Rare footage from the unreleased ‘Hong Kong Superstars’

"Cinema of Vengeance" DVD Cover

"Cinema of Vengeance" DVD Cover

We are pleased to share extremely rare footage from the unreleased Hong Kong Superstars video, featuring revealing English interviews and behind-the-scenes footage with some of Hong Kong’s most popular action stars.

Hong Kong Superstars was a fan magazine from the UK focusing on Hong Kong Cinema (as edited by Chris Ducker). The video magazine was modeled on what Eastern Heroes had done by branching out into making videos.

Eastern Heroes were actually set to release the Hong Kong Superstars video in 2001 under the title of Cinema of Vengeance 2. For unknown reasons this never happened and the project was shelved.

With the exception of the Donnie Yen interview, which was featured on the UK DVD release of Drunken Tai Chi, the contents of the Hong Kong Superstars video has never been seen until now – and this is thanks to Lee Mason for posting it on youtube.

Without further ado, here’s the first wave of footage: Anthony Wong’s UK visit in 1999 (click here to watch). |  Simon Yam’s UK visit in 1999 (click here to watch). | Behind-the-scenes footage from Johnnie To’s The Mission (click here to watch).

Update: 1999 interview and dance demonstration by Moon Lee (click here to watch).

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A Hard Day | Blu-ray & DVD (Kino Lorber)

"A Hard Day" Theatrical Poster

"A Hard Day" Theatrical Poster

RELEASE DATE: November 24, 2015

Kino Lorber presents the Blu-ray & DVD for A Hard Day (our review) starring Lee Sun-kyun (R-Point), Cho Jin-woong (The Spirit of JKD), Shin Jeong-Geun (The Pirates) and Jeong Man-Sik (Kundo).

Detective Geon-soo is having a hard day: in less than 24 hours, he receives a divorce notice from his wife, his mother passes away, and along with his coworkers, he becomes the focus of a police investigation over embezzlement. Making things worse, on his way to his mother’s funeral, he commits a fatal hit and run and then, hides a corpse in his deceased mother’s coffin. | Watch the trailer.

Pre-order A Hard Day from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases | Tagged | Leave a comment

‘Martial Arts Kid’ finally hits the big screen in September!

"The Martial Arts Kid" Theatrical Poster

"The Martial Arts Kid" Theatrical Poster

Don “The Dragon” Wilson (Bloodfist) and Cynthia Rothrock (Shanghai Express) are back in action in The Martial Arts Kid, a coming of age story about troubled Cleveland teen, Robbie Oakes (Jansen Panettiere), who moves to Cocoa Beach, Florida to live with his Aunt Cindy (Rothrock) and Uncle Glen (Wilson) after getting arrested in Ohio.

Upon his arrival, he meets a beautiful girl, Rina (Kathryn Newton), whose boyfriend, Bo (Matthew Ziff), has made it his personal mission to make Robbie’s life as difficult as possible. Now with something in his life to stand up for, Robbie soon finds himself learning martial arts from his Aunt and Uncle to protect himself and the people he cares about.

The Martial Arts Kid also stars newcomer Nassim Faras “Young Dragon” Lahrizi, T.J. Storm (Punisher: War Zone) and Bill “Superfoot” Wallace (The Protector). The film is directed by Michael Baumgarten (The Guest House) and features martial arts choreography by James Lew (Big Trouble in Little China). Producers include Cheryl Wheeler Duncan (Point of No Return) and James Wilson, former trainer and brother of Don.

Updates: The Martial Arts Kid will be having its World Premiere at The Burbank International Film Festival on September 12th (get your tickets here) and then will released in select theaters beginning September 18th! In case you missed it, here’s the film’s trailer.

Posted in News | 11 Comments

Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance | Blu-ray & DVD (Cinema Epoch)

"Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance" Theatrical Poster

"Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance" Theatrical Poster

RELEASE DATE: February 2, 2016

Cinema Epoch presents the Blu-ray & DVD for Gregory Hatanaka’s Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance.

25 years ago, they joined forces to take on the Yakuza in Samurai Cop (1991), now Detective Frank Washington (Mark Frazer) and Joe Marshall (Matt Hannon) are teaming up once again in Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance. This time their mission is to solve a series of assassinations being committed by a secret group of female vigilante killers.

The film also stars Mel Novak (Game of Death), Bai Ling (The Crow), Tommy Wiseau (The Room), Mindy Robinson (American Slaughter), Shawn C. Phillips (Aliens vs Titanic), Joe Estevez (Lockdown), Laurene Landon (Maniac Cop), Kristine DeBell (The Big Brawl) and adult film stars, Kayden Kross and Lexi Belle. | Watch the trailer.

Pre-order Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance from Amazon.com today!

Posted in DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles, Other Notable Titles | Tagged | 4 Comments

Indie martial arts film ‘Unlucky Stars’ gets distribution!

"Unlucky Stars" Movie Poster

"Unlucky Stars" Movie Poster

Decades later, the iconic films of Hong Kong legends Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan continue to inspire a new generation of stuntmen and filmmakers. Case in point: Unlucky Stars, an independent martial arts comedy directed by and starring Dennis Ruel.

As you can tell from the title, the film takes particular inspiration from the Lucky Stars series of films that Sammo popularized in the Eighties. Expect tongue-in-cheek humor and bone-crunching fight choreography.

You can scope out the teaser trailer for the film on YouTube. The cast includes Dennis Ruel, Ken Quitugua, Sari Sabella, Jose Montesinos, Giovannie Espiritu, and Vladislav Rimburg.

Updates: 2nd teaser. | BTS feature. | Full trailer. | New trailer.

BREAKING NEWS: We just received word that a distributor has been found for Unlucky Stars. A sales package for international markets are ready, and plans to distribute the movie in North America are underway. Stay tuned for more details! (via Paul Bramhall)

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Cityonfire.com’s ‘Wolf Warrior’ Blu-ray Giveaway!

Wolf Warrior | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Wolf Warrior | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Cityonfire.com and Well Go USA are giving away 3 Blu-ray copies of Wolf Warrior to three lucky Cityonfire visitors. To enter, simply add a comment to this post and describe, in your own words, this video.

We will be selecting a winner at random. Be sure to include your email address in the appropriate field so we can contact you for your home address. Additionally, you must ‘Like Us‘ on cityonfire.com’s Facebook by clicking here.

The Blu-ray & DVD for Wolf Warrior (read our review) will be officially released on September 1, 2015. We will announce the 3 winners on September 1, 2015 and ship out the prizes immediately.

CONTEST DISCLAIMER: You must enter by August 31, 2015 to qualify. U.S. residents only please. We sincerely apologize to our non-U.S. visitors. Winners must respond with their mailing address within 48 hours, otherwise you will automatically be disqualified. No exceptions. Contest is subject to change without notice.

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Memories of the Sword (2015) Review

"Memories of the Sword" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Memories of the Sword" Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Park Heung-Sik
Writer: Park Heung-Sik, Choi A-Reum
Cast: Lee Byung-Hun, Jeon Do-Yeon, Kim Go-Eun, Lee Joon-Ho, Lee Kyoung-Young, Kim Tae-Woo, Bae Soo-Bin
Running Time: 121 min.

By Paul Bramhall

Korean cinema continues to create some of the most original and innovative movies for audiences to enjoy, however just like many other countries, it also has a film industry that likes to follow trends. If a movie makes it big, a trail of inferior copy cats is inevitable. With the success of the 2012 blockbuster Masquerade, lavish period pieces quickly became the in thing after an absence of several years, although none of them have really captured the success of the Lee Byung-hun starring historical drama. Three years on, and Byung-hun returns to the genre with Memories of the Sword, which also marks his first Korean movie since Masquerade.

Byung-hun’s name would usually be enough to sell a title, however a scandal which he found himself at the center of in 2014, that played out very publicly, saw him fall out of favor with a lot of the Korean public. It also explains why he’s kept his focus on building a career in Hollywood, having earlier in the same year featured in Terminator Genisys. Despite this, Byung-hun is one of the most charismatic and solid actors working today, so many are no doubt happy to see him back headlining a Korean production. Here he’s paired with an actress of equal caliber in the form of Jeon Do-yeon, with Memories of the Sword marking the second time the pair have worked together, after starring in Lee Yeong-jae’s 1999 drama The Harmonium in My Memory.

Helmed by Park Heung-sik, the movie marks the directors first time at attempting a wuxia. Known for dramatic pieces such as I Wish I had a Wife and My Mother, the Mermaid (both of which starred Do-yeon), as anyone familiar with Zhang Yimou would contest, when a dramatic director turns his attention to the wuxia genre it usually wields interesting results. The anchor for Heung-sik’s piece comes in the form of Kim Go-eun, who plays the daughter of one of the Three Great Swords, a trio of heroes that once fought to overthrow the corrupt military authorities of the time. All she knows is that her father was murdered when she was still a baby, and she’s been raised by a blind tea house owner, played by Do-yeon, with the one purpose of seeking revenge against the two people responsible for her fathers death.

This may sound rather heavy, which is in stark contrast to the sunflower filled fields the movie opens with, which see Go-eun cheerily running around them without a care in the world. After jumping over a 20 foot sunflower, she enthusiastically declares that she’s finally ready to go out into the world. Several gravity defying jumps later, she forces her way into a high ranking officials fight tournament, where she proceeds to take part in a duel marred by split-second editing, crash zooms, and generally hectic camerawork. Although as an audience it’s impossible to really see what’s going on, the high ranking official, played by Byung-hun, thankfully observes enough to recognize her fighting style, and tracks her down afterwards to find out who she is.

In a nutshell, Byung-hun and Do-yeon were the other 2 members of the Three Great Swords, and used to be a happy couple. However Byung-hun betrayed them, killing Go-eun’s father, and becoming a power hungry aristocrat. Do-yeon couldn’t bring herself to kill Byung-hun when she had the chance, but she does rescue the baby of her murdered comrade, and settles on raising it to kill both herself and Byung-hun when she becomes 20. Do-yeon stays true to her word, revealing her true identity to Go-eun and how Byung-hun killed her father, and explains how she must kill both herself and Byung-hun to avenge her father’s murder.

While the above may sound like I’ve just spoiled the whole plot, including all the reveals and twists, this isn’t so, as the events described all take place within the first 30 minutes. Herein lies Memories of the Sword’s biggest problem, in that by placing all of its cards on the table so early on, for a 2 hour production it leaves itself with 90 minutes to keep us interested and engaged. Unfortunately it fails miserably at doing this.

It’s difficult to ascertain what Heung-sik, who also wrote the screenplay, was aiming for here. In many ways it almost feels like we start proceedings in the middle of the story, with the first 15 minutes being full of Byung-hun and Do-yeon working their best tortured expressions. Do-yeon often looks into the distance regretfully, Byung-hun looks sad as he keeps remembering Do-yeon’s words, such as how boiling water looks like shrimps eyes (kindly provided by Do-yeon in voiceover), but none of the pained expressions are earned. The movie has just started, so we don’t have any emotional investment yet, but Heung-sik seems to think we should be sharing their pain from the word go.

As events unfold, everyone struggles with a script that becomes increasingly preposterous, with developments that defy believability and twists which are plain laugh worthy. Even the plot begins to break down under the weight of its own logic. Go-eun has been raised in the tea house Do-yeon runs, and from the opening scene we witness that it can’t be anymore than a kilometer from where she meets Byung-hun. However later on we’re supposed to believe that Byung-hun has never seen Do-yeon for the 20 years she’s been raising Go-eun, or known her location, despite apparently living in such close proximity to each other.

Memories of the Sword’s crimes sadly don’t end there, with themes and often whole scenes being ripped from other movies. The Three Great Swords are blatantly styled after the characters of Broken Sword, Flying Snow, and Sky from Zhang Yimou’s Hero (not to mention the imagined fight sequences and distinct color schemes). The training sequence in a bamboo forest manages to do a double whammy, bringing to mind both Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the Pai Mei sequences in Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Heung-sik also plagiarizes his fellow Korean contemporaries, with an attack on an outdoor tea ceremony starting off exactly like a similar scene from A Frozen Flower, and a fight in the shadows taken almost shot-for-shot from Lee Myeong-se’s Duelist.

The action itself poses another issue, in a production already riddled with them. Poorly shot, while Byung-hun acquits himself quite well (although he admittedly has little to do), Do-yeon and Go-eun are not so lucky, with Do-yeon in particular coming out the worse. While the blame lays more with the action director than it does with her, in the action sequences she’s required to perform in her uncoordinated flaying of the sword does anything but convince she’s a master swordswoman. Go-eun also seems too slight to really convey any believability in her duels, and seems miscast in the role of a character that has their world ripped out from under them.

Despite having a cast led by two heavyweights of Korean cinema, Memories of the Sword is the perfect example of a production which, if you don’t have the quality behind the camera, no amount of quality in front of it is going to hide the cracks. Featuring a ridiculous plot, a talking parrot, and Lee Byung-hun delivering the line “I’ll never drink tea again. Never”, with a perfect poker face, Memories of the Sword is, unlike its title, best forgotten for everyone involved.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 3/10

Posted in All, Korean, News, Reviews | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Is a Van Damme-less ‘Hard Target’ sequel in the works?

"Hard Target" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Hard Target" Japanese Theatrical Poster

A Jean-Claude Van Damme-less sequel to 1993’s Hard Target is supposedly in the works by filmmaker Roel Reiné (Death Race 2-3). John Woo (The Killer), the director of the original, is set to return as the sequel’s producer. Although no lead actor is attached, Vinnie Jones (Midnight Meat Train) supposedly has a role.

According to TAE, filming will start in October and November in Thailand. The sequel will continue “the human hunt” in the jungles between Burma and Thailand. “What an honor to work for one of your idols. Hard Target 2 should be an ode to the old films John Woo made in Hong Kong,” said Reiné.

If any of this is true, we’ll keep you updated. If you haven’t already, check out our recent feature Van Damme is the most ‘remade’ action star in the world.

Posted in News | 5 Comments

Andy Lau is kidnapped in Ding Sheng’s ‘Saving Mr. Wu’

"Saving Mr. Wu" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Saving Mr. Wu" Chinese Theatrical Poster

From Ding Sheng, the director of Jackie Chan’s Little Big Solider and Police Story 2013, comes Saving Mr. Wu (aka The Strongest Competitor).

In this suspenseful crime thriller, Mr. Wu (Andy Lau), a Hong Kong movie star, is kidnapped by six criminals disguised as police officers. The story is based on the 2004 real-life celebrity kidnapping case in China.

Saving Mr. Wu also stars Liu Ye (Police Story 2013), Wang Qingyuan (Brotherhood of the Blades), Vivien Li (A Touch of Sin) and the actual “Mr. Wu” himself, Wu Ruofu.

The film opens in Chinese theaters on September 30th 2015. If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out the film’s trailer.

Posted in News | 1 Comment

Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, The (1974) Review

"The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires" Japanese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Seven Brothers Meet Dracula
Director: Roy Ward Baker, Chang Cheh
Producer: Don Houghton, Vee King Shaw
Cast: Peter Cushing, John Forbes-Robertson, David Chiang, Robin Stewart, Julie Ege, Shih Szu, Chan Shen, Tino Wong Cheung, Fung Hak On, Lau Wai Ling, Lau Kar Wing
Running Time: 89 min.

By Zach Nix

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is a fun martial arts film co-produced by the Hong Kong based Shaw Brothers and the British centric Hammer Pictures. While most action fans are familiar with the Shaw Brothers, some may not be as familiar with Hammer. Hammer Pictures was a British production company that flourished in the late 50s and 60s with their colorful and Gothic horror films that made stars out of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Technicolor classics of theirs include Horror of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein, and The Mummy, all starring Lee and Cushing.

Hammer eventually made attempts to revitalize their production company as Gothic horror went out of style in the 70s. Therefore, Hammer got in on the martial arts craze when they teamed up with the Shaw Brothers for The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. The two companies set out to produce an action film that would offer the best of what each studio had to offer, as well as two of their biggest stars: Peter Cushing (Horror of Dracula) and David Chiang (Vengeance). Even though this action/horror hybrid is a blast to watch, the film lacks the distinct qualities that made the best Hammer and Shaw films classics.

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires opens with a prologue set in 1804 in Transylvania where a man named Kah tracks down the infamous Count Dracula. Kah begs Dracula to revive the seven golden vampires in China so that their reign of terror may continue. Dracula agrees, but only if he can take over Kah’s body in order to escape his castle. The film than fast-forwards 100 years to Chung King, China where Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) lectures on a Chinese legend concerning the seven golden vampires. One of the students, Hsi Ching (David Chiang), reveals his relation to the man in Helsing’s story and proclaims the legend to be true. Ching and his seven brothers offer for Helsing, as well as his son and their new friend Vanessa (Julie Ege), the chance to travel to the village of Pang Kwei with them in order to destroy the golden vampires once and for all.

There is no denying that The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is a fun blend of Hong Kong martial arts and Hammer Gothic horror. You would be hard pressed to find any other film in existence that features hopping vampires, Peter Cushing, and martial arts. Therefore, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires excels based purely on its uniqueness and blend of genres. Unfortunately, the film is only able to represent the most superficial elements of each company, thereby lacking the strong points that made each company’s strongest films classics.

For example, a Hammer classic like The Mummy is a great film because it blends Gothic horror and monstrous action with memorable characters and deep themes. The film offers the kind of B-movie entertainment that you expect, but achieves greatness through its romanticized tone, lavish sets, and excellent costume design. The same can be said for a Shaw Brothers classic like The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. Shaolin features the death defying stunt work and jaw dropping fight choreography that you expect from a martial arts genre picture. However, the film also features strong character work and themes of enlightenment and Buddhism. Shaw, much like Hammer, blended B-movie entertainment with great filmmaking when they were at their best. Unfortunately, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires never excels beyond basic B-movie entertainment, thereby delivering the most superficial elements (i.e. the boobs and the blood) of each studio.

The cast is a lot of fun, as the film features both Peter Cushing and David Chiang in dual lead roles. Cushing portrays Van Helsing once again for Hammer as a man who has decided to move to China to look for the seven golden vampires. However, he gets more than he bargained for when he ultimately realizes that Dracula himself is behind the raising of the seven vampires. The film itself has no true connection to any previous Hammer Dracula film, even though Cushing returns as Helsing. Even Dracula himself is recast, with John Forbes-Robertson taking over for Christopher Lee. Dracula fans should be warned though that the lord of darkness only appears in the film for mere minutes.

Chiang plays Hsi Ching, a man who decides to team up with Helsing in order to rid China of vampires. Chiang doesn’t do much more than kick monster butt and destroy people left and right during his action sequences. He gets to partake in a little bit of romance with Norwegian actress Julie Ege as well. Surprisingly, even the aged Peter Cushing gets in on the action. However, his fight choreography never excels beyond anything more than swinging a flaming stake around.

I wish I could overlook Legend’s plentiful flaws and simply embrace its B-movie goodness, but I just can’t. The film suffers from extremely uneven pacing; opening with an unnecessarily long prologue, than a 100-year jump in time, followed by a lengthy flashback. This film, along with its plot and character motivations, are all over the place. After all, it takes some creative thinking to come up with a reason for Dracula to move to China of all places.

The fight sequences, while manic and bloody, are never particularly exciting or gripping. Besides an impressive bout between the seven brothers and a group of men in an open field, Legend features several uneven fights where characters either defeat their enemies with ease or fall at their hands conveniently. This unfair balance deprives the film of any danger or stakes (get it, stakes) and makes the characters’ fates all the less worrisome. Stronger action sequences, as well as more finely tuned characters, would have strengthened Legend’s action/horror hybrid proceedings.

Even though I spent most of this review bashing The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, I still recommend it to the uninitiated. The film is a fun historical gem in which two legendary and iconic companies teamed up to produce a film that offered each of their stars and genres. While most definitely a far cry from each company’s best, Legend is still a blast to watch if you turn off your brain and soak in the B-movie goodness. If anything, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires should be on your viewing list come next Halloween if you need a little action to go with your horror. Just don’t expect anything elegant or thematic. This is Hammer/Shaw schlock through and through, courtesy of the year 1974.

Zach Nix’s Rating: 6/10

Posted in All, Asian Related, Chinese, Cults & Classics, News, Reviews, Shaw Brothers | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Takashi Miike’s ‘Shield of Straw’ is getting a U.S. remake

"Shield of Straw" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Shield of Straw" Japanese Theatrical Poster

A 2013 Japanese thriller titled Shield of Straw is getting a Hollywood remake. The original, which was directed by the prolific Takashi Miike (13 Assassins), centers on a team of cops who do everything they can to protect an accused killer with a billion-yen bounty on his head.

According to Deadline, Naoaki Kitajima (producer of the original) will produce the remake alongside Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass), Andrew Miano (A Single Man) and Dan Balgoyen (Being Flynn). Creighton Rothenberger (Olympus Has Fallen) and Katrin Benedikt (London Has Fallen) have been tapped to adapt the screenplay. Currently, there is no director or stars attached.

We’ll keep you in the loop as we hear more. For now, don’t miss the original film’s trailer.

Posted in News | 2 Comments

Classic Martial Arts Collection | DVD (Echo Bridge)

Classic Martial Arts Collection | DVD (Echo Bridge)

Classic Martial Arts Collection | DVD (Echo Bridge)

RELEASE DATE: October 6, 2015

Echo Bridge Entertainment presents the 4-Disc DVD set for The Classic Martial Arts Collection (aka Bruce and Brandon Lee Action Pack), which contains 19 movies. Why they didn’t make it an even 20 is beyond us.

Like most of these “budget” kung fu complications, Bruce is once again all over the artwork, but the closest thing it has to an actual Bruce Lee movie is The Real Bruce Lee. But hey, at least you get a Brandon Lee flick (Hint: it rhymes with blazer magician). See comments section below (or click here) for its full title list.

Pre-order the Classic Martial Arts Collection from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles | 4 Comments

Steven Seagal, Georges St. Pierre and Luke Goss battle drug dealers in Keoni Waxman’s ‘Killing Salazar’

"Absolution" Japanese DVD Cover

"Absolution" Japanese DVD Cover

At this point, we’re pretty sure Steven Seagal holds the record for having the most action films on his to-do/in-progress list. Director and frequent Seagal-collaborator Keoni Waxman (Absolution, Force of Execution) is currently on post-production phase for an upcoming flick titled Killing Salazar.

The film also stars MMA’s Georges St Pierre (Kickboxer: Vengeance) and Luke Goss (Tekken). Seagal’s role is rumored to be more of an extended cameo than the lead role, which doesn’t surprise us considering the bundle of products he has on his plate.

Here’s what you can expect from its plot: An elite team of DEA agents are assigned to protect a dangerous drug lord and take refuge in a luxury hotel while they await extraction. They soon find themselves at the center of an ambush as the drug lord’s former associates launch an explosive assault on the hotel.

Other Seagal film in the works include Code of Honor, Under Siege 3, Cypher, Perfect Weapon, The Asian ConnectionEnd of a Gun and Four Tours. As for Killing Salazar – we’ll keep you updated as we hear more. Stay tuned!

Posted in News | 1 Comment

Assassination (2015) Review

"Assassination" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Assassination" Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Choi Dong-hun
Writer: Choi Dong-hun, Lee Gi-Cheol
Cast: Jeon Ji-hyeon, Lee Jung-Jae, Ha Jung-Woo, Cho Jin-Woong, Choi Duk-Moon, Oh Dal-Su, Heo Ji-Won, Lee Kyoung-Young, Kim Eui-Sung, Park Byung-Eun, Jin Kyung, Kim Hong-Fa, Jung In-Gyeom, Kim Hae-Sook
Running Time: 139 min.

By Paul Bramhall

Director Choi Dong-hoon has built up an impressive resume since he burst onto the scene with the heist thriller The Big Swindle in 2003. With each successive movie, both the budget and the stakes have increased, with his last effort, 2013’s The Thieves, ticking all the boxes of what audiences want to see from a summer blockbuster. Assassination sees him return to the director’s chair once more to try his hand at something a little different, with a piece that revolves around espionage and spies set in 1930’s Japan occupied Korea and China.

Dong-hoon obviously clicked with a lot of the actors who worked with him on The Thieves, as a total of four key cast members return for similarly significant roles in his latest effort. Jeon Ji-hyeon takes the lead, in what can really be considered her first headlining role since 2009’s ill fated adaptation of Blood: The Last Vampire, with Lee Jeong-jae, Oh Dal-soo, and Kim Hae-sook all back on board as well. Rounding off an impressive cast are Ha Jeong-woo, Jo Jin-woong, and Choi Deok-moon.

The seven players I’ve named above though are just the tip of the iceberg, as Assassination throws a whole heap of characters into the mix, all with their own agendas and intentions, wrapped around a sprawling 140 minute runtime. Thankfully this isn’t the first time Dong-hoon has juggled so many elements at once, as demonstrated by The Thieves, which sported an identical run time and just as many characters entering in and out of proceedings. While under a lesser director Assassination could easily become an unruly mess, Dong-hoon shows an assured hand with his fifth movie, and keeps things moving along at a brisk pace.

Book marked by scenes which take place in 1949, the central story takes place in 1933. A trio of independence fighters (Ji-hyeon, Jin-woong, and Deok-moon) are brought together in Shanghai and given a mission to assassinate several high ranking Japanese officials, as well as a Korean who’s working for Japan, in Seoul. Little do they know though that the man who hired them, played by Jeong-jae, is in fact also working for the Japanese, who pays two guns for hire to take the trio out. The pair of hired guns, played by Jeong-woo and Dal-soo, believe they’re going to be killing Japanese sympathizers, setting the stage for double-crossings, revelations, and a healthy dose of action.

There’s been a streak of highly patriotic Korean movies of late, driven by the likes of The Admiral: Roaring Currents, which paint the Japanese as evil stereotypes devoid of any humanity. Assassination continues this theme, however it deserves points for making the decision to have many of the central villains actually be Koreans who’ve decided to work for the Japanese. It gives the movie a welcome layer of complexity, as the central trio are essentially going to kill their fellow countrymen, rather than a one dimensional Japanese villain who simply acts as a plot device to give a cheaply earned happy ending.

When I say welcome layer of complexity, it’s really because Assassination is first and foremost about delivering a series of high octane set pieces. Dong-hoon showed a considerable grasp of how to put together big budgeted action in The Thieves, and Assassination builds on the promise that was shown in his previous effort with a variety of entertaining sequences. Despite it’s lengthy run time, you’re never too far away from a shootout or vehicle chase. Ji-hyeon acquits herself especially well, often front and center in many of the action scenes. Whether it be running down a street while firing a machine gun, armed with a pistol while strapped into a wedding dress, or running across rooftops while wielding a sniper rifle, she conducts herself with aplomb, and is never anything less than convincing.

Indeed the action on display in Assassination sets a new bar for the quality of what we expect to see out of a Korean action flick. The many shootouts show a touch of John Woo, only without the slow motion, with surroundings being blown away and splintered by countless bullets, all with a satisfying absence of CGI. This can be appreciated the most in an extended action scene that takes place inside a grand wedding hall, which sends bullets and grenades in every direction, resulting in gratuitous amounts of collateral damage that will leave any action fan smiling. Ha Jeong-woo also gets to further develop his action persona after satisfying turns in Kundo: Age of the Rampant and The Berlin File (in which Ji-hyeon also starred), here getting to channel his inner Chow Yun Fat as he brandishes some double fisted pistol firepower.

Some viewers may draw comparisons to Kim Ji-woon’s The Good, The Bad, The Weird, in that the era and feel of both movies strike similar chords, utilizing their respective environments to allow for a series of impressive set pieces. Assassination even sees Dal-soo getting involved in a chase sequence that sees him behind the handlebars of a motorbike with an attached sidecar, a scene which will no doubt draw comparisons to the finale of Ji-woon’s western with Song Kang-ho riding an identical vehicle. However both movies stand up on their own, and if anything would make for a great double bill of Korean action.

If any criticism can be held against Assassination, it’s that the number of plot threads which are set up ultimately result in the movie lasting an additional 10 minutes beyond the point which seemed like its natural ending. While the closing minutes are by no means an after-thought, following on from the adrenalin rush of what’s come before, it’s a shame the threads couldn’t be resolved any earlier. However this is a minor gripe in what’s arguably one of the most satisfying action movies of 2015. The fact that it’s bolstered by a solid plot, which doesn’t just rely on going through the motions to get to the next big set piece, is a bonus.

Starring a sizable percentage of Korea’s top talents, high end production values, and a cast which gets to speak Korean, Mandarin, Japanese, and French, Assassination provides a rich history lesson that just happens to be told within the framework of bullets, explosions, and stunts. If only history was always this exciting.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 8.5/10

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Quentin Tarantino: ‘Kill Bill Vol. 3′ is not off the table…

"Kill Bill Vol. 1" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Kill Bill Vol. 1" Japanese Theatrical Poster

While promoting The Hateful 8 at this year’s recent Comic-Con, Quentin Tarantino opened up about a potential Kill Bill Vol. 3. According to Collider, Tarantino intimated that it was a definite possibility and that Uma Thurman was definitely up for another round as The Bride.

The 3rd installment of Tarantino’s Kill Bill saga – and even some prequels – have been rumored for years. According to Thurman, an unfinished script does exist. There was even some talk of it being done entirely in Anime-form. In the past, Daryl Hannah confirmed a Vol. 3 was happening. Vivica Fox, who is about to reignite her career with an ID4 sequel, has expressed interest in returning for a cameo.

Updates: When Vulture asked Tarantino about some of his potential/rumored movies – Killer Crow, The Vega Brothers, and the Django/Zorro crossover – here’s what he had to say: “No. I don’t think I’m going to do Killer Crow anymore, but that’s the only one that could possibly be done.” But when asked if Kill Bill Vol. 3 was off the table, he responded: “No, it’s not off the table, but we’ll see.” Also, Tarantino cites Wai Ka-Fai’s Too Many Ways to Be No. 1 as one of his favorite “imitator” films. – Thanks to The gZa for the scoop!

And of course, we’ll keep you updated on Vol. 3 as we hear more!

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Deal on Fire! Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman Collection | Blu-ray | Only $97.99 – Expires soon!

"Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman" Blu-ray Set

"Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman" Blu-ray Set

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray set for Criterion Collection’s Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman film collection. This deluxe set features a string of 25 Zatoichi films, made between 1962 and 1973, in one complete package. That’s about $3.90 a movie.

In addition, you also get a 1978 documentary about Shintaro Katsu, an interview with Asian-film critic Tony Rayns, trailers for all films, new English subtitle translations, plus a book featuring an essays, short stories and 25 new illustrations, not to mention DVD versions of all the films.

Order the Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman Collection from Amazon.com today!

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Exclusive: In the Cinema Lounge with Shin Su-won

In a man’s world, director Shin Su-won has created a distinct voice for herself within the Korean film industry, and by all accounts her latest movie, Madonna, should further establish her name as a considerable talent on a global level. Madonna was chosen to premiere in Australia as part of the 2015 Korean Film Festival, and Su-won, with producer Lim Chung-geun, flew in to attend the screening.

This year isn’t the first time the pair have attended the festival, as in 2013 they also made the trip down under to premiere both her 2nd full length feature, Pluto, and her short film, Circle Line. Back then, through a series of random events (it’s all covered here) I’d ended up knocking back pints of Guinness in an Irish pub with Su-won and Chung-geun, along with the actress from Pluto, Kim Kko-bbi, so it was good to see them return a couple of years on.

"Passerby #3" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Passerby #3" Korean Theatrical Poster

Su-won took an unusual path into the world of film, having begun her working life as a school teacher, which she remained as for 10 years. After writing a couple of books, she decided to change her career and become a novelist, enrolling at the Korea National University of Arts. Instead of becoming a novelist though, while studying she gradually fell in love with the medium of film, and changed her major to screenwriting.

At the age of 34 she quit her teaching position, and decided to become a film director. No easy feat in such a competitive industry. Using ₩25 million from her own pension, in 2007 she set upon working on her feature length debut, which came to fruition in 2010 with the release of Passerby #3, the story of a thirty-something woman trying to break into the film industry, derived from her own experiences.

Interestingly, just like director Kim Sung-ho (read my interview with him) who was also in attendance at this years festival, Su-won was approached by the Korean government to direct a segment for the 2012 omnibus movie Fighting! Family. The government commissioned production was created to draw the population’s attention to Korea’s low birthrate, with the end goal of encouraging people to, well, reproduce more. Su-won wrote and directed Circle Line, the rather dark tale of a recently laid off man who aimlessly travels the city train loop, and upon submitting her piece it was flatly refused to be included. Undeterred, Su-won took the short to Cannes, where it won the Canal+ Prize for best short film, and ultimately was included as part of the omnibus feature Modern Family.

Su-won is certainly no stranger to the festival scene. Her debut Passerby #3 won the JJ-Star Award at the 11th Jeonju International Film Festival, and the Best Asian-Middle Eastern Film award at the 23rd Tokyo International Film Festival. Her sophomore feature Pluto premiered at the 17th Busan International Film Festival, and Shin received a special mention at the Generation 14plus Section of the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival. And now her latest, Madonna, was invited to screen in the Un Certain Regard section of the 68th Cannes Film Festival. For a director with only 3 full length features under her belt, that’s a lot of attention from the global circuit, and it’s rightly deserved.

Seo Young-Hee in "Madonna"

Seo Young-Hee in "Madonna"

Madonna tells the tale of a nurse assistant, played by Seo Yeong-hee, working in an exclusive hospital for the wealthy. When the son of an elderly comatose patient, who happens to be one of the hospitals benefactors, discovers that his father needs a new heart, he becomes determined to use a brain dead Jane Doe for the transplant, and approaches Yeong-hee to find her family. As Yeong-hee begins delving into the past of the mysterious patient, played by newcomer Kwon So-hyeon and nicknamed Madonna, she unfurls a tragic tale of a struggling young woman, and the many difficulties that she faced in life.

Su-won was in serious demand during her brief visit to Sydney, but I was lucky enough to sit down with her for 20 minutes before the screening of the movie, to catch up and do my own delving into her career so far.

Paul Bramhall: Director Shin, welcome back to Sydney. I’ll get the most important question out of the way first, do you remember when you were here a couple of years ago and we ended up drinking together after the movie forum?

Shin Su-won: Ah yes, I remember you! We drank together with producer Lim and Kim Kko-bbi, it’s good to see you again.

PB: Likewise, now I wanted to ask you about your movies so far.  Passerby #3 focused on a struggling mother, Pluto focused on a struggling student, and Madonna focuses on a struggling young woman. Are the struggles of the less fortunate in Korean society something you find particularly interesting to create stories from?

David Park, Shin Su-won and author, Paul Bramhall.

David Park, Shin Su-won and author, Paul Bramhall.

SSW: Well I guess there are two types of filmmakers, there are the filmmakers who like to focus on the positive side of life and work with happy characters, but for me I find it more interesting to focus on those who are less fortunate and have somewhat troubled lives, as these types of character allow me to create more meaningful films.

PB: I see, and with the title of Madonna it obviously brings to mind the image of Mary with the baby Jesus. Of course in 2012 Kim Ki-duk made Pieta, which likewise brings to mind the image of Mary, but she’s with the dead body of Jesus. Is this comparative religious aspect of your movie something you thought people would read into?

SSW: Yes, now that you bring it up it is interesting. I remember the ending of Pieta was very good, and director Kim Ki-duk constructed a very masterful scene, but I would say my movie definitely has a different theme to Pieta. For me the biggest difference with Madonna is that it focuses on the relationship between two women, and I think people will realize this when they watch it.

In my film it’s about an assistant nurse, the main character, who is trying to uncover the past of the comatose patient, Madonna. Then through this journey it begins her healing process, even though she’s a character who’s clearly in the lowest tier of society, what she discovers allows her to find her own meaning in life. In that sense it’s very different to Pieta, as even though the son is also trying to discover his mothers past and where she’s been, the focus on the son and mother dynamic makes it very different from the relationship in my film.

"Madonna" Theatrical Poster

"Madonna" Theatrical Poster

PB: Madonna stars Seo Young-hee, who is no stranger to playing female leads and had a memorable role in Bedevilled, but Kwon So-hyeon on the other hand has never acted before. Was it tricky to find the balance between such an experienced actress, and someone who has had no experience at all?

SSW: Hmm, Seo Young-hee was obviously very experienced, but in films she’s starred in such as The Chaser and Bedevilled, her roles required her to really overact and be very dramatic, whereas in my film she had to express herself in a very realistic and emotional way, with many subtle expressions. So in that sense she had a difficult time trying to adjust to this new form of acting that was required of the character. In a way it was also like Seo Young-hee was a first time actor, due to the nature of the role.

On the other hand Kwon So-hyeon was in a role that required some very dramatic and intense acting, kind of like how Seo Young-hee was in Bedevilled. So there were some very hard scenes for her, as an example there’s the scene were she is sexually assaulted, and we filmed it in one single take. But she had a real passion about her role, and was very passionate about her acting, so with it being her very first time she really tried harder than I believe many other actresses would. I worked with her for one month before we started shooting, to make sure she was well prepared for the role.

In the film both actresses don’t really meet as such, so this allowed me to find that balance when I was working with each actress individually.

PB: Now it’s often said that the Korean film industry is very male dominated, and that it’s difficult for female directors to make the movies they want to. However recently we’ve seen some strong female talent coming out of Korea, of course yourself, and we also had director Jeong Joo-ri who made A Girl at my Door with Bae Doo-na and Kim Sae-ron. Do you think it’s becoming easier for women in the industry to make their voice heard?

"Pluto" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Pluto" Korean Theatrical Poster

SSW: I still believe there’s a long way to go in the Korean film industry until men and women are treated the same, but I feel like this problem isn’t just limited to the Korean film industry, it’s an issue in many film industries worldwide. There are a lower number of female directors comparative to male, because of that perception that it’s a very male orientated field of work. I find a lot of the women working in the film industry are there in supportive roles, rather than that of someone who makes important decisions in the creative process, so it still seems very much to be a mans world.

That being said, I do feel that Korea has become much better than it was before, there are many more positions and avenues now for women to express themselves than there were even just a few years ago. So even though the image of the industry is still a very macho one, it’s an image which is gradually fading, which is allowing more female directors to shine and show their talent. While we’re still not where we want to be, things have gotten better.

PB: I saw that in the year your debut movie was released, Passerby #3, you also adapted the story for director Lee Hyeon-seung’s Hindsight which starred Song Kang-ho. As a gangster thriller, this movie is quite different to the type of material you normally work with, so how did you get involved?

SSW: So for Hindsight it was only an adaptation, it wasn’t a movie that I was also going to direct. I guess like I mentioned earlier, my role in this movie was more of a supportive one, and before I wrote Passerby #3, I’d already had some experience of writing various action and comedy films, so it wasn’t new territory for me to be involved in this type of production. The key point here for me is that it really was just a supportive role, I wasn’t heavily involved in the making of the movie itself. It was mainly in the capacity of providing ideas and attending meetings, so even though it wasn’t really my style, for me this was ok because I knew I wasn’t going to be directing it.

"Hindsight" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Hindsight" Korean Theatrical Poster

PB: Now I know you have a potential new movie lined up, Blue Sunset, which would be a co-production between Korea, Australia, and France. I read that the majority of this story would be filmed right here in Sydney, so can you tell us a little about how you’re progressing with this feature?

SSW: Wow, where did you hear about this!?

PB: It was listed in the Busan International Film Festival’s Asian Film Market, and I read that it won the KOCCA Award (this is a funding prize to gain money for production).

SSW: Oh, I see! Well, at the moment I still haven’t received enough funding to go ahead with the film, however the script is almost finished, and I’d like to cast some high profile actors before proceeding with the more technical details. If I can get a good cast together, then I’m confident that we’ll be able to shoot, but if this turns out to not be possible, it’ll take longer to get the production off the ground.

PB: Well I hope with the success of Madonna you’ll be able to make it a reality, and thank you very much for your time.

SSW: You’re welcome, and please enjoy the movie.

A big thanks to David Park for arranging and acting as a translator during the interview.

The Korean Film Festival of Australia runs from August 12th – September 27th spanning six cities, so if you’re down under, make sure you get to one of the many screenings being shown this year. For more details, visit koffia.com.au.

To read more of our interviews, please click here.

Posted in Features, Interviews, News | Leave a comment

Mark Chao battles terror in ‘Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe’!

"Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe" Chinese Theatrical Poster

What does a dragon corpse, a hidden palace, an exhumed mummy and some bizarre fossils have in common? They’re all part of Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe, an ucpoming thriller directed by Lu Chuan (City of Life and Death).

Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe is based on Zhang Muye’s best-selling novel Ghosts Blows Out the Light, which revolves around a group of tomb raiders and their mysterious adventures in ancient tombs.

The film stars Mark Chao (Young Detective Dee), Yao Chen (Firestorm), Rhydian Vaughan, Li Chen, Tiffany Tang, Guangjie Li and Daniel Feng.

Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe hits Chinese theaters on October 1st, 2015 in 3D. Don’t miss the trailer!

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Shaw Brothers titles invade Netflix with a vengeance!

"The Kid with the Golden Arm" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"The Kid with the Golden Arm" Chinese Theatrical Poster

We have some great news for martial arts movie fans with a Netflix account. Last month, the popular streaming service added a pack of classic Shaw Brothers titles to their digital library – and just recently, they’ve added a fistful more!

The following is a full list of Shaw brothers titles that are currently streaming on Netflix. All movies are in Chinese with English subtitles:

Avenging Eagle (1978): Sun Chung’s Avenging Eagle proves that the Shaw Brothers were still at the top of their game, even toward the end of their movie-making empire. With its charismatic leading actors (Ti Lung and Alexander Fu Sheng), witty rapport, hateful villains, and out-of-this-world weaponry, this one is a definite source of delight for the old-school kung fu fan.

Come Drink with Me (1966): Come Drink With Me is one entertaining film. King Hu’s direction is top notch. The cinematography is beautiful. The sets are visually lavish. Its innovation and influence reflects many popular martial arts movies of today. Cheng Pei Pei is the real deal – we’re not sure what it is about her, but she pulls off a believable kung fu fighting babe with grace and style!

Disciples of the 36th Chamber (1985): Disciples Of The 36th Chamber is one of the all time best films of the genre! This was essentially the last of the fantastic films to come from director Lau Kar Leung and the amazing cast (Hsiao Ho, Gordon Liu and Lily Li Li Li just to name a few…) from the Shaw Brothers. If the time had to come to an end for the most talented cast, this film is an excellent way to say goodbye to the viewers.

Executioners From Shaolin (1977): Executioner From Shaolin is one of the quirkier Shaw Brothers movies. What begins as a tale of blood-thirsty revenge slows down to become at times a romantic comedy and domestic drama. But it still has the classic training sequences that you expect from director Lau Kar-leung and one of hell of a bad guy in Pai Mei (Lo Lieh). One of Chen Kuan Tai’s best!

Five Shaolin Masters (1974): Chang Cheh’s Five Shaolin Masters (David Chiang, Ti Lung, Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan Chun and Meng Fei) is action-packed from beginning to end. It features the occasional artsy dash, livens up the narrative by splitting up into different storylines, and features great choreography – all of which was overseen by Lau Kar Leung himself.

Heroes of the East (1978): You can almost call it The War of the Roses meets Kung Fu with its silly, but smart, plot that revolves around a newlywed couple – a Japanese woman (Yuko Mizuno) and Chinese man (Gordon Liu) – who are constantly challenging each other to prove which is better: Chinese Kung Fu or Japanese Karate/Ninjitsu. A classic from Lau Kar Leung!

Kid With The Golden Arm (1978): A fast-paced adventure from director Chang Cheh. There’s not a single dull minute. Insane plotting and many lead characters guarantee you’ll never know who’s going to be killed next, and by who. The spectacular battles are absolutely stunning, especially impressive being of course the final showdown between drunk master Hai To (Kuo Chui) and the high-kicking Iron Feet (not going to tell you who he is…).

Martial Arts of Shaolin (1986): Lau Kar Leung’s Martial Arts of Shaolin is worth a watch for Jet Li fans since you get to see the actor when he was first emerging as a star, fresh-faced and lightning fast. After about 30 minutes of training sequences, the excellently-choreographed battles kick in and rarely let up. Jet gives an earnest, wide-eyed performance and shows off his incredible martial arts skills.

Shaolin Martial Arts (1974): In Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Martial Arts, two Shaolin practioners (Alexander Fu Sheng and Chi Kuan Chung) perfect their kung fu skills to seek revenge on the baddies responsible for wiping out their clan. One of Fu Sheng’s earliest projects for the Shaw Brothers!

We’ll do our best to keep this list updated as more Shaw Brothers titles are added. If you’re not subscribed to Netflix, what are you waiting for? You get all of these movies, plus more, for the monthly price of a Panda Express combo meal.

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Vin Diesel starts filming ‘xXx 3′ in Philippines this December!

"xXx" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"xXx" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Whether you want it or not, a third xXx sequel (tentatively titled xXx: The Return of Xander Cage) starts production this December in the Philippines. The film will be directed by Ericson Core (Point Break remake) with Vin Diesel reprising the role of Xander, the extreme sports-lovin’ secret agent who likes his Mountain Dew shaken, not stirred.

The 2002 film received mixed reviews, but ultimately raked in enough bucks to warrant 2005′s xXx 2: State of the Union, with Ice Cube filling in Diesel’s shoes.

Even with all the action-packed “agent” films exploding on big screens as of late – not to mention Diesel’s bankable repertoire – news of xXx 3 is still bizarre. But as always, we’ll keep you posted on any developments.

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Z Storm (2014) Review

"Z Storm" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Z Storm" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: David Lam
Writer: Ho Wa Wong, David Lam
Cast: Louis Koo, Gordon Lam, Lo Hoi Pang, Liu Kai Chi, Michael Wong Man Tak, Dada Chan Ching, Janelle Sing Kwan, Patrick Keung, Felix Lok Ying Kwan
Running Time: 92 min.

By Kyle Warner

Slowly Hong Kong cinema seems to be making a comeback. Our favorite directors and stars keep giving us reasons to hope so, anyway. 2014’s Z Storm has the gloss and star power to inspire more confidence in this recent upswing, but sadly it’s a disappointing thriller, one that’s best enjoyed by surveying its good-looking promotional materials instead of actually sitting down to watch the thing.

David Lam came out of retirement to direct Z Storm (his last directorial effort was 1999’s Street Angels). I’m no fan of David Lam’s but I tend to root for an artist who makes their return to their chosen craft after a long absence. Fellow Hong Kong director Ringo Lam just made his long-awaited return to the director’s chair for his new film Wild City and the general consensus is that he hasn’t lost a step in his time away from filmmaking. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for David Lam, who squanders impressive production values and a talented cast with dull direction, sloppy cinematography, and a story that fails to excite (the director also has a story credit for Z Storm). To put it simply, David Lam still seems a bit rusty.

Louis Koo (SPL II) plays the lead investigator of an ICAC unit (that’s the Independent Commission Against Corruption) that’s looking into the attractive Z Hedge Fund that’s primed to go public in a week’s time. The Z Hedge Fund is feared to be a Bernie Madoff type of financial scheme. Standing in the investigation’s way is a crooked cop (Gordon Lam) and a slimy lawyer (Michael Wong) who are helping the Z Hedge Fund along and blackmailing everyone that can’t be bought. As Koo’s team gets closer, witnesses start getting bumped off, and powerful people do whatever they can to turn things around and make the ICAC look like the bad guys.

That actually sounds like a film I’d normally enjoy but David Lam and screenwriter Ho-Wa Wong (Lawyer Lawyer) never find a way to make their story even remotely compelling. Their take on white-collar crime is often either boring or vague. The film has a ticking clock scenario where we see how many days are left before the ICAC agents must crack the case, always accompanied by bombastic music and sped-up time-lapse photography, and it seems to suggest that the filmmakers think this is all terribly exciting. But it’s not. Sometimes it’s not even entirely clear what the stakes are in the first place.

Things would be better if there was a character to root for but the ICAC agents are incorruptible and pure, which makes them all boring and unbelievable. Louis Koo’s become a very capable actor and is one of the more reliable leading men in Asian cinema, but he does nothing with the character and ends up being little more than a name on a poster to help sell the movie.

You have to wait until the final twenty minutes of the movie before you get your first action sequence. The biggest set piece is a car chase, which looks decent but falls flat because, by this point, who cares? In this car chase, our hero Louis Koo spends the entire sequence buckled up safely in the backseat of a car, only occasionally shifting from side to side as the car swerves. It’s almost like they purposefully never gave Louis Koo anything interesting to say or do.

Bad guys Gordon Lam and Michael Wong have a bit more fun. When they’re on screen the film becomes more entertaining, though it’s not always intentional. Gordon Lam’s cop is so crooked and obvious that one wonders how it took people this long to catch on to his lying ass. The actor has some fun in the part and an interrogation sequence where he has all the right answers is probably the film’s dramatic highlight. Michael Wong does his usual thing where he jumps between Cantonese to English like two radio stations cutting into your signal competing for your attention. Wong’s performance as the evil lawyer is kind of goofy, using big gestures and exaggerated line readings to sell his part. Wong has one line in English that the editor should’ve noticed was actually a flubbed line (“Do you know what the hell does that mean?!”) and it gave me a good laugh to see it in the final cut. Also amusing is that the film thinks Zorro was a real-life historical figure and not a fictional character…

It’s worth noting that 2014 was the 40th anniversary of the ICAC’s inception. By the end of the film, I was less sure that I’d watched a crime thriller and more certain that I’d just seen a long, ponderous recruitment video. At the end when the heroes are walking towards the camera like they’re getting ready to shoot the cover for their debut album, one of them says, “Where there is corruption, there’s the ICAC,” and somehow manages to keep a straight face. I half-expected a telephone number to appear at the bottom of the screen so that I could call and enroll. I probably would’ve called, too. I must join these magnificent, incorruptible badasses and finally put a stop to Michael Wong!… Or not.

Z Storm has enough money behind it that it’s clear that someone really wanted to see this film get made. The final result has the look and feel of a failed TV pilot, one that boasts an impressive cast and production values, but the men in charge had no idea what to do with it. The film even features an unresolved plot thread at the end which hints at more to come. No, thank you.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 4/10

Posted in All, Chinese, News, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Has George Nolfi’s ‘Birth of the Dragon’ found its Bruce Lee?

"Enter the Dragon" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Enter the Dragon" Japanese Theatrical Poster

A new Hollywood film about Bruce Lee titled Birth of the Dragon is in the works. The movie will take a look at the life of legendary martial artist and movie star Bruce Lee, using Lee’s disputed bout with Master Wong Jack-Man as the centerpiece of the story.

There’s some speculation that this could lead to a Rashomon-like structure to Birth of the Dragon since there are so many varying accounts of how the fight between Bruce Lee and Master Wong went down.

This isn’t the first time Hollywood has explored the legend of Bruce Lee. Perhaps the most well known example is 1993′s Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, a heavily dramatized biopic from The Fast and the Furious director Rob Cohen that featured Jason Scott Lee (Time Cop 2) in the lead role.

If you’re worried about Hollywood once again playing fast and loose with the facts of Bruce Lee’s life, you can at least be assured that Birth of the Dragon has some decent pedigree behind it: screenwriters Christopher Wilkinson and Stephen Rivele previously wrote Nixon and Ali.

Updates: Variety reports that filmmaker George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau) will be directing Birth of the Dragon. The next big question is: Who will be playing Bruce Lee?

According to Deadline.com, Shannon, daughter Bruce Lee, is teaming up with producer Janet Yang (Joy Luck Club), Lawrence Grey (Last Vegas) and Ben Everard (Walt Before Mickey) to make the definitive biopic on Lee. “There have been projects out there involving my father, but they’ve lacked a complete understanding of his philosophies and artistry,” Lee said. And according to Grey: “We will bring on a world class filmmaker and writer, who’ll work with Shannon and myself and then we will talk to American and foreign partners.”

Birth of the Dragon is officially in search for the role of Bruce Lee. According to PC (via FCS): “Casting directors are looking for a young Bruce Lee between the ages of 20 to 30 years old. An experienced martial artist highly desired but not required.”

BREAKING NEWS: Has George Nolfi’s Birth of the Dragon found its Bruce? Not yet, but it has been confirmed that Mike Moh (Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist) has been approached. Here’s what Moh said on his FB page (via FCS): “Hey everyone I am being considered for the role of Bruce Lee in the upcoming film Birth of the Dragon. I am confident that I’m the best man for the job.” Curious? Here’s a photo of him. We wish Moh the best of luck!

Posted in News | 7 Comments

Robin Shou, Simon Rhee and Jason Yee show their ‘Way’

"Furious" Theatrical Poster

"Furious" Theatrical Poster

Currently in post-production is Lou Pizarro’s Way of the Empty Hand (literal translation of “karate”), an upcoming martial arts flick starring Robin Shou (Interpol Connection, Mortal Kombat), Simon Rhee (Furious, Best of the Best), Jason Yee (The Girl from the Naked Eye), as well as a bit part from Jackie Chan Stunt Team member, Andy Cheng (Who Am I?).

Unfortunately, there are no additional details about Way of the Empty Hand, but with the talents of Shou, Rhee, Yee and Cheng in the picture, what else is there to know?

We’ll keep you updated on this project as we hear more, until then here’s a couple of production photos (via Guerra) from the set of Way of the Empty Hand. Stay tuned!

Posted in News | 1 Comment

Deal on Fire! 13 Assassins | Blu-ray | Only $7.99 – Expires soon!

13 Assassins Blu-ray/DVD (Magnolia)

13 Assassins Blu-ray/DVD (Magnolia)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins. This ultra-violent tale is remake of Eiichi Kudo’s 1963 black-and-white Japanese film of the same name.

Like cityonfire.com’s HKFanatic says: “If you’re reading this and you haven’t seen 13 Assassins yet, you’ve got to get your priorities straight. This film is a legitimate modern classic and is guaranteed to go down as one of the best samurai movies of the past 20 years. True, Japan doesn’t make as many as they used but Takashi Miike has earned his place among the best. And here we never even suspected he had it in him.”

Order 13 Assassins from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Deals on Fire!, News | Leave a comment

New poster for Scott Adkins martial arts flick ‘Close Range’

"Close Range" Theatrical Poster

"Close Range" Theatrical Poster

Action filmmaker Isaac Florentine (Ninja 2: Shadow of a Tear) and martial arts star Scott Adkins team up for the eighth time in Close Range.

Adkins (Assassination Games) stars as Colton MacReady, a man left vulnerable by a corrupt sheriff and his men while cornered in his own ranch and forced to protect his family from a blood-thirsty drug cartel after rescuing his niece from their capture.

The pair is also expected to make Undisputed 4, where Adkins will reprise his Yuri Boyka character. There are currently no other casting details for either projects, but we’ll keep you in the loop as we hear more.

UpdatesClose Range, which just wrapped up production last week, will be getting its US distribution handled by XLrator Media (Dead Mine, Found). Stay tuned for the film’s release date! | Watch a teaser (fight clip) from Close Range, courtesy of Ed Bailey.

BREAKING NEWS: Check out the film’s newest poster (via Twitch). In cast you haven’t yet, watch the film’s latest trailer!

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Dragon’s Snake Fist, The (1981) Review

"The Dragon's Snake Fist" Theatrical Poster

"The Dragon's Snake Fist" Theatrical Poster

AKA: Iron Head
Director: Kim Si Hyeon
Producer: Kang Dae Jin
Cast: Dragon Lee (Mun Kyong-sok), Yuen Qiu, Chui Man Fooi, Gam Kei Chu, Bruce Lai, Kim Young Suk, Seo Jeong-Ah, Moon Jeong Kum, Gam Gei-Fan
Running Time: 83 min.

By Martin Sandison

In the barren wasteland of UK DVD releases of classic kung fu films, one company has taken it upon themselves to be a beacon of light. The company called Terracotta has worked tirelessly to promote Asian film in the last few years, with a film festival in London every May and now a platform for DVD releases.

Their most recent release is The Dragon’s Snake Fist (aka Disciple of Yong-mun Depraved Monk), a pretty rare old school kung fu film shot in South Korea with a combination of Hong Kong and South Korean talent. The star Dragon Lee is my favourite Bruce Lee imitator, and here he shows his acting and martial arts chops are up to a good standard. I found it difficult to surmise if the director of the film is actually the notorious Godfrey Ho, as many South Korean productions of the time attached his name for publicity purposes, when in fact he had nothing to do with them. Also some sources credit a co-director as Kim Si Hyeon who also directed Dragon Lee vs the 5 Brothers, which has most of the cast from Dragon’s Snake Fist. The film does bare a lot of the hallmarks of Ho’s style, and comparisons to The Dragon, the Hero (see my review) are obvious, especially because Dragon Lee appears in both.

The plot is classic old school stuff, with Lee being the exponent of the Snake Fist school whose father had a duel with the Crane Fist school as a younger man to decide who’s school would rule the land. He loses, and plots his revenge. Lee encounters the Crane Fist schools exponents throughout the film, and doesn’t know how his father was injured or his want for revenge. The narrative is fractured and characters motivations are left unexplained, but the movie moves along at a rollicking good pace, and again when it comes to old school kung fu flicks these glaring faults can be forgiven. In fact these faults are part of the charm. The cast features a good selection of minor old school stars, and each has the chance to shine.

Dragon Lee himself, despite not appearing in as many films as a lot of his peers, certainly made a mark on kung fu cinema. His Bruce Lee mugging can become annoying at times, but his agility, ripped physique and reasonable charisma make up for it. One movie of his I’ve yet to see that sounds intriguing is Five Pattern Dragon Claws, wherein Lee gets to battle the legendary Hwang Jang Lee. Martin Chui Man Fooi (a kung fu star with my name! Yes!) has a good role as Dragon Lee’s master, and is one of the long line of leg-crippled master characters (other notable ones being Tommy Lee in The Hot, The Cool and the Vicious and Tan Tao Liang in Secret of the Shaolin Poles). He had small roles in some notable early Golden Harvest Productions including Bandits From Shantung and Lady Whirlwind.

One of the main villains in the film is none other than Gam Kei Chu, who appeared in one of the most famous kung fu movies ever made, King Boxer. His menacing demeanour and expert martial arts skills meant that he had a healthy career. He was also in two of John Woo’s early films Hand of Death (see Zach Nix’s recent review) and The Dragon Tamers, and one of my favourite bashers Gambling For Head. Chang Yi Tao from the magnificent Blooded Treasury Fight has a small role as another villain. The real surprise cast member is Yuen Qiu who plays Dragon Lee’s love interest. Most well known as the Landlady from Stephen Chow’s comic fung fu blowout Kung Fu Hustle, here she plays a typical damsel in distress and looks very young.

Hilariously the filmmakers give up on introducing characters or having much reason why they fight, purely in the old school vein. The fights themselves are shapes in style, and they are countless. The quality varies, but not that wildly. Dragon Lee’s form in both group and one-on-one fights is at a pretty high level, but he does tend to reuse a lot of the same moves fight-to-fight. It’s definitely one of his best action performances though. Most of the actors aquit themselves well, with each getting a standout fight scene.

Some of the editing is inventive and crisp, while at other times completely illogical. This doesn’t bother me too much with old schoolers, but when it happens all the time annoyance sets in. There are some cool uses of pressure point kung fu in the movie, with Fooi using them in crazy ways. One of the lesser bad dudes continually tries to steal every scene he’s in by either pretending to shave with a straight razor or playing with knives. You can’t keep your eyes off him. He eventually fights Lee by breathing fire at him and throwing down Ninja style throwing stars, that make him meet a grisly end.

As a footnote the Terracotta DVD features an interview with Thomas Tang, only a few weeks before he died in the ‘Garley building fire’ in 1996, wherein he discusses the state of kung fu cinema and The Dragon, The Hero being one of his biggest successes. It’s pretty enlightening and sad. All in all The Dragon’s Snake Fist is a decent production that lacks that spark of brilliance but does enough to keep you watching.

Martin Sandison’s Rating: 6/10

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Is Louis Koo doing the opposite of Donnie Yen’s ‘Iceman’?

"A Step into the Past" Promotional Poster

"A Step into the Past" Promotional Poster

Looks like Chow Yun-Fat and Wong Jing aren’t the only ones remaking their classic TVB series into a movie (see The Bund). There’s a rumor going around that Louis Koo (SPL II, Wild City) is remaking his highly-rated 2001 series, A Step into the Past.

The plot almost sounds like the polar opposite of Donnie Yen’s Iceman 3D. In the original series, Louis Koo plays modern day cop who volunteers to take part in a time travel experiment that will have him transported to the coronation of the Qin Emperor three thousand years ago – but something goes wrong and he’s transported to the violent Warring States Period intead.

According to HKTop10, there’s also some talk about remaking A Step into the Past into an all-new TVB series as well, with Law Chung Him (The Monkey King) in Koo’s role.

If any of these remakes come to fruition, we’ll be the first to let you know. Until then, check out the DVD trailer from the 2001′s A Step into the Past, which hints science fiction, martial arts action and a bit of romance.

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Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal (1970) Review

"Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal" Japanese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Alleycat Rock: Machine Animal
Director: Yasuharu Hasebe
Writer: Ryuzo Nakanishi
Producer: Masami Kuzu
Cast: Meiko Kaji, Tatsuya Fuji, Bunjaku Han, Jiro Okazaki, Toshiya Yamano, Eiji Go, Yasuhiro Kameyama

By Kyle Warner

The Stray Cat Rock series continues with the fourth entry, Machine Animal. Like the films that came before it, Machine Animal was a quick production, filmed over just two weeks and released a little over two months after the previous entry. Machine Animal is also the third film in the series directed by Yasuharu Hasebe, and the fourth Stray Cat Rock film to be released in 1970. Up until this point, the fast shoots hadn’t hurt the quality of the films, but with Machine Animal I got the impression that the rushed schedule was beginning to take its toll. Machine Animal is the least original of the series, taking ideas and moments from the earlier films and reutilizing them to tell a new story. It’s still an entertaining film, but it lacks the same energy found in the first three entries.

In the film, two “redneck” drifters (Tatsuya Fuji and Jiro Okazaki) and their friend Charlie, a Vietnam War deserter, are trying to get out of Japan. They plan to sell 500 tabs of acid in order to pay for a boat ride to Sweden, but they don’t know anyone in town that’ll buy the drugs. Eventually they befriend a delinquent girl gang led by Maya (Meiko Kaji) and she tries to help them out. Maya goes to the motorcycle gang the Dragons and sets up a deal. However, the leader of the Dragons (Eiji Go, younger brother to action star Jo Shishido) is a greedy man – why buy the drugs when you can steal them? Things get violent, multiple people are kidnapped, and we rush towards a tragic conclusion that is typical for the Stray Cat Rock series.

Machine Animal feels a bit like a blend of Hasebe’s first two Stray Cat Rock films, complete with a motorcycle chase that’s very similar to the one from Delinquent Girl Boss and the returning theme of Americans in Japan during the 70s as previously seen in Sex Hunter.

The new ingredient that Machine Animal brings to the series is the illegal drugs. Instead of talking about Japan’s drug culture of the time, the acid is mostly used as a prop to keep the plot moving. Hasebe’s first two Stray Cat Rock films have their trippy moments thanks to his wild style and some interesting editing techniques. In Machine Animal, the acid gives Hasebe an excuse to go all-out with an explosion of style, but he mostly limits the weird stuff to one drug sequence. When the guys and girls drop some acid, they giggle like mad while the screen inexplicably splashes blood into frame. It’s an interesting sequence because it shows the characters having fun but the audience is momentarily lost in a horror movie. During this acid trip, Meiko Kaji and Tatsuya Fuji choose not to indulge and instead observe with a displeased expression before exiting the room. I expected Hasebe to use the sequence to provide some laughs and crazy visuals but instead he used the opportunity to say something unexpected. The characters on acid are laughing like everything’s a joke. But the joke, Hasebe seems to say, is actually on them.

Despite the film’s dark subject matter, Machine Animal often has a lighter tone for much of its brief runtime. When a friend gets kidnapped and driven away, Meiko Kaji shouts, “Sh*t! We need Hondas!” Cut to Kaji and co. going to a Honda dealership, taking a few motorcycles for a test drive, and chasing after the bad guys. It’s goofy but it’s also my favorite part of the movie. Other bits of comedy also work, but the film’s drama isn’t often as successful – the action sequences lack tension, kidnappings seem to accompany every plot twist, and some of the performances are kind of flat.

The film’s lead actors Meiko Kaji, Tatsuya Fuji, Jiro Okazaki, and Eiji Go all give good performances. Kaji’s character is somewhat similar in all of Hasebe’s Stray Cat Rock films, but Tatsuya Fuji and Jiro Okazaki get to stretch their acting muscles a bit by playing some country boys lost in the big city. Eiji Go (Retaliation) is creepy as the villain and screenwriter Ryuzo Nakanishi (Massacre Gun) provides the villain with some unexpected depth, giving him as much reason to seek revenge in the finale as any of the protagonists. On the flip side of the coin, most the girls in Maya’s gang are rather weak (and sometimes annoying) and Toshiya Yamano is bad as Charlie – which is a shame, because Charlie’s a very important character to the film.

I found Machine Animal to be the most frustrating film of the series because it has all the right parts (even if some of them are clearly borrowed from earlier entries) but for some reason it refuses to fully come to life. Still, while I consider Machine Animal to be my least favorite of Yasuharu Hasebe’s Stray Cat Rock films, I don’t think it’s a bad movie, and I’d definitely recommend it to curious viewers who are fans of Japanese cinema.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 6.5/10

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Label to release ‘American Shaolin’ soundtrack and more!

"American Shaolin" Theatrical Poster

"American Shaolin" Theatrical Poster

A new fan-created record label called Spirit Touch Records aims to release underrated soundtracks with the help of fans and supporters. The soundtrack for Lucas Lowe’s American Shaolin (1991), by Richard Yuen, will be their first release when enough supporters are finally found.

Label founder Anatolij Kaiser, says “If the record labels won’t make our wishes happen, we have to do it ourselves. This is more than a simple CD purchase. If you support a soundtrack release, you are saving music. The whole world will thank you for that one day.” Additionally, your name will also be printed on a special CD card.

For more information, visit Spirit Touch Records.

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‘He-Man’ remake joins forces with a ‘Marvel’-lous writer!

"Masters of the Universe" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Masters of the Universe" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Despite years in development hell, Sony Pictures is still keen on bringing Masters of the Universe (aka He-Man) back to the big screen. The franchise, which consisted of the Mattel toy line and the cartoon series, exploded in the 1980′s. Despite its decreasing popularity during the years that followed, cartoon reboots and new toy lines managed to keep the franchise afloat.

Back in 1987, Cannon Films produced Masters of the Universe, a live-action film directed by Gary Goddard (Poseidon’s Fury: Escape from the Lost City) which starred Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Courteney Cox and Meg Foster.

Jon M. Chu (G.I. Joe: Retaliation) was originally approached to direct the project, but dropped out do to scheduling conflicts. Filmmakers currently in talks are Harald Zwart (The Karate Kid remake), Chris McKay (Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III) or Mike Cahill (I Origins). Terry Rossio (The Lone Ranger), Jeff Wadlow (Kick-Ass 2) have been brought on to write the screenplay.

We’ll keep updated on Masters of the Universe as we hear more!

Updates: According to Collider, Christopher Yost (writer of the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok) has been brought on to to work on the script.

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