For the Emperor (2014) Review

"For the Emperor" Korean Theatrical Poster

"For the Emperor" Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Park Sang-Joon
Writer: Lee Yong-Soo, Kim Sung-Dong
Producer: Choi Jae-Il, Lee Tae-Hun
Cast: Lee Min-Ki, Park Sung-Woong, Lee Tae-Im, Kim Jong-Goo, Lee Jae-Won, Han Jae-Young, Lee Yoo-Joon, Jung Heung-Chae, Park Jin-Woo, Kim Ki-Moo
Running Time: 104 min.

By Kyle Warner

In his first years playing in the pros, pitcher Lee Hwan (Lee Min-ki) was a rising star. After an injury hurts his career, Hwan starts rigging his games and earning money on the side. When he’s arrested for illegal gambling, Hwan walks away from sports and joins the gangsters he’d only been loosely connected to in the past. A good fighter with ruthless ambition and a devil-may-care attitude, Hwan quickly rises through the ranks to become one of the most powerful gangsters in the city.

For the Emperor will likely feel familiar to just about anyone who’s ever watched more than a handful of organized crime films. In the film we get the usual gangster movie characters and clichés: there’s the rags to riches storyline, the woman who’s indebted to the mob and pays off her debt by working as a call girl, the mafia mentor who is viewed as a rival once the protégé outgrows his teachings, and of course let’s not forget the crazy guy that’s released from prison and threatens to bring everything crashing down… and so much more! Really, you’ve seen all of this before. And you’ve probably seen most of it done better, too.

Burdened with an uninteresting screenplay (based on a comic book by Kim Seong-Dong), For the Emperor never manages to do anything really exciting to set itself apart from the pack of Asian crime films. Beyond the script, though, I found it to be a decently made film. The editing is sharp, giving the film a brisk, agreeable pace. The musical score by Peach and Dalparan (The Good, the Bad, the Weird) is often interesting. The cinematography is cool, making the city of Busan look colorful and bright. And the actors do what they can with the characters given to them, often resulting in some pretty decent performances.

The most interesting part of the film may be the main character Hwan. Early on in the film, Hwan carries himself with complete disregard for his life and the lives of others. Some of his fellow gangsters regard him as overly confident, but it seems to be more than that, like he might be a borderline sociopath. The character becomes less interesting after he finds love and success, learning that he does actually stand to lose something in his life. For the most part, Lee Min-ki (Quick) is impressive playing the lead. His lean frame and pretty boy looks do not always lend well to the character of a tough guy, but when Lee’s allowed to play Hwan as someone dangerous and self-loathing, the actor finds some interesting things to work with. I would compare his performance to the grittier roles of Ryan Gosling – both play their parts with minimal expression or emotion and deliver their lines with cold detachment. Like Gosling, this style of performance only gets Lee so far. When Hwan sits in front of a table of gangsters and is asked to command the screen with just the look in his eyes, Lee falls a bit short. Lee lacks the cool intensity of other better, more experienced actors, and in these scenes he looks less like a man in complete control of his world and more like a man that simply doesn’t have anything interesting to say.

Though the best of gangster cinema are often considered prestige films, For the Emperor only ever tries to be a piece of genre entertainment. It’s just fine with being derivative instead of being original, with characters that try to be cool instead of real, and a romantic relationship between the leads that means to be sexy instead of being believably romantic. Their relationship – and indeed, the love interest herself (Lee Tae-im) – is only there to add steamy sex to the picture while the plot falls into place. Once the villains start announcing themselves, the film pretty much drops the love interest entirely.

Director Park Sang-jun (Bank Attack) fills the film with extreme violence and bone-crunching action. It’s often nasty, unpleasant stuff, but the scenes are fairly memorable and visually striking. Knife fights are the norm for Korean gangster cinema but Park finds some interesting ways to stage the fights, whether by going to new locations or simply lighting the fights in cool and chaotic ways.

I wish the same could be said for how Park staged his dramatic scenes. Way too many scenes feature the characters facing away from each other while they converse. Here’s a fun drinking game for you: down a shot every time someone stares out the damned window, take two shots if we see them staring longingly at either the ocean or the city of Busan lit up like a Christmas tree. I mean, I get it. Dramatically they’re staring off towards the future and stylistically it gives the actors something to do instead of just standing around and talking face-to-face. It’s an oft-used way for staging a dramatic scene, but Park falls back on it way too often here.

For the Emperor definitely feels like a bit of the old ‘been there, done that,’ but that’s not to say that it’s all bad. Yes, it’s overly familiar and lacking deep characterization or any original twists to the old narrative. But it’s mildly entertaining stuff, moves at a good pace, and does not overstay its welcome. I don’t feel that For the Emperor has enough to recommend it, but I expect some fans of Korean crime dramas will find something to enjoy here.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 6/10

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Martial arts gangs run rampant in ‘Kwon Bob: Chinatown’

"Kwon Bob: Chinatown" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Kwon Bob: Chinatown" Korean Theatrical Poster

The talented Park Sang-Hyun – who is part of a team responsible choreographing the action in films like Kundo: Age of the Rampant (2014) and For the Emperor (2014) – is making his directorial debut in a new Korean martial arts film called Kwon Bob: Chinatown (“Kwon Bob” means “martial arts”).

Kwon Bob: Chinatown stars Seo Joon-yeong (Bleak Night) as a detective who tries to take down a gang of martial arts fighters. The film also stars Ban So-yeong (The Princess’ Man), Won Jin (The Suspect), Oh Seung-yoon (Stalker), Lee Si-yoo (Traffickers) and Seo Beom-sik (Fists of Legend).

Kwon Bob: Chinatown opens in Korea on July 9, 2015. Stay tuned for the trailer!

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Return of the Valuables (1975) Review

"Return of the Valuables" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Return of the Valuables" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Chui Dai-Gwan
Writer: Gam Kim
Producer: Chen Ching-Te
Cast: Chen Tao, Joan Lin Feng-Chiao, Gary List, Lee Seung, Lam Chi, Miao Tian, Lan Yun, Gam Kim, Chen Chiu, Chan San-Yat, Tsang Ming-Cheong, Yeung Hung, Keung Hon, Wong Goon-Hung, Chui Lap, Cho Kin, Siu Wong-Lung, Lui Wan-Biu
Running Time: 82 min.

By Paul Bramhall

Toby Russell should be a name that anyone who counts themselves as a fan of kung fu movies will be familiar with. The son of director Ken Russell, he’s a guy who spent his formative years hanging out on the sets of seemingly every legendary kung fu movie ever made, and acting and directing a fair few of them as well. Back in the 1990’s he assisted to run the Eastern Heroes video label in the UK with Ricky Baker, and then in the 2000’s he was the man behind both the Vengeance Video and the Rarescope labels, which released a wealth of old school kung fu goodness onto DVD, often for the first time.

However by 2010, like every other label out there that specialized in the kung fu genre, releases from Vengeance Video and Rarescope had completely dried up. Thankfully though, it appears Russell still has a wealth of movies in his vaults that never got an official release, and towards the end of 2014 he began releasing them as custom projects, usually focusing on movies which have never had English subtitles before. Return of the Valuables is the tenth title that Russell has put out there in his most recent venture, and is a rare 1975 Taiwanese modern day action movie.

Rare kung fu movies usually fall into 2 categories – the first is that for whatever reason, be it distribution rights or lost to the ravages of time, the movies have never had a release either on VHS or DVD, so remain frustratingly impossible to see outside of bootlegs and collectors circles. The second is much simpler – they’ve become rare because they suck and have zero entertainment value, however develop a reputation for being worth watching just based on the fact that the title is so difficult to track down. Sometimes it’s a fine line, so I was curious to see what the deal was with Return of the Valuables.

Working from a newly English subtitled version of the German print, one of the few countries it was released in widescreen, the movie opens with a group of stunt motorcyclists riding around a racetrack. I had my suspicions that such a scene probably wasn’t going to have any connection to the rest of the movie, and I was partly right. None of the movies characters feature in the performance, however I suppose it does serve as a connection to the surprising amount of vehicle stunts that feature throughout, often involving motorbikes, but we’ll get to that later.

The plot of Return of the Valuables revolves around a treasure box which contains a stolen tiara. The tiara is originally stolen by the fantastically named Nightclub Gang, led by King Hu favorite Miao Tian, however it’s then in turn stolen by another gang, led by Gwailo actor Gary List, here in his one and only movie appearance. Tian’s gang members insist the tiara would never have been stolen, had it not been for the fact that the brakes on their car didn’t work, and it just so happens that the brother of the car mechanic who recently worked on the car is a morally righteous kung fu expert. Solution to getting the tiara back? Kidnap the car mechanic and blame him for the brakes not working, then blackmail the brother to helping them take on the rival gang. That works for me.

The car mechanic is played by Gam Kim, who also wrote the script, as well as directing movies like Six Kung Fu Heroes and Militant Eagle, while his kung fu fighting brother is played by Chen Tao. Tao of course quickly becomes the main character, and has a satisfying amount of screen presence and fighting talent, so I was surprised to discover that, apart from an appearance in The Iron Profligates the year prior, he doesn’t have any other movies to his name.

Special mention also has to go to the funky soundtrack, which really adds to the 70’s vibe. I’m sure almost all of the music came from somewhere else, as I was able to recognize a few riffs from Lalo Schifrin’s Enter the Dragon score. The box housing the tiara also gets its own entertainingly bombastic score whenever it gets opened, no matter how inappropriate. Gangsters are sitting around a table seriously discussing the tiara – box gets opened, bombastic score suddenly plays out of nowhere, box gets closed, bombastic score abruptly stops and gangsters continue talking.

Adding to my ‘theory in progress’ that every movie made in 1975 had to have a sexy dance scene (see reviews for The Association and The Saviour Monk), Return of the Valuables also doesn’t disappoint in this department. In a scene which is pretty much separate from everything else going on, we get to watch a well endowed dancer, adorned in just a bikini and briefs sporting psychedelic swirls, perform a rather bizarre routine in the Nightclub Gang’s, well, nightclub. To sum it up, the dance involves her prancing around with a rather manic look on her face, while wildly shaking her ample chest from side to side with great speed. It’s all shot in gratuitous close-up, and eventually the bikini comes off, which I’m sure must have resulted in her developing some kind of breast version of whiplash. I never thought I’d want a topless dance scene to stop, so this was certainly a first. Ironically, the next line a character speaks immediately after the scene is, “What kind of bullsh*t was that?” Agreed.

Of course movies like this are all about the action, and Return of the Valuables delivers plenty of it. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a surprising amount of vehicle stunt work for a 1975 production. While some of it may pale in comparison to what can be done today, scenes were a motorbike mounts the top of a truck and performs a high jump across a railway track, just seconds away from being hit by a speeding train, are nothing less than impressive. Just like Jackie Chan would use for his shopping mall pole slide 10 years later in Police Story, director Chui Dai-Gwan employs the technique of replaying the jump from a couple of different angles, which succeed in highlighting the danger of such a stunt.

Tao is a satisfying bad ass throughout. He convincingly portrays a guy who wants to do the right thing, but it also isn’t under him to hang a woman by her legs out of a window several stories up, or throw a gown over a gangsters head as he steps out of the shower and punch him in the face. Outside of these occurrences though, it’s essentially Tao’s job to get into a fight in almost every scene he’s in, and he sells the fights well. Return of the Valuables belongs to the basher category when it comes to the fight choreography, and for me bashers tend to be one of two things. They’ll either have very stilted and blocky choreography (at worse – performed slowly), or they’ll contain fights which appear like the director did something to get everyone really angry, and then said “Go at each other!” Return of the Valuables thankfully falls into the later category, with every one of the many fights coming across as highly aggressive and violent.

What the fights may lack in finesse and intricate movements, they more than make up for with raw energy and anger. There are no character deaths here from an elaborate acrobatic move or flying kick, when somebody bites the dust, it’s probably because they’ve just been enthusiastically punched in the face 20 times, and sometimes, that’s perfectly fine. The action really culminates at the 1 hour mark, and never relents for the remaining 20 minutes. Having not only had his brother kidnapped, but also his girlfriend (played by none other than Mrs. Jackie Chan – Joan Lin) as well, Tao goes on a rampage through Gary List’s Gwailo gangster’s mansion. Just to remind us that it’s the 70’s, he also has to compete with 4 color coordinated bodyguards, who have matching bald heads, red sweaters, and black fingerless gloves. It’s a look which demands respect.

The finale is really an exhausting experience, with Tao, Tian, and List, all going after each other in a combination of vehicle chases that involve cars, motorbikes, and boats. And of course, fisticuffs, lots of them. The fight action is raw and desperate, with at one point List and Tao going at each other in a river which has a current that looks close to being white water rapids. Watching them trying to throw punches at each other while trying not to be swept away, you’d have to be in a coma not to feel a rush of excitement. List may be a Gwailo, and it’s debatable if he had any formal martial arts training, but he shows that he can give and take blows, enduring all the way to the end, which has him and Tao fighting it out on a moving unmanned boat – Face/Off style, only more than 20 years earlier.

For a healthy dose of 70’s basher action, you can’t go too far wrong with Return of the Valuables.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 8/10

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

Mel Gibson battles drug dealers in thriller ‘Blood Father’

"Get the Gringo" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Get the Gringo" Japanese Theatrical Poster

After a string of shoot ‘em up titles such as Get The Gringo, Machete Kills and Expendables 3, Mel Gibson is out for more blood in Blood Father, an upcoming action-drama directed by Jean-Francois Richet (Mesrine) and written by Peter Craig (The Town).

Blood Father is about an ex-con (Gibson) who reunites with his estranged wayward 16-year old daughter (Erin Moriarty) to protect her from drug dealers who are trying to kill her. The film also stars William H. Macy, Thomas Mann, Elisabeth Rohm, Diego Luna and Michael Parks.

Updates: Check out a behind-the-scenes feature for Blood Father. A trailer should be popping up soon!

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The Dead Lands | Blu-ray & DVD (Magnolia)

The Dead Lands | Blu-ray & DVD (Magnolia)

The Dead Lands | Blu-ray & DVD (Magnolia)

RELEASE DATE: August 4, 2015

Magnolia presents the DVD for To a Fraser’s The Dead Lands, an action film that utilized the Maori martial art Mau Rakau (the skilled use of weapons). The film has been described as Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto meets Tony Jaa’s Ong Bak.

After his tribe is slaughtered through an act of treachery, the teenage son of a slain Maori chieftain looks to avenge his father’s murder and bring peace and honor to the souls of his loved ones. | Watch the trailer.

Pre-order The Dead Lands from Amazon.com today!

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1st explosive trailer for Gerard Butler’s ‘London Has Fallen’

"London Has Fallen" Teaser Poster

"London Has Fallen" Teaser Poster

Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart and Morgan Freeman are back for an Olympus Has Fallen sequel, titled London Has Fallen, which has a release date set for October 2, 2015.

Babak Najafi (Easy Money II: Hard to Kill) is directing. Katrin Benedikt and Creighton Rothenberger, who both scribed Olympus Has Fallen, are writing the sequel.

London Has Fallen also stars Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster, Sean O’Bryan, Radha Mitchell, Jackie Earle Haley, Alon Aboutboul, Charlotte Riley, and Waleed Zuaiter.

Official plot: After the British Prime Minister passes away, his funeral becomes a target of a terrorist organization to destroy some of the world’s most powerful leaders, devastate the British capital, and unleash a terrifying vision of the future. The only hope of stopping it rests on the shoulders of the President of the United States (Eckhart) and his formidable Secret Service head (Butler), and an English MI-6 agent (Riley) who rightly trusts no one.

Updates: Check out the film’s first trailer.

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Is Jackie Chan finally committed to ‘Expendables 4′?

"Expendables 4" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Expendables 4" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Despite Expendables 3′s box office belly flop last year – due to the film’s online leakage, according to Lionsgate – Sylvester Stallone remains optimistic about the future of his popular action series. In fact, he’s already laying out plans for the 4th installment.

Here’s what Stallone told CCTV: “As we go on, we will continue to add more stars, more personalities, more athletes, more individuals around the world, not just Americans… hopefully, we’ll be able to film in Asia very soon.”

Stallone also mentions the possible addition of Jackie Chan, who has been linked to the franchise since the original Expendables: “We’ve always wanted to use Jackie Chan. The only reason we didn’t is because there really wasn’t a part big enough for him, because we had so many actors. But in the next one, we are going to reduce the actors, and let’s just say, expand the screen time of each star.”

In addition to Chan, other names – such as Dwayne Johnson, Christopher Lambert, Jean Reno, Pierce Brosnan and Steven Seagal – have been considered for the franchise (see our updates regarding Expendables casting here). Stay tuned with more developments regarding Expendables 4.

Updates: Thanks to EP.com, we have a video where Stallone talks about the possibility of an Expendables 4. When asked if he’s going to do another one, he replies: “I don’t know. We got so ripped off. If I do another one it’s going to be a lot bloodier though…hardcore R.”

When asked if future installments of the franchise will be Rated R, this is what Stallone had to say: “Absolutely unequivocally yes. I believe it was a horrible miscalculation on everyone’s part in trying to reach a wider audience, but in doing such, diminish the violence that the audience expects. I’m quite certain it won’t happen again.” Stallone also hints that one of the main characters may actually be killed in a future installment. - Thanks to Crave.

According to Youth Health (via EP.com), Manny Pacquiao may have a role in The Expendables 4: “During Pacquiao’s match against Chris Algieri, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger went to Manny Pacquiao’s locker room to wish him good luck. But someone from Manny Pacquiao’s camp affirmed that something more came up, Stallone and Schwarzenegger recruited the Filipino boxer to join the cast of The Expendables 4! The Filipino champ allegedly accepted the offer and the two legends left the room with smiles on their faces.” Of course, nothing is official until it’s on paper, but only time will tell.

In an interview with Graham Walker Stallone revealed that he wants Jack Nicholson to play a villain in Expendables 4: “Is it gonna happen? Most likely not. Is it possible? Slightly.” He also mentions Clint Eastwood, but says the possibility of his involvement would be a “long shot.”

No news on Expendables 4, but Deadline reports that Expendables is getting the TV series treatment. Whereas the movie version united big screen action stars, the Expendables TV series will unite small screen action stars. Avi Lerner and Sylvester Stallone will serve as producer and executive producer, respectively. No cast members have been announced, but we’ll keep you updated as we hear more.

In an interview with USAT, Schwarzenegger, who starred in all 3 Expendables films, had this to say: “I just think it’s a terrific franchise. I told Sly to write another one or have someone else write another one. A really terrific story. Because I think it’s a great idea to have an ensemble piece with that many action heroes in a movie. Especially if the comedy is really done well. It could be a great story. There’s definitely room for another one.”

During the Power Expo at the NEC Arena in Birmingham, England last weekend, Hulk Hogan mentioned in was in talks with Stallone to play the main villain in Expendables 4.

BREAKING NEWS: From EP.com: Sylvester Stallone made an appearance at the L.A premiere of Terminator Genisys. When being interviewed by the Chinese media, he revealed that both he, Jackie Chan, and most likely, Arnold Schwarzenegger, will be filming a movie in China soon. No further details were given. There’s a strong possibility the project he’s talking about is The Expendables 4. After all, months ago, we reported (scroll up to the 2nd paragraph of this post) that the next Expendables flick would be filmed in Asia. Stay tuned!

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1st trailer for ‘Creed’ (aka the ‘Rocky’ spin-off)

"Rocky 4" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Rocky 4" Japanese Theatrical Poster

A Rocky spinoff called Creed is currently in post-production. Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station) is playing the grandson of Apollo Creed (portrayed by Carl Weathers in the Rocky films). Sylvester Stallone will reprise his role as Rocky Balboa, who is now a retired fighter-turned-trainer. Ryan Coogler, the director of the critically-acclaimed Fruitvale Station, is helming Creed.

Creed will revolve around the grandson of Apollo Creed, who follows his grandfather’s footsteps when he learns he has the natural gift and potential that made his grandfather a heavyweight champion. The film opens on November 25, 2015.

Updates: According to an interview with Badtaste, Sylvester Stallone had this to say: “…No Rocky VII, I’m done with that series. However, I will take part in Creed, the Ryan Coogler film about the son of Apollo. We start shooting in February. But it really is a completely different film, it’s dramatic.” | First photo.

BREAKING NEWS: Watch the first trailer for Creed.

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Cityonfire.com’s ‘Kung Fu Killer’ Blu-ray Giveaway! – WINNERS ANNOUNCED!

Kung Fu Killer | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Kung Fu Killer | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Cityonfire.com and Well Go USA are giving away 3 Blu-ray copies of Donnie Yen’s Kung Fu Killer to three lucky Cityonfire visitors. To enter, simply add a comment to this post and describe, in your own words, this classic trailer!

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

The Blu-ray & DVD for Kung Fu Killer (read our review) will be officially released on July 21, 2015. We will announce the 3 winners on July 21, 2015 and ship out the prizes immediately.

CONTEST DISCLAIMER: You must enter by July 20, 2015 to qualify. U.S. residents only please. We sincerely apologize to our non-U.S. visitors. Winners must respond with their mailing address within 48 hours, otherwise you will automatically be disqualified. No exceptions. Contest is subject to change without notice.

WINNERS: Ben, Carlos Hernandez and Devin T.

Posted in News | Tagged | 28 Comments

Trailer for the Ringo Lam-less ‘Prison on Fire 2015′

"Prison on Fire 2015" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Prison on Fire 2015" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Don’t let the title fool you. Prison on Fire 2015 has little to do with Ringo Lam’s 1987′s Prison on Fire or 1991′s Prison on Fire II, other than being in the “prison film” sub-genre and sharing some of the same cast members, mainly William Ho, who appeared in the original, as well as 2001′s two throwbacks, Prison on Fire: Life Sentence and Prison on Fire: Plaintive Destiny.

Actually, the film’s real title is Imprisoned: Survival Guide for Rich and Prodigal and is more of a comedy than anything else. The plot involves a loser who hits a passer-by while drinking and driving. He’s then sentenced to one year in jail where learns that the prison world has its own rules for survival…

Christopher Suen (3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy) directs with a cast featuring Gregory Wong (Legend of the Fist), Justin Cheung (Stool Pigeon), Liu Kai-Chi (The Viral Factor), Babyjohn Choi (The Way we Dance), Philip Keung, Jessy Li (Port of Call) and Ken Lo (The Constable).

Prison on Fire 2015 received its domestic release last month. In case you missed it, watch the trailer (via DiP).

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Shooting for Donnie Yen’s ‘Ip Man 3D′ is a wrap!

"Ip Man" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Ip Man" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Ip Man 3 has finished filming – in 3D! Star Donnie Yen will return in the titular role, alongside director Wilson Yip. This time around, Ip Man’s most famous pupil – Bruce Lee – is set to have a much larger role in the story. “What is certain is that the film will begin with Bruce Lee becoming Ip Man’s disciple,” says screenwriter Edmond Wong.

Producer Raymond Wong claims the film will feature a much larger budget than the previous two films, with special 3D effects incorporated into the fight scenes, courtesy of the legendary Yuen Woo Ping.

So far, here’s what you can expect from the cast: Lyn Hung (Ip Man), Zhang Han (The Taking of Tiger Mountain), Max Zhang (The Grandmaster), Patrick Tam You Man (Purple Storm), Karena Ng (Kung Fu Angels), Kent Cheng (Flash Point), Louis Cheung (Legend is Born – Ip Man), Mike Tyson (The Hangover) and Leung Kar Yan (The Postman Strikes Back).

Update: In addition to Ip Man 3, here’s a list of titles Yen is currently working on: Iceman 2 (post-production), The Master (pre-production), Dragon City (pre-production) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2 (post-production) and Noodle Man, his first starring role in a U.S. production. | Well Go USA has already picked up U.S. rights for Ip Man 3

Here’s what Yen told Flicks and the City (via EP): “It’s [Ip Man 3] going to be my last time around playing Ip Man. I think the fans have been waiting for quite a few years. And I kind of didn’t want to take on this role again, and I was onto experimenting with different characters, different roles, until I’m ready. And now, I feel like I’m ready, so we’ll see. I’ll try do the best I can. And hopefully I can top the first two.”

The film’s director Wilson Yip (who worked with Yen in SPL, Dragon Tiger Gate, Flash Point, Ip Man and Ip Man 2) has asked him to lose 30 pounds (approximately 14 kg) for the role. “This is mission impossible. I now weigh 145 pounds (approximately 66kg). I am worried I’ll end up in hospital after losing that weight. I may even die,” he tells the Hong Kong media.

For some time, Donnie Yen has been talking about it (see Special ID 2), but now the idea is a full blown reality: According to THR, Mike Tyson will join the cast of Ip Man 3. The former heavyweight boxing world champion will take part in “some intense fighting” when he goes toe-to-toe with Yen: click here to watch the Tyson vs. Yen promo. And just when the Ip Man 3 updates couldn’t get any more interesting: the unnamed actor portraying Bruce Lee will be laced with CGI enhancements to bring Lee’s on-screen image alive.

According to THR, Bruce Lee Enterprises, LLC (BLE) – owner of all intellectual property rights related to Bruce Lee, including worldwide rights relating to the his name, image, likeness, persona, signature, voice, attributes, marks, logos, symbols, works, photographs and writings – is seeking to stop the icon’s image from appearing in Ip Man 3. BLE’s COO, Kris Storti, stated that the estate is “justifiably shocked” to learn that the image of Bruce Lee in Ip Man 3 is “completely unauthorized.” The producers of Ip Man 3 have the cooperation of Robert Lee, Bruce Lee’s brother; however, BLE contended that “Robert Lee does not own or control any intellectual property rights associated with Bruce Lee, including, without limitation, any rights to Bruce Lee’s name, likeness and image.” In the meantime, Ip Man 3 producer, Raymond Wong, says the matter will be handled by lawyers. | First set images of Donnie Yen and Yuen Woo Ping in Ip Man 3. | First official still of Donnie Yen in Ip man 3.

Here’s a Ip Man 3 set image (via HKTop10) of Donnie Yen, Mike Tyson and Yuen Woo Ping, along with a photo of Tyson’s finger, which was accidentally fractured by Yen during filming. *Update* Video news brief featuring Yen and Tyson on what appears to be the Ip Man 3 set. | Teaser poster for Ip Man 3.

BREAKING NEWS: According to DiP (heavily regarded as one of the best Filipino sources for Donnie Yen news on the net), Ip Man 3D is a wrap. A trailer is most likely on the horizon – we’ll be on the look out! Until then, check out a few production photos: 1 | 2

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Bukaw Banchamek kicks A$$ in ‘Thongdee: The Warrior’

"Yamada: The Samurai of Ayothaya" Thai Theatrical Poster

"Yamada: The Samurai of Ayothaya" Thai Theatrical Poster

Thai welterweight Muay Thai kickboxer Buakaw Banchamek (Yamada: The Samurai of Ayothaya) is back with Thongdee: The Warrior, an upcoming martial arts flick that will apparently be directed by Bin Bunluerit (Panya Raenu trilogy).

Here’s the film’s official plot: Phraya Phichai was a Siamese general serving under King Taksin. After the fall of Ayudhya in 1767, Phraya Pichai and Chao Phraya Chakri (who later become the first King of Chakri Dynasty) followed Phraya Taksin in repelling the Burmese and reuniting Siam. They were considered Phraya Taksin’s left and right hands.

Don’t miss a preliminary clip, which should give you an idea of what to expect from Thongdee: The Warrior (via FCS).

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Cross | aka Smile for Me (2012) Review

Cross | aka Smile for Me (2012) Review

Cross | aka Smile for Me (2012) Review

Director: Daniel Chan Yee Hang
Writer: Daniel Chan Yee Hang
Cast: Simon Yam, Kenny Wong, Mimi Kung, Liu Kai-Chi, Evelyn Choi, Chen Ran, Nick Cheung, Pal Sinn, Zhu Guangxuan, Mo Tzu-Yi, September Zhang
Running Time: 90 min.

By Kyle Warner

It took four directors over two years to complete Cross, a thriller that’s less than 80 minutes long with a good portion of that running time taken up by flashbacks. Why did it take so long to finish? Why was it passed from director to director in a desperate attempt to save it? I don’t know the answers but clearly something went very wrong in the making of Cross.

The film starts by giving the viewer false hope. First we get a notice that the film won the 2010 It Project NAFF Award (an award I’m unfamiliar with, but from what I understand it was awarded to screenwriter Daniel Chan’s original pitch for the film, not the finished product that went to theatres). The film kicks off and we get a cool horror movie title sequence, a rather obscure quote from the Bible, and an interesting scene as Simon Yam goes to a police station, spreads evidence across a police officer’s desk, and turns himself in for murder. Except, in Yam’s character’s eyes, he’s not really committing murder, he’s doing “God’s work.”

A devout Catholic, Yam’s killer believes suicide is an unforgivable sin. When his sick wife overdoses on pills and kills herself, Yam becomes obsessed with suicide and begins frequenting websites where people talk about suicide, give each other tips on how to kill themselves, and post videos of their deaths.

Yam’s killer has no interest in talking people out of killing themselves. Rather, he offers his services to them, saying he’ll kill them and they can find peace in death without any worries about Hell. Many people take him up on his offer and he becomes a self-righteous serial killer. And though the killer claims he gave his victims a peaceful, joyful death, one method of murder included driving a power drill into a man’s brain… which, if you ask me, doesn’t seem like a peaceful way to go.

Because the killer turns himself in at the start, all of his kills are told in flashbacks (sometimes flashbacks of flashbacks). As a result, the film never builds up much momentum, resulting in a slog of a thriller. While Yam tells his story to the police and lawyers, a criminal psychologist played by Kenny Wong (Firestorm) tries to piece together the crimes. Wong goes to Yam’s house, puts on Yam’s clothes and eye glasses, touches all his things, and apparently attempts to become the killer in order to get into his head. Ignoring the fact that he’s putting fingerprints all over evidence, this entire subplot seems completely unnecessary, as the killer is already giving them everything they want. I still don’t understand the importance of Wong’s character in the story’s narrative. The film’s cast also includes a cameo by Nick Cheung (Helios), who plays the sleazy webmaster of the suicide site. Cheung’s scene is actually one of the film’s best but I imagine the actor feels lucky he didn’t sign on to play a bigger part.

At times the film plays like a dark drama about death and faith and other times it’s a bloody serial killer thriller. Considering the four writer/directors employed to make Cross (Daniel Chan, Steve Woo, Hiu Shu-Ning, Lau Kin-Ping) one should not be surprised that the film developed a split-personality disorder during its production. So instead of just being a boring movie, Cross is often a confusing one as well.

The most baffling part of the film is the fact that Yam’s lawyer Woo Yip is played by three different actors (Jason Chang, Morning Mo, and Sit Lap Yin). Now, casting young Sit Lap Yin makes sense, as he plays the teenage version of the character in flashbacks. But Jason Chang and Morning Mo are both approximately the same age and the film switches between them with no notice, no reason, no sense of logic whatsoever. When I was first watching the film, I naturally thought they were two different characters… linked somehow… but definitely different people. Not so. Same guy. I had to go back and rewatch things to make sure. Interestingly, the film ends with credits that include freeze frame images of all the primary cast members, but the Woo Yip character and the actors that played him are mysteriously (suspiciously?) left out of the slideshow. In the white text on black screen crawl that follows, the three different versions of the character are officially identified as ‘Woo Yip (Glasses)’, ‘Woo Yip (Ego)’, and ‘Woo Yip (Young)’. If this was an artistic decision, it makes no sense. I suspect the casting of both Chang and Mo had more to do with scheduling conflicts that arose thanks to the prolonged production (or possibly one of the actors ran away from the set and never returned). Whatever the reason, the choice to cast both Chang and Mo did not work, and only served to make more of a mess of things.

In the film’s final act something snaps and whatever had once barely held the film together falls apart. We get an admittedly unexpected twist and then the rest of the film is spent explaining the twist and giving us flashbacks of all the previous kills with new, distorted filters. So many flashbacks. I guess it was easier than filming new material? I don’t know. It’s at this point that you can tell the people making the film were just ready to be done with it and passed it along to the editors to figure out.

The concept behind Cross is decent and one can imagine how it could’ve been a good movie (or perhaps a decent episode of a dark police procedural on TV). Things just went wrong along the way and all attempts to fix it only seemed to exasperate things. Simon Yam’s reputation won’t be hurt by this one as it’s clear he did just about everything he could with the character. Only Yam’s biggest fans should bother with Cross. Everyone else is better off forgetting it.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 2/10

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Deal on Fire! The King of the Streets | Blu-ray | Only $9.82 – Expires soon!

The King of the Streets | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

The King of the Streets | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for The King of the Streets, a Chinese-language action film hailed as China’s first street-fighting movie.

Yue Feng (Song) is a thug with exceptional streetfighting abilities. He will stop at nothing to defeat all challengers – until he kills a fellow competitor and is sent to prison.

Eight years later, Yue Feng emerges a changed man. Upon his release from prison, a family member is murdered, and a loved one humiliated. Now, he has no choice but to unleash his power in the name of justice.

Order The King of the Streets from Amazon.com today!

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New trailer for Chen Kaige’s ‘Monk’ with Wang Baoqiang

"The Monk" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"The Monk" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Acclaimed director Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine) is back with Monk Comes Down the Mountain, a Chinese martial arts film that stars Aaron Kwok (The Monkey King), Wang Baoqiang (Fire of Conscience, Choy Lee Fut Kung Fu and the Donnie Yen flick, Kung Fu Killer), Lin Chi-ling (Red Cliff), Wang Xueqi (Bodyguards & Assassins) and Fan Wei (Back to 1942). Martial arts choreography is being handled by Ku Huan-Chiu (14 Blades, The Expendables 2).

Monk Comes Down the Mountain is based on Xu Haofeng’s best-selling novel of the same name. It should be noted that The Monk marks Columbia Pictures’ second production in Mainland China, following Gone with the Bullets. Monk Comes Down the Mountain will be released in China on July 3.

Official plot synopsis: In the film, when a young monk (Baoqiang) is forced to leave his impoverished monastery, he relies on his martial arts skills to survive in the outside world. In search of a mentor, he crosses paths with a Kung Fu master who is in possession of a book, which reveals the lost art of the deadly Ape Strike Kung Fu technique. The rare book is coveted by a sinister father and son who will go to any extremes to obtain it. The monk finds himself immersed in a deadly battle to protect both the book and his master.

Updates: 1st teaser trailer. | 2nd trailer.

BREAKING NEWS: Watch the new international trailer (via FCS).

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Zhang Ziyi and Ge You venture through ‘The Wasted Times’

"Lethal Hostage" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Lethal Hostage" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Young rising director Cheng Er (Lethal Hostage) is back with another thriller titled The Wasted Times, which stars Ge You (Let the Bullets Fly), Zhang Ziyi (The Grandmaster), Gillian Chung (Ip Man Final Fight) and Asano Tadonobu (Lupin III).

According to FBA, the offbeat thriller, which takes place in 1920s Shanghai, is about a Japanese spy hunting down a former friend for the murder of his family.

If you haven’t already, check out the film’s funky teaser trailer, which keeps the element of surprise up its sleeve. The Waste Times hits Chinese theaters on October 3rd. Stay tuned!

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Silver Hawk (w/Bonus Movies) | DVD (Echo Bridge)

Silver Hawk | DVD (Echo Bridge)

Silver Hawk | DVD (Echo Bridge)

RELEASE DATE: July 21, 2015

Echo Bridge presents the DVD for Jingle Ma’s Silver Hawk starring Michelle Yeoh (True Legend), Richie Ren (Punished), Luke Goss (Death Race II),  Michael Jai White (Falcon Rising) and Li Bingbing (Detective Dee). The DVD also includes the bonus movies: Running Delilah, The Legend of Red Dragon, Snake-Crane Secret and Honor.

In the public eye, she’s billionaire heiress, but with a mask, she’s transformed into a silver crusader. Silver Hawk’s (Yeoh) martial arts skills are put to the test though when a villain sets out to enslave the world.

Pre-order Silver Hawk from Amazon.com today!

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

Ready to see some ‘Awesome Asian Bad Guys’?

"Awesome Asian Bad Guys" Theatrical Poster

"Awesome Asian Bad Guys" Theatrical Poster

Get ready to get reacquainted with Awesome Asian Bad Guys from films of the 80s and 90s! This action/comedy is about two offbeat filmmakers (Stephen Dypiangco and Patrick Epino) who reunite iconic Asian bad guys – from action films such as Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and Rambo: First Blood Part II – to carry off one impossible mission.

Awesome Asian Bad Guys stars Dante Basco (Blood and Bone), Al Leong (Big Trouble in Little China, Rapid Fire), Yuji Okumoto (The Karate Kid II, Red Sun Rising), Tamlyn Tomita (The Karate Kid II), George Cheung (Big Trouble in Little China, Lethal Weapon 4), Randall Park, (The Interview) and Aaron Takahashi (Welcome to the Jungle). | Don’t miss the 1st trailer.

Updates: The film is currently available to watch on Amazon’s Instant Video service. Don’t miss the latest trailer!

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Stray Dog (1949) Review

"Stray Dog" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Stray Dog" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Akira Kurosawa
Writer: Akira Kurosawa, Ryuzo Kikushima
Producer: Sojiro Motoki
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Awaji, Eiko Miyoshi, Noriko Honma, Isao Kimura, Minoru Chiaki, Ichiro Sugai, Gen Shimizu, Noriko Sengoku
Running Time: 122 min.

By Matthew Le-feuvre

At a time when social or political ambivalence wasn’t an option to explore or express through art – or by any other visual medium – acclaimed Japanese filmmaker, Akira Kurosawa, then under contract with the Toho film studios, was one of a select few who took a noble stance at edifying post war audiences with personal featur­es like: The Judo Saga (1943), The Most Beautiful (1944), The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945) and Drunken Angel (1948). And despite censorship from an American occupational body, these pictures were structured to both preserve and cultivate an awareness of Japanese national identity, while concurrently reconciling with the savage realities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Unlike his contemporaries, Kurosawa appeared to be something of a political chameleon: in one instance during a drunken stupor in the company of Andrei Konchalovsky, he allegedly praised Lenin for his Communist policies – somewhat eccentric, and totally against character for an artist/filmmaker who deliberately chose to illustrate and promote non-conformity, especially in challeng­ing bureaucracy of all kinds because he himself was from a middle class samurai background. Yet for many – including Hollywood’s elite: George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola – Kurosawa remains an emblem of pure genius whose technical innova­tions resonate a visual style which even by current paradigms is unsurpassed.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t always about technicality; character development was just as important as Kurosawa’s fascination with the human condition: particularly the study of the ‘lone archetype’ as presented in his seminal ‘ronin’ masterpieces Yojimbo (1961) and Sanjuro (1962), where customized traits of suspense-building, raw emotion and explicit sword choreography were all majestically weaved to­gether on a rich celluloid tapestry that was far more appealing in the western hemisphere than in homegrown Japan.

This was, in part, due to Kurosawa’s preoccupation with (largely) ‘Western’ filmmaker, John Ford (1895-1973); another contemporary and a relatively older breed of maverick who invariably defied studio executives with his preference for casting stalwart, John Wayne in many of his own productions. Again, Kurosawa followed suit often fighting for, or opting to select, comparatively inexperienced unknowns such as renowned, intensely versatile, Toshiro Mifune, who went on to help revolutionize Japanese cinema with extraordinary performances in: The Seven Samurai (1954) – remade or reenvision numerous times – Throne of Blood (1957) and The Hidden Fortress (1958); the latter inspiring Lucas’ A New Hope (1977) segment of his ongoing Star Wars anthology.

While Drunken Angel (1948) was raw and, at intervals, uncompromising, Stray Dog (Kurosawa’s follow-up picture with Mifune) is more of an allegory piece than a straight forward detective chase thriller. Yes! An element of noir influences from Frank Tuttle (This Gun For Hire) to Jacques Tourneur (Build My Gallows High) are recognizable at the outset, noticeably made more real by a feeling of oppression, firstly from a sweltering heat wave; which, psychologically, is just as uncomfortable for the viewer as was in all probability for the cast. (And) secondly, Toshiro Mifune’s character is almost represented as a lost soul in a neon-lit hades that is Tokyo – a symbolic, and in essence, ‘corrupt’ macrocosm, by night – yet in daylight hours – embarrassingly depicts overcrowd­ing, poverty and refugees juxtaposed to an extant sense of cynicism which permeates every alleyway, town dwelling or high-rise apartment. Equally, devastation is not solely concentrated upon Tokyo’s infrastructure, but ubiquitously within the heart of all citizens yearning to better themselves socially, materialistically and/or spiritually.

On the surface, the premise (based on Kurosawa’s own unpublished novel) of Stray Dog was as ‘simplistic’ as you could get: however beneath its external, unconventional post-WWII moulding lies a very complex, thoughtfully realized project that – despite occasionally confounding, even frustrating – its maker begins with the theft of a police issue gun owned by a former soldier-turned-detective named Murakami (Toshiro Mifune). Enterprisingly, this instrument of law enforcement becomes an extension of death as Murakami’s gun is sold through an illegal black market, and is eventually passed onto psychopath, Shinjuro Yusa (Isao Ko Kimura), who incrementally leaves a trail of murder and confusion just to impress his sponging, morally vacant girlfriend, Harumi Namaki (Keiko Anaji).

Overwhelmed with guilt, Murakami naturally questions his competency, while doubly intent on catching Yusa dead or alive – a broad view that mildly clashes with his more seasoned superior, chief detective Sato (an award-winning Takashi Shimura), whose passively inclined, almost philosophical, ethics nearly costs him his life during a (subsequent) chance encounter with Yusa at a board­ing house. However there appears to be a methodology to Yusa’s violent dementia, and the grand old question is subtly put forward as to whether killers are born, or manufactured by a series of societal interactions/incidents: a typification unknow­ingly conceived (or perceived), even perpetuated out of ignorant vulgarity.

In a climax clearly indicative of Hitchcock, Lang or Preminger, Murakami pursues Yusa to a rural railway station. It is here in a darkly ironic, yet intense, multi-edited sequence, the claustro­phobia of a lively waiting room amplifies Murakami’s desperation as he fails to identify Yusa (as does the audience) from the description given to him. Ultimately, the railway station randomly transforms into an arena; a battleground of wits, observation, adrenaline, as well as razor sharp reflexes: all in accord will ordain closure for one of them… but who?!

Verdict: No hint of ‘Noh’ or ‘Kabuki’ motifs whatsoever, Stray Dog was the least favourite of Kurosawa’s productions as he felt it was “too technical!” Regardless of this self criticism, characters are defined irrespective of controversy, while pivotal messages are concealed just barely beneath an organized narrative, and like Murakami, we first repudiate – even prejudge who’s good, who’s evil, without fully understanding the totality of ’cause and effect’: a liberating perception Kurosawa was relentlessly communicating in a nontraditional way through his own inspirations, topics, imagery and concepts.

Matthew Le-feuvre’s Rating: 10/10

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The Mercury Conspiracy | DVD (Entertainment One)

The Mercury Conspiracy | DVD (Entertainment One)

The Mercury Conspiracy | DVD (Entertainment One)

Entertainment One presents the DVD for The Mercury Conspiracy (aka The Mercury Factor), directed by and starring Luca Barbareschi (Cannibal Holocaust).

After her son dies from poisoned food, Xiwen falls in love with Matteo, a businessman. Though a good man at heart, Matteo has been lured into the black market trafficking of adulterated food – the same food responsible for killing Xiwen’s son!

This Italian film is noted for its heavy Chinese cast, including Jingchu Zhang (Switch), Carl Ng (New Police Story), Kenneth Tsang (The Killer), Michael Wong (Zombie Fight Club) and Eddie Ko (Heroes Shed No Tears). | Watch the trailer.

Pre-order The Mercury Conspiracy from Amazon.com today!

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Danger zone! ‘Top Gun 2′ will explore drone warfare!

"Top Gun" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Top Gun" Japanese Theatrical Poster

A Top Gun sequel was in the works and director Tony Scott and Tom Cruise got as far as location scouting, but do to Scott’s death on August 19, 2012, the sequel was put on hold.

Since then, Jerry Bruckheimer confirmed that Top Gun 2 is still being planned. “For 30 years we’ve been trying to make a sequel and we’re not going to stop. We still want to do it with Tom [Cruise] and Paramount are still interested in making it,” the producer said.

Updates: According to ColliderTop Gun 2 will explore Drone Warfare and will mark the end of the fighter pilot Era. Tom Cruise will supposedly return as hotshot fighter pilot, Maverick.

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Bianca Bree Van Damme is going to ‘Kickbox’ in Thailand

"6 Bullets" Japanese DVD Cover

"6 Bullets" Japanese DVD Cover

Looks like Bianca Bree Van Damme is following the footsteps (or should we say “feet”) of her father, Jean-Claude Van Damme (Pound of Flesh). A martial arts movie titled Kickbox is currently in pre-production. Bree will star alongside “rising martial arts star” Alex Wraith (No Tears for the Dead, Killer Feet) who will also be directing the film.

According to producer Nathan McCoy (The Mojo Boys), Kickbox will be predominantly shot in Bangkok, Thailand with the bulk of the crew and actors coming from that region.

Bree, who has been practicing karate and kickboxing since her childhood, has co-starred with her father in number of films, including Assassination Games, 6 Bullets, Welcome to the Jungle and the yet-to-be released, Full Love (aka Soldiers).

If you want a little taste of what she’s capable of, check out her fight reel, which also features Kickbox co-star/director, Wraith. We’ll keep you updated on this project as we hear more!

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HK actress AngelaBaby joins ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’

"Independence Day: Resurgence" Teaser Poster

"Independence Day: Resurgence" Teaser Poster

Roland Emmerich (ID4, White House Down)  has revealed details about the upcoming ID4 sequels (ID Forever Part 1 and Part II), which will be set 20 years after the first film. The first sequel, which will be released on June 24, 2016, is called Independence Day: Resurgence.

The cast includes Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jessie Usher, Maika Monroe, Sela Ward, Joey King, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A. Fox, Brent Spiner, William Fichtner and Liam Hemsworth.

Here’s what Emmerich told EW: “The humans knew that one day the aliens would come back. And they know that the only way you can really travel in space is through wormholes. So for the aliens, it could take two or three weeks, but for us that’s 20 or 25 years.” Emmerich has hired James Vanderbilt (White House Down) to revise his first draft of the script.

Updates: Here’s the official plot synopsis for the ID4 sequel: After Independence Day redefined the event movie genre, the next epic chapter delivers global catastrophe on an unimaginable scale. Using recovered alien technology, the nations of Earth have collaborated on an immense defense program to protect the planet. But nothing can prepare us for the aliens’ advanced and unprecedented force. Only the ingenuity of a few brave men and women can bring our world back from the brink of extinction.

BREAKING NEWS: Jaynestars reports that AngelaBaby (Rise of the Legend) has joined Independence Day: Resurgence. Here’s a photo of her with the cast and a prop from the movie.

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Master Killers | aka The Master Avenger (1980) Review

"Master Killers" Theatrical Poster

"Master Killers" Theatrical Poster

AKA: The Master Avenger
Director: Wong Hung Cheung
Cast: Casanova Wong, Blacky Ko Sau Leung, Philip Ko Fei, Bolo Yeung Tze, Chiang Kam, Suen Kwok Ming
Running Time: 92 min.

By Paul Bramhall

There’s an old romantic cliché that goes something along the lines of everyone has that someone out there who’s ‘the one’, and what a tragedy it would be if they never realize it. Comparatively, for a kung fu fan like myself, I always thought what an amazing movie it would be if two of my favorite stars of the old-school era, Casanova Wong and Philip Ko Fei, got to face off against each other. For some inexplicable reason, for the longest time I’d thought there was no such movie, until someone guided me towards the direction of a little known title by the name of Master Killers. Like the protagonist of a love story finding ‘the one’ that they never realize existed, for me stumbling across this slice of old school goodness was the kung fu movie fan equivalent.

Not to be confused with Master Killer, the widely popular international title for Lau Kar Leung’s 1978 classic The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Master Killers is one of the many productions made in the wake of 1978’s Drunken Master. The movie, which put Jackie Chan, Yuen Woo Ping, and their unique blend of kung fu comedy on the map, spawned countless clones which were churned out with an almost reckless abandon in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and there’s no mistaking that Master Killers is one such imitation.

Blackie Ko is on Jackie Chan clone duty as the main character, playing a country bumpkin looking to seek revenge for the death of his father 20 years ago. Ko, who sadly passed away in 2003, is perhaps most well remembered for becoming an action director who specialized in vehicle stunts, as well as directing such Hong Kong movies as Curry and Pepper and Invincible. However before gaining the nickname of the ‘Evel Knievel of Asia’, Ko could bust out the old school shapes choreography with the best of them, and Master Killers is a rare chance to see him in the lead of a kung fu movie.

The plot is as simple as it comes, and is hardly even worth mentioning. But to give it the one line summary – Casanova Wong turns out to be Ko’s long lost brother, and they team up to take down Philip Ko Fei who killed their father 20 years ago. The end. Such finer details like exactly how they became separated, the reasons why Ko Fei killed their father, and an almost endless list of other questions you’ll ask yourself while watching, are never answered. But let’s face it, when you have the talent on board like you do here, even the most jaded old-school movie fan should be willing to overlook the lack of cohesive storytelling.

Master Killers was made in a year that produced a ridiculous amount of top level kung fu movies. Even without looking outside of the cast it’s easy to reel off several – Philip Ko Fei also starred in The Loot, Tiger Over Wall, and Snake Deadly Act. Casanova Wong was in The Master Strikes and Two Toothless Tigers. And everyone’s favorite lump of muscle, Bolo, was in Challenge of the Tiger. When you then consider that people like Jackie Chan were making The Young Master, and Sammo Hung was directing classics like The Victim and Encounters of the Spooky Kind, it’s easy to see why 1980 is viewed as one of the best years for the old-school kung fu movie genre.

So the question is, does Master Killers stand up alongside those other classics that were made in the same year? Perhaps the movie most comparable to Master Killers is one that Casanova Wong starred in during the same year, The Master Strikes. Apart from sharing a similar title (really, how many kung fu movie are there that have the word ‘master’ in the title!?), they both share the element of being comedy heavy for the bulk of their run times, and it’s not a good heavy. It’s the type of heavy which puts you at risk of a heart attack and comes with a severe health warning.

After a fantastic red backdrop opening, a staple of many kung fu movies of the era, which has Blackie Ko strutting his stuff in an amazing display of shapes and acrobatics, things quickly devolve into what amounts to 40 minutes of gurning, pratfalls, and high pitched cockney whining. My personal pet hate even makes an appearance – the child urination joke. Nothing seems to say kung fu cheapie like the arrival of a scene when a child urinates over someone! People getting hit so hard that it causes them to turn around and slowly walk into a tree also seems to qualify as comedy gold here, so it perhaps goes without saying that a certain level of patience and hope is required to get through these scenes.

Even with the arrival of Casanova Wong, and some unintentionally humorous nonsense about the ‘6.5 method pole fighting’ technique, things don’t really look any brighter. An initial misunderstanding which results in a fight between Wong and Ko is uninspired and almost sloppy, with several of the hits clearly not making any contact. However at the 40 minute mark, a strange thing happens. Wong finds himself in a situation which results in him facing off first against Bolo, and then – the moment I was waiting for – against Ko Fei, and suddenly you’ll find yourself sitting bolt upright to pay attention. Ko Fei is also the fight choreographer, and it’s almost as if he spent the first few days of the shoot asleep, having needed his own lengthy fight scene to wake him up. Either that, or it was one of Wong’s kicks.

Wong is convincingly laid waste to by Ko, and left for dead, which sees him disappear from the movie until the finale. However this isn’t such a bad thing. After watching the triple threat of Bolo, Wong, and Ko in action, all of which is fast and fluid, Master Killers builds up sufficient momentum to ensure your attention is maintained. Soon Ko is being trained by Sam Seed (another shameless nod to Drunken Master) in what is, to be fair, an imaginatively put together training sequence that has Ko suspended in the air by a series of rope pulleys, which he has to use to perform pushups. Most importantly, he’s taught the secrets of Empress Kung Fu, which is basically a rip-off of the feminine drunken boxing that Jackie Chan utilizes to defeat Hwang Jang Lee in the finale of Drunken Master.

Master Killers really comes into its own though in its final reel, as from the 1:10 mark it becomes a non-stop fight fest, and every one of them is certified excellence. Starting with Blackie Ko vs. Bolo and his henchman, this fight is fun to watch just to see Bolo’s unique fighting style. While Bolo’s ability to perform choreography doesn’t always get to shine in many of the movies he’s in, that’s not the case here, even throwing in some impressive kicks. What’s so unique about him though is that he doesn’t look at his opponent during the fight, almost like he’s memorized the choreography to the point that he simply focuses on performing it, and trusts the other person to do what they’re supposed to do. It makes for entertaining viewing.

However the real reason to watch Master Killers is the epic 12-minute final fight which pits Ko and Wong against Ko Fei. The fight is almost like a mini-movie in itself, as over the course of the 12 minutes it builds up in both complexity and intensity. Ko Fei is absolutely on fire, and makes it look perfectly believable that he’s capable of taking out both Wong and Ko. At the same time, you kind of feel sorry for him, while Wong opts to go shirtless, and Ko adorned in a thin white t-shirt, Ko Fei performs the whole fight in a traditional long sleeved Chinese shirt and pants. Within the first minute his back and armpits are completely saturated with sweat, redefining what our perceptions of a sweat patch should look like, but he still looks nothing less than a boss.

All three performers get their time to shine during the fight, with the battle constantly segueing from two-on-one attacks to one-on-one beat downs. Ko Fei proves as always why he’s considered to be the king of shaped based choreography, with his fast and powerful movements looking all but unstoppable. Ko proves to be up to the task of matching his choreography, performing some intricate exchanges which take place over satisfyingly long takes. Thankfully Wong lives up to his name of being the Human Tornado, with at least a couple of his kicks being pulled so fast that if Ko Fei had got his timing even a split second off, he probably wouldn’t have a head on his shoulders. Slow motion is also used sparingly throughout the fight to great effect, particularly to highlight Wong when he starts going airborne with his kicks.

In a world where fights like the finale of Master Killers have become as extinct as the dinosaurs, on reflection, sitting through the painful first half of comedic tomfoolery is a small price to pay to witness some jaw dropping displays of kung fu excellence. Just remember to check your armpits for sweat patches once it’s finished.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7.5/10

Posted in Chinese, News, Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Lawless Kingdom | aka The Four II | DVD (Lionsgate)

Lawless Kingdom | aka The Four II | DVD (Lionsgate)

Lawless Kingdom | aka The Four II | DVD (Lionsgate)

RELEASE DATE: September 2, 2015

Lionsgate presents the DVD for Lawless Kingdom (aka The Four II), directed by Gordon Chan (Fist of Legend).

Four detectives (Emotionless, Iron Hands, Life Snatcher, and Coldblood), each uniquely skilled with their own individual superpowers, are sent to investigate a murder outside the city.

Lawless Kingdom stars Deng Chao (Detective Dee), Liu Yifei (Outcast), Collin Chou (Special ID), Ronald Cheng (12 Nights) and Anthony Wong (Untold Story). | Watch the trailer.

Pre-order Lawless Kingdom from Amazon.com today!

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

Philip Rhee is rebooting the ‘Best of the Best’ franchise!

"Best of the Best 3: No Turning Back" Theatrical Poster

"Best of the Best 3: No Turning Back" Theatrical Poster

While promoting his latest movie, Underdog Kids, Philip Rhee revealed that he will be rebooting his successful Best of the Best saga, which consists of Best of the Best (1989), Best of the Best 2 (1993), Best of the best 3: No Turning Back (1995) and Best of the Best 4: Without Warning (1998).

The big question is whether Rhee will be the main star or if he’s looking for new blood to lead the new franchise? Here’s what he told The Action Elite (via FCS): “We’re going to reboot the whole franchise with a new cast. I have things… I’m going to bring in elements that nobody has ever seen before. I will produce the picture.”

Underdog Kids, Rhee’s first movie in 17 years, will be released on DVD by Anchor Bay on July 7, 2015.

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Kino Lorber is having ‘A Hard Day’…

"A Hard Day" Theatrical Poster

"A Hard Day" Theatrical Poster

If you’re looking for action, suspense and a dash of black comedy, then look no further than Kim Sung-Hyun’s (Your Time Is Up) new film, A Hard Day.

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

A Hard Day (read our review) stars Lee Sun-kyun (R-Point), Cho Jin-woong (The Spirit of Jeet Kune Do), Shin Jeong-Geun (The Pirates) and Jeong Man-Sik (Kundo: Age of Rampant).

Updates: On July 17th, Kino Lorber is releasing A Hard Day in theaters, followed by a Blu-ray/DVD release shortly. Watch the new North American trailer.

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Tony Jaa to cameo in Michael Jai White’s ‘Never Back Down 3′

"Never Back Down 3" Teaser Poster

"Never Back Down 3" Teaser Poster

A sequel to Michael Jai White’s directorial debut, Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown (2011), is currently in production in Thailand. White is returning to the director’s chair, as well as reprising his role as Case Walker. Also back in action is the incredibly fluid choreography work of Larnell Stovall (Falcon Rising).

Never Back Down 3 also stars Jeeja Yanin (Chocolate), Nathan Jones (Muay Thai Giant), Ron Smoorenburg (Who Am I?), Brahim Achabbakhe (Pound of Flesh), UFC’s Josh Barnett (Mercenary: Absolution), Esai Morales (Rapa Nui), Stephen Quadros (Cradle 2 the Grave) and Gillian Waters (Jackie Brown).

BREAKING NEWS: In a bit of news that’s sure to please fans, it looks like Thai action superstar Tony Jaa will be making a cameo appearance in Never Back Down 3. Tony Jaa and Michael Jai White recently starred opposite together in the action film Skin Trade (via M.M.A.C./FCS).

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Happiness of the Katakuris, The (2001) Review

The Happiness of the Katakuris | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

The Happiness of the Katakuris | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Kikumi Yamagishi
Producer: Hirotsugu Yoshida
Cast: Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tamba, Naoto Takenaka, Tamaki Miyazaki, Takashi Matsuzaki
Running Time: 113 min.

By Kyle Warner

When Takashi Miike agreed to do a remake of Kim Jee-woon’s directorial debut The Quiet Family, he wanted to give the story his own “personal stamp” to make his version worthwhile. And Miike did exactly that, turning the dark comedy into a bizarre musical, complete with claymation monsters and zombie dance numbers. The Happiness of the Katakuris is somehow simultaneously one of Takashi Miike’s most insane films and one of his most accessible. It’s a wonderfully weird journey into the mind of one of cinema’s boldest, most inventive filmmakers.

The basic plot of the film follows the original pretty closely. After a series of disappointments, Masao Katakuri (Kenji Sawada) buys a guesthouse and wants his family to help him run it. There are rumors of a new road coming through the area, promising to bring lots of business right to their door. Until that time, though, there’s a whole lot of waiting as the guests just aren’t coming. When finally they welcome their first guest, the man commits suicide in his room. Worried that the death will ruin their business, the family gets rid of the body and covers up the crime scene. Then the next guest dies, too, and it seems like the Katakuris are spending most their time burying bodies in the woods. Things get even crazier when a series of suspicious characters enter their lives, threatening to bring down everything they’ve worked for.

Unlike The Quiet Family, which was a thriller with a dark sense of humor, Miike tells this macabre tale as a musical. No musical number is quite like the one that came before it as multiple music genres are depicted throughout the film, including a Sound of Music-style song in a field, an 80’s rock and roll music video, and even a karaoke singalong. I would say that even those filmgoers who typically don’t like musicals will get a kick out of this one.

The film opens in a way that I fear may scare some viewers off. In the opening sequence, a claymation monster pops out of a woman’s bowl of soup, jumps into her mouth, and tears out her uvula. The monster then flies off and so begins a circle of life with other claymation animals and monsters. It’s the weirdest, most disturbing sequence in the film and is only barely connected to the rest of the story. I’ve grown to like the opening on repeat viewings, but initially it came as a shock, and made me worry the whole film would be just as strange. Well, the movie that follows is weird, just not the same breed of weird. The opening does successfully setup the audience for an “anything goes” type of movie, but I’m still not sure it was the right way to start things off.

Miike’s known for filling his films with shocking content, so it’s interesting to see how he plays with comedy here. The situation that the Katakuris have put themselves in is nuts already, but the world that surrounds them seems just as crazy. On TV the only shows to watch are a newscaster with a beetle in his brain and an aging female singing ‘Dem Bones’ (both the newscaster and the singer are played by one of Miike’s repeat players, Naoto Takenaka). In one of my favorite parts of the film, daughter Shizue Katakuri (Naomi Nishida) falls in love with a dashing Navy serviceman named Richard Sagawa (rock star Kiyoshiro Imawano). Richard claims to be on leave from the US Navy, or “To be more precise, Britain’s Royal Navy.” This all leads to one of the film’s best visual moments as Richard sings about how much he loves Shizue in the middle of a garbage dump while trash flies in the wind.

The performances all around are very good, selling both the horror and the humor. Naomi Nishida (My Secret Cache) is excellent as the love-struck Shizue. I’m largely unfamiliar with Kiyoshiro Imawano but he’s great as Richard, who is likely the film’s most complicated character. Veteran actor Tetsuro Tamba (You Only Live Twice, The Water Margin 1 & 2) is also a welcome member of the cast, giving a carefree performance as Grandpa Katakuri. It’s a great ensemble with no weak links to be found.

The newly released Arrow Video Blu-ray contains a wealth of special features both old and new. Ported over from the old DVD are interviews with the cast, a making-of featurette, a quick look at the claymation, and a commentary from Takashi Miike. New to this edition is a video essay look at Miike’s career put together by Midnight Eye’s Tom Mes, a film commentary by Mes, a booklet, and a new 40 minute interview with Miike. The new video essay by Mes is pretty good, detailing Miike’s start as an assistant director for Shohei Imamura before eventually becoming one of the most famous directors in Japan. Tom Mes isn’t the liveliest commentator and his commentary track for Katakuris won’t be for everybody, but the author knows his subject well and offers some informative tidbits throughout. The best new feature is the interview with Miike, who tells memories of filming Katakuris and his feelings towards directing in general. The exhaustive special features — plus a colorful picture presentation — make this Blu-ray easy to recommend to fans of the film.

Kim Jee-woon’s The Quiet Family is a good film but it’s not one of the director’s finest. You can see how Kim has grown as a filmmaker since then. Miike made The Happiness of the Katakuris at the most interesting point in his career where he was transitioning from Japan’s bad boy director to one of Japan’s most popular mainstream filmmakers. As such, the film has the same madness and energy we recognize from his earlier films, while also being mainstream enough for general audiences without ever feeling like a company product.

After The Happiness of the Katakuris, Takashi Miike proved that he could competently direct pretty much whatever he set his mind to. Miike would go on to do many more mainstream films after this, but he remains one of cinema’s most unpredictable directors. Despite its status as a remake, The Happiness of the Katakuris is a one-of-a-kind film. In a 25 year career with already almost 100 films to his name, The Happiness of the Katakuris ranks among Miike’s very best.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 8.5/10

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Deal on Fire! Rumble in the Bronx | Blu-ray | Only $9.99 – Expires soon!

Rumble in the Bronx | Blu-ray (Warner)

Rumble in the Bronx | Blu-ray (Warner)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Rumble in the Bronx, directed by Stanley Tong (Police Story 4: First Strike), which will be released on October 6, 2015.

A young man (Jackie Chan) visiting and helping his uncle (Bill Tung) in New York City finds himself forced to fight a street gang and the mob with his martial art skills. Also starring Anita Mui (Drunken Master II), Francoise Yip (Infatuation), Marc Akerstream (Cyberjack) and Ailen Sit (Thunderbolt).

Pre-order Rumble in the Bronx from Amazon.com today!

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