Posts tagged "martial arts"

Headshot (2016 – Review)

Headshot

Headshot
2016
Written by Timo Tjahjanto
Directed by Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto

Headshot
A late night screening at the Roxie let me see martial arts film Headshot, it’s got Iko Uwais, Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman!!!) and Hammer Girl herself, Julie Estelle! There are some other martial stars and a whole slew of fight scenes that keeps things entertaining even when part of the plot threatens to snatch that away.

The world of Headshot is a world where it takes dozens of bullets to kill someone, leading to many many scenes where characters are basically emptying clips from their machine guns into people before they finally die. It gets a little ridiculous. Okay, it gets very ridiculous. Insanely ridiculous. I had to assume it takes place in a universe where bullets only hurt as much as a bee sting or something. The violence and gore helps paint Headshot as more of a martial horror movie, it even opens in a filthy prison where dozens of characters machine gun each other down, only seemingly collapsing from the weight of the shear volume of bullets they pump into each others bodies.

Even the plot is set in motion because Iko Uwais was shot in the head and didn’t die, washing up in a coma on the beach and awakening in the hospital weeks later with amnesia. He’s then dubbed Ishmael by the local incredibly young Dr. Ailin (Chelsea Islan), who is infatuated with him and reading Moby Dick at the time. Any further parallel to Moby Dick is accidental beyond Ishmael’s determination to stop the villain Lee sort of like how Ahab was obsessed, but not in a self-destructive way that gets everyone dead, only a bunch of random innocent people. We know from Steven Seagal movies that coma victims are irresistibly attractive to women, so she couldn’t help it.

Ishmael wakes up, remembers nothing, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t still looking for him (or the former him, who was named Abdi), and soon Ishmael is violently getting his memory back and has to save the now kidnapped Dr. Ailin by punching and kicking his way through the army of villains. The main thing we are here for is the fights, to see Iko Uwais beat the snot out of people, and there is plenty of beating! The fight sequences are fantastic, and while they don’t measure to the top tier stuff from The Raid or the sequel, they are still worth your time, even if the rest of the plot is about as bad as The Raid 2‘s boring gangster drama.

The fight with Very Tri Yulisman is the best in the film, and they save it towards the end. Earlier fights have mixes of martial arts and gunplay (a fight in a police station seems to reference a scene in Die Hard before going in a completely different direction) A fight on a bus full of murdered people while goons are trying to burn it and all the evidence on it (and hopefully Ishmael as well) is a good highlight, the increasing danger as the fight progresses does a good job of building suspense while still giving plenty of nice fight choreography and brutal hits.

The boss villain Lee (Sunny Pang) gets several scenes that all do the same job of showing how he’s just an evil force of nature. His prison escape (from which he purposefully got himself captured just so he could escape?), his taking over of local drug gangs by killing anyone who dares resist him, and his history of kidnapping children after he raids villages, raising the children to be killers that he later uses as enforcers. As most of these kids are now in their mid-20s, this is like 20 years of investment into a bunch of powerful soldiers, all of which he sends against Ishmael in slow trickles so they can be defeated. Lee is more of a collection of villain tropes than an actual villain or even an evil father figure. They try to touch on the bad father figure part, but only spend a limited amount of time with, most of which is divorced from affecting Ishmael directly and instead hits Julie Estelle’s character more than anything in explaining why she won’t leave with Ishmael.

For Headshot you need to come for the fighting and wait for the next fighting. Luckily things start going by at a fast pace after the plot gets started, but it would be nice to once again recommend one of these Indonesian action films for the plot in addition to the fighting. I just want more, and I’m not going to settle for less.
Headshot

SFIFF 2017

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Posted by Tars Tarkas - May 2, 2017 at 7:54 am

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The Fate of Lee Khan (Review)

The Fate of Lee Khan

aka 迎春閣之風波 aka Ying Chun Ge Zhi Fengbo
The Fate of Lee Khan
1973
Written by King Hu and Wong Chung
Directed by King Hu

The Fate of Lee Khan
King Hu’s works are amazing, and he is one of the most influential artists in martial arts film history. That being said, The Fate of Lee Khan was made after Dragon Gate Inn and A Touch of Zen, and the biggest flaw is it just doesn’t live up to those classics. It is a good story, full of intrigue and great choreography. But it just feels smaller scale and lacks some of the smaller character moments that a smaller story should have. Lee Khan just doesn’t seem as dangerous as he should be considering he is supposed to be this big ultimate villain. The best way to describe him would be as the mediocre villain of the second film in a super hero series who bridges the gap before the more memorable villain in the third film.

The word is The Fate of Lee Khan was one of two productions of King Hu’s under his company, Gam Chuen (the other was The Valiant Ones). The films were to be distributed by Golden Harvest, who would gain the rights to Lee Khan while Hu would own The Valiant Ones. As usual, Hu’s films fell behind in filming, Lee Khan was barely finished by 1973, while The Valiant Ones wasn’t completed until 1975, and Gam Chuen then petered out.
The Fate of Lee Khan
It is a time when the Mongols have overstayed their welcome and General Zhu leads an army to fight them, spies are rife and everyone is paranoid. Lee Khan is a local overseer of two provinces and prince of the royal family, with his sister Lee Wan-Er as his loyal assistant. He found a member of General Zhu’s army to sell out and leaves to personally receive a map of battle plans. But this leads to opportunity and intrigue at a local inn, as these matters often do…

Madam Wan Ren-Mi (Li Li-Hua) – Runs the Ying Chun Inn, where Lee Khan is rumored to be staying at when meeting with a traitor that works for rebels. Is friends with benefits of the local governor Magistrate Ha Ra-Ku (Wu Jia-Xiang). Hires the waitresses who are all members of the rebellion, as is she.
Lee Khan (Tien Feng) – Leaves the safety of his palace to personally receive a map of the battle plans of the rebel general (the spy would only deliver to him personally) The map is legit but it is also an opportunity to attack Lee Khan out of the safety of his palace and numerous guards Tien Feng excelled at authoritative villainous roles in the 50s-80s, appearing in films such as Black Falcon, One-Armed Swordsman, Vengeance of a Snowgirl, King Boxer, Fist of Fury, By the 90s he had reduced his screen appearances, though still managed to appear in Green Snake and Sex and Zen.
Lee Wan-Er (Hsu Feng) – The sister of Lee Khan. Deadly villainess in her own right, including much more of a violent streak of wanting others to die for their crimes than Lee Khan. She seems to be the only person he cares about besides himself.
Black Peony (Angela Mao Ying) – Waitress dressed in black clothes. A former infamous pickpocket, Black Peony has mended her ways (sort of) by helping the Chinese resistance to the Mongol rule, and becomes a waitress at the Ying Chun Inn. I think she’s the only waitress whose character gets a name spoken on screen. Had her character been born rich, she’d probably be robbing from her rich friends and distributing it to the poor while wearing a super hero mask. For more Angela Mao films TarsTarkas.NET has covered, click on her tag.
Blue Waitress (Helen Ma Hoi-Lun) – A former bandit whose past makes her a poor choice as a waitress, but a good choice for someone you need in a fight. For more Helen Ma films TarsTarkas.NET has covered, click on her tag.
Red Waitress (Woo Gam) – A former street performer who now works for the rebels, she is adept with dealing with customers who have naughty hands than the other girls. For more Woo Gam films TarsTarkas.NET has covered, click on her tag.
Green Waitress (Seung-Goon Yin-Ngai) – The fourth waitress, she’s given the least amount of characterization except her character is hinted to be a con artist.
Wang Chun (Pai Ying) – A rebel sent to help, pretends to be Madam Wan’s cousin helping look over the books. Pai Ying was also in Dragon Gate Inn, A Touch of Zen, and Lady Whirlwind
Sha Yuan-San (Han Ying-Chieh) – Wandering singer and annoying rebel sent to help pretends to be Wang Chun’s assistant. Another King Hu regular who was in Come Drink with Me, Dragon Gate Inn, A Touch of Zen, and the non-King Hu film Sword of Emei.
Tsao Yu-Kun (Roy Chiao Hung) – High-ranking bodyguard to Lee Khan but also plotting against him. Roy Chiao had a prolific career including The Dark Heroine Muk Lan-Fa, Enter the Dragon, and Bloodsport.

The Fate of Lee Khan
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - February 9, 2017 at 7:45 am

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The White-Bone Sword Part 2 (Review)

The White-Bone Sword (Part 2)

aka 白骨陰陽劍(下集) aka The Yin Yang Blade aka Ingentious Swords, Part Two aka Bai gu yin yang jian, xia ji
White-boned Sword
1962HKMDB Link
Written by Sze-To On
Directed by Ling Yun

Dancing with the Trees never took off like Dancing with the Stars did…

The magic of The White-boned Sword continues with Part 2, which features slightly less monsters but slightly more martial intrigue. Which means the entry is less friendly for watching without subtitles. There is some nice sword fights, nice animated martial effects, and the return of the Tree Spirit. But there is also a bunch of people arguing, a pointless martial tournament, and weird pipe fighting that sounds cool but gets old really quick. A disappointing second entry, but the next two parts give us some more monsters so I’ll take this brief break in the fun.
White-boned Sword

Wong Tin-ho (Walter Tso Tat-wah) – Helping Luk Fong-fei and Black Girl train along with Wu Sheung-fung, but is drawn into more sword-related martial intrigue. Doesn’t really do much amazing stuff in this entry.
Wu Sheung-fung (Yu So Chow) – Still helping Wong Tin-ho train Luk Fong-fei and Black Girl, she proves her martial superiority early in this entry, and even tricks some of the dumbest villains in martial history.
Luk Fong-fei (Connie Chan Po-chu) – Daughter of a murdered family and training to get revenge, while also being a rebellious teen who sneaks out to do more martial arts stuff. Like teens do.
Pak Ha-mui aka Black Girl (Yip Wai-Ngai) – Daughter of a murdered mother and possessor of magic swords. She also is easily offended when you blame her for people being killed. She’s so over being part of a franchise and being responsible for magic swords
Vampire Lady (Kong Bo-Lin) – Vampire Lady is back in domino form. This is probably her weakest appearance in the series, but she makes up for it in the other entries.
Tree Spirit (Himself) – He’s dead but he’s back, because you can’t kill a spirit. Or at least a spirit that is connected to the sword via magic and it can summon him to fight evil.
Ghost Mother (Kam Ying-Lin) – The nefarious Ghost Mother returns, now teamed up with a new group of baddies who don’t give her any respect. She’s graduated from being the big bad to being the person killed by worse villains just to show how evil they are. At one point the synopsis calls her Blue Flower Ghostly Mother so that’s probably her full, legal name for you trivia buffs out there!
Pipe Guy (Chow Gat) – Part of a pipe-based martial sect who briefly orchestrates posession of the White-boned Swords before his group is easily tricked out of them. That must not be tobacco they are smoking in those pipes!
Sek Kin 2.0 (Sek Kin) – I never figured out what his character name was, but Sek Kin 2.0 keeps up the tradition and dies just like his identical twin brother did in Part 1. He works with the Five Element Taoists in a sword-snatching scheme that backfires because they are the villains and not the heroes in the story, you see. His name might be Three-hand Lohan Mak Tin-lung, which is a cool name but as I couldn’t prove it was him, it will go unassigned until I use it in a story I write years form now…
Old Devilish Eccentric (Ling Mung) – A mad wondering monk who is good and trains Black Girl after she runs off after fighting with Luk Fong-fei. The world needs more crazy martial guys who wander around and live in trees, so I support him 100%!

White-boned Sword
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - January 12, 2017 at 8:07 am

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Iron Swallow (Review)

Iron Swallow

aka 鐵燕 aka Tie Yan aka Shaolin Iron Eagle
Iron Swallow
1978
Story by Chu Yu
Directed by Cheung Pooi-Shing (as Chang Pay-Cherng)

Iron Swallow
Revenge is a dish best served cold. That’s what some Klingon guy told me, anyway. Iron Swallow is basically a kung fu version of I Know What You Did Last Summer, except it’s a decade later and the children of the slain are the ones having revenge. Revenge is the topic of discussion, because it’s the topic everyone is talking about.

The elders did a horrible crime they refuse to talk about to anyone or even each other. It quickly becomes obvious that it involves rape, murder, and bribes to cover up their deeds. Many of them spent years worrying about the crimes, some throwing themselves into philanthropy out of guilt. None of the characters will call the authorities when attacked, because they don’t want to drag up their sordid histories. This leaves their younger relatives confused and frustrated, knowing something bad is happening and seeing their parents unwilling to do anything about it.

The revenge plot is so much the sole focus that there isn’t some of the usual kung fu tropes. No one seeks out a great master, there is no training montage. There isn’t a gallant knight hanging out in disguise to set things right. It is just pure revenge. The purity of the focus of Iron Swallow is welcome, sometimes films try to do too much and end up accomplishing nothing, while Iron Swallow does what it is supposed to do and does it well.

The problem with all these lovely dubbed kung fu features is it is impossible to get anyone’s name correct, so please excuse me if the character names I use don’t sound exactly like the ones you hear when you watch the film. There is rarely consensus on just how the characters’ names are said by the dubbers, changing depending on who is speaking or what accent the ex-pat in Hong Kong/Taiwan who is doing the part has. Occasionally, the dubbers pronounce the same name differently in two concurrent sentences. Thus, all references to Chia Ling’s character will just be Iron Swallow.
Iron Swallow

Iron Swallow (Chia Ling) – Iron Swallow is the daughter of a murdered man, out to avenge his death by maiming those responsible for his death and the subsequent coverup. She arrives in town with her Aunt, who is also a victim of the incident that started everything. Iron Swallow has focused her entire life on getting revenge. She leaves trademark iron swallow darts with red tassels, which the enemy later uses to frame her. Iron Swallow’s actual name might be Chin Yeh.
Ko Fang (Ting Wa-Chung) – A kung fu student being raised by his single father, who is marked as a target by Iron Swallow. Ko Fang soon learns that all he thought was true was a lie, and that he’s more involved in the revenge drama than he knows. He is best friends with Tu Lung, who is like a brother to him.
Tu Lung (Don Wong Tao) – Son of Chu Hsaio Tien and best friend of Ko Fang. Tu Lung is the idyllic youth who soon learns that things weren’t as clear cut as he thought they would be when he was learning about the world. He’s soon dragged into the confrontations due to familiar and friendly connections, torn between the two sides and his reluctance to join in the violence.
Wu (Wong Wing-Sang) – A Fortune Teller who is really a skilled kung fu assassin hired by Mr. Chu to kill everyone connected to the case before it comes back on him.
Chu Hsiao Tien (Yee Yuen) – Kung Fu Master and local bigwig responsible for a horrible crime and the resulting cover up, which dooms everyone a decade later when it comes time for revenge. Even then, he refuses to take responsibility and tries to kill his way out of it.
Mo Tu Ping (Hung Kin-Wing) – A Mystery Man who keeps popping up to aid Iron Swallow for reasons unknown. It is eventually revealed his father was Mo Shing Yee, Iron Swallow’s father’s best friend, and died alongside him in the original incident. Now the son continues his family’s legacy.

Iron Swallow
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - October 17, 2014 at 12:36 pm

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Hapkido (Review)

Hapkido

aka 合氣道 aka He qi dao aka Hap Ki Do aka Lady Kung Fu
Hapkido 合氣道
1972
Written by Yan Ho
Directed by Feng Huang

Hapkido 合氣道
When you need villains for your martial arts movie, the Japanese are very handy. Not only did the Japanese actually do a bunch of bad stuff that seems only cartoon supervillains would do, but depicting them doing so helps stir up nationalistic feelings and potentially increases your box office bang. Thus martial arts schools are the setting for rebellion against Japanese occupiers in Hapkido, and Angela Mao Ying is more than capable of beating the snot out of all sorts of Japanese jerks.

Hapkido is one of Angela Mao’s earliest films for Golden Harvest. You can still see legacies of the Shaw Brothers influence, from the Golden Harvest logo having a strangely familiar shape to the film being advertised in “Dyaliscope”, whatever the heck that is!
Hapkido 合氣道
We start out in 1934 Japanese-occupied Seoul, where three Chinese students are studying Hapkido before harassment by Japanese occupiers cause them need to return to China, but that also means they can open a Hapkido school in China. Just as Japan now controls Korea, Japanese influence in China is not something to be ignored, their impending invasion of the whole country means their people act arrogant and criminally. The watchword for Hapkido is “forbearance”, which works fine except when the Japanese are assaulting innocent people and Sammo Hung’s character has a wicked temper. Then it gets put on the wayside while people get punched.
Hapkido 合氣道

Yu Ying (Angela Mao Ying) – Hapkido student who just wants to set up a school and teach everyone Hapkido, except the Japanese have other ideas. So it’s time to kick those ideas out of their heads and also kick many other parts of their bodies to get them to go away!
Fan Wei (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo) – Hot-headed Hapkido student who constantly gets into fights and causes trouble for his friends. But he also just happens to be around whenever the Japanese are doing something evil, so he also has very bad luck.
Kao Chung (Carter Wong Ka-Tat) – Hapkido student who tries to calm down all the trouble happening only to get a brutal beatdown to emphasize how the Japanese school is beyond reason.

Hapkido 合氣道
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - September 8, 2014 at 7:11 am

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Boxer from Shantung (Review)

Boxer from Shantung

aka 馬永貞 aka Ma Yong Zhen aka Ma Wing Jing aka Killer from Shantung
Boxer from Shantung 馬永貞
1972
Written by Chang Cheh and Ni Kuang
Directed by Chang Cheh and Pao Hsueh-Li

Boxer from Shantung 馬永貞
The rise of a gangster from nothing to boss who goes down in a violent orgy of death is one of those classic tales that gets told a lot in cinema. Boxer of Shantung is no exception on delivering the basic story. What Boxer of Shantung does do, is deliver the story in an entertaining fashion that makes you cheer for the hero, even as the trappings of power cause him to abandon some of his principals.

Boxer of Shantung is Chen Kuan-Tai’s first lead role, and he brings such an energy of pride to his laborer character Ma Yung Chen that you know he is going places. As a penniless worker, he argues against the innkeeper treating his fellow poors like second-class citizens. He refuses to do a demeaning job for insulting carriage drivers, nor does he accept charity from a fellow immigrant from Shantung who has gone on to do well. He decrees that he is going to be just as successful as him one day, and soon he gets a little territory, then goes punching his way for more. During his rise, Ma remembers his poor roots and chastises his men for shaking them down for money, choosing instead to target richer districts.
Boxer from Shantung 馬永貞
The trappings of power are dangerous, and when you play the game of thrones, you play for keeps, even if the game is being a local boss in olden China. Each move leads Ma Yung Chen increasingly in conflict with the Axe Gang, their champions and boss at first seeing him as a distraction to their main rival, Boss Tan Si (David Chiang Da-Wei), but eventually focusing on Ma Yung Chen with their entire gang army.

The action starts slow in Boxer from Shantung, but builds and build until the end, where Ma Yung Chen is battling the entire Axe Gang by himself. This slow burn action may have fallen out of favor in our ADD/hyperediting modern reality, but it still works for me. The fight scenes are worth waiting for, Chen Kuan-Tai is a powerful force, and the choreography incorporates all the random objects around the landscape into the melees. With each bump into the Axe Gang, Ma Yung Chen battles both more dangerous members and just plain more and more members of the Axe Gang.
Boxer from Shantung 馬永貞
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - July 10, 2014 at 8:23 am

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