Archive for Tae Kwon Do

Review: The Protector 2 (2013)

Posted in Jeeja Yanin, Kazu Tang, Marrese Crump, Panna Rittikrai, Tony Jaa with tags , , on March 11, 2015 by Michael S. Moore

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Starring Tony Jaa, Jeeja Yanin, Pechtai Wongkamlao, Marrese Crump, RZA, Patrick Kazu Tang, Jawed Al Berni, Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, Theerada Kittisiriprasert

Fight Choreography by Panna Rittikrai

Directed by Pratchya Pinkaew

It’s been well documented through various sources concerning the meltdown Tony Jaa had that occurred during the making of Ong Bak 2 and 3, and his subsequent break from filmmaking. After a time Tony Jaa returned to filmmaking with the announcement of The Protector 2, and would be reunited with his Ong Bak crew and joined by Jeeja Yanin, in a film that once again finds a group of bad guys who haven’t learned not to mess with Jaa’s elephant. A can’t-miss film, right?

Wrong. My worst fear for Tony Jaa became true.

We once again join elephant owner Kham (Jaa) who lives in a small village and takes care of Khorn, now an adult elephant. One day Kham gets a visit from a local elephant wrangler named Suchart who wants to purchase Khorn, but of course Kham refuses the money (did Suchart not know how many asses Kham had to kick to get Khorn back?!), so of course he has to kidnap Khorn, but the reason why isn’t as black and white as believed, as Kham goes after Suchart, and upon breaking into his home Kham finds that Suchart is already dead. Kham gets attacked by his two young daughters who blame him for his death, Ping Ping (Yanin) and Sue Sue (Kittisiriprasert),  and soon Kham finds himself on the run, being chased by his old friend Mark (Wongkamlao), now in Thailand on loan to Interpol, the two daughters, and men hired by gun runner LC (RZA) who have taken Khorn to bring about the assassination of the leaders of East and West Katana, who have gathered in Thailand for peace talks. Kham must evade the police, and find a way for Mark, Sue Sue and Ping Ping to believe in his innocence in time to stop LC and his goons from using a bomb-strapped Khorn to commit an action that will continue a war…

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The story here is utterly ridiculous in how Kham gets involved, and the bad guy LC makes strange decisions, and what little there is in a plot is further hampered by characters whose stories ultimately go nowhere. Jaa returns as Kham, and while he still kicks ass, there is something missing in the performance to make me care. It doesn’t get any better with LC, and the fact that the RZA is playing him, and his acting is far worse than Jaa’s, continue to bring the film down. I wish that Jeeja Yanin would be a saving grace, but she’s not in the film enough to be. I have to say that her part is the most disappointing of all. This film should have presented her and Jaa in much the same way that Supercop presented Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh, but here Yanin is a young woman whose martial arts skills are muted, and she gets nothing but beaten up the entire film, even by flunkies. Where is the girl from Raging Phoenix and Chocolate?  Yes, she is playing a different character, but using Michelle Yeoh as an example, she brought her history with her to Supercop as a badass, and Chan never had to “save” her (for the most part), but here Yanin needs Jaa to save her at every turn. They are never equals. There are only two actors here worthy of note. Petchai Wongkamlao is great in his return as Sergeant Mark, even if he isn’t as funny as the first film. He brings better acting to every scene he’s in, and he has to, as he has to prop up every scene with Jaa, and is able to do so. The other person I want to mention is Marrese Crump as Number 2. He brings a genuine imposing menace, and in truth he should have played LC.

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The fights and stunts here are really disappointing, save for two fights. The stunts are more over the top, but with that brings CGI effects and wirework, two things the first film didn’t have. I have an expectation—and I think many of you do too— of seeing Jaa effects-free, and was disappointed to see this film effects-filled. The motorcycle chase/fights are laughable in their impossibility, and for the first time in a Jaa film I constantly wondered if what I saw was real. Let’s not even get into the fight where he once again sets his feet on fire. Only this time the fire is computer-generated. Even the fight choreography of the late Panna Rittikrai was lacking of originality and energy.

The one lone bright spot is the two fights between Tony Jaa and Marrese Crump. Crump is positioned to be a star here (Okay, Marvel Studios, you have your new Blade! Get on that!) and the fight is great between the two men. Of course, this is nearly wiped out by the finale, which involves Jaa fighting RZA, whom I am sick and tired of seeing playing a martial artist when he isn’t one.

At the start of this review I stated that my worst fear for Tony Jaa came true. That fear was that during his sabbatical from film the world of martial arts film moved on without him. While he was gone The Raid raised the bar and became the new gold standard,  Jackie Chan got some of his mojo back, Scott Adkins continued to kick ass, and Donnie Yen was rocking along as well, and even Jeeja Yanin had some hits.

Can Jaa get his mojo back? I’m not sure. The next few years will tell the tale of whether he’s still the successor to Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, or if he’s simply a placeholder.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 4

A lackluster sequel with poor storytelling and laughable characters. And far too much CGI for a Tony Jaa movie. So disappointing.

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Review: Jakkalan (aka This Girl is Badass!) (2011)

Posted in Jeeja Yanin, Panna Rittikrai with tags , , on November 11, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

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Starring Jeeja Yanin, Petchtai Wongkamlao, Akom Preedakul

Fight Choreography by Panna Rittikrai

Directed by Petchtai Wongkamlao

Jeeja Yanin has been hailed by many as the next Michelle Yeoh, and she may yet be. Chocolate was fantastic, and Raging Phoenix wasn’t nearly as good, but had some good fights. Now Jeeja returns with an action comedy in  Jakkalan, and I must say this wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

Jeeja stars as Jakkalan, a bicycle messenger who lives with her Uncle, an old man who owns a legit video rental store, and pines after a woman who lives in his neighborhood by helping her and her daughter for reasons to be revealed later. Jakkalan also has a childhood friend who has a crush on her, but Jakkalan has a crush on a musician who lives in her neighborhood. Of course, these are small stories built around another, which is Jakkalan’s uncaring attitude about who she delivers what to, and in this case she delivers a briefcase of cocaine to a group of local dealers, both of whom believes that the other is trying to screw them over. Jakkalan finds herself smack dab in the middle, trying to avoid getting killed while doing her job, trying to get the boy next door, and make her strange boss happy.

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As a story, Jakkalan is more of an action film than anything else. I think Jeeja does an okay job with it, but there isn’t much to her character, unlike Chocolate and Raging Phoenix. She actually isn’t a likable character, basically a teenager full of herself. Faring much better is her Uncle, and Petchai plays him as a world weary man who hides a terrible secret that’s never really resolved. I think there was a much better film in his story than Jakkalan’s. I’m not that familiar with Thai comedy, but most of it never really worked for me. The baddies were trying to be these Tarantino-odd like guys, but they came off really lame.

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The fight scenes were really disappointing. I expect so much more from Rittikrai, and it really felt by-the-numbers here, rather than trying to push his own envelope. That could be due to the lighter tone of the film compared to many of his others, but the best fight was between Jakkalan and the assassin in the school-girl out fit. They have two bouts, and both are really good. Outside of that, the stuntmen did a good job, but this film felt more like 90’s Jackie Chan than 80’s, if you get my meaning. I wasn’t impressed with the fights in this film and expected so much more from both Yanin and Rittikrai.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 6

Jakkalan is a disappointing comedy featuring great talents wasted in Jeeja Yanin and Panna Rittikrai. The tone of the film veers wildly all over the place. I’d suggest watching Chocolate again while waiting for Chocolate 2 and The Protector 2.

Review: Best Of The Best 4: Without Warning (1998)

Posted in Phillip Rhee with tags , , on October 28, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

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Starring Phillip Rhee, Ernie Hudson, Tobin Bell, Chris Lemmon, Paul Gleason

Fight Choreography by Simon Rhee

Directed by Phillip Rhee

The circle is now complete. We have reached the end of the Best of The Best series, that saw Tommy Lee (Rhee) go from a tae kwon do champion to an underground fighter, to a crusader for civil rights, and now Tommy Lee finds himself…fighting the Russian mob.

The story picks up years after the previous film, and Tommy Lee has had and lost a wife since then, and has a daughter named Stephanie to support now, being a martial arts teacher as well as teaching martial arts to the local police department. Things start to go awry when the daughter of an old friend is murdered by group of Russian mafia led by Lukasz Slava (Bell) who are looking for a disk that contains the specs to print out counterfeit money. Things get even more complicated when his police friend Jack Jarvis (Lemmon) turns out to be working with the Russians and tries to kill Tommy, but is accidentally killed by Tommy instead, and Tommy Lee must go on the run from both the Russians and Jack’s vengeful partner Detective Gresko (Hudson) and try to live long enough to defeat the Russians and save his daughter…

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This was a fun film, moreso than the over done “Tommy Fights Racism” theme of the previous film. The acting was much better than the previous film. I’m unsure how a series like this keep getting actors like Ernie Hudson and Tobin Bell (who wouldn’t really become known until the Saw films, but still) but they do, and the series is all the better for it. Philip Rhee’s acting is a little better here, meaning it’s barely passable, but that’s not why we watch his films, is it? I’m still of the opinion that he didn’t have the charisma to be a star, but he does better here than in any of the previous films save the first. Ernie Hudson plays a good jerk of a detective who doesn’t believe in martial arts in a day where everyone uses guns. Tobin Bell makes a good villain, probably the best of this series. Cold and unforgiving, he’s a good foil for Phillip Rhee. Paul Gleason has a small part in this film, and it was a shame he didn’t get more to do.

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The fights here are more of the Steven Seagal variety, meaning that only the hero has any real martial arts skills. This also means we get a lot of fights seeing Tommy Lee abuse a bunch of Russian hitmen with fantastic kicks and punches they can’t do anything about…until Tommy Lee gets captured and makes his escape, and similar to what happened to Jet Li in Kiss Of The Dragon, he runs into the wrong room of a group of Russian thugs practicing Escrima stick fighting, and that’s what ensues, and is a great choreographed fight, one of the best of the series. The fight goes from Escima to fencing versus Escrima, and the Russians give to Tommy nearly as good as they get (it’s as if the baddies were hiding their martial artists in this one room the entire film. The plan must’ve been to use them to defeat Tommy Lee should he ever find his way into this particular room, one of about twenty in the mansion.)

The film ends similarly to Die Hard 2, but that’s no bad thing, actually. We need to bring back more one-liners before the baddies blow up. Be sure to watch the closing credits and catch Phillip Rhee going through a Randori (free form practice) using some of the stuntmen.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 7

This is a really good Friday/Saturday night film full of ridiculous fun and over the top action, featuring some of Phillip Rhee’s best fighting onscreen. 

Review: Arena of the Street Fighter AKA Urban Fighter (2012)

Posted in Mike Moller with tags , , , , on June 6, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Mike Moller, Volkram Zschiesche, Oliver Juhrs

Fight Choreography by Psycho Dog Bros

Directed by Mike Moller

For years the best and brightest martial arts films came from Hong Kong. Such names as Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, David Chiang and so many more shone brightly, as well as directors like Yuen Woo Ping, Chang Cheh, Lar Kar Leung, Sammo Hung and John Woo. Then, in the early 2000’s things started to change. The old Hong Kong guard either left for Hollywood to make inferior films, age, or both. With the exception of Donnie Yen, Hong Kong martial arts seemed to come strained through a filter, and the newer films didn’t seem to feature characters with real martial arts skills. Meanwhile, other countries started to showcase the martial arts of their own respective countries led by Thailand with Ong Bak and stars Tony Jaa and Jeeja Yanin, and Vietname with The Rebel, Clash, and stars Johnny Nguyen and Veronica Ngo, and South Korea with films like Fighter in the Wind and City of Violence, and of course we can’t forget Indonesia with The Raid and new superstar Iko Uwais. Now Germany gets into the game with new star Mike Moller. So how did they fare?

Let’s say this: Hong Kong films need to seriously step up their game. Germany’s crashing the party!

Urban Fighter follows Mikey (Moller) a man in prison who flashes back to how he wound up there, and we quickly go back in time to when he was a young gang banger who idolized his best friend Mathis, and after Mathis is killed by a group called the Bloods and their leader Slater, Mikey decides to take on the biggest gang in the city, but to do so he has to enter a fight tournament to get to Slater, but Mikey isn’t a match to even get into the tournament, and begins to train, get into other fights, in order to test his skills. Slater is aware of Mikey’s skills growing, just as the mysterious figure who operates the tournament is aware. Mikey doesn’t understand just how in over his head he really is, and Mikey soon finds he needs his friends to help him, but even they may not be enough, but even being sent to prison doesn’t stop the tournament from finding him, but why?

The story to the film takes a little while to ramp up, but when it does it gets good. The early scenes with the 80’s style biker gang is a little silly (especially since we know Mike Moller’s wearing a wig) but the film greatly improves after Act 1. If there is one thing that was odd, and it was an attempt by the film to cater to an English speaking audience. The problem here is that everyone is German with strong accents, and at least I found it difficult to understand at times. Mike Moller does a good job as Mikey, starting off being an immature hothead, but as his martial arts knowledge expand, so does his maturity, and Moller is able to pull this growth off. Volkram Zschiesche is also good as Slater, playing the bad guy with gusto and fun. The other actors varied from okay to not very good, and I think speaking English may have hurt some performances.

Now, I don’t know who Psycho Dog Bros are (Mike Moller is the head) but they certainly learned from Panna Rittikrai (The Protector, Ong Bak) when it comes to fight choreography. The fights start off weak at the beginning, which is appropriate since Mikey isn’t good with martial arts at the beginning, but as the film goes on it gets better and better until the actual tournament, where is just becomes a stellar showcase of martial arts of many different styles, and the camerawork is perfect in these scenes. In many respects the film pays homage to past martial arts films like Ong bak and Bloodsport, even going so far to recreate one of best scenes in Bloodsport shot for shot, and it was a blast to see. The next to last fight also features a free-for-all involving escrima sticks and short staffs which was also great, but nothing beats the tournament scenes. There are also some very well done parkour scenes, very much on the level of District B13, so they covered all of the bases!

The advertisements claim the film is shot in the style of Ong Bak, and while they don’t hit the greatness of that film, they come pretty close, which is no small feat. The biggest real problem I had is that the film has an open ending. Hopefully a sequel is on the way.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) A fantastic job by Mike Moller and crew. The tournament and stick fights are really well done, and would make Panna Rittikrai and Yayan Ruhian give them a thumbs up!

STUNTWORK: (9) The stuntmen certainly took it like the Ong Bak guys do, and really tossed themselves around with gusto and flair, and had good reactions to the strikes and kicks.

STAR POWER: (6) I had never heard of Mike Moller prior to this film, but he has done a lot of German TV and film as a stuntman. After this film, that’ll change.

FINAL GRADE: (8.5) The first act somewhat hurts this film, but the second and third acts more than make up for it with fantastic martial arts action and a new star in Mike Moller!

NEXT: Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle run their way to victory in District 13: Ultimatum!

The Urban Fighter (also kn0wn as Street Gangs) DVD/ Blu-Ray will be released on July 27th, 2012 in Germany. US release is scheduled for June 6th in selected theaters.

Indie-Kick Review: Death Grip (2012)

Posted in Edward Kahana Jr., Eric Jacobus, Johnny Yong Bosch with tags , , , on June 2, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

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Starring Eric Jacobus, Nathan Hoskins, Edward Kahana Jr, Johnny Yong Bosch, Rebecca Ahn

Fight Choreography by The Stunt People

Directed by Eric Jacobus

Eric Jacobus (Mortal Kombat: Legacy Season 2) and his group The Stunt People are a talented mix of fight choreographers and martial artists, and have put out fantastic test fights online, and have done feature film work as well. Eric himself will get to shine in front of a mass audience as Stryker in Mortal Kombat Season 2. This review takes a look at one of his independent efforts.

Suffice to say, I hope he does some of the choreography work in MK Legacy. No offense, Larnell Stovall!

Death Grip follows Kenny (Jacobus), a mysterious man who has returned home to take care of his brother Mark (Hoskins) , who suffers from a mental illness after a fire that killed their mother years ago. Before long Kenny has to take a job as a caterer at the museum opening of a Judas coin, and things get dicey quickly when later that night, the coin is stolen by a group of thieves who turn out to be part of a cult. Mark, who happens to be quite adept at picking locks and electronic devices, takes the coin since he likes silver. This puts them, and Rindy (Ahn), one of coin presentation’s collectors,  both in the crosshairs of Torch (Bosch), the leader of a cult who wants it back…

From a technical standpoint, Death Grip is great. The cinematography is spot on, and the fights, with the exception of one, is well shot. The one I have an issue with was the fight with the blind man in the dark. This is just my own personal gripe, but I hate martial arts films that have fights that take place in the darkness, ‘cause it renders the wonderful fight choreography useless. Other than that, all of the fight scenes were shot well.

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The story itself follows a good progression, but the hero Kenny is incredibly hard to invest in. He’s dour, without a lot of personality (understandable given his history, but still), and I had a difficult time rooting for him to win, which is fine as he rarely ‘“wins” at all. He really doesn’t save anyone in the film, even though he’s supposed to be the hero. Mark, however, is a warm enough character to root for. Of anyone in the film, I most wanted Mark to get out of the situation intact. The same goes for Rindy as well. Rebecca Ahn brings a warmth and humanity to the screen, mostly shared with Jacobus, which is sorely needed due to Kenny’s detachment from, well, everything. Speaking of the star, Eric does a fine job playing Kenny, but as the character is so detached I just found Kenny too difficult to like, at least until near the end, where Kenny and Mark have a talk about the past, and the events that took their mothers’ life. Jacobus handles the action scenes with flair, and he handles the fights great. His direction shows he knows how to tell a story, and the actors did a fine job, so all’s well there. Johnny Yong Bosch (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Bleach) handles himself well as the bad guy Torch, a religious fanatic who needs the coin.

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The fight scenes themselves are really, really good, much more old school 80’s Hong Kong than anything else (given the current state of Hong Kong martial arts films, that’s a high standard they’re having a hard time meeting themselves). My favorite fights in the film are at the very end between Jacobus and Bosch, and their fight in the bathroom toward the beginning, which is also the most humorous scene, involving Jacobus, Bosch, Hoskins, all moving slowly, and a busted toilet with an automatic flush, which quickly becomes everyone’s enemy!

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8

Death Grip is a good film with excellent fight choreography and a good story that unfolds like the pages of a good thriller. Eric Jacobus and the Stunt People don’t disappoint!

Review: Miami Connection (1987)

Posted in Y.K. Kim with tags , on December 16, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

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Starring Y.K. Kim, Vincent Hirsch, Joseph Diamond, Kathy Collier, Maurice Smith, Angelo Jannotti, Woo-Sang Park

Fight Choreography by Y. K. Kim

Directed by  Y. K. Kim and Woo-Sang Park

Drafthouse Films, the film distribution arm of the legendary Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX (and in other locations, but whatever. They aren’t the original.) found this little 80‘s nugget, cleaned it up and re-released this little gem for our collective pleasure. A creation of Y. K. Kim, a Tae Kwon Do Grandmaster, this is the only film he ever did, and without a doubt it’s not necessary he makes another, as he’s made an epic B-movie classic …

Miami Connection opens with a drug deal gone bad, which typically happens when ninjas crash the party. This scene is full of badly acted death scenes, the best of which is the poor sucker who gets his arm cut off and overacts so badly…you just have to see it for yourself. After ward we meet Yashito (Si Y Jo) a ninja who wears white(!) and leads the…ninja biker gang. Dammit, I did just say that. Along with his brother Jeff they aspire to rule the Miami and Orlando drug scene, but one thing, and god knows why this is, stands in their way.

Dragon Sound.

A Tae Kwon Do band (I can’t believe I just typed that) made up of a collection of guys, starting with Mark (Kim) a master of martial arts, John (Hirsch) a black belt himself and in love with fellow band mate (not to mention Jeff’s sister) Jane (Collier), Tom (Janotti, who you’ll never convince me isn’t really John Oates of Hall and Oates.), Jack (Diamond) and finally Jim (Smith), who is searching for his father. Jeff and Yashito plot to have the band killed in a series of escalating confrontations, until finally Dragon Sound meets them head-on for a final confrontation…

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Miami Connection is without a doubt a bats***t crazy film, and God bless Y.K. Kim for making it! The acting, for lack of a better word, is terrible, especially from Kim himself, but hell, no one else is much better, but that’s part of the charm of the movie. In fact, my favorite character is Jim, who holds what I suppose is the B-story of the film, as he searches for his father (the entire band are all orphans), and Maurice Smith gives a line reading of the ages after he checks his mailbox:

“I found my Father! OH MY GOD!!”

Think I’m exaggerating? Watch this scene  below:

This film is full of WTF?!! moments like this, and I say that in a good way, such as the bad guy, who says in one moment:

“He will not escape…The Miami Ninja!”  I commend the actor for keeping a straight face reading that line.

Another WTF moment occurs when a group of..thugs, let’s call them, attacks Uncle Song, a friend of the band, at a restaurant Dragon Sound goes to, and he hauls up and uses martial arts to beat them down.

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Another WTF? The beach scene. I’ll not say more than that.  The songs of Dragon Sound, “Friends” and “ Against the Ninja” are classics that will burn themselves into your memories, whether you want them or not!

The fight scenes are not great, but better than most American films. Y.K has the best fight scenes, which is just as well as he the best fighter in the film, but the stuntmen are simply terrible, but like everything else in the film it just adds to the charm.  In fact, you could say that about every moment of this film. By all accounts it should be terrible, but it’s also some of the best fun I’ve had with a film in a long, long while.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8 

This film is a Gift from the Gods that needs to be shown at every movie night everywhere.  Y. K. Kim ‘s masterpiece is schlocky fun that’s not to be missed!

The film is currently in limited release. To see if/when the film plays in your area, check here:  Drafthouse (You can purchase this film too, but you really want to see this with a theater audience!)

 

NEXT: Vincent Zhao and Fan Siu-Wong will take you to Wu Dang!