SPL II: A Time for Consequences (2015) Review

"SPL II: A Time for Consequences" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"SPL II: A Time for Consequences" Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Sha Po Lang 2
Director: Soi Cheang Pou Soi
Writer: Leung Lai Yin
Cast: Tony Jaa, Jacky Wu Jing, Louis Koo Tin Lok, Simon Yam Tat Wah, Max Zhang Jin, Ken Lo Hui Kwong, Dominic Lam Ka Wah, Baby John Choi Hon Yik, Ai Wai, Patrick Keung Hiu Man, Kau Chim Man, Eddie Pang Wai On, Zhang Chi
Running Time: 120 min.

By Paul Bramhall

It’s been 10 years since the original Sha Po Lang was released in 2005. Released at a time when many of Hong Kong’s established action stars and directors had migrated to Hollywood, the HK action movie scene was going through an extended dry period, and didn’t appear to have an end in sight. Thankfully for action fans, just a couple of years earlier a man called Tony Jaa had burst onto our screens, in a movie which temporarily gave the action movie crown to Thailand. The movie of course was Ong Bak, and it remains one of the few Asian titles to have truly crossed over into the mainstream. In an interview prior to Sha Po Lang’s release, Donnie Yen, the star and fight choreographer, said he decided to get involved with the production to show the world that Hong Kong action still had what it takes. Essentially, he was saying that Sha Po Lang was Hong Kong’s answer to Ong Bak.

Sha Po Lang did indeed succeed in its mission, with Yen putting in his best acting performance yet under the direction of Wilson Yip, and more importantly, creating an action aesthetic which was completely new and fresh. While Sha Po Lang really only had 2 fight scenes, both of which take place back to back, the principal of quality over quantity was the right one. Everything you’d expect from Yen’s choreography was there – the rapid fire punches and kicks – but he also did the seemingly impossible, and incorporated MMA style grappling into the fights, seamlessly blending the techniques into the back and forth exchanges.

For the next few years, the rumors of a sequel were often bandied about. First there was going to be a prequel called Army Breaker, which eventually transformed into Yip and Yen’s third collaboration together, an unconnected tale which became Flash Point in 2007. Then there were mentions of another prequel which would bring back Sammo Hung, Wu Jing, and Simon Yam to their original characters. Again, this eventually became an unrelated movie, and was released as Dennis Law’s Fatal Move in 2008.

In 2015 though, a sequel has finally arrived. Perhaps the biggest irony of all is that, the very reason Yen had stated for coming onboard with the original – Tony Jaa – has become the headlining star of the follow-up, with Yen nowhere in sight. S.P.L.2 does succeed in bringing back a couple of the originals stars, although playing completely different roles. Wu Jing returns, this time as headlining co-star, as is Simon Yam, here again playing a Hong Kong cop. The sequel also offers a substantially larger cast of fleshed out characters than the original, with Louis Koo (who, at the time of writing, is on his 5th movie of 2015), Max Zhang, and Ken Lo all taking on significant roles.

Perhaps the best news for S.P.L.2 though, is that the director of the original, Wilson Yip, has stepped back into a producer role, and handed over directorial reigns to Soi Cheang. Cheang is one of the most exciting and distinctive directors working in Hong Kong today, often giving his movies a dark and grimy look, that sets them apart from the glossy productions we’ve come used to. While he’s also the man behind The Monkey King, which was undeniably an epic misstep, it’s certainly not enough to taint a resume that features such titles as Motorway, Accident, Shamo, and Dog Bite Dog. The news of Cheang being on board for a sequel to what was itself, thematically, a very dark movie, was a good sign.

S.P.L.2 is a thematic follow-up, and centers on a couple of plot lines that ultimately converge on each other. Jaa plays a prison guard in Thailand who’s trying to save money for a bone marrow transplant that his daughter needs, who is suffering from leukemia. Wu Jing plays a Hong Kong undercover cop who’s gone so deep he’s basically become a drug addict. Jing happens to be one of the few donors in the world who matches the bone marrow that Jaa’s daughter needs, and circumstances out of both characters control see Jing eventually jailed in the prison Jaa works at. At the same time, Louis Koo plays a ruthless gangster suffering from a weak heart, the same gangster Jing has been tracking. The only donor that can provide Koo with a compatible heart transplant is his own brother, and he’s so ruthless that he arranges for him to be captured and taken to Thailand, where the transplant can be completed on the black market. Tying all these characters together is the head prison warden, played by Max Zhang.

It’s easy to forget the original meaning of Sha Po Lang, thanks in part to its awful U.S. re-title of Kill Zone. The title refers to three stars, which in Chinese astrology represent destruction, conflict, and greed. It’s said that when the three stars come together, the only outcome will be that of regret. In the original, the three stars were represented by Sammo Hung, Donnie Yen, and Simon Yam. In the sequel, they’re taken on by Wu Jing, Tony Jaa, and Max Zhang. One of the most enjoyable things about S.P.L.2, is that it’s apparent from the get go that Cheang has a story to tell. While it may rely on coincidence and some contrived circumstances, it’s a credit to his talent that the way it’s told is never anything less than engaging.

Both Wu Jing and Tony Jaa have had their share of disasters prior to the release of S.P.L.2, with Jing directing and starring in the lackluster Wolf Warrior, and Jaa featuring in the almost unwatchable Tom Yum Goong 2. However, here they turn in what could well be career defining roles. Jaa finally gets to show that he can act, really act. From the moment he’s onscreen, his performance is completely convincing as that of a low paid prison guard, desperately trying to save his daughter. Likewise for Jing, who ends up with no identity in a Thai jail and has to go cold turkey from his drug addiction, which he portrays in such a way that it pulls us right in there with him. In good martial arts movies, you don’t really care about the story, as long as the fights deliver. In the best martial arts movies, you shouldn’t spend a moment wondering when the next fight is, as you’ll be too engaged by the story. S.P.L.2 achieves this, as just like in the original, and perhaps I daresay even more so, you’re just as invested in the plot as you are the action.

The action scenes themselves are plentiful, with choreography duties being split between frequent Wu Jing collaborator Nicky Li, and co-star Ken Lo. Wu Jing and Tony Jaa face off against each other not once but twice, the second in the midst of an epic prison brawl. The scene will likely draw comparisons to a similar scenario in The Raid 2, but it has enough of its own distinctive flavor to stand on its own. Both fights may be brief, but they’re fluid and deliver plenty of high impact blows. Li has an irritating tendency to always put Wu Jing on wires, and that’s also the case here, but it’s dialed well back from the ridiculous gravity defying antics of Legendary Assassin. There are plenty of wire-free kicks and fist to elbow exchanges amongst the fights, and thankfully, with a couple of small exceptions, the wire work compliments the choreography rather than detracting from it.

Jaa in particular really gets to shine. For many years fans thought Jaa appearing in a Hong Kong movie would be the ultimate action flick. It’s not, but then again, Cheang isn’t trying to make the ultimate action flick. He still gets plenty of chances to let loose, with his trademark moves being incorporated into a Hong Kong action style which is a joy to watch. Plus the guy does a flying knee through the windscreen of a moving bus, what more do you want? Special mention has to also go to Zhang Chi, who delivers a couple of brutal fight sequences as a knife wielding assassin. But the person who nearly steals the show from everyone is Max Zhang as the corrupt warden, delivering an action performance which is both slick and ferocious. The finale, which sees Jaa and Jing team up to take on Zhang (and his posse of, bizarrely, Korean bodyguards), provides an intense showdown which lasts for several satisfyingly long minutes. Painful falls, heads being smashed through glass, and countless kicks to the face are all included.

Setting the whole fight to a classical score by Vivaldi was also a noteworthy stroke of genius, giving it a unique feel that I’ve never come across before in a Hong Kong action flick. Speaking of the score, fans of the original will no doubt be happy when the same theme from Sha Po Lang is used as Wu Jing prepares to go into battle. Another worthy nod is given to the original with Jing brandishing a bag and police baton (which he gets to use) before facing off against Zhang, which nicely recalls Yen’s own walk to meet the enemy in the previous installments finale, which of course came in the form of Jing himself.

The same way events converge on each other in the movie, the team behind S.P.L.2 have also converged on each other at just the right time. Cheang was clearly eager to get back into dark and gritty storytelling, Jaa was looking to prove himself as still being a worthy action star with his Hong Kong debut, and Jing finally, after so many failures, proves that he is capable of being a leading man. S.P.L.2 delivers on all counts – story, characters, and action. In 2015, there are not too many opportunities to say that about a Hong Kong movie, so get out there and enjoy it.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 8.5/10

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Retrospective: The ‘Rush Hour’ franchise

"Rush Hour" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Rush Hour" Japanese Theatrical Poster

It’s time for Rush Hour

The two largest movie markets in the world are the US and Asia, and both countries have fervent fans of the other’s trademark films. So it was only natural that director Brett Ratner hoped that combining the iconic styles of each culture would become a hit with Rush Hour (1998).

“The Buddy Movie” meets “Comedy Kung Fu”

There’s a long standing Hollywood tradition of pairing two distinctly different personalities and having them work together. Police films work especially well for this genre. While some films such Red Heat (1988) and the Lethal Weapon (1987) movies have semi-serious plot lines, most of the buddy movies involve somewhat of a comedic element as the two partners clash in terms of style and personality.

The classic kung fu movies mostly featured a singular hero and a more serious and somewhat moralistic plot line, at least until Jackie Chan invented the comedy kung fu film with Drunken Master (1978).

Rush Hour, and the subsequent sequels, was one of the first tastes many mainstream American audiences had of the comedic kung fu style. In the films, Chan plays a Hong Kong detective whose case brings him to the US, where he is paired with a Los Angeles detective played by Chris Tucker. The plot lines in all three are somewhat hackneyed and are heavy on formula. The main draw is Tucker and Chan and their interactions.

"Rush Hour 2" Japanese DVD Cover

"Rush Hour 2" Japanese DVD Cover

Did Rush Hour work?

The general consensus is that any movie that spawns multiple sequels (with another supposedly in pre-production) is a success. By Hollywood standards Rush Hour, with US box office receipts of $141 million, was a modest success. The fact that the film succeeded at all is surprising due to Chan’s frequent statements that he does not understand nor fully appreciate American humor. When you combine that aspect with the fact that Chris Tucker improvises most of his lines, the fact that the movies succeed at all is somewhat amazing. Chan’s well documented desire for perfection (he once demanded 300 takes for a single scene and almost 3,000 for a ten-minute segment) played a large role in the trilogy’s success.

Rush Hour Fun Facts

This was one of the first American films where Jackie Chan’s lines were not overdubbed. Chan was never comfortable with his English and all of his previous English roles were overdubbed. Director Ratner felt that having Chan deliver his own lines would add to the authenticity of the film.

Ratner’s addition to detail is not as evident in other aspects of the film. All three of the movies are stand-outs in the field of continuity errors. Chan’s suspenders change patterns, bar stools change colors, the wheels on Tucker’s Corvette change, and in one of the more standout mistakes a taxi changes make and model and then back again.

Some of the technical details are just as bad. A car loaded with C4 explodes from a gunshot and kidnappers demand a ransom in small bills meaning that the payout would weigh over a ton.

"Rush Hour 3" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Rush Hour 3" Japanese Theatrical Poster

The movies do have some nice little Easter-Egg type touches, especially in Rush Hour 2 (2001). Jackie Chan has long said that his favorite number is 32, perhaps that is the point where he started counting the numerous of broken bones he has sustained from doing his own stunts. The number makes numerous appearances in the film, including on the license plate of the villain’s car.

However the best use of the number 32 comes in one of the mandatory fight scenes. In a scene that relies heavily on Chan’s comedic talents, he finds himself in the unpleasant position of having a remote controlled grenade taped in his mouth. Chris Tucker manages to remove the tape and Chan spits the grenade from his mouth and onto the roulette wheel. As anyone who knows from playing roulette the probability and the odds of the pill landing on any number is 38-to-1, but of course we (briefly) see the grenade land on number 32 just before it explodes.

Longtime Chan fans will notice many familiar jokes and situations in the film. The director felt that American audiences would be unfamiliar with the kung fu star’s earlier work and had several of his classic gags and moves incorporated into the script.

The building used for the exterior of the Chinese Consulate is the same one as was used as the exterior for Wayne Manor in the original Batman! TV show.

Justin Hires and Jon Foo in the "Rush Hour" TV series.

Justin Hires and Jon Foo in the "Rush Hour" TV series.

The casino in Rush Hour 2 was the empty Dessert Sands in Las Vegas. The production company erected a huge “Red Dragon” casino marquee out front and painted part of the exterior red. Several windows were blown out and the walls sustained smoke damage during the filming. The casino remained standing for several months after production ended and provided an interesting conversation topic for tourists on the Las Vegas strip that were unaware of the upcoming movie.

About a year ago, Jackie Chan told British television presenter Jonathan Ross that for him to consider doing another instalment in the series that the script would have to be really good. Hollywood insiders feel that director Ratner is keen to do so mainly due to the lackluster results of his latest efforts. According to a number of sources, Rush Hour 4 is in pre-production and should be released by 2017, while the franchise is also being turned into a television show – which has Jon Foo taking over Jackie Chan’s role, and comedian Justin Hires filling in for Tucker.

Despite the star power in the previous films, none of them honestly rate much higher than a C+. There have been a number of films in the genre over the past few years, none of which were blockbusters. That plus the fact that at 61, Chan may decide that it’s time to rest a bit, means that the film may never get to the screen and that its success if far from assured.

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New poster and release date for ‘Samurai Cop 2’

"Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance" Theatrical Poster

"Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance" Theatrical Poster

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, which will be directed by Gregory Hatanaka (Violent Blue). This time their mission is to solve a series of assassinations being committed by a secret group of female vigilante killers.

The original Samurai Cop (1991), directed by the late Amir Shervan (Killing American Style), is a cult classic that found a whole new audience during its midnight theatrical circuit and film festival re-release. Its resurgence prompted producers Rich Mallery and Gregory Hatanaka to start production on a sequel!

In addition to its returning stars (including Gerald Okamura and Robert Z’Dar), Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance will also include 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. | First trailer.

Updates: Click here for the film’s new poster for Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance. It may look identical to the previous one, but if you click here, you’ll see the differences in a side-by-side comparison. The film will have a limited theatrical release on October 9th in Los Angeles. Other screenings in cities will soon follow. Producers are also working on foreign distribution for non-US residents. Stay tuned!

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‘The Crow’ reboot can’t fly no matter what…

"The Crow" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"The Crow" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Relativity Studios has been trying to get a remake of Alex Proyas’ 1994 cult classic The Crow off the ground for what feels like years now. The project has burned through numerous directors (including Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and F. Javier Gutiérrez) and actors (Bradley Cooper, Mark Wahlberg, James McAvoy, Tom Hiddleston, Normal Reedus, Luke Evans and Jack Huston).

Of course, many fans of the original film who still mourn the tragic loss of star Brandon Lee feel that this is a franchise best left in our memories.

Updates: Variety reports that James O’Barr, creator of the original The Crow graphic novel, is on board as a consultant for the reboot. “I believe that this movie will stand alongside Brandon and his film as a valid work of art, and I look forward to collaborating on the project,” said O’Barr.

In a recent interview with creator James O’Barr, The Crow remake will be closer to a John Woo film. Here are more details: “We’re not remaking the movie, we’re readapting the book. My metaphor is that there is a Bela Lugosi Dracula and there’s a Francis Ford Coppola Dracula, they use the same material, but you still got two entirely different films. This one’s going to be closer to Taxi Driver or a John Woo film, and I think there’s room for both of them – part of the appeal of the Crow comics after all is that they can tell very different stories after all.”

Deadline reports that Relativity Studios has hired short-filmmaker Corin Hardy to direct the Crow remake. Want to see one of Hardy’s short films? click here. | Andrea Riseborough (Oblivion) is in talks to play Top Dollar (the film’s main villain) in the The Crow remake. Michael Wincott previously played the role in the 1994 film. | Forest Whitaker is in negotiations to join the film in an undisclosed role. According to the director, a new lead will be announced in the next several weeks.

BREAKING NEWS: Following Relativity Studios’s bankruptcy last week, pre-production on The Crow is once again in limbo. According to THR: Relativity is still hoping to go into production this fall, and a source at the company said “we continue to be excited by The Crow.” But whether the embattled company keeps hold of the title remains to be seen.

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Johnnie To wants Chow Yun-Fat and Tang Wei in his ‘Office’!

"Office" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Office" Chinese Theatrical Poster

25 years after All About Ah-Long, Johnnie To is finally re-uniting with Chow Yun-Fat (From Vegas to Macau II) and Sylvia Chang (Slaughter in San Francisco) in Office, a musical (yes, a musical) that’s described as “Johnny To’s boldest view on the white-collar class.”

Those expecting even a hint of action may be disappointed, but then again, it is called Office. The plot is unknown, but its teaser is seriously enticing. Besides, it’s a Johnnie To flick, so chances are, it’ll be good.

Office also stars Tang Wei (Wu Xia), Eason Chan (Dream Home), Zi Yi (The Bullet Vanishes) and Eddie Cheung (Firestorm). It hits Chinese theaters on September 24th. Because of its strong cast, U.S. distributors will definitely pick this one up. Stay tuned.

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Australia’s Madman Entertainment unleashes ‘SPL II: A Time for Consequences’

"SPL 2 - A Time for Consequences" Australian Theatrical Poster

"SPL 2 - A Time for Consequences" Australian Theatrical Poster

For those residing down under, 30th July sees Madman Entertainment unleash SPL II: A Time for Consequences onto Australian cinema screens.

A follow-up to the original 2005 classic starring Donnie Yen and directed by Wilson Yip, the sequel, connected by theme only, sees Soi Cheang (Accident) stepping into the director’s chair, with a cast headed by Thai action star Tony Jaa (Skin Trade), and Chinese wushu sensation Wu Jing (Wolf Warrior).

Check out our full review for SPL II: A Time for Consequences here. And don’t miss Madman Entertainment’s official Australian trailer.

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Is Radiohead doing the Bond song for ‘SPECTRE’?

"SPECTRE" Teaser Poster

"SPECTRE" Teaser Poster

Agent 007′s latest adventure, Skyfall, has gone on to become the most successful James Bond film of all time. With a final gross of over $1 billion worldwide, it’s no surprise that the Bond producers have asked Skyfall director Sam Mendes to return to helm Daniel Craig’s next outing as the super spy.

Bond 24 is officially titled SPECTRE (which stands for “Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion”). Returning cast members include Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, and Rory Kinnear. New cast members are as followed: Christoph Waltz (who is playing Oberhauser, not Blofeld, as previously rumored), Lea Seydoux, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci and Stephanie Sigman.

Also returning is Jesper Christensen, who played the Mr. White in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. SPECTRE hits theaters in the U.K. on October 23, 2015 and in the U.S. on November 6, 2015.

Updates: Latino Review reported that John Logan (Gladiator), one of four credited writers on Skyfall, has already been hired to write the next two films in the franchise. | During a Charlie Rose interview (via Collider), director Sam Mendes explains why he finally decided to return to the director’s chair for Bond 24: “I cast a new M, I cast a new Moneypenny, I cast a new Q, I cast a new Tanner… I felt there was a way to create the second part of a two-part story.” The director also states that it will feel like a continuation of Skyfall.

Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (Interstellar) is taking over duties for Roger Deakins (Skyfall). In addition, Mendes will be shooting Bond 24 on film, as opposed to digital. | Teaser posters ( 1 | 2 ). | 1st teaser trailer. | TV spot. | 2nd trailer!

BREAKING NEWS: Is Radiohead doing the theme song for SPECTRE? That’s the rumor. Director Sam Mendes recently said that a song had already been recorded and would soon be revealed. Other rumored artists include Adele (after all, Shirley Bassey did three Bond films), Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, Ellie Goulding and Muse. We’ll definitely be on top of this. Stay tuned!

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Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) Review

"Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin
Running Time: 131 min.

By Paul Bramhall

It’s been almost 20 years since Tom Cruise remade the Mission: Impossible TV series into his own one man show, with Brian De Palma’s 1996 production of the same name. Perhaps no less significantly, 2015 also marks the 10 year anniversary of Cruise’s infamous couch jumping incident on The Oprah Winfrey Show. A gesture that reflected his love of Katie Holmes, who at the time he’d been dating for just a month, more significantly his antics saw him portrayed as an annoying idiot by the media, and the public were more than happy to agree.

While for some that portrayal will never be shaken, there is one other equally undeniable fact – in those 10 year since, Cruise has continued to put out some of the most original and exciting movies to come out of Hollywood in a long time. War of the Worlds, Jack Reacher, Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow, and that’s not even counting the other movies in the Mission: Impossible series. Check out his filmography, and you won’t find a single superhero flick or reboot in sight, and that’s to be admired. Of course though, out of all those movies, it’s the Mission: Impossible series that has always been his baby.

Cruise has produced all of them, and has done an outstanding job of bringing in a distinctive director for each entry in the series. Brian De Palma helmed the first installment, with legendary Hong Kong director John Woo handling the second, the man behind the Star Trek reboots, J.J.Abrams, taking on the third, and a director renowned for animations like The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, Brad Bird, onboard for the fourth. Out of all of them, it was arguably Bird who had the toughest job. It had been 5 years since Mission: Impossible 3, and with the announcement of a fourth installment, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was largely treated as the sequel that no one was asking for.

Against the odds however, it was the fourth than many people now consider to be the best. Bird took the exaggerated animation aesthetic of his movies like The Incredibles, and applied them to a real time action movie. Best of all, it was agreed between himself and Cruise that they’d do all of if for real, eschewing the green screen effects work that dominate modern action cinema. The result saw Cruise scaling the outside of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, in what was one of the best and most awe inspiring stunts seen onscreen for far too long. While some people go through a mid-life crisis by buying expensive sports cars, Cruise seems determined to take things in his stride, by becoming some sort of American version of Jackie Chan.

4 years on from M:I – Ghost Protocol, and we now have M:I – Rogue Nation. The fifth installment is directed by frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie. Besides being the scribe behind The Usual Suspects, McQuarrie also wrote the Cruise flicks Edge of Tomorrow and Jack Reacher, the latter of which he directed as well. McQuarrie no doubt has an understanding of what’s expected from a Cruise flick, as well as the man himself, so their collaboration on a Mission: Impossible movie was highly anticipated.

Anyone who has seen the other M:I flicks will be in familiar territory. Rogue Nation picks up largely were Ghost Protocol left off. The IMF team is in the process of being disbanded and absorbed into the CIA, Cruise ends up on the run from both his allies and the enemy, and in-between there are plenty of action and espionage hijinks. It’s a template which was used to great success with Ghost Protocol, so it’s forgivable that McQuarrie decides to recycle the structure of it here.

I think it’s important to point out that there’s a certain elephant in the room with Rogue Nation. Just like how Ghost Protocol heavily used the scene of Cruise ascending the Burj Khalifa for the movies promotion, Rogue Nation heavily relies on the scene of Cruise hanging onto the side of a plane as it takes off. It’s a crazy stunt which, just like the Burj Khalifa scene previously, was done for real. However, there’s a major difference between the two. While the Burj Khalifa stunt from Ghost Protocol has a lot riding on it, and is essential to the plot, in Rogue Nation the plane stunt takes place before the opening titles even roll. It’s essentially a James Bond-esque opener, and while it is impressive, it would have been great had it been integrated into a vital part of the story. As it stands though, Tom Cruise hanging onto the side of a plane is essentially just that – Tom Cruise hanging onto the side of a plane, with its connection to the rest of the events that take place superfluous at best.

That being said though, there’s enough action and espionage contained within Rogue Nation’s 130 runtime to keep any fan of the series, or action movies in general, happy. From a fight scene on a suspended platform over an Opera being performed on stage, to a fantastic car chase that then segues into an even better motorbike chase, to a thrilling underwater break in, Cruise is front and center, performing all of the stunts, and even the driving, himself. While the proceedings and characters all feel familiar, Cruise’s decision to take the series into more of an action driven direction ensures that none of it becomes tiresome.

Also drawing similarities to the James Bond series, the M:I series seem to be creating its own pool of M:I girls. For Rogue Nation, joining the likes of Emmanuelle Beart, Thandie Newton, Maggie Q, and Paula Patton, is Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson, who plays a British agent working in deep cover that ends up teaming up with Cruise. Unlike many Bond girls though, Ferguson is a worthy equal to Cruise, herself getting to throw down several times over the course of the movie, including a one-on-one knife fight in the finale.

If any criticism can be drawn towards Rogue Nation, it’s that it somewhat lacks the urgency that permeated throughout Ghost Protocol, and the decision to open proceedings with the plane stunt results in the action playing out in reverse, with the best coming first. To go back to my Jackie Chan comment, in many ways Ghost Protocol can be looked at as Police Story 3: Supercop, while Rogue Nation is First Strike. All of the stunts and action are still there, just not in the most favorable order, and the emotional investment has largely been cast aside as well. Just like Jackie Chan’s partner of the whole Police Story series, Maggie Cheung, is completely absent from First Strike, so is Cruise’s wife completely absent from Rogue Nation, not even getting a single mention.

While the action and espionage has always come first, the small human touches can elevate a story from being functional, to being both engaging and something that we can be invested in. Rogue Nation misses out on those details, but thankfully it still delivers enough visceral thrills and wit to register as a worthy entry to the series. With an average time of 5 years between each entry in the series, if Cruise decides to make another installment and waits until 2020 to do it, he’ll then be 58, which would put him at the same age as Jackie Chan when he made Chinese Zodiac. But just like Chan, if he’s still willing to put himself out there and take the knocks for the sake of our entertainment, you can count me in.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7/10

Posted in All, Cults & Classics, News, Reviews | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

A ‘Tale of Three Cities’ and Jackie Chan’s parents…

"Tale of Three Cities" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Tale of Three Cities" Chinese Theatrical Poster

If you want to learn more about Jackie Chan’s parents, you’ll want to check out Tale of Three Cities, an upcoming film set in turbulent China in the late 1930’s during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

The movie follows two widowed people – based on Jackie’s real-life parents, Charles and Lee-lee Chan – who fall in love each other and are forced to leave their children and escape to Hong Kong where they have a special son…

Tale of Three Cities is directed by Mabel Cheung (An Autumn’s Tale), and stars Lau Ching Wan (Too Many Ways to Be Number One), Tang Wei (Wu Xia), Qin Hailu (The Crossing) and Jing Boran (Rise of the Legend).

Tale of Three Cities opens in China on August 28th, 2015. In case you missed it, here’s the trailer.

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Michelle Yeoh to return to Hong Kong action films?

"Royal Warriors" Japanese DVD Cover

"Royal Warriors" Japanese DVD Cover

Looks like the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel may have re-opened a can of whoopass for Michelle Yeoh (Yes, Madam). While unveiling her wax statue at Madame Tussaud’s, the action legend told reporters she wanted to return to Hong Kong film. Just think: A proper Police Story 3 follow-up with Jackie Chan? We wish!

For the last 5 years, Yeoh has been appearing in many unexpected projects around the world; ranging from portraying a politician in Luc Besson’s The Lady (2011) to playing a TV producer in the South Korean production, Final Recipe (2013).

We’re crossing our fingers that Yeoh will indeed return to her Hong Kong action roots. Until then, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II: The Green Destiny and Mechanic: Resurrection are right around the corner. Stay tuned!

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Deal on Fire! 36th Chamber of Shaolin | Blu-ray | Only $7.99 – Expires soon!

36th Chamber of Shaolin Blu-ray (Dragon Dynasty)

36th Chamber of Shaolin Blu-ray (Dragon Dynasty)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Dragon Dynasty Blu-ray for the 1978 Shaw Brothers classic 36th Chamber of Shaolin (aka The Master Killer), directed by Liu Chia-Liang (Executioners from Shaolin) and starring Gordon Liu (Eight Diagram Pole Fighter).

Considered one of the greatest kung fu films of all time, 36th Chamber of Shaolin is about a young man (Liu) who learns Shaolin kung fu so he can avenge his family and friends, who were killed by Manchu henchmen. Read our review.

Order 36th Chamber of Shaolin from Amazon.com today!

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Live. Die. Repeat. Sequel. Edge of Tomorrow.

"Edge of Tomorrow" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Edge of Tomorrow" Japanese Theatrical Poster

While attending the premiere for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (read our review), Tom Cruise had this to say about a sequel to Edge of Tomorrow: “I pitched it to Christopher McQuarrie and Doug Liman. We were there one night and I was like, I’ve got an idea for it,” Cruise said, but didn’t reveal plot elements. Cruise did, however, say that he already talked to Emily Blunt about returning. Her response: “give me another year, please.”

Despite its box office fumble, 2014′s Edge of Tomorrow was praised by both critics and viewers alike. The film involved a military officer (Cruise) who is brought into an alien war against an extraterrestrial enemy who can reset the day and know the future. When this officer is enabled with the same power, he teams up with a Special Forces warrior (Blunt) to try and end the war.

Edge of Tomorrow is based on 2004′s All You Need Is Kill, a Japanese novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. Upon its Blu-ray & DVD release, Edge of Tomorrow was re-marketed as Live. Die. Repeat.

We’ll keep you updated as we hear more about a Edge of Tomorrow sequel. Stay tuned!

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The Nakatomi Plaza: Die Hard Collection | Blu-ray (Fox)

"The Nakatomi Plaza: Die Hard Collection" Blu-ray Set

"The Nakatomi Plaza: Die Hard Collection" Blu-ray Set

RELEASE DATE: October 13, 2015

Fox presents The Nakatomi Plaza: Die Hard Collection, which includes a replica of the Nakatomi Plaza.

The set (see photo) includes the entire franchise: Die Hard, Die Hard 2: Die Harder, Die Hard: With a Vengeance, Live Free or Die Hard (includes unrated version) and the god-awful A Good Day to Die Hard (includes unrated version).

Extras include Decoding Die Hard, 5 Collectible Cards and 32-page Behind-the-scenes booklet.

Pre-order The Nakatomi Plaza: Die Hard Collection today!

Posted in DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Other Notable Titles | Tagged | 1 Comment

Scott Adkins kills (and kills again) in the new ‘Re-Kill’ trailer!

"Re-Kill" Theatrical Poster

"Re-Kill" Theatrical Poster

With After Dark Films establishing a new working partnership with Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2012′s Re-Kill (aka Dead Ahead), the long awaited action/horror film, is finally going to see the light of day in North America.

Re-Kill stars martial arts sensation Scott Adkins (Wolf Warrior) Bruce Payne (Passenger 57) and Daniella Alonso (The Collector). It’s written by Michael Hurst (Room 6) and directed by Valeri Milev (Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort).

Official Plot: It’s been 5 years since the outbreak that wiped out 85% of the world’s population, but the war between Re-Animates (Re-Ans) and Humans wages on, as most of the major cities are still uninhabitable. Within the few surviving cities, the Re-Ans have been segregated into “zones” and are policed by the R-Division of the QUASI S.W.A.T. Unit who hunt to re-kill the Re-Ans in the hope of quelling a second outbreak.

Re-Kill will have a limited theatrical release, nation wide, on October 16th, 2015, followed by a Blu-ray/DVD release. Until then, watch the newest trailer!

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Call Me King | DVD (Entertainment One)

Call Me King | DVD (Entertainment One)

Call Me King | DVD (Entertainment One)

RELEASE DATE: September 8, 2015

Entertainment One presents the DVD for Call Me King, an upcoming action movie written and directed by R.L. Scott.

Call Me King stars Bai Ling (The Crow), Amin Joseph (The Expendables), Chris Mulkey (Boardwalk Empire), Alimi Ballard (Numbers), Lester Speight (Transformers), Robert Miano (Donnie Brasco), Bill Cobbs (Oz: The great and Powerful), Del Zamora (True Blood), Gabrielle Dennis (The Game) and Monyque Thompson Scott (Lie to Me). | Watch the trailer.

Pre-order Call Me King from Amazon.com today!

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Redeemer (2014) Review

"Redeemer" Theatrical Poster

"Redeemer" Theatrical Poster

Director: Ernesto Díaz Espinoza
Producer: Guillermo Prieto, Noah Segan, Marko Zaror
Cast: Marko Zaror, Noah Segan, Loreto Aravena, Otilio Castro, Smirnow Boris, José Luís Mósca, Nuñez Nelson, Mauricio Diocares, Mauricio Raab Sanz, Pablo Raab Sanz
Running Time: 90 min.

By Martin Sandison

For my money, the end fight in Undisputed 3 – one of the best martial arts flicks of recent years, which pits Scott Adkins’ iconic Boyka against Marko Zaror’s extravagant villain Dolor – is one of the greatest fight scenes in history. Both men prove themselves as two of the best screen fighters working today.

Zaror is most well known for this role and his small part in Robert Rodriguez’s debacle Machete Kills, but his filmography stretches way back. He studied Karate, Kickboxing and Taekwondo from the age of 6, and got his break doubling Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson in 2003’s The Rundown, for which he won a World Stunt Award.

In 2006 he collaborated with first time director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza on Kiltro, the first Chilean martial arts movie. A success in theatres and DVD around the world, this was followed up by Mirageman and Mandrill, again small scale successes. Mandrill was made in 2009, and since then, Espinoza has worked as an editor on Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno, among other projects. Fans of Zaror and Espinoza’s earlier films waited patiently for their next collaboration, which has come in the form of Redeemer.

Looking through the pages of the Edinburgh Film Festival brochure, I didn’t spot Redeemer until my friend told me about it. One of only two martial arts films on in the Festival, of course I had to see it. As a fan of the earlier films, I immediately became excited. The film sports a stronger plotline and characters than the previous efforts, as well as a dash of humour and higher production values. The plot features Zaror as a kind of avenging angel, the ‘redeemer’ of the title. He punishes bad guys for being bad, basically, and is searching for one who it seems did him some wrongdoing. His motivation is not revealed until late on in the film, and the construction of the narrative around this is pretty well put together.

There are basically two plotlines going on at the same time. One featuring Zaror’s character and two friends he makes as they hide out from the villains. Another concentrating on a drug lord, played by American Noah Segan – this is where the comic relief comes in. Almost a direct reference to Hong Kong movies post 70’s – the inconsistency in tone due to the silly, humorous antics of Segan, compared with the brutal violence and sombre tone of most of the plot – is evident from the outset. The way the different narratives come together is well done, and the pacing allows for plenty of what Zaror does best: high impact martial arts.

The fights come thick and fast, and for those hoping that the action is amped up to a higher level than the previous films of Zaror and Espinoza, you won’t be disappointed. Kiltro and Mirageman have action that certainly delivers in its high impact style; but aspects such as fluidity, inventive exchanges and crisp editing were missing at times. From the first fight scene on, Redeemer shows a marked improvement, with Zaror moving like a seasoned pro and the stuntmens reactions on point. There is a good mix of group and one-on-one fights, with Zaror exercising each of his formidable skills. His kicking especially is of the highest level, as he alternates more modern tricking styles with powerful hook kicks.

The group fights feature Raid-style 360 camera moves and intricate choreography, although some of the exhchanges are a little unconvincing. There are three notable one-on-one fights; two in the middle and at the end. The longest fight is with one of the lackeys who is a good fighter, and contains a mix of MMA-style grappling and 90’s HK kickboxing. Unfortunately, the grappling slows down the fight and isn’t integrated that well, not reaching the heady heights of Donnie Yen’s masterful end fight in Flashpoint.

The other mid-film fight features some inventive use of environment, with the fighters crashing through wood. Zaror’s opponent here is not a great martial artist, but a good brawler. The finishing move is something to behold, as Zaror references another Donnie Yen masterclass Ip Man as he unleashes Wing Chun-style chain punching finishing with a deadly uppercut that sees the blood fly. The end-fight sees him face off against the intimidating uber evil bad guy played by Jose Luis Mosca, a skilled martial artist and good actor. Despite being a bit of a let down compared to the previous two one on one fight scenes, the location on the edge of a cliff and the pacing creates drama and tension.

There are tasteful references throughout the film, especially to Westerns, HK flicks and Tarantino-esque scenes featuring Segan, and Espinoza weaves these together without sacrificing narrative logic. One fault that is unusual for a viewer like myself is the incredibly brutal violence, which seems a little unnecessary. At one point Zaror puts a hook through a guys mouth that comes out of his eyeball, and is shown in graphic detail. Being a low budget production, the CGI on show is poor and takes the viewer out of the film slightly, but this can be forgiven.

The religious symbolism is at times heavy handed, as can be seen with the title and the positioning of Zaror’s character as some kind of vigilante avenging angel. These faults don’t ruin what is a very solid modern martial arts film, that has enough innovation in its fight scenes to entertain even the most jaded of fans.

Martin Sandison’s rating: 7/10

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Stallone, Norris, Van Damme and Lundgren are back together again for a Cannon Films Collection overdose!

"Cannon Films 10-Pack" DVD Collection

"Cannon Films 10-Pack" DVD Collection

Stallone, Norris, Van Damme and Lundgren are back together for Warner’s The Bombs, Babes and Blockbusters of Cannon Films 10-Pack DVD Collection, which releases this September 29th!

The upcoming set includes Missing in Action (1984), Cobra (1986), Delta Force (1986), Over the Top (1987), Masters of the Universe (1987), Invasion USA (1987), Bloodsport (1988), The Hitman (1991) and Hellbound (1994).

And here’s the best part: Also included is Mark Hartley’s (Not Quite Hollywood) highly-anticipated Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (read Paul Bramhall’s review), a documentary that focuses on the film creations of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the two head honchos of The Cannon Film Group.

The Bombs, Babes and Blockbusters of Cannon Films collection will retail for $49.92, while a digital version of the boxset will hit the same day, with a $39.99 price tag. Stay tuned for pre-order information. Until then, get warmed up with this trailer for Electric Boogaloo.

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Wild City (2015) Review

"Wild City" Theatrical Poster

"Wild City" Theatrical Poster

AKA: Hustle
Director: Ringo Lam
Writer: Ringo Lam
Cast: Louis Koo, Shawn Yue, Joseph Chang, Tong Liya, Jack Kao, Sam Lee, Philip Ng, Dave Wong, Simon Yam
Running Time: 100 min.

By Paul Bramhall

Not taking into consideration the segment he directed for 2007’s Triangle, it’s been 12 long years since Ringo Lam directed a Hong Kong movie. Look to when he last directed one of the crime thrillers that he built his reputation on, and you have to go back even further. So the announcement that Wild City was to see him returning both to Hong Kong filmmaking, and the crime thriller genre, was a big deal. Lam himself explained that the movie would round off what he saw as his ‘City Trilogy’, with the other titles being this very sites namesake, his 1987 classic City on Fire, and his 1997 production Full Alert. Like Park Chan-wook’s ‘Vengeance Trilogy,’ the movies are connected thematically, with Lam stating that the “films are all set in Hong Kong, and are about people who are lost in the city.”

Wild City of course represents a very different Hong Kong from both of its predecessors. City on Fire was made at a time when Hong Kong cinema was at its creative peak, with Full Alert being made in the year the territory was handed back to China from its 99 year lease to the UK. With the mainland emerging as a significant influence on box office success in recent years, these days Hong Kong movies are no longer simply targeted at local Hong Kong audiences, with the importance of appealing to China as a whole taking precedence.

The handover of Hong Kong back to China was also significant in another way though, which was that all movies made there now had to go through the process of passing the government censorship board. This led to many Hong Kong directors jumping ship to try their hand at working in Hollywood (Lam himself made 3 movies with Jean Claude Van Damme there), while others decided to switch to making period swordplay movies, due to the ease of which they passed the board. For directors like Lam though, used to making gritty and realistic crime thrillers, he was stuck between a rock and a hard place, with no distributors willing to back his ideas for fear they’d never get approved for release. Thankfully in 2015, the censorship board has loosened its iron grip ever so slightly, and with Lam’s own desire to still make movies and capture the ever changing Hong Kong landscape on film, Wild City was born.

Louis Koo continues on his mission to appear in every Hong Kong movie ever made (the guy was in 7 movies alone just in 2014), here starring as a disgraced former cop turned bar owner. He quit the force after attempting to cover for his brother, played by Shawn Yue, a petty criminal who has now gone straight and is working as a taxi driver. When Koo befriends a drunken woman from the mainland in his bar, played by Tong Liya, the three of them quickly find themselves being pursued by both her former lover and the group of thugs employed to catch them. The contents of the suitcase she seems so desperate to retrieve soon reveal why, and a game of cat and mouse develops as the trio try to remain one step ahead of their pursuers.

While many argue that the Hong Kong film industry is on its last legs, Lam proves here that it’s still very much possible to create what looks, feels, and is a Hong Kong crime movie. The city is as much a part of the story as the characters who are in it, with its skyline, harbors, countryside, and many narrow alleyways and stairs all lensed in a way that really capture its character. Make no doubt about it, Wild City is just as gritty as you want a Ringo Lam movie to be, but just underneath the surface, it also seems to be a love letter to Hong Kong and its many locales.

Johnnie To also succeeded in making a gritty crime picture with Drug War, which he achieved through filming in the mainland city of Tianjin, but even more so by casting mainland actors as the heroic cops, and a who’s who of Hong Kong talent as the villains. Lam isn’t quite as willing to sellout the Cantonese speaking protagonists that always feature in his movies, so while the gang of thugs pursuing the trio are all clearly speaking Mandarin, he smartly avoids any censorship issues by having them called the ‘Taiwan Gang’. A minor detail, but one that clearly worked. The gang is lead by, appropriately enough, Taiwan actor Joseph Chang. Chang, who starred alongside Jimmy Wang Yu in one of the best movies of 2013, Soul, adds some welcome depth to his character with his portrayal of a guy who just wants to go back home. The death of his acquaintances ultimately gives him more motive to kill than the money he’s being paid, and turns him into a worthy villain of the piece.

Which of course brings us to the violence, an aspect that plays a part in any Ringo Lam movie, whether it be the brutal beatings of Prison on Fire, or the bullet point of view shoot outs of Full Contact. Violence also plays an important part in Wild City, whether it be the threat of it which our 3 protagonists are constantly faced with, or if they’re forced to dish it out themselves. Lam throws the trio into a situation were danger is never far away, and it becomes apparent very quickly that the bad guys like to go old school, arming themselves with steel bars and machetes as their weapons of choice. This leads to a number of chase sequences that effectively build up a sense of desperation and tension, as people get sliced and cut up in a series of bloody confrontations. Special mention should also go to a nasty scene involving a boat propeller.

Things really culminate in the final 30 minutes, kicking off with Koo’s brutal interrogation of a gangster, played by Sam Lee, in an isolated public toilet, which will no doubt have Lam’s fan base nodding their head in approval of the directors return. Throw in a number of vehicle chase sequences that for the most part are played out for real, with some minor and entirely acceptable CGI assistance, and those looking for the visceral action thrill of Lam’s previous works will be more than satisfied. While it could easily be argued that Wild City lacks the kind of layered writing and imagery of his movies like Full Alert, it could also be said that the nature of the story makes this a mute point. As another director who recently returned to the crime genre, Takeshi ‘Beat’ Tikano, had the same criticism leveled towards him, it could be said that Wild City is to Full Alert what Outrage is to Sonatine. Yes the deeper layers may not be there, but they don’t need to be.

Above all the clear message in Wild City is how money corrupts, with Liya’s desperation to hang onto the suitcase perhaps indicative of Lam taking a sly swipe at the youth of China’s current obsession with materialism and money. In one of the movies closing moments, Liya looks across to the Hong Kong skyline from Victoria Harbour and cheerily declares, “Hong Kong is an unforgettable place!” For fans of Hong Kong cinema, so are many of Ringo Lam’s movies, and Wild City sits comfortably amongst them.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 8.5/10

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The Target | DVD (Lionsgate)

The Target | DVD (Lionsgate)

The Target | DVD (Lionsgate)

RELEASE DATE: October 6, 2015

Lionsgate presents the DVD for Yoon Hong-seung’s The Target, a remake of the 2010 French film Point Blank. In The Target, a man finds himself pitted against rival gangsters and trigger-happy police in a deadly race to save his wife and unborn child.

The film stars Ryoo Seung-Ryong (War of the Arrows), Lee Jin-Wook (My New Boyfriend), Yu Jun-Sang (Fists of Legend), Jo Yeo-Jeong (Human Addiction), Kim Sung-Ryoung (The Client), Jo Eun-Ji (Confession of Murder) and Jin Goo (Mother). | Watch the trailer.

Pre-order The Target from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases | Tagged | 1 Comment

Morgan Freeman is stuck on an apocalyptic flight to Tokyo!

"Airport '77" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Airport '77" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Deadline reports that Morgan Freeman (Danny the Dog, Lucy) is set to play one of the leads in an upcoming action flick titled Down to a Sunless Sea.

Based on the 1982 novel of the same name by David Graham, the film sounds like it’s reminiscent of the airport disaster films of the 70s, such as Airport 1975 (1974), Airport ’77 (1977) and The Concorde: Airport ’79 (1979).

In Down to a Sunless Sea, an Airbus A380 with 600 passengers on-board is trapped midway between Los Angeles and Tokyo when every airport in the world is wiped out in a global thermonuclear war.

We’ll keep you updated as we hear more!

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Shaw Brothers legend Kara Hui to shoot final action film!

"My Young Auntie" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"My Young Auntie" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Kara Hui (Wu Xia), the martial arts icon famous for appearing in Shaw Brothers films like My Young Auntie (1980) and Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1983), recently revealed that she will begin filming a new, untitled action film for director Giddens Ko (You Are the Apple of My Eye) later this year.

Unfortunately, Hui announced that it would be her final action film before her retirement: “In fact, a few years ago, I have planned to retire in 2017 and learn ink wash painting. Hopefully I will be able to hold an exhibition of my art in the future,” said Kara.

Updates: According to HK Top 10, Hui plans to do all her own stunts. To avoid injury, she’s been working out diligently. Originally, she wanted to appear in a bra top but she did not want to be called a “beautiful demon woman.” The film starts shooting in October.

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Louis Koo leads Johnnie To’s crime thriller ‘Three’

"Three" Chinese Teaser Poster

"Three" Chinese Teaser Poster

Production for Johnnie To’s crime thriller Three aka (Three on the Road) has wrapped. The upcoming film stars Louis Koo (Accident), Wallace Chung (Drug War) and Gao Yuanyuan (Robin-B-Hood) and Vicky Zhao Wei (14 Blades).

Official plot, according to TFC: Realizing that he will be defeated in no time during a police showdown, a thug shoots himself to force the cops to cease fire and take him to the hospital. In the hospital, he claims human rights to refuse immediate treatment in order to bide time for his underlings to rescue him. The detective in charge sees through his scheme but decides to play along so as to capture his whole gang once and for all.

We expect a trailer to be hitting soon – stay tuned!

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Deal on Fire! Chuck Norris: Total Attack Pack | Blu-ray | Only $14.99 – Expires soon!

Chuck Norris Total Attack Pack | Blu-ray (MGM)

Chuck Norris Total Attack Pack | Blu-ray (MGM)

Today’s Deal on Fire is for the Chuck Norris: Total Attack Pack Blu-ray set. This 4-disc collection includes some of the best titles from Norris’ filmography:

Lone Wolf McQuade (1983), starring David Carradine and; Missing in Action (1984), starring James Hong; Code of Silence (1985), starring Henry Silva; and The Delta Force (1986), starring Lee Marvin and Robert Forster. All that’s missing is Slaughter in San Francsico (1974)!

Order the Chuck Norris: Total Attack Pack from Amazon.com today!

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Sifu vs. Vampire (2014) Review

"Sifu vs. Vampire" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Sifu vs. Vampire" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Daniel Chan Yee Hang
Writer: Wong Jing
Producer: Wong Jing
Cast: Yuen Biao, Ronald Cheng, Michelle Hu Ran, Philip Ng, Kelvin Kwan Cho Yiu, Jiang Lu Xia, Tony Ho Wah Chiu, Winnie Leung, Ricky Yi Faan Wai, Patrick Keung Hiu Man
Running Time: 95 min.

By Paul Bramhall

It’s a sad reflection of audiences expectations from Hong Kong cinema when news of a new hopping vampire (or geung si as they’re often referred) movie, starring kung fu legend Yuen Biao, was met with a mostly muted reaction. In the 80’s the hopping vampire movie was a hugely popular sub-genre of Hong Kong action cinema, kicked off by Sammo Hung’s Encounters of the Spooky Kind, the movie that really started the ball rolling was Mr. Vampire, which spawned a number of sequels and copy cats. One of the stars of Mr. Vampire, Chin Siu Ho, starred in a recent revival of the genre, Juno Mak’s Rigor Mortis, which decided to play things straight to chilling effect. Biao himself got in on the action for the first sequel to the Mr. Vampire series in 1985, so to see him also returning to the genre almost 30 years later, it should have been a cause of excitement.

It could well be argued that part of the blame for such a muted reaction was down to the news that Sifu vs. Vampire was going to be directed by Daniel Chan. Chan was once sited for big things, thanks to a screenplay he’d written called Cross. Not only was it selected as one of the top 50 screenplays of the 2008 American Screenwriting Competition, but it also won the NAFF Jury Award at the 14th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival. Sadly though, the production became an epic mess. Chan ended up leaving, and finally the movie limped onto screens in 2012 with credits that included four different directors, and three different actors playing one role. The fact that Chan’s name was attached to it in any shape of form was bad news.

That being said, outside of the Cross fiasco Chan hasn’t fared much better. The two other movies he’s solely responsible for directing are the lackluster 2012 triad movie, imaginatively titled Triad, and the epic fail of 2013, the rebooted Young and Dangerous: Reloaded. All the signs seem to indicate that perhaps Chan would be best returning to his roots of writing screenplays, however with Sifu vs. Vampire, it looks like he’s yet to notice them. Instead, the master of lowest denominator filmmaking Wong Jing is onboard not only as writer, but producer as well. When Jing wants to entertain, he can, however the history of movies which feature him in some sort of capacity other than director isn’t a pretty one.

Like many of Wong Jing’s screenplays, the story is ridiculously convoluted. Ronald Cheng, known for his comedic roles, plays a low level gangster with a single follower, wannabe martial arts leading man Philip Ng, who bizarrely sports a huge black afro with yellow dots. Cheng is somehow connected to a more powerful gangster played by Kelvin Kwan, who has all the screen presence of a wet leaf. Kwan gets his power from his grandfather’s burial site, which has good Feng Shui, but the time has come when for him to maintain his power, he needs to re-locate the burial site. Enter Taoist master Yuen Biao and his protégé, wannabe martial arts leading lady Jiang Luxia. Biao of course refuses to help based on principle, but becomes connected to Cheng and Ng because Cheng is being stalked by the spirit of a beautiful woman, played by Michele Hu. Hu died at the hands of an evil Taoist master played by Ricky Yi, that Cheng witnessed, who is now keeping her ashes so she can’t cross over into the next world. As it happens, with Biao refusing, Kwan enlists the help of Yi to help him find a new burial site instead.

Got all that? Well, it hardly matters, it’s all inconsequential. The main thing to remember is that if Kwan’s grandfather isn’t moved to a new burial site in time, he’ll become a super powerful vampire that will put an end to the world. Or something like that. Like all things Wong Jing, even though it looks long winded on paper, onscreen it all just becomes an excuse for inane comedy hijinks. Sifu vs. Vampire actually starts off strong, although not necessarily in the way you’d expect it to. A scene involving an exorcism being performed on a sex obsessed demon, in the middle of providing lip service to a poor victims crown jewels, is so outrageous that it’s genuinely hilarious. In fact the initial 15 minutes are little more than an endless barrage of sex jokes, so for all intents and purposes it appears that we’re going to be getting a kind of geung si version of Vulgaria.

Yuen Biao also makes a worthwhile entrance, as possibly the coolest looking Taoist master to have graced the screen so far. Decked out in a sharp black suit and sporting a goatee beard, when this guys deals with demons, he looks good doing it. Jiang Luxia looks equally sharp, here finding herself in yet another geung si movie after 2010’s Vampire Warriors. However the wit and high energy of the first 15 minutes quickly dissipates, and what’s left feels like an endless procession of mind numbing extended ‘comedy’ sequences, none of which come close to generating a laugh. If an actress who begins to turn into a vampire attempting to file her nails to lose the claws she’s growing sounds like good comedy to you, then perhaps you’ll be of a different opinion, or how about a vampire detecting someone because they fart? What’s worse is that the movie even recycles its own jokes, with characters getting impaled in the ass with a sword on two separate occasions. The problem is it wasn’t that funny the first time.

The vampires themselves aren’t clearly defined either. For a start, none of them actually hop, which for fans of the genre is sacrilegious in itself. The all powerful grandfather vampire is dressed in traditional Chinese attire, however he’s mostly obscured by CGI black swirls which surround him, obviously stolen from the same technique that was used in Rigor Mortis. He also moves like a superhero, all ridiculously fast CGI flying from here to there, so much so that he barely registers as an actual character. Others who end up as vampires, such as Kwan and a bunch of extras, seem to turn into either a western style vampire, with a desire to bite attractive female necks, or just boring arm waving zombies.

Despite Ng pulling double duty as action director, assisted by Yuen Cheung Yan, what action is there is hardly worth writing about. Biao barely gets to do anything, instead left to play it straight faced and stoic throughout, with Luxia only given a few brief moments to shine. When things finally start to look up, and Biao summons the Rebel Prince and Monkey King to possess Luxia and Ng’s bodies respectively to take on a corridor full of zombies, it’s frustratingly filmed through a distorted fish eye filter, so it’s not even clear what’s going on.

Sifu vs. Vampire does have a couple of decent ideas, the concept of wearing a gas mask and oxygen tank so that the vampires can’t detect human presence is clever (in Chinese mythology vampires are blind and can only detect people via their breath), and not something I’ve seen before. Also, Biao’s decision to cast Taoist spells on the bullets being loaded into a shotgun leads to a cool scene that has him decked out in his suit, pumping rounds from a shotgun into the vampire. It kind of reminded me of the way Chow Yun Fat decides to deal with things in the finale of The Seventh Curse. But despite how good it sounds on paper, just like the comedy, the CGI, and everything else, onscreen it’s executed terribly. The title may be Sifu vs. Vampire, but in any case, the only loser in this battle is the audience.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 3/10

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Redeemer | Blu-ray & DVD (MPI Entertainment)

Redeemer | Blu-ray & DVD (MPI Entertainment)

Redeemer | Blu-ray & DVD (MPI Entertainment)

RELEASE DATE: September 1, 2015

MPI Entertainment presents the Blu-ray & DVD for Redeemer, starring Chilean martial arts star Marko Zaror (Machete Kills) and directed by Ernesto Díaz Espinoza (Kiltro).

Former hitman Nicky Pardo (Zaror) has made a deal with God. Pardo will begin every day by holding a gun to his own head and pulling the trigger. And every day he does not die he will take it as a sign that he is meant to continue hunting down the men he used to work for. Watch the trailer.

Pre-order Redeemer from Amazon.com today!

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

‘Raid’ star to join the fight in Justin Lin’s ‘Star Trek Beyond′

"Star Trek Into Darkness" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Star Trek Into Darkness" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Since J.J. Abrams (Star Trek Into Darkness) is putting all his time and effort towards Star Wars: Episode VII, it should come to no surprise that a new director is taking over the reins for the third chapter of Star Trek reboot franchise, titled Star Trek Beyond.

Justin Lin (Fast & Furious 6) is helming the next entry of the series, which has a release date set for July 8, 2016. The film stars Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Sofia Boutella, Simon Pegg, Idris Elba, Zachary Quinto, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban, Joseph Gatt, John Cho and Deep Roy.

Updates: According to THR (via FCS), Indonesian martial arts actor Joe Taslim (The Raid) has joined the cast. According to the report, Taslim’s part will be key role opposite Idris Elba, who plays the film’s villain.

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Yonggary | Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

"Yonggary" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Yonggary" Korean Theatrical Poster

RELEASE DATE: 2015

Kino Lorber presents the Blu-ray for 1967′s Yonggary (aka Great Monster Yongary or Yongary, Monster From the Deep), directed by Kim Ki-duk (no relation to the Moebius filmmaker of the same name) and starring Oh Yeong-il and Nam Jeong-im.

Yongary, Korea’s first entry into the kaiju movie genre, revolves around a prehistoric, gasoline-eating reptile that soon goes on a rampage through Seoul. Essentially, this is Korea’s answer to Godzilla. | Watch the trailer.

Stay tuned for pre-order information.

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Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter (1970) Review

"Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter" Japanese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Alleycat Rock: Sex Hunter
Director: Yasuharu Hasebe
Producer: Masayuki Takagi
Cast: Meiko Kaji, Rikiya Yasuoka, Tatsuya Fuji, Jiro Okazaki, Yuki Arikawa, Tomoko Aki, Yoko Takagi, Akemi Nara
Running Time: 93 min.

By Kyle Warner

I first saw Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter almost a decade ago. At the time, I was totally unaware that it belonged to a series of films (Part 3 of 5, in fact). When I later learned about the series, I was anxious to see the other films… but Sex Hunter was the only Stray Cat Rock film released on DVD in the US at that time. And that’s the way it was for a lot of us in the West – we had one film to represent a series. Now with the new Arrow Video Blu-ray box set released in the US, it’s been nice to get a look at the other films at long last. Just the same, I was eager to revisit the most well-known entry, Sex Hunter.

Yasuharu Hasebe returns to the series he helped create after Toshiya Fujita stepped in for him on film 2. Under Hasebe’s direction, Sex Hunter leaves Wild Jumbo’s beaches behind and returns to the bloody city streets. Sex Hunter is the darkest and most thought-provoking of the first three films (possibly the entire series. I still need to watch films 4 and 5). What’s interesting is that Hasebe mostly avoids providing the audience with answers to the film’s questions, instead letting the film linger on in the subconscious.

In 2015 I’ve been exposed to a small helping of Hasebe’s filmography. One thing I’ve picked up on is that he doesn’t make any attempt to hide influences of American films and pop culture on his work. Similarly, Hasebe often showcases American influences on Japanese cities, such as clubs that cater to Westerners (this film has a club with a sign that reads, ‘Welcome Americans!’ then in smaller print, ‘Japanese welcome, too!’), American brand names (glass Coca-Cola bottles being used as Molotov cocktails are hard to miss), and frequently sets his films near American military bases (in this case Yokosuka). In Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter, these influences on Japanese society in the 70s have a big part to play. There were many political protests at the time seeking US military withdrawal from Japan. And while none of the protests are featured or expressly mentioned in Sex Hunter, the film manages to capture the spirit of the times just the same. Instead of simply going with the flow and showing young Japanese as heroes, Hasebe makes things interesting by depicting both Japanese youth and Americans as menacing and violent at varying times throughout the film. No race is depicted as superior and one’s nationality does not preclude them from being an asshole. It’s not always obvious what Hasebe’s trying to say in certain scenes, but it’s clear that the situation is a complicated one.

The film follows two gangs of delinquent youth. The female gang, the Alleycats, is led by Mako (Meiko Kaji, Lady Snowblood) and the guy’s gang, the Eagles, is led by Baron (Tatsuya Fuji, In the Realm of the Senses). The two gangs are friendly and Mako and Baron even share the same bed, but the relationship becomes strained when the Eagles’ Susumu (Jiro Okazaki, Massacre Gun) is dumped by an Alleycat girl. The girl has chosen a half-Japanese, half-African American young man named Ichiro over Susumu, which enrages all of the Eagles. Baron remembers how his sister was raped by ‘half-breeds’ many years ago and goes off on a tirade about how they’ll steal all the Japanese women. Under Baron and Susumu, the Eagles make it their mission to scare off all the mixed-race young men in town, resorting to violence when scare tactics are not enough. Mako and the Alleycats don’t agree with this and try to reason with Baron while simultaneously helping some of their mixed-race friends escape the violence.

What’s initially alarming is that it’s not immediately clear how writer/director Hasebe and co-writer Atsushi Yamatoya (Branded to Kill) feel about all this. When the Eagles go on their racist crime spree, the men are having a grand time while Tatsuya Fuji comes across as a cool and charismatic leader. This is compounded by the fact that Mako, while possessing Meiko Kaji’s natural cool (and an iconic costume she would return to in the Scorpion series), is a much less interesting character. However, eventually it becomes abundantly clear that, despite being a charismatic character, Fuji’s Baron is very much meant to be the villain, which made me feel a little better about where the film was going. Baron and the Eagles are scary sorts of villains because, not only do versions of them exist in the real world, but they do not require any intelligence to unleash their violence upon the world. While villainous masterminds in movies can be cool, they’re often beyond belief thanks to their overabundance and some occasionally lackluster writing and acting. Stupid villains can be even scarier than their brilliant counterparts. All the wicked morons need is a bad idea to get into their heads and then they’re on the streets raising hell and ruining people’s lives. Additionally, while Baron is clearly the smartest guy in the Eagles (he often has his nose in a non-fiction book), his motivations are still driven by cruelty and stupidity. He hates all ‘half-breeds’ because of an incident that took place 20 years ago. He also thinks little of women and puts them through hell mostly because of his embarrassment over his impotency. There’s no forgiving Baron, but I did appreciate the attempt to make him a complicated character instead of just a man who does wrong for no reason.

While Mako and the Alleycats are mostly ineffective when opposing the Eagles (with the exception of those Coca-Cola Molotov cocktails I mentioned earlier), one mixed-race young man stands up to the bad guys, becoming the closest approximation to Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter’s idea of a hero. Played by half-Italian Rikiya Yasuoka, Kazuma Okamoto was my favorite character from the film. Kazuma travels into town and immediately goes to a bar which caters almost exclusively to mixed-race people and their friends. He’s looking for his long-lost sister, but his sister doesn’t have his looks and can easily blend in among the Japanese. Even if he finds her, she may not want to reveal who she really is. Along the way Kazuma runs into the Eagles, leading to a natural combative relationship between him and Baron. It’s an interesting role and Rikiya Yasuoka plays the part well. With imposing size and gruff looks, Yasuoka developed into being one of Japan’s most recognizable character actors, often playing tough guys and gangsters. He sadly passed away in 2012, but in his career he appeared in many popular films, including Juzo Itami’s Tampopo, Ridley Scott’s Black Rain, and in his later years he became a favorite of Takashi Miike, with roles in such films as Graveyard of Honor, Osaka Tough Guys, and Yasuoka’s final feature, Izo.

The theme of mixed-race Japanese was touched upon in Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss, the first of the series, with the boxer character played by Ken Sanders (Sanders also had a somewhat memorable role in Hasebe’s sophomore effort Massacre Gun). One can assume that the subject — and the people — apparently meant something to Hasebe. I personally liked Hasebe’s attempt to depict the mixed-race characters as more than just victims of prejudice, showing them in their jobs as useful members of society before the Eagles torpedo their lives. On the opposite side of the spectrum, in their quest of misguided nationalism the Eagles end up looking like truly worthless members of society. Some of the film is sensationalist and exploitative, but I think Hasebe and Atsushi Yamatoya had their hearts in the right place.

For those wondering where the title Sex Hunter comes in; it doesn’t seem to mean a thing. Sex plays a part in the film, and it’s often depicted in ugly circumstances, but it’s definitely not the driving force behind the narrative. While the first film Delinquent Girl Boss featured a subtitle that correctly suggested what to expect, later films like Wild Jumbo, Sex Hunter, Machine Animal, and Beat ’71 seem to have just gone for cool sounding titles.

Not only is Sex Hunter the most well-known entry of the series, but it’s probably the best. It deals with deeper, darker themes than the films that came before it and as such it may not be the most ‘enjoyable’ but I would say that it’s definitely the most memorable of the films. And if you’re into dissecting and analyzing films you’ll find that Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter has more to offer than most violent youth pics. It’s hard not to notice that the racist Eagles, who have strong anti-American views, have named themselves after the symbol of America, drive around in US Army Jeeps, and have no issue earning money by doing jobs for Americans looking for a good time. How much of the film is meant to be analyzed? How much is just there to enhance the director’s vision and the story’s themes? It’s difficult for me to say. But it’s clear that Hasebe and co. put a good deal of thought into Sex Hunter and filled their film with as many interesting sights, characters, and social questions that 90 minutes could hold.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 7.5

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Northern Limit Line | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

"Northern Limit Line" Theatrical Poster

"Northern Limit Line" Theatrical Poster

RELEASE DATE: October 20, 2015

Well Go USA presents the Blu-ray & DVD for Kim Hak-Soon’s Northern Limit Line (aka Battle of Yeonpyeong). This box office hit stars Kim Moo-Yul, Jin Goo, Lee Hyun-Woo, Lee Wan and Lee Chung-Ah.

June 29th, 2002. As the citizens of South Korea celebrate the FIFA World Cup, the North Korean navy sends two patrol boats to a disputed border in the Yellow Sea. The surprise attack on Battleship 357, now remembered as the Battle of Yeonpyeong, honors the men who bravely fought for freedom – on the Northern Limit Line. | Watch the trailer.

Pre-order Northern Limit Line from Amazon.com today!

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Michael Jai White joins Steven Seagal’s ‘Asian Connection’

"The Asian Connection" Teaser Poster

"The Asian Connection" Teaser Poster

We love Steven Seagal, but damn, we sure find it hard as hell to keep up with the films on his to-do list. So far, we have Code of Honor, Under Siege 3, Cypher, Perfect Weapon, End of a Gun and Four Towers.

Another one you can add to the pile is The Asian Connection, a project that’s being helmed by Daniel Zirilli, a director mostly known for 2010′s Locked Down and Circle of Pain, both of which are MMA-style TapouT Film productions. Danny Roth (Shark Lake) is producing.

The Asian Connection also stars Michael Jai White (Skin Trade), Tom Sizemore (Natural Born Killers), Damon Whitaker (Ghost Dog), Ron Smoorenburg (Who Am I?) and Sahajak Boonthanakit (Tekken 2: Kazuya’s Revenge).

Here’s what you can expect from the film’s plot: Two American expatriates, Jack and Sam, unwittingly steal a drug lord’s money when they rob a series of banks in Southeast Asia and become the target of the gang’s vengeance. When Sam is killed, Jack turns to the love of his life, Pom, and the couple becomes a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde that takes the fight to the gang.

We’ll keep up updated as we hear more – stay tuned!

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