Archive for September, 2012

Review: Double Dragon (1994)

Posted in Al Leong, Jeff Imada, Mark Dacascos, Roger Yuan, Ron Yuan with tags , on September 27, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Marc Dacascos, Scott Wolf, Alyssa Milano, Robert Patrick, Jeff Imada and Al Leong, Roger Yuan, Ron Yuan, and Julia Nickson

Fight Choreography by Jeff Imada

Directed by James Yukich

During the early 90’s video games were thought to be the newest well that Hollywood could mine, but as it turned out they would be the start of one Hollywood failure after another, and along with Super Mario Brothers, Double Dragon earns a spot as one of the worst adaptations of all time. And, to be truthful, it is, but there was the spark of a good film, if not for one glaring mistake, one that started a cascade of mistakes that doomed this film.

The film takes place in New Angles 2007, after a giant earthquake that leveled half of the city, which now resembles something between Blade Runner and The Warriors (this will not be the last reference I make to The Warriors) in which the gangs control the city at night, with the police only seen during the day. In this world exist teenage brothers Jimmy (Dacascos) and Billy Lee (Wolf), even though it is never explained why both brothers are of two different ethnic backgrounds. They are underground fighters who are trained and looked after by Satori (Nickson), a woman who worked with the boy’s deceased father, who found one half of the Double Dragon, a pendant kept safe by monks which grants power to the user. Satori has half of it, and the other half found by the villanous Koga Shuko (Patrick) who runs the city, and look for the other half so he can have the ultimate power. He soon finds the second half of the Double Dragon, and in the ensuing fight to take it kills Satori. The Lee brothers, along with tag along and leader of a local good gang Marian (Milano) attempt to revenge Satori and defeat Koga Shuko…

This is a silly film. So silly I think children watching it will be insulted by it. The writing, some of it shockingly by Paul Dini (Batman the Animated Series, Arkham Asylum) is chock full of terrible dialogue, and actions that don’t make any sense. Marc Dacascos is woefully underused, and Scott Wolf is used too damn much. Robert Patrick isn’t bad, but isn’t very good either. Milano is great eye candy but doesn’t really bring much to the role, except for that. The special effects aren’t very special and the bottom line is this: If the film had tried to actually live up to the convictions of the video game, it would have been a harder PG-13, and could have been really good, like Escape from New York or The Warriors with martial arts of the material took the audience seriously, instead of pandering to children, without realizing that adults played these games as well.

The martial arts fights are barely worth a mention, except for the stick fighting between Marc Dacascos and Al Leong during the home invasion, which was fun to watch, and should have been emulated throughout the film. There is a fight between the brothers a group of gangs in a junk yard that also had its moments, and gave Dacascos some good moments, but for this film that’s about it.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 3

A terrible film even by children’s standards that butchers the video game it is based on, that really shouldn’t have made for kids at all. A waste of the talent that participated. 

NEXT: Breast Cancer Awareness Month kicks off with Michelle Yeoh in Butterfly Sword!

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Review: Kickboxer 2: The Road Back (1991)

Posted in Benny Urquidez, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Matthias Hues, Michel Qissi, Sasha Mitchell with tags , on September 23, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Sasha Mitchell, Dennis Chan, Peter Boyle, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa (CHT) Matthias Hues, Michel Qissi, Vincent Murdocco, Gene Lebell

Fight Choreography by Benny” The Jet” Urquidez and Jim Nickerson

Directed by Albert Pyun

For whatever reasons, after Jean-Claude Van Damme had his hits films in Bloodsport and Kickboxer the producers were hellbent on selling the rights off to whomever would buy them, and were successful, if not incredibly stupid for doing so, and rather than getting a new JCVD sequel, we get a film directed by B-movie director Albert Pyun (Cyborg, Captain America, the crappy one) and written by future superhero writer David Goyer (The Blade films, Dark City, and Batman Begins) for whom this was his second film, and starring newcomer Sasha Mitchell, famous at the time for starring in the American TV series Step by Step, and was a kickboxing champion.

So…

The film begins as we meet David Sloane (Mitchell), youngest brother to Kurt and Eric from the first film, who has been running their gym a few years after both Kurt, Eric, and Mylee were all murdered at gunpoint by Tong Po after the events of the first film. David is a good man, and takes care of the gym as best he can, but is having problems as the gym doesn’t have enough money to stay open, which had been kept open by the Sloane brothers by the winnings from their fights. The problem is David no longer fights, seeing fighting as the reason his brothers were killed, and has adopted a more zen way of thinking, and fighting. David gets an offer from kickboxing mogul Justin Maciah (Boyle) who wants David to become his main fighter and spokesman, but David refuses, but Maciah is able to convince his star pupil Brian to fight for him. As the bills pile up, David unknowingly sets off a chain of events by challenging Maciah’s fighter Neil Vargas (Hues) to a match, which David wins. Maciah’s business partner from Thailand, Sanga (CHT) has David injured and burns down his gym in order to get Kurt Sloane’s master from Thailand, Xian (Chan) to come to America, and Sanga sets a plan into motion to have David and Xian come face to face with Tong Po, and Sanga will attempt to regain his people’s lost honor…

The film has a decent story, if a very straightforward good versus evil story. David Sloane doesn’t get to go on a journey of discovery the same way that Kurt did, primary because the budget of the film was so low they couldn’t leave Los Angeles, so the scope of the film is limited, and the rest of the film follows suit, even down to the songs, which had to get a guy who sounded a little like Stan Bush to do the music.

Understand the implication of this: they had to get a guy who was a cheap knockoff of Stan freakin’ Bush. Yes, Stan “You Got The Touch” Bush.

That’s how low-budget this film was, but to his credit Albert Pyun didn’t waste whatever dime he had to make the film with. Sasha Mitchell was pretty good as the last Sloane Brother, even if the acting was stilted in places, more blame to the script written than anything else. Peter Boyle was sufficiently slimy as Maciah, but of course classic baddie of the 80’s and 90’s Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa stole the show as the main villain, and Tong Po, for whatever reason, actually looks far more intimidating here than he did in the original film, a good job by Michel Qissi, but he doesn’t appear until nearly the last fifteen minutes of the film. Dennis Chan is as good as ever as Xian, but taking him away from the Thailand setting was a bit disconcerting, but any amount of Dennis Chan as Xian is good enough for me. Look for the legendary Bruce Lee grappling trainer Gene Lebell as the referee, Benny Urquidez as a corner man, and Brian Austin Green (Beverly Hills 90210) as a punk kid getting schooled by Mitchell.

The fights may have been well done, but it was hard to tell, because the fight choreography is lost among too many close-ups, slow-mo, quick edits, and some long shots that are too far away from the action. Benny Urquidez and Jim Nickerson look as if they did a good job, but it was too hard to tell as the editing and Pyun’s directing (no, he doesn’t know how to properly direct a martial arts fight scene) bring it all down, except in the final fight, which has better editing and camerawork than any other fight in the film.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 6

A sequel to Van Damme’s film that while showcasing a new talent in Sasha Mitchell, and bringing back Dennis Chan, fails to live up to the first film’s action and training sequences. 

NEXT: Marc Dacascos and Scott Wolf search for the Double Dragon!

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Review: Detective Dee And The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame (2010)

Posted in Andy Lau, Sammo Hung, Tsui Hark with tags , on September 18, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Andy Lau, Li BingBing, Carina Lau, Deng Chao, Richard Ng, Teddy Robin

Fight Choreography by Sammo Hung

Directed by Tsui Hark

Tsui Hark is a Hong Kong director who has spent his career making special-effects laden martial arts films, pioneering the use of wire harnesses in new ways, and changed Hong Kong cinema, giving Jet Li his classic film series Once Upon A Time In China. Tsui has served more as a producer for Hong Kong film and TV series, but has once again stepped behind the camera to start a new act in his storied career, and creates a pulp character that combines crime solving arts of Sherlock Holmes with the adventure of the Indiana Jones films with a healthy dose of kung-fu to top it off.

Detective Dee finds that China is about to crown its first Empress Wu Zeitan (C. Lau) to the throne, which has caused an uprising of different rebel factions aimed to assassinate her. She commissions a giant statue likeness of her to be erected before her coronation, but soon the men in charge of the statue’s construction start dying off by spontaneously combusting, bursting into flames from the inside and dying painfully. Zeitan then meets with the Chaplain, a mystic speaking deer, who tells her that to solve the mystery of why these men are dying and how, she’ll need to release Detective Dee (A. Lau), a commissioner under the old Emperor who was imprisoned for rebelling against Zeitan. She has Dee freed by her assistant Jing’er (Bingbing) just as he is attacked by assassins. Dee, always a step ahead of nearly everyone, takes the job offered by Zeitan, and as he follows the clues he has help from Jing’er and the albino Pei Donglai (Chao) who are there to make sure that Dee succeeds, but also that he doesn’t try to betray the queen. Dee also finds that he has to deal with the Prince who wants the throne as well, and Dee finds that everyone, himself included, may have been chess pieces put into play by an enemy who will see the future Empress dead…

Detective Dee is the without a doubt one of the best films Tsui Hark has done in quite a while. The fantasy, mystery and kung-fu blend together better than many films Hark has tried in the past, with well-written characters and a great one in Detective Dee himself. Andy Lau does a great job with Dee, as the audience knows that he is a good man, but wary as to whether his intentions are to help or hurt the new Empress, who isn’t exactly a picture of kindness, well-played by Carina Lau, who is an Empress who will use anyone and everyone to get–and keep–the throne of China. Li Bing Bing also brings gusto as the fiery Jing’er, whose distrust of Dee and devotion to the Empress hints that her love for the Empress may be more than just simple loyalty to a new queen. It’s always great to see the great Hong Kong cinema comedian Richard Ng, and the always funny Teddy Robin (Gallants) The special effects are well done, as Hong Kong cinema continues to inch closer to Hollywood effects work,  and the cinematography is gorgeous.

The fights themselves aren’t overly long, and well choreographed by Sammo Hung, including a great prison fight toward the beginning between Dee and a group of  assassins, and also midway through the film as they have to fight off assassins and deadly…puppets in the Ghost Market battle. Sammo has always had a knack for matching the fight choreography to the story and atmosphere of a film, and doesn’t disappoint here. The stunt work is also well done, and there is some use of wires, but nothing that would distract anyone from the action.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8.5

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is a successful ode to the old school matinee serials that will hopefully spin-off sequels with the terrific Andy Lau and the legendary Tsui Hark! 

NEXT: Sasha Mitchell takes over for JCVD with help from Dennis Chan in Kickboxer 2!

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Review: Brawler (2011)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 12, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Nathan Grubbs, Marc Senter, Bryan Batt, Pell James

Fight Choreography by Garrick Palumbo

Directed by Chris Sivertson

The film stars Nathan Grubbs and Marc Senter as brothers Charlie and Bobby Fontaine, respectively, two brothers who are brawlers in the underground riverboat fights taking place in New Orleans. Both boys are at the top of their game, but while Charlie just likes to fight, his younger brother Bobby gets into trouble with drugs and money with the mob that runs those illegal fights. Charlie is also newly married to Kat (James), a pretty but absent woman whom Charlie is devoted to. Before long Bobby’s problems with the mob get worse, and a group of thugs come to his home to teach him a lesson, and he promptly fights them off, and soon Charlie comes to the rescue, but Bobby is unable to save Charlie from a vicious baseball bat to the knee.  Charlie recovers, and two months later finds him working in a construction job while Bobby, who is hiding out from mob, lives with Charlie and Kat, but before long the drug-addled Kat and Bobby have sex, and are both caught by Charlie, who rages against them both, and challenges Bobby to a fight to the death on the riverboat, but are the bonds of brotherhood stronger than a mistake?

On the outside Brawler looks like it’s cut from the same cloth as the Never Back Down series, and nothing can be further from the truth. The fact that this is based on a true story lends it a certain credibility, and the story itself isn’t so much about the fight but the chain of events that lead up to the fight. Charlie is the more level-headed of the two, but perhaps suffers from not being able to see some people (Bobby and Kat) for who and what they really are, and tries to make life work for them all, but once the betrayal occurs Charlie’s world order is destroyed, while Bobby seemingly could care less. Both Grubbs and Senter do a good job as the feuding brothers, and Bryan Batt (Mad Men) is good as the gay high-roller friend of Bobby who doesn’t understand how much danger he’s really in. Pell James is also great as Kat, not really eliciting any sympathy, and that may be the point. Kat’s soul was crushed long before Charlie came into her life. In the end he was just the victim of Kat’s own self-destructive nature.

I had a few issues with the film from a technical level. Some of the night scenes, especially the indoor scenes, were entirely too dark. It was hard to see the actors at times. Some of the placement of shadows were good, but too many times it distracted from the story. There were also moments where the volume of the music overpowered the dialog being spoken. The music does deserve a special mention, as the blues and bluegrass music used was stellar. A fantastic display of music cuts into the film in the right moments. They need to make this soundtrack available! The use of New Orleans and Louisiana was well done, and the city really became a character of its own, adding to the mood of the proceedings.The worse things got for Charlie and Bobby, the worse the backdrop around them became, reflecting their world.

The fights were okay, and were decently shot, and most take place in the cage ring, and there isn’t a lot of complex movement, but the point is reality here, and it succeeds in that more than most films of this nature. The final fight is more a dramatic fight that a rah-rah one, and builds some suspense as to how far each brother is willing to go to win.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 7  

Brawler is a solid film that uses the backdrop of Louisiana to tell the story of two brothers and the betrayal that threatens both their lives. A well done drama.

NEXT: Yuen Biao and Brigette Lin lead an all star cast in Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain!

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Review: King Boxer (aka Five Fingers of Death) (1972)

Posted in Bolo Yeung, Lo Lieh with tags , , on September 11, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Lo Lieh, Wang Ping, Bolo Yueng, Chao Hsiung, Jin BongJin, Tien Feng, Chin Chi Chu, Chung Ku Wen, Chan Shen, James Nam (Kung-Hsun Nan)

Fight Choreography by Liu Chia Yung and Chen Chuan

Directed by Chang Chang Ho

The moment you hear the opening siren, you know that 1.)You heard this same siren to signal when Uma Thurman was going to go nuts on someone in Kill Bill, and that 2.) Damn does Tarantino have an original thought in his head? King Boxer is widely considered to be the film that started the kung-fu craze in the States that paved the way for Enter The Dragon, which followed the same year.

The film stars the great Lo Lieh as Chih-Hao, a martial artist whose training has gone as far as it can, and is sent with his friend Ta-Ming to study Kung Fu under Master Suen. Chih Hao travels to the town of Ko Kui, where the town is being run by a rich bastard Meng Tung-shan (Feng) and his even more bastard son, who, after witnessing a fight between a mongolian (Yueng) and the mysterious fighter Chen (Chu), are able to convince Chen to join them. No sooner does Chih-Hao arrive in town than he pisses off the gang controlled by Meng to save a local entertainer, Miss Yen. Soon he arrives, and after a year is allowed to fully train under Master Suen, who sees the promise the young Chih-Hao has, and teaches him the Iron Palm technique, so brutal it turns his hands red and anyone hit with a strike from his fists dies in what looks like a pretty painful death. Meng finds out, and tries to destroy the Suen school, and Chih-Hao with it, and mutliple betrayals leads to a satisfying and brutal climax…

The story here is what makes this film great. The fall of Chih-Hao and his betrayal at the hands of a friend, who pays a terrible price for his betrayal by having his eyes plucked out, and the final act, where revenge is paid out to different characters on several levels is classic in the way the plot is constructed as cascading events lead to this inevitable conclusion.  Lo Lieh, who had made a career playing mostly bad guys, is good here as the good guy Chih-Hao, and Tien Feng, always a great performer in Shaw Brothers films, is as good as always as the villainous Meng, especially toward the end when Meng makes a tragic mistake. James Nam is also good as the betrayer Han Lung, who pays a heavy price and becomes a sympathetic character who meets a tragic end with the woman he loves.

The fights here are actually not very good compared to many other Shaw Brothers film, but this truly a “blood capsule” film: whenever anyone is in their death throes they bite down on that capsule and let the blood flow from their mouths to simulate massive internal injuries. The choreography looks almost clumsy at times, as if the fights were put together quickly (they probably were). The camera work does a great job of framing the fights, and this film has no shortage of fights, even if they aren’t as good as they could be.

The final fight between Chih-Hao and Okada turns unto something we’ll see years later in The Matrix films as Chih-Hao starts punching through wooden posts and one strike sends Okada flying into a cement wall, causing a small crater. The effects bring a lot of fun to all of the fights, and could have come off cheesy but work well within the world they created. The camera work does a great job of framing the fights, and this film has no s

On a side note, Kill Bill uses the siren music and other notes from this film, and of course the eye plucking scenes.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 9

King Boxer started the successful influx of kung-fu cinema into the United States, and internationally brought the Shaw Brothers film style to the masses, with a great story and hallmarks that would define old-school kung-fu films of the 70’s.

NEXT: Two brother battle it out in New Orleans in Brawler!

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Short Film: The Ego (2012)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 9, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

One of the most exciting things going on in film today has to be the Independent martial arts film community, which seems to be growing exponentially, with stunt teams from all over the world showing what they can do, oftentimes a LOT better than anything Hollywood has tossed out. Here we have The Ego, directed by Oliver Juhrs and starring stuntman Thomas Hacikoglu (Inglorious Bastards). There isn’t much of a budget, but as I’ve always said martial arts films don’t need to have a great budget if they have the right choreographer, cinematographer, and maybe more importantly, the stuntmen. What takes place in this film is more brawling than martial arts, but the stunt work is very well done.