Archive for March, 2014

Review: Man Of Tai Chi (2013)

Posted in Iko Uwais, Keanu Reeves, Silvio Simac, Tiger Hu Chen, Yu Hai, Yuen Woo Ping with tags , on March 31, 2014 by Michael S. Moore

 

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Starring Keanu Reeves, Tiger Chen, Karen Mok, Simon Yam, Silvio Simac, Iko Uwais, Yu Hai

Fight Choreography by Yuen Woo Ping

Directed by Keanu Reeves

Keanu Reeves is a polarizing figure. With his eternal surfer-dude voice and his connection to Bill and Ted that will haunt him until the end of time, he’s been a success in Hollywood even though his acting is somewhat monotone in nature (Kevin Costner’s been accused of this as well). The Matrix films featured Keanu doing complex martial arts fighting akin to what was current in Hong Kong kung-fu cinema (thanks to Yuen Woo Ping and his stunt team) and now Woo Ping returns, along with Tiger Chen, a stunt man in the Matrix films that Reeves befriended, and a bevy of martial arts stars to tell the tale of what happens when a good man falls from grace. 

The results are…hmm.

The story begins as we meek Donaka Mark (Reeves) a wealthy owner of a securities firm that is a front for underground fighting. His latest fighter refuses to kill his opponent, and is himself killed by Mark. Always on Mark’s tail is Hong Kong detective Jing Shi (Mok) who always seems a few steps behind Mark. Mark begins a search for a new fighter, which brings him to Tiger Chen (Chen), a Tai Chi fighter who has entered tournaments to prove that Tai Chi is a fighting art as well, to the dismay of his master Yang (Yu Hai). Mark becomes facinated with Tiger, and has him followed, with cameras placed around his apartment and at his parents home. Tiger is a good man who works as a delivery driver, and tries to provide for himself and his mother and father. Mark uses what he finds out to entice Tiger to become his new fighter. Tiger does this, as he has a violent tendency that Mark is able to feed, despite Tiger’s training. Tiger soon enters Mark’s world, and as the fights and stakes pile up, Tiger finds that the good man he is has disappeared, replaced by someone he barely knows. In essence, Tiger goes over to the Dark Side of the Force…

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The film is fairly straightforward and doesn’t offer any real surprises, and the script here really fails Reeves the Director. The main characters aren’t that interesting except for Simon Yam, and that’s just because he’s Simon Yam. Tiger is decent, but doesn’t really have the intense charisma I was looking for, even though his martial arts was excellent. Karen Mok plays the HK detective plainly, and Reeves acts pretty much as if he were still Neo from The Matrix, except for a few moments when he yells or screams or smiles/laughs maniacally, and those moments have given me nightmares, ‘cause it looks scary as hell–unintentionally. A face that has no emotion and then suddenly shows an extreme outburst of it is…disconcerting to say the least. I was extremely disappointed by the use of Iko Uwais here, and anyone who has seen The Raid, and by now The Raid 2 will agree. This could have been the fight of the film, and instead is a dud of a fight as the story intrudes at the wrong time.

The fighting here is done well, with one large exception. Yuen Woo Ping does a good job, but I can see there are issues with fusing his style with the harder styles of films choreographed by the likes of Panna Rittikrai and Yayan Ruhian. All of the matches Tiger gets into are good to great, the weakest being the fight versus Silvio Simac, a performer I know could have given a far better fight than they gave him. The film was supposed to be using a new motion camera to track the fights, but it wasn’t the game changer it was touted to be. The problem here is that no matter how long the fight is, it has to be edited, so that takes away from the moving 360- degree camera movements. 

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The end fight of this film was the real disappointment. Reeves needed to remember that no matter how good he looked in The Matrix, he is NOT a martial artist, and has not been learning long enough to look good when put up against true martial artists. Here, he fights Tiger Chen in a fight that has none of the complexity of the other fights that came earlier in the film, ones that featured real fighters. His kicks were the weakest I’ve ever seen, but his fist work was passable (barely) and this reminded me of Man With The Iron Fists, and my anger at the hubris of the RZA for playing the main character even though he knew no martial arts. That same anger returned here. Reeves the Director could have cast Donaka Mark with Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White (if he has to be from America/Canada) or any number of other Asian actors, someone who would have made the final fight memorable. 

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 6

I expected so much more, but there is a hint that Reeves could be a good director, but he has to know when to leave Keanu Reeves the actor at home.

 

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Teaser for Tony Jaa/Dolph Lundgren/Michael Jai White actioner SkinTrade!

Posted in Dolph Lundgren, Michael Jai White, Tony Jaa with tags , on March 22, 2014 by Michael S. Moore

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If you’ve been following my facebook page, I ‘ve been updating everyone about the film SkinTrade. I have no idea as to the plot, but know that Tony Jaa looks to fight both Dolph Lundgren and Michael Jai White. Now, MJW we all know, so that should be another fight I can cross off my bucket list, but Jaa versus Lundgren? I’ve never really seen Dolph’s martial arts tested (I mean REALLY tested) but I think we may see it here. This will be Tony Jaa’s first English language movie, so we’ll see. It doesn’t appear to have a large budget, but with Peter Weller and Ron Perlman on board I may be wrong. The trailer looks good enough, but with the Raid 2 coming next week, and will no doubt raise the bar again, I’m a bit worried for Tony. Word is The Protector 2 was a bit of a disappointment, and Tony was already “chasing” the first Raid film, and now he’ll have to contend trying to match Iko Uwais’s work in The Raid 2.

So the question I put to all of you: Do you prefer Tony do a large budget Hollywood film (a la Rush Hour) pairing him with an up and coming A-list talent but provides us Tony-lite action or would you rather him do a small budget American film (Like Ninja 2) that has high B-low A level talent BUT allows Tony to be Tony?

Review: The Wrath of Vajra (2014)

Posted in Matt Mullins, Steve Yoo, Xing Yu, Yasuaki Kurata with tags , on March 18, 2014 by Michael S. Moore

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Starring Xing Yu, Steve Yoo, Ya Mei, Matt Mullins, Yasuaki Kurata

Fight Choreography by Sammo Hung and Zhang Peng

Directed by Law Wing Cheong

Xing Yu is an actual 32nd Generation Shaolin monk who has co-starred in many great films like Kung Fu Hustle, Flashpoint and Ip Man, and has played second fiddle to other action stars. I thought he had enough screen charisma and martial arts talent to actually star in a film, and wondered if he would ever get his shot at the big time.

Well, he has now received his shot. And I was right! He’s got what it takes to be a star.

The Wrath of Vajra begins as we learn about the Hades sect under the leadership of Amano Kawao (Kurata), a Japanese martial arts organization that aided the Japanese armies during their attempted conquest of China, but were disbanded once their goals clashed with that of the military. The Chinese people are now revolting in the provinces that Japan controls, and needs the Hades sect to return to help quell the revolutions. To do this, Kawao, from jail, reinstates his lead student Kurashige to restart the Hades sect, by stealing children and forcing them to learn martial arts and become killing machines. Soon this comes to the attention of K-29 (Xing Yu), now practicing as a Shaolin monk after escaping the Hades sect. He was one of their greatest students, and they want him back, for either the purposes of joining them or being killed by them. At the same time a group of Chinese fighters consisting of a few Americans, particularly Bill (Mullins) are take prisoner and forced to fight until they die or join the Hades group. As the story unfolds you’ll find that Bill and a few others are well familiar with what Hades has to offer. K-29 finds that one of the Shaolin children has been taken by the sect, and he returns to Hades base/arena to fight his way to destroying them once and for all.  Can he use his lessons as a Monk to save the child, the rebels, and himself once he enters the darkness of Hades?

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I really enjoyed this film immensely. Xing Yu very much has the determined hero look down pat, but he also does a good job as showing his conflicted emotions at certain moments. Matt Mullins does a great job as Bill, but I wish there had been more scenes with him and Xing Yu, to examine their relationship since they both escaped from Hades. Yasuaki Kurata doesn’t get to fight in this one, but exudes menace as Kawao.

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Steve Yoo is great as Kurashige, and plays him perfectly as a man who doesn’t believe that what he’s doing is evil as its all he’s ever known, and feels betrayed by K-29 for choosing to stand against him. Especially at the end, when he gazes out and sees Hades falling apart, and the disbelief on his face, is just well done by Yoo. The story itself is well told, and each character has a fitting, even somewhat operatic ending. I thought for sure this would be a Heroic Bloodshed film, and was actually surprised that it wasn’t, but in no way disappointed in that. That would have been an easy way to end the story. I’m glad they didn’t take it.

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The fights in this film were a joy to watch. Since Sammo choreographed it, I would expect nothing less! It was all well-shot, with a mixture of traditional kung-fu and a little bit of wirework, but nothing that distracted or took away from the performers. My favorite fight is when K-29 fights Crazy Monkey, a crazy kung-fu fighter who uses an array of styles and parkour to evade and attack. The fight starts on the ground, then on a bridge, and then to the top of the concrete bridge arches, and down, and back up, and then into the water. The music here is also good, and I hope more films follow it musically. There is a Xing Yu versus Matt Mullins fight that I wish had been a lot longer, but Mullins gets his moments during the final scrum at the climax of the film (in fact, some of it reminds me of Enter The Dragon in a strange way). The final fight itself in the rain between Xing Yu and Steve Yoo is gorgeous to look at and is well done. Their fight really displays the powerful strikes within the karate and kung-fu disciplines. The scenes switch between their fight and the soldiers fighting the Hades disciples, and it all comes together beautifully.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 9

I really had a great time with this movie, and I’d like to introduce everyone to Xing Yu: Kung Fu Star. His time has finally come in a film that properly introduces audiences to a man who may very well be the next big thing!

The Wrath of Vajra was released today on DVD and Blu-Ray from WellGO USA (Good Job, Ya’ll!) . I HIGHLY recommend you pick this one up!

Review: Ninja: Shadow of a Tear (2013)

Posted in Isaac Florentine, Kane Kosugi, Kazu Tang, Mika Hijii, Ron Smoorenburg, Scott Adkins, Tim Man on March 17, 2014 by Michael S. Moore

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Starring Scott Adkins, Kane Kosugi, Mika Hijii, Patrick Kazu Tang, Shun Sugata, Ron Smoorenburg, Jawed El Berni, Tim Man

Fight Choreography by Tim Man

Directed by Isaac Florentine

The original Ninja film was a breath of fresh air. Not only did it bring the ninja back in a big way (Ninja Assassin notwithstanding), but also continued to upward rise of martial arts star Scott Adkins and helmer Isacc Florentine after the classic Undisputed 3. Afterward came a little Indonesian film called The Raid, that upped the ante for everyone. Now we return to the adventures of Casey Bowman and his now wife Namiko (Hijii), and what ensues is a tonally different film than the comic-book style of the original.

Adkins returns as Casey Bowman, who, since the previous film, has married his deceased Sensei’s daughter Namiko and taken control of the Takeda Dojo. Namiko, who is now pregnant, asks Casey to go to the store to get chocolate and seaweed, and Casey returns to fine Namiko murdered by an assailant with a barbed chain weapon. During her funeral Nakabara, an old friend of the clan (Kosugi) shows up to offer his condolences, and to offer Casey a place to train and clear his head, at his Indonesian Dojo. Casey does so, but not before beating the daylights out of an entire dojo plus two thugs he believes were in on it. The thugs reveal that Boss Goro, a Japanese drug lord in Burma, had murdered Namiko. This takes Casey on a whirlwind trip of revenge, but fight after fight brings him closer to his target, who may not be the only villain responsible for Namiko’s death…

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Ninja 2 is a far darker film that the previous movie, but that’s to the film’s advantage. Scott Adkins returns as a far more vengeful Casey, and his kills are much more brutal than anything he did in the original film. Adkins’ acting is getting better and better with each film, and he does an even better job of conveying Casey’s emotions as his world falls apart. The only thing I miss is the Hugh Jackman Wolverine jacket he wore in the first film! Kane Kosugi does a good job here as well, and I was happy to see Kane in a good film. I hope that he teams up with Florentine again in a film he can star in. Kane’s skills have always been exemplary, but his film choices have left a lot to be desired. Shun Sugata is also good as Goro, and I smiled as he channelled several of Sonny Chiba’s mannerisms into his fight style. If I have a true issue with the film is that there wasn’t enough action with Casey in his ninja outfit.

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The fights by Tim Man is the star attraction here, and rightly so. There are a ton of fights in this film, and each one has a different dynamic and aesthetic, and the first fights involving Patrick Kazu Tang are great, but it’s only a hint at the things to come. A too-short fight that included Ron Smoorenburg (Who am I?) and a great fight between Casey Bowman and a fellow student Lucas (el Berni) leads to the two big fights in the film: Scott Adkins vs Tim Man, in a stunningly great looking fight, full of acrobatics and martial arts mastery, but the best is truly saved for last. Scott Adkins vs. Kane Kosugi is one of those fights I’ve always wanted to see (check that off my bucket list!) and it does not disappoint! Both men bring their all to the fight, and is a showcase of their martial arts at their prime. Can we please get Kane Kosugi into a film of his own?

Ninja 2 leaves Casey Bowman in a strange place. His wife and her father are gone. Casey, the man without a family, has lost his. What comes next? It will be fun to see where Casey the ninja goes from here.

 

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 9

Full of exciting fights and Scott Adkins at his best, the showdown versus Kane Kosugi is worth the price of admission alone!

An Open letter to Kevin Feige and Marvel Comics…

Posted in Larnell Stovall on March 11, 2014 by Michael S. Moore

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I’ll admit, nowadays I’m more of a DC comics reader, but I grew up reading mostly Marvel comics, and I’ve been nothing short of amazed by what Marvel has done with their live-action films. I’m now even more excited for the Marvel shows coming to Netflix. Jessica Jones. Daredevil. Power Man. Iron Fist. This is like a fanboy’s dream come true, especially for Daredevil and Iron Fist. Done right they could be amazing, especially since they can be R-rated. Done wrong and it could be disastrous. There is one additional thing that both Daredevil and Iron Fist need other than the right stars to be successful.

The right fight choreographer. And it just so happens I know who you need to take a serious look at.

Larnell Stovall.

Why him? I’ll get back to that once we explore why the right kind of fight choreographer is so important. The first is budget. A show like Daredevil can’t afford the expensive and unnecessary wirework that was done for the Ben Affleck film, but can afford to have memorable fight scenes choreographed by someone adept at it. The second is the audience. They know and will look for great martial arts fight scenes from both Daredevil and Iron Fist…especially Iron Fist. The normal crappy American-TV fight scenes won’t do. Not with films soon to be released like The Raid 2, Police Story 2013, and The Protector 2. That’s the level of choreography that Daredevil and Iron Fist need to have. Audiences will know the difference between what’s good and what looks fake and obviously “Hollywood”.

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And that brings me back to Larnell Stovall.

Here is his latest show reel:

Mr. Stovall has choreographed many different kinds of fight scenes for many types of action films, and is adept at tailoring the fight scenes to the personalities of the characters. This means he will have Daredevil fight in a style that fits that character, and Iron Fist fight in a style that fits him. Larnell will also do a great job at making the fights look great onscreen. He will make the fighters onscreen the best special effect you could have, and bring another crowd into both projects in addition to the comic book crowd: the martial arts film fan. Undisputed 3 is considered to be one of the best American martial arts films of the the last decade, in no small part to the fight choreography of Mr. Stovall.

Mr. Feige, I know I’m just one person. But I am one person who has his foot dipped in both film and comics, and I urge you to give Larnell Stovall a very long look to help your new endeavor with Netflix succeed. I’ve reviewed hundreds of martial arts film and studied even more, and I think I can speak for many when I say that Larnell Stovall is the fight choreographer you need.

Michael S Moore