"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Archive for the ‘Action’ Category

Rage and Honor

Thursday, May 5th, 2022

RAGE AND HONOR (1992) opens in black and white – first, grainy high contrast footage of the city, maybe 16mm, then camcorder footage with scanlines – following leather-jacketed Kris Fairfield (Cynthia Rothrock) in an empty high school class room, finishing up her day of work and heading home. I assumed this was a reference to the Michelle Pfeiffer tough-and-inspirational-inner-city-teacher movie DANGEROUS MINDS, which also opened in black and white, until I realized that this came out three years earlier. This is another TOP-GUN-coming-out-after-IRON-EAGLE situation. I got one very suspicious and insinuating eye on you, Mr. Bruckheimer. You’re on notice.

The biggest surprise about this movie is that after the opening it’s never relevant or mentioned that she’s a high school teacher. I was so confused by it that I reloaded the DVD two different times thinking I must’ve misinterpreted something. But it’s true – she has a classroom, a chalkboard, she leaves with papers to grade, she runs into a student named Paris (Patrick Malone, THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES) and gives him his paper, she seems to be his history teacher. It’s too bad they didn’t stick with the idea, because a Rothrock version of THE SUBSTITUTE or ONLY THE STRONG would be right up my alley. She really does seem like a cool teacher. (read the rest of this shit…)

Tiger Claws II / Tiger Claws III

Wednesday, May 4th, 2022

TIGER CLAWS II (1996) starts with part I’s Tiger Claw kung fu serial killer Chong (Bolo Yeung) in jail, and ends with him on another astral plane. During that same period the quality of the movie takes a similar journey, going from very promising to something else entirely.

Chong is sitting cross-legged on the floor of his cell when a shithead cop comes in and asks “Who’s the gorilla?” Hearing that Chong has just finished a 9 month psych evaluation and will plead insanity tomorrow, the cop (who didn’t even know who the guy was) insists “He’s not crazy!” and goes into the cell to “teach him some manners” by hitting him with a club and yelling at him.

(I do totally believe this part actually.)

Chong sits and meditates, ignoring him at first, then casually taking the club from him. Unfortunately he doesn’t do anything with it.

Meanwhile our boy Tarek (Jalal Merhi) is busting a gloriously-ponytailed arms dealer named Victor (Evan Lurie, DOUBLE IMPACT, MARTIAL LAW II, AMERICAN KICKBOXER 2). There are fiery explosions, he gets his man, but his partner dies, and while he’s distracted some guys in a white van free Victor. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Northman

Wednesday, April 27th, 2022

THE NORTHMAN is the new one from Robert Eggers (THE WITCH), his version of a badass viking revenge story. Of course that’s filtered through his arcane sensibilities, making it a cousin to David Lowery’s fantasy-by-way-of-A24 movie THE GREEN KNIGHT and, moreso, Nicolas Winding Refn’s VALHALLA RISING. It’s actually a little bit more straightforward and traditionally entertaining than either of those, or at least doesn’t descend into an abyss of strangeness with no visible exit sign. But it’s not GLADIATOR either. It won’t pass as a movie made for normal people.

It has a basis in Icelandic folklore, especially versions of the story of Amleth, which inspired Hamlet. Eggers wrote it with an Icelandic author named Sjón, who wrote REYKJAVIK WHALE WATCHING MASSACRE and LAMB, but also grew up with Bjork, co-wrote some of her songs and performed with The Sugarcubes under the name “Johnny Triumph,” so he got her to have a cameo as a prophetic witch or whatever. A significant casting coup there in my opinion. She doesn’t act that much but it would be cool if this gave her the bug again and then she got to be a villain in FAST X or something. (read the rest of this shit…)

Tiger Claws

Thursday, April 21st, 2022

TIGER CLAWS (1991) is the second film starring the Canadian Dragon (I made that name up) Jalal Merhi. After filming BLACK PEARL, a.k.a. FEARLESS TIGER, he brought along some of his cast and writer J. Stephen Maunder, hooked up with Shapiro-Glickenhaus, and kicked off Film One Productions, which produced 19 movies between 1991 and 2015, almost all of them starring or directed by Merhi.

For this first film, crucially, they hired Canadian TV director Kelly Makin, making his feature film debut. He would soon make a bigger mark directing filmed segments for The Kids in the Hall, and later their movie BRAIN CANDY. I’m guessing he’s the reason TIGER CLAWS has more wit and style than many comparable DTV action movies of the era (including this film’s sequels).

Even more crucially, Merhi was able to co-star with Cynthia Rothrock. She’d already made her mark in Hong Kong with YES, MADAM!, etc., and in the west with NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER 2, CHINA O’BRIEN I and II, the first MARTIAL LAW and even FAST GETAWAY, so I hope he realized how lucky he was to share the lead with her. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Final Master

Tuesday, April 19th, 2022

THE FINAL MASTER (2015) is the third movie from writer/director Xu Haofeng, again based on his own novel. I remember seeing a trailer for this and thinking about going to see it – man, I blew it, I could have had these great movies in my life years ago!

This one continues the stylistic and historical progression from THE SWORD IDENTITY (Ming Dynasty) and JUDGE ARCHER (1920s), taking place in the city of Tianjin starting in 1932. It explores some of the same themes of fighters navigating the staid traditions of martial arts to make sure their preferred styles can be passed on to the next generation – aging men trying to secure their legacies and young men trying to prove themselves. This one involves the last Wing Chun Grandmaster Chen (Liao Fan, BLACK COAL, THIN ICE) striking a deal with ready-to-retire Grandmaster Zheng (Chin Shi-chieh, REIGN OF ASSASSINS, THE GUILLOTINES, THE GRANDMASTER) to help him set up a school in Tianjin. (read the rest of this shit…)

Ambulance (2022)

Monday, April 18th, 2022

Over my [redacted] years of writing about movies, my relationship with the works of Michael Bay has evolved. It’s fair to say I once held hatred in my heart for them. I think I thought BAD BOYS was so-so when it first came to video (have not revisited – should I?) but THE ROCK, ARMAGEDDON and TRANSFORMERS 1 and 2 were some of the top offenders that sent me on a crusade against incomprehensible action back in the day. BAD BOYS 2 at least impressed me with its unprecedented levels of excess and aggression toward humanity, but I was young and full of hot air and worried that all movies were gonna start being hard to look at like that. Although that doesn’t stress me anymore, those movies still don’t appeal to me.

But since then I’ve watched each of Bay’s movies with more of a sense of humor about how unhinged they are, and thankfully his action has become less of a smear. The TRANSFORMERSes kinda blur together in my mind (as on screen), but checking my reviews I see it was the fourth one where he first showed he could do them with clean action. I gave it a rare 4.5 out of 5 ACR (Action Comprehensability Rating)! And I noted in my PAIN & GAIN review that having a mid-sized budget where he had to plan what shots he needed instead of shooting a giant pile of footage and chopping it into salad was a blessing. I would say the same of 13 HOURS. Finally, 6 UNDERGROUND is maybe his most entertaining mix of outlandish stupidity and incredible action spectacle. So I’ve been feeling positive about him. (read the rest of this shit…)

RRR

Friday, April 15th, 2022

RRR is a 2022 smash hit movie from India that has also been playing some multiplexes here and around the world. I would describe the basic feel of it as the most joyously over-the-top parts of American John Woo movies like HARD TARGET and BLACKJACK multiplied by the PREDATOR handshake, wrapped in the brotherhood and gravity defiance of FAST FIVE, sprinkled with the animal companionship of THE PROTECTOR, and fueled by a couple musical numbers and a show-stopping dance off against a snobby rich white guy. In other words, a strong summary of humankind’s greatest artistic achievements to date.

The title reportedly stands for “Rajamouli, Ram Charan, Rama Rao” – the names of the director and stars – though it says “Rise Roar Revolt” on the English language opening credits. Writer/director S.S. Rajamouli’s last movie was BAAHUBALI 2: THE CONCLUSION, which I also heard superlatives about and still want to see. But you know, if I was gonna watch parts 1 and 2 that’s a six hour commitment, so I didn’t get around to it. But I’m so glad I listened to the hype this time, because RRR is incredible! I kept thinking my mask was gonna slip off because I was grinning so wide. (read the rest of this shit…)

Judge Archer

Wednesday, April 13th, 2022

JUDGE ARCHER (2012) is the second film directed by martial artist/novelist/writer of THE GRANDMASTER Xu Haofeng. It’s arguably more accessible than his debut, THE SWORD IDENTITY, because it’s bigger, has way more action, and is not too hung up on realism to exaggerate the martial arts. But by the end the story had taken so many oddball turns that even I couldn’t quite follow it all.

That’s okay. It’s an unusual martial arts experience that I recommend if you’re open minded and enjoy the good things in life such as duels, arrows, swords, etc.

Song Yang (who also starred in THE SWORD IDENTITY) plays a young man who goes mad after an atrocity that has just happened when the opening titles end. We don’t have to see anything, but the way it’s depicted is horrifying: a rough wind blows through the corn fields, and three farmers stand watching as two men pin him down. Just over a hill he can hear his sister screaming, and then a guy comes over the hill, pulling his pants up, and leaves with the other two men.

Suddenly we find our guy bound and gagged in a monastery. The monks found him in a rage, blaming himself for not being able to stop the attack on his sister. They perform a ritual for him to be reborn, telling him “When you jump over the wall, the words spoken by the first person you meet will be your new name.” On his journey he hears someone yelling “Judge Archer!” followed by gun shots, so when an old monk hiding in the bushes asks him his name he says, “Judge Archer.” (read the rest of this shit…)

Reign of Assassins

Monday, April 11th, 2022

I’m an idiot so it took me more than a decade to get around to watching REIGN OF ASSASSINS (2010), even though it’s directed by John Woo. Well, sort of – it’s actually directed by Su Chao-pin (SILK [2006]), but Woo was with him the whole time to mentor him, so he got a co-director credit. He says he gave advice, but never imposed his style. And I definitely wouldn’t confuse it for his movies.

It is a pretty enjoyable wuxia movie though, and it stars Michelle Yeoh, so I’m glad I finally got my shit together.

The story concerns various killers fighting over the mummified corpse of “the powerful monk Bodhi” because, according to the narrator of the prologue, “They say that whoever possesses the Bodhi remains will rule the martial arts world.” Through some not-great illustrations and freeze frame/bullet time character introductions we learn that members of “The Dark Stone, a secret guild of the world’s deadliest assassins” killed Minister Zhang Haiduan and stole the remains, but “amidst the chaos an assassin, Shi Yu (apparently called “Drizzle” in some translations), discovers Grandmaster Bodhi’s remains and disappears into the night…” All the other assassins try to kill her to get a reward. (read the rest of this shit…)

Everything Everywhere All At Once

Wednesday, April 6th, 2022

It’s hard not to think of EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE as some kind of miracle movie. I had no idea it was something I needed, or something that anyone would think to make, until a couple months ago when the trailer came out. It stars Michelle Yeoh in her best ever English language role, a very layered character who gets to be funny and goofy and troubled and kind of an asshole but totally lovable and yes, she also does some kung fu. It co-stars Ke Huy Quan, who we knew as a child star in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM and THE GOONIES, but who hasn’t been in a movie in almost 20 years, making a triumphant return in surely his best part ever (and he also gets to fight).

It would be worth celebrating just for putting those two actors together, even if it didn’t entirely work. But this thing is much more advanced than that. Written and directed by “Daniels” (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, of SWISS ARMY MAN and various music videos), it’s a very original movie, but if I had to give it a short hand description based on other people’s work I’d go with “if Michel Gondry made THE MATRIX.” Or if that scares you, substitute Stephen Chow. It uses a convoluted sci-fi gimmick as a vehicle for some absurd humor, artfully hand-crafted imagery and outlandish action, which all weaves together to explore ideas about life and relationships and family and happiness. That title is no lie. (read the rest of this shit…)