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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!

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...

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...

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.

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.

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