Archive for the Tsui Hark Category

Review: Swordmaster (2016)

Posted in Norman Chu, Tsui Hark with tags , on April 10, 2017 by Michael S. Moore

Starring  Kenny Lin, Peter Ho, Norman Chu, Mengji Jiang

Fight Choreography by Dion Lam and Bun Yuen

Directed by Derek Yee

 

Director Derek Yee ( The ORIGINAL Third Master) returns to one of his classic Shaw Brothers films, this time not as an actor, but as the director of the remake. Toss in the great Norman Chu, as well as Tsui Hark producing, and you’d think this is a classic in the making.

Except it isn’t. Not even close.

The film (as did the original) tells the story of Hsieh Shao-Feng (Lin), also known as Third Master, one of the greatest swordsmen of all time, who seeks a life of anonymity and peace, which is immediately threatened by a former lover who wants revenge, the leaders of a local cult of thugs who harass the village he’s hiding in, and first and foremost the assassin Yen Shisan (Ho), another swordman who wishes to challenge Shao-Feng as the greatest swordsman of all time, but before they can fight, they may have to form an alliance to keep the village safe as well as Shao-Feng’s true love…

This plot sounds the same as the original, right? Not a chance. The story in this version is a gutless movie compared to the original, particularly the ending, which is maddening in its insistence of keeping thing bright so the hero can have a straightforward hollywood “happy” ending. That’s right: If you expect the ending of the original Death Duel, you are sorely mistaken. The film just doesn’t have the “bite” of the original, yet sticks too much to the original story to be its own thing. Derek Yee can’t seem to make up his mind what he wanted the remake to be: a straightforward remake, or just using the bones to tell a different kind of story. The actors do a fine job, but there is no standout–except for Norman Chu, who brings a regalness and sense of character to Shao-Feng’s father.

The story itself doesn’t take the time to garner real sympathy for any of the characters, nor does it develop the villain in any substantial way. When the enemy finally reveals themselves, it elicits more of a shrug than anything else, not to mention the film commits a cardinal sin: it has the villains dispatch each other rather than the hero having much to do with it. A film hero should be the lever that moves the action and plot, not standing by while the story resolves itself in front of them. The special effects are good in most places, but the problem is there is too many of them replacing practical sets and real locations, with the exception of two fight scenes: the one where Yen Shihan enters the brothel, which is fairly well done and shot, and toward the end, where Shao-Feng’s father and his guards ward off an initial attack from the main villains. Outside of that, the fights are typical Wuxia “meh”. It wants to be House of Flying Daggers or Hero but winds up being…a lot less.

Swordsman just disappoints on so many levels. The talent involved should have knocked this out of the park. Skip this film and watch the original Death Duel.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 5.0

The Swordmaster needs to head back to school for more lessons in what the term “Heroic Bloodshed” means. The film commits the high-wire crime of being simply average and forgettable.

In fact, here is the trailer to the original. Your welcome.

 

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Review: Young Detective Dee: Rise of The Sea Dragon (2013)

Posted in Tsui Hark with tags , , on February 13, 2014 by Michael S. Moore

YDD1

Starring Mark Chao, Angelababy, Feng Shaofeng,Lin Gengxin, Carina Lau

Fight Choreography by Lin Feng and Yuen Bun

Directed by Tsui Hark

Tsui Hark scored a hit a couple of years ago with Andy Lau in Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, a film I really enjoyed, and hoped to see Detective Dee return, and return he has, this time a prequel to show how Dee became a Detective to the Emperor, and his first case, a daunting one involving secret cults, politics, and not one but two sea monsters. Since this is a prequel, the role of Detective Dee goes to Mark Chao and comes with even bigger special effects than the previous film, and I had just as much fun with this film as the original.

Young Detective Dee starts with the Emperor’s Royal Navy being demolished by a large sea creature of Godzilla proportions (or at least Gamera), and the people, in their superstition, decide to sacrifice the local courtesan Yin to the Gods to stop the monster. An attempt to kidnap her is foiled by the newly arrived Dee and Detective Yuchi (Shaofeng) but things take a strange turn when a creature emerges from the waters and tries to kidnap Yin. Dee’s unorthodox manners land him in jail, a familiar place for him considering that’s how he started out in the original film when we first meet him. Dee is able to escape with his “Watson” in the form of prison medical guard Shatuo (Gengxin) and together they continue their investigation into the mer-man and the giant monster, and soon find themselves before the Empress (Carina Lau, reprising her role from the previous film) and an entire royal court in danger. Detective Dee must find the culprits and solve the cases of both the Mer-man, the sea monster, and their connection to Yin, else the Empress will have their heads (Yep, she’s just as nice as she was in the previous film. No wonder Dee doesn’t like her.)

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Young Detective Dee is an exciting, fun romp in a world barely seen in the original film. Giant monsters, strange islands, people with weird abilities, and cures involving piss, and a horse that can swim underwater while being chased by said creature is just a little of what awaits in this stellar sequel. I was afraid that something would be lost without Andy Lau returning as Dee, but Mark Chao is up to the challenge of playing Dee, and is able to bring off Dee’s intelligence, wit, and a bit of youthful smugness added to the mix. Carina Lau is the only returning cast member from the previous film, and she is once again great as the smarmy Empress (she is a great foil for Dee in this regard. She cares only about herself, and sees Dee as nothing more than a tool). Shaofeng is also good as Detective Yuchi, a man who both likes Dee but hates Dee at the same time for being right nearly all the time (Hopefully future films will show more of their discord), and Angelababy does the job as the beautiful damsel in distress who knows more than she is letting on. Of course Dee can’t function right without his partner Shatuo and Gengxin does a great job being the nervous but equally brave doctor. The special effects are iffy in some places, but are great when it counts, and the sea monster is something to see when it finally appears in all its freakish glory.

YDD2

The martial arts is strewn throughout the film, and are well done, but like the previous film add a little spice, but there is more here than in the previous film, and they are well done, mostly wirework and special effects, but good nevertheless. It is the pace of the fights and the staging that are fantastically realized, and the crazy fantasy make the impossible moves believable in their world.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 9

I enjoyed this film more than the original, which I didn’t think could happen. A rousing mix of action, adventure and fantasy from the Legendary Tsui Hark that takes us into the origin of Detective Dee. So when do we get a sequel?

This film was released on Blu-Ray and DVD by Wellgousa Tuesday, February 11th. I highly recommend it!

Review: Detective Dee And The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame (2010)

Posted in Andy Lau, Sammo Hung, Tsui Hark with tags , on September 18, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Andy Lau, Li BingBing, Carina Lau, Deng Chao, Richard Ng, Teddy Robin

Fight Choreography by Sammo Hung

Directed by Tsui Hark

Tsui Hark is a Hong Kong director who has spent his career making special-effects laden martial arts films, pioneering the use of wire harnesses in new ways, and changed Hong Kong cinema, giving Jet Li his classic film series Once Upon A Time In China. Tsui has served more as a producer for Hong Kong film and TV series, but has once again stepped behind the camera to start a new act in his storied career, and creates a pulp character that combines crime solving arts of Sherlock Holmes with the adventure of the Indiana Jones films with a healthy dose of kung-fu to top it off.

Detective Dee finds that China is about to crown its first Empress Wu Zeitan (C. Lau) to the throne, which has caused an uprising of different rebel factions aimed to assassinate her. She commissions a giant statue likeness of her to be erected before her coronation, but soon the men in charge of the statue’s construction start dying off by spontaneously combusting, bursting into flames from the inside and dying painfully. Zeitan then meets with the Chaplain, a mystic speaking deer, who tells her that to solve the mystery of why these men are dying and how, she’ll need to release Detective Dee (A. Lau), a commissioner under the old Emperor who was imprisoned for rebelling against Zeitan. She has Dee freed by her assistant Jing’er (Bingbing) just as he is attacked by assassins. Dee, always a step ahead of nearly everyone, takes the job offered by Zeitan, and as he follows the clues he has help from Jing’er and the albino Pei Donglai (Chao) who are there to make sure that Dee succeeds, but also that he doesn’t try to betray the queen. Dee also finds that he has to deal with the Prince who wants the throne as well, and Dee finds that everyone, himself included, may have been chess pieces put into play by an enemy who will see the future Empress dead…

Detective Dee is the without a doubt one of the best films Tsui Hark has done in quite a while. The fantasy, mystery and kung-fu blend together better than many films Hark has tried in the past, with well-written characters and a great one in Detective Dee himself. Andy Lau does a great job with Dee, as the audience knows that he is a good man, but wary as to whether his intentions are to help or hurt the new Empress, who isn’t exactly a picture of kindness, well-played by Carina Lau, who is an Empress who will use anyone and everyone to get–and keep–the throne of China. Li Bing Bing also brings gusto as the fiery Jing’er, whose distrust of Dee and devotion to the Empress hints that her love for the Empress may be more than just simple loyalty to a new queen. It’s always great to see the great Hong Kong cinema comedian Richard Ng, and the always funny Teddy Robin (Gallants) The special effects are well done, as Hong Kong cinema continues to inch closer to Hollywood effects work,  and the cinematography is gorgeous.

The fights themselves aren’t overly long, and well choreographed by Sammo Hung, including a great prison fight toward the beginning between Dee and a group of  assassins, and also midway through the film as they have to fight off assassins and deadly…puppets in the Ghost Market battle. Sammo has always had a knack for matching the fight choreography to the story and atmosphere of a film, and doesn’t disappoint here. The stunt work is also well done, and there is some use of wires, but nothing that would distract anyone from the action.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8.5

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is a successful ode to the old school matinee serials that will hopefully spin-off sequels with the terrific Andy Lau and the legendary Tsui Hark! 

NEXT: Sasha Mitchell takes over for JCVD with help from Dennis Chan in Kickboxer 2!

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Review: Once Upon A Time In China 2 (1991)

Posted in David Chiang, Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Tsui Hark, Xin Xin Xiong, Yuen Woo Ping with tags , , on June 25, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jet Li, Rosamund Kwan, Donnie Yen, David Chiang, Xin Xin Xiong, Mok Siu Chung, Zhang Tie Lin

Fight Choreography By: Yuen Woo Ping, Donnie Yen

Directed By Tsui Hark

In the first film Wong Fei Hung (Li) was resistant to the westernization of China, while Aunt Yee and Bucktooth So embraced it. The sequel picks up some time later, and Fei-Hung’s views have evolved, and while he is still hesitant, he tries to get used to western customs and doesn’t quite view it as such a detriment to destroying Chinese culture as he once did, but upon arriving with Aunt Yee (Kwan) and Foon (now played by Mok Siu Chung, taking over for Yuen Biao) in Canton they discover a cult called the White Lotus, who have extreme views about westernization, and want to crush and destroy it, and anyone, Chinese or other, who represent it. The film opens with the White Lotus showing exactly how extreme they are in a scene where they burn western paintings, clocks, and even an American dog, which is just wrong.

Once again Aunt Yee, who dresses in western clothing, finds herself abused and embarassed by the locals, who consider her a traitor, many supporters of the White Lotus, and she finds herself quickly in their crosshairs. things get complicated, and continue to do so as Wong Fei Hung and goon attend a medical conference that gets attacked by the White Lotus, and they receive help from Dr. Sun (Zhang) who turns out to be more than just a simple doctor, and secretly plots against the White Lotus with his cohort Luk Ho Dung (Chiang). Wong Fei-Hung’s plate gets even fuller as he tries to protect them on their mission and protect Foon and Yee (not to mention his feelings for Yee) and comes into contention with the local constable Commander Lan (Yen), whose true allegiances may very well be to the White Lotus…

Once again Jet Li is fantastic as the reserved Master Wong Fei-Hung, and brings the same grace and intelligence to the character as he did in the original. Rosamund Kwan also does a great job again as Aunt Yee, but I found Mok Siu Ching not nearly as good a Foon as Yuen Biao was. Some of that may be that the story “dumbed down” the character of Foon, and didn’t seem to reflect the character growth he had in the first film. Donnie Yen was pretty good as the commander, but is more of a typical bad guy rather than anything special. It was great to see David Chiang (The Water Margin, Five Shaolin Masters) on film side by side with Jet Li, even if David didn’t fight. One thing I found missing from the original was a truly great scene like the one Bucktooth So had in the first film regarding a dying patient. In fact I missed So immensely in this film, since he represented a Chinese man who was so westernized he couldn’t read or speak Chinese very well.

The fights are also great, and more of them than in the first film, but I’m not so sure the fights are better. There is a little more wirework, particularly at the end fight in the White Lotus temple. The fights versus Donnie Yen was a great showcase of staff fighting, some of the best ever done in film, but I was really hoping for a hand-to-hand confrontation between the two, but the White Lotus fight made up for some of that. Woo Ping pulls off some imaginative fights, the most imagination saved for the White Lotus temple fight and the siege on the Consulate building. The best thing is these fights are still in service to the story, and not the other way around.

Once again fellow blogger Dangerous Meredith really breaks down these fights, and you can read those here.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) Jet Li had one of the best staff fights versus Donnie Yen, but I wish Donnie had more to do. The White Lotus and Consulate fights were well done and brought the right amount of tension and excitement to the film.  Jet Li and Woo Ping still make magic together.

STUNTWORK: (9) The stunts were pretty elaborate in regards to the fight choreography, which they pulled off brilliantly. Their best work came with the Temple Fight and Consulate attacks.

STAR POWER: (10) Jet Li was working on all cylinders here, and Donnie Yen is now at the top of his game, but his talents were evident even here. Rosamund Kwan was good, but it was a real treat to see David Chiang in kung-fu film again!

FINAL GRADE: (9) Not quite as good as the original by a hair, Once Upon A Time in China 2 is a great film that successfully continues (and evolves) the story of Wong Fei-Hung and his friends.

NEXT: Jean-Claude Van Damme takes on half of Thailand in Kickboxer!

Review: Once Upon A Time In China (1991)

Posted in Jet Li, Tsui Hark, Yuen Biao, Yuen Woo Ping with tags , , on December 15, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jet Li, Yuen Biao, Rosamund Kwan, Yen Shi-Kwan, Jackie Cheung

Fight Choreography by Yuen Woo Ping

Directed by Tsui Hark

Wong Fei-Hung is one of China’s greatest heroes, the subject of dozens of martial arts films, played by many actors, but the talents of Tsui Hark, Yuen Woo Ping and rising star Jet Li came together to tell what has become the quintessential Wong Fei Hung film series.

The film opens as we meet Wong Fei Hung (Li) as he stands aboard a Chinese ship watching a lion dance that is interrupted by an American ship that opens fire on them, mistaking the fireworks as an attack. Wong Fei Hung is forced to jump in to finish the lion dance, and afterward the General,called to Vietnam, charges Wong Fei Hung to train his remaining men as militia to defend China from foreign invaders. Some time after that Wong Fei Hung comes face to face with Aunt Yee (Kwan) who has just returned from America, a stunningly beautiful woman who is not a blood relation of Wong’s, and she is smitten with him immediately. Even back home in China she still dresses as she did in America. While they get reacquainted, circus everyman Foon (Biao) shows up at Po Chi Lam, Wong Fei-Hung’s home and dojo, and wants to learn Kung-Fu as to gain a courage and self respect he lacks, and has problems understanding Wong’s student Bucktooth So (Cheung), who has also been assimilated while he stayed in America, to the point where he barely speaks Chinese and can’t read it, which makes other treat him as an idiot, when the reality is he’s probably the smartest person in the film not named Wong Fei-Hung.

The problems truly begin when Foon tries to escape being killed by a gang from Shaho trying to extort money from the circus, and Foon runs into Fatty Wing, once of Wong’s disciples, and Fatty calls on the militia, who begin a giant brawl with the gang while Wong Fei Hung meets with the local magistrate and a British representative to voice his disdain at Chinese treatment on their own land. The brawl spills into the restaurant, and afterward the magistrate wants the militia turned in, along with Wong Fei Hung. As Wong Fei Hung tries to clear his men, he’ll discover a plot by an American corporation to ship what is basically slaves to North America to work on the railroads or the mines, and women taken against their will to be sold as prostitutes for the men there. We also get to see how the Westernization Movement is changing Chinese culture…

Once Upon a Time In China has to be considered Tsui Hark’s masterwork. The story is dense and well done, and we get scenes that really show how the westernization movement is changing China, from the christian priests who roam the streets trying to convert the people to the clothing worn by Aunt Yee and Bucktooth So, and how Wong Fei-Hung is resistant to this kind of change. Many Hong Kong films, especially those of the 80’s and 90’s portray westerners as big thuggish oafs or just plain evil people. This film somewhat counterbalances this with a particular priest who sacrifices himself to save Wong Fei Hung. The side story with Foon, as he discovers what true bravery really means, is just as important as anything else in the story, and adds to the tapestry.

Jet Li shines in what I believe to be his best role, as he brings a dignity and grace to Wong Fei Hung, and his stillness, especially in scenes where chaos seems to rain down on him. Jet has never been a great actor, but he does a fine job here. Rosamund Kwan is also great as Aunt Yee, as she creates a great counterpoint to Wong Fei Hung, and the scene where he scolds her after Po Chi Lam burns is great scene, as she shows how much his words truly hurt, and also the scene where she tries to keep herself from being raped by one of the villains. Her terror and defiance are written all over her face, and Rosamund pulls it all off spectacularly. Yuen Biao has one of the best character arcs as Foon. He goes from clumsy knucklehead to loyal servant to realized what’s truly important to him, allowing him to become the hero he didn’t know he could be, kung-fu or not. Jackie Cheung is just as great as Bucktooth So, and I think he has the best single acting moment in the entire film in a scene where, just after the theater massacre, Wong Fei Hung is trying to heal as many as he can, and calls for So to get the medicine, but when Bucktooth So tries to do so, the medicine jars aren’t written in English, and the man Fei-Hung tried to save dies, and Bucktooth So succumbs to his misery and despair as he couldn’t help save the man–simply because he couldn’t read Chinese. What a great and yet sad scene.

Yuen Woo Ping does a masterful job of choreographing the fights, particularly the two fights between Wong Fei Hung and Master Yim, and the umbrella fight in the tea house is fantastic as well. The theater fight has to be among one of Woo Ping’s best fight scenes and certainly may be one of Jet’s. The fights using spears, swords, and hand/foot work is breathtaking in its speed and beauty (most of that coming from Jet) and the final fight with Master Yim using bamboo ladders is terrific. There are a lot of fights in this film, and each one is distinctive and flows as part of the story. Some of the fights are light-hearted while others are more brutal, but they never lose the gracefulness of Woo Ping’s dance-like choreography.

You can read a very well done analysis of the fight choreography from my friend Dangerous Meredith’s site here.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) Woo Ping does some of his best work here, and all of the performers are up to the task. Jet Li has never looked better. Yuen Biao also does tremendous work as does Yen Shi-Kwan.

STUNTWORK: (9) Truly outstanding work by the stuntmen. There are fights involving many onscreen at the same time, and they do a great job of reacting to the fight choreography brilliantly.

STAR POWER: (10) Jet Li’s career flies into the stratosphere with this film, and Yuen Biao is great as well, and add Rosamund Kwan and Tsui Hark and Woo Ping…greatness.

FINAL GRADE: (10) Once Upon a Time In China is without a doubt one of the best martial arts films of all time, and may represent Jet Li and Tsui Hark’s best work. The sequels are good films as well, but the first is still the best.

Review: Double Team (1997)

Posted in Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sammo Hung, Tsui Hark, Xin Xin Xiong with tags , on November 18, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Rodman, Mickey Rourke, Xin Xin Xiong

Fight Choreography by Sammo Hung

Directed by Tsui Hark

Jackie Chan. That’s kinda what happened to JCVD and Steven Seagal. JC came along with Rumble in the Bronx, Jet Li followed and a new renaissance of kung-fu films hit US screens, and suddenly JCVD and Seagal found their careers on life support when Americans saw what they’ve been missing for the last decade and a half. To JCVD’s credit, he’s always wanted to make films like they do in Hong Kong, and here teams up with Sammo Hung and Tsui Hark for this film. Mickey Rourke was still on the “outs” with Hollywood at the time, so he was available. And then we have Dennis Rodman.

Dennis Rodman.

To wit I say: “Sweet Mary Mother n’ Joseph what were they thinking?!”

JCVD stars as French super secret agent Jack Quinn, a man who has disappeared to lead a boring life with his beautiful wife who is now pregnant with his first child, but as all secret agents find out, you can never escape the life, and is thrown right back in when he finds that terrorist Stavros (Rourke) has been found, and he’s been tasked with bringing him down. Quinn first goes to visit arms dealer Yaz (Rodman) for weapons. Kinda like a weird version of Q. Quinn and his agents ambush Stavos at a circus where Stavros is visiting his woman and son. Both are killed in the ensuing gunfire between the agents, Stavros and his goons (Don’t understand why he would bring his girlfriend and son to a public place where he’s just got to know an ambush is waiting for him) Things go really wrong, Quinn’s whole team is killed, and Stavros gets away, but not before injuring Quinn in an explosion.

Soon Quinn wakes up on an island–you know, the one where all secret agents go to when they screw up or retire and can never leave–and finds himself recovering, and plans his own escape off of the island when he discovers that Stavros has his wife captive. Quinn is able to escape and enlist the help of Yaz and some high tech monks, and attempts to save his wife and child from Stavros, who is looking for one last confrontation…

This is an incredibly silly film. This film tries to be part James Bond and part Lethal Weapon and fails at both. The story takes bits and pieces from those films, but isn’t able to form a coherent story. Tsui Hark has always been at his best when he has a good/strong script, and his camera angles and shots are vintage Hark, but the script here is not strong, and thus the direction isn’t, either. JCVD is not bad, pretty much playing the same kind of character he’s always played in his films. Mickey Rourke might’ve been good, but we don’t see enough of his character to know, except toward the end when he is reduced to nothing but a cackling villain. What we do get is lots of Dennis Rodman and bad winking at the camera jokes in reference to his basketball career. Ugh. First off, his acting is terrible. Really, really bad. Like bludgeon yourself with a mallet bad. Yes, he has a distinctive look, but he has the onscreen charisma of a gopher. In fact, the gopher from Caddyshack has more. Also, as someone who is not a basketball fan, the references got old really fast. This was obviously a ploy to garner a bigger audience for JCVD by teaming him up, but jeez, there was no rapper available? At least Seagal had that F***tard DMX. And don’t even ask me about the scene where Quinn karate kicks a tiger.

Sammo Hung tried to get the most out of JCVD, but his skills are just not up to par. I paused the film during several fight scenes that looked pretty good when I noticed that some of JCVD’s movements, well, didn’t look like anything I thought he was capable of. Turns out I was right. I was dismayed to see that a stuntman did many of the more complex movements and kicks, and not Van Damme. The best fight in the film is the hotel fight between JCVD versus Xin Xin Xiong, whom you may recognize as Clubfoot from Once Upon a Time in China 3, 4 and 5. The fight is chopped to hell to mask JCVD’s deficiencies, but still looks decent, but not as good as it would if JCVD had the speed to keep up with Xiong. The rest of the fights are forgettable. It looked like Sammo just gave up. The less said about Rodman the better. He’s no Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

It has been said that Ringo Lam, Tsui Hark, and John Woo made a gentleman’s bet that they could make a hit film with JCVD. We can safely assume that Hark did not win.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (4) Bless Sammo for trying, but he just couldn’t make the fights look more than just mediocre. I could tell the ideas for some good fights were there, but the skills of the stars prevented it from being fully realized.

STUNTWORK: (5) The work was decent, but nothing of note except that JCVD’s stunt man did a good job in some of the fights and acrobatics.

STAR POWER: (5) JCVD’s star was starting to fade here, and Rourke was nowheresville at the time, and the less said about Rodman the better.

FINAL GRADE: (4) Double Team is a film where the talent behind the camera couldn’t be realized in from of it, and Rodman ruins any goodwill the film might’ve had. One of the worst of Van Damme’s films.