Archive for Wuxia

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: The Assassin (2015)

Posted in Shu Qi with tags on January 26, 2016 by Michael S. Moore

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Starring Shu Qui, Chang Chen, Zhou Yun, Ethan Juan

Fight Choreography:

Directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien

Every once and a while a martial arts film comes along that tells a grand story on an epic scale, with great actors, fantastic visuals, and exceptional, poetic fight scenes. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, The House of Flying Daggers are some of these kinds of films.

This ain’t one of them.

The Assassin tells the story of Yie Ninniang (Shu Qui), an assassin trained by a nun, given over to her by their parents for reasons I have no idea. Yieninniang still suffers from human sentiment, and refuses to kill. She finally gets her final mission: to kill her cousin (Chang Chen) whom she was once betrothed to. Rather than try to kill him, she does battle with a masked woman, while a crazy monk tries to kill her cousin, and she saves her father from assassins, all of whom I have no damn idea who they were.

This film is really as bad as they come. Yes, Hou won best Director at Cannes, and critics heap a bunch of praise on the film, but I wonder if they’ve ever seen a martial arts film? Films like the ones I mentioned at the start of this review? Let’s start first by saying there are far too many shots of characters either staring at…something, or walking for long periods of time across the screen, in the slowest manner possible. This tested the limits of my patience, and it found me wanting. I think this film could have been easily cut to an hour long rather than the 106 running time. And the end… can someone tell me what the hell gets resolved? With any plot line?

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The story does absolutely no favors to the actors, as character seem to come from no where with no explanation who they are or more importantly why we should care about them. For that matter, there is no real explanation as to why I should care for any of them. Shu Qui is passable, and as beautiful as ever, but her character has zero personality, and disappears and reappears in the film like she’s the goddamn Batman. Chang Chen thought he was in another Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon kind of film, and that tells me the poor guy had no idea what film he was making.

The cinematography is gorgeous, but lingers too long on things that don’t matter and aren’t important to the story, such as it is. As a series of stills, which this movie nearly is, it’s breathtakingly beautiful. But this is a film, and the images on screen need to have a life and breathe, and they don’t.

TheAssassin

The fight scenes range from dreadful to okay to “what just happened”? One prime example is the very first fight, where the entire fight between Shu Qui and a group of swordsmen happen…across a pond. In the forest. And you stay exactly that far away from the action. Binoculars are needed to see what’s going on. If this is considered high art, I’ll pass, thank you much.

KIAI-KICK’S GRADE: 2

This is a dreadful film from start to finish. Despite the exceptional camerawork,  it needed about another few weeks in the editing room to put a coherent film together. Shu Qui and Chang Chen have done so much better work than this.

The Film is out today on DVD/Blu Ray by Wellgousa!

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

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

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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.

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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: The Four (2012)

Posted in Collin Chou with tags , , , on April 8, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

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Starring Collin Chou, Anthony Wong, Deng Chao, Lu Yi Fei, Ronald Cheng, Jiang Yi Yan, Cheng Tai Shen

Fight Choreography by Ku Huen Chiu

Directed by Gordon Chan

Gordon Chan is an interesting director. When he’s on, he’s ON. Fist of Legend. ON. King of Beggars. ON. Thunderbolt. ON. When Gordon’s off, though, Lord have mercy. The Medallion. OFF. The King of Fighters. WAY THE HELL OFF. I haven’t seen Painted Skin or Kung Fu Master so I can’t comment on them…yet. Now here comes Gordon again, with a film he wrote, produced and directed, a film that is part one of a planned trilogy of films.  Can Gordon be ON again?

Oh yeah, Gordon flipped the switch to ON!

The film starts as we meet Leng Lingqi (Deng Chao), a member of Department Six, something akin to the FBI. Led by the Sheriff King (Cheng Tai Shen) they are the preeminent law enforcement agency, and on the eve that they welcome their first squad of female agents led by Ji Yaohua (Jiang Yi Yan), and her friend Butterfly, the Royal Treasury coin plates have been stolen, and without orders Leng Lingqi tracks down the assailant to a restaurant, but before he can apprehend him a series of events occur: The Sheriff King, having arrived at the restaurant with his men avoids an assassination attempt, meanwhile inside the thief of the plates suddenly finds himself trying to escape an extraordinary group of people led by Zhu Zhenwo (Wong): The wheel chair telepath/telekinetic Emotionless (Lu Yi Fei), The man who can control metals Iron Hands (Chou), and their newest member, the Tracker LifeSnatcher (Cheng) who can find anyone. Together they are the Divine Constabulary, working directly for the Emperor. On orders from Sheriff King, Leng Lingqi joins the Divine Constabulary to spy on them while they investigate the reason for the theft of the plates, which in the end will involve ancient Chinese magic and the undead! Leng Linqi, now called Coldblood, must decide where his allegiances truly lies. The fate of the crown rests upon it…

The Four

The film begins a little confusingly but settles down quickly for a good old wuxia version of the X-Men, which is not an insult. They do it rather well. Anthony Wong is right at home as the leader, an older man who has his reasons for bringing the group together, and is the calm voice amidst all the chaos that gathers around them. Deng Chao is pretty good as Coldblood, who really, due to his true abilities, comes off kind of bland in the beginning but settles down as the film progresses. Jiang Yi Yan does a great job a Ji, a woman conflicted with her feelings for Coldblood, and her duties. Lu Yi Fei is great as Emotionless, and really sells herself as a recluse who has problems with people for the very fact that she can read their minds and can spot the lies behind the words. Collin Chou is fine as Iron Hands but really doesn’t get much to do, except for some good fight scenes.

Ronald Cheng, to me, stole the show as the fearless and amoral Life Snatcher. You could tell he was having a great time playing this character. Life Snatcher comes off as a scoundrel who is there for the good wine, but he means it every step of the way, and that makes him a lot of fun when things get crazy. Wu Xiu Bo is fun as the main villain Ah Shigeng. The story overall is fun, not getting too serious and remembering that it’s a fun adventure film. There is one scene that features Anthony Wong doing something that the villain is like “DUDE, WTF!”. It’s rare to see the bad guy of a film surprised by anything a hero does, but in this scene he is, and it’s a hilarious moment. The film is very much in the vein of the X-men in regards to their powers, but it was so well done I didn’t care.

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The effects work is fantastic. The CGI powers are great, especially the fire effects, and all of the fighting scenes, but not so much that it’s too intrusive. It’s a good mix of computer versus practical until the end, where the CGI threatens to go crazy, but doesn’t.

The fighting choreography is good, if not spectacular. There isn’t a lot of complexity, and there doesn’t need to be with all of the effect work surrounding the fights. Anything complex would get missed regardless, and I may very well have missed something. As it stands the choreography was exactly what it needed to be with people of such powers.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8

A rollicking good Wuxia fantasy/superhero film that features great special effects and moments that could give any superhero film a run for its money! So when do we get Part Two?

This film will be released on Blu-Ray and DVD April 9th from the good folks at Well Go USA!

Review: Butterfly & Sword (1993)

Posted in Donnie Yen, Michelle Yeoh, Tony Leung with tags , , on October 8, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Michelle Yeoh, Tony Leung, Donnie Yen, Jimmy Lin, Elvis Tsui, Joey Wong

Fight Choreography by Ching Siu-Tung

Directed By Michael Mak

When Butterfly Sword went into production, Michelle Yeoh was an international superstar, Tony Leung was hot off of John Woo’s Hard Boiled, and Donnie Yen was becoming a star after his performance in OUATIC 2, so any film that puts them all together has to be good, right?

Right?

Butterfly & Sword takes place in ancient China and centers around a war between a group of killers known as the Assassins of Happy Forest, led by Lady Ko (Yeoh) and her two friends, Meng Sing Wan (Leung) and Yip Cheung (Yen), and their war is with Lord Suen for control…of the martial arts world, which is a good way of saying the writers couldn’t come up with something better. The story mainly centers around Meng Sing, who is married to Butterfly (Wong), whose father was a great martial artist who wanted to make sure she never involved herself in martial arts, and she is unaware of Meng Sing’s double life as an assassin. Drama also exists among the three assassins as Yip Cheung is in love with Lady Ko, but she doesn’t love him, rather, she loves Meng Sing, and of course Meng Sing loves Butterfly. Things get complicated when Lady Ko accepts a mission from Eunuch Tsao to spy on Lord Suen and reveal his treachery. The mission forces the three to reveal their true feelings, but Lady Ko’s ambitions threaten to destroy them all, Butterfly included…

Where this film truly falls flat is with the characters and the storytelling. The primary problems with the Assassins is that none of them outside of Tony Leung are likable. Donnie Yen is kind of a puss, and Michelle Yeoh just comes off like… a trifflin’ bitch. Completely unlikable, and we also don’t get enough time to know the characters. We just get a cliff notes version, which doesn’t really inform us of why some of them take the actions that they do. The story here is what burns me to no end, and in particular it’s in regards to the final act of the film.  In fact what’s so infuriating about it is that a moment/reveal occurs that could have happened earlier in the film that would have SOLVED THE WHOLE DAMN PROBLEM. One of the characters in the film knew what was going on, and was so powerful he beats the bad guy in like five seconds, while the heroes were getting their asses kicked for five minutes and going through fight after fight. It was an overly convenient way to end the film, as if the writers ran out of ideas and needed a fast way to get the villain defeated. Not only that, but the main villain does something so impossible that it brought me right out of the film, and I couldn’t believe they had the gall to go there. Also, the film ends so abruptly it looked as if there was several minutes missing from the film.

The mostly wire assisted fights are decent, but not great, and border on the ridiculous, but the fights where everyone is fairly grounded is good, filled with fast movements an good choreography, and there are even some interesting deaths in the film, but none of the fights truly impressed me. Some of the edits of the fights were shoddy and occasionally didn’t make sense in regards to the movements we just saw. Too many edits ruin whatever good fights there were.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 4

Butterfly & Sword is not a very well done film, even if the fights are okay. Audiences will have to wait until Hero to see Tony Leung and Donnie Yen in a good film together.

NEXT: Uma Thurman is out for revenge in Kill Bill Volume 1!

Review: Wu Xia (2011)

Posted in Donnie Yen, Jimmy Wang Yu, Takeshi Kaneshiro with tags , on May 13, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Jimmy Wang Yu

Fight Choreography by Donnie Yen

Directed by Peter Chan

Peter Chan is a celebrated director in Hong Kong, and many were looking forward to this different take on the traditional martial arts film where Peter claimed it would really show the damage the body takes from a martial arts blow. I quaked at this, remembering the horrid special effects used in the Jet Li embarassment Romeo Must Die, but since this was Peter Chan I wanted to give this a fair shot.

The injury effects were well done, but the film had a much bigger problem than that.

Wu Xia (meaning martial arts chivalry) begins in the year 1917 as we see the early day to day life of Liu Jin-xi (Yen) and his wife and two kids. He works for a paper mill, and while doing work happens to be in the store when two bandits come by to rob the place. At first Liu hides away, but eventually jumps in frantically to save the storekeeper. In the ensuing scuffle it appears he defeats both men accidently and is proclaimed a hero of the town, but Detective Baiju (Kaneshiro) doesn’t believe that a man with no training would defeat, even on accident, two dangerous martial artists. He begins to hound Liu, trying to get evidence of who Liu really is, but he has no idea that his inquisitive nature would put the entire town in danger, and place the lives of Liu’s family–and his own–in true jeopardy…

Wu Xia starts off being an interesting detective story, even going CSI with the autopsy and recreation scenes. The perspective of the fight between Liu and the two bandits is shown in two different ways, and it’s actually fascinating to watch, until the writer or Peter Chan got bored and wanted to kick some ass, and at this point the film becomes a standard action film, even though the audience may be forgiven for wondering when and how did the initial tone of the film change. This film couldn’t decide what it wanted to be, and traded an original premise for a safe one, and the transition is jarring to the point that it’s difficult to understand the story. Also, the end of the final fight totally jumps the damn shark for a finish that almost tosses reality out of the window. In another film this scene might be cool, but this film’s story required something more realistic.

Donnie Yen does a good job playing Liu, going from being a simple farmer to being a stone cold killer, but the real star is Takeshi Kaneshiro as Bai-ju, the relentless detective who doesn’t know when to walk away, literally. He suffers from a terrible memory of something that happened long ago, and also suffers from a poison that is slowly killing him unless he performs acupuncture on himself regularly. That memory causes him to go investigate even further into Liu even though all signs point to the fact that he should stop. Jimmy Wang Yu (Master of the Flying Guillotine) is great as the Master who wants Liu to return to criminal organization he runs, in the hopes of making Liu his heir. He plays a vicious monster here, capable of violence at any moment.

The fights are well done here, and Donnie Yen does his requisite awesome job, but some post production decision-making was odd, such as dropping frames to speeding up the fights, which wasn’t necessary. It took away the smoothness of Yen’s choreography, and maybe it was an artistic choice, but it was still distracting. The fight between Yen and Wang Yu was good, and Peter Chan really ratchets up the tension for this final fight.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) Donnie Yen does a great job as always, but the choices made in post takes away from them. Jimmy Wang Yu does a great job to show he’s still The Man. The other stunt performers did a good job keeping up with Donnie Yen’s fight choreography.

STUNTWORK: (7) The rooftop chase scene was fantastic, and the falling stunts were also well done.

STAR POWER: (8) Donnie Yen is still at the top of his game, and Takeshi Kaneshiro is as good as always, and Jimmy Wang Yu–classic.

FINAL GRADE: (8) Wu Xia is a film that had classic written all over it until Peter Chan decided to write something else. A good film that could’ve been great, but will go down as an interesting experiment.

NEXT: Time to tell you the story of Billy Jack!