Archive for the James Hong Category

Review: Safe (2012)

Posted in James Hong, Jason Statham, JJ Perry on May 29, 2014 by Michael S. Moore

 

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Starring Jason Statham, Catherine Chan, James Hong, Chris Sarandon, Anson Mount

Fight Choreography by J.J Perry and Chad Stahelski

Directed by Boaz Yakin

The great thing about Jason Statham, being the only A-list martial artist who makes Hollywood films (this needs to change ASAP. I’m looking at you, Hollywood) is that you know pretty much what you’ll get when you put the words Statham and Action together: a healthy mix of martial arts and gunplay, and badass quips. His best mix of these are his Transporter films, and the rest of his action filmography is a mixed bag. So is Safe closer to Transporter or closer to War?

Safe tells the story of Luke Wright (Statham) who starts off as a boxer who doesn’t throw a fight, and since the Russian mafia had bet a lot of money, take it out on Luke by murdering his wife. The Russians let Luke live, but with the knowledge that anyone he befriends will be killed (and they are killed). Meanwhile, in China, a young girl named Mei exibits a genius intellect for numbers, even though she doesn’t like them, and is kidnapped and held to work for the Traids and their leader Han Jiao (Hong). Fast forward to a year later, and Luke is on the streets living as a homeless man, and we find that he was once an undercover cop, who had turned over his partners to internal affairs. Meanwhile Mei is being transported to a location where she is to be give the second set of numbers she is to memorize which will open a safe somewhere in the city.  During her transport the Traids are attacked by the Russians, and Mei escapes and is found by Luke, who defends her from the Russians. Together, Mei and Luke save each other, and if they play their cards right, they can do so and get rich at the same time…

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Safe is a decent film, and Statham delivers as always. He plays Luke like the broken man he is, yet he still responds to his call to action. Catherine Chan is good as Mei, even though she doesn’t say much, she conveys it through her eyes. James Hong is Mr. Dependable as the Triad thug, as is Chris Sarandon as a corrupt mayor of New York. The story is at issue here, particularly in the way the film fills in the blanks of Luke’s life for the audience with no prior hints whatsoever. It’s like instant revelations constantly occur: He was once a Cop! He was part of a Task Force! He ratted out his partners! The Mayor’s Aide is some kind of mega-killer-badass! It all seemed to be items shoehorned in to explain the plot, which made parts of the film to appear as if written by someone taking a screenwriting class. I get slow reveals, but these were too many for the wrong reasons.

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The fights were good here, if not very many. The train fight was probably the best fight, as was the fight in the hotel restaurant area, a chaotic mix of martial arts and gunplay that was exciting and fun. The most disappointing fight is the one that didn’t happen: the fight between the Mayor’s Aide (Anson Mount, from Hell on Wheels) and Luke. It had the look of a classic badass fight but is ended before it can start thanks to some quick thinking on Mei’s part. It was such a surprising moment I can forgive the fact that it took away what appeared to be a great duel.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 7 

Safe is an entertaining film and Jason Statham delivers the goods as always. A nice way to spend a Friday night.

 

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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!

Review: Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

Posted in Jackie Chan, James Hong, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michelle Yeoh with tags , on May 29, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Featuring the voices of: Jack Black, Gary Oldman, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Jackie Chan, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michelle Yeoh, and James Hong.

Fight Choreography by Rodolphe Guenoden

Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson

Kung Fu Panda was a huge hit when it came out, at the time the biggest hit Dreamworks animation had that wasn’t named Shrek. After the film became a huge success, Dreamworks let it slip that they had 6 Kung Fu Panda films planned, that would tell the story of Po. Without a doubt it’s an ambitious undertaking, and now we have Kung Fu Panda 2. Is there enough story to sustain 6 films?

I don’t know, but this film proves that the answer may be closer to yes than you might think.

The film opens with a 2-D animation, just like the previous film, but this time we are told the story of Lord Shen (Oldman), a prince in his province who yearns to be a great emperor and rule China. Shen is told by his father’s Soothsayer (Yeoh) that if he continues on his quest, a warrior of black and white would destroy him. Shen scoffs at this prophecy, and goes on a killing spree, destroying every panda village he could find, wiping them all out. For his evil deed Shen’s father cast him out, and years later the story begins…

Po (Black)  is now a fully integrated member of the Furious Five–er, six now. The Five now have come to love Po, and completely accept him as the Dragon Warrior. Shifu has reached inner peace due the events of the previous film, and begins to teach the same to Po when a nearby village is being raided by Lord Shen’s wolf guards. Po and the Furious Five face them in a fantastic fight that shows just how good Po is, and how he fights as one with the Five, but the wolves escape when Po sees a symbol on their armor and has a flashback to something that happened when he was a baby…

Meanwhile, in Gongmen City, Lord Shen approaches the Kung Fu Council, headed by Master Thundering Rhino, along with Lord Croc (JCVD) and Master Storming Ox. He challenges them for his father’s throne, and defeats the other lords to get to the Rhino, whom he is unable to defeat, and unleashes a new weapon, a cannon, and kills Master Rhino. Shifu (Hoffman) is alerted to this, and sends Po and the Five to go and stop him, but little does Po know that facing Lord Shen means facing who he really is and where he comes from. Secrets are revealed, and Po’s life will never be the same again…

The story here is very much an old school kung-fu film revenge story, although it doesn’t start out that way. There is far more drama than in the previous film, as this film doesn’t question whether Po is the Dragon Warrior. It questions who Po actually is, and why his father is a goose. Po goes on a journey that changes him, and it is a well told story. The audience really gets to see the Furious Five in action the entire film this time. No bite size morsels here. There isn’t much of Shifu in this film, but that’s okay, because when he does appear it’s worth it. I was saddened that there wasn’t any Master Oogway, since he ascended in the previous film, but I was happy to see he was the Dreamworks logo at the beginning of the film. I guess there’s more Master Oogway love out there than I thought! (If there’s a Master Oogway T-shirt I’d buy it in a heartbeat.)

Jack Black once again does a great job as Po, and handles the dramatic scenes with ease. Angelina Jolie takes a softer-but-not-quite performance as Tigress, who doesn’t often show much emotion, but when it appears, it’s heartwarming to see how much she truly cares about Po. All of the rest of the five do a great job, and Jackie Chan gets more speaking lines than what Monkey had in the previous film, but then again they all do. Gary Oldman plays Lord Shen like the ruthless opportunist that he is, cunning and smart, but cannot get his ego out of his own way, which proves to be his undoing. And for anyone wondering, Lord Croc (JCVD) DOES do the splits, which made me laugh out loud. Funny enough that Soothsayer, as played by Michelle Yeoh, turns out to be not so different from her last role as Dr. Yu in True Legend.

The fighting is even better in this film than in the last. It’s fast, but not so much that you can’t see the wonderful fight choreography. The fight inside the palace toward the middle of the film is as much a showstopper as the prison escape from the first film, and the first fight of Po and the Five versus the wolf warriors was terrific. Once again this is like a Sammo Hung film in animated disguise, but tossing in his cohorts Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao for good measure.  Each member of the Five have a way of fighting that is immediately recognized as kung-fu, and they way they aid each other is a fun thing to see. Lord Shen is a dangerous fighter, but not in the same way that Tai Lung was in the first film. Shen is an intelligent backstabber who uses knives and a spear to fight with grace and speed rather than power and rage.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is better than the first film in many ways, and the surprise ending alone shows that Po’s personal journey will continue. So there could be four more chapters? I’m excited to see what they do next!

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) They really outdid themselves, and give Rodolpho a hand for having the animators stage fight choreography that’s every but as complex as anything you’d see in an old school Shaw Brothers film.

STAR POWER: (10) Just look at the names above. Big named stars mixed with martial arts stars. Wow.

FINAL GRADE: (10) A fantastic animated film that trumps the original. Po’s journey is a dramatic one that changes his character, and deepens his relationships with the Furious Five. A great tribute to all martial arts films, and why we love them so much!

NEXT:  Bruce Li returns for The Image of Bruce Lee!

Review: Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Posted in Jackie Chan, James Hong with tags , on May 23, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Featuring the voices of: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Ian McShane, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, David Cross, Randall Duk Kim, and James Hong.

Fight Choreography by Rodolphe Guenoden

Directed by John Stevenson and Mark Osborne

 Who would’ve thought we would get not one–but two–major American martial arts films in the same year? One a team-up we’ve been waiting for since the name Jet Li and Jackie Chan became synonymous with kick-ass films, the other co-starring Jackie Chan that is an animated love letter to all things kung-fu. Both films are a celebration of kung-fu films past and present, but does Kung Fu Panda succeed?

In a word–well, hell yeah.

The film starts as we meet our hero Po (Black) in fantastic dream sequence that anyone who has ever dreamed of being a kung-fu hero has had (kid or adult). Po is rudely brought back to the real world, where he works in his father’s (Hong) noodle shop. Why his father is a duck is never explained, which leaves this bit of character drama for another film *wink*. Po loves kung fu, but doesn’t know any, and his heroes are the Furious Five, protectors of the Valley of Peace, who represents the animal forms of kung fu: Mantis (Rogen), Tigress (Jolie,), Monkey (Chan), Crane (Cross), and Snake (Liu). They are trained by the greatest kung fu master in the valley, Master Shifu (Hoffman), who in turn is notified by his Master Oogway (Kim) that the kung-fu traitor Tai Lung (McShane) will soon escape his prison.

Of course, in the attempt to make sure this doesn’t happen, Master Shifu inadvertently causes this very thing to come to pass, in a thrilling sequence in which Tai Lung escapes, and so it is said that only thing that can beat Tai Lung is one who can read the dragon scrolls and become the Dragon Warrior. Thus, a tournament is held the next day to find the Dragon Warrior, and Po, eager to go, is saddled with his father’s noodle cart, but is able to make his way into the tournament after a hilarious sequence of failures, and you guessed it, is chosen to become the dragon warrior, much to the chagrin of Master Shifu and the Furious Five. Shifu plans to train Po so hard he quits, but Tai Lung is fastly approaching, and Po is not so easily deterred. Can Po learn Kung Fu in time to save the Valley and become the Dragon Warrior?

The attention to detail is really top-notch here, and the animation is some of the best there is. The colors are bright and joyful, making this a true celebration of martial arts films. The story is fun but is also has–to put it as Bruce Lee would– emotional content. Po’s story is one of believing in oneself, and Master Shifu’s is having faith in others, namely Po and the wisdom of his own Master Oogway, who is my favorite character. His final scene in the film is heartfelt and beautiful, at a point where character, story, music and animation converge to form a scene you’ll remember long after the film is over. We don’t get to spend much time with the Furious Five, but that’s okay. They are awesome, the great fighters Po believes they are, and Tai Lung is an amalgamation of dozens of old school kung fu baddies, and strong enough and evil enough to be a great match for Po, but Tai Lung also has his reasons for wanting the dragon scroll, and some great flashbacks tell his story. There is so many good martial arts lessons that Po and Shifu learn, that is universal across many forms, such as focus, patience, belief in your self and for teachers how to approach teaching from a different perspective, finding something the student can relate to.

The fight scenes are fantastic, perhaps the best being Tai Lung’s escape from Chorh-Gom prison, an exciting scene featuring exploding cave ceilings, Rhinos getting the stuffing beat out of them, and it is here that we actually see background characters getting killed, just to show how large a threat Tai Lung is. The next best fight is part of Po’s training sequence, when he is challenged to a duel with Shifu for the last dumpling, which, like many scenes, is lifted straight from classic kung fu films. Here’s an example:

  

Kung Fu Panda is a literal love letter to kung fu films. You can tell the filmmakers know and love classic kung fu films. The Furious Five? Straight out of a Shaw brothers film. Po? He may as well be Sammo Hung. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is really an animated late 70’s, early 80’s Sammo Hung film. This film is a bright, colorful celebration of the kung fu film genre, and is not to be missed by those who love it the most.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) Pretty good scenes that sometimes has to be slowed down to view properly, but is extremely well done for am animated feature.

STUNTWORK: (O): Umm…animated feature. Maybe a few animators paper cut themselves.

STAR POWER: (10) Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, so many of today’s stars in this film, a martial arts film of all things!

FINAL GRADE: (10) There is too much fun to be found here, and this is a great film that celebrates all the things we love about the genre, but also manages to tell a great story. This is a fantastic gateway for children into the realm of martial arts and martial arts films!

NEXT: Donnie Yen takes over for Bruce and Jet! Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen!