Takashi Miike began his prolific career as a director in ‘V-Cinema,’ Japan’s direct-to-video film productions. His first film that was meant as a theatrical release from the very start was his 1995 dark crime picture, Shinjuku Triad Society: Chinese Mafia War. And though Miike would return to V-Cinema afterwards, with notable movies such as Full Metal Yakuza and Visitor Q, Shinjuku Triad Society put theatres on notice; the madness of Miike could no longer be contained on VHS and DVD alone.
The Black Society Trilogy is one of Miike’s earliest and best works as an auteur in extreme cinema. The three films—Shinjuku Triad Society, Rainy Dog, and Ley Lines—all tell stories about outsiders in Japan’s underworld and the violent hardships they must endure. The Black Society Trilogy is a ‘trilogy’ only in the loosest sense. Like Chan-wook Park’s Vengeance Trilogy, Miike’s trio of dark crime dramas is connected by shared themes and cast members, but not by any continued plot thread.
“I know a love story both sickening and sweet,” begins Shinjuku Triad Society, a film about devotion told with buckets of blood. Detective Kiriya (Kippei Shiina) is looking to dismantle the Taiwanese Triad group known as the Dragon’s Claw. The leader of the Dragon’s Claw remains unknown to the police, but the streets are now overflowing with blood and guns. Working his way up the food chain, Det. Kiriya identifies the leader to be Wang (Tomorowo Taguchi), a gay Taiwanese gangster whose criminal enterprise appears to be international in scope.
Making matters worse is the fact that Det. Kiriya’s younger brother is an attorney for the Dragon’s Claw group. And though Kiriya would like to save his brother from getting further involved with the criminal underworld, it becomes increasingly clear that his brother does not want to be saved.
The way the cops eliminate leads and work their way up to Wang is slightly reminiscent of procedurals like The Wire, but only on the surface. This film is quintessential Miike, made at a time when he most enjoyed pushing the extremes, even if that meant giving in to some unfavorable thematic obsessions. When intimidation does not work to break the will of a male suspect, Det. Kiriya orders a fellow cop to rape the man from behind. It’s sick. Perhaps even more disgusting is that Kiriya himself rapes a female suspect later in the film in the same fashion, and that the woman enjoys it enough to come back to her rapist and ask for more. This is lurid, offensive, and typically Miike. During this stage of the director’s career, sexual violence was a norm. Yes, one can argue that it always serves a point in the story, and at least it’s never made to appear sexy (the entirety of Shinjuku Triad Society has a dirty, in-need-of-a-shower aesthetic), but this does not make me feel better about these sections in the film, or similar scenes in other works from Miike.
Others have found issue with the amount of homosexual acts included in the film. However, unlike the two situations noted above, these moments are consensual and highly suggestive in the ways in which they’re filmed. It would be fair to say that Shinjuku Triad Society belongs to be mentioned in the LGBT sub-genre of crime dramas, and that may indeed turn off some potential viewers, but I hardly think it’s the most provocative thing about the movie.
Still, I do tend to think that Miike hopes to offend you. What’s more, I think he aims to disgust you. The most unpleasant sound effects are turned up extra loud, so that even if you wish to close your eyes you still cannot hope to escape the nastiness as it unfolds. One moment, totally pointless beyond setting tone for the film and its central city, has a cop step on a pile of crap in the middle of the street. Squish! The cop stops, takes a closer at the crap, and wonders out loud, “Is that… human?”
What ultimately makes the movie hum is the solid character work from the film’s leads. Kippei Shiina (Outrage) is a character actor with a wide range. He’s very good as Det. Kiriya, a flawed character that blurs the line between antihero and co-villain in the picture. Raised by a Japanese father and a Taiwanese mother who can’t speak Japanese, Kiriya does not fit in with others either in his homeland Taiwan or in his adult life in Japan. He’s corrupt, he’s abusive… he makes Dirty Harry look like a by-the-book detective. But the one thing he loves is his family, and he does everything to protect it, even if that means going to war with the Triads to save his brother. I found it impossible to like Kiriya, but I appreciate Shiina’s work in the role.
Wang, a villain involved in organ harvesting, gun running, and prostitution, is almost the more likable character of the two leads. Tomorowo Taguchi (Tetsuo: The Iron Man) has a pair of the darkest, most interesting eyes you’ll ever see. They almost look like they’re permanently dilated. In a good guy role, it gives Taguchi the look of a wide-eyed innocent. As a villain, Taguchi looks positively mad without having to speak a word. Taguchi’s villain Wang almost seems like an early prototype for later Miike villains like Tadanobu Asano’s Kakihara in Ichi the Killer. Taguchi is the best part of the movie.
There’s good work from other members of the supporting cast, too. Miike favorite Takeshi Caesar (Fudoh) has a fun part as a yakuza who’s trying to learn Mandarin to better converse with his new boss, Wang. Cult filmmaker SABU (Unlucky Monkey) plays Kiriya’s equally corrupt partner. And popular character actor Ren Osugi (Shin Godzilla) has a minor part as a rival yakuza boss.
The Black Society Trilogy arrives on Blu-ray in the US and UK from Arrow Video. Shinjuku Triad Society looks dark on Blu-ray, but that’s largely because that’s how the film was made; very dark and very rough around the edges. Though Miike’s early films feature the same frenetic energy we’ve come to expect from the director, but it took him some time to improve behind the camera in terms of setting a scene. The sound included on the new Blu is really good, though. Shinjuku Triad Society shares disc 1 with Rainy Dog (the best film in the trilogy, reviewed earlier by Martin Sandison). Also included on the disc are trailers for the two films and new audio commentaries by Miike expert Tom Mes. Though the release will never be a considered reference quality Blu-ray, I’ve seen the old ArtsMagic DVD and can attest that it’s an upgrade.
With Shinjuku Triad Society you can see Takashi Miike at an early stage of development. He gives in to his worst impulses, he shoots scenes with a devil-may-care sense of style, and yet, at the end he manages to hold the film together with spit and blood, thanks in no small part to his solid cast. And though the film has a crude quality to it, you can sense the burgeoning talent behind the camera. There’s no other director quite like Takashi Miike. Rough and unpleasant, dark and weird, Shinjuku Triad Society is unmistakably Miike.
On February 28, 2017, Kimstim Entertainment is releasing the Japanese thriller Creepy to DVD. The film (read our review) is directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who made his name with the classics Cure and Bright Future.
A year after a botched hostage negotiation with a serial killer turned deadly, ex-detective Koichi (Hidetoshi Nishijima), and his wife move into a new house with a deeply strange new neighbor (Teruyuki Kagawa). His old cop colleagues come calling for his help on a mysterious case, which may be related to the strange goings-on next door, in this insidiously-constructed narrative that braids plot twists on top of plot twists and shock on top of shock.
Master Jino Kang is the real deal in that he knows how to perform the moves that appear on screen frontwards and backwards due to his dedication to his craft and history with martial arts. However, Kang separates himself from the rest of the action star pack in that he is also a director and writer, a true triple threat. There are a few action stars whom have dabbled in direction before, most notably Sylvester Stallone and occasionally Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme, but none whom have primarily produced all of their films from the ground up such as Kang.
The best way that I can describe Kang to those who are unfamiliar with him, is to imagine if writer/director Robert Rodriguez became an action star himself and chose to incorporate his personal believes and skills a-la Seagal into the stories that he tells. While he only has a trilogy of martial arts action under his belt that spans a decade and a half, Kang is a real treat for martial arts fans.
His debut feature, Blade Warrior, was released around the turn of the century. Upon first watch, I was struck by how much the film reminded me of Rodriguez’s debut, El Mariachi. Both films are about as raw as they come, ultra-low budget features that utilize friends, settings, and equipment already available to the filmmakers. Whereas El Mariachi is a neo-western with John Woo touches, Blade Warrior is more so a martial arts cop actioner at a street level.
“Blade Warrior” DVD Cover
In all honesty, Blade Warrior somewhat falls in line with other low budget cult favorites like Miami Connection and Samurai Cop with its low production value and ever present martial arts. And while I won’t say that Blade Warrior is the greatest martial arts film ever made, what differentiates it from other “so bad, they’re good” martial arts films is Kang’s filmmaking earnestness and goal to convey a philosophical message that is important to him. There are some rather dynamic shots throughout and an ever present message about self-discipline that showcases an artistic fervor underneath the raw low production value. In my interview with Kang, he called Blade Warrior his ‘student film,’ and therefore, it should be viewed as such. It’s an introduction to an action star who wouldn’t appear on camera again until a whole decade later.
In his second feature, Fist 2 Fist (originally titled Hand 2 Hand), Kang shows an improvement as a filmmaker and as an action star. After all, Fist 2 Fist is quite the production upgrade from the raw 16mm of Blade Warrior. Here, Kang plays essentially the same kind of character from Blade Warrior, a man whom turns his back on violence to focus on teaching martial arts to those whom need self-betterment. With its numerous martial arts training sequences and slightly similar plot, Fist 2 Fist can be seen as an extension of Blade Warrior to the point where it’s a more fully realized version of a similar story. While Fist 2 Fist may have less action than Blade Warrior, or at least from my opinion, the story, themes, and characters are clearer, and in doing so, makes the overall experience much stronger. I couldn’t particularly take the characters from Blade Warrior that seriously, mostly due to the 16mm rawness, but with Fist 2 Fist, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I enjoyed the rag tag group of Kang and his martial arts students.
“Weapon of Choice” Theatrical Poster
Kang’s most recent feature, Weapon of Choice (alternately titled Fist 2 Fist 2: Weapon of Choice), is much different from the likes of his previous two films. Whereas his first features are purely martial arts films in every way imaginable, his third film goes for a much broader approach, in that it can be enjoyed by any one, not just martial arts fans. Unlike his first two films, Kang does not play a martial arts teacher or own a school. Instead, Weapon of Choice finds Kang diving into a seedy under world of kidnapping gangsters whom push him to the limit. Therefore, with its kidnapping plot and broader spectrum of action that now includes shootouts along with the fist fights, Weapon of Choice is more along the lines of Taken in that it can be enjoyed by anyone, not just action fans. If I were to compare Kang’s career choice to another’s, think when Sho Kosugi went from Pray for Death to Rage of Honor. They’re both B-action pictures, but one is more focused and centered around martial arts while the other shoots for a broader audience. Overall, Kang’s current martial arts trilogy showcases an artist who is eager to please and dedicated to his craft.
I recently had the pleasure and opportunity to speak with Kang in an interview where we covered a broad selection of topics, ranging from his own filmography, to his martial arts roots, and even what films he admires and looks forward too. In all honesty, it felt more like a conversation than an interview, as Kang was incredibly sweet and very easy to speak with. It was especially fun to geek out with him over other martial arts performers and films:
ZACH NIX: Your films seem very connected in that they incorporate reoccurring themes of self-discipline and martial arts. Is it important to you to incorporate these themes into your films when you set out to make them?
JINO KANG: Yes, because of my martial arts background and all of the other disciplines that I study, it’s definitely an inherent part of me. It’s like one of those things where, it’s in my blood. I like to portray that aspect in my films. I hope I did that.
ZN: Within the first few minutes of watching your debut film, Blade Warrior, I was immediately reminded of Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi, an action film with a similar low budget ‘do-it-yourself’ style. Has anyone ever pointed out the similarities between yours and Rodriguez’s film before, and was it possibly a stylistic influence on your own film?
JK: You’re the first!
JK: Yeah, yeah. Because they were both shot in 16mm. It has a very grainy look to it. I was actually a fan of El Mariachi as well, I just love the action and the story line of that film. But like Mr. Rodriguez, I shot the opening scene while attending college in the film department. And we borrowed the equipment from there, and we learned how to produce and load the film magazines, and learn the chops. And I think all of that was very similar to El Mariachi and the way it was produced. I call it my student film.
Jino Kang and Katherine Celio in Weapon of Choice.
ZN: Speaking of that opening scene, I have to ask, was that a real apple that you crushed in your hand, or was it a prop designed to be crushed?
JK: No, that is one of my traits that I can do. But I did practice. It’s one of those things that was taught by my father, who was a grandmaster. It’s about having mental and physical strength. I did recently post a video on Facebook, which you can search, but I did it with two hands because it takes a lot of training to do it with one hand. But the scene in the movie was done with one take and one hand.
ZN: After haven watched all of your films, it’s clear that Blade Warrior comes from a different time period than Fist 2 Fist and Weapon of Choice. Why was there such a big gap in between Blade Warrior and your other films?
JK: Many different aspects that came along. When Blade Warrior came out in 2000, late 1999, it was picked up and then there was another year to get it distributed. It was picked up by Saidra Films, and at the time they agreed to do another feature with me. I submitted my script and they loved it, and we were about to do it, and they went bankrupt. And I was training so hard for it and ready to go. And I still have the script and it’s in my back pocket now, I’m too old to do that film now, it’s called Trained to Kill. But one day I’d like to direct that. But that took another year or two years. And you can’t rely on that, you have to make a living. And at the time I was running a martial arts school, which really exploded and took off. And we did really well.
So during mid 2005-06, the school is doing well, and some of the new students came, and you wouldn’t believe all of the resources at my school. Kurt Angle a producer, Christine Lam, whose a line producer, we talked about doing another film. Once that happened, I wrote another script, that’s when Fist 2 Fist was born. It was originally titled Hand 2 Hand, which I preferred, but the distributor changed it. The original title fits the premise of the film, but they changed it because there’s a cage fight in it. It was a little small budget film, under $100,000. We shot about every weekend, and that took another year, and then a year to edit. And in 2009, it was picked up, and was released in 2010, and that went everywhere. It went to Red Box and Blockbuster when it was still around.
ZN: Rest in peace, Blockbuster.
JK: Yeah, I miss it! (laughs) But yeah you name it, it went to all media markets. And then it took another year to write another script, and then another year to get funding. Because I funded myself through private investors, which takes a long time. We shot Weapon of Choice in 2013, and it was picked up immediately, and then distributed in 2014, and released everywhere in 2015.
ZN: Okay, so movie making is a lot of hard work it seems.
JK: Yeah! (laughs)
Jino shot first.
ZN: I personally believe that Fist 2 Fist features a more dramatically compelling story and a stronger attention to character than Blade Warrior, if you don’t mind me saying. What did you learn as a filmmaker from your first film to your second that helped to shape you as a stronger story teller?
JK: When Blade Warrior came out, even though it was picked up right away, I got bashed from everyone. People were saying, crappy story, crappy lighting, crappy everything. But I personally thought, hey it’s my story. I want to tell it the way I want too, including philosophies and such. My thought is, if you look at a lot of martial arts films they have no story or plot, and I really want to concentrate on the story and compelling characters who drive the film, and now that I’m looking back, I can see that if there’s no internal struggle than there’s no film. It has to have that arc of the character who has to overcome something and go against odds which makes a compelling story.
ZN: Whereas Fist 2 Fist feels like a definite extension of Blade Warrior, Weapon of Choice feels different from both in that it has a broader appeal due to its gun centric action and kidnapping plot. Was this a specific artistic choice that you made going into the film when making it?
JK: Yeah, I wanted Weapon of Choice to have a universal appeal instead of just martial arts fanatics. I wanted to broaden the appeal to everyone, while still having a cool character with an internal struggle, coming from a hitman to caring about his niece, to becoming a normal person, but because of his dark past, it’s a payback for his sins.
ZN: You are the star, director, and writer of all of your films. Could you ever see yourself playing a supporting, or even a lead role, in a film directed by someone other than yourself?
JK: Yeah! I haven’t put myself out there enough, but the goal for 2017 is to get myself out there more, and I just got an agent. And I’ll put myself out there and we’ll see what roles I can get. I’ll take bad guys, anything, as long as it’s in my range. I would love to do a real dark bad guy. That would be fun.
ZN: Jino, you are clearly the real deal, in that you aren’t just an actor, but a martial arts practitioner first. There was once a time when physically able bodied performers, like yourself, were turned into main stream stars based upon your physical abilities. Unfortunately, times have changed in that actors are now trained to learn the kind of fighting styles and moves that people like yourself know backwards and forwards, instead of the other way around. Do you have an opinion on this shift in mainstream action stardom and how action leads are handled now?
JK: I might (laughs). I think they do a great job, but people like myself have keen eyes, and we can tell when the action and martial arts portrayed is not the real deal. They’ll usually cover it up with shaky camera and insane close ups, to where I’ll say what the heck is happening? I can see he’s punching a guy several times, but I can’t see what’s happening. That’s my feeling, they’re covering up the action and the actors, because they don’t have the ability. They can get away with some of it. But for someone like me, I can see that the ability is not there.
Fist to Fist, literally.
ZN: They also use a lot of obvious stunt doubles where you can’t see their faces.
JK: Yeah, I agree with that.
ZN: This seems to be a common topic amongst a lot of martial arts performers that I’ve spoken with regarding this tactic in mainstream action films.
JK: I also respect the actors, and if you think from Hollywood’s stand point, the actors need to be able to act. I see Hollywood’s point of view, so for people like me, where martial arts is my foremost ability, they should go out and study acting. I do the same thing, when I’m going to do a new part, I’ll take acting classes for a year to sharpen up. So it goes both ways.
ZN: Are there any action films from the past that are either your favorite or influenced you in one way or another?
JK: Definitely all of the Kurosawa films: Yojimbo and Sanjuro. And of course Bruce Lee films. And most recently I would say Ip Man 1 and 2, I haven’t seen 3 yet. And The Raid1 and 2. High action in those. And if you look at those films, the cameras way back, you can see full figure and see the action because they’re real marital artists. I’m a huge fan of those.
“Yojimbo” Japanese Theatrical Poster
ZN: Most definitely. Those are all great films. Are there any current martial art performers or action stars that you enjoy or have great respect towards?
JK: Yes, I think Scott Adkins is the most phenomenal martial artist out there who is active. He’s on the top of the list. And Cung Le is up and coming. I can’t remember the new actor in Kickboxer: Vengeance.
ZN: Oh yeah, I’m going to butcher his first name, Alain Moussi.
JK: Yeah, he’s Canadian, I think. He’s terrific. He’s a little tight, but if he’d loosen up he’d be great. And also Michael Jai White. Blood and Bone I love that one.
ZN: I just recently watched that one for the first time. I waited a little while to see that one, but as soon as I watched it I was blown away, it was fantastic.
JK: Yeah, it’s a low budget film but with terrific marital arts.
ZN: Yeah, that’s cool you mentioned Cung Le and Scott because they’re in the upcoming Savage Dog together.
“If you look at anyone whose great, there was a lot of hard work involved. Just get out there and work hard.”
JK: Yeah, Savage Dog, directed by Jesse Johnson. Yeah, that’s coming up. I can’t wait to see that.
ZN: Wow, you know your stuff Jino. We could talk each other’s ears off about action films all day probably.
JK: Yeah, yeah!
ZN: Okay, my final question, do you have any parting words of wisdom to fans of martial arts or those trying to make it in the movie business?
JK: Most important thing is to study your craft and really hone it. Get out there and do it. Don’t let fear stop you from what you want to do. Before you know it, you’re old. You’ve got to get out there and do your work and work hard. You’ll get there. Some people win LOTTO’s, but if you look at anyone whose great, there was a lot of hard work involved. Just get out there and work hard.
ZN: Well thank you very much Jino. It was a great conversation and I had a great time speaking with you today.
JK: Thank you Zach, great questions by the way too!
Special thanks to David J. Moore for setting up this interview.
From the film’s partial press release (via David J. Moore):
A veteran of stellar action and martial arts films, Scott Adkins remarks on the action in Savage Dog: “The fights in this film are more realistic than most of my other films. We’re not doing so much the long takes or the flashy techniques; we’re trying to be more brutal and gritty because that goes with the story that we’re trying to tell and the character I play.” As the film is set in Indochina in the 1950’s, Adkins observes: “A white guy doing martial arts in the ’50s doesn’t necessarily make sense, but my character Martin is living in Indochina, so we’re saying he’s had some experience training with some Thai fighters.”
On his co-star Marko Zaror, he states, “Marko and I worked on Undisputed III together. He’s an incredible martial artist, and one of the best in the business in screen fighting. We’re quite similar in many ways.”
Mixed Martial Arts star crossover action star Cung Le, who plays antagonist Boon remarks on his role in the film: “My character Boon is just trying to make a living, but because of his military background, he sometimes works for people that he doesn’t necessarily like.” He also discusses why he took on this project: “I jumped on this because it was a chance to work with Scott Adkins and ultimately do a big fight with him. The centerpiece fight we have is savage!”
Savage Dog will be released in theaters and on all VOD platforms summer 2017 from XLrator Media. Until then, check out the film’s new Teaser Trailer below:
“xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” Korean Theatrical Poster
Director: D. J. Caruso Writer: F. Scott Frazier Cast: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev, Toni Collette Samuel L. Jackson, Nicky Jam, Rory McCann Running Time: 107 min.
The original xXx, released in 2002, was most definitely a product of its time. Directed by Rob Cohen, the blockbuster was a sports and adrenaline charged take on the espionage genre at a time when even James Bond himself was giving into the schlock that xXx so proudly touted. It was also an action vehicle designed around its up and coming star, Vin Diesel, who was churning out hit after hit with the likes of Pitch Black and The Fast and the Furious. When it came time for a sequel though, Diesel chose to opt out, the same as he did with his now coveted Fast and Furious series, and decided to cash his checks on continuing his Riddick series.
Therefore, xXx chose to go the route of choosing a new lead with each new installment. The first sequel, xXx: State of the Union, released in 2005, put rapper Ice Cube in the lead, with none other than Die Another Day director Lee Tamahori at the helm. It’s no surprise that the director of the schlockiest modern Bond film would go on to continue the xXx series, an already silly series, to increasingly silly results. Although the original xXx was no masterpiece, at least it took its time to introduce its characters and have an ounce of tension to its spy filled proceedings. It was also a tad longer and more blockbuster centric, which made it feel all the more eventful. State of the Union has those blockbuster flourishes, but flies by so quickly and so painfully rests upon a plot that few would care for, that it seemed more so a cash grab meant to bring in some audiences desperate for some more xXx action. It’s a guilty pleasure alright, but far from a true sequel to the original despite Samuel L. Jackson’s appearance.
Fast forward many years later, and Diesel has now chosen to return to all of his original franchises one a time. When Diesel returned to the Fast and Furious series in 2009, he helped steer it back on track to not only become hugely successful again, but become one of the biggest franchises on the entire planet. When he returned to Riddick in 2013, he didn’t necessarily break the bank with that one, but gave die-hard fans the R rated return that they wanted and helped pay off some of those debts from the failed Chronicles of Riddick. And now in 2017, we come to xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, the third entry in its series and the second with Diesel, a whopping fifteen years after his previous appearance in the series. Diesel surely didn’t need to come back to Xander Cage, as he is making bank off of Fast and Furious like nobody’s business, but it’s a nice treat for fans of Diesel’s action films to see him resurrect such a dated series for the modern age.
The Return of Xander Cage is a gloriously ridiculous and over the top return if there ever was one, a sequel in a thought to be deceased series that finds some creative juices and opportunities for impossible action. This third entry isn’t as douchey and sports driven as the first film, although there are light touches of those qualities throughout, as this series, much like Fast and Furious, knows and respects its roots, despite how silly they are. In a sense, it feels as if Diesel has Fast and Furious-ified his own xXx series, as he places the focus onto the team more so than himself. While xXx was through and through a Diesel vehicle, The Return of Xander Cage sports a large ensemble that even includes martial arts superstars Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa, which maximizes international appeal and turns the film into a must see event for martial arts fans.
The plot is as silly as they come, with Xander Cage (Vin Diesel), the original xXx, forming a team of his own to go after another team of xXx’s, led by Agent Xiang (Donnie Yen), whom are responsible for the death of a friend near and dear Cage. This new team of xXx’s has gone rogue and currently possess the Pandora’s Box, a device that allows them to crash satellites to the Earth. By the way, I have to point out how lazy a name like Pandora’s Box is for a plot device, as it’s just about as lazy as the God’s Eye, the name of the all-powerful device from Furious 7. That complaint aside, the name of the game here is not story or character, but attitude and action, and The Return of Xander Cage has it in spades.
There’s some silly but fun call backs to the previous two films in the series, such as lines of dialog and visual motifs. I don’t think that I’m crazy, but I’m pretty sure that Xander Cage’s puffy coat has actually gotten bigger, as he now resembles the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz. It’s also nice to see State of the Union actually get some recognition for how forgotten of a film that it is. There’s also a great cameo from a previous character in the series, and while I don’t want to spoil it for those who don’t know, thinking about who it could be really only leaves you with one person who could possibly show up (hint: it’s not Asia Argento, although how crazy would that have been?).
Diesel is fine as always, essentially playing himself. Both he and the script tone down the video game references and obsession with sports, which is nice, as they were possibly the lamest aspects of the original. However, Diesel isn’t the biggest draw of the film, as he comes along with a rather huge supporting cast of notable name and up and coming actors. The biggest and best of them all is Donnie Yen, who outright steals the film and gets to perform numerous action sequences that shows off his amazing skills. It’s clear that the producers fully understood what they had with Yen, as opposed to Disney who truly sidelined him within Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s worth mentioning that Yen’s part was to be originally played by Jet Li, who eventually backed out of the role and was replaced by Yen. It’s a shame that Li wasn’t able to be in the film, as it would have provided a much needed boost for the star stateside. However, that boost will now go to Yen, whose currently on a roll stateside that can’t be stopped.
Yen takes part in several fights where he goes up against multiple opponents in showcases of martial arts that are quite impressive for an American production. He also squares off against Diesel in a fight and foot chase upon a high way (Kung Fu Killer any one?) that serves as the duo’s big one on one face off. The two also partake in a rather hilarious set piece where they chase one another on motorcycles that convert to surf a top waves. After the one-two punch of Rogue One and The Return of Xander Cage, it’s nice to see Yen front and center in American cinema again after his minor appearances in the early 2000s with Blade II and Highlander: Endgame. Here’s to hoping that he’ll get better parts in American productions where he doesn’t just show off his moves and can inhabit stronger characters along the lines of his work in Ip Man, Wu Xia, and SPL.
Speaking of parts where one simply shows off their moves, Tony Jaa also appears, only to really show off some of his trademark impressive moves, such as a scene where he slides underneath an open car door. Unfortunately, he’s not in the film that much, and also does not fight Donnie Yen, which is a real disappointment. However, Jaa’s screen time here is much greater than his time in Furious 7, where he wasn’t even given a real introduction. He also gets to showcase a sense of liveliness in a few scenes where he dances around and acts silly, which is quite refreshing. So take it as is. Overall, both Yen and Jaa’s inclusion adds some serious martial arts credibility to the film.
Unfortunately, just about every other supporting character is hugely forgetful, but that’s also because none of them are a part of the action game in the way that Diesel, Yen, and Jaa are. Ruby Rose is probably the most notable, since she’ll also be seen in John Wick: Chapter Two, so we clearly cannot ignore her. Deepika Padukone is fine too, as she, much like Rose, isn’t given much to work with. Toni Collette is quite fine as a feisty and no nonsense replacement for Sam Jackson’s Gibbons character. However, no one is as bad as Nina Dobrev, who is especially grating and annoying as a “humorous” tech character. In all honesty, I’ll find myself slightly more embarrassed to own this film in the future simply because of her performance. All in all, The Return of Xander Cage has a supporting cast that is probably way too large for its own good, although it does add a lot of diversity and international appeal to the mix.
Whereas the first two films in the series featured a lot of gadgetry, this entry seems to tame down the espionage elements for a more simplistic and streamlined action picture. Although the first xXx was designed to introduced a new breed of secret agent to the cinematic world, The Return of Xander Cage is hardly a secret agent picture at all, but more so a streamlined action picture primed for international appeal. There’s still villains who want to rule the world, undercover secret agents, and government tech rooms, but it hardly feels very spy-esque if you ask me. Much the same way that Fast Five tamed down the street racing for a more heist centric direction for its franchise, The Return of Xander Cage tames down the espionage with an attitude angle for a more team driven international action blockbuster.
I can’t in my right mind give this movie a rating higher than an eight, because it’s all plot, no story, and features some of the worst dialog I have ever heard within a film. But excess is the name of the game here, and The Return of Xander Cage makes for one of the most entertaining theatrical experiences that I’ve had in a long time. I even saw it in IMAX 3D, which further added to the absurdity of it all, although I never recommend watching a Donnie Yen fight in 3D, as it’ll hurt your eyes and head. In conclusion, The Return of Xander Cage excels as a reboot to its series as it brings back elements of the original, slightly updates them for a new audience, and throws in a helping hand of martial arts for a blockbuster of a good time. It may be too early to call, but I’ll be surprised if the film doesn’t end up on my top ten action films of the year list by the year’s end.
According to AFS, Wolf Warrior II will be set in a war-torn African country. Other confirmed cast members include Olympic gymnast Zou Kai, Celina Jade (Skin Trade) and Frank Grillo (The Grey) who will be playing a mercenary commander who goes head-to-head with Wu Jing.
For Wolf Warrior II, Jing aims to topple the original. He’s even enlisted the help of Hollywood heavies, The Russo Brothers (Captain America: The Winter Soldier): “We’re helping Wu Jing out on Wolf Warrior 2. We introduced him to some of our relationships in the business, like a stunt team that’s going to come in and work hard with him to elevate the action on the film because the second time out he really wants to up his game and outperform the first movie, which did incredibly well,” Joe Russo told LA Times.
Severin Films has ventured back into the vaults to bring chop socky fans another invincible collection of treachery, brutality, swordplay, wirework, darting daggers, flying fists and the most insane fighting styles ever unleashed on celluloid. Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury contains over two more hours of the greatest martial arts madness in motion picture history, newly transferred in 2K!
Experience 35 original trailers from The Golden Age of Martial Arts Cinema, starring such legends as Angela Mao, Bolo Yeung, Don Wong, Chang Yi, Bruce Li, Leanne Liu, Lo Lieh and even Chuck Norris. It’s an indomitable dynasty of Hong Kong classics that includes Yellow-Faced Tiger, Bruce and the Iron Finger, Revenge of the Shaolin Kid, The Avenging Boxer, Snuff-Bottle Connection, Hell’s Wind Staff, Thundering Mantis, The Legendary Strike, Kung Fu Killers, Crazy Horse & Intelligent Monkey, Shaolin Invincible Sticks and more!
Audio Commentary with experts Ric Meyers (Films of Fury)
Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival)
Martial Arts Instructor Greg Schiller and Rick Stelow of Drunken Master Video
Director: Stanley Tong Producer: Jackie Chan, Barbie Tung Cast: Jackie Chan, Disha Patani, Sonu Sood, Aarif Rahman, Lay Zhang, Amyra Dastur, Eric Tsang, Miya Muqi, Zhang Guoli, Jain Kumar, Eskindir Tesfay, Agust Bjarnason Running Time: 140 min.
By Paul Bramhall
The end of 2016 and beginning of 2017 was a busy period for Jackie Chan, with the release of Railroad Tigers and Kung Fu Yoga just a few months apart from each other. In China there were even posters released promoting both productions, clearly looking to bank on Chan’s popularity to seal a double bill for the cinema going faithful. While Railroad Tigers paired Chan with auteur director Ding Sheng, Kung Fu Yoga has the ageing star teamed with director and former stuntman Stanley Tong. Chan and Tong have a relationship that dates back to 1993’s Police Story III: Super Cop, which was followed by Chan’s U.S. breakthrough Rumble in the Bronx, and a fourth instalment in the Police Story series with First Strike.
After almost a decade apart, the pair reunited in 2005 for The Myth, which cast Chan as archaeologist Jack. The selling point for The Myth was both the India setting, and the parallel timeline which saw Chan taking on dual roles, as his character in the present recalls a past life as a general in ancient China. While The Myth had some good ideas, by the end it had completely come off the rails, containing a sci-fi infused finale that was somehow both stupid and dull at the same time. Now, 12 years later, Chan is back in India as archaeologist Jack. Or is he? In fact while Chan himself has stated that Kung Fu Yoga is basically The Myth 2, it’s never officially been announced as a sequel. In addition, amusingly all of the promotional posters for it plug Tong as the director of the movies he made with Chan during the 90’s, with no mention of The Myth in sight.
Whatever the reasons for the distributors deciding not to draw attention to the fact that Tong and Chan made The Myth together, and let’s be honest there are many, all of the silliness that gradually crept into their last collaboration is placed front and centre from the get go in Kung Fu Yoga. Opening with a 5 minute 100% CGI action scene set in ancient China, we watch a young CGI Jackie Chan as a general (again) battling against an army of elephant riding attackers. The scene is incomprehensibly ludicrous, and ends with Chan dangling off a cliff from an elephants tusks, until a rescuer comes via riding a horse across the herd of elephant’s backs (think Tony Jaa in Ong Bak 2, but with a horse). There’s a line I never thought I’d write. Thankfully, when the sequence comes to an end, it turns out to just be a clip that Chan is showing as part of a lecture to university students.
What I’m less thankful for, is that once proceedings move into the real world, instead of getting better, they only get worse. And worse, and worse. Chan has made plenty of rubbish in the past 15 years (The Tuxedo stands out), however Kung Fu Yoga tops them all. Frequently referred to as “the greatest archaeologist in China” (to which he always quips, “Just one of them”), after finishing his lecture Chan is approached by Bollywood actress Disha Patani, who happens to have a map of the treasure he was just lecturing about. Honestly, what are the chances of that!? Chan, as usual in these types of production, has a young team with him. While Railroad Tigers had former Korean boy-band EXO member Edison Huang, Kung Fu Yoga has current Korean boy-band EXO member Lay Zhang (young female demographic: locked in), yoga coach Miya Muqi (yes they’ve cast a yoga coach as a supporting character), and one time Bruce Lee actor Aarif Rahman.
Patani’s arrival essentially heralds the beginning of one of the most horribly juvenile, incompetent, and fist clenchingly annoying scripts you’ll ever experience. The group begin to converse in numerous awkward English language exchanges, all the while constantly smiling (even when discussing something serious). It would be great if Chan can help to find the Indian treasure that’s said to be buried on the China and India border. Why? Because it’ll help to improve the relationship between China and India, and even better, it’s in line with the Chinese governments ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative as well! This exchange actually takes place. But wait, there’s more. Do you know Indian yoga? Yoga is fantastic, and world champion divers can hold their breath for up to 8 minutes because of it. In all seriousness, Kung Fu Yoga at times feels like more of a promotion piece for China and India relations, along with extolling the virtues of yoga.
When we’re not being hit over the head with inane and lifeless line delivery about the similarities between China and India, somewhere along the way the faintest semblance of a plot appears. It turns out the treasure originally belonged to an Indian family, and now their descendant, played by Sonu Sood (apparently the role was turned down by fellow Bollywood actor Tiger Shroff, which was a smart move on his part), is willing to get it back at any cost. This leads to various scenes of Chan action-lite, and at times it’s easy to feel that he’s putting more passion behind his lines (“This treasure belongs to the Chinese government!”) than he is his punches.
In fact the best piece of Chan action in the whole 1 hour 45 minute run time belongs to an initial friendly exchange between him and Rahman, performed to scare off CGI wolves of all things. The exchange has Chan teaching kung fu in the most practical way possible, and the scene serves as a faint glimmer of light in an otherwise black hole of monotony. Wolves aren’t the only CGI animal creation though, we also get a CGI lion (which pukes up CGI vomit), CGI hyenas, and even CGI snakes for good measure. The cast spend a disproportionate amount of time running away from these pixels, far more than they do actually engaging in any meaningful action choreography. Indeed apart from the opening exchange between Patani and Muqi, by the end you’ll be wondering what on earth yoga had to do with anything that took place onscreen.
Tong has clearly completely lost it as a director, it could well be argued he was never a good one, but he knew how to put an action scene together, and his 90’s movies moved along at a brisk pace. Kung Fu Yoga is only the second movie he’s made in 17 years, and the rust shows. Scenes that are supposed to be funny aren’t (a 62 year old Chan eyeing Patani up and down with a sleazy smile on his face), while scenes that are meant to be serious are unintentionally hilarious. In one particular scene Chan and Patani swim under an ice glacier, however before they can get to the other side Chan runs out of breath. Patani ends up dragging him onto the ice barely conscious, and begins channelling her inner-Kate Winslet, shaking him and yelling “Jack, Jack! Jack!!!”
Events eventually culminate in an ancient underground complex beneath a temple in India, were all the characters converge to battle it out over a golden shrine and Buddha. However, the fight inexplicably stops mid-way through, with Sood realising the error of his ways, which subsequently results in Chan breaking into a 4 minute Bollywood song and dance number to round off proceedings. It’s an Indian co-production, so not entirely unexpected, but seriously, like this!? I confess to not being a fan of musical numbers, but when a fight scene gets stopped to break into one, I found myself rather infuriated. Needless to say, if anyone thought the villainous gangs sudden about turn in the finale of Rumble in the Bronx was ridiculous, the ending of Kung Fu Yoga makes it seem perfectly plausible. We don’t even get outtakes over the end credits, instead they just keep on dancing.
While many, including myself, were never expecting the action spectacle seen in the likes of Rumble in the Bronx and First Strike, if Kung Fu Yoga could at least capture the spirit and tone of those movies, the audience could have walked away happy. As it is, Kung Fu Yoga is much more comparable to other recent big budget Mainland China movies, such as Switch and Bounty Hunters, than either of the pairs previous collaborations. At one point Chan is trying to convince Sood that he shouldn’t go after the treasure, and he declares “Everything is empty.” That sums up Kung Fu Yoga in a nutshell, an empty exercise from a film industry that frequently proves that it values spectacle over any kind of coherent storytelling or character development. Containing very little kung fu or yoga, a more appropriate title would be Cinematic Coma.
J.J. Abrams’Star Wars: The Force Awakens (aka Star Wars: Episode VII), the continuation of the original Star Wars trilogy created by George Lucas, was a massive success for Disney, hitting the $2 billion global box office mark. Likewise can be said about Gareth Edwards’ spin-off, Star Wars: Rogue One, which just surpassed the $1 billion mark.
But now it’s time to put our geek-focus on Star Wars: Episode VIII, which is currently in post-production with writer/director Rian Johnson (Looper) at the helm. Today it was announced that Disney has given Star Wars: Episode VIII a new title: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, accompanied by a new Teaser Poster.
Returning cast members include Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Andy Serkis and of course, the late Carrie Fisher (all of her scenes were filmed before her passing). New cast members include Laura Dern (Jurassic Park) and Benicio Del Toro (Sicario), who’ll be playing one of the film’s key villains.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi will arrive in theaters on December 15, 2017. We expect the film’s first Teaser Trailer soon, so stay tuned.
Also in the works from Disney is a Han Solo spin-off, which will be directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie). A Boba Fett spin-off is also said to be in early stages of development. And let’s not forget about Star Wars: Episode IX, from director Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World), which we won’t see until 2019.
Later this year, Mill Creek Entertainment will be releasing the Blu-ray for Silent Rage, a 1982 action thriller directed by Michael Miller (Street Girls) and starring Chuck Norris (Yellow Face Tiger, Code of Silence), Ron Silver (Timecop), Brian Libby (The Shawshank Redemption) and Stephen Furst (Animal House).
In Silent Rage, a sheriff (Norris) tries to stop the killing spree of a mute maniacal murderer (Libby) who, as the result of years of medical experimentation, has the ability to self-heal.
Variety describes the movie as “a combination horror-kung fu-oater-woman in peril-mad scientist film,” and many fans tag it as “Chuck Norris vs. Michael Myers”. In our opinion, this raw, sometimes terrifying film, is one of Norris’ best (if you can survive the romance montage within the film)…
The sequel thermometer continues to heat up with the newly announced follow up to the 2013 disaster film, Out of the Inferno (via AFS). The first movie – directed by the Pang Brothers (Bangkok Dangerous) – involved the heroic efforts of two brothers who help evacuate a number of people stuck in an insane skyscraper fire.
On February 7, 2017, Sony is releasing this 8-Movie Steven Seagal Collection on DVD. Sorry, no theatrical classics like Above the Law, Out for Justice, Under Siege or Exit Wounds to be found, but depending on your taste, this is either a great deal or a great rip-off:
Here’s what the Direct-to-DVD collection includes (spread out on 4 discs): 2003’s The Foreigner, 2003’s Out of a Kill, 2004’s Out of Reach, 2005’s Black Dawn, 2005’s Today You Die, 2006’s Shadow Man, 2007’s Flight of Fury and 2007’s Urban Justice.
In the mood for another storm? In addition to the recently announced L-Storm (third follow up to Z-Storm and S-Storm), the other storm franchise is continuing its story. According to AFS, a sequel to 2013’s The White Storm(aka The Cartel War) has been officially announced.
The first film (read our review), directed by Benny Chan (Call of Heroes), starred Louis Koo (Flash Point) as a narcotics detective hot on the trail of a new drug kingpin (played by Cheung), who may or may not be a former cop that everyone believes is dead. Lau Ching Wan (A Hero Never Dies) and Nick Cheung (The Beast Stalker) co-starred.
Details on The White Storm 2 are thin, but we’ll fill you in as more updates emerge.
“xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” Korean Theatrical Poster
A third xXx sequel, titled xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (read our review), hits theaters today. This new xXx film, directed by DJ Caruso (The Salton Sea), sees Vin Diesel reprising the role of Xander, the extreme sports-lovin’ secret agent who likes his Mountain Dew shaken, not stirred.
Joining Diesel is Ice Cube, who is co-starring as Darius Stone, the other agent, who took on the title character in 2005’s xXx 2: State of the Union.
Also along for the ride are martial arts superstars Donnie Yen (Ip Man 3) and Tony Jaa (SPL II: A Time for Consequences). Other cast members include Kris Wu (Journey to the West 2, Mermaid), Hermione Corfield (Mr. Holmes, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), Indian mega star Deepika Padukone (Piku), Michael Bisping (Beatdown) and former NFL star Tony Gonzalez.
Updates: In case you missed it, here’s a featurette that focuses on Donnie Yen:
Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Jackie Chan’s Skiptrace, an action comedy directed by Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2).
For years, by-the-book Hong Kong detective Benny Chan (Chan) has tried to avenge his partner’s murder at the hands of a drug lord. When Benny learns that freewheeling American gambler Connor Watts (Johnny Knoxville) has the evidence he needs, he teams with Connor to get justice. Now all Benny and Connor have to do is survive the fight of their lives—and each other!
Cityonfire.com and Well Go USA are giving away 3 Blu-ray copies of Beyond Redemption 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.
Beyond Redemption will officially be released on February 7, 2017. We will announce the 3 winners on that date
CONTEST DISCLAIMER: You must enter by February 6, 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.
Tak Sakaguchi rose to fame with the 2001 cult favorite Versus, a movie that managed to combine the low-budget charms of Evil Dead-like horror with blistering martial arts and gunplay. The actor later scored another cult hit with Battlefield Baseball, but has most recently hitched his wagon to the Sushi Typhoon production company.
In April of 2013, new broke out that Tak was retiring from acting, which left an unknown fate for his recently announced role in Death Trance II, not to mention a long-rumored sequel to Versus.
In late 2014, Cityonfire.com was contacted by director Yuji Shimomura (Death Trance) with breaking news that Tak was out of retirement to make Re:Born, which the actor calls his “very last” and “most superb” action movie:
“After I retired, I found myself having a passion for action that was still smoldering inside of me. After a conversation with action director Yuji Shimomura, I wanted to thrive one more time and create the very last and most superb action movie with my utmost power and passion for the sake of a closure to my entire career. I am convinced that I have to give my very best one last time. That is how I feel about this project. I didn’t realize how many people chose to support a person like myself until after I retired. I hope this movie will be satisfying enough for them to feel absolutely alright for me to go. This is for them.”
Media: “Audition” video (Part 1) for Re:Born featuring Tak in some intense sparring action. | Footage (Part 2) of Sakaguchi getting in shape. | 3rd chapter of promo footage (Part 3). | New “training” footage (Part 3.5) featuring supervision from Tak’s one and only master, Yoshitaka Inagawa, who has established the “Zero Range Combat” technique. “Tak mastered it in months when one does in years,” says Inagawa, who will be handling the film’s action choreography. | 1st Teaser Trailer. | 2nd Teaser Trailer.
Updates: Watch an all-new Trailer below (via FCS):
Director: Peng Chang-Kuei Writer: Peng Chang-Kuei Cast: Park Jong-kuk, Maria Yi Yi, Anthony Lau Wing, Lydia Shum Tin Ha, Ko Keung, Yeung Wai, Wu Jiaxiang, Bruce Lai, Tony Leung Siu-Hung, Sammo Hung Kam Bo Running Time: 98 min.
By Paul Bramhall
After Bruce Lee’s untimely death in 1973, the production company that Lee was signed to, Golden Harvest, scrambled around for a number of years afterwards, attempting to find a bankable replacement that could fill the shoes of their biggest star. While local talent like Jimmy Wang Yu and Angela Mao were pushed to the forefront, producer Raymond Chow also attempted to fill the void with a number of Taekwondo and Hapkido practitioners from Korea. While Lee himself had fought the likes of Whang In-shik (Way of the Dragon) and Ji Han-jae (Game of Death), in the years after his death fellow Koreans such as Byong Yu (The Association) and Jhoon Rhee (When Taekwondo Strikes) were also attempted to be billed as the next big stars.
Unlike the local stars though, many of which came from either sporting or Peking Opera backgrounds, what made the Korean stars stand apart was that all were teachers of their arts, and for many the film industry simply wasn’t their calling. Both Byong Yu and Jhoon Rhee made a single movie and returned to teaching, which they do to this day, as do most of the other Korean stars of the era. However despite the shortness of their time in-front of the camera, the impression they left was a memorable one, delivering a ferocity that made it easy to understand why they were considered as potentially the next big thing. With all learning their arts in the harsh years following the Korean War, the intensity that they brought to the screen was a different kind than their Chinese counterparts, with lethally fast kicks accompanied by thunderous growls usually coming as standard.
Another such star was Park Jong-kuk, who debuted as the title character of Tiger of Northland, from 1976. The movie was a rare example of a genuine co-production between Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest studio and Korea, and again was an example of Jong-kuk being lined up as a bankable leading man in the post-Bruce Lee Golden Harvest era. Filmed entirely on location in Korea, director and writer Peng Chang-Kuei looked to be evoking the same feel of a Bruce Lee movie, casting Maria Yi Yi, who had roles in both The Big Boss and Fist of Fury, as Jong-kuk’s love interest, and hiring frequent Lee cinematographer Tadashi Nishimoto. For whatever reason, this would be the only time Chang-Kuei would direct and write a movie. Having previously worked as an assistant director on the 1971 Shaw Brothers productions The Swift Knight and Six Assassins, after Tiger of Northland he disappeared into obscurity.
It would also be the only time for Jong-kuk to be billed as a lead. In the years following he’d go on to take supporting roles in the likes of The Legendary Strike, Iron Fisted Eagle’s Claw, and Quick Step Mantis, however by the end of the 70’s he was featuring in 100% Korean productions, usually as a supporting playing in Elton Chong kung fu comedies. If you’re only going to headline one movie though, then Tiger of Northland is a more than worthy title to be proud of. Jong-kuk plays a Chinese freedom fighter that flees to Korea during the 1930’s, similar to Jason Pai Piao’s role in The Crush from 1972, in order to recruit more fighters to the resistance from both China and Korea. While he’s hitching a ride on a train, he saves a family being harassed by a Japanese soldier, killing him in the process, which results in the Japanese forces in Korea attempting to hunt him down.
That’s essentially the story, it’s about as much of a standard tale of Chinese/Korea vs Japan as you can get, however it sets the stage for Jong-kuk to step into the shoes of a kind of 1930’s era Chen Zhen. In fairness, it’s understandable to see why he was never going to be leading man material, with his performance being as wooden as they come. Frankly it would have been more convincing if Maria Yi Yi had fallen for one of the planks of wood that he kicks in half. However Chang-Kuei is mainly concerned with crafting a tale that has the cruel Japanese forces receiving their just desserts, and to that end, Jong-kuk delivered admirably. In many ways 1976 can be considered as that transitional period between when the basher style choreography, that dominated the first half of the decade, began to develop into a more intricate style of fluid and fast shapes based choreography.
Sammo Hung was one of the action choreographers at the forefront of this change, and here is credited with the action alongside Tony Leung Siu-Hung and Richard Cheung Kuen (both of whom also have roles in the movie). Just one year later Sammo would make his directorial debut with The Iron Fisted Monk, heralding in the era of hard hitting fights, backed up with the innovative camera work that he’d become known for. In Tiger of Northland, the action strikes an appealing balance between the basher brutality and what was to come. Japanese soldiers aren’t just punched off the screen here, they’re kicked to the ground, mounted, and then punched repeatedly in the face until they flop into a lifeless slump.
The production is also notable for being Siu-Hung’s first gig at action directing. The younger brother of Bruce Leung, Siu-Hung has had a varied career, having sat in the director’s chair for such Shaw Brothers productions as Thunderclap, through to HK/USA crossovers like Superfights and Bloodmoon, all of which he also choreographed. As an action choreographer he’s one of the most underrated, having orchestrated the action for such personal favourites as Fistful of Talons and The Magic Crystal, so as an early look at his talents, Tiger of Northland should be of interest to any of his fans.
As was also standard for the era, Sammo makes an appearance as a villain, here as a yellow robed Japanese bodyguard, paired with Shaw Brothers regular Anthony Lau as a facially scarred Japanese Karate teacher. The 2 vs. 1 is a standout, which takes place as part of the finale, and was most likely solely choreographed by Sammo, as the speed of the fight is significantly turned up a few notches from the previous confrontations. There’s also another worthwhile 2 vs. 1, which has Jong-kuk facing off against a pair of action choreographers who are famous in their own right – Hsu Hsia, who directed the likes of Lion Vs. Lion and Kid from Kwangtung, and Chik Ngai-Hung, who choreographed the likes of The Loot and The Challenger. Here they play a pair of staff wielding Japanese guards, and their confrontation nicely segues into the one with Sammo and Lau.
Tiger of the Northland is undeniably one of those movies for which you check in for the action, and to that end, the fights have a raw intensity to them that keeps you glued to the screen, with the camera showing a keen eye for capturing the power behind Jong-kuk’s kicks and strikes. For fans of Korean martial arts cinema of the era, there are also plenty of familiar faces on display, such as Bang Su-il and Chang Il-shik, both of whom can be seen in the likes of Canton Viper and The Deadly Kick. Il-shik in particular is on duty here as the main villain of the piece, and the final fight is a suitably vicious affair, which makes the effort to crank things up by including throws and kicks that send the recipient flying through the air, landing an exaggerated distance away. The difference in choreography style from the rest of the movie makes the fight stand out for the right reasons, while never becoming over the top. Its cinema, and Chang-Kuei seems to understand that.
While neither Jong-kuk or Chang-Kuei would go on to become familiar faces of the kung fu genre, and at the time Tiger of the Northland failed to give the world a new Bruce Lee, with the benefit of looking back over 40 years on, it stands up as a worthy entry in the kung-fu genre. With a combination of hard hitting action, some beautifully framed cinematography, and a suitably fitting score, if you’re after a dose of mid-70’s gritty Golden Harvest style action, then you’ve come to the right place.
Jackie Chan is reuniting with noted Hong Kong director Stanley Tong (Rumble in the Bronx) for an upcoming action comedy titled Kung Fu Yoga (read our review), which will be getting a theatrical release on January 27, 2017, courtesy of Well Go USA.
Jack (Chan), a world-renowned archaeology professor, and his team set out on a grand quest to locate the lost ancient Indian treasure of Magadha when they are ambushed by a team of mercenaries and left for dead. Using his vast knowledge of history and kung fu, Jack leads his team on a race around the world to beat the mercenaries to the treasure and prevent an ancient culture from being lost forever.
Co-starring with Chan are Lay Zhang (of the K-pop group EXO), Miya Muqi (Tomb Robber), Aarif Rahman (Bruce Lee, My Brother) and Indian film stars Sonu Sood (Arundhati) and Ileana D’Cruz (Happy Ending).
The Criterion Collection announced today that it plans to bring Juzo Itami’s Tampopo to DVD and Blu-ray on April 25, 2017. Starring Nobuko Miyamoto (A Taxing Woman), Tsutomu Yamazaki (Departures), Koji Yakusho (The World of Kanako), Rikiya Yasuoka (Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter), and Ken Watanabe (Godzilla), Tampopo is a surreal comedy favorite both in its native Japan and among international audiences.
From Criterion: The tale of an eccentric band of culinary ronin who guide the widow of a noodle shop owner on her quest for the perfect recipe, this rapturous “ramen western” by Japanese director Juzo Itami is an entertaining, genre-bending adventure underpinned by a deft satire of the way social conventions distort the most natural of human urges, our appetites. Interspersing the efforts of Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto) and friends to make her café a success with the erotic exploits of a gastronome gangster and glimpses of food culture both high and low, the sweet, sexy, and surreal Tampopo is a lavishly inclusive paean to the sensual joys of nourishment, and one of the most mouthwatering examples of food on film ever made.
New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
The Making of “Tampopo,” a ninety-minute documentary from 1986, narrated by director Juzo Itami
New interview with actor Nobuko Miyamoto
New interviews with ramen scholar Hiroshi Osaki; food stylist Seiko Ogawa; and American chefs Sam White, Rayneil De Guzman, Jerry Jaksich, and Anthony Bourdain
Rubber Band Pistol, Itami’s 1962 debut short film
New video essay by Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos on the film’s themes of self-improvement and mastery of a craft
New English subtitle translation
PLUS: An essay by food and culture writer Willy Blackmore
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