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8:00 PM on 03.24.2015

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

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...

Alec Kubas-Meyer

6:00 PM on 03.24.2015

Ip Man 3 will feature Mike Tyson and a CG Bruce Lee

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...

Hubert Vigilla

The Cult Club: The Last Dragon (1985) photo
The Cult Club: The Last Dragon (1985)
by Hubert Vigilla

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 movie. Thirty years later, The Last Dragon has endured and might be considered timeless in its own way. (Fittingly, the film's star, Taimak, looks well-preserved today at 50 years old.)

The Last Dragon comes up every now and then in pop culture, like Busta Rhyme's 1997 video for "Dangerous" or an episode of The Venture Brothers in 2006; if you're lucky, you may see a Sho'Nuff cosplayer at a comic convention. The film is era-specific but without feeling completely dated, which is hard to pull off. Part of it is the way the heroic journey merges three different kinds of narratives: the fairy tale, the coming-of-age story, and the kung fu movie.

While The Last Dragon isn't an intellectual movie, it's constantly aware of what it's doing with genre tropes and how it's subverting racial identity and cultural stereotypes, and so it lends itself to an intelligent read.

It's also the meanest, prettiest, baddest mofo lowdown around this town.

[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pack, as well as their enduring legacy.]

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2:00 PM on 02.24.2015

Help fund The Old School Kung Fu Fest 2015 in NYC

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 ...

Hubert Vigilla

Iko Uwais and other Raid 2 actors will be in Star Wars: The Force Awakens photo
Iko Uwais and other Raid 2 actors will be in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

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 undoubtedly put the prequels to shame, but how much does that really say? (Not much.)

But now I'm sold. Why? Because Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruyhian, and Cecep Arif Rahman of The Raid 2 fame have been cast in the film. There's no further information, but there doesn't need to be. If you'll remember, The Raid 2 is literally the best action film ever, and much of that comes down to the talent of these three men. Back when the spinoffs were first being announced, we put together a list of six filmmakers who should be given a chance to leave their mark on the Star Wars universe. At the top of that list was Gareth Evans, The Raid 2's director. While this isn't quite that, Uwais and Ruyhian are his main choreographers, and Rahman proved his worth as an onscreen martial artist with that incredible final fight, so it's basically the next best thing.

I would love it if halfway through the film, John Boyega happened to walk in on a fight club and then the entire narrative just stopped for 10 minutes while people just beat each other up. That definitely won't happen, but I'm sure whatever does will be freaking awesome (or J. J. Abrams will be dead to me forever).

I am so freaking excited about this, you guys. You don't even know.

[Via Collider]

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11:00 AM on 12.02.2014

Tony Jaa leaves kickboxer to be replaced by Van Damme

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....

Matthew Razak

I'm Kickstarting a short film, and you're coming with me photo
I'm Kickstarting a short film, and you're coming with me
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

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 reading any of my reviews, I'm giving you the chance to call my bluff. 

You see, I'm making a short film called Reel. It's a martial arts film that I'm co-writing/directing with actor/writer/friend Gerard Chamberlain, and we're both exceedingly excited about the project. We think it's going to be pretty much the best thing since sliced bread, which is why we've set up a Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a great platform. It's one we've written about dozens (possibly hundreds) of times. I've backed a bunch of things, and I actually spent a semester studying the platform in school. I have a pretty good conceptual understanding of it, but I'm about to see how that can be put into practice. (And yes, I'm totally aware of the direct comparison to conceptual criticism versus practical application of filmmaking you may or may not be making right now.)

Regardless, I want to share this experience with all of you who have been on Flixist with me for the past three-plus years.

Backer updates are all well and good, but there's more to it than that. For the next month, I'll be discussing the process of actually getting a project onto Kickstarter at all. I'll be talking about everything from writing the pitch to figuring out the goal. A lot of work goes into setting up a Kickstarter, and the next month is probably going to take a few years off my life. But I hope you can learn something from that. Whether we raise our funds or not, our successes and failures could be a template for you if you decide to crowdfund in the future.

So let's freaking do this everybody. If there's anything else about the process that you want to hear about, let me know in the comments. 

[Alec is doing a Kickstarter. You can (and should) back it here. Through the project's duration, he will be writing a series of articles about the process. More about that here. Check out the other entries here.]

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11:00 AM on 05.14.2014

Kickboxer getting remade with kickass dudes

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...

Nick Valdez

4:00 PM on 04.17.2014

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

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, ...

Alec Kubas-Meyer

Review: The Raid 2: Berandal photo
Review: The Raid 2: Berandal
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

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, but there are gaps in my knowledge.

But you know what? That doesn’t matter. Even with my critical blind spots, I can say with conviction something that I know in my heart of hearts to be true: The Raid 2: Berandal is the best action film ever made.


[This review is being reposted to coincide with the film's theatrical release.]

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Review: Man of Tai Chi photo
Review: Man of Tai Chi
by Hubert Vigilla

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.

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2:00 PM on 10.23.2013

First art from The Raid 2: Berandal is already fantastic

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 ...

Nick Valdez

Review: Ip Man: The Final Fight photo
Review: Ip Man: The Final Fight
by Hubert Vigilla

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.]

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Review: The Grandmaster photo
Review: The Grandmaster
by Hubert Vigilla

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.

In the interim, Donnie Yen put out two Ip Man films (with a 3D sequel still in the works), Herman Yau did two of his own (The Legend is Born: Ip Man and Ip Man: The Final Fight), and there was also an Ip Man television series.

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.

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Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmaster cut by 20 mins for US photo
Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmaster cut by 20 mins for US
by Hubert Vigilla

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.

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Fantasia Review: Bushido Man photo
Fantasia Review: Bushido Man
by Hubert Vigilla

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.]

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First trailer for Tony Jaa's Tom Yum Goong 2 photo
First trailer for Tony Jaa's Tom Yum Goong 2
by Hubert Vigilla

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.

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Brutal, badass first trailer for Donnie Yen's Special ID photo
Brutal, badass first trailer for Donnie Yen's Special ID
by Hubert Vigilla

Martial arts superstar Donnie Yen has been keeping busy. He's got The Monkey King and Iceman 3D coming out soonish, there's the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel shooting next year, and there's still talk about Ip Man 3D. On top of all that, there's Special ID, a gritty crime thriller that looks absolutely badass.

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.

[via Twitch]

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NYAFF Review: The Legend Is Born: Ip Man photo
NYAFF Review: The Legend Is Born: Ip Man
by Hubert Vigilla

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.]

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The Raid 2: Berandal will be bigger and
The Raid 2: Berandal will be bigger and "more cinematic"
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

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.

I'm so freaking excited.

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BFF Review: Dragon Girls photo
BFF Review: Dragon Girls
by Hubert Vigilla

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.]

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3:00 PM on 05.22.2013

Trailer: Iceman 3D

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...

Hubert Vigilla