Tag Archives: kung fu

True Legend – Review

26 Dec

So I think one last kung fu movie before I take a break from them is in order. But really. Kung fu movies are a lot of fun and sometimes you just gotta take a few weeks and get your fix of martial arts mayhem. Today, I’m going to be looking at Yuen Woo-ping’s 2010 film, True Legend. This is sort of an odd movie because it has some of the coolest, brutal, and out of this world martial arts action that I have seen in a very long time. It really is very original, but it also has one of the worst story lines I have ever seen, making it one of the best and one of the worst kung fu movies I’ve ever seen.

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Su Can (Vincent Zhao) is a military leader who declines a position as governor to open up a martial arts school and marry the love of his life, Xiao Ying (Zhou Xun). The governor position is then given to Ying’s brother and close friend to Su Can, Yuan Lie (Andy On). Unbeknownst to Su Can and Ying is the violent thoughts that Yuan has towards Su Can and his father, which drive him to learn the deadly style of the Five Venom Fists. When Yuan almost destroys Su Can’s life, he goes into hiding to perfect his skills and have revenge on Yuan, but what this vengeance causes could never have been foreseen.

In theory, the story of this movie could work very well. The Five Venom Fists style just sounds awesome, and seeing it in action is really something. True Legend also shows a stylized and highly fictionalized version of how the Drunken Fighting technique was created. This is all really cool, but WHAT WAS THE SCREENWRITER THINKING?! Someone who just really likes martial arts movie and has seen at least one film in their entire lives could write a much better screenplay than this. It has to be one of the worst I’ve ever seen. The story seems to be going normally, until the climax happens close to 45 minutes before the movie is even over! It just felt so weird. The pacing in this movie seems like it has no idea what the hell is going on.

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What may even be worst than the story’s pacing and the uncontrollably cheesy dialogue is Su Can’s son who we see at age 5 and then age 8. When this kid is 5, I really had no problem with him. He was kind of there but didn’t do a whole lot, but when he’s 8…things changed. When I say that this little brat cried for the last hour of the movie, I mean he didn’t stop. And he wasn’t doing these normal little kid cries, he was SCREAMING! I swear this kid wailed and wailed for damn near sixty minutes. I had to keep turning the tv down because if I heard him cry one more time, I was going to turn the damn movie off.

I can’t really shit on this movie too much because the action was all really epic. Yuan’s character also had a really cool design with the armor sewn into his skin and his pale skin. The fighting was also just really original. One part of a fight ends up in a well where the two characters have to fight but also keep a grip on the walls. Seeing Yuan’s almost supernatural fighting also added to the originality. In that way, this movie really succeeds more than a lot of martial arts movies that I’ve seen. It’s easy to sometimes switch off and watch movies like this without really thinking, but whenever there was a fight scene, I really felt the urge to pay attention.

True Legend had some of the coolest fighting and some of the worst storytelling making it one hell of an uneven movie. The action scenes were original and very well choreographed, but it’s hard to get past the horrific narrative structure and a kid that doesn’t stop crying for half the movie. Another cool thing is that David Carradine has a small part in this movie, and was one of his last ones being released after his death. But not even David Carradine can change my opinions on this movie. If you want to see the cool fight scenes I’m talking about, just look them up and skip the rest of the movie.

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Tai Chi Zero and Tai Chi Hero – Review

18 Dec

Yes, yes I know. What’s with all this kung fu all of a sudden? Well I’m on a martial arts kick and its my blog so I can write whatever I damn well please. This time I’ll be looking at the 2012 film Tai Chi Zero and its sequel Tai Chi Hero. The director, Stephen Fung, was interested in breathing new life into the martial arts genre and decided to do that by combining steam punk, comedy, and the video game stylings of Scott Pilgrim vs the World. The result is a really strong first film that succeeds in style, action, and laughs and a second film that’s ok but really nothing memorable.

First let’s look at Tai Chi Zero.

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Lu Chan (Yuan Xiaochao) may not seem like anything special, but if you were to smack him in the horn that was growing out of his head, you would see exactly what he was capable of. When his master informs him that the only way he can live with his condition is to learn the art of the Chen style martial arts, Lu Chan goes to Chen Village to learn from Grandmaster Chen Chang Xing (Tony Leung), himself. The villagers, especially Chen’s daighter Yu Niang (Angelababy), reject Lu Chan’s wishes to learn from their grandmaster, but when a mechanical behemoth led controlled by Fang Zi Jing (Eddie Peng), begins uprooting the village to build a railroad, the villagers turn to Lu Chang to help with the defense against the steampunk monster.

So, Tai Chi Zero is downright ridiculous, and that’s why it’s such a success. Xiaochao, Angelababy, and Tony Leung were all completely enraptured with the roles they were given and pulled off the kung fu with ease. This is one of the most kinetic martial arts movies I’ve ever seen. Think Crank meets Scott Pilgrim meets martial arts. Text flies all around the screen, crazy CGI effects flash before your eyes, and clips that seen to be taken straight from a video game breaks everything up. This movie is an absolute blast. People have said that this film is style over substance, and that may be true since the story is only so-so, but everything else is amped up to 11 which makes Tai Chi Zero the definition of a wild ride.

The makers of this film said that their goal was to completely change the rules of the martial arts genre and create it anew for a modern audience, but that’s not really what I think Tai Chi Zero has done. Don’t try to make this movie something that it isn’t. What it is is a hyperkinetic martial arts film that whizbangs all over the screen hardly giving you time to take everything in. That being said, it’s original and a hell of a lot of fun.

But it was not meant to last…

Since this is planned to be a trilogy, it was inevitable that a sequel would be made, but hardly as soon as this one. Turns out that Tai Chi Hero was filmed back to back with its predecessor, but is nowhere near as entertaining.

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Picking up right where the first film left off, Lu Chan and Yuniang are married, but far from in love and Fang Zi Jing has returned to his British employers saying he wants to not only complete the railroad, but get his revenge. Meanwhile, Chen Xing’s son, Zai Yang Chen (Feng Shaofeng), returns home claiming to be ready to start a new life in the village, but it turns out he has much more nefarious plans. As all of these forces begin putting their plans into action, Lu Chan, Yuniang, and Chen Xiang begin finding it increasingly difficult to protect their village.

Remember just a few paragraphs ago when I was describing how quick, kinetic, and fun Tai Chi Zero was? Yeah, well forget all about that for Tai Chi Hero. I can sort of compare my disappointment with this movie to the disappointment I have for Ong Bak 3. Where’d all the action go? It’s almost nowhere to be found save for a few scenes. Where’s all the comedy and style? Again, save for a few scenes, there hardly is any. I was actually enjoying this movie until about halfway through when the stakes are raised a bit higher, which is a weird reaction, but it actually just got more boring. To perfectly illustrate my point, there’s a scene where Lu Chan has to fight a bunch of people, but it all happens in a very brief montage (much like the first), but this time without any style of humor to make it memorable.

Tai Chi Hero isn’t a terrible movie, it just isn’t all that it should be compared to its predecessor. There are a few cool scenes, like when the Heaven’s Wings device gets thrown into the mix, offering more of the steampunk action from the first one, but that’s not enough to make the entire movie memorable. Only a few scenes are really worth any time, but for hardcore fans of the first, it’s a movie you should still check out.

So now we have to wait until God knows when for the third entry, Tai Chi Summit, which still doesn’t have a release date, nor has production even started. If it’s anything like the first film, I’m willing to wait. These movies have at least breathed some fresh air into the martial arts genre, but certainly not changed the rules completely.

The Four Trilogy – Review

10 Dec

Did you ever wonder what the X-Men would look like if they all knew kung fu? No? Me neither, but I think I found out something that very much resembles that fantasy. I’m talking about Gordon Chan’s The Four and it’s two sequels. Gordon Chan isn’t a film maker who just decided to dabble in the martial arts genre having already made the classic Fist of Legend starring Jet Li and its sequel Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen starring Donnie Yen. The Four Trilogy may not have the same power as these two films, but they are surprisingly fun and never actually bored me, even though the storytelling can get a little hard to follow.

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During the reign of Emperor Huizong in China during the early 1100s, crime was kept under control by Department Six, but there was yet another much more powerful watchful eye being kept over the criminal underworld. The Divine Constabulary, made up of Emotionless (Liu Yifei), Iron Hands (Collin Chou), Life Stealer (Ronald Cheng), and newcomer Cold Blood (Deng Chao), was a department of four super powerful detectives led by Zhuge Zhengwo (Anthony Wong). Trouble soon begins to brew for the Four when counterfeit coins begin circulating throughout the banks and merchants, but that soon becomes the least of their problems. The people behind the counterfeit currency, Lord An (Yu Chengui) and his son An Shigeng (Wu Xiubo) are actually after the emperor’s throne, with only the Divine Constabulary powerful enough to stop them.

That’s the basic plot for all three of the movies. The Four deals mostly with An Shigeng and the counterfeit currency while The Four II and The Four III deal with Lord An attempting to usurp the throne. I still can’t shake the feeling that I missed some stuff in these movies though. The way the story is actually plotted and executed isn’t all that good. There’s so many different characters that just start backstabbing each other and the movies all move at such a fast speed, it’s hard to keep track of everyone. One character in particular seems to have a different motive in every scene, which makes it literally impossible to make up your mind about her. Still, one of the better parts of the movies are all of the characters.

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I’m actually seriously surprised that all of the characters in this movie were totally three dimensional and had their own personalities. Maybe I shouldn’t have done this, but I went into these movies expecting mediocre martial arts with a huge cast of characters that I wouldn’t care about. I was wrong on both accounts. Let’s take Life Snatcher and Iron Hands, two characters that very often share scenes. They work great together because Life Snatcher is a thief and provides great comedic relief while Iron Hands is a man of discipline. It’s an odd couple situation that I wasn’t expecting to work so well. Since the characters are all likable and well fleshed out, when something happened to them I actually cared. They’re actually some of the best characters in martial arts movies.

Finally, lets talk about the actual kung fu. Simply put, it’s awesome. It isn’t Crouching Tiger, Hidden DragonHero, or House of Flying Daggers but it is really cool. One of the big things that makes The Four movies stand out is the super powerful characters. The powers are really just them channeling energy in themselves making them super strong or able to control things, but it’s still really fun. Whenever they throw their kicks or punches, splashes of color follow their limbs making it clear that they have the upper hand. Every contact is also heard quite clearly making it almost possible to feel their attacks. Really cool stuff and extremely entertaining.

The Four and its sequels provided me with a lot more than I was originally expecting. After just watching The Sorcerer and the White Snake, I was very hesitant to drive right back into martial arts, but I’m pleasantly surprised. These movies aren’t destined to be classics, but Gordon Chan has made three really fun movies that are great time wasters on a lazy afternoon. If you like kung fu, fantasy, and comic book super powers you should track down and find The Four Trilogy.

The Man with the Iron Fists – Review

17 Mar

The Wu-Tang Clan are best known as being one of the most influential and popular rap groups of all time. They also had a huge part in an underground revival of kung fu films, taking unknown trash and re-releasing them on video under their own names. That being said, it seems only appropriate that RZA, a member of the group, direct an homage to these “beloved” kung fu films of the past. With the help of Eli Roth, a script was written and a film was made.

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In feudal China, clan leader Gold Lion is charged with delivering the Emperor’s gold to awaiting soldiers. The gold never arrives, however, since Gold Lion’s lieutenants Silver Lion (Byron Mann) and Bronze Lion (Cung Le) betray and assassinate him. Now in possession of the gold, there are other parties moving into Jungle Village to claim it for themselves. These parties include a rogue soldier Jack Knife (Russell Crowe)and a madame of a brothel, Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu). Finally, a Blacksmith (RZA) is caught in the middle of it all, and takes it upon himself to defend the village and the woman he loves, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung).

Personally, I think kung fu is a pretty cool genre when done correctly. I really like Wuxia films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and HeroThe Man with the Iron Fists take these two styles and blends them pretty well. It has the cheese of Kung Fu and the wire work of Wuxia. What’s not to like? Well, believe it or not, a lot of stuff. This is a really sloppy movie both in the way the story is told, the editing, and the effects. I had much higher expectations for this movie and have not felt so disappointed in a film in a long, long time.

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I do feel a great sense of appreciation by RZA and fellow writer Eli Roth. All of the tropes and cliches of the genre are there from the gold worth dying for, the over the top violence, and the cheesy dialogue. I recognize all of these, but it really doesn’t save the movie. The most distracting thing here is the acting. Pretty much all of the actors do subpar jobs, which I feel has a lot to do with the writing. I understand that Kung Fu films aren’t supposed to have the best dialogue, but some of this stuff is so derivative and corny that it’s painful to listen to. Thank goodness Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu have scenes to balance it a little bit. Crowe delivers his lines like a champ and Liu relishes the silly dialogue she has been given and provides a wonderfully over the top performance.

I will give massive props to the production design. The brothel, the Pink Blossom, looks awesome. It is bright and, as the name would suggest, very pink. I think that’s a pretty bold move to have a completely pink set in such a violent film, but hey, it works great. The costumes are also really nice looking. The only problem with the look of the film is some of the special effects. One character turns completely into brass when struck, and that looks so cool. There are some quick special effects shots, such as a bell shattering, that have such cool potential but look so fake it’s annoying. I can’t say it enough, I know I shouldn’t over think this movie, but when things are so bad it’s distracting, I have to say something.

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The action does look pretty cool sometimes, and I’ll go so far as to say there are some really, really awesome shots of crazy gore and slow motion goodness. Unfortunately, the pacing of the movie is absolutely dreadful. There is a huge chunk in the middle of the movie where the pacing changes so abruptly from fast moving to not moving that it’s jarring. My attention felt like it was literally thrown out the window. It got so boring. When it eventually did pick up again, I already lost so much interest in the movie that I didn’t really care about what I was watching.

As much as it pains me to say this, I didn’t like this movie too much. Out of almost two hours, I only really like twenty minutes worth. The rest is completely forgettable. The characters are dull, the acting is horrible (save for Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu), and the action scenes were pretty sloppy and suffered from some weird editing issues. I expected a lot more from The Man with the Iron Fists, but instead, I feel completely let down.

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.