Archive for April, 2013

Review: Tai Chi Hero (2013)

Posted in Sammo Hung, Yuan Xiaochao (also Jayden Yuan), Yuen Biao on April 26, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

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Starring Yuan Xiaochao, Angelababy, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Eddie Peng, Daniel Wu, Yuen Biao, Peter Stormare

Fight Choreography by Sammo Hung

Directed by Stephen Fung

 Tai Chi Zero was a fantastic mashup of kung-fu, comedy, special effects, and a great steampunk story, coming from the hit-and-miss Stephen Fung. This is the second (?) film in the trilogy, so can it live up to the original film’s success and deliver another steampunk epic?

Yes. Mostly.

The film picks up right where Tai Chi Zero ends, with Lu Chan about to marry Yu Niang, and once he does so he’ll be able to learn Chen style Tai Chi, but for those who saw the last film, someone was about to interrupt the festive proceedings. That someone was Yu Niang’s brother, Zhi Yang, who has returned home for more reasons than just to attend a wedding. His return tears open all wounds for the seemingly invincible Master Chen and Yu Niang, but amidst all this their old foe Zi Jing (Peng) returns, still smarting from the asskicking he received in the previous film, and vowing revenge for the death of Claire. He finds an ally with Duke Fleming (Stormare) of the East India Company, and both men plot to bring down Chen Village once and for all, and Lu Chan has to save the village and somehow win the love of his new master…and wife, Yu Niang. Can Lu Chan overcome his affliction using Tai Chi in time to save his people?

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Now that the novelty of the first film has passed, this film has to live and die on its own merits, and lives quite well. Xiaochao does a great job as the hapless Lu Chan, and as his affliction heals, he is great at showing Lu Chan getting smarter, which wasn’t really expressed as an issue in the previous film, but explains his actions in that film and parts of this one. Angelababy does a great job as Yu Niang, a nicer person this time out, now that she is starting to find that she does indeed have feelings for Lu Chan, and becomes a partner with him. Tony Leung Ka Fai is once again fantastic as Master Chen, and even better he gets a true story arc for himself this time around, and we find out the real reason he wanted to train Lu Chan so badly, and why the village was forbidden from teaching Chen style kung fu. Eddie Peng was pretty good as Zi Jiang, but he doesn’t get as much screen time here, nor does Peter Stormare. Daniel Wu gets a small cameo as a Mad Monk, and the makeup people did a good job as it took a moment for me to recognize him. Seeing Yuen Biao face off with Xiaochao for the final fight of the film was great, and while their fight was effects-filled, it still had enough good kung fu to be exciting.

Stephen Fung brings back his inventive transitions and visual storytelling techniques here, and doesn’t really go for the same tricks he used in the previous film, using more forced perspective, slow and fast motion, but just as the first film, the cinematography is still gorgeous.

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The fights are all special effects and wirework-heavy, but there is enough traditional kung fu and concepts for the more die hard traditionalists (of which I am one) to like. The best scenes are the series of fights Lu Chan must win, patterned after Tekken or Street Fighter battles, with costumed fighters of various types and even the VS graphic for each fighter, and the graphic of the fighters’ wheel of opponents as Lu Chan defeats them!

Is Tai Chi Hero better than Zero? In many ways it is more fun, now that we don’t have to be introduced to the characters and can just go for it, but the ending here, while hinting at the next film, isn’t as clean as the first film, and wraps things up too easily and quickly, and while I look forward to see how things resolve themselves, the ending of this film left something to be desired, but doesn’t detract from the fun!

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8

 Tai Chi Hero is a worthy sequel that push-hands the fun with fantastic Steampunk action and kung fu asskickery! 

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Review: Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

Posted in Fung Hak-On, Sammo Hung, Stephen Chow, Sui-Lung Leung, Xing Yu, Yuen Qiu, Yuen Wah with tags , on April 15, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

Kung Fu Hustle 2

Starring Stephen Chow, Yuen Wah, Yuen Qiu, Xing Yu, Chi Ling Chiu, Fung Hak-on, Leung Siu-Lung

Fight Choreography by Sammo Hung

Directed by Stephen Chow

Hot off of Shaolin Soccer, funnyman Stephen Chow  was just getting warmed up for what may be the crowning achievement of his career, a film that pays homage to cinema in general and kung fu movies in particular. Part kung-fu, part cartoon, Kung Fu Hustle raises the kung fu comedy bar to new heights.

Stephen Chow stars as Sing, a complete loser who, with his oafish friend Bone attempt to pull off scams on any sucker they can find. They make the mistake of going to Pig Sty Alley and trying to screw a barber out of paying for a haircut, pretending to be Axe Gang members. After being “attacked” by the people living in the complex Sing aligns himself with the real Axe Gang, who just happened to arrived. Sing unknowingly sets off a chain of events that finds the Axe Gang leader killed and replaced by his even worse second in command Brother Sum, who vows to destroy the inhabitants of the building. As it turns out the building is home to some of the greatest martial arts heroes of all time, and The Axe gang suffers defeat after defeat, but with Sing’s help they are able to find help from the greatest kung fu killer of all time. Sing believes that only the bad guys ever win, but can his eyes open to the truth about himself in time to save the people of Pig Sty?

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There isn’t a comedy stone left unturned here, and it all starts with Stephen Chow the actor, who does a great job as the hapless Sing. In many ways he plays a straight man to some of the most ridiculous moments of the film, and that’s a good thing. And, and as always, Yuen Wah brings his A-game to this part as the lecherous landlord, and Yuen Qiu stole the show as the tough as nails landlady. Seeing so many greats of the Shaw Brothers and early Sammo Hung era kung fu fighters was simply a treat. The story itself is well told, and the more out-there moments, like the chase between Landlady and Sing are just laugh-out-loud funny, even if it makes no real sense, and the slapstick comedy, such as the knife throwing scene (one of my favs) are just hilarious.

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Sammo Hung did a fantastic job choreographing the fights here (when isn’t Sammo great at this?) and it all escalates exactly as it should. The first fight in the courtyard is great, and Sammo lets the featured martial artists look great. My favorite fight, from every compositional standpoint, is the fight versus the Harpist assassins. Their harp served the dual purpose of being both a deadly weapon and providing the music for the fight scene, which is brilliant. The wire work was well done, and is used to very good effect and doesn’t shadow the actual martial arts being done. The final fight is great and Stephen Chow gets to show off what he can do, and Leung Sui-Lung (Gallants) gives Chow a run for his money here. The fight at the Axe Gang’s casino also deserves a mention, a fantastic blend of martial arts, wirework and special effects that allows Yuen Wah and Yuen Qiu the chance to show they’ve still got it!

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 10 

Stephen Chow made what may very well be the best kung fu comedy of all time! A brilliant mix of kung fu, comedy and special effects. Rarely does it mesh so well, but Chow pulls if off with gusto!

Review: The Four (2012)

Posted in Collin Chou with tags , , , on April 8, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

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Starring Collin Chou, Anthony Wong, Deng Chao, Lu Yi Fei, Ronald Cheng, Jiang Yi Yan, Cheng Tai Shen

Fight Choreography by Ku Huen Chiu

Directed by Gordon Chan

Gordon Chan is an interesting director. When he’s on, he’s ON. Fist of Legend. ON. King of Beggars. ON. Thunderbolt. ON. When Gordon’s off, though, Lord have mercy. The Medallion. OFF. The King of Fighters. WAY THE HELL OFF. I haven’t seen Painted Skin or Kung Fu Master so I can’t comment on them…yet. Now here comes Gordon again, with a film he wrote, produced and directed, a film that is part one of a planned trilogy of films.  Can Gordon be ON again?

Oh yeah, Gordon flipped the switch to ON!

The film starts as we meet Leng Lingqi (Deng Chao), a member of Department Six, something akin to the FBI. Led by the Sheriff King (Cheng Tai Shen) they are the preeminent law enforcement agency, and on the eve that they welcome their first squad of female agents led by Ji Yaohua (Jiang Yi Yan), and her friend Butterfly, the Royal Treasury coin plates have been stolen, and without orders Leng Lingqi tracks down the assailant to a restaurant, but before he can apprehend him a series of events occur: The Sheriff King, having arrived at the restaurant with his men avoids an assassination attempt, meanwhile inside the thief of the plates suddenly finds himself trying to escape an extraordinary group of people led by Zhu Zhenwo (Wong): The wheel chair telepath/telekinetic Emotionless (Lu Yi Fei), The man who can control metals Iron Hands (Chou), and their newest member, the Tracker LifeSnatcher (Cheng) who can find anyone. Together they are the Divine Constabulary, working directly for the Emperor. On orders from Sheriff King, Leng Lingqi joins the Divine Constabulary to spy on them while they investigate the reason for the theft of the plates, which in the end will involve ancient Chinese magic and the undead! Leng Linqi, now called Coldblood, must decide where his allegiances truly lies. The fate of the crown rests upon it…

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The film begins a little confusingly but settles down quickly for a good old wuxia version of the X-Men, which is not an insult. They do it rather well. Anthony Wong is right at home as the leader, an older man who has his reasons for bringing the group together, and is the calm voice amidst all the chaos that gathers around them. Deng Chao is pretty good as Coldblood, who really, due to his true abilities, comes off kind of bland in the beginning but settles down as the film progresses. Jiang Yi Yan does a great job a Ji, a woman conflicted with her feelings for Coldblood, and her duties. Lu Yi Fei is great as Emotionless, and really sells herself as a recluse who has problems with people for the very fact that she can read their minds and can spot the lies behind the words. Collin Chou is fine as Iron Hands but really doesn’t get much to do, except for some good fight scenes.

Ronald Cheng, to me, stole the show as the fearless and amoral Life Snatcher. You could tell he was having a great time playing this character. Life Snatcher comes off as a scoundrel who is there for the good wine, but he means it every step of the way, and that makes him a lot of fun when things get crazy. Wu Xiu Bo is fun as the main villain Ah Shigeng. The story overall is fun, not getting too serious and remembering that it’s a fun adventure film. There is one scene that features Anthony Wong doing something that the villain is like “DUDE, WTF!”. It’s rare to see the bad guy of a film surprised by anything a hero does, but in this scene he is, and it’s a hilarious moment. The film is very much in the vein of the X-men in regards to their powers, but it was so well done I didn’t care.

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The effects work is fantastic. The CGI powers are great, especially the fire effects, and all of the fighting scenes, but not so much that it’s too intrusive. It’s a good mix of computer versus practical until the end, where the CGI threatens to go crazy, but doesn’t.

The fighting choreography is good, if not spectacular. There isn’t a lot of complexity, and there doesn’t need to be with all of the effect work surrounding the fights. Anything complex would get missed regardless, and I may very well have missed something. As it stands the choreography was exactly what it needed to be with people of such powers.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8

A rollicking good Wuxia fantasy/superhero film that features great special effects and moments that could give any superhero film a run for its money! So when do we get Part Two?

This film will be released on Blu-Ray and DVD April 9th from the good folks at Well Go USA!

RIP Roger Ebert. Thanks for everything, sir.

Posted in Michael Moore with tags , on April 4, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

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A thousand things will be said about Roger Ebert over the next few days and even hours. What will echo the most is what he’s done for movies. One might think, “All he’s done is criticize them”, which would be only partly true. Roger loved movies, and that was always evident in everything he wrote. Whether he loved a movie or hated it, you always knew the reason why, even if you didn’t agree with him. He never wrote his reviews with the purpose of getting them on a movie poster or back cover of a DVD, but his writing was so well crafted it did anyway. His opinions were educated and informed, and he even put his money where his mouth was and actually wrote a screenplay for a film, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls. Yes, it was dreadful (it has become a cult hit since) but at least he had the minerals to do it, unlike many other critics, but he did get a chance to go through “the business”, so no one could say “he doesn’t understand what goes on behind the camera”. His writing was always concise and full of his personality, and from what I’ve always heard he was a very nice person, who could talk film for days if you let him. It was always my dream to be able to talk movies with Roger, to pick his brain, but alas I’ll never get that opportunity, but I do owe him a debt of gratitude for pointing people in the direction of my website after I wrote about my disagreements with his assessment of the film ” The Raid”. It’s the closest I would ever come to speaking with Roger, and for that I’ll always remember the moment I realized what he had done for me.

I remember watching “At The Movies” with Roger and Gene when I was a little boy, and I always came down on the side of Roger. Roger always loved genres like science fiction and fantasy, and really understood what a comic book superhero movie could be, and never belittled any of them as compared to more “important” films. As a genre fan myself, I always appreciated this.

To really begin to understand what Roger meant to cinema, I urge everyone to watch Alex Proyas’ Dark City with Roger Ebert’s commentary turned on. The film is broken down as if in a film class, and shows future film makers how to approach making a movie of their own, and how everything, from lighting to script to camera to mise en cine tells the story effectively.

Reading Roger’s reviews have made me a better critic, and hopefully a better filmmaker.

We’ll all miss you, Roger. Your career and life give you a big thumbs up. I won’t see you at the movies anymore, but I’ll never forget you.

–Michael S Moore

Review: Bangkok Revenge (2011)

Posted in Jon Foo with tags , on April 1, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

Bangkok Revenge Jon Foo

Starring Jon Foo, Caroline Ducey, Michael Cohen, Aphiradi Phawaphutanon, Winai Kribut

Fight Choreography by ?

Directed by Jean-Marc Mineo

I found I’ve been beating the drums for Jon Foo for quite some time now. He’s got most of the tools to be a martial arts star. He’s great at on screen fighting, has gymnastic prowess, and (at least the ladies tell me) he’s good looking. So what’s missing? I thought it was the parts he chose. Now that I’ve seen his newest film, I think I have a bead on what’s missing, but more on that later.

Bangkok Revenge begins with an attack on the home of a Thai police detective Samat and his wife by unknown assailants. Both the detective and his wife are killed, leaving only their son Manit, a 10 year old boy who is able to unmask one of the killers, and this knowledge buys the boy a bullet in the head, but miraculously he survives the assault and the attempted assassination afterward by a kindly nurse, who takes the boy to a local village to be care for by her uncle, muay thai master Adjan, who teaches to the boy how to fight. One consequence of the bullet that is still lodged in Manit’s head is that he has no emotions whatsoever. Fast forward ten years, and Manit (Foo) goes to the hospital to see the nurse, who is now dying, and she gives him a folder, with all of the information she was able to find out about the death of his family. Manit then goes on a quest to bring his family’s killers to justice, running into a disgraced French detective and a French reporter along the way, and takes on the police, a girl gang, and more in order to get the people who destroyed his life…

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The story is as cookie cutter as it sounds, but as the film is called “Bangkok Revenge” you should know what you’re getting into. There are maddening moments that don’t make a lot of sense, like the nurse who rats out Manit to the police–10 years later. There is also a subplot regarding the French detective that goes no where, and some moments with Clara that make no sense given his condition, and there is another plot regarding the wife of the main bad guy, who runs the girl gang and masquerades as an opera singer, and travels around using the instruments of her orchestra to move drugs. This plot line jumps on a fast boat to nowhere. The film mentions it, shows a bit of it, and then just forgets about it. Jon Foo isn’t bad as Manit, and the story conceit is able to mask his acting deficiencies, and Caroline Ducey isn’t bad either, even though she is playing a stereotypical love interest. The bad guys are forgettable, without a memorable one in the bunch.

As an aside it was good to see Kittichaet Rakwong, who also played a fight promoter in Ong Bak, in this film playing much the same part.

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One of the biggest problems this movie has is that it switches from Thai to English often, and Manit can speak English perfectly, and while he says no one would believe the reason why, he never explains the damn reason.  Beyond that this film was made to market to a western audience, thus why most characters speak English, badly in some cases which hurts the acting in the film. I wish everyone simply spoke their languages. Western audiences can deal with it.

The fights have a few moments of coolness, but overall doesn’t have any “wow” factors in regards to the fight choreography. Jon Foo gets to show off some toughness and acrobatic moves, but doesn’t quite reach that level of badassery. Don’t misunderstand, the fights are adequate, but nothing truly amazing. That could be my own bias as I’ve seen so many screen fights, but still. Where’s Panna Rittikrai or Yayan Ruhian when you need them?

I wrote earlier that I had figured out what Foo was missing, and I think this film really shows it. He’s missing a presence. Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa have a screen presence and personality.  I don’t see that with Jon Foo, at least not yet. Istill think he’s capable. I said much the same thing about Donnie Yen before he did SPL. Jon just needs to figure himself out and get a choreographer or director who can play to his strengths.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 5

A passable film from Jon Foo. No stunt or fight scene really stands out, and the story takes a few nonsensical jumps, but nothing truly outstanding. We’re still left waiting for a great Jon Foo film.