Tag Archives: martial arts

The Protector (2005) & The Protector 2 (2013)

28 Nov

Tony Jaa is one of the best martial artists working today. His work in Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior put him on the international radar, but it wasn’t until The Protector that he really got to show the world how advanced he was in his martial arts. Today, I’ll be looking at the original Protector from 2005 and The Protector 2 that came years later in 2013. Both of these films have their strengths and weaknesses, but it’s not worth arguing over Jaa’s level of skill. In my opinion, he’s at the head of the game, but can his movies always live up to that level of skill?

Let’s dive right in to the 2005 original.

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As a child, Kham learned about the honor and importance of looking after and protecting the King of Thailand’s war elephant. Now, as an adult, Kham (Tony Jaa) has a young elephant of his own to look after along with the one he and his father have been protecting for years. When a group of gangsters and poachers steal Kham’s two elephants and attack his father, Kham goes on a mission to Sydney, Australia to avenge his father and return to Thailand with his elephants. What he finds in Sydney is a lot more resistance than he thought. With the aid of a bumbling police officer, Sgt. Mark (Petchtai Wongkamlao), Kham fights his way through the criminal underworld and finds a line of betrayal that all leads back to the sinister Madame Rose (Xing Jin).

There’s a lot that can be said about The Protector or Tom-Yum-Goong, as it was originally called in Thailand. Let’s look at the story first. At it’s core it tells an honorable tale of the culture of Thailand and the atrocious things that humans can do to others and to other creatures that inhabit this planet with us. The themes run deep and the aspects of betrayal that Madame Rose executes are all really cool too. What isn’t great is how the story is told. There are quite a few characters and scenes that only serve to deviate the plot from its main course and add some complexity to it that isn’t really needed. The idea of Kham facing off against a criminal organization is cool enough. One character in particular hides Kham for a scene and comes back to sort of act as a deus ex machina. Some of the scenes also feel like they are out of order at times and some of the editing is just downright confusing. If you find yourself scratching your head trying to follow the plot, don’t worry. I was doing the same thing myself.

If you watch the scene right above this, you’ll see why the convoluted plot of this movie isn’t enough to completely bring it down. The action and stunt work in this movie is absolutely out of this world. Like Jaa’s previous film, Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, a lot of the draw this movie had was to see Jaa perform gravity defying stunts and action without any use of CGI or wires. Add Prachya Pinkaew’s style that is sure to include every bit of action in a scene, and you have a match made in martial arts heave. This movie can get down right brutal and Tony Jaa is at the center of it all, having choreographed the stunts and action set pieces himself. The main reason people want to watch a martial arts film is for the martial arts and this one delivers in spades. It’s just often not for the faint of heart.

In the end, The Protector is disappointing in the area of story and narrative structure, but more than makes up for it with the bone crunching action and fight sequences. These scenes are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before and is some of the best martial arts you can find. It’s worth it to plow through the editing however you can to enjoy the movie’s themes and action.

Final Grade: B

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but after spending some years in a Buddhist monastery, Tony Jaa returned to acting to film the 2013 film The Protector 2. Unfortunately, it may not have been the come back that was anticipated.

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After the events of the first film, Kham has returned to Thailand and continues to raise and protect his elephant. He thinks nothing of it when a mysterious buyer comes to purchase the elephant, and he respectfully declines his offer. Soon after that, Kham returns home from the market to find his elephant once again missing and begins a one man war against the criminal underworld in Thailand. Along the way, he is reunited with Sgt. Mark, now working for Interpol. As Kham searches for his elephant and takes down one henchman after another and Mark begins investigating a possible political assassination, it becomes clear that the kidnapping of Kham’s elephant and the assassination are somehow linked by a criminal mastermind known as L.C. (RZA).

What made the original Protector really stand out was how organic and real the action was while also being filmed surprisingly beautifully at certain moments. All of that, for the most part, is replaced by a much more synthetic kind of film making. There’s lots of green screen and CGI whereas the first film didn’t rely on that at all. This made The Protector 2 feel like a real disappointment. Prachya Pinkaew returns to the director’s chair so there’s a lot of well filmed action sequences, but in his attempt to make it even bigger than the first movie, he also makes it look less exciting. One scene in particular which is a fight scene on a rooftop featuring motorcycles should have been awesome. Instead it looked like one CGI stunt after another. There’s a lot of moments in this movie that feel like that and I know both Pinkaew and Jaa are much better than that. The action sequences could have been enhanced without making the whole thing often look absurd.

This isn’t to say that Tony Jaa slacks off at all and doesn’t deliver some really impressive fight sequences, and some of the CGI does work to the movie’s favor. It’s just not at all what I wanted from the movie. I will also say that the story is told a lot better than the first film. There’s no sloppy edits that make you wonder what the film makers were thinking, and there’s really only a few scenes that could have been cut out instead of a whole slew of them. There’s also a good supporting cast backing up Jaa. RZA is obviously having the time of his life playing the villainous L.C. and Marrese Crump and Rhatha Phongam bring a lot of energy to their roles as well. Petchtai Wongkamlao is also a welcome return as Sgt. Mark.

All in all, The Protector 2 isn’t necessarily a bad movie but it shies away from what made the original film so memorable. Gone are the completely organic, wireless fights. The are instead replaced by CGI heavy set pieces that could have seriously been tweaked or toned down. While it doesn’t live up to the talents on display, it’s worthy of a simple distraction that can kill some time.

Final Grade: C

So there’s my review of the Protector movies. The first one is a fantastic example of how to  make a beautifully shot martial arts film. It would have been perfect had the story been cleaned up. While the second film is completely acceptable, you’d be best off sticking with the first to really see what Tony Jaa is capable of.

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.

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky

13 Oct

… Hmm… How can I even start this review? I have just watched one of the most bizarre movies I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing. As you can probably guess by the title, it’s the Hong Kong martial arts cult classic Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky. Take the gore effects from exploitation horror films of the 1980s, combine that with martial arts action, and top it off with some wonderfully hilarious gallows humor and the end result is Riki-Oh. This will be an easy movie to talk about since it left me with such a strange reaction that made me both laugh and cringe, and while I personally thought this film was a riot, it really only is for a certain type of audience.

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In the early 200s, prisons have become a privatized business, which led to higher levels of corruption and violence in order to keep business booming. Ricky Ho (Fan Siu-wong) is the newest prisoner in one of the most violent prisons in the world. Upon his arrival, Ricky sees how corrupt the jail really is and how it’s actually run by a gang called the Gang of Four, who works in league with the sadistic Assistant Warden Den (Fan Mei-sheng) and the Warden (Ho Ka-kui). The gang and the wardens become determined to kill Ricky when he starts fighting their men and destroying their business, but what they fail to realize is that Ricky has the power of superhuman strength and is nearly invincible. Let the battle begin.

This may be a pretty short review because there isn’t a whole lot to say about it. It simply is what it is and you have to accept it as such. What’s actually surprising is how many really good reviews this movie has gotten. It looks like it’s filmed on the cheap, it’s loaded with over the top gore, and the English dubbing is so bad it’s hilarious. Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky succeeds, however, because the movie knows what it is and takes great pleasure in being as over the top and stupid as it can possibly be. In some ways, that’s pretty respectable.

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Let’s get down to it though. What did I think of this movie? It’s not all too surprising that I think it’s a gem of a movie. It made me laugh the entire way through with both its intentional and unintentional humor. Let me just list a few of its most over the top moments. In one scene, Ricky punches the top half of a guy’s head clean off. He just punches it off. In another scene, an opponent of Ricky rips out his own stomach and tries to strangle Ricky with it. Who in the world can think of something like this? Someone with a twisted mind or a really strange sense of humor? Or both?

Everything else in the movie that has nothing to do with its violence or humor is pretty useless. There is almost literally no story, at least not one that I can see. Characters are introduced throughout the whole film but then die in the next scene, which means there isn’t any character development at all. That being said though, that’s not what the movie is about. This film is about showing off some pretty gross special effects and making people laugh. In that regard, it succeeds.

Since it’s release in 1991, Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky has gained a fair amount of cult success. It makes sense that a movie like this doesn’t appeal to a wide audience. It’s schlocky, violent, and gory but it’s also a whole lot of fun. I can’t wait to show this movie to more people just to see how they are going to react to something like this. To me, this movie succeeds at what it sets out to do and I had more fun than I probably should have watching it.

The City of Violence – Review

21 Apr

Sometimes it’s great to sit down and watch a movie that really challenges me. A movie that has complex art design and intricate storytelling that weaves in many thematic and moral questions while telling a story that’s wholly original and moving. Then there’s times where I want to sit down, switch my brain off, and just take a ride. That’s exactly what I wanted with The City of Violence and that’s exactly what I got. This movie isn’t difficult or all that original, but it is a whole lot of fun, but it could definitely have used a little bit more work in the story and character department.

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When ex-gangster Wang-jae (Ahn Gil-kang) is murdered, three of his closest friends are reunited in their hometown for the funeral. Tae-su (Jung Doo-hong) is a cop from Seoul known for his controversial no nonsense attitude, Pil-ho (Lee Beom-soo) is the gangster that took over Wang-jae’s place, and Seok-hwan (played by director Ryoo Seung-wan) is the youngest of the three working as a debt collector. Tae-su and Seok-hwan are both hell bent on getting revenge for the murder of their friend and soon find themselves working together, turning the city upside down and blood red to find who are responsible. When it becomes evident that Pil-ho had something to do with the murder, the two investigators engage in a head on collision with one of their closest childhood friends.

So, really there isn’t too much to The City of Violence. It’s a pretty standard revenge movie, but definitely has some elements that make it memorable along with some problems as well. For one thing, it is extremely generic, and while that isn’t a huge detraction, it is worth mentioning. Another problem is that the movie didn’t have any sense of time or character development. Time seemed to move without cluing me in to how much time has passed or where I was. The characters are also incredibly bland. Like, blaaaaand. Not only that, but they also don’t develop at all. They are exactly how they were at the beginning of the movie, save for a few minor changes. For a story about revenge, I didn’t feel a strong sense of motivation coming from the characters. Things seemed to just be happening.

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What I can say about this movie is that the action is fantastic. There are points where it felt like I was watching a video game, as many of the best martial arts movies make me feel. Seeing two guys throw down with an entire crowd of bad guys is just entertaining to watch. One scene that takes place in an alley with a whole bunch of different gangs is particularly memorable, especially since one of the gangs is based off of the Baseball Furies from The Warriors. There is so much destruction, both physically and environmentally, in every fight that it made each extended sequence feel exciting.

Another problem I have with this movie actually happened after I was done the movie. Yes, the movie has a good bad guy and exciting fight sequences, but there’s a lot of the movie that I don’t really remember too vividly because it isn’t anything special. As I’ve been thinking more and more about this movie, the less and less I really enjoy it. Part of the fun of watching a movie is the way that it makes you feel and think afterwards. Points go to a movie that makes me excited to talk about it and share it, but I don’t feel that way with The City of Violence. It’s more of a movie that you watch but then don’t really have anything to say about it in the days to come, which hurts a movie just as much as poor writing or acting.

The City of Violence isn’t a bad movie, in fact it’s a pretty good one. While I was watching it, I was really involved with what I was watching because it moved so fast and had great action sequences and characters that I recognized. What made it less enjoyable is the lack of development the story and the characters go through. Like I said before, things seem to just be happening. There’s plenty of style to enjoy, but sometimes that even becomes a bit too much. For martial arts fans, it’s definitely one to check out at least once, but I don’t think it’s going to be one that sticks with you forever.

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.

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 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.

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.

The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2 – Review

7 Nov

Imagine that Die Hard is just hanging around, minding its own business, when someone sneaks up behind it and injects it with a near lethal dose of adrenaline. The result would be the 2012 film The Raid: Redemption. It’s exciting to see a movie, let alone an action movie, and be able to think that what I’m seeing is going to be considered a classic in the years to come. This film is so wild and damn near unstoppable that when it was over I felt like I needed to take a long shower and take a nap. That, my dear cinephiles, is the highest compliment that I can give to an action movie.

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Rama (Iko Uwais) has a pretty good life. He’s in a loving relationship with his wife and they’re soon expecting a son, but who knows if Rama is going to be there to see it. His next assignment is a raid on a tenement building run by crime lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy), who provides his employees, customers, and other criminals with rooms as long as they pay the price. After a small mishap, Tama is soon made aware of the SWAT team’s presence, and he soon makes all of the other criminals aware and offers a fine reward to anyone who is responsible in aiding in the deaths of every officer present. Thus begins the mayhem.

That was one of the easiest summaries I’ve ever written because there really isn’t that much story to speak of. Police go into a building full of bad guys. The bad guys find out they’re there. Then the rest is just non-stop action, whether it be with guns, knives, batons, explosives, or fists. This movie is loud, violent, and fast but never is it boring. It’s almost like I couldn’t even believe what I was seeing. Is it legal to have so much action and martial arts packed into one movie? It’s like I died and went to heaven. Never have I seen a movie move so fast and behave so relentlessly. It’s an action junkies dream come true.

So since the action and martial arts is literally all this movie is about, it better be really damn good. Well it’s better than that. It’s absolutely excellent. People are literally thrown all over the place, and Evans seems to know of all of the most uncomfortable ways someone could get killed during hand to hand combat. Meanwhile, the camera zooms all over the place, covering every inch of the action and never getting so close or shaky that we have no idea what’s happening. Finally, and what may be the most satisfying, every bone breaking and fist making contact is heard in gleefully graphic detail. Not only is this an excellent action movie, it’s also just a really well made more in general.

I can see that a lot of people may not be too interested in The Raid, since there really isn’t too much of a story, only something more of a goal. Anyone who loves a good action movie owes it to themselves to see the adrenaline shot to the heart that is this movie. It’s wild.

And with such a successful action film, of course there’s going to be a sequel, but oddly enough I’m completely fine with that in this case. In fact, this is a rare example of a sequel actually surpassing the original. Just this year Evans released The Raid 2, a film that keeps the same kinetic action, but also adds a pretty lengthy story.

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Picking up right after the first movie left off, Rama goes to meet Bunawar (Cok Simabara), the chief of an anti-corruption task force in the police department. He explains to Rama that the corruption that was revealed in the tenement building is just the beginning and enlists him to go undercover to root out the dirty police commissioner, Reza (Roy Marten). Rama then spends two years in a prison to get close to Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo) who is one of the crime bosses running Jakarta along with the Japanese boss, Goto (Kenichi Endo). What Rama soon learns is that Uco is planning to betray his father and start a war with the Japanese, so that he and his new partner, small time gangster Bejo (Alex Abbad) can run the city for themselves.

This is a pretty odd combination for a movie. It’s like martial arts meets Scorsese. As you can very well see there is much more of a plot in this one than in the first one, and a surprising amount of development on the revelations of the first film that were minor to say the least. Originally, Evans wanted to make a movie with the same idea as this called Berandal, but he didn’t have the money for it. With what he had, he made The Raid, sold the rights for an American remake, and then used that money to make The Raid 2 which is pretty much just the updated version of Berandal to go along with the continuity of the first film. It was actually released with Berandal as the subtitle, but was just changed to The Raid 2 when it reached America.

So take everything great I said about the first one and just multiply it by 5 and that’s The Raid 2. Thanks to a bigger budget, the action is even more impressive than it was in the first film. Two characters by the name of Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) and Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman) are very welcome additions to the brutal combat. There’s also the same kinetic camera work and sound, but we also get the pleasure of an excellent car chase that would never have been possible on a much smaller budget. This movie does feel a bit too big sometimes, with the complex storyline, but it’s still actually a really good story that kept me engaged the whole way through.

The Raid 2 somehow surpasses the original and kicked me in the face with high octane action and a storyline that is reminiscent of classic gangster films by Scorsese and Coppola. I can recommend this one more than the first because there is more backing it up than just really cool action, there’s also a really cool story. This is a really fantastic film that has earned its spot in history.

That’s just the thing about these movies. I’ve seen them compared to Die Hard and Hard Boiled, and much like those movies, The Raid films have secured a spot in action cinema, and film history in general. Not only are they both exceptional examples of how to make an awesome action movie, they’re also really good examples of how films should be made. It was awesome to see history in the making with Gareth Evans’ masterpieces of action.