Archive for the Ziyi Zhang Category

What happened to Generation Next?!

Posted in Amy Johnston, Gina Carano, Jeeja Yanin, Ziyi Zhang with tags , on May 5, 2017 by Michael S. Moore

Michelle Yeoh has been the standard-bearer for successful female martial arts heroes for decades, followed closely by the likes of Cynthia Rothrock and names like the original hero Angela Mao, Yukari Oshima, Moon Lee, and Cynthia Khan. Year passed, and each one faded into cinema memories as time went on. With the exception of the Wuxia films, there was a noticeable dearth of female action films.

But then things began to change. We were introduced to a new crop of potential action stars: Stateside MMA fighter Gina Carano came out with her first film, Haywire, which was a modestly successful film, and she seemed to be the one to pick up the American mantle left by Ms. Rothrock. Overseas, renewed hope continued in the form of Jeeja Yanin in Chocolate, and Veronica NGO in The Rebel and Clash. Not to miss out we also had Zhang Ziyi making her mark in films like the House of Flying Daggers and The GrandMaster. Toss in Ronda Rousey making her debut in both a Fast and Furious film as well as The Expendables 3 and one would think that female martial arts action cinema would be in good hands.

Until it wasn’t.

Carano, as of this writing, did well with Deadpool but her acting is hampering her. Jeeja Yanin is suffering from two important things: her film choices and the absence of the great Panna Rittikrai as her fight choreographer. Zhang Ziyi was the best thing about The Grandmaster, but it was also Tony Leung’s star vehicle rather than hers. I’m not sure what became of Veronica Ngo, and Ronda Rousey, well, it’s hard to say.

So where do we go from here? Cinema seems to be taking care of it…to a point. Scarlett Johansson had Ghost In The Shell (not a very good film) and we have Wonder Woman coming out soon, as well as Atomic Blonde with Charlize Theron, so women are progressing in action cinema to being more than a damsel in distress. But where are the martial arts stars at? Could Ni Ni pull off being an action badass in Enter The Warrior’s Gate? How about stunt woman Amy Johnston in her film debut Lady Bloodfight? Is she ready to take the next step? Charisma and charm are good, but martial arts skills need to be on point as well. Who else is out there in the world of female ass kickers ready to step up to the plate? We have plenty of male martial arts stars. But we need something more. We need kickass women. Action cinema needs kickass women.

We’re still waiting.

And that’s the problem.

Enter the Warriors Gate is now in theaters, VOD and Digital HD.

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Review: TMNT (2007)

Posted in Mako, Ziyi Zhang with tags , on July 14, 2014 by Michael S. Moore

 

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With the voices of: Chris Evans, Patrick Stewart, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Zhang Ziyi, Laurence Fishburne, Mako

Directed by Kevin Munroe

Before we get Michael Bay’s take on the Turtles, I wanted to review the last film to feature the heroes in a half shell. After the cheesy sequels that sullied the goodness of the first film, TMNT decides to go the Highlander route and forget about the sequels and  only reference the original first film, and go all animated to boot. So is this a true sequel?

Absolutely, and it featured the moment many turtle fans were waiting for as well.

The film opens as we get the backstory on Winters, a millionaire CEO who holds a deadly secret: that he is one of a family of warriors who nearly took over the world centuries ago, but failed. In the present day he’s about to do it again…or is he? Meanwhile, the Turtles are a fractured family. Leonardo has been sent away to South America by Splinter to trail to be a better leader, but Leo has stayed far longer than he was supposed to, while Donatello makes money by being a phone tech support  for a computer company, Michelangelo works as a party mascot for kids, and Rafael has become a vigilante who now calls himself the Nightwatcher. Casey Jones and April O’neill now work Indiana Jones-style collecting artifacts, and so happen to both being employed by Winters to find the artifacts to awaken his brothers and sisters…and the fact that the Foot Ninjas under the leadership of Karai seek revenge against the Turtles for killing the Shredder. Can the Turtles come together in time to stop Winters and Karai?

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The story here is far better than any of the sequels, and actually feels like the true sequel to the original film. The Winters storyline is a little weak, but does fit the theme of family. The voices do their job, and the animation, while not on the level of a Kung-Fu Panda or anything Pixar, is still quite good. The turtles look great, very much like the comic book versions created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. 

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The fights here are done well, and the crowning achievement of the story and film, is the moment many fans, including myself, have wanted to see: Leonardo versus Raphael in a duel of weapons and fists. In this case I applaud the animators, because it lived up to what I had hoped for. The fight was clear and not chop-edited, and I could see all of the moves, and they looked great. Let’s see if BayTurtles can do better!

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8

A fun, rollicking Turtles Film that’s a good sequel to the original film. And no sign of Vanilla Ice anywhere. Let’s see if BayTurtles can do better!

 

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: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Posted in Ang Lee, Cheng Pei Pei, Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Reviews, Yuen Woo Ping, Ziyi Zhang with tags , on February 28, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Not since Enter the Dragon has a martial arts film literally changed the way martial arts films are viewed, and has raised the bar once again for martial arts films, and I do mean ARTS, because that what this film is, in story and view, a work that is artistic in every way. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the most influential martial arts film to come out in quite some time…

The film opens with warrior Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat) sits with his long time friend and fellow warrior, and hopefully future lover Shu Lien (Yeoh), and confides to her that he is looking for peace, and wishes to give up his sword, the Green Destiny. It’s apparent right from the start that they are in love with each other, but neither of them act on their desires, hiding behind honor and duty, but now it appears that may change. Li plans to give the sword to their friend Sir Te, wanting to retire from searching for his nemesis Jade Fox (Pei Pei), who had killed his master years ago. It’s easy to tell that this is what Shu Lien has always wanted. So much is said here with glances and mannerisms. It’s a testament to great acting to watch everything said between them-and what goes unsaid.

We next meet Jen (Zhang), the daughter of Governor Yu, who is to be married to a man she doesn’t love. She confides to Shu Lien that she desires a similar life to hers, full of adventure and fighting, and freedom. In many ways these two opening conversations are the gears that turns the entire film. That night, a female assassin steals the sword, and what ensues is a stunning rooftop chase as Shu Lien tries to retrieve the sword, and it is here we get the first fight in the film, a stunningly fluid and graceful fight between Shu Lien and the assassin, and it is nothing short of a magical staging of movement and speed. The wirework here, as it will be for the entire film, is some of the best ever seen. The assassin escapes Shu Lien due to a third party taking an unsuccessful shot with a dart at Shu Lien.

Right before Shu Lien engages the assassin, Inspector Bo, a kind hearted man who shows that in order to fly around and do amazing things you have to be skilled in martial arts, and is in many ways the “normal” person we can relate to who is clearly outmatched by opponents who can defy gravity, sees two circus performers, a father and daughter, engage the assassin, and also finds that Jen was not in her room during the theft, follows the circus performers, believing that they know more than they let on, and he’s right, as he spies on them the next day, seeing them preparing weapons for some sort of upcoming battle.

Acting on her suspicions after hearing Bo’s report, Shu Lien visits Jen and marvels at how great her calligraphy is, and notes that it point to skills at swordsmanship as well. There are many martial art films that place skill in one as the same as skill in the other.

Meanwhile, Bo goes through the circus performer’s belongings and is caught by them, and they reveal that the father is Inspector Tsai, and along with his daughter are hot on the trail of Jade Fox, whom they believe is hiding among Governor Yu’s entourage. Li Mu Bai returns to Shu Lien, and hears that the sword has been stolen. That night Jade Fox attacks Tsai, his daughter, and Bo, who is more in the way than actually helping. Bo isn’t incompetent, but has no idea the level of skill it would take to beat Jade Fox. Li Mu Bai joins the fight, and Jen stops him before he can kill Jade Fox, and they escape, but not before Jade Fox kills Tsai.
Once again, this is a stunning fight. The choreography is smooth and the performer’s movements are perfect, and almost lyrical in its execution, but while hypnotic to view, the intensity is heightened, and I found myself not wanting Bo, of all people, to get killed. He runs through the choreography like a bull in a china shop, and that’s the point. This is also Chow Yun Fat’s first martial arts fight, I believe. It’s hard to believe that in real life he doesn’t know any martial arts. His movements make him look as if he’s always known it. Cheng Pei Pei does a fantastic job here, and it’s amazing to see her martial arts skills are still intact since audiences haven’t seen her in quite a while.

The next day Shu Lien visits Jen, and uses wordplay and a dropped cup to discover that Jen is indeed the thief who stole the sword. This was a duel of words, and Shu Lien won. That night Jen tries to return the sword, but Li is waiting for her, and engages her in a fight to test her skills, and take back the sword, which Li does. He offers to become her master, but she refuses and leaves. When she gets home, Jen throws Jade Fox, who had been masquerading as her nanny, out, Jade leaves, but not before threatening that she would teach Jen one more lesson in due time, feeling betrayed that Jen had studied the Wudan texts and left items out for Jade Fox. The student had become the master, and Jade would have none of it. Meanwhile Li takes back his sword, and has one last mission: to train Jen and take his revenge on Jade Fox. What follows is without a doubt one of the greatest martial arts films ever made, and the story may be the best as well.

This film is about two different kinds of love: the reckless kind we get into as youngsters, and the more reserved, mature love that can only come with life experiences, but the tragedy here is that Li and Shu Lien never consummate their love, and the words that hang in the air the entire film only come when it is too late. On the other hand, the love between Lo (Chen), a bandit whom Jen met long ago and fell in love with, and Jen is reckless, and ultimately leads to the trouble that eventually will destroy the lives of everyone else in one way or another.

Chow Yun Fat brings a calm, effortless performance as the stalwart warrior Li, who now wants to only lead a peaceful life with Shu Lien. Michelle Yeoh gives what may be her best performance as Shu Lien, and you can see that there is a fire that burns beneath her surface, almost hidden by layers of duty and honor.  Yeoh does so much by not saying anything, letting her facial expressions and movement show her feelings at any given moment.  Zhang Ziyi became famous after this film, and you can see why. She is terrific as Jen, and plays her as a dreamer who wants to be free, as all youth do, but is ill-equipped to deal with the consequences of her actions. Her face is also incredibly expressive, and her fire, unlike Shu Lien’s, burns at the surface, and she is determined to get what she wants, but is unsure how to do it. Cheng Pei Pei is also fantastic as Jade Fox, a vindictive woman who actually wanted Jen’s love, and while I knew she was bad, and she was, she wanted a daughter’s love, and is crushed when it isn’t given, which makes her a pitiable character.

Yuen Woo Ping is heralded as one of the greatest fight choreographers of all time, giving both Jet Li and Jackie Chan some of their best choreographed films, and proves once again that he is indeed one of the best with his efforts here, and while overall I’m not a fan of wirework, delivers some of the best I’ve ever seen. The fight in the bamboo trees between Li Mu Bai and Jen is one of the greatest cinematic scenes ever. The camerawork was impeccable, and the movements and fighting almost seemed as if if came from a dream, and the shot of Li Mu Bai standing on a branch, swaying to and fro effortlessly with the branch, is a stunning shot that you’ll remember days after you see it.  Ang Lee and cameraman Peter Pau made this film seem like a piece of moving art, and you would use words to describe this as you would of an elaborate stage dance: Beautiful, exciting, graceful, balletic, and motion that can take your breath away.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) Yuen Woo Ping makes what may be his best choreographed series of fights ever, and that’s saying something. There isn’t a single fight from big to small that wouldn’t be the end fight of many lesser martial arts films. It’s that good.

STUNTWORK: (10) The tea house fight was incredible, and it was the actual actors suspended so high during the bamboo forest fight. Everyone did a fantastic job, and the men and women who worked the wires deserved an Oscar of their own.

STAR POWER: (10) Chow Yun Fat is in top form here, as is Michelle Yeoh, and Zhang Ziyi would go on to star in many more successful films, and Cheng Pei Pei shows she’s still got it.

FINAL GRADE: (10) As if there would be anything less? Ang Lee has made a martial arts film that will stand the test of time, and spawn a new genre of film that the likes of Zhang Yimou would take up the torch and run with it. Not only one of the greatest martial arts films ever, but one of the greatest films of all time.