The Boxer from the Temple (1979) Review

"The Boxer from the Temple" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"The Boxer from the Temple" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: John Lo Mar
Writer: Ni Kuang
Producer: Mona Fong
Cast: Ng Yuen Jun, Kwan Feng, Wong Mei Mei, Lau Fong Sai, Wang Sha, Lam Fai Wong, Lau Hok Nin, Keung Hon, Cheng Miu, Chiang Cheng, Baan Yun Sang, Chan Fai Kei, Cheung Hei, Chin Siu Ho, Chow Gam Kong, Chui Fat
Running Time: 92 min.

By Martin Sandison

Being the two main choreographers of the classic Shaw Brothers output, Lau Kar Leung and Tang Chia’s contribution to martial arts cinema with the great studio cannot be denied. The Venoms came in to their own towards the end, but one man to me is the third best and creator of some of the finest Shaws action: Hsu Hsia.

Beginning as an extra and actor in the 60’s, he appeared in ridiculous amount of classics including The Duel and The Deadly Duo. As the late 70’s Independent kung fu boom occurred, he worked on the action in the immortal Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master under Yuen Woo Ping. He also acted in the latter as the ‘King of Sticks’, his most memorable part.

In 1979, Hsu moved back to Shaws as head choreographer and made two films: Five Superfighters and Boxer from the Temple. The former needs no introduction, and stands as one of the undisputed classics of the time, Shaw or not. As a viewer, I knew of and loved Five Superfighters, but was less aware of Boxer from the Temple. My anticipation mounted, and I hoped not to be disappointed.

The film is very interesting because it takes existing kung fu movie tropes of the time and twists them to create something with a little originality. The almost universal trope of the baby left by its sick/dying mother at a place of refuge opens the film, as the young one is left at the steps of the Shaolin Temple by the ‘mad lady’ who is never present onscreen. As in most genre films of the time, the lad is an outcast but is then trained by a Monk who takes a liking to him. The Temple scenes are short and to the point and the lad, nicknamed ‘Crazy Kid’ is cast out in the world not through his wrongdoings, just because he doesn’t fit in. He arrives at a village and makes friends easily, and becomes a chef in a Vegetarian restaurant! There, he gets involved with the local gangsters and ends up befriending a prostitute who has ran away from a brothel and has a young son.

It is no surprise that the screenplay is written by Ni Kuang, perhaps the all time greatest kung fu movie creator. By 1979, Kuang was dividing his time between Shaws and independent studios, and had written my childhood favourite Death Duel of Kung Fu the same year. His ability to weave simple storylines into classic kung fu is undeniable, and Boxer From the Temple sees him really challenge himself. The dialogue and actions of the ‘Crazy Kid’ are at turns naive, naturalistic and surprising for a kung fu film; one scene sees him discussing the prostitute, with such an innocent mindset that he didn’t consider her former profession a hindrance to their getting together. This reinforces the depth of the depiction of his character tenfold, and sets up the bite of the reality sandwich that occurs later in the narrative.

Starring as ‘Crazy Kid’, Ng Yuen Jun appeared in Five Superfighters in one of the main roles, and carries Boxer from the Temple like a veteran. He is in A Deadly Secret, also choreographed by Hsu Hsia. That’s definitely on my list. It’s a shame Ng’s career never really took off, as his action and acting chops are exemplary. In Boxer from the Temple, he really gets to shine, and it is his signature role.

Starring as the prostitute San Niang, Wong Mei Mei made her debut in the film. She also has small roles in some other Shaw films, such as Holy Flame of the Martial World and Roving Sworsdman. She was a favourite of Hsu Hsia, and worked on a lot of the films he was involved in. The penultimate villain is played by Lau Hok Nin as Lian Shang Yao, who was an independent player, only working on a few Shaw movies, mostly involving Hsu Hsia.

The ultimate villain Wang Chang Huai is played by Kwan Fung, who was in plenty of Shaw movies subsequent to Boxer From the Temple, including one of my personal favourites (with one of the best titles ever) Bastard Sworsdman, and one of the deepest Shaw movies Opium and the Kung Fu Master.

Playing Xiao Hei, ‘Crazy Kid’s’ best friend, Lau Fong Sai gets some good fight scenes and proves his kicking ability in a dramatic scene towards the end. A Shaw stalwart, his most unusual credit is main action director on Tsui Hark’s A Better Tomorrow 3. Presumably he took over the role of pyrotechnics after the Vietnamese film maker they hired blew himself up!

As the film’s first half progressed, I was impressed by the trope-breaking approach, but not by the action. Slow and overly comedic in approach with some terrible music cues, I was disappointed. However, this movie is another one wherein the fights get better as the movie goes on. By the third main fight I was in raptures, as Ng takes on room after room of baddies with excellent rhythm and a Chan-worthy comedic delivery. The end fight as he takes on both villains contains some stuff that’s up there with the best of Five Superfighters, and intensity-wise is a suitable payoff for the interesting narrative.

The film is in my humble opinion much more engaging story-wise than Five Superfighters, as that film was very formulaic. However the first rate level of the choreography and the frequency of the fights give it ultimate classic status. Unfortunately Boxer from the Temple suffers a little in this aspect, but the second half action more than makes up for this, and it is up there with the better lesser known Shaw Brothers films.

Martin Sandison’s Rating: 8.5/10

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Cityonfire.com’s ‘Kung Fu: Trailers of Fury’ Blu-ray Giveaway!

"Kung Fu: Trailers of Fury" Blu-ray Cover

"Kung Fu: Trailers of Fury" Blu-ray Cover

Cityonfire.com and Severin Films are giving away 3 Blu-ray copies of Kung Fu: Trailers of Fury to three lucky Cityonfire visitors. To enter, simply add a comment to this post and describe, in your own words, this trailer.

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 Kung Fu: Trailers of Fury will be officially released on March 1, 2016. We will announce the 3 winners on that day.

CONTEST DISCLAIMER: You must enter by March 1, 2016 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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Jackie Chan’s ‘The Foreigner’ promises gritty terrorism

"Polce Story 2013" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Polce Story 2013" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Perhaps Jackie Chan is taking a page from Liam Neeson’s playbook and realizing that, even at the ripe age of 61 years-old, there’s no reason he has to retire from a life of action. That would explain why the concept for the actor’s next, project The Foreigner, sounds so much like a movie Charles Bronson might have starred in his heyday.

In the film, Jackie Chan plays a humble restaurant owner who is pushed to violence after a band of terrorists take his daughter’s life in an attack. The movie is based on Stephen Leather’s 2008 novel The Chinaman.

Directing The Foreigner is everyone’s favorite 007 filmmaker, Martin Campbell (Casino Royale). Co-starring with Chan is former James Bond himself, Pierce Brosnan (Tomorrow Never Dies, No Escape). According to TW, Brosnan will play a former IRA member-turned-government official. The project will unite Campbell and Brosnan for the first time since 1995′s Goldeneye.

The Foreigner is currently shooting in London, with an expected release date set for late 2016/early 2017.

In addition to The Foreigner, Chan currently has many movies on his agenda, including Skip TraceThe Civilian, Kung Fu Yoga, Railroad Tigers, Chinese Zodiac 2 – and possible sequels to the popular Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon franchises.

Updates: Spoiler Alert! A pack of production videos have surfaced showing a realistic exploding bus in London. Could this perhaps be the demise of the Chan character’s on-screen daughter? Click here to watch (via Super Chan).

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One Million K(l)icks (2014) Review

"One Million Klicks" Korean Theatrical Poster

"One Million Klicks" Korean Theatrical Poster

AKA: One Million Klicks
Director: Alex “The Z” Padrutt
Writer: Mike Moeller, Marco Theiss
Producer: Ruediger Kuemmerle, Mike Leeder
Cast: Mike Moeller, Martin Baden, Bartholomaeus Kowalski, Volkram Zschiesche, Sabine Steinbach, Li Yan-Long
Running Time: 98 min.

By Paul Bramhall

I have a confession, and it’s likely one that won’t be very popular. I’m not a fan of the many indie martial arts movies and shorts that crop up with an increasing frequency. Yes, I get it, it’s amazing to watch two highly skilled martial arts performers go at each other in a room / forest / insert other generic location here, however that’s my problem – too often that’s all I can see, two highly skilled martial arts performers. Kung fu talent has become so thin on the ground in recent years, that it seems the acceptance level for what we consider entertainment has been lowered to a point that being able to throw a punch or kick is all that matters.

For me though, that’s never been the only reason why I enjoy watching kung fu movies. Kung fu movies should feature kung fu stars – Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, the list goes on. All of these guys are highly skilled martial arts performers, but just as importantly – they have charisma and screen presence. Even if they’re not the best actors in the world, they have that special something that endears them to viewers, that makes you want to root for or against them, and that’s what being in a movie is all about. In an age were any Tom, Dick, or Harry can pick up a camera, movies like the Thunderkick trilogy are what give indie martial arts cinema a bad name.

Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, Eric Jacobus and The Stunt People immediately spring to mind, an independent group of martial artists who always put just as much time into creating an engaging premise as they do the action. Mike Möller is another martial artist who’s been looking to make a name for himself in the indie martial arts movie scene. A German native, Möller got his career off to a good start by working as a stuntman on an episode of the Donnie Yen choreographed German TV series, Der Puma. Since then he’s worked as a stuntman on many German and Hollywood productions, however he’s perhaps most recognizable as one of the hip-hop fighters that squares off against Jiang Luxia in Coweb (aka Ninja Masters).

Four years after Coweb, Möller arguably bit off more than he could chew by directing, writing, and starring in 2013’s Urban Fighter (aka Arena of the Street Fighter). A kind of ultra low budget German post-apocalyptic fight movie, much like the complaint I started off this review with, it featured plentiful fight action, and little else, unless mediocrity and bad acting are counted as worthwhile traits. Thankfully, the fight action was so good that when a veteran of the Hong Kong film industry, Mike Leeder, and German producer Ruediger Kuemmerle, got together to create the production company Silent Partners, they signed Möller up to star in their first movie, One Million K(l)icks.

Read any plot description of One Million K(l)icks, and indeed it sounds like one million other low budget martial arts flicks. Fighter with a heart of gold is dragged into an underground fight tournament that’s streamed on the internet. It’s practically a sub-genre by itself. However this description doesn’t really do the plot justice, yes it involves fights being streamed on the internet, but there’s no underground fight tournament, at least not in the typical way you find in these types of movies. Möller is a guy who has the moves, and is one day caught being recorded on someone’s mobile phone when he gets involved in a fight with some thugs at a bar. The pair of friends behind the recording decide that potentially there’s money to be made by putting the clip on the internet, and convince Möller to try and get involved in more fights which they can film, paying him a cut.

The bar scene kicks off the movie, and the opening credits are incorporated into it, which take the form of an animated fight scene. This quirky opening provides a refreshing start to One Million K(l)icks, and immediately brings to mind the similarly styled opening of Contour, the first full-length feature of the previously mentioned The Stunt People group. We’re introduced to Möller as he cockily strolls into the bar, however this impression is quickly laid to rest, as he proceeds to be shot down by every girl he tries to talk to. At only a couple of minutes in, One Million K(l)icks does its first thing right, by giving us a likeable main character. More importantly, Möller has that vital ingredient – screen presence. Thankfully, this aspect of the production is the first of many things that it gets right.

The production values themselves, while obviously still low budget, are a world away from Urban Fighter, with the cinematography and camera angles all showing a clear understanding of how a fight scene should be filmed, and there are plenty of them. The pair of friends decide to find opponents for Möller to face off against, with the condition that they have to be able to fight, then go to wherever the candidate is most likely to be found and attempt to instigate a face off.

This is the second surprise in One Million K(l)icks, in that it has a genuine sense of humour, resulting in some real laugh out loud moments. For his first opponent, a martial arts loving motorcyclist, they track him down while he’s riding his motorbike, and pull up in their car next to him. Möller attempts to get him riled up by yelling abuse from the passenger seat, but when the biker doesn’t reciprocate with violence, no matter how offensive it gets, his switch from acting like a tough guy, to desperately questioning what he should do to start the fight is particularly funny. Möller’s short stature is also treated as a source of humor, much like Sammo Hung’s girth, only instead of being called fatty, he has to put up with being hilariously referred to as ‘a little man’ and an ‘arrogant fighting dwarf’.

Of course the fight action is really what it’s all about, and One Million K(l)icks delivers plenty of them. Some of the highlights include the first main fight against the motorcyclist, played by André Thaldorf, which is a flurry of fists and feet with a nice dose of acrobatics thrown in as well. Möller also gets to go toe to toe with a Taekwondo master in the form of Cha-Lee Yoon, a fantastic kicker who’s done stunt work on the likes of Skyfall, as well as acting as assistant fight choreographer on the recent Point Break remake. Kung fu fans will certainly appreciate a kung-fu match up, that takes place in a Chinese restaurant no less, against Li Yan-Long. Although the name may not be immediately familiar, Lan-Yong has a prominent role in the 1984 classic South Shaolin Master, and his performance here 30 years on show that he hasn’t lost a beat.

Lan-Yong is the first character to make Möller question why he’s doing what he does, and as the movie progresses the two form a bond that sees the pair take on a teacher and student type relationship. The peaceful Chinese chef taking on the cocky young fighter is an effective nod to the old-school kung fu movie tropes, and is played out convincingly, as Lan-Yong demonstrates some mesmerising Tai Chi techniques, and puts Möller to work in the restaurant kitchen. Of course things don’t go smoothly forever, and the interference from a cop with a love of fighting sees Möller’s new found peace of mind being put to the test. The cop is played by Volkram Zschiesche, who also acted as Möller’s main adversary in Urban Fighter, and here he’s just as much of a ruthless beast who becomes determined to prove that he’s the better of the two.

An early interaction between Möller and Zschiesche in an interrogation room highlights the refreshingly sharp script from Marco Theiss, as the pair exchange thinly veiled threats at each other. I also enjoyed the underlying theme of my earlier reference to being in an age when any Tom, Dick or Harry can pick up a camera and film a fight, which is exactly what the two friends are doing with Möller in the movie itself. It’s these elements which elevate One Million K(l)icks from being just another indie martial arts movie featuring talented martial artists. The plot could easily have served as simply a show reel for Möller, with the rest consisting of filler to move from fight to fight, but directors Alex Padrutt and Oliver Juhrs, here debuting with their first full length feature, ensure things never descend into being on the level of a YouTube fight compilation.

If one criticism can be levelled at One Million K(l)icks, it would be its soundtrack. While it occasionally hits the right notes in more dramatic scenes, the majority of it consists of what can be safely referred to as generic Euro-techno. The tracks do nothing to elevate scenes or distil any tension into them, and their repetitive nature when playing over training sequences or as the backing track in a nightclub are a distraction more than an accompaniment.

However this is a small gripe, One Million K(l)icks is first and foremost a fight flick, and Möller proves that he’s got what it takes to be leading man material in one. Be it aping Bruce Lee, throwing in a Won Jin style double footed flying kick, or harking back to Tony Jaa’s Ong Bak days, his speed and agility is a joy to watch, and the variety and versatility of the fight action on display ensures proceedings never get dull. Germany may not be the first country you think of when seeking out a healthy dose of kung fu action, but One Million K(l)icks should be the one to put it on the map. The mix of hard-hitting fight action, combined with a simple but effectively told plot, doesn’t just make it stand out from the indie martial arts movie scene, it makes it one of the best action movies to come out in recent years.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 8/10

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Watch Well Go USA’s new ‘Rise of the Legend’ trailer!

"Rise of the Legend" Theatrical Poster

"Rise of the Legend" Theatrical Poster

Donnie Yen’s Ip Man 3 is currently making some vicious waves across America, but that hasn’t stopped Well Go USA from announcing their next action-packed release: Rise of the Legend.

This martial arts hit is directed by Roy Chow (Nightfall) and features an all-star cast that includes Sammo Hung (Seven Warriors), Eddie Peng (Unbeatable), Jing Boran (The Bullet Vanishes), Zhang Jin (Ip Man 3), Wong Cho-lam (Firestorm) and Angelababy (Mojin: The Lost Legend). The film also features fight choreography by the legendary Corey Yuen (Kiss of the Dragon, Raging Thunder).

Rise of the Legend centers on a younger rendition of real-life folk hero, Wong Fei-hung (Peng). Over the years, the tale of Wong Fei-hung’s heroism has transformed him into a revered folk hero and is widely portrayed in modern media. Arguably one of the most recognizable kung fu figures in cinematic history, he is the subject of over 100 films and television series since the 40s. The character was further made famous on the big screen by Jet Li in the highly successful Once Upon a Time in China series, as well as Jackie Chan in Drunken Master and its sequel.

Well Go USA’s Rise of the Legend hits theaters and VOD on March 11th. Watch the film’s newest trailer.

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Veteran | Blu-ray & DVD (CJ Entertainment)

Veteran | Blu-ray & DVD (CJ Entertainment)

Veteran | Blu-ray & DVD (CJ Entertainment)

RELEASE DATE: April 5, 2016

CJ Entertainment presents the Blu-ray & DVD for Ryoo Seung-wan’s Veteran (read our review), an action film starring Hwang Jung-Min (The Unjust), Oh Dal-Su (The Pirates), Yu Hae-Jin (The Flu), Jeong Man-Sik (Kundo), Yoo Ah-In (Punch) and Jung Woong-In (The Quiet Family).

Seung-wan is once again paired with Korea’s best action choreographer and frequent collaborator, Jung Doo-hong, and together the end result is the director’s tightest movie to date. | Trailer.

Pre-order Veteran from Amazon.com today!

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

‘Jason Bourne’ is tougher than ever in a new trailer

"Jason Bourne" Theatrical Poster

"Jason Bourne" Theatrical Poster

Matt Damon (The Martian) and director Paul Greengrass (United 93Captain Phillips) are back with the long-awaited 5th chapter of the Bourne franchise – simply titled Jason Bourne – which finds the CIA’s most lethal former operative (Damon) drawn out of the shadows.

The film also stars Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), Julia Stiles (The Bourne Identity), Tommy Lee Jones (Rolling Thunder), Vincent Cassel (Mesrine 1 and 2), Riz Ahmed (Star Wars: Rogue One), Ato Essandoh (Blood Diamond), Neve Gachev (Skyfall) and Stephen Kunken (The Wolf of Wallstreet).

Jason Bourne hits theaters on July 29, 2016. Click here to watch the film’s first teaser trailer.

Posted in News | 2 Comments

Trailer for Steven Seagal’s futuristic actioner ‘Perfect Weapon’

"Perfect Weapon" Promotional Poster

"Perfect Weapon" Promotional Poster

Currently in post-production is a futuristic Steven Seagal actioner titled The Perfect Weapon. Despite its title, this upcoming movie has no connection to the Jeff Speakman classic of the same name.

The first trailer for The Perfect Weapon hints an influence from both Universal Soldier and Hitman: Agent 47. Even though the words “Steven Seagal” headline the film’s marketing materials, the Above the Law star appears to have more of a co-starring role, second to Johnny Messner (Kill ‘Em All).

Perfect Weapon is directed by Titus Paar (The Refugees) and produced by Andre Relis (War Pigs) and Rafael Primorac (Wesley Snipes’ Game of Death).

The film also stars Sasha Jackson (Jarhead 3), Richard Tyson (Simon Says), Vernon Wells (Commando), Kimberly Battista (Hot Summer Nights) and Lance E. Nichols (13 Sins).

Official Plot: In a not too distant future, a totalitarian state run by ‘The Director” (Seagal) controls all aspects of life. All enemies of the state are dealt in the harshest way. Most of them are executed by the secret government’s assassins. The best operative is code-named “Condor” (Messner) – an elite agent and hit man for the government. However, in his latest assignment, “Condor” fails to kill an opposition leader, and finds himself on the run from the very same government agency that he works for. This sets in motion a chain of events with unforseen consequences for all involved. But “Condor” just might survive the hunt because he is… The Perfect Weapon.

Perfect Weapon is just one film in a list of upcoming titles with Seagal’s name attached. Others include Code of Honor, Under Siege 3, CypherThe Asian ConnectionEnd of a Gun, Killing Salazar, Four Towers and China Salesman.

A release date for Perfect Weapon is still pending. Stay tuned!

Posted in News | 2 Comments

Deal on Fire! Dragon | aka Wu Xia | Blu-ray | Only $9.99 – Expires soon!

Dragon (aka Wu Xia) Blu-ray & DVD (Anchor Bay)

Dragon (aka Wu Xia) Blu-ray & DVD (Anchor Bay)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for 2011′s Dragon (aka Wu Xia), directed by Peter Chan (Comrades, Almost A Love Story).

In this loose remake of 1967′s One-Armed Swordsman, Liu (Donnie Yen) is a villager whose quiet life is shattered when he saves a man from two notorious gangsters. He comes under investigation by a detective (Takeshi Kaneshiro), who is curious on how Liu single-handenly took on the gangsters.

Dragon (read our review) also stars Jimmy Wang Yu, Tang Wei, Kara Hui and Yin Zhusheng.

Order Dragon from Amazon.com today!

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

Pray for Death (1985) Review

Pray for Death | Blu-ray (Arrow Video)

Pray for Death | Blu-ray (Arrow Video)

Director: Gordon Hessler
Writer: James Booth
Producer: Don Van Atta
Cast: Sho Kosugi, Norman Burton, James Booth, Kane Kosugi, Shane Kosugi, Donna Kei Benz, Michael Constantine, Matthew Faison, Parley Baer, Robert Ito, Alan Amiel, Woody Watson, Charles Grueber
Running Time: 92 min.

By Zach Nix

Japanese martial arts actor Sho Kosugi is well known for starring and appearing in several action films of the 1980s that popularized the notion of the ‘ninja’ in American cinema and culture. After taking part in Cannon Film’s infamous Ninja Trilogy (Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination), Kosugi collaborated with director Gordon Hessler on two action films. The first of their two collaborations, Pray for Death, was released in 1985 and blended Kosugi’s knack for ninja action with a Death Wish-styled tale of vigilante justice. Although nowhere near as insane and bonkers as some of Kosugi’s previous efforts, Pray for Death is a perfectly suitable B-actioner with a surprisingly dramatic story and some entertaining action sequences.

The film opens with Bond styled credits set to a fantastic theme song, “Back to the Shadows,” sung by Peggy Abernathy. Although Hessler’s attempt at aping Bond in his opening credits is far from successful, it helps convey both the film’s cheesy tone and Kosugi’s star image.

Kosugi plays Akira Saito, a Japanese businessman who takes his American born wife’s advice and moves their family to America in order to start up their own business. Before leaving though, Akira advises his adoptive father and sensei of his intentions, as well as his desire to leave his secretive ninja skills to the past. Upon arriving in America, Akira and his family purchase an establishment from a kind old man and turn it into a restaurant. Unfortunately for the Saito family, they happened to pick the one building gangsters and corrupt cops were already using as a hideout for valuable jewelry. When one of the corrupt cops double crosses the mob and steals the jewelry, the mob suspects Akira and his family instead, since they own the property upon which the hiding place resided. After suffering repeated attacks on his family, Akira decides to readopt his ninja ways and go after the mob once and for all. In the words of Akira, “You better pray for death!”

Pray for Death serves up a hearty plate of vigilante justice that combines ninja style action with a fairly solid story. To be honest, the film is surprisingly dramatic and affective in its implications. Viewers will find themselves particularly engaged with the story and its lead character’s plight purely for how innocent and honorable he is. There’s no denying that the film goes off the rails in its final act and occasionally ventures into mean spirited exploitative territory (especially in its unrated cut), but Pray for Death is mostly an affective story of a father who simply wanted to experience the American dream and leave his violent ways to the past.

The film shares many similarities with the Death Wish series, Charles Bronson’s famed franchise of over the top insanity, murderous scumbags, and vigilante justice. It’s ironic that Pray for Death was released within the same year as Death Wish 3, the most insane Death Wish of them all, which shares a similar dangerous neighborhood as the one found in Pray for Death. In fact, Pray for Death shares more in common with Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, as each film pits their protagonist against organized crime. Although produced by Transworld Entertainment, Pray for Death could easily be mistaken as a Cannon production because of its low budget proceedings, star Kosugi, and blend of both the vigilante and ninja sub genre.

Let’s be honest, Kosugi is not a particularly great actor. After all, he admits in the newly conducted interview on Arrow Video’s disc that he never attended acting school, and that he only knew martial arts. However, despite his performance shortcomings, Kosugi is still a likable actor, especially for those with a soft spot for cheesy performers. He’s especially fun to watch during his action sequences, although Kosugi rarely handles his own stunts, as evident by the many obvious light-skinned stuntmen who perform all of his front flips and spins for him. You also have to love the guy for incorporating his sons, Shane and Kane Kosugi (Tekken 2) into his films. Kosugi, both in real life and within Pray for Death specifically, is a real family man.

Pray for Death features a plethora of villains, although one takes the cake as the most despicable. Limehouse Willie, played by James Booth, is both an enforcer for the mob and a complete scumbag. He not only murders the old man that sold the restaurant to Akira’s family, but goes so far as to viciously attack Akira’s children and wife. While I do not want to go into spoilers as to what he does to some of Akira’s family, let’s just say that it is rather vile. Fortunately, Booth gets his comeuppance when he and Kosugi go head to head in a rather lengthy final fight that serves as the film’s best bout of martial arts action thanks to its incorporation of swordplay and a chainsaw. It’s also worth mentioning that Michael Constantine of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame plays the film’s lead mobster, Mr. Newman. Those accustomed with Constantine’s adorable performance as a loving father in that romantic comedy will be shocked to see him play a heartless villain here.

Pray for Death arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Video U.S. with a wonderful new transfer that looks fantastic. Genre films of this sort are typically left to rot on DVD or VHS with haphazard early transfers. Fortunately, Arrow has once again given an overlooked genre film the royal treatment with a high definition transfer that should please all viewers.

It’s important to note that this release includes both the unrated and theatrical releases of the film. The unrated cut offers up more bloody violence and a rather disturbing scene of murder and rape. It definitely pushes the film into Death Wish territory with its excessive violence and gratuitous treatment of women. Unfortunately, the source for the excised moments of unrated violence is very poor. Every scene of added violence from the unrated cut suffers from a severe drop in image and sound quality. Therefore, although I recommend checking out the unrated cut for its additions and historical quality, the R rated cut is best suited for repeat viewings because of its consistent transfer. After all, the unrated additions don’t offer up much, as the film is already filled with over the top violence and murder. Still, purists will want to settle for the unrated cut, even with its occasional drop in image and sound quality.

The supplements found on the disc range from a new 19 minute long interview with star Sho Kosugi, a vintage interview with the actor from Martial Arts Forum in 1985, and a trailer gallery of some of his classic films. The new interview is very informative, as Sho himself lays out his life’s history leading up to his first acting gig. He also reveals that he moved to America at age 19 in search of a better life. This is interesting, as his character Akira hoped for the same goal in Pray for Death. The vintage interview on the other hand is quite hilarious, as Sho brings his helmet from the film with him to the interview. The set for the interview is honestly nonexistent as well, as he and the host speak to one another from their chairs. This supplement also features some great archival footage of Sho performing martial arts at the New York premiere for Pray for Death in 1985. It’s great stuff. The disc also includes a trailer gallery, compiling several of Kosugi’s greatest hits, as well as the two films being released by Arrow on Blu-ray.

Overall, Pray for Death and its respective package by Arrow comes highly recommended. Not only is the film a blast to watch, and the high definition transfer superb, but the supplements help give the viewer a greater understanding of Kosugi and his ninja cinema. The disc also comes with two alternate cuts of the film, thereby allowing viewers the choice as to which cut they prefer to watch. Make sure to head “Back to the Shadows” with this release when it comes out on Blu-ray in the United States on Feb. 23, 2016.

Zach Nix’s Rating: 7/10

Posted in All, Asian Related, News, Ninja, Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Happy Chinese New Year from ‘The Final Master’!

"The Master" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"The Master" Chinese Theatrical Poster

This May, United Entertainment Partners is releasing Haofeng Xu’s highly-anticipated, award-winning martial arts film, The Master, re-titled as The Final Master.

Xu made a name for himself by penning the screenplay for Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster. But it was 2011′s The Sword Identity, his directorial debut, which showed Xu’s true talent. Then came his acclaimed second film, 2012′s Judge Archer (aka Arrow Arbitration).

Xu’s trend in both films was presenting the martial arts in a less stylized and more realistic manner, perhaps not unlike the 2007 Japanese film Black Belt or David Mamet’s 2008 MA-themed Redbelt.

Xu’s knack for realistic hand-to-hand combat in The Final Master is sure to please. The upcoming movie stars Liao Fan (Black Coal, Thin IceChinese Zodiac), Song Yang (The Sword Identity), Jia Song (On His Majesty’s Secret Service), Li Xia (The White Dragon), Huang Jue (Founding of the Party) and Chin Shih-Chieh (The Brotherhood of Blades).

Don’t miss the film’s newest trailer!

Updates: The United Entertainment Partners team wants to wish you a Happy Chinese New Year…

The Final Master - Happy New Year!

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Michael Pitt joins Scarlett Johansson for ‘Ghost in the Shell’

"Ghost in the Shell" Anime Theatrical Poster

"Ghost in the Shell" Anime Theatrical Poster

Rupert Sanders (White and the Huntsman) is currently in pre-production mode for DreamWorks’ live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, based on Masamune Shirow’s manga/and anime by Mamoru Oshii of the same name.

Ghost in the Shell follows the exploits a female cyborg cop who hunts a mysterious and powerful hacker called the Puppet Master.

The film will star Scarlett Johansson (Lucy) and Michael Pitt (Funny Games). Pilou Asbæk (A Hijacking) and Sam Riley (On the Road) are also attached.

Ghost in the Shell – along with Robotech and Akira – is one of the many live-action anime/manga projects in development by Hollywood studios.

Ghost in the Shell has a release date set for April 14, 2017. Shooting starts early this year in New Zealand. Stay tuned!

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Simon Yam goes for shock value in ‘The Tenants Downstairs’

"The Tenants Downstairs" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"The Tenants Downstairs" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Hong Kong star Simon Yam (SPL II, Cross) is back in The Tenants Downstairs, an upcoming thriller by first-time director, Adam Tsuei. The film is based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Giddens Ko (You Are the Apple of My Eye).

According to Variety, The Tenants Downstairs is a creepy fantasy involving a dangerous landlord (Yam), a gay tenant (Lee Kang-sheng) and a mysterious female lodger (Shao Yu-wei).

The novel is notorious for its shock-value, and the film’s producers say that they will not tone it down. With that said, don’t miss the film’s trailer (via AFS).

The Tenants Downstairs releases on August 2016.

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Deal on Fire! Curse of the Golden Flower | Blu-ray | Only $6.89 – Expires soon!

"Curse of the Golden Flower" Blu-ray Cover

"Curse of the Golden Flower" Blu-ray Cover

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Curse of the Golden Flower, directed by Zhang Yimou (Jet Li’s Hero).

It’s a tale of drama, revenge, romantic intrigue – and of course – martial arts action, as choreographed by the great Ching Siu-tung (Duel to the Death).

Curse of the Golden Flower stars Chow Yun-Fat (The Postman Strikes Back), Gong Li (2046) and Jay Chou (The Viral Factor).

Order Curse of the Golden Flower from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Deals on Fire!, News | 2 Comments

Steven Seagal and Rob Van Dam unite in ‘Sniper: Special Ops’

"Sniper: Special Ops" DVD Cover

"Sniper: Special Ops" DVD Cover

If Code of HonorCypher, Perfect Weapon, Asian Connection, Killing Salazar, Four TowersEnd of a Gun and China Salesman aren’t enough upcoming Steven Seagal flicks to keep you afloat for the next few years, read on…

Coming soon to a DVD/VOD near you is the latest Seagal actioner titled Sniper: Special Ops (formerly known as Captive). This time, the Above the Law star teams up with pro-wrestler/actor Rob Van Dam (Black Mask II: City of Masks). Also appearing are Tim Abell and Dale Dye. Despite its title, the film is not related to the existing Sniper franchise.

In Sniper: Special Ops, a Special Ops military Force, led by expert sniper Sergeant Jake Chandler (Seagal), are sent to a remote Afghan village to extract an American congressman being held by the Taliban. The rescue mission is a success, but Jake, separated after a firefight with the enemy, stays behind to help an injured soldier.

Sniper: Special Ops is helmed by the prolific Fred Olen Ray, a cult filmmaker responsible for countless B movies, including Don “The Dragon” Wilson’s 1997 martial arts flick, Inferno.

Although a release date is still pending, Lionsgate is handling Sniper: Special Ops’s distribution. For now, don’t miss the film’s trailer!

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Trailer for Uwe Boll’s ‘Rampage 3: President Down’ is epic!

"Rampage 2: Capital Punishment" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Rampage 2: Capital Punishment" Japanese Theatrical Poster

In the first Rampage (2009), Bill (Brendan Fletcher) goes on a hometown killing spree. In Rampage 2: Capital Punishment (2014), Bill terrorizes a TV station. Now, he’s back for Rampage 3: President Down – and judging by the film’s title – Bill has once again upped the ante!

Uwe Boll (Alone in the Dark) has definitely made some horrendous movies in the past, but if you’ve seen any of the Rampage films – or even Assault on Wall Street – Boll has proven himself to be a competent “action” filmmaker (Note: if you call the Rampage franchise anything but an action film, then you’re taking it all too serious).

Let’s put it this way: If John Woo (Hard Boiled) is the master of the heroic bloodshed film, then Boll is the master of making flicks about people goin’ postal. I can honestly say that Boll’s aforementioned action thrillers are better than anything filmmakers like John Moore (A Good Day to Die Hard), Simon West (The Expendables 2) and Len Wiseman (Total Recall remake) are pumping out in theaters. Way better. And as a bonus, Boll has balls.

Rampage 3: President Down (aka Rampage 3: No Mercy) releases in May 2016. Until then, brace yourself for the film’s trailer – and while you’re at it, seek out Rampage and Rampage 2. You’ll be glad you did.

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Keanu Reeves to take a page from Jackie Chan in ‘Rally Car’

"John Wick" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"John Wick" Japanese Theatrical Poster

If nothing else, the 1980′s Cannonball Run films – which focused on a wacky cross-country race with a plethora of celebrity cameos – are remembered as one of Jackie Chan’s first forays into Hollywood cinema. Now it looks as though Keanu Reeves (John Wick) is taking a page from Jackie Chan’s playbook by heading to China for a little racing action of his own in Rally Car. The project, to be produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, is a Chinese/American co-production centered around a race across China.

Of course, Keanu Reeves is no stranger to Chinese cinema. His directorial debut Man of Tai Chi featured a bevy of Hong Kong talent, including Karen Mok (Black Mask) and Simon Yam (SPL II), and was shot in cities like Macau and Beijing. Thus, the actor seems like a natural fit to bridge the gap between Hollywood and the East in Rally Car.

Update: Rally Car will be directed by Harald Zwart (The Karate Kid) with a story by Stephen Hamel (Henry’s Crime) and Jeremy Lott. The film is currently in pre-production phase.

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Renny Harlin and Jackie Chan’s ‘Skiptrace’ gets new trailer!

"Skiptrace" Chinese Teaser Poster

"Skiptrace" Chinese Teaser Poster

Jackie Chan is teaming up with director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2) for Skiptrace, an upcoming action-comedy about a detective from Hong Kong (Jackie Chan) who teams up with an American gambler (Johnny Knoxville) to battle against a notorious Chinese criminal.

Skiptrace also stars Fan Bingbing (The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom), WWE’s Eve Torres (The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power), Michael Wong (Zombie Fight Club) and Eric Tsang (The Last Blood).

Skiptrace was expected to hit theaters in China on December 24th 2015, but for unknown reasons, the film has now been pushed back to 2016. A North American release date is pending.

For now, check out the film’s teaser trailer and making of featurette.

Updates: Watch the film’s latest trailer!

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The Piper (2015) Review

"The Piper" Korean Theatrical Poster

"The Piper" Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Kim Gwang-tae
Writer: Kim Gwang-tae
Producer: Kim Dong-woo, Lee Han
Cast: Ryu Seung-ryong, Lee Sung-min, Chun Woo-hee, Lee Joon, Goo Seung-hyun, Jeong Kyeong-ho, Kim Jeong-yeong, Park Yoon-seok, Yoon Dae-yeol, Lee Dong-hee
Running Time: 119 min.

By Paul Bramhall

The horror movie is an annual staple of commercial Korean cinema, as every summer the multiplexes become filled with largely uninspired and quickly forgotten tales of vengeful spirits and the like. 2015 however was a surprisingly good year for the horror genre, with a number of talented new directors choosing to make their debut within an area of Korean film which has become largely stagnant. Jang Jae-hyeon provided us with the exorcism movie The Priests, Hong Won-chan delivered the serial killer chiller The Office, and Yoo Young-seon showed that terror can be found in the workplace just as much as anywhere else with The Wicked.

Another director that weighed in with a horror movie debut is Kim Kwang-tae, who decided to take the interesting approach of adapting the Brothers Grimm tale, The Piped Piper of Hamelin. For anyone not familiar, the tale takes place in the German town of Hamelin during the Middle Ages, a wealthy village that becomes the victim of a significant rat infestation. When a wandering piper stumbles across the village by chance, the mayor offers to pay the piper for him to lead the rats away with his music. The piper duly obliges, leading the rats away from the village. However when the mayor goes back on his promise and refuses to pay up, the piper gets revenge by using his music to lead the children of the village to a grim fate.

The moral of the story of course is the importance of keeping your promises, and this was something Kwang-tae echoed when discussing his reasons behind making The Piper, stating that it was “about the importance of accountability.” In his re-telling, events are transported from Middle Ages Germany to the Korean countryside, shortly after the end of the Korean War.

The role of the piper is given to one of Korea’s most versatile actors, Ryoo Seung-ryong. After playing memorable supporting characters for many years, from the villain of War of the Arrows to the royal aide in Masquerade, Seung-ryong has pushed into leading man territory in recent years. His role as a wrongly accused simpleton in 2013’s Miracle in Cell No. 7 earned him the Best Actor prize at the 50th Grand Bell Awards, and he also took the lead in 2014’s The Target, a remake of the French movie Point Blank. In Kwang-tae’s version Seung-ryong’s piper is also given a young son that acts as his companion, and it’s revealed that the reason for their journey is to see a doctor in Seoul due to the son suffering from tuberculosis.

After staying the night in an abandoned dwelling during a storm, upon waking up to a bright and sunny morning, Seung-ryong discovers that the nights strong winds have revealed a previously hidden trail. Encouraged by his son, the pair decide to follow the trail, at the end of which they discover a village. A sense of foreboding permeates through their arrival, as the villagers working the fields stop and eye the newly arrived pair with obvious suspicion, unsure of what to make of the new arrivals. Thankfully the village mayor, played by Lee Sung-min, welcomes them in, despite his character a little too transparently having ulterior motives to his warm welcome.

For anyone that’s familiar with Korean cinema, the setup for The Piper is alarmingly similar to that of Kang Woo-seok’s 2010 adaption of the Korean webtoon, Moss. The stranger arriving in a mysterious small village, the dubious mayor residing in the house that overlooks the village, even down to a female character who the mayor uses for his own selfish needs. Sung-min’s performance as the mayor also seems to be cut from the same cloth as Jeong Jae-yeong’s mayor in Moss, all of which add up to being so similar that it distracts from becoming fully engaged in the events which are unfolding. This is largely due to the fact that, much like Jae-yong’s turn in Moss, it becomes apparent early on that Sung-min is not the affable character that he presents himself as to Seung-ryong.

The Pied Piper is a very short and simple tale, and could well be interpreted as perfect material for an equally compact and gruesome horror movie. But as previously mentioned, Kwang-tae wanted to do more than make a straight up horror flick, so he fills out the 107 minute runtime with a substantial amount of character development. The issue is, the characters who get the most development don’t necessarily need it. Seung-ryong seems to be mildly echoing his turn in Miracle in Cell No. 7 here, as his piper often comes across as hopelessly naïve and innocent. It’s revealed his wife was killed in the war, which was followed by his son becoming sick, however his cheerful demeanour and unquestioning approach make him seem more like a gullible fool than anything else.

On the other end of the spectrum, Cheon Woo-hee, who plays a character being forcibly pressured into being a shaman for the village, is given very little to do other than come across as a bag of nerves. Likewise for Lee Joon, who after showing so much promise in 2013’s Rough Play, has returned to acting solely in TV dramas. Here he makes a welcome return to big screen productions, playing the son of Sung-min, however apart from acting like an angst ridden teenager who hints at having darker intentions, he’s left largely on the side-lines.

Speaking of characters being left on the side-lines, there are portions of the runtime when you’d swear the main attraction for a tale such as this – the rats themselves – have been all but forgotten about. There is indeed a rat infestation, but so much time is spent focusing on an unspoken event from the past, that combined with a misplaced romantic subplot, the son’s tuberculosis, and the mayors ulterior motives, often the rodents almost feel like an afterthought.

However when they do come, the scenes are suitably impressive, as a legion of the CGI created vermin are sent scurrying through the pristine scenery of Gangwon Province to the tune of the piper. The reveal that the rats have a taste for human flesh leads to the expected twist on the story that, once betrayed, Seung-ryong sends them straight back to where they came from, leading to a suitably gruesome conclusion. Even during the rat filled finale though, there’s still a sense of restraint that stops it from being completely satisfying. Seung-ryong’s transition from the happy-go-lucky piper, to revenge seeking father, is surprisingly given the least amount of time out of all the plot points, and as a result is never entirely convincing. The most important part of the tale feels almost like a footnote, rendering the abduction of the children to a few minutes at the end of the movie.

Knowing that Kwang-tae wanted to deliver a deeper meaning with The Piper, admittedly a lot can be read into from the finale. With the recent criticism of the Korean government and its seeming decision to whitewash the country’s history (see the first paragraph of my review for The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale), the sight of the villages children, willingly following a figure of authority into a place from which they won’t be able to escape, is a powerful one. It’s just questionable if this was the most appropriate genre to place it in.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6.5/10

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Van Damme and Alain Moussi return for more ‘Kickboxer’

"Kickboxer: Retaliation" Teaser Poster

"Kickboxer: Retaliation" Teaser Poster

Late last year, news about Kickboxer: Retaliation – a follow up to the soon-to-be released Kickboxer: Vengeance – was being developed. Today, exciting new details about the sequel have finally emerged.

According to CS, Alain Moussi and Jean-Claude Van Damme (Double Team, Pound of Flesh) are reprising their respective roles as they match against a syndicate of criminals.

This time around, Dimitri Logothetis (who directed Moussi in the unreleased Wings of the Dragon) is taking over the director’s chair for John Stockwell (In the Blood). It should be noted that Logothetis is no stranger to the series, since he served as both writer and producer for Kickboxer: Vengeance.

There was some speculation that UFC Champ Fabrício Werdum was attached, but it has been confirmed that professional strongman competitor, Hafthor Julius Björnsson (Game of Thrones), will be playing the film’s main villain.

Kickboxer: Retaliation is set to begin in Thailand in May. Stay tuned for more updates!

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Is Goo Mo’s ‘Musudan’ Korea’s answer to ‘Predator’?

"Musudan" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Musudan" Korean Theatrical Poster

South Korean director Goo Mo (District 820) returns with Musudan (aka Team Moosoo), an upcoming thriller that’s reminiscent of John McTiernan’s Predator (1987).

South Korea forms a unit led by Captain Jo Jin-Ho (Kim Min-Jun) and First Lieutenant Shin Yoo-Hwa (Lee Ji-Ah). They are given 24 hours to find out the truth behind the some deadly incidents that have taken place in the Korean Demilitarized Zone. And something isn’t right…

Musudan also stars Do Ji-Han, Park Yoo-Hwan, Oh Jong-Hyuk and Kim Dong-Young. The film releases domestically on February 25, 2016.

Watch the trailer. If it bleeds, they can kill it.

Posted in News | 1 Comment

Watch the trailer for the Johnnie To-produced ‘Trivisa’

"Trivisa" Promotional Poster

"Trivisa" Promotional Poster

An exciting project that has recently been announced by Hong Kong’s Media Asia Film Distribution is Trivisa, a new crime thriller to be produced by Johnnie To and Yau Nai Hoi (Eye in the Sky).

Three up-and-coming directors, Frank Hui, Vicky Wong and Jevons Au, will be helming the film with a cast that includes Richie Ren (Breaking News), Jordan Chan (White Vengeance) and Gordon Lam (Election 2). The film is about three notorious criminals who cross the border from China to make their fortune in Hong Kong.

We’ll keep you updated about Trivisa as we hear more. Until then, watch the film’s trailer.

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Who wants to make a ‘P.A.S.S.’ at Bianca Van Damme?

"Paranormal Activity Security Squad" Teaser Poster

"Paranormal Activity Security Squad" Teaser Poster

P.A.S.S. or Paranormal Activity Security Squad is an upcoming martial arts – horror – comedy flick directed by and starring Alexander Wraith (No Tears for the Dead) and Bianca Brigitte Van Damme (6 Bullets, Assassination Games).

Judging from this promotional image, one can easily describe P.A.S.S. as The Ghostbusters meets exploitation cinema with other elements of craziness (i.e. Charlie Sheen, UFOs and lightsabers).

P.A.S.S. also stars Sean Stone (Savages), Rigan Machado (Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor) and Aki Aleong (Pound of Flesh).

In addition to P.A.S.S., Wraith and Van Damme are also collaborating on Enter the Fist and the Golden Fleecing, as well as Kickbox, which be filmed entirely in Thailand.

Updates: Watch a new in-movie commercial for P.A.S.S. We really don’t know what to think (and that’s probably the point). If you’re looking to pre-order a copy, visit the film’s official website.

Posted in News | 2 Comments

No Noomi in ‘Alien: Covenant’ (aka Prometheus 2)…

"Prometheus" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Prometheus" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created in Alien with Alien: Covenant, the second chapter in a prequel trilogy that began with Prometheus — and connects directly to Scott’s 1979 seminal work of science fiction.

Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, the crew of the colony ship Covenant discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world — whose sole inhabitant is the “synthetic” David (Michael Fassbender), survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition.

Alien: Covenant is set to go into production this month with a release date set for 2017.

Whether Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012) was an Alien (1979) spin-off, prequel – or a little of both – there’s no question that it ties to the Alien franchise. Before it was known as Alien: Covenant, the movie went through a few titles, including Paradise, Alien: Paradise Lost and the obvious, Prometheus II.

It should also be noted that director Neill Blomkamp (District 9) ultimately decided put his Alien sequel on hold in an effort to avoid confusion with Alien: Covenant. Blomkamp’s sequel would serve as a direct continuation to 1986′s Aliens, but would ignore all other subsequent Alien films.

Updates: According to Slash, Ridley Scott confirms Noomi Rapace will not return, leaving Michael Fassbender‘s android David the only character from the last film set to return. He’ll be joined by some new characters, including one played by Katherine Waterston (Steve Jobs).

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Zombie Fight Club (2014) Review

Original "Zombie Fight Club" Artwork by Kung Fu Bob

Original "Zombie Fight Club" Artwork by Kung Fu Bob

AKA: Z.F.C.
Director: Joe Chien
Cast: Andy On, Jessica Cambensy, Jack Kao Jie, Philip Ng Wan Lung, Michael Wong, Terence Yin Chi Wai, Derek Tsang Kwok Cheung, Abby Feng Yuan Zhen, Gu Bao Ming
Running Time: 95 min.

By Paul Bramhall

At the end of my review for Joe Chien’s 2012 production Zombie 108, I was so appalled at what was proudly billed as China’s first zombie movie that I wrote “if it’s Chien who’s going to be the driving force behind them, then hopefully it’ll be the last.” However, like a modern incarnation of the village idiot, somehow I found myself drawn to Chien’s 2014 follow-up, Zombie Fight Club. I can say it was the presence of Andy On that drew me in, the fact that the action was being choreographed by Philip Ng, or even just tempted by the concept of a zombie fight club. But I won’t try to justify myself, I chose to watch this movie while of sound mind, so will attempt to write this review while in a similar disposition.

Zombie Fight Club bursts out of the gates in much the same way that its predecessor did. Within the first 5 minutes we have a title sequence that lists actors with names like ‘MC Hotdog’, a vision of Taipei up in flames, a gratuitous shot of a young female’s posterior adorned in denim hot pants, and a guy having his ear chopped off. 10 minutes in and we’ve had a threesome scene, a guy having his manhood bitten off when the girl he’s receiving lip service from chooses a bad moment to become a zombie, and a group of party goers taking selfies together with the zombies. Frankly, there is more insane nonsense in these initial minutes than most movies cram into their whole runtime. But I have to confess, I found myself enjoying it.

In what I promise will be my last reference to my thoughts on Zombie 108, I had written how that movie’s opening also appeared to “basically setup for a throwback to the trashy Category III flicks of Hong Kong’s yesteryear, only in Taiwanese form.” I then went on to explain how it failed miserably. The opening of Zombie Fight Club had me hoping that Chien had learnt his lesson, and maintain the entertainingly trashy lowbrow zombie shenanigans for the duration of the run-time.

One thing that becomes evident rather quickly is that Chien must have enjoyed The Raid, as the structure of the first hour contains several identical setups from the Gareth Evans classic. Andy On is basically Rama (although to keep it simple, here On plays a character called, wait for it, Andy), with Michael Wong in the role of corrupt captain Wahyu. There’s even an almost identical shot which is framed in the van of the SWAT team, positioned as they approach the building they’re planning to infiltrate, in which On questions if what they’re doing is authorized.

Inside the building we focus on the apartment of a young couple who like to party, played by Derek Tsang and half American/half Filipino model Jessica C, who spends the entire movie either (a) wearing a pair of hot pants and a bra, or (b) wearing a pair of hot pants and a vest with no bra. This, and the fact that she cuts her hair short at some point, is the extent of her characterization. Unfortunately due to some contaminated drugs the couple and a group of friends were going to take, everyone ends up turning into zombies, a fate she only narrowly escapes thanks to taking a bathroom break when the other characters pop the pills.

Jessica C’s survival and the arrival of Andy On setup the structure for what amounts to almost non-stop blood splattered zombie mayhem. Zombie Fight Club is still B-grade stuff, but gone is the hyper-editing of the zombie scenes from Zombie 108, replaced with better zombie makeup, better CGI (although still far from perfect), and a heap more zombie extras than his previous effort could afford. The result is admittedly a lot of gory fun. Zombies get punched through the face and out the back of the head, one zombie is beaten to a pulp with a golf club, while the character giving the beating yells “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger Woods!”, and there’s even a man on a Zimmer frame vs. a zombie in the mix. None of it makes a lick of sense, none more so that when the elderly man using the Zimmer frame steps into a robot suit, not dissimilar to the one Sigourney Weaver uses in the finale of Aliens, and armed with a chainsaw creates a bloodbath of zombie decapitation.

The misogynistic streak against women has also thankfully been dialed back for Zombie Fight Club. Chien has still cast 99% of the female characters for their looks, and has them dressed as scantily as possible, but the scenes of degradation and cruelty that made Zombie 108 leave a bad taste have gone. That said, there are still some scenes that will have some viewers feeling uncomfortable. There’s the appearance of a zombie baby, and in one rather bizarre scene, which ends up becoming pivotal to the plot, a middle aged professor is visited by his daughter and her friends. When his daughter is killed by a zombie, instead of trying to rescue her surviving friends, he decides to kill them so that they can be together with his daughter in the afterlife. It may have sounded like a good twist on paper, but it’s arguably in bad taste to set a soft acoustic guitar track to a scene in which he’s murdering a group of young girls in cold blood.

Staying true to its breakneck pacing, at the one hour mark Zombie Fight Club suddenly decides it’s going to skip 1 year into the future. It’s explained onscreen that the world has been overrun by zombies, and that humans have been forced to live underground, ruled over by a mad dictator who enjoys pitting humans vs. zombies in a tournament which resembles something close to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome meets Gladiator. Finally, we get to see the zombie fight club that the movie was named after! Andy On changes here from being Rama in The Raid to Russell Crowe in Gladiator, as he takes it on himself to attempt to free all of the humans being held captive. It’s all very dramatic, especially one scene were he’s being seduced by one of the dictators dominatrix acquaintances, in which he yells at her, “Come on, take off my pants!”

For zombie fans, there are plenty of inventive zombie deaths and liberal use of fake (and CGI) blood throughout. From Andy On storming down a corridor bashing in the brains of zombies using his fist and feet, to a car being used to take out as many of the undead as possible, in a scene which should be used as the basis for the next installment of The Fast & The Furious franchise. For those hoping that Andy On and action choreographer Philip Ng would get a rematch of their fight in Once Upon a Time in Shanghai, thankfully we do. It comes completely without warning, and had it not been for the voiceover that plays over the start of it, which explains that the dictator has created a human vs. human tournament with the victor being granted freedom, you’d be left wondering exactly why it was happening at all.

It’s a decent fight from two performers who could be argued to be the only worthy thespians currently working in HK action cinema, and the fact that part of it takes place in an abandoned bus surrounded by hungry zombies is surprisingly effective at raising the stakes. However, if it’s purely fight action you’re looking for, Zombie Fight Club is not the place to visit. For 90 minutes of blood drenched zombie mayhem and sexy scantily clad women, you could do a lot worse, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what all the best Category III movies provide us with?

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6.5/10

Posted in Chinese, News, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

New action-packed trailer for ‘Boyka: Undisputed IV’!

"Boyka: Undisputed" Promotional Poster

"Boyka: Undisputed" Promotional Poster

The highly-anticipated Boyka: Undisputed (aka Boyka: Undisputed IV) is currently in post production phase, which means that we’ll finally being the return of Boyka in 2016!

Scott Adkins, the film’s mega-talented star and martial artist from Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, Assassination Games, Wolf Warrior and Close Range, is returning as the title character, Yuri Boyka.

Co-starring are Teodora Duhovnikova (Corpse Collector), Alon Aboutboul (The Dark Knight Rises), Julian Vergov (Until Death) and Valentin Ganev (Undisputed II).

In the fourth installment of the Undisputed franchise, Boyka is shooting for the big leagues when an accidental death in the ring makes him question everything he stands for.

This time around, Todor Chapkanov (Viking Quest) directs, while Isaac Florentine (Close RangeUndisputed II-III) serves only as producer. The film’s action will be handled by Larnell Stovall (Falcon RisingThe Raid 2). David N. White (Undisputed II-III, Ninja: Shadow of a Tear) is back as screenwriter.

Updates: A new trailer is now available. Click here to watch! Also, in case you missed it, check out our exclusive interview with Scott Adkins.

Posted in News | 64 Comments

‘The Raid’ director is back with a samurai action short

"The Raid 2" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"The Raid 2" Japanese Theatrical Poster

While most people spend their holiday relaxing, others, such as Gareth Evans – the acclaimed writer and director of Merantau, The Raid and The Raid 2: Berandal – decide to use the opportunity to test out some cool choreography ideas with visitors like Yayan Ruhian (Yakuza Apocalypse), Cecep Arif Rahman (The Raid 2) and Hannah Al Rashid (Safe Haven segment from V/H/S/2).

Just recently, Evans took to twitter with following news:

“Had the pleasure of having Yayan Ruhian, Cecep Arif Rahman and Hannah Al Rashid visit me in Wales over the summer holidays for a week or so.

While here, we made the following little shot sequence; partly to test out some choreography ideas I had, partly to see if we could create something non-violent my kiddo could see, but mainly cos I really needed to f*cking shoot something after 2 years without picking up a camera.

The four of us made up the entire cast crew with wonderful support in post as ever from music and sound maestros Fajar Yuskemal (Raid 2 composer) and Aria Prayoky (Raid 2 sound designer). Hope you enjoy!”

Does this mean that a future project from Evans might be samurai-related? After all, he is a big fan of Akira Kurosawa… well, only time will tell. Without further adieu, click here to watch Evans’ short action film. Should hold you off until news on Blister or The Raid 3 surfaces (via Paul Bramhall).

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Dragon Blade (2015) Review

"Dragon Blade" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Dragon Blade" Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Daniel Lee
Writer: Daniel Lee
Producer: Jackie Chan, Susanna Tsang
Cast: Jackie Chan, John Cusack, Adrien Brody, Lin Peng, Mika Wang, Choi Siwon, Xiao Yang, Wang Taili, Sammy Hung, Yoo Seung-jun, Lorie Pester, Karena Lam Kar Yan
Running Time: 103/127 min.

By Kyle Warner

The casting lineup of Jackie Chan, John Cusack, and Adrien Brody for a historical action movie sounds downright crazy – and also, I must admit, rather intriguing. Just ten years ago a movie headlined by those stars would’ve sounded even weirder, but the fall from their A-list status has thrown them together in that very particular level of Hell known as the Daniel Lee Historical Epic. Because of the silly trailers and bad vibes, I wasn’t expecting much from Dragon Blade. However, decent word-of-mouth praise and an appreciation for the three actors made me just curious enough to check it out.

I regretted my decision almost immediately. It’s very clear early on that Dragon Blade is a tone-deaf, ham-fisted movie.

Inspired by a true story, Dragon Blade follows a Roman legion that’s traveling the Silk Road in China. They’re tired and starving, so they require a place to rest. Their general (John Cusack) seeks to sack a city, but the defender of that city (Jackie Chan) convinces both sides to set aside their differences and share the city. In order to earn their keep, the Romans help rebuild the city’s defenses, promising to do so in 15 days. Of course during this time of rushed construction the men take time to dance, spar, and engage in general male bonding that crosses the cultural divide. But not everything is fun and games! An evil Roman Consul (Adrien Brody) is taking his army in pursuit of Cusack, which leads to a confrontation on the Silk Road.

Why are Cusack’s Romans hiding out with Jackie Chan? Why does Adrien Brody want to kill everybody? Well, are you a fan of exposition? Half-way through the film John Cusack sits down to explain his backstory and motivations: “I served under Consul Marcus Licinius Crassus Dives. He moved his troops to the Parthian Empire, formed an alliance with the Queen, who is the sister of our Lady Crassus. Consul Marcus’ elder son, Tiberius, is a vicious and treacherous man. The Consul was planning on naming his youngest son Publius to be his heir and successor. He entrusted me to keep the child alive. The young lord started having problems with his eyes. The Parthian Queen kindly sent medicine to heal his vision. Tiberius laced it with poison, blinding his brother so that he could never become Consul…” and it goes on and on from there, giving us more information than necessary. During the dialogue we get flashbacks to some characters that we never see again and are treated to the first glimpse of a Queen who will become important later on (but only after we’ve almost totally forgotten about her). Cusack reads the lines with about the same enthusiasm that I felt when I went back to rewatch the scene so that I could quote the dialogue. (Which is to say: very little.)

That scene, I think, best explains what’s wrong with the movie: the screenplay sucks. Writer/director Daniel Lee (White Vengeance) shows no understanding of pacing, eloquence, or editing dramatic tension. Info dumps are dropped on the audience like a load of bricks. Characters we don’t bother to know the names of are killed with tearjerker melodrama. And the dialogue, OHHH the dialogue! Later in the film, Cusack begs Brody to spare the young Roman lord’s life, saying that he’s committed no crime and poses no threat. Brody responds, “Of course he’s committed a crime! His crime… his crime is that he took the place in your hearts that belonged to me.” In the words of Harrison Ford, “You can type this shit, but you sure can’t say it.” Daniel Lee, who is no friend to fans to historical epics, deserves a harsh talking-to. (To be fair: I watched the US cut which apparently trims approx. 20 minutes from the film. Whether some of the film’s editing and choppy storytelling is any better in the original cut is unknown to me.)

While the film is often very violent, the central theme is one of togetherness and acceptance. At the center of the story is the city which Chan is defending and it is made up of people from many different nations, cultures, and races. That they all work together to fight evil is something I thought deserved some credit, especially in days like these. However, good intentions only get you so far.

Jackie Chan is probably the best part of the movie. In the role of Huo An, Chan gets to play a bit of his Greatest Hits: he fights, sings, provides slapstick humor, and he gets to play his new favorite sort of role, that of the self-sacrificing savior. Chan also serves as the film’s action director and the action scenes are more exciting and better filmed than much the rest of Dragon Blade. Some of the action beats are overly familiar (has Chan ever fought a female opponent without tripping her and supporting her fall by putting his hands on her breasts?), but there is some entertainment to be had.

I’m not sure what John Cusack’s doing in the film counts as acting… it’s more like he’s just conveniently standing in front of the camera while it’s rolling. Cusack has hit a bit of a rough patch in recent years (though his work in Love & Mercy was excellent). He appears half-asleep in Dragon Blade, giving the character of Lucius just enough life to remain standing. I don’t necessarily blame him. The film is total shit and he’s smart enough to know it, wisely saving battery life for better film projects.

On the flip side of the coin, Adrien Brody goes all-out playing the outrageously evil Tiberius. Brody, the youngest actor to ever win the Oscar for Best Actor (The Pianist), is also at a strange point in his career. This isn’t the role he’s been looking for. Tiberius is evil and… that’s pretty much all there is to the character. Brody’s over-the-top in the part, so much so that I think he’s either in on the joke with the audience or he’s potentially going mad onscreen, I’m not sure which. At least he provides the film with some laughs.

So yeah, Dragon Blade is not the John Cusack/Jackie Chan action movie we’ve all been waiting for. The movie is made with good intentions, strong production values, and decent action, but a cheesy script and lame performances sink the film into oblivion. I’m still interested in the future films of Chan, Brody, and Cusack; they’ve done enough good work in years past to deserve a pass for this mess of a movie. But as for director Daniel Lee, well, he remains on my Shit List.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 3/10

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Time Rush | aka Reflex | DVD (Archstone)

Time Rush | aka Reflex | DVD (Archstone)

Time Rush | aka Reflex | DVD (Archstone)

RELEASE DATE: April 5, 2016

Archstone and Stunt Power Films presents Time Rush (aka Reflex), an upcoming thriller that fuzes martial arts with Edge of Tomorrow!

Helmed by Daniel Zirilli (director of Steven Seagal’s upcoming thriller, Asian Connection), Time Rush is about a man who is stuck in a repeating loop of time, and must navigate his way through an Asian metropolis (in this case, Thailand).

Time Rush stars Dean Alexandrou (Blunt Force), Selina Lo (The Scorpion King 3), Ron Smoorenburg (Who Am I?Tekken 2), Ammara Siripong (Chocolate), Byron Gibson (Only God Forgives) and Kecha Khamphakdee (Asian Connection). | Trailer.

Pre-order Time Rush from Amazon.com today!

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Kung fu brothers and sisters, SC36 needs your help…

The Shaolin Chamber 36 Forum is not only the busiest forum on Asian and Martial Arts film – it’s also home to some of the most knowledgeable fans in the world.

However, the cost of maintaining the forum is taking a serious bite out of the owners (Kung Fu Bob’s Artwork and SC36.com) much more than they had anticipated.

It was decided that the easiest way to raise funds would be via donations on an annual basis. This way, if the goal was reached, they’d be covered for a whole year.

City on Fire would like to take this opportunity to ask its visitors to play a part in supporting the forum by making a donation. Big or small (even a $1), all donations are appreciated.

Each person that donates $15 or more will be entered in a drawing, and one person will win a Shaolin Chamber 36 “Treasure Package” consisting of three 11×17″ Kung Fu Bob art prints (of their choice), and two 36 Styles T-Shirts (of their choice).

On behalf of every kung fu movie fan out there, thanks for reading!

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