The Crooked Man | DVD (Lionsgate)

The Crooked Man | DVD (Lionsgate)

The Crooked Man | DVD (Lionsgate)

RELEASE DATE: February 14, 2017

Martial arts star Michael Jai White (Falcon Rising, Skin Trade) is back with The Crooked Man, which is being released on DVD courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

Six years ago, five girls at a sleepover accidentally conjured the Crooked Man, and, as a result, one of them was murdered and another, Olivia, was sent away for the crime. Years later, Olivia, now 18, is finally released. When people start dying, Olivia suspects that the Crooked Man has also returned…

This Jesse Holland (Chilling Visions: 5 Senses of Fear) film, which originally aired on TV back in October, hits retail outlets on February 14, 2017.

Warning: If you’re expecting White to do the usual ass-kicking he’s known for, keep in mind that The Crooked Man is definitely a horror film. So unless you’re a die hard Jai White fanatic – or love horror movies – please proceed with caution.

The Crooked Man also stars Dia Frampton (Criminal Minds), John Colton (Full Love), Angelique Rivera (American Crime), Dmitrious Bistrevsky (Nathan’s Kingdom), Brianne Tju (Famous in Love) and Dina Meyer (Fortune Cookie).

Pre-order The Crooked Man from Amazon.com today!

Posted in DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, News, Other Notable Titles | 1 Comment

Enter our ‘Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume One’ DVD contest! – WINNERS ANNOUNCED!

The Legend of Bruce Lee: Vol. 1

The Legend of Bruce Lee: Vol. 1

Cityonfire.com and Well Go USA are giving away 3 DVD copies of Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume One 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.

Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume One was officially released on November 1, 2016. We will announce the 3 winners on December 15, 2016.

CONTEST DISCLAIMER: You must enter by December 14, 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: Ben, Sharon and Jimmy P.

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Marko Zaror joins the cast of Rodriguez’ ‘Alita: Battle Angel’

"Redeemer" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Redeemer” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Longtime James Cameron fans who have watched his post-Titanic career with curiosity know that the director has long mulled over a live-action adaptation of Kishiro Yukito’s manga Alita: Battle Angel, but it was another case where Cameron was waiting for technology to catch up with his vision – that is – until it was announced that Robert Rodriguez (Machete) would be helming the project with Cameron producing.

According to THRAlita: Battle Angel is about a female cyborg that is discovered in a trash yard by a scientist. With no memory of her previous life except her deadly martial arts training, the woman becomes a bounty hunter, tracking down criminals.

Alita: Battle Angel stars Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Mahershala Ali and Ed Skrein. The film, which is currently in production, is due in theaters on July 20, 2018.

Updates: SA reports that Marko Zaror (Redeemer) has joined the cast.

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Watch a new fight clip from Benny Chan’s ‘Call of Heroes’

Call of Heroes | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Call of Heroes | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Benny Chan’s (ShaolinWho Am I?) highly-anticipated martial arts epic, Call of Heroes (formerly known as The Deadly Reclaim), is coming to Blu-ray & DVD on December 6, 2016, courtesy of Well Go USA.

This period action film (read our review) – featuring fight choreography by the legendary Sammo Hung (14 Blades, Ip Man) – tells the story of a pack of villagers standing up to a young warlord in the year 1914.

Koo stars as Cao, the son of a powerful General who has grown into a vicious and depraved warlord. Although Cao is accused of murder, his father will destroy the town if his son is convicted and sentenced to death. But injustice cannot go unanswered, and the villagers prepare for the repercussions of punishing a guilty man.

Call of Heroes sports an all-star cast that includes Sean Lau (The Bullet Vanishes), Louis Koo (Flash Point), Eddie Peng (Rise of the Legend), Wu Jing (Wolf Warrior), Liu Kai Chi (Viral Factor), Philip Keung (Unbeatable), Yuan Quan (Once Upon A Time In Shanghai), Sammy Hung (Choy Lee Fut) and Berg Ng (The Grandmaster).

Watch an exclusive Call of Heroes “Bridge Fight” clip, plus a behind-the-scenes featurette below:

Please visit our sponsor, Frank and Beanz Doggie Apparel.

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Deal on Fire! Van Damme 5-Movie Pack | Blu-ray | Only $14.40 – Expires soon!

Van Damme 5-Movie Action Pack | Blu-ray (Universal)

Van Damme 5-Movie Action Pack | Blu-ray (Universal)

Today’s Deal on Fire is for the Van Damme 5-Movie Action Pack Blu-ray set, which has the following titles:

John Woo’s Hard Target (1993), Jean-Claude Van Damme’s The Quest (1996), Steven E. de Souza’s Street Fighter (1994), Peter Hyams’ Sudden Death (1995) and for the first time on Blu-ray, Sheldon Lettich’s Lionheart (1990).

The Van Damme 5-Movie Action Pack is a 5-Disc set, which also includes the digital copy of each movie for your handheld devices. For about $3 a Blu-ray title, that’s a Damme good deal!

Order The Van Damme 5-Movie Action Pack from Amazon.com today!

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League of Gods (2016) Review

"League of Gods" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“League of Gods” Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Legend of the Gods
Director: Koan Hui, Vernie Yeung
Cast: Jet Li, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Fan Bing-Bing, AngelaBaby, Huang Xiao-Ming, Louis Koo, Wen Zhang, Kristy Yeung Kung-Yu, Jacky Heung Cho, Andy On Chi-Kit, Zu Feng
Running Time: 109 min. 

By Paul Bramhall

In the last 10 years China has gradually become one of the world’s box office juggernauts, and with a potential cinema going audience of over a billion, naturally many Hollywood productions have turned their attention to ensuring they appeal to the Chinese market. With the movie business proving to be a potentially lucrative industry to invest in, over recent years the Chinese blockbuster has also emerged to capture the imaginations, and wallets, of the local audience. Arguably, this new generations approach on how to put together a successful production has been less than stellar. The motif seems to be the louder and more spectacular the better, usually casting aside such minor details as character and storyline.

While the industry has heavily invested in its special effects studios, providing a seemingly endless supply of money in an attempt to get on par with their Hollywood equivalents, there seems to be very little investment into areas like directing, script-writing etc. As a result, frequently the finished product will be a garish nightmare of CGI chaos and little else, as the basic fact remains that the knowledge around the filmmaking process for this new generation remains very low. Examples such as Painted Skin: The Resurrection, The White-Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom, and Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal, apart from having ridiculously long titles, all share the same thing in common – a reliance on CGI spectacle as their selling point.

The latest entry into what’s quickly becoming a sub-genre of CGI filled fantasy spectacles, comes in the form of League of Gods, an adaptation of a 16th century Chinese novel called Investiture of the Gods, that combined real history with Chinese myth. The plot revolves around the battle between two dynasties, the Shang and the Zhou, with the hook being that both sides are able to call upon Gods to battle it out for them. Of course with such a plot, the very nature of a big screen adaptation would be one that needs some top drawer special effects, so most likely with this in mind, special effects maestro Koan Hui On was made director. Hui On was the man behind the special effects on such movies as Dragon Tiger Gate and The Legend of Zu, so is a natural fit for a tale of God’s battling it out on the protagonist’s behalf.

In many ways putting Hui On in the director’s chair marks a watershed moment for this type of Chinese blockbuster filmmaking. Almost like the producers said, “Ok, let’s stop pretending we want a legitimate director to helm these movies, and give free reign to the special effects guy.” On a sidenote, it’s worth mentioning that the producers for League of Gods are Wilson Yip, the director responsible for Donnie Yen being the star that he is today, and Charles Heung, who’s notorious for his connection to the Triad group Sun Yee On, which his father founded. Heung also had a relatively successful acting career, and is likely most recognizable as Chow Yun Fat’s bodyguard from the God of Gamblers series. Whether its connected to his Triad links or not is speculation, but Heung’s son Jacky Heung takes the lead role in League of Gods, playing the sole survivor of the Wing Tribe, a trauma that’s left him unable to fly like he should.

The storyline, no doubt thanks to its source material, crams a lot into its 110 minute runtime, but the in a nutshell version goes like this – a King played by Tony Leung Ka-Fai has been turned into an oppressor of the people, thanks to the evil influence of a fox spirit (aren’t they all?) he’s been enchanted by, played by Fan Bingbing. A group of rebels have been trying to overthrow Ka-Fai, however Bingbing is always one step ahead, thanks to the various unexplained Venus flytrap like tentacles that she can unleash on cue.

Bingbing is also in cahoots with an evil general played by Louis Koo, who comes complete with a giant puma that he rides. Heung is one of the rebels, who are assisted by a wise old sorcerer that travels around on a giant stalk played be Jet Li (the sorcerer, not the giant stalk). Li convinces Heung to go on a mission to find the Sword of Light, the only weapon capable of stopping the Black Dragon, the unseen super villain behind everything. Heung ends up being joined by a talking one eyed blade of grass, a shrimp, Na Cha (the same character played by Alexander Fu Sheng in Chang Cheh’s 1974 production Na Cha the Great) and a righteous warrior with an armoured dog called Sky Howler.

If that all seems slightly convoluted, you wouldn’t be wrong, however Hui On seems to know what he’s there for, so wastes precisely zero time on dwelling on any of the above, instead sending League of Gods sprinting out of the gates from the first minute. From the opening CGI infused attack on the floating city by Heung and his cohorts, the high energy sequence sets the tone for what can be expected from the rest of the movie. If any word can be best used to describe the production, it’s ‘kinetic’. There’s not a single second that goes by when Hui On doesn’t’ have something happening onscreen – be it 30 foot long desert caterpillars, shield surfing rebels, big eyed babies, or mutated monster soldiers. It’s almost impossible to create an exhaustive list of everything that gets thrown onto the screen, in a constant bombardment of colourful and creative CGI action.

Perhaps because League of Gods doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a slice of colourful fantasy escapism, eschewing any sense of realism and instead embracing the over the top nature of the story, I admit to finding myself thoroughly enjoying it. It’s the kind of enjoyment that can be classified as a guilty pleasure, as just like the problems I mentioned with Chinese filmmaking earlier, it’s by no means a good movie in the traditional sense of the word. Structure isn’t paid much attention to here, but the pace moves forward with such a frantic level of energy, ready to distract you with whatever’s going to be thrown onscreen next, that there’s no time to dwell on the aspects that don’t make sense. Ka Fai has become an oppressive ruler, but once the credits roll, if you stop and think for more than a few seconds, you’ll realize that not once did we see any of the people who are presumably being oppressed.

The cast no doubt help things. Heung actually makes for an effective lead, bringing a suitable level of empathy to his role as the sole surviving member of his wiped out clan. He also maintains his presence during the action scenes, no matter how swamped with CGI they get, which is an achievement in itself. Wen Zhang, who played the main character in Stephen Chow’s Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, steps into the shoes that Alexander Fu Sheng once filled to play Na Cha (when he’s not in the form of a mischievous CGI baby that is. Don’t ask.). The role was originally going to be given a twist and made female, and filming had already begun with Cecilia Cheung, however due to her erratic behaviour on-set she was fired in the early stages.

Rounding out the trio of heroes (not counting the blade of grass and shrimp), is Huang Xiao Ming, who played the young version of Chow Yun Fat in The Last Tycoon, and Donnie Yen’s main student in Ip Man 2. Jet Li also deserves a mention, as he gets cursed by a spell which makes him younger and younger the more energy he uses, a kind of Chinese fantasy Benjamin Button if you will. So if you ever wanted to see a young Jet Li created by CGI, you’ve come to the right place. Those expecting Li to perform any martial arts though are definitely in the wrong place. You have to feel for Li, he stated in 2006 that Fearless was to be his last true martial arts movie, however even 10 years later his fans still seem to have a hard time believing him. To confirm, his role in League of Gods is more akin to his character from The Sorcerer and the White Snake, than it is from any of his kung-fu classics.

Even as a guilty pleasure though, League of Gods is not without its faults. When the baby version of Na Cha visits an undersea kingdom, much like a similar scene in the unbearably awful The Monkey King, the costumes are decidedly B-grade, and the whole sequence is puerile (urination and fart jokes anyone?). I can only conclude that Chinese fantasy movies should steer clear of underwater sequences, if you don’t believe me then just research Empires of the Deep. However despite this, League of Gods still ultimately entertains, and I imagine is the kind of fantasy flick that Chang Cheh would be making had he been alive today, a kind of modern day version of The Fantastic Magic Baby or Na Cha the Great if you will. With a cliff-hanger ending that sets things up for a part 2, while I can’t say I’ll be immediately re-watching League of Gods, I’ll happily check in for the sequel.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7.5/10

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Deal on Fire! The Thieves | Blu-ray | Only $9.84 – Expires soon!

"The Thieves" Blu-ray Cover

“The Thieves” Blu-ray Cover

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for The Thieves (read our review). From Choi Dong-hun, the director of Assassination, comes this high stakes heist film, which follows professional thieves and their well-planned casino robbery.

The Thieves stars Gianna Jun (Assassination), Kim Hae-suk (The Priests), Kim Hye-su (Coin Locker Girl), Kim Soo Hyun, Kim Yun-seok (The Priests), Angelica Lee (The Eye), Lee Jung-Jae (Big Match), Oh Dal-su (The Priests), Kwok Cheung Tsang (Men Suddenly in Black) and Simon Yam (The Midnight After).

Order The Thieves from Amazon.com today!

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Enter our ‘Call of Heroes’ Blu-ray Contest! – WINNERS ANNOUNCED!

Call of Heroes | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Call of Heroes | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Cityonfire.com and Well Go USA are giving away 3 Blu-ray copies of Call of Heroes (read our review) 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.

Call of Heroes was officially released on December 6, 2016. We will announce the 3 winners on December 15, 2016.

CONTEST DISCLAIMER: You must enter by December 14, 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: Ed Bailey, MardukKyrios and Will.

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Train to Busan | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Train to Busan | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Train to Busan | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

RELEASE DATE: January 17, 2017

Well Go USA presents the Blu-ray & DVD for Train to Busan (read our review), a thriller directed by Yeon Sang-ho (The King of Pigs). The film stars Gong Yoo (The Suspect), Ma Dong-Seok (Veteran), Jung Yu-Mi  (A Bittersweet Life), Choi Woo-Sik (Big Match), Kim Soo-Ahn (The Net) and Ahn So-Hee (Hellcats).

Train to Busan follows a group of terrified passengers fighting their way through a countrywide viral outbreak, trapped on a suspicion-filled, blood-drenched bullet train ride to the Safe Zone…which may or may not still be there.

Pre-order Train to Busan from Amazon.com today!

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Steven Seagal and Mike Tyson are sold by a ‘Chinese Salesman’

"Exit Wounds" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Exit Wounds” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Looks like Ip Man 3 isn’t the only Chinese production Mike Tyson will be a part of. The former heavyweight champ has an appearance in China Salesman (aka Chinese Salesman), an action film written and directed by Tan Bing (aka Geng Weiguo).

Other cast members include Janicke Askevold (My Way), Eriq Ebouaney, Dong-xue Li (1911) and last, but not least, Steven Seagal (Exit Wounds), who has so many projects under his belt that we officially lost count.

Hong Kong legend Ching Siu Ting (Dragon Inn), who worked with Seagal on 2003’s Belly of the Beast, is rumored to be involved.

Currently, no other details are known about China Salesman, other than some raw behind-the-scenes footage that made its way online a year ago. Apparently, China Salesman has completed production, but a release date is still pending.

Updates: Here is some new behind-the-scenes footage that shows Tyson in action:

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There’s a ‘Certain Fury’ about Kino Lorber’s next release…

Certain Fury | Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

Certain Fury | Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

Kino Lorber is on a roll with yet another exploitation gem from the 1980s. On February 21, 2017, the independent film distributor will be releasing the Blu-ray for 1985’s Certain Fury, a cult action film directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal (yes, he’s related).

In Certain Fury, two girls – the innocent, Tracy (Irene Cara), and the not-so-innocent, Scarlet (Tatum O’Neal) – are caught in a brutal escapade of mistaken identity, accused of a crime they didn’t commit and will do anything to stay alive.

Certain Fury also stars Peter Fonda (Easy Rider), Nicholas Campbell (Naked Lunch), George Murdock (Breaker! Breaker!) and Moses Gunn (Shaft).

Blu-ray Features:

  • Newly Remastered
  • Commentary by Film Historians Nathaniel Thompson and Tim Greer
  • Reversible Blu-ray Art
  • Trailers
  • Optional English SDH subtitles

Stay tuned for pre-order information. Until then, don’t miss the trailer (trust me!):

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Call of Heroes (2016) Review

"Call of Heroes" Theatrical Poster

“Call of Heroes” Theatrical Poster

Director: Benny Chan
Writer: Benny Chan
Cast: Lau Ching-Wan, Louis Koo, Eddie Peng, Yuan Quan, Maggie Jiang, Liu Kai-Chi, Jacky Wu Jing, Phillip Keung, Sammy Hung, Berg Ng, Xing Yu
Running Time: 120 min. 

By Kyle Warner

When a bloodthirsty warlord’s son comes to town and commits a crime, is the son to be held to the same rule of law as the rest of us? Or must we respect his family name, for fear of his father’s retribution if justice is done? This is the question at the heart of Call of Heroes, Benny Chan’s new action movie about struggling for survival while maintaining a moral code.

It’s 1915. Cao Shaolun (Louis Koo), the warlord’s son, is a cackling maniac who’s just looking to have a good time. He arrives in the small city of Puncheng early in the morning before most people are awake and sits down to have breakfast at a diner. He kills three people for no reason at all before he even takes a bite of his food and is about to leave the scene when the town’s sheriff shows up to cuff him. Sheriff Yang (Lau Ching-Wan) holds a quick trial and announces that Cao will be executed the next day, but Cao’s soldiers arrive in the middle of sentencing and threaten the town: release our commandant or else. Thing is, Cao doesn’t want to go. He’d rather stay in a cell and watch the people of Pucheng tear themselves apart with worry about the army outside the city walls. At first, Sheriff Yang had to keep his people back, fearing that they’d kill Cao themselves. Now, he must justify a strong stance to keep Cao in his cell, while the people of Pucheng beg him to release the murderer and save the town.

Though I hesitate to call the film a western, it’s clear that’s where much of the story’s inspiration comes from, with links to Leone’s heroes, Peckinpah’s violence, and High Noon’s one-man-against-the-world cynicism. Call of Heroes’ obvious love for westerns is not external in the same way as Sukiyaki Western Django, The Good the Bad the Weird, or even Kundo, all of which attempted to transplant the look and feel of Spaghetti Westerns into Asia (with varying degrees of success). For Call of Heroes, the windup may look and sound like a western, but the delivery is much more of the Shaw Bros. variety.

 Call of Heroes’ action is directed by the legendary Sammo Hung (The Bodyguard), who infuses the martial arts mayhem with ingenuity and a sense of fun. Though clearly aided by CGI and wires, I think even the most old-school martial arts fans will enjoy the action here, as Sammo Hung comes up with some incredible moves and a few strange beats that I’ve never seen before.

Benny Chan’s direction is pretty good as well, juggling action, dramatic tension, and humor with mostly satisfying results. I say ‘mostly’ because I must question his decision to include so many laughs and bloody massacres in the same movie, but at least the two thematic opposites do not mix in the same scenes. Chan’s filmography is full of highs (A Moment of Romance) and lows (City Under Siege). I like a good handful of Benny Chan’s films even if it’s rather difficult to count myself as a fan of the director. Whether you’re a Chan supporter or a detractor, I think you’ll agree that Call of Heroes belongs in the conversation of the director’s best.

Chan’s screenplay is full of interesting thematic content. The four male leads each must combat their moral ideals in order to survive. Lau’s Sheriff Yang is stubborn in his belief for law and order, and is willing to die defending it. Eddie Peng’s wanderer Ma Feng would like to come across as a thuggish rogue but his own moral compass leads him to do the right thing when it counts most. Ma Feng’s old colleague Zhang (Jacky Wu) now works as an enforcer for Cao, burying his morality deep underneath what he believes to be a realist’s rationale but is more like ruthless ambition. And Louis Koo’s Cao is completely lacking in any moral sensibilities. A nihilist, he’s happy just watching the world burn as long as he’s got a good seat for the fire. One sequence even has Cao attempting suicide, just so he can enjoy the irony of the Pucheng villagers coming to his rescue when hours before they’d wanted to see him executed.

The performances are a bit of a mixed bag. Lau Ching-Wan (A Hero Never Dies) is solid as the Gary Cooper-style lawman standing up for what he believes is right. Though he may not be much of a martial artist, Lau’s given a few interesting weapons that make his fights interesting nonetheless. When Lau kicks ass with a whip, I was excited. When he beats the hell out of a dude with a soup ladle, I might’ve cheered out loud. Jacky Wu (Kill Zone 2) provides a strong performance as the emotionally cold henchman under Cao’s command. It’s probably the most reserved performance in the picture, which actually makes for a nice change in a movie that’s turned up to 11 much of the time. Playing a character that’s part Toshiro Mifune, part anime hero brought to life, Eddie Peng (Rise of the Legend) makes for a fine secondary hero. Action director Sammo Hung’s son Sammy Hung (Dragon Blade) gets a supporting part as one of Sheriff Yang’s trusted subordinates and has a few cool moments utilizing tonfas in fight sequences. The best dramatic performance comes from supporting actor Liu Kai-Chi (Z Storm) playing Sheriff Yang’s deputy Liao, who must beg his friend and colleague to see reason. And though primarily male led, a couple ladies do get in on the action, with Yuan Quan (From Vegas to Macau 2) and Maggie Jiang (Cities in Love) getting a few memorable moments both in action sequences and dramatic scenes.

Louis Koo’s performance is weak, though. I normally like Koo (Election 2), though I’ve come to think of him more as a movie star than as an actor lately. Given the right character, Koo is able to bring out his natural charisma and cool. At times, though, Koo will take a part that’s better suited for a character actor. Perhaps this is his way of testing his range. As the villainous Cao, I think Koo is going for something along the lines of Heath Ledger’s Joker but it falls woefully short. Too often his stagey laughter makes for a flat performance. If he had a mustache, he’d be twirling it the whole damn time. Cao might’ve been a frightening villain on the page, but the only thing scary about Koo’s performance is that these are somehow the best takes that the editor had to work with.

Ignoring Louis Koo, though, I found the film to be thoroughly entertaining overall. The stuntwork is insane and the fight choreography is creative, the character work is fairly deep and the screenplay is smarter than you’d expect. Sure, Call of Heroes sports a few weak spots, but I didn’t really care that much while watching the movie; I guess I was having too much fun. Cool Hong Kong superstars of today and yesterday clashing on beautiful sets with action choreographed under the watchful eye of Sammo Hung? It’s the sort of movie that reminds you of why you became a fan of Hong Kong action cinema in the first place.

Simply put, Call of Heroes is one of the best action movies of 2016. Highly recommended.

 Kyle Warner’s Rating: 8/10

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Hex (1980) Review

"Hex" Blu-ray Cover

“Hex” Blu-ray Cover

Director: Kuei Chih-Hung
Producer: Runme Shaw
Cast: Tien Ni, Wong Yung, Chan Si Gaai, Shum Lo, Lee Sau Kei, Hon Gwok Choi, Ma Chao, Chan Laap Ban, Lau Yat Fan, Wong Ching Ho, Stephen Chan Yung
Running Time: 90 min.

By Martin Sandison

Hex is the first release from 88 Films’ new “88 Asia” Collection. This UK-based label is known its horror/exploitation releases, and have pledged with this new line to release full HD Blu-rays with supplemental material. As a flagship for this, Hex is wonderful. The picture is clear, not upscaled, and the extras feature some good information from the ever-present, Hong Kong film historian, Bey Logan.

Unfortunately, the film itself is a little disappointing. Of course the viewer has to take into account that Hex was made in 1980 and has dated, especially in its approach to effective horror. But as far as Asian-style atmospherics and Shaw Brothers charm are concerned, there is much to be enjoyed.

Set sometime in the early 20th century, Hex begins as Chun Yu (Wong Yung, Bastard Swordsman) beats his consumption-riddled wife Chan Sau Ying (Tanny Tien Ni, The Magic Blade). Along the way, the daughter of a family friend, Leung Yi Wah (Chan Sze Kai, Buddha’s Palm), offers to help out by looking after Chan. Together, the two plot to murder Chun, which results in them being haunted by his ghost, or so it seems…

Hex starts off well, but the mix of horror, comedy and drama doesn’t do it any favours as the plot develops. Hex is overlong, with the entire comedic interlude pointless. Ma Chao, who appeared in countless films of the time (recognisable from his trademark “crossed eyes”) is heavily featured in this section. Suffice to say, it’s tiresome.

On the plus side, the film’s set design, roving camerawork and lighting are of high standards. The family’s house is especially creepy and is used brilliantly by director Kuei Chih Hung (The Gold Connection), who began as an assistant director for Shaws in the 60’s, graduating to director later on. He helmed one of the most notorious Hong Kong horror films, The Killer Snakes (1974), and went from strength to strength after this.

Hex shows signs of a good eye and attention to detail in its aesthetic. There are definitely some good ideas when it comes to horror devices. In one scene, a disembodied hand crawls on its fingers towards a victim… if Sam Raimi didn’t see this before making Evil Dead 2, I would be very surprised; such is the similarity to that masterpiece. Also, the ending’s ritual, filmed with surrealistic visuals, is something to appreciate.

The scares, which may have been effective at the time, are predictable and silly for today’s standards. This is unfortunate, given the Shaw Brothers approach to their action films (made during the same year) have certainly not lost any impact.

Those looking to get their adrenalin pumping with a scary Asian movie, look elsewhere. But if you want a strong atmosphere, laced with the period stylings of a Shaw Brothers film, then check it out.

Martin Sandison’s Rating: 6.5/10

Posted in All, Chinese, News, Reviews, Shaw Brothers | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Deal on Fire! Ong-Bak Trilogy | Blu-ray | Only $9.99 – Expires soon!

"Ong-Bak Trilogy" Blu-ray Cover

“Ong-Bak Trilogy” Blu-ray Cover

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Tony Jaa’s Ong-Bak Trilogy. This 3-disc collection includes 2003’s Ong-Bak, 2008’s Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning and 2010’s Ong-Bak 3.

The original Ong-Bak broke new ground when it was released in 2003. Its unbelievable, hard-hitting choreography set new standards for films that would follow. According to The Raid 2 filmmaker Garath Evans: “Tony Jaa is a phenomenal talent. Ong Bak was a major announcement to the industry and to audiences that the martial arts genre was back.”

Order the Ong-Bak Trilogy today!

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Chuck Norris to star in Isaac Florentine’s ‘Blood Brothers’

"Braddock: Missing in Action III" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Braddock: Missing in Action III” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Looks like Chuck Norris (Slaughter in San Francisco) will no longer be missing in action. The Code of Silence star will be appearing Isaac Florentine’s Blood Brothers, which will be his first acting gig since 2012’s The Expendables 2.

WPI reports that Blood Brothers will uncover the war between the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) and poachers. Being an independent film, Norris and other Hollywood actors will play a few roles and most of the roles will be dominated by Batswana according to the producers of the film.

We’ll keep you posted on Blood Brothers as more information comes. In the meantime, Florentine (Close Range) is currently hard-at-work on Stoic, an action thriller starring Antonio Banderas (The Expendables 3).

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Rocky Handsome (2016) Review

"Rocky Handsome" Theatrical Poster

“Rocky Handsome” Theatrical Poster

Director: Nishikant Kamat
Writer: Lee Jeong-beom, Ritesh Shah
Cast: John Abraham, Diya Chalwad, Nishikant Kamat, Sharad Kelkar, Nathalia Kaur, Yash Tonk, Nishikant Kamat, Sharad Kelkar, Shiv Kumar Subramaniam, Suhasini Mulay, Teddy Maurya, Kazu Patrick Tang, Uday Tikekar
Running Time: 119 min.

By Paul Bramhall

I’ll be straight up and confess – I’ve never seen a Bollywood movie from start to finish, not one. While I’m being frank, I’ll also confess that if someone had told me that the first Bollywood movie I’d watch in its entirety would be called Rocky Handsome, I’d most likely have laughed in their face. However, as ridiculous a title as it is, Rocky Handsome was indeed the movie that popped my Bollywood cherry, and I have a legitimate reason to back it up. The Hindi language production is in fact a remake of the 2010 Korean movie The Man from Nowhere, a solid action thriller that had Won Bin out to rescue his murdered neighbours young daughter from organ trafficking gangsters.

Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time Bollywood has remade a Korean gangster flick. A Bittersweet Life was remade as Awaarapan; I Saw the Devil was remade as Ek Villain; and OldBoy was remade as Zinda. In Zinda, Bollywood actor John Abraham took on the role that Yoo Ji-tae played in Park Chan-wook’s 2003 masterpiece, and ironically it’s Abraham that also steps into the shoes of Won Bin for this latest remake. It appears he’s trying to corner the market for being cast as the Bollywood version of Korean actors. Abraham is half Syrian and half Indian, with his most famous role being that of the anti-hero in the 2004 production Dhoom, which was billed as India’s biggest ever action movie and spawned several sequels (all minus Abraham).

I was curious to see exactly what kind of Bollywood twist Rocky Handsome would bring to The Man from Nowhere, so braced myself for a journey into the unknown. The man in the director’s chair is Nishikant Kamat, who also plays the villain of the piece (played by Kim Hee-won in the original), and has worked with Abraham before on the 2011 action movie Force. Ironically Force is also a remake, this time of the 2003 Tamil language movie Kaakha…Kaakha: The Police. Is anyone beginning to see a recurring theme here?

I was rather taken aback then, to find that Rocky Handsome is in fact a shot-for-shot-, line-for-line remake of The Man from Nowhere. Sure, there’s some slight cosmetic changes – it’s now set in Goa instead of Seoul, and the drug addict mother uses a cricket bat rather than a Taser, however beyond these minor adjustments, it’s almost identical in every way. Even the run times are virtually the same. It’s not the first time a movie has been remade shot-for-shot, most notably Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic, was also identical to its source material. However at least in this example, there’s a 38 year gap between the two, whereas here it’s just a short 6 years.

For someone that’s seen The Man from Nowhere, it makes it incredibly difficult to be engaged with Rocky Handsome. Rather than each actor bringing their own characteristics and flavour to their roles, instead everyone just looks like they’re doing their best to copy their Korean counterparts. Even inconsequential elements like small hand gestures and facial expressions are copied exactly, making the viewing experience one which borders on the bizarre. Young actress Diya Chalwad, who takes on the role originally played by Kim Sae-ron, comes across as incredibly irritating, making it equally difficult to care if Abraham eventually rescues her or not (which of course, for those who have seen the original, is already a foregone conclusion).

While it was certainly never its intention, Rocky Handsome serves as an interesting case study into just how important it is to have chemistry between two performers, and how it’s a crucial part of audiences buying into any relationships we see onscreen. In The Man from Nowhere you genuinely felt like Won Bin cared about Kim Sae-ron, and would do anything to get her back. Abraham and Chalwad share the same scenes, the same lines (yes that includes both the MP3 scenes and the smiley nail art), however there’s simply nothing between them that makes you believe that they have a close bond. Instead everything feels like its recycled and trying too hard to be poignant, reminding us that we’re not watching a Bollywood interpretation of The Man from Nowhere, we’re watching a Bollywood carbon copy of The Man from Nowhere.

Despite this, there are at least some Bollywood influences incorporated into Rocky Handsome. Apart from the opening credits, which play over a flashback of Abraham’s wife serenading him on the beach, the two nightclub scenes from the original – first the police raid, and the second with the bathroom fight – here provide excuses to unleash some Bollywood song and dance numbers. So yes, that means that the bathroom fight is inter-cut with a Bollywood dance number. Forgivable? No. Also, when the cops finally crack the classified files and they gain access to Abraham’s past, we’re bombarded with a horrendous slow motion montage of him training bare chested, and various snippets of action from past missions. The montage frequently cuts back to the cop reading his file – “Secret Agent”, cut back to more bare chested posing, “Super Patriot”, cut back to slow motion gun firing etc. You get the idea. The cheesiness of these scenes is completely at odds with the dark tone that the rest of the movie has, making them stick out like a sore thumb.

One of the most interesting casting choices is that of Kazu Patrick Tang, the French martial artist who originally look set for a bright action career, after being the co-lead alongside Jija Yanin in the 2009 Thai movie Raging Phoenix. It seems though that he was never able to capitalise on the movies success, despite playing the lead in 2013’s lacklustre Dragonwolf, he most recently had an uncredited appearance (again alongside Jija Yanin) in Hard Target 2. Here he plays the role of the South East Asian henchman that Thai actor Thanayong Wongtrakul memorably played in the original. Funnily enough, Wongtrakul’s henchman is explained as being Vietnamese in The Man from Nowhere, however in the remake Tang is explained to be Thai. So the Thai guy plays a Vietnamese, and the French guy plays a Thai. Go figure.

Tang is a legitimate martial artist though, and has also featured in another 2016 Bollywood action movie in the form of Baahgi, which at least provides the promise of an interesting penultimate knife fight that capped off The Man from Nowhere on such a high note. Indeed the finale of Rocky Handsome is actually more violent than that of The Man from Nowhere, and throws in an extra minutes worth of action. Far from providing a brief glimpse of originality though, instead we’re just reminded that since 2010, another little movie has been released called The Raid. Cue stabbings galore, a knife in the eye, a machete in the head, and a thug armed with a sledge hammer. All very violent stuff, but that’s just it – it’s only violent. The finale of The Man from Nowhere was both violent and, more crucially, visceral. It felt cathartic. Here there’s an inescapable feeling that we’re watching an Indian guy playing a Korean guy, dishing out pain like an Indonesian guy. Nothing more, and as a result, it all feels very derogatory.

So, while Rocky Handsome may be my first Bollywood movie, it doesn’t really feel like it. It’s a replica of The Man from Nowhere, so as a reviewer, how best to approach it? The Man from Nowhere is a well-made movie, and as such, copying it also results in a movie that can’t be completely bad. However, the fact is that any filmmaker can copy another, if you’re going to remake something, then at least put an ounce of originality into it, or a twist in the tale. Based on this viewpoint, Rocky Handsome is a miserable exercise in copycat filmmaking, and will likely only find an audience on local shores that haven’t been exposed to the original. If it never travels beyond those shores, then that’s fine with me.

Oh, and you’re probably wondering why it’s called Rocky Handsome? Well, Abraham’s character has the nickname Handsome. When the cops finally crack his files and reveal his past, it turns out that his codename was Rocky. Got It? Rocky. Handsome. We even get a split screen over an hour into the movie showing Abraham in the past and present, when each name comes flying from either side of the screen to come together in the middle. Now that I’ve remembered this, I’m going to minus another point from my final rating.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 2/10

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Deal on Fire! Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume One | DVD | Only $12.96 – Expires soon!

Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume One | DVD (Well Go USA)

Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume One | DVD (Well Go USA)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the 3-disc DVD set for Well Go USA’s Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume One, a 2008 martial arts series that centers around the legendary Bruce Lee.

Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume One contains the first ten episodes. The remaining 20 episodes will soon follow.

Young Bruce Lee (Danny Chan of Shaolin Soccer and Ip Man 3) has no interest in studying and is obsessed with martial arts. After losing a street fight, he resolves to master kung fu under the tutelage of Master Ye Wen. Targeted by street gangs after standing up for the weak, Bruce has no other option but to leave Hong Kong for a strange and far off land: America…

Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume One also stars Michelle Lang, Gary Daniels, Ted Duran, Natalia Dzyublo, Wang Luoyong, Hazen McIntyre, Ray Park, Tim Storms, Micheal Jai White, Traci Ann Wolfe, Mark Dacascos and Ash Gordey.

Product Features:

  • Chinese Language (English/English SDH)
  • First ten episodes on 3 DVDs

Order Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume One from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Deals on Fire!, News | 4 Comments

New Trailer for this gangster flick is a ‘Game Changer’

"The Game Changer" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“The Game Changer” Chinese Theatrical Poster

There can never be enough Asian gangster flicks, and Gao Xixi’s The Game Changer, an upcoming period actioner, is no exception. The Game Changer is about gang wars in Shanghai in the 1930’s (supposedly based on The Bund, a TVB series that has been compared to The Godfather).

The Game Changer stars Huang Zitao (The Railroad Tigers), Wang Xueqi (Monk Comes Down the Mountain), Peter Ho (The Monkey King) and South Korean actress Choo Ja-hyeon (Bloody Tie).

The Game Changer will be hitting Chinese theaters early next year. If you’re a fan of gangster flicks, you don’t want to miss the film’s first trailer (via AFS), which promises a good balance of drama and shoot ’em up action.

Updates: Watch the film’s newest trailer below:

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Sky on Fire (2016) Review

"Sky on Fire" Theatrical Poster

“Sky on Fire” Theatrical Poster

AKA: Battle of Life
Director: Ringo Lam
Writer: Ringo Lam
Cast: Daniel Wu, Amber Kuo, Joseph Chang, Zhang Jingchu, Philip Keung, Zhang Ruoyun, Eddie Cheung
Running Time: 90 min. 

By Paul Bramhall

The return of Ringo Lam to the director’s chair for 2015’s Wild City was big news for many Hong Kong cinema fans, and for good reason, with Lam the force behind so many of the territories classics. Proving that his come-back isn’t just going to be a one-off deal, a little over a year later the auteur has another production hitting cinema screens, and its title is significant. Kicking off with 1987’s seminal City on Fire, Lam’s ‘…..on Fire’ series became some of the most hard hitting movies to come out of Hong Kong. Such was their popularity, that soon other filmmakers were jumping on the bandwagon, with bets (1988’s Bet on Fire), walks (Walk on Fire, also from 1988) , islands (1990’s Island on Fire), cheetahs (1992’s Cheetah on Fire), and even angels (1995’s Angel on Fire) being set on fire.

For Lam himself though, his last official entry was 1991’s Prison on Fire 2. Now, 25 years later, he returns to the series he’s most closely associated with. The title Sky on Fire is perhaps indicative of a director who’s regained enough confidence to revive such a synonymous name, as while reviews for Wild City split many down the middle (I thoroughly enjoyed it), others felt like it showed the signs of a director trying to find his way again. With Wild City now under his belt, many were hoping that Sky on Fire would be the full-fledged Ringo Lam movie we’ve all been waiting for, bringing back the grit that’s been missing from so much of Hong Kong’s output for a long time.

Sky on Fire is completely Lam’s show, with directing, script, and story all attributed to his name. After a successful stint playing the lead role in the U.S. martial arts infused post-apocalyptic TV series, Into the Badlands, American born Daniel Wu plays the lead in his first Hong Kong action movie since Dante Lam’s 2014 thriller That Demon Within. Wu plays the head of secruity for an advanced research centre of an advanced cancer research centre, located in a towering skyscraper named Sky One. The centre has found a way to use ex-stem cells to cure cancer, and now, for a variety of different reasons, there’s a number of characters who want to get their hands on the cure.

I could go into a lot more detail regarding the plot, however as it somehow succeeds at being both convoluted and forgettable at the same time, I don’t trust I’d be able to recall all of the exact events that take place correctly. As much as it pains me to say it, Sky on Fire is a ridiculous mess of a movie, one that frequently doesn’t make sense, and also manages to be ploddingly dull for large chunks of its run time. Proceedings open with a lab fire that takes place 5 years prior, in which we learn that a doctor who’s potentially found a way to cure cancer using ex-stem cells suspiciously dies, along with all his notes. Skip forward to present day, and we’re introduced to a series of disjointed events that take place in quick succession.

Joseph Chang (the villain from Wild City) and Amber Koo (recently seen as a ghost in Keeper of Darkness) play brother and sister, with Koo suffering from late stage cancer. She also seems to be simple minded, although this may not be the case, and could just be down to a lousy script that makes her seem like the village idiot. It’s hard to tell. They learn that a doctor in Sky One could help cure her, so head over with no other plan than to walk in and ask him to treat her, but instead stumble across a robbery attempt of the ex-stem cells in the basement car-park. The robbery is being committed by the surviving family members of the doctor that suspiciously died, who want to get the ex-stem cells for, well, I don’t remember exactly what. Anyway – the surviving family, Cheng and Koo, Wu, and a bunch of bad guys all end up trying to get them back. Oh, and Wu has a wife that died of cancer, which is there purely to serve as one more cancer connection to the story.

The plot is frankly ludicrous, and frequently baffling, although Lam plays it completely straight, seemingly unaware of how daft it all is. The fact that we’re introduced to the characters and their plights straight away also doesn’t help, as they’re given zero characterisation, but the plot demands that we should still be emotionally invested in their predicament. Learning that Koo has cancer and Chang wants to help her doesn’t class as character development, and as a result from the word go it’s difficult to care about what happens to them. Another pair of characters are introduced via a photo montage, of which is also seemingly expected to act as enough characterisation to make us want to care about what’s going to happen to them. It doesn’t.

Sky on Fire has another significant issue, which comes in the form of CGI. It’s overloaded with it, and none of it works. Most glaringly, the Sky One tower itself is a CGI eye sore, looking like a promotional video that you see in a new apartment complex showroom. The building never once looks like a natural part of its environment, instead resembling a shoddily put together bunch of pixels stuck on the Hong Kong harbor. Other uses of CGI are on par with a Nollywood production in their complete failure at integrating into the environment that they’re supposed to set. A helicopter looks embarrassing, a bad guy falling from the tower was done better 40 years ago, and sometimes even the Hong Kong skyline is a poorly rendered CGI creation. I won’t talk about the explosions.

There are parts of Sky on Fire were you really want to laugh, and know that it’s the right thing to do. At one point a character, upon getting ahold of the ex-stem cells, in complete seriousness declares, “Ex-stem calls, such a beauty!” In another scene a dog gets run over, and its death is the most poignant out of all the deaths that take place (which includes an important character being set on fire! At least the theme is being maintained more literally than previous entries). Someone even gets an injection that’ll make their heart explode within 30 minutes, Uma Thurman could have saved a lot of effort on training to Kill Bill if she knew that was around. However it’s simply not possible to laugh, because everything is filmed so seriously and with such weight, that it ultimately becomes mind numbing to get through.

Of course any Ringo Lam crime thriller is expected to deliver some gritty action sequences, and Sky on Fire has its moments, although they’re few and far between, often hindered by the issues already mentioned. I do give credit to one fight scene though, in which Wu faces off against the main henchman in the confines of a small house. At one point, he picks up a glass table and literally smashes it into the face of his attacker, providing a simple but surprisingly welcome variation on the usual get hit and fall through a glass table HK action cinema trope. There’s also a brief Hong Kong rooftop foot-chase, how long has it been since we had one of those!? Mercifully, the buildings used are real and not CGI, although unfortunately it’s over before it really gets started, and again it comes to an abrupt end thanks to some rickety CGI air conditioning units.

It’s unfortunate that the action in a Ringo Lam movie only serves to break up the monotony of it, rather than complimenting what’s unfolding onscreen, however it’s sadly indicative of just what a miss Sky on Fire is. The ending almost feels like Lam realised what a mess he’d made, and simply threw his hands in the air and told the CGI team to do what they want, as the final shot literally resembles something from the finale of Man of Steel. Who knows, maybe his next movie is going to be titled Dawn on Fire?

It’s a shame, as Lam has always been one of my favourite directors, and Wild City in my opinion showed an assured hand and understanding of what it takes to make a gritty crime movie in the current Hong Kong film industry climate. Sky on Fire should have been the movie to cast aside any doubt that his long-time fans still may have had, but in its current form it’s almost impossible to ascertain what it was originally conceived as – Cancer themed drama? Pharmaceutical thriller? Medical action flick? In the end it’s a messy combination of all of those, all of which seem to be working against each other. They say the sky’s the limit, and with Sky on Fire, it appears that Lam may have reached his.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 3/10

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No Retreat, No Surrender | Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

No Retreat, No Surrender | Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

No Retreat, No Surrender | Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

RELEASE DATE: February 21, 2017

Old school martial arts fans, rejoice! Kino Lorber will be releasing No Retreat, No Surrender on Blu-ray on February 21, 2017.

The upcoming Blu-ray will include the International cut (with extra scenes and alternate music) and the rarely seen “New World” U.S. cut (alternate opening sequence and soundtrack), as well an interview with the film’s lead, Kurt McKenney.

This 1986 cult martial arts classic is noted for being one of the first U.S. productions by Hong Kong action director, Corey Yuen (Yes, Madam), who would later find bigger fame in America choreographing Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) and Kiss of the Dragon (2001).

No Retreat, No Surrender is perhaps best known for giving Jean-Claude Van Damme (The Hard Corps) his first starring role. The film also features an all-star martial arts cast, including Peter Cunningham (Righting Wrongs), Timothy D. Baker (Bloodfist II) and the late Kim Tai-chung (Tower of Death), once again, as “Bruce Lee”.

Blu-ray features include:

  • 85-Minute U.S. Cut
  • 94-Minute International Cut
  • Interview with Star Kurt McKinney
  • Audio Commentary by Screenwriter Keith W. Strandberg
  • Reverse Blu-ray Art
  • Original Theatrical Trailers
  • Optional English SDH subtitles

Pre-order No Retreat, No Surrender from Amazon.com today!

Posted in DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles, News | Tagged | 8 Comments
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