Showing posts with label Hong Kong Films. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hong Kong Films. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

ARTI: The Adventure Begins is "Wuxia Meets THUNDERBIRDS!"

If you had asked me 15 years ago if I thought that there would ever be a Wuxia film produced that used THUNDERBIRDS style puppetry, I would have laughed at the idea. Not that I would have thought it was silly, I'm a big THUNDERBIRDS fan, just that I would never have conceived that anyone would make such a film.

I would have been wrong. This is yet more proof that the world loves me and that I need to add another time period to my Feng Shui 2 campaign.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Into The Badlands Looks Like a Post-Apocalyptic, Kung Fu, Western and That's a Beautiful Thing.

I've seen quite a few adaptations of Journey to the West, aka Monkey, in my day. Most of these adaptations fail to capture the wonder I experienced when I first encountered Sun Wukong in Ron Lim's excellent comic book Dragon Lines. It wasn't until Steven Chow's wild and imaginative Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons that I saw a filmic version of the tale that approached what I had always wanted to see. I've yet to see a Western adaptation that properly captures the heroism and whimsy of Sun Wukong. While I appreciated Jackie Chan's and Jet Li's performances as manifestations of Monkey in The Forbidden Kingdom, the film itself focused too much on the wandering Westerner and not enough on Monkey. I've been pretty skeptical of Hollywood's ability to bring this character to screen as the rightful protagonist of a tale.

It looks like AMC might just change my assessment. AMC released a preview trailer for their upcoming series Into the Badlands which is based on the classic tale of heroism and wonder, and I'm really impressed. Yes, it's a Western version of the tale, but it is also a "Western" version of the tale. I'll still go in skeptical, but this show looks like a lot of fun and Daniel Wu's performance as "Sunny" looks great. I was never able to see my much wished for version of the tale with Dennis Dun as Monkey, but Daniel Wu brings a wonderful charisma to the screen.

The cinematography of the trailer hints at the influence of Wong Kar Wai and Ronny Yu, and that is a very good thing.

I can't wait to adapt this to Feng Shui, Chris Pramas' Dragon Fist RPG, or Savage Worlds.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Feng Shui -- The Day the Reindeer Died!

Every year I like to run a Christmas themed adventure for my gaming group. A couple of years ago, it was a Necessary Evil game where the "heroes" had to fight off murderous V'sori gingerbread men. Had Stan! published Gingerbread Kaiju that year, the minis for those V'sori would have been edible. To be honest, when I say "Christmas themed" I almost always mean "based on the opening sequence of Scrooged." What can I say? I love the movie and it makes perfect fodder for role playing action.

This year my gaming group was introduced to the joy that is Feng Shui during the alpha playtest. I played quite a bit of Feng Shui in the late 90s and early 00s, but most of my group are young whippersnappers who blink unknowingly when I mention films like KILLER, HARDBOILED, THE BRIDE WITH WHILE HAIR, or FIST OF LEGEND...this will be corrected. The group really enjoys the cinematic/narrative style of the Feng Shui system and really want me to put together a campaign for the game. I'm happy to oblige, but being a Ph.D. student and a Program Director at a non-profit doesn't leave too much prep time. So while I didn't have time to outline some branches for the overall campaign yet, I decided that I would take the time to adapt my old stand by THE NIGHT THE REINDEER DIED to Feng Shui. I ran the game this past weekend and it was pretty fun. We didn't get as far as I'd have liked -- I wanted to send the group into 2056 where they facilitate a JINGLE ALL THE WAY-esque riot that begins to undermine the Buro's control due to people actually caring about a hot Christmas item -- but we didn't get that far. Instead, they stopped at "shutting down the Star Gate."

For those of you interested in playing a session, here is the outline and a couple of special characters as well.  We've got Skipper from MADAGASCAR, Lee Majors, and Krampus available for groups who don't have existing characters. Now...onto the show...dim the lights...pull back the curtain...and...

In a world...


The player characters are resting at their hideout/attuned Feng Shui site in between forays into the Netherworld, shadow runs against the Ascended, and secret battles against the Hand. All seems calm. Let the players role play some of their background subplots and ask them where they'd like the narrative direction of their character's lives to go. Take notes. Just as the conversation gets going really well and some strong roleplaying is going on, have there be a "knock on the door." It will be an insistent knock that will not go away. It even sounds excited...if it is possible for a knock to sound excited.

When the PCs open the door Buddy the Elf - Will Farrell from the movie ELF - will be standing at the door in a near panic. He will explain to the PCs that an army of mechanical monkeys (Jammers) from the future are at the North Pole attempting to blow up Santa's Workshop. It turns out that Santa's Workshop is a major Feng Shui site, which explains a great deal about how he accomplishes his deliveries. Santa is currently losing the battle and needs the player's help. If the Jammers succeed in blowing up the North Pole at the exact right moment (midnight Christmas Eve), it will have a ripple effect that might allow the Jammers to destroy all Feng Shui sites simultaneously. This will cause the world to turn into a combination of the future from the TERMINATOR and PLANET OF THE APES films.

Flight to the North Pole

Try to make the trip to the North Pole quick, but feel free to add moments where they come under aerial attack. As they approach the Pole, give them the full description of how there are Searchlights scanning the sky and flak exploding at almost random. Have the PCs land at the Pole, meet Santa, and be sent on a mission to get behind enemy lines, find the computer that has opened a gateway between now and 2056, and shut it down. This should include 3 basic battles in the blood covered snow scape of the Pole. 

Make sure to insert lots of references to your favorite Christmas movies. Is Bruce Willis there? Is he fighting Satan Claws? Abominable? Heatmiser? You get the picture.

The final fight will be the PCs against BattleChimp Yamato and a number of Macaque mooks equal to the PCs +4. There will be a clock counting down as the Jammers are bringing a nuclear warhead through the portal. The PCs must disconnect the portal from the heart of the kid from Polar Express (the only child with enough belief in Santa to make the connection to 2056) without harming the child, defeat BattleChimp Yamato and crew.  If you wish, you can have the PCs continue on into 2056 to take the fight to the Jammers and the Buro.


Map of the North Pole

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Jim Beaver (Supernatural) Discusses Buster Keaton's OUR HOSPITALITY

It's hard to describe in words the brilliance of the comedic stunt work of early Hollywood action-comedians like Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd.  Their willingness to risk life and limb to entertain audiences -- even with the safety procedures they did use -- is mind boggling. The best way to use words to describe their endeavors are usually names, names of artists who have attempted similarly insane comedic stunts. You can tell a modern audience that many of Jackie Chan's stunts were inspired by the work of Keaton, and that does a pretty effective job.  But for my generation, who encountered Jackie Chan as he entered the American Market with THE BIG BRAWL, a better comparison is Disney's character Goofy.  Many of the animated stunt comedy shorts that feature Goofy are based on the comedic endeavors of Keaton and Lloyd.

Think about that for a minute. Animation, with its infinite ability to show the unreal, was used to tell stories inspired by the real world stunt work of real world comedians.

Actor Jim Beaver has a column over at IndieWire entitled "Beaver's Lodge," and in his most recent (and second) installment he discusses Buster Keaton's film OUR HOSPITALITY.  Watch his discussion and tell me you don't want to watch this film.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Jackie Chan's ZODIAC --- Okay, Now I'm Interested

Seeing Jackie Chan in the teaser trailer for ZODIAC, I was really worried.  The luge body suit stunts were impressive, but they were also stiffer and less fluid than a typical Jackie stunt.  I wondered how much of his natural grace had been worn down by the various exertions he has put his body through during his career.

After seeing the extended trailer I still may hope that Jackie is able to enjoy a long and well deserved retirement, but I am no longer worried about him going out with a fizzle.

Monday, October 22, 2012

David Lo Pan Style: Big Trouble in Little China meets PSY

As many of you know, I am of the opinion that John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China may well be the best film ever made.  Okay, that's an exaggeration, but you know the way that some Gen-Xers constantly reference Star Wars or Star Trek in conversation?  I'm that way with BTiLC.  I lost count of how many times I have watched the film a decade ago.

The film combines everything I love from Western genre film, Shaw Brothers over the top acting, and post-Tsui Hark Hong Kong cinematography and action.  In short, it is all things great about film that aren't in Singin' in the Rain.

BTiLC doesn't need a remake, but it does need more awesome fan creations like this.  If only Dennis Dun managed a cameo in the video.

If you don't like this video, you must be monumentally naive or already living in the Hell of Lacking a Sense of Style or Humor.  What can I say?  The Chinese have a lot of hells.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Jackie Chan + Street Luge Suit + 101st Film = Win?

It looks like Jackie Chan's 101st film CHINESE ZODIAC is a return to classic Chan-esque action.  The trailer from the film features Jackie Chan performing a series of stunts wearing what can only be called a Street Luge Suit.  While the concept is interesting, and hearkens back to JC classics like ARMOR OF GOD, Chan does seem to be showing his age in the sequence.  I'm excited to see the film, but I think I'll be spending more time than usual worrying if Jackie Chan is going to be seriously injured than I did when he was younger.  Given that he fractured his skull in ARMOR OF GOD, maybe I should have worried more then too.

Friday, August 31, 2012

A COMPANY MAN (2012) -- Guns, Love, and Middle Management

Earlier this year, Showbox/Mediaplex Inc. (the company who brought us Dragon Wars) released THE THIEVES at the Toronto International Film Festival.  Maggie Lee at The Hollywood Reporter described THE THIEVES as "A debonair caper that brings together Korean and Chinese cat burglars for a diamond heist in Macao, "The Thieves" owes much to the sparky gamesmanship and glamour casting of Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean" series, as well as to the physical verve and unpretentious goofiness of '90s Hong Kong actioners like John Woo's "Once a Thief" (1991)."

Now Showbox is promoting another film that combines many of the tropes of East Asian cinema with A COMPANY MAN.

The film follows the story of a hitman who quits his job for love only to find himself hunted by his former employers.  Can he escape with his life?  Is love all a dream?  Will there be betrayal?

Only time can tell.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

[Movies] The Man with the Iron Fists -- Red Band Trailer

Long time kung fu film fan -- and hip hop artist -- RZA has partnered with Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino to bring us this little bit of Hong Kong inspired goodness.

 I love it when fans get the opportunity to tinker with the things they love. Sometimes those opportunities end up nightmarish -- like any of my attempts to emulate Michael Whelan art. Other times, they can lead to great entertainment. I'm hoping that RZA's "The Man with the Iron Fists" is able to inspire a new generation to experience the joys of classic Shaw Brothers films like "5 Deadly Venoms."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

SHAOLIN (2011) -- Powerful Drama, Passable Martial Arts

Jet Li's 1982 film Shaolin Temple is a fantastic martial arts film that signaled a sea change in the Hong Kong film industry.  It was the first Hong Kong martial arts film to be filmed in mainland China, it had brilliant choreography, and it had the uniquely charismatic Jet Li.  The film's story of a young refugee in 7th Century China who seeks refuge and training at a Shaolin temple in order to avenge the death of his father is based on common martial arts themes, but the use of naturalistic settings and the fluidity of the martial arts choreography are what make this film a standout to this day.  The film's martial arts are amazing, but real -- and all the more amazing for it.  The film didn't rely heavily on wire-work, as many earlier and later martial arts films have done.  It is a masterpiece, and to "remake" such a film is pure folly.

The futility of making a "remake" didn't stop Benny Chan, Andy Lau, Nicholas Tse, Jackie Chan, and Wu Jing from trying with 2011's SHAOLIN.  The result of their attempt is an extraordinary film that is emotionally powerful, even if the martial arts lack the grace captured in the earlier Jet Li classic.

The story is similar to the 1982 film, but with some significant differences.  As this is the 100th Anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution, the updated SHAOLIN is set during the era of warlord struggle that occurred during the aftermath of the fall of the Qing dynasty.  As presented in Benny Chan's film, this is a period of chaos, bloodshed, and treason where China's very soul is at stake.

At the beginning of the film Hou Jie (Andy Lau) is a powerful warlord who has just won a major victory, and who has a chance to stabilize the region and bring about a peace that he doesn't yet understand he desires.  In the celebration over his victory, General Hou's sworn brother General Song Hu congratulates Hou and proposes that they formally unify their kingdoms and their houses through an arranged marriage.  Given Song's tone, Hou's paranoia takes over.  He wonders why Song has not asked about the massive wealth he acquired in the battle.  Hou's concerns are further fueled by his ambitious lieutenant Cao Man (Nicholas Tse) who goads Hou into using the marriage arrangement dinner as an opportunity to ambush Song and end a threat to Hou's hegemony.  Cao Man is also attempting to convince Hou to trade with foreign entities who wish to build a railroad in China.  The foreigners will trade water cooled machine guns for the right to use Hou's land.  Hou resists the temptation to sell out his country to foreigners, but accepts the plan to ambush Song.

As one might guess, Hou learns of Song's sincerity and fidelity too late.  Hou finds himself betrayed by Cao Man -- to whom Hou had been cruel and dismissive.  Hou tries desperately to save himself and his family during the ambush.  He manages to escape, but in the process of escaping his daughter is fatally wounded.  He takes his daughter to Shaolin temple in the hopes that they can heal her, but it is too late.  Hou finds that in his pride and greed, he has caused the death of his daughter and the end of his marriage as his wife comes to hate him for his actions.

It is a powerful opening filled with emotional pull.  Andy Lau is compelling as Hou and gives his motivations enough plausibility that we never think of him as evil, even as he is causing others suffering.  He is ruthless and paranoid, but he is a loving father and husband.

The story progresses from their as Hou becomes a monk, is asked to learn cooking due to his impure heart, but who is eventually allowed to study Kung Fu under a senior brother (Wu Jing).  The audience watches as Hou transforms from a ruthless man into a redeemed man, but not yet a man at peace.  Hou must still find a way to bring balance to the harm he has caused the world.

He is given the opportunity when he discovers that Cao Man is using laborers to dig up antiquities -- China's history and soul -- and is selling them to the foreigners in exchange for guns.  Cao Man is willing to betray his own people, and murder them to keep it quiet, without one moment's remorse.  Nicholas Tse is masterful in his presentation of the ambitious and treasonous Cao Man.  What looks like it might be an over the top melodramatic performance, shifts subtly as Cao Man eventually faces the horror of his own actions and overcomes his longing for status and revenge.  This transformation occurs during the fight scene between Hou and Cao, a fight scene that is routine in physical execution but exquisite in emotional appeal.

Given that the film includes Jackie Chan in the cast, one might expect him to steal the show.  While his performance is entertaining enough, it is also somewhat formulaic.  He is a combination clown and hero, a role that Chan has provided us many times before.  He does so ably here, but his performance isn't overpowering or overly memorable.

What is memorable is the performance of martial arts prodigy Wu Jing -- Wu has done some fantastic work over the past few years including a spectacular fight with Donnie Yen in Kill Zone.  If any actor can be said to bring the kind of charisma that Jet Li brought to the first Shaolin Temple it is Wu.  His character has very few lines in the film, but his facial reactions to events within the film provide volumes of detail.  He has a natural ability to convey emotions, an undeniable charm, and his solid performance provides the hub around which the narrative takes place.  The film is -- in many ways -- the story of how Hou becomes more like Wu Jing's character.  The one fight scene that is more than routine is Wu's, sadly it is also the fight scene with the worst camera work.  His grace is remarkable and I look forward to seeing him in more films.

Like many of the best martial arts films to come out of Hong Kong, Shaolin is a deeply patriotic film that is as much about the spirit of the middle kingdom as it is about the narrative being shown.  The movie is well acted, has some spectacular camera work -- even though there are about 2 crane shots too many, and has passable kung fu fights that rely too much on wires and not enough on the grace of the movements.

There isn't as much action as one might imagine a kung fu film to have, this is a kung fu drama and drama is its greatest virtue.  The score and the acting manipulated my emotions perfectly.  I worried for the characters, and wept at all the right moments.  The final scene between Hou and his wife is one of the best scenes I have watched in a Hong Kong film.  It is romantic and tragic, it is everthing I watch movies in order to feel.

If the martial arts had been as good as the acting and the story, this film would have been a classic.  As it is, it is merely excellent.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

[Film Trailer] VIRAL FACTOR -- Forget CONTAGION, Give Me Gunfights and Amnesia

Thanks to for pointing me to Daniel Lam's latest science-fiction suspense actioner. It looks like a combination of Hard Boiled, The Bourne Idenity, and Outbreak. The folks at Beyond Hollywood recommend that you familiarize yourself with the plot before you watch the video:

A mission to escort a witness from Jordan to the Netherlands leaves International Security Affairs agent Jon severely scarred: a bullet is lodged in his brain, his fiancée and fellow agent Rita is dead and their traitorous colleague Sean has nabbed their witness. While contemplating leaving the force, he finds out that his father and brother, Wan Yang, are still alive. In his search for them, he discovers that his brother is working as a mercenary for Sean, who has evil plans to force scientist Rachel to cultivate a mutating virus to unleash on the world. The brothers unite to stop Sean but finds out that he has an even bigger plan for international blackmail. The battle heads to a showdown in Hong Kong where Sean has decided to release the strain of deadly virus.

I am currently wondering how I could translate this film into a Night's Black Agents campaign.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

[Film Trailer] MURAL: Strange and Inspiring Fantasy

As much genre influence as Hong Kong films have had on American cinema, there is one genre where Hong Kong's influence has yet to have significant impact on American film making. Every modern American action film has some touch of the gunfu and kung fu films of Hong Kong's heyday, but one rarely sees touches from amazing fantasy spectacles like The Bride with White Hair, Dragon Inn, or Warrior of Zu Magic Mountain in American productions.

When we do get film influenced by HK fantasy films -- with the exception of John Carpenter's magical Big Trouble in Little China -- the American adaptations/translations are mere shadows of what could be cinematically.  It's as if Western film makers are afraid to truly push the envelope regarding what a fantasy story can be.  The Forbidden Kingdom is a perfect example.  The film stars two of Hong Kong's greatest actors, yet the film makers decided to add an American protagonist and to mute the fantastic elements of Sun Wu Kung's tale.  The movie is an inelegant patchwork of a number of wonderful tales.  Even when talented Hong Kong directors make films with elements of HK fantasy, like Warriors of Virtue, the fantasy is targeted at young children and the warriors become kangaroo versions of Ninja Turtles.  In these fantasy translations, the "anything can happen" narrative and the "nothing is too extreme" attitude of HK fantasy is lost, only to be replaced with tamer shadows that hint at what could have been.  There are moments of The Forbidden Kingdom and Warriors of Virtue  that shine through, but they are only enough to make the film's moderately entertaining when they could have been spectacular.

Thankfully for fans of Hong Kong fantasy, and you should really be one, the HK film industry is still making fantasy spectaculars.  This September saw the release of Gordon Chan's latest film Mural.  The movie is an adaptation from Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio a classic collection of Chinese fantasy stories of Vampires, Ghosts, and Magic.  Gordon Chan's Fist of Legend is one of the best martial arts films ever created, and if this trailer is any hint we might be in for something special with Mural.  Let's hope it gets released stateside soon.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Adventures of Tintin -- Can Digitally Animated Fight Scenes and Stunts Satisfy?

The more I look at the advertising for the upcoming Adventures of Tintin animated film, the more it looks like the film will provide for a few hours of pleasant entertainment.  There is still one major question lurking in the back of my mind...How much more exciting would all of this be if it were a live action film?

The stunts look unbelievably exciting, check out the motorcycle stunt toward the end of the trailer, but I keep asking myself "what if Jackie Chan did the stunt coordination for a live action film?"  I understand that there are limits to what the human body can do, and there are very good safety reasons to use digital effects to supplement stunts, but this film seems so action packed and exciting that I want to see it as "real" and not animated.  It seems that the film makers would be pushing more of the medium's boundaries if they attempted to recreate some of these fight scenes and stunts with real people.

I hate video game to movie comparisons as much as the next guy, but isn't one of the major reasons people attend a Tomb Raider film, or desire to watch an Uncharted movie, specifically because they want to see exciting digital experiences translated into live action.

Isn't the fight scene between Donnie Yen and Collin Chou in Flashpoint  so amazing because it has real people and you can imagine the real physical effort required to create the action sequence?

But the new Tintin film uses "motion capture" so the actors are physically engaged you say?  Some stunts can only be created digitally?  I don't buy it, and can easily imagine Jackie Chan, Harold Lloyd, or Buster Keaton doing that final motorcycle stunt.

None of this takes away from the fact that the Tintin movie looks engaging and entertaining, I'm looking forward to it.  I'm just saying that it looks like it would be "AMAZING" if it were live action.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

1911: Revolution (2011) -- Jackie Chan's 100th Film in Theaters October 7th

Jackie Chan's 100th film releases in American theaters this Friday.  It also marks the 100th anniversary of the Wuchang Uprising, the topic of Jackie Chan's latest film 1911: Revolution.

Unlike a majority of Chan's work, this film is not a martial arts or action comedy but like much of Chan's work the film is a patriotic one.  For example in Drunken Master II, the viewer gets a sense of Chan's deep patriotism as Wong Fei-hung battles a ring of antiquities smugglers.  In that film, Fei-hung battles for the preservation of China's history.

In 1911: Revolution, Jackie Chan stars as Huang Xing  who is fighting for the soul of China.  Huang Xing was one of the founders of the Kuomintang and one of the revolutionary leaders who fought against the Qing Dynasty in a series of uprisings.  These uprisings finally culminated with the defeat of the Dynasty in the Wuchang Uprising and establishment of the Republic of China.

From the trailer, one can see that director Zhang Li has lost none of the aesthetic talent that made Red Cliff such a beautiful visual experience.  His camera work captures broad strokes in a way that doesn't overwhelm the view, and he is a master of highlighting an emotive figure in a chaotic environment. 

Filmgoers in the Los Angeles area will be able to see the film at the following locations:

Monrovia -- Krikorian 12
Los Angeles -- Rave 18
Los Angeles -- Mann Chinese 6

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

City Under Siege (2010) -- Hong Kong Does Superheroes

When one asks the average film goer what kinds of films they think of when they hear the words "Hong Kong Cinema," the words "exciting superhero action" aren't the first words that one would expect to hear.  None the less, those words are an accurate statement about the HK film industry.  In addition to marvelously exciting police dramas, and the worlds best martial arts films, some very entertaining superhero movies have come to America from Hong Kong's creatively fertile film industry.

These superhero films -- like BLACK MASK, HEROIC TRIO, and LEGEND OF THE FIST -- also happen to contain some fantastic kung fu action, but their plot lines more closely follow a traditional American comic book plot than a Louis Cha novel or Kung Fu historical tale.  That isn't to say that the shadow of jiang hu doesn't loom over these films, it does.  These are still martial arts films that can contain traditional wuxia elements, but they are also superhero films.

This year's San Francisco Film Society's Hong Kong Cinema celebration (September 23 - 25) features a recent entry into the HK superhero film genre, and we can see the influence of shows like HEROES in the overarching narrative.  In CITY UNDER SIEGE, a group of circus performers find a cache of WWII gold that they expect will change their lives financially.  When they go to claim their prize there lives are changed in another way as they are exposed to a strange toxic chemical that transforms them into superhumanly powerful beings.  After the exposure these performers decide to use their new found powers to commit crime after crime...all except one of the group.

Collin Chou -- who starred in MATRIX REVOLUTIONS and who is Donnie Yen's foe in FLASH POINT where they exhibit one of the most exciting martial arts sequences ever film -- plays the main villain of the feature which bodes well for the action sequences.  The film is directed by Benny Chan who directed NEW POLICE STORY and SHAOLIN recently released on DVD.

By the looks of the preview CITY UNDER SIEGE the film combines superheroes, comedy, and martial arts excitement.  I wouldn't expect the serious drama of IP MAN or HERO from this film, but it does look like it might be a lot of fun.  Let's hope an American distributor picks this one up.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Jet Li is the Sorcerer in "The Sorcerer and the White Snake"

My old gaming group used to watch Jet Li's classic film Swordsman II at least once a month.  The film's combination of martial arts, magic, and just pure gonzo supernatural action (Sword Energy!) was the perfect inspiration for all of our D&D gaming experiences.  In the days before Peter Jackson tackled the challenge of making a genuinely entertaining and emotionally powerful fantasy film experience, Hong Kong films were the go to place for Fantasy that was light years beyond Krull when it came to engaging characters.

To this day, the Fantasy stories presented in Hong Kong and Chinese cinema define the lens through which I view the worlds of D&D campaigns.  Bride with White Hair would make a wonderful gaming campaign, and is an exquisitely beautiful film.  My love for these films prompted me to read first Barry Hughart's excellent  tales of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, and eventually led me to read translations of Louis Cha novels.  Trust me, if you are looking for an alternative to run of the mill American/British fantasy, you can do a lot worse than reading some Louis Cha.

To go back where this all began though...I think it can easily be said that Jet Li is my favorite of Hong Kong's many talented stars.   Any time he appears in a new film, it is guaranteed that I will hunt it down for viewing.  Insert Jet Li into a Fantasy epic and my eagerness knows no bounds.  It should be noted that I never fear whether the film will be good or not.  It's a Jet Li film, and his performance in Kung Fu Cult Master turned what could have been a campy and agonizing film into pure viewing pleasure.

After watching the preview for his upcoming film The Sorcerer and the White Snake, I don't have even the slightest tinge of worry regarding the quality of the film  It looks beautiful.  The story is based on a traditional Chinese tale called the "Legend of the White Snake" and by the looks of it, this film will take a tragic yet sentimental view of the legend.  Wonderful and tragic stuff.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sony Pictures THE RAID -- Holy Moly!

I'm not deeply familiar, or even moderately familiar, with the action film scene in Indonesia.  But if this is any indication of what they have been creating, I'm going to have to change that soon.

THE RAID was a selection at this year's Toronto International Film Festival (apparently still the go to festival for all things awesome) and the preview looks remarkable.

The film is the tale of a SWAT raid on a tenement controlled by a Drug Kingpin that has almost every possible thing go wrong.  I can't wait to see this action with real sound effects, and a real score.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wong Kar Wei and Tony Leung Chiu Wai Take on Ip Man with "The Grandmasters"

The Wilson Yip directed and Donnie Yen starring martial arts action film Ip Man is easily among the most entertaining martial arts films ever made.  Yen's charisma and mischievous smile -- and his prodigious martial arts talent -- combine to make his depiction of the Ip Man one of the pantheon of great kung fu lead characters.  It ranks right up there with Bruce Lee's character Lee in Enter the Dragon, Jackie Chan's portrayal of Wong Fei-hung in Drunken Master 2, and Jet Li's portrayal of Chen Zhen in the classic Fist of Legend.

Had you asked me within the first few moments after my first viewing of Ip Man if there could be another portrayal of the character as memorable as Yen's, I would have laughed at the thought.  Of course, I would have been overlooking the Hong Kong film industry's ability to make multiple films about the same character that all add some new interesting point of view -- a point of view worth experiencing.

Jet Li's characterizations of Wong Fei-hung are as wonderful as Jackie Chan's, though the portrayals are very different.  Bruce Lee, Jet Li, and Donnie Yen have all portrayed Chen Zhen in dynamic and exciting films that each have a different feel politically and aesthetically.  Ip Man itself shares many features with the story of Chen Zhen.

If Hollywood were to release as many films about the same subjects and same characters as the Hong Kong industry does, critics would write screeds about the lack of originality in the industry.  One's first thought might be to agree with such critics, and extend that assumption to Hong Kong film makers.   Such an assumption would be wrong.  The Hong Kong film industry has demonstrated with films like Fist of Legend, Legend of the Fist, and Fist of Fury (aka The Chinese Connection) that it is entirely possible to get tremendous variation, depth of vision, and creative interpretation while making multiple films about the same subject.

All of which explains why I can be so excited when I hear that Wong Kar Wei and Tony Leung Chiu Wai have worked together to create their own version of the Ip Man story, even while loving the Yip and Yen production.  I cannot wait to see this film.

h.t. to David Chute

Friday, November 12, 2010

Raging Phoenix -- Does it Rise to the Occassion?

Martial Arts films are continually attempting to push boundaries. Sometimes, especially in Wuxia films, the boundaries they are pushing are visually and narratively artistic. Typically, the boundaries being pushed relate to the sophistication of the choreography and the danger (perceived or otherwise) of the stunts being performed by the martial artists and stunt men and women working on the production.

A quick look at the final battle sequence in Five Deadly Venoms versus the end fight in Flash Point provides a nice demonstration of just how far martial arts films have pushed their performers to provide exciting viewing experiences. Five Deadly Venoms may be the more coherent and entertaining film overall, but the final fight scene in Flash Point is more than worth the price of admission.

Throughout the 80s and 90s, Hong Kong was the place to look for exciting and adventurous action. When some of the HK talent migrated into Hollywood, there were those who argued that HK had lost some of its edge and looked for new markets to find the next big thing in action and excitement. These cinephiles didn't have to look very far. Thailand has been producing entertaining action fare for decade, but the charismatic personalities of Tony Jaa and Jeeja Yanin have attracted an audience of loyal fans. Both Jaa and Jeeja have demonstrated a strong work ethic and a willingness to follow in the tradition of boundary pushing action. I would argue that Donnie Yen's past few films, with their breakneck pace, are a reaction to the fast paced action of the Thai productions.

While martial arts films are continuously attempting to push boundaries, there are those rare films that push them so far as to redefine genre expectations. Jackie Chan's performances in Wheels on Meals and Armor of God and Jet Li's Bodyguard from Beijing and Fist of Legend quickly leap to mind as just these kinds of films. Jeeja Yanin's latest film Raging Phoenix is attempting to be one of these genre redefining films. Raging Phoenix combines Muay Thai with break dancing and drunken fighting in an attempt to create a visually dynamic action style.

Raging Phoenix has a fairly straightforward plot. Young woman barely escapes being kidnapped by the Jaguar gang of human traffickers when she is rescued by an opponent of the Jaguar gang. The woman's rescuer becomes her martial arts trainer and she joins a rag tag band of people who have lost loved ones to the gang. The members of the band hope to put an end to the Jaguar gang's reign of terror and to rescue the fiance of one of the band's members from the clutches of evil. There isn't much new in the story's formula, but if well executed it can be an entertaining ride.

Sadly, Raging Phoenix -- at least in the subtitled American release -- doesn't convey the narrative of the film particularly well. Time jumps come at seemingly random intervals and the audience seems to be expected to fill in the narrative gaps in the story. This isn't a difficult task, but as in Ong Bok's American theatrical release, it can be annoying as it creates a stutter in the storytelling.

What was particularly frustrating about the stuttering narrative was that the film did in fact have an interesting twist on the main premise. The Jaguar gang is kidnapping women, not for ransom or to sell into prostitution or organ "donation," instead they are harvesting their victims tears in order to create a pheromone based perfume -- perfume made from the tears of the hopeless. It's not just any perfume either, the tears of the hopeless apparently add to the martial and physical prowess of those who use them.

The stilted transition of scenes is additionally frustrating due to the fact that the acting performances by Jeeja and Kazoo are pretty solid. Certainly the performances are theatrical and melodramatic at times, but when they need to be they are quite powerful. The actors portray their emotional losses well, and the film would have been better served if it had all the necessary filler scenes.

But enough of the narrative and its merits. How well does Raging Phoenix achieve its goal of pushing the boundaries of martial arts action through the inclusion of break dancing based techniques? In short, not so well. Overall, the martial arts in the film is quite exciting. Of particular merit is the battle between Jeeja Yanin and Marc Ngai Hoang. There are some great fight scenes in the film, but whenever a character inserts a "hip hop" move the fight seems to slow down and the choreography becomes readily apparent. The break dancing elements typically shatter the illusion that you are viewing anything remotely spontaneous.

Thankfully, the hip hop insertions are minimal and when the fights get really rolling the fluidity of drunken Muay Thai take over. The flying elbows and knees are impressive, and the damage they deal to opponents is believable.

Had the film eliminated the hip hop, focused on the action, and added some narrative filler scenes, this could have been an instant classic. As it is, it is a film that I will fast forward to a couple of fight scenes just to experience them again. None of those fight scenes come close to matching the brutal dynamism of Flash Point.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Detective Dee and the Phantom Flame Trailer

If someone used the events leading up to the Eberron setting's Last War as the inspiration for a Wuxia film, they might make a movie much like the one advertised in the Detective Dee trailer.

Detective Dee and the Phantom Flame is the most recent offering from director Tsui Hark.

Tsui Hark was one of the pivotal directors of the 90s Hong Kong New Wave film scene. He brought the knowledge he learned at the University of Texas, Austin's film school to bring "Western" narrative and special effect techniques to Hong Kong films, and helped to create an all together new filmic style. His work on Swordsman and the Once Upon a Time in China series solidified his importance as a film director, though it was his earlier Zu Warriors from Magic Mountain that inspired John Carpenter's masterpiece Big Trouble in Little China.

I have long admired Tsui Hark's films, though I do admit that his work with Jean Claude Van Damme made me worry that he had lost his touch. Knock Off was made in the days just prior to the return of Hong Kong to the People's Republic, and the film seemed to feature all of Tsui Hark's stylistic tricks. It was as if he was desperately trying to capture all of the magic of the HK movement in one film, and it left me baffled. It was trying to be too stylistic and too cool.

My fears were quickly eliminated with the releases Time and Tide and Legend of Zu. In Legend, Tsui Hark demonstrated that he was still capable of innovation within the high fantasy Wuxia genre -- demonstrating his skill at incorporating computer generated special effects.

I am eager to see what Detective Dee has to offer. Having Sammo Hung as action choreographer is particularly exciting. His recent work on films like Ip Man and Kill Zone is truly remarkable.

I have long said that Swordsman II was the "most D&D" film of all time. The action is spectacular and over the top in a way that American films lack, but that players of role playing games hope for. I guess one could argue that D&D 4e is the "most Wuxia" game ever made, but it would have some good competition.