New Expendables-style poster for ‘Hitman: Agent 47′

"Hitman: Agent 47" Theatrical Poster

"Hitman: Agent 47" Theatrical Poster

Hitting theaters on August 28th is the reboot of 2007′s Hitman, a live action film adaptation of the hit video game, which will be titled Hitman: Agent 47.

The late Paul Walker was previously set to star as Agent 47, but due to his untimely passing, Rupert Friend (Homeland) took over as the film’s lead. Agent 47 also stars Zachary Quinto (Star Trek), Hannah Ware and Thomas Kretschmann.

Making his big screen directing debut will be Aleksander Bach, who was hired based on his commercials (see his work here). Skip Woods (A Good Day to Die Hard) and Michael Finch (Predators) are writing the screenplay.

Updates: Check out the newest poster, complete with Expendables-style design. If you haven’t already, watch the film’s first trailer.

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Cityonfire.com’s ‘Vengeance of an Assassin’ Blu-ray Giveaway! – WINNER ANNOUNCED!

Vengeance of an Assassin | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Vengeance of an Assassin | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Cityonfire.com and Well Go USA are giving away 3 Blu-ray copies of Vengeance of an Assassin 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 cityonfire.com’s Facebook by clicking here.

The Blu-ray & DVD for Vengeance of an Assassin will be officially released on April 14, 2015. We will announce the 3 winners on April 15, 2015 and ship out the prizes immediately.

CONTEST DISCLAIMER: You must enter by April 14, 2015 to qualify. U.S. residents only please. We sincerely apologize to our non-U.S. visitors. Winners must respond with their mailing address within 48 hours, otherwise you will automatically be disqualified. No exceptions. Contest is subject to change without notice.

WINNNERS: Congratulations to Ben, Ritchie and Travis. You have all been notified via email!

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The Taking of Tiger Mountain | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

The Taking of Tiger Mountain | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

The Taking of Tiger Mountain | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

RELEASE DATE: June 2, 2015

Well Go USA presents the Blu-ray & DVD for Tsui Hark’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain, an action epic based on the real life story of an incident in 1946 during the Chinese Civil War, involving a communist reconnaissance team soldier Yang Zirong who disguised himself as a bandit to infiltrate a local gang of bandits.

The film stars Zhang Hanyu (Bodyguards and Assassins), Zhou Dongyu, Gao Hu (The Man From Macau), Tong Liya (Journey to the West), Kenny Lin (Young Detective Dee) and newcomer Han Geng. Watch the trailer.

Pre-order The Taking of Tiger Mountain from Amazon.com today!

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

New poster for Schwarzenegger’s zombie flick ‘Maggie’

"Maggie" Theatrical Poster

"Maggie" Theatrical Poster

Arnold Schwarzenegger is boarding the zombie genre in a movie called Maggie, which is currently in post-production. Henry Hobson, director of the The Bureau: XCOM Declassified video game trailer, will be directing from a Black List script by John Scott 3. Maggie is set to hit theaters on May 8, 2015.

According to Variety, Maggie is set in a time when a “walking dead” virus has spread across the country. Schwarzenegger will portray “a father on a journey to help his daughter come to terms with her infection as she slowly becomes a zombie.”

Updates: Kick Ass 2′s Chloe Moretz was in negotiations to play Schwarzenegger’s daughter, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. | THR reports that Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) will be playing Schwarzenegger’s daughter.

BREAKING NEWS: Check out the first theatrical poster for Maggie. And just in case you missed it, here’s the first trailer!

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Newest trailer for Jean-Claude Van Damme’s ‘Pound of Flesh’

Pound of Flesh | Blu-ray & DVD (Entertainment One)

Pound of Flesh | Blu-ray & DVD (Entertainment One)

Get your organs ready for Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Pound of Flesh! This upcoming action-thriller re-teams the martial arts star with Ernie Barbarash (Favela), the director behind 2011′s Assassination Games and 2012′s 6 Bullets. Van Damme’s son, Kristopher Van Varenberg (Enemies Closer), Darren Shahlavi (Ip Man 2), John Ralston (Degrassi The Next Generation), William B Davis (The X-Files) and Charlotte Peters are co-starring.

The plot line of Pound of Flesh is reminiscent of Park Chan-wook’s 2002 thriller, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance:

In China to donate his kidney to his dying niece, Deacon (Van Damme), an former black-ops agent, awakes the day before the operation to find he is the latest victim of organ theft. Stitched up and pissed-off, Deacon descends from his opulent hotel in search of his stolen kidney and carves a blood-soaked path through the darkest corners of the city – brothels, fight clubs, back-alley black markets, and elite billionaire estates. The clock is ticking for his niece and with each step he loses blood.

Pound of Flesh will be getting a North American theatrical/VOD release date on May 15, 2015, followed by its Blu-ray & DVD release on June 23, 2015.

Updates: Via the Hollywood Reporter, Pound of Flesh will feature fight scenes coordinated by veteran choreographer and stuntman John Salvetti (Donnie Yen’s Flash Point, Special Identity). | Ernie Barbarash, the director of Pound of Flesh, spills some details about his upcoming film in this video. He mentions that it is an “action movie that’s very character driven.” | Bruceploitation actor Huang Kin Long (aka Bruce Le) recently visited the set. So what does Le look like today? Well, here’s a photo (courtesy of Impact) of him with Mike Leeder, Darren Shahlavi and Mike Moller on the set of Pound of Flesh. Simply amazing!

First “real” trailer re-edited with some extra footage not seen in the first “leaked” teaser. | 2nd trailer. | After a series of trailers consisting of broken links, unofficial leaks (and other unexplained uploads), here’s the film’s first official full trailer. | 10-minute featurette.

Watch the newest trailer (via FCS) – and, don’t forget… Pound of Flesh is hitting VOD on May 15, then  Blu-ray & DVD on June 23, 2015. Pre-order it today!

BREAKING NEWS: Read our our review for Pound of Flesh!

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Cross | DVD (Well Go USA)

Cross | DVD (Well Go USA)

Cross | DVD (Well Go USA)

RELEASE DATE: June 23, 2015

Well Go USA presents the DVD for 2012′s Cross, a crime-thriller written and directed by Daniel Chan, Steve Woo, Lau Kin Ping, Hui Shu Ning (yes, four filmmakers).

Cross revolves around a Catholic serial killer (played by Simon Yam) who, after witnesses his wife’s death, believes he is given to duty to kill suicidal people to bring them peace and allowing them to enter heaven. The film also stars Kenny Wong (Firestorm), Liu Kai-chi (Viral Factor) and Nick Cheung (That Demon Within). Watch the trailer.

Pre-order Cross from Amazon.com today!

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Ode to My Father (2014) Review

"Ode to My Father" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Ode to My Father" Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Yoon Je-Kyun
Writer: Park Soo-Jin
Cast: Hwang Jung-Min, Kim Yunjin, Oh Dal-Su, Jung Jin-Young, Jang Young-Nam, Ra Mi-Ran, Hong Suk-Youn, Kim Seul-Gi, Lee Hyun, Uhm Ji-Sung, Jang Dae-Woong
Running Time: 126 min.

By Paul Bramhall

When a major Korean studio decides it’s time to churn out a crowd pleasing blockbuster for the masses, things normally go one of two ways. We either get movies which aim purely for the heart strings like 2013’s Miracle in Cell No.7, or we get movies which aim squarely to tap into Koreans deep rooted patriotism, such was the case with 2014’s The Admiral: Roaring Currents. Both choices will inevitably involve soaring bombastic scores, moments of overwhelming melodrama, and basically be the cinematic equivalent of an emotional roller coaster. Of course there’s nothing wrong with any of that, these movies rarely pretend to be something they’re not, so going into them, one should know what to expect.

With Ode to My Father, director Yoon Je-kyoon goes for the double whammy. He does this by incorporating a story which seems to have the sole purpose of eliciting as many tears as possible, while at the same time presenting the audience with the constant hardships the elder generation of Koreans went through to make the country what it is today. Je-kyoon is no stranger to combining melodrama and spectacle, having also been at the helm of the wildly uneven 2009 tsunami disaster movie Haeundae.

What’s more interesting perhaps is that he’s working from a script written by Park Su-jin. Su-jin most recently scripted the action comedies Quick and The Spy, both movies that involved a lot of general shouting and gurning in the name of entertainment. Ode to My Father on the other hand, plays out as an epic decade spanning tale of one man’s dedication to his family in the face of much resistance and turmoil, so in comparison to her previous efforts, I hoped for a touch of subtlety to be added to proceedings.

However, once you get past the first few minutes, you quickly realize this isn’t going to be the case. Opening with a tracking shot of a butterfly fluttering against a blue sky, we’re soon following it through the modern day street markets of Busan, before finally settling on an elderly couple sitting on a rooftop. It’s a sequence that seems to be dripping with sentimentality before even a single word has been spoken. The couple is played by Hwang Jeong-min and Kim Yoon-jin, both well disguised under some very convincing aged make-up to make them look like they’re in their twilight years.

Jeong-min is one of those actors who’s able to make almost anything he’s in watchable. From starring alongside the likes of Choi Min-sik in gangster movies such as The New World, to taking the lead in Ryoo Seung-wan’s cop thriller The Unjust, he rarely puts in a bad performance. Yoon-jin remains most well known for her role in the US drama series Lost, as well as playing the pivotal role in the movie which broke Korean cinema out on an international level, Shiri. Here they both have great chemistry with each other, and it’s their relationship which forms the heart of the movie.

That being said, Ode to My Father will no doubt be an acquired taste outside of Korean shores. It’s very much a movie which has been made for a domestic audience, and in that regard it’s been a massive success, currently ranking as the second highest grossing domestic film in Korean cinema history. Nostalgia no doubt plays a huge part in this, with the movies largest audience being members in their 40’s, who made up almost 35% of total ticket sales. It’s easy to see why, as Jeong-min’s character almost plays out like an under-fire tour guide through some of the most tumultuous times in recent Korean history.

The Korean history shouldn’t only be of interest to the local audience though, where Ode to My Father really segregates itself is through its localized histrionics. Indeed there’s probably more crying and hysterical yelling in the first 20 minutes than some movies fit into their whole run time. Crying and hysterical yelling feature prominently throughout the next 2 hours. It’s a Korea in which people are either ludicrously happy, gut wrenchingly devastated, or Tom Cruise jump-on-the-sofa in love – there is no middle ground. Of course every outburst of emotion is met with an equally bombastic score, be it soaring violins or somber guitar playing, everything is fine tuned to equate to a lump in the throat.

It’s aspects like this which make Ode to My Father a difficult movie to review, as arguably it does what it sets out to do, striking a chord with its intended audience. However despite this, I couldn’t help but feel there’s a much better movie in there somewhere. There are some elements which are decidedly cringe worthy for any audience, such as there are not one but two scenes when characters stand up for the national anthem (one of which involves the characters singing it, the other which has Jeong-min and Yoon-jin stop mid-argument to salute the flag, a scene that current president Park Geun-hye cited as being her favorite, and driving the need for patriotism).

For all of the above criticism though, it’s a movie which does look amazing. The production design, attention to period detail, and cinematography are all top notch. Following Jeong-min’s character, we get to travel in flashback from when he was a boy being evacuated from the Korean War in 1951, to the many Korean’s who worked in the German coal mines in the 1960’s, through to the Vietnam War in the 1970’s, and the torn family reunification efforts in the 1980’s. Jeong-min plays his role from being in his early 20’s to old age convincingly throughout, and thanks to the tale being told in flashback from when he’s an old man, there’s never any doubt of there being a happy ending.

Despite the visual appeal of the many different era’s, the overall feel is let down by Su-jin’s clunky script, with each part seemingly following a template of – establish setting, cue big disaster, cry, give a speech about what a hard life Koreans are living. It’s about as subtle as a brick, with Yoon-jin’s begging to a German mine boss to let her in after an explosion being particularly awful, as she rambles on about the hundreds of decent Koreans who just came abroad to make an honest living for their family.

All in all though it should be remembered that this is Korean cinema at its most commercial, and whenever things are getting too much, thankfully there’s always a bright spot to keep us watching. To Su-jin’s credit there are a number of in-jokes and character references that are enough to draw a smile, from the child version of Jeong-min’s character meeting the founder of Hyundai, and sarcastically declaring “What next, they’ll be saying we can make Korean cars!”, to chance encounters with Korean wrestling legends.

It would also be a crime not to mention the character of Jeong-min’s best friend, played by Oh Dal-soo, who most will recognize from the likes of The Good, The Bad, The Weird and The Thieves. Much like Hugh Grant always plays Hugh Grant, Oh Dal-soo always plays Oh Dal-soo, he’s the try hard guy with a heart of gold, and always plays the role to perfection. Like Jeong-min, he also has the presence to make even the worst movies have some redeeming quality, and some of the biggest laughs to be had from Ode to My Father are thanks to his character.

In many ways Ode to My Father is the antithesis to Lee Chang-dong’s 1999 feature Peppermint Candy, which featured Seoul Kyeong-gu playing a character whose life plays out in flashback from present day. While that movie drags its protagonist through some of the darkest places in Korean history, with dire consequences, Ode to My Father is the flip side of the coin, as Jeong-min’s resilience and cheeriness see him pull through all the way to the end, and sometimes, a happy ending is enough.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6/10

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Scott Adkins and WWE’s Wade Barrett are ‘Eliminators’

"Green Street Hooligans: Underground" Japanese DVD Cover

"Green Street Hooligans: Underground" Japanese DVD Cover

Martial arts star Scott Adkins (Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning) and WWE’s Wade Barrett are joining forces in Eliminators, an upcoming action flick directed by James Nunn, who previously worked with Adkins in Green Street 3: Never Back Down.

According to Variety (via FCS), Eliminators follows a former U.S. federal agent who must abandon the witness protection program and come out of hiding after his London home is mistakenly invaded — leading to him finding himself on the run from Europe’s most dangerous assassin to get his daughter to safety.

Adkins fans should consider themselves spoiled for the next year or two considering Eliminators is just one more film added to the star’s endless list of upcoming titles, which include:  Close Range (completed), Zero Tolerance (completed), Wolf Warrior (completed), Criminal, Jarhead: The Siege (post-production) and Undisputed 4 (pre-production).

We’ll keep you updated on all of Adkins’ projects as we hear more!

Posted in News | 5 Comments

Stray Cat Rock: The Collection | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

"Stray Cat Rock: The Collection" Blu-ray Cover

"Stray Cat Rock: The Collection" Blu-ray Cover

RELEASE DATE: July 14, 2015

Arrow Video presents the Blu-ray & DVD for Stray Cat Rock: The Collection, which contains Delinquent Girl Boss (1971), Wild Jumbo (1970), Sex Hunter (1970), Machine Animal (1970) and Beat ’71 (1971).

The Stray Cat Rock series stars Meiko Kaji (Blind Woman’s Curse) who with these five films began her reign as the badass action queen of the era. In these five tales, Kaji stars alongside Bunjaku Han (Love Letter) and Tatsuya Fuji (Massacre Gun). Watch the trailer.

Pre-order Stray Cat Rock: The Collection from Amazon.com today!

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In a galaxy far, far away…’Machete Kills Again…in Space’

"Machete Kills" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Machete Kills" Japanese Theatrical Poster

According to Danny Trejo himself, the long-rumored Machete Kills Again…in Space, which was featured as a parody trailer in 2013′s Machete Kills, may actually see the light of day.

In an interview with HDN, the Machete star had this to say: “Robert (Rodriguez) and I are going to start to do Machete Kills in Space, so that’s going to be awesome. Absolutely. We’re going to be working on it this year.”

If there’s any truth to the Machete Kills Again…in Space parody trailer, here’s a list of potential new and returning co-stars: Michelle Rodriguez, Alexa PenaVega, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Leonardo DiCaprio.

With Rodriguez, anything is possible. We’ll keep you updated as we hear more!

Posted in News | 33 Comments

Cemetery Without Crosses | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

Cemetery Without Crosses | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

Cemetery Without Crosses | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

RELEASE DATE: July 21, 2015

Arrow Video presents the Blu-ray & DVD for 1969′s Cemetery Without Crosses (aka The Rope and the Colt).

Inspired by the international success of the Dollars trilogy, and dedicated to director Sergio Leone, Cemetery Without Crosses offers a Gallic spin on the Spaghetti Western formula thanks to its star and creator, Robert Hossein (best-known to English-speaking audiences for his role in Jules Dassin’s Rififi). Watch the trailer.

Pre-order Cemetery Without Crosses from Amazon.com today!

Posted in DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Other Notable Titles | Leave a comment

Dragon, The Hero, The | aka Dragon on Fire (1979) Review

"The Dragon, The Hero" Theatrical Poster

"The Dragon, The Hero" Theatrical Poster

Director: Godfrey Ho
Writer: Sze To On
Cast: John Liu, Dragon Lee, Tino Wong Cheung, Chung Liang, Philip Ko Fei, Chiang Kam, Chan Lau, Alexander Grand, Mars, David Wu Tai Wai, Lee Hang, Mars
Running Time: 87 min.

By Martin Sandison

In the 1990’s one distribution company released some of the greatest old school kung ku movies ever made: Eastern Heroes. As a young kid in my mid teens growing up in the UK they opened up a world that I will be eternally grateful for. One of the first ones I watched at that time was The Dragon, The Hero. I immediately fell in love with the movie, and rewatching it for this review was a delight. Especially since it was a widescreen decent quality print in Mandarin, released by Vengeance video the company created by Toby Russell. He formed Eastern Heroes with another great figure in kung fu movie history, Ricky Baker. Their knowledge of the genre knows no bounds.

Apparently The Dragon, The Hero was a huge hit in the cinemas on 42nd Street in New York in the 70’s, and it’s easy to see why. An insane combination of classic kung fu movie tropes and psychedelic weirdness, it really is a unique picture. This is despite the fact that it is directed by who Eastern Heroes called ‘the boss of dross’ Godfrey Ho. A man that needs no introduction, he has arguably made some of the worst films in history. For my money The Dragon, The Hero is his best film (that I’ve seen, there are a lot!) alongside Ninja Terminator. The star of the film is that wonderful super kicker John Liu, one of my favourite Martial Arts movie stars. At this point he had appeared in some of the classics of the time such as Secret Rivals 1Secret Rivals 2 and Invincible Armour, and had established himself. His costar is Tino Wong, who was also in Invincible Armour (his best role IMO). Appearing in a small role one of the best Bruce Lee imitators Dragon Lee who hams it up to the maximum. The villain is that matchless genius Phillip Ko, who really gets to break loose in terms of his villainy and varying styles of kung fu. His partner in crime Chan Lau puts in a performance that has to be seen to be believed.

The plot involves Liu and Wong as sons of the Strike Rock Fist Masters who meet by chance and are enemies at first. They both get involved with Ko and Lau, the latter a wheelchair bound criminal and the former Lau’s partner in crime and superb Martial Artist who seems to know every style around. There are some special small touches that create a great atmosphere in this picture, and each star gets his own. John Liu fells a tree with a single kick and has a cool ‘Mysterious hand’ technique that sets up some of his best handwork. Tino Wong gets some awesome training scenes with a portly master who is prone to smoking a cigarette (joint?) between each finger before expertly dispatching them against a wall. Phillip Ko has to defeat his enemies in the time it takes for his personalised egg timer to run down, complete with running sand high on the soundtrack. The psychedelia really kicks in when it comes to Chan Lau’s character, with trippy music and visuals creating scenes that are seriously strange and powerful.

The choreographer of the movie is Tang Tak Cheung, who began his career as a bit part actor in early Shaw Brothers films. His most well known film as choreographer is the great Billy Chong starrer Kung Fu Zombie, which also featured Chan Lau as a Taoist Priest. Although not as crazily constructed as the aforementioned film, the action in The Dragon, The Hero is straight out of the top drawer. Long takes featuring various styles are the order of the day, with each performer at the top of his game. The quality is pretty consistent, and the ending amps up to superb levels. Dragon Lee’s nunchaku fights are a joy to behold, especially for me as they were edited out of the VHS version I grew up with. The use of reverse cinematography, that technique so inventive in kung fu cinema, is present here with Liu moving from the splits to a standing stance and Ko using the deadly art of Sun Ta to go from a prone position to standing in an instant. The best use of it happens at the end as Lau becomes more and more crazed, and a shot with a fish eye lens cuts to a super weird reverse shot. Who could believe this innovation was created by Godfrey Ho! Ko uses about a half a dozen styles throughout, and arguably his fight with Liu matches their duel in Mar’s Villa (another stone cold classic).

The music in the film deserves special mention, with the main theme taken from my favourite Spaghetti Western score for the movie The Big Gundown, by Ennio Morricone. First used in Secret Rivals, here it works at an even higher level, complimenting the action superbly. It’s all part of the similarity between the two genres. In turn the hip hop band Wu Tang Clan member Genius Gza sampled The Dragon, The Hero especially the parts featuring the main theme for his album Liquid Swords, one of the best Wu Tang records.

Predictably the plot of the film is perfunctory and uninvolving, and the plot twists are obvious. And as usual the Western actors are terrible and add nothing to the film. A sub plot featuring that great bit part actor the rotund Chiang Kam is very silly and adds next to nothing. These are minor quibbles however, in what for my money is one of the most entertaining old school movies.

Martin Sandison’s rating: 9/10

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

Bieber and Rain pair up for McG’s ‘Lethal Weapon Reloaded’

"Lethal Weapon" Japanese DVD Cover

"Lethal Weapon" Japanese DVD Cover

In a Hollywood where increasingly nothing is sacred, it was announced yesterday that the Weinstein’s have started pre-production on a Lethal Weapon reboot, to be titled Lethal Weapon Reloaded. While there’s a certain inevitability about the movies we love eventually being remade, what will no doubt get fans of the original riled up is the casting choices in the remake.

Playing the part of Martin Riggs, the role which Mel Gibson made so memorable, is reformed (or so he would have us believe) pop star Justin Bieber. Taking on the role of Roger Murtaugh, originally played by Danny Glover, will be Korean pop icon Rain, who formerly starred in Ninja Assassin.

In a statement to the press, perhaps anticipating fans reaction, Harvey Weinstein had this to say – “We want to introduce the Lethal Weapon franchise to a new generation of fans, a generation who can feel the thrill of a Lethal Weapon movie the way we did almost 30 years ago. The decision behind Bieber was clear – he’s been through some tough times, played the fool, and now he’s come out the other side – all experiences that are essential to embodying the character of Riggs. As for Rain, he was an obvious choice. The original used the juxtaposition of the black and white cop and played it perfectly, and then the Rush Hour series used the same technique giving us an Asian cop and a black cop. People have seen enough black cops, so it’s time for a white cop and an Asian cop. Rain has proven to be the most exciting action talent since the late Bruce Lee tore up our screens, and now it’s time for the new generation to tear up the screen for a whole new audience.”

Initial reports have already noted that the theme song will be a duet between the two stars, and the man given the responsibility of bringing this bold re-envisioning to our screens has been given to McG. Weinstein stated, “We’re very happy to have a talent as big as McG on board for this project, we loved what he did for the Charlie’s Angels franchise, and firmly believe he’ll be able to do the same for Lethal Weapon.”

While the following has yet to be confirmed, it appears that the reboot will be going the same way as the lastest Transformers and Iron Man sequels, and be a China co-production, fuelling speculation that a recent photo of Rain hanging out with Taiwan pop star Jay Chou may indicate that Chou will be playing the villain, possibly as the son of Jet Li as a connection to the last installment.

What are your thoughts, could this reboot work, or would you rather have Gibson and Glover?

– Happy April Fools’ Day from Cityonfire.com!

Posted in News | 4 Comments

Massacre Gun (1967) Review

"Massacre Gun" Blu-ray Cover

"Massacre Gun" Blu-ray Cover

Director: Yasuharu Hasebe
Writer: Yasuharu Hasebe, Ryuzu Nakanishi
Cast: Jo Shishido, Tatsuya Fuji, Jiro Okazaki, Ryoji Hayama, Takashi Kanda, Hideaki Nitani, Ken Sanders, Tamaki Sawa, Yoko Yamamoto
Running Time: 89 min.

By Kyle Warner

One look at the credits of popular Japanese action movie tough guys like Jo Shishido, Ken Takakura, and Bunta Sugawara lets you know that we in the West have only seen but a sampling of their career’s work. In all likelihood, we’ll never get to see all the films of our favorite foreign actors. Considering this, I almost feel like a minor celebration is in order when a film from so long ago and so far away is put out by distributors for a new generation of fans. Filmed at Nikkatsu Studios by director Yasuharu Hasebe (Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter) and starring Jo Shishido (Branded to Kill), 1967’s Massacre Gun had never been available on DVD or Blu-ray in the US until now.

If you know what the Nikkatsu action movies of the period were like, then you have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Massacre Gun. There’s a certain familiarity to the film that’s immediately apparent, but I think it’s a comforting familiarity. Massacre Gun presents stars we know and love and it lets the film go to places that the writers and studio knew had worked before. I don’t think there’s any denying it’s a somewhat formulaic genre piece, but the formula works and the cast and crew clearly understood the ingredients, so it all turns out to be a highly enjoyable movie.

Yakuza Boss Akazawa believes the men that work under him couldn’t survive without him and so he doesn’t seem to worry when he puts them through hell time and time again. The film begins with Akazawa asking Ryuichi (Jo Shishido) to kill his girlfriend. It’s not all that clear as to why. Ryuichi is conflicted, but he goes through with it, and drives her car into the ocean. Ryuichi hates himself for doing it, but he never raises a finger against his boss. Instead, Ryuichi’s brothers Saburo (Jiro Okazaki) and Eiji (Tatsuya Fuji) speak up on his behalf. In response, Boss Akazawa breaks the boxer Saburo’s hands so that his boxing dream will go unfulfilled. Ryuichi has had enough, he breaks ties with Akazawa. In response Akazawa trashes Ryuichi’s club. Things keep escalating until the two sides find themselves in a bloody turf war.

The classic Nikkatsu gangster movies were heavily influenced by the crime films of America. Sometimes they try to hide it away, but Massacre Gun wears its influences with pride. The club that Ryuichi and his brothers operate is an American-themed nightclub with jazz musicians and American dancers. The film’s jazzy score is a nice touch, as it manages to both set the film apart and lends some added melancholy to the story.

The action in Massacre Gun isn’t based in strict real-world realism but rather a more film-like reality. Men sometimes need to get shot a dozen times before they take the hint and fall over dead. Massacre Gun saves the best action for last, giving us a great sequence as Shishido — armed with a semi-automatic rifle (a massacre gun?) — fights alone against a small army of thugs. Like most the Nikkatsu’s ‘new action’ films, Massacre Gun is a blend of action and film noir, but I’d say that the noir elements are the dominant stylistic choice here. Shot in inky black and white, much of the film has our characters looking appropriately downbeat as cigarette smoke snakes towards the ceiling and hard drinks sweat on the bar. Jo Shishido and Hideaki Nitani (Tokyo Drifter) are especially good in these moments, as they appear to be genuinely haunted by the amount of violence that’s being doled out amongst former allies.

Acting out externally are the younger characters Eiji and Saburo. Eiji decides to take Boss Akazawa’s mistress as his lover in order to get back at the old bully. Tatsuya Fuji (In the Realm of the Senses) is really good in the role, playing the most passionate member of the group. My favorite character is actually the innocent and broken Saburo, who feels a bit like a casualty of his older brother’s war. He’s the one man that has a legitimate future but it’s taken away from him by Akazawa. Jiro Okazaki (Retaliation) was the least experienced member of the main cast, but he pulls off a great performance as the most relatable male character.

Director Yasuharu Hasebe was similarly lacking in experience in 1967, having only directed one movie prior to Massacre Gun. Like Okazaki, the relative inexperience doesn’t show, and there are virtually no major missteps to the writing or directing. Hasebe would go onto make more crime films for Nikkatsu and directed some popular Meiko Kaji films like Female Convict Scorpion: Grudge Song and a few entries in the Stray Cat Rock series. When the studio moved towards making pink films, Hasebe stayed on and rose in popularity after helping to create the ‘violent pink’ film genre.

Massacre Gun arrives on Blu-ray and DVD from Arrow Video. Special features include a 17 minute interview with Jo Shishido, a 37 minute interview with historian Tony Rayns, a trailer, and a booklet with an essay written by Jasper Sharp. Shishido’s interview covers his youth, what got him into movies in the first place, and his contribution to action cinema in Japan. He admits that some of the crime films he made have started to blur together because he made so many of them, but he singles out A Colt is My Passport as his favorite (a good choice, sir). He also talks about his contribution to Massacre Gun and how he choreographed much of the action. Shishido is now in his 80s but he’s still cool and funny, and fans should enjoy the interview. Tony Rayns is one of my favorite historians on Japanese cinema. His interview here talks about the history of Nikkatsu, Japan’s oldest film studio. As Rayns puts it, anything that could go wrong for a studio did go wrong in Nikkatsu’s long legacy. It’s a highly informative interview. The trailer for Massacre Gun is kind of amusing because it adds in shots from A Colt is My Passport in order to enhance the trailer’s action. The Arrow Video Blu-ray is region free, so readers overseas shouldn’t have any difficulty watching the disc.

I really enjoyed Massacre Gun and I think that other fans of Jo Shishido and Nikkatsu action will like it as well. Similarly, I think it’s a good entry film for viewers interested in the genre but are unsure of where to start. There are better, more popular films made by Nikkatsu and Shishido, but Massacre Gun has a bit of everything that fans love about these sort of films.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 7.5/10

Posted in Japanese, News, Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

An Eye for an Eye | Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

An Eye for an Eye | Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

An Eye for an Eye | Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

RELEASE DATE: June 16, 2015

Kino Lorber presents the Blu-ray for 1981′s An Eye for an Eye starring Chuck Norris (Slaughter in San Francisco). The Blu-ray features a commentary with director Steve Carver (Lone Wolf McQuade).

When Norris’ partner is brutally murdered, he quits the force and goes beyond the law to seek vengeance against the ones responsible. The film also stars Christopher Lee (The Man with the Golden Gun), Richard Roundtree (Shaft), Mako (The Big Brawl) and Mel Novak (Game of Death). Watch the trailer.

Pre-order An Eye for an Eye from Amazon.com today!

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

‘Evangelion’ director takes on Toho’s ‘Godzilla’ movie

"Godzilla" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Godzilla" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Japan’s Toho Company is planning its own Japanese production of a new Godzilla film, which will obviously take place in a separate universe from Legendary’s U.S.-made 2014 film, which was directed by Gareth Edwards.

There are no details on whether the new Japanese movie will be a reboot, remake or sequel; they’re even deciding on whether to go CGI or the traditional man-in-suit route for the creature.

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… The screenplay is currently in development and we plan to start shooting next summer. We cannot announce cast or staff selections at this time. And we’re still deliberating whether to bring Godzilla to life via CGI or man-in-suit,” said Ueda. “This resurrection will be the centerpiece for ’16, and this is the force of our words.”

We’ll keep you updated on the 2016 Japanese film as we hear more. In the meantime, Edwards’ sequel is still being planned for 2018. Stay tuned!

Updates: According to sources, Anno Hideaki (Evangelion) will be writing and directing the Toho’s new Godzilla film. Click here to view a teaser image from the upcoming movie.

Posted in News | 2 Comments

Hero and the Terror | Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

Hero and the Terror | Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

Hero and the Terror | Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

RELEASE DATE: June 16, 2015

Kino Lobber presents the Blu-ray for 1988′s Hero and the Terror, directed by William Tannen (Flashpoint) and starring Chuck Norris (Slaughter in San Francisco), Brynn Thayer, Steve James (American Ninja) and Jack O’Halloran.

A notorious killer is back to terrorize Los Angeles, and only one man can stop him. Martial arts superstar Chuck Norris packs a powerful punch in this “exciting” (Variety) action-thriller about a tough L.A. cop’s pursuit of a savage villain from his past. Watch the trailer.

Pre-order Hero and the Terror from Amazon.com today!

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

I Know Kung Fu: The Second Golden Era of Collecting Kung Fu

By Paul Bramhall

Many kung fu movie fans who have been around since the genre’s beginnings would arguably call the 70’s and 80’s the golden era. It was a time when the movies could be experienced first hand as they were released – whether it be going to check out Five Fingers of Death at a grindhouse movie theater on 42nd Street in New York, or heading down to the local video rental store to find the latest Cannon Films ninja movie – it was a good time to be alive.

Yuen Woo Ping. Say his name.

Yuen Woo Ping. Say his name.

Then you have people like me, a product of the 80’s (all be it the very early 80’s). By the time I was born Bruce Lee had passed away close to a whole decade earlier, while I was still a twinkle in my parents eyes Jackie Chan was having his ass handed to him by Hwang In-sik, and while I was incapable of doing little more than gargling incoherently Sammo Hung was directing classics like The Prodigal Son.

Some would probably say I missed out on the real deal. But for me, I would argue that for fans of Asian cinema, we actually had a second golden era. It shone briefly and brightly, spanning roughly from 1999 – 2006, however it was the era responsible for getting me into the genre, and one which I dedicate this article to.

Back in ’99 I was a young and impressionable 17 year old who had just started his first full time job. I’d spent most of my teen years spending whatever money I made on VHS tapes of classic Hollywood movies from the likes of Martin Scorsese or Stanley Kubrick. However on one fine day I found myself with one of my co-workers going to check out a movie called The Matrix at the local cinema in Liverpool.

The Digital Video Disc revolution begins...

The Digital Video Disc revolution begins...

Skip forward a couple of hours later, and we both left the cinema with our jaws dragging on the floor behind us. It was possible to dodge bullets, Keanu Reeves was a kung fu master, there was no spoon, and we both decided we had to find out who on earth this guy called Yuen Woo Ping was. In one of those wonderful moments when all of the planets align, in the very same year DVD’s had just hit the market, and it had been written in the scriptures long before that the purchase which would pop my first pay packet cherry was to be a DVD player, everything else could wait.

The scriptures played out accordingly, and as it happened one of the first DVD labels to get space in UK stores like Virgin Megastore and HMV was a new distributor called Hong Kong Legends. Their first couple of releases featured a guy whose name I was vaguely familiar with (mainly because Sandra Bullock mentions him in Demolition Man) – Jackie Chan – and went by the names of Snake in the Eagles Shadow and Drunken Master. For someone who up until that point had very little exposure to Asian cinema, these two movies had the coolest titles ever, but it got better – on the back of the DVD cases it explained that they were directed by none other than Yuen Woo Ping. That guy!

1999 Flashback! Special DVD deals from that year.

1999 Flashback! Special DVD deals from that year.

And so began my love affair with Asian cinema, and while I wasn’t lucky enough to be around to check out the movies of the first golden era, I was there for the beginning of the next generation’s kung fu boom. Soon Asian cinema seemed to be more popular than ever before – less than a year after The Matrix a movie called Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon hit the screens, again with that guy Yuen Woo Ping. Suddenly Hollywood seemed awash with Hong Kong actors and directors – Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Chow Yun Fat, John Woo, Ring Lam, Tsui Hark, Corey Yuen – thanks to the 1997 handover of Hong Kong back to China, all of these guys had crossed the pond to make movies in Hollywood and I hadn’t even noticed.

The sudden early 2000’s interest in Asian style action and its timing with the release of the DVD format was one of the great pairings of the 20th Century. It may seem difficult to believe now, but for the longest time large media retails stores like HMV had dedicated DVD sections for Martial Arts, Asian Cinema, and World Cinema! Compared to now, when all three have been lumped under World Cinema, it was like living in a different era. During my lunch break from work I could usually be found eagerly browsing the Martial Arts sections waiting for a title to catch my eye, and back in those days, you were spoilt for choice.

Companies from around the world had "Eastern Heroes" for sale.

Companies from around the world had "Eastern Heroes" for sale.

While Hong Kong Legends quickly established itself as the premiere label, there was a whole heap of other distributors all specializing in kung fu movies to choose from – Eastern Heroes, Soulblade, Vengeance Video, Optimum Asia, 55th Chamber, Hong Kong Connection, Wu Tang Classics, Moon Stone, and several more. The bigger labels like Hong Kong Legends and Eastern Heroes took full advantage of the DVD format, meaning often you could choose if you wanted to watch the movie in its original language or the English dubbed version, you could have subtitles or no subtitles, often there’d be interviews with the stars, and of course a certain Bey Logan quickly became known for his highly informative commentaries.

While watching the Hong Kong guys latest Hollywood efforts, at the same time I found myself going further back into their filmography and watching the movies that made them famous in the first place. Unsurprisingly, soon I found myself realizing that the Hollywood action movies that these guys were in sucked. Or more specifically, their older movies were just so amazing, it would be difficult to believe they could ever be topped. Imagine watching Rush Hour one day then viewing Police Story the next, sitting through The Replacement Killers then putting in the DVD of Hard Boiled, enduring Romeo Must Die then witnessing Shaolin Temple. Thanks to DVD, this is exactly what happened to me.

At the same time I found myself devouring several books that were still very much readily available around the start of the Millennium – Hong Kong Action Cinema by Bey Logan, The Essential Guide to Hong Kong Movies by Rick Baker and Toby Russell, Sex and Zen and a Bullet in the Head by Wikins Hammond and Mike Wilkins, Hong Kong Babylon by Fredric Dannen, Hong Kong’s Heroic Bloodshed Pocket Essentials by Martin Fitzgerald, Jackie Chan Pocket Essentials by Michelle Le Blanc and Colin Odell, Mondo Macabro – Weird and Wonderful Cinema Around the World by Pete Tombs, The Essential Guide to the Best of Eastern Heroes, and The Essential Guide to Deadly China Dolls.

Some of Paul Bramhall's essential reading material.

I still own these books to this day, and to a large degree the contents within their pages dictated what I’d be watching for the next decade. Despite the large amount of kung fu available on UK retailers shelves, there were some titles that simply weren’t released on British shores, which led me into the world of online kung fu shopping. Little did I know that 10 years later online would pretty much be the only viable resource for getting my kung fu fix. Soon I was introduced to the world of online retailers such as HKflix and pokerindustries, both of which sadly no longer exist, but they served their purpose of exploding the world of kung fu collecting open to me. Up until that point I had no idea that across the pond in the US, they also had a whole variety of DVD labels specializing in kung fu movies as well!

There was a problem though – while it’s common knowledge now, back in 2000 the multi-region issue was still very much a hot topic. While the UK was Region 2, the US was Region 1, with most of Asia being Region 3. So technically if you bought a DVD form the US or Hong Kong, you wouldn’t be able to play it in the UK. The original reason behind region coding was to control the release dates of movies. If a movie was released on the cinema in the UK six months after it was shown in the US, the studios didn’t want to lose out by people in the UK being able to buy the US DVD, which in all likelihood would be released before it even hit UK cinema screens.

However it was soon revealed that many DVD players could be ‘hacked’ to play DVD’s no matter what the region, often by keying in a secret code on the remote control that the manufacturers had hidden away, then mysteriously had leaked to the online community. Skip forward to present day, and having a multi-region DVD player is all but a prerequisite to being a kung fu movie fan. To restrict yourself to only being able to buy DVD’s from one region would be like buying a whole pizza, then only having one slice of it. I still remember my first multi-region player, it was by today’s standards a monolithic looking black Samsung, and it did the job perfectly.

All good things do come to an end.

All good things do come to an end.

Suddenly for every Eastern Heroes there was a Ground Zero, for every Vengeance Video there was a Crash Cinema, for every Soulblade there was a Tai Seng, and of course, then there were the bootleg labels like Red Sun and Bonzai Media. However in 2002 news came that would bring smiles to both UK and US shores. Back then I’d often buy DVD’s from a site called cdwow, which had its own martial arts section, and one day a new title popped up for purchase called Heroes Two. Just based on the fact that it had a cool looking cover I purchased it, and as it would turn out, it would be my first Shaw Brothers movie, directed by none other than Chang Cheh, the Godfather of the Kung fu film which I had read so much about in the likes of ‘Hong Kong Action Cinema’ and ‘Mondo Macabro’.

I had inadvertently purchased my first Celestial IVL Shaw Brothers DVD, the first in what would ultimately become a collection coming close to 200. Up until that point I’d read a lot about the Shaw Brothers studio, both in books and online, but due to their poor DVD availability, I’d never actually seen one. All that changed in 2002, when a distributor called Celestial purchased the rights for the Shaw Brothers catalogue, and for the next 5 years consistently released wave after wave of remastered original language Shaw Brothers goodness. To give some idea of their output, to this day I still haven’t had a chance to watch every movie that I purchased from the Shaw Brothers catalogue.

The Shaw Brothers DVD’s weren’t the only Hong Kong releases that caught my interest though, as I’d soon discover that there was an almost countless number of kung fu movies which were available only on Hong Kong DVD. My collection started to fill up with DVD’s from distributors like Mei-Ah, Universe, and Deltamac. These DVD’s, often not blessed with the best picture quality and coming with subtitles that were usually a grammatical disaster, were perfect for finding the titles not considered worthy of being given a western release. Mr. Vampire may have gotten the deluxe treatment from Hong Kong Legends, but I bought the Deltamac versions of all of its sequels.

Pure and uncut. There's no other way.

Pure and uncut. There's no other way.

Not only that, sometimes the Hong Kong (or even Taiwanese) DVD release was the only was to see the movie uncut. The Deltamac version of the Jackie Chan movie Police Story 3: Supercop is the only uncut version out there, the same goes for the Thakral versions of Drunken Master 2 and Fist of Legend. Then you have the Funny DVD (best name for a distributor ever?) releases of Jackie Chan movies like Who Am I?, Rumble in the Bronx, and First Strike, which would have the English dubbed version on 1 side, and the longer Chinese version of the other. Hunting down the best DVD of the movie quickly became as much fun as actually watching it.

Things seemed to be as good as they could get, and they remained that way for the next few years. There was a never ending variety of kung fu DVD’s to collect, which is why I consider that it really was the second golden era. Then, in 2006, the first hints of trouble in paradise started to show through. The Hong Kong Legends label lost both Bey Logan and Brian White, two guys who had a passion for kung fu and knew how to turn it into a viable DVD business. As soon as they left the new owners Contender seemed at a loss as to what to do with the label, so simply chose to release a slew of shoddy Jackie Chan titles in the now long forgotten ‘Ultrabit’ format, along with any other unreleased titles that were laying around. One industry report stated that the last of the Hong Kong Legends releases barely shifted triple figures, and by 2007 the label had essentially closed shop.

Similarly, around the same time Celestial were reporting that their most recent DVD’s also weren’t shifting as many units as they’d anticipated, and their releases slowed down to a trickle. By the beginning of 2007, it seems that the golden era had come to a close, the smaller labels had disappeared all together, the martial arts sections on the high street stores had gone the way of the dinosaur, and the Future Release section that many online retailers had for Martial Arts DVD’s suddenly started returning No Results. For a period of around 8 years things had been great, and no doubt during this time many people were turned onto the genre, weather it be guys like me who got in from the start of it, or those that jumped onboard somewhere along the way, exposure is everything.

Image courtesy of Nectarsis/shaolinchamber36.

Image courtesy of Nectarsis/shaolinchamber36.

By 2010 the titles that I picked up for $10 – $20 were now showing up on the likes of amazon and ebay sporting prices ranging from $50 to, in some insane cases, $250. With no distributors to re-press the DVD’s, titles started becoming out of print like nobody’s business. In many cases even a movie with shoddy picture and sound quality, with nothing but the English dub, would become a collectors item purely by default as it was the only version out there. The kung fu movie was no longer accessible to the average joe on the street, and once again became limited to being the passion of the niche market it had attracted while the going was good.

As of the time of writing, I can now say it’s a genre I’ve been into for 15 years, which means that, apart from the fact that I’m getting old (although not as old as those guys who’ve been into it since the 70’s!), I’ve at least built up enough knowledge to believe I know what I’m talking about when it comes to kung fu movies. Some would say it’s the only thing that I know what I’m talking about. Thankfully, things aren’t quite as grim as they were in the latter 2000’s, movies like The Raid have once again crossed into mainstream culture, exposing audiences to some brutal martial arts action who normally wouldn’t check it out. Characters like Ip Man and Wong Fei Hung have also stirred audiences feelings for the martial arts heroes of old, renewing interest where previously it had faded away.

Author, Paul Bramhall, hosting the premiere of the Kim Tai-jung classic "Miss, Please Be Patient" in Sydney's Korean Cultural Office.

Author, Paul Bramhall, hosting the premiere of the Kim Tai-jung classic "Miss, Please Be Patient" in Sydney's Korean Cultural Office.

This resurgence of interest in a healthy dose of fist and feet action will hopefully once again spill over into the world of DVD collecting. The Terracotta Distribution label in the UK has already jumped into the deep end with the first title of their Classic Kung Fu Collection, Hero of Shaolin, and distributors stateside have also been doing their part with labels like Shout! Factory releasing awesome sets featuring the likes of Angela Mao and Jimmy Wang Yu.

So, all in all, the future of the kung fu movie collector is looking brighter than it has in a long time, and if The Raid has done for some people what The Matrix did for me way back in 1999, then hopefully the number of those collectors will only continue to grow, and we can once again be spoilt for choice on what we’re going to buy next.

Don’t miss our related post, “Evolution of Collecting Kung Fu & Asian Film,” which is essentially the prequel to this article! Special thanks to Kung Fu Bob, Nectarsis, Shaolin Shamber 36 as well as another unnamed individual for the images.

Posted in Features, News | 11 Comments

Deal on Fire! The Raid 2: Berandal | Blu-ray | Only $9.99 – 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 Amazon.com today!

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

1st teaser for AMC’s ‘Into the Badlands’ starring Daniel Wu!

"Purple Storm" Japanese DVD Cover

"Purple Storm" Japanese DVD Cover

Hong Kong film star Daniel Wu (Purple Storm) is set to play the lead in AMC’s upcoming martial arts series, Into the Badlands. According to Variety, the series is based on the classic Chinese tale Journey to the West, which follows a ruthless warrior (Wu) and a young boy who take a dangerous journey together to find enlightenment.

Into the Badlands also stars Emily Beecham (28 Weeks Later), Sarah Bolger (The Tudors) and Oliver Stark (My Hero). Wu’s long time friend and partner, Stephen Fung (Tai Chi Hero), is serving as executive producer. The series – created by Al Gough and Miles Millar (Shanghai Noon) – will be directed by David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers).

Into the Badlands is currently in production with an expected premiere this fall. We’ll keep you posted, so stay tuned!

Updates: Watch the 1st teaser trailer for Into the Badlands.

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Great Action Needs a Great Warm Up

"Skyfall" Unofficial Japanese Poster

"Skyfall" Unofficial Japanese Poster

Action, action, action. Good movies and great movies alike share one unmistakable ingredient, it’s all about the action.

Of course action comes in different guises, sometimes it’s hand-to-hand fighting, sometimes there are weapons involved and sometimes there are cars and planes. But in the best of cases the drama of a good fight scene manages to wrap itself into the plot of a movie in a way that takes it above the level of just another set of neat moves and clever edits. And more than that, the action needs to be set up in just the right way. There needs to be a growing sense of anticipation. There needs to be a sense of danger to fuel the drama.

The best scenes are often those where there is already a heightened sense of trouble brewing. Fights that take place alongside, or in connection with, high stakes gambling always get a tick in our box just because there is a heightened sense of risk that goes with it. It is all part of the ratcheting up of the tension that makes the fight such a visceral viewing experience.

In no particular order, here are the four that we would put at the top of our list. If you want to test your own knowledge, check out this casino movie quiz.

Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels: The premise is simple, the good guys are pretty bad, but they’re not as bad as the full-time card sharks and drug dealers who they try to get the better of. If you want to get the idea of how something as seemingly mild as a game of cards can send the stakes spiralling out of control, there aren’t many better examples than Guy Ritchie’s 1998 mini-classic.

Skyfall: It was always odds on that James Bond would be on this list somewhere, but the build up to the fight scene in Skyfall is deliciously underplayed. Daniel Craig is the first Bond that you can really take seriously when it comes to the moving and shaking in a shakedown. Even Shaun Connery was a bit doubtful. But the growing menace in the lead up to this particular sequence – not to mention the fight itself – are well worth a second look.

Casino: Strictly speaking this isn’t a fight scene, but it fits in here perfectly because of the way it illustrates precisely what we’re saying about the set up to a violent scene. The way Martin Scorsese’s stellar cast mix formal politeness and an insistence on good manners with how they lay that insistence down is pure cinema gold.

Run Lola RunRun Lola Run is a non-stop gallop of a film, but all the racing around that’s involved only gets the lift it needs because of the way it is teed up in scenes like this. Everyone likes a good scrap, but the warm up is every bit as important.

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Day of Anger | aka Gunlaw (1967) Review

"Day of Anger" Blu-ray Cover

"Day of Anger" Blu-ray Cover

Director: Tonino Valerii
Writer: Ernesto Gastaldi, Renzo Genta, Tonino Valerii
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Giuliano Gemma, Walter Rilla, Christa Linder, Yvonne Sanson, Lukas Ammann, Andrea Bosi, Al Mulock, Giorgio Gargiullo, José Calvo, HansasOtto Alberty Anna Orso, Benito Stefanelli, Nino Nini, Franco Balducci, Virgilio Gazzolo, Eleonora Morana
Running Time: 95 min.

By Kyle Warner

Sergio Leone’s westerns made a star out of Clint Eastwood, who was mostly thought of as a TV actor up until that time. And though it pales to the significance of Eastwood’s newfound stardom, the Leone ‘spaghetti westerns’ also revived the flagging career of actor Lee Van Cleef. After the success of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Van Cleef stayed in Italy and became one of the major stars of spaghetti westerns throughout the 60s and 70s. One of the finest westerns he made during that period was the 1967 film Day of Anger (aka Day of Wrath, aka Gunlaw).

Scott Mary (Giuliano Gemma) is the street cleaner in the small but prosperous town of Clifton. Scott’s a bastard that never knew his mother or father. His only friend in the world is the old man that runs the stables and imparts life lessons on how to be a good man. To the rest of the town, Scott’s the lowest of the low, and they bully him mercilessly. All of that changes when an aging gunfighter named Talby (Lee Van Cleef) rides into town. Talby seems to like the boy, or at least he treats him with more respect than Scott is surely used to, so Scott makes it his mission to become the gunfighter’s apprentice.

The film is interesting because it’s more than just a shoot ‘em up western, it’s also something of a morality play. Talby teaches Scott lessons that counter much of what the young man had learned from his first mentor – Talby teaches Scott how to be a killer. Talby’s plan involves taking over the town of Clifton through extortion and violence and Scott is entrusted to be his right-hand-man. The townspeople see the young man changing and they don’t like it, but why should he listen to them? Before Scott had been a man that was only suited for handling other people’s trash and waste, whereas now he has power over much of the town. At one point a resident says to Talby that he’s turned Scott into a rabid wolf. Talby replies, “He was always a wolf. You’re the ones that made him rabid.” Day of Anger is a tale of corruption as Talby – who also represents the long absent father figure – turns a harmless innocent into something violent and vengeful.

Much has been made about the fact that Day of Anger’s director Tonino Valerii (My Name is Nobody) started out as the assistant director to Sergio Leone. After working for Leone, Valerii went onto direct more than a dozen films, but never quite managed to escape his mentor’s shadow. You can see a bit of Leone’s influence on Valerii’s work: many of the scenes and characters have similarities to those you might see in a Leone film. However, stylistically they’re very different directors. Don’t go into Day of Anger expecting those signature shots that Leone’s famous for.

Day of Anger shows Valerii to be a great storyteller, but his visuals are not very impressive. The sets look too new, like they were just constructed and painted yesterday. One set – which, in all fairness, actually is constructed in the middle of the story so its newness is not an issue – is a saloon that Talby builds in Clifton, complete with giant wooden pistols acting as columns outside the front entrance. The saloon looks more like something you’d see in a modern day Wild West show or perhaps a tacky Texas-themed restaurant. It’s all a bit much. On another note, one of the film’s biggest shootouts has Lee Van Cleef and another gunman ride towards each other on horseback with single-shot rifles like they’re in some kind of a gunslinger jousting match. It’s exciting but I think it’s poorly shot because there’s very little done to establish setting and placement between the two actors. At one point the editing would make them seem within spitting distance of each other, and the next moment they’re riding towards each other and must be hundreds of feet apart.

I think the film’s strongest asset is the screenplay co-written by Valerii and Ernesto Gastaldi. It’s a script full of drama and good, quotable dialogue. Talby probably has to rank among Lee Van Cleef’s most complex characters. He begins the film as a hero and ends it as a villain. The character doesn’t change at all, but our understanding of the character changes, and I really liked that.

Day of Anger was released in two versions, the original 114 minute version and a shortened 95 minute version for international audiences. Both cuts, as well as Italian and English audio, are present on the new Blu-ray from Arrow Video. Interestingly, the shorter version includes an additional scene that doesn’t appear in the longer cut. This deleted scene is also included separately on the special features so you don’t need to go digging through the truncated version of the film in search of it. After receiving a new restoration, Day of Anger looks magnificent on Blu-ray. Fans that’ve only seen it on DVD before are in for a treat. Additional special features include an archival interview with director Valerii and new interviews with screenwriter Gastaldi and Valerii biographer Roberto Curti. My favorite feature is the interview with Gastaldi, who’s very energetic and tells amusing stories about Valerii and Sergio Leone.

Spaghetti westerns gave us a lot of classic films… and also a lot of stinkers. I think Day of Anger is one of the better examples of the genre that I have seen. It might fall a bit short of the classic status held by the Leone spaghetti westerns, but it’s a highly enjoyable film worth rediscovering. Fans of Lee Van Cleef’s westerns should definitely check it out, as it features one of the best roles of his career.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 7.5/10

Posted in Cults & Classics, Italian, News, Reviews | Tagged | 1 Comment

New trailer for Takeshi Kitano’s new Yakuza comedy!

"Ryuzo and His Seven Henchmen" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Ryuzo and His Seven Henchmen" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Following 2010′s Outrage and its 2012 sequel, Outrage Beyond, Takeshi Kitano is back for another round of Yakuza action. Only this time, it’s a comedy called Ryuzo and His Seven Henchmen, which is a playful nod to Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

According to FBA, the film is about a retired crime boss (Tatsuya Fuji) who calls up his old gang after he becomes the victim of a scam. The film also stars Masaomi Kondo, Akira Nakao, Akira Onodera, Toru Shinagawa, Ben Hiura, Yoshizumi Ito and Ken Yoshizawa.

Kitano wrote, directed and edited the film. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a solid role, but he does have a cameo appearance. Ryuzo and His Seven Henchmen opens domestically on April 25th, 2015. Don’t miss the trailer.

Update: Watch the 2nd trailer (via Sam the Man).

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‘Young Guns’ director to make kung fu film ‘Legion of One’

"Young Guns" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Young Guns" Japanese Theatrical Poster

According to SD, director Christopher Cain (Young Guns, The Next Karate Kid) will be directing Legion of One, a martial arts action film that tells the story about an orphan raised in the Shaolin Temple.

The US-China co-production will be executive produced by Jerry Weintraub (producer of the original Karate Kid trilogy, the 2010 remake starring Jackie Chan and the Ocean’s Eleven trilogy).

As of right now, there are no stars attached. Filming will most-likely commence once Gain completes his latest action-thriller, Terra Infirma.

Stay tuned for more updates!

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Cityonfire.com’s ‘Killers’ Blu-ray Giveaway! – WINNERS ANNOUNCED!

Killers | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Killers | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Cityonfire.com and Well Go USA are giving away 3 Blu-ray copies of The Mo Brothers’ Killers to three lucky Cityonfire visitors. To enter, simply add a comment to this post and describe, in your own words, this music 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 cityonfire.com’s Facebook by clicking here.

The Blu-ray & DVD for Killers will be officially released on April 7, 2015. We will announce the 3 winners on April 6, 2015 and ship out the prizes immediately.

CONTEST DISCLAIMER: You must enter by April 6, 2015 to qualify. U.S. residents only please. We sincerely apologize to our non-U.S. visitors. Winners must respond with their mailing address within 48 hours, otherwise you will automatically be disqualified. No exceptions. Contest is subject to change without notice.

WINNNERS: Congratulations to Rhonda F, OpiumKungFu and Kevin L. You have all been notified via email!

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Hugh Jackman to play Wolverine just one last time?‏

"The Wolverine" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"The Wolverine" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Just recently, Donnie Yen announced that Ip Man 3 may be the last action movie of his career. Now, we have word that Hugh Jackman is doing something similar, albeit far less drastic: Jackman has posted a picture on Instagram with the caption “WOLVERINE …ONE LAST TIME. HJ”.

Does it mean that the upcoming sequel to The Wolverine spinoff will be the last time for the actor to reprise his signature role? We will certainly keep you updated when more news become available!

In the mean time, please feel free to comment on how you interpret the picture and caption, and also tell us which is your favorite film in which Jackman has played Wolverine!

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Three time’s the crime for the Johnnie To-produced ‘Trivisa’

"Breaking News" French Theatrical Poster

"Breaking News" French Theatrical Poster

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

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

We’ll keep you updated about Trivisa as we hear more. Stay tuned!

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Will Johnnie To explore eastern gangs with ‘The Old Guy’?

"The Old Guy" Promotional Poster

"The Old Guy" Promotional Poster

Another title announced at the 2015 Hong Kong International Film Festival is The Old Guy, an action film directed by Johnnie To (Fulltime Killer). So far, not much is known about it, but judging from the film’s poster, we’re thinking it’s in the “gangster” category for sure.

In fact, the preliminary poster design for The Old Guy generated some controversy when it was discovered that the concept art was a direct rip-off of David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises (click here to see them side-by-side). According to HK Top 10, InLook, the film company responsible for the poster, had this to say: “This isn’t the film poster, only a concept design.”

In the meantime, To – who had nothing to do with the poster – is currently hard at work on the crime-thriller Three on the Road and the in-progress Eight & A Half, an eight-part anthology feature that he will direct alongside Tsui Hark, John Woo, Ringo Lam, Anne Hui, Sammo Hung, Yuen Woo-ping and Patrick Tam. To’s latest complete project, a musical titled Design for Living, will be making its theatrical debut sometime this year.

BREAKING NEWS: According to sources (via Sam the man), the Chinese media are reporting that Johnnie To has denied that he has anything to do with The Old Guy.

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Yoshihiro Nishimura is back with ‘Ninja War of Torakage’

"The Ninja War of Torakage" Theatrical Poster

"The Ninja War of Torakage" Theatrical Poster

The trailer for Yoshihiro Nishimura’s latest film, The Ninja War of Torakage, has just been released. The director behind such cult films as Tokyo Gore Police and Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl is at the helm and also co-writes the script for this film.

Synopsis (via AsianWiki): Set in the Sengoku Period, Torakage (Takumi Saito) is retired ninja. He lives his life peacefully, but turmoil comes as he becomes involved a fight over treasures.

The Ninja War of Torakage stars Yuria Haga, Tatsuki Ishikawa, Ryohei Kuroyanagi and Eihi Shiina (Audition and Tokyo Gore Police)

The film is due for release in Japan in June 2015.

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This new trailer with Lau Ching Wan is full of ‘Insanity’

"Insanity" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Insanity" Chinese Theatrical Poster

A hot new trailer for Insanity, a psychological thriller by first time director David Lee, has hit the web. The upcoming film stars Huang Xiaoming (The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom) as a hotshot psychiatrist who goes head-to-head with a witty psychopath, played by Lau Ching Wan (Too Many Ways to Be Number One).

Insanity also stars Fiona Sit (Girls), Paw Hee Ching (Special ID), Alex Fong (Kung Fu Jungle), Michelle Ye, Michelle Wai and is produced by Hong Kong film auteur, Derek Yee (Shinjuku Incident).

Insanity has a domestic release date set in April 2015. Until then, catch the newest trailer (via Sam the Man).

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