Tag Archives: jet li

Unleashed – Review

16 Jun

I’ve talked about Luc Besson quite a bit in these reviews, and that’s because he’s a powerhouse when it comes to the action genre. Not only can he direct a great action film, but he has written some modern action classics. People may have seen more of his movies than they even thought. Today, I’m going to be looking at the 2005 film, Unleashed, which was written by Besson and directed by Louis Leterrier, who is known for his work on The Transporter (also written by Besson) and more recently on the Now You See Me films. Unleashed marks a high point in Jet Li’s career as well as this is widely regarded as his best English language film. Could it be possible that it actually is? Well I say it just might be.

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Deep in the pits of the underground crime world of the United Kingdom, there lies a small cage in a warehouse that is inhabited by Danny (Jet Li), who as a young boy witnessed his mother being murdered only to be picked up and “raised” by a small time gangster named Bart (Bob Hoskins). Throughout his life, Danny is trained to be a human attack dog, implementing brutal martial arts to beat on whoever Bart commands. After an attack on Bart’s life, Danny escapes and finds his way to Sam (Morgan Freeman), a blind piano player, and his musician step daughter Victoria (Kerry Condon). The trio soon becomes a close knit family, with Danny learning more and more how to be a part of society, but Bart is still alive and well and wants his attack dog back. This forces Danny to stand up for both himself and his new family and rid himself from Bart and his goons once and for all.

First and foremost, this is an action film, and a very good one at that. Jet Li is known for his highly choreographed, flawless martial art performances, which makes Unleashed stand out. The whole point of Danny’s character is that he’s raised as some street fighting attack dog, which means that he fights like some sort of rabid animal. This makes for some vicious action sequences that made me cringe more than a few times thanks to some nasty sound effects. People don’t just get hit, they get completely obliterated in a barrage of fists that would make even the most skilled of fighters think about what they are doing with their lives. A lot of this has to do with the incredible fight choreography by Yuen Wo Ping, who worked as choreographer on The Matrix and Kill Bill.

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So while Unleashed exceeds expectations in terms of its action, there’s also a lot of heart. After a gleefully violent first act, there’s a break of about 25 minutes to a half hour where the action completely comes to a stop. Normally, I’d say that this would be where you can go get a snack because it completely disrupts the pacing. The crazy thing is that it doesn’t disrupt anything. In fact it adds a hefty layer of character and succeeds in turning otherwise throw away characters into people that you absolutely need to see win over the bad guys. Anything else would be completely unacceptable since you grow to love these characters so much. I wasn’t expecting this from this film, but it sure was a pleasant surprise.

It’s also worthwhile to talk about the performances in Unleashed, because like everything else, they offer a lot more than you might expect. First of all, Jet Li completely goes in a different direction with his performances of Danny. Unlike his normal heroic performances, Li plays an incredibly damaged individual who has a lot to learn about himself and life, and he plays it very convincingly. Morgan Freeman and Kerry Condon are good as the people who welcome Danny into their lives, but the real performance powerhouse is brought forth by Bob Hoskins. Hoskins was a fantastic actor, and I never really hear his name come up in relation to this movie. He seems to be having the time of his life playing the villainous Bart, who is one of the easiest villains to hate that I’ve seen in a while. He absolutely knocks it out of the park in this movie.

Unleashed is an action movie that stands above the average films in this genre. It has bone crunching action, but it also has a lot of heart and some excellent performances for some really great characters. When a movie like this really makes you care about the people and what may happen to them, you know you’ve found your way to something special. Isn’t that what movies are all about? Losing yourself in a story with great characters and real emotion. It also helps the Jet Li kicks major ass. This is one hell of a good movie.

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The Expendables 3 – Review

2 Jan

When The Expendables came out in 2010, I was thrilled to see all of the legendary action stars coming together to be in one movie, even if it didn’t reach the high expectations that I set for it. I was even more pleased with The Expendables 2 in 2012, which was a superior sequel that added Chuck Norris to the mix and gave Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis more to do. These were two fun films that hearkened back to action movies from the late 1970 and 1980s, but Stallone wasn’t ready to stop there. The Expendables 3, which I can now say was released in 2014 (just for the sake of saying it), completes the trilogy and actually offered me with more entertainment than I was expecting, which is a nice surprise.

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Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), the leader of his team of mercenaries called The Expendables, start their mission by breaking an old member of the team, Doc (Wesley Snipes), out of prison and than rush to Somalia to stop the delivery of bombs by a mysterious arms dealer. The mission goes awry when it is revealed the arms dealer is an ex-Expendable and personal enemy of Barney’s, Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson). One of the team members is severely injured and Stonebanks escapes, forcing Barney to assemble a new crew to go in and bring Stonbanks back on the orders of his new boss, CIA officer Max Drummer (Harrison Ford). When the new team gets captured by Stonebanks during the mission, the old Expendables crew comes back in to save the new recruits, defeat Stonebanks’ personal army, and bring him in personally to be charged as a war criminal.

I don’t think I even need to say this, but just look at this cast. Just look at it. On top of Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and the rest of the original cast we now have Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, and Antonio Banderas added just to name a few. Not only that, but Schwarzenegger and Jet Li are back to join in to the action and join it they do. Obviously, there are also a bunch of fresher faces there like UFC figher Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz, boxer Victor Ortiz, and Glen Powell. While it must have been cool for these fighters and actors to join in with the legends, they don’t add anything really special to the movie, and their acting can often be subpar, which shouldn’t even bother me in an Expendables movie. I was worried that these newcomers would push the others to the side, but it was great to see everyone get their chance in the spotlight, my personal favorite being Banderas. I just would have rather seen Gina Carano instead of Ronda Rousey, but that’s just me. There’s also a real big lack of Terry Crews in this movie, which was a little disappointing as well.

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Of course one of the biggest draws to see an Expendables movie is the action, and there’s plenty of it to go around. One of the things that concerned me along with the new cast was the fact that The Expendables 3 was PG-13, which made me think that this movie was going to be completely toned down. It really didn’t feel that way though. In fact, I’d say it may even be superior to the original movie. Another thing that is necessary in action films of this kind is a strong villain, and we get one with Stonebanks. It is obvious that Mel Gibson is having the time of his life, hamming it up as Barney’s arch-enemy and delivering his lines like he’s back in the role of Martin Riggs in the Lethal Weapon movies. Looking back on these movies, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mel Gibson were two of the best parts of the entire series, which is cool because cool villains are just plain awesome.

It’s clear that this is also a pretty personal project to all of the older actors in this movie, especially that there are now younger actors in the movie kicking ass with them. There’s been a few of these kinds of movies recently where the people we loved for years begin to talk about their age in a positive light. Stallone and the rest of them is reminding us once again that they are quite capable of high octane action scenes and still have fun shooting them. That being said, I don’t think we need another Expendables movie, and I’m hoping and praying that we don’t get one, because as much as I like what they’re doing, they’ve been doing it on repeat since 2010. I will say that some of this movie felt like it was getting a little stale (and I’m including the wonky special effects with this), which means it’s time to pack this series in.

The Expendables movies are simply nostalgic guilty pleasures that no one should really feel guilty about, in my opinion. These movies, the third movie included, are not pieces of work that need to be criticized to quickly. Maybe I liked this movie as much as I did because it exceeded my low expectations, but maybe it’s just because I like seeing these actors do what they do best. It’s not high art and it doesn’t have anything particularly interesting to say, but we’ve known these actors for a long time and it’s cool to see them in a loud, violent, and often funny action film.

 

The Sorcerer and the White Snake – Review

5 Dec

I’ve made it quite clear in the past that wuxia movies, or Chinese martial arts film, are my cup of tea. It’s a great escape to be able to watch martial arts masters fly above the tree tops and engage in over the top swordplay that defies all sound reasoning and physics. Like I said, it’s a great escape. While certain wuxia movies often feel like they can be part fantasy, Tony Ching’s 2001 film The Sorcerer and the White Snake clearly attempts to fully combine the two to make what should have been an epic martial arts film based off of an old Chinese folk tale. Unfortunately, this movie is a boring mush of CGI, uninspired fight choreography, and a love story that was just downright laughable.

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Fahai (Jet Li) and his apprentice Neng Ren (Wen Zhang) are demon hunters who belong to a monastery with the mission of protecting the Earth from demons that come from other dimensions. Fahai is merciless to the demons that threaten the human world, but everything he understands about demons is about to no longer make sense. Susu (Huang Shengyi) is a white snake demon who falls in love with a herbalist named Xu Xian (Raymond Lam) after saving him from drowning. As the two begins a life together, Fahai discovers Susu’s secret and wages an all out war between her and the other monks at the monastery, leaving Xu Xian in the middle to decide if he could ever love someone like her.

So, that’s pretty cool right? I mean demons, martial arts, giant snakes, forbidden love, and Jet Li sounds like an awesome combination. But there is one more thing…what was it? Oh yeah. FAR TOO MUCH F***ING CGI!!! It was almost disgusting really, how much flashy and distracting special effects there were. And you know what’s really crazy? They’re not even that great. In fact some of the effects, especially the snakes in their true form, look downright goofy, almost as if it was the first layer of CGI before it was all cleaned up, and then they just ran out of time so they went with it anyway. The amount of cheesy CGI in this movie is enough to even make George Lucas blush.

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Speaking of cheese, let’s talk about the love story between Susu and Xu Xian. Have you ever been watching The Little Mermaid and thought, “Could this get any cornier?” Well, yeah it can, and it pretty much did in The Sorcerer and the White Snake. There’s one scene near the end especially where the music begins to take hold and the lighting gets all dramatic, and an overly obvious love song begins playing. I just wanted to throw up. That’s not even the only instance, either. The entire plot involving the two forbidden lovers is so generic, predictable and boring. It got to the point where I forgot I was even watching a martial arts movie.

There’s scenes in the movie where we get to stay with Jet Li’s character and see some of the monsters that he fights. Hell, the movie even starts with him fighting a demon, but then we only get to see that a few more times, so it better have been cool. Well, sorta yeah but not really. There was no action in this movie that makes it stand out from other wuxia movies, scenes that really stick with you and make a lasting impression. Instead it’s just a jumbled mess of Jet Li, monks, and poorly computer generated creatures just kind of hitting each other…sometimes. The amount of dumb in this movie outweighs the cool stuff in a huge way.

I’m really upset that I didn’t like The Sorcerer and the White Snake because everything about it sounded so cool, up until I actually watched it and saw what it was all about. Listen, I don’t mind a good love story, in fact I really enjoy a good love story, but this is not one of them. This is a love story that you’ve seen a thousand times combined with a martial arts movie that has no dazzling choreography and a fantasy movie with effects that a fourth grader must have done. Some people out there seen to really enjoy this movie, and I just don’t get that. This one was an absolute mess and altogether just a train wreck.

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate – Review

23 Jun

If you were to take the CGI effects of Hugo, the amount of characters from Snatch, and the impressive fighting choreography from Hero, the outcome would probably look a lot like Tsui Hark’s Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. This is a wuxia movie that uses the impressive 3D and computer generated effects to create a magical looking film filled with excellent action and beautiful scenery that will suck you into the apparent anti-gravity universe that all of the characters inhabit. Before this movie, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a battle take place inside a tornado, so it’s easy to say that there was a lot in this movie that was an over the top blast. Unfortunately, far too many characters with far too little motivation prohibited this movie from reaching the standards of classics like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and left it just as a movie that had great action and looked really nice.

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After the Emperor’s eunuchs have split themselves into the two Bureaus of the East and West, ideas of justice and law soon went flying out the window. Zhou Huai’an (Jet Li) is a wandering warrior who has decided that it is up to him to protect these ideas of law and order by assassinating the heads of the Bureaus and eventually the Emperor. When a sandstorm threatens to cause major havoc in the area, a group of thieves and soldiers for the Emperor find themselves hiding in the Dragon Inn, but what they don’t know about each other, Zhou will use to his advantage. The thieves are here to find the hidden gold of Dragon Gate and the soldiers are there to kill a maid who was impregnated illegally in the Emperor’s court. Zhou begins to play these group off each other, but soon becomes involved in finding the gold at Dragon Gate with the boisterous group of thieves.

Normally, I like to name the main characters in movies and what they are doing, and even who they are played by, but I really don’t think I’d be able to with the overload of stories and characters in Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. There was a point about half way through the movie where I was worried if I wasn’t paying enough attention, and that’s not a feeling that I want to experience when I’m watching a movie. Confusion is one thing, but feeling like you’re missing something is totally different. When all of the characters are in the vicinity of the Dragon Inn, I was starting to sort of piece together what was going on, but I was still pretty unclear. This is because there are so many characters with not enough motivation and narrative drive. Things were happening without too much explanation. There were a few interesting characters, one of them being Jet Li’s role, so obviously this is who the movie focuses on…?

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Since Jet Li started the movie off with a bang with an excellent action sequence and then following up on his story with important scenes involving his mission, I was completely invested in what his character was doing and I was really into it. Too bad after I was really getting into the story, a giant handful of new characters show up and Jet Li disappears for a good amount of time. This is the time where I really started losing track of the plot because this is where the plot about finding the gold comes in, and compared to assassinating government officials in flying scenes of swordplay, this seems a lot less interesting. Another problem is that the movie becomes just as cramped as the Dragon Inn, itself. All of these characters and all of their plots are carelessly mushed into one movie and it just left me baffled.

While the story gets messed up in a really bad way, the action and special effects are spectacular. Flying Swords of Dragon Gate really is a spectacle in every sense of the word. The action scenes offer some really awesome slow motion and interesting choreography with weapons that made me laugh at the craziness of it all. The genre of wuxia has a lot of cool things to offer in terms of plot, but the action is what normally really gets me. Much like Hero, this movie puts the computer generated effects to good use with a combination of balletic swordplay and beautiful CGI backdrops and other effects.

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate isn’t particularly a good movie in every sense of the word, but in terms of how cool it is, it excels. The visuals are all mind blowingly awesome and the fight choreography meshes very well with the countless number of effects happening all around the characters. If the plot was just structured better and there were a few less characters, this film would probably be remembered as a martial arts classic. Unfortunately, this is a movie that will probably be missed or completely forgotten by people who aren’t completely devoted to this genre.

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.

 

The Expendables 2 – Review

18 Aug

I’ve gone to see more movies at their midnight openings this year more than I have any year of my life. I’m proud to say that I can include The Expendables 2 to this list of movies. I loved the first Expendables, but I’m excited to say that the sequel has surpassed the original in every way, making it not only one of my favorite movies of the year (after The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises), but also one of my favorite action movies of all time.

 

Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his team of mercenaries are still out in the field doing some of the dirtiest mercenary work around. After a not so friendly meeting with Mr. Church (Bruce Willis), Ross takes a job to retrieve a package from a downed plane. This simple job quickly goes awry with the arrival of another team of mercenaries led by Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) who steal the package to unlock a powerful source of plutonium and hold the world hostage.

Something the original Expendables lacked was a strong plot line, but I felt like the movie took its weak plot seriously and tried to make it believable. In their second outing, the plot is still rather weak, but no attempt is made to take itself too seriously. Instead, we get a hardcore action movie that hearkens back to the eighties with quick one liners and plenty of over the top gunplay and fighting.

 

The Expendables 2 also has a lot less down time than the first installment. Thankfully there is also no Mickey Rourke monologue to get lost and confused in. I would go so far as to say that after a certain point in the movie, the action becomes a relentless barrage of guns, explosions, and satisfying blood spray (although some of it is still digital).

The sound design in this movie is really impressive. More than once I would stop and think to myself, “Wow, this movie is really loud.” The punning sound of Crews’ AA12 that is fired at the beginning of the movie is enough to make any action junky’s heart skip. In fact, the whole beginning of the movie has top of the line foley work and a adrenaline pumping sound track that made me more than ready for the rest of the movie.

 

What else made this movie really cool, you ask? Hmm, well, Chuck Norris gets to kick a fair share of ass along with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. Not only these legendary action stars, but Terry Crews, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, and Randy Couture get a lot more to do than they did in the first film. They felt more like a team than in the original, which only made me root for them more. That, and Jean-Claude Van Damme is a real asshole and plays a villain that you love to hate.

The Expendables 2 exceeded my expectations in every way. I knew that it was going to be cool and exciting, but no where near as great as it was. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen out of fear of missing a split second of the action. This is a film that I can’t wait to see again, and will be seeing again before it is out of theaters. If you love action movies, or even ever seen an action movie, check out The Expendables 2.