Archive for May, 2012

Review: Dr. Wai in The Scripture With No Words (1996)

Posted in Billy Chow, Collin Chou, Jet Li, Takeshi Kaneshiro with tags , on May 29, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jet Li, Rosamund Kwan, Billy Chow, Takeshi Kenishiro, Collin Chou, Charlie Yeung

Fight Choreography by Ma Yuk-Sing  and Ching Siu-Tung

Directed by Ching Siu-Tung

Everybody loves pulp heroes like Indiana Jones, Doc Samson and Allan Quartermain, and little boys who read or watched their exploits wanted to be them on screen, and many have tried but few were successful. The Indiana Jones films became the template on how to do them right, and Jackie Chan had success using some of the formula for his Armor of God films, and Jet Li decided to get into the act with the character of Dr. Wai…

Dr. Wai (Lee) and his good-natured, brave but dim-witted sidekick Pao (Kenishiro) globe trot all over the world searching for ancient Chinese artifacts. The film opens as a fellow archaeologist tries to commandeer a giant mechanical bull built Trojan horse style centuries ago, and Dr. Wai rides in to save workers as the bull goes out of control, running quite a few people over. Dr. Wai is able to save them, and afterward meets with General Leung, who wants to hire Dr. Wai to find a box containing the legendary Scripture With No Words, an ancient document said to contain incredible power. Dr. Wai and Pao take the job, which first finds them going undercover into a party throw by the  Japanese ambassador in Shanghai, in an attempt to retrieve a letter that holds a clue to the whereabouts of the scroll. Things bring them into conflict with General (Chow) and his commanding officer/cohort Yu (Kwan), who poses as a worker within the embassy to in order to gain Dr. Wai’s trust, and Dr. Wai finds himself falling in love with her. Dr. Wai and Pao then head to meet with a small pro-Chinese press office, where the scroll is being kept two oddballs:  the editor and his protege Pansy (Yueng) whom Pao finds himself falling in love with. Soon Dr. Wai and Pao must both protect the scroll and their new loves, but little do they know what trouble the scroll truly brings…

Dr. Wai is a fun but very dated film. The special effects are laughable terrible, and gets worse as the film goes on.. The story itself is also pretty flimsy, but it does have some good-natured humor, and allows Jet to have fun with the role, which he does. He has a good rapport with his co-stars, especially Kenishiro, who has silly fun as Pao. The Dr. Wai character is fun in and of itself, a martial arts master and archaeologist whose weapon of choice is an assortment of pens that can do things to put James Bond gadgets to shame. I’m fairly sure one of them could dial long distance. Kenishiro (Wu Xia, The House of Flying Daggers) is a lot of fun as the hapless Pao, who has moments of comedy that shows he’s comfortable in his dim-witted nature.

The fights are very wushu-centric, making them interesting to watch, but isn’t very innovative except for the fight between Jet Li and the leader of a group of bandits played Collin Chou

(Flashpoint, The Forbidden Kingdom). The next best fight is Jet Li using a metal rope chain against Billy Chow and a group of ninjas. Outside of that the fights were many but not nearly as interesting to watch. Some wirework was used, particularly in the fight where Dr. Wai had to take on two sumo wrestlers, but overall it’s minimal.

Dr. Wai is a fun but forgettable film that lets Jet Li indulge in an Indiana Jones with Kung-Fu style fantasy romp.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) The fight choreography is fast and fluid, but lacks imagination and any real hard hitting. Jet Li, Billy Chow and Collin Chou did a good job with what was there, but that kind of talent they could’ve done so much better.

STUNTWORK: (8) The stunts were pretty good here, nothing amazing, and even the few wire assisted scenes were good.

STAR POWER: (9) Jet Li, the great Billy Chow (Petticab Driver, Fist of Legend) and Collin Chou, with Rosamund Kwan really was a showcase of Hong Kong stars, all of whom have made their mark.

FINAL GRADE: (8) Dr. Wai is a fun film that could use a good updating, but Jet Li is great in the role and Kenishiro is perfect as his hapless assistant. A fun time if you can get past the poor special effects.

NEXT: Another Op/Ed from Santanu! This time he tackles Tai Chi Master!

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Review: China Strike Force (2000)

Posted in Aaron Kwok, Kenneth Lo, Mark Dacascos, Stanley Tong on May 21, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Aaron Kwok,‭ ‬Marc Dacascos,‭ ‬Norika Fujiwara,‭ ‬Coolio,‭ ‬Leehom Wang,‭ ‬Ken Lo

Fight Choreography by Stanley Tong

Directed by Stanley Tong

 
China Strike Force follows  the adventures of two Hong Kong cops,‭ ‬Darren‭ (‬Kwok‭) ‬and his partner and best friend Alex‭ (‬Wang‭)‬,‭ ‬who play the typical not-following-the-rules detectives who run into a ton of trouble‭ ‬after witnessing an assassination at a fashion show they were attending to see Alex‭’‬s‭ ‬fiancée.‭ ‬The man committed the murders was an assassin sent by‭ ‬villains Tony Lau‭ (‬Dacascos‭) ‬and his‭ ‬South-central LA drug contact,‭ ‬the‭ ‬villainous‭…‬Coolio.‭ ‬They plan to ship drugs into China via tankers‭ (‬It‭’‬s never explained how Coolio got the money to do this.‭) ‬but standing in their way is Mau,‭ ‬the head of Tony Lau‭’‬s cartel.‭ ‬Darren and Alex also meet Norika‭ (‬played by the insanely beautiful Norika Fugiwara‭) ‬who may or may not‭ ‬be an undercover Japanese agent sent to bring down Coolio in an act of revenge.‭ ‬Darren and Alex find betrayal and danger as they deal with Lau and Coolio,‭ ‬leading to an‭ ‬all-out finale at a recreation of the Emperor‭’‬s palace‭…

Let‭’‬s get this out of the way:‭ ‬This isn‭’‬t a good film.‭ ‬It‭’‬s a Jackie Chan film that forgot to put Jackie Chan in it.‭ ‬Stanley Tong‭ ‬(Rumble in The Bronx,‭ ‬First Strike,‭ ‬Supercop‭)‬ directed this feature,‭ ‬and his‭ ‬fingerprints are all over this.‭ ‬Flimsy script‭? ‬Check.‭ ‬Silly,‭ ‬over the top characters‭? ‬Hell,‭ ‬you have Coolio in this.‭ ‬Check.‭ ‬His Jackie Chan-directed films have this problem too,‭ ‬but Jackie Chan‭’‬s presence is all over his films,‭ ‬and can make up for any of the above deficiencies.‭ ‬Aaron Kwok and Marc Dacascos,‭ ‬as good as they are,‭ ‬cannot.‭ ‬My biggest problem with this film are twofold:‭ ‬The film was shot for an English-speaking audience,‭ ‬so we have everyone save Marc Dacascos and Coolio‭ ‬speaking in broken English the entire film.‭ ‬At least those who can.‭ ‬Others are dubbed over,‭ ‬and the entire effect is‭ ‬off-putting and just stupid.

My other problem‭? ‬Coolio.‭ ‬Not just that he portrays the stereotypical‭ ‬Hollywood gangsta,‭ ‬but his acting is terrible,‭ ‬and too many scenes are devoted to him and Marc,‭ ‬who looks as if he‭’‬s thinking‭ (‬at least nowadays‭)‬:

“‬Jackie Chan gets Chris Tucker.‭ ‬Steven Seagal gets DMX and hell even that hobbit-looking rapper,‭ ‬so‭ ‬how‭ ‬in the hell did I‭ ‬wind up with Coolio‭?‬ They could‭’‬ve at least‭ ‬tried calling Kadeem Hardison.‭”‬

What‭’‬s even worse is that,‭ ‬with no buildup or forewarning,‭ ‬Coolio busts out martial arts at the end of the film that left me with a WTF‭?! ‬Moment.‭ ‬Suffice to say he was horrid,‭ ‬except for when his stuntman stepped in to do the more complex acrobatic movements.‭

Aaron Kwok‭ (‬The Storm Riders‭) ‬did a passable job as the hero,‭ ‬but even here he was too wooden.‭ ‬In fact,‭ ‬it‭’‬s as if Kwok and Wang were two halves of what should‭’‬ve been Jackie Chan without the charisma.‭ ‬Norika‭’‬s acting was marred by her terrible English delivery,‭ ‬but she acquitted herself well in the fights.‭ ‬Dacascos had a better part here,‭ ‬and played‭ ‬the villain well,‭ ‬but a shoddy script kept him from being a more memorable baddie.‭

The fight choreography follows what Stanley Tong likes to do:‭ ‬Fast,‭ ‬acrobatic but short fights that are full of stunts but the kicks and punches don‭’‬t appear to have any real power generation to them,‭ ‬so it looks cool,‭ ‬but it lacks that‭ ‬“oomph‭”‬.‭ ‬Jackie Chan can make that work‭ (‬of course JC has the final say on how long a fight scene is‭) ‬but Stanley forgot he wasn‭’‬t‭ ‬making a Jackie‭ ‬Chan film.‭ ‬You can see this at the end,‭ ‬where he has incorporated the gag and stunts-that-went-wrong reel that JC is famous for into the closing credits.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY:‭ (‬5‭) ‬It was‭ ‬“meh‭”‬.‭ ‬Not bad,‭ ‬but nothing innovative or that fun to watch,‭ ‬but it moved with speed and everyone save Coolio looked great doing it.‭ ‬Dacascos needed better choreography that what he was given.‭ ‬Also,‭ ‬there was wirework‭ ‬in some scenes‭ ‬that was entirely unnecessary.‭ ‬Ken Lo‭ ‬(Drunken Master‭ ‬2‭) ‬wasn‭’‬t used nearly enough.

STUNT WORK:‭ (‬8‭) ‬The‭ ‬stuntmen did a‭ ‬good job here,‭ ‬taking some decent falls and reacting well to the choreography in regards to their timing.‭ ‬I wouldn‭’‬t be surprised if some of them were part of JC‭’‬s Stunt team.

STAR POWER:‭ (‬6‭) ‬There is some of that at work here.‭ ‬Aaron Kwok,‭ ‬Marc Dacascos,‭ ‬Ken Lo.‭ ‬We‭’‬ll try our best to forget Coolio.‭ ‬He actually downgrades the score here.

FINAL GRADE:‭ (‬5‭) ‬This film is probably the worst film Jackie Chan never made,‭ ‬and that‭’‬s a good thing.‭ ‬Stanley Tong needed to go back for more lessons from the Master.

NEXT:‭ Jet Li jumps into the Indiana Jones arena with Dr. Wai in The Scripture With No Words!

Review: Billy Jack (1971)

Posted in Tom Laughlin on May 16, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Tom Laughlin, Delores Taylor, David Roya,

Fight Choreography by Bong Soo Han

Directed by Tom Laughlin

That time period between the end of the flower power days and the onset of the disco 70‘s was just a plain strange time in American society, but that’s not to say there wasn’t any interesting films, and one of the most interesting–and somewhat strange–is a socially conscious film about a half native American hapkido ex-Green Beret expert who kicks and shoots racism away from a small American town. (I’m talking about Billy Jack, not Steven Seagals’ On Deadly Ground. Wait a second…)

Tom Laughlin stars as Billy Jack, a brooding man who rides around the Indian reservation protecting the wildlife and people from the racist whites who live in the nearby small town. He lives in the hills, and also has ties to the Freedom School, a school on the reservation run by his secret love Jean (played by his real life wife Delores Taylor), and he has a friend in the kind-hearted Sheriff Cole. The school believes in freedom to learn whatever you want, and so the kids learn painting, horse riding, and acting.Things start to go wrong when the teenage daughter of a local police deputy runs away after being beaten up by him for getting pregnant, and is taken in by Billy Jack and the Freedom School. The deputy actually works for the town’s main bigwigs and resident douchebags the Posner family. A steady escalation in the conflict occurs until one of the teenagers at the Freedom School, a young Native American is murdered by Posner’s son Bernard (Roya) , and Billy Jack’s anger finally explodes and he takes his revenge against the Posner family…

Billy Jack is an odd film. One part western, one part Andy Griffith, and one part a Chuck Norris film, it tries to juggle all of it, and surpisingly enough succeeds. The film is actually a sequel to another film, The Born Losers, but it’s not required for you to see it to get the story here. The premise is actually good, even though there are way too many scenes at the Freedom School that slows down the pace considerably. I don’t think is was necessary to take us through everything they do at the school. A brief overview would’ve been nice, and there are too many scenes where the filmmaker wears his heart on his sleeve so much so that the film nearly turns into a PSA commercial. Tom Laughlin does a fine job as Billy Jack, and plays him with a Native American spiritual slant with a dash of Charles Bronson badassness. His line delivery is well done, and even the preachier scenes he’s still cool to watch. Taylor starts off kind of bland as Jean at first, but she gets better as the film goes on, but the standout scene is where Bernard does something terrible to Jean, and her face, and acting throughout is just great. Bernard Posner, as played by Roya, reminded me of a douchier Christian Bale (they are actually remaking Billy Jack with Mark Wahlberg, which is kinda scary to think about, so maybe Bale would be good as Bernard…)

As for the martial arts, Billy Jack is a hapkido practitioner, and gets one big fight scene midway through the film, and while it is too short, Laughlin does a great job with the kicks (the handwork left something to be desired). The fight choreography is 70‘s style choreographed by Hapkido Master Bong Soo Han, and came out about the same time that Bruce Lee’s The Big Boss was unleashed on the world, but the fight stays within the style of the rest of the film, in other words not overly complex. What really killed me is the missed opportunity. David Roya was a Tae Kwon Do instructor and didn’t get a single fight scene! A real martial arts fight with Billy Jack may have sent this film into legend, but it wasn’t to be.

Billy Jack is a worthwhile film to seek out, if only for one of the most badass screen lines ever spoken:

“I’m gonna take this right foot, and I’m gonna whop you on that side of your face, and you know something? There isn’t a damn thing you can do about it.”–Billy Jack

Well said, Billy Jack. Well said.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY(4): There’s really only one real fight in the film, and it’s done well, if simple, but it does convey that Billy Jack is a badass, but the fight was far too short.

STUNTWORK: (5): The stunts are passable, especially one guy that looked as if Laughlin really DID kick his face in, and in fact this rating would be lower if not for that guy.

STAR POWER: (6) Tom Laughlin made several more Billy Jack films and had a prolific film career, and look out for 70‘s TV star Howard Hessman (WKRP in Cincinatti) as an instructor at the Freedom School.

FINAL GRADE: (7) The individual parts are weak, but as a whole it’s an enjoyable film whose slow pacing may have kept it from true greatness. Maybe the remake will clear that up?

Review: Wu Xia (2011)

Posted in Donnie Yen, Jimmy Wang Yu, Takeshi Kaneshiro with tags , on May 13, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Jimmy Wang Yu

Fight Choreography by Donnie Yen

Directed by Peter Chan

Peter Chan is a celebrated director in Hong Kong, and many were looking forward to this different take on the traditional martial arts film where Peter claimed it would really show the damage the body takes from a martial arts blow. I quaked at this, remembering the horrid special effects used in the Jet Li embarassment Romeo Must Die, but since this was Peter Chan I wanted to give this a fair shot.

The injury effects were well done, but the film had a much bigger problem than that.

Wu Xia (meaning martial arts chivalry) begins in the year 1917 as we see the early day to day life of Liu Jin-xi (Yen) and his wife and two kids. He works for a paper mill, and while doing work happens to be in the store when two bandits come by to rob the place. At first Liu hides away, but eventually jumps in frantically to save the storekeeper. In the ensuing scuffle it appears he defeats both men accidently and is proclaimed a hero of the town, but Detective Baiju (Kaneshiro) doesn’t believe that a man with no training would defeat, even on accident, two dangerous martial artists. He begins to hound Liu, trying to get evidence of who Liu really is, but he has no idea that his inquisitive nature would put the entire town in danger, and place the lives of Liu’s family–and his own–in true jeopardy…

Wu Xia starts off being an interesting detective story, even going CSI with the autopsy and recreation scenes. The perspective of the fight between Liu and the two bandits is shown in two different ways, and it’s actually fascinating to watch, until the writer or Peter Chan got bored and wanted to kick some ass, and at this point the film becomes a standard action film, even though the audience may be forgiven for wondering when and how did the initial tone of the film change. This film couldn’t decide what it wanted to be, and traded an original premise for a safe one, and the transition is jarring to the point that it’s difficult to understand the story. Also, the end of the final fight totally jumps the damn shark for a finish that almost tosses reality out of the window. In another film this scene might be cool, but this film’s story required something more realistic.

Donnie Yen does a good job playing Liu, going from being a simple farmer to being a stone cold killer, but the real star is Takeshi Kaneshiro as Bai-ju, the relentless detective who doesn’t know when to walk away, literally. He suffers from a terrible memory of something that happened long ago, and also suffers from a poison that is slowly killing him unless he performs acupuncture on himself regularly. That memory causes him to go investigate even further into Liu even though all signs point to the fact that he should stop. Jimmy Wang Yu (Master of the Flying Guillotine) is great as the Master who wants Liu to return to criminal organization he runs, in the hopes of making Liu his heir. He plays a vicious monster here, capable of violence at any moment.

The fights are well done here, and Donnie Yen does his requisite awesome job, but some post production decision-making was odd, such as dropping frames to speeding up the fights, which wasn’t necessary. It took away the smoothness of Yen’s choreography, and maybe it was an artistic choice, but it was still distracting. The fight between Yen and Wang Yu was good, and Peter Chan really ratchets up the tension for this final fight.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) Donnie Yen does a great job as always, but the choices made in post takes away from them. Jimmy Wang Yu does a great job to show he’s still The Man. The other stunt performers did a good job keeping up with Donnie Yen’s fight choreography.

STUNTWORK: (7) The rooftop chase scene was fantastic, and the falling stunts were also well done.

STAR POWER: (8) Donnie Yen is still at the top of his game, and Takeshi Kaneshiro is as good as always, and Jimmy Wang Yu–classic.

FINAL GRADE: (8) Wu Xia is a film that had classic written all over it until Peter Chan decided to write something else. A good film that could’ve been great, but will go down as an interesting experiment.

NEXT: Time to tell you the story of Billy Jack!