DeLorenzo (Alive) and Jesse Dabson (Death Wish 4).
In Soldier Boyz, a group of prisoners are going to Vietnam to rescue the daughter of a V-I.P. The Ones who survive get their freedom back… but hell awaits them. Also starring Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Tekken 2) and Don Stroud (King of the Kickboxers).
New Transfer for Platoon Leader
Reversible Blu-ray Art
Theatrical Trailers for Platoon Leader, Soldier Boyz, Avenging Force, River of Death and Delta Force 2
Director: Martin Campbell Writer: David Marconi, Stephen Leather Cast: Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Michael McElhatton, Charlie Murphy, Liu Tao, Orla Brady, Katie Leung, Manolo Cardona, Simon Kunz, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Roberta Taylor, Dermot Crowley, Rufus Jones, Niall McNamee Running Time: 113 min.
By Paul Bramhall
The last time we saw Jackie Chan in London was 14 years ago, hanging from the clock face of Big Ben with Owen Wilson in Shanghai Knights. In 2017, he’s back in the British capital, but in a decidedly different kind of movie. While it may be a long time since his last visit to British shores, it certainly hasn’t been a long time since he appeared on the big screen. The Foreigner marks the 3rd time for the 63 year old star to headline a movie in the last 12 months, following on from Railroad Tigers and Kung Fu Yoga, with a 4th in the form of Bleeding Steel just on the horizon. Far from slowing down, if anything the man who’s broke almost every bone in his body seems to be making more movies than ever, with no sign of quality control in sight.
Out of all his recent productions though, it’s The Foreigner that warrants the most anticipation. A co-production between China and the UK, the movie is based on a novel titled The Chinaman by Stephen Leather (which, for full disclosure, I haven’t read) and is directed by Martin Campbell. While in today’s superhero dominated climate, Campbell may be remembered as the guy that helmed the disastrous 2011 version of Green Lantern (and indeed The Foreigner is his first theatrically released movie since then), to view his full filmography is to understand that his venture into the DC universe was just a small blip in an impressive career. Campbell was also the guy that essentially revived the 007 franchise twice – first with Goldeneye in 1995, and then again with Casino Royale in 2006. He’s a director that knows how to deliver if given the right material.
The Foreigner also provides Campbell a reunion with his Goldeneye leading man, Pierce Brosnan. The former 007 is given a chance to return to his Irish roots in Campbell’s latest, as a former IRA member turned peace keeping politician in Belfast. Brosnan’s character is a man under fire, to put it lightly. After a bombing in London by a rogue IRA cell leaves Chan’s daughter dead (a rather thankless role played by Harry Potter’s Katie Leung), he soon finds himself constantly harassed by the ‘Chinaman’ demanding to know the names of the bombers. But Chan isn’t his only problem – his headstrong wife may be on to the affair he’s having, and indeed may have some secrets of her own, there may also be double crossings afoot in his own close circle of former associates, and all the while he’s being leaned on heavily by the British government to aid their investigation.
As a result of this, Chan’s grieving father sometimes feels sidelined by the story, and indeed there are stretches in which he doesn’t appear at all. But somehow Campbell makes it work, with Chan’s character an intriguing wild card to Brosnan’s political wheeling and dealing. Chan is equally as conflicted as Brosnan, and his pursuit of vengeance at times makes him as much of a terrorist as those who planted the bomb in the first place. When he first confronts Brosnan in person, his stubborn refusal to accept that Brosnan doesn’t know who planted the bomb (he really doesn’t) and is unable to help, leads to a moment in which he calmly states “You’ll soon change your mind.” Not only is it possibly the most non-Jackie Chan moment to ever grace the screen, the fact that he then goes on to plant a homemade bomb in the bathroom of Brosnan’s office is basically a terrorist act in itself. This is a movie where Chan means business, serious business.
The above description amounts to a movie which sees two parallel plot lines on a crash course with each other. One has Chan as a man who has just lost his only surviving family member, having suffered a life of brutal hardships, pushed over the limit to a point where he decides to take the law into his own hands. The second is about Brosnan the ex-IRA man turned politician, who is juggling so many flammable objects at once, that it only feels like a matter of time before one of them sets him on fire. The part that keeps us gripped is sticking around to see which one it’s going to be.
These two parallel storylines are also what provides The Foreigner’s ‘exclamation marks’ if you will. For Bronsan, these manifest in a career best performance. The constant taunts from both former associates, and his own wife, of how he’s lost the edge that he had when he was still part of the IRA, result in some genuinely seething moments of anger that drip off the screen. When these scenes come, Brosnan comes across like a ticking time bomb of violence, and using only dialogue there’s a palpable sense of danger behind the words. For Chan, these moments come in a trio of brief but suitably impact heavy action scenes.
It needs to be said that Chan is a revelation here. We know what to expect from his choreography by now, and in that regard you won’t see anything new in The Foreigner, but under the guidance of a director like Campbell, he’s tweaked his action aesthetic to fit into a setting that’s both gritty and violent. For fans checking in for his physical performance, as mentioned he gets a trio of brief scuffles – two are one-vs-four, and the other is a one-on-one (note it’s not the finale). Don’t expect to see the Chan from 30 years ago, he’s not playing that type of character, nor is he at the age where he should be playing that type of character (Stanley Tong, I hope you’re reading). But the good news is that each one has Chan’s stamp all over them, proving that yes, this is someone that understands how to adapt action choreography to both their age and the genre. Amazingly, the physical dexterity is still there in his 60’s, with no (obvious) wires in sight, so sit back and enjoy.
However this is a movie in which Chan is not just called in to provide comedic kung fu beats or be a wisecracking sidekick. His character is intrinsic to the story, and so needs to be at least on par with Brosnan. Despite having less screen-time, thankfully he delivers in every aspect. For those who have been waiting to see Chan in a serious role since 2009’s Shinjuku Incident (I’m going to be controversial and not count Police Story 2013), then this is the movie that grants your wish. Admittedly it’s possible to nit-pick, as you could easily say the frail figure that he cuts at the beginning of the movie doesn’t match his sudden butt kicking skills when they’re required, but even this is explained in a backstory (if you’ve seen Taken or The Man from Nowhere, you know the deal).
Perhaps the element I most enjoyed in The Foreigner was seeing it turn into a kind of First Blood in British Woodland, as Chan takes to camping out in his foliage covered van, close to Bronsan’s countryside property. It’s safe to say no one ever expected to see a Jackie Chan movie in which he plays a kind of Rambo on the trail of an Irish terrorist, but the fact is that these sequences are exceptionally well done. Broadly speaking this notion applies to the movie as a whole, with the action sequences displaying a refreshing lack of CGI. Both of the significant explosions in the movie (one of which takes places on a London bus, which notably residents of London thought was a genuine terror attack during filming) are done for real, and it shows in the well placed aftermath shots that simply can’t be re-created with CGI.
Combined with the pulsating synthesiser score and perfectly paced direction, The Foreigner is a winning combination for everyone involved – especially Martin Campbell, Pierce Brosnan, and Jackie Chan. Sure, there may be stretches that consist purely of Brosnan drinking whiskey and starting every line with “Jesus Christ!”, but somehow it all moulds together to provide a satisfying whole. I have no doubt there’ll be a demographic out there who will argue Chan’s screen time wasn’t enough, and who knows, they may be right. However as an action thriller, it can’t be denied that The Foreigner delivers. Watching the movie as a Jackie Chan fan myself, I’ll simply say that the reason why it works so well is because it’s not a Jackie Chan movie, but rather, it’s a Martin Campbell movie with Jackie Chan in it. Welcome back.
In The Raid, an elite swat team moves in to take down the notorious drug lord that runs a drug-gang’s safe house, which is the home to some of the most terrifying and ruthless fighters in the city; In The Raid 2, the cop from the first film goes undercover to take down a network of powerful organized crime syndicates.
“Once Upon a Time in China IV” Chinese Theatrical Poster
Vincent Zhao (True Legend) will once again be playing real-life folk hero Wong Fei-hung in an upcoming Lin Zhen-Hao film simply titled Wong Fei-hung (or Huang Feihong). According to AFS, 13th Aunt (mostly popularly played previously by Rosamund Kwan) will be a cyborg!? If this is true, expect the film to be a twisted take on the Wong Fei-hung subject.
Wong Fei-hung marks the 5th time Zhao will be playing the title character. He previously played him in Once Upon a Time in China IV-V, the Wong Fei Hung TV Series, and of course, the soon-to-be-released Kung Fu Alliance.
We’ll keep you updated on Wong Fei-hung as we learn more. Until then, here’s the trailer for 2010’s True Legend:
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