Archive for January, 2011

Indie Kick! Review: Maximum Choppage Round 2 (2008)

Posted in Brian Lee, Reviews, Timothy Ly with tags , , on January 30, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Timothy Ly, Roxie Vuong, Robert Trieu, Maria Tran, Brian Lee

Fight Choreography by Timothy Ly

Directed by Timothy Ly

Maximun Choppage Round 2 is another Australian indie martial arts film from Rumble Pictures (What the hell?! Get your shit in gear, America!) and has a flavor all its own. The film begins with a hilarious dream sequence where we see a fake Bruce Li film (never thought I’d ever have to say that. He calls himself Bruce Ly, which dammit is a play on Lee I haven’t heard of. It’s a wonder why no one used it before) that is all in the mind of the main character, Tim, who has just won a martial arts tournament, and all the pressure that comes with it. Such as the pressure to meet women, which Tim is not so good at. He gets plenty of practice when his cousin Rob the Fob visits, and takes him on a hilarious montage sequence of Tim trying out some of Rob’s pick up schemes on the poor local women in his town that ends in dance off that begins well enough and goes horribly wrong. Not since Bruce Lee’s love scenes in Fists of Fury have we seen a martial artist so inept when it comes to dealing with the opposite sex. His luck seems like it might change when he bumps into Roxie (Vuong), a pretty girl infatuating him enough to capture his attention, which at first she is repelled by him just like the rest of the women in town. When she has her bible stolen by a thief, Tim chases him to get the bible back, and finds that the bible was only a Macguffin to get him into a series of fights designed to test him, from the double danger of a brother/sister team of ass kickers to an old friend who cheats his fights like Bolo Yeung did at the end of Bloodsport, until Tim can face the Champ (Brian Lee), a martial artist who wants to face Tim and prove who the real martial arts champion is. Tim isn’t alone however since he has Roxie and Rob…wait, no, he’s pretty much on his own!

Maximum Choppage Round 2 is a film that could have been mistaken for a Yuen Biao Golden Harvest film back in the day, just change out the There is a lot of humor that plays very well to the story, and the acting is pretty good save for a few places(I have to toss kudos to Robert Trieu, who plays Rob the Fob. He mixes the right character of true friend and womanizing jackass all in to one character), but where they really score big is with the fight choreography. There is a lot of complexity to the fights, and with the exception of a second here or there, the camera captures it all in a stylish manner. Overall the camera work is really above average for an indie low-to-no-budget film. The choreography is fast paced and fun, and really shows off the skills of the actors. The best fights–at least, to this humble critic– were the fights between Tim and the brother and sister duo, transitioning well between the fight and slapstick comedy moments, and the final fight between Tim and the Champ. The music score was also an unexpected bonus, courtesy of Zeljko Lazic. It really complemented the events of the film very well. Here is another film that does a great job using their locations to their maximum effect. To think Hollywood will spend millions of dollars to recreate the same locations…on their terms.

This is a really fun film, and if you like martial arts films and want to check out something different, you may want to seek out this film. I’m sure there is more to come from Timothy Ly and crew, and I can’t wait to see it.

You can check out their website here: http://www.mc2movie.com/


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Review: Ong Bak 2 (2008)

Posted in Prachya Pinkaew, Reviews, Tony Jaa with tags , , , , on January 24, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Tony Jaa

Fight Choreography by Tony Jaa

Directed by Tony Jaa

After Tony Jaa had another success with The Protector, he had a vision for a martial arts epic that would mark an apex for martial arts films more ambitious than anything the great Bruce Lee would have come up with, and created the story himself, and decided to also take on duties of fight choreographer as well as directing for the first time, something he was warned not to do by Prachya Pinkaew, long time friend and the director of Ong Bak. Tony dismissed his caution, and what followed was a film that marked both a low and high point of his career…

The film begins in Thailand circa 1421, and the Ayuthaya armies are moving quickly through Thailand, and we center on young twelve-year-old Tien, son of a local Lord, who is being whisked away by his father’s most trusted guard, the armies of Ayuthaya chasing them. After the guard leaves Tien in a place of hiding, Tien is captured by a slave trading tribe and taken to their village, where he is thrown into a crocodile pit for entertainment, which would be replaced centuries later by Survivor. The more things change…

Tien’s death is averted when the village is attacked by pirates, or to be more to the point, Extremely Badass Samurai, Kung-Fu, Muay Thai, Silat, and All Kinds of Wicked Shit I Can’t Pronounce Guys. This film calls them pirates for short, so we’ll go with that. Their leader, Chernang, helps Tien by tossing him a knife and telling him, “ that’s it from us. Your on your own, bro!” Tien does kill the croc, and Chernang decides he might be just badass enough to join his crew. Tien is taken in, and over the years he learns every damn thing they have to teach him. We fast forward years later, and now and adult Tien (Jaa) is testing to officially join the pirates, which involves first taming the King of the Elephants, which is kind of silly, and then fighting off a string of opponents, which is not so silly. He then goes on a bunch of raids, and soon turns his attention to Lord Rajsena, who had his mother and father killed. He plots his revenge, but finds that exacting his revenge may very well cost him the life he has forged for himself now…

I’m not sure why they called this Ong Bak 2, since it doesn’t appear to have anything to do with the original film. I’ve heard some critics call it a Karmic Trilogy, but they may just need to put the hash pipe down and recognize it may be just capitalizing on the name. Of course I may be wrong about that. Maybe the third film clears that up?

This is a dark film, and there are rarely any happy moments. The lightest moments occur when the young Tien meets a crazy villager named Dirty Balls, played by Ong Bak and The Protector’s Petchtai Wongkamlao, who is funny here as he is in the other films, but he’s barely there. Jaa does a really good job keeping the mood tense almost the entire film. You know he’s building to something, but keeps you on your toes to find out what it is. I’ve heard people are discouraged by the ending, but I felt it was strangely appropriate, since we know there’s another film coming.

The fight scenes are nothing short of incredible. The fight against the village slavers was terrific, but nothing can prepare you for the final fight in the pirate’s village. It’s a nearly 30 minute fight scene that will leave even the most jaded martial arts film fan exhausted. Tony pulls out the stops for this fight, using kung-fu, muay thai, sword, 3 section staff, and what feels like every damn martial art ever created, even using a live elephant as a weapon at one point. Just as Bruce used the Fists of Fury to really show himself off, and Jackie used Drunken Master, This film may be the classic film that defines Tony’s skills.

This is also the film that may have ended his career. It’s well publicized that he had a nervous breakdown during the filming and disappeared for several weeks during production. He was running well over budget and the film was running late. He tearfully made his appearance on a radio station to discuss what happened, and Baa Ram Ewe brought in his Ong Bak director Prachya Pinkaew to help edit and finish directing the film. There was so much footage that they shot additional scenes and split the film into two parts. Nevertheless, the damage to Jaa appears to have been done, and it’s easy to see why. Jaa wanted to direct his own films like his idol Jackie Chan, but Jackie cut his teeth behind the camera for years before he stepped in front of it, and did so when there were no expectations of him. Jaa had to be under immense pressure to top his other films, and after watching the fight scenes, it had to be too much, to balance that, the budget, the studio’s demands, and his own lofty standards. Jaa joined the monkhood, and who knows when he will return? It may be a year, two years, ten years. We may have seen the last of Jaa. I hope that’s not the case, but for now we have to consider him lost to cinema history—until he comes back.

Tony Jaa aimed for the moon and actually hit it with this film, and like his character Tien, Tony was unaware his ambition was going to come with a spiritual and physical cost…

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) The fight scenes are stunning, and easily ranks with some of the best martial arts films of all time. Tony fuses what feels like dozens of styles and manages to still portray each one in an exciting and meaningful way. The movements were graceful and brutal all at once, fast-paced and complex.

STUNTWORK: (10) The running across the stampeding elephant scene was pure lunacy on Tony’s part, but looks incredible. The stuntmen really took it on the chin here, and were the recipients of some terrible falls and strikes, and performed admirably in what had to be a hard shoot, and were able to match Tony’s energy onscreen.

STAR POWER: (9) Tony is at his best here, but we all know what this may have cost him. Who knows what will happen with his career now?

FINAL GRADE: (10) This is one of the best martial arts films ever, mainly from a fighting standpoint. The story did the job it needed to do, and there isn’t enough that can be said about the ambition of the fight scenes. Let’s hope that this and Ong Bak 3 aren’t the last we hear from Tony Jaa…


Review: Rush Hour (1998)

Posted in Jackie Chan, Kenneth Lo, Reviews, Tzi Ma with tags , on January 19, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Tzi Ma, Elizabeth Pena, Tom Wilkinson

Fight Choreography by Jackie Chan

Directed by Brett Ratner

After having success with Rumble in the Bronx in the United States, Jackie started releasing dubbed versions of his Hong Kong films with some success, but not reaching any sort of blockbuster status. After speaking with a small-time filmmaker more known for his music videos than by anything else, and teaming up with an African-American seen by many as a new Eddie Murphy, Jackie Chan scored his first major blockbuster in the USA…

The film opens with Inspector Lee (Chan) on the trail of Juntao, and mysterious underworld criminal in Hong Kong who specializes in stealing priceless chinese artifacts. Lee boards his boat but only finds various henchmen and Juntao’s right hand man, Sang, who escapes. Out of this entire film, this part feels the most like a Jackie Chan film. There are the stunts we love, and some inventive fight scenes, but even here they are far too short. Lee is able to recover the stolen artifacts, and notifies his friend Consular Han, who is leaving with his daughter to the United States now that Hong Kong is transitioning back to China. Lee also bears farewell to Soo Yung, Han’s little daughter and Lee’s protegé and god-daughter.

We fast forward a few months to Los Angeles, where we meet Detective Carter, a loudmouth cop who gets a suspect’s car blown up in the middle of Los Angeles in the open street after firing round after round into the trunk of the car he knows has C4 explosives, and afterward does a Michael Jackson-style dance and runs off, which tells you that a) he’s unstable and b) kinda stupid. Meanwhile, Soo Yung is being driven to school when her bodyguards are killed during a traffic stop, and Soo Yung is kidnapped, and this turn of events brings Lee to Los Angeles, and teamed up with Carter, together must find Soo Yung and stop the nefarious plans of Juntao…

This is a fun film, if you are willing to check your brain–and common sense– at the door. Jackie does a great job of portraying Lee, but is really the straight man to Chris Tucker in many respects. Jackie has a few good scenes, like the pool hall fight, and the setup is a great fish out of water joke, and during the last fight, where Lee has to protect a large vase from being tipped over by two thugs. The fights are far too small, but does allow Jackie to be inventive in his fights. Chris Tucker can be funny and grating at the same time, with his high-pitched voice. In truth the film seems to want to really push Chris Tucker out there rather than make a Jackie Chan film. I know it’s a buddy film, and they do have good chemistry in this, but c’mon! This should be a Jackie Chan film. It’s easy to see the agenda at work here.

One other problem I have it that there is no real martial arts threat for Lee to face. All of the thugs don’t seem to know any martial arts except for Ken Lo, yes, the great Ken Lo from Drunken Master 2, who gets jack shit to do here except throw a punch or kick. I take it Ratner never saw Drunken Master 2, which might explain his comments regarding fight scenes. Let’s get into that a second…

There is something that Ratner has said many times that I take personal offense to, and that his assertion is that western audiences don’t want to see a 5 or 10 minute fight scene, that no fight should be longer than a minute or two. I would say that if it were a shitty fight scene, yes. But a Jackie Chan fight scene? Is he kidding? We could watch an hour of it–which is primarily why we go to see his films. The quality of the fight scenes are what makes them great, but we need time to take them all in, since the fights in a martial arts film helps drive the story, not stop it like in so many American action films (not all, but most). For such a martial arts film fan, Ratner should know this. Unfortunately he’s not the only director who believes this, not to mention he lifted whole scenes from Jackie Chan’s Police Story (he actually admits the kidnapping scene is a direct homage (let’s be honest, a ripoff) of the scene where the bad guys try to kidnap Bridgette Lin.

The movie is a fun rollercoaster ride, but if you are looking for a good martial arts film, you may want to look elsewhere.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (6) It almost feels like blasphemy to give a Jackie Chan film this low a score, but in retrospect this isn’t really a Jackie Chan film, is it? The fights are okay, but far too short to allow Jackie to do what he does best.

STUNTWORK: (5) Average stuff, even for Jackie. Lots of Blue screen. Thanks, USA insurance companies for neutering Chan and his crew.

STAR POWER (7) Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. Tucker would go on to make…Rush Hour 2 and…wait for it…Rush Hour 3. That’s as far as his star goes, and may ever go.

FINAL GRADE: (6) Jackie finally scores a western blockbuster with Rush Hour, but isn’t allowed to be himself, and so I dont’ think you can look at this as a “Jackie Chan film”. It’s a good action comedy, but if you are expecting good martial arts fight scenes, you may want to look elsewhere.

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Review: Killzone aka SPL (2005)

Posted in Donnie Yen, Jacky Wu Jing, Reviews, Sammo Hung, Simon Yam, Wilson Yip with tags , , on January 10, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Simon Yam, Jacky Wu Jing

Fight choreography by Donnie Yen

Directed by Wilson Yip

“God is fair.”

This is a great line uttered by underworld Hong Kong crime boss Wong Po (Hung) that really drives home what the story of Killzone really means, and I have to warn you, you may want to take your happy pills before you sit down to watch this film. The opening credits alone should prepare you to watch some somber shit, folks.

The film opens with the aftermath of a horrible car wreck, and we come to learn that in one of the cars was a witness and his family being escorted to testify against Wong Po. The only survivors are two Inspectors, Wah and Chan (Yam) and the five-year old daughter of the witness, Hoi Yee. Po is released since the only witness that could put him away is dead. At the hospital, Chan finds out that he has a tumor, and he’s living on borrowed time, and at the same time Wong Po and his wife suffer through another miscarriage. A chilling moment occurs when Po sits in the hallway just outside of his wife’s room, and is approached and befriended by Hoi Yee, who has no idea that this man had her mother and father killed, and Po has no idea she was the witness’ daughter. She is taken away by Chan, and the hatred between Chan and Po is palpable. Fast forward three years, and Chan and his team’s war with Wong Po has escalated, and Chan’s crew is dismayed to learn that they have a new boss, Inspector Ma (Yen). Before meeting him, however, they send one of their youngest Inspectors undercover to infiltrate Po’s organization, an incredibly dangerous prospect.

Ma has a past of his own, famous throughout the police force for punching a suspect so hard he damaged the kid’s brain. No shittin’ here. One punch and that dude got sent literally back to kindergarten, and Ma is seen in flashback struttin’ the fuck away. Now that’s both sad and badass all at the same time.

Soon Ma and Chan discover the body of the undercover cop in a field, and a young man with mental illness videotaped the entire thing, but it shows that Wong Po beats the agent, but another man kills him. Chan, obsessed with ending Po once and for all, has the tape doctored and given to Ma to make it seem as if Po did it, while they take revenge by killing the real murderer.

Po decides to take actions on his own against Chan and his team, without the knowledge (we suspect) of his wife and newborn child, and thus the immovable object meets the unstoppable force, and the moment when they meet creates a tornado of death and destruction that will envelope everyone in their wake.

Before this film came out, Donnie Yen was something of a failure in some respects. Everyone looked to him to take over from Jackie Chan and Jet Li, to be the next big thing, but his films never really did that for him. He’s made some good ones, but nothing that really said “here I am”. Now in his 40’s, he’s finally living up to his potential, and this film started him on his way. Meanwhile, Sammo Hung was already semi-retired, and this film cast him as something he’s never been, a main villain. He does a fantastic job, his brutality always under the surface for every reaction Wong Po gives. You know he’s a monster, and an unapologetic one who is still trying to be good father to his baby. Simon Yam is always money in the bank, and he brings it here as well, a cop who has sacrificed his moral compass to put Wong Po away for good. Jacky Wu Jing was a television star at the time, and was cast against type as the murderous Jack, Wong Po’s enforcer and killer. He plays the character as a killer who relishes what he does for a living, brandishing a knife and killing with reckless abandon. This film launched Jacky Wu Jing’s film career that has been going strong ever since.

Wilson Yip’s camerawork is fantastic, from the Hong Kong skyline at night to the beach to a green field with storm clouds looming close by. It’s incredibly, hauntingly beautiful. The fight scenes are few, but when they come they are intense, and exciting as hell. The fight between Wu Jing and Yen is one of the best knife versus baton battles I’ve ever seen, fast and filled with complex choreography that only martial artists of their caliber can pull off, and the final fight between Sammo and Yen shows that despite his age and heft, Sammo is still one of the best martial artists in the industry. Their fight does a masterful job of mixing kung-fu with mixed martial arts, something I didn’t think could ever look good in a film, but they manage to pull it off here.

This film launched Donnie Yen into the upper echelon of martial arts stars, finally enabling him to take his place beside Jackie Chan and Jet Li, and since this film he’s gone through a string of classic martial arts films the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Jackie and Jet were in their prime. A brutal and unforgiving film that lives by the line that “God is Fair”, which is another way of saying that everyone will get what’s coming to them in the end, whether they’re an evil gangster or a group of cops who commit evils in order to stop them. You’ll be thinking about this film long after you watch it. The price of justice is steep indeed.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) This is quality versus quantity here. The two major fights are saved until the end of the film, but what incredible fights they are. Donnie Yen mixing MMA within a traditional kung-fu fight was a masterstroke.

STUNTS: (8) Fantastic scenes by each stuntman. They made it look as realistic as possible, rather than “actiony”. There weren’t many stunts, but what was there was done well.

STAR POWER: (10) Donnie Yen finally became the star many knew he could be, Sammo proved he’s still got it, and Jacky Wu Jing was introduced to the world. Oh yeah, and Simon Yam kicked ass as always.

FINAL GRADE: (10) One of the best martial arts crime thrillers you’ll ever see. Dark and unrelenting, not a single misstep can be found anywhere. Everyone brings their “A” game, and what results is nothing short of a new modern classic.