Archive for August, 2011

Review: Flashpoint (2007)

Posted in Collin Chou, Donnie Yen, Wilson Yip, Xing Yu with tags , , on August 28, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Donnie Yen, Collin Chou, Louis Koo, Xing Yu, Fan Bing Bing

Fight Choreography by Donnie Yen

 Directed by Wilson Yip

Killzone finally showed that Donnie Yen was ready to take that next step up in the HK martial arts film hierarchy to have his name placed up there with Jackie Chan and Jet Li, thanks to a fantastic fight in that film with Jacky Wu Jing and Sammo Hung. Wilson Yip has a good camera eye for showcasing martial arts moves, so of course the two would team up again for a follow up. The question was whether or not they could achieve the same success again.

*There is something many may not know about the film. In many respects it is loosely a prequel to Killzone. What happened was Sammo Hung had an idea of what he wanted it to be, and Donnie Yen and Wilson Yip had a different idea. Sammo took his idea and made Fatal Move, while Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen took their idea and with it we have Flashpoint.

 

The film follows Detective Ma (Yen) and his team, who look to bust a drug and weapon smuggling ring gang led by the notorious Tony (Chou), his brother, and their crazy enforcer Tiger (Yu). What Tony doesn’t know is that one of his guys, Wilson (Koo) is actually an undercover cop, and is also Ma’s partner. Wilson is having doubts about what he’s doing, and wants to get out, but after Tony gets retribution on a former associate, things start to go downhill fast as Tony’s brother is picked up by the police, and Tony suspects an inside man in their group, and immediately accuses Wilson, and of course he’s right, and Wilson escapes with his life. Now Tony knows who he is, and will use anything he can to get Wilson to acquit his brother on the witness stand. Even if that means killing cops and even kidnapping Wilson’s girlfriend Julie (Bing bing), and Ma will have a fight to the finish to get revenge for his fallen team mates and save his friend’s life and any happiness Wilson may have left…

Flashpoint is a balls out great “ kung-fu cops” film, with enough tension as the story wisely spends as much time following Wilson’s plight as it does Ma’s. The story itself is taunt and rarely lets up, and it’s the stars of the film that have as much, if not more to do with this than the story. Donnie Yen plays Ma pretty much as he did in Killzone, as in Ma doesn’t have much of a personality except that he’s a dedicated cop who suffers from too much red tape, but that’s okay, because Louis Koo really carries the film as Wilson. He plays him perfectly as a man whose chosen profession leads to doubt as he remains undercover for far too long, and one look at Koo’s expressions and you can literally feel the danger closing in on Wilson just as he feels it. As the instigator of this danger Collin Chou hits a home run as Tony, one part fearless nut job and one part criminal mastermind, you always feel the threat of danger when Tony is on screen. It kills me that all Collin Chou could get from a hollywood film was playing Seraph in the Matrix films (He would’ve made a great Neo, or even Agent Smith). Xing Yu also does a good job as Tiger, Tony’s insane right hand man, one who isn’t afraid to kill cops or endanger children to meet his own ends.

The fight choreography and stunts are an evolution of what Donnie Yen started with Killzone, which is to take the popular martial arts and movements of the time, in this case mixed martial arts and Parkour, and to merge them with kung fu fight choreography, and in this film it works brilliantly, particularly the final fight between Chou and Yen, which is is well choreographed and looks more natural and brutal than you would see in many HK kung fu films made today. Without a doubt it’s one of the greatest martial arts fight scenes ever captured on film. Yip does a great job once again making sure the camera is in the best places to capture the fights, and the editing put it together flawlessly.

 

Flashpoint is a fun cops and robbers film that really shows that Donnie Yen is here to stay, and from the acting to the excellent production values and the fantastic final fight, this is marital arts film that will have you rewinding the fight scenes over and over.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) The majority of this grade goes to the final fight, which Chou and Yen pull off flawlessly. You’ll be burning a hole in your DVD player watching this scene again and again. Yen has successfully melded mixed martial arts and kung fu on screen.

STUNTWORK: (8) Great work done here by all involved, and Donnie Yen pulls off some really good parkour sequences.

STAR POWER: (9) Donnie Yen’s star has gone into the stratosphere, and Collin Chou is rising as well, and Louis Koo and Fan Bing Bing carry the emotional weight of the film. Xing Yu continues to shine as he did in Kung Fu Hustle and Ip Man.

FINAL GRADE: (9) A great film that continues to showcase Donnie Yen’s excellent fight choreography and moves, and all of the actors shine in a snap cracker of a crime film. Not to be missed.


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Review: Bangkok Knockout (2010)

Posted in Panna Rittikrai with tags , , on August 21, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Sosapong Chatree, Kerttisak Udomnak, Supaksorn Chiamongkol,Chatchapol Kulsiriwoottichia, Sarawoot Kumsorn, Panna Rittikrai

Fight Choreography by Sumret Muengput

Directed by Panna Rittikrai

I’m fairly sure most stunt people are nice. When they aren’t doing their stunt work, I’m sure it would be cool to have a beer with them. I’m also fairly sure the Thai people are nice as well. So why the hell Panna Rittikrai hates them so much escapes me. He seems hell bent on sending every Thai stuntman to the hospital that he can. Maybe he has family members who are doctors or something. I can safely say that this has to be one of the most insane martial arts/stuntman film ever. Panna wanted to go next level ever since Ong Bak 2 and Born to Fight, and he has.

The film starts as a group of martial arts students try out for a Hollywood producer named Mr Sinead, so they can become stuntmen on a big Hollywood action film. They are pitted against another group, and they win. That night they celebrate, but after a night of partying they wake up in a construction site where new homes and an office building are going up. The group are immediately attacked, and find out that their tryout was a ruse, and Mr. Sinead is really a thug who gets innocent people to fight for money, while a group of rich guys place bets on who lives and who dies. The main characters in the group are Pod and Joy, who recently got together much to the anger of Joy’s ex-boyfriend, who was also Pod’s best friend. That drama is played out over the course of the film as the group must fight their way to freedom, while a small group of rich guys and gals place bets on a variety of opponent the group must defeat. As the film goes forward we’ll find betrayals and revelations as to what happened, both that night when they were drugged, and what really happened with Pod and Joy…

All I have to say is…

Holy S**t.

Really.

You’ll be saying it every several seconds. It’s that insane. Panna aimed for the moon, and made it to Saturn at least. Hell, even Tony Jaa may look at this film and go ‘Hell, it’s a damn good thing I went nuts for a little bit. I want no part of that crap.’ The story is simple, pretty much nut-shelled in my synopsis above. The acting is terrible at the beginning, particularly that of Mr. Sinead, which may cause you to turn the film off, but don’t do it! After the kidnapping the film takes off at 100 miles an hour and doesn’t let up until the credits roll. The stunt work is simply astounding here, starting with the first one, a leap across a chasm by all of the main characters, who slam midair with the same number of baddies, and they all fall two stories down, with nothing but the concrete to meet them, and you see the fall and impact. Another piece of insanity involves a car running down about 20 good and bad guys in a warehouse, and what must be a record for crazy moments involves the final fight in the film, a duel between Pod and one of the main baddies under a moving big rig.

Rittikrai captures all of this beautifully, as he places each camera so they can capture each stunt it all its glory, setting the maximum cringe factor to 10. What is even more impressive is the fact that he got these people to do this crazy stuff for him. I’ll give it up to Panna, he’s unafraid, and even has a part in the film as one of the bad guys, who also happens to be the one to dish out the most punishment to the stars.

The fight scenes are also a great mix of choreography and stunts. The best fights are Pod versus a swordsman, and lo and behold there is a fight between what looks like two Choy Lay Fut fighters, in a fight that rivals anything seen in the dreadful Choy Lay Fut film that stung my eyes earlier this year. There is a good mix of styles, from Tae Kwon Do to Kung-Fu and Muay Thai.

Bangkok Knockout is a crazy classic of a Thai film that shows off the Rittikrai’s stuntmen to make one of the most insane series of fights and stunts ever seen. Born to Fight was simply a warmup for the main event, and Panna Rittikrai and his stuntmen don’t disappoint.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) The fights are well staged and complex, and all of the actors performed well. It’s very much in the style of most of Panna Rittikrai’s films, so it’s familiar, but still shows an evolution of that particular style.

STUNTWORK: (10): The stunts here will be writ into legend, at least until Rittikrai’s next film. These guys were NOT paid enough for what they did. Not a chance. Simply amazing from beginning to end.

STAR POWER: (6) The stars here are pretty much all unknown except for Kazu Patrick Tang, who starred as Jeeja Yanin’s lover in Raging Phoenix. Who knows? Remember that Tony Jaa got his start the same way as well.

FINAL GRADE: (9) This is a really fun film that is as thrilling as it is cringe-inducing. What the Thai stuntmen and women are willing to put their bodies through boggles the mind. If you like fighting and stunts in equal measure, this is a must see.


Review: Clash (2011)

Posted in Johnny Nguyen, Veronica Ngo with tags , , on August 18, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

starring Johnny Tri Nguyen, Veronica Ngo, Hoang Phuc

Fight Choreography by Johnny Tri Nguyen

 Directed by Le Thahn Son

Johnny Nguyen is having quite a career right now. After being Toby Maguire’s stuntman in Spider -Man 1 and 2, playing a thug in Cradle 2 the Grave (getting beaten up by DMX no less), he really came to the attention of martial arts film fans when he played the villainous Johnny in Tony Jaa’s The Protector and his career has since taken off after he starred in the Vietnamese hit The Rebel, and now he returns in Clash, but the real star here may be his co-star from The Rebel Veronica Ngo.

Clash is a cops and gangsters film about a young woman named Trinh, aka Phoenix (Ngo), a hard-assed woman who is working for the gangster Black Dragon (Phuc), who is trying to recover a laptop which has a defense satellite link in it to perhaps sell it to the highest bidder, and is holding Phoenix’s daughter, whom she hasn’t seen in a very long time, ransom. She is given a team of bad guys, one of which is a mysterious man named Quan (Nguyen) , to pull off the job. Things go wrong during the heist, and most of the team is killed. Things get worse after they retrieve the laptop are betrayed by on of their members, the fantastically named Cang Grenade,who intends to sell the laptop on the black market. A race to find the laptop begins, and not everyone is who they claim to be, but Trinh must get the laptop first, else her daughter will be killed…

Clash is a good action film that has a good story, and as the film goes along we learn more and more about the backstory of Quan and Trihn, and in so doing find out about their reasons for wanting the laptop. The film even has a crazy death the likes of which I’ve never seen before: a character gets killed during a gunfight because he gets distracted when a beautiful woman runs in front of him, and her bouncing breasts distract him, and POW! Game over! How jacked up is that? Johnny Tri Nguyen is good as Quan, a typical brooding anti-hero, but Johnny has some nuances in his performance, but the real star here is Veronica Ngo. She brings a toughness that none of the other men in the film seem to have, but at the same time has a tortured soul that shows she’s got some good range. Hoang Phuc is a right bastard as Black Dragon, and seems impervious to everything until the end, which was also kinda crazy as far as the story goes. The entire film Black Dragon seems to be this unstoppable martial arts badass whom suddenly becomes stoppable at the end simply because the story demands it. It somehow belittles any victories won by the heroes.

The fight choreography is pretty solid, not spectacular, but has some good moments, such as the forest brawl and the ware house fight. Ngo has a good command of action in these scenes, and really shows off her stuff, and just like many films nowadays mixes kung fu (or whatever style) with mixed martial arts. Johnny brings his A game to the film. There is no real great one-on-one fights, but the multiple opponent fights are good. The final two fights are really good, but not great. They’re missing that little something I can’t quite put my finger on. The camera work sometimes has a hard time keeping up with the movements, and even cuts heads off because it’s too close in some scenes.

Clash continues to show that Vietnamese action films are growing and getting better and better, and Johnny Tri Nguyen is getting better with them, and Veronica Ngo is joining the ranks of female martial arts film stars such as Jeeja Yanin. In fact, wouldn’t that make a cool fight between them? Powers that be, make it happen!

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) The fight scenes are very well done, and the final fights are good, but are missing an edge to make them better. Nguyen does a good job staging them for the street-like feel. The camerawork could have been a bit better. Maybe it’s more a matter of style than mistake.

STUNTWORK: (7) Nothing crazy here, but it’s all well done.

STAR POWER: (8) Johnny Tri Nguyen is getting better with each film, and Veronica Ngo is rising up the ranks of martial arts film stars quickly.

FINAL GRADE: (8) A solid martial arts film that has some good moments and continues to show that Vietnamese action cinema is prepared to take its place alongside other countries who have seen an explosion of martial arts badassery in the last few years.


Review: Undisputed 3: Redemption (2010)

Posted in Isaac Florentine, Larnell Stovall, Lateef Crowder, Marko Zaror, Scott Adkins with tags , , , , on August 15, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Scott Adkins, Marko Zaror, Lateef Crowder, Mykel Shannon Jenkins, Mark Ivanir

 Fight Choreography by Larnell Stovall

 Directed by Isaac Florentine

Undisputed 2 was one of those rare films that, even though it was a DTV film, was actually much better than the film it came from, and before you know it, the names Michael Jai White and Scott Adkins bounced to the forefront of DTV cinema. Both men have bided their time in smaller rolls, and this film announced that they were ready for bigger things. In the character of Yuri Boyka Scott Adkins created one of the best martial arts character in years. The question was whether or not Adkins could carry a film on his own.

The film picks up a few months after George Mason jacked up Boyka’s leg in Undisputed 2. Boyka has been disgraced ever since, and seems to be shadow of himself so much that even his former promoter Gaga (Ivanir) barely recognizes him. When it rains it pours for Boyka as he is turned down for parole and is told he can try again in 15 years. Boyka basically says to hell with this, and wants to enter a tournament where the winner is freed from prison. Boyka tears through Gaga’s new guy Psycho, and is sent to another prison where the fights will be held, and meets an assortment of people, including Turbo (Jenkins), an American boxer not unlike George Mason, with more attitude and cockiness. The big dog in the yard is a druggie nutjob named Raul Quinones, who is the reigning champion. Boyka must fight his way through various opponents, corrupt guards, and even the rules of the tournament itself in order to face Raul and win his freedom, or he will face his death. For Boyka it’s no problem because as he says:

“I am the most complete fighter in the world.”

Undisputed 3 once again is better than the film that came before it. Adkins does a great job as Boyka, a man who was a mysterious character in Undisputed 2, and remains so at the end of 3. They leave the speculations as to his character and why he was sent to prison in the first place in just the right places. Boyka isn’t an animal, nor is he a bad guy, which he really wasn’t in the previous film. He’s the same person here, and even shows that he does have a heart, and respects good fighters. Mykel Shannon Jenkins does a good job as Turbo. He has only one major fight, but he does well there. He exists in the plot to bring out the humanity that Boyka has, which isn’t much, but it’s there. Marko Zaror must have an affinity for playing kooks, as he plays another character who is a few french fries short of a happy meal just like his character in Kiltro, albeit much more deranged here, but to see Marko really cut loose in a way he hasn’t been able to so far…wow. No dude that big should be able to move like that. My favorite character in this series never fails to disappoint: Gaga. Yes, he’s a killer. Yes, he’s a bad guy, but damn it if he isn’t charming and funny at the same time. He always seems a step ahead of everyone else, and seems to know Boyka better than most. Mark Ivanir does a great job balancing Gaga’s funny side and his serious one, and yes, Gaga still loves his fast food, even though he has to live on carrots and celery now.

Isaac Florentine once again shows why he’s the top dog in DTV land when it comes to martial arts films. The camera placement and editing for the fight scenes are note-perfect, and he gets the most out of every fight, and even the slower scenes are directed well as he knows when to get out of the way and let the actors do their thing. Of course, none of this matters if the fights are good, and here is where the film truly shines. Larnell Stoval has become a very sought after fight choreographer, and after this film you’ll see why. The fights are really full of fast, complex movements that are really reminicent of late 80’s- early 90’s Sammo Hung films. The best fights are Adkins versus Lateef Crowder (can this guy ever win a fight against anyone of note in movies? Between this film, Tekken and Tony Jaa’s The Protector this dude seems to be the best fighter in the world to barely ever win a fight.) and the final fight between Adkins and Zaror, which is full of acrobatic WTF, and fantastic moves for each man. Stoval has the fight “conversation”of mid-80’s Honk Kong films down and it all looks both fast and pretty, and damn brutal.

Undisputed 3 is without a doubt a fantastic martial arts film, and Florentine and Adkins keep trucking along. Sooner or later Hollywood is going to figure out what these gentlemen truly have to offer. Whether they do or not, martial arts fans know exactly what we have in them. When it comes to English language martial arts films, they’re the top dogs. Just like Yuri Boyka.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) What a great way for Larnell Stoval to introduce himself to the world with. The fights have some MMA movements (not unlike what Donnie Yen has been working with in his modern-day films) but have some spectacular acrobatics and long sections of continuous fighting. The edits are perfect.

STUNTWORK: (8) Everyone does a great job, spinning and tossing themselves left and right. Nothing crazy, but some of these hits you KNOW these guys took were great. Reactions to hits are an art form unto themselves, and they it well here.

STAR POWER: (9) Scott Adkins’ star is climbing, and I think Marko Zaror’s not far behind him. Lateef does his normal awesome stuff.

FINAL GRADE: (9) Someone finally supplanted Bloodsport as the best tournament martial arts film ever made. Adkins’ Boyka is a fantastic character, but the real star here is Larnell Stoval and his fight choreography.

NEXT: Johnny Nguyen and Veronica Ngo are out to kick ass in Clash!

Iron Monk Teaser (In Production 2012)

Posted in Jason Ninh Cao, Yanzi Shi on August 7, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Here is a very promising independent martial arts film that will go into production next year, titled the Iron Monk, about a peaceful shaolin monk who tries to spread a message of peace and zen in Chinatown, London, which brings him to the attention of the local Triads who attempt to destroy the monk and his peaceful teachings once and for all, and a battle for the soul of Soho Chinatown begins.

The film is being produced by veteran stuntman and actor Jason Ninh Cao (Snatch, Blitz) who also stars in the film, and the main lead is 34th generation Shaolin Master Yanzi Shi with fight choreography by Vincent Wang (the upcoming 47 Ronin and Batman Begins). The film is directed by Mat Sunderland.

This really looks promising, and film company JNC Productions looks to use this film to announce themselves as a company ready to compete in the realm of martial arts films. As the film goes into production I’ll update you fine folks on the status of it, and I’ll try to see if I can do a little Q & A with Jason Ninh Cao as the project ramps up. Thanks to reader Mikeoutwest for the heads up! For now, check out the trailer below,  and let me know what you think in the comments!

Review: Black Belt (2007)

Posted in Akihito Yagi, Tatsuya Naka, Yuji Suzuki with tags , on August 5, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Japanese Karate films have been around for a long time, but few of them truly capture the karate that comes from old lineages, and the practitioners typically come from watered-down versions of true Japanese karate. Black Belt attempts to solve this by presenting a cast of characters whose actors are actual black belts coming from old lineages. However, that doesn’t guarantee a good film. So how good is Black Belt?

Pretty darn good, but not without its problems.

The film opens in 1932 at the Shibahara Eikan Karate school, where Sensei Eikan trains his three black belts: the headstrong and aggressive Taikan (Naka), the good but not-quite-good-enough Choei (Suzuki), and Giryu (Yagi), the student who tries to live by Eikan’s teachings of self-defense only. Their studies are interrupted when a Japanese army battalion led by Captain Tanihara arrives and tries to take over the school as a training facility for the army. Taikan refuses to leave the school and challenges the soldiers to a duel inside the dojo, in which the students claim a short-lived victory. Shortly afterward Eikan dies, and charges Choei with being the one to decide who gets the Kuro-Obi (black belt). Soon the soldiers return, and the students are forced to leave. While on the road being escorted away, the two teenage children of Tanihara come seeking revenge, as Tanihara committed seppuku for not defeating Giryu,  and in their attempt to do so injure Giryu and cause him to fall off a cliff into the waters below, escaping both the army and the children of Tanihara.

The story now becomes the tale of Giryu, who is haunted by the death he inadvertently caused, and is trying to protect a small family that revived him after his fall and keep his promise to never attack his opponents. On the flip side, Taikan starts to teach the army karate, and becomes corrupted by wine and women and power as he goes to each karate school and challenges the school Sensei to a duel and kills each one of them, which turns the school over to the army. It seems that no one can stop Taikan, but even he knows that to get the Kuro-Obi, he must face and kill his fellow karate brother Giryu…

Black Belt has a good story that emphasized the spirit of Japanese Karate, and both Giryu and Taikan represent karate–and martial arts–in different ways. Taikan is an aggressive fighter, not afraid to jump into any fray, and typically kills his opponent, while Giryu only uses karate for defense only–never to attack, which he doesn’t need to as his blocking destroys the limbs of his opponent enough that he doesn’t have to kick or punch them anyway. The story does have one or two moments of coincidence that’s hard to ignore, like in one scene where Giryu is beaten by a local gang, and the boy he’s helping runs to a brothel than Taikan happens to be visiting at the time. We also don’t get to really know Giryu or Taikan beyond what they symbolize. Even with that, the story still manages to make you care about what happens to Giryu.

The cinematography by Masato Kaneko is beautiful in so many scenes, particularly the opening of the film that shows the black belts training. He is able to shoot the fight scenes from good angles, even some overhead ones, and the camera expertly captures the movements of the combatants without any quick edits. The film also features a great orchestra score that’s haunting and has an easy theme to remember. All of the main stars do a great job, considering that this is the first film for all of them. Once again, they are all real black belts.

The fight choreography is different if you are a fan of Hong Kong films, as the fights are very direct and doesn’t have a lot of dance-like choreography, but the fights are still fun to watch, especially the opening fights between the students and the soldiers, and the fight between Taikan and a Sensei from a dojo that teaches a similar karate style. The final fight between Taikan and Giryu starts out very good, but it is here they make a terrible decision: the first is to suddenly go into black and white for no reason, and the second was to have them roll around in the mud for the climax of their fight. All momentum the film has gathered to this point fizzles out as we are left with two dudes rolling around in the mud. The end of the film features Akihito Yagi going through his kata.

Black Belt is not a perfect film, but it is a good one that showcases pure karate in a way that hasn’t been seen since Sonny Chiba’s films.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) The fights are exact and really shows the power of karate, and no fights last too long, as most opponents can only withstand a blow or two. The final fight really disappoints after such a large buildup. This seems to have been an artistic decision that backfires, in my opinion.

STUNTWORK: (7) The stuntmen did an adequate job with the punches and kicks and the choreography. The did take a few spills that looked bad.

STAR POWER: (5) For all three of the main actors this was their first film. It’s too early to see where their careers go since they are martial artists first, not actors.

FINAL GRADE: (7) Black Belt is a good karate film that has a decent story that is derailed by a so-so ending. The karate fighting, at least until the end, is top notch.