Archive for April, 2010

Review: Romeo Must Die (2000)

Posted in Corey Yuen, Jet Li, Russell Wong with tags , , on April 30, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Jet Li Aaliyah Romeo Must Die

starring Jet Li, Aaliyah, Delroy Lindo, Anthony Anderson, and Russell Wong.

Fight Choreography by Corey Yuen

Directed by Andrew Bartkowiak

Soon after the success of Lethal Weapon 4, Joel Silver was eager to get Jet Li into his own film, and Warner Brothers thought they had the new Bruce Lee on their hands, and decided that not only would they debut Jet Li, and even more importantly Aaliyah, they would use the film as a testing ground for effects that were being developed at the time for the Matrix Reloaded. What ensues is an absolute mess of a film that did everything wrong in introducing Jet to the USA.

The film starts out with what must be the coolest opening credit sequence in film history. I hope they paid the credits guy and DMX a lot of dough, though I think DMX took most of that cash. We soon are treated to a club scene in which Po, a rich chinese guy watch two other chinese girls do all sorts of seducing dancing and such. The reason why I noted their ethnicity is because they are in a Black club, with everyone watching them angrily. If you were to use this film to gauge African-American and Chinese-American relations, you’d think we hated the shit out of each other. Anyway, soon the bouncer shows up and asks them to leave, which makes no sense why the hell he let them in if the place is evidently “Blacks Only”? Po explains that he was there to meet somebody when his bodyguard Kai shows up and tells Po to leave. Of course a few of the bouncer’s pals challenge Kai to a fight, and he gives them one, full of inexplicable wire stunts, bad camera angles put to music that will account for nearly every fight scene in this film.

Russell Wong Romeo Must Die

After DMX comes out and rhymes his lines, Kai and Po let it be known that there was a gang war between the Chinese and Blacks, though no one explains why this is. The next day finds Po dead as doornail. His father, the chinese gang lord is told, and he has to have someone to tell his son Han that his little brother Po has left this mortal coil.We’re introduced next to Isaac, played by the always dependable Delroy Lindo, and Mac, played with slimy confidence by Isaiah Washington. They both fear retribution for Po’s death even though they weren’t responsible.

We are next introduced to Han played by Jet Li, whom we find in a chinese prison for who knows what, as we aren’t told that either. We do know he was a former cop, and that it involved his no good Dad and brother, but that’s all. An inmate delivers the message that his brother was killed and Han decides to leave. Really. So he is able to escape and book a flight to the USA and can someone please explain why the HELL he didn’t do this earlier?!

After being subjected to a horrible fight using x-ray special effects to show Han breaking some poor schmuck’s arm, as if that was necessary, Jet easily leaves for the USA, once again proving that airline security isn’t for shit, letting an escaped felon get to U.S soil. Meantime Isaac decides he wants his daughter Trish, as played by Aaliyah, under protection, fearing an attempt on her life by the Chinese. So who does he send but Maurice played by Anthony Anderson, which tells me that he really didn’t like her as much as he says, else he would’ve sent some Michael Jai White lookin’ dude. In fact, that would have made the film soooooooo much better. Soon she gets away from Maurice and hides in a cab that just happened to be stolen by Han. The two share a requisite chemistry-filled (or not, depending on how you look at it) ride to the store she owns, which is a bit weird since Aaliyah was in her early 20’s and Jet in his late 30’s, and the relationship in this film comes off more like really good friendship than a romance.

After a golf game where we meet Roth, an executive who is partnering with Isaac and Han’s father over some deal to build an NFL stadium, in a scene that is obviously there to show scenes of veiled racism against Isaac and show that Black guys can’t play golf, and I really want to hit everyone involved in this scene, that plays on stereotypes as a story beat.

Han shows up to his brother pad and decides to live there, and attends his funeral, which was a really well done scene, with most everyone else wearing black while he wears white a la Bruce Lee in Fists of Fury. After an argument with his dad we are graced with a thankfully short but painful to watch spar between Han and Kai. Russell Wong looks completely out of his league here, and the slow motion and quick cuts are all that keeps him looking as if he might be a viable threat for Jet Li. He isn’t.

We are then forced to endure watching Han get into a football game with Maurice and the thugs he embarrassed earlier, and they all act as if Chinese people have never seen football. Jet get knocked around until he impresses Trish by turning it into Kung-fu football, which is actually a cool idea, but the pointless use of wire harnesses ruins the entire scene.

Soon Isaac’s son Colin is tossed out of a window and falls to his death by unknown assailants, and this puts Trish at odds with her father in scenes which are there to let Aaliyah show that she can act, which she succeeded in doing for the most part. Han and Trish then team up, checking out a list of addresses he found in his brother’s belongings, and this leads to an MTV-shot car chase that s chopped to hell, and in a rip off of better Hong Kong flicks, Jet and Aaliyah take out one opponent Dancing with the Stars style.

After Montage sequences of Mac and Kai killing off their own people in various ways, Kai by having a bunch of Chinese mob bosses chopped up in the back of a butcher’s truck. What bothers me more is that they were in the back of a restaurant. Ick. Don’t order the catch of the day…

Romeo Must Die

This leads to what has got to be the lowest low of Jet’s career, being taken to that same black club from the beginning of the film, and forced to act hip hop so they can get into a club, and subjects himself to going onto the dance floor and dancing like a 4-year-old while Aaliyah dances around him as he looks on cluelessly. Jet must have felt a little sliver of dignity leave him.

After DMX is thankfully killed, Han has to have a final battle, if you want to call it that, with Maurice and his crew. A horrible fight ensues full of bad comedy, worse special effects, and only the fire hose/rope dart sequence merits any mention. After Trish and Han deal with Mac, it leads to the inevitable fight versus Kai. A decent fight, but this is a Jet Li film here. The bar’s much higher than that. Russell Wong does his best to keep up, but he isn’t nearly as graceful on screen as Jet is, and half as fast. Of course effects and camera angles and wire harness do their best to mask this. Kai dies an x-ray effects laden death, and Han faces his father, who kills himself when Han tells him he won’t go to prison for him again, ’cause the gruel there sucks.

So…all the bad guys are dead, Han runs to Trish in laughable slow motion, and they live happily ever after, and we can thankfully put this film away.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (3) Dreadful. I love Corey Yuen, but he mailed this one in, but I’m sure Joel Silver had as much to do with it. Too many wires that defy gravity too often are used, and not really all that well. I have seen and expect better than this from him. This was a paycheck film.

STUNTS: (5) The stunt men did their job adequately. Nothing thrilling here, but not bad either.

DIRECTION: (3) Andrew Bartkowiak shouldn’t be let near a martial arts film. Unfortunately he’ll do a few more. Shot MTV style with too many close-ups and quick edited action that makes it difficult to follow. The use of special effects wasn’t necessary and a complete waste of Jet’s skills. The story was mediocre at best, and Bartkowiak was more interested in the shots rather than the content (i.e. heart) he’s supposed to be filming. Don’t even get me started on the stereotyping…

STAR POWER: (6) Isn’t this supposed to be a Jet Li film? So why is Jet in it so little? Aaliyah acquits herself well for a first time actress, and you can always count on Delroy Lindo. Russell Wong and Anthony Anderson try to bring the whole damn film down, and actually somewhat succeed.

FINAL GRADE: (4) Jet Li’s starring American debut is an absolute mess, through no fault of his own. The direction and many creative decisions led to this, and this would paint the picture for most of Jet’ s American output. This film was obviously trying to place Aaliyah (R.I.P.) and the effects front and center, so much so I’m not sure this is even a Jet Li film. He deserved so much better than this.

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THE GREAT DISASTER OF EAST MEETS WEST

Posted in Jackie Chan, Jacky Wu Jing, Jeeja Yanin, Jet Li, Johnny Nguyen, Tony Jaa with tags , , on April 27, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Jackie Chan Rush Hour 2

-OR-

MAKING THE CASE FOR STAYING WHERE THEY ARE

 by Michael S Moore

Bruce Lee. Jackie Chan. Jet Li. Michelle Yeoh. Sammo Hung. Donnie Yen. Colin Chou. Ringo Lam. Tsui Hark. John Woo. All of them greats of martial arts films, almost all of them legendary in shaping martial arts cinema in one way or another. Many of them are entering the twilight of their respective careers due to age, and already a new crop of martial artists have come up, smashing their way into film: Tony Jaa, Jacky Wu Jing, Jeeja Yanin, Johnny Nguyen, and Iko Uwais, just to name a few. All of them incredibly talented with positive outlooks on the future for them all, entertaining us with fantastic acrobatics and amazing martial arts skills. Which is why it is so important that, despite what they may think and even what they might feel, they never come to these shores.

What all of the first group I mentioned have in common is that they all came to the USA to make films, and with but one exception, have failed here. First let’s understand why they came here. Bruce had already been in America before, doing the Green Hornet before forging his career in Hong Kong, and then returning to us to do Enter The Dragon, so that’s more or less understood. In the case of the others, Jackie Chan had come here once before but returned on his own terms with Rumble in the Bronx, which was a box office success. This opened the gates for everyone to try their hand, as that was shortly before China took control of Hong Kong, and no one knew what would happen to the freedoms they had enjoyed for so long, fearing the censorship that could occur under China’s control. I think the allure of Hollywood beckoned them, not necessarily because of the money, which was far more than they ever made here, but because they would enjoy less stressful productions, since they only needed to work on one film at a time (in Hong Kong many of them would be working on 2-3 films at the same time!), and due to their advanced ages, at least for the actors, less stress and strain on the body, since they would have some stunt doubles for some of the more crazier stunts. For the directors, it was a chance to work with bigger budgets and a different crop of movie stars. All of these wishes came true. They also resulted in failure and a complete waste of time.

To start with, one of the problems is that Hollywood wooed them here with promises of increased fame and fortune, and then proceeded to strip away all of the things that made them special to begin with.

One of the biggest issues are the fight scenes themselves. In the words of director Brett Ratner, on the first Rush Hour commentary, he stated that “Americans don’t like long fight scenes. A fight needs to be no more than 2 minutes long at most”. Let me go on record for citing  just how foolish and wrong that is, and that relegating Jackie Chan to 2 minutes is heresy. I would almost agree with his assessment-if you are talking about horrible fight scenes. These are people who have built careers on 5 to 10 to 30 minute fight scenes, and that’s what everyone wants to see, American or not. Unfortunately most USA directors agree with Ratner. Since this is so, they are having to not only shorten their fight scenes, but spend nearly zero time choreographing them, and they all wind up looking like shadows of their HK films. There’s not one fight in any of Jackie or Jet’s American films that resemble even their weakest HK efforts. Since they also can’t do any crazy falls or jumps or take hits due to the insurance companies, it further sanitized them.

Then we have the issue that, since they don’t speak much English, the need is felt to team them up with the likes of Chris Tucker, James Bond, Owen Wilson, Mark Walhberg, and DMX. Now we have someone who has equal, if not more screen time than they do either being overly dramatic or funny, which takes away from seeing one more fight scene, and the comedy has more misses than hits. The martial artist is pushed aside and relegated to being the sidekick who comes in and does a few moves before the up and coming actor takes over to be funny or dramatic. Then we come to the issue of CGI effects. You don’t need them if you have men and women who are their own greatest special effect. Seeing Jet defying gravity in Romeo Must Die or The One doesn’t come close to thrilling audiences as much as watching him fight Billy Chow at the end of Fist of Legend, or watching him and the Shaolin monks defend their temple at the end of Shaolin Temple.

Put simply, the Hollywood machine takes them all and makes them something we don’t want to see. It makes them tame. Less dangerous. Jackie Chan is a prime example of this. While in the USA he is forced to play buffoon after silly buffoon, and yes, in his HK films he is funny, but there was still danger there.You might laugh at or with him, but you still wouldn’t want to face him in a dark alley. The tigers have had their teeth pulled.

The good news is that most of them have gone back to Hong Kong, and have started making good films again. Donnie Yen may be the best Hong Kong martial artist working today, Sammo Hung has had a career renaissance with Killzone and Fatal Move, and the upcoming Ip Man 2, Michelle Yeoh is making waves in True Legend, Jet Li had the Warlords, but has mostly retired except for a few parts here and there, and Jackie Chan has been going back and forth between the USA and China, and has Shaolin and Chinese Zodiac in production, with Little Big Soldier and Shinjuku Incident recently released, while in the USA he had The Spy Next Door, which should tell you what Mr. Chan truly thinks of Hollywood, and his place in it.

I decided to write this after hearing calls on different blogsites and even among friends that they can’t wait “until Tony Jaa comes to the U.S.!” I would challenge that by asking “why would you want that?”

If Tony Jaa is what you want, you’ll never see that person here. If you believe he can make a film like The Protector here, with its jaw dropping 10 minute continous fight scene, you are kidding yourself. He would be a shadow of what you want him to be. Tony and the rest should stay at home and make their films there, under their own watchful eye and sensibilities, and the let them take flight in a way they never will be able to here.

I implore them, as a true fan of martial arts films, to stay in the comforts of home. Let fans in the United States love them from here, with our imports and subtitled films. Let our love reach across the ocean, and if Hollywood invites you here, please thank them for the offer, and then politely refuse. We won’t take it personally.

Review: Fist of Fury (1971)

Posted in Bruce Lee, James Tien, Lo Wei with tags , on April 23, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Bruce Lee Fists of Fury 3

starring Bruce Lee, James Tien, Jackie Chan (Stuntman)

Directed by Lo Wei

Fight Choreography by Han Ying Cheng

Fist of Fury came out the following year after The Big Boss, and proves to be a much better film in every conceivable way, finally showing the skills and talent that would define Bruce Lee for all time in a way that The Big Boss never could…

Bruce Lee plays Chen Zhen, a popular chinese hero who has been the subject of a few films, with a new one with Donnie Yen in production as we speak. The story begins with Chen’s return home after finding out that his Master, Ho Yuan-Chin, is killed while fighting the currently occupying Japanese, who stage matches to pit their karate to Chinese Kung-fu. Chen arrives just in time to attend the funeral, and there his emotions, like it will the entire film, get the best of him, and he throws himself on the casket, where the current headmaster of the school does the most cast-iron ballsy thing I’ve ever seen, knocking Chen out with a shovel. And I’ll bet no Japanese fighter thought to try that, because over the course of the film they’ll fail with everything else.

At the Master’s wake the next day, all goes peaches until a group of Japanese from the nearest Cobra Kai-wait, wrong film. But Martin Cove showing up would have been some kind of awesome. Anyway, the bad guys from the nearby Evil Dojo tm show up with a sign for the school that reads “Sick Man of Asia”. Now that is straight up gangsta, and requires ass-kicking on an epic level. Their rep Mr. Hu does this and slaps Chen not once-not twice-but three times! Chen was already pissed he got laid out by a shovel, and now this douche shows up and has the intestinal fortitude to slap him!

Bruce Lee Fists of Fury 1

This leads to the now classic fight as Chen shows up to kick ass and fight their Master, to see if he was really good enough to kill Master Ho. Oh he’s not. Not even close. Chen said he was the worst of the students, and I suppose from the standpoint of showing restraint and forgiveness, he’s right, but he did misrepresent himself, and I’m sure those fighters would’ve done much better had they known how good he really was. Cue laugh track here. After hearing about the beating his boys took, Master Suzuki, a giant eyebrowed dude, orders his men to go to the Chang Wu school and destroy it. Chen then shows the dangers of discrimation by beating down two Japanese guys who want him to crawl like a dog to get into some park or something, with no idea that doing so would immediately cause them to have emergency dental surgery performed on them to remove several perfectly good teeth. At the same time the Japanese attack the Chang Wu school, in a battle that is well done, much better than any non-Bruce fight in the Big Boss. Han Ying Chen does a great job of choreography this time out, and especially of using it to up the tension of the scenes. My only beef with this scene is at the end of this, when the Japanese master orders everyone to stop fighting, and they do. I would have thought that this would be the perfect time to get some cheap shots in if I were the Cheng Wu school. Chen shows up, evidently pissed that he wasn’t there to kick more butt, and feels horrible about it.

Soon Chen discover that the cook and servant were the traitors, poisoning the Master’s food right before the fight. You’ll notice the servant is played by the same guy who played the main bad guy in The Big Boss. Chen kills both men with punches so powerful that it evidently thrusts their innards into a pocket dimension.

This puts Chen on the run, foraging and living in the nearby forest, while Master Eyebrows spends the nights entertaining his new friend Mr. Petrov, who looks strikingly like either Ronald Macdonald or John Holmes. Of course this scene shows off the requisite naked woman. Following this scene leads to one of the most ill advised acts in history, as Mr Hu-you remember, the ass that kept slapping Chen at the wake-is captured by Chen for information, and Chen finally shows he learned something more from his Master other than killing proficiently, and lets Hu live, and Hu repays this act of generosity by trying to stab Chen in the back, and of course reflexes take over and Chen sends Hu into the next world, ensuring his brand of stupidity will no longer affect the gene pool any longer.

Next Chen goes all Mission Impossible here wearing disguises to spy on the bad guys in a scene both implausible and funny at the same, primarily for that reason, and I think the Lo Wei knew this too. Chen watches Ronald Mcd-I mean Petrov give a demonstration of his skill at hammering nails in boards with his hands and bending steel. Which is fine if your Bob Villa, but not so much if you fight guys named Bruce Lee.

Bruce Lee Fists of Fury 2

Chen goes to the Japanese dojo, unaware that most of the students left to kill off the Cheng Wu school. Stupidity runs rampant again as Chen tries to get the remaining students to leave peacefully, but they don’t, and Chen breaks arms, crushes heads and impales guys with their own weapons. He arrives to find Master Suzuki’s top guys, including Petrov, ready to take him on, and after he double taps the first guy in the nuts, turning him into the Lead Henchwoman, takes on Petrov in a good fight until Chen goes super speed on him, and dispatches him easily. The last fight between Chen and Master Suzuki is surprisingly weak compared to the fights before, mainly because it is very short.

(Note: At the moment Bruce kicks Suzuki out of the dojo, sending him through the wooden doors, Bruce noted that the stuntman he had been watching that day who did that was going to be special someday, because of the way he conducted himself and just seemed to have that something in the eyes. That stuntman? Jackie Chan.)

Meanwhile, the entire school is wiped out but for the Headmaster and a few of the students who drew the long straws and got to go looking for Chen Zhen. Chen is forced to turn himself in, but in a final act of defiance runs right at a group of soldiers with guns, and they fire, and thus ends the film.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) For his last film with Bruce, Han Yin Cheng does a great job this time out, even in the non-Bruce Lee fight scenes. I’m sure Bruce himself had a lot to do with that, but this contains one of the best, most classic fight scenes of all time.

STUNTS: (7) Better than the Big Boss by leaps and bounds. You could tell they were able to hire better stuntmen this time out, and with Jackie Chan being one of them, there’ s no way it could be as bad as the Big Boss. While no real large scale stunts here, the stuntmen act the punches and strikes well, and throw themselves about fairly convincingly.

DIRECTION: (7) Once again, much better as the fight scenes are well framed and move just as well. The story has better drama and characterization as well, and Lo gets the most from his actors. Truthfully, he got lucky with this one.

STAR POWER: (10) Unlike the Big Boss, this features Bruce fighting, fighting, fighting. More Bruce is never a bad thing, and this movie gives you your Bruce Lee fix. He does a much better job with the acting, except for the laughable romantic scene midway through the film.

FINAL GRADE: (9) A great film that defined everything that fans loved about Bruce Lee. Good fights and decent drama make this a winner. Only the final fight brings the score down a bit.

Review: Ip Man (2008)

Posted in Donnie Yen, Fan Siu Wong (Louis Fan), Sammo Hung, Simon Yam, Wilson Yip, Xing Yu with tags , on April 21, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Donnie Yen, Louis Fan, Simon Yam, Xing Yu

Fight Choreography by Sammo Hung

Directed by Wilson Yip

Ip Man may very well be the crowning achievement for Donnie Yen. After starring in many so-so films of varying quality, he got on a roll of success that starts with Killzone and Flashpoint, and continues with Ip Man. Every martial arts star has a movie that defines them. Bruce Lee has Enter the Dragon, Jackie Chan has the Drunken Master, Jet Li has Once Upon a Time in China (both different takes on the same character) and now Donnie Yen can add his name to the list of memorable films with Ip Man.

Ip Man is famously known as the master of Bruce Lee, and the film covers his life just before the Japanese occupation of his home Foushan, to when he escapes to Hong Kong, where a new life (and a young Bruce Lee) will await him.

The movie begins as a Master Liao, a new master just moved to Foushan, arrives to challenge Ip Man to a duel, much to the chagrin and dismay of his wife. Ip Man invites Master Liao to sit with him as they are to eat dinner when he arrived to give his challenge. They do so in an equal parts funny and awkward dinner scene. They soon fight in a fantastic fight that is designed to whet the appetite for the battles to come, and succeeds in this. Ip Man wins the duel, and tells Liao that he’ll keep the duel a secret, so that it won’t affect his own school. Nice Guy, that Ip Man. A polite, honorable mega-badass.

Ip Man 1

Soon a group of thugs led by Jin (Terry Fan) roll into town not unlike a group of modern street thugs, and make their way to Dojo Street, in what has to be the most badass street in the world. Nothing but kung-fu schools the whole way. They kick the crap out of everyone on the street, looking to establish themselves their own school. By the way, they are country bumpkins, so remember my previous reviews about those kind of guys. Soon the only one left to challenge is Ip Man, and in an absolutely engaging and funny fight, is defeated by Ip Man. (Watch what happens when his little son rides by to give Ip Man a message from his wife in the middle of the fight.)

Donne Yen Ip Man

The tone of the film changes when the Japanese army arrives and take over Foushan. Soon it becomes a harrowing view of the Japanese occupation, and Ip Man finds himself conflicted as his skills and pride as a martial artist comes into doubt. Soon he finds himself fighting, along with other former masters who now live in hovels, for their literal daily bag of rice from General Sanpo, who wants to show that Japanese Karate is superior to Chinese Kung-Fu. After one of the best fights you’ll ever see involving Ip Man vs 10 black belts, a fight that has to be seen to be believed, Ip Man finds himself in hiding from the general, and has to make a choice: either fight one more time or watch his fellow people suffer even more.

Ip Man is a defining moment in the career of Donnie Yen, who both brings his best skills to bear as well as good acting as Ip Man. One of the best martial arts film to display a single style of fighting you’ll ever see.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) Sammo Hung does a brilliant job of putting these fights together, beautiful to see, exciting, and brutal all at once. Not a wrong note here.

STUNTS: (9) The stunt work is also great, particularly in the second fight with Jin, and the 10 man battle scene. They sell every scene they are in well.

DIRECTION: (10) Excellent. Wilson Yip directs each scene with energy and fervor, and knows when to be quiet and when to turn up the volume. The dramatic scenes work well, and the action never feels out of place.

STAR POWER: (10) This film cements Donnie Yen as one of the best of all time. Terry Fan, having been out of the martial arts cinema scene for a long time, returns triumphantly in this.

FINAL GRADE: (10) Folks, this is one of the best martial arts films you’ll ever see. An instant classic that won’t get old any time soon.

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Review: The Last Dragon (1985)

Posted in Ernie Reyes Jr., Taimak with tags , , on April 15, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Julius Carry The Last Dragon

Starring Taimak, Vanity, Julius Carry III

Fight Choreography by Torrance Mathis

Directed by Michael Schultz

There have been many ripoffs of Bruce Lee films, and very few of them paid the master any real homage, which is still the case to this day (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story notwithstanding), but one of the best came from a place no one would have thought: Motown Productions under the production of the famous Berry Gordy.

Not that you wouldn’t have noticed. The film opens with a cool song-well this is Motown, so if nothing else you would think the movie would have some kickass music-and at least for me, it does. If you don’t like Debarge, then I can’t help you. Go watch Rapid Fire or something. The song plays over Taimak doing different martial arts moves, just to show you his skill level. I had never heard of him before this film, and I wondered to this day why he never did much else movie-wise. In this film he plays a guy named “Bruce” Leroy Green, and in another nod to Bruce, comes across as the country bumpkin. As stated many times, those guys are badasses, one and all. After his demo is over, his master takes a shot at him with an arrow to test his skills. Since he shot the arrow to the side of him I assume he was testing his ability to keep the arrow from hitting someone else. What a douche. Why not train Leroy to keep the arrow from hitting him? Wait, catching bullets in his teeth would be much safer, and more practical since city folk usually don’t attack with bows and arrows. So I take that back.

After the arrow scene, his master tells him that he’s reached the final level, where you can attain The Glow , some light that makes your hands glow like light sabers, and can create sparks when you hit someone else who can do it. That’s so cool I expect my teacher to teach me that. Really. I believe in that shit. Soon Leroy’s master sends him out to find some old Chinese guy who can help him find it.

Feeling a bit lost, Leroy does what many of us do in the same position; go to the local movie theater and watch Enter the Dragon. This entire sequence sets the tone for the rest of the film, and you either go with it or not. This scene is classic, starting with a guy copying Bruce when he politely steps on Bob Wall’s face by doing the same to a boom box that some knuckleheads break dancing in the aisles brought with them, in a move that in real life would have gotten their asses kicked. Then we enter the villain Shonuff, played with gusto and charisma by the late Julius Carry III, and every line that escapes his mouth is pure gold. This guy hates Leroy, who seems to be unaware that, at least to one of Sho’s men, he stands between Shonuff and total supremacy. Of what I wasn’t sure, but it must have been important, ’cause Shonuff wants to fight Leroy however he can. This leads to a fight in the theater when a bunch of guys who think they can take Shonuff try to do so. I don’t know if Julius Carry knew any martial arts before the film, but his acting sells every single move, no matter how simple. (Keanu Reeves, take note.) In retrospect the fight was typical 80’s American style, but it’s all about Shonuff. And it works.

The Last Dragon

We then meet the secondary villain, Eddie Arcadian, basically a poor man’s Danny Devito, a promoter and gangster who is trying to get his girlfriend’s music video on a popular dance show hosted by the beautiful Laura Charles (Vanity). We then are show scenes at the show, and are treated to an Debarge song. Eddie really must love that annoying-ass girlfriend of his, as he’ll murder, kidnap, and assault people all in her name. Leroy soon meets Laura on the streets after an attempted kidnapping by Eddie’s men, all of whom look like guys who have had their asses kicked in Steven Seagal films. A decent (for the 80’s) fight scene that shows off Taimak’s skills. During the save Leroy drops the token his master gave him.

Oh yeah, before I forget, look for William H. Macy (Fargo) as Laura’s producer.

Soon Eddie does capture Laura and subjects her to the music, which is akin to waterboarding. Soon Leroy shows up to save her, a bit late since he had to run home to get his ninja outfit, but whatever. Once again he beats up the bad guys and saves Laura. Little does he know that Shonuff has gone to his family’s pizza place, and like many old school films, trashes the place looking him. Of course this scene is there for Leroy to doubt his personal vow not to fight since he is a man of peace, nevermind the asses he just kicked-twice. Ungrateful bastard put a piece of ass in front of saving his Dad’s place. Well, it was Vanity, so he scores a man pass for that one.

Vanity The Last Dragon

Since Eddie has been “pwnd” twice by Leroy he decides to hire Shonuff, and every bad guy lackey that William Sadler, Alan Rickman and Henry Silva passed on. While this is happening Laura takes Leroy to the studio where she shows him a music video she put together of Bruce Lee movies, and scores a kiss from a very awkward Leroy. Soon Laura is kidnapped again, and Leroy has to go save her again, and fights leftovers from the Road Warrior. Soon he’s joined by his students, which include then-child martial arts phenom Ernie Reyes Jr, who may have been about seven or eight, and gets to show off his stuff in a scene that is probably the best martial arts shown in the film.

The final battle battle between Leroy and Shonuff is filled with cool music and while not a great fight scene, the actors sell the face off well (Anyone in the Matrix films not named Colin Chou, take note). You’ll be humming the music here for days. Leroy gets the girl, the bad guys get beaten, and all is well in the world again, at least until the remake with Samuel L Jackson as Shonuff comes out. Argh.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (5) Typical 80’s American fight choreography, not very impressive, but not outright horrible.

STUNTS: (3) Not much to speak of here. Passable, but nothing to write home about.

DIRECTION: (7) Not bad. The camera doesn’t do any quick cut editing, and in some frames look very much like a Bruce Lee flick. The music puts this over the top.

STAR POWER: (8) As much as Taimak was the star of the film, this movie rests on the acting of Julius Carry, who creates one of the most memorable martial arts villains since Mr. Han. Every single line from his mouth is quotable gold.

FINAL GRADE: (9) Why a nine? Because this film isn’t one you watch for great fight scenes. You watch for the film itself, with the great music, a memorable villlain, and a film that epitomizes the 80’s.

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Review: Police Story (1985)

Posted in Fung Hak-On, Jackie Chan, Lo Wei, Maggie Cheung, Reviews with tags , , , on April 8, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jackie Chan, Bridgette Lin, Fung Hark-on, Maggie Cheung

Directed and Fight Choregraphy by Jackie Chan

It’s said that Golden Harvest studios is the house that Bruce Lee built. If that’s so, and I believe it is, then Jackie Chan furnished the place, as his reign as king of HK cinema truly started here, and you can’t find a better representation of everything JC stood for than this film right here.

After enduring failure after box office failure under the direction of Lo Wei, Jackie Chan was considered a bust, and his contract was about to expire with Lo Wei. At this time Jackie had made a bunch of horrid movies in an attempt to be Bruce Lee, like so many others of the time. With nothing left to lose, Jackie was given reign to do what he wanted with his last few films. The first result was Snake in Eagle’s Shadow, which was a modest hit, his first doing things with a bit more comedic flair. Then followed two major hits, Young Master and the classic Drunken Master. Both together turned Jackie Chan into a star. A slew of hits followed, like Project A, The Lucky Star series, and Wheels on Meals. In 1985 Police Story was released, and the international community discovered what would take many Americans much longer to figure out-Jackie Chan was in a class all by himself.

The film starts with a bang, as the police are in the middle of a sting operation to capture notorious criminal Chu, who arrives at a shanty town to engage in a drug deal. Jackie arrives on the scene as Detective Kevin (Ka-Kui) Chan. I like this character a lot, because he’s a different type of action hero. He runs like an energizer bunny, never willing to give in to defeat when he probably should, is not the best boyfriend in the world, a bit overconfident, kind of a jerk, at least to some people, and kind of has a Charlie Brown (why me?) complex. Not the average kung-fu hero. Anyway, before too long the sting goes awry, as you knew it would, and a fantastic action scene commences that in many films would be at the end of the movie is how it starts here, looking more like a John Woo film than a Jackie Chan one.

Soon all hell breaks loose, and an amazing car chase down the shanty town (it sits on the side of a big hill) that would be ripped off shamefully in Bad Boys 2 (Police Story still does it better, with a budget that probably was less than what Michael Bay’s production paid for Kraft services) kicks the film into high gear, and doesn’t rest until Kevin has chased the bad guy while using an umbrella to hang on to a speeding double decker, and fight on said bus, Kevin getting knocked off bus, and using his gun to finally stop the bus, sending two sorry bastards through the windshield of the top of the bus, careening head first into the concrete in front of Kevin in a scene you’ll cringe in pain at even as you rewind your player at least twice going “Did you see that shit?!”

After the opening things slow down a bit as we are introduced to the other characters in the film, Selina, a secretary for Chu who may or may not know about his drug-running, played with equal parts amazement at her situation and fear of what may come by Bridgette Lin. Maggie Cheung also checks in as Kevin’s long suffering (and at least through 2 more films after this one) girlfriend May. She’s equal parts his foil and the one person who understands him. Jackie and Maggie have a natural chemistry that plays well over the span of three films. Special shouts also go out to Bill “Uncle Bill” Tung as the assistant police chief “Bill”. He used to be a famous horse commentator that made the switch to films, and this was I think his first. He’s not really Jackie’s uncle, but has played one in so many of Jackie’s films that everyone simply calls him Uncle Bill. Bill passed away in 2006. I already miss the guy. Farewell, Uncle Bill!

Kevin soon has Selina in protective custody after arresting Chu after the shanty town scene, and what follows are comedy hijinks as Kevin, using his buddy Jaws (Mars, another JC regular) stage an attempt on Selina’s life to get her to cooperate. Things don’t go as planned as Selina knocks out Jaws with not 1, but 2 vases, and Kevin is forced to take her to his house.

After another amazing fight involving Kevin, a handful of thugs and 2 cars, Chu winds up getting off after his capture by Kevin when Selina sabotages her testimony, embarassing Kevin on the stand with some tricks of her own involving his tape recorder.

Not thinking that maybe-just maybe leaving well enough alone would be best for everyone, Chu decides to get revenge on Kevin by framing him for murder. The plan goes off without a hitch, although if that smug little bastard knew what was coming he may have opted to go on a vacation, somewhere like the Bahamas. Forever.

What ensues is a convergence of everyone on an unsuspecting shopping mall where Chu has his secret headquarters. Okay, they lose me a bit here. Why the hell would you place your evil headquarters between Lenscrafters and Ambercrombie and Fitch? Was office space that limited in Hong Kong? Of course, what does that say for the police? Or worse, mall cops? Did the group of well dressed drug dealers in the food court ordering Slushies not tip them off? Mall cops really aren’t worth a damn.

No sooner than can you say “property destruction” than Kevin and May arrive, following Selina as she tries to get the goods on Chu in his mall office, and Chu and his men discover her data theft when their magical Commodore 64 alerts them (I couldn’t use mine to spell my name right, and this one has security alerts and crap! WTF!). They show up to get Selina, unaware that Kevin is there too, with a bur up his ass to getting good old school fashioned vengeance using his fist on many faces.

The mall fight is the reigning jewel in this crown, and it doesn’t disappoint. I can’t begin to count the many moments when you wince as some poor jackoff gets his shoulder bounced off an escalator arm, or one gets dropped 3 floors down and has a wooden table at the bottom to break his fall. Kevin gets as good as he gives, getting punched, kicked, dropped 2 floors though a garden center, head smashed into glass, etc, culminating in a huge stunt involving sliding down a bannister wrapped in lights, going 4 stories down, his hands being burned by the lights as he goes. Don’t worry, you can’t miss it as it’s repeated twice more, for effect. Hell, if I did a stunt like that, I’d make your ass watch it multiple times, too.

For fans of Jackie who only really know him from his U.S. films will meet a side of Jackie they are unfamiliar with: Raging Jackie. This moment arrives when his character has taken enough shit from the bad guys, and decides to kick ass and win whatever way he can. He becomes a wildman, with the single minded goal of making sure that EVERY BAD GUY WINDS UP IN MORTAL PAIN AND IS PLACED IN TRACTION FOR SEVERAL WEEKS. This type of Jackie is prevalent in many of his 80’s films. Like Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk.

Police Story is an exciting entry that would influence an entire new generation of stars that would rule the Hong Kong action roost for the 80’s and most of the 90’s. If you want to start watching Jackie Chan films, I would highly suggest this film. One of the best martial arts films ever. Nearly a complete package.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) The fighting in this movie was different from any other kung-fu movie at the time. Gone are the animal forms, replaced with a modern style of fighting with faster paced fight scenes.

STUNTS: (10) Folks, it doesn’t get any better than this. The stuntmen nick-named this movie “Glass Story” due to the many panes of glass they went through. Keep in mind, it wasn’t the normal candy glass used in films. It was a harder material that could simulate glass. What resulted was many cuts and gashes. The stuntmen performed well. I would ask you to place this next to The Big Boss and tell me whose reactions are better. The falls, hits, and so many, many “ouchy” moments that can’t be counted on one hand. Most of these guys never worked with Jackie again after this film. That’s the level of awesome we’re talking about.

DIRECTION: (7) Pretty good. Jackie knows where to place the camera for maximum effect, and how to let the camera linger just a second longer on stuntmen who were obviously hurt, just so you know what they just did was real.

STAR POWER: (10) Jackie brought all the charisma and obvious star power to the film, Maggie Cheung was new, but it was obvious she would soon forge her own stardom, which she did. Brigette Lin was the Meryl Streep of Hong Kong at the time, as also held up her end of the film. Did I mention Uncle Bill?

FINAL GRADE: (9) Fast paced action, comedy, and amazing stunts are what defined Jackie Chan, and few movies brought it all together in equal parts than this.

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