Archive for August, 2010

Review: Police Story 4: First Strike (1996)

Posted in Jackie Chan, Reviews, Stanley Tong with tags , on August 30, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jackie Chan

Fight Choreography by Jackie Chan and Stanley Tong

Directed by Stanley Tong

Jackie Chan returns in what would be the final of the Police Story sequels. The question is as he continued at this time to try to tailor his Hong Kong films for a western audience, did he lose something in the process? The easy answer is yes, and I don’t know whether to fault Jackie Chan or Stanley Tong. The fault probably rests with both of them.

The film opens with Jackie Chan once again stepping into the shoes of Chan Ka-Kui as he and Uncle Bill (Bill Tung) decide, I guess because they’re shit bored, to help the CIA in finding a Russian woman whose boyfriend may be linked to a terrorist organization trying to acquire a nuclear device. Chan follow the woman to Russia and meets his CIA contact and old buddy Mark there. I can tell you what disappointed me from the get go immediately. No Maggie Cheung. No Michelle Yeoh. Barely any Bill Tung. Almost all of the hallmarks of the Police Story series are gone. That’s like saying let’s make a Star Trek movie with Kirk, but forget those other guys. But it’s Spock, McCoy and all the others that Kirk needs to be Kirk, and it’s the same here. Chan needs May to constantly be the foil and damsel in distress. Bill Tung needs to be the loving police chief uncle who barely has a clue. Without them, Chan isn’t Chan because he has no one to play off of. More on that later.

While in Russia Chan follows Natasha to her boyfriend, a mysterious ex-CIA operative named Tsui. He appears at first glance to be the one getting the nuclear device, and Chan finds himself teamed up with the Russian Secret Service under the command of a man named Gregor, but not before a James Bond style snow mobile and ski chase that ends in Chan dropping from an exploding helicopter into a frozen lake below. Brrr! Afterwards Chan and Gregor go to Australia, where Tsui’s sister Annie lives, knowing that he may have sent the nuclear materials to her, which is kind of fucked up if you think about it. Here’s a present from your estranged brother! Hope it doesn’t melt your face, or cause a few terrorists to shoot you with a rather large bullet! The only thing more silly than this is the different disguises Tsui wears, especially those jackass wigs. A blonde haired asian guy won’t get noticed by anyone…

Chan gets wrapped in Tsui’s family drama, and gets attacked in his hotel by 3 giant European guys, a hallmark of his late 90’s and early 2000 films. I have no damn idea where Jackie got in his head that we’d have fun watching him duck and avoid 3 same suited but poorly acting big guys, but whomever gave him that idea (Stanley, I’m looking at you) needed to be shot in the face. I’d trade all 3 of those big guys for one Yuen Wah.

After getting framed for killing Tsui’s father, Chan goes to see Annie after the funeral, and her cousins step up to kick his ass, and the best fight of the entire film is here, and it’s an instant classic as Jackie fights them as only he can, and ends it with a fantastic use of a metal ladder as a weapon. Afterward Jackie teams up with Tsui and Annie to stop the real terrorists in one final confrontation…

One of the hallmarks of Jackie’s films with Stanley is the very flimsy story the action is hung on, and it is at its worst here. The stunts are great as usual, but once again, Chan Ka-Kui has been turned into a cartoon character, and at no point do you ever really believe that he’s the underdog or in any real danger. Even the fight scenes have turned cartoonish, with the bad guys not even looking as if they are really getting hurt. This, and the lack of the other Police Story regulars, and the fact that there’s really no “police” in this story, has me believing that this is without a doubt the weakest entry of all the Police Story films. Jackie wanted to play James Bond, and has admitted as much in regards to this film. By all means do that, but don’t do it and call it Police Story.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) The Ladder fight is an instant classic, one of Jackie’s best individual scenes, but still nothing compared with the Mall Fight or Playground Fights of the other films. After that, there isn’t much there.

STUNTS: (6) As always, the best stunts are from Jackie himself, but even his were a little underwhelming. Jackie just didn’t really imagine anything really elaborate or exciting for this one. The other stuntmen were kinda weak.

STAR POWER: (6) Jackie Chan just coasts along in this film and mugs for the camera. No one else stands out. None of the other Police Story participants are in this except Uncle Bill in a weak extended cameo. It just doesn’t feel like a Police Story film.

FINAL GRADE: (6) The weakest of the Police Story films. Still entertaining, probably more so if you’ve never seen any of the previous entries in the series.

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Review: The Protector (aka Tom Yum Goong) (2005)

Posted in Johnny Nguyen, Jon Foo, Lateef Crowder, Panna Rittikrai, Reviews, Tony Jaa with tags , , , on August 24, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Tony Jaa, Jon Foo, Lateef Crowder, Johnny Nguyen

Fight Choreography by Tony Jaa and Panna Rittikrai

Directed by Prachya Pinkaew

Tony Jaa jumped into the international martial arts scene with Ong Bak, a brutally beautiful martial arts film that hit like a breath of fresh air. Tony followed it up with The Protector, and while it may not trump Ong Bak in the story department, it more than makes up for it with more ambitious fight scenes, one of which has to be seen to be believed.

The point of this film is simple. Boy has elephant stolen. Boy kicks the ass of everyone standing between him and his elephant. It really does boil down to being that simple. Jaa plays Cam, a boy raised to be a protector for the royal elephants, considered majestic war creatures in their culture.

He leads the innocent life of the country bumpkin (and if you’ve read my previous reviews, you know what that means) who, along with his father, takes the elephant to a festival where the elephant, Por Yai, can be tested and listed as a King’s elephant, but the guys who run the test have different ideas, which Cam is unaware since he is charged with watching the Por Yai’s baby elephant Kohrn. The men turn out to be poachers in disguise, and steal both Por Yai and Kohrn, shooting Cam’s father in the process. I thought he took his dad’s death really lightly, but Cam soon finds out where some of the boss’ of the poachers live, and crashes a little party they were having, and delivers a great opening scene beatdown that leads to a ludicrous boat chase ending in some old school 80’s overkill: crashing a wooden boat into a helicopter and blowing both of them up. Cool. Pointless, but cool.

He soon heads to Sydney, Australia, where he had found out that the elephants have been kidnapped by Rose, a woman who works for some company that doesn’t respect her, so she kills her way to the top, and needs the elephant which she thinks will give her the ultimate lucky rabbit’s foot. A really big one. She owns a front restaurant named Tom Yum Goong, and that may be where Cam’s answers lie. No sooner does he arrive than he bumps into a Jackie Chan impersonator (Jaa had asked Jackie to be in the film, but due to other commitments he wasn’t able to.) . Yeah, it’s cheesy, but he properly pays his respect to one of the Masters of Kung-Fu Cinema. He meets a fellow Thai named Mark who happens to be a police officer who arrests Jaa after capturing him during a mistaken cab theft. Jaa gets away from Mark, who inadvertently takes him right by the restaurant he was looking for.

The man who run the restaurant for Rose is a street thug named Johnny(Johnny Nguyen), Who kicks Cam around a bit after he is found, but Cam, never one to give up, follows Johnny and his gang to a warehouse where a drug deal was about to go down when Cam comes running in. Johnny calls the rest of his gang, all of whom look as if they were the leftovers from Rumble in the Bronx, and Tony pays his homage to Jackie by fighting them in a way very close to what Jackie would have done at that time. Afterward Cam is saved by Johnny’s girl for who the hell knows what reason, and along with the help of Mark, make their way through a lot of fighting to get to Rose, who has his elephants and won’t give them back without one last battle…

Tony Jaa gets more ambitious with each film, and while this story is scattershot (Dragon Dynasty has 2 versions of the film in the same disc set-watch the Thai version or you won’t know what the hell is going on.) it really shows Tony taking more chances with fight techniques on film.

Each fight in some ways try to outdo what he had done before, but the crown jewel here is in 3 scenes:

The fight up the building, an astonishing 10 minute fight sequence that is shot unedited of Tony Jaa taking all comers as he ascends a building. Not Bruce, Jet or Jackie or anyone else has ever attempted such a thing, and Tony pulls it off, even looking exhausted by the end of it. I don’t even want to know how many takes this took to do this. Lo to the stuntman who misses his queue, for doom shall surely chase him to Valhalla. After ward it features a good fight between himself and Johnny Nguyen, who is quickly rising in the martial arts film ranks.

The next great scene is a fight between himself and Lateef Crowder, one of the best capoeira maestra’s in the world (His father is the best. He did the motion capture for Eddie Gordo in Tekken 2 and 3)

Muay Thai versus capoeira makes for one hell of a fight. I love it when two totally different styles of martial arts are pitted against each other. There are strategies to battle that both sides have to consider. This extends to the fight with Jon Foo and his chinese sword, also well done, but Lateef takes the cake with this one.

The last fight is ludicrous but funny as wave after wave of nameless thugs attack Cam, and he proceeds to make sure that every one of them has a bone-or bones-broken somewhere, anywhere. After the first 20 guys, you’d think the others would go “screw this!” More celery sticks were sacrificed for this film more than any where else. He caught up to Steven Seagal after one film! There were so many ouch moments I can’t even say-not just in this scene-well, mostly this scene.

This film has one message: Kidnap Tony Jaa’s elephant and he will hunt you down and hurt you. Badly.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) Tony really out did himself here. The fights are all complicated and fantastic, especially versus Leteef Crowder, and how they pulled off the timing for that 10-minute continuous fight through the restaurant is nearly beyond comprehension.

STUNTS: (10) Tony and his stunt team went above and beyond for this one. The 10 minute fight up the restaurant is worth the price of admission alone!

STAR POWER: (8) Tony Jaa, Lateef Crowder, Jon Foo, and Johnny Nguyen. All up and comers who are slated in films coming soon.

FINAL GRADE: (9) Tony shot for the gold and came real close. An uneven story derails this film, but the fights are second to none.

Review: Cradle 2 the Grave (2003)

Posted in Jet Li, Johnny Nguyen, Kelly Hu, Mark Dacascos, Reviews with tags , on August 13, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jet Li, DMX, Mark Dacascos, Kelly Hu

Fight Choreography by Corey Yuen

Directed by Andrej Bartkowiak

Jet’s American follow-up to Romeo Must Die reteams him with director Andrej Bartkowiak and gives him a partner with DMX, also just hot off of his team up with Steven Seagal in Exit Wounds. Can what followed be a better film than Romeo Must Die?

In a word, no. In two words, hell no. The film opens with an opening credit sequence that rips off of one of the only good things about Romeo Must Die. The film opens as DMX and his one of his posse mates take a lovely stroll through a subway tunnel on their way to steal some diamonds for some European fellow. Meanwhile, enter Jet, who has been tailing the European dude for unknown reasons. A really cool scene showing Jet’s stuntman scaling down a building, and then Jet rushes in and Seagals ™ the European guy.

Meanwhile we get treated to Anthony Anderson being somewhat funny as he tries to distract a gay security guard at the vault DMX is trying to get into. Of course, to this point we still don’t know what the HELL is going on except that diamonds are needing to be stolen. Jet then calls the police and then DMX to let him know that the police have been called…

Okay, I’m interrupting myself right here. To this point, 10-15 minutes into the film no one knows a damn thing about what’s going on. They don’t even bother to name names for at least the first 15-20 minutes before you pick up at least one person’s name, as if it isn’t important. And they’re right. It isn’t. Jet is being cool Jet. DMX is DMX. Anthony Anderson is Anthony Anderson, Mark Dacascos is-you get the picture. No one is really acting in this film, so you pretty much won’t care about what happens next, but I’ll clue you in anyway.

DMX and his team are trying to-and do-steal a black diamond that really isn’t a diamond, but uranium that can cause a nuclear explosion that can wipe out a city that was developed by China. Mark Dacascos and his henchmen Kelly Hu and Johnny Nguyen (yes, Johnny Nguyen from the Rebel and the Protector-everyone has to start somewhere, I guess) show up to steal the mineral and sell it to a group of the most powerful arms dealers.

To do so he kidnaps DMX’s daughter, so in turn DMX and his team enlist the help of a small time arms dealer played by Tom Arnold, whose 15 minutes of fame he cooked up by being good in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s True Lies had expired long before he made this film. He also teams up with Jet to find his daughter, after they team up to beat up some of Mark’s thugs. (Johnny Nguyen gets his ass kicked by DMX? WTF??! It should have been an epic fight between him and Jet, but this film dropped the ball, as it constantly does.

After a completely implausible car chase intercut with Jet beating down a bunch of MMA dudes (a guilty pleasure, I admit) they find out where DMX’s daughter is and the Uranium, and the entire group go to face Mark and his crew for a fight to the end, or sequel, or whatever. There isn’t enough that could have been done to mess this film up any more unless they burn all the prints. This was nothing more than an 82 minute DMX music video that happened to guest star Li and Dacascos. Thankfully Jet won’t make another film with this group…

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (3) Once again, Corey slums it, but I don’t think that is his fault. Bartkowiak is a horrid director who has hopefully gone back to making music videos. You have a Johnny Nguyen and Mark Dacascos and Kelly Hu and you can only come up with quick-edited fights like that? Really? Not even the beatdown of the MMA guys, wires and all-can save this dreck.

STUNTS: (3) Barely passable wirework. Jet barely had anything to do. Why was Johnny Nguyen even there?

STAR POWER: (6) DMX, Jet Li, Mark Dacascos, Anthony Anderson, Kelly Hu, Gabrielle Union. All that and this is what happens. Dreadful.

FINAL GRADE: (3) Jet just kinda showed up for this one. Folks, this film was made to sell the soundtrack more than make a cool martial arts film. I’ll just say it, one of the worst ever. Please Jet, never work with them again. Avoid this film at all costs.

Review: Heroes of the East (1978)

Posted in Gordon Liu, Reviews, Shaw Brothers, Yasuaki Kurata with tags , , on August 10, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Gordon Liu, Yasuaki Kurata

Fight Choreography by Liu Chia-Liang

Directed by Lar Kar-Leung

Gordon Liu, a legend of the martial arts world, decided it was time to try his hand at serious marital drama, the likes of which could challenge the greatest actors of the day, a film of heart, pathos, melodrama, and emotions run rampant. After he recovered from whatever head injury led to this thought, he decided to take marital arguing to a whole new level, by throwing kung-fu fighting into it, and thus we have Heroes of the East.

Liu plays Ah To, whom we first meet on his wedding day, and to say the least the poor guy has a major case of the jitters. He is to marry Kung Zi, a japanese woman, in an arranged marriage to unite their family’s two companies, making their fathers powerful businessmen in the process. He reluctantly goes through with it, partly because his Dad would probably kick his ass, and also because Kung Zi turns out to be an extremely beautiful woman. Early on we can see there’s going to be cultural problems, as some of the chinese women at the wedding(we’ll nickname them “Triflin’ Bitches”, which every culture in the history of the world seems to have) start talking shit about the Japanese wedding dress Kung Zi is wearing.

A few days later the trouble starts when the servants mistake hearing Kung Zi practicing Karate in the courtyard for Ah To beating her, and inform his father, who is about to go to Japan to visit her father, now convinced that Ah To is kicking her ass every day. Ah To learns of her Karate practice, and at first seems okay with it, until he goes to his own school, where of course some single asshole has to make a joke about him being whipped, but Ah To doesn’t stand for that, and nearly kicks the dude’s ass, which serves him right.

Soon Kung Zi’s weapons arrive from Japan, and Ah To is unimpressed, preferring Chinese weapons to Japanese ones, but once again seems okay with it-until a servant tells him that she’s made room for her stuff in his person training hall by tossing his weapons out. Of course he gets pissed, and goes back home to end that shit, not realizing that this is the destiny of all husbands since time immortal. Now, in what also always happens, he argues with her about this, but they take that newlywed bickering to a whole new level as they whip out equivalent weapons and start fighting in a game of one-upmanship that would kill most of us. After he insults ninjitsu, she’s had enough of his shit, ’cause you can call her a bitch and whatever, but insult the Ninja arts and it’s adios, asshole! Still pissed she goes back to Japan.

Ah To could have lived a peaceful next few days if he had left well enough alone, but she was pretty hot, so he felt he needed to get her back, and on the advice of someone he really shouldn’t listen to, writes her a letter, challenging her to a fight. Once again unaware of what this means to the Japanese culture, and her fighting school, particularly Takeno (Kurata) a dude who wanted to marry Kung Zi, and happens to be a ninja, take this to mean he wants to challenge all Japanese arts, so he gets his posse of Karate masters and mosey their way to Ah To’s house to challenge him to a series of duels.

Ah To finds himself having to learn even more elaborate Kung-Fu as the opponents get harder and harder, and even Kung Zi comes back to him, not really wanting to see him get pwned by these guys (but I bet she would admit that she kinda does) and advises him in the fights, leading him to the last fight versus Takeno, taking place over a day and night! Can Ah To defeat them and show them that Kung-fu is King? It’s either that or have his wife harp on his ass over it for the rest of his life…

Heroes of the East is a classic Shaw Brothers film, filled with elaborate fights and great cinematography, of course shot in ShawScope(TM). Gordon brings the goods as always, even bringing a bit of comedy to the proceedings. Yasuaki Kurata is dependable as always as Takeno, and for once there was really no real “villian” of the film, just two cultures who misinterpret each others’ intentions, Although it is funny that the Japanese masters go over there to prove that Kung-Fu isn’t better than Karate, but gets their butts kicked by it, and Ah To even tells them that he respects their style even as he beats them down the whole film. The fights are second to none, the hallmark of director Lar Kar-Leung. Also, and I have to point this guy out-look for the Japanese Sai Master, a dude who can only be described as the Shaw Brothers version of Prince. He wears purple, with makeup, and all you need to convince you is to see how he shows up to fight Ah To. It was either fight or sing Purple Rain, and you couldn’t be sure as to which one he was going to do.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) Liu Chia-Liang came to work, and it shows, as every fight was different and exciting, showing off great forms and made understanding the strategies of each fighter completely make sense. Each fight gets better and better, with the fight versus Kurata the best of them all, as it should be!

STUNTS: (8) The fighters really made the most of it, and everyone did a great job. Nothing spectacular, but what falls, hits, and kicks were there were done exceptionally well.

STAR POWER: (10) Gordon Liu and Yasauki Kurata. What more do you need? Answer: nothing.

FINAL GRADE: (10) Without a doubt one of Gordon’ s best, and a crown jewel in the crown of the Shaw Brothers. If you love old school kung-fu then you’d do yourself a favor by picking this one up!

Review: Police Story 3: Supercop (1992)

Posted in Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Michelle Yeoh, Reviews, Stanley Tong, Yuen Wah with tags , , on August 5, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung, Yuen Wah

Fight Choreography by Jackie Chan and Stanley Tong

Directed by Stanley Tong

Everyone was excited when news came that Jackie Chan would once again play supercop Ka-Kui in another installment of the Police Story series, and would bring fellow Peking Opera buddie Yuen Wah along for the ride, but while Supercop is a great action film, it marked the closing of the door on Jackie’s 80’s style films and would mark the films that would define him for the 90’s. That bodes good and bad depending on who you ask.

The film opens as Chan Ka-Kui is once again tricked by Uncle Bill and a new superintendent (I’m assuming the previous superintendent started attending high school, and his parents wouldn’t allow him to work anymore) to work with the Chinese (remember HK wasn’t part of China at the time) in order to find out what arms dealer Chabot is up to by going undercover and getting close to his man Panther. Some may be disappointed to know that this is not Jackie Chan versus the Thundercats, but I’ll forgive anyone who thinks that to this point. At least they don’t take half the film to get Chan to do shit, and he and May seem to have patched things up from Police Story 2.

Chan is teamed up with Inspector Yang (Yeoh), a hard ass Chinese police officer who isn’t very impressed with Supercop Chan, and he doesn’t exactly like her too much either. To test his skills first she tricks him into fighting the top police martial arts instructor. A small fight that is well done, but no where near the caliber of any of the fights in the previous films, and that accounts for this entire film, but more on that later.

The goal to getting close to Panther (Wah) is to make it as if Chan is one of the men hired to break Panther out of prison. The escape scenes are filled with good stunt work, and a pretty good fight (more on that later) between Chan and the prison guards. He takes Panther and some of his men to his fictional home, only to find that Uncle Bill is posing as his mother, and Yang is there as his fictional sister, and immediately we see that they in fact do have a very believable relationship as brother and sister with the way they bicker at each other, fooling Panther further, but the suspense is good here as Panther is always one mistake away from figuring the whole deception out.

After another pretty good fight in a bar where Michelle Yeoh really gets to show her stuff, both she and Chan are taken to Chabot, who is not, in fact, the main enemy of the Gobots, but a batshit crazy arms dealer whose wife is really the brains behind their operation, but she’s currently awaiting trial in prison, and he plans to get her out, but first wants to eliminate the arms dealer competition, and does so by meeting them in a private location i.e. a place where large number of people can get shot or blown up without anything but satellites being able to know it was happening, and they should have, since the battle that takes place looks like a scene out of Rambo. What takes it to another level is that fact that Yang is wearing a bulletproof vest lined with explosives, and one bullet and she goes kaboom, and she knows that, but Chan doesn’t, which leads to some funny moments when he tries to use her as a human shield.

Chabot succeeds in killing his competition off, and now turns his crazy ass to seeing about breaking his wife out of prison. By the way, when I say crazy, I mean Jack Nicholson crazy. He just laughs uncontrollably at damn near anything.

They head to Malaysia for the finale, and no sooner do they arrive than trouble starts when May arrives as a tour guide with a bunch of travellers, with no idea Chan is there, as he had lied earlier and told her he was going to a police conference. Sooo, their relationship still needs a bit of work. Soon she learns that he is indeed there, and in typical May fashion flies off the handle, but not anywhere near what she did in Police Story 2, which is a shame, but probably for the best as she nearly gives the game away, and eventually does so thinking she’s helping Chan out, which leads to her getting caught once again by the bad guys, and Panther will exchange her so long as Chan and Yang help break out Mrs. Chabot.

They do free her, and in a total dick move Chabot drops May out of a helicopter from 2 stories up and ricochets her body off of a car. This leads to the jaw dropping finale as Yang hangs off of a van that nearly collides with a bus, and Chan flies all over the city of Kuala Lumpur at the end of a rope ladder tied to a helicopter that is flying nearly 10-20 stories high! They eventually land on moving train where they have a final fight with Chabot and his men to bring his wife back into police custody. They win the day, and the film draw to an end, and a new era of Jackie Chan films begins.

Choreography: (7) With this film, and what we will see for the 90’s, gone are the elaborate fight scenes where stuntmen get their asses handed to them in frenetic fight scenes that are beautiful in their chaos, and here we get fights that seem more cartoonish in nature, and the threat of Ka-Kui getting killed has lost its flavor, as he never really seems over his head, which is the hallmark of Stanley Tong’s fight choreography style, more movement than consequence, and Jackie would use this style for many films of the 90’s, the ones Americans would largely see. There were also no signature fight scene, like the Mall fight in part 1 or the playground fight in part 2.

Stuntwork: (9) Good work by all involved, but this really gets the high marks for specifically the stunts Chan and Yeoh do, particularly the bus scene for Yeoh and the helicopter ride for Jackie. That shit was insane.

Star Power: (9) Jackie and Michelle Yeoh at the height of their skills do a great job here, and any time you can see Yuen Wah is a good thing, but there wasn’t enough of either Bill Tung or Maggie Cheung, and after the great performance she had in Police Story 2, it’s a shame she was relegated to what amounted to a guest starring appearance.

Final Grade: (7) A good action film that put less emphasis on the martial arts and much more on the stuntwork, and that’s not so good for martial arts film fans. We’ll have to wait a while before we see Jackie in more fight intensive films. Luckily he made one of the greatest ever during the 90’s version of JC, but this ain’t it.

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