Archive for July, 2012

Dragon Sukuro-ru Reflections Part 1: Writing and Characters

Posted in Michael Moore with tags , on July 22, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Dragon Sukuro-ru: On Writing

This is the item that, for the most part, with a few exceptions was the item that I most affected, since I was the script writer. I had taken the challenge of writing the script, since it was different and yet similar to writing a comic book script. Substitute the artist for a cameraman, telling him what to shoot, but there is more to it than that, starting with the scale and scope. The show was in trouble from the very beginning, as the script was planned for a 16-episode series, that over time was pared down to 9 and then 6 and finally 3 episodes. Rather than rewriting the script from scratch, I made the error of scaling down the story and taking items out rather than simply starting completely over again, while trying to fit the entire cast into 3 episodes.

 

Characters

Of course you can see where this can lead: rather than having any real character development, you get small pieces of each character to the point where a first time viewer wouldn’t know who anyone was. For instance, the villain himself, Lao Feng, was nothing more than a cookie cutter villain. You knew what he wanted, but you didn’t really know why, and what his backstory with Master Tao was. John Satbury, who played Lao Feng, did his best, but the dialogue wasn’t working, and so I had him basically toss the script away and come up with his own version of the scripted dialogue, and it was fun, if not as overall menacing as he would need to be, but that was my fault for not giving John a strong enough script and sense of character. In that regard, I failed the actors in the first episode, as I, being the writer, didn’t have as clear as sense of the characters as I should have. Some of that has to do with the pared down script, and not rewriting it from scratch. As you can see in the first episode you meet a bunch of characters, but not all of them, which is another problem. In the first episode, ALL of the major players should be seen: Katsumi (Master Imura’s daughter), Master Tafari (Oren’s father), Kazuhiro Hayate (Yep, you never saw him except for the trailers. He has the most distinctive look and needed to be seen.) If you want to get an audience interested in the story, character comes first, and the most dramatic characters were never met, which leads to the next problem: there were too many of them. For a small no-budget indie film the script should have centered on two or three characters: The main hero, the main villain, and maybe a love interest or sidekick. We had about 8 major characters and a ton of secondary characters, which was just ludicrous on my part, even if the show had stayed on 16 episodes! I never recognized this, or maybe I refused to. Rewriting the script over and over again took its toll, since I had many other responsibilities, and I looked for as many shortcuts as I could, when once again, starting over with a blank page would have solved a lot of this.

Next Time: Plot and Theme 
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Review: King Of Beggars (1992)

Posted in Norman Chu, Stephen Chow with tags , , on July 18, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Stephen Chow, Ng Man Tat, Sharla Cheung, Norman Chu

Fight Choreography by Yuen Cheung-Yan

Directed by Gordon Chan

There have been many stories told about Beggar So, the creator of Drunken Boxing, and one of the Ten Tigers of Canton, the most recent being the terrific film True Legend, but before that funnyman Stephen Chow (Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle) had his own fictional take on the legend, and continues to grow in the realm of kung fu comedy…

Chow stars as So Chan, the spoiled rich child of General So (Man Tat) who spends his days messing around, even though his kung-fu skills are second-to-none, and on his birth day evening he goes to a brothel and falls in love with Yu-Shang (Cheung), a secret member of the Beggars Association who is trying to get close enough to kill Chiu Mok-Kei, a magician and martial arts master who killed her brother. So Chan covets Yu-Shang, which draws the ire of Mok-Kei (Chiu). Just to get rid of So Chan, she promises to marry him if–and only if–he can be crowned the Master of Martial Arts in a tournament held a few days hence. So Chan goes to the tournament, and has his father help him to cheat through the written portion of the test as So Chan can’t read or write, as he never considered it important before. Chan wins the tournament after his opponent cheats, but  it is revealed to the Emperor that So Chan cheated the written portion of the exam since he cannot read, and after the Emperor gives So Chan a test that he immediately fails, and an enraged Emperor has all of the So family’s belongings confiscated, and the So’s are ordered to spend the rest of their lives as beggars.

So Chan goes into a depression, but tries to come out of it with help from Yu-Shang, who feels responsible for Chan’s current predicament. After an altercation and causes Chan’s arms and legs to be broken by Mok-Kei, he and his father join the Beggars Association, and find that they have to aid them in exposing a plot  by Mok Kei to kill the Emperor, but before that So Chan has to heal and discover a new way of fighting…

King Of Beggars is a fun movie, that is full of Hong Kong style humor, and true to Stephen Chow’s style some standard scenes are raised up as he humorously plays with audience expectations. Chow does a good job of going from comedy to drama to action and back again, and a few scenes have both, but Chow keeps everything moving along smoothly. Ng Man Tat also does a great job providing further comedy as So Chan’s father, and is able to play off of Chow really well, especially as he has to provide the comedy relief when Chow has to play things seriously. Norman Chiu is a right bastard as he normally is in action films, playing Mok-Kei with the right amount of arrogance mixed with confidence. Sharla Cheung is mostly the damsel in distress, but plays it well.

The fight scenes are well done but are really short, and full of wire-harness and special effects, going for a more fantasy tone than a realistic one. My favorite fight is the fight versus the three masters who test Chan after he becomes Beggar So, and uses his drunken boxing for the first time. Chow doesn’t attempt to try to out-choreograph Jackie Chan or Jet Li’s version of Drunken Boxing and it was smart for him to do so, choosing a more effects-laden version that causes more chuckle than awe by design. You can see how some of the style of the fights would come back again in Kung Fu Hustle with much better special effects than shown here.

King Of Beggars showcases Stephen Chow’s brand of kung-fu comedy and positions him for the kung fu comedy classics to come.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (6) What was there was good, but a bit too effect-sy for me. None of it is meant to be remotely believable, and isn’t.

STUNTWORK: (6) The stunts are okay, but nothing to write home about. Everyone did what they should, but there weren’t any really memorable stunt scenes.

STAR POWER: (8) Stephen Chow’s star was on the rise, and Norman Chu is a good villain as always. Sharla Cheung was in the middle of her stardom in this film. The other stars were good, but no one upcoming of note.

FINAL GRADE: (7) Not nearly Stephen Chow’s best, but still a funny movie that retells the story of Beggar So in a new way.

NEXT: Germany and new star Mike Moller step into the ring with Urban Fighter!

“Dragon Sukuro-ru: Reflections” is starting this week!

Posted in Michael Moore with tags on July 16, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Some of you, particularly those who followed this website from the beginning, may remember that I had just come off of producing, co-writing and c0-directing a local public access no-budget martial arts show back in 2010. Well, it didn’t turn out as well as I wanted, but piqued my interest in martial arts films, which is what got this website created. Now, as I prepare to get behind the camera again, I thought I would revisit the show, and talk about things that went right…and things that went wrong from my end as a first time screenwriter and director and what I took away from it.

The episode will be cut into pieces and shown a bit at a time, with various comments by me. Feel free to chime in the comments and let me know what you think. I’ll be interspersing my reviews this week along with the show. For now check out the trailer, shot by my producer Fred Ford, myself, and cameraman Fernando Ortiz.

Michael

Review: Karate Bull Fighter (1977)

Posted in Sonny Chiba with tags , on July 11, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Sonny Chiba, Masashi Ishibashi, Kenji Imai

Fight Choreography by Sonny Chiba

Directed by Noribumi Suzuki

Matsutatsu Oyama is the Japanese name for Choi-Baedel, a Korean Karate master who founded Kyokushin Karate, and has been the subject of a few films, the last being the excellent Fighter in the Wind. Before that Sonny Chiba took a few stabs at the character, and made a film that looks as if it tried to be somewhat accurate, but then remembers that this is a Sonny Chiba film, and folks gotta die…badly.

The film starts as Matsutatsu Oyama (Chiba), dressed in a raggedy gi, comes to a karate tournament, ran by Chairman Nakasone, to test his skills, and Oyama wins, but is upset when he finds that all of the sparring is basically a dance, and no real contact is made to test his skills. While leaving the hall angry, he runs into a young man named Shogo Ariake, who wants to train with Oyama, and eventually Oyama takes him in as a disciple, even though Oyama is preoccupied with Chiako, his true love, but Oyama finds that Ariake is more unhinged than he could’ve ever imagined, and soon he uses the karate Oyama teaches him to go wild, killing anyone who insults him or Oyama, and causes a chain of events that leads to Oyama killing a man in self-defense, and takes penance by working on the farm of the man’s widow and son, hoping for forgiveness, but Nakasone has a trap planned to make sure Oyama never returns to the city…

I had a really odd time with this film, as I always have Fighter in the Wind always playing in my head, as some scenes mirror that film, but the events are a little different in some cases, very different in others. The film is properly dramatic, and even somewhat tragic, but in the last act it’s gets tossed out of the window. So Oyama kills this man, who tried to kill him with a knife, by the way, and Oyama is so torn up about it he leaves Chiako to go live in the barn of the widow’s house, befriend the son, but then, after he’s forgiven, leaves the farm to go kill about half the population of Japan without batting an eyelid. It’s as if a producers said “Enough of this historical sh**t! This is a Sonny Chiba film, dammit, and there hasn’t been nearly enough of a body count!” 

While I enjoyed the end fights, it just seemed contrary to everything that happened in the previous hour. Sonny Chiba is…well, Sonny Chiba, but does a good job, and Mashashi Ishibashi once again plays Chiba’s whipping boy, whom Chiba’s killed in so many films I wonder if it’s in his contract. I found that Nakasone was a weak villain, but Ariake was a far more formidable opponent, but his story is cut short just as he was a more compelling problem for Oyama to deal with.

The fight scenes were good, as Chiba’s usually are, but as I’ve said before in other reviews, if you aren’t used to Japanese Karate movies it may take some time to get used to, as their fights have a different cadence and choreographic style from Kung-Fu films. The final fight is the best, but once again abandons the earlier story of the film. The best moment may involve the fact that as the fight goes on Oyama gets tired, which you rarely see in martial arts films. He’s beat, and has to catch his breathe as the fight goes on, and in one moment he hides in tall grass from the men chasing him, and one man falls on him, and the terrified look on his face was classic as he braced himself for the death strike he knew was coming, but died badly anyway.

Now that’s Sonny Chiba. But not necessarily Masutatsu Oyama…

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (6) The fight in the middle of the film and at the end are okay, and Chiba gets to show off his trademark karate skills, but it’s weaker in many respects to some of his other films. I looked forward to getting a showdown with Ariake that never came.

STUNTWORK: (7) The stuntmen did a great job, and really sold their scenes, particularly when one of them gets killed by Chiba. These guys know how to make it look as painful as possible.

STAR POWER: (9) It’s Sonny Chiba. Look out for the real Masutatsu Oyama at the very end of the opening credits…

FINAL GRADE: (6) Karate Bull Fighter is a decent film hurt by the fact that they chose the wrong storyline to follow. Ariake was the correct one. Ditching the drama to shoehorn in Sonny Chiba action ultimately hurts this film (and yes, I see the irony of saying that).

NEXT:  Stephen Chow and Norman Chui retell the legend of Beggar So in King Of Beggars!

Review: Kickboxer (1989)

Posted in Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michel Qissi on July 9, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Alexio, Dennis Chan, Michel Qissi

Fight Choreography by Jean-Claude Van Damme

Directed by Mark DiSalle and David Worth

After Bloodsport was a runaway success for the new action hero, he had a slight misstep with his follow-up film Cyborg, but found success again with Kickboxer, a film that allowed JCVD to create the tournament fighting films he was pioneering at the time.

So was this a good film alongside Bloodsport?

The answer is…somewhat. In some respects it is better, and worse in others, but in no way is it more or less entertaining overall.

Enter Eric Sloane (Alexio) , the best kickboxer in the United States, who is followed by his French-raised brother Kurt (JCVD) who goes to Thailand to face the fighters there, after being told that their style of Muay Thai was formidable in the kickboxing ring. Eric, being as full of himself as he is, foolishly looks for the biggest and best fighter he can find–and succeeds, facing the brutal Tong Po (Qissi), who works for the local Thai mob. Tong Po brutalizes Eric and breaks his back, paralyzing him for life. Now fueled by the fires of true revenge, Kurt wants to face Tong Po, but isn’t good enough, causing him to seek out a master crazy enough to train him, and finds one in Xian (Chan), as well as romance with Mylee, Xian’s neice. Kurt goes to train, but will his training be enough to defeat Tong Po, and in the process get revenge for both his brother and Mylee?

Kickboxer is ludicrous in many ways, but a whole lot of fun. The story keeps things lively and entertaining, even if you can see the end coming a country mile away. JCVD does a decent acting job, far improving from what he did previously, but continues to carry that onscreen presence. Michel Qissi is intimidating as Tong Po but isn’t nearly as intimidating as Bolo, for instance (in fact Qissi and JCVD were childhood friends. Both of them got noticed as background dancers in the film…Breakin’) While JCVD does the hero stuff, Dennis Chan brings the humor and wisdom as Master Xian, and once again JCVD is one of the only action heroes of the time who actually has to learn martial arts, instead of being a badass out of the gate, which is pretty much every action hero today. 

Now I mentioned ludicrous. That name really applies to one scene, and one scene only. Words are not enough. Don’t watch this while drinking soda else it may come through your nose:

Yes, the dance scenes were…brave. I don’t have the minerals to dance like that, but JCVD does. He also loves to travel around in a montage scene, making sure that Stan Bush keeps working:

God Bless you, Stan.

The training scenes were really the best scenes in the film to me, as I enjoyed all the torture Xian puts Kurt through, but also in seeing Kurt learning and getting better as the film goes on. Now, by today’s standards the Muay Thai fights are a bit simple (by today’s standards I mean Tony Jaa), and yes, pretty cheesy, but the fights are pretty good for what they are, particularly the fight inside the bar, and the final fight with Tong Po. JCVD knows what he does well, and choreographs the fights to accentuate what he can do, which is that beautiful spinning helicopter kick. The final fight with Tong Po does feature the requisite JCVD slow motion kicks, and his kiai (yell) which lasts forever. The fights really don’t compare to any of the fights in Bloodsport, but it’s decent for what it is.

Kickboxer is an American martial arts film classic that shows JCVD at his early best!

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) JCVD does a good job, knowing what he can and can’t do well. While the fights aren’t very fast by Asian film standards, it does have a certain charm and is cinematic to watch, which is more than many Hollywood 80’s martial arts films could claim. But whomever choreographed that dance scene needed to be shot.

STUNTWORK: (5) The stuntmen didn’t have to do too much crazy stuff, but did it well, the standout scene being the bar fight.

STAR POWER: (9) JCVD was starting a run of success that would define him as one of the best Hollywood martial arts action heroes of all time.

FINAL GRADE: (8) One of JCVD’s most fun films. Not his best, but is full of fun individual scenes that carry the entire film.

NEXT: Sonny Chiba kills a bull as Masutatsu Oyama in Karate Bull Fighter (aka Champion of Death)!