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BACK ALLEY PRINCESS

(Hong Kong 1973) 

Original Title: Ma Lu Xiao Ying Xiong 馬路小英雄

Directed by Lo Wei Produced by Raymond Chow Action by Han Ying Chieh, Mars Starring: Sam Hui, Polly Shang Kwan, Angela Mao Ying, Carter Wong, Feng Yi, Tong Liu, Han Ying Chieh, Tien Feng, Lo Wei, Billy Chan, Ma Wen Chun, Lee Kwan, Lam Ching Ying, Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah, Helen Ma, Wong Tao, Michael Hui Reviewing: Joy Sales/Fortune Star HK VCD release Genres: Drama / Comedy / Kung-Fu

Rating - 3.3 / 5

VCD Synopsis: Chilli Boy and Embroidered Pillow are two rootless drifters with a talent for all sorts of naughty acts. In a public square, they help a group of itinerant performers led by elderly Kong, to attract the crowds. Later they join Kong's group and live with them in a slum building. They often help the neighbours there with their wits. Though they have some vices with them, they gain sympathy from a lawyer, Tang, and are saved by him from being arrested when they are pick-pocketing. Then Tang brings Chilli Boy home, hoping to give him a brand-new life. Meanwhile, a series of severe things happen in the slum building. Facing the triad force, people who live there unite together to fight against them. They finally succeed to down with the triad force. Overwhelmed by praises, Chilli Boy's reveal her identity, saying: Believe it or not, I'm a girl. (122 Mins)

Views: The delightful and multi-talented Sam Hui started his film career when he signed with Golden Harvest in 1971. It wasn't long before he was left in the hands of the infamous producer & director Lo Wei, who cast him in two memorable roles in the same year. The first was The Tattooed Dragon with Jimmy Wang Yu and Sylvia Chang, with his follow-up role in Back Alley Princess – a wacky kung-fu comedy, set in modern-day (1970s) Hong Kong. Sam shares the screen with kung-fu queen, Polly Shang Kwan, who plays Chilli Boy – a guy with boobs (?). The two stars play con-artists, often staging fake fights so they can raise some money for medicine from innocent bystanders who fall for their elaborate set-up. While on the search for their next meal, the pair befriend a bunch of street performers led by Tien Feng from Young Master, The Fate Of Lee Khan, and King Boxer. Feng's troupe includes some major names such as the amazing Angela Mao Ying, Carter Wong, Chin Yuet Sang, Lee Kwan, and others. After a successful night performing and Polly proving her kung-fu skills in a rooftop match with Mao Ying and her master, the pair are asked to join the troupe and quickly accept. All seems to go well for them in their new venture until one of the younger girls of the troupe gets sold to a gangster. It all leads to Hui and Kwan stepping up to save the day and leading their new brothers and sisters on a fight-filled, rescue mission!

While the plot for Back Alley Princess sounds simple enough, this Golden Harvest production is actually pretty nuts in many ways. The film opens with a crude animated-credit-sequence, much like a cheaper version of the classic Pink Panther movies, before jumping right into the gender-bender tale of Chilli Boy and Embroidered Pillow (Hui) that may seem a little dated today. For example, Polly is portrayed as a boy for most of the movie, but when she/he must go undercover to save her friend from a gangster, Chilli Boy disguises oneself as a girl to trick them. Then, in an odd turn of events, she gives away her big reveal at the end to show that she actually is a girl..!?! Anyone who doesn't know what they are watching or understands the long-time tradition of females playing males (and vice-versa) in Chinese theatres and movies, might just be a bit lost...

Having been in the business from the late 1940s, one would have expected Lo Wei to have perfected the art of direction by this stage of the game. After all, only a year before this he provided the world with Bruce Lee's fantastic Big Boss, and Fist Of Fury, as well as a host of other classics. But he never really was the strongest director in the world. That said, it seems that 1973 was a busy year for him with no less than 5 fine features behind him – none of which were small in scale by any means, with Back Alley Princess being a prime example. Large on cast, with plenty of drama and locations, the film could have done with a trim here and there, but still proved successful enough to see Wei return with Sam and Polly a year later for its sequel, Chinatown Capers. On a good note, Back Alley Princess benefits from having plenty of comedy, lots of neat kung-fu fights, and a cast of who's-who in early 1970's Hong Kong cinema including the aforementioned troupe members and the likes of Lo Wei himself, and a young Billy Chan, Lam Ching Ying, Mars, Wong Tao, Shing Fui On, Michael Hui, Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah popping-up in the background through-out. In fact, I would go as far as to say that had Lo Wei used Jackie Chan in Sam's role, we may have seen a different back-catalog of our hero today. Of course, it would be another few years before Lo Wei and Jackie would start their working relationship, but I think this would have been a great launching vehicle for a young Chan. It was interesting to see just how many films Lo Wei had made with (the then young) Golden Harvest studios, before breaking off a few years later to direct Jackie Chan in a number of movies – albeit, with mixed results before Golden Harvest lured him away with a promising deal.

While its middle may lag somewhat to allow for plenty of drama and some comedy situations, the last 30 minutes of Back Alley Princess makes for a fun ride as Polly and Angela set out on their rescue mission and infiltrate the mobster's brothel. This kicks-off with a few short scuffles leading to a lengthy and well-choreographed, end battle as they go up against some kung-fu veterans, led by the legendary Han Ying Chieh who plays the big-baddie of the show. Hing also served as the action-choreographer, with Mars helping on the stunt-work, and is a face known to many kung-fu film fans having starred in classics such as Dragon Inn, A Touch Of Zen, Fist Of Fury, The Big Boss, and many more. Although very chop-socky in style much suited to its time and era, the fights are a lot of fun to watch and provide some great moves – although without offering anything spectacular. The great Carter Wong only really gets to let-loose towards the end of the film as he takes on 6 or 7 armed men during a kidnapping, with the rest of the troupe and Sam, joining the action for the grand finale.

Overall: While perhaps a little too long in its running time, Back Alley Princess is a fun watch nonetheless and packed with stars!

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BACK IN ACTION

(USA 1994) 

Directed by Steve DiMarco, Paul Ziller Produced by George Flak Action by Shane Cardwell Starring: Billy Blanks, Roddy Piper, Bobbie Phillips, Matt Birman, Nigel Bennett, Damon D'Oliveira, Barry Blake, Garry Robbins, David Ferry, Sam Malkin Reviewing: Hollywood UK DVD Release Genres: Martial Arts / Action / Drama

Rating - 3.5 / 5

DVD Synopsis: A notorious drug smuggling ring in Los Angeles is duped into making a deal with undercover cops. When the ruse goes astray, Police Detective Rossi (Roddy Piper) witnesses his partner brutally murdered and now he must join forces with Billy (Billy Blanks), a martial arts expert who's out for blood. (93 Mins)

Views: The period of Billy Blanks/Roddy Piper action-film team-ups in the mid-1990s, was far too short-lived for fans of the martial-arts-action film. Although they had only made 2 movies in total, this along with Tough and Deadly, the pair had an undeniable charm while sharing the screen together – something I would have loved to have seen continue, if not extended into sequels of their completed titles...

While it won't win any awards for screenplay (or acting, as most reviewers would state), with it being Karl Schiffman's first feature film as a writer, Back In Action still proves to be a highly enjoyable ride. The film is directed by Steve DiMarco, a television director who is still going strong today, and has behind many episodes on shows like Goosebumps, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, Due South, Lost Girl, and many more. He is joined by Paul Ziller, director of martial arts features like Bloodfist 4: Die Trying, Shootfighter 2, and Moving Target, as well as a host of TV movies. It plays like any amount of 90s action-flicks that could easily have starred the likes of Jean Claude Van Damme, Olivier Gruner, or Dolph Lungren – but I think they cast the right stars for this. The acting certainly isn't the worst I've ever seen, with Piper and Blanks holding their own to some respect, but Back In Action also benefits from having the beautiful Bobbie Phillips on board. Bobbie had previously starred with Blanks in the fun sci-fi action film, TC 2000 just a year before, where she had gotten to show some sweet moves alongside the Tae-bo master as well as starring alongside Jalal Merhi, Matthias Hues, and the great Bolo Yeung himself. Unfortunately here, she doesn't get to offer anywhere near the same amount of moves but still looks great as the reputable reporter and Piper's love interest. Phillips would go on to star in Ring Of Fire 3: Lionstrike, with Don Wilson, Baywatch, X-Files, The Cape, Murder One, and star as Dee in the ridiculously popular, Showgirls. It's also worth noting that Matt Birman, who plays relentless bad-guy Chakka, has gone onto have an illustrious career in the film industry starring in over 100 films and TV shows such as Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, Sanctuary with the wonderful Mark Dacascos, Bulletproof Monk, and The Strain, as well as working in stunt-work in over 200 titles like the Robocop series, Darkman movies, Jackie Chan's Tuxedo, Shoot 'Em Up, Shazam, and many more!

In terms of action, there's definitely a lot to enjoy here, from the opening gun battle at the graveyard to Billy and Roddy's fight in the bar, it's safe to say that action fans will not be disappointed. One fight scene sees Blanks getting to kick-ass in his boxers when a set of twins break into his home to attack. Looking like a couple of rejects from a Richard Simmons workout video, the McNamara twins get kicked and flung around the apartment with force, before Billy and his sister make their escape. From there on in, there's an action scene practically every 5 or 10 minutes making Back In Action one of the most action-packed, DTV movies of its era – or perhaps to come out of Hollywood overall. And while it doesn't highlight choreography that comes anywhere close to what Hong Kong was offering at this period in time – with Blanks already appearing in Hong Kong productions such as China O'Brien 2, King Of The Kickboxers, and The Master with Jet Li – stunt choreographer Shane Cardwell still delivers some impressive scenes, no doubt aided by the extensive martial-arts-experience of Billy Blanks and wrestling background of Piper. The closing action scene on a large ship lasts almost 15 minutes, mixing martial arts and gun-play with torture and explosions, in the most brutally fun way. As B-movie as this may be, you can't deny the film its charm and energy when it comes to entertainment.

Overall: Typically American and typically 90s in style, Back In Action is an enjoyable romp, with some violent action, buddy comedy, and plenty to enjoy!

Buy your copy HERE

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BAD BLOOD

(Hong Kong 2010) 

Original Title: Mit Moon 滅門 (aka) King Of Triads

Directed by Dennis Law Produced by Dennis Law Action by Nicky Li, Hung Kai Sen Starring: Simon Yam, Andy On, Ken Lo, Xiong Xin Xin, Michael Chan Wai Man, Jiang Liu Xia, Bernice Liu, Pinky Cheung, Eddie Cheung, Chris Lai, Lam Suet, Jack Wong

Reviewing: BonZai Taiwanese DVD Release Genres: Martial Arts / Thriller / Triad

Rating - 3.5 / 5

DVD Synopsis: Crime lord Lok Cheung On (Eddie Cheung) runs a smuggling ring in Hong Kong. He gets caught during a failed counterfeit money operation in Mainland China and is executed. After he's gone, a deadly struggle for power breaks out within the gang, with a series of murders and assassinations aimed at members of the Lok clan. One by one, the various sons and daughters, and wives and mistresses, brothers and cousins fall as they turn on each other in paranoia. The overbearing Simon Yam, the seemingly benign Bernice Liu, the crippled Andy On, the gentle Chris Lai, or the mysterious dumb girl Jiang Luxia – any of them could be the mastermind behind all the ruthless killings – or his/her next victim. (91 Mins)

Views: Dennis Law's triad-action-thriller kicks off running as a group of gangsters are chased through the streets by a large number of policemen. Dressed in Red-Ex uniforms to pass as delivery men, the gang includes the great Simon Yam, super-kickers Ken Lo and Xiong Xin Xin (Hung Yan Yan), gang boss Eddie Cheung, and the handsome Andy On. Backed into a scrap yard, the men split with Simon and Eddie escaping with a package as the rest hold back the cops with a number of impressive moves. The package in question holds two copper plates used for counterfeiting – something that their boss wants in his possession. While on the run, Eddie Cheung suddenly gets hit by a truck which leaves him flat on his back and surrounded by the police. Watching from afar, Funky (Simon Yam), stays out of sight and soon makes his way to join the rest who have since met with Zen – the more mature member of the gang, played by the one-and-only Michael Chan Wai Man (who sports an incredibly dreadful wig). It doesn't take long for Cheung to be led to his execution, leaving the gangsters short of a leader and a lot of tension among its members. Expecting to take over the role of her father, Audrey (played by Chinese/Candian actress Bernice Liu) invites her brother (Chris Lai) home for the reading of the will – something that sees them benefit from having everything left to them, all except the desired role as head of the family. That job goes to Simon, whose immediate demands anger more than a few contenders for the throne. As gang members start getting killed off and Audrey's brother dies in a car bomb, life in the crime family starts to get deadly as Audrey sets out for revenge and attempts to take control of the family, no matter what the cost!

Dennis Law has forever received nothing but bad criticism for his films – most of which do have an element of entertainment in them. He's one of the few Hong Kong directors that actually tries hard to recreate the very much-missed, golden-age of Hong Kong action-cinema, though often with flawed results. After studying film in LA, Law went on to work in real estate before Bad Blood presenter Charles Heung, coaxed him back into the movie world. Dennis worked as a producer with Johnnie To for a bit, before setting out on his own journey as a writer and director. And while both of these subjects have never been his strong point, Dennis still gets the job done, and more often than not with a great cast and crew involved, along with some pretty sweet moments that help save most of his films from being a complete car-crash...

And while it has its flaws, there are plenty of positives here in Bad Blood, with Law securing the services of his old friend (and one of my favourite directors), Herman Yau, as the film's DOP. Of course, there's that great cast he secured once again, marred by the fact that he doesn't really put the majority of his bigger-named stars to good use. Most of the greater moments are given to Andy On, Bernice Liu, and Jiang Lu Xia, with the likes of Simon Yam, Ken Lo, and Chan Wai Man coming across as very theatrical and OTT for the most part. This is all down to the script, which was written by Law himself in his typically straightforward – but very flat – way. I guess the biggest positive of Bad Blood, and what saves it, is the fight scenes which offer some of the most exciting and brilliantly choreographed action of 2010 thanks to JC Stunt Team member, Nicky Li. Having worked with Law on Fatal Contact and Fatal Move, Li once again delivers some amazing martial-arts-action joined by Huang Kai Sen, who has worked on many great movies as an actor and action-director, such as Invisible Target, Rob-B-Hood, Kiss Of The Dragon, and Black Mask. They prove to make a great team as most of the action in Bad Blood tends to be its most memorable parts. Highlights for me include the fight between Andy On and Xiong Xin Xin in the gym, the car-park fight where Andy and Jiang take on Chain Wai Man, Ken Lo, and 30 men – and any of the action scenes that shows Jiang Lu Xia, simply kicking ass.

While the fight for the throne may have served as the main story of the film, the sub-plot with Andy On and his mute friend, played by his True Legend co-star Jiang Lu Xia, was much more interesting. Aside from enjoying some one-on-one fights, the pair like to ride around town at night on their motorcycle, picking out gangs to fight against in a bizarre training method. It makes for a lot of great action and is close to the late 80's/early 90's Hong Kong style of film-making we all miss. With a hint of unspoken romance between them, I would like to have seen more of these two in the story overall. But alas, this crime-thriller is also known as the King Of Triads for a reason, although more notably should have been named Queen Of Triads, due to Bernice Liu's role as the twisted-sister Audrey. I haven't seen a lot of Bernice, and while her acting may be a little poor at times, her portrayal of Audrey is quite good. She definitely impressed in the action department also, landing a few neat moves against her opponents in the most brutal ways – although taking down some incredible fighters far too easily in my eyes...

Overall: Once you get past the flaws, Bad Blood features some fantastic martial-arts-action and stunts that will get any Hong Kong film fans excited!

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BADGES OF FURY

(China/Hong Kong 2013) 

Original Title: Bu Er Shen Tan 不二神探

Directed by Wong Zi Ming Produced by Wang Chang Tian Action by Corey Yuen Kwai Starring: Wen Zhang, Jet Li, Michelle Chen, Bruce Liang, Stephen Fung, Colin Chou (Ngai Sing), Wu Jing, Josie Ho, Alex Fong, Leung Kar Yan, Cecilia Liu, Tian Liang, Lam Suet Reviewing: My Way/Kam & Ronson HK DVD Release Genres: Comedy / Martial Arts / Action 

Rating - 3.5 / 5

DVD Synopsis: In just 3 days, three cases of Smiling Murder shock Hong Kong. As he looks into the homicide, the young detective Wang Bu Er (Wen Zhang), the police station's reckless buffoon, makes a shocking statement that this is a serial murder. He and his buddy Huang Fei Hong (Jet Li) embarks on an investigation full of excitement and unexpected events. Huang may appear to be no less muddle-headed than Wang, but in reality, he is the real master of kung fu, and would, without fail,at the most crucial moments, help Wang get out of sticky situations. Wang initially believes that budding actress Liu Jin Shui (Liu Shishi) is the prime suspect, but later, she is found to be innocent. Next, he shifts his focus on her sister Dai Yiyi (Ada Liu), among others. Eventually, Wang decides to pose as Liu's boyfriend to lure out the murderer. The closer he gets to the truth, the greater the danger he is in... (98 Mins)

Signature UK Blu-ray: When a spate of murders erupt across Hong Kong, two kick-ass martial-arts cops are assigned to the case. As the duo embark on their investigation, shocking and unexpected chaos escalates when the innocence of the prime suspect is revealed and the hunt for the serial killer turns personal. With the city plunged into fear, the detectives unveil their extraordinary fighting skills and play a deadly game to lure the killer out. (94 Mins)

Views: With a spate of murders happening across the city that leaves every victim with a smile on their face, super-cops Wen Zhang and Jet Li set out to find who is behind them. Their only link is that all the victims were dating the same unfortunate girl, giving Zhang the idea (and chance) to date her in a bid to lure out the killer...

Badges Of Fury sounds a lot more serious than it really is. The opening five minutes of the flick lets you know exactly what kind of film you are in for from its ridiculous death scenes to its nutty opening credits, not to mention the purposely dodgy CGI. The film yanks at its audience's legs like a classic Wong Jing version of a kung-fu Naked Gun movie. From the cute and hilarious Wen Zhang dressed in a kilt for a stake-out, to the legendary Jet Li poking fun at himself and his movies (with his character here named Huang Fei Hong for example) any fans and critics who have crushed this movie because of its misleading artwork, need to go back and have another go. The 10-minute mark gives us our first exciting bout of action, as the kilted Wen takes on the awesome Collin Chou with some crazy wire-fu during a roof-top party. The fight soon moves to a stairwell where (an extensively doubled) Jet Li takes over, leaping from floor to floor with some great moves and stunts that keep things exciting. As Li flies towards Chou with his leg extended for a final move, a door between them suddenly bursts open to reveal Zhang, in a cheeky (but welcoming) up-skirt shot as he whips out his gun – and at the same time, leaves poor Jet hanging in the frame as Chou escapes!

While I can certainly see the flaws of director Wong Zi Ming's first feature, it's definitely not as bad as most people are making it out to be. I've seen worse from seasoned directors, and while it may seem insanely stupid, messy, and over-the-top at times, no one would have made the same remarks had this been a product of Hong Kong cinema's golden era. It would have been just another crazy Hong Kong movie that may have starred Chow Sing Chi and Sandra Ng respectively while exchanging Jet Li for Gordon Liu and most likely calling his character, San Te. The film is packed with so much outrageous and overly ambitious comic situations, scenes, and camera angles, it can only be best described as a live-action cartoon. And at the same time, maybe that's its problem?! For a first-time director, Badges Of Fury was a big project in terms of its execution and energy, proving to be an incredibly ambitious and innovative movie. Two first-time writers are joined by veteran Charcoal Cheung Tan (honestly), the very same man who penned classics such as Once Upon A Time In China 2 & 3, Iron Monkey, The Assassin, Wonder Seven, and The Sorcerer And The White Snake which starred Jet Li and Wen Zhang, in 2011. With having so many amazing films behind him, you would think that Badges Of Fury may have been a little bit better, but at the same time, it's clear that Charcoal has written this script in a relaxed state in knowing that it was something he didn't really have to take too seriously. I must also point out, that it's obvious that he took inspiration from his aforementioned titles in regards to the action scenes here, bringing the fantastical wire-fu style of combat into a modern-day setting.

Apart from impressing with an incredible cast (alongside its main stars) with names such as Cecilia Liu, Wu Jing, Stephen Fung, Leung Kar Yan, Michael Yse, Alex Fong, Joe Cheung, Bruce Leung, Josie Ho, Fong Hak On, Lam Tze Chung, and Lam Suet to name-but-a-few, Badges Of Fury benefits from having the legendary Corey Yuen Kwai behind the action. With no shortage of fights, Yuen finds inspiration from his OTT wire-work in Romeo Must Die, blending it with more grounded works that provide some nice moments and crazy moves. And while his style may not appeal to everyone, it definitely works for the insane cartoon approach of the film and offers a lot of fun. Aside from the aforementioned opening fight scene, there are many highlights throughout including a great fight between Jet Li and Wu Jing in an apartment, with Zhang trying to help only to get hit at every move. There's a very fun battle between Zhang and the wonderful Leung Kar Yan which I just loved (Leung Kar Yan should definitely be doing more like this), a crazy bicycle chase through Hong Kong, and a one-on-one garage fight between Zhang and Stephen Fung that packs a punch. It all leads to an epic-end-fight between Jet Li and the awesome Bruce Leung (aka Liang) who returns to form in a role that resembles his character from the epic Kung Fu Hustle, with Yuen Kwai paying homage to Jet's final battle of Once Upon A Time In China to some degree. It all proves to be highly entertaining!

I say kudos to the director for delivering a pretty entertaining film. While far from perfect, Badges Of Fury is, a murder mystery all wrapped up in some plain-crazy-fun, with a host of great fight-action and a fantastic cast list. It's most definitely not like the artwork and promo materials that most distributors seem to be putting out there, and should not be taken seriously by any means. I'll not give away the ending, but I do recommend a watch for anyone who is a fan of classic Chow Sing Chi or Wong Jing comedies. The post-credit bloopers let you see just how much fun the cast and crew had during production, which sums everything up perfectly...

*Just to note – the UK release from Signature is 4 minutes shorter than its original version, and while cut, doesn't take away too much from the viewing experience!

Overall: Playing like a live-action cartoon, Badges Of Fury does have its flaws, but proves to be harmless fun and very entertaining at the same time!

DVD Extras: Trailer, Making of Documentary

Buy your copy HERE

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BALLERINA

(South Korea 2023) 

Original Title: 발레리나

Directed by Lee Chung-Hyun Produced by Byun Seung-min, Choi Ji-Young Starring: Jeon Jong-seo, Kim Ji-hoon, Park Yu-rim, Shin Se-hwi, Kim Mu-yeol, Jang Yoo-ju, Kim Young-ok, Joo Hyun Reviewing: Netflix UK Release Genres: Martial Arts / Action / Thriller

Rating - 4 / 5

Synopsis: Grieving the loss of a best friend she couldn't protect, an ex-bodyguard sets out to fulfil her dear friend's last wish of revenge. (92 Mins)

 

Views: Okju, a tough female ex-bodyguard, gets a call from her closest friend Min-hee to meet up, but when she arrives at her home, has to let herself in knowing that something isn't right. She finds a box on the bed which holds Min-hee's ballet shoes and note asking for Okju to seek revenge for her by taking down a man known only as Chef Choi – a sex trafficker who uses videos of his victims to extort money from them. After Okju finds her friend's body in the bath, where Min-hee had taken her own life, she begins her mission in finding the man responsible but soon finds that she may have gotten herself into something much bigger than expected. Barely escaping with her life after Chef Choi invites her back to a secret hotel, Okju soon has one of South Korea's most brutal criminal gangs hot on her heels and forges a new plan with another one of their victims to bring them down!

Baring many similarities to Jang Hyuk's action-thriller The Killer from the previous year, Ballerina offers just as much brutality, hardcore action, and wild characters; very neatly delivered by director Lee Chung-Hyun in what would only be his second feature film after the fantastic time-hopping thriller, The Call. From the use of sedative drugs in fish-shaped soy sauce bottles to the old couple who provide Okju with weapons from the back of their motorhome, Ballerina plays like a live-action comic book which is highlighted even more-so by its stunning cinematography, making it look like every frame – especially the action scenes – had been lifted right from the page of a popular manga offering the same tones and colour palette of a Wong Kar Wai movie in places. At the same time, Ballerina is a film that I could easily see fit into Jason Statham's filmography, offering a lead character that gives the same stoic approach like many of his past roles and sees the action delivered in a way very similar to what the Hollywood star has so often done...

Award-winning actress Jeon Jong-seo stars as the kick-ass and no-nonsense Okju, offering up another fantastic performance that shows, once again, that she is a name to keep an eye on. Sine making her incredible debut in the 2018 film, Burning, Jeon made even more of an impression with her follow-up role in Lee Chung-Hyun's aforementioned thriller, The Call – their first film together. But it would be Hollywood who would soon come calling, casting her alongside Kate Hudson and Ed Skrein in the impressive Mona Lisa And The Blood Moon. After a role in the rom-com Nothing Serious offered her a change of pace Jong-seo spent 2022 on the small screen starring in K-dramas Bargain and Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area, where she would first work with her Ballerina co-star and villain of the piece, the gorgeous Kim Ji-hoon. Starting off on television shows Leobing Yu and Great Inheritance back in the early 2000s, Kim soon became a sought after young star going onto play King Hyun -Jong for 78 episodes in The Iron Empress, as well as long running K-dramas such as Goddess Of Marriage, Jang Bo Ro Is Here, Bad Thief Good Thief, and Rich Family's Son. A leading role in the aforementioned Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area saw him star alongside Jeon Jong-seo for the first time, which no doubt helped their tense starring roles together here in Ballerina. As sex-trafficker and all-round bad boy with a love for BDSM and sexual fetish, Chef Choi, Kim proves to be a villain you love-to-hate as well as looking incredibly hot at the same time, oozing that bad boy charm that no doubt helped him lure in many victims. In essence, as an antagonist, he's a man who is very beautiful on the outside yet incredibly ugly on the inside. Park Yu-rim, star of the award winning Drive My Car, wonderful K-drama Extraordinary Attorney Woo, and Miracle Brothers, stars as the unfortunate titular character of the film, Min-hee the ballerina, getting a little more screen time through flashbacks with Okju that show just special and loving their relationship really was. The cast is topped off with Kim Mu-Yeol, from films such as Illang The Wolf Brigade and Space Sweepers, Jang Yoon-ju (also from the aforementioned Money Heist show), and prolific actress Kim Young-ok – who gives a hilarious performance as the pensioner weapons dealer – who help flesh things out, along with a few other main characters and number of extras.

South Korean rapper, Lee Seong-hwa – better know as GRAY – composes the films pumping score that accompanies the powerful fight scenes on offer; both of which will certainly get the adrenaline going that saw Jeon Jong-seo train extensively for months in martial arts in order to perform her own stunts. This begins with an introductory fight in a convenience store that sees Okju take on a gang of would-be robbers after interrupting their attempt to clear the cash register. It's gives viewers an exciting taste of what to expect, and it doesn't take long for things to kick-off when the mission for revenge begins. From her brutal escape during her first encounter with Chef Choi, that makes for plenty of cringe-worthy moments of pain that keep you on the edge of your seat before she goes up against guns and chainsaws, to the infiltration of the drug farm that sees Okju single-handedly take on 30 men, Ballerina offers up some incredible moments of fight action that rival that seen in any male-led action flick including the aforementioned film The Killer, Oldboy, and even John Wick, respectively. While it doesn't try to be anything other than a revenge thriller with heart, Ballerina proves to be a winner that should excite fans of the aforementioned titles and action cinema in general along with its neon visuals, great soundtrack, and strong cast!

Overall: Thrilling, brilliantly made, and crammed full of brutal action, Ballerina is a strong female-led revenge thriller that gets the adrenaline going and doesn't disappoint!

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BALLISTIC KISS

(Hong Kong 1998) 

Original Title: Sat Sat Yan, Tiu Tiu Mo 殺殺人、跳跳舞 (aka) Cool

Directed by Donnie Yen Produced by Donnie Yen Action by Donnie Yen, Mak Wai Cheung, Hoh Choi Chow, Kenji Tanigaki Starring: Donnie Yen, Annie Wu, Simon Lui, Vincent Kok, Jimmy Wong, Felix Lok, Karen Tong, Joe Hau, Mak Wai Cheung, Mike Woods, Yu Rong Kwong Reviewing: Universe HK DVD Release Genres: Drama / Action / Thriller

Rating - 4 / 5

DVD Synopsis: CAT is a killer drives on his pain to get revenge everyday. During his mission he meets his long awaited for WESLEY. Fierce combat starts, by mistake, CAT blackmails policewoman CARRIE as a hostage. During that period, CAT and CARRIE fall in love with each other and fight against other killers together... (92 Mins)

Views: Having done his part as an action director, or uncredited director, in many films since the start of his career, the great Donnie Yen made a point of becoming a serious director around the late 1990s. This new venture was launched with the fantastic Legend Of The Wolf, released in many western territories as The New Big Boss. It was a great debut (though not without its flaws) and was soon followed by Ballistic Kiss and Shanghai Affairs the following year - two very different projects that certainly have their moments. While the latter would highlight Donnie in an ass-kicking role akin to that of a Bruce Lee movie, the former would allow the superstar to unleash his creativity as a film-maker, as well as star as a character that (to that point) he had never portrayed before...

Donnie plays Cat, a cool hitman who has always been somewhat of a lone-wolf since leaving his job as a New York cop. When he's not killing, Cat spends most of his days talking on the phone with a radio DJ (Simon Lui), where they discuss life and morals while live-on-air. As he thinks about calling it quits, Cat agrees to one last job, when he sees an opportunity to take revenge on an old partner that double-crossed him many years ago. But when the assassination attempt goes awry, Cat makes a run for it - taking a hostage along the way as a last-ditch attempt to escape. That hostage is Carrie, a policewoman who has unknowingly been working on his case and the one woman in the neighbourhood that has always caught his eye. Even as the truth comes to light, the pair start to fall in love during their time spent together with trouble not too far behind them, as revenge is on the cards and bullets fly!

While it may prove disappointing to new fans of Donnie's (who have really only followed the powerhouse since SPL) because of its lack-of explosive fight-scenes every few minutes, Ballistic Kiss still provides enough stylish Hong Kong action that won me over – almost as if Wong Kar Wai had directed John Woo's The Killer. And as if starring and directing wasn't enough, Donnie leads the action department where he is joined by Kenji Tanigaki, Hoh Choi Chow, and the great Mak Wai Cheung – all of whom had come straight-off Legend Of The Wolf. While Hoh had only a few credits to his name by this stage and Kenji mostly bit-part credits, Mak had been on the scene from the late 1970s working on films at Shaw Brothers such as Return To The 36th Chamber, My Young Auntie, and Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, before going on to modern hits such as Yes Madam, Heart Of The Dragon, Magic Crystal, Tiger On The Beat, and other Donnie titles such as Tiger Cage 2, Fist Of Fury, and Satan Returns. In fact, his filmography is so highly impressive, he should be more widely known than he is. And while the action may seem less than usual for a Donnie Yen film and focuses more on gun-play in the heroic bloodshed sense, it still allows its star to throw some amazing moves – albeit in a very stylized way.

There's no denying that Ballistic Kiss is a damn good movie, as well as an important piece in Donnie's career. But if one thing lets the film down, I'd have to say that it's Bey Logan's script that could have done with some refining. That said, Yen works with what he has and delivers a great performance as the hitman with a heart. The lovely Annie Wu plays Carrie, the policewoman-turned-hostage who falls for Cat and does a fine job once again. I remember seeing Annie in Jackie Chan's First Strike (which was her first role), and from there in titles like Best Of The Best, Island Of Greed, and Gorgeous. It was also great to see the wonderful Mike Woods popping up for some action, having not worked with Donnie since the fun Cheetah On Fire, a good 6 years earlier. I've chatted briefly with Mike online a few times over the years, and he seems like a genuinely nice man. It's a shame we didn't get to see more of him in front of the camera after this, as he always proved to be a worthy adversary for Donnie or anyone who stood in his way. Donnie's Shanghai Affairs co-star (and star in his-own-right), the great Yu Rong Kwong, appears briefly for a fantastically memorable and action-packed, shoot-out against Yen with other cast members such as Simon Lui, Vincent Kok, Jimmy Wong, Felix Lok, and others doing a fine job...

The beautiful cinematography is courtesy of Hong Kong movie veteran Ally Wong Ka Fai, the man behind the lens on many classics such as Dreaming The Reality, Angel Terminators 2, Avenging Quartet, the remake of A Chinese Ghost Story, Donnie's own Painted Skin, and Legend Of The Wolf. Wong has also directed over 20 films during the course of his career, but to be honest I don't believe I've seen any of them so can't comment on that side of things. Regardless, the man does a fantastic job here in making Ballistic Kiss a gorgeously shot, art-house, martial-arts-thriller, with great lighting and interesting angles. On top of providing viewers with plenty of visual flairs and a steady pace, Ballistic Kiss is accompanied by a memorable score by Japanese pianist and composer, Yukie Nishimura, which reminded me a lot of a Studio Ghibli movie and works well with the overall tone of the film. Personally, I'd like to see this get a re-release on blu-ray and win the audience it deserves!

Overall: Heroic bloodshed at its most stylish and an underrated Yen flick, Ballistic Kiss is great and shows Donnie in a one-time-only role that doesn't disappoint!

DVD Extras: Cast Bio's, Trailers

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BANDITS FROM SHANTUNG

(Hong Kong 1972) 

Original Title: Shan Dong Xiang Ma 山東響馬

Directed by Huang Feng Produced by Raymond Chow Action by Sammo Hung Starring: Chang Yi, Sammo Hung, Pai Ying, Yi Yuan, Tien Mi, Hu Chin, Chin Yuet Sang, Cham Siu Hung, Wilson Tong, Chow Kong, Jang Jeong Kuk, Chiang Nan,Fung Ngai, Lee Ka Ting Reviewing: Joy Sales/Fortune Star HK DVD Release Genres: Traditional Kung Fu / Adventure

Rating - 3.5 / 5

DVD Synopsis: Ong, a chief of the Green Dragon Association, has been playing havoc in the Shan Tung area. Knight Yin comes to visit his fiancee Tik, but finds her house has been deserted. He is shocked and lets his frustration out on Ong's henchmen. One-legged Wolf, Ma and some people. Only Ma manages to escape from death in the ensuing fight. Tik goes back home to get some warm clothes for her mom and ambushed by Ma and his guys. Yin fights a way out but Tik is captured. At dawn, he returns to the town and asks for help from Suen who arrives in town with a valuable consignment in his escort. Yin wants to use Suen's consignment as a bait for the bandits but Suen refuses. Finally, yields to the demand after being defeated in a duel. Ong and his gangsters come back for the consignment. He brings Tik along as a hostage. As a result, Yin gets Tik back and watches Ong takes away the consignment. Back at the stronghold, Ong is exasperated and discovering that the consignment is faked. Tik is safe now, so Yin dispatches the notorious bandits right at their stronghold... (79 Mins)

Views: Director Huang Feng, who delivered one of Golden Harvest's first feature films with Angela Mao Ying's Angry River, brings another fun kung-fu adventure packed full of wild and colourful characters, exciting kung-fu battles, and Sammo Hung in a big hairy waistcoat. Bandits Of Shantung tells the simple tale of a visiting swordsman that stands-up to a gang of bullies in the province, after his fiancée is kidnapped by them. While the film opens with a bit of a slower first half hour than one would hope for, things very quickly pick-up as Yan Tie Yi arrives in town and soon comes face-to-face with the infamous bandits. It is here that we are treated to the first real fight of the film as Yan goes up against the 5th boss of the bandits in blistering showdown of blades and sharp moves, in a neatly choreographed battle with some highly entertaining moments, before he goes on to trade moves with Green Dragon Tong – another one of the bandit leaders. Yan is played by genre favourite Chang Yi, an actor and martial arts star that began his career at the Shaw Brothers in the late 60s with films like The Thundering Swordsman, The Silent Swordsman, King Cat, and the awesome Bells Of Death. It would only be a few years later that he, along with a number of other Shaw Brothers stars, would follow ex-studio producer Raymond Chow to his new company with the beloved Golden Harvest. Impressing as both an actor and on-screen fighter, Chang very quickly gained a following and went on to star in almost 100 films into the early 90s, with Sammo Hung's awesome Moon Warriors providing one of his final roles. Of course, the pair had gone back years, with Bandits From Shantung being one of their earliest after The Fast Sword and Brothers Five – with both going on to share the screen many times over the years in films such as Lady Whirlwind, The Traitorous, and Where's Officer Tuba?

As the 5th Boss, Sammo Hung doesn't really get past the previously mentioned fight scene as he gets pulverised into the ground by Chang and killed off pretty quick. Although it is safe to say that as the choreographer, Sammo most certainly gave himself one of the more entertaining fights of the film – of course, sticking around to choreograph the rest of the action in the film which were all pretty enjoyable. This was an exciting year for Hung with the birth of the new studio that allowed him a bit more freedom to do what he wanted, having already spent a good decade in the industry as an actor and choreographer flitting between Shaw Brothers productions and more – fast making a name for himself as a man of many talents. The always wonderful Pai Ying co-stars as the bandit chief, holding back all his moves until the final battle against Chang Yi. As well as starring in King Hu classics like Dragon Inn and A Touch Of Zen, Pai joined the Golden Harvest train early on to appear in films such as The Invincible Eight and Angry River, as well as starring in a number of other independent productions. Much like Chang Yi, Pai would continue to work with Sammo over the years from Lady Whirlwind and Hapkido to The Fate Of Lee Khan and The Valiant Ones, going on to star in over 100 films through to the turn-of-the-century.

Director Huang Feng has certainly delivered a number of classic titles over the years, and many of which saw the participation of Sammo Hung and Angela Mao Ying, in one way or another. These include films such as The Angry River, Lady Whirlwind, Hapkido, When Taekwondo Strikes, Stoner, The Tournament, The Legendary Strike, and the awesome Shaolin Plot. I must also point out that Bandits From Shaolin is pretty neatly shot thanks to cinematographer Danny Lee Yau Tong, who started his career in the Shaw Brothers in the late 60s before he joined everyone else in their move to Golden Harvest only a few years later. Lee would go on to shoot many of Huang's titles as well as films such as The Skyhawk, Iron Fisted Monk, Encounters Of A Spooky Kind, Police Story 2, Armour Of God, Duel To The Death, and many more. While it wasn't amazing in any way or as crammed with martial action as I had hoped, Bandits From Shantung was still quite an enjoyable flick and offered enough great fight action courtesy of the legendary Sammo Hung!

Fans should also keep an eye out for young stuntmen and actors such as Mars, Chin Suet Yang, Wilson Tong, Law Keung, and others...

Overall: An early classic from Golden Harvest studios, Bandits From Shantung proves to be a lot of fun and offers plenty of great kung-fu action!

DVD Extras: Trailer, Photo Gallery

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BANGKOK ADRENALINE

(Thailand 2009) 

Directed by Raimund Huber Produced by Trit Charoenrach, Chariyawan Tavoranon Action by Daniel O'Neill, Gwion Jacob Miles, Marky Lee Campbell, Tim Man, Ron Smoorenburg, Pangrech Sangcha Starring: Daniel O'Neill, Gwion Jacob Miles, Conan Stevens, Raimund Huber, Praya Lundberg, Lex De Groot, Dom Hetrakul, Tim Man Reviewing: Optimum UK DVD Release Genres: Martial Arts / Action / Comedy

Rating - 2 / 5

DVD Synopsis: An exotic island of hidden pleasures where the nights are long and the women are as hot as the tropical climate. It's the perfect location for a bunch of fun loving guys in search of an overseas adventure. But when a sweltering night of hardcore gambling goes horribly wrong, a group of naïve backpackers find themselves indebted to a local mafia boss. Their only way of escaping execution is to agree to kidnap the daughter of a tyrannical millionaire. It's a deadly mission that results in them being hunted down by a merciless mafia boss, a demented tycoon and a crazed milita of martial arts assassins out for blood. Thrust into a violent criminal underworld they must fight for survival in the only way they know how: by kicking ass! Written by and starring mountainous action star Conan Stevens, Bangkok Adrenaline also features Jackie Chan Stunt Team veteran Daniel O'Neill. Bringing martial arts action cinema into a new decade, Bangkok Adrenaline laughs in the face of CGI with some of the most amazing fight sequences and death defying, wireless stunts caught on film. (90 Mins)

Views: This independent Thai film was penned by an Aussie, directed by a Dutchman, and led by Englishmen. Each of these men have clearly spent a lot of time in Thailand, and have gained the support of the film community there, but my god, I only wish they would have refined a lot of things here before starting production. Bangkok Adrenaline tells the tale of four backpackers who arrive in Thailand to party and have a good time. But when a gambling game goes wrong and leaves their lives at risk, the friends decide to kidnap a billionaires daughter which doesn't quite go to plan when her father starts using her kidnapping as a means to further his own interests!

Bangkok Adrenaline is so badly written, directed and acted, you feel like its 90 minute running time doubles in length as you painfully sit through the dreadful comedy sequences – most of which director and co-star Raimund Huber is responsible for along with co-writer and giant, Conan Stevens. Its completely unfunny, delivered with poor comic timing and happens way too much. So much so in fact, that apart from the lengthy (and messy) end fight, Huber focuses way too much on trying to portray himself as a comic actor rather than letting the action happen. That said, I know the trials and tribulations of making your first movie (although I'm sure their budget here was quite a big larger than my own), so I can see past the technical flaws of Huber's debut respectively – but some things just don't work. Regardless, Raimund has went onto make a few films now including Kill 'em All that features Gordon Liu, Dragonwolf, and 13 Lost – a documentary on the Thai cave rescue in 2018. Conan Stevens, of course, has starred in a few Thai productions including Muay Thai Giant and Force Of Five, as well as Yuen Woo Ping's True Legend and Hollywood outings such as Game Of Thrones, The Hobbit, and more – but even he is dreadful in this and doesn't get to do much in the way of action. Unfortunately the same must be said for the handsome Gwion Jacob Miles has the looks and the moves, but his acting isn't the best. That isn't helped by his trying to be a tough guy with a posh English accent. Miles would return to work with Huber a few years later on Dragonwolf and appear in the Scott Adkins vehicle Zero Tolerance soon after. In fact, if I'm to be completely honest the only saving grace of Bangkok Adrenaline is the gorgeous Daniel O'Neill who looks amazing on screen, in action, and in his brief on-stage strip-bar scene which was worth the price of the DVD alone. Dan, who plays Dan in the film, was lucky enough to get to Hong Kong in the early 2000's to be a stunt performer and/or bit-player on films such as Gen-Y Cops, Jackie Chan's Accidental Spy and The Medallion, The Twins Effect, and Naked Weapon, as well as delivering some stunts in Tony Jaa's Tom Yum Goong. The English born actor and martial artist looks incredible in his moves, and I only wish we could see more of him – and preferably under the eyes of a better director – although he hasn't done anything in some time now since his short films such as The Fixer and Alone.

The team behind the fight-action is pretty decent, including a young Tim Man (who gets a brief fight against O'Neill), Ron Smoorenburg and others, resulting in some fun fights. But it's the scenes between Dan's fights that are often boring and drag on far too long. I must also point out that the direction and cinematography jumps from flat to WTF with the making of documentary on this DVD release proving to be shot better. If I were Huber, I'd stop getting in front of the camera and re-edit this film into a short that shows the amazing Daniel O'Neill fighting his way across Bangkok to save his friends. Perhaps that might give this very uneven, messy and below average flick a new lease of life...

Overall: Painful to watch for the most of it, but Bangkok Adrenaline is worth sitting through to see Daniel in action!

DVD Extras: Behind The Action Documentary, Trailer

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BANGKOK ASSASSINS

(Thailand 2011) 

(aka) Bangkok Kung Fu; Bangkok Kick

Directed by Yuthlert Sippapak Produced by Thanawat Thamprechapong Action by Somchai Munma Starring: Mario Maurer, Athikit Pringprom, Jarinya Sirimongkolsakul, Arak Amornsupasiri, Tomo Visava Thaiyanont, Abid, Kefi Adwen, Mathee Singruang Reviewing: MVM UK DVD Release Genres: Martial Arts / Drama

Rating - 3 / 5

DVD Synopsis: Kidnapped and forced into a life on the harsh streets of Bangkok, four youths are mentored by a skilled Shaolin Master. Learning the ancient secrets of kung fu, they become a force to be reckoned with. When their beloved Master is murdered, vengeance is the path they must follow and nothing had better get in their way! (104 Mins)

Views: This surprising Thai flick begins about 10 years before its main time-line where we see how a gang of insecure men kidnap kids and abuse them, before using them as beggars and who-knows-what-else. After 3 brothers try to escape, they are re-captured and brought back to the gang's leader to be brutally attacked. The attack leaves one with brain damaged, one deaf, and one blinded after the gang boss stabs him in the eyes with a skewer. A fourth boy, Pong, who was just kidnapped the night before, witnesses the abuse and screams for help – resulting in the cutting of his tongue which leaves him mute! It's safe to say that the opening of Bangkok Assassins is quite a dark introduction for it's audience, lightened only by the arrival of an old kung-fu master and his adopted granddaughter who save the boys by using some old-school, mystical kung-fu. As we jump 10 years forward, the kids have now grown up into handsome teens (especially the gorgeous Tomo Visava Thaiyanont), and have been trained as masters of kung-fu themselves. Together, they set out to find their abusers so that they can take revenge and get on with their lives. As another few years pass, Pong leaves to move on with his life and find love, the blind brother gives driving a go with the help of his the deaf bother, and the sister is still trying to get into the X-Factor after numerous and hilarious failed attempts over the years. But the retarded brother Naa (now played by the very handsome Mario Maurer), has stayed with the master at his temple to continue learning kung-fu and more. But it's clear that the master has made many enemies in his life, and soon, a gang of foreigners turn-up to assassinate him. As it turns out, the master was once part of the Jantra Alliance – a group of kung-fu masters in Thailand who have possession of a mystical Dragons Tear Stone – a magical stone put in Naa to save his life. But the monkey-faced ninjas, led by an unknown westerner, have been sent out to retrieve the stone which leads to the death of their master by a man who has kung-fu powers unlike anything the brothers have ever seen before!

When I first watched Bangkok Assassins I was left somewhat underwhelmed, but upon revisiting it, I can actually see what a well-written and well-made movie it actually is. Sure, the guys aren't genuine fighters by any means at all, but they do their best and look good doing it. Each of them gain a certain power which aids them in their battles (as in they wave their hands around to send someone flying), but its not over-used and the CGI is passable when it does come about. While the film starts with a serious message and has many dramatic moments throughout, it also cheers the audience up with some genuinely funny 'Chow Sing Chi style' comedic moments, although without ever detracting from anything meaningful. One example comes courtesy of the young girl (played by Kaew Jarinya Sirimongkolsakul), who is actually quite hilarious at times as she constantly tries to get selected for the local X-Factor show, and constantly fails miserably with every attempt. It's clear that writer and director Yuthlert Sippapak is a huge fan of Hong Kong cinema and especially that of its golden years as he combines some nice action (albeit definitely not enough for a film marketed in the action genre) with enough 'mo lie tau' comedy blended in to make it work. While it has it's flaws, Bangkok Assassins is shot wonderfully, carries a nice pace and is one of the better films I've seen from Thailand in some time that doesn't involve Tony Jaa or Jaa wanna-be who wants to be the next Ong Bak. While the ending isn't a glorious, martial arts packed finale as one had hoped, it still ties things up well and ends with a nice twist and plenty of emotion...

Overall: While hardly original, Bangkok Assassins is still a well-made film and entertaining modern take on the old-school kung-fu film!

DVD Extras: Trailers

Buy your copy HERE

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BANGKOK DANGEROUS

(Thailand 2000) 

Directed by Danny Pang, Oxide Pang Produced by Nonzee Nimibutr Starring: Pawarith Monkolpisit, Premsinee Ratanasopha, Patharawarin Timkul, Pisek Intrakanchit, Korkiate Limpapat, Piya Boonnak Reviewing: Tartan Asia Extreme UK DVD Release Genres: Action / Thriller / Drama

Rating - 3 / 5

DVD Synopsis: One of the very best of Asia Extreme is a neon-slicked underworld crime drama directed by Danny Pang and Oxide Pang, the celebrated twin brother team behind contemporary classic, The Eye. Kong is a deaf-mute hit man who carries out his violent and bloody work with a detached, sociopathic coldness. When he falls in love with an innocent pharmacist, Fon, he experiences warmth and tenderness for the first time and sets out on the path of ultimate redemption. (102 Mins)

 

Views: I'm going to be honest and the majority of you probably won't like it, but I've been trying to get through Bangkok Dangerous for the last 20 years and after finally getting round to it (in one complete sitting) I wasn't really blown away. The story tells the tale of Kong, a deaf & mute hitman who lives in Bangkok with his assassin partner Joe and stripper girlfriend Aom. As they continue to do the dirty work and assassinate rival gang leaders from Thailand to Hong Kong, their boss rises the underworld ranks. Kong soon meets Fon, a good mannered pharmacist who shows him some kindness and warmth – emotions he has never experienced since early childhood – and the pair quickly form feelings for each other. But after his friend Aom is raped by another gang member, and Joe killed by their boss, Fong must reveal his deadly skills to avenge his friends and start a new life with the girl he loves!

 

It's not that I disliked Bangkok Dangerous, but I really just couldn't get overly excited about it. Sure it looks great with its neon-lit night photography and kaleidoscope of colours, as well as some slick editing and great cinematography that was clearly inspired by the modern classics of Hong Kong cinema, but I kept finding myself losing interest – and not for the first time since I began trying to watch this film over two decades ago. Saying that, it's quite clear that the Pang brothers did a fantastic job – going on to remake Bangkok Dangerous as a Hollywood feature about 8 years later with Nicholas Cage in the leading role. Admittedly, I only watch Nic Cage movies when no-one is looking but I haven't even entertained the idea of checking out the remake. Starting their careers in Hong Kong as colourists and editors, the Pang brothers pulled together at the turn-of-the-century to direct Bangkok Dangerous, and while I definitely preferred their follow-up feature The Eye much more, I knew the pair were worth keeping an eye on. Whether working together or not, Danny and Oxide went on to secure a name for themselves as successful directors with films such as The Eye 2 & 3, Leave Me Alone, The Tesseract, Ab-normal Beauty, The Detective, Re-cycle, The Storm Warriors, Conspirators, and Fairy Tale Killer, as well as many more.

 

Pawarith Monkolpisit does a great job as Kong, the deaf/mute hitman who finally finds love. Although this film stands as his feature film debut, the actor has went on to star in a small number of films over the last 20 years including romantic comedy Promise Me Not, The Elephant King, Dante Lam's brilliant Operation Mekong, and the Hong Kong action-thriller Heroes Return alongside the great Yuen Biao and Ray Lui. Likewise, the rest of the main cast were relatively unknown with few of them going on to do much more. While it made for a great debut and opened the doors for the Pang Brothers to become the directors they are today, Bangkok Dangerous plays like the bastard child of Wong Kar Wai and John Woo, offering up very little that we haven't seen before but is still neatly packaged in a very well made movie. Ultimately though, one shouldn't really be too critical of a debut as great as this one. While it didn't do much for me, Bangkok Dangerous has gained much critical praise around the world and is worth the watch...

 

Overall: Well directed and beautifully shot, Bangkok Dangerous plays like a love-letter to the Hong Kong movies of yesteryear and makes for an impressive debut!

DVD Extras: Tartan Asia Extreme Trailer Showcase

Buy your copy HERE

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THE BANQUET

(China/Hong Kong 2006) 

Original Title: Ye Yan 夜宴 (aka) Legend Of The Black Scorpion; The Night Banquet

Directed by Feng Xiao Gang Produced by John Chong Action by Yuen Woo Ping, Yuen Cheung Yan, Yuen Shun Yee Starring: Daniel Wu, Zhang Ziyi, Ge You, Zhou Xun, Ma Jing Wu, Huang Xiao Ming, Ma Lun, Zhou Zhong He, Zeng Qiu Sheng, Bin Xiang Reviewing: Megastar HK DVD Release Genres: Drama / Martial Arts / Historical

Rating - 5 / 5

Megastar HK DVD Synopsis: The Banquet is set in ancient China during the Period of Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms, when dynasties succeed each other rapidly in the north and a dozen of independent states vie with one another in the south. Meanwhile, the neighbouring Khitan Empire is on the prowl in Manchuria, ready to conquer China when the moment arises (131 Mins)

 

In2Film/Metrodome UK DVD Synopsis: A spectacular, dazzling and bloody re-imagining of Shakespeare's legendary Hamlet, 'The Banquet' is an epic tale of revenge, violence and betrayal. Locked in a loveless marriage Empress Wan (international superstar Zhang Ziyi) is desperate to keep her forbidden love for Prince Wu Luan (Daniel Wu), from a family divided by cruelty and oppression. When the Emperor suddenly dies, his conniving younger brother Li takes up the throne forcing Wan to marry him. Convinced that this is the only way to protect all she loves from being destroyed by this new power hungry tyrant, Wan agrees. But Wu Luan refuses to see his love snatched away through such evil, greed and deception. After repeated attempts on his life amid furious confrontations with the new Emperor's imperial assassins, Wu Luan resolves to return to the palace and take revenge for himself, his beloved and a nation in the grip of a murderous madman. Featuring astonishing, career-topping action from the infamous Yuen Wo Ping (Kill Bill, The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and a cast featuring some of Asia's most acclaimed cinema icons, The Banquet is like no other epic you have ever witnessed. (125 Mins)

 

Views: It seems that director Feng Xiao Gang can do no wrong! His 2006 loose adaptation of Hamlet is stunning in every possible way, giving revered epics such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House Of Flying Daggers, a run for their money. Set in the era of the Tang Dynasty and the time of Five Dynasties, The Banquet tells a tale of betrayal, murder, and love, which is all knitted together by many assassination attempts and wonderful performances from all involved. The handsome Daniel Wu stars as Wu Luan, the Crown Prince of the Tang Dynasty. For most of his life Wu Luan has been in love with Little Wan, but after his father takes her as his Empress it forces the young Prince into exile. As he studies music and dance, his wicked uncle murders the Emperor to steal the throne and soon sends assassins after his nephew. Escaping death, Wu Luan returns to the palace to take revenge for his father while eluding more attempts on his life, fall in love all over again, and survive the banquet on the 100th day of the new Emperor's rule!

 

Although working off the backbone of the famed Hamlet tale, Feng Xiao Gang adds enough of his own originality to make this stand out. After killing the Emperor, Wu's uncle sends out a troupe of deadly assassins to finish-off Wu in a stunning action scene at the amazing forest theatre. This set and action-piece are just beautiful and worth the price of admission alone, quickly confirming that The Banquet guarantees some breath-taking cinematography, slick direction, gorgeous art design, and exciting action sequences. As well as serving as the films executive producer, the incredible and world renowned Yuen Woo Ping handles the films wonderful fight choreography along with his brothers Yuen Cheung Yan and Yuen Shun Yee, and protégé Dee Dee Ku. From the aforementioned attack at the forest theatre to the second assassination attempt on Wu in the palace - that sees the crown prince take on a small army of guards in a training session before they exchange wooden swords for real ones - the fights are violently beautiful and offer just as much excitement as its critically acclaimed peers such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hero, House Of Flying Daggers, for example – as well as delivering some of the Yuen Clan's most impressive work to date.

 

The main cast is incredible with Daniel Wu delivering one of his best roles to date as the crown prince who comes home to find his family in tatters, and further attempts on his life. Since making his film debut in 1998, wushu champion Wu has went on to become a big name in Hong Kong cinema and has starred in almost 70 films including Gen-X Cops, Purple Storm, Cop On A Mission, Naked Weapon, New Police Story, House Of Fury, Shinjuku Incident, The Man With The Iron Fists, and the critically acclaimed television show, Into The Badlands. As mentioned, I think this is one of the strongest and most impressive performances I've seen from Daniel, with the star offering some great emotional drama and incredible moments of action. Feng regular Ge You is as wonderful as always, playing the conniving and power hungry new Emperor who, having killed his own brother, is determined to get Wu out of the way in order to rule the kingdom. Having taken over the role initially offered to Gong Li (who passed due to scheduling conflicts with the equally as beautiful, Curse Of The Golden Flower), the beautiful Zhang Ziyi stepped into play the young Empress Wan. Impressing since her introduction in Zhang Yimou's film The Road Home, Zhang gained worldwide attention in Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and is as equally impressive here as always. Of course, there are many other recognisable faces who all put on a great show, including appearances by Huang Xiao Ming - Ip Man 2, Saving General Yang, and The Last Tycoon – and actress Zhou Xun from The Emperor & The Assassin, Beijing Bicycle, Confucius, Painted Skin 1 & 2, and The Yin Yang Master. Fans should also keep an eye out for a young Max Zhang, star of Master Z, Invincible Dragon, and SPL 2, who also appears as one of the stuntmen for the production...

 

Visually, The Banquet is just amazing. From the stunningly cinematography to its gripping and beautifully lit visuals, you can't help but be sucked in by every frame. From the scene where the assassins kill themselves on a bridge; with their blood dripping down through onto the guards below, to the wonderfully captured scenes of the highly detailed palace exterior (reportedly the largest set ever built in China) and even the brief but violent polo game, The Banquet is certainly never dull to look at courtesy of cinematographer Zhang Li, who also worked with Feng on A World Without Thieves and John Woo's epic Red Cliff 1 & 2. He is joined by cinematographer Xie Ze – who also worked on A World Without Thieves, as well as Feng Xiao Gang's Assembly, Kung Fu Dunk, An Empress & The Warriors, Treasure Hunter, and Woo Ping's epic True Legend – and prolific Hong Kong cinematographer Raymond Lam Fai Tai. Since beginning his work on the fun Esprit D'amour in1983, Lam has went on to shoot many great titles including Armour Of God, Sworn Brothers, Picture Of A Nymph, Burning Sensation, Magic Cop, Blade Of Fury, Mr. Nice Guy, Curse Of The Golden Flower, and Little Big Soldier; as well as many others. Between them, the trio fill every frame perfectly, highlighting the beautifully detailed work of the costumes, glorious sets, and stunning scenery in every shot.

 

With a dramatically dark end that takes place at the films titular banquet, Feng Xiao Gang sees his viewers off with a final monologue from Ziyi before she suffers her fate at the hands of an unknown assassin; with her life dying out to a beautifully haunting track sung by Jane Zhang and composed by the Oscar Winning composer Tan Dun. Famed for his work on Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Dun looks after the films score in The Banquet delivering an equally beautiful soundtrack to accompany its grand visuals, dramatic and impressive action sequences that help make this a modern masterpiece of Chinese cinema!

 

Overall: An incredible piece of film-making and stunning cinematic experience make The Banquet one of Feng Xiao Gang's finest, and one that is highly recommended!

 

Megastar DVD Extras: Making Of Documentaries, Interviews, Behind The Scenes, Trailers, Promotional Materials, Photo Gallery, TV Spots

 

In2Film/Metrodome DVD Extras: Making of Documentary, Trailer

Buy your copy HERE

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BATTLE AT LAKE CHANG-JIN

(China 2021) 

Original Title: Chang Jin Hu 长津湖

Directed by Chen Kaige, Tsui Hark, Dante Lam Produced by Chen Kaige, Tsui Hark, Dante Lam Action by Lin Feng, Zhuang Yuan Zhang, Stephen Tung Wai, Dante Lam Starring: Wu Jing, Jackson Yee, Duan Yi Hong, Zhang Han Yu, Zhu Ya Wen, Jerry Li, Elvis Han, Hu Jun, Shi Peng Yuan, Jim Filbird Reviewing: Cineasia UK Blu-ray Release Genres: War / Action / Historical

Rating - 4.3 / 5

Cineasia UK Blu-ray Synopsis: From three master film-makers comes one of the most epic and ambitious war movies ever made. During the winter of 1950, in the freezing cold Lake Changjin region, a bloody battle ensues between the United States and China. Faced with the harshest conditions of extreme cold, a lack of rations and vast differences in weaponry, the Chinese troops forge ahead in what was to become the most critical battle of the Korean war. Co-directed by Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine), Tsui Hark (Once Upon A Time In China franchise), Dante Lam (Operation Red Sea), and starring international superstar Wu Jing (Wolf Warrior 1 & 2), The Battle At Lake Changjin cemented its place as the highest grossing war film ever made. (176 Mins)

 

Views: Epic war movies from China are really nothing new when you look at the last 3 or 4 decades of filmography from mainland studios. From the Axis Of War Trilogy to the incredible and award winning film, The Eight Hundred (which was absolutely my favourite film of 2020), as well as dozens and dozens before them, the Chinese war genre has often been heavily criticised for its heavy patriotism and – dare I say it – propaganda, when viewed by most critics and audiences outside of its country. But then again, the same can be said for most, if not all, Hollywood produced movies about the U.S. army and their place in war. It's a dead-cert that any studio which is making a movie about their home-country's armed forces, is going to highlight their heroes in the best possible way – regardless if they are in the wrong, went on to lose the war, or otherwise. Anything goes in the film world, and you know what they say about an 'artistic licensing' right? The latest epics to join these ranks, of course, are The Battle At Lake Chang-Jin 1 & 2, with the second chapter also known as The Battle At Water Gate Bridge. Commissioned by the propaganda department of the Chinese Communist Party to celebrate their 100th anniversary celebrations, the films tell the story of a number of soldiers from the People's Volunteer Army who went into North Korea to help push out the U.S. Forces in the winter of 1950. While it is a fictionalised tale of the true Battle Of The Chosin Reservoir and the events surrounding it, one can truly understand the devastating effects and harsh reality of what went down during its time. A lot of this is down to the slick direction, strong performances, and explosive action that's on offer – a cocktail of ingredients that went on to make The Battle At Lake Chang-Jin the most expensive film ever produced in China, as well as making it the highest-grossing Chinese film of all time (and the second highest-grossing film of 2021, respectively). Set around the north-east area of the Korean peninsula, the man-made Chang-Jin lake lies in some of the roughest terrain and became the battleground between Chinese and American forces during one of the worst winters to date; freezing the lake itself, weapons, medical supplies, and even the men themselves in some cases!

Directed by three of Asia's most celebrated directors including the award-winning Chen Kaige, acclaimed Hong Kong director Tsui Hark, and highly bankable Hong Kong director Dante Lam, The Battle At Lake Chang-Jin is such a well-made piece that it's hard to recognise just which parts exactly, each of the directors had done. Although famed for his historical dramas and action-adventures such as Farewell My Concubine, The Emperor & The Assassin, The Promise, and Monk Comes Down The Mountain, Chen's last foray into modern war would have been via his second directorial effort, The Big Parade, in 1986 – although not forgetting his brief starring role in 2009's star-studded Founding Of A Republic. I can only imagine that he, perhaps, handled most of the films more dramatic moments while the fantastic Tsui Hark would take the reigns on the epic-side of things, from the 3D visuals and set-up to the sweeping action sequences. Of course, Tsui was no stranger to sweeping action movies, or indeed the war genre with films such as Shanghai Blues, Peking Opera Blues, A Better Tomorrow 3, The Raid, and the epic Taking Of Tiger Mountain, which just as beautiful as it is brilliant. The wonderful Dante Lam, who I have long championed as one of the greatest Hong Kong directors of the last 20 years, has proven himself time and time again as one of Asian cinemas best action directors to date, impressing with war themed movies such as Operation Mekong, Operation Red Sea, and The Rescue (to some degree) as well as box-office hits like at The Twins Effect, Beast Stalker, The Sniper, The Stool Pigeon, The Viral Factor, and many more. So it's with this in mind, that I would say that Lam himself may have been behind the more action-based sequences such as the ground combat and explosive battle scenes. Regardless of who did what, I feel it was a pretty successful mission in having the trio work together and only regret not getting the chance to partake in such a project (due to Covid 19 locking-down the world right after I left Hong Kong).

As expected, and bar the western cast members hired to play the American soldiers, the large cast of actors are played by a host of mainland actors – led into action by the irrepressible Jacky Wu Jing. Quite possibly China's most bankable star at the time of writing, this wushu wonder-boy made quite the impression when he replaced Jet Li for his debut role in Tai Chi 2 – a sequel of sorts to Tai Chi Master, both of which were from famed director Yuen Woo Ping. While other projects came and went, Wu gained more fans fast after starring in films such as Drunken Monkey, SPL, Fatal Contact, Invisible Target, and his directorial debut Legendary Assassin. But it would be his second directorial effort that would really start to shake things up, with Wolf Warrior making quite the impression and securing Wu Jing's place as one of China's biggest names. Of course, it was inevitable that a sequel would soon follow and for Wolf Warrior 2, Wu went all-out on every level securing the support of MCU actor Frank Grillo (Crossbones) as his big villain which, in turn, opened the cinematic doors of the west that would see his latest action-adventure film go on to become the highest crossing Chinese movie of its time, breaking many records upon release and elevating Wu Jing to superstar status. Interestingly enough, The Battle At Lake Chang-Jin would very quickly knock his 3rd directorial feature off the number-one spot on its release , although it was hardly any skin off Wu Jing's nose as he is the main lead of both titles – as well as the epic Wandering Earth; China's massive box-office sci-fi hit from director Frant Gwo who followed up with The Sacrifice – a similarly themed war-epic set during the Korean war which also did a great run on the big screen. Here, Wu would be joined by new kid on the block, Jackson Yee, who made his film debut in Mr. Six. Duan Yi Hong, who had starred alongside Wu Jing in the fun Wind Blast, and Jerry Li Chen from the equally fantastic war-epics Saving General Yang, Assembly, Aftershock, and The Eight Hundred. The brilliant Hu Jun, recognisable from hits such as Golden Chicken, Infernal Affairs 2, Red Cliff 1 & 2, Mulan, Bodyguards & Assassins, Shadow, and the aforementioned Assembly; joins the ranks and had starred alongside Wu Jing just over a decade earlier in Jeff Lau's fun, but slightly disappointing, Metallic Attraction: Kung Fu Cyborg. I'd love to go through them all, but there's genuinely a cast of hundreds in The Battle At Lake Chang-Jin and I simply couldn't. That said, with so much going on I have to pay kudos to everyone involved for the sheer scale of it all – as well as delivering strong performances while working in the insane conditions seen on-screen.

It's fair to say that The Battle At Lake Chang-Jin (and its sequel) are very beautifully captured – rich in colour and wonderfully lit. This is thanks to a number of Hong Kong cinematographers including the Oscar winning Peter Pau, a man who has been behind many great Hong Kong titles like The Killer, Saviour Of The Soul, The Iceman Cometh, Naked Killer, and The Bride With White Hair, as well as Jackie Chan's Forbidden Kingdom and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for which he won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. In 2002, Pau also directed Michelle Yeoh in The Touch – a fun, although flawed, Indiana Jones inspired action-adventure that briefly took her back to Magnificent Warriors days. He is joined by the wonderful Horace Wong, Tsui Hark's regular go-to man who has worked on an incredible amount of classics from A Better Tomorrow 1-3, A Chinese Ghost Story, Peking Opera Blues, The Big Heat, Kung Fu Jungle, Chinese Zodiac, Forbidden Kingdom and many more. Gao Hu, who worked with Tsui Hark on films such as Flying Swords Of Dragon Gate, Journey To The West: Demon Chapter, and The Taking Of Tiger Mountain, also joins them – as does Choi Man Lung; Tai Chi Zero, Tai Chi Hero, Meow, Septet: The Story Of Hong Kong, Iceman 3D, Kung Fu Yoga, and Dante Lam's Operation Red Sea. Chinese DOP, Ding Yu, who was behind many of Ding Sheng's directorial pieces like The Underdog Knight 1 & 2, Little Big Soldier, Police Story 2013, Saving Mr. Wu, and Railroad Tigers, also lends his talents.

While much of its outside audience will no doubt complain that there is far too much propaganda and Chinese patriotism throughout the films (almost) 3 hour running time, I believe that – regardless of the politics involved – a film like this should be enjoyed for the piece of art that it really is, and that The Battle At Lake Chang-Jin definitely has more than enough highlights to enjoy. For me, these include the opening battle scene that sees the shot sweep across the ocean of U.S. Naval ships before the bombs reign-down on the Chinese border, and the air-raid attack on the Chinese army's train in the valley – a tense and explosive scene that interrupts a genuinely light moment between the troops before leading to a brutal and bloody attack on a rocky plain that sees some American pilots shoot at the Chinese soldiers in hiding, believing that they are all dead. It's a horrific moment which certainly fills the screen with dread and tension, leaving bits of Wu Jing's army scattered over the rocks. The action-packed (and lengthy) nighttime stand-off in the mountain village was fantastic, and offered up some harshly dark moments of realism akin to that seen in Saving Private Ryan and 1917 for example. I would like to say there was a homage 'of sorts' to Jackie Chan's infamous shanty town scene in Police Story – this time using tanks to smash their way through the houses instead of cars, but it's really not. The same can be said for the massive attack on the U.S. Forces on the wintery night of Nov 27th 1950. This scene is huge in every way, and an incredibly filmed war scene that just oozes the action and charm of Hong Kong cinema from yesteryear. It runs for just over 20 minutes before it takes a quick breath and continues with more explosive action, before delivering an emotionally heroic turn by Hu Jun. The closing moments of the film are also quite harrowing which show the U.S. Forces finding a small army of Chinese soldiers frozen to death as they lie in wait for their attack, respectably saluting the fallen soldiers before pulling back. Kudos to action-choreographers Stephen Tung Wai, Dante Lam, Bruce Law, Yang Shuai, Huang Kaisen, Tang Chiu Yau, and Che Kim Fai for delivering some hugely impressive moments!

Having sat through this film a few times now, I simply can't deny just what a massive war epic it really is. And while it may have a few flaws (to the western viewer) in regards to its cheesy melodrama and patriotism that, if trimmed somewhat, may have made for a more finely tuned film with more focus on its incredible action scenes, The Battle At Lake Chang-Jin is still one hell of an accomplishment – and another notch in the belt of its leading man, Wu Jing, who seems to be behind every major hit coming out of China in the last 5 or 6 years. Chen Kaige, Dante Lam, and Tsui Hark have done an amazing job with the latter also lending his editing skills to the production. Loosely based on true events, The Battle At Lake Chang-Jin is well worth checking out for any fan of action films, war epics, or Chinese cinema – even that of its directors and main star.

Overall: Massive in scale, cast, and action sequences, The Battle At Lake Chang-Jin is visually impressive and superbly directed!

Blu-ray Extras: Trailers

Watch my unboxing video of this Cineasia release HERE

Buy your copy HERE

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BATTLE AT LAKE CHANG-JIN 2

(China 2022) 

Original Title: Chang Jin Hu Zhi Shui Men Qiao 长津湖之水门桥 (aka) The Battle At Water Gate Bridge

Directed by Chen Kaige, Tsui Hark, Dante Lam Produced by Chen Kaige, Tsui Hark, Dante Lam Action by Lin Feng, Zhuang Yuan Zhang, Stephen Tung Wai, Dante Lam Starring: Wu Jing, Jackson Yee, Duan Yi Hong, Zhang Han Yu, Zhu Ya Wen, Jerry Li, Elvis Han, Hu Jun, Shi Peng Yuan, Jim Filbird Reviewing: Cineasia UK Blu-ray Release Genres: War / Action / Historical

Rating - 5 / 5

Cineasia UK Blu-ray Synopsis: 1950, Korea. At the height of the Korean war, the 7th Infantry Company of the Chinese voluntary army are sent to blow up a bridge, preventing US forces from regrouping at nearby Xingnan Port. A series of gruelling clashes and a tense battle of wills ensues, with both sides determined to hold their position at any cost, in the harshest weather conditions. (149 Mins)

 

Views: Running just a little shorter than its predecessors 3 hour mark, The Battle At Water Gate Bridge picks up where the first film left off with Wu Jing and his loyal army still stuck on the snowy mountainside. With many soldiers freezing and starving to death, Wu encourages his men to move forward in their battle against the U.S. Army in an attempt to take out one of their air bases. After an explosive showdown, the CPV learn that they can put a major delay to the invaders by destroying one of their major strongholds at Water Gate Bridge. Intent on putting a stop to the Americans once and for all, Wu leads his army into their biggest battle yet – a battle that results in almost 2 hours of impressively directed action, packed with incredible stunt work, powerful shoot-outs, and brutal attacks that racks-up the body count by the minutes!

Thankfully, the directors tone down the patriotism and melodrama this time, helping The Battle At Water Gate Bridge come across like one big action-movie, with that 30 minute-less running time making things run much smoother. I suppose when you think about it, The Battle At Lake Chang-Jin is practically one big six-hour film, chopped in half to allow audiences to take it all in without being overwhelmed and disturbed from the amount of brutality on offer – although I highly recommend watching them one after the other if you have the time. Once again my hat is off to directors Tsui Hark, Dante Lam, and Chen Kaige for continuing to deliver another epic piece. Although famed for his historical dramas and action-adventures such as Farewell My Concubine, The Emperor & The Assassin, The Promise, and Monk Comes Down The Mountain, Chen's last foray into modern war would have been via his second directorial effort, The Big Parade, in 1986 – although not forgetting his brief starring role in 2009's star-studded Founding Of A Republic. I can only imagine that he, perhaps, handled most of the films more dramatic moments while the fantastic Tsui Hark would take the reigns on the epic-side of things, from the 3D visuals and set-up to the sweeping action sequences. Of course, Tsui was no stranger to sweeping action movies, or indeed the war genre with films such as Shanghai Blues, Peking Opera Blues, A Better Tomorrow 3, The Raid, and the epic Taking Of Tiger Mountain, which just as beautiful as it is brilliant. The wonderful Dante Lam, who I have long championed as one of the greatest Hong Kong directors of the last 20 years, has proven himself time and time again as one of Asian cinemas best action directors to date, impressing with war themed movies such as Operation Mekong, Operation Red Sea, and The Rescue (to some degree) as well as box-office hits like at The Twins Effect, Beast Stalker, The Sniper, The Stool Pigeon, The Viral Factor, and many more. So it's with this in mind, that I would say that Lam himself may have been behind the more action-based sequences such as the ground combat and explosive battle scenes. Each director would also double-up in a second role behind the scenes, with Kaige serving as one of the films producers, Hark as one of the editors, and Lam as one of the action designers.

Most of the major cast members from the first film returns once again, with the awesome Wu Jing leading the way once again. Quite possibly China's most bankable star at the time of writing, this wushu wonder-boy made quite the impression when he replaced Jet Li for his debut role in Tai Chi 2 – a sequel of sorts to Tai Chi Master, both of which were from famed director Yuen Woo Ping. While other projects came and went, Wu gained more fans fast after starring in films such as Drunken Monkey, SPL, Fatal Contact, Invisible Target, and his directorial debut Legendary Assassin. But it would be his second directorial effort that would really start to shake things up, with Wolf Warrior making quite the impression and securing Wu Jing's place as one of China's biggest names. Of course, it was inevitable that a sequel would soon follow and for Wolf Warrior 2, Wu went all-out on every level securing the support of MCU actor Frank Grillo (Crossbones) as his big villain which, in turn, opened the cinematic doors of the west that would see his latest action-adventure film go on to become the highest crossing Chinese movie of its time, breaking many records upon release and elevating Wu Jing to superstar status. Interestingly enough, The Battle At Lake Chang-Jin would very quickly knock his 3rd directorial feature off the number-one spot on its release , although it was hardly any skin off Wu Jing's nose as he is the main lead of both titles – as well as the epic Wandering Earth; China's massive box-office sci-fi hit from director Frant Gwo who followed that with The Sacrifice – a similarly themed war-epic set during the Korean war which also did a great run on the big screen. Jackson Yee also returns as the younger Wu brother, with both stars joined once again by an enormous cast of Chinese and Western actors.

Stephen Tung Wai, Dante Lam, Bruce Law, Yang Shuai, Huang Kaisen, Tang Chiu Yau, and Che Kim Fai continue to deliver more brutal action – this time around offering more close-combat fight action, and plenty of kinetic gun-play (and explosions) that took me back to the best of the 'heroic bloodshed' genre from Hong Kong cinemas heyday. In fact, I'd say that The Battle At Water Gate Bridge is definitely more 'Hong Kong' in flavour than the first film, from its pace and direction to the aforementioned incredible action scenes. I don't think I've seen any film that has such an extensive closing action scene (practically 90 minutes), and especially one that has been so incredibly designed and beautifully filmed, with such brutal moments that consistently leaves your mouth hanging open – I immediately think back to the many shots of men just bursting into a million pieces as bombs and bullets rip through them. Of course, it all boils down to a harsh and emotional climax that, as many have before it, highlights the horrors of war and the devastation it brings. It's incredibly directed, it's shocking, it's well acted, and wonderfully delivered, making The Battle At Water Gate Bridge (or The Battle At Lake Chang-Jin 2) one of the best Chinese war movies to date. It did, at times, remind me a little of another Chinese war film, Axis Of War 2: The Long March, and the attack on the stronghold across a massive bridge of chains. Incidently, that film was produced by August First Films who are also behind these epics along with China Film Company and many others. But this is definitely their best and an incredible cinematic achievement!

Overall: Continuing it's epic scale from the previous chapter, The Battle At Water Gate Bridge is a stunning and action-packed conclusion to the harsh story of the 7th Infantry!

Blu-ray Extras: Trailer

Buy your copy HERE

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BATTLE CREEK BRAWL

(USA 1980) 

Original Title: Sha Shou Hao 殺手壕 (aka) The Big Brawl

Directed by Robert Clouse Produced by Raymond Chow, Fred Weintraub Action by Pat Johnson Starring: Jackie Chan, Mako, Jose Ferrer, Kristine DeBell, Ron Max, Lenny Montana, Pat Johnson, Chao Li Chi, H.B. Haggerty, David Sheiner, Rosalind Chao Reviewing: 88 Films Deluxe Edition Blu-ray Release Genres: Martial Arts / Comedy / Gangster

Rating - 2.5 / 5

88 Films UK Deluxe Edition Blu-ray Synopsis: It's 1930s Chicago, and a young Chinese American martial arts expert Jerry Kwan (Jackie Chan) finds himself forced to compete in a no-holds-barred toughest man tournament. Only his cantankerous uncle (Mako, Conan The Destroyer) can prepare Jerry to fight and win against the mountainous Billy Kiss (H.B. Haggerty, Paint Your Wagon). Chan brings his kung fu comedy to the jazz era,backed by a real Hollywood cast, including Oscar winner Jose Ferrer (Dune) and Lenny Montana (The Godfather), Enter The Dragon director Robert Clouse delivers a fun fight fest that has become a bona fide fan favourite! (96 Mins)

88 Films UK Blu-ray Synopsis: Jackie Chan arrived on American soil with hopes of becoming a superstar in the West and his first ever Hollywood project as a leading man certainly provided him with a notable director in Robert Clouse, the legendary director who took Bruce Lee to the next level with Enter The Dragon (1973). With Battle Creek Brawl (1980), director Clouse achieved it, this is prime Jackie – as our man successfully takes on the mafia and romances the gorgeous Playboy cover girl Kristine DeBell. A classic bout of chop-socky on American soil, Battle Creek Brawl is ready to punch its way into your collection in this new 2K restoration. (96 Mins)

 

Hong Kong Legends UK DVD Synopsis: In his first historic feature for a Western audience, Jackie takes up the role of Jerry Kwan, a flamboyant Kung Fu expert, forced to compete in a no-holds-barred street-fighting tournament by heavy-hitting syndicate mobsters. Crafted by the director and producer that brought you the Bruce Lee classic “Enter The Dragon”, “Battle Creek Brawl” is a stunning showcase for the remarkable physical prowess of Jackie Chan. Performing some of the fastest and most powerful Wing Chun hand techniques ever recorded on film, Jackie also stops the show with a multi-point bicycle-kick performed effortlessly without the aid of a wire! Combining action, romance and Chan's remarkable physical comedy, “Battle Creek Brawl” is a dynamic martial-arts extravaganza, which is a resounding hit with fans all over the world. Now fully restored with a collection of collectable features, including a candid and revealing interview with Jackie Chan, this is one DVD that no self-respecting action-cinema devotee should be without!! (91 Mins)

 

Video Collection UK VHS Synopsis: His first three films in Hong Kong have already outgrossed those of the legendary Bruce Lee. Now Jackie Chan hits the international scene head-on in his first American film – an action spectacular set in America of the 1930's. Jackie plays a young Chinese American growing up in Chicago who reluctantly becomes the champion of a powerful gang boss who sponsors him in the notorious event that gives its name to the film. The 'Brawl' takes place in Texas and is a gigantic knock-down, drag-out street fight in which the toughest, roughest, meanest fighters gather to pound each other into the dust for a huge cash prize. (91 Mins)

 

Views: With the recent 88 Films re-release of Battle Creek Brawl (this time in a glorious deluxe edition) complete with a new restoration and 80 page booklet, I thought it was time to revisit this early Jackie Chan film one more time. I used to really enjoy The Big Brawl (as it was more commonly know in the UK) in my younger days. I remember finding it in a video store in Belfast City Centre back in the early 90s right next to Dragon Lord, but being 14 years of age at the time, wasn't allowed to buy it as the film was rated 15. I rushed home on the bus and begged for my nan to come into town with me the next day to buy them both for me, which she did with much anger. I was just kicking off my insane obsession for collecting kung fu movies, and more importantly, any and all Jackie Chan movies! A number of years later, I purchased the great Hong Kong Legends DVD release of the same movie which was a fun upgrade, but the Blu-ray releases from 88 Films have to be the best so far. Saying that, while both of the 2K restorations of Battle Creek Brawl are indeed pretty stunning, I can't deny just how dated the film itself looks, even cleaned up with such perfection. A lot of the scenes are very brown, dusty and void of colour (due to the production and its American mid-west setting), and along with some very poor sound production, helps make for a lot of uninteresting screen time...

Shot in Texas, Battle Creek Brawl is set in 1930s Chicago, and sees Chan's character single-handedly take on the mafia who have been harassing his family. This leads to his participation in the big brawl in Battle Creek, which pits him up against a host of burly American fighters and wrestlers, with the mafia holding his family hostage in a bid to make Jackie forfeit the win. It's pretty simple stuff that helps make Battle Creek Brawl a product of its time, and one that, in many respects, hasn't aged too well unlike many other Jackie Chan classics from this era. It's fair to say that, given the restraints put on him, Jackie still impresses in his role as Jerry – from both an acting point of view and that of his acrobatic skills. And although he was the star of the show, co-producer Fred Weintraub made sure he had a strong supporting cast bringing in established actors such as Academy Award Winner Jose Ferrer from Cynrano de Bergerac, Dune, and Natural Enemies, Lenny Montana from The Godfather, popular Japanese-American actor Mako, and Playboy model and actress, Kristine DeBell, among others and over 1,000 extras.

After a messy break-up from director Lo Wei during the production of Fearless Hyena 2, Jackie was left fearing triad threats for breaking his contract with the renowned director. With that, the young star made a self-imposed exile to the west with Golden Harvest seeing this as a chance to promote their newest action hero to the American audience! Along with the fun Cannonball Run 1 & 2, Raymond Chow produced Battle Creek Brawl with the hope of making it as successful as Bruce Lee's Enter The Dragon – the Warner Brothers kung fu classic that was made 7 years earlier. Chow even went as far as hiring director Robert Clouse and producer Fred Weintraub, along with composer Lalo Schifrin, to bring the project to the screen – a move that, in my eyes, became one of the main reasons that Battle Creek Brawl failed to make Jackie the star he should have been. Compared to what Jackie had put out before this project, such as Snake In The Eagles Shadow, Drunken Master, Fearless Hyena, and The Young Master and obviously with what followed, it seems an odd that Raymond Chow allowed Chan's talents to be dampened by the decisions of these American film-makers. Clouse had initially met Bruce Lee while directing an episode of Ironside that featured the young dragon as a martial arts instructor and, after the success of Enter The Dragon, would find solace in directing American made martial arts movies with a similar flavour. These included Jim Kelly's Black Belt Jones and Golden Needles before he would join forces with producer Raymond Chow to direct The Amsterdam Kill, and finish Bruce Lee's Game Of Death respectively, eventually leading to Battle Creek Brawl. Over the years, Clouse would stick with the genre by following up with the exciting martial arts adventures Force: Five and Gymkata, before joining forces with Chow once again in 1990 with China O'Brien 1 & 2 – two projects that were created to promote Cynthia Rothrock to the western audiences. But, as expected, that pretty much did the same thing for her as this did for Jackie, so it's obvious that Raymond Chow never learned from his first mistake!

Having now gained a lot of input from hearing Jackie talk of his time on the production, reading his books and such, you can see how much he wanted to break out in true Jackie Chan style – almost bored from frustration on the restrictions of his physicality. The fights, although passable with a couple of standout moments, are often slow and overly staged; reminiscent of lesser budgeted early 70's kung fu cinema. And this is down to a few different factors – the first being that the fights were choreographed by Pat Johnson, an actor and choreographer that had worked with Clouse on Black Belt Jones, Golden Needles and The Ultimate Warrior, following Battle Creek Brawl with Force: Five and also working on titles such as Jim Kelly's Hot Potato, The Karate Kid movies, Mortal Kombat 1 & 2, Showdown In Little Tokyo, and the Golden Harvest produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Trilogy. With such great titles behind him, you would have expected more from the action seen here, but then again Robert Clouse wasn't actually a great director overall sticking to the statement that American audiences wouldn't like Jackie's faster style of fighting and action. To top things off, it's only fair to say that Jackie hardly had one proper opponent to go up against during the whole movie. From daft monologuing mafia types to overly fat wrestlers in ridiculous outfits, Jackie really only gets to come close to some Hong Kong inspired fighting when he takes on the brothers using a bench and some fun choreography. Its almost a crime that he didn't get to do more given that he had just came from the epic Young Master with great success.

So after 40 years, is there still much to love about Battle Creek Brawl? Well, apart from Jackie's charm and physical attributes, there's the very catchy score by Lalo Schifrin – a highly memorable tune that you'll be whistling for some time after watching. Jackie and Mako's shared time on-screen is often quite enjoyable to watch, especially that of their training and infiltration of the mafia household. The Chinese-American cast who play Jackie's family are highly enjoyable and then there's the relationship between his character and that of Kristine DeBell's – a connection of two races that's wonderfully captured and unquestioned which was a rare subject matter for this period of American cinema. I guess it's also a bonus in knowing that this would actually be the first time audiences would get to hear Jackie's real voice on-screen; his first movie shot in sync sound, not to mention his first full English language production which is quite often forgotten by many who review his filmography. But compared to Enter The Dragon, Battle Creek Brawl is messy and often cartoonish in its execution – and it's easy to see why it didn't highlight Jackie as the martial arts powerhouse and star he was back in Hong Kong. While fans get to enjoy a diluted version of his energy and skills throughout the movie, it's quite clear that this Jackie Chan is not the same one from the aforementioned kung fu classics, something that we would see repeated only five years later in The Protector for James Glickenhaus, and even in the first Rush Hour movie to some degree – with the restrictions of Hollywood health and safety holding him back from doing what he really wanted to do. While his film journey may have given us a completely different filmography had Battle Creek Brawl or The Protector made Jackie a household name in the west, its clear that his failed attempts in Hollywood somewhat inspired him to be a better film-maker and bigger star when he returned to Hong Kong – something we can all thank Hollywood for in some respects!

Overall: Terribly dated, Battle Creek Brawl shows how boring American action cinema was at a time when Hong Kong was wowing the world. At this stage of the game, for Chan completists only!

 

88 Films Deluxe Edition Blu-ray Extras: New 2K Restoration, Audio Commentary with Kim Newman & Barry Forshaw, Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng & F.J. DeSanto, Archival Interview with Jackie Chan, Archival Interview with Raymond Chow, Ricky Baker on Jackie Chan, David West on Jackie Chan, Original Trailer, US Trailer for The Big Brawl, Stills Gallery

88 Films Blu-ray Extras: 2K Restoration, Archival Interview with Jackie Chan, Archival Interview with Raymond Chow, Ricky Baker on Jackie Chan, David West on Jackie Chan, Original Trailer, Stills Gallery

Hong Kong Legends DVD Extras: Interview with Jackie Chan, Biography, Stills Gallery, Trailers

Get your copy HERE

Watch my unboxing video for the 88 Films Blu-ray release HERE

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BEACH OF THE WAR GODS

(Hong Kong 1973)

Original Title: Zhan Shen Tan (aka) Blood Dragon

Directed by Jimmy Wang Yu Produced by Raymond Chow Action by Hsiao Pai, Kwan Hung Starring: Jimmy Wang Yu, Lung Fei, Tin Yau, Sit Hon, Shan Mao, Choi Wang, Blackie Ko, Jack Long, Kwan Hung, Su Chen Ping Reviewing: Eureka Video UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Wuxia / Adventure / Historical

Rating - 4.7 / 5

Eureka Video UK Blu-ray Synopsis: Kung fu innovator Jimmy Wang Yu (One-Armed Boxer) blends wuxia mayhem with Seven Samurai in Beach Of The War Gods. In the waning days of the Ming dynasty, Japanese marauders raid villages on the Chinese coast. A wandering swordsman (Wang Yu) single-handedly dispatches a group of the invading thugs, and agrees to help defend the town. He assembles a core team of highly skilled warriors, including mercenary knife-thrower Leng Peng (Yeh Tien, Blood Of The Dragon) and hot-headed swordsman Iron Bull Chao (Han Hsieh, A Touch Of Zen). Together, they train the townsfolk to stand up to the pirates, using strategy and skill. When the army launches an all-out assault on the town, a ferocious battle rages, leading to final conflict on the Beach Of The War Gods. Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Beach Of The War Gods ranks among Jimmy Wang Yu's best films, a briskly-paced historical adventure bursting with wild action. (97 Mins)

 

Joy Sales/Legendary Collection HK DVD Synopsis: During the last days of the Ming Dynasty, the coast of Southeast China was at the mercy of marauding of Japanese pirates. When Hangchow city was occupied, the general's cousin Hsiao Feng, a fencing master-hand, went to rescue his uncle but failed. When he arrived in a small town, he met Shinobu's army tyrannizing the common people. He tried to help them out and planned to organize them to fight against the enemy. When they knew that the enemy's army carrying the provender would arrive in 7 days, they decided to annihilate them in the Beach Of The War Gods and arranged everything well there. It was at night that the enemy arrived there and was hit by the trap. When rest of the arms rushed into the town, the Chinese people fought against them hard. Shinobu finally decided to fight with Hsiao alone and was killed (97 Mins)

 

Fan-made DVD Synopsis: The Wang Yu Repertory Company burst back onto the big screen with this spectacular epic version of The Seven Samurai. Wang Yu plays Hsio Feng, a famous knight who rallies up the people of a small fishing village in Hang Chow to fight against the tyranny of invading Japanese pirates. The villagers have been told that they must pay a sum of 200,000 taels of silver to the Japanese warlord Hashimoto (Lung Fei) or their village will be razed to the ground. Rather than see the loot fall into enemy hands, Feng suggests that the money be put to better use. So it is that he embarks on his quest to seek out some fierce warriors to help him in his just cause. On the way he meets five top fighters whom he (sometimes with great difficulty) signs up. The heroes gather at the small village and plan their strategy. Within days, Hashimoto and his 1,000 strong army land at the beach of the war gods. What follows is a half an hour of non-stop chivalry and bloodshed that will leave you totally breathless. (100 Mins)

 

Views: One of my all-time favourite Jimmy Wang Yu movies, Beach Of The War Gods celebrates its 50th birthday with an all-new gorgeous 2K restoration and Blu-ray release from Eureka Video that finally delivers the film the way he wanted us to see it! Written and directed by the man himself, this early Golden Harvest production has always sat strong with me and is Wang Yu's take on the Japanese classic Seven Samurai. Here, Wang Yu plays the wandering swordsman, Hsiao Feng, who turns up at a coastal town that is being targeted by Japanese pirates and offers to protect it from the invaders. Setting out to gather his own small army of fighters, Wang Yu soon finds the people he needs to help defend the town including a mysterious knife-throwing killer, a hot-headed swordsman, honourable spear fighter, and a kung-fu fighter who has mastered a pair of deadly shields. Together, they train the townsfolk up before the next attack which leads to an all-out fight to the death in the streets and on, the Beach of the War Gods!

Loosely based on true historical events from the Wokou pirate wars in the mid 1500s, Beach Of The War Gods is almost perfect as a martial arts epic, with plenty of memorable characters – although with hardly a female in sight – slick cinematography, and fierce swordplay battles, allowing Beach Of The War Gods to carry a certain maturity that was often missing from Wang's Yu films around this period – although that same missing piece still often made for a fun ride. It's a film of two halves, with the first setting the story in place while introducing the main characters and focusing on their plans to thwart the enemy. And while there's a bit of swordplay strewn throughout, fight fans will get what they've been waiting for in the second half with a blistering, non-stop 40 minute fight scene that entertains right to the very last minute. With shades of King Hu and Akira Kurosawa running throughout, it's clear to see who inspired Jimmy Wang Yu when he was writing and directing the film. Shot in Taiwan for Golden Harvest, due to the stars exile from Hong Kong after his rocky departure from the Shaw Brothers studio, Beach Of The War Gods may not come across as lavish a production than those from his peers, but it certainly stands strong with the best of them. Ironically though, as one of the many Wang Yu films that sees his character resent his Nipponese neighbours – the kung-fu star was genuinely a dedicated fan of classic Japanese cinema, often quoting the likes of Toshiro Mifune as one of his favourite actors, and naming the legendary Katsu Shintaro as a close friend after starring alongside him in the fun Zatoichi & The One Armed Swordsman. It's also worth noting, however, that only two years after this film, King Hu would direct his own Japanese pirate-themed wuxia film with The Valiant Ones; a brilliant film that sees cameos and stunt-work from a young Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, and Yuen Biao, among many others – but I still feel that Beach Of The War Gods is a little more exciting in some respects.

This would be the 5th directorial effort from the star after his debut with The Chinese Boxer for Shaw Brothers, two independent Taiwanese features called The Brave & The Evil and The Sword, and the awesome One-Armed Boxer for Golden Harvest. Over the period of seven years, the kung fu superstar would deliver ten films as the director, ironically opening this new chapter of his life with The Chinese Boxer before closing with its long awaited sequel, Return Of The Chinese Boxer. Made in 1973, Beach Of The War Gods was just one of nine productions he starred in that year – along with titles such as A Man Called Tiger, Seaman No.7, The Tattooed Dragon, and Ten Fingers Of Steel – and was just a few shy of his total from the previous year which saw him deliver at least one a month. For Beach Of The War Gods, Wang Yu directs as Wang Yu does, and while it may have the polish of a high-end Shaw Brothers production and macho blood-letting of a Chang Cheh picture, there's still a rawness to his style which I quite enjoy, and with Raymond Chow behind him once again, it's clear to see why the sets and costumes look fantastic. It's also worth noting how the film benefits from plenty of great visuals which, again, look even more amazing in this restored version. The man behind the lens was Chiu Yao Hu, a Taiwanese cinematographer who started in the industry on Pai Ying's Black Invitation. He would go on to shoot a number of films starring Polly Shang Kwan including The Bravest Revenge, The Grand Passion, and The Ghostly Face, before working with Jimmy Wang Yu on The Brave & The Evil which also starred the popular actress. After Beach Of The War Gods, Chiu would return to work with Wang on films such as Four Real Friends, One-Armed Boxer Vs The Flying Guillotine, and the aforementioned Return Of The Chinese Boxer.

While most fans of kung-fu cinema hail Bruce Lee the greatest star, a claim that is hard to deny, I can't help but feel that someone as prolific as Jimmy Wang Yu – a true innovator of Hong Kong and Taiwanese martial arts cinema – deserves to be wearing that crown more than anyone with his own directorial debut The Chinese Boxer said to have been the film that inspired Bruce himself to return to Hong Kong. With over 80 film credits to his name, it's fair to say that Wang Yu kept himself busy over the course of his five decades spent in the industry during which time he worked with many of Hong Kong cinemas finest including Lo Lieh, Cheng Pei Pei, Lau Kar Leung, Angela Mao Ying, Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, Donnie Yen, and many, many more – not to mention most of his generations finest directors. Joining him here are a number of Wang Yu film regulars including the fantastic Lung Fei and Tien Yeh – both of whom are very a like in features I must admit. While the former plays the fearsome samurai leader of the Japanese, Tien Yeh stars as the mysterious master of knives, Leng Ping. Making his debut with The Commander Underground in 1967, Tien had quite a number of titles behind him before first starring with Wang Yu in the fun Magnificent Chivalry just a few years later. From there, the pair would star together in many titles over the years including The Sword, The Invincible Sword, The Hero, Furious Slaughter, One-Armed Boxer, and many more. Fighting alongside him and Wang is Iron Bull Chao, played by the popular Hsueh Han; a prolific actor with over 200 credits to his name including King Hu's Dragon Inn and A Touch Of Zen, as well as many of the aforementioned Jimmy Wang Yu vehicles. Kwan Hung, who also worked with his co-stars in many of the previous titles, stars as the twin-spear fighter and also doubles-up as the action-choreographer for the film. As well as starring in around 90 titles over 3 decades, Kwan directed the action on a number of 1970s titles and directed his own feature in 1988 with New Miracle Fighters.

As mentioned, the Japanese are led by the intimidating Lung Fei who stars as the brutal pirate leader, Shinobu Hashimoto – ironically the name of the popular Japanese screenwriter and director who frequently collaborated with Akira Kurosawa and delivered Japanese cinematic classics such as Rashomon, Hidden Fortress, Seven Samurai, Revenge, Throne Of Blood, Harakiri, and Sword Of Doom, respectively. Was this, perhaps, Wang Yu's tribute to the man that helped inspire many of his own works? Often seen as the bad guy of a thousand classics Lung Fei, much like his co-star Tien Yeh, joined forces with Wang Yu on Magnificent Chivalry after starring in a host of Taiwanese kung-fu classics. As such, Fei would go on to star in a host of Jimmy his classics, as well as many other kung-fu greats including Gold Snatchers, New Game Of Death, Shaolin Avengers, Flash Legs, 7 Grandmasters, A Massacre Survivor, World Of The Drunken Master, and many more. Joining him to fight with the Japanese are kung-fu stars Shan Mao, Tsai Hung, Su Chen Ping, Hsieh Hsing, Wang Yung Sheng, and a young Jack Long – star of classics such as the aforementioned 7 Grandmasters and World Of Drunken Master, Born Invincible, Mystery Of Chess Boxing, Ninja Hunter, and so much more.

Around the 50 minute mark, we witness leads his men on the beach for battle at night, resulting in a major loss of men due to Wang's preparation. A second attempt the following morning kicks-off a breathtaking 40 minutes of constant fighting which does not disappoint! Inspired by the classic Samurai films of Japanese cinema, complete with Wang Yu's unique touch, the lengthy battle spreads out across the town causing the enemy to get lost in the streets while the newly trained locals do their best to take them down. Make no mistake, there's no holding back here as gangs of men leap from rooftops in unison, as a thousand blades flash across the screen, and lengthy one-shots track through the carnage without a hiccup leaving a body-count that seems pretty equal on both sides. Wang Yu is just brilliant here as he cuts through the enemy with more speed and ferocity than usual – his white robes gradually getting redder with blood as he fights on. It seems that with this action-packed finale, every 10 minutes that pass, Wang Yu ramps things up even more with harder violence, faster fights, and the carnage that ensues once Lung Fei joins the battle. Believe it or not, after all that and a 2 minute breather, the film closes with a lengthy one-on-one as the awesome Jimmy Wang Yu takes on Lung Fei in a fight to the death. Its a fantastically choreographed fight scene on and around a windmill on the beach – which includes a great WTF moment before delivering a truly memorable finish, bringing to close what could possibly be some of Kwan Hung's best work as a choreographer, and is an ending that rivals even the greatest of Shaw Brothers films!

Overall: An incredible piece of martial arts cinema, Beach Of The War Gods is one of Wang Yu's greatest moments, and an absolute classic!

Eureka Video Blu-ray Extras: 2K Restoration, Audio Commentary by Frank Djeng, Beached: Arne Venema & Mike Leeder discuss Beach Of The War Gods, Archival Interview with Jimmy Wang Yu, Stills Gallery, Trailer

Joy Sales/Legendary Collection DVD Extras: Trailer

Get your copy HERE

Watch my unboxing video for the Eureka Video Blu-ray release HERE

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BIO ZOMBIE

(Hong Kong 1998) 

Original Title: Sang Faa Sau See

 

Directed by Wilson Yip Produced by Joe Ma Action by Adam Chan Chung Tai Starring: Jordan Chan, Sam Lee, Frankie Chin, Chow Hoi Kwong, Bonnie Lai, Cheung Kam Ching, Lok Tat Wah, Angela Tong Reviewing: Vinegar Syndrome US Blu-ray Release Genres: Zombie / Horror / Comedy

Rating - 3.5 / 5

Vinegar Syndrome US Blu-ray Synopsis: Invincible and Bee are two wannabe gangsters who spend their days hanging around the mall selling bootleg DVDs. When they aren't committing petty crimes and trying to pick up girls, the two hoodlums run errands for their low level Triad boss. When one of these errands involves them picking up their boss's car from the mechanic, things take a turn for the two delinquents when they accidentally hit a man walking in the middle of the road. Trying to hide their crime, Invincible and Bee bring the man's body to the mall in order to figure out their next move. Little do they know that the man has been infected with an experimental bio-weapon that has turned him into a zombie. When the man's corpse doesn't stay put, it's only a matter of time before the victims start piling up and the mall soon becomes overrun by a zombie horde trapping a group of shoppers inside. Will Invincible and Bee step up to become heroes and save the day or will their slacker nature get the best of them dooming all inside? Directed by one of Hong Kong's most prominent action directors, Wilson Yip (Ip Man, SPL: Kill Zone), Bio-Zombie is a neon-filled zombie comedy bursting at the guts with 90s flare. Featuring a cast of likeable characters lead by Jordan Chan (Young & Dangerous) and Sam Lee (Gen-X Cops) as Invincible and Bee, as well as a supporting cast featuring Emotion Cheung (The Demon's Baby), Angela Tong (Honour Of The Gods), and Suk-Mui Tam (Fist Of Legend), Vinegar Syndrome is proud to present this gory slice of 90s nostalgia on Blu-ray for the first time, restored from studio supplied masters. (94 Mins)

 

Mei Ah HK DVD Synopsis: 2 fun-loving hustlers play joke with a stranger by bottomed him up with his “wine” which is in fact a bio-chemical weapon that can destroy the world. Now the stranger turns into a zombie and cries out for revenge. (94 Mins)

 

Views: It's been a number of years since I last watched this late 90's Hong Kong horror-comedy from director Wilson Yip; the very same man behind mega-hits SPL and the Ip Man series with the amazing Donnie Yen. In only his third year as a director, Yip delivers a fun zom-com that taps on (then popular) Hong Kong youth culture, as well as pay homage to the infamous Dawn Of The Dead from the late George Romero. Woody and Bee play a couple of small-time triads who run a bootleg VCD store in the busy, New Trend shopping arcade. They go about their lives harassing female staff at the local beauty parlor, robbing one of the women in the toilets, and create their own fun by annoying a cell-phone salesman while drooling over his wife. Of course, its obvious that this lot are going to have to team up when the shit hits the fan! Somewhere else, a dodgy deal for a bio-weapon goes extremely wrong causing an injured gangster to make a run for it. With him, he carries a dose of the dangerous liquid in a Lucozade bottle, and soon gets knocked-over by the two friends who are speeding along the dark roads. After forcing him to drink the bio-chemical soft drink to hydrate him, Woody and Bee bring the man back to the New Trend Shopping Mall in the boot of their car. Naturally, from here, the horror kicks in and it doesn't take long for the undead to start taking over the mall, with the love-torn sushi chef Loi becoming one of the first victims. Loi is madly in love with Rolls and even in zombie form, tries to keeps her prisoner for as long as he can, providing her with random gifts and protecting her from other zombies. Of course, as all hell breaks loose, Woody and Bee step-up to the game and do what they can to survive and escape the mall-of-the-dead – no matter how many of their business friends they have to take down on the way!

Often referred to as Hong Kong's first real zombie movie, Bio Zombie proves to be a welcome break from the usual horror ingredients of ghosts and hopping vampires which had saturated the local film scene for well over a decade by this stage. As the director of two zombie-themed independent feature films, I can totally appreciate the effort that went into something like this and enjoyed its low-budget look for the most part. In fact, I only wish I had at least half of the budget Yip had here when I was making my own! At the same time, I must admit that Bio Zombie has never really been a favourite of mine. It's a movie I've probably only watched 2 or 3 times since its release but, admittedly, this newly restored release from Vinegar Syndrome definitely made it the best viewing yet. Upon my initial viewing, I often felt that the film moved slow until the initial zombie attack, throwing its viewers off for a bit before jumping between horror, comedy and drama as if harking back to the crazed Hong Kong films of the eighties. While the make-up can often be crass, with moments of gore and blood, I've always felt that there could've been more – although I'm not forgetting the limbs and heads getting chopped off as the small team of shop keepers try to survive. A lot of this is accompanied by some fun comedy sequences, akin to that of horror-comedies like Mr. Vampire and Haunted Cop Shop. But as the film rolls on, Bio Zombie takes a more serious tone for its last 20 minutes, leading to an ending that may surprise some viewers – but ultimately, makes sense from the characters perspective. Both editions of Bio Zombie that I own come with an alternate ending which, much like its original ending, isn't a happy one. Saying that, I probably preferred the one chosen to close the movie as it helps us see that Woody feels hopeless when he learns just how wide-spread the zombie pandemic really is...

Although it was only the 5th or 6th directorial effort from Wilson Yip, Bio Zombie finds its strength in producer Joe Ma – a recognisable figure of Hong Kong cinema who started life in the industry as a writer. His debut was the very popular Happy Ghost, with Ma going to to pen films such as It's A Mad Mad Mad World 2, Daddy Father Papa, Days Of Being Dumb, All's Well End's Well Too, and much more including many of his own self produced and/or directed projects including Chez N'Ham Story, Rich Man, Over The Rainbow Under The Skirt, and Chow Sing Chi's Lawyer Lawyer, among many more. As well as writing Yip's follow-up project, Bullets Over Summer, Ma also scripted serious action pieces like Big Bullet, Black Mask, Victim, A War Named Desire, Sasori, and others. Bit-player and director of the little-seen Zombie Island, Adam Chan Chung Tai, handles the fight-action in Bio Zombie, although there's not a lot to get excited about if I'm honest. I was surprised to find that popular director, Cheang Pou Soi, served as the assistant director on the film – but it's really no surprise since the pair of them, along with Joe Ma, have worked on many projects together over the years. Before Bio Zombie, Cheang had worked the same role on films such as Black Panther, Blaze Of Love, Young & Dangerous Parts 2 & 5, Black Mask, Sex & Zen 2 & 3, and Wilson Yip's Teaching Sucks! While he would assist for another few years after, Soi Cheang would make his own directorial debut in 1999, quickly going on to deliver some fantastic titles including Dog Bite Dog, Shamo, Accident, Motorway, The Monkey King Trilogy, Limbo, and would direct the sequel to Yip's hugely popular SPL – with Wilson producing.

I do think that Jordan Chan and Sam Lee were the perfect choice to play the characters of Woody and Bee, respectively. While Lee had only been acting for a good year in films such as Made In Hong Kong, Beast Cops, and Young & Dangerous: The Prequel, Jordan had already established himself as somewhat of a prolific actor with over 30 titles behind him before this. This included films such as Mack The Knife, Fox Hunter, the Young & Dangerous Series, Big Bullet, God Of Gamblers 3, Downtown Torpedoes, and Wilson Yip's debut film, 01:00am. Of course, both stars have went on to star in an endless amount of titles, with Sam Lee proving himself to be the busier of the two after appearing in over 20 titles more than Chan. The pair do a great job in Bio Zombie as the wanna-be gangsters who just love being dickheads to everyone and are joined by a decent cast in the shape of Wayne Lai, Angela Tong, Matt Chow, big Frankie Chan, and the odd looking Emotion Cheung who almost steals the show as the zombie sushi-chef in love. Fun, although not without its flaws, Wilson Yip's Bio Zombie is worth a watch for fans of Hong Kong cinema and of the undead. While it may be played for laughs the majority of the time, it does have some nice dramatic moments that are well balanced throughout and makes a great addition to the zombie genre. It has been described by many as Mallrats meets Dawn Of The Dead, but I think it has something a little more than that!

Overall: Although indie film-esque compared to today's glossy standards, Bio Zombie is still a lot of fun and entertains on many levels – unintentionally or not!

Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray Extras: Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng, Interview with Wilson Yip, Video Essay by Chris O'Neill, Alternate Ending

Mei Ah DVD Extras: Trailer, Alternate Ending

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BLACK CAT

(Hong Kong 1991) 

Original Title: Hei Mao 黑貓

Directed by Stephen Shin Produced by Dickson Poon, Stephen Shin Action by Benz Kong,Poon Kin Kwan Starring: Jade Leung, Simon Yam, Thomas Lam, Louis Roth, Lauro Chartrand, Lee Diy Yue Reviewing: 88 Films UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Action / Thriller

Rating - 4 / 5

88 Films UK Blu-ray Synopsis: Not to be confused with the various retellings of Poe's famous tale, Black Cat is a high-octane Hong Kong action thriller that provides a hugely entertaining precursor to the likes of Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) and south Korean cult classic, The Villainess (2017). When Catherine (Jade Leung), a mentally disturbed young woman, is detained by the police after accidentally killing a truck driver, she finds herself part of a covert training system. Programmed as an assassin, having learned a host of new deadly skills, she becomes a lethal government weapon, codenamed Black Cat. Director Stephen Shin (Brotherhood, Easy Money, Black Cat 2), had initially intended to make a straight-up remake of Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita (1990) but when Disney bought out the rights he was forced to rethink. His solution was Black Cat, a slick, action-packed gun-toting thrill ride. (96 Mins)

Made In Hong Kong UK VHS Synopsis: After blowing away her sleazy attacker and an American cop during a vicious pit-stop rape, wild Chinese street kid Catherine (the exquisite Jade Leung) is offered an ultimatum by the suave and sinister Simon Yam (Bullet In The Head; Full Contact) – a new identity as a C.I.A. Killer, or the electric chair. Months of agonizing training later, reborn as Black Cat, she is unleashed on Hong Kong for her first mission of death. Assassination follows successful assassination, but the web of secrecy and deceit which surrounds her clandestine operations begins to threaten her own life and the lives of those around her as she is drawn towards inevitable bloody tragedy. Intense, explosive and sumptuously shot, Hong Kong mogul Dickson Poon's sexy and violent remake of Luc Besson's international hit 'Nikita' blasted Oriental femme fatale Jade Leung onto the big screen and spawned an immediate, equally successful sequel. (93 Mins)

Views: While it may have been influenced by the international success of Luc Besson's hit film La Femme Nikita from the year before, I have to say that I enjoyed Stephen Shin's Black Cat that little bit more. Of course, as a fan of Hong Kong cinema for almost 40 years, some people would say that I was just being bias – but I don't care. Jade Leung's explosive introduction as a Hong Kong action-starlet is just fantastic. From the gritty and violent opening that sees her get attacked and abused by a would-be rapist trucker, to the beatings she takes in jail from the officers on duty, Jade Leung proves her worth from the get-go and hardly lets-up until the films closing credits. Leung plays Catherine, young down-on-her-luck Chinese girl living in America who is abused and beaten by those around her, before being left for dead after a shot from a mysterious gunman. While hooked-up to her life support, the doctors implant a small micro-chip in her brain known as the Black Cat. Once she awakens, Catherine is visited by a CIA agent who explains the situation. Stealing his gun, she tries to escape from the facility but quickly finds that there is nowhere else to run. From there, the distraught and wounded girl is put through some painful and intense training in order to make her one of the CIA's deadliest assassins. Once ready, Catherine – now known as Black Cat – is sent on a number of missions to kill, but soon finds herself trying to keep a healthy work/life balance when she finds a new lover by her side as well as many secrets that burden her future!

I love Black Cat! It's fun,it's stylish, and it's violent, with some gorgeously framed cinematography and wicked stunt work. It has shades of John Woo's The Killer, Clarence Fok's Naked Killer, and Doug Liman's Bourne Identity (long before that was around), and although it may not be perfect, the film still provides an incredible rush of entertainment that bagged Leung the award for Best Newcomer at the 11th Hong Kong Film Awards. While it dips its toes into the realm of Category 3 sex and violence, Black Cat only just manages to escape the infamous film rating due to some clever direction and editing – but there is still certainly enough nudity, brutality, and gritty action to keep fans of the genre hooked. The first half of the film is set in the United States, although has been quite obviously filmed in Canada for the most part which is made obvious by the stunning scenery in the majority of the shots. While she gets to work on one explosive assignment there, the Black Cat is then sent to Hong Kong (with the new name of Erica) where she is given a number of missions to take down weapons dealers, dodgy businessmen, and killers. It's here that she also meets Allen, a handsome tour-guide who she caught taking her picture right after a kill, and although he didn't actually witness her do it, Catherine still sets out to that evening to kill him at his home. But as she hides under his bed waiting for the right moment to strike, the assassin soon finds that he shares her love for the harmonica and catches sight of his sweet cheeks when he pops into the shower. Enamoured, Catherine has a change of heart and makes a point of meeting up with him the next day. Allen is played by Thomas Lam, a good looking actor that is probably more recognised for his television work as well as roles in films like the fun '92 Legendary La Rose Noire, Banana Club, and Midnight Caller, and although he does a decent enough job, I think it's fair to say that Lam doesn't exactly ooze the same screen presence as the likes of Andy Lau, Tony Leung Chi Wai, or even Simon Yam who also co-stars with him here. This, in turn, may provide one of the more lacking qualities of the film for some people, with many saying that his performance is quite bland in comparison to the energy portrayed by Leung. Of course, the great Simon Yam really needs no introduction and although he plays one of the few strong characters of the film, was really appearing in an extended bit-part as Leung's CIA handler and controller. This was only 1 of 13 films Yam would be starring in that year, so it's easy to forgive him for not being in every other scene – especially when half of the film was shot in Canada. Back in Hong Kong, Simon would be kept busy with films such as Queens High with Cynthia Khan, The Queen Of Gamble, Gigolo & Whore, Mission Of Condor, Bullet For Hire, In The Line Of Duty 7: Sea Wolves, and more. And finally popular western actor Louis Roth, the writer of Ringo Lam's Undeclared War, and assistant director of Moon Lee's fun Little Heroes Lost In China (of which was also his last starring role before his death) appears as one of Simon Yam's CIA superiors and man behind the Black Cat program...

For her 'first' leading role, Jade Leung was certainly given a challenge when bringing Catherine to life. As she had previously mentioned in an interview, the actress had only watched the original film once but refused to watch it again so that she could bring her own flavour to the character. In doing so, Jade managed to impress the jury enough at the Hong Kong Film Awards (winning Best Newcomer as mentioned) and carved a healthy enough career in the Hong Kong film industry from then on. After living with her parents in Switzerland for a number of years, the former model returned to Hong Kong in 1990 to participate in the Miss Asia beauty pageant. She was soon then discovered by Dickson Poon and Stephen Shin to star in Black Cat, where she would sign-up for a six picture deal for D&B Films after the films great success. But after Black Cat 2: The Assassination Of President Yeltsin failed to deliver the same results, Jade's contract was revoked and the company (unfortunately) came to a close. It's such a shame considering how many great Hong Kong films D&B were behind, with titles such as The Return Of Pom Pom, Owl Vs Bumbo, Yes Madam, Where's Officer Tuba?, Royal Warriors, Legacy Of Rage, the Tiger Cage and In The Line Of Duty series – and so much more. Of course, Dickson Poon would be just as renowned as the tycoon owner of London's Harvey Nicholl's store, as well as owning a host of successful jewellery stores and being the former husband of the beautiful Michelle Yeoh – of whom he had also helped bring to the industry. From 1986 through to 1992, director and producer Stephen Shin worked exclusively for D&B Films starting with Brotherhood starring Danny Lee, and ending with Black Cat 2 respectively. But when the company shut down, Shin would continue to produce for more independent companies with films such as Zen Of Sword, Taxi Hunter, White Lotus Cult, and Sam The Iron Bridge – eventually directing his final piece of the 20th century with the wonderfully titled historical drama, The Great Conqueror's Concubine for Zhang Yimou in 1994. It would be almost a decade later that Shin would return to the directors chair with The Source of Love, and over a decade after that before returning once again with the U.S. co-produced feature, On Wings Of Eagles, starring Joseph Fiennes and Shawn Dou.

Apart from Jade Leung, there are two other things that really stand out for me in Black Cat. The first is the incredibly well-shot cinematography – captured by no less than 3 cameramen, and perhaps one for each location with the film having been shot in Canada, Hong Kong, and Japan. The first is Lee Kin Keung, a cinematographer who has captured many of Shin's works and titles including Tiger Cage 1 & 2, All's Well End's Well, Once Upon A time A Hero In China, Daughter Of Darkness 1 & 2, and Forbidden City Cop. He is joined by Cheng Siu Keung – the DOP of many great Hong Kong titles, including a host of Johnnie To films like The Mission, Running Out Of Time, Fulltime Killer, and Running On Karma, as well as being the director of the Shin produced White Lotus Cult and D&B Films very own In The Line Of Duty 6: Forbidden Arsenal and In The Line Of Duty 7: Sea Wolves with Cynthia Khan. Cheng would also serve on Black Cat as Shin's executive director. Then there is Wong Po Man, a DOP and cinematographer who has been behind such titles such as Happy Ghost 5, King Of Robbery, Drunken Monkey, Shanghai Shanghai, Operation Scorpio, First Shot, and many more. Between the the three of them, they have managed to deliver and incredible beautiful, artistic, and stunningly shot piece of Hong Kong cinema that has only been heightened even more by this stunning 2K restored Blu-ray release from 88 Films. The second would be the incredible action on offer from the film's action-directors Benz Kong and Poon Kin Kwan, both of whom make Jade Leung look like she's done this kind of thing for years as they deliver a host of powerful shoot-outs, stunts, and explosive action that highly impresses. Both names have been involved in the industry for some time, from acting to action-choreography in many great titles, with Kong going on to direct the fun Twins Mission for producer Tsui Siu Ming in 2007 – doubling up as the action-choreographer for it's stars Charlene Choi, Gillian Chung, Wu Jing, Sammo Hung, Yuen Wah, and many others. And I mustn't forget to mention that awesome soundtrack either!

Overall: Beautifully shot, action-packed, and debuting Jade Leung in an award winning role, Black Cat is a classic Hong Kong action movie of the early 90's well worth watching!

Blu-ray Extras: 2K Restoration, Audio Commentary with Mike Leeder & Arne Venema, Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng, Interview with Jade Leung, Trailers

Watch my unboxing video of this 88 Films release HERE

Buy your copy HERE

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BLACK CAT 2

(Hong Kong 1992) 

Original Title: Hei Mao 2: Ci Sha Ye Li Qin 黑貓II 刺殺葉利欽 (aka) Black Cat 2: The Assassination Of President Yeltsin; Codename: Cobra

Directed by Stephen Shin Produced by Dickson Poon, Stephen Shin Action by Poon Kin Kwan Starring: Jade Leung, Robin Shou, Zoltan Buday, Bob Wilde, Alexander Skorokhod, Mike Miller, Jack Wong Reviewing: Mega Star HK DVD Release Genres: Action / Thriller

Rating - 3 / 5

Mega Star DVD Synopsis: The female assassin codenamed 'Black Cat' returns to the fray for a second thriller shot entirely on location in Europe. Cat (Jade Leung) is teamed with Robin 'Mortal Kombat' Shou in a bid to prevent the assassination of President Yeltsin. (87 Mins)

Views: I really don't know where to begin with Black Cat 2: The Assassination Of President Yeltsin. After watching the stunning 2K restoration of its predecessor from 88 Films, I couldn't wait to watch this sequel – of which I had only purchased on DVD from an Ebay seller about 2 months before. And although the quality was nowhere near as amazing as the Black Cat Blu-ray, it still made for a fun watch. That said, this film was nothing at all like I was expecting and definitely proved to be a different kettle of fish than the first chapter. The film kicks off with a quick reminder of part 1 that shows us how the bad memoires are affecting the Black Cat chip in her brain. Thankfully, Erica – renamed after gaining her secret identity in part one – is set for a free upgrade that erases her memories and drains whatever little emotion is left, from her poor self. This, in turn, makes her act more like The Terminator as opposed to the femme fatale from her previous missions, giving her the ability to defy gravity, scale buildings in heels, and jump great distances to land on top of moving vehicles. On top of that, Erica is now able to shoot the dick off a mouse with her new self-targeting eye that makes sure she never misses. Elsewhere in the States, CIA agent Robin (Robin Shou) is protecting a family who are in possession of a microfilm who are attacked by some hi-tec super-assassins. After their attack, the killers make a cool escape on snow boards which leads to an exciting downhill shoot-out. Around the halfway mark, after the now-cyborg-like Black Cat teams-up with Robin, they are sent to Russia for a new mission to protect President Yeltsin from an assassination. Here, they cross paths with the super-assassins that leads to an explosive showdown that takes Black Cat 2 to another level altogether!

While it definitely has some fun moments and memorable action scenes, I think it's fair to say that Black Cat 2 doesn't offer the same satisfaction as its predecessor having lost something along the way, with its uneven direction or lack of artistic flair. There may be a few different reasons for this, and one of which could be that it was written by a completely different team from before – although 3 in total once again. The first is Sin Kam Ching, an actor and writer who worked with D&B Films over the years – although Black Cat 2 would be his last screenplay to date. Interestingly enough, he would later work as the assistant director on Sam The Iron Bridge and Tales In The Wind a number of years later. The second is James Fung, a writer who has penned many great titles for Stephen Shin and Danny Lee including Brotherhood, Road Warriors, Against All, Final Justice, Red Shield, Best Of The Best, and White Lotus Cult, as well as working as the 2nd unit director on this project. But Black Cat 2 would be the debut of its third writer, Ivy Lee Mo King, who also served as the assistant director to Stephen Shin (the producer and director) which could indeed have been one of the major problems of the production. I found it an interesting choice to let Lee step into such a role for such a big production, and can only wonder what kind of sway she had on Shin and Dickson Poon to win such a job. The other reason I feel that things went a little tits-up here, was the lack of action-choreographer Benz Kong who had been a big part of the first Black Cat film. Although Poon Kin Kwan worked alongside Kong previously and has delivered the action on many great titles over the years such as Seven Warriors, An Eternal Combat, Flirting Scholar, Kung Fu Cult Master, and Forbidden City Cop (many of which were with Benz Kong) – it's possible that he maybe just got carried away with things here, taking Erica's cyborg upgrade down another road completely. But that said, and on its own merits, the action in Black Cat 2 can be highly entertaining at times...

As mentioned, there is the action-packed introduction of Robin Shou's character set in a mountain ski-lodge that sees two super-assassins open fire on anything that moves. After the get their hands on the micro-film, the heavily armored pair escape by jumping out the window and flawlessly landing on their snowboards, taking off immediately with a small army of CIA agents on skis behind them. It's a chase that is packed with great stunts and explosions that pre-dates Jackie Chan's similar action-scene in First Strike, by 4 years. A brief fight in an air-hanger follows that pits Jade against Robin, and is really just an excuse to show-off the formers new super strength and abilities with another gunfight following that sees a couple of rogue gunmen shooting at an army blockade. Then poor Robin soon finds that he has his hands full after Jade slips away to assassinate an innocent old woman at point-blank range in a shopping mall, in one of the films more brutal moments. It's fair to say that the fights and action on offer are definitely more 'typically' Hong Kong in their execution, with strands of comedy making them seem almost silly at times and have plenty of wire-enhanced wildness to enjoy. One of my favourite action scenes (and possibly the most exciting fight overall) has to be the one that takes place in the iron factory, just before the one-hour mark. It reminded me a lot of the similarly themed construction-site fight scenes in Sammo Hung's Heart Of The Dragon, Skinny Tiger & Fatty Dragon, and Pantyhose Hero – albeit a little less polished, but still exciting enough that results in Jade getting smashed in the face by a tank of sorts. The grand finale is kind of wild involving Jade exploding a plane from her stolen convertible, before battling the super-assassin in a blend of choreography that looks like it came from an early 90s Ching Siu Tung film – or one of Philip Ko's Filipino efforts such as Lethal Panther 2 or Ultracop 2000.

It was inevitable that Jade would have to follow-up with a sequel to her 'first' award-winning lead role, and the character of Black Cat. After living with her parents in Switzerland for a number of years, the former model returned to Hong Kong in 1990 to participate in the Miss Asia beauty pageant where she was soon discovered by Dickson Poon and Stephen Shin to star in Black Cat. Thanks to its success, Jade would sign-up for a six picture deal for D&B Films, but after this sequel failed to deliver the same results, her contract was revoked and the company (unfortunately) came to a close. Regardless, Jade has went on to star in a number of great films over the years including Satin Steel, Spider Woman, Fox Hunter, Leopard Hunting, Flying Dragon Leaping Tiger, Kung Fu Mahjong, Line Walker, and the New Kung Fu Cult Master alongside Donnie Yen. Leung also appeared in two unrelated sequels to the Black Cat franchise such as Black Cat In Jail and The Black Cat Agent Files, but I wouldn't say they'd be worth tracking down in a hurry. The great Robin Shou shines as his self-titled character, getting to show off some pretty cool moves (although nearly not enough in my opinion) and takes part in some great action scenes, as well as getting to deliver a strong performance overall. Although he had only been in the business for about 5 years by this stage, Shou had managed to star in over 15 films including many for D&B Films. Of course, it would only be a few years after this that Robin would get the chance to move to Hollywood with a leading role in Mortal Kombat, that saw him play the much-loved character of Liu Kang – and again in its sequel soon after. It was nice to see a huge western cast being put to good use, and eagle eyed viewers should keep an eye out for Australian actor Mike Miller in the iron factory-fight – with the martial artist having appeared in many titles over the 90s including Once Upon A time In China 2, Pom Pom & Hot Hot, Bodyguard From Beijing, Knock Off, and The Black Sheep Affair...

Cheng Siu Keung returns as the DOP once again, and manages to deliver some strong visuals that could look even better with a restored Blu-ray release. He is backed by Leung Lik Ji who went on to shoot the Cheng Siu Keung directed, Stephen Shin produced, White Lotus Cult the following year and One Arm Hero after that – both of which are known to be part of the brilliant, Sam The Iron Bridge Trilogy – and Chris Lee Chi Wa, a cinematographer that started as a focus-puller on many D&B productions before going on to work on titles such as the Sam The Iron Bridge Trilogy, The Grandmaster, John Woo's Manhunt, Donnie Yen's Enter The Fat Dragon, and Jackie Chan's Vanguard. Having watched Black Cat 2 a couple of times now, I can't help but feel that my DVD version has been cut in some way, with scenes and edits that seem to just stop or start at odd moments. If this was the version presented to HK audiences I can see what they didn't like it, but at the same time, I have to say that the film isn't completely dreadful and does entertain to some degree!

Overall: While flawed in many ways, Black Cat 2 still has its moments and offers some wild action!

DVD Extras: Synopsis, Trailers

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BLACK MASK

(Hong Kong 1996) 

Original Title: Hak Hap 黑俠

Directed by Daniel Lee Produced by Tsui Hark Action by Yuen Woo Ping Starring: Jet Li, Karen Mok, Lau Ching Wan, Anthony Wong, Francoise Yip, Patrick Lung, Dion Lam, Hung Yan Yan, Mike Lambert, Henry Fong, Moses Chan, Koan Hui Reviewing: Eureka Video UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Martial Arts / Action / Superhero

Rating - 3.5 / 5

Eureka Video UK Blu-ray Synopsis: Jet Li stars in an action-packed superhero spectacle produced by the legendary Tsui Hark! Tsui Chik (Li) is a librarian who leads a quiet, unassuming life – or, at least, that’s what he wants people to believe. In truth, he was once a member of the 701 Squad, a group of elite combatants produced by a failed super-soldier project. In kind with his former comrades, his central nervous system has been altered to render him impervious to pain. When several of his fellow test subjects resurface and embark on a crime wave under the leadership of their former commander Hung Kuk (Patrick Lung), Tsui is forced to use his extraordinary abilities once more. Donning a costume, he sets out to face his past – as the vigilante known as the Black Mask. Adapted from the manhua by Pang Chi-ming and Li Chi-tak and heavily influenced by Bruce Lee’s turn as Kato in The Green Hornet, Black Mask is one of the most entertaining movies in Jet Li’s filmography and boasts action orchestrated by Yuen Woo-ping, who would later win an Academy Award for his work on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Eureka Classics is proud to present the film in its rarely seen uncut version on Blu-ray from a 2K restoration! (100 Mins)

The Vengeance Pack German Mediabook Synopsis: Fear and terror rule Hong Kong's underworld: a series of bloody massacres shake the gangster scene. The power-hungry Shung wants to take over the black market. Together with a special unit of super soldiers, the result of secret human experiments, he ensures that his claim to power is enforced. The police are faced with a mystery and cannot counter the perfectly trained killers. Suddenly a mysterious, masked avenger appears to restore law and order. Cult star Jet li in an action-packed Tsui Hark production directed by Daniel Lee – Black Mask is now considered a cult film not only among fans. Hong Kong cinema has rarely been more explosive, dynamic, and entertaining, especially thanks to the great work of martial arts director Yuen Woo Ping (Matrix, Kill Bill). (100 Mins)

 

Nova Media Korean Blu-ray Synopsis: N/A

 

Universe HK DVD Synopsis: Jet Li stars in this futuristic techno-action thriller based on a popular Hong Kong comic book. Li was part of “Squad 701”, a team of professional killers known as Black Mask, who do not feel pain or emotions. When the team was “exterminated” by the government after they discovered that some squad members are still capable of feelings, Li goes into hiding as a librarian. However, when another member of the Squad begins killing every major drug market, Li has to don the identity of Black Mask once again. (98 Mins)

 

BMG Video UK VHS Synopsis: Brainwashed by his masters to feel no pain, Tsui (Jet Li) is a member of China's elite 701 Squad – a merciless team of assassins. But Tsui wants out. Escaping to Hong Kong, he creates a new identity for himself and attempts to lead a normal life. When the city is rocked by a series of gangland murders, each hit bears all the hallmarks of the 701 Squad assassination. Their master-plan is global domination of the drugs trade and, as their killing spree takes its mounting toll, the local cops grow ever more powerless to stop them. Tsui realises only he can end the Squad's reign of terror. Determined to protect his anonymity he becomes 'Black Mask' – a crime-fighting creature of the night – and unleashes a one-man war against the most formidable fighting force on earth. From Tsui Hark, director of 'Double Team', and starring the phenomenal Jet Li, 'Black Mask' explodes off the screen with its mind-blowing blend of hi-tech weaponry, special effects and non-stop action. (83 Mins)

 

Views: Often seen as Hong Kong cinema's answer to Batman, Jet Li's Black Mask became one of the most successful Asian superhero movies ever, quickly becoming a cult classic with martial arts film and action fans the world over! Tsui Chik, a former test subject for a secret super-soldier project known as the 701 Squad, is trying to lead a quiet life as a librarian in Hong Kong when he soon finds his dark past creeping up on him. When he finds out that the rest of the squad have been involved in violent crimes across the city, Chik dons a new costume and becomes the Black Mask – an unstoppable vigilante superhero that sets out to bring down the 701 super-soldiers and his old, insane master!

Produced by the prolific and hugely talented Tsui Hark, who no doubt took over the helm for some scenes in the film, this 1996 production would be the third directorial feature of the fantastic Daniel Lee and the film that really put him on the map. Of course, before that, Lee had made his feature film debut with the wonderful What Price Survival in 1994 with stars Damian Lau, David Chiang, and Norman Tsui Siu Keung. It was a project that had caught the eye of Tsui Hark who then asked Lee to direct the television movie Wong Fei Hung: The Eight Assassins – a chapter of the film series that saw Vincent Zhao Wen Zhuo continue his role as the titular hero. While he has gained some criticism for his artistic approach over the years, I'm personally a huge fan of the director and have thoroughly enjoyed the majority of his work including Moonlight Express, A Fighter's Blues, Three Kingdoms: Resurrection Of The Dragon, 14 Blades, White Vengeance, and Jackie Chan's cruelly underrated Dragon Blade among others.

Aside from producing and working on 4 other features that same year, the ever-busy Hark is also credited as one of the writers, joined by the popular Teddy Chen; director of Purple Storm, The Accidental Spy, and Bodyguards & Assassins – along with the prolific Joe Ma; director of films such as Lawyer Lawyer, Fighting For Love, and Hidden Heroes – and Koan Hui who also worked as writer with Hark on The Blade and Time & Tide, as well as going onto direct Jet Li in the underrated League Of Gods two decades later. Of course, their writings would be based on the popular Black Mask Chinese comic by Li Chi Tak and would keep true to the original material for the most part, albeit for a few changes and new characters. Interestingly, the movie has since been released in 4 or 5 different versions over the years from Hong Kong to Taiwan, the US to UK and then some...

The aforementioned Koan Hui also serves as the first AD, with Cold War director Sunny Luk and Limbo director Soi Cheang working as second AD's respectively. Interestingly, the former two would also appear throughout the movie in cameo roles. The film's comic book style visuals were beautifully captured by Tony Cheung Tung Leung; a cinematographer who had previously shot Vampire Family, Drunken Master 2, and Midnight Caller just before, and would go onto lens Island Of Greed, Beast Cops, and Hit Team, as well as Daniel Lee's very own Three Kingdoms: Resurrection Of The Dragon, 14 Blades, White Vengeance, and Dragon Blade among others. Interestingly, Tsui Hark would follow up with a sequel in 2002 known as Black Mask 2: City Of Masks, this time starring Andy On as the titular hero, although the late Philip Ko would rush out his own produced version just a year before that with Shadow Mask starring the wonderfully talented Fan Siu Wong in what was more of a prequel of sorts, although would be released in some territories as Black Mask 3. The unrelated Black Mask vs Gambling Mastermind would quietly appear in 2002, with the little known Sze Hung Bo as the star yet is, by far, the most unrelated title to the original.

Originally set to star the amazing Donnie Yen in the lead – a role he would similarly portray in Andrew Lau's Legend Of The Fist: The Return Of Chen Zhen almost 15 years later – it's only fair to say that Black Mask has become somewhat of an iconic role for superstar Jet Li. Paying homage of sorts to Bruce Lee's character of Kato in The Green Hornet (something that is actually referenced in the film itself) Jet does a fantastic job as Chui Chik, the rebellious super soldier of the deadly 701 Squad who has to learn to love again, and protect those around him that he cares for. Of course, Jet had previously worked with Tsui Hark on The Master, Swordsman 2, and the first three Once Upon A Time In China films with the pair ending their working relationship soon after. Incidentally, Black Mask would see them reunite for the first time in years, with the pair quickly going on to make the Sammo Hung directed Once Upon A Time In China & America in 1997, but it would be well over a decade later before Jet would star for Tsui again in the FX filled (although very disappointing) Flying Swords Of Dragon Gate, which would be their last to date.

In Black Mask, Jet is joined by a stellar cast of stars including the much loved and brilliant Lau Ching Wan who plays the no-nonsense cop that befriends Li's character. Of course, Lau had already been in the business a good decade and had a busy enough year in 96 with films like Tsui Hark's very own Tri-Star, Big Bullet, Muto Bontie, Beyond Hypothermia, and Viva Erotica using his services alongside this. The lovely Karen Mok, who was still fairly new although had already made a splash in films such as Chow Sing Chi's hilarious, Chinese Odyssey 1 & 2, Out Of The Dark, Fallen Angels, and Young & Dangerous 3, stars as Jet's co-worker and wanna-be love interest who soon finds herself drawn into his secret life. Canadian television actress Francoise Yip, who got her big break only the year before in Jackie Chan's Rumble In The Bronx, co-stars as another of Li's love-interests and equally deadly 701 Squad assassin, while the prolific and incredible Anthony Wong delivers another hatefully villainous role as only he can – something that audiences expected after his appearances in films such as Hard Boiled, Full Contact, The Untold Story, Taxi Hunter, and many others. In fact, Wong would prove to be one of the busiest of the production with no less than 11 films on the go in 1996, joining Lau Ching Wan in Viva Erotica and Big Bullet, as well as starring in films like Top Banana Club, Mongkok Story, Young & Dangerous 2 & 3, and his wildly entertaining Ebola Syndrome. The late Patrick Lung, who starred in Tsui Hark's Shanghai Blues just over a decade before, stars as the leader of the 701 Squad and Jet's final opponent with the pair going on to share the screen the following year in the aforementioned Once Upon A Time In China & America.

Viewers will also enjoy seeing Hong Kong stars Hung Yan Yan, Henry Fong, and Moses Chan show up throughout, and it's also worth pointing out Brit-kicker Mike Lambert's scene stealing showdown which is wonderfully choreographed and directed by the legendary Yuen Woo Ping – one of many great action moments throughout the film. He is aided by the talented Dee Dee Ku and Dion Lam who both appear or stunt double for certain stars throughout. Of course, this wasn't the first time Woo Ping and Jet Li would cross paths with the pair working together on films such as the epic Tai Chi Master, Once Upon A Time In China 2, Last Hero In China, and Fist Of Legend – later going on to team up for Ronny Yu's Fearless and the hugely underrated Forbidden Kingdom along with Jackie Chan. Here, Yuen Woo Ping delivers plenty of violent, fantastical, and brutal fight scenes that don't disappoint and clearly sealed the deal for his soon-to-follow work on the groundbreaking Matrix movies in Hollywood.

While it isn't perfect, Black Mask still stands as one of Jet's most entertaining modern action movies and a favourite for many fans the world over. Between them, Lee and Hark deliver a stylish, violent, and action packed show, and no matter what hiccups show-up throughout, one can't deny just how much fun the film really is – no matter which version you are watching - and it has never looked better than it does with this new 2K restoration from Eureka Video!

Overall: A modern classic of Hong Kong cinema, Black Mask is a hugely entertaining, violent, and fun action adventure that deserves to be seen!

Eureka Video Blu-ray Extras: 2K Restoration, 4 Versions of Black Mask, Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng (Hong Kong Version), Audio Commentary with Mike Leeder & Arne Venema (Export Version), Interviews with Mike Lambert, Andrew Heskins, and Leon Hunt, Archival Making of Featurette, Trailers

TVP Mediabook Blu-ray Extras: Audio Commentary, 4 Versions of Black Mask, Making of Featurette, Alternative Credits, Music Video, Trailers, Easter Egg

Universe DVD Extras: Star Bio's, Trailers

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BLADE OF THE 47 RONIN

(USA 2022) 

Directed by Ron Yuan Produced by Tim Kwok, Ron Yuan Action by James Newman, Zack Roberts Starring: Mark Dacascos, Anna Akana, Teresa Ting, Mike Moh, Dustin Nguyen, Chris Pang, Dan Southworth, Nino Furuhata, Chikako Fukuyama Reviewing: Private Screening from Dazzler Media Genres: Martial-arts / Fantasy / Drama

Rating - 3.5 / 5

Synopsis: An evil witch named Yurei, whose ancestor was slain by one of the 47 Ronin, has surfaced in modern day Budapest determined to have his revenge. Yurei seeks to completely destroy all samurai by uniting both halves of the powerful Tengu Sword. A prophecy claims only a descendant of the original 47 Ronin can wield the blade and defeat this great evil. The samurai are shocked when Lord Shinshiro identifies a streetwise New Yorker named Luna as the one who was prophesied. He charges ronin Reo and apprentice Onami with training Luna to be the hero they desperately need. With most of the samurai lords dead or missing, and a traitor hiding among them, the remaining warriors must summon all of their skills as martial arts masters to combat Yurei's mystic magic and fulfil their destiny. (107 Mins)

 

Views: Set in the beautiful city of Budapest, the crossroads between east and west where sword-wielding samurai seem to walk the streets without a problem, Blade Of The 47 Ronin plays as a belated sequel to the bigger budgeted 47 Ronin that starred Keanu Reeves. Taking place 300 years later, the film tells the tale of an evil witch named Yurei who has come to the city to seek revenge for his ancestor that was slain by one of the original 47 Ronin. But when he learns that there is one more descendant left to kill, Yurei finds himself up against the ronin and their disciples who must fight for their lives in order to stop the warrior witch!

 

Popular bit-player and voice actor Ron Yuan does a fine job in directing Blade Of The 47 Ronin. Younger brother to the equally talented and popular Roger Yuan – known for his roles in films such as Once Upon A Time In China & America, Shanghai Noon, Bulletproof Monk, and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny, to name but a few – Ron started life in the industry back in the early 90s with roles in American martial-arts movies such as Don Wilson's Ring Of Fire 1 & 2, Vanishing Son 3 & 4, Double Dragon alongside his big brother and star Mark Dacascos, White Tiger with Gary Daniels, and a brief role in Andy Lau's underrated Ringo Lam film, The Adventurers. Over the years, Ron has went onto gain almost 170 credits to his name including appearances on numerous television shows and countless voice work. 2009 would see him direct a few short films, with his first feature-length gig coming in ten years later with the chance to direct Step Up China – a spin-off from the popular Step Up dance movies. While it wasn't as well received as he had hoped, it certainly didn't out him off and it's clear that a genre movie such as Blade Of The 47 Ronin is best suited to the man. As a director of 7 independent feature films, I have a soft spot for indie film productions, no matter what the budget, and have a great respect for what Ron Yuan and his team have done here – with their strengths definitely showing in the final third of the film...

 

Ron manages to pull together a half-decent cast for this martial-arts adventure, with the wonderful Mark Dacascos proving to be the biggest name of them all. I've long be a huge fan of this handsome and hugely underrated star from his early days in American Samurai, Only The Strong, and Double Dragon, to his greatest moments in Crying Freeman, Brotherhood Of The Wolf, and Steve Wang's incredible Drive, and have always championed him and his work in the cinematic world. Hot off the success of John Wick 3 and Wu Assassins, Yuan made a good move in getting Mark on-board which will hopefully help bring a bigger audience to this fun action flick. The brilliant Dan Southworth, who I first saw in the fun U.S. Seals 2, stars as the witch known as Yurei and although he doesn't really get to bust a move until the final showdown, the wait was definitely worth it. Of course, many would probably recognise Dan more-so for his role as Eric Myers, the Quantum Ranger, in Power Rangers Time Force. Joining him is another former Power Ranger, the handsome Yoshi Sudarso, who played Koda the Blue Dino Charge Ranger. In the run up to this production, Yoshi also appeared in the popular independent martial-arts film Paper Tigers and Brad Pitt's Bullet Train, as well as many fun fight filled shorts. Popular Vietnamese actor Dustin Nguyen, who has crossed paths with the director a number of times over the years, does a great job as Nikko and impresses once again in the action department. Chris Pang, from films such as Fist Of The Dragon, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny, and Crazy Rich Asians, joins the team as does the charismatic Mike Moh who had his start in Jackie Chan's Rob-B-Hood, as well as impressing as Ryu in the Streetfighter web-movies and again as Bruce Lee in Tarantino's Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.

 

If there was one thing I really didn't enjoy about the film, it was the decision to put a gang of young girls as the main focus – played by the likes of Anna Akana, Teresa Ting, Chikako Fukuyama, and Luna Fujimoto. While they weren't awful for the most part and did a great job in the action department, I just felt that they took the film in a totally different direction – making Blade Of The 47 Ronin feel more like an episode of Warrior Nun rather than Wu Assassins at times. But there was still definitely enough to love about it from its slick cinematography, nice lighting, and fun score – as well as the decent editing delivered by a certain Chuck Norris (although not the same Chuck Norris you're thinking of). While its production design, corny script, and modern direction definitely put this as far removed from the aforementioned hugely-underrated Hollywood remake as possible, it's fair to say that Blade Of The 47 Ronin is still very much a Netflix-style comic book movie. And although it won't appeal to everyone, fight fans will enjoy the wide range of martial-arts action on offer, directed by Zack Roberts, James Newman, and the brilliant Dan Southworth himself. While it focuses mainly on the swordplay side of things, the team deliver plenty of well-designed battles that still allows those with the ability to move, the chance to show-off their true skills which really made the movie for me. Blade Of The 47 Ronin gets its UK release on April 24th from Dazzler Media!

 

Overall: Action packed and well made with a solid second half, Blade Of The 47 Ronin will keep fight fans happy and is worth checking out!

Buy your copy HERE

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THE BLUE JEAN MONSTER

(Hong Kong 1991) 

Original Title: Jeuk Ngau Jai Foo Dik Jung Kwai 著牛仔褲的鍾馗 (aka) Monster Wore Jeans

Directed by Ivan Lai Produced by Johnathan Chow, Chua Lam Action by Paul Wong, Philip Kwok, Bruce Law Starring: Shing Fui On, Pauline Wong, Goria Yip, Tse Wai Kit, Kunimura Jun, Amy Yip, Peter Lai, Amy Wu, Carol Lee, Lo Hung, Mama Hung Reviewing: 88 Films UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Action / Horror / Comedy

Rating - 4 / 5

88 Films Blu-ray Synopsis: After a brave Hong Kong lawman is killed in a shootout, his body is reanimated by a Frankenstein style bolt of lightning. Provided he gets ‘Crank’-style regular jolts of electricity, he continues to fight crime as an invulnerable zombie cop… Perennial Cantonese movie tough guy Shing Fui-on (‘The Killer’) gets a lead of his own in this Hong Kong version of ‘Dead Heat’, with a supporting cast including Gloria Yip (‘The Story of Ricky’) and Pauline Wong (‘Mr. Vampire’). ‘The Blue Jean Monster’ blends gross out horror, comedy and action in a unique Hong Kong take on the cinematic undead! (96 Mins)

Fortune Star Legendary Collection VCD Synopsis: Joe, a police officer, has a happy life with his wife, who's pregnant. But one day when he gets a tip that a bank is about to be robbed, he rushes to it but killed. The hostage Gucci then holds the loot. Joe becomes a vampire when a black cat jumps on his body and he is hit by lightning. Not until he is sent to the hospital when he passed out, does he notice he's dead and needs electric recharge to be alive. In order to keep his wife from being sad, he doesn't tell her the truth. Even when his best friend Fung and Gucci find it out, he asks them to keep in secret. To get back the loot, the robbers seize both Gucci and Joe's wife, forcing Joe to bring the loot to exchange them. Along with Fung, Joe goes to rescue Gucci and his wife, while his wife delivers a baby. After a severe fight against the robbers, Joe finally wins but drops down as he runs out of his electric power. (96 Mins) 

Views: Arriving on screens over 30 years ago, The Blue Jean Monster proves to be something of a rarity from the golden days of Hong Kong cinema giving fans the chance to see the late-great Shing Fui On as the heroic leading man. Holding it's place as having one of the oddest titles of any Hong Kong movie, The Blue Jean Monster blends gross-out horror with daft comedy and solid action sequences, and tells the story of a cop who gets gunned down and crushed after a shoot-out with some serious gangsters. But when he is magically brought back to life during a lightning storm, albeit with new monstrous abilities and a little help from a cat, Shing sets out to seek revenge on those who took him down while trying to figure out if he's still human or not, and stick around long enough to see the birth of his first child! Offering elements of Dead Heat, Robocop, Frankenstein, and even Crank to some degree, The Blue Jean Monster was the second directorial effort by the often forgotten Ivan Lai after Danny Lee's Thank You Sir. From here, Lai would go on to direct Erotic Ghost Story 3, Daughter Of Darkness 1 & 2, Ancient Chinese Whorehouse, The Imp, King Of Debt Collecting Agent, and Troublesome Night 9, among others with Yuen Biao's poorly received Boxer's Story being his last. Loved by many, this wild Hong Kong flick has garnered somewhat of a cult following since its release, making over 2.5 million HKD in its opening week, and still proving to be as entertaining today as it was over 30 years ago – finding a new lease of life and HD restoration via this Blu-ray release from 88 Films...

Known as Big Silly Head to many, Shing Fui On was unusually tall by Chinese standards which helped him to come across even more intimidating in many of his roles as a villain. Although he worked as an extra at the Shaw Brothers studio from his mid-teens, Shing would make his debut in Lo Wei's Back Alley Princess in the late 70s. From there, the likeable and hugely enjoyable actor went onto star in almost 240 films before his death in 2007 at the age of 54 due to cancer, flexing his acting chops between hardcore gangster thrillers to romcoms, and martial arts epics to nonsensical comedies. It would be fair to say that fans would always take notice when Shing appeared on screen, catching him in hit films such as A Better Tomorrow, Legacy Of Rage, Rich & Famous, Prison On Fire, Dragons Forever, Tiger On The Beat, Just Heroes, God Of Gamblers, An Eternal Combat, Ebola Syndrome, A Rascal's Tale and so much more – working with Ivan Lai on a number of his other aforementioned titles. As one of the busiest men in the business at that time, it's worth noting that The Blue Jean Monster was only one of 22 films he would star in that year alongside films such as Angel Force, An Eternal Combat, My Flying Wife, Red Shield, Queen Of The Underworld, and A Rascal's Tale to name but a few. Here, as the titular character of the show, Shing is a joy to watch as the tough cop with a heart who only wants to please his pregnant wife, yet often finds himself in unfortunate situations as well as having to deal with his new-found powers while trying to find the very men that took him down.

Shing is joined by a fun cast of co-stars including the wonderful Pauline Wong as his wife Chu, delivering another great performance that eventually sees her pulled into the action that sends her into labor. Although she returned to the scene in 2011 for a role in The Fortune Buddies, Wong would initially spent a decade in the business, sharing the screen with her co-star a number of times and going on to star in almost 40 movies including Philip Chan's dark thriller Night Caller followed by an award winning role in Love With The Perfect Stranger, Rich & Famous 1 & 2, Spiritual Love, Long Arm Of The Law 2, The Spooky Family, and The Peacock King which would see her star alongside the beautiful Gloria Yip – who also joins her here again as the mischievous Gucci. Although she had only been on the scene for a few years already, Yip had already gained quite a following having starred in the aforementioned Peacock King and its sequel Saga Of The Phoenix, as well as Michael Hui's Chicken & Duck Talk, Jackie Chan's Miracles, and others. While still going today, her filmography is certainly not as vast as most Hong Kong stars of the same era with Yip going on to star in films such as Saiviour Of The Soul, Story Of Ricky, The Cat, Pink Bomb, Flying Dagger, and The Gods Must Be Funny In China – returning to work with director Ivan Lai one more time in the aforementioned Boxer's Story alongside Yuen Biao.

The underrated Tse Wai Kit, who had also starred alongside Shing in Thank You Sir, Don't Fool Me, and the fantastic triad drama A Rascal's Tale, co-stars as the oddly named Power Steering – a muse of Shing's character whose cheekiness often causes problems between the married couple when he moves in and eventually hitches up with Gloria. Making his debut only a few years earlier in Lawrence Lau's Gangs and Ringo Lam's highly praised School On Fire, Tse went on to carve a career over the next ten years often cast as a comedic punk or small time triad in films such as A Moment Of Romance 1 & 2, Against All, Fight Back To School, Gangs '92, Mad Mad Ghost, Madam City Hunter, and others. Prolific Japanese actor Kunimura Jun, star of over 200 titles including hit films such as The Wailing, Kill Bill, Kate, Black Rain, Hard Boiled, Ichi The Killer, Treasure Hunt, and Godzilla Final Wars – appears as the relentless gang boss who initially puts a bullet in Shing, then later kidnaps his wife to torture while she births their child. While this would be his second Hong Kong movie in 1991 alongside Au Revoir Mon Amour, Jun would go on to star alongside Chow Yun Fat in Hard Boiled and Treasure Hunt, as well as other Hong Kong titles such as Somebody Up There Likes Me, Colour Of Pain, John Woo's poorly received Manhunt, and The Incredible Truth for Sam Leong who, incidentally, would work as the assistant director here on The Blue Jean Monster. While a host of other recognisable faces grace the screen throughout the story, viewers will no doubt relish in seeing the busty Amy Yip cameo as Death Rays – the jovial sex worker who really gets to milk her role.

Presented by the prolific Chua Lam and produced by Jonathan Chow under the Golden Harvest banner, the duo behind films such as the Erotic Ghost Story Trilogy and Story Of Ricky among many others, The Blue Jean Monster may well be remembered for its wilder moments of gross humour and shocking monster madness, but it also benefits from some great moments of action courtesy of action choreographers Paul Wong, from the Jackie Chan Stunt Team, and Shaw Brothers legend Philip Kwok. Car stunt supremo Bruce Law provides the car chase and vehicle action, while the talented Ridley Tsui and Kong Long both assist. Between them, the team create a host of exciting shoot-outs, car chases, and more that oozes the the Hong Kong action of yesteryear and is sure to keep even the most die hard fans happy with what's on offer. And while it'll never be rated as one of the greatest, it's fair to say that The Blue Jean Monster is a hugely enjoyable rarity that sums up just what made Hong Kong cinema so interesting to many!

Overall: Hilariously gross and wonderfully entertaining, The Blue Jean Monster is a lot of fun and a great showcase for its late star, Shing Fui On!

 

88 Films Blu-ray Extras: Interview with Sam Leong, Trailer

Get your copy HERE

Watch my unboxing video for the 88 Films Blu-ray release HERE

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BODYGUARD KIBA 1 & 2

(Japan 1973) 

Original Title: Bodigado Kiba / Bodigado Kiba: Hissatsu Sankaku Tobi ボディガード牙 (aka) The Bodyguard; Karate Kiba; Viva Chiba! The Bodyguard

Directed by Ryuichi Takamori Produced by Toei Action by Sonny Chiba Starring: Sonny Chiba, Yayoi Watanabe, Mas Oyama, Eiji Go, Hideo Murota, Masashi Ishibashi, Sue Shiomi Reviewing: Eureka Video UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Martial Arts / Action / Thriller

Rating - 3.3 / 5

Eureka Video UK Blu-ray Synopsis: A double bill of Japanese martial arts mayhem starring action superstar Sonny Chiba! Based upon the manga by celebrated writer Ikki Kajiwara, Bodyguard Kiba follows the eponymous karate master and professional bodyguard (Chiba) as he is hired to protect the mysterious Reiko (Mari Atsumi), a woman embroiled in the world of organised crime. Kiba’s involvement with Reiko brings him into conflict with the yakuza, leading to a final bloody showdown. Then, in Bodyguard Kiba 2, Kiba is released from prison after taking revenge on the rival martial artists who blinded his sister Maki (Etsuko Shihomi). Back on the streets, he takes a job working for shady nightclub owner Akamatsu (Shoki Fukae), once again forcing him to take on Japan’s criminal underworld. Two riotously entertaining tales of betrayal and bloodshed from director Ryuichi Takamori, Bodyguard Kiba and Bodyguard Kiba 2 were released just a year before Sonny Chiba would find international success with his breakout hit The Street Fighter. Eureka Classics is proud to present both films for the first time ever in the UK from new restorations. (176 Mins)

 

Vintage US DVD Synopsis (The Bodyguard): Karate master and anti-drug vigilante Chiba returns to Japan, where he holds a press conference announcing his intention to wipe out the nation's drug industry. He also offers his services as a bodyguard to anyone willing to come forward and provide information about the drug lord's activities. He is approached by a mysterious woman claiming to have important information and asking for Chiba's protection. She seems to be legitimate, but is she really what she appears to be? (88 Mins)

 

Views: Also known as The Bodyguard, Kiba The Bodyguard, Karate Kiba and Viva Chiba! The Bodyguard, action-thriller Bodyguard Kiba was released just 7 or 8 months before his famed Street Fighter movie – although still holds its own as a Chiba classic that's still worth seeing. Based on a manga strip by Ikki Kajiwara, the first Bodyguard Kiba stars the great-late Sonny Chiba as Kiba, a karate fighter who sets out to take on the mob and land a deadly blow to any drug dealer that crosses his path. To do so, Kiba becomes a bodyguard and a law unto himself and soon finds himself working for a mysterious woman who may be even more involved with the very people he intends to bring down!

 

While it has never been hailed as one of Chiba's finer moments, the film still stands as an important stepping stone for the star – and more-so it's sequel – towards the aforementioned Street Fighter cult classic that went onto make Sonny Chiba a household name with martial-arts movie fans around the world. That success, in turn, would then see Bodyguard Kiba gain a US release under the title of The Bodyguard in 1976 – delivering a version that would see a new opening with martial-arts actors Bill Louie and Aaron Banks, as well as feature a new quotation that would later be reworked for Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. The US edit would also have some scenes removed that had appeared in the original Japanese version.

 

While neither version is particularly better than the other, with the Japanese version offering a bit more context on karate and Sonny Chiba's real-life master Masutatsu Oyama and the US version stripping it back and reworking Chiba's character to play himself as Sonny Chiba the crime-fighting actor, both still deliver the same ultra-violent action and fight scenes combined with plenty of unintentional laughs, comic book style cinematography, and choppy editing. This would be down to director Ryuichi Takamori who had been working with Chiba for the past number of years on films such as the Game Of Chance Trilogy, Tale Of Kawachi Chivalry, North Sea Chivalry, The Assassin, Yakuza Deka 1 & 2, Yakuza Wolf, and others before directing Bodyguard Kiba and it's slightly better sequel, also known as Karate Killer, later the same year.

 

In Bodyguard Kiba 2, the film picks up where the first left off and sees Chiba having fell from grace and imprisoned for his crimes. Once out, Chiba begins working as a bodyguard once again – this time at a nightclub that is over-run with the very gangsters he was once against, eventually adding vengeance to his mission to find those who blinded his sister. Although he quite obviously plays the titular character once again, Chiba often comes across as a secondary player until things come together in a violently satisfying climax.

 

This time, Chiba is joined by the wonderful Sue Etsuko Shiomi making her debut role in a feature film as Sonny's kick-ass little sister. Self confessed Chiba fangirl and graduate of his Action School, Shiomi was only 17 when she appeared here, going on to become an action star in her own right with the fantastic Sister Street Fighter series and sharing the screen with Chiba many times over the next decade in both the aforementioned Sister Street Fighter and Street Fighter films, Shadow Warriors, Legend Of The Eight Samurai, Roaring Fire, and more – eventually retiring from the industry far earlier than fans wanted. Fan favourite and Chiba's own karate senior, Masashi Ishibashi, also makes his debut as the antagonist of the piece, quickly going onto star alongside Chiba once again in The Street Fighter the following year where he would impress as an actor, martial artist and choreographer – following that with an appearance in its sequel Return Of The Street Fighter as well as films like Sister Street Fighter, Karate Bullfighter, Sister Street Fighter: Hanging By A Thread, Dragon Princess, Return Of The Sister Street Fighter, Shadow Warriors, Roaring Fire, and many more.

 

While the highly proclaimed Takashi Miike would later release 3 new Kiba films around the start of his career in the early to mid-90s, it's fair to say that they definitely highlight a very different tone to that of the originals. And although Bodyguard Kiba 1 & 2 have been hailed by many critics as enjoyable but forgettable time-wasters, true Chiba fans will still find something to love about both chapters and relish these roles of the late action star for many years to come and have never looked better thanks to these new restorations from Eureka Video!

 

Overall: These pre-Street Fighter action roles of the beloved action star may not be perfect, but Bodyguard Kiba 1 & 2 both entertain and are worth catching once!

 

Eureka Video Blu-ray Extras: Audio Commentary with Mike Leeder & Arne Venema, The Bodyguard US Version, Interview with Kenji Tanigaki, Interview with Tom Mes & Jasper Sharp, Trailers

Watch my unboxing video for this Eureka Video release HERE

Get your copy HERE

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BORN TO FLY

(China 2023) 

Original Title: Chang Kong Zhi Wang

 

Directed by Liu Xiaoshi Produced by Han Han Starring: Wang Yibo, Hu Jun, Zhou Dong Yu, Yu Yosh, Bu Yu, Zhai Yujia, Wang Zichen, Lu Xin Reviewing: Cineasia Private Screening Genres: Action / Drama / Military

Rating - 4 / 5

Synopsis: Lei Yu and a group of elite aviators undergo rigorous training to be recognised as official test pilots. Led by the experienced Commander Zhang, they are tasked with testing the latest fighter jets. As they soar to new heights, the unexpected happens when the engine fails and catches fire, causing the aircraft to spiral out of control. Despite facing near-death situations repeatedly, they persevere and gather crucial data under extreme circumstances. However, with the deadline for delivery of the fighter jet quickly approaching, their challenges become increasingly difficult. Will they be able to triumph over adversity and successfully complete their mission? With breath-taking aerial sequences and high-stakes action, Born to Fly is an adrenaline fuelled ride that showcases the unwavering determination and bravery of test pilots. (128 Mins)

 

Views: Hailed as China's answer to Top Gun, and more-so it's recent sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, Born To Fly is an exciting and lengthy feature that should please any fan of the military genre and anyone who just enjoys a decent movie. The handsome singer Wang Yibo, from the television show The Untamed and spy-thriller Hidden Blade alongside Tony Leung, stars as Yu Lei – one of the newest recruits to join a team of elite pilots in the Chinese Air Force who are tasked with testing out new fighter jets. In between dealing with the dramas of their own lives, each of the cadets and their commander must push themselves and their hi-tec vehicles to the highest limits, challenging each other and the elements while risking their lives in order to protect the country!

 

Although this kind of movie isn't really my thing, I still found myself enjoying Born To Fly more than I expected. Although many will criticise its political agenda, which is hard to ignore given the current state of the world's affairs, Born To Fly is no less patriotic than any of the military themed movies from Tinsel-town. The opening 10 minutes alone offers a hugely impressive and exciting sky-high dog fight that would equal that of the closing battle from most other films in the same genre and really sets the tone for the audience in what to expect throughout its 2 hour running time. Packed with stunning visuals and hugely impressive CGI, I would say that anyone lucky enough to catch this on the big screen would definitely have had a much better time as it offers plenty of wow moments that rival that of the aforementioned Hollywood movies, backed by some strong sound design and cockpit drama that really pulls you in. Wang Yibo does a great job as the leading star of the movie, backed by the strength of prolific actor Hu Jun – recognisable for his roles in films such as Infernal Affairs 2, Assembly, Red Cliff 1 & 2, Firestorm, Shadow, The Battle At Lake Changjin 1 & 2, and many more. Jun plays commander Zhang, and impresses once again with his strong on-screen performance...

 

Seemingly the first film of writer/director Liu Xiaoshi, who does an amazing job for his debut, Born To Fly offers a great blend of pure adrenaline with some genuinely emotional moments placed throughout. I was surprised to hear that the film had initially been shelved upon completion, and with no real explanation as to why, but it's clear to see that the production has proven to be a massive hit with audiences around the world and may even encourage a sequel or two. I was also surprised to find that, over the end credits, we had the chance to hear some real recordings of final messages from Chinese test pilots who were about to meet their end – some of which were worked into the actual film, respectively. It definitely let the audience see the true dangers of being a test pilot and the risks involved; even with the unexpected ones, such as a flock of birds which really helped create a truly shocking moment in the movie that had me on the edge of my seat. One of the other main attractions for me was the gorgeous cinematography that was captured by Bai Yuxia, the very same DOP behind the underrated 2019 film, Pegasus, which was directed by Han Han who produced this epic. For the most of its running time, Bai delivers some incredible visuals that certainly leave an impression and help make Born To Fly a little more epic on many levels. Filled with handsome men, gripping action scenes, and just enough drama without going over the top, Born To Fly challenges the very best that Hollywood has to offer and is a genuinely well made and entertaining movie that's well worth seeing. Released on selected screens across the UK and Ireland, courtesy of Trinity Cineasia, Born To Fly will be getting its Blu-ray, DVD and digital release later this year.

 

Overall: Visually stunning, emotional, and packed with some impressive flight sequences, Born To Fly is another thrilling piece of Chinese cinema that entertains!

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THE BOXER FROM SHANTUNG

(Hong Kong 1972) 

Original Title: Ma Yong Zhen 馬永貞 (aka) The Killer From Shantung

Directed by Chang Cheh, Pao Hsueh Li Produced by Runme Shaw Action by Lau K. Leung, Lau K. Wing, Tong Gai, Chan Chuen Starring: Chen Kuan Tai, Ching Li, David Chiang, Tien Ching, Ku Feng, Chiang Nan, Feng I, Cheng Kang Yeh, Chen Hao Reviewing: Arrow Video Shaw Scope Blu-ray Release Genres: Martial Arts / Drama

Rating - 5 / 5

Arrow Video Blu-ray Synopsis (Book): Ma Yongzhen, a modest young patriot, leaves Shantung to seek his fortune in Shanghai. On arrival he is befriended by Xiao Jiangbei. When the two are involved in a fight, underworld leader Tan Si sees and notes Ma's fighting techniques and tries to entice him into evil ways. Though impressed, Ma is sceptical, but soon, in another fight, he sides with Tan Si's men against gangster Yang Shuang's thugs. When he hears that a foreign wrestler is challenging the public to floor him, Ma decides to try his luck. He defeats the wrestler and angers Yang Shuang. A fight starts, and Ma routs the thugs and collects his winnings. Later he incurs the displeasure of his girlfriend, Jin Lingzi when he gains more territory and his reputation as a boxer increases. The feud between Yang Shuang and Tan Si continues, and Tan is murdered by Yang's men. Ma plans to avenge his death, but Yang is aware of this and lures the unsuspecting Ma into a trap, where he is fatally wounded by Yang's thugs. Ma kills Yang before he himself dies, and his dreams of fortune in Shanghai are ended. Saddened by the death of their friend, both Xiao Jiangbei and Jin Lingzi leave Shanghai. (134 Mins)

Views: Loosely based on the story of the real Ma Yong Zhen, The Boxer From Shantung shifts its settings forward a century to a time when China's warlords were wreaking havoc across the land. The incredible Chen Kuan Tai solidifies his place as a leading man in the role of Ma, lighting-up the screen with his strong performance and energetic martial arts that gives fans one of Cheh's more epic pieces. It was evident to see that Chen knew just how much of an impact he made as Ma, as he went on to reinvent the story for his 4th directorial piece in 1979 with Big Boss Of Shanghai – a film which is actually just as exciting. Interestingly enough, both films were penned by prolific screen-writer Ni Kuang, a jman who made his debut in 1967 with the Chang Cheh directed classic, One-Armed Swordsman. By the time this film had come about, Kuang had written over 20 films – most of which were for the Shaw Brothers studio, and many that were for director Chang Cheh including Have Sword Will Travel, Vengeance, The Heroic Ones, The New One-Armed Swordsman, The Deadly Duo, and The Angry Guest. As well as a few small roles in Hong Kong movies over the years, Ni Kuang has proven to be one of the industries most successful writers with over 300 published novels and 400 films scripts completed over a few decades, and has delivered the scripts for some of the greatest Hong Kong movies since the late 60s...

In a classic rags-to-riches story, Ma Yong Zhen arrives in town with his good friend Xiao where he soon finds himself caught-up in a turf war between warring gangs, the Tans and the Yangs. Although he is seen as a bum, Ma quickly makes a name for himself thanks to his cool attitude and strong martial arts abilities. While respected by Tan Si, Ma finds himself constantly harassed and attacked by the Yang clan – more famously known about town as the Axe Gang – although proves to handle himself well enough. But as Ma climbs the ranks and makes a name for himself, master Yang conspires with his men to get rid of master Tan and entrap Ma so they can bring him down once and for all. It all boils down to a violent and bloody 20 minute finale that sees the lone warrior taking on hundreds of men single-handedly with an axe lodged in his stomach, and hardly a single piece of furniture left intact!

Due to the great success of The Boxer From Shantung, there were many sequels released soon after – although none of which were truly official in the sense. The first would be Man Of Iron (released in the US as Warrior Of Steel) which would be directed once again by Chang Cheh and Pao Hsueh Li. The film opens with a narration of what happened in Boxer From Shantung, although it actually takes place 20 years later with Chen playing a different character this time, as do the majority of the main cast who also returned. An unofficial sequel of sorts was made the same year that saw the wonderful Judy Lee in her debut role in the brilliant Queen Boxer (aka The Avenger). Here, she plays the sister of Ma who comes to town to avenge his death and takes on the deadly Axe Gang in an equally brutal finale. A similar film was made in 1973 called The Sister Of The Shantung Boxer, that saw King Boxer co-star Wang Ping play Ma's sister. Both films would be made independently along with another title called Queen Of Fist, a story that tells the tale of Ma's mother and siblings seeking revenge for his death – known more famously as Kung Fu Mama. There have no doubt been more iterations of the film and other spin-off titles made over the years, with the renowned Axe Gang showing up in numerous titles over the years including Jackie Chan's Drunken Master 2 and Chow Sing Chi's Kung Fu Hustle.

It was also interesting to note that The Boxer From Shantung was supported by two assistant directors, who each went on to become major names of Hong Kong cinema themselves. These guys were John Woo and Godfrey Ho, both of whom became renowned for their own different styles and contributions to the film world in the decades to follow. The film also benefited from having no less than 4 of the Shaw Brothers top fight choreographers with Lau Kar Leung, Lau Kar Wing, Tong Gai, and Chan Chuen. Of course, these guys had already been working together for some time on many Shaw Brothers movies as action-directors, but had been involved in the business for many years before. Tong was a martial arts student of Yuen Woo Ping's father, the late Simon Yuen Hsiao Tieng, and started his career as an actor in the mid-50s before going on to star in over 130 films through to the late 90s. He made his debut as a choreographer in 1962's The Flaming Mountain going-on to work as the action-director of almost 200 films through to the early 90s, with Tsui Hark's Green Snake being his final project. Tong also directed a few of his own titles for Shaw Brothers in 1983 and 84 such as Shaolin Prince, Shaolin Intruders, and the awesome Opium & The Kung Fu Master. Lau Kar Leung started on a similar path as Tong, although began his role as a martial-arts director at the same time and went onto star in well over 200 films, choreograph over 170, and become one of the most famous Hong Kong directors of his time with titles such as 36th Chamber Of Shaolin to 8 Diagram Pole Fighter, and Tiger On The Beat to Drunken Master 2 delivering some of his finest moments. Leung passed in 2013 at 77 years of age, due to cancer. Lau Kar Wing joined the industry a decade later and quickly followed in his big brothers footsteps in every department, starring alongside him in many classic titles and directing hit films such as Odd Couple, Treasure Hunters, The Dragon Family, and the fantastic Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon with his good friend Sammo Hung. And last but not least, actor Chan Chuen started with the Shaw Brothers in the late 60s and made his debut as a martial-arts director on Wu Ma's The Protectors in 1971. The same year would see him team-up with Kar Wing on The Swift Knight and The Oath Of Death, before everyone came together on this the following year. Later that decade, Chan would make his debut as a director with the fun Kung Fu Vs Yoga, going on to deliver films like Two Fists Against The Law, Energetic 21, Fearless Hyena 2, and Friendly Ghost. Between the four of them, fans get to enjoy a host of exciting fight scenes throughout The Boxer From Shantung – with the choreography getting stronger and better as the film rolls along. Of course, the best of it comes during the grand finale as Ma takes on a small army of gang members and uses everything (and anything) around him as a weapon. It's a brutal and bloody battle, and one of my favourite closing scenes of any kung-fu movie!

As mentioned, Chen Kuan Tai is just brilliant as Ma Yong Zhen, the heroic boxer who lets no-one walk over him. As one of the Shaw Brothers first real, true martial-arts trained actors, Chen started of as a bit-player before getting his big break with The Boxer From Shantung. Around the same time, he tried his hand as both a producer and fight choreographer on films like The Crazy Instructor, Cold Blade, The Chase, and Invincible Iron Palm. As the roles came flooding in after the success of The Boxer From Shantung, Chen soon got round to making his directorial debut with The Simple Minded Fellow – a comedy starring James Yi Lui and Dean Shek – but it would be his second film as a director that would anger the bosses back at Shaw Brothers, with Iron Monkey proving to be quite the hit. Chen's next directional effort was Invincible Monkey Fist, that saw him star alongside the brilliant Billy Chong as well as starring in Tough Guy – a loose sequel to his Iron Monkey feature also known as Iron Monkey Strikes Back. To settle things with his old bosses, Chen agreed to return to the studios for a role in Crippled Avengers and continued to jump between his independent titles and Shaw Brothers to deliver films such as the fantastic Shaolin Kingboxer (aka Iron Fists), Killer Constable, The Master, his aforementioned Big Boss From Shanghai, and many more. To date, Kuan Tai has starred in over 160 features – even appearing in modern hits such as Derek Kwok's Gallants, 14 Blades, Dragon Tiger Gate, 7 Assassins, Once Upon A Time In Shanghai, and more. The wonderful Alan Cheng Kang Yeh, who is probably more recognisable to fans of Hong Kong cinema for his roles in Jackie Chan's Young Master and Dragon Lord, stars as Ma's best friend and loyal man-at-arms. Cheng made his debut with Shaw Brothers in The Dancing Millionairess in1964, before going onto have a lengthy career appearing in many of their greatest titles – and quite a few that were alongside Chen Kuan Tai. David Chiang stars in an extended cameo (of sorts) as Boss Tan Si, the good natured gang boss that appreciates Ma for who he is, with the two soon becoming friends further down the line. While I enjoyed him in the role, I did feel that he was only cast here as a back-up name to help sell some tickets – just in case Kuan Tai wasn't enough to draw a crowd. After all, Chiang was one of the studio's most bankable stars and had already been acting for a good 20 years (albeit from the age of 5), but Chen was most definitely the star of the show. Prolific actor Chiang Nan stars as Boss Yang, the twisted leader of the Axe Gang which also included Shaw Brothers stars Ku Feng, Fung Ngai, Tin Ching, and Wong Ching. The wonderful Fung Hak On stars as David Chiang's coachman, with Bruce Tong, Hsu Hsia, and Yuen Yat Chor staring as friends of Chen Kuan Tai also. Shaw's regulars Shum Lo, Lee Man Tai, and Mama Hung make an appearance as well as Yen Shi Kwan, Yuen Shun Yi, Danny Chow, Brandy Yuen, Philip Ko Fei, Yuen Cheung Yan, and Yuen Woo Ping who pop-up throughout as extras...

Released as part of the gorgeous Shaw Scope Vol.1 box set from Arrow Video, this full uncut version runs for a strong 2 hours and 14 minutes – the first time I have been able to see the film in its entire glory. In the past, the US release was cut by a good 30 minutes which lost many important plot points, as well as many moments of graphic violence. But the German version was initially released even shorter at 80 minutes, which is almost missing half of the film (madness!!). Personally, I believe that any true fan of kung-fu cinema should aim to see The Boxer From Shantung in its uncut glory and for those that do, you'll most certainly not be disappointed!

Overall: A classic Shaw Brothers title and one of my favourite Chen Kuan Tai films, The Boxer From Shantung is an epic piece of kung-fu cinema and well worth the watch!

Blu-ray Extras: 2K Restoration of 4K Scan, Interview with Chen Kuan Tai, Interview with Assistant Director John Woo, Conversation between Chen Kuan Tai and Ku Feng, Trailers, TV Spot, Image Gallery

Watch my unboxing video of this Arrow Video release HERE

Buy your copy HERE

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BOXER REBELLION

(Hong Kong 1976) 

Original Title: Ba Guo Lian Jun 八國聯軍 (aka) The Bloody Avengers; Spiritual Fists

Directed by Chang Cheh Produced by Runme Shaw Action by Lau Kar Leung Starring: Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan Chun, Leung Kar Yan, Jenny Tseng, Johnny Wang Lung Wei, Hu Chin, Bruce Tong, Sun Yueh, Li Li Hua, Richard Harrison, Chiang Tao, Jamie Luk, Gordon Liu, Philip Kwok, Fung Hak On, Stephen Yip Reviewing: Black Hill/Koch Media German Blu-ray Release Genres: Martial Arts / Drama / Historical

Rating - 3.7 / 5

Blu-ray Synopsis: In The Beijing Uprising, the godfather of kung fu film, Chang Cheh, tells a lavishly staged war story of disappointment and revenge with the help of the internationally acclaimed cast around Alexander Fu Sheng and Wang Lung Wei. The Boxer Rebellion was one of the most incredible events in China in long history. Angered by the interference of Western powers in their country, the masses trust the rioters' claims that they have developed bulletproof kung fu. The reality of firearms is catching up with them. There is a mass murder of the Boxer revolutionaries. Although Beijing will soon be occupied, the heroes do not give up... (143 Mins)

 

Views: Chang Cheh's sprawling epic is a historical drama based on real events – albeit with some artistic licensing, of course. Boxer Rebellion tells the story of the uprising of Chinese nationals who fought against the the threat of foreign rule, and the forced ways of the Christian church at the turn of the 20th Century. While there is certainly less fact and more fiction for the sake of entertainment, the film still delivers a strong story at a good pace with plenty of kung-fu action, and a strong cast to back it, seeing the events right through to the flight of the Empress Dowager when she abandoned Peking for Xi'an in the summer of 1900. While the British were part of this attack on China, it seems their role here was watered down somewhat – perhaps due to the fact that Hong Kong was still under British rule when the film was made, and in turn kept the Shaw Brothers studios out of trouble – with the Germans, Americans, Russians and Japanese shown as the main villains of the piece. Although sold as a kung-fu movie Boxer Rebellion plays more like a historical docu-drama at times, with black and white photographs of the actual events popping up every so often – some of which are actually quite harrowing and mirror the on-screen violence that was typical of Chang Cheh during this period!

 

The heroes of the hour are played by Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan Chun, and Leung Kar Yan – all of whom are as impressive as each other and look great in their roles. I've often mentioned that I'm not the biggest fan of Fu Sheng's, although its fair to say that the actor was undeniably charming and a bit more athletic here than usual while delivering a memorable performance as young cheeky hero who fights for his friends and country. Although he has often been referred to as the original 'clown prince of kung-fu' before Jackie Chan owned that title, I more often than not just found him to be irritating and annoying as opposed to funny – something that Jackie could deliver naturally for the most part. Still, I can't deny that over the last year or two with more and more Shaw Brothers titles hitting Blu-ray in their restored-original versions, I am growing to like Fu Sheng more and more each day. Boxer Rebellion would be the sixth feature kung-fu star Chi Kuan Chun would co-star in with Alexander, since his debut in 1974. In only 2 years, the pair would star in Chang's classics such as Men From The Monastery, Shaolin Martial Arts, Five Shaolin Masters, Disciples Of Shaolin, Marco Polo, and this. Of course, this wouldn't be the last of them with the pair going on to star in a number of other Shaw Brothers titles before Kuan Chun broke off from the studio at the end of '77. The incredible Leung Kar Yan joined the pair when he made his debut in Cheh's brilliant Shaolin Martial Arts, quickly following that with a role in Five Shaolin Masters and Marco Polo before going down a similar path to Chi Kuan Chun. As luck would have it, and only a couple of years later, Leung would have the privilege of joining Sammo Hung in a number of his productions where he would quickly excel to become one of kung-fu cinemas most recognisable faces. While the latter doesn't get to hang around for the grand finale, each of the stars get the chance to show off some fantastic kung-fu skills and all look great doing it. The brilliant Johnny Wang Lung Wei plays one of the main villains of the piece, who tricks his army of followers into believing that they have bulletproof skin – a gimmick seen in many Hong Kong movies over the years from Legendary Weapons Of China to Once Upon A Time In China 2. In essence, his character is just a coward and often takes credit for kills that were down by others; eventually proving his worth when he has to go up against Chi Kuan Chun towards the end. Another notable villain is that of General Waldersee who is played by Richard Harrison, the infamous IFD Films ninja and star of many 70s Italian sword and sandals movies. While he doesn't have as huge a part here like he would in the Godfrey Ho movies, he still makes an impression as the German general and gets to trade a few moves with Chi Kuan Chun and Fu Sheng in a short bout. Eagle-eyed fans should also keep an eye out for popular Venom, Philip Ko, who appears in a couple of minor roles throughout along with a young Gordon Liu, Jamie Luk, Chiang Tao, Stephen Yip, Fung Hak On, and Bruce Tong Yim Chan who gets a bit more to do before he faces-off against a red-hot Gatling gun.

 

The lively action scenes are handled by the legendary Lau Kar Leung, the who went onto take control of the Shaw Brothers studios after bringing Chang Cheh back down to earth with a bump. Lau had been directing the action for Chang since the mid 60s (often alongside Tong Gaai) and Boxer Rebellion would be his last. Having made his impressive directional debut just the year before with The Spiritual Boxer (not to mention co-directing Breakout From Oppression with Gordon Liu in 1973), Lau Kar Leung gave his old boss something to worry about when he directed Challenge Of The Masters around the same time as choreographing this. From there, Lau went on to deliver some of Hong Kong cinemas finest ever films – directing 25 in total, choreographing over 170, and starring in well over 200 until his passing in June of 2013. Although it boasts a cast of thousands and features many grand scenes of battle, Boxer Rebellion still offers enough great kung-fu action that will keep any fan of the Shaw Brothers or old-school Hong Kong cinema, more than happy. While typically Shaw's in its look and style, the film is still one of their many enjoyable titles that manages to highlight the horrors of war and skills of it's 3 young stars...

 

Overall: Beautifully scored and typical of the Shaw Brothers studio, Boxer Rebellion is another epic from Chang Cheh that is worth the watch!

 

Blu-ray Extras: Trailers, Photo Gallery

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BRAINSMASHER A LOVE STORY

(USA 1993) 

(aka) Sam & Ed; The Bouncer & The Lady

Directed by Albert Pyun Produced by Tom Karnowski Action by Burton Richardson Starring: Andrew Dice Clay, Teri Hatcher, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Yuji Okumoto, Brion James, Tim Thomerson, Charles Rocket, Nicholas Guest, Peter Kwong, Lin Shaye, Liz Sheridan, Ralph Monaco Reviewing: Digidreams German Mediabook Blu-ray Release Genres: Action /Comedy / Romance

Rating - 3.5 / 5

Digidreams German Mediabook Blu-ray Synopsis: After Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzengger, he is now looking for his place in the ranks of the last action heroes of the present. Samantha Crain is a glamorous supermodel who has everything in life but true love. The path to that coveted life goal turns out to be unexpectedly dangerous for Samantha when she receives a package from her sister containing a rare lotus flower. According to legend, the flower's petals bestow infinite power on those who taste them. A group of powerful Shaolin monks, who follow Samantha and her involuntary gift, also believe in this. But Samantha is lucky when bouncer Ed Malloy enters her life to protect her from all dangers and to win her heart. (88 Mins)

 

UK DVD Synopsis: Sam Crain, a professional model, is asked by her sister to smuggle a package from Europe to Portland, Oregon where she discovers that her sister is battling Chinese Shaolin Monks. Fleeing the monks, Sam unwittingly draws Ed “Brainsmasher” Molloy, a nightclub bouncer into danger and he ends up rescuing Sam and her sister from the Shaolin's Ninjas. (84 Mins)

 

Medusa Pictures UK VHS Synopsis: He's Rambo, Superman and The Terminator all rolled into one magnificent, muscle-bound fighting machine. He never backs down and he eats bullies for breakfast. He's strong, he's brave, he's invincible. He's the bouncer with attitude, the toughest guy in town with a hard head and a soft heart – especially for beautiful young models in distress. He's Ed Malloy – The Brain Smasher! This raucous, outrageous action comedy stars America's hottest young comedian Andrew Dice Clay (star of 'The Adventures of Ford Fairlane') and the gorgeous Teri Hatcher (from TV's 'The New Adventures of Superman'), outwitting, outfitting and outrunning a gang of deadly Chinese ninjas in a thrill-a-minute story that will delight fans of wild adventure movies like 'Big Trouble In Little China'. Gasp in amazement as the Neanderthal Brain Smasher keeps the peace whileleaving his enemies in pieces. Laugh out loud at his feeble attempts to seduce the air-head model while trying to save the world from the ultimate weapon of destruction – a tiny red flower! The Brain Smasher... It's mind blowing. (84 Mins)

 

Views: Gifted with everything except true love, beautiful supermodel Samantha Cain receives a package from her sister – an 'Indian Jones' type of botanist who has sent a very rare lotus flower – and requests that Sam meets her with the flower in Portland, Oregon. At the same time, a group of evil Chinese Shaolin Monks (who are continuously protesting that they are not ninjas due to their choice of costume) also want to get their hands on the flower. They believe that, after eating its petals, that they will gain infinite power and immediately track Sam down to gain the lotus. But once in Portland, Sam hides out in a nightclub where she catches the attention of tough bouncer Ed Malloy – nicknamed the 'Brainsmasher' – who agrees to help her stay alive and reach her sister. But Malloy soon learns that there's a heavy price for love as he comes up against the 'ninjas' time and time again, fighting for their lives and proving why the call him the Brainsmasher!

 

I just adore Albert Pyun's insanely silly rom-com, and if there's one thing I really regret, it's having talked to him more about it when he was round for dinner. In 2012, I was lucky enough to have Albert and his wife Cynthia as guests of my event, the Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival, here in Belfast, where we got to premiere his newest film Road To Hell – which was his personal sequel to Streets Of Fire with Michael Pare. While that was an experience in itself, getting to enjoy his Q&A sessions and live-commentary of his Captain America Directors Cut, I have to admit that I more fondly remembered our time spent together talking about filmmaking – his films, my films, how we direct. I was extremely lucky to have that time with him and hear his stories, and found him to be an incredible inspiration which is why, the following year, I created the Albert Pyun Inspiration Award which we give away to one lucky filmmaker every year. Having started his film journey in Japan under the great Akira Kurasawa, Takao Saito, and Toshiro Mifune (who initially invited him), Albert has often received harsh criticism for his work, but has delivered some incredibly fun films throughout his career. These include his epic debut, The Sword & The Sorcerer, Radioactive Dreams, Dangerously Close, Captain America, Cyborg, Nemesis, Kickboxer 2 & 4, Dollman, and many more – including this, of course. While often seen as the creator of the American 'cyber-punk' genre, Albert had also been attached as the director of many incredible titles which never came to fruition such as Total Recall, He-man, Spider-man, and others. Unfortunately, only a year after we met, this amazing man was diagnosed with MS and dementia which slowly started to put a halt to his filmmaking and health – an incredibly sad end to an amazing career...

 

Before Brainsmasher: A Love Story, I had never heard of Andrew Dice Clay – nor did I rush out to find more of his work afterwards. While he most definitely suits the role of Ed Malloy, and delivers enough loud-mouthed comedy during his adventures, I can only imagine had Pyun had the budget behind him, that someone like Kurt Russell may have made this film much bigger than it actually was. But that would make sense, as Malloy is the Jack Burton of this film – and this film is, respectively, a low budget adventure in the vein of Big Trouble In Little China. Interestingly enough, the great Peter Kwong (who plays kung-fu master Rain in the aforementioned John Carpenter classic) plays one of the leading Shaolin Monk-ninjas, and does a fantastic job in the process. One of Hollywood's most popular American-Chinese actors, Kwong started in the business as a child actor before going on to star in television shows and films such as The Renegades, The Golden Child, Steele Justice, Angel Town, Ghost Rock, and Cooties. Equally, Yuji Okumoto does a great job as the head Shaolin Monk-ninja, Wu, and is a familiar face to martial-arts movie fans with roles in the likes of Albert Pyun's own Nemesis, Blast, Mean Guns, and films such as Robot Wars, American Yakuza, Bloodfist 5, Red Sun Rising, Sammo Hung's Martial Law, and more. I really enjoyed Teri Hatcher and Deborah Van Valkenburgh as the Cain sisters also. I love Valkenburgh! She's such a natural,and I've long been a fan of hers since her debut in Walter Hill's gang classic, The Warriors – one of my childhood favourites. Of course, soon after that came Streets Of Fire, another gem of a film to which Albert Pyun himself was a huge fan; hence his sequel I mentioned called Road To Hell, which saw her return. She works so well with Hatcher who plays her supermodel sister, and love interest of the Brainsmasher. The cheerleader-turned actress started life in the business as a television actress before some small film roles came calling. I'd say that her role here was probably one of her first in film as a lead actress, with the ever popular Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman making waves around the same period, making her role as Lois Lane one of her most recognised. Of course, over the years she has went on to star in a host of big titles including Seinfeld, Tomorrow Never Dies, Desperate Housewives, and the Supergirl television show. And finally, the late Brion James shows up as a fast talking detective who enjoys interrogating Hatcher until the 'ninjas' arrive. With over 170 credits to his name, James was a popular character actor who appeared in many favourites of both the small and big screen, such as Blade Runner, 48 Hours and its sequel, Flesh & Blood, Steel Dawn, Red Scorpion, and Pyun's own Nemesis, Hong Kong '97 and Spitfire, among others.

 

One thing I love about Brainsmasher: A Love Story is how it was shot; coming across like a late80s/early 90s music video for the most part (and in the most positive way). Cinematographer George Mooradian, who worked on films such as The Blues Brothers, Escape From New York, Dick Tracy, and most of Pyun's own titles, delivers a beautifully captured film enhanced by some gorgeous lighting and comic-book angles. These are even more noticeable in this German Blu-ray release is got, which allowed me to enjoy the film in its correct ratio for the first time and in full HD. Previously, I had only ever watched it via its UK release of both VHS and DVD in 4:3 ratio, so this experience was definitely the best and one I would most highly recommend. Albert's love for rock songs and live music is evident once again with a fun soundtrack and live-performance in the nightclub scene; which also sees the Chinese ninja's take-down the band members in hilarious fashion. I also think that the humour in Pyun's script was massively missed by most upon release, with a lot of its lines written and delivered like an old 1950s detective drama. But it works if you get it! In hindsight, this would have made for a fantastic remake with Jackie Chan or Sammo Hung in the mid-90s, although actually stands as Albert Pyun's most 'Hong Kong' looking movie to date with its aforementioned visuals, humour, and action. Dan Inosanto student and sifu Burton Richardson handles the fight choreography, and while it is still a far cry from the Hong Kong styled action most of us have adored for decades (although a style Albert told me he wasn't really a fan of himself in films), he still delivers a host of fun fights throughout. This would be Richardson's first job as fight-choreographer, having just came off Jeff Wincott's brilliant Mission Of Justice as a stunt-player. Burton would continue to choreograph for Pyun in Knights, Kickboxer 4, and Heatseeker, as well as other films such as Kickboxer 5: The Redemption, Fire Down Below, and Kate. In 2007, Richardson would make his starring and directorial debut in the martial-arts drama, One Percent Full – an 'American movie with a Filipino heart' as it claims, also starring Ronnie Ricketts; a popular Filipino actor/director who appeared in many Hong Kong titles for Philip Ko Fei. In Brainsmasher: A Love Story, the fights are both fun and funny, with some great acrobatics, moves and humour interlaced throughout – with one scene in particular having the gang of monks 'golf-clap' one of their men when he impresses with a tricky jump. It's all very tongue-in-cheek, but I love it and can only recommend this underrated action-comedy from Albert Pyun!

 

Overall: Played for laughs, wonderfully shot, and often hilarious, Brainsmasher: A Love Story is one of my favourite Albert Pyun movies and a lot of fun!

 

Digidreams Blu-ray Extras: Script, Press-pack, Artwork Gallery, Photo Gallery, Trailer

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BREAKING NEWS

(Hong Kong 2004) 

Original Title: Dai Si Gin 大事件

Directed by Johnnie To Produced by Johnnie To, Cao Biao Action by Yuen Bun Starring: Nick Cheung, Kelly Chen, Richie Jen, Lam Suet,, Simon Yam, Hui Siu Hung, Maggie Siu, Eddie Cheung, You Yong, Ding Hai Feng, Alan Chui, Jimmy Wong, Li Hai To, Wong Chi Wai Reviewing: Chameleon Films Australian Blu-ray Release Genres: Bullet Ballet / Thriller /Drama

Rating - 4 / 5

Chameleon Films Australian Blu-ray Synopsis: The premiere of Johnnie To's Breaking News at Cannes marks the moment when art cinema finally embraced the Hong Kong action genre. Here is a film as intelligent as it is tense as it is well-made. From the breathtaking intricacy of its seven-minute opening take, shot on location in a grungy side street in the New Territories, the complex oppositions that form Hong Kong society are subjected to ruthless scrutiny. The familiar opposition of cops and robbers (led by pop-star Richie Jen) is complicated by a further division between no-nonsense street cops (led by Nick Cheung) and the media-savvy inspector (Kelly Chen). A stake-out goes wrong and a very public shoot-out leads to an official panic. When the violent, though quietly decent bandits are run to ground in a typically cramped apartment building, it sparks a media circus. Inspector Rebecca Fong (Chen) sees the whole thing as a show, as imagery to be manipulated to her advantage, but the outlaws armed with mobile phones and an internet connection, show that two can play that game. Hong Kong may be a city where media spin is king, but To delves beneath the imagery to the gritty realities that make HK truly unique. (90 Mins)

 

Kam & Ronson Hong Kong DVD Synopsis: When an ambulatory TV news unit live broadcasts the embarrassing defeat of a police battalion by five bank robbers in a ballistic showdown, the credibility of the police force drops to a nadir. While on a separate investigation in a run-down building, detective Cheung discovers the hideout of the robbers. Cheung and his men have also entered the building, getting ready to take their foes out at any minute. Meanwhile, in order to beat the media at its own game, Inspector Rebecca decides to turn the stakeout into a breaking news show. (90 Mins)

 

Views: Johnnie To's highly entertaining crime-caper opens with a lengthy single-shot opening scene which is hugely impressive, both on a directional level and by the performances from everyone involved. Due to the technical difficulties and intricacy of movement, the camerawork may be a little shaky but its practically perfection on Johnnie To's behalf that just happens to include a beautifully orchestrated shoot-out, resulting in one of the greatest openings of any film I've ever seen. As the baddies escape in a shot-up police van, the heroic cops give chase on foot – catching the attention of a local news crew who capture the next stage of the shoot-outs. When the news report gains huge attention from the public, embarrassing the force due to their negligence and inability to protect the streets of Hong Kong, Inspector Rebecca Fong encourages her bosses to turn their capturing of the criminals into a breaking news show. But Detective Cheung, who is leading the investigation, disagrees with her plan and just wants revenge for his murdered teammates. As the cops begin their hunt, they quickly realise that all isn't going to be as smooth as they had first hoped. With unbalance in the force, hindered by the involvement of the CIA forcing their jurisdiction on the case, and a ruthless gang of criminals who are armed to the teeth and holding an apartment block to ransom, the people of Hong Kong watch in awe to witness the outcome of this ballistic showdown!

 

Once again, the fantastic Johnnie To delivers another one of his finest moments with Breaking News – a deadly game of cat-and-mouse that takes viewers on a wild tour of the city, as the police strive to track down their catch. I first saw this film soon after it was released, via a DVD import from Hong Kong, and although I had thoroughly enjoyed it back then, never really revisited it until now. Released as the first title on the new Australian distribution label, Chameleon Films, watching Breaking News on Blu-ray was just like seeing for the first time again – only better. The picture quality, the sound, the colour, everything about it just made this viewing experience so much better. I've long been a fan of the incredible Johnnie To, ever since his feature-film directorial debut of The Enigmatic Case in 1980. From then, To has continued to impress over and over again for the past 4 decades with 65 strong titles to date including classics such as The Big Heat, Casino Raiders 2, The Heroic Trio 1 & 2, The Bare-Footed Kid, A Hero Never Dies, The Mission, Fulltime Killer, Running Out Of Time 1 & 2, and so much more! No matter what the subject matter, the genre, or the story, you can be guaranteed that Johnnie To will deliver – most often than not. Breaking News came after a busy year that saw To deliver no less than 5 feature films, which included his massive hits Running On Karma and the popular police thriller, PTU. It would seem that he would slow down from here on in with only 3 productions in 2004 including this, Throwdown, and Yesterday Once More – going on to direct only 1 or 2 per year following that. Here, Johnnie's typical style of direction thrives with lingering shots, engrossing cinematography, and strong performances from all involved proving that he is more of an artist than most Hong Kong (and even Hollywood) directors in the business today.

 

In the good corner, the wonderful Nick Cheung leads the way as the vengeful detective who is intent on bringing the ruthless criminals to justice. I thought it was great to see Nick back in this territory since his feature film debut was in the 1989 Andy Lau thriller-comedy, News Attack; a similarly themed film that saw Cheung appear as a young policeman. Interestingly enough, in real-life, Nick left the Royal Hong Kong Police Force after 5 years of service, to become an actor. Since then, he has starred in almost 90 films including Against All, The Tricky Master, The Duel, The Conmen In Vegas, the Election Trilogy, Exiled, Beast Stalker, White Storm, Line Walker, and many more. In 2014, Cheung made his directorial debut with Hungry Ghost Ritual of which he followed with Keeper Of Darkness just a year later, and the The Trough in 2018. I really enjoyed Nick in this role of Detective Cheung, and loved his determination to get the job done. He is partnered with the wonderful Hiu Siu Hung, a very recognisable face and prolific actor of Hong Kong cinema since the early 70s. With over 170 films to his name, including Games Gamblers Play, Royal Warriors, A Bite Of Love, Running Out Of Time1 & 2, Bio-Cops, Anna In Kung-Fu Land, Heat Team, Fatal Move, 12 Golden Ducks, and Line Walker (with Cheung), as well as many more, Hui has always been a welcome addition to any film and does a fantastic job in the role of Inspector Hoi. They both work under the orders of Inspector Rebecca Fong, a stern by-the-book female cop who leads the 'realty show' idea to make the people of Hong Kong support the police once again. Fong is played by Kelly Chen, a singer-actress who I've never been a huge fan of. She has a look I don't really care for, although it worked quite well for her harsh performance here. I first saw Kelly in Hot War, quickly followed by the superb Tokyo Raiders – both of which were directed by Jingle Ma. Her roles in Infernal Affairs 1 & 3 came just before this, and there wasn't too much more I caught her in after that (thankfully) except for An Empress & The Warriors, The Monkey King 1 & 2, and An Inspector Calls with Eric Tsang. Chen's character answers to Supt. Eric Yeung and Commander Wong – with the latter played by the great Simon Yam in a cameo. The popular Eddie Cheung plays Eric Yeung, and is a regular face of many Johnnie To titles including The Bare-Footed Kid, Running On Karma, Throwdown, Election 1 & 2, Exiled, Vengeance, and more, and has appeared in many other great hits over the years for directors such as Dennis Law, David Lam, and Roy Chow. And, of course, Johnnie To regular and fan favourite to many Hong Kong film viewers, Lam Suet, steals whatever scenes he appears in as the frantic single parent who (along with his two kids) is taken hostage in his home by the gun-toting criminals.

 

The bad corner is made up of an interesting mix of characters, split over two teams who quickly learn to work together in a bid to survive. Led by Richie Jen, who I have learned to love more since first seeing him in Gorgeous, Silver Hawk, and Seoul Raiders. As chief criminal Chan Yat Yuen, Jen does a great job as the bank robber turned cold-hearted killer, playing off Cheung's determined cop perfectly – both of whom play like the yin and yang of the story. Of course, Jen has continued to impress over the years with roles in Exiled, Lady Cop & Papa Crook, Accident, Life Without Principle, Legendary Amazons, and more. He is joined by Li Hai To, in what would only be his second role after appearing in Lau Kar Leung's Drunken Monkey. Obviously impressing in his role, Li joined To for the fun Throwdown, Triangle, and Vengeance, as well as starring in Tsui Hark's Seven Swords, Gallants, Motorway, Sky On Fire, and the Nick Cheung directed thriller, The Trough. You Yong does a great job as Cheung Chun; one of the other criminals who gets caught up in the chase – mistaking the police hunt for his own. While he had been acting in films from 1990 since his role in Peking Duck Restaurant, I didn't really recognise him as a performer until this. Since then, Yong has went on to star in hits such as A World Without Thieves, Red Cliff 1 & 2, The Underdog Knight, The Crossing 1 & 2, and Johnnie To's Election Trilogy – among many others. The same can be said for his brother in crime, actor Ding Hai Feng, along with Wong Chi Wai – a recognisable face from kung-fu classics such as 36 Deadly Styles, Snake Deadly Act, The Victim, Lion Vs Lion, Shaolin Prince, and more including Owl Vs Bumbo, As Tears Go By, Swordsman, and many of the aforementioned Johnnie To hits. And finally, the late Alan Chui (who literally only passed this week) cameos as another gang boss who dodges Ren's bullets in the final moments of his attempted escape...

 

As with many of Johnnie To's movies, great performances are always enhanced by plenty of moments of style, tight editing, gorgeous cinematography, great writing, memorable action, and a hint of comedy – with one such scene set during lunch time. Holed-up in Lam Suet's apartment, the criminals opt to cook a massive lunch for the family and their men, going on to stream it live to all to win the support of the people. Not to be outdone by those they are tracking down, Rebecca Fong orders lunch for all of her people on the job, including the news crews covering the event and more. It's a light-hearted moment that allows the audience to catch their breath, as well as the cops involved, and offers a chuckle or two via its realistic approach on things. The underrated Yuen Bun handles the film's action scenes, all of which are beautifully executed and mostly shoot-outs. From the aforementioned opening gun-fight in the streets to the many showdowns in the apartment block, one of which takes place in an elevator shaft, and the lengthy one-shot shoot-outs at the end, Bun does a great job in keeping things both real and exciting in the action department. The man behind the lens of most Johnnie To films – as well as many other hits such as Fight back To School 1 & 2, Satan Returns, Thunderbolt, and Ip Man 4 – Mr. Cheung Siu Keung, delivers yet another stunning film aided by some great lighting that just makes his cinematography pop. It's also worth noting that the same man directed both In The Line Of Duty 6: Forbidden Arsenal and In The Line Of Duty 7: Sea Wolves, as well as the Once Upon A Time In China inspired film, White Lotus Cult – the first of the Sam The Iron Bridge Trilogy. Actor and director Law Wing Cheong; the man behind Johnnie To's Running Out Of Time 2, PTU sequels Tactical Unit: The Code and Tactical Unit: Comrades In Arms, Wrath Of Vajra, and Donnie Yen's box-office flop Iceman 3D – gains the credit of Executive Director once again; a role he has held on many of To's movies including The Mission, Fulltime Killer, PTU, Running On Karma, Throwdown, Election, and more. I think it's safe to say that, for many years now, Milkyway Studios have been delivering hit after hit proving that Johnnie To is one of the greatest names (and forces) in Hong Kong cinema today – dare I say, the film world as a whole. Breaking News may not come to the top of the list for many who have their top ten of Hong Kong films, but it definitely entertains in true To style and has a lot on offer to love!

 

Overall: Beautifully made, well acted, and gripping, Breaking News is an enjoyable crime-caper that is well worth the watch!

 

Chameleon Films Blu-ray Extras: Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng, Video Essay on Breaking News, Melbourne International Film Festival Interview with Johnnie To, Cannes 2004 Interviews with Johnnie To, Kelly Chen & Nick Cheung, Behind The Scenes Featurette, Deleted Scene (Mandarin Only), Photo Gallery, Trailer

 

Kam & Ronson DVD Extras: Behind The Scenes Featurette, Deleted Scene (Mandarin Only), Photo Gallery, Trailers

Watch my unboxing video of this Chameleon Films release HERE

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BROKER

(South Korea 2022) 

Original Title: Beurokeo 브로커

 

Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda Produced by Eugene Lee Starring: Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-won, Bae Doona, Lee Ji-eun, Lee Joo-young Reviewing: UK Cinema Release Genres: Comedy / Crime / Drama

Rating - 4.3 / 5

Synopsis: Ha Sang-hyeon is the owner of a hand laundry and volunteers at the nearby church, where his friend Dong-soo works. The two run an illegal business together: Sang-hyeon occasionally steals babies from the church's baby box with Dong-soo, who deletes the church's surveillance footage that shows a baby was left there. They sell the babies on the adoption-black market. But when a young mother So-young comes back after having abandoned her baby, she discovers them and decides to go with them on a road trip to interview the baby's potential parents. Meanwhile, two detectives, Soo-jin and Lee, are on their trail. (129 Mins)

 

Views: It was quite a surprise when Broker appeared in my local cinema. There was no talk of its release and certainly no advertising, which is a damn shame considering who it stars and the fact that it was an award winner at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. The film was initially released in South Korean theatres way back in June of the same year, so its crazy to think that it has taken 9 months to reach our screens. When you strip it all back, the storyline for Broker is a pretty simple one that tells the tale of two friends who sell abandoned babies on the 'adoption' black market. But when the mother of their latest find returns for her son after a change of heart, she soon finds herself on a road trip to meet her baby's potential parents – and receive her cut of the sale. Simple – yes, but being a South Korean film we all know that things aren't going to be as straight forward as they should be! While each of the friends carry their own burdens of the past, we soon learn that the young mother has been carrying the biggest one of them all; the murder of her baby's father. And with two female detectives hot on their tail, as well as some hired gangsters, the unlikely group travel in search of a quick sale while, ultimately, learning to become a family as they deal with the consequences...

I had a great time with this movie. It gave me vibes of the anime classic, Tokyo Godfathers, and while I was waiting for a twist similar to that seen in the amazing Parasite, it never came about. Admittedly though, and after seeing the whole thing, I'm actually glad that it didn't because Broker is quite perfect as it is – offering an intriguing and moving story, with plenty of sweet moments and superb performances that often brought a tear to my eye. Although I mentioned of how it reminded me somewhat of Satoshi Kon's 2003 animated film, it was interesting to learn that Broker had been written and directed by another Japanese film-maker; the award winning Hirokazu Kore-eda – the very same man behind Shoplifters, Nobody Knows, Still Walking, and The Third Murder, as well as The Truth with Ethan Hawke. But it was definitely the stellar cast involved that grabbed my attention, and the main reason that I jumped to go see this on the big screen!

Leading the way was the wonderful Song Kang-ho who stars as Ha Sang-hyeon, the laundry owner who runs the operation of selling the unwanted babies after they have been left in the church 'baby box'. Admittedly, he's absolutely not a bad man at all, and we soon learn that he's only doing what he has to do in order to raise funds to pay-off a debt owned to some local gangsters, with the aim of getting his daughter and ex-wife back. I just adore Song Kang-ho as an actor! One of Korea's busiest actors, he has also proven to be one their finest and has starred in many, if not all, of the biggest and award winning titles to come out over the last 20 years. Some of the first films I ever saw him in were films such as The Quiet Family, Shiri, Joint Security Area, Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, and the wonderful Memories Of Murder. Of course, he is just as recognised for his roles in hits such as The Foul King, Lady Vengeance, The Host, The Good The Bad The Weird, Thirst, Snowpiercer, Age Of Shadows, A Taxi Driver, The Drug King, and the incredible worldwide smash hit, Parasite. Here, as Ha Sang-hyeon, Kang-ho impresses once again in a role that bagged him the Best Actor award at Cannes. The handsome Gang Dong-won stars as Dong-soo, Ha's close friend who works at the Church and helps by deleting the footage of the babies he has taken to sell. Like Ha however, Dong-soo is a good man at heart and was abandoned as a baby himself; something that drives him in finding the right people for their new baby. I remember catching Gang in the beautiful 2005 film, Duelist, and again soon after in the super fun Woochi: The Demon Slayer – both of which I highly recommend. While he has starred in many great titles (before and) since then, Gang Dong-won recently impressed with his roles in the action packed Illang: The Wolf Brigade and equally exciting, Peninsula; sequel to the groundbreaking Train To Busan. In Broker, Gang plays an extremely sweet character, taking to the baby and eventually falling for his troubled mother with the hope of them becoming a family for a better future. That same troubled mother is played by popular actress and singer, Lee Ji-eun – more commonly known by her stage name IU, and one of my husbands favourite actresses. As Moon So-young, Lee does a fantastic job once again, offering up a heartfelt performance who has a lot more to deal with than just giving-up her son. She is tracked by Detective Lee, played by Lee Joo-young from K-dramas such as the great Weight Lifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo and Itaewon Class, and her boss, Detective Soo-jin, played brilliantly by the wonderful Bae Doona – an actress who has shared the screen many times with Song Kang-ho in films such as Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, The Host, and The Drug King, as well as appearing in hits like Barking Dogs Never Bite, Tube, Tunnel, Hollywood movies Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending, and K-dramas such as Kingdom and Silent Sea, among others. While her chase of the dysfunctional faux-family is not without its own problems, her characters' final result delivered a surprising-but-sweet twist to the story.

While Broker has plenty of humorous moments throughout, many of which are delivered by Song Kang-ho and his tag-along orphan – a hilarious kid who overhears their plan after hiding in their van – the film itself still makes for a pretty serious affair (and probably more-so if you are a parent). That said, it still makes for a pleasant watch and isn't the kind of cinematic affair that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The film is gorgeously captured by Hong Kyung-pyo; the very same cinematographer who was behind South Korean hits such as The Foul King, Brotherhood, Mother, Snowpiercer, Sea Fog, The Wailing, Parasite, and more – while Jung Jae-il provides another wonderful score to accompany him. Interestingly, Jung had also worked the score for the previously mentioned Sea Fog and Parasite, as well as Bong Joon-ho's fantastic Okja and others. Though profound and bittersweet, Broker keeps a smile on your face for the majority of its running time while tugging on the heart-strings and provoking thoughts on family, trust, rejection, and – ultimately – humanity. And while it may be considered art-house in style to some degree, Broker could most definitely win over an international audience with its heart-warming tale, fantastic performances, and moments of sweetness. I look forward to seeing it again!

Overall: Wonderfully performed, incredibly sweet, and often emotional, Broker is another fine piece of Korean cinema and well worth a watch!

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BULLET TRAIN

(Japan 1975) 

Original Title: Shinkansen Daibakuha 新幹線大爆破 (aka) Super Express 109; The Bullet Train

Directed by Junya Sato Produced by Kanji Amao, Sunao Sakagami Starring: Ken Takakura, Sonny Chiba, Ken Utsui, Kei Yamamoto, Eiji Go, Akira Oda, Raita Ryu, Sue Shiomi, Fumio Watanabe, Yutaka Hayashi, Yoshifumi, Koichi Iwaki, Koji Fujiyama, Jiro Chiba Reviewing: Eureka Video UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Action / Crime / Drama

Rating - 4 / 5

Eureka Video Blu-ray Synopsis: They said it could never happen... But for 1500 passengers Hikari 109 became a nightmare journey that just couldn't be stopped! In an incredibly nuanced and sympathetic performance, Ken Takakura is Tetsuo Okita – a former business owner who plans to extort money from the government by planting an explosive device on a high-speed Japanese train, programmed to detonate if its speed drops below 80 kilometres per hour. The train's conductor (Sonny Chiba)must keep it moving whilst the authorities (led by the fantastic Ken Utsui) attempt to locate Okita before the bomb explodes. Most well-known for inspiring the 1994 Hollywood blockbuster Speed, The Bullet Train is a remarkably tense thriller from director Junya Sato, and Eureka Classics is proud to present it in this definitive edition for its UK debut on Blu-ray from a new restoration completed by Toei Company, Ltd. (152 Mins)

 

Optimum Asia UK DVD Synopsis: In the film that inspired the Hollywood blockbuster Speed, terrorists plant a bomb on a bullet train which will detonate if the train slows below 80km/h. It's up to the train operator, played by Chiba, to save the hundreds of passengers onboard. A group of bombers announce that they have placed speed-triggered bombs aboard a Japanese Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo to Hakata, the Hikari 109. If the train slows below a certain speed, it will destroyed. When the terrorists demand five million dollars, the police find themselves in a frantic race against time to find the bombers, defuse the bomb and save scores of innocent passengers. Pre-dating Speed by almost two decades, The Bullet Train is gripping, edge of your seat thriller that as well as boasting blistering action sequences also focuses on the simmering political tensions between the civilians, the government and the surprisingly sympathetic bombers. Cult action star Sonny 'Street Fighter' Chiba features as the train operator who must find the device and there's a characteristically stirring performance from Ken Takakura (dubbed the Japanese Clint Eastwood) asa bomber with a serious grudge. (152 Mins)

 

Views: Having had a run of bad luck in losing his manufacturing company to bankruptcy as well as his wife and son in a separation, businessman Tetsuo Okita teeters on desperation to turn his life around. His only ray of hope is through Masaru Koga, an an extreme activist who hatches a plan to extort money from the government. Along with an old employee, Hiroshi, the trio plant a bomb on the Hikari 109 – a high-speed bullet train that is travelling from Tokyo to Hakata with 1,500 passengers. After the train departs, Okita notifies the railway's Head of Security about the bomb and explains how it will explode should the train slow down below 80km per hour. To prove that their threat is real, the terrorists plant the same type of bomb on a freight train elsewhere in Japan. Now knowing that everyone on-board is in serious danger, the Shinkansen staff set out to find the bomb while the police in Tokyo try to find the bombers. While panic and fear tears through the passengers on the train and government officials prepare the ransom for Okita, everyone must pull together to find the bomb and bring the train to a stop before it reaches its final destination!

Up until now, thanks to this gorgeous 2K restored Blu-ray release from Eureka Video, this classic film has only ever been released in the west as a re-edited home video edition, or as part of a Sonny Chiba pack – both by Crash Cinema and BCI Eclipse in North America, and by Optimum Asia here in the UK. While the Japanese version saw a limited Blu-ray release in the States courtesy of boutique label, Twilight Time, Eureka's newly restored edition allows this Japanese classic to be seen at it was meant to be, and I loved it! Although it has always been referred to as the film that inspired Speed (with Keanu Reeves), it's worth noting that The Bullet Train was also remade, to some degree, twice in India with The Burning Train (1980) and Tezz (2012), and had shades of its story used in the South Korean action-thriller, Tube (2003), respectively. Of course, neither of them had as great a cast as this one, nor did they have the wonderful direction of the great Junya Sato – one of Japanese cinema's finest film-makers who only passed in February 2019 at the ripe old age of 86. Although he made 40 titles since making his debut in 1963, Sato would cover a wide range of genres including many with Ken Takakura to others such as Thirst For Love, The Private Police, The Last Kamikaze, Proof Of The Man, The Go Masters, Tonko, and Sakurada Gate Incident in 2010, which would also be his final movie. The Bullet Train would be one of my favourite Junya Sato movies; a slow burning, beautifully directed piece with plenty of thrills and dramatic tension, with everyone involved delivering some fantastic performances.

The Bullet Train boasts a wonderful main cast including Ken Takakura, Sonny Chiba, Kei Yamamoto, and Ken Utsui among many others, and although this has more-often-than-not been sold as a Sonny Chiba movie to his western fans, it's only fair to say the The Bullet Train is most definitely a Ken Takakura movie. With over 200 credits to his name, the wonderful Ken Takakura made his debut in the acting world way back in the mid-50s. Throughout his career, the star worked with most of Japan's finest directors as well as Hollywood directors Robert Aldrich in Too Late The Hero, Sidney Pollack's The Yakuza, and Ridley Scott's thriller Black Rain alongside Michael Douglas, as well as Chinese director Zhang Yimou in his family drama, Riding Alone For Thousands Of Miles. This wouldn't be the first time either that Ken had worked with director Sato, with The Drifting Avenger (from 1968) being their first project together – often described as a Japanese Western shot in Australia. Ken would appear in Sato's horse-racing drama, Nippon Dabi Katsukyu, before Golgo 13 came about which was probably their biggest joint project to date. Of course, the wonderful Bullet Train would be next quickly followed by The Last Kamikaze, Manhunt and Never Give Up in 1978, which would also be their last film together. I really loved Ken's performance here as Tetsuo Okita – an honest man who is pushed to his limit and, although sympathetic to the problem that he has caused, soon finds himself in too deep and running for his life. The late, great Shin'ichi 'Sonny' Chiba stars as train driver Aoki; the man in charge of keeping the train on the tracks as well as being tasked with disarming the bomb once it's found. Discovered by Toei Studios during a talent search in 1960, the much loved star went on to appear in a number of films over the next decade before gaining global notoriety for his role in The Bodyguard series and The Street Fighter; a film that was heavily criticised for its (then) excessive violence, yet quickly went on to become a firm favourite and cult classic for many over the years. From there, Sonny would become one of Japan's most bankable names and would go on to star in films such as the Sister Street Fighter series, The Executioner, Wolf Guy, The Killing Machine, Karate Warriors, Doberman Cop, Ninja Wars, and Roaring Fire, as well as international hits like Storm Riders, Born To Be King, Kill Bill 1 & 2, and Tokyo Drift, among many other film and television shows.

The handsome Kei Yamamoto plays Masaru Koga, the activist who convinces Tetsuo to go through with his plan. Although I've not seen him in anything else apart from The Bullet Train, I feel Kei did a damn good job in the role and delivered one of the most surprising scenes of the film, in my opinion. Before his move into television in the early 90s, Kei Yamamoto would work with Ken Takakura and Junya Sato once again, in Never Give Up. Popular actor Ken Utsui, who career spanned 6 decades between film, television, and the stage, does a fantastic job as Kuramochi – the director of the Shinkansen. Before this production, Utsui had appeared in Japanese 60s sci-fi classics, Evil Brain From Outer Space, Attack From Space, Invaders From Space, and Atomic Rulers Of The World. As Kuramochi, Ken delivers a dramatic piece while keeping Aoki composed as the driver, going live on television to convince Okita to disable the bomb for the sake of all on board. As expected, the pressures of such an event lead to his recognition once the day has been saved. Although she had already proven herself as a kick-ass leading actress and martial artist, it was still nice to see Etsuko 'Sue' Shihomi cameo as a telephone operator in The Bullet Train, and good to learn that Sonny's younger brother, Jiro Chibo, appeared as the rescue train driver, respectively...

It's worth noting that The Bullet Train comes in at a whopping 152 minutes in running time, and I guess – considering today's output of epic movies such as those in the MCU and otherwise – that's not as 'long' a movie these days as it would have been back then; but then again, The Bullet Train isn't drenched in vibrant colours, quick-fire editing, and lots of glorious Hollywood style action to make that running time fly by like, well, a high-speed locomotive! Instead, this is an old-school edge-of-your-seat thriller, with great writing and acting that calls for your attention. A mix of that infamous Japanese film model work, and real explosive action bring the right amount of excitement (without the cheese of its inspired Hollywood counterpart), and I feel like I have to mention how that final scene of Ken Takakura's left a lasting impression on me for a long time after I first watched this. This would be down to cinematographer Masahiko Iimura, the man responsible for capturing many of Junya Sato's movies (among other titles), including his wonderful Golgo 13 which also starred Ken Takakura. Composer Hachiro Aoyama lends his talents to compliment Iimura's visuals, and had also scored Sato's wonderful thriller, Manhunt, just a year later. I must praise Eureka for not only delivering a gorgeous package in their release, but for putting it out there at a time when Brad Pitt's Bullet Train was also being promoted on physical media. Truth be told, part of me was really hoping that a good number of people would be daft enough to end up with this classic version instead – of course, I mean no disrespect to the recent action hit. It was actually a hugely enjoyable film after all! But I've always championed this era of Japanese cinema, and hope that this re-release gains The Bullet Train a whole new audience as well as keeping its old fans extremely happy; much like it has done for me!

Overall: A well made thriller and classic piece of Japanese cinema, The Bullet Train is one of Junya Sato's finest, backed by a fantastic cast!

Eureka Video Blu-ray Extras: 2K Restoration, Optional Export Version, Audio Commentary by Jasper Sharp & Tom Mes (Theatrical Version), Off The Rails: Interview with Junya Sato's Biographers, Tony Rayns on The Bullet Train, Kim Newman on Mad Bombers In Cinema, Big Movie, Big Panic Archival Featurette, Trailers

Optimum Asia DVD Extras: Posters, Trailers, Biographies

Watch my unboxing video for this Eureka Blu-ray release HERE

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BURNING PARADISE

(Hong Kong 1994) 

Original Title: Fof Siu Hung Lin Ji 火燒紅蓮寺 (aka) The Rape Of The Red Temple

Directed by Ringo Lam Produced by Tsui Hark Action by Chris Lee Starring: Willie Chi, Carman Lee, Wong Kam Kong, Yang Sheng, Maggie Lam Chuen, John Ching, Yuen Gam Fai, Wu Xi Qian, Li Ji Reviewing: Vinegar Syndrome US Blu-ray Release Genres: New Wave / Martial Arts / Adventure

Rating - 4.3 / 5

Vinegar Syndrome US Blu-ray Synopsis: After the Manchu government sends soldiers to kill all of the Shaolin Monks, a young disciple named Fong Sai Yuk flees with his master in order to avoid being captured and executed. While on the run, Fong meets a young prostitute named Dou Dou who tries to help Fong and his master hide from a ruthless Manchu General skilled with a flying guillotine. Unable to save his master, Fong and Dou Dou are both captured and sent to an underground work prison known as the Red Lotus Temple. Run by a sadistic warden named Kung, who has a penchant for torturing and decapitating his prisoners, the Red Lotus Temple is a booby trap riddled Hell from which no one can escape. Thrown into a pit full of corpses and left to die, Fong must rally the other prisoners to fight back against their evil captors if they have any hope of escaping a fate worse than death. However, Fong must first contend with a former Shaolin disciple turned traitor as well as a mysterious masked female fighter in order to save Dou Dou and free himself. A staggeringly violent martial arts epic, BURNING PARADISE is considered one of director Ringo Lam's (City On Fire) best and most underrated films, as well as his only foray into the Wuxia genre. Produced in collaboration with visionary Tsui Hark, BURNING PARADISE separates itself from other kung fu films of the time by incorporating dark fantasy elements and bloody fight choreography with a slick production value and bleak storyline. Vinegar Syndrome is proud to present this seldom seem gory martial arts shocker in its first English-friendly Blu-ray release, restored in 2K from its original camera negative. (105 Mins)

 

Eureka Video UK Blu-ray Synopsis: Director Ringo Lam's (Wild Search, City On Fire) only film in the wuxia genre is also one of his best and bloodiest. Hunted by the Manchu government, a young Fong Sai Yuk is captured and sent to the Red Lotus Temple, where Shaolin monks are enslaved and viciously tortured by the sadistic warden Kung (Wong Kam Kong). Thrown into a pit of corpses and left to die, Fong survives and attempts to save his Shaolin brothers. Produced by Tsui Hark, Burning Paradise is a dark fantasy epic, filled with shocking violence and incredible choreography. Eureka Classics is proud to present the film for the first time in the UK since the VHS era in a blood-soaked special edition. (105 Mins)

 

Spectrum Films French Blu-ray Synopsis: The Shaolin Temple was destroyed by the Manchus of the Red Lotus sect. The surviving monks attempt to escape across the land. An intrepid fighter, the young Fong Sai-Yuk is captured and then sent as a slave to the temple of the Red Lotus. Determined to organize the revolt of the prisoners, he will first have to escape the innumerable traps of this immense maze led by a bloodthirsty madman. When Ringo Lam tackles the wu xia pian, it gives Burning Paradise aka The Temple of the Red Lotus, staggering peak of assumed sadism and alas, a commercial failure. If he summons Fong Sai Yuk, a national hero notably annexed by Shaw Brothers in the 70s and 80s, he quickly gets rid of the slightest objective and chronological realism. Filled with sound, fury and desolation, the film demonstrates a magnificent period of Asian cinema. The fire comes to purify the sanctuary of impiety, of profanations, flows around and inside the moving bodies, devours them, makes them stronger, contaminates the film and sets the retina ablaze. (105 Mins)

 

Made In Hong Kong UK VHS Synopsis: Maverick producer Tsui Hark (A Better Tomorrow, Once Upon A Time In China, A Chinese Ghost Story)and infamous director Ringo Lam (City On Fire, Full Contact) take on the period kung fu genre with trademark fury. A bloodsoaked gothic martial arts apocalypse, Burning Paradise tells the epic tale of two Shaolin heroes battling the consummately evil Red Lotus monks in a baroque underworld inferno. Unlike anything seen before in Hong Kong cinema, Burning Paradise firmly establishes Lam as the new king of the eastern screen. Apocalypse Now meets Blood Brothers, an unholy masterpiece from the Hong Kong Peckinpah. (95 Mins)

 

Views: Over the past year, Ringo Lam's fantastically violent and underrated wuxia fantasy, Burning Paradise, has gained a whole new audience with its restored Blu-ray releases in Hong Kong, France, North America, and now in the UK courtesy of Eureka Video. In fact, it had been some time since it last hit these shores which happened to be on VHS from Made In Hong Kong around 1997. I loved it then, but now, having purchased the restored Blu-rays from Spectrum Films, Vinegar Syndrome and Eureka Video, I can honestly say that I've never enjoyed it as much as I have in glorious HD. Lam gives us a brutal and dark tale featuring a young Fong Sai Yuk, one of many folk-heroes of Chinese history, who is being hunted by the Manchu government after the burning of the Shaolin Temple. No matter how hard he fights, Fong is eventually captured and taken to the Red Lotus Temple; a deadly prison of traps where many of his Shaolin brothers are being held and tortured by order of the sadistic warden. Although he struggles to survive the many traps and maze-like caverns of the Red Lotus Temple, Fong eventually gains the strength to fight his way out and save his fellow monks from death!

While it may not be perfect, I've always held Burning Paradise in high regards as one of my favourite Hong Kong movies and, quite possibly, my favourite Ringo Lam movie. In fact, I would have loved to have seen Lam deliver a trilogy on the adventures of Fong Sai Yuk, keeping things as dark, gothic, and violent as this one – challenging the international success of Tsui Hark and Jet Li's Once Upon A Time In China series. Of course, I'm not forgetting the fact that Hark himself was the actual producer of Burning Paradise (and no doubt had a say here and there on the direction of certain scenes). Even though 1993 had been a busy enough year for him filled with fantasy epics including OUATIC 3 & 4, Swordsman 3: The East Is Red, Iron Monkey, The Magic Crane, and Green Snake, Tsui wasn't for slowing down and went on to write, produce and/or direct three other films in 1994 such as The Lovers, OUATIC 5, and the little seen martial-arts fantasy, Forging The Swords. As seen when watching Burning Paradise, it's clear that Tsui and Lam made a great team! It's just a damn shame they didn't do more together; and I wouldn't take their co-directing credits on Jackie Chan's Twin Dragons in the same context. Although this would be Ringo Lam's only venture into the wuxia genre, I firmly believe that he does an incredible job and was no doubt inspired by having Tsui by his side considering his aforementioned titles, and those before them. Of course, during the decade prior to this, Lam had served up many incredible titles from his fun 1983 debut Esprit D'amour, Aces Go Places 4, Wild Search, and his super-popular 'On-Fire' series such as City On Fire, Prison On Fire, and the intense School On Fire (which really needs the same Blu-ray treatment as this film). I've long been a huge fan of his with Lam going on to deliver more great titles including Sammo Hung's Touch & Go, the amazing Full Contact, underrated Undeclared War, Prison On Fire 2, the original Andy Lau film The Adventurers, Full Alert, and more. Unlike many of Hong Kong's other filmmakers, Lam made a surprisingly small amount of films during his time in the industry – directing 24 films in 37 years – and I can only imagine what else we could have got had he been around a bit longer.

I could never really understand why Burning Paradise was such a box-office failure on its initial release, although often wondered was the casting of 'new kid on the block' Willie Chi Tin Sang one of the main reasons. Although he does a fine job in his debut role, I can only imagine had someone like Jet Li (or somebody else with as big a name) were cast instead of Chi, then perhaps this fantastic film might have been a bigger hit from the beginning. But I did enjoy the new actor as Fong Sai Yuk and felt it was a bit of a shame that his short-lived career came to stop after playing two of Hong Kong cinemas most treasured folk hero's – such as Fong Sai Yuk here and the legendary Wong Fei Hung in Lau Kar Leung's ill-fated Drunken Master 3. Smaller roles in Stanley Siu Wing's Little Drunken Masters and Do Wai Daat's 18 Shaolin Golden Boys followed, but by the mid-late 90s Willie Chi had turned his back on the film world. I also think, overall, that Hark and Lam made some interesting casting choices, respectively. It's certainly not a main cast that would be that popular to most Hong Kong movie fans – or even, perhaps, the mainstream Hong Kong audience of that time. The lovely Carmen Lee, who I've enjoyed in films such as Killer's Romance, The Wicked City, Final Option, Forbidden City Cop, Legend Of The Wolf, and others, stars as the romantic interest for Fong Sai Yuk. Yang Sheng plays Hung Hei Koon, the Shaolin monk gone bad who opts for joining the dark-side in order to stay alive. While he has appeared in many great titles over the years including Yes Madam, Magnificent Warriors, Peacock King, and Seven Warriors, I'd say that his role here is most definitely his most memorable one and allows him to really show-off his kung-fu skills in full force. I was surprised to see the great John Ching Tung in the role that he had here as one of the Red Lotus commanders; I'm so used to seeing him pop-up in modern day action films such as Dragon In Jail, Tricky Brains, God Of Gamblers 2 & 3, Best Of The Best, Pom Pom & Hot Hot, A Taste Of Killing & Romance, and so much more – but he does a great job and gets to use a weapon similar to the flying guillotine. He works for the brutal prison warden known as Kung, a sadistic and unforgiving bastard who enjoys murdering anyone who gets in his way, played brilliantly by the superb Wong Kam Kong. Although he didn't star in many films over his 15 year career – when you look at the output from most Hong Kong actors of the time – Wong became a recognisable face to many and often gave great performances no matter how big the role. Prior to this, Wong tread similar ground in martial arts movies such as Sammo Hung's Blade Of Fury and Cheng Siu Keung's forgotten Sam The Iron Bridge Trilogy, although it's also worth pointing out his roles in films such as The Tigers, Gunmen, Wonder Seven, and From Beijing With Love where he plays Chow Sing Chi's nemesis, Golden Gun. Of course, both John Ching and Kam Kong would stick around for Ringo Lam's next project, The Adventurers, alongside Andy Lau just a year later. But it would be the impressive Maggie Lam Chuen who stole the show for me as Kung's deadly assassin, Chui Hiu. With only 6 film credits to her name, over the course of 14 years in the business, I'd love to have seen her do a lot more action films to be honest and enjoyed her in the brilliant Fong Sai Yuk-themed sequel, Young Hero Of Shaolin 2 many years before, as well as her role in Frankie Chan's Fun & Fury, and brief appearance as a policewoman in Stanley Tong's China Strike Force.

The film was co-written by actors Wong Wan Choi and Nam Yin, with the latter also penning, producing and appearing in Ringo Lam's Prison On Fire 1 & 2, School On Fire, Wild Search, Undeclared War, Touch & Go, and Full Contact, as well as many others including Killer's Blues, Dragon In Jail, Fatal Vacation, and Legendary Couple. He also wrote two of Sammo Hung's lesser appreciated titles such as My Flying Wife (which I quite enjoyed) and Hidden Enforcers, of which he would also direct. With a great score from Brother Hung, who has handled the music for many Herman Yau classics from the Troublesome Night Series to Ebola Syndrome, Turning Point 1 & 2 to Shock Wave 1 & 2, the film also has some great cinematography courtesy of Chinese DOP Gao Zi Yi – who also captured the fun Crystal Fortune Run the same year. Interestingly enough, that same sci-fi action-flick was produced and directed by Jackie Chan Stunt Team member Chris Lee, the very same man responsible for the brilliant choreography on offer here in Burning Paradise. He is assisted by Wong San Gwan, JCST brothers Lai Sing Kwong and Chan Tat Kwong, and the popular Mandy Chan Chi Man; probably more recognisable as an actor in Donnie Yen films like Drunken Tai Chi, Mismatched Couples, High Voltage, Iron Monkey, and Legend Of The Wolf, as well as a role in Van Damme's Bloodsport. Widely known as one of the stunt guys who survived the famous 'bus stunt that went wrong' in Police Story, Chris Lee started his acting career in the early 80s with a small appearance in Once Upon A Mirage, followed by roles in Ching Siu Tung's amazing Duel To The Death, Chow Yun Fat's Blood Money (ironically about Hong Kong stuntmen risking their lives in the industry), and Chang Cheh's Attack Of The Joyful Goddess which helped to gain him the attention of Jackie Chan who brought him on-board with Project A – going on to appear in films such as Police Story 1 & 2, Project A 2, and Miracles, as well as starring in other classics like Eastern Condors, Killer's Nocturne, In The Line Of Duty 3 and 5, Ringo Lam's Full Contact and Full Alert, and more including Cynthia Khan's rarely seen Queen's High; which was also his directorial debut. Going on to direct 5 titles over the next 12 years, including the aforementioned Crystal Fortune Run of which he also produced and co-starred in, Chris Lee kept himself busy as a producer and choreographer on films like Drunken Master 3, My Flying Wife, Wicked City, China White, Twin Dragons, Heroic Duo, Max Zhang's brilliant thriller, The Brink, and had worked previously with Lam as the choreographer on his underrated thriller, Undeclared War, which I highly recommend. In Burning Paradise, the team provide plenty of enjoyable fight scenes that give new star, Willie Chi, the chance to debut some great moves along with a wild display of weaponry, wire-fu, and brutal attacks that deserve the attention!

With the aforementioned restorations coming to light, Burning Paradise should amaze its audience, both old and new, with its crystal clear picture that reveals some gorgeous shots, stunning colours, and more. For me, it was like watching the film for the first time and most definitely the best viewing I've ever had of it (and I own 3 Blu-ray versions). In recent years, I've often compared Roy Chow's 2014 film Rise Of The Legend to Burning Paradise – a darker tale of a younger Wong Fei Hung that saw him endure brutality, violence, and fights to the death. It was a much more serious affair to that of Tsui Hark's Once Upon A Time In China series yet, much like Ringo Lam's similar approach with Fong Sai Yuk, the film failed to light-up the box office unfortunately. This was pretty sad considering the great direction, high production values, and brilliant performances from Eddie Peng and Sammo Hung, not to mention plenty of amazing fight action – but it seems that the Hong Kong audience isn't fond of seeing their folk heroes in Cat. 3 territory. Regardless, I find it refreshing and still hold Burning Paradise as one of the best from the 90s Hong Kong New-Wave era!

Overall: Packed full of brutal wire-fu action and brilliantly directed, Burning Paradise is one of Ringo Lam's finest moments!