Okja (2017) Review

"Okja" Teaser Poster

“Okja” Teaser Poster

Director: Bong Joon-ho
Writer: Bong Joon-ho, Jon Ronson
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Ahn Seo-hyun, Byun Hee-bong, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Yoon Je-moon, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, Devon Bostick, Choi Woo-shik, Giancarlo Esposito, Jake Gyllenhaal
Running Time: 120 min. 

By Kyle Warner

“Here, you’ve got to try this,” is something I think we’ve all heard from somebody in the presence of food. And maybe we’ve even been secretly waiting for such an invitation to sample from the plate of another. There have been films that’ve asked us to rethink this before. Soylent Green is a fine example, a movie about overpopulation and hunger where the solution is to make food out of people. Food Inc. was a documentary about genetically modified foods that forever changed the way I look at what was on my plate. Now we come to Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, a film that, on the surface anyway, does not appear to be subtle about what it wants to say or do. The characters are colorful, the horrors of capitalism are established in the opening credits, and then there is the small issue of the superpigs. And yet, the way the story is told does manage to sneak up on you. Okja never tells you what to think, never directly asks you to consider a new point of view. It’s a film that makes you fall in love with a girl and her beast, then you watch in terror as the world rips them apart.

It’s a film of two distinct halves. The first hour has young Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) living in the mountains of South Korea with her superpig, Okja. The multinational company Mirando has ‘discovered’ these superpigs and thinks they’ll not only solve world hunger but potentially combat global warming as they leave a much smaller carbon footprint than cows. Mirando, under the leadership of the tense and twitchy Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), gives a baby superpig to farmers all over the globe. The superpigs will be raised and then judged years later to show the world the very best superpig. Okja is undoubtedly the best of them, but that’s not important to Mija, or her grandfather (Byun Hee-bong), or to the audience. Adventures in nature and warm moments at home make us fall in love with this odd beast. There are quite a few laughs, as well.

Animal show host Dr. Johnny (Jake Gyllenhaal), the friendly face of Mirando, arrives in the mountains and is stunned by the beauty of Okja. And though Mija is at first welcoming to the VIP guest, she doesn’t understand that this means her time with Okja is at an end. While she’s distracted, Dr. Johnny and the Mirando people take Okja away so that she may appear in their Best Superpig celebration. But Mija’s not having any of that, so she takes off by herself to rescue Okja, making unlikely allies with an animal right’s group run along the way.

Then things take a turn. I have never seen a movie that’s all joy and wonder turn into a horror show mirror for the world like this before. The subject of animal cruelty, cruel scientific testing, and massive slaughterhouses becomes a focal point going forward. Okja may be the best superpig but she’s still just a walking slab of meat to the people at Mirando. Indeed, much the world apparently feels the same, and can we blame them? While I don’t know anyone who looks at a living animal and drools at the thought of eating them, I do know plenty who will put the animal out of their mind so that they can enjoy their meal. Okja makes that impossible, at least for two hours. We’ve come to love the big and beautiful Okja, we know what she means to Mija, and we can’t stand the idea of her inevitable fate, nor the fate of other superpigs just like her. The movie does not tell you to feel this way, it comes naturally. And it means something because, though our world does not feature a Mirando company or a superpig species, everything else feels like it’s about us, today. The capitalist greed, the game show tackiness, the lack of empathy, the needy supply and demand. You’ll laugh at first, then you’ll feel horror and sadness. It’s an amazing dramatic maneuver. There is a wordless moment in the final 15 minutes that is among the saddest things I’ve ever seen in a genre movie.

The cast is mostly wonderful. Bong Joon-ho and co-writer Jon Ronson (Frank) imbue energy and life in even the most minor characters. It’s impossible to come away from Okja and not be impressed by young actress Ahn Seo-hyun (Monster), who gives the most dramatic and soulful (human) performance of the movie. Tilda Swinton, who worked previously with Bong in Snowpiercer, is brilliant as Lucy Mirando. She’s a villain, yes, but she’s not monstrous, as Swinton gives her enough insecurity to make you almost feel bad for her. Swinton and Bong can make movies together forever and that’d be fine by me. Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood) is great as the leader of Animal Liberation Front, an animal activist group who aids Mija in her quest to save Okja. Dano’s character is like a Wes Anderson action hero and it’s so much cooler than it sounds. Jake Gyllenhaal… goes over the top. I’m not sure what to make of what Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler) was trying to do here. I appreciate any actor who’s willing to make himself look like a fool or look ugly for a part and Gyllenhaal accomplishes both with the same performance. So, props for that. But I would’ve asked him to tone it down some.

The rest of the ensemble cast makes the most of their limited speaking roles and still manages to make their characters feel full of life. Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead) has a solid supporting role as one of the less noble members of Dano’s animal rights group. Yuen and Dano are joined by Lily Collins (To the Bone), a red-haired activist with a homemade bazooka. Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad) is good as the ‘normal’ guy in Mirando who sees madness and greed all around him and does not blink. And Woo-sik Choi (Train to Busan) has a cameo as a truck driver that gets some of the best laughs in the movie.

There’s been some controversy about Okja after its debut at Cannes and I want to touch on that for a second. Okja is a Netflix movie (it is one of the production company’s best feature films along with Beasts of No Nation). Being a Netflix movie means that, under the company’s current release strategy, it goes streaming day-and-date with its very limited theatrical release. This has led some at Cannes and some within the film critic community to question whether Okja is a real film, as if being a Netflix property made it, what? A web movie? I disagree with this notion. For while I would’ve gladly accepted Netflix putting Okja in theatres a month before making it available to stream, no method of release makes a movie any less of a movie. It’s like suggesting that an ebook is not the same as a paperpack or that music on your iPod isn’t the same as the music in your CD player. We can argue about whether an ebook should cost less than a paperback—I would agree, by the way—but that doesn’t mean the words printed in either are worth any more or less. The same goes for a Netflix movie. This is a real film, full of heart, horror, and wonder, and no method of release can possibly change that. What’s more, Netflix gives Bong a large international audience, and fans of the director can see his new movie now as compared to waiting many months due to the fact that it’s not playing locally in theaters. We can talk about whether Netflix should consider changing its release strategy (Amazon Studios takes a far more traditional approach, giving their films more of a chance at the box office), but the suggestion that being available to stream Day 1 makes it any lesser than Bong’s other directorial efforts gets a big nope from me.

According to Bong, Netflix gave him complete creative freedom. And it shows. You’d be hard-pressed to find a stranger, angrier, goofier, more thought-provoking modern genre movie than Bong’s movie about superpigs. The shifts in tone will put some people off, and others simply won’t want to acknowledge what Okja has to say. But for those who can handle a movie that goes in all directions and talks about some ugly truths, Okja is pretty dang special. It’s not uncommon for a monster movie to suggest that ‘man is the real monster’ but rarely has that ever felt truer than when watching Okja.  I’ll now repeat my first lines of this review: you’ve got to try this.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 8/10

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Are Tiger Chen, Max Zhang, Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa ‘APES’?

"SPL 2" Japanese DVD Cover

“SPL 2” Japanese DVD Cover

There’s another Expendables-ish Asian action film in the works – not to be confused with Jesse V. Johnson’s upoming actioner Triple Threat (aka The Makeshift Squad) – titled Asia Pacific Elimination Service (or A.P.E.S.).

Earlier this year at Filmart (via THR), the $12 million project had Tony Jaa (Tom Yum Goong 2), Tiger Chen (Monk Comes Down the Mountain) and David Wu attached, but upon further research, Max Zhang (SPL 2 aka Kill Zone 2) and Iko Uwais (The Raid 2) are also potential cast members (via CM). Additionally, director Adrian Teh (King of Mahjong) is listed as director for the project.

For now, we advise you take A.P.E.S. with a grain of salt, but don’t exactly dismiss it either (preliminary poster).

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The ruthless baddies from ‘Headshot’ are now ‘Buffalo Boys’

"Headshot" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Headshot” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Mike Wiluan – producer of Macabre, Headshot and the upcoming Beyond Skyline – is taking a stab at directing with Buffalo Boys, an upcoming actioner he’s also writing. Very little is known about the project, but given the consistent output from Indonesian cinema (i.e. MerantauMacabre, The Raid, The Raid 2, Killers, The Golden Cane Warrior and Headshot), color us very excited.

Buffalo Boys will reunite Wiluan with Headshot cohorts Sunny Pang (The Night Comes for Us) and Zack Lee (The Raid 2). Also starring are Ario Bayu (Macabre), Tio Pakusadewo (The Raid 2), Pevita Eileen Pearce (Single), Happy Salma (Capres), Donny Damara (2014), Mikha Tambayong (Fallin’ in Love) and El Manik (Carok), with action choreography by Kazu Patrick Tang (Hard Target 2).

We’ll keep you updated on Buffalo Boys as we hear more. For now, don’t miss Headshot, which is currently streaming on Netflix.

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‘Ip Man 3’ star Max Zhang is Jeff Lau’s ‘Heavyweight Assassin’

"Treasure Hunt" Chinese DVD Cover

“Treasure Hunt” Chinese DVD Cover

Veteran Hong Kong director/writer Jeff Lau (Treasure Hunt) is currently shooting Heavyweight Assassin, a martial arts film starring Max Zhang (SPL 2), Ada Choi (Fist of Legend), Andy On (Outcast) and Hung Yan Yan (Double Team), who is also handling the film’s action choreography.

Heavyweight Assassin is about a group of assassins attempting to track down a stash of hidden gold, according to SD.

Heavyweight Assassin is just one of many upcoming movies featuring Ip Man 3’s rising star, Zhang. His other titles include The Brink, SPL 3: War Needs Lord, Invincible Dragon, as well as an unofficial Ip Man 3 spin-off.

Stay tuned for more news regarding Heavyweight Assassin.

Updates: Check out new photos from the film below (via AFS):

Heavyweight Assassin

 

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New Trailer for Ryoo Seung-wan’s ‘Battleship Island’

"Battleship Island" Theatrical Poster

“Battleship Island” Theatrical Poster

After his smash hit Veteran, Ryoo Seung-wan is now preparing to release Battleship Island, a big budget action thriller. The upcoming film, set on Hashima Island in Japan, will revolve around the story of Korean laborers force to work by the Japanese military during World War II, who plan to escape to the island.

Veteran star Hwang Jeong-min leads a cast that includes So Ji-Sub (Company Man), Song Joong-Ki (Five Senses of Eros), Lee Jung-Hyun (Night Fishing), Yoon Dae-Yul  (Kundo: Age of Rampant) and Kim Soo-Ahn (Train to Busan).

It sounds like Battleship Island could be more similar to Tsui Hark’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain, than The Berlin File and his other efforts – either way, any new Ryoo Seung-wan movie is a reason to celebrate! (via Paul Bramhall).

Battleship Island is getting a limited release on August 4th. Watch the Trailer below:

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Reset | aka Fatality Rate: Reset (2017) Review

"Reset" Theatrical Poster

“Reset” Theatrical Poster

Director: Yoon Hong-seung
Writer: Zha Muchun
Producer: Jackie Chan
Cast: Yang Mi, Wallace Huo, King Shih-Chieh, Liu Chang, Hummer Zhang, Anita Wang, Zhao Shuting
Running Time: 106 min.

By Paul Bramhall

While Mainland Chinese blockbusters continue to grow in budget and scope, the actual talent behind them frequently proves to be poorly prepared to create a coherent piece of filmmaking. In perhaps as close as a sign of acknowledging this problem as we’ll get, Korean director Shin Tae-ra was brought on-board to handle 2016’s bombastic action comedy Bounty Hunters. While Tae-ra’s involvement arguably resulted in no difference when it came to the final product, Bounty Hunters must have been successful enough for the concept of bringing a Korean director in to make a Chinese movie to be considered a good one. So that brings us to 2017’s Reset, which has Jackie Chan of all people in the producers chair, but otherwise has an almost 100% Korean crew working behind the camera, and was shot in Busan.

The man in the director’s chair is Yoon Hong-seung, who more popularly is simply known as Chang. This marks his first time directing a Chinese cast, in a movie made for a Chinese audience, however on local soil he directed the 2008 high-school horror movie Death Bell, and was also responsible for the Korean remake of the French movie Point Blank, in the form of 2014’s The Target. Reset has a record breaking budget for a Chinese and Korean co-production, and considering its science fiction genre leanings, it’s encouraging to see a suitable level of investment has been put into it. Sci-fi, more than any other genre, has always been a tricky beast within Asian cinema. Most recently Korea gave us the poorly received time travel flick 11 AM, which features a number of similarities to Reset, while China gave us the likes of the Collin Chou starring Ameera. If you’ve never heard of it, there’s a good reason for that.

The plot of Reset could probably best be described as Connected meets The One. Popular Chinese actress Yang Mi takes the lead role, who must hold some kind of record for featuring in a total of 18 movies in 2012, as a single mother who’s on the cusp of creating a time travel machine. It’s explained that the machine works by sending the subject into a parallel universe, which represents the events of the past. Or something like that. However when her son is abducted by Taiwanese actor Wallace Huo (who’s looking more and more like a clone of Aaron Kwok), who wants to steal the research on the machine, she takes the chance to use it on herself, and go back in time to save him. There are of course several catches along the way, the first being that the furthest back in time anyone can go is 1 hour 50 minutes, and the second being that any live matter that goes through the machine starts to experience DNA instability a few days after using it.

Interestingly both Yi and Huo have featured in Chinese remakes of Korean movies previously, with Mi taking on Kim Ha-neul’s role in the 2015 remake of Blind, titled The Witness, and Huo taking on Son Hyun-joo’s role in the 2016 remake of Hide and Seek, which used the same title.  So it’s perhaps ironic that they now both feature together in what’s essentially a Korean production made for Chinese audiences.  Notably this isn’t the first time for producer Jackie Chan to get involved in the Korean side of things either, as in 2014 he put together the K-pop boyband group JJCC, who are still active and Chan is said to personally manage.

Things get bombastic pretty quickly in Reset. From the moment Mi learns that her son has been abducted, she begins to act like a fish out of water, literally. Staggering about, constantly falling over, and walking into anyone and anything that’s within a 5 meter radius. Clearly she’s a desperate woman, and events build up in a way that result in there being three versions of Mi populating the same timeline. These can be broken down as 1. The stuck in the lab facility original Mi, 2. The running around the city trying to save her son Mi, and 3. The dark and brooding, looks kind of evil Mi. As an actress there’s no doubt it must have been a lot of fun to play the different roles, and we even get a recreation of a scene from Bullet in the Head with the three Mi’s thrown in for good measure.

However Reset quickly begins to derail once the actual motive behind the sons abduction is revealed. After establishing a concept which, while it’s been done before, at least provides a unique slant on the usual tropes that action movies are based on, the feeble reasoning that’s given for everything that’s taking place is a frustrating one. As a result, Reset almost immediately feels reduced to a Mystery Science Theater 3000 B movie, which is a shame. There’s also a completely unnecessary scene thrown in that has Wallace Huo explaining the tragic reason behind why he decided to become a bad guy. I can only assume this must have been required to appease the Mainland China censorship board, as the scene has no relevance to the rest of the plot, and seems to only exist to make us understand that hey, this guy isn’t really all bad.

There’s also an unfortunate lack of restraint in the visual effects. It’s revealed that the building itself is an integral part of the time machine, visualised as an isolated structure on its own island and featuring external elevators, it seems to have taken a few ill-advised notes from the Sky One tower that Ringo Lam’s Sky on Fire took place in. While the constant presence of holographic screens (and their obligatory chirpy sound effects), and the process of the time travel journey itself, are well rendered and look good onscreen, the use of CGI in the action sequences doesn’t fare as well. At one point two hummers crash into a shipping container that’s being partially lifted onto a ship, and both the hummers and the container are all CGI. The problem is the CGI is replacing the real hummers and container that were onscreen just a few seconds before, and the disparity is glaring, effectively ruining the climax of the scene.

The score also proves to be a source of frustration, as it frequently builds to a climatic crescendo, leading us to believe the scene is about to close, only for it to then start again a moment later as the scene in question drags on. The perfect example of this is when Mi decides to use the time travel machine. One shot slowly pans down the cylindrical mechanism above her head as the score builds up. It then stops for a brief moment, focuses on Mi, then the shot pans back up the cylindrical mechanism, and the score starts again. The only effect such musical editing has is to make the audience wish for the scene to hurry up and get on with it, as it gives the impression that the time is simply being padded out.

Director Chang does make some interesting choices along the way. There’s a completely random homage to The Shining thrown in that somehow works, and the ability to plant a mini-bomb under someone’s skin reminded me of a similar technique that’s used in Mission: Impossible III. However, the more Reset progresses, the more you begin to get the feeling that almost everything that happens in some way is a reminder of when something similar happened in another movie, but done better. As I mentioned the sci-fi genre has always been tricky to tackle in Asian cinema, and here it seems to at least partly indicate that this is due to a lack of original ideas. It’s ironic, considering that out of all the genres out there, science fiction is the one that provides the most scope for imagination, but there’s not much on offer in Reset that won’t make you feel that you haven’t seen it before.

As the credits roll on Reset, complete with a silly added on scene of Mi and her son living in a mobile home, there’s a distinct impression that China still has a long way to go when it comes to making a blockbuster that won’t be forgotten a few hours after watching it. Either because the viewer wants to forget it, or that it simply didn’t leave much of an impression to warrant remembering. Reset is somewhat of a mixture of both, in that it started with a strong concept, however as it progresses it becomes clear that the ability to put a story together around that concept was half baked at best. The good news is that if ever a machine is invented that allows us to go back 1 hours 50 minutes in time, that’ll be just the right length to make the decision to not bother watching it again.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 5/10

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Deal on Fire! Dragon Blade | Blu-ray | Only $7.88 – Expires soon!

Dragon Blade | Blu-ray & DVD (Lionsgate)

Dragon Blade | Blu-ray & DVD (Lionsgate)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Daniel Lee’s Dragon Blade (read our review), an action/adventure period flick starring Jackie Chan (Police Story 2013), Adrien Brody (The Pianist) and John Cusack (Love & Mercy).

When corrupt Roman leader Tiberius arrives with a giant army to claim the Silk Road, Huo An teams up his army with an elite Legion of defected Roman soldiers led by General Lucius to protect his country and his new friends.

Dragon Blade also stars Choi Siwon (Helios), Lin Peng (Viral Factor) and Wang Tai Li (East Meets West).

Order Dragon Blade from Amazon.com today!

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Takashi Miike and Sammo Hung to team up for action?

"Dead or Alive" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Dead or Alive” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Acclaimed director Takashi Miike (Dead or Alive, Ley Lines), one of the hardest-working filmmakers from Japan – and the legendary Sammo Hung (The Bodyguard), one of the hardest-working figures in Hong Kong cinema – are joining forces for an action comedy in 2018.

According to AFS, the upcoming Chinese-made presentation will be directed by Miike and action will be choreographed by Hung, with Shun Oguri (Lupin the Third) and Takuya Kimura (2046) starring alongside a to-be-announced Chinese cast. At this time, there’s no word on whether Hung will have a role.

We’ll keep you in the loop as we learn more. Until then, we leave you with the Trailer for Hung’s classic The Victim (because… why not?).

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Fabricated City (2017) Review

"Fabricated City" Korean Theatrical Poster

“Fabricated City” Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Park Kwang-Hyun
Writer: Park Kwang-Hyun, Oh Sang-Ho
Cast: Ji Chang-Wook, Shim Eun-Kyung, Oh Jung-Se, Ahn Jae-Hong, Kim Sang-Ho, Kim Ki-Cheon, Kim Min-Kyo, Lee Honey, Kim Ho-Jung, Lee Soon-Won, Kim Seul-Gi

By Paul Bramhall

While on the surface it may seem like Fabricated City  and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation have little in common, both share at least one similarity – their marketing campaigns revolved around a bombastic opening action scene that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. While one gives us Tom Cruise hanging onto the side of a plane, the other gives us popular drama actor Ji Chang-wook as Captain, as he and his elite team are dropped (literally) bang in the middle of an urban warzone. They have a mission to infiltrate a building, but it’s surrounded by enemies, which leads to an excessive amount of stylish gunplay, explosions, and macho heroics. It’s a relentless sequence which sees Fabricated City storming out of the gates, before revealing that it’s only Chang-wook’s imagination of the first person shooter he’s playing with his online friends.

That’s the first and last time we see such a sequence, so the initial expectations of Fabricated City drawing its inspiration from the likes of Tron, and more recently Gamer, are quickly dashed. So, what exactly are we left with? In my opinion, one of the worse Korean movies of the last decade. Chang-wook, who plays an unemployed slacker that spends his days playing computer games, soon leaves the internet café only to find himself as the main suspect of an underage rape and murder. It seems only moments later he’s found guilty, and from there things escalate very quickly. Maximum security prisons, hysterical shouting, sodomy, excessive wailing, suicides, more shouting, and even a ghost gets thrown in. Everything is cranked up to 11 before we have a chance to care about anything that’s happening, and this is only in the first 20 minutes. There’s so much yelling I’m surprised some of the cast had any voice left to make the rest of the movie.

Chang-wook is a popular TV drama actor in Korea, thanks to his action roles in the likes of Healer, but he barely registers, and the role could have been played by literally any other good looking star. Director Park Kwang-hyeon’s decision to have a whole movie rest on his shoulders was ill advised, and is reflective of a filmmaker who has perhaps lost his way. After his successful debut with the quirky war comedy Welcome to Dongmakgol in 2005, Kwang-hyeon has spent the last several years trying to get his sci-fi infused martial arts movie, The Fist, off the ground without success. The sci-fi elements of that project are to some degree evident in Fabricated City. Chang-wook turns to a lawyer who has a reputation for helping those in need, played by Oh Jung-se. Sporting a birthmark that covers part of his face and lop sided emo style hair, he appears to have just walked off the set of Techno Warriors, and has to be the most blatantly telegraphed bad guy in recent movie history.

As expected, considering Chang-wook gives all his energy to gaming, the thought of him having any left to rape and murder someone is simply incomprehensible. Millennials would understand I guess. So he hatches a plan to escape from his daily life of beatings in prison, perhaps realising that we’ve already had 3 Korean movies in the last 12 months which prominently feature prison scenarios (A Violent Prosecutor, The Prison, and The Merciless), and escapes to clear his name. When not being chased by a field full of cows or helped by a cheerfully plump African American couple, who make Skids and Mudflap from Transformers look like cultural beacons, Chang-wook eventually ends up teaming up in person with his online gaming teammates (of whom he’s never met). Throughout all of this, it’s required to endure a soundtrack of techno and metal-rap.

The main teammate comes in the form of Shim Eun-kyun, a talented actress who took the lead in the previous years Missing You. Unfortunately she spends the whole time with her face hidden behind a mop of hair, and plays a character who’s so socially inept she only talks over the phone, even when the person she’s talking to is sat directly across from her. I’ve no doubt on paper it may have looked like a quirky character trait, however onscreen it comes across as idiotic, and is frequently dropped whenever the plot deems it convenient. The same could be said for the several poorly conceived attempts at comedy Fabricated City makes, all of which tend to result in a feeling of embarrassment for the actors rather than the desired laughs.

The plot eventually comes around to reveal that a shadowy organization is framing innocent nobodies for the accidental deaths caused by those with both money and power. The plot device of making a death appear to be not what it seems has been used before, perhaps most successfully in Soi Cheang’s Accident from 2009, and just like that movie here it’s also used as a service which can be bought. However more so than any other production, Fabricated City ultimately comes off as some kind of misguided attempt to combine The Fugitive and Hackers for the millennial generation. The phenomena of youths wasting every hour of the day holed up in internet cafes playing games may be a uniquely Asian one, but in the right directors hands Chang-wook’s character I’m sure could have been a sympathetic one, but here the connection never happens.

Fabricated City also has one of the most bizarre forms of product placement I’ve seen (or should I say, heard) in a movie. At the time of its release, popular trot (a kind of traditional Korean pop music) singer Hong Jin-young had a new single in the charts called Loves Me, Loves Me Not. The song always just happens to be playing when a character switches the radio on – driving in a car, when Chang-wook and his team are talking at home, and in the background of an office. The lack of subtlety it shows is rather disconcerting, as the chances of the same song being played in the various scenarios it shows up in are as realistic as most other aspects of the production. If I was to read a theory that explained whenever the song played was actually a glitch in the Matrix, I may well be willing to give Fabricated City more credit than it actually deserves.

As it is though, the plot revelations are delivered in a decidedly clunky manner, often leaving it unclear as to how a certain conclusion has been reached. Audiences certainly don’t need to be spoon fed, and on the contrary the audience for these movies are usually more than capable of picking up the spoon themselves, but in this case the waiter dropped the soup long before it got to the table. A perfect example of this is the character played by Kim Sang-ho, a supporting actor who’s instantly recognizable from the likes of The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale and Haemoo. Here he gets a beefy role as the leader of the prison gang, who takes an instant disliking to Chang-wook and proceeds to pursue him for the duration of the movie, with no clear explanation given as to exactly why.

Other points are left hanging all together, like the fact that Chang-wook used to be a promising taekwondo athlete, but he gave it up because, well, those online games are just too much fun. Considering Fabricated City sells itself as an action movie, you’d think those taekwondo skills would come in useful at some point, but they barely get a look-in. Instead the action relies on a number of competently staged car chases, usually involving the souped up rust bucket that the random African American backpackers donated to Chang-wook when they leave him at the airport. Don’t ask. In fairness, there is one action scene of note. Taking place in the dark, Chang-wook throws a handful of beads that become fluorescent for a few seconds on impact, which he uses to take down a number of lurking attackers. Visually it’s striking, but at the same time it feels like I’m clutching at straws to not be completely negative.

Clearly Fabricated City has its audience, as it’s far from being universally labelled as a piece of trash, however it’s safe to say that I’m not a part of it. If there was a character arc for Chang-wook then I clearly missed it, as the movie closes with the team of online gamers coming out victorious, the only assumption left is that they’ll head to the nearest internet café and continue their gaming shenanigans. Fabricated City opens and closes with a pretentious voice over rambling some nonsense about a tree that looks like it was rotting actually being alive. Perhaps Kwang-hyeon wanted to be ironic, because I felt pretty alive before I started to watch Fabricated City, but by the time the end credits rolled, my will to live was questionable.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 2/10

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Deal on Fire! Wolf Warrior | Blu-ray | Only $9.99 – Expires soon!

Wolf Warrior | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Wolf Warrior | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Special Force: Wolf Warrior (aka Wolf WarWolf or Warg) an action/martial arts flick directed by, and starring Wu Jing (SPL, SPL 2).

The film (read our review) also stars Scott Adkins (Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning), Kevin Lee (Pound of Flesh), Deng Ziyi (Pay Back), Sona Eyambe (Zombie 108), Kyle Shapiro (Dragon Blade), Samuel Thivierge (In the End) and Nan Yu (The Expendables 2).

A sequel is currently in production. Jacky Wu Jing (SPL II: A Time for Consequences) is once again starring and directing.

Order Wolf Warrior from Amazon.com today!

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

"Death Note" Poster

“Death Note” Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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Jim Kelly: “Man, you come right out of a comic book!”

jimkelly2Jim Kelly was a singular individual… period. Although for some – particularly critic – he was just another standard action contractee of the Blaxploitation era recalled in idle conversat­ions notably for his co-starring credit opposite the late Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon (1973), and a vernacular of deadpan, cynically delivered one-liners. Is this the only legacy Jim Kelly bequeathed to a united nation of grieving fans and ageing film Historians; nostalgically pining for the “grand old days” before the advent of CGI and a barrage of unnecessary re-makes: The answer is No.

2013 issue of Black Belt Magazine honoring Jim Kelly as "Man of the Year".

2013 issue of Black Belt Magazine honoring Jim Kelly as “Man of the Year”.

For the majority old enough to remember 1970’s cinema, defined at that time by a crumbling studio system formely constructed on baroque extravagance and the pursuit of power, traditionalism was woefully stepping aside for a new elite whose creative voice was steadily drowning their conventional forebears in an ocean of cultural indifference.

From this outset, Jim Kelly was the epitome of ‘cool’, ‘of strength’ in a flagging world governed by political and social divisions: Race riots, Vietnam and the Watergate scandal all surface to mind. And while the Democrats and the Republicans dueled endlessly with fervid tongues, the face of oppression had already given birth to the Black Panthers, a no-nonsense organization temporarily involved in trying to promote civil rights, but failed within the US senate to ignite a true understanding of their collective plight. They became outcast as much as Malcolm X, the hippy movement or the Hell’s Angels even. No-one was listening, nobody cared, and notions of ‘freedom’ or at least ‘expressions of freedom’ were alternatively relegated to filmmaking, art, music and literature.

Jim Kelly poses at the Comic-Con.

Jim Kelly poses at the 2012 Comic-Con.

Kelly, however, remained as ever a neutral figurehead wisely dis­pensing any political bias. Instead, he chose to concentrate on projecting an optimistic stance that was generated from inner discipline rather than a negative ego. Indeed, away from cameras, difficult schedules and/or (the) militant commands of producers/directors, Kelly was an advocate of ‘peace’, an affable man who enjoyed fraternizing with fans at comic book conventions or through other outlets of social media. Yet beneath this flexible exterior hid a very complex, competitive personality whom it seemed, felt more comfortable exerting his personal philosophies, via a sharp backfist, a flashy hook-kick or a defiant glare than zealously pitch racial inequality by means of obvious routes.

Armed with a slender, though imposing chisled physique, and a somewhat mountainous afro that resembled a shrubbery than a fashion statement, Kelly set himself a near impossible target of becoming the first “Black Martial Arts Star!” (as he latterly quoted for numerous interviews); after all, Sidney Poitier, Melvin Van Peeples and Jim Brown were already chewing up the scenery as celluloid embassadors fighting against exploitation and discrimination in their own unique manner way before Kelly’s path (to self-realization) had manifested itself in the form of movie stardom. But regardless of friendly rivalry from peers or contemporaries such as Fred Williamson, Ron O’Neal or Richard Roundtree, determinat­ion and an inherentathleticism would naturally in the flow of all things spiritual prevail over biggotry or ‘Genre’ isolation, in favour of score marking Kelly as one of the most enduring, striking, as well as exciting, screen icons of the cult B-circuit.

1976 issue of Jet Magazine.

1976 issue of Jet Magazine.

Born into a working class family in Millerburg, Kentucky on the 5th May 1946, James Milton Kelly stood tall and proud even at a young age where his interests, primarily, focused on football and basketball, between helping his father ministrate a locker rental service for visiting Navy Personnel. Although educated at Bourbon County High school where he met his future (first) wife, college sweetheart, Marilyn Dishman; Kelly harboured deep aspirations to escape the harsh Southern backdrop of class segregation and follow in the footsteps of his equally famous cousin, Willie Mays – a Baseball legend active from 1951 – 1973 – whose batting averages/home runs were 302 and 660, respectively. Arguably hailed as one of the greatest Baseball players of the 20th century, Mays was an obvious role model to his younger relative, by now entrenched in the rudiments of nutrition and physical education.

Emancipation, no less, arrived in part as a scholarship award to the University of Louisville. There, for a transitory period, the freshman devoted himself to a career in athletics until a racial­ly motivated incident caused Kelly to re-evaluate himself; his place in the Universe and it was at this juncture the call of his inner soul urged the eighteen year old to leave behind the world of track & field for a journey inaugerated by a sudden pursuit in Karate.

Muhammad Ali meets Jim Kelly

Muhammad Ali meets Jim Kelly

Moving to Lexington, he enrolled at Sin Kwan’s Dojo, quickly earning respect for his serious application. Attentively, he asked questions concerning techniques; the reasoning behind pre-arranged movements, Katas and so forth. Upon graduation as a first-Dan Black Belt, Kelly sought to expand his martial arts knowledge. He further trained in Okinawan-Te under the triumvirate direction of Parker Shelton, Nate Patton and Gordon Doversola shortly before winning the pretigious World and Middleweight division ‘Karate’ tournaments at Longbeach. These outstanding accolades gained him the reputation needed to establish his own studio in Crenshaw, Los Angeles.

Despite the collapse of his marriage, Karate (for him) had morphed into a passion, a way of life; a mode of expression, of research and experimentation – notably the latter when he began to observe other distinct fighting structures. He studied Wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu and most importantly, Muhammad Ali’s foot­work: The pros and cons, the advantages, the disadvantages, little realizing that a virtually unknown Bruce Lee had previously conceptualized the foundation of what is now presently thoug­ht of as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Nevertheless, Lee’s Jeet Kune Do remains at its core a singular philosophy neither opposing or championing over every style, but merely counteracting, intercepting or adapting to any or all situations and environments, regardless of doctrine or belief.

Prior to his actual meeting and prospective working relationship with the legendary Bruce Lee, needless to say, Kelly was already enamoured with ”The King of Kung Fu”. However by his own admiss­ion He never got the opportunity to watch The Green Hornet’s (1966) first network broadcast. Kelly’s initial exposure to Lee – whose martial renown was now augmenting beyond the maxim of “mythic proportion”, was through his controversial articles on self liberation for Black Belt Magazine; as well as a minor, yet highly charged cameo for Sterling Silliphant’s contemporary revision of The Little Sister (aka Marlowe), released in 1969. Kelly would later describe Lee’s debut as ”impressive” and “very cool!”

"Melinda" Theatrical Poster

“Melinda” Theatrical Poster

Kelly’s own film debut was connected via his personal friendship with cult actor, Calvin Lockhart – remembered for his standout collaborations opposite the award winning, Sidney Poitier in Up Town Saturday Night (1973) and Let’s Do It Again (1974). Lockhart’s filmography also includes the Amicus classic The Beast Must Die (1974), an unusual horror thriller which stylishly mixed lycantrophy with who-done-it noir. While Lockhart maynot have been exactly in the calibre of leading man status, wheels otherwise were set in motion when executives at Metro-Goldwyn­Mayer cast him as Frankie J. Parker, a high kicking, vivacious disc jockey for Hugh A. Robertson’s largely forgotten action drama Melinda (1972). Though alleged reservations were raised, Kelly was hired to train Lockhart, co-supervise the choreography in addition to a small supporting role as Charles Atkins: a Kara­te instructor who comes to the aid of his friend at the eleventh hour following Parker’s impromptu entanglement with a Chicago mobster, and his former mistress. Vanetta McGee played the titular character discovered murdered in Parker’s apartment: A situation that spirals into a domino effect whereby our protagon­ist has no option but to administrate his own court of law.

Urban and gritty Melinda engagingly capitalized on the 70’s preoccupation with violence and social disintergration. Everyone appears to be motivated by something, fueled either by avarice or self preservation. Parker himself (before vengeance infuses con­trol) could be aptly classed as a ‘lone Wolf’, and despite an amorous, not quite predatory exterior the world in which he inhabits; moreover, could be juxtaposed as both rudderless and cosmopolitan. Yet behind notions of unattachment, danger shadows every corner: deliberate or latent.

"Enter the Dragon" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Enter the Dragon” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Pastiche or not, Lockhart gave a credible performance made, interestingly, more refreshing under Kelly’s offscreen tutorlage. However, it would be Blaxploitation star, Rockne Tarkington – a tall , burly actor with aquiline set features and an imposing demeanor who is perhaps better known for his role in Black Samson (1974) and as a recurring character in the short-lived Matt Houston TV series (1982–1985), unknowingly helped Kelly catapolt from relative obscurity into a major support on the strength of Tarkington’s abdication from his contract with Tinseltown financiers: Paul Heller and Fred Weintraub for a co-production commemorated in the annals of action cinema as the “Greatest Martial Arts Movie Ever Made!” Indeed Enter the Dragon requires little or no introduction in its implications as a seminal masterpiece, and while abstracts of originality maybe secondary in construct, its leading man, Bruce Lee, was by definition, the cardinal ingredient to this hand-to-hand espionage cocktail inspired by a literary lineage stretching as far back to Ian Fleming’s Dr. No (1958)  adventure, and Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu novel, The Devil Doctor (1916).

Screenwriter Michael Allin obviously had no reservations when he endeavoured to scribe a treatment (for Weintraub) that would best exemplify Lee’s burgeoning internationalism. Afterall, in the eyes of commerce: one star needed another… or two! Lee was, well, Lee (or Li); TV heavy/regular, William Smith was to be Roper, and Tarkington – the quinessential underdog sacrificed at the finale. Ultimately, Blood and Steel (first working title) expanded into a modest screenplay befitting actual locations, external grandiosity and exoticism on a near shoestring budget, Allin was awarded a vacation to the crown colony, meantime Tarkington prepared for the part of the lingo expressive, but truculent Williams until an alleged dispute over his salary prompted him to stick two fingers up at Weintraub. How Kelly became involved as Tarkington’s replacement was either by providence or Weintraub’s terminal desperation?!

With John Saxon in Enter the Dragon.

With John Saxon in Enter the Dragon.

Eventually tracked down by Weintraub at his Crenshaw Dojo, Kelly was immediately signed following a demostration of his art form and general comportment. No screentest was needed as his prior credentials for Melinda sufficed; nevertheless, he still had to be coached in an intensive drama workshop. This was a requisite practise for all newcomers, and in Kelly’s case, it was a succin­ct opportunity to discover and understand Williams’ motivations. From the outset, we learn Williams is a survivor, an ex-Vietnam soldier – tough and conceited. However beneath this veneer con­ceals a warrior guided by an almost contradictory ethics.

"Enter the Dragon" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Enter the Dragon” Chinese Theatrical Poster

Early on, he confidently assaults two racist militants (who wouldn’t!), yet on the otherhand speaks up for the under priviledged: “Ghettos all over the world… they stink!”, as he bemoans to his estranged army buddy Roper (now played by John Saxon in favour of an unlikely cast Smith). This pattern of duality con­tinues: in a throwaway manner he disregards rules, though projec­ts a smidgen of (his) humanity during Bolo Yeung’s ruthless execution of Mr. Han’s palace guards. When asked if he’s shocked, Williams camouflages his evident disdain with bravado; just as he does during a rather forceful interview with the aforementioned host. Once more, Williams invokes a refractory stance and nobly refuses to betray Lee, thus consequently forfeits his life again­st a formidable exponent martially far experienced in both technique, as well as brutality.

In spite of a haphazard production marred by numerous obsticles such as language problems, John Saxon’s alleged dialogue pinching manoeuvres, as well as Lee’s impassioned spat with Allin; rumours further esculated into gospel about ad-lib script changes pertaining to Roper’s mortality. Although Saxon has denied these alterations to suit his ‘star’ credit, fans have always felt swindled by Kelly’s unexpected exit. The overall concensus is: (A) Williams should have squared off against Bolo, and (B), Han’s minions, instead of Roper’s determined, albeit graceless attribut­es.

With Bruce Lee and Peter Archer on the set of Enter the Dragon.

With Bruce Lee and Peter Archer on the set of Enter the Dragon.

Contrarily, the film’s director, Robert Clouse, then-known for one picture Darker Than Amber (1970), compromised beyond all possibility until the squalid conditions at Golden Harvest’s Hammerhill Studios blitzed him to the point of artistic fatigue. Neither Weintraub or Heller were exempt from heated episodes of petulance. Indeed, reconcilations became a normal convention amongst cast and crew. Lee, regardless of a temporary facial twitch, did not faulter in his performance, and according to Clouse’s acclaimed memoir The Making of Enter the Dragon (1987), Saxon – so to speak – was eventually put in his place. Understandably, Kelly bemused by this circus of egos, otherwise tackled these experiences in the same manner of professionalism, as he did when Lee allocated him the flexibility to arrange his own competition sequences in concert with fellow Karate-Ka, Australia’s Peter Archer. In a post-Enter interview for Black Belt Magazine, Kelly enthus­iastically recounts how Bruce Lee was constantly inclined to be generous and respectful, often asking the debutant if he was happy or comfortable.

"Golden Needles" Theatrical Poster

“Golden Needles” Theatrical Poster

Enter the Dragon was unleashed to mixed criticism. In Hong Kong it bombed dramatically at the local Box office. Cinemagoers, it seemed, were deeply concerned with Lee’s Americanization over Chinese traditionalism, and their overall perspective of him was that Hollywood had firmly sunk in its talons: Lee was no longer the national hero, but a puppet of bigwig capitalists. Elsewhere, Enter was a phenomenon. On the streets, both Lee and Kelly had become deified; Saxon, no less, was completely overlooked despite moments of congenial foil.

However, the saddest aspect in consequential terms was Lee’s untimely passing before the film’s premiere. This unfortunate circumstance further elicited Warner/ MGM executives to capitalize on a slew of scripts pre-furnished with Bruce lee in mind. An unmade western titled Kelsey was one, Golden Needles (1974) was another, though never actually officiated. The latter went straight into production, naturally alterations were made to accomodate a new cast line-up now featuring brawny southerner, Joe Don Baker and the rather waspish Elizabeth Ashley. A special extended cameo was awarded to Kelly. Again, Weitraub and Heller injected much of their combined financ­es, while Clouse, and his dependable ‘Director of Photography’, Gil Hubbs, ventured back to Hong Kong in a zealous effort to follow up Enter, or supercede it (?) even with a cumbersome travelogue about a supernatural statuette which grants vigour and immortality. Written by Weintraub regular, S. Lee Pogostin (High Road to China, 1983), duplicity, fascimiles and a barmy billion­aire, played by the ordinarily superb Burgess Meredith, are all interwoven around a contrived premise and a virtual neanderthal adventurer (Don Baker) more interested in Majong pursuits than the rewards of spiritual edification. Engagingly, Golden Needles does retain few high points, enlivened by Kelly’s easy-going manner, as well as Clouse’s obligatory trademark slow motion visuals.

Unable to really circumvent the martial arts scene for the remainder of his career – bar exception: Sci-fi oddity The Ultimate Warrior (1975) spearheaded by the usual robust, Yul Brynner; Clouse was on the proverbial ball with the Oscar Williams’ penned Black Belt Jones (1974), Kelly’s first solo lead, although firmly backed up by the wonderful Gloria Hendry (Live and Let Die, 1973). Often regarded as Kelly’s best film to date, it’s fair to say Black Belt Jones is an escapist fantasy; in that, the appella­tive character is part bodyguard to diplomats; part agent and part playboy, replete with a beachfront bungalow and a conspicous personalized car number plate. Observed by others, stoically he’s ”Bad!”, meaning the opposite in Afro-American patois, who isn’t reserved about slugging or kicking anyone from cliched Italians to treacherous Black folk. He doesn’t carry a gun, and confident­ly prefers to disarm assailents in true empty-hand style, courtesy of Bob Wall’s electric choreography.

"Black Belt Jones" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Black Belt Jones” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Still, if it wasn’t for a ludicrous, conveniently structured plot about a land-grabbing syndicate determined to appropriate a Karate school owned by Jones’ friend, Papa Byrd (Scatman Crothers), Kelly could have matured into a serious A-list contender instead of a person later charicatured by Steve James (as Kung Fu Joe) for a segment of Daman Wayan’s lost spoof; I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1989). Either way, through a clever marketing ploy Black Belt Jones was a commercial sensation. It was also part and parcel of a three picture contract with the iconic Warner Brothers; whose competitive edge after decades of creative fluctuation, ostensib­ly endeavoured to squeeze as much revenue from a singular concept until inevitable triteness bulldozed mass audiences into apathy.

Internal machination aside, this wouldn’t occur for quite a numb­er of years. Meantime existing multi-ethnic audiences from non purists to action fodder aficionados were truly having a love affair with what Bruce Lee had relinguished to the world. In the East it was different! Unashamedly, pseudo-imitators usurped every opportunity to abuse Lee’s memory and achievements by quickly churning out falsely researched biopics, or banal advent­ures that had no inspirational content or link with ‘The King of Kung Fu’ whatsoever! Hollywood’s approach, no less, greatly contrasted in both tone and composition, despite a pedestrian feel. Budgets were significantly reduced, yet somehow production values always looked one hundred times higher than, for example, a modest Shaw Brothers picture. Unorthodox by comparison, however, Kelly’s screen exploits were fast becoming legendary alongwith his snappy dresswear or sardonic retorts. These alone were attri­butes which favourably considered him a worthy substitute for Lee’s much coveted mantle. And even if it meant “clobbering the Mob” (as the original BBJ poster touts) in a soap/suds-filled arena, humourously utilizing an empty dustcart as a means of disposing slothful standins, stuntmen or otherwise; Kelly retained no disillusions about his ‘star’ potential, nor did he resort to cheap mimicry, unlike his Asian counterparts.

Unsurprisingly, a sequel was called for. Yet, according to varied sources, Clouse could not be inveigled to participate due to other committments. Around the camp fire, though, there were unfounded rumours Clouse and Kelly didn’t care for one another behind the scenes; a disharmony which allegedly first surfaced during the filming of Enter. Whether true or not (?), alternativ­ely, Oscar Williams became responsible for not only furthering Jones’ daredevil feats in script format, but found himself helming production in the heat soaked jungles of Chiang Mai, Thailand, again under the auspices of both Heller and Weintraub.

"Hot Potato" VHS Cover

“Hot Potato” VHS Cover

Twist the Tiger’s Tail, broadly known as Hot Potato wouldn’t go on general theatrical release until 1976. Although lensed in 1975, this film had a slightly higher budget attached than its precedessor. Kelly, concurrently, was systematically given total control to arrange all the action sequences, despite a pallid and routine plotline constructed around a U.S. Diplomat’s daughter, who is kidnapped by a despot named Carter Ragoon (Sam Hiona). A specialist team consisting of Jones, Johnny Chicago (Geoffrey Binney) and an obese wrestler appropriately monickered Rhino.

George Memmoli, whose sole skill (or lack thereof!) throughout the picture is to act as an embarassingly unfunny Lou Costello wannabe, replete with pratfalls and infantile gimmicks, are dis­patched to the fictional province of Chang Lau. There, the essemble is aided by Pamala (Irene Tsu), an interpreter, guide and conveniently, a martial artist: a quality Jones finds attractive. After that, the film spirals into stupidity as any relief from George Memmoli’s moronic antics is non forthcoming. Romance and subplot diversions: from Rangoon’s political scribblings to an imposter are also extraneous between sporadic gorilla-type offensives on either land or water, until Jones finally confronts Ragoon.

As expected, Kelly’s Karate executions are near crisp. His choreography is stylishly inventive and believable, marred only by the inferiority of his co-leads, excluding Irene Tsu, who convincingly holds her own amidst a premise that could have been vastly superior if Williams’ penmanship didn’t resort to banality or overt predictability. Gone was the brotherhood-feel or the rhetorical back street slang. Also omitted was the funk-filled theme of Luchi De-Jesus. Instead, a patriotic marshal soundtrack was used. Primarily, many feel this was done to disassociate itself from the original in favour of a new direction: a possible franchise? There was even talk of a potential screen pairing of Kelly and (the late) Amazonian beauty, Tamara Dobson, but nothing ever came of it except as conceptual echo bouncing back and forth between executives who had no real solid understanding of Kelly’s forte, nor did they wholeheartedly attempt to augment his career or Dobson’s for that matter.

"Take A Hard Ride" Theatrical Poster

“Take A Hard Ride” Theatrical Poster

Warner eventually shipped Dobson off to Hong Kong for another dreary co-production with the Shaw Brothers, resulting in a lack­lustre follow-up to her debut smash, Cleopatra Jones (1973). Kelly, meantime, swamped with mutual offers followed his feet to 20th Century Fox where a one picture deal was waved under his nose to co-star in an unusual Spaghetti Western entitled Take A Hard Ride (1976). Toils nonwithstanding, either as the appointed fight arranger or the prospects of (physically) acting with no memorable lines to speak of in grueling hot temperatures and inhospitable landscapes was a huge departure for the Karate star. There were nevertheless compensations besides a hansome salary. Firstly, the cast was an exciting melange of veterans featuring obligatory Western stalwarts: Lee Van Cleef and Barry Sullivan to 40’s/50’s noir regular, Dana Andrews. In essen­se, it was Kelly’s chance to truly work alongside an elite (now forgotten by contemporary audiences), hardened by decades of pursueing a craft more artistically misunderstood, misrepresented and definitely re-interpretated than the very expression of self. Propitiously, it also reunited him with both Jim Brown and Fred Williamson, both former American Football stars-turned-actors; as well as co-leads from Gordon Parks’ (JR) thrilling, albeit controversial actioner: Three the Hard Way (1974).

While both Hot Potato and the superior Take A Hard Ride were relatively low-key affairs fueled by unencumbered storylines, straight-forward dialogue and entertaining set pieces, by comparison, Three the Hard Way was veritably resolute in its depict­ion of violence, gunplay and naturally Kelly’s superative skills, including the memorable character appellation of Mister Keyes. Equally, Three the Hard Way did not beat about the bush with concerns about social identity, nor did the script – written by Eric Bercovici and Jerrold L. Ludwig – vocally shy away from the fact that the principal antagonists were white supremacists hell bent on eradicating the entire Black population; not just stateside, but on a global scale.

"Three the Hard Way" Theatrical Poster

“Three the Hard Way” Theatrical Poster

Mister Keyes was a far cry from Kelly’s subsequent roles of either Kashtok (the mute native American half breed from Take A Hard Ride) or the prospective Robert Sands aka The Black Samurai (1977). Here, interestingly, something of Williams’ psyche was self evident and inescapable. It was though he’d been spiritually resurrected in defiance of initially being killed off; the only difference, besides sporting a moustache affectation from Golden Needles, was Kelly further exalted himself when Neo-Nazi police officers plant narcotics in his car. Keyes does one better than descend into travesty or overly replicate the mannerisms of Bruce Lee. Regret­ably Three the Hard Way or Take A Hard Ride did not, by artistic design or exterior frugality, manifest nor advance projects that best exploited Kelly’s unique talents. His personal life, additionally, had taken a downward direction, particularly in regards to his four year marriage to TV and frequent B-movie actress, Rosalind Miles. There was even contemplation of abandoning the film business altogether in preference of his second love: Tennis. But the lure was too strong, and through an apparent, practically ironic connection with his estranged wife, Kelly was intro­duced to independent producer and cult filmmaker, Al Adamson (1929-1995), who’d previously directed Miles in his lurid revenge shocker, I Spit on Your Corpse (1974).

Known fundementally for his extremely low-budget, pseudo horror vehicles: Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1967), Blood of Franken­stein (1970) and Blood of Ghastly Horror (1971), to shortlist a somewhat efficicacious, but no less commercial(?) filmography. By no means classic examples, these dubious – almost artless reinventions – obviously inspired by both Universal and Hammer’s own individual (not to mention ‘remodeled’) adaptations, took to devalue Stoker’s/Shelley’s original Gothic masterpieces one step further into blood soiled amateurism, emphasising protracted gore, sadism and dodgy performances as a core objective to shock audiences into rioteous disbelief. Profitably, his “Grindhouse”approach to filmmaking, which didn’t always impress upon or humour critics into wordy salutations, was in various ways simi­lar to his contemporary, Roger Corman, In saying that, what Adamson may have lacked in style or proficiency, he certainly did not faulter vision-wise.

"Black Samurai" Theatrical Poster

“Black Samurai” Theatrical Poster

Indictative of Adamson’s bizarre flourishes, which by exposition, are deeply rooted in Euro-metaphysical or Urban mythologies; his involvement with bringing Marc Olden’s influential Black Samurai sequence to the screen was definitely a digression from a consistent diet of fiendish ghouls and reanimated corpses. Kelly himself was enthusiastic, given Olden’s extensive literary resume spanning three decades, thirty-nine novels and a very contentious Biography on political activist, Angela Davies. Nomi­nated for coveted awards such as ‘The Edgar’, Olden began writing full time under the Norn-de-plume of Robert Hawkes while toiling as a Broadway publicist. His popular Harker Files earned him, quite rightly, favourable reviews. However it was his preoccupat­ions with Nippon culture, ettiquette and Japanese martial arts that birthed Robert Sands. Invariably, between 1973 and 1975, Olden’s near surreal prolificacy resulted in eight (optioned) Black Samurai novels, but for some reason, producer Barbara Holden completely by-passed an origins story, which would have nicely explained how Sands (a G.I. stationed in Japan) learnt his formidable combative skills to his subsequent recruitment into the global organization of D.R.A.G.O.N, aka Defense Reserve Agency Guardian of Nations. Instead, much of the content was confusingly adapted from the sixth installment The Warlock (1975) by B. Readick and Marco Joachim.

Painful, as it is embarrassing, to all concerned, and with all the production gloss of a television movie pilot: stale dialogue, Adamson’s inconsistent camera-work (mainly handheld, semi-documentary style) and a derivative plotline that would hardly dent James Bond’s universal popularity. Giggles or yawns aside, when Sands’ love interest, Toki (Essie Lin Chia) is kidnapped for ransom by ego-maniacal Satanist, Janicot (Bill Roy), The Black Samurai springboards into action employing every trick in his survival manual to penetrate The Warlock’s inner sanctam of dancing sadists and killer midgets. Between circumventing numerous inept assassination attempts, wrestling a vulture to fending off the dominatrix advances of Janicot’s mistress – aptly named Synne (Marilyn Joi); laughably, one wonders how on earth Kelly, the maestro, contained a serious outlook for a picture far beneath both his professional standards and Olden’s literary creation.

"Black Samurai" Book Cover

“Black Samurai: The Warlock” Book Cover

Inasmuch, bogged down by hammy or extremely wooden acting – particularly from Biff Yeager as Pines, The Black Samurai’s infrequent confidante and associate – set pieces otherwise feel perfunctory, as members of Kelly’s stunt team wait around in sucession to be punched, chopped, sliced or kicked. Still, there is something very cult-ish about The Black Samurai (soon to be re-made as a television series) that is inexorable. It is definitely not a memorable film, but Kelly is commandingly memorable in it whether (A): Utilizing a bell jet pack, a la Thunderball (1965); (B): Bouncing around topless. imitating Muhammad Ali in a climatic sequence against Charles Grant to (C): Upstaging the entire cast essemble in the next. By general opinion reviews were expectedly “awful”. Purportedly, even Olden had not much too comment about the final cut. Sadly, it was a question of the wrong financier(s) out for a quick profit which ultimately destroyed any belief of a lasting franchise. As for Kelly, he found himself unable to break this cycle of mediocrity, and oncemore was con­signed to another Adamson-directed role as an avenging enforcer out to thwart international terrorists in possession of a freeze bomb formula.

"Death Dimension" Theatrical Poster

“Death Dimension” Theatrical Poster

Non-descript as it was idiotically casual, Death Dimension (1978), regardless of overt plagiarism, did not apparently retard or worry producers: Harry Hope or Dick Randal into con­science stricken remorse. On the contrary, it was an exercise in redundancy as thoughts of Ian Fleming or a hokey episode of The Man from Uncle rapidly springs to mind. Comparatively, they say imitation is the highest form of flattery… if done right! Nevertheless, if this template of Adamson’s wasn’t (so) formulaic or exploitive upon the masses, then the casting of ex-OO7 contractees: George Lazenby and Harold ‘Oddjob’ Sakata to introducing pseudo Bruce Lee android, Myron B. Lee as: “He’s mean, tough and deadly” was ridiculous as it was insulting to all involved.

Juxtaposed to an electronic Jazz score by Chuck Randell, obliga­tory car chases, unrelating martial arts encounters; a microchip stitched into an informant’s forehead and an almost unintelligi­ble Sakata ranting prosaic dialogue while fondling a tortoise were moments hardly to get exhilarated about. Aside from Kelly’s dependability, doubly as an actor and Karate exponent, its plott­ing is neither linear, ambivalent or straightforward enough to warrant any creative merrit. Veritably scenes do not snugly jigsaw in place, but rather are essembled haphazardly like a racing driver switching cars every five minutes. In addition to grainy cinematography, too much information is uninterestingly conveyed by George Lazenby’s character, who spends the majority of his screentime lounging in a cramped office, quickly dispenses with the importance of narrative development, thus leaving the viewer(s) either alienated or tickled by the ineptness of Harry Hope’s screenwriting. The same could be declared of The Tattoo Connection (1979), Kelly’s penultimate lead role before a two year self imposed hiatus.

Promoted as ”The Black Six Million Dollar Man”, Kelly was invited back to the crown colony when U.S. offers were not forthcoming, except for Ricou Browning’s singular, albeit violent ‘B’ feature, Mr. No Legs (1979). Although Kelly himself (was) quoted as saying he “never really left the film business”, clearly his work with Adamson closed many doors to investment possibilities. It was as if (the) studio magnates washed their hands of him… or was there a greater esoteric force at play? Seemingly, this career instability caught the attention of respected Hong Kong-based filmmaker, Lee Tsu Nam – then-known on the independent circuit for his explosive, derivative and not always character driven kung fu traditionals: The Hot, the Cool & the Vicious (1976), by example. Initially his work on numerous Bruce Lee cash-ins (Fist of Fury 2, Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger and Edge of Fury) for Taiwan­ese producer Jimmy Shaw ignited public awareness of both Tommy Lee and Ho Cheung Tao (aka Bruce Li) prior to a frequent production alliance with the underrated Wong Tao and Tae-Kwondo extraordinaire, Tan Tao Liang.

"The Tattoo Connection" Theatrical Poster

“The Tattoo Connection” Theatrical Poster

Famed for his near supernatural hop-kick manoeuvres, the idea of matching Tan’s quiet intensity with that of Kelly’s sang froid disposition proved to be much of an arena offscreen as it was on. Their chemistry, according to the veteran bootmaster, was marred by an apparent competitiveness which resulted in several episodic arguments. Surprising as unorthodox, allegedly Tan was none too impressed with Kelly’s benchmark kicking repertoire. As a hand technician, Kelly’s fast fists were unsurpassed and The Tattoo Connection managed to capitalize on this, often in the process of eclipsing the likes of (his) co-stars: Shaw Brothers legend, Cheng Sing, a Goju Rye stylist; and the menacingly brutish Bolo Yeung, whose Herculean enormity still looks oddly out of place considering the amount of film’s he’s appeared in.

Otherwise retitled Black Belt Jones 2 for distribution purposes, Kelly is Lucas, a highly expendable insurance agent dispatched to Hong Kong to investigate, locate and retrieve a stolen diamond. His sole link is a tattoo design that precipitates various, all too trite encounters with Kowloon’s dark underbelly: from duplicious prostitutes, a greedy whistle blower to ineffectual triad members, whose leader (Cheng Sing) and his trusted minion, Flash legs (Liang) were behind the gem’s actual theft. Rather than focus on Lucas’ detecting faculties, too much of Hsing Yi­ Chang’s screenplay is devoted to repetitious gangster themes such as ‘divided loyalities’ as well as the exploitation of women characters. However, the picture truly defines its vivacity when Liang’s conscience supercedes his mobster ethos and unites with Kelly for a climatic, hip-stretching showdown as two against many dynamically effectuates the boss’ downfall onboard a rusty decommissioned freighter. All told, The Tattoo Connection is an irrelevant entry in Kelly’s cannon. Nonetheless, it is not entire­ly devoid of adrenal pleasures, chiefly his long awaited wrestle against Bolo to circumventing the spanner wielding blows of veteran screen nasty, Chiang Tao are but a handful of prized minutes worth underlining, rather than undermine in a manner that would be detrimental to both Kelly’s contribution and all too brief association with Hong Kong cinema.

In his abeyance away from the unpredictability of the film world, Kelly married his third wife, Marcia Bently, in 1980 (a happy union that lasted until his untimely passing in 2013) between touring, and preoccupping his professional time instructing a wide patronage in both his martial arts distillation and Tennis fundementals. Meanwhile, fresh from nonsensical excursions into perennial brutality with pictures such as Fist of Fear,Touch of Death (1980) and The Black Cobra (1987), Kelly’s friend and associate, Fred Williamson had, since 1976, been dabbling in production administrat­ion and filmmaking with more than modest returns. Unsurprisingly, his brand of entertainment – favourable to the home video/DVD market – could be expressed as whimsical, macho diversions simpli­fied by cardboard villiany and overtaxed forays at dispensing retribution: After all, how many ways can a protagonist kill his nemesis? Williamson seemed overly committed! However, in a change of direction under his own production banner ‘Po-Boy’, the Hammer, as he was formerly known, put pen to paper, dug deep into his finances and conceptualized One Down, Two to Go (1982).

"One Down, Two to Go" Theatrical Poster

“One Down, Two to Go” Theatrical Poster

Ambitious as it is thinly scripted, Williamson’s hearty, but dutifully unwise attempt to squeeze extra blood from a well-used stone – or in this case “reunite” the firecracker attributes of Kelly, Jim Brown and himself, plus Richard ‘Shaft’ Roundtree, evinced to be oncemore an ‘exercise in futility as our ass grinding quadruplets resort to an offensive when typical henchmen of the Gosa Nostra replete with old country’ bravado muscle in on rigging Karate tournaments. Critically, this premise constructed around Williamson’s obvious love of contact sports in all its guises, was anaemic as it could get. Indeed no amount of plasma could (or would) sufficiently revive this deadweight from sinking fast into a quicksand of low-budget putrescence. Firstly, Kelly is obscenely underused. His participation – what there is of it – results in nothing more than a decorative prop going through all the external motions of a Golem, lazily conjured (by Williamson’s limited pen-craft) for the sole purpose of commercial nostalga instead of moulding a character that should of evocatively mirrored ‘Mister Keyes’ or the enigmatic ‘Kashtok’ to best advantage. Sadly, it was though a collective strength had ebbed away from a kinetic rhythm which either reached its zenith or simply depleted its source of inspiration, finally becoming a rejected genre due to demographic changes in both trends and politics. In essense, the underdog(s) had courageously struggled, fought and bitten so much back utilizing every means and modes of grace and spirit that there really wasn’t much left to say! Ergo Blaxploitation cinema, by way of survivalism, had to redefine itself through what could be informally perceived as celluloid vulgarity.

Alternatively the balletic movements of fast fists and flying kicks were cast aside while the ‘F’ word claimed precedence over everything else as a new weapon to challenge the so-called demo­cratic authority. Eddie Murphy’s (SO’s) new age heroes: Reggie Hammond or Axle Foley for example, whose brand of aggressive street vocab comically disarmed, divided and confused the enemy seemed intelligent at the time, but in hindsight appears ridiculo -usly immature and somewhat indirectly contemptible to what his cinematic forebears had accomplished; including Kelly – who now approaching his late thirties, had been unceremoniously relegated to soul-less Tv/film cameos, notably Michael Langdon’s Emmy winning ‘Highway to Heaven’ as a nameless reporter. Latter works (Ultimatum/Stranglehold Etc) were hardly worthwhile for a man of Kelly’s stature, integrity and sincerity.

"Busy Looking Good" artwork by Kung Fu Bob.

“Busy Looking Good” artwork by Kung Fu Bob.

It is easy to recognize Kelly won over (his) audiences with just the right alchemy, even in the most atrocious productions. Yet, to summarize a person’s life, achievements and/or distinctive personality traits in a mere handful of pages cannot truly commemorate, befit or salute an individual of Jim Kelly’s creative erudition, nor can one capture a person’s feelings, aspirations or emotional polarities and mould them into words of sufficient countanance: In short, it was his external strength married to an inherent positive temperment that prevented him from conceding to life’s challenges, especially in his final years heroically battling a terminal illness. If by anything, Jim Kelly proved repeatedly whatever the odds, whatever the risk; he faced every­thing head-on. And, like all great teachers, Kelly has shown by example that if one follows their own destiney without fear, without being confined to rigid boundaries, such as ignorance, denial to self recrimination even (all human shortcomings nobody on their journey is exempt from, at one time or another) – then mountains can be moved, at least in a symbolic broadview.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Jim Kelly, and his family. Peace and Light.

– Matthew J. Le-Feuvre.

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Herman Yau delivers more blood with ‘Always Be with You’

"Always Be with You" Chinese Teaser Poster

“Always Be with You” Chinese Teaser Poster

Considering that he’s gone all respectable with historical action pictures like The Legend is Born: Ip Man and The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake – not to mention edge-of-your-seat blockbusters like Shock Wave – it’s easy to forget that director Herman Yau (Taxi Hunter) got his start in the grimy, nasty world of Category III.

Movies like The Untold Story and Ebola Syndrome made Yau famous and now the filmmaker is once again returning to familiar territory (don’t miss our review for his recent Category III film, The Sleep Curse), with Always Be with You, an upcoming thriller with an all-star cast that includes Louis Koo (Three) and Charlene Choi (New Police Story).

We’re sure that in Yau’s capable hands, Always Be with You will deliver plenty of thrills, chills, gore and bad taste. Check out the film’s Trailer below and see for yourself.

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Ann Hui’s war epic ‘Our Time Will Come’ gets a July release

"Our Time Will Come" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Our Time Will Come” Chinese Theatrical Poster

China Lion is releasing Our Time Will Come on July 7th in 16 cities in North America. Based on a true story, this action-filled wartime epic is directed by award-winning filmmaker Ann Hui (A Simple Life) and stars Zhou Xun (The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate), Eddie Peng (Operation Mekong) and Wallace Huo (Fatal Countdown: Reset).

Our Time Will Come portrays a chapter in the history of Hong Kong’s wartime era that has never been told in film before. At the height of the Pacific War, Japanese forces took Hong Kong and enacted inhumane policies against cultural figures. As a member of a left-wing organization, Fang Lan (Zhou Xun) helped execute a top-secret plan to extract over a hundred renowned cultural figures from Hong Kong under the watchful eyes of the Japanese.

Additional cast members include Paw Hee-ching, Jessie Li, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Guo Tao, Huang Zhizhong, Jiang Wenli, Alex Fong, Ivana Wong, Ray Lui, Deanie Ip, Sam Lee, Eddie Cheung, Stanley Fung and Kingdom Yuen.

Click here for U.S./Canadian theater listings. Don’t miss the film’s Trailer below:

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Exclusive: Interview with Kurando Mitsutake

interview

If you’re not familiar with the name Kurando Mitsutake, it’s about time you should be. His first two feature length productions – Samurai Avenger: Blind Wolf, and Gun Woman – have both been released in the States, and his latest movie, Karate Kill, as of the time of writing is just weeks away from also hitting the shelves on Blu-ray and DVD. It’s been a long time since any new Japanese director has so successfully seen all of their movies gain a release Stateside, so what exactly is Mitsuktake’s secret to making his movies appeal to such a broad audience?

Kurando Mitsutake

Kurando Mitsutake

One look at any of the titles mentioned, and the answer becomes apparent pretty quickly. Usually dealing in tales of bloody revenge, Mitsutake’s no holds barred approach to violence, nudity, and minimal dialogue has proven to be a killer combination. It was his 2014 feature Gun Woman that put him on the map, thanks in no small part due to featuring Japanese starlet Asami going on a violent rampage…completely naked. Now Karate Kill looks to cement his reputation as a man who knows how an action movie should be handled. Although there’s no promise that its star, Karate black belt Hayate, will throw down in a similar state of undress, that certainly shouldn’t be a deterrent to those looking for some hardboiled action.

In June 2017 I had a chance to interview Mitsutake in anticipation of Karate Kill being released in the U.S. A down to earth and amicable fellow, it gave me the opportunity to ask about his influences, martial arts, and where the Japanese film industry is headed for genre productions such as his. Check out our discussion below –


"Return of the Street Fighter" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Return of the Street Fighter” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Paul Bramhall: When I watched Karate Kill, it felt like a modern day version of a 70’s Sonny Chiba movie, like The Streetfighter series, in terms of its mix of violence, gore, and nudity. Was this intentional, or were there any other movies that you felt influenced your approach?

Kurando Mitsutake: I’m very honoured if my movie reminded of you the legendary Sonny Chiba movies. When you do a martial arts film, you cannot deny or escape influences from Sonny Chiba and Bruce Lee no matter what you do, I think. But for Karate Kill, the movie I consciously drew my inspiration from was Dirty Harry. Harry Callahan is a great archetype of a self-righteous hero, and my hero in Karate Kill, Kenji, is like him. In a sense, what I wanted to do was to make Kenji’s Karate be Harry’s 44. Magnum. He wouldn’t be Dirty Harry without the .44 Magnum, but the movies aren’t about the Magnum.

PB: You’ve stated in previous interviews that you have no particular interest in martial arts movies, however you’ve made a very enjoyable one with Karate Kill. Now having made one, do you feel inclined to make more, or do you see this as a one-off venture into the genre?

"Dirty Harry" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Dirty Harry” Japanese Theatrical Poster

KM: Yes, I’m not a huge martial arts movie fan. I love Sonny Chiba and Bruce Lee classics and some early Jackie Chan films – including his first attempt to cross over to Hollywood, The Protector. But I stopped following the genre avidly after people started to fly in the air with wirework stunts. Somehow, the denial of gravity didn’t sit well with me, it looked too made up. This is why, in Karate Kill, we only did what humans can do for real. So if I can keep this approach to the action, I would love to do more martial arts movies.

PB: Knowing this, so what were your first thoughts when the man who would become Karate Kill’s executive producer, Naoki Kubo, approached you with the idea to make a movie with Hayate?

KM: Kubo-san wanted to create a chemical reaction between a real martial artist and a crazy director who just did an insane movie called Gun Woman. And I loved the challenge. So I took the offer in a heartbeat.

PB: I really enjoyed Hayate’s initial visit to the hostess bar that his sister used to work in, and the confrontation it leads to, from the basement carpark, into the club itself, before ending up in the manager’s office. The whole sequence lasts for about 5 minutes, but how long did it actually take to film, and how many takes did you go through?

"Gun Woman" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Gun Woman” Japanese Theatrical Poster

KM: I believe those scenes combined, we shot those in a day or little less. I shoot my movies crazy fast. Hollywood shoots about a page and half to 3 pages a day but I shoot 5 to 15 pages a day. We shot Karate Kill in 18 days in Los Angeles and 1 day in Tokyo. This style is not my choice, but it’s only what a Japanese indie film budget could allow me to do.

PB: There are many tales in the martial arts genre of when a real martial artist attempts the transition to screen-fighting, and the difficulties that such a change comes with. The need to pull punches, or get the right reaction to receiving a hit for example. What kind of challenges did Hayate face in transferring his style of Karate to the screen?

KM: I love this question because we had a huge issue with this one. Hayate is the real deal. His Karate is not for competitions. It’s for real self-defense, so his attacks are lethal. On the first offense he goes for the throat, the neck, the balls, the eyes and the heart. If I filmed his REAL fighting style, Karate Kill would have been a 40-minute short film. The biggest challenge that faced me and my fight choreographer, Keiya Tabuchi, was to fictionalize Hayate’s Karate while keeping its integrity.

Hayate in action in Karate Kill.

Hayate in action in Karate Kill.

Perhaps the funniest part of it was, let’s say there’s a punching scene, you don’t normally punch at the face, you would punch to the side. But because Hayate is the real deal, he prefers that it actually comes at his face, because he’s 100% sure he can dodge it. But the stuntman’s instinct is to punch to the side, which is where his face is going to go when he dodges! So that was a difficult adjustment. We had to ask the stunt people to actually go for his face, which I think made our fights a little more realistic. All in all Hayate and Keiya worked very closely for about 3 months to get ready for the filming, and I’m quite happy with the result.

PB: You worked with both Hayate and fight choreographer Keiya Tabuchi on the action scenes in Karate Kill. Can you tell us what was the process like to create these scenes? Did you have an idea in mind of what you wanted, then Hayate and Tabuchi would create the action based on your ideas, or did they also bring their own ideas to the table?

"Karate Kill" Theatrical Poster

“Karate Kill” Theatrical Poster

KM: Before I started to work on the script, I talked to Hayate extensively about what he wants to show in the movie. What type of attacks and situations. Then I reflected those in the writing. My script is pretty detailed, even on the fight scenes. I describe attacks, defences, and results, like what part of the body gets what type of damage. Keiya took what was on the script and designed the choreography around that. Then Hayate interjected his expertise onto it. This was how we achieved our fight scenes.

PB: You’ve worked with Tabuchi both on Gun Woman and Karate Kill, which tells me you have a good relationship as director and action director. How much would you say you influence each other’s approach to putting together an action scene, and what do you enjoy most about his style?

KM: I think my working relationship with Keiya is like a I’m Jim Steinman and he’s Meat Loaf kind of thing. I write songs and he sings them. His amazing ability elevates the songs to a higher level. That’s how I feel about our collaborations. What I love about Keiya as an action director is the fact that he is a storyteller. He tries to push the narrative forward within the action sequences.

Rule #1 for almost every action movie ever made: Shipping containers.

Rule #1 for almost every action movie ever made: Shipping containers.

Also, in this collaboration, I do need to mention my other amazing partner in crime, my director of photography Toshiyuki Imai. I imagine the fights, Keiya materializes them, and then they need to be filmed. That’s when Toshi comes in. Photographing staged fights well requires special understanding of what to shoot and what not to shoot. Since actors are not really hitting or kicking or killing each other, the camera work needs to sell the action. And Toshi does an excellent job doing just that.

PB: Speaking of camera work, the action sequence in the club during which the camera does a full 360 rotation features quite prominently in the promotional clips for Karate Kill, and understandably so as I believe it’s the first time I’ve seen such a technique in an action movie. How did that come about?

Karate Kill marketing runs rampant in Japan.

“Karate Kill” marketing running rampant in Japan.

KM: Well, there are so many martial arts movies, and I wanted to try to be different. I didn’t want to be buried under mountains of martial arts movies. I wanted to approach it like a director who doesn’t normally shoot martial arts movies. I didn’t want this shaky camera bullsh*t. You can make anyone look strong with that. If you look at Bruce Lee movies, the camera work is simple. You just park the camera in front of the real deal, that’s it. I wanted to do something like that, but I didn’t want to just do the fixed shot. I wanted to follow the action, but I didn’t want to make it all blurry bullsh*t. The rotating camera thing, that shot to me signifies a descent into a crazy world. Kenji’s entering a world of killing, and blood, his world is turning upside down.

But also, I wanted to film one long fight scene in the movie, with no cuts. I loved the hammer fight in Oldboy, but our budget is probably like 1/100th of that movie, so we couldn’t do the long hallway, one continuous shot or anything. I was like, “I really want to move the camera and do one long take,” but there was no way to do that, so I said “Why don’t we just rotate it like this?”

PB: Japan has produced a worthy amount of onscreen action talent in the last 20 years. The likes of Tak Sakaguchi, Tatsuya Naka, Mitsuki Koga, and Rina Takeda can all deliver the goods. However they’ve failed to make the same impact that guys like Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais have. Why do you think this is?

KM: This is a very hard question to answer in a few sentences, but I believe mainly the bipolarization of the Japanese movie industry is to be blamed. Big movies are getting bigger and small movies are getting smaller. Those amazing Japanese action performers you mention are not given the chance to star in big movies because only bankable “flavor-of-the-month” big management company backed talent can get the major roles. So Japanese action actors are not getting the recognition they deserve with a wider audience. Also the fact that Japan doesn’t make that many well-funded action movies anymore is another major factor in this issue.

PB: Speaking of which, overseas distributors of Japanese movies often complain they’re given little to work with in terms of marketing material, in comparison to say Korea, meaning they have to work much harder to make a Japanese movie appeal to a foreign audience. What’s your opinion on this, and do you think there’s a reason why Japan doesn’t really promote its movies overseas?

"Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf” Japanese Theatrical Poster

KM: The lack of PR materials might have to do with the fact that movies are no longer that important in Japanese society. I believe cinephiles are a dying breed in Japan, so there is very little demand for the behind the scene record of movies. Also, the huge problem is the fact that not many current Japanese movie producers care about the world market. They make movies for the domestic market and recoup all the necessary revenue so the business is done. They don’t want to sweat international sales and what not. This is why Japanese movies don’t cross overseas. This is a shame because movies are not just commodities. Cinema creates cultural empathy. We need more of this, more than ever. So I whole-heartedly wish Japanese movies travelled more and farther in the world.

PB: Karate Kill features former WWE star Katarina Leigh Waters, and also Danish actor David Sakurai, who features in the underrated Danish movie Fighter and more recently in Marvel’s Iron Fist, how did they both get involved with the production?

KM: I was a fan of Katarina to begin with. I knew of her work on Katarina’s Nightmare Theater. So when she came to read for the part, pretty much just as she opened the door, I made my mind up to ask her to play the part of Simona. She was just perfect. She is a total pro, a delight to work with and she is very beautiful. Then on top all of that, she is an amazing fighter. I loved working with her and I can’t wait to collaborate with her again in the near future.

Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf | Blu-ray (Synapse Films)

Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf | Blu-ray (Synapse Films)

When my second feature Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf came out in Denmark, David saw it and loved it. He found me on Facebook and we became good SNS friends. Ever since then we’ve been seeking for an opportunity to work together and the guest starring role on Karate Kill provided us with a perfect chance. For that part, my Japanese producers actually wanted to cast someone famous in Japan. But I told them we would be so lucky if David came on board on Karate Kill because he is the next Keanu Reeves. And look at what’s happening to his career now. David Sakurai is going to be huge. I can only hope we can team up again soon.

PB: Then of course you have Asami. Like many, my first exposure to her was in 2008’s Machine Girl, and your movie Gun Woman went a long way to solidifying her image as the femme fatale of Japan’s B-movie action scene. Considering she started off in pink eiga, what is it do you think that makes her so appealing to audiences, and what is she like to work with?

KM: Asami is a force of nature. She is like gravity. Your sight goes to her and is drawn to her. Men, women, young and old. They all love her. And her skill as a performer to articulately convey emotions to an audience worldwide is simply magnificent. She is a sensitive young woman in person, but on the set she’s a tough leading lady. I love working with her.

Retro-syle Japanese Poster for "Machine Girl"

Retro-syle Japanese Poster for “Machine Girl”

PB: Even for someone that doesn’t know your love of horror, upon watching Karate Kill it becomes very apparent in various scenes. Was it a conscious decision to make the action so bloody and visceral, and did you have any influences in regards to gorier elements of the story?

KM: Hayate’s Karate is bloody and visceral so consequently, the movie became that way (laughs). For example, the ear ripping Hayate does in the movie is one of the real techniques he has. Same for the eye poke. So even without my love of horror movies, Karate Kill was bound to be a bloody one.

PB: On the topic of horror, in the early 00’s it seemed that Japan was going to have a resurgence as a country known for making the scariest horror flicks, a resurgence that sadly didn’t last due to an over reliance on the long black haired ghost trope. How do you see the future of horror in Japan, and how do you see yourself playing a part in it?

Hayate and Katarina Leigh Waters.

Hayate and Katarina Leigh Waters.

KM: Yes, the Sadako-esque long black haired ghosts are dead horses, but the Japanese love to keep on beating them. As a huge fan of the horror genre, I would love to contribute to the resurgence of Japanese horror if I were given an opportunity. But I’m not sure if Japan is ready for another horror movie wave anytime soon because the political climate there is taking a severe turn, and Japan’s acting more and more like a totalitarian society with some recent bills that have been passed. Right now movie audiences in Japan are turning away from the horror genre and heading towards more lighter and funnier content.

PB: If you were given an unlimited budget to work with and you could make whatever movie you want, what kind of movie would it be, and what would be your dream cast?

KM: My late father was a P.O.W. held by the Soviets after the WWII. So if I have an unlimited budget, I would love to make a WWII war drama about Japan, China and The Soviet Union. I have to think about my dream cast, but I would love to have a scene with Toshiro Mifune’s picture in it. As a homage to the most famous Japanese actor ever lived. Although I don’t think I want to go to the extent of having a CG version of Mr. Mifune as Star Wars: Rogue One did for Peter Cushing.

Karate Kill | Blu-ray & DVD (Dark Cuts)

Karate Kill | Blu-ray & DVD (Dark Cuts)

PB: I’d like to ask a question which you may only be able to half answer. Firstly, we’ve enjoyed Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf, Gun Woman, and now Karate Kill, so what can we expect next from you as a director. The second part is, Karate Kill has the potential to make a star out of Hayate, so do you have any plans to work with him again, or know what he has in store next?

KM: I had my 5th feature lined up at the end of last year. I was set to direct this really tight political action thriller in Japan but my star backed out at the last moment. The plug was pulled and it died completely. I was devastated and it took me a few months to recover, but I started pitching my future projects to different producers and companies again. So hopefully I will get a green light on one very soon. I think my next feature will be either my first full-on horror movie, or a hardboiled actioner. I would love to team up with Hayate again. He is one of the most committed film personas I’ve ever met. I totally respect him and wish him all the luck. I’m not sure what he has lined to do next but he is gaining momentum to do something big.

Thank you so much for this detailed and fun interview! And thank you very much for reading this. I hope you’ll enjoy Karate Kill!

Thanks again to Kurando Mitsutake, Paul Bramhall, and Clint Morris for their hard work in making this interview happen.

Posted in Features, Interviews, News | 1 Comment

Master of the Drunken Fist: Beggar So | Blu-ray & DVD (Warner)

Master of the Drunken Fist: Beggar So | Blu-ray & DVD (Warner)

Master of the Drunken Fist: Beggar So | Blu-ray & DVD (Warner)

RELEASE DATE: August 8, 2017

Warner Brothers presents the Blu-ray & DVD for Guo Jian-Yong’s Master of the Drunken Fist: Beggar So (read our coverage about the film), starring Zhi Hui Chen, Jun Cao and Mei Ying Wang. The film is part of the HBO Asia Original Film series (other being Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong Kei-Ying), produced by Corey Yuen (Righting Wrongs).

Due to a conspiracy, the wealthy So Chan loses everything but is saved by the Beggars’ Sect. He learns the long lost martial art – Drunken Fist, to defeat the person who framed him.

Pre-order Master of the Drunken Fist: Beggar So from Amazon.com today.

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

Deal on Fire! Ran | Blu-ray | Only $9.59 – Expires soon!

Ran | Blu-ray (StudioCanal Collection)

Ran | Blu-ray (StudioCanal Collection)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Akira Kurosawa’s Ran (read our reviews), a 1985 “interpretation” of Shakespeare’s King Lear.

In Medieval Japan, an elderly warlord retires, handing over his empire to his three sons. However, he vastly underestimates how the new-found power will corrupt them and cause them to turn on each other… and him.

Ran stars Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu, Masayuki Yui, Kazuo Kato, Peter, Hitoshi Ueki, Jun Tazaki, Mieko Harada, Yoshiko Miyazaki and Norio Matsui.

Order Ran from Amazon.com today!

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Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong Kei-Ying | Blu-ray & DVD (Warner)

Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong Ke | Blu-ray & DVD (Warner)

Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong Ke | Blu-ray & DVD (Warner)

RELEASE DATE: August 8, 2017

Warner Brothers presents the Blu-ray & DVD for Guo Jian-Yong’s Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong Kei-Ying (read our coverage about the film), starring Mou Li, Zhi Hui Chen and Hao Ran Sun. The film is part of the HBO Asia Original Film series (other being Master of the Drunken Fist: Beggar So), produced by Corey Yuen (Righting Wrongs).

Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong Kei-Ying tells a tale of Wong Fei-Hung’s father, and his battles to rid China of opium.

Pre-order Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong Kei-Ying from Amazon.com today!

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

Boyka: Undisputed IV | Blu-ray & DVD (Universal)

Boyka: Undisputed IV | Blu-ray & DVD (Universal)

Boyka: Undisputed IV | Blu-ray & DVD (Universal)

RELEASE DATE: August 1, 2017

Universal Studios Home Entertainment is bringing the highly-anticipated Boyka: Undisputed (aka Boyka: Undisputed IV) to Blu-ray & DVD on August 1, 2017.

Scott Adkins (Hard Target 2, Eliminators) the film’s mega-talented star and martial artist from Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, Assassination Games, Wolf Warrior and Close Range, is returning as the title character, Yuri Boyka.

Co-starring are Teodora Duhovnikova (Corpse Collector), Alon Aboutboul (The Dark Knight Rises), Julian Vergov (Until Death) and Valentin Ganev (Undisputed II).

In the fourth installment of the Undisputed franchise, Boyka is shooting for the big leagues when an accidental death in the ring makes him question everything he stands for.

This time around, Todor Chapkanov (Viking Quest) directs, while Isaac Florentine (Close RangeUndisputed IIIII) serves only as producer. The film’s action will be handled by Tim Man (Ong-Bak 2). David N. White (Undisputed IIIII, Ninja: Shadow of a Tear) is back as screenwriter.

Pre-order Boyka: Undisputed IV from Amazon.com today!

Posted in DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles, News | 85 Comments

Scott Adkins has an ‘Incoming’ Die Hard-in-space actioner

"Incoming" Teaser Poster

“Incoming” Teaser Poster

With a handful of projects currently under his belt, martial arts sensation Scott Adkins (Hard Target 2, Eliminators, Zero Tolerance) is without doubt, one of the most active action stars in the business. And now, a new project, titled Incoming, has just been revealed.

This one puts the Close Range star in somewhat of a Die Hard-in-space scenario. According to DeadlineIncoming revolves around an International Space Station that now serves as a prison. When the imprisoned terrorists take over the Station and turn it into a missile aimed at Moscow, only a shuttle pilot and a rookie doctor can stop them. Adkins plays a rogue CIA agent who has his own plans for the station and the terrorists within.

Incoming is being helmed by first-time director Eric Zaragoza. The film is written by Jorge Saralegui (Showtime) and based on a story by producer Rick Benattar (producer of Shoot ‘Em Up).

“We’re thrilled to be working with Scott on this exciting new project. It’s a science fiction film but rooted in the realities of our world today. It explores familiar themes and looks at what could be our world in the not-too-distant future,” said producer Benattar (via KWPR).

Be sure to read about Adkins’ other looming projects, such as Altar RockAccident ManSavage Dog, American Assassin, and of course, the highly-anticpated Boyka: Undisputed IV. Adkins is currently gearing up for Triple Threat, where he’ll be sharing the screen with Tony Jaa (Skin Trade), Tiger Chen (Man of Tai Chi), Iko Uwais (The Raid 2), Michael Jai White (Falcon Rising) and UFC Champ Michael Bisping (xXx: Return of Xander Cage).

Incoming is currently in post-production with a release date by XLrator Media set sometime in 2018.

Updates: Added the film’s first Poster (we’re not sure why London is under attack, but we’re 100% sure the designer didn’t read the film’s plot).

Adkins

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