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 | 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!

Posted in News | Tagged | 24 Comments

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!

Posted in News | 1 Comment

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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Watch Tony Jaa vs Paul Walker in ‘Furious 7′

"Furious 7" International Theatrical Poster

"Furious 7" International Theatrical Poster

THE MOVIE: Director Justin Lin is stepping down from his post for now and is passing the baton to Saw and Insidious filmmaker James Wan, who will supposedly put a “gritty, ’70s revenge thriller” vibe on the next installment. Here’s an official plot tidbit: After Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew helped take down Owen Shaw, his brother Ian Shaw (Jason Statham) now wants revenge. Furious 7 (aka Fast and Furious 7) has a new release date set for April 3, 2015

In addition to Vin Diesel and Jason Statham, Furious 7 stars Dwayne Johnson, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Lucas Black, Kurt Russell, Tony Jaa and Djimon Hounsou.

Updates: In honor of Paul Walker, Universal will donate some of the proceeds from the upcoming Fast & Furious 6 Blu-ray & DVD release to Walker’s charity Reach Out WorldWide. As far as the future of Furious 7, there has been some talk about scrapping the current storyline and moving the plot into a completely new direction.

THR reports that Chris Morgan, Furious 7′s screenwriter, is revising the script that could make use of scenes that were shot before Walker’s death. If the plan works, production may resume by late January. | THR (via Collider) reports that Walker’s character Brian O’Conner will not be killed off in Furious 7, but will instead be retired “in a way that the studio hopes will satisfy fans of the franchise and make use of the exciting footage of Walker.”

According to an official statement from F7′s Facebook page, Paul Walker’s real life brothers will step in as doubles for the late actor; there are several reports that Cody Walker (one of Walker’s real brothers) may be joining future installments of Fast and Furious as Brian O’Connor’s (Paul Walker) younger brother. | First trailer for Furious 7 is now available watch! | Big Game trailer. | Latest trailer and poster! | Extended clip, plus a new poster. | Korean trailer!

BREAKING NEWS: A fight clip featuring Tony Jaa vs.Paul Walker!

Cityonfire.com is hoping you can take a minute to check out www.FrankandBeanz.com, a doggie apparel website that has just released their Fast & the Furrious clothing line. Part of the proceeds will be donated to Paul Walker’s charity, Reach Out World Wide (ROWW).

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Hard-hitting trailer arrives for Jake Gyllenhaal’s ‘Southpaw’

"Southpaw" Theatrical Poster

"Southpaw" Theatrical Poster

The first trailer has arrived for Jake Gyllenhaal’s new film Southpaw. This time, the fine actor teams up with director Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer) and co-stars Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Rita Ora and 50 Cent to bring us what looks to be a hard hitting and emotionally intense boxing drama.

Synopsis: Billy “The Great” Hope (Gyllenhaal) is the reigning Junior Middleweight Champion whose unorthodox stance, the so-called “Southpaw,” consists of an ineloquent, though brutal, display of offensive fighting… one fueled by his own feelings of inadequacy and a desperate need for love, money and fame. With a beautiful family, home and financial security, Billy is on top until a tragic accident leaves his wife dead and sends him into a downward spiral.

The film, due to open in theaters on July 31, features music by Eminem and the trailer has premiered on his music channel on YouTube.

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Danny Glover finds a new ‘Lethal Weapon’ in ‘Ninja: Immovable Heart’

Ninja: Immovable Heart | DVD (Uncork'd Entertainment)

Ninja: Immovable Heart | DVD (Uncork'd Entertainment)

A ninja flick with Mad Max’s V8 Interceptor? You heard that right. Uncork’d Entertainment presents the DVD for the 2014 Australian martial arts flick Ninja: Immovable Heart, directed by and starring Rob Baard with Roger Neave and Danny Glover.

An “authentic” ninjutsu film cloaked in the cape of a superhero blockbuster, The Ninja : Immovable Heart brings together veteran action movie star Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon, Predator 2) and rising martial-arts star Rob Baard for a high-flying action-adventure that’s part Dark Knight, part Bourne Identity.

Reeve (Baard) is a member of an elite covert group who is captured, beaten and brutally tortured by the very government he used to work for. With the help of his old mentor John Carpenter (Neave), Reeve must strip away, and rid himself of the emerging demons of his past, so that he may understand the core essence of Ninjutsu.

The Ninja : Immovable Heart is part of a larger franchise that will soon include comics, a clothing line, and a TV series spin-off. The film hits DVD and Digital on March 3rd from Uncork’d Entertainment! Until then, don’t miss the film’s trailer!

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Banquet, The | aka Legend of the Black Scorpion (2006) Review

"The Banquet" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"The Banquet" Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: The Night Banquet
Director: Feng Xiaogang
Writer: Feng Xiaogang, Sheng Ke Yu
Producer: John Chong, Wang Zhongjun
Cast: Zhang Ziyi, Ge You, Daniel Wu Yin Cho, Zhou Xun, Huang Xiao Ming, Ma Jing Wu, Chun Hoi Liu, Fan Wei, Li Li
Running Time: 131 min.

By HKFanatic

Sometimes a film is less than the sum of its parts. The Legend of the Black Scorpion is a lavishly produced, visually sumptuous period film that brings the story of Hamlet to the Ten Kingdoms era of Chinese history. In front of the camera is an attractive cast including Zhang Ziyi, Daniel Wu, and Zhou Xun (Painted Skin remake). The film was directed by Feng Xiaogang (A World Without Thieves) and features action choreography by Yuen Woo-Ping, a living legend who needs no introduction. Yet somehow, this movie left me completely cold.

There’s no denying Hamlet is a difficult story to translate to film. Any screenwriting class will tell you that your protagonist needs to be dynamic – to make choices, react to events, and have an external as well as an internal conflict. The character of Hamlet is all about brooding, pacing, and internal conflict. He spends most of the story paralyzed with indecision. Shakespeare made it work but how do you do that in a 2 hour movie without it seeming, well, boring?

Daniel Wu is a talented actor but I’m not sure he takes well to the part of Hamlet. He spends most of the film looking teary-eyed and stricken with sorrow. Yet he doesn’t do much about it, as per the source text. It probably doesn’t help that that the costume department made his hair is taller than he is. There’s even a silly-looking scene where Zhou Xun combs his long locks for him while his hair is draped in a bubbling pond (I’d like to see one of those installed at my local salon).

Zhang Ziyi is the femme fatale. She’s very good at this kind of wrathful role but I can’t say her character is very likable. She’s manipulative and knows how to use sex as a weapon. Speaking of sex, this film is a bit more risque than I was expecting for what I assume is a Category II film. There’s a lot of caressing and moaning, people ripping their clothes, the King inquiring as to how well Zhang Ziyi’s previous husband – his brother! – satisfied her in bed. I’m not saying this is full on Sex and Zen territory but it comes closer than any other wuxia-style film I’ve seen.

It’s one thing for the story to be glacially-paced but the action suffers too. A bloody opening featuring plenty of severed limbs and decapitated heads builds up false excitement for the rest of the film. I almost wonder if Yuen Woo-Ping had too much creative control here: the fight scenes are so reliant on wires and slow motion that they feel more ballet than combat. Maybe it’s to cover for the fact that Daniel Wu isn’t a martial artist. But the “fights” are way too fluid and pretty. I want to see somebody actually throw a punch – not Swan Lake!

The Legend of Black Scorpion was Hong Kong’s 2006 submission for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards. China submitted The Curse of the Golden Flower. Despite their similar Western-ized titles and Shakespearen ambitions, the films couldn’t be farther apart. Curse featured sumptuous drama, a bravado performance from Gong Li, and fantastic fight scenes. In comparison, The Banquet is ornate and removed, like a pristine Chinese vase the viewer is only allowed to admire behind glass. The movie never pulls you in.

By HKFanatic’s Rating: 5/10

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Bolo and Cary Tagawa have ‘The Whole World at Our Feet’

"The Whole World at Our Feet" Kazakhstan Poster

"The Whole World at Our Feet" Kazakhstan Poster

Get ready for Salamat Mukhammed-Ali’s The Whole World at Our Feet, a Kazakhstan-produced action film that features a mixture of stars you would never expect in the same movie: Bolo Yeung (Bloodsport), Don “The Dragon” Wilson (Bloodfist), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat), Armand Assante (Judge Dredd), Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister (Jackie Brown), Micheal Madsen (Reservoir Dogs) and Peter O’Toole (Lawrence of Arabia).

Not much is known of the plot, but judging from its 1st trailer, it looks like a whole lotta fun with its Mad Max/Machete-style approach. Filming wrapped back in 2011 and a worldwide release is expected soon.

Updates: Watch the film’s latest trailer!

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Wong Jing’s 100th film to be the action-packed ‘Invincible 12′

"City Hunter" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"City Hunter" Japanese Theatrical Poster

One of the most exciting titles announced at the recent Hong Kong Filmart is Wong Jing’s 100th film as a director, titled The Invincible 12.

The veteran filmmaker directed his first film, Challenge of the Gamesters, in 1981. Since then, he has gone on to write, direct and produce a huge number of films, including some very commercially successful ones such as God of Gamblers, Royal Tramp and City Hunter.

To celebrate his 100th film as a director, Wong is going to make The Invincible 12, which he is planning to include a cast of 12 leading men whom he worked with previously. The actors he is considering include Chow Yun Fat, Jackie Chan, Andy Lau, Huang Xiao Ming, Louis Koo, Nick Cheung, Ekin Cheng, Daniel Wu, Shawn Yue, Nicholas Tse and Tony Leung Ka Fai.

Wong states that the film will be action-packed, full of pretty girls and a lot of fun for the audience. He is currently writing the script for the HK$ 300 million film, and filming will start in June 2016.

Posted in News | 1 Comment

Mark of the Devil (1970) Review

"Mark of the Devil" Blu-ray Cover

"Mark of the Devil" Blu-ray Cover

Director: Michael Armstrong
Writer: Michael Armstrong
Producer: Adrian Hoven
Cast: Herbert Lom, Udo Kier, Olivera Vuco, Reggie Nalder, Herbert Fux, Johannes Buzalski
Running Time: 96 min.

By Kyle Warner

In Europe between 1500 and 1750, countless people accused of heresy, blasphemy, and witchcraft were killed by agents of the Church. It didn’t take much to accuse someone of witchcraft and after an accusation was made not much could be done to save the poor man or woman (mostly women, I should think). Superstition and corruption led to many false accusations, of course. As depicted in Mark of the Devil, the accused would be tortured until they confessed, at which point they would be burnt alive. So, you either endure torture and deny the claims against you… or you go along with what they’re saying and die for your confession. Very much a lose-lose situation.

It’s all a very frightening part of human history that we don’t often like to look back on and talk about. So, when a film comes around like Mark of the Devil and throws all of that ugliness up on screen, people are going to take notice. And when the film was released in 1970, it was banned in multiple countries for its violent content.

When Mark of the Devil hit theatres in the US, posters proudly claimed that it was “the first film to be rated V for violence.” Filmgoers were handed vomit bags and it was sold as one of the most horrifying, disgusting films ever made. Apparently the MPAA was livid about the made-up V rating, as a false rating allowed all ages into the film which would’ve otherwise been rated R or worse.

Because the film’s legacy has so much to do with its gory depiction of torture, I feel the need to talk about the violence first. Mark of the Devil is a very unpleasant film. Men and women are tortured in awful ways and the film’s effects stand up to this day, making it all rather difficult to watch. When a woman has her tongue ripped out of her mouth you can bet that I gasped and cringed. However, in the age of ‘torture porn’ horror films like Saw and Hostel, perhaps Mark of the Devil’s violence doesn’t shock quite the same way that it used to. Still, it’s sickening to remember that some of the gruesome torture in this film is very much based on historical fact.

In the film Herbert Lom plays a renowned witch hunter and an incredibly young Udo Kier plays his apprentice. They arrive in a town where the local witch hunter has abused his power for too long, raping the women he desires and accusing of witchcraft those who deny his advances. The new witch hunters are expected to restore order, but it’s pretty clear that Lom’s character is just more of the same and ends up bringing only further suffering to these people.

Mark of the Devil has much in common with Witchfinder General, the 1968 horror film which starred Vincent Price. In some ways Mark of the Devil plays like the gorier, sleazier take on that similar story. But there’s a good deal of skill and talent involved in the making of Mark of the Devil. The production values are high quality, the location shooting looks good, the violin score is topnotch, and the actors bring respectability to the script. It is a sleazy exploitation horror film but it’s a superior sleazy exploitation horror film.

I think Herbert Lom is really good here as the self-righteous villain. Lom is probably best remembered for comedies like the Pink Panther movies, so his appearance in such a nasty horror film is kind of surprising. Equally interesting is Udo Kier, who had only been in two feature films up to this point. We know Kier now for mostly playing eccentric characters and villains, so it’s entertaining to watch him play the romantic lead here. He does a pretty good job of making his character both an opportunistic hero and an unforgivable part of the problem. Sometimes I wish he had dialed back the looks of romantic longing, though.

Mark of the Devil arrives uncut on the Arrow Video Blu-ray. The film’s picture quality looks good, with only a few shots appearing scratchy here and there. The Blu-ray is packed with special features including a commentary, featurettes, interviews, and a trailer. The commentary with director Michael Armstrong is a lively track. He talks about how he was fired from the film and replaced by producer Adrian Hoven, who would take over filming and handle post-production. Hoven also changed the original ending which would have brought the film into supernatural territory. The original ending has apparently been destroyed, but images of it pop up in other special features on the disc. Armstrong’s often funny even if he is understandably bitter about how some things turned out, and it makes for an entertaining commentary

The best featurette is the 47 minute Mark of the Times which talks about 70s British horror when Hammer Films was falling-off and a new wave of young filmmakers was taking over. Directors like Armstrong, Norman J. Warren, and writer David McGillivray share their memories of being a part of that film movement. Also interesting is Hallmark of the Devil which focuses on Mark of the Devil’s release in America by Hallmark Releasing, and talks about the controversial nature of their advertising and the success the film found in the US. Some of the interviews are a little dull because time has made memory fuzzy for much of the cast and crew. The Udo Kier interview is funny, though, because the actor clearly doesn’t want to be there. He even complains at one point that they’ve been talking for 20 minutes when he only agreed to 10. It’s a great release from Arrow: the uncut film, very good picture quality, options for both English and German audio, and a strong helping of extras that should make any fan happy.

Overall I find Mark of the Devil to be a difficult film to recommend because it’s not an easy film to like. Almost all the characters are rather despicable and the grueling torture is difficult to watch. Thing is, I was more impressed with the film than I expected to be, and I think it holds up pretty well four decades after its original release. I didn’t particularly enjoy Mark of the Devil but I definitely get why it has its fans.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 6.5

Posted in Cults & Classics, News, Reviews | Leave a comment

Well Go USA nabs Jacky Wu and Scott Adkins’ ‘Wolf Warrior’

"Wolf Warriors" Theatrical Poster

"Wolf Warriors" Theatrical Poster

THE MOVIE: Special Force: Wolf Warrior (aka Wolf WarWolf or Warg) is Wu Jing’s second directorial project. You’ll likely recall Jing (also known as Jacky Wu) from recent movies like Sha Po Lang aka Killzone, in which he fought against Donnie Yen, as well as Legendary Assassin, which he also directed. No plot details or release dates have been set.

Special Force: Wolf Warrior also stars Scott Adkins (Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning), Kevin Lee (Pound of Flesh), Vincent Zhao (True Legend) Deng Ziyi (Pay Back), Sona Eyambe (Zombie 108), Kyle Shapiro (Dragon Blade), Samuel Thivierge (In the End) and Nan Yu (The Expendables 2).

Updates: The official Scott Adkins Facebook page has unveiled some new set photos from the upcoming Wolf Warriors, featuring Adkins and Jacky Wu. | First teaser trailer.

BREAKING NEWS: According to SD (via FCS), Well Go USA will be releasing Wolf Warrior in North American and Canadian theaters in April. Expect a Blu-ray/DVD release to follow shortly. Stay tuned for more details!

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Deal on Fire! The Last Supper | Blu-ray | Only $9.39 – Expires soon!

The Last Supper | Blu-ray & DVD (Random Media)

The Last Supper | Blu-ray & DVD (Random Media)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Lu Chuan’s The Last Supper.

The story focuses on the famous Hongmen Banquet, which was held in 206 B.C. by one warlord with the express purpose of assassinating his rival.

The Last Supper features an impressive cast, including Yu Liu (Curse of the Golden Flower), Daniel Wu (New Police Story), and Chen Chang (Crouching Tigger, Hidden Dragon). Don’t miss the trailer.

Order The Last Supper from Amazon.com today!

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Brett Ratner to remake Bruce Lee’s ‘Enter The Dragon’?

"Enter the Dragon" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Enter the Dragon" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Yes, you read it right: Brett Ratner wants to remake Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon, the 1973 kung fu classic about a martial artist (Lee) who agrees to spy on a reclusive crime lord (Shih Kien) using his invitation to a tournament there as cover.

AICN reports that Ratner mentioned this idea at a recent screening of Rush Hour and reassured everyone that he is not trying to find the next Bruce Lee. Instead, he wants his film to be a ‘reimagining of Robert Clouse’s iconic showcase for Lee’s talents’.

What do you think of this news? Who would you like to see play Bruce, Shih, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Bob Wall, Angela Mao and Bolo’s role? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Posted in News | 10 Comments

Gangnam Blues (2015) Review

"Gangnam Blues" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Gangnam Blues" Korean Theatrical Poster

AKA: Gangnam 1970
Director: Yu Ha (aka Yoo Ha)
Writer: Yu Ha (aka Yoo Ha)
Producer: Yu Ha (aka Yoo Ha), Yu Jeong-hun
Cast: Lee Min-Ho, Kim Rae-Won, Jung Jin-Young, Seol Hyun, Kim Ji-Su, Lee Yeon-Doo, Jung Ho-Bin, Eom Hyo-Seop, Yoo Seung-Mok, Lee Suk, Choi Jin-Ho, Han Jae-Young
Running Time: 135 min.

By Paul Bramhall

Former poet turned director and script writer Yoo Ha makes his long overdue return to the gangster genre with Gangnam Blues. Ha, whose 2006 movie A Dirty Carnival is considered a genre favorite, has shown a deft hand at whatever genre he’s worked in, be it high school fight movies like Once Upon a Time In Highschool, or sexually charged period dramas like A Frozen Flower. However with his 2011 mystery thriller The Howling, following a pair of detectives on the trail of a murderous wolf dog, Ha seemed to take a misstep, and the movie was received poorly both by critics and the box office.

Three years later, and on the surface Gangnam Blues looks to be a return to the genre the director is most well known for. The movie stars Lee Min-ho and Kim Rae-won as brothers who grew up in an orphanage together. Min-ho has a huge fan base world wide thanks to his good looks, and despite having a small role in 2008’s Public Enemy Returns, his popularity largely comes from being a staple of K-dramas, including the Korean version of City Hunter, in which he played the lead. Gangnam Blues marks his first time in the lead of a movie. Rae-won on the other hand has consistently worked in both the TV and film industries, most notably playing the gangster lead in the 2006 movie Sunflower.

While their characters aren’t related by blood, the bond they formed growing up is one that’s bound them together, and as the movie opens we meet them as a pair of poor twenty something’s, collecting street rags to sell in an attempt to get by. When they receive a notice to evict their ramshackle dwelling to make way for re-development, a fight breaks out on the day of the eviction, which ultimately sees them overpowered and thrown in front of a gang boss played by Jeong Jin-yeong.

As it happens, on the same day Jin-yeong is short a few men for an attack which is going to lay waste to a political meeting, so he forces them to join in to make up for the low numbers. In the middle of the fracas though, the brothers get separated, and as the police close in Min-ho is ultimately left with no choice but to leave without Rae-won, who’s been knocked unconscious in the bathroom. This separation forms the lynch pin of the story. However the tale of the two brothers plays out against the background of a much bigger story – the fictionalized tale of how Gangnam was turned from peaceful farmland, into the sprawling metropolis that it is today.

It’s fair to say that the area of Gangnam itself is as much of a character in the movie as any of the actors, and Ha creates a sprawling epic that sees a plethora of shady characters and corrupt officials all vying for the land, in an attempt to get rich off the real estate. In many ways Gangnam Blues does for Gangnam what Martin Scorsese’s Casino did for Las Vegas. While a similar comparison was made between Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Nameless Gangster, usually it was to point out the inferiority of the latter in comparison to Scorsese’s masterpiece. Thankfully that’s not the case with Ha’s movie though, as he very much creates his own world, and the similarities are a compliment rather than a comparison.

Taking place in the early 1970’s (notably the Korean title is simply Gangnam 1970), Min-ho and Rae-won see themselves working their way up the ranks of different gangster organizations, who in turn are both attempting to woo counselors and politicians to leverage deals off the precious Gangnam land. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Gangnam Blues could well be called a real estate gangster flick, as there’s just as much talk about land deals as there are brutal beatings. However this shouldn’t act as a deterrent, as the script never strays into being superfluous or dull, instead remaining tight and effective throughout, constantly weaving the many characters and their dealings through a myriad of betrayals, bribes, and beatings.

Indeed the setting of the movie is one of the aspects that make it the most interesting. On the brink of the era that kicked off Seoul’s rapid advance into modernization, it’s a period that many classic Korean movies of the time took place in, like The Road to Sampo and A Small Ball Shot by a Midget (which ironically also centers around a family forced to evict by a real estate agent). It has to be said that the production design captures the details of the era perfectly. The high end production values of most Korean output recently almost seems to be a factor that’s taken for granted these days, but Gangnam Blues is a movie that reminds you of just how much work must go into re-creating the period detail that’s on display here.

Of course, being a gangster movie, proceedings wouldn’t be complete without a healthy dose of gangster violence. Ha gave a distinctive touch to the action in A Dirty Carnival, occasionally throwing in some nice Tae Kwon Do kicks amongst all the down and dirty brawling, and he maintains those welcome flashes of stylistic action here as well. Just about every trope of the Korean gangster genre is ticked off – stabbings, beatings with planks of wood, beatings with anything the characters can get their hands on, and surprisingly for a Korean movie, even some gun action as well.

Many fans of A Dirty Carnival will no doubt remember the huge brawl in the mud, a scene that arguably served as an inspiration for the prison yard brawl in The Raid 2. For Gangnam Blues Ha also gives us a mud drenched brawl, but ramps it up to epic proportions compared to his previous effort. Taking place during a rain soaked burial, several gangs converge at once in the muddy field and proceed to go at each other with everything from axes to scythes to umbrellas. It’s a sight to behold and definitely the action highlight. Korean filmmakers seem to have a thing for fighting in the mud, and the brawl here happily stands alongside the likes of similar scenes found in Rough Cut and Emperor of the Underworld.

If any criticism can be held against Gangnam Blues, it would have to be that in first third of the movie, so many characters are introduced – all with similar motives and dressed in sharp black suits – that they almost become indistinguishable from one another. On first viewing it all becomes clear as the move progresses, but proceedings could certainly have benefited from defining the key characters more clearly early on.

All in all though this is a minor gripe in a tale which is overwhelmingly ambitious in its scope. Ha deserves full credit for maintaining a steady hand and not allowing all the events and characters to derail proceedings, something which would be a foregone conclusion under a lesser director. If there’s any justice in the world, hopefully Gangnam can now be associated with Ha’s excellent return to form, and not some guy dancing like a horse.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 8/10

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

Louis Koo leads Johnnie To’s crime thriller ‘Three on the Road’

"Drug War" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Drug War" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Shooting for Johnnie To’s crime thriller Three on the Road has officially begun. The upcoming film, which will be released later this year, stars Louis Koo (Accident), Wallace Chung (Drug War) and Gao Yuanyuan (Robin-B-Hood) and Vicky Zhao Wei (14 Blades).

Official plot, according to TFC (via DiP): Realizing that he will be defeated in no time during a police showdown, a thug shoots himself to force the cops to cease fire and take him to the hospital. In the hospital, he claims human rights to refuse immediate treatment in order to bide time for his underlings to rescue him. The detective in charge sees through his scheme but decides to play along so as to capture his whole gang once and for all.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Posted in News | 1 Comment

Deal on Fire! Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection | Blu-ray | Only $64.99 – Expires soon!

"Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection" Packaging

"Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection" Packaging

Today’s Deal on Fire is for Shout! Factory’s Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection. The set includes both Blu-ray and DVD copies for 1971′s The Big Boss (aka Fists of Fury), 1972′s Fist of Fury (aka The Chinese Connection), 1972′s Way of the Dragon (aka Return of the Dragon) and 1978′s Game of Death.

Also included are three full-length documentaries: 1983′s Bruce Lee: The Legend, 1973′s Bruce Lee: The Man, The Legend and 2012′s I Am Bruce Lee, plus a bonus disc featuring two hours of exclusive content. The Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection also comes packaged in a full color, bookcase-style packaging.

Order The Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection from Amazon.com today!

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Jet Li’s action epic ‘Investiture of Gods’ loses Cecilia Cheung

"The Sorcerer and the White Snake" Japanese DVD Cover

"The Sorcerer and the White Snake" Japanese DVD Cover

After a 2-year hiatus, Wilson Yip, the director of Donnie Yen’s Ip Man and Ip Man 2 (and currently Ip Man 3), is teaming up with Jet Li for a supernatural action epic. The upcoming film – co-directed by Koan Hui (Snow Blossom) – will be based on the 16th-century Chinese novel by Xu Zhonglin titled Investiture of Gods.

Also starring in Investiture of Gods is Shu Qi (Legend of the Fist), Louis Koo (Flash Point), Huang Xiaoming (Ip Man 2), AngelaBaby (Tai Chi 0), Tony Leung Ka-Fai (A Better Tomorrow III) and Cecilia Cheung (Legendary Amazons).

Updates: Hong Kong media (via Sam the Man) is reporting that actress Cecilia Cheung has been fired from Investiture of Gods because of failure to attend filming and out-of-control behavior on set when she did turn up. She was originally cast for the role of Nezha.

Cheung responded by stating that it was all due to misunderstanding, but her ex-manager and one of Investiture’s investors, Tiffany Chen, said that there was no ‘misunderstanding’ at all and criticized Cheung for not valuing the opportunities that she was given. It is estimated that the investors would lose tens of millions in HK$ due to the need to reshoot Cheung’s parts.

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John Woo to shoot remake of the Japanese classic ‘Manhunt’

"Manhunt" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Manhunt" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Here is some exciting news for all the fans of Hong Kong action films out there! John Woo, the man behind action classics such as A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, Bullet in the Head and Hard Boiled, is finally making a return to the genre that made him an internationally acclaimed director.

After years making Hollywood films and big budget Chinese epics like Red Cliff and the recent The Crossing, Woo is going to remake the 1976 Japanese classic action thriller Manhunt (which starred Ken Takakura, who passed away late last year). The story is about a man who is accused of multiple crimes and trying desperately to clear his name. Woo is reportedly a big fan of Takakura and was hoping he would get the chance to work with the actor.

Filming for Manhunt will begin later this year and the film will be in Chinese, English and Korean. Until we have more details, don’t miss the film’s teaser poster here.

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Heroic Ones, The (1970) Review

"The Heroic Ones" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"The Heroic Ones" Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Shaolin Masters
Director: Chang Cheh
Writer: Chang Cheh, Ni Kuang
Producer: Run Run Shaw
Cast: David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chan Chuen, Lily Li Li Li, Chan Sing, Bolo Yeung, Ku Feng, Chin Han, Wang Chung, James Nam Gung Fan, Chan Feng Chen, Cheng Hong Yip
Running Time: 121 min.

By JJ Hatfield

In a time when warring factions fought for a divided China, a powerful Mongol warlord and his thirteen generals ruled the territory with swift and savage force. Any and all who dared challenge their authority were summarily dispatched. They were an invincible force none could defeat, meeting every challenge with supreme confidence, never doubting certain success. To those who counted them on their side they were The Heroic Ones.

Amidst the chaos and conflict of the latter part of the Tang Dynasty, Li Ke-Yung, played by Ku Feng (My Rebellious Son), together with his thirteen generals, is a power to be reckoned with. Li considers all the generals his offspring, lavishing them with the best of everything, denying them nothing. His generals are as enthusiastic about bloody battle as they are about drunken debauchery – every one of them a fierce fighter and arrogant as hell.

The Heroic Ones is directed by the prolific Chang Cheh (Five Deadly Venoms) with David Chiang (Kung Fu Jungle) and Ti Lung (A Better Tomorrow) having standout roles in the large cast. Though an early ‘Iron Triangle’ film, Chiang has the lead role to himself with the most screen time as Li Tsun Hsiao, the youngest of the thirteen and the fond favorite of Li Ke-Yung. Tsun Hsiao is deadly in combat being exceptionally skilled with a spear. He also carries out a unique piece of action choreography during an encounter with an enemy general played by Bolo Yeung of Enter the Dragon fame.

Ti Lung is Shih Ching Szu, the only other brother to recieve much attention from Li Ke-Yung. Though he isn’t the focus of the film, Ti manages to shine in an epic warrior battle against a barrage of hundreds of the enemy. Not only an impressive display of valor but one of the longest fight scenes to be found in a martial movie of any age.

With The Heroic Ones, Chang and his co-writer Kuang Ni (The Pirate) drew from the late 800′s – early 900′s China for the basis of the story with more more than a few liberties taken with the facts. The movie has been noted by some for the effort afforded to costumes and set pieces consistent with the time period and culture, but it should not by any means be taken as a true portrait of history.

If The Heroic Ones was being filmed today, it would feature computer generated armies with one or two actual people doing battle. In 1969, they did it the real way with a couple hundred people and Lau Kar-leung, Tony Gaai, and Lau Kar-wing orchestrating the training and directing for the throng of actors, stuntmen and extras who must appear to be familiar with weapons. The hard work paid off in the realism of fight scenes, many times with one general against a multitude.

Once the onslaught begins, the torrent of enemies rarely lets up. Purely on an action level fans will be thrilled with the profusion of nearly non-stop combat and The Heroic Ones certainly delivers on that count. Unfortunately, the size of the cast is unwieldy even in Chang Cheh’s usually capable hands. And though the film clocks in at a little over two hours, Chang spends little time on character development for the majority of the cast. That decision on Chang’s part ultimately renders the film’s ending unfulfilling, lacking the impact The Heroic Ones could have had.

JJ Hatfield’s Rating: 7.5/10

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