Archive for June, 2013

“I’ll be too busy looking good!” Goodbye, Jim Kelly.

Posted in Jim Kelly with tags , , on June 30, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

Jim Kelly

Some days just really suck. I got the news of Jim’s passing early in the morning, but couldn’t confirm it until now. Man, first we lose Lau Kar Leung, and barely a week later we lose one of the baddest motherf***ers ever in Jim Kelly, a grandmaster and the man who played one of the most iconic African-American characters ever. Jim had an up and down career after Enter The Dragon, but he always remained a star within the martial arts community. As Williams, Black Belt Jones, and a host of others he showed, along with Ron Van Clief, that African-Americans had a place in the martial arts world as well as paving the way for the Michael Woods, Michael Jai White’s and Wesley Snipes’ of the world, and whomever else may follow them.

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The two Black Dragons, Jim Kelly and Ron Van Clief

As a child I was way into martial arts films, but I only thought that Chinese guys could do that stuff. I would mimic the moves but always believed that no one could do that stuff except for the Asian dudes, until I saw Enter The Dragon, and  met Williams, a dude who dripped with cool and what has to be one of the most perfect Afros ever. Bruce Lee was the main attraction, but the film doesn’t become one of the greatest ever without one of the greatest black characters ever. Kelly’s screen time was short, but he made the most of it. He gave some of the best quotes in the history of cinema.

Jim Kelly did have small successes after Enter The Dragon in the world of blaxploitation films, my favorite of which is Black Belt Jones, for this scene alone if nothing else:

For those who come to this website often you know Jim Kelly is my avatar, and for good reason. I know that someday another African-American will become a film star in the martial arts world, and will owe a debt of gratitude to Jim Kelly for paving the way. Even my website name is dedicated to Jim. Kiai (japanese for Battle Cry) came about because of the Oueeeeee! and Soueeeeee! yells when he makes when he fights.

Let’s all celebrate Jim’s life today. A perfect way to do that is to break out that copy of Enter The Dragon (it just got released on Blu-Ray) or head over to Netflix to watch One Down, Two to Go, or if you have the film Undercover Brother check the deleted scenes for one with Jim. Oh yeah, and he never let racist cops get away with…anything:

Farewell, sir. Han may have come right out of a comic book, but we’re all thankful you were the real deal.

JimK

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Review: Barrio Brawler aka American Brawler (2013)

Posted in Dennis Ruel, Edward Kahana Jr., Jose Montesinos, Marco Antonio Alvarez on June 25, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

Barrio Brawler

Starring Marco Antonio Alvarez, Dennis Ruel, O.G Dave Rivera, Morgan Benoit, Steven Yu, Ed Kahana Jr., E. Ambriz De Colosio, Stacey Rose, Justin Perez

Fight Choreography by Dennis Ruel

Directed by Jose Montesinos

Big things…often start small. That’s an adage that is appropriate to this film. Jose Montesinos has been making indie  martial arts films for a bit now, and here he comes with a feature film that FINALLY puts Hispanic-American martial artists front and center, in much the same way that Blood and Bone did the same for African-American martial artists. It’s about damn time, but that doesn’t mean it will be a good martial arts film.

So is it a good film?

Damn right it is.

The film stars Marco Antonio Alvarez as Carlos Castillo, a martial arts teacher who finds himself in rough times: his wife has left him, and they are on the verge of divorce, while the bills start to pile up in his dojo, which just isn’t making enough money. Carlos is also trying pay for his grandmother’s medical bills at the same time. He’s a great sensei and a good man whose life has just taken a bit of a nosedive. He goes to his brother Ricky (Ruel) a ne’er-do-well who works at a bar owned by Morales, a local drug lord who is getting into the unsanctioned underground fight ring. Ricky gets Carlos to enter the fights, and Carlos, who despises such fights, enters them grudgingly, and later to his regret as he finds that Ricky’s problems with Morales quickly become his. Soon Carlos must make a choice between his principles as a martial artist and helping his brother. Can he save Ricky without losing himself? And is Ricky worth saving?

Barrio Brawler 1

Jose Montesinos has a winner here, and it all starts with the cast. Marco A. Alvarez is great as Carlos. I connected with the character immediately, and could sympathize with the hole he found himself in before things get bad. Alvarez plays Carlos as a genuinely good man, and he wears the conflict over his decisions on his face. A great performance, and does well with the fights, but more on that later. Dennis Ruel is perfect as Ricky. He’s a likable character who is just a classic F***up, and we all know a guy like him. He makes bad choice after bad choice, but never did I actually hate the character because of it, and that’s due to Ruel’s performance. O.G. Dave Rivera is an absolute snake as Morales, and plays being such an asshole to the hilt, as is Colosio as Morales’ right hand man Ruiz. The story, while yes, is a tournament-style martial arts film, it tells its story well, and having well-rounded characters can do that, and at no point did any character do something out of character, which I’ve seen in too many films of this type.

Barrio Brawler Dennis Ruel

The fights are all excellently shot, and while the locations could have been better (most of it is in a warehouse, but the final fight is in a really nice location) the fights themselves are great. The choreography is fast and smooth, and combines MMA-style with traditional martial arts much as Donnie Yen did with SPL (Killzone). I cheered during the final fight as I saw perfect examples of limb destruction, rarely seen in modern martial arts films, so kudos to Dennis Ruel on a terrific job!

This film is further proof that a big budget isn’t needed to make a good martial arts film! It isn’t a perfect martial arts film, but nevertheless it’s a damn good one.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8.5

An excellent  film  from Jose Montesinos that kicks all kinds of ass with great martial arts fight scenes and also has a great heart to boot! Alvarez and Ruel are the real deal. 

The film released today. Check your local theaters!

Farewell, Lau Kar Leung.

Posted in Lau Kar Leung on June 25, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

Lau kar Leung

Ugh. It really sucks to report that Hong Kong Shaw Brothers legend Lau Kar Leung has passed. A veteran of dozens of classic films has left us at the age of 76. While he wasn’t my actual sifu, in a way he was. As a kid I watched many of his films, even if I didn’t know who he was, and tried to mimic the moves he choreographed, in such films as Heroes of the East, Drunken Master 2, Blood Brothers, The Water Margin, Five Shaolin Masters, and so many more.  He was not only one of the best martial arts actors to come out of the Shaw Brothers, but also one of the best fight choreographers of all time. His Hung Gar style kung fu is still being taught by one of his students, the great Mark Houghton! Our condolences go out to Lau’s family, Mark Houghton, and everyone else whose life has been touched by the great Lau Kar Leung.

Here is some of his best work:

Review: The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

Posted in Gordon Liu, Lau Kar Leung, Lo Lieh, Simon Yuen with tags , on June 25, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Gordon Liu, Lo Lieh, Wang Yu, Simon Yuen, Hoi Sang Lee, Chia Yung Liu, John Cheung

Fight Choreography by Lau Kar-Leung

Directed by Lau Kar-Leung

Somewhere around 1978 Lar Kar-Leung, veteran stuntman, actor, and fight choreographer was unhappy with the way that martial arts films were portrayed onscreen, and set about to do a film that would show the philosophy and logic behind the movements. With the help of his Kung-Fu brother Gordon Liu, they would craft a tale of revenge and enlightenment within the form of something that wasn’t well represented in film at the time: Shaolin Kung-Fu. Thus the 36th Chamber of Shaolin was born, and a new gold standard would be created.

The film begins as a group of rebels attack a convoy transporting General Tien Ta (The always great Lo Lieh), and oppressive Tartar general sweeping across the land taking over. Tien Ta engages and defeats the lead rebel in what is a pretty good fight, but very, very weak when compared to what’s to come.  Enter San Te (Liu), a young student whose teacher Mr. Ho works for the rebels, and before long San Te and all of his classmates become couriers for the rebels. This is short-lived, however, as General Tien Ta and his cohorts, General Tang and Lord Cheung find out about this and kill off many students, and arrest all others. San Te and his best friend escape, and only later does San Te find out that his father was killed trying to protect him. San Te and his friend agree to go to the Shaolin temple to learn kung fu so they can take revenge, but they are ambushed by General Tang on the way, and San Te is injured in the escape, but his friend is captured and presumed killed.  San Te arrives at a nearby town where the monks come for supplies, and hides in their cart, and before long finds himself at Shaolin Temple, and after a long time begins to learn Kung-fu, and in the process learns so much more…

The opening of this film alone, showing Gordon Liu going through the forms is one of the best scenes of this ever. Other films did it before, but this one did it the best. The film is at its core one giant training film, and as San Te’s skills grow so does his maturity. The chambers are each magnificent for what they show, particularly the first chamber, the Dining Chamber, where he must make his way across a set of wooden logs floating in a pool of water in order to get to the other side, where dinner awaits. When he falls in he finds he is unable to enter the dining hall until he is dry, but in the time it takes for his clothes to dry the food is eaten up. It is here that one of best lessons for any aspiring martial artist is learned. San Te must master stances, balance and movement here, the foundations of any style one studies.  Without that, your skills can never improve. San Te then does the most important thing anyone can do who looks to becoming a great martial artist… PRACTICE. Only through practice can you reach your full potential, and it is the constant practice that enables San Te to become successful and get past that chamber, as well as all of the others.

The other chambers are brilliant, especially the wrist chamber (painful!) and the staff chamber. You can see San Te’s skills grow as he goes along, mastering each one. Look for the great Simon Yuen (Drunken Master) as the monk who is in charge of the Boxing Chamber.

The best series of fights occur after these scenes, as the skeptical Justice Abbot challenges San Te to a fight with whatever weapon San Te chooses, and each time the Abbot uses a pair of Butterfly swords. The fights here are choreographed masterfully, as San Te is defeated again and again, until he ponders the fights and invents the 3-section staff, which he uses to defeat the Justice Abbot in the best fight of the bunch. The movement and choreography are in great sync here, and both Liu and Hoi Sang Lee do a fantastic job pulling it off.

The graveyard fight is also a stand out as it shows San Te’s skills in relation to the training he’s undertaken. Everything he does makes sense, and the audience knows exactly why he makes the moves that he does because of the training sequences earlier in the film.  Gordon Liu became a star with this film, and it’s not hard to see why. He plays a great San Te, able to show his immaturity and the beginning of the film and then his maturity toward the end, even as he sees his revenge standing right in front of him.  He fights for the people, not for revenge, and Gordon is able to embody this brilliantly. Lau Kar-Leung’s camera work is fantastic, and the composition of each scene is incredibly well done. The camera shifts exactly where it should to showcase the fights in the best manner, pulling back when it needed to and to get closer when it was best, and you always know the space between fighters and their relation to the environment.

The 36th Chamber is a kung-fu classic, considered one of the greatest of all time, and with good reason. All of the parts come together beautifully to form a great cinematic experience. Gordon Liu would become a huge star after this, and Lau Kar-Leung would cement his place as one of the best fight choreographers and kung-fu film directors ever.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) Not a bad fight in the bunch, and simply gets better as the film goes along. Lau Kar-Leung went into a very deep bag of tricks for this one, and they all worked.  The speed and complexity of the choreography is astounding. As good as it gets.

STUNTWORK: (8) These guys do a pretty good job. Nothing death-defying, but well done.

STAR POWER: (9) Gordon Liu became a big star after this, and Lar Kar-Leung jumped to the top of the heap as a director. Lo Lieh is as good as always, as was John Cheung.

FINAL GRADE: (10)  One of the greatest kung-fu films of all time.  The gold standard many would, and should be judged by afterward. If you want to introduce someone to the world of martial arts in film, this is where you want to start.


Xing Yu finally gets his shot at the big time! Wrath of Vajra Trailer!!

Posted in Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Xing Yu, Yasuaki Kurata with tags , , on June 24, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

Vajra

Former monk Xing Yu has been playing sidekicks to Jet Li and Donnie Yen and more for what seems like years now, and it’s about damn time he gets his own vehicle. So far this looks great, add Yasuaki Kurata and Hiroyuki Ikeuchi (Ip Man) to the mix, along with fantastic special effects, and this looks like a winner. Just like Xing Yu. Maybe he’s the next big Chinese kung-fu star we’ve been waiting for? Just in time to talk about him in my next podcast concerning the state of Hong Kong kung-fu cinema.

Thanks to the good folks at Far East Films for the trailer.

Donnie Yen and Chow Yun Fat! The Monkey King Trailer!

Posted in Aaron Kwok, Chow Yun Fat, Donnie Yen on June 23, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

Donnie Yen, Chow Yun Fat, Louis Fan, and Aaron Kwok. Nothing more needs to be said. Check it out below!