Returning cast members announced for ‘Detective Dee 3’

"Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon” Chinese Theatrical Poster

A 3rd film in the Detective Dee series, tentatively titled Detective Dee and the Four Kings, has been announced by the Huayi Brothers film company (Chinese Zodiac, Mojin: The Lost Legend).

Tsui Hark (The Raid) will once again direct. There’s currently no information on whether Detective Dee and the Four Kings will be a sequel to the 2010 Andy Lau film (Detective Dee & the Mystery of the Phantom Flame); or if it will be a follow up to 2013’s Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon, which starred Mark Chao.

Since Kenny Lin (Rise of the Sea Dragon) is the only confirmed returning actor so far, a “sequel” to the latter is our best bet. Of course, there is still the possibility of a time paradox-infused script, featuring both incarnations, according to a 2014 interview with Hark.

Detective Dee and the Four Kings shoots in 2017/releases in 2018.

Updates: In addition to Lin, AFS reports that Mark Chao, William Feng and Carina Lau will return for Detective Dee and the Four Kings.

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Violent Prosecutor, A (2016) Review

"A Violent Prosecutor" Korean Theatrical Poster

“A Violent Prosecutor” Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Lee Il-hyeong
Writer: Lee Il-hyeong
Cast: Hwang Jung-Min, Gang Dong-Won, Lee Sung-Min, Park Sung-Woong, Kim Eung-Soo, Joo Jin-Mo, Kim Won-Hae, Jeon Bae-Su, Shin So-Yul, Park Jong-Hwan, Kim Hong-Fa, Lee Suk-Joon, Kim Byung-Ok, Park Ji-Hwan
Running Time: 126 min.

By Paul Bramhall

More than any other film industry in the world, it’s the Korean one that arguably reflects its countries current tumultuous state. 2016 delivered a president that’s pending impeachment, shady religious figures exerting their influence from behind closed doors, and the upper ranks of companies such as Samsung being investigated for corruption. Understandably, public trust for those in authority is at an all-time low. The current social climate has seen a slew recent titles take aim at those in power, productions that have used such subject matter as an outlet for cinema going audiences to see their frustrations vented onscreen. From political thrillers like Inside Men and Master, to disaster flicks such as Tunnel, to social commentary disguised as a zombie movie with Train to Busan. All of them paint an ugly picture of those in positions of authority.

The theme continues with A Violent Prosecutor, the directorial debut of Lee Il-hyeong, who’s also working from his own script. While it may be his first time going solo in the director’s chair, Il-hyeong is no stranger to working in the field, having served as an assistant director on the likes of 2007’s The Moonlight of Seoul, and 2014’s Kundo: Age of the Rampant. The shoes of the violent prosecutor in question are filled by Hwang Jeong-min, who has steadily worked his way up to be one of Korea’s A-list stars. To some degree I feel that Jeong-min has almost been over-exposed, as in 2014 – 2016 alone he’s headlined 6 movies. From the ridiculously sappy Ode to My Father, through to the energetic action flick Veteran, he’s an actor who rarely puts in a bad performance, although he could perhaps pace himself a little better.

For those not paying attention, many could likely mistake A Violent Prosecutor as a thematic sequel to Veteran, à la the Public Enemy series. Jeong-min plays a veteran prosecutor who always gets the bad guys, even if it involves occasionally having to beat seven bells out of them, but his intentions are good. Basically, the same character as Veteran, but a prosecutor in court instead of a detective on the streets. Thankfully the similarities stop there, with his violent streak being brought to an abrupt end, when a suspect being kept in his custody is found dead the next morning. With his reputation for dishing out beatings, and the suspect being unsupervised at the time, Jeong-min finds himself being made an example of, and is handed a 15-year sentence for murder.

Of course, something fishy is afoot. The suspect had a serious case of asthma, although an inhaler was never retrieved as evidence, and although Jeong-min’s boss (who has aspirations of moving into politics) asks him to plead guilty with the promise of an early release, once the verdict is announced he’s left high and dry. From here on in, the title could be more suitably switched to The Heavily Beaten Ex-Prosecutor, as he gets regularly brutalized by those inmates he was responsible for sending to prison in the first place. However Il-hyeong has clearly watched The Shawshank Redemption, and after an overheard discussion that has one of the prison officers mentioning their legal trouble, soon Jeong-min has himself positioned as the go-to guy for legal advice.

It’s an interesting switch, as the script does an about turn on the titles implication of A Violent Prosecutor, and instead sees Jeong-min resort to his brains in order to make his seemingly inescapable predicament tolerable. Skip forward 5 years, and we’re introduced to a new inmate played by Gang Dong-won (who’s worked together with Il-hyeong before, as the villain in Kundo: Age of the Rampant, and started off 2016 with a role in The Priests). It’s when Jeong-min overhears Dong-won regurgitate word for word the same ecological spiel that the dead suspect had told him 5 years before, that his infamous temper is reignited once more, and he embarks on a mission to prove his innocence from behind bars.

Dong-won’s appearance is a welcome one, having been briefly glimpsed taking selfies as a disguised activist in one of the initial scenes, his supposedly Pennsylvania educated conman steers the movie into prison buddy comedy flick territory (that notably the productions marketing material sold it as). It may seem like a jarring shift after the poker faced opening 30 minutes, but the transition is handled well, with Dong-won’s frequently outlandish outbursts in accented English delivering the desired laughs, regardless of how cheap they may be. Il-hyeong’s script also makes the wise decision of switching the focus to Dong-won, whose character feels like a breath of fresh air compared to Jeong-min’s archetypal Korean tough guy. With an almost effeminate air of confidence, even from behind bars he continues to swindle the clueless rich girls who come to visit him, targeted due to none of them being the brightest tools in the box.

The unlikely pairing of a framed prosecutor and an unrepentant swindler is a winning one, and Jeong-min and Dong-won have a likeable chemistry together, one which carries the movie along at a brisk pace. When Jeong-min figures out he can easily get Dong-won released thanks to a legal loophole, the agreement is made that Dong-won will essentially act as Jeong-min’s avatar on the outside, gathering enough evidence to prove that he was setup. In case it isn’t clear already, A Violent Prosecutor covers a lot of ground, both with its plot but also with its genres. From crime thriller, to buddy comedy, to by the time Dong-won is wining and dining with Seoul’s elite as a lawyer in disguise, it almost feels like we could be watching a caper flick by The Thieves director Choi Dong-hoon.

Thankfully, it all works, with the structural setup deriving a sense of underlying tension thanks to the interaction between the pair. Jeong-min may have everything planned out in his head, but in the hands of someone that’s a compulsive liar, the margin for things to go wrong is a wide one. Of course, said margin is what results in the tension being cranked up to suitably high levels of danger in the 2nd half of A Violent Prosecutor, as the bigger the lie Dong-won has to tell the higher the stakes become. Like any Korean movie that covers this genre ground, the comedic proceedings are sometime offset by sudden outbursts of violence, and Il-hyeong shows that he’s not one to break the trend. In one particular scene a character gets hit across the face with a steel kettle which has just boiled, and in another a character is beaten within an inch of his life. If there’s one thing that Korean’s know how to do well, its violence.

However the constant swaying from extreme violence to comedic hijinks is certainly not something that’s new to Asian cinema, as anyone who’s seen a Sammo Hung movie from the 70’s or 80’s can attest to, but somehow A Violent Prosecutor finds the right balance. Korea has certainly come a long way since the likes of similar productions which attempted to balance violence and comedy, such as 2001’s My Wife is a Gangster, which saw such scenes as a cat being given mouth to mouth resuscitation next to a female being repeatedly kicked in the chest. While such setups left a bad taste in the mouth, the violence here is integrated into the story, serving to move it along, and as a result in never feels as jarring as it perhaps does when being described on paper.

While A Violent Prosecutor certainly doesn’t break any new ground, it succeeds largely in part to both Jeong-min and Dong-won’s pairing, and the genre hopping nature that the plot steers us through. By the time proceedings round off in the form of a courtroom drama, it’s easy to forget that Jeong-min and Dong-won have in fact spent most of the movie apart. With a brisk pace and a welcome sense of humour, Il-hyeong certainly doesn’t feel like a first time director. Whether that’s largely down to the winning chemistry between its leads, or indicative of a new talent that’ll be worth keeping an eye on, time will tell. But for now, I’d like to say it’s both, and for fans of Korean cinema A Violent Prosecutor delivers the expected high production values backed up by an engaging plot and characters. My only hope is that we get slightly more breathing space before the next Hwang Jeong-min flick comes along.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7/10

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Mark Dacascos brings ‘Ultimate Justice’ for all…

"Ultimate Justice" Theatrical Poster

“Ultimate Justice” Theatrical Poster

Martial arts star Mark Dacascos (Drive, Brotherhood of the Wolf, Only the Brave) is back in action with a new thriller titled Ultimate Justice. The upcoming film will be backed by Mike Leeder’s Silent Partners, the production company also responsible for the recent One Million K(L)icks.

Ultimate Justice, tells the story of a team of former Special Ops elite soldiers, whose friendship was forged in battle and years after they thought they had lain down their weapons for good, they are drawn back into action when the family of one of their own is threatened, friendships and loyalties are tested, battlelines are drawn, and Ultimate Justice will be served.

Joining Dacascos will be Matthias Hues (No Retreat, No Surrender II), Matthis Landweher (Kampfansage) and Mike Moeller (One Million K(L)icks), who will also be handling the fight choreography. The film also stars Sandra Bertalanffz, Wolfgang Riehm, Wing Tsung Sifu Henry Mueller, Yasmeen Baker, Martin Baden, Brandon Rhea and of course, Mike Leeder (Pound of Flesh) himself.

Updates: According to SD (via Mike Leeder), Vision Films has picked up Ultimate Justice for worldwide sales. The same source adds that a sequel is being planned with Mark Dacascos returning to the lead role. Stay tuned for a solid release date.

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Enter our ‘Cold War 2’ Blu-ray Contest! – WINNERS ANNOUNCED!

Cold War 2 | Blu-ray (Well Go USA)

Cold War 2 | Blu-ray (Well Go USA)

Cityonfire.com and Well Go USA are giving away 3 Blu-ray copies of Cold War 2 to three lucky City on Fire visitors. To enter, simply add a comment to this post and describe, in your own words, the video below.

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

Cold War 2 will officially be released on March 7, 2017. We will announce the 3 winners on that date

CONTEST DISCLAIMER: You must enter by March 6, 2017 to qualify. U.S. residents only please. We sincerely apologize to our non-U.S. visitors. Winners must respond with their mailing address within 48 hours, otherwise you will automatically be disqualified. No exceptions. Contest is subject to change without notice.

WINNERS: Sharon W, Stefan and David W.

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Ley Lines (1999) Review

Black Society Trilogy | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

Black Society Trilogy | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Ichiro Ryu
Cast: Show Aikawa, Samuel Pop Aning, Takeshi Caesar, Yukie ItouMichisuke Kashiwaya,Kazuki Kitamura, Dan Li, Ryuushi Mizukami, Ren Osugi, Tomorowo Taguchi, Naoto Takenaka, Koji Tsukamoto, Hua Rong Weng
Running Time: 105 min.

By Kyle Warner

Takashi Miike’s Black Society Trilogy kicked off with a lurid and offensive bang in 1995 with Shinjuku Triad Society. He followed that up with Rainy Dog in 1997, a quieter, more reserved crime drama. (That’s not to say that Rainy Dog is a tame film—it is violent and shows no pity for childhood innocence—but compared to the sexual violence and seedy darkness of the first film, Rainy Dog feels almost elegant by comparison.) 1999’s Ley Lines, the final film of the trilogy, is something of a blend of the two previous films. Miike pushes the extremes like he did in Shinjuku Triad Society, but the interest he showed in cinema as an art in Rainy Dog continues to grow.

We enter the film with a hyper stylized glimpse of our main character’s childhood in the country, when he was bullied by Japanese kids for his Chinese heritage. The stylization of this scene—the upper half of the frame is crimson and the lower half is green—returns to the film at a few key points, and serves to signify the almost supernatural bond between our main character Ryuichi (Kazuki Kitamura) and his younger brother Shunrei (Michisuke Kashiwaya) when the one of the two is in distress. Fast forward to the present and Ryuichi is a punk with priors who’s desperately hoping to escape his country town and move to Brazil. That dream is put on hold when he’s denied a passport. So, Ryuichi decides to flee to Tokyo instead, taking with him his dimwitted friend Chang (Tomorowo Taguchi), with little bro Shunrei unexpectedly following close behind.

Once in Tokyo, the rough but naïve Ryuichi ends up getting pickpocketed, so they must work at selling toluene on the streets for a drug dealer (Sho Aikawa). With hope for an official passport dashed, the Chinese trio plans to buy forged passports, which in turn puts them in the sights of another Chinese immigrant, the loan shark with a short fuse Mr. Wong (Naoto Takenaka). All of these competing interests—money, drugs, revenge, and childhood dreams—build slowly before ending up on a collision course in a tense and unpredictable final act.

Until that action-driven finale, Ley Lines is a peculiar character drama with an ensemble cast. There are some things I personally would’ve cut (the Chinese prostitute Anita meeting up with a pervert comes to mind), but nothing necessarily feels out of place in Miike’s film. His vision of Tokyo in Ley Lines is one where outsiders are stepped on, women are used, and the powerful do as they please. Ley Lines goes off the rails at times, ignoring the central plot in order to explore perversions, bizarre character quirks, and minor revelations, but even these strange, side alley deviations serve to enhance the character development.

Ley Lines is a sad film. In the director’s career, and especially in this trilogy, Miike tries to tell the stories of the immigrants and outsiders. Shinjuku Triad Society was about Taiwanese Triads in Japan. Rainy Dog was about a Japanese hitman in Taiwan. And Ley Lines is about Taiwanese youth trying to escape Japan. Miike regular Kazuki Kitamura (Killers) plays the bigger brother Ryuichi as a young man lashing out at all that would hope to confine him. And as younger brother Shunrei, Michisuke Kashiwaya (Kids Return) plays the more innocent of the two, one who doesn’t like how things are but is hesitant to go to the extremes in order to change his plight. Even the villain Wong played by Naoto Takeneka (Tokyo Fist) is a sad character. Though he claims to think that Japan is the land of opportunity, Wong forces women from his hometown of Shanghai to tell him old Chinese folk stories in order to find some kind of peace.

Ley Lines also has a fun (and dark) sense of humor, though. Tomorowo Taguchi, who played the coldblooded villain in Shinjuku Triad Society and a different, wild dog sort of bad guy in Rainy Dog, is nearly unrecognizable as Ryuichi’s goofy buddy Chang. Watch the trilogy and admire the actor’s range. And Rainy Dog’s Sho Aikawa has a fun role as the drug dealer who thinks that he could make the world a better place if everyone had a sample of his toluene.

It’s not important to watch the Black Society Trilogy in order of release, as the films are only connected in theme, but if you do so you can clearly see Miike improve as a filmmaker. Shinjuku Triad Society has rough, poorly lit visuals, and no off switch. Rainy Dog shows Miike exploring more artistic qualities and a more leisured pace. And Ley Lines has Miike coming into his own as a visualist, setting scenes with creative shots or extreme colors.

In addition to Miike’s larger cinematic interest in the outsider and the immigrant, Ley Lines has much in common with one of the director’s other most common reoccurring themes, that of the dangerous youth. Miike has repeatedly told coming of age tales, often doing so with a flair for violence. Ley Lines feels like a not-so distant relative to the director’s other violent youth pics like The Way to Fight, Osaka Tough Guys, Crows Zero, and his two Young Thugs films. Fans of those films may be interested in Ley Lines, and vice versa.

The Black Society Trilogy hits Blu-ray in the US and the UK from the good folks at Arrow Video. The first two films share Disc 1 and the majority of the special features join Ley Lines on Disc 2. New features include commentaries on all three films from Tom Mes, an interview with Sho Aikawa, and a 45 minute interview with Takashi Miike. All the new features are excellent and are recommended for fans looking to learn more about the movies and their stars. Also included is a booklet with essays on the films from Samm Deighan, Tony Rayns, and Stephen Sarrazin. The Black Society Trilogy movies were never the sort of movies that film collectors dreamed of seeing in high definition. But even so, the Blu-rays are a noticeable upgrade over the old DVDs. It’s a really good release, full of nice extra features for fans of the films and Takashi Miike in general.

When I first saw Ley Lines years back, I remember thinking that it was the weakest film of the trilogy. No longer. Now I think it’s second best, ranking below Rainy Dog and a step above Shinjuku Triad Society. It’s an interesting blend of the themes and the attitudes of the first two films. And though occasionally I found it tested my patience, the final 20-30 minutes of Ley Lines are fantastic at playing with your emotions and defying your expectations, so I’m giving it an extra .5 in my rating. Plus: that final shot. I’m still thinking about it. The final shot of Ley Lines remains one of the most memorable images of Takashi Miike’s prolific career.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 7.5/10

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A sequel to Jackie Chan’s ‘Kung Fu Yoga’ in the works?

"Kung Fu Yoga" Theatrical Poster

“Kung Fu Yoga” Theatrical Poster

Whether you loved or hated it (read our review), there’s a strong possibility that a sequel to Kung Fu Yoga is on its way. Not only is the film dominating box office charts in China, but Indian film star Sonu Sood (Arundhati), who plays the movie’s lead villain, had this to say (via TTOI):

“I would love to take the venture forward. I remember that I was talking to my director Stanley Tong in China and he was very happy”. “He said, ‘We are planning to have ‘Kung Fu Yoga 2‘. I agreed with him.”

Kung Fu Yoga, which was was recently released by Well Go USA this past January, is noted for reuniting Jackie Chan with Tong (the two created magic in films like Rumble in the Bronx, Police Story 3 and Police Story 4).

In Kung Fu Yoga, Chan plays a world-renowned archaeology professor on a mission to locate the lost ancient Indian treasure of Magadha when they are ambushed by a team of mercenaries and left for dead. The film also stars Lay Zhang (of the K-pop group EXO), Miya Muqi (Tomb Robber), Aarif Rahman (Bruce Lee, My Brother) and and Ileana D’Cruz (Happy Ending).

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Sword Master | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Sword Master | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Sword Master | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

RELEASE DATE: April 11, 2017

Well Go USA’s release for Derek Yee’s (Shinjuku Incident) Sword Master (read our review) is arriving on Digital on March 7th; then on Blu-ray & DVD on April 11th.

The film is a remake of Chor Yuen’s Death Duel, a 1977 Shaw Brothers film that Yee starred in during the height of his acting career.

In this wuxia epic, a swordsman is haunted by the destructive impact his deadly talents have on others. Weary of the bloodshed from the martial arts world, he banishes himself to the humble life a vagrant, wandering the fringes of society. But his violent past refuses to let him go quietly. The swordsman must regain the ability to wield his sword and fight those disrupting the peace he so desperately craves.

As with the original, the remake is an adaptation of Ku Lung’s Third Master’s Sword (literal title). The film is produced by Tsui Hark (Taking of Tiger Mountain) and stars Kenny Lin Geng-Xin (Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon Sea Dragon), Peter Ho Yun-Tung (The Monkey King), Jiang Yi-Yan (The Bullet Vanishes) and Jiang Meng-Jie (Kung Fu Man).

Blu-ray & DVD Bonus Materials:

  • “Mastering the Sword” featurette

Pre-order Sword Master from Amazon.com today!

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

Deal on Fire! Hero | Blu-ray | Only $5.88 – Expires soon!

"Hero" Blu-ray Cover

“Hero” Blu-ray Cover

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Zhang Yimou’s 2002 wuxia film Hero, which stars Jet Li (Flying Swords of Dragon Gate), Tony Leung (Bullet in the Head), Maggie Cheung (Police Story), Chen Daoming (Infernal Affairs 3), Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Donnie Yen (Special ID).

Hero revolves around a nameless soldier (Li), who embarks on a mission of revenge against the fearsome army that massacred his people. The film features fight choreography by the legendary Tony Ching Siu Tung (Duel to the Death). Be sure to read our reviews for Hero.

Order Hero from Amazon.com today!

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‘Scarface’ gets a re-write from The Coen brothers

"Scarface" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Scarface” Japanese Theatrical Poster

It’s been off and on for over 5 years, but Universal is still on a mission to bring back another remake of Scarface, originally conceived by Howard Hawks (Rio Bravo) and reimagined by Brian DePalma (Carrie). This time around, Scarface will revolve around Mexican drug cartels.

Previously, director Antoine Fuqua (The Replacement Killers) was considered for Scarface, but according to Variety, the filmmaker is dropping out and putting his focus on an Equalizer sequel instead. David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water) and Peter Berg (Lone Survivor) are two other names being considered.

Other updates include the involvement of Diego Luna (Star Wars: Rogue One) to star. David Ayer (End of Watch) has been attached as screenwriter, with Paul Attanasio (Donnie Brasco), Jonathan Herman (Straight Outta Compton) and Terence Winter (Vinyl) have added their input to the script, followed by a re-write by The Coen brothers (Fargo).

At one point, Pablo Larraín (Jackie) was rumored as a possible director – and Leonardo DiCaprio (Wolf of Wall Street), Sofía Vergara (Machete Kills) and popstar Rihanna (Battleship) were rumored for roles. At this phase of development, anything is possible.

Scarface has a scheduled release date set for August 10, 2018.

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John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) Review

"John Wick: Chapter 2" Korean Theatrical Poster

“John Wick: Chapter 2” Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Chad Stahelski
Writer: Derek Kolstad
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Bridget Moynahan, Lance Reddick, Thomas Sadoski, David Patrick Kelly, Peter Stormare, Franco Nero
Running Time: 122 min.

By Paul Bramhall

As a stuntman, it’s not every day the opportunity comes along to direct the actor who you’ve been doubling for the last 20 years, but that’s exactly what happened to Chad Stahelski, when he took the directorial reigns for the 2014 Keanu Reeves action vehicle John Wick. Stahelski first doubled for Reeves on 1991’s Point Break, and has continued to be his stunt double ever since, featuring in the likes of The Matrix trilogy, The Replacements, and Constantine. The pair have maintained a close working relationship, so when Stahelski founded the 87Eleven Action Design group (along with David Leitch, who co-directed John Wick) after his experience of working under Yuen Woo Ping on The Matrix, Reeves was the obvious choice for the leading man of their directorial debut.

In a market saturated by action movies intent on resorting to how many pixels can be destroyed onscreen, John Wick was a revelation, a lean and mean production that relied on bullets to the head and bones being broken rather than CGI spectacle, with Reeves delivering admirably. It wasn’t without its faults though, the brain numbing repetition of the Marilyn Manson track ‘Killing Strangers’ over an original score, and a rather limp finale, both made it fall short of being a certifiable classic in my opinion. But what it certainly did do, is give audiences an appetite to see more of John Wick, and in 2017, their wish has been granted.

Sequels are always a tricky proposition, and considering the originals wafer thin plot, which revolved around Wick seeking revenge for his murdered (is that the correct phrase?) dog, stretching the story of a retired hitman for a second instalment has plenty of room for error. Should the filmmakers go for (a) the Taken approach – have another one of his pets killed and have him seek revenge, or (b) go the Tom Yum Goong approach, and simply have the gangsters kill the dog he adopted at the end of the original, and recycle exactly the same story. Thankfully both Stahelski (this time minus Leitch) and original writer Derek Kolstad are back on board for Chapter 2, and while the plot is still flimsy, it does its duty perfectly well.

Essentially it can be boiled down to this – it’s revealed that when Wick left the hitman world behind, he did so with the help of a mafia boss (played by Italian actor Riccardo Scamarcio), and as per the hitman code of honour, he owes Scamarcio a marker – basically an IOU. What this event was and when it took place is never revealed, however when Scamarcio visits Wick out of the blue to claim his favour, Wick’s stubborn refusal to adhere to the rules quickly sees him in a world of pain. After a visit to the Continental, the hotel from the original which acts as a luxurious refuge for the hitmen of the world, the hotel manager (played by a returning Ian McShane) talks him around. It’s the code of honour after all. So Reeves sees himself on a plane to Rome, on a mission to fulfil his obligation – to assassinate Scamarcio’s sister.

Before we get to any of that though, John Wick: Chapter 2 gets straight down to business in a blistering initial scene, taking place even before the opening credits have rolled. In a sequence that fits in more action than Steven Seagal’s whole post-2000 filmography, Reeves lays waste to an endless stream of attackers in an old warehouse, breaking bones and cracking skulls like they’re going out of fashion. Reeves is beaten, knocked around, hit by a car, thrown out of his own car (which is the purpose of the scene by the way, to retrieve his stolen 1969 Mustang) and generally ends up on the receiving end of impacts that would put the average human in hospital for the rest of the year. But Stahelski uses the scene to put his cards on the table early on, much like the route that The Transporter 2 (successfully) took, Chapter 2 is going to give us super-John Wick. The action is going to be more exaggerated, more bloody, more brutal, and more lengthy. Take it or leave it.

For fans of action of course, this is a dream come true, but there is also an audience out there who won’t appreciate the ramped up action quota. Those same voices that didn’t appreciate Jason Statham having a fight in a free falling plane, probably will be the same ones that don’t appreciate Reeves ability to keep getting back up after being beaten half to death. However, my voice is not one of those, and while John Wick: Chapter 2 is definitely more pulpy than its predecessor, it’s arguably the only direction to go in. Writer Kolstad wisely decides to expand on the idea of having a hotel that caters to hitmen, here revealing it to be an international organization with branches across the globe. The hotel even has its own tailored-to-the-hitman’s-every-need set of facilities, from a gun showroom (where Reeve’s goes for a “tasting”) to a Kevlar lined suit bespoke tailor service.

When I first watched John Wick I’d noted how it was essentially an early Steven Seagal movie for the post-2010 generation. Just like Out for Justice, it even ended with Reeves taking care of a dog, a sign from above if ever there was one. I maintain that statement for Chapter 2. Here Reeves roams around the globe, but no matter where he goes everyone seems to know his name, such is his reputation for being the baddest ass on the planet. The difference of course is that Reeves has the moves to back up the huge respect the characters he bumps into silently bestow upon him. For the second round Reeves also shows the character to be adept in a variety of languages, happily conversing in both Russian and Italian without batting an eyelid. Maybe Seagal doesn’t bat an eyelid either, but it’s hard to tell behind those orange tinted glasses.

The action itself is a joy to behold, and is choreographed by J.J. Perry, another member of Stahelski’s 87Eleven Action Design group, heavily incorporating the use of Judo and Brazilian Jujitsu. Several action sequences show both influences and nods to other action classics, with one particular scene in the catacombs having Reeves plant guns along the way to use later, clearly referencing Chow Yun Fat’s similar scene in A Better Tomorrow. When the weaponry is called upon to be used, there’s an influence of the Scott Adkins one-man rampage in Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, as Reeves weaves in and out of the cave like structure, rarely taking his finger off the trigger. Perhaps the most recognizable nod of all though is the finale, which takes place in an art installation that includes a hall of mirrors. As Scamarcio taunts Reeves out of sight, the reference to Bruce Lee stalking Shek Kin in Enter the Dragon is a worthy one.

The supporting cast also provide plenty of action talent, with Reeves having two wonderfully protracted fights with rapper turned actor Common (they also notably played enemies in Street Kings), delivering some wince worthy impacts and falls. Current actress-of-the-moment Ruby Rose also gets a one-on-one against Reeves in a hallway, playing a deaf mute bodyguard to Scamarcio. Yes, Ruby Rose is to John Wick: Chapter 2 what Julie Estelle is to The Raid 2, only fails at coming across as either intimidating or dangerous. Away from the action front, Reeves and Laurence Fishburne reunite for the first time since 2003’s The Matrix Revolutions, meeting on a rooftop to share such lines as “So I guess you have a choice”. The nods to The Matrix may be obvious, but they come across as playful rather than cheap like in The Expendables series.  Plus, as the expression goes – when in Rome, cast Franco Nero in an extended cameo.

If there’s any detractor for John Wick: Chapter 2, it’s that Reeves’s acting performance pales in comparison to his action talents. With a remarkable number of his lines relegated to the likes of “yeah” and “sure”, rather than coming across as brooding, he instead feels a little flat. Indeed while we learn a lot about the world John Wick lives in, we don’t actually learn anything new about the character himself. He still watches videos of his wife via his phone and looks sad, and still treats his dog better than anyone else he meets. It would have been nice to add some additional characterisation, but as it is Reeves delivers a performance which mainly feels like filler to bring us to the next action scene. In this case, the action is so good that the wait is always well rewarded, however I do wonder how much it will stand up to re-watches. Minor gripes aside, there’s no doubt Reeves will get to announce “I’m back” for a third instalment, and when it hits, I’ll be there.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7.5/10

Posted in All, Asian Related, Cults & Classics, News, Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Well Go USA catches Donnie Yen’s ‘Chasing the Dragon’

"Chasing the Dragon" Promotional Poster

“Chasing the Dragon” Promotional Poster

The public will soon see Donnie Yen (Ip Man 3) play real-life gangster Ng Sek-ho (aka Crippled Ho) in Chasing the Dragon (aka King of Drug Dealers), a remake of the 1991 Hong Kong gangster movie To Be Number One. The film will be released in North America by Well Go USA.

Deadline reports that Yen will play an immigrant in Hong Kong who is caught in the underground world of corrupt cops and ruthless drug dealers, and he becomes determined to become the sole dictator in the drug empire.

Chasing the Dragon also stars Andy Lau (Switch, Shanghai 13), Philip Ng (Zombie Fight Club), Michelle Hu (Once Upon a Time in Shanghai), Kent Cheng (Run and Kill) and Philip Keung (Full Strike).

Wong Jing (Mercenaries from Hong Kong) co-directs Chasing the Dragon, along with renowned cinematographer Jason Kwan (As the Light Goes Out, Helios).

According to a reliable source (via Toby Wong from Hong Kong), “Chasing the Dragon is a purely dramatic role for the cast, so don’t expect Donnie Yen to do the martial arts he’s known for. Instead, expect hack and slash action. Donnie is rough housing it. Remember, it’s a triad drama, not Ip Man 3. Don’t worry, action fans will still be happy!”

One of the first set photos (another set) to show Andy Lau and Donnie Yen in 70s fashion has emerged. Also, we have learned from Mike Leeder that the Kowloon Walled City, which was completely demolished in 1994, is being rebuilt for the film.

We’ll keep you updated on this film as we learn more. Stay tuned!

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Beast with a Gun | aka Mad Dog Killer (1977) Review

"Mad Dog Killer" DVD Cover

“Mad Dog Killer” DVD Cover

AKA: Ferocious
Director: Sergio Grieco
Producer: Armando Bertuccioli
Cast: Helmut Berger, Richard Harrison, Marisa Mell, Marina Giordana, Luigi Bonos, Ezio Marano, Vittorio Duse, Alberto Squillante, Nello Pazzafini, Maria Pascucci
Running Time: 95 min.

By HKFanatic

Beast with a Gun could loosely be associated with the Poliziotteschi genre (Italian police films) since the hero is a cop, but most of the film’s screentime is devoted to actor Helmut Berger’s crazed bad guy and his violent antics. As such, this movie falls more in line with the glut of “kidnapping” films that were popular in the 70’s. These movies tended to feature hapless suburbanites kidnapped and taken on the road by vicious criminals; they asked audiences “What would you do in this situation?” and offered the grindhouse-style titillation of seeing housewives roughed up by convicts. The founding father of Italian horror, Mario Bava, even lent his hand at one of these movies just a few years before Beast with a Gun with 1974’s Rabid Dogs – a much superior film to this, let me tell you.

Helmut Berger was an Austrian-born actor who later found fame doing filmwork in Italy and France. He crackles with a demonic intensity in Beast with a Gun, looking for all the world like a young Kenneth Branagh crossed with a sadistic gang member from Death Wish 3. He seems to relish in his role as a “mad dog killer”: from the opening of the film when he escapes from prison, he never stops lashing out at the world. He beats the crap out of a security guard and some poor gas station attendants; he gets revenge against the man who squealed on his gang, then forces himself on the guy’s wife and takes her along for the rest of his crime spree. Meanwhile, a mustached and rather ineffectual cop tries to pinpoint Helmut’s whereabouts and bring him to justice. The film builds to its inevitable conclusion as these two opposing forces of the law must eventually meet.

Beast with a Gun has a certain sleazy momentum to it, much like Helmut Berger in the lead role, which makes it watchable. But overall I found the film to be a droll and unenjoyable trip into the world of one loathsome human being. For all his posturing and beatdowns, Helmut’s character just seems like a poser – you get the sense that without a gun in his hand or his gang backing him up, he’d shrink from a fight like the coward he is. Italian b-movies are all about providing lurid thrills but sometimes you just have to ask yourself: do we really want to spend 90 minutes with this character? There’s nothing charismatic or compelling about an antisocial lunatic who beats and rapes people because he has a a gun and they don’t.

Beast with a Gun garnered some attention back in the late 90’s due to a cameo appearance in Jackie Brown – it’s the film Robert DeNiro and Bridget Fonda are seen watching on TV while they get high. Although I typically trust Quentin Tarantino and his innate ability to dig up obscure b-movie gems, this is one mad dog I suggest you put down.

HKFanatic’s Rating: 4/10

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We ‘Overheard’ the ‘Thieves’ director is doing a remake

"Overheard" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Overheard” Chinese Theatrical Poster

Acclaimed South Korean filmmaker Choi Dong-hun (Assassination, The Thieves) is getting ready for yet another ensemble thriller, this time, a remake of a popular Hong Kong franchise.

According to AFS, the Tazza director is doing his own version of the Felix Chong and Alan Mak (The Lost Bladesman) directed, Derek Yee (Sword Master) produced film, Overheard.

The original – about a trio of police officers conduct surveillance on a listed company – starred Lau Ching-Wan (Call of Heroes), Daniel Wu (Sky on Fire) and Louis Koo (Z Storm).

Casting has yet to be announced. Stay tuned!

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Black Spot (1990) Review

"Black Spot" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Black Spot” Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Earth & Fire
Director: Bruce Le (Huang Kin Long)
Producer: Joseph Kong, Dick Randall
Cast: Bruce Le (Huang Kin Long), Lo Lieh, Kong Do, James Ha Chim Si, Ho Pak Kwong, Cheng Yuen Man, Wong Hap, Andre Koob, Elizabeth Gordon, Fanny Hill
Running Time: 98 min.

By Paul Bramhall

Bruce Le has always been the Bruce Lee clone that can. From starting off as a Shaw Brothers bit player in the 70’s, his resemblance to the departed megastar saw him spend the latter part of the decade thrust into starring roles of such low budget Bruceploitation efforts as Enter the Game of Death and Bruce and Shaolin Kung Fu. Often shot in the Philippines and Korea, due to the cheaper locations and crews, Le’s output seemed destined to have history view him as the weakest of the Bruce Lee clones. However the guy persisted, and during the 80’s took greater control over his career, starring in such globe-trotting adventures as Challenge of the Tiger and Bruce Strikes Back, as well as getting in on more grand scale Filipino action movies, such as Mission Terminate alongside Richard Norton.

By the time it was the 1990’s, Le had also established himself as a director, and to kick off the decade made both Ghost of the Fox, a Chinese Ghost Story inspired tale of the supernatural, and Black Spot, the movie that delivers Le’s final action performance in front of the camera. In many ways Black Spot can be considered the swansong for the original wave of Bruce Lee imitators. Bruce Li had retired from filmmaking in the early 80’s, and by 1990 Dragon Lee had long since returned to Korea and moved away from the period kung fu movies he was known for. While Le had also long stopped aping the mannerisms of Bruce Lee by the time Black Spot was released, the story, wardrobe, and just about everything else still safely mark it as the Bruceploitation genre.

Le’s last effort as an ass kicking kung fu man owes much to his 80’s collaborations with B-movie maestro Dick Randall and Filipino director Joseph Velasco (who’s also on-board here as producer). The globe-trotting element is still firmly in place, as Le plays a former drug kingpin trying to lead a quiet life, but is ultimately dragged back into the game by the police. They’re determined to find the location of The Golden Triangle, the source village where all the opium is coming from, and they know they can leverage Le’s connections to get close. The results see Le travel from France, to the likes of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China, and finally Thailand.

It’s understandable that Le doesn’t want to leave his peaceful life in France, as he seems to be running a kind of health retreat, which has leotard wearing blondes perform somersaults in front of the camera, while others bathe topless on the veranda. However when he’s reminded of how many lives his former activities ruined, he feels morally obligated to get involved, he is Bruce Le after all. It has to be said that despite there being no mistaking that Black Spot is a Bruce Le movie, it’s a world away from the productions he was making only 10 years prior. While it doesn’t consist of non-stop action scenes, the story actually holds up as an engaging tale of the drug trade and those it involves. Black Spot also sports a script that clearly wasn’t made up on the fly, as the story spans a number of months, with the date regularly appearing onscreen to provide a timeframe of the events that are unfolding. Never mind that one of the dates is 30th February.

There’s also plenty of familiar faces in Black Spot to keep the HK film aficionado happy, with cameo appearances from the likes of Lo Lieh and Kong Do, both of whom play drug kingpins that Le used to be associated with. While Le fights both of them, the highlight fight belongs to when he has to square off against a massive monster of a man, who must be about 7 foot tall and just as wide. The fight takes place within a cage covered in barbed wire, and when one fighter decides against stepping into the cage, instead a completely random sheep is thrown in. Before you have a chance to contemplate where the sheep came from, the man mountains lifts it above his head by the legs, partially rips it in half, and lets its insides and blood pour all over his face, which he eagerly laps up. It’s a disturbing scene which I hope wasn’t real, or at least it wasn’t alive at the time, however what’s just as disturbing is that Le barely comes up to the guys chest in height, making for a genuinely tense showdown that ends on a suitably gory note.

There are other factors that make Black Spot an interesting footnote in the Bruceploitation genre, one particular being that Le was 40 at the time he made it, which makes him a full 8 years older than when Bruce Lee died at the age of 32. At this point Le had spent 14 years under a name created to cash-in on the death of kung fu’s most successful star, starting with Bruce’s Deadly Fingers in 1976, so there’s certainly some irony in just how long his career lasted compared to the man who he wouldn’t exist without. Le himself has acknowledged this, however the hard graft he put into those low budget 70’s productions arguably paid off in the long run, as Black Spot comes with a surprisingly high budget.

This is no more evident than in the final 20 minutes, when Le has infiltrated the small rural Thai village that’s the source of the opium, and discovered that the drug is being purified and distributed via an underground lab built in a cave beneath the village. If you ever wanted to see a finale that can be summarised as Rambo meets Enter the Dragon, then you’ve come to the right place. Apparently Le was able to enlist the cooperation of the Thai army for the finale, and as a result, it contains a significant number of extras, a military helicopter, 4 tanks, and more machine guns than you can shake a stick at. The scale is truly impressive, as the village is decimated with explosions, and Le takes to running through the cave, armed with a machine gun of which his finger barely comes off the trigger. Bullets, punches, and kicks are liberally thrown, as Le and his entourage shoot seven shades out of anything that moves (and stuff that doesn’t).

I’d gotten so used to the Bruceploitation genre being derivative of other more popular HK movies, that I couldn’t help but admire how the movie was successfully able to copy the grand scale of the action found in the likes of Bullet in the Head, until I realised it was released the same year. Likewise the village where the showdown takes place looks remarkably similar to the one from Police Story 3: Super Cop, and again it wasn’t until I stopped and thought about it, that it hit me Chan’s movie didn’t come out until 2 years later. In that respect Black Spot can be considered to be Le’s true epic, which is a line that even I confess to never imagining I’d write. Le has stated that the production took 3 years to complete in total, which may explain why his last movie prior to this was the Fist of Fury inspired 1987 production, Fire on the Great Wall, and for the most part the effort shows. Le even broke a leg during the production while performing a stunt, and reportedly directed the remainder of the movie on crutches.

However as ridiculous as it may sound, it wasn’t the action that left a lingering impression after the credits rolled. Le clearly wanted to convey a message on how the drug trade profits off the poverty of those in places like the rural village growing the opium, and in the movie he befriends a family that make their money from growing it. He realises that the family have no idea how much harm the drug is doing overseas, they simply grow it as a means of supporting their children and elders. Perhaps it was due to Le’s own upbringing in Burma that he felt a close connection to such a story.

At the end, when the army gathers all the opium and plans to set it on fire, the villagers beg them not to destroy their livelihood, which is met with dire consequences. While witnessing this, Le is sent over the edge, culminating in a surprisingly powerful final scene of a man powerless to stop the death of innocents, even though seemingly all of the bad guys have been wiped out. A Bruceploitaion flick with a finale that delivers a surprisingly emotive punch? Who would have thought, but Black Spot does indeed to exactly that.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7.5/10

Posted in All, Bruceploitation, Chinese, News, Reviews | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

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

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

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

RELEASE DATE: April 4, 2017

Johnnie To’s critically acclaimed action thriller Three (read our review) is heading onto digital March 7th and on Blu-ray & DVD April 4th from Well Go USA Entertainment.

When a police sting goes bad, a criminal (Chung) forces cops to shoot him. Now hospitalized, the criminal refuses treatment while waiting for his cohorts to break him out. Caught between a cop (Koo) and a surgeon assigned to save his life (Wei), the hospital is about to turn into a bloody battleground at any moment…

Three stars Louis Koo (Call of Heroes), Wallace Chung (Bounty Hunters) and Vicky Zhao Wei (14 Blades).

Bonus Materials Include:

  • “Master Director Johnnie To” featurette
  • “Three Complex Characters” featurette

Pre-order Three from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, News | 11 Comments

Deal on Fire! The Raid Collection | Blu-ray | Only $13.59 – Expires soon!

The Raid Collection | Blu-ray (Sony)

The Raid Collection | Blu-ray (Sony)

Today’s Deal on Fire is for Gareth Evans’ The Raid Collection on Blu-ray, which will contain both 2011’s The Raid and 2014’s The Raid 2.

In The Raid, an elite swat team moves in to take down the notorious drug lord that runs a drug-gang’s safe house, which is the home to some of the most terrifying and ruthless fighters in the city; In The Raid 2, the cop from the first film goes undercover to take down a network of powerful organized crime syndicates.

Cast members for The Raid Collection include: Iko Uwais (Merantau), Joe Taslim (Star Trek Beyond), Donny Alamsyah (Merantau), Yayan Ruhian (Yakuza Apocalypse), Arifin Putra (Macabre), Oka Antara (Killers), Tio Pakusadewo (Guardian), Alex Abbad (Merantau), Julie Estelle (Macabre), Ryuhei Matsuda (Cutie Honey), Kenichi Endo (Crows Zero), Kazuki Kitamura (Killers), Cecep Arif Rahman (The Gate), Cok Simbara (Kentut) and Very Tri Yulisman (Headshot).

The Raid Special Features:

  • Audio Commentary with writer/director Gareth Evans
  • Video blogs:
    • Bootcamp
    • Set Location, Camera & Lighting, Make-up & Special Effects
    • Courtyard, Hole Drop
    • Drugs Lab, Tama’s Office
    • Machete Gang & Corridor, Jaka vs. Mad Dog
    • Post Production
  • Behind-the-scenes featurettes:
    • Behind the Music
    • Anatomy of a Scene
    • Stunts
    • Themes
    • Inside the Score
  • An Evening with Gareth Evans, Mike Shinoda, and Joe Trapanese conversation
  • In Conversation with Gareth Evans and Mike Shinoda feature
  • Claycat’s The Raid
  • The Raid TV show ad (circa 1994)

The Raid 2 Special Features: 

  • Featurettes:
    • Ready for a Fight: On Location
    • Violent Ballet: Behind the Choreography
  • Deleted Scene: Gang War
  • English Dub in addition to the original language version of the film
  • Director Commentary with Gareth Huw Evans
  • Featurettes:
    • The Next Chapter: Shooting a Sequel
    • Cinefamily Foundation Q&A with Gareth Huw Evans, Iko Uwais & Joe Trapanese

Pre-order The Raid Collection from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Deals on Fire!, News | 3 Comments

‘Superman Returns’ in Vincent Zhou’s ‘Lost in the Pacific’

"Lost in the Pacific" DVD Cover

“Lost in the Pacific” DVD Cover

On February 7, 2017, Hannover House is releasing the DVD for Lost in the Pacific, a sci-fi actioner starring Brandon Routh (Superman Returns), Zhang Yuqi (CJ7), Russell Wong (Contract to Kill), Bernice Liu (King of Triads) and Mengjie Jiang (Kung Fu Hero).

Director Vincent Zhou (not to be confused with the martial arts star) seems to have an obsession for “flight disaster” movies. Last year, he brought us the similarly-themed Last Flight. Now, he’s back with yet another catastrophic flick titled Lost in the Pacific (its working title was Last Flight II: Lost in the Pacific, which makes perfect sense).

The story takes place in 2020 when a group of international elite passengers embark on an inaugural luxury and transoceanic flight (regarded as “the Titanic in the sky”) that later gets into some serious trouble. Routh plays a high profile yet mysterious chef with military background who soon realizes that some people on the island might be “hijacking the plane”.

Described as “the first Chinese 3D sci-fi adventure film,” Lost in the Pacific has made its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Judging from the trailer, it can easily be taken as another “Die Hard on a plane,” considering Routh seems to be kicking some mid-air butt. To better portray his character, Routh revealed that he “did lots of research on culinary arts so hopefully the performance is solid and convincing on screen.”

Lost in the Pacific hits DVD on February 7, 2017. Watch the Trailer below:

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Shaolin vs. Lama (1983) Review

"Shaolin vs. Lama" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Shaolin vs. Lama” Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Lee Tso Nam
Producer: Ching Kuo Chung
Cast: Alexander Lo Rei, William Yen, Sun Jung Chi, Chen Shan, Lee Wai Wan, Chang Chi Ping, Ching Kuo Chung, Wong Chi Sang, William Yen, Li Min Lang
Running Time: 90 min.

By Chris Hatcher

In the world of old school kung fu films of the 1970s and 80s, there is a vast mix of good-to-great films and terribly bad ones; films with superbly fast-paced fight choreography and ones with moves slower than my grandma on her morning mile walk before breakfast; films that make you laugh at the poorly-dubbed English tracks, which are endearing to those of us who view this as part of the “old school” charm; and the rarity film that puts all the best qualities of the genre together to create a masterpiece of chop-socky Asian cinema that stands the test of time.

Look no further for one of these rarities than Lee Tso Nam’s Shaolin vs. Lama, my all-time favorite old school kung fu film, for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, the speed of the fight choreography can only be described as “breakneck” (and not undercranked), which is my highest compliment. Of the 200+ fu flicks in my collection, it’s my go-to for introducing friends to the genre. Not Enter the Dragon, not The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, not Drunken Master… but Shaolin Vs. Lama. Period… hands down… end of story.

Don’t get me wrong, I have several close seconds to Shaolin vs. Lama that are near and dear to my heart. Warriors Two, the aforementioned 36th Chamber, 8 Diagram Pole Fighter, Clan of the White Lotus, Five Element Ninjas, and 7 Grandmasters all come to mind. But when I ask myself the question, “Which film gives me some of the most ferocious fight sequences of the genre,” I always come back to Shaolin vs. Lama as my number one answer.

Now that I’ve gotten my personal SVL love out of the way, here’s what you can expect from Nam’s tour de force: Alexander Lo Rei is Sun Yu Ting, a wanderer who challenges kung fu experts in search of a master with an “if you can beat me, I’m yours to teach” motto. When he meets Shaolin trouble-maker Hsu Chi (William Yen) and learns of his Grandmaster’s (Sun Jung Chi) excellent kung fu, Yu Ting is up for the challenge… an encounter that lasts all of 30 seconds as the GM bests Yu Ting and has him begging to become his student. The old “stink foot” technique was never so potent (truly one of the grossest, but intentionally funny, scenes in old school fu flick history)!

The old monk refuses the job, but Hsu Shi devises a plan for Yu Ting to “steal” the Grandmaster’s kung fu by attacking him and learning his moves in the process (an absurd concept that proves highly entertaining when Yu Ting plays “keep away” with some smoked chickens… this GM loves his meat and wine!). When this painful approach prompts Yu Ting to ask why the monk won’t teach him, Hsu Chi tells him of Chi Kung (Chang Shan), a former pupil of the Grandmaster’s who posed as a Shaolin student 10+ years ago while sitting as chief of the rival Golden Wheel Lamas. We learn his plan was to avenge the death of a former Lama chief at the hands of the Shaolin (of course!) by infiltrating their temple and stealing a secret kung fu manual (of course, of course!!). Couple this betrayal with knowing the old GM was the one who allowed Chi Kung to escape with the manual (which we see in flashback), and we have a good idea why he now has an affection for the drink.

Because SVL isn’t Shakespeare, I’ll wrap up the storyline by revealing some good ol’ tried and true particulars of the genre: Chi Kung resurfaces as Yao Feng Lin, up to his old tricks of infiltrating clans with his loyal lamas; when a survivor (Lee Wai Wan) of his latest attack is saved by Yu Ting and harbored by the Shaolin, it brings the lamas right to the temple doorsteps; as the head abbot (Chang Chi Ping) is about to put Yu Ting out of the temple for good, the Grandmaster takes pity and accepts him as his pupil (of course, of course, of course!!!); Yu Ting begins some brief, but rigorous Shaolin training in preparation for battle with Yao Feng (accompanied by a catchy Chinese opera/pipe organ jingle that shows up whenever the main players face off); the Shaolin traitor catches Yu Ting and his GM off guard, which leads to some spectacular kung fu with disastrous results; and we see Yao Feng use multiple styles from the secret manual, which will make the task of defeating him all the more difficult.

To sum it up, Shaolin Vs. Lama has it all… great fights, (intentionally) great comedy, cheesy costumes, crazy eyebrows, projectile “spittle” (wait… what?), a highly entertaining story, and (unintentionally) hilarious dubbing. Aside from the amazing fight scenes between Yu Ting, Yao Feng, and the Grandmaster, there are several battles between monks and lamas that are highly acrobatic and entertaining. While some fighters don’t display the most technical grace (note the fat, balding lama who looks out of place), the fights are so well-staged and the monks so on-point, you barely notice. (Shaolin Chief Yan Zu is excellent in his multiple encounters!) Major props go to William Yen, who provides well-placed comic relief as Lo Rei’s sidekick. As does Sun Jung Chi; his interactions with Yen and Lo Rei are very funny (you’ll remember “stink foot” for as long as you live!). It’s nice to see the comedic elements actually enhance an old school film rather than drag it down.

However, the fights between Lo Rei, Chang Shan, and Jung Chi are the reason to watch… some of my all-time favorite throw-downs. (In 1978, both Lo Rei and Chang Shan won the Taiwan Taekwondo Championship and the Second World Kung Fu Tournament, respectively, so their pedigrees are proven.) Their fights are so ferocious, and feature such exciting snippets of styles from tiger fist to shadow boxing to Sanshou (as noted in a 2016 interview Chang Shan gave to kungfukingdom.com), they make the hair stand up on my neck every time I watch them! And, I almost forgot to mention the Buddha Finger… the ultimate technique for finding your opponent’s weak spot! You’ll laugh at how it comes off during the training sequences and you’ll love how it’s applied in the final showdown!

Ultimate kudos to Nam and action director Peng Kong because none of the three main actors ever looked as good in any other film they made compared to Shaolin Vs. Lama. If you need proof, check out Lo Rei in the highly undercranked Ninja: The Final Duel… an awful film with near unwatchable fight choreography. Even Nam, who directed other good films like The Leg Fighters and Shaolin Invincible Sticks, never topped the quality level achieved in SVL. The fact everyone’s very best work comes out in the same fu flick tells you all you need to know about why Shaolin Vs. Lama is special, and deserves its place on the top shelf as one of the greatest of all time.

Chris Hatcher’s Rating: 10/10

Posted in All, Chinese, News, Reviews | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Tiger Chen leaps in time in a New Trailer for ‘Kung Fu Traveler’

"Kung Fu Traveler" Teaser Poster

“Kung Fu Traveler” Teaser Poster

Looks like Tiger Hu Chen (Monk Comes Down the Mountain) will be giving Jean Claude Van Damme’s Timecop a run for its money in an upcoming movie that sounds like it’s another concept that meshes martial arts and time traveling into one complete package.

The Yuen Woo-ping protege who made his starring debut in Keanu Reeves’ Man of Tai Chi is joining forces with Wang Zhi (Drug War) in Zhang Xianfeng’s upcoming sci-fi action film, Kung Fu Traveler.

Another film Chen will be involved with is Triple Threat, an Expendables-type actioner also starring Tony Jaa (Skin Trade) and Iko Uwais (The Raid 2).

Updates: Watch the new Trailer for Kung Fu Traveler below:

Posted in News | 3 Comments

Tokyo Fist (1995) Review

"Tokyo Fist" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Tokyo Fist” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Writer: Shinya Tsukamoto, Hisashi Saito
Cast: Kahori Fujii, Shinya Tsukamoto, Koji Tsukamoto, Naomasa Musaka, Naoto Takenaka, Koichi Wajima, Tomorowo Taguchi, Nobu Kanaoka, Akiko Hioki, Kiichi Muto
Running Time: 87 min.

By Kyle Warner

Shinya Tsukamoto, throughout his career, has brought his particular vision to a variety of genres. Due to the legendary status of the Tetsuo trilogy, Tsukamoto is often thought of as a director of cyberpunk. This is wrong. Shinya Tsukamoto is, at his core, a horror filmmaker. When a director adds their special seasoning to a drama, especially one that’s been seen before like boxing pictures or war films, it’s important to understand that director’s instincts. And, instinctually, Tsukamoto will return to horror concepts and vibes more than any other. Tokyo Fist is not a horror film, but it’s clear it was made by a horror director.

A salaryman named Tsuda (Shinya Tsukamoto) makes the rounds trying to sell insurance door-to-door. The city of Tokyo is presented as a hostile environment. The heat is unbearable. The noise is a ceaseless drone. The surroundings are claustrophobic—Tsukamoto’s Tokyo is an oppressive, almost predatory place. When he comes home to his girlfriend Hizuru (Kaori Fujii), Tsuda is too exhausted to do anything. It’s not until he runs into an old high school friend named Kojima (Koji Tsukamoto) that Tsuda begins to wake up. Kojima, a happier, younger man, is in excellent shape and trains as a pro boxer. One day Kojima comes to Tsuda’s place to find that only Hizuru is home. After a period of pleasant chitchat, Kojima takes off his shirt to show off his muscles, then gets overly-confident and goes in for a kiss. Though Hizuru rejects him right away, Kojima brags about the incident to Tsuda, and Tsuda assumes that more happened than his girlfriend is telling him. Tsuda storms his way over to Kojima’s apartment, confronts him, and receives two swift, practiced punches to the face for his troubles.

Like much of Shinya Tsukamoto’s filmography, Tokyo Fist is a story of becoming something else. When Kojima taunts Tsuda, he awakens a primal fury in the weaker man that he may soon regret. Likewise, when Tsuda accuses Hizuru of indiscretions, he ends up driving her directly into the arms of Kojima. Their transformations are small at first, driven by emotion, but it soon goes deeper. Tsuda, an insecure conservative, cannot stand being looked down upon. He begins training at the same gym as Kojima, turning himself into something lethal. Hizuru, who’d long been too eager to please others, decides to make herself happy. And what makes Hizuru happy is pain; she begins with ear piercings, and soon moves onto more extreme body work. And Kojima, the man who did not fully comprehend the danger of kicking the hornet’s nest, is forced to contend with both a violent rival and a strange affair.

In addition to being a boxing picture and a drama about a very unhealthy love triangle, Tokyo Fist is largely about wounded male pride. Kojima is turned down by Hizuru, so he screws things up for everybody. And Tsuda, though initially right to be angry, loses the high ground when he becomes suspicious and controlling of his girlfriend. While the men, driven by machismo and the need to be #1, train to better destroy one another, Hizuru undergoes an awakening and becomes a more complete woman. Her interest in body piercings should not distract from the fact that her story is the most inspiring and psychologically stable of the three. This was a woman who bowed to the flawed men in her life, and now she is setting the terms. It is a similar evolution to the one seen in Tsukamoto’s 2002 film A Snake of June, which saw the female lead’s sexual awakening when her path crosses with a villain from the outside world.

As Hizuru, actress Kaori Fujii (Linda Linda Linda) is something of a revelation. The little known actress deserves more work, if her performance in Tokyo Fist is any indication. As Tsuda, writer/director Shinya Tsukamoto delivers a strong dramatic performance. One of the things I’m struck by with Tsukamoto-the-actor is that he’s always more than willing to play unlikable characters in the films he directs. Though I think it’s fair to say that Tsukamoto is a more interesting director than he is an actor, his abilities on screen are nothing to sneeze at, and the role of Tsuda ranks as one of his best performances.

Stepping into the role of Kojima is Shinya Tsukamoto’s brother Koji, in his screen debut. Although Koji Tsukamoto originally dreamt of being a boxer, one bad bout left him badly beaten up. He turned to training other boxers after that, but the dream of getting in the ring again never abated. When, in his late 20’s, Koji Tsukamoto decided to put the gloves back on, the Tsukamoto family worried for his safety. Shinya decided that, if he made a boxing movie, everybody would be happy—he would get to direct a new movie, his brother would get to strap the gloves on again in a safer environment, and his mother wouldn’t have to worry about Koji getting hurt. Koji had never acted before, but you can’t really tell that in Tokyo Fist, where he gives a primal, half-crazed performance. Though he’s not become a prolific actor, Koji Tsukamoto did go on to do more films, including a few more with his director brother, as well as Takashi Miike’s Ley Lines and Yojiro Takita’s When the Last Sword is Drawn.

The fights, filmed in the same visually weird style as the rest of the film, are horrifying and intense. You won’t see tightly choreographed moves or emotional underdog moments that get the audiences on their feet. Tokyo Fist’s fights are about brutality. A well delivered punch can elicit a spray of blood that’d feel right at home in a later Tarantino work. And while I enjoyed these aspects of the film, I do feel Tsukamoto went overboard with the makeup to display the injuries. After a severe pounding, the bruises and welts are exaggerated and almost cartoonish. It’s violent and gross, so I’m not sure we’re meant to laugh, but we also cannot take it 100% seriously, either. Still, this is Tsukamoto trusting his instincts, and instinctually he remains in touch with his horror roots. Added to the strange visual choices is the film’s intense and at times otherworldly score by longtime Tsukamoto composer Chu Ishikawa. Composer Ishikawa rarely works on films made by other directors, so his music is perhaps the secret ingredient to what makes a Tsukamoto film feel so different. The director and composer complement each other well.

Boxing movies are everywhere, leading one to think that perhaps they’ve seen it all before. Well, you’ve never seen a boxing movie like Tokyo Fist before. Savage, strange, deep, and surprisingly progressive, Tokyo Fist remains one of Shinya Tsukamoto’s finest films.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 8/10

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