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8/10
Shaolin superkickers kick up some crowd-pleasing nonsense...
17 May 2005
Chow's irreverent knack of physical comedy, enhanced by computer gimmickry, is exploited to the hilt when a sextet of struggling Shaolin disciples decide to form a martially superhuman football team to spread the good word of kung fu to the masses. Chow, never a great purveyor of subtlety (the bad guys are called Team Evil), plays their captain, and he can kick a ball so hard it bends the goalposts. One player, 'Iron Head', can balance vertically on a football with his eyes closed. The ground shakes, the goal nets perish, and players are hurtled through space. It's a real feast for the eyes, even if it has very little to do with either Shaolin or soccer. That's probably for the best, as the mass-appealing qualities of this exuberant product have assured the film's success far beyond the boundaries of Chow's other, more native, comedic efforts. Those uninitiated into the madcap world of Stephen Chow could do no better than to start here, you'll find it a wondrous treat like no other. (Note: hunt down the uncut Chinese release if you can, Miramax's turgid dubbed version is vastly inadequate).
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9/10
Side-Splitting Hijinks with the Asian King of Comedy...
17 May 2005
We're introduced to the Axe Gang, a mass army of suited henchmen who command sway over the hotspots of 1920s China, with a brutal slaying worthy of Scorsese. They summarily break off into a choreographed dance routine over the opening credits, and it's clear that we're back in Stephen Chow's world. In the provincial towns, a burly landlady screams at her tenants with such force the ground shudders and the windows smash. An Axe Gang leader is given a bad hairstyle by one of the town's folk, and soon the whole village is under attack. Sing (Chow) wants to be an Axe because 'being a bad guy is cool'; he helps the protagonists get the 'Beast' out of a mental asylum so he can defeat the screaming landlady and her dithering spouse in kung fu combat. Chow's inspiration is as much Western as it is Eastern, with obligatory Bruce Lee parodies in tow alongside brilliant takes on Gangs of New York and The Matrix. The madcap surrealism of Shaolin Soccer is at the film's heart, but the greater scale of this production (partly financed by American money) dictates a much more polished, accomplished piece: Chow's maturity as a director has blossomed, the sets/costumes/characters are vividly imaginative, while the pace of the humour is expertly complimented by a much more sinister, darker overtone, something Chow seems to have embraced full heartedly. While Chow the comedian has never looked better; with a heavy endorsement of CGI responsible for the more irreverent comedy, Chow's performance sees him fine-tune his Chaplinesque timing, cuddly dexterity and Bruce Lee intensity to absolute perfection, underlining the fact that if Hong Kong comedy has any future at all, its firmly up to the fate of Stephen Chow. This is a delightful kung fu romp. If you don't find something to love about this movie then you should check if you're still breathing.
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8/10
This movie, quite frankly, kicks ass!
17 May 2005
The most exciting Asian success of recent times is, surprisingly, of Thai origin – not the film as such (it's a pottering drivel of a story line) but rather the movie's star, Panom Yeerum, or 'Tony Ja' to us Westerners. Perhaps one of the most remarkable finds in the evolution of martial arts cinema, Ja resembles a spirited Jackie Chan in his stunt work, only with enough ferocity to make Steven Seagal look like a prancing mary. Ong-Bak is all about full contact Muay Thai kickboxing, and Tony Ja is so remarkable to watch, he will quite literally leave you breathless: a chase scene through Thailand's market streets has the boy scaling walls in a single leap, glide underneath moving trucks while in the splits, and somersault his way through bustling traffic with split-second execution. You think that's something, wait until he starts beating people up, with enough force to bring down a Jumbo Jet – his knees and elbows can split through cycle helmets, he performs wildly acrobatic kicks that defy gravity, even when his legs are on fire! The final brawl sees a succession of stuntmen line up as canon fodder for his exhilarating skills, which emphasises the movie's selling point to such a degree that it literally beats any kind of wistful cynicism clean out of your brain. The movie's secret, and Tony Ja's, is the impressive lack of wire gimmickry, stunt doubles or computer generated nonsense, a rare thing in this new age of the instant kung fu hero. Ong-Bak reverses the genre back to its bare essentials and emphatically embraces talent over trickery. What Ja also makes us neglect is a pitiful story line, another herald to the golden age, where he travels into the dark, gambling infested underworld of Thailand to recover the stolen head of his village's sacred Buddhist statue, but in a movie this explicitly crowd pleasing trivial issues like plot and characterisation are by the by. This movie kicks ass and should come with a packet of plasters – as for Tong Ja, with a debut this strong, it will remain to be seen how long he can resist the call from Planet Weinstein.
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9/10
'Beat' Takeshi's sweeping interpretation of the Zatoichi saga...
17 May 2005
Kitano's update on the legacy of one of Japan's most iconic cinematic figures is an exhilarating watch, the more tender moments conflicted by a barrage of bloody violence. Takeshi remains true to his source, undergoing the sedate transformation to play the blind swordsman and part time masseuse Zatoichi himself, as well as co-ordinating the action. His purists will no doubt abhor the witty sense of fun laid on thick in certain characters (a gambling sidekick and an insane neighbour) and the little nuances of irreverent genius (a drum dancing soundtrack and a ho-down finale orchestrated by Japanese dance troupe 'the Stripes'), but this isn't the Yakuza bloodletting of his earlier films, rather a more charming reflection on feudal life, with a distinct post-modern twist. Further confirmation of this is provided by Takeshi's story, which focuses more on the plight of two avenging Geishas (one male) hunting for the prestigious killers of their parents, rather than the motivation for our titular hero, yet Zatoichi does leap into action when he agrees to assist the siblings. Each frame is a Kurosawa-esquire masterstroke. This is Zatoichi for a new era, and with such a breathtaking start, it will be hard for Kitano not to return to his new-found alter ego any time soon.
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7/10
China's first computer generated kung fu movie...
17 May 2005
Hong Kong's first fully-fledged computer-animated movie is, for the most part, a treat. Distinctly Chinese in its orchestration, the fantasy elements are played up for the kids, the humour a little too cagey to really laugh at, while the martial arts spectacles are really quite astonishing. The story concerns local hero Hung Lang, a kung fu supremo, who befriends a talking bird (of course) and is sent on a dangerous adventure to retain the sacred Dragon Blade from the mystically cavernous underworld known as Asteria, facing insurmountable peril along the way, in order to slain the Boar King, a giant pig-looking tyrant causing havoc in the town. The characters are a little wet, particularly our soulless hero, yet Karen Mok's engaging sidekick Ying Ying is a worthy substitute, and the delirious spurts of action make the whole experience quite compelling.
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A swashbuckling spectacle...
12 August 2002
Saviour of the Soul radiates innovative action and gawping visuals for a non-stop hour and a half, spinning a tale of star-crossed lovers in a haze of delirious pandemonium. Aaron Kwok brakes test tubes and inhales colourful gases to possess his opponents, running through the torso at warp speeds and stealing their life support. As the cloak-cladded ‘Silver Fox', Kwok is the most dazzling out of the young cast (mostly made up of Cantopop starlets), yet not to be upstaged by the talented Anita Mui who takes on a clever duel-role as two sisters, one a fashion-conscious jabbermouth, the other a sultry law-abider named May. Fundamentally a futuristic sci-fi thriller (its glossy mise-en-scene and specialised camerawork dominate proceedings), May is the victim of a vengeful Silver Fox, longing to seek revenge for his master's subsequent killing, while Andy Lau plays the charmer after her heart and summarily her protection. Hectic showdowns involve flying daggers which explode on impact, Andy's nifty yo-yo that doubles as an extendable wobble-sword, and a completely surreal stuck-in-a-mirror routine that'll leave you both puzzled and enthralled. This film is just awesome, and there's nothing really quite like it.
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The Disciples (1999 TV Movie)
Made-for-TV fare...
4 June 2002
Made-for-TV fare in league with hyper-stylised new wave Hollywood action, yet this is quite obviously the cheaper end of the market. The story is instantly forgettable – stereotype trash about Castro's violent cronies sent on a mission to remove the arm of Cuba's top baseball star, destined to live the millionaire lifestyle for a US team. The ‘disciples' seem to be the last line in justice, then, a young group of Miami-based law enforcers who's Sensai sends them on a protection exercise to guard the baseball star. But the main focus here is on style – our heroes may act like Van Damme on a bad day but they don't half look good, sporting the latest bland trenchcoats and attractive leathers. The busy soundtrack and editing is certainly a headache, reducing any excitement in the tame fight sequences, and gangster rapper Ice-T's presence as a martial arts supremo, who used to play monopoly with none other than Bruce Lee? Hmm, I think not.
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Twice the Jackie Chan, twice the fun??
4 June 2002
Designed as a cash cow to raise money for the HK Directors Guild's new apartment (hence the long list of all-star cameos), Twin Dragons isn't as dull and plodding as many would like to make out. Instead, we're treated to an endearing comic caper setting Jackie Chan as identical twins separated at birth (Van Damme's Double Impact would be made the same year) – one's raised on the HK streets to become a car mechanic and part-time illegal drag racer, the other is raised by biological parents in the US to become a world-renowned pianist and first-class fruit. Inevitably they collide, swap girlfriends and get into a sticky situation with some nasty criminals requesting a huge debt to pay. The result is a tad mediocre; silly and plodding it may be but dull it certainly isn't: the obligatory final beat-‘em-up pits double Jackie in a car warehouse fending off the baddies left right and centre, leaping in to and out of automobiles like the over-excited master he is – and really what more do we want?
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Cheap and unforfilling waste of time...
4 June 2002
No Dudikoff this time around, his boots are uncomfortably filled by debuting ninja man Bradley, whereas James seems to have pointlessly reappeared, albeit playing a less prominent or engaging part. The story sucks, so nothing new there then: biological research criminals seek master ninja Bradley to protect their bustling network of narcotics. Throw in a revenge sub-plot and some touch-me-and-I-die ninjas and we've got ourselves a run-of-the-mill sequel on our hands. Not nearly as good as the previous two and that's really saying something.
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Bullied karate enthusiast seeks guidence from celebrity stiff
4 June 2002
The premise is simple – bullied karate enthusiast seeks spiritual and martial guidance from celebrity stiff – yet the result is harmless and pleasing enough. McKinney plays the underdog Jason, a troubled youth new to Seattle, hassled by the harder kids, befriended by a disco-strutting dated stereotype and his martial arts training isn't going too well either. His prayers seem answered when Kim Tai Chong arrives in the shape of the spirit of Bruce Lee – Jason's idol and mentor who teaches him the Jeet Kune Do rudiments. Of course it sounds as silly as it is – but Sensai Lee trains him well enough to combat the main baddie of the piece – Van Damme's earliest action role as a Russian syndicate fighter set to beat up Seattle's finest. With some rather impressive training sequences, and a great Jean-Claude support (easily the best fighter here, apart from Master Lee of course), the biggest trouble you'll have here is admitting you actually enjoyed it.
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Dragon Fist (1979)
Not one of his better offerings...
4 June 2002
Lo Wei's moulding of Jackie Chan into the ‘new Bruce Lee' was never more prevalent than in this schlocky kung fu time-waster, an undemanding piece that takes itself just a bit too seriously. Chan plays the downhearted student type desperate to seek vengeance for his teacher's death, beaten at the hands of a rival master. There's also something about the criminal Wei Clan smuggling and pillaging this and that, but the overall lack of excitement really makes this one a bit of a drag. Jackie is of course the saving grace, but Dragon Fist is undoubtedly a dreadful waste of his talents.
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Jackie Chan is pigtailed wanderer
4 June 2002
When the Eight Steps of the Snake and Crane manual disappears along with the Shaolin masters who devised it, the martial arts world is said to be in disarray. Hsu (Jackie), a pigtailed wanderer (you know the sort), claims he possesses the coveted book and summarily every goddamn scoundrel wants a piece of it, and a piece of Hsu. That's more than enough to go on in this rather tame yet fulfilling chopsocky. The most redeeming factor: a straight Chan performance that's convincing and barely pretentious, featuring some of his best traditional choreography ever put on celluloid. Back in reality, though, the movie proved yet another major flop for the Lo Wei Motion Picture Co.
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Jackie taught kung fu from five skirt-wearing fairies!
4 June 2002
A sacred manual of the Seven Fist technique is stolen from the legendary Shaolin temple, and the only style good enough to conquer it, the Five Fists, has long since vanished. Thankfully a meteor hits the temple walls, unearthing the spirits of the Five Fists style, who summarily teach their deadly animal kung fu to lazy student Jackie Chan, so that maybe he can help when the Seven Fist thief strike again. What makes this Lo Wei adventure so endearing is the shoddy special effects – with Star Wars released the year before, Spiritual Kung Fu plainly outlines how behind the times HK was in their effects department (the meteor is a sparkler on a piece of string), and the flame-haired, hula-skirt wearing superimposed ghosts do retain a certain charm despite the cheapness.
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Based on Capra's Pocketful of Miracles...
27 May 2002
Based on Capra's Pocketful of Miracles (itself of remake of his earlier Lady For A Day) and lifting from nearly all Hollywood gangster movies, Chan's under-achiever is a glamorous big-budget period piece, with precise attention to detail in both its intricate and amazing fight sequences (though sparse they are) and its over-played narrative. The story is pure sentiment: dressing up a poor rose seller to entertain her travelling daughter set to be married. Chan plays the paying host, a wet-behind-the-ears type who inadvertently becomes a mob leader after he assists a dying gangster boss. Miracles has its moments; an all-star cast of regulars and cameos, some of Chan's best direction and choreography, built on rich sets and locations and with a developed and sincere sense of humour - a story-driven affair that leaves many hardened Chan fans divided. Jackie, on the other hand, quotes this as one of the best of his own movies.
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Avoid!
27 May 2002
Jackie had well and truly left the Lo Wei Motion Picture Co when this hodgepodge was put together, a mindless cash-in that mixes scenes of Chan with that of a disguised double, creating a truly awful sequel that bares little resemblance to its successful predecessor. Some actors return (Yen Si Kuan seems to have come back from the dead) with the story concerning the Heaven and Earth fighters who wipe out any combatants of rival styles, of which includes Jackie's father and summarily the former seeks vengeance – but it's all pretty bad stuff, proof if proof be needed of this being Lo Wei's last grab at credibility which ultimately concludes as a wasted exercise. Thankfully the real Jackie Chan went on to live, and work, happily ever after.
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This is one of those all-out classics that must be viewed at any opportunity...
27 May 2002
This is one of those all-out classics that must be viewed at any opportunity, a HK box office smash that not only revolutionised the dated traditions of chopsocky cinema, but also assured Jackie Chan's presence as the most prominent kung fu movie maker around: his use of slapstick humour and unconventional fighting hinting at what the ‘new wave' future was to hold. One of two orphans, Jackie plays the underdog hero, disgraced at losing his school the annual lion dance, due to his better brother Wei Pei secretly enrolling and leading the criminal rival class. The s**t hits the fan when Wei Pei's treachery is uncovered, quitting his former school to work for the baddies full time, and Jackie is made to bring him back home. Of the many delights Chan runs into, the stand outs are an infiltration on police inspector Sheck Kin's family, some nifty skirt-foot fighting and one of the best final punch-ups ever recorded – a lengthy one-on-one with criminal mastermind and super bootmaster Whang Ing Sik. As writer, director, choreographer and star, this is a landmark in Jackie Chan history - and even today stands as one of his best pictures.
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Jackie is finally given creative control...
27 May 2002
Jackie is finally given creative control under the constraints of Lo Wei and here's the result: an early key to the new direction which sees Chan clowning about in his own distinct fashion, less Bruce Lee and more Charlie Chaplin, ridiculing the stifling pictures that were forced onto him at the same time as sending up the genre as a whole. Straight from the slapstick titles we know what we're in for; Chan perfecting his underdog happy-go-lucky character that would later make him such a huge star. Yet like all beginnings, HALOKF isn't a polished piece, certainly dragging in places with the Lo Wei influence still clearly evident (namely in the souped-up story concerning the transportation of sacred treasures the Evergreen Jade and the Soul Pill, much in demand by nasty bandits). Lo Wei's reaction was open detest resulting in the picture being shelved, only to be given a successful theatrical release after Chan had finally re-defined the kung fu movie.
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Delightful cast turn out an enjoyable chopsocker
27 May 2002
Phillip Kao turns mini egg timers before he kills his latest opposition. `Dying time', he exclaims in a ridiculously deep overdub, and then proceeds to pound the life out of the poor combatant. It's all in the name of progress, though, as how else can he and his lunatic no-willy boss expect to sell on stolen antiques to dastardly westerners. Luckily Tino Wong and friend Dragon Lee resist them, but they're no match for Kao and the new recruit John Liu. However John and Tino have a common purpose: both are last descendants of the Stone Rock Fist, and ultimately unite to bring justice into this crazy kung fu town. The stellar cast provides high enjoyment in this cheesy chopsocker, including some stunning backward edits in a remarkable two-on-one finale that'll have you howling in your seats. Hong Kong phooey at its mad best.
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One of Hong Kong's darker memories...
27 May 2002
Set amid the turbulent China years of Japanese occupation during the Second World War, we follow a group of actors / resistance fighters who are kicked from their theatres and into shabby hideouts. It's from here they fend off the appallingly presented Japanese (one's depicted with a Hitler moustache) who's only intent, it seems to me, is to generally rape, maim, kill and terrorise. The only reason this one hasn't sadly been banished for the rest of eternity is due to a sprightly support from our man Jackie, but even hardened Chan fans may find this pulp a little hard to swallow. To simplify – this is a bad, bad film.
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Most Jet's most successful break from traditional hero...
29 April 2002
Maybe Jet's most successful break from traditional hero to modern day action man, this isn't a classic in any means but does deliver a contemporary Li performance in keeping with his growing US following. The story doesn't take us anywhere new - Jet is an undercover cop set to bring down top criminal Yu Rong Guang and things get messy when the family becomes involved. Thankfully the moderate screen action demands top-drawer performances from its stars and delivers - of course wushu wonderkid Tze Mui, playing our hero's young son, is notably the best thing. Of the action, a nifty three-on-one near the end may require the odd rewind.
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Jet and Chin play life-long buddies...
29 April 2002
Jet and Chin play life-long buddies born and bred the Shaolin way until Chin is expelled for harming a student. Jet follows on to help his brother in the outside world, eventually crossing the path of Michelle Yeoh, leader of a rebel force set to bring down the evil eunuch Emperor. Jet sides with the rebels yet Chin enrols for the opposition, rising quickly in rank to become lieutenant. A sword scrap between Jet and Chin leaves our hero mildly insane, a kung fu idiot now adverse to Taoist ways. Luckily he invents the soft Tai Chi style in time to combat his former chum in a thrilling blood-soaked finale. Colourful and good-natured, this is a pleasant watch and thoroughly exciting.
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Live-action debut for the mutant heroes
29 April 2002
A petty crime wave has hit New York City, valuable possessions pinched by the troubled youth and given to their towering master and his army of foot soldiers. Shredder (Saito) is the man behind it all, a steel-plated evil-type who's only opposition, it seems, comes from beneath New York's streets: a group of slang-talking, pizza-eating human sized mutant turtles occupy the sewers, well trained in the Ninja ways taught by their ageing teacher Splinter, a giant rat. The turtles take to the streets when Splinter is napped, and kick butt in the only slapstick way they know how. There's also a love/hate set up with TV reporter April (Hoag) and martial arts enthusiast Kacey (Koteas), but such things are by the by in a harmless kiddies adventure. Jim Henson's Creature Shop work their usual magic with the animatronics, and the dubbed turtles retain a certain amount of attitude and charm, lacking in character what they more than gain in mere presence. The result pays off, an endearing live action debut for those spunky comic book heroes. Cowabunga, etc…
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Macho bulls*** returns with, yes, more ninjas...
29 April 2002
On a distant Caribbean island, the corrupt local enforcers are kidnapping newly transferred US marines and using them to create a cult of genetically modified super Ninjas, masterminded by a textbook millionaire meanie forerunning in the drug trade. It's a good job, then, that new recruits to the island are Joe Armstrong (Dudikoff) and Curtis Jackson (James), hard-hitting army boys with PhDs in Macho and becoming slightly used to this kind of thing by now. The whole affair's a charade, comic-book action at its relentless best that seems to retain a certain charm and good nature despite its B-movie faults - and the returning duo do well; Dudikoff playing it straight and stern while James supplies crucial comic relief.
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A truly surreal piece of classic exploitation...
29 April 2002
A truly surreal piece of classic exploitation that's just so insane you feel you have to love it, a slice ‘n' dice treatment made on real Lee footage jumbled together to create yet another new `Bruce Lee movie', much in the same vein as its non-related predecessor, however this one's a lot more fun. Bruce Lee returns, so they say, as Billy Lo, eager to discover the reasoning behind his master's sudden death, which sure enough leads to his own end. Enter Billy's brother Bobby (Kim Tai Chong, or rather Lee-alike ‘Tong Lung') and the second half of this crazy charade begins, with Bobby continuing the investigations into both the deaths. When the Lee footage runs out (by ludicrously killing off the character halfway using the classic ‘fall from the under carriage of a moving helicopter' trick), the movie is left to Kim who in actual fact does quite well with it, given the circumstance: events consist of visiting the palace of crazy fighter Horan, battling a man in a tarzan outfit in some underground sci-fi laboratory, before beautifully laying waste to a random monk (Lee Hoi San) and Hwang Jang Lee. It's complete madness, but like a cute family puppy it's just too difficult to put down. A shameful exercise that's just unashamedly entertaining.
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The One (2001)
Jet takes on 124 roles!
14 April 2002
The One is a mixed affair - Matrix-esque in its style with silly cartoon violence - yet Li's never acted better and although littered with gimmickry he still escapes looking cooler than ever. The story is especially nonsense: a futuristic sci-fi adventure (like they all are) detailing the plight of a serial killer through a parallel universe: a crazy Jet Li is determined to kill every other Jet Li on all the different universes to become the supreme 'one'. It sounds shoddy and in truth it is, but lets look on the bright side: the wirework extremes and fast edits seem to escape scrutiny while the special effects that back it all up aren't too bad either, and where else can we see two Jet Li's facing each other for the final extended beat-'em-up?
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