Archive for March, 2012

Review: Never Back Down 2 (2011)

Posted in Larnell Stovall, Michael Jai White with tags , , on March 30, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Michael Jai White, Dean Geyer, Alex Meraz, Todd Duffee

Fight Choreography by Larnell Stovall

Directed by Michael Jai White
Michael Jai White has been kicking ass ever since, well, ever. Films like Spawn, Silverhawk, and more have shows that he is a skilled martial artist and actor. He began to take his career into his own hands with the kickass Undisputed 2, and then Blood and Bone, to the terrific Black Dynamite.

Larnell Stovall first came to the attention to many in the world of fight choreography with Undisputed 3, Bunraku and then with Mortal Kombat: Legacy webseries. His star in the world of martial arts cinema is rising more and more.

So how both of them drove this film off a god***n cliff escapes me.

First, a caveat: I’m not a fan of UFC, Pride, or any of that stuff. While I respect mixed-martial arts as a style I don’t like the overly arrogant macho-aggressive attitude that accompanies many within the MMA culture. Maybe that attitude helps in regards to ring fighting, but it’s not something I care for, so please keep that in mind as you read this review.

The film opens as we find Mike Stokes (Geyer) arriving at college, and already we can see that he’s a troubled kid, specifically in regards to his father. As the film goes on we find out what his problem with his Dad is, and any mention of it drives Stokes into fits of anger and rage. He soon gets involved with a group of fighters all trained by an ex-con named Case Walker (MJW) a former professional MMA fighter who could have been great had it not been for his past, which is revealed as the film goes on. The other fighters include Zack Gomes, a former boxer who may lose his sight if he fights again, and whose girlfriend catches Stokes’ eye. There is also big man Tim Newhouse (Duffee) whose family is in crisis as his mother is forced to work in a strip clip to provide for the family (no mention of what happened to his father) and last is the unhinged comic book clerk Justin Epstein who quickly shows a darker side once he feels he’s learned all he needs to from Case. Everything culminates in The Beatdown, an underground MMA fighting tournament. Stokes has to face both rival Gomes and the twisted Epstein while Case tries to survive a group of douchebag cops determined to run him out of town, and come to terms with his past…

The problems with this film really starts with the script, in which some of the plots go nowhere, or end in a “meh”. The dialog flies the gamut from simple to just plain bad. Case had the most interesting story of any of the fighters, and should have been the main character, but since this is following a formula of concentrating on the young fighters, that couldn’t happen, which is almost this film’s biggest flaw. The acting ranges from good (MJW) to bad (everyone else). None of the primary characters felt real, just archetypes. MJW’s directorial debut is technically good, and the camera takes good angles on everything, but the direction of the actors may have been part of the problems. The background actors were just plain horrid, and many dramatic scenes involving the principals didn’t have the “oomph” they needed. That, and the biggest problem is that since he is directing, he isn’t in front of the camera, where he works best.

The fight choreography is just plain disappointing. Yes, it may be MMA, but somewhere along the way Stovall forgot that this has to be an entertaining film first. He remembered this with Undisputed 3, which carried fighting that included many MMA-style moves, but it was dynamic movement that was entertaining to watch on film. Here he seems to lose focus on this, except for one fight: Case Walker versus a group of cops. Of any fight in this film this fight felt right. This fight was the Blood and Bone type of fight I wanted to see from MJW. It was good from a cinematic standpoint, and once again allowed us to see MJW in action doing what he does best! As I watched, I came to the conclusion that if I want to see an MMA fight, I’ll watch it on pay-per-view. I don’t need or want to see a choreographed version of it.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (4) Outside of the one MJW fight, none of the fights are impressive or even interesting. I hold Stovall to a high standard, and expected more than this. He simply forgot to make the fights entertaining–to everyone.

STUNTWORK: (5) The work here was decent, but nothing to write home about.

STAR POWER: (5) MJW is the biggest star here, and as for the youngsters, none of the them made an impression on me.

FINAL GRADE: (5) Michael Jai White is barely in this film, and has one good fight. The rest of the film features uninteresting characters and fights, and unlike many of MJW’s other films, this one deserves to be a DTV film.

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Indie Kick Review: Blood Ties (2007)

Posted in Erik Marcus Schuetz, William Kely McClung with tags , on March 23, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring William Kely McClung, Robert Pralgo, Erik Markus Schuetz, Danny Vinson. Vince Canlas

Fight Choreography by Kely McClung

Directed by William Kely McClung
Guerrilla filmmaking, as defined by Wikipedia, is “a form of independent filmmaking characterized by low budgets, skeleton crews, and simple props using whatever is available. Often scenes are shot quickly in real locations without any warning, and without obtaining permission from the owners of the locations.”

It’s a great definition, and you can see it through and through as we follow the adventures of Jack Davis (McClung), a former government operative (in other words, a total badass) who finds himself having to return to action from a self-imposed exile when his brother Jim gets kidnapped while on business in Bangkok, an unknowing pawn in a game between agents within Homeland Security. Jack goes off on tear to kick whatever ass needs to be kicked: strike teams, muay thai fighters, drug runners and finally the threat of Erik (played by Schuetz) who has a surprise I won’t give away. Jack must not only save his brother but finds that by doing so he would also avenge his deceased wife, and the bad guys find out the hard way that the bonds of brotherhood are not so easily broken…

Blood Ties tells a taunt story that is really ambitious, in fact too ambitious for the budget Kely and his crew had to work with. This film is cut from the same cloth as the Bourne films, but with a lot more fighting. It evokes Tony Scott circa Man on Fire and Domino vibe with the looks and scene changes (even though this film was made before either one). There were scenes involving Homeland Security that was a little confusing to follow, but overall the story flows smoothly, and the locations are impressive, from Washington DC to Miami, and Thailand. The Guerilla nature of the film meant that they couldn’t keep the camera stationary for too long as it would have been nice for the camera to stay still for a while, but I was still able to get a good sense of location.

McClung is good as tough guy Jack, and plays him with the refreshingly badass manner that seems to have gone extinct in current Hollywood actions films (being tough is more than having big muscles, Sly) and his fight scenes are believable, and McClung pulled them off convincingly. McClung also worked on American Ninja 4, so he knows his action. Robert Pralgo (Vampire Diaries, The Blind Side) also does a good job as Jim, who spends much of the film getting his ass kicked again and again by his captors, but his strength comes from within while much of Jack’s come from his physical self, and he proves he’s tough enough to survive his situation. Erik Markus Schuetz is also just the right mix of batshit crazy as Erik. The other actors are a mix of okay to terrible, but all of the principles carry the load.

The fight scenes are varied and tightly edited, and have different styles to each fight. There is a little more quick cut editing and I was wishing for some of the fights to pull back on the camera so I could see the full motion for the kicks, but I was never lost in any of the fights except one fight that was tonally different, and it was a fight at a Muay Thai gym, which had comic book style panels for the fights, and the text of sounds to go with it. It was a stylish scene, but it made following the action in that scene difficult, not to mention a but jarring. The final action beats are impressive as McClung kicks so much ass using a combination of martial arts and guns, and in a moment that is my favorite, Jack going into battle with a katana, and dammit not a lot of action heroes use one anymore.

Director and star William Kely McClung had one hell of a vision for this film, and I would love to see this story get remade with a larger budget and the same stars, but as it is, it shows what guerilla filmmaking can accomplish, and give viewers the type of American action hero that hasn’t been seen this side of the Expendables.

You can check out their website here: http://www.bloodtiesmovie.com/

You can order or watch the movie here!

Indie Kick Trailer: Unlucky Stars (2012)

Posted in Emmanuel Manzanares, LBP Stunts with tags on March 21, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Argh! Still catching up on things after my injury, so this was sent to me while I was in various levels of consciousness. Emmanuel Manzanares and the guys and gals at LBP Stunts are at it again, helping out Director, writer and star Dennis Ruel, Vlad Rimburg and Ken Quitugua with this passion project. I love the entire group’s energy, ever since seeing LBP’s short film Yo Soy Un Hombre Loco , and they helped produce a trailer for a film they are still shooting and searching for funding for. Here is a great homage to the Sammo Hung Lucky Stars series, and dammit I want them finish this full-length feature film. Every scene just tickles my kung fu bone. It even feels like a Sammo Hung 80’s film! Even a single dollar can help, so now I’m rallying all Kiai-Kick readers to help out! You can donate to the film at http://www.indiegogo.com/UNLUCKY-STARS . There’s a pretty cool behind the scenes video as well. You’ll be hearing a LOT more about this project as it goes forth. I’m all in on this one!

Review: The Man From Nowhere (2010)

Posted in Thanayong Wongtrakul, Won Bin on March 18, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Won Bin, Thanayong Wongtrakul, Sae-ron Kim, Seong-oh Kim, Hee-won Kim

Fight Choreography by ?

Directed by Lee Jeong-beom
What happens when a personal tragedy–caused by your job–forced you to become a hermit? And what happens when you forge a connection with a child…the kind that tragedy denied you? And what would happen if a group of drug dealers kidnapped said child? That’s the question The Man From Nowhere tries to answer.

Their answer? You cause the city coroner to work lots of overtime.

Won Bin plays Tae-Shik, a quiet pawnshop owner who tries to live a quiet life, a probably could have if not for his next door neighbor’s child, a pitiful child named So-mi (Sae-ron Kim) whose mother is a dancer who is also a heroin addict. So-Mi steals, lies, and does whatever she wants to because no one seems to care about her…except for Tae-Shik, who does so grudgingly. He sees there is a good child in So-Mi, if she could only escape her surroundings, and so he befriends her. Thing get very complicated when So-Mi’s mother steals some experimental heroin from two dangerous dealers, brothers Jong-Seok and Man-Seok. All kinds of shit hits the fan when they have their main hitman Ramrowan (Wongtrakul) kidnap both So-Mi and her mother, setting Tae-Shik on a collision course with the police, the brothers, an honor-bound hitman, and his own past. Before long all of them come together, and So-Mi’s life hangs in the balance…

Wow. Just…wow. This isn’t a story that hasn’t been told before, but as with all good films they tell this story very well. The film kicks out a few surprises, and the plot flies, even during the slower sequences. Even the flashback sequences from Tae-Shik’s past is interesting, and builds to the tragedy that defines who he is now. It’s also refreshing that the police have a part to play, and it isn’t merely as incompetent idiots. They have their part to play, and before long even they get caught in the force of nature that is Tae-Shik, and make no mistake, once the shit hits the fan, he becomes a tornado of violence and repressed rage, and he won’t be denied or stopped, which even interests Ramrowan, who reminds me strongly of Mad Dog from John Woo’s Hard Boiled: the hitman who has a code of honor. He’ll kill cops and other criminals without batting an eye, but prefers to leave “civilians” out of harm’s way.

Won Bin is great as Tae-Shik, and plays him as a tragic hero who runs the gamut of emotions, and you believe his every move and motivation. When Won Bin goes from eccentric pawnshop owner to killing machine you believe it, and his physicality transforms as well, from this slow depressed looking man to a fast-moving faster thinking killing machine with a laser–like focus on getting So-mi back. Wongtrakul also does a great job as Ramrowan, and while he starts like a cookie-cutter lead henchman he imbues his character with a complex set of emotions that brings out the humanity in an otherwise dangerous killer. Seong and Hee-won are also great as the villainous brothers, and I found that I couldn’t wait to see what Tae-Shik would do to both of them once he caught up with them. They played a special kind of douche-bags, ones that truly deserve the ass-kicking you’ll hope they receive.

The fights are fast and well done, especially the bathroom fight between Tae-Shik and Ramrowan, but it’s the final knife fight between Tae-Shik and a group of thugs, which is a well choreographed fight that has a lot of blood and is exciting and suspenseful to watch, and this leads into the final fight between Tae-Shik and Ramrowan, which is just stunning to watch, especially when the camera follows both men’s POV at different points during the knife fight. I’ll just come right out and say it: this is the best knife fighting committed to film. Yes, better than SPL, better than The Hunted (the Tommy Lee Jones film) , and any other knife fight you’ve ever seen on film. It’s just that good.
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):
CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) Best. Knife. Fight. Period.

STUNTWORK: (8) The stunt men really did a good job here, and the reacted so well to the knife cuts they had to act out toward the end of the film as well as the other fight scenes. They made Won Bin look really good.

STAR POWER: (9) Won Bin is a relative newcomer, but his star is shining really bright, and Thanayong Wongtrakul is from Thailand so…Panna Rittikrai, get this guy into a Jeeja Yanin or Tony Jaa film…fast! He was that good, and Sae-Ron Kim need to be in any film requiring a cute little Korean girl who can act.

FINAL GRADE: (9) A heartfelt story how a little girl brings life to a man who lost his–and the lives he’ll end to make sure she keeps hers. A fast ride with a great ending and the best knife fighting ever captured on film.

Indie Kick Review: Street Fighter vs Tekken: The Devil Within (2012)

Posted in Thousand Pounds with tags , on March 13, 2012 by Michael S. Moore


Starring Rueben Langdon, Dan Southworth, Mark Mushashi, Brendon Hour

Fight Choreography by Vonzell Carter

Directed by Christopher C Cowan and Haile Lee

 
Not long ago I reviewed the dreadful King of Fighters, and wondered if anyone would get it right. Well, here comes an indie short film from the Thousand Pounds stunt team that shows that yes, it can be done right in all phases. These guys do what Hollywood couldn’t do with millions of dollars, high priced actors (more or less) and state of the art. Simply put: They get it right.

I’m not as up on my Street Fighter/Tekken knowledge, but here the story of Kazuya trying to control the power of the demon within Ryu was well told and clear at all times. The special effects are used to a good effect, and further shows what George Lucas predicted long ago: That computers and programs have come so far and are now so cheap that anyone with a digital camera can go and shoot their own movie. This is true, but you still have to make a good film. Thousand Pounds does that here.

All of the actors do a great job, but special kudos has to be given to Mark Mushashi as Kazuya. His Kazuya is far better–and he actually looks like the character to boot–than Ian Anthony Dale did in the Tekken film. He brings an onscreen menace that really sells the character, and some of the looks he gives…yeah, that’s Kazuya. The direction is also well done, and Vonzell Carter does a great job of mixing the moves of the characters into the choreography without “stopping” the pace of the fight to point out “hey, here’s a move from the game!”

The Thousand Pound stunt team really put out what they can do, and in their effort made a film that feels true to both Street Fighter and Tekken in ways their Hollywood counterparts haven’t figured out yet. Here’s a brilliant idea: Hollywood, just give a modest budget to these guys and gals and let them make a Street Fighter or Tekken film–the one the fans deserve.
You can find their website with other short films here: www.thousandpoundsaction.com

Farewell to Bai Jing

Posted in Bai Jing with tags , on March 6, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

First, the news article, dated February 28th 2012 from Channel News Asia:

BEIJING: Chinese authorities have confirmed that 28-year-old Chinese martial arts actress Bai Jing, was stabbed to death by her wealthy husband Zhou Cheng Hai at their Beijing home on Tuesday, reported Chinese media.

44-year-old Zhou, who married Bai in 2010, apparently killed himself after the fatal stabbing.

The police said they are still investigating the cause of this incident.

Although the authorities are not sure what transpired between Zhou and Bai that eventually resulted in their deaths, speculation is rife that Zhou killed his wife after finding out she wanted to divorce him.

Bai had appeared in a number of television dramas and films, including the 2010 action film “Kung Fu Wing Chun”, alongside Hong Kong actress Kara Hui.

What a loss her life was. To be murdered by her husband, and then for the coward to kill himself afterward, all because she was going to divorce him. Bai was a beautiful young woman who made a couple of films but showed she had the acting talent, and martial arts skill to finally become Hong Kong’s successor to Michelle Yeoh. Her flame was put out far too soon. My condolences to her family. Such a tragic end to such an emerging talent.