Archive for martial arts

Review: Savage Dog (2017)

Posted in Cung Le, David No, JuJu Chan, Marko Zaror, Scott Adkins, Uncategorized with tags on August 29, 2017 by Michael S. Moore

Scott Adkins and Marko Zaror have a really, really bloody rematch! And Keith David!!

 

Starring Scott Adkins, Marko Zaror, Cung Le, Keith David, Juju Chan

Fight Choreography by Luke LaFontaine

Directed By Jesse V Johnson

Savage Dog is a period film set shortly after the French Indochina War in 1959 tells the story of Martin Tillman, an Irishman and displaced soldier, spending his days as a prisoner of Von Steiner, a sadistic jailer who pits Tillman into a series of martial arts fights with various opponents for money. When not fighting, Tillman spends his time in prison being visited by a local flower girl, Isabelle(Chan). When pressured by a British government official, Steiner releases Tillman, but since Tillman is still a wanted man, he chooses to hide out at a local bar run by Valentine(David) and also the home of the flower girl, where a romance blossoms, but as it happens in action films, Steiner brings Tillman back, but when Steiner and his henchmen go after his love, Tillman goes on a rampage to ensure Steiner never bothers anyone ever again…

It’s nice to see Scott Adkins and Marko Zaror leave their comfort zones and do a period film, and the production values looked great on what had to be a small budget. The story is well done, with, for a change, the villain Steiner being a more well rounded character, with his own motivations, and surprisingly, regrets. Scott Adkins is good here, but, from an acting standpoint, isn’t much of a stretch from most of the characters he plays. The same goes for Marko Zaror, but he is actually a more chilling villain here than in his other bad guy roles. He’s a real bastard here, and I want to see more of him in this mode. Keith David is KEITH MOTHERFU&@!ing DAVID! He’s the spice that makes ANY film better, and he brings his patented coolness here as both the star and narrator. He’s so cool he gets to dispense with a solid rule of cinema that isn’t supposed to be broken. But he can do that, ’cause he’s Keith Motherf&%^!ing David. Cung Le is okay here, but his character gets to real development until his final lines in his fight with Adkins. It made me wish the film had done more than mention his viscous general’s backstory.

The fights here…Let’s get to that.

I’m not gonna lie, it’s brutal. Like they watched the The Raid 2 and said “Hold my beer.”

The blood flows like a river in this film, and I have to admit I’ve never seen the like. You know, like watching a guy get shot with a shotgun in the face point blank. Twice. Or even what Scott Adkins does to Marko Zaror at the end…I can safely say I’ve never seen an action star at ANY level do what he does! It was shocking, but really hearkens back to the title of the film.

The fights are technically well done toward the beginning, but with the exception of a quick fight with stuntman/actor David No, I was really marking time until we get to the main event: Scott Adkins versus Cung Le and Marko Zaror. The Cung Le fight is short, but Le acquits himself well here as the choreography matches his strengths as a martial artist but not at the expense of having Adkins take the petal off the gas, so to speak. It’s a good fight that’s only marred by how cheaply the film ends it, but now we come to the true event, the Undisputed 3 rematch between Adkins and Zaror, and it’s great. First with weapons, both men show why they are awesome, moving fast but their movements are precise, and that knife Marko had…I would NOT want to get stabbed with that sucker. But then the weapons go away.

And then it gets REAL.

The director knows what you want. The fight choreographer knows what you want. Scott Adkins and Marko Zaror sure as HELL know what you want. And they made sure you get it! The fight is everything I was wanting it to be. So help me they put on a clinic in beautiful kicking of every kind. And the music with the furious violin playing during it? Holy hell they hit the sweet spot. The fist work was well done, and the fight lasted exactly as long as it needed to given the story and characters.

Bravo, Jesse V Johnson. Bravo. Now do it again!

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8.5

One of Scott Adkins’ best films. Marko Zaror establishes himself as a great villain, and Keith David does Keith David things. Bring on the sequel!

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Review: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal (2015)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on August 14, 2017 by Michael S. Moore

“No gelflings here, bro.”

Starring Li Bingbing, Chen Ku, Winston Chao

As many of you know, I’m not the biggest fan of wuxia films. I mostly prefer my martial arts films like my phones: Wireless.  Having said that, there is fascinating thing going on with those films: they are becoming a giant special effects extravaganza, not unlike many superhero films today. So how does Snow Girl fare given this new light?

In a word, I’m still not really impressed. Maybe even less so than I was of the genre before.

Snow Girl tells the story of Zhang Kui (Chen Ku), protector of the town of Hu, and is tasked by a Lord of Heaven, Daioxin,  to steal the Dark Crystal, a vessel from Hell that has imprisoned the souls of the populace and may cause the end of the world if activated. Zhang succeeds, causing the Demon King to unleash the Snow Girl to get it back. To prepare Zhang to defeat the Snow Girl Daioxin trains Zhang to harness his energy to turn himself into a powerful creature. Of course the moment Zhang meets the Snow Girl everything becomes much, much more complicated…

The story has moments where I was engaged, but by the third act I knew what was going to happen, and there were some dull stretches here and there. The acting in the film is pretty good, and Li Bing Bing does some particularly good work here, but the effects are the real star of the film, and unfortunately that’s a mixed bag. Most of it is really good, but the moments where we have CG monsters fighting made me feel like I was watching a video game being played, and I immediately checked out of the film during these really LONG sequences. It doesn’t help that the CG animation looks exactly like that, and not realistic at all. The final fight ends with one of those “so if the hero could do this the whole time then WHY DIDN’T HE?”. This is, for me at least, the most irritating kind of climactic finish.

The martial arts are kept on the down low here, except for one brief fight toward the end, which is nothing to write home about but adequate. It really could have used more of this and less of the CG monster fights. The ending of the film is jarring, as I didn’t really understand what Zhang was doing at the end and what it meant.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 5

I’ve seen way better Wuxia films, and this one was definitely mediocre. I’d rather revisit Zu, Warriors from Magic Mountain, or the Storm Riders.

Scott Adkins + Marko Zaror with Keith David! Savage Dog Trailer (2017)

Posted in Scott Adkins with tags on August 2, 2017 by Michael S. Moore

So watch the trailer here and we’ll talk after:

Damn! Scott Adkins looking his actiony best, Marko Zaror looking properly villianous, JuJu Chan looking great, and Keith David, is, well, Keith Friggin’ David! I’m watching the film this week, and my review will be out over this weekend, so I can’t wait! What did you think? Let me know in the comments below! This month may need to be called Scott Adkins Month! I’m down with that! Scott is without a doubt the best martial arts action hero in cinema right now, and we need him to get an A list film. C’mon John Wick guys! Make a franchise film series for Scott!

Birth of the Dragon Trailer (2017)

Posted in Philip Ng with tags , on July 30, 2017 by Michael S. Moore

Okay, things have been crazy lately but it’s time to get caught up. First up, Birth of The Dragon. I showed a different trailer not long ago (the overseas version) and I’ve since heard not-so-good things about the film. One item I hear about is how the film almost treats Bruce Lee’s conflict with Wong Jack Man almost a side story to the Steve McQueen-style hero, which would be a shame. I’m hopeful for the film, but remember there are several other Bruce Lee biopics currently in development. I’m confident in Philip Ng and his ability, so there are positives even if the film doesn’t turn out to the be ideal Bruce Lee film. So far the trailer looks great! Fingers crossed for the film!

 

Review: Hard To Kill (1990)

Posted in Steven Seagal with tags , on April 28, 2017 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Steven Seagal, Kelly Le Brock, William Sadler, Frederick Coffin

Fight Choreography by Steven Seagal

Directed by Bruce Malmuth

Hard to Kill is the second film by at that time the newest action star on the scene (he really came around the same time as JCVD) Steven Seagal, in a film that would without a doubt set the precedent for his “urban” action film output, both for better and for worse.

Seagal plays Mason Storm ( you gotta love his action guy names), a do-it-yourself cop who works alone, who has just gotten a recording that implicates a young senator Vernon Trent (Sadler) making a deal with a local mob. Mason is able to get away, but not before he is seen. Later that night Mason and his family is attacked by a hit team sent by the Senator, and in the ensuing fight his wife is killed, and Mason is shot himself. Mason isn’t dead, though, and seven years later he wakes up from a coma to discover that his son is still alive, being cared for by his commanding officer. Together with a young nurse (LeBrock) Mason goes after everyone involved in his wife’s murder, all the way up to the senator himself…

As an action film Hard to Kill is serviceable but hardly memorable, and not nearly as good as his first film Above the Law. There is more gunplay scenes here but its filmed in an uninspiring way. The acting ranges from great to god-awful, with the always dependable William Sadler bringing the great acting to Kelly LeBrock being the awful one, serving as nothing more than a damsel in distress who needs Mason Storm to save her at every turn. Seagal, is, well, Seagal. He has about one expression on his face, which is a perpetual scowl. He tries to “emote” but really, it’s still a scowl. A very sad scowl.

The actual martial arts scenes here are a disappointment, with many moves taken from his first film, but with much more bone snapping, like this:

Bone-breaking would also become a hallmark of Seagal’s films, and he’s in bone snapping form here. They used a bunch of celery for this one! One of the worst things about Seagal’s films are their stereotypes. If you’re Black you listen to only rap music, and if you aren’t a cop then you’re a pimp. Or drug dealer/gangbanger. Or just some layabout. If you’re Italian you gotta have mob ties, right? And if you’re Hispanic your pretty much a gangster. And if you are his love interest you can’t take care of yourself, aren’t smart enough to handle one or two killers, and of course will fall for Seagal’s winning personality. And his Budda Belly (we’ll save that conversation for another time, but he does wear all black for a reason):

The camera’s not going any lower. This isn’t a Van Damme film, ya’ll!

Hard to Kill was modestly budgeted and is considered a hit, but is hardly a good film, and is much more indicative of the films that would comprise the second half of his career. Shoddy acting, a lackluster script and boring fight scenes doom this film to a one-watch-only experience.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 3

Regression is a hell of a thing. Worse still if it’s only your second film. Do yourself a favor and dust off that blu ray or DVD of Above the Law and watch it again.

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.