Archive for April, 2011

Review: Blood And Bone (2009)

Posted in Bob Sapp, JJ Perry, Kimbo Slice, Matt Mullins, Michael Jai White, Robert Wall, Ron Yuan with tags , , on April 28, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Michael Jai White, Eamonn Walker, Nona Gaye, Julian Sands,

Dante Basco, Bob Sapp, Kimbo Slice, Matt Mullins, Ron Yuan

Fight Choreography by JJ Perry and Fernando Chien

Directed by Ben Ramsey

Michael Jai White is one of those mysteries that Hollywood hasn’t figured out yet, but fans and martial arts enthusiasts have been waiting for “MJW” to finally star in a film of his own, and somewhere out the there martial arts gods were listening to us, and gave us Undisputed 2, which finally gave MJW the starring film he deserved. It was a huge success on DTV, and MJW follows it up with this film. Can he keep the momentum going?

To quote one random line from the film, “That Bones is the truth!”

The film tells the story of Bone (MJW), a man just released from prison, whom we know from the first fight at the beginning of the film that he’s a martial arts badass who can beat the tar out of Kimbo Slice and a group of unfortunate henchmen who weren’t aware that attacking Bone meant losing both their dignity–and their teeth.

He soon arrives at a boarding home, where he is taken in by Tamara (Gaye) and it’s apparent that he’s there for a reason that won’t be explained until much later. That night he attends an underground fight tournament where he sees a fighter named the Cowboy getting his butt whipped by the HammerMan (Sapp), and Bone uses the beat down to get Cowboy’s promotor Pinball (Basco) to get him into a fight, where Bone obliterates his opponent, and brings him , and after a few fights is brought to the attention of The Hammerman’s promotor James, a street kingpin who is looking to move up to a group called the Consortium, of which his boss Franklin McVeigh (Sands) is a member. And yes, they sound like James Bond villains, but never mind that. Of course, I always viewed Julian Sands as a Bond villain. Score one for MJW’s crew for figuring that one out first!

This is what Bone wants, although it will be midway through the film before we see why, which actually helps keep the story interesting. Bone is offered to join James, by fighting in a special bout financed by the Consortium against their best fighter, Pretty Boy Price (Mullins), considered to be the best in the world. Bone has other plans that involves James’s girl Angela, who has a secret connected with Bone that not even she is aware of until later.

Soon all of Bone’s plans come to fruition, and he had foreshadowed this to James earlier in the film when he quoted Genghis Khan:

I am the punishment of God. And if you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.

Now that is some badass shit to say, ‘cause Genghis Khan was the original badass who said it, and you better be one to use it. Unfortunately James didn’t really put this bit of logic together, else he would have retired early, say, to Siberia.

Bone finally faces off with Price, and James has one last confrontation with Bone, and the results are not what you might expect…

Blood and Bone is a fun film that somewhat hearkens back to the heights of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s popularity, and share some story beats with his own film Lionheart.  MJW owns this role, exuding a great deal of screen presence along with some well-acted scenes. He never portrays Bone as some sort of unstoppable badass, but as a very intelligent man who has a plan, and intends to keep his plan and his promise to a friend. He has a spirituality to himself that is shown in his martial arts, as he never applies more force than what’s necessary to defeat his opponent. In a great montage scene of his fights he also shows that he knows Tai Chi, and it is this form he uses to defeat James at the end. Eamonn Walker also does a fantastic job as James. He plays him as a sociopathic street kingpin with delusions of believing that he is above the thugs he employs, but in reality is a worse monster, and there are some really good moments where he states that he doesn’t curse because it makes man barbaric, but then curses a bunch toward the end when things start to unravel. He becomes what he thought he wasn’t. All of the rest of the cast, particularly Dante Basco as Pinball and Ron Yuan (yep, little brother of  Roger Yuan (Shanghai Noon)) add some hip-hop flavor to the proceedings.

The fights are stand out here. The first few fights show what is in Bone’s mind, how he sees his opponent, and his fight against the Hispanic gang that won’t pay up is fantastic. The 4-man jump kick was astounding. I don’t know how MJW does it. No one that big should be able to do that, but he can. His fight with Bob Sapp is also good, but quick, which is appropriate given the circumstances and his opponent, and holy crap is Bob Sapp scary! The final fight between MJW and Matt Mullins is fantastic, as each fighter sizes up the other, and the choreography is fluid and smooth, and really allows both men to shine.

Ben Ramsey does a great job staging the fights, keeping the camera at good angles so we can see the action, and not quick-cut editing the film to hell. The film also has some good references for those who love martial arts films. In the final fight look for Robert Wall (Enter the Dragon) as one of the Consortium members throwing MJW a sword as McVeigh yells out his name “O’Hara!” I actually laughed out loud at that scene. Sands does a great Shih Kein impersonation!

Blood and Bone is a fun martial arts film that finally allows MJW to cut loose and show us what he can do, and he puts it all together here, the acting, the fighting, the humor. It’s all there, and well worth watching. Also, watch the credits at the end to see James meet a fate that may be worse than death…

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) JJ Perry and Co do a great job staging these fights, and they have a good mix of MMA and traditional martial arts. The final fight between Bone and Price is fantastic. Matt Mullins and MJW really get a chance to show off  their stuff.

STUNTWORK: (8) Good stuff from everyone involved, especially the other fighters, whom I believe are all the real deal.

STAR POWER: (10) Michael Jai White really gets to put himself out there, and it works. Since then his slate has gotten really, really full, so good on him! Eamonn Walker, Bob Sapp  Matt Mullins, Dante Basco, Ron Yuan , Julian Sands and Kimbo Slice all give good contributions to a good film. Hey, so does Robert Wall!

FINAL GRADE: (9) MJW delivers another great martial arts film. I’m glad he’s taken his career into his own hands. Now how about a sequel? Bone did tell McVeigh he would see him later…

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Review: Chocolate (2008)

Posted in Jeeja Yanin, Panna Rittikrai, Prachya Pinkaew, Reviews with tags , , on April 18, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jeeja Yanin, Hiroshi Abe, Pongpat Wachirabunjong, Ammara Siripong

Fight Choreography by Panna Rittikrai

Directed by Prachya Pinkaew

God bless Panna Rittikrai, for wanting to grab the no-holds-barred stunt work that hasn’t been seen since the 80’s Jackie Chan films. You know the ones, where every other moment is followed by an “Ow! That had to hurt!” or “Did you see THAT? G*** DAMN!” Along with Prachya Pinkaew they were able to get Tony Jaa on the map with Ong Bak, and show off just how crazy Thai stuntmen and women could be with Born To Fight. Tony Jaa, at the time, was the answer to the question of who would be the next big martial arts film star? The next question became, “so who would be the next big female martial arts star? What no one knew was that both men already had the answer to that, and it came in the form of a pint-sized button-cute college girl who also happens to be a Tae Kwon Do black belt, whom they tasked with a larger job than Tony’s: show of a bevy of martial arts skills in some fantastically choreographed fights and act your ass off so people will believe your character is autistic. Jeeja Yanin proves she’s up to the task.

Chocolate refers to the chocolate that Zen (Yanin), an autistic girl who lives with her mother, eats while watching Tony Jaa and Bruce Lee films. What even her mother doesn’t realize is that Zen’s autistic nature has made her a martial arts savant, able to watch martial artists practice at the dojo next door and be able to copy their movements exactly. The film opens with a flashback where we meet A yakuza operative named Mushashi (Abe) and his dealings with local Thai boss No. 8 (Wachirabunjong) or more to the point, his dealings with No 8’s main squeeze Zin (Siripong). They start an affair behind 8’s back, and sire a child, the aforementioned Zen. Both agree to stay away from each other as Zin goes on the run with Zen, and Mushashi returns to Japan.

Zin is found by 8 a few years later, and leaves with a piece of Zin as a warning. Many years later we meet the teenage Zen, and discover that Zin is suffering from cancer, and is running low on money to pay for the treatments. Zen’s friend Moom discovers a book that has a list of names of people who owe Zin money, or so they believe. They go to retrieve the money, not understanding the tragic events they’ve sent into motion by doing so. Every fight in the film comes from their attempts to collect the money from the various businesses that owe it. 8 finds out Zin’s location, and Mushashi must leave the Yakuza to save a daughter he’s never met and his true love, and it becomes a desperate fight to the finish for Zen to save the only thing she truly knows…her family.

Chocolate is a really different kind of martial arts film story. Yes, it does revolve around revenge, as so many do, but there’s more to it than that. The story at its core is a Romeo and Juliet tragedy, except Romeo and Juliet had a badass mentally challenged kid. The film reminds us that Mushashi and Zin are not good guys, or even nice people necessarily. The fact that we actually care about them is a testament to the terrific acting job they do, and the script. Perhaps they fight for Zen so much because she represents the one good thing they ever did? Not that Zen needed their help. Jeeja does a fantastic job, and bear in mind that the majority of her moves are Muay Thai, which she had to learn for this film.

The first real fight takes place in an ice factory, which gives a small taste of the mayhem that’s to follow, and follow it does, from terrific fight in a warehouse very reminiscent of Sammo Hung fight choreography, and an absolutely terrific fight inside a meat factory, which is impressive because the stuntmen do these stunts without wearing shirts, and you can feel the pain more since you know they aren’t wearing any sort of padding underneath. The final fight is stunning, starting with Zen versus two women and a guy on a rooftop to a fight inside a dojo against dozens of 8’s dumbass goons (why, o why do henchmen keep running in to fight when they just saw their five buddies before them get their asses kicked…rather easily? If they were my guys, they would be made to take tests in situational awareness.), and a fight with an epileptic fighter who uses a form of break dancing/capoeria, and finally her fight on the side of a three story building where she faces more logic-challenged goons and then 8 himself.  The dojo fight is an amazing display of choreography and movement. Panna Rittikrai goes all out for this one in a way that’s more impressive than Ong Bak. The fighting is more varied, and the challenges for Zen changes with each fight.

Jeeja Yanin is a true star in the making. She not only can perform the complex moves that Rittikrai had for her, deal with numerous injuries on a Jackie Chan level, but she was able to become a convincing autistic girl the entire film, even during the fights. She has the charisma to go far. Her film choices will always be what will ultimately sink or swim her career, but she has what it takes to be a star for her generation. Hiroshi Abe does a great job as her father as well, and his sword fight at the end is great, with an even greater start. Why sword fight when you’ve got a gun?

Prachya Pinkaew once again shows he knows how to direct a martial arts feature. The camera is dynamic but knows what angles to take and when to sit still. He loves to show the full movements of the fighters, not Bourne Identity-style camera work so prevalent in films today. Next to Jeeja herself are the stuntmen, who really gave it their all here. The Jackie Chan-style outtakes at the end of the film tell the story.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) Every fight builds to the finale, which is an orgy of precise fight choreography and movement. Jeeja was spectacular, the dojo finale was fantastic.

STUNTWORK:(10) I hope they paid these guys well…really well. They went all out for this one, and made sure you cringe at ever fall and kick/punch they take. The meat factory scene was fantastic. It could not have been easy. The out takes show what pains they went through as much as it shows Jeeja’s.

STAR POWER:(8) Jeeja shows here she has what it takes to become a big star. What happens next is up to her. Since Tony Jaa joined the monk hood, it’s just her and Dan Chupong in Thailand for right now.

FINAL GRADE: (9) Chocolate is a great martial arts film that has a good story as well as great fight scenes. Jeeja has the makings of the next big thing. Be sure to watch the outtakes during the closing credits to see what Jeeja and the stuntmen went through for your entertainment!

Review: The Fists of Bruce Lee (1978)

Posted in Bruce Li, Chaing Tao with tags , on April 11, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Bruce Li, Lo Lieh, Chiang Tao, Chuan Yuan

Fight Choreography by Fei Lung Huang

Directed by Bruce Li

There are some actors who can become directors, and show an entirely new side of themselves, and show that they too have a vision and something to say within their films. They aim for greatness and reach it. Many martial arts stars have gone behind the camera to produce some interesting films, and even interesting failures. This…IS NOT ONE OF THOSE FILMS.

The movie opens with a “what the hell is this?!” moment, as we see a bunch of dudes I can only assume are the bad guys, primarily because Chaing Tao is there, and he’s usually a bad guy in most films he’s in, like this one . One old dude gets pissy when some young women tells him to take his pills, and so far we don’t know what the hell that means or who they are, and we see that just outside the mansion some poor bastard trying to sneak around, not knowing the woods he’s walking through are full of traps using yard equipment they MacGuyver up to jack any dude who sneaks around. Sure enough one of the traps get him, and then we cut to the opening credits during which Bruce Li shows off some Wing Chun moves with a blue background behind him and his training partner. Afterward, a women walks in to give him a telegram. I was flabbergasted to note that the women never questioned why the hell they chose to practice in a room the color of a smurf. I wondered more about what the rest of his house looked like rather than the nondescript telegram he receives.

The telegram gives Mr. Lee a mysterious message that leads him to take a plane flight to Hong Kong, where he is met by Mr. Outpuss, whatever the hell that name is, who takes him to the Hotel Kowloon, but Lee soon discovers the he and the men with him are not the men he was meant to see, therefore they earn a beat down in the hotel hallway.  What kills me is that after he beats them up, he leaves to find out what’s going on, rather than question the two unconscious a-holes lying on the ground in front of him! Lee goes to a nightclub, where he meets his real contact, but that’s short lived as his contact is killed while Lee was checking out a suspicious character in the club.

After this we learn that Lee was summoned to Hong Kong by his agency to spy on Master Pol, whose life is in danger from two drug cartels who want a list Po has of each member of each cartel, and Lee infiltrates Master Po’s home to find this list and somehow protect Po and his daughter by posing as a security specialist.

That night Lee gets attacked for reasons I still can’t fathom as he goes to meet one of the drug cartels. He defeats his attackers easily, and hears the offer the cartel makes to him so he will get Po’s list from him…by force. Lee wants to think it over, and the cartel leaders aren’t really keen on that, and sends a group of guys to teach him a lesson, and he beats the tar out of them until one guy gets the bright idea to toss some chalk dust in Lee’s face to blind him. They star giving Lee the business, but he’s then saved by…I shit you not, Napoleon Dynamite. No joke, a dude who looks like Napoleon Dynamite flies in and beats the tar out of Lee’s attackers. He and his mates are part of the rival cartel, and Lee agrees to help them kidnap Po’s daughter so he’ll give the list to them. He agrees with them, and uses both cartels to destroy one another until Lee is left to finish off the leaders of both cartels in a fight to the finish.

First off, after this film was over, I still didn’t know what the hell I watched. Not that I’m a fan of exposition, but if any film needed it, this one did. Both cartels make decisions that would lave you scratching your head, double-crosses and fake deaths, and all for this list that makes me go “so what the hell was the point with the list?” By the end of the film both cartels have had nearly ever member killed, which makes that list a little irrelevant now.  And one other note, as one cartel lord proves, guys with pot bellies really should not try to rock the tight turtleneck shirt. That is a lesson well learned in this film. Unfortunately it’s the only one.

I wish I had something nice to say about Bruce Li’s direction, but I can’t do it. This is a terribly directed film, starting with the acting, which is about at the level of a junior high school stage production. I don’t know what producer though it would be a good idea to let Bruce direct this film, but that jackass was probably living under a bridge after this disaster of a film came out. The editing is terrible, cutting entire bits of dialogue out, and the soundtrack uses the tracks from other films like Enter the Dragon and the James Bond theme. I know the film had a small budget, but damn, can a brother get some synthesizer or piano in here? Yes, the Average White Band was good, but c’mon! The story is even worse, as characters aren’t fleshed out, and we have no idea why the cartels make the decisions they do, and why Lee even cares. There is also this insane-ass twist involving one of the villains towards the end that will make you go WTF?! Nothing in the film would lead you to believe this was coming, and it just feels like it was shoehorned in at the last minute.

The one saving grace should have been the fight choreography, but my goodness, it was terrible. The movements are slow and plodding, and underwhelming and I know Bruce is better than that, ‘cause I’ve seen it in other films.  The best martial artist in the whole film…is Napoleon Dynamite. He actually brings some energy to the proceedings, and the best fight in the film is between him and Bruce Li. Their movements really “spoke” to each other.

Bruce Li deserves recognition as something more than a Bruce Lee clone, but this film is incredibly forgettable and won’t help him shed that label.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (2) Except for Napoleon Dynamite, it was terrible. No excitement, no innovation, and mostly no heart from the performers. There was no imagination to any of the fights. Just dreadful.

STUNTWORK: (4) Bad stuff except for some good acrobatics.

STAR POWER: (3) Bruce Li and Chiang Tao. Not nearly good enough to save this mess of a film.

FINAL GRADE: (2) This is one terrible Bruce Li film that sorely needed a budget and a good writer. Hopefully Li will not direct again. Save your eyes and money and avoid at all costs. Yikes!

Review: Shanghai Noon (2000)

Posted in Jackie Chan, Roger Yuan, Yu Rong Guang, Yuen Biao with tags , on April 1, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Lucy Lui, Roger Yuan, Walter Goggins, Yu Rong Guang

Fight Choreography by Yuen Biao

Directed by Tom Dey

After the success of Rush Hour Hollywood was eager to get Jackie Chan back on the big screen. Of course since they deemed his english wasn’t good he needed to be teamed up with another English-speaking actor (Jackie’s english is just fine), and Jackie  had an idea about doing an american western for a while, which there is some debate about, since Sammo Hung claims he came up with the idea first, which would result in Once Upon A Time in China part 6. It was simply a question of who would reach the finish line first. The producers of Rush Hour liked Jackie’s idea and brought in Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (creators of Smallville), brought in a relatively unknown director in Tom Dey, and at that time a rising star in Owen Wilson. Would this be another Rush Hour film?

Thankfully, the answer to that is hell no.

The film begins in the Forbidden City, circa 1881, as Princess Pei Pei (Liu) arrives in what will be an arranged marriage to a local lord, so of course he looks more like an Asian John Candy , so you know that ain’t gonna work for girlfriend, and so, with the help of her english teacher, she runs away to the USA. The only one to see her is a lowly Imperial guard named Chon Wang (Chan) who dreams of being more than what he is, which is a shitty guard since he lets Princess Pei Pei escape. The Imperial magistrate receives a ransom demand for the return of the princess, and sends the ransom gold along with Chon, his uncle, and three other imperial guards. Fast forward to seven weeks later, and the guards are on a train heading toward Carson City Nevada, where the gold is to be delivered, and the audience really gets a taste of the rich cinematography that will permeate the entire film.

Soon the train is boarded by bandits led by Roy O’Bannon (Wilson) a carefree hippie bandit who is more in love with the romance of being a bandit than actually being one. Things go wrong when his newest gang member Wallace (Goggins) shoots Chon’s Uncle. Chon goes after Roy and his gang, and foils their plan to steal a safe full of money, and finds himself in the middle of nowhere after he separates the train car, and Roy finds himself in more trouble when Wallace double-crosses Roy and takes over the gang.

Meanwhile, Princess Pei Pei arrives at a rock mill, and her teacher delivers her to Lo Fong (Yuan), a traitor who used to be an imperial guard. Of course the greedy teacher wants more money, and you would think that after thousands of films made these guys would just learn to take the damn money and go, but not this douchebag. And of course, right from the Villain’s Handbook Fong quickly dispatches the teacher, and reveals to Princess Pei Pei that she is being held ransom for gold.

Soon Chon finds himself in the American wilderness, and his first real fight is a doozy against a band of Native Americans, which starts seriously but becomes comedic halfway through, which is appropriate in the terms of the fight scene. After Chon gains a wife in a hilarious scene right out of a Mel Brooks film, he travels to a nearby town and meets Roy O’Bannon again, and an old fashioned bar fight ensues, put through a Jackie Chan blender of great fight choreography. Soon Roy and Chon become allies for difference reasons to save the Princess and stop Lo Fong and his hired goons from winning the day, and discover what their true calling in life is…

Okay, this may be somewhat of a mini-rant I promised back in my review from Rush Hour, but what the hey. This movie is the anti-Rush Hour for so many reasons. For one, this is an actual Jackie Chan film, through and through. He’s the center of everything, and Owen Wilson, unlike Chris Tucker, is content to share the screen with Jackie, not trying to steal away every scene. Of course, it helps when the director doesn’t have an agenda other than to make a good Jackie Chan film (Yeah, that’s at you, Ratner. You’ve done nothing more than to make Jackie second fiddle in his own film to promote your boy Tucker.) Ratner used Jackie to get himself and Tucker into the big time, and  Jackie became more and more a secondary character as the Rush Hour films go on.

Also unlike Rush Hour there is Jackie Chan-style action galore here, and moves in cadence with many of Jackie’s HK films. The best fights being the fight versus the Native Americans, the bar room brawl, and the next-to-last fight, which actually gives us what real JC fans want, a martial arts fight of Jackie Chan versus the Iron Monkey himself, Yu Rong Guang. Rush Hour’s martial arts finale? Jackie trying to hold a vase upright, which was fun, but please. You can easily see that director Tom Dey actually understands what a Jackie Chan movie actually is, which is comedy mixed with serious scenes, great stunts, and fantastic JC fight choreography, cadenced at the opening, middle, and end of the film. It’s apparent that despite the films he’s claimed to have seen, Ratner doesn’t know a damn thing about a Jackie Chan film. End of rant. At least until I get to review Rush Hour 2 and 3. Then I go nuts. I may need blood pressure pills for those.

The film is also full of veterans of martial arts films, especially Roger Yuan, a favorite actor in many Jet Li films, and funny enough he’s also in Jet’s competing east meets western, OUATIC part 6. He makes a great villain, and his two fight scenes with Jackie are good enough to show that he’s a threat that could actually beat Chon Wang. Lucy Lui does a good job as the Princess, and shows a great inner strength as the film progresses. Wilson also does a great job being, really, Jackie’s sidekick, which actually gets made fun of throughout the film. Jackie and Owen have a natural chemistry that seems forced in the Rush Hour films. Yuen Biao does a great job with the fight choreography, and look for him onscreen as a servant who loads rocks into Pei Pei’s basket.

Yu Rong Guang doesn’t get to do much, but his final fight with Jackie is a showpiece of weapon forms. Of course last but not least is Jackie himself, who does a great acting job as Chon Wang, his fight scenes are as good as ever, but what you’ll really note is how comfortable Jackie looks onscreen. He’s more confident here than he ever was in Rush Hour. I give a lot of credit of that to the writers and the director.

Shanghai Noon is a great Jackie Chan film that really encapsulates everything that makes JC so great, and is just a fun western to boot. Except for having an Uncle Cracker song, no wrong notes on this one. With the exception of one other film, this is the best of Jackie’s American output.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) Yuen Biao does a great job mixing the western aesthetics with with the staples of a Jackie Chan fight scene. Roger Yuan does a great job with his fight scenes as does Yu Rong Guang. The fight vs the native americans is great.

STUNTWORK: (9) Jackie Chan speaks for himself, but the other stunt performers not part of the JC stunt team really sells everything, especially in the bar room brawl, and the escape from the gallows.

STAR POWER: (9) Jackie’s finally made a Jackie Chan movie in America, and Owen Wilson would go on to more hit films, Lucy Liu would go on to do Charlie’s Angels, and Walter Goggins is one of the stars of the TV series Justified.

FINAL GRADE: (9) An American film that can truly be called a Jackie Chan film at last. A classic western in its own right, with a fun, relatable story and great characters in Chon Wang and Roy O’Bannon.