Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wheels on Meals The Game!

Most of you have probably heard of the NES game ‘Kung Fu’, but did you know that Kung Fu was originally released in Japanese arcades under the title Spartan X? Why was it called Spartan X you ask? Spartan X was the Japanese title of a Hong Kong film better known around the world as Wheels on Meals. Directed by and starring Sammo Hung, along with Yuen Biao, and Jackie Chan. So what some of you may not have known is that Kung Fu aka Spartan X, is actually Wheels on Meals the game! Pretty cool no? Being that Wheels on Meals is one of my personal, all-time favourite films I was blown away when I learned this fact a few years ago. I have never been able to find a physical copy of the game since, but it’s not hard to find on any NES emulator.

Here is a little background on Wheels on Meals, and why they would make it into a game in Japan. Released in 1984, Wheels on Meals is a great example of 1980’s Hong Kong action cinema at its absolute very best! The film stars three of the ‘founding fathers’ of Hong Kong action Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, and Jackie Chan. Chan and Biao play two cousins living in Barcelona and running a fast food van. They soon find themselves tangled up with a beautiful Spanish pickpocket named Sylvia who is being pursued by a criminal gang to seize her sizable inheritance. In true action film fare she gets herself kidnapped. So our two hero’s, along with a bumbling detective wannabe played by the film’s director Sammo Hung team up to get Sylvia back! Not the most thought provoking plot, but it is carried out with some of the best martial arts action to date, and a landmark final showdown between our heroes and two of the best western martial artists to be displayed on screen Keith Vitali and Benny ‘The Jet’ Urquidez. Sammo Hung also uses Barcelona Spain to its full potential using many of the city's highlight architectural locations as a backdrop.

At this time Hong Kong action, and especially Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao were enormously famous in Japan. (factoid: Jackie Chan was contractually obligated at the time to include outtakes in every Japanese print of his films. So though many of his films released in other parts of the world that do not contain out takes, if you track down a Japanese copy they will!) So it comes by as no

surprise that they would have made an arcade game based on the hit film. Of course at the time nobody in America knew who Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung or Yuen Biao where, nor would they have cared. So it was generically titled Kung Fu and ported to the NES. So when Jackie Chan took the America by storm in the early 1990’s little did people know that they had been playing

him in an NES game all along. Then again there would eventually be an NES game called Jackie Chan’s Action Kung Fu released in 1991, 3 years before the release of Rumble in the Bronx and Chan’s North America success. But who remembers that?

-Jeff Wildman

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Taken (Para-Review)

Taken as a film can be described just like its lead character. Its on a mission, it knows what it needs to do, and it completes said task without taking any unnecessary side-steps, no needless sub-plots and mosst importantly, it does it all sleek style! It is going to be hard for any action film to top such a brilliant ride in 2009.

Liam Needon is now a bonified BAD-ASS, and he didn't need a sword to do so!


A Film by Pierre Morel

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Myth

Archaeologist Jack Lee (Chan) keeps having reoccurring dreams of a past life, where he is the great General Meng whom is sworn to protect a Korean Princess named OK-soo (Kim). When his old friend William(Leung) returns to his life telling scientific tales of a levitating Holy man in India. They decide to go investigating Indiana Jones style. However, when Lee stumbles on (more like almost gets crusted by) a tomb revealing a painting of the Princess from his dream, he begins unravelling the true connection between his past life and his current.

Stanley Tongs The Myth is two different stories intertwined together into one. One plays very much like a Jackie Chan film, filled with a healthy dose of Chan approved action and humour. The other is something that we have never seen from Jackie, a sweeping epic filled with horses and swords, princess’ and soldiers, and even some decapitation! Basically it’s like putting Armour of God and Musa the Warrior on two separate pieces of bread, and making a sandwich! But does the sandwich taste good? as a matter of fact, it kind of does.

The Myth does come with its flaws however, and not in small doses either. Perhaps the film’s most common is the often horrible CGI! (And to think, it was nominated for best Visual Effects at the HKFA) Its not always bad, but when it sticks, it reeks! Luckily the film is not too depended on the CGI so it is not to completely put one off the film. Another disappointment is the wasted use of Mallika Sherawat. If you love Bollywood, and were excited to see her in this film, don’t get too excited. Billing her as a lead is almost as bad as calling Steven Segal the star of Executive Decision (if you have seen that film you are probably nodding in agreement). Her purpose in the film is basically to walk around with Jack while he is in India. That’s it. . . Oh and to dance, and get 90% naked (out of frame, sorry!).

The rest of the leading cast however were used quite well. Tony Leung Ka Fai may not have had an overly demanding role, but he pulled it off. Kim Hee-seon is wonderful and quite believable in her role. Its Jackie Chan however, who definitely earns his star status in this film. Chan is such an underrated actor. This is indeed quite unfortunate, because the man can act! His performance as the honourable General Meng is wonderful, and may be one of his best acting performance to date. The only problem with it is that if you have not seen such films as Crime Story, New Police Story, or Heart of Dragon, and are used to his mainstream films like First Strike, Rush Hour, Tuxedo, or Rumble in the Bronx. You may not be able to take him as a serious actor, especially in this role.

What is also great about The Myth is the visuals. It’s a very pretty film, mostly filmed in India, but even the shots of Hong Kong from atop Jacks home is beautiful! As pretty as the film is, what really stands out (to me anyway) is the wonderful music. The theme titled “Endless Love” is played in various arrangements throughout the majority of the flash backs with General Meng and Oh-soo.(it is also performed by Jackie Chan and Kim Hee-seon) The song was nominated at the 2006 Hong Kong Film Awards for best Original Song. It’s a great song that fits the tone of the film so well.

If you like action in your Chan films, The Myth has some of that too. As stated above the scenes in modern day have the comedic, and crafty Jackie Chan fights you know and love, one in particular happens to be one of his best in recent films, which is in a glue factory. The period sequences play more like your typical epic film ala’ Musa, Hero, The Promise. Mostly swordplay, horses etc. Not as fun to watch, but still pretty damn good

If you like period epics, or modern action films, or if you like both! Then you will enjoy The Myth to some degree, because it’s basically both of those! It’s also a pretty daring film for Jackie Chan. It is not often you see him on a horse during the Qin Dynasty leading and army of soldiers to protect a princess, in fact you haven’t. Until now! Some may not accept that. But I respect him for trying something different. For those who will not be able to handle that kind of Jackie, the other half of the film will probably save it. Will we ever see him in another Period epic, this time entirely a period film? Who knows, but one thing is for sure. He could easily pull it off.


A Film by Stanley Tong

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Fortune Code

Set during the Japanese occupation of China, Andy Lau plays Wah, a prisoner who escapes a POW camp only to be unintentionally recruited by his spy fiancee (Anita Mui) and her accomplice Hung (Sammo Hung) to join them, and another spy Robin (Alam Tam) to break back into the prison to find the “God of Fortune” who posses a code to get into a Swiss bank account and claim a $500 Billion fortune intended for the Chinese Military.

Unfortunately it would not be easy, as the head of the prison also happens to be looking for the same code. If he finds the code first, Japan will have the funds to completely take over China. So its up to the four spies, along with a group of hapless Chinese prisoners to find the fortune first and save their country.

Fortune Code is a fun film, filled with an almost entirely recognizable cast of great actors and actress’. but its not much more then that unfortunately. It’s a fairly simple story, 4 spies breaking into a prison (well, only 3 of the 4 actually break in at first) to find a prisoner they believe to hold the key to a fortune great enough to save China from Japans grasps. That’s about it. In the meantime our main hero Wah (Lau) just wants to get everything over with so he can marry his fiancee (Mui). There is plenty of decent action, but including some impressive fights involving Sammo of course, but Andy Lau as well. Its nice to see Lau doing action like he used to. The film has far more humor though, that is where Fui-On Shing, Eric Tsang, and Billy Lau come in! But the film overall felt a bit flat at the end.

As I stated above the films strongest point is its cast. Where to begin? First off our 4 main Hero (code named Spy 1, Spy 2, Spy 3, and you guessed it Spy 4) are played by Andy Lau, Sammo Hung, Anita Mui, and Alam Tam. Inside the prison we have a mentally ill man named Chocolate played by the films director Kent Cheng. A very feminine prisoner played by Shing Fui-On's. A group of tough, overly-patriotic pilots which happen to include the out-of-place Eric Tsang. Billy Lau playing the weak hearted “Donald Duck”, Charlie Cho is in there as a henchmen to the prison leader. Chung Fat, Ridly Tsui, Ken Lo, and Gordon Liu all appear in the film as well. I could go on! Ben Lam, Wilson Lam, Parkman Wong, and Siu Mok. What you want more? Well. . .watch the film!

The Fortune Code is a fun film yes, and its worth watching just to see everyone in the film, its kinda like Millionairs Express, or Twin Dragons, while watching the film its fun to just wait in anticipation to see who will pop up next. Gordon Liu shows up near the end of the film, and that led to a “Hey!” moment! The film also has a strong “The Great Escape” feel to it, which begs the question “Was The Fortune Code inspired by The Great Escape?” I think so! In fact I was waiting for someone to try to escape on a motorcycle. I regret to inform you that moment would never come.

It is worth a watch for the cast alone, but that is about it.


A Film by Kent Cheng

Monday, February 9, 2009

Code of Honor

Fans of Hong Kong cinema should know that a DVD cover can often be mis-leading. Most big name actors and actress’ had their share of small roles before they truly broke the big time. Its been done countless times with early Jackie Chan films where he may have had anything from a small supporting role, to no role at all. Yet he manages to make it to the cover of the DVD as a lead star to sell it. Code of Honor manages to use this same formula, in this case its exploits a small throw away role from Chow Yun-Fat. The result, “Chow Yun Fat in Code of Honor”. So keep that in mind, if you are looking for a hard boiled, killer action flick then look elsewhere.

That said, this deceptive strategy does have its payoff. In this case Chow’s small appearance being the reason this film received international is a blessing in disguise! Because Code of Honor is a top notch triad thriller, which is essentially pieced together by an all-star cast . . .of supporting actors. The films three lead characters are played by Dick Wei, Chun Hsiang Ko, and Wai Shum. With the exception of Shum you rarely see these actors in anything but a supporting role. The films main highlight is the wonderful, and very rare (this may be the only time, but at this point I have not looked into it enough) leading good guy role by Dick Wei as a cop! And he pulls it off so well. It’s a surprise that he didn’t play more good guy roles because his presence is actually quite familiar to that of Simon Yam as a cop. And I think we all know that has been done more then once. However as good as he was he is Wei is still the definitive bad guy, so it’s no surprise that he pretty much stuck to that role.

For a triad film, Code of Honor finds a way to shed a little originality with its story. It starts with our lead character, and Triad boss played by Hsiang Ko and his daughter running from a band of thugs. He makes it to safety with the help of an innocent Vietnamese refugee played by Wai Shum, who helps him evade his pursuers. Unfortunately his daughter is brutally murdered in the process. This is where if you don’t blink you might catch Chow Yun Fats first small appearance (he show up again late in the film) as Hsiang Ko’s son who lives in Australia, resents his father for his line of work and inevitably blames him for his sisters death.

Fast forward several years later and now we see Wai Shum has been rewarded for his services and is now one of Hsiang Ko’s head associates. However it seems that the now aged Kos days are being numbered as the CID (Lead by Dick Wei) has been working on their case to take him down. Ko knows this and informs his long trusted triad family, more importantly his key brothers(Played by Fui-on Shing, Sunny Fang, and Yihara Shinichi), and warns them of the impending case that will soon come down on them. Suddenly the three men who he has trusted his entire career turn out to destroy the code of honor they have served by and team up to sell out their trusting leader and leave him to take all the blame for their crimes. The title of the film is key to the events portrayed on screen. Indeed Ko’s character lives by the Triads code of honor which in layman’s terms basically means that they will stick together through think and thin and not rat one another out.

It may be deceitful as it tries to call itself a Chow Yun Fat film, but Code of Honor is one of the grittiest and well played Triad Films to date! With an engaging story, some truly horrific violence the substitutes style with brutal realism. Dick Wei fans will appreciate seeing him in this rare Cop role (without make-up or a crazy hair style) that shows a side of his that most have probably never seen. And will probably not see again. . .


A Film by Billy Chan

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Dragon in Jail

Andy Laus plays Henry, a young convict who was sent to a correctional facility and later prison for killing a local Triad member who was trying to collect protection money from his family. While in the correctional center he meets up with new prisoner Wayne (Kenny Ho). Wayne finds himself under constant harassment from the other prisoners, that is until Henry decides to step in and help. The two quickly form a close bond, until the both are eventually released. Because of his wealthy background Wayne is able to travel to the UK to study law. Unfortunately his friend is not so lucky. Serving time in a prison has left henry with a criminal record, and with little money he is forced to work minimal jobs in hopes of fulfilling his promise to Wayne that he would follow his own advice and eventually go to school.

It isn’t long after he begins to piece his life back together that the friends of the triad he kills show up to get vengeance for their fallen comrade. With nowhere else to turn, he accepts the help of his friend, and another fellow ex-convict Skinny (John Ching) and joins the Triads himself. He soon gains wealth and success in the gang, but with his success comes the consequences, including frequent injuries, and drug addiction. He also starts drifting from those he loves, his family, and his pregnant wife (Gigi Lai), and his now successful friend returning from law school.

Hong Kong triad films are a dime a dozen, especially from the late 80's early 90's. Dragon in Jail is no different, it’s a good film, but it fails to stand apart from anything else. It takes its sweet time to get going, in fact despite its importance to the plot, the entire opening scenes in the Correction Center feels like it took a lifetime to watch, when in actuality only takes about 15 minutes of the films running time. There is basically three different kinds of films in Dragon in Jail, first we get a prison movie, which like I said is no Prison on Fire. Then once our heros are released we get the triad film, knife fights, motorcycles, etc. Then near the end of the film we get into its “courtroom drama” phase. So it goes without saying that the pacing is not the greatest, but to the films credit the courtroom scenes are some of the best.

Perhaps what does salvage this film is its acting. However, Andy Lau pretty much never gives a poor performance, so saying he was great in this particular film goes without saying. . .but I will, Andy Lau great in this film. The rest of the primary cast also delivered quite well, especially Gigi Lai. There is not much action to speak up, mostly crowded machete fights. However there is one particular fight, which I will not detail to avoid possible spoilers, but it is in my personal opinion the highlight of the film, and its comes at the right time to save what is overall a paint-by-numbers triad flick, at the end!


A Film by Kent Cheng

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Uninvited

Kim Jee-woon’s suspense thriller A Tale of Two Sisters is one of the most Intelligent, artistic, and thought provoking films I have ever seen. An absolutely brilliant gen of a Korean import that when I first watched it had the gears in my head working overtime for quite a while. Dissecting every scene inside and out, trying to piece together one hell of a brilliant puzzle. To this day whenever I watch it I am still left in awe.

Now this wonderful film gets what has always been inevitable, the American treatment! Something fans have seen coming for a long time, but didn’t want to happen. Taking the helm were two relatively unknown writers and a pair of brothers who won a couple of awards once for a small indie film. So what do we get? A straight shooting teen-date horror flick that has removed almost every ounce of what made A Tale of Two Sisters such a brilliant peace of cinema. While Two Sisters is intelligent and artistic, The Uninvited is simplistic and juvenile. However I must bite my lip and admit, if we take the original out of the picture The Uninvited is not all that bad.

The basic premise is pretty straight forward. A young girl is released from a mental hospital after almost a year after her sick mother was killed in a fire in their family’s boathouse. She returns home to find that her mother’s nurse has moved in and is to marry her father. However the plot soon thickens when she and her older sister start digging up information that their step-mother to be might be a fraud and worse yet may have killed their mother.

There are some elements that are left intact, and work relatively well, but I will not go into detail about to avoid spoilers. However anyone who is familiar with the original should expect a far less complex climactic ending. The biggest difference in this version, and perhaps a reasonable reason for the change in the film’s title, is that while A Tale of Two Sisters focuses mostly on the two sisters The Uninvited focuses a great deal more on the girlfriend and her relationship with the father. This is part of where the film finds its biggest flaw, I hate to say it because I am a big Elizabeth Banks fan, but she just does not work in this role. However our two leads Emily Browning and Arelle Kebbel do a wonderful job as two very believable sisters, and do a decent enough job to carry the film as much as they can.

The Uninvited is no more than A Tale of Two Sisters run through an original idea filter, and followed up by an onslaught of American teen horror staples. It shows the odd glimmer of potential but ultimately fails to become anything but a passable date flick. So I end this with what could be the most obvious sentence in this entire ramble. Just stick with the original!


A Film by The Guard Brother

Hot Fuzz

Nicholas Angel(Pegg) is London’s top police officer, he excelled at all of all his classes, has won numerous honors and recommendations, and his arrest rate is 400% greater then any other officer in London. Unfortunately for everyone else his is so good, that he makes them look bad. So they decide the only way to get rid of the problem, is to get rid of him. They do so by "promoting" him to Sargent, in the small, crime free, and award winning country village of Sanford. Once there he finds himself and his new partner, the action film loving and real life action seeking son of the Police Chief(Broadbent) Danny Butterman(Frost), doing tedious meaningless duties, which includes trying to catch a loose swan.

Everything suddenly changes for Angel when certain members of the seemingly perfect community start showing up dead. What appears to be simple accidents, including a car collision, and a gas explosion start to seem like more then they appear when Angel begins linking the deaths. Unfortunately the entire town, including its sub-par police force are too set on the town being perfect and crime free to believe the deaths are more then mere accidents. So now Angel must work on his own, with the occasional assistance of his new partner, to solve the mysterious deaths before even more of the towns folks end up in body bags.

The guys who brought you Shaun of the Dead are back, and still in great form. This time around they have brought there love of action flicks with them. Hot Fuzz is to action films what Shaun was to zombie movies! The film is essentially a spoof of most buddy cop action films, its action moments are almost entirely built on references from many well known films, including Bad Boys 2, Die Hard, Point Break, and when the guns starts a’ blazing Hard Boiled. Not only do they show homage to these action films, but they also mention earlier in the film the moments they will eventually mimic during the films ultra violent climax!. Danny is a action film fanatic who became a cop mostly because his father is the chief, but also craves excitement. Knowing what Angel has been through he is almost a hero in Danny’s eyes. In one memorable scene Danny tells Angel about Point Break, a 1991 undercover cop film with Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze. He tells him about a certain scene where Reeves is lying on the ground with his gun pointed at a fleeing Swayze, but he can not bring himself to shoot. So when Swayze gets free, Reeves rolls over points his gun in the are fires and yells in anger. So Danny asks Angel, “Have you ever fired your gun in the air and yelled ‘ahh’” “What?” replies Angel. “Have you ever fired you gun in the air and yelled ‘ah’?” he asked a second time. “No, I have not fired my gun in the air and yelled ‘ah’!” That is just one of the many very funny moments in the corse of the film, and there are plenty.

Hot Fuzz has a very distinct style that anyone who watched Shaun will recognize. Very quick cuts to carry from one scene to another, clever writing(the film was written by director Edgar Wright and star Simon Pegg) and some wonderful physical comedy. But it also has a good story, one that starts off pretty simple, but quickly starts gaining some layers, and soon begins appearing to be a pretty damn good mystery thriller. That is until we reach the films climax, and this is where is really shines. I cannot describe in detail what happens without spoiling the films somewhat surprising twist(though you will probably guess before its reveled)but I will say that when Angel has a sudden change of attitude from the conservative by the book police officer, to an all out gun toting Arnold in Commando meets Chow Yun Fat in Hard Boiled action power house, Hot Fuzz turns into to an all out bullet ballet! And a wonderful ballet it is!


A Film by Edgar Wright