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Martial Arts

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

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

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 ...


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...

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...

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...


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
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...


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 ...

Review: Ip Man: The Final Fight

Sep 20 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215911:40340:0[/embed] Ip Man: The Final Fight (Jip6 Man6: Zung1-gik6 Jat1 Zin3 | 叶问:终极一战)Director: Herman YauRating: PG-13Country: China (Hong Kong)Release Date: March 22, 2013 (China); September 20, 2013 (US limited) Much like The Legend is Born, The Final Fight operates in the mold of the old-fashioned biopic. The movie chronicles about 20 years in the life of an older Yip Man. It's the post-war period, however, so the oppression of the Imperial Japanese isn't bearing down on the country or on the film. The dread of annihilation is gone and the reactionary nationalism in many films about the Sino-Japanese conflict has been swapped for unbridled nostalgia. The Hong Kong of this time seems idyllic even though there's brimming social unrest. Workers call for rights on the job, and it feels at home with the bustle of rickshaws, the brightness of the cheongsams, the flutter of old love songs. In some ways I found it hard to think of this as a sequel to The Legend Is Born. There's little continuity between Dennis To's portrayal of a young Yip Man and Wong's take on the older Yip Man. To's young Yip Man was noble but lacking in personality. Compare that to Donnie Yen in the Wilson Yip films: a badass chivalric Wing Chun machine with leading man charisma. What Wong brings to Yip Man is gravitas. This is Yip Man by way of Yoda and Morgan Freeman. He's a sage to numerous Wing Chun students in the film, and selfless to a fault like most noble cinematic heroes. "A warrior and a scholar!" a character declares after hearing one of Yip Man's poems in the newspaper. Wong isn't really known as a martial artist. He went on a diet (the real Yip Man was very skinny) and trained in Wing Chun for a year prior to taking this role. The fights in the movie are fewer than The Legend Is Born, and yet they feel more invigorating. The choreography by Xiong Xin-Xin (Once Upon a Time in China 3) stresses a cleanness and groundedness of movement that's free from overt wirework or near-superheroics. It's stylized fighting that feels more real than the young Yip Man film. The fights may also be interesting since it's Wong doing so much of it himself. He looks comfortable as he goes from move to move, dishing out flurries of punches to the chest with the occasional high kick to the jaw. It's as impressive as Daniel Day Lewis doing MMA in a stovepipe hat and a beard. My first exposure to Anthony Wong came in a much different Herman Yau film from 1993 called The Untold Story: Human Meat Pies. I'd seen Wong before in Hard Boiled, but I always noticed him after The Untold Story. Wong played a ruthless psychopath who murders people, chops up their bodies, and puts their flesh in the pork buns he sells at his restaurant. (The film was allegedly based on an actual crime in Macau.) The Wong sections of the film are inhumane, particularly when we see what he did to the previous owners of the restaurant. This bleakness is off-set by the goofy detectives in the film, though it's not as bad as the bumbling cops from Last House on the Left. Every Wong movie I see is measured against this role. What Wong's shown over the years, aside from staggering productivity (he has 174 acting credits on IMDb), is versatility. He can play a sociopath, a suave criminal, a wizened older cop, and a goon, and he'll fully inhabit these parts. With Yip Man, there's something fascinating about what Wong is doing, even in the still moments where he's lost in thought and about to smoke a hand-rolled cigarette. There's a scene where Yip Man and his wife are together. She's come to Hong Kong from Foshan, and there's a dignified giddiness to Wong's performance when he's with her. They've been living apart for a long time, and it's one of the few sequences of The Final Fight where Yip Man isn't in Yoda mode. The couple are in bed and it's cold, and Yip Man's students bring up a comforter for them. It's a kind of Capra moment. Yip Man and his wife turn toward each other with eyes locked. Yip Man hasn't been this happy in a long while. It's so old-timey and might have been schmaltzy if Wong wasn't so good. Wong is the real strength of The Final Fight, and as long as he's on screen there's something worth noticing. Where the film falters is its looseness, which might be a consequence of the post-war setting. Without the Imperial Japanese as an obvious foil and without Yip Man as a symbol of Chinese persistence in the face of an outside force, there's almost no conflict that drives the film. In some ways it works since it's about the winding down of Yip Man's life, and yet it's a little off. Matters of plot and proportion are the ultimate difficulty of biopics -- too much plot molding doesn't feel like real life, too little feels like the narrative is meandering. There's a fight against the head of a rival martial arts school (played by Wong's Infernal Affairs co-star Eric Tsang) which reveals character rather than builds conflict. It's more like a tussle between two righteous men with mutual respect, which has an interesting payoff in a quiet scene following another fight. Eventually a sideplot involving a criminal in Kowloon Walled City drives the last half (really the last third) of the story, but it feels forced. Whereas The Legend Is Born is too rounded with its plot and ties its slew of fight scenes together with a bow of movie intrigues (i.e., sibling rivalries, love triangles, double crosses, betrayals), The Final Fight begins to droop and its last action scene feels perfunctory. The Final Fight is an admirable effort that adds a new take on Yip Man even if it doesn't quite work. I actually can't wait to see what Tony Leung (another Hong Kong great) brings to Yip Man in Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmaster, or more accurately, what part of himself he'll reveal in the guise of Yip Man. On the note of other Yip Mans, I think the third Donnie Yen/Wilson Yip Ip Man film (whenever it comes) will take place at some point in this post-war period as well. How will they handle this this era without a handy conflict? Will Yip Man become a social crusader, a warrior against water rationing? Will this social unrest become integral to the plot rather than part of the film's historical garnish -- Wong Fei-Hung meets Woodie Guthrie? Whatever happens, it'll be tough to match Wong's grace as a guiding force.
Ip Man Final Fight Review photo
Anthony Wong and the many faces of Yip Man
In the review for The Legend Is Born: Ip Man, I mentioned how the character of Yip Man seems to be turning into the new Wong Fei-Hung. Here's a real-life historical figure who's suddenly become an idealized version of the rea...

Review: The Grandmaster

Aug 22 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]216244:40600:0[/embed] The Grandmaster (Yut Doi Jung Si | 一代宗师)Director: Wong Kar WaiRating: PG-13Country: China (Hong Kong)Release Date: August 23, 2013 I write "seems" because I haven't watched the 130-minute Hong Kong cut of The Grandmaster, the official director's cut of the film. (I haven't seen the 115-minute international cut either.) There's a lot that can happen in 22 minutes. I skimmed a recent piece by David Ehrlich on that details all of the differences between the longer cut and the US release. It's spoiler heavy, but just looking at the bolded text, there are plenty of shuffled scenes, nixed story elements, and truncated sequences that break the architecture of the original movie. Before checking out the Ehrlich piece, I could still tell where some of the changes were. The Grandmaster is guided by Ip Man's overt narration, and every now and then some English text appears for transitions and explanations. Certain moments feel choppy, others feel like the proportions are off, some feel misplaced, and the coda is just strange; the tape is visible, the movie is sticky with glue. What I want from a Wong Kar Wai film is sumptuousness, emotion, and observation, as found in his previous movies like In the Mood for Love, Happy Together, or Chungking Express. It's still there in this version of The Grandmaster, but it's been heavily compromised. It says something about Wong's gifts as a filmmaker that this compromised material still shines and still has moments that are undeniably breathtaking, and yet these glowing bits are like neon arrows pointing out that 22 minutes worth of lacunae. If you look at the marketing that Weinstein did for The Grandmaster, it made the film seem like a chop socky movie. It's a fundamental misunderstanding about the material and how to sell it. This is not a standard martial arts movie. The Grandmaster, as it ought to be, is an art house martial arts movie. There's incredible action in the film, but it's more daring and much headier than its arty wuxia forebears like Ang Lee's Couching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Zhang Yimou's Hero. Yuen Woo-Ping's fight choreography is still remarkable, but it's the way that Wong Kar Wai stages, shoots, and edits the action that makes it transcendent. The fighting goes beyond visceral spectacle and becomes something spiritual, metaphysical. When Ip Man twists to throw a punch, Wong cuts to a close-up of his hat brim soaked with rain, the water arcing away in slow motion. We don't see his body, but we know the motion his body makes simply from the motion of the water. Ip Man twists again and his shirt sleeve will send water off in a spearing jet. The speed and strength of that strike are there in the motion of rain and cloth, and it's never distracting. These disturbances are extensions of action. Before a punch nearly connects, Wong focuses on the little push of air on fabric that precedes the blow. More disturbance, more extension of movement; the punch is more than just a punch. This poetic way of presenting the fight scenes gets at the heart of The Grandmaster. For a martial artist, the martial arts is more than just self-defense. It's a way of life. To commit yourself wholly to a craft or an art means mental discipline, the formation of a personal philosophy, a means of comporting yourself to the world that aligns with the craft or art. The physical motions are repeated until they're internalized; any movement is the expression of that person's whole being. That may be the subtext in other martial arts films, but it is expressed with such remarkable sweep in The Grandmaster. It's the idea of what Ip Man represents as a martial artist that's most important to the movie rather than Ip Man himself as a historical figure. The same goes for Zhang Ziyi's character Gong Er. Though previous Ip Man films were only about Ip Man, The Grandmaster is as much about him as it is Gong Er. (This explains why the movie was at one time going to be called The Grandmasters.) The first half involves duels between Northern-style martial artists and Southern-style martial artists, exploring ideas about differences in style and what these mean to those who care about such distinctions. When Gong Er and Ip Man eventually duel, the scene is as much about pride in mastery as it is about the seduction of mastery--you can be great and be admired for it, and you can be great to win a person's admiration. There's a kind of love that blossoms while they're battling each other and it continues after Gong Er returns to the north. The second half of The Grandmaster shifts from Ip Man's home in Foshan to post-WWII Hong Kong. The streets are filled with martial artists, many of whom are teachers or have mundane day jobs that are still somehow expressions of their inner skill. Many of the movie's side characters, however briefly they appear, could carry their own feature films. While in Hong Kong, Ip Man tries to find out whatever happened to Gong Er. This is one of those breaks in the narrative I wasn't expecting, and it will probably throw off a lot of audiences given how much it subverts the conventions and expectations built into many action films and martial arts films. Gong Er becomes the driving force that reveals a lot of the philosophical machinery that probably inspired Wong to make a martial arts movie in this way. I imagine the transition is smoother in the longer cut of the film. With Gong Er, there's an exploration of gender roles, veneration of parents, obligations to future generations, and the importance of maintaining a legacy or tradition. Again, it's the idea of extension, where the fights means more than just beating someone physically. These high stakes for the martial artists are heightened by the way that Wong treats his locations, emphasizing verticals and horizontals. The enclosed spaces of Foshan are lush in color, the dark streets of Hong Kong have a sense of mystery. I mentioned that this feels like a mythic iteration of Ip Man. More than Leung's performance, it's the writing and the locations that are key in establishing this mythological feel. These spaces and their moods are inhabited by characters who seem like the figures of legend. They embody ideas and ideals, they fight over primal and yet fundamental human concerns, they are known by certain deeds or identified by the objects that they carry which are extensions of their personalities. The mythic feel reaches its peak during the final fight, which is the stuff of classical myth and legend, but charged with potent concerns that are at once unique to the characters and universal. The stakes are high, the emotions raw, and the characters are fighting for more than just honor. Behind them rushes a potent metaphor for time, both the past and the future, because what they're fighting about has everything to do with matters of extension through time. It's hard to score The Grandmaster because it's so compromised a work. Every great scene hints at the brilliance of a scene that's not in the film, and knowing that Wong changed the sequence of certain scenes makes me feel like I've been reading a novel with chapters in the wrong order. The fighting in martial arts movies is so much about rhythm and motion, and both are disrupted in this cut of the film. What The Grandmaster offers is a flawed vision of something greater. This is a beautiful punch, but mostly just that; I know there's supposed to be more to it.
The Grandmaster Review photo
The flawed US cut hints at a masterpiece on the meaning of the martial arts
While Donnie Yen kicked off the Ip Man craze back in 2008, you could argue that Wong Kar Wai was partially responsible. Wong had announced his own Ip Man film prior to the Yen picture even being conceived, but it took ages to...

Yet another case of Harvey Weinstein's scissorhands
Wong Kar Wai's long-in-the-making Ip Man film The Grandmaster finally hits the US next week, and it will be about 20 minutes shorter than the Hong Kong version of the film. Wong was in attendance at a special screening of The...

Fantasia Review: Bushido Man

Jul 29 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]216160:40506:0[/embed] Bushido Man (:ブシドーマン)Director: Takanori TsujimotoRating: TBDCountry: JapanRelease Date: June 8th, 2013 (Japan) Some martial arts movies have a few choice fights and lots of filler in between. In the case of Bushido Man, the film is mostly fights with brief breaks for the goofy story that ties them all together. Our hero is Toramaru (Mitsuki Koga), a stoic martial artist on a quest to become a great fighter. To do this, he must best various champions who are skilled at different sorts of combat. The film starts at the end of his quest as he returns to his master (Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi) and recounts his battles throughout the country. Bushido Man doesn't really mess around. Writer/director Takanori Tsujimoto knows that people go to action movies for the action, and maybe realizes how unforgiving some people can be of low-budget action movies. And so the film does its best to deliver with as much energy and variation as it can. There's hand-to-hand combat, a fight with katanas against a blind swordsman, one scene with staffs, a nunchaku duel, a knife fight, and so on. Each of these fights is given its own personality and is built on its own sets of genre cliches. There's a spirit of subversion and inversion throughout Bushido Man, and its first signs come around the three-minute mark. We start out with august music and in a setting that appears to be feudal Japan. Turns out Bushido Man is actually set in a madcap version of modern-day Japan, with Toramaru wandering city streets in traditional samurai garb. Later, we learn that it's not quite the modern-day Japan we expect, keeping everything just a bit off balance and wackier as a result. This is a cartoon world, or maybe a world of genre conventions meant to be sent up. Another major inversion comes from Toramaru's fight prep. Rather than observe his opponents from afar or watch video of them in action, he gets to know who they are and how they fight by eating their favorite meals. As he tells his master what he ate, his master tries to guess who that person is and what the food says about them personally. It sets up a strange pattern of flashbacks, meals, and fights. Tsujimoto's careful not to rely solely on repetition, however. Like a string of good jokes told in succession, the comedy comes from surprises and riffs on the familiar with callbacks to previous gags. The nunchuck fight is the third duel in Bushido Man, and I thought I knew where it was going. Tsujimoto even seems to telegraph the scene's punchline in an obvious way. The scene ends totally unexpectedly, which makes the whole fight funnier and the unrealized-yet-telegraphed punchline hilarious. As with the shifts in setting, the shifts in humor keep the film fresh, and the variation was enough to keep me laughing. By the final battle or so, Bushido Man lets loose into low-budget action anarchy and intentionally funny schlock. The fight choreography was handled by Kensuke Sonomura, whose previous credits as action director include Noboru Iguchi's insane revenge tale The Machine Girl and an anthology film called The Women of Fast Food (Shin onna tachiguishi retsuden). (I haven't seen the latter, but I think I need to based on the title alone.) Sonomura's choreography isn't overdone and plays well with the weapons, performers, and the different moods/rhythms of each scene. The opening two fights (hand-to-hand and staffs) have an old school Hong Kong feel to them, though the katana fight feels like something out of a modern-day take on the chambara film, and the knife fight like something out of a yakuza movie. Each of the styles could have probably carried their own films, but they're all shoved together well in this film. Bushido Man is slim at 88 minutes, so it never overstays its welcome. It's a strange and constantly adapting little animal, which actually suggests the underlying pattern beneath all of this subversion. While genre cliches get goofed on for their comedic potential, Bushido Man maintains something that's inherent in many classic martial arts films: the hero learns lessons from each fight and must combine what he's learned in order to win in the end. Given, Toramaru's ascent into potential mastery is a bizarre one, and at a certain point during the last fight of the film I couldn't stop laughing because of the glorious excess. This path to greatness is full of food and screwball antics, and it may be lost on those who weren't raised on a steady diet of Shaw Brothers movies and samurai flicks, but this is a movie with surprising rewards. Even when it seems to close like a spoof, there's a coda to Bushido Man with a philosophical note that many serious martial arts movies aspire to and sometimes miss, maybe because they take themselves too seriously.
Bushido Man Review photo
Eat! Pray! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!
There's something about low-budget action movies that's full of real fighting spirit. With so many budget constraints, the films are usually infused with added energy and creativity. (Lacking that, there's always gratuitous g...

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