Archive for July, 2010

Review: Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing (2007)

Posted in Isaac Florentine, Michael Jai White, Reviews, Scott Adkins with tags , , on July 28, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Michael Jai White, Scott Adkins

Fight Choreography by JJ Perry

Directed by Isaac Florentine

Undisputed II is like a breath of fresh air, not only introducing a new generation of action stars, but is a brutal, fantastically choreographed fight film that may hail a new era in American martial arts action films. Released direct to DVD, Undisputed 2 has become a hit film as word of mouth spread, and with good reason. Michael Jai White and Scott Adkins, two men who have been on film for years, finally get to stand out and show off what they’ve got. And they’ve got a lot of it.

Michael Jai White plays George Chambers, a former heavyweight fighter who had been sentenced to prison for an alleged rape in the first film, at that time played by Ving Rhames in the first film. That will be the last time I mention the previous film, as it doesn’t hold the jock strap of this one. Anyway, after getting out of prison he finds himself in Russia with his agent trying to get a gig making commercials for Russian Vodka. Right off the bat you won’t like Chambers as he’s really a self-absorbed asshole whose star flamed out the moment he went to prison. Enter Gaga, a fight promoter who makes tons of Scrooge McDuck cash running an underground martial art tournament featuring prison inmates, but he’s running into a problem. The current champion, Yuri Boyka (Scott Adkins) is a one man wrecking crew, annihilating every opponent he faces, which is no drama, and no drama means no betting. Gaga has a great idea, at least on paper. He sends men to Chambers’ hotel room to plant heroin in his luggage, and then start a fight the room to get the police to show up, and they do, and before long Chambers finds himself in a stank Russian prison, and his only way out is through Gaga, who owns the police and the prison warden. Gaga will only release Chambers if he fights Gaga in the ring. After a series of contentious run-ins with Boyka, who views himself as a fighter to be compared to the greats, Chambers and Boyka meet in the ring to decide who is the Undisputed champion, but there might be more at stake than Chambers thinks…

Isaac Florentine is a martial artist himself, and cut his teeth doing episodes of the Power Rangers (just like Steve Wang with Drive. Man, the guys working on that show were just busting at the seams to see some real martial arts!) and professed to be a lover of HK cinema, and it does show. His camera work keep things lively, but doesn’t quick edit and shows everything in a wide-screen, so that heaven forbid you can actually see the full movements of the fighters. While a low budget film, it doesn’t look that way. It looks just as good as any Steven Seagal or Van Damme film at the height of their heyday.

No matter how good Florentine is, it would be but for naught if not for his stars. Michael Jai White has been in and around Hollywood for years, mainly as an actor, and the only starring role he got was in the dreadful superhero flick Spawn. He had to go to Hong Kong to get into a decent martial arts flick, the Michelle Yeoh film Silverhawk. He seems to have taken his career into his own hands, and is blazing his own path through the martial arts film world, and this movie jumpstarted him. I honestly think Hollywood doesn’t know what to do with him. A really big black guy who is faster and more agile than anyone his size has a right to be, a fantastic martial artist trained in a few Karate and Kung-Fu styles, and to boot a good actor with a razor sharp mind (believe it or not he used to be a high school teacher!). He brings a brashness and arrogant attitude to Chambers, and is convincing later in the film as Chambers starts to learn about caring for his fellow man, and finds his attitudes changing for the better.

But every good hero needs his villian, and you’ll find none better than Bokya, a stone cold man who will beat a man down one moment and then go into deep prayer in church the next. Scott Adkins plays an imposing man, even though he’s not as big as White. Adkins has also cut his teeth in Hollywood as a stuntman, getting his butt kicked by the likes of JCVD and Hugh Jackman, and believe me after you see this film you’ll know what kind of fantasy that concept is. Adkins is an amazing English-born martial artist, gifted with both speed and grace, accentuated with stunning acrobatic movements. When you see this film you’ll know that Tony Jaa ain’t the only one who can do those somersault kicks. Both men know how to fight in the style of Hong Kong films, and are guided well by JJ Perry. You might also catch Ben Cross as the weasely cellmate of Chambers. He played Spock’s Dad in the new Star Trek film.

Those involved wanted to make a good martial art fight film, and succeeded wildly in doing so. Their subsequent films are a testament to that, and show us perhaps the future of American martial art films…

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) JJ Perry does a good job here staging the fights. The final fight between Chambers and Boyka is fantastic.

STUNTS: (7) The stunt work is well done, especially during the training sequences. The guys came to work, and work they did.

STAR POWER: (8) Michael Jai White and Scott Adkins really stake their claim in this film as this would propel them into better ones. Florentine directs and Scott Adkins reprises his role as Bokya in Undisputed 3, and the film won best honors at the Actionfest film festival in North Carolina this past year.

FINAL GRADE: (8) This is a great beginning for White, Adkins and Florentine. They are great working together, and they have more films out and more on the way. Even if they never break out in a big budget martial arts film, they seem to have usurped the DTV crown from Seagal and Van Damme.


Review: District B-13 (2005)

Posted in Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle, Luc Besson, Reviews with tags , on July 21, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle

Fight Choreography by Cyril Raffaelli

Directed by Pierre Morel

It’s always refreshing to be introduced to a new style of martial art or some new form of movement. The latest craze is a style of free running called Parkour, created by Frenchman David Belle, one of the stars of the film. Not surprising, the craze really started after this film was released, produced by Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) and directed by Pierre Morel (Taken).

The film opens in Paris in the year 2010, where the roughest neighborhood, District B13, has been walled off from the rest of the city so the violence doesn’t bleed out into the rest of Paris. The opening is great as the camera darts all over B13 until we are introduced to Leito (Belle) a gang lord who does what he can to protect the community from drug lords like the biggest one, Taha. He takes the dope off of the streets, literally. We meet him after he as just ripped off Taha of a case of drugs, which causes K2, Taha’s lead charismatic henchman to show up with a group of thugs to get the drugs back. He outsmarts Leito’s men (which isn’t a difficult feat) and goes after Leito, and we are treated to the first parkour scene, a brilliant scene, perhaps really the first of its kind on film, and is simply a brilliant staging of camera and movement. You’ll be breathless at the end.

Afterward we meet Taha, and right from the Big Book of Villany he kills one of his own men for not having an idea on how to capture Leito. K2 comes up with the plan to kidnap Leito’s sister Lola in exchange for the money for the drugs Leito destroyed. Leito kinda figured they would do this, and ninjas his way into Taha’s place and takes Taha hostage just as Lola is delivered to him. Together with Taha they escape, chased by his goons all the way to the police station, only to find that the police are on their way out of B13.The lead cop frees Taha but captures Leito because he wants to return home os he can retire peacefully. Taha also takes Lola with him, and in return for his betrayal Leito gives the cop an early retirement present. A very permanent one.

Fast forward 6 months later, and we meet Damien (Raffaelli) an undercover cop in the middle of bringing down an illegal gambling ring. There is great humor here as the mob boss wonders why it is he can’t hire college educated henchmen, instead of the regular doofuses. FINALLY! I’ve waited years to see one baddie vent about this, and someone actually did it. He even said in this economy it should be easy. Right again! Before long he wishes he had thought of all this sooner, as Damien reveals himself, and the fight scenes in the casino are terrific, with Raffaelli showing the promise he displayed in Jet Li’s Kiss of the Dragon.

Afterward we get to the meat of the story: the government lost a small nuclear bomb while the top secret truck carrying it was going through B13. The bomb has found its way to Taha, who opened the case, starting a 24 hour timer before the bomb explodes, killing thousands within the district. Damien will need to go undercover using Leito as his guide to find Taha and the bomb. Leito is currently in prison for killing that cop, and Damien must first break him out, which he does as they are being transported to another facility. Leito gets Damien into B13, but figures out quickly that he’s a cop, and leaves his ass in the middle of gang territory after their van crushes the sports car of the lead gangster in the area. Damien eventually gets out of it, and finds Leito, and the two form an uneasy alliance once the stakes are laid out.

They allow themselves to be captured by K2, who takes them back to Taha, who wants 20 million in exchange for the bomb. To complicate matters, Taha has attached the bomb to a missile he had lying around(!) and has chained Lola to the bottom of the missle with a gas canister next to her. Damien tricks Taha into giving the account numbers for his money in the Camen Islands, but the police will not give up the money, but Damien doesn’t tell Taha this, nor does he tell Taha that he police went in to all of his accounts and cleaned him out. Damien and Leito escape after this, and head for the bomb. Once his accountant tells him about his money disappearing, we finally get the consequences of the whole “you failed to kill/capture so and so, so I’ll kill one of you to prove a point of how evil I am.” There should be an amendment in the Big Book of Villany that says you can do this-so long as you have the money to pay everyone else.Taha didn’t, and even K2 turns his back on him as his former henchmen blow him into a thousand pieces of little Taha. K2 finds himself the appointed leader, and sends the men out to get Leito and Damien. How often do you see the lead henchman become the main man? Hell, Darth Vader had the force and the Emperor still didn’t let his ass get near the Big Chair!

After another great Parkour chase they get to the building, but once they enter they find themselves having to contend with a final present Taha left them, a behemoth with the limited strength of the Hulk, but really, really slow. After they take him out, they get to the bomb and find themselves fighting each other to decide the fate of B13. Even though David Belle doesn’t know martial arts, the fight is not too bad, as each man uses he beliefs to fight to disable/maybe enable the bomb. Eventually the men who sent Damien on this mission get a surprise of their own when both men turn up on their doorstep.

Damien promises Leito that things will change, but we know that’s not true since District B13: Ultimatum has come out…

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (6) I had wished there was more fighting with Cyril. He’s proven to be a great martial artist and I want to see more of him. What was there was great. There just needed to be more of it.

STUNTS: (8) Great stuntwork in the fights and parkour scenes. The falls were well done, Hong Kong style, and the parkour was breathtaking.

STAR POWER: (6) It remains to be seen. Cyril and David can either become major action stars or fade into oblivion from here. Cyril has been a thug in many films, and here he finds a film to finally showcase his skills. We need to see more of this guy!

FINAL GRADE: (7) A good film that introduced Parkour to the masses, and even action heroes like James Bond would find himself chasing guys like these around. Score another martial arts hit for producer Luc Besson.

Review: Way of the Dragon (1973)

Posted in Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Reviews, Robert Wall with tags , , on July 14, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Robert Wall

Fight Choreography by Bruce Lee and Unicorn Chan

Directed by Bruce Lee

Way of the Dragon is a bit of a different creature from some of Bruce’s other films. He tries to inject a bit more humor than we’re used to, and he succeeds for at least the beginning of the film, but it seems misplaced considering how the film progresses, which leaves the rest of the film…

The movie opens as Ah Lung (Lee) arrives in Rome from China (playing yet another country bumpkin. Remember, in Kung Fu films bumpkin=badass.) to help out a friend. He begins his stay by scaring the living daylights out of a poor kid by making crazy faces for no apparent reason. Bruce, WTF? He must really do that shit in his spare time. Kid looked like he crapped his britches when he saw Bruce’s face. I would too, and I’m a grown ass man. He soon meets the niece of his buddy, Miss Chen and together they go to the restaurant, where he is needed because he’s a fighter, and the restaurant has had a problem with the local crime lord who wants to buy the place.

Ms Chen runs him around Rome, and I got a little browbeaten with the fish out of water moments. Bruce, we get it. Country Chinese guy in Italy. Check. Soon he meets the waiters, a bunch of weak ass bitches practicing behind the restaurant with what one could call karate, but I would call embarrassing. Ah Lung is about to school them when they are interrupted. While Ah Lung is in the bathroom, the thugs show up, led by a frilly little bastard whose crew look like backup singers for Fleetwood Mac. They couldn’t block a punch if there was a wall between them. Which means the karate the waiters had learned wasn’t for shit. Soon they leave, but not before they toss an insult Ah Lung’s way that he didn’t understand.

Soon some of the same victi-I mean thugs return to start some crap. The waiters challenge them to a fight in the alley, and they agree, and one or two of the waiter get their asses kicked before Ah Lung shows up, and so help me it was a good thing YouTube didn’t exist at this time, else the ass-whupping the thugs received would have been seen from Iowa to Osaka. The fight is short, as it sure as hell should be. Of course the reserved Miss Chen takes a liking to him. Women dig a guy who can kick ass gracefully. The next day the waiters all want to learn kung-fu from Ah Lung, except for the waiter who was teaching them karate he saw on the Learning Channel, who has developed a case of bitch attitude, still not convinced that the mass ass-kicking he had witnessed the day before was worth a shit, so Ah Lung takes them out back and demonstrates kicks by having a guy hold up a pad, and it’s funny to see the look on his face as he realized that his doom may well be at hand, as that pad would not protect him from the kick, just let his body know through vibration a quarter second before he gets hit that the kick would be rather painful.

That night Ah Lung and Miss Chen are ambushed by a really crappy hitman, telling Miss Chen that the boss wants to see her. Two problems here: One, he says it in English. Two, he holds a gun, two things that Ah Lung doesn’t care for. A lot is lost in translation when someone holds a gun on Ah Lung. Suddenly “The boss wants to see you” instead translates into “ Please kick my ass repeatedly.” Which is exactly what Ah Lung does, and dumps his ass over the balcony. The hitman goes back to the boss, who is shocked that one dude was able to do this, so he sends them back, this time with weapons! The boss also comes himself to see if Ah Lung really is that good. So they take him out back to send his ass back to Hong Kong, and unfortunately for them he doesn’t want to, and beats up two of them, causing the rest to go into the alley to see what happened, and what does happen is a moment of epic asskicking, and sends the boss running for the hills.

That night, after that same silly hitman tries to kill Ah Lung and fails, Ah Lung returns home to find that Miss Chen has been kidnapped while he was out playing ‘pin the knife on the hitman’. We soon find her with the Boss ad his remaining men, all of whom were convinced that the multiple ass beatings they have received just weren’t enough. Ah Lung and crew do show up, but this time Ah Lung lets them beat on the thugs, embarrassing the boss again. This time the boss decides to fight fire with fire, and hires a group of karate masters led by the American champion Colt (Chuck Norris) to finish Ah Lung.

Soon Ah Lung, Uncle Wang and two waiters is led into their trap, with a Japanese and American (Robert Wall) waiting for them. Ah Lung takes care of them both, and the american gets the worst of it. In a complete left field moment Uncle Wang turns out to have been working for the Boss the whole time, and kills two of his own waiters.

Lung doesn’t see this as he is led to the Roman Coliseum, where Colt waits for him. The showdown here is incredible, one of the greatest one on one fights you’ll ever see in a film, and Chuck Norris proves to be no match for Bruce, but he’s close. After Ah Lung takes care of Colt, he returns to find out about Uncle Wang’s betrayal, who is in turn killed by the boss, who in turn is captured by the police. Ah Lung says his goodbyes and leaves to search the world for more asses to kick.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) All of this goes to the fight between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. A fight that is a classic the world over, one of the best ever, featuring everything you would think would happen in a battle between titans.

STUNTS: (6) Nothing to write home about, but adequate for what was asked of them.

STAR POWER: (10) Bruce Lee. Chuck Norris. What more do you need?

FINAL GRADE: (9) Not really one of Bruce’s best, but it gave us that terrific all time classic fight, and also a new talent who would become the primary ambassador in the USA to promote martial arts, Chuck Norris.

Review: Police Story 2 (1987)

Posted in Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Reviews with tags , , on July 8, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Bill Tung

Fight Choreography and Direction by Jackie Chan

Of the many sequels Jackie Chan has done, this one is the most direct a continuation from the original as you would ever see. Ka-Kui has to save the day once again…but is it as good as the first? In many ways it is, and besides the fantastic fight scenes, it can be attributed to one person-Maggie Cheung.

We pick up the action as we are once again introduced to Ka-Kui, who now finds his ass on traffic duty due to the shitstorm he caused in the previous film. I guess delivering 4 mall floors of asswhuppery is a bit much, even for Hong Kong. Ka-Kui finds himself directing traffic when May comes to visit him, and a pleasant moment is ruined when that glass-wearing douchebag Ko drives up. In Police Story he was the jackass Jackie socked in the glasses, and evidently that painful moment was lost on him as he starts tossing not-so-subtle threats toward May, and in a real punch to the gut, he shows that Chu, the main villain from the previous film, has been released from prison, the judge citing that he has a disease that is killing him, and he has a few months to live anyway.Chu vows to get his revenge on Ka-Kui before he expires. That evening Ka-Kui and May return from a dinner only to be threatened by Ko. It is here that we also see that May will play a much bigger role in this film than she did in the first one. She’s a great foil for Ka-Kui, and Maggie Cheung and Jackie Chan have that rare chemistry that makes you believe that yes, they are together in spite of each other. Maggie makes it seem so effortless, is it any wonder she became a major star in both China and France?

Fearing for her safety, May goes to stay with her Aunt, but Chu’s men find her anyway, and May busts that bitch Ko a right cross to his glasses, a taste of the pain to come. Unfortunately for Ko and his men they slap both May and her aunt around, and then have the brass balls-and I mean they must have been laced with titanium-to decide to get lunch and the diner across the street. Ka-Kui shows up at the diner, all right, with a tray of ass beating with a side of bitch slap potatoes, and he came to make sure they eat every bite. The fight here is just right, fast and brutal, with Jackie using everything around him as weapons, but in these early films they weren’t the gimmick they would become in later films. He used them because he had to. It’s painted with a more frantic brush and not with a “hey look at me use this ladder, chair, sofa, etc.” Ko, as you would expect, gets his ass royally kicked, and yes, gets punched in the glasses.There are more falls that make you wince in pain, none more than the last one.

Afterward Ka-Kui is chastised by the police chief, the same guy from the last film who looks like he’s 14 years old. Meanwhile just outside of his office Ko yells at everyone in earshot as he curses the police, and the payoff here is great fun as Ko dares Ka-Kui to strike him, and is surprised at what happens next.

That night May and Ka-Kui are on another date when he tells her that he’s quitting the police force. May is thrilled at this, and they plan a trip to Bali, and head to the mall (not the same one as in the last film…I think)to get their tickets. A fellow cop then enlists Ka-Kui’s help as a bomb may have been placed in the mall somewhere. Ka-Kui helps with the evacuation, and no sooner do they think it was a false alarm than the entire mall blows up, and I’m sure Ka-Kui will be banned from entering within 100 yards of any mall in China.

We then meet the group of businessmen who own the mall, as they get a call from the bombers who want a lot of money or something else goes boom. The police chief gets the case, and tries to get Uncle Bill (Bill Tung, but I didn’t have to say that, did I?) to get Ka-Kui to come back, but in a funny turn of events makes the chief do it himself. They do get Ka-Kui back by tricking him to get off his plane, but he leaves May behind as the plane takes off, and realizes too late that he has her passport. Ka-Kui takes the job, and he and Uncle Bill head for a little spy mission, not really realizing that a storm called Hurricane May is brewing over the horizon…

After successfully planting a bug with the business men, Ka-Kui and Uncle Bill return to the police station as a torrential downpour takes place outside. But that was merely letting Ka-Kui know that May had returned, and no one, not Ka-Kui’s martial arts, and not even an army of naked cops can stop her vengeance. This is one of the funniest relationship fights you’ll ever see onscreen, and even more impressive is that May’s tirade is done in one take through several rooms. Maggie really show’s she’s got the acting chops here, as Ka-Kui wilts in fear at her anger. One of the best scenes in the entire series, and laugh out loud hilarious. Brilliant.

That night Ka-Kui tries to make it up to her, but finds themselves ambushed for the final time by Ko and his men, leading to one of the best fights in the series, the playground fight, full of invention and “wow” moments. You’ll never look at a playland quite the same way ever again. After ward May decides to really call it quits as she can’t handle the life he leads, and the enemies he makes.

The film transitions at this point away from May and anyone having anything to do with the first film, and delves into Ka-Kui’s search for the bombers. He is given a team of undercovers who help in this task, as they search for anyone buying explosives. They soon find that this is the work of s small group of men, and no sooner does Ka-Kui think he’s gotten them where he wants them than they first blow up the police station and then kidnap May in exchange for Ka-Kui’s aid in getting them their money! Holy shit, these guys are more ambitious than many of Jackie’s baddies, and they mean the business. During this time we find that Chu is breathing his last breath, but finds himself applauding Ka-Kui as he breathes his last, not quite hating him anymore. You’ll see why.

Ka-Kui is able to escape the bombers clutches before going to free May at a fireworks factory-and you know that some old school JC Justice will commence, and chiropractors will toast their champagne glasses knowing more business is on the way. The bad guys, and even Ka-Kui, take horrifying falls, the likes of which you may never see again. Both May and Ka-Kui find themselves in danger, and working somewhat together they have the bad guys defeated, and their relationship restored. A thrilling action packed ending.

Choreography: (9) The fights, particularly the Playground Fight, is a Jackie Chan classic all the way. Maybe even more inventive than the fights in Police Story 1.

Stuntwork: (10) The stuntmen did a fantastic job once again, selling every fall, of which there were many, and having the balls to come back after the injuries incurred by the stuntmen in the previous film. They have ice in their veins, no doubt.

Star Power: (8) Jackie Chan and Maggie Cheung make a great pair, and Maggie is given much more do to here, no longer quite the one-dimensional character she was in the previous installment.  She played her ever suffering character with a lot of energy and verve, and is the perfect straight woman for Jackie Chan. Her star was poised to take off, and eventually did. Bravo to Jackie for recognizing her talent.

Final Grade: (9) Jackie Chan outdoes himself once again, and had the vision to give Maggie a bigger role than before, and this is a classic martial arts action film with enough action to satisfy the most jaded martial arts fan. I’m never sure whether I think this is better than the first one or not. Either way, a great film.

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