Archive for the Masaya Kato Category

Review: Fighter in the Wind (2004)

Posted in Dong-kun Yang, Doo-Hong Jung, Masaya Kato with tags , on July 18, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Dong-kun Yang, Masaya Kato, Doo-Hong Jung, Aya Hirayama

Fight Choreography by Doo-Hong Jung

Directed by Yun-ho Yang

For years Hong Kong has ruled the martial arts movie roost, until the 2000’s, where many HK films were getting stale with the same old stories and actors now dancing around on wires. Luckily for us, other countries started to find their own voice in the martial arts film world, and now South Korea checks in with Fighter in the Wind, and with this film cemented their place in the new martial arts film regime. So how good is it?

The film begins as we find Choi Baedal (Yang) boxing in Korea when a Japanese plane flies overhead dropping flyers asking for any Korean who wanted to learn how to fly a fighter plane to come to Japan, where they will be trained and then asked to fight. Baedal welcomes this, and steals himself to Japan, where he meets Chunbae, a Korean street hustler who is being chased by a group of thugs who want their money back. They both hide in a Japanese cargo truck headed for the Aviation school, but find out that with the war ending, Japan wants its pilots to go on kamikaze runs. They refuse to fly, and are tied to posts during an American raid, and it is here that Baedal comes face to face with General Kato (Kato), a ruthless man who considers himself to be the best fighter in Japan. He makes a wager with Baedal: defeat him in a fight and he’ll let them go, lose and only Baedal would die, but it would be a horrible death. Baedal agrees, and is quickly beaten by Kato, but Baedal is able to do what no one has done, which was to actually land a blow on Kato. Amazed at this, Kato takes a sword, and as Baedal turns around slashes him with it.  This makes Kato believe that Baedal is a coward unworthy of the Japanese, and in the chaos both men are separated.

We pick up the story soon afterward, and Baedal and Chunbae operate a patchinko machine in Ikebukuro, and both men run afoul of the local Yakuza, whom are able to beat Baedel and embarrass him in a really crappy way that I’ll leave you to see. Chunbae and Baedel are saved by Bum-Soo (Jung) who was Baedal’s former Tae Kwon Do teacher when he was a boy. Baedel wants to learn martial arts from Bum Soo, who gives him a copy of Miyamoto Mushashi’s The Book of the Five Rings. During this time Baedel begins a friendship after saving one of the local geisha girls, Yoko (Hirayama), but it is not to last as a series of tragic events send Baedal into the mountains, where he undergoes a severe training regiment while reading the book Bum-Soo gave him. Months, if not years later Baedal turns up at various Japanese dojos and challenges their students to duel, and makes a name for himself first in Japan, and then the world. Kato, now the head of the Martial Arts Federation, tries to steer Baedel into a final confrontation, but there is one great fear Baedal has to get over first…

Fighter in the Wind is a terrific film about the creation of Kyokushin Karate. While there are not really any fantastically choreographed fights until the end, there doesn’t need to be. This is about one man’s journey from being brave but not having the ability to realizing everything he is capable of.  Dong-Kun Yang is terrific as Baedal, and makes his transformation from being a simple guy who wants to do good to being one of the toughest men to ever walk planet Earth believable. Masaya Kato is also great as Kato, a  proud man who is trying to understand exactly what Baedal is. While it may be easy to see Baedal as a human pincushion (I’ve never seen a hero get stabbed with a sword or knife so many times in a single film.) he’s the great enigma Kato is trying to unravel. The main theme of the film is celebrating the Japanese samurai spirit as embodied by a foreigner, much to the chagrin of the Japanese martial world. To the rest of Japan Baedal is a hero.

In regards to the fights, let me clarify a bit more. The fights are edited quickly, not quite MTV style, but close, but somehow it works here. The choreography isn’t meant to ape the Hong Kong style of fighting, settling for a more direct and brutal series of movements, which fits the Japanese fighting style, three moves and the fight’s over, which is closer to how it would go in the real world. The best fights are done through a series of montages that are really well done and showcase many different Japanese styles, like Judo, Ninjitsu, Karate, Jujitsu, and Kendo. The film is also beautiful to look at. Yun-ho Yang has a lot of really good shots and stages his fights against some truly beautiful scenery, and it isn’t hurt too much by the quick cut edits of most of the fights, which still complements the movements, and had me totally invested in each fight.

Fighter in the Wind is a terrific film showcasing the creation of Kyokushin Karate, and a look at Japanese culture and one man’s attempt to understand and harness the samurai’s fighting spirit. This is one worth the time to check out.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) The fights are not very long, nor do they have to be. Jung does a great job of understanding the speed and the power of kicks and punches of the different karate forms.The quick-cut edits actually find a way to work in tis film.

STUNTWORK: (8) The stunts are really well done, particularly toward the end. The stuntmen really allowed themselves to be thrown around quite a lot, and their reactions to punches and kicks were more believable than in many karate films.

STAR POWER: (8) Masaya Kato is always good to see as a villain, and Dong-Kun Yang is great, but it seems that the career of Doo-Hong Jung in front of the camera is really taking off after this film.

FINAL GRADE: (9) A really good film about a popular karate form that features good acting and a great story. There are few fights, but this film is about the philosophy behind the form itself, and that makes this a martial arts film that’s well worth your time.


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Review: Drive (1996)

Posted in Mark Dacascos, Masaya Kato, Reviews, Steve Wang with tags , , , , on June 21, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Mark Dacascos, Kadeem Hardison, Brittany Murphy, Masaya Kato

Fight Choreography by Koichi Sakamoto

Directed by Steve Wang

Put together an idea right out of Rush Hour, team a young and talented but relatively unknown martial artist with a has-been actor from A Different World (The Cosby Show spinoff), have them directed by a guy best known for directing many episodes of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, and give it all a B-movie budget. By all rights it should amount to a miserable mess, not a martial arts classic many haven’t seen that shows that in the right hands American martial arts films can be the equal of its Asian counterparts.

The film opens with Toby Wong (Mark Dacascos) emerging from a Chinese ship that has just made it to port in the USA. No sooner does he arrive than he is accosted by a group of corporate thugs led by the evil Madison, determined not to let Toby escape, since he has a Drive mechanism in him, an experimental weapon that boosts the reflexes and agility of its wearer. In other words, it gives a plausible explanation for why they can do the few wire fu scenes there are. (Anyone associated with Romeo Must Die take note) He’s a peaceful guy who has escaped with the weapon from the Leung Corporation, and means to sell it to the USA so they can keep pace.

Since the Drive is located near his heart, shooting him only in the legs is the only viable option, which they try to do, and in a great first fight he shows them just how hard that will be, with fight choreography reminiscent of the early Sammo Hung/Jackie Chan days. Mark really gets to display his aptitude for fighting in this scene, and is fast and graceful. Meanwhile, at a nearby bar, Malik Brody (Kadeem Hardison), a failed writer and an about to-be-divorced husband sits writing what he hopes will be a successful song, in an attempt to win his wife back. Toby shows up, still followed by those men who show up, and in grand Yakuza 80’s fashion start shooting shit up. After then gun down the bar owner, Toby takes them on once again, and once again beats them badly in a short but well done fight scene.

Toby finds himself having to kidnap Malik at gunpoint and order him to drive to Los Angeles. The interplay between the two is well done, and it had better be since they are together for the entire film. We also follow Madison, the cowboy killer as he searches for Toby. During this scene we get the running joke of the film as there is a tv show on constantly about an intelligent frog that solves medical cases. You’ll note it’s only enjoyed by the characters in the film with the dimmest bulbs.

Malik and Toby are apprehended by a road block by two cops. When they ask Toby his name, he replies “Sammo Hung”, looks at Malik and shrugs. A great moment where the filmmakers wanted those who know to understand where their influences for the film come from, and who they made it for. It turns out the cops work for Madison, and drive the boys to a gravel pit rig, where they come face to face with Madison and his stupid goons. Soon they find themselves in a fight on the rig handcuffed together (pays homage to the great scene in Project A2 with Jackie Chan fighting while handcuffed to someone else). The scene moves fast and is pretty funny, and once again shows great skills by Mark and top notch fight choreography. Quite a few “ouch!” moments for the stuntment here.

After escaping, Toby explains about the Bioengine(Drive) in his body, and offers him half of the 5 million he’s to make when he gets the Engine to the American Corporation. Malik refuses at first, but then thinks better of it after they stop off at Malik’s home to meet his estranged wife (Sanaa Latham, the star of Aliens Vs Predators) After Malik saves Toby at a train station when he’ s nearly captured, he agrees and the two make their way to LA.

We cut back to the Leung Corporation, where the CEO Mr. Lao is about to engage in the patented, time-tested art form of Evil Deeds, which always involves killing your own men who fail you just to show how bad you are. His employee pink slip comes in the form of the new BioEngine recipient, played by Masaya Kato (he would go on to play the villain in the martial arts epic Fighter in the Wind.)

We then go back to Malik and Toby on the road, and a funny conversation of east vs, west occurs, and the views of each others culture is hard for even Malik to argue with. Before the male bonding can continue further, Malik’s car blows a hose and they have to stop at the nearest motel, which is operated by a young girl named Deliverance (Brittany Murphy, before Clueless) whose parent are away on vacation. Note they left her behind, probably because you’ll realize in short order how batshit crazy this girl is. Meanwhile Madison’s reinforcements-or cannon fodder-arrive, and for reasons explained later know where Toby and Malik are at. One of the best fight scenes of the film occurs here, starting from a motel room and leading to the garage, and Mark Dacascos really gets to show his skills in their entirety. The fights are inventive and fast, and a lot of fun, in an old school Jackie Chan kinda way. I love how the others bad guys watch the first guy jump into the fight in the garage. They simply watch the guy get his ass kicked and the body language says it all: Dumbass. Good comedic moments involving Malik and Deliverance (who, once again, is completely looney toons).

In a supreme act of overkill Madison grabs a tri-barrelled rocket launcher and blows up the entire motel, but Malik, Toby and Deliverace get away. Toby and Malik head toward the Apollo 14 bar and diner, leaving Deliverance behind. They meet a rep from Comtech, the American company that they were to meet with, and before you know Toby is so happy he grabs the karaoke mike and sings a song to Malik. I was surprised to see that Mark actually has good singing voice. Of course, that may be what got him the job on the Iron Chef, so ugh to that. The song is interrupted when the new BioEngine, along with a bunch of guys on mopeds show up. Because mopeds are kinda badass, at least in some places. The final fights of the film occur here, with a lot of good stunts and choreographed fights. The line “ Let’s kick his ass and take his coat” will burn into your memory of great quotes after you see this. The final fight between Toby and the BioEngine is pretty good, nearly evoking some of Yuen Woo Ping’s fight choreography.

Before long Toby and Malik have defeated the bad guys and destroyed a diner, and their adventures continue. Which it looks like at the end was supposed to, but alas it wasn’t meant to be.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) Good job by Koichi, evoking 80’s style Sammo Hung films with his elaborate choreography. The fights escalate well, as does the complexity of the choreography.

STUNTS: (8) Some good falls here, the stuntmen really threw themselves at it, and did well, which should be expected since the stunts were done by Alpha Stunts, a team that was trained under Martial Arts film legend Yusaki Kurata (Fist of Legend, Shanghai Express, Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars, and many more)

STAR POWER: (8) Mark won’t look this good again until Brotherhood of the Wolf, and Kadeem Hardison does a good job with the comedy without falling into Chris Tucker style annoyances. Kudos to the casting director for hiring new comer Brittany Murphy (R.I.P.) and Masaya Kato.

FINAL GRADE: (8) A terrific love letter to Asian cinema from a group that loves them as much as we do, and in doing so made one of the best American martial arts films ever.