Cityonfire.com’s ‘Mojin: The Lost Legend’ Blu-ray Giveaway! – WINNER’S ANNOUNCED!

Mojin - The Lost Legend | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Mojin - The Lost Legend | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

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

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

The Blu-ray & DVD for Mojin: The Lost Legend will be officially released on May 3, 2016. We will announce the 3 winners the following day.

CONTEST DISCLAIMER: You must enter by May 3, 2016 to qualify. U.S. residents only please. We sincerely apologize to our non-U.S. visitors. Winners must respond with their mailing address within 48 hours, otherwise you will automatically be disqualified. No exceptions. Contest is subject to change without notice.

WINNERS: Nick, Sharon Walsh and Matthew.

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Outlaw: Gangster VIP 2 (1968) Review

"Outlaw: Gangster VIP 2" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Outlaw: Gangster VIP 2" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Keiichi Ozawa
Producer: Kaneo Iwai
Cast: Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Izumi Ashikawa, Eimei Esumi, Jukei Fujioka, Shoki Fukae, Joji Hidehara, Seishiro Iwate, Meiko Kaji, Hatsuko Kawahara, Ichiro Kijima, Toshizo Kudo, Kayo Matsuo, Hideaki Nitani
Running Time: 97 min.

By Kyle Warner

Outlaw: Gangster VIP 2 catches up with our gangster protagonist Goro Fujikawa (Tetsuya Watari) as he rides a train out of Tokyo to reunite with the woman he sent away at the end of the first film. The train takes him to a snowy town in the country, as far from the buzzing metropolis as you can get, and Goro makes a strong attempt at going straight and working a normal job. But he needs money to help a friend and his job doesn’t provide reliable income, so he’s forced to return to the yakuza life, taking him back into the city.

It’s too bad that the film so readily returns to the sort of scenarios that populated the original. In the first act of Gangster VIP 2, the film suggests a very different sort of story, one with less action and more character drama set against a snowy backdrop. (Some of the shots immediately call to mind Watari’s wanderer of Tokyo Drifter, who also traveled to the snowy countryside to escape his rivals.)

When Goro returns to the world of the yakuza in order to get the funds and help a friend, he loses himself and forgets his purpose. His friends go forgotten as well, their condition taking a turn for the worst when he fails to come to their aid. There’s something compelling about the idea of the yakuza lifestyle being like an addictive drug—that, when you reconnect with it, you abandon your friends and your original goals. But Goro becomes less interesting in VIP 2 as he develops into a character that doesn’t know what he wants, drifting through life and only acting when loyalty and morals dictate that he must.

In many ways, Goro’s the least important part of the film’s plot, which again returns to the theme of friends who find themselves on opposing sides in gang warfare. At the center of the plot is a Romeo and Juliet love story between a low-ranking yakuza and the sister of the rival boss. Ryohei Uchida (Blind Woman’s Curse) and Hideaki Nitani (Voice Without a Shadow) chew up the scenery as the leaders of the two rival gangs, while Meiko Kaji (Stray Cat Rock) makes a good impression in her small, early role as the sister/lover stuck in the middle of the two gangs.

Another welcome addition to the cast is Kunie Tanaka (Battles Without Honor and Humanity), who plays an underachieving yakuza with a grudge against Goro. Tanaka’s his usual squirmy, sweaty self and I think his character is one of the best parts of the film. He’s the forgotten antagonist, holding no alliance to either of the warring yakuza clans, acting only for himself. It’s a part similar to that of Tomorowo Taguchi’s in Rainy Dog, though not nearly as dark.

Thankfully the sexism found in the first film is toned down here, allowing women to be individual characters instead of plot devices or solely existing to motivate the men. Chieko Matsubara returns as Goro’s kinda-sorta love interest (it’s almost more of a big brother/little sister relationship at this point) and she gets more to do than simply acting as the naïve, doe-eyed virgin.

After the greatness of the first film, I would’ve liked it if Toshio Masuda returned to the director’s chair for the sequel, but that didn’t happen. Stepping in for Masuda is one of his assistant directors from earlier films, Keiichi Ozawa. In his directorial debut Ozawa doesn’t show Masuda’s flair for filming action. Whereas the knife fights of the first film occasionally inspired awe, here they just felt like a hundred other similar brawls seen in Japanese films. Ozawa’s drama lacks subtlety, with one death scene going so far as to have a ray of Heaven’s light shine down on the dying character before they pass away. Ozawa would return to direct three more films in the series, so I’m hoping he improves with more experience.

The film doesn’t simply stick to a formula like some sequels, it reuses some of the same beats, shots, and acting moments from the first film. Gangster VIP 2 even attempts to recycle the style of the original’s finale by splitting the action between two competing sequences—I loved the effect in the first film, but here it doesn’t really work.

The fact that Gangster VIP 2 teased a totally different vision in the opening act makes the remaining hour of the film all the more disappointing… It’s really not a bad film, it’s just a lazy one.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 6.5/10

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King Hu’s ‘Dragon Inn’ and ‘A Touch of Zen’ get new trailers

Janus Films, an affiliate of The Criterion Collection video-distribution company, has released brand new trailers for King Hu’s two classic martial arts movies: 1967’s Dragon Inn and 1971’s A Touch of Zen.

A Touch of Zen and Dragon Inn will be hitting big screens – in a new, beautifully restored 4K digital transfer, created from the original negative – on April 22, 2016 and May 6th, 2016, respectively.

Criterion will be releasing a 4K Blu-ray of A Touch of Zen on July 19, 2016. A similar Blu-ray release for Dragon Inn has yet to be determined, but we’ll be sure to keep you updated when this changes. Until then, catch all-new trailers for both A Touch of Zen and Dragon Inn, courtesy of Apple.

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Deal on Fire! Pound of Flesh | Blu-ray | Only $9.67 – Expires soon!

Pound of Flesh | Blu-ray & DVD (Entertainment One)

Pound of Flesh | Blu-ray & DVD (Entertainment One)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Pound of Flesh, directed by Ernie Barbarash (Assassination Games).

In Pound of Flesh (read our review), a man’s (Van Damme) heroic attempt to help a woman in distress ends up with him waking up the next day without a kidney and plotting his revenge.

The film co-stars Kristopher Van Varenberg (Enemies Closer), Darren Shahlavi (Ip Man 2), John Ralston (Degrassi The Next Generation), William B Davis (The X-Files) and Charlotte Peters.

Order Pound of Flesh from Amazon.com today!

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Emperor of the Underworld (1994) Review

"Emperor of the Underworld" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Emperor of the Underworld" Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Hwang Jang Lee
Writer: Im Seung-su
Cast: Dragon Lee, Hwang Jang Lee, Lee Jin Young, Kim Mi Young, Hyeon Kil Su, Jeong Wu Hyeok, Hwang Chun-su
Running Time: 87 min.

By Paul Bramhall

If there was ever a genre that could be described as having little to no exposure outside of its native country, then it’s the 90’s Korean action movie. Compared to the likes of Hong Kong and Japan’s own action cinema output during the same decade, Korea’s equivalent remains shrouded in mystery. It’s a shame, as there’s plenty of action gold to be found, however it’s a country whose film industry had little to no attention paid to it before the release of Shiri in 1999, which broke through internationally thanks to its Hollywood style aesthetic. Unfortunately, even at the time of writing more than 15 years on, only a fraction of Korean movies released before 1999 (in any genre), have made their way to DVD.

As it stands, many of the action movies that came out during the 90’s received a release on Korean VHS, and that’s it. To confound matters even further, a significant number of them didn’t receive a theatrical release, instead going direct-to-VHS, and often such titles aren’t even listed on the notoriously difficult to navigate Korean Move Database. Much of the reasoning behind this is that the action genre was treated much the same as Japan’s equivalent in the 70’s. Karate movies were quickly filmed productions, often featuring heavy doses of exploitation, and were never made with the thought that there’d be an audience who’d want to check them out several decades later.

Many of Korea’s own action output in the 90’s could be considered to fall into the same category. During the 80’s erotic film became hugely popular, and the end of the decade coincided with many of the Korean stars, who’d been busy delivering their boot work in the Hong Kong kung fu movie boom of the 70’s and 80’s, returning home. Hwang Jang Lee, Casanova Wong, and Dragon Lee – a trio of instantly recognizable names to any kung fu cinema fan – were all back on Korean soil in the 90’s, and all of them made their final film appearances during the decade while working in Korea. With period movies long gone out of fashion, the gangster flick quickly became the go-to genre for some Taekwondo style action. Fedora hats, oversized shoulder pads, and bulky suits came to define the 90’s Korean gangster flick, which often served up fight scenes and nudity in equal measure.

It could be said that 1994 was a year of particular significance. Casanova Wong, the star of such Hong Kong classics as Warriors Two and The Master Strikes, would make his last screen appearance in, as well as directing, the violent gangster flick Bloody Mafia. Hwang Jang Lee, who needs no introduction, would also mark his last significant screen appearance, in a movie which, like Casanova Wong, he’d also direct, titled Emperor of the Underworld. It’s worth noting that many sources list the 1996 Korean movie, Boss, as Hwang’s final movie appearance, and while this is true, his screen-time clocks in at barely a minute, with a role that’s purely dialogue.

Hwang had directed himself before, most memorably playing the clean shaven good guy in Hitman in the Hand of Buddha in 1981, and as the conflicted anti-hero a couple of years later in Canton Viper. Emperor of the Underworld though marks the first time he doesn’t cast himself as the lead, instead opting to take the villain role. The lead goes to another familiar face from the world of kung fu cinema, Dragon Lee. Both Hwang and Lee had worked together before, on both the likes of old school Korean kung fu movies such as Secret Ninja, Roaring Tiger and 5 Pattern Dragon Claws, as well as in another 90’s action movie, the second installment of The Nationwide Constituency trilogy.

The plot for Emperor of the Underworld is straight forward stuff. Lee is a marine who has a reputation for getting the job done, shown in a pre-credit sequence that has him storming a criminal hideout, decked out in all black fatigues with machine gun in hand. Any movie that starts off with Dragon Lee armed with a machine gun has already earnt instant favour with me. However once he’s discharged, he finds himself stalked by the police. It turns out they want to infiltrate a violent gang, one that’s working in conjunction with some evil Japanese property developers, and Dragon Lee seems to be the guy for the job. He agrees to take on the mission, on the condition that his friend is released from prison so that they can work together. However when it turns out that their former colleague, a girl Lee used to be close to (played by So Bia, an actress who was known for the erotic movies she starred in during the 80’s and 90’s), is also working for the gang, the situation gets complicated.

Despite the simplistic plot, it’s told effectively, and it’s refreshing to see a Dragon Lee movie being told entirely poker faced from start to finish. Despite being over 15 years since the peak of his career in movies like Enter the Invincible Hero, he’s still instantly recognizable and in great shape. Several lackeys end up on the receiving end of Lee’s fists during the run time, and at one point, for no other reason than to intimidate a group of thugs who are threatening him, he flips a stationery car over with his bare hands. The scene is so random that it’s difficult not to appreciate. I’m also unsure if it was an intentional homage or not, but when he’s first discharged from the army, he visits a nightclub to meet his old colleague, carrying a rucksack of his belongings slung over his shoulder. I’ve personally lost count of the number of Dragon Lee movies I’ve seen, which have him wandering the countryside with nothing but a rucksack slung over his shoulder! It’s like it was his permanent prop.

The nightclub scenes are also notable, purely for the fact that the music playing in the background, an American rap song, has some of the most obscene lyrics I’ve ever heard in a movie (or anywhere). It became a little difficult to concentrate when Lee was having a serious conversation with his old friend, when all you can hear in the background is the rapper distinctly announcing that he was “gonna put my d*ck in your behind.” I’m sure some MC Hammer would have been much more suitable.

Hwang Jang Lee himself doesn’t make an appearance until the 55 minute mark. Playing a former colleague who feels heavily indebted to the gang boss, he agrees to become the chief enforcer. When events transpire that see the gangsters retaliating against Lee and his colleague by killing their mentor, it’s time to serve up some 90’s style Korean action movie revenge. The lead-up to the finale somewhat echoes the finale of A Better Tomorrow 2, as Lee leads a funeral march with the coffin of his mentor up to gates of the gangsters mansion, in which Hwang Jang Lee and the other gang members are wining and dining on the front lawn. Thankfully as well as bringing the coffin, they also brought along a machine gun, in a scene which perhaps has the record for number of bullets fired without managing to hit a single solid object.

The showdown eventually culminates in a face-off between Dragon Lee and Hwang Jang Lee, which has them going at it on the lawn, in a pond, and finishing off in one of Korea’s many mud flats. For anyone that’s seen the Korean flick Rough Cut, it’s a possibility that the idea for that movies similar ending, which has the two main characters slugging it out on a similar mud flat, came from here. Like any good Dragon Lee movie, he ends up shirtless, and covers himself in mud, using it’s slipperiness to deflect Hwang’s lethal kicks. While it’s easy to argue that the choreography of the fight, and the action as a whole in Emperor of the Underworld, is far from matching that of the pairs work at their physical peaks, it’s never anything less than entertaining.

Best of all (or worse, depending on how you look at it), is that whenever Lee gets involved in a fight, he immediately switches to Bruceploitation mode – flicking his nose, staying light on his feet, and breaking out Bruce’s famous facial expressions whenever he hits someone. It’s almost as if he doesn’t know how to fight any other way, it’s simply become ingrained. Far from being detrimental to the story though, the scenes remind us that we’re watching a Dragon Lee flick, and how much we would have missed it if there hadn’t been a single nose flick in sight. These types of production can never be considered anything more than B-movies, a fact that’s no doubt contributed to securing their obscurity, but Emperor of the Underworld sets out to do exactly what it says on the tin – deliver a tale of macho gangsters and people being punched. I only wish there was more of them to choose from.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7/10

Posted in All, Bruceploitation, Korean, News, Reviews | Tagged , | 10 Comments

Live-action adaptation of Sega’s ‘Shinobi’ moves forward…

Sega's "The Super Shinobi"

Sega's "The Super Shinobi"

Back in 2014, Variety reported that video game developer Sega hired film director/producer, Evan Cholfin (The Garlock Incident), to adapt a number of video game titles into live-action and animated movies. Some of the titles potential titles included Altered Beast, Streets of Rage, Shinobi, Rise of Nightmares and Crazy Taxi.

“With his impeccable taste and experience developing and producing entertainment in nearly every format imaginable, Evan is the unique executive to revitalize and canonize our partners’ brands by working with Hollywood to create stories that will last for centuries,” said Stories president and CEO Tomoya Suzuki, who will help oversee the projects.

Today, we’ve received conflicting word (via Collider) that producer Marc Platt (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and his production company Marc Platt Productions have teamed up with Stories International, Inc. – the production division of SEGA Group and Hakuhodo DY Group – to adapt the high-priority Shinobi franchise as a feature film.

“We love the Shinobi games and believe that the world of ninjas has never been properly explored onscreen. We now have the opportunity to do just that. With Shinobi, we hope to make a film that honors the essence of the games and brings this fascinating world to life for moviegoing audiences,” Platt explained.

Whether it be Cholfin or Platt, one thing still stands: we’d love to see Joe “Shinobi” Musashi on the big screen. Stay tuned!

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Outlaw: Gangster VIP (1968) Review

"Outlaw: Gangster VIP" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Outlaw: Gangster VIP" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Toshio Masuda
Writer: Kaneo Ikegami, Reiji Kubota
Cast: Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Mitsuo Hamada, Tamio Kawaji, Kyosuke Machida, Kayo Matsuo
Running Time: 93 min.

By Kyle Warner

There are a huge number of classic Japanese films that most the world hasn’t seen yet. So it’s always great when a home video distributor like Arrow, Criterion, Eureka, and others rediscover some forgotten gem and show it to the world. And that’s exactly what’s happened here, as Arrow Video releases the Outlaw Gangster VIP series for the first time for viewers in the US and the UK.

Gangster VIP is relatively unknown to most film fans in the West. I knew very little about it other than it starred Tetsuya Watari, who is best known as the singing gangster of Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter. The first film opens with a disclaimer that everything that follows is fiction and none of the characters are based on any real people. That’s not 100% true, though. The Outlaw series follows Watari’s gangster Goro Fujikawa, a loner that’s partly based on real-life criminal Goro Fujita. After living as a gangster, Goro Fujita wrote novels about the yakuza, and the Outlaw series is a semi-autobiographical version of his life story (he would also write the novel on which Graveyard of Honor is based). I’m sure that there is a great deal of fiction in Fujita’s retelling of his life, but there’s no doubt some truth in there, too.

The film opens with a prologue set after WWII as young Goro struggles through a life of poverty. When doctors ignore his begging, Goro helplessly watches sickness take the lives of his mother and sister. After he’s caught stealing food, Goro’s taken to a boy’s home where he befriends the somewhat older Sugiyama. Time passes and the boys grow into men, soon finding themselves on opposing sides of a yakuza conflict. Goro stabs Sugiyama and is sentenced to three years in prison. When he’s released from jail, Goro plans to go straight, but within 24 hours he’s stabbed another yakuza and he’s back in trouble all over again. His next victim survives but he’s a high-ranking member of the treacherous Ueno gang, the same clan that his old friend Sugiyama pledged loyalty to, and the Ueno clan isn’t going to let Goro get off easy. Though Goro tries to stick to the old yakuza way, his rivals aren’t playing by the same rules. At one point Goro apologizes by chopping off his pinky (a common way for yakuza to apologize for some unforgivable offense), only to have his dead friend’s badly beaten corpse dumped onto the floor as thanks.

Nikkatsu was typically known for its ‘borderless action’ films, hyper-stylized action movies. (Hong Kong’s ‘heroic bloodshed’ action movies would’ve fit right in with what Nikkatsu was churning out in the 1960s.) Gangster VIP’s kind of yakuza drama isn’t Nikkatsu’s regular cup of tea, but I think that everyone handles the concept and the themes wonderfully. In addition to being a yakuza drama, director Toshio Masuda (Red Pier) brings some of that ‘borderless action’ style to the film, filling it with bright colors, unpredictable action, and a welcome dash of humor.

Tetsuya Watari gets to show some range in the role of Goro. The actor could’ve easily let his rogue be super cool, like a gentleman among murderers and morons, but it’s a more honest portrayal than that. The character lacks a heart of gold—Goro’s too cynical, thinks the world’s too rotten—but he’s basically decent. Watari plays him as an oafish thug who’s ultimately redeemed by his fierce loyalty and a need to set things right (I guess the internet would call him a Chaotic Good?). Another highlight of the cast is Mitsuo Hamada (Iron King), who plays Goro’s friend and a hopeless believer in the yakuza code until it asks him to sacrifice too much.

On the negative side of things, I found Gangster VIP’s depiction of women rather weak. There are four major female roles in the film: one’s a hooker, one pleads her ex to beat her because she’s sorry she moved on, one latches onto a perfect stranger like a goddamn remora, and the only woman with some actual depth is basically put in the position of repeatedly reminding the characters that yakuza suck. Maybe weak depictions of women are to be expected from a genre that occasionally looks like male fantasy wish fulfillment, but that doesn’t mean I gotta like it.

Director Toshio Masuda’s film takes on certain operatic qualities in the later stages. In two grand sequences, Masuda splits the film’s narrative, letting two important, contrasting scenes play at the same time. The film’s finale is done this way and actually mutes the action while the background scene is played at full volume. The result is insanely cool. Masuda was well-liked by Nikkatsu for his fast pace and his quality filmmaking—he was the most reliably bankable director the studio had—but he’s not often considered one of classic Japanese cinema’s most stylish filmmakers. One film doesn’t change my mind about how I view Masuda on the whole, but this is a very stylish effort, full of moments that made me sit up and take notice.

The film ends rather ambiguously but we already know that the story would continue. There were six Outlaw films in total and all are include in the new Blu-ray/DVD set from Arrow Video. Since this is my first time viewing the films, I’m going to follow the special feature’s advice and not watch some extras that are said to contain spoilers just yet. Full thoughts on the set and its features will be included in the review for the final film, Outlaw: Kill! As far as the first film’s audio and visual, I can say that I thought the audio was great and the picture quality was… pretty good. It’s not a failing on Arrow’s part, but the print does show some age with flashes of blue crossing the screen a couple times during the movie. It doesn’t happen often, though, and it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the film.

I started off this review by talking about uncovering forgotten gems and that’s exactly what I think this film is. Gangster VIP is a stellar example of the yakuza film genre and I can’t wait to dive into this set and watch all the remaining films.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 8/10

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Bruce Le wraps up his ‘Braveheart meets First Blood’ film

"Enter the Game of Death" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Enter the Game of Death" Korean Theatrical Poster

Two years ago, Bruce Le (aka Huang Kin Long), cult martial arts star of Mission Terminate and Bruce Stikes Back, made his 7th directorial feature, Eyes of Dawn (a redux of his 1992 film, Comfort Women) – a drama about women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army in occupied territories during World War II – starring Cheng Pei-pei (Golden Swallow), her daughter Marsha Yuen (Pound of Flesh), Kenneth Tsang (A Better Tomorrow) and Le himself.

The movie was Le’s first film project after a 20+ year absence from show business. Fortunately, his comeback isn’t about to stop there…

According to Impact’s Mike Leeder, Le is currently in post-production on a wartime adventure best described as a Chinese Braveheart meets First Blood, which tells the true story of a Chinese commando who rages a one-man war against Japanese forces on the border with Russia during WW2. In addition to directing, Le also has a small part in the film. Furthermore, Le is revisiting the Comfort Women scenario in a TV series that will begin production in June with casting both in China and Internationally.

But to kung fu fans, the most exciting news involves Le’s “dream” project: “In the last ten years, I have been thinking about making a very big kung fu movie, full blooded martial arts action… I would really like to make a big sized co-production between America and China, my dream project is to make something that would be worthy to be called Enter the Dragon 2. That’s something I have been working on for some time, making preparation for the last few years. I know to make a movie that delivers on those elements will be a lot of work but its what I think I have to do,” Le told Leeder.

Le isn’t lying about this “very big kung fu movie.” During Paul Bramhall’s coverage at the 2014 SENI Strength & Combat Event in London, the legendary Hwang Jang Lee (Invincible Armour) mentioned the possibility of reuniting with Le: “We made a few movies together in Europe. Actually he called me just last month, he asked if I want to be in a new movie with him. I said, sure, let’s see.” Is there a connection? Only time will tell.

Stay tuned for information regarding all of these projects.

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Prequel to Tsui Hark’s ‘Taking of Tiger Mountain’ in the works

"The Taking of Tiger Mountain" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"The Taking of Tiger Mountain" Chinese Theatrical Poster

A prequel to Tsui Hark’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain is currently in development. According to AFS, there’s a possibility that Hark is returning to the director’s chair. Casting details are in progress.

2014’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain (read our review), an action epic based on the real life story of an incident during the Chinese Civil War, involved a communist reconnaissance team soldier who disguises himself to infiltrate a local gang of bandits.

The film starred Zhang Hanyu (Bodyguards and Assassins), Gao Hu (The Man From Macau), Tong Liya (Journey to the West), Kenny Lin (Young Detective Dee) and Han Geng.

We’ll keep you posted as we hear more.

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First visual of Newt in Neill Blomkamp’s ‘Aliens’ sequel

"Alien" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Alien" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Back in March of 2015, writer-director Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) announced that his next movie would be an Alien (aka Alien 5) film. This exciting news came soon after Blomkamp shared some “personal” concept art/photos for an Alien movie that had been running around his mind.

The artwork – featuring the return of both Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and Corporal Dwayne Hicks (Michael Biehn) – was a warm welcome to fans of the franchise, especially given the acclaim Blomkamp has received for his influential work.

Blomkamp’s Aliens sequel would basically ignore Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection: “I want this film to feel like it is literally the genetic sibling of Aliens, so it’s AlienAliens and then this film,” said the director. Both Weaver and Biehn confirmed that the will be reprising their roles as Ripley and Corporal Duane Hicks, respectively. The character of Newt, now 27-years-old, will return, although it has not been made clear if Carrie Henn will be reprising her role.

Ultimately, Blomkamp’s Aliens sequel was put on hold in an effort to avoid colliding with Ridley Scott’s Prometheus/Alien continuation, Alien: Covenant.

In a recent interview (via LFF), Weaver shed some light regarding Blomkamp’s Alien sequel: “Ridley asked Neill not to make our Alien ’til after Alien: Covenant/Prometheus 2. [Ridley] wanted his movie to shoot and be released first. But it’s an amazing script, and Neill and I are really excited about doing it. We’re doing other things until we can get going on that. I’d be really surprised if we didn’t do it, because it’s such a great script, and we love working together. So, it’s just going to take a little bit longer to get out to you, but it’ll be worth the wait.”

As always, we’ll keep you updated as we hear more. Stay tuned.

Updates: To mark “Alien Day,” Blomkamp shared concept art of Newt. It’s obviously modeled after Carrie Henn (who played Newt in Aliens), but it’s still unclear on whether or not she’ll be reprising her role.

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Mercenaries from Hong Kong (1982) Review

"Mercenaries from Hong Kong" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Mercenaries from Hong Kong" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Wong Jing
Writer: Wong Jing
Cast: Ti Lung, Michael Chan Wai Man, Candice Yu On On, Nat Chan Pak Cheung, Lo Lieh, Ngaai Fei, Philip Ko Fei, Wong Yu, Johnny Wang Lung Wei, Yuen Wah, Lee Hoi San, Aai Dung Gwa, Cheng Miu, Cheung Gwok Wa, Ko Hung, To Wai Wo
Running Time: 90 min.

By Matthew Le-feuvre

Known for his affable personality as well as an eccentric reputation for having “fingers in many pies” pursuits, Wong Jing began his steadfast career at the Shaw Brothers’ prominent movie town enclosure, learning the logistics of a machination that was, essentially, built upon committment, self opportunity and the ability to present original concepts within a studio production collectively. And, like most of his peers, he excelled himself as a notable scriptwriter and 2nd unit director prior to being exclusively upgraded to a full directing credit with casino/gambling sensations: Challenge of the Gamesters (1981) and Winner Takes All (1982); both pictures – unreleased in the western hemisphere – featured the late, sorely missed Wong Yue; stalwart ‘Shaw’ contractee, Chen Kwan Tai; and the rather underrated, long redundant Patrick Wu, as principal stock players.

In addition to producing or working over the years with highly ranked A-listers – such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Simon Yam and Michelle Yeoh – Jing maintained a collaborative and personal friendship with quirky funnyman, Lolento Chan (The Magic Crystal), himself a regular participant of whatever production Jing is currently involved in. However, no stranger to the art of performance – giggles aside – this spirited filmmaker has also delighted in gracing the jade screen with truly demented Hitchcockian-type cameos (ala Twin Dragons (1992), playing an inffectual faith healer), yet contemporary audiences are probably more familiar with Jing’s controversial and extremely viscreal 90’s features: The Naked Killer (1992) and The Last Blood (1991), although both City Hunter (1992) and the wire-fu laden Last Hero in China (1993) had been designedly toned down at a time when age restricted categories were systematically endorsed; these alternative, but no less enjoyable popcorn distractions, were/are still endulgent enough to satisfy even the most hardened of cynics.

Indeed, Jing’s world of ‘make believe,’ often surrealist approach is ebulliently crafted in a way the great Tsui Hark or even the nihilistic John Woo may wince with envy or applaud with competitive enthusiasm. In equal designation, technically, these resourceful, gifted and innovative visionaries basically retain a similar celluloid style: multiple quick edits and an inordinate bodycount are two personalized touchstones that tends to inspire audience appreciation, but can simultaneously infuriate critics for lack of realism or originality. Nevertheless, after continued exposure absurdity becomes championed by escapism in its purest form, which is why a film like Mercenaries from Hong Kong might have struggled either commercially or (in) dealing with censorship issues if had it been released following the wake of John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow (1986) sequence or Ringo Lam’s City on Fire (1987).

Mercenaries from Hong Kong is bloody, gritty and extremely fast-paced, as one would expect from a Hong Kong picture. Jing’s unappologetic third foray behind the camera dispenses with storyline subtleties or complexities from the outset. Either by choice or tactful administration, he also limits himself from using over elaborate production values, special effects or convoluted dialogue seemingly by steering directly to the crux without pretension or stylized self glorification as Mercenaries from Hong Kong opens to a rock orientated soundtrack and unusual close-up shots of a heavily tattooed enforcer Luo Li (Ti Lung), rigorously weight-training for a solo revenge assignment against a triad-linked drug dealer, who’d previously and intentionally hooked Li’s niece to heroin dependency.

In a scene blatantly lifted from Andrew V. McClagen’s political action hybrid The Wild Geese (1979), featuring then-James Bond sensation, Roger Moore: Li force-feeds his target with his own narcotics, thus inducing death. Barely escaping, Li options (as anyone would do!) to go underground as he discovers a contract has been circulated for him, via a prevailing triad fraternity.

Conveniently at this juncture, Li is approached by a mysterious lady named, Hei-Ying (Yvonne Yu), whose tycoon father had been murdered by an assassin, Na Wei (Philip Kao). Ying propersitions Li to (A): hunt down Wei, (B): kill him and (C): retrieve an audio tape containing top illicit business deals which is in Wei’s possession. In return for Li’s services, Ying offers the luxury of both money and freedom if he journeys to the treacherous jungles of Cambodia to fulfill his mission. Agreeing with her terms, Li assembles a special team of former army comrades comprising of Lei Tai (Lo Lieh), a sniper trained soldier who desperately needs capital for his daughter’s kidney transplant; Hong Fan (Wang Lung Wei), a driving ace; conman/cabaret nightclub performer, Curry (Wong Yue) and womanizing explosive expert, Blanche (Lo-Lanto Chan). Together, after confronting numerous obsticles, both in Hong Kong and Cambodia, the mercs reach their objective where Na Wei is being protected by a guerrilla army that discreetly trades opium for weapons or medical supplies. Posing as smugglers they gain entrance, capture Na Wei and learn all isn’t what it appears to be. Suspicion, dissension, duplicitousness and sacrifice ensues at an untold price.

Verdict: Motifs of brotherhood, loyality and naturally, betrayal, are all quinessential elements which one favourably reconciles with, despite the fact of being proverbially generic, either erswhile or in contemporary terms. However, solid performances (especially from Ti Lung) and consummate fight choreography including very few explosive set pieces, otherwise reinforces Mercenaries from Hong Kong from plummeting into total obscurity. Although at intervals, reprehensible and horrifically violent, but never commonplace, this slice of exploitational cinema, perspectively, is an unique exploration into military bravado and criminal machiavellianism.

Matthew Le-feuvre’s Rating: 8/10

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‘Falcon Rising’ producer to remake Van Damme’s ‘Lionheart’

"Lionheart" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Lionheart" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Back in 2014, it was reported that Albert Pyun – filmmaker of cult classic films such as Cyborg (1989) and Nemesis (1992) – was approached about directing a remake of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Lionheart (1990). But now, we have word that Pyun is no longer attached; nonetheless, a remake is still moving forward. Very forward.

According to Impact’s Mike Leeder, Moonstone Entertainment and producer Etchie Stroh (Falcon Rising) have the Lionheart remake listed in pre-production and it’s scheduled to shoot before the end of the year. At this time, there is no information regarding the film’s potential cast or crew.

The original Lionheart (also known as Leon, A.W.O.L. and Wrong Bet), directed by Sheldon Lettich (Double Impact), is considered a favorite amongst Van Damme fans because of its heartfelt plot laced with hard-hitting violence. The film follows a soldier (Van Damme) who deserts his assignment in the French Foreign Legion after he hears about the brutal murder of his brother. He then travels to the United States and competes in a series of illegal hand-to-hand fighting competitions to aid his widowed sister-in-law (Lisa Pelikan), who is now struggling to care for her daughter (Last of Us’ Ashley Johnson).

In addition to Lionheart, many of Van Damme’s other titles – such as Bloodsport (1988) and Timecop (1994) – are currently being developed for a remake/reboot (read our article The Most ‘Remade’ Action Star in the World). Kickboxer Vengeance, a remake of Kickboxer (1989), is only months away from being released.

We’ll keep you updated on the Lionheart remake as we hear more. Stay tuned.

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Brutal | DVD (Inception Media)

Brutal | DVD (Inception Media)

Brutal | DVD (Inception Media)

RELEASE DATE: May 17, 2016

Inception Media presents the DVD for Donald Lawrence Flaherty and Colin Follenweider’s Brutal, an MMA flick with a clash of sci-fi and extreme gore!

“Brutal combines some of the most balls-to-the-wall fight choreography you’ve ever seen. Benoit and Hatch’s bone-crunching fights are so realistic that they are simultaneously hard to watch and hard to turn away from.” – Bill Oberst Jr., Emmy Award-winning Actor and Horror Film Icon

Brutal centers on Trevor (Morgan Benoit), abducted from his backyard at the age of fifteen by an unseen alien presence. Forced into nearly two decades of savage fights to the finish against other abductees inside an unearthly mixed martial arts arena, Trevor has evolved from an innocent boy into a brutal fighting machine.

Derek, (Jeff Hatch) an ambulance-chasing lawer, is the latest lab-rat abductee forced to fight Trevor. As the two men exchange ever-increasing beatings over the course of weeeks and months, the brutality of their existence and the true nature of their humanity is slowly revealed.

With elements of The Twilight Zone and The Prisoner, Brutal explores through science fiction, allegory and psychological drama, man’s violent nature and our propensity to commit unthinkable acts of violence against each other. Yet through this prism of brutality, our capacity to love one another, even in the worst of circumstances, is celebrated. | Watch the trailer.

Pre-order Brutal from Amazon.com today!

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The real fight of the century is here…‘The Ring vs The Grudge’

"Sadako vs. Kayako" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Sadako vs. Kayako" Japanese Theatrical Poster

In the last 50 years or so, there’s been a number of notable “versus” movies: 1962 brought us King Kong vs. Godzilla. In 1971 came Dracula vs. Frankenstein. We entered the beginning of millennium with 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason, followed by 2004’s Alien vs. Predator.**

Now comes Sadako vs. Kayako – aka, the ghosts from The Ring and The Grudge are going to duke it out in this upcoming thriller from Koji Shiraishi (Grotesque).

Sadako vs. Kayako hits Japanese theaters on June 18, 2016. Dare to watch the trailer?

Updates: Watch the film’s latest trailer.

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A Touch of Zen | Blu-ray & DVD (Criterion)

"Touch of Zen" Blu-ray Cover

"Touch of Zen" Blu-ray Cover

RELEASE DATE: July 19, 2016

Film aficionados’ (i.e. film snobs) favorite video-distribution company, The Criterion Collection, have announced a July 19th Blu-ray and DVD release for King Hu’s seminal wu xia classic, Touch of Zen (1971).

Here’s the official release information:

“Visionary” barely begins to describe this masterpiece of Chinese cinema and martial arts moviemaking. A Touch of Zen by King Hu depicts the journey of Yang (Hsu Feng), a fugitive noblewoman who seeks refuge in a remote, and allegedly haunted, village. The sanctuary she finds with a shy scholar and two aides in disguise is shattered when a nefarious swordsman uncovers her identity, pitting the four against legions of blade-wielding opponents.

At once a wuxia film, the tale of a spiritual quest, and a study in human nature, A Touch of Zen is an unparalleled work in Hu’s formidable career and an epic of the highest order, characterized by breathtaking action choreography, stunning widescreen landscapes, and innovative editing.

  • New 4K digital restoration uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Documentary from 2012 about director King Hu
  • New interviews with actors Hsu Feng and Shih Chun
  • New interview with filmmaker Ang Lee
  • New interview with film scholar Tony Rayns
  • Trailer
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: An essay by film scholar David Bordwell and notes by Hu from a 1975 Cannes Film Festival press kit

Watch the trailer for the 2016 release of A Touch of Zen.

Pre-order A Touch of Zen from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles | 4 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Order Chinese Zodiac from Amazon.com today!

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

"The Final Master" Theatrical Poster

"The Final Master" Theatrical Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Midnight After | DVD (Well Go USA)

The Midnight After | DVD (Well Go USA)

The Midnight After | DVD (Well Go USA)

RELEASE DATE: June 21, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The Brink" Chinese Teaser Poster

"The Brink" Chinese Teaser Poster

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

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

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

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

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

"The Host" Korean Theatrical Poster

"The Host" Korean Theatrical Poster

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

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

Okja also stars Tilda Swinton (The Snowpiercer), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Paul Dano (Love & Mercy), Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead), Lily Collins (Abduction), Devon Bostick (Regression), Byun Heebong (The Host), Shirley Henderson (Filth), Daniel Henshall (The Babadook), Yoon Je Moon (Fists of Legend) and Choi Wooshik (Big Match).

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

We’ll have more updates as we hear more!

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

Mermaid | Blu-ray & DVD (Sony Entertainment)

Mermaid | Blu-ray & DVD (Sony Entertainment)

RELEASE DATE: July 5, 2016

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

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

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

Pre-order The Mermaid from Amazon.com today!

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

‘Jason Bourne’ destroys Las Vegas in the new trailer

"Jason Bourne" Theatrical Poster

"Jason Bourne" Theatrical Poster

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

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

Jason Bourne hits theaters on July 29, 2016.

Updates: Watch the film’s new trailer!

Posted in News | 2 Comments

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

Force: Five | Blu-ray (Scorpion Releasing)

Force: Five | Blu-ray (Scorpion Releasing)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Out for a Kill" Japanese DVD Cover

"Out for a Kill" Japanese DVD Cover

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for more news regarding Gunfighter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WINNERS: Alan T, Ritchie C and Ronald O.

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

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

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

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

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

John Wick | Blu-ray & DVD (Lionsgate)

John Wick | Blu-ray & DVD (Lionsgate)

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

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

Order John Wick from Amazon.com today!

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

"Tik Tok" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Tik Tok" Korean Theatrical Poster

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

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

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

Tik Tok releases in theaters on July 15, 2016.

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Hardcore Henry (2015) Review

"Hardcore Henry" Theatrical Poster

"Hardcore Henry" Theatrical Poster

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

By Zach Nix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zach Nix’s Rating: 6/10

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