Monday, December 13, 2010

Dragons Forever: A Retrospective



Enter the Three Dragons

As a fan of Hong Kong action cinema it’s really hard not to hold Dragons Forever on a pedestal as one of the best films to ever come out of the industry. It’s a perfect example of what makes the industry so fantastic. A perfect blend of breathtaking action, and broad humour, and is a great watch for anyone who might be interested in diving into the fascination word of Hong Kong films.

Dragons Forever was originally released in Hong Kong on January 10, 1988, just in time to be a Chinese New Year hit! Unfortunately it didn’t perform as well as the distribution studio Golden Harvest hoped for. It made a respectable HK$33.5 million. But considering it was a Chinese New Year release, and the star power behind it, the studio expected more. None the less none of this really matters now because in the past two plus decades, it has become one of the most beloved Hong Kong action films of the 1980’s, and to most fans the favourite of the Three Brothers films. It was actually the 5th, and sadly the final of these unforgettable collaborations, which included; Project A, My Lucky Stars, Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars, and Wheels on Meals.

Chan plays against his type quite a bit in the film. At the time he was known very well to Hong Kong audiences for playing a cop in most of his contemporary roles, the Police Story films play a great role in this, as well as the Lucky Stars films he appears in. Now he turns up as a wealthy playboy defence attorney who is hired by a chemical company that is being sued by a local fishery for allegedly polluting their water. His job is to find evidence that can clear the company, and discredit them from the charges. He hires a friend, who happens to be an arms dealer, played by Sammo Hung to get close to the owner of the fishery played by Deannie Yip. This is the first of a few times in the film we must suspend our disbelief and not ask why such a bright lawyer would hire someone like Sammo to woo a pretty lady, as charming as he is, he isn’t exactly a calendar boy. In a turn you would expect in a romantic comedy, Sammo actually starts falling for his target and lets personal feelings get in the way of his job. Sammo’s character like Jackie’s is also very much against his character type, but he makes it work.

He also turns to another of his bizarre friends, a slightly insane inventor played, again against his type, by Yuen Biao, who he hires to bug Deannie Yips apartment. Unfortunately Sammo and Yuen Biao are both unaware of the other’s involvement and eventually run into one other and do not seem to get along. So now Jackie must try to keep the peace, while also keeping up his relationship with his girlfriend. All this will eventually lead to one of the most memorable, though brief, moments in Hong Kong movie history, the ultimate showdown, Jackie vs. Sammo vs. Yuen Biao. This brief fight may appear as a frustrating sample of what could have been a long epic battle of the ages, but in context of the film works perfectly well how it is.


Not Just the Other Two



Dragons Forever has been primarily marketed around the world as a Jackie Chan film, also starring Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. It makes business sense if they want to sell it to a mass market of casual fans that would see and recognise Chans persona. However Sammo and Yuen Biao bring just as much to the film, and without them it wouldn’t be the classic it is today. Sammo of course also directs, and by doing so brings out the absolute very best in his fellow brothers, and himself. He also provides a great deal of the comedic moments. Yuen Biao is well known for his unique acrobatic abilities, and he doesn’t hold back one bit. There is an especially memorable series of stunts in the ending showdown that would leave anyone’s jaw on the floor; he also provides a great deal of the comedy as well, most notably while sharing the screen with Sammo. What’s interesting is that Jackie Chan is so well known for his comedy, yet in the end he ends up playing the straightest character between them. Though there is one scene that involves Jackie trying to entertain his girlfriend, while at the same time keeping his feuding friends hidden that lets his comedic talents shine.


A Cast for the Ages



In case you are unfamiliar, the term Three Brothers refers to the teaming of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao working on screen together. They get this name because from a young age the three of them were raised together in the Yu Jim Yuen’s China Drama Academy in Hong Kong, and were members of an elite group of seven students called the Seven Little Fortunes, who would tour and perform together as a showcase for the school. The three of them formed a bond early in life and have carried a close relationship, both as friends, and colleagues ever since. Of course, with all the talent involved with Dragons Forever you could almost call it a “Five Brothers” film because two more of Yu Jim Yuen’s students are involved, including the brilliant on screen villain Boss Wah played by fellow student Yuen Wah, and some direction credit goes to another childhood friend Cory Yuen Kwai. Both of which were also “Little Fortunes”.

The cast of Dragons Forever is one of the most memorable aspects of the film, aside from our powerhouse trio; it’s a who’s who of familiar faces across the board, and unlike our stars most of the cast seem to be playing within their element. Deannie Yip of course plays Sammos ‘Romantic interest’, Crystal Kwok shows up briefly as Jackie’s assistant. The film opens with a quick cameo from the great James Tien. The various thugs and baddies we meet throughout the film is packed with familiar faces, including Phillip Ko, Chin Kar-lok, Chung fat, Tai Po, Bolly Chow, and of course you cannot have a cast of baddies without including the mighty Dick Wei. Finally we get a nice appearance from Roy Chiao playing a judge. Anyone less familiar with Hong Kong Cinema may remember him from his appearances in Bloodsport, and The Temple of Doom.


Jackie and the Jet!



Benny “The Jet” Urquidez makes his second and final appearance against Jackie in the film’s closing moments, and gives us one of the greatest fights ever filmed. He is the ultimate heavy that portrays an on screen presence that cannot be topped. A Kickboxer by trade, and also martial arts teacher, and occasional actor, he had an astonishing career. In the span of which he posted an unbelievable 63-0 record in title fights and a career record of 200-0.

Their fight begins with a promise from Boss Wah that if he can defeat Jackie, he gets half his factory, and for the first minute or so the suspense builds and builds as our two warriors slowly circle one another while they remove their jackets, then loosen their ties, not once unlocking eyes. Then wham! Benny unloads with a mighty kick and the fight lets lose, while a cigar chugging squirrely Yuen Wah watches, and occasionally attempts to participate. The speed and intensity of the fight is brilliant, they are a perfect match for each other. It’s a classic Hero vs. Villain showdown as Jackies face keeps a steady look of concentration and occasional winces of pain, while Benny just smiles and turns his head ever so slight as to say “that all you got?” Eventually the dress shirt comes off, and our hero now means business. We do get a quick break from the fight to watch Sammo tie up a loose end that still hanging around, but when we resume our hero has now turned it up to 11, and makes quick work of the might tyrant he has managed to wear down.



A Personal Perspective



Dragons Forever holds a special place in my heart, it was one of the first 1980’s Hong Kong action films I watched, and it gave me a glimpse into to the world of Jackie Chan outside of the domestic box office. Furthermore it introduced me to a couple of people who would become major players in my movie watching world. Yuen Biao, and Sammo Hung. I was originally lent a VHS copy of both Dragons Forever, and Jackie’s off the wall comedic manga adaptation City Hunter. Before this I had pretty much no awareness of the world of Hong Kong Cinema. I knew of Jackie Chan of course, from seeing his domestically released films like Rumble in the Bronx, Supercop, Mr Nice Guy and so on. However watching them at whatever time I did, never seemed to have any lasting effect on me. Jackie was fun to watch, and they were fun movies but that was it.

I enjoyed City Hunter quite a bit, but it would be the second of the back to back viewings that would have a substantial impact on me. From the get go Dragons Forever was an instant favourite for me, it hit me like a swift slap in the face that something was right about what I was watching. I had never seen action like this before in my life, it was just a brilliant movie that left me in awe! I remember seeing Sammo’s introduction as he is trying to sell some guns to a couple goons. As funny as the scene begins, I was downright floored when Sammo suddenly breaks out and in a flash show us that for a big man, he can MOVE! Then near the end of the film a towering figure suddenly appears and makes his disturbingly dominating presence known. The ultimate on screen heavy, Benny “The Jet” Uquidez! And his final throw down with Jackie still brings chills!

That was it; Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao were now my focus. It started out with me hunting down as many of their films as I could from every video store I could find. To my pleasant surprise there were quite a bit of Jackie’s movies to be discovered, some of which would feature Sammo and Yuen Biao! Eventually I would discover that my girlfriend at the time, and now wife, who was going to school in Toronto, happened to be going to school right beside China Town! So for about 4 years I made at least a weekly visit to the few legit DVD stores that I could find, made myself well known by the shop owners, and eventually got my hands on all Jackie’s action films from the 80’s, 90’s, and a few early films. As well as dozens of Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao films. Not to mention my eyes were opened to so much more outside their catalogues that I would grow to love over the years. Suddenly it was Hong Kong Cinema in general that would be my new passion. Nowadays I have found another love in modern Korean Cinema, and Asian Cinema as a whole, something that I am still discovering every day. However I still love the wonderful glory days of Hong Kong action cinema which is the 1980’s, and there is still so much to explore, so much I have not seen from this decade. Not to mention the countless films from the 90’s, 00’s, and today that I am yet to watch. And I can’t forget the Shaw Brothers catalogue that I am only vaguely familiar with. It’s quite overwhelming to be honest, but I have a lifetime to discover. And to think, this entire part of my movie watching life that I have grown to adore might not have ever happened if I didn’t borrow and watch an old VHS copy of Dragons Forever.

-Jeff Wildman



Further Perspectives

I would like to thank Bey Logan, Mike Leeder, John Kreng, Ric Meyers and Ross Chen who were gracious enough to take the time to send me a few words on what they think of this action classic. I would especially like to thank thank Cynthia Rothrock for taking the time to share some of her thoughts on working with Yuen Biao, and Sammo Hung. Enjoy!

"Dragons Forever stands as the last great hurrah for the titanic trio of Jackie, Sammo and Yuen Biao. Everyone wishes the three of them would do a new action comedy every year. The fact that they never have makes Dragons Forever seem all the more wonderful as the years pass."
– Bey Logan (HKC expect, screenwriter, producer, author, martial artist)


” Dragons Forever may have been the last of the '3 Brothers' movies, but it’s still my favourite, fantastic action from all involved, some great comedy and the original English dub works so well....”
– Mike Leeder (HK Film Producer, actor, author)


I felt Dragons Forever was a great showcase for the "Three Brothers" that was their final appearance on screen where they all were able to strut their stuff on screen. The on screen chemistry between the three of them was great. I also feel Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah stood out and almost stole the show. The fight with Jackie and Benny "The Jet" Urquidez was a different fight than what we saw with them on "Meals on Wheels"... it was shorter and had a rough brawl feel to it while the pacing was much faster, that it that made you hold your breath throughout the fight. Although that fight was not as well applauded as the one in Wheels...” I feel the fight is still a great one!
-John Kreng (Comedian, Stuntman, Actor, Producer, Author)


“When I first saw it in Chinatown when it premiered, I was intrigued by Sammo's decision to have each star play anti-heroes, and enjoyed the whole thing thoroughly.

As time went on, and I learned more about the situation, I had to accept the little things that bothered me: the long stretches of middling romance and comedy, as well as the oh-so-very-slight disappointment that the Jackie vs. Benny the Jet rematch wasn't as good as I had hoped (and that the doubling of Jackie was so obvious in the final kick).

But now I had immortalized the film in my memory with great fondness for what was first and foremost: the kung fu and the kung fu actors who realized it: the amazing performance of villain Yuen Wah, Kao Fei, Billy Chow (oh, that final fall), Lau Kar-wing, Chung Fat, Fung Hak-on, Rocky Lai (oh, THAT final fall), Chin Kar-lok (who probably did Jackie's last kick), and all the rest.

And, of course, the three brothers themselves, Jackie, Sammo and Yuen. As such, DRAGONS FOREVER remains the "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" of kung fu films.”
-Ric Meyers (Martial Arts Film Expert, Author)


"DRAGONS FOREVER is proof that Yuen Biao is both underrated and awesome. Jackie Chan? He ain't bad either."
-Ross Chen (www.lovehkfilm.com)


“Working with Sammo and Yuen Biao was one of the greatest experiences in my Martial Art Career. I learned so much from these brilliant martial artists. Fighing with Yuen Biao has been my best fight scenes to date. Our timing on the fights was very similiar which made it fun and exciting. Sammo and Cory Yuen were the best action directors I ever worked with. Growing up Jackie Chan was my idol. I use to see his movies and go home and practice what I saw him doing. Unfortunately I never got to work with him on a film but to do so would be a dream come true. All three are are my hero's in martial art films.”
-Cynthia Rothrock (Actress, Martial Artist)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Death Bell





Many people like to call Death Bell a combination of Saw, and Battle Royale. Personally I find that label to be a bit of a stretch. The premise is fairly straight forward; a group of 20 top ranked high school kids are formed into a study group to prepare for the coming college entrance exams. Upon the first day of their study sessions terror strikes as one of the students go missing and end up being broadcasted on the school monitors in a tank filling with water, with an equation written on the outside of the tank. Suddenly a voice comes over the PA system demanding that if they do not solve the posted equation the student will die. This continues as the students start disappearing one by one, and in a particular order.

It’s at this point you can begin to see the similarities to Saw, and why people would relate the two films. However beyond that there really isn’t much to compare. In fact with Death Bell it seems everyone is more concerned with panicking, and blaming each other, and that actually solving the equations and saving their friends isn’t as much of a priority. Then as they keep letting the students die, the panic only increases, which soon becomes a vicious cycle. I hope for the sake of the film makers credit that this was intended to be implied, otherwise it would be a pretty dramatic hit to the story’s merit.

As for Battle Royale, there is really not much to compare to it. Yes it revolves around a group of students dying, but they are not killing each other, they are not wearing explosive collars, and they are not on an island. However they are confined to one place, the school. As all outside connections including internet and cell phones are cut off. The terrorizing voice also warns them that they must not try to escape the school, which is quickly proven to not be a bluff as an attempted escape artist ends up a bloody mess. Where the film sometimes falls short, is when it tries to explain certain things enough to prevent obvious plot holes, and the viewer to ask “why not do this” or “couldn’t they just do that”. For example of one the students is ordered to collect the cell phones from other students before study sessions begin, then of course he gets captured along with all the phones, which suggests this is to keep the phones out of reach. However the teachers still have their phones, which mysteriously don’t work. Perhaps the killer has found a way to block cell phone reception, if so then why go through the trouble of capturing the student’s phones?

For the most part the story being told is pretty interesting, and the length and pace of the film, which clocks in at about 90 minutes, was just enough to keep hold of my attention till the end, which had a fairly rewarding twist that looking back should have been more obvious, and to some may be. But it sure got me. Death Bell is a good watch for fans of the Asian horror genre, and for those who have grown tired of these films, it may end up being a pleasant surprise as it tends to lean far more to the side of suspense then to the typical horror fare we have seen so many times before.

A Film by Yoon Hong-Seung

7.5/10

Police Woman




A young woman trying to leave her life of crime is being hunted by the very gang she is trying to escape. While on the run she gets into the cab of un-expecting driver Chien Chin (Charlie Chin). To his horror while in the cab she suddenly dies. Now Chin has become the gang’s target, they believe that he has the woman’s purse (it’s an important purse). Chin gets the aid of the dead woman’s sister, who happens to be a policewoman. So together they try to figure out the secret behind this missing purse, and find it, before the gang finds them.

This is not such a bad film, but it’s far from great. The biggest problem isn’t the film itself, but it’s of course Jackie Chan being credited as the star, which speaks for most of his early films which he played a supporting role in. Also there is no decent version that I know of, only cheaply produced and horribly dubbed bargain bin DVDs and VHS'. Now, if we look past all that, this is not a really bad film. It has a story which is nothing we have not seen before, and I for one really like Charlie Chin, and thought he did a great job. In fact he is the biggest reason I enjoyed the film as much as I did.

The action is weak, and the music is kind of cheesy to say the least, but I enjoyed it for what it was. I believe there will never be a properly re-mastered version with original language tracks. So this is what we get.

As for Jackie Chan, this is very early on in his career. In fact I think this may be one of the first times you see his face this clearly on screen. At this point he was not an international superstar by any means. Everyone had to start somewhere, and to be honest you will not find many good Jackie Chan films that pre-dates his career launching "Snake in the Eagles Shadow". As for the infamous mole on his face, Bey Logan once said that in HK films they use stick on facial features like moustaches to help distinguish apart the on screen actors so people can easily tell them apart if they look similar. Could this be why??

It really bugs me when western companies take early films with famous people in small roles, and mis-lead people to make some bucks. However, on the other hand if Jackie was not in this film, it probably would never have seen the light of day outside its domestic market. So for that, I guess I can be thankful...

A Film by Hdeng Tsu

5.5/10

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Shutter




Tun and his girlfriend Jane are driving late at night down a dark country road. Suddenly an unexpected figure walks into the path of the car, and unable to avoid in time they hit the unfortunate pedestrian.

In a panic they flee the scene and head back to their lives in Bangkok. Soon after their return home Tun, who is a freelance photographer, begins seeing strange figures appearing in his photos, and Jane begins having restless sleeps and recurring nightmares. Deciding to return to the scene of the accident they are shocked to discover that there has been no account of a hit and run, or any records of a victim at any hospitals. But things only get stranger from then on when Tun realizes that they have not been chosen by this ghost at random, but that he has a very close connection to this vengeful spirit, and some of the mistakes he made in the past are literally coming back to haunt him!

On the surface Shutter might come off as yet another one of the many Asian Ghost stories dealing with the usual pale ghostly woman with long black hair, showing up for a quick scare and quickly vanishing as the poor protagonist takes a second look. It may come off as another one of these films because, well, it is.
However Shutter has a lot going for it that puts it a step or two above this rapidly crowding genre. The story, though not entirely original, is told with great pacing, and the film itself offers some great visuals. The hit and run scene in particular is done with some very sharp editing, and there are a couple very nicely put together flashback scenes with a very effective use of music.

The ghost photos, which are the films main gimmick, are also its greatest asset. Though I am sure watching a little girl crawl through your television set, hearing your death on a cell phone message, or watching an angry mother crawl down the stairs with a broken neck could be a scary situation to be in. But can you honestly say that taking a Polaroid of your living room only to find a ghostly image standing in front of you when the picture develops seconds later would not be far worse?
In one memorable and chilling scene, Tan and Jane travel to a supernatural tabloid magazine to try and get some information on the Ghostly images. For this scene the films directors actually sought out and used real pictures found in archives, and submitted by friends and family. In this particular scene the owner of the magazine, which for the most part creates its own fake ghost pictures, is showing them real pictures he has collected over the years, including Polaroids which he points out are impossible to forge. This information will prove very important for the film’s final scenes.

Is Shutter scary? That all depends, as good as the film is, the scares have been done, a lot! There are some chilling moments, all of which involve the photos. If you have seen enough Asian horror films then unfortunately this will probably not scare you, but it is very much worth a watch . Also keep it in mind for that one scene mentioned above, because a lot of the photos you see in that particular scene may very well be real photos of who knows what.

A Film by Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom.

7.5/10

Stray Dog




A young Toshire Mifune plays Murakami, a rookie police detective who finds his life in chaos after his gun is pick-pocketed from him on a crowded bus during a scorching heat wave in a 1940’s Tokyo summer. Not willing to let this incident get the better of him, and possibly his job. Murakami sets out to track down and retrieve his stolen pistol. He is paired up with a laid back veteran officer, Sato, played wonderfully by Takeshi Shimura (Stray Dog is one of many wonderful collaborations between Kurosawa, Mifune, and/or Shimura), together they set out on a determined hunt to find his gun, a hunt that puts Murakami into the dark Tokyo criminal underworld. The film develops a great “Buddy Cop” feel to it with Takashi Shimura’s performance as Mifunes superior.

Suddenly Murakami’s situation goes from bad, to worse when forensics discover that Murakamis gun, wherever it may be, has been used, First in a robbery, and followed shortly by a murder. Now Murakami must carry the guilt that his silly mistake of losing his gun, has turned into something much more. The feeling of responsibility slowly eats away at him, and his frantic search for the gun, and the person who has it in their possession, becomes all the more urgent!

Stray Dog works well to grab your attention right from the start with its eerie close up of a panting dog, set behind the opening credits (which I might add became a major controversy with animal rights groups who believed that the dog was purposely injected with rabies). The film then gets straight to the point, immediately showing Murakami explaining to his superiors that his gun had been stolen, followed suit by flash back of the early events. Starting with his time at a shooting range (which becomes very important later), next we see where it all began with Murakami’s ride on the bus, which Kurosawa sets up so well. It’s amazing how a director can take something as simple as a bus ride, and make it so spectacular. The mood is set so well, the sense of a hot congested bus, followed by a fleeting foot chase. There is so much going on in such little time. By the time the foot chase ends, you feel like you need to take a breath and wipe the sweat away yourself!

There are so many great moments to follow throughout the film. One brilliant scene has Murakami following one of the suspected pickpockets while she walks through the streets of a post war Japan. She knows he is there, he knows she knows, but the following stays casual. She tries to lose him by cutting through building, but he is right there behind her. Also the films climax at the end, which I will reserve for you to see, it’s just incredible!

Toshire Mifune plays his character so well. You really see the growing desperation and anxiety that builds up in him, especially as he begins to uncover the tragic events that his stolen pistol has participated in. His guilt is fuelled even more when he later discovers that while he detained a girl who dealt out his stolen gun (guns were rented out for a period of time in exchange for a ration cards), they walked right past the man who was coming to return Murakami’s gun!
Most people when they think of Akira Kurosawa, think of sweeping Samurai epics. However Stray Dog shows a different side of Kurosawa, as well as his obvious western influences. It was also Kurosawa’s first true classic, and still to date one of his finest works!

A Film By Akira Kurosawa

10/10

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Twins Mission




A mysterious gang connected to an ancient cult called The Gemini Clan has stolen a precious bead while on rout from Tibet to Hong Kong for an exhibition. The Beads guardians Lucky (Sammo Hung), and his son Hey (Wu Jing) must try to acquire the aid of the Clan Principal (Yuen Wah), but he refuses to help them. However when Lucky is seriously injured during an attack by the same gang, Principal decides to call on the help of two of the clans former members . . . The Twins

Do you miss the Hong Kong action films of the 80's and 90's, the no holds barred, fist to face hardcore martial arts action. Do you hate the recent trend of computer generated fluff that has been coming out of Hong Kong as of late, with mostly wires, and GCI taking place of watching real fighters and stuntmen do what they do best. Did you love Sha Po Lang for bringing back the Hong Kong action that we have missed for so many years? Well if you answered yes to any of the above questions, then Twins Mission is . . . not a film for you.

However, there is one more question that must be asked. Can you honestly say that you do not like The Twins and their off the wall wire fu popcorn action? Twins Effect was an alright Vampire Flick, and Twins Effect 2 was, well who knows what that was really, but it was kind of fun. Then there was the better, not so “Twins Film” House of Fury. Now we have the official third Twins film, conveniently titled Twins Mission. It is no SPL I can tell you that, but despite its many flaws, and horribly dated looking CGI. It passes as a watchable romp.

If you are a fan of the classic Hong Kong action flicks, then you will be glad to know that unlike Jackie Chan’s appearances in the first two Twins films, this time we have two of the legendary action stars of the good old days who stick around for the majority of the film. Those of course are Yuen Wah, and Big Brother himself Sammo Hung. I cannot stress enough how important they are to making this film as tolerable as it is. That said, I must now burst the bubble by saying that both men are not at all used to their potential. Sure they may be a bit older, and Yuen Wah may not be a limber as he once was, but all you have to do is watch SPL and see that Sammo can still do it, at least more than he does in this film. And Yuen Wah, I was so excited to see him fight again, and he does. But it’s mostly close ups and some obvious doubles.

The story in Twins Mission is pretty straight forward, but the boundaries of reality seem very disjointed. For the most part is somewhat believable, then suddenly Wu Jing is making pills float in the air. Then we return to reality, and suddenly the twins are fighting half a dozen poisonous snakes . . . with their mouth?
It may not have lived up to the hype which it gathered quite a bit leading up to its release. However it’s still passable as a mindless good time, which is about all you can ask for from a Twins film...

6/10

A film by Kong Tao Hoi

Curse of the Golden Flower




Curse of the Golden Flower was Zhang Yimous third attempt at a martial arts epic. After his enormous international success with 2002's Hero, and his almost superior (most would disagree with that, but I liked it a lot) follow up House of Flying Daggers (2004), did he pull it off again? Kinda. If you compare this film to Yimous earlier works such as The Road Home, or Happy Times, then yes, this is indeed an epic martial arts film. However, Curse does not feel that much like it should be in the genre of “Martial Arts”. Yes, there is fighting and swordplay, so that would technically put it into that category. That said, would you consider Charles Angels a martial arts film because they fight? I certainly hope not (if you do you need to seriously re-evaluate your opinions on films). Either way, Martial Arts film or not, Curse of the Golden Flower is a masterpiece.

I must first give deserving praise to the films visuals. Right off the get go, and until the credits role every frame of the film could be hung up in a gallery. The sets, the costumes, even the actors and actress are dolled up so much you would think you were watching a beautiful oil painting come to life. It’s simply stunning. However I assure you that this film is far more than a pretty face. It may have a simple story, and take place entirely in the palace (and a bit outside), but it still works. This is what sets Curse apart the most from Yimous previous epics. It’s simple story which focuses on what can be best described as a dysfunctional royal family. Who on the outside looks picture perfect, but on the inside harvests so much anger, jealousy, and dark secrets, that it was only a matter of time before it all became too much.

The cast is another one of the films many strong points. Chow Yun-Fat is at his absolute best as the dark Emperor Ping. I can assure you, you have never seen this kind of performance from him. Especially when you see him get angry, but I will not spoil! Gong Li is also excellent as Pings very unhappy second wife (his first died when the crown prince was very young). When alone she shows such deep despair in her eyes, which are only highlighted by her golden makeup. However when she emerges from her quarters as the almighty Empress, all that sorrow is well hidden. Another notable cast member is Jay Chou, as the middle Prince Jie. He was able to pull off the role quite well.

As I noted above, there is very little action throughout the course of the film, however there is some. In fact, the closer the film comes to the end, the more action there is. And what little action there is, it’s stunning! The end climactic battle between an army of soldiers in golden armour, and an army in silver is so very well done. The best part about it is that there are tens of thousands of soldiers fighting, but it’s not on an open battlefield. It’s in the courtyard of the palace. So it goes without saying that there is not much room for them to move around. When we are treated to the odd overheard shot, it looks like a giant blob of gold moving in on a giant blob of silver! Then when the two sides connect, silver and gold suddenly turn red! Yes, there is blood in Curse of the Golden Flower, there is lots of blood.

To many this may come off as Yimous weakest attempt at martial arts epics. However the film is so good! It might help to go into the film with expectations of seeing a small story about family drama, and you just might be treated to a wonderful action sequence here and there.

9/10

A Film by Zhang Yimou

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Chaplin (Para-Review)




Absolutely Love this film! A stunning, and unforgettable look into the life of one of films great treasures! One of the best acting performances I have ever seen period, and Downey Jr.'s best work for sure. I love the way the story is told using dictated flashbacks, and incorporating actual Chaplin films instead of trying to recreate. This works so well because Downey Jr. has an uncanny resemblance to the real man when in the Little Tramp character. Great supporting cast, including Charlie Chaplin’s actual daughter Geraldine who plays his mother in the film. All this wraps up with a truly wonderful ending that would bring a tear to anyone’s eye!

A Film by: Richard Attenborough

Monday, September 13, 2010

Titanic II




Well, after months of anticipation I finally get to watch Titanic II.

I love cheesy straight to video/tv movies, sometimes it's fun to watch poorly animated monsters terrorize poorly acted people. Or see what poor production quality can turn out, and of course the one D- list actor who is the "star power" of the film, but couldn't get a job at a craft service table on a real Hollywood set. However despite the potential of a film called Titanic II, it even failed to be a " fun bad movie" and was just bad.

Written, directed, and starring Dick Van Dykes grandson Shane, the film itself is more of a disaster then the ship crash It's portraying. There is no character development beyond our main star(that's saying alot) the story is just a total mess, there is no build up at al to get any attachment to the ship itself which in the end is nothing more then a forgettable set piece( again, saying alot). The interior just make no sense. This is an ocean liner, and it has a high school gym, a shopping mall ,a long concrete stairwell, an infirmary that must only stock tape because when someone is injured, IN THE INFIRMARY, our hero decides taping his CREDIT CARD over the wound is the best course of action. But the highlight of the ship of course, an 8 story elevator!

The story is this, a dude drops a bottle of snow in Alaska, is causes ice to collapse which sends a large wave across the world and throws an iceberg, yes, throws and iceberg, a lone drifting iceberg, into the SS Titanic II on its maiden voyage during the 100th aniversary of the original, and it sinks. And yes the words " not again" are spoken thank you. Oh and it randomly explodes part way through the sinking and kills a bunch of "main" characters at once. Except the guy that punches the fire back...

So that's that. There is a film called " Titanic II" and yes it sometimes tries to mimic moments from james camerons Titanic, and laughably fails. This movie is also unwatchably bad,which is a shame because the idea could have been executed enough to be fun to watch and make fun of, and though there was plenty to make fun of and laugh about afterwards, it was not fun to watch. It was rather painful! But unfortunately it also does one more thing. Destroys the Van Dyke legacy. Poor Grampy Dick!

1/10

A Film(?) by: Shane Van Dyke

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Arang




Arang is a Korean ghost story, so as expected you could probably watch it with an ‘Asian Horror Clichés Checklist’ and make a tick when you see; school girls getting haunted, check. Long haired little girl with wide creepy eyes, check. Some sort of bloody fluid oozing towards its victim, check. Long black hair growing out off walls or ceiling, check. and of course the ghost reflecting in pretty much every mirror in the film. Check. That said, Asian horror films will almost always share these qualities, and that’s not exactly a bad thing. Like any other genre of film they will always include their staple clichés that even though at this point most of the casual viewers will usually cry tired of them, if they didn’t have them they wouldn’t be the genre film that their fans want them to be. So is Arang a bad film? Not really, it just doesn’t bring anything new to the table that we haven’t seen before in Asian Ghost stories. In fact it’s one of the better ones I have seen in quite a while.

The film opens with two young students walking at night as we hear the tale of a haunted salt House, and as they approach said Salt House one of them spots a young girl standing alone, as she approaches her it is revealed that she is, a ghost! After some uneventful and disappointing opening scenes the story eventually begins to take shape as a group of twenty something young men, who happen to be friends start turning up dead. Killed by what appears to be toxic chemical killing them from the inside. Assigned to the case, and returning from a recent suspension is a young female detective (Song Yoon-ah), who finds herself paired up with a recently transferred young crime scene photographer (Lee Dong-wook). So now they must work together in their own unique ways, while fighting their own personal demons and figure out what is happening to these victims, and what happened to make these friends targets.

The back story is by far the best part of Arang, in fact the first hour or so tends to shuffle along at a pretty slow pace, with fairly common clue solving tactics and some seriously underwhelming scares that if you’ve watched at least one supernatural horror film in your life you will see coming much before they happen. But the conclusion and the final reveal is nothing short of brilliant! The final twist is fantastic, though it’s possible some might guess before hand, but I definitely didn’t!

7/10
A Film by: Ahn Sang-hoon

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Code of Honor




Fans of Hong Kong cinema should know that a DVD cover can often be misleading. Most big name actors and actress’ had their share of small roles before they truly broke the big time. It’s 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 is “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 than 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 throughout his career.

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 sister’s 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 thick 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 Film 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 good guy 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. . .

8/10

A Film by Billy Chan

Rich & Famous




Receiving help from triad boss Ah-Chai (Chow Yun Fat) to settle gambling debts. Two brothers Yung and Kwok (Andy Lau and Alex Man) enlist themselves into Chai’s gang to repay him for his services. Over time they establish themselves more deeply into the family, but when Kwok begins showing tremendous potential and loyalty to the gang, Yung is slowly being left in the shadows as a disappointment to Chai. This leads Yung to drift away and sway his loyalty over to rival triad boss Big Eye (Lam Chung). Leaving Kwok to decide where his own loyalty lays, with his mentor Chai or his brother.

If you have seen a triad movie or two in your lifetime, then Rich and Famous may not offer you much that you have not seen before. It may not be the best in its genre, but it still manages to get the job done fairly well. It has a pretty straight forward plot, with pretty predictable plot turns here and there. But what it does not have, that most other gun shooting’ Chow Yun fat action flicks do . . .is a gun shooting Chow Yun Fat! Well that is not all together so. Yes, Chow does manage to get a few shots off here and there. But be warned Chow Yun Fat action fans, this is no “Hard Boiled” or “A Better Tomorrow”. He is still indeed an important character, but he does not carry the film on his back like he has in previous outings. No, this time the weight is being shared by Andy Lau and Alex Man. Both actors were fantastic, especially Man who showed great character development throughout the course of the film. In addition, we get treated to a small but rewarding appearance from Danny Lee as the grumpy cop trying to take Chai down.

Getting back to the action, there are gun fights, there are car chases, there are some kicks and punches (and cutting and stabbing). But in the end, you realize this is much more a drama then the action film it’s been labelled as. It is really the drama, and the story, that carries the film. The action only comes in when it’s needed to compliment the plot. But if you watch this film anticipating the 25 minute gun blazing shootout, when the credits roll do not think you missed it, because it wasn’t there.

Rich and Famous does not completely wrap up at the end, this is because it’s the first half of a two part series, the second being Tragic Hero. So there are many things left unresolved. Don’t worry though, there is enough or a wrap up at the end that is does completely itself as a stand along film. But if you want the whole story, you must seek out Tragic hero.

7/10

A Film by Taylor Wong

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Oldboy




Oh Dae-su (played brilliantly by Choi Min-sik) is about to experience a series of horrific events that nobody could ever possibly begin to imagine, in the blink of an eye his life is about to change forever. It all begins one night in 1988 when he is arrested for public drunkenness. This is where the film opens, a rather plump looking Oh Dae-su making a complete ass of himself at a police station while awaiting his friend to come bail him out. Finally the friend arrives, and with daughter’s birthday present in hand Dae-su leaves the station. Before heading home they stop at a pay phone to call home. After a brief conversation Dae-su hands the phone over and steps aside. His rescuer assures Dae-sus wife they are on the way and hangs up. As he steps out of the booth he is horrified to find that in just a mere few seconds Oh Dae-su is gone.

Oh Dae-su awakens, he finds himself locked in a prison disguised like a cheap motel, equipped with a bed, kitchen, and even a television. Confused and frightened he yells out the small hole in the door where his meals are slid to him like a dog being fed in a cannel. He rapidly spends all his energy pounding and crying out for answers that he would inevitably never be handed to him. He would go on to spend 15 years in this room with not even a hint as to where he is, or more importantly why he is being held prisoner. But this time would not go by wasted. He uses the television as a companion and teacher who would guide him through the major events going on in the outside. Including the grim news that not only is his family dead, but he himself is blamed for the murders. Now He will train, train, and train. Training himself physically and mentally, preparing himself for one thing and one thing only. To escape this confinement and to find answers. Though he begins his rigorous escape plan it would prove all too unnecessary.

He has gotten used to being gassed to sleep on occasion and awaked to a cleaned room, a haircut, and a clean shave. But one day after being gassed he wakes up to something completely shocking. He has been released. Given a new suit, money and a cell phone he is finally free. But why? The answer to that question won’t come easy for Oh Dae-su as he is about to embark on a grizzly and brutal journey to find this answer, and when he does the answer itself may be far worse than anything he has be subjected to thus far.

Simply said Oldboy is a genuine masterpiece of film making, easily one of the best and most universally beloved films to date and Director Park Chan-wooks finest work. But watching it comes with a price, the journey itself takes the viewer on an almost equal ride with our protagonist Oh Dae-su. All the way up to the truly spine chilling reveal at the end, everything that happens is explained only as Dae-su learns it himself. It’s an unforgettable experience that will leave anyone who watches it both amazed, and horrified!

Besides great writing, superb direction, and top notch cinematography the cast is absolutely stellar. Choi Min-sik is of course fantastic. But co-stars Yoo ji-tae and Kang Hye-jeong are outstanding in their roles; especially Yoo ji-tae whose final moments in the film are simply stunning! Top that off with a superb supporting cast of mostly Park Chan-wook regulars including Kim Byeong-on, and an unforgettable appearance from Oh Dal-soo.

Oldboy should be mandatory viewing for anyone who appreciates fine film making. It’s defiantly not for the casual movie-goer who may not appreciate what it has to offer, and who may be quite off put by some truly horrific moments. But if you can appreciate talent you will enjoy this, and for fans of Korean Cinema. Well if you are one you have seen this already, probably many many times.

10/10

A Film by Park Chan-wook

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Going by the Book




In a small Korean city a string of recent bank robberies has left the police stumped, and the public outraged. The angry citizens demand the police do something, so in a last ditch effort they bring in the new Police Chief Lee, played by the always menacing Son Byeong-ho. Immediately after he begins his new position he announces his plan to prepare his department to handle the continuing robberies. They will commence an exercise where the police themselves will hold a pretend robbery at a local bank in order to train themselves on how to properly handle the situation. All duty officers will draw a card with a certain task that can range from a bank client, to the robber himself. Unknowing to anyone else the Chief withholds the position of the Robber to be given to someone he chooses personally, a decision he would come to deeply regret.

On his way in on his first day he is pulled over by Traffic Cop Do-man, played brilliantly by Jeong jae-yeong, whom after finding out he had pulled over his new superior still continues issuing the ticket. Why? because it’s the law. Do-man has a ‘By the Book’ mentality (hence the title of the film) and will do everything in his power to obey his sworn duties. It is because of this enthusiastic attitude Chief Lee personally assigns him the duty of playing the robber, a task that Do-man does not take lightly, and because of this turns what was supposed to be a quick stunt to show the city they are ready to handle this new threat, and turns it into a humiliating day long nightmare. A pretend nightmare that is. . .

Going by the Book is a brilliant and original take on Bank Robbery/stand-off films. The idea alone of an entire film focusing on a police standoff, and hostage situation that for all intents and purposes is pretend, sounds rather ridiculous. Yet despite that it still has its share of comedy, drama, tension and suspense that is often highlighted by a brilliant performance from Jeong jae-yeong. The care and precision Do-man puts into a task is very impressive and can be hilarious at times. He even prepares cardboard signs for everyone to wear that would display their current status. Some would read ‘tied up’ and for other unfortunate wannabe heroes, ‘Killed’. Yes this pretend Heist also comes with its share of casualties, something that only fuels our poor unexpected Chief Lees even more while his planned Exercise further humiliates him and the Police.

It’s always a treat when film makers can find a way to take a fairly common theme, in this case a bank heist movie, and find a way to turn it into something original, and exciting. Originality in film making these days appears to be growing fewer and farther between. But Director Ra Hee-chan, and writers Jang Jin, and Lee Gyoo-bok has given us a true gen of a film, one that deserves more international exposure then it will probably get. Though it wouldn’t surprise anyone if this concept is taken by Hollywood and remade someday, at least for now it remains one of the most unique and original films in quite a while!

9/10

A Film by Ra Hee-chan

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Danny the Dog (Classic Rant/Review)




This is a review/rant I dug up that I had written the weekend Danny the Dog aka Unleashed was released in North America. It seems I was pretty upset at the US treatment it was given. . .

(May 14, 2005)
I am reading the reviews for Unleashed(the title is my first point). and I have realized just how ignorant and stupid the average film critic can be!

Unleashed, or I should say DANNY THE DOG, being as how that is its non-lame ass generic title, is one of the most original and touching films I have seen in a long time. And Jet Li was fantastic! But wait, he ACTED! Well I'm sorry average film critic, I AM a Jet Li fan and I am not dissapointed. You know what, he may be a martial artist, but he is also an actor. And his talents easily shine in this film. But all these critics are so stereotypical of him, that they think because he is not fighting every 5 minutes, that its a bad movie. I actually read a review that said "The nicer Jet Li is, the poorer the movie" and "Jet Li fans will be dissapointed" Bullshit! I speak for all Li fans when I say these jokers are full of shit!

In Danny the Dog, we see a side of Li that has never been shown to most US movie go-ers, and he does it so well. You don't see the same Jet li that you did in his inferior Hollywood films such as Romeo Must Die,Cradle to the Grave etc. You see a completely different person. I am sorry folks, he is not just some chinese guy who knows Kung Fu. He is fully capable of acting in a film without throwing a single punch if he ever wanted. I am not saying I did not enjoy the fights, they were brilliant! But they were only a fraction of what the movie had to offer.
The story of Danny, what a great story! Also the inclusion of Morgan Freeman, and Bob Hoskins added a rare blend that balanced the overall film so well. The sceens with Hoskins, and Morgan were as different as night and day. We jump from a sweet story of a man finding himself, and being invited into the loving arms of strangers who will soon accept him as a part of their family! Then when we all feel nice and warm, and everything is happy, in a literal bump! We are taken back to the heartless brutal world of the menacing Uncle Bart! But do we see the same Danny this time? No, he has developed the ability to think for himself. At the beginning he was not fighting, he was destroying life. We was trying to hurt! But now he does not want to hurt anymore, he is doing what martial arts really is, the art of not being hit! He is defending himself.

I could rant all day, but I have seen the movie twice with two different crowds, FULL seated crowds. And as I looked around I can see the reactions. People like this movie, people who like violent movies will like it, people who hate senceless violence, will like it. people who watch movies for a great story will like it. And despite popular beliefs from our ignorant critics(not all but too many) Jet Li fans will like it!

But you know what, as I read the User reviews, I realize that a critics opinion means nothing. Its the people who go to the movies because they want to see it that matters. And though this is not everyones movie. At least the users know a good film when they see it!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Thirst (Para-Review)




(Full Review coming soon)

Ever wondered what a Vampire film that didn't suck looked like?

Simply amazing, I am a big Park fan so I am very disapointed in myself for taking so long long to see it(it was late last year I watched it for the first time), but it was worth the wait. It has a familier style that Park Chan wook fans will immediately recognize, and tosses almost every vampire cliche out the back door and gives us a fresh spin on the recently lame genre(no shirtless tweens here!). Great supporting roles from Park Chan-wook regulars Shin Ha-kyun, and Dal-su Oh! And a truly amazing ending!

Was one of the best films of 2009 for sure!

10/10

A Film by Park Chan-wook

Bangkok Dangerous(2008)



When I first heard about the Bangkok Dangerous remake , I was unsure what to think. I am not a big Nic Cage fan, but I am a Pang Brothers fan, and found their previous American outing, the flawed The Messengers, to be a decent but underwhelming break into the US market. Now we get a remake of their career starting masterpiece. One I have actually not seen, but have heard a great deal about. A director remaking his own film in a new market is not something new. Japanese director Takashi Shimizu did it with his famed Ju-on: The Grudge franchise re made simply as The Grudge and The Grudge 2. With Bangkok Dangerous is basically a Thai production funded by what appear to be enthusiastic American producers (though behind the scenes interviews can be deceiving). So this time The Pangs were given the funds needed to really stretch their legs.

Nic Cage plays an Assassin named Joe, who is taking on his ‘last job’ in Thailand. He is to take out four targets, collect his money, and leave the business for good. A plot set up we have all seen before and can agree that if we ever become successful assassins, and decide to take on “one last job”, it would be in our best interest to, well, not! However Joe does not take this advice and goes to Thailand for this last mission anyway. Joe has a standard operating procedure. He settles in, finds a lowlife to hire as his runner, completes his hits, kills the runner, takes his money and moves on. All while adhering to four simple rules. 1) Don’t ask questions, 2) Leave no trace of your identity, 3) Don’t make lasting bonds with other people, and 4) Know when to get out. Well we all know he broke rule 4 already, but his problems really begin when he starts breaking rule 3. This is where we start to see some similarities to the original film. He meets and falls for a young mute woman at a pharmacy, played wonderfully by the great Charlie Yeung, and then finds himself caring for his lowlife runner (Shahkrit Yamnarn) to the point of training him to be an assassin himself. An aspect of the plot that seems to be meant as an homage to the kung fu films of old. These decisions start a chain reaction that sees out anti-hero seeing the light (as they say). However the more he begins to feel remorse for his work, the worst things get for him until he finally finds himself a target.

In the original version our Assassin is actually a mute, something that would have really added a lot to this version, and especially Nic Cage’s character. Weather is as a decision by the Pangs to make this drastic change, or perhaps the producers didn’t want their big named actor not speaking we will never know. However Cage manages to pull off the role pretty well, though I could imagine there is more than one A list Hollywood actor that may have been able to pull it off better. It did help that Cage himself is a fan or both the pangs and the original film, so he did bring with him a good deal of personal enthusiasm. Aside from Cage the rest of the cast is primarily Thai, with the exception of Charlie Yeung of course. As I mentioned above she did a wonderful job. Playing a mute requires far more talent than one may think, and her ability to convey her emotions with simple expressions, really shows what a talented actress she is. It was Shahkrit Yamnarn who in the end steals the show. He enters the film as a mere lowlife thief, but his character gets very well developed throughout the film and is capable of making you care for his situation far more than Joe. Where the film lacks the solid plot and unique storytelling it makes up in sheer style. The Pangs use the full extents of their talents to give us a great looking film, and manage to really give the world a look at just how stunning Bangkok really is. In fact the city almost becomes a character itself.

Bangkok Dangerous didn't steal any awards, and certainly doesn't break any new grounds in action film making, but its not the worst entry into the drab Hollywood action genre. I can only hope this isn’t the last we have seen on The Pangs, or any foreign film makers getting their shot to show Hollywood what they have to offer. Yuen Woo Ping came into the market with The Matrix and helped change Martial Arts film making in Hollywood for good, maybe the Action genre will receive the same one day.

6.5/10

A Film by The pang Brothers

The Departed



(Written in 2006)
This Scorsese revision of the 2002 Hong Kong classic ‘Infernal Affairs’ tells the story of two moles, one an undercover police officer(Dicaprio) who worked his way into the Irish Mafia. The other(Damon) a disciple of notorious crime boss Frank Costello(Nicholson)who has worked his way up the ranks of the Boston Police Department. However things heat up when both sides learn that there is a mole in their group. Now both moles have been assigned to sniff out the other. A task that will inevitably lead to a series of violent, blood shedding events.

Remakes in Hollywood have become anything but a rare circumstance. It seems that every other film to come out of the giant movie making machine that is Hollywood has been done before. We have seen remakes of classic Hollywood films, remakes of not-so-classic Hollywood films. Remakes of European films, french films, and especially of recent Japanese films. We have even seen remakes of remakes. Hollywood loves their remakes.

However, every once in a while among the giant cesspool of Hollywood re-tellings. We see a true master piece. A movie, that even though its been done before, harvests enough raw talent, and visionary film making that is stands up on its own with out needing the original to be its crutch.

The Departed is one of those.

Martin Scorsese is easily one of Hollywood, nay, the worlds greatest film makers. So when it was rumored that he would be remaking a film like Infernal Affairs. There was very little to be disconcerted with. It was thought that if anyone would be able to remake such a universally loved film, he would be that man. And the man he indeed is. The Departed has it all great cinematography, wonderful music, a great pace, and of course a top notch cast, which leads to some outstanding acting. Everyone from Jack Nicholson to Anthony Anderson is at the top of their game. It almost appears that the role of Frank Costello was tailor made for Nicholson, he is absolutely wonderful, and in my humble opinion, Oscar bound. Martin Sheen is also great as the incredibly likable Oliver Queenan. Alec Baldwin is the very entertaining Ellerby, who shares the bulk of the films comic relief with MarkWahlberg’s show stealing performance as Dinam. But as good as the supporting cast is, it comes down to weather our two main men, Leonardo Dicaprio and Matt Damon can carry this film. Can they? Oh they can! Both actors truly shine. Leonardo Dicaprio has worked with Scorsese a few times, but this is indeed his finest moment! Same can be said for Matt Damon.

The films itself works off a lot of the key moments in Infernal Affairs. There are many moments in The Departed that fans of the original will easily pick up. Basically its build of a number of key moments strung together with Scorsese’s own touches. Each scene is recreated, but with his touch. What does that mean?? Well, more violence, more sex, and more language. Lets use the arm-cast as an example. In Infernal Affairs we see Eric Tsang pick up and smash Tony Leungs broken arm against a table, shattering his cast. In the Departed, Nicholson does indeed smash Dicaprios arm against a table, but in this case it takes a few swifts slams before the cast breaks. Then to add to the torture, he proceeds to beat his arm with his own shoe. The Departed does tell the story almost the same, but it does fill in a lot more detail to the story then the original. Also without giving anything away, it is apparent this will not be a trilogy. They were able to add enough meat to the story that there is no need.

Is The Departed better then Infernal Affairs? No. Is Infernal Affairs better then The Departed. Not really. Infernal Affairs is about as good as it gets when it comes to Hong Kong crime thrillers. And the Departed, well its about as good as it gets with American crime thrillers. Maybe it’s the story, maybe it’s the directors, or each films stellar casts. Whatever it is, it works extremely well, both times.

10/10

A Film By: martin Scorsese

Rob-B-Hood




(Note: This review was originally written for HKCuk.co.uk in 2007 in conjunction with Stewart Sutherland of www.podcastonfire.com)

Plot (HKFlix): Slipper (Jackie Chan), Landlord (Michael Hui) and Octopus (Louis Koo) is a 'dream team' of "Thieving Musketeers". They are like a bullet out of a gun whenever an opportunity for a heist comes. However, rape and pillage is out of the question, as their principle is never to intentionally hurt anyone.
Man Yee, sole heiress to the distinguished Ding Family's fortunes, has given birth to a boy - Matthew. However, he is snatched away by Man Yee's ex-boyfriend Max (Terence Yin), who in a state of jealous delusion, thinks Matthew is his own flesh-and-blood. An unfortunate accident leads to Max's untimely death. Max's father, a mafia boss is out to take revenge, but more importantly, to regain custody of his 'grandson'.

A reward of 30 million for the kidnapping of a tiny tod sounds like an offer that the thieving trio cannot refuse. However, one thing snowballs into another, landing everyone into a moral dilemma and a dangerous quandary. And adorable Matthew has made his way into everyone's heart, so they have to choose between the ransom and their conscience.

Review: When this project was first announced the movie was entitled “Project BB” and the trio of thieves were going to be Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung & Yuen Biao. This sent the internet community into a fit in the hope that there could be one last movie starring “The Three Brothers”, plans soon changed with Eric Tsang replacing Sammo. Plans changed again when the trio of thieves were changed to Jackie Chan, Michael Hui & Louis Koo and the film was renamed “Rob-B-Hood”. With the new cast and new title, it obviously killed some of the momentum that the film was gaining.

The film is great, I laughed, I nearly cried and I shouted “Kick his ass!” at the TV on two occasions. The cast was flawless, the guest appearances we’re great and the cameo appearances from Daniel Wu and a stammering Nicholas Tse were just priceless.
Now many Michael Hui fans will be let down by this flick since Hui is only really in 1/3 of the entire movie. They’ve chosen the right character, because Hui’s character ‘Landlord’ was a boring guy really. I have nothing against Michael Hui, oh, no, no I respect him immensely. Comparing his character with the unlucky gambler and the womanizing playboy, he’s a bit of a dull one

Yuen Biao co-stars in the flick as a police inspector ‘Steven Mok’, his character was friends with Thongs when they were in School together, but now on opposite sides of the law he tends to over look some of Thongs flaws. There is a great scene where Steven goes to Thongs apartment which is filled with debt collectors, triad lackeys, Octopus’s pregnant wife, Thong’s crush Melody and the baby. Confused by the amount of house guests Thongs tries to play some of them off as his cousins. Soon as Stevens back is turned the Triads and Debt Collectors lunge for Thongs!

Part of what makes this such a great film for the hard core HK cinema fans is seeing Yuen Biao and Jackie Chan together on screen. That said, his talents felt wasted, and his appearance comes off as a little forced. The role he played was just not important enough. The biggest disappointment is having one of the best climactic showdowns to come out of a HK film in a long time, and having Yuen Biao show up when its all over. However, we do get a little taste in the middle of the film with some limited action from Biao. But when its all said and done, it almost felt like a tease.

Probably only the only joy kills in the movie is the CGI. Now I know CGI was only used in scenes where it wasn’t humanly possible for a child, but it still looks pretty naff. Some CG shots of baby Mathew strangely look two dimensional. I even think there was a blue a screen of Jackie running with the basket, but why wouldn’t he use a blue screen, if he actually went and done that stunt and it goes wrong this would have been Jackie’s last movie! Trust me the CGI is the only thing that spoils the movie, the rest of it can possible be the best action comedy of 2006.

The cast is excellent. However, as good at the film is, if it had stayed a three bothers film, it would have been so much better. Perhaps having Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung, and Jackie as the three thieves would have been too obvious. So in this reviewers humble opinion, and with all due respect to Louis Koo, it would have been great to see Yuen Biao in Koo's place, and Sammo in Yuen's place as the cop. The idea of pairing Jackie and Yuen, and then having Sammo as the third wheel works so well(See Wheels on Meals, or Dragons Forever). The film is wonderful, but having our beloved trio together again would have made it a true classic.

Guest appearances? As I mentioned above Daniel Wu and Nicholas Tse make cameo appearances as security van drivers. Ken Lo (now know as Ken Low) plays a heavy along with Hayama Hiro. Charlene Choi plays Octopus’s long suffering wife, Concory Chan plays Thongs debt collector, Terence Yin makes a quick appearance at the start as Cherrie Yings ex-boyfriend, Andrew Lin plays Cherrie’s current boyfriend, Gao Yuanyuan plays the nurse – Melody, Chen Baoguo plays the father of Terrence Yin’s character. Teresa Carpio plays the nut-bag wife of Michael Hui’s character. Umm other appearances include, Gordon Lam, Joe Cheung, Hui Siu-Hung & probably that I didn’t notice.

Final thoughts, a nice light hearted action comedy, the perfect combo. Enjoy!

8/10

A Film By Benny Chan

Review Co-written by Stewart Sutherland (www.podcastonfire.com)

The Forbiddon Kingdom



It was an event that fans of Martial Arts Cinema had been craving for many years. An on-screen pairing of two of the living legends of Asian Cinema, Jet Li and Jackie Chan. The biggest question that wondered through many minds was how would it work? Who would be the villain, who would be the hero? Could they manage to pull off a buddy cop film? How do you put together two icons that have individually created two quite different catalogues of films? Chan with his family friendly anti-violent stunt showcases, and Li with his polar opposite fist to face, bone shattering action showcases. The answer would come from the surprising duo of Director Rob Minkoff and screenwriter John Fusco. An American made production that can only be compared to that of the Never-ending Story esc 1980’s fantasy adventure films. Something that I think we can all agree would have been the last thing we could have ever guessed.

The story begins in modern day Boston as we are introduced to our hero, no not Jet Li or Jackie Chan, but a young martial arts film fanatic Jason Tripitikas. (Played by Michael Angarano) A rather unknown actor, who has managed to earn the envy of many die-hard kung fu fanatics across the globe. Right away fans can relate to Jason’s character, who frequents a local China Town shop run by an old man named “Old Hop” to hunt down as many old kung fu films he can get his hands on, upon one visit he also discovers an old bow-staff in the back of the store which Old Hop tells Jason is waiting to be picked up by someone and returned to its rightful owner. Mysterious?

Jason’s adventure starts to unfold when he has an unfortunate run-in with a local bully who forces him to return with them to the Old man’s shop to help rob it. During the commotion of the robbery attempt Jason discovers that there is more to that old Bow then he though as he is suddenly jolted back in time to ancient China. What exactly triggers this event is not entirely explained but really, does it matter?

Not long after he find himself in the strange new land Jason meets an old drunken traveler Lu Yan (Chan) who immediately recognises the Bow he is holding as that of the legendary Monkey King (Li), who has been turned to stone by the Evil Jade Warlord (played by Colin Chou). Soon joined by a beautiful young girl and a mysterious Monk (also Li), the group set off to return the bow to its rightful owner, but not before they have to teach Jason Kung Fu! (Insert Montage here)

This may not have been exactly what fans were looking for when they were awaiting collaboration between Jet Li and Jackie Chan. What we did get though, is far from the disaster it could have been. With the help of Yuen Woo ping, the fight choreography is nothing short of spectacular (in a wire-fu fantasy kind of way). Obviously the highlight of the film comes with a memerable showdown between Li and Chan. The kind of fight we have been waiting for since Jackie Chan had his small brawl with Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung in Dragons Forever.

Fans of Kung Fu cinema will also enjoy the many nods to several classic martial arts films. Including a villain who bares a striking resemblance to Bridget Lin in “The Bride with White Hair”, as well as an opening credit sequence that will make Shaw Brothers fans jump for joy! However great these moments are, its Jackie Chan doing Drunken Boxing again that really sets the nostalgia a blaze!

7.5/10

A Film By Rob Minkoff

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Informant! (Para-Review)



Mark Whitacre has worked hard to secure his future with ADM, a Fortune 500 agri-business giant. However through an apparent moral decision, he decides to leak information about the company's involvement in a large price fixing scheme to the FBI. With this information they decide to pressure Mark into becoming an informant to secure enough evidence to take down the corruct executives. He quickly becomes more and more comfortable with his new position, believing himself to be a "Secret Agent". However as Marks little white lies start overwhelming him, his new world becomes less and less confortable.

I didn't really know what to expect, the trailers played it up to be much more of a comedy then it ended up being. However it was still really good, great performance by Damon, and unless you already knew the true story(I didn't)then the events really keep you guessing what is really going on, and may give you a few "What the. . ." moments. I mean that is a good way.

The highlight of the film was the narration, which is basically random and irrelevant ramblings, and strange facts playing in Whitacre's head that have nothing to do with the story at all. Example;

"When polar bears hunt, they crouch down by a hole in the ice and wait for a seal to pop up. They keep one paw over their nose so that they blend in, because they've got those black noses. They'd blend in perfectly if not for the nose. So the question is, how do they know their noses are black? From looking at other polar bears? Do they see their reflections in the water and think, "I'd be invisible if not for that." That seems like a lot of thinking for a bear. "

. . .amazing!

8/10

A Film by Steven Soderbergh

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mother (Madeo)



Everyone knows the phrase ‘quality over quantity’, well that is the best way to describe Korean director Bong Joon-ho. In 10 years he has directed only 4 full length features, and a couple short films. Including the highlight of the compilation film ‘Tokyo’ titled ‘Shaking Tokyo’. In 2000 he debuted with the lesser known ‘Barking Dogs never Bite’ (which I shamefully admit I have not seen). 3 years later he amazed fans and critics alike with the absolutely brilliant ‘Memories of Murder’, a film telling the story of the most notorious unsolved murder case in Korean history. Another 3 years later, and he took the mainstream world by storm with the internationally acclaimed ‘The Host’. Now after another 3 years we have what some has called “the follow up to Memories of Murder”, and eventually the topic of this review, ‘Mother’.

Taking place in modern day Korea, the film tells a simple tale of a Mothers love for her son, but uses the dark setting of a murder mystery. Kim Hye ja plays the mother in question who lives alone with her mentally disabled son(Won Bin), who innocently finds himself getting into trouble hanging out with a local ‘bad-ass’. This leaves his poor mother struggling to manage her shop, and try to keep him out of trouble. Their struggle only gets worse when a young girl is found murdered one morning, and all evidence points to him, even though he only remembers going home and to sleep the night before. There is no way she is going to believe that he is the killer, even though nobody is on her side, and the police are ready to close the case. She is willing to go to all lengths to prove her sons innocence, even if it means breaking the law herself. Putting herself into some of the most tense situations you will witness on screen.

Kim Hye Ja’s performance is superb, her portrayal of a poor, struggling, alone, but loving mother is heartbreaking, (and has nabbed a couple awards). In fact the screenplay for the film was actually written for her, and around the filmmaker’s faith that she was meant for the role, a gamble that she has proven to be a wise one. Also notable is the return of actor Won Bin, who had taken a few years off to serve his mandatory time in the military, and who’s last film ‘My Brother’ was also a family drama that delve into themes of a mother /son relationship.

From the moment we are introduced to the young girl’s death, the suspense doesn’t stop; it only gets stronger and stronger up to the final scenes. Bong has done it again, and further proves that he not only one of the most talented directors to come out of South Korea, but has proven to be one of the best directors in the world.

10/10

A Film by: Bong Joon-ho

Clean





Clean tells the story of Emily Wang, a past-her-prime ex-MTV star caught up in her hopeless dreams of super-stardom, along with her ex-rock star husband. However, her already spinning out of control life takes a sudden dive when her husband unexpectedly dies of a drug overdose in a rundown hotel in Hamilton, Ontario. Now she has been busted with drug possession and sentenced to six months in prison. Once released from prison, she now realizes that her life is quickly wasting away. So she decides she wants to turn her life around, and in it she wants to include her neglected son Jay. Now she must fight to prove to her son’s grandparents that she is capable of raising him, that she is clean and is ready to be a mother. But it won’t be easy.

Maggie Cheung is a beautiful woman, there is no doubting that. In ‘Clean’ she has managed to somehow hide herself behind a trashy, burnt out drug addict. And she does it so well. Maggie Cheung is phenomenal in ‘Clean’ (she won the Best Actress Award for her duties at the 2004 Cannes film festival). Despite her bad choices, you really care for her character, you really want to see her get her life together. Even if her son is kind of irritating. The acting in the film was great all around; Nick Nolte was equally great, playing Maggie Cheung’s caring and concerned, but harsh father in law. However, there are times in film when a bad actor, especially a child actor can kill a wonderful scene. Maybe I am being too harsh; he was not all that bad. . .

Another aspect of the film that needs to be mentioned is the music. It has a beautiful soundtrack, with a handful of tracks performed wonderfully by Cheung herself. Which they also managed to fit into the story of the film, as Cheung’s character continues to pursue her dream of being a singer.

The film also hits home for me, literally. The opening scenes of the film are shot where I live. Hamilton Ontario (well I live just outside by a few blocks.) so a lot of the shots are quite familiar, including the absolutely beautiful shots of the Hamilton Steel Mill Which I can assure you in reality smells far less beautiful. The cinematography is stunning in ‘Clean’ there are some very nicely filmed scenes, and some great camera work.

Clean tells a very sweet, and sad story. It may not be for everyone, some could be turned off simply by its style. A style which really sets it apart, however Maggie Cheung fans, and Asian cinema fans alike might really enjoy seeing such a different side of Maggie Cheung. She has blossomed so well as an actress, it’s hard to believe that the woman you are seeing on this screen is the same girl who bumbled as Jackie Chan’s sidekick/girlfriend in the 'Police Story' series, or who displays such grace and beauty on screen in ‘In the Mood for Love’, and 'Hero'. So give Clean a chance, it is very much a hidden gem, a film that may leave quite an impact on you. Or for the very least show you how nice the Hamilton steel mill looks at night.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.0

A Film By Oliver Assayas

Friday, January 22, 2010

I Come with the Rain



A former police officer turned private detective (Josh Hartnett) is hired over a voice masked phone by someone rich to go to a jungle somewhere and find his son. He goes and finds out the son is dead, but then he’s not . . . he is in Hong Kong according to some other guy. So josh Hartnett goes to Hong Kong, meets up with what appears to be a friend (?)(Shawn Yue), who is also a cop. Then he somehow doesn’t notice that the guy who’s picture he has been carrying for weeks is right across a glass window from him, though he makes eye contact. . .*sigh*. Oh but its okay because he magically realises later on when it’s a whole lotta too late. We also find out that this missing son apparently is a healer of some kind, sort of like Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile I guess. . .oh and an older hairless Casey Jones beats up, then bites Josh Hartnett during the film’s opening prologue, I guess that’s important to the plot. But since that stops making any sense a third of the way in, we can just forget about that.

As you may be able to tell, I really didn’t like I Come with the Rain, which is by far the biggest shock of my film watching life. I can’t begin to explain how excited I had been for this for over a year since first watching a trailer. First off I have always liked Josh Hartnett, he is usually a great actor in my books. However he really looks bored out of his mind in this (can’t blame him), and was probably being paid in potato skins. I also like Shawn Yue so that was good. However the apparent clincher for me was that one of my favourite actors in the world, Lee Byung Hun plays the films villain (I might add that term must be used lightly). The trailer looked awesome, the cast looked awesome, and I was stoked. And like a slap to the face it ended up being a jumbled, incoherent snore fest that felt like an overachieving artsy film student’s thesis project. However if you like half naked people rolling on the ground, clenching themselves and groaning, then this is the film for you. Imagine the awful rave scene in the second Matrix lasting 2 hours, and you might have an idea.

Maybe I am being too harsh? But over all I just didn’t get it. I will admit I usually go for the bizarre incoherent “Lost Highway esc” indie films. But this was just too much, the longer it went on the less it made sense until I finally started to forget why the characters were where they were, and doing what they were doing in the first place. Perhaps a second or third viewing is needed, but to be honest I really don’t see that happening. I also don’t see this getting much worldwide support, a US release? Not likely anytime soon. However if it does, then do yourself a favour, don’t watch it!

3/10

A Film by: Anh Hung Tran

Nobody Knows




Four siblings, Kyoko, Shigeru, Yuki, Saki, and the oldest Akira all live quite happily in a small apartment with their mother. The four children all have different fathers, but seem to get along and love each other very much. The landlords only know of Akira. Shigeru, Yuki, and Saki all must stay hidden. Despite their imperfect lifestyle, the family appear to be happy, and their mother also appears to be a loving parent. Even though she does not let them go to school. Then suddenly their mother disappears, only leaving a little money and a quick note which appoints Akira to watch over his three younger siblings. Things go along ok, and after a few months their mother shows up again. But not for long, after a short visit she leaves again. And now begins these poor children’s grim story. The four children, lead courageously by oldest brother Akira, must somehow find a way to survive in their new world of sudden unexplained abandonment.

Review: ‘Nobody Knows’ is one of the most beautiful, and heart breaking film I have ever seen. You immediately begin to adore these four children. Especially oldest brother Akira (Played brilliantly by the young Yuja Yagira). I can’t say enough about the acting from these four kids. The movie just feels so real, like you are watching a documentary.

Nobody Knows is a fairly long film, running just under 2 hours and 20 minutes. So some may find it too long, or a bit slow. I however certainly did not. The story really doesn’t take off until about 45 minutes in when their mother leaves for good. Then begins the children long and horrendous struggle to survive. What is really great about this film is how well you get to know the kids, and also how much they all change by the end of the film. The oldest boy Akira, and his slightly younger sister Kyoko at first are very happy kids, who always have big smiles of their faces. Akira especially who seems to always have a happy smirk. The same can be said about the two youngest kids the hyperactive boy Shigeru, and the adorable Yuki. Both can rarely be seen without a smile. They are simply happy kids. However, once they are abandoned you slowly see they happiness fade, and the grim realization of what they have endured set in. Seeing these happy children turn to grim is heartbreaking. Which brings me back to Akira. The development of his character is outstanding. You really see the despair set in heavily as he tries so hard to keep his family together. You may ask yourself why they do not just call the police, or child services. But he refuses, he does not want himself and his siblings to be split up.

Nobody Knows is a wonderful film, something that I can highly recommend to anyone. Even though it is a very sad story, it does also kinda make you smile. Seeing just how much these kids care for one another, and how hard they work to keep their loves together after being left in abandonment is, simply said, beautiful.

9/10

A Film by: Hirokazu Koreeda