Monday, November 5, 2012

The Man With the Iron Fists

I was probably more biased towards liking this movie than anything else this year. Sure, the idea of The Avengers, a new Ridley Scott Alien movie, the final Nolan Bat movie, and a new Bond flick all got me twitching with excitement at the beginning of the year, but an honest to god kung fu flick in the style of Chang Cheh's work at the Shaw Brothers? Anybody who knows me knows that is 100% my kind of movie.

Reaction to the actual flick? Mildly disappointed.


  • This is a surprisingly pretty film to look at. Credit to the Cinematographer Chan Chi Ying for making one beautifully sumptuous looking kung fu flick.
  • It's funny, at least as funny as a wonderfully bad old chop socky picture.
  • You can tell RZA was filled with creative ideas for the weapons, characters, and locations.
  • The opening and closing credits are my absolute favorite things I've seen in a theater this year. 
  • Like all the great old school kung fu flicks, it may know everything happening is completely ridiculous, but it takes it seriously. To clarify, it doesn't make a joke of the character's names, the crazy weapons or hair, and the insane plot.

Not So Much:

  • The acting in this flick ranges from delightfully fun (Russel Crowe), to servicable (Lucy Liu) to bland as shit (Unfortunately, RZA and most of the other cast)
  •  For what's obviously supposed to be a big Shaw Brothers Kung Fu Chop Socky Homage, there really isn't much kung fu. You know what, I'll be less specific with that comment, there really isn't much action in general. 
  • The plot is going in 15 different directions at all times.
  • The pacing is pretty messy.
  • When you have one of the absolute best Action Choreographers working today, like Corey Yuen, you don't hide his amazing work by shooting at awkward angles and editing it to hell.
  • When RZA initially chopped the movie, it was 4 hours long. This final movie is 95 minutes. You cut that much out of any movie and it's not gonna be too pretty.
Basically, for a movie that should have been an absurd, fun, instant cult classic, it ends up being just a bit dull.   This flick, like The Spy Who Loved Me, never lived up to it's opening. That doesn't mean don't watch it my any means, it's a matinee movie, something to watch with a bunch of friends before your actual plans for the evening. Let's just hope we get a real director's cut dvd. 

Final Score: 6/10

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ten Romantic Movies for People Who Hate Romantic Movies

This is just something I've been mulling over for a while. Nowadays, the general perception of a romantic movie is what I would describe as The Notebook or a knock off of The Notebook. My friend summed up his thoughts on romantic movies as such, "Two people about to kiss, eyes closed, beautiful backdrop."

In my opinion it's kind of bullshit that the general idea of a romantic movie has been tainted into this homogenized, pre-packaged vanilla on a waffle cone. So here is my attempt at making a list of movies, that in my opinion are romantic, but also, how do I put this, isn't exploitation cinema for lonely women. And guess what? There's even movies here that guys will like!

In alphabetical order:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (dir. Michel Gondry)

The Graduate (dir. Mike Nichols)

Happy Together (dir. Wong-Kar Wai)

In the Mood for Love (dir. Wong-Kar Wai)

Phantom of the Paradise (dir. Brian De Palma)

Punch-Drunk Love (dir. P.T. Anderson)

True Romance (dir. Tony Scott)

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (dir. Jacques Demy)

Wall-E (dir. Andrew Stanton)

Wild at Heart (dir. David Lynch)

Looking at the list, I'd say that with the exception of maybe In the Mood for Love, and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg all of these movies can be enjoyed by anybody. Although I do think The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is the greatest romantic movie ever made.

Also note that In the Mood for Love is the middle part of a trilogy starting with Days of Being Wild, and concluding with 2046.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Raid: Redemption

Oh man, ooooh man, we gotta talk a bit about perhaps the best pure action flick since John Woo's UH-MAZING "Hard Boiled."

First let's talk a bit about the lineage of the great action movies. To my mind the Action/Adventure genre didn't exist until Hitchcock's "North by Northwest." With it's many locales, big stars, and the many plot twists and turns it is in my opinion the grandfather of all modern adventure. We can then sum up the next several decades of great adventure flicks with two names, James Bond and Indiana Jones. Granted there were plenty others, but if you walk up to anybody, regardless of whether they watch movies or not, they know James Bond and Indiana Jones.

Now I personally believe there is a big distinction between Action movies and Adventure movies. Obviously the two borrow from each other, and usually go hand in hand, but there are differences. Indiana Jones and the original Star Wars trilogy is perhaps the perfect realization of this genre and to this day Hollywood has the monopoly on great adventure films. Pure action movies though are a different thing entirely, and in this specific genre within a genre is where Asians show dominance over us here in the States (as I've talked about in older posts).

To my mind there are three perfect action movies. "Die Hard," "Hard Boiled," and now "The Raid: Redemption."(From here on out I'll just refer to it as The Raid) I don't feel I need to explain why the first two movies in that list are great and important works in the action genre, but now "The Raid" is not just stepping up to challenge the throne of those two flicks, it's at the very least as good as they are.

If you wanna see the most bone crunching, physical, ass whooping film in twenty years, you wanna watch "The Raid." If you're like me, and "Hard Boiled" has in effect ruined action movies for you because it just can't live up to it, you need to watch "The Raid." If you are fucking sick of seeing trailers promising a big bad ass action flick, and then just getting second rate, sedated, and phoned in Jason Statham or Luc Besson, you need to watch "The Raid." If you give two shits about movie making, you need to watch "The Raid."

In effect, "The Raid" is an action movie stripped down to it's barest essence. It gives you just enough character development and just enough story to care about what's happening, and that's it. Listen, I don't know about you, but I don't walk into an action movie so I can watch once great actors ham shit up in fake military uniforms for an hour and a half before it all ends in some ridiculous, disappointing, and ultimately ineffective action set piece. "The Raid" delivers on the promise of every great action movie made, pretty much ever. Suddenly "300" and "The Expendables" look like "Harold and Maude" and "Sophie's Choice."

To those interested in the craft of filmmaking, "The Raid" offers two important lessons, how to do sparse but effective storytelling, and how to film a motherfucking fight scene. For everyone else, all you need to know is this movie is gonna kick your ass in the best possible way.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Life of Sir Run Run Shaw

One night I was doing some random movie research, one thing led to another and somehow I ended up reading up on the life of Sir Run Run Shaw.

I'm a big fan of kung fu flicks, and those who love kung fu have to know about the Shaw Brothers Studios. You may remember it as the Chinese logo that showed up before Kill Bill starts.

Shaw Brothers studios is responsible most notably for all the great kung fu flicks out of Hong Kong from the 60's and 70's, and is headed by two men, Sir Run Run Shaw and his brother Dr. Runme Shaw. Both lead some amazing lives, but I'm gonna talk about Sir Run Run Shaw(yes that's really his name, get over it).

He was born in 1907, no one knows the date or month. And I might as well say this now, yes, he's still alive and kicking.

In the 1920's at the age of 19, he and his brother Runme traveled to Singapore and created a chain of cinemas still running to this day.

In the 1950's or so he and his brother create the famous Shaw Brothers Studios, which was the biggest power in movie making in Hong Kong through the 60's and 70's. His impact just here alone would have him marked in cinematic history forever.

Unfortunately he made two big mistakes, the first was passing on a young kid known as Bruce Lee, the second was missing out on Jackie Chan eight years later.

As a result, in the 1980's he focused on television, and created TVB, which is the biggest fucking channel for Chinese programming. Hell, my folks, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, 18th uncle twice removed, all living here in the states all watch that channel. That's a Hong Kong channel, not an American channel, or even something like BBC America. Huge.

In 1974 he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1977.

He is a member of the way exclusive, way historic London Gentleman's Club White's, whose former members include so much European royalty from the 1600's till now that it boggles the mind.

Lest you think his impact never reached the States, without him a little movie called Blade Runner would not exist. Yeah, you're welcome planet earth.

His wife died at the very full age of 85 in 1987. In 1997, at 90 fucking years old, he traveled to Las Vegas to remarry.

In 2004, at the age of 97 he created The Shaw Prize which is known as the Nobel Prize of the East. The award is to scientists in the field of Astronomy, mathematics, and life and medical science and is for $1,000,000. That's US currency, not HK currency.

Literally less than 4 months ago, at the age of 104, he has finally decided to retire. Let me spell that out, ONE HUNDRED AND FOUR YEARS OLD, AND HE IS BARELY RETIRING.

He has donated hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars to charity and has a net worth of $3.5 billion.

If that isn't a very full life, then I just don't know what is.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Best of Asian Action Cinema Part III: Ip Man

Let's just get this one out of the way.

Those who know me know I love Ip Man. In particular I love this scene. Anyone who has spent any time in my house has probably had to sit through this scene several times.

The flick is a sort of biographical film on the real life man who trained Bruce Lee. It's pretty ridiculous to assume the amount of crazy shit that happens in this flick happened in real life, but frankly, I just don't give a shit.

The fight is choreographed by Sammo Hung, who is one of the great living legends of modern kung fu flicks, and I think his greatest accomplishment here is being able to make a 1 vs. many fight not look like just of series of 1 vs. 1 fights. Let's face it, in any fight scene where it's one versus a bunch, everyone always just kind of stands in the background while the hero takes them out one by one. I don't think that's something that can really be avoided. This scene however, is the closest I've ever seen to how I imagine several fighting one would look like. It's pretty much the balls.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Best of Asian Action Cinema Part II: Chocolate

I must admit, I get a certain amount of joy in seeing a skinny little girl somehow kick the living shit out of however many fucking thugs are in this scene. Especially if that skinny little girl has autism (in the movie, not in real life). Talk about a fucking handicap.

In typical Thai movie fashion, it has a completely ludicrous story involving a girl with autism who learns to fight from watching martial arts flicks. But if sitting through silly nonsense like this will reward me with action scenes like these, then I'm happy.

I remember when I was first watching the flick, for the first couple fights I had a hard time believing what was happening on screen. Obviously this is a ridiculous action flick, but it seemed forced at first. In my opinion this was probably because in the Thai flicks, they seem to follow this idea that everything is one or two big hits. Think Bruce Lee, or John Wayne I guess. It's just one big punch and that's that. So in the beginning, it was strange watching this little girl kick a guy twice her size in the stomach once and he was down for the count.

However, the flick seemed to build up to this final set piece. As it progressed the fights got more elaborate and more impressive, leading up the the Holy Shitness of this scene. If you watch the movie, the end credits has a Jackie Chan style blooper reel, and you see that when those guys fall, they have nothing more than a little wire slightly(and I really do mean slightly) slowing down their fall.

I think it's a great little piece of brutal ass kicking that's more impressive than anything you're ever gonna see The Rock or Bruce Willis perform.

Chocolate is on Netflix Instant for those who wanna check it out.

Note: I know it's kinda stupid to just link the video as opposed to posting it here, but I really don't wanna bother figuring out how to do it.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Best of Asian Action Cinema Part I: The Introduction

I love Asian action movies. I find them to be just, so many times better than what gets put out here stateside. Sure we have the money to create amazing large scale shit going bam, which is fun, but the stuff that comes out of Hong Kong, Mainland China, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and the rest of the continent is nothing short of art and pure cinema.

So here we are, I'm gonna post and talk about what are, in my opinion, some of the greatest action and fight scenes throughout Asia, past to present. A few biases first of all. Personally, I find the stuff out of Hong Kong and Mainland China to be the absolute best, but strong contenders are coming from all sides now, making it a great time to be a fan of action movies.

What's the main difference?

Well, the big one, we can see what the fuck is going on in an Asian fight scene, as opposed to how things look here, which is chopped to hell. Three reasons for this:
1) Directors here may simply prefer the look of shaky cam way up close action editing believing it to create a more intense and chaotic atmosphere, which it kind of does.
2) We just don't have actors who have spent their whole lives practicing and perfecting any of the martial arts, so we have to cut constantly to hide the stunt doubles required for much of the action.
3) Insurance! When you see someone fall off a roof and smack onto the ground 30 feet below in, let's say a Thai movie, that person is pretty much really falling off that roof at full speed and smashing into the ground. That type of shit won't fly here in the states.

Since we're talking about the quick cut, up close action style here in the states, we might as well go to the big source responsible for it's popularization, The Bourne movies, particularly those directed by Paul Greengrass.

Now compare that to another 1 on 1 fight from Hong Kong. Try to ignore the complete absurdity of how far he throws that little girl.

Now I'm not saying that you have to like the second one better, you can like whatever the fuck you want, but one has to admit that Flash Point allows you to see what happens and keeps the intensity high. Whereas with Supremacy, yeah, you can tell what's basically happening but it just feels kind of fake. It's a fight scene that's the product of editing and tricky camera work, not true ability from the actors.

Therein lies another bias of mine. I truly believe that when it comes to action, the less aware the audience is of a camera the better. By this I mean that a fight scene is not the place for the director to show off his ability behind a camera.

There has been a slight resurgence lately here in the States of solid, comprehensible action in films like Kill Bill, some of Scott Pilgrim, some of Zack Snyder's work, Drive, and most notably Haywire.

But that's enough of that. This is gonna be about Asian cinema, so get ready, cause it's gonna be one hell of a load of crazy.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Ghost Protocol

While most people spent New Year's Eve celebrating in some way, I actually pretty much holed up in my room and watched all six Rocky films, which was great as I haven't seen any of them aside from I and IV, so I got to see the whole story arc unfold over the course of a day. It was one hell of a journey and I intend to write a bit on each of the flicks.

However today is dedicated to Brad Bird's Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol.

My viewing of the Mission films actually occurred pretty late, having not seen any of them until well after M:I 3 came out. At some point while digging around the house I saw that my dad actually owned the first two movies, and later that night I found the third one in a blowout bin for 3 bucks so I picked it up and began my journey into the M:I world.

I enjoyed the films very much, seeing them all as great pieces of popcorn entertainment. What I found more interesting however, were the filmmakers behind each of the flicks. The directors of each of the movies were, at least in my opinion, some of the greatest talents in their field. Just as the Alien movies have this amazing pedigree, so too does the Mission franchise. My absolute love for Brian De Palma is no secret, but then you throw in the greatest action director alive John Woo and modern day geek maestro J.J. Abrams and that's an impressive resume.

I always saw the Mission films as escapist fun, and I'm sure each of the director's knew and followed that form stepping in. However, each of the movies had their own strengths and weaknesses. The first Mission had a plot no one could follow, but also carried with it absolutely breathless suspense, as well as a classical spy feel. The second is almost cartoonishly goofy, but it had John Woo's amazing action direction. III finally had a story you could keep up with that made you care about the characters, as well as a great villain in Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but it lacked the, I guess elegance that the more experienced De Palma and Woo brought.

Finally, the fourth installment has released, Brad Bird was chosen to helm and he is yet another extremely talented and loved director. I really liked Mission I and III and liked certain aspects of II, but Ghost Protocol is the first film in the franchise to feel complete. It takes all the strong points and elements from the first 3 and combines them to create a film that is frankly leaps and bounds above the others.

If one were to study Bird's prior films, they would notice that his strengths in characterization and action are really among the best out there right now. So what if the movies were animated? Frankly it's ridiculous that in this day and age many still look at animation as an inferior art form, used only as children's entertainment, or as crude sitcoms. Regardless, he has always had strengths as a director that would lend themselves greatly to adventure or suspense films.

Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol has both. It is without question the best of the franchise and in my opinion, one of the best pieces of big screen entertainment I've seen in a long time.

*Note: Among other things, this movie has a sequence in which Ethan Hunt scales the world's tallest building. It is absolutely edge of your seat mind blowing and actually gave me a bit of vertigo. This scene alone is worth the added price of admission for an imax ticket.