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

"Shield of Straw" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Shield of Straw" Japanese Theatrical Poster

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

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

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

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Classic Martial Arts Collection | DVD (Echo Bridge)

Classic Martial Arts Collection | DVD (Echo Bridge)

Classic Martial Arts Collection | DVD (Echo Bridge)

RELEASE DATE: October 6, 2015

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

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

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

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

Assassination (2015) Review

"Assassination" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Assassination" Korean Theatrical Poster

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

By Paul Bramhall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 8.5/10

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

"Kill Bill Vol. 1" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Kill Bill Vol. 1" Japanese Theatrical Poster

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

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

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

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

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

"Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman" Blu-ray Set

"Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman" Blu-ray Set

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

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

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

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Exclusive: In the Cinema Lounge with Shin Su-won

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

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

"Passerby #3" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Passerby #3" Korean Theatrical Poster

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

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

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

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

Seo Young-Hee in "Madonna"

Seo Young-Hee in "Madonna"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Madonna" Theatrical Poster

"Madonna" Theatrical Poster

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

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

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

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

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

"Pluto" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Pluto" Korean Theatrical Poster

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

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

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

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

"Hindsight" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Hindsight" Korean Theatrical Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read more of our interviews, please click here.

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Shaw Brothers titles invade Netflix with a vengeance!

"The Kid with the Golden Arm" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"The Kid with the Golden Arm" Chinese Theatrical Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in News | 8 Comments

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

"xXx" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"xXx" Japanese Theatrical Poster

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

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

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

Posted in News | 2 Comments

Z Storm (2014) Review

"Z Storm" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Z Storm" Chinese Theatrical Poster

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

By Kyle Warner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 4/10

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

"Furious" Theatrical Poster

"Furious" Theatrical Poster

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

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

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

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

13 Assassins Blu-ray/DVD (Magnolia)

13 Assassins Blu-ray/DVD (Magnolia)

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

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

Order 13 Assassins from Amazon.com today!

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Dragon’s Snake Fist, The (1981) Review

"The Dragon's Snake Fist" Theatrical Poster

"The Dragon's Snake Fist" Theatrical Poster

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

By Martin Sandison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Sandison’s Rating: 6/10

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

"A Step into the Past" Promotional Poster

"A Step into the Past" Promotional Poster

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

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

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

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

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Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal (1970) Review

"Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal" Japanese Theatrical Poster

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

By Kyle Warner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 6.5/10

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Label to release ‘American Shaolin’ soundtrack and more!

"American Shaolin" Theatrical Poster

"American Shaolin" Theatrical Poster

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

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

For more information, visit Spirit Touch Records.

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

"Masters of the Universe" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Masters of the Universe" Japanese Theatrical Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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Monk’s Fight (1979) Review

"Monk's Fight" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Monk's Fight" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Yu Kong
Writer: Yu Kong
Producer: Kam Yuen Bo
Cast: Lee Wing, Pearl Chang Ling, Casanova Wong, Choi Wang, Tien Feng, Chan Wai Lau, Chu Tiet Wo, Ho Pak Kwong, Ling Yun, Ching Ching, Chuen Yuen, Tung Li
Running Time: 89 min.

By Paul Bramhall

Sporting one of the most generic titles you can come across in the vast landscape of kung fu movies, this 1979 production from Taiwan was one of the handful of titles originally planned for release on the Rarescope DVD label, before it closed shop in 2008. For a long time it seemed like the titles which didn’t hit the shelves before its closure would remain unreleased, however thankfully many of them were salvaged and put out by Jamal, with Monk’s Fight being no exception. There was something about the movie which made me drawn to check out if it was as generic as the title would suggest.

A large part of my temptation to watch Monk’s Fight is that the two main players behind it are just as difficult to find in action as the movie itself. Directed by Yu Kong, he debuted by taking on directorial duties for the forgettable Return of the Kung Fu Dragon made the year earlier, then came out all guns blazing for this movie, also handling the action, editing, music, as well as writing it and playing a minor role. He was then never heard of ever again. Lee Wing took on the lead role, his debut, and also took on the part of action director. Then just like Kong, was never heard of ever again.

So we have a movie helmed by a pair of enigmatic names in the annals of kung fu movie history, who arrived on the scene just as quickly as they left it, with information on them as hard to find as the movie itself was for the longest time. What’s just as interesting though is the rest of the cast, many of whom you’d never expect to find in the same production together. Monk’s Fight also stars the Wolf Devil Woman herself, Taiwanese actress Pearl Cheung, and then there’s Korean super kicker Casanova Wong in the mix, topped off with a bunch of recognizable faces from Shaw Brothers movies such as Ling Yun, Tien Feng, and Choi Wang.

As a curiosity piece, it certainly ticks all the boxes. Proceedings open like countless other kung fu movies of the time period, we get a spiel over a sacred Buddhist treasure which is in the care of some monks at a temple, and then within the first couple of minutes it’s (unsurprisingly) stolen. The monk played by Lee Wing, noticeably the only one of them to not have a shaved head, is chosen to track down the bad guys and retrieve the treasure, before it’s sold overseas to the Japanese. So far, so like countless other kung fu movies that most fans will have watched in their lifetime. The temple, the monks, the way events play out, it all seems overly familiar and like we’ve seen it all before.

However that’s exactly were the movie gets interesting. Wing has a distinctive look, with chiseled features and his hair tightly tied back, an easy choice for leading man material. He declares he was never suited for Buddhism, and proceeds to change from his monks robes to what we can assume he wore from before his life in the temple, which basically equates to a poncho, complete with a cigar. He mounts his horse, and rides off into the desert set to a thumping synthesizer soundtrack. In a matter of moments the movie changes tone from the generic, to some kind of Taiwanese version of A Fistful of Dollars.

The tonal shift remains for the rest of the movie, and as a result it leaves us with one of the most unique kung fu movies in the genre, especially for a production from 1979. Far from being a run of the mill genre piece, Monk’s Fight ends up as some kind of spaghetti western styled wuxia with heavy chambara overtones. Wing doesn’t have a sword, however he does keep a short cudgel in his boot which he uses as a weapon, and just like you’d expect to see in a Japanese chambara picture, his use of it results in quick but effective deaths. At the same time, unlike chambara pictures, Wing also utilizes his fists and feet, even wearing what appear to be a wuxia version of UFC gloves.

As the movie progresses Wing gets involved in a couple of one-on-one duels, notably against the bulking Ching Ching, whose arm is covered in thick metal rings. His gold vest, oversized wine jug, whispy eye brows and mohawk hair mark him as straight out of a late 70’s wuxia movie, however the proceeding fight is anything but from the era. Despite such a setting usually leaning towards exaggerated action, Kong and Wing fashion the fights towards realism more than anything else. The exchanges become more about who’s quick enough to get a punch or a jab in first, with Wing relying on a series of low kicks to Ching’s legs to wear him down, while remaining light on his feet the whole time. Surprisingly, the first thing that came to mind when watching this scene wasn’t any similarly themed wuxia movie, but Jackie Chan’s fight against Benny ‘The Jet’ Urquidez in Wheels on Meals 5 years later.

Special mention also has to go to the cinematography of Monk’s Fight, which was the first time for Lau Hung Chuen to lens a movie. Chuen would go on to be the cinematographer for many classic movies, from Ringo Lam’s Full Contact to Jackie Chan flicks like Thunderbolt. His talent is obvious, as the cinematography here adds a layer of atmosphere that you wouldn’t normally expect to see from such a production. One particular scene plays out at night between Pearl Cheung and Ling Yun, as they meet on a deserted street with just a lantern blowing in the wind above them. The shifting light from the lantern, illuminating one character and then the other as it blows from side to side in the darkness, is possibly one of the most atmospheric shots I’ve seen in a kung fu movie of the era.

Events eventually come to a head with a finale which sees Wing facing off against Casanova Wong on the top of a cliff next to the ocean. This is the only time I’ve seen Wong play a white haired villain, and here, wearing a white general’s jacket complete with gold tassels and armed with a serrated edge sword, he fits the role well. It’s an intense showdown, but again Kong shows us that he’s not here to only give us two guys going at each other. Just as impressive as any of the moves on display, is the level of tension that’s built up. Again using realism, there’s a sense that every punch or kick genuinely hurts, and one slice of Wong’s weapon could kill. It’s a classical kung fu show down, in real world trappings, and it stands out as being all the more unique for it.

Watching Monk’s Fight now, over 35 years since it was first released, I have a distinct feeling that the movie was ahead of its time. Had it come out 10 years later, I’m sure it wouldn’t be the obscure title that it is today, and would possibly have been seen as a bold re-imagining of what could be done within the wuxia genre. Eschewing the scenes of heroes flying through forests and elaborate plots, Monk’s Fight is arguably more Sergio Leone or Akira Kurosawa than it is Chu Yuan or Chang Cheh. It won’t please everyone, but for those looking for something different than your standard kung fu movie, you’ve come to the right place. Now whatever happened to Yu Kong and Lee Wing!?

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7.5/10

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The Raid (1990) | DVD (Well Go USA)

The Raid (1990) | DVD (Well Go USA)

The Raid (1990) | DVD (Well Go USA)

RELEASE DATE: October 13, 2015

Well Go USA presents the DVD for The Raid (not to be confused with 2011′s The Raid), a 1990 action/adventure film directed by both Ching Siu Tung (Duel to the Death) and Tsui Hark (The Taking of Tiger Mountain).

In Japanese-occupied Manchuria in the WWII era, a group of Chinese nationalists set out to destroy a Japanese poison gas factory. The film stars Dean Shek, Fennie Yuen, Jacky Cheung Hok Yau, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Joyce Godenzi, Paul Chu Kong and Corey Yuen. | Watch the trailer.

Pre-order The Raid from Amazon.com today!

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New character posters for Tarantino’s ‘The Hateful 8’

"The Hateful Eight" Teaser Poster

"The Hateful Eight" Teaser Poster

Quentin Tarantino’s 8th film, The Hateful 8, is an upcoming western flick that revolves around Bounty hunters who seek shelter from a raging blizzard and get caught up in a plot of betrayal and deception. The film hits theaters on January 8, 2016.

The Hateful 8 was shot using Panavision anamorphic lenses with an ultra wide aspect ratio that was used on classic films like Ben-Hur (1959) and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).

The Hateful 8 stars Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Channing Tatum, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, James Remar, Amber Tamblyn, Demian Bichir and Zoe Bell. Legendary composer, Ennio Morricone (Fistful of Dollars), will be providing an all-new original soundtrack for the film.

Updates: For the official plot synopsis, click here (beware of minor spoilers). In case you haven’t watched it yet, here’s the “leaked” teaser trailer. | Behind-the-scenes photos. | New cast additions: James Parks, Gene Jones, Dana Gourrier, Keith Jefferson, Lee Horsley, Craig Stark and Belinda Owino. | First stills and cast photos (courtesy of EW and Collider). | Comic-Con teaser poster. | Watch the first trailer.

BREAKING NEWS: Check out the latest character posters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

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The Avenging Fist | DVD (Well Go USA)

The Avenging Fist | DVD (Well Go USA)

The Avenging Fist | DVD (Well Go USA)

RELEASE DATE: October 13, 2015

Well Go USA presents the DVD for The Avenging Fist (aka Legend of Tekken), a 2001 martial arts flick directed by Andrew Lau (Daisy) and Corey Yuen (Raging Thunder).

Loosely based on the video game Tekken, this action-packed Hong Kong flick stars Stephen Fung (Cheap Killers), Wang Lee Hom (Legendary Amazons), Ekin Cheng (Return to a Better Tomorrow) and Sammo Hung (Rise of the Legend). | Watch the trailer.

Pre-order The Avenging Fist from Amazon.com today!

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

‘The Crow’ reboot: “It definitely will happen” says creator

"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.

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.

BREAKING NEWS: “It’s going to happen. I talked to Pressman Films a couple of weeks ago and they said within two or three weeks, we should have it placed at a new studio. Because the day Relativity announced that they were having financial problems, there were like a dozen other studios that called about getting The Crow property. It definitely will happen.” (via Collider)

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Ikiru | Blu-ray (Criterion)

Ikiru | Blu-ray (Criterion)

Ikiru | Blu-ray (Criterion)

RELEASE DATE: November 24, 2015

Criterion presents the Blu-ray for 1952′s Ikiru, directed by Akira Kurosawa (Stray Dog).

Ikiru presents Kurosawa at his most compassionate – affirming life through an exploration of death. Takashi Shimura (Rashomon) beautifully portrays Kanji Watanabe, an aging bureaucrat with stomach cancer who is impelled to find meaning in his final days. Presented in a radically conceived two-part structure and shot with a perceptive, humanistic clarity of vision, Ikiru is a multifaceted look at what it means to be alive. | Watch the trailer.

Pre-order Ikiru from Amazon.com today!

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Exclusive: Interview with Kim Sung-ho

COF Exclusive: Interview with Kim Sung-hoIn many ways 2003 could be considered as the pivotal year for the Korean film industry. With the advent of the DVD format, Korean movies had already begun filtering through to the western market, with titles such as Shiri, Nowhere to Hide, and Tell Me Something becoming a familiar sight on high street shelves. However in 2003 it seemed the country could do no wrong when it came to movies – Park Chan-wook made the seminal OldBoy, Bong Joon-ho directed the classic Memories of Murder, Kim Jee-woon adapted the horror A Tale of Two Sisters, and a director by the name of Kim Sung-ho made his debut with Into the Mirror.

"Into the Mirror" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Into the Mirror" Korean Theatrical Poster

As the first decade of the millennium progressed on, Hollywood developed an unhealthy obsession with re-making practically any Asian horror movie they could get their hands on, and Into the Mirror was no exception. In 2008 the re-make hit cinema screens under the title Mirrors, directed by Alexandre Aja and starring Kiefer Sutherland, and even spawned a sequel.

Sung-ho himself could be said to have taken an unexpected career path, which saw him move away from full length features to focus on directing a number of short films, which could usually be found released as a part of omnibus movies. From most recently directing a segment in Horror Stories 2, to helming a segment in 2012’s Fighting! Family, a movie commissioned by the Korean government with the sole purpose of encouraging the population to reproduce, due to the countries low birth rate. Yes you read that right.

This year Sung-ho releases his third full length movie, which as with his previous two he also wrote, in the form of How to Steal a Dog. Far from being a remake of Bong Joon-ho’s debut Barking Dogs Never Bite, it’s a family friendly tale adapted from a novel by US writer Barbara O’Connor. The movie was selected to be screened on the opening night of the Korean Film Festival of Australia 2015, and Sung-ho flew in to attend the screening. Before being whisked into the depths of Sydney’s main cinema, the director was graceful enough to give me 30 minutes to have a one on one discussion on his time working in the film industry.

With a laid back style and moppish hair, Sung-ho has a softly spoken manner which was easy to listen to, and was genuinely surprised that a non-Korean would know so much about his movies. Armed with a black coffee, we took a seat in a café on the main road in Sydney city, and got down to business.

"How to Steal a Dog" Korean Theatrical Poster

"How to Steal a Dog" Korean Theatrical Poster

Paul Bramhall: Director Kim, welcome to Sydney, and thank you for taking the time out to do an interview!

Kim Sung-ho: Thank you, it’s a beautiful city!

PB: Now your new movie, How to Steal a Dog, is based on a novel by the American writer Barbara O’Connor. It’s quite unusual to see a Korean movie adapted from a US novel, so what was it that appealed to you about the story?

KSH: In South Korea children’s movies are very rare, especially in the last 10 years, so in the beginning I thought that I should make a children’s movie. But as time passed my thought developed to a point that I wanted to make a family movie, rather than one which is just targeted at kids. So I felt determined that I should direct this film, because in Korea now there are a lot of films that use really dramatic and heavy scenes to promote themselves, but this movie doesn’t have those types of scenes, it’s a very heartwarming piece. I feel that in South Korea these types of movie rarely get invested in, and are not produced very often, so I felt a duty that I have to make this film.

PB: I see, so were there any difficulties in transferring a story which is obviously rooted in U.S. culture, and then transferring those themes and concepts to a story which would fit in with Korean culture?

KSH: Yes, there were many difficulties, however I’d say the one biggest difference from a cultural perspective was that of the Mum and the children living out of the car. In the U.S. perhaps it’s not that rare or unusual for people to accept characters who live in a car, but in South Korea such a situation is unthinkable. So I needed to kind of Korean-ize this part of the story, and present it in such a way that it would be acceptable and feasible to a Korean audience. It was a big challenge, and it took me a year to figure out how I could make it sound like a believable story.


The inviting information desk of the Korean Film Festival of Australia 2015.

PB: How to Steal a Dog features Choi Min-soo, now many readers of COF will be familiar with this actor from his gritty action roles in the likes of The Terrorist and Holiday, and of course the TV drama Sandglass. What was it like to work with him?

KSH: Choi Min-soo obviously came with the reputation of being a tough guy to work with in the Korean film industry, so it’s true that many directors tried to avoid working with him. Because of this he’s rarely appeared in Korean movies for close to 10 years now, and then of course you have the rumors of him beating up crew members. Perhaps because of these reasons, for me this image that he has made him the perfect fit for the role of the homeless character in the movie.

When I gave him the script, even though the other people who were going to be a part of the production were asking me to not make them work with him, Mr Choi really loved it and was very enthusiastic to participate, even willing to forsake being paid. So actually it became easy to collaborate with him, and one of the things I quickly found out about Mr Choi, is that he likes to give opinions on how to direct certain scenes. For me as a director, I like to listen to the opinions from others, and I found his input very helpful, so it turned out to be a good combination for the movie.

PB: In the past you’ve worked a lot in the short film format, which are usually released as a segment in larger omnibus movies. Is there something in particular that appeals to you about working in the short film format over full length features?

One of the first Korean movies to get widespread distribution in the west was "Into the Mirror"

One of the first Korean movies to get widespread distribution in the west was "Into the Mirror"

KSH: The first feature film that I directed was Into the Mirror, and it was just after my graduation. I felt like I really needed to prove myself, but at the same time I knew there was a big room for improvement. For me it was especially in the area of being able to direct actors and actresses, and conveying the way they should act. Short films really provided me with the experience of being able to direct actors and actresses, so I find the short film format is perfect for me. You don’t need a lot of investment, and you don’t have to worry about being too sensitive regarding the content of the film, so they gave me a lot of opportunities to experiment with different directing styles. Based on the experiences I gained working on those short films, I felt it gave me the skills to be able to confidently direct actors and actresses in feature films.

PB: Speaking of Into the Mirror, this movie was really one of the first Korean movies to get widespread distribution in the west. How does it feel to know you were in that first wave of Korean directors to have their movies distributed and gain exposure overseas?

KSH: 2003 was a very significant year for the Korean film industry. It was an important year, and so many great films were released during it, for example Memories of Murder, Save the Green Planet!, and OldBoy. It could almost be interpreted as an internationalization of Korean film, with the huge variety of movies that became successful.

I feel very lucky that I directed a film in that specific year due to its significance, and I really believe that there was an atmosphere within the industry that people would invest in and produce a movie, as long as it had a good script and idea. I feel that’s really important in the film industry, however today this has become impossible. It’s sad, because I think it was that belief which made the films successful, with the knowledge that the investment and production would be there based on the strength of the script and idea.

in 2008, "Into the Mirror" was re-made as "Mirrors" with Kiefer Sutherland.

in 2008, "Into the Mirror" was re-made as "Mirrors" with Kiefer Sutherland.

PB: In the 00’s so many Asian horror movies were re-made by Hollywood, and of course in 2008 Into the Mirror was re-made as Mirrors with Kiefer Sutherland. How did it feel for you, having written and directed the original, knowing it was being re-made into an English language version, and what’s your general feeling of Asian movies being re-made by Hollywood?

KSH: When I first heard the news that my film was going to be remade, I was very surprised. For me personally, I find the idea of Asian movies being re-made by Hollywood to be a good idea, because it means the story doesn’t just remain within Asia, but it’s transferred to America as well. When I watched Mirrors, obviously there were some points that I liked, and there were some points that I didn’t like, but my main impression from watching it was of how much budget Hollywood movies are able to get behind them.

Watching Alexandre Aja’s version, I realized that he presented some ideas that even I didn’t think about when making my version! So I’d say overall, my opinion on Asian movies being re-made by Hollywood is that they take the idea of the film, the core idea, and then they Americanize it to make a U.S. version, which I find really interesting.

PB: That’s a great answer. Well I’ll pose the question to you, if you could re-make any movie, which one would you choose?

KSH: Actually there are many movies which I’d like to re-make, but how many of them are feasible is a difficult question, as they’re usually decided by the producers. One of the films I’d really like to re-make is a French film called The Apartment, and also the Hollywood movie Dead Again. I think the scenarios in these movies would transfer really well into a Korean film.

PB: You’re one of the credited screenwriters on 2007’s Black House, which was directed by Sin Tae-ra. I noticed in most of your movies you write them and direct them, so in this instance, was it strange to see someone else directing your script?

 Kim Sung-ho with the cast of "How to Steal a Dog" during a press conference.

Kim Sung-ho with the cast of "How to Steal a Dog" during a press conference.

KSH: Actually I was also supposed to direct Black House, but during the preparation for the film the production company changed, and unfortunately as a result I didn’t get to direct it, so Sin Tae-ra ended up as the director. For me the success and feel of a movie comes down to who directs it, so while I was watching the finished film I could see that a lot of my script had been changed, and so rather than still feeling like it was my movie, it made me feel distanced from it due to the changes that were made.

PB: Your 2010 feature film She Came From has quite a meta-feel to it, in that it deals with people working in the movie industry – a director – and the story is manipulated by another character deciding to re-write the script. In some ways it echoes the alternate realities that are touched on in Into the Mirror. Are these aspects of your work something that you’re drawn to?

KSH: Wow, you’ve done a lot of research! (laughter) Yes I think I like this theme a lot, and when I was directing She Came From it was actually quite experimental. I started the film without any script, so I attempted to direct a film with two actresses for two weeks, and we didn’t really have a story. So I think that structure wise it was very experimental, and you know the alternative reality scenes are something that I really like. I believe I borrowed the idea from David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, and I think these kind of ideas will continue to produce interesting movies in the future.

Kim Sung-ho wrote "Black House," a film he was supposed to direct.

Kim Sung-ho wrote "Black House," a film he was supposed to direct.

PB: Great, and for the final question, what can we look forward to next from Kim Sung-ho?

KSH: There’s a Korean web-toon called Gallbladder, which is the story of a little boy who’s trying to find his mother, and for some reason he gets captured. After 15 years he’s mysteriously released with 400 kilograms of gold. Obviously he doesn’t know why he was captured or by who, he only knows that he still needs to find his mother, however with all the gold he’s now carrying, he gets a lot of attention from many unscrupulous characters who want to take it. At the moment I’m working on the script, and it’s going to be an action movie

PB: Sounds great, and we’ll be looking forward to hearing more about it! Good luck for your movie screening tonight, and thanks again for taking the time to talk.

KSH: Thank you.

A big thanks to David Park for setting up the interview, and Soyoung Kim Greeberg for her excellent translation skills.

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

To read more of our interviews, please click here.

Posted in Features, Interviews, News | 1 Comment

Deal on Fire! Ip Man 2 | Blu-ray | Only $9.99 – Expires soon!

"Ip Man 2" Blu-ray Cover

"Ip Man 2" Blu-ray Cover

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Wilson Yip’s Ip Man 2 starring Donnie Yen. Yen reprises his iconic role as the real-life kung fu Grandmaster Ip Man in this semi-biographical account of Ip Man.

Ip Man 2 centers on Ip Man’s migration to Hong Kong in 1949 as he attempts to propagate his discipline of Wing Chun martial arts. Just as he did with Ip Man, Sammo Hung delivers some of the best martial arts choreography of his career (and he also co-stars!).

Order Ip Man 2 from Amazon.com today!

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Hong Kong action director returns with an ‘Ulterior Motive’

"Ulterior Motive" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Ulterior Motive" Chinese Theatrical Poster

It’s been 27 years since Arthur Wong made his mark with In the Line of Duty 3 (1988), now the Hong Kong filmmaker is back with Ulterior Motive, an upcoming action thriller starring Gordon Lam (Let’s Go), Qin Lan (The Last Supper), Simon Yam (SPL 2), Liu Wei, Steven Miao, Gao Xin, Qu Jingjing, Archie Kao and Ren Shan.

Wong – mostly known for his cinematography work for films such as 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978), Dirty Ho (1979), Big Bullet (1996), Knock-Off (1998), Bodyguards and Assassins (2009) – has directed only two films throughout his 38 year career, so Ulterior Motive is exciting news for old-school Hong Kong cinema fans! The film opens in Chinese theaters on September 17th, 2015.

Updates: Watch the trailer (via FCS).

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1st image of Donnie Yen as a ‘Zatoichi’-like character in Gareth Edwards’ ‘Star Wars: Rogue One’

"Star Wars: Rogue One" Teaser Poster

"Star Wars: Rogue One" Teaser Poster

Releasing on December 16, 2016 is Star Wars: Rogue One (aka Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), which will be the first theatrical Star Wars spin-off directed by Gareth Edwards (2014′s Godzilla).

Star Wars: Rogue One revolves around a group of rebels who set out on a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star. The film stars Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler), Diego Luna (Blood Father), Ben Mendelsohn (Killing Them Softly), Forest Whitaker (Bloodsport), Donnie Yen (Kung Fu Killer), Jiang Wen (Let the Bullets Fly), Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal) and the voice of Alan Tudyk (Firefly).

Updates: A new press photo featuring Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen has been released. The photo suggests that Donnie might be a character influenced by Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman.

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Magnificent Wonderman from Shaolin (1979) Review

"Magnificent Wonderman from Shaolin" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Magnificent Wonderman from Shaolin" Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Golden Gate
Director: Kim Seon-gyeong
Producer: Joseph Lai, Tomas Tang
Cast: Casanova Wong, Eagle Han Ying, Gam Ching Lan, Elton Chong, Hyeon Kil-Su, Martin Chui Man-Fooi, Austin Wai
Running Time: 91 min.

By Paul Bramhall

Magnificent Wonderman from Shaolin is a sure contender for having one of the greatest kung fu movie titles, and there’s plenty of competition out there. However as grand a title as it is, Magnificent Wonderman from Shaolin is decidedly misleading. Much like Strike of Thunderkick Tiger, the opening titles would have us believe that we’re about to watch a production directed by the equally dreaded and revered Godfrey Ho. For those familiar with Ho’s unique style of movie distribution, using his Asso Asia Films label, it should come as no surprise that he had nothing to do with directing any part of it, nor is it a Hong Kong movie as many sources have it listed.

Magnificent Wonderman from Shaolin is actually Ho’s re-working of the 1977 Korean movie, Golden Gate, directed by Kim Seon-gyeong. Seon-gyeong was a well known action movie director in Korea, and had just a year prior made Black Dragon River, a production notable for having super kickers Casanova Wong and Hwang Jang Lee in early roles sharing the screen together. Seon-gyeong also became the go to director whenever Hong Kong productions wanted to film in Korea, often directing various scenes for the movies he was brought in for, despite rarely receiving any recognition for them in the credits. Most famously he co-directed scenes for the Shaw Brothers production Killer Constable in 1980.

Golden Gate gives Casanova Wong his second lead role, after starring in Four Iron Men earlier in the same year, and is an entertaining entry into the Korean kung fu movie genre. As much as it’s easy to deride Godfrey Ho for his questionable film practices, it can’t be denied that often with these types of movie, the English dubs make them just as entertaining as the fight action. Under the new title of Magnificent Wonderman from Shaolin (even though “Shaolin” has no connection to the plot whatsoever), some of the best lines are given to the head monk who, perhaps inspired by Star Wars which was made the same year, speaks like Yoda. Yelling at a trio of monks after a lackluster display of fighting prowess, he yells “Idiots, all of you are!” Indeed.

The plot centers around the said trio of monks, two of whom are played by Korean kung-fu movie luminaries Eagle Han and Elton Chong, and their attempts to steal a golden buddha hidden somewhere in the temple that they’re residing in. The trio end up teaming up with a dastardly Mongolian played by Hyun Kil-soo, sporting pig tails and dangly earrings, and what they believe to be Kil-soo’s deaf mute assistant, played by Casanova Wong. Wong gets to play the role like a warm up to his ridiculous turn as a courier driven to insanity in The Master Strikes, made 3 years later. Although deaf and mute, it’s also made overtly obvious that he’s a complete idiot, usually found running around on all fours like a dog, or chewing on strands of his own hair.

Thankfully, around the 40 minute mark, Wong gets framed as a Mongolian spy and is thrown out of the temple, at which point he reveals to Kim Chung-ran (an actress many will recognize from the early Jackie Chan flicks Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin and Half a Loaf of Kung fu) that he’s neither deaf nor mute, it’s been an act the whole time! It turns out that Kil-soo killed Wong’s father in the past, so he’s been following him around waiting for the right time to take his revenge ever since. You may ask why such a task required him to act as a deaf mute idiot, but if you do, don’t expect an answer. Logic isn’t the order of the day in Magnificent Wonderman from Shaolin, but it’s forgivable.

Wong’s meeting with Chung-ran is a significant one, as it turns out her father wrote a kung fu manual on how to master the Fire Fist. Learning the Fire Fist could be just what’s needed to overcome Kil-soo’s deadly Wind Blade technique. We get to witness the Wind Blade technique a couple of times in the movie, and I’m still not sure exactly what it does, apart from acting as a cue for some windy sound effects and a swirling sped up shot of some trees. Whatever it does though, it proves to be effective in eliminating the person going up against it. Soon Wong is bare chested on top of a mountain, busting out the moves in preparation for his revenge, with his mastery of the Fire Fist indicated by a red light being shone on to his hands, combined with cut away shots to the sun. This is visual filmmaking at its best, as it’s clearly conveyed that the Fire Fist is powered by the sun.

Best of all though, is that it leads to a deadly serious conversation between our heroes about the weather. How many kung fu movies out there contain a scene in which the characters discuss if it’s going to be a cloudy overcast day tomorrow, of if it’ll be perfect weather for a fight? Magnificent Wonderman from Shaolin is that movie. Of course the greatest kung fu movies never give the hero an easy ride, so fate dictates that on the day Wong decides to take his revenge, it is indeed cloudy. This is despite the fact that after this revelation, he proceeds to walk into a brightly lit field which indicates that there isn’t a cloud in the sky. Thank goodness for cloud stock footage.

The final 25 minutes are essentially a kicking showcase for Wong, which as a kung fu movie fan, is exactly what’s required. He takes on the traitorous trio of monks, who have now grown evil moustaches and mohawks to show their ill intent, and are armed with some aesthetically pleasing exotic weaponry. Austin Wai, the brother of Kara Hui, shows up as a guest villain brandishing a pair of double swords for a lengthy duel of blade versus feet, and of course the final showdown against Kil-soo himself. One aspect of Korean kung-fu movies that I find unintentionally charming, is that they’ll always attempt at least one wire assisted move which probably sounded great on paper, but ends up looking ridiculous onscreen. Magnificent Wonderman from Shaolin is no exception, so at one point Wong decides to grab a floored Kil-soo by both of his feet, and proceeds to horizontally lift him off the ground to an almost 75 degree angle, before throwing him so far his landing cuts away to a completely different area. It’s goofy, but it’s entertainingly goofy.

Eagle eyed kung fu movie fans will also notice that the temple the finale takes place at is the same one used for the finale of The Secret Rivals, made a year prior, with the rows of animal statues leading to the entrance being the give away. For those who want a fix of Casanova Wong’s kicking, the final third of the movie more than satisfies, and the rest entertains in a way that only a Godfrey Ho tampered with movie can. I lost track of the number of times a character was referred to as either an idiot or a bastard, there’s a funky Hammond organ driven soundtrack which doesn’t fit the setting in the slightest, and we even get the immortal line, “You’re tired of living?” thrown in for good measure. It may not be magnificent, but it’s far from being terrible.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6.5/10

Posted in All, Chinese, Korean, News, Reviews | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Battles Without Honour and Humanity Limited Edition Collection | Blu-ray (Arrow Films)

"Battles Without Honour and Humanity" Blu-ray Collection

"Battles Without Honour and Humanity" Blu-ray Collection

On November 17th, Arrow Films will be releaseing Kinji Fukasaku’s Battles Without Honour and Humanity Blu-ray Collection. This limited edition collection (3000 units) includes all 6 films, plus an endless list of supplemental features. I think Arrow just made Kyle Warner’s day…

The following is a press release from Arrow Films:

Kinji Fukasaku (Battle Royale) gave the world Japan’s answer to The Godfather with this violent yakuza saga, influencing filmmakers from Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill) to Takashi Miike (Graveyard of Honor, Audition). Made within just two years, the five-film series brought a new kind of realism and ferocity to the crime genre in Japan, revitalizing the industry and leading to unprecedented commercial and critical success.

Literally exploding onscreen with a mushroom cloud, and ending with Hiroshima’s A-bomb Dome, the epic story of Battles Without Honour and Humanity follows over 100 characters through twenty years of gang wars, alliances, betrayals, and assassinations, in an exciting exploration of criminal power and politics in Japan.

Battles Without Honour and Humanity Limited Edition Collection | Blu-ray (Arrow Films)

Battles Without Honour and Humanity Limited Edition Collection | Blu-ray (Arrow Films)

In the opening episode, ex-soldier Shozo Hirono escapes from the post-war black markets to become a key member of the Yamamori gang, but soon finds himself disillusioned by the selfish duplicity of his bosses. Hiroshima Death Match focuses on a demobilized kamikaze pilot drifting through the early 1950’s, whose suicidal impulses find good use as a mob assassin. Proxy War and Police Tactics form a labyrinthine, two-part story of ambition and betrayal set against Japan’s rapid economic growth of the 1960’s, with Shozo caught between warring factions. Final Episode concludes the series in the 1970’s as the former Yamamori gang transforms itself into an economic conglomerate called the Tensei Group, in a bid for mainstream respectability.

Fukasaku and his team broke with the longstanding studio tradition of casting marquee idols as honorable, kimono-clad heroes, defending their gang bosses against unscrupulous villains, and instead adapted true accounts torn from the headlines, shot in a documentary-like style, and with few clear-cut heroes or villains. The vibrancy and dynamism of the filmmaking, plus its shocking violence, Shakespearean plotlines, and wide tapestry of characters, launched a revolutionary new genre, establishing the series as one of the great masterpieces of world crime cinema.

Limited Edition Contents

  • Limited Edition Blu-ray Collection
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of all five original films
  • Original Mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays)
  • Optional English subtitles for all five films
  • Remembering Kinji – a new featurette about director Kinji Fukasaku and his work, featuring interviews with Kenta Fukasaku and film critic and Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane
  • Secrets of the Piranha Army – a new documentary about the troupe of supporting actors who appeared throughout the series, featuring new interviews with original Piranha members Masaru Shiga and Takashi Noguchi, plus second-generation Piranha, Takashi Nishina and Akira Murota
  • All the Bad Guys – a new, comprehensive video guide to the actors in the films
  • Fukasaku Family – a new interview with Proxy War and Police Tactics assistant director Toru Dobashi
  • Man of Action – a new interview with series fight choreographer Ryuzo Ueno
  • Tales of a Bit Player – a new interview with supporting actor and stuntman Seizo Fukumoto
  • Last Days of the Boss – a new interview with Final Episode screenwriter Koji Takada
  • Yakuza Graveyard – a new interview with Takashi Miike about Kinji Fukasaku and the yakuza film genre
  • Original trailers for the series
  • Original poster gallery for the series
  • Limited Edition packaging and reversible sleeves for all five films including original and newly commissioned artwork by Reinhard Kleist

The Complete Saga [Limited Edition Exclusive]

  • English-subtitled premiere of the 224-minute compilation edition of the first four films, previously screened only as part of a limited Japanese theatrical release in 1980 and on the Toei cable channel
  • Introduction by Complete Saga editorial supervisor Toru Dobashi

The Yakuza Papers [Limited Edition Exclusive]

  • 150-page hardback book featuring writing on the history of the yakuza film genre, the background and continuing importance of the Battles series, and additional essays on the men who made them, including a newly-reprinted and fully annotated edition of Paul Schrader’s classic 1974 Film Comment essay Yakuza-Eiga: A Primer, a new, exclusive English translation of screenwriter Kazuo Kasahara’s 1974 Scenario magazine essay on his writing process for the first four films, as well as new essays and interviews from critics and authors Chris D., Grady Hendrix, Patrick Macias, Tom Mes, Mark Schilling, and Jasper Sharp.

Pre-order the Battles Without Honour and Humanity Collection today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases | Tagged | 5 Comments

Shane Black’s ‘Predator’ sequel to ‘reinvent a franchise’

"Predator" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Predator" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Hollywood sure loves their remakes these days, and no film is sacred – not even Chan-wook Park’s beloved Oldboy or the Pang Brothers’ Bangkok Dangerous. Still, it’s one thing for the studios to grab the remake rights to a foreign language film that, let’s face it, most American movie-goers haven’t seen. It’s another thing altogether for Hollywood to remake one of their own beloved genre pictures. That’s why news of a Predator remake in the works is so surprising.

While the original Predator may have its share of cheesy one-liners, it’s regarded by most as a modern action classic. It’s a movie that many consider Arnold Schwarzenneger’s strongest effort, a movie that would most likely be called John McTiernan’s finest hour if it wasn’t for a little film called Die Hard.

Still, even more surprising than the fact that Hollywood would touch the sacred cow of Predator is the news that none other than Shane Black will be directing the film. Before he made headlines for writing and directing Iron Man 3, Black was a talented writer who rose to fame on the strength of scripts like Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout.

Alongside his meteoric rise as a screenwriter in the late Eighties, Black actually had a small supporting role in Predator as the character Hawkins; this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it part was apparently a way for the producers to try and coax Black into polishing the script for Predator, a task which he repeatedly refused. All these years later, the Predator story appears to be coming full circle, as Black will write the treatment for this new Predator before directing the film itself.

The real question is: what modern actor could possibly step into the combat boots made famous by Arnold Schwarzenneger – let alone the other musclebound roles ably filled by Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, and Sonny Landham? Considering that most of today’s stars are cast to be pretty rather than buff, it’s most likely that this new Predator will look and feel radically different than the original.

Update: Co-writer/director Shane Black has confirmed that the film is actually an “inventive sequel” and not a reboot as originally thought. Now we’re left to speculate if the film will treat the events of Predator 2 (let alone 2010′s Predators) as canon or ignore everything except the ’87 original.

BREAKING NEWS: According to Collider, producer John Davis says that the sequel is still happening and that the film will “reinvent a franchise.” A “genius” draft of the script is complete and was written by Black and his writing partner, Fred Dekker (Iron Man 3).

Posted in News | 2 Comments

Deal on Fire! Shaolin | Blu-ray | Only $9.99 – Expires soon!

"Shaolin" Blu-ray Cover

"Shaolin" Blu-ray Cover

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Benny Chan’s Shaolin, starring Andy Lau.

After unscrupulously killing a wounded enemy, Hou Jie (Lau) pays a terrible price for his actions and is forced to seek refuge in the same Shaolin Monastery he blatantly disrespected.

The film also stars Nicholas Tse (The Bullet Vanishes), Fan Bing Bing (Flash Point), Jacky Wu (Kill Zone) and a special cameo by the legendary Jackie Chan. Some call Shaolin the best martial arts film since Ip Man.

Order Shaolin from Amazon.com today!

Posted in Deals on Fire!, News | 1 Comment