Monday, 1 November 2010

King of the Kickboxers (1990)

So this here will be my final review in my month long retrospective of the cult favourite that is the No Retreat, No Surrender series. Last week I posted a somewhat underwhelming review of No Retreat, No Surrender 3. That's because with each movie they become harder to endure due to the diminishing quality of each entry. It is hard to get through a movie some times that has absolutely horrendous acting and even worse plot lines but I've endured this long simply to share my views on the martial arts action and that's what we're all here for right? okay, then!

This week I'm sharing my thoughts on the last of Loren Avedon's entries in the series with King of the Kickboxers and its like that old saying, you always save the best for last. Well, that certainly is the case we have here. The film opens in Thailand where we see a Thai boxing competition, although you wouldn't know it was supposed to be Thai boxing when the fighters are using Tae Kwon Do techniques but hey who can tell the difference right? except maybe Kung Fu Cinephiles like myself and many others who love the genre.

Anyway, one of the fighters is Sean Donahue played by martial artist Michael Depasquale Jr who wins the competition much to the delight of his hyperactive younger brother Jake. On the way back from the arena, I say Arena it was really just one of those sweaty Thai boxing gyms you always see in movies like this, they are attacked by knife wielding thugs. Sean leaps into action with all the precision and grace action director Tony Leung Siu-Hung can muster and before long the movie's main villain, Khan played by Billy Blanks, shows up.

Yes, that Billy Blanks, the creator of the Tai Bo workout technique. Of course this was before he had developed that and was trying to find his feet in the movie industry as an actor. As you'd expect Sean and Khan tangle but Sean is no match for the grimacing warrior and is killed after getting kicked several times in the throat. Jake tries to fight him but hilariously gets his ass whooped and is left traumatized and physically scarred. Cut to ten years later where Jake has transformed into Loren Avedon and is an undercover police officer for the NYPD. Here we see he's the typical renegade cop who does whatever it takes to get the job done and blows his cover during a drug bust. Next we are treated to a very snappy and well paced fight with fellow martial arts movie actor Jerry Trimble. It's always great to see a guy like Trimble in action, such a shame that people like Trimble and Avedon and a few others never get the credit they obviously deserve.

Understandably Jake's boss is pissed but rather then suspend him and recommend him for psychological evaluation like any normal police captain would do after hearing one of his officer's disobeyed orders and brutally assaulted the assailants, he does what movie police captains always do. Ignore the whole thing ever happened and recommend him to Interpol for an operation to take down a snuff film ring that recruits martial artists and murders them on film. At first Jake refuses, as the job involves going to Thailand and the memories of his brother's death are still painful but after viewing some of the tapes, Jake realises the one committing the murders is Khan. So, after letting out an anguished scream which looks like he'd caught his testicles in something, he flies to Thailand undercover.

Upon arrival Jake tries to get noticed by picking on a local Thai boxing school. He beats up a couple of their students only to have one of them retaliate later, telling him that he's not good enough to take Khan. The student then suggests he find a fighter but the name of Prang (Keith Cooke, the guy who shamefully played Sub-Zero in Mortal Kombat Annihilation), the only man to almost beat Khan one on one and get some well needed training. At this point, the whole thing just became one huge rip off of the Van Damme movie Kickboxer. The only thing that really elevates this movie over that Van Damme one would be the action sequences. So, if you've seen Kickboxer then you can probably guess what the rest of the movie is going to be about.

Like the previous film, the action is choreographed by Tony Leung Siu-Hung, only instead of going for the hyper and gritty street fighting style, he's used a more exaggerated style that's very similar to Corey Yuen's work on the previous movies and suits the tone of the whole movie quite well. As I said Leung makes all the actors like fantastic when they start fighting. Avedon has never looked better, with each movie he got better and better as an action star and to this day Kickboxers has remained his magnum opus. To compliment Avedon, Blanks gets to show his stuff in the few fight scenes that he has. The finale set in a bamboo Thunderdome type arena shows two great fighters going against each other and just generally impressing the hell out this reviewer. It's funny, I've seen a couple other movies starring Blanks and Kickboxers is the only one were he's used effectively.

King of the Kickboxers, like the other entries in the series, is not a great movie when you talk about the plotting or the acting. What makes these movies stand out more then most are the fight scenes. Here you have guys like Corey Yuen and Tony Leung giving it their best and you would be hard pressed to find any other American martial arts movie of this period to top them all. If I had to choose one that was the overall best, then I definitely would have to go with number 3; Blood Brothers.

This is simply because I found the fighting to be better paced, tightly choreographed and excellently executed by the cast. So, there you have it, my retrospective is finally over. Now at this point, a few of you who might be reading this might be going "Aren't you missing something?" well, yeah, kind of.

You see, in 1991 a film made by the same crew was released called American Shaolin. Some view it as the fifth entry into the series and while I certainly wouldn't argue with that, I just simply don't have the stomach to watch Shaolin monks sing rock and roll and have the wherewithal to write a decent review about it. I may one day get round to it but for now my self inflicted torture that has been this retrospective will have to end so I can write about other movies, preferably Hong Kong action flicks which I'll be concentrating heavily on over the next few weeks. As well as working on new features for the blog itself, so rather then offer just review after review, I'll have other things on here that might interest my readers.

Monday, 25 October 2010

No Retreat, No Surrender 3: Blood Brothers (1990)

And the hits just keep on coming with part 3 of my retrospective of the cult movie franchise No Retreat, No Surrender. This week I'm reviewing part 3 subtitled Blood Brothers. Loren Avedon returns along side fellow martial artist Keith Vitali as two brothers Will(Avedon) and Casey(Vitali) who just can't seem to get along. Will spends his time teaching Karate and by teaching Karate I mean showing amazing displays of Tae Kwon Do and beating the living snot out of his students in an attempt to teach what it's like "on the streets" and Casey spends his time foiling bank robberies and sleeping with any leggy blonde unfortunate enough to fall into his line of sight. No, Casey isn't a superhero, he works for The Company, otherwise known as the CIA, I guess doing desk work gets dull after a while.

The reason these two don't get along is they represent two completely different ideologies of the human condition. Casey is the straight laced conservative fighting for truth, justice and the American way and strives hard to maintain social order in a world on the brink of war between the U.S. and Russia. Casey embodies the liberal spirit of modern society, who has cast off such stifling things as a boring office job and having a mortgage and expresses his freedom by training his body in the ancient form of martial combat. So when these two champions of opposing ideals meet they clash like thunder.

Actually, scratch everything I just wrote, I just added all that stuff and nonsense to make the film appear deep when actually it's less shallow then a half dried puddle. The reason these two whingey little sods don't get along is, well, I suppose it was just to make the movie and the characters more interesting when all it really does is make you want to reach into the screen, smack both of them round the lug hole and tell them to get over themselves. After meeting our fearless heroes we're treated to a scene in which they visit their father John (Joseph Campanella) to celebrate his birthday. Barely five minutes go by and the two brothers are at each other's throats like two hungry dogs fighting over a steak. At this point I didn't find these two characters at all likable. Avedon is certainly the better actor, while Vitali grits his teeth and his eyes bulge out like they're trying to escape his skull in an attempt to make it look like he's doing some serious acting. Yet all this conflict just didn't make them particularly endearing.

After the two storm off, John is left alone. Not long after that the bad guys or as I like to call them the Bad Hair Brigade, as they sport some of the most embarrassing hairstyles in the entire franchise, show up and rather then do the sensible thing and just shoot him in the back of the head, they decide to throw him round the house with some impressive stunt work. When Will and Casey find their deceased father, they decide to go their own way and get revenge on the people who saved John from the torture that is these two arguing.

Yes, I like to think his death is a mercy killing more then anything else. So, will the two of them get the bad guys and also make amends in time for the final reel? if you're really wondering that then I suggest you take your computer monitor (or laptop for those people on the go) and lightly tap the top of your skull no less then seven times, make it eight just to be safe.

NRNS 3 maintains the status quo of thin on plot and thick on action and boy it is thick on action. It's probably the most martial arts heavy of the series so far. After the second movie Corey Yuen moved on and the directing reigns were handed to Lucas Lowe but to maintain the snappy Hong Kong action style fight choreographer Tony Leung Siu-Hung was brought on board. Like it's previous entries the fighting is where the film shines the most. Leung fighting style is quite different to Corey Yuen's. While Yuen often has a fast paced but slightly exaggerated style to his scenes, Leung brings a much more dynamic and hard hitting street style that works in the actor's favours. Loren Avedon spent six hours a day for six months intensively preparing for the movie it really shows. His movements are less stiff and much more fluid and he has a heavier build that makes him look more of a dangerous adversary then he did in the previous movie.

He's paired well with co-star Keith Vitali who had appeared in classics like Revenge of the Ninja and Wheels on Meals by this time in his career, so he was already seasoned in the ways of movie making. Yet unlike Avedon he only spent a month preparing for the movie and ended up injuring his arm for his troubles, so for the whole movie Vitali has his hand in a cast but you barely notice it and it doesn't really effect his fighting. Anyone who may have seen Wheels on Meals may already know how good Vitali is and while NRNS3 doesn't quite show off his flair for screen fighting, it's definitely one of his better films that he made in his short screen career.

As for as the series goes NRNS3 has been the strongest entry thus far, the story is half-way decent but the acting stinks, I've said before Avedon is a decent actor but he over acts just a little bit sometimes and it gets a little grating. The action is by far the best I've seen and is further testament to the work of Tony Leung Siu-Hung, who is probably one of the more underrated action directors to work the action film genre.

So, that's all I've got to say on No Retreat, No Surrender 3, join me next week where I'll be reviewing the next instalment King of the Kickboxers.

Monday, 18 October 2010

No Retreat, No Surrender 2: Raging Thunder (1987)

Welcome to my second week in my retrospective of the No Retreat, No Surrender series. Today I'm reviewing the second entry No Retreat, No Surrender 2: Raging Thunder. After the huge success of the first one Seasonal films were quick to put together a sequel to capitalize on it's huge success. Both stars Kurt Mckinney and Jean-Claude Van Damme had signed on and a script and locations in Thailand had been put together.

Unfortunately days before cameras were set to roll Van-Damme dropped out of the film, feeling it would not further his career and went on to star in Kick Boxer, which propelled the Muscles from Brussels into super stardom. Strangely, Mckinney would soon follow, thus leaving the film without it's principle actors. Producer Roy Horan was then forced to find replacements. German martial artist Matthias Hues took the place of Van-Damme and American Tae Kwon Do expert Loren Avedon was given the leading role.

The film opens in the stormy fields of Vietnam, here we see a group of people tied to posts ready to be executed by the military, here we meet Ty played by none other then Hwang Jang Lee, we can tell he's the bad guy cos 1) his face is partially obscured by shadow and 2) he has a mean looking scar on his face and nothing says evil like a big facial scar. Suddenly he barks an order and they proceed to kill their prisoners, quite why he's executed these people is never made clear but it serves the purpose of just showing just how evil this guy is, I guess a little t-shirt saying "I'm The Bad Guy" would have been a too subtle.

Next we meet Scott Wylde (Avedon), a martial artist who travels to Thailand to visit his college sweet heart Sulin. After a romantic meal consisting of deep fried insects and Tiger testicles he whisks her away to his flop house hotel room for a Bond style love scene, complete with slow motion disrobing and cheesy music. That Scott is a classy guy. Not long after their torrid love making they are attacked by some thugs. Sulin is kidnapped and Scott is arrested by the local police for killing some of the attackers. After an awkward interrogation in which he was told to inexplicably jump or maybe shut up I couldn't tell, Roy Horan shows up and tells him to bugger off to Singapore and never set foot in Thailand again.

As he's about to be shoved into a plane, Scott escapes on a motorcycle which culminates in a jump over a spitfire that would make Evel Kienevel piss himself laughing from beyond the grave. Scott soon finds out Sulin's kidnappers are involved with the Vietnamese army and Russian military, sadly I can't recall why these two armies had joined forces or why they kidnapped her but it's not all that integral to the movie. Scott then enlists the help of wise cracking Vietnam veteran Mac Jarvis (Max Thayer) and the hot tempered fighter Terry (Cynthia Rothrock) to go with him to Cambodia to rescue his girl and take down the bad guys.

So, yeah, the plot is very different to the Karate Kid cloning of the original, it seems that the producers were eager to push the series further and give the audience more bang for their buck. It's also obvious that Rambo II was a huge influence, with it's exotic locations and bombastic action sequences. There's a lot of martial arts action but there's also a few good gun fights thrown in which gives the film a really wild over the top tone. Corey Yuen returned for directing duties so as you'd expect the action is really solid for the most part.

I mentioned previously he really knows how to make people look good when their fighting, he has this incredible knack for being able to play to the actor's strengths and NRNS2 is a fine example of this. Avedon is a good martial artist, he looks good when he's throwing kicks and he handles himself well in the numerous action scenes he's in, Yuen choreographs his action that plays to Avedon's strengths really well. He's also not that bad an actor, growing up he starred in TV commercials and had a few bit parts in low budget action flicks but NRNS2 was his first full leading role, he may have been a little rough around the edges in the drama department but with a lot more exposure and some sure fire hits under his belt he could well have been a big a star as Van Damme and Seagal. It's just a shame that he never really got the recognition he really deserves.

He plays well off his co-stars Thayer and Rothrock. Thayer plays Mac with just the right level of world weariness that makes him likeable and Rothrock does well enough but it's when she's fighting she shines the most. By this time in her career she'd already made a name for herself in Hong Kong with appearances in Yes, Madam!, The Magic Crystal and Righting Wrongs so it was a natural for her to make the progression to American movies and this wasn't a bad place to start. She shares the distinction of having the one and only fight scene featuring Hwang Jang Lee (I should mention this film contains the only scene were he speaks English in a movie) and while the choreography itself is not as great as you'd expect it to be, it's a good opportunity to see these two action legends go toe to toe.

The finale has Avedon and Hues go at it and it's just as over the top as you'd expect. Matthias Hues is a large man, he towers over Avedon and when you get a heavily built man like Hues doing the action, it can come off as a bit awkward and it does a couple times but Yuen does a good enough job of hiding it and the choreography works in both actors favours. No Retreat, No Surrender 2 is a solid action flick and is definitely worth seeing as it gives a great debut from Avedon and as I said, the rare opportunity to see Rothrock and Lee fight each other.

Tune in next week for my review of Part 3 Blood Brothers!

Monday, 11 October 2010

No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)

In 1984, the seminal coming of age martial arts film The Karate Kid was released and was a huge success, with it's combination of spirituality, nicely choreographed action and memorable performances, the film made over $90 Million worldwide, making it a massive success. Unsurprisingly, film makers were quick to cash in. In 1986 Seasonal Films, mostly known for producing Jackie Chan's Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master, released their own spin on The Karate Kid formula with No Retreat, No Surrender.

Kurt Mckinney plays Jake Stillwell, a Karate practitioner who idolises Bruce Lee and hopes one day to reach the same level as the Martial Arts legend. After his father is injured in a fight with some local criminals, they move to Seattle to start a new life. Jake ends up butting heads with some members of a local Karate Dojo, so he starts training intensively (With the spiritual guidance of Bruce Lee no less) in hopes of becoming a Karate Master.

So, yeah, the film pretty much follows the story of The Karate Kid almost beat for beat, so much so that's kind of distracting as I found myself comparing the two throughout. It goes without saying Karate Kid is definitely the better movie because quite frankly No Retreat, No Surrender is a bad movie, really bad in fact. That mostly has a lot to do with the acting which is just down right awful. This was lead actor's Kurt McKinney's first acting role and it shows, when he gets angry, he gets really angry, he screams and shouts and throws his arms around like a three year old throwing a tantrum and it's just too damn funny most of the time. It's obvious they were trying to go for drama but the awful dialogue and bad acting performances just turn the film into a completely unintentional comedy.

Funny thing is, the movie does try to throw some humour in now and again, this is given to us in the form of Jake's best friend the skateboarding, break dancing, rapping RJ played by played by J.W. Fails and boy does he live up to his name. He comes off as Philip Michael Thomas' talentless, annoying and slightly retarded younger brother who has the strange ability of turning into a short, floppy haired Chinese man whenever he does any acrobatic stunts, you can tell he's having fun being around and making the movie but it doesn't really help his acting ability.

Familiar plot lines and annoying supporting characters aside, the films does offer up some decent action. Directed by Corey Yuen and choreographed by Meng Hoi, the fighting is the typical stylised hyped up kick boxing style that had become popular in Hong Kong action movies of this period. What I love about Corey Yuen as both a director and a choreographer is that he has this natural talent of making anyone look good when they fight on screen. Even someone as stiff as Mckinney, who is an accomplished martial artist, comes off looking like a total bad ass in the finale against a young Jean-Claude Van Damme, who plays the movie's main villain, Russian Kick-boxer Ivan. Rocky IV had been a massive box-office hit the year before and evil Russians had become the stock villain during the 80's due to the cold war so it was an obvious ploy in order to make the film appeal to the audience. I can honestly say I've never seen Van Damme look better when he's fighting. Even in his more well know movies such as Kickboxer and Bloodsport, he's fast, his kicks are solid and accurate and he looks deadly.

Now, let's move onto a section of the film which people often talk about. After having his ass handed to him by another Karate fighter, Jake pleads at the grave of Bruce Lee to help him become a better martial artist. Oddly enough, his prayers are answered when Bruce Lee's ghost appears and helps train Jake. Bruce is played by Kim Tai-Chung, who had portrayed Lee before in Game of Death and Game of Death 2. Kim's performance is decent, he has the mannerisms pretty much down and he looks good when he throws the odd kick but the whole sequence just comes of really odd and maybe just a exploitative of Lee's memory, especially when he's spouting a load of convoluted guff as if he's reciting a really badly put together cliff notes version of Tao of Jeet Kune Do.

No Retreat, No Surrender isn't a great film, what we have is just downright awful but for some really odd reason it was a decent hit at the box office. The film cost $400,000 to produce and would go on to gross $16,500,000 worldwide, so given it's success, a number of sequels would follow. All of which I am going to review over the next few weeks. Why have I decided to submit myself to such cinematic torture? I really don't know but this is first and foremost a martial arts movie blog so I'm willing to subject myself to hackneyed stories, embarrassing acting and cheesy dialogue all for the sake of reporting to you, my faithful readers, the martial arts action contained within.

Now if only I could find a way to get paid for this sort of thing.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Drive (1997)

American martial arts movies very rarely get it right. Uusally the film suffers from poor choreography, uninspired camera work or an absolutely abysmal plot. Yet among all the crap, you will discover a gem that really makes you appreciate the art of martial arts movie making. Drive is one of those films. Released way back in 1997, Drive failed to make any sort of splash at the box office but like all movies of a cult nature Drive has gone on to have an incredibly strong fan following and has enjoyed numerous successful film festival showings as well as bagging some well deserved awards.

The plot revolves around Toby Wong (Mark Dacascos), a soldier on the run from the Red Chinese Army because he has a top secret prototype bio-engine heart that gives him increased speed, strength and agility. Along the way he enlists the help of struggling song writer Malik Brody (Kadeem Hardison) who agrees to help him in exchange for half the money Toby will get upon delivering the bio-engine to an American tech company, meanwhile they are pursued by a violent assassin Vic Madison (John Pyper-Ferguson) and his inept henchman Hedgehog (Tracey Walter)

Despite the plot, it's actually surprisingly well written, the characters all have nicely fleshed out personalities and the dialogue is pretty damn funny at times. It's obvious the cast were having a lot of fun making the movie and it definitely shows in their performances. Mark Dacascos is perfectly cast as Toby Wong. Decascos started learning martial arts at a very early age and got into the movie industry using his talent, he is an absolutely incredible screen fighter and he very rarely gets the opportunity to really show just what he's capable of. His stoic acting style and blistering kicking combinations make a really great mix and it's a shame Mark never really got to capitalize on the cult fame which Drive had given him. He plays off well his co-star Kadeem Hardison who gives a really funny performance. It's interesting as it pre-dates Rush Hour as portraying two minority actors in the leading roles (Dacascos is of Hawaiian/Japanese decent) and Rush Hour director Brett Ratner has gone on record to say if it wasn't for Drive, Rush Hour would never have been made. I don't know if that's true or not but it's a wonderful compliment to the film.

Every action movie needs a good villain and thankfully we're given one with John Pyper-Ferguson as Vic Madison, who chews the scenery with glee as he curses, shouts and shoots his way through the movie, his performance is absolutely hilarious and I've yet to see another movie with him where he's been allowed to really tap into that side of himself.

Yet the glue that really brings this film together is the action. Drive is a prime example of what I like to call kitchen sink film making. It's where the director throws in every idea they can think of and make it work to their advantage. Director Steve Wang really knows how to make a solid action movie, he knows how to film it, he knows how to edit it. It also helps that he has Koichi Sakamoto doing the fight choreography. Sakamoto has been working the movie industry for a number of years, he previously had worked with Wang on Guyver: Dark Hero, which is an excellent American adaptation of the Japanese manga/anime series. With it's combination of outrageous creature effects and intricate choreography, it made sense that these two would end up collaborating on another picture. Much like Yuen Woo-Ping, Sakamoto really knows how to bring out the best in the people he works with. He uses Dacascos to his full potential, allowing to show off his full repertoire of fighting moves.

The fighting itself is absolutely outstanding, you'll be hard pressed to find another American movie made around this time that has the same level of action Drive does. Each fight is expertly put together and each one has a definite Jackie Chan vibe to them with Dacascos leaping off the walls, jumping over tables and using whatever he can get his hands on to take down the bad guys. A real stand out scene happens in a small hotel room when Decascos uses a pair of rubber soled boots to deflect the attacks of electric shock rods and is a great way of showing the creative thinking behind the movie. Now, usually with this type of movie, they save the best for last and Drive is no exception. Taking place in a gaudy night club, the people who are after Toby's bio-engine show up and all hell breaks loose. At first Toby and Malik are trying their best to stop themselves from getting killed but then the rather stupidly named Advanced Model (Masaya Kato) shows up, he is called the advanced model because that's what he is, a faster, stronger, better fighter then Toby. These guys tear each other apart, it's like the finale of Drunken Master 2, it just keeps getting crazier and crazier and fighting just goes from strength to strength, it's one of the few movies outside of Hong Kong that will make make you go "Damn, did you see that!?"

Drive is one of the best martial arts movies to come out America, with it's combination of humour and excellent stunts and fight scenes, it is one of the greatest action movies of the 90's. Fans have been hoping for years that Steve Wang, Mark Dacascos and Kochi Sakamoto will reunite and set fire to the screen once again and it would seem their prayers have been answered with Dacascos making recent comments that he's gearing up to make another movie with him. If you haven't seen Drive yet then what are you doing wasting time reading my rambling excuse for a review for? get the DVD, sit back and enjoy the ride.

Monday, 27 September 2010

The Street Fighter (1974)

Following the tragic and untimely death of Bruce Lee in 1973, the martial arts film world was in turmoil. Various projects which the star had been attached went up in smoke and what was to be his magnum opus, Game of Death remained unfinished. Unscrupulous film producers rushed to find someone to take his place, mostly what audiences got were shameless imitators who aped Lee's filmography and sullied his great legacy. Meanwhile over in Japan, a film hit cinemas that struck a cord, not only with local audiences but with fight film fans world wide. That film was The Street Fighter. An action crime film starring Sonny Chiba.

Chiba had already established a foothold in the Japanese film industry with appearances in films such as Yakuza Deka and Bodyguard Kiba but he was yet to star in a film that would really propel him to being a major star. Upon it's release it was well received and went on to spawn two sequels, all starring Chiba in the lead. It wasn't until years later that Chiba admitted that he had turned down the opportunity to work with Lee on the film Way Of The Dragon and to this day remains one of the biggest regrets of his life.

With it's combination of over the top characters and brutal fight choreography, The Street Fighter has gained a cult following which includes famous admirers like film director and shameless film nerd Quentin Tarantino. The film True Romance includes a conversation between the lead characters in which they talk about Sonny's on screen persona.

Since it's release the film, along with it's sequels, have fallen into the public domain and have been released on DVD by various labels. It's worth mentioning that when the film was originally released in the U.S. it was given an X rating due to the level of violence rather then sexual content and was a first for a film of this nature. If that doesn't give you an idea of the type of movie this is, I don't know what will.

Sonny Chiba portrays Takuma Tsurugi, a mercenary for hire who ends up a target for the mob when they try and hire him to kidnap the daughter of a recently deceased oil tycoon but refuses when he finds out the people trying to hire him are part of a criminal organization specialising in assassination. The plot is shamelessly incidental and gives Chiba, who holds black belts in six different forms of Japanese martial arts, to show just what he can do best and that's bust people's head's open and rip a dude's nutsack clean off all the while grimacing like he's having an incredibly uncomfortable bowel movement.

Sonny's character doesn't screw around, he's very much the anti-hero, he'll help you out in a jam but only if you've got the cash to back it, mess him around and he'll have no problem breaking your face and selling your sister into sex slavery. The film does a great job of trying to differentiate Chiba's on screen persona from that of Bruce Lee, who often played the down trodden hero doing what was right for his fellow country men. If Sonny Chiba was in The Big Boss, he would have gone to Han Yin-Chieh in the first five minutes of the movie, ripped his throat out and then sold his cousin to the local whore house just for laughs. This type of down and dirty action hero worked well in Chiba's favour as it allowed him to do things in movies that no other action star could have pulled off.

The action is some of the most brutal I've seen from a film during this era. Chiba shows his skills as a martial artist really well, the moves themselves don't look as stylish or pretty as Chinese Kung Fu does but it's just as intricately choreographed and just as hard hitting. With every punch, kick and elbow he throws you actually feel it and gives the fight scenes just that little added touch of brutality. One of the defining moments in the film is when Tsurugi goes toe to toe with a karate master portrayed by Masafumi Suzuki, at first he's over confident and bragging how much he's going to beat him but when the fighting starts it's clear Tsurugi is outmatched but when that famous theme music starts playing away you know he means business and fight comes to an incredible stalemate.

That's one of the more interesting aspects of The Street Fighter, each fight feels different and looks different. There's a clever little fight in which Tsurugi goes against a blind swordsman (An obvious riff on the famous character Zatoichi) who blocks the bright sun behind him and moves so the sudden flash of light would make it difficult for Tsurugi to place just exactly when he'll strike, it's a nicely edited and tightly choreographed fight and further proves the maker's of this movie were really trying hard to make The Street Fighter stand out. Yet, all that just leads us to the the finale on board an oil freighter where Sonny tears through the bad guys, bodies fly, bright red blood is spilled and Chiba proves just what a complete bad-ass he is.

This film is a much beloved movie among fight movie fans for a reason and if you haven't seen it yet, you really owe yourself get your hands on the DVD but make sure the one you get is completely uncut cos you don't want to miss out on a single second of the brutal and bloody spectacle that is The Street Fighter

Monday, 20 September 2010

Descendant of Wing Chun (1979)

Inspired by a brief conversation I had with achillesgirl on her blog about the conventions of Kung Fu villainy, I decided to revisit an old school fight flick from 1979, Descendant of Wing Chun. It was a classic forms film that was made just before the Hong Kong film industry made it's transition into more contemporary movies in the 1980's and began to move away from the traditional martial arts movie. As it is Descendant of Wing Chun is not the must see fight flick it tries to be but is a good enough entry to recommend to fans of the genre. It's worth mentioning the film makes an appearance in the Chow Yun-Fat actioner Bulletproof Monk and is the film Sean William Scott watches in the Chinese movie theatre he works in, I'm guessing they couldn't get the rights to a more famous Kung Fu flick.

The Film is based around the Wing Chun self defence system. It is a concept based martial art that uses both grappling and striking at close range. Bruce Lee was known to have used it as a foundation when creating his own style Jeet Kune Do. The story centres around Leung Jan, a real life martial arts master who was known for using the Wing Chun style and has also been portrayed many times on screen, most famously by Yuen Biao in the absolutely astounding Prodigal Son.

Here he is portrayed by Melvin Wong making what was, at this point in his career, his second credited film role. Leung Jan ends up intervening in a fight between a bandit and local police. The bandit (Played by fan favourite Lee Hoi-San) vows revenge on Leung Jan, along with the help of a fellow bandit played by another familiar face Fung Hak-On. So, the plot isn't anything special, it was common for independent productions like this one to forgo character development and narrative structure in favour of putting together as much on screen fighting as possible with the hopes of making money not only on the local market but overseas as well, hence the plot revolving around the two bandits is put to one side in favour of another plot involving a rivalry between a heavy set martial arts braggart (Hong Yee-Sang) and a local money changer (Chui Siu-Keung) who end up being taken on by Leung Jan as his students.

This is where the film sags the most, had they concentrated more on the two bandits and gave the movie a more serious tone, Descendent of Wing Chun could have been held in such high regard as other films of this era but as it stands, it just interferes with the whole flow of the movie and almost renders the entire film unwatchable. However, I did say almost. There is one slightly amusing scene which I'm sure is meant to be a parody of the well known TV series Kung Fu starring David Carradine, where Hong Yee-Seng's character goes to his Shaolin master for spiritual guidance only to have him spout a load of pseudo philosophical guff about an orange but when questioned about the meaning of it all, the monk simply shakes his head and says he doesn't know, all the while a wall of candles glow dimly behind him. Pop-culture references aside, the cast itself is very much a who's who of Hong Kong action cinema. I already mentioned Lee Hoi-San, Chui Siu-Keung et al so if you're a fan of any of the people appearing in this and haven't seen it yet, I would definitely recommend it.

Melvin Wong does well enough as Leung Jan, his strong jaw and serious demeanour work well in conveying this is a man who is to be respected and not taken for a fool, he also does well enough in the various fight scenes which is impressive given as Wong was never a serious martial arts practitioner, only performing it when required as part of a film. His moves do come off a little stiff some times but that is to be expected as he's never really had the years of training his fellow cast members had. Which leads me to talk about Chui Siu-Keung, who's career started as a young actor at Shaw Brothers and by this point in his career was well known from films such as 36th Chamber of Shaolin and Heroes of the East, here he gets to show off his flair for Kung Fu and does some pretty decent acting but as you'd expect the film doesn't really give him much to work with except smirk and beat the crap out of the bad guys. I'd talk about the rest of the cast but really they are the only two worth mentioning at any sort of length.

Now we can get to the good stuff, the martial arts action. Yes, it does have a few fights in it and yes they are good not great but good. The odd thing is, the DVD credits the fight choreography is credited to someone named William Cheung, who is apparently a real life Wing Chun master and the film's director Heung Ha (A former Shaw Brothers contract player and later action director) but when looking up the film on HKCinemagic the site credits the film's bad guys Lee Hoi-San and Fung Hak-On as the action directors, so it's difficult to tell who exactly had a hand in the choreography but it isn't entirely unbelievable that Heung Ha had anything to do with the fighting as he has done the action for a number of other films but the most interesting to note is that Descendant of Wing Chun is his only credit as a director and he proved to be quite a competent one (Who maybe didn't quite have a handle on the narrative of a film's story) and it's a shame he never went on to do any others and improve his directing. Going back to the hand to hand stuff as I said it's good, the moves are all varied and interesting and flawlessly executed by the actors but it all falls just a tad flat, while it's great to see these guys go at it on screen (Especially Lee Hoi-San and Chui Siu-Keung who share a rare one on one battle) the rhythm and pace in which it moves comes off a little limp. Yet it's nice to see the cast getting show what they can do.

However the film does make good use of the Wing Chun style, the actors pull off all the fast paced and quick hand and foot combinations well enough and if you like form films like this one then you may enjoy it but it still doesn't quite come close to other films featuring the style such as, again, The Prodigal Son and Warriors Two.

So when you couple together a meandering plot with some decent action, Descendant of Wing Chun isn't the instant classic that I feel it was reaching for but it's a good enough film that deserves at least one watch from serious fans of old school Kung Fu flicks.

Monday, 13 September 2010

The One (2001)

Jet Li. Now there's an action star. Having started a career in the motion picture industry in his native China, Li had become a bankable star to rival even the mighty Jackie Chan himself and like Chan, Li made the leap across the pond to work in Hollywood pictures. Since then they've ranged from pretty darn awful stuff like Cradle 2 The Grave to enjoyable and nicely crafted action films like The One, which I've decided to review today.

The One is essentially Highlander with a Sci-Fi twist. Li plays Gabe Law, a police officer who becomes the target of his doppelgänger Yu Law from another dimension, who is hopping from one reality to the next offing his counterparts in hoping he can become the titular One. A very basic premise but one that makes for quite a fun film and one (I feel I'm going to over-using that word through out this review) which all parties involved should be very proud of. The One doesn't try to be high art, it doesn't try and re-invent the Sci-Fi genre or take itself way too seriously like other hybrid films (See The Matrix trilogy) it's play very much to it's own strengths and those are Jet Li himself and the breezy, easy to watch pace it goes with.

Li has always made for a decent leading man, his straight faced demeanour and blistering martial skill made him a house hold name in his native china with the Once Upon A Time In China series and other films such as Fist of Legend. Here he takes that persona and tweeks it a little bit so to make his character Gabe one which you can root for. He plays well off his co-stars such as Carla Gugino, who plays the role of his wife and two share some nice chemistry (Something Jackie Chan seems to struggle with when he acts opposite a female lead) and I would have liked to have seen that explored more. Besides being the good guy we're also treated to him also playing the film's villain, Li tries his best to look mean and intimidating but his friendly face just makes it difficult to really make it all that convincing, not that he doesn't try of course but I think the writers should have tried a little harder to make the characters of Gabe and Yu complete opposites.

Having said that, it would appear when putting together the action scenes, Corey Yuen came up with the rather clever idea of giving both characters different fighting styles. Rather then giving them both generic martial arts styles, Gabe uses Baguazhang (The Eight Trigram Palms) which uses subtle circular movements while Yu Law chooses Xingyiquan (The Shape-Will Fist) which has more aggressive linear movements. Of course, as you'd expect Li pulls off both styles expertly and you can see he put a lot of effort into trying to separate the two characters, even if it didn't fully pay off. The fight scenes are great certainly not the best he's ever done but a definite step up from the likes of Romeo Must Die. Li makes it all look too easy as he throws kick after punch after kick and Corey Yuen's choreography always has that simplistic yet nicely timed aspect to it that I enjoy thoroughly and is a great addition to the many films he's been involved with. With it being a sci-fi film it does throw in a lot of effects and wire work but adds to the really fun comic book feel the film does really well in conveying.

A lot of people dismiss the film as taking itself way too seriously but it honestly doesn't. You can see director James Wong really wanted to make a kick-ass sci-fi action movie that fans of both genres could enjoy and while it does play a little fast and loose with the sci-fi aspect, that's to be expected as the spectacle of seeing Jet Li go toe to toe with himself is the main draw here. It's evident the cast also got what the movie was all about. Just listen to Jason Statham growl his dialogue and grit his teeth as he plays the hard boiled cop tracking down Yu Law, just watch the finale as both super strong Laws literally tear the house down as they go at it. All these things mix together to make a really underrated and unappreciated film that really deserves more credit then it's been given.

The One will never be held in high regard as Li's other films like Fearless but you know what? I'm totally okay with that . What we've been given is a great sci-fi action film that people should really sit back and enjoy and that's what movies are for, right? I thought so.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Ten Dead Men (2008)

Oh boy, where to start? this week I'm reviewing a movie made in my native UK. Ten Dead Men,  is a low budget gangster film that throws in some down and dirty martial arts action. Sounds good right? yeah, it does. Sadly the film, well, if you can call this a film, is one of the most dull and tedious films I've watched in a long time. The plot concerns Ryan (Brendan Carr), a former hit-man who goes on a one man rampage of revenge against the people who murdered his wife and left him for dead. Through out we learn of Ryan's life leading up to that day while being treated to him breaking people's bones like twigs.

Normally this type of movie would have me sitting back and having a great time but it fails so spectacularly in even making the characters remotely interesting and the plot dramatic that it ends up becoming a parody of itself. The script is diabolical and pretentious, the acting is so bad, anybody connected with it would be smart in deleting this from their CV and the direction is unambitious and pedestrian. The only saving grace and I mean, the only saving grace is the action scenes.

Yet even those were a test of my patience. Leading man Brendan Carr proves capable in the few fight scenes sprinkled throughout but the editing and camera work proves detrimental to the brutal fight choreography. Why is it so hard for some directors to shoot a martial arts fight sequence? They all claim to be influenced by the likes of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan but they just do an awful job of actually making a fight scene have good pacing, rhythm and impact that they end up insulting rather then honouring their idols. There are one or two fights which are pretty damn good but the rest are just slow and unexciting. Director Ross Boyask does a okay job but sadly he's got a long way to go before he can be held in high regard among fans with the likes of Isaac Florentine. Who knows? with a bigger budget and much, much, much better scripts he could become that.

Which now brings me to the part I've been dreading. The Cast. Wow, this has some of the worst acting I've seen in a movie, ever. You know your lead actor can't act when he has absolutely no dialogue and there's a constant narration through the film. I mean, sure, Carr stands there, looks mean, moves his arms slightly and walks about a bit but to call what he does in this film acting would be like going to Gordon Ramsey's house, saying his food tastes like fried cat vomit and defecating on his dining table, the worst insult to the profession you could possibly imagine. The narration tries to cover this up but it gets so out of hand that not one scene goes by that we don't hear it. If I want a constant narrative throughout the story I'll read a book or watch a documentary, not in a god damn ACTION MOVIE!

The rest of the cast are just as laughable. That grinning sod from Steps turns up, you know the one who has a face you want to slap ever time you see it. Fortunately we're spared from him actually doing anything when he gets strangled to death by our intrepid hero. The other characters are two incredibly camp gangsters who wave their guns about and stare longingly into each other's eyes and another is a sociopathic torturer who displays as much menace as a slightly annoyed bank manager. I'd go into the rest of the cast but it would just make me fly into a rage and rest of the review would just consist of various expletives and poo metaphors.

Ten Dead Men tries hard to both be a gritty gangland thriller and a bone crunching action film and while the fighting is sort of interesting to watch, it's really not enough to recommend a rental let alone buying it. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you might actually do that, might I recommend you spend the money on some smack instead as shooting that garbage in your veins would be less damaging to your health then watching this poor excuse for a film.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Hell'z Windstaff (1979)

This week I'm kicking it old school and reviewing the cult classic that is Hell'z Windstaff. Released in 1978, Hell'z Windstaff was one of those independently produced martial arts films that, while not really making a big mark on the Hong Kong box office, would go on to become a bona fide cult favourite among fans of the genre. It's cult status is cemented in the fact that rap group Wu-Tang Clan (Themselves huge Kung Fu movie fans) have a track on the album Liquid Swords named after the flick.

Based on the long running Jademan (A.K.A Dragon Tiger Gate) comic series the plot revolves around two young mischievous trouble makers Tiger Wong (Meng Yuen Man) and Stone Dragon (Meng Hoi) who discover the people from their home town are being sold into by local gangsters headed by the deadly Lu (Master kicker himself Hwang Jang Lee) when Tiger and Stone end up killing one of Lu's men in a fight, Lu himself retaliates by murdering Tiger's father and Kung Fu Master. The two friend then band together and improve their fighting skills and set out to get revenge on Lu.

Hell'z Windstaff has and always will be one of my all time favourite old school martial arts films. The film doesn't take itself too seriously and offers a copious amount of fist to foot action and painful looking training sequences. It helps that we have Meng Yuen Man and Meng Hoi in the leads as both of them get to show their skills and also show off that they're not bad actors. Unfortunately both of them never really managed to get leading man status later on in their career. Although Meng Hoi would go on to be a player in several Sammo Hung productions including Warriors Two and Pedicab Driver (Both of which, have, of course been ear marked for review at some point). Sadly Meng Yuen Man was forced to retire after suffering an almost fatal heart attack in 1982. Despite that Hell'z Windstaff is a great showcase of their talents as martial arts exponents. Moving from the leading men to the leading villain. Any self respecting Martial Arts fan knows who Hwang Jang Lee is.

For those not familiar Hwang Jang Lee is a Korean Tae Kwon Do expert and former martial arts instructor for the Korean and South Vietnamese military (Where legend has it he killed a man during a one on one fight) before getting involved with the movie industry. Early appearances in movies like Snake In The Eagle's Shadow and Secret Rivals made him much in demand and he would go on to appear in the some of the most popular and sought after fight flicks ever put on film. Here he gets to show his almost superhuman like kicking skills and also gets the rare opportunity to do some weapons fighting but it's when he's up against the heroes of the movie he goes into overdrive and we're treated to one of the most furious fights Hwang Jang Lee has ever recorded.

So, there's not much to Hell'z Windstaff, in fact most of the time movies of this period didn't offer a whole lot apart from some insane kung fu action and this flick maintains that status quo quite well. So, if you haven't check it out yet, get a hold of the DVD if you can cos this an absolute must see for any fan of old school kicks.  

Monday, 23 August 2010

True Legend (2010)

It's been 14 years since fight choreographer extraordinaire Yuen Woo-Ping has taken to the director's chair and True Legend sees Woo-Ping return to form. True Legend is beyond a doubt the most fight packed film I've seen this year. It seems Woo-Ping really wanted to give his audience their money's worth and he certainly delivers.

True Legend concerns Su Can (Vincent Zhao) a high ranking general who is tipped to be Governor of his home province after rescuing a wealthy prince, much to the intense jealousy of his adoptive brother Yuan (Andy On). Five years later Su is ready to open his new martial arts school with his wife Ying (Zhou Xun) and his son. Word arrives that Yuan will be arriving for the opening and Su's father (Leung Kar-Yan also known to hardcore kung fu fans as Beardy) is excited at the prospect of a family reunion. When Yuan arrives it's obvious he is a changed man and he murders Su's father using the forbidden Five Venom Fists technique. Su tries to stop Yuan but is defeated and is forced to go into hiding with his wife. While recovering, Su hones his skills in the martial arts in hopes that he'll be able to rescue his son and re-establish his name.

So the plot is something that's been done a million times over in hundreds of Kung Fu movies but it's never been that big a deal as long as the fighting is convincing and entertaining. Given the talent involved in this film it definitely meets both those demands and surpasses even my already high expectations I had for this particular film. The fights where over seen by director Woo-Ping, who has been involved with martial arts cinema since the early 70's and has worked with top stars such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Donnie Yen and has been involved with big Hollywood productions such as The Matrix Trilogy and the Kill Bill movies. So if anyone was more qualified to put the fights together, he certainly has the credentials.

Woo-Ping gives us a great blend of old-school style choreography with more modern and flashy film techniques but does it in such a way that doesn't distract one from the other. Something most contemporary action films have a nasty habit of doing (See Bourne Trilogy). It also helps that he's jammed in as many fights as he possibly could, it's a safe assumption that you'll be waiting at least no longer then ten minutes before you get to the next action and/or obligatory training sequence. Said training scenes are punctuated by nice supporting roles from Gordon Liu (Pai Mei from Kill Bill Vol. 2) and Jay Chou (Star of the upcoming Green Hornet) who provide our intrepid hero with the motivation to push his skills as a martial arts fighter. It's interesting as it was these particular scenes that were shown in 3D during the film's theatrical run in Hong Kong and it's pretty obvious given how they were filmed and placement of the visual effects but from what I've read the 3D was pretty underwhelming but it's nice to see a veteran such as Woo-Ping experimenting with the technology.

Moving from the top notch action onto the not so bad acting. Leading man Vincent Zhao does a decent job as Beggar Su, while he's certainly not the strongest of actors, he has certainly improved from his embarrassing face pulling he committed in The Blade 15 years earlier. Then again, he has had a long time to hone his craft as he's a popular TV actor in his native China. Zhou Xun by far gives the film's strongest performance, while her character doesn't develop any further then wall flower and damsel in distress, she gives it her all and makes Ying quite a sympathetic character. Villain Andy On, who's on-screen performances have been a bit of a mixed bag ever since he started his film career is surprisingly good, he gives the right level of menace while also giving him a touch of emotion and turns Yuan from stock villain to a man who wants to be ruthless but doesn't want to hurt his family, at least for the most part.

True Legend is one of the most fast paced, action packed and definitely must see martial arts films of 2010 as it offers a great Shaw Brothers vibe while also being able to stand head and shoulders above the recent efforts of a certain Mr. Donnie Yen, who's recent films seem to garner a lot of attention. Go buy the DVD or wait for the Blu-Ray but if you've yet to see this or if this review has convinced you to then what are you waiting for?

Monday, 16 August 2010

Ninja (2009)

Ninjas. whenever you hear the word ninjas you think of sneaky men in black pyjamas, carry big swords and don't get along with pirates. That last one is a scientific fact and  I defy anyone who thinks otherwise. The Ninja has always had a cult status in cinema, particularly martial arts cinema. During the 80's you couldn't move from one shelf to the other of your local video rental store without seeing a ninja film staring at you just begging to be rented and taken home to watched with a few beers and a good curry.

The ninja trend seemed to die a quiet death in the early 90's when the kick boxing fad came along and since then, apart from Japan, there's been very few attempts at bringing the genre back to contemporary action cinema but it would appear 2009 was the year of the Ninja when not one but two major ninja films saw release. The first one was the big budget and completely misunderstood Ninja Assassin (which will probably be reviewed by me at some point), the other is the film I'll be reviewing today which is the lesser know but just as good to watch Ninja, a simple and unimaginative title it may be but it sums up the film's content perfectly.

Raised in the art of Ninjutsu since he was abandoned by his parents as a young child, Casey (Scott Adkins) is chosen to return to his American homeland to protect the legendary Yoroi Bitsu (a chest which contains the weapons of the last Koga Ninja) from his mortal enemy Masazuka (Tsuyoshi Ihara).

The plot is strictly by the numbers but it's just an excuse to cram as much martial arts action into the film as humanly possible. If you're looking for the film which combines intense drama with realistic depictions of the ninja arts then you're going to be very disappointed, however on the other hand if you're looking for a film which has lots of blood spraying and swords clashing then Ninja is right up your alley. That in itself is the film's greatest strength; it knows what type of film it is, what type of audience is going for and doesn't strive to be anything more then what it is. There's an admirable attempt at a romantic sub-plot between the lead actors Scott Adkins and Mika Hijii but it comes off a bit cheesy and predictable most of the time.

The cast in itself is very good given this is a direct-to-DVD action film. Leading man Scott Adkins, who is merely a bit player in big Hollywood movies such as Bourne Ultimatum and Wolverine, has garnered a loyal cult following from his lesser know works in which he has more substantial roles. Movies such as Special Forces, Undisputed II and Undisputed III have allowed him to show not only is he a capable leading man but also an incredible martial artist but Hollywood have yet to realise what an indispensable asset Adkins can be when he appears on screen. Mika Hijii who plays Casey's love interest and fellow ass-kicker Namiko proves she's better then the material given to her as she gives quite competent performances in both the acting and action stakes and she plays off Adkins well in the many dialogue scenes they have. What would an action movie be with a good villain? Tsuyoshi Ihara is clearly having lots of fun playing Masazuka as he gets to wear some pretty cool ninja gear and kill lots of people in different, bloody and stylish ways.

This being a Ninja film it's obvious that the action is the focal point and as I mentioned earlier it delivers in spades. Adkins goes through each fight sequence effortlessly and gets to show off his full repertoire of moves while kicking some serious butt. The fight which takes place in a temple toward the end of the film really encapsulates what amazing skill Adkins has as an action star. The film is already gaining a cult following and that's in no small part to the film's director Isaac Florentine, who's made a name for himself directing low budget action films that have some of the most intricately choreographed action seen outside of Hong Kong. He's one of the few director's to really have a grasp of how to shoot martial arts action on screen and make it look fast, exciting and bone crunching. Something which a few Hollywood directors can't seem to get their heads around.

Ninja is one of the best action movies of 2009 and showcases some breath-taking action and some solid acting. I totally recommend you go out and get this as I guarantee that you will not be disappointed in the least.

Monday, 9 August 2010

First Review - Tekken (2010)

Hello and welcome the first of what I hope to be many reviews right here on Chopsticks On Fire, a new blog dedicated to providing readers with reviews of martial arts movies and TV shows of the past, present and future. First up is a review of the big screen (or should that be small screen?) adaptation of the popular video game franchise Tekken.

The film takes place in the futuristic dystopian world of Tekken City (Yes, it's as stupid as it sounds) a world that has collapsed under the weight of corporate greed and countries are ruled with a (no pun intended) iron fist. Here we meet our hero, Jin, a guy who spends his time running from Jack Hammers (Basically guys in Hockey armour spray painted black) so he can spend money on pieces of fruit and Chocolate. Yes, it seems in the future nice things like fruit, vegetables and sweets are outlawed yet not so nice things such as tobacco and alcohol are readily available, curse you evil corporate bastards!

Anyway, aside from risking getting shot in the head for a Mars Bar he also finds time to bang his girlfriend Kara, who doesn't do much except stand around, pout and get plowed by our fearless hero. After we learn what a jammy little git Jin is we find out he lives with his mother Jun who taught him martial arts since he was a child. It's here we see that Jin has a strong desire to entire the King Of Iron Fist tournament, which is kind of like UFC but with the added theatrics of WWE. Naturally his mother forbids him and Jin goes away in a huff and get a quick shag from his missus. As he's busy getting his end away Jack Hammers (No matter how many times I type that it never sounds any less ridiculous) storm his mother's home and she ends up getting blown to bits. Feeling guilty over the fact he was busy getting his rod polished when he should have stayed with his mother, Jin enters the King of the Iron Fist in the hopes of avenging the woman who had the misfortune of giving birth to him.

And so began my viewing of the most disappointing movie I've seen this year. I'm a huge Tekken fan more so then any other fighting game Franchise and when I heard that a live action movie was being made I was understandably excited as the games themselves provided a really solid foundation for a really good story and could have made a solid series of action films, instead what we have here is Bloodsport written by a horny 15 year old. The cast range from not to bad to just flat out silly. Jon Foo proves he had what it takes to be an action star, he's not that bad an actor and he gets to show off his incredible skill as a martial artist but his characterisation is completely wrong, in the games Jin is a man who is tormented by his family legacy and the hatred he shares for his father, in the film he's a whingy little sod who spends most of the time getting his arse kicked and frowning a lot, not the most endearing of underdog heroes if you ask me. 

It's also worth mentioning that Jin seems to conveniently forget he has a girlfriend once he claps eyes in Christie Monteiro played by Kelly Overton but given the fact the first time you see her she's working up a slow motion sweat in the gym I think I'd probably have a lapse in memory as well. At first Christie doesn't want to have anything to do with our loveable scamp for a hero and makes it very clear but after she sees him in action she can't wait whisk him off to a rave and have him grope her backside like no tomorrow. Yes, it seems that Tekken is very much catering, rather unashamedly it seems, to the teenage male demographic, since Hollywood seem to think that people over the age of 18 don't play video games. It's this approach that turns the whole thing into a great big bloody pantomime.

The rest of the cast don't fair much better, Luke Goss cashes a quick cheque as Steve Fox, stock villain Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa looks constipated as head of Tekken, Heihachi Mishima and Ian Anthony Dake chews the scenery like his life depends on it as Jin's father Kazuya and believe me, I'm not spoiling anything major by mentioning that father-son connection. While we're on the subject of Kazuya it seems Jin picked up his rabid libido from his old man as we're treated to a rather awkward scene which sees his dad bang both Anna and Nina Williams. Yep. jammy sods, the pair of them.

Moving on from the mouth breathers we call the characters lets move to the action, which is one of the main selling points of the film. It's probably by the far the only good part of the film and the only time the cast really get to show what they can do. As I mentioned before Foo really gets to show his stuff but he spends most of the time getting his butt kicked you kind of feel sorry for him most of the time. Cyril Raffaelli, who in his own right has established himself as an action star in his native France provides the choreography and plays to each actor's strength and this arm chair critic hopes despite the finished product this film lands him more work in future projects. 

Usually a film that's high in bone crunching ass-kickery and curvy eye candy would be right up my alley but given that the film doesn't do enough with both to make it entertaining, the whole thing is just dull. The director, Dwight H. Little does nothing to really make this film stand out amongst the other video game movies to hit our screens which shouldn't come as any surprise since he directed such classics as Halloween 4 and Free Willy 2 yet looking at his credits on IMDb he seems to have made quite a success in television directing such shows as Dollhouse, Prison Break and Bones but I never watched any of those so I couldn't comment if he did any better on them. It's a shame as Tekken could really have been the first break out video game to make a solid franchise and cover up the box office stains left over from Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Dead Or Alive.

If you really want to see this train wreck of a film then I'm not going to stop you but it seems you'll have a long time to wait since the UK DVD/Blu-Ray premier isn't happening until sometime between January and June of  2011. The fact it's been pushed back that far should tell you how much faith the studio releasing this monstrosity, have.

Hope you liked reading my first review, I promise the next reviews will on films that I actually like.