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NYC: Old School Kung Fu Fest 2017 is all about martial arts wonder women

Aug 18 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221831:43735:0[/embed] We can start by tying this into last year's Old School Kung Fu Fest, which showcased the films of Golden Harvest. The one Golden Harvest film this year is 1972's Hapkido, starring Angela Mao, Sammo Hung, and Carter Wong. (Both Mao and Hung made appearances in the Bruce Lee classic Enter the Dragon.) The boys do a lot of the fighting against the Imperial Japanese baddies during the first half of the film, which is set in 1930s China. Mao eventually takes center stage to avenge her brothers and the oppressed people of both China and Korea. Lecherous thugs from imperial Japan and Chinese turncoats generally make for solid baddies in kung fu films set during this time--they're the equivalent of Nazis and saboteurs. The word "forbearance" comes up throughout Hapkido. It's a keystone in many martial arts, and both patience and self-restraint help Mao's character survive until she can exact revenge. There's a scene in which Mao's pride is insulted in a dojo full of goons, and rather than take on all the laughing hyenas around her, she clenches her fist and seethes. Wait, her body language seems to say, or you'll be overwhelmed. Mao's fight scenes are fierce and well-choreographed. Though it's not the mega-quick, rhythmic/metered fighting of the later 1970s and the 1980s (a style that Hung would help pioneer), it's eye-catching for the era and brutal and rooted in story. [embed]221831:43737:0[/embed] Three of the movies at this year's Old School Kung Fu Fest are from the great King Hu, one of the maestros of wuxia pictures and kung fu cinema. The films are A Touch of Zen (1971), Come Drink with Me (1966), and The Fate of Lee Khan (1973). Hu's undergone a major critical reassessment in the west over the years, praised for his lush productions and style. He's influenced filmmakers as disparate as Hong Kong action madman Tsui Hark to staid Taiwanese arthouse director Tsai Ming Liang. In recent years, Hu's films have played a number of retrospectives, and two of his masterpieces, A Touch of Zen and Dragon Inn, have been released by the Criterion Collection. Though I haven't seen The Fate of Lee Khan, there's always been a strong woman as a central player in Hu films I have seen. In Come Drink with Me, it's Cheng Pei Pei as the hero Golden Swallow, seeking to rescue a political prisoner. Western audiences probably know Cheng best as Jade Fox in Ang Lee's 2000 wuxia homage Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In A Touch of Zen, it's Feng Hsu as a hero named Yang on the run in an artsy adventure that's also about Buddhist spirituality. I'm going to try to catch The Fate of Lee Khan this weekend and see if I can tease out some bigger idea about King Hu and his badass women. Like Dragon Inn, The Fate of Lee Khan is centered around an inn. I'm left wondering if the martial prowess of the women in the movie (Mao, Hsu, Li Li Hua) leads to gender confusion, which is a common and universal trope in many action/adventure stories--"You can fight, bu- bu- but, you're a woman?!" Such revelations are often disarming for the villains as well as the heroine's allies. [embed]221831:43736:0[/embed] It wouldn't be old school kung fu without something from Shaw Brothers Studios. This year's Old School Kung Fu Fest has two very different kinds of Shaw Brothers films nearly a decade apart. First there's 1972's Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan, Chor Yuen's brothel-based wuxia picture that plays a bit like a semi-sexploitation/revenge movie, albeit a well shot one. There's sexual violence, a little lesbianism, and some S&M for good measure, with a kind of luridness that I wasn't expecting from an early 70s Shaw Brothers production. And on the other hand, there's Lau Kar Leung's My Young Auntie (1981), a broad Cantonese comedy starring Kara Hui as a demure martial arts master trying to keep a family's fortune away from the hands of greedy relatives. My Young Auntie is kooky and delightful (though maybe a fight-lite affair for some action movie fans), and might play a good double-feature with Lau's pseudo-screwball comedy martial arts picture Heroes of the East (1978). While the tone of both these Shaw Brothers films is different, Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan and My Young Auntie are, broadly speaking, about women seeking empowerment, justice, and dignity in their own ways. The newest film at the Old School Kung Fu Fest is 1985's Yes, Madam, a very merry 1980s Hong Kong action movie. The movie stars Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock as a pair of female supercops busting criminals and making them take insane, breakneck falls. It's so "Hong Kong in the 80s" that it features appearances by Sammo Hung and recurring players from the Lucky Stars movies. Yes, Madam kicked off the "girls with guns" HK subgenre, which basically meant action movies led by femme fatales. Other films in the genre include Magnificent Warriors (1987), Naked Killer (1992), Black Cat (1991), and Angel Terminators (1991). [embed]221831:43738:0[/embed] Yeoh is one of the biggest Asian actresses in the western world, though her Yes, Madam co-star, Cynthia Rothrock, is probably one of the most unsung female action stars of her era. Rothrock was an accomplished martial artist prior to getting into action movies. While her American output tended to be of low quality and direct-to-video, she made many great films in Hong Kong during the 1980s as a star or supporting player. Yes, Madam is easily among her best, but also keep an eye out for 1986's Righting Wrongs (co-starring Yueen Biao), 1987's The Magic Crystal (co-starring Andy Lau), and 1988's Righting Wrongs 2: Blonde Fury. Seven movies and one weekend isn't enough to cover the breadth of wonder women in kung fu cinema. An entire program might have been built around King Hu's output or Angela Mao's films alone using a similar theme. Though the 1990s isn't old school enough yet, I was hoping to see something familiar from my teenage years in the fest. For instance, I remember loving movies with Brigitte Lin (particularly The Bride with White Hair), in which the "You're a good fighter but you're not a man?" gender confusion was to be expected. There's also Johnnie To's Heroic Trio films, which starred Yeoh, Maggie Cheung, and Anita Mui as three ladies saving the day in a dystopian future. (Maybe in the seventeenth edition of the Old School Kung Fu Fest.) I suppose I bring those other movies up since Wonder Woman, Atomic Blonde, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens signal a genuine hunger for female-led action movies. People want stories in which the women aren't just damsels in distress or trophies for the heroes. Even Doctor Who finally acknowledged the need for more gender representation in male-dominated genres, naming Jodie Whittaker as the thirteenth Doctor. This need goes back decades, and maybe in this particular year these kinds of stories seem more necessary than before. Girls to the front, and don't be afraid to kick anyone who gets in your way. Cheng Pei Pei did it 50 years ago, and so can you.
Old School Kung Fu Fest photo
Those females are strong as hell
The seventh Old School Kung Fu Fest kicks off today in New York City at The Metrograph. The event runs all weekend, and celebrates the kick ass women of classic martial arts cinema. The official theme is "Wonder Women of the ...

Old School Kung Fu Fest photo
Old School Kung Fu Fest

NYC: Watch wonder women kick ass at the Old School Kung Fu Fest (August 18-20)


Subway Cinema returns to The Metrograph
Aug 15
// Hubert Vigilla
Subway Cinema's seventh edition of The Old School Kung Fu Fest is back this weeked at The Metrograph, running from Friday, August 18th through Sunday, August 20th. Last year's Old School Kung Fu Fest celebrated Golden Harvest...
NYAFF 2017 photo
NYAFF 2017

The 2017 New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) starts today


It runs from June 30 to July 16
Jun 30
// Hubert Vigilla
It's that time of year again. One of the best film festivals in the city is about to get underway. The New York Asian Film Festival kicks off tonight at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The annual showcase of Asian cinema ...
Box Office Numbers photo
Box Office Numbers

Box Office Numbers: China's probably going to save the Transformers franchise...again


Wow, china that big
Jun 26
// Nick Valdez
Tranformers: The Last Knight is, well, a mess. Poor writing, poor pacing, poor Marky Mark, and is basically par for the course for the Transformers series. Yet, these things still make a ton of money. You ...

Tribeca Capsule Review: King of Peking

Apr 26 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221478:43532:0[/embed] King of PekingDirector: Sam VoutasRating: TBDRelease Date:  TBDCountry: China/Australia  Big Wong and Little Wong used to tour the countryside screening movies in small towns. A projection mishap forces them to come up with a new way to make money. Big Wong also needs to come up with child support to hold on to his son despite his abject poverty. Big Wong takes a job at a rundown cinema as a janitor; the whole movie house operation has a bizarre militancy about it. There, in that crumbling theater, Big Wong figures out how to bootleg movies and turn that into a meager subsistence. At its core, King of Peking feels like a mix of buddy movie and father-and-son bonding movie. Here are two people who care for each other and who come closer through their love of movies. Yet we rarely see the movies themselves on screen save for a few clips here and there. Probably a practical clearance rights issue, which just adds to the charm. The score also nods to famous film music, either using well-known classical compositions made famous in the movies or offering knock-off nods to famous cinematic melodies. Like Big Wong and Little Wong's bootleg operation, the film has an endearing handmade, small scale quality about it. The tension in Big Wong and Little Wong's relationship--like the tension in other buddy movies and father/son movies--comes when one person feels ignored or used, or both. Voutas adds some pathos to the feel-good surface of the film in the closing acts. It gives King of Peking a sense of fond nostalgia, like looking back at a time and a place that mattered in someone's life many years ago.
Review: King of Peking photo
Be Kind, Sell Bootleg DVDs
There's something undeniably charming about Sam Voutas' King of Peking. I smiled my way through a lot of the film, and snippets of its feel-good score (AM radio easy listening, in a good way) have been stuck in my head t...

Trailer: Kung-Fu Yoga photo
Trailer: Kung-Fu Yoga

Trailer: Kung-Fu Yoga has Jackie Chan and a CG lion named Little Jackie


This is like silly 80s HK schlock
Jan 06
// Hubert Vigilla
I don't think I've legitimately liked a Jackie Chan movie since 2004's New Police Story. There were good scenes and flashes of brilliance in Rob-B-Hood, The Forbidden Kingdom, and Chinese Zodiac, but they never really hung to...
Chinese Rogue One trailer photo
Chinese Rogue One trailer

Chinese Rogue One: A Star Wars Story trailer features an intro with Donnie Yen & Jiang Wen


Another final Rogue One trailer
Dec 06
// Hubert Vigilla
There will never be a final trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. There was the final trailer a little while ago. And then a second final trailer last week. And now here's a Chinese trailer for the film. It's like one of ...
9-min Great Wall trailer photo
9-min Great Wall trailer

9-minute trailer for Zhang Yimou's The Great Wall is more than just Matt Damon


Maybe the trailer is overcompensating?
Dec 01
// Hubert Vigilla
The old myth was that astronauts could see The Great Wall of China from space. A new 9-minute trailer for Zhang Yimou's The Great Wall has been released, and I'm pretty sure it can be seen from space. They have free wifi up t...
Mad Shelia photo
Mad Shelia

Witness the trailer and poster for Mad Shelia, a Chinese Mad Max rip-off


MEDIOCRE!
Nov 28
// Hubert Vigilla
Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the best action movies of the 21st century, and was one of the best movies of 2015 by far. We were bound to see some movies trying to capitalize on the look, feel, and stuntwork of George Miller's...
Great Wall photo
Great Wall

Great Wall director speaks up about White Washing


Chinese guy OK with not Chinese actor
Aug 04
// Matthew Razak
Last week the first trailer for The Great Wall dropped, and as it was a movie about China with its lead being not Chinese cries of white washing went up. And it is, of course, white washing. It would make a lot more sens...

NYAFF Capsule Review: The Mermaid

Jul 27 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220644:42996:0[/embed] The Mermaid  (美人鱼)Director: Stephen ChowRelease Date: February 8, 2016Rating: NR 
The Mermaid Review photo
I... don't understand
It's always fascinating to me to see blockbusters from other countries. The Mermaid is the highest grossing Chinese film of all time; that's a big flipping deal. Apparently the lead actress was chosen out of literally 100,000...

Skiptrace trailer photo
Skiptrace trailer

The trailer for Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville's Skiptrace would be better with Adele


Directed by Renny Harlin--RENNY HARLIN!
Jul 20
// Hubert Vigilla
It's been a long while since Jackie Chan's put out a genuinely good movie. In my opinion, his last great film was 2004's New Police Story, though he's still capable of some flashes of brilliance as seen in 2013's Chinese Zodi...
Ghostbusters in China photo
Ghostbusters in China

Ghostbusters reboot denied release in China over censorship guidelines (or lack of interest)


G-g-g-g-ghosts!
Jul 13
// Hubert Vigilla
The Ghostbusters reboot is set for release this week, and will probably do pretty well at the box office thanks to controversy surrounding the clash between angry, nostalgic manchild nerds and people who are not them. Even if...
Warcraft box office photo
Warcraft box office

Warcraft bombs at the domestic box office but is a hit in China


Oh baby, just you shut your mouth
Jun 13
// Hubert Vigilla
Universal may have been right to think that Warcraft was a problem movie. No, not because Duncan Jones made Generic Fantasy Film: The Movie. Depending on how you look at it, Warcraft is either a Universal boondoggle or a...
Tetris Trilogy photo
Tetris Trilogy

Tetris is getting a big budget, Chinese trilogy


Form rows in the theater for points
May 17
// Nick Valdez
This year we have four videogame adaptations hitting theaters and there's no sign of stopping anytime soon. The only problem with this is none of these films look particularly gripping with Warcraft, Assassin's Creed, an...

Review: Dragon Inn

May 09 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220493:42920:0[/embed] Dragon Inn (Long Men Ke Zhan, 龍門客棧)Director: King HuRating: NRRelease Date: May 6, 2016 (limited)Country: Taiwan An evil eunuch named Cao (Ying Bai) has seized power from one of his political enemies, putting him to death and exiling his children. Cao makes a power play to assassinate these exiles, which leads to a conflict with three heroes on a mission to prevent this from happening. There's a dashing rogue who carries an umbrella (Shih Chun), and there's a swashbuckling brother and sister duo consisting of a bullish hot-head (Hsieh Han) and a woman so skilled with a sword she causes gender confusion among her foes (Lingfeng Shangguan). There's conflict between these warriors, which has to be set aside to save the day. Sure, it's a familiar dynamic that isn't particularly complicated, but Dragon Inn is such an undeniable joy, like a grandparent's cooking. Yet to call it high-end cinematic comfort food sells Hu's craftsmanship short. He's mastering the form with just his second film in the genre. Like certain scenes of Come Drink with Me, much of the tension in Dragon Inn is the result of keeping heroes and villains in close quarters with one another. Cao's goons overrun the eponymous inn, which is situated in the middle of a rocky wasteland--part sanctuary, part target; a little bit Motel 6, a little bit Alamo. The heroes are grossly outnumbered, and they're always targets or under siege. When Chun's dashing rogue appears, there's a sense of calm about him, as if all is well while he tries to control the situation, eventually leading to a scruff. Lingfeng and Han have some comic moments, particularly during one scene where they dine with their enemies as a bit of subterfuge and do their darndest to avoid being poisoned. I mentioned the gender confusion earlier, which is a common trope of martial stories of all kinds--women warriors mistaken for men given their prowess. In many of King Hu's films, he has women as the front-and-center heroes. It's Cheng Pei-pei in Come Drink with Me (who would later play Jade Fox in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Hsu Feng in A Touch of Zen. Though Chun's mysterious rogue is the primary badass of the movie, Lingfeng's young heroine in Dragon Inn gets a fine moment to shine against dozens of goons, and this gender confusion offers a great way of undercutting traditional gender roles and gender expectations with the draw of action, as if skewering sexism, the patriarchy, and machismo with an elegant jian. The fights of Dragon Inn are staged like a movie musical, which may have a lot to do with the influence of Peking Opera. There's also the feel of a samurai movie about the fights since the visual rhythms and vocabulary of the Chinese martial arts movie were still in development. There's a major leap made between Dragon Inn and A Touch of Zen in terms of the pacing, staging, movements, and editing of the fight scenes, which makes both films essential for action aficionados. There's a softness to the fights here that hardens in Zen, as if Hu would ironically discover the visceral stuff of combat while making his meditative spiritual epic. A similar leap was made from Come Drink with Me to Dragon Inn. When the genre eventually turned away from swordsman pictures to the unarmed fighting genre, the vocabulary, grammar, and sheet forcefulness of the action would change again. Beyond its history, Dragon Inn is so watchable because it's a pure delight. The rousing Lan-ping Chow score is like some sonic representation of a dashing chilvaric code, all flight and blades and evasions. The height of the wuxia film in the late 1960s is still a glorious landmark nearly 50 years later.
Review: Dragon Inn photo
King Hu's landmark early wuxia film
While King Hu's 1971 epic A Touch of Zen is his towering masterpiece, his earlier film Dragon Inn may be the best entry point into the director's work. This 1967 adventure is one of the essential early martial arts ...

Review: A Touch of Zen

Apr 22 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220492:42919:0[/embed] A Touch of Zen (Xia Nu, 俠女)Director: King HuRating: NRRelease Date: April 22, 2016 (New York, with subsequent expansion)Country: Taiwan A Touch of Zen is such a singular sort of movie. After the success of Come Drink with Me and Dragon Inn, Hu had the creative freedom to do what he wanted, and the result was a movie of different moods and different modes. There is the wuxia element centered around a heroic fugitive named Yang (Feng Hsu), a swordswoman fighting for her life after corrupt government officials have murdered the rest of her family. She's one of Hu's many female heroes, though this movie doesn't have the same level of gender role confusion seen in other martial arts films. Yang is a woman but never mistaken for a man (the common genre convention), and she's the most capable fighter in the film. The centerpiece fight in the bamboo grove is an exhilarating bit of old school swordsman action. When A Touch of Zen was released as two films, the bamboo fight concluded the first movie and opened the second. Hu further adapts the theatrical movements of Peking Opera and the visual style of Japanese samurai pictures (en vogue at the time) to a swashbuckling cinematic form uniquely suited to Chinese martial arts. Trampolines give the heroes and villains a kind of superheroic flair as they clash with one another on rooftops and treetops. Hsu slashes, evades, and ripostes, and Hu cuts the action together to add intensity to the elegant movements on display. The action in A Touch of Zen feels like a transition period in fight choreography between the stage-like combat of the 1960s to the faster-paced cinematic combat that would be pioneered by later Shaw Brothers filmmakers Chang Cheh and Lau Kar-Leung. Yet the first fight doesn't occur until at least one hour into the film. Instead of rollicking adventure, A Touch of Zen opens with the banal rhythms of pastoral life. We follow a bumbling mama's boy/artist-scholar named Ku (Chun Shih), who takes an interest in Yang and a blind man (Ying Bai) who are hiding in an abandoned ruin. Ku is an archetypal fool, and a great vessel for the audience into the story (which has an archetypal opening: a stranger comes into town). While he's crafty, Ku's a coward and he falls in love too easily, which is a great contrast to Yang's ruggedly stoic heroism. Before A Touch of Zen, Chun Shih played the hero of Hu's Dragon Inn. In a subversive move, Hu has a previous star play against type and also against gender stereotype. And then there's the Zen Buddhism, which pervades the film's visual style emphasizing nature, seasons, and impermanence. I mentioned patience at the beginning of the review, and Hu's return to slow rhythms and long takes seems to give the audience a chance to breathe and take in each scene. A group of Buddhist monks show up when Yang is on the run, and they are unstoppable force and immovable object. They're shot with diffuse or star-filtered light emanating from behind them, and they seem to be followed by a supernatural veil of mist. The Zen aspects figure heavily in the film's unexpectedly bonkers finale, which I can only be described as 2001: A Space Odyssey meets El Topo.  The 4K digital restoration looks great during the daytime shots--you can make out the dust on King Hu's camera lenses as he lovingly absorbs hillsides and waterfalls and sky--though I noticed some major issues with image noise during the nighttime scenes. One of the pivotal action sequences in the last half of the film is at night, and it was often difficult to make out what was happening in each scene. Part of it may be the limitations of lighting and photography that Hu had to work with back then, though I sense there might have been an issue with the projection and/or the copy I saw during my screening. I'm curious to see A Touch of Zen again now that it's out in theaters, just to see for myself if the digital noise has been eliminated/addressed. Besides, I could use a little more patience and adventure in my life.
Review: A Touch of Zen photo
The beguiling wuxia masterpiece in 4k
A Touch of Zen is King Hu's masterpiece, yet unless you're patient and a bit adventurous, it may not be the best introduction to his work. Dragon Inn, his straightforward wuxia classic from 1967, might be a more palatable ent...

NYC: 6th Old School Kung Fu Fest showcases the badassery of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Golden Harvest

Apr 06 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220479:42891:0[/embed] Enter the Dragon (1973)Starring Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Bolo Yeung Even though Fist of Fury (aka The Chinese Connection) is my favorite Bruce Lee movie, I can't deny the importance of Enter the Dragon. The landmark movie brought Lee international stardom, and it helped kick off my personal martial arts movie obsession. (Ditto Infra-Man.) The film would also help propel the film careers of perennial bad guy Bolo Yeung (Bloodsport) and blaxploitation star Jim Kelly (Black Belt Jones). The set-up is simple: infiltrate an island, punch and kick people really hard, repeat. In addition to one of the most brutal kicks to the head in cinema history and a funky ass Lalo Schifrin score, Enter the Dragon manages to impart some martial arts philosophy amid the mayhem. Sammo Hung makes a cameo appearance, as does Jackie Chan in two blink-or-you'll-miss-him moments while Bruce Lee dispenses of faceless goons. [embed]220479:42892:0[/embed] The Man from Hong Kong aka The Dragon Flies (1975)Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, George Lazenby, Roger Ward, Hugh Keays-Byrne Australian exploitation movies are bonkers in the best possible way. Take The Man from Hong Kong for example. The film stars Shanghai-born Jimmy Wang Yu (Master of the Flying Guillotine, One-Armed Swordsman) as a violent Chinese supercop sent to fight an Australian crime boss played by George Lazenby (James freakin' Bond). The film is recklessly enjoyable. Yu blows up cars, demolishes a Chinese restaurant, blows up buildings, and effortlessly seduces comely Aussie women (whom he apparently detested behind the scenes). Sammo Hung also appears in this movie, as does Roger Ward (Mad Max) and Hugh Keays-Byrne (Mad Max, Mad Max: Fury Road). For more on The Man from Hong Kong and other great Australian exploitation movies, I urge you to watch Mark Hartley's excellent documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! [embed]220479:42889:0[/embed] Pedicab Driver (1989)Starring Sammo Hung, Nina Li, Lau Kar-Leung, Billy Chow Both Enter the Dragon and The Man from Hong Kong are American and Australian co-productions, respectively. Pedicab Driver, on the other hand, is a Hong Kong movie through and through, featuring hard-hitting action, broad Cantonese comedy, machismo, and extreme melodrama. It may be a matter of taste, but I love that histrionic hodgepodge. (Though its gender and sexual politics are definitely of a different era.) The film follows the travails of some pedicab drivers as they look for love and seek justice against an irredeemable crime boss. Pedicab Driver features an exceptional fight between director/star Sammo Hung and Lau Kar-Leung. Lau was one of Shaw Brothers' premiere action filmmakers, which makes his on-screen battle with Hung feel like a generational passing of the torch. Sammo Hung also dukes it out with Billy Chow (Fist of Legend). Both fights typify the fast, fierce choreography that Hung perfected in the 80s. [embed]220479:42890:0[/embed] Rumble in the Bronx (1995)Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Francoise Yip, Bill Tung Jackie Chan didn't break big into the US market until Rumble in the Bronx, which received a major push when Quentin Tarantino championed Chan's work at the 1995 MTV Movie Awards. For most Americans, Rumble in the Bronx was Jackie Chan 101: Introduction to Jackie Chan. While not his best Golden Harvest movie, Chan shows off his prowess as a choreographer, stuntman, and cornball comedian, including a memorable clash with a gang in a hideout full of props. Based on the info listed by Subway Cinema and Metrograph, Old School Kung Fu Fest is apparently screening the longer Hong Kong version of Rumble in the Bronx rather than the American cut released by New Line Cinema. This means you get a better-paced film with the original score and sound effects, and you'll be seeing a version of the movie not readily available stateside.
Old School Kung Fu Fest photo
Celebrating Hong Kong action cinema
This weekend (April 8-10) is the 6th Old School Kung Fu Fest, put on by Subway Cinema and held at Metrograph in the Lower East Side. This year's unifying theme is Golden Harvest. Co-founded by Raymond Chow and Leonard Ho, Gol...

Old School Kung Fu Fest photo
Old School Kung Fu Fest

NYC: Check out the trailer for the Old School Kung Fu Fest at Metrograph (April 8-10)


A harvest from Golden Harvest
Mar 29
// Hubert Vigilla
The 6th Old School Kung Fu Fest is coming to New York at the ginchy new Metrograph cinema. The Old School Kung Fu Fest is put on by Subway Cinema, who are also responsible for The New York Asian Film Festival (NAYFF), one of ...
Old School Kung Fu photo
Eight classic kung fu flicks
There's nothing like a good kung fu movie to make me smile. When done right, they're almost like musicals, just with more kicking in the face. If you live in New York and love kung fu films, you're in luck. The 6th Old School...

Review: Ip Man 3

Jan 22 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220266:42751:0[/embed] Ip Man 3 (葉問3)Director: Wilson YipRelease Date: January 22, 2016Rating: NRCountry: China In the three Donnie Yen Ip Man films, the constant concern has been how a person can remain righteous while dividing energies between country, family, and the martial arts. This boils down to the obligations a person has to the future of a culture, to immediate loved ones, and to the self. It's also about punching people in the face repeatedly very fast, sure, but if we're looking at the martial arts as a way of being (i.e., a way), Ip Man's always been about how a person takes a core belief, universalizes these dictums, and then puts this into action. It's explored visually in The Grandmaster with the way every strike disturbs the environment, but watching so many kung-fu movies over the years has made this whole notion of the extension of thought into action into the world more apparent. Maybe what makes Ip Man such a compelling hero is that taking thought into action into the world is what makes all sorts of heroes memorable. There's philosophy behind every punch. Ip Man 3 continues this tradition of duties to country/family/self, and the plot is mostly  hinged to all three. The film opens irreverently with Ip Man meeting a young Bruce Lee, who proceeds to demonstrate his fighting prowess in what can only be described as a martial arts anti-smoking ad. The rest of the plot involves a foreign crime boss trying to shut down a school to claim the land for his own (Mike Tyson), a would-be Wing Chun master in search of fame (Max Zhang aka Jin Zhang), and the health of Ip Man's wife (Lynn Hung). Ip Man, a righteous dude, volunteers to defend the school--Ip Man tropes ensue. The fights in Ip Man 3 may some of the finest in the series in terms of variety and staging. Sammo Hung handled the choreography in the previous two films, but Ip Man 3 instead turns to Yuen Woo-Ping. The fights seem more grounded though just as brutal, and generally a little more old school than bombastic. Yen's talked about how his diet and training changes with each role to better embody the character. Playing Ip Man means cutting carbs and staying as slim as possible, and Yen looks especially thin here. As much as I love Ip Man and kind of liked Ip Man 2, the biggest hurdle to each fight was Ip Man's sense of invincibility. He spends all of the first movie in God Mode, dominating almost every fight he's in, even the final battle. In Ip Man 2, he's still in God Mode for much of the film, which makes that movie's final battle feel out of place; what's more, Ip Man's solution of how to best his overpowered opponent would have been the first thing a skilled martial artist would consider, not the last. There was rarely a sense of danger. Ip Man 3, by contrast, seems to acknowledge that Ip Man is nigh invulnerable despite his age. The danger comes from having to defend other people nearby rather than just defending himself. It's a simple but great idea, and it leads to a harrowing rescue attempt as well as an excellent sequence involving an elevator later in the film. Much has been made of Donnie Yen and Mike Tyson's bout in the film, and it's one of the film's highlights, and it was more exciting than the Wing Chun vs. boxing bout that finished Ip Man 2. And yet the fight reveals Tyson's presence in Ip Man 3 as some hollow stunt casting. There's something great about Tyson cursing people out in snatches of Cantonese, but the entire storyline involving his character is dropped at a certain point. The whole impetus for the action fades away, which makes me wonder if Tyson was only available for a week or so, or if a finger fracture Tyson sustained while filming the fight scene required changes to the script. Even though Tyson's plotline feels unfinished, it's fascinating where the other threads go, and how they reveal the foundation for Ip Man as a character, as if Yen and Yip are tying to make their final definitive statements about who Ip Man was and what he'll represent as a cinematic icon moving forward. Ip Man's a loving husband, for instance, but not always attentive (think about how Peter Parker's love life is ruined by having to be Spider-Man). Here, he tries to focus more on home and what matters to him most, and there are some tender moments between Yen and Hung, as if Yen's trying to channel the acting chops that Anthony Wong and Tony Leung brought to the role, and Hung is trying to find the right note of melancholy glamour that Zhang Ziyi brings to her roles. Some of these scenes between Ip Man and his wife are lensed with a level of attention that might have been inspired by The Grandmaster; more beautiful to look at than anything in the previous Ip Man films, though a few scenes are marred by a semi-chintzy nylon-string Spanish guitar love theme. I began to notice this steady evolution of Ip Man's presence as a political/cultural icon as well in Ip Man 3. The first film was decidedly against the Imperial Japanese forces, which places Ip Man in the home of a character like Chen Zhen from Fist of Fury. The second film skirted this line between anti-colonialism and Chinese nationalism, with the British aristocrats rendered as grotesques of the nobility. Ip Man 3 also has a scoffing, snooty British caricature (he sounds like he should be tying women to railroad tracks while twirling his mustache), but the political stance is decidedly anti-colonial in a universal way. Ip Man even has a monologue in which he rails against oligarchs and plutocrats. If Mike Tyson was cast as a way of garnering attention for Ip Man from western audiences, this populist shift in Ip Man may signal an attempt to position him as a cinematic hero with a strong cultural identity but no borders in terms of an audience's ability to identify with him. If this is Yen's last full-on kung-fu film (there's still that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel to consider), he's ending his career with the movie series that catapulted him into leading man status. I got a sense he was passing the torch to Max Zhang. Zhang's 41 years old, but he makes a strong impression here as a performer and fighter, just as he did in The Grandmaster. (In another strange coincidence, Zhang also starred in SPL 2, the sequel to the 2005 movie (aka Kill Zone) that boosted Donnie Yen's star and signaled a kind of comeback for Hong Kong action films.) Zhang's character is a Wing Chun up-and-comer eyeing Ip Man, sizing him up, wondering if he's better as new blood. This had to be intentional, they had know what they were doing. Ip Man 3 might be my favorite film of the trilogy because of how knowing and assured it is, and because it understands the core of its main character so well. It's also a film that knows where it stands in terms of martial arts film history, and the same goes for Donnie Yen's filmography. Really, there's something rather Ip Man-like about Ip Man 3.
Review: Ip Man 3 photo
An Ip Man movie about Ip Man movies
It's weird to think that the first Ip Man came out in 2008. It seems so much longer than that. Since then, the series has spawned two sequels as well as plenty of other media about the eponymous real-life practitioner of...

Deadpool  photo
Deadpool

Deadpool banned in China over graphic violence


Jan 18
// Nick Valdez
Despite the numerous trailers, images, and impeding release date, I still can't believe Deadpool is a real film. It was talked about for years, Ryan Reynolds personally lobbied for it at every opportunity, and now it finally ...
Industry photo
Industry

Legendary is bought by China's Wanda for $3.5 billion


Prepare for a lot more China in movies
Jan 12
// Matthew Razak
It's a good time to be Legendary Entertainment. The studio is known for its genre films that started out small, but eventually led to things like the Dark Knight trilogy and Godzilla, but thanks to a spate of wise invest...
Chinese Star Wars trailer photo
Chinese Star Wars trailer

Chinese Force Awakens trailer has new footage (to make up for possibly racist movie poster)


Is this trailer giving too much away?
Dec 10
// Hubert Vigilla
In case you haven't realized it, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS COMES OUT NEXT WEEK! At least in most of the world. China has to wait until January 9th. To hype things up in China, they released a trailer for the film featuring...
Ip Man 3 teaser trailer photo
Ip Man 3 teaser trailer

The first teaser trailer for Ip Man 3 just punched you repeatedly in the face


Donnie Yen vs. Mike Tyson
Nov 13
// Hubert Vigilla
Here it is: a US teaser trailer for Ip Man 3, the latest installment in the badass wing chun series starring Donnie Yen. Despite the presence of Sammo Hung in Ip Man 2, the sequel was a step down in general quality from ...
Genisys photo
Genisys

Terminator: Genisys makes bank in China


China still cool
Aug 24
// Matthew Razak
Currently we can blame China for a lot of crappiness what with their destroying of the world economy in full swing at the moment. On top of this they're probably going to be responsible for a sequel to Terminator: Genisys&nbs...
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The estate of Bruce Lee doesn't want him in Ip Man 3


The CG Bruce Lee is now unlikely
Apr 02
// Hubert Vigilla
Just last week we reported that production on Ip Man 3 is underway, featuring Mike Tyson and a CG Bruce Lee. While Iron Mike is a lock, it seems that the Donnie Yen sequel has hit a snag with CG Bruce Lee (aka Marshall Law fr...
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Ip Man 3 will feature Mike Tyson and a CG Bruce Lee


So... will this Donnie Yen sequel be partial schlock or total schlock?
Mar 24
// Hubert Vigilla
Ip Man 3 (or Ip Man 3D) has been in the works for a while, but the Donnie Yen sequel started shooting today in Shanghai. With the start of production comes news of some really bizarre stunt casting. According to The Hollywood...
Outcast Trailer photo
Outcast Trailer

Nicolas Cage and Hayden Christensen are a match made in heaven in this Outcast trailer


Aug 22
// Nick Valdez
What do you get when you cross an actor who can't seem to say no, and an actor who can't afford to say no? You get Outcast, the absolutely insane looking film where Hayden Christensen teams up with a British accent spewing N...

NYAFF Review: Silent Witness

Jul 10 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218019:41674:0[/embed] Silent Witness (Quán Mín Mù Jī | 全民目擊)Director: Fei XingRating: NRCountry: China Courtroom dramas have always fascinated me. In any given crime, there is a single objective truth: the perpetrator committed the crime, or they didn't. It's a black and white reality that's mired by a whole lot of gray. Sometimes the crime was committed for legitimate reasons, ones that could allow the "criminal" to walk. Sometimes the real crime is hidden and some serious digging needs to be done. Most of the time, actual courtrooms are a whole lot less interesting than the ones you see in movies. But why would someone make a movie about a straightforward case? Silent Witness isn't a reflection of reality, straddling a line between the familiar and something ridiculous like the Phoenix Wright games (brilliantly adapted by Takashi Miike). In these stories, the police are basically useless, forcing the lawyers to go search out evidence in all manner of ways, going out on wild goose chases based on super-secret intel or even hunches. These aren't things an actual lawyer does, but they make for a far more interesting story. On trial is the daughter of the famous entrepreneur Lin Tai (Sun Honglei) for the murder of his girlfriend. Heading up the prosecution is Tong Tao (Aaron Kwok), a man who has been trying to convict Lin Tai for years. The defense is Zhou Li (Yu Nan), the most expensive lawyer in the country. It's a battle that plays out primarily on the public stage, and it's fascinating how it unfolds. Especially in the beginning, the film makes extensive use of a newsroom as a producer tries to create the most compelling TV drama he can. Choosing subjects and cameras from behind the scenes, he gives insight into how the media can manipulate a viewer's impressions of people and an event. It's a fitting metaphor, because everything in the trial is every bit as manipulated. Unclear motivations, misunderstands, and false evidence are about. Twists and turns come rapid-fire, and by the time everything becomes clear, it turns out that nobody is really who they seemed. The biases that everyone brought into the courtroom painted very specific pictures of the characters, but people are rarely so black-and-white. Fortunately, Silent Witness knows this, and everybody is given some nuance to clarify and even redeem them. And this gets to the part of the narrative that's uniquely Chinese. While much of the film could really take place anywhere in the world, the true reverence for family (and not just family values) is foreign. There is an extremely strong bond between Lin Tai and his daughter, and that bond drives everything in the film. It's kind of heartbreaking, really, but it all feels very natural and real. Bravo to the performances on all sides. As an interesting aside, actor Aaron Kwok is from Hong Kong, and his Mandarin is not particularly good. You'd never know it from watching Silent Witness, though, because he had someone read out the ~60,000 character script and put it onto a CD for him to listen to. He memorized the entire thing like a song, and then acted on top of that. It's a brilliant bit of theatre underlying the whole narrative. While I'm no expert on the intricacies of Chinese dialects, the shocked reactions from the crowd (which featured no small number of Chinese natives) when director Fei Xing mentioned it told me that Kwok pulled it off with aplomb. As I watched Silent Witness, I kept coming back to the idea of the mainstream. I wondered whether or not this sort of narrative could be popular in the US, and I still don't know the answer to that. Courtroom dramas make for good TV, but they rarely succeed on the big screen. If the film truly represents Chinese cinema, then that's a sign of a film market that has excellent potential to grow with all kinds of narratives. If Silent Witness can succeed in theaters side by side with juggernauts like the new Transformers film, then the industry is going to thrive. And that's a future I'm looking to.
Silent Witness Review photo
Ace Attorney
Before the screening of Silent Witness, it was introduced as an example of what mainstream Chinese filmmaking is like in the modern era. Many of the films that play at the New York Asian Film Festival fit into some sort of ni...


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