Archive for December, 2011

Review: Bangkok Adrenaline (2009)

Posted in Daniel O'Neill, Kazu Tang with tags on December 21, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Daniel O’Neill, Raimund Huber, Kazu Tang, Conan Stevens, Priya Suandokmai

Fight Choreography by Daniel O’Neill

Directed by Raimund Huber

The amount of martial arts films from countries other than China and Japan is refreshing, and constantly introduces us to new talent. Even small budget films can be a gateway to the introduction of someone new, and that brings us to this film, and its star Daniel O’Neill.

The film starts as 4 backpackers Conan (Stevens), John (Miles), Mike (Huber), and pickpocket Dan (O’Neill) make their way through Thailand having a good time, and they have a bit too much of a good time when knucklehead John bets too much and now they owe the local Thai gang 3 million Baht, and if they don’t come up with the cash in a week they’ll be killed. The boys get local work where they can, but it won’t make them the money they need. None of them are particularly smart, which makes their scheme to kidnap Irene, stepdaughter of a local wine billionaire, as perhaps the smartest and dumbest thing they’ve ever done, which makes them kinda endearing despite the dreadful act they are about to commit. They successfully pick up Irene, but their problems get worse as Irene is a bigger handful than they thought, and her father actually needs Irene dead so the billions left by her mother will go to him and not her. Soon the boys have the police, Irene’s father’s goons, and the man they owe the money to all trying to kill them, and in the end they’ll have to fight their way out of a dangerous situation…

This film is low budget, or at least looks that way, maybe because of the high def cameras they used, which I am still not used to in regards to martial arts films. The film also has some odd editing especially in the transitions between scenes. The acting varies between okay and terrible,but none are worse than the guy playing Irene’s dad, who overacts every scene he’s in. His two main henchmen are actually better actors and more interesting characters than he was. The main leads themselves are adequate, O’Neill probably being the best. Where the story does shine is with the comedic moments, of which there are many, and they mostly work. There is one scene toward the end that gets turned on its head involving the “rescue” team that comes to save everyone that had me laugh out loud.

The fight choreography is good, but nothing different if you’ve seen any Panna Rittikrai films of the last few years. Huber and O’Neill get the lion’s share of the fighting as they are the martial artists of the film. The warehouse fight is well done, and really allows O’Neill a chance to strut his stuff. Huber does well, but isn’t as showy as O’Neill. What is great was a chase/fight sequence through a market between O’Neill and thugs led by Kazu Tang (Raging Phoenix, Bangkok Knockout). The fight with Kazu was small but good, and I wish a talent like Tang was in the film more. He exuded an onscreen presence no one else had.

Daniel O’Neill has become a stuntman for a few Jackie Chan and Panna Rittikrai films, and wants to do more, and he certainly has the talent and good looks. His acting can use more work, but that takes time. He looked impressive in all of his fight scenes, but once again the fights were Rittikrai-lite and doesn’t seem to have much of a voice that differentiates it from Panna’s lesser film work. I would like to see O’Neill branch off into more films so he can find a place for himself in martial arts cinema.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) The best fight was O’Neill versus Kazu Tang, which was great. The finale in the winery was really well done, but in the end there wasn’t a lot of originality to the fights. O’Neill used what he’s learned with Panna and Jackie, but now needs to merge it with a style of his own.

STUNTWORK: (8) Pretty good stunt work by all involved. Nothing beyond the normal crazy Thai stunts, but it was good stuff that was well staged.

STAR POWER: (5) No one of note outside of Kazu Tang. Daniel O’Neill has a chance to become something, but what that will be is unknown at this point.

FINAL GRADE: (7) A fun low budget romp that has some decent fight scenes and lot of fun moments.

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Review: Once Upon A Time In China (1991)

Posted in Jet Li, Tsui Hark, Yuen Biao, Yuen Woo Ping with tags , , on December 15, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jet Li, Yuen Biao, Rosamund Kwan, Yen Shi-Kwan, Jackie Cheung

Fight Choreography by Yuen Woo Ping

Directed by Tsui Hark

Wong Fei-Hung is one of China’s greatest heroes, the subject of dozens of martial arts films, played by many actors, but the talents of Tsui Hark, Yuen Woo Ping and rising star Jet Li came together to tell what has become the quintessential Wong Fei Hung film series.

The film opens as we meet Wong Fei Hung (Li) as he stands aboard a Chinese ship watching a lion dance that is interrupted by an American ship that opens fire on them, mistaking the fireworks as an attack. Wong Fei Hung is forced to jump in to finish the lion dance, and afterward the General,called to Vietnam, charges Wong Fei Hung to train his remaining men as militia to defend China from foreign invaders. Some time after that Wong Fei Hung comes face to face with Aunt Yee (Kwan) who has just returned from America, a stunningly beautiful woman who is not a blood relation of Wong’s, and she is smitten with him immediately. Even back home in China she still dresses as she did in America. While they get reacquainted, circus everyman Foon (Biao) shows up at Po Chi Lam, Wong Fei-Hung’s home and dojo, and wants to learn Kung-Fu as to gain a courage and self respect he lacks, and has problems understanding Wong’s student Bucktooth So (Cheung), who has also been assimilated while he stayed in America, to the point where he barely speaks Chinese and can’t read it, which makes other treat him as an idiot, when the reality is he’s probably the smartest person in the film not named Wong Fei-Hung.

The problems truly begin when Foon tries to escape being killed by a gang from Shaho trying to extort money from the circus, and Foon runs into Fatty Wing, once of Wong’s disciples, and Fatty calls on the militia, who begin a giant brawl with the gang while Wong Fei Hung meets with the local magistrate and a British representative to voice his disdain at Chinese treatment on their own land. The brawl spills into the restaurant, and afterward the magistrate wants the militia turned in, along with Wong Fei Hung. As Wong Fei Hung tries to clear his men, he’ll discover a plot by an American corporation to ship what is basically slaves to North America to work on the railroads or the mines, and women taken against their will to be sold as prostitutes for the men there. We also get to see how the Westernization Movement is changing Chinese culture…

Once Upon a Time In China has to be considered Tsui Hark’s masterwork. The story is dense and well done, and we get scenes that really show how the westernization movement is changing China, from the christian priests who roam the streets trying to convert the people to the clothing worn by Aunt Yee and Bucktooth So, and how Wong Fei-Hung is resistant to this kind of change. Many Hong Kong films, especially those of the 80’s and 90’s portray westerners as big thuggish oafs or just plain evil people. This film somewhat counterbalances this with a particular priest who sacrifices himself to save Wong Fei Hung. The side story with Foon, as he discovers what true bravery really means, is just as important as anything else in the story, and adds to the tapestry.

Jet Li shines in what I believe to be his best role, as he brings a dignity and grace to Wong Fei Hung, and his stillness, especially in scenes where chaos seems to rain down on him. Jet has never been a great actor, but he does a fine job here. Rosamund Kwan is also great as Aunt Yee, as she creates a great counterpoint to Wong Fei Hung, and the scene where he scolds her after Po Chi Lam burns is great scene, as she shows how much his words truly hurt, and also the scene where she tries to keep herself from being raped by one of the villains. Her terror and defiance are written all over her face, and Rosamund pulls it all off spectacularly. Yuen Biao has one of the best character arcs as Foon. He goes from clumsy knucklehead to loyal servant to realized what’s truly important to him, allowing him to become the hero he didn’t know he could be, kung-fu or not. Jackie Cheung is just as great as Bucktooth So, and I think he has the best single acting moment in the entire film in a scene where, just after the theater massacre, Wong Fei Hung is trying to heal as many as he can, and calls for So to get the medicine, but when Bucktooth So tries to do so, the medicine jars aren’t written in English, and the man Fei-Hung tried to save dies, and Bucktooth So succumbs to his misery and despair as he couldn’t help save the man–simply because he couldn’t read Chinese. What a great and yet sad scene.

Yuen Woo Ping does a masterful job of choreographing the fights, particularly the two fights between Wong Fei Hung and Master Yim, and the umbrella fight in the tea house is fantastic as well. The theater fight has to be among one of Woo Ping’s best fight scenes and certainly may be one of Jet’s. The fights using spears, swords, and hand/foot work is breathtaking in its speed and beauty (most of that coming from Jet) and the final fight with Master Yim using bamboo ladders is terrific. There are a lot of fights in this film, and each one is distinctive and flows as part of the story. Some of the fights are light-hearted while others are more brutal, but they never lose the gracefulness of Woo Ping’s dance-like choreography.

You can read a very well done analysis of the fight choreography from my friend Dangerous Meredith’s site here.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) Woo Ping does some of his best work here, and all of the performers are up to the task. Jet Li has never looked better. Yuen Biao also does tremendous work as does Yen Shi-Kwan.

STUNTWORK: (9) Truly outstanding work by the stuntmen. There are fights involving many onscreen at the same time, and they do a great job of reacting to the fight choreography brilliantly.

STAR POWER: (10) Jet Li’s career flies into the stratosphere with this film, and Yuen Biao is great as well, and add Rosamund Kwan and Tsui Hark and Woo Ping…greatness.

FINAL GRADE: (10) Once Upon a Time In China is without a doubt one of the best martial arts films of all time, and may represent Jet Li and Tsui Hark’s best work. The sequels are good films as well, but the first is still the best.

Review: Five Shaolin Masters (1974)

Posted in Alexander Fu Sheng, Chaing Tao, Chang Cheh, Chi Kuan-Chun, David Chiang, Fung Hak-On, Gordon Liu, Lar Kar Wing, Lau Kar Leung, Leung Kar Yan (Beardy), Meng Fei, Ti Lung, Tsai Hung, Wang Lung Wei with tags , , on December 5, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring David Chaing, Ti Lung, Alexander Fu Sheng, Wang Lung, Gordon Liu, Liang Chia-Jen (Beardy), Meng Fei, Chi Kuan-Chun, Fung Hark On, Chiang Tao, Tsai Hung

Fight Choreography by Lau Kar Leung and Lar Kar Wing

Directed by Chang Cheh

The name Shaw Brothers has long been synonymous with kung-fu films and for good reason. Run Run Shaw and his brother Runme forged martial arts films into what they are today, and really created the studio system for them in Hong Kong. For that alone we should all bow down and worship them…forever. Not all of their films were great, and many were not good in relation to the fact that they churned out what seemed like hundreds, but when they struck gold boy did they ever, and directors like King Hu and  Chang Cheh are many of the reasons why, and in 1974 Chang Cheh got together an all star cast in a film about Shaolin revenge that thrills with wall to wall action…

The story opens during the Qing Dynasty, where the Manchus attacked the Shaolin Temple and kills everyone there–except five of them, of course. The opening escape of the Shaolin is a thrilling way to showcase the cast while rolling the opening credits at the same time. We are introduced to: Hu Dedi (Chaing), the leader of the group, the young idiot Mao Chao-Hsing, Tsai Te-Chung (Lung), Fang Ta-Hung (Fei), and Li Shih-Kai (Kuan -Chun) as they are the last to escape the temple, and are pursued by a cast just as good as the heroes, led by Chiang Tao, the always dependable Fung Hark-On, Tsai Hung, Beardy, and Wang Lung. Now if that’s not an all-star group of villains I don’t know what is.

The Five Shaolin are good, but not good enough to defeat the Emperor’s men, and they go into hiding, meeting up with other Shaolin who have taken to hiding in an attempt to regroup and attack the Emperors’ men. This is tougher than it seems as some of the Shaolin and the local rebels have ideas of their own, and there is even a shaolin traitor who ratted them out to the Manchus, Ma Fu-Yi (Wang Lung). Hu Dedi tries to garner the support of Chief Gao, leader of a group of rebels, but Gao has a little bit of bitch in him, and decides he wants Hu to kill the local magistrate, who just happens to be the very badasses that the Shaolin ran away from in the first place. Compounding matters is Mao “I’m the young idiot of this film” Chao-Hsing, who in his bravado and yes, idiocy, gets captured but not before finding the Shaolin traitor. Hu Dedi and Chief Gao rescue him, but it costs Gao his life. Reunited with the other Five Shaolin Masters, they go to train, and plan to take on the Manchus in a fight to the finish…

Five Shaolin Masters has that familiar theme that runs through many Shaw Brothers film of brothers-at-arms and the bonds of fellowship even as Chang Cheh throws so many martial arts fight scenes into this film that it would satiate even the most ravenous kung-fu film buff. The acting runs the gamut, but each actor more or less plays their best character-type: David Chaing as the stoic hero, Ti Lung as another stoic hero, Chaing Tao as a villainous douchebag, and Fung Hark-On as the bad guy badass. The only problem I had was with Alexander Fu Sheng, who always looked as if he was too hot, and never really bothers to wear a shirt, which he seems to opt out of for any film he makes. C’mon Alex, those abs aren’t that great! His character irked me the entire film, which may have been the intent, as he acted like a knucklehead, and an overconfident knucklehead at that. I’m convinced Cheh knew this as whenever Fu Sheng fights he gets some children-sounding music that seems to say “ yes, he’s the comedy relief of this film”. Gordon Liu has a cameo, and looked like he stumbled on set from a different film, and they just decided to use him in this one.

The camera work is great, and captures the fights in all of their ShawScope glory, of which there is many. The slow parts aren’t very long, and the fights, from the opening to the end, escalate the complexity and astounding choreography perfectly. Lau Kar Leung was always one of better choreographers from the Shaw Brothers stable, and he shows why. The villains are damn tough, and the fights show this appropriately, and the choreography flows brilliantly so that at all times you know what each fighter is doing and more importantly why, rather than being a bunch of pretty movements. My favorite fight? The fight that begins to save Mao. Beardy really shows his stuff here, as does Wang Lung. The Final fight is–I have trouble choosing one over the other, so I won’t! The final fight does have one of the most painful kills ever committed to films. Gentlemen, you may want to look away at that part. You’ll know what I mean.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) Lau Kar Leung does some of his very best work here, and is nothing short of tremendous, and with so many fights, they all move the story at the same time giving something different each time.

STUNTWORK: (9) The stuntmen bring some great stuntwork and falls, and yes, even their overacting for their death scenes has a brilliance all their own. Kudos to the poor bastard at the beginning of the film who rolls himself down a fight of concrete stairs. I hope they bought him a beer.

STAR POWER: (10) Are you kidding me? Check that cast list again!

FINAL GRADE: (10) This is one of the best of the Shaw Brothers output. An average story surrounded by tremendous martial arts fight scenes and stars. A must see for any martial arts film enthusiast.