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

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Furious | DVD (Leomark Studios)

Furious | DVD (Leomark Studios)

Furious | DVD (Leomark Studios)

RELEASE DATE: July 21, 2015

Leomark Studios presents the DVD for 1984′s Furious, featuring Best of the Best stars Simon Rhee and Phillip Rhee, as well as Loren Avedon (Raging Thunder).

This cult classic has been pirated by fans all over the world since its first release in 1984. Now, Furious arrives digitally remastered in this collector’s edition DVD. Watch the trailer.

Extras include interview with writer/director Tim Everitt, two trailers and director’s commentary.

Pre-order Furious from Amazon.com today!

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Skin Trade (2014) Review

"Skin Trade" Theatrical Poster

"Skin Trade" Theatrical Poster

Director: Ekachai Uekrongtham
Producer: Craig Baumgarten, Dolph Lundgren, Mike Selby
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa, Ron Perlman, Michael Jai White, Celina Jade, Peter Weller, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Conan Stevens, Mike Dopud, Tasya Teles, Leo Rano
Running Time: 95 min.

By HKFanatic

Like many action stars of the Eighties, Dolph Lundgren has spent the last fifteen years starring in a reliable stream of direct-to-video titles. Except for a welcome appearance in The Expendables films, your best chance at catching Dolph in action as of late has been movies like The Killing Machine and Command Performance. Although Dolph frequently steps behind the camera himself for these projects, for the most part they’ve been rote thrillers with little to distinguish them besides Dolph’s natural charm. Thus, the announcement of Skin Trade made martial arts fans stand up and take notice: here was an opportunity to see Dolph Lundgren team up with international sensation Tony Jaa of Ong Bak fame. Cautious optimism aside, martial arts junkies could be forgiven for thinking this might be the best team-up since peanut butter met chocolate.

And let us not forget, in many ways Tony Jaa needed Skin Trade to be a success as much as Dolph did. It’s difficult to believe that only ten years after he shot to international stardom with Ong-Bak, Tony Jaa’s career was in a state of disrepair. By 2013, he was as well-known for his disappearing from the set of Ong-Bak 2 and contract disputes as he was his flying kicks. The dismal reception of Tom Yum Goong 2 - the movie that had once been positioned as Jaa’s comeback – served as salt on the wound. Thankfully, moving into 2015 Tony Jaa seems to be in a much better place: his physical talents will be seen by a wider audience than ever thanks to his cameo in Hollywood blockbuster Furious Seven, and Skin Trade is preparing for a Video On Demand rollout from Magnet Releasing.

Magnet themselves have been smart in building the hype for Skin Trade through a steady stream of online marketing, highlighting the star power of its cast: joining Jaa and Lundgren is fan favorite bruiser Michael Jai White (Falcon Rising), as well as character actors Paul Weller (Robocop) and Ron Perlman (Hellyboy). Which begs the question: does Skin Trade actually live up to the hype or is it destined to join the rest of Dolph Lundgren’s post-millennial career on the racks of America’s now non-existent video stores?

Perhaps befitting a film that seeks to unite two of the biggest action stars from opposite sides of the globe, Skin Trade itself seems to exhibit something of a split personality. The first half hour of the film plays out like you would expect a by-the-numbers Dolph Lundgren actioner to unfold, with Dolph on the hunt for a vicious Serbian gangster (played by Ron Perlman) who traffics women to be sold as slaves in Asia. It’s unclear just why Dolph has such a vendetta against Perlman, except for the fact that he’s a genuinely nasty piece of work, but when Perlman places a hit on Dolph’s family, it’s safe to say that things have become personal. This is the kind of revenge plot that would be set-up within the first ten minutes of a Steven Seagal flick, but for some reason takes three times as long here.

Fortunately, once Dolph Lundgren wakes up in the hospital seeing red, he hops a plane to Thailand and the real movie begins. In Asia, he crosses paths with Tony Jaa’s Thai detective – but if you were expecting the two of them to put aside their cultural differences and get to stopping Ron Perlman together, then you clearly haven’t read a comic book crossover in which our two heroes must first slug it out with each other before they can team-up. And once it does arrive, the Dolph Lundgren vs. Tony Jaa title match is well worth the wait. These two radically different combatants go at each other in a knock-down, drag-out brawl that thankfully doesn’t suffer from too much of the choppy editing that has ruined many a highly-anticipated bout (anyone remember Jet Li vs. Mark Dacascos in Cradle 2 the Grave?).

If that weren’t enough, their scuffle might just be bested later on when Tony Jaa squares off against Michael Jai White. The fight choreography is frequently captured from a far-off distance, which is a boon in that it allows us to see the athleticism of our combatants; however, it has the adverse side effect of underselling the drama of the fight. Since we never really cut to a close-up, the film fails to sell us on the emotions of the actors. Thus, I often had the impression I was watching two highly trained stunt people hit their marks rather than two characters engaged in a dramatically-charged conflict. It might seem like a small quibble in a direct-to-video flick, but the viewer should have a reason to care about the combat unfolding besides the fact that it features two of their favorite action stars.

Fans of actor Dolph Lundgren may be disappointed to hear he’s frequently outshined by his co-stars. While he is very much the main character, the filmmakers don’t afford him the same kind of jaw-dropping moments that Jaa and White receive. And despite his massive size and legitimate martial arts skills, Dolph has never moved as a graceful performer onscreen. There’s an awkward, lumbering quality to his movements that continues here, and he spends most of the climax of the film mowing down people with an AK-47 rather than employing fisticuffs. Peter Weller chews up the scenery every moment he’s onscreen (wait till you hear the way he pronounces “Asia”) but he unfortunately disappears from Skin Trade after the first act. Meanwhile, Ron Perlman seems to be doing a variation on his character from Drive, only this time with an Eastern European accent.

Skin Trade is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination – for one thing, it seeks to shed a spotlight on the real world horrors of sex trafficking, while at the same time shamelessly exploiting the few female characters in the cast. Regardless, Skin Trade certainly continues the trend of direct-to-video action movies stepping up their game: the movie harkens back to the kind of old-school, minimal-CG stunts and fight scenes that mainstream Hollywood seems to have turned their back on. There was a time when skipping a theatrical release and arriving via VOD was something of a kiss of death, but movies like Universal Soldier: Regeneration and Ninja II have proved that’s quickly changing. With its fast pace and copious amounts of bloody violence, this is clearly a film that knows its audience. As such, it’s hard to imagine that fans of the central performers won’t come away from Skin Trade thoroughly entertained.

HKFanatic’s Rating: 6/10

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

Darth Vader joins Rob Cohen’s fantasy-action flick ‘Marco Polo’

"Marco Polo" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Marco Polo" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Rob Cohen (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) will be directing a 3D fantasy/action film titled Marco Polo (no relation to the current Netflix series), a co-production between Paramount and China Film Group. The film is scheduled to hit theaters in 2016.

There have also been additional reports that Cohen is considering his Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor leading man Jet Li (Flying Swords of the Dragon Gate) for a role.

Countless projects about the Venetian adventurer have been made in the past, but the obvious one that comes to our mind is 1975′s Marco Polo (aka Four Assassins), a Chang Cheh-directed Shaw Brothers film starring Richard Harrison, Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan Chun, Gordon Liu, Leung Kar Yan and Shih Szu.

Updates: THR reports that Hayden Christensen (Star Wars Episode I-III) will be starring in Marco Polo.

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Robot Jox | Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)

Robot Jox | Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)

Robot Jox | Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)

RELEASE DATE: July 7, 2015

Before Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim… Before Michael Bay’s Transformers…

Shout! Factory presents the Blu-ray for Robot Jox. Directed by Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator), Robot Jox reveals a world where nations settle their territorial disputes by a single combat between two giant machines. Piloted by national heroes Achilles (Gary Graham) and Alexander (Paul Koslo), the robots meet in Death Valley to fight for the greatest prize of all: Alaska. Watch the trailer.

Pre-order Robot Jox from Amazon.com today!

Posted in DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Other Notable Titles | Tagged | 2 Comments

Typhoon (2005) Review

"Typhoon" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Typhoon" Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Gwak Gyeong-Taek
Writer: Gwak Gyeong-Taek
Producer: Park Seong-Geun, Yang Jung-Gyeong
Cast: Jang Dong-Gun, Lee Jeong-Jae, Lee Mi-Yeon, David McInnis, Wook Heo, David No, Chatthapong Pantanaunkul
Running Time: 124 min.

By HKFanatic

From the opening of Typhoon, it’s clear that Korea is screwed. A rogue pirate named Sin (Dong-gun Jang) with a grudge against both the North and the South has amassed some weapons-grade plutonium. His big plan is to release it during a typhoon, when the high velocity winds will spread it across the entire island. Fortunately, some stern-looking military generals in the South declare, “I know just the man for the job.” Smash cut to: our South Korean alpha-male Navy officer hero playing shirtless football on the beach with a bunch of his military buds.

Yup, it’s that kind of movie. South Korea attempts to mimic Hollywood with this slick, expensive blockbuster whose protagonist, played by Jung-Jae Lee, seems like the country’s answer to Keanu Reeves. But Typhoon is not as empty-headed as your typical Michael Bay flick.

That is, there’s some genuine drama to be found. The villain’s only living relative is his long-lost sister, who also happens to be a drug addict. Our hero locates her and tries to use her to bargain with Sin. In the process he develops something like affection for her and respect for Sin. He slowly realizes that the only thing separating him from the pirate is chance or fate; the Navy officer feels just as strongly about protecting his country as Sin does destroying it.

At 124 minutes, Typhoon takes plenty of time to develop its story and lay out some action sequences. There’s nothing mind-blowing but a car chase about halfway through the movie is a sure highlight, with Jung-Jae Lee running out of a hotel lobby and firing his gun at the fleeing bad guys in slow-motion like a bad-ass. Later there’s a tense shoot-out in a tiny cottage, with the good guys in the sights of a crackpot sniper. The climax of the film sees the Korean Navy undergo a daring operation in the heart of the typhoon. The hand-to-hand combat is your standard Hollywood fare, nothing to write home about, but this finale has enough of that ‘explosions on a rain-swept barge that could capsize at any moment’ feel to it to keep your adrenaline going.

Oddly enough, Dong-gun Jang seems like the bigger star of this production, seeing as how he gets top billing in the credits and is featured most prominently on the movie posters. The screenplay goes to great lengths to establish his character as a wounded and sympathetic villain, despite the fact that he plans to murder millions of people. While Dong-gun Jang gives a solid performance and I appreciate the film’s attempts to give us a more three-dimensional antagonist, when I watch an action movie I really just want to see the hero kick the bad guy’s ass without remorse.

There’s not quite enough of that vibe in Typhoon, but it’s a solidly entertaining flick. It tries to imitate your typical Hollywood blockbuster with some degree of success. Still, I think if there’s anything South Korean films have taught us lately, it’s that they’re at their best when they’re making the movies that Hollywood won’t.

HKFanatic’s Rating: 6/10

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Tiger Over Wall (1980) Review

"Tiger Over Wall" Theatrical Poster

"Tiger Over Wall" Theatrical Poster

Director: Tony Liu Jun Guk
Writer: Tony Liu Jun Guk
Producer: Alex Gouw
Cast: Philip Ko Fei, Kong Do, Chu Tiet Wo, Hwang Jang Lee, Cheung Lik, Candy Wen, Chan Lau, Pak Sha Lik, Lau Hok Nin
Running Time: 91 min.

By Paul Bramhall

There’s a certain familiarity to watching an old school kung fu movie, in that you tend to know exactly what you’re going to get. A villain has killed a teacher, and the student vows to get revenge. A villain has killed a family member, and the surviving relative vows to get revenge. A villain has killed someone who has a loose connection to someone else, and that someone else vows to get revenge. It’s a tried and tested formula, and the rule of thumb seems to be that as long as we get a healthy dose of exciting fight action, the sub-standard plots can be forgiven.

So with Tiger Over Wall, apart from having a title which resembles a grammatical car crash, it’s refreshing to get a plot which takes a different approach from the norm. As the bombastic music plays over the opening credits, you can’t help but also notice the sound of a dog barking in what sounds like an empty room, which has been mixed over the music at equal volume. It’s quite jarring. This however is the closest we get to a dog for the rest of the movie, as proceedings open on a middle aged British diplomat and his Chinese mistress realizing that their treasured boxed dog, Rover, has gone missing.

Soon enough they’re questioning the nearest passerby to see if they’ve seen the precious Rover, and when the poor sap reveals he hasn’t, he ends up getting beaten by the diplomat, while the mistress cheerfully yells in the background, “That’s right! Beat him! Kick the bastard harder! Kick him ‘till he’s dead! Kick him! Go on!” Things escalate, and within the first 15 minutes, the chief of police – played by Korean kicking legend Hwang Jang Lee – has been called in to try and find the dog, threatening to arrest anyone who doesn’t help with the investigation.

There we have the plot of Tiger Over Wall – the police try to find a white guy’s missing dog. As ridiculous as this may sound, the events are actually based on a true story that took place in Shanghai during 1919. The fact that the dog belonged to a foreign diplomat resulted in the police getting involved, however I’m sure that’s as far as the similarities go.

The movie is directed by Tony Liu Jun Guk, and while his name may not be as familiar as other directors working around the same period, he’s arguably been behind several classic slices of kung fu. Jun Guk hit his stride a few years after making Tiger Over Wall, when while working for the Shaw Brothers studio he made several high energy, slightly off the wall, kung fu movies such as Holy Flame of the Martial World, Bastard Swordsman, and Secret Service of the Imperial Court. As the 90’s beckoned he moved into the Girls with Guns genre, directing a number of Moon Lee starring action fests like Devil Hunters, Dreaming the Reality, and Angel Terminators 2.

Jun Guk enlisted fight choreographer Dang Tak Cheung to stage the action for Tiger Over Wall, and Tak Cheung’s resume makes for just as impressive reading as the director himself. Like Jun Guk, Tak Cheung also liked to work on the slightly more off the wall side of the kung-fu movie world, choreographing the likes of Kung Fu Zombie, and the insane Shaw Brothers production Buddha’s Palm. While working at Shaw Brothers Dak Cheung got the opportunity to have full control on a couple of productions, which led to him directing, writing, and choreographing the late-Shaw era movies Demon of the Lute and Long Road to Gallantry, both of which are personal favorites.

With such talent behind the camera, to really make a great old-school kung-fu movie, you need to have an equal amount of talent in front of it. Thankfully Tiger Over Wall does, who come in the form of Philip Ko, and the previously mentioned Hwang Jang Lee. Both are ably backed up by such familiar old school faces as Kong Do, Chu Tiet Wo, Cheung Lik, and even the director himself shows up as an assassin for hire. Both Philip Ko and Hwang Jang Lee have so many classics between them that it would be impossible to do them justice in just a few lines. Ko, arguably the master of the ‘shapes’ style of choreography, was on fire in 1980, also starring in The Loot and Snake Deadly Act to name but a couple, while Hwang, often referred to as the king of leg fighters, also cranked out classics like The Buddha Assassinator and Challenge of the Tiger in the same year.

In an era where we’re happy just to have one good kung fu movie a year, it’s easy to forget that in the golden era we had several stars making several movies every year, year in year out. It’s a time that will likely never be rivaled in terms of productivity and output, but at least it leaves us with plenty to choose from. In Tiger Over Wall Ko plays the guy who has to see not only his girlfriend’s poor family, but also his teacher, end up getting roped into taking the fall for the missing dog, under false promises of money or business permits. As he’s forced to watch his nearest and dearest be lied to, beaten up, and tortured, things begin to boil over until he can’t take anymore, and he begins to bust out the moves that we’ve all been waiting for.

It’s worth noting that Tiger Over Wall certainly doesn’t rush its fight scenes. Indeed for the first 50 minutes, with the exception of a few brief scuffles by Ko and the constant threat of violence, there’s actually no substantial fight action. Thankfully the hilarious English dub more than makes up for it, providing plenty of unintentional laughs as Hwang Jang Lee storms into various establishments yelling “WHERE’S THE BOXER DOG!?” The absurdity of it never wears off, and keeps proceedings moving along nicely. However at the 50 minute mark Ko gets to explode, taking on Kong Do in an awesome shapes fest involving fists, feet, and a pair of umbrellas. It’s fast, fluid, and sets off a buildup of action which doesn’t stop until the credits roll.

While you’ll often see discussions which talk about how great it would be if certain stars of the old school era had faced off against each other but never did, movies like Tiger Over Wall make you thankful that a movie exists in which, yes, kung fu legends like Philip Ko and Hwang Jang Lee actually do get to face off against each other. And for those who are worried, don’t be, it doesn’t fail to impress. The finale is lengthy and exhausting, as the pair start off with Ko armed with a staff and Hwang armed with a guandao, before segueing into an empty handed showdown of tiger claw versus mantis fist. There’s a part when the two opponents briefly move their fight indoors, and you’d swear Hwang had never learnt to tame his kicks for screen fighting, as every one of them looks like if it made contact it would take Ko’s head off.

What’s so great about Ko and Hwang is that they not only had the moves, but they also had an intensity behind them. When they fight it doesn’t just look like they’re performing finely tuned choreography to perfection, it looks like they really want to kill each other. These guys could perform intricate displays of choreography, and act at the same time, and that’s talent. By the time they’re through with each other, I can guarantee that you’ll have completely forgotten about wondering what became of Rover the boxer dog, which is just as well, as it appears the director did as well.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 8/10

Full disclosure: I watched Tiger Over Wall as part of the Brooklyn Zu Vol. 1 9-Movie set which was released by US based label Ground Zero in 2004. The movie was released in the UK by the now defunct Vengeance Video label in 2006 in its original Mandarin language with burnt-in English subtitles, and claims to be fully uncut. While there are no obvious cuts in the Brooklyn Zu version, I have seen discussion in which people talk about a character being on the receiving end of a 360 degree neck snap, which I’m sure wasn’t in the version I saw. On a note of personal preference, I would have to say that I wouldn’t have enjoyed the movie half as much had it not had the English dub, which offers many moments of unintentional hilarity that I’m sure wouldn’t be found with the original audio.

Posted in Chinese, News, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Mark Dacascos’ Expendables-esque ‘Showdown in Manila’ press footage!

"Showdown in Manila" Theatrical Poster

"Showdown in Manila" Theatrical Poster

Martial arts star Mark Dacascos (Drive) is hard-at-work with Showdown in Manila, an upcoming Expendables-esque movie that will feature an ensemble cast that includes Dacascos himself, Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers), Matthias Hues (No Retreat, No Surrender II), Cynthia Rothrock (Shanghai Express), Olivier Gruner (Nemesis), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Perfect Weapon), Monsour del Rosario (Bloodfist 2), Don “The Dragon” Wilson (White Tiger), Alexander Nevsky (Black Rose), Tia Carrere (Showdown in Little Tokyo), Iza Calzado and Monsour del Rosario.

Andrzej Bartkowiak (Romeo Must Die), who worked with Dacascos in 2003′s Cradle 2 the Grave, will be producing. Showdown in Manila marks the second directorial project for Dacascos, following his unreleased, Russian-produced debut feature, Changing Lives.

In addition to Showdown in Manila, Dacascos has several projects in pre-production/post-production status, including Ultimate Justice, The Extendables, Operation Rogue, Beyond the Game, Mortal Kombat Legacy: Season 3 and Garuda 7.

Updates: According to Dacascos himself, filming is complete for Showdown in Manila. A trailer should be hitting soon – until then, check out the film’s promo poster.

BREAKING NEWS: Check out video footage ( 1 | 2 ) from the film’s press event, which features interviews with Iza Calzado, Cynthia Rothrock, Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa and Casper Van Dien and more. Also check out a promotional shot.

Posted in News | 4 Comments

Incident at Blood Pass | aka Ambush (1970) Review

"Incident at Blood Pass" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Incident at Blood Pass" Japanese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Ambush
Director: Hiroshi Inagaki
Producer: Toshiro Mifune
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Yujiro Ishihara, Ruriko Asaoka, Shintaro Katsu, Kinnosuke Nakamura, Chusha Ichikawa, Ichiro Arishima, Mika Kitagawa, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Jotaro Togami, Chieko Nakakita, Ryunosuke Yamazaki
Running Time: 117 min.

By Kyle Warner

Toshiro Mifune has played many great characters but perhaps his most popular and influential role was born in the 1961 samurai action comedy Yojimbo. After the success of that film, Toho wanted more of the character, so Mifune and Akira Kurosawa returned to their nameless ronin for Sanjuro the very next year. And though writer/director Kurosawa would never again return to the character, Mifune seemed less willing to let the nameless ronin go. After the studio contract system started to die, Toshiro Mifune and other esteemed talents in Japan were forming their own production companies. In 1970, Mifune would bring back the Yojimbo character for not one but two films, both of which would co-star Shintaro Katsu. The first would be in the crossover film Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo, which was produced by Katsu Productions. And the second would be Incident at Blood Pass (aka Ambush), produced by Mifune Productions.

There’s some debate about whether the character that Mifune plays in Incident at Blood Pass is the same man he played in Yojimbo and Sanjuro. My opinion is that yes, he is playing the same guy, but the character has changed from how we remember him. In Incident at Blood Pass Mifune plays a nameless ronin in tattered clothes that hires himself out as a yojimbo (bodyguard) and is more interested in gold than he is in proper samurai etiquette. Sound familiar? The thing is, it’s the same man on the surface, and a different man underneath. Whereas before the Yojimbo was a fiery, amusing rogue that liked to watch people and how they reacted to changing circumstances, here he appears somewhat bored with everybody. Much of this probably stems from Mifune himself, who does not give the same level of performance that once made the character so endearing. What’s puzzling, though, is that he did manage to tap into the character more successfully in Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo, but wasn’t up to task on this film despite having more creative control. But that’s not the film’s most puzzling question. The real mystery is this: how did they get so many talented people together and end up making such a bland movie?

The cast and crew of Incident at Blood Pass can read like a who’s who of classic Japanese samurai cinema from the 60s and 70s. You’ve got Toshiro Mifune maybe-probably-kinda giving a final performance as his most popular character. You have Shintaro Katsu (the Zatoichi series) getting into villain mode to play a sleazy, discredited doctor that’s making illegal medicine in the woods. There’s the stunning Ruriko Asaoka (Goyokin) playing a woman that’s had enough of her abusive husband and leaves him in the dust. Plus there’s Kinnosuke Nakamura (The Shogun’s Samurai) as a half-crazed lawman and 60s superstar Yujiro Ishihara (Crazed Fruit) as a homeless gangster. The film is directed by genre-favorite Hiroshi Inagaki (The Samurai Trilogy) and co-written by Hideo Oguni, who had been one of Akira Kurosawa’s favorite collaborators. There’s so much talent and star power involved in this movie. How did it go wrong? Short answer: bad script.

Mifune’s ronin is hired by a mysterious old samurai to go to a mountain pass and “wait until something happens.”

That’s the plot. ‘Wait until something happens.’

Because he can’t just stand around waiting forever, Mifune checks into an inn where all the other colorful characters are also staying. The film’s not bad when it tries to be an ensemble character piece, because it does a good job of letting every actor shine in their role at one point or another. But mostly we’re just waiting at the inn for something to happen. There’s even a few times when Mifune goes into voice-over and wonders, “Is this it? Is this what I was supposed to wait for?” It’s a film that’s wasting time as it tries to arrive at a plot. Mifune’s hero (and soon the audience) just wants the wait to be over and the mission to end.

Now, I believe that a film can be without plot and still make for a watchable movie. But those successful films are about characters or themes and that’s what makes them work. Incident at Blood Pass is a film that teases you that it’s about something by constantly reminding you, ‘wait for it… wait for it!’ There’s a part where Mifune leaves the inn for a time only to return to find villainous characters are staying there. Mifune says, “I see… so I guess something did happen, after all.” That’s the payoff we’ve been waiting for all this time. I believe the movie thinks it’s being cute and clever but really it just feels like unengaging storytelling.

When you ignore the movie fumbling around for a story to tell it’s possible for you to enjoy the individual scenes. I like the characters and I appreciate how much the actors put into their performances. While he could be accused of overacting, Kinnosuke Nakamura gives an enjoyably nutso performance as the stammering self-righteous officer of the law. And I do believe that any film which pits two titans of cinema against each other is something that fans of those actors are likely to enjoy, so I had fun watching Mifune and Katsu try to figure each other out. But even so, they’d done pretty much the same thing more successfully earlier that same year with Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo.

The film’s final scene is an interesting one. I’m not going to spoil who dies, but I do want to explain the imagery. Mifune cuts down a group of samurai and then walks off into the distance as a harsh wind blows, kicking up dust that flies past the camera in a flurry of movement. Every Yojimbo film ends in a similar fashion: climactic swordplay, Yojimbo gives a somewhat sad farewell, and he walks off as the wind really starts blowing. I think that this final scene of Incident at Blood Pass is deliberately meant to remind the viewer of the imagery from the original Yojimbo and Sanjuro (Kurosawa sure did love his wind), but what’s strange is that this sort of imagery is almost completely absent from the rest of the film. It’s like it took director Inagaki the entire film to figure out the sort of movie that he should’ve been making.

Incident at Blood Pass is not a good movie, but I’ll admit it took me two viewings to figure that out. I liked it more the first time I watched it a few years back. I knew it was flawed then, but I enjoyed it. And you know what, I still enjoy it today, at least on some level. The screenplay really could’ve used a couple more revisions before the cameras started rolling, but there is some good stuff here. Incident at Blood Pass is one of those cases where you can admire multiple scenes but you can’t exactly praise the film on the whole. It’s just unfortunate that the great character of Yojimbo went out on such a dull note.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 5.5/10

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

Deal on Fire! Wu Dang | Blu-ray | Only $9.99 – Expires soon!

"Wu Dang" Blu-ray Cover

"Wu Dang" Blu-ray Cover

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for 2012′s Wu Dang (aka Great Wu Dang), a fantasy-based Chinese martial arts film from director Patrick Leung Pak Kin (Twins Effect II) and action choreography by the legendary Corey Yuen (No Retreat, No Surrender II: Raging Thunder).

Wu Dang (read our review) stars Vincent Zhao (The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom), Siu-Wong Fan (Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky), Dennis To (Zombie 108) and Yang Mi (Painted Skin 2).

Order Wu Dang from Amazon.com today!

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

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

"Hitman: Agent 47" Theatrical Poster

"Hitman: Agent 47" Theatrical Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cityonfire.com and Well Go USA are giving away 3 Blu-ray copies of Vengeance of an Assassin to three lucky Cityonfire visitors. To enter, simply add a comment to this post and describe, in your own words, this video.

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

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

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

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

Posted in News | Tagged | 19 Comments

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

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

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

RELEASE DATE: June 2, 2015

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

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

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

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

New poster for Schwarzenegger’s zombie flick ‘Maggie’

"Maggie" Theatrical Poster

"Maggie" Theatrical Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in News | 18 Comments

Cross | DVD (Well Go USA)

Cross | DVD (Well Go USA)

Cross | DVD (Well Go USA)

RELEASE DATE: June 23, 2015

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

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

Pre-order Cross from Amazon.com today!

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

Ode to My Father (2014) Review

"Ode to My Father" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Ode to My Father" Korean Theatrical Poster

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

By Paul Bramhall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6/10

Posted in Korean, News, Reviews | 1 Comment

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

"Green Street Hooligans: Underground" Japanese DVD Cover

"Green Street Hooligans: Underground" Japanese DVD Cover

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

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

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

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

Posted in News | 5 Comments

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

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

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

RELEASE DATE: July 14, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

"Machete Kills" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Machete Kills" Japanese Theatrical Poster

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

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

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

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

Posted in News | 33 Comments

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

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

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

RELEASE DATE: July 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

"The Dragon, The Hero" Theatrical Poster

"The Dragon, The Hero" Theatrical Poster

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

By Martin Sandison

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Sandison’s rating: 9/10

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

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

"Lethal Weapon" Japanese DVD Cover

"Lethal Weapon" Japanese DVD Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Happy April Fools’ Day from Cityonfire.com!

Posted in News | 4 Comments

Massacre Gun (1967) Review

"Massacre Gun" Blu-ray Cover

"Massacre Gun" Blu-ray Cover

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

By Kyle Warner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 7.5/10

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

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

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

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

RELEASE DATE: June 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

"Godzilla" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Godzilla" Japanese Theatrical Poster

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

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

Toho, who hasn’t released a Godzilla film since 2004’s Godzilla Final Wars, had this to say, by way of Taichi Ueda, veteran producer of the franchise: “With the success of the Hollywood version of Godzilla, we decided on a new [domestic] production… The screenplay is currently in development and we plan to start shooting next summer. We cannot announce cast or staff selections at this time. And we’re still deliberating whether to bring Godzilla to life via CGI or man-in-suit,” said Ueda. “This resurrection will be the centerpiece for ’16, and this is the force of our words.”

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

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

Posted in News | 2 Comments

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

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

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

RELEASE DATE: June 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

By Paul Bramhall

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

Yuen Woo Ping. Say his name.

Yuen Woo Ping. Say his name.

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

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

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

The Digital Video Disc revolution begins...

The Digital Video Disc revolution begins...

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

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

1999 Flashback! Special DVD deals from that year.

1999 Flashback! Special DVD deals from that year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of Paul Bramhall's essential reading material.

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

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

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

All good things do come to an end.

All good things do come to an end.

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

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

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

Pure and uncut. There's no other way.

Pure and uncut. There's no other way.

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Nectarsis/shaolinchamber36.

Image courtesy of Nectarsis/shaolinchamber36.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Features, News | 11 Comments