Monday, 30 January 2012

Next Month Is Jetruary Month!

That's right!

through out February, each week I'll be taking a look at one film starring the talented Jet Li. Check back regularly as I share my thoughts on a selection of his movies. I may post reviews for other films as well but for the most part I'll be concentrating on Jetruary!

See you Soon!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Showdown (1993)

Ken Marks (Kenn Scott) arrives at his new school and quickly makes enemies of Tom (Ken Mcleod) who not only happens to be the toughest bully in school but a top underground fighting champion. One day Ken is saved from a beating by the school janitor Billy Grant (Billy Blanks) and he decides to train Ken so he can defend himself. As it turns out Tom's martial arts teacher is a man called Lee (Patrick Kilpatrick) who is out to take revenge on Billy for being the man responsible for his brother's death.

Right, this is going to be a tough one to review because having just finished watching this only ten minutes before I started writing this review, I'm actually struggling to remember everything that happened. Not because the plot was dense or that the story moved at a lightening pace but because Showdown is so bland and unoriginal, there's not a single original idea in the whole thing. As you can tell from the plot outline, it's Karate Kid all over again but what makes this one different to other Karate Kid clones like No Retreat, No Surrender, is that particular movie has a lot going for it.

Showdown does not. The film was released in 1993 among the huge glut of martial arts movies that followed the release of the Van Damme movie Kickboxer. Film makers all over Hollywood were looking for the next big action star and what followed was awful, derivative crap that was released quickly to video and took up valuable shelf space in video rental stores. There were a few exceptions here and there but you would have to wade through lots of terrible movies to find them.

As for as the cast goes. They're okay for the most part. Kenn Scott, who played Raphael in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II isn't a great actor by any stretch but he does okay in most of the fight scenes he's given. The most hilarious thing about him though is that they try and hide the fact that he has an athletic physic for most of the film to create the illusion he's a skinny loser so when later on when he's being trained by Billy, we're meant to buy the fact he did a few press ups to get some muscle. It's silly but very funny at the same time. Blanks gives his usual calibur of acting. Being one of the few black action stars of the 90's he gets the better fights in the film and he has talent but very few of the movies he made actually knew how to tap into it. 

Since Ken attends one of the most cliched high schools in movie history, he inevitably gets the goofy best friend played by John Asher. Surprisingly John gives what is probably one of the better performances as he doesn't go too over the top with it and shows that he can be funny, only he didn't get good material to work with so his talent is somewhat hampered by the clunky dialogue. One definite thing that surprised me was the actress who played Julie, Ken's love interest. Why was it surprising? because she is played by Christine Taylor. That's right, Ben Stiller's wife is in this god awful movie. Of course this was very early in her career and she does fulfill the role well enough but you get the feeling she's bored throughout the whole thing.

That leaves us to talk about the villains of the movie. Firstly, Tom played by Ken Mcleod. If high school movies taught us anything, it's that school bullies are complete psychopaths and Tom doesn't do anything to buck the trend. Whenever he sees Ken talk to Julie he goes into a complete psychotic rage and tries to beat the crap out of him, how someone like this is able to attend high school is very strange but then again, this is the world of movies so stupid things that defy logic always happen. He's a very angry character and is essentially there to earn the audience's scorn, which he does. So mission accomplished I guess.

Rounding off our comic book villains is Patrick Kilpatrick as the big bad Lee. Another familiar face who has appeared in a huge number of movies and TV shows. You thought Tom was a whack job? just wait till you see Lee in action. His personality makes Kreese from Karate Kid look like a boy scout leader. He delights in hurting his students and expects them to show no mercy to their opponents, even going so far as to endorse them fighting to the death. Why people would want this man to be their martial arts teacher is beyond me but you can see the actor playing him is having fun. 

Which leaves us to talk about the action. Now given the involvement of Blanks and it being primarily a US production, I knew what to expect. Flashy round house kicks and telegraphed punches. I was right. For the most part at least. Stunt legend Jeff Imada was behind the choreography and this is one of his weaker efforts. The man is capable of doing stellar work. Just look at the man's IMDb page and you'll see what I'm talking about. The one thing that always disliked about most of 90's American martial arts movies is that the stars never really get to show off their full move set. Scott, Blanks and Mcleod are all impressive practitioners but it seems that most of the director's they worked with refused to really let them cut loose during the fight scenes.

Which is odd when you consider that the film was directed by Robert Radler. The man who directed Best of the Best and Best of the Best 2. Two examples of some of the better action movies of that era. I get the feeling they were working to an incredibly tight schedule and as a result the quality of the action suffered. There's a nice sequence in which Billy fights two hit men sent by Lee. It starts out pretty bad with horrible camera work but it's when Billy goes against Hollywood stunt man James Lew that it actually becomes much better, there's a particularly painful moment when Billy throw a knee in Lew's face. That kind of down and out brutality would have been most welcome in the other action scenes.

This being a Karate Kid rip-off it wouldn't be complete without the obligatory training montages. These are actually my favourite moments from these movies. It's hilarious seeing our hero training hardcore, all the while listening to some cheesy late 80's rock ballad play over the top. It's a shame this is a convention that is mostly ignored by modern movies these days. Thing is though, the reason it isn't used is because it has become so cliched that the only time you're likely to see it is when it's being played for laughs in a show like South Park. Not that I'm condemning that sort of thing. Far from it. I just think it would be so good to see taken seriously again. Imagine a scene in The Bourne Identity in which we see Matt Damon throwing kicks to Paul Stanley's Live To Win. Not only does it create excitement but is just prime piss-take material.

After these scenes we're then treated to the finale. Ken gets tired of Tom's mentally unstable behavior and challenges him to a fight. Meeting in an underground fighting arena they decide to finally resolve their issues. Using their fists. This was where things picked up slightly. You can tell Imada and his crew had a little bit more time to work on the fighting. Both Scott and Mcleod get to show off a little bit more of their repertoire and while the end result isn't spectacular it's still satisfying to have these two finally get to stretch their legs considering they've been forced to hold back the entire time they've been fighting in the movie.

So the fight ends just as you'd expect but rather ending right away with the crowd raising Ken on their shoulders. Lee goes into a crazed rampage and tries to kill Tom for failing. Billy intervenes and we get trained martial artist vs trained actor. While Kilpatrick is most definitely a good bad guy, he's not very impressive as a screen fighter. Imada obviously tried to hide this by having him not do any kicks but instead concentrate in punching and throws. This is actually a good idea as it's a good contrast to Blanks' exaggerated kicking style. Kilpatrick goes in for close up back fists and hip-throws complimented with head stomps and gut kicks. Imada does know, like most choreographers are supposed to, how to play to the actor's strengths.

Like I mentioned earlier this where the fights get amped up a little. Toward the end Billy unleashes a series of palm strikes to Lee's abdomen followed by a swift kick. It was extremely impressive and is just disappointing that kind of choreography was not utilized for the rest of the flick. Blanks is an impressive screen fighter and he really deserved the chance to really go all out and show his audience what he can do. He got to do that in a couple other of his films but sadly, what could have been added to that extremely short list, Showdown falls into the other category of forgettable, unoriginal and bland.

I can not recommend you watch Showdown. Not unless you're a junkie of 90's martial arts movies or a serious Billy Blanks fan. You may wish to avoid this one as there are tons of other movies out there that are actually entertaining, if not on a purely leave your brain at the door kind of way. So, join me next time folks where I'll be posting the first entry in a new series I will be calling Jeturary!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Three Brothers, A Retrospective - Part 3: Dragons Forever (1988)

Now it's time for the third and final part of my retrospective look at three key films starring the wonderful trio of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. In my previous installment I talked about Wheels on Meals and despite the many times I've seen it, I was still flawed by how amazing the action scenes were and the fight between Jackie and Benny Urquidez is by far one of my all time favourite martial arts fight scenes. This week I'm going to take a long look at the final film to star all three of the Three Brothers; Dragons Forever.

With Wheels On Meals having been a massive success, Golden Harvest thought they would try and continue the trend and put together another film using most of the same cast and crew. A story was put together which would see the three leads play against type. Jackie, who often portrayed himself as the underdog hero fighting for justice would play a skirt chasing lawyer who had no qualms about using under handed tactics to win cases. Sammo, who often played timid characters during this point in his career was a conniving arms dealer and Yuen Biao would play a cat burglar who was mentally disturbed. An interesting idea and one which ultimately works in the film's favor.

Jackie plays Jackie. Yep, that's his character's name. A lawyer who is having lunch with a female witness for a case he is working on when a group of thugs turn up and try and intimidate her. Jackie leaps straight to the rescue and makes quick work of the attackers. Right from the off director Sammo is establishing the kind of action we will be seeing. This time the style of choreography seems to concentrate more on impactful and painful looking kicks and punches as opposed to the lightening fast exchanges used in Wheels on Meals. It's not a particularly long scene but Jackie gets to indulge in his penchant for using props by throwing chairs and leaping across tables.

After he rescues the witness she slaps him in the face for not acting quick enough. It's here that Jackie's character isn't as morally upright as his other characters which he's played before and promptly slaps her back and verbally berates her before walking off. Later we see him in court representing a criminal who he is able to get off charges. While the previous scene established he's not the typical boy scout, we see here that Jackie's character is conflicted as he is visibly upset at having to defend such a repugnant character. He even goes so far as to assault his client when the Judge's back is turned. Realistically there's now way a lawyer would be able to do something like that but of course this film has one of the most lenient and tolerable judge's I've seen so who am I to argue.

Leaving the courtroom he then has a meeting with another client. A local chemical company is being sued by a fishery over allegations that they have polluted the water. Jackie is hired by the chemical company in hopes that he can convince the fishery to settle out of court. He holds a meeting with the owner of the fishery Miss Yip played by Deannie Yip. As you would expect she has no interest in settling and vows to take the case through. It's during this scene that Jackie meets Ling played by Pauline Yeung. Ling is an environmental scientist who intends to testify on Yip's behalf, she's also her cousin. After a swift rebuke from her, Jackie decides to put a plan together that will hopefully result in the case never being put in front of a judge.

He recruits his friend Wong Fei-Hung (Sammo) we're introduced to his character in a scene in which he is selling guns to a pair of criminals intent on robbing a bank. When it turns out that they won't pay him, Sammo doesn't hesitate to knock them on their arses. One thing has to be said about Dragons Forever is that it doesn't waste too much time getting to the next action sequence. Sammo knew what his audience liked (most of the time) and giving them lots of action to watch was one thing he was certain on. The fight scene itself is short but it's tightly edited and there's some nasty throws being used. 

Wong meets up with Jackie who gives him the task of getting close to Miss Yip in an attempt to try and coerce her into selling her business. He wastes no time by moving in next door and introducing himself to her when he pretends to mistake her house for the one he just moved into. I liked this scene because right away you can see that both Sammo and Deannie have good chemistry. Both actors had previously worked together on Carry On, Pickpocket (A great 80's action comedy that's worth seeing) and The Owl Vs Bumbo (A not so great 80's comedy that isn't worth seeing) so they seemed to play off each other quite well. Not long after we are introduced to the final of the three leads Tung Te-Biao played by, you guessed it, Yuen Biao.

He returns to his home during the night to find someone has forced their way inside. Climbing through the roof he attacks his would be assailant only to discover it's Jackie. Right away we know there's something not quite right about him. It turns out that Jackie wants to use Tung's skills as a burglar to plant a bug in Miss Yip's home in the hopes of being able to gather some information that he may be able to use against her in the case. Tung reluctantly agrees and soon we see him infiltrating Miss Yip's apartment. Unfortunately Wong spots him and watches him closely.

Inside we get to see Biao's talents for acrobatic tumbling as he tries to find a good hiding place for the listening device. One thing I found odd was despite being a professional burglar instead of choosing dark clothing that would avoid him from being seen, he decides to wear a bright yellow jumper. Of course, it was the 80's and primary colours were worn a lot and also Biao's character is kind of a nutjob so I suppose it makes a little sense but not much. Wong rushes in thinking he's robbing the place and they have a little fight. This time it's mostly played for laughs with Yuen trying his best to wriggle out of Wong's grasp but his escape is cut short when Yip smashes a vase over his head.

Jackie bails him out prison and bumps into Yip and Ling. Jackie tries to ask Ling out and again and she agrees. Thinking she would be able to get more information out of him. This is where we get a real treat of a scene. Jackie is busy entertaining her at his home and he soon finds out that Tung is hiding in his bedroom. Not long after Wong shows up and is forced to hide them both or his whole plan would be exposed. We get an excellent mix of action and physical comedy and what I like most about this scene is that you could show this to anyone from any country, regardless if they could understand the dialogue and they would completely understand what was happening. That's one of the toughest aspects of comedy in getting it to translate and physical comedy always works and this particular scene is no exception.

Later on we see the three of them trying to let bygones be bygones and go for a drink. Here we meet the main villain played by Yuen Wah. After some expository dialogue we get yet another fight scene when a rival gang come in and try to kill Wah. You get the feeling that with each scene that Sammo is building them up and up. Each fight becomes faster. harder. more painful. So you can imagine by the time we reach the end just how brutal things are going to get. The next day Jackie takes Ling for dinner on a yacht. It's not long before Jackie receives a visit from what I like to call the Big Bad Guy Brigade. Which consists of such Hong Action bad guys like Dick Wei, Chung Fat, Fung Hak-On, Lau Kar-Wing, Wong Yu, Meng Hoi and a few others.

The choreography is pure Jackie all the way. You see him climbing up stairs, leaping across tables, rolling across the ground. Everything you expect Jackie to be doing in a fight like this, he does and it's a great fight, especially given the talent involved. At this point though, this is when we get into cheesy Hong Kong romantic territory, which isn't something I care for much. We get the montage of Jackie and Ling going on various dates  to the soundtrack of a Canto Ballad. It always annoys me when this happens but since it's over fairly quickly it's not as irritating as I usually find it.

Sadly Jackie's happiness doesn't last long when Tung tries to kill Ling. The reason for this is that two scenes were filmed in which Tung see's a psychiatrist played by Stanley Fung. The second scene he is being robbed and the robber, with Tung thinking he is his shrink tells him to kill her. So him suddenly wanting to do that seems a little out of context with the removal of those scenes. As a result of Tung's attempted murder, Jackie's plot to get information and Wong's plan to get Yip to sell her business are exposed. As you'd expect the women aren't happy and this causes the three friends to duke it out Hong Kong action style.

I loved this fight, still do. It's so perfectly done and it's such a shame we never saw all three do more of this in other films. Their timing is spot on and is a hell of a thing to see these three "brothers" fight each other in such a vicious way. This ends up causing a rift between them and they go their separate ways. Wong however still feels guilty and confronts Miss Yip about his feelings. After accepting his apology he agrees to help her get evidence that will help her win the case in court.

Tung agrees to help and they both sneak into the factory and split up. Wong finds a hidden entrance and discovers that the factory is in fact a front for heroin manufacturing. He is discovered almost immediately and is captured. Meanwhile Jackie is in court and is about to cross-examine Ling only to ask her to confess her love for him. Now at this point another other judge would not be tolerating such ridiculous behaviour but since we have the friendliest movie judge ever he just goes with it. As you'd expect it goes exactly the way you think it will but once we've got that out of the way Tung meets up with Jackie and tells him Wong is in trouble.

With Ling in toe they head to factory and find their way into the heroin plant. At this point the film wastes no time in giving what the audience has been waiting for. Jackie and Biao leap into action. Biao goes up against the man who would go on to take Dick Wei's mantle for Villain of Choice in the 90's, Billy Chow and Jackie has to take in Yuen Wah. They're both excellent fights and are certainly more hard-hitting then anything that has come before, especially when one stunt sees a poor bloke slam his head and neck into the floor. How they didn't get seriously damaged by that bump I have no idea.

Yet, all this does is lead us right into the Pièce de résistance when we get round two between Jackie and his opponent from Wheels on Meals, Benny Urquidez. Benny is beyond a shadow of a doubt one of Jackie's greatest on-screen adversaries. They may have only faced each other twice but both times have left such an impact on the face of martial arts cinema that it's easy to see why many fans around the world cite them as some of the best examples of screen fighting ever produced.

What makes this fight different to Wheels on Meals is fundamentally choreography. While that film had them throwing lightening fast exchanges, this time they're out to really hurt each other with stiff kicks to the chest and some nasty fists to the face. Each move looks like it hurts and it should as they really had to push the bar further because they had set it so high last time. I already explained Benny is the real deal and even he was impressed with how well Jackie handled himself the few times they actually made contact during some of the moves

As you'd expect after getting a hell of a beat down Jackie is able to push himself beyond the limit and manages to get the victory over Benny. With the bad guys defeated and everyone saved that ends the film. So too does my retrospective on three films that are some of the best in which all three stars have ever made. Sadly this was to be their last collaboration. There was attempt made in the 90's to get all three involved in a film but Jackie couldn't be a part of it and so that film later become Don't Give A Damn, with Takeshi Kineshiro filling in Jackie's original role.

If you're wondering when the film came out if it was a hit, well, this may shock you but no it wasn't. Expert Bey Logan theorizes the reason the film didn't live up to expectations had a lot to do with the characters they played. Hong Kong audiences were very particular about the roles their stars played and weren't very receptive whenever they tried to play against type. Still, all parties involved should be proud of the final film.

So that's that on my three part retrospective, it's been an absolute blast going back and watching these bona fide genre classics and being able to share my thoughts with you. I hope you enjoyed reading these articles as much as I enjoyed writing them. Until next time, my friends.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Awesome Kung Fu Shirts!

Check out these amazing shirts I bought from Shaolinchamber36

Snake In The Monkey's Shadow

Master of the Flying Guillotine

These shirts are amazing are well worth the price I paid. Rest assured I'll be purchasing more shirts from them in the future!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Three Brothers, A Retrospective - Part 2: Wheels On Meals (1984)

Here we go. Part 2 of my retrospective in which I'll be taking an extended look at three films starring the triple threat of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. Last time I revisited the film Project A for the first time in many years and it was an incredibly enjoyable experience. Let's see if I can carry on that enjoyment with Wheels On Meals.

After the massive success of Project A Jackie, Sammo and Yuen wasted little time in gearing up for their next project. This time it would be Sammo in the director's chair and much like Jackie had done with Project A he decided to do something different. So he thought it would be a good idea to shoot the film on location in Barcelona, Spain with interiors being filmed in the Golden Harvest studios in Hong Kong. It was decided that the film be called Wheels On Meals instead of the other way round as two other films by Golden Harvest; Megaforce and Menage A Trois had been box office flops and they felt the letter 'M' would be bad luck.

Joining them would be Spanish actress Lola Forner playing the love interest and American martial arts champions Benny "The Jet" Urquidez and Keith Vitali playing the henchman of the main villain played by Spanish actor Jose Sancho.

With an exotic location, a great cast and some solid action the final result was a film that was an even bigger hit then Project A and further cemented Jackie,'s, Sammo's and Yuen's reputation as three of the biggest stars in the Hong Kong film industry during the 1980's.

Jackie and Yuen play Thomas and David a pair of fast food chefs who travel round Barcelona selling food to locals and tourists. It's established very early on the film when the two have a morning spar just what we're in for. The timing of both men are absolutely incredible and it's hard to imagine anyone else being able to pull of that same rhythm and speed in which they both effortlessly pull off.

After that nice little sequence we see both of them plying their trade out of a yellow van. We're shown that both men are known to the community and get along with them. This was something Sammo wanted to emphasize in the film and give it a more international flavour. It's not long before trouble appears in the form of a motorcycle gang led by the late Blackie Ko. Ko had made a reputation for himself as someone who was able to direct and perform vehicle stunts so whenever you saw a high profile action film that was made in the 80's and featured any kind of vehicle stunts, more often then not those scenes were directed by him.

Afterwards we meet Sammo's character Moby. He's a private detective who ends up being hired by a rich business man to locate a woman who is the heir to a large fortune. Moby agrees and sets about trying to find her. It's here we see Sammo sporting a a rather nifty jerry curl hairstyle. Hairstyles and playing with his overall look was something of a running theme in his films as he was always trying to find ways of making himself look different. The odd thing is he doesn't look too out of place with it. After all it was the 1980's and odd hairstyles was one of the many things that decade is remembered for.

Thomas and David pay a visit to David's father played by Paul Chang who is an a mental institution, it's here they meet Sylvia (Forner) who is the daughter of the woman David's father is in a relationship with. Quite how two mentally ill people are able to have a relationship within the hospital is never fully explained but it doesn't matter because thinking about that in this type of movie would be just silly. Besides, this scene also features comic actors Richard Ng and John Shum. There's a nice little exchange of dialogue between Ng and Jackie in which he explains there's a difference between having severe mental and emotional problems and being stupid and the way Ng delivers it with such a deadpan expression is absolutely priceless.

Later that night, Thomas and David are in the red light district (hookers have to eat, right?) and Thomas catches Sylvia who as it turns out is posing as a prostitute in order to rob her clients. Unfortunately she's caught red handed when trying to lift a man's wallet and flees, hiding in the boy's fast food van. Feeling charitable they take her to their home and let her stay the night. Here we get to see Jackie and Yuen's comedic interplay as they try and act all suave around Sylvia. It's all very silly Hong Kong humor but it did make me chuckle as Jackie and Yuen know how to play it exactly right without it becoming too farcical.

The next morning the boys awake to find that Sylvia has robbed them of their money and stolen their neighbor's car. Shortly afterwards Sylvia arrives home and finds a group of thugs waiting for her. It's revealed that she is the woman Sammo has been tracking and someone is after her for her inheritance. In the midst of their attempt to capture her, Sammo arrives, having just been robbed by her minutes before. We get this short but very nicely choreographed brawl, which leaves Sammo with another of his trademarks, a black eye.

Realizing he may be way over his head he decides to approach Thomas and David, having discovered their connection to her and asks for her whereabouts. They don't say anything and leave Moby to fend for himself. This was actually a disappointing scene. For one, it takes place in a night club and usually when we see these three in a night club, three things tend to happen. Dance off, Fight scene or a combination of the two and we don't see that here and instead we get a scene which Sammo's character inadvertently offends the Spanish patrons of the club. It was short but it did serve the purpose of showing that these three characters know each other but still, a bit of action couldn't have hurt.

Upon leaving the club they bump into Sylvia and they take her to their home again. After the obligatory heartfelt moment in which Sylvia explains why she's a thief we're treated to that all important moment in 80's Hong Kong comedies, the cheesy montage sequence. It's exactly what you'd expect to be but it gives Sammo the opportunity to show off some landmarks in Barcelona. Not long afterward Sylvia is found by the same thugs who tried to grab her earlier and this leads from some painful kicks to said thug's faces delivered by Sammo and Yuen and we jump right into an excellent car chase sequence.

I mentioned earlier that Blackie Ko directed the vehicle stunts and it's obvious from the way it's filmed and edited that he must have enjoyed putting it together. As the car tears through the streets we get some lovely shots of Barcelona's famous landmarks, well, if you're shooting a film in Spain you're damn well going to show off. It's a great scene and shows that Hong Kong movies can do more then just martial arts action. After escaping they all manage to get home but soon Urquidez and Vitali show up and we get the first round between Jackie and Yuen against Urquidez and Vitali.

Urquidez and Vitali are no strangers to the movie scene. By this time in their career this was one their earliest roles. Urquidez had appeared in the film Force: Five directed by Robert Clouse and Vitali had appeared in Revenge of the Ninja. So they were already familiar with the way martial arts was filmed for screen. The fight itself is short but boy oh boy does it look painful. Jackie and Yuen especially take some nasty looking kicks to the chest.

Our heroes manage to give the bad guys the slip but the next day Sylvia and her mother are kidnapped. I have to give Urquidez and Vitali credit. They don't waste time trying to correct their mistakes. Most movie henchmen could learn a lot from these two. This leaves Thomas, David and Moby with no choice but to rescue them. Here we see that they are holed up in a castle and all three make their way inside using different methods. As you'd expect they're all caught and we end up seeing what is without a shadow of a doubt one of the best and I mean this, the best one on one martial arts fight scenes ever recorded.

Now having said that it would be understandable if you thought I might be hyping it up but I'm not neither men have ever looked better. One thing I've noticed about Jackie is that while he looked amazing in many of the fight sequences he did in his own films he never looked better then when he was working under Sammo. As I mentioned in my previous review, both men (along with Yuen Biao) grew up together and attended Yu Jim-Yuen's Peking Opera School. They had practiced and honed their craft since they were children, they all had this understanding and knew each other's strengths so well. It seemed Sammo was able to tap into just that little extra skill in Jackie's move set and could use it to great effect.

Which is why Urquidez makes the perfect opponent. For those who may not be familiar with Benny Urquidez. He grew up as part of a very athletic family. His mother was a professional wrestler and his father a boxer. His siblings were all black belts and Benny would go on to earn them in nine different forms of Karate. In 1974 he decided to pursue a career in the full contact scene. Throughout his career he would rack up an impressive score of 200 wins and 0 losses, including 63 title defenses and 57 knockouts. To add another string to his already impressive bow he is the only professional fighter to hold six titles in 5 weight divisions for 24 consecutive years. So early on in his career it was easy to see why he would want to be in movies.

Benny is the real deal and he made the leap to film fighting effortlessly. His fight with Jackie is intricately choreographed with both of them actually hitting each other during some of the exchanges. It's painful to watch but also astoundingly done. Vitali also gets his moment to shine going up against Yuen Biao. Here we get something a little different, instead of the brutal street fighting of Jackie and Urquidez we get a more acrobatic scene which sees Yuen leaping over tables and chairs trying to avoid Vitali's brutal kicks. It's fast, snappy and compliments the previous fight nicely.

Finally to cap off what has already been one of the finest finale's in Hong Kong action history we get what are essentially the desserts with Sammo taking on the main villain. Sammo combines traditional Chinese sword fighting with European fencing and it's an excellent way to end what has already been such a good film.

So there we have it, Wheels On Meals. I had a great time with this one and having been able to go back and watch it again has been a lot of fun. I had forgotten just how brutal the fight scenes are and the brawl between Jackie and Urquidez holds a high place on my list of top martial arts fight scenes ever. If you have haven't seen it yet then can I say you will be in for one hell of a good time. Join me next time for part 3 where I'll be taking a look at another action classic, one which will see our fearless trio play against type and take on the combined might of Yuen Wah and Benny Urquidez in Dragons Forever.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Come Join The Film Smash Forums Today!

If you've been a member of the Asian Film Internet Community as long as I have you may have heard of a website once known as KFCCinema. A News and reviews site that covered all the latest releases from Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and other places. The site also hosted what was at the time one of the most active forum communities and in my early days as an Asian film enthusiast it proved indispensable in being able to find out what were the best releases for whatever film you were looking for and also provided a lot of fun banter between it's members.

Sadly, the site had to shutdown do to various problems but it wasn't long before some former members managed to start a new site called Film Smash. The forum has recently gone through a revamp and we're looking for people to join our site, join in with the posting and hopefully rebuild the reputation that was set down by KFCCinema.

Hope to see you all there:

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Three Brothers, A Retrospective - Part 1: Project A (1983)

Welcome everyone to my three part retrospective in which I will be discussing three different films all starring the triumvirate of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao.  Firstly I will be taking a lengthy look at Project A. Way back before the film was made Jackie's last film Dragon Lord had been a box office failure. Stuck in a rut he wanted to try some fresh ideas rather then keep rehashing the same period Kung Fu films that had helped make his career but was now on the verge of breaking it.

So with his production team they con-cocked a film which would pay tribute the swashbuckling, high adventure films that were made in Hollywood while combining Hong Kong stunts and fight choreography. At first the film was titled Pirate Patrol but worried that other producers would rush out and make other pirate movies they opted for the rather vague title of Project A. To help make the film Jackie brought on board Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. It was well known that all three had grown up together and attended Opera School under Master Yu Jim Yuen, going on to work in the film industry on a long list of films.

The result is an absolutely amazing mix of action, comedy and stunt work that still holds up after all these years.

The story centers around Dragon Ma (Chan) a sergeant in the Hong Kong coast guard at the turn of the 20th century. After he and the other guards get into a pub brawl with local police they're disbanded and absorbed into the force. Not long after that pirate San-Pao (Dick Wei) starts attacking ships in the nearby South China Sea and Dragon must face up to the task of taking him down.

So, right away we have a story and setting that is very different to anything done before. More contemporary action films had been made around this time but none had ever explored a period in Hong Kong's history quite like Project A did. While it isn't historically accurate that doesn't stop it from being a unique looking film for it's time. It makes great use of Macau's Portuguese 19th century architecture creating the illusion this is all taking place in Hong Kong at that time.

Moving from the locations onto the actors. Jackie Chan heads an all-star cast flanked by the afore mentioned Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. Each actor plays to their archetypal screen personas. Jackie is the under-dog hero fighting for justice, Sammo is the crafty schemer and Yuen is the stoic one. These were character traits they had all established in their previous work and very much continue that trend with Project A.

There's also a good supporting cast of Hong Kong movie mainstays such as Lee Hoi-San, John Cheung, Kwan Hoi-San, Lau Hak-Suen and many more familiar faces make the odd appearance throughout. They all fulfill the roles they've been given and help move the story along at a decent pace.

The film starts out with Dragon Ma getting a chewing out from the local police chief for failing to capture a group of pirates that have been terrorizing ships travelling to and from Hong Kong. He retreats to the local pub with his coastguard buddies where they endure verbal abuse from a group of Police officers. Hong Tin-Tsu(Biao) enters and gradually joins in with the teasing that culminates in Dragon being tripped up, inadvertently spilling beer all over Hong. Ma tries to apologize but Hong doesn't listen and the two end up fighting and soon a full-on brawl breaks out.

This all serves as a great way to establish the kind of action the film had. Gone are the traditional Kung Fu forms and simple editing. Here we see high impact kicks to the chest and chairs being smashed across people's heads. This was the new type of action for what was a new era of Hong Kong filmmaking. This type of hyper-kinetic fighting had begun with films like The Prodigal Son but it didn't take full form until Sammo Hung directed Winners and Sinners, it was then the new style had firmly established itself and would continue to be the trend for the remainder of the 1980's.

As punishment for the fight the coastguard is disbanded and they are absorbed into the police force to undergo training by Hong. This is where Chan's flair for physical comedy starts to show. Chan was always eager to have his films not only be popular with local audiences but also overseas. He had made previous attempts at trying to break the US market with films like Battle Creek Brawl and The Protector but the directors he worked with would not allow him to show his full potential and thus those films were complete failures. So when Jackie returned to Hong Kong he set about showing how his movies should be made.

The problem was, working in the Hong Kong film industry meant that a lot of the scripted gags may be lost in the translation for those who may not speak the language so he decided to tap into his love of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd and thrown in some good ol' slap stick.

This seemed to pay off as his films during the 80's always seemed to be hugely successful on the local market and make a decent amount overseas. During Ma's investigation in locating a wanted murderer, he meets Fei (Sammo) a reformed thief who's looking for a quick way to make some money and decides to help him out. After Ma finds the killer he soon realizes that  the police force may be corrupt, he quits and decides to do things his own way.

This leads to a plot involving stolen military weapons which serves as a way of progressing the story to it's logical conclusion. Although along the way we're treated to one of the best chase scenes in film history. Making full use of Macau and the famous Golden Harvest studio back lot, Chan runs around streets and back alleys, avoiding the bad guys and throws in some nice stunt work involving bicycles. It's a fantastic sequence to watch and is one of my all time favourites.

if it's one thing Project A is most known for, it is a rather hard-hitting stunt which starts out as a simple but effective fight inside a clock tower. Jackie is pushed out of the tower and grabs onto the clock face, dangling 60 feet above the ground. As you'd expect he loses his grip and plummets straight down, tearing through three canopies as a way to break the fall. What makes it all the more impressive is that Chan did it three times. The first proves unsuccessful with him clipping the side of the last canopy and not breaking through. The second saw him land directly on his head but the third proved successful enough.

It seems everyone involved was so impressed the latter two takes were edited into the final film just to show the audience that what they were watching was really happening. It's absolutely astounding to watch and stands as Jackie's most impressive single stunt sequence.

Eventually the story leads us to a point where Ma manages to infiltrate San-Pao's hideout posing as a gangster. At first everything goes as planned but it's not long before he's rumbled and we get an absolutely knock down, drag out, slap bang, hell of a finale which we see Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao take on Dick Wei. An actor who had already established himself in the 70's had gone on to become a staple of the 1980's Hong Kong action scene with appearances in Winners and Sinners and Carry On, Pickpocket. This was just one of many films he would go on to appear in.

Timing is everything and not a truer word can be said about Project A. All involved push themselves beyond the limit and deliver an intricately choreographed fight sequence, some excellent stunt falls and a nice sword fight between Sammo and Wei. Definitely one of the best three on one fights put to film.

So, given that this film was dealing with what was a new style of filmmaking and a historical setting not shown before you would be wondering if Project A was a success? You bet it was. After it was released it went on to gross HKD$19,323,824. It's success also spread to Japan, where reportedly the Emperor was so impressed that he demanded a sequel. Which did happen but I may talk about that one another time.

For now I will end part one of my retrospective by saying that watching Project A again after all this time as been a real treat. I got that same feeling I did when I was 17 and convinced my older brother to lend me the extra cash so I could buy the DVD and then sitting at home and being absolutely blown away by it. A great film, with a great cast that should not be missed. Be sure to join me in part two of my retrospective in which I'll be discussing Wheels On Meals.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

New Japanese Cinema Blog

Hello everyone!

Just a quick message to say I'm rolling out a new blog called Far East, Far Out which will feature reviews on Japanese cinema. Nothing up on it yet except a short message but be sure to check it time to time for regular updates.

Dirty Tiger, Crazy Frog (1978)

Oh boy, are we in for a treat today!

Sammo Hung is one of my all time favourite action stars. He has produced some of the finest examples of the martial arts genre ever and it was with much excitement that I'll be talking about one those movies. Lau Kar-Wing co-stars as a bounty hunter tasked with bringing Sammo back to his elderly wife. During his hunt he discovers Sammo possesses the "Invincible Armour" a chain mail vest which can withstand even the sharpest of blades.

It's not long before Sammo is tricked out of his vest by a female pickpocket and he teams up with Kar-Wing to recover it. Que plenty of top-notch Kung Fu ass kicking and broad slapstick in what has to be one Sammo's more underrated starring roles.

First of all, you have to appreciate the sheer amount of talent involved here. Not only is it a film starring Sammo Hung and Lau Kar-Wing. You also have Karl Maka serving as the director and Eric Tsang as writer. It's mind boggling how this film is often over-looked in favor of other titles such as The Odd Couple and Pedicab Driver. It's not a perfect film by any stretch but it deserves to held in much higher regard then it is.

With the gushing praise out of the way we can get to talking about the film itself. Story wise it's very A-typical of Kung Fu comedies that were being made round this time but to Sammo's credit you can see he's having a heck of a time making the film alongside Kar-Wing. Silly faces are pulled, villains laugh in the manner they always do and people get kicked in the face. What makes this different however to films like The Master Strikes is that Dirty Tiger, Crazy Frog is actually funny. In an extremely goofy way without a doubt but it did elicit the odd chuckle now and then.

I think what it comes down to is the chemistry between the actors. Sammo and Kar-Wing have made many films together and you can see the trust they have in each other not only during the fight scenes but in some of the physical comedy as well. A rather amusing scene sees Sammo being forced to hold some vases to avoid alerting a sleeping bad guy and you get the feeling Kar-Wing is trying to stop himself from laughing just at the sheer sight of it. They are by far the best thing about the film and it really raises it above other kung fu comedies of the late 70's.

Regardless of how the story may seem though, it's nothing if you don't have good villains to back it up. We not only get one main villain but in fact three. Played by Dean Shek, Lee Hoi-San and Jason Pai Piao respectively. Dean Shek is, well, Dean Shek. If you've seen any of the other films he was in round about this time then you'll know what to expect. Over-exaggerated face pulling and awkward martial arts fighting were his trade-mark and he doesn't miss a beat here. Sadly. Pai Piao on the other hand doesn't say much except grin deviously like he's plotting to drown his neighbor's dog for no reason and Lee Hoi-San rocks the white brows and beard.

Yet those aren't the only familiar faces making an appearance. Watching it you'll be surprised at how many actually crop up. That's always part of the fun when watching a martial arts movies from the 70's. Seeing how many faces you recognise. Which wasn't difficult given how many films were being made and the industry at the time being quite small. There's a lot of fun to be had if you know your Hong Kong movies, that much is guaranteed. 

This were the movie gets good. The action. Like I said before Sammo is one of any all-time favourite action stars and also one of the best fight choreographers of his day. He's able to seamlessly blend empty handed exchanges and excellently paced weapons fighting with relative ease and makes great use of the actors involved. There's a particularly nice bout which takes place early on in the film that sees Sammo thrown down in a gambling house. He uses traditional forms and some simple stunt work which sets the tone nicely for the rest of the film.

Lau Kar-Wing also shows his flair for swords in a short but tightly put together exchange. Kar-Wing has always been most impressive during his career. Brother of Shaw Brothers legend Lau Kar-Leung, he worked under him as well as being an action director in his own right on many of the prestigious studio's productions. This allowed him to make his own reputation and establish a career out of the shadow of his brother. Here he gets to do his thing and proves why he deserved the successful career he had worked for.

This of course all leads up to the final reel and not only do we get one stand out finale but two. The first is Sammo and Kar-Wing against big bad Lee Hoi-San. Here they use traditional Wing Chun and other assorted acrobatic movements against what can only be described as Crab Style. What I always found interesting about Kung Fu movies were all the strange and unusual animal styles that were created for films. Wether it was Jackie Chan's cat style in Snake in the Eagle's Shadow or Kim Won-Jin's scorpion style in Operation Scorpio. There's always been something visually entertaining about seeing a man imitate an animal while at the same time bust some heads.

After we get that fight out of the way, we're awarded by an excellent tussle between our two stars. It makes sense plot wise and we get a really good weapons fight that should really be seen by anybody who loves their weapons films. Here they use bo staffs which quickly segment into three section staffs and if you've seen these in action before, you know what you're about to see.

So, in closing Dirty Tiger, Crazy Frog is an absolutely fantastic classic Kung Fu film that should be watched by anyone who is a fan of either Sammo Hung, Lau Kar-Wing, classic weapons fighting and just ass-kicking in general. You'll get more then you bargained for.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

The Master Strikes (1980)

Here's my next Casanova Wong review for what has to be his most bizarre acting performance he's ever given. He plays an escort who is hired by Yen Shi-Kwan to deliver a jade artifact to his home. Funny thing is when Casanova arrives at his home Yen is already there which kind of makes hiring him completely pointless but hey far be it for me to question the logic of the movie's villain. It's soon discovered that the artifact is missing and Wong is forced to sign over his entire estate as compensation.

As a result he goes completely insane and spends his days in a tea house beating up anyone foolish enough to talk to him. Two gambling hustlers played by Chin Siu-Tung and Meng Yuen-Man decide to help him in return for some money and "hilarity" ensues, very painful and very unfunny "hilarity" at that.

You'll have to excuse the poor quality of the video as it's the only one I could find

Right away I have to say this is probably the most annoying kung fu film I've ever watched. Everyone and I mean everyone talks over each other in the dialogue scenes for the majority of the time, especially when Ching and Meng are on screen. I highly recommend hitting the fast forward button on these scenes as you'll not be missing anything important. Then again, fast forwarding is something a lot of us are used to when watching these movies.

As I mentioned before Wong gives a really bizarre performance, using the character's insanity to pull silly faces and act like a complete cartoon lunatic. It's great to see him as the hero but good lord is he irritating in this. His co-stars fair no better Ching and Meng crank up the goof factor right up to eleven and it's immensely satisfying when Wong beats them up in many of the fight scenes they have.

As for our dastardly villain in Yen Shi-Kwan, well, he's his usual shifty self. In fact, he's so shifty that he goes to great lengths to kill anyone who deals with him, even those he personally hires to take out the heroes. It seems he's so desperate to cover his tracks he's probably kill his own grand mother if she caught him doing something wrong. Though he handles himself well in the action scenes and even gets to throw down with Eddy Ko who plays a man out to get revenge on him. Quite why he's so determined to do so is never made very clear but it's always a treat to see Eddy in action, especially against Yen.

It goes without saying that the action is the only reason to tune into this one. Ching Siu-Tung handles the choreography and it's interesting to see his style before he went all wire-fu later. Everybody and I mean everybody gets to really show off in this. Casanova Wong delivers on what has to be some of the best fight scenes he's ever recorded and given the films he's been involved like The Iron Fisted Monk and Warriors Two that says a lot.

Still, all that great action is almost derailed when the film's plot decides to shift onto Wong's co-stars. While they try and think of a way to help him out they meet Beggar Su, the popular fictional character who appeared in films like Drunken Master and King of Beggars. Here he is played by Max Lee. This is where it gets really irritating as we have to bare witness to some painfully unfunny comedy antics and it almost ruins the momentum the film had going up to this point.

Fortunately just as you're about to bash your head in from the sheer stupidity of it all we shift back to Wong's story. Sadly it doesn't last long as we end up baring witness to a over long sequence set in a brothel. What should have been a very short scene ends up going on for far too long, there's a little bit of action but I think you may forgive yourself skipping it as it's not very long and not to the standard the rest of the movies had set.

So I think I'll move back to the action as I think talking more about the story and the acting will cause me to throw my computer out the window and that would just be silly. Unlike Method Man, Casanova Wong actually goes beyond the call of duty and is able to seriously go all out in what has to be a stunning finale fight sequence. Ching Siu-Tung seems to have been a much stronger and much more creative action director when dealing with traditional kung fu films. As much as I enjoy his later work this has to be one of best films he has ever done.

Pleasantly surprised is a word I would use to describe this particular film. Surprised in just how good the action is but also surprised in just how bad everything else is. Would I recommend it? oh, absolutely but it might be worth keeping the fast forward and mute buttons handy so you don't have to subject yourself to the horrendous attempts at comedy.