’s ‘Memories of the Sword’ Blu-ray Giveaway! – WINNERS ANNOUNCED!

Memories of the Sword | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Memories of the Sword | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA) and Well Go USA are giving away 3 Blu-ray copies of Memories of the Sword to three lucky Cityonfire visitors. To enter, simply add a comment to this post and describe, in your own words, this video.

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

The Blu-ray & DVD for Memories of the Sword (read our review) will be officially released on January 5, 2016. We will announce the 3 winners on January 6, 2016.

CONTEST DISCLAIMER: You must enter by January 6, 2016 to qualify. U.S. residents only please. We sincerely apologize to our non-U.S. visitors. Winners must respond with their mailing address within 48 hours, otherwise you will automatically be disqualified. No exceptions. Contest is subject to change without notice.

WINNERS: Ben, Alice H. and Sam Ng.

Posted in News | Tagged | 16 Comments

Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale, The (2015) Review

"The Tiger: An Old Hunters Tale" Korean Theatrical Poster

"The Tiger: An Old Hunters Tale" Korean Theatrical Poster

AKA: The Tiger
Director: Park Hoon-Jung
Writer: Park Hoon-Jung
Producer: Park Min-Jung, Han Jae-Duk
Cast: Choi Min-Sik, Jeong Man-Sik, Kim Sang-Ho, Sung Yoo-Bin, Ren Osugi, Jung Suk-Won, Ra Mi-Ran, Yoo Jae-Myung, Kim Hong-Fa, Woo Jung-Kook, Park In-Soo, Lee Eun-Woo
Running Time: 139 min.

By Paul Bramhall

In 2015 Korean history was a hot topic, mainly due to President Park Geun-hye’s hugely unpopular decision to replace all high school history text books, currently produced by private publishers, with anonymously written government-issued ones by 2017. The decision is largely looked at as one which will whitewash much of the countries less pleasant history, and lead to an education system much like Japan’s, in which anything that presents the country in a negative light will be conveniently glazed over. While the newly authored books are still being written, it seems that the current trend for historical revisionism in Korea has already become apparent in its mainstream cinematic output.

Recent productions such as Ode to my Father, The Admiral: Roaring Currents, and Northern Limit Line, all play fast and loose with historical facts to paint a picture of a Korean national identity which is unwaveringly patriotic and pure of heart. How long this trend will continue for is difficult to answer, however with two of the three titles mentioned holding their place in the top five most successful Korean movies of all time, it’s safe to say it’ll continue for a while.

The Tiger has Choi Min-sik on patriotic duty again, after his star turn as the revered Admiral Yi Sun-shin in the previous years The Admiral: Roaring Currents. This time he’s under the direction of Park Hoon-jeong, the man responsible for writing and directing The New World (which also starred Min-sik), as well as penning the scripts for the likes of The Unjust and I Saw the Devil. Min-sik, as expected, proves to be the perfect fit for the role of a rugged tiger hunter, both conveying a sense of authority and world weariness from under his hulking frame, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else as the character.

The tale is set in 1935 under Japan’s occupation of Korea, and revolves around Min-sik’s hunter, who’s been retired since his wife passed away. The Japanese have set about killing every native Korean animal they can find, on the orders of a bloodthirsty commander played by Ren Osugi (recognizable from many pre-2000 Miike Takashi and Beat Takeshi movies), who has a particular liking for displaying stuffed Korean tigers. When the tiger population is completely wiped out except for one, a one-eyed male whose ferocity is legendary, Min-sik finds himself in a dilemma – let the Japanese eventually find and kill it, or give it the dignity of a Korean hunter sending it off into tiger heaven?

There are of course other plot threads introduced throughout, such as the son of Min-sik’s character wanting to marry a girl from the nearby town, however the narrative never strays far from the central goal of killing the tiger. This is of course the movies first big challenge, in that with such a simplistic plot, there is never any doubt that proceedings are going to finish with a Min-sik vs. tiger confrontation. Just like we know Titanic will end with it sinking, the important part becomes about the journey that will take us to that point. Weighing in with an epic 140 minute runtime, you’d hope that Hoon-jeong has a strong narrative structure in place to keep us gripped until the penultimate showdown.

Unfortunately, it becomes apparent some time before the mid-way point that this isn’t the case. Hoon-jeong weighs his script down with a numerous pieces of dialogue depicting Min-sik’s dedication to the mountain that he resides on, constantly mumbling such words of wisdom as “It’s up to the mountain now” and “We must respect the mountain”. The heaviness of his character is in stark contrast to the two dimensional treatment the Japanese antagonists are given. Once again, as was the issue with The Admiral: Roaring Currents, the Japanese are portrayed as almost cartoon like villains, and by the end of the movie are recklessly blowing up whole forests while murdering any animal they come across. The only Japanese character given even a hint of humanity, is a high ranking officer played by Jeong Sok-won, who’s looked down upon for being a native Korean. Subtly isn’t a word which applies to The Tiger.

From a technical standpoint however, the movie is a gorgeous affair, with stunning cinematography of the Korean mountains, and the tiger itself comes in the form a particularly impressive CGI creation. It’s not perfect, but the technology has certainly come a long way from the CGI tiger found in 2011’s War of the Arrows. While the tiger may look and move remarkably naturally, its instincts seem anything but, armed with an amazing ability to single out Japanese officers and subject them to the grizzliest deaths. The actions of the title animal become increasingly ridiculous, and equal parts laughable, the more the movie chugs towards its finale, as it gains the ability to rescue Koreans from a pack of hungry wolves, and seemingly drop by to visit Min-sik at will.

Working with such an epic scope appears to work against Hoon-jeong’s directorial style, as several other instances that stretch believability pop up with a disengaging regularity throughout. The reason behind the death of Min-sik’s wife isn’t revealed until around the mid-way point, however what should be a revelatory moment is quickly squandered by the contrived nature of the reveal. With the Japanese having spent so much time emphasising how vast the mountain area is, the sudden appearance of three key players convening in the same spot by chance goes against everything the narrative has established thus far. It’s moments like this which do damage to Min-sik’s dedicated performance, laden with a director who, while evidently a talented storyteller based on past efforts, seems to have bitten off more than he can chew here.

In the last hour things really go off the rails, as it consists of an increasingly frustrating series of false climaxes, each one seemingly bringing the movie to its close, before revealing that it’s still not over. By the time the Japanese army find themselves being stalked by the tiger, it almost feels like we’re watching a sequel to Predator. The beast is briefly glimpsed speeding through the shadows, and before you know it arms are being ripped off, bodies are randomly falling out of trees, and the only thing missing is Bill Duke turning up with a mini-gun. Even when the tiger has been riddled with countless bullets, it still seems relatively unfazed, like any true Korean tiger should be.

By this point it seems to have made the decision itself to die at the hands of a Korean, so strolls off to meet with Min-sik for a session of exchanging intense stares set to a sweeping choral soundtrack. In fact the choral soundtrack plays in every scene involving Min-sik and the tiger during the last hour, practically demanding that we feel their emotional connection to each other. Unfortunately, at least for a non-Korean audience, the feeling of forced emotions is one that permeates throughout the production. There are scenes at the beginning which seem like they were filmed purely to be used as flashback fodder later on, and sure enough they are. It’s this type of blatant commercial filmmaking that earmarks these recent Korean productions, which come with a checkbox list of histrionics, two dimensional foreign villains, and self-sacrificing heroes.

While The Tiger continues to deliver the high end production values we’ve become accustomed to from Korean cinema, it also long outstays its welcome. At one point, the Japanese commander yells at one of his soldiers – “How can it be such a hard battle?” With such an epic runtime, trying to get to the end of The Tiger will likely result in you asking yourself the same question.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 5/10

Posted in All, Korean, News, Reviews | Tagged | 4 Comments

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

"Killing Salazar" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Killing Salazar" Japanese Theatrical Poster

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

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

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

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

Updates: Added the film’s Japanese poster.

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Teaser trailer for Jackie Chan-produced sci-fi thriller ‘Reset’

"Reset" Chinese Teaser Poster

"Reset" Chinese Teaser Poster

Director Yoon Hong-seung (The Target) is joining forces with Jackie Chan for an upcoming Korean/Chinese production titled Reset. This time around, Chan is behind the scenes as producer and will not be appearing in the film.

According to AV, Reset is a sci-fi movie that follows a scientist (Yang Mi of The Bullet Vanishes) as she tries to develop a method to time-travel through black holes. During the process, her son is kidnapped by a mysterious man (Wallace Huo) who wants to know the technology behind time-traveling.

Reset also stars Chin Shih-chieh (Brotherhood of Blades) and Liu Chang (A Journey Through Time With Anthony).

As for Jackie Chan fans who want to see him in something new? He just wrapped up production on both Railroad Tigers and Kung Fu Yoga – and he’s currently filming The Foreigner with Pierce Brosnan (Goldeneye) and director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale). And let’s not forget about Skiptrace, which releases during the first half of 2016. So, you’ll be seeing Jackie around for sure.

Reset is expected be released sometime in 2016. A teaser recently popped up online, but just a heads up, it’s definitely only a “teaser.” Stay tuned!

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Attack on Titan: Part 2 – End of the World (2015) Review

"Attack on Titan: Part 2" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Attack on Titan: Part 2" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Shinji Higuchi
Writer: Yusuke Watanabe, Tomohiro Machiyama
Based on Manga by Hajime Isayama
Cast: Haruma Miura, Hiroki Hasegawa, Kiko Mizuhara, Kanata Hongo, Takahiro Miura, Nanami Sakuraba, Satoru Matsuo, Shu Watanabe, Ayame Misaki, Rina Takeda
Running Time: 90 min.

By Paul Bramhall

The second installment of Shinji Higuchi’s adaptation of the Attack on Titan manga reached Japanese cinema screens just a month after the first one came to the end of its run, aiming to pack a swift one-two punch of Titan mayhem. In my review for Part 1, I expressed the opinion that, by unashamedly stripping a multi-layered tale down to a pulpy adventure of humans trying to survive against bloodthirsty oversized zombies, the end result was surprisingly entertaining. By avoiding the typical issues that plague modern mainstream Japanese cinema, and simply concentrating on how much blood and terror could be splattered across the screen, for those unfamiliar with the manga at least, a good time could be had.

Attack on Titan: Part 2 clocks in at a compact 90 minutes, and so I was looking forward to returning to the grim world of the slow moving, permanently grinning Titans. I mention the 90 minute runtime, because from the word go we’re given an overly long recap of Part 1 which runs for over 5 minutes, making a short movie even shorter. I find it highly unlikely that anyone watching Part 2 will have left it so long that they’ll have forgotten everything that happened in Part 1 (which really, was just Titans eating people), so this recap seemed like a needless way to kick things off.

Sadly things don’t get any better, as once we finally settle into proceedings, it turns out that the first 20 minutes of the movie are spent discussing and arguing about the events which close out Part 1. As a note to this review, I’ll write it from the perspective of assuming the reader may not have seen Part 1 yet, so I’ll avoid mentioning any specific spoilers from the first installment (and if you fall into this category, also ensure you stay away from reading the IMDB cast list for Part 2, which unintentionally spoils some major plot points). What I gradually came to realize, with a sense of horror that was very different from what I was hoping for, is that Part 2 was turning out to be everything I was dreading Part 1 was going to be.

The cliffhanger revelation that Part 1 closed with quickly becomes a millstone around the neck of Part 2, as a grand total of half the movie is spent discussing it, with a mix of characters yelling and screaming at each other in a vastly irritating manner. Indeed the only appearance by any Titans in the first half is either through flashbacks to Part 1, or sightings of them in the distance, with the exception of a brief appearance by a new mega-Titan in one of the initial scenes. For a production which setup the expectation of providing plenty of Titan action from the first installment, 45 minutes becomes an almost terminal amount of time to wait for something interesting to happen.

When I say interesting, it’s unfortunate that the Titan’s really are the most interesting thing about Part 2. The characters are still the same from Part 1, although unforgivably Rina Takeda doesn’t return, however the pace and tone of the first installment really didn’t give us time to worry about caring or building a connection with the cast. Part 2 gives us too much time with them, and none of the performances are particularly noteworthy. Haruma Miura and Kanata Hongo return as the central pair of Eren and Armin, and both are ladened with considerably more dialogue heavy scenes than before. Sadly they only seem to have only 2 acting ranges – talk in a low tone for serious scenes, and yell at the top of your voice for scenes that need to emphasize drama.

Nobody else fares any better, with Kiko Mizuhara, playing a character that seemed so important in Part 1, all but sidelined for many of the crucial events that take place, and Satomi Ishihara’s quirky character of Part 1 here registering as a one note annoyance. Much of the blame can be put on the script, which appears to want to shoehorn in the underlying themes of the manga such as militarism and a distrust of the government, however the end result is that it all comes across very forced. Throwing such a talky opening 45 minutes at the audience was never going to work considering what’s come before, and it begs the question of why Higuchi didn’t attempt to spread out the more dialogue heavy segments across both parts.

Thankfully though, after a long wait we are finally given some Titan action, which comes in a three way battle between a trio of the mega Titans. I confess that it left me disappointed when, apart from a couple who are treated as collateral damage in the three way throwdown, the grey skinned sexless Titan’s that provided so much of the horror element in Part 1 are completely missing from Part 2. The origin of them is briefly explained away in an almost throwaway scene at the beginning of the movie, after which for whatever reason they seem to be considered as not worth focusing on anymore, so it becomes all about the mega Titans instead.

It’s ironic then, that the mega Titans are barely given any explanation whatsoever. We get a rudimentary understanding of what and who they are, however there are numerous head scratching aspects of their existence that are never answered. The biggest one being of why the huge skinless Titan, the image of which essentially defines the series, is about 5 times bigger than the other couple of mega Titans. In Part 1 it didn’t really matter, it moved along so briskly that such plot holes could be forgivingly overlooked, but here, if you’re going to spend 45 minutes talking, at least take a couple of them to explain why the most important part of the movie is the way it is.

On the technical side of things, the mega Titans do look great. Their skinless bodies, usually smoking from being so hot, successfully creating what’s certainly one of the most memorable creatures to grace screens in recent memory. There’s something quite primeval about their humanoid nature, which really makes them come across as much more terrifying than a fictional monster, and it’s a credit to Higuchi and his team that they’ve been able to conjure up such convincing onscreen creations.

Like the first half of the movie, the finale eventually also begins to feel needlessly protracted, especially with the element introduced of one Titan being a friend to the humans, effectively removing any sense of danger. When proceedings come to their explosive close, there’s a real lack of clarity on what’s actually been achieved. The smaller humanoid Titans are presumably still roaming around eating anyone in their path, which has always been the biggest danger, however this minor detail seems to have been forgotten in the closing scenes. Needless to say life was much simpler when it was just a case of humans versus oversized zombies.

Attack on Titan: Part 2 ultimately feels like an unnecessary filler to Part 1. Having watched both within a relatively short time period, it’s a struggle to see why they didn’t just make a single 3 hour movie, in which events could have progressed much more naturally than splitting them into two parts. Of course, by doing that they also would have made half the profit. The opening title of Attack on Titan: Part 2 doesn’t even appear on screen until the 20 minute mark, and looking back now, I think I would have been equally pleased if it had been the closing credits.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 4/10

Posted in All, Japanese, News, Reviews | 2 Comments

Jean-Claude Van Damme Collection | Blu-ray (Mill Creek)

Jean-Claude Van Damme 5 Movie Collection | Blu-ray (Mill Creek)

Jean-Claude Van Damme 5 Movie Collection | Blu-ray (Mill Creek)

RELEASE DATE: March 15, 2016

Mill Creek Entertainment presents the Blu-ray set for the Jean-Claude Van Damme 5 Movie Collection, which contains the following films on two discs:

Sheldon Lettich’s The Hard Corps (2006), Tsui Hark’s Knock Off (1998), Ringo Lam’s Maximum Risk (1996), Mic Rodgers’ Universal Soldier: The Return (1999) and Simon Fellows’ Second in Command (2006).

This collection marks the Blu-ray debut of both The Hard Corps and Knock Off.

Pre-order Jean-Claude Van Damme 5 Movie Collection from today!

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

Lou Ferrigno gets violent in Ara Paiaya’s ‘Instant Death’

"Instant Death" Theatrical Poster

"Instant Death" Theatrical Poster

The multi-talented Ara Paiaya (director, writer, producer, cinematographer, editor, action coordinator and actor), who launched his first “professional” directorial debut with Skin Traffik (not to be confused with Skin Trade), is back in the director’s chair for Instant Death, an ultra-violent revenge flick starring Lou Ferrigno (Pumping Iron).

Although Ferrigno is predominantly known for playing The Hulk in the classic TV series, the legendary ex-bodybuilder is no stranger to film. With a handful of movies under his belt – including 1983′s Hercules and 1994′s Cage II (co-starring with Shannon Lee) – Ferrigno finally returns to headlining his very own action film.

Instant Death will be released in 2016. For now, we highly recommend the film’s trailer. It’s bloody good fun!

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Out of the Inferno | DVD (Lionsgate)

Out of Inferno | DVD (Lionsgate)

Out of Inferno | DVD (Lionsgate)

RELEASE DATE: March 8, 2016

Lionsgate presents the DVD for Out of the Inferno, starring Louis Koo (SPL II: A Time for Consequences) and Lau Ching Wan (The Bullet Vanishes).

Out of the Inferno is directed by The Pang Brothers (Bangkok Dangerous) and also features Angelica Lee (The Thieves), Natalie Tong (Dragon Reloaded), Wang Baoqiang (Kung Fu Killer) and Gillian Chung (Ip Man Final Fight). | Trailer.

Pre-order Out of the Inferno from today!

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

Deal on Fire! The Raid 2: Berandal | Blu-ray | Only $8.99 – Expires soon!

The Raid 2: Berandal | Blu-ray & DVD (Sony Pictures)

The Raid 2: Berandal | Blu-ray & DVD (Sony Pictures)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Gareth Evans’ thrilling action film, The Raid 2: Berandal.

From Paul Bramhall’s review: “Evans has constructed a masterpiece here, which is every bit as much of a gangster movie as it is an action one. For those who are looking, there are subtle nods of the head to several of the classic Korean gangster movies, the Nikkatsu movies from the 60s, The Godfather, as well as a host of winks to talent he obviously has a lot of respect for such as Donnie Yen, John Woo, Panna Rittikrai, Takeshi Kitano, and in one scene I’d even say David Lynch. I’ll sign off there, now get out and see it.”

Order The Raid 2 from today!

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Battles Without Honor and Humanity Vol. 4: Police Tactics (1974) Review

"Battles Without Honor and Humanity Vol. 4" Blu-ray Cover

"Battles Without Honor and Humanity Vol. 4" Blu-ray Cover

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Writer: Koichi Iiboshi, Kazuo Kasahara
Cast: Bunta Sugawara, Akira Kobayashi, Takeshi Kato, Tatsuo Umemiya, Hiroki Matsukata, Nobuo Kaneko, Hideo Murota, Shingo Yamashiro, Kunie Tanaka, Shinichiro Mikami, Ichiro Ogura, Asao Koike, Asao Uchida, Harumi Sone, Tatsuo Endo
Running Time: 101 min.

By Kyle Warner

The Battles Without Honor and Humanity series is best viewed back-to-back and never is that more true than with Proxy War and Police Tactics. The events of Proxy War ignite a gangland war that’s left unfinished at the end of that film and intensifies in Police Tactics, drawing the ire of civilians and forcing the police to act.

In the years following the end of World War II, the yakuza weren’t only tolerated, they were occasionally celebrated and even employed by the most unlikely of establishments (including both the Japanese and American governments). By the 1960s, Japan had rebuilt its country both structurally and economically, and people wanted to enjoy this new era of normality. The country would soon host the Olympics in 1964, but here were the yakuza, a group of thugs that’d missed the memo that their time was over. The world had moved on and it was unsympathetic to the men it had once romanticized as chivalrous anti-heroes.

After the violence between yakuza claims the lives of innocent civilians, the people of Hiroshima demand that the police put an end to the slaughter. The police—largely depicted here as an anonymous force of law and order—start by just making things difficult for the yakuza: they monitor every stronghold to prevent violent raids and, most importantly, they strangle the yakuza’s cash flow by halting money collection runs. Despite all of this, the rival gangs remain in a constant state of conflict. The bosses try to keep their young soldiers in line, but too many false starts for ending the war have made everybody jumpy. Instead of a unified assault, the battles of Police Tactics are more like guerilla warfare, as one side attacks the other and waits for the inevitable retaliation.

Caught in the middle of all this is Hirono (Bunta Sugawara), who’s aligning himself with former enemies and plotting to kill his one-time superiors. Though Hirono is one of the few bosses willing to end the war himself, his men are too protective of him and constantly throw themselves into the fray in his stead. At one point a policeman sneers at Hirono about how he can eat well and sleep comfortably while his men barely scrape by. Hirono bursts out that they live by a code that the cops couldn’t understand. For the longest time, Hirono was the one character cynical enough and smart enough to “get it.” But if there’s anything that Battles Without Honor and Humanity wants to get across is that this all-important code doesn’t exist, at least not anymore.

Along with the original Battles Without Honor and Humanity, I count Police Tactics as one my very favorites of the series. And considering I think so highly of the series, I suppose that makes Police Tactics one of my favorite films regardless of country or genre. Of the sequels, Police Tactics is the most similar in tone and execution to the first movie, giving us a documentary-style gangster epic with enough plot threads to make your head spin. There’s also a considerable amount of dark comedy, something unexpected from the series but certainly welcome.

I want to give special mention to the film’s most memorable characters and performances, of which there are many. Nobuo Kaneko (Ikiru) has the duty of playing one of the most dislikable gangsters ever put on film. He may not be the most violent, nasty, rapey, or insane villain, but he exhibits every other unlikable quality of a man in power that should make Yamamori universally despised. He may get fewer scenes in Police Tactics but Kaneko has a way of lingering on in the viewer’s conscious long after the character has stepped off the stage. Also worthy of praise is Kunie Tanaka (All About Our House) who plays Yamamori’s right-hand-man Makihara. In the beginning, Makihara was a cowardly mouse but he evolves into a man of violence with a short temper, and Tanaka is completely believable throughout the transformation. Akira Kobayashi (Retaliation) plays a cool yakuza at odds with Hirono, though the two are very much alike. Hiroki Matsukata (13 Assassins) returns to the series as a different character, here playing the terminally ill yakuza Fujita. And of course at the center of it all is Bunta Sugawara (Street Mobster) in the role that would rewrite his career. For the longest time, Sugawara was a supporting player in the films meant to showcase other stars. Sensing that Sugawara could go darker and uglier than those film idols, the actor became a favorite of Kinji Fukasaku for the director’s new wave of crime pics. Battles Without Honor and Humanity was a huge success, catapulting many men to stardom, especially Fukasaku and Sugawara. Cool but also comfortable with the image of a bad guy, Sugawara owns the role of Shozo Hirono and it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the part. The actor would go onto make many more films – some of them classics – but this is the role he’ll be remembered for.

Arrow Video has released the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series as a limited edition Blu-ray/DVD multi-format box set with new special features. Included on this disc is a 17 minute featurette called Remembering Kinji, where film critic Sadao Yamane and the director’s son Kenta Fukasaku (Battle Royale 2). Together they discuss Kinji Fukasaku’s artistic influences, his politics, and his impact. I enjoyed some of the insights here, particularly from Yamane. Also included is a 15 minute interview with assistant director Toru Dobashi, who shares some stories about Fukasaku’s work methods and memories from the set. Though there’s less to learn from Dobashi’s interview, it’s the more entertaining extra. Also included on the disc is the film’s original trailer.

In Proxy War it felt like cast and crew fully understood the beast they’d created. Things clicked. Nothing felt false. Proxy War was all about setting up the game, then Police Tactics comes in, flips the game board and laughs as all the pieces go flying. This film has all the chaotic violence that the series is known for as well as the well-researched, contemplative drama that’s often overlooked. Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Police Tactics is fantastic.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 9/10

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

Teaser poster for the Bruce Lee biopic ‘Birth of the Dragon’

"Birth of the Dragon" Chinese Teaser Poster

"Birth of the Dragon" Chinese Teaser Poster

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

Rising Hong Kong star, Philip Ng (Wild City, Sifu vs Vampire, Zombie Fight Club), will portray Bruce Lee. Additional casting includes Yu Xia (Dragon Squad) as Wong Jack-Man, Billy Magnussen as Steve McKee, and Jinging Qu (Journey Through China), who’ll be playing Steve’s love interest. Ron Yuan (Blood and Bone) and King Lau (Kick Ass 2) are also attached. The legendary Corey Yuen (Kiss of the Dragon, No Retreat, No Surrender II) will be handling the fight choreography.

At the helm of the project is George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau) with a screenplay by Christopher Wilkinson (Ali) and Stephen J. Rivele (Nixon).

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

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

Updates: Check out Birth of the Dragon’s first teaser poster.

Posted in News | 7 Comments

Sammo Hung, Yasuaki Kurata and Vincent Zhao gear up for Gordon Chan’s ‘God of War’

"Four 3D" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Four 3D" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Fresh from finishing The Four trilogy, Gordon Chan (Thunderbolt) is already underway shooting his next movie in China, a period piece entitled God of War.

Details on the plot are pretty thin on the ground right now, but the big news is that the movie will star Sammo Hung (14 Blades) and Yasuaki Kurata (Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen) – their first time to share the screen together since Millionaire’s Express 30 years ago.

God of War also stars Vincent Zhao (The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom, Wu Dang).

Stay tuned for more updates. Until then, check out a set photo (via Paul Bramhall).

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Shaolin: The Blood Mission (1984) Review

"Shaolin: The Blood Mission" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Shaolin: The Blood Mission" Korean Theatrical Poster

AKA: The Fourth Largest Shaolin Temple
Director: Park Woo-sang
Writer: Hong Chi-Yun
Producer: Tomas Tang
Cast: Hwang Jang Lee, Ho Kei Cheong, Suen Kwok Ming, Poon Cheung, Luo Hua-Sheng, Olivia Hung
Running Time: 85 min.

By Paul Bramhall

The name of Korean director Park Woo-sang may not be immediately familiar to many, and understandably so. However once the filmmaker immigrated to America, he continued to direct under a different name – Richard Park – and for those who know their B-movie cinema, chances are that this alias should ring a bell. From the mid-80’s Park terrorized the B-movie circuit with such titles as L.A. Streetfighters, American Chinatown, and most famously thanks to the recent Drafthouse Films release, Miami Connection.

Before his immigration stateside though, under his original name of Park Woo-sang he directed a number of decent Korean kung fu movies. From the Korean version of Zatoichi, with the 1971 flick The Blind Swordsman, through to the likes of the Casanova Wong starring Strike of Thunderkick Tiger. Shaolin: The Blood Mission, was the last movie he made in Korea (the original Korean title is The Fourth Largest Shaolin Temple), and as with so many Korean kung fu movies of the era, it was bought up by Godfrey Ho and Tomas Tang’s IFD Films for international distribution, and given an English dub.

What separates Shaolin: The Blood Mission from many of the Korean productions that Ho and Tang bought up, is that it quickly becomes clear the movie is a co-production between Korea and Hong Kong, long before their interference. Numerous familiar faces from Hong Kong populate the production, such as Yen Shi Kwan is listed as action director, the main character is a monk played by Suen Kwok Ming, and Ho Kei Cheong appears as a prominent villain. Outside of the principal cast members though, the rest of the performers in Shaolin: The Blood Mission are exceptionally difficult to find any information on. Sites like the Korean Movie Database, the Hong Kong Movie Database, HKcinemagic, and IMDB all return blanks on elaborating beyond a handful of actors.

It’s a shame, because two of the unnamed members from the trio of monks that make up the protagonists are remarkably skilled, and appear to be Wushu practitioners. The guy who plays the shorter monk in particular is highly acrobatic, throwing in various exciting somersaults and flips whenever he’s in action. The third monk is the most muscular of the trio, but again moves with speed and displays some quality talent handling weapons. There’s also an additional character, a rebel who comes to the aide of the monks, who shows off a formidable range of kicks and has some great fast paced fight scenes. However all remain uncredited when exploring the usual avenues to look up information on these productions.

The movie itself starts off with a bang. Before the credits have even appeared, Hwang Jang Lee storms down the pathway leading up to the palace steps, carrying a cloth covered severed head in one hand, all set to the shower scene soundtrack from Psycho. It’s a double whammy, not only is it a great way to make an entrance, but it’s also a great way to start a movie! A familiar plot is soon revealed – there’s a list which details rebels against the Ching Dynasty, and Hwang Jang Lee is tasked to find it, of course leading to the Shaolin Temple which is believed to be harboring both rebels and the list in question.

After a failed directing gig at Shaw Brothers, Hwang worked almost exclusively in his native Korea from late 1982, before returning to Hong Kong and making Where’s Officer Tuba? with Sammo Hung in 1986. Even though many fans consider Korean productions to be a class below their Hong Kong equivalents, which to a large degree is true, what can’t be complained about is the screen time Hwang got in his Korean movies. While many Hong Kong productions would have him randomly pop up in the finale, as a previously hardly seen villain (see Ninja in the Dragons Den and Tower of Death for prime examples), his Korean productions usually had him in prominent roles. Shaolin: The Blood Mission is no different, giving his villain character plenty of opportunities to let loose with his famous kicks.

Korean movies are also known for their slightly left of field antics, and here fans of the wacky won’t be left disappointed. At one point Hwang and his villainous cohort, played by Ho Kei Cheong, are playing a game of chess. However it’s no ordinary game of chess, sitting in high chairs at either end of a huge board drawn onto the ground, scantily clad ladies wearing see through gowns are the pieces, and Hwang instructs his pieces to move by whipping the lady in question. The eliminated piece is usually greeted by being stabbed in the chest, hardly the gentleman’s game it has the reputation to be! There’s also a bizarre scene were the abbot of the temple reveals he’s been hiding a book for a number of years, by having it stitched into his back! Removing it involves a rather gory scene of him having his back sliced open to remove the book from under his skin, after which he promptly dies. If anything, it certainly ensures that the scenes between the fights never get dull.

Of course the fights are really what kung fu movies are all about, and Shaolin: The Blood Mission is a pleasant surprise in this department. After a rocky start, which almost seems like it’s going to be an intolerable comedy, things turn serious pretty quickly, and the action comes thick and fast. As mentioned, the monks appear to be being played by genuine Wushu practitioners, so plenty of acrobatics and weapons work are included in the fight sequences. I believe this is the only movie which really pits Hwang Jang Lee’s kicks against the flowery flourishes of the highly stylized but visually stunning Wushu. The contrast between his powerful and disciplined kicking, to the monks flips and fluidity of movement, makes for a number of unique and thrilling confrontations.

Both the three central monks and Hwang Jang Lee also get their own individual chances to shine. The monks in an exam which pits them against each other, allowing for both opponents to display their physical dexterity, and Hwang in one particular scene in which he wades through a small army of monks from the temple, dispatching them with some fierce footwork. Events transpire to culminate in a fantastic three on one, as a spear wielding Suen Kwok Ming, the acrobatic monk, and the boot-master rebel team up to take on Hwang’s ferocious villain. It’s a long and exhausting fight, one in which every performer gets to do their thing. What I particularly liked about it is that mid-way through, it appears that the good guys are gaining the advantage, at which point Hwang ramps up his kicking to the next level, and as a result the whole fight gets turned up a notch.

Throw in rebels getting blown up with dynamite, monks being impaled by flaming arrows, and a chicken losing its head, and Shaolin: The Blood Mission certainly lives up to its title. There are some deaths that would even make Chang Cheh proud, a compliment that any kung fu movie should be happy to receive. While the dubbing and editing of the plot may sometimes leave you scratching your head, no doubt due to Godfrey Ho’s involvement rather than any fault of the original production, there’s enough solid fight action on display to more than warrant a watch. If you’ve contemplated watching Shaolin: The Blood Mission before but decided to give it a miss, hopefully this review will make you re-consider, but if it doesn’t, I’ll ask the same question that at one point the Abbot asks the monks – “Are you totally out of your skull?”

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7.5/10

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

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) Review

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Korean Theatrical Poster

AKA: Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Director: J. J. Abrams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow, Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian
Running Time: 135 min.

By Paul Bramhall

As the latest installment of the much loved Star Wars franchise hits cinemas in December 2015, the first under the distribution on Walt Disney Pictures, the internet can expect to become awash with reviews from every angle possible. Most of them will be likely scrutinized by the series’ diehard fan base just as much as the movie itself, so the very act of writing one is willingly putting ones self in the line of fire of the Star Wars faithful. I myself got to witness The Force Awakens on its opening night in Manila, played to an audience who enthusiastically cheered and whooped throughout its 135 minute runtime, so thought I’d pin a target to myself and offer up my own opinion.

It seems nostalgia plays an important part for many who’ll be going to see The Force Awakens, just as it did for the ill-fated prequel trilogy which kicked off back in 1999 with The Phantom Menace. I was 18 when that movie came out, but even then upon watching it in the cinema, there was no doubt in my mind that what I’d just witnessed was pretty awful. The soulless CGI landscapes, the clunky script, Jar Jar Binks, and the over reliance on playing up the light sabers iconic image as the coolest thing about Star Wars. As a child of the early 80’s, of course I also got to experience the original trilogy on VHS, and one of my childhood birthday parties even included a screening of Ewoks: The Battle for Endor. I still remember this movie being more entertaining than The Phantom Menace.

Now, 10 years since the last movie was released in the form of Revenge of the Sith, The Force Awakens begins a new trilogy that forms a direct continuation of the original three movies, bringing back Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill. Oh, and Chewbacca.

For readers of cityonfire, including myself, there was a particular interest shown in the casting of Indonesian action stars Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian of Merantau and The Raid movies fame. It’s not a spoiler to say that they appear onscreen for about 30 seconds. Yayan gets a few lines, but Iko doesn’t get to say (or do) anything. For those hoping to see some Star Wars Silat action, you’ll come away disappointed. But don’t worry, there’s still Beyond Skyline to look forward to. Of course Asia’s biggest action star, Donnie Yen, is also currently in the process of filming the Star Wars spin-off movie, Rogue One, which I’m sure will involve him throwing a few kicks.

What you may be surprised to hear though, is that I actually drew a sigh of relief when Iko and Yayan didn’t get to show off their impressive skills, as it simply wouldn’t have fit in with the story. One of the biggest mistakes the prequels made was their emphasis on the action. With the release of The Matrix, the sudden interest in kung fu saw an increased emphasis on Ray Park’s Darth Maul and his double bladed light saber. However Star Wars was never just about light saber fights and TIE fighter battles, it was about the characters taking part in those battles, and what was at stake as a result of them. That’s what really made the original trilogy become so fondly remembered.

Abrams has realized that in a way that Lucas failed to do when he returned, and in The Force Awakens the grand spectacle is secondary to the relationship between the two main characters – a disillusioned storm trooper played by John Boyega, and a scavenger with no family played by Daisy Ridley. These two innocent players get embroiled in events out of their control when they end up in possession of an android (the ball shaped robot seen in all of the publicity for the movie), which contains a map showing the location of Luke Skywalker, who has long been a recluse. Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, a character who idolizes Darth Vader, is also after the map, and soon everyone from Han Solo to Princess Leia is caught up in the fight to get their hands on it.

That’s the in-a-nutshell plot of The Force Awakens, and to go into any further detail would be heading into spoiler territory, something which should be avoided for such an anticipated movie. But it’s fair to say that Boyega and Ridley anchor the movie in a way that makes everything happening seem relatable, taking us along for the ride with them every step of the way as they’re overwhelmed, embattled, and ultimately empowered. It’s a satisfying journey, strongly bolstered by a fantastic performance by Harrison Ford, and despite having significantly less screen time, Carrie Fisher as well. Driver really nails the role of Kylo Ren, at once appearing to be completely ruthless, but at the same time convincingly showing his vulnerability in the subtlest of ways.

I mentioned earlier that the grand spectacle is secondary, and one of the best things about the action in The Force Awakens is the way the light saber is used very sparingly. The prequels had so many people swinging light sabers left right and center, that the iconic weapon no longer seemed special anymore. The Force Awakens goes a long way to rectifying that, with the light saber perhaps for the first time being conveyed as a weapon that feels both tangible and dangerous. Here there are no villains getting cleanly chopped in half, instead the saber is able to both draw blood and to burn, and the few scenes that they’re used in aren’t wasted. It’s very much a case of quality over quantity.

There are of course plentiful aerial battles between the TIE fighters and the X-wings, all of which are filmed in such a way that captures the excitement and thrill of being part of such a battle. However despite all of the impressive action scenes, what stands out the most about The Force Awakens is just how much of a real movie it is. The cinematography is stunning, with a huge and welcome reliance on practical effects, real filming locations, and wide angle lensing. The score offers up both plenty of new tracks, as well as worthy nods to the famous score of old. The characters are all well rounded and fleshed out, and again, just as many of the more colorful aliens are actors wearing prosthetics as they are CGI creations. Perhaps most importantly of all, the script works, acknowledging what’s come before while also paving the way for the movies ahead.

While critics could easily beat up on The Force Awakens, based on the fact that the plot could essentially be taken as a re-boot of A New Hope, it does little to diminish its entertainment value. Based on how big a Star Wars fan the reviewer is, you’ll most likely see reviews concluding in a hundred different ways. For me, I wanted an unpretentious piece of sci-fi action cinema, and that’s exactly what I got.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 8.5/10

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

Die Fighting | Blu-ray & DVD (Z Team Films)

Die Fighting | Blu-ray & DVD (Z Team Films)

Die Fighting | Blu-ray & DVD (Z Team Films)

RELEASE DATE: April 19, 2016

Z Team Films presents the Blu-ray & DVD for Die Fighting (read our review). The premise is similar to the Thai movie BKO, in which highly trained fighters wake up after being drugged and are forced to fight each other for the whims of madman.

The advertising for Die Fighting goes out of its way to state that the filmmakers use no wires or computer effects for their action sequences. Don’t believe them? Watch the trailer.

Die Fighting stars Fabien Garcia (Merantau), Laurent Buson (Silver Hawk), Didier Buson and Jess Allen.

Pre-order Die Fighting from today!

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Battles Without Honor and Humanity Vol. 3: Proxy War (1973) Review

"Battles Without Honor and Humanity Vol. 3" Blu-ray Cover

"Battles Without Honor and Humanity Vol. 3" Blu-ray Cover

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Writer: Koichi Iiboshi, Kazuo Kasahara
Producer: Goro Kusakabe
Cast: Bunta Sugawara, Akira Kobayashi, Takeshi Kato, Mikio Narita, Kunie Tanaka, Nobuo Kaneko, Shingo Yamashiro, Nobuo Kaneko, Tsunehiko Watase, Hideo Murota, Tatsuo Umemiya, Asao Uchida, Tatsuo Endo
Running Time: 102 min.

By Kyle Warner

Hiroshima Death Match is a strong film and a fine example of the yakuza film genre. However, it was little more than a side-story in the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series and didn’t do much to advance the series’ overarching narrative. In the third Battles film, Proxy War, things get back on track. We return our focus to Bunta Sugawara’s gangster Hirono and the brutal power plays between rival gangs in 1960’s Japan.

An aging yakuza boss is set to retire and everyone’s fighting for position so that they may be chosen as his successor. It’s like a political race but with even more backstabbing. Hirono supports Uchimoto (Takeshi Kato) for the soon-to-be absent position of boss. It’s a win-win situation for Hirono if Uchimoto gets the job; Uchimoto seems to have the right priorities and he’ll be sure to remember those who helped him get the post, especially Hirono. And while Uchimoto is far from perfect (the ambitious yakuza exchanges oaths of loyalty with virtually everyone, which essentially makes his word worthless) at least he’s better than the alternative: Hirono’s former boss, Yamamori (Nobuo Kaneko). Unfortunately, Uchimoto falls out of favor with the men making the decisions and the torch is ultimately passed to Yamamori.

As is usual in the Battles Without Honor Humanity series, things always get worse. Not only is Yamamori intolerable thanks to his rapidly inflating ego, but now Uchimoto wants revenge. Uchimoto blames Hirono for him not getting named successor to the throne and he’d be just fine with seeing both Hirono and Yamamori dead and buried. So begins a war between rival gangs in post-war Hiroshima.

Unlike the previous entries in the Battles series which settled disputes with violence in the streets, much of Proxy War is about scheming and posturing. When Uchimoto becomes associated with the powerful Akashi family (led by Tetsuro Tamba), Yamamori scrambles to align himself with Akashi’s biggest rival, the Shinwa Group. The alliances between yakuza groups mean very little and the oaths of loyalty between individuals mean even less. Naïve young men die for greedy old men who worry about their wounded pride. Throughout the film, Tetsuro Tamba’s character remains untouchable and rarely seen; he’s largely responsible for this war and he never even gets his hands dirty.

Proxy War is the most deliberately paced entry of the five film series. As the yakuza get richer and expand (Japan also saw great economic growth in this time), they also grow more cautious, preferring to handle situations with mediators at a dinner table instead of in a dark alley with a knife. Director Kinji Fukasaku surprises with not only showing some restraint in Proxy War but also providing some of the series’ best visuals.

Filmmakers often say that the most difficult scenes to direct are those with multiple characters seated around a table. Well, Proxy War is chockful of such scenes. The cast and screenwriter Kazuo Kasahara make the dialogue-driven table scenes dramatically compelling while director Fukasaku and cinematographer Sadaji Yoshida provide appealing visuals. Fukasaku’s use of widescreen filming techniques is on full display here, filling every inch of the frame with movement and color. You can watch these scenes multiple times and focus on something different each time because every actor is doing something, unwilling to go unnoticed even when the scene is being powered by someone else. Fukusaku told his actors that they were all main characters in these films and that feels especially true in these dialogue-driven group scenes.

Throughout the series, composer Toshiaki Tsushima provided iconic music that underlined all of the action and drama on-screen. Japanese cinema has featured the music of many great composers and while Tsushima isn’t a name that immediately comes up, his score for Battles is. It’s iconic, the sort of thing that’s become ingrained in pop culture (in Japan more than the West, obviously). Rarely does a director’s vision and a composer’s music match so perfectly.

The Proxy War Blu-ray from Arrow Video has a couple new special features exclusive to their Battles Without Honor and Humanity set. In the good old days of the Japanese studio system, the directors, stars, and crew hung out with each other after long work days in their own special social circles. Secrets of the Piranha Army puts the spotlight on the bad boys of Toei’s stable of character actors who formed the Piranha Army, a club for actors that were not invited to the other social circles because of their reputation as angry drunks. It’s an amusing 35 minute featurette, as it sounds like these actors behaved much like the yakuza characters they played on-screen (please note: this featurette has some spoilers for later films in the series). Also included is Tales of a Bit Player, a 10 minute interview with actor/stuntman Akira Murota who played multiple supporting roles throughout the Battles series (he’s more recognizable as the silent samurai who monitors Tom Cruise’s character in The Last Samurai, a film that Murota speaks briefly about here). Though it’s shorter, I actually enjoyed the Murota interview more than the Piranha Army featurette. Both are worth watching for fans looking to know more about the men who worked on the series.

Proxy War has enough going on to easily fill a three hour film. The fact that Fukasaku and Kasahara delivered their story in under two hours is kind of amazing. It’s a tight film with not a single wasted scene or subplot. Proxy War may lack some of the chaotic madness seen in the first two films but it makes up for that with a clear vision and a deftly plotted screenplay. Many critics consider Proxy War to be the best film in the series. It’s not my favorite Battles film but it ranks up there pretty high. After the sidestep in Hiroshima Death Match, Proxy War has the series coming together with a clear goal in mind going forward.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 8.5/10

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

Tak Sakaguchi goes ballistic in the new trailer for ‘Re:Born’!

"Versus" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Versus" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Tak Sakaguchi rose to fame with the 2001 cult favorite Versus, a movie that managed to combine the low-budget charms of Evil Dead-like horror with blistering martial arts and gunplay. The actor later scored another cult hit with Battlefield Baseball, but has most recently hitched his wagon to the Sushi Typhoon production company.

In April of 2013, new broke out that Tak was retiring from acting, which left an unknown fate for his recently announced role in Death Trance II, not to mention a long-rumored sequel to Versus.

In late 2014, was contacted by director Yuji Shimomura (Death Trance) with breaking news that Tak was out of retirement to make Re:Born, which the actor calls his “very last” and “most superb” action movie:

“After I retired, I found myself having a passion for action that was still smoldering inside of me. After a conversation with action director Yuji Shimomura, I wanted to thrive one more time and create the very last and most superb action movie with my utmost power and passion for the sake of a closure to my entire career. I am convinced that I have to give my very best one last time. That is how I feel about this project. I didn’t realize how many people chose to support a person like myself until after I retired. I hope this movie will be satisfying enough for them to feel absolutely alright for me to go. This is for them.”

Updates: Shimomura provided us with an “audition” video (Part 1) for Re:Born featuring Tak in some intense sparring action. | Footage (Part 2) of Sakaguchi getting in shape for Re:Born. | 3rd chapter of promo footage (Part 3) for Tak Sakaguchi’s “Ultimate Action Movie” Re:Born.

New “training” footage (Part 3.5) has just been sent to us by director Yuji Shimomura. This new video features supervision from Tak’s one and only master, Yoshitaka Inagawa, who has established the “Zero Range Combat” technique. ”Tak mastered it in months when one does in years,” says Inagawa, who will be handling the film’s action choreography.

BREAKING NEWS: Watch the newest teaser trailer for Re:Born.

Posted in News | 2 Comments

Enter the Invincible Hero (1981) Review

"Enter the Invincible Hero" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Enter the Invincible Hero" Korean Theatrical Poster

AKA: Secret Bandit of Black Leopard
Director: Kim Si-hyun
Producer: Joseph Lai, Tomas Tang
Cast: Dragon Lee, Casanova Wong, Chui Man Fooi, Lee Ye Min, Cheung Ching Kwok, Gam Hei Wang
Running Time: 100 min.

By Paul Bramhall

Deciphering who directed what and when in the old school Korean kung fu genre is a head scratching exercise at the best of times. It’s common knowledge that many of the countries’ contributions to the genre were bought up by Godfrey Ho and Thomas Tang for overseas distribution, then given completely new titles and dubbed in English. Movies like Magnificent Wonderman from Shaolin and Strike of Thunderkick Tiger being prime examples. With Dragon Lee though, there’s an extra level of complexity added. Marketed as Korea’s answer to Bruce Lee, Ho and Tang knew a money maker when they saw one. As a result, not only did they buy the rights to Lee’s older Korean movies, but they also made some new ones with him as well.

With Tang acting as producer and Ho as director, a Dragon Lee movie like The Dragon, The Hero (aka Dragon on Fire) was a genuine production by the pair, and also starred the likes of John Liu and Philip Ko. Usually they would shoot in Korea and use mostly Korean crews to save costs, however it was Ho and Tang at the helm. So not only do you have all of the movies Ho had nothing to do with, stuck with a credit sequence which states ‘Directed by Godfrey Ho’, you also have some movies that actually were directed by him, just to complicate things even more.

Enter the Invincible Hero is of course one of the movies which states it was directed by Ho, however it seems in this case that it is in fact an all Korean production. Originally titled Secret Bandit of Black Leopard, it was directed by Kim Si-hyun, the man behind various Hwang In-sik movies such as The Close Kung Fu Encounter and Tomb for a Strongman.

What makes Enter the Invincible Hero worthy of note is that it features both Dragon Lee and Casanova Wong, both of whom share Bruce Lee connections. While Dragon Lee was marketed as the Korean Bruce Lee, starring in exploitation fare like The Clones of Bruce Lee and Last Fist of Fury, Wong famously shot a fight scene in a greenhouse against fellow Korean Kim Tai-jung. What makes the scene so unique is that it appeared in both Bruce Lee’s uncompleted final movie, Game of Death, when it was released in Asia in 1978, and also in the English language version of the sequel, Tower of Death, in 1981 (the same year Enter the Invincible Hero was released).

For reasons we’ll probably never know, Enter the Invincible Hero opens with a title sequence that plays over a fight scene between Dragon Lee and Choi Min-kyu, which is blatantly from a completely different movie. The giveaway sign is that Min-kyu is wearing a modern style yellow vest which practically yells 1970’s, and then as soon as the credits come to a close, it cuts to a period setting of a group of men riding horses through the countryside. What movie the opening is taken from I’m unable to identify, but it’s not the only time it happens. Later on Casanova Wong appears in a flashback scene which is also clearly from a different movie, that bizarrely ends with Wong balancing a bad guy by his head on the tip of his foot, before abruptly cutting off. Strange.

All of this is ok though, because it’s a Dragon Lee flick, and like most Dragon Lee flicks, he plays a kind of wondering nomad. Decked out in a white t-shirt and black pants, which seemed to be his wardrobe for an inordinate amount of his movies, soon enough he’s hoping to acquire some gainful employment from a well to do father and daughter. Of course, there’s some trouble from an unscrupulous gang of characters led by Choi Min-kyu.

While the 70’s style yellow vest from the credits has gone, Min-kyu’s attire is no less striking. He storms around shirtless for the most part, and whenever he has a scene the camera pays extra attention to his grossly protruding outie belly button. It’s clearly prosthetic, but seems to have some connection to his power, and whenever he gets angry he has a pendant around his neck that starts flashing, accompanied by shots which zoom in and out on the belly button. I finished a previous paragraph with the word strange, so I won’t do it again, but I’d like to.

I don’t know what it is with old school Korean kung fu movies and belly buttons. In Revenge of the Drunken Master there’s a whole fight scene which involves Eagle Han trying to stick his finger into the belly button of Johnny Chan, as it would exert some kind of power over him. Thankfully the belly button obsession is no longer a part of Korean cinema. Other body parts also get some worthy attention, there’s a barrel bellied villain, whose special move is to thrust his chest into whoever it is he’s fighting, and we also get a hunchback villain who incorporates the hunch into his fighting style. I don’t know who it is that plays the hunchback, however despite the comedic nature of his fights, the guy has some mean kicks which definitely impress.

Dragon Lee of course is the hero of the piece. Soon he’s wooing the father’s daughter, which naturally involves a scene of her bathing naked, and vowing to bring justice to the villains that are hassling them. The plot is remarkably similar to another Dragon Lee movie, Dragon’s Snake Fist, and while sources sight this movie as being made a couple of years prior, in 1979, I question if in fact they were made at the same time. In one scene Lee even has the same amusing Taekwondo uniform on, adorned with a badge of an oversized cartoonish yellow fist, that he wears in Dragon’s Snake Fist.

Like all Dragon Lee movies, the quality of the action ultimately dictates whether it’s worthy of a watch or not. Thankfully, Enter the Invincible Hero is a superior entry into Lee’s filmography. The fights come thick and fast, and Lee’s movements are sharp and crisp, often against multiple attackers at the same time. There’s a great fight involving chopsticks, and events build up to an extended finale that sees him taking on Min-kyu (who meets a grizzly end involving his belly button), a small legion of lackeys, a pair of beefed up bodybuilders, and Casanova Wong.

The prospect of Dragon Lee versus Casanova Wong should be enough to get any kung fu fans attention, and it doesn’t disappoint. The pair go at it for 5 minutes, and the fight is set to a soundtrack of drums, played in the rhythm of a heartbeat, which really adds to the tension of their showdown. What’s so great about it is that throughout the movie, there’s never any doubt Lee is going to come out victorious in the various fight scenes, even when he’s up against the more highly skilled fighters. However against Wong’s tornado like kicks, the whole scene has Lee visibly on the defensive, as he’s bombarded with a literal barrage of blows from every direction.

It adds a welcome element of danger, and is in no way a disservice to the other fight scenes that have come before, rather it is what a final fight should be – a showdown that takes things to the next level, pitting the hero against someone that outmatches him. While there are fans out there who dismiss the entire filmographies of any actor that was classed as a Bruce Lee clone, movies like Enter the Invincible Hero prove that, for those that do, they’d be robbing themselves of some solid kung fu entertainment. Perhaps just lose the whole belly button thing.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 8/10

Posted in All, Bruceploitation, Chinese, Korean, News, Reviews | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Rage of Honor | Blu-ray (Arrow Video)

Rage of Honor | Blu-ray (Arrow Video)

Rage of Honor | Blu-ray (Arrow Video)

RELEASE DATE: March 15, 2016

Arrow Video presents the Blu-ray for 1987’s Rage of Honor, directed by Gordon Hessler (Pray for Death) and starring Sho Kosugi (Ninja III: The Domination).

Federal agent Shiro Tanaka (Kosugi) used to live for his job – now, he lives only for revenge. When his partner is killed during a bungled drug bust, Shiro throws away his badge and the rule book with it: arming himself with an array of deadly weaponry – including nunchucks, blades and ninja stars – he sets out to Buenos Aires to settle the score with the bad guys.

Packing explosions, flying kicks and somersaults aplenty (as well as some truly logic-bending stunt sequences), Rage of Honor (watch the trailer) sees Kosugi at the top of his game as he battles his way from the streets of the urban jungle to the very literal jungles of South America.

Special Features:

- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation from a transfer of original elements by MGM
- Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Sho and Tell Part 2: The Domination – brand new interview with star Sho Kosugi on Rage of Honor and the later stages of his film career
- Sho Kosugi Trailer Gallery: Enter the Ninja (1981), Revenge of the Ninja (1983), Pray for Death (1985) and Rage of Honor (1987)
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin
– The first pressing includes a collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film and an extract from Kosugi’s upcoming book.

Pre-order Rage of Honor from today!

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Derek Yee remakes 1977 Shaw Brothers classic ‘Death Duel’

"Death Duel" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Death Duel" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Derek Yee (Shinjuku Incident) is currently in production for his long-awaited remake of Chor Yuen’s Death Duel, a 1977 Shaw Brothers film that Yee starred in during the height of his acting career.

As with the original, the remake, titled Sword Master, will be an adaptation of Ku Lung’s Third Master’s Sword (literal title). The film, which will be shot in 3D, is being produced by Tsui Hark (Taking of Tiger Mountain).

The remake stars Kenny Lin Geng-Xin (Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon Sea Dragon), Peter Ho Yun-Tung (The Monkey King), Jiang Yi-Yan (The Bullet Vanishes) and Jiang Meng-Jie (Kung Fu Man).

The 1977 film is about a renowned swordsman (Yee) whose position in the martial world is lofty. The constant challenges and myriad enemies he faces compels him to fake his death and pursue a quiet life with a beautiful  woman (Candice Yu).

Updates: Check out one of the first posters for Sword Master.

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Mario Kassar ‘Raids’ Indonesia for sci-fi thriller ‘Foxtrot Six’

"The Raid 2" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"The Raid 2" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Producer Mario Kassar will always be synonymous with Hollywood actioners like Rambo, Total Recall, Terminator 2 and Universal Solider, but now the former head of Carolco is taking his action-packed expertise to Indonesia for Foxtrot Six, an upcoming sci-fi thriller by first-time Indonesian director Randy Korompis.

Producing alongside Kassar is Ario Sagantoro (The Raid), who’ll be enlisting The Raid 2‘s Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman to handle the film’s fight choreography. According to Variety, you can also expect “a significant aerial crew and futuristic weaponry.” At this time, there are no other cast details.

Foxtrot Six begins production next year in Indonesia and the U.S., with a target release date in 2017. We’ll keep you updated on this project as we hear more!

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Battles Without Honor and Humanity Vol. 2: Hiroshima Death Match (1973) Review

"Battles Without Honor and Humanity Vol. 2" Blu-ray Cover

"Battles Without Honor and Humanity Vol. 2" Blu-ray Cover

AKA: Deadly Fight in Hiroshima
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Writer: Koichi Iiboshi, Kazuo Kasahara
Cast: Kinya Kitaoji, Sonny Chiba, Bunta Sugawara, Meiko Kaji, Mikio Narita, Hiroshi Nawa, Asao Koike, Shingo Yamashiro, Hideo Murota, Tatsuo Endo, Yoshi Kato, Kinji Nakamura, Gin Maeda, Nobuo Kaneko, Toshie Kimura
Running Time: 100 min.

By Kyle Warner

After the huge financial success of Battles Without Honor and Humanity in January 1973, two sequels were fast-tracked and released that same year. Based on a true story supposedly discovered while researching the first film, Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Hiroshima Death Match (aka Deadly Fight in Hiroshima) could be considered the odd duck in the Battles series in that it’s the only one that doesn’t have Bunta Sugawara as the film’s lead. While Suguawara receives first billing in the opening credits, Hiroshima Death Match undeniably belongs to Kinya Kitaoji (Shinsengumi: Assassins of Honor) and Sonny Chiba (Kill Bill) who play a pair of lunatic yakuza at each other’s throats.

The story told in Hiroshima Death Match takes place both during the first film’s story and shortly after it. Down-and-out loser Yamanaka (Kinya Kitaoji) is a man with a death wish and a short fuse. Like others in the Battles series, he’s a man left without a purpose after the end of World War II. During the war, Yamanaka tried to be a kamikaze pilot but was too young for the program at the time. Now he carries himself in a similar manner, like a man who hopes to go out in a violent blaze of glory. After the unemployed Yamanaka eats at a restaurant without paying, the local thug Katsutoshi (Sonny Chiba) beats him to a pulp. Yamanaka vows revenge against Katsutoshi and all his men, which only makes the beating even worse. Other yakuza intervene and eventually nurse Yamanaka back to health. From there, Yamanaka joins the yakuza as an assassin and waits for the opportunity to put Katsutoshi in his crosshairs.

Yamanaka may be the center of the story but it’s Katsutoshi that kicks the film into gear. Sonny Chiba plays the villainous Katsutoshi over-the-top and potentially insane, often with one hand on a weapon and the other gripping his crotch. Representing the disrespectful hooligans that the yakuza have devolved into, Katsutoshi burns bridges wherever he goes and disrupts the fragile peace between yakuza families when he grasps at more power.

In the time since the original film, Bunta Sugawara’s Hirono has gone off on his own. Working out of a scrapyard, Hirono tries to stay true to his ideals, but he must decide whether to swallow his pride and accept easy money when opportunity comes knocking. Hirono doesn’t have nearly as much to do this time around and that’s too bad, but at least the film finds a believable way of fitting him into the story.

Added to Hiroshima Death Match is a romance subplot that provides the film with some much-needed humanity and also grants a few extra unexpected twists to the plot. Yamanaka falls for beautiful Yasuko (Stray Cat Rock’s Meiko Kaji), though their relationship is a complicated one as her uncle is also Yamanaka’s boss. Kaji’s role is one of the only notable female characters in the entire series – right or wrong, Battles Without Honor and Humanity is a story about the boys – and she makes good use of the material given to her here.

One of the things that Hiroshima Death Match emphasizes is how disposable the young yakuza are to their superiors. Similar to the role of the kamikaze pilot that Yamanaka once longed to be, his boss repeatedly sends him off on dangerous missions fully expecting that he may never return. Yamanaka, like fellow yakuza and the wartime soldiers before him, is used and abused by an unsympathetic system. Hiroshima Death Match’s final scene is one of the most powerful finales in the five film series, hitting home everything about the yakuza that director Kinji Fukasaku meant to convey.

The film may have a different central focus than the original but Kinji Fukasaku’s visual style returns intact. The action is messy and bloody (somehow even more violent than the first Battles), opting to avoid perfect shootouts and skilled sword techniques, regardless of how badass any of the characters are supposed to be. On the Blu-ray from Arrow Video, the new special feature included on this disc is a brief interview with Ryuzo Ueno, the series’ fight coordinator. It’s a surprisingly funny and enjoyable interview, with Ueno providing many short stories about how he got into filmmaking and his work on Battles Without Honor and Humanity. When you’re going through the set’s extras, be sure to remember Ueno’s interview.

Hiroshima Death Match has a narrower focus than the first film and is less chaotic as a result. It may not be as fascinating as the original Battles but there’s so much to like here, particularly the character-driven story performed by a stellar cast. Sonny Chiba brings madness to his bad guy role. Bunta Sugawara brings his signature cool. Nobuo Kaneko returns as the weaselly Yamamori. Meiko Kaji provides warmth and humanity. And Kinya Kitaoji gives us a complex man that’s been through the gutter before being given a gun and a reason to use it. Rage and love drive Kitaoji’s Yamanaka, making him a dangerous man that you want to like but just can’t fully trust. While Hiroshima Death Match may be remembered as the film that focused on a side-story instead of the main character of the series, at least it gave us a complicated and memorable character in his place.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 8/10

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Shaw Brothers legend Kara Hui back in action as ‘Mrs K’

"My Young Auntie" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"My Young Auntie" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Kara Hui (Wu Xia), the martial arts icon famous for appearing in Shaw Brothers films like My Young Auntie (1980) and Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1983), is currently shooting a new action film for director Ho Yuhang (At the End of Day Break) titled Mrs K, a Malaysia-Hong Kong co-production.

According to a recent press release, Mrs K is a story of a woman (Hui) who gives everything that she has to protect her husband and daughter when enemies from her past come hunting her.

Mrs K also stars Simon Yam (SPL II), Wu Bai (Time and Tide), Siow Li Xuan, Fruit Chan (My Lucky Stars), Kirk Wong (Taking Manhattan) and Malaysia’s Faizal Hussein (GK3: The Movie) and Dain Said (Bunohan: Return to Murder).

We’ll keep you updated on Mrs K as we hear more!

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Home Invasion | DVD (Sony Entertainment)

Home Invasion | DVD (Sony Entertainment)

Home Invasion | DVD (Sony Entertainment)

RELEASE DATE: February 2, 2016

Sony Entertainment presents the DVD for Home Invasion, a taut psychological thriller starring Natasha Henstridge (Maximum Risk), Jason Patric (Narc) and martial arts star, Scott Adkins (Close Range).

When a wealthy woman and her stepson are targeted by a trio of expert thieves in their remote mansion, her only form of help comes from a call with a security systems specialist. But as the intruders become increasingly hostile and the connection wavers, will she trust him to be her eyes and navigate her to safety? | Watch the trailer.

Pre-order Home Invasion from

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Battles Without Honor and Humanity Vol. 1 (1973) Review

"Battles Without Honor and Humanity Vol. 1" Blu-ray Cover

"Battles Without Honor and Humanity Vol. 1" Blu-ray Cover

AKA: The Yakuza Papers Vol. 1
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Writer: Koichi Iiboshi, Kazuo Kasahara
Producer: Koji Shundo, Goro Kusakabe
Cast: Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata, Kunie Tanaka, Eiko Nakamura, Tsunehiko Watase, Goro Ibuki, Nobuo Kaneko, Toshie Kimura, Tamio Kawaji, Mayumi Nagisa, Asao Uchida, Shinichiro Mikami, Hiroshi Nawa
Running Time: 99 min.

By Kyle Warner

Throughout the 1960s, yakuza were typically depicted as honorable outlaws in Ninkyo eiga, or “chivalry films.” Often starring fan-favorites like Ken Takakura or Koji Tsuruta, these films depicted honorable yakuza doing battle with deceitful, backstabbing foes that didn’t live by the code. In the 1970s, the chivalrous gangster movies largely died out as the Jitsuroku eiga sub-genre of crime films surged in popularity thanks to the arrival of Battles Without Honor and Humanity in 1973. Jitsuroku eiga, or “true account films”, told more honest stories about yakuza in post-war Japan. There were others of its kind before 1973, but Battles Without Honor and Humanity was a game changer. Studios and audiences embraced this grittier, more true-to-life take on the life of crime, and a new wave of yakuza film classics (as well as poor imitations) quickly followed suit.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity opens with a shot of the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima. The Battles series is the story of the chaos of post-war Japan as seen through the eyes of gangsters and thieves. After the atomic opening credits are over, we go to a busy black market in the ruins of Hiroshima, where American soldiers attempt to rape a Japanese woman in broad daylight. They’re stopped by ex-soldier Shozo Hirono (Sugawara). Hirono is a drifter who spends his days drinking and apparently wandering aimlessly through the black market; still wearing his soldier’s uniform, he’s a man waiting on someone to write the next chapter of his life. After a friend is cut by a drunk yakuza with a sword, Hirono volunteers to get revenge, and kills the yakuza in the street. Hirono goes to jail, serves his time, and is eventually released, where he is greeted at the gates by yakuza who want to take him under their wing. . . And this all takes place in the first ten minutes or so.

Battles is a dizzying, fast-paced tale of bloodshed as men form alliances, kill friends, and lose themselves as they blindly chase after glory and riches. It’s chaotic — both stylistically and dramatically — and not always easy to follow. Names for the yakuza and their alliances flash on screen when they first appear, letting you know who’s who and where they stand, but in a film with such a large cast and a breakneck pace it’s easy to forget things along the way. It’s a bit like keeping track of the alliances and grudges in Game of Thrones without the helpful family flags and colors to remind you where everyone came from.

Bunta Sugawara’s Hirono is as close as the Battles series gets to having a main character. However, this is an ensemble effort, and Hirono often disappears for long periods of time while the other characters advance the plot without him. In the first film, Hiroki Matsukata (The Shogun’s Samurai) and Tatsuo Umemiya (Yakuza Graveyard) lend strong performances as Hirono’s two closest allies. Still, in the ever shifting landscape that is the film’s plot, it’s never clear how long your friends will remain on your side. Sugawara, Matsukata, and Umemiya do good work playing with those themes, as shifty eyes and a change in tone are sometimes the only key to a change in a character’s alliance. While Sugawara would stay on as the “main character” of the series, both Matsukata and Umemiya would return in later Battles films as totally different characters (they’re not the only actors to do so – this is another part of the reason why the series can be tough to follow at times).

Character actor Nobuo Kaneko (Ikiru) plays Hirono’s boss, Yamamori. Easily the oddest character in the film, Yamamori gets weepy when he should be strong and is cold when he should be compassionate. Often flanked by his dangerous wife, Yamamori demands complete respect from his crew but does little to earn it. What begins as a boss that the others want to believe in soon becomes a greedy little man and a threat to both friend and foe.

Late in the film, a man contemplating murdering a friend wonders, “Where did we go wrong?” That line seems to be the center of the story here, as men chase an impossible dream of being honorable men in a dishonorable time. Whenever the men resort to treachery and murder, things tend to go their way. When they stick to the old ways, things fall apart. Take for example a scene when a yakuza chops off his pinky finger, the old-school way of offering an apology to a fellow yakuza. After chopping the pinky in half, the finger goes missing, leading to a comedic search as gangsters look high and low for the missing digit. Then, after recovering the finger, they take it to the offended yakuza and he basically laughs it off, saying the gesture was completely unnecessary. Old-school honor goes unrewarded. Only the snakes profit in the post-war underworld.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity was based off the memoirs of convicted yakuza Kozo Mino. When the yakuza first heard of Mino’s written confessions, the publishers were threatened, and the story passed from one house to another until finally a magazine published it in serialized form. In the film, what is true to life, what is dramatization, and what is mistakenly based on the lies of a thief and murderer remains unclear. Even without the knowledge of Mino’s story being the basis for the film, Battles feels like a true story, mostly because it makes almost no attempt at giving these characters a path to redemption.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity is often called Japan’s answer to The Godfather trilogy. It’s easy to get caught up in that line of thinking – I make the comparison myself when trying to get friends interested in the series – but it’s somewhat misleading. Battles is like The Godfather in that it’s a legendary piece of cinema that happens to detail the rise and fall of gangsters after WWII (also: both were released within a year of each other). The similarities mostly end there. The Godfather is an operatic tragedy full of classic beauty. Battles Without Honor and Humanity is brutal, chaotic, and dirty – the filming style is mostly done with handheld cameras, lending the film the look of a documentary. It’s raw and in your face, a far cry from the visuals of Coppola’s classics, even in their most violent scenes.

Out of print on DVD for the longest time, the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series is being released on Blu-ray and DVD by Arrow Video in a limited edition set that contains all five films, plus a 120 page book, and The Complete Saga, a film that edits the first four Battles into one long movie. I’ll be reviewing the films and the set’s discs as I go. The first film looks great on Blu-ray, a fine upgrade over the old DVD. The sound has some noisy moments, but overall it’s a good track for a film its age. The special features on disc 1 include a ten minute interview with Takashi Miike, original trailers, and a commentary from Japanese film expert Stuart Galbraith IV. In the interview, Miike confesses his love for Battles and talks about his own films for a while. I would’ve liked the interview to be a bit longer but it’s an enjoyable extra for fans of both directors Miike and Fukasaku. Stuart Galbraith IV is one of my favorite English-language historians of Japanese cinema working today. His track offers some nice information on the genre, the time, and the talent involved on the film. It’s a worthwhile commentary for fans of the film.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity is an essential piece of Japanese cinema. It remains one of the most popular films of all time in Japan and the rest of the world is slowly catching on. Labyrinthine and chaotic, the film demands the viewer’s complete attention, and even then you’re liable to be lost from time to time. Even in the moments of confusion, the film is always so watchable and cool. Fukasaku and his cast make redefining a genre seem effortless.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 9.5/10

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Weaponized | aka Swap | Blu-ray & DVD (Cinedigm)

"Weaponized" Teaser Poster

"Weaponized" Teaser Poster

RELEASE DATE: March 1, 2016

Cinedigm presents the Blu-rayDVD for Weaponized (aka Swap), an all-star, sci-fi actioner from Timothy Woodward Jr. (Throwdown) and writer Sean Ryan (4Got10). The film stars Johnny Messner (Kill ‘Em All), Jon Foo (Tekken), Mickey Rourke (Year of the Dragon), Tom Sizemore (Natural Born Killers) and Michael Paré (Streets of Fire).

When a detective investigates a mass shooting by a former US soldier, he finds himself in a government conspiracy led by a vengeful private contractor. Now the detective must prevent this grieving father from unleashing a deadly “robotic virus.” | Watch the trailer.

Pre-order Weaponized from today!

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Teaser trailer for Toho’s upcoming ‘Godzilla’ movie!

"Godzilla: Resurgence" Teaser Poster

"Godzilla: Resurgence" Teaser Poster

Japan’s Toho Company has just released a new teaser trailer for their upcoming Godzilla movie, titled Godzilla: Resurgence. The film obviously takes place in a separate universe from Legendary’s U.S.-made 2014 film, which was directed by Gareth Edwards.

Godzilla: Resurgence is written and directed by Hideaki Anno (Cutie Honey, Evangelion: Death & Rebirth) and stars Hiroki Hasegawa (Attack on Titan), Yutaka Takenouchi (Oba: The Last Samurai) and Satomi Ishihara (Attack on Titan).

Toho, who hasn’t released a Godzilla film since 2004’s Godzilla Final Wars, had this to say, by way of Taichi Ueda, veteran producer of the franchise: “With the success of the Hollywood version of Godzilla, we decided on a new [domestic] production…this resurrection will be the centerpiece for ’16, and this is the force of our words.”

Godzilla: Resurgence hits Japanese cinemas on July 29, 2016. Don’t miss the film’s teaser trailer!

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The Piper | aka Guest | DVD (CJ Entertainment)

The Piper | DVD (CJ Entertainment)

The Piper | DVD (CJ Entertainment)

RELEASE DATE: February 2, 2016

CJ Entertainment presents the DVD for Kim Gwang-Tae’s The Piper, starring Ryoo Seung-Ryong (Admiral: Roaring Currents) and Goo Seung-Hyun (The Fatal Encounter).

Shortly after the Korean war, a flute-playing wanderer and his son arrives to a peaceful and remote village, where strange and dangerous happenings occur. Also starring Lee Sung-Min (Kundo), Chun Woo-Hee (Mother), Lee Joon (Seoul Station) and Jung Kyung-Ho (Moodori). | Watch the trailer.

Pre-order The Piper from today!

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Braddock: Missing in Action III | Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)

Braddock: Missing in Action III | Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)

Braddock: Missing in Action III | Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)

RELEASE DATE: March 15, 2016

Shout! Factory presents the Blu-ray for Braddock: Missing in Action III, a 1988 action film directed by Aaron Norris (Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection) and starring Chuck Norris (Yellow Faced Tiger).

Colonel James Braddock (Norris) is back in Vietnam, this time fighting his own personal war, as he goes in to rescue the son he’s never met from a ruthless Vietnamese general – a vicious man who will stop at nothing to see Braddock dead. | Watch the trailer.

Pre-order Braddock: Missing in Action III from today!

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Yakuza Apocalypse (2015) Review

"Yakuza Apocalypse" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Yakuza Apocalypse" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Yoshitaka Yamaguchi
Cast: Hayato Ichihara, Riko Narumi, Lily Franky, Reiko Takashima, Sho Aoyagi, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Yayan Ruhian, Mio Yuki, Pierre Taki, Denden, Yuki Sakurai
Running Time: 125 min.

By Kyle Warner

Even in the wild and diverse filmography of director Takashi Miike, Yakuza Apocalypse is one weird movie. What’s interesting is how it keeps its lunacy hidden away like a dirty secret until you feel like you’re settled in for a crime/horror hybrid, then WHAM! the movie loses its mind, there’s blood bank bad guys knitting sweaters in the basement, a woman’s head springs a leak, and a giant frog monster (“the world’s toughest terrorist”) comes to town and ruins everybody’s day. Truly, from the very beginning it was clear that Yakuza Apocalypse was going to be different – in the opening, Lily Franky’s gang boss character gets shot a hundred times, kills dozens of bad guys, and then goes to suck blood from a woman’s neck to regain his strength – but nothing in those opening moments can prepare you for how completely unhinged Miike’s vision soon becomes.

Takashi Miike, the man behind such bizarre features as The Happiness of the Katakuris, Gozo, Zebraman, Visitor Q, and Izo, is no stranger to weirdo entertainment. Since going mainstream and directing big budget action movies, game adaptations, and remakes of classic samurai pictures, the extreme features that Miike built his name on have come with less regularity. Maybe he was itching for a chance to do something wild again, because Yakuza Apocalypse is filled to the brim with crazy ideas. The film won’t work for everyone, but for the right audience Yakuza Apocalypse rarely goes five minutes without another moment of WTF bewilderment and hilarious insanity.

Young mid-level yakuza Kagayama (Hayato Ichihara) wants to be just like his boss (Lily Franky) but has no idea that his boss is secretly a vampire. When villains from the boss’s past come asking him to return to the fold, the boss refuses and is murdered as a result. In his dying moments, the boss passes on the vampire blood to Kagayama, thus empowering him with super strength and cursing him with a thirst for human blood. Thing is, when Kagayama inevitably bites people to drink their blood, they don’t just become vampires… they become yakuza vampires. And that’s the main joke at the center of the film. It’s clear from the very start that Miike basically has zero interest in either staying true to vampire myths or creating his own. Sure, there’s plenty of blood drinking, but this is a movie about yakuza, not vampires. The “plot” comes together when Kagayama’s old crime family tries to push civilians around, only to find that the civvies are recently turned yakuza vampires – basically it’s become a town full of thugs, with the yakuza vampire gene spreading like an obnoxious plague. As you’d expect from Takashi Miike, the film is violent and sometimes quite disturbing, but he manages to mine a surprising amount of hilarity from the concept.

Hayato Ichihara (All About Lily Chou-Chou) is cool as Kagayama but there’s not much more to his character other than that he’s really cool. Lily Franky, best known for comedies and dramas such as 2013’s Like Father, Like Son, is not who you’d expect to play a badass gangster, but he pulls it off by simply not trying too hard. Also among the cast is The Raid’s Yayan Ruhian, here playing a martial artist working for the bad guys. Often dressed like a nerdy tourist, Ruhian is a fun addition to the cast as he gets to have a couple decent fights and also play some comedy.

There’s a lot of fun to be had in Yakuza Apocalypse but it’s never very clear what the stakes are. The weird bad guys hang around even after killing the boss but… why? What’s their plan? They’re at odds with Kagayama, but it’s never clear why they want him dead or what they hope to achieve. In the finale, things truly take an apocalyptic turn, but the reasoning for this is also a mystery. At some point, half-laughing and half-mad, I screamed at the TV, “What the hell is going on?” Merely 30 seconds later, the film’s know-it-all character echoed my question by crying out, “What is happening?!” When the film’s know-it-all master of exposition is clueless, that’s your sign that the film is just winging it from that point on.

Miike seems to understand that he’s taken the concept just as far as it can go in the end. Right as the film goes completely over the edge, it cuts to black and rolls the end credits to the tune of Japanese hard rock band Knock Out Monkey. We’re denied a “proper ending.”

However much I enjoyed the movie, however much I might’ve laughed at times, there’s no denying that some of the film comes across as half-baked. And that’s disappointing, because much of the rest of the film shows some kind of deranged inspiration. The lack of clear goals for the characters, the lack of a true ending, and a few questionable inclusions hold Yakuza Apocalypse back from being a complete success.

I liked this, I did. It’s one of those movies where I kind of wish I could turn off my inner-critic and just enjoy the film for what it is and forgive it for what it’s not. And if you’re not lucky enough to connect with the film’s deranged sense of humor, then you’re going to be even less forgiving than I am. Yakuza Apocalypse is a dark comedy for a very particular sort of audience member. Working like a live-action cartoon brought to life by a mad man, it’s a one of a kind film, and it wears its flaws out in the open for everyone to see.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 6.5/10

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