Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Jetruary #5: The Master (1992)

It's now time for my final review for this year's Jetruary. To conclude the theme of Jet's earlier career I'll be looking at a film he made before he was launched into super stardom with the Once Upon A Time In China series, The Master. Directed by Tsui Hark and filmed entirely on location in Los Angeles Jet stars in what is essentially a prototype movie for the afore mentioned film series.

Jet plays Jet. Hong Kong films of this era sometimes didn't go the trouble of giving their stars character names. A young martial artist arriving in LA to help with his master's  medicine shop only to find he's been the victim of a brutal assault at the hands of a violent gang of fighter led by the psychotically violent Johnny. Jet attempts to re-establish his master's livelihood while fending off attacks from the gang looking to end their lives.

As I said before this film could be viewed as a prototype to the Once Upon A Time In China series. First of all the Cantonese title is Wong Fei-Hung '92. Jet strikes the trademark Wong Sifu fighting stance throughout the film and the name of his master's clinic is called Po Chi Lum. Named after the clinic run by the Wong Fei-Hung. It's possible Tsui Hark was experimenting to see how Jet could play the role of the famous martial arts master and he must have been satisfied with the result because Jet would go on to depict Wong Sifu in 5 different movies. What makes this film different is the way the story plays out and how the characters interact with each other.

Jet displays a more quick-tempered and lively personality. More in tune with how he acted in Shaolin Temple and Swordsman II. He does display the very familiar mannerisms he would show in his later films and it's here that he truly establishes his on-screen persona. While he would play Wong Fei-Hung more seriously, His youthfulness and energy would show themselves in the delightfully mad Fong Sai-Yuk films. He gives a good performance here and really does come across as the righteous hero type audiences would come to know him as. 

Jet also gets to work with a fairly decent supporting cast. Yuen Wah plays his master, Uncle Tak and it's funny seeing him donning make-up to appear older then he was at the time. I had no problems with his acting as I always thought he did fairly well whenever he was given dramatic material to work with. Crystal Kwok, who also appeared in the rather thankless role of Jackie Chan's secretary in Dragons Forever, plays the love interest but much like Nina Li in Dragon Fight, Jet never really displays any romantic feelings toward her throughout the film. Given that this was filmed on location a number of non-Asian actors appear. Anne Rickets plays a young woman who helps Uncle Tak back to health. She appears in a number of scenes but oddly enough her character was never all that integral to the plot but she does well enough for someone on a film where the crew could barely speak English.

There's a few other actors but the only one really worth mentioning is Jerry Trimble. A former world kickboxing champion and Tae Kwon Do expert, Jerry got his start in the industry working on the film King of the Kickboxers. He made another film afterwards, Fist of Fire. Which starred a teenaged Jonathan Ke Quan. Here he really gets to break out and show what he can do in the numerous fight sequences he gets to partake in. Acting wise he just gets to pull angry faces and make threats but he does look magnificent when throwing a kick. Jerry is still very much involed in the industry. Most recently in the Hollywood adaptation of the television/radio series The Green Hornet.

Despite the film's story not being particularly memorable, a lot of martial arts action is thrown in to keep your interest through out. Choreographed by Yuen Wah and gentleman by the name of Brandy Yuen. Their style of screen fighting isn't particularly intricate or flashy. They seem to focus more on power moves, limb locks and takes downs. Practical is a word I would definitely use to describe the fighting. Which works as this is meant to be a realistic and grounded street movie as opposed to a hyped up almost comic style adventure film. Having said that. Jet and Jerry do get to show their full repertoire of moves. When you have two people like that working on a film like this it would be foolish not to. The opening fight between Yuen Wah and Jerry is very good. It establishes right off the bat the type of action we're going to see. Much like Trimble's contemporary Loren Avedon, he has a penchant for fancy kicks. That's natural given his chosen style of fighting but he is a joy to watch and it's amazing to see him really get to gripes of Hong Kong style fight choreography as many western practitioners seem to really struggle with the style.

Fortunately we don't get that with Jerry and when you see him and Jet face each other in the final reel they seem to click very well. Much like his earlier films Jet gets to do more realistic and ground based martial arts. This the style I prefer to see Jet perform as he just looks absolutely astounding. Stunt man/author/fight choreographer John Kreng, who worked on the film, recounted in an interview on the DVD that when he worked with Jet he would hit extremely hard and he was every bit as fast, if not faster then how he was depicted on screen. He also told a story how during production Jet broke his arm and was forced to film with a cast and during a fight scene John had to attack and recalls how the subsequent blocking technique coupled with the cast on Jet's arm felt like he was being hit the arm with a rock.

This was young Jet in his prime and like I said in the review for Born to Defend he's very rarely ever looked better then during this period in his career. Even in his later classics like Fist of Legend or Fearless, you always got the sense he was putting the brakes on and never really pushing to his full potential. Maybe this was the spare any of the stunt men he worked with any due pain or to avoid any further injuries upon his own person. For whatever the reason. This was the last time, in my view, we would ever get to see full on Jet Li.

That's an excellent way to describe his fighting in here. Full on. His final bout with Jerry is absolutely fantastic. They really hit it off, for want of a better a phrase, during this scene and you can see both men are really trying to best each other. With Jet's low and painful punching combinations and Jerry's stiff and painful looking kicks both their respective styles mesh complimented by Yuen Wah's more practical fight choreography. It's a great fight and should be viewed by anyone who has yet to see it.

So that is the end of Jetruary for this year. If I'm still doing the blog next February (Which is likely) then you can rest assured that Jetruary will return. Thank so much for everyone who has taken the time to read my reviews. I hope you enjoyed them all. Be back next week for what will be the start of the Mao March Marathon!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

The Mao March Marathon!

Next month will be The Mao March Marathon in which I will be reviewing films featuring the Taiwanese ass-kicking machine Angela Mao. Be sure to check back every week through March!

This is my way of showing my gratitude to the members of the Heroic Sisterhood on Facebook who have been hugely supportive of the blog throughout Jetruary. Please show your support by liking them on facebook:

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Jetruary #4: Swordsman 2: Invincible Asia (1992)

For my fourth entry into Jetruary I decided to review what is essentially Jet's first entry into the fantasy martial arts genre. In the sequel to the classic Wu Xia epic directed by King Hu, Jet Li replaces original star Sam Hui as the swordsman Ling in what is seen as a film that not only manages to be a worthy follow up to the original but surpass it in many ways. Ling is a man who has a love for drinking, singing and women. Along with his faithful companion Kiddo (Michelle Reis) they both retreat to the mountains intent on retiring from the martial arts world and lead a quiet life. However they soon get involved in a plan to rescue Master Wu (Yen Shi-Kwan) who has been imprisoned by the mysterious Dawn (Brigitte Lin) who plans on ruling over Asia using his new abilities gained from a powerful scroll granting the user supernatural abilities.

At this point in Jet's career he had mostly done realistic and traditional martial arts action and this is the first time we see him donning wires and flying through the air with all the charm and grace he possesses. The style of action is very different to that of Shaolin Temple or Dragon Fight but it's easy to see why Jet would end up going this route in his later films. While he looked incredible doing more grounded kicking and punching, here we see him doing amazing flying kicks and lightening fast sword displays, it's the type of action that would go on to define his on-screen style well into his career and Swordsman II is where it all started. First of all, his on-screen persona is very different to what he has displayed previously. In Dragon Fight he was very much the stoic hero, down playing his emotions for the most part. Here we see him laughing, smiling, singing and generally just having a good time.

It reminded me very much of the personality he displayed in Shaolin Temple but here he really brings it forward and does an excellent job of differentiating his character to ones he had played previously. He does get more serious as the film progresses, especially in the final act of the film and it's easy to see why he was Tsui Hark's number one choice to play Wong Fei-Hung in the excellent Once Upon A Time In China series. This is definitely a must see for fans of Jet as it allows you as a viewer to see him really getting to grips with how he wanted to portray himself on the big screen.

Jet also gets to work with a great cast of Hong Kong talent. Michelle Reis plays his companion Kiddo. A tomboy sword fighter with a crush on our hero. She does well enough given the material she's working with and looks good in the many sword fights she partakes in, which is impressive as Michelle isn't someone with an extensive martial arts background. Rosamund Kwan plays one of Jet's love interests and gets to kick some serious ass with a bull whip. Sadly she doesn't get to really show off her excellent acting talent but does get to really use those big expressive eyes which I find almost hypnotic at times. Yen Shi-Kwan rocks out as Master Wu and Brigitte Lin plays the role that would define her career as Dawn, a martial artist who goes through a gender transformation in order to become the strongest martial artist in all of Asia.

This is interesting as this type of character is very unique to Chinese cinema. The idea that in order to really become the most powerful of fighters, one must go through such a transformation is an incredibly unique idea that it's odd  it hasn't been explored outside of Asia. Imagine how mad The Matrix would be if in order for Neo to be victorious over Agent Smith he'd have to get rid of his wedding tackle and grow a pair of breasts. As I said this was the role that would define Brigitte's career and she would go on to reprise the role on Swordsman 3 and also play variations on the character in films such as Deadful Melody and Three Swordmen. She does an absolutely stellar job playing Dawn with such conviction that critics did take notice and nominated her for a Hong Kong film award, which she sadly did not win.

These kinds of odd and wild ideas are what help shape the Wu Xia genre as a whole. The fact that these worlds are not constrainted by things such as gravity and allow characters to fly through the air and display techniques which wouldn't work in other genre films. This style of film making is definitely an acquired taste when you compare it to more traditional martial arts films but you'll find that Wu Xia epics are some of the most beautifully put together and visually creative films you'll ever see. It's always nice to see modern Chinese films makers revisit the genre now and again and it seems Jet has strapped on the wires one more time in the upcoming Flying Swords of Dragon Gate which I'm very excited about seeing.

In charge of the fantastical sword play is Ching Siu-Tung, a director and fight choreographer who would go on to be the go to guy for this type of film. It seems he made the transition from doing normal ground based Kung Fu and began his long career in the Wu Xia genre. Here he displays his abilities as not only an incredibly fast story teller but also a brilliant choreographer. The many fights set through out the film are excellent and he uses the sword play style to make all the cast look magnificent. Swordsman 2 is one of the finest examples of the genre and is a great introduction to those who may never have seen this type of film making before.

One thing I would like to address is the relationship between Jet and Brigitte's characters. When they first meet Ling is unaware that Dawn is a man. His outward appearance has given him the feminine looks of Brigette but his voice still has a masculine tone. Ling is unaware of this as Dawn doesn't utter a single word and immediately you can see an attraction between the two. As the story moves along things such as sexuality and morally are called into question and these are very weighty subjects that are being addressed here. Especially given the fact that this a film that features a woman with a bullwhip capable of ripping men limb from limb but the fact that these issues are addressed is what really raises Swordsman 2 above it's predecessor. 

While the original was content on just telling a good old fashioned story of good versus evil, Swordman 2 challenges social taboos by having two male characters fall in love. Sadly, the conclusion to this story didn't reach a particularly satisfying one but Ching Siu-Tung has to be commended for telling such a bold story. It also helps that you have two capable actors in Jet and Brigette. They have good chemistry, even in the early scenes when Dawn is completely silent, the way he looks at Jet you can see that he is slowly becoming enamored by him. Likewise with Ling who seems to be attracted by Dawn's air of mystery. It's without a doubt one of  the highlights of the film and it would be great to these themes explored in more modern Chinese films.

Swordsman 2 is an instant classic that should be viewed by anyone who is a fan of Hong Kong films. We get some crazy action and a fantastic story that really makes it a must see for fans of anyone involved. For those who would be interested in wanting to learn more about Brigette's character and the idea of transsexualism in Asian cinema should read my friend Meredith's review Swordsman 2's Invincible Asia and the tradition of Cross Dressing in Kung Fu movies.

That's it for this week. This was intended to be the last entry into Jetruary but I've decided to review one more film to close out the month so be back next week.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

5 Things To Love About School On Fire

Here's five reasons why you should love Ringo Lam's violent crime drama School On Fire

Number Five: Blood on the Streets

Ringo Lam isn't an action film director. He tends to do films which feature gritty, nasty and bloody violence and it doesn't get any grittier or nastier then in this film. It's fast, it's brutal and it shocks you.

Number Four: Lives Up To The Title

Ringo seems to love putting his characters through the ringer and no one else gets screwed over quite like the central character Chu Yuen-Fong played by Fennie Yuen. The tragedies in which her character is forced to endure come to a head when, in a moment of rage and frustration, sets fire to her school Library.

Number Three: Beautiful Tragedy

A good solid drama needs a good solid leading actor or actress and Ringo achieves this with Fennie Yuen. She gives an absolutely incredible performance that anchors the film's emotionally turbulent narrative.

Number Two: Blood on the Chalkboard 

The film's final act sees the central characters head into a collision course which culminates into a bloody confrontation resulting in a finale that brings everything to a satisfying conclusion.

Number One: So Good At Being Bad

One of my favourite Hong Kong actors, Roy Cheung, delivers one of his best acting performances as Brother Smart who revels in bringing nothing but torment upon Yuen-Fong. His character is so morally reprehensible that you can't wait to see him get what he deserves.

That's it for today. I thought I would do School On Fire as I've now decided the blog will not only concentrate on martial arts action but films from other genres such as gangland drama, comedy, thriller and even horror. This is an attempt by me to broaden my horizons as well as the appeal of the blog. Hope you enjoyed it. Check back tomorrow for my next Jetruary review.

Monday, 20 February 2012

If You Want Blood, You Got It!

To my utter astonishment my previous post has received overwhelming praise from a number of my readers and to show my thanks I decided to make a new video dedicated to the film responsible.

Also please read my good friend Achillesgirl's very own follow up to my post 5 More Things To Love About Hong Kong Godfather

Sunday, 19 February 2012

5 Things To Love About Hong Kong Godfather

This is a first in what I hope to be a new series of articles in which I give five reasons to love a particular film. The first film I'll be taking a brief look at will be Wang Lung-Wei's ultra-violent cult Triad classic Hong Kong Godfather.

Number Five: Leung Kar-Yan's Pet Dogs

Leung Kar-Yan's character "Mad" Wei lives with his daughter at his garden nursery along with his two dogs. A German Shepherd and a Pug. This may seem very throw away at first but the dogs end up playing an important role later on in the film. Also the German Shepherd's name is Stallone. Gotta respect that!

Number Four: Wong Chun's Acting

The film's main villain Lan is played by a gentleman named Wong Chun and to call what he does acting in this particular motion picture would be a gross insult to the profession. He delivers his lines all the while not letting a single muscle in his face move. Occasionally he'll try and do something that is supposed to be a smile but it just looks like he's broke wind and not told anybody.

Number Three: Leung Kar-Yan Gets Serious

Given this is meant to be a dramatic Triad movie, everyone does their damnedest to give a serious performance and no one out of the entire thing tries harder then Beardy himself. I'm a huge fan of his and while he was very impressive when it came to performing martial arts he was never the most convincing of actors. Here you can see he's really trying his best to do some good acting but he doesn't quite hit the mark so scenes when he's supposed to be shedding a tear come off a little awkward but it's an endearingly wonderful piece of bad acting it has to be said.

Number Two: Norman Chu's Hair

It is often said that the 1980s was the decade that taste forgot and that would certainly apply to Norman's choice of hairstyle here. A jerry curl with a rat's tail!?!? You have to wonder how exactly Norman arrived at choosing that particular style when he signed on to star in this.

Number One: Blood On The Walls

For all the film's other wonderfully flawed elements, it more then makes up for it in the violence stakes. Featuring stylized brawls as opposed to traditional martial arts. Johnny Wang Lung-Wei literally paints the walls red with his characters' blood. The last 15 minutes are some of the wildest blood letting I've seen in a Triad film and it has to be seen to be believed.

That's all for my first 5 Thing To Love article. I'll be posting more of these as time goes on, in the mean time keep an eye out for my next entry in Jetruary!

Kickstart My Heart, Hwang Jang Lee!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Jetruary #3: Dragon Fight (1989)

Jetruary rolls on and this week I'll be taking a look at one of Jet's less talked about films Dragon Fight. Directed by Billy Tang, shot entirely on location in San Francisco and co-starring Dick Wei, Stephen Chow and the woman that would go on to be Jet's wife Nina Li, it's odd that not many fans of Hong Kong action cinema let alone Jet's fan base ever talk about it. This is the main reason why I decided to review it and share my thoughts on how the film turned out.

Jet plays Jimmy, a member of a Wu Shu team visiting San Francisco. Here we see that his fellow performer and close friend Tiger (Dick Wei) is becoming increasingly dissatisfied with his place in life. When waiting at the airport to fly home Tiger makes a run for it, hoping to start a new life in America. Jimmy chases after him and after a brief confrontation Jimmy decides to let him stay. Unfortunately Tiger kills a policeman who asks him for ID and Jimmy is blamed as Tiger was carrying his wallet and dropped it at the scene. This forces Jimmy to go on the run from the law and is taken in by Andy(Chow), a young Chinese man who works in his father's grocery store. Meanwhile Tiger finds work as bodyguard and hitman for a local crime lord and it's not long before the two former friends are forced to confront one another once and for all.

Much like Jet's earlier films like Shaolin Temple and Born To Defend, Dragon Fight is a decent showcase of the young actor's abilities. You can see him growing as an actor and also becoming more confident in terms of on screen fighting. He seems to have reigned in his overly fast and hard to keep up fighting style and become more concentrated and focused. It's great to watch these films back to back and see just how Jet was shaping himself as a performer on camera. His straight guy persona melds well with funny man Stephen Chow. This was very early on in Chow's career before he become Hong Kong's premiere comedic actor and film maker in the 1990s. Here he displays a good amount of boyish charm and charisma that he would use to great affect in his later films. Both actors have good solid chemistry and it's a shame that they never got to make another movie together when they were both huge stars later on.

Dick Wei actually gets the rare opportunity to do some acting as opposed to standing around and looking mean. He portrays Tiger with a fair amount of sympathy as well as menace that it's hard to believe that few directors ever wanted to him to be the good guy in their films during this era. He tries to convey that Tiger is tired and frustrated with being just a simple Wu Shu performer and strives to have more. He's also an extremely capable fighter which allows him to get his foot in the door of the San Francisco underworld. This further hits home Tiger's fall from grace as he becomes more greedy.

Tiger's character arc contrasts very well with that of Jimmy's. Stranded in America with no way to get home he takes a job working for Andy's father. He's happy with such a humble life and hopes that one day he can return home to his family. It's not done in an overly complex way. This is 80's Hong Kong Action Cinema we're talking about here. Yet the simplicity in which the story plays out is commendable. Other actors featured are Nina Li who doesn't get to do much except turn up now and then to move the plot forward. I wouldn't even go far as to call her a love interest as Jet's character displays no romantic feelings toward her at any time during the film. Prolific actor and producer Henry Fong turns up as Tiger's gangster boss and plays the typical hot headed triad.

All the cast do very well and I had no issues with the way they played them. There was very little over acting on anyone's part and it made a change from all the angry shouting and screaming in Born To Defend. Nobody would take home any awards for what's in here but to see a cast that actually looks like they want to be there is a refreshing change. Jet especially looks like he's enjoying himself as you could tell throughout Born To Defend despite the smiles he wasn't having a good time.

Backing up the decent acting performances is some good solid action. While not as densely packed as Jet's earlier films, there's enough here to keep your interest. Dick Wei himself was responsible for the choreography and he does a very good job. You can definitely feel the influence of Sammo Hung in the way he put them together. Jet and Dick get to really show their stuff. Dick especially indulges in his love for fancy kicks and Jet gets to do some really impressive punching combinations. There's a nicely done sequence in the the beginning when both of them perform a traditional Wu Shu display and Dick looks completely natural with Jet. That's one the most admirable things regarding Dick Wei, no matter who went up against in a film he always looked good. Sometimes with martial arts films you can sometimes see that certain actors don't really blend well when fighting. Moves looks hesitant or sluggish and the choreography is very tame.

Wei however could tussle with the best of them regardless and he always managed to be in some very good fight scenes. His fight with Jackie Chan in Heart of Dragon is an excellent example of two screen fighters hitting the same wave length and putting on one hell of a show. Dragon Fight isn't much different and his fight at the finale against Jet is very well done. It's not to the level of the afore mentioned Chan/Wei throw down but it's worth seeing without a doubt. If only for the fact that it's the only time the two of them ever fought each other on screen.

Apart from empty handed combat Wei also throws in a whole lot of weapons fighting toward the end of the film. Jet gets to use a bo staff and shows off some flashy combinations and do some nicely timed tumbling. Wei doesn't really do any of that, he just gets to kick people in the face but it's what he was best at so he knew when and how to play to his own strengths. One thing I would like to mention about the fights are the brilliantly executed fist exchanges. Wei and Jet show their flair for striking, jabbing, blocking and parrying and it's here that Sammo's influence becomes apparent. With some quick elbows and punches to the face you can see that Wei was trying his best to emulate the type of action his contemporaries were doing in their own fight scenes. He achieves that here and you have to wonder why he never did the action directing on any other action films he had been a part of.

Dragon Fight is a solid entry into the canon of 80's Hong Kong action pictures and should be viewed by everyone who is a fan of that era of film making, Jet Li, Dick and even Stephen Chow. It's got a by the numbers story elevated by it's decent acting performances punctuated by some nicely done fight choreography. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would not hesitate to recommend this to anyone who has not seen it as you may well be more then satisfied with what it has to offer.

That's it for this week's entry into Jetruary. Next week will be my last review concentrating on Jet Li, after which I'll be looking at other movies. Till next week!

You're A Real Man's Man, Wang Lung-Wei!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

It's Time For Slaughter David Chiang!

A new video, this time featuring Shaw Brothers star David Chiang.

On a completely unrelated note, after much consideration I have decided to discontinue Far East, Far Out simply due to fact after posting a couple reviews I simply was not feeling it. Thank you to those few who did support it during it's brief existence.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Jetruary #2: Born To Defend (1986)

Jetruary continues and this week I'll be reviewing Jet's one and only film credit as a director. Jet plays Jet. Must have taken him a long time to think of a character name. A soldier returning from war with Japan and decides to settle down in the city of Tsing Tao with an old army buddy and make a living as a rickshaw driver. Soon the US navy arrives on their way home from fighting in the pacific and they start to cause trouble for the locals. Jet decides enough is enough and stands up to them hoping to put a stop to the bullying and help his fellow China-men.

Jet isn't the first Chinese martial arts star to direct his own movie. The likes of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen have all sat in the director's chair and tried to translate their vision of a motion picture onto the big screen. Unlike those other stars Jet decided to try his hand at directing very early on in his career. While someone like Jackie Chan got to grips with the finer points of film making while working under different directors and cameramen. Jet felt confident enough to try and tackle his own film. The end result is a mixed bag of brutal martial arts action, racial stereotypes and hackneyed messages of patriotism. While Jet did show some tremendous promise as a film maker, his choice of script seemed extremely naive. It's obvious what kind of story he was trying to tell however any attempts at subtlety and drama are bogged down by the horrible dialogue and the way foreigners are portrayed.

Jet plays the typical down trodden working hero trying to fight against the tyranny of the evil foreigners bullying his fellow man. This type of portrayal is nothing new. Foreigners were often used as bad guys in Chinese movies and were nothing more then plot devices and hate figures for the audience. This disappointed me as I thought someone as well traveled as Jet Li is would have been hesitant to do this type of thing. Having said that, I don't think there's anything malicious about it, like I said before it's mostly Jet's inexperience and naivety as a director that betrays him here.

My issues with the story aside, everyone involved does give very good performances. Jet plays the idealistic young soldier whose moral views of society are shattered when he realizes what is being done to his friends at the hands of the US sailors. A man who has seen the horrors of war and has killed in order survive, he is looking for some semblance of normality, only to find that his hopes of leading a contented life will not be fulfilled if he turns a blind eye to what is happening. At least that's how I hoped Jet would play the character. Instead his character is that of a violently impulsive youth who throws a punch at a white man for looking at him the wrong way. It's not as xenophobic as it sounds as these sailors often do something to earn a beating from our young hero.

In some of the more dramatic moments he does a decent job but he often over acts and comes off a little awkward. His co-stars fair a little better. Erkang Zhao plays Jet's close friend Zhao. Jet's superior during the war he is now just a simple rickshaw driver trying to come to terms with the fact his daughter is a prostitute. He gives it just that right level of world weariness and he gives an incredibly sympathetic performance. His daughter Na played by Jia Song is also very good. Despite not having much to work with she does extremely well. I much preferred this story as opposed to the main plot line. It does come to a rather melodramatic conclusion but that's always the nature with these types of stories so it's always better to just let the characters go for a more logical conclusion as opposed to trying to force something more realistic on them.

Despite the lackluster story telling. The film packs in some incredibly good action. Jet worked along side Tsui Siu-Ming who had served as action director on films such as Bury Me High and Holy Robe of Shaolin Temple. The style of action is less traditional Kung Fu and more stylized street fighting. The type that was becoming popular in Hong Kong during the 1980's. Jet does a tremendous job of showing off his flair for stunning kicks and also being able to take some incredibly painful looking bumps. One early scene sees him being run over by a car and you can tell by the extremely pained expression on his face as he hits the ground that it did not tickle. Painful is definitely a word I would use to describe the action that takes place. There's a very good fight which takes place inside a boxing ring when Jet goes up against a sailor by the name of Bailey played by Paulo Tocha. An actor and martial artist who has appeared in dozens of b-movie type action pictures.

The fight does an excellent job of contrasting Western boxing and Chinese Kung Fu. It was clear these two had chemistry when it came to fighting on screen and it's a shame they never had another opportunity to work together and try and top what was already a very solid clash. Jet also goes up against the late Kurt Roland Petersson. A Swedish martial artist who only ever made two films in his career. The other was a bruceploitation film released in 1985. Petersson makes for quite an opponent. He towers over Jet, creating a good visual contrast between them and makes Petersson look a lot more formidable. They face off no less then three times over the course of the film and each time they set out to just straight up beat the crap out of each other. You totally get the feeling that these two aren't just fighting so they can be the victor, they're fighting to hurt each other.

The final fight between them which takes place in a factory is very good. Jet takes some serious knocks and Petersson takes some hefty looking kicks to the legs and face. Jet also throws in some improvised weaponry. Including the use of a chain in place of the traditional Chinese rope dart. It's in my top five Jet Li fights ever. Jet in his younger days is most definitely a sight to behold. Before the days of heavy wire use, he was just outstanding. He has done some solid films in his more recent years such as Fearless but if you want to see a raw, energetic and untamed Jet Li in his prime? films such as this and Shaolin Temple are highly recommended.

If you're wondering why Jet never went on to direct another film since Born to Defend, it's quite simple. He hated it. The film ran overschedule and over budget. To make matters worse Jet sustained several injuries during filming including a severe back injury which plagues him to this day and a badly broken nose. Jet found the entire experience so stressful that he's more content to just act in front of the camera instead of being behind it. Which is a shame because had he continued his career as a director he could have developed his skill and go on to make some very good movies but we as fans will just have to be happy with the one solitary movie that he put together.

After viewing the film for the first time in many years I can say that it's not flawless by any stretch but one which showed a director with great promise and an action film that delivers some great screen fighting and further showcases Jet in his much more hard hitting young days. That's it for this entry in Jetruary. Join me next time when we'll see Jet appear with some very familiar faces as he heads across the pond to the United States.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Jetruary #1: Shaolin Temple (1982)

Jet Li makes his feature film debut as a young fighter out to avenge the murder of his father at the hands of an evil warlord. After escaping captivity he is nursed to health by a group of monks and once he recovers he decides to train and enhance his skills in order to defeat the warlord and free an oppressed people.

Jet Li is arguably one of the biggest stars to come out of China. Following in the foot steps of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, Jet was able to achieve success in the west with his role as the villain Wah Sing Ku in Richard Donner's Lethal Weapon 4. Western audiences instantly went crazy for Jet and soon he was making english language movies for big money. The interesting thing is before he appeared in Lethal Weapon 4, Jet had already been enjoying a hugely successful career in Hong Kong since the early 80's and his first film is the one in which I'll be talking about today.

Having watched the film it's easy to see why local audiences warmed to Jet right away. His fresh faced exuberance and expert martial arts skills make him a very likable leading man. Here his acting isn't particularly good but it was his first film and he had no prior acting experience so expecting him to be able to create a compelling performance would have been too much to ask. Instead the film concentrates on being able to showcase his talent for Wu Shu. For those unfamiliar, Wu Shu is an exhibition and full-contact martial art practiced primarily in Mainland China. When he turned 8, Jet was put into a Wu Shu class and by the time he was 16 had competed in over 40 countries. Most famously in 1974 when he performed in front of then American president Richard Nixon.

So with an affinity for Chinese martial arts it wasn't long before he was asked to star in Shaolin Temple. Unlike a lot of Hong Kong martial arts stars who started out as bit players and stunt men before going onto bigger and better things, in Mainland China a lot of young performers were given lead roles with varying degrees of success. Jet was the latest in a long line of martial artists who had come before him but Jet was fortunate enough to capture the attention of local film goers. Shaolin Temple is a wonderful example of his skills and it's understandable why the film created such a sensation upon release.

Moving on from our leading man to his fellow co-stars. All of them fulfill the roles they are given. Nothing special about them. Those who need to fight on screen do an absolute cracking job of it. Particularly Yu Hai who plays the part of Jet's master. Along side him making his film debut. Master Yu is a real-life martial arts master. Having invented his own form of Mantis Style martial arts. For someone who had never acted before he gives a very credible performance and after appearing in the film he went on to be a widely recognized celebrity in his native China. Everyone else on the other hand isn't really worth talking about. Kung Fu villain Ji Chun Hua appears as a warlord's henchman but doesn't do much except scowl and fight people.

The bland characters also happen to deal with an incredibly by the numbers plot. Even by this time in the 80's film makers were moving away from the more traditional martial arts films and making contemporary action films. It seems China was a little slow on the uptake with this and kept on with the old school. Which isn't bad because even if the story is predictable, the action is incredibly well done. China is never short of good Kung Fu practitioners and Mainland film were always known for it's incredibly fast, acrobatic and intricately choreographed action. Shaolin Temple doesn't jeopardize that in anyway. You can just tell hours were spent preparing and filming each scene. 

Jet by far is the most impressive of the bunch. With his precision kicks and blistering punching combinations it's no wonder the man ended up with the nickname Jet. There's a rather stand out brawl between a group of the warlord's soldiers and a group of monks led by Yu Hai that come to the aide of Jet's character. This is some of the best martial arts weapons fighting I've seen done in the 80's that wasn't choreographed by either Sammo Hung or Lau Kar-Leung. Everyone involved does fantastic work. Weapons fans who have yet to see this will be more then pleased by this fight as it packs in plenty of different traditional weapons such as staffs, swords and spears.

That is by far the most enjoyable thing about this film. There is a lot of diverse and plentiful action. The finale which sees Jet take on the warlord who murdered his father is one of Jet's best. That says a lot considering some of the instant classics that he's starred in such as Once Upon A Time In China II and Fist of Legend. Both Jet and his opponent played by Yu Chen Hui throw in just about everything they can think of the make it one hell of a fight. It starts out with weapons before moving to some incredible empty handed combat then quickly goes back to more weapons fighting. A truly classic bout that should not be missed by anyone.

So concludes the first review for Jetruary. Hope you enjoyed this brief review and hope you join me next time when I'll be taking a look at another Jet's early films in his career.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Now You're A Man, Ti Lung!

My first attempt at a music video. This one is dedicated to Shaw Brothers stalwart Ti Lung

Is this the first of many? possibly. Anyway, tomorrow is the start of Jetruary so stay tuned!