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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Review

21 Dec

It’s been about 5 days since I’ve seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and since then I’ve been thinking about it constantly. Last year, we saw the return of the franchise to the big screen with The Force Awakens, which to me felt like new life being breathed into it that was lost during the prequel trilogy. Rogue One is trying something new by telling a story that takes place between two of the main episodes instead of continuing the main story. This left me feeling kind of skeptical and a little nervous that it wouldn’t pack the kind of punch that I expect from a Star Wars movie. As the credits began to roll and I left the theater, I was ready to sit down and watch it again.

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Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) has been labeled a criminal by the Empire after breaking their laws and giving them trouble time and again. She has every reason to have such animosity towards them because when she was young she saw the villainous Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) tear her family apart when he forced her father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), to come with him to help develop a new superweapon for the Empire. Years later, Jyn is recruited by the Rebel Alliance for a very important and secret mission to obtain a secret message sent by Galen through a defecting Empire pilot, Rook (Riz Ahmed). Jyn, along with Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), his droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), a blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), and mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), begins her adventure to find this message, rescue her father, and stop the Empire from unleashing its new superweapon, the Death Star.

Rogue One introduces a lot of new characters to the Star Wars universe, but it also introduces a new director to helm the project, Gareth Edwards. Edwards got his recognition with his 2010 independent film Monsters and went on to direct the 2014 American version of Godzilla, which people had differing opinions on. Either way, it’s safe to say he is a fantastic visual director, and this vision is one of the best parts of Rogue One. This is easily the most beautiful Star Wars film ever made with a unique blend of CGI, location shooting, and practical make up and effects. There’s so many beautiful scenes that show how great Edwards is with size and scale. From the AT-ATs coming through the fog to the Star Destroyer hovering over a city to that jaw dropping shot of the Death Star coming out of hyperspace. This is just such a beautifully crafted film in terms of its visuals and its sound and I give Gareth Edwards a lot of credit for creating a very unique looking Star Wars film.

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With all of this praise I’m throwing at Rogue One for its impressive style and beautiful cinematography, I have to also say that this is not a perfect movie and there are some flaws that are more apparent than others. The first 20-30 minutes of this movie are really rocky and often times confusing. We see Jyn’s backstory first, but after that we are forced to bounce back and forth between multiple different planets to introduce a plethora of characters really quickly. This feels messy and it’s hard to remember a lot of these characters this fast. As they are more established later on it was fine, but the first part of this movie was so scattershot. While Jyn and the rest of her crew are come pretty cool characters, only a few of them really get the attention that they deserve. Jyn gets plenty, but someone like Baze and Rook get next to nothing. It sometimes felt that these characters were pushed a bit too far into the background for a movie that is based on a team of heroes. Finally, there are a few CGI effects that happen for a certain character that is kind of weird. I understand and appreciate what they were trying to do, and on some levels it’s pretty cool, but it’s also really distracting to look at.

So while this movie does have faults, it’s still a really entertaining movie that stands alone as well as acting as a springboard for the original trilogy. It combines lore deeply engraved in the Star Wars universe while also giving us all these new characters and ways of seeing characters we already know. The story takes us to all these different planets, each with their own feel and design. Star Wars has been known for its many different planets, and Rogue One uses its settings really well. When I say that this movie stands alone, I mean that it feels like a very different kind of movie in this franchise. This is a war movie with just a little bit of mysticism in the rare times that the Force is mentioned. There’s something about how this story is told that often times gave me goosebumps. It just feels like such a perfect fit into a universe that we all know and love.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a great addition to the franchise and it really is a relief to say that. This is a beautifully crafted film that looks, sounds, and feels very unique while also fitting into the established universe very well. There’s some weird pacing issues and not all of the CGI choices work as smoothly as the film makers seemed to think they did, but all of that is overshadowed by how much fun I had watching this movie. If you want to go into this movie and nit pick it so much that nothing is left of it, then go right ahead, but if you are a Star Wars fan and are ready for another trip to a galaxy far, far away, then brace yourself for Rogue One.

Final Grade: A-

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Ip Man and Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster – Review

29 Nov

Nowadays, there seems to be a new movie about Ip Man coming out every year. With Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster and Herman Yau’s Ip Man: The Final Fight, people just can’t seem to get enough of the legend of the iconic wing chun grandmaster who went on to mentor Bruce Lee. Before all of these movies, though, Wilson Yip made Ip Man, which was a huge success with both critics and audiences. Before the first film was even released, a sequel was planned and in 2010 Ip Man 2 was released. While the second doesn’t quite reach the greatness of the first, both of these films will go down as two of the greatest martial arts movies ever made.

First, let’s look at the 2008 film that started it off.

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In the city of Foshan during the 1930s, legendary martial arts schools keep the city running and even attracts students and competitors all over China. The man known the most through all of the city, though, isn’t even a teacher, but instead a grandmaster of the wing chun style of martial arts. This man is Ip Man (Donnie Yen), who spends his days practicing and sparring masters of Foshan. As time passes on, the Japanese violently invade China during the Sino-Japanese War, and Ip Man is forced to see his friends and neighbors brutalized and starved by the Japanese. One Japanese general, Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), begins challenging the Chinese martial artists to fight him to prove his Japanese fighting style is far superior. Ip Man bravely rises to the challenge, risking his life to give new breath to the Chinese spirit and respect for their art.

Ip Man is more than just a simple martial arts movie. It’s a movie about the honor and respect of the Chinese. Some of the most powerful scenes of the movie don’t even include action, but more so examples of how to live and treat others with Ip Man being the prime example. While this movie isn’t really historically accurate, it uses the legend of who Ip Man was to get a message across. This never would have worked if Donnie Yen wasn’t completely dedicated to the role. Luckily he’s not only just a fantastic martial artist, he’s also a very talented actor who is able to deeply understand the roles that are given to him.

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But let’s be real. One of the reasons people are so into Ip Man are the brilliantly choreographed and executed martial arts action sequences, and there are plenty to really marvel at. What’s great is that Wilson Yip and action choreographer Sammo Hung really emphasize the different techniques utilized in the different fighting styles. Ip Man’s way of fighting is a lot different than Miura’s, which makes the climactic fight all the more exciting. To get away from really analyzing the movie, the action scenes are just really freakin’ cool. The punches seem like they can be heard a mile away and the aftermaths are always shown in vivid detail. It’s a dream come true in terms of martial arts movies.

Ip Man is one of the better martial arts movies I’ve ever seen, but it also works really well as a drama and historical picture. Wilson Yip seamlessly blends these genres together while Donnie Yen completely kills it as Ip Man. It’s just a fantastic movie, even if it is far fetched and historically inaccurate.

In 2010, the sequel to this smash hit was released and received a wider audience than its predecessor. That movie is Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster.

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Jumping ahead to the 1950s, Ip Man and his family have relocated to Hong Kong so that Ip Man can teach the wing chun style to any who are willing to learn. At first, business seems to be lacking, but he soon finds students. This angers another master working in the city, Hung Chun-nam (Sammo Hung), who is part of a guild of masters. Ip Man soon earns his place among the other teachers, but refuses to pay the fee to remain teaching. The fee is actually used to pay the corrupt British police superintendent (Charles Mayer), who is planning on hosting a boxing match featuring Britain’s number one fighter, Twister (Darren Shahlavi). When Twister insults the Chinese people and even goes so far as beating one to death, Ip Man  challenges the foreigner to a fight, which may prove to be Ip Man’s most deadliest confrontation yet.

Right off the bat, Ip Man 2 feels a lot different, but also very similar to its predecessor. The Sino-Japanese War is no longer happening, so we don’t really have that drama going on anymore. This one is actually very similar to Rocky IV, where Rocky challenges Ivan Drago, a Soviet, to restore faith to the Americans. Ip Man challenges Twister for almost the same exact reasons. This entry is also a lot heavier on the action than the original, which certainly isn’t a bad thing. Still, the story feels a little off kilter and undirected a points, like Ip Man 2 is a combination of a few different movies. But don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy this movie.

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What this movie does have that the first one didn’t is a much stronger villain. It’s so easy and fun to hate Twister, and so satisfying when Ip Man finally steps in the ring with him. Much like the first one, Ip Man 2 focuses a lot on the differences between the ways of fighting, in this case the differences between eastern martial arts and western boxing. It’s a cool combination that makes for a very interesting and intense fight. Even the other scenes where Ip Man takes on multiples people with his superior knowledge of wing chun is awesome. Again, every punch can be heard and every breaking bone is highlighted in excruciating detail. It’s almost too much fun.

Ip Man 2 doesn’t quite reach the level of greatness as the first one, but it’s still a superior martial arts movie. Donnie Yen kills it once again as Ip Man, showing his talent both in fighting and acting. A great addition to the cast is Sammo Hung, himself, who also did the choreography for both films. This movie is essential for any fan of the first film, and pretty much just any fan of the martial arts genre.

All in all, these aren’t movies to be missed. I recently saw The Grandmaster, and while it was a really cool movie, it didn’t quite hook me as much as the Ip Man films did. These movies pack a punch in both action and drama, while creating a legendary view of the actual Ip Man. As I said before, these movies aren’t historically accurate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t love them for what they are.

Fist of Fury, Fist of Legend, and Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen – Reviews

10 Dec

I’d like to call anyone who says that they aren’t in the slightest bit interested in the Kung Fu/Martial Arts genre a liar. It’s gone through so many different heroes, villains, transitions, and changes. The evolution from cheap film making with unknown fighters, to films with multimillion dollar budgets and big name fighters is as interesting as it is entertaining. What better way to observe this change than with the Chen Zhen films? These films has seen the likes of Bruce Lee, Jet Li, and finally Donnie Yen.

Let’s start with the 1972 film, Fist of Fury, aka The Chinese Connection.

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Chen Zhen (Bruce Lee) returns to the Jingwu School in the Shanghai International Settlement to find his master has been murdered, and the perpetrators belong to the rival Japanese school. This is a time of racism where the Japanese want nothing to do with the Chinese and will do anything to get rid of them. In response to the murder of his master and the pent up rage against racism, Chen Zhen begins a one man war against the rival school in search for vengeance and equality.

Bruce Lee is one of, if not the master of kung fu, and the exceptional choreography of the fight scenes (choreographed by Lee, himself) is stunning. My favorite scene involves Lee, a pair of nun chucks, and a whole dojo of Japanese students. Lee wields this weapon like there is hardly any skill involved. That along with his lighting fast arsenal of punches and kicks makes this character an almost unstoppable force.

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The themes of racism and social acceptance also brings much more depth to the story rather than a simple revenge tale. Zhen is fighting for more than vengeance, and this passion shows in the way Lee handles himself. He was known to be not only a martial artist, but also a philosopher, and these lessons of equality shine like glitter amongst the action.

Leaving out the horrible dubbing that I had to listen to, this is a kung fu masterpiece. The set design looks good, if not a little dated, but this adds to its retro charm. Its social commentary and outstanding fight scenes will continue to make this film an entertaining piece of Chinese cinema. Take it seriously. It’s a great movie.

In 1994, a remake of Fist of Fury was released starring Jet Le, Fist of Legend.

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I don’t really need to go too into detail with the story since it is very similar to the 1972 version. Chen Zhen returns to the Jingwu school in Shanghai, which is torn to pieces due to social inequality. His master is murdered and he then quests for revenge. The main differences is that there is a love story between Chen and a Japanese woman, and some infighting that takes place in the school. The villain is also a general and not master of a dojo.

Now, let me start by saying that the production values in this one are a hell of a lot better than the original. There’s a bigger cast of better actors, and the sets looks quite fancy, but I felt like Fist of Fury still pulled off the entire story and its themes better. Jet Li is still a very good Chen Zhen and he adds a new layer of quiet brutality to his fighting. Bones snap and foes are left as bruised as ever if they get in Chen’s way.

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One thing that is better about Fist of Legend is the suspense of the fight scenes. There are elongated battles that seem like they can’t and won’t end leaving the viewer doubtful as to what is actually going to happen. I do have to say that even though Jet Li is an excellent martial artist, I prefer the speeding bullet style fighting that Bruce Lee mastered. The love story is also a little too overbearing and I didn’t really care much for the rest of the supporting cast.

While this doesn’t top the original, I will say that it is still and excellent martial arts film and one to be respected. If you’re trying to decide between the two to watch, I would suggest Fist of Fury, but then I would follow up with the suggestion of watching both so you’re able to compare for yourself.

Finally, in 2010, a sequel to Fist of Legend was released, Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen.

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After serving in World War I, Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen) returns to Japanese-occupied Shanghai in disguise. He befriend a nightclub owner and buries himself deep in the underworld and the resistance in order to bring an end to the violence that is being cause by the Japanese. When night falls, Chen becomes the Masked Man and takes to the streets as a hero the city needs.

Hmmm. This is a strange movie indeed. Take everything you’ve seen in the previous two movies, throw it out the window, and brace yourself for a huge change in pace. This is a martial arts/spy/super hero movie with a plot as convoluted as it is different. There were time where I had no idea what was going on in the movie and more than once did I lose track of the characters. Most of this is due to the relentlessly quick pace of the movie.

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But, hell, I was certainly entertained the entire way through the movie. The action sequences are absolutely awesome with Donnie Yen, dressed exactly like Kato, flying all over the place and kicking people in the heads. It’s great. There is a lot of talking to get through before these scenes, so it’s a good thing that everything looks so cool. The nightclub, Casablanca, that a large portion of the movie takes place in is gorgeous with flashing lights and fun music. It’s like Boardwalk Empire: Shanghai.

Donnie Yen proves himself to be a great Chen Zhen, I’d say even better than Jet Li, but Bruce still is the best. The plot of this movie is a little too off the wall to be really respected and the pacing is way too quick, but the action and the overall style of the movie is awesome. This isn’t a great movie, but it sure is fun.

Chen Zhen is the epitome of martial arts characters and the themes covered in the movies can never be dated. They are also a true testament to the changes that this genre goes through over the decades. Check these movies out if you’re a kung fu fan, and if you’re new to the fu, this is a good place to start.