Posts tagged "martial arts"

The Heroic Trio (Review)

The Heroic Trio

aka 東方三俠 aka Dong Fang San Xia
The Heroic Trio 東方三俠
1993
Written by Sandy Shaw Lai-King
Directed by Johnnie To Kei-Fung

The Heroic Trio 東方三俠
Next up in Tars reviews classic examples of global cinema that he should have damn well reviewed years ago is The Heroic Trio. Instead of again explaining how this was one of the first couple of Hong Kong films I saw and how it cemented me into a lifelong fan of Hong Kong Action Cinema, I’ll just remind you with this sentence that dismisses the topic while reaffirming it.

Make no mistake, The Heroic Trio is an awesome and classic piece of Hong Kong cinema from the last golden age. Johnnie To directing before he became a film festival darling. The ever-amazing Anita Mui being the most glamorous and moral super hero imaginable. Maggie Cheung as the rebel outsider hero who never looks before she leaps, and whose antics cause worse problems than the ones she tries to solve. Michelle Yeoh as the conflicted hero forced to serve evil. Anthony Wong in a surprisingly restrained performance as an unhinged psychopath.
The Heroic Trio 東方三俠
The Heroic Trio both riffs on and celebrates the glamor of cinema. Characters can often be found posed while events are going down, an off screen fan conveniently nearby to make their hair flow in the wind. They go so far as to have Thief Catcher bring along fashion clothes for the women to wear after the job is done so they’ll look extra spectacular, and shots of the women all doing their model walk as Cantopop sings us out. The obvious Western influences are the Batman films from Burton, but there is a heavy Terminator vibe going on as well. For a more inward look, the vast amount of girls with guns films helped position female-driven action films as a good idea, and some of the set design look straight out of Zu: Warriors from Magic Mountain. At one point a character uses a flying guillotine! The mixmash of films and ideas is one of the factors that makes Hong Kong film so great for the fans. Director Johnnie To lets the mood build not just with the actresses and their poses and expressions, but with a heavy use of Cantopop on the soundtrack, with Anita Mui showing why she was a legendary singing star at every note.

Johnnie To isn’t one to shy away from political metaphors, and The Heroic Trio is no exception. As 1997 and the turnover to China loomed in the minds of every Hong Kong citizen, it naturally became reflected in film. One reason why “Evil Master” seeks out male children is that one will be destined to become the new Emperor of China, under Evil Master’s control. Thus a return to Chinese rule would be a return to the olden days of Emperors, throwing out democratic rule. Mainland China is hardly a beacon of democracy, but the parallel is there. The fear is torn down by empowered women with fashion sense, who preserve the free way of life.
The Heroic Trio 東方三俠
One of the problems with great looking HD releases of films is it makes the wires way more apparent than the second generation VHS tapes I first saw the films on. The Heroic Trio had some shots that you could see the wires on even then, but now things are far more obvious in giving away the magic. Still, someone going through and CGing out all the wires would lose some of the charm, so it’s time to learn to live with such things.

In short, The Heroic Trio is a fun action filled adventure that borrows the best elements of decades of Hong Kong and American cinema to create a new classic.
The Heroic Trio 東方三俠

Tung, The Wonder Woman (Anita Mui Yim-Fong) – The glamorous Wonder Woman is also Tung, the unassuming housewife of Inspector Lau. Remarkably capable, Wonder Woman is the gold standard of awesome in the super heroine world of Hong Kong. Armed with dart blades and a ribbon sword.
Ching, The Invisible Woman (Michelle Yeoh) – Ching was childhood friends with Tung when both were being trained by a good master, but Ching left, only to fall in with Evil Master (and was known as San during that time). Despite literally working for evil, Ching isn’t a bad person, and eventually flips sides. Is invisible due to an invisibility cloak designed by her boyfriend, who is slowly dying as he works on the cloak.
Chat, The Thief Catcher (Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk) – A motorcycle-driving, shotgun brandishing heroine who is not afraid to break out her boomerang knife on anyone. Bounty hunter who is trying to break into being a super hero for hire. Thief Catcher’s haphazard methods result in a lot of dangerous situations, with occasional tragic consequences. That Wonder Woman is so perfect at the super-heroine job just drives Thief Catcher batty. Was childhood friends with Ching when both were taught by Evil Master, but Chat fled after a few years.
Inspector Lau (Damian Lau Chung-Yan) – Loving husband of Tung, and top cop who works with Wonder Woman. And, yes, he’s not so stupid he doesn’t figure out who his wife really is.
Kau (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) – Kau uses a flying guillotine when sent to kill wonder woman Anthony Wong was the go to guy for creepy in the 90s, and here he’s a slightly sanitized version of one of his gross characters from his many turns as Category III horror villains.
Evil Master (Yen Shi-Kwan) – When you are named Evil Master, you don’t really have a lot of choices in life on what to do for a living. Is looking for a new emperor for China, who he will control and thus rule China.

The Heroic Trio 東方三俠
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - June 1, 2014 at 12:18 pm

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She Shoots Straight (Review)

She Shoots Straight

aka 皇家女將 aka Huang jia nu jiang aka Lethal Lady
She Shoot Straight
1990
Written by Yuen Gai-Chi and Barry Wong Ping-Yiu
Directed by Corey Yuen Kwai

She Shoot Straight
An underloved classic, She Shoots Straight gives us a healthy dose of female fighting action that will satisfy even demanding Hong Kong Action Cinema junkies, as well as throwing in family drama and even a few funny scenes. Corey Yuen helms and shows off his action movie chops that have kept him producing cool cinema for decades.

Despite the awesome fights, She Shoots Straight failed to do well at the box office and has gone down in history as a failure. Despite the effort of many cult film fans and bloggers, it remains relatively obscure, lacking a lead who is one of the better known Girls with Guns actresses. It deserves a larger audience, the fight sequences are brutal and well choreographed, and several of the supporting actresses are legends of Hong Kong cinema. An English dub exists, but it is terrible, so avoid it like the plague.
She Shoot Straight
Joyce Godenzi is a former Miss Hong Kong (1984), whose big break in the acting world was 1987’s Easter Condors, directed by her future husband Sammo Hung. Mixed Australian and Chinese, it is even mentioned in the film. Her Eurasian ancestry and accusations of being a homewrecker (Sammo Hung was married when they met) may have had a hand in her disappearing from the spotlight. This is one of several films Hung put together for her.

Agnes Aurelio is an American-born body building champion, and I’ve seen her claimed to be the daughter of former President of the Philippines (though I can’t figure out which one, so take that with a grain of salt!) She apparently makes a fleeting appearance in JFK(!!), which gives her a Kevin Bacon number of 1.

Tang Pik-Wan plays the Huang family matriarch. A classic Hong Kong actress with credits dating back to 1950, She Shoots Straight would be among her last work, passing away in 1991. Her credits largely consist of opera or comedic roles, and she had a long career on television serials as well.
She Shoot Straight
With Carina Lau and Sandra Ng as sisters, the Huang family is well represented with legendary actresses and 1980s hairstyles. Rounding out the four sisters are Angile Leung and Sarah Lee (who is somehow Loletta Lee’s sister!), who are short on lines thanks to the already huge cast. Sammo Hung pops up as an adopted member of the Huang family who is also a cop. Yuen Wah is almost unrecognizable as the Vietnamese gang leader. His hair style and nerdy glasses hide the ruthless individual beneath who cares for nothing except his own family and revenge, innocents be damned.

The action sequences are solid, opening with Mina Kao showing her stuff saving a diplomat. There is a lot of leaping through windows and shooting while flying in the air. There is also a huge body count, with not only villains but many police and innocent people getting killed and maimed as the fights continue. The villains are presented as a force of pure destruction, the cops can only hope that they’ve brought enough men and ammo to slow them down and contain them. The final fight is classic, and the assault on the cargo ship is filled with some awesome moments of butt kicking. Ignoring the family drama, the action alone is enough to bump this up to classic territory.
She Shoot Straight

Inspector Mina Kao (Joyce Godenzi) – Decorated police inspector headed for a high ranking position. Also a new bride of a husband feeling pressure not only to carry on the family line, but because she’ll soon outrank him. A tough cop who gets results.
Huang Chia-Ling (Carina Lau Ka-Ling) – Hot-headed sister-in-law of Mina, doesn’t like her one bit. Her anger issues endangers a mission, then help lead her into a trap that she’s saved from at the cost of her brother. Forms a bond with Mina after that event.
Mrs. Huang (Tang Pik-Wan) – Matriarch of the Huang family, was the wife of a cop and saw her four daughters and one son become cops.
Inspector Huang Tsung-Pao (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) – The only son of a three-generation police family. You might as well call him Inspector Dead Meat, because he’s way too nice to survive. And that’s not just an opinion, it happens.
Huang Chia-Ju (Sandra Ng Kwun-Yu) – While a more minor character, Sandra Ng is a welcome sight as another of Tsung-Pao’s sisters who is involved in a few of the action scenes.
Yuen Hua (Yuen Wah) – Vietnamese refugee who is a veteran of guerrilla warfare, came to Hong Kong to cause trouble and rob for money. Life is cheap to Yuen Hua, except that of his family. Leaves a bloody trail at all of his crime spots.
Yuen Ying (Agnes Aurelio) – Sister of Yuen Hua and a huge body builder and fighter. Just as ruthless as her brother, and more perceptive about the police. Has a big fight scene with Mina Kao.

She Shoot Straight
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - May 24, 2014 at 3:09 pm

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Tom Yum Goong 2 (Review)

Tom Yum Goong 2

aka ต้มยำกุ้ง 2 aka The Protector 2
Tom Yung Goong 2 Protector
2013
Written by Eakisit Thairaat
Directed by Prachya Pinkaew

Tom Yung Goong 2 Protector Jeeja
An elephant gets stolen again, causing Tony Jaa to kick lots of people again. This time, the stunts are bigger and 3D driven, but also more CGI enhanced and less realistic, which is a shame. There is no long tracking shot like in Tom Yum Goong, and the more memorable fights are remembered because of their gimmicks, not because of their awesomeness. But that sounds like I’m bagging on Tom Yum Goong 2 a bit hard, it was still some good fun, even if it can’t live up to it’s predecessor. And let’s face it, there aren’t many martial arts films that can.

Tom Yum Goong 2 went into production in August 2011. It was delayed by horrible Thailand floods, Tony Jaa doing weird things, production infighting, Jeeja’s unplanned pregnancy, and a bunch of other problems too boring to reiterate. It’s more of a minor miracle the film was completed at all, and isn’t terrible. But the money and the problems changed a few things for the worse, and didn’t give anything in return.
Tom Yung Goong 2 Protector
The fights are now 3D, so there is less continual choreography and long shots and more 3D-ish effects, which sort of makes them worse. The made-for-3Dness makes the CGI additions a lot more noticeable, especially when you aren’t watching in 3D. But even if I was, there wasn’t that much going on that made me wish I was watching in 3D. 3D doesn’t make the kicks any harder, nor does it make the tracking shots suddenly several minutes long. All we get is a few random CGI items floating across the screen. The most creative shots they didn’t even use outside of one part, which was a POV facecam as Kham was running from a bunch of goons.
Tom Yung Goong 2 Protector eeja

Kham (Tony Jaa) – Kham is back and he’s still got his elephant, but now the elephant Korn is in danger…oh, wait, that happened last time. So Kham now has to beat up a lot of people…oh, wait, that happened last time! Eh, just enjoy him kicking butt!
Ping Pong (“Jeeja” Yanin Vismistananda) – Ping Pong and her sister Sue-sue (Theerada Kittiseriprasert) walk in on Kham standing over the body of their murdered uncle, and immediately begin attacking him and chase him down. Only after an examination of the corpse does Ping Pong realize their mistake, but by then Sue-sue has been killed by Number 02. Ping Pong uses drugged needles and agility to defeat larger foes.
Mr. LC (RZA) – Leader of an underground fighting club that does all sorts of bad things, including gun running and getting involved in international assassination attempts to foster dictatorial ambitions of warlords. He never loses, so don’t tell him he lost. His group is ranked, but he made sure to tattoo Number 00 on his head so we all know he’s the best that ever was.
Sergeant Mark (Petchtai Wongkamlao) – Kham’s old friend from Australia is in Thailand helping out with all the diplomatic things going on, and gets involved with Kham’s latest elephant kidnapping party.
Number 02 (Marrese Crump) – Largely silent fighter who wants to be the best fighter there ever was, and will punch whoever and whatever it takes to get there. Murders with a unique series of close blows. Has a complicated honor system, but is still pretty evil and loyal to Mr. LC. Marrese Crump was RZA’s stunt double on The Man with the Iron Fists, and got promoted to costar here.
Number 20 (Yayaying Rhatha Phongam) – One of Mr. LC’s fighters, loyal to him because he saved her during a sexual assault and trained her in fighting so she could get revenge on her attackers.

Tom Yung Goong 2 Protector
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - April 18, 2014 at 7:53 am

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Tom-Yum-Goong (Review)

Tom-Yum-Goong

aka ต้มยำกุ้ง aka The Protector
Tom Yum Goong The Protector Tony Jaa
2005
Written by Prachya Pinkaew, Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, Napalee, Piyaros Thongdee, and Joe Wannapin
Directed by Prachya Pinkaew

Tom Yum Goong The Protector Tony Jaa
“Where’s my elephant?” – Kham, like 1000 times.

“Where’s my elephant?” demanded the small man with the big confidence. The goons stood and smirked, surely this small man was small and thus no threat. The next thing they remember is waking up in the hospital, having been kicked through the door. Thus the adventure begins as Tony Jaa searches for his missing elephants and people get the crap beat out of them from Thailand to Australia. Along the way there is a complicated plot about illegal food smugglers and amoral businesses and gang rivalries, but the plot is the least of our worries. Because Tom-Yum-Goong (or The Protector if you’re watching the American version) is the film that features a 4 minute long single take of Tony Jaa fighting his way up several flights of stairs with goons all the way. It is, quite simply, one of the most amazing fight sequences in cinema.

Tom-Yum-Goong is the followup to Ong Bak, the film that put Tony Jaa and Prachya Pinkaew on the international map. Jaa and Pinkaew would have on set troubles in all subsequent films, with the two feuding about funding and unexplained absences. Ong Bak 2, Ong Bak 3, and Tom Yum Goong 2 would all have various production problems and delays, with causes ranging from the aforementioned arguing to political strife to disastrous flooding to a marriage and a pregnancy!
Tom Yum Goong The Protector Tony Jaa
Whatever future events would be, the fact is that everything aligned to make Tom-Yum-Goong an amazing action film. The choreography is amazing, Tony Jaa pulls off a huge assortment of stunts and once he gets going, will fight what amounts to a ridiculous amount of opponents on his quest to rescue his elephants. We don’t even see the beginning shot, we just see the bodyguard fly into the room to signify that Kham and begun to beat everyone up. That was an editing choice, as the initial punches were filmed, but it works so much better to have the sudden crash. Tom-Yum-Goong is filled with creativity, from the fight up the stairway that just goes on and on to the fights in a flooded temple that is visually stunning. The villains have at their disposal a near limitless amount of goons on extreme sports equipment, from inline skates to dirt bikes, all of which come riding in to beat the tar out of Kham, and all of which fail miserably. Tony Jaa and Panna Rittikrai even developed a new style of Muay Thai they called Muay Koshasan to represent an elephant fighting style. The attention to little details that have a big impact to make the film look unique is all part of the charm.
Tom Yum Goong The Protector Bongkoj Khongmalai

Kham (Tony Jaa) – He’s just a dude looking for his elephants.
Sergeant Mark (Petchtai Wongkamlao) – A Thai cop in Australia who is tangled in not only the Kham beating everyone up mess, but also a corrupt cop mess and a political killings mess. It’s very messy to be Sergeant Mark!
Pla (Bongkoj Khongmalai) – A student turned prostitute who is forced to replay the debt of her dead relative or else she’ll be killed or worse. Helps Kham when she can. Is caught up in some political assassin intrigue, but is largely in the film for eye candy, hence her featured scene where she’s rubbing mud all over herself while wearing little clothing. Bongkoj Khongmalai is also in Dangerous Flowers.
Madame Rose (Xing Jin) – Ascending to the head of a criminal empire is hard when even your family is against you. Luckily for Madame Rose, she’s planned ahead, and just might have a few less relatives to deal with. Think of all the money she’ll save on greeting cards! It’s almost enough to buy some black market elephants…
Korn (???) – Baby elephant from a Jatubaht warrior family that’s stolen along with his father, Por Yai. Kham sets out to save them from their dark fate.

Tom Yum Goong The Protector Tony Jaa
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - April 17, 2014 at 7:46 am

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Brunei jumps into the martial arts game with Yasmine!

Brunei is not really known in the world cinema front, in fact I can’t really think of a film from Brunei. In fact, until 2013, there wasn’t really a film from Brunei made after 1968, which was well before the country gained its independence. The 2013 film What’s So Special About Rina? (Ada Apa Dengan Rina) was the first release, and other Brunei films are in production, including a female-led martial arts drama called Yasmine.

Yasmine follows the titular heroine and her dream to become a silat champion, the martial art popularized from the The Raid films. Newcomer Liyana Yus will play Yasmine, whose goal at martial arts is first to attract the attention of a boy, but soon grows into something bigger. Yasmine will be directed by Siti Kamaluddin, who produces along with her brother and cowrote the story. Kamaluddin and her brother Khairuddin Kamaluddin have a successful advertising company and have made the plunge into the film world. Jackie Chan collaborator Chan Man-Ching is directing the action sequences and helps with the 5 hour a day training regimen of Liyana Yus.

Siti Kamaluddin explains some of the difficulties of starting film production from scrap and importing talent and equipment:

“The equipment is rented from Malaysia, the crew is mixed: our sound and audio department is from Indonesia, then we’ve got Hong Kong and Chinese crew for technical,” she says, listing it all on her fingers. “The art department is from Malaysia but the head of production design is Australian. My DoP [director of photography] is Australian. Chan Man-Ching is from Hong Kong. We have talent from Indonesia and Malaysia. I’m Bruneian, my line producer is from Malaysia, and it’s been a challenge getting extras. Normally you’d go to talent for this stuff but that doesn’t exist here, so we have to do it all ourselves: advertising, calling schools, sending text messages.”

The film has completed filming and will be released at some point in 2014.

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Yasmine movie poster

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Posted by Tars Tarkas - February 27, 2014 at 2:53 pm

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Showdown at the Equator (Review)

Showdown at the Equator

aka 過江龍獨闖虎穴 aka Guo jiang long du chuang hu xue
Showdown at the Equator
1978
Written and directed by Gwan Jing-Leung

Showdown at the Equator

Trashing restaurants is soooooo boring!


It’s a kung fu cop action flick from the late 1970s, so you know it will be full screen and dubbed terribly. The characters will be wearing outfits that make fashion police commit suicide, and the plot will only occasionally make sense. Throw in scenes that are just there for excuses for more fights and characters whose names change depending on who is talking, and you got yourself a movie. Just don’t hurt yourself getting down to the funky theme song. Because it’s the only thing that’s funky.

Showdown at the Equator is about gangs that extort protection money out of small business owners, and the cops that are bringing them down. The film doesn’t bother to tell us certain characters are cops (though it’s easy to deduce), and spends a long time putting together the reason why the plan is so complicated. But Showdown at the Equator does have a more unconventional final battle sequence, the characters that end up fighting aren’t quite the matchups you think they’ll be.

Showdown at the Equator

Peter Tork!


As part of the massive deluge of kung fu films pumped out to feed the overseas demand, Showdown at the Equator packs in a lot of action, even if it doesn’t make any sense. The action it does well, the choreography pretty decent for a film obviously made in a hurry with little money for fancy rigs or setups. It’s got that small budget charm that you get from picking a random martial arts vhs from the video store (if your store was cool enough to have a martial arts section!) I enjoy these films, but I recognize what they are, that they aren’t for everyone, and that Showdown at the Equator has a lot of problems that keeps it from being a film anyone remembers anything about. Good thing I took notes!
Showdown at the Equator

Herbie, NOOOO!!!


Chen Wan Tu-Lei (Nora Miao Ke-Hsiu) – Daughter of a restaurant owner who is targeted by the extortion gangs. She knows enough martial arts thanks to her nunchucks that she can fight back some when the gang trashes their place.
Yu Wang-Yeung (Larry Lee Gam-Kwan) – A drunk that helps the Chen family rebuild their restaurant multiple times thanks to stacks of cash he has with no explanation. He’s really an undercover cop trying to bring down the gang by infiltrating it by being an awesome fighter. Of course Chen Wan falls for him.
Chen Chung (Yiu Ping) – Restaurant owner and father of Chen Wan Tu-Lei. Tries to be friendly with the extortion gang, but they trash his place regardless. Mr. Chen Chung is sometimes called Ching Chung depending on who is speaking.
Li Shung (Bruce Leung Siu-Lung) – An undercover informant for cops who is exposed halfway through the film. He barely crosses paths with Yu Wang-Yeung except during the final fight.
Steven (Lo Lieh) – The head of the gang, the cops don’t even know who he is until most of the way through the film. Despite being in charge of the gang, he overseas almost all of their illegal activities, which lets him discover when the cops are closing in.

Showdown at the Equator

How dare they think this isn’t a real stadium!


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Posted by Tars Tarkas - January 24, 2014 at 2:59 pm

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