Archive for September, 2011

Fantastic Shorts: No Rest for the Wicked and The Legend of the Mighty Soap!

Posted in Ray Park with tags on September 30, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

No Rest for the Wicked

Starring Ray Park, Zachary Levi, Malcolm McDowell and Kane Hodder

Written and Directed by Ryan Schifrin

This short film is actually an adaptation of a graphic novel written and directed by Ryan Schifrin, the son of Lalo Schifrin, composter of Enter the Dragon and Rush Hour, and composes this film as well. The story picks us up in the middle of an adventure as Basil (Park), a queens guard during the day and thief at night, is in the middle of a heist with his partner Moebius (Levi) who both want to steal a device for an unknown entity named the Collector. What ensues is a fun little romp that seems as if it is a test reel for a bigger film–one I think should get made. Ray Park is great as Basil, and plays him with just the right mix of bravado mixed with a simple mind, but I wasn’t really convinced in Zachary Levi as a British gentleman. He came off sounding pretty generic. The fight scenes are shot fairly well except for a few spots where Ray kicks and the camera is too close to capture it correctly. The kung-fu monkey scene really takes the prize here, and overall is a pretty decent film that has potential.

Legend of the Mighty Soap

Directed by Andrew Bond

Yes, I loved it to death. I’m not sure if everyone will, as in some respects it does look like a Sesame Street short, but whatever. Mighty Soap tells the story of a young man who lives in world where everything is dirty because the clean Queen was defeated by the Goddess of Dirt long ago, and now everything lives in perpetual dirt. That is, until said young man finds a special bar of soap called the Mighty Soap, a living soap that teaches the man how to be clean, and then said clean warrior must face off with a bunch of dirt goons and the Dust Brothers before facing the Dirt Goddess himself. There is a lot of Japanese anime-inspired moments, and some okay kung fu, but it has some great humor, and it all fits together really well. Mixing being clean with a classic kung fu story just stood out to me. Just a really fun short film.

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Review: Dreadnaught (1981)

Posted in Fung Hak-On, Kwan Tak-Hing, Leung Kar Yan (Beardy), Yuen Biao, Yuen Woo Ping with tags , on September 29, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

starring Yuen Biao, Leung Kar Yan (Beardy), Kwan Tak-Hing, Yuen Shun-Lee, Fung Hark On

Fight Choreography by Yuen Woo Ping

Directed by Yuen Woo Ping

**Special thanks to Lars Nilsen, Chase Whale, and the entire Fantastic Fest crew for presenting this film in glorious 35mm!**

It’s becoming quite apparent that during the early eighties Yuen Biao was rocking along in period films quite nicely whether it was Sammo Hung or Yuen Woo Ping behind the camera. I would go so far as to say that this was arguably the finest period of Yuen Biao’s career, and these films also teamed him up with some really interesting performers, and for Dreadnaught Woo Ping also decided to let his freak flag fly high in the sky (aren’t those song lyrics?)

Dreadnaught starts as we meet criminal and possible Batman villain White Tiger (Shun-Lee) who is fleeing with his pregnant wife who also happens, pregnant or not, to be just as big a douche bag as her husband. While stopping at an outdoor rest stop, one that has been used for kung-fu confrontations on film for years, thus they should’ve known better, they are ambushed by a group of bounty hunters, whom both White Tiger and his wife kill, but in the battle Tiger’s wife and unborn child are killed, which drives White Tiger crazy.

We then meet Mousy (Biao) a nice guy but without a doubt the biggest chickenshit in town. He runs a laundromat with his harpy of an older sister, and he is currently having problems collecting payment on the work they do. Mousy yearns to join his friend Ah Foon (Beardy, without the beard) and become a kung fu student under the great Wong Fei-Hung (again, as always, played by the legendary Kwan Tak-Hing). Wong has other problems to deal with, such as Master Tam, who has a crazy hard on to beat Wong Fei-Hung at, well, anything and kill him at any cost. After interrupting lion dance that turns into one of Woo Ping’s best choreographed fights ever, he tries to have the Demon Tailor (played by Hark-on) kill Fei-Hung, and of course fails miserably.

White Tiger shows up, and being an old friend of Master Tam, decides to hide out nearby with a traveling performance troupe. Things turn nasty when White Tiger meets Mousy, and because of Mousy’s charm, which reminds Tiger of his dead wife’s, drives Tiger mad with rage as he tries to kill Mousy again and again, and before long Mousy must stand his ground, and finds that he may already know more kung fu than he ever thought possible…

Dreadnaught has to be one of Woo Ping’s funniest and entertaining films. Amidst the danger there is always humor throughout, and all of the actors play themselves to their iconic best. Yuen Biao plays the clueless Mousy as he does will many of his characters during this time frame: fun, immature, crazy, and not exactly…smart. Beardy is his charming best and once again plays very well as the macho counterpoint to Biao’s man-child. Kwan Tak-Hing has played Fei-Hung about a billion times, and plays him so well that you always want to see him win. Yuen Shun-Lee plays White Tiger as a complete nut job who is terrifying because his kung fu is so good, and he is a relentless killer. No chicken or frog is safe from this dude. PETA will not like this film.

The fight scenes have to be some of Woo Ping’s best work. I swear it seems as if he decided to just cut loose and shoot all the stuff he’s never been able to put in any other film. The Lion dance fight that really kicks it off is fantastic, especially when Fei-Hung jumps in. The scene is exciting, especially how the fight progresses while in the lion costumes. The drums bring out the already dance-like qualities of Woo Ping’s choreography. Another great fight is the one between Fei-Hung and the Demon Tailor, played by the always good Fung Hark-On (Police Story and dozens of other Shaw Brothers films). The fight is both hilarious and fast as the tailor uses kung fu to get Fei-Hung’s measurements, and then to kill him. Yuen Biao also has what has become the iconic kung fu clothes hanging scene, and f**k Joel Schumacher and the dude who played Robin for ripping the scene off wholesale in Batman Forever.

Beardy also gets a good fight with White Tiger, who uses a great costume to try to confuse Ah Foon, and the final fight between Mousy and White Tiger is one of the most imaginative fight scenes ever committed to film. It’s always been known how great Woo Ping’s fight choreography has been (The Matrix films notwithstanding) but here he’s fearless, and just empties that huge imagination on the big screen, and every actor and stuntman benefits from it. The audience benefits from one of the best kung fu films ever.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) Every fight in this film is gold. The final fight turns the normal “final fight” into something unexpected as Mousy fights using his skills that at first glance isn’t kung fu, and Yuen Biao pulls it off beautifully.

STUNTWORK: (8) The stunts are not over the top, but are really well done. There is a lot of jumping and flipping around in this one.

STAR POWER: (9) Yuen Biao was in top form, as was Beardy, and it was great to see Kwan Tak-Hing as Wong Fei Hung.

FINAL GRADE: (10) Woo Ping went for broke with this one, and succeeded wildly. One of his best movies, so of course that makes it a classic kung fu film.

Review: Knockabout (1984)

Posted in Lar Kar Wing, Leung Kar Yan (Beardy), Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao on September 19, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung, Lar Kar Wing, Leung Kar Yan (Beardy), Mars

Fight Choreography by Sammo Hung

Directed by Sammo Hung

While Jackie Chan was creating a new genre of police thriller in cinema, Sammo wanted to put a final stamp on the old school period films, and with another collaboration with Peking Opera School brother Yuen Biao, whom he previously worked with on Dreadnaught and Prodigal Son, they tried to knock another one out of the park, and absolutely did.

The film starts as two thieves, Yi Pao (Biao) and his brother Tai Pao (Beardy), spend their days trying to rip off the local casinos in their small village. After a casino fight where they eventually gets their asses handed to them, not having learned their lesson, they try to rip off an old man in a restaurant named the Fox. Now you might think that a dude named the Fox is someone not to trifle with, but neither brother is exactly a rocket scientist, and after their swindle fails they decided to pull the ole’ jump-a-dude-on-a-dirt-road trick, but any guy named the Fox would be wise to this, and after delivering a beating the likes of which both brothers have never experienced they beg for the Fox to teach them, which he agrees to. After a time they are also screwed with by a beggar (Hung) who takes a keen interest in them both. But both brother are unaware that they are in great danger, and are also unaware of the true nature of their master…

Sammo delivers another fun kung-fu and acrobatics film. The production values are similar to most of those types of films, meaning low, even reusing sets from previous kung fu films, but who cares? Your watching this film to see a fun story along with good kung fu, and you get both here. Yuen Biao plays Yi Pao with the same playful fun he approaches many of the characters he played during that time period of his career. It helps that he has an equally game actor in the great Beardy, he of the magically awesome beard. They both play so well off of each other you’d think they really were brothers. Lar Kar Wing also plays a great villain in The Fox, and is able to come off as the good master in the beginning, but he’s also great as his true nature is revealed. Jackie Chan co-hort Mars comes into play as a cop who is looking to put the Fox away.

The fights are terrific as you would expect from a Sammo Hung film. The best fights are the fights of Yuen Biao and Beardy versus two killers sent to get the Fox, one of which is played by the great Hoi Sang Lee (36th Chamber of Shaolin) and the finale fight of Sammo and Yuen Biao versus Lar Kar Wing. Their fight is an acrobatic showdown that features both Sammo and Yuen doing monkey style to defeat Lar Kar Wing, using some of the best monkey kung fu moves committed to film. There is also a fantastic training sequence as Sammo’s character teaches Yuen Biao monkey style. The form is a fantastic showcase for both men as they couple it with some tremendous somersaults and flips.

Knockabout is a good old fashioned kung fu film that features some great fight choreography along with some good comedy moments. Not quite as good as Prodigal Son, but it’s still a crazy fun film you won’t want to pass on.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) Some of Sammo’s best choreography here. Everyone does a fantastic job pulling it off. The finale is the best fight of the bunch, but they are all uniformally great.

STUNTWORK: (7) Yuen Biao does some good work here, as does Sammo himself. Nothing too spectacular, but nevertheless solid stuff.

STAR POWER: (9) Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao and Lar Kar Wing. Toss Beardy in there and we have a winner!

FINAL GRADE: (9) A funny collaboration between Sammo and Yuen Biao that never gets old. This is one of their best together, and allows these Peking Opera brothers to really strut their stuff.

NEXT: I’ll be judging short films for Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas later this week, and will review a few of them here afterward (Ray Park is in one of them).

Review: Shaolin (2011)

Posted in Andy Lau, Jackie Chan, Jacky Wu Jing, Nicolas Tse, Xing Yu, Yu Hai with tags , on September 10, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Andy Lau, Jacky Wu Jing, Nicolas Tse, Jackie Chan, Xing Yu, Fan Bing Bing, Yu Hai

Fight Choreography by Corey Yuen

Directed by Benny Chan

Years ago the Shaolin temple teamed with a film production company to bring an awareness of Shaolin to the masses, and made the film Shaolin Temple, which turned little know wushu star Jet Li into a star. Fast forward to 2011, and the Shaolin have once again opened their doors to a large scale production that many call a remake of Shaolin temple, but it is really more of a reimagining. An all star cast jumps aboard, along with Corey Yuen and director Benny Chan (Who am I? and New Police Story) and a $200 million dollar budget to tell the story of the destruction of the Shaolin temple…

The film opens as we find China in the midst of a war where warlords feud against each other, and after a brutal battle the lord of the province is taken in by the Shaolin monks, who try to tend his wounds, but the beaten lord is found by Hao Jie (Lau) and his right hand man Cao Man (Tse). Lao is a brutal and evil man who shows no mercy and kills the lord. Hao takes DengFeng City, the city nearest the temple, and is not too thrilled that he has to share it with his wife’s uncle Commander Song, who wants to marry his son with Hao’s daughter, but Hao has other plans, and plots to kill Song. During the night of the attempted assassination Hao finds the tables turned on him and his family as Cao Man betrays him, and Hao must flee, and is taken in by the Shaolin temple, where Hao must face the consequences of his actions against others, and with the help of the cook (Chan) and the head instructor Jing Neng (Wu Jing) Hao must save the prisoners Cao Man has taken and help the Shaolin monks repel an army bent on destroying what’s left of the villagers…

Shaolin is a great film, but be warned it is really more of a drama that has martial arts in it than the other way around, but for this story that’s fine. Toward the end there is still enough martial arts to satiate the palette of the most discerning martial arts film fan, or to put it bluntly plenty of asses get kicked. Corey Yuen’s fight choreography is well done here, and is staged perfectly. The only caveat is that there is just a bit more wirework than I would’ve wanted, but that’s more of a personal issue for me. Shaolin is also a beautiful film, and the first thing you’ll notice is the fantastic cinematography. The scenes are staged so that the sets and backgrounds can be seen in all their glory. The destruction of the temple toward the end of the film is nothing short of spectacular.

All of the actors involved do a fantastic job, starting with Andy Lau, who is great as Hao, and is convincing in his transformation from confident evil warlord to repentant monk. Nicolas Tse is also good as Cao Man, a man more ruthless than Hao, and his story arc and conclusion is satisfying and appropriate. Jacky Wu Jing is also good as the head instructor, but isn’t as memorable as his character should’ve been(this may have been due to the interpretation of the character within the script). His fights were excellent, however. One other possible reason why he’s not as great as he should’ve been was because of the work of Xing Yu as his second, and this is an actor who has been in many martial arts films (Ip Man and Flashpoint come to mind) and dang it, he needs to get a starring role in something. He’s got a great on-screen presence, and his kung fu is pretty darn good as well. He outshines Wu Jing in every scene they have together. Jackie Chan is also good as the Shaolin cook Wu Dao who isn’t disciplined enough to be a monk, and the Abbot is trying to get Dao to see the world, but he’s too scared to leave. He gets a good fight scene that isn’t classic Chan, but close enough to see he has one last good/great fight scene left in him.

One great bit of casting is bringing back Yu Hai, who played the original head instructor in Jet Li’s Shaolin Temple, now plays the Abbot in this film, and shows that he’s still got a few fighting moves left in him! If you are a fan of Shaolin Temple, you’ll be tickled pink to see him again. It’s an extra bonus to an already good film.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) The fights are really good, and there could’ve been more, but this is a drama first before an action film, but Corey Yuen does a great job here. Wu Jing’s final fight is great, but Xing Yu really steals the show here, especially at the end. Nicolas Tse versus Jacky Wu Jing toward the beginning is also a highlight.

STUNTWORK: (9) They really went all out for this, and the fall of the temple was impressive, especially since the explosions take place so close to the stuntmen. Andy Lau did some impressive stunts himself.

STAR POWER: (10) Heavens, just read the cast list. ‘nuff said.

FINAL GRADE: (9) Shaolin is a great film, that explores one man’s spiritual transformation amidst the backdrop of the spectacular fall of the Shaolin temple.

Review: The Executioner (1974)

Posted in Hiroyuki Sanada, Sonny Chiba, Yasuaki Kurata with tags , on September 5, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Sonny Chiba, Makoto Sato, Eiji Go, Yutaka Nakajima, Yasuaki Kurata, Hiroyuki Sanada

Fight Choreography by Sonny Chiba

Directed by Teruo Ishii

There are karate movies and then there is The Executioner. There are batshit crazy films, and then there is The Executioner. There are Sonny Chiba films, and there is the Executioner. This is a film that defies all expectations and genre definitions. Did I mention It’s also really insane? Insane like “are you f***ing kidding me?” crazy.

The film stars out normal enough. The story begins as we meet a young Ryuichi Koga (a really young Sanada) who is heir to the Koga ninja clan, and his father, who brutally trains his son in order for him to be ready to take over the clan. He constantly disappoints his father at every turn. Years later the adult Ryuichi (Chiba) absolutely hates his training, and decides after a brutal joint dislocation training, he decides to hell with this, and after a small fight with his father, bails. He decides to then use his ninja skills to open up his own…wait for it…private investigation agency. By the way, I do have to mention two important items. One, Ryuichi is a great fighter, but sucks as a ninja. I know TMNT Foot ninjas who are better. Also, he sucks at being a PI, and is in dire need of money. This brings him into the orbit of one Takeshi Hayabusa (Sato), a former police narcotics section chief who resigned in disgrace and now works as an Assassin who only kills other Yakuza mobsters. Both men are teamed with a third, Ichiro Sakura, and are hired by former Commissioner to take down Yakuza man Mario Mizuhara, who is involved in the massive drug trade that is washing over Japan. Together, the crew go on a mission to bring it all to an end once and for all, or at least until the next film. It all sounds pretty straightforward…

…and then they lose their minds.

Where to start? Okay, just for instance, at the beginning of the film Hayabusa bursts in on his target, a mobster who is making love to a woman. The mobster offers Hayabusa money to kill the man who hired him, and Hayabusa accepts, but since he never balks on a deal, he kills the man. The naked woman who witnesses this begs for her life by offering herself to him, which Hayabusa accepts, and they have sex right next to the body of the dude he just killed. Also, Hayabusa has a crazy habit of laughing for no apparent reason. A crazy-he-should-be-a-Batman-villain kind of laugh.

Now we come to Ryuichi. Sucks as a ninja, awesome fighter, but he suffers from one giant weakness. Naked women. Yes, he has a thing for naked ladies, and anytime he sees them he gets distracted enough while fighting hardened killers to take note of every part of them. Really takes the time to burn them into his memory. Chiba is his awesome self as always, and is a brutal killer, even ripping a dude’s rib out during a fight! For Chiba, he did fatalities long before Mortal Kombat did. He should probably sue, or ask to be put into the game.

This film also takes a moment to be sure to cram as many naked women into the film as possible. Does it serve any purpose? Not. A. Damn. One. Also, each of the three principle characters play mean practical jokes on each other the entire film. Like commenting constantly on Sakura’s penis size, or leaving someone chasing their own getaway car after a heist. There’s even a scene where Ryuichi beats up an assassin in front of the assassin’s naked girlfriend, who cheers for Ryuichi to kill her man. There’s also dudes who die by getting punched on top of the head so hard their eyes pop out of their sockets in hilariously fake scenes. There’s even a death where a good guys yells out one of the most ridiculous last words ever committed to film that will have you laughing for quite a while.

The fights are done in the classic Sonny Chiba style, meaning it’s brutal. It doesn’t have the back and forth of Hong Kong fight choreography, as most of the battles are decided in only a few hits, many times only one hit is needed to end someone. Some of them do end with crazy kills like strikes so hard it pops out someone’s eye, gouging another dude’s eyes, or a rib gets ripped right out of the person’s body. I actually feel sorry for most of the bad guys, as they all die really horrible, painful-looking karate deaths. Yasuaki Kurata has a really small scene in the film, but it gives him a chance to fight using Bruce Lee style fight choreography, which he does well, doing a fantastic homage to Bruce.

So you may ask, should you watch it? Yes, it’s crazy like a Troma film. But it has Sonny Chiba and Yasuaki Kurata, which is never a bad thing. It also has lots and lots of nudity, which can be good or bad, depending on your own POV. It all adds up to a film that is extremely entertaining and fun. I honestly never knew what was going to happen next, or what I would see next. It sure as hell isn’t for a general audience, but if you love Sonny Chiba, it isn’t anywhere near his best film, but far away from his worst.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) The fights are all classic Chiba style and done well for a karate film, and Yasuaki Kurata does well in his Bruce Lee style fight. There could have been more fights, though.

STUNTWORK: (8) All of the stuntmen did a good job here. They took some nasty looking spills, and their acting is great. Probably the best “death-throes” acting stunt team out there.

STAR POWER: (9) Chiba is here, as is Yasuaki Kurata, but Hiroyuki Sanada (The Last Samurai,Twilight Samurai, The Promise, Rush Hour 3 (no one’s perfect)) was a star pupil of Sonny Chiba who was able to get into this, his first film. He just finished his work on 47 Ronin with Keanu Reeves.

FINAL GRADE: (8) This is a Sonny Chiba film that came from the asylum. Crazy and eclectic, this is a karate film that has a logic all its own. I’m sure many drinking games can be made here. Not Sonny’s best, but very entertaining.