Review: The Raid 2: Berandal (2014)

Posted in Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian with tags on April 21, 2014 by Michael S. Moore

 

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Starring Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Julie Estelle, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Cecep Arif Rahman, Very Triu Yulisman

Fight Choreography by Yayan Ruhian

Directed by Gareth Evans

The first Raid film took the world by storm just a few years ago. With breakneck action, amazing martial arts, and a tense story, I had deemed it a game-changer, and I was right as everyone else starting trying to race to catch up to the level of badassness that the first film had achieved. Just when folks were getting close, Gareth Evans releases The Raid 2: Berandal on us. So did they raise the bar again?

That depends on your disposition. 

The film begins literally hours after the first film, and we find out the final fate of Rama’s brother Andi, and from there we pick up with Rama (Uwais), wounds still fresh from the Raid, and he finds out that to keep his family safe, he’ll have to go undercover and topple one of the largest crime families in Indonesia. He does so, now under the name of Yuda, in order to get close to Uco, who is in prison. Rama also gets sent to prison, and spends two years there (!) getting close to Uco, but he does, and then once he gets out he finds employment with Uco as an enforcer. Uco’s father, Bangun, is a mob boss who has kept the peace with the local Japanese boss for years, but Uco’s greed seeks to unravel as he aligns himself with Bejo, one of the main bosses and the boss of the baddie from the first film. Things get complicated when a family hit man (Ruhian) and the twins, Hammer Girl (Estelle) and Baseball Bat Boy (Yulisman) enter the picture. Rama must navigate his own morals and find the strength to survive in a dark underworld, and finally has to face a horde of evil in order to get his life back.

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Whew. When I came out of the film I was shell-shocked. I’ll get to why in a moment. The storyline here is a good compliment to the first film and ties up any loose ends successfully. Things get a bit overlong in the middle, and I think one particular plot line that goes nowhere involving the assassin Prakoso and his family could have been left out and increased the pacing. (Know when to kill your darlings, Gareth). Iko Uwais returns as Rama and manages to look even more flustered and conflicted as ever. Great acting job from Arifin Putra (Goodness, but he looks like Brandon Lee) as the villain Uco. One moment he can act like a spoiled rich brat, and the next he can act like evil incarnate. Julie Estelle also does a great job as Hammer Girl, and I suspect we’ll be seeing some Hammer Girl costumes this Halloween. The camera work on the action scenes, particularly the car chase, has to be seen to be believed. Yes, the classic car chase can still be innovated even today, and Director Gareth Evans did just that.

The fight scenes by Yayan Ruhian are even more brutal than the first film (if that’s even possible) and in particular the final fight in the kitchen with Cecep Arif Rahman was the closer and was just as great as I expected it to be. That has to be my favorite fight next to the fight Rama versus Hammer Girl/Baseball Bat Boy. The other group fights are great, nothing that hasn’t been seen before, but well shot and choreographed. 

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Now I mentioned your disposition may decide how much you like the film. In this I am not kidding or exaggerating: there is a ton of blood and guts in this one. The blood flows like a river, and many a crushed skull, broken bone and point blank bullets to the face are seen here, I kid you not. Every frame of a fight is layered with a bucket of blood or a cringeworthy move that maims or kills. If you aren’t into the real bloody stuff, this may be too much for you. It’s as if, most will remember those 3 or 4 kills in The Raid that you always talk about with your friends, this film has those moments in nearly ever other frame. I found it a bit overkill and unnecessary and took me out of the film every once and a while. But to each their own.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 9

Not the game changer of the original but still a great martial arts film that shows that the team of Gareth Evans, Yayan Ruhian and Iko Uwais are still on top, waiting for everyone else to catch up!

 

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Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist “Ryu Trailer” is out now!

Posted in Joey Ansah on April 11, 2014 by Michael S. Moore

Street Fighter poster

You may remember when I posted that short film Street Fighter: Legacy that was created by Joey Ansah (The Bourne Ultimatum) and he promised a full blown Street Fighter adaptation–done right–was coming. Well, thanks to Mr. Ansah and Machinima it’s now happening, much the same way that Mortal Kombat was able to return. Can Ansah and Co. finally give us a Street Fighter done right? Well, SF: Legacy was a huge step in the right direction. Check out the new trailer and below that you can watch the original short to jog your memory! I am pumped to see what they are able to come up with!

 

 

 

 

Review: In The Blood (2014)

Posted in Gina Carano with tags , , on April 4, 2014 by Michael S. Moore

 

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Starring Gina Carano, Luis Guzman, Stephen Lang, Danny Trejo, Amaury Nolasco, Cam Gigandet, Treat Williams, Ismael Cruz Cordova

Fight Choreography by Ben Bray

Directed by John Stockwell

American films have been looking for “the next big thing” for a while, particularly in the world of martial arts films. As MMA is the popular martial art in the US, it only makes sense that a star might come from those ranks. Gina Carano appears to have it all: she’s a successful fighter with a built-in fan base, she has model looks, and a good personality. The intangibles are whether she can act ( that can be developed. Just look at JCVD) and whether she has that “something”. I first saw her in Blood and Bone, and she looked great onscreen. Then she did Haywire, and now comes back with this film, and she’s looking like she getting the hang of things.

In The Blood stars Carano as Ava, a young woman who is getting married to Derek Grant (Gigandet), a man who comes from a wealthy family. Ava was raised by her father Casey (Lang, in a VERY short role) and taught how to fight. Casey was an outlaw, and raised Ava with his warped principles. One night he is killed by some former “associates” and in turn young Ava kills them. Somehow Ava isn’t caught, but it caused her to spiral into drugs. It’s at a narcotics anonymous meeting that she meets Derek, and once they are married, against the wishes of his father Robert (Williams) they take off on their honeymoon in the Carribean islands. While there they meet Manny (), a young man who lives on the island and knows where to go for a good time. Ava and Derek form a rapport with Manny immediately, and they take off to a club on the island owned by Big Biz (Trejo) and afterward they go zip-lining. During a particular zip line, Derek falls, and is injured, but after he is loaded in an ambulance, the ambulance, with Derek disappears. Ava desperately searches for Derek, but must deal with an uncaring police chief (Guzman) and finds herself descending deeper into the dark heart of the island, where corruption, drugs, money and guns are the weapons of choice, and Ava must turn into the daughter Casey raised her to be if she expects to find her husband or avenge his death…

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The story here gets off to a slow start, and seems stilted, particularly in the early scenes with Carano and Gigandet as they are shown doing all the lovey-dovey stuff, but after Derek disappears, the film kicks into high gear as an action thriller. Carano is sure handed in her action scenes and her general bad-assness, but she comes off really flat during the vacation scenes. She just doesn’t quite look comfortable yet with quiet, “nice” scenes. However, when ass-kicking or intimidation is called for, she’s great. Luis Guzman (Traffic, The Land Stand) is great as the chief who may not be what he seems, and Danny Trejo (Machete) is great to see as Big Biz, but I wish he had been in the film more. The same could easily be said for Stephen Lang (Avatar, Tombstone) who is absolutely terrifying as Casey (in a good way). Ismael Cruz Cordova does a great job as Manny, a young man who is more than what he appears to be, and Amaury Nolasco (Transformers, Justified) is great as the drug dealer Silvio who runs the island. I won’t say anything more as the story has a pretty good twist toward the end that changes things for Ava. Once again, just like Haywire, Carano is surrounded by excellent talent. Director John Stockwell (Into the Blue, Blue Crush, Turistas) does a good job shooting the film, for the most part. I thought the somewhat digital look gave the film more immediacy as things get more hellish. 

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The fights are okay, but I’m still not entirely convinced that traditional MMA can work in film. I think a hybrid version, like what Donnie Yen has done with Special ID, Flashpoint, and Killzone works best, but what is on display here is pretty decent. I had some issues with the fights are they came close to becoming the Bourne “shaky cam” fights, but avoided it for the most part. The gunplay was actually good here, and Gina looked convincing as she blasts quite a few bad men into oblivion. 

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8

In The Blood is a tense action thriller that proves that Gina Carano is here to stay as she tears her way across the Caribbean in a film full of action, suspense, and danger. I had a lot of fun with this.

The film released today in theaters, on demand, and on iTunes.

 

Review: Man Of Tai Chi (2013)

Posted in Iko Uwais, Keanu Reeves, Silvio Simac, Tiger Hu Chen, Yu Hai, Yuen Woo Ping with tags , on March 31, 2014 by Michael S. Moore

 

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Starring Keanu Reeves, Tiger Chen, Karen Mok, Simon Yam, Silvio Simac, Iko Uwais, Yu Hai

Fight Choreography by Yuen Woo Ping

Directed by Keanu Reeves

Keanu Reeves is a polarizing figure. With his eternal surfer-dude voice and his connection to Bill and Ted that will haunt him until the end of time, he’s been a success in Hollywood even though his acting is somewhat monotone in nature (Kevin Costner’s been accused of this as well). The Matrix films featured Keanu doing complex martial arts fighting akin to what was current in Hong Kong kung-fu cinema (thanks to Yuen Woo Ping and his stunt team) and now Woo Ping returns, along with Tiger Chen, a stunt man in the Matrix films that Reeves befriended, and a bevy of martial arts stars to tell the tale of what happens when a good man falls from grace. 

The results are…hmm.

The story begins as we meek Donaka Mark (Reeves) a wealthy owner of a securities firm that is a front for underground fighting. His latest fighter refuses to kill his opponent, and is himself killed by Mark. Always on Mark’s tail is Hong Kong detective Jing Shi (Mok) who always seems a few steps behind Mark. Mark begins a search for a new fighter, which brings him to Tiger Chen (Chen), a Tai Chi fighter who has entered tournaments to prove that Tai Chi is a fighting art as well, to the dismay of his master Yang (Yu Hai). Mark becomes facinated with Tiger, and has him followed, with cameras placed around his apartment and at his parents home. Tiger is a good man who works as a delivery driver, and tries to provide for himself and his mother and father. Mark uses what he finds out to entice Tiger to become his new fighter. Tiger does this, as he has a violent tendency that Mark is able to feed, despite Tiger’s training. Tiger soon enters Mark’s world, and as the fights and stakes pile up, Tiger finds that the good man he is has disappeared, replaced by someone he barely knows. In essence, Tiger goes over to the Dark Side of the Force…

MOTC

The film is fairly straightforward and doesn’t offer any real surprises, and the script here really fails Reeves the Director. The main characters aren’t that interesting except for Simon Yam, and that’s just because he’s Simon Yam. Tiger is decent, but doesn’t really have the intense charisma I was looking for, even though his martial arts was excellent. Karen Mok plays the HK detective plainly, and Reeves acts pretty much as if he were still Neo from The Matrix, except for a few moments when he yells or screams or smiles/laughs maniacally, and those moments have given me nightmares, ‘cause it looks scary as hell–unintentionally. A face that has no emotion and then suddenly shows an extreme outburst of it is…disconcerting to say the least. I was extremely disappointed by the use of Iko Uwais here, and anyone who has seen The Raid, and by now The Raid 2 will agree. This could have been the fight of the film, and instead is a dud of a fight as the story intrudes at the wrong time.

The fighting here is done well, with one large exception. Yuen Woo Ping does a good job, but I can see there are issues with fusing his style with the harder styles of films choreographed by the likes of Panna Rittikrai and Yayan Ruhian. All of the matches Tiger gets into are good to great, the weakest being the fight versus Silvio Simac, a performer I know could have given a far better fight than they gave him. The film was supposed to be using a new motion camera to track the fights, but it wasn’t the game changer it was touted to be. The problem here is that no matter how long the fight is, it has to be edited, so that takes away from the moving 360- degree camera movements. 

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The end fight of this film was the real disappointment. Reeves needed to remember that no matter how good he looked in The Matrix, he is NOT a martial artist, and has not been learning long enough to look good when put up against true martial artists. Here, he fights Tiger Chen in a fight that has none of the complexity of the other fights that came earlier in the film, ones that featured real fighters. His kicks were the weakest I’ve ever seen, but his fist work was passable (barely) and this reminded me of Man With The Iron Fists, and my anger at the hubris of the RZA for playing the main character even though he knew no martial arts. That same anger returned here. Reeves the Director could have cast Donaka Mark with Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White (if he has to be from America/Canada) or any number of other Asian actors, someone who would have made the final fight memorable. 

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 6

I expected so much more, but there is a hint that Reeves could be a good director, but he has to know when to leave Keanu Reeves the actor at home.

 

Teaser for Tony Jaa/Dolph Lundgren/Michael Jai White actioner SkinTrade!

Posted in Dolph Lundgren, Michael Jai White, Tony Jaa with tags , on March 22, 2014 by Michael S. Moore

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If you’ve been following my facebook page, I ‘ve been updating everyone about the film SkinTrade. I have no idea as to the plot, but know that Tony Jaa looks to fight both Dolph Lundgren and Michael Jai White. Now, MJW we all know, so that should be another fight I can cross off my bucket list, but Jaa versus Lundgren? I’ve never really seen Dolph’s martial arts tested (I mean REALLY tested) but I think we may see it here. This will be Tony Jaa’s first English language movie, so we’ll see. It doesn’t appear to have a large budget, but with Peter Weller and Ron Perlman on board I may be wrong. The trailer looks good enough, but with the Raid 2 coming next week, and will no doubt raise the bar again, I’m a bit worried for Tony. Word is The Protector 2 was a bit of a disappointment, and Tony was already “chasing” the first Raid film, and now he’ll have to contend trying to match Iko Uwais’s work in The Raid 2.

So the question I put to all of you: Do you prefer Tony do a large budget Hollywood film (a la Rush Hour) pairing him with an up and coming A-list talent but provides us Tony-lite action or would you rather him do a small budget American film (Like Ninja 2) that has high B-low A level talent BUT allows Tony to be Tony?

Review: The Wrath of Vajra (2014)

Posted in Matt Mullins, Steve Yoo, Xing Yu, Yasuaki Kurata with tags , on March 18, 2014 by Michael S. Moore

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Starring Xing Yu, Steve Yoo, Ya Mei, Matt Mullins, Yasuaki Kurata

Fight Choreography by Sammo Hung and Zhang Peng

Directed by Law Wing Cheong

Xing Yu is an actual 32nd Generation Shaolin monk who has co-starred in many great films like Kung Fu Hustle, Flashpoint and Ip Man, and has played second fiddle to other action stars. I thought he had enough screen charisma and martial arts talent to actually star in a film, and wondered if he would ever get his shot at the big time.

Well, he has now received his shot. And I was right! He’s got what it takes to be a star.

The Wrath of Vajra begins as we learn about the Hades sect under the leadership of Amano Kawao (Kurata), a Japanese martial arts organization that aided the Japanese armies during their attempted conquest of China, but were disbanded once their goals clashed with that of the military. The Chinese people are now revolting in the provinces that Japan controls, and needs the Hades sect to return to help quell the revolutions. To do this, Kawao, from jail, reinstates his lead student Kurashige to restart the Hades sect, by stealing children and forcing them to learn martial arts and become killing machines. Soon this comes to the attention of K-29 (Xing Yu), now practicing as a Shaolin monk after escaping the Hades sect. He was one of their greatest students, and they want him back, for either the purposes of joining them or being killed by them. At the same time a group of Chinese fighters consisting of a few Americans, particularly Bill (Mullins) are take prisoner and forced to fight until they die or join the Hades group. As the story unfolds you’ll find that Bill and a few others are well familiar with what Hades has to offer. K-29 finds that one of the Shaolin children has been taken by the sect, and he returns to Hades base/arena to fight his way to destroying them once and for all.  Can he use his lessons as a Monk to save the child, the rebels, and himself once he enters the darkness of Hades?

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I really enjoyed this film immensely. Xing Yu very much has the determined hero look down pat, but he also does a good job as showing his conflicted emotions at certain moments. Matt Mullins does a great job as Bill, but I wish there had been more scenes with him and Xing Yu, to examine their relationship since they both escaped from Hades. Yasuaki Kurata doesn’t get to fight in this one, but exudes menace as Kawao.

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Steve Yoo is great as Kurashige, and plays him perfectly as a man who doesn’t believe that what he’s doing is evil as its all he’s ever known, and feels betrayed by K-29 for choosing to stand against him. Especially at the end, when he gazes out and sees Hades falling apart, and the disbelief on his face, is just well done by Yoo. The story itself is well told, and each character has a fitting, even somewhat operatic ending. I thought for sure this would be a Heroic Bloodshed film, and was actually surprised that it wasn’t, but in no way disappointed in that. That would have been an easy way to end the story. I’m glad they didn’t take it.

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The fights in this film were a joy to watch. Since Sammo choreographed it, I would expect nothing less! It was all well-shot, with a mixture of traditional kung-fu and a little bit of wirework, but nothing that distracted or took away from the performers. My favorite fight is when K-29 fights Crazy Monkey, a crazy kung-fu fighter who uses an array of styles and parkour to evade and attack. The fight starts on the ground, then on a bridge, and then to the top of the concrete bridge arches, and down, and back up, and then into the water. The music here is also good, and I hope more films follow it musically. There is a Xing Yu versus Matt Mullins fight that I wish had been a lot longer, but Mullins gets his moments during the final scrum at the climax of the film (in fact, some of it reminds me of Enter The Dragon in a strange way). The final fight itself in the rain between Xing Yu and Steve Yoo is gorgeous to look at and is well done. Their fight really displays the powerful strikes within the karate and kung-fu disciplines. The scenes switch between their fight and the soldiers fighting the Hades disciples, and it all comes together beautifully.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 9

I really had a great time with this movie, and I’d like to introduce everyone to Xing Yu: Kung Fu Star. His time has finally come in a film that properly introduces audiences to a man who may very well be the next big thing!

The Wrath of Vajra was released today on DVD and Blu-Ray from WellGO USA (Good Job, Ya’ll!) . I HIGHLY recommend you pick this one up!

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