Monday, 25 January 2010
Wednesday, 20 January 2010
Directed by: Benny Chan
Screenplay: Benny Chan, Alan Yuen, Xu Bing
Starring: Louis Koo, Barbie Hsu, Nick Cheung, Ye Liu
Now Hollywood has been remaking hit Asian films for some years now, mainly in the horror arena with such titles as Ring, Dark Water and even A Tale of Two Sisters being remade for the American market. Well, Hong Kong has been doing the same thing for years as well: remaking hit Western films for the Eastern market. Everything from The Bodyguard to Leon has been remade and Connected follows suit, itself being a remake of the not-so-well-known but underrated flick Cellular. Based on an original story by the great Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, The Ambulance), Cellular was a short and sharp B-movie thriller starring Kim Basinger, Jason Statham and William H. Macy. Buoyed by slick direction, a neat concept and thrilling momentum it’s an overlooked gem that is worthy of a peak. Hong Kong director Benny Chan sticks pretty close to the original in his Hong Kong remake, delivering plenty of tension and some decent action thrills.
Grace Wong (Hsu) is a hot shot electronics designer who is kidnapped by a mysterious gang, lead by the vicious Fok (Ye). It seems her brother has a video incriminating Fok and his gang in illegal activity and they want it back. But they don’t know where Grace’s brother is, so they hold her hostage hoping he will come out of hiding and return the tape. Thrown into an abandoned shack, Grace rewires a broken phone and calls the first person it will connect to. That unlucky fellow is Bob (Koo) a lowly debt collector who just happens to answer his ringing phone. Despite his suspicions of the phone call he agrees to help Grace and the two, along with a kindly police inspector (Cheung), team up in a bid to save Grace and her family.
While some of the settings, outcomes and actions of the characters are altered slightly, Connected is pretty much a straight remake of Cellular: same setup, same characters, even some of the same set pieces. While this may prove an exercise in redundancy to some (or those who have seen Cellular) Connected is still a full throttle thriller and an exciting interpretation of a cool concept. It may take a modicum of self disbelief (again, what action movie doesn’t?) but the idea of a hostage randomly calling a stranger to help her and said stranger helping her is a novel one and spun out for all its worth. Chan (New Police Story, Invisible Target) directs with an assured hand, gets the best from his cast and despite a few laps in intensity, keeps the tension and momentum building. Hsu does well as the increasingly stressed Grace, spending many of her scenes talking into a broken hand set but still coming across believable. Koo (Flashpoint) is excellent as the put upon Bob, an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances and while he is the hero, still remains a normal man just trying to do the right thing. Cheung is also good support as the detective who figures everything out way before anybody else and realizes Bob may need some help.
Chan does over egg the melodrama a little with a subplot about Bob also trying to get to the airport to see his son off. This strand is milked a bit too much to show the flaws in Bob's character and is maybe an unnecessary addition to all the other things he has to contend with. Still, it’s only a slight mar as action, drama and tension are all mounted well and even a bit of light relief is thrown in for good measure: the filmmakers knowing how high concept the film is. Chan is certainly known for his action films but wisely reins it in a little here. There is still plenty of action but it is more evenly spaced throughout the film, Connected being more of a tense thriller that an outright action film. The action and stunts are expertly staged (by Jackie Chan Stunt Team alum, Nicky Li), maybe a little over the top in relation to the rest of the film, but nevertheless exciting and well executed. Plus, Connected gets extra points for staging a car chase involving a ridiculously coloured Ford KA and still making it thrilling. Cool.
While Cellular was not necessarily crying out for a remake, Connected is still a thrilling interpretation of its story with added Hong Kong style action and another great flick from the always reliable Benny Chan.
WHITE TIGER (1996)
Directed by: Richard Martin
Written by: Gordon Melbourne, Don Woodman, Roy Sallows, Bey Logan
Starring: Gary Daniels, Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa, Julia Nickson, Matt Craven
White Tiger was originally a film called Tiger Storm, shot in Hong Kong and still starring kickboxing ace Gary Daniels. When money ran out, the film was scrapped, the rights bought by a new company and the flick relocated to the States (well, Canada actually) and re-shot as White Tiger. Keeping star Gary Daniels the flick added cool bad guy of 90s action films Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa and gave Daniels one of his best roles despite it being action movie textbook 101. Mike (Daniels) and his partner John (Matt Craven) are DEA agents on the trail of nasty drug lord Chow (Tagawa) who is introducing a new designer drug onto the market that will replace heroin and cocaine. A vacation with John’s family is cut short with a tip off that could mean the capture of Chow but things go horribly wrong ending in the death of John. Mike then swears revenge and goes gunning for Chow.
That's pretty much the gist of it as what follows is pretty generic in story terms and nothing that hasn’t been seen a million times before. Chow’s want to take over the drug market and complete disregard for his superiors isn’t given time to develop other than to set him up as the bad guy. Likewise, love interest Jade (the very lovely Julia Nickson) who helps Mike in his quest to find Chow is, in a last act reveal, actually an assassin for hire whose daughter is being held by the men Chow works for. These plot points could have been developed a bit further adding a bit more interest to an otherwise standard cop-goes-gunning-for revenge story. This is perhaps due to various plot elements being combined from several writers and versions of the film.
However, these negatives don’t ruin White Tiger from being the fun and entertaining slice of mid 90s American produced martial arts action it is. With is distinct East meets West flavour and a good dose of kung fu fight action at regular intervals, White Tiger delivers revenge themed action with aplomb. The action is nicely paced throughout the film varying between gunplay and high impact fights. Daniels gets a good chance here to cut loose (choreographing many of the fights) that while they don’t contain the intricacy and speed of their Hong Kong counterparts, they are full of power and fluid takedowns. Daniels has an impressive fight with Ron Yuan (The Art of War) and there is a cool sequence where he infiltrates Chow's boat come base/hideout. Tagawa is great as the slimy bad guy (playing much the same character he did in Showdown in Little Tokyo) having complete disregard for his employers, violently brandishing people with a hot poker iron and even going all drug introduced crazy come the end. Nickson (Rambo: First Blood Part 2) is lovely on the eye and while she does need rescuing come the end, elevates her character above the usual damsel in distress dross.
While it won’t set the world on fire, White Tiger is one of action star Daniels’ better vehicles that while standard in story is better produced than most direct-to-video fare and delivers lots of full impact action.
Monday, 18 January 2010
Monday, 11 January 2010
Here is the list of my Top Ten films of 2009 that I reviewed for Far East Films (www.fareastfilms.com).
Check it out.
KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS (1989)
Directed by: J. Lee Thompson
Written by: Harold Nebenzal
Starring: Charles Bronson, Perry Lopez, James Pax & Juan Fernandez
A low down, seedy thriller from Bronson and director J. Lee Thompson, their last collaboration together and for Cannon studios. The pair made some decent films during the eighties including Murphy’s Law and Messenger of Death and even the watchable Death Wish 4: The Crackdown but were obviously running out of steam here. Bronson is the tough, gruff Crowe, a no-nonsense cop (did he play any other kind?) who is sick of the scum and sleaze of Los Angeles. Not adverse to the odd racial diatribe and smacking suspects around Crowe isn’t the most likeable man despite trying to do the right thing. Determined to take down scummy pimp Duke (Fernandez) who runs a child prostitution ring for high profile clients, Crowe attempts to bring him in on the kidnap of a young Japanese girl. Crowe knows Duke has her but his own ineptitudes and prejudices may just keep him from getting her back and bringing Duke to justice.
Kinjite certainly gets points for attempting to be a dark thriller. It deals with a very risky subject, quite openly, often making no attempts to hide what the bad guys do. While a lot of the violence and heinous acts are off camera they are implied enough to leave a nasty taste in the mouth. In fact, the sleaziness and awfulness of the acts of certain characters if often unrelenting that you wish they would just throw in a car chase to take a break from the underbelly of Los Angeles. This is the problem with Kinjite: trying to merge a dark thriller with a Bronson action film. It doesn’t quite work. Bronson ain’t bad and it’s cool too see him playing a character who realizes he has made some mistakes and is a little more prejudice than he might believe but all believability is thrown out the window when he starts chucking suspects off buildings and forcing them to eat Rolexes (!) in attempt to get them to talk. The film is also somewhat muddled in its intentions, the subplot of a Japanese family relocating to Los Angeles and the father finding his own sexual urges somewhat corrupted by what he sees and experiences, not always sitting well with the main plot of Crowe taking down Duke. Perhaps the script was retooled a little too much to turn it into a Bronson vehicle?
Still, if you can get past the dark subject matter, Kinjite isn’t all bad and on its own terms not a bad thriller. Slickly shot, well acted (Juan Fernandez from Crocodile Dundee 2 makes for a very nasty bad guy) and with a cool set piece at the end that involves a giant crane and mucho car destruction, the film still offers the Bronson fan some vintage, justice serving action. You just may want to take a shower after watching this one.
DELTA FORCE 2: THE COLOMBIAN CONNECTION (1990)
Directed by: Aaron Norris
Screenplay: Lee Reynolds
Starring: Chuck Norris & Billy Drago
Chuck is back in action in the sequel to one of his biggest hits. However, gone are the snarling Lee Marvin, the great George Kennedy, the cheesy theme tune and the even cheesier motorcycles with machine guns that made the first Delta Force so great. Albeit, in a very cheesy and sometimes camp way, not to mention overly gung-ho. Delta Force 2 doesn’t feel much like a sequel to the original Delta Force, only so much in that it has Chuck Norris in it and (eventually) there is a good dose of bullet riddled action. Now Delta Force one is no great shakes in the world of action movies but is one of Chuck’s more liked vehicles and is certainly entertaining due to its ridiculous music, over-the-top jingoism and those aforementioned motorcycles with machine guns. The sequel however goes off in a different direction and instead of terrorists hijacking a plane, this time we have Billy Drago’s nasty drug lord making a nuisance of himself and Norris sent into his mountain top compound to sort him out.
While Delta Force 2 could have been a fast moving, slam-bang military action flick it instead takes its time focusing too much on Drago’s loony bad guy. He is certainly fun and seems to have taken a large amount of the coke his character is shipping all over the world but the flick tends to drag as he wanders about being evil, kidnapping some DEA guys, killing an undercover agent within his ranks and somehow also killing Norris’ best mate. This, of course, makes Norris mad and he agrees to go in and infiltrate Drago’s drug empire and bring the bad guy to justice. So, he sort of trains a Delta Force team then abandon’s them and goes off on his own and spends a good chunk of the movie climbing the mountain Drago’s hill top hideout is on. Not exactly full throttle, action packed stuff. Plus, instead of having his own elite unit of soldiers (though they do kind of pop up near the end to fire some guns), Norris is lumbered with a “comedy relief” General (at least I assume he is supposed to be comedy relief as actor John P. Ryan seems to be drunk pretty much anytime he is on screen) who does nothing for international relations, almost kills his own men when blowing up the jungle and makes light of the rape and torture of one of the female characters. All unintentional comedy I might add, as you will often wonder what the hell this guy is doing, saying and smoking.
The film does benefit from having a decent budget and when it finally gets around to it, some pretty good big explosions and firepower heavy action. There is also a neat sequence where Norris and Drago are dragged through the jungle by a helicopter. It’s all typical late 80s, early 90s Cannon fodder, a mish-mash of concepts thrown together with a star name, some cool locations and some decent action scenes. Yet, Chuck seems to be hardly in this (a good or bad thing depending on your tolerance for the bearded one), the pace too lethargic, the supporting cast unintentionally funny and Drago too bizarre for his own good.
Directed by: Ciro H. Santiago
Screenplay: Fred Bailey
Starring: Cec Verrell, Fred Bailey & Bill McLaughlin
Mildly entertaining, low budget, Philippine shot action flick from the Roger Corman stable, Silk has just enough shotgun blasting action and a tough and sexy female lead to pass the time. The statuesque Cec Verrell (Hell Comes to Frogtown) plays Silk, the no-nonsense, maverick female cop out to bust some bad drug dealing dudes. Set in Hawaii but mostly shot in the Philippines, the flick is way too slow when the action isn’t flowing and too much time is given to the lame male characters. This is surprising, given the flick is marketed as a female action film but Verrell does handle most of the action scenes as she is arguably better at high-kicking and wielding a shotgun than she is at acting.
It’s all very low rent but undemanding fun if you are into these cheap and cheerful, trashy action films. Amazingly, followed by an equally cheap sequel, the imaginatively titled, Silk 2 starring Monique Gabrielle. Cool.
Really, this is just an excuse to post pictures of the VHS covers featuring hot women in bras holding guns. Awesome!
Monday, 4 January 2010
CHARLIE VALENTINE (2009)
Written & Directed by: Jesse Johnson
Starring: Raymond J. Barry, Michael Weatherly, James Russo, Steven Bauer & Tom Berenger
Good looking but hard hitting gangster flick from Jesse Johnson, Charlie Valentine is a slick, no-nonsense action drama that gives great character actor Raymond J. Barry a meaty lead role where he really shines as the main man. Charlie Valentine also shows Jesse Johnson is becoming a director to watch, as after some hugely enjoyable and full on action flicks (Pit Fighter, The Last Sentinel, Alien Agent) he’s trying new avenues making Charlie Valentine an excellent blend of drama, character and brutal action.
Charlie Valentine (Barry) is a man that has seen and done it all. A relatively big mover in the gangster world, he has lived life to his own rules and done things his own way, taking down anyone that gets in his way. Well into his sixties, he may be a little slower but has no intentions of giving up the life he loves so much (easy money, fine women, taking orders from no one). So much so that he has planned to rip off another local crime boss, Rocco (Russo), with the help of his equally long in the tooth but still hard as nails crew. But as is the nature of not knowing when to stop and knowing when your time is up, things go spectacularly wrong, leaving his crew dead and Valentine on the run. Deciding to get out of town and into hiding, Charlie holes up with his estranged son, Danny (Weatherly), who has also fallen on the wrong side of the law and is trying to now just get by. But with his father back in his life, Danny wants to learn the ropes of being a gangster and have Charlie teach him everything he knows. So as the two begin to form a shaky and unlikely, but ultimately caring, bond, Danny learns what it truly is to become a gangster. Yet, Charlie can’t keep running forever, no matter how much he wants to, as Rocco and his boys come a calling and Valentine realizes it may not be as easy to run away as it used to be.
A one time big shot gangster attempting to find redemption, all the while trying to run away from his violent past (and present in this case) may not be the most original of concepts for a gangster action film but is given some riveting rejuvenation in Charlie Valentine from Johnson’s solid direction and an outstanding performance from Raymond J. Barry. No doubt Charlie Valentine isn’t a nice man but Barry makes him an engaging character despite his flaws. The dialogue and approach may be distinctly hardboiled and pulpy but its part of the charm and doesn’t hinder the viewer from becoming intrigued in the life, character and motivation of Charlie Valentine. Weatherly and Barry share good chemistry and while their strand of the story perhaps goes on just a bit long, the Rocco looking for Valentine strand taking somewhat of a backseat, it’s refreshing to have some character to go along with all the ballistic action. Plus, Johnson refrains from too much posing or over styling of gangster clichés, his tough guy characters having a requisite amount of personality to make them more than just stereotypical movie bad guys.
Yet, a good gangster movie also has to have its fair share of gun blazing action and Charlie Valentine certainly has that. Well paced and delivered with a fair amount of buckshot blast and squib-tastic force, the action scenes hit hard and don’t shy away from showing violent death from a gun shot. Valentine is no super hero gunfighter, just handy with a pistol or a shotgun and the final showdown is particularly explosive. Jesse Johnson knows a thing or two about staging action (having helmed the previously mentioned flicks and been a stunt performer on various big budget Hollywood action flicks: Mission Impossible 3, War of the Worlds) and much like his main character, keeps things old school with the violent action which is never over-the-top or flashy but definitely bloody.
A top notch piece of gangster action with a fine performance from Raymond J. Barry, Charlie Valentine is a great showcase for the director, the star and some pumped up action. Plus, with a supporting cast that includes action pros Steven Bauer, Keith David, Vernon Wells, Jerry Trimble, James Russo, Matthias Hues, Dominique Vandenberg and Tom Berenger, Charlie Valentine lives up to its pedigree and dishes out the action stone cold.