Memoir of a Murderer (2016) Review

"Memoir of A Murderer" Theatrical Poster

“Memoir of A Murderer” Theatrical Poster

Director: Won Shin-yun
Cast: Sul Kyung-gu, Kim Nam-gil, Kim Seol-hyun, Oh Dal-su, Shin Ki-joon, Hwang Seok-jeong, Gil Hae-yeon, Kim Han-joon, Kim Dong-hee, Kim Jung-young
Running Time: 128 min.

By Paul Bramhall

There’s been many variations on the serial killer trope in Korea, often framed within a variety of genres. From the horror of Tell Me Something, to the mystery of Memories of Murder, to the visceral thrills of I Saw the Devil. Director Won Shin-yun’s latest delivers yet another variant on the serial killer theme, but this time with a decidedly unique twist. In Memoir of a Murderer (not to be confused with Memoirs of a Murderer, the Japanese remake of Confession of Murder) one of the most recognizable faces of the Korean wave, Sul Kyung-gu, looks virtually unrecognizable as an aged veterinarian suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. However Kyung-gu hides a dark secret – 20 years ago he used to be a serial killer, killing based on the act of “obligatory murder”, an expression he coins for those who deserve to die, and he’s concerned that his fading memory may unravel his past misdemeanours.

It’s an intriguing premise, and one that Shin-yun adapts from a popular 2013 novel by Kim Young-ha. While Kyung-gu’s inconsistent memory forms the crux of the tale, the plot which is provided as a framework develops into a classic tale of cat and mouse (although which one of them has Alzheimer’s is constantly up for questioning). There’s been a pair of high-school girl murders in town recently, and the public are beginning to question if a serial killer is on the loose, in a plot device that strongly echoes Memories of Murder (there’s also a shot involving a tunnel which will invoke memories, no pun intended, of Bong Joon-ho’s 2003 classic). While driving down a fog covered road, Kyung-gu collides with a stationery vehicle, and when he gets out of his car, he finds the trunk of the other vehicle open, revealing a carcass wrapped in plastic, dripping blood onto the road.

The driver of the other vehicle is played by Kim Nam-gil, who insists the carcass is that of a dear. However as the pair exchange words, Kyung-gu’s instincts tell him otherwise – the man in front of him is also a serial killer, and he makes the decision to bring him to justice. A spanner is thrown in the works though when it turns out Nam-gil is actually a cop, and Kyung-gu is left to figure out how an old man with Alzheimer’s, can convince the authorities that one of their own is responsible for the recent murders. It’s a fascinating premise, and one that plays out as a kind of Memento meets Memories of Murder hybrid, as we’re pulled into a world where the reality of everything is questionable, and characters motives aren’t to be trusted.

As Memoir of a Murderer’s anchor, Kyung-gu is fantastic. An actor who’s been in some of the most highly regarded movies of the K-wave, leading roles in the likes of Peppermint Candy, Public Enemy, and Silmido cemented his reputation. The post 2010-era hasn’t been so kind, with duds like The Spy and My Dictator doing their best to stain his filmography. However in 2016 Kyung-gu seems to be back in business, with a strong role both here, and in the prison thriller The Merciless. Nam-gil on the other hand is very much an actor that relies on a strong director to draw a good performance out of him, and while he found one in the likes of Oh Seung-wook for The Shameless, here he’s not so lucky. Coming across as neither menacing nor particularly creepy, his performance unintentionally blurs what exactly we as an audience are supposed to believe.

In fairness though, the script is as much of an issue as Nam-gil’s performance. The tale is told from the perspective (and largely narrated by) of Kyung-gu, and the more the plot develops, the more it becomes clear that he’s not a reliable narrator. His Alzheimer’s is not only making him forget things, but it’s also distorting his memory of how events happened and who was involved. It takes a highly skilled hand to craft such a complex tale in which everything is questionable, however the weight of the narrative soon has both Shin-yun and his co-writer Hwang Jo-yoon (who notably co-wrote Oldboy with Park Chan-wook) becoming lost in their own tangled web.

The main issue is that the narrative doesn’t set any rules for us to follow, which quickly goes from intriguing to frustrating before the movie is even half way through. There are essentially two possible scenarios for the audience to decipher – is Kyung-gu’s Alzheimer’s leading him to believe that Nam-gil is the serial killer, when in fact it’s actually himself, he’s just unable to recall his own murders? Or is Nam-gil a serial killer, who sees Kyung-gu as a threat, and decides to try and get rid of him by going through his daughter? By taking Kyung-gu’s perspective there are certain revelations that deliver the intended shock moment, however the script on more than one occasion betrays itself, by doubling back on the revelation and hinting that the original version of events may be true after all.

The first time it happens it seems like smart scripting, but when it happens again it increasingly begins to feel like the story is confusing itself. This feeling is confounded when the narrative breaks away from Kyung-gu’s perspective, however still seems to portray characters personalities based on his perceptions. A movie like Memento works so well because, even though the rules of the narrative aren’t clear while watching it, by the time it finishes an explanation is provided that makes everything make sense in retrospect, and even encourages a re-watch. That same explanation isn’t provided in Memoir of a Murderer, and the frustrating part is that even a re-watch would do little to unravel the mystery, as with no clear rules as to what’s real and what’s not, it’s a fruitless exercise.

It’s a shame, as there’s obviously a lot of potential behind the premise, and while the production values and lensing are up to par as has come to be expected from a Korean production, the execution ultimately lacks. Shin-yun has had an interesting career, starting off as a stuntman, he made his directorial debut with the 2005 horror movie The Wig, which he also wrote, and has flitted in and out of genres since then. His movie prior to Memoir of a Murderer was also his most successful, the Gong Yoo starring 2013 actioner The Suspect, and while Memoir of a Murderer is an ambitious step up from his previous efforts A to B chase flick, at least The Suspect maintained its coherency.

With that being said, as a showboat for Kyung-gu’s acting skills it certainly delivers, and for fans of the actor it’ll likely be welcomed. Memoir of a Murderer also stars Seolhyun as his daughter, a member of the K-pop group AOA. She notably had a small role in Yoo Ha’s Gangnam Blues, and here again proves to have a decent pair of acting chops. Of course no Korean movie in recent years would seemingly be complete without an appearance from Oh Dal-soo, and sure enough he pops up in Memoir of a Murderer clocking in his third movie of 2016 (the others being Tunnel and Master), here as the local cop. At this point I almost feel like I should deduct a point for any Korean movie made in the last 5 years that doesn’t feature Oh Dal-soo.

In the end Memoir of a Murderer is one of those movies that you really want to love, but is let down by a muddled end product and a script that tangles itself up so much, it forgets that at some point, has to untangle itself. In the closing scene a character tells us that memory can’t be trusted, which is a running theme throughout, however its inclusion seems to indicate that Shin-yun considers the line to be a revelation to the audience, when really what we needed is an explanation. As a result, the end feels like more of an insult than the intended “a-ha!” moment. Kyung-gu may play a character slowly forgetting his life, but the saddest part is, Shin-yun is a director that’s forgotten to deliver on his own potential.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 5.5/10

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) Review

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" International Poster

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” International Poster

AKA: Star Wars: Episode VIII
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro, Veronica Ngo, Justin Theroux, Togo Igawa
Running Time: 152 min. 

By Kyle Warner

Right, so before we get started: I am going to talk about the new Star Wars movie. If you want to go into the film knowing as little as possible, not only should you not be reading my review but you shouldn’t read anybody’s reviews of the film. The trailers have done an admirable job of keeping secrets safe (secrets like “what’s the movie about?”), but I’m not on the marketing team and I am going to tell you more about the film. I will stay away from what I consider to be spoilers but you will learn more about the movie here than you did in the trailers and magazine previews. With that said, let’s begin.

Picking up right where The Force Awakens left off, Star Wars: The Last Jedi finds our Resistance heroes on the run from the First Order after the decimation of the Republic government planets. With the Republic no more, it’s a fight between Supreme Leader Snoke’s First Order and Leia Organa’s Resistance to decide who will control the galaxy. It is not an even fight. Not only does the First Order have more ships and more soldiers, but they have something of a new age Sith Lord in Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his apprentice, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Rey, the Force-sensitive hero from nowhere, is off trying to convince Luke Skywalker to return to the fight. Until Rey’s return, Leia’s list of capable allies is a short one.

After ace Resistance pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac) leads a successful but costly attack on a First Order dreadnought (an attack made possible by City on Fire favorite Veronica Ngo in a small but memorable role), the few remaining Resistance fighters jet off into lightspeed. But somehow, the First Order has tracked them, and their dreadnought has already been replaced by an even larger ship. Now, running out of fuel, fighters, and hope, the Resistance flies through dark space with their enemy close behind. All the First Order need do to crush their foe is remain patient and allow the Resistance ships to run out of fuel and drift powerlessly into firing range.

Elsewhere, on a secret island that was apparently one of the oldest Jedi temples, Rey (Daisy Ridley) attempts to convince Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to train her in the ways of the Force and to return to his sister Leia’s side. But this is not the Luke Skywalker we remember. There is no hint of the wide-eyed farmboy here, nor is there any sign of the enlightened warrior we last saw in 1983’s Return of the Jedi. Luke is haunted, world-weary, self-loathing. He’s not on the island to become a better Jedi; he’s a sad dog that’s wandered into an unfindable place to die. In his vanity, he thinks that his passing will achieve the ending of the Jedi, something he now firmly believes to be a necessary turn of events. But this nobody girl interests Luke. She’s strong with the Force but she’s naïve about just what the Force is, so he decides that three simple lessons about the Force couldn’t hurt. In teaching her, he begins to understand just how powerful she is, and it troubles him. “I’ve seen this raw power only once before… It didn’t scare me enough then. It does now.” Luke Skywalker begins to fear Rey, thinking that her relentless pursuit of answers (Who are her parents? Why did Ben Solo turn to the Dark Side and become Kylo Ren?) will lead her down a dark path similar to his previous failed student, Kylo Ren.

The biggest thing I took away from The Last Jedi after my first viewing is how surprising and unpredictable the film was. It puts a couple opposing characters in a room and the moviegoer thinks this scene can go one of two ways. And then it goes a third way. That happens all throughout the film. Star Wars has rarely felt more daring and bold than in The Last Jedi.

And on that note: The Last Jedi is probably the strangest Star Wars film there is. (We forget that once upon a time theatregoers didn’t know what the heck a Jedi or a lightsaber was, so in the grand scheme of things A New Hope is a pretty wild movie. But we’re used to its ideas today.) The Last Jedi not only gives us weird alien creatures galore (there is a Zoidberg/walrus-looking thing that stares you in the eye as you milk it for its drinkable green alien milk), but it does things with its characters, both old and new, that we never could’ve seen coming. Already we are seeing that some fans are unwilling to accept these unexpected new directions and strange new visions. (To be fair, there is one move that the story takes that, as a fan, I also take some issue with. We’ll see if that changes upon repeat viewings. This is the one Star Wars film I not only want to see again, I feel I need to see it again in order to fully digest it.)

It’s a touchy thing, adapting something that’s lived so long in the pop culture subconscious. You run the risk of upsetting fans that’ve loved these characters for so long that they feel they know their stories better than the storytellers do. And I don’t mean to belittle a fan’s rights to a character—at some point, for better or worse, the art no longer belongs to the artist, which is something that George Lucas was never able to accept.  Writer/director Rian Johnson (Looper) does his best to keep Star Wars true to its roots while also telling an intensely original Star Wars story in a very particular personal voice. Look at the RottenTomatoes critic score (currently 93%) and the audience score (currently 57%) and you get a little idea of how that ‘original’ and ‘personal’ Star Wars story is going over with some fans. It’s odd when you consider that the primary complaint about The Force Awakens was that it stuck too close to the blueprint of A New Hope and the complaint about The Last Jedi is that it feels too different.

I don’t mean to suggest that The Last Jedi is faultless because it certainly is not. It slips into The Fifth Element territory at one point when Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (newcomer Kelly Marie Tran) go to a high roller casino. Tracking tech is vague and is used as a primary plot point more than once, all in the service of making characters show up where and when the story needs them. Some complaints about The Force Awakens, like the refusal to flesh out certain character backstories, continue into The Last Jedi. And I still think Domnhall Gleeson is woefully miscast as General Hux.

The rest of the cast is excellent. Daisy Ridley continues to impress in the lead role of Rey. Adam Driver’s great performance makes Kylo Ren into an unexpectedly sympathetic villain. Kelly Marie Tran makes an instant impression on the audience as an engineer for whom the fight has suddenly become personal. You can’t take your eyes off Carrie Fisher, who passed away last December, as she gives the headstrong Leia a great farewell performance. And Mark Hamill gives what may be the performance of his career (in live-action, anyway) as the old Luke Skywalker. To say much more about the rest of the cast (which includes series newcomers like Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro) would step into spoiler territory, I’m afraid. Suffice to say, they’re all pretty dang good.

I have a few complaints, sure, but in general I kind of loved this movie. It’s full of thrills, drama, heartache, humor, and twists. It’s an interesting film thematically as well, with prime themes being keeping hope alive and teaching the next generation of heroes to carry the flame. It is visually fantastic. There is a scene in which our characters are brought before Supreme Leader Snoke in his throne room. It’s like a shot out of Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress (a well-known Star Wars influence), where Toshiro Mifune is brought before the general played by Susumu Fujita, with a clan flag set up behind him and flanked on all sides by loyal samurai. Here, the shot is in color and the flag is red, Snoke sits there in a golden kimono, and is flanked on all sides by heavily armored samurai-looking dudes in bright red. It is a beautiful set piece. A later battle scene takes place on a planet that has white salt atop red clay, so explosions and footprints leave crimson spots on the ground. Absolutely gorgeous. Also, there are the Porgs, which are cute and awesome and we must begin work to engineer them using chicken and pug DNA so that we may finally have world peace.

I love The Force Awakens but it can be accused of going on autopilot from time to time. I imagine you could complain about a lot of things in The Last Jedi, but definitely not that. The Last Jedi is so full of ideas, wit, and wonder. Some of those ideas won’t land for everyone, but if you ask me that’s how you know the movie was taking risks. The story is always one step ahead of the audience, the visuals dazzle, and the action is thrilling. It may not be the best Star Wars film – and after one viewing, I’m not sure where I rank it – but more than any Star Wars film, it left me thinking that anything was possible for future installments in the universe. It made Star Wars feel fresh and daring. How many film franchises that have been around for 40 years can say the same?

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 8/10

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‘Blade of the Immortal’ proves Asian-inspired cinema is still critically successful

Blade of the Immortal | Blu-ray & DVD (Magnet Releasing)

Blade of the Immortal | Blu-ray & DVD (Magnet Releasing)

If you look at this brutal dissection of the flop film Ghost in the Shell starring Scarlett Johansson, you can see that there were inherent problems with the thinking behind the movie. The movie managed to offend vast swathes of Asian cinema fans with its decision to whitewash the character list, and hinted, rather alarmingly, at the era of Asian-inspired films being popular coming to an end. Sure, the movie still made an estimated $167million at the worldwide box office, but it was critically ripped apart and the whole notion of reworking Japanese films seemed, for a while at least, to be a finished notion.

While this might all sound like a big lament at the state of cinema, what it has done is hopefully pull the rug to an extent from under the big movie-producing companies, instead allowing movies like Blade of the Immortal to shine through instead.

A Critical Success

With no huge box office hopes and no massive big blockbuster budget to spend on thrills that detract from the plot, this is a movie that has really concentrated on getting the plot and acting exactly right. This focus has had the desired effect and more, as this review shows, echoing the majority of positive critical reception. Despite only grossing around $7million at the box office, this movie helped to showcase the positive aspects of Japanese films, and gave a different twist on the world of samurai culture that movies like The Last Samurai and other big box office movies couldn’t quite achieve due to their need to sacrifice certain elements in order to please a wider audience.

As Samurai culture is still seen as having a mystical, even a mythical, status, creating serious intrigue for anybody interested in it, the ability of a movie to depict this world in a new and interesting way should always be welcomed. Indeed, the strength of this interest in Samurai culture clearly goes beyond just being a fad for the box office; it has almost fully permeated throughout the western world.

A Sub-culture of Interest or Hiding in Plain Sight?

Of course, many elements of Samurai culture are hidden in plain sight in Western culture, with one example being the Magnificent Seven movie and the way it is essentially a westernized retelling of Seven Samurai, but the interest in the culture has also played out in less obvious ways. It has resulted in Samurai-inspired videoslots that take inspiration from Japanese cultural icons and architecture to appeal to players, such as Samurai Split, while the Total War game series, which actually had two Shogun versions of the game, earned favorable reviews by not overplaying the westernized and less authentic version of Japanese culture.

On that same thread of authenticity, perhaps the most important lesson to take from the positive reviews of Blade of the Immortal is that the movie succeeds because it doesn’t try to please everyone and is true to its cinematic audience and therefore doesn’t allow itself to be diluted in a way that so many big box office hits can be. In this regard, if we are seeing a shift back to the days when Japanese films were cult hits, much like the original Ghost in the Shell movie, we might once again start seeing the best of Japanese and Asian-inspired cinema on our screens.

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Deal on Fire! The Assassin | Blu-ray | Only $8.97 – Expires soon!

The Assassin | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

The Assassin | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for The Assassin (read our review), by acclaimed director Hou Hsiao-Hsien (A City of Sadness) and starring Shu Qi (Journey to the West).

In 9th-century China, Nie Yinniang (Qi) is a woman who was abducted in childhood from a general and raised by a nun who trained her in the martial arts. After 13 years of exile, she is returned to the land of her birth as an assassin.

The film also stars Zhou Yun (Bodyguards and Assassins), Chang Chen (Helios) and Tsumabuki Satoshi (Waterboys).

Order The Assassin from Amazon.com today!

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Extraordinary Mission | Blu-ray & DVD (Crimson Forest)

"Extraordinary Mission" Promotional Poster

“Extraordinary Mission” Promotional Poster

RELEASE DATE: February 6, 2018

On February 6, 2018, North American label Crimson Forest Films is set to release Extraordinary Mission (read our review) to Blu-ray & DVD.

Alan Mak and Anthony Pun – the directing duo behind the Infernal Affairs sequels, the Overheard saga, and Donnie Yen’s The Lost Bladesman – are back with Extraordinary Mission, an action thriller that follows an undercover police officer who attempts to take down a drug trafficking syndicate from the inside.

Extraordinary Mission stars Huang Xuan (The Great Wall), Duan Yihong (Battle of Memories), Lang Yueting (Office) and Zu Feng (League of Gods).

Pre-order Extraordinary Mission from Amazon.com today! 

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

Blade of the Immortal | Blu-ray & DVD (Magnet Releasing)

Blade of the Immortal | Blu-ray & DVD (Magnet Releasing)

Blade of the Immortal | Blu-ray & DVD (Magnet Releasing)

RELEASE DATE: February 13, 2018

Magnet Releasing is giving Takashi Miike’s (13 Assassins, Terra Formars) live-action movie adaptation of Hiroaki Samura’s manga, Blade of the Immortal, a Blu-ray & DVD release on February 13, 2018.

This period samurai film (read our review) stars Takuya Kimura (2046), Hana Sugisaki (Mozu: The Movie), Sota Fukushi (Library Wars), Hayato Ichihara (Yakuza Apocalypse), Erika Toda (Goemon), Ebizo Ichikawa (Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai), Tsutomu Yamazaki (As the Gods Will) and Min Tanaka (The Eternal Zero).

Manji, a highly skilled samurai, becomes cursed with immortality after a legendary battle. Haunted by the brutal murder of his sister, Manji knows that only fighting evil will regain his soul. He promises to help a young girl named Rin avenge her parents, who were killed by a group of master swordsmen led by ruthless warrior Anotsu. The mission will change Manji in ways he could never imagine…

Pre-order Blade of the Immortal from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles, News | 6 Comments

Newest action-packed Trailer for ‘A Better Tomorrow 2018’

ABT

If Song Hae-Seong’s 2010 Korean remake of A Better Tomorrow didn’t quite do it for you, then get ready for another variation of John Woo’s 1986 seminal gangster classic. Ding Sheng – the acclaimed director of Little Big Soldier, Police Story 2013, Railroad Tigers, and Saving Mr. Wu – is delivering A Better Tomorrow 2018 (aka A Better Tomorrow 4) to theaters on January 18, 2018 (via AFS).

According to Variety, Sheng’s film traces the journey of a former smuggler who attempts to start his life anew after his release from prison and repair his relationship with his estranged brother. But that is not counting on gangland betrayal, a botched drug deal and a devastating family tragedy.

A Better Tomorrow 2018 stars Darren Wang (Railroad Tigers), Ma Tianyu (Surprise) and Wang Kai (Railroad Tigers), who will be playing Mark “Gor” Lee (the character made famous by Chow Yun-fat in the original). Also along for the ride are Lam Suet (Three), Wu Yue (Police Story 2013) and Yu Ailei (Black Coal, Thin Ice).

Watch the film’s Latest Trailer below:

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Thunderbolt Fist, The (1972) Review

"The Thunderbolt Fist" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“The Thunderbolt Fist” Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Chang Il-ho
Producer: Runme Shaw
Cast: Chuen Yuen, Shih Szu, James Nam, Fang Mien, Tung Lam, Lee Ka Ting, Wong Chin Feng, Yukio Someno, Gam Kei Chu, Chan Feng Chen, Cheung Hei
Running Time: 86 min.

By Paul Bramhall

In the history of kung fu cinema, 1972 was one of the most significant years. The Shaw Brothers studio had imported several experienced directors and martial artists from Korea, and in this particular year it proved to be a move that paid dividends, when Chung Chang-wha directed a little movie called King Boxer. Not only was it a runaway box office success locally in Hong Kong, but it would also become forever remembered as the movie that introduced western audiences to the world of kung fu (under the title Five Fingers of Death). Sensing that Chang-wha had formulated a recipe for success, understandably fellow Korean director Chang Il-ho was subsequently tasked with replicating it, and the end result came in the form of The Thunderbolt Fist.

Unlike Chang-wha, who by the time he made King Boxer had already been working at the Shaw Brothers studio for 3 years (during which time he churned out 6 movies), for Il-ho The Thunderbolt Fist was his debut for the studio. It was far from being his debut as a director though, with a filmography that already came close to almost 50 titles made in his native Korea since the early 60’s. Being tasked with imitating the success of another movie is arguably not the best way to start your career at a studio though, and perhaps as a result of this Il-ho would only make two other movies for the Shaw Brothers – The Deadly Knives which was made the same year, and Devil Bride from 1975.

The Thunderbolt Fist gives half Dutch half Taiwanese actor Chuen Yuen his first lead role at the studio. A popular actor in Taiwan, Yuen moved to Hong Kong and took a contract at the Shaw Brothers in 1968. After various roles playing an extra or supporting part (he can be spotted in the likes of Chang Cheh’s Vengeance! and The Duel), it was The Thunderbolt Fist that gave him headliner status. Here he’s teamed with Shaw Brothers starlet Shih Szu, who was heavily marketed by the studio as the next Cheng Pei-Pei, for a tale which (much like King Boxer) has the Chinese rise up to take on the oppressive Japanese forces, led by Korean actor James Nam (aka Nam Seok-hun). Like several of the actors who appear in The Thunderbolt Fist, Nam also has a role in Chang-wha’s earlier production.

So enough of tip toeing around it, let’s be clear from the start that The Thunderbolt Fist is completely derivative of King Boxer. The structure even follows the plot beats with remarkable familiarity. The hero tries to take on the Japanese, hero fails and ends up with one of his limbs partially crippled, hero trains to overcome his disability, hero takes on the evil Japanese and comes out victorious. In fairness, there are plenty of other movies out there that could also have that same plot description applied, however considering the timing and structure of The Thunderbolt Fist, I’d be willing to bet none do it quite so flagrantly as we see here.

With that being said, The Thunderbolt Fist shouldn’t be written off as just a second rate imitation of King Boxer. Despite the similarities, it’s also noticeable that Il-ho is trying to at least put as much of his own stamp on proceedings as the story will allow. By 1972 Chang Cheh has already developed a reputation for his excessive use of bloodshed, usually leaving the screen coated in liberal doses of the red stuff, but here Il-ho gives Cheh a solid run for his money. Stabbings, decapitations, and more projectile blood spitting than you can shake a stick are liberally sprinkled throughout, with the ground and walls of any given action scene usually caked in blood splatter by the end of any given scuffle.

What is immediately noticeable though is that Yuen isn’t a trained martial artist, or, as it would sometimes seem, much of a trained actor. To be fair, he’s not to blame for one major issue. We spend some time with the child versions of Yuen and Nam (played by kung fu cinema legends Austin Wai and Stephen Tung Wai respectively, here both making their screen debuts), and they look no older than 12 years old. When it skips 10 years forward and Yuen steps into the role, the fact that he should be no older than 22 just doesn’t match his appearance, which looks significantly older. The discrepancy between age and appearance also results in some cringe worthy moments. In one scene Yuen is resting in a field, recalling his time with a childhood sweetheart, shown in flashback. When it cuts back, he does a deep sigh while looking wistfully at the camera. I promise it’ll make you temporarily look away in embarrassment.

It’s the kind of scene that someone like David Chiang could have pulled off perfectly, but with Yuen it just comes across as slightly awkward. The same also applies to the choreography. While both Szu and Nam look sharp, with Nam in particular outshining everyone whenever he springs into action, Yuen only comes across as average in comparison. He visibly lacks that same sharpness, which is no more evident than when, in the middle of a group melee, he lands in a chair and performs an over the shoulder kick, with no one being there to receive it. The action itself is choreographed by Leung Siu-Chung (the father of Bruce Leung, who can be seen as an extra if you look closely), who never really found himself in that top tier of fight choreographers like his contemporaries Lau Kar Leung and Tong Gaai. Leung does deserve credit though for incorporating the likes of judo and karate into the choreography, but there’s no doubt that the action on display falls into the basher category.

What can’t be denied is that for fans of the genre, The Thunderbolt Fist offers a wealth of early glimpses at those who would become legends within a decade of its release. Apart from those already mentioned, it’s also possible to see the likes of Lam Ching Ying, Tony Leung Siu-Hung, Corey Yuen Kwai, and Alexander Fu Sheng in small parts. Throw in the likes of Kim Ki-ju, aka the guy who seems to appear in every Korean kung fu movie ever made (and of course, King Boxer), and there are plenty of familiar faces to keep the kung-fu cinema fan happy. Where The Thunderbolt Fist gets really interesting though, is in its application of what the title suggests, or rather, lack of.

Just as Il-ho’s effort is heavily influenced by King Boxer, so King Boxer was heavily influenced by Jimmy Wang Yu’s directorial debut The Chinese Boxer, from 1970. The Thunderbolt Fist in many ways is a kind of unintentional hybrid of the pair, with the aesthetics borrowing heavily from Chang-wha’s influential classic, while the element of Yuen’s arm being rendered crippled coming straight from Wang Yu’s earlier movie. However it’s due to this very point that The Thunderbolt Fist seems to lose its way in terms of narrative logic. With one arm rendered useless, Yuen trains his fist extensively from a secret manual explaining (guess what), the Thunderbolt Fist. However after an initial confrontation with Nam and his cronies, the villains are left to reflect on how deadly Yuen’s kicks are. If there was ever a “Huh?” moment in a movie, then this ranks as one of them.

At first I figured something had perhaps got lost in translation, but the more I thought about it, the more it became apparent to simply be a lack of coherency on the part of the filmmakers. We spend time watching Yuen train his fist, however in the last reel all the attention is diverted to his feet. I mean, if he had a powerful kick, why did we have to wait for him to become cripple before he kicked some Japanese posterior!? It doesn’t make sense, and coherency is thrown more and more out of the window as we head towards the finale. Nam sends a crony to injure Yuen’s leg before their penultimate battle in an outdoor ring (think the finale of Ip Man, it’s identical), however despite the crony being successful in his mission, during the match itself it doesn’t factor in whatsoever.

Despite this, such incoherency can be somewhat forgiven for delivering a finale that lays on both the creativity, and the bloodshed, in equally heavy doses. When Yuen is confronted by a group of Japanese attackers, it’s revealed they have concealed blades in their shoes, in a clear nod to the work Tong Gaai was doing with Chang Cheh at the time. Plus it’s not a spoiler to say that Yuen’s finishing move against Nam is worth the price of admission alone, providing one of those rare spit your coffee/beer/whatever it is you’re drinking out moments. As derivative as it may be, The Thunderbolt Fist does its best to compensate with ample bloodshed and over the top violence, and while it’s true to say they’re appealing to the lowest common denominator, sometimes that’s exactly what we need.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6/10

Posted in All, Chinese, News, Reviews, Shaw Brothers | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Vincent Zhao kicks ass in the New Trailer for ‘Invisible Tattoo’

"The Blade" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“The Blade” Chinese Theatrical Poster

Martial arts star Vincent Zhao (The Blade, The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom) and parkour founder David Belle (District B13, Brick Mansions) are teaming up for a 1935-based action film titled Invisible Tattoo (via AFS). Unfortunately, further details for Invisible Tattoo are practically non-existent, but we’ll be sure to keep you in the loop as we learn more.

In the meantime, Zhao fans have Well Go USA’s recent Blu-ray/DVD release of God of War (read our review) to look forward to, followed by the highly-anticipated Kung Fu Alliance with Danny Chan, Andy On and Dennis To, which is currently wrapping up.

Updates: New Trailer for Invisible Tattoo. Watch it below:

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Brotherhood of Blades 2 | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Brotherhood of Blades 2 | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Brotherhood of Blades 2 | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

RELEASE DATE: February 27, 2018

On February 27, 2018, Well Go USA is releasing the Blu-ray & DVD for Lu Yang’s Brotherhood of Blades 2, the follow up to the filmmaker’s 2014 wuxia actioner, Brotherhood of Blades.

In Brotherhood of Blades 2, Chang Chen (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) returns alongside Yang Mi (The Bullet Vanishes), Zhang Yi (Blood of Youth) and Xin Zhi Lei (Impossible), via AFS.

The original Brotherhood of Blades (read our review) told the story of three guards who are sent to hunt down a eunuch politician, only to find themselves in the middle of a deadly conspiracy.

Pre-order Brotherhood of Blades 2 from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles, News | Tagged | 3 Comments

Old Stone | Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

Old Stone | Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

Old Stone | Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

RELEASE DATE: January 30, 2018

On January 30, 2018, Zeitgeist Films and Kino Lorber will be releasing the Blu-ray for Johnny Ma’s Old Stone, a critically acclaimed social-realist drama that slowly turns into blood-drenched noir.

Old Stone follows the repercussions of a car accident in a society where life is cheap and compassion is ruinously expensive. When a drunken passenger causes Lao Shi (Chen Gang) to swerve and hit a motorcyclist, the driver stops to help the injured man. When no police or ambulance arrive he drives the victim to the hospital, checks him in and finds himself liable for the man s medical bills. The repercussions of Shi s selfless act expose a society rife with bone-chilling callousness and bureaucratic indifference.

Pre-order Old Stone from Amazon.com today! 

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

Jackie Chan and Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘Journey to China’

"Dragon Blade" Japanese DVD Cover

“Dragon Blade” Japanese DVD Cover

Jackie Chan (The ForeignerDragon Blade) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (Maggie, Aftermath) will be appearing (emphasize on the word “appearing”) in Oleg Stepchenko’s Journey to China: The Iron Mask Mystery (aka Viy 2), an action adventure flick that’s being hailed as “Russia’s biggest-budget co-production ever”.

According to THR, the film is set in the 18th century and focuses on the adventures of English traveler Jonathan Green (Jason Flemyng), who is assigned to draw a map of Russia’s Far East. However, his travels eventually bring Green to China.

Journey to China: The Iron Mask Mystery is a sequel to 2014’s Viy, the highest grossing Russian movie of all-time. The film hits theaters early next year.

Updates: Watch the film’s Newest Trailer below:

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The Master | Blu-ray & DVD (Kino Lorber)

The Master | Blu-ray & DVD (Kino Lorber)

The Master | Blu-ray & DVD (Kino Lorber)

RELEASE DATE: February 20, 2018

Good news for ninja film buffs! On February 20, 2018, Kino Lorber will be releasing the 3-Disc Blu-ray & the 4-Disc DVD set for 1984’s The Master: The Complete Series – newly re-Mastered in HD (pun intended).

In The Master (aka The Master Ninja), an aging American ninja (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’s Lee Van Cleef) and his headstrong young apprentice (Class of 1984’s Timothy Van Patten) search for the elder man’s daughter.

This cult classic TV series – produced in wake of the so-called “Ninja Craze” in 1980s – also stars Sho Kosugi (9 Deaths of the NinjaRage of Honor). Martial arts movie aficionados should take note that Robert Clouse (Enter the Dragon) and Gordon Hessler (Pray for Death) directed some of the episodes.

The Master series also features guest stars such as Claude Akins, Crystal Bernard, Edd Byrnes, William Campbell, J.D. Cannon, James Gammon, Clu Gulager, George Lazenby (On Her Majesty’s Secret ServiceUniversal Soldier), George Maharis, Jock Mahoney, Monte Markham, David McCallum, Doug McClure, Bill McKinney, Demi Moore, Diana Muldaur, Dick O’Neill, Soon-Tek Oh (The Man with the Golden Gun), Robert Pine, Jennifer Runyon, William Smith and Stuart Whitman.

In related news, Visual Entertainment recently released the DVD for 1983’s The Last Ninja, starring Michael Beck (The Warriors) and Mako (The Big Brawl).

Pre-order The Master from Amazon.com today!

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

New action-packed Featurettes for Max Zhang’s ‘The Brink’

"The Brink" Theatrical Poster

“The Brink” Theatrical Poster

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

The Brink follows a group of fishermen who smuggle gold and the cops who chase them. It’s reported that the film will feature an extensive amount of Thunderball-esque underwater action sequences. In the film, Zhang sports blonde hair, just like James Tien did in 1973’s Seaman No. 7, which also featured underwater action sequences.

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

Zhang has many other projects in the works, including The Man with the Dragon TattooS.P.L 3: War Needs Lord, Made in Kowloon, Escape Plan 3, Assassins and the Missing Gold, Pacific Rim Uprising, as well as an unofficial Ip Man 3 spin-off, Master Z: Ip Man Legacy.

The Brink is getting a domestic release on November 23, 2017.

Updates: Check out 3 new Featurettes here: 1 | 2 | 3 – And in case you missed it, don’t miss the film’s latest Trailer below:

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Wu Jing’s ‘Wolf Warrior II’ is currently howling on Blu-ray/DVD

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

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

The highly successful sequel to Wu Jing’s Wolf Warrior is currently exploding on Blu-ray & DVD.

China’s deadliest special forces operative (Wu Jing of SPL II) settles into a quiet life on the sea. When sadistic mercenaries begin targeting nearby civilians, he must leave his newfound peace behind and return to his duties as a soldier and protector.

Wolf Warrior II (read our review) also stars Olympic gymnast Zou Kai, Celina Jade (Skin Trade), Hans Zhang (Youth Never Returns), Frank Grillo (The Grey) and Yu Nan (The Taking of Tiger Mountain).

Order Wolf Warrior II from Amazon.com today! And watch an exclusive behind-the-scenes clip below: 

Posted in News | 19 Comments
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