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,...
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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 drôle." When watching Man of Tai Chi, Keanu Reeves' feature film directorial debut, such propriety cannot hold.
I was sitting between two friends who are also film critics, Steve Kopian and Peter Gutierrez, and it felt like being at the back of the classroom. As the film progressed, my face hurt from grinning so much. I snorted out several stifled laughs at the silly moments. Both Steve and Peter were also giggling at Reeves' stilted performance and goofy lines.
Then it finally happened. There's a close-up of Keanu Reeves seething with hate. He stares directly into the audience for a few seconds, which is funny enough. And then he roars like a lion. The room erupted, and I laughed so hard I jolted forward in my seat.
I'm still not sure if we were all laughing with Man of Tai Chi or at Man of Tai Chi, but I think if you go into the film with the right mindset, it doesn't matter which.
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 ...
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 real-life historical figure on the big screen.
Countless actors have played Wong Fei-Hung -- Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Gordon Liu, Vincent Zhao, Kwan Tak Hing -- but in an odd way, they weren't really playing Wong Fei-Hung. The actors played themselves in Wong Fei-Hung garb. Think of actors playing Abraham Lincoln, who are really just giving their interpretation of Abraham Lincoln.
What's interesting with The Final Fight is the stunt casting. Rather than a martial artist playing Yip Man, it's the venerable Hong Kong actor Anthony Wong. The result, as Steve over at Unseen Films said to me a couple days ago, is the human side of Yip Man, or maybe it's the human side of Anthony Wong wearing a Yip Man costume.
[This review was originally posted as part of our 2013 New York Asian Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the limited theatrical release of the film.]
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 finally complete it. That years-long production was arduous. Wong's go-to actor Tony Leung, who doesn't have a martial arts background, had to learn Wing Chun in order to play Ip Man; he broke his arm twice, once during training and another time while filming. Actress Zhang Ziyi spent six grueling months, 12 hours a day, learning Bagua-style (Baguazhang) so she could fight like a true master.
Each Ip Man project presents an aspect of the real-life Ip Man. The Yen films offered Ip Man as a badass, and The Final Fight presented the human side of Ip Man via Anthony Wong's performance. I think The Grandmaster presents the mythic, poetic, and metaphorical version of Ip Man. Wong's created a glorious vision of the philosophy of the martial arts, but it's a vision that seems to have been obscured by the 22 minutes of cuts in The Weinstein Company's US release of the film.
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 Grandmaster at The Museum of the Moving Image over the weekend. In the discussion after the film, he confirmed that the movie had been cut from its original 130 minutes to roughly 108 minutes. (There's another international cut of The Grandmaster that clocks in around 115 minutes; if old reports hold true, the original 130-minute version is considered the director's cut.)
Wong said that for the US release, he was obligated to deliver a version of the film that was under two hours. He restructured the shortened movie a bit in order to improve its flow. The Grandmaster is being distributed by the Weinstein Company, which has a long history of cutting and changing Asian movies for their domestic releases. Most recently it was revealed that Weinstein will cut Bong Joon-Ho's Snowpiercer by 20 minutes.
So what's missing from this US cut? I talked to Jared of Bullets Over Chinatown briefly after the screening, who's also seen the Hong Kong version of the film. He said that the US cut is more action oriented and that a number of dramatic moments in the Hong Kong cut were missing.
The Grandmaster comes out August 23rd. Look for our review next week.
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 gore and gratuitous nudity.) In some cases you wind up with total junk that's nonetheless enjoyable, like the 1987 Rambo/First Blood rip-off Deadly Prey. Other times you wind up with something that's oddly inspired, like Lance Mungia's Six-String Samurai or Ryuhei Kitamura's Versus.
Bushido Man is a movie that's low budget and oddly inspired. It might have more currency with martial arts movie fans than the casual action filmgoer since it's a bit of a spoof/parody of the genre. And yet I think the strange, madcap comedy of the film might be able to win over converts, or maybe just smack them in the face hard enough until they give up and submit to the movie's scrappy charm.
[For the next few weeks, we will be covering the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival. Started in 1996 and based primarily in Montreal, Fantasia is widely regarded as one of the best genre film festivals in North America. To read all of our coverage, click here.]
After many delays, after lots of doubt, here it is: our first look at Tom Yum Goong 2 (The Protector 2) starring Tony Jaa and directed by Prachya Pinkaew. And it's darn nice for a first taste.
Lots of 80s and 90s-style Hong Kong action with a Thai twist, which is what made Jaa's two best films (Ong-Bak and the first Tom Yum Goong) so good. There's a brief glimpse at the badass Jeeja Yanin, who's a fine martial arts star in her own right, but this will no doubt be Jaa's vehicle for a comeback. (Let us never speak of Ong-Bak 2 or Ong-Bak 3 again.)
We'll keep you posted as more info about Tom Yum Goong 2 becomes available. But hey, at least the movie is finally coming out.
Just feast your eyes on this first trailer for Special ID. Rather than rely on cheesy effects shots, thumping music, and too much BWAAAM, Special ID makes an impact through crazy-ass stuntwork and a nice mix of silence and sound. The film will feature fights with Ken Lo (Drunken Master II) and Andy On (The Lost Bladesman, New Police Story), but the highlight will be a battle between Yen and Colin Chou. Yen and Chou's previous one-on-one in Flash Point is easily one of Donnie Yen's best fights.
A teaser poster for Special ID is in the gallery. Special ID will open in China in October. We'll keep you posted on any international release plans.
Ip Man starring Donnie Yen and directed by Wilson Yip is one of the best martial arts films of the last 10 years. It cemented Yen's reputation as a major star, and it began a craze for Yip Man films. Wong Kar-Wai has been trying to make his own Yip Man film, The Grandmaster, for years. (Pre-production on that had technically begun before Ip Man got off the ground.) A recent mini-series about Yip Man aired on Chinese TV. Yen and Yip have also talked about a second sequel to Ip Man -- Ip Man 3D.
Amid all this came director Herman Yau's 2010 film The Legend Is Born: Ip Man. The movie is a heavily fictionalized version of Yip Man's early life starring Dennis To as the title character. In a lot of ways it plays out like an old-fashioned martial arts movie, an old-fashioned biopic, and mostly like an old-fashioned melodrama.
[For the next few weeks, we will be covering the 2013 New York Asian Film Festival and the 2013 Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF 2013 coverage, click here. For Japan Cuts 2013 coverage, click here.]
Did you know that The Raid: Redemption director Gareth Evans co-directed a short for the upcoming V/H/S/2? It's true, and it's freaking awesome. It's by far the best part of either V/H/S film, so I was extremely excited when I got a chance to talk to him and Timo Tjahjanto, who co-directed. We talked about their short, of course, and the full interview transcript will be up early next week, but we also talked about what's coming up for the two of them. Right now, Gareth (I can call him that; I asked) is deep in the production of The Raid 2: Berandal, and he gave a few vague but goddamn tantalizing details about the direction the project is heading:
We’ve got about another month and a half left to shoot. It’s going good so far. We’re kind of taking the film in a slightly different direction. So we have the same action discipline and the same sort of action beats, but we’re changing up how we shoot it. We’re going a little bit more cinematic on this one, and sort of like expanding the universe.
In practical terms, I have no idea what that means, but I like the idea of going bigger both from a narrative standpoint and from a technical standpoint. The original film was amazing and insane and I rewatch it every so often to remind myself that action cinema is still alive and kicking, but more of that in that same way would just be disappointing. The second film needs to up the stakes on every level, and it sounds like it's going to do that.
One of the first shots of the documentary Dragon Girls is part David Lean and part Busby Berkeley. From a high angle we watch as thousands of children run in ordered rows and columns with their arms out, stopping on a dime and then performing movements in sync. It's a mesmerizing display of their martial arts prowess as well as the sheer level of dedication at this kung fu school in China.
Yet the spectacle of mastery comes from years of hardened training and some Dickensian conditions of abuse and neglect. It's by going from these immense glories of the collective to the tales of a few students that we understand the physical and mental strength required to do what these kids do.
Maybe it's my own ethnocentrism that makes me wonder if what these kids are doing is worth it in the end.
[For the next two weeks, we will be covering the 2013 Brooklyn Film Festival, which runs from May 31st to June 9th. Check back with us for reviews of features, documentaries, and shorts playing at the fest. For more information and a full schedule, visit brooklynfilmfestival.org.]
Donnie Yen is going to have a crowded 2013, with three films coming out this year: the big-budget fantasy movie The Monkey King, the crime/martial arts yarn Special Identity, and Iceman 3D, a remake of the enjoyable 1989 fil...
Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmaster has had a long and bumpy road to production, but it's finally coming to US theaters this summer. While opinions have been relatively lackluster about the film since it's international debut at t...
Donnie Yen and Michelle Yeoh are set to star in the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which is currently titled Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II - The Green Destiny. Shooting will start in March 2014 with legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping as director rather than the previously rumored Ronny Yu. If my memory's working right, this will be the first time that Yen, Yeoh, and Yuen have worked together since 1994's Wing Chun (a movie I literally haven't seen in 15 years).
The Green Destiny is an adaptation of Iron Knight, Silver Vase, the fifth book in Wang Du Lu's Crane-Iron Pentalogy. (The first Crouching Tiger movie was based on the fourth book in the series.) Here's how Green Destiny screenwriter Ronny Fusco describes the sequel:
This introduces a new generation of star-crossed lovers, and a new series of antagonists in a battle of good and evil. It has a Knights Errant quality. There is an alternate universe in the books, a martial forest that exists alongside the real world, full of wandering sword fighters, medicine men, defrocked priests, poets, sorcerers and Shaolin renegades.
I'd imagine this movie won't have the artful melancholy sweep of the Ang Lee film since Yuen's movies tend to be more straight-up action. Donnie Yen's a great screen fighter and he's been keeping very busy lately with the Iceman Cometh remake and two other projects that are in the works (including Ip Man 3D). Yeoh should still have it in her as an action star if Reign of Assassins was any indication. Wonder if Yen and Yeoh will fight.
Oh damn, fellas! Jackie Chan is going to be in New York City on Monday, June 10th and Tuesday, June 11th. This appearance is thanks to the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the New York Asian Film Festival, and the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office New York in association with Asia Society.
On June 10th, The Walter Reade Theater will host An Evening with Jackie Chan, which will include the presentation of a Star Asia Lifetime Achievement Award, a special premiere screening of Chinese Zodiac (Chan's 101st film), and a Q & A after the screening.
One June 11th, Chan will make an appearance at the Asia Society for a screening of Drunken Master II (aka The Legend of Drunken Master). The screening will be followed by a Q & A.
From June 23rd to 27th, there will be the largest Jackie Chan retrospective in North America, and will include screenings of The Young Master, Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, Armour of God, Police Story, Police Story 2, Project A, Miracles, and City Hunter.
After the cut is the official press release. For more information, visit FilmLinc.com.
Wong Kar-Wai's The Grandmaster has been stuck in production and post-production h-e-double-hockey-sticks for about three years now. While we can hardly say at this point whether or not the movie will be worth the wait, we ca...
It's been a little while since we've heard anything about Keanu Reeves's directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi. Last report we had featured a proof-of-concept video for the Iris motion-controlled camera system, which will ought t...
Tony Jaa is gearing to make a comeback after a few years away from the silver screen. His new film shooting right now is called A Man Will Rise, which co-stars Dolph Lundgren, Conan Stevens, David Ismalone, and Jakkrit Kanokp...
If you live in New York and are a fan of old school kung fu movies, you need to head to Anthology Film Archives next weekend. From April 19-21, the team behind the New York Asian Film Festival is putting on the Old School Kung Fu Fest.
The films will feature some major old school martial arts stars (e.g., Gordon "Shaolin Master Killer" Liu) in their rarest films. It also includes a whacked-out movie that supposedly makes Boxer's Omen look like a Disney film, and a super-secret screening described like so:
In the early 80s, big studios were trying anything to attract audiences, so this flick mixes three genres and then adds plenty of crack: you've got your wandering swordsman movie, your gore film, and a sexploitation shocker. The result is a whacked-out, hyper-gothic version of The Monkey's Paw, full of occult dungeons, human face frisbees, wild plot twists, swinging swordplay, and naked demon ladies having kung fu freak-outs.
I'm definitely going to do my best to be there for the mayhem on Saturday night.
Rediscovered by Drafthouse Films, Miami Connection is the kitschy action gift that keeps on giving: the best VHS action movie you never rented at the videostore when you were a kid. I mentioned in my review that the ideal way to watch the movie is in a group, and you can do that in mid-April thanks to the good people at Wasted Cinema.
The Miami Connection screening is at 7:00pm on Friday, April 12th at Legends (6 West 33rd Street between 5th Ave. and 6th Ave.). There will be a prize raffle, live tweeting, and much merrymaking.
For more information, visit wastedcinema.com. After the cut, a clip from the film that is now your new jam.
No matter what happens with G.I. Joe: Retaliation, there's at least going to be this scene in which ninjas totally ninja out and do ninja things. You know... they should really just do a Snake Eyes movie, or maybe just a har...