From visionary director Kwak Kyung-taek (Champion, Friend) comes South Korea’s most expensive and technically accomplished Action Thriller.
Gang Se-jong, a South Korean Naval Intelligence officer and trained SEAL, is assigned to investigate the theft of nuclear missile guidance systems from a US vessel bound for Okinawa, and to hunt the pirate who stole them, known as Sin.
Amid a potentially turbulent political situation, Gang trails Sin, discovering that the pirate he seeks is a North Korean refugee, whose tragic past is driving him to exact vengeance against the people he holds accountable for the loss of his parents’ lives.
‘Typhoon’s’ superbly filmed action scenes are resplendent of Hollywood’s adrenaline-pumped style of filmmaking, with fast paced car chases, dramatic gun battles, and a climactic knife fight between the film’s adversaries. The movie’s impressive budget shows up on screen, and the production values go hand in hand with the excellent craftsmanship, proof that Asian cinema is becoming a dominant force in film. (3/5)
The follow-up to the superb ‘Ong Bak’ pits the idealistic Kham [Tony Jaa] against a mafia syndicate based in Sydney, Australia. Kham’s childhood friend and beloved Elephant is stolen by poachers, contracted by the syndicate, whom he seeks out to punish.
Apart from the elaborate plot, Tony Jaa yet again shows us his familiar trademark of no wireworks, no CGI, no stunt doubles approach to full effect in ‘Warrior King’. The Thai-sensation is a true martial artist who’s commanding knowledge of Muay Thai was used on-and-off the screen, as a contributing martial arts choreographer alongside Panna Rikkirai. This has resulted in some of the best hand-to-hand fight scenes on film.
No too dissimilar from ‘Ong Bak’ with its bruising confrontations, but it’s the length and complexity of Jaa’s Muay Thai that has changed. In particular, Jaa’s exhausting and unflinching rampage through the syndicate’s brothel and vast spiralling staircase is uncut at 5-minutes long.
There are other special moments throughout, including his confrontation with a Capoerian-artist. Forget the flimsy plot line, this is for Muay Thai enthusiasts. (3/5)
Curse of the Golden Flower
Set against the backdrop of the Tang dynasty in Imperial China, the ‘Curse of Golden Flower’ is a family feud of epic proportions.
COTGF has the usual qualities of a big-budget Chinese production: highly saturated backdrops that are both in the realms of fantasy and real-life, frenetic warriors with Superman-like performances, and all with a hugely symbolic and philosophic emphasis that comes from movies of this era.
The interweaving plot to COTGF does occupy a lot of mileage, carried by performances from Yun-Fat Chow [Emperor Ping], of ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ fame, and Li Gong [Empress Phoenix]. It is only towards the end of the movie that the action kicks in at its climax, all delivered all in one go.
Created in similar vain to previous Chinese productions such as ‘Hero’, COTGF doesn’t quite reach the same heights, but is still a powerful piece of cinema-choreography. (2/5)
Set against Korea’s late Chosun Dynasty era, and loosely based upon a manga original by Bang Hak-gi, the ‘Duelist’ is not your typical swordplay flick.
It follows the charismatic heroine and police detective Namsoon [Ji-won Ha], and her role in tracking down those involved with the plot of flooding the country’s economy with vast amounts of counterfeit money. There is a greater evil at hand here.
Namsoon soon comes face-to-face with a suspected compliance, master swordsman known only to her as ‘Sad Eyes’ [Dong-won Kang], but soon finds herself drawn to him and his torned between duty and personal feelings. Each confrontation only strengthens their attachment to each other.
Director Lee Myung-Se has created a piece of Korean cinema that flips sublimely between traditional swordplay, without the use of heavy wire-gymnastics, and a style of fight choreography with similar traits to ballet. It has more in common with the Korean-style detective movies than the big epic Hong Kong productions. The ‘Duelist’ brings a new martial arts experience to the screen. (4/5)
Dragon Tiger Gate
DTG is a very stylish and urban kung fu movie to come out of the legendary Hong Kong film industry. Based upon on Wong Yuk-Long’s popular ‘Oriental Heroes’ comic book series, you’ll be gripped by it’s energy and powerful fight sequences.
It pips two long-lost brothers against a triad underworld. Donnie Yen (Seven Swords; Hero; Blade 2) co-stars and co-directs [martial arts], so you know to expect an action-packed martial arts feast! There is other young talent in the form of Nicholas Tse (New Police Story) and Shawn Yue (Diary; Initial D; The Internal Affairs Trilogy), who each specialise in a fighting style: kung fu, kickboxing, judo and weapons.
Studio-sets are essential in any martial arts film, such as the mass brawl in the opening skirmish of DTG. That is apart from one sequence within the baseball grounds that is physically bare but for it’s simply stunning choreography and fast-flowing sparring. Watch out.
DTG employs some the best wirework seen in other great Hong Kong flicks, as well as cinematic CGI, superb action direction from Donnie Yen, and manic stunts that will leave any kung fu fan fully satisfied. (3/5)
A factious account of the Greco-Persian battle at Thermopylae based upon Frank Miller’s graphic novel. A small but well-trained group of 300 Spartans fought against a siege of thousands of Persians.
Without sufficient real-life accounts of the Spartan army’s offensive tactics, director Zack Snyder and fight choreographer Damon Caro relied upon other forms of weaponry training for cast and stuntmen. The best features of Kali, Kickboxing, Samurai and other armed combat tactics were utilised to create the Spartan armies distinctive organised fighting stance on screen.
Only six weeks prior to filming, both cast and stunt performers were put through a rigorous 6-hour training session each day, a regime that the Spartans themselves would have appreciated. A combination of martial arts, weaponry, metabolic, gymnastics and weight training were essential to produce such a collective force. All resulting in a very commanding group performance during every fight sequence.
300 is a hugely entertaining, and at times blood thirsty, film that deliveries. The skirmishes between the Spartans and Persians come thick and fast. Much of the action is largely constructed from capture-motion footage taken of actors in full-flow, against computer backdrops, to achieve the comic book touch. Its not historically correct, but has taken sparring within films to a new level. (3/5)
Huo [Jet Li] was the champion amongst champions until his family were murdered. Lost for many years, he returns to represent the whole Chinese nation and its honour against other powering nations in a four against one tournament.
Jet Li has achieved the connection between a drama and action to form a contemporary martial arts film. The four stage fight is stunning in its level of perfection, cinematography, choreography and Li’s film presence. It is obvious from Fearless that Li has grown in confidence with being in front of the camera. He has moved away from those thinly-plot Hollywood flicks, which had no real gravitas. Li is back on his own turf here, and is revelling in it!
There is a section in the movie that has no fighting sequences, but explores the level of concentration, mediation and tranquillity that a martial artist must strive for. Huo earns for a better way of live, by improving himself.
The pace of the film is dedicated well, and through Li’s maturity as an actor, as well as an accomplished martial artist, you can sense a change in the character of Huo. There is a gradual transition of Huo, from his beginnings as a sole-obsessive and arrogant champion to a more progressively astute man, thus a better fighter. Early cockiness is evident in his easy conquest of opponents. This redemption of Huo shows how a man can become more clinical, by possessing a dispose of humidity. A notability attaches itself to the re-emerged Huo.
Broken into three segments, back history encompasses the vast majority of the film and is quite linear, showing the mental and emotional strengthening Huo has gained from his self-exile. His transition onto a higher level, allows him to become fearless.
Jet Li’s greatest martial artist performance to date. ‘Hero’ was a fantasy tale, thus relied heavily upon synthetic refinements to enhance the experience. Fearless was a battle not of Chinese against Chinese, but of Chinamen united by Huo effort’s against the ever-powerful foreign nations whom reigned supreme within China during the late 19th century and leading into the early 20th century. The skill in Li had to shine through, rather than any digital or wire supports.
Fearless is not another Hong Kong action flick, but a martial arts drama. Parallel with his growing maturity, the martial arts world is also finding a better way to represent itself. (5/5)
The Emperor has banned all forms of martial arts training across the lands of 17th century Western China. In order to protect themselves against bandits, farmers have to disobey this law for their own survival. The punishment for such a disregard of the Emperor’s orders is to lose their heads! Two members of the local farmlands go in search of warriors to assist in protecting their people and crops.
Seven Swords is a Hong Kong production reworking Liang Yu-Shen’s novel of the same title, with many parallels to the classic ‘Seven Samurai’. This film has an extravagant array of weaponry and superhuman swordsman and is the type of modern-day martial arts flick that has spawned from the Crouching Tiger era. Its influences are evident when individual swordsmen confront a whole battalion of Warlord Fire-Wind [Honglei Sun].
Dramatic set-piece duels and skirmishes between Fire-Wind’s forces and the swordsmen make Seven Swords an unstoppable feat of OTT swordplay action. The skills of Chu Zhao Nan [Donnie Yen] equipped either with his sword, during the rescue of the slave-girl Green Pearl [So-Yeon Kim], or wrapped in chains of steel as a prisoner of Fire-Wind are quite impressive and on par with his performance in ‘Hero’.
Where Seven Swords falls apart is with the swordsmen themselves. Trying to out-do each other on screen, but up end getting in one another’s way by the end. Stop the monologues and bad-liners! Just draw your swords! You’ll either love or loathe it. (3/5)
The Twilight Samurai
Times are hard for junior samurai Seibei Iguchi [Hiroyuki Sanada]. His wife has passed away, leaving him the unnerving task of caring for his two young daughters and a senile mother. Unable to socialise with fellow samurai and appearing in drab garments in the presence of His Lordship, Iguchi is dubbed as the ‘Twilight Samurai’. When an old childhood love reappears, can Iguchi once again regain his honour and passion?
Unlike the blockbuster flicks of the Hong Kong studios, Twilight Samurai is not action-packed with many stunts or fights. Twilight Samurai is a slow-paced film, with only two choreographed fights. However, it’s these two encounters that help re-establish Iguchi as a fine swordsman. Much of the movie is concerned by his personal upheaval, but the introduction of his childhood love, Miss. Tomoe, reignites his passion.
Fighting on the behalf of Miss. Tomoe’s honour, Iguchi confronts her abusive ex-husband, Koda. Magnificently shot, it’s a stunning bout between the two with Iguchi only brandishing a bamboo-sword. He has no intention of mortally wounding his opponent and manages to skilfully evade all of Koda’s lunges with his sword. Iguchi’s agility and great timing allow him to overcome Koda.
There is an emotional build-up towards Iguchi’s final duel. With the burden of his family duties, and the insistence of the clan to slay a samurai renegade, he accepts the task with great discomfort. Having sold his ‘daitó katana’ (long sword) in payment for his wife’s funeral, Iguchi is forced to confront the ‘Master of The Watch’, Zenemon Togo [Min Tanaka], within the confines of the renegade’s house equipped with just a ‘shótó katana’ (short sword). Who will prevail?
The level of skirmishes in Twilight Samurai lack real volume. Those two fights that are present in the film involve great vigour and are realistic in their presentation. The main emphasis is with the domestic struggles of a clan member, but through his battles Iguchi restores his own honour and reverence as a samurai. (3/5)
When The Last Sword Is Drawn
Plagued by poverty, our humble samurai, Kanichiro Yoshimura must leave his clan and face dishonour in order to search for a means to support his family.
Set during 1899, a huge shift in Japan’s cultural history, as the Emperor brings sweeping change to the country, resulting in dismantling of the Shoguns’ authority and their samurai warriors. Last Sword approaches the samurai in a very different manner to those of other contemporaries. Based on Jiro Asada’s novel, it recounts the events that shape the life of Yoshimura-sensei, through those that knew and whose flashbacks run parallel and intersect with each other.
Several duels and skirmishes appear in Last Sword that are modestly shot and don’t rely on wire-choreography. This is what makes this film feels as a drama set upon the struggles and sacrifices samurai had to endure towards the dwindling days of their era.
Heavy emphasis on honour and ethics are what the samurai prided themselves upon. This is not lost here. It is intertwined amongst the lives of individuals and their clans. It affects their attitudes and reasoning to fight. Some wish to fight for honour till death comes for them. Instead, Yoshimura-sensei fights to stay alive for his family, thus giving him a greater emotive presence with the sword.
The scene between Saito-sensei and Yoshimura-sensei is a clash of attitudes. Saito initially takes a disliking to Yoshimura and challenges him on the rain-ridden streets of Tokyo. Each has a good composure, making it a tense occasion, which sets the tone for their unsettling relationship.
The opening sequence in the Shogun’s courtyard shows the great level of modesty that Last Sword embodies. Making for a nervy watch, not knowing who will win, as all clichés have been removed. Variation of swordplay technique is shot beautifully throughout the film.
Rather than being another tale of samurai revenge, Last Sword has allowed the samurai genre to expand to new realms of film-making, character development and the honesty that martial art techniques deserve to be presented in. (4/5)
Mankind has lost the will to commit an offence against one another. The ‘Father’ state, suppresses the need for feeling emotion. Clerics are guardians of the state, and hunt down those who attempt to arouse their inner most feelings, ‘sense-offenders’. Equilibrium is a result of a string of Matrix-like impersonators, but is able to rely upon it’s own form of fighting that doesn’t require Christian Bale [John Preston – the Cleric] to prophecy that he ‘knows kung fu’.
The martial arts system brought into Equilibrium is a highly formulaic kata. It follows a pattern of rules that the Clerics have learnt to a high level of proficiency. Weapons are employed into these signature kata patterns, similar to Jiu Jitsu bow & arrow, sword, lance and dagger. Strong elements of Tai Chi and Kendo are also incorporated into the ‘Gun Mode’, with Bale even practising in full-on Kendo gear in one particular scene.
Bale’s performance and later in Batman Begins, shows that he is a dedicated martial artist, and a tremendous method actor. The final duel against the ‘Father’, of course, throws up another viable of intricate manoeuvres and counter-attacks. Gun-to-gun combat, with a series of deft grappling sequences is visually and technically more impressive than any computer ‘bullet-time’.
Not a comprehensive plotline but has an arsenal of manoeuvres executed clinically by Bale. (3/5)
The Bourne Supremacy
Still suffering from amnesia, Jason Bourne is pulled back into the world of espionage. Caught-up by his own past that he is still trying to piece together. Bourne strives to clear his name while evading an unknown assassin.
Where ‘The Bourne Identity’ stunned audiences with its raw approach to choreographing close quarter fights, Supremacy builds upon it with great zest. The stunts are built-up, but are always steeped in realism. There are no James Bond cameos here. The sequence between Bourne and a sleeper agent is quirky and resourceful at the same time. Not content with applying hand-combat, Bourne utilises a magazine as a weapon. Something we all did as children, and is quite fitting for this tale of rough espionage.
Matt Damon is an accomplished actor, and in the role as Bourne he excels as a practitioner of the martial arts. Usually a difficult tradition from dojo to movie screen, but Damon has shown us before that is can be achieved with actors. No need for stuntmen for these hand-to-hand brawls, thus creating a seamless interchange from dialogue to action and vice versa.
Damon’s daily training in Filipino style suits his character’s make-up sufficiently, as its not as flamboyant or exhibitionist as Kung Fu and other forms of martial arts have been portrayed in Hollywood. There is an element of grace and tradition in these forms, but survival and a lethal edge have made them relevant for centuries and fit perfectly into the context of Bourne’s world.
Gripping, as was its original, while exploring just how far a man can be pushed and what he must uncover to realise his true past. The script and choreography are treated as one entity. So the movie flows superbly. We’re ready for round three. (5/5)
Danny [Jet Li] is an unstoppable force. His talent is spotted by a local hoodlum Bart [Bob Hoskins], who uses Danny’s uncanny ability to rip opponents apart, against his own rivals on the streets of Glasgow, Scotland.
This is Jet Li’s first venture in the UK. Teaming up with the martial art choreographer supreme, Yuen Wo Ping, whose credits include both the Matrix and Kill Bill series, should have been a dream team line-up for martial art fans. Even a stellar supporting cast of Morgan Freeman and Bob Hoskins could not find reprieve from a poor script, production and a constellation of drab fights sequences.
A few glimmers of hope appear in the initial shot of Li, rampaging around a storage facility. Having no idea of what is going on and why he is fighting these thugs, with brutal efficiency, it grabs your full intention. A great opening sequence soon turns into a formulaic run-around. The momentum feels slightly jaded, and doesn’t pick up again, till Liu has to confront a mysterious henchman, dressed in all white Gi with an appropriate skinhead appearance.
The close quarter tussle in the toilet, all above board of course, is resourceful in their usage of elbow, hand, arm and head strikes that would be fully appreciated by any MMA fan. Ultimately their encounter is continuous to the point of monotonous and fizzles out.
There are flickers of real feyness in Li’s ability during, but still seems as if the film is at the storyboard stage. Just let him out! (2/5)
Is it the end for Zion? Can Neo really save mankind and fulfil the prophecy? The final instalment addresses the key questions of ‘what is the matrix?’ though by the end it makes about as much sense as a 3rd year dope fiend philosophy student. However, the intense relationships between the main characters of Neo, Trinity and Morpheus bring the trilogy to a climatic conclusion.
Trinity’s assault on the nuclear power plant helps to breakdown a film that is heavily polluted with overworked dialogue. The last stand at the gates of Zion is impressive, but has little in human engagement because of the over reliance in CGI.
This computer support is again utilised in the final confrontation between Neo and Agent Smith. Safe to say this scene drags along, to the extreme. This concluding chapter to a fascinating computer enhanced world lends itself towards a greater implementation of CGI, rather than the original’s roots of martial arts and the imagination of the Wachowski Brothers. (3/5)
The comic duo of Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson team-up once again. A mysterious British aristocrat has stolen the Imperial Seal and Chon Wang’s [Jackie Chan] father has been killed as a result for protecting it. Can Roy O’Brannon [Owen Wilson] help Wong find his sister, Chon Lin [Fann Wong] and confront their father’s assassin in Victorian London?
For one reason or another, when American’s across the Atlantic for London, things don’t seem that funny anymore. Too much shifting between comic sketches and intimate family moments, spoil the flow of action. SK doesn’t have a script to match the original, nor are the intensity of the stunts on par, but still remain engaging thanks to Chan’s resourceful nature no matter the location. Chan, as ever, delivers a series of entertaining and highly intricate sequences that display great levels of agility, even at his age!
Skirmishes with the locals are always on the cards. The novel application of the British umbrella, without the rain for once, draws in a well-timed rendition of Gene Kelly’s ‘Dancing In The Rain’, but Jackie Chan style.
SK is not a unique sequel, and has all the hallmarks of Hollywood inspired Kung Fu. All the other characters manoeuvres and reactions can be prophesied, but Chan will always keep you guessing. (2/5)
How can you instil discipline in unruly students? Part of a scheme to repel bad behaviour, one school takes drastic measures by transferring one class of hell-razors to a remote island. With dog collars fixed around their necks, and triggered with explosives, they can only survive this nightmare by killing their fellow classmates and friends for self-preservation.
BR is an insane look upon a system of control over its occupants and their behaviour. A close examination of the meaning of trust between enemies, friends and lovers, at the most fragile of times is striking. Director, Kinji Fukasaku, and Japanese movie star, Takeshi Kitano, project a truly sophisticated cult film, with many influences from the West, such as ‘The Running Man’ and George Orwell’s classic novel ‘1984’. You begin to realise that each student finds himself or herself lost in the pursuit of survival, quickly abandoning any sense of morality.
BR is not stylish martial arts, but gritty survival tactics with elements of MA. One for Japanese culture purists. (4/5)
The beginnings of the Dark Caped Crusader are retold. Does he over come his childhood nightmares in time to save Gotham City and find redemption in himself?
Unlike previous Batman films, director Christopher Nolan has chosen to show more of early growth of Bruce Wayne than our hero’s dark alter ego. This is crucial in portraying not only the mental and psychological strengthening of Batman, but the development of him as a martial artist. For this to be convincing, Christian Bale [Batman/ Bruce Wayne] was trained in both Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu. Combining his knowledge of self-defence and fighting forms gives the audience a stunning performance.
In addition to Bale’s portrayal of a psychotic hero figure, BB is the darkest instalment yet. But once the cape is gowned the element of fear rather than martial arts is utilised by Batman. The early moments in the Temple between Bale and other casting members, Liam Neeson and Ken Watanabe, just shows how martial arts can be used effectively in film if they are treated correctly. (4/5)
Neo and Morpheus are a step closer to saving Zion from the machines. Can they rescue the ‘Key-maker’ in time? Can Trinity’s love for Neo allow him to fulfil the Oracle’s prophecy?
Much was expected from the follow-up of the original hit. Unfortunately neither does the script or many of the fighting sequences propel this franchise further then what has gone before. Skirmishes between the Zion renegades and the ‘Frenchman’s’ henchman are far too drawn out. Neo’s encounter with duplicate copies of Agent Smith is character CGI gone AWOL. The proficiency of execution in these stunts by the original cast makes up in small ground.
A surging soundtrack by composer Don Davis and DJ Rob Dougan, give context and urgency to many of fighting moments that are clustered into this part of the matrix trilogy. The control and precision of the previous film has been lost. Artificial components such as wire-acrobatics and CGI have been pushed to their limits so far. Efforts should be accredited for this endeavour, even if the finished article doesn’t achieve its full potential. (3/5)
The Last Samurai
There is a period of transition within pre-war Japan. Old Values and traditions are being eroded away. The young Emperor is advised to embrace new changes, but at the cost of the Samurai, who represent the old world.
Between them is Captain Algren [Tom Cruise], an American war hero bought in by the Emperor’s advisers to put down this tribal chief. Will he find redemption in this task? Does this mean the end of the Samurai?
The performances of both Cruise and the supporting-role of Ken Watanabe, as the Samurai chief Katsumoto, are immense. The film draws upon similar lines of other epic Hollywood productions centred on a drifter who seeks redemption for previous woes, and tries to amend them once he enters into a new culture, a new tribe as in Kevin Coster’s depiction in ‘Dances With Wolves’.
Cruise’s particular attention towards the use of the Samurai sword and Ju Jitsu is shown with great effect during the many skirmishes during the film. The final battle sequence, a clash between the old and true, just shows how confident he becomes with this new found skill. His supporting cast members demonstrate their swordplay with efficient fluidity and passion. Cruise himself seems to have fully embraced the way of the sword, as well as the role of the character. (5/5)
Kill Bill Vol.2
The bride is back and this time she will finish what she started. With three names to mark off her death list, Beatrix Kiddo, aka The Bride, aka Black Mamba is only halfway through her roaring rampage of revenge. She has killed a hell of a lot of people to get to this point. She has yet to kill Bill. After the gory Eastern style slaughter of part one, Kill Bill Part 2 now moves to a more Western slant.
Kill Bill 2 is noticeably different in style to the first installment. Kill Bill 1 took us through a feast of Eastern imagery and classic martial arts action, while Kill Bill 2 is definitely more American in its style. In fact, Kill Bill 2 sees Tarrantino return to his roots with cutting dialogue. There are plenty of fast paced combat action sequences with some gory twists as well as some deeper martial arts philosophy to appeal to both sides of the martial arts spectrum. To some the film may seem over long, and while the film holds its own, it is not quite the classic sequel that Kill Bill 1 deserved. (3/5)
Set against the backdrop of WWII, we follow the rise of our hero the Monk [Yun-Fat Chow], from a member of the Tibetan monastery to Bulletproof Monk. Solely trusted with protection of an ancient scroll, which holds the key to Eternal Life. Monk manages to evade the initial efforts of the Nazis to capture the scroll, but Commandant Strucker [Karel Roden] is intent upon gaining its powers.
Fat-forward 60years to present day New York, with the Monk enlisting the help of pickpocket by-day, cinema-projector by-night Kar [Seann William Scott] to help him with the safe-keeping of the scroll.
Unfortunately BPM doesn’t live up to the potential of its comic book origins and lacks the feyness of wire-controlled choreography that stunned Western audiences with the emergence of Crouching Tiger and other Hong Kong productions. It seems that this production tried extensively to push the barriers, with the assistance of CGI, but without respecting the basis of any Kung Fu form or understanding of how both aspects can be forged together in film.
Chow is a wasted talent. To push this further, the role of comic relief is tossed between Chow and William Scott. Not suitable for a martial artist. Couple that with a ridiculous script about modern-day Nazi prophesies, and seriously bad liners, “I’m a pickpocket, not a hero”. This Monk is riddled with bullets. (2/5)
The world is not as we perceive it. Humans are pawns in a synthetic digital world controlled by ‘machines’. Neo [Keanu Reeves] is the ‘One’ who will guide Zion and its people out of this state of slavery.
Matrix was a sleeper hit. Now the heavy-use of wire-acrobatics and CGI in martial arts fighting sequences has been transferred from the low-budget flicks of Hong Kong to Hollywood on a massive scale of production.
Before Matrix, many storylines in western martial art inspired films were just mere veils to a largely running prose of non-stop action. Matrix’s backdrop of a real and unreal world justifies many of the over-elaborate action sequences, because they are not just ‘popcorn’ features. These are the intricate and highly complex moments in the film that drive its plot. The fusing together of elements from Kung Fu, Jeet Kune Do, Judo, Jiu Jitsu and others, alongside the Wachowski Brothers use of modern technological advances made this piece of film-making truly ground-breaking.
All action is well interwoven into the dynamics of this film, allowing the plot and development of its characters to breathe a little without the need of throwing in special effects every minute. The performance of Laurence Fishburne alone, as the renegade leader Morpheus, makes you believe in the Wachowski Brothers fictional fantasy. (5/5)
Kill Bill Vol.1
Our heroine [Uma Thurman] awakes from a coma. She knows who has put her there. Now she wants revenge. One by one, they will pay.
It was billed as ‘Taratino’s Fourth Film’. Never has there been so much anticipation for a single director’s upcoming film till this. He doesn’t disappoint his faithful. KB is homage to all previous Kung Fu, Samurai and Hong Kong films that has gone before. It is rich with cutting dialogue, well choreographed with stylised fight sequences and as ever, a soundtrack that is unlike any other.
KB does lack an emotive plot, but has a pace to its storytelling that many films would kill for. QT’s energy for all things martial arts crosses over into the world of Anime Manga, which is deftly scripted into the action. Even though this ‘rampage of revenge’ proceeds onto a separate volume, this first instalment carries its own weight without the real need of another, apart from the conclusion of our heroine’s destiny. It’s a worthy effort from QT, with an unforgettable meeting between Thurman and the Crazy 88’s. Involves a lot of amputation. (4/5)
‘Hero’ is quite simply stunning, and is one of the best looking films in world cinema for many years. The fight sequences are beautifully choreographed, more Royal Opera House than Brixton alley way punch up. The story centres around three versions of the truth, each symbolised with a different colour. My only complaint is that it is difficult for the audience to get as close to the main character as say with ‘Enter the Dragon’ or ‘Kickboxer.’
However, ‘Hero’ has soul, and the simply breathtaking visual impact of the film carries on from ‘Crouhcing Tiger, Hidden Dragon’. ‘Hero’ is a must see film for any martial arts enthusiast and serves as an excellent vehicle to represent the beauty of martial arts to a wider audience. (4/5)
The blind masseur/swordsman comes to an town in control of warring gangs, and while bunking with a farming family, he meets two women with their own agenda.
To those in the know, Zatoichi is a classic Japanese tale of a blind wandering swordsman. It was brave of Takeshi Kitano to make this film knowing what he had to live up to – and he has certainly delivered. This film is gruesome in places, but is more thoughtful and intelligent than the average martial arts flick. The main hero is strong, yet vulnerable and we genuinely are involved with his own adventure. The fight sequences are superb, the imagery slick, and perhaps best, the story is compelling with a killer twist. (4/5)
In the wicked game of “Shaolin Soccer” players will stop at nothing to score a laugh. It fuses martial arts with hard hitting physical comedy and the high-flying energy of competitive sports. In this story of revenge and team building, a group of down and outs combine to become Shaolin Soccer champions.
The hype behind this film has been huge. It was a huge success in the Far East and Miramax are hoping to capitalise on the success of the ‘Kill Bill’ series and ‘Hero’ in Western markets with this sports / comedy / martial arts movie. The characters are likeable, the special FX are superb, and the story, while a little predictable, is good fun. (4/5)
‘Old Boy’ tells the story of an innocent man who is kidnapped, apparently without reason, and kept in a small locked room, where he is deprived of all sensory stimulation for 15 years, and then dropped in the middle of the South Korean countryside.
This intense and challenging film is dark, but with beautiful direction and acting is as rewarding as it is different from the normal mainstream action flicks we see from Hollywood. There are some challenging scenes and issues, namely the eating of a live octopus and incest, but the film clearly shows the strength of the Korean film scene. (3/5)
Booting lives in a small and peaceful village. One day a sacred Buddha statuette, called Ong Bak, is stolen from the village by an immoral businessman who sells it for an exorbitant profit. It soon becomes the task of a young man to track down the thief and reclaim the religious treasure. Along the way Booting uses his astonishing athleticism and traditional Muay Thai skills to combat his adversaries.
Ong Bak makes a refreshing change to the over the top special FX and wires martial arts movies. The fighting here is real, and all the more impressive for it. We may well be seeing the birth of a new martial arts superstar, Tony Jaa. Ong Bak has gone down a storm wherever it has been released. (5/5)
House of Flying Daggers
Set during the Tang dynasty, 859 A.D., House of Flying Daggers follows the rapidly accelerating romance between a police deputy in service of the emperor and a woman who belongs to an undercover resistance effort, a group of powerful warriors who steal from the rich and give to the ppor. When Jim pretends to abandon his Police duties, rescuing Mei from her pursuers, he begins the long journey into the wilderness, following her in hopes of discovering the headquarters of the rebellion. But the closer he gets to the secret, the more he struggles with his deception and finds himself falling in love with this beautiful, acrobatic, death-defying agent.
House of Flying Daggers is the latest in a growing line of impressive martial arts movies finding success in mainstream Western audiences. The visuals are superb as one would expect from the same team that brought us ‘Hero’. There’s a comic book quality to the combat, the battle scenes are beautifully choreographed, and the soundtrack is melodramatic and sensitive. The plot seems to stumble in the third act but this is certainly a martial arts epic and a great way to start off 2005. (4/5)
Blade 3: Trinity
The latest instalment in the popular Blade vampire / action franchise lightens the tone of the series with a little more humour and straight action sequences. The action is as bloody as ever, but this outing has more car chases, explosions and fight sequences. The film looks good and Wesley Snipes is surprisingly capable as a martial artist. This third instalment has been widely criticised in the film press. But as long as you go in expecting to be entertained with an exciting action movie for 100 minutes, then you won’t be disappointed. Just don’t expect to have a life changing moment. (3/5)
Champion is fashioned more as a human drama than a sports picture. This film covers the life of a South Korean boxer, Kim, both in and out of the ring as he struggles from a penniless drifter, through tough training sessions to success as a boxer. This film has a softer side as Kim falls for a local girl who helps him grow as a person. The film cannot escape the political environment of it’s time, as Kim’s death in the ring comes as a shocking blow to a country trying to establish its place in the world. Champion is a visual treat. It looks dark and gritty in parts, but avoids overused slow motion sequences. The actors deliver a strong performance and this film is certainly a good way to spend 2 hours. (3/5)
Jackie Chan teams up with another of America’s young comic actors, Owen Wilson. Set during the ‘Cowboy’ era in America’s West, Chan’s character Chon Wang is sent by masters in China to rescue the kidnapped Princess Pei Pei [Lucy Liu]. Events unfold during Wang’s travels and he forms a partnership with gunslinger O’Brannon [Owen Wilson] to achieve both their aims.
Chan manages to blend together well-choreographed fighting sequences with comic genius. Linking up with Wilson meant that he could focus on his high-energised stunt performances. There is an obvious cultural shift between the two main actors, and during America at that time. Chan has exploited these clashes of differing cultures in his trademark stunt fights. Combat amongst the Sioux Native Americans and Cowboys offers Chan a selection of terrains to perform a variation of acrobatic combinations.
Wilson attempts to apply some knowledge of a bar brawl, but fully realises his role as the comic relief in what is usually dry dialogue. Chan’s own gentle nature and stunt agility has won him many fans around the world, and this collaboration with Wilson proves a highly entertaining, rather than seminal, performance. (3/5)