Review: Ninja Assassin (2009)

Posted in Rain, Rick Yune, Sho Kosugi with tags , on January 18, 2019 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Rain, Naomie Harris, Sung Kang, Sho Kosugi, Rick Yune

Fight Choreography by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch

Directed by James McTeigue

In 2009, hot off the the Matrix Trilogy, the Wachowskis decided to apply their aesthetic to the world of ninjas, that old reliable world of the 80’s, and with a new star in South Korean pop singer Rain, they set out to redefine what a ninja movie could be, with a big budget and the latest in special effects…

The film opens with an attack on a local street gang, killed by a single ninja. Later we meet Raizo at a laundromat, who is immediately attacked by an assassin from a local clan, but he wins the battle. Meanwhile, a Europol investigator named Mika (Harris)starts to close in on the ninja clan. Soon Raizo and Mika meet, with Raizo thwarting his own clan in their attempted assassinations, and soon they are out to end his former clan once and for all.

Newcomer Rain does a fairly decent job as Raizo, but doesn’t really imbue the film with the star charisma it needs. Naomie Harris does an admirable job, but the two actors together don’t share any chemistry onscreen, and it hurts evert scene they are in together. Rick Yune isn’t in the film enough to really make an impression, so he is wasted here. Sho Kosugi as Lord Ozunu does standout more than the rest, and gives the film that martial arts “legitimacy” but just like Rick Yune he’s barely in the film enough to get a true sense of his villainy.

The film moves at a brisk pace, and there are problems with this. We never get to truly know Raizo except through flashbacks that don’t allow the audience to really feel anything for him or his plight. In this instance I believe the flashbacks hindered the film. The better choice is to either go linear to tell the story, or just let Raizo’s past be a mystery as we follow Mika on his adventure, with only hints as to the reason why he’s helping her.

So much CGI…too much, in fact. These ninjas look like something a superhero should fight, not someone in the real world regardless of skill. CGI throwing stars flash out like machine gun fire. CGI blood and guts, even CGI ninja movements. Just too much.

The first big fight scene..happens in the dark. No way to see how good the fight choreography is because I couldn’t make out what was happening. This is even more maddening during the Europol Building siege, and some parts are cool, but the camerawork is all over the place, with a deadly combo of quick cuts and shots that are zoomed in too close to truly see the action. It actually gets better when the fight goes into the street, with Raizo avoiding ninjas as well as cars, but it gets ridiculous when ninjas get hit with cars and just keep truckin’ along. The only fight with any real excitement, at least for me was the final fight with Sho Kosugi vs Rain. The background fire and scene framing reminded me of a video game, and the fight was good until Raizo went all Naruto in the fight, displaying a skill the movie had barely hinted at before. It was a silly way to end the fight, even if it was meant as a crowd-pleasing moment.

I get what they were trying to do with this film. They were trying to merge ninja films with modern day special effects, trying to make the ninjas as mystical as they pretended to be to the peasants in ancient Japan, but none of it really works.

Funny enough, there was another ninja movie that came out that year. It probably cost about the same amount of the craft services in this film but is a far superior ninja movie. That would be Ninja, with Scott Adkins…

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 5

A middling film that overloads itself with special effects with a story and hero that aren’t very interesting, and Sho Kosugi is truly wasted here in what was a misfire of a film. 

 

 

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Posted in Uncategorized on January 17, 2019 by Michael S. Moore

Farewell, Ringo Lam (1955-2018)

Posted in Jackie Chan, Jean-Claude Van Damme with tags , on December 29, 2018 by Michael S. Moore

Superstar HK action filmmaker Ringo Lam has passed away. Director of such films as City on Fire (much of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs owes itself to this film), Twin DragonsSky On Fire, Touch & Go, Aces Go Places IV, Maximum Risk and so many more. He came up during the renaissance of kinetic 80’s gunplay movies like the works of his contemporary John Woo.

In regards to marital arts, he had directed Sammo Hung in Touch & Go, and was part of the group of directors who helmed Jackie Chan in Twin Dragons, and his final film was with Daniel Wu in Sky On Fire, and he had directed Jean Claude Van Damme in a few films, one of which was his last Hollywood A-list film in Maximum Risk, and JCVD in b-movies like In Hell and The Replicant.

Ringo Lam was a great action filmmaker who helped spring Hong Kong action cinema into the international mainstream in the 80’s and early 90’s. His work, particularly with Chow Yun Fat, still stands as some of action cinema’s best works…anywhere. He will be greatly missed.

 

The trailer for Warrior is here!!

Posted in Dustin Nguyen, Joe Taslim on December 15, 2018 by Michael S. Moore

Based on a story idea from Bruce Lee comes this new Cinemax show. So let’s see, the last ideas from Bruce Lee that was adapted was the Circle of Iron starring David Carradine and Kung Fu, also starring David Carradine (noticing a pattern here…). Let’s see what Cinemax has in store for us, eh?

Hmm. Looks like a well-made production but in the martial arts department the jury’s still out. I don’t know much about star Andrew Koji but believe me I’ll find out. Now two names I DO know is Joe Taslim (The Raid) and Dustin Nguyen ( OG 21 Jumpstreet, Buddha Fire) so there is that. Produced by Justin Lin, Jonathan Tropper and Bruce’s daughter Shannon Lee, this is the story of Ah Sahm, a Chinese immigrant who comes to San Francisco Chinatown after the Civil War and finds himself in the middle of the Chinatown Tong Wars.

While I’m curious as to how the fight scenes are choreographed, it’s how it’s shot and edited that concern me. Western TV shows tend to really butcher well-done fight choreography with unnecessary close-ups and slow motion mixed with quick cut editing to make things appear to “look exciting”. So while I’m curious I’m also skeptical. Let’s see if this show can win me over.

 

Review: Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993)

Posted in Jason Scott Lee, John Cheung on November 29, 2018 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jason Scott Lee, Lauren Holly, Robert Wagner, John Cheung

Fight Choreography by John Cheung

Directed by Rob Cohen

When Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story came out fans of the Lee family were still reeling from the death of Brandon Lee, which had only occurred a few months before this film was released. I’ve always had a soft spot for this film, as I’ve always connected it with my feelings after Brandon’s death. I went to the theater twice to watch this film, and watching again has brought back some memories from that day, so yeah, it will probably color my review a bit.

Jason Scott Lee stars as Bruce Lee, whom we first meet as a child learning martial arts (while they don’t name him, it can only be Ip Man) and later as an adult, beating up several English sailors while they are harassing a woman at a lantern festival. The consequences of the fight becomes very, very real as Bruce’s father forces him to leave Hong Kong and go to the States to make his fortune. It is during his college days he meets Linda (Lauren Holly), falls in love but not without issues, and before long gets into Hollywood, first making a little TV show called The Green Hornet, and after many roadblocks returns to China after his father’s death, and agrees to make a film called The Big Boss, and the rest his history…

The first thing to understand about this film is that is a fictional telling of Bruce’s life, touching on many real-life events, but make no mistake this is a martial arts action film through and through. Jason Scott Lee, while he doesn’t look anything like Bruce, embodies and humanizes him in a way that other Bruce wannabes don’t, or can’t. While not a natural martial artist himself, Lee does a great job moving like Bruce, and its hard to tell that he didn’t really know much martial arts before the film. Lauren Holly isn’t bad as Linda, but while she’s stunningly beautiful in the film, the script didn’t really get into her enough beyond the broad strokes to truly care about her, particularly during some of the most emotional scenes, and her acting hadn’t evolved enough yet to mask the deficiencies in her character. The most standout parts of her are the scenes with Lee where they have to face various forms of racism at a restaurant, and with her mother before that. Those scenes were well done, and believe me those moments do happen in real life. Take that from someone who is living it.

Rob Cohen isn’t too imaginative as a director, but the fight scenes are, for the most part well shot. The script sprinkles in moments we are supposed to believe will inform Bruce’s films later, and while that is eye-rolling, I didn’t mind them quite so much. The scenes with Brandon, particularly at the end, when Bruce has to do battle with his demons, were more affecting and haunting than otherwise may have been if Brandon hadn’t died not long before the films’ release. If I recall at the time there was some discussion on putting off the release of the film, or at least changing the end fight, but they did add a dedication to Brandon, which was nicely done.

The fights in the film range the gamut from ok to pretty good. The fights versus Johnny Sun are the best in the film, well shot and the choreography by John Cheung is pretty on point (which is to be expected as he’s a veteran of early Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung films, and plays Johnny Sun himself) and the alley fight with the cooks was, to my surprise, a lot of fun, and was very reminiscent of the fight in the alley in Return of the Dragon (pretty sure that was intentional).

I have to toss a special shout to Randy Edelman, the music composer of the film, and this is one of the best soundtracks of any film in the 90’s. Lord knows just about every film trailer in the mid 90’s -early 00’s used parts of it, but as an owner of the soundtrack I stand by its greatness!

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8

This was a star-making performance by Jason Scott Lee, and it’s a shame his star didn’t rise as it should have, but this is an entertaining film about Bruce Lee, albeit a Hollywoodized action film version of it.

Review: Blood, Sweat and Terrors (2018)

Posted in Daniel Bernhardt with tags , on November 6, 2018 by Michael S. Moore

Blood, Sweat and Terrors is an anthology of action, suspense and a dash of horror, and since this is split by different stories, I’ll review each short story in turn:

Awesome Runaway

This story, of a man who has been captured and somehow attempts an amazing escape, is one of the weakest entries in the entire anthology. There is a fight scene, but it’s poorly shot and poorly choreographed, and the way the story is constructed, you can’t really relate to the main character as you never know why he is being held captive and who the captives are, so the action seems meaningless. If the action had been amazing, or even good, it might be forgivable. But it isn’t.

Jacob’s Wrath

A short film told from two different states in the mind of and old man who is about to make a choice that will change the course of two lives, as he deals with the grief of his daughters’ death. Before the story reaches its end you’ll know how it will go, but it’s the inevitability of it that makes it sad. Not much action here, but what little is there is well done.

Flow

Ugh. That’s about all I can say for this short about two female freedom fighters who discuss their issues as they kill random nobodies. Not funny, action bad, and the best thing I can say is that the actresses were okay. The story did them no favors.

Express Delivery

NOW we’re getting somewhere! A tale of a captor and captive who duke it out. The story here is weak, the acting is serviceable, but the action is pretty decent. Not amazing, not excellent, but a bit of fun. Not bad stuntwork here.

Turncoat

Two thieves break into a house with tragic consequences…for them. This is an okay story of deception and backstabbing, but there’s nothing special about it. No real action moments here, but the actors did a fine job with the thin material.

Get Some

A zombie hunting reality show featuring an asshole you REALLY hope gets killed. Good production values here, but not much point to this story, even with The Mummy’s John Hannah as a scientist who wants to study the zombie menace in hopes of making peace with them.

 

 

Olga 

A young woman gets her revenge of the gangsters who killed her father. A simple premise, but excellently pulled off. The flashbacks are well done and add to the overall story, and Naomi Frenette is amazing here, as both an actress and as the action star. The fight choreography here is excellently done and well shot. Without a doubt my favorite of the bunch, and I’d love to see a feature film version of this.

Fetch

87Eleven Action in the House! This anthology definitely saved the best for last, and after Olga this is the best film. David Leitch (you heard that right, One half of John Wick, and director of Deadpool 2) is the title character, a gumshoe who gets a missing persons case from a rich couple, but of course not all is as it seems. It’s a fun little short, and the fights here are well done, especially Fetch versus the two mechanics, who go both high and low in their strikes. It’s a blast to watch, but honestly, director and one of my favorite onscreen martial artists Daniel Bernhardt gave this film the high quality I knew he would. This film reminds me a little of a martial arts version of The Last Boy Scout. So much fun here. Look out for stunt legend JJ Perry and the OTHER half of John Wick Chad Stahleski as two alley thugs.

How to grade this? The anthology actually comes from a Little Terrors Short Film festival, with the horror-style opening that makes zero sense, and there is no connective thread from beginning to end.

 

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 5


So I liked 4 out of eight shorts, so I have to say that overall it’s an average film. Olga is the standout here, and I hope we can see Naomi Frenette getting some bigger roles in the future! How about an Olga feature film?