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Martial Arts

What if Lewis Tan played Danny Rand in Iron Fist instead of Finn Jones?

Mar 21 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221386:43470:0[/embed] We'd Get Far Better Fight Scenes Above is the Iron Fist fight scene that everyone's abuzz about. Lewis Tan is an actual martial artist. He's built like an athlete. He moves well. He looks comfortable throwing punches, kicking, and rolling around on the ground with a sense of purpose. By comparison, not once does Jones move like a martial artist. There's no rhythm or ease or fluidity. Jones moves like a guy fighting, not a fighter--big difference. The directors used a number of techniques to make up for Jones' shortcomings as a martial artist: odd camera angles, shaky cam, obscuring close ups and long shots, excessive cutting, fighting in shadows or bad lighting, fighting in a hoodie. Whenever I couldn't see Jones' face, I just assumed a stunt performer was doing the fighting for him. Watch the fight above again and notice how little you see Jones' face when complicated moves or reactions are required. (Also, who'd want to fight in a hoodie? That would cut off your peripheral vision.) Whenever Jones has to do the fights himself, he looks clumsy. He lacks the instinctual poise and physicality of a trained fighter. He doesn't even have the body awareness, confident footwork, or balance of a dancer. Had Lewis Tan been cast as Danny Rand, you wouldn't need to make up for a lack of martial arts skill. Tan would be able to perform fights and stunts at a high level. He'd collaborate with the fight choreographer and action director since he'd know what he's capable of doing as a martial artist. They might even go beyond drunken boxing and use animal styles, traditional weapons like jians and three-section staffs, or a good old-fashioned horse bench fight. (If there are two things I love, it's three-section staffs and a good old-fashioned horse bench fight.) [embed]221386:43471:0[/embed] Someone like Tan could radically transform the fight scenes in Iron Fist. Fights in the show currently feel like perfunctory spectacle. Instead, with a martial artist in the lead, we'd explore Danny Rand's character through action. He'd have an actual fighting style that's individual and idiosyncratic, something that Jones never develops in 13 episodes. Bruce Lee moves a certain way, Jet Li moves a certain way, Jackie Chan moves a certain way, Donnie Yen moves a certain way. Danny Rand, the world's greatest martial artist, should also have a character-defining physicality. It may also be a way to define K'un-L'un's martial culture and imply what its larger fighting philosophy might be. Tan doing the fights himself would change the way the fight scenes are shot. Camera angles and movements could be used with greater care rather than to obscure faces. Fight scenes could be edited with rhythm, and cuts would be defined by body movement and action. It's nice to have a hero who doesn't have to fight in a hoodie or in the dark so much. The fights may also be able to tell certain kinds of stories, with Danny not just overpowering his opponents but outsmarting them. Overall, I think the action in Iron Fist could potentially be on par with Daredevil. It would have its own flavor as well since the fighting in the show wouldn't be like any of the other Marvel shows. More than anything, Tan could make Iron Fist feel more like an actual martial arts series. Confronting Asian Stereotypes While I'm okay with Danny Rand as a white guy in theory, I'm also aware that he is an artifact of a time and an iteration of a well-worn trope. I'm also okay with Danny Rand as an Asian guy because that's far more interesting than what we got in the show. It's the 21st century, so maybe old versions of characters can be reinvented for their times and for a new medium while retaining the original spirit. By casting an Asian-American as Danny Rand, the show could explore issues of race, identity, Asian stereotypes, and orientalism. Even just optically or subtextually, these topics matter when it comes to the traditions and cultures involved. Finn Jones' constant meditating, doing origami, and spouting off fortune cookie mysticism is some unintentionally awful and unavoidable pseudo-yellowface dreck. It's not even quaintly bizarre appropriation like the Billy Jack movies; it's just uncomfortable. There are so many assumptions about Asian masculinity that can be explored through Danny Rand. Since we'd be dealing with an Asian-American character, that could lead to some exploration of different cultural expectations imposed on Danny by others. There's also the idea of an Asian in-between. Asians assimilate easily into American culture yet are simultaneously regarded as a racial/cultural Other. Or maybe the new version of Danny is half-Asian, which sets up another interesting racial dynamic. Ultimately an Asian-American Danny Rand would wind up playing with the idea of a return to a mother culture and how that affects personal notions of identity. In an interview with Vulture, Tan made a common yet astute observation about how Asian-Americans are viewed and view themselves: I think it would be really interesting to have that feeling of an outsider. There’s no more of an outsider than an Asian-American: We feel like outsiders in Asia and we feel like outsiders at home. That’s been really difficult--especially for me. It’s been hard for me, because in the casting world, it’s very specific. So when they see me and I’m six-two, I’m a 180 pounds, I’m a muscular half-Asian dude. They’re like, “Well, I don’t know what to do with this guy.” They’re like, “He’s not Asian, he’s not white... no.” That’s what I’ve been dealing with my whole life. So I understand those frustrations of being an outsider. (As an aside, I think Jordan Peele's Get Out offered a brief but memorable exploration of this Asian in-between state during the backyard party scene.) In addition to the above, the relationship between Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) and Danny Rand would feel much different. Maybe it's just me, but there's something about Jones as Danny that makes me think of guys who fetishize Asian culture (and especially Asian women) to an unhealthy degree. Maybe it's also the quality of Jones' performance--it's awfully patrician and leering instead of being flirty. The issues may be obviated with an Asian lead, or maybe these issues can become part of a more explicit exploration of racial fetishism. Representation in the Media On the note of Colleen Wing, I can't help but think of how cool it would be for a high-profile series to feature two Asians of mixed descent as leads. Admittedly, part of this stems from being an uncle now. I wonder how my niece might see some aspect of her identity reflected in pop culture. I suppose one day there may be a show about a half-white Jewish Filipina that will mirror my niece's own upbringing. When that happens, we'll probably have flying cars and be living in a post-scarcity utopia. Let's hope we get there. In all seriousness, I wonder who my niece's role models might be. I also wonder what people may think of my niece based on appearance alone. And that's why representation matters. More people and more voices and more experiences means more stories that we may not have heard and should hear. These narratives are machines for developing empathy and mutual understanding. In the case of Iron Fist, this machine also happens to hit bad guys in the face. (Woody Guthrie used to write that on his guitar until he thought of a punchier phrase.) There's something to be said about a show starring Asians just affirming the Asian martial arts stereotypes of the past. But that might be a lazy hot-take version of a bigger and more important conversation about old cultural ideas. Casting two Asian leads might be a chance to help deconstruct those antiquated notions about Asians whether they're the product of the 19th century, pulp fiction, or John Hughes movies. One show can't do it alone, so in an ideal scenario it will be one of many steps in the ongoing conversation of actual culture and how it's depicted in pop culture, and how both are these constructs in flux. The yellow menace can be inverted and undone, and ditto the sage-like magical Asian or the nerdy Asian math-god. I mean, come on, it kind of worked in The Last Dragon, all right? The Show Still Would Have Sucked Because of the Writing To paraphrase the bard of the squared circle Stone Cold Steve Austin, it's hard to make chicken salad out of chicken shit. With the current writers and producers, Iron Fist was going to suck no matter what. Even with a solid martial artist in the lead, it's hard to make a compelling character out of Danny Rand as written. He'd still be selfish and entitled. He'd still suck at everything. He'd still be prone to temper tantrums and amateur-hour decisions that wind up hurting people around him. I called him Anakin Skywalker with erectile dysfunction in the review because that's precisely how he comes across--a bratty crybaby whose rage gets in the way of his potential. Who wants to watch a frightened, confused jaboni as a hero? What's more, Iron Fist would still be rife with poor pacing and inert scenes. We'd still have to sit through conversations in corporate boardrooms, waiting for the delightful reprieve of someone philosophically punching bad guys in the face. To be honest, the Iron Fist fiasco makes me feel bad for Finn Jones. Even though he was on Game of Thrones, this was supposed to be his potential big break. It's been roundly panned, and he's taken the brunt of the criticism since he's the lead and has been inartfully defending an indefensible show during his press tour. This role has undermined whatever talents Jones may have. Now, he seems like the latest Blandy McBlanderson: an anodyne, interchangeable white male lead. Showrunner Scott Buck deserves a lot of the blame for the show's critical drubbing, and the same goes for the writers of Iron Fist. There's a fundamentally poor grasp of storytelling that goes beyond issues of representation and the problematic tropes of the past. Iron Fist is a martial arts show that doesn't give a crap about the martial arts. It's a crummy commercial for The Defenders, and it feels like it. Buck--who is credited with ruining the show Dexter in its closing seasons--is also the showrunner of Inhumans. If Iron Fist is any indication of how Scott Buck handles superheroes, I can't wait to watch Medusa and Karnak go over the finer points of purchasing supplemental insurance. Black Bolt will destroy a city with a whine. This is just a bigger indictment of the cynicism behind Iron Fist, a 13-hour set-up show for the next Netflix/Marvel product that fanboys and fangirls will watch anyway even if it's garbage. The writers and producers relied on old tropes and old approaches thinking they're sufficient, assuming people wouldn't be able to tell the difference between chicken shit and chicken salad. The billionaire playboy who travels to the far east is played out and needs to be put to rest. We need new kinds of stories, and there are plenty of voices out there waiting for a chance to be heard. There are also many unfamiliar faces we should be seeing. Had Lewis Tan been cast as the lead in the current version of Iron Fist, he'd be anchored to Danny Rand the bratty milksop, the least heroic and least interesting character in his own show. What a waste of potential, but man, what a resume builder.
Lewis Tan: Iron Fist? photo
Missed opportunity by Marvel/Netflix?
The first season of Iron Fist was the worst kind of disaster--a boring disaster. At least half of the season was devoted to a corporate takeover plot. Iron Fist features more scenes in corner offices and conference rooms than...

Review: Iron Fist (Season 1)

Mar 20 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221385:43469:0[/embed] Iron Fist (Season 1)Director: VariousRating: TV-MARelease Date: March 17, 2017 (Netflix) Everyone thought Danny Rand died with his parents in a plane crash 15 years ago, but he really survived and learned martial arts in a magic Himalayan city called K'un-L'un. He shows up barefoot in New York at his family's building, spouting off fortune cookie mysticism like a low-rent Billy Jack. This kicks off a protracted battle for control of the company rooted in childhood bullying and soap opera-style family resentments, which is just what fans of the character wanted to see, obviously. The pilot episode is so dully inert. with Rand trying to assert his identity while former childhood friends Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey) and Joy Meachum (Jessica Stroup) find different ways of say, "Nuh-uh, no you're not." Riveting. There's one slow, klutzy, 30-second fight in the episode with security guards. There is also a wise, disposable homeless supporting character who dies of a heroin overdose, seeding another season-long plot point. Iron Fist is a character who got his superpowers by punching a dragon in the chest, yet the show is treated with the aggravating seriousness of a prestige cable drama. The only saving grace of the plodding business drama stuff is Harold Meachum (David Wenham), the father of Ward and Joy who lives in hiding after faking his own death. Wenham is so invested in his character's giddy evil, and he oozes the charisma that's lacking in Jones as a lead. I can't blame Jones entirely for being so unintersting. He's not a good actor, but the writers give him nothing to work with. The second episode of Iron First takes place in a mental hospital, with Danny strapped to a bed most of the time. Beds are what I think about when I think of martial arts. Even a pseudo-tournament episode directed by the RZA feels static: Iron Fist ascends each level of a building fighting characters who have more personality than him. A skirmish in a later episode with a drunken-style fighter made me realize yet again how awful Danny is on so many levels. Iron Fist has feet of clay and a brain of rock. When he's not making the dumbest or wrongest decision, he's pilloried with self-doubt. His scowling facial expressions hint at tears on the verge. He's often so flummoxed with anger that he can't use his magic fist to punch things really hard. Danny Rand is Anakin Skywalker with erectile dysfunction. But yes, the fights. Oh god, the fights. Good fights tell stories. A character's fighting style reveals something about who they are inside, like some external manifestation of the self. They may have a signature move (Ric Fair's figure four leglock) or a unique weapon (Captain America's shield) or a personal fighting style (Ip Man's wing chun) that differentiates them from others. The primary characters in Iron Fist fight the same way--slow, clumsily, like actors in a martial arts show rather than martial artists. Their movements vary only superficially, and there is nothing dynamic or unique about the fights that pepper the series. Danny essentially fights just like fellow martial artist Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) even though she uses a sword and they have entirely different martial arts backgrounds. The fights of Iron Fist all look like glacial, inartful brawls. Seasoned fighters are turned into mere goons. I expected more from a martial arts show, namely decent martial arts. The fights of Daredevil put this show to shame; ditto the action in Arrow and Into the Badlands and even every iteration of Power Rangers. The camera angles obscure movement in the frame, the shots are banal and shaky, and there are so many confusing cuts that interrupt the flow of the action to the point of incoherence. It's amateur hour in the dojo and the editing bay. What's more, the fights all feel so perfunctory, or even like a chore, as if the writers thought, "A fight scene? Aww, do we have to? I really wanted to get into that class action lawsuit subplot." We're told that the Danny Rand is the world's greatest martial artist, but he fights like a guy who took karate at the Y two summers ago. Why does a security guard with a knife give this guy so much trouble? The person Danny dispenses of the fastest in the entire show is a teenager he hits in the ankle with a shinai. He wasn't expecting it either (sucker shinai?) and Danny preceded his assault by verbally berating the dojo for not taking martial arts seriously. Some hero, right? Hell, Danny doesn't even take off his shoes when he's in the dojo. Didn't they teach you anything in K'un-L'un, buddy? I'm pretty sure they at least took off their shoes at the Cobra Kai dojo. A great martial artist and he has the emotional intelligence of a bratty 10 year old and the balance of a newborn fawn. Later episodes of the show seem to break the fourth wall and acknowledge that Danny is a really crummy character. While he's trying to rescue a person being held captive, Danny's scuffle with a goon leads to said captive getting stabbed in the chest. What a hero. After watching him fight, one character even says, "Wow, you really are the worst Iron Fist ever." The final scene of season one even has Danny tacitly acknowledge that yes, he really does suck at everything, doesn't he? Danny Rand's bumbling heroism makes Colleen Wing that much more compelling as the show's secret protagonist. She's a poor martial arts instructor who helps her students make smart, moral choices while she's struggling to make ends meet. She compromises principles, she shows generosity to others, she learns and grows from her mistakes. Henwick does what she can with the script, and she has enough presence to carry the scenes she's in amiably. I found myself grateful for every Colleen Wing scene--finally a character to care about (other than David Wenham's Evil Faramir). There's so much at stake for Colleen, and she has so much potential to carry a show on her own, but she's relegated to supporting status. Danny Rand is Jack Burton to Colleen Wing's Wang Chi, but in a boring version of Big Trouble in Little China that's mostly about the intricacies of the commercial trucking industry. "Have you paid your dues? Well, let me explain the importance of unionization in a field such as ours over a power lunch." By the way, we never see Iron Fist punch the dragon in the chest. We don't even see the dragon and we barely get a look at K'un-L'un. This was probably due to budgetary constraints. Everything about Iron Fist looks laughably cheap. I didn't touch on the issue of cultural appropriation or orientalism in this review, which is oddly the least of the show's problems. I'm actually okay in theory with Danny Rand being white so long as the show was interesting. The show is not interesting. You don't even need to watch it to understand what will happen in Netflix's The Defenders. That sort of completism is for rubes. Just read about the set up online. There'll be more illumination in three or four sentences than there is in 13 hours of dreck with a weaksauce ending. The story in your head will probably be better anyways. There's so much you can do in life with 13 precious, precious hours. Don't make the mistake of watching Iron Fist.
Iron Fist (Season 1) photo
Booooooooooooooring
Iron Fist is such a tremendous failure on so many levels that it's fascinating to dissect. It's not fascinating to watch, however. The latest Marvel series on Netflix is a 13-hour bore that's 15% martial arts show and 85% boa...

How To Do It: The Matrix Rebooted

Mar 16 // Hubert Vigilla
1. Treat the new Matrix as part of continuity When Neo meets The Architect in The Matrix Reloaded, we learn a lot about how the system works and how it sustains itself. The current version of the Matrix is just the sixth version in a line of reality-simulating self-regulating programs, each designed to account for the complexities caused by human free will. The choice Neo makes will determine whether or not the human race survives. Certain programs carry over from each version of the Matrix even if each iteration is a new one--Seraph was apparently a former Agent in an earlier version of the Matrix; The Merovingian harbors obsolete programs; The Oracle, as a guide for The One, is sort of like the Clippy of the Matrix. Choice creates a series of forking paths in every iteration of the Matrix, all headed toward the inevitability of The One and the necessity of a reboot to eliminate The One from the system. Then a new version, and a new One, and so on. This offers a diegetic reason for a new Matrix to exist: it's built into the program, it's part of the way the world works. This also provides an interesting exploration of free will and agency viewed from a human perspective (uncertainty regarding outcomes) versus an analytical/machine perspective (contingent branches on a decision tree). There's another story element this in-continuity Matrix reboot offers, though I'll get to it at the end. 2. Pick the Wachowskis' brains The Wachowskis are the parents of this story, and while they may not have to give their blessing for the project, it would be great for someone to pick their brains about the Matrix. Was there anything they wished they could have done? Are there things they would have done differently in hindsight? What lore had they created for their world that they never talked about? There's probably a lot of unexplored material to consider. Come to think of it, there might even be too much to talk about. When the two Matrix sequels came out, a bunch of supplemental material got released between 2003 and 2005. There was The Animatrix (a collection of animated shorts), Enter the Matrix (a video game), The Matrix Comics, and The Matrix Online (an MMORPG). Some of this may have been crass merchandising--let's milk this cyberpunk, anime, Hong Kong action movie cow until it bleeds--but I also sense that there was a much bigger story the Wachowskis wanted to tell but never finished. Once again, I tie this back into the diegetic idea of the Matrix reboot just being the latest version of Matrix. Going to the architects of the original Matrix might improve the newest version of the program. 3. The Matrix > Zion and the real world Some of the weakest material in the Matrix sequels took place in the real world. Zion was a dingy, rusty place with steam, corridors, walkways, Cornel West, vanilla sex, and boring raves. The war against the machines wasn't all that fun either. Shoot them or use an electromagnetic pulse. Behold--boring, expensive naval combat. I remember the sickly green world of the Matrix better than the state college dorm of Zion. For the new Matrix, there may be a way to engage the real world without it seeming so banal. Perhaps it's a matter of increasing the stakes. Extinction level events are big, sure, but what matters in the abstract and what we form an emotional link to are different matters. The latter requires some concrete connection to people and places. What makes Zion worth caring for really? What makes a place a home? A place is not innately meaningful. And to that, did anyone get attached to the new characters fighting in Zion? They were mostly a bunch of Blandy McBlandersons doing action-things without emotional content. That brings me to the next point... 4. Stick with a core group of characters with well-defined supporting players The cast of supporting characters ballooned in The Matrix Reloaded. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but unfortunately most of the new characters were forgettable. Did Niobe, Link, or Commander Lock add much to the story? Ditto that annoying kid in the giant mechanoid robot suit? Their screen time may have expanded the world of the movie, but they often sucked the air out of film's story since their actions were rarely significant to the plot. (The blunt difference between world building and storytelling.) Rather than putting your setpieces on the shoulders of bland supporting characters (e.g., the annoying kid in the defense of Zion in The Matrix Revolutions), keep the focus on a core group of well-defined characters. Why wasn't Morpheus manning a mech alongside Niobe during Zion's last stand? Come to think of it, what defines Niobe as a character other than the fact she's played by Jada Pinkett Smith? If supporting players are involved, give them personality rather than assign them a plot-based function. I still find it telling that the Nebuchadnezzar crew in the original Matrix has more personality than 95% of the supporting players in the two Matrix sequels. 5. Update the aesthetic to avoid the late 90s/early 2000s Let's come back to the diegetic notion of a new Matrix program rebooted for the umpteenth time. If the old Matrix was defined by the aesthetic of the late 90s and early 2000s, we can chock that up to a quirk of programming. (Obviously this is a paradoxical symptom of the era that birthed the first movie. Nearly every attempt to make something look futuristic winds up looking, in retrospect, like a product of its time. Why is it that conscious attempts to fuse the future with the past a la Blade Runner still look futuristic enough?) The new Matrix should depict a contemporary era's vision of the future rather than recapture the look of the millennial cusp. This goes for the manner of dress, the in-story technology, and the score (imagine how quaintly goofy a techno-classical hybrid soundtrack might sound today). And since the original Matrix drew on a hodgepodge of influences that were so 90s, the new Matrix can draw on things that define the 2010s in some way. Maybe the fighting style changes from the kung fu of 80s Hong Kong action movies to the faster, more functional striking and grappling of MMA. Maybe the G-men-like Agents become Slender Men and more menacing as a result. Are the rebels into post-rock or hip-hop? And how will smartphones and tablets figure into all of this? Ditto apps and the cloud. There's a lot to consider here, and I don't want to just list pop culture detritus for the new film. Those things will be carefully picked by the filmmakers, who will hopefully do more than show us shiny, fight-y, special effects-y things. 6. Find writers and directors with something to say A lot of reboots and remakes suck because they don't say anything. Instead they're selling empty nostalgia using a name you may remember. Yet there are solid remakes (David Cronenberg's The Fly) and reboots (Christopher Nolan's Batman movies) and soft sequels (Ryan Coogler's Creed), each of which does something new with familiar material. There's a sensibility behind the name, a human intelligence behind the IP. There are probably some filmmakers or writers out there who were influenced by The Matrix. Maybe The Matrix was their gateway drug into other aspects of geek culture. They might have a personal story they want to tell, and The Matrix may be the right vessel to tell it. It may be political, too--something about resistance and rebellion feels right these days. A recent report said that Warner Bros. is trying to get a writing room together for the Matrix reboot, sort of like how they write TV. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. A guiding hand can steer the writing room into an interesting direction. Multiple ideas from solid writers can bounce off each other and synthesize and create better ideas. (I'm skeptical--and why shouldn't I be?--that Warner Bros. actually wants to make something that says anything. A writer room assembled by a studio reeks of film-by-committee-by-market-research.) 7. Avoid repeating the story beats of the original Matrix films Most reboots and remakes fail because they slavishly repeat the plot of the original film without offering anything original of their own. Even though I sort of liked the Ghostbusters reboot, the weakest material in the movie was anything that reminded me of the original Ghostbusters. Why would I watch a reboot if it's a pale imitation of the original? (That also applies to Ghostbusters 2.) For another example of this, think of Bryan Singer's Superman Returns, which is a joyless, beat-by-beat recreation of the plot from Richard Donner's Superman. (Superman Returns is the Ghostbusters 2 of superhero movies.) There'll be a temptation to redo the red pill/blue pill scene. The same goes for Neo's first jump and cartoon fall. And the new filmmakers will probably want to do their own rendition of the lobby scene. The occasional nod to the past is okay, but why do the same thing again? Why not do something new? I suppose blank canvases are more intimidating than tracing paper, and the potential of an incomplete line is more stultifying than connect the dots. To put it another way, if you're going to cover a song, do it like Devo did "Satisfaction" or Johnny Cash did "Hurt". Someone has to make this material their own rather than just repeating the mistakes and successes of the past. There the line from Jose Lezama Lima quoted in Julio Cortazar's Hopscotch: "Let us try to invent new passions, or to reproduce the old ones with a like intensity." Yeah, do that. 8. E pluribus unum (Out of many, one) I mentioned there's another story element about keeping the Matrix reboot in continuity with the original trilogy. Here are preliminary thoughts on that, and the point where simple suggestions in approach veer into the realm of Matrix fan fiction. Say there's a new Neo in a new iteration of the Matrix. Neo is the latest in a line of Ones from previous versions of the Matrix, each of them an anomaly eventually accounted for and zeroed out to restart the system. What if the new Neo could access the old versions of the Matrix and see how they played out? Maybe they're archived even though the system has run its course. What if the new Neo could somehow learn from previous Ones? Maybe the Ones are iterations of a monomythic subprogram that eventually results in a prototypical, archetypal, chosen-one hero who follows the mechanical beats of narrative heroism to ensure the Matrix can eventually reboot. The monomythic subprogram comes from an AI's analysis of heroic legends from past human cultures. What if the way to beat this self-perpetuating system is to break the monomythic structure? To crap on the Hero's Journey? To intentionally subvert the heroic narrative and create a new kind of heroism? This is a larger meta narrative that's simultaneously diegetic. The Matrix Rebooted is about the nature of reboots, and also about the nature of narrative repetition, how it's a valuable part of our history and yet how it's essentially mechanical at this point and may require some sort of reinvention to be relevant rather than just comforting. We can choose to be heroes otherwise--we can invent our own heroism and a new morality. Neo is the hero gone rogue artist, the sort of person who comes away from a class on Nietzsche but isn't a total douchebag about it. Maybe the new Neo recruits an army of Ones from the archives to battle in the system like a bunch of cyberpunk Supermen, or perhaps Neo figures out a way to blow up the system through intentional acts of narrative terrorism. Maybe Neo turns everyone into the One by helping people see patterns in their own lives that tap into the monomythic subprogram. (This all sounds a little like a Grant Morrison comic book, sure, but the Wachowskis borrowed heavily from The Invisibles, so screw it.) Maybe Clippy the Oracle can help in all this. "It looks like you're subverting the Hero's Journey. Would you like help?" Yes, Clippy. Let's kung fu the hell out of traditional storytelling.
Matrix Reboot photo
I know reboot fu
The other night we learned that Warner Bros. is developing a reboot of The Matrix, with an interest in Michael B. Jodan as the lead. Zak Penn has been tapped to write the treatment for the reboot, but nothing else is solid at...

Donnie Yen Sleeping Dogs photo
Donnie Yen Sleeping Dogs

Donnie Yen will star in a Sleeping Dogs adaptation, probably punch things really fast


The American Donnie Yenaissance
Mar 03
// Hubert Vigilla
Donnie Yen stole the show in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and was featured prominently in the promos for xXx: Return of Xander Cage. At 53 years old, Yen may be on the verge of a well-deserved Hollywood breakthrough. It may c...

The Raid (U.S.) photo
The Raid (U.S.)

The Raid remake rides again with Joe Carnahan and Frank Grillo


Make The Raid great again
Feb 15
// Matthew Razak
We happen to be massive fans of Gareth Evans films The Raid and The Raid 2: Berandal. This is mostly because he is possibly the best action director working and because they are some of the best action movies ever. So yo...
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...
Jailbreak trailer photo
Jailbreak trailer

Trailer for Cambodian martial arts movie Jailbreak looks like furious fun


This trailer needs a Thin Lizzy song
Jan 06
// Hubert Vigilla
My taste is eclectic, but I am, at heart, a simple man. Sometimes I want a long Hungarian art movie, or an oblique sci-fi existential meditation on trauma and pigs, or a reassuring week in the life of a working artist. Other ...
Moooortal Kombaaaaaat! photo
Moooortal Kombaaaaaat!

Honest Trailers does a fatality on the Mortal Kombat movies


Toasty!
Dec 23
// Hubert Vigilla
Honest Trailers has been doing some gangbusters videos lately, going hard on Suicide Squad and showing the love for The Empire Strikes Back. They're back to being mocking with Mortal Kombat, just in time for Christmas. Mortal...
Steven Seagal? photo
Steven Seagal?

Video essay: Why was Steven Seagal such a big deal back in the day?


Explaining the era of peak Seagal
Dec 01
// Hubert Vigilla
One day, when society lays in waste and all that is left are the ruins of our great works, another civilization--perhaps from another planet--will sort through our cultural dross and ask an important question: "Why was Steven...

Review: Doctor Strange

Nov 02 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221002:43178:0[/embed] Doctor StrangeDirector: Scott DerricksonRating: PG-13Release Date: October 25, 2016 (UK); November 4, 2016 (US) There's a philosophical template to many martial arts stories: an arrogant, inherently talented person becomes an unruly disciple to wise master, trains in a martial art, confronts their weaknesses (typically the ego), and unlocks their better self through discipline and mastery. Many times the student will surpass their master through an act of invention--combining or creating fighting styles, for instance, constructing a new weapon, or some higher-level use of the imagination. Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch doing his Benedict Cumberbatch shtick) starts the movie as a hotshot neurosurgeon who's fame-obsessed and failure-averse. A near-fatal car accident causes severe nerve damage to his hands. He's got the shakes now. That's the end his lucrative career. Strange hears rumors of a monastery in Nepal that may be able to heal him. He travels to the east where he gets thrown into a world of sorcery, one at war with a former student named Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen). Like most Marvel villains, Kaecilius is sort of a non-entity--just a bad guy doing bad guy things. Tilda Swinton plays The Ancient One, the master of the monastery who teaches Strange the ways of sorcery and opens his eyes to the world and its possibility. Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) offers an assist as a trainer, emphasizing strength and force. The only top-billed Asian actor is Benedict Wong who plays the stoic keeper of the arcane library. There's been a lot written in the last few months about the whitewashing of The Ancient One. I also foresee a lot of thinkpieces about cultural appropriation given how much of the movie feels like a kung fu film. I wasn't bothered by any of this, but everyone's mileage varies. There's enough that works in the film for me, and I think Swinton's air of otherworldliness and oddness fits with her character. When Doctor Strange is at its best, it's a fast-paced martial arts adventure that fills the screen with Escheresque imagery. Some moments have the vertiginous feel of Christopher Nolan's Inception or the finale of Interstellar, and others remind me a little of Alex Proyas' Dark City. There's an exhilirating chase through New York City streets in flux, where buildings and roads become a maddened, tilting, shifting clockwork world. When not spinning mandalas and fractals on screen, Doctor Strange recreates the blacklight psychedelia of Steve Ditko's comic book art. Director Scott Derrickson gives Doctor Strange its own visual grammar to differentiate it from the rest of the MCU. The film even finds a cool way of marrying the martial arts, the somatic components of spells, and the way magic manifests itself on screen. Unfortunately, Doctor Strange is a martial arts movie with badly shot fight scenes. The magic battles and traditional action is competent, allowing viewers to follow the actors on screen as the mirror-like gears of reality spin around them. Yet aside from one satisfying and inventive battle of astral projected forms (!), the fights are shot close up and with shaky cam, obscuring the choreography. It's a waste of Scott Adkins, who plays one of Kaecilius' goons. For all the philosophical lessons taken from Shaw Brothers movies, Doctor Strange ignores the practical lessons of quintessential Shaw Brothers directors Chang Cheh and Lau Kar-Leung. Derrickson could have easily pulled his camera back, kept it steady, and allowed the performer's in-camera movements and rhythms to define his shots and the editing. Characters in martial arts movies communicate who they are through their fighting style, and so action filmmakers should allow their characters to describe themselves in combat. And of course there's a not-too-good romance subplot between Strange and Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). It's there, it's not particularly engaging, and it's short enough. McAdams isn't given much to do, and there's not much reason to feel anything between Chrinstine and Strange. What is it about perfunctory love in movies? Does six minutes of a sketched romance really matter much? Platonic on-screen relationships are more satisfying than a forced romance, and they tend to be more dynamic. Stop trying to make romance subplots happen--it's not going to happen. Strange, The Ancient One, and Kacelius are so obsessed with time, its limits, and how it can be used. It drives their search for power. And on that note I felt like Doctor Strange could have benefited from an additional 10 minutes. (Maybe they could have shaved off some of that love stuff.) So much of this world is built up and breezed through that there's little time to breathe it in and appreciate what's there. Perhaps they wanted to keep the movie just under two hours, and yet that 10 minutes of breathing room could have opened things up a bit more. There's a major action sequence before the film's finale that occurs off-camera, which was a wasted opportunity for a classic martial arts set piece. Then again, given how they filmed the rest of the fight scenes, maybe it's for the best. There's a surprisingly good breather in the film between The Ancient One and Strange. The Ancient One ruminates as Strange listens, and the world around them achieves a gorgeous stillness. It's an unexpectedly thoughtful moment in the movie, thematically tied to characters and the overarching story and yet its own thing. Punching robots is fine, I guess, but I wouldn't mind more movies like Doctor Strange in the MCU. Good tea.
Review: Doctor Strange photo
Whoa--I know magic fu!
My favorite movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far have been the ones that don't feel like standard-issue superhero movies. The Avengers was basic, and Avengers: Age of Ultron was a bigger, dumber, basic-er redux of t...

Fruit Ninja photo
Fruit Ninja

New Line Cinema will release Fruit Ninja film, first plot details revealed


Drain your brain batteries
Sep 25
// Hubert Vigilla
As we previously reported, there is a film adaptation of Fruit Ninja in the works because money. The film rights have been picked up by New Line Cinema because produce and money, too. In the brief Hollywood Reporter piece on ...
Birth of the Dragon photo
Birth of the Dragon

Trailer: A fictionalized Bruce Lee fights hard in Birth of the Dragon


Kick, punch, it's all in your mind
Sep 19
// Hubert Vigilla
Martial arts movies have a long history of fictionalizing real-life people. It's happened countless times with Wong Fei-hung, who's been portrayed on film by Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and Sammo Hung, among others. There's also Sha...
Headshot trailer photo
Headshot trailer

The Raid's Iko Uwais beats the hell out of jabronis in this trailer for Headshot


BOOM! Headshot
Sep 07
// Hubert Vigilla
The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2: Berandal opened things up for director Gareth Evans and star Iwo Uwais. Uwais is back in action for Headshot, a film co-directed by Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto. If Tjahjanto's name lo...
Shanghai Noon 3 photo
Shanghai Noon 3

Jackie Chan & Owen Wilson reteam for Shanghai Noon sequel by Napoleon Dynamite director


GOSH!
Sep 06
// Hubert Vigilla
In unexpected news, Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson are in talks to star in a second sequel to their 2000 western buddy comedy Shanghai Noon. The film will be directed by Jared Hess, best known for Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Lib...
Honorary Oscars photo
Honorary Oscars

Jackie Chan and Frederick Wiseman will receive honorary Oscars


They should co-star in a buddy cop movie
Sep 01
// Hubert Vigilla
Action icon Jackie Chan and influential documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman (Titticut Follies, High School) will both receive honorary Oscars from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Honorary Oscars will also...

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 ...

Shinobu movie photo
Shinobu movie

Sega's Shinobi will get the cinematic treatment because ninjas = money


Other Sega titles also being considered
Apr 30
// Hubert Vigilla
The 1980s were a boom period for being a ninja. There were tons of ninja movies, loads of ninja games, and almost everywhere you went, people were going to college to major in Ninjutsu. (Full disclosure: I majored in Philosop...

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...

Rush Hour TV trailer photo
Rush Hour TV trailer

Rush Hour TV series trailer reminds me how much I liked Martial Law with Sammo Hung


What's Cantonese for "shark sandwich"?
Jan 13
// Hubert Vigilla
The three Rush Hour films starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker earned more than $849 million worldwide. The trilogy combined some pretty solid action and the odd couple/buddy cop formula. So why not try to turn that into TV ...
El Rey Way of the Turkey photo
El Rey Way of the Turkey

El Rey Network has a 72-hour kung-fu movie marathon for Thanksgiving weekend


2nd Annual Way of the Turkey
Nov 13
// Hubert Vigilla
As the resident kung fu movie dork at Flixist, it pleases me to announce that you can spend your Thanksgiving weekend watching 72 hours of kung fu movies. This is what the pilgrims crossed the ocean for, guys. The El Rey Netw...
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 ...
Donnie Yen in Star Wars photo
Star Wars just got a little more badass
Prepare to sing the Ewok celebration song, folks: Donnie Yen will appear in Star Wars: Episode VIII and possibly Star Wars: Rogue One. Reports suggest Yen, who completed Ip Man 3 with Mike Tyson not too long ago (though ...

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Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson will reteam for Shanghai Dawn


I don't know karate, but I know ka-razy
May 15
// Hubert Vigilla
As Coming Soon noted yesterday, MGM is finally moving forward with Shanghai Dawn, the sequel to Jackie Chan/Owen Wilson films Shanghai Noon (2000) and Shanghai Knights (2003). As Flixist EIC Matthew Razak said in our staff em...
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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...
Kung Fu Fest NYC photo
Kung Fu Fest NYC

NYC's Old School Kung Fu Fest 2015 has so many ninjas


You don't even know
Mar 24
// Alec Kubas-Meyer
The folks over at Subway Cinema head up the annual New York Asian Film Festival, my favorite of all the year's festivals, and I'm always excited to see what else they cook up. Last month, we brought news of their efforts to f...
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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...

The Cult Club: The Last Dragon (1985)

Mar 23 // Hubert Vigilla
The Last Dragon begins at the end of our hero Bruce Leroy's (Taimak) primary martial arts training. His name's really Leroy Green, but he's such a Bruce Lee wannabe that people call him Bruce Leroy. His teacher sends him on a quest to find Master Sum Dum Goy in order to achieve the golden glow, a kind of spiritual martial arts perfection that allows a true master to generate light from his or her body (i.e., going Super Saiyan). During this quest, Bruce Leroy is challenged to a duel by the hulking Sho'Nuff (Julius J. Carry III) and winds up embroiled in a kidnapping/music video extortion scheme involving TV host Laura Charles (Vanity) and Napoleonic arcade tycoon Eddie Arkadian (Chris Murney). Though Bruce Leroy goes on his quest alone, there's a Wizard of Oz vibe in his journey for Sum Dum Goy, making The Last Dragon the second NYC-based Wizard of Oz movie I can think of (the other is The Wiz). It makes the New York of the film a kind of fantasy setting, one that features roving gangs of costumed goons like Sho'Nuff and his posse (who wouldn't be out of place in The Warriors), and jive-talking Chinese dudes at a fortune cookie factory who, like Bruce Leroy, simultaneously subvert ideas of black and Asian identity (more on that later). The coming-of-age angle in The Last Dragon is equally fascinating. Despite his skill as a martial artist, Bruce Leroy is basically a socially inept nerd. He's spent his life dedicated to a niche interest, so much that he doesn't have an identity outside of Bruce Lee idolatry. You get the sense that he's lived entirely in his own head with little social interaction outside of his family and the dojo. When he meets Laura Charles and begins to have feelings for her, delayed puberty hits him like a spinning back kick to the gonads. (This is what David Cronenberg described in his audio commentary for The Fly as "the sexual awakening of a nerd.") Bruce Leroy's younger brother, Richie (Leo O'Brien), is more than happy to oblige his older brother with some birds-and-bees talk, which is another one of the film's switcheroos when it comes to character expectations and outward appearances. The primary narrative scaffolding for The Last Dragon is the arc of classic kung fu movies. There are the outward nods, of course, like Bruce Leroy in a the yellow Game of Death tracksuit or Sho'Nuff's red glowing hands a la King Boxer/Five Fingers of Death by director Chung Chang-Wha. (Both the Game of Death tracksuit and a sound cue from King Boxer/Five Fingers of Death would make appearances in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films.) But the structure of the kung fu movie is more important than the garnish. A lot of kung fu narratives, broadly, depict a hero on some kind of journey, a refusal or failure to meet a specific challenge, the escalating repercussions of this failure, a recognition of one's own faults (sometimes in the face of imminent defeat), and an act of problem solving that leads to triumph. The ultimate victory is the problem-solving moment, like when Jackie Chan gives up being macho and learns to love the feminine form of drunken boxing in the original Drunken Master, or when Bruce Lee metaphorically destroys his own ego in the hall of mirrors in Enter the Dragon, or when Gordon Liu creates a new weapon and wants to go beyond the 35th chamber in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. Bruce Leroy's problem-solving moment is also the culmination of the Wizard of Oz fairy tale and the coming-of-age story: Bruce Leroy's got to grow up and be Leroy Green, his own man, forging his own identity unique from Bruce Lee, becoming his own master just like the heroes in kung fu films, and finally participating in the world outside. Bruce Leroy's journey is so internal, which makes Sho'Nuff the perfect villain for the film. Calling himself The Shogun of Harlem, Sho'Nuff is martial arts badassery externalized with no philosophical grounding. For Sho'Nuff, martial arts is a way to do things, but not a way of life that invites self-reflection or self-discovery. That tends to be a distinguishing characteristic of lots of martial arts villains, whether it's a heavy played by Hwang Jang Lee or those goons from The Cobra Kai. They're proficient in a fighting style, but limited by the idea of the style as an end in itself (i.e., "My tiger claw can beat your snake fist technique!" Nevermind that the hero has one-upped the baddie by combining snake style and crane style by the end). The Bruce Leroy/Sho'Nuff difference is made all the more apparent in the casting. Taimak is a real martial artist, and according to Wikipedia has black belts in in Karate, Jeet Kune Do, Wing Chun, Hapkido, Jujutsu, and Tae Kwon Do. Carry, by contrast, had no martial arts background at all, but damn if he doesn't look like a supreme bad ass. (Carry even looked awesome as Lord Bowler, a supporting character in the Bruce Campbell vehicle The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., which aired for a single 27-episode season on Fox in the early 90s.) The most external part of Bruce Leroy's character calls attention to racial stereotypes and cultural identity, which even today seems pretty novel. Here's a young African-American man who lives in Harlem in the 80s, but he dresses like a coolie and speaks in a measured, contemplative, downright Buddhist tone; he even eats popcorn with chopsticks. The jive-talking Chinese guys I mentioned earlier are essentially the guards of Master Sum Dum Goy's fortune cookie factory. They make their first appearance in the film dancing in Chinatown with a massive boombox. The trio makes fun of Bruce Leroy's outfit and demeanor before dismissing him. It's a meeting of two different stereotypes that are upended, which calls into question, even in a small way, what it means to "act black" or "act Asian." Bruce Leroy is "acting Asian" yet seeing "blackness" reflected back to him in the guise of three Chinese guys, who are probably experiencing a similar and inverted moment of reflection. This cultural identity issue isn't just in that first scene with the Chinese characters. Later in The Last Dragon, Bruce Leroy tries to change his voice and "act black" in order to disguise himself and infiltrate the fortune cookie factory. He does this by mimicking his younger brother Richie, repeating the lines "Hey, my man, what it look like?" in different ways, including a Michael Jackson falsetto. (Just think of the complicated racial/cultural implications there.) The characters at the fortune cookie factory don't buy the act, but they think they can use Bruce Leroy's blackness in order to learn how to play craps properly, as if all black people know how to shoot craps. [embed]219059:42295:0[/embed] In another scene that comes earlier, one of the Bruce Leroy's students, Johnny (Glen Eaton), wants to exploit his Asian-ness as a martial artist by essentially "acting more Asian." Johnny claims he wants to take the art of fighting without fighting (another Bruce Lee nod) one step further. "I mastered the art of fighting without knowing how to fight," Johnny says. "You see, people are afraid of oriental dudes. Give them a little move, a little scream, and lots of attitude." Johnny makes like Bruce Lee with a stance and a scream, then he gets kicked in the head. Being a true martial artist takes work and isn't just about what people see on the outside, and maybe the same can be said about becoming yourself completely, whoever you are. These little moves and little gestures in The Last Dragon acknowledge that our cultural identity is far more fluid than fixed. Who we are isn't necessarily predetermined by outward signifiers because there's a certain ability to define oneself in a way that feels comfortable and also authentic. It's about personal identity as the three-section staff, the 36th chamber, beating Mr. Han in the hall of mirrors. Or, maybe thinking about it another way, it's like Bruce Lee put it: Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend. [embed]219059:42275:0[/embed] Next Month... Alec Kubas-Meyer and I discuss Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975). Banned in several countries upon release, Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salo is one of the grandaddies of extreme cinema and consistently on lists of the most disturbing movies ever made. Salo is notorious for its graphic violence, sexual depravity, depictions of coprophagia (i.e., feces eating), and pervasive sadism. But is it art? PREVIOUSLY SHOWING ON THE CULT CLUB Tromeo and Juliet (1996) Samurai Cop (1989) El Mariachi (1992) Six-String Samurai (1998) The Warriors (1979)
Cult Club:The Last Dragon photo
Kiss my Converse!
The Last Dragon is a sort of time capsule. It's so era-specific with its plot elements--early music videos, a Soul Train analog, arcade culture, grindhouse cinemas, a song by DeBarge--that it couldn't be anything but an 80s m...

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Help fund The Old School Kung Fu Fest 2015 in NYC


There will be ninjas this year--NINJAS!
Feb 24
// Hubert Vigilla
We here at Flixist love the people at Subway Cinema. Not only do they put on the New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) and the New York Korean Film Festival, they also hold a great showcase of classic martial arts movies here ...
OH MY GOD photo
HYPEHYPEHYPEHYPEHYPE
Since its unveiling, I've thought that Star Wars: The Force Awakens has looked cool, but J. J. Abrams movies always look cool, so I wasn't sold on the whole thing. I knew I'd see it eventually, and it will undoubted...

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Tony Jaa leaves kickboxer to be replaced by Van Damme


You were upset for part of that title then got really excited
Dec 02
// Matthew Razak
Reboots are better when the aging star of the original show up. It's  fact. I think. Maybe not. However, the Kickboxer reboot is definitely made better by he fact that Jean-Claude Van Damme will be showing up in it....
Alec's Kickstarter photo
Whether you want to or not
Sometimes a particularly scathing review is met with some version of "Oh yeah? Let's see you do better." While I don't think it's a valid non-argument, it's an interesting thought. But if you have ever felt that way after re...

Kickboxer remake photo
Kickboxer remake

Kickboxer getting remade with kickass dudes


Kick! Punch! It's all in the mind!
May 14
// Nick Valdez
Normally I'm not fond of remakes or reboots, but when it seems like the newer version might be an improvement over the original, I don't really mind. The original Kickboxer was part of a long line of "Jean Claude Van Damme ki...
The Raid Remake photo
The Raid Remake

Director Patrick Hughes thinks the US remake of The Raid is really interesting


We'll see.
Apr 17
// Alec Kubas-Meyer
The upcoming remake of The Raid may be kind of unnecessary, but it's happening anyway, and now director Patrick Hughes (The Expendables 3) has let loose a few details about his next project. "We have a really, ...

Review: The Raid 2: Berandal

Mar 28 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]217269:41228:0[/embed] The Raid 2: BerandalDirector: Gareth EvansRelease Date: March 28, 2014Country: IndonesiaRating: R  First, a history lesson: The Raid wasn’t supposed to happen. Director Gareth Evans wanted to make a prison-centric gang film called Berandal (which means “Thug” in Indonesian), also starring Iko Uwais, but although they produced a pretty awesome teaser (a fight scene in a bathroom between Uwais and a whole bunch of baddies), production halted when they realized that there simply wasn’t enough money to make whatever it is that the film was supposed to be. So instead, Evans and his team made The Raid, a film with one primary location that was complicated only in its stellar choreography. The film was a massive success, and Evans got the money he needed to make the Berandal he had always dreamed of. For the purposes of this review, I’ll be referring to the original film as The Raid and this film as Berandal. I will be doing some direct comparisons a lot. If you haven’t seen The Raid, go fix that immediately, come back, and then salivate at the thought of just how much better this film is. You can just look at the run time and know that you’re in for something epic. While the original concept may have focused on a prison gang, Berandal goes so much further than that. This isn’t The Raid in a prison; there is a big world out there, and plenty more people for Iko Uwais to punch. Berandal gives him the chance. In fact, Berandal is like the anti-Raid, because that film’s simplicity was kind of the point. You knew from the beginning who the characters were, what their goals were, and what the stakes were. Everything made perfect sense and there were no real surprises. The single location and linear timeline made everything extremely easy to follow. You could just sit back and enjoy what you were watching. Berandal is not that. Berandal is a big, epic, reasonably interesting crime story, and as with any big epic crime story, it’s complicated. Two hours after the chaos of the first film, Rama (Iko Uwais), his injured comrade, and his traitorous boss meets a cop who tells him some bad news: he messed with the wrong guys, they want him dead, they will kill him, and remember that wife and kid of his? Yep. Them too. But the cop is willing to keep him safe if he’ll join an undercover operation, get in with an Indonesian crime syndicate, and help take down the corrupt cops that allow them to thrive (specifically Reza, brought up in the end of The Raid as the traitor who backed Tama and his operation). But Rama doesn’t want to be a part of this operation. Until he finds out his brother has been brutally murdered by Bejo, a new face to the seedy underworld and a man with aspirations of grandeur. Then he wants revenge and joins the underworld, to the detriment of every person who had ever thought being a gang member might be an intelligent career path. I didn’t have that much trouble following the film after the first fifteen or so minutes. The opening scenes go through three different time periods with no real indication of what is when, which makes it somewhat difficult to manage, especially compared to The Raid. But once it gets into it, the intrigue and betrayals and layers of characters and tensions and histories aren’t actually too hard to follow. You just have to pay attention, lest you end up like some of the people at the screening I attended, who were having a pow-wow about who was who and what they were trying to do. At some point, they must have zoned out, and in that moment the film lost them. It's not the most intellectually stimulating story, but it works well enough. If you’ve seen the trailers (and you should, because they don’t spoil anything and are awesome in their own right), you will have some sense of the variety of locations, but it doesn’t really strike you like the film’s first image does. Right then, I was in for something different, something big (as if the 148 minute runtime didn’t clue me in). Where The Raid took place exclusively in tight spaces, Berandal opens with an extreme wide shot of a massive field. There’s green everywhere, something the first film lacked entirely (although the colors are as muted as ever). It looks impressive, but you don’t realize just how vast this location is until a tiny little sedan appears in the lower left corner. Then you realize that the little ant thing digging a hole nearby is actually a human. Then you see a man with a bag over his head pulled from the car and brought towards the whole in the ground. Then you realize that that hole is about to become a grave. And then you think, “Gareth Evans, you have my attention.” As a counterpoint to The Raid, it is literally perfect. In fact, it’s one of the best opening shots in recent memory. And that’s important, because Berandal is the film that proves that Gareth Evans is not just a one-trick pony. The Raid is a spectacular martial arts film, and a completely serviceable narrative one. But simplicity was both a blessing and a curse: In 100 minutes, The Raid rings basically all of the creativity it possibly could out of that one location. But even so: it’s a run-down apartment complex. It makes excellent use of the space, but that run-down apartment is only new and exciting for so long (Evans’ first collaboration with Uwais, Merantau, is a more interesting film to look at due to its variety of colors and locations, even though it’s massively inferior in every other way). Berandal takes the good looks of Merantau and the general quality of The Raid and cranks them both up to 11. With shots ranging from extremely wide to extremely close and with a color pallete that would impress Kubrick, there is always something exciting to look at. The violence is stunning (and stunningly graphic). The Raid pulled few punches; Berandal pulls none. That opening scene ends with a point blank shotgun blast to the side of someone’s head, but it doesn’t cut until after the face has started to disintegrate. If you can’t stomach gore, Berandal is going to hurt you, and it’s going to hurt you badly. Remember in the opening scene of the first film when Tama, the ultimate target of their operation, hit that dude with the hammer? No you don’t, because the camera whip-panned away from the action as he struck. To make up for that one moment of hidden violence, Berandal gives you a young villainess who fights exclusively with a hammer. Actually, two of them. Her and her aluminum bat-wielding buddy make for some of Rama’s more colorful opponents in the film, showcasing their own prowess on subway trains and sidewalks, each taking on hordes as big as any found in The Raid. Also in the cast is Yayan Ruhian, who played Mad Dog in the first film, which is... problematic. While he is presented differently, my first thought when I saw him was, “Seriously?” I didn’t even consider that he might have been playing a different role, because that makes no sense. His near-invincibility in The Raid was almost comedic, and I wondered if somehow he had recovered in the two years that Rama was in prison. And because of his dumb beard, I couldn’t even see if there was a scar on his throat or not representing the lightbulb that (supposedly) took him out. That he has a name doesn’t help, because obviously “Mad Dog” isn’t a name. So why is he in the movie at all? Well, because he’s one of the fight choreographers, along with Uwais. Having him play a part, then, makes it a lot easier for them. Also, he’s generally awesome. I can totally understand wanting him to be there, but my mind took the return of Mad Dog to a dozen places that the film didn’t end up going, because it wasn’t Mad Dog. Considering the bushy hair and beard, people who haven’t seen The Raid as recently (or as frequently) as I have may not even notice, but for those who do, here’s your warning. But as odd as it was that Ruhian played a role, I’m certainly glad he worked on the film. He is a fantastic martial artist, and clearly one of the best fight choreographers working today. As a team, he and Uwais are basically unstoppable. Berandal proves that, because the scale of these brawls is beyond belief. The first fight in the film, less than 15 minutes in, pits Rama against at least a dozen random guys in a bathroom stall (it’s a recreation of the original Berandal trailer, actually, though a hell of a lot cooler). Even though it’s relatively short, the bar is already raised; none of the one-on-many fights in the original film can match it. And then it gets better. And bigger. And crazier. In fact, the scope of these fights is so massive that there isn’t a real one-on-one fight until the last battle of the entire film (the last shot of the trailer sets it up). It takes place two hours and fifteen minutes into a two and a half hour movie, and it is every bit as awesome as you would hope (imagine Jaka vs. Mad Dog on steroids and you’ll still have no idea). But it’s not all buttercups and rainbows, because Berandal has seams where its predecessor does not. Perhaps it’s because I never saw The Raid in theaters and cuts were hidden by the smaller picture, but I noticed a lot more little editing quirks to make certain strikes work in the sequel. I don’t mean that every other move I saw some missing frames or anything like that. It’s important to note, though, that I was also looking for mistakes. I wanted to pull back the curtain and see how these shots were done. I wanted to see the master at work. Some of these cuts were tiny, slight shifts of the action by maybe an inch (of a theater screen), but they’re there. If you aren’t looking, though, I can’t imagine you’d see them. It’s almost certainly a consequence of Berandal’s most impressive aspect: the length of its shots. There aren’t any shots quite as long as, say, Oldboy’s hallway fight (although one moment during the absolutely massive prison fight certainly had shades of that), but there are times where the camera just keeps on rolling. And it was sometimes in those shots that I saw those tiny cuts. Mistakes are made during long takes, and just as reel changes were masked in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, many long takes nowadays are composites of multiple shots. It seems plausible that the shift from one take to another could be the reason for some of this jumpiness. The reality is that the use of weapons like hammers and knives that pierce through dozens of people means that some of what you’re seeing has been digitally altered, adding gore or non-retractable blades or what have you. But that does nothing to take away from the brilliant choreography, shot composition, or performances. So many of the things that Evans and his team pulled off in this film boggled my mind. There are shots that I can’t explain, moves that make no sense, and entire scenes that should not work but do. And in those moments, you understand that Berandal is in a class all its own. Honestly, there never could have been a film like Berandal before now. Like Gravity, it is a showcase for what the digital revolution has allowed filmmakers to do. Gareth Evans couldn’t have made Berandal when he tried a few years back. Nobody could have. But now it’s been made, and we’re in a new era, a post-Berandal world where the bar has been set so astronomically high that anyone hoping to match it should probably just give up and do something else with their life. So, Mr. Evans, you have my attention. Let’s see what you’ve got planned for The Raid 3. Mike Cosimano: While I don't agree with Alec that Berandal is the best action movie ever made, it's certainly up there. For a movie where so many people are getting bludgeoned, stabbed, kicked, shot, and otherwise murdered, I consider it a high compliment that I never got tired. Most action movies with this amount of brutality are just exhausting. But Gareth Evans knows how to space out the punching and let the film breathe. It's a lesson filmmakers of every genre could learn. Sometimes you have to give your audience a chance to process what they've seen.And there's a lot to process in Berandal. Every scene is expertly crafted, right down to the dialogue. I'm really looking forward to drooling over high-def screenshots once this flick hits Blu-Ray. If my press junket hadn't told me about Evans' filmography beforehand, I would have bet actual cash that he was an old pro.  I saw this movie a couple weeks ago, and I've had a difficult time getting it out of my brain ever since. Alec was dead on with his assessment of the opening scene. It's gorgeously shot and immensely memorable, but that's a fair descriptor of the whole film. When you see it, go with friends and make sure you've got a bloc of time freed up afterwards for digestion. You'll be yelling at each other excitedly for a couple hours at the very least, slowly realizing that you just saw an instant classic. 89 - Exceptional
Raid 2: Berandal Review photo
Everything a sequel to The Raid could and should be
I will admit that I have not seen every movie that has ever been made. I have not seen every action film, martial arts film, or even all of the most revered of the action and martial arts films. I’ve seen my fair share,...

Review: Man of Tai Chi

Oct 31 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]216384:40655:0[/embed] Man of Tai ChiDirector: Keanu ReevesRelease Date: July 5, 2013 (China); September 27, 2013 (VOD); November 1, 2013 (US Theatrical)Rating: R  Man of Tai Chi feels like it could have been made by The Cannon Group, the production company best known for films like American Ninja, Delta Force, Invasion USA, or it's bona fide masterpiece of excess, Death Wish 3. Everything about the movie is so over-the-top and yet deathly serious, like a melodrama concocted by kids of the home video generation while playing with their action figures. This story is straight out of playtime. A good guy martial artist (Tiger Chen) joins an underground fight club run by a bad guy (Keanu Reeves) so he can save his master's temple. Fight! Come to think of it, both Reeves and Chen have the same stiffness and expressionless demeanor of an action figure. It's as if Reeves was able to find his double, the good guy yang to his bad guy yin. As a villain, Reeves seems to relish the role, though he's hard to read here, more so than usual. He's always been the butt of jokes for his flat deliveries and blank stares, and I couldn't tell if he was consciously playing up these mannerisms. Maybe it's self-parody, maybe it's not, but when Reeves says, "You owe me a life!" several times, it's hard not to laugh at the goofiness of the language or the delivery. And yet it sounds cool in theory as a taunt. Or consider the lion roar that had the room in hysterics. Was that the curve of a smile I saw in his lips just before he belted it out? Was that his character's deviousness manifesting in a subtle twitch of the face? Was it an indication that Reeves thought it was goofy too? Did they do 20 takes and that was the best one? Oh, to have been on the set that day. As a filmmaker, Reeves is serviceable for the material, sort of like a more polished version of Menahem Golan of the Cannon Group. Unfortunately, more wasn't done with the film's motion-controlled camera rig. The fights were choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping, and they're shot well enough, but without the dynamism that the initial proof-of-concept video suggested. What I actually noticed most about these particular fights was a kind of broken rhythm. There's usually a kind of consistent beat to a the fights in most martial arts films, but in Man of Tai Chi, a consistent beat is avoided. That's not a good or bad thing necessarily, just something I noticed. Many spots in the fights are quite well done, but this rhythmic difference made the film feel western in its approach, if that distinction makes sense. Underlying the Cannon Group feel is an earnest story about the corruption of innocence and the struggle for redemption through the alignment of good and evil into an inseparable oneness at harmony with itself. Yes, philosophically, Man of Tai Chi is a totally gnarly Taoist movie more than it is an underground fight club movie. (In pseudo-Taoist fashion, the opposite statement is true as well. Whoa.) Chen deals with numerous concerns about balance in life, what honor means, and the compromises one makes simply to do what is right at the time. Man of Tai Chi also nods at the differences between the two kinds of martial arts practiced in China today: tournament/sports martial arts and the spiritual/traditional side of martial arts. There's also history and progress, youth and age, lethality and grace, and the frustration of holding a day job (our hero is a delivery man, and a really crappy one) while pursuing your true passion in life. Amid all this serious stuff, there's an announcer side character who delivers her lines like she's trying to turn in a bad performance, and there's a third-banana bad guy who has the personality of a teenager from the mid-to-late 90s. It's all so baffling -- so brilliantly, stunningly baffling. Why did I hold back my laughter for so long? Compounding all the weirdness is a secondary narrative that involves Karen Mok and Simon Yam, two veteran Hong Kong actors who are given little to do. Mok's a detective trying to take down Reeves' fighting ring and Yam is her superior who, like all movie bosses, questions her motives and her methods. He's got a point. To do covert surveillance on Reeves, Mok parks across the street from him and his entourage and just kind of gawks at them from the driver's seat. The Mok/Yam portion of the story was likely included to help the film's box office in China. If it was cut from the movie, Man of Tai Chi would have lost nothing save for more strangeness. All the real fun in Man of Tai Chi is with Reeves and Chen. Opponents pop up from out of nowhere in otherwise empty rooms, and there's no in-story explanation why. Chen's style of Tai Chi becomes more aggressive, even in the professional tournaments he participates in. The only thing missing from Chen's shift from good to bad is a Spider-Man 3-style montage with James Brown as a backing track. (At least there's a title card that appears on the screen that reads "Dark Tai Chi Rises." Not a joke.) The big reveal concerning the nature of the underground fight club is hilarious as well, but in that brilliant yet baffling way that makes Man of Tai Chi so enjoyable. "Enjoyable" is the key word because Man of Tai Chi is objectively not very good. In fact, it's sort of a mess, but it's the sort of mess I wouldn't mind watching in a room full of friends who have a soft spot for schlock, or in a packed movie theater that serves booze. What else can be said about a movie that closes many of its scenes with surging industrial/techno right out of the 90s before a smash cut into silence? Or a film that is so thematically on-the-nose that it uses an animated yin-yang as a scene transition? As you probably guessed, they do this about as artfully as a PowerPoint presentation. I wouldn't want it any other way. 
Man of Tai Chi Review photo
The excesses of The Cannon Group are alive and well
Most press screenings are pretty stodgy as far as audience reaction goes, even for comedies. When people laugh, it's often the very polite and quiet kind -- almost private -- a synonym for, "Oh my, how absolutely dr&ocir...

The Raid 2: Berandal photo
The Raid 2: Berandal

First art from The Raid 2: Berandal is already fantastic


With 17 action scenes? YES THANK YOU
Oct 23
// Nick Valdez
The Raid: Redemption is one of the best things to happen to action cinema in a long time. The fact that we're getting more of it makes me excited, and it's now bigger than ever? That's even better! Taking place just two ...

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