Wednesday, 30 September 2009
THREE KINGDOMS: RESURRECTION OF THE DRAGON (2008)
Directed by: Daniel Lee
Screenplay: Ho Leung Lau & Daniel Lee
Action: Sammo Hung, Yuen Tak
Starring: Andy Lau, Sammo Hung, Maggie Q, Andy On, Rongguang Yu, Ti Lung, Quanxin Pu, Hua Yueh
Based on the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of China’s most famous pieces of literature, Daniel Lee’s good looking, action fuelled interpretation is a noble and entertaining attempt to condense a huge book down into an hour and a half of entertainment. However, at just under ninety minutes, this “epic” often feels truncated, rushed and lacking meat: like a condensed version of the famous story. Andy Lau (making his third historical epic in as many years: along with The Warlords and Battle of Wits) does a commendable job playing famed hero Zilong, a humble man who rises through the ranks of his army to become one of the fiercest and feared generals in the land. The film somewhat rushes through his rise, the narrative often hopping from once incident and battle to another with barely time to breath. Sammo Hung (arguably the best of the cast, showing once again he is just as good at serious drama as he is at bumbling comedy and crazy action) plays Zilong's overshadowed loyal friend and unfortunately is sidelined for a good chunk of the film only to pop at the end for a final act revelation. Fortunately it is the final act that delivers the most in terms of story and drama. An aging Zhao makes one last stand to rid his land of corruption, going into battle against the daughter (Maggie Q) of a fallen enemy.
Lee brings his film into focus in this last half hour, dispensing with zipping through history and focusing on the emotional impact of the last stand of a great warrior. Here, the film is engaging, the action fierce and the actors really get stuck into their characters. If the rest of the film had been this way, then Three Kingdoms may have been a much more satisfying experience. Not to say it is bad: just rushed and often not what it could have been. As mentioned the principals do good, even Maggie Q, and while a lot of the supporting cast are reduced to a few scenes Andy On (New Police Story) and Rongguang Yu (Iron Monkey) make an impact in their small roles. The film is lavish to look at, having an expensive gloss and slick photography. Sammo Hung and Yuen Tak deliver some big action and while it may be over-the-top and resorts to flights of fancy at times, it’s still delivered with breakneck ferocity and sharp choreography. The film is fairly packed with grand scale action not least a scorching 10 minute set piece where Andy Lau, with infant attached to his back, takes on a whole army with a spear and wins.
Not the best Chinese historical epic to come along of late but not that bad either. The critical establishment may not have been as kind to it and it could have been a good bit longer to flesh out characters and incidents but on its own terms, Three Kingdoms is very entertaining. The action is good, the cast solid and everything always look epic and is beautifully captured. Not bad.
HARDCASE & FIST (1989)
Written & Directed by: Tony Zarindast
Starring: Ted Prior, Carter Wong & Tony Zarindast
Reasons not to watch Hardcase & Fist:
- The monotone acting by the entire cast.
- Carter Wong’s horrendous acting that makes the monotone acting by the rest of the cast look good.
- The fact that Ted Prior, the king of crappy action movies and star of the amazingly bad/awesome movie Deadly Prey, is the best actor in this and has the bemused look on his face as if to say “damn, this movie is even too shit for me!”
- Random inserts of Vietnam stock footage so the characters can have random Vietnam flashbacks (this is actually kinda cool, as Vietnam flashbacks are always awesome)
- The most hilariously bad, random (a lot of things in this movie are random) aerobics scene ever!
- The fact that said aerobics scene is better than any of the action scenes in this movie.
- Tony Zarindast wrote, directed and starred in this. Who is this guy?
- The fact that Hardcase & Fist aren’t really a bad guy fighting duo and Fist (Wong) isn’t even in the final showdown.
- Wong’s speech about his wife cheating on him, then becoming a stripper but he can’t help still loving her. He then goes to see her strip and can’t take it and kicks a bunch of dude’s asses in anger. Awesome.
- When Prior finally defeats the bad guy, who is lying on the ground dying horribly from 3rd degree burns, Wong simply raises his arm in the air and smiles like a mad man as if it’s the funniest thing ever (which it kinda is, due to Wong raising his arm and smiling like a mad man)
- That there is no pace, tension or excitement to be found in the entire running time.
Reasons to watch Hardcase & Fist:
- See all of above
A contender for the worst action movie ever, Hardcase & Fist should be seen at every given opportunity after the ingestion of vast amounts of alcohol and only in the presence of likeminded bad movie aficionados and equally inebriated persons.
Friday, 18 September 2009
More links to reviews I've done for movie review website Far East Films (www.fareastfilms.com)
EXECUTIVE TARGET (1997)
Directed by: Joseph Merhi
Written by: Jacobson Hart & Dayton Callie
Starring: Michael Madsen, Keith David, Angie Everheart & Roy Scheider
Executive Target is another car chase spectacular from low budget uber producers, PM Entertainment. While not as accomplished as some of their other films (Rage, The Sweeper), Executive Target still features some excellent chases and stuntwork but is marred by an absurd plotline and ropy acting.
Roy Scheider is the President and chief bad guy Lamar (David) wants to kidnap him and auction him off to the highest bidder. He believes the best way to do this is to kidnap imprisoned Hollywood stunt driver Nick (Madsen) and use him to drive the getaway car holding the President (!?). Lamar’s goons, Lacey (Everheart) and Ripple (?) (Gareth Williams) bust Nick out of a prison bus he is being escorted in; kidnap his wife for leverage; force Nick to rob a bank; and swear an awful, awful lot. Nick decides to take matters into his own hands as he tries to clear his name; save his wife; rescue the Prez; and crash an excessive amount of cars.
Executive Target’s plot (ha!) is an just an excuse to have three big car chases (one at the beginning, one in the middle and one at the end) and they are the film’s saving grace. Well executed and thrillingly staged for a low budget feature, the filmmakers manage to cram in everything from Ferraris, to buses, to big-rigs, to police cruisers, to helicopters, creating an onslaught of vehicular mayhem and destruction. PM Entertainment are renowned for spectacular, stunt-packed car chases in their films and director Joseph Merhi pulls out all the stops here (though uses a few too many close-ups this time, occasionally making it difficult to see what’s going on).
It is the story that really suffers here. Why the bad guys would need a Hollywood stunt driver is anybody’s guess. Surely they would know a good enough getaway driver within the criminal underworld? Madsen looks cool driving the fast cars, but seems to be phoning in his performance. The bad guys are all cookie cutter stereotypes, seemingly trying to out swear one another: ‘fuck you, fuck off, fuck this, fuck that, fuck him, fuck her, fuck everything.’ It does get tiresome. Everheart is there to mainly look pretty (which she does very well) and David over-acts somewhat, but makes his character kinda fun, while Scheider just looks bemused by everything.
What stops the film from becoming an ultimate guilty pleasure are some absolutely bonkers leaps in logic (even for an action flick). Super villain Lamar is somehow able to watch all the car chases on a huge video screen back in his super villain lair. This is explained by using the city's CCTV cameras but since when do they show pixel perfect pictures that cover every angle of the action and even what’s going on down an alley way where there isn’t even a camera? Also the sudden revelation that the hero’s rotund friend Bella (Callie) was once a marine and should now accompany Nick on his rescue mission of his wife is just really daft. The fact that this consists of him wearing a bin bag over his head (don’t ask) and then getting shot proves just how daft this idea was.
However, the point of a guilty pleasure film is it’s so bad it’s actually kind of good. We all have one and Executive Target works best as this kind of film. Daft, but exciting, it will satisfy lovers of car chase flicks.
Thursday, 10 September 2009
MR NICE GUY (1997)
Directed by: Sammo Hung
Screenplay: Fibe Ma & Edward Tang
Starring: Jackie Chan, Miki Lee & Richard Norton
No exactly a Chan classic but a whole lot more fun than a lot of his American product, Mr Nice Guy features lots of zany action and acrobatics and Chan running around like a mad man. Released just as he was hitting it big in the Western world with Rumble in the Bronx storming the box office, Mr Nice Guy is a very Westernized Chan adventure but retains enough Eastern flavoured action and mayhem to make it worth a watch.
Subtle it ain’t as Chan basically plays himself, albeit he is now a famous TV chef as well a martial arts master and Buster Keaton styled slapstick clown. Living in Australia he somehow manages, after much plot convolution and characters shouting a lot, to get caught with an incriminating video tape that a local gang boss wants back. This leads to loads of running about for the Chan man, a bevy of beauties in tow (a staple of his 1990s films) and crazy set pieces galore. Brash, a little obnoxious and with too many loud characters, Mr Nice Guy makes up for its roll-your-eyes short comings with non stop energy and inventive action. Directed by long time cohort Sammo Hung, the action and fights may not be the most intricate or fierce (this is more family orientated Jackie and Sammo) but is still creative and zippy. We get crazy set-pieces like the chase/fight on a runaway horse and carriage; an excellent and visually funny fight on a construction site and the completely bonkers finally where Chan drives the biggest Tonka truck you’ve ever seen through a giant glass windowed mansion. What!!??
The tone shifts all over the place from sweet to silly to even somewhat violent at times, but Chan manages to keep everything just on track. He gets to face off against the great Richard Norton again (after their previous onscreen fight in City Hunter) and the flick rarely stops for you to realize just how ludicrous it all is.
DOUBLE DRAGON (1994)
Directed by: James Yukich
Screenplay: Michael Davis & Peter Gould
Starring: Robert Patrick, Mark Dacascos, Scott Wolf & Alyssa Milano
At times Double Dragon looks like somebody just puked up the 1980s onto the screen. Other times it’s actually kind of fun. No really. Bad fashion, hideous colours, crazy make-up effects and over-the-top acting make this video game adaptation a trash classic. Throw in future martial arts legend Mark Dacascos, Robert “T2” Patrick having a bawl as the bad guy and Alyssa Milano as the leader of a tough street gang (again, no really!) and Double Dragon is probably the least seen Hollywood video game adaptation ever.
How close it sticks to the game, I have no idea. Two brothers (Dacascos & Wolf) in the future have one part of some legendary medallion called the Double Dragon. Robert Patrick has the other part. Each side wants to get hold of the piece they don’t have and lots of chasing, fighting and “hilarity” ensue. The future is a day glow nightmare with gangs dressed up in all kinds of ridiculous costumes and despite violence, evil corporations and, well, everything looking like its gone to shit, everyone seem to be having a gay old time. Luckily the film never stops to take itself too seriously, the makers seem to know it’s a load of old hokum and even some of the wisecracks actually work. Yeah some parts are genuinely funny not unintentionally. Though there are plenty of those as well.
The effects, in the early days of CGI, hold up surprisingly well and there is some inventive action if occasionally clunky. The martial arts is nothing to write home about with Dacascos providing most of the fight moves and there are plenty of chases involving silly looking cars and jet skis. Loud and dumb it may be with colour and set design that may cause bouts of nausea, Double Dragon is nevertheless hokey, early 90s excess with a cool performance from Robert Patrick and appearances by action stalwarts Al Leong, Jeff Imada and Nils Allen Stewart. Goofy fun
Monday, 7 September 2009
A selection of recent reviews I've done for the excellent website Far East Films (www.fareastfilms.com). There are more if you trawl through their review section.
Friday, 4 September 2009
SILENT THUNDER (aka REVENGE ON THE HIGHWAY) (1992)
Directed by: Craig Baxley
Written by: Dennis Shryack & Michael Blodgett
Starring: Stacey Keach, Lisa Banes, Tom Bower & Sandal Bergman
Trucker action movies aren’t too thick on the ground but there are enough of them (Black Dog, Thunder Run, Convoy) to warrant as a sub genre of the action world. Silent Thunder is a cracking bit of revenge on the roads that despite not featuring an over abundance of action, still has enough gear crunching, rig smashing stunts to warrant a viewing. Based on the true story of a father who tracks down the killer of his son on the American highways, Silent Thunder is a well acted, engaging little movie. Stacey Keach is great as the trucker father looking for a fellow trucker who ran down his son late one night on the highway. Said trucker has been leaving a wake of destruction across the roads as he toys with and finally kills unsuspecting motorists with a giant eighteen wheeler.
Keach is his usual solid self navigating the well worn “I didn’t tell my son I loved him” clichés with believability. Along with all the truck smashing it is the character interplay that really keeps Silent Thunder moving. Keach’s character, Claude Sams, is a man driven with obsession to find the killer of his son and this takes its toll on his relationships with his new wife (Banes) and the kindly but realistic police officer who is trying his best (Bower). These characters and relationships are portrayed with a certain amount of realism and maturity. The path’s the characters and their relationships take dont always take the expected course for this type of film and it’s refreshing to see characters talking things out. Tension is also nicely built as Sams continues his quest to the inevitable showdown and the script is peppered with some smart, hard boiled dialogue as Sams engages in as many verbal battles as he does vehicle ones.
The action, when it arrives, is impressively staged involving some very dangerous looking automobile stunts. While the story is based on a true incident and care has been taken to present the characters and situations as real as possible, the action and final confrontation have no doubt been embellished in order to ramp up the drama. Still, the truck set pieces are strikingly staged with impressive stunts on display that belie the fact this is actually a TV movie. Director Craig Baxley knows a thing or two about action (having helmed ace flicks Stone Cold and Action Jackson) and keeps his well shot movie moving fast.
Stacey Keach, truck smashing action, good acting and character interplay: not bad for a TV movie from 1992.
NOWHERE TO HIDE (1987)
Directed by: Mario Azzopardi
Screenplay: Alex Rebar & George Goldsmith
Starring: Amy Madigan, Michael Ironside & Maury Chakin
A forgotten but rollicking 1980s action thriller with a strong female lead, Nowhere to Hide has car chases, explosions, firepower galore and even the great Michael Ironside. Barbara and Rob Cutter (Madigan and Daniel Hugh Kelly) are a happily married couple with a young son. Having both served military time, Rob stumbles across a cover up involving faulty helicopters that have killed some of his men. Swiftly executed, Barbara and her son Johnny (Rob Macaheran) must go on the run as they are hunted by some nasty government assassins. With nowhere to turn to, they flee to the woods where they seek shelter with mountain man Ben (Ironside) and fight back against an onslaught of military professionals.
Sleek, well engineered and featuring some corking action, Nowhere to Hide rockets along as Barbara must use all her wits to evade the killers. A strong female character is always a refreshing notion in an action picture and Madigan infuses her character with enough grit and substance without resorting to too much of a gung-ho Ripley type figure. At first she is scared and makes mistakes, putting her and her son in danger, but becomes more resourceful before taking up arms against the bad guys. The bad guys are the best, not least two merciless and seemingly unstoppable assassins. Despite looking very ordinary in appearance (adding to their ruthlessness), these robot like bad dudes (played by Maury Chakin and Geza Kovacs) bring real menace to the momentum of the film, gunning down people left, right and centre and not even quitting their mission despite being set on fire!
The action is excitingly staged and encompasses all manner of vehicles and buildings going boom. The initial raid on the Cutter’s house is a ruthlessly intense and efficient set piece. Likewise, the stalk sequences involving the two assassins and then a huge fire-fight at Ironside’s woodland retreat. Admittedly the action does go a little silly come the end. Obviously trying to cram in as much they can, the filmmakers go overboard with a ridiculous helicopter set piece that almost unravels all the tension and character driven action that has gone before. Being an 80s flick the absurd levels are pushed more than once, not least the insane amount of violence that little Johnny Cutter witnesses and high risk situations he constantly finds himself in. Despite surviving the whole ordeal the kid is gonna need a whole load of therapy to get over what he’s been through!
However, the moments of ridiculousness don’t spoil Nowhere to Hide from being an entertaining and charged up action film and if you are in the mood for some 80s styled survivilist action, then this flick is just the ticket.