I AM THE WHITE TIGER
(Hong Kong 2018)
Directed by Lei Chiu Produced by Mark Houghton, Chow Tai Ho Starring: Mark Houghton, Charlene Houghton, Tom Caserto, Jason Li, Willie Wong, Eric Wong, Eddie Maher Reviewing: Eureka Video UK Blu-ray Release (Skinny Tiger & Fatty Dragon) Genres: Martial Arts / Film / Documentary
Rating - 3 / 5
Synopsis: Stuntman, action-director, and martial arts legend Mark Houghton tells his story of breaking into the Hong Kong film industry, his struggle with injuries and depression, and the promise he made his teacher, the legendary film-maker Lau Kar Leung. (78 Mins)
Views: While I feel like I've spent a lifetime watching Mark Houghton fighting all the great action stars of Hong Kong cinema, I have to admit that he's one guy I'd never really knew a lot about. Alongside American wushu whizz Jeff Falcon, Mark has always been one of my favourite western bad-guys who has shown up in around 60 titles since the late 80s – from Godfrey Ho's Angel Enforcers to Frankie Chan's Outlaw Brothers, and Donnie Yen's Cheetah On Fire to Jackie Chan's Drunken Master 2. As a young teen in the UK, Mark got hooked on martial arts after seeing Bruce Lee in action and after a chance encounter with a guy named Willie Wong, soon relocated to Malaysia where he would begin his martial studies. Soon after, Mark took the next step in following his dreams when he moved to Hong Kong in a bid to get into the film industry. It would be here that he would meet his hero Lau Kar Leung during the production of Aces Go Places 5: The Terracotta Hit, who took Mark under his wing in the teachings of Hung Gar kung-fu and guidance in the difficult world of Hong Kong film. Mark came close to death almost a decade later, when he was attacked by a gang of armed men in Malaysia which left him with such severe injuries. It forced him into retirement where he would battle depression and rethink things, eventually finding a new career as a scuba instructor in the Philippines. Many years later, as his Sifu Lau Kar Leung was dying of cancer, Mark was called upon and asked to make two promises to his master. The first was to return to the film industry a fight director and the second was to continue spreading the martial arts he was taught – both of which he has managed to do to this day.
Although this documentary was far from what I imagined it would have been, I Am The White Tiger is an interesting insight to Mark's life that reveals many dark moments of his life, yet also makes for fascinating character study of this popular 'Hong Kong movie prop' and martial artist. While it is a little uneven at times and shoddily made on a technical level, it still proves to pack enough of an emotional punch here-and-there – which probably comes across stronger to those of us who have tried hard to chase their dreams. It's evident that Mark absolutely loves what he does, as well as worships his late Sifu. In between his antidotes and chats with people such as Willie Wong, Lau Kar Leung's wife, his students, and his daughter Charlene, viewers are treated to snippets of fight scenes from films such as Final Run, Shaolin Popeye, Mad Monkey Kung Fu, Seven Swords, Mad Mad Ghost, Outlaw Brothers, Oh Yes Sir, Angels Project, and Skinny Tiger & Fatty Dragon – of which this documentary accompanies in a limited edition Blu-ray release by Eureka Video...
The documentary ends with an emotional finish that sees Mark review his promises to Sifa Lau, as he reveals that he has now opened a kung-fu school in Foshan City - the home of Wong Fei Hung – which sees him bring the art of Hung Gar full-circle and is an incredible achievement overall (confirmed with a quick post-credit scene). While he trains a new team of actors and fighters, fans of Mark will have to wait with baited breath to see what may come next from him in the martial arts film world, but I for one hope that the man himself will return in front of the camera one day to entertain us all once again with his legendary Hung Gar fist!
Overall: While it was not what I expected, I Am The White Tiger was a great insight to the life of Mark Houghton!
(Hong Kong/China 2014)
Original Title: Gap Tung Kei Hap (aka) Iceman 3D
Directed by Law Wing Cheong Produced by Donnie Yen, Christopher Sun, Huang Jian Xin, Albert Lee Action by Donnie Yen Starring: Donnie Yen, Wang Bao Qiang, Yu Kang, Simon Yam, Eva Huang, Wang Wen Qi, Lam Suet, Lo Hoi Pang, Jacqueline Chong, Bobo Hu Ming, Mark Wu Reviewing: Kaleidoscope UK DVD Release Genres: Martial Arts / Fantasy / Comedy / Drama
Rating - 2.3 / 5
DVD Synopsis: Ying (Donnie Yen – IP MAN, 14 BLADES, HERO), a highly-skilled martial arts warrior of the Ming Dynasty Palace Guard, is ordered to escort the precious Golden Wheel Of Time, said to have the power of time travel and ability to see into the future, from Sindu back to China. Along his perilous journey he is wrongly accused of a murder and hunted by his three brothers, Yuanlong (Simon Yam, Lara Croft Tomb Raider) Sao, and Niehu, all bent on revenge. At the height of the battle all four are buried by a huge avalanche, freezing them in time. 400 years later, they are unearthed, thawed and forced to adjust to modern-day life. Using the golden wheel that unlocks the past, Ying must regain his honour and correct history, defeating his brothers once and for all in an almighty fight to the death. (104 Mins)
Views: When Iceman 3D first came out, it got hit hard by a wave of negative reviews both from fans and critics alike. Some even went as far as to say that it was the worst film of 2013. Honestly, I wouldn't go that far – but I also wouldn't deny that it should have been much better given the talent involved. That said, it's always going to be difficult for any remake to hold its own against an original piece that is considered a classic such as Clarence Fok and Yuen Biao's brilliant martial-arts-fantasy, The Iceman Cometh. I often wonder what inspires directors to attempt to redo a film that doesn't really need to be remade, but I can also understand the excitement of putting to use the technology of today's cinematic world to polish up a much-loved story for the fans. As one would expect, that should have been the case here – yet something failed along the way that made Iceman (3D or not) a massive flop upon release. While I know that it had a very troubled production that ran way over schedule and way over budget, it still doesn't make up for the incoherent storytelling, questionable edits, bad pacing, and flat humour contained!
In a nutshell, Iceman tells the over-edited tale of an ancient warrior called Ying, accidentally defrosted in modern-day Hong Kong. Ying finds that he is still in possession of the crystallized penis of God Shiva, a relic that was given to him in 1621 A.D. that, when inserted into the Golden Wheel Of Time, will allow him to travel back in time to his original era. Three other warriors have also turned up in the city, all of whom are enemies of Ying's and want the penis. As Ying finds somewhere to stay with young party-goer May, the others pull together a small army of thugs in a bid to find the hero and cause some trouble along the way. Honestly, trying to put everything that goes on in this film into words, is both exhausting and somewhat problematic due to its pacing and randomly placed flashbacks. From its opening scene, the story moves along at such a speed that it barely gives you the chance to really catch what's going on! It's like half of the footage was cut, with scenes changing so quickly and characters flying in-and-out of the story - and often without any explanation. Having watched Iceman quite a number of times now, I sometimes feel like it comes across as a Hong Kong classic remade by Hollywood. It's almost like the film-makers just didn't get what Hong Kong cinema was all about when looking back at The Iceman Cometh, and while production values are high and it does the job on a technical level, this remake focuses too much on delivering such a polished look, while toying with unneeded CGI and slick editing (although not always in a good way), with certain moments delivered in quite amateurish ways.
While I'm all for gross humour and wild comedy, most of the funnier situations in this seem incredibly out of place and more suited for a Wong Jing or Chow Sing Chi film from the early 90s. These include a defrosted Ying (Donnie Yen) pulling off his best impression of a fire hose as he sprays about 200 feet in order to relieve himself. I'm sure after a 400-year sleep, you'd probably by dying to do the same thing and while I thought it was quite funny, it just came at such a bizarre moment and wasn't really delivered as a comedy sketch. The next would be that of Ying's shit-bomb. Cornered in the house of a witness and surrounded by armed cops, Ying takes a dump so powerful that when the lid is lifted, it creates an explosion so huge that everyone around gets a taste of what Ying had been cooking during his long sleep. Elsewhere, warriors Sao (Wong Bao Qiang) and Nie Hu (Yu Kang doing his best impression of Yuen Wah in the original) are causing trouble as they kill some cops over some chicken curry. It's supposed to be a funny sequence but is quickly flipped as Nie Hu puts numerous bullets into one of the cops before pulling out a porn mag for his friend. There are many other attempts at cracking a joke, some of which involve a cameo here-and-there and some of which do crack a smile – but ultimately, they just seem to fall flat for the most part or come across overly forced in a cringe-worthy way...
With a cast as strong as this has, it's hard to imagine Iceman failing. While Donnie was on-fire with career hits like Ip Man 1 & 2, Wu Xia (Dragon), and more – the film also had the fighting talents of the fantastic Wang Bao Qiang, along with choreographer and actor Yu Kang, and the legendary Simon Yam as the leader of the antagonists – although he rarely appeared on-screen, to be honest. The beautiful Eva Huang Sheng Yi, who got her start with Chow Sing Chi in the epic Kung Fu Hustle, plays the role of May – love interest to the hero. But as great as she is, Eva Huang is no Maggie Cheung and lacks that certain charm and comic-timing that Mag's showed in her role as Polly, in The Iceman Cometh. Director Law Wing Cheong started life in the Hong Kong film industry in 1989 as an assistant director on Handcuff Me, Brother starring Chin Siu Ho. The following year saw him start a long-term relationship with director and producer Johnnie To, which would see him continue as an assistant director over the years and even launch his acting career in The Longest Nite, directed by Patrick Yau. Lau ramped up his presence in the film world by becoming an editor and executive director on Johnnie To films such as A Hero Never Dies, The Mission, PTU, Running On Karma, Election 1 & 2, and more. As the new century crept in, Lau stepped up as a director, delivering titles like Running Out Of Time 2, the PTU television movies Tactical Unit, and the kick-ass martial arts flick, Wrath Of Vajra (as well as many others). Part of me wants to say, 'You would think with all that behind him, Iceman would have been near perfect' – but there's obviously much more to it than that. A big part of the reason I believe Iceman failed was down to its screenplay, failing to expand on the straightforward story that carried Clarence Fok's original by bringing in too many time-traveling-characters that we really couldn't care for, a lot of weak humour, and convoluted plot that gets lost along the way. Written by 3 scribes who were only in the game a few years before this, the trio includes Toni Shum, Lam Fung, and Mark Wu – who also appears here as the flamboyant party-goer dressed as Cupid. Since getting into the industry, the 3 have worked alongside each other on a number of projects with Lam Fung being one of many writers on CJ7, before pairing up with Wu for Lan Kwai Fong, and Due West: Our Sex Journey, of which Mark Wu would also star in and direct along with the poorly received 3D Sex & Zen: Extreme Ecstasy. Personally, I'll probably be avoiding most projects with those names attached (as main writers or directors), and perhaps this remake would have proved to be more of a hit, had it benefited from a more experienced writer. It's also interesting to note that one of the original writers and producers from The Iceman Cometh, Stephen Shiu, went on to work with each of these writers in some way or another, although oddly avoiding any connection to this remake which may just have helped them. Another note on the negatives would have to be the 3D aspect of the film – and mostly, it's CGI. With a huge majority of the world (or those that have watched the film) having not had the chance to see Iceman in 3D, you can see why there were many complaints about the on-screen computer-animated effects. The same can be said for Tsui Hark's Flying Swords Of Dragon Gate and Donnie's very-own Monkey King – the CGI effects look cartoonish and crap when not seen in 3D. Personally, it's something I try not to let affect my judgment of a film as such, as there are plenty of other titles out there that have suffered from the same problem and it's just become one of those things in today's cinematic world.
As uneven as the whole thing is – something that is confirmed in its last few minutes after the finale as we watch more flashbacks that show how close the warriors once were, all while repeating the pissing fire hose joke (again, ruined by the fact that it was so randomly placed and backed by a powerful ballad) – there are some redeeming qualities to the film, most of which lie within its action scenes. With Donnie in the driving seat, a strong team of choreographers helps create a wide range of fights that prove to be a lot more fantastical than the Yuen Biao original, playing with a host of moves that utilize the 3D element of the film – although these often override the actual martial arts choreography in the midst of battle. Hong Kong action legend Bruce Law takes control of the car stunts (as usual), while John Salvitti, the kick-ass villain of titles such as Tiger Cage 2, In The Line Of Duty 4, and Cheetah On Fire - and close friend/student of Donnie Yen's, joins the action department as well as popping up in a cameo as an SDU member. Yen regulars Yu Kang, Chris Tsui, and Hua Yan join the team along with Japanese choreographer Kensuke Sonomura who directed the action for independent-thriller, Hydra, of which I had the pleasure of screening at my festival last year (2020). Between them, the team delivers a host of great action scenes that focuses heavily on fantastical wire-fu (and then some), that portray these ancient warriors as almost superhuman. That said, Donnie, Wang, and Yu all get to show some amazing moves whether it's against each other or not. It all leads to an impressive finale on the Tsing Ma bridge that pushes its 3D FX to the max, blended with some great choreography and Donnie riding a white horse into battle. While Yu fights with his spear and Donnie with chains, Wang Bao Qiang gets to show some exciting shield work that would make Captain America jealous. Was it as exciting as the martial action in The Iceman Cometh? Not at all – but it still made for a fun watch when it came about. With Donnie unconscious in the water and many questions left unanswered, Iceman was left on a cliff-hanger until Iceman 2 followed soon after (albeit to even worse reviews than this one)!!
Overall: Weak comedy and bad writing hinder what should have been an exciting remake. Although flawed, Iceman still entertains with a few fun moments and impressive fight scenes!
DVD Extras: Trailer
ICEMAN: THE TIME TRAVELER
(Hong Kong/China 2018)
Original Title: Bing Feng: Yong Heng Zhi Men (aka) Iceman 2
Directed by Raymond Yip Wai Man Produced by Manfred Wong Action by Donnie Yen, Yan Hua Starring: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Eva Huang, Yu Kang, Wang Bao Qiang, Yasuaki Kurata, Chen Kuan Tai, Maggie Jiang, Lam Suet, Jacqueline Chong Reviewing: Cineasia UK DVD Release Genres: Martial Arts / Fantasy / Comedy / Drama
Rating - 1.3 / 5
DVD Synopsis: Frozen in time for 400 years, Ming Dynasty General He Ying (Donnie Yen, IP MAN trilogy, ROGUE ONE) wakes in modern China only to learn the terrible fate of his home village. Racing back to the past and battling former allies, he fights to protect his family, his country, and the woman he loves from invaders before time runs out...
Views: Although it was shot at the same time as Iceman 3D, this sequel was pretty much shelved indefinitely, which just showed the producer's faith in it after the backlash of its predecessor. Four years later, Iceman: The Time Traveler opening to even more scathing reviews than before that hailed it as an 'incoherent mess that is incomplete and nonsensical', making it one of the biggest bombs at the box office in 2018 and a film that went on to create somewhat of a rift between Donnie Yen and its Chinese Production company. Although it only runs for 83 mins, Iceman: The Time Traveler begins with a 10-minute recap of what happened in Iceman 3D, mixed in with some jargon on the science of time travel and random shots of He Ying's past (Donnie Yen). In theory, that leaves just over 70 minutes to continue the story of where these Ming Dynasty soldiers are going and the only reason I can think it was offered up like this, was to sell this sequel as a stand-alone movie – just in case anyone hadn't caught the first chapter. There's nowhere (at least on this UK DVD release, Netflix release, or anything I've seen) that states that this is a part 2 of anything. It is simply titled Iceman: The Time Traveler. Regardless, the film wastes no time in jumping right into where it left off as we see Yuan Long (Simon Yam) blackmailing He to help send him and Nie Hu (Yu Kang) back to the Ming Dynasty so that they can take over the kingdom. As the villains shoot off through time, He and May are trapped in the cave that houses the Wheel Of Time. After trying to escape, the pair realise their only way out is to jump through time themselves, which lands them back in the Ming Dynasty – after a detour on a train to fight some Japanese invaders...
As the story continues, He and May soon arrive back in his village where everyone is overly excited and throws a party for his return – complete with lots of food and traditional music (that sounded very Irish). It's a very Hollywood moment and is over before we know it (like a lot of scenes in this movie). On top of that, He's potential village wife realises she now has a bit of competition in May, which leads to a romantic subplot that nobody really cares about. In the midst of another villager's wedding party, Sao (Wang Bao Qiang) suddenly returns to the village. Of course, this is not the same Sao from the future, but his brother still invites He to dinner with Japanese General Hojo (Yasuaki Kurata) the following night – the very event that sparks his attempted execution, the massacre of his village, and the whole time-traveling adventures seen in part one. Meanwhile, Simon Yam's Yuan Long has made plans with General Hojo for an attack on He Ying's village along with the services of Eunuch Wei (Chen Kuan Tai). We're now 50 minutes in, and there really hasn't been too much of interest happening to be honest. Sao soon comes across General Hojo and his brother, Nie Hu, planning their attack on the village and confronts him about it. This leads to a swift but fun fight scene on Hojo's boat, as a small army attacks the village under the cover of darkness. Unfortunately, He Ying returns too late and finds his friends and family murdered. It all leads to a showdown between He, Yuan Long, and General Hojo as they travel through time and space in a duel to the death!
I really don't know what to say about Iceman: The Time Traveler that hasn't already been put out to the world by a thousand critics and even more disappointed fans. Even the fact that it had a four-year delay and a change in directors and writers, it just seemed to have been doomed from the start. Even with hits like Sixty Million Dollar Man, Portland Street Blues, Bruce Lee My Brother, and Anna In Kung Fu Land behind him, Raymond Yip Wai Man still couldn't save this from being the mess that it was, regardless of veteran actor/writer Manfred Wong's involvement as producer and scriptwriter – who incidentally co-directed Bruce Lee My Brother with him. I actually thought the addition of legendary stars such as Chen Kuan Tai and Yasuaki Kurata would help make it more appealing – and even though the latter probably gets one of the best action scenes in the film, again, it still doesn't prove to be enough to help. And it's such a damn shame given the talent involved in both films because these should have been such mega-hits from the get-go! In fact, I really do believe that had this been re-edited by a much stronger editor and storyteller then released as a two-and-a-half-hour movie, it would have been much better received and somewhat of a hit. There are the workings of a great movie in there somewhere, but it's just a pity that wasn't recognised before either films were released. So is there anything worth seeing here? Well – not a lot to be honest. The film is very neatly shot and offers some gorgeous scenes throughout, and although some of the VFX come across as questionable, other scenes offer quite fun and exciting visuals such as the fight through time around the train and the black and white forest scene in the finale.
And yes, the finale. Although not perfectly executed, the finale 20 minutes of Iceman: The Time Traveler offers some crazy action that (I'm sure) was thrown in there to try and make up for all the crap that came before it. It's not as amazing as it should have been, but after a wonderful sword battle in and around the time machine, Donnie and Yasuaki set off on a battle through time which definitely had some imagination and certain elements that reminded me of H.G. Wells' classic The Time Machine. While there are sprinkles of action throughout the film's short running time, this end collection of fight scenes are definitely the best of the bunch. Ugh! It just annoys me even thinking of what could have been with both of these films. The trailer had given me very high hopes when I first saw it, but alas, it was not meant to be. Perhaps someday we will get to see the Donnie Yen cut of Iceman 3D that combines the best of both films with a cohesive storyline, and less nonsensical ending. Until then, I'd stick with the Clarence Fok/Yuen Biao original, The Iceman Cometh – which I'm going to watch right now!!
Overall: A legitimate disappointment and mess of a film, Iceman: The Time Traveler should have been so much more, but opts to confuse and anger its viewers instead!
DVD Extras: Trailers
THE ICEMAN COMETH
(Hong Kong 1989)
Original Title: Gap Tung Kei Hap (aka) Time Warriors
Directed by Clarence Fok Produced by Stephen Shiu, Yeuk Yuen Action by Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah, Yuen Tak, Chin Kar Lok Starring: Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah, Maggie Cheung, Lam Chung, Anthony Wong Yiu Ming, Eva Lai, Walter Tso, Tai Bo, Ka Lee, Hung San Nam, Elvis Tsui, Corey Yuen Kwai, Wong Jing, Stanley Fung Reviewing: 88 Films UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Martial Arts / Fantasy / Comedy
Rating - 4.5 / 5
88 Films UK Blu-ray Synopsis: From Golden Harvest, the legendary Hong Kong studio which had previously delivered classic Bruce Lee flicks The Big Boss, Fist Of Fury and Enter The Dragon comes the fast-paced martial-arts fantasy, The Iceman Cometh. When 16th century Ming guard Fong Sau-Ching (Yuen Biao) sets out to capture vicious rapist Fung San (Yuen Wah), both men end up falling into a glacier to be frozen in time. Thawed out by scientists over 300 years later, the confused guard must learn to cope with the modern world and continue in his quest to vanquish his opponent. Fast, furious and fabulously entertaining, The Iceman Cometh rocks with time-travelling kung fu vibes. (115/127 Mins)
Vinegar Syndrome US Blu-ray Synopsis: Fong Sau Ching is the Chief Royal Guard during the Ming Dynasty, whose job it is to protect the Emperor at all costs, including with his own life. One day, Ching discovers that one of his men, Fung San, is a sadistic rapist with a penchant for murdering his victims by breaking their limbs. After Fung San attacks the Princess and several other women, Ching is tasked by the Emperor with hunting down and killing him in order to restore his own honor. However, things take an unexpected turn when the two men come face-to-face for a duel to the death, only to become literally frozen in time by a mystical device known as the 'Wheel of Life and Death'. 300 years later, in modern Hong Kong,Ching and Fung San are accidentally thawed out. Unfamiliar with his surroundings, Ching struggles to adapt to his strange new environment and soon finds himself at the mercy of an obnoxious call girl named Polly while attempting to continue to search for Fung San, but little does he know that Fung San is adapting quite nicely to both the weapons and crime ridden modern world and is beginning to resume his murderous ways. Featuring an awesome, action-packed final face-off that ranks amongst the most over-the-top in Hong Kong cinema, Clarence Fok's (The Naked Killer) THE ICEMAN COMETH skilfully combines daring action set pieces with fantasy and horror elements, all wrapped up in a comedic 'fish out of water' scenario. Packed with memorable and death defying stunt work, including a fight on top of a jeep hanging from a construction crane, and starring Hong Kong superstar Yuen Biao (Righting Wrongs), legendary stuntman Yuen Wah (Rendezvous With Death) and acclaimed actress Maggie Cheung (In The Mood For Love), Vinegar Syndrome is proud to present this piece of genre defying Hong Kong cinema, complete with sword fights, gunplay, and a healthy dose of dark and mystical elements. (115/122 Mins)
Hong Kong Legends UK DVD Synopsis: In the days of his nation's greatest Emperor, a young warrior (Yuen Biao) took an oath to protect his Kingdom against the treachery of its greatest evil. Alone, he fought with honour, until the day when destiny would seal his fate. Now, centuries later, frozen in time and space, he will awaken in a strange new land, and, once again, stand alone, to prevent an enemy of the past from becoming the master of our future. Experience jaw-dropping action and daredevil stunts in one of the greatest action adventures from the Golden Era of Hong Kong Cinema.
Made In Hong Kong UK VHS Synopsis: Clarence Fok's martial arts fantasy epic stars Yuen Wah as a sadistic renegade swordsman, reincarnated in modern day Hong Kong, where he encounters his ancient foe, the master warrior Ah Ching (Yuen Biao). Against an explosive backdrop of triad violence and troubled romance – Maggie Cheung (The Heroic Trio,The Executioners) co-stars as the beautiful, hard-hearted hooker who falls reluctantly for Ah Ching – Fok masterfully orchestrates his tale of vengeance, interweaving classic swordplay with mind-bending martial arts action. (115 Mins)
Views: Raymond Chow and Johnny Mak present this wonderful joint production about a Ming Dynasty warrior who has thawed out in modern-day Hong Kong, determined to stop an evil rapist from his past while trying to adapt to his new life. If it all sounds vaguely familiar and you haven't yet seen this 1989 production, then you've most likely seen (or heard about) the poor Donnie Yen remake and its sequel that came out in 2014 and 2018, both of which were subject to scathing reviews. And while The Iceman Cometh may lack the polished look, CGI, and huge budget of its remake, it still proves to be a far superior piece of entertainment – even over 30 years later.
The incredible Yuen Biao plays Fang Shou Zheng, a commander of the Ming Dynasty who has been tasked to find Feng San (Yuen Wah) who has raped and murdered many women of the palace. After catching up with the maniac, the pair are whisked away on The Wheel – an ancient time-traveling device that drops them off on a snowy mountain top, in a random time and place. After an incredible sword battle, the commander grabs Feng and throws both of them off the mountain top, landing in the deep snow below and freezing to death in each other's arms. 300 years later, and just by luck, a team of explorers come across the frozen men and have them transported back to their lab. After some thugs break into the place, they accidentally turn off the freezer system and in turn, defrost the Ming warriors who confusedly take to the streets of Hong Kong. As he tries to figure out where he is and avoid getting run over by a vehicle, Fang is soon taken under the wing of Polly (Maggie Cheung) – a fast-talking hooker who, he thinks, needs rescuing. Believing that Fang is an illegal immigrant who has lost his mind, Polly takes him home and employs him to be her bodyguard while dealing with clients and relishes in his actions of drinking toilet water, or screaming at the television in thinking that people are trapped in there. Meanwhile, Feng San has well and truly settled into modern life. Having joined forces with a small criminal gang, the murdering maniac pulls off robberies and escapes by car surfing through the streets of Kowloon. As expected, Fang Shou Zheng soon learns that Feng is in town, and up to his old tricks once again. Remembering his promise to the Emperor, the young warrior sets out to capture his nemesis once and for all, resulting in an incredible cat and mouse chase of wild action, big stunts, and martial arts battles across Hong Kong!
When The Iceman Cometh got released to VHS by Made In Hong Kong in the mid-90s, I was incredibly excited! I watched that video at least once a week for ages, blown away by what I was watching and the incredible action on-screen. Opening with a scene reminiscent of A Chinese Ghost Story, with Yuen Wah raping and murdering a number of women in the palace, the film starts off with quite a serious tone only really bringing in the laughs when the story shifts to modern-day Hong Kong From there, The Iceman Cometh plays as a wonderful fish-out-of-water story offering many hilarious sequences that show Yuen Biao adapt to modern life. I must say, and as much as I love Donnie Yen wholeheartedly, that Biao delivers the wonderment and reactions of this character in a much more natural way than that of Yen in Iceman 3D, the heavily criticised remake. That's not to say that Yen did a bad job at all, but I just believe this was written in a more realistic way which definitely proved to be much funnier. With Iceman 3D, I felt that the Ming Dynasty characters all caught on to the ways and technology of modern life far too easily considering how difficult most tech today, is tricky to master. Regardless, in 1989 a toilet, electricity, cars, and television, was enough to confuse the hell out of a past warrior – but it does make for some incredibly funny moments.
I'm a big fan of director Clarence Fok – renowned for his cult classic, Naked Killer. Also known as Clarence Ford, the Hong Kong film-maker has been involved in a huge number of hits over the years and has appeared in cameos and bit-parts in films like Police Story and Project A 2, played a member of The Losers band in Armour Of God alongside Jackie and Alan Tam, and a hilariously flamboyant character in Body Weapon with Vincent Zhao. Starting his career as a part-time scriptwriter for TVB at the age of 15, Fok went on to produce and direct a number of television shows, including The Bund with Chow Yun Fat, before making his feature film debut with Job Hunter with Leslie Cheung, and/or The Man From Vietnam, which starred Stanley Fung who went on to cameo in this (dressed in a Santa Claus outfit). Of course, Fung would be more recognisable to Hong Kong film fans as one of the Lucky Stars in the famed movies from Sammo Hung. Clarence Fok would follow up with the exciting teen-triad thriller, On The Wrong Track with Andy Lau, before going on to deliver some crackers including The Greatest Lover (on which he first worked with Yuen Wah), They Came To Rob Hong Kong, The Dragon From Russia, Gun n' Rose, Her Name Is Cat, The Black Panther Warriors, Century Of The Dragon, and most recently – the underrated Special ID starring Donnie Yen. With The Iceman Cometh, Fok delivers one of his finest films to date that offers some stylish direction, great cinematography (that included work from Peter Pau and Jingle Ma), hilarious comedy sequences, awesome action, and memorable performances from all involved.
Let's be honest, both Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah need no introduction. By this stage of the game the pair had shared the screen many times before, appearing in any amount of hit titles for a good 20 years – starting as stuntmen and extras from Shaw Brothers hits to early Golden Harvest works, with Yuen Wah even doubling Bruce Lee in a few of his titles. Of course, they would go on to wow the world of cinema with their moves and performances in countless titles which included The Iceman Cometh, with both of them doubling up as the action choreographers of the film – joined by brother Yuen Tak, and the great Chin Kar Lok. Between them, the team brings a host of incredible fight scenes and amazing stunt work to the screen starting with the opening sword battle between the Ming Dynasty warriors. Both Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah have recalled how this snow fight was one of their hardest ever shoots – taking no less than 5 trips to Korea to complete the scene, with a lot of the cast and crew suffering from frostbite and snow-burns caused by the extreme conditions. During the fight, their swords were fixed with electrical wires that created sparks every time they clashed – and very noticeably so during the fight scene. This in turn would give its stars the odd shock, which I'm sure only added to the stress of filming in such conditions. Their dedication is more than respected though, as the pair offer up an amazing opening fight scene that showcases some incredible moves, and lets viewers know just what to expect when the story gets going...
Of course, the action stays strong with a number of scenes sprinkled throughout from Yuen Wah's awesome car surfing getaway to some impressive high jumping stunts, Yuen Biao's rescue of Maggie Cheung against familiar faces such as Tai Bo and Ka Lee, and Yuen Wah's brutal attack on his criminal partners. Just after the halfway mark, Yuen Biao goes after Wah on horseback after he escapes in a jeep. It's a pretty exciting take on the typical car chase and gives Biao the chance to show off his incredible horseback skills. This scene in particular went on to cause a court case after a producer was arrested during production. As he gives chase to Yuen Wah in his jeep, Biao's horse suddenly came to a stop before it joined the busy junction on the Wan Chai bridge causing a build-up of traffic behind him, with many angry drivers and a lot of horn blasting that attracted the attention of the local traffic cops. This was a typical thing of Hong Kong productions filmed in this era, as they often winging more complicated scenes while trying to get them wrapped before the police would turn up or anyone would complain. It's pretty much how I shoot most of my own stuff today, to be honest. This chase in turn would lead to the docks, where Wah's jeep would be caught in the hook of an overly excited crane driver who lifts the vehicle into the air. As Biao leaps onto the under-carriage of the vehicle, the pair give fans another incredible fight scene that takes place high above the water. The final 10 minutes offers one of the best finales from 1980s Hong Kong cinema as both Yuen's clash, with Biao's sword taking on Wah's guns before he finds his own blade – eventually going fist to toe in a lengthy exchange of moves which is just epic! Shifting from rooftops to museum interiors, the pair move their fight onto (and around) the time-traveling device, The Wheel, that sees Yuen Biao eventually take his beaten prisoner back to his time in a very Highlander inspired moment. It's an amazingly choreographed fight scene that stands strong as one of their finest (yet is often forgotten about by most fans of Hong Kong cinema), that sees Yuen Biao's foot crack off Yuen Wah's face and body with full-impact, more than a few times. Unlike its remake with Iceman 3D, this film mages to bring its story to a complete closure as a future reincarnation of Yuen Biao's Fang Shou Zheng, appears outside Maggie Cheung's new place of work. Excited to see him, she jumps on his back to hug him as the poor stranger yells out for help. Simple, fun, and an ending that leaves a smile on your face – unlike the 2014 production!
The wonderful Maggie Cheung plays Polly, the fast-talking hooker who exploits Biao's skills while she rips off clients and evades gangsters, laughing at his inability to understand modern technology and treating him like a servant by having him cook, clean, and listen to her abuse. I have to say though, she was amazing in this role and proves to incredibly funny and highly entertaining the whole way through. Cheung gets to play a change of character after she is abused by Yuen Wah, slapped about, and used as a bargaining tool against Biao who offers to drink a potion that will destroy his martial arts powers to save her life. After declaring his love for her, Cheung starts to see her saviour in a different light and soon starts to respect the warrior for what he really is. Kicking off her film career in 1984s Prince Charming, Maggie Cheung spent an incredibly busy 5 years appearing in hits like Police Story 1 & 2, It's A Drink, It's A Bomb, The Seventh Curse, Project A 2, Paper Marriage, As Tears Go By, and so much more, before starring in The Iceman Cometh. She would return to work with Clarence Fok the following year in the exciting Dragon From Russia and became in such high demand throughout the 90s with roles in Will Of Iron, Days Of Being Wild, Centre Stage, New Dragon Gate Inn, Moon Warriors, Police Story 3, Twin Dragons, All's Well End's Well '92, Holy Weapon, and Flying Dagger, as well as many other amazing titles. There are also a host of recognisable faces that pop up throughout The Iceman Cometh, many of which are just for comedy cameos. Prolific director Wong Jing appears as the excited crane driver who is listening to the races on his earphones and misses the fact that he's just hooked a vehicle. The aforementioned Stanley Fung shares a scene with the great Corey Yuen Kwai, who plays a bum that offers Biao a book on the history of China. Anita Mui's sister, Ann, appears as a brothel madam, with Walter Tso popping up as Yuen Biao's master in the Ming Dynasty. Of course, Walter would be most recognised today for his roles as a policeman in the likes of the Lucky Stars trilogy and Aces Go Places series. Frankie Ng plays the criminal boss of Yuen Wah's gang, while Lam Chung delivers yet another role as a gun-toting gangster. There's a lot to love about The Iceman Cometh, and while its SFX may be laughable in comparison to today's works, its stunt work and action is not – providing a prime example of what made Hong Kong cinema so amazing back then. It obviously proved to be a favourite role for Yuen Biao as he recreated a similar story and characters for his directorial debut, A Kid From Tibet, just a few years later. This would see both him and Yuen Wah return as enemies and face-off again with some exciting sword battles and amazing hand-to-hand combat!
It was also interesting to note that Tsui Hark and Ching Siu Tung's wonderful film, A Terracotta Warrior, came out the same year – a film that follows a very similar storyline, although set in very different times. And although I'm not too sure what came first, I must admit that I do favour this one more so. Saying that, both are very different movies, but The Iceman Cometh tops it for me with much stronger Hong Kong action and the undeniable charms and skills of Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah, and Miss Maggie Cheung of course. Both Vinegar Syndrome and 88 Films decided to release their beefed-up Blu-ray versions of the film in 2022, with each offering two different cuts of the film restored in 2K. While I appreciated both, I have to say that 88 Films won that battle with a stunning set that included plenty of extras, and the gorgeously extended Taiwanese cut. Because of that, The Iceman Cometh looked incredible and proved to be the best version of the film I've seen to date...
Overall: A classic of Hong Kong cinema and one of my favourite Yuen Biao movies, The Iceman Cometh is amazing fun!
88 Films Blu-ray Extras: 2K Restoration, Hong Kong Version (115 Mins), Taiwanese Version (127 Mins), Audio Commentary with Kenneth Brorsson & Phil Gillon, Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng, Interview with Clarence Fok, Tony Rayns on The Iceman Cometh, David West on The Iceman Cometh, Archival Interviews with Yuen Biao & Yuen Wah, The Time Warriors Opening & Closing Credits, Before/After VFX Comparison, Yuen Biao Action Showcase, Trailers
Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray Extras: 2K Restoration, Audio Commentary with Samm Deighan, Interview with Cinematographer Poon Hang Sang, Archival Interviews with Yuen Biao & Yuen Wah, The Time Warriors Alternate Credits, Trailers
Hong Kong Legends DVD Extras: Audio Commentary with Bey Logan, Interviews with Yuen Biao & Yuen Wah, Trailers
Watch my unboxing video of this Vinegar Syndrome release HERE
Watch my unboxing video of this 88 Films release HERE
ICHI THE KILLER
Original Title: Koroshiya 1
Directed by Takashi Miike Produced by Eliot Tong, Akiko Funatsu, Dai Miyazaki Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Nao Ohmori, Shin'ya Tsukamoto, Alien Sun, Susumu Terajima, Shun Sugata, Sabu, Jun Kunimura, Moro Morooka, Toru Tezuka Reviewing: Premier Asia UK DVD Release Genres: Gangster / Action / Comedy / Gore
Rating - 4.5 / 5
DVD Synopsis: An ultra dark, deeply unsettling, extreme psychological thriller from the director of 'Audition', 'Ichi The Killer' is probably the most arresting and controversial movie of the last decade. Based on the ultra-violent 'manga' comic of the same name, this 'delirous cinematic vision in the freefall' painfully unveils a dark canvas on which is played a terrifying battle of wits between the ultimate sadist and the ultimate masochist. Lunging between chilling surrealism and graphic hyper-reality, Ichi The Killer will shock and amaze you to the core of your foundations, and will forever change the way you look at the medium of film. (120 Mins)
Views: Blonde haired yakuza enforcer, Kakihara, is a ruthless gangster whose body and face is deeply scarred due to his obsession with sadomasochism. With the corners of his mouth held together by piercings, Kakihara's looks prove intimidating to those around him, backed by a fearless attitude that sees him inflict serious pain to anyone who gets on the wrong side of him. With his boss now missing (or dead) along with 100 million yen, Kakihara sets out to find him and soon crosses paths with the young Ichi – a repressed and psychotic killer who has been brainwashed by an ex-cop, into killing the bad-boys of the city to help kick-off a gang war. In doing so, the scarred sadist believes he has found the one person that can bring him the most joy through pain and relishes in going fist-to-toe with Ichi the killer!
The incredible Takashi Miike – one of my all-time favourite directors – delivers a tale so messed up and so fucking insane, it could not have come from the mind of another filmmaker, let alone another country such as Japan. Trying to conceive a logistical synopsis for Ichi The Killer is like trying to walk backwards into oncoming traffic on the motorway. It's going to get messy! Yet, bizarrely, watching the film in all its glory is pretty easy to follow. Perhaps it's because of the amount of characters, shocking moments, and insanity that happens over its 2-hour running time. Ichi The Killer is quite unlike anything you've ever seen before, taking the usual Miike madness to another level. From its opening title – with the letters rising up through some very thick (and very real) sperm that is dripping from a plant – having been ejaculated on by Ichi after watching a woman getting attacked in her apartment – to men hung by large hooks in their flesh, only to have hot boiling oil poured on their backs, this film is most definitely not for the faint hearted. Yet at the same time, it proves to be incredibly hilarious with a clever blend of comic and dark humour, twisted into even the most deranged moments. Adapted from the popular manga of the same name by Hideo Yamamoto, director Takashi Miike doesn't hold back from bringing the pages to life, using incredibly strong visuals – with the camera often seeming like it has a mind of its own – to unique sounds and an unnerving score that keeps you glued to the screen, backed by some fantastic performances from all involved.
The handsome Nao Ohmori plays the titular hero of the story, Ichi, slightly deranged, horny, and running around town in his superhero suit – a black padded mountain-biking outfit, altered with blades in his boots and a large number 1 painted on his back. Having only starred in a number of smaller roles previously, Ichi The Killer would be the film that launched this unknown actor into the spotlight. I'm sure it wasn't an easy role to play, especially for someone who seems as genuinely nice as Nao does. The son of legendary Japanese actor, Akaji Maro, from classics such as Samurai Resurrection, Zipang, City Of Lost Souls, and Kill Bill 1 & 2, Nao Ohmori has went on to keep a healthy career in the industry starring in films such as Dolls, Vibrator, Fish Story, Parasyte 1 & 2, First Love, and so much more. The edgy and popular Tadanobu Asano thrives as Kakihara, the stylish sicko with a fetish for pain and the man with the Glasgow Smile. Apart from a small child role in the late 70s, his first real role came about in 1990 with Swimming Upstream. He quickly went on to gain more critical success after starring in Fried Dragon Fish, and continued impressing in Labyrinth Of Dreams, Shark Skin Man & Peach Hip Girl, Gohatto, Gojoe, and Electric Dragon 80,000 V in the same year as Ichi The Killer. From here, his career only went up as Asano was cast in many great titles such as Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman, Survive Style 5+, Vital, and the hilarious Tokyo Zombie to name but a few – before going on to join Hollywood and the Marvel Universe as Hogun in Thor and its sequels, along with roles in Battleship, 47 Ronin, and the new Mortal Kombat where he plays Lord Raiden. The cast is filled out with many recognisable faces such as Shin'ya Tsukamoto, the highly praised director of the Tetsuo series, A Snake Of June, and Tokyo Fist, Shun Sugata who appeared in Kill Bill Vol. 1, The Last Samurai, and Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear, and the popular Jun Kunimura from Audition, The Wailing, and as Boss Tanaka in Kill Bill 1 & 2. They are joined by praised director Sabu, and Singaporean-Hong Kong actress Alien (Paulyn) Sun who appeared in films such as Sixty Million Dollar Man, Island Of Greed, and The Accidental Spy – although I must admit, this was probably her most challenging role to some degree.
From apartments covered in blood, intestines, and bodily fluids (as well as every organ imaginable), to men shoved into televisions with nails rammed into their faces – Ichi The Killer blends (slightly dated) digital SFX with a mass amount of practical effects that should keep both horror and gore fans extremely pleased. With no shortage of violence and guts, we get to see men have their cheeks stretched to the point of them being ripped off their faces, battered women with bruising so well done it looks painfully real, bodies cut down the middle and splitting, necks slashed and gushing with blood, large metal pins getting stuck through skin, legs being cut off, and lots more such as Kakihara's very own party trick. These moments, along with its brutal depiction of rape and torture, are no doubt the very reasons the film is still banned in some countries today, including Malaysia, Norway and Germany. Personally, it takes a lot to unnerve me – the joys of making horror movies has ruined the magic of film somewhat for me – but I do feel my teeth clench during certain moments of the film that, otherwise, would have my husband walking right out of the room. It's most certainly not for everyone, but Ichi The Killer is a film worth seeing and an experience you'll never forget!
Overall: Controversial, unique, and highly entertaining, Ichi The Killer is one of Miike's many masterpieces and an experience that will stay with you for a long time!
DVD Extras: Audio Commentary by Bey Logan, Alien Sun & Eliot Tong, Interviews with Cast & Crew, Photo Gallery, Out-takes, Behind The Scenes Footage, Bio's & Filmographies, Trailers
ILLANG: THE WOLF BRIGADE
(South Korea 2018)
Original Title: Inrang
Directed by Kim Jee Woon Produced by Kim Woo Sang Starring: Gang Dong Won, Han Hyo Joo, Jung Woo Sung, Yeri han, Choi Minho, Kim Mu Yeol, Jun Jin Seo Reviewing: Netflix UK Release Genres: Action / Sci-Fi / Thriller
Rating - 4 / 5
Synopsis: Set in the distant future, where both North and South Korea have agreed to establish a joint government, rebel armies on both sides launch political uprisings and cause riots on the streets. A special police unit called The Wolf Brigade, is formed to handle to situation – taking no prisoners when confronted by the enemy. (139 Mins)
Views: This live adaptation of Mamoru Oshii's wonderful, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, swaps the setting of an alternate Japan for Korea in the near future (2029) where governments from the North and South are preparing to unify after many years of preparation. As their finalised date draws closer though, an anti-reunification terrorist group called 'The Sect' is determined to stop them from going further. After a series of violent attacks and explosions, the government launched a special unit known as 'Illang' (aka The Wolf Brigade) who are sent out to take down the rebels. Pushing forward like an unstoppable army, the Illang soon infiltrate the terrorists hideout, killing them off one-by-one in a blistering shoot-out. A young girl, who acts as a weapons mule for the group, tries to make her escape only to find herself cornered by Im Joong Kyung – a highly trained member of The Wolf Brigade who tries to talk her down. Reassuring her that she will be fine, Joong Kyung's progress is quickly interrupted with the arrival of a more aggressive officer. Knowing that she has nowhere to go, the young girl triggers an explosive device in her backpack – killing herself (and some soldiers) to avoid arrest. Shocked at what he just witnessed, Joong Kyung becomes emotionally conflicted about his role as one of the Illang and soon comes across Lee Yoon Hee, the older sister of the dead girl. After she helps him understand a few truths about what is happening, the soldier starts to have his loyalties questioned by those around him and soon finds himself fighting for his life (and hers), in a bid to stand up for what he believes is right!
I thought it was interesting that Illang: The Wolf Brigade was a bit of a bomb upon its release in South Korea, encouraged by negative reviews from both critics and audience members alike. Personally, I thought it was an incredibly well-made and entertaining film – albeit quite a lengthy and heavy journey at times with little moments of misdirection – but hardly enough to put me off. But that can be expected with such a strong story and subject matter, that Mamoru Oshii himself says, 'is a powerful movie that provokes lots of thought'. Perhaps the idea of combining both nations in this lifetime was a little too real for many people, with Kim Jee Woon presenting a rewrite of the classic anime that came across a little too realistic in some respect. At the same time, this may have been the kind of story that would have been best suited to a two-part film, allowing the narrative to feel a little less over-stuffed and less confusing at times. The incredible Kim Jee Woon had just come off the fantastic period-spy-thriller, The Age Of Heroes, which was no easy production in itself and I can only imagine had he taken another year before starting production for rest and focus, then Illang: The Wolf Brigade may have had its creases ironed out before they had started to shoot. Of course, not every film the man makes can be outstanding and with many hits already behind him – such as The Quiet Family, A Tale Of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life, I Saw The Devil, and many more – I wouldn't think that the poor box office performance of this title would be enough to stop him from getting back on top with his future productions.
While Illang: The Wolf Brigade may suffer from a little too much melodrama and a slow middle section, there is still enough going on that kept me entertaining. The cast is pretty strong, although many critics have complained that they deliver uncharismatic and fairly flat performances. I would disagree with the fact that Kim Jee Woon is not the kind of director that would accept that, considering the number of incredible performances we've seen in his previous films. There's also the fact that Illang is not set in a light and happy period, so it actually suits the film more given how stoic and uncharismatic these characters actually are. I can only imagine how odd and out of place it would look if everyone had a spring in their step and were delivering lines in a more upbeat tone. Gang Dong Won plays conflicted soldier Im Joong Kyung, the eventual hero of the story who gets in on a hell of a lot of action during the course of its running time. I first saw Gang in the stunning 2005 film, The Duelist (which I highly recommend) before catching him as the titular character in the wonderfully fun, Woochi: The Demon Slayer. Although he had starred in a number of great titles before and after the aforementioned, it would be a number of years before I saw him once again in the action-packed zombie sequel, Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula, which was his follow up project to this. As Joong Kyung, I felt that Gang did a pretty good job in offering enough emotion when called for but ultimately, showing what a bad-ass action hero he can be in the movie's amazing action scenes. Popular television and film actress Han Hyo Joo stars as Lee Yoon Hee – the Sect member and potential love interest to the soldier. Although I haven't seen much of her, Lee has been jumping between the small screen and big screen for almost 20 years now and does a decent job as the damsel in distress, finding herself in many dangerous situations and often in the thick of the action. Han Sang Woo, the former member of the Wolf Brigade who quit after the massacre of Bloody Friday, is played by Kim Mu Yeol – now the deputy head of the Public Security Department who has it in for Joong Kyung and any members of the Sect. Relatively new to the scene, Kim has climbed the ladder fast appearing in some great titles such as The Scam, War Of The Arrows, Warriors Of The Dawn, and the epically fun Space Sweepers, to name but a few. Kim delivers a great performance as Han, and like his co-stars, gets in on the action including a great face-off against Gang towards the end. The popular Jung Woo Sung, who appeared alongside the great Andy Lau and Leslie Cheung in Poon Man Kit's Shanghai Grand, played the lead in the epic Musa: The Warrior, and a memorable role alongside Michelle Yeoh in John Woo's Reign Of Assassins, joins Kim Jee Woon once again a decade after working with him on the fantastic Western action-comedy – The Good, The Bad, The Weird. Here, he gets to play Jang Jin Tae, the chief trainer of the Wolf Brigade and does a great job as the menacing ex-boss of Joong Kyung who eventually has to go up against one his number one soldier. A host of other recognisable faces help flesh out things, such as Choi Jin Ho, Heo Joon Ho, Han Ye Ri, and Shin Eun Soo as the little girl in the red cape that changes Im Joong Kyung's path.
The stunning cinematography is captured by the wonderful Lee Mo Gae, the award-winning DOP who started his career shooting for Kim on A Tale Of Two Sisters. Returning to work with him on The Good, The Bad, The Weird, and I Saw The Devil, Lee delivers a constant array of gorgeous visuals that make Illang: The Wolf Brigade worth watching. Of course, these are even more impressive when the Wolf Brigades armoured suits are brought into play – utilising the glowing red eyes with some great lighting and shadows, which makes for many incredibly memorable scenes and some highly stylised cinematography. Composer Mowg (Lee Sung Hyun) returns to work with Kim once again after providing some award winning scores for the director on titles like I Saw The Devil and The Age Of Shadows, and covering Kim Jee Woon's Hollywood debut on The Last Stand starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. With a lengthy filmography behind him as a composer, Mowg continues to entertain with his work on Illang: The Wolf Brigade creating some haunting tracks that really fit the piece beautifully. Between them, both Lee and Mowg (along with Kim) give the very best of Hollywood, something to be concerned about – backed by some great CGI and VFX shots that ramp things up and make this production an incredibly stunning piece...
Although Kim Jee Woon has based the story off the original Jin-Roh, he has definitely brought more than enough alterations and changes in that was undoubtedly one of the main complaints with fans of the anime. One of these changes would be with the action, something that was lacking somewhat in the original material. And although that's not necessarily a bad thing, I always felt it would have been great to see those soldiers in more action with that cool armour and glowing eyes. Thankfully, Kim Jee Woon does just that and offers up a healthy dose of incredible battle scenes – mixing martial arts and gun-play that would make John Woo himself envious. The highlights for me would be the opening attack on the Sect members base, an epic set-piece in and around the Namsan Tower in Seoul, and the final 30 minutes which includes an epic shoot-out in the sewers as well as Joong Kyung facing off against his old boss! All in all, Illang: The Wolf Brigade may not be perfect, but it still has more than enough great moments going on to keep it in line with Kim Jee Woon's track record of highly entertaining movies
Overall: Although it may prove a little complicated to follow at times, Illang: The Wolf Brigade is still hugely ambitious with plenty of gorgeous visuals and amazing action to keep you watching!
THE INVINCIBLE FIST
(Hong Kong 1969)
Original Title: Tie Shou Wu Qing
Directed by Chang Cheh Produced by Run Run Shaw Action by Tong Gaai, Lau Kar Leung Starring: Lo Lieh, David Chiang Ku Feng, Chen Sing, Lee Ching, Wu Ma, Hsu Hsia, Cliff Lok, Wong Ching, Fang Mien, Cheng Lui, Yen Shi Kwan, Yuen Woo Ping, Yuen Cheung Yan, Yuen Shun Yee Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Drama
Rating - 3.7 / 5
Synopsis: Here Lo Lieh (future international star of King Boxer) plays a dedicated chief constable for Tsang Chou village, who falls in love with the blind daughter of a bandit who is wreaking havoc. (93 Mins)
Views: The opening credits to this Chang Cheh epic, would lead you to believe that The Invincible Fist had some sort of horror element to it. As a band of ninja-esque assassins slaughter a whole household in order to rob it, the screen is halved with some spooky green credits backed by an eerie score that tricks its viewers. Its a minor gripe, as the violent action hooks you right away. Jumping instantly to a tea house in the middle of the countryside, we meet chief constable Lo Lieh and his team – one of who is a young David Chiang. Soon after they leave, we learn that one of the robbers (Chen Sing) had been sitting close by. When his identity is revealed, Chen fights his way through everyone to escape, but leaves a bloody mess behind as he runs. Unfortunately for him, Chen soon bumps into Lo Lieh as well as his gang brother Peng Yun Chiang (Shaw's star Ku Feng), and we are treated to the third bout of action in under 15 minutes that leaves Chen Sing dead!
The Invincible Fist seems to receive a bit of a mixed bag of reviews, with many saying how its got too much fighting and not enough enough story, but I really like it. Chang Cheh made 5 films in 1969, with this being one of them, so I'd be happy enough to forgive the man for wanting to do a more low-key, straight-forward film with a less convoluted plot. A tale of a dedicated police chief determined to find some murderous bandits, while falling in love with the bandit leaders' blind daughter hardly makes for a boring time. The film features some beautiful cinematography making great use of the Shaw Brothers sets as well as some great location shots courtesy of Japanese cinematographer, Miyaki Yukio who shot a number of their classics such as Return Of The One Armed Swordsman, Heroes Two, and Chinatown Kid. The action is handled by Tong Gaai and the legendary Lau Kar Leung, both of which had been working at Shaw's for some time already. Between them, they deliver a host of fast and furious, violent action that doesn't disappoint, although don't be expecting any cool shapes here. While called The Invincible Fist, the majority (if not all) of the action here is swordplay along with an array of crazed weapons that the bad guys use such as, the Golden Abacus, bird-shaped throwing darts, a bladed umbrella, and what looks like a writing brush that shoots out on a chain allowing the user to pull his victim closer. It seems to have been the running theme for Chang Cheh during this period after the success of his One Armed Swordsman a couple of years prior, along with other Jimmy Wang Yu swordplay epics like The Trail Of The Broken Blade, The Assassin, and Golden Swallow also starring Cheng Pei Pei. And while a lot of the fighting is pretty grounded, there are a number of moves enhanced by some wire-work; something perhaps that the team were still experimenting with...
The great David Chiang doesn't get much in the way of character development, but does get to take part in a number of exciting fight sequences before suffering a brutal death against a gang of bandits. It would be at least another year before he would become the Shaw Brothers star we know, but still makes enough of an impression here keeping fans happy. Be sure to watch out for a host of other familiar faces such as the famous Yuen brothers, a young Cliff Lok and fan-favourite Wu Ma, who also served as an assistant director to Cheh. I must also add that it amazes me to see just how much Yuen Woo Ping, Yuen Cheung Yan and brothers appear in these early Shaw Brothers movies, and more-so, under the direction of Lau Kar Leung in terms of the fight scenes. Its not an influence we often think about when looking at the success of the Yuen Clan, but its quite clear that Lau Kar Leung gave more to the Hong Kong film world than we actually realise.
While the wonderful Lee Ching and the storyline between her and Lo Lieh doesn't really come in until after the 1 hour mark, it still proves effective given the tension between Lieh and the blind girl's father, played by veteran actor Fang Mien. Of course, when the father returns home to find his daughter looking after the wounded constable, he can only be nice to Lieh in offering that final challenge so as not to upset her or let her know what a bad man he really is. Stepping outside to a misty swamp area, Lieh and Fang Mien deliver their final blows in an exciting battle, resulting in a heavily wounded hero returning to his new love after promising her father to keep his secret and look after her!
Overall: Classic old-school, The Invincible Fist is highly entertaining with plenty of swordplay action and Chang Cheh violence!
IP MAN: THE AWAKENING
Original Title: Yip Min: Zong Shi Jue Xing 葉問宗師覺醒 (aka) Ip Man 6: The Awakening
Directed by Li Xi Jie, Zhang Zhu Lin Produced by Gu Lei Action by Shi Zhan Biao, Xu Wei Starring: Tse Miu, Hou Tong Jiang, Hao Yan Fei, Chen Guang Ying, Sergio De Leso, Gu Lei, Hua Qi Long, Bai Long, Zhao Yu Xuan Reviewing: Private Screening Genres: Martial Arts / Action / Drama
Rating - 3.3 / 5
Synopsis: A brand-new entry in the landmark film franchise based on Bruce Lee’s legendary teacher, Ip Man: The Awakening is a fresh story in the martial arts saga and a tightly choreographed, fight-filled spectacle not to be missed! While visiting Hong Kong, a young Master Ip intervenes in a kidnapping attempt, unintentionally igniting a turf war with a ruthless human trafficking ring. In retaliation, the gang kidnaps one of Ip Man's close friends, leaving him with no choice but to challenge the group's notoriously brutal boxing champion head-on. Headlined by Miu Tse, the young star of Jet Li classics, Legend of the Red Dragon and The Enforcer, Ip Man: The Awakening also stars Chen Guan Ying, Zhao Yu Xuan and Hao Yan Fei. (77 Mins)
Views: The popularity of Donnie Yen's incredible Ip Man movies elevated the name and persona of the real-life kung-fu master, to a whole new level. While martial-arts fans had always connected him to superstar Bruce Lee, these new fantasised stories got the film fans excited and soon studios all over Hong Kong and China were keen to start production on their own Ip Man story. While most of them tried to work (in some ways) to the timeline of the Wilson Yip directed movies, others set out on a path of their own – much like this one. Ip Man: The Awakening tells the tale of its titular hero in his earlier days, set before he became the revered grandmaster and started a family; similar, in ways, to the time period of Herman Yau's The Legend Is Born: Ip Man, with Dennis To (which is a fantastic movie). Not long after he arrives in Hong Kong, the young hero finds himself in a city of crime, and jumps straight into action to stop a mugging on a tram which, incidently, reunites him with an old friend Bu Feng. To help his heroic friend, Feng gets Ip Man a job with him as a rickshaw driver and introduces him to new friends, as well as his sister, Chan. Not long into the job, Ip comes across a gang of human traffickers who are attempting to kidnap young women from the town. Springing into action once again, Ip Man saves the damsels in distress, but soon finds himself in trouble with Mr. Stark; an angry British crime-boss who is behind the smuggling. In a bid to lure Ip Man to his home, Stark kidnaps Bu and Chan then sets two of his prized fighters on the young hero who prove to be a handful. But after Ip Man comes out on top, Stark challenges him to a public battle where he aims to see Ip Man defeated and destroy the hopes of the Chinese so that he can continue his reign of terror...
While many have criticized this film for its short running time, low production values, and basic story telling, I still felt that it proved to be an enjoyable kung-fu romp offering up plenty of neatly choreographed martial-arts action – which was its saving grace. But the major highlight for me was its main star, Tse Miu; the highly talented and cute child star from Jet Li's forgotten classics, New Legend Of Shaolin and My Father Is A Hero. Starting life in the Hong Kong film industry at the age of 9 with a role in Frankie Chan's swordplay epic, A Warrior's Tragedy, Miu found himself called for the first of the Jet Li movies by director Wong Jing in 1994. That same year, Wong would cast the young star alongside Chow Yun Fat in the fantastic God Of Gamblers Returns, before pairing him up once more with Jet Li in the aforementioned, My Father Is A Hero – this time with Wong Jing producing and Corey Yuen Kwai directing. While it seemed that a bright future lay ahead for the young star and martial-arts film fans around the world couldn't get enough of him, Tse Miu would only appear in one more film as a kid before shifting over to the smalls screen for a period. That film was the Wong Jing produced Teenage Master, a fun family-comedy also known as My Father Is A Hero 2, putting Tse in his first main leading role alongside Hong Kong stars such as Ken Lo, Ng Man Tat, and Collin Chou/Ngai Sing, among many others. In 2003, and now an adult, Tse Miu would return to film in Daniel Lai's Iron Lion, and has since continued to star in martial arts features such as Tsui Siu Ming's underrated Champions, Empire Of Assassins, The Kung Fu Master, and more including Tsui Hark's epic Taking Of Tiger Mountain and The Thousand Faces Of Dunjia – as well as a host of television shows and web-movies. Although in his late 30s at the time of shooting, Tse highly impresses as the young Ip Man – and still carries that natural look of anger on his face that he always had as a kid – giving kung-fu fans something to smile about as he delivers some fantastic moves, and proves that his time as a kick-ass child star was only the tip of the iceberg!
Tse is joined by a cast of Chinese actors of which I'm not too familiar with, except for Hou Tong Jiang; an older actor who has also starred in films such as Kevin Chu's Just Call Me Nobody, along with Empire Of Silver and Monk Comes Down The Mountain – both of which were with Aaron Kwok. I must also point out the wide use of Western actors – most of whom did a pretty good job, and especially those in the action department. The film is directed by Li Xi Jie and Zhang Zhu Lin, with the former also directing Tse Miu in the brilliant Eighteen Arhats Of Shaolin Temple – an epic TV/Web movie on a much grander scale. Before this, Zhang had directed the fun action-fantasy film, The Mystical Treasure (you can find my review of that movie here on the site) which, while being another low-budget web-movie, proved to be enjoyable and was big on creativity. The fantastic martial-arts action was handled by choreographers Shi Zhan Biao and Xu Wei; a couple of fresh action-directors who have been in front of the camera just as much as they have behind. Regardless, they manage to deliver a number of well spaced and highly exciting fight scenes from brutal gang showdowns to well designed one-on-ones, any true fan of kung-fu cinema can't deny that what's on-screen when Tse Miu busts a move, is highly impressive. The story of Ip Man: The Awakening isn't as dramatic or engrossing as Donnie Yen's bigger productions – but you can definitely see the inspiration from them in certain scenes throughout. To be honest, it's the kind of story I'd have expected in a Wong Fei Hung movie (if I haven't seen it already), and especially those of the past decade or so. That said, for a movie that runs under 80 minutes in length, I wasn't expecting a finely tuned piece or a screenplay that was going to win many awards. What I expected was solid kung-fu action, and that's exactly what I got. I only hope that we start to see more of Tse Miu's films made available very soon.
Ip Man: The Awakening premieres on the Icon Film Channel from 3rd April. Sign up for a 7-day free trial at Iconfilmchannel.uk or via the Icon Film Amazon Prime Video Channel with a release in selected UK cinemas from 5th May. Own it on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital 5th June from Kaleidoscope & Icon Film
Overall: While hardly original in its story and execution, Ip Man: The Awakening is still a fun watch and has plenty of great fight action to enjoy!