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Death Games (1997)
Excellent modern martial arts film in the old school tradition
Everything about this film screams old school. The main protagonist is a martial arts instructor. The movie starts out with a bunch of fights that aren't even part of the plot, they just show off his skills. Most the bad guys use martial arts instead of fighting. The bad guys even hire good fighters to fight the main good guy. This is a REAL martial arts film. Don't get me wrong, I love many of the New Wave martial arts movies that came from Hong Kong. I like most of Jackie Chan's work. However, this is the type of film that I wished Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Michelle Yeoh did more often. Movies that are full of serious martial arts and are only excuses to show off the performers' physical skills.
The storyline is simple. Some evil Caucasian gangster is going after the men who killed his family. One of gets killed. The other guy and his two daughters get saved by a martial arts instructor who must use his skills to protect them. Great stuff.
The martial arts is nothing short of fantastic. Fan Siu Wong is an awesome fighter. His kicks are awesome. We also get to see him fight with tonfa, spear, and sword. There's a female caucasian fighter who is also very talented and she gets to fight w/ her hands, a rope-dart, and a sword. Billy Chow, who's always reliable, plays a Thai boxer. Ngai Sing plays this effeminate Japanese fighter. He does a lot better job here than he did in Bodyguard from Beijing and My Father is a Hero. There's another white guy who's pretty good too. All the fights are amazing.
If there's one thing I didn't like about the movie, it's that there are some very bloody moments that I personally didn't care for. Otherwise, it's highly recommended to any fans of martial arts films. There should be no reason to be disappointed with this film.
Kuai can che (1984)
Sammo's choreography takes first chair
If Sammo could ever do anything right, he could choreograph. He's a master of martial arts choreography and many of Jackie's and Biao's best films come with Sammo doing the choreography. This movie is a prime example of this.
The film deals with two Chinese men in Spain who run a food truck. They meet a pick-pocket who turns out to be heir (along w/ her institutionalized mother) to a large fortune, which is coveted by some nasy goons. Sammo plays a detective that's on the case. All this builds up to an excellent climax at a Spanish castle.
One thing that I did like a lot about the movie was the script. The rapport between Yuen Biao and Jackie Chan was excellent, and they get a lot of witty comments, comebacks, and responses to supposedly stupid questions. You have to see the subtitled version to understand.
Like I was saying, the choreography in the film is great. Unfortunately, there are only about 4 fight scenes or so before the climax that are all really short. It really left me craving a lot more. The finale is a true piece of work. Jackie takes kickboxing champ Benny "The Jet" Urquidez in one of the best one-on-one's ever filmed. Yuen Biao takes on Keith Vitale, another karate champ. Sammo takes on the lead villain in a Chinese variation of European fencing.
The action isn't wall-to-wall but what's there is excellent. The relationship between Yuen and Chan is also great. It's a Jackie Chan film worth seeing.
Wo hu cang long (2000)
Good but not great martial arts film; overrated
Now I've been watching martial arts films for my entire life. I've been watching Asian martial arts films for years, so I've seen it all. I've seen the old style choreography, the modern kickboxing, the Jackie Chan style of prop fighting, the new wave wire fu of the 1990s, etc. I'm not one of those people that'll go into the film and criticize it because it's unbelievable. After all, I watch films to escape from reality, not to let it get bogged down.
The plot deals with the events that occur following the theft of a legendary sword. These events affect the lives of a swordsman (Chow), a governor's daughter (Ziyi), a master criminal (Peipei), and the leader of an escort service (Yeoh). It's not really important to discuss those in detail.
A lot of the film's praise goes back to the fight scenes. Well, they're good. Yuen Woo Ping is one of the masters of choreography. The swordfight is especially good, probably my favorite cinematic sword fight. But on the whole, it's nothing new. Chow holds his own, but isn't spectacular. Zhang Ziyi looks decent but people like Donnie Yen could do the same things without wires. Michelle is excellent as usual, I think she was underused in the fights, she only gets two scenes (which are the highlights of the film). However, like I said, it's nothing new or ground breaking. And for people that criticize the flying people, IT'S A FANTASY!
The other praised aspects of the film is where the line between those who know the genre and those who don't gets defined. This is not the first martial arts film to have a good musical score. Just watch the Swordsman series or the Once Upon A Time in China series. Those movies have awesome scores and far more memorable songs. This is not the first martial arts movie to have a good storyline. Once again, check out the Swordsman movies or the Once Upon a Time in China films (well the first 3) and there you get good stories. Jet Li's Tai Chi Master and Fist of Legend also have good storylines. There are dozens of martial arts films out there that have good storylines. This is also not the first martial arts film to have good cinematography, acting, or characters. People treat it as if it were the first. Sorry people, that's not the case.
It's really an insult to Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Yuen Biao, and a lot of the other classic Hong Kong action starts when people praise this movie so much. Why? Because they've been doing this stuff for years (often times without wires and computer enhancement) and yet they've not gotten the same wide respect from American audiences. Also, it's insulting to them that a film with few actual martial artists (Michelle Yeoh is the main exception) gets so much praise, when the people that really know the stuff can't get the same.
I'm not saying this to say that this isn't a good film. I'm saying that it's overrated and nothing new. People who say this is the greatest martial arts film ever really need to go back and watch a lot of the classics of the genre to understand what I mean.
Good story-line but disappointing fighting
In order to unite the people of China and strengthen their spirit, the Qing government decides to hold a lion dance competition to promote the study of kung fu. This only leads to violence and conflict. Wong Fei Hung, who is visiting Beijing, sees this and is disgusted by the way it's being handled. However, his efforts to get through to the government are futile. He finds himself having to join the competition when he discovers a plot by the Russians to assassinate President Li Hung Chang.
This was the first movie in the OUATIC series that I saw. I was actually quite disappointed when I first saw it. I thought the fighting lacked intensity and the end seemed anti-climatic. It's not that the choreography is bad. Jet looks fit and is in great fighting shape for the film. However, there are no good one-on-one battles for him. His duel with Xiong Xin Xin in the street is short and disappointing, as is the finale against the head of the oil factory. The lion dance scenes are cool.
The story on the other hand, is really good. It has just the right amount of romance, humor, and historical background to sustain itself between the fight scenes. This would be the last of the truly historically relevant entries of the series, as the following films were either over-the-top or would not even focus on historical matters.
Overall, this is good watching. This is not one of Jet's greatest performances fighting-wise. The story makes up for it. Oh, and let me add that Rosamund Kwan is cuter than ever in this movie.
Chin Long Chuen Suet (1997)
Hyper-kinetic fight scenes make this movie
This movie has gotten a lot of mixed reviews. Some people have praised it and others have called it pure dreck. I really didn't know what to expect from this movie. Well, I found the plot to be slightly confusing. Well, I couldn't figure out what the whole modern day story was about. The flashback told about an amnesiac who returns to a village after WW2 and finds his lost love and some old enemies. A lot of brutal fighting follows.
The fight scenes are the calling card of this film. They're all fast and furious. If you take your eyes of the screen for a second you'll miss some stuff. It's all hyper-stylized, from the camerawork to the exaggerated gunplay and use of projectiles. There's a lot of speeding up, but it actually helps the fighting out; it makes it more intense. The martial arts itself is pretty good. Donnie uses his trademark kicks and also does a fair amount of Bruce Lee impersonating. His fight with the eagle claw guy is just astounding.
There is some fairly disturbing brutality in this film. The slaughter of the village and the scene preceding the final fight are examples. I guess it's supposed to make the movie more powerful.
In the end, I think the great fight scenes overshadow the sometimes confusing narrative and the brutality of the film.
Sun Tong San Tai Hing (1998)
This was actually quite a good film. It was directed by Donnie but the film is a lot more straight-forward than Legend of the Wolf and the characters are lot more likeable and the story is more easy to follow. The movie tells the story of a western-trained doctor that sets up a clinic in Shanghai. He gets into with the local axe gang who are kidnapping and killing children for medical research. Donnie also falls in love w/ the gang leader's sister also.
The fighting is really good with none of the stylistic touches that he used a lot in Legend of the Wolf. Everything is clear and every hit can be seen. Donnie uses his wing chun/wushu combination like in Iron Monkey 2. There is no speeding up in this movie. Yu Rong Guang does a good job as well. There's one fight where both Yu and Yen do nothing but chin na, or joint locks. I wish there was some more or longer fighting.
Overall, it's a good movie. Good plot. Compelling performances. Moodiness. Great, pure martial arts fighting. Athena Chu is pretty. Yup, what more can one ask for?
Shu dan long wei (1995)
Lots of action but wastes Jet's skills
This movie would've been a perfect opportunity to translate Jet's skills into a modern setting. We have Die Hard-esque plot with terrorists taking over the building. We have Billy Chow as one of the terrorists. There are only two people (Jet included)who know how to fight. And what do we have? Two fights. One has Jet fighting this impressive General guy with light posts. The other has Jacky Cheung beating on Billy Chow while doing a Bruce Lee impression. Those fights are decent. The rest of the action is some good gunplay. But I don't want to see Jet shooting guns as much as I want to see him go hand-to-hand. Well, on the upside, there's a lot of action and movie rarely lets up. It also has Chingmy Yau, one of my favorite actresses from Hong Kong. It's just that Jet Li doesn't give much of a physical performance in this one.
Dong jing gong lüe (2000)
highly entertaining action/comedy
I must say I came into this movie with fairly low expectations. Being that this is part of the new wave of Hong Kong action movies, I expected bad choreography (well, at least not up to the standards of the 1980s through mid-90s films) and a lot of pretty boys who couldn't fight. Well, Ekin Cheng is in it although he does better than I thought he would. The plot is some complicated mish-mash involving a bride left at the altar, a kung fu interior decorator, and a Japanese p.i. They get involved in a search for the man who left the girl at the altar. A lot of twists and fight scenes ensue.
This movie is actually quite a bit of fun. There's a whole lot of schwing women around. Kelly Chen and Tony Leung's women are real eye candy. There's some comedy here and there. The action is served up in spades. While Tony Leung and Ekin Cheng aren't actual martial artists, Alan Sit choreographs the scenes well (with a little bit of wires and fancy camera-work) and they're all entertaining. Imagine a Jackie Chan fight without Jackie Chan fighting in them. The pace is incredibly fast, which is always a good thing. Overall, just a lot of fun.
Gojira vs. Biorante (1989)
Realistic, intriguing, and entertaining kaiju eiga *possible spoilers*
Godzilla vs. Biollante is an underrated Godzilla film. I know a lot of people have criticized the plot, the music, the direction, etc. However, I simply cannot agree with those people. I first saw this movie several years ago and was enthralled. I even watched it the very next night it was so cool. This movie is one of the best Godzilla movies ever made.
The plot takes place after Godzilla 1985. Godzilla is trapped in Mt. Mihara and a group of scientists/military men are preparing for his possible return. This involves producing a bacteria that is capable of consuming nuclear energy and making a giant mecha called Super X-2. One of the scientists decides to to combine Godzilla's cells with those of a rosebush and inadvertently creates Biollante. Soon, Godzilla is on the loose, battling both the military and Biollante. Meanwhile the humans are racing against time to recover the bacteria which was stolen and figure out a way to defeat Godzilla.
This movie does take some time to get started. However, I found myself a lot more interested in the plot this time around. The whole "dangers of genetic engineering" theme caught me and helped to keep my attention throughout the film. The use of that theme in this movie predates movies like Jurassic Park and all. The movie was very realistic in tone, something I liked. Although I do like the fantastic in these sorts of films, it kept in sync with the tone and realistic approach of it's predecessors (G '85 and Gojira).
The special FX were great, undoubtedly the best in the Heisei series, if not the entire series. Godzilla looks great, very animal and feral in nature. He's a bad guy, but a darn good one. The matte work is also great (there's one short mis-proportioned one, but I don't think a lot of people will notice). The military battles are among the best I've ever seen. Military stock footage along with well designed miniatures and effective camera angles help to maintain the illusion that an 80 meter beast is destroying the military. The pyrotechnics are astounding, especially in the battle between Godzilla and Super X-2 in Osaka and the final showdown with the military. Biollante is an inspired creation. What starts out as a "beautiful" mutated flower evolves into a vicious Godzilla-esque creature. My only complaint with the monsters is that the battles are not long lasting.
Now the music. A lot of people criticize the music in this movie, calling it inappropriate. I liked the military march theme quite a bit as well as the Super X-2 theme. However, the music that is played during the monster battles is ineffective at really increasing the suspense or giving the scene energy. Thankfully, there are various Ifukube themes played at various parts.
Overall, this is a great kaiju experience. Intriguing storyline, realistic tone, excellent special FX, and inspired monster designs make this essential monster viewing.
Gojira vs. Kingu Gidorâ (1991)
90's style Godzilla in a vintage sci-fi story
After I first saw Godzilla vs. Biollante, I thought the whole series was going to head in a (pseudo-)realistic direction. However, this movie sort of proved me wrong. It's not that the story itself isn't entertaining, it's just that I'd like to something a little bit more down-to-earth. It feels like it's an old sci fi flick, complete with robots, time travel, laser fights, and teleportation.
The story involves a group of time travelers who come to Japan to seek assistance in preventing Godzilla's birth. The time travellers as well as some modern day Japanese (one of whom is cute Megumi Odaka) go to an island in the Pacific in the middle of WW2 where they witness a dinosaur fighting off American troops. Thinking that this dinosaur will become Godzilla after the H-bomb is dropped, they teleport the dinosaur away. However, the Futurians have an ulterior motive, and King Ghidorah is created. HOWEVER, due to some unfortunate incident, Godzilla TOO is created, leading to numerous city destruction scenes, monster battles, military showdowns, etc.
The special FX range from cheesy to excellent. Godzilla looks cool as does King Ghidorah. The miniatures of the cities are great as usual. The first fight between Godzilla and King Ghidorah is great. The final battle is quite realistic also, great stuff. There are some cheesy FX that deal with the humans (running in super speed, etc.), but luckily the kaiju are shown in reverence.
My main complaints with the film is that Godzilla himself doesn't appear until over an hour in the film. It seemed to take quite a while for him to get on the scene, and then there's not much time in the picture left. Also, the American soldiers are badly acted.
This movie seems to generally be seen as one of the best of the new series. It's a good movie, the plot is good (albeit a bit Terminator-esque), and the monster action is excellent.