Archive for the James Lew Category

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!

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Review: The Girl From The Naked Eye (2012)

Posted in James Lew, Jason Yee, Lateef Crowder, Ron Yuan on June 8, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jason Yee, Ron Yuan, Lateef Crowder, Dominique Swain, Sasha Grey, James Lew, Samantha Streets

Fight choreography by Ron Yuan

Directed by David Ren

Every once in a while someone tries to do something different within the martial arts genre, and as someone who watches so many, I appreciate them when they come around, and it’s even better when we get more than one in a twelve month time span. Bunraku experimented with combining a samurai film with a western and tossing them into a blender with a box of crayons, and now we get a hard-boiled film noir story that introduces a new face to the world of martial arts stars. Jason Yee has been around in Hollywood, doing small films and getting small roles, but Jason, a U.S. San-Shou champion, now takes center stage to show off his stuff.

Yee stars as Jake, a bodyguard who works for glorified pimp Simon (Yuan) at a strip club called The Naked Eye. Jake’s job is to drive around Simon’s girls when they go out as escorts to make sure they stay safe and more importantly to make sure his clients pay up when their fun is over. The film opens as we find the dead body of one of them, a girl named Sandy (Streets) whom Jake finds murdered. As the film progresses we find out why he cares for this particular girl over all of the others while Jakes rampages across the city in an attempt to find her killer and take his revenge. As all things do in a film noir things go south quickly after Jake beats up Simon and takes his black book, which has the names of all of Simon’s clients. All kinds of hell begins to rain down on Simon, and he has to dodge Simon and his men, a kill crazy corrupt cop, and the men Jake owes a lot of money to, and try to survive the night long enough to solve the mystery of Sandy’s death….

The story has a good flow to it, and the cinematography and camera angles create a convincing film noir which actually falls in line with the look of many Korean thrillers coming out nowadays. I actually think this film could have worked well in black and white. The voice overs by Jake also lend to the “noir-ness” of the film, and David Ren gets a lot of things right. The script is fairly well written, and really show a seedy underworld that left me wanting to wash myself afterward, and more nudity than I’ve seen in a Hollywood film since the heyday of the 80’s. Jason Yee is convincing as the loser/fighter Jake, and brings the appropriate hard-boiled edge to him. Ron Yuan is fantastic as Simon, and has some of the funniest lines in the film, and he’s able to create a character you kinda like and despise all at once. Sasha Grey (The Girlfriend Experience)  is in the film in what amounts to a glorified cameo, and the same goes for Dominque Swain (Face/Off).

The fight choreography is well done, keeping everything within the film noir spectrum and style, and all of the fights keep a realistic tone, but there are two standout moments: the first is the first fight between Jason Yee and Lateef Crowder in hotel hallway. The fighting is tight since the hallway is small, and it was interesting to see how Lateef uses his capoeira in such a tight space. The absolute best fight comes at the end of the film and begins with the rematch between Yee and Crowder, and then, in an ode to the film Oldboy .Jake takes on four or five police officers in a side-scrolling scene that is terrifically choreographed by Ron Yuan. I was giggling in entertainment glee the entire time as I watched this fight unfold, and the orchestral score that accompanied it is one of my favorites, “Bolero” as performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) Ron Yuan does a great job of melding the martial arts fights into the film noir and darkness of the rest of the film, and once again, the final fight is absolutely great. All of the other fights were good, but the Lateef Crowder stuff is exceptionally well done.

STUNTWORK: (8) The stuntmen did a really good job, especially the one poor guy who fell on his head and he rolled down the balcony, and the stuntmen who fought during the  side scrolling fight did a fantastic job.

STAR POWER: (7) Jason Yee is a relative unknown, but I think he’ll be much better known after this film comes out. Ron Yuan is great as always, but Dominique Swain and Sasha Grey weren’t really in the film enough to really matter. Lateef’s record of being the best martial artist in films to have never won an onscreen fight continues untarnished!

FINAL GRADE: (8) A terrific martial arts film noir that brings a fresh voice to the world of martial arts films, and Jason Yee has the makings of a star, with bone crunching fights and a terrific finale that will leave martial arts film fans smiling.

The film’s release date is June 15th, 2012

 

NEXT: Jackie Chan returns as the Asian Hawk in Armor of God 2: Operation Condor!

 

Review: Rush Hour 2 (2001)

Posted in Ernie Reyes Jr., Jackie Chan, James Lew, John Lone, Ziyi Zhang with tags , on July 26, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Ziyi Zhang, John Lone, Don Cheadle, Alan King, Roslyn Sanchez

Fight Choreography by Jackie Chan

Directed by Brett Ratner

Rush Hour was a massive American success, one that had, until this point, eluded Jackie Chan, who had moderate hits with his HK imports. Teaming him up with Chris Tucker, a loudmouth comedian who is both funny and annoying in equal measure turned out to be gold at the box office. So what’s new with the sequel?

Actually, more of the same, except worse.

Rush Hour 2 picks up not long after Rush Hour, and we once again join Lee (Chan) and Carter (Tucker), and the tables are turned, with the duo being in Hong Kong instead, for a little bit. Carter is on vacation, and is a bit upset that he’s been nothing but helping Lee with his cases, but things change when there is a bombing at the American embassy, and Lee is tasked with checking out the Triads and his father’s former police partner Ricky Tan (Lone) who may be involved. What they find is that the Triads are working with an American billionaire to launder fake money at a new casino in Las Vegas. Along the way they team up with a beautiful FBI agent (Sanchez) and face off with Tan’s right hand woman Hu Li (Zhang). The film takes them from Hong Kong, Los Angeles and then Las Vegas, leading to a showdown at the Red Dragon Casino.

The story is serviceable, but unlike Rush Hour, the comedy pushes the story to the side. That is because Chris Tucker is given a much bigger part than Jackie Chan, you know, supposedly the star of the film. Of course, this is because Brett Ratner had an agenda to make Chris Tucker a bigger star, and both this film and its sequel supports this thought, giving more and more screen time to Chris Tucker. This is done by actually having Tucker have actual action scenes, the place where Chan is supposed to dwell, and therein lies the problem. With the Shanghai films, Owen Wilson is content–and smart enough–to share the screen with Chan, not attempt to upstage him. Not so much here. And in this the film is a complete failure, because what was the last film anyone has seen Chris Tucker in not named Rush Hour?

For Jackie Chan and martial arts action fans, the fights are far below the standards of what we expect from a Jackie Chan film. Yes, there are some cool single moments, like Chan’s escape from the guards at the casino leading to his dive through a teller window, and the fight up the bamboo scaffolding in Hong Kong, but the fights are too short and don’t allow for Chan’s full inventiveness to come to the fore. This is Ratner’s (who claims to be a fan of Police Story 1 and 2. Guess he never really paid much attention to the mall fight at the end of Police Story 1) take on martial arts films, than American’s cannot maintain their excitement at watching a fight scene longer than 2 minutes. That may be true for many USA films, but when you have inventive fight choreography, you can keep that excitement. Yuen Woo Ping, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and Donnie Yen have been doing it for years, and it’s never hurt a film any of them have ever made.  My personal take is that Brett Ratner is nothing more than a studio hack, working for whomever on whatever project that has a name (Red Dragon, X-Men 3) because he is known for bringing his films under budget, but his films take no chances and rarely has much creativity or style. He also commits a cardinal sin of insulting his audience by staging many of the “outtakes” rather than actually having them come from some flub that truly happened.

This is also a film of missed opportunities. You have Ziyi Zhang in the film, and you relegate her big action scene to a fight versus Chris Tucker? Who the hell wants to see that? I think many were waiting for a big fight scene versus Jackie Chan, and it never happened. You have Ernie Reyes Jr. in the film, and what the hell does he do? He RUNS AWAY from Chan and Tucker, and leads them to the Triads, and that’s his lone scene. Hell, he had a bigger part fighting Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) in The Rundown.

James Lew, an always dependable stuntman and fight choreographer has a scene that lasts like 3 seconds. Jackie kicks him in the face and that’s it. The best fight in the film is Jackie Chan versus Don Cheadle. Don was a big Jackie Chan fan, and wanted to put his best foot forward. He spent months learning his Chinese, not just to say his lines, but to get the inflections and dialect correct. He also came in having learned some martial arts in anticipation of his fight scene with Jackie Chan, and really impressed Chan and the other stuntmen with how quickly he took to the fight choreography.

As an American action comedy film it works well enough, and came at a good time. It was just released shortly before 9/11, and in the days afterward people wanted to go see something they could use to escape their troubles for a few hours, and this film hit the spot while pretty much every other film was tanking, as they were more serious than what many American’s wanted to see. As a martial arts film, the criteria used on this website, it’s below mediocre. Jackie Chan is relegated more to the background and being Chris Tucker’s sidekick, and the fights are relatively generic, and Brett Ratner’s equally generic style doesn’t help anything. The lack of using his resources (Ziyi, Reyes Jr, Lew, Chan himself) is the most maddening thing of all.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (4) Chan isn’t given the chance to use his inventiveness to really cut loose with good fight scenes. The Don Cheadle fight was the best one in the film, and the scaffold fight was a close second. The rest is forgettable.

STUNTWORK: (5) Lots of green screen used for Jackie Chan this time around. He still does some awesome things, but not close to his Hong Kong work, but that’s to be expected doing an American film, I suppose.

STAR POWER: (8)  Chan, Tucker, Zhang Ziyi, John Lone, and Don Cheadle bring a lot of star power to this film. Too bad much of it was wasted.

FINAL GRADE: (5) Still funny, perhaps even more so than the previous film, but there are too many wasted opportunities and agendas at work to make this film stand the test of time.

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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.