Archive for kendo

Review: Gintama (2018)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on March 7, 2018 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Masami Nagasawa, Masaki Okada,

Fight Choreography by ?

Directed by Yuichi Fukuda

Gintama is an adaptation of a popular Japanese anime and manga about a world in which aliens took over the Earth during the Edo-period, and all swordsmanship has been outlawed. Enter Gintoki and his friends, who are set out to recover a powerful sword that may be able to swing the balance of power once recovered, but find that the mission is far more dangerous than they believe, and they aren’t the only ones looking to possess the sword, and must ultimately defeat the serial killer wielding it…

At least that’s what I think they are trying to do. It’s really hard to tell, partly because this film is really, really bad.

The performances are okay, but even if they weren’t they are the least of this film’s problems.

I’ll admit up front I’ve never seen the anime, so I don’t know how accurate it is. Truthfully it shouldn’t matter. Films should be able to stand on its own two feet, and not dependent on having read or seen anything else (unless it’s part of another film). This film has a group of silly, unfunny characters, an unlikable hero, unnecessary and 4th wall breaking that is really not funny save for one, and only one scene that evokes a Miyazaki film, and tries way too hard to stage scenes and moments right out of the anime, which comes off looking silly.

Someone thought this was a good idea.

There was potential in the story, but too many times the film want to be the Naked Gun of live-action manga films, but first you need to have more successful ones before doing that. The film is mostly a comedy, and there isn’t as much action as you’d think, and what is there isn’t very good, despite being glossed over with special effects. At no level does this film work, not as a comedy and not as an action film.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 2

I nearly gave this film a 0, but fans of Gintama may get more out of it than I did. If you want an offbeat batshit crazy Japanese film, I’d suggest Tokyo Tribe instead.

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Review: The Hunted (1995)

Posted in Christopher Lambert, Yoshio Harada with tags , , on August 9, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

thehunted1

Starring Christopher Lambert, Jone Lone, Yoshio Harada, Yoko Shimada, Joan Chen

Fight Choreography by Tom Muzila

Directed by J. F. Lawton

The 80’s and 90’s saw martial arts films in the USA going ninja crazy. So much so a lot of new films starring good folks like Sho Kosugi and others came and went, but the mystique of the dark clad assassins have always tickled the fancy of Americans. Around the mid-90’s the ninja craze was already fading, but not before an overlooked film would wind up being the best of the American ninja films.

Three words: Bullet. Train. Sequence. More about that later.

The film begins as we meet Paul Racine (Lambert) a computer tech executive from New York who is attending a business meeting in Tokyo, and while hanging out at a bar meets Kirina (Chen), a beautiful woman that Racine takes out and has a fabulous night, and after he leaves Kirina’s apartment, she is ambushed and marked for assassination by the ninja Kinjo (Lone) of the Makato Clan. No one has seen Kinjo’s face, but Kirina defiantly requests to, and he obliges her as this is his last kill, but Racine returns to her room unexpectedly, and is badly injured by the other ninjas, but not before seeing Kinjo’s face, and seeing Kinjo behead Kirina.

A day or so later Racine is visited by Sensei Takeda (Harada) and his wife Meiko (Shimada), Takeda himself a swordman and a modern samurai. He is looking to protect Racine from Kinjo, who is sure to come after him, but Takeda has other ideas for Racine, and for Racine to survive, he must learn the way of the sword and navigate his way through an ancient way of Japanese life that many had thought was long gone…

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This is one of the few American films that, in regards to ninjas and samurais actually feels…right. Christopher Lambert is at the top of the marquee, but make no mistake this is actually a Yoshio Harada film, as his presence just dominates the screen whenever he’s there. John Lone is also great as Kinjo (even though he is Chinese) and brings a great deal of menace, and performs his fight scenes well. The story itself is well told, and moves at a good pace. There isn’t many slow moments, but the film never forgets to inject a little humor, and the good news is that it’s not at the expense of Japanese culture. The cinematography is okay but nothing exceptional, but Lawton does have one sequence to rule the all:

The Bullet Train Sequence.

This is a scene where Takeda, protecting Racine, starts at one end of the train, where on the other end, ninjas are making their way to the back, killing every single human being between them and Racine, meaning we get to see ninjas wiping out passengers by the dozens. It’s a tense scene, and once Takeda makes his way to them, you cheer when he starts slicing and dicing ninjas. It’s a great sequence and the camerawork does exactly what it needs to, and it’s not editing in quick cuts like so many American martial arts films tend to do. The sword fighting is well done here, and last exactly as long as each confrontation should, which as in many samurai films, is begun and ended quickly.

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The other set pieces are well done, particularly the final fights including the Kinjo vs. Takeda fight, which is shot well, and gives a sense of space between the actors fighting, something overlooked in many swordfighting films. Once Christopher Lambert takes over, it all goes out the window for some deus ex machina moments in order for Lambert to become victorious.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 9

The bullet train sequence is one of the best “ninja” moments in the history of ever. A great film that is easily the best of the American ninja film genre.

Keanu Reeves and Hiroyuki Sanada! The 47 Ronin Trailer has arrived!

Posted in Hiroyuki Sanada, Keanu Reeves with tags , on July 24, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

Okay, now this makes me feel a bit better about this film. Between the posters yesterday and this, the artistry looks great, and the effects look even better. Whether Keanu Reeves fits this…I still have my doubts. I’m unsure I’m convinced about him even if the explanation is that he’s a half-breed. Hiroyuki Sanada looks as badass as I thought he would, though. This kinda looks like Lord of the Rings with Samurai, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I’m still not feeling great about this film, but it looks better than I thought.

Review: Geisha Assassin (aka Geisha Vs Ninja) (2008)

Posted in Minami Tsuki with tags , , , on October 31, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Minami Tsuki, Shigeru Kanai, Nao Nagasawa, Taka Okubo

Fight Choreography by Naohiro Kowamoto

Directed by Go Ohara

Go Ohara is a former stuntman and fight choreographer(Death Trance, Zero Woman) who makes his directorial debut with this film, and brings his energy and fast-paced fight choreography with him, but can that hold up a weak story?

Geisha Assassin centers on a beautiful young geisha named Kotomi (Tsuki) who, aftera  night of dancing follows a samurai named Katagiri and attempts to kill him, in revenge for killing her father. He doesn’t oblige her the battle, forcing her to face wave after wave of increasingly difficult henchmen strategically placed all throughout the land, seeing if she is a good enough swords woman to face him in combat. Once she comes face to face with him again, she learns that not everything is as she thought…

 

That’s the story. Yes, it’s pretty much all of it. Her reasons for wanting this fight, and why he did kill her father, and who those people attacking her were aren’t revealed until the last few minutes of the film, which creates a story as flimsy as they come. Since you don’t know why she is fighting, it’s hard to care. Scenes were we should be worried about Kotomi’s safety, we aren’t, since we don’t really know who she is or the stakes involved. There are a few flashbacks to Kotomi and her father, but they unfold too slowly  within the story. The actors do a fair job, but it’s the story here that is an issue, because there isn’t much of one. They save the storytelling mainly for the end, and by that time it’s hard to care about Kotomi’s mission.

One place where the film does excel is the fight scenes, well choreographed by Kowamoto, particularly the sword fights, whose cadence has a more Hong Kong flavor to it than the typical Japanese aesthetic. The pace is fast, and the camera takes good angles, and there are many, many fights but each one is different from the one before. It is in these fights that the character of Kotomi comes out the most. The final fight versus Katagiri is a good one, and at least has the benefit of the story reveal there. Since Go Ohara was a stunt man and fight choreographer first, it’s no surprise the action was well done, but the deficiencies of the story are too large to overcome.

 

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 5

 

Geisha Assassin feels more like I was watching a video game being played rather than a movie. The story takes too much time to reveal itself, and it’s still hard to care afterward. Good fight choreography can’t always save a mediocre film, and it doesn’t here.

 

NEXT: The RZA, his BFF Russell Crowe and Lucy Lui in The Man With The Iron Fists!

 

Review: Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)

Posted in David Carradine, Gordon Liu, Sonny Chiba with tags , , , on October 14, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Chiaki Kuriyama, Sonny Chiba, Gordon Liu, Kenji Ohba

Fight Choreography by Yuen Woo Ping

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

 

“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

 

-Old Klingon Proverb

 

For years Quentin Tarantino has made films that hearken back to the films that he loved from the 70’s: crime films, black exploitation films, and guys-on-a-mission movies. He’s paid homage (or ripped off, depending on what side of that fence you sit on) to all of these films, but, to this point, his crowning achievement may very well be Kill Bill.

Kill Bill’s story revolves around The Bride (Thurman), an assassin who was part of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad led by the enigmatic Bill (Carradine). The operative word is “was” as she is seen after being beaten by the other members of her Squad, and finally shot by Bill as the film opens. We then fast forward to the home of fellow assassin Vernita Green (Fox) an expert knife fighter whom The Bride comes to take her revenge, but finds the venue not what she expected. We then are treated to flashbacks to show how she survived being shot, to how she gets a truck named “Pussy Wagon”, and her journey to Okinawa to have a special sword made by Hattori Hanzo (Chiba, who also played the character in his Shadow Warriors TV series in 1980).

The Bride then makes her way to Japan, to settle the score with O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), who controls the Yakuza, with her crazy sidekick Gogo Yubari (Kuriyama) and her right hand man Johnny Mo and his Crazy 88’s. The Bride intended to murder and kill her way to a confrontation with Bill, who has secrets of his own that could change everything…

Kill Bill is first and foremost a revenge film, and one of the best of its kind at that. Uma Thurman, in what is probably her best role, is fantastic as The Bride, and is able to convey the vengeful emotions that can make you sympathize with her, even though she is really no better than any of the people she dispatches in the film. You don’t get to see David Carradine much, but his voice and presence is felt throughout the entire film. You barely see Michael Madsen at all in this film, but sets himself up nicely for the next. Vivica A. Fox makes the most of her small role, and provides a good mix of menace and vulnerability. Lucy Liu is the main antagonist for this film, and she pulls it off nicely. Gordon Liu, who probably should have the name “Master” in front of his name, like the Brits get knighted and called “Sir”. Gordon doesn’t have much to do acting wise, but he’s cool doing it. Sonny Chiba, on the other hand, shows he hasn’t lost any of his on screen charisma, and while he doesn’t get to fight, does a great acting job, especially his hilarious back and forth with long time friend and protege Kenji Ohba in the sushi house scene. The only disappointment is there wasn’t more of them. Chiaki Kuriyama is great as the insane Gogo, and pulls off the craziness really well. Daryl Hannah, like Carradine and Madsen, makes an appearance and sets her character up very well, but we don’t get into her character until the next film.  The anime that tells the story of Oren Ishii is fantastic, and takes what could have been something ho-hum in live action and makes into a great scene in animation. My one gripe, if I have one, is that for a film that features so many Japanese characters Tarantino couldn’t get Yasuaki Kurata into the mix? I think there is scientific evidence that exists proving Kurata makes everything 100% better.

Yuen Woo Ping does his normal masterful self in choreographing the fights, and it was pleasant to see him doing so for an American film without tons of wire harness stunts. The opening fight between Thurman and Fox is simply a fantastic way to set up the film, as it is so well done, and both women look way more convincing as martial artists than anyone in the later Matrix films. That fight, a brutal mix of knife play and hand to hand combat is masterfully shot, and sets up everything else in the film nicely, even though the style of choreography changes as the mood of the film does.

The Bride’s fight with Gogo is also great, and features the most wire work in the film, and I think that was done to pay homage to the films that DO use wire harness stunts, as the sound effects puts everyone on notice that yes, they are doing something unreal. The crowning achievement here is the fight between Uma Thurman and the Crazy 88’s, which is a bloody masterpiece of severed limbs and gigantic blood sprays. The fight with Lucy Liu is also well done, but there are a lot of far away shots, so it’s hard to tell how much of it is them or their stunt doubles.

Kudos to Tarantino for mentioning Charles Bronson and Chang Cheh in the film credits.

 Kiai-Kick’s grade: 10 

A fantastic achievement of a film by Tarantino that respects and pays homage to the kung fu and samurai sword films of the 70’s and early 80’s. A well-told story that never lets up, and finishes in an exciting and bloody climax!

NEXT: Shu Qui, Karen Mok and Zhao Wei take on Yasuaki Kurata in So Close!

Review: Shanghai Express aka Millionaire’s Express (1986)

Posted in Cynthia Rothrock, Dick Wei, Hwang Jang Lee, Lam Ching Ying, Richard Norton, Sammo Hung, Shih Kien, Wai-Man Chan, Wang Lung Wei, Yasuaki Kurata, Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah with tags , , , on July 5, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah, Lam Ching Ying, Hwang Jang Lee, Yukari Oshima, Richard Norton, Cynthia Rothrock, Dick Wei, Shih Kien, Richard Ng, Yu Wang, Wang Lung Wei

Fight Choreography by Sammo Hung

Directed by Sammo Hung

Sammo, a fan of many westerns, had always wanted to do one himself, and decided to call on damn near every star at the time to be in his kung-fu/western mashup. The film was designed to be another Sammo Hung/Jackie Chan/Yuen Biao team up, but alas Jackie wasn’t able to be in it due to scheduling conflicts, but never mind that. Everyone and their brother is in this film, and Jackie being in the film would have robbed someone else of screen time, especially two newcomers, but more on them later.

Sammo plays Cheng, a thief, opportunist and sometimes pimp with big plans for his small hometown of Hanshui, plans the town is unaware of. He had to leave Hanshui after a series of good deeds gone bad, or bad deeds that had a somewhat noble purpose, depending on your POV. Well, Hanshui ran him out of town, but he has a plan to return and open up a casino/ secret brothel, but since Hanshui is a no where town with nothing more than a train track not far away, he had to do something to get the customers in, and has plans to blow up the train tracks just when the Shanghai Express, a train full of wealthy passengers, will pass, making them stay in the town to spend their money there. Captain Tsao (Biao), the former fireman now the law offical thanks to some of his not-too-smart comrades who decided to use a fire to rob a bank (Lam Ching Ying, Yuen Wah and others), knows Cheng and vows to break up whatever scheme he’s running…

Meanwhile a group of bandits that include Dick Wei, Cynthia Rothrock and Richard Norton plan to rob the train near Hanshui in an effort to help a mob family secure documents being smuggled out of China by Japanese operatives….

Also, Master Wong (Yu Wong) and his son, the great Wong Fei Hung, travel in the same car with rival Master Sek (Kien) and his son.

And…the group that robbed the bank in Hanshui plan to use the train to get away with the town’s money.

AND…quite a few more stories that will all come together in Hanshui, leading to a slam bang finale that features some fantastic fight choreography and some genuinely funny moments. Admittedly, the comedy can be hit or miss depending on whether you like the slapstick comedy that was pervasive in Hong Kong in the 80’s. Personally, most of it worked for me, especially the Richard Ng stuff. That guy is crazy funny:

He plays a lecherous douche who bounces between his wife and his mistress, both of whom are on the train. He has some fantastic stunts where he “trots” on the train cars, jumping from one to another with ease, and does the same later on the roof of a three story casino. His facial expressions are hilarious to watch.

The stunts are thrilling to watch, such as a series of impressive fire fighting stunts by Yuen Biao culminating in a jump from the top of a 3 story building to the ground…and lands on his feet. Wow. He really does get to cut loose, and Sammo lets everyone have their moment in the sun, from the comedians to the fighters. I have to give Yuen Wah and Lam Ching Ying credit-they were really game to become the two idiots they play. No fighting for them, but it’s still great to see them playing different roles than what I would normally see from them. Now, in a changeup from most of my reviews, because there are so damn many, let’s look into individual fights, eh?

Sammo Hung Vs Yuen Biao: Wow. This fight would be the showstopper of other, even very good martial arts films, but here it is in the middle of the film, which helps break up the comedy. Sammo and Yuen really bring it, and if you watch the first kick Sammo gives Yuen, that kick almost really took Yuen Biao out. Like really out. These two go at it, and the choreography is excellent here, and you can tell that they are actually striking each other, which is something Sammo demands of all of his action co-stars, but hey, they’re kung-fu brothers, so they know what to expect from each other.

Yasuaki Kurata vs Richard Norton: Yeah, it was really short, and Richard’s end is painful (note to self, never try to kick high on a short girl with sword.) but what was there was gold. Of course Richard says his classic line “Painful?”after he gives Kurata a nasty kick. Great blocking moves in this scene.

Yuen Biao vs Dick Wei: Oh. My. Gosh. This fight was incredible. Yuen Biao and Dick Wei blaze along their fight with pure speed and Yuen’s acrobatic stunts in this fight is stunning to watch. His spin off the balcony is legendary as writ in the scrolls. Wei’s punches were lightning fast and Biao even faster at dodging them.

Sammo Hung vs Cynthia Rothrock:  Yeah, this fight was cool, and it’s no wonder Cynthia became famous in HK cinema after this fight. She hung tight with the big man himself through his fight choreography that had him going from being Sammo to impersonating Bruce Lee. I was disappointed that one of her big kicks was actually done by Yuen Biao as her stunt double, but the rest is fantastic. Sammo really tossed himself around.

Hwang Jang Lee vs Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung: This the most hair-pulling of all of the fights in this film. It barely lasts a minute, when the reality is it was supposed to be the absolute show stopper fight in the film, but had to be cut for the running time.  What’s there was the beginning of something epic that gets chopped to about 30 seconds. Argh! Luckily Hwang does get to jack up a bunch of other guys, but this is still a great opportunity missed.

Yukari Oshima vs a bunch of sad bastards: Yukari showed off her stuff in this fight, and though she isn’t a kendo practictioner she made it look as if she were, and really had a good, if short fight scene.

Also I have to say I loved the fight between young Wong Fei-Hung and Master Sek’s son. Those two kids were great, evoking the classic Shaw Brothers style of fight choreography, and the parents’ response is a funny way to end the scene, as is the train ride where both masters get their shots at each other each time they enter a tunnel. I want to go back and say a thing or two about Richard Norton and Cynthia Rothrock. These films would pave the way for their American B-movies, but they really understood the Hong Kong style of fight choreography and were the few Americans and Australians to do so at the time (There were a few others, but not many. Karen Shepard and Peter Cunningham are some of the others.) They work really well with the Sammo Hung/Yuen Biao/Jackie Chan style of choreography that dominated 80’s HK films from the Golden Harvest camp.

This film is really a sampler kind of film. You get a full plate that has bits and pieces of everyone, and the whole will fill you up, but you wished you had more of this or that. I needed more Hwang Jang Lee and Yasuaki Kurata, and Dick Wei, but that is a small gripe in a film chockablock full of fights, at least in the last half of the film. The first half does contain enough goodwill and comedy to tide you over until then.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) Sammo does a fantastic job all around allowing everyone to show off their stuff and have their own “moments”. The fighting mixes being fast and fun with being brutal all at once.

STUNTWORK: (9) Fantastic stunts all around. The scene where the train stops is great, and Richard Ng really does a great job, and Yuen Biao takes it up a level with his acrobatics, especially in his fight with Dick Wei. Some of the falls are just down right painful to watch.

STAR POWER: (10) Did you see the cast list I put up there?!

FINAL GRADE: (9) One of the best martial arts westerns of all time, bar none. There aren’t many fights until the end, but the end fights are plentiful and well worth the wait.