Starring Jason Yee, Ron Yuan, Lateef Crowder, Dominique Swain, Sasha Grey, James Lew, Samantha Streets
Fight choreography by Ron Yuan
Directed by David Ren
Every once in a while someone tries to do something different within the martial arts genre, and as someone who watches so many, I appreciate them when they come around, and it’s even better when we get more than one in a twelve month time span. Bunraku experimented with combining a samurai film with a western and tossing them into a blender with a box of crayons, and now we get a hard-boiled film noir story that introduces a new face to the world of martial arts stars. Jason Yee has been around in Hollywood, doing small films and getting small roles, but Jason, a U.S. San-Shou champion, now takes center stage to show off his stuff.
Yee stars as Jake, a bodyguard who works for glorified pimp Simon (Yuan) at a strip club called The Naked Eye. Jake’s job is to drive around Simon’s girls when they go out as escorts to make sure they stay safe and more importantly to make sure his clients pay up when their fun is over. The film opens as we find the dead body of one of them, a girl named Sandy (Streets) whom Jake finds murdered. As the film progresses we find out why he cares for this particular girl over all of the others while Jakes rampages across the city in an attempt to find her killer and take his revenge. As all things do in a film noir things go south quickly after Jake beats up Simon and takes his black book, which has the names of all of Simon’s clients. All kinds of hell begins to rain down on Simon, and he has to dodge Simon and his men, a kill crazy corrupt cop, and the men Jake owes a lot of money to, and try to survive the night long enough to solve the mystery of Sandy’s death….
The story has a good flow to it, and the cinematography and camera angles create a convincing film noir which actually falls in line with the look of many Korean thrillers coming out nowadays. I actually think this film could have worked well in black and white. The voice overs by Jake also lend to the “noir-ness” of the film, and David Ren gets a lot of things right. The script is fairly well written, and really show a seedy underworld that left me wanting to wash myself afterward, and more nudity than I’ve seen in a Hollywood film since the heyday of the 80’s. Jason Yee is convincing as the loser/fighter Jake, and brings the appropriate hard-boiled edge to him. Ron Yuan is fantastic as Simon, and has some of the funniest lines in the film, and he’s able to create a character you kinda like and despise all at once. Sasha Grey (The Girlfriend Experience) is in the film in what amounts to a glorified cameo, and the same goes for Dominque Swain (Face/Off).
The fight choreography is well done, keeping everything within the film noir spectrum and style, and all of the fights keep a realistic tone, but there are two standout moments: the first is the first fight between Jason Yee and Lateef Crowder in hotel hallway. The fighting is tight since the hallway is small, and it was interesting to see how Lateef uses his capoeira in such a tight space. The absolute best fight comes at the end of the film and begins with the rematch between Yee and Crowder, and then, in an ode to the film Oldboy .Jake takes on four or five police officers in a side-scrolling scene that is terrifically choreographed by Ron Yuan. I was giggling in entertainment glee the entire time as I watched this fight unfold, and the orchestral score that accompanied it is one of my favorites, “Bolero” as performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra.
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):
CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) Ron Yuan does a great job of melding the martial arts fights into the film noir and darkness of the rest of the film, and once again, the final fight is absolutely great. All of the other fights were good, but the Lateef Crowder stuff is exceptionally well done.
STUNTWORK: (8) The stuntmen did a really good job, especially the one poor guy who fell on his head and he rolled down the balcony, and the stuntmen who fought during the side scrolling fight did a fantastic job.
STAR POWER: (7) Jason Yee is a relative unknown, but I think he’ll be much better known after this film comes out. Ron Yuan is great as always, but Dominique Swain and Sasha Grey weren’t really in the film enough to really matter. Lateef’s record of being the best martial artist in films to have never won an onscreen fight continues untarnished!
FINAL GRADE: (8) A terrific martial arts film noir that brings a fresh voice to the world of martial arts films, and Jason Yee has the makings of a star, with bone crunching fights and a terrific finale that will leave martial arts film fans smiling.
The film’s release date is June 15th, 2012
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