Invincible Armour (1977) Review

"The Invincible Armour" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"The Invincible Armour" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Ng See Yuen
Writer: Ng See Yuen, Tung Liu
Producer: Chor Yuen
Cast: John Liu Chung Liang, Hwang Jang Lee, Tino Wong Cheung, Lee Hoi San, Philip Ko Fei, Corey Yuen Kwai, Yuen Shun Yee, Yuen Biao, Hsu Hsia, Wong Chi Sang
Running Time: 101 min.

By Matthew Le-feuvre

The collaborative effort in reuniting two of the world’s most celebrated kicking technicians was no light work for independent producer, Ng See Yuen. His previous trendsetter The Secret Rivals (1976) and its well received sequel set the tone for a new type of action spectacle: the breathtaking craft of aerial impact kicking. Naturally this resounding success would become something of a leading concept that fellow producers’ zealously tried too exploit, but ultimately failed to sustain because of changing trends, and the approaching 1980’s. However by the time he’d established ‘The Seasonal Film Corporation’ in 1975, Yuen was already a former Shaw Brothers executive before turning his creative attentions to freelance direction.

Although in essence a calm, influential and clearly a resourceful entrepreneur, Yuen’s five year contract at the Clearwater Bay studio was not a happy one. In earnest, he tried very hard too secure film negotiations with future Legend, Bruce Lee, for a traditional feature entitled The Bloody Fists (1972), yet was unable to convince backers – including Sir Run Run Shaw – of Lee’s dynamic potential.

Nevertheless Yuen endeavoured to carve out a niche for himself, seeking and promoting fresh talent such as Taiwanese marvel, John Liu and south Korean stalwart, Hwang Jang Lee. Both of course have matured into formidable icons on the South-Eastern circuits, while in the West they’ve been oppositely regulated to a lesser category due to poor distribution and a flaccid, if not incongruous, marketing ploy. Another factor is they (each) retired from the film industry early on in their respective careers to pursue not just business investments, but also martial ascension; this meant an inordinate amount of time power kicking trees for Hwang and expressing the stillness of the mind for Liu, who inventively fused ‘Zen’ principles to his art.

For some time speculations often arose as too Liu’s whereabouts, unlike Hwang - who opened a chain of Hotels in Seoul, and a factory which to this day manufactures golfing accessories. Liu on the other hand, allegedly, fell victim to Triad backed creditors, and a scheme where outrageous percentage grosses had too be forfeited on insueing film projects. Liu opposed these terms and promptly disappeared.

As a result, gossip columns systematically erupted furnishing all sorts of countless rumours and baseless claims. Few sources dispassionately went as far as officially announcing Liu’s premature death (or homicide). Undoubtedly libel, Liu in actuality had relocated to Paris accompanied by his wife and young daughter. Since then, Liu has emerged from self exile to appear in numerous international productions heralding his all too familiar split kick, a technique developed from the regimental teachings of another cult 70’s super booter, Tan Tao Liang.

Before he, too, made the transition from a practising martial artist to an actor of some distinction, Liang was a hardcore Taekwondo competitor who invariably earned high points by implementing an uniquely challenging hop kick to disorientate (his) opponents. Enamoured with this tactical advantage, Liu – a teenager at the time – bartered menial tasks as payment for tutelage from Liang. Tough and innovative, “Flash Legs” as he came to be known transformed Liu from a shy, introspective youth with limited flexibility into a phenomenal exponent of Taekwondo.

Contrarily, Hwang’s martial arts origins were notably less prosaic, but more of the dramatic as he found himself aged 15 moving to South Korea from his native Japan where he obsessively began studying (both) a branch of Taekwondo called ‘Taekyon’ and traditional boxing. Seven years on, he had graduated to the rank of 7th Dan, and was concurrently instructing ‘Republican’ troops in an ongoing feat to thwart communist incursions.

If nothing else these biographical juxtapositions deserve respect. It was something Ng See Yuen took into consideration during casting sessions. Indeed, the loyalty and professionalism of these two outstanding stars was a financial catalyst that Yuen was able too repeatedly capitalize on, even though critics’ mauled and carped about the integrity of his work.

Surprisingly up to this point in the HK/Taiwanese film industry meditations on Wu Xia theatre was waning in favour of empty fist revenge dramas and The Invincible Armour was one of those atypical examples that fell into a particular grade of uncompromising splendor – a diversion into the simplistic (and) image laden realms where subtle, strong visuals rules the eye before mindful contemplation: a deliberate tactic or an unassuming disadvantage? Either way, following a lengthy prologue explaining both the origins and implementation of ‘Iron Vest Kung Fu’ (aka Invincible Armour), Hwang Jang Lee energetically demonstrates his awesome ‘Eagles Claw’ as well as kicking pliability in a sequence of pre-arranged maneuvers on various sized ceramic pots, wooden stumps, bamboo shafts, spears and chain-suspended spiked globes.

Instantaneously we’re made aware of Hwang’s villainous ambitions as he soaks his entire body (a la Fu Sheng) in a frothing, vapor-filled cauldron. Years later we learn Hwang – character referenced as ‘Chen’ – is a corrupt ‘Minister of State’ whose politics lean towards the dissolution of the Ming Dynasty. To cause fractures within the administration, Chen hires a greedy opportunist named Hu Loong (Li Hoi San) to assassinate his respected peer, Governor Liu, while simultaneously incriminating loyalist, General Chow Lu Fong (John Liu).

Detained without due process, Fong eludes the death sentence in a blistering whirlwind assault of cresent, hook and snap kicks on his biased captors. It is here he pledges to exonerate his name, and bring the real perpetrator to justice: Fong’s only link is Hu Loong, who he adamantly pursues across country, between dodging additional contract killers (as played by Yuen Biao, Corey Yuen and Yuen Shum Yi), clan sympathizers and Loong’s impartial Sifu (Philip Ko Fei).

Vexed by Fong’s investigative capabilities and fighting tenacity, Chen engages renowned bounty hunter, Sheng Yu (Tino Wong), to deliver Fong for capital punishment. However with each encounter, Sheng begins to suspect that Fong and himself are expendable pawns in a greater conspiracy, which now includes Chen’s duplicitous aid and, incidentally, two siblings who may hold the key to disabling the Minister’s Chi Kung flow, via five vulnerable pressure points.

To the uninitiated The Invincible Armour may appear as a pageant to superficiality (and perhaps even absent of depth), yet this veneer does have its merits – escapism for one. Nonetheless Ng See Yuen’s work has neither been about anti-political rantings or social commentary. Essentially it’s the dynamic combination of two diverse kicking methods, a selling point that imbues every sequence with a kind of requisite fortitude; for instance Hwang’s signature jumping triple kicks or Liu’s jaw dropping tornado-like moves compensates for the lack of character development. And despite erratic plot twists, Invincible Armour is otherwise intensely stunning, downbeat and fiercely hypnotic.

Matthew Le-feuvre’s Rating: 9/10

Posted in Chinese, News, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

‘Furious 7′s’ cinematographer goes ‘Full Throttle’ for a Malaysian-based, motorcycle action-thriller!

"Fast and Furious 6" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Fast and Furious 6" Korean Theatrical Poster

Kuala Lumpur-based DragonSlate Media, headed by Leon Tan, announced today that Furious 7′s Emmy-nominated cinematographer, Stephen Windon, will make his directorial debut in DragonSlate’s motorcycle action-thriller Full Throttle, written by Todd Slawsby, set for production in first quarter 2016.

Andrew Mason, executive producer of The Matrix trilogy and producer on Russell Crowe’s directorial debut The Water Diviner, will lead the Full Throttle production team. Tan will serve as producer, while Sukee Chew, Andrew Ooi, Harriet Spalding and Robert Lundberg will executive produce.

Full Throttle, a Malaysian motorcycle action-thriller, follows a racer who, after a career-ending crash during a race in Singapore, plies his skills as a courier in Kuala Lumpur. After his girlfriend is abducted, he is forced to crisscross the city against the clock, avoiding capture by relentless authorities while being blackmailed to perform escalating acts of crime by a twisted criminal mastermind.

Cityonfire.com received the above information from Robert Lundberg of DragonSlate Media.

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Shadowguard | aka The Blood Bond (2011) Review

"ShadowGuard" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"ShadowGuard" Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: The Blood Bond
Director: Michael Biehn, Bey Logan
Producer: Bey Logan, Eli Scher, Seth Scher
Cast: Michael Biehn, Simon Yam, Phoenix Chou, Emma Pei, Jennifer Blanc, Xiao Keng Ye, Thomas Ho, Kenny Lo, Ridwan Amir, Michael Wong Mun-Tak
Running Time: 86 min.

By Paul Bramhall

With the dawn of the DVD era, Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan quickly became known for his informative and knowledgeable audio commentaries, recorded for the Hong Kong Legends and Dragon Dynasty DVD labels. What he was less well known for was for his movie output, which consisted of being involved in misguided productions like Jackie Chan low point The Medallion, or just plain bad movies like Dragon Squad (aka Dragon Heat). In an interview shortly after leaving Dragon Dynasty, Bey admitted to his shortcomings, and revealed he was going to be concentrating on his production company. His plan was to put behind him the misfires of the past, and focus on making some solid HK action movies. ShadowGuard was to be the first.

Taking a plot which is essentially identical to the 1991 Wong Jing movie The Last Blood, ShadowGuard sees a holy man, modeled after the Dalai Lama, visiting a South East Asian country in the grip of a civil war called Purma (because it would probably be too offensive to actually call it Burma I guess). Just like in The Last Blood the man is mortally wounded and needs a blood transfusion, but his rare blood type means there’s only a very small number of potential candidates in the country. One such candidate is washed up Special Forces guy Michael Biehn, yes as in Kyle Reese from The Terminator and Dwayne Hicks from Aliens, so the bodyguard of his holiness, played by newcomer Phoenix Valen, decides to track him down and convince him to donate.

It’s worth noting that the movie has an interesting back-story. Having worked with Biehn previously on Danny Lee’s 2005 atrocity Dragon Squad, Bey called Biehn to play the part of the washed up Special Forces guy, hoping he’d take the role. Not only did he take it, but Bey was so impressed with Biehn’s enthusiasm, that he offered him his first opportunity at sitting in the director’s chair. Biehn accepted, however once he got on set in China, things turned out to be not quite how he’d expected. Biehn still says he hasn’t seen the final version, and in an interview shortly after it was released, he described the experience of working on ShadowGuard.

Working with an inexperienced crew that didn’t speak much English, he explained how he had to do almost everything himself, right down to painting the walls of newly built sets. ShadowGuard was so under funded that crew members were often asked to play characters in front of camera, despite it being an English language movie and them not being able to speak a lick of it (in one scene a character amusingly yells at Biehn, “Son of the bitch!”). In the end, perhaps sensing his frustration, Bey told Biehn not to worry about post-production and that he’d take care of everything. So ultimately, once filming was complete Bey took over, from editing it together to mixing the sound, and once the negative reviews came rolling in, Biehn spoke up and said he disowns the movie as his directorial debut.

Amusingly it seems Bey wasn’t too happy with it either, as he went on to write a novel of what he described the movie was meant to be, entitled The Blood Bond. The original title for the movie was in fact supposed to be ShadowGuard: The Blood Bond, the idea being that it would become an action franchise for lead actress Phoenix Valen, but perhaps sensing it never going to happen, it was finally released as just ShadowGuard.

So, does the final product reflect all the problems that came about in the process of making it? The blunt answer is, yes. However there is entertainment to be had from ShadowGuard, although it comes with the warning that it’s strictly of the so bad it’s good variety. Phoenix Valen can’t act, this fact is inarguable, delivering every one of her lines in the same monotone lifeless manner from beginning to end. The editing doesn’t help either. In one scene she checks on the holy man to see if he needs anything before going to sleep for the night. When he says all is ok, they exchange glances at each other, but instead of showing how close they are it makes the scene disturbingly creepy, as he lingeringly grins at her in the doorway from his bed.

What’s even more amusing though, is the intensity of Biehn’s acting. The poor guy is obviously putting his heart and soul into the role, despite his lines being atrocious (he’s partly to blame for that, being a co-writer of the script). In his many scenes with Valen, the composition of her lifeless line delivery next to his wide eyed yelling is frequently hilarious. It should also be noted that as he wasn’t involved in post production, if any of his lines weren’t adequately recorded on location, he’s been over dubbed by someone who doesn’t sound anything like him, giving things a slightly mid-2000’s Seagal feel.

Essentially for no other reason than being friends with Bey, Simon Yam shows up as the head of the military trying to off the holy man. His scenes either consist of him hamming it up in a way in which I’m sure he must have been self aware, compared to others in which he simply looks bored. The final moments of his fight with Biehn in the climax are a worthy highpoint of unintended entertainment. Also calling on the friendship card, Michael Wong shows up as a helicopter pilot (in what I presume is most likely his own helicopter, which is probably why Bey called him) for less than a minute, but he does dub his own lines which I guess is a plus, all three of them.

The action was choreographed by Fan Siu Wong, who must be having a difficult time finding work to be reduced to working on a production like this. Surprisingly, some of it is quite entertaining. The shootouts are awful, especially the finale which sees a corridor shootout in a hospital a la Hard Boiled, only with CGI bullet damage and completely lifeless execution. However to his credit, he does a half decent job of making Valen’s empty handed fight scenes passable. Using Tai Chi, there’s clearly no power in her blows, and she wears an expression which belies that of the character she’s playing, all too obviously showing her concentration on remembering the moves. Strip all that away though, and the choreography is competently executed, and it’s nice to see Tai Chi being used effectively against opponents, a style which is rarely used in screen fighting.

ShadowGuard barely scrapes in at just over 80 minutes, meaning it never becomes truly painful to watch, at least not in a way which has you reaching for the stop button. It’s bad, but it’s passably bad thanks to the complete incompetence of almost every aspect of it, which somehow translates to some morbid form of being watchable.

Special mention goes to the Hong Kong Blu-ray, one of the few territories that it actually got a release, which comes with four equally cringe worthy cast interviews. Two have Bey interviewing Phoenix and Biehn respectively, and are interesting because in the interview with Phoenix she seems stoned, and in the interview with Biehn he’s clearly in the process of giving up hope. The other two are with Simon Yam and Bey himself, both conducted by an interviewer who seems to struggle to think of questions to ask. Bey rather awkwardly explains how he met Phoenix in a nightclub, and after a movie she was working on fell through, invited her to stay with him in his apartment. He then goes to some lengths to justify that it was ok as their relationship is entirely platonic. It’s all quite creepy, and had it been a UK or US DVD, I’m sure this part of the interview would have been cut. For the fact that it wasn’t, I’m going to give the overall score an extra point.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 4/10

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

Darren Shahlavi’s Passing: The Real Story

Darren Shahlavi

Darren Shahlavi

By Mike Leeder

On January 14th 2015, a very good friend, British actor and martial arts hero, Darren Shahlavi, passed away and left behind a legacy of work and great memories with so many people.

Unfortunately, the tabloid press, led by scum like TMZ – and sadly followed by various magazines, newspapers, websites and far too many “oh we know it all” internet trolls implied it was by a drug overdose. They were all happy to make unfounded statements that severely hurt his family, his friends and his memory.

Darren’s family recently received a coroner’s report from the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner, and would like to share the results with his friends, colleagues and fans.

Darren died on January 14, 2015 of natural causes: a sudden and fatal heart attack. He was found to have Atherosclerosis (also known as arteriosclerotic vascular disease or ASVD) His left anterior descending artery was 95% blocked, which must have been worsening for several years.

Darren had no drugs or medications in his body, and only 0.02% BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration); to put this into context 0.08% is the BAC Driving Limit for both he US & UK. There are no other medical factors linked to his death.

It seems unlikely that someone as fit as Darren – who was so dedicated to exercise and fitness and had such a healthy low fat/dairy diet – should have heart disease, but we have been told that a genetic predisposition resulted in the development of heart disease and is not uncommon in otherwise healthy young men, including athletes and other professional sportsmen and women*.

Evidence for Darren’s level of physical fitness at the time of his death can be seen in his recent work. Darren had just finished filming Pound of Flesh and Kickboxer: Vengeance, both with Jean-Claude Van Damme – not to mention Tomorrowland with George Clooney. He was, as far as physical fitness goes, at the top of his game.

Darren’s family is devastated that his underlying heart condition was never diagnosed to allow him the opportunity of treatment. Typically, Atherosclerosis begins in childhood, and Darren showed no apparent symptoms prior to death. Who would have thought that Darren who was regarded as very fit would die so suddenly as a result of this ‘silent killer’!

We have all been in shock for the past 11 weeks with so many unanswered questions, but would now like to focus on the lessons that can be learned from Darren’s untimely death. We do feel that Darren would be the first to join us in sending warnings and advice to the friends and colleagues that he loved that regular health screening can save lives.

This is our message and we do hope that somehow positive publicity in Darren’s name can be made available to other young men and women, that may help them to take seriously the possibility that their body holds terrible secrets that can be revealed if they are tested routinely throughout life.

We hope that no other family has to go through the grief and pain that we are experiencing and that their loved ones get screening and subsequent treatment if necessary, that could prevent the tragic outcome that all who loved Darren are trying to come to terms with.

The Shahlavi family is raising funds to build a permanent memorial to Darren in Hollywood. Click here for more information.

Posted in News | 3 Comments

Postman Strikes Back, The (1982) Review

"The Postman Strikes Back" DVD Cover

"The Postman Strikes Back" DVD Cover

AKA: The Postman Fights Back
Director: Ronny Yu
Producer: Raymond Chow, Yuen Woo Ping
Cast: Leung Kar Yan, Chow Yun Fat, Yuen Yat Chor, Fan Mei Sheng, Cherie Chung, Eddie Ko Hung, Brandy Yuen Jan Yeung, Chiang Cheng, Lee Fat Yuen, Hui Ying Sau
Running Time: 88 min.

By Paul Bramhall

Postman Strikes Back is a unique entry in the Hong Kong action genre for a number of reasons. Set in 1913, it’s a movie which brings together elements of the old-school and the new-wave which can only be appreciated in retrospect. An early directorial effort from Ronny Yu, with the exception of his 1986 production with Brandon Lee, Legacy of Rage, it wouldn’t be until over a decade later when he’d receive full recognition for his talents, when he helmed the iconic tale of doomed lovers in The Bride with White Hair.

Without the presence of Yu in the director’s chair, it could easily be mistaken for a Yuen clan movie. Yuen Woo Ping takes the rare position of sitting in the producers chair, Brandy Yuen is on action direction duties, as well as playing a bit part, and Sunny Yuen takes a substantial supporting role. Taking the lead role of the postman in question is Beardy himself, Leung Kar Yan, although it should be noted here he’s only sporting stubble. All four of these guys would work together again on 2 more movies in the same year – The Miracle Fighters and Legend of a Fighter – both of which would be directed by Woo Ping, which may explain why he chose to sit this one out.

If the members of the Yuen clan represent the old school, then co-stars Chow Yun Fat and Cherry Chung represent the new-wave. Chow was still a full 4 years from chewing on a tooth pick for his influential turn as Mark Gor in A Better Tomorrow, however his leading man charisma is very much already in place, often threatening to steal the show from Kar Yan whenever they’re onscreen together. Chow and Chung had worked well together the year prior for Ann Hui’s The Story of Woo Viet, and they’d work together several more times over the course of their career’s, including An Autumn’s Tale, Wild Search, and Chung’s last movie before retirement, Once a Thief.

The story of Postman Strikes Back sees Kar Yan playing a courier in a rapidly modernizing China. On his latest delivery, the village elder confesses that they don’t have enough money to pay him. However, Kar Yan, being the nice guy that he is, instead of getting mad decides to look for another way to make money. It seems he’s in luck when a shady character played by Eddie Ko (who also turns up in the previously mentioned The Miracle Fighters), offers to pay him handsomely to deliver a number of boxes to a recipient several days journey away.

Kar Yan takes the job, and enlists a few men to help with the journey. The group comes in the form of a con man with ties to the underworld, played by Chow Yun Fat, an explosives expert played by Fan Mei Sheng, and an acquaintance played by Sunny Yuen (most recognizable as the witness from In the Line of Duty 4). Much to his chagrin, he’s also soon joined by a female villager, played by Cherrie Chung, who wants to help so that she can be paid to find her sister in Shanghai, who was sold off due to her family having no money.

Of course the job isn’t as simple as it first seems, Ko advises that they’re not to open the boxes under any circumstances, and if need be destroy them rather than let them fall into enemy hands, and soon the group find themselves under attack from unknown assailants at various stages in their journey. Another aspect that makes Postman Strikes Back unique is that it was entirely shot in Korea, so their journey takes them through a variety of beautiful landscapes, from tree covered mountains to frozen lakes, the scenery is frequently stunning.

It was often said that Korea would allow Hong Kong productions to film in the country, as long as they included a few Korean actors or crew. This appears to be the case here, as Korean actress Kuk Jeong-suk takes a significant role as a mysterious character that becomes a potential love interest for Chow. Also making memorable appearances are regular faces from the Korean kung fu movie scene – Jack Lam, Kwon Il-soo, and Jang Il-do. Lam and Il-soo play a pair of assassins that kick off what can be considered the first fight scene at the 45 minute mark. It’s a fun fight, with Il-soo literally hiding Lam by piggybacking him, to make a kind of tag team tandem fight against Chow.

Surprisingly, Chow performs well in the fight scenes, and actually seems to be given more than Kar Yan. Utilizing his scarf against opponents, the choreography and editing serve to make him look like a competent screen fighter, much to Brandy Yuen’s credit. The piggyback fight scene isn’t the only creative action sequence, with another entertaining scene having Kar Yan and his cohorts traveling across a frozen lake, only to be attacked by a group of spear wielding attackers on ice-skates! I would question the historical accuracy of this scene, but then again this is from the same guys who had Donnie Yen doing tricks on a BMX in Drunken Tai Chi.

Of course the shadiness of Eddie Ko’s character in the early stages make it a no-brainer that he turns out to be the villain of the piece. Ko has made a career of playing villains, from taking on Hwang Jang Lee in Hitman in the Hand of Buddha in the previous year, to a remarkably similar role which he’d play in Duel to the Death a year later. When you see his roles in both movies, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Ko goes on a take no prisoners rampage in the final third of the movie, which also involves a nicely staged one-on-one against Chow, and by the end of it, it’s safe to say that the postman has all the reasons he needs to strike back.

The final showdown pits Kar Yan against Ko in a forest, with Ko decked out as a ninja and employing all of the tricks we’ve come to expect from a ninja action scene. Again, there are signs of the new-wave at play here, with Kar Yan’s creative way of being able to locate Ko being particularly innovative. That being said, those looking to watch Postman Strikes Back purely to check out Beardy in action may be left disappointed. Ronny Yu has never been a director to make straight forward kung fu flicks, with perhaps the exception of 2005’s Fearless, and here is no exception. For the most part Postman Strikes Back plays out as an adventure movie, interspersed with some creative action and fight scenes.

As a director, Postman Strikes Back was only Yu’s third movie, and his inexperience shows most in the non-action periods when it’s all down to him to keep things moving. This is no more evident that in the first third of the movie when we’re being introduced to the main characters. None of it is particularly engaging, and it’s only once the action kicks in that things get interesting. Thankfully, once it does, it comes regularly, and while not top tier stuff, the creativity and picturesque settings adequately compensate. While there are arguably a few shortcomings in its execution, at the end of the day Postman Strikes Back gives us 2 generations of bad-ass cool onscreen together in the form of Leung Kar Yan and Chow Yun Fat, and that alone warrants it as worth a look. Oh, and did I mention the exploding rats?

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7/10

Posted in Chinese, Golden Harvest, News, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Hollywood’s ‘Death Note’ remake gets a ‘Guest’ director…

"Death Note" Japanese DVD Cover

"Death Note" Japanese DVD Cover

A Hollywood adaptation of Tsugumi Ohba’s Death Note – a hit manga, anime and Japanese live-action horror film series – is in the works. Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Jason Hoffs and Masi Oka are producing.

Death Note centers around an intelligent high school student goes on a secret crusade to eliminate criminals from the world after discovering a notebook capable of killing anyone whose name is written into it.

Updates: According to THR, Adam Wingard (The Guest) is officially signed to direct Death Note once he wraps The Woods. Shane Black (Iron Man 3) and Gus Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho) were previously attached to the project.

Posted in News | 8 Comments

Escape from Hellhole | DVD (Cheezy Flicks)

Escape from Hellhole | DVD (Cheezy Flicks)

Escape from Hellhole | DVD (Cheezy Flicks)

RELEASE DATE: August 25, 2015

Cheezy Flicks presents the DVD for 1983′s Escape from Hellhole, directed by Maman Firmansyah.

This cult-classic Indonesian film is about a Punjabi girl getting tricked into living with a big time pimp. Uncle MG as they call him, abducts virgins, and forces them to submit to his hymen bustin ways. The not so attractive gals get several chances to marry Uncle MG, or it’s into his private jail.

The film stars Gudi Sintara, Dicky Zulkarnaen, Siska Widowat and Ramli Ivar. Watch the trailer.

Pre-order Escape from Hellhole from Amazon.com today!

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

Cityonfire.com’s ‘Admiral: Roaring Currents’ Blu-ray Giveaway! – WINNERS ANNOUNCED!

Admiral: Roaring Currents | Blu-ray & DVD (CJ Entertainment)

Admiral: Roaring Currents | Blu-ray & DVD (CJ Entertainment)

Cityonfire.com and CJ Entertainment are giving away 2 Blu-ray copies of Admiral: Roaring Currents 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 Admiral: Roaring Currents will be officially released on April 28, 2015. We will announce the 3 winners on April 29, 2015 and ship out the prizes immediately.

CONTEST DISCLAIMER: You must enter by April 28, 2015 to qualify. U.S. residents only please. We sincerely apologize to our non-U.S. visitors. Winners must respond with their mailing address within 48 hours, otherwise you will automatically be disqualified. No exceptions. Contest is subject to change without notice.

WINNERS: Congratulations to Lee G and Nick.

Posted in News | Tagged | 19 Comments

Albert Pyun’s ‘Kickboxer: City of Blood’ shoot gets delayed

"Kickboxer 2" Theatrical Poster

"Kickboxer 2" Theatrical Poster

1989′s Kickboxer was just another stepping stone on a young Jean-Claude Van Damme’s path to stardom. The movie was little more than a remake of Bloodsport, this time transported to the world of Thai kickboxing, but the film was successful enough to spawn a number of sequels, and an upcoming reboot in 2015 by John Stockwell (In the Blood).

The first sequel saw Cyborg director Albert Pyun team up with actor Sasha Mitchell for Kickboxer 2: The Road Back. This film actually received a limited theatrical release in 1991. Mitchell, who would later achieve fame as a co-star on the 90′s TV sitcom Step by Step, was supposedly playing the brother of Van Damme’s character from the original.

The formula must have worked as Sasha Mitchell stuck around for two direct-to-video sequels, Kickboxer 3: The Art of War and Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor, before domestic problems temporarily derailed his career.

Now, looks like Pyun is bringing Mitchell back for a new Kickboxer project (not to be confused with Kickboxer: Vengeance with Alain Moussi). Here’s the scoop from Pyun himself (via Facebook): I was committed to making the Algiers screenplay in January/February. Our foreign distributor took the project out at the American Film Market, which is going on right now, until tomorrow. Well, a couple of shifts in the project. Turns out they would really prefer a Kickboxing film starring Sasha more than an Algiers. So quickly, Algiers became The Kickboxer and that shoots for 6 weeks in January and February… The plan is too shoot 3 weeks in LA and 3 weeks in Nevada.” Click here to see the promotional artwork for Pyun’s upcoming The Kickboxer, which also stars Michael Tushaus, Kevin Sorbo, Norbert Weisser and Scott Paulin.

Updates: Pyun announced that Dennis Chan (Kickboxer 1-3) is reprising his role as mentor, Xian Chow. Also, Michel Qissi (Kickboxer 1-2, Bloodsport), who played the original Tong Po in the series, will be appearing as a different character named Said Ali. In addition – and this should be taken with a grain of salt – there is also some talk about Mark Dacascos (Drive) and Michael Dudikoff (Americna Ninja) joining…

From the words of Pyun himself regarding the newly titled Kickboxer: City of Blood: ”Its the biggest action movie I’ve ever attempted. Bigger than Nemesis or Cyborg.” In addition, Mike Leeder (Pound of Flesh) is now co-producing an will be handling casting in Guangzhou, China, where the film starts shooting on February 26th 2015.

According to Albert Pyun’s Facebook (via FCS), producer Mike Leeder has connected the director with Indonesian actress Julie Estelle (Macabre), who’s mostly known for playing Hammer Girl in The Raid 2. She’ll be appearing in Kickboxer: City of Blood as Tun, a secret police agent.

BREAKING NEWS: Because of Pyun’s declining health, as well as casting complications, the shoot date for City of Blood has been pushed back until the fall. Originally, the film had a planned production date on February 26th 2015. Additionally, Pyun is also developing a project called Cyborg Knights, a cyberpunk-style film – co-written by his wife Cynthia – that’s heavily influenced by the filmmaker’s health and brain disorder (via Pyun’s Facebook).

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Deal on Fire! Tai Chi Hero | Blu-ray | Only $8.64 – Expires soon!

Tai Chi Hero | aka Tai Chi Zero 2 | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Tai Chi Hero | aka Tai Chi Zero 2 | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Tai Chi Hero, directed by Stephen Fung (The Avenging Fist). After the box office success of Stephen Fung’s steampunk martial arts film Tai Chi 0, it was inevitable that Well Go USA would release the sequel. Tai Chi Hero pick ups where the first movie left off.

Tai Chi Hero stars Jayden Yuan (Tai Chi 0), Angelababy (Rise of the Legend), Tony Leung Ka Fai (Detective Dee), Eddie Peng (Rise of the Legend), Daniel Wu (That Demon Within) and Shu Qi (Journey to the West).

Order Tai Chi Hero from Amazon.com today!

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Admiral: Roaring Currents, The (2014) Review

"The Admiral: Roaring Currents" DVD Cover

"The Admiral: Roaring Currents" DVD Cover

AKA: Roaring Currents
Director: Kim Han-min
Writer: Jeon Cheol-hong, Kim Han-min
Cast: Choi Min-Sik, Ryu Seung-Ryong, Jo Jin-Woong, Kim Myung-Gon, Jin Gu, Lee Jung-Hyun, Kwon Yul, Ryohei Otani, Lee Seung-Jun, Kim Gang-Il, No Min-Woo
Running Time: 127 min.

By Kyle Warner

Admiral Yi Sun-shin is remembered as one of Korea’s greatest heroes. In the 1590s, Japan invaded Korea with the intention of conquering the country and expanding its empire. By 1597, the Japanese were winning the war and were marching north towards the capital. Admiral Yi only had a dozen remaining ships by which to defend his waters, so he was ordered to retreat and defend the capital. However, Admiral Yi disobeyed his orders and led his dozen ships against hundreds of Japanese ships in a desperate last stand in the treacherous Myeongnyang Strait. Apparently until recently it was believed that Korean filming techniques and special effects would be unable to recreate the famed Battle of Myeongyang. And perhaps it was a good thing they waited. For while I found The Admiral: Roaring Currents to be a deeply flawed film, the naval battles are thrilling and technically impressive, calling to mind the great action sequences of Peter Weir’s Master and Commander.

The Admiral: Roaring Currents is a film split into two distinct halves. The first half is all preparation, posturing, and historical melodrama. Those unfamiliar with the time and place may be a little lost in this section of the film, as writer/director Kim Han-min (War of the Arrows) does little to make sense of the conflict for the uninitiated. Many of the finer details about the war and Admiral Yi’s battle plan are left unsaid or undeveloped. As a result, I only got a general idea of the conflict, and Admiral Yi’s genius appeared more like good luck and stubbornness. I thought the characters were lacking definition. Other than Admiral Yi (played by Choi Min-sik) and a few of the Japanese generals (all played by Korean actors), no one here stands out enough to be memorable, which leads to some confusion about who’s who later on in the picture. Worst of all, we also get some silly melodrama.

The second half of the film is essentially one long naval battle sequence. Admiral Yi leads his dozen ships against hundreds of Japanese and puts up one hell of a fight. The special effects are impressive, and it’s easy to get caught up in the action. These scenes are often thrilling — sometimes a little beyond belief, but still thrilling nonetheless. Coupled with the visuals is a strong musical score and sound design. Watching The Admiral in 5.1 surround sound on the biggest screen possible makes for a pretty epic film experience. Unfortunately, the sappy character drama is still present in the second half, which weakens the action instead of bolstering it.

Ryu Seung-ryong (The Target) plays the Pirate King Kurushima, who leads the attack against Admiral Yi. Ryu isn’t so much playing an enemy general as he is playing a supervillain trapped in historical dress. Around his glaring eyes is thick, black eye shadow. Other Japanese characters get eye shadow, too, but Ryu’s Kurushima definitely has the most. Because in The Admiral, the more evil you are, the more eye shadow you get. Kurushima’s personal guard, an androgynous ninja (No Min-woo), is always tilting his head to the side like a lizard, and others under Kurushima’s command are basic barbarians. Just in case you forget they’re supposed to be the bad guys.

The only female character of note is a soldier’s deaf wife (played by pop star Lee Jung-hyun). She’s not a complete character, though, as she only shows up to enhance the drama of her husband’s struggle in the war. When she attempts to communicate via sign language, Lee looks so awkward and frenzied it’s like she’s having a fit. But again, anything for more drama! Later on in the film, Lee and other peasants rise to assist Admiral Yi’s soldiers. I think it’s meant to be a tearjerker moment, but it’s just so over-the-top that I found it silly. Scenes like this are just cheap ways to go for the emotions. After The Admiral and War of the Arrows (a film I enjoyed more, though it suffered some of the same issues), I think that Kim is impressive when it comes to filming action, but he needs to rethink how he’s directing drama. There were scenes in The Admiral that required a gentle hand but it’s like Kim showed up with a sledgehammer and figured, what’s the difference?

Choi Min-sik was good. Choi Min-sik is always good. While everyone else is yelling and screaming, Choi gives us a performance of controlled stillness. Admiral Yi is a larger than life character, and I think a lesser actor would’ve either frozen or overacted in the role. The film gets a little better every time he’s on screen.

So, is a strong performance from one of Asia’s finest actors and some well-done action enough to overcome a poorly written screenplay and some questionable direction? Not in this viewer’s opinion. That being said, Choi Min-sik and the epic action are likely the reason you’re interested in the film in the first place. Considering this, I think you could say that The Admiral gives you exactly what you came for, but never manages to give you much else.

The Admiral: Roaring Currents arrives on Blu-ray from CJ Entertainment. We get both Korean and English language tracks. The sound is exceptional, I thought. The picture presents great color and fine detail. In fact, the picture is so good it shows the flaws in the poor makeup and hair. You can’t unsee all those fake mustaches. As for special features, the only one of note is a 5 minute “making of” featurette. 5 minutes isn’t much time to cover such an epic production, but one point that’s made repeatedly clear is how proud the actors and crew are to be involved in the telling of this story.

When The Admiral: Roaring Currents was released in South Korea it made some Avatar money, going on to become the country’s biggest box office hit of all time. Now that I know a little bit more about Admiral Yi and the importance of the Battle of Myeongnyang, I can understand why the film registered with so many viewers in Korea. However, as an American filmgoer, I can only view The Admiral as a film. And as a film, I found it heavily flawed, thanks mostly to a complete lack of subtlety on behalf of the film’s director. If there had been less sappy melodrama and some better character development before we got to the action in the second half, The Admiral might’ve been a historical epic that the whole world connected with. As it is, I think The Admiral is likely to appeal to its domestic audience and some history buffs, but will leave many of the rest of us only mildly entertained.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 5.5/10

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Scott Adkins’ military actioner ‘Jarhead: The Siege’ wraps up!

"Wolf Warrior" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Wolf Warrior" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Production has wrapped on Jarhead: The Siege, the third chapter in the unrelated, modern-day, military trilogy that began with Sam Mendes’ Jarhead (2005) and Don Michael Paul’s Jarhead 2: Field of Fire (2014).

The upcoming Jarhead: The Siege is directed by William Kaufman (One in the Chamber) and stars Charlie Weber (How to Get Away with Murder), Scott Adkins (Wolf Warrior), Tom Ainsley (The Royals), Dennis Haysbert (Jarhead) and Dante Basco (Blood and Bone).

Synopsis: Corporal Albright (Weber) joined the elite Marine Corp Security Guards to save the world and see some action — not necessarily in that order. But his first assignment, protecting a U.S. Embassy in a seemingly safe Middle Eastern capitol, relegates his unit to wrangling “gate groupies” protesting outside the compound and honing their marksmanship by playing video games. So Albright and his team are caught off guard when well-armed and well-trained militants launch a surprise attack aimed at killing an informant in the embassy.

Hopefully, a trailer for Jarhead: The Siege will pop up soon. Until then, here’s a set photo, courtesy of The official Scott Adkins website (via FCS). Look for the film in 2016!

http://filmcombatsyndicate.blogspot.com/2015/04/jarhead-siege-wraps-with-new-set-pic.html

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‘Neon Grindhouse: Kong Kong’ kicks it off with Godfrey Ho!

"Ninja Thunderbolt" VHS Cover

"Ninja Thunderbolt" VHS Cover

Shooting has started on Neon Grindhouse: Hong Kong, an upcoming documentary that will explore lesser known aspects of Hong Kong Cinema, such as: the sex and sadism of the Cat III film, the wacky Bruceploitation sub-genre and Godfrey Ho’s unbelievable cut-and-paste adventures.

In addition, the femme fatale genre and the high impact, bone-crunching work of the Hong Kong Stunt Community will also be covered. The project will also include interviews with stars like Godfrey Ho, Huang Kin Long (aka Bruce Le) and many more!

Neon Grindhouse: Hong Kong is being produced by an expert team that includes Mike Leeder (Pound of Flesh), Dan Findley, Arne Venema, Sophia Shek and Ivy Lam. For more information, visit the official site and/or follow on Twitter – stay tuned!

Updates: One of the film’s producers, Mike Leeder, has informed COF that he has just completed an in-depth interview with cult director Godfrey Ho (The Dragon, The Hero). Click here for a photo of Ho with the Neon Grindhouse crew: Dan Findlay, Arne Venema and Leeder himself.

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Wolf Warrior (2015) Review

"Wolf Warrior" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Wolf Warrior" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Jacky Wu
Writer: Jacky Wu
Producer: Don Yu Dong
Cast: Jacky Wu, Yu Nan, Scott Adkins, Kyle Shapiro, Ni Dahong, Zhou Xiaoou, Shi Zhaoqi, Deng Ziyi, Tian Miaomiao, Ma Qiang, Shan Jiachen, Samuel Thivierge, Kevin Lee
Running Time: 90 min.

By Paul Bramhall

After the lukewarm reception of Wu Jing’s 2008 directorial debut Legendary Assassin, 7 years on and 2015 sees him returning to the directors chair for his second feature, Wolf Warrior. While Legendary Assassin was very much a Hong Kong movie, the publicity posters for Wolf Warrior gave us a clear indication of what to expect, displaying Wu in a variety of heroic poses set against the backdrop of the Chinese flag. It left people with little doubt that his latest effort was essentially going to be a 90 minute commercial for the Chinese army, the question was, would it be a good one?

With a cast led by Wu himself, starring alongside British martial arts sensation Scott Adkins (credited as Scott Edward Adkins for some reason), the potential was there for greatness. At one point it was even speculated that Vincent Zhao had joined the cast, but in the second film in as many years (the first being 2014’s Special ID), in the final product he was nowhere to be found. Nevertheless, the prospect of Wu vs. Adkins was enough to wet any action movie fans appetite, and rightly so.

It may come as no surprise to hear that those expecting a 2015 version of Sammo Hung’s masterpiece Eastern Condors will be sourly disappointed. It becomes apparent very quickly that the budget of Wolf Warrior dictates that, if you must make a comparison to a similarly themed movie, then the 1991 Moon Lee action flick Angel Force would be a much more favorable effort. It may be shot in 3D and feature some worthy explosions and pyrotechnics, but there’s no denying that Wolf Warrior is a far cry from the budget of other mainland-centric productions such as Switch. Still, when you have talent in front of the camera like they do here, who cares!?

The story itself opens with Wu Jing’s character, who’s an expert sniper, skillfully taking our a terrorist from ‘somewhere in South East Asia’, who’s threatening to put a bullet in the head of a hostage. Wu’s actions are considered risky, but ultimately he’s promoted to the Wolf Division, a team which is “the special force of special forces.” Trouble comes though when the brother of the terrorist Wu killed discovers his whereabouts, and sends a team of elite foreign mercenaries, led by Adkins, to have him killed. Mid-way through, the script seems to realize it needs to give the terrorists some reason for doing what they’re doing, so it’s explained in a throwaway comment that they’re planning to make a virus using Chinese DNA which will only kill Chinese people. Ok.

Wolf Warriors opens strongly, the first 15 minutes being filled with some impressive action sequences. There are plenty of explosions, all of them real, and several of which utilize some unique POV reaction shots when they go off, thanks to all the soldiers seemingly wearing cameras somewhere on their person (it’s never clear exactly where). Likewise Scott Adkins and his posse also make an impressive entrance, blowing a house to smithereens, and unleashing a minigun against several police cars to devastating effect.

While there’s not a single kick or punch thrown by either Wu or Adkins, the quality of what’s on display means you don’t even notice. Unfortunately, after such a strong opening, things take a turn for the worse. Wu is soon recruited to Wolf Division, and dropped in the jungle close to the border in which he has to take part in a training excercise.  The game pits his team, led my mainland actor Shi Zhao Qi, against another, led by the leader of the Wolf Division played by Yu Nan, who you may recognize as the only good thing about Expendables II.

Their training is interrupted however by the arrival of Scott Adkins and his gang, who do terribly intimidating things like spray paint a rock with Chinese characters which read ‘Chinese Boy Scouts’, even though none of the mercenaries can speak Chinese, let alone write it. But wait, before any of that, in one very confusing scene Wu and his team suddenly fall quiet, before whispering that there are wolves on the way. The whole time various characters have been referring to themselves as wolves, so I was expecting the other team to show up and for some action to take place. Instead, a group of CGI wolves make themselves known, and we have to watch the brave Chinese soldiers fight against said wolves via rather awkward actor vs. sub-par CGI animal trickery.

We know the soldiers are brave by the way, because when Adkins and Wu do face off, even though Adkins has been a merciless bastard throughout, he takes a moment to tell him – “You may not be the smartest soldier I’ve ever met, but you’re definitely the bravest.” Talk about breaking character. These constant gushings about how great and beautiful China is happen with overwhelming regularity throughout the movie. To a large degree, they’re forgivable. Unlike many movies which awkwardly shoehorn in the ‘China is great!’ message, Wolf Warrior was about how great China was from the very beginning, so it comes as expected. That said, it still manages to grate at certain points, especially with one of the closing lines being, “Those who threaten China’s resolve will have no place to hide!”

From the moment Wu is recruited to the Wolf Division the movie is essentially limited to just two locations – the jungle, and the division base which has Yu Nan communicating with Wu via a headset and a nifty CGI map of the landscape. With Wu’s team mates isolated against Adkins and his crew, it should be time for some fists and feet action in the jungle, but sadly, this never comes to be. Instead, almost 99% of the movies action consists of rather dull gunplay. Hardly any of it is particularly bloody, but most disappointingly, the promise of the first 15 minutes is quickly forgotten, as the vast majority of the shootouts are instantly forgettable.

When Wu and Adkins finally do run out of bullets and face off, at last there’s a moment of tension in the air as they both get their knives out and confront each other. Less than a minute and several moments of wirework later, it’s over. Adkins barely gets to throw a single kick, and worse of all, is dispatched in a horrendously cheesy way – with Wu getting himself all riled up by looking at his arm patch that Adkins tore off: a Chinese flag which has written in English ‘I Fight for China’. It pains me to say that Wu didn’t learn from his experience on Legendary Assassin, on which he also worked with fight chorographer Nicky Li, as it seems that while both are talented, they don’t appear to be a good match for each others styles. Wu vs. Adkins should have been epic, but instead, it’s hardly worth a mention.

Wu also hasn’t improved much as a director in 7 years. Some parts are laughably bad. In one scene a grenade goes off which is shown in slow motion, it then cuts to Yu Nan watching the explosion on the monitor inside the base, but ridiculously the scene on the monitor is also playing in slow motion. He also doesn’t understand how to engage the audience, as in another scene one of his team members shows him a photo of his daughter that he keeps inside his helmet. Less than 5 minutes later, the character is killed, and it flashes back to him showing Wu the photo inside his helmet, even though we just watched it a couple of minutes ago. The soaring score wants us to get emotional, but the emotions aren’t earned.

Proceedings come to a close with a Jackie Chan style outtakes reel over the final credits, complete with fight scene accidents, line blunders, and general onset shenanigans. Normally I show a lot of goodwill towards outtakes, but in this case, it simply felt like it was prolonging the inevitable, when all I wanted it to do was end. Indeed those who threaten China may have no place to hide, but if those making the threats are faced with the prospect of having to watch Wolf Warrior, I’m sure they’ll try pretty damn hard.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 4.5/10

Disclaimer: I watched Wolf Warrior in the cinema in 3D. While not normally a fan of 3D, here in Australia there was no option to view it any other way. Apart from a few explosions which sent splinters hurtling towards the screen in the beginning and end, I’m unsure why the decision was made to film in the 3D format, as it was barely utilized.

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Will Denzel kick ass again in ‘The Equalizer 2′?

"The Equalizer" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"The Equalizer" Japanese Theatrical Poster

During their CinemaCon presentation, Sony announced that The Equalizer 2 is currently in the works. There are no other details at this time, other than it has a release date scheduled for September 29, 2017.

2014′s The Equalizer was directed by Antoine Fuqua (Replacement Killers) and starred Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo and Haley Bennett.

The film, which was loosely based on the 1980′s TV show of the same name, was about a sophisticated former government agent atoning for the sins of his past by righting the wrongs of a flawed legal system.

We’ll keep you updated as we hear more!

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5 reasons why ‘Kung Fu Killer’ gets Donnie Yen back on track!

"Kung Fu Killer" Theatrical Poster

"Kung Fu Killer" Theatrical Poster

While few would dispute Donnie Yen’s position as one of action cinema’s reigning champs, there’s no denying that the reception to his more recent output has been rather lackluster. Films such as Special ID and Iceman have disappointed for a number of reasons, but mostly for the fact that they lacked the hard-hitting action fans had come to expect after movies like Ip Man and Flash Point. Thankfully, Donnie Yen’s upcoming effort Kung Fu Killer represents a startling return to form and we’re here to tell you why.

1.) Donnie Yen gets to stretch his acting chops for a change

After Iceman saw Donnie Yen strolling around Hong Kong with a goofy grin and a wig, it’s refreshing that Kung Fu Killer affords him the chance to act again. When a fearsome serial killer begins targeting the best martial artists in their field, the police turn to Donnie Yen’s character for help – the twist is, he’s already behind bars himself. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen Yen play a character with this much of a dark side; here he’s a bit closer to Hannibal Lecter than he is Ip Man, and it’s a nice change of pace.

2.) Wang Baoqiang may be Donnie Yen’s toughest opponent yet

Okay, considering that Donnie Yen faced off against Jet Li back in Once Upon a Time in China II, that statement might not be entirely accurate. But the point is that actor Wang Baoqiang brings to Kung Fu Killer exactly what a Donnie Yen movie needs: a formidable villain. Thanks to his surprisingly solid martial arts skills and a manic, over-the-top performance, Wang Baoqiang electrifies the film every moment he’s onscreen.

3.) The filmmakers incorporate elements of other genres

Nobody would mistake Kung Fu Killer for anything other than what it is – a pulse-pounding action/thriller – but the fact that our villain is a serial killer gives the movie a unique feel. This allows the filmmakers to incorporate at various times the look and feel of other genres, particularly those of the police procedural and horror movie. The result is that Kung Fu Killer‘s premise and aesthetic alone help set it apart from other Donnie Yen movies.

4.) Teddy Chan is back behind the camera

Not familiar with Teddy Chan? He’s the same director who worked with Donnie Yen on the excellent Bodyguards & Assassins. While that movie was more of an ensemble film than a showcase for Yen in particular, Teddy Chan made sure the movie’s action sequences were delivered with the same flair and finesse Donnie Yen’s fans have come to expect. In Kung Fu Killer, the focus is squarely on Yen and Teddy Chan delivers the goods when it comes to the movie’s numerous fights and kinetic setpieces.

5.) The film pays homage to the action legends who have come before

It’s impossible to forge ahead in a genre without paying respects to the innovators and trailblazers who have come before. Donnie Yen clearly knows this better than anyone as Kung Fu Killer is stuffed to the brim with cameos and knowing nods to the legends of Hong Kong cinema. We dare say you won’t be able to catch them all on a first watch, but eagle-eyed viewers will be sure to notice appearances from Shaw Brothers players David Chiang and studio boss Raymond Chow, not to mention a tribute to the recently departed Lau Kar-leung.

Watch the U.S. trailer for Kung Fu Killer, which hits theaters on April 24, 2015, followed by a Blu-ray & DVD release on July 21, 2015. Read our full review here.

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Two new posters for ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’

"Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" Teaser Poster

"Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" Teaser Poster

THE MOVIE: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is an upcoming movie intended to be a sequel to 2013′s Man of Steel. Zack Snyder is directing the film, written by Chris Terrio, from a story by Snyder and David S. Goyer. The film releases on March 25, 2016.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice stars Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons and Holly Hunter.

Updates: Collider reports that Zack Snyder will shoot Batman vs. Superman back-to-back with JLA, which means a 2017 release for JLA. | Here’s the first look at Ben Affleck as Batman. Also, a peak at the new Batmobile in Batman vs. Superman, courtesy of Collider. | Collider reports that Batman vs. Superman (aka Man of Steel 2) is officially titled Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Also, the new logo has been revealed. | Variety reports that Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones) has signed up for the role of Aquaman in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. | First image of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. | First photo of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, courtesy of Collider (via EW). | 1st teaser trailer.

BREAKING NEWS: Two new posters: 1 | 2

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Hungry? Watch the newest ‘Jurassic World’ trailer!

"Jurassic World" Teaser Poster

"Jurassic World" Teaser Poster

THE MOVIE: The fourth installment in the Jurassic Park franchise is titled Jurassic World. Directing the film will be Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed). There are no plot details, but the film has a release date for June 12, 2015. So far, the cast includes Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jake Johnson, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins and Irrfan Khan.

Chances are his script will bear no resemblance to an earlier one from The Departed‘s Willian Monahan that floated around the web back in 2007. That draft had a soldier of fortune returning to Jurassic Park with the help of some genetically engineered mini-T-Rexes who obeyed his commands like domesticated dogs. We’re not even making this up!

Updates: Here’s a new pack of cast photos, featuring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins, courtesy of Collider. | First official poster. | First Jurassic World teaser. | First full trailer. | Big Game trailer. | New  TV spot.

BREAKING NEWS: Watch the newest trailer.

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Rainy Dog (1997) Review

"Rainy Dog" DVD Cover

"Rainy Dog" DVD Cover

Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Seigo Inoue
Producer: Tetsuya Ikeda, Tsutomu Tsuchikawa
Cast: Show Aikawa, Sau Leung “Blacky” Ko, Xianmei Chen, Zhang Shi, Jianqin He, Tomorowo Taguchi
Running Time: 95 min.

By Martin Sandison

Part of director Takashi Miike’s Triad society trilogy, Rainy Dog is a revelation; a quiet, slow moving meditation on innocence and the consequences of violence. Miike is of course synonymous with extreme cinema, especially his masterpieces Ichi The Killer and Audition. As much as I love those movies, Rainy Dog proves his ability to work on a serious level with real clarity and attention to detail. Shot in Taiwan with mostly a Taiwanese cast and crew, Miike does not speak Mandarin meaning that he was not able to communicate directly with either of them, but still manages to elicit wonderful performances.

Sho Aikawa stars as an ex-Yakuza hitman who has relocated to Taiwan, and lives in a modest apartment. One day a girl he slept with arrives with his supposed son, saying he has to look after the child. He takes on a job he shouldn’t have, and is pursued by Yakuza. He falls in with a prostitute and the three of them hideout from the gangsters. Despite a slight plotline everything falls in to place beautifully, and even minor characters are memorable. Tomorowo Taguchi has a small part, playing a strange guy that sleeps rough and wears a sharp suit who is obsessive in his pursuit of Aikawa, despite his motives never being explained. This was one of the many movies Taguchi appeared in that year, and he is one of the best character actors ever to come out of Japan. One of his first roles was in Tetsuo: The Iron Man, one of the greatest Cyberpunk horror movies ever made. I first watched that movie at the age of about 14, and its insane visuals made a huge impression on me. A couple of years ago I managed to catch it on the big screen in the Edinburgh Film Festival, and its impression was just as vital. Anyone that knows their Hong Kong cinema will notice Blackie Ko appearing as a brothel owner very briefly in Rainy Dog. Aikawa puts in perhaps his strongest performance in a Miike film, coming just before his deranged turn in Dead or Alive, another Miike classic that couldn’t be more different in tone from Rainy Dog.

The shooting style of the film is a marked departure for Miike; maybe this is partly due to the crew being Taiwanese, who mainly worked on the films of Hou Hsiao- Hsien, the maverick arthouse director. There are a lot of static shots in Rainy Dog, with characters framed through the pouring rain. The aesthetic is a lot more low key and quietly observed, with a slowly burning atmosphere. The films influences are a lot more plain to see than in other Miike films also. Wong Kar Wai’s films of the time such as Fallen Angels (one of my all-time favourites) with their late night ambience inform Rainy Dog, with even use of the stop printing technique so synonymous with Wong used in one scene. John Woo’s The Killer with Chow Yun Fat as the hitman with a heart of gold and dark city feel is echoed and incorporated with a much more grimy style. The violence is filmed in short bursts with one or two angles, worlds away from Woo’s elaborate dance. Aikawa’s monosyllabic performance and other characters recall classic Westerns, such as Sergio Leone’s masterful Dollars Trilogy. The blues slide guitar soundtrack reinforces this, and reminds me of Jim Jarmusch’s brilliant revisionist Western Dead Man that has a soundtrack by the genius Neil Young, my favourite musician. The look and feel of Takeshi Kitano’s gangster films, especially Sonatine, are reference points also, with their deliberately slow and symbolic style. All of these film makers inform the style of Rainy Dog, but Miike manages to rise above them and deliver a film very much his own.

In terms of pure film making Rainy Dog is definitely one of Miike’s best; every aspect combines to create an immersive experience and leave a lasting impression. The cinematography is clean and concise with no intrusive angles, and there are some beautiful tracking shots especially at the end of the film. The look is consistent and even in tone, no matter the location.

The characters in the film are incredibly well drawn and you really care for them, and Aikawa’s character really develops as he goes on from a violent, drug-taking loner to a man full of heart. Jianqin He as Aikawa’s supposed son Chen is a really hear wrenching character, and communicates complex emotions despite being a mute. Some of the scenes with He are particularly touching, one being when he is sleeping rough outside of Aikawa’s apartment and befriends a stray dog.

There are some minor problems with the picture overall, such as the lack of gunfights that would satisfy the action fan and an air of detachment in the first half. Also the persistent rain creates an aesthetic that can at times be over cooked. However those seeking a different kind of film from Miike will not be disappointed with Rainy Dog.

Martin Sandison’s Rating: 8/10

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

Josh Trank’s ‘Fantastic Four’ gets a new trailer!

"Fantastic Four" Theatrical Poster

"Fantastic Four" Theatrical Poster

Josh Trank, the co-writer/director of 2012′s Chronicle, scored a major hit with that film’s ‘found footage’ take on the superhero genre. He’s been rewarded with the task of rebooting the Fantastic Four. The movie will star Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey and Tim Blake Nelson. It has a release date set for August 7, 2015.

This will be 20th Centry Fox’s second attempt at launching Marvel Comics’ cosmic family into a successful movie franchise. Trank will be assisted by producer Matthew Vaughn, a filmmaker who has some experience with comic book material: he directed both X-Men: First Class and Kick Ass. | Watch the 1st teaser trailer.

BREAKING NEWS: Watch the newest trailer!

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Jiang Wen to helm wuxia flick titled ‘The Hidden Warrior’

"The Lost Bladesman" Theatrical Poster

"The Lost Bladesman" Theatrical Poster

Jiang Wen (The Lost Bladesman) – actor, writer and director of Let the Bullets Fly – has announced that his next project will be a wuxia film titled The Hidden Warrior. The upcoming martial arts actioner will complete his Republican era-set Beiyang trilogy, which started with Let the Bullets Fly.

According to FBA, The Hidden Warrior is the tale of a young swordsman trying to solve a five-year murder case within the bowels of the city in 1936 Beijing. The screenplay for the film – based on a novel by Zhang Beihai – is being written by He Jiping, who is mostly known for penning The Warlords and Flying Swords of Dragon Gate.

We’ll keep you posted on The Hidden Warrior as we hear more. Stay tuned!

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Mike Moeller is a sensation with ‘One Million Klicks’

"One Million Klicks" Theatrical Poster

"One Million Klicks" Theatrical Poster

After taking the lead in 2012′s Arena of the Street Fighter, German martial artist Mike Moeller is back this year with One Million Klicks. It’s the first project from production company Silent Partners, which was recently formed by Mike Leeder along with Ruediger Kummerle.

The movie is a German language modern day actioner, which follows the well worn genre trope of a good hearted fighter being drawn into an underground martial arts tournament being shown on the internet… think Bangkok Knockout. However with Moeller in the lead, some solid action should definitely be on the cards.

Mike Leeder recently reported that Evolutionary Films, the London based sales and production company, have been appointed as international sales agent to represent the movie, and will be being taken to Cannes. Click here to watch the latest trailer!

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Deal on Fire! Legend of the Fist | Blu-ray | Only $8.63 – Expires soon!

"Legend of the Fist" Blu-ray Cover

"Legend of the Fist" Blu-ray Cover

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Donnie Yen’s Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, directed by Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs).

In Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, Donnie Yen plays Chen Zhen, a role made famous by Bruce Lee in the 1972 film Fist of Fury. It’s set in Shanghai International Settlement, seven years after the events of the Bruce Lee classic!

Legend of the Fist also stars Shu Qi (Storm Riders), Anthony Wong (Punished) and Shawn Yue (Motorway).

Order Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen from Amazon.com today!

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Saviour Monk, The (1975) Review

"The Saviour Monk" Chinese DVD Cover

"The Saviour Monk" Chinese DVD Cover

Director: Leung Chit Foo
Producer: Chang Yan-Tao
Cast: Doris Lung Chung Erh, Tong Wai, Philip Ko Fei, Chin Chi Min, Ma Cheung, Yuen Sam, Lee Ying, Tit Mang Chau
Running Time: 87 min.

By Paul Bramhall

The Saviour Monk is a tricky movie to review – it looks, feels, and sounds like an old school kung fu movie. It has a cast which includes familiar old school faces like Doris Lung and Philip Ko, and, well, what 70’s Hong Kong movie with the word ‘monk’ in its title doesn’t feature the monks in question busting out some kung fu moves?

The Saviour Monk is that movie, as in its compact runtime (it clocks in at under 90 minutes), apart from some brief and decidedly average swordplay action, not a single punch or kick is thrown. So, what are we left with? In place of a kung fu spectacle, director Leung Chit Foo appears to have set out to sincerely tell the tale of a suitor to the throne, who decides to forego his birthright in order to become a monk.

There’s some onscreen text at the beginning of the movie which could well explain that proceedings are loosely based on a true story, but unfortunately it’s impossible for me to tell, as none of it was subtitled. The subtitles do kick in for the characters dialogue, even if they look like they were made on a typewriter that’s been dropped on the floor, wildly shaken, and stomped on for good measure. The quality of the subtitle appearance aside, The Saviour Monk did actually add a new word to my vocabulary, when the father of the would-be monk yells at him, “You! the recalcitrant!” Sadly the range of vocabulary is let down later on by such lines as, “Please sit down up.”

The monk himself is played by Tong Wai, who’s righteous appearance often saw him starring in wuxia productions such as Majesty Cat and The Smart Cavalier, as well as featuring in the occasional Shaw Brothers production such as Naval Commandos. With a host of genre talent playing against type, and the selling point of watching a rich prince on his journey to become a monk, you may wonder if there’s any reason at all to watch The Saviour Monk. Thankfully, there is. Those reasons mainly come in the form of director Chit Foo’s rather bizarre production design decisions, which pop up with enough regularity to keep you watching.

When Wai is told by his father that he has to marry the daughter of another provinces royal family, in order to try and discover their military secrets, he reluctantly agrees to go through with it. On their first night together as a married couple, Wai looks at his new wife, and suddenly finding himself tempted by the flesh, reminds himself via voice over that “Sex means empty.” When he next looks at his wife, she’s a jangling open mouthed plastic skeleton. Of course, he’s appropriately turned off. Worrying that his wife is still frisky though, he tells her to light up a joss stick, and together they proceed to run circles around a small table for nearly a whole minute. What makes these scenes so hilarious, is that they appear to have been filmed with a genuine sincerity and seriousness.

As a reward for not giving into his human desires, Wai is visited by the ghost of a monk who’s been inexplicably following him around since the start of the movie, and taps him on the head with a brush, making all of his hair disappear. Having achieved his goal of becoming a monk (seemingly by doing nothing more than resisting having sex with the woman he was forced to marry), Wai doesn’t even bother to wake her up, simply abandoning her in bed and setting off on his monks journey. This sets up the main structure of the plot, which finds Wai stumbling across a cult called the ‘Heaven Religion’, who want to control the population, while at the same time his wife and father are in hot pursuit after she was given the one night stand treatment (minus the sex part).

The leader of the ‘Heaven Religion’ is played by kung fu legend Philip Ko, decked out to look like a Chinese version of Dracula in black robes and pale makeup, it almost seems like a crime that he doesn’t throw a single shape. His base seems to be in some kind of underground cave, albeit a cave which has automatic doors, and when we’re first introduced to his evil schemes it’s through one of the daughters of a village elder, who’s been possessed by his evil spell. The daughter is played by another familiar face from the jade screen, Doris Lung.

Lung had an interesting career in the Hong Kong movie industry, active for the best part of a decade from the early 70’s through to the early 80’s, some sources report that she had an unstable personality, and attempted suicide three times during this time. Whether these facts are true or not is difficult to confirm, but regardless of their authenticity, in The Saviour Monk she gets to unleash her wild side via plenty of manic laughter (dubbed over by a man, no doubt inspired by The Exorcist, made 2 years prior) and arm flailing.

Most interesting of her scenes though is one in which she performs a sexual dance routine in Philip Ko’s lair, not at all dissimilar to the go-go dance scene in The Association, only with slightly less revealing clothing. Both The Association and The Saviour Monk were made in 1975, so it begs the question of which one introduced the ‘sexy dance in a cults hidden lair’ scene first. While Lung’s dance doesn’t involve a see through gown, the scene does get points for incorporating a lineup of male and female backup dancers, some of whom wear expressions which look like they’re questioning how they got roped into such a performance.

The Saviour Monk saves its pièce de résistance for around the mid-way point, when out of nowhere, it decides it’s going to be a kaiju flick, and Philip Ko summons a giant bug eyed monster to erupt out of the ground, stomping everything in its path. Ok, so the only thing in its path are a few model trees, but it still counts. Unfazed by the monster, probably because the scenes were filmed separately, Wai calmly prays to the Buddha, and summons a Chinese dragon to appear and throw down with the bug eyed beast. While the scene is arguably sub-standard compared to its Japanese counterparts of the same era, the novelty of witnessing a kaiju battle in the middle of a movie which it really has no place in being, makes The Saviour Monk worth a watch.

Thankfully the bug eyed monster makes a comeback for the finale, but not before more onscreen randomness such as watching Wai parting a river as if he’s Moses, and Lung being shrunken to the size of a small doll. The Saviour Monk is perhaps best viewed as a watch once curiosity, and as Wai’s character felt after spending a night with his wife, once should be enough.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6/10

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Lust of the Dead 5 | DVD (Tokyo Shock)

Lust of the Dead 5 | DVD (Tokyo Shock)

Lust of the Dead 5 | DVD (Tokyo Shock)

RELEASE DATE: June 23, 2015

Tokyo Shock presents the DVD for Lust of the Dead 5 (aka Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead 5) starring Asami (Prison Girl) and Mihiro (Ju-on series).

The insane apocalyptic zombie saga continues! Watch the viral epidemic spread as the sex-craved, walking-dead expand their rampage across post-nuke Tokyo! Can they be sopped? Can their perpetual lust ever be satisfied?

Don’t miss the trailer! Also see Lust of the Dead 4.

Pre-order Lust of the Dead 5 from Amazon.com today!

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Third time’s a charm for Takashi Ishii’s ‘Gonin Saga’

"Gonin" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Gonin" Japanese Theatrical Poster

In the mood for more Yakuza action? Well, so are we. Takashi Ishii (Freeze Me) is currently wrapping up the third entry to his violent Gonin series. But before we talk about that, let’s take a look at the first two films:

1995′s Gonin revolved around a disco owner who convinces 4 other guys to go along with him in a planned heist of the local Yakuza thugs for over 100 million yen. The heist is successful, however, the Yakuza, obviously perturbed at the theft, send out 2 hit men (one of which is played by Beat Takeshi) to kill the five.

Gonin 2, which came out in 1996, followed Masamichi Toyama (Ken Ogata), a married man who gets into a bad gambling debt he cant pay back. As a result, Yakuza gangsters track him down, beat him to a pulp and rape his wife. Now, the only thing Toyama will pay back is bloody revenge!

According Film Business Asia, Gonin Saga (aka Gonin 3) follows an investigative reporter who meets the sons of the gangsters involved in the aftermath of the original heist. The film stars Masahiro Higashide (Crows Explode), Kenta Kiritani (Outrage Beyond), Anna Tsuchiya (Kamui Gaiden), Tasuku Emoto (A Story of Yonosuke) and Masanobu Ando (Battle Royale).

Gonin Saga is expected to be released in Japan on September 26, 2015. Until then, here’s the first trailer (via FCS).

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Suzune Complete | DVD (Tokyo Shock)

Suzune Complete | DVD (Tokyo Shock)

Suzune Complete | DVD (Tokyo Shock)

RELEASE DATE: June 9, 2015

Tokyo Shock presents the DVD for Ryu Kaneda’s Suzune Complete, which contains Suzune: Genesis and Suzune: Evolution.

When your body is bursting with all kinds of erotic parasites, the only person that can save you is Dr. Suzune (Rei Yoshii).

Based on Japan’s most popular mobile phone manga, Kisei jui-Suzune by Haruki. Watch the trailer (don’t blame us, we’re just here to report this stuff).

Pre-order Suzune Complete from Amazon.com today!

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Pound of Flesh (2015) Review

"Pound of Flesh" DVD Cover

"Pound of Flesh" DVD Cover

Director: Ernie Barbarash
Writer: Joshua James
Producer: Henry Luk, Mike Leeder
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Darren Shahlavi, Aki Aleong, John Ralston, Jason Tobin, Philippe Joly, Brahim Achabbakhe, Andrew Ng, Mike Leeder, Adele Baughan
Running Time: 104 min.

By HKFanatic

About two minutes into Pound of Flesh, Jean-Claude Van Damme wakes up in a bathtub full of ice. His skin pallid, his eyes as sunken as a skull’s, he slowly becomes aware of his surroundings. Crawling from the tub, he is trembling, naked, and afraid. He tentatively inspects the massive scar across his side and soon comes to the realization that he has had his kidney removed against his will. The horror of this moment is startling portrayed by Van Damme, who appears in this instance less an action hero and more a frightened victim. Quite frankly, we’ve never seen the actor as vulnerable as he is here.

Unfortunately, this is the only dramatically interesting scene in the entirety of Pound of Flesh. Shortly after Van Damme throws some pants on and makes a few phone calls to his old covert agent connections, the movie becomes your typical low-budget action flick as Van Damme storms through the seedy bars and back alleys of China shouting “Where’s my kidney?!” to unintentionally hilarious effect. You see, before Van Damme was drugged and placed under the knife, he had traveled to the country to donate his organ to a terminally ill niece. If he doesn’t get the missing kidney back in time, his niece is sure to die.

The old ‘waking up in a bathtub of ice’ story has been around for years as something of an urban legend, and was even the premise behind the 2004 Hong Kong thriller Koma from The Bullet Vanishes director Chi-Leung Law. No doubt it’s a serviceable set-up for an action movie; the problem emerges as soon as fists start flying the viewer realizes that, while Jean-Claude Van Damme’s name receives the top billing, his stand-in might receive more screentime than he does.

Although there have been no behind-the-scenes stories or rumors of reshoots, it’s difficult to watch Pound of Flesh and not get the impression it must have been something of a troubled production. There are scenes where it’s glaringly obvious that Van Damme was filmed in front of a green screen and inserted into the middle of previously shot sequences. Worse yet, Van Damme’s stunt double is visible in nearly every action shot in which the camera isn’t facing Van Damme head-on. No doubt Van Damme is an international star, and an actor who’s getting up there in years, so insurance purposes or his health may necessitate the use of a stand-in; however, it’s never been this apparent and easy to spot.

The fight choreography in Pound of Flesh arrives from the talented John Salvetti, an action coordinator who needs no introduction once you realize he’s the guy who fought Donnie Yen at the end of Tiger Cage 2. What he brings to Pound of Flesh is a more grounded, realistic style of combat that favors grappling and other moves that will likely be familiar to fans of Mixed Martial Arts. While his choreography is topnotch, its impact is frequently marred by choppy editing; it also has the unfortunate habit of downplaying Jean-Claude Van Damme and his co-star Darren Shahlavi’s flair for the more acrobatic, high-flying, Hong Kong-influenced style of onscreen martial arts.

It’s impossible to discuss Pound of Flesh without addressing the death of Darren Shahlavi, an immensely talented screen performer who died tragically young shortly after filming. Shahlavi had a gift for playing formidable villains, whether as the British boxer in Ip Man 2, Kano in the popular Mortal Kombat: Legacy web series, or the kung fu serial killer in the Gary Daniels cult classic Bloodmoon. His untimely passing has robbed us of a gifted martial artist who no doubt had many, many more promising roles ahead of him. Fortunately, he’s a highlight of Pound of Flesh, as he seems to be the only actor onscreen who realizes he’s in the middle of a direct-to-video action flick and decides to have fun with it. Shahlavi’s clearly relishing the chance to play a baddie opposite Van Damme and he delivers an entertaining, over-the-top performance to match.

While Van Damme himself appears invested in the Pound of Flesh’s dramatic moments, his performance is undone by a script that paints his character as blatantly unlikable. Van Damme is placed at odds against his long-suffering brother (portrayed by John Ralston), a church-going, violence-averse college professor. Once we learn that this character is literally sterile and had his wife stolen by Van Damme, we realize he’s only here so Van Damme’s character Deacon can look cooler in comparison – which doesn’t exactly endear the viewer to the selfish Deacon. Lest we forget that this guy was drinking it up and engaging in a one night stand the night before he was supposed to donate his kidney to his niece. It’s enough to make you wish Van Damme would stick to playing the melancholy assassins he usually portrays in recent films like Six Bullets.

Thanks to the genuine quality of movies like Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning and Ninja II, fans are coming to expect more from direct-to-video action movies. The bar has been raised, which is why it’s such a shame that Pound of Flesh feels beamed in from the mid-2000′s, back when Steven Seagal was sleepwalking through movies where he simply overdubbed his voice onto footage of a stand-in actor. It’s anyone’s guess why Pound of Flesh ended up being such a sloppily assembled product – no doubt time and budgetary restraints played a part – but it’s easy to feel let down when our action stars of old appear content to deliver such a substandard film. Simply put, the fans who have supported Van Damme over the years deserve more than this.

HKFanatic’s Rating: 5/10

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Aaron Kwok glows in the latest ‘Monkey King 2′ poster!

"The Monkey King 2" Teaser Poster

"The Monkey King 2" Teaser Poster

The Monkey King had the highest-grossing opening day in China, even surpassing Iron Man 3, so it’s no wonder a sequel (and its promotional poster) was revealed at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. A release date has been set for February 8, 2016.

The sequel’s plot is being kept under wraps, but here’s what we know so far: Cheang Pou-soi is returning to the director’s chair. Donnie Yen will not be in it – instead, Aaron Kwok is also taking over Yen’s role as lead character. Additionally, Sammo Hung is taking over Yen’s duties as action choreographer. The film also stars Gong Li, Feng Shaofeng, Xiaoshenyang and Him Law.

Updates: New teaser posters ( 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 ).

BREAKING NEWS: Check out the latest poster for The Monkey King 2.

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I Am Steve McQueen (2014) Review

"I Am Steve McQueen" Blu-ray Cover

"I Am Steve McQueen" Blu-ray Cover

Director: Jeff Renfroe
Writer: David Ray
Cast: Robert Downey Jr. (voice), Kristin Kreuk (voice), Chad McQueen, Gary Oldman, Zoe Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Randy Couture, Katherine Haber, Norman Jewison, Pat Johnson, Ali MacGraw
Running Time: 90 min.

By Kyle Warner

“You never know with a Hollywood star whether you’re seeing the real person. You know, everyone said that John Wayne was a great hero but the reality is that John Wayne played great heroes. With McQueen, you definitely got the idea that you were seeing an authentic person.” – Film critic Ben Mankiewicz

Produced by Network Entertainment, I Am Steve McQueen is another in the company’s line of documentaries looking back on the life and career of a talent from the past. I’ve not seen their I Am Evel Knievel or their upcoming I Am Chris Farley, but I have seen their 2012 documentary I Am Bruce Lee. The McQueen doc does not differ much from I Am Bruce Lee’s formula. Despite the title that might suggest the documentary is about McQueen’s life in his own words, his life story is primarily told by the family he left behind and the admirers he inspired

The film charts McQueen’s life from his tough childhood to his death at the age of 50 when he was one of the world’s biggest movie stars. As the documentary goes on, it touches on McQueen’s major films like Bullitt, The Great Escape, and Papillon, while also taking time to give his fans a better understanding of his personal life. And of course there’s the racing. Lots and lots of racing. I’d known Steve McQueen had a reputation as a car guy that dabbled in racing now and then, but before watching this documentary I hadn’t known that he was so serious about racing as a sport. There was a time in his career when you could say that he was a racer that also acted and not the other way around.

I think the film’s finest achievement is that does a good job of letting you that McQueen was more than just an actor; he was a highly skilled racer, a military veteran, and a very complicated human being. And I mean complicated. I Am Steve McQueen paints the actor as an incredibly competitive man. Friends from acting school remember him as considering all other blonde, blue-eyed actors as potential enemies. When he went onto bigger films, it seems he did all he could to steal scenes away from his co-stars so that he would leave the biggest impression on the audience (which is especially noticeable in The Magnificent Seven). McQueen wasn’t out to make friends in showbiz, but rather to make a name for himself. And he succeeded, giving us one memorable performance after another while simultaneously building an image for himself as the steely eyed, silent type anti-hero. Often times his competitive nature helped him rise to a level of stardom that other actors could not have reached. However, that same drive also ruined some relationships with artistic colleagues and loved ones. McQueen seemed to understand his competitive nature was leading him to the edge and he thought learning martial arts under the tutelage of Pat Johnson and Bruce Lee would help him to achieve inner balance. It would seem, based on three marriages and a multitude of fractured relationships with directors and co-stars, inner peace remained largely elusive for McQueen through much of his life.

There are many archival clips and images of McQueen throughout the documentary but the man himself grants very little information to the questions posed about his life and career. Instead, others are asked to fill in the gaps. Robert Downey Jr. serves as the film’s narrator, but like McQueen he is given very little to say. McQueen’s family lends information on his personal life and feelings over the years. Director Norman Jewison (The Cincinnati Kid), TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz, and biographer Marshall Terrill give us some history about McQueen’s films. And actors Pierce Brosnan, Gary Oldman, Zoe Bell, and Randy Couture gush with admiration about how McQueen inspired them and influenced the craft of film acting. It’s a lively group of individuals and the documentary is never boring, but I do think I Am Steve McQueen suffers from not enough of the man’s own words about his life. True, it seems McQueen was a quiet type off-screen as well as on-screen, but it still feels less complete than I would’ve liked. One of the things the documentary makes clear is that once McQueen had control over where he wanted his career to go, many of the characters he played told a little something about him. McQueen’s filmography is somewhat biographical, showing his youth on the mean streets, to his time in the military, to his love for cars and racing. So, while the documentary doesn’t give us too much of McQueen talking about himself, perhaps we can still learn something more about the man just by watching his movies.

The documentary spends too much time trying to explain how or why McQueen was cool. I guess I understand the reasoning behind it since he is known as the ‘King of Cool,’ after all. But I feel they returned to this part of McQueen’s mystique too often, leaving some of the interviewees to ramble on about his clothes, his eyes, and whether or not he would still be considered quite as cool if we just recognized him as some random guy and not the famous actor. It’s like they were attempting to explain the science of ‘cool.’ It’s entertaining at first, but only at first.

I was not a fan of I Am Bruce Lee. I felt it barely scratched the surface of the legend that is Bruce Lee, and instead was more focused on showing how Lee influenced others in their film or martial arts careers. I liked I Am Steve McQueen considerably more. Like the Bruce Lee documentary, I feel the McQueen film could’ve gone deeper. I don’t believe that McQueen’s bigger fans will learn anything new from the film. But it’s an entertaining documentary that covers all the major bases. More casual McQueen fans – like me – are more likely to get something out of the documentary, as it grants an interesting, honest look at the King of Cool. In the end, the documentary made me want to rewatch the McQueen films in my collection and check out some of the others that I missed. I figure that means I Am Steve McQueen accomplished what it set out to do.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 7/10

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