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Black Samurai (1977)
Bad, real bad, but still kind of awesome
Even by standards of low budget filmaking, Black Samurai is a poor quality production. Black Samurai was an action vehicle for martial artist/actor Jim Kelly, directed by schockmeister Al Adamson in his most expensive production. Adamson is best known for crappy, low budget horror and exploitation features like Dracula Vs. Frankenstein and Satan's Sadists. Having said that Black Samurai is a bad movie and poorly made is true. It has horrible direction, editing and acting. The film also looks like crap as well. Even so, I still enjoy watching it from time to time. Jim Kelly plays an agent for D.R.A.G.O.N. and has to rescue a daughter who belongs to a powerful Japanese family and also happens to be Jim Kelly's love interest. The kidnappers are human trafficking, dope pushing goons who happen to be into voodoo and witchcraft. Jim Kelly uses his karate skills to fight these turkeys as well as talk a ton of trash while doing so. There is much fighting against turds that don't have a chance as well as a bunch of outrageous material that don't make much sense, but is greatly amusing to yours truly. There is Jim Kelly on a jetpack, midgets, a pet vulture, a fight with Zulu warriors and much more craptastic crud in this schock grade blaxsploitation actioner. Black Samurai is still better in my opinion than Jim Kelly's worst feature, the absolutely unwatchable Hot Potato. Production wise, Black Samurai is also a steaming pile of poop, but hilarious, amusing poop and even professional turd maker Al Adamson can't diminish Jim Kelly's coolness as he drops many suckas!
Rolling Thunder (1977)
I agree with Quentin Tarantino that Rolling Thunder is a badass picture that totally rules!
Rolling Thunder is a very high quality grindhouse revenge movie with tight direction, solid writing and first rate acting. Rolling Thunder is also the first in a wave of films to use post Vietnam America as a backdrop, predating First Blood by five years. I really like the film that was made, but if the original writer Paul Shrader had his way he would have taken Rolling Thunder in another direction. Even with Heywood Gould's re writes, Rolling Thunder remains a powerful, raw, brutal film. William Devane really brings it here as Major Charles Rane, a down on his luck Vietnam war vet and POW. He comes home to find his wife is in love with another man and his son dose'nt know him. It gets worst quick when Roscoe(from The Dukes Of Hazard) and his group of thugs murder his wife and son, grind up his hand in the garbage disposal and leave him for dead. Down, but not out Major Rane, now a cripple with a hook hand goes south of the border to Mexico for revenge. Scooping up his war buddy John Vohden(Tommy Lee Jones) they go to a whorehouse in Mexico for all out revenge and slaughter. I do agree with writer Paul Shrader that The Wild Bunch styled everyone dies in a blaze of gunfire ending that he wrote would have been a much more powerful ending to the film. Even so, Rolling Thunder still resonates and is no surprise that it is a cult classic. Great film.
Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Great anti war film from director Oliver Stone
Originally conceived as a film collaboration between director William Freidkin and actor Al Pacino in 1978, but for whatever reason the studio pulled out and abandoned the project. After the success of Platoon, writer/director Oliver Stone kept his promise to Ron Kovic that if he ever broke as a director he would make his film. Born On The Fourth Of July is the story of Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic and spans three decades(50's, 60's and 70's). From his youth as all American boy who joined the Marines to fight communism in Vietnam to his life at home as a veteran paralyzed from the waist down. Charlie Sheen was originally cast by Oliver Stone to play Ron Kovic, but at the last minute Stone chose to cast Tom Cruise instead. This caused a rift between Sheen and Stone and they did not talk or work together for many years. In my opinion Charlie would have been great, but the film would be different also. As much as the film is about Ron Kovic coming to terms with his injury and changing his thoughts about the war, it also is about how poorly the veterans got treated when they came home. I would also say it has a lot to say about how polarized American society was about the war. Most of Ron Kovic's experiences were horrible and Oliver Stone did not shy away from that one bit as it would diminish the impact of the film. Born On The Fourth Of July has one of Tom Cruise's finest performances and Oliver Stone won his second Oscar for best director. There also are cameos from Platoon's cast , most notably Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe. Great movie in my opinion, thumbs up for sure.
Great Vietnam War film from Oliver Stone
Coming off Oliver Stone's underrated, but not so successful feature Salvador. Platoon is a critical and commercial success. At this point Oliver Stone had made his mark in Hollywood as an excellent screenwriter with classics like Conan The Barbarian, Scarface and The Year Of The Dragon. This production was his breakout film as director. However, if you ask me Salvador(which Oliver wrote and directed right before Platoon) is a great film that never got the respect it deserves. Platoon is the first Vietnam War film to be made by a veteran and was based on Oliver Stone's experiences. Platoon is a very well structured and great looking film that captures the gritty essence of war but is beautiful to look at as well. Characters are rich and well developed and the story flows smoothly from scene to scene. Performances are top notch from an up and coming cast of great actors and future stars such as Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger, Keith David, Forest Whitaker, John C Reily, etc. The story is told through Charlie Sheen's(Chris) perspective and is a morality tale about innocence lost, different takes on the war from soldiers who support the war and those who do the best they can to stay alive and survive a war they found to be immoral and insane. Willem Dafoe is from the latter camp as Sgt. Elias. Tom Berenger delivers his best performance as hard as nails hawk Sgt. Barnes. Following in the footsteps of his father(Martin Sheen) the underrated Charlie Sheen does an excellent job as the lead in his own classic Vietnam War film. The battle scenes are gritty and Oliver did not try to sugar coat the material in any way. He shows the madness and brutality of the war and did not shy away from showing atrocities that became associated with the war. The film won a richly deserved Oscar for best film and director in 1986 as well as best sound and film editing. Platoon made its mark and hold up great decades later as well as making Oliver Stone a household name.
Hamburger Hill (1987)
Great Vietnam War film and the most realistic one I've seen
I would regard Hamburger Hill as the most realistic and least appreciated of the big three Vietnam War films that came out the same time. The other two films in question are Full Metal Jacket and Platoon. Full Metal Jacket is my favorite and Platoon is a classic as well. Hamburger Hill in my opinion is as good as Platoon, but has different themes and a lower budget. Hamburger Hill is the story of a platoon of soldiers and the battle of Hamburger Hill. There really is'nt a focus on any one character as lead actor, but the platoon as a whole and what they go through on the battle to take the hill. I think the ensemble cast did a hell of a job and were very believable as combat soldiers. For me the standout performances were from Dylan Mc Dermott (Frantz) and Courtney B Vance(Doc). Hamburger Hill really does an excellent job at showing the horrors of war, keeping it real and gritty as possible. The film comments on racism and the anti war movement at home. The main focus is on the unit doing the best they can to stay alive and take the hill. The battle scenes are brutal and very realistic. Hamburger Hill was written and produced by Vietnam War vet Jim Carabotos. The film is very non glamorized and comes across as a honest depiction of events. I've always enjoyed the film and Hamburger Hill still holds up. I have a lot of respect for this movie and regard this highly.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
My favorite war movie of all time and one of the best movies ever made
Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket is a powerful, original, well crafted masterpiece that is in a class of its own and in my opinion, flawless. Don't get me wrong, there are many great war movies that are also classics. Full Metal Jacket is unique from other Vietnam War movies as no one made movies like Stanley Kubrick. Stanley had a unique take on the subject matter, got the finest performances possible from his cast and made a film that still looks and sounds incredible nearly thirty years later. Lee Ermy, a decorated Marine and Vietnam War veteran serves double duty as technical adviser and as Drill Sgt. Hartman. He brings both authenticity and an unforgettable, intense performance as drill instructor. From what friends of mine who served in the Marines tell me, the training sequences are one hundred percent accurate. The other half of the film may be slightly less intense, but director Stanley Kubrick's story told through Joker's perspective flows smooth and is no less interesting when Joker arrives in the 'Nam. Matthew Modine is exceptional here and shows great range in his performance. He has a lot of charisma as well as great screen presence. In my opinion, Stanley Kubrick made an excellent choice casting him as he did a great job carrying the film. Of course Vincent D'Onfrio was exceptional as the ill fated Private Pyle and Adam Baldwin kills it Alpha male bad ass Animal Mother. The rock n' roll soundtrack compliments the film greatly and gives it a feel for the period. The characters in this story are brutalized and their lives are changed forever by what they go through in the course of the film. Full Metal Jacket is one of my all time favorite movies and is one movie you will never forget once you see it.
Dip huet gaai tau (1990)
John Woo's darkest film, also an underrated masterpiece that deserves more fanfare
Bullet In The Head was originally conceived as a prequel to A Better Tomorrow. With producer Tsui Hark and John Woo fighting over the rights of the francise, Woo reworked his script and Tsui Hark rushed out his version. I have not seen Tsui Hark's film A Better Tomorrow 3 in years, but from what I remember Bullet In The Head is a far superior film and not a movie you will ever forget. The story starts in 1960's Hong Kong with a trio of tight knit, close friends that fight together, hang together and live their lives in poverty. After things go awry in a fight where Ben(Tony Leung) accidentally kills ruffian thug Ringo, our heroes flee to Vietnam to let things cool down and fence goods to try to make their fortune. As the film goes on it gets darker and more violent. Innocence is lost, greed brings betrayal, many people die and those who remain are broken and scarred for life. Influenced by Michael Cimino's Deer Hunter, but with lots of Woo's high octane, bullet ridden, blood splattered action. The three lead actors Tony Leung(Ben), Jacky Cheung(Frank) and Waise Lee(Paul) are all excellent. Simon Yam nearly steals the show as a Eurasian hit-man/mercenary Luke. Without going into every detail, Bullet In The Head is John Woo's darkest, most brutal and most intense film. Strong characters and top notch performances knock this out of the park. The shootouts compliment the melodrama and move the story along to its bleak climax. Bullet In The Head is an underrated masterpiece by my estimation and crucial viewing for fans of the heroic bloodshed genre and of 80's/90's Hong Kong cinema!
Zong heng si hai (1991)
The most lighthearted action offering from the director/actor team of John Woo and Chow Yun Fat
Once A Thief brings John Woo back to his comedic roots. While, I myself have not seen Woo's earliest films, I know before he did action he was a comedy director. It makes sense(to me at least) that Woo did a project in a lighter direction coming off of his dark masterpiece Bullet In The Head. Once A Thief is an action packed comedy caper about a trio of art thieves that grew up together as orphans and have two adoptive fathers. One of the father's is good(a kindhearted police officer played by Chu Kong) and the other is bad(a gangster played by Ken Tsang). The friendship/love triangle theme between Chow Yun Fat, Cherie Chung and Leslie Cheung kinda works(but not nearly as well as it did in The Killer). In no way is this film in the same class as The Killer or Hard Boiled. However, it still should be enjoyable enough for most fans of the genre. The cast has excellent chemistry as most of these actors worked with John Woo frequently and/or together in various films. Like I said before, the tone of the film is light. The film moves along at a brisk pace and has enough shoot em' up action to please most of John Woo's fans. Once A Thief came out in between two of Woo's best films, Bullet In The Head and Hard Boiled. It can't touch either of these, but I still regard Once A Thief as above average and good for what it is.
Lat sau san taam (1992)
Still holds up as best action movie of all time!
Hard Boiled in my opinion still has no equal in the action genre. There are no shortage of movies with a ton of action throughout the years(with The Raid Redemption films and The Expendables series as recent examples), but I digress, Hard Boiled is still in a class of its own. While Hard Boiled has some of the most intense, balls to the wall action scenes, high body counts, stunning action choreography(by Philip Kwok) and gigantic explosions. There is also excellent character development, intense melodrama and some of the best acting performances you will find in a movie with this amount of action in it. Chow Yun Fat is inspector Tequila, a serious tough cop and one man army who is working on a case involving gun running triad gangsters. Chow Yun Fat is very tough in this film.(like a Hong Kong Dirty Harry) Yun Fat is a very versatile and talented actor and brings a very naturalistic approach to his character, making his job look easy. Tony Leung, also a very talented and charismatic plays a deep undercover cop and one of the only actors in Hong Kong that can come close to matching Chow Yun Fat in both acting ability and screen presence. Both icons of Hong Kong cinema share great chemistry and work great together in this. Also from Hong Kong's A list of amazing actors and top stars is Anthony Wong as main villain, gun runner and all around amoral psychopath. Philip Kwok of Five Deadly Venoms fame is his sidekick Mad Dog, a loyal triad and hard as nails heavy with a code of honor. Philip is also action choreographer and stuntman as well. Philip Chan is Sup. Pang, Tequila's boss and former HK police officer for 15 years. Hard Boiled is the final collaboration between Chow Yun Fat and director John Woo. Woo is in top form here as director and collaborated well with his incredible cast. The dramatic scenes are as well done and interesting as the action. It is hard to pick a favorite John Woo film when you have A Better Tomorrow, Bullet In The Head, The Killer and this. Hard Boiled is every bit as good as the films I just mentioned, but kicked up a notch or two and it works. As Woo's swansong to the HK action film, he certainly went out with a bang before he made films in the US and returning to China with the awesome Chinese period epic Red Cliff.
Lung fu fong wan (1987)
Brooding, dark and intense cop film from director Ringo Lam
City On Fire is a gritty and bombastic action packed thriller and the first in the "On Fire" series by director Ringo Lam. The "On Fire" series also includes Prison On Fire 1 and 2(which also star Chow Yun Fat) and School On Fire. Roy Cheung appears in all four films and in this installment he is an overzealous cop at odds with Chow Yun Fat's character (Ko Chow)who is an undercover cop infiltrating a gang of violent jewel thieves. Chow Yun Fat gives a scathing and electrifying performance of an undercover cop who's life and career is on the edge of collapse. From his strained relationship with his girlfriend, to his reluctant undercover work with Danny Lee's gang and dealing with Roy Cheung's group of cops following and chasing him all over Hong Kong. Ko Chow is a cop with a lot on his plate, trying to make everything work and stay alive in the process. In a rare appearance as a criminal, Danny Lee is great as a charismatic but violent jewel robber with a code of honor. He and Chow Yun Fat have great chemistry and work well here and a year later in John Woo's classic The Killer. Make no mistake, City On Fire is also a classic. Ringo Lam, along with John Woo are ace filmmakers. Their styles are different however. Ringo's style is generally darker and rooted more in reality. John Woo is more over the top with a larger emphasis on action. Chow Yun Fat worked frequently with both directors, giving amazing performances for both parties. City On Fire is a very well made and brutal film and if you enjoy gritty crime thrillers, I give City On Fire the highest recommendation.