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K-20: THE LEGEND OF THE

BLACK MASK

(Japan 2008) 

Original Title: K-20: Kajin Niju Menso Den (aka) K-20: The Fiend with Twenty Faces

Directed by Shimako Sato Produced by Chikahiro Ando Action by Tatsuro Koike Starring: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Jun Kunimura, Kanata Hongo, Toru Nakamura, Takako Matsu, Takeshi Kaga Reviewing: Manga UK DVD Release Genres: Action / Adventure / Comic Book

Rating - 4.3 / 5

DVD Synopsis: Based on the best-selling graphic novels, K-20: The Legend Of The Black Mask is a big-budget swashbuckling action epic combining elements of Zorro, Robin Hood, and Batman and starring Takeshi Kaneshiro (Red Cliff, Warlords) one of the hottest actors in Asia right now. It's 1949 and World War II never happened. Nikola Tesla has just won a Nobel Prize rather than dying in obscurity and the Japanese Empire is an undying aristocracy where the rich sip tea out of bone china, while the poor die in the gutters. K-20, the Fiend with Twenty Faces, steals from the rich and gives to himself. But now, on the eve of the marriage between society princess, Yoko Hashiba, and chief of police, Kogoro Akechi, the friend frames simple circus acrobat Heikichi Endo (Takeshi Kaneshiro) for his crimes. Under arrest and sentenced to death, Endo must escape his captors and clear his good name before 'The Fiend With Twenty Faces' can unleash his evil plan to destroy the entire nation! (137 Mins)

Views: The year is 1949. World War 2 never happened and Nikola Tesla is alive and well, having just won a Nobel Prize for his work on wireless energy transmissions. Set in an alternate world, the story of K-20 is set in Teito, the capital of Japan. There's a strong divide between rich and poor, where orphans roam the streets looking for their next meal and rich are backed by an Imperial aristocracy who rule with fear and a strong hand. As life goes on in this post-Dickens steampunk world, one man gives the wealthy something to fear as he steals their riches and vanishes into the night. That man is K-20, the fiend with 20 faces! Unlike Robin Hood, K-20 keeps what he steals for himself – therein losing the love of most of Teito's population, although it doesn't exactly phase him. Elsewhere, circus acrobat Heikichi Endo has been hired by a stranger to take photos of an aristocrat's wedding. Sneaking onto the glass dome of the location, Heikichi takes his first snap which, unbeknownst to him, triggers a bomb in the same building. Caught by some guards and inspector Akechi, Heikichi soon finds out that he had been set up by K-20 to take the fall for him – allowing the masked fiend to get on with his work. Beaten and imprisoned with no hope of freedom, Heikichi starts planning his escape in a bid to clear his name and stop the real K-20 which, in turn, leads to him saving the world in an action-packed finale that reveals a shocking twist!

There's something a bit magical about K-20, and I mean in the classic movie sense. Imagine Batman or V For Vendetta told in a much more classical fashion, minus the Hollywood noise and cliches you would normally expect. Instead, K-20 delivers a gorgeously shot superhero drama based on the popular Japanese manga of the same name (dating back to the 1930s), with high production values, wonderful set-pieces, fantastic SFX, and plenty of amazing action. While WW2 has not happened, the general vibe and look of this new Tokyo scream a war-torn country, with plenty of nods to it being controlled by a government much like that of Hitler's army. The handsome Takeshi Kaneshiro was the perfect choice to play circus acrobat, Heikichi Endo, who charms his way through the film as the real hero of the piece. Although doubled for a number of his trickier moments, Kaneshiro gets to show off some impressive moves that would make any fan of parkour jealous as he trains himself to master the art of free running and thievery, armed only with a small grappling hook that adds a hint of Spiderman to his actions. In fact, it would be K-20 himself that offers more of a Batman quality to the film, gliding around in the dark and adept at hand-to-hand combat, and often whipping his cape about for effect.

K-20: The Legend Of The Black Mask also benefits from a great supporting cast, such as Takako Matsu – from films like The Hidden Blade, and Confessions – who plays the damsel in distress, Yoko. Popular actor Toru Nakamura stars as Inspector Akechi, K-20's arch-nemesis, and well-respected aristocrat. I first saw Toru in the fun Gen-X Cops, and soon after in the equally entertaining Tokyo Raiders from Jingle Ma. The super cute Kanata Hongo plays Yoshio Kobayashi, the Inspectors ward and busy assistant. I've always enjoyed watching Kanata, with performances in films such as The Prince Of Tennis, Gantz, Attack On Titan 1 & 2, and the 2002 sci-fi flick The Returner - his first role where he actually played a younger version of Kaneshiro's character. The wonderful Jun Kunimura plays Genji, a mentor, and sidekick to Takeshi's wanna-be hero. Having started in the film industry in the early 70s, Jun has starred in almost 200 productions and gained many fans around the world for his role as Boss Tanaka in Kill Bill 1 & 2 as well as his roles in The Wailing, Ichi The Killer, Audition, Godzilla: Final Wars, Shin Godzilla, and Attack On Titan 1 & 2 that would see him work alongside Kanata Hongo once again. Takeshi Kaga plays the masked fiend and villain of the piece, K-20. While he hasn't been as busy as Jun Kunimura, Kaga has been in the business for the same length of time appearing in film and television dramas such as Ultraman, Sonny Chiba's G.I. Samurai remake, Samurai Commando Mission 1549, Death Note: The Last Name, and Blazing Transfer Students...

It was a pleasant surprise to find that K-20: The Legend Of The Black Mask was directed by a woman - namely Shimako Sato, wife of popular feature director Takashi Yamazaki, the man behind hits like The Returner, Heat Guy J, Parasyte 1 & 2, and Space Battleship Yamato – of which Shimako was the writer. It was also a surprise to find out that Shimako's directorial debut was Tale Of A Vampire back in 1992, starring Julian Sands and Suzanna Hamilton. While she seems to have directed a mix of genres during her career, I'd say that K-20 was definitely a change of pace for her and most likely her biggest film to date. And while it's fantastically made and proved to be a hit upon release, it seems that Shimako Sato took a break from directing after making only 3 features after this. No chance for a K-20 sequel anytime soon I guess?! With great comic book visuals and welcoming CGI, the film is also backed by a magnificent score courtesy of Naoki Sato, a Japanese composer who has worked on many projects with the duo and much more including the scores for Eureka Seven, The Last Princess, Rurouni Kenshin, and Assassination Classroom. For K-20, Naoki delivers a score akin to that of the most classic Hollywood soundtrack, from exciting swashbuckling tracks to emotional and sentimental works that help make the music a big part of this exciting movie.

All in all, I'd actually forgotten just how wonderful K-20: The Legend Of The Black Mask actually was. It's been quite a few years since I last watched it, but to be honest, I'll not be letting it wait that long before the next time. It's a wonderful adventure film that never seems to bore me, and it's quite possibly one of my favourite Takeshi Kaneshiro movies to date!

Overall: An exciting and action-packed swashbuckling superhero epic, K-20 is well worth the watch and a lot of fun!

DVD Extras: Making Of Documentary

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KAIJI THE ULTIMATE GAMBLER

(Japan 2009) 

Original Title: Kaiji: Jinsei Gyakuten Gemu

Directed by Toya Sato Produced by Naoto Fujimura, Kazuhisa Kitajima Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Ken'ichi Matsuyama, Taro Yamamoto, Yuki Amami, Shogen, Kei Sato, Takuma Anzai, Teruyuki Kawaga, Sotaro Reviewing: 4 Digital Media UK DVD Release Genres: Gambling / Thriller / Drama

Rating - 3.5 / 5

DVD Synopsis: Kaiji Ito (Tatsuya Fujikawa – Death Note/Battle Royale) leads a hand to mouth existence whilst working part time at a convenience store. Frustrated with society at large, Kaiji spends his days gambling, vandalising cars, and drinking... A debt collector named Endo arrives to collect on a loan he co-signed for a friend. She offers him two choices: spend 10 years paying of his loan or board a gambling boat for one night to repay his debt and possibly make a whole lot more. But the unscrupulous Endo is actually conning Kaiji, believing he won't come back from his voyage. Kaiji is about to face the night of his life... (130 Mins)

Views: Tatsuya Fujiwara plays Kaiji Ito, a down-trodden man who works part-time at a convenience store and has a bit of a hatred towards the upper-class society that disrespect his very existence. Having found himself in trouble with some local gangsters and a debt collector called Endo, Kaiji is given 2 options that really don't offer him any positive outcome. The first is to pay back a loan over 10 years at a rate that would see him penniless for the rest of his life, and the second is to board a mysterious ship for one night of gambling that could leave him with his debts cleared and enough money left over to change his life. Opting for the ship, Kaiji soon finds that he has entered a game of death that takes Rock, Paper, Scissors to another level. After being cheated out of his gaming lives, Kaiji ends up working in the mines for the same organisation that owns the ship forced into slave labour that pushes him to the edge. Given another chance to win back his freedom, Kaiji risks life and limb as he takes on the elite in a host of high risk games which results in a one-on-one card battle with the cocky Yukio Tonegawa, the crazed controller of the games...

I must admit, I've never been the biggest fan of popular actor Tatsuya Fujiwara. I often tend to roll my eyes anytime I see him on the cover of a movie, which leads me to delay my purchase or viewing of said movie. I can't decide whether it's his bad teeth, bad hair, or annoyingly bad over-acting, but I just can't seem to take to the guy no matter what roles I've seen him in. Of course, that's not to say he's bad at his job! Obviously, he has a huge following and has led enough box office hits to make me eat my words, starring in massive film series' such as Battle Royale, Death Note, and obviously the Kaiji Trilogy. Based on the popular manga by Nobuyuki Fukumoto and its adapted anime series (both of which I have not yet had the pleasure), Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler proves to be an exciting ride – criticised, of course, by fans of the original source material. But then again, what live-action adaptation of any popular manga isn't? Before viewing this though, I had actually watched (and have become a huge fan of) the Chinese remake from director Han Yan, Animal World, with Li Yifeng in the starring role along with an appearance from Michael Douglas himself. For me, that was a much more enjoyable experience laced with incredible SFX, a lot more energy, and was bursting with some incredible action scenes which this adaptation didn't really have. That's not to say that Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler was boring by any means!

Director Toya Sato does a grand job in bringing the popular manga to life in a movie that could easily be summed up as God Of Gamblers meets Saw to some degree, although it does take its own path. Directing his first project in 1982, it would be a good decade before Sato would step behind the camera once more, and almost the same time again before his third. The turn-of-the-century would see the director focus mainly on television series as well as helming the live-action adaptation of the wonderful Studio Ghibli film, Grave Of The Fireflies, and the popular sci-fi superhero show, Gatchaman in 2013. Compared to the aforementioned Animal World, this adaptation offers a more classical approach to film making with a much darker tone at times that proved popular enough to spur on 2 sequels with Kaiji 2 in 2011 and Kaiji: Final Game in 2020. Its a story that focuses on the class divide of Japanese society where a host of rich people play games with the unemployed and lower-class citizens, betting on their lives in deadly games for their own entertainment. It's a dark tale, and something that seems to be a popular storyline for many Japanese manga and films that obviously carry a social commentary on the country to some degree. The film also sees the return of a few stars from the popular Death Note series, including Fujiwara himself and the handsome Ken'ichi Matsuyama who played L, and Shogen from the later remake. The rest of the cast include of host of recognisable faces from the Japanese film industry who have starred in hits like Azumi, 20th Century Boys, and Tokyo Gore School, as well as Taro Yamamoto who starred alongside Tatsuya Fujiwara in the massive Battle Royale.

Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler may prove a little long-winded for some mainstream viewers, playing a lot of its time on explanatory flashbacks and voice overs to let us know what characters are thinking – but this is a very common thing in both manga and anime shows. That said, it still proves to be quite entertaining with plenty to enjoy, wild characters and situations, and enough suspense during gameplay to keep you guessing which way things are going to go. Fans of Japanese cinema will no doubt have seen it by now, but others should enjoy it nonetheless. I would however, say that you should definitely watch this original first before diving into the ultra-wild Animal World. I've yet to see the sequels at this stage, but I'd be happy to check them out after watching this...

Overall: Typical of modern Japanese cinema, Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler is a darkly fun ride with great performances from all involved and plenty to enjoy!

DVD Extras: Making of Documentary, Trailers

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KAMUI: THE LONE NINJA

(Japan 2009) 

Original Title: Kamui Gaiden

Directed by Yoichi Sai Produced by Akira Morishige, Yui Tamae Action by Takahito Oh'uchi, Kenji Tanigaki Starring: Ken'ichi Matsuyama, Koyuki, Kaoru Kobayashi, Koichi Sato, Hideaki Ito, Sei Ashina, Ekin Cheng, Yuta Kanai, Suzuka Ohgo, Akihiko Sai Reviewing: Manga UK DVD Release Genres: Ninja / Martial Arts / Drama

Rating - 4 / 5

DVD Synopsis: Kamui: The Lone Ninja is an epic adventure unlike anything you've ever seen before. With a cast bursting with Asian cinema's hottest talent – including Ken'ichi Matsuyama (Death Note Trilogy) and Koyuki (Blood: The Last Vampire) – this stunning fantasy-adventure packs a real punch: extreme martial arts action and heart-stopping set-pieces all played out by a cast of deadly ninjas, fierce warrior clans, treacherous pirates and fearless shark hunters! From a young age Kamui has been considered something of an outcast, even within his own ninja clan. Disillusioned with the laws and principles, which dictate that he must use his skills to kill others, Kamui chooses to leave his past behind him and go in search of true freedom. But for a ninja liberation comes at a price and the only way to escape the bonds of the ninja brotherhood is to die. Now a fugitive on the run from his clan, who are determined to hunt him down and eliminate him for his betrayal, Kamui finds himself constantly fighting for his life and unable to trust anyone. He eventually finds some solace when he meets an indomitable fisherman who saves his life and invites him to settle with his family. Unexpectedly, the arrangement brings Kamui face to face with a long-forgotten nemesis of his, another renegade ninja with a deadly score to settle. Meanwhile, the ninja army hunting Kamui is setting a trap from which there can be no escape... (120 Mins)

Views: Based on the manga by Sampei Shirato (of which I am a fan of), Kamui: The Lone Ninja tells the tale of a young ninja warrior who breaks free from his clan and goes on the run. As his old master and former clan members attempt to track him down and kill him, Kamui finds himself washed up on the shore of a small fishing village after being thrown overboard from a boat owned by Hanbei, a fisherman who just cut the leg off a horse belonging to the brutal Lord Gumbei. Seeing it as fate in having him wash up in his village, Hanbei offers to let Kamui stay with him and his family until he is better and ready to go. As it turns out, Hanbei's wife, Sugaru, is also a defect ninja who escaped from the very same clan 14 years previous, and soon, Kamui makes the connection. Promising Sugaru that he is not there to kill her, the pair agree to keep the truth of their past lives hidden for the chance of a peaceful future in the village. Of course, trouble isn't far behind and a local idiot decides to turn Hanbei in for his crimes. Sentenced to execution, Kamui and Sugaru set out on a rescue mission that all goes to plan, but soon find themselves at the mercy of the Watari men who save them from a vicious shark attack on their trip home. Forcing themselves into village life and helping to provide for the locals, the Watari soon reveal their true nature and it doesn't take long for the two defects to realise they are in danger, which calls for them to put their ninja skills to full use in order to stay alive and protect those around them!

I really enjoyed Kamui: The Lone Ninja, and probably just as much as the more popular Azumi from Ryuhei Kitamura. Director Yoichi Sai delivers a film that stays true to its original source material, both in terms of storyline and visuals, with many scenes looking like they were taken straight out of the comic book and quite a few scenes that would easily fit into an Akira Kurasawa epic. While there are moments of questionable CGI, it doesn't distract too much and is often used to bring the comic book scenes to life – including some of the wilder action scenes such as the shark attacks, fights in the air, and advance ninja moves. Although he has only directed 20 films since the start of his directorial career in the early 80s, Yoichi Sai still makes Kamui a worthwhile watch with plenty of colour, great action scenes, and nice character development that all provide a well-balanced film, yet at the same time, still allows for a little more fun than most of the straight-laced samurai and ninja movies out there...

From the smallest background character to the supporting characters with more vital roles, everyone gives a great performance throughout the film. The super-popular and handsome Ken'ichi Matsuyama leads the way as the titular Kamui, delivering a great performance as the ninja warrior. Having started his acting career in 2002 after appearing in the television show, Gokusen, the model turned actor has managed to rack up almost 80 credits to his name is just 2 decades including films like Kamachi, Vanished, Detroit Metal City, Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler, and Norwegian Wood, and made a fantastic impact playing roles in both the Death Note and Gantz series. Also starting her career as a model before turning her hand to acting, Koyuki stars as Sugaru and does a great job in all departments. The late 90s would see her on-screen in many television shows and movies including popular J-horror Pulse (Kairo), Ryuhei Kitamura's Alive, and made her Western debut alongside Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai as well as appearing in the live adaptation of Blood: The Last Vampire. Hong Kong superstar Ekin Cheng stars as Kamui's ninja master, and while it's a role that anyone could have played, it was still nice to see him appear in something a little different. Veteran actor Kaoru Kobayashi stars as elderly fisherman Hanbei, returning to work with director Sai after his wonderful leading role in Quill: The Life Of A Guide Dog, and Hideaki Ito – star of Takashi Miike's Sukiyaki Western Django, Terraformers, Lesson Of The Evil, and other hits like When The Last Sword Is Drawn, 252: Signal Of Life, and The Princess Blade (which was choreographed by Donnie Yen and Kenji Tanigaki) – stars as the menacing Watari leader, Fudo, who gets to take on Kamui in the closing battle.

The gorgeous cinematography is handled by Jun'ichi Fujisawa, a trained eye who has been shooting films from the mid-80s including titles such as Yoichi Sai's Quill: The Life Of A Guide Dog, Gunhead, 9 Souls, and many more. He is joined by Tomoo Ezaki in what would be his feature film début and between them, deliver a host of beautiful shots that capture the story of Kamui well. These visuals are backed by an equally gorgeous score delivered by the popular Taro Iwashiro, a talent that has been behind the music on many hit films for the past few decades including animations such as The Dog Of Flanders, Rurouni Kenshin: The Movie, Bong Joon Ho's Memories Of Murder, Azumi, Shinobi: Heart Under Blade, The Sinking Of Japan, 252: Signal Of Life, and a host of John Woo titles including Red Cliff 1 & 2, The Crossing 1 & 2, and the disappointing Manhunt. Donnie Yen stunt team regular and director of his action-comedy Enter The Fat Dragon, Kenji Tanigaki, handles the action along with choreographer Takahito Oh'uchi – who also worked with Yen on Flash Point, SPL, and Special ID. Both as an actor and choreographer, Kenji has worked on many great Hong Kong titles over the years including Tokyo Raiders, Shinjuku Incident, Silver Hawk, Hidden Man, and the Rurouni Kenshin live-action movies from Japan. Having worked as the stunt double for Scorpion in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Kenji started working with Donnie Yen on Shanghai Affairs going through the years on the most (if not all) of his projects right up to the late Benny Chan's final action opus, Raging Fire, with Yen and Nicholas Tse as the stars. Throughout Kamui, Tanigaki provides plenty of exciting action scenes with many moments of wire-enhanced battles that stay true to the comic book, but enough grounded hand-to-hand ninja battles to please any fight fan. The final 20 minutes in particular are a treat!

While not perfect, Kamui: The Lone Ninja is a great movie overall with plenty of entertaining values and a great cast onboard. It's a shame we just haven't got to see any sequels as yet from the same team, as this story was only scratching the surface of what the original source material offers. Now over a decade later, it's more likely that the story will sooner get the remake treatment than bring back Matsuyama as the titular character and Sai as director. But here's hoping...

Overall: Well acted and directed, Kamui: The Lone Ninja is a great adaptation of the classic manga that offers plenty of great action and visuals to keep viewers entertained!

DVD Extras: Press Conference of Premier Screening, Red Carpet Features, Cast & Crew Greetings, Trailers

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KARATE COP

(USA 1991) 

(aka) Omega Cop 2: The Challenge; Dragon Cop

Directed by Alan Roberts Produced by Garrick Huey, Ron Marchini Action by Chris Ost Starring: Ron Marchini, Carrie Chambers, David Carradine, Michael Bristow, D.W. Landingham, Michael Foley, Jeff Lee, Gary Phillips Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Martial Arts / Action / Thriller / Sci-fi

Rating - 1.5 / 5

Synopsis: John Travis is the last honest cop in a future dominated by terrorist martial-arts gangs who fight gladiator-style in arenas. (90 Mins)

Views: I decided to move my review of the Jeff Wincott/Cynthia Rothrock vehicle (known in the UK as) Karate Cop, back to its original title of Martial Law 2: Undercover so that I could fit in this sequel to Ron Marchini's sci-fi action flick, Omega Cop – a film I probably haven't watched since it's release in 1990. Ron is back as ass-kicking John Travis, a lone wolf in a cop uniform (albeit slightly altered) traveling the land in a dystopian future. He soon saves Rachel from a horde of wasteland warriors who enjoy beating up regular people in gladiator-style, martial arts tournaments. Rachel looks after the Freebies, a bunch of orphan children who see themselves as freedom fighters and they soon convince John to help them find a special crystal that will help power a transporter machine, in a bid to get them all out of the hell-hole they live in. While on his mission, Rachel gets kidnapped by big boss Lincoln, forcing Travis to fight in the ring so that he can win her freedom...

I remember this hitting the video shops back in the early 90s under the title of Dragon Cop. It was a pretty cool cover, although very typical of US action movies of that time, and featured a shot of Ron doing a very impressive kick, and while I lent more towards the Hong Kong releases on the shelf next to it, I do remember giving Karate Cop a go and enjoying it to some degree. Almost 30 years later, and I guess I'm still tickled by it in some ways. The script is often hilarious and jam-packed full of cheese, with production standards kept to a minimum (much like my own movies) and a cast of extras that are clearly having a great time – because most of them actually don't know how to act. This is the kind of film that hit video shops on a weekly basis in the early 90s, challenging the likes of Van Damme, Segal, and even Arnie with their bad acting, crazy storylines, and pointless action scenes. Karate Cop totally ignores how Omega Cop ended and comes across as an Albert Pyun-directed project that blends The Running Man with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. It's amazing to think what kind of stuff actually got green-lit for production back then, with films like this pouring out from independent studios on a monthly basis. But I guess they clearly had a following. The bad guys are hilarious, especially the one called Snaker – a villain who takes a little inspiration from Cobra Commander, complete with dodgy face make-up to give him more of a reptilian look. His boss is the god-awful Lincoln, played by D.W. Landingham who also starred in Omega Cop, although as a completely different character. The late David Carradine pops up in an extended cameo as the owner of a bar called 'Dads', where he tries robbing Travis and kicks off a bar brawl and is quickly disposed off within minutes. For such a small role, Carradine reportedly bagged himself $10,000 for the day – a hefty sum that, if I had been making the movie, would have been spent on something much more worthwhile!

I think the first film I ever saw Ron Marchini in was the 1970s kung-fu schlock flick, Death Machines, where he played the White Death Machine. After that it was a cheap ninja adventure, Ninja Warriors, which was based on a story by Ken Wantanabe, an 80s actor who starred alongside him as well as appearing in Ninja's Force, 9 Deaths Of The Ninja, and the fun Karate Kid rip-off, Karate Warrior, as Master Kimura. Although a karate champion of the 1960s and 70s, Marchini would only star in 11 low-budget features during the course of his acting career with his self-directed Karate Raider, being his final title in 1995. Karate Cop was directed by the late Alan Roberts, a producer/director/editor who started in the business in the early 70s with The Zodiac Couples. Although he continued to work until his death in 2016, Roberts worked across a number of genres from soft-core adult movies to horror, and drama's to action. Although he was hardly behind anything amazing or highly memorable, Roberts manages to make Karate Cop an enjoyable enough watch, offering plenty of fun action scenes all wrapped up in that typical 90s straight-to-video style with plenty of unintentional comedy.

Overall: One of the better 'bad' action flicks of the 1990s, Karate Cop is saturated in typical low budget Hollywood tripe and offers plenty of laughs along the way!

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THE KARATE KID

(USA/China 2010) 

Directed by Harald Zwart Produced by Jerry Weintraub, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith Action by Jackie Chan, JC Stunt Team Starring: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson, Yu Rong Kwong, Han Wen Wen, Wang Zhen Wei, Luke Carberry Reviewing: Sony Pictures UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Drama / Martial Arts

Rating - 4.3 / 5

Blu-ray Synopsis: When Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) and his mother (Taraji P. Henson) move from Detroit to China, Dre feels lost in a world very different from what he knows. Bullied and beaten up by some fellow students in his school, Dre is rescued by his apartment building's handyman, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), a man who is mourning a devastating loss. Mr. Han takes pity on Dre and agrees to teach him kung fu to defend himself. Training together, teacher and student learn to trust each other, and ultimately form a friendship that heals them both. (140 Mins)

Views: After his mum is transferred from Detroit to China through work, 12-year-old Dre finds himself lost as a fish out of water as he tries to adapt to his new life in Beijing. After making friends with another ex-pat his age (Harry), Dre catches the eye of local girl Mei Ying and tries to win her attention by showing off his mandarin – something that doesn't come across as natural as his dance moves. Although he impresses her, a small group of bullies dislike the fact that he is hitting on Mei Ying and attack Dre, putting him down in front of his new friends and making him feel small. Heading to his new school the following day, Dre soon finds that Harry, Mei Ying, and the bullies all attend the same place. Led by Cheng, the gang of bullies continue to make Dre's life hell, pushing him to the point of retaliation. When a chase through the streets takes him back to his apartment block, Dre finds himself corned by Cheng and his gang, who attack without a second thought. But before the final blow is dealt, Dre is saved by Mr. Han, the old handyman of his block, who takes down the bullies in a true lesson of self-defence as he uses their own moves against them and sends them running. Amazed with his saviours skills, Dre convinces Mr. Han to teach him the art of kung fu so that he can stand up for himself against Cheng and his gang. As their training moves forward, Dre learns that his new master is emotionally drowning in his own sadness after the unfortunate loss of his family. Together, both student and master form a friendship that helps them learn from each other in how to make their own lives better, and soon find themselves involved with a martial arts tournament that pits them against Cheng and his gang – led by Master Li, and old adversary of Mr. Han. Bringing everything he has learnt to the table, Dre makes it through to the final, and sets out to prove to himself that he can be something better – as well as make his master, mother, and Mei Ying, proud!

When the remake of The Karate Kid was announced, many fans of the original were a little hesitant in its production. The idea that Will and Jada Pinkett Smith were behind it to give their son Jaden his first major role, didn't exactly fill anyone with confidence. Then, when news came out that Jackie Chan would be playing the character of Mr. Miyagi and the location would be shifted to China – things just became a little more confusing. Karate is Japanese after all, and even though Chan's character would be teaching kung fu to young Jaden Smith, the film would (of course) continue to keep the original title. I have to admit, my hopes for this particular film were not high at all...

Thankfully, I could not have been more wrong and instantly fell in love with The Karate Kid! Dutch director Harald Zwart, the man behind family film Agent Cody Banks and the poorly received Pink Panther 2 with Steve Martin, delivers an incredibly well-made and heart-warming tale that makes good use of its Chinese locations and in turn, offers some gorgeous cinematography along the way. With the Smith family backed by more seasoned producers like Hollywood powerhouse Jerry Weintraub, who produced the original film and its sequel, and Hong Kong producer Solon So on board – there really isn't much about this production that I could say was bad. Although he had been appearing as a child actor for a number of years prior, such as the television show All Of Us, alongside his dad in The Pursuit Of Happiness, and the dire remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still, this was to be Jaden Smith's first feature film as the lead. Again, it wasn't something I thought would work with a huge age difference between him and the original character of Daniel – and not to mention the fact that at this age, Jaden was such a stick-thin, tiny kid with no martial arts skills – but with Jackie putting him through his paces on a physical level, including months of intense training with the JC Stunt Team, and some strong direction from Zwart, the young Mr. Smith won me over with his cheeky cuteness, comedic moments, emotional acting - and even went on to impress me in the action department. At times, it was like watching a young Will Smith delivering his lines (unavoidable, given who his father is of course) but there were moments that called for Smith to put his cuteness to the side and deliver a tear-filled and emotional piece of drama, allowing him to become his own person. It was these moments that got me more invested in him and his character of Dre. I know that 3 years later, many people questioned his acting abilities when he starred alongside his father once again in After Earth or has since been frowned upon by viewers for whom he has become or what he puts out on social media, but it goes without saying that his performance in The Karate Kid was perhaps the best of his career and it's only such a shame that a sequel didn't come about sooner.

The living legend that is Jackie Chan – my all-time hero – gives an Oscar-winning performance as Mr. Han, this versions Mr. Miyagi. With more than a few nods to the original character, Chan brings something a little different to the role offering enough of his trademark comedy moments such as chasing a fly with his chopsticks, only to smack it with a fly-swatter instead, and swaps Miyagi's infamous 'wax-on, wax-off' teachings for a lesson in hanging a coat up (something that Jackie came up with himself). It probably sounds silly in words, but works when seen on film given the context it was created for. Chan plays a much more subdued character than usual, crawling his way through life as a handyman for an apartment block as he fights the depression and burden of losing his family in a tragic accident. As he finds new life in the arrival of this lost kid, we get to see Chan deliver an incredible metamorphosis of a broken man as he finds some new direction and an unbreakable friendship in Dre. For me, it's a performance of Jackie's that I feel was ignored and forgotten about all too quick, and is one of my favourite characters played by Jackie Chan in any of his Hollywood outings. Of course, the main difference between his portrayal of such a character and that of the great Pat Morita's, is that Chan is the greatest action star of all time and knows how to kick ass! Of course, the story of The Karate Kid was never about the master fighting, but here we do get the chance to see Chan bust a move throughout. Unfortunately though with that said, his highlight fight of the finale against Master Li was cut – available as a bonus feature on the DVD and Blu-ray – which, for me, was an odd move given the amount of Jackie Chan fans that would have loved to have seen it added. The formidable Master Li is played by Hong Kong star Yu Rong Kwong, kick ass actor of classics such as My Father Is A Hero, Iron Monkey, Once A Cop, A Terracotta Warrior, Shanghai Affairs, Champions, and so much more, as well as starring alongside Jackie in films like Shanghai Noon, New Police Story, Little Big Soldier, and moved onto Police Story: Lockdown after this. He gives as much of a menacing performance as Martin Kove did in the original, as the rival kung fu school's master who has no problem smacking his kids when needed and forces them into a brutal way of fighting whether they like it or not. While he and Jackie get to face off in a dramatic sense, it's just a shame that their aforementioned final fight didn't make the cut.

The wonderful Taraji P. Henson does a wonderful as Dre's mother, offering a solid performance with some hilarious lines and strength behind her character. Having starred in blockbusters like Hidden Figures, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, and television show Empire, Henson's appearance is a great addition to the cast and another positive reason in what makes The Karate Kid so enjoyable. Having only appeared in a television show beforehand, child actress Han Wen Wen makes her feature film debut as Mei Ying, Smith's love interest and school friend of the story. Coming across very natural in her performance, Han seems to be having a great time with her role as she flits from a fun loving teenage girl when with Dre, to a more subdued and emotional person when under the influence of her overly demanding parents. And then of course, there is bully boy Cheng! Played by Chinese actor Wang Zhen Wei in his debut role, the character of Cheng lives by his masters orders, often coming across as a cocky and arrogant teenager that delivers some great moves and takes an instant disliking to Dre. Of course, this is the main challenge for the young American from his arrival in Beijing right through to the exciting finale in the ring. Having done such a great job, Wang went on to join Jackie Chan in some further productions such as Kung Fu Yoga, Vanguard, and the upcoming Project X-Traction, as well as getting the chance to join the illustrious MCU working on the stunts for Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Along with these guys, The Karate Kid is backed by a strong supporting cast both on the US and Chinese side of things, with hardly anyone giving a questionable performance and not a drip of that typical Hollywood cheese!

With some incredible locations such as The Forbidden City, The Great Wall of China, and mountain temples, The Karate Kid is more than just a straight-forward remake. It's got heart, it's got great performances, and so much more. Remaking any classic film that means so much to the older audience because of it's nostalgia, is always going to be hit with a lot of hatred. More fuel is added to that fire when the younger audience rates or reviews it on how they currently perceive the actors (or those involved with its soundtrack) personal lives, which is something I've noticed more-so with The Karate Kid. But it's really not that bad and actually proves to be more of a homage to the original than a remake in my opinion, and in the most positive sense. Both Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan deliver fantastic performances, with the latter giving once of his best dramatic roles to date. The action is exciting, the training scenes are memorable, and the direction is strong. And while it's easy for keyboard warriors to brush-off the workings of any movie with just a few negative words, I'm all about saving it when something is genuinely well made and offers a lot of positive elements. And that's what The Karate Kid offers for me...

Overall: An incredible remake that delivers a fantastic performance from Chan, The Karate Kid is a great family film that never tires!

Blu-ray Extras: Alternate Ending (Jackie Chan vs Yu Rong Kwong), Interactive Map of China On-Location, Production Diaries, Chinese Lessons, Making of Documentary, Music Video, Trailers

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KID WITH THE GOLDEN ARM

(Hong Kong 1979) 

Original Title: Jin Bi Tong (aka) Kid With The Golden Arms

Directed by Chang Cheh Produced by Runme Shaw Action by Chiang Sheng, Lu Feng, Robert Tai Starring: Sun Chien, Lo Meng, Philip Kwok, Lu Feng, Johnny Wang, Chiang Sheng, Yang Hsiung, Helen Poon, Wei Pei Reviewing: Black Hill Pictures/Koch Media German Blu-ray Release Genres: Traditional Kung Fu / Adventure

Rating - 4.3 / 5

Blu-ray Synopsis: Feared throughout the land are the merciless four of the dragon gangs: silver spear, brass helmet, iron fan and steel arm - they are the hardest fighters in Asia - their trade is killing. A gold transport is on the way to Yunnan. To prevent the dragon gang from attacking him, the government has given him a battle-hardened couple. But they are not up to the first confrontation. Luckily, the drunkard Hai Tao turns out to be an excellent fighter. He was once acquainted with the four of the Dragon Gang, ie fighting machines of the Shaolin. Now all he has to do is fight for justice... (85 Mins)

Views: In 1979, while Lau Kar Leung was focusing on delivering some strong features with Spiritual Boxer 2, Dirty Ho, and Mad Monkey Kung Fu elsewhere in the Shaw Brothers studio, prolific director Chang Cheh was churning out double the amount of movies from Ten Tigers Of Kwangtung to The Kid With The Golden Arm. After all, he did have over twenty-five years more experience than his main competitor as a director yet, for me, I am often inclined to lean more towards the works of Lau from this period – with Cheh's films feeling very repetitive and formulaic at times. Lau had only left Cheh's team a few years previous, where he had worked religiously as his main fight choreographer since the late 60s. But Chang Cheh was determined to prove to his old friend that he was still the king of the studio, complete with a brand new batch of kung-fu stars who had already proven their worth in the previous years Five Venoms and Crippled Masters. Chang directed his first feature film in 1949 at the age of 25, but it would be another 15 years before he made the move to the Shaw Brothers studio in Hong Kong where he would spend a strong 16 or 17 years creating some of the most talked about films from kung-fu cinema...

While it may be one of his most talked about Venom movies, The Kid With The Golden Arm certainly doesn't win any awards for story – working off a simple plot that allows viewers to experience as many fight scenes as the director can possibly cram in. And that's most certainly not a bad thing, with Cheh giving his audience exactly what they want with a highly-enjoyable kung-fu adventure, backed by an awesome cast and some fantastic choreography. Super-kicker Sun Chien plays Yang Hu Yun, aka the Iron Feet Lad (or Iron Foot Lad), the chief of an escort agency who have been tasked with moving a hefty sum of gold from the local government to a distant area that has been stricken by poverty. Part of this journey involves passing through the Deadly Valley – a place filled with ninja-like assassins, poisoned traps, and lethal fighters – so Yang secures the help of two mercenary fighters, Yen and Fang, as well as heroic swordsman Li and his girlfriend Leng Feng. After making a splash with his debut performance in Chinatown Kid, Sun secured his place in kung-fu cinema (and Shaw Brothers) with The Five Venoms that would see him go on to star in a host of classics such as this, The Daredevils, Crippled Avengers, House Of Traps, Bastard Swordsman, and so much more. By the mid-80s, Sun would make a move into low budget ninja movies and martial-arts adventure films that saw his career take a bit of a dive, eventually retiring from the scene after a small role in the fun Jackie Chan produced Angry Ranger - of which he also co-directed alongside one of his co-stars, Johnny Wang Lung Wei. As one of the two mercenaries, the great Chiang Sheng plays the character known as Short Axe, alongside Suen Shu Pau who plays Long Axe. Starting life at the Fu Sheng Drama School in Taiwan, Chiang soon got into the film industry when Chang Cheh founded his own production company under the Shaw Brothers banner. After many supporting roles and appearances as an extra in titles such as Wild Tiger, 18 Shaolin Disciples, The Condemned, Hand Of Death, and New Shaolin Boxers, Chiang got his first real prominent role in Cheh's epic Shaolin Temple that kick-started a strong career at Shaw's from there on. After starring in titles like The Naval Commandos, Magnificent Wanderers, The Brave Archer, and Chinatown Kid, Chiang added a notch to his belt by doubling as the assistant director on The Brave Archer 2 before moving onto The Five Venoms and this. The year after, Chiang would continue to star and help Cheh with directing as well as turning his hand to that of a martial-arts director – much like the rest of his co-stars would do eventually. Leaving the Shaw Brothers studio with Chang Cheh in the mid 80s, Chiang went onto star in a number of fun titles for a few more years including Attack Of The Joyful Goddess, Five Fighters From Shaolin, Shanghai 13, Ninja Kids: Kiss Of Death (a personal favourite), Ninja USA, and Exciting Dragon, eventually retiring from the screen by '89. Although his career and skills were highly praised and loved by kung-fu fans the world over, Chiang's life in the film industry came to an abrupt halt when his wife forced him to give it up – only to divorce a year later. Chiang soon sank into a world of alcohol and depression, sadly passing at the age 40 in 1991 with a broken heart. His body was found by his friend and co-star Ricky Cheng after lying alone for 3 days. Actor and martial arts director Suen Shu Pau started life with the Shaw Brothers in the mid-70s in films such as Marco Polo, Seven Man Army, and The Condemned, going on star in a host of Cheh's titles for the next few years. Aside from his role here, Suen would depart the studio to star in and choreograph more independent titles such as 7 Commandments Of Kung Fu, The Bone Crushing Kid, Dreaming Fists Slender Hands, and Legend Of The Owl, with a role in Robert Tai's Shaolin Vs Ninja being his last to date. It would be almost 4 decades later before Suen would return to film with his directorial debut of the little-known action-thriller Fox Spy, starring Eva Huang, Eric Tsang, and Waise Lee. The wonderful Wei Pei stars as swordsman Li Qing Ming, in what would be his final role for the studio before heading-off to Golden Harvest for greener pastures starting with John Woo's Last Hurrah For Chivalry the very same year. Apart from suffering a deadly blow from Dick Wei in a brief cameo, Wei is joined by the lovely Helen Poon who starred in previous titles such as Crippled Avengers, Heroes Of The East, and Dirty Ho, as his sword-swinging girlfriend Leng Feng...

Before they head off on their journey, the escort guards are made aware of the feared Che Sa gang who are intent on stealing the gold. The gang is led by four chiefs- each of whom get the chance to display their styles in the films opening sequence. Lo Meng leads the way and is as fantastic as always as the titular character of Golden Arm. It's a role that seems quite similar to his one as the Toad Venom in The Five Venoms but there are also call-backs to Crippled Avengers too, such as when he gets blinded towards the end. But I guess that was part of the charm of Chang Cheh's Venom Mob movies. For the most part, each of them played like a live-action comic book with bizarre and fantastical characters that seemed to have jumped right-off the pages from any of Tony Wong's Jademan Comics. As the toughest of the ruthless bandits, Meng impresses with his kung-fu abilities, proving his worth as a master of unarmed combat. This accountant-turned-actor joined the Chang Cheh train in Shaolin Temple after he watched introduced to the director by one of the Shaw brothers. Meng followed the same path as the rest, eventually starring in many other titles for Shaw's such as Hex Vs Witchcraft, Lion Vs Lion, Human Lanterns, and Bastard Swordsman. In the mid-80s, he would start appearing in more modern works such as Michelle Yeoh's Magnificent Warriors, Hard Boiled, Return To A Better Tomorrow, Ebola Syndrome, Sex & Zen 3, and the fun Anna In Kung Fu Land – eventually finding a resurgence of sorts in the film world when he was cast as Master Law in Donnie Yen's Ip Man 2, followed by Gallants, The Grandmaster, Vampire Clean-up Department, and returning as Master Law for Ip Man 3 & 4.The brilliant Lu Feng comes in second as the deadly Silver Spear, as well as doubling-up again as one of the fight choreographers. It's another great role for Feng that allows him to show his acrobatic skills, as well as delivering some great kills with his weapon of choice. After starring in his first real prominent role in The Five Venoms, Lu went onto star in many of Chang Cheh's films from there on in. After Cheh's departure from the studio, Lu tried to keep busy with roles in his films like Attack Of The Joyful Goddess, The Demons, and Shanghai 13 before going on to appear in some fun films like Fight Among The Supers, Ninja Kids: Kiss Of Death, Death Ring, Ninja Condors, and a cameo in Cheh's Ninja In Ancient China before retiring from the scene in the mid-late 90s. The awesome Johnny Wang Lung Wei stars as the 3rd chief, Iron Armour Wei Lin – the tough bastard with the iron fan who gets to have an impressive showdown with Philip Kwok. Although he was never really seen as a Venom as such, Johnny starred alongside the team for a good majority of their journey with Chang Cheh – often going up against them as the hard-as-nails villain – with Heaven & Hell in 1980 being his last title for the director. Robert Yang Hsiung completes the team as Copper Head, the muscle-bound fighter with a copper headband who enjoys delivering a good headbutt wherever he can. Although he had been in the business a few years before, Yang joined the Shaw Brothers studio in 1976 when cast as an extra in Chang Cheh's Shaolin Temple. From there his roles got bigger as he starred alongside the majority of this cast in most of Chang's titles that followed, eventually moving into independent titles and Lau Kar Leung's studio movies from 1980. Yang would also join forces with Alexander Lo Rei and Robert Tai, going on to star in some of their movies such as Devil Killer, Shaolin Vs Lama, Shaolin Vs Ninja, Shaolin Chasity Kung Fu, and Super Ninja – as well as starring in a host of fun titles such as A Fistful Of Talons, A Heroic Fight, Kung Fu Wonder Child, Widow Warriors, Brave Young Girls, Island Of Fire, and so much more. And finally, the awesome Philip Kwok plays drunken sheriff Hai To – the man who takes no crap, loves a drink, and is out to stop the bandits of Deadly Valley with his deadly moves. This is probably one of my favourite Kwok roles and, as usual, he impresses with some incredible acrobatics and moves that confirm why he was always my favourite Venom. Kwok started his film career with roles in Chang Cheh's The Fantastic Magic Baby, Marco Polo, Boxer Rebellion, and Seven Man Army, also appearing in outside titles such as One-Armed Boxer Vs The Flying Guillotine, Hand Of Death, and The Traitorous. 1976 was a crazy busy year for Kwok, appearing in 10 titles in all including Cheh's New Shaolin Boxers and Shaolin Temple, going on to follow his friend and co-star Chiang Sheng with the same run of titles (for the most part) over the next few years. After co-directing, choreographing, and starring in Ninja In The Deadly Trap with some of his Venom brothers, Kwok spread his wings when it came to the end of Chang Cheh's contract and appeared in other Shaw studio titles such as Holy Flame Of The Martial World, Demon Of The Lute, and Crazy Shaolin Disciples. As the late 80s crept in, he moved into modern action with memorable roles in The Big Heat, The Peacock King, Seven Warriors, In The Line Of Duty 6: Forbidden Arsenal, Story of Ricky, and the epic Hard Boiled – as well as many others. Of course, Philip had also been keeping himself busy over the years doubling-up as a martial-arts director and action-choreographer which began in the late 70s with Chang Cheh's Ten Tigers Of Kwangtung, The Daredevils, Magnificent Ruffians, and others, before going on to handle the action in many modern hits such as A Chinese Ghost Story with Tony Ching Siu Tung, The Peacock King, Erotic Ghost Story, Tiger Cage 2, Zen Of Sword, The Bride With White Hair 1 & 2, Hard Boiled, and worked with Michelle Yeoh on her international breakthrough role in Tomorrow Never Dies as well as her self-produced adventure, The Touch.

Chiang Sheng, Lu Feng, and Robert Tai return as the fight choreographers for The Kid With The Golden Arm, delivering a constant flow of fantastic martial arts battles. For me, the fight between Philip Kwok and Johnny Wang Lung Wei was amazing, with the latter dying in the most painful way imaginable as his spear is rammed up his ass while he descends from a jump. And then of course, there is the lengthy finale that sees Kwok take on Meng's Golden Arm Kid as well as Sun Chien's Iron Feet. It's a brilliant end battle with some surprises, but definitely stands out as one of my favourites from the team. Prolific writer Ni Kuang teams-up with Chang Cheh for the umpteenth time to provide the script, with Chiang Sheng also working as assistant director once again. Cho Wai Kei, who was the DOP on Just Heroes and The Untold Story, captures the films neat cinematography and had been working for the studio since the early 70s from The Lady Hermit and The Long Chase, through to Journey Of The Doomed and Johnny Wang Lung Wei's directorial debut of The Man Is Dangerous in 1985 before going on to shoot films such as Armour Of God, As Tears Go By, Miracles, and Prison On Fire. While I must say that I found it odd that Chang would set the title of his film based on a villain (and to see Lo Meng in a rare bad guy role as that character), it's fair to say that Cheh and his team bring fans yet another tremendously fun kung-fu classic that may not have the most original of plot lines, but it still delivers some incredible martial arts action!

Overall: Action-packed and a lot of fun, The Kid With The Golden Arm is well worth the watch!

Blu-ray Extras: Alternate German Theatrical Version (77Mins), Trailer, Photo Gallery

Watch my unboxing video of this Koch Media release HERE

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KING BOXER

(Hong Kong 1972) 

Original Title: Tian Xia Di Yi Quan (aka) Five Fingers Of Death; The Invincible Boxer; An Iron Man; Hand Of Death; Zhao The Invincible

Directed by Chung Chang Wha Produced by Run Run Shaw Action by Lau Kar Wing, Chen Chuan Starring: Lo Lieh, Wang Ping, Wang Chin Feng, Nan Kung Hsun, Tien Feng, Chao Hsiung, Tung Lin, Chen Feng Chen, Ku Wen Tsung, Fang Mien, Chan Shen, Yu Lung Reviewing: Arrow Video Shaw Scope Blu-ray Release Genres: Martial Arts / Drama

Rating - 5 / 5

Arrow Video UK Blu-ray Synopsis (Book): Veteran boxer Song Wuyang is beaten up by Wan Hongjie, and saved by his daughter Ying-ying and a disciple, Zhao Zhihao. Later, the old boxer advises Shao to improve his technique at the Shang Wu Institute in order to capture the All China Boxing Trophy. On the way, Zhao rescues a girl, Yan Zhuhong, from Wan Hongjie and his thugs. At the institute, Zhao discovers that the manager, Meng Dongshan, his son, Meng Tianxiong, and a thug, Chen Lang, scorn Song Wuyang and the institute's coach, Sun Xinpei, and are bullying the locals. Chen Lang becomes Zhao's bitter enemy, and the latter leaves the institute to further his training with Sun Xinpei in order to oppose Wan Hongjie, Chen Lang, Meng Dongshan, and his son. When a jealous former classmate, Han Long, injures Zhao's hands in a fight, Yan Zhuhong rescues him and they fall in love. Soon, though not fully recovered, Zhao is picked to fight in the great tournament. The same evening, old Song Wuyang dies. Meng Dongshan now finds little use for Han Long and has his eyes gouged out. After Zhao wins the trophy, the blind Han Long kills Meng Dongshan and his son, and gains Yan Zhulong's love. Zhao and Song Ying-ying set off together for home. (106 Mins)

Celestial Pictures HK DVD Synopsis: Months before Bruce Lee burst onto the international scene with Enter The Dragon, this powerful story of tragedy, torture, redemption, and revenge premiered across America under the unforgettable title Five Fingers Of Death. It went on to become the first international martial arts movie hit and made a continent-spanning star of LoLieh. Now, finally, after more than thirty years, the original King Boxer takes its rightful place as the film that started it all for the Western world. (97 Mins)

Views: There are certain titles of the film world that need no introduction, and many of which are from the Shaw Brothers studio. In fact, King Boxer is one of those titles – although more popularly known in the west as Five Fingers Of Death – the film that boosted Lo Lieh's credentials as a leading man and jumped the gun on a certain Bruce Lee to become the first kung-fu movie that would capture a western audience, beating his film The Big Boss to screens by about 5 months. Lieh plays Zhao, a skilled martial artist whose talents are a burden unto himself and those he loves. Challenged by many and hung-out to dry by a jealous classmate, Zhao soon finds himself on a journey of love, revenge, and redemption as he faces off against the local thugs and strives to win the All China Boxing Tournament!

I absolutely love this movie! Released as the first film in the gorgeously packaged Shaw Scope Vol.1 box set from Arrow Video, King Boxer has never looked better and still proves to be as amazing today as it did 50 years ago (if not better). Wonderfully directed with strong dramatic storytelling and fantastic kung-fu fights, the film has long inspired and been referenced to throughout pop-culture over the years – and none more famously than in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill which would also borrow the Claxton sound (or angry siren) that King Boxer had actually borrowed from the late 60s television show, Ironside. I would also say that this is one of my favourite Lo Lieh titles, with the actor oozing a fantastic coolness and charm that is more-often-than-not portrayed by Jimmy Wang Yu in his movies. Interestingly enough, King Boxer plays in many ways like a retread of The Chinese Boxer with Jimmy Wang Yu and Lo Lieh, or at the very least continues to build on the foundations set by it (and even that of The Big Boss). And while it may seem familiar at times, the story never feels boring or forced to any degree – still managing to deliver something a little more non-traditional than everything else that was coming out of the studio at this point. This would be down to director Chung Chang Wha, a South Korean director better known by his given name as Jeong Chang Hwa. Staring off in the early 50s with his directorial debut Final Temptation, Jeong then wrote, produced, and directed his second feature called Street Of Temptation just a year later. This action crime-drama set after the Korean war, clearly made enough of an impression that saw him dish out close to another 30 titles before making the move to Hong Kong in the late 60s. After a few titles for lesser known studios, Jeong made his first film with Shaw Brothers in 1969 called Temptress Of A Thousand Faces – an action flick starring Tina Chin Fei and Chan Leung. Obviously the film was well enough received to keep Jeong on the books, and the brilliant Heads For Sale soon followed, along with The Sword Hand and Valley Of The Fangs all in the same year, with the latter marking the first time he would work with Lo Lieh. 1971 would see him direct Six Assassins with King Boxer co-star James Nam, and The Swift Knight straight after – again, with Lo Lieh in the leading role as well as a few other cast members from this production. Although King Boxer was a great success around the world, Jeong soon made the leap to Golden Harvest to work under producer Raymond Chow who had defected from the Shaw Brothers studios just a couple of years before. It's here that Jeong could loosen his belt for his final decade as a director making films such as The Devil's Treasure, The Skyhawk, The Association, Double Crossers, and the classic Broken Oath...

Born in Indonesia to Cantonese parents, the great Lo Lieh started life in the film industry when he joined the Shaw Brothers studio in 1964. After a bit part in The Dancing Millionairess, Lo quickly climbed the ladder as an actor appearing in films such as Temple Of The Red Lotus, The Twin Swords, The Sword & The Lute, Tiger Boy, Magnificent Trio, and Golden Swallow – all alongside Jimmy Wang Yu – as well as roles in King Cat, The Thundering Sword, Dragon Swamp, and Brothers Five for director Lo Wei (which also featured choreography by Sammo Hung). More prominent roles in the aforementioned Valley Of The Fangs and The Chinese Boxer (again with Wang Yu) took him through to a busy year in 1971 where he would star in no less than 10 feature films, right through to the production of King Boxer in '72. From there, Lo Lieh went on to star in (and appear in) hundreds of fantastic titles right through to the turn-of-the-century, just before his death at the end of 2002. Respectively, Lo made his own directional debut the year after King Boxer with Devil & Angel – a martial arts crime-thriller also starring Wu Ma and Chan Wai Man, which was also produced as part of his own film company, Lo's Film. For that film, Lo also secured the fight choreographers from King Boxer – Lau Kar Wing and Chan Chuen – and went onto direct a further 8 films including the highly regarded Clan Of The White Lotus, Black Magic With Buddha, and Zen Master 6. South Korean born actor James Nam stars as Han, the jealous kung-fu student who double-crosses Lieh and loses his eyeballs in a vicious attack when karma comes back to bite him. Nam is great in the role and impresses with some great moves – as he always does. Starting with the Shaw Brothers in 1970, Nam appeared in 4 productions including Chang Cheh's brilliant epic, The Heroic Ones. Another 4 would follow in 71, such as Six Assassins and The Golden Lion, before he upped his game the following year by starring in 5 features for the studio which were The Water Margin, 14 Amazons, The Thunderbolt Fist, Flower In The Rain, and this. While he never did reach A-list status, Nam went on to star in almost 50 films over the next decade including titles like the fun Gambling For Head, The Devil's Treasure (for director Jeong), The Secret Rivals (of which he also worked on as an assistant director) Fist Of Fury 2, Bruce & Shaolin Kung Fu, Deadly Angels, Enter The Game Of Death, and many more – as well as directing a handful of titles over the years. On another note, Nam had already been an established singer and actor back in South Korea and after arriving in Hong Kong at the start of the 70s, went on to share an apartment block with a young John Woo, as both would be under a similar contract with the Shaw Brothers studio. The rest of the cast would be filled out with a number of great actors including Wang Ping as the love interest of Lieh's, and an actress that appeared in plenty of great titles over two decades such as The Chinese Boxer, The Duel, The Killer, 14 Amazons, Hurricane, and Magnificent Bodyguards with Jackie Chan. Wong Gam Fung – a Taiwanese Shaw Brothers actress who only appeared in 13 productions including Pursuit, 14 Amazons, and The Thunderbolt Fist – co-stars as the drumming singer, and prolific actor Tien Feng appears as the patriarchal villain of the piece. Starting his film career in the late 1940s, Feng went on to star in over 170 films across 4 decades from The One-Armed Swordsman and its original sequel to 14 Amazons and The Fate Of Lee Khan, as well as roles in classics such as Jackie Chan's Young Master and Dragon Lord, Ninja In The Dragons Den, A Better Tomorrow, Sex & Zen, and so much more. His wicked son is played brilliantly by Tung Lin, with Fang Mian as Lo Lieh's master of the Iron Palm technique. Ku Wen Chung stars as Lo's teacher and Korean actor Kim Ki Ju lights-up the screen as Chen Lang – the head-butting martial artist who eventually changes his ways. It was great to see Bolo Yeung cameo as a Mongolian fighter scamming people for bets, and a host of recognisable faces show-up throughout including younger stars and stuntmen such as Yen Shi Kwan, Brandy Yuen, Chui Fat, Yuen Shun Yi, and Lau Kar Wing, who also doubled up as one of the fight choreographers alongside kung-fu journeyman, Chan Chuen.

The wonderful Lau Kar Wing (brother to the legendary Lau Kar Leung) began his film career as an actor in the early 60s, moving into the role as a martial arts director just a few years later starting with The Elusive Golden Butterfly for director Suen Lun in 1966. A few years later, Chan Chuen followed a very similar path having started as an extra with Shaw Brothers around 1966, then going into martial arts direction soon after that with his first project being The Protectors in '71 for director Wu Ma – which incidentally, also starred Lo Lieh in the lead role and had Chan in a small role himself. The same film would see Chan work under the watchful eye of Lau Kar Wing, marking the first time the pair would direct action together before going-on to work on a lot of titles as a team, over the years. Of course, both would go on to star in well-over 100 titles each as well as turning their hand to directing with Lau delivering titles such as He Has Nothing But Kung Fu, Odd Couple, Treasure Hunters, The Dragon Family, City Cops, and the awesomely fun Sammo Hung film Skinny Tiger Fatty Dragon. Chan would direct titles including Kung Fu Vs Yoga, Energetic 21, Fearless Hyena 2, Friendly Ghost, and It Takes A Thief with Yukari Oshima and Chin Siu Ho. Between the two of them, Lau and Chan manage to bring some incredibly exciting martial arts battles to the screen – most of which are packed with fast and furious choreography, violent strikes, and more excitement than any Chang Cheh classic. I don't think I could ever bore of King Boxer and even 50 years later, still find the film to be just as exciting and well made today as it was upon release. Highly recommended!

Overall: Wonderfully made and packed with fantastic martial arts action, King Boxer is one of the finest kung-fu classics out there!

Arrow Video Blu-ray Extras: 2k Restoration of 4K Scan, Audio Commentary by David Desser, Appreciation Film with Tony Rayns, Interview with Director Chung Chang Wha, Interview with Korean Cinema Expert Cho Young Jung, Cinema Hong Kong: Kung Fu Documentary Part 1, Alternate Opening Credits from Five Fingers Of Death, Trailers, TV Spots, Radio Spots, Image Gallery

Celestial Pictures DVD Extras: Production Notes, Trailers, Photo Gallery

Watch my unboxing video of this Arrow Video release HERE

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KNOCKABOUT

(Hong Kong 1979) 

Original Title: Za Jia Xiao Zi (aka) The Fight

Directed by Sammo Hung Produced by Raymond Chow Action by Sammo Hung Starring: Yuen Biao, Leung Kar Yan, Sammo Hung, Lau Kar Wing, Karl Maka, Lee Hoi Sang, Mars, Lam Ching Ying, Peter Chan, Billy Chan, Chung Fat, Yuen Tak, Benz Kong, Yuen Miu, Wang Kuang Yu Reviewing: Eureka Video UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Traditional Kung Fu / Comedy

Rating - 4.5 / 5

Eureka Video Blu-ray Synopsis: Another fast and furious kung fu comedy classic directed by Sammo Hung (The Millionaires Express), Knockabout features a cast of martial arts movie legends including Yuen Biao (The Prodigal Son), Bryan 'Beardy' Leung Kar Yan (Warriors Two), and Lau Kar Wing (Odd Couple) alongside Hung himself. Brothers Yi Pao (Yuen Biao) and Dai Pao (Leung Kar Yan) are a couple of down on their luck conmen. After getting soundly defeated by the kung fu master, Silver Fox (Lau Kar Wing), the brothers realise it would be in their own self-interest if they learn how to fight, and they ask him to train them. Unfortunately, their new master is actually a ruthless killer, and when the brothers realise this, one of them is murdered. To get revenge, the surviving brother must learn a unique form of kung fu from an unlikely source, a beggar who just happens to be a master fighter! Featuring one of the greatest action finales in the history of Hong Kong cinema, Knockabout is yet another classic of martial arts filmmaking from the legendary Sammo Hung, and Eureka Classics is proud to present the film from a brand new 2K restoration. (104 / 92 Mins)

Hong Kong Legends DVD Synopsis: Martial arts movie legend Sammo Hung (Martial Law, Millionaires Express) sets a new standard in action with the fastest, funniest and most furious kung fu comedy ever. Knockabout provides a fantastic starring vehicle for Hung's protege, Yuen Biao (Prodigal Son, Iceman Cometh), the most acrobatic action star in Hong Kong cinema history. Two down-at-heel conmen, Yipao (Yuen Biao) and Taipao (Leung Kar Yan, Warriors Two) decide to learn kung fu from a martial arts master (Shaw Brothers legend Lau Kar Wing). When they discover that their teacher is really a ruthless killer, Taipao is murdered, and Yipao is forced to learn the skills of a kung fu fighting beggar (Sammo Hung) to take revenge. Discover one of the greatest action finales in the history of Hong Kong Cinema, and experience a career-high performance from physical genius Yuen Biao. Knockabout is not to be missed! (100 Mins)

Views: The brilliant Yuen Biao and Leung Kar Yan play a couple of brothers who get through life scamming people and cheating in gambling dens. One day they try to scam a new guy in town, but he turns out to be a highly skilled martial arts master who opts to take them both on as students, but when they discover that their new master is a wanted criminal known as Silver Fox, they both find themselves on the receiving end of his attacks. After his brother is killed, Yuen barely escapes with his life and soon finds help from a portly beggar who is a master of monkey style kung-fu. Together, they join forces to bring down the Silver Fox and seek revenge for Leung's murder in a blistering finale that showcases some of the finest kung-fu action ever filmed!

Having started in the film industry as a child-actor alongside his brothers Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung (along with a number of other stars from the Peking Opera School such as Yuen Wah, Yuen Kwai, and Yuen Tak), the hugely underrated Yuen Biao went on to appear in over 50 films as a stuntman, extra, and bit-player before getting his big break here in Sammo Hung's fantastic Knockabout. From Fist Of Fury and The Valiant Ones to The Magic Blade, The Man From Hong Kong and Hand Of Death to Enter The Fat Dragon, it was clear that the little dragon had something special to offer with his physicality and on-screen persona, and it was very quickly recognised by fans of Hong Kong cinema after his roles in this, The Magnificent Butcher, The Young Master, Dreadnaught, and an outstanding performance in the epic Prodigal Son which cemented his place in kung-fu cinema – going on to entertain fans in a host of amazing titles over the decades. As the star of Knockabout, Yuen Biao finally stepped out of the shadows and displayed an outstanding amount of intricate moves blended with great comic-timing, and a range of physicality that perfectly highlighted just what an incredible performer he could be. Here, he is joined once again by the wonderful Leung Kar Yan after the pair shared the screen in Sammo Hung's brilliant Warriors Two (albeit with Biao in a small bit-part) and Enter The Fat Dragon, before going on to join forces in Yuen Woo Ping's awesome Dreadnaught. As I've mentioned before in many reviews over the years, I'm always amazed how how incredible Kar Yan's forms and kung-fu skills are on-screen for someone who has never been formally trained as a a martial artist. Of course, in Knockabout Leung impresses once again and holds his own against the likes of Biao, Hung, and Lau Kar Wing when given the chance. The late 1970's were an incredible time for Hung as a director and star, from his directorial debut with Iron Fisted Monk in '77 through to Enter The Fat Dragon, Dirty Tiger Crazy Frog, Odd Couple, Warriors Two, Incredible Kung Fu Master, and The Magnificent Butcher (from Yuen Woo Ping) – it seemed that there was no stopping this, already well-established, star. With Knockabout, Hung delivers a film where the comedy is often hilarious and the fight scenes highlight the physicality of its stars via some amazing choreography – some of which even challenges that of their brothers offerings in Snake In The Eagles Shadow and Drunken Master, or any amount of Shaw Brothers hits that were coming out around this period. There was no denying that Sammo was a director and choreographer to watch out for (never mind an action star in his own right), and could easily challenge anything put out by Yuen Woo Ping and Lau Kar Leung respectively. Brother of the latter, the great Lau Kar Wing, stars as the villain of the piece and already had hundreds of titles under his belt by this stage of his career, both as an actor and a choreographer. A number of these titles were with Sammo Hung and included films like Dirty Tiger, Crazy Frog and the self-directed Odd Couple, both of which were from the short-lived Gar Bo Films. They would also share the screen in Sammo's classic Warriors Two and continue to work together over the decades on a number of amazing titles, including the awesome Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon in 1990 of which Lau directed and starred in as the main villain once again. In Knockabout, Kar Wing does a fantastic job in the villainous role as Silver Fox where he gets to deliver yet another amazing display of kung-fu moves that highly impress, and is always a joy to see in action. The rest of the cast is filled out with a host of welcome faces including the brilliant Karl Maka (who shared the screen with Hung and Lau a number of times before this) as the bonkers police captain, Peter Chan as the bankers son, Yuen Tak, Chung Fat and Billy Chan as casino staff members with prolific actor Ho Pak Kwong as their boss, Yuen Miu as a boatman (and waiter), Lee Hoi Sang and Wang Kuang Yu who star as two old enemies of the Silver Fox, and the always enjoyable Mars as yet another man in search of the grey-haired fighter. Also keep an eye out for appearances from Lam Ching Ying, Johnny Cheung, Benz Kong, and many more...

The cinematography was crisply captured by Ricky Lau, director of the Mr. Vampire Saga, Where's Officer Tuba?, Ghost Punting, and Yuen Biao's The Hunted Hunter, while the script was written by Lau Tin Chi and Huang Chik Chin, with the former also playing the role of Peter Chan's banker-father. Lau's first offering as a writer was with the Hui brothers hit, Games Gamblers Play, before going on to write a number of fun titles over the years including The Young Master, The Victim, Two Toothless Tigers, and this. Although the story is pretty basic and hardly groundbreaking for its time, Sammo makes sure not to lose his audience by providing some awe-inspiring choreography – of which there is plenty of. From the fun casino fight to the initial attack on Silver Fox, and the five-person battle with Lee Hoi Sang to the breathtaking showdown, fans certainly can't complain about the fight-action on offer. Of course, no traditional kung-fu flick would ever be complete without an abundance of highly entertaining training sequences, and Knockabout certainly delivers without ever getting boring. Interestingly enough, it was made the same year as the fantastic Odd Couple – a Lau Kar Wing directed film that saw Sammo Hung co-star, along with many of the names included here, and Leung Kar Yan taking on the role of the main villain. Thankfully though, each film differed enough on the master and student storyline which helped offer-up two exciting and fight-filled pieces from the team, making 1979 a very exciting year indeed for movie fans. Of course, there must have been some monkey magic in the air during this period, with Goldig Studios releasing the Jackie Chansplotation flick, Snake In The Monkey's Shadow starring John Cheung and Wilson Tong, with the Shaw Brothers studio releasing Lau Kar Leung's epic Mad Monkey Kung Fu (one of the few films Lau Kar Wing didn't star in for his brother) and John Law Ma's Monkey Kung Fu starring Tony Ching Siu Tung the very same year. While I'm sure there were many more, it's worth noting that a Taiwanese flick of the same name followed in 1980 starring Chen Mu Chuan, Chang Yi, Yueh Hua, and Eddy Ko.

While I have enjoyed Knockabout since its VHS release in the mid-late 90s from Made in Hong Kong, and even more so on DVD courtesy of Hong Kong Legends, I have to admit that this Blu-ray release from Eureka Video is the best I've ever seen it. Released in a 2K restoration, the flawless quality of the print just takes Knockabout to a whole new level – even offering two different versions of the film for fans to enjoy, complete with dual commentaries. And while it may have some minor flaws here and there, there's no denying that Knockabout is a genuine kung-fu comedy classic from Golden Harvest studios that deserves a place in any true fans' collection!

Overall: A genuine classic of kung-fu cinema, Knockabout offers some of the finest martial arts action ever filmed and is well worth the watch!

Eureka Blu-ray Extras: Two Versions of Knockabout (Original Hong Kong Version & Shorter Export Version) with 2K Restoration, Audio Commentary by Mike Leeder & Arne Venema, Audio Commentary by Frank Djeng & Michael Worth, Archival Interviews with Sammo Hung, Leung Kar Yan, and Grandmaster Chan Sau Chang, Deleted Scene (Japanese Promotional Footage), Trailers

Hong Kong Legends DVD Extras: Audio Commentary by Bey Logan, Interviews with Sammo Hung, Leung Kar Yan, and Grandmaster Chan Sau Chang, Deleted Scene (Japanese Promotional Footage), Trailers

Watch my unboxing video of this Arrow Video release HERE

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KUNG FU STUNTMEN

(Hong Kong 2020)

(aka) Kung Fu Stuntmen: Never Say No

Directed by Junzi Wei Produced by Chin Kar Lok, Junzi Wei Starring: Sammo Hung, Donnie Yen, Stephen Tung Wei, Yuen Woo Ping, Chin Kar Lok, Stanley Tong, Tsui Siu Ming, Billy Chan, Hsiao Ho, Mars, Yuen Tak, Sharon Yeung Pan Pan, Yuen Wah, Yuen Bun, Yuen Qiu, Bruce Leung, Tony Ching Siu Tung, Ng See Yuen, Tony Leung Siu Hung, Eric Tsang, Chin Siu Ho, Lau Kar Leung, Tsui Hark, Wilson Tong, Lee Hoi Sang, Yuen Mo, Nicky Li, Chung Fat, Xin Xin Xiong, Yuen Cheung Yan, Dion Lam Reviewing: Private Screening Genres: Doco / Action / Educational

Rating - 4.3 / 5

Synopsis: Take a walk down memory lane with some of Hong Kong cinemas biggest stars, action directors, and stuntmen as they discuss their work, their injuries, and how they are still alive to talk about it! (92 Mins)

Views: I was lucky enough to get a viewing of this brilliant new documentary that gives fans a no-holds-barred insight to the crazy world of Hong Kong stuntmen – the men and women who have risked their lives over the years to entertain cinema goers and fans with unmatched action, death defying stunts, and plenty of painful injuries. Straight up, I have to say that this was somewhat of an emotional watch for me. I've often said that as much as many films entertain and amaze me, they can be equally as cruel in becoming something of a time capsule – tricking viewers into believing that the stars on screen will be forever young, energetic, and unstoppable (and even more so in terms of Hong Kong action cinema) confirmed by repeated viewings and memories of their finest moments. While watching Kung Fu Stuntmen, I was quickly reminded that time waits for no man as the very people I have watched every day for almost 40 years, appeared on screen much, much older, wrinkled, broken, or in need of some help when on the move. These same people have been my heroes my whole life, so the production probably meant a little more to me than most...

The documentary is neatly made, snappy and well paced as it moves between a host of great names that discuss everything from their early beginnings to the films that put them on the map, and from their favourite memories on set to their most painful stunts. There's a great focus on the amazing Chin Kar Lok, who also serves as one of the producers of the film, as well as the legendary Sammo Hung, Yuen Woo Ping, Stephen Tung Wei, Tsui Siu Ming, Yuen Wah, Yuen Mo, Yuen Tak, Tsui Hark, Stanley Tong, and the wonderful Mars who takes viewers on a small tour through the streets of Hong Kong, reminiscing about the old Golden Harvest studios that have long been demolished to make way for some apartment blocks. And while there is a noticeable lack of participation from Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao (although we do get to see them in action throughout when movie clips are shown), the production offers up an amazing array of names including Donnie Yen, Billy Chan, Hsiao Ho, Sharon Yeung Pan Pan, Yuen Qiu, Bruce Leung, Tony Ching Siu Tung, Ng See Yuen, Tony Leung Siu Hung, Eric Tsang, Chin Siu Ho, Wilson Tong, Lee Hoi Sang, Nicky Li, Chung Fat, Xin Xin Xiong, Yuen Cheung Yan, Dion Lam, Alan Chui, Yue Tau Wan, Lau Kar Wing, and many, many more – even going as far as to introduce a new collection of faces that may just be the next generation of stuntmen and women in Hong Kong cinema!

The doco is well directed by John Wei (Junzi Wei), who worked as a writer and producer on films like Tracing Shadow, The Thousand Faces Of Dunjia, and The Rookies, with my only gripe being a few odd moments of sound problems when interviews cut or have been shot in busy restaurants and streets. Saying that, it does keep things very candid and doesn't really disrupt the experience overall. What was nice was that Wei still took time (as did the interviewee's) to discuss Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Lau Kar Leung as action performers and their impact on the Hong Kong film industry. I did find it interesting to hear how much of an affect Bruce Lee's death had on them all, both personally and career-wise, with many of the stars interviewed discussing how they would then have to find work in laundry mills, work as taxi drivers, and even sell blood just to make some money. It's a fascinating watch on many levels and just amazing to see these incredible people finally getting the attention they most well and truly deserve. As a big fan of the MCU I thought I'd hang about for any mid or post credit scenes, and I'm glad I did as the film cuts back to some final words on the late Lam Ching Ying who was highly praised by all his peers. As much as I loved Kung Fu Stuntmen, the fanboy in me really wanted to see more. Perhaps another 30 minutes would have been suitable – although I would have happily sat through another hour to be honest. Is it the ultimate documentary on Hong Kong filmmaking? Maybe not – but it is an incredible insight to the stunts and the people that grabbed the attention of me from the age of 6 or 7, and for that I can only praise Junzi Wei and Chin Kar Lok for making such a great production.

Overall: Emotional, fascinating, and eye-opening, Kung Fu Stuntmen is a must for any fan of Hong Kong cinema and a great insight to the greatest action film makers in the world!

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