Archive for the ‘Martial Arts’ Category

John Wick

Monday, October 27th, 2014

tn_johnwickI never figured Keanu Reeves would become an action hall-of-famer, but here we are. Of course he stars in the great POINT BREAK, but we can’t lie, we all kinda chuckle at his FBI surfer dude Johnny Utah in that. And then he was good in SPEED, but would that be enough? If that was enough Matt Damon would be an action legend. Of course, playing Neo in THE MATRIX trilogy sealed the deal, Reeves learned to do all that kung fu and that hadn’t really been done by a normal actor like that before and those movies and those fights hold up today. Still, it seemed like an anomaly in his career. He would always be Neo to the world but that would be it for Action Keanu, right?

Nope. Because he directed last year’s martial arts gem MAN OF TAI CHI and played the villain, creating and performing some more classic fight scenes. When I saw that I realized it was time to acknowledge his greatness. 47 RONIN put a little bit of a damper on that though because it was so boring I never even wrote a review. If I had it would’ve said “Some of the monsters are cool” and that’s about it.

But after JOHN WICK, Reeves’s strong connection to Badass Cinema cannot be denied. This is a fun, violent, straight-ahead revenge action movie. Reeves did not direct it, but his stunt double from the MATRIX movies, Chad Stahelski, did*. So it’s probly a style of directing too dangerous for Reeves to perform. (read the rest of this shit…)

Executioners From Shaolin

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

tn_executionersMany of us know Pai Mei from his strict teachings of Beatrix Kiddo. In KILL BILL VOLUME 2 he’s a mean old bastard with long white hair. But he’s meaner and older than you may realize: his first movie appearance is in EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN (1977), a movie that opens with him dueling a Shaolin priest to the death and burning down the temple with most of the monks inside. He was already an old man then, and that was 1727 (at least according to the first literary references to the alleged historical figure he’s based on).

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(read the rest of this shit…)

A Good Man

Monday, September 15th, 2014

tn_agoodmanex3-seagal“The rate this is going we’re going to run out of Russians soon.”

A GOOD MAN – not to be confused with A DANGEROUS MAN, A SERIOUS MAN, A SINGLE MAN, A SOLITARY MAN, HE WAS A QUIET MAN, etc. – is the latest Steven Seagal picture, continuing what at first glance looks like Seagal’s Goatee Period (SGP). The new facial hair seems to represent the evil Seagal from another dimension, or at least a slightly darker Seagal. In the opening narration he explains that he has both light and darkness in him. Later he calls himself “a regular man who does bad things to bad people.”

He doesn’t seem like as much of an anti-hero as the Russian gangster he played in his last movie, FORCE OF EXECUTION, but he is a guy who goes around literally chopping up gangsters and leaving them strewn across alleys. Technically that’s not that different from what he does in other movies, but it’s presented differently. The first pile we don’t see as an action scene, we see it as a crime scene investigated by detectives. And he leaves a calling card – incense in their hands, the Chinese characters for “Gwai-Lo” – like a serial killer.

But on closer examination, this gangster-slayer actually is an alternate reality version of the guy from the last movie. On a behind the scenes featurette writer/director Keoni Waxman says they originally started writing it as a sequel to “our last movie,” which would explain the returning beard and that both characters are named Alexander. (read the rest of this shit…)

She Shoots Straight

Monday, June 16th, 2014

tn_sheshootsNote from Vern: I’m working on a write-up of the Cinefamily Seagalogy event, but for now please enjoy this review of an obscure Hong Kong gem thanks everybody.

SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT (aka LETHAL LADY) is an action vehicle for Joyce Godenzi, who stole the show as the Vietnamese double agent in the classic EASTERN CONDORS. She had been in a bunch of movies before this, but I believe this is her only starring vehicle. Today she’s known as the wife of Sammo Hung (who has a supporting role in this), but it should be noted that she didn’t marry him until 1995, so that’s not why she gets a movie, it’s not because of nepotism. Actually, it’s probly because she was Miss Hong Kong, 1984. But I’m glad they thought of doing that because she is incredible.

Here she plays Mina, a supercop who recently got a promotion and also married her handsome co-worker Tsung-Pao (Tony Leung, the one from A BETTER TOMORROW 3).

And you’d think she’d be happy as a clam on Zoloft but she’s got this problem that now she’s got a gaggle of sisters-in-law who are fellow cops who all hate her. They’re worse than the sisters in THE FIGHTER. They’re jealous of her success at work, they try to undermine her authority, disobey her commands, embarrass her. They whine about her getting all the credit for an operation where she clearly deserved the most credit. If they were honest with themselves they would acknowledge that she was the one who slid down the side of a parking garage, jumped onto a moving cab, climbed through a bus, jumped out the other side onto the moving getaway car, got shot at and rolled off and almost run over by a motorcycle which she then commandeered and chased the car literally through a wall of fire, drove over it, ducked a bullet, skidded out the bike and jumped off so the car would hit the bike, flip and roll without hurting the princess. Yeah, the sisters helped, but Mina did the Jackie Chan shit. Plus, the attack happened when most of you ladies were in the bathroom. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Great Killing

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

tn_greatkillingRecently I had a stressful week I knew would be spent largely in hospital waiting rooms, so I thought real hard about what kind of movie I could rent that would be comforting to me if I ever got home to watch it. I could’ve gone for a movie I’ve already seen a million times and love, like DIE HARD or something. For some reason my heart said “old samurai movie.”

I don’t know for sure what it is about these things that they appeal to me so much. In a way they’re difficult: I’m completely ignorant of the historical periods depicted, and I have a hard time keeping track of some of the character names and terminology. But in another sense they’re simple. The heroes are always working from a code. They explain the code and then they struggle to follow it, even though they’re living in a dishonorable world, working in a dishonorable system. For them there’s no choice but to follow the code, because they know anyone who doesn’t is an asshole. And then there’s a big sword fight.

There’s usually alot of quiet moments in these movies, rarely an overbearing score, and there’s the simple black and white imagery. Kinda calming to me. So I chose to soothe my soul with a movie about the great killing, and I’m afraid that’s as in “the huge killing,” not “the really good killing.” (read the rest of this shit…)

The Protector 2 (Tom Yum Goong 2)

Monday, March 31st, 2014

tn_tyg2bHow can the same shit happen to the same elephant twice?

The first thing that jumped out at me in TOM YUM GOONG 2 was the amount of digital effects. Part of what made us fall in love with Tony Jaa’s movies ONG BAK and TOM YUM GOONG a decade or so ago was that they were refreshingly organic. All real stunts, very few visual effects, for the most part not even using wires. So it’s jarring to suddenly see him dodging obvious digital cars and motorcycles, ducking a digital subway, running from a digital explosion. Of course all movies are fake, but that’s more of a low budget version of a DIE HARD type of action than a Thai style, where we’re used to seeing real guys get knocked off of real trucks and get back up for real.

By the way, who’s the sorry motherfucker who found it necessary to introduce green screens to the Thai film industry? There’s this whole great sequence of Jaa fighting motorcycles on a rooftop, and I’m sure most of the stunts are real, but because the background is clearly fake you start questioning the whole thing. They even use green screens for his closeups when he’s holding onto the top of a car. I guess we’re past the days when Thai stuntmen were the crazy motherfuckers who would do anything. They must’ve finally gotten a union. (read the rest of this shit…)

Chinese Zodiac

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

tn_cz12To be frankly honest I haven’t kept up with the modern Jackie Chan pictures, unless you count THE KARATE KID, which I don’t. I had to really think about it to remember that LITTLE BIG SOLDIER (from 2010) was the last one I saw, and it looks like you’d have to go back pre-RUSH HOUR (to ’98’s WHO AM I?) to get to another non-American one I’ve seen.

But 2012’s CHINESE ZODIAC just came out on video here, and he directed that one, they were making a big deal about it possibly being his last full-on action movie, so maybe it’s a good one to reacquaint us with why we love Jackie? (read the rest of this shit…)

The Guillotines

Monday, March 17th, 2014

tn_guillotinesTHE GUILLOTINES isn’t a remake of MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE, but it uses the same concept of the Emperor having an elite squad of ruthless executioners who use the flying guillotine to do his bidding/beheading. If you thought this was a far-fetched weapon when it was a ring of blades that popped out of a collapsible basket on the end of a chain, wait until you see the post-steampunk version.

In the opening we see the Guillotines (or really the team of digital FX artists) demonstrate their skills in Zack Snyderian slo-mo detail. They have ornate metal rings (like that thing Xena threw) that spin on the end of a curved sword that they hold like a jai alai basket. They pose and let it menacingly chunk chunk chunk until they toss it. It can curve around, ricochet and ring around some motherfucker’s collar and then the machinery dramatically clicks and chings for a while before the blades fold and pop out and cut off the head. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Death of Bruce Lee

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

tn_deathofbruceleeIt would be cool if Ron Van Clief was to Lee Van Clief as Bruce Li was to Bruce Lee, but actually he’s just another martial artist who capitalized on the success of ENTER THE DRAGON by starring in a bunch of low budget non-period-piece kung fu movies. The unique thing is that Van Clief wasn’t a Bruce Lee clone, he was more following in the footsteps of Jim Kelly.

(Now where’s the guy who got a bunch of movies ’cause he looked like John Saxon?)

Like Bruce Lee’s greatest victim, Chuck Norris, Van Clief had made his name in competitive martial arts and ran many schools before finding his way into movies. The year after ENTER THE DRAGON he starred in his first movie, and it was called BLACK DRAGON. It’s a nice idea because even if we still had the original Dragon we still might enjoy experiencing a Black Dragon. So he doesn’t so much have to pass as a worthy replacement. It’s a different thing. (read the rest of this shit…)

Royal Warriors

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

tn_royalwarriorsROYAL WARRIORS is a pretty good 1986 Michelle Yeoh vehicle directed by David Chung (cinematographer of ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA) with action choreography by Hoi Mang (YES, MADAM!, NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER).

Michelle, called Michelle Khan at the time, plays Michelle Yip, who at the beginning is visiting Japan and enjoying one of those things where Japanese youths dress up rockabilly style and dance in the street. She happens to be in the way watching a guy play barrels as drums when some gangsters come by chasing a fleeing kid. So when she sees what’s happening she goes after them, stickfighting, climbing on statues and kung fu-ing them before she whips out her badge and we learn that she’s a Hong Kong cop. (read the rest of this shit…)