Archive for September, 2010

Review: The Octagon (1980)

Posted in Chuck Norris, Richard Norton, Tadashi Yamashita with tags , , , on September 13, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Chuck Norris, Lee Van Cleef, Tadashi Yamashita

Fight Choreography by Aaron Norris

Directed by Erik Karson

The Octagon is a heartfelt story of one man’s quest to live the rest of his life never having to see or deal with that normal affliction many 80’s action heroes had to deal with…ninjas. Okay, so heartfelt is a strong word…but it kinda is. The Chuck Norris love is on full display here, as the film opens with Chuck standing silhouetted in from of a setting sun, talking a lot of nonsensical shit that still won’t mean much later. The film then jumps to a group of lively looking folks walking in the forest toward a village, followed in the brightness of day by ninjas wearing black, because of course they want to blend in with the forest surroundings which makes perfect sense, assuming the person you are following is color blind.

We then cut to a rich old guy leaving his mansion in a limo only to get shot like 15 times point blank by assassins, who aligned with the ninjas. We then meet Scott James (Norris) a karate champion, who goes on a night out on the town with a pretty yet vapid woman named Nancy. He takes her home, and dammit, before he can charm her into the sack with that moustache of his, ninjas attack. Now, to this point I thought this film might be autobiographical, but alas it wasn’t. But it would be fun if it were. What occurs during this fight, and after, and throughout the whole damn film is hearing Chuck’s inner monologue, which is his voice speaking in a whisper for no damn reason. Does an inner monologue have a whisper? Any time ninjas are around, that monologue goes off like some sort of damn ninja-spider sense kind of thing.

To get back to the moment at hand, they do jump Chuck, and he makes them pay, but they do kill Nancy, and to be honest, he must really not have cared for their date too much as he didn’t seem too broken up about her getting stabbed to death. In fact he seemed kinda relieved.

Actually, how the hell did he know they were ninjas other than his ninja sense? They looked like a bunch of douchebags wearing black clothes that looked like those makeshift Halloween costumes you make when you find out you’ve been invited to a party at the last second and rifle through your closet to put something together.

The next day James goes to see an old mercenary friend named McCarn played by Lee Van Cleef, who seems to only exist in this film to tell James to watch his ass, and to shoot a few bad guys in an attempt to protect James. Meanwhile, and throughout the first half of the film we are treated to really weak scenes of ninjas trying to train the new douchba-I mean recruits on how to be ninjas. I’m not sure the guys teaching them know how to be ninjas, but at least they dress like them.

We then meet another rich lady named Justine who was related to Nancy (I think) who tries to get James to help save her from the ninjas, but what she doesn’t realize is that James knows that the ninjas were trained by a childhood ninja classmate named Seikura, who dreams of ninja domination. Just as all ninjas do, I think.

Soon, after an inexplicable car chase that must have been left on the cutting room floor from Smokey and the Bandit, he goes back to see McCann and realizes that McCann knows about the ninjas too. Back at the ninja ranch, once French dude figures out that while being a ninja is cool, training to be one actually sucks ass. He tries to leave, but a well placed shuriken in the back of his neck says otherwise in a hilariously bad acting scene as he dies. Jeez, I know it was this guy’s only scene, but damn, dude!

James then attends a merc rally in an attempt to be recruited so he can get to them from the inside, and who should turn up but Richard Norton (City Hunter, Shanghai Express) as one of the recruiters. Of course this doesn’t work, and Justine winds up getting killed, and his buddy CJ kidnapped by the ninjas, and James goes to free him, but must go through the ninja maze known as the Octagon to meet Seikura for one final duel…

Ugh. I know this film helped start the ninja craze of the 80’s, but our standards must have been low back then. Chuck acts like Chuck, and the story here is truly insipid, and the side stories with his friend AJ make no sense. The ninjas look like they are on a pledge drive for as much urgency they portray. The story plods along, as we get varying behind the scene things going on that really go nowhere and don’t really matter. Not to mention the fact that while James is the hero, he doesn’t save a damn person. Pretty much everyone he tries to save dies. Not a great track record for a hero, but since this isn’t a great film, that shouldn’t be an issue.

Oh yeah, and hearing Chuck’s internal monologue is truly headache inducing.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (4) Chuck pretty much fights everyone with the same trademark moves he uses in every fight. The best fight in the film isn’t against Seikura, but against his second in command, which is a great fight until the end of it. The rest is Chuck fighting a bunch of guys who really don’t know how to fight. It’s obvious Aaron Norris never watched a damn asian martial arts film, or else he’d know how much his choreography sucks.

STUNTS: (3) Meh. What weak stunts there are is combined with horrendous acting, which makes this almost a Troma flick. Actually Troma flicks have better stuntwork. No offense to Lloyd Kaufman.

STAR POWER: (6) Chuck Norris and not much else. Look out for Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters, The Crow) in an early appearance, and of course martial artist Richard Norton, who made better films with Cynthia Rothrock.

FINAL GRADE: (4) If anyone wondered why Chuck Norris is such a movie icon, they won’t find it out here. A terrible ninja movie that takes itself way too seriously for the story they present.

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Review: Seven Swords (2005)

Posted in Donnie Yen, Lau Kar Leung, Reviews, Tsui Hark with tags , , on September 10, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

starring Donnie Yen and Lau Kar Leung

Fight Choreography by Lau Kar Leung

Directed by Tsui Hark

Seven Swords is a return to form of sorts for Tsui Hark after a bevy of misfires, and the film features fights choreographed by one of the best in Hong Kong, but many of the problems that Tsui Hark’s films have follows him into this film, and not the best efforts of Donnie Yen and the other actors can cover them up. The problem here is they have a template for a story that’s worked before, but Tsui Hark fumbles the results.

The film is about a group of seven swordsmen, each carrying a powerful sword that have special abilities , and find themselves protecting a small village from an oppressive warlord named Fire Wind who means to destroy it. Sounds familiar? The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven have the exact same plots, and pulled them off to perfection.

After a massecre of martial artists in a town nearby, a former executioner under the previous ruler now makes amends by stealing the death tags the soldiers place on the bodies of the wanted so they can collect a reward, but finds himself injured and take to the village where most of the film takes place. After finding out that their village was next on Fire Wind’s to do list, Yuan Jin, a local woman who is head strong, and her former boyfriend Han agree to take the General to Mount Heaven, where the other swordsmen live. Little do Yuan and Han know that there are actually only five swordsmen, and they are the other two. The movie gives not damn reason at all for why this is. Just, here’s some badass swords, now go with these expert fighters and try not to get killed on the way! A meteor falls and strikes the earth on their way to the mountain, and we’re told it’s important with no explanation why it is! Soon the Seven Swords return to the Village and find themselves getting involved in the village politics as well as one of their own swordsmen (Donnie Yen) getting involved with Fire Wind’s “woman”, and before long the rest of the Seven swords go to face Firewind to get their friend back and finish the fight once and for all…

I have to say that FireWind and his cronies are one fucked up group of individuals. I mean crackerjack crazy, like a bunch of Jack Nicholsons circa The Shining who all know kung-fu! We don’t know why they’re so nuts, but they are, and herein lies my main problem with Tsui Hark. He wants us to fill in the blanks way too much, and let’s plots dangle in the air for all eternity. There’ s a scene in the film where the Emperor’s men find an ancient sword that’s supposed to be the greatest sword of all…and I shit you not that’s it. The plot disappears and never returns.

Something else that comes and goes is Donnie Yen. He’s on the DVD covers, but don’t let that fool you. He’s not really the star of the film, just a name to add to the marquee. He basically serves as a plot device to get the characters from one place to another, and a storyline about a romance he has with Fire Wind’s woman goes nowhere. Donnie gets maybe two fight scenes, and they are short ones at that.  Donnie pretty much collected a paycheck for this one.

Another crazy scene is when Han has to let his horse Joy Luck go for reasons I still don’t think make a damn lick of sense, and we are treated to four minutes of this damn horse walking across what must be all of China. He goes to the mountains. The plains. The rocky terrain, all the while looking for Han. It felt like a Disney nature flick, planted right in the middle of a martial arts film! Tsui Hark tries too hard to place drama in places that didn’t need it, and most of them go nowhere. This film almost feels like Tsui is saying, “ If Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou can do it, I can do it better!”

The problem is, he can’t.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) The fights are good here, but not the greatness that I was expecting, and I expected more of them that what we actually got. This film won the Golden Horse awards in China for best fight choreography, but I don’t see it.

STUNTS: (8) The stunts wire work was pretty good, and everyone did what was needed, but it was not much to speak of here.

STAR POWER: (6) Donnie Yen and Lar Kar Leung are the only notables here, but Donnie really fells more like an extended cameo. His character seems to be there only to allow the Seven Swords to have their final battle with Fire Wind.

FINAL GRADE: (7) Not a bad film, but Tsui Hark’s trademark flimsy to nonsensical plots get in the way too much. The fights were good looking but really didn’t contain any substance for me, just like the rest of this film.

Review: Kiss of the Dragon (2001)

Posted in Cyril Raffaelli, Jet Li, Luc Besson, Reviews with tags , on September 6, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jet Li, Cyril Raffaelli, Tcheky Karyo, Bridgette Fonda

Fight Choreography by Corey Yuen

Directed By Chris Nahon

After dealing with several films from the Silver/DMX/Andrej Bartkowiak disasters, and hearing about how fans were a bit miffed that all of those films had him inexplicably dangling from wires and computer effects for no damn reason, Jet came up with an idea for a martial arts film that would allow him to get back to basics, and Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita) took his idea and wrote a script, hired one of his cohorts and produced, and thus came Kiss of the Dragon.

The film opens as Jian (Li) a chinese secret agent, finds himself in Paris, France to help the police capture a dangerous chinese arms dealer who is waiting in a posh hotel room for his contact. Jian’s contact in France is a police chief simply named Richard played smarmily (is that even a word?)well by Tcheky Karyo. Soon Jian finds that nothing is what it seems when Richard kills the arms dealer and tries to frame Jian, who is able to escape with a video tape implicating Richard in a fantastic scene that mixes practical stuntwork and some good fight scenes courtesy of Corey Yuen. The fights in the laundry room alone is better than any of Jet’s other American film fights combined.

After he escapes he makes his way to a shop that sells rice chips, but is really a front for Jian’s contact in Paris. He heads there to figure out what to do next. Meanwhile, Jessica, one of the prostitutes who went to see the arms dealer, turns out to be Richard’s woman, so to speak, because he’s holding her daughter hostage so he can make some money whoring her out. Yep, nice guy, isn’t he? So her pimp dumps her on prostitute row-just where the shop Jian’s staying in is located.

Jian goes to meet the assistant to the Chinese Ambassador, who also happens to know Jian and has some idea of the trouble he’s really in. They meet on a restaurant boat only to be ambushed by Richard’s men in an attempt to get the tape back. They kill the assistant, and Jian attempts to escape in once again another great fight scene, in the kitchen below all the way to the glass roof above.

Afterward the shenanigans with Jessica slow the film down, not too much, but you’ll notice it here. After another great fight scene between Jian and the pimp’s enforcer, Jian and Jessica escape and find that their goals are the same person for different reasons, and they form a partnership in order to get her daughter and for Jian to get Richard, and the entire story comes to a climax in the police station itself, as Jian fights off a room full of police officers with batons and then the big finale, an old school martial arts duel between himself and Richard’s main fighter (Raffaelli) in a glorious fight to the finish. Jain finally comes face to face with Richard for the final time, and then you’ll understand what the title of the film means…

This film is a breath of fresh air after the cavalcade of horrid American films Jet’s done. Luc Besson is a fan of Asian martial arts films, and it shows in every frame of film. He understands how to do it right. Director Chris Nahon placed the camera perfectly during the fight scenes. Gone are the quick edited scenes and shitty music-by the way, yes, it does have a Mystical song at the end, but dammit that song matches the fight perfectly and I can’t imagine another song in that spot. The song was there because it fit the scene, not to sell CD’s. Jet’s previous films have sold enough DMX albums…

Welcome back to good films, Jet!

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) Well, look at that, someone finally woke Corey Yuen up and told him to choreograph, dammit! The fights are great across the board, and build up just as they should, and the final fight with Cyril Rafaelli is what we were wanting to get from Russell Wong and Mark Dacascos in Jet’s previous films, and we got cheated, but not here!  Bravo, Corey!

STUNTS: (8) The stuntmen did a really good job here, and sold all of their scenes, and they were game for more complex fighting.

STAR POWER: (8) Jet finally looks like the Jet we know from films like High Risk and Once Upon A Time in China, and Cyril Raffaelli really caught the public’s attention in his short scenes and fantastic end fight with Jet. Tcheky Karyo is great as usual, and Bridgette Fonda did a fairly good job.

FINAL GRADE: (9) The best of Jet’s U.S. output, even though I don’t really think it counts since it was really a French production. Either way, Jet and Corey woke up and listened to their REAL fans, and made a film to be proud of. I hope Jet sent a postcard to Joel Silver telling him to take his computers and rap stars and go suck it! Hell, I might still do that…