Archive for October, 2010

Review: Lionheart (1991)

Posted in Frank Dux, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Reviews with tags , on October 30, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Brian Thompson

Fight Choreography by Frank Dux

Directed by Sheldon Lettich

Once again Jean-Claude Van Damme jumps back into the familiar world of tournament martial arts films with his latest entry, Lionheart. This movie would do fairly well again, but it would ultimately prove to be tournament fight film overload for him, and won’t go back to it again for quite some time…but first we get LIOOOOONNNNNNNHEEEEAAARRRRRT!

(Scream it out loud a few times. See if you can sound like Joshua. More on him later)

JCVD plays Lyon Gaultier, a soldier with the French Foreign Legion, who gets word late that his brother Paul, living in Los Angeles, has been murdered while in the middle of a drug buy, and is told to come home. Now this is the hard part, and the legion believes that once you are in, you never get out, which really kind of sucks for him, since his commanding officer is a giant turd. Being what he is, Turd orders that Lyon be placed in the equivalent of solitary confinement for sassing him, and Lyon thinks about it on the way, and quickly comes to the conclusion that “–it would probably be better for me to give one of these guards a beautiful round house kick to the face.” Which he does. Even Tae-Bo creator Billy Blanks gets a kick to the face here, and I swear the kick adjusted that strange flat top haircut he had back then. It’s these opening scenes, and the music that accompanies them, that might make you think, if only for a second, that you’re watching Lawrence of Arabia with right crosses and crescent kicks. Which actually sounds like a pretty good film…

But that’s not this film. Soon Lyon is on a boat to the USA, and of course his Commander isn’t too keen on this, and sends two guys to go get him back. After arriving in New York, Lyon discovers that it’s hard getting around the USA without cash, and soon hears the cha-ching of a cash register as he sees an illegal fight taking place, and enters himself into the fights after convincing the MC and his future manager Joshua (Harrison Page) that he can handle himself, and he does in a really weak fight scene. Soon Joshua convinces Lyon that to get to Los Angeles he needs to win a few fights hosted by the Mysterious Cynthia, a rich woman who runs around with her right hand man Russell played by Brian Thompson. Lyon’s first fight is short and sweet, delivering karmic justice to one guy’s testicles after witnessing him do the same to another fighter that was already defeated.

Soon Lyon has the money and goes to California with Joshua in tow, trying to convince him to fight for Cynthia in LA, but he’s hearing none of it, wanting to get in contact with his brother’s wife Helene and their daughter Nicole, the only relatives he has left. Helene isn’t exactly thrilled to see him, and basically tells him to take his ass away from her. He learns quickly that she’s having problems with bills and other monies that are owed, and so Lyon has Cynthia set up a fake life insurance account, and begins fighting for her, and have the money sent to Helene in the form of life insurance payment checks, so she won’t know that it’s from him. We also find out that the obnoxious Joshua has a previous history with Cynthia, once being one of her fighters who was permanently injured after a fight and dumped.

With the Legion agents after him, and Cynthia secretly betting on another fighter she believes can beat Lyon, can he go into the ring one more time and win with everything against him? Even with his pal Joshua screaming his fight name for no apparent reason, but it sounds good in the film trailer?

LLLIIIIIOONNNNHEEEARRRT!!!!

Like I said, it sounds good in the trailer, but in the film…what the hell?! It’s funny that every JCVD film made during this time has to first take minutes out of the film to explain how a French guy is in the United States and starts kicking people, doing the splits, and showing his bare ass off to the pretty ladies, which he does here, as always. JCVD’s film base is made up of as many women as men, so guys have to live with seeing that ass in every one of his films if we want to see him kick somebody, which he does quite a bit of. The fight scenes are passable, but no one here knows martial arts outside of JCVD, so it’s all just street fighting, which I have very little interest in, but can understand there are those that are. The fights were choreographed by Frank Dux, and he does make JCVD look good as always, but there wasn’t enough martial arts fighting, and the story wasn’t bad, although the acting was, except for JCVD himself. It’s really saying a lot when JCVD is the best actor in the film. Look out for Kenpo Master Jeff Speakman as the mansion guard, which makes me think holy crap, they had Billy Blanks and Jeff Speakman in this and they didn’t really fight? That’s just wrong. Sheldon Lettich, a director and writer of many of JCVD’s films helmed this picture, and kept the camera steady, even though there wasn’t much elaborate fighting to be seen, but he captures those JCVD helicopter kicks better than anyone!

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (3) There simply isn’t that much here. It’s JCVD versus guys who only know street fighting. It’s not horrible, but not substantial,either.

STUNTS: (5) Everything was done fairly well. Nothing fantastic, but nothing badly done either.

STAR POWER: (7) Kickboxer kept JCVD up there, and Lionheart did nothing to tarnish his star image. He’d take care of that on his own much later. No other real stars of note outside Brian Thompson, who always played a dependable baddie.

FINAL GRADE: (5) This is a ho-hum film made at the apex of the JCVD tournament fight films. The story actually kept me interested until after the midway point when you can see the ending a mile away, but overall it’s not bad, just really average.

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Review: New Police Story (2004)

Posted in Andy On, Benny Chan, Daniel Wu, Jackie Chan, Nicolas Tse, Reviews with tags , , on October 25, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jackie Chan, Nicolas Tse, Daniel Wu, Andy On

Fight Choreography by Jackie Chan

Directed by Benny Chan

After making some successful but not great films here in America, Chan took himself back to Hong Kong to film a new chapter in the series that turned him into an international superstar, but there are some changes as this is more of a reimagining of Police Story rather than a sequel.

Chan plays Senior Inspector Chan Wing, the best cop on the force who is looking to retire but is training a new generation of cops to take over when he’s gone. In this case he may as well by Supercop Kevin Chan, but the attitude of this film is much more dramatic, but to me, he’s Kevin Chan. He still carries that character’s confidence and swagger, both of which are decimated early on in the film, thanks to a new group of criminals, teenagers who get off on extreme sports and taking everything to the limit, led by Joe, who has some serious daddy issues that become more apparent later. After yet another successful bank robbery that results in a quarter of the Hong Kong police force to be killed, Chan vows to bring the robbers to just in just a few short hours. Of course Joe takes offense to this, and lures the Supercop and his team to a warehouse that is tricked out with traps that would make Jigsaw proud. One by one Chan’s men are injured and captured, until Chan and his future brother-in-law are all that is left, and before long only Chan is left, and he finds himself playing elaborate games for the lives of his men, and he fails every test, causing the deaths of each of his men. Joe and his crew escape before Chan can kill them, and Chan is barely able to escape with all of the bodies before the warehouse explodes, taking with it his confidence and bravado.

The traps are well done, as is his first fight with Tin Tin Law, played by Andy Oh. It’s a great reminder that Jackie Chan can still bring a good fight, but this must be the first film to really acknowledge Jackie’s real age, and his character is beaten because he’s an old man trying to fight as a youngster. If any fans wondered what Jackie has left physically, this is the answer, and that answer is that he’s got quite a lot, but has to modify his fights for what he can still do.

We catch up to Chan, now a drunk in an alley, scared and ashamed to see his fiancee Ho Yee after getting her brother killed, when out of no where comes Frank Chen (Tse), a mysterious young man who decides to help Chan get his life back together and stop Joe and his gang for reasons you won’t find out about until the last scene in the film, but it all makes sense in a pay it forward kind of way. Soon Chan, Frank, and another police operator Sasa go after Joe and his crew, who refuse to go down without one last reckoning…

Even though this is called New Police Story, it share more in common with the first two entries than it does with Supercop and First Strike. It was refreshing to see the action come back to street level crime, instead of the James Bond style adventures of the previous two. It also has the big stunts that we come to expect from Jackie Chan, including a fall from the Bank of Hong Kong, and stunts on a bus reminscient of Police Story 2. He even smacks a lawyer, and we know Kevin Chan doesn’t like lawyers.That’s some Kevin Chan shit right there for you. The film is slickly shot by Benny Chan, but is still gritty in some places. Jackie Chan gives a great dramatic performance here, and make no mistake this isn’t an action comedy. It’s an action thriller with some light moments here and there, mostly provided by Nicolas Tse.

The final fight between Andy On and Chan in a Lego store is fantastic, and shows that Jackie can still do a complex choreographed fight scene if given the time. It’s great to see his character fight using his experience rather than trying to match youthful speed and power with the same.

New Police Story may be a reboot, but it does a great job of starting—and ending—the Police Story series. That makes me excited to see how Jackie will end his Armor of God series that is in preproduction now…

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) Not quite as great as the other Police Story films, but a good return to form for Jackie after his hiatus making Rush Hour sequels.

STUNTS: (9) Great stunts this time around. The gliding down the side of a building with a bicycle, iron bar, and handcuffs was fantastic.

STAR POWER: (8) Jackie looks better here than he has in a while, and Nicolas Tse and Daniel Wu, both of whom Jackie found for the film Gen-X Cops are getting better and better.

FINAL GRADE: (8) A dramatic reboot and ending of a great series and a huge return to form for Jackie Chan. One of his best of the 2000’s.

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Review: Enter The Dragon (1973)

Posted in Angela Mao, Bolo Yeung, Bruce Lee, Jim Kelly, Reviews, Robert Wall, Sammo Hung, Shih Kien with tags , , , on October 19, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Robert Wall, Bolo Yeung,

Shih Kien, Angela Mao, Sammo Hung

Fight Choreography by Bruce Lee

Directed by Robert Clouse

Amazing.

Astounding.

The greatest of all time.

Those hyperboles and more have been used to describe this film ever since it came out and to this very day. Unfortunately Bruce never lived long enough to see the film’s release and what would come afterward, but he did see the final cut of the film, and even he had to have known it would be badass, but he couldn’t dream of what happened next.

The film opens as Lee, a disciple of the Shaolin monks, fights an opponent played by Sammo Hung. It’s a terrific duel, and what a way to open the film! Afterward, the abbot tells Lee about a Shaolin traitor named Han who must be stopped, and so he has Lee speak with Mr. Braithwaite, an intelligence officer who is gathering information on Mr. Han so that interested foreign powers can act once it is proven that he’s keeping illegal arms and drugs on his island fortress. He’s holding a martial arts tournament, which is the only time outsiders can gain access to the island, and Lee was already invited. Bruce interrupts the conversation to have a training moment with a pupil, which seems to hold a level of danger for the pupil, who gets popped on the head every time he answers wrong. This film is full of so many quotables but it starts here.

“Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all the heavenly glory!”

“Fuck You, Mr. Hand Man!”

“Wanna Bet?”

“Your skills are extra-ordinary!”

“Boards don’t hit back.”

“You come straight out of a comic book!”

See? The script here was fantastic, but for whatever reason Bruce Lee and the screenplay writer didn’t get along, so during production he changed the name of one character to Braithwaite, because he knew Bruce had trouble pronouncing his W’s and R’s, and he was right. Bruce never did pronounce the name well.

Back to the review…after his run in with Braithwaite, we get flashbacks to all three of the main leads, to give us an idea as to why they are all attending Han’s tournament. It’s here that we learn that Lee’s sister Su Lin (Angela Mao) was killed while one of Han’s men O’hara (Wall) and some of his flunkies attempted to rape her. Great fighting here, although Su Lin must not have had much power in her punches and kicks, since right after she jacks a dude up he’s right back up again and chasing her. The end scene is great as she chooses death over being raped. Powerful stuff.

We then jump to Roper (Saxon) a gambling man who has gambled way too much and finds himself attacked while playing golf by some goons he owes money to. I don’t think John Saxon knows any martial arts, but he looks pretty decent here. He’ll look better as the film goes on. After that we meet Williams (Kelly) who is forced to beat up some racist cops on his way out. He kicks their asses and takes their car. That was cool. We soon find out that both Williams and Roper served together in Vietnam.

After a great scene on the boat between Lee and a bully, they arrive at the island and first meet Bolo (Yeung) and Han’s greeter, played by Anha Capri, and they are treated to a grand feast, and complementary women. Han comes off as a great James Bond Villain (like Dr. No), and he’s larger than life, and Shih Kein plays him with a lot of menace that virtually drips while making the smallest gesture. The next day the tournament begins, and Bruce shows up, refusing to wear the yellow gi’s that are provided and practically dares the fashion police to tell him otherwise.

The first day of fights are quite funny as Roper and Williams make side bets with one of Han’s men on each other’s fights, but the meat of everything is what happens that night, when Lee leaves his room, which is forbidden, so he can search the island for a way into Han’s inner headquarters, but is found by some guards, whom be beats quickly and painfully. The next day Han makes those same guards fight Bolo to keep their jobs, and you can’t help but feel sorry for them. First Bruce and now Bolo?! That’s some cold shit, and made even colder by the way that Bolo dispatches each of them, one at a time and in a very painful manner. I think I would have rather quit that job, but it looks like death is the only way out, and I’m sure it didn’t say that on the application. I would say the Legend of Bolo Yeung, and the kinds of characters he would play from now on truly started here.

Lee then faces O’hara in a fantastic fight scene that really shows off Bruce’s speed and grace, and ends in the greatest body stomp of all time. During that fight Bruce Lee and Robert Wall agreed that there was no way to give that last big kick and look good unless it was for real, and so that scene was real. Bruce really did kick Robert Wall that hard, breaking his chestbone, and two of the arms of the guys Robert slammed into on his way to the ground. Now that is dedication to your craft!

After ward Williams, Lee and Roper find themselves facing off against nearly the entire island, and an epic fight to the end ensues, and it only gets bigger and bigger until the final battle, where Lee faces Han in the classic Mirror Room…

What is it that this film has that other martial arts films don’t? They have a classic, if sort of James Bondish, story, and have filled it with larger than life characters embodied by men who were larger than life. The scale is epic, going from China to America and to Han’s island fortress, and has a cast of hundreds you rarely see in a martial arts film.

Add to all of this a cracking good screenplay, and classic music by Lalo Schifrin, and mix it up in a bowl with a huge helping of Bruce Lee, and there you have it! The scene where Lee entered Han’s fortress is a classic that hasn’t been surpassed to this day. Look out for Jackie Chan as one of Han’s guards that Bruce is forced to break his neck. The fighting is electric here and everywhere else in the film, which many martial arts films rarely achieve.

Props to Shih Kien for the end fight with Bruce. He performed fantastically, even though we knew he couldn’t beat Bruce, he still gave you a small sliver of doubt.

I love that scene when he sends his men to go kill Lee and Roper, and knows the names of each henchman! That make the guards that Bolo killed seem a bit colder…

Enter The Dragon changed martial arts films in China and introduced Americans to a style of fighting and choreography we hadn’t seen before, and sparked a boom that would introduce us to new stars, and the world of martial arts opened to the United States, and suddenly everyone wanted to know it. There are peaks and valleys, and the new pead wouldn’t come again until Jackie Chan made one last attempt at breaking through in the USA but all martial arts films and their stars past and current owe a lot to Bruce Lee, and to Enter the Dragon. I’ll go ahead and say it. The greatest mainstream martial arts film of them all.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) Every fight scene is fantastic and builds from the story and character, and the fight between Bruce and Han’s men is an instant classic. Bruce did a great job of playing to everyone’s strengths, so even John Saxon can come off looking good.

STUNTS: (9) The stuntmen didn’t do anything death-defying except to take Bruce’s punches and kicks. I take that back. It was death-defying. Yeah, great job all around.

STAR POWER: (10) Bruce Lee at his best, and Jim Kelly’s career takes off from here, as does Bolo Yeung’s. Great cameo by Sammo Hung to start it all off.

FINAL GRADE: (10) A martial arts classic that has stood the test of time and still hasn’t been surpassed. Bruce Lee’s final real film, and created a legend that the world would fall in love with, and a doorway into the martial arts world was opened to Americans, who stepped through, and both worlds would never be the same again…

Review: Game of Death (1978)

Posted in Bruce Lee, Dan Inosanto, James Tien, Robert Wall, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao with tags , , , , , , on October 8, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Bruce Lee, Dan Inosanto, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,

Robert Wall, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Kim Tai Jong, James Tien

Fight Choreography for Bruce Lee’s fights by Bruce Lee

Fight Choreography for everyone else by Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao

Directed by Robert Clouse

Let’s get one thing cleared up first: Game of Death is not Bruce Lee’s last film. That moniker belongs to Enter the Dragon, and to that film alone. Game of Death could be best described as a compilation/tribute/b-sides album. The film compiles memorable scenes from Bruce’s earlier films, new scenes shot by a bunch of fake Bruces (Yuen Biao being one of them) and the final fights that feature the actual Bruce Lee.

Was it a good tribute to Bruce? In a small way.

Was it a grab for more cash after the success of Enter the Dragon? Hell yes.

Bruce Lee–or actually his body doubles–stars as Billy Lo, a martial arts film star who is filming a scene with Chuck Norris (archived scenes from Way of the Dragon) when a light from above crashes on the ground near him, stopping production. During these scenes you see Bruce from behind only, and I just knew this was gonna be a long film. I almost died laughing when they would show Bruce speaking to different people from behind, and then Bruce’s reaction shots would be clipped scenes from his other films. Anyway, some douchy fight promotor who works for some shadowy company called the Syndicate wants Billy to fight in the ring, and Billy slaps the guy away. Shit, the real Bruce would’ve slapped the guy through the door. During this scene they had the audacity to actually superimpose a cut out of Bruce’s head on the actor’s body!

Anyway, we then cut to the Meeting of Evil Villians, where the same douchy promotor and his lackeys played by Robert Wall (what’s the deal with him being Bruce’s bitch?) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar decide to beat Billy into signing the contract. Billy goes out to dinner that night with his girlfriend played by Colleen Camp, when he gets ambushed by some of douchy’s men. This first fight of Fake Bruce is exactly what you would expect-badly shot scenes of a guy trying to pretend to be Bruce, but isn’t even close.

This brings me to what would be common theme in this film until you get near the end: Billy gets his ass kicked. A lot. WTF?! Okay, I can accept a lot of things, but the sight of a couple of hired thugs beating up someone who is supposed to be BRUCE LEE just kills me. I’m surprised Bruce not only didn’t roll around in his grave at this, but didn’t outright punch his way back to the land of the living so he could smack Robert Clouse around for a second, telling him what the hell, man?! There is not one scene, in any of Bruce’s films, where anyone—and I mean no one—kicks his ass. Yeah, some guys get their shots in, but Bruce NEVER LOSES. It’s not boring, that’s just Bruce. He doesn’t lose. And who would be equal to him for him to lose to? Nobody, that’s who. And yet in several fight scenes with Fake Bruce, he gets his ass owned by everyone, hell even Robert Wall. He punches and kicks these thugs, and they get right back up. If Real Bruce hits them, they ain’t gettin’ back up.

Before long Billy is shot on the set of his film, but isn’t killed, and with the help of an old friend stages what has to be the absolute worst scene ever filmed, lacking in any amount of taste whatsoever. Any respect I might’ve had for Robert Clouse died right at this moment. Billy fakes his own death, and the funeral scenes were ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF BRUCE’S FUNERAL. That takes some balls, but holy shit that was a dung pile of bad decision making to allow it into a fictional film.

Not long afterward I was able to briefly set aside my disdain by watching a fight between Robert Wall and Sammo Hung, which was actually well done—no where near Sammo’s normal quality—but well done nevertheless. It allowed Sammo to show off some fancy moves before Robert Wall kicks his ass, and then in turn gets his ass killed by Fake Bruce following this fight. I’ll say this for Mr. Wall, he always looks great getting his ass kicked.

Soon Billy’s girlfriend is kidnapped by Douchy, and Billy frees her and goes after Douchy and his boys, and here is where Real Bruce returns for the final fights between himself and Dan Inosanto, nunchuck to nunchuck, a fight with another karate master, and the crowning moment, the fight between Bruce and his real life student NBA superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Each fight is great in it’s own way, and the fight with Kareem is fantastic, a study of fighting while facing a great size disadvantage (it could be argued both ways) and Kareem does a great job here.

After that we go back to Fake Bruce and he has to fight Douchy, in a fight that tries to make Douchy feel like a threat, but his isn’t, and is weakly killed and the film thankfully ends. This is really a horrid film, but I get what they wanted to do. They tried to honor the memory of Bruce and to make sure that audiences would feel that absence would make the heart grow fonder, and at least in this film, it succeeds.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (4) Sammo tried his best to choreograph fights the way Bruce would’ve, but without the secret ingredient of Bruce, none of it works. Sammo’s fight with Robert Wall was the best non-real Bruce Lee fight in the entire film.

BRUCE’S CHOREOGRAHY: (8) For what there was, was terrific. The fight with Kareem was a classic. The last we would ever get from Bruce.

STUNTS: (3) Not much here. Some good acrobatic here and there, but that’s about it.

STAR POWER: (8) There really was a lot of star power from the martial arts world here. Too bad that power was used in this film.

FINAL GRADE: (4) Only the Bruce fights, because they are classic, keeps this film from getting a lower grade that this. Unfortunately the success of this film would spawn the legion of fake Bruces to follow, and an insipid sequel.