Sea Fog | aka Haemoo (2014) Review

"Sea Fog" Theatrical Poster

“Sea Fog” Theatrical Poster

Director: Shim Sung-Bo
Writer: Shim Sung-Bo, Bong Joon-Ho
Cast: Kim Yun-Seok, Park Yoo-Chun, Han Ye-Ri, Lee Hee-Joon, Moon Sung-Geun, Kim Sang-Ho, Yoo Seung-Mok
Running Time: 111 min.

By Kyle Warner

I think Memories of Murder deserves to be in the conversation of the finest films ever made. Dark, thrilling, funny, and almost poetic, it’s the movie that made me a fan of director/co-writer Bong Joon-ho, who did not disappoint when he followed up that masterwork with other great titles like The Host, Snowpiercer, and Mother. But one of the voices behind the making of Memories of Murder that never got the same level of acclaim that Bong did was co-writer Shim Sung-bo. Since Memories of Murder, Shim has directed a couple of short films, but has largely remained an unknown to most viewers. Now, with his feature directorial debut Sea Fog (aka Haemoo), Shim steps up and presents himself as one of the most promising new directors in Korean cinema. And, like that modern classic Memories of Murder, Shim shared the writer’s room with the great Bong Joon-ho to help bring the dark story to life.

Sea Fog is a story of desperation. The characters are desperate to make a living, desperate to escape hardship, desperate to evade the law, desperate to survive. It’s downbeat, has the heart of pitch black film noir, and takes you in directions you wouldn’t expect.

The fishermen of the boat Jeonji aren’t catching much these days. Captain Kang (Kim Yun-seok) has a wife who is cheating on him, his rusty boat is now owned by the bank, and he has to beg the boss for money to pay his crew. Without so much as consulting his crew, Kang agrees to use the boat to pick up illegal immigrants coming out of China and smuggle them back into South Korea. What begins simple enough takes a turn when the illegals challenge the sailors, who are obviously out of their depth.

When a horrible accident occurs, the fishermen try their best to cover things up for fear of facing jail time. It’s then that things shift from a dark (sometimes politically charged) drama to a thriller, as already desperate men lose their humanity and inch closer to madness. Captain Kang, who had once seemed like a sympathetic figure, becomes merciless and cold. Some of his crew, now reduced to their base nature, obsess over money or the women among the illegal immigrants. Only one crewman, Dong-sik (Park Yoo-chun) remains largely himself throughout the ordeal. Even so, the young Dong-sik must decide how far is to go in order to survive the increasingly desperate scenario.

Sea Fog is based on a stage play, which itself was inspired by a sad true story. Like many stage play adaptations, Sea Fog has one primary set. But unlike many stage play adaptations, we never really take notice of the limited sets and locations. The boat is big and it’s surrounded by that cold, black ocean. Filmed beautifully by cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo (The Wailing), Sea Fog plays bigger than its surroundings might suggest. When the fog rolls in, strange colors shine through the mist, giving the film the surreal appearance of a film noir nightmare.

The cast is largely excellent. Kim Yun-seok (The Chaser) has made a career of playing anti-heroes and likeable villains, and Captain Kang fits somehow into both categories. It’s an intimidating performance, made all the better by the fact that Kim saves the major outbursts for the finale. Perhaps most impressive is Park Yoo-chun (Sungkyunkwan Scandal) as the innocent and inexperienced Dong-sik. Han Ye-ri (Commitment) is very good as the film’s central Korean-Chinese immigrant, giving her character enough individuality so that she is not just a damsel. And character actor Mun Seong-kun (Green Fish) is memorable in one of the film’s most showy roles, that of the boat’s old-timer engineer who starts losing his mind when the worst happens.

If the script lacks subtlety in the final act, then at least you can say that it might endear itself more to thriller/horror fans that’ve come to expect a certain level of the extreme from Korean genre movies.  I did not mind this shift in tone to a bloodier, high-pitched thriller. I do have to question the ending, however. Sea Fog ends with an extended epilogue, which felt unneeded especially after what would’ve been an excellent final shot.

A film with dark moral dilemmas and increasingly raised stakes, Sea Fog is the sort of movie that’s almost impossible to look away from. It also unfolds in an unexpected way, taking you on strange detours from the storyline that you were probably expecting. It’s an excellent thriller for fans of co-writer Bong Joon-ho, who explores more of the theme of class warfare seen earlier in Snowpiercer. For writer/director Shim, Sea Fog is one hell of a feature debut, and is hopefully a hint of more good things to come.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 8/10

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Lionsgate is bringing a ‘Black Samurai’ to the big screen

"Black Samurai" Theatrical Poster

“Black Samurai” Theatrical Poster

Richard Chamberlain (Shogun) and Tom Cruise (The Last Samurai), move over… Lionsgate has just enlisted Gregory Widen (creator/writer of 1986’s Highlander, director of 1995’s The Prophecy) to pen Black Samurai, a historical action film that will revolve around a real-life samurai of African origin.

According to Deadline: Yasuke lived in the mid-1500s, and history on his origins and exactly how he came to become a sword for a warlord named Oda Nobunaga is a bit fuzzy. Widen said what is known is that he was the only known African to reach that rank in feudal Japan, and it is a strong point of entry for a period action film that can build a compelling action narrative around history.

Obviously, Black Samurai is not connected to the Marc Olden book series or Jim Kelly film of the same name (in fact, a series related to Olden’s book, starring Common, is also currently in development) but misleading as it is, we couldn’t help but use its poster/trailer for this article. Besides, we’re all about promoting the classics.

Considering Black Samurai is in script-stage, there are currently no directors or stars attached, but we’ll keep you in the loop as we hear more.

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‘Die Hard 2’ helmer goes wuxia with an ‘Ancient Sword’

"Legend of the Ancient Sword" Teaser Poster

“Legend of the Ancient Sword” Teaser Poster

Renny Harlin, the Hollywood filmmaker known for Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, The Long Kiss Goodnight and most recently, Jackie Chan’s Skiptrace, is currently in post-production phase on Legend of the Ancient Sword, an adaptation of Gu Jian Qi Tan, a hit Chinese role-playing game.

According to THR: The Chinese film stars Wang Lee Hom (Little Big Soldier) as Yue, a young student of “Yanjia,” a lost martial arts form. Yue sets out to find Yanjia’s greatest master, and along the way he meets Wen (Victoria Song), Xia (Godfrey Gao) and Ah (Karena Ng). Together they team up to prevent a disaster from befalling the world.

Legend of the Ancient Sword is due in theaters later in 2017/early 2018. Until then, check out some images from the film below (via AFS):

renny

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The Complete Billy Jack Collection | Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)

The Complete Billy Jack Collection | Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)

The Complete Billy Jack Collection | Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)

RELEASE DATE: July 25, 2017

On July 25, 2017, Shout! Factory will be releasing the 4-disc Blu-ray set for The Complete Billy Jack Collection, starring the late Tom Laughlin.

The Billy Jack franchise (read our review for Billy Jack) follows an ex-Green Beret hapkido expert (Laughlin) and his many adventures against those who oppose his peaceful path.

These four groundbreaking, action-packed classics from ’70s pop culture icon Billy Jack feature all of the fast-kicking, politically aware stories that had audiences cheering. Influencing action films for decades, the Billy Jack films broke the mold with their unique hero, a half-American Indian/half white ex-Green Beret bent on correcting injustice and hypocrisy to help America reach its full potential.

The collection will contain the following films: 1968’s The Born Losers, 1971’s Billy Jack, 1974’s The Trial of Billy Jack and 1977’s Billy Jack Goes to Washington (Note: 1986’s unfinished The Return of Billy Jack will not be included, obviously).

Although Shout! Factory hasn’t disclosed details, The Complete Billy Jack Collection will most likely contain extra features.

Pre-order The Complete Billy Jack Collection from Amazon.com today!

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Trailer for Netflix’s ‘Death Note’ has death written all over it

"Death Note" Japanese DVD Cover

“Death Note” Japanese DVD Cover

A Hollywood adaptation of Tsugumi Ohba’s Death Note – a hit manga, anime and Japanese live-action horror film series – is coming to your Netflix queue.

The upcoming film, directed by Adam Wingard (The Guest), stars Nat Wolff (The Fault in Our Stars) and Margaret Qualley (The Nice Guys).

Death Note centers around an intelligent high school student goes on a secret crusade to eliminate criminals from the world after discovering a notebook capable of killing anyone whose name is written into it.

Death Note was previously adapted into a 2006 Japanese film of the same name, which starred Tatsuya Fujiwara (Battle Royale) and Ken’ichi Matsuyama (Kamui Gaiden). It was followed by Death Note: The Last Name, as well a 2015 mini-series. Another Japan-made sequel, titled Death Note 2016, is currently in the works.

Updates: Death Note hits Netflix on August 25th. Catch the Trailer below:

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Karate Kill | Blu-ray & DVD (Petri Entertainment)

"Karate Kill" Theatrical Poster

“Karate Kill” Theatrical Poster

RELEASE DATE: July 18, 2017

North American distributor Petri Entertainment is bringing Kurando Mitsutake’s (Gun Woman) Karate Kill to Blu-ray & DVD.

When a mysterious loner and Karate master Kenji’s (Hayate) little sister goes missing in Los Angeles, whoever stands in his way of finding her will face the wrath of a lethal Karate Kill!

Karate Kill also stars Asami (Prison Girl), Kamata Noriaki (Gun Woman), Jeffrey James Lippold (Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf), Carlee Baker (L.A. Slasher), WWE’s Katarina Leigh Baker and Akihiro Kitamura (Why Don’t You Play in Hell?).

Pre-order Karate Kill from Amazon.com today!

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

Wolf Guy | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

Wolf Guy | Blu-ray (Arrow Video)

Wolf Guy | Blu-ray (Arrow Video)

RELEASE DATE: May 23, 2017

On May 23, 2017, Arrow Video will be releasing the Blu-ray & DVD for 1975’s Wolf Guy (aka Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope), a multi-genre flick directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi (Sister Street Fighter: Hanging by a Thread) and starring the one, the only Shinichi ‘Sonny’ Chiba (Hiroshima Death Match).

Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba is a martial arts “manimal” in the ultra-70’s, 100% bizarre mixture of horror, action and sci-fi that is Wolf Guy, one of the rarest and most sought-after cult films produced by Japan’s Toei Studio. Based on a manga by Kazumasa Hirai (creator of 8 Man), and never before released outside of Japan, it’s a genre film classic waiting to be discovered and a completely unclassifiable trip into phantasmagoric funk.

Chiba stars as Akira Inugami, the only survivor of a clan of ancient werewolves who relies on his supernatural powers to solve mysterious crimes. After a series of bloody killings perpetrated by an unseen force, Inugami uncovers a conspiracy involving a murdered cabaret singer, corrupt politicians, and a plot by the J-CIA to harvest his blood in order to steal his lycanthropic powers! At the same time, Inugami also discovers the truth behind his family heritage, and that he may not be the last of his kind.

Directed by B-movie genius Kazuhiko Yamaguchi (Wandering Ginza Butterfly, Karate Bear Fighter), Wolf Guy truly is one-of-a-kind, with Chiba in full effect as the part-man, part-wolf, all-karate action hero and a collection of familiar 1970’s Toei actors in support. Violence, action, nudity, real surgical footage, and a psychedelic musical score all work together to create an unforgettable trip to the heights of Japanese cinematic weirdness.

Special Features:

  • High Definition digital transfer
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original uncompressed mono audio
  • New optional English subtitle translation
  • New video interview with actor Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba
  • New video interview with director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
  • New video interview with producer Tatsu Yoshida
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Wes Benscoter
  • First Pressing Only: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Patrick Macias and a history of Japanese monster movie mashups by Jasper Sharp

Pre-order Wolf Guy from Amazon.com today!

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

‘The Matrix’ reboot rumored to be a Morpheus prequel

"The Matrix" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“The Matrix” Japanese Theatrical Poster

A reboot of the highly successful 1999 sci-fi film The Matrix is brewing at Warner Bros. According to THR, Zak Penn (Ready Player One) is in talks to pen the screenplay and the studio is eyeing Michael B. Jordan (Creed) for the lead role made popular by Keanu Reeves (John Wick 2). There are currently no directors attached.

“At this point, the Wachowski siblings, who wrote and directed the original and its two sequels, are not involved and the nature of their potential engagement with a new version has not been determined,” THR reported.

The Matrix centered around a computer hacker (Reeves) who learns about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers. The film spawned two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, both of which were released in 2003.

The films were known for their originality, cutting edge special effects (origin of the slow-motion “bullet time” effect) and of course, their fast-paced martial arts sequences, which put choreographer Yuen Woo-ping (Dance of the Drunken Mantis) on the Hollywood map.

Updates: According to BMD, Warner is not interested in rebooting The Matrix, but rather in exploring expanded universe concepts. And according to two independent sources BMD has spoken with, one idea that’s gained a lot of support is a prequel film starring Michael B. Jordan as a young Morpheus.

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On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) Review

"On Her Majesty's Secret Service" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Peter Hunt
Writer: Richard Maibaum
Producer: Harry Saltzman, Albert R. Broccoli
Cast: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Bernard Lee, Gabriele Ferzetti, Ilse Steppat, Lois Maxwell, George Baker, Yuri Borienko, Bernard Horsfall, Desmond Llewelyn
Running Time: 140 min.

By Paul Bramhall

Ask any James Bond fan which entry in the series has the ‘Asian connection’, and many will likely say 1967’s You Only Live Twice, which has Sean Connery gallivanting around Japan while taking on ninjas and training in the bushido arts. But I’ll beg to differ and present the case for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, not so much for the content of the movie itself, but for the actor playing 007 – George Lazenby. The sixth entry in the series, and the one that closed out the 60’s, OHMSS (as I’ll refer to it from here on it) would be the first and last time Lazenby would take on the role of Bond in the official franchise.

The reasons behind Lazenby’s one-off tenure as the famous British agent are well documented – a mix of his own arrogance (which was what arguably got him the role in the first place), and his declaration that Bond was an obsolete character during its release, saw him quickly branded as being difficult to work with. These days he’s a much more affable fellow, and openly admits that he made mistakes during the initial years he spent in the film industry, but back then it was a different story. By 1973 he recalls being completely broke, and headed for Hong Kong to meet with Raymond Chow and Bruce Lee to discuss a role in Game of Death. Lazenby was booked to meet Lee for lunch on the day of the Little Dragons untimely passing, resulting in the collaboration never coming to pass, however Chow did sign Lazenby up for a 3 picture deal.

The result saw the one-time James Bond starring alongside the likes of Angela Mao and Hwang In-sik in Stoner (not to mention a sex scene with the actress whose bedroom Bruce Lee was found dead in – Betty Ting Pei), throwing down against Jimmy Wang Yu in The Man from Hong Kong, and mingling amongst such names as Dean Shek and Bolo in A Queen’s Ransom (which ironically saw him involved in a plot to kidnap the queen, rather than serving her). Quite the unusual career path for the Australian born actor, however maybe not completely unexpected. Members of the production on OHMSS recall Lazenby’s insistence to do all of his own fights and stunts, and he also contributed his own ideas for the action, suggesting the inclusion of a scene in which Bond would ski off the edge of a cliff with a parachute. Due to time constraints and resources the idea wasn’t feasible, however it was used 8 years later in the opening of The Spy Who Loved Me.

Watching OHMSS now, over 45 years since it was first released, it’s easy to appreciate just how ahead of its time it really was. Not only was it Lazenby’s acting debut, but it was also director Peter Hunt’s first time at helming a full length feature as well. Having worked as an editor on the first three entries in the 007 series, the producers believed he’d be up to the task of moving the franchise into a new and exciting direction. The case for them being right is a strong one, as in many ways OHMSS bears several similarities to the 007 reboot which would start with Casino Royale, a whole 37 years later. Hunt portrays Lazenby’s Bond as much more physical than Connery’s incarnation, gone is the focus on cars and gadgets, and in the first third there’s hardly a single gunshot fired, as Lazenby instead get involved in numerous fight scenes.

The way the fights are shot foreshadows the quick cut editing technique that Paul Greengrass would use in the Matt Damon starring Bourne sequels over three decades on, and delivers an effective sense of urgency and impact to the scenes. One particular fight that takes place within the confines of a hotel room is satisfyingly chaotic, with the whole room getting completely trashed in the process. It’s a template which would be used for many years to come, from Gina Carano vs Michael Fassbender in Haywire to Michelle Rodriguez vs Ronda Rousey in Furious 7. The fights are visibly undercranked, but for a 1969 British production, there’s a raw physicality to them that still feels fresh and immediate even now.

Also drawing on the similarities to Casino Royale, OHMSS flirts with shifting Bond into a darker direction. The opening sequence has Lazenby observing Avengers actress Diana Rigg from a distance, as she staggers around on a deserted beach. When it becomes evident that she is in fact trying to take her own life, he rushes out to save her. This opening pre-credit scene, as compact as it is, accurately represents all that’s good and bad with OHMSS. The dark undertones of a mob bosses daughter having no will to live is instantly engaging, and we’re drawn into Lazenby’s bold move to rescue her. However then he opens his mouth. Immediately introducing himself as “Bond, James Bond”, his delivery is a little too energetic and excited. Bond should be smooth and suave, however Lazenby’s line delivery is anything but. However no sooner has he spoken, than he’s involved in a fight against two assailants, which is satisfyingly intense and chaotic.

The elephant in the room in any discussion of OHMSS is, of course, how the opening pre-credit sequence ends. Having dispatched of the two assailants, and then come to the realisation that Rigg has driven off while he was fighting, leaving him alone on the beach, Lazenby breaks the fourth wall, momentarily glancing at the camera before stating, “This never happened to the other fellow.” So in just a few short minutes, the sequence acts as a micro-nutshell as to what can be expected from Lazenby’s outing – it’s intense, dark, physical, and also pretty goofy, not always in equal proportions.

For those that classify Lazenby’s outing as Stoner to be a heap of goofy psychedelic trash, the plot device is basically the same as OHMSS. Whereas Stoner revolves around Lazenby’s attempts to track down the creator of ‘the happy pill’, an addictive drug that acts as a hallucinogenic aphrodisiac (seemingly only on well-endowed naked females), OHMSS revolves around an infertility drug which will put an end to the world population. It’s revealed that Blofeld, played by Telly Savalas (replacing Donald Pleasence’s memorable turn as the villain), is operating under the cover of running an allergy research program. Up in the Swiss mountains, a bevy of women (later revealed by Savalas to be his “angels of death”) believe they’re undergoing a treatment of hypnotism for their allergies. We get to see the treatment in action with one particular patient, played by Angela Scoular, who has an allergy to chickens (which when she explains it is actually more of a phobia). As she lays down in bed, a series of psychedelic flashing lights fill the room, and Savalas comes on over the room speaker – “I’ve taught you to love chickens, love their flesh, their voice.” Seriously.

All of these bizarre shenanigans are completely at odds with Lazenby’s budding romance with Diana Rigg. Although at first he insists that she’s mentally unstable and needs a psychiatrist, as the plot progresses these interesting elements are largely cast aside. This is forgivable though, as the decision to introduce a female character that Bond actually falls in love with, and ultimately ends up marrying, is a worthy and bold move for the character. I don’t think it would class as a spoiler to reveal the ending of OHMSS, but just in case I’ll spare the details and simply say that the final minute remains as the single most emotionally poignant scene in the whole franchise to date. Lazenby performs the scene so well that it’s enough to forget about some of his less than stellar line deliveries in the rest of the movie, and make you wish he’d stayed as the character longer. As it stands though, the events that close out OHMSS act as little more than a footnote in the pre-credit sequence of For Your Eyes Only in 1981, over a decade later.

While the middle section of OHMSS is undeniably goofy, director Hunt reigns things in for an entertaining action finale. Consisting of an exciting downhill chase on ski’s, during which Lazenby broke his arm practicing for, it made enough of an impression that Christopher Nolan cited it as an influence on a similar scene in Inception. Lazenby amusingly slips out of his British delivery during this scene, at one point yelling to Rigg, “Keep going!” in a distinctly Australian accent, however considering he has enough to concentrate on, the small slip is excusable. There’s also a nice John Woo style moment, as he slides horizontally across the ice-covered ground while firing a machine gun at the bad guys. It’s a scene which is immediately reminiscent of the finale in Tsui Hark’s Knock Off, which has Van Damme horizontally sliding between containers while also shooting at the enemy.

The bobsleigh finale also earns its action merits, partly thanks to it being re-written to include the footage of stunts gone wrong while practicing the scene. Because of this decision, there’s a great shot of Bond crashing out of the bobsleigh and into the snow, great of course, because that’s what actually happened to the poor stuntman involved. Re-using stunt footage gone wrong was remarkably ahead of its time, and became a practice widely used in Hong Kong action cinema in the 80’s and 90’s (Conan Lee’s failed street light jump from Tiger on the Beat 2 springs to mind). This, along with other more subtle references, indicate that OHMSS is probably more highly regarded than many care to recognize. One of the more subtle examples come in a scene which has Bond make a fake coat of family arms, and it’s explained that the Latin on the coat is translated as The World is Not Enough, which of course would become the title of Pierce Brosnan’s 3rd outing as the character in 1999.

While the path of playing the revered secret agent wasn’t to be travelled by Lazenby, OHMSS deserves to be recognised as a worthwhile entry into the franchise, with action scenes that were well ahead of their time, and a plot which wasn’t afraid to imbue the character with a sense of loss. The closing credits of OHMSS proudly declare that ‘JAMES BOND WILL RETURN IN DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER’, and indeed he did, but it was Sean Connery who stepped back in the shoes of 007, or as Lazenby would say, “the other fellow”. As James Bond he may have been replaced, but thankfully, we’ll always have Joseph Stoner and Jack Wilton, so regardless of whether you have a chicken allergy or not, next time you need a 007 fix, consider OHMSS as your Bond of choice.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7.5/10

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Deal on Fire! The Assassin | Blu-ray | Only $9.28 – Expires soon!

The Assassin | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

The Assassin | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for The Assassin, by acclaimed director Hou Hsiao-Hsien (A City of Sadness) and starring Shu Qi (Journey to the West).

In 9th-century China, Nie Yinniang (Qi) is a woman who was abducted in childhood from a general and raised by a nun who trained her in the martial arts. After 13 years of exile, she is returned to the land of her birth as an assassin.

The film also stars Zhou Yun (Bodyguards and Assassins), Chang Chen (Helios) and Tsumabuki Satoshi (Waterboys).

Order The Assassin from Amazon.com today!

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Martial Club | aka Instructors of Death (1981) Review

"Martial Club" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Martial Club” Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Lau Kar Leung
Writer: Kuang Ni
Producer: Mona Fong
Cast: Gordon Liu, Kara Hui, Robert Mak, Wang Lung Wei, Ku Feng, King Chu Lee, Chu Te Hu, Wilson Tong, Hsiao Ho
Running Time: 102 min.

By Chris Hatcher

Of the storied directors in old school kung fu cinema, none stand higher on the mountain top than the great Lau Kar Leung. His directorial run from 1975-1986 produced some of the Shaw Brother’s most celebrated classics including The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, 8 Diagram Pole Fighter, and Legendary Weapons of China. Known for creating realistic training and fight sequences influenced by the Chinese martial art of Hung Gar, Lau saturated his films with some of the most authentic choreography in the genre’s history. And no one added to his formula for success as frequently, or as spectacularly, as the Master Killer himself, Gordon Liu.

Lau cast Liu in 18 films and starred him in over half of those during a time of forging a new path in martial arts cinema. He ended his long-time work as an action choreographer for director Chang Cheh on the set of 1975’s Marco Polo out of need to focus more on the martial arts itself and less on Cheh’s affinity for blood-soaked violence. As one of the few directors to be an actual martial artist and the first choreographer to direct a feature film, Lau mentored actors like Liu in the ways of depicting spectacular kung fu on screen. And his approach paid off; Liu’s breakout role in 36th Chamber sealed their partnership and sky-rocketed both men to superstardom. In short, you can’t have a conversation about the best in martial arts cinema without mentioning Lau Kar Leung and Gordon Liu.

Whenever I read opinions on the duo’s best collaborations, it’s a given to see the films already mentioned sitting in the top spots. However, I’m always a bit surprised to find Martial Club towards the bottom of the list, or nowhere on the list at all. Granted, when you have so many great films under your belt it’s hard to find room at the top for everyone. But Martial Club seems… forgotten. Like it’s the one Lau/Liu film placed on the backburner simply for being a lesser known title in the filmography of these two greats, which is truly unfortunate. Here’s why:

Martial Club contains some of the best martial arts action to never kill a character on screen, which I greatly admire (a feat Lau/Liu pulled off three years earlier in the superbly bloodless Heroes of the East); it also displays an excellent blend of humor and action throughout; and, in what I consider the most compelling argument for its greatness, the finale features the single best Gordon Liu/Wang Lung Wei showdown of their many excellent encounters (which is truly saying something if you’ve ever seen these two go at it). Mix all of this together and you get a film that would likely rank top three on any other filmmaker’s “Best of” list. For a supreme director like Lau, however, it’s just another day at the office.

Martial Club’s plot keeps things light with Liu once again taking on the role of legendary troublemaker Wong Fei Hung (he previously played the part in Lau’s Challenge of the Masters). He and Robert Mak are students of neighboring kung fu schools, each always looking to one-up the other in friendly combat. An opening credits lion dance (featuring rules explanation by Lau) sets the stage for a third school’s head student (King Chu Lee) to break etiquette and challenge Mak’s Wang Yinlin to a lion dance-off. The aftermath finds the two schools’ masters, Zheng (Wilson Tong) and Lu (Chu Te Hu), seeking mediation from Fei Hung’s father (Ku Feng), a process that goes awry and leaves the two sides at odds.

When the hijinx of besting one another leads Fei Hung and Yinlin to ask their closest confidants (Hsiao Ho and Kara Hui) to rig a fight contest on their behalves, the result is a run-in with Master Shan (Wang Lung Wei), a northern kung fu expert who’s come southward to make friends and blend styles. Turns out he’s a guest of Master Lu’s, and an unsuspecting pawn in Lu’s shady plan to exploit the northerner’s talents and lead all rival schools. What ensues is a series of misunderstandings, double-crossings, and deceptions, each spawning a grander scale fight scene than the one before in route to the climactic showdown between Fei Hung and Shan.

Martial Club has been called one of the purest kung fu films ever made in some circles; another reason it demands to be more widely known by the fu fan masses. Lau is truly a master at highlighting kung fu intricacies and this one follows suit in multiple areas. For starters, I love his focus on strength of stance throughout the film with one particular scene showing Fei Hung goading a group of classmates to try and move him before his father secretly slips in to take a turn. The encounter is brief but exhilarating as Liu and Ku Feng demonstrate great footwork in a contest of focus and strength between father and son.

Another similar scene pits Gordon against Wang Lung Wei and Chu Te Hu as they attempt to break Fei Hung’s stance using long drapery-style material being offered as gifts. Each man winds cloth around his legs and attempts to hold his ground in the name of testing its quality when, in fact, the quality of the stance is the very thing being tested. Lau’s play on context is humorous and clever, not to mention pretty cool to watch.

Speaking of humor, Martial Club has plenty of it with Liu’s and Mak’s shenanigans taking center stage (Liu doesn’t play Fei Hung as zanily as Jackie Chan did in Drunken Master, but it works). Whether the two are posing as head coaches of their respective schools and being taught a lesson by a real master or Yinlin is impressing tricks in a brothel with his strength, the story is never bogged down by the silliness. In fact, it’s enriched by it due to Lau’s ability to flow effortlessly from the funny to the fighting and back again. Liu and Kara Hui demonstrate this when a misunderstanding leads Yinlin’s sister (played by Hui) to come after Fei Hung. The result is a school-on-school brawl featuring some great hand-to-hand and weapons combat between the two.

Which leads us to why we watch kung fu films in the first place… the fights. And no one stages great action like Lau with Liu, Hui, and Wang leading the way in a number of exciting clashes. I would go so far as to say Martial Club showcases some of Lau’s very best work and the final showdown between Gordon and Wang is the definitive proof. It’s one of the most breathtaking displays of technical skill I have ever seen in an old school film with the highlight being the alley it takes place in growing smaller in width as the fight progresses! Marvelous styles, stances, and flare throughout… oh, my!

But seriously, the fight is truly spectacular and I love the notion of their showdown being for nothing more than honor and the testing of skill. No revenge, no blood, no death… just honor and skill. It’s the epitomical scene for why Lau decided to sever his ties with Chang Cheh and blaze his own trail as a filmmaker… and the kung fu cinema world is a much better place for it.

Chris Hatcher’s Rating: 9/10

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Trailer for Chapman To’s artsy Karate film ‘Empty Hands’

"The Empty Hands" Teaser Poster

“The Empty Hands” Teaser Poster

Hong Kong actor Chapman To (Infernal AffairsMen Suddenly in Black) is the director of The Empty Hands (previously known as simply Karate), an upcoming martial arts-themed film that will be led by singer turned actress, Stephy Tang (Let’s Go).

According to SD, the film tells the story of a young girl whose only wish is to sell her father’s karate dojo when he dies, but discovers that 51% of the business was left to one of his worst pupils.

The Empty Hands also stars Yasuaki Kurata (Four Riders) and Stephen Au Kam-tong (Z Storm, Trivisa), a black belt in full contact karate, who is also training Tang for her physically demanding role.

Judging from the film’s newly released Trailer (below), The Empty Hands appears to be more of an arthouse drama, which is an unexpected surprise, coming from the mostly-comedic To, who made his directorial debut feature with the light-hearted Let’s Eat!

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Age of Shadows | Blu-ray & DVD (CJ Entertainment)

Age of Shadows | Blu-ray (Sony)

Age of Shadows | Blu-ray (Sony)

RELEASE DATE: May 2, 2017

CJ Entertainment will releasing The Age of Shadows (read our review) on Blu-ray & DVD on May 2, 2017. The film is directed by Kim Jee-woon, the acclaimed filmmaker behind I Saw the Devil and A Bittersweet Life.

Set in the late 1920s, the film follows the cat-and-mouse game that unfolds between a group of resistance fighters trying to bring in explosives from Shanghai to destroy key Japanese facilities in Seoul, and Japanese agents trying to stop them (via SD).

The Age of Shadows stars Song Kang-Ho (Snowpiercer), Gong Yoo (The Suspect), Han Ji-Min (The Fatal Encounter), Um Tae-Goo (Veteran), Shin Sung-Rok (The Prison), and Seo Young-Joo (Moebius).

The Age of Shadows will mark the 4th collaboration between Song (Snowpiercer) and Kim. The two previously worked together in The Foul King (2000), The Quiet Family (2002) and The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008).

Order Age of Shadows from Amazon.com today!

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Straw Dogs | Blu-ray & DVD (Criterion)

Straw Dogs | Blu-ray (Criterion)

Straw Dogs | Blu-ray (Criterion)

RELEASE DATE: June 27, 2017

On June 27, 2017, Criterion Collection is releasing a fully restored, 4K version of Straw Dogs, a film directed by the maestro of screen violence, Sam Peckinpah (Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia). This thrilling classic stars Dustin Hoffman (Straight Time) and Susan George (Enter the Ninja). Read the film’s official details below:

In this thriller, arguably Sam Peckinpah’s most controversial film, David (Hoffman), a young American mathematician, moves with his English wife, Amy (George), to the village where she grew up. Their sense of safety unravels as the local men David has hired to repair their house prove more interested in leering at Amy and intimidating David, beginning an agonizing initiation into the iron laws of violent masculinity that govern Peckinpah’s world.

Working outside the U.S. for the first time, the filmmaker airlifts the ruthlessness of the western frontier into Cornwall in Straw Dogs, pushing his characters to their breaking points as the men brutalize Amy and David discovers how far he’ll go to protect his home—culminating in a harrowing climax that lays out this cinematic mastermind’s eloquent and bloody vision of humanity.

Special Features:

  • New, Restored 4K Digital Transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary from 2003 by Stephen Prince, author of Savage Cinema: Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies
  • Mantrap: “Straw Dogs”—The Final Cut, a 2003 documentary about the making of the film, featuring cast and crew
  • Sam Peckinpah: Man of Iron, a 1993 documentary about the director featuring actors Kris Kristofferson, Jason Robards, Ali MacGraw, and many others
  • New conversation between film critic Michael Sragow and filmmaker Roger Spottiswoode, who worked as one of the editors on the film
  • New interview with film scholar Linda Williams about the controversies surrounding the film
  • Archival interviews with actor Susan George, producer Daniel Melnick, and Peckinpah biographer Garner Simmons
  • Behind-the-scenes footage
  • TV spots and trailers
  • PLUS: An essay by scholar and critic Joshua Clover

Pre-order Straw Dogs from Amazon.com today!

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Herman Yau returns to Category III with ‘The Sleep Curse’

"The Sleep Curse" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“The Sleep Curse” Chinese Theatrical Poster

Considering that he’s gone all respectable with historical action pictures like The Legend is Born: Ip Man and The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake, it’s easy to forget that director Herman Yau (Taxi Hunter) got his start in the grimy, nasty world of Category III.

Movies like The Untold Story and Ebola Syndrome made Yau famous and now the filmmaker is returning to Category III territory with The Sleep Curse (read our review). Yau himself has announced the following statement: “Ebola Syndrome was made in 1996. After 20 years, we come back to the same genre with The Sleep Curse.”

We’re sure that in Yau’s capable hands, The Sleep Curse will deliver plenty of thrills, chills, gore and bad taste.

Updates: Watch the film’s first Trailer below:

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Red Band Trailer has Hiroyuki Sanada running for his ‘Life’

"Life" Theatrical Poster

“Life” Theatrical Poster

An international space crew discovers life on Mars, but when they begin to conduct research on the alien organism, they soon realize that nobody can hear you scream when you’re in space… As you just read, Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) is doing the Alien thing (and that’s not a bad thing) in Life, which hits theaters on March 24, 2017.

Life stars Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), Ryan Reynolds (Criminal), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler) and last, but not least, Sonny Chiba protégé, Hiroyuki Sanada (Royale Warriors), who had a similar role in Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (which, interestingly enough, featured his Royal Warriors co-star, Michelle Yeoh).

Updates: Check out the film’s Red Band Trailer below:

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Ugetsu | Blu-ray & DVD (Criterion Collection)

Ugetsu | Blu-ray (Criterion Collection)

Ugetsu | Blu-ray (Criterion Collection)

RELEASE DATE: June 6, 2017

Criterion Collection presents the Blu-ray & DVD for Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu. Read the film’s official details below.

Having refined his craft in the silent era, Kenji Mizoguchi was an elder statesman of Japanese cinema—fiercely revered by Akira Kurosawa and other younger directors—by the time he made Ugetsu.

And with this exquisite ghost story, a fatalistic wartime tragedy derived from stories by Akinari Ueda and Guy de Maupassant, he created a touchstone of his art, his long takes and sweeping camera guiding the viewer through a delirious narrative about two villagers whose pursuit of fame and fortune leads them far astray from their loyal wives.  Moving between the terrestrial and the otherworldly, Ugetsu reveals essential truths about the ravages of war, the plight of women, and the pride of men.

Special Features:

  • New 4K Digital Restoration by The Film Foundation, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary by filmmaker, critic, and festival programmer Tony Rayns
  • Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director (1975), a 150-minute documentary by Kaneto Shindo
  • Two Worlds Intertwined, a 2005 appreciation of Ugetsu by filmmaker Masahiro Shinoda
  • Process and Production, a 2005 interview with Tokuzo Tanaka, first assistant director on Ugetsu
  • Interview from 1992 with cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa
  • Original Trailers
  • An essay by film critic Phillip Lopate (Blu-ray and DVD) and three short stories that influenced Mizoguchi in making the film (Blu-ray only)

Pre-order Ugetsu from Amazon.com today!

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

Kung Fu Zombies | DVD (Mill Creek Entertainment)

Kung Fu Zombies | DVD (Mill Creek Entertainment)

Kung Fu Zombies | DVD (Mill Creek Entertainment)

RELEASE DATE: May 16, 2017

On May 16th, Mill Creek Entertainment is unleashing Kung Fu Zombies, a new 2-disc compilation that includes 7 movies, which equals 10 hours of English-dubbed, non-stop deadly action.

The Kung Fu Zombies set features stars such as Billy Chong (Kung Fu Zombie), Gordon Liu (Fury in Shaolin Temple), Fan Siu-Wong (Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky), Panna Rittikrai (Vengeance of an Assassin), Tony Jaa (SPL II), Tsui Hark (The Taking of Tiger Mountain), Norman Chu (Seeding of a Ghost), Eddie Ko (Beyond Redemption) and Corey Yuen (Raging Thunder).

And here’s what you get: 1981’s Kung Fu Zombie, 1982’s Kung Fu From Beyond the Grave, 2004’s Shaolin vs. Evil Dead, 2007’s Shaolin vs. Evil Dead: Ultimate Power, 1997’s Spirited Killer 2, 1998’s Spirited Killer 3 and 1980’s We Are Going To Eat You.

Pre-order Kung Fu Zombies from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles, News | 2 Comments

Enter our ‘Three’ Blu-ray Contest! – WINNERS ANNOUNCED!

Three | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Three | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

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

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

Three will officially be released on April 4, 2017. We will announce the 3 winners on that date

CONTEST DISCLAIMER: You must enter by April 4, 2017 to qualify. U.S. residents only please. We sincerely apologize to our non-U.S. visitors. Winners must respond with their mailing address within 48 hours, otherwise you will automatically be disqualified. No exceptions. Contest is subject to change without notice.

WINNERS: Ralph G, John C and Nivek.

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Timo Tjahjanto’s ‘The Night Comes For Us’ is near…

“The Night Comes For Us” Teaser Poster

“The Night Comes For Us” Teaser Poster

Back in September 2014, pre-production for The Night Comes For Us – an anticipated action film by Indonesian director Timo Tjahjanto of the “Mo Brothers” directing duo (Macabre, Killers, Headshot) – was halted for unknown reasons. But now, according to Tjahjanto himself, The Night is definitely in full swing.

The Night Comes For Us is a neo-noir hitman thriller that stars Joe Taslim (The Raid), Sunny Pang (Headshot) and Julie Estelle (The Raid 2, MacabreHeadshot). The Iko Uwais Team (Headshot), headed by Iko Uwais (The Raid) and Very Tri Yulisman (The Raid 2), is handing the film’s fight and action choreography.

Taslim plays Ito, a gangland enforcer, caught amidst a treacherous and violent insurrection within his Triad crime family upon his return home from a stint abroad.

Production on The Night Comes For Us is currently wrapping up, so we should hear more soon. Until then, if you haven’t seen Headshot, it’s currently available on Amazon, iTunes and just about every streaming/VOD service out there.

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