Archive for March, 2011

Review: Iron Monkey (1993)

Posted in Donnie Yen, Jean Wang, Tsang Sze Man, Yu Rong Guang, Yuen Woo Ping with tags , on March 27, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Yu Rong Guang, Donnie Yen, Jean Wang, Tsang Sze Man, Yen Yee Kwan

Fight Choreography by Yuen Cheng Yen and Yuen Shun Yi

Directed by Yuen Woo Ping

Yuen Woo Ping is without a doubt the greatest martial arts choreographer ever. The best and biggest Martial Arts stars have been under him in one way or another, and he’s had a hand in some of their biggest films. Drunken Master, Fist of Legend, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Snake in Eagle’s Shadow just to name the very, very few, and one of his best is Iron Monkey.

The film starts in the small town of Chekiang, a town run by a corrupt and evil governor Cheng who taxes the people into poverty, but he has a problem. There is a costumed man named Iron Monkey who steals from Cheng and gives the money to the poor in a classic Robin Hood manner.  Each night Chief Fox, a kind-hearted but really out of his league leader of the police force, devises a plan to catch Iron Monkey each night, and each night fails miserably.  Iron Monkey is in fact the local doctor Mr. Yang, and with his assistant Miss Orchid help the people during the day, overcharging the rich and not charging the poor at all, and misdirect Chief Fox when they can.

The first fight really sets the tone for the film as the Iron Monkey takes on a group of Shaolin Monks who are hired to capture him (you’ll notice the Shaolin monks, in a change of pace, are bad guys in this one for reasons to be explained(?) later.) The fight is furious and fun, still full of fast and graceful movement and that dance-like choreography that Woo Ping is famous for, and you’ll find yourself laughing and marvelling at the fights all at once.  Suffice to say they do not capture Iron Monkey, but neither does he get the chest of gold the Governor is trying to hide.

The next day Wong Kei-Ying (Yen), a most famous doctor and martial arts master arrives with his son Wong Fei-Hung (Man), who will become one of China’s greatest heroes, is just a little boy here, and it’s fun to see that Ping borrowed some of this iteration’s Fei-Hung from Jackie Chan’s teenage version in the Drunken Master films, and Jet Li’s Once Upon A Time In China’s rendition, and of course Tak Hing-Kwan’s version from Magnificent Butcher (He’s played the Fei-Hung character over 60 times!)

They come at a bad time as Chief Fox has decreed that anyone looking, acting, or doing anything that looks monkey-like is to be arrested, which leads to a hilarious montage of guys getting busted for exactly this. After beating a group of bullies who were about to come after Fei-Hung in yet another masterful showing by Yen, both Kei-Ying and Fei-Fung are arrested for fighting so well. All arrested individuals are brought before the Cheng, but before Fei-Hung can be branded, because the governor is a douchebag, the real Iron Monkey shows up to prove none of those captured are him.

Wong Kei-Ying, not understanding the situation, goes after the Iron Monkey in a tremendously good fight as Yen and Guang really go after it, and their fight is appropriately awesome. Iron Monkey escapes, but Fei-Hung is held prisoner as Cheng charges that Kei-Ying capture the Iron Monkey if he wants his son back. Chief Fox promises to look after him, and Kei-Ying goes into the city but finds that no one will sell him food or shelter because the Iron Monkey is so beloved. He is taken in by Dr. Yang and Miss Orchid, but all are unaware that they have bigger problems as a Shaolin Traitor, now the Royal Minister arrives in town, and they must beat him, because Shaolin traitors are terrifyingly evil, and this particular one is a douche. Soon Kei-Ying will have to team up with the Iron Monkey, as he along with his son and Miss Orchid stand between the Royal Minister and total domination, or something like that.

This is probably one of the most fun of the Woo-Ping films. There is lots of comedy, mixed in with serious scenes and over-the-top wire work. Yu Rong Guang does a great job as the Iron Monkey and Dr. Yang, centering the film despite all the amazing things he does and sees. He is both serious and playful all at once, and unafraid to toss quips like Spider-Man. His fights with the Shaolin Traitor’s henchmen is terrific, especially with the scarred virgin warrior, whom he insults at every opportunity as he kicks her ass. Yen is great as Wong Kei-Ying, playing him seriously but still incorporating comedic moments for the character. His fights are fantastic, the best being the first fight with the Shaolin Traitor, and his demonstration of the Shadow Kick. Donnie really brings the foot work in this film, but the real treat may be Tsang Sze Man as Wong Fei-Hung. She really (yes, Fei-Hung is played by a girl this time out) pulls out all of the stops in the fights with the bullies and their boss, and the best being her fight with the Shaolin Traitors. The fight choreography takes real advantage of her size, and showcases her impressive skills, particularly with staff forms. Jean Wang is fantastic as Miss Orchid, and it’s funny to see her here, since she will play Aunt May, in Once Upon a Time in China 4,5, and 6. She brings a grace and beauty to the screen, and her fights are also full of grace and footwork.

This film is actually more famous than those who starred in it. It didn’t make anyone who was in this film a superstar at the time, and in the case of Donnie Yen would happen much later, but the sum is greater than the parts, and the sum is credited to Woo-Ping, who makes a fun, thrilling film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. He hits just the right beats, and each fight gets more fun than the last, culminating in a final fight on a series of burning poles with a lake of fire below that has to be seen to be believed, but Woo-Ping pulls it off. His fights help to move the story along, never stopping the advancement of the story as so many films do, and all of the characters fight according to their personalities, which is common sense to say to but not always easy to pull off, which is why Woo-Ping is truly a master of film, and Iron Monkey is one of his classics. A great intro film to those unfamiliar with Woo-Ping.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) The fights are plentiful and take many different forms, from funny to deadly, and sometimes within the same fight. Every performer gives their all in this, and it really shows. Each fight escalates, and the lyrical choreography changes notes like a symphony on a dime.

STUNTWORK: (10) Yeah, they went all out for this. There are a lot of really painful falls, and they really sold the fight scenes. Their timing on the fights are perfect, and the wire work they do is great to cring-inducingly amazing.

STAR POWER:(9) Yu Rong Guang is great here, and would go on to do films like Shanghai Noon and the new Karate Kid, but never really achieved any superstardom, but neither had Donnie Yen until the last six years, and Jean Wang would go on to do more great films, and this would be Tsang Sze Man’s only film, and she would later become a police officer, but if you only have one film, Holy crap, what a film to do!

FINAL GRADE: (10) Iron Monkey is one of the best martial arts films you could watch, and Woo-Ping created a Robin Hood story that is still readily accessible to this day with some of the best fight scenes recorded on film.

NEXT: Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson take on Roger Yuan and Yu Rong Guang in Shanghai Noon!

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Review: Bloodmoon (1997)

Posted in Darren Shahlavi, Gary Daniels with tags , , on March 21, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Gary Daniels, Darren Shahlavi, Chuck Jeffreys, Frank Gorshen

Fight Choreography by Tony Leung

Directed by Tony Leung

The film starts as a skilled boxer is ambushed and challenged by a serial killer for reasons unknown and is killed after a pretty good fight. You’ll recognize the boxer as Hakim Alston, who was first seen fighting Liu Kang in the first battle of Mortal Kombat, and one of the stars of the TV series WMAC Masters that ran in the mid- 90’s. This opening fight will pretty much spell out this film and whether you are onboard or not. The choreography is pretty good (It gets really good later), and the acting is fair, but not great.

The Killer is played by Darren Shahlavi, whom you’ll recognize as the main villain in Ip Man 2. The first thing you’ll notice is that Shahlavi is more skilled than the boxer character he played in that film, and really shows it off in this film. Anyway, the boxer is killed by a two-fingers-through-the-chest technique, and the killer escapes.

Enter cop Chuck Baker played by Eddie Mur-I mean Chuck Jeffreys, who looks like Eddie Murphy, talks like him, and sounds like him. I thought we had outlawed cloning humans? The difference here is that this guy knows martial arts. That’s right, a karate-kicking Eddie Murphy. Anyway, Baker is assigned to the case and has no leads whatsoever, and his police chief played by the Riddler himself Frank Gorshen, orders Baker to seek advice from Ken O’Hara (Daniels) the cop he replaced. We meet O’Hara as he plays with his daughter at the beach, and then has to sit her down to kick some ass when his accidently bumps into a thug and spills his Sprite, causing him and his buddies to attack O’Hara (you’ll recognize one of them as Keith Vitali) who beats all of the men down. O’Hara then delivers his daughter back to her mother just in time to meet Baker and refuse to help him, due to a traumatic experience he had long ago on his last case.

Meanwhile, the Killer goes after a Japanese Sensei, and the sword fight that ensues is the best fight in the film, full of spins and kicks and flips. What the Sensei doesn’t know is that the whole fight is being broadcast on the internet, and it takes Baker a little while before he realizes he’s watching a real fight live and not a movie, and heads there, but too late as the Sensei is killed and the dojo blown up. Unfortunately for the killer, that was O’Hara’s sensei, and along with the Sensei’s adopted daughter Kelly’s help and Baker’s, they all go after the Killer not knowing that they are all at the top of his list…

This film screams low budget 90’s martial arts film, but you can tell everyone’s having a good time. Gary Daniels has fights in this film that remind you why Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung had him in some of their late 80’s to early 90’s films. He is spectacular here. Darren Shahlavi shows off some spectacular moves and Chuck Jeffreys…is Eddie Murphy. There’s just no way around that. Chuck, go get your DNA tested, pal.

The fight scenes are choreographed and shot Hong Kong style, with wide shots for the kicks and closer shots for hand to hand. The three on one fight that takes place in Kelly’s apartment is awesome as hell, really reminding me of some of the fight scenes in the Lucky Star series (Sammo, Jackie, Yuen, and a host of HK comedians). It’s a really good fight I had to rewind to catch everything. The final fight is pretty good, but not as good as some of the earlier ones, since the final fight requires acting that no one in this film is good enough to pull off. The film does veer into WTF territory when we get a montage of Ken with his wife and kid at an amusement park that is completely unnecessary.

Yes, this is low budget, but lots of fun. Gary scores a cheesy, but fun film here.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) Tony Leung knew what he wanted here, to make an American martial arts film with HK fight styles, and it works fairly well here. The actors are up to task and do a great job. The sword fighting scene and the 3 on 1 are the best in the film.

STUNTWORK: (8) Good wirework and some good stunts by everyone, especially the stunt person for Kelly. She gets herself tossed around and through things. A lot. Yikes.

STAR POWER: (7) Gary would finally get into an A-list film with the Expendables, and Darren Shahlavi would play Twister in Ip Man 2. Both men have a bunch of other projects on the way. Chuck Jeffreys…well, look for anything starring Eddie Murphy, and there you go.

FINAL GRADE: (8) A fun, rollicking ride that reminds me of the 80’s HK films of Sammo Hung filled with great fight choreography.

Review: Blind Fist of Bruce (1979)

Posted in Bruce Li, Chaing Tao, Simon Yuen, Tiger Yueng with tags , on March 14, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Bruce Li, Simon Yuen, Chiang Tao, Tiger Yuen, Lau Chan

Fight Choreography by Lui Han Ming

Directed by Kam Bo

After Bruce Lee died, Hong Kong cinema scrambled to replace him, and by that I do mean literally replacing Bruce, with a succession of actors who looked a little–or a lot–like Bruce, and could portray his attitude. They were never chosen to play a character, they were chosen because they could imitate Bruce. Bruce Li was one of the best of these, and perhaps his career would have been better if he had been able to forge his own identity, instead of being known forevermore as a Bruce Lee clone. Movies like the Blind Fist of Bruce shows that he could have been so much more.

The film opens as a group of baddies show up at the police headquarters of a small town and insist on speaking to the Captain, and of course his officers refuse, and proceed to take an butt-kicking from a group of guys who must have the phrase “fresh off a cop’s ass” tattooed on their forearms. The Captain reveals himself, and starts jacking up the gang before their leader Wei (Tao), who beats the Captain to death. This first fight is fairly slow and plodding, and I can only imagine it was done to make Bruce Li’s fights look better, but that’s hardly needed.

Meanwhile, two thugs show up to the local bank owned by Yeh Chen(Li), a good and fair banker who shows up with his two teachers to teach the thugs a lesson. When his teachers appear, if you watch enough kung-fu films then you know Yeh’s in deep shit. Whenever you see Lau Chan in a film you know what’s gonna happen, and if you can’t place the face here it is:

You now know two things: a) this asshole will betray the hero at some point, and b) he’ll get killed (usually by a kick or punch to the chest) and explode a blood capsule in his mouth, a really big one, and bleed profusely from the mouth as he dies, which he does to perfection in pretty much every film you ever see him in.

Okay, back to the film. Yeh does beat the two thugs, and we find out later that his two teachers are fake kung fu masters who pay to have random guys get their asses kicked by Yeh so they look like they are teaching him the good stuff, when he isn’t learning shit.  (You may recognize this as being a similar plot to Yuen Biao’s Prodigal Son) So of course the baddies show up, and when Yeh tries to fight them they beat the tar out of him, and then the gang proceeds to take over the entire town. While training in more fake kung-fu, because Yeh is both smart and dense at the same time, sees one of his teachers getting schooled by a blind old beggar (Simon Yuen) but doesn’t yet see this as proof that his teachers aren’t for shit. We then see the beggar defending his niece from Wei’s  two douchy sidekicks, and the blind beggar beats them up in a fun fight, even though we know that the person fighting is a stuntman and not Simon Yuen, who is the father of legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo Ping. Simon sells everything in the scenes right before and after a fight, and that’s good enough. There’s a reason why he’s the quintessential Kung-Fu teacher in so many martial arts films.

Yeh goes back to get a rematch with Wei, and this time gets beaten so badly he is forced to sign his bank over to the gang, and fires his two teachers, who then go to Wei to join his gang (Lau Chan=betrayal. Check.) Yeh goes to the beggar and is able to convince him to teach him kung-fu, and he does so, but little does Yeh know that the real boss of the gang, Tiger, has a history with the blind beggar, and so the stage is set for revenge left, revenge right, everywhere revenge!

This is what I call a blood capsule kung-fu film, meaning that the fights can go on for days and you know when someone is actually dead for good when they bite down on that blood capsule and the blood free flows from their mouth. That’s like an indicator that yes, that dude is finally dead. The film starts out slowly and doesn’t really get going until the beggar shows up, but that’s to be expected since Bruce Li’s first few fights are fought as a guy who is learning fake kung-fu. Once he does learn from the beggar the fights get pretty good. Not as brutal as a Bruce Lee film but not that graceful, the fights do march to the beat of its own drummer thanks to Lui Han Ming’s fight choreography, which seems to have different tempos for each fight, and gives each of them a satisfying finish, which is something considering that there are a ton of fights in this film!

Bruce Li shows off great skills, and while he looks like Bruce and acts like him, Li doesn’t really try to fight like him, except in moments here and there. Chaing Tao, a veteran of many kung-fu films, does a great job as the Tiger’ second in command Wei, as does Tiger Yueng, who shows off some great forms as the main baddie.

Blind Fist of Bruce is a satisfying revenge film where everyone get’s what’s coming to them, and when the bad guy is killed they roll credits. No aftermath stuff, he dies, and it’s done. Fast food Kung-Fu at it’s best.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) Due to the story constraints the fights are stilted in the beginning, but hits everything right the rest of the way.

STUNTWORK:(8) Simon Yuen’s stuntman deserves a raise, and everyone does a great job. Lau Chan is money in the bank. Viva fake blood capsules!

STAR POWER: (8) Bruce Li’s appreciation is starting to grow as his old films are revisited. In many ways Li carried the torch until the next wave of martial arts stars.

FINAL GRADE: (8) Bruce Li was never able to escape being seen as nothing more than the best of the Bruce Lee clones, but he has made few decent martial arts films that show that he could have been so much more.

Review: Kiltro (2008)

Posted in Marko Zaror, Miguel Angel De Luca with tags , , on March 5, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Marko Zaror, Catarina Jadresic, and Miguel Angel De Luca

Fight Choreography by Marko Zaror

Directed by Ernesto Diaz Espinoza

Martial artist Marko Zaror makes his feature film debut in Kiltro, a film that has one of the slowest starts to any martial arts film I’ve ever seen, and gets better as the film goes on, but just as quickly crashes into WTF zone and never returns.

The film follows Zamir (Zaror) a young man who runs with a gang called the Kiltros who run around Chile evidently cheering Zamir on as he uses rough martial arts to beat up every jackass in town that dates Kim, and what makes this quite creepy is the fact that she isn’t his girlfriend. Not only that, but he’s been stalking her to the point that he beats the shit out of a dude for even dancing with her in a club! Meanwhile, we get glimpses of a midget running around wearing some sort of makeup looking like a super deformed Gandalf watching Zamir and whatever the hell else. You’ll be waiting until most of the way through this film before you know what he’s about. The first fight occurs when Zamir follows Kim home, and into her father’s dojo, who happens to be a Korean martial arts master, and Kim tries to get Zamir killed by mistranslating what her father is telling him and what he’s saying to him to get her father’s students to attack Zamir, who beats them all down. The fight is a good showcase of Zaror’s skills, but is stunted due to the skill level Zamir is supposed to have.  The editing here is good in some places and dodgy in others.

We come to find out that Zamir lives with his mother, and learned some martial arts from his father, who disappeared long ago without a trace. Zamir lives aimlessly, only wanting to get into random fights and hang out with the Kiltros. You’ll have to endure a lot of Zamir walking around hang-dog until he learns that Kim is dating one of the very dudes he beat the crap out of, which causes a depressed Zamir to walk the streets of Chile to a David Bowie song. I can’t even kid you about this.

The good thing is that when this scene ends, we are introduced to Max Kalba (De Luca), a martial artist who, with his two androgynous Asian sidekicks pay a visit to the local tailor, an Asian man who appears to know martial arts but is killed by Kalba too early to know how good he may have been. After this he pays a visit to the Korean master in his dojo, and beats up or kills most of his students. Of course Zamir goes in to help, and has his ass kicked out of a window. What was neat about this scene is that you see through Zamir’s eyes as he gets kicked and blacks out. You then see when he wakes up…outside. Now you know what it looks like from your perspective of getting kicked out of a window. The Kiltros come to help Zamir, but all they do is get killed, and his best buddy among them gets the worst of it when he tries to punch Kalba and Kalba uses his cane with a tiger claw hand at the end to de-testicle Zamir’s bro, and lets him lie on the ground in pain for a few seconds before finishing him off. Zamir is able to escape, thanks to that damn midget, now named Nik Nak, who is able to carry a six-foot five Chilean dude over a distance of at least a mile away to his hideout on the coast, and I  officially call bullshit on that one, because Max Kalba can’t find them, as if tracing a midget carrying a big six foot tall latin man with a mullet with red bangs on the ends on his back would be difficult!

Nik Nak sends Zamir off to find a martial arts master named Master Soto, who can teach Zamir the skills he needs to face Kalba and his men in one last battle, and learn the truth of who he really is, and why Kalba is killing off a group of martial arts masters.

This is a truly silly film that wants to be too much and in doing so becomes about nothing. They were trying to pattern the film using the plots from typical Shaw Brothers kung-fu films: Young man is raised not knowing where he gets his martial arts skills from, and is aimless until an enemy of his father’s runs around town killing off all martial arts masters, and said young man must go to the outskirts of town and learn martial arts from an old master who has unorthodox methods of teaching…and can usually be found in a seedy bar getting drunk. Once he learns he returns home to face the villain in one last battle.

Yeah, that accounts for many kung-fu films, which isn’t bad in and of itself, but the love story they tagged on was more creepy than anything else. One, the Korean girl looks all of 16 wearing that Japanese school girl outfit (!) and Marko looks to be in his twenties, and two, the way he follows her everywhere she goes. This and the fact that we have to spend the first 20 minutes of the film following this before the film actually get to the point.  Marko Zaror is a skilled fighter, and jeez, is he a big Latino!  He does show off his skills, and his acrobatics for someone his size is fantastic. His acting is fair, and he does as well as he can with the script, but the character of Zamir is not very compelling. He’s a sad sack the entire film, and Zaror never gets to show off any charm because of it.  The other actors do okay, but nothing worth mentioning.  The final series of fights are over far too quickly, but they do get to get Zaror really cut loose, but there is just not enough of it for what we had to put up with before. The final battle with Kalba barely registers as there isn’t much real fighting in it (I don’t think De Luca knows martial arts with the way they quick edit his fight scenes).

Kiltro introduces us to Marko Zaror, but isn’t the tour de force introduction that it should have been. We’ll have to wait a bit longer to see Zaror going full-out.  In this case the direction really fails him. Too many scenes look like they were filmed on a soundstage, and some of it actually does look like it was filmed for more of a stage play than a movie. The story needed to be edited down more, and spends too much time bogged down in a creepy love story.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (5) It’s not horrible, but does look like a first-timer did this, which I believe Zaror was at the time. That, and there was too little of it for a martial arts film.

STUNTWORK:(8) The stuntmen came to work on this one, and took some real hits in some places.

STAR POWER: (6) Marko will go on to much better things, but other than him, there is no one else worth mentioning. It’s unknown judging by this film how much charisma he has because of the character he plays.

FINAL GRADE: (6) This is not a good film, and not the best debut, but Marko–and Director Ernesto Espinoza– will bounce back and go on to do far better films, but you want to steer clear of this one.