Archive for October, 2012

Review: Geisha Assassin (aka Geisha Vs Ninja) (2008)

Posted in Minami Tsuki with tags , , , on October 31, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Minami Tsuki, Shigeru Kanai, Nao Nagasawa, Taka Okubo

Fight Choreography by Naohiro Kowamoto

Directed by Go Ohara

Go Ohara is a former stuntman and fight choreographer(Death Trance, Zero Woman) who makes his directorial debut with this film, and brings his energy and fast-paced fight choreography with him, but can that hold up a weak story?

Geisha Assassin centers on a beautiful young geisha named Kotomi (Tsuki) who, aftera  night of dancing follows a samurai named Katagiri and attempts to kill him, in revenge for killing her father. He doesn’t oblige her the battle, forcing her to face wave after wave of increasingly difficult henchmen strategically placed all throughout the land, seeing if she is a good enough swords woman to face him in combat. Once she comes face to face with him again, she learns that not everything is as she thought…

 

That’s the story. Yes, it’s pretty much all of it. Her reasons for wanting this fight, and why he did kill her father, and who those people attacking her were aren’t revealed until the last few minutes of the film, which creates a story as flimsy as they come. Since you don’t know why she is fighting, it’s hard to care. Scenes were we should be worried about Kotomi’s safety, we aren’t, since we don’t really know who she is or the stakes involved. There are a few flashbacks to Kotomi and her father, but they unfold too slowly  within the story. The actors do a fair job, but it’s the story here that is an issue, because there isn’t much of one. They save the storytelling mainly for the end, and by that time it’s hard to care about Kotomi’s mission.

One place where the film does excel is the fight scenes, well choreographed by Kowamoto, particularly the sword fights, whose cadence has a more Hong Kong flavor to it than the typical Japanese aesthetic. The pace is fast, and the camera takes good angles, and there are many, many fights but each one is different from the one before. It is in these fights that the character of Kotomi comes out the most. The final fight versus Katagiri is a good one, and at least has the benefit of the story reveal there. Since Go Ohara was a stunt man and fight choreographer first, it’s no surprise the action was well done, but the deficiencies of the story are too large to overcome.

 

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 5

 

Geisha Assassin feels more like I was watching a video game being played rather than a movie. The story takes too much time to reveal itself, and it’s still hard to care afterward. Good fight choreography can’t always save a mediocre film, and it doesn’t here.

 

NEXT: The RZA, his BFF Russell Crowe and Lucy Lui in The Man With The Iron Fists!

 

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Review: So Close (2002)

Posted in Corey Yuen, Karen Mok, Yasuaki Kurata, Zhao Wei with tags , on October 26, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Shu Qui, Karen Mok, Zhao Wei, Yasuaki Kurata, Derek Wan

Fight Choreography by Corey Yuen

Directed by Corey Yuen

Corey Yuen, fight choreographer legend, who has directed films like No Retreat, No Surrender, and Above the Law (the Yuen Biao film) jumps again behind the camera to team up Hong Kong beauties Shu Qui, Karen Mok and Zhao Wei in a Chinese action film in the vein of Charlie’s Angels.

The film revolves around sisters Lin (Qui) and Quan (Wei) who are having issues within their given professions…as hired killers. Their jobs are already complicated as they don’t just kill anyone; they are looking for the men who killed their parents, and their father who had created a computer program that would have aided the police greatly. Lin does the killing while younger sister Quan is the computer wiz who holds down the fort at home and runs their complex satellite mainframe computer, but yearns to get out of her sisters’ shadow and take assassination jobs of her own. The only thing wrong with this? Quan’s never killed anyone. Things get complicated when Lin meets with an old flame and decides to get out of the business, while at the same time a super-smart police woman Kong Yay Hung (Mok) starts to put everything together and attempts to bring both women to justice, and the brother of Lin’s most recent assassination victims Chow Nunn, a drug and gun runner who fronted a corporation for his crimes, plans to take his revenge on Lin and her sister. All parties slam into each other, and tragedy strikes, and a final confrontation within the corporation itself between the women and Chow Nunn and his army of thugs…and one Japanese sword master…

This is a really entertaining film, very much in the vein of Charlie’s Angels, and while not so “out there” Yuen makes sure you know just how beautiful all three main leads are. The story is entertaining as both Lin and Quan have a good backstory for why they do what they do, and Zhao Wei is pitch perfect as the immature, yet capable Quan. Shu Qi, not known for action films, does a capable job as a tough-as-nails character, and Karen Mok is great in her fight scenes. Yasuaki Kurata doesn’t really make his presence truly felt until the end of the film, as he proves to be the real villain of the film, and as always is great. There is a turning point in the film that changes the fantastical tone of the film, but it isn’t as jarring as it could be as things build to this moment, but it was a surprise and doesn’t take anything away from the fun to be had.

Corey Yuen choreographs the fights as he always has, and does a good job, especially for those who didn’t know martial arts. He made them look as if they did (unlike in his American output) and he stages the fights well. Hell, he even hearkens back to his best ‘lethal ladies’ film Yes, Madam, as Karen Mok pulls off a move that came directly from that film, and if you know the scene you’ll smile when it happens. The finale is great display of gun action versus the guards. The final fight with Yasuaki Kurata is excellent, and Zhao Wei really shines here, and holds her own versus the legendary Kurata. She looks fantastic, and Karen Mok does well in this fight too, the most impressive of a film full of great set pieces.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8

A film far more fun than Charlie’s Angels, an explosive gun and kung-fu fight fest wrapped around a Mission Impossible-like story with a great villain in Yasuaki Kurata. 

NEXT: All samurais fear the Geisha Assassin!

Kiai-Kick Q & A with Matthew Page aka Master Ken from Enter The Dojo!

Posted in Matt Page with tags , , on October 23, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

For those who don’t know about this show yet, let me promise you that you are missing one of the most hilarious things going right now on the internet, and Matthew Page has created a fantastic character in Master Ken, an amalgam of many “McDojo”  instructors, and the show has an eclectic and funny group of people, and the actors who portray them bring a lot to the show, but show creator and star Matthew Page steals the show episode after episode as Master Ken, and sheds a little light on the character and show below. Read and enjoy!

MM: Where did the idea and the Office-style format for the show come from, and who inspired the character of Master Ken?

MP: I’ve been training since I was a teenager in some kind of martial arts. I began in a very traditional dojo. Very formal. Quiet. Etiquette was very important. Then I moved around and began to study at what are referred to as “McDojos”. After training at a few of these schools I felt the need to comment on it. Master Ken isn’t based on one specific person so much as I took characteristics of various instructors (some of whom are really good martial artists) and combined them into one guy. I was also a HUGE fan of the BBC version of “The Office” and I think Ricky Gervais is a genius. I wanted to create something like what he had done but different enough that it could succeed on it’s own.

MM: I noticed that you shoot the series at Jeff Speakman’s  Kenpo 5.0 dojo. Did you have to approach Jeff about shooting there, and is there any chance he may appear on the series?

MP: Joe Conway and I are both black belts under Jeff Speakman and he has been very supportive of the series. I’d love to have him on the show but he travels the world teaching Kenpo so I doubt he’d have time. Maybe someday. MM: What kind of response have you received since the series debuted on Youtube? Any chance of purchasing Season 1 on DVD or Blu-Ray?

MP: The response has been amazing. I recently started a Master Ken Facebook page and got hundreds of friend requests overnight. People really love the character. And yes, plans to have the show available on DVD are in the works.

MM: It’s apparent you study martial arts as well. What style do you train in?

MP: I’ve had the good fortune to train in a variety of arts just like Master Ken. I’ve trained in Okinawan Kenpo and Kobudo, American Kenpo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Boxing, Aikido, Stick Fighting…I’ve been around.

MM: Are you a fan of martial arts films? If so what’s your favorite? Favorite martial arts actor?

MP: I love martial arts movies! Especially the American action movies made in the late 80s/early 90s. They don’t make ’em like that anymore. I watched everything that Seagal and Speakman and Billy Blanks and Don “The Dragon” Wilson did but my favorite martial arts actor to this day is Jean Claude Van Damme. If there’s an actor I’d love to get on “Dojo” someday more than anyone it would be him.

MM: What situations–and changes–can we expect to see in Season 2? Will poor Anthony continue to get abused?

MP: This season we want to give fans more of what they loved from season one. More slapstick, more catchphrases and more Ameri-Do-Te techniques. 

MM: On a personal  note: I study kung-fu here in Austin, TX, and I introduced the show to my kung fu brothers and sisters when the show first came out. And every once and a while SOMEONE will say: “Stomp the Groin. Stomp the Head. Now Restomp the groin.”

MP: That’s awesome!! Thanks for sharing the show!!!

MM: Thanks for taking some time to answer these questions, Matt! Matt’s success is well deserved, and you can watch season 1 and 2 here. I included my favorite episode below.

Just remember to protect your groin.

Dustin Nguyen begins production on Monk on Fire (Buddha Fire) with Roger Yuan, Jason Ninh Cao and Veronica Ngo!

Posted in Dustin Nguyen, Jason Ninh Cao, Roger Yuan, Uncategorized, Veronica Ngo with tags on October 22, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

While waiting for things to get going on Iron Monk, Jason Nihn Cao has started working on Monk on Fire, a film that has been in development for a while, a project being directed by 21 Jumpstreet’s Dustin Nguyen (That will be the final time I associate his name with that show on this site) who scored a hit with the Vietnam martial arts epic The Rebel. Now things have gotten going, as the fight rehearsals have started. The film stars Dustin Nguyen, Roger Yuan, Veronica Ngo (Clash) and Jason Ninh Cao. Roger Yuan is also reported to be doing the fight choreography.

Information on the story is thin at the moment, but what is known is that it’s a fantasy martial arts story that revolves around a rivalry between two buddhist warriors (Nguyen and Yuan respectively).

I’ll get in touch with Jason Ninh Cao to see if he can give any more details. More to come!

Roger Yuan

Veronica Ngo

Jason Ninh Cao

Review: Tai Chi 0 (2012)

Posted in Fung Hak-On, Sammo Hung, Xin Xin Xiong, Yuan Xiaochao (also Jayden Yuan) with tags , , on October 17, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Yuan Xiaochao, Angelababy, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Eddie Peng, Shu Qi, Xin Xin Xiong, Fung Hak-On, Leung Sui-lung

Fight Choreography by Sammo Hung

Directed by Stephen Fung

Steampunk is a sub genre of science fiction that has, pardon the pun, been gathering steam for the last decade or so. Steampunk is known for alternate histories usually set around either the Victorian British period or in the American Wild West in which steam power is the dominant power source that is used to create futuristic weapons, and vehicles like air ships. Lately books have sprung up, as have conventions, an entire subculture, and even a few movies like the Japanese anime Steamboy and The Wild, Wild West. Despite this, no film has really just gone all-in with steampunk, but now fans can rejoice, as director Stephen Fung has made a kung-fu film that without a doubt is as steampunk as it gets!

 

Tai Chi 0 tells the story of Lu Chan (Xiaochao) who is a kung fu prodigy, as evidenced by a small horn that protrudes from his head, the sign of a once-in-a-lifetime master. Strike Lu Chan’s horn and he becomes a glowing-eyed-kung fu badass, but there’s a catch. The more he fights the darker his horn becomes, and once it turns black he’s done for. As a child his mother (Shi Qui) steals money from his father (Andrew Lau, Director of Infernal Affairs) to give Lu Chan a future. It is at this point that two events occur that changes Lu Chan’s young life: he shows that he has the ability to copy a practicing kung fu master (Hak-on) and his mother’s theft is discovered, and she commits suicide, but not before making Lu Chan promise to be a great kung fu master. Fast forward to the present, and Lu Chan, after a great battle as a soldier, decides to go to Chen village and learn Chen style kung fu from Master Chen (Ka Fai), to reverse the internal energies that is slowly killing him. After arriving at the village, he is greeted by a town folk that will fight him, in order to keep him from learning Chen style, especially Chen Yu Niang (Angelababy), daughter of Master Chen, who is having problems of her own with Fang Zijing (Peng), her betrothed who has returned from the west, but a series of events, both heroic and tragic, befall them all, and Lu Chan finds himself fighting for a village that doesn’t want him, but he has no idea the steam-powered weapons that are aligned to bring him and the entire village down…

I’ve been extremely critical of Hong Kong films of late, finding many of them unimaginative and bland, while overseas other Asian countries are pushing the genre forward, but Tai Chi 0 is a great and thankful exception. The film has a rock n’ roll soundtrack, and the film has moments that come right out of Scott Pilgrim vs The World, like the use of text in places, giving the film a comic book feel. There is slapstick comedy, and there is even a Street Fighter 4-style K.O. moment that had me smiling, as ridiculous as it is. I’m trying to think of a film technique that Stephen Fung didn’t use, and I’m hard pressed to think of one. The story, with all the flash behind it, manages to tell a coherent and exciting story. Xiaochao is good as Lu Chan, balancing flashy kung fu fighting with youthful exuberance and handles the dramatic moments just as well. Angelababy also does a fine job as Lu Chan’s rival and potential friend Chen Yu Niang, and plays her as both sympathetic leader of her village and kung fu badass. Tony Leung Ka Fai (Bodyguards and Assassins, The Lover) plays Master Chen with a mischievous slant even in his most dramatic scenes. The best actor, in my opinion, is Eddie Peng as Fang Zijing, and he gets the biggest character arc, going from the village outsider who returns home a westernized educated man, to a man who finds a moment of happiness that is ultimately destroyed, to the greatest threat facing the village, and Peng plays every moment of his arc well, and I could sympathize with him even though his decisions turn him into the villain.

The fight choreography is also well done by the legendary Sammo Hung. It is well shot, and even though there are some quick edits, they don’t take anything away from the fights, and you can follow the battles without any problems. In my opinion the best fight are the scenes where Lu Chan tries to enter the village, and different villagers step up to beat him down, with even the neighborhood kids getting in on the fun. The other scene that really jumped out to me was the fight between Master Chen and the soldiers toward the end of the film. The choreography is really well done here, with wire work that actually becomes part of the story and not a distraction.

One caveat, and the one thing that drove me batty, was at the very end, where, and I admit I wasn’t aware of this, it ends with a cliffhanger followed by a trailer for Part 2 !

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 9  

Tai Chi 0 is a steam-fueled roller coaster Kung Fu/Steampunk mashup that combines story, action and special effects to create a rocket-propelled piece of cinema. Bring on Part 2! 

Tai Chi 0 opens in North America Friday, October 19th! 

Review: Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)

Posted in David Carradine, Gordon Liu, Sonny Chiba with tags , , , on October 14, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Chiaki Kuriyama, Sonny Chiba, Gordon Liu, Kenji Ohba

Fight Choreography by Yuen Woo Ping

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

 

“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

 

-Old Klingon Proverb

 

For years Quentin Tarantino has made films that hearken back to the films that he loved from the 70’s: crime films, black exploitation films, and guys-on-a-mission movies. He’s paid homage (or ripped off, depending on what side of that fence you sit on) to all of these films, but, to this point, his crowning achievement may very well be Kill Bill.

Kill Bill’s story revolves around The Bride (Thurman), an assassin who was part of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad led by the enigmatic Bill (Carradine). The operative word is “was” as she is seen after being beaten by the other members of her Squad, and finally shot by Bill as the film opens. We then fast forward to the home of fellow assassin Vernita Green (Fox) an expert knife fighter whom The Bride comes to take her revenge, but finds the venue not what she expected. We then are treated to flashbacks to show how she survived being shot, to how she gets a truck named “Pussy Wagon”, and her journey to Okinawa to have a special sword made by Hattori Hanzo (Chiba, who also played the character in his Shadow Warriors TV series in 1980).

The Bride then makes her way to Japan, to settle the score with O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), who controls the Yakuza, with her crazy sidekick Gogo Yubari (Kuriyama) and her right hand man Johnny Mo and his Crazy 88’s. The Bride intended to murder and kill her way to a confrontation with Bill, who has secrets of his own that could change everything…

Kill Bill is first and foremost a revenge film, and one of the best of its kind at that. Uma Thurman, in what is probably her best role, is fantastic as The Bride, and is able to convey the vengeful emotions that can make you sympathize with her, even though she is really no better than any of the people she dispatches in the film. You don’t get to see David Carradine much, but his voice and presence is felt throughout the entire film. You barely see Michael Madsen at all in this film, but sets himself up nicely for the next. Vivica A. Fox makes the most of her small role, and provides a good mix of menace and vulnerability. Lucy Liu is the main antagonist for this film, and she pulls it off nicely. Gordon Liu, who probably should have the name “Master” in front of his name, like the Brits get knighted and called “Sir”. Gordon doesn’t have much to do acting wise, but he’s cool doing it. Sonny Chiba, on the other hand, shows he hasn’t lost any of his on screen charisma, and while he doesn’t get to fight, does a great acting job, especially his hilarious back and forth with long time friend and protege Kenji Ohba in the sushi house scene. The only disappointment is there wasn’t more of them. Chiaki Kuriyama is great as the insane Gogo, and pulls off the craziness really well. Daryl Hannah, like Carradine and Madsen, makes an appearance and sets her character up very well, but we don’t get into her character until the next film.  The anime that tells the story of Oren Ishii is fantastic, and takes what could have been something ho-hum in live action and makes into a great scene in animation. My one gripe, if I have one, is that for a film that features so many Japanese characters Tarantino couldn’t get Yasuaki Kurata into the mix? I think there is scientific evidence that exists proving Kurata makes everything 100% better.

Yuen Woo Ping does his normal masterful self in choreographing the fights, and it was pleasant to see him doing so for an American film without tons of wire harness stunts. The opening fight between Thurman and Fox is simply a fantastic way to set up the film, as it is so well done, and both women look way more convincing as martial artists than anyone in the later Matrix films. That fight, a brutal mix of knife play and hand to hand combat is masterfully shot, and sets up everything else in the film nicely, even though the style of choreography changes as the mood of the film does.

The Bride’s fight with Gogo is also great, and features the most wire work in the film, and I think that was done to pay homage to the films that DO use wire harness stunts, as the sound effects puts everyone on notice that yes, they are doing something unreal. The crowning achievement here is the fight between Uma Thurman and the Crazy 88’s, which is a bloody masterpiece of severed limbs and gigantic blood sprays. The fight with Lucy Liu is also well done, but there are a lot of far away shots, so it’s hard to tell how much of it is them or their stunt doubles.

Kudos to Tarantino for mentioning Charles Bronson and Chang Cheh in the film credits.

 Kiai-Kick’s grade: 10 

A fantastic achievement of a film by Tarantino that respects and pays homage to the kung fu and samurai sword films of the 70’s and early 80’s. A well-told story that never lets up, and finishes in an exciting and bloody climax!

NEXT: Shu Qui, Karen Mok and Zhao Wei take on Yasuaki Kurata in So Close!