Archive for the Al Leong Category

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: The Perfect Weapon (1991)

Posted in Al Leong, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, James Hong, James Lew, Jeff Imada, Jeff Speakman, Professor Toru Tanaka with tags , on June 19, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jeff Speakman, James Hong, Mako, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (CHT), Professor Toru Tanaka, James Lew, Jeff Imada, Al Leong

Fight Choreography by Ricky Avery

Directed by Mark DiSalle

In the early 90’s Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme ruled the Hollywood martial arts film world, and there seemed to be no one who could break out of B-movie hell to challenge them, until a kenpo master trained by Ed Parker came to the fore named Jeff Speakman, and even though this would be his only real “big” Hollywood film, he made a first film that really did challenge the Big Two…

Jeff Speakman stars as Jeff Sanders, an otherwise normal looking construction worker who, as we see in flashbacks, grew up a troubled kid after the death of his mother, trying to live with a stern father and a little brother who idolized him. Family friend Kim (Mako) tells Jeff’s father about a “special” school where he can channel his anger and find focus, and before long Jeff becomes a badass kenpo practitioner until he jacks up a football player and sends him to the hospital, and is cast out by his father. Now Jeff returns to see his old mentor Kim, but things aren’t well in happytown, where the local Chinese Mafia families are at war with each other, and Jeff finds himself in deep trouble when he intervenes, causing a chain of events that leads to Kim’s death. Along with his little brother, now a police officer himself, Jeff takes on Yung (Hong), the man who ordered Kim’s death in an effort to get his revenge. The question is whether Jeff’s truly learned how to control himself…

The story is a by the numbers story except for one thing that I thought was pretty original: Jeff’s an idiot. Really, a grade-A fool whose fists are deadly weapons. He’s a simple guy who reacts first and thinks later, making him easily manipulated by Yung and  constantly trying to control his anger to the point he can’t think too terribly much about anything else. I actually like the fact that he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, and rather than finding easier ways to do things, he runs into everything and wrecks house, but somehow finds a way to move ahead in his quest. Jeff Speakman does a good job of portraying Jeff for his first starring role, and has some screen presence. Mako is…well, Mako, and does a good job as he usually does playing Mako. James Hong chews up the screen as Yung, but CHT is woefully underused as henchman Kai. But no self respecting action film would be complete without the greatest henchman who ever lived, the great Al Leong. Professor Toru Tanaka gets the lion’s share of the bad guy scenes, and it’s not hard to see why. Tanaka’s imposing frame gives him such a screen presences as an unstoppable baddie that it feels a little cheap how Jeff finally takes him down, but I’d stick Toru Tanaka up there with Bolo Yeung: two dudes I wouldn’t want to mess with unless I was inside a very large tank about a mile away.

The fight choreography was well done for a Hollywood martial arts film, and the director had the good sense to let the action speak for itself rather than editing it to hell or doing too many close-ups. This film is the only real film to showcase kenpo karate, and does so admirably. The best fight really comes in the middle of the film as Jeff takes on James Lew and two others. They are the only characters other than Jeff who know martial arts, so it good to see Kenpo versus other styles, however brief. The other fights rock on as Jeff uses his feet, fists, escrima sticks and knives in a showcase of his style. I’ll say this, Speakman had some of the fastest hands I’ve ever seen onscreen.

Jeff Speakman didn’t make too many more films after this, but he’s become one of the best martial arts instructors in the country, and youtube is full of his seminars and demos. He may not have become a superstar, but he did make a great 90’s film, and when you can perform katas to Snap’s The Power, well, that puts this film into classic territory for me:

That and the coat. That’s the baddest ass hero’s jacket I’ve ever seen. I need one.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) This film shows off kenpo better than any I’ve ever seen, and it keeps things fast but coherent, and Jeff looks fantastic. The end fight was a little disappointing, but the gym fight and the warehouse fight more than make up for it.

STUNTWORK (7) Well done, but nothing to write home about. Outside of a flipped car the stunt men really didn’t do anything special.

STAR POWER: (7) Jeff’s star never really took off, but this film is a who’s who of Hollywood Asian mainstays such as Mako, James Hong, James Lew, Al Leong, and Jeff Imada. The biggest star would turn out to be the one person with the least amount of screen time in the film: Mariska Hargitay of Law and Order: SVU.

Final Grade: (7.5) A fun filled martial arts film that showcases the style of kenpo karate and introduces Jeff Speakman as well as featuring one of the best early 90’s songs of all time!

NEXT: Jet Li and Donnie Yen go fist to fist in Once Upon A Time In China 2!

Tribute: The Greatest Henchman Who Ever Lived

Posted in Al Leong with tags , on March 1, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

first published May 29th 2010

Of course, I’m speaking of the great Al Leong:

Remember him now? During the 80’s and 90’s you couldn’t throw a rock blindfolded at an action film-or action TV show for that matter-and NOT strike one that didn’t have Al in it. This guy has made a long and great career out of playing the most underrated guys in films: henchmen. I’m sure during that time period the casting directors of some of the greatest action films of all time had Al’s number on speed dial, and if not, I’m sure it went something like this:

“Dammit, we need something. I mean, It’s cool that Mel Gibson is shooting all these bad guys, but there’s just…just no spice to it. No flavor at all. What do we do?”, says Richard Donner.

“Al Leong isn’t in the film,” says unhappy intern, with a coffee cup in hand that says “World’s Greatest Director” on it, holding it out to Donner, who looks down and promptly takes it.

“Dammit your right! Mel never killed him! That’s what we’re missing! Eureka! What the hell was the casting director thinking? They are sooo fired-and you’ll take their place!”

There are good websites about Al Leong’s filmography such as this one, so I won’t go on a blow by blow of his films and his life, as he is a very private person who doesn’t interview much. I just want to toss out some love to the greatest of Henchmen, and to let all future henchmen know what standards they need to meet.

If henchmen are a salad, then Al Leong was the ranch dressing in every film he did. His look was unmistakable, with the balding yet long hair, and the Fu Manchu moustache he sported in everything he did. Think about the bad guys in Die Hard for a second. Who do you remember outside of Alan Rickman? You remember the asian fellow who grabbed the candy bars right before wounding a bunch of swat team guys! Al Leong, stand up!

He raised the bar for the art of henching to levels so high not even James Bond wanted any part of him, thus the reason why Al never appeared in one. Without Al, who would actions stars fight and kill in a memorable scene? Don’t forget that the primary function of a henchman is to eventually die, and no one dies better than Al! Impalement, gunshot, decapitation, he’s done it all! No, really, he has! See the vid below:

Even Rotten Tomatoes recognized him, and awarded him the lifetime achievement award in henching:

Al even has a book about his life out, The Eight Lives of Al “Ka-bong” Leong , which you can purchase on Amazon here. And, this being a martial arts movie blog, he was given a chance in one movie to really show his stuff, and that he did when he took on Brandon Lee at the end of Rapid Fire:

 After entertaining us for so long, here’s to you, Al Leong. Never has there been a greater henchman than you. If the bad guys had 4 more of you, the good guys wouldn’t have stood a chance.

Review: Rapid Fire (1992)

Posted in Al Leong, Brandon Lee, Reviews with tags , on June 9, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Brandon Lee, Powers Boothe, Al Leong

Directed by Dwight H. Little

Fight Choreography by Jeff Imada and Brandon Lee

In between Showdown in Little Toyko and The Crow, Brandon Lee released his starring vehicle, a film that showcases a talent taken far too soon, and also pays a loving of tribute/homage to many things, from Jackie Chan to his father Bruce Lee.

The film opens with Italian mafia boss Tony Serrano arriving in some nameless country, Thailand, perhaps? Maybe it’s one of those ‘leave it to your imagination’ kind of things. If you think it’s China, great! Taiwan, better still! I hate it when a writer or director gets lazy like that. Nick Mancuso plays Serrano, and chews up every scene he’s in. Anyway, Serrano came to meet his old friend Tommy , an Asian drug lord who has been providing Serrrano the drugs he sells. Well, with the economy being as crappy as it is, a mafioso just can’t sell drugs like they used to, so he want Tommy to pay him back for favors done long ago by giving him a good percentage of the drug sales. While all this is going on we are witness a staff fighting scene that was done very well. Tommy isn’t too keen on Serrano’s way of asking for help, and proves his point by beating down the two staff fighters in front of him, just to let the audience know that yeah, he ain’t gonna get Seagaled (Seagaled is a term I invented for whenever Seagal would meet any bad guy at the end of his films, they would be clearly no match for him, and he would toss them around before breaking a bone painfully and then killing said bad guy with absolute ease. They posed no threat whatsoever), so after dropping a few Sicilian proverbs Serrano bids Tommy a very nice mob way of saying goodbye.

We then move to a college campus in California where Paul Yang conducts a demonstration for Chinese rights after the Tiananmen Square incident. He is played by Dustin Nguyen (he who was one of Johnny Depp’s partners in 21 Jumpstreet, and has since become a new voice in martial arts films, having just directed and co-starred in the hit Vietnamese martial arts hit The Rebel.) Jake Lo (Lee) shows up, and due to things that happened during Tiananmen Square, he wants nothing to do with the demonstration and turns down Paul when invited to a fundraiser. So Paul gets Jake there using the tried and true method-a beautiful woman. They arrive at the fundraiser, which is at an art museum run by one of Tommy’s guys, so of course Serrano happens to be waiting in his office already, like some sort of Italian Ninjitsu. Immediately afterward in a move decidedly NOT ninjitsu Serrano shotguns the art curator out of the office window, the first of many, many stupid things Serrano does in this film, making one wonder how the hell his dumb ass became a mob boss in the first place. You know his ass lucked into it. So of course, folks have to start shooting shit up Yakuza style. They aren’t in this film, but I’m sure they appreciated the hundreds of wayward bullets and innocent bystanders killed in the cross fire. Unfortunately for Serrano Jake sees him kill the curator, and in his attempted escape Brandon gets to show off some great moves, and hops onto a motorcycle, and in a tribute (or ripoff depending on how you feel) to Jackie Chan’s Police Story Jake jumps on a motorcycle and since Serrano is in the streets shooting like a 60’s Batman villain, rides back into the museum and hits a guy, sending him through a bunch of glass. Jake soon gets arrested after fall off of said bike.

Soon Jake gets interrogated by that Black dude that played the Jamaican Screwface in Seagal’s Marked for Death. The FBI blackmail Jake into flying to Chicago to testify against Serrano before a Grand Jury. Jake goes along with it because he has no choice, and is scared of Screwface.

We then meet-and I kid you not- a Chicago cop named Mace Ryan, played by Powers Boothe, one of the manliest men ever, and this film knows it. Hell, look at his character’s name! He’s so macho his police squad has their headquarters in a functioning bowling alley. Does that make any sense? Hell no, but shit that’s manly. Screw Bruce Willis and Eastwood, they never had that. Powers. Boothe. He and his cohorts decide to follow Jake, which is a good thing, as the safe house he’s taken to isn’t very safe, as the FBI agents assigned to him work for Serrano, and once again, how does this moron get these guys? I wouldn’t trust his ass to count cola in a six pack. Jake pwns the feds pretty good in a decent fight scene, before he gets away. (Note to self: the angrier Brandon gets on screen, the more he looks like his Dad.)

Jake calls the head of the agents, and yes, this douche works for Serrano too. Jake goes to meet him in a dark alley, and so does Mace, since he and his men had the agent’s phone tapped. The Fed almost gets Jake to come with him when Mace appears and tells him to get into the car, and a bunch of Serrano’s men arrive and start shooting, but dammit they shot at the wrong dude. At this moment Mace goes all Tombstone on them, and his sheer level of manliness alone (he has a +10 charisma for this, D&D fans) keeps the bullets from hitting him as he stands straight up and returns fire.

After saving Jake and leaving lots of property damage and the burning bodies of about 3 mafioso’s in a flaming car in the middle of the street, Mace has Jake agree to help him take Tommy Tau down, because even he knows Serrano is a doofus.

Soon Jake and the Fed they blackmail in a reversal go to see Serrano at his restaurant/base of operations, with Mace and his team waiting outside ready to shoot shit up. Soon Serrano, idiot though he is, figures out the Fed is wearing a wire, and blows him away, and Mace goes ‘oh well’ and orders his men to shoot at-well everything. Wanting to match manliness with insanity Serrano orders the same thing to his guys, and Jake dives off down to the first floor and we get a terrific one against-a-dozen-dudes-who-don’t-know-anything fight. Brandon does a great job selling the physicality of his movement, and there were parts of it where he seemed so natural, like Papa Lee. Amid all the gunfire the fighting is well done, and before long they capture Serrano.

Soon after we are treated to the thankful death of Serrano as Tommy has him killed by his lead henchman played by the great Al Leong intercut with Jake getting to have sex with the only female cop in Mace’s squad, Whithers. After Mace does the manly thing and shoots the 1 pin his bowling ball can’t touch Jake shows up and agrees to go undercover to the factory Tommy owns to find out where he keep his drugs at. It is here that Brandon wears a costume not unlike what Bruce wore for his disguise in Fists of Fury and sneaks in, not knowing that Mace and the Whithers get captured by Tommy outside, and it’s up to Jake to save them in a great series of final fights, and yes, they reference Police Story again when Jake fights with a clothing rack, fending off the bad guys the same way Jackie did.

We are then treated to the best fight in the film, Brandon Lee vs Al Leong, and the two have a memorable if short fight, and as he always does, Al dies incredibly well. Jake then chases down Tommy to a subway station, and the two fight, and Tommy gets what he deserves in true 80’s fashion, which means he had to die multiple deaths, by being electrocuted and then run over by a train. Jake kills the bad guy and gets the girl, and Mace lives after being shot like 10 times. He’s the man. Really.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) Jeff Imada does a pretty good job staging the fights, and the execution is very well done. A little American 80’s style with a bit more HK influence than most. The fight between Brandon and Al was great.

STUNTS: (8) Good job from all of the stuntmen involved. They all sold it well, and Al was the cream of the crop as always.

DIRECTION: (7) Dwight did a good job of keeping the camera at good angles to follow the fighting. The dialogue was well done and the story was actually a bit different than most.

STAR POWER: (8) Brandon Lee. Powers Boothe. Toss in a good heap of Al Leong, and that’s all you need to see. Lee had the makings of a great star, but alas that wasn’t meant to be.

FINAL GRADE: (8) A great first film for Brandon, showcasing his skills. This is really his only mainstream pure martial arts film in which he was the star, and that alone makes this film special, if a bit sad.

Review: Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991)

Posted in Al Leong, Brandon Lee, Dolph Lundgren, James Lew, Reviews with tags , on May 19, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, Tia Carrere

Directed By Mark Lester

Fight Choreography by Pat Johnson

Fresh off of a string of flops (one could contend that though a flop, he did the best Punisher movie) Dolph Lundgren made this little film with then unknown but about to be famous Brandon Lee. The testosterone and kicks run high in Showdown, but does it amount to anything?

The film opens with Detective Kenner (Dolph Lundgren) busting up an illegal kickboxing operation single-handedly. Cops in the 80’s used to do stuff like that, because back-up means they can’t kill as many people, and usually wind up as random cannon fodder anyway. In the middle of this a group of Yakuza show up for what seems to be the express purpose of killing indiscriminately. Kenner whips out a giant magnum, and starts shooting Yakuza indiscriminately. If they can do it, so can he! And he does so, even leaping over the escape vehicle just as it’s about to cut him down.

He’s pretty pissed about it, but what the hell, he’ll find them the next day when his psychic powers compel him to have coffee in a random Japanese cafe where those same exact guys show up. They arrive to shake the cafe down for protection money. Between the night before and right at that moment, that shows that yes, even Yakuza have to pull down double shifts once in a while. What can you say? The economy sucks for everyone. Kenner of course has to stop them with the SLOWEST KICKS EVER, and I actually don’t blame Dolph for this, ’cause everyone is slow in this film. Thankfully the fight is brief as Johnny Murata (Brandon Lee, who is NOT Japanese) shows up, mistaking Kenner for beating up a bunch of Japanese dudes, and he runs in to fight him, and lo and behold brings a little thing like speed and agility that had just been missing. Brandon vs Dolph went about how you think it would, with Brandon showcasing good martial arts mixed with a little acrobatic flair, and Dolph doing everything big and slowly. Of course they discover that they are both cops just in time for the rest of the Yakuza to arrive and do what they did so well in the 80’s: shoot shit up. What kills me is that the cafe owner, a little Japanese lady, just kinda brushes the whole thing off like it happens a lot. Her insurance must offer Yakuza coverage as well, which is something we should all have. You never know when those a-holes can show up and ruin a good couch.

We are then introduced to the Yakuza lord Yoshida played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (CHT) , the preeminent go-to guy whenever Hollywood needed an Asian bad guy leader-dude in the 80’s and early 90’s. The guy just looks evil. In real life he’s probably the nicest dude in the world. He runs around for a few minutes doing Random Evil Things, such as crushing a guy in a car for really no reason, and chopping the head off of a girl who wants to have sex with him in front of his boys. I mean, you don’t need to kill her. You need to call Vivid Video and run Ron Jeremy over there.

We are then subjected to poorly scripted banter between Kenner and Murata to show us the differences between the two, the japanese guy who is more of a surfer-dude, and the tall blonde guy who is more Japanese than his partner. Soon they arrive at a Yakuza bar and start beating up Yakuza guards quickly, and with poor choreography, which accounts for the entire film. They meet Minako (Tia Carrere) the friend of the girl who lost her head to see what she knows, and then the rest of the Yakuza boys show up, leading to yet another fight-with basically Kenner throwing people and slow punching them, and Brandon gets the best moment in the film to show off a little of his stuff here, but it isn’t long nor particularly well done, though he has one good line during the fight: “Down MF!” Gotta love that. Once trip to Dolph and one strike from behind to Murata by the great asian henchman-guy played by Al Leong (He defined the 80’s for henchmen. He took it to a whole new level. Exhibit 1: the candy bar scene in Die Hard) They are brought before Yoshida, and here we find the connection between Yoshida and Kenner.

After Yoshida has them leave peaceably, they stake out his new brewery, which is a front for smuggling drugs. Yoshida then decides he has some time on his hands and tries to woo Minako-by scaring the crap out of her by showing her the video of her friend getting her head cut off. Kenner, with psychic powers working well, stakes out Yoshida’s house just as Minako is about to commit seppuku (ritual suicide), and in true 80’s action hero form goes in to save her, shooting men with pinpoint accuracy and even turning over a car in true Hulk fashion.

After Yoshida kills the guy in charge of protecting his house, another tried and true evil thing to do, killing your own man to show the audience how evil you are, he decides he needs to relax at the local bathhouse, and with powers in full effect Kenner and Murata go there too, resulting in another badly done fight scene that a 4-year-old would’ve come up with.

After Kenner has the requisite 80’s sex montage scene with body doubles and everything ending with a groaner one-liner, the bad guys show that they too have mental abilities, and show up at Kenner secret hideout and start-you guessed it-shooting shit up. They capture our intrepid heroes, and burn his house down.

After escaping from two Yoshida Traps of Death he found in the James Bond Book of Villany, even to the point of walking away to assume their deaths will go according to plan, they go to the brewery for the final fight-with guns blazing and poorly choreographed fight scenes, with soon to be standard MTV movie editing. Yoshida and Kenner then have what I suppose you can call a sword fight in a Japanese festival, and of course Kenner wins, and with nary a police car in sight the heroes and the girl walk away, laughing, while the festival goers, with horrified children in the crowd, just watched a white dude staple a Japanese guy to a wooden board with a sword and then watched the guy fry when a thousand firecrackers go off all over him. The end.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (2) Sweet lord was this dreadful. I think Dolemite did better fight scenes.  James Lew was in the film, but he couldn’t do a damn thing to save this dreadful choreography.

STUNTS: (3) Meh. They collected their paychecks, except for Al Leong. He always brings it, even if for one scene.

DIRECTION: (2) Mark Lester, like most American directors really hasn’t seen an HK film to see how they do things. But nothing gets him off for a crappy script and poorly acted scenes. You can tell the actors had no help from him.

STAR POWER: (5) Dolph’s star was fading after a string of flops (His last major hit after this would be Universal Soldier)  and Brandon was just getting his career started, and Tia Carrere would fade away until Wayne’s World. CHT is as reliable as always, as is Al Leong.

FINAL GRADE: (3) One of the worst Martial arts films (if you choose to call it that) I have ever seen. Except for one or two lines the acting was dreadful, and the fights were embarrassing. Avoid this one, unless you’re using it to play some sort of drinking game.