Archive for October, 2011

Review: Wing Chun (1994)

Posted in Chui Siu Keung, Donnie Yen, Michelle Yeoh, Yuen Woo Ping with tags , on October 30, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen, Cheng Pei Pei, Chui Siu Keung

Fight Choreography by Yuen Woo Ping

Directed by Yuen Woo Ping

Wing Chun follows the adventures of the titular character Yim Wing Chun (Yeoh) who is the greatest martial artist in her small town, but is unable to get married as she concentrates more on her Wing Chun training rather than catching a man, unlike her sister, who is married at the beginning of the film, leaving Wing Chun and her aunt Abacus Fong with running their tofu shop. The local Scholar takes notice of Wing Chun and tries to woo her, even though he only wants to marry her to help him keep the bandits away from robbing him. Of course she would rather spend her time whupping up on bandits, and during a town festival they attack and try to kidnap a young woman named Charmy, and the village men try to help but as they really suck, Wing Chun has to intervene in a fun, fantastically choreographed fight that really shows off Michelle Yeoh’s flexibility and grace. The whupping she gives them comes to the attention of the two brothers who lead the bandits, Flying Monkey and Flying Chimpanzee (Keung) who want to beat the tar out of her. Things get complicated when childhood friend of hers Leung Pok To (Yen) shows up with the intention of marrying her, but as he hasn’t seen her in years mistakes Charmy for her, and this shakes Wing Chun’s resolve for the first time as Pok To thinks that Wing Chun is a man because she dresses in men’s wear ( Now that is pure fantasy. Mistake the beautiful Michelle Yeoh for a man just because she’s wearing men’s clothing? Negro please.)

Things get bad after Wing Chun castrates Flying Monkey with a piece of burning wood during a fight, which should be a final lesson to all men about doing wild jumps in the air with their legs wide open during a fight. Of course Flying Chimpanzee gets pissed at this, and kidnaps Charmy after defeating Wing Chun, and she and Pok To have to team up to defeat the bandits once and for all…and Wing Chun has to somehow convince Pok To that she really is the girl he’s been looking for…

Wing Chun, in all reality, is a rom-com with kung fu. When there isn’t any fighting then the audience gets embroiled in the comedy of errors as Aunty plots to win the heart of the Scholar no matter what, and Charmy falls for Pok To, and Pok To falls for Charmy but only because he thinks she’s Wing Chun, and Wing Chun isn’t sure about what the hell to do with any of it. This is standard Hong Kong comedy, and as such you’re either with it or you’re not. There isn’t really any middle ground with it, and I liked it as a whole. Michelle Yeoh is great as Wing Chun, in the way that while she is a great fighter, she’s not so confident when it comes to love and romance. Donnie Yen does get to flex his comedy muscles as well as fighting—but not that much, since this is Yeoh’s show. No one actually dies in this film, as it is meant to be a lighthearted romp (at least as much as a movie that has a guy get castrated by a burning wooden shard can be) and even has a really sugary happy ending, in which pretty much everyone gets married and lives happily ever after.

I’ve said before that Yuen Woo Ping has to be one of—if not the—greatest fight choreographer of all time, and he’s done nothing to make me think any different. All of the Michelle Yeoh versus Chui Sui Kueng fights are well done, and is the main showcase of the film. Woo Ping’s imagination goes deep again as he features a fight on top of two running horses that is just…well, Woo Ping. Donnie Yen’s few fights are all good, but as his character isn’t supposed to be as good a fighter as Wing Chun, his fights aren’t nearly as impressive as any of Michelle Yeoh’s.

Wing Chun is probably the most harmless of all of Woo Ping’s films. It’s isn’t heavy at all, tells a nice but kinda forgettable romantic slapstick comedy kinda story, and has some very good fight scenes.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) Once again Woo Ping digs into his bag for more imaginative fights. Since the film isn’t a serious one, the fights carry less weight than normal, but in no way does that mean the fights aren’t worth seeing. The final fight is the best one as Wing Chun uses strategy to defeat her opponent. Very little wire-work compared to Woo Ping’s other films made around that time.

STUNTWORK: (7) The stunt men did their jobs in this film, and performed admirably, but there wasn’t anything too crazy in this film.

STAR POWER: (8) Michelle Yeoh was near the top of her stardom, and Donnie Yen was still not living up to his potential, but you could see it was there. Chui Siu Keung (Duel To Death) is always great to see.

FINAL GRADE: (8) Wing Chun is a lighthearted comedy that wears it’s intentions on its sleeve, and Michelle Yeoh gives a great performance as Wing Chun, and the fight scenes are are great as normal for Woo Ping.

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Review: Reign of Assassins (2010)

Posted in John Woo, Jung Woo-sung, Michelle Yeoh on October 25, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Michelle Yeoh, Jung Woo-Sung, Kelly Lin, Barbie Hsu, Shawn Yue, Xueqi Wang, Leon Dai

Fight Choreography by Stephen Tung

Directed by John Woo and Su Chao-pin

Michelle Yeoh has been steadily working in front of the camera for years ever since Yes, Madam, and she’s had a tremendously good run of films. On the opposite side of that spectrum John Woo has been floundering around Hollywood after such a stellar career in Hong Kong, and really only churned out one decent film, Face/Off. Surprise, surprise, everything changed when he returned to Hong Kong and made the kick-ass 2 film epic Red Cliff (you can read my thoughts on this repeating situation here). Now with this newfound currency John returns to wuxia films with Reign of Assassins.

The film follows Drizzle (Lin) a member of the dreaded Dark Stone, a group of some of the most deadly Assassins ever assembled. Included in her group is The Magician (Dai), Lei Bin (Yue) and their leader the Wheel King (Wang). They are on a mission for the Wheel King to retrieve the mummified remains of Bodhi, the Indian monk who began what would become kung-fu. It is said that whomever controls the remains can wield untold martial arts power. Now, the remains are split in two, and one half is being held by Prime Minister Zhang and his son Renfang. Both are attacked and killed, and Drizzle steals the remains and flees from her own group to her mentor Wisdom, who has decided to become a monk. He is able to enlighten Drizzle about her own evil ways, and is able to turn her away from violence. She hides the remains of Bodhi and has a face change operation that changes her from the beautiful actress Kelly Lin to the just as beautiful actress Michelle Yeoh. Now that’s the way plastic surgery should be done! Now going under the name of Zeng Jing, Drizzle tries to lead the life of a simply cloth merchant. She meets and falls in love with a courier, and gets married (Woo-Sung) in comical scene of romance that might make you think this is a wuxia rom com…

…and then you remember the title of the film, and things go to hell quickly after a fateful trip to the bank, and suddenly the Dark Stone know about Zeng and her husband, and Zeng finds that she must deal with the Assassins and her replacement, the crazy-as-hell Turquoise (Hsu) who still want the remains of the Bodhi, and Zeng must fight and win or lose everything good she has gained in her new life, but the situation isn’t as cut and dried as she thinks it is…

Reign of Assassins continues the return to form for John Woo, who was a consultant for director Su Chao-Pin but consults so much that he earned the credit as a co-director. Surprisingly there aren’t that many sets if you actually count them, as the locations are relegated to a few spots. The camera work is well done, and does a good job of following the action. The story is mostly good except for one giant plot twist that hits after the mid-point of the film that no real clues were provided for before it is revealed, and also the story explains how the Assassins find out that Drizzle is in town, but not how they know she is Zeng Jing. It seems they just magically know. We also get into the life, very briefly, of one of the Assassins, but it doesn’t go anywhere, and ends abruptly so the result, which is supposed to garner some sort of emotion, doesn’t garner any emotional payoff at all.

The actors do a great job, and it’s great to see Michelle Yeoh as Zeng Ling. She portrays the conflicted, yet kind, but always dangerous Zeng Jing with depth to see her want of a peaceful life conflict at times with the killer she used to be. Jung Woo-sung is a great contrast to Yeoh, as he brings a playfulness to the role of her future husband Jiang Ah-sheng, and he truly has some funny moments. I really can’t go further without mentioning Barbie Hsu, who plays the craziest evil bitch this side of Fatal Attraction, plays Turquoise with a sense of fun as she channels an inner crazy person even as she is in various stages of undress (she gets naked a lot, but they don’t show anything, so calm it down, ya’ll). You’ll cheer when you see her get her comeuppance.

The fights are good, but not great except for the fight that comes when the Big Twist is revealed. Unfortunately it isn’t a fight that involves Michelle Yeoh. The fights are mostly swordplay and no real hand to hand, but that’s to be expected from a wire-assisted film like this. This more about style rather than application, so the fights look good, and are fast enough, but it’s just missing that visceral impact. The best fight choreography finds the best balance between “screen fighting” and reality (at least to me) which is why I’ve never been too keen on wire-harness films (Woo-Ping is able to find this balance even with a lot of wire-assisted fights).

Reign of Assassins is a good film, but a few lapses in story logic and some of the fight choreography keep it from being a truly great experience, but Michelle Yeoh still shows she’s got “it”.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) Not the greatness it could have been with the exception of one fight. It tries too hard to try to be a Crouching Tiger kind of fight choreography with John Woo photography rather than trying to find its own creative voice. All of the fights are still well staged and performed, however.

STUNTWORK: (5) Nothing much here. Everyone is adequate, but the wirework is pretty basic. Nothing spectacular here.

STAR POWER: (8) Michelle Yeoh continues to do good work and Jung Woo-sung (The Good, The Bad, The Weird, The Warrior) easily holds his own. John Woo also continues his comeback.

FINAL GRADE: (8) A good Michelle Yeoh film that just misses that mark of greatness by a little bit, but her scenes with Jung Woo-sung are the best parts of the film, and makes it worth taking a look.

Review: China O’Brien (1990)

Posted in Cynthia Rothrock, Keith Cooke, Richard Norton with tags , , on October 20, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Cynthia Rothrock, Richard Norton, Keith Cooke

Fight Choreography by Roberta Chow and Roy Horiuchi

Directed by Robert Clouse

1988 saw two new faces light up martial arts films in the USA—Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. Both were fresh faces after years of basically just Chuck Norris, and dozens of ninja films in the 80’s. Robert Clouse, director of Enter the Dragon, thought it might be time to introduce some English-speaking new blood. Working with Raymond Chow and Golden Harvest, they decided to export Cynthia Rothrock and Richard Norton, both of whom had become stars internationally due to their HK films like Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars, Shanghai Express and Above the Law. Clouse has always tried to recapture the magic of Enter the Dragon, but has never been able to, and doesn’t come close to it here, but does make an entertaining low budget film. (I’ll never be able to quite forgive him for Game of Death, a joke of a film that should never have seen the bloody light of day.)

The film opens as title character China O’Brien (Rothrock), a cop and martial arts instructor is challenged by a student named Termite (A remnant of the 80’s where every black dude was named for everything except a human f***ing being. There wasn’t a black dude named, oh, Bob, for instance. But whatever. The 80’s is full of poor judgments like that. This film capsulized most of them) to a fight to prove that martial arts can work in the real world. He leaves the dojo only to get his ass kicked in the alley right outside. Maybe, just maybe knowing martial arts may have saved him from such an ass-whooping, proving once again how Karma is a bitch.

Anyway, China goes to the designated alley to meet him, only to find dudes there that are NOT his friends. She fights them off in a fun scene that shows how HK fashions of the 80’s doesn’t work so well in the USA, and in the end she shoots one of the gangbangers, who happens to be a kid. She resigns from the police force and returns home, which is a small town in which her father is sheriff, but she soon discovers that things have gone downhill since she left, and the country white dudes she left behind have been replaces by douchy country white dudes with pot bellies who think they can fight and work for organized crime. She does have a friend/boyfriend teacher Matt (Norton) who is also presumably from the same town but strangely has an Australian accent. She is also helped by Dakota, China kicks a little ass here and there until her father is killed, and she decides to run for his office and is challenged by one of Barlow’s men, and after they rig the polls and try to steal ballot boxes it leads to a final fight for control of the town. A really small town. Suffice to say:

China O’Brien and Friends: 1 Country Boys: -1

If you love seeing small town dudes getting their asses kicked, then this film will be your nirvana. The story is hokey, and the acting sucks, but that kinda adds to the charm of this. Cynthia has to actually portray…warmth and love here, which is not what she had been asked to provide in any of her HK films. She may not have been used to it, and the same goes for Richard Norton, but when it comes time to kick ass, the film does it fairly well. Now there isn’t any fights versus any other good martial artists, but nevertheless it’s fun. The line reading is tone-deaf, but as Robert Clouse was deaf as well (no joke, he actually was), it’s all good, I guess. The fights are well done, and for the most part keeps up with the Hong Kong style of choreography and speed. Keith Cooke has no screen presence whatsoever, but is good in his fights, with blazing fast speed on his kicks, but overall he isn’t given much to do.

Robert Clouse does a good job of making sure the action is front and center, and the film keeps it coming. The best fights are the bonfire fight, where Richard Norton and Keith Cooke really get to kick some serious ass, and then the fight in the high school weight room, where China beats the crap out of the same guy with a do-rag like ten times.

China O-Brien lets its B-movie flag fly high, and even though it was never the success all were hoping it would be, Cynthia Rothrock and Richard Norton would becomes fixtures of many B-movies for the 90’s until Jackie Chan and Jet Li showed up and booted Seagal and JCVD to B-Movieville.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) The fights are well done and more or less polished, not reaching the heights of her Hong Kong work, but is a hell of a lot better than her American output after this.

STUNTWORK: (2) Boy, did these guys ever suck. Their reactions were laughable, not acting realistically or even over the top with their reactions to being hit. That actually makes it kinda funny though.

STARPOWER: (7) Cynthia Rothrock would begin her reign as B-movie action queen, and Richard Norton would be in most films with her, but they will never ascend any higher. Keith Cooke’s career never takes off.

FINAL GRADE: (7) The cheese flows like a river here, and the acting is terrible, but the action is fun to watch, but be warned. 80’s fashion is in full effect here!

Review: Raging Phoenix (2009)

Posted in Jeeja Yanin, Kazu Tang, Panna Rittikrai on October 16, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jeeja Yanin, Kazu Tang, Marc Hoang, Roongtawan Jindasing

Fight Choreography by Panna Rittikrai

Directed by Rashane Limtrakul

You just gotta love Panna Rittikrai. He’s one fight choreographer who is never happy with repeating himself. After the success of Chocolate no one would blame him for going back into his old bag of tricks. Panna has a really big bag, and he’s always adding more to it. For Jeeja’s second film he decided to pull off a mixture of Muay Thai and Drunken Boxing also mixed with…breakdancing! How does it come off? Pretty good, but fades as the film goes on.

Raging Phoenix is about Deu (Yanin) a reckless rocker girl who has just been kicked out of her band, and doesn’t take it too well because she has abandonment issues. She gets complete drunk and finds herself stumbling into a covered parking garage, where a group called the Jaguars attempt to kidnap her, but she is saved by Sanim (Tang) a mysterious dude who runs with three other men, all of whom have lost girlfriends and sisters to the Jaguars, who are kidnapping women for a James Bond-style plot to be revealed later. Sanim introduces her to the gang, and for whatever reason teaches her their fighting style, but she soon uses it to get into trouble, and before long the entire gang find themselves face to face with the Jaguars, who want that whole group dead…

Jeeja Yanin did a great job with Chocolate, and she does here as well, even though I didn’t feel that she was very comfortable with the drunken boxing. She does a good acting job and shows that she has a good bit of range, but in her fight sequences, at least when she’s using the drunken-style breakdancing, it seems a bit…forced. Not so for Kazu Tang, who gives a great performance as the tragic Sanim, and truthfully his fight scenes are much better, at least in my humble opinion, than Jeeja’s. He looks much more fluid and natural with the break-dancing, so much so that he practically steals the film away from Jeeja. The other actors were decent but forgettable, and the main villains weren’t memorable at all except for Jaguar Tokyo (Huang) who brings a lot of skill and menace to a small role. Roongtawan Jindasing, the woman who played the main baddie, did a good job as well, especially in her final fights with Tang and Yanin. The story is pretty good, with the exception of a few leaps of logic, like when some of the gang decide to teach Deu a lesson, which involves nearly killing her and putting her in traction for months. Also, did the bad guys really warrant a lair on par with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? I mean, really?

The fight choreography is a mixed bag the further the film goes. The first fight in an abandoned arena was good, but it only featured Tang, who did an excellent job fighting thugs who were on metal bladed stilts. The second fight that introduces the rest of the gang was also well done, and the training scenes were quite a bit of fun, but Yanin’s first fight wasn’t as good as it could have been. The choreography itself was good, but it didn’t really seem to fit her. The fights toward the end of the film stop of the B-Boy stuff at least in regards to Yanin and she does a great job here, especially her fight with the two main henchmen. Like I said, I love that Panna tries to extend himself, but it doesn’t work as well as maybe it should. The good news is that Panna is always experimenting with new ways choreograph a fight, and no matter what, at least it’s always fun to watch.

Raging Phoenix is a good sophomore effort by Yanin, who has shown that she’s a genuine star whose future continues to shine bright. Kazu Tang is able to elevate the film even further as the possible-but-not-quite love interest.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) Panna experiments with his style and comes away with a mixed bag depending on who was doing it. Kazu Tang and the B-Boys did well with it, but Jeeja Yanin less so until the last two fights.

STUNTWORK: (9) The stuntmen really did a good job here. Their reactions were really well done, especially for the frentic style of fighting they had to deal with.

STAR POWER (8) Yanin shows that Chocolate was no fluke, and Kazu Tang really needs to get a film of his own. He’s got the looks and the skills to be a star in his own right.

FINAL GRADE: (8) A good film that makes the supporting cast members look better than its star until the end of the film, but when the time comes Jeeja Yanin is more than up to the task. Oh yeah, the B-boy music is strangely addicting.

Review: Yes, Madam! (1985)

Posted in Corey Yuen, Cynthia Rothrock, Dick Wei, Fat Chung, James Tien, Michelle Yeoh, Sammo Hung with tags , on October 6, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

                                                                                                                                                                                               

 

 

 

Starring Michelle Yeoh, Cynthia Rothrock, James Tien, Dick Wei, Fat Chung, Tsui Hark, Sammo Hung

Fight Choreography by Corey Yuen

Directed by Corey Yuen

Women in martial arts films, particularly the early films, have always been a mixed bag. On one hand, especially in the Shaw Brothers films, the women can kick some serious ass. On the other, it seems that they still need the men to come and save them at the end. Of course there were exceptions to the rule, Angela Mao being one of them. But in 1985 two women broke into the scene and changed everything. Jackie Chan discovered Michelle Yeoh while working on a commercial together. Cynthia Rothrock was a martial arts champion, and had come to the attention of Sammo Hung. Corey Yuen, another one of the Seven Little Fortunes decided to put them both into his next film, and it would define both women for the next decade and advance women in action films forevermore…

The film opens as we meet resident ass-kicker Inspector Ng (Yeoh) who foils a robbery of an armored car, and flips and spins her way around shooting the living hell out of a bunch of dudes as if to announce “ the ladies are the badasses in this film, folks!” Afterward Ng announces she is heading for a vacation with a British gentleman, but her plans are canceled when her friend is, well, canceled by a hitman named Dick (Wei) who killed the man for Mr. Tin (Tien) a douchebag business man who needs to get a microfilm that shows his involvement in an illegal deal involving forged documents. Before Dick can get them two bumbling thieves Strepsil and Aspirin break into the room and steal the dead man’s passport, not realizing that the man was dead and the film was in the passport, and they take it to their partner Panadol (Hark). Ng is brought into the case, but must take on British Inspector Carrie Morris (Rothrock) as her partner. The three thieves slowly become aware that they are in over their heads as the police and the hitmen get closer to them both, and they try to avoid prison and death…

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

 

Yes, Madam will most certainly not be known for its acting, which I have to admit is not too good for the main leads, but this was pretty much the first film for both women, and in the end it won’t hurt the enjoyment of the film…much. What it does show is the onscreen presence of both Yeoh and Rothrock.

It is also refreshing to see that both female characters beat the tar out of everyone without needing to be “saved” by a man. They carried the action on their own, and take as much punishment as they doled out. The comedy and lightness of the film are carried admirably by John Sham , Hoi Mang, and Tsui Hark in a rare film appearance. After a time their bumbling around does test the patience of the audience, but the fights reward the patience later. Dick Wei is as good as always playing an utter douchebag and badass, which he excels at, and Fat Chung is as ridiculous as I’ve ever seen him, and it takes a special kind of over the top acting to distract you from his mustache, which I swear could be its own character in this film. James Tien doesn’t do much in this film except laugh…a lot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fights throughout the film are good, but I did have some issue with the editing, which seemed scatter-shot between showing closeup shots and panoramic shots of the action. It seemed as if the editor didn’t really know how to edit the fights as Yuen had choreographed. The exception to this was the final fight, which lets everyone cut loose, and no one disappoints here. Cynthia shows why she came to Sammo’s attention, as her movements are crisp and can easily hang with the Corey Yuen style of fight choreography, and the same holds true for Michelle, which is amazing when you consider the fact that she knew no martial arts when she made this film. The fight between Cynthia and Dick Wei is particularly satisfying and the overall asskicking here is more than enough to satisfy any martial arts fan. The ending was a bit odd, but it doesn’t take anything away from the effort, and the two women it would propel to stardom.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) The overall choreography is good, and the final fight is fantastic as everyone is given a moment to shine, but some of the earlier fights aren’t as great as they could have been due to the editing.

STUNTWORK: (8) Not quite Jackie Chan crazy, but close as they guys took some nasty spills, especially in the last fight. That poor bastard Michelle Yeoh dropped from the 2nd level to the ground by the bar…yeowch.

STARPOWER: (9) Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock’s stars would only rise after this, and Dick Wei is always good, as is James Tien and Sammo Hung in cameo rolls, and some of the Lucky Stars (Dennis Chan, Richard Ng) appear here as well.

FINAL GRADE: (8) A good small budget film that has some fun moments and good fight choreography, but gets the high mark for introducing Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock to the world.