Saturday, 30 June 2012

Runaway Blues - 飚城 (1989) VIDEO REVIEW

Decided to try something different and put together a short video review. It's a little rough around the edges but I'm doing this as an experiment and see how it goes

Friday, 29 June 2012

Special Announcement!

Chopsticks On Fire is proud to announce in association with SHAOLINCHAMBER36.COM that through July I will be hosting 36 STYLES SEASON in which each and every week through July I will be posting reviews of the films which inspired this fantastic range of shirts aimed at the old school fan in all of us. So make sure you keep checking regularly for what will be an extremely fun month for me which will see me provide reviews for such films as Master of the Flying Guillotine, Dance of the Drunk Mantis, Shaolin Vs Lama and Born Invincible. I for one can not wait!

Monday, 25 June 2012

Craptacular Cover Chronicles #1: A Better Tomorrow (2010)

You'll have to bare with me if this new column seems a little unfocused as I'm essentially testing the waters with this and thought it would make an interesting new feature. As a long time fan of Asian Cinema I often find that when certain titles are released internationally they tend to suffer from god awful cover art. Whether it was Jackie Chan's head stuck on Sly Stallone's body for New Fist of Fury or guns being photoshopped in the hands of actors in order to sell the false notion that what the unwitting consumer is purchasing is an action film, we have had to look at these monstrosities shaming our beloved DVD/Blu-Ray shelves.

As fans we have to look at these horrible examples of "art" when really all they needed to do in some cases is simply translate the text and use the original. I know DVD covers are probably a good way for a person who worked hard for that graphic design degree to earn some scratch but really, sometimes it just works to leave well enough alone and trust the people who are buying the product. So with that little brief out of the way, the first cover in which I will cast a critical eye is the recent UK release for the Korean produced remake of John Woo's brilliant A Better Tomorrow.

Now, at first glance it doesn't look too bad. They've essentially used the same cast photos used on the original Korean DVD/Blu-Ray release but when you take a closer look you begin to see just how naughty it really is. First thing's first. They mention it's from the director of Red Cliff, Mission Impossible 2 and Face Off. Arguably Woo's most successful Hollywood films bar Red Cliff of course. It's not so much they mention these films but the way in which it's used falsely implies Woo was the director of this film. Had they put PRODUCED BY instead then they wouldn't have had to make such a ballsy move, which is there to entice people ready to part with their money. Don't get me wrong, I'm not stupid, I know how marketing works but it's when stuff like this happens that it really annoys me as a fan of Asian Cinema.

The next part which to me makes no sense whatsoever is the addition of 2012. Now, correct me if I'm wrong but this title was released way back in 2010. Over TWO YEARS AGO! I know titles sometimes take a while to find their way onto store shelves internationally (Which is why the majority of fans choose to import) but why the hell did they need to add 2012?! Was it because the film is a remake? If it is then that's just moronic because there have been countless remake released over past few years that felt comfortable enough just to stick with the original title. You didn't see The Italian Job released as The Italian Job 2003 because The Italian Job is all you NEED. People recognise the title, see it's a new version and go see it. They don't care what year it was released. Utterly pointless but it could be worse, in other territories they were given the even more rage inducing title of A Better Tomorrow 2K12. The letter K is often used to shorten down the four digit number but 2012 only contains one zero thus replacing it with the K is COMPLETELY POINTLESS!!!! and is just a pathetic attempt to make it look cool!

At least whoever designed this was smart enough to be honest about Woo's involvement with the film. Now moving from the front to the back.

You'll have to forgive the quality of the image. I could not locate an image of it online and lack the means to do a proper scan, so resorting to my phone camera was my only resort but where to start. First of all, the images are nice. Stills and a cast photo of the bloke playing K-Mark so it's not too bad but read the blurb. Go on. I'll wait.


Did you spot anything? Are you sure. Well, let me address it anyway. Whoever wrote this HAS NEVER SEEN THE ORIGINAL. Oh, you heard me correctly. Or at least not paid enough attention to the original story. Now when you read it, everything seems fine. They mention the fight between brothers. One of the central themes of A Better Tomorrow but then we see "Again they are separated as children" Wait...what?! separated as children? again?! as in it happened in the original?! No. No it did not. In the original Sung and Kit were never separated as children, they grew up together. Hell they loved each other in their own brotherly way until Sung ended up in jail and his life as a criminal was revealed to Kit, it's what caused the rift between them that sets the events of the film in motion for pity's sake!. They never were separated as children. You would think that kind of blundering error should have been removed. I haven't had this much of a headache reading a synopsis since reading Ric Meyer's DVD linear notes. It's clear whoever wrote this was told to just say it's like the original.

There's also all that other stuff you see on these types of covers "Asian action cinema at it's best" and "Greatest Asian shootout ever" and other such stomach churning garbage we have to put up with. And they STILL don't point that Woo isn't the director due to a complete lack of film credits. Something that's pretty much standard on home video releases since the days of Betamax! I've never bought a DVD from the label that released this, Los Banditos but you can rest assured if I find them involved with the release of any other title in the future I will not be buying it. 

So there we have it, the first of what will most definitely be many critical analyses of DVD/Blu-Ray cover art. Ah, I feel so much better now!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

So My Friends Made A Podcast....

So, yes. Ever since starting this blog I've forged friendships with some amazing people. Two of which are Achillesgirl and The Ninja Squid. Today saw the release of the debut episode of the Two Fisted Podcast. The first in what I hope will be many episodes in which these two ladies discuss what they love. Asian Action Cinema. This episode they talk about the much beloved Hong Kong Godfather directed by my own personal Chuck Norris, Wang Lung-Wei! Hit the link, check out the companion BLOGPOST, grab a beer and listen in. Seriously, show your support. They deserve it!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Raid (2011)

Rama (Iko Uwais) is a rookie member of the local police force's SWAT team and he and the rest of his squad have been given the assignment of arresting a vicious gang lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy) who is hiding in a labyrinthine tower block protected by his own gang. When the mission goes horribly wrong the SWAT team become trapped and are forced to fight for their lives as things begin to spin violently out of control. Rama decides nothing else matters except arresting Tama and must fight his way up dozens of floors and through dozens more gangsters to reach his goal.

You may remember back in January I gave my thoughts on an earlier film called Merantau which was made by the same cast and crew that brought us The Raid. I highlighted that it was a solid debut for lead actor Iko Uwais that featured some varied and wonderfully made fight scenes. When I learned of The Raid's existence some time ago I become very excited at the prospect of seeing Iko cause some serious damage on screen. Suddenly the film started to pick up steam. Having been sold internationally it was given a really agressive advertising campaign courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. One Exec even commented how he wished the film would have the same impact that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had when that was released to international acclaim back in 2000. With those incredibly lofty expectations they continued to build the hype and myself and many people I know were immediately sucked in and couldn't wait to see it.

Despite a big release gap between the US theatrical run and here in the UK, I waited patiently to finally see what I hoped would be my number one film of 2012. So, having seen the film a few weeks ago, I've been able to reflect on my thoughts and put them into a written review. I can happily report it was a film that for me, delivered on much of the hype. The many people I converse with didn't share my sentiments, being incredibly critical of the film's story but when you watch the trailer, you know exactly what you're in for so I found it odd that some people were expecting more. That's good for them I suppose but it's like I always say; Watching a martial arts film for the plot is like throwing your shoes in the air, hoping to kick clouds out of the sky.

The plot is what it is. Told in a very straight forward way so the audience can sit back and enjoy the many and I do mean many action set pieces contained within the film's very breezy running time. It's no secret that The Raid was a film born out of necessity. After completing Merantau, Gareth Evans and the rest of his team attempted to put together another film. A prison drama called Berandal which would star Uwais and feature the same style of martial arts, Silat. A teaser trailer was shot in attempt to attract funding but when that failed, Evans was forced to come up with a film that could be shot on a much cheaper budget but still have all the nasty and brutal fighting featured in Merantau. So, The Raid was created and ended up attracting more attention then Evans or anyone else for that matter could ever have anticipated.

I don't have a problem with the story at all. overly simple plot lines are a given when it comes to action movies most of the time so I for one am used to it. The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, they fight, the audience has a good time. That's all that should matter. If some people want more then that, I can understand but to criticise the film based on the story I think is unfair and undermines the talent involved here. Since Merantau Iko has become a slightly better actor. There's an attempt to give a backstory when in the opening scene it's established he's of the Muslim faith and he has a pregnant wife. I liked this because it at least gives something for his character to fight for when things go wrong and he has to fight for survival. There's also a good supporting cast. Sahetapy as the gang lord Tama is appropriately bad. There really is no need for subtlety when his main purpose is to antagonise the hero.

There's a few other characters but I honestly can't think of anything really noteworthy to say about them. Except one man. Tama has a bodyguard/hitman in his gang that goes by the name Mad Dog. Played by Yayan Ruhian. Yayan previously appeared in Merantau and was the man who fought Iko in the truly astounding elevator fight. Yayan plays his role to perfection. A man who carries a gun but doesn't like to use it. Preferring to let his fists and feet do the work. it was great seeing him again and I'm determined to watch anything he appears in from now on in the hopes of seeing him pull off more crazy moves.

Which leaves me to talk about what has to be the film's biggest selling point. The action. For me Merantau had some truly spectacular action scenes, from a Jackie Chan inspired roof top chase scene to the brilliantly executed elevator fight, I was confident that the same cast and crew could follow up what were already a high bench mark for them to hit. Each scene was choreographed by Iko and Yayan and it seems they really know how to work together as they have been able to almost outdo themselves with The Raid. Notice I said almost. Yes, the many fight we see here are really hard hitting, bloody and painful to watch but I never felt that it quite caught the magic that Merantau had.

Make no mistake, there's really a lot to like here. One such sequence sees Rama take on a corridor filled with bad guys using the deadly combination of tonfa and combat knife. This allows to really let the actors get visceral with their move sets and there are a few moments which will make you wince. Iko still throws in a few signature Silat moves as well as deciding to mix it up a little using some really impressive ground based kicks and take downs. Iko isn't the only one that gets to shine. Co-star Joe Taslim has an impressive fight against Yayan. It's clear Taslim doesn't have the same skill set as Iko but he does a damn good job of it and he gets in some good hits against his fight with Mad Dog. 

The real stand out fight for me with of course the end finale. Much like Merantau we have a two on one situation with Mad Dog going toe to toe with Rama and another character Andi played by Donny Alamsyah. It's evident that the film had been building towards this and just seeing some of the moves used you can tell a lot of time and effort went into putting something great on film. Yayan shows that despite his diminutive stature he can more then hold his own when it comes to fighting on screen. Iko also gets more down and dirty, something which his character slowly becomes in each action scene. While in Merantau he was more about disabling his opponents, here Iko is all about killing them quickly and efficiently as possible. The fight we get to witness here tries to throw in as many different techniques as they can. kicks, punches, take downs, grappling, submission maneuvers, locks. Anything that looks like it hurts, they use.

Now, I did mention that it didn't quite hit the mark Merantau did and the reason is that it mostly has to do with the editing and the way some of it was shot. Some of the exchanges between techniques are cut a little too quickly and the camera doesn't seem to stay still. It's not Bourne Trilogy bad but it can get noticeable and a little more then distracting. I realise this was probably intentional on behalf of director Evans as sometimes it can help ramp up the tension but given that he showed how easy he made it all look in Merantau, it's strange he just didn't stick with the techniques he used for that film.

What we have though is still leagues above any fight film that Hollywood could ever dream of putting together and even puts a number of Hong Kong titles not starring a certain Mr. Donnie Yen to shame. I got a serious kick, if you'll pardon the expression, from watching this and was very pleased I got to experience it on the big screen. A luxury rarely afforded with Asian titles. The majority of people reading this have probably already seen The Raid but if you haven't, seek it out, watch it, enjoy it. If you have, then watch it again and show your support in the hopes that more films like The Raid will see their way into your local cinema.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

5 Things To Love About Flash Future Kung Fu

Here's five reason's why you should love Kirk Wong's bizarre Dystopian Sci-Fi Action Adventure film starring none other then Wang Lung-Wei!

Number Five: Futuristic Wonder Car

A Sci-Fi movie should always strive to create a setting that conveys the time period in which the film is set and this monstrosity looks like it was stolen right from the set of Mad Max 2. Screw The Delorean, I want one of these parked outside my house!

Number Four: Attack of the Neo-Nazi Chinese Karate Fighters

It seems Nazism has risen in the futuristic world of Flash Future Kung Fu and this time they know Karate. It's wonderfully bizarre ideas like this that remind me why I love Hong Kong movies. If you're wondering why this is happening, I wouldn't worry as the film has nothing closely resembling a coherent plot whatsoever.

Number Three: Zombie Arcade

Another What The Hell?! moment comes whenever we find the film's main characters in a bizarre place that seems to be some kind of Video Game Arcade. People huffing from gas masks, bare chested men flexing and depressing live concerts are just some of the delightfully strange and wonderful sights seen in this nightmare inducing place.

Number Two: Special Guest Appearance

Just when the film is hurtling through a crescendo of weirdness, things take an unexpected turn. Well, as unexpected as it can be with this film. None other then Elvis Tsui turns up as a speedo wearing Muay Thai fighter who faces off against our stalwart hero.

Number One: Real Man's Man

Of all the film's I've seen feature Wang Lung-Wei, this has to be the only one which he was the leading man. Also this is by far the manliest role we've seen him play as we witness him chop down trees, scoff down chunks of meat and take shots to the stomach in a manly fashion. It has to be to be believed.

That's all For today, check back soon when I'll be resuming my regular updates of reviews and articles right here at Chopsticks On Fire.