Monday, 20 December 2010

Protege



My new review of Protege at Far East Films

Click Here to read the review.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Jungle Heat



JUNGLE HEAT (1985)

Directed by: Jobic Wong
Screenplay: Jobic Wong, Bobby Ming
Starring: Sam Jones, Christopher Doyle, Bobby Ming

Wow, just wow! That's all that can be said really. One hasn't experienced violent, nasty, barmy, insane, incoherent and often hilarious action exploitation trash until one has sat through Jungle Heat.

All the things that are wrong, disturbing, nasty, don't make sense and are outright weird about Jungle Heat:

- an incredibly strange and cruel form of torture performed on some captured soldiers involving a rat being set on fire and running round setting the tied up captives on fire why onlookers take bets to see you will last the longest.

- said rat in the scene above appears to be real (at least in the first part of the scene) meaning a real rat was actually set on fire: yep, nasty animal cruelty here folks.

- the main character(s) seem to chop and change at will meaning it's never clear who is who, which group of soldiers we are following, and the who the hell anybody is come the violent finale.

- one of said main character's mustache disappears and reappears between scenes to hilarious effect and is quite simply brilliant.

- the above mentioned rat on fire scene isn't actually the most horrific scene in the movie: that would be the scene where a captive buried in the ground up to his neck has his head shaved, then sliced opened only to have acid poured into the cut which then bizarrely melts his whole body and allows him to break free: this scene really has to be seen to be believed. See Here to believe.

- several out-of-nowhere sequences of the soldiers completely forgetting about their mission to take part in some kind of insane motorcycle stunt game to raise money (for what, I really don't know).

- an insanely gory action packed finale which features a poor guy having his stomach sawed open in graphic detail, another poor dude being subjected to some kind of water torture which grossly inflates his stomach and a rather memorable beheading which manages to be both shocking and hilarious at the same time.

- one of the main characters (at least I think he was) graphically tearing the skin from his hands in order to escape (or something).

- that after about an hour or so of complete madness, the film virtually stops for some female character to get all dramatic in a long monologue about wanting a better life (or something).

- that Sam (Flash Gordon) Jones is somehow in this film but does absolutely nothing (except for some bizarre soldier training methods involving driving jeeps nowhere - and this scene going on for ages), takes part in hardly any of the mission action and looks even more bemused than us viewers.

- that the film starts off quite innocently and boring before switching to complete weirdness and nastiness around the 30 minute mark.

- that not at any time during the film, anything makes any sense at all, ever.

All the things that are AWESOME about Jungle Heat:

- see all of the above.

Seriously, Jungle Heat is a true what-the-fuck experience and Philippine shot action exploitation at its strangest and nastiest and therefore, best. Words can't describe it. It's recommended you watch it on a Sunday morning after several nights with little sleep and after watching many similar trashy but nowhere near as gross and insane films (like I did). There is a cool bit of action towards the end but that isn't what Jungle Heat is gonna be remembered for and it also features quite possibly the best drunken and drugged up bar fights of any action film. And by that I mean they are shit, weird, make no sense and feature some drugged up dude dancing and picking fights for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Other than that it is awesome.

Wow.

Hunt to Kill



HUNT TO KILL (2010)

Directed by: Keoni Waxman
Written by: Frank Hannah
Starring: Steve Austin, Gill Bellows, Gary Daniels & Eric Roberts

Steve Austin makes for a pretty good action star. He's built like a Sherman tank, says few words and is skillful in the fight and action department. He had impressive turns in big action films The Condemned and The Expendables but his straight-to-DVD starring vehicles haven't always delivered, Hunt To Kill being one of them. To be fair Damage wasn't bad as it spent some time crafting character but was somewhat a let down in the fight department. Hunt to Kill is the other way round the action (when it arrives) being decent but everything else sub par.

Austin is your typical former Texas Ranger type now living out in the woods of Montana as an expert woodsman. Through all kinds of plot absurdity he has to guide Gil Bellows and his bunch of very inept cronies through the forest to find some dude who has run off with their money from a recent heist. The gang also kidnap Austin's daughter for good measure which means come the last half hour he has to use all his Ranger and wilderness skills to hunt down and kill the ridiculous assortment of bad guys.



Pretty decent, if formulaic, set up that provides some nice location work and photography and come the final stretch of the film a decent bit of hunt and fight action. Unfortunately everything else is just kind of blah and all tension and excitement is undone by your typical useless movie villains. We are supposed to believe they are some bad ass bank robbing criminals but really they are just a gang of annoying douche bags. Gil Bellows comes off worst as the least convincing main bad guy seen in an action movie in a while: instead of menacing and a force to be reckoned with he's just whiny, annoying, seriously overacting when there is no call for it and, as mentioned, a douche. Maybe he was going for a piss take of the typical over-the-top main villain (and judging by how many times he has to be killed in the end fight, this might confirm this approach) but the film seems to be more concerned with cliches and everyone trying to "out douche" one another rather than any kind of subtle dig at action movie sterotypes



To be fair Gary Daniels does well in his supporting bad guy role (and should have been the main villain), actually coming off as a threat as does Emillie Ullerup as the glammed up bad girl. There are hints that her character doesn't quite agree with what her gang of so called criminals are doing, almost forming a bond with the kidnapped girl, but all this seems to have been jettisoned in favour of more "look how hilariously evil these bad guys are" scenes. Daniels, thankfully, gets a cool fight scene with Austin (the highlight of the flick) and Austin himself is as solid as usual, now adept at the quiet but strong action hero.

There are a few other OK action bits but with a neat set up and half the cast of The Expendables reuniting (Eric Roberts is in and out of the flick before the opening credits roll!), Hunt to Kill could have been much more than it unfortunately is. And the less said about the bit with the ATV, the better!

Friday, 10 December 2010

True Legend



TRUE LEGEND (2010)

Directed by: Yuen Woo Ping
Screenplay: Chi Long To
Starring: Man Cheuk Chiu, Xun Zhou, Andy On, Michelle Yeoh & David Carradine

Martial Arts Maestro Yuen Woo Ping returns to the directors chair after a long hiatus, where he's been busy choreographing other people's films (The Matrix, Unleashed, The Forbidden Kingdom, Fearless), to helm his own period set kung fu flick. A welcome return it is, as however uneven True Legend is in the narrative and pacing departments, there is no doubting Yuen Woo Ping has crafted an exciting, action soaked epic that harks back to the heyday of the late 80s and early 90s of Hong Kong cinema.

A historical set actioner with a comic book spin, True Legend is set in the Qing Dynasty and sees brave and honoured General Su Qi-Er (Man Cheuk Chiu) give up his life of war and fighting to live in peace with his beloved family and hopefully one day open his own school of martial arts. Such dreams of a quiet life are destroyed when Su's twisted half brother Yuan Lie (Andy On) attacks Su, leaving him and his wife for dead and kidnaps Su's young son. Broken but not beaten, Su with the help of his kindly wife (Xun Zhou) and a mysterious witch like doctor (Michelle Yeoh), re-trains himself in the fighting arts and goes gunning for vengeance. However, Su's life will take an even more dramatic turn leaving him as a wandering beggar who through his affection for drinking wine and with the support of his ever faithful son sees him perfecting the art known as Drunken Boxing and competing in vicious fight tournaments.



True Legend may split fans of martial arts cinema down the middle with it's often free wheeling tone and frequent use of CGI, but Yuen Woo Ping certainly delivers a film packed with some of the very best fight action Hong Kong has to offer. Care has gone in crafting a unique look and setting for the film, the Qing Dynasty recreated in vivid form and Ping's film always looks magnificent. The film is essentially split into two parts: Su's betrayal by his brother and subsequent training and revenge and Su's time spent wandering the land drunk following his taken revenge and perfecting the drunken boxing style. Both sections cram in quite a lot meaning the pace can be lightening quick. Despite a few welcome touching moments in between all the epic fight action (Su and his wife sitting upon some mist shrouded rocks longing for their kidnapped son) there isn't always a lot of down time in between all the fighting and training. No bad thing really as the often overwrought melodrama that plagues kung fu cinema is played down here meaning we get a more straightforward adventure film. Any shortcomings brought on by narrative jumps are made up for by Man Cheuk Chiu's energetic and committed performance as Su. Long absent from the world of feature films (having been stuck in TV fantasy melodrama's for the past ten years) Man Cheuk Chiu makes a blistering return to the big screen, embodying Su with a likability and determination for a character who isn't always the most sympathetic.



It also helps that he is a gifted, and underrated, screen fighter (check out Tsui Hark's quite simply awesome The Blade and the somewhat under-appreciated The Black Sheep Affair for further proof). Taking part in almost all of the fight and training scenes, Man Cheuk Chiu's skill is put to good use in a surfeit of wickedly staged fight scenes. He gets skillful fight support from the likes of Jay Chou (playing the gravity defying God of Wushu who helps to train Su) and Andy On, meaning there is a welcome pick of gifted fighters for Man Cheuk Chiu to fight against (also look out for Bangkok Adrenaline's Conan Stevens and Pit Fighter's Dominiquie Vandenberg as two of the Russian wrestlers Su has to fight in the finale). Ping and his team certainly make sure True Legend is crammed to the gills with fight action. Being somewhat based in fantasy, wire-work is used often to heighten the fluidity and scope of the fights and the God of Wushu training scenes are heightened with (rather too much) CGI (it not always convincing either). But at it's core the fight action is screen fighters getting to cut loose is some very full on fight scenes. Evoking the style of period set martial arts flicks from the early 1990's (Burning Paradise, Fong Sai Yuk, A Chinese Ghost Story) the fighting action is big in scope and top notch. The second, epic, battle between Su and Yuan is an amazing piece of martial arts action that is almost topped by the brutal brawl Su has between five Russian fighters in the tournament battle finale.

Some may not get past the use of CGI, the rapid pace and some characters and stylings that seem out of place on occasion (also Michelle Yeoh's, David Carradine's and Gordon Liu's parts are nothing more than glorified cameos) but on the whole True Legend is wickedly entertaining and a big, loud and proud fight film. The action and martial arts wizardry rarely lets up and Yuen Woo Ping wraps everything up in such a grand style entertaining fashion that the film's shortcomings are far outweighed by all its bonuses. Tremendous fight action and a bad guy who has armour literally sewn into his skin (bad ass!) makes True Legend a welcome and worthy martial arts spectacle.

The Sweeper



THE SWEEPER (1996)

Directed by: Joseph Merhi
Story by: Jacobsen Hart
Screenplay by: William Applegate Jr. & Karen McCoy
Starring: C. Thomas Howell, Ed Lauter, Kristen Dalton & Jeff Fahey

The Sweeper is an entertaining action thriller from the PM Entertainment Group. Though not quite as good as say Rage or Recoil, The Sweeper is a decent little flick featuring some excellent action sequences.

Mark Goddard (Howell) is a tough renegade cop who displays brutal and unconventional ways of catching bad guys. Scarred by the death of his father (Fahey) he is determined to clean up the streets. Noticing his unique abilities, Molls (Lauter) recruits Goddard to be part of a secret police force called “Justice Incorporated.” Known as “Sweepers”, these police officers use any method necessary to take down the worst of the worst. Working alongside fellow Sweeper, Rachel (Dalton), Goddard soon finds himself up to his neck in death and destruction with the line between cop and killer becoming more and more blurred.



Having seen the trailer years ago I’d wanted to see The Sweeper for some time, as it looked like one giant action juggernaut of a movie. However, upon viewing I found the film to be a more well-rounded thriller rather than just a succession of crashes and explosions. Goddard’s back story (featured in an opening prologue set in the 70’s and showing his family being slaughtered) explains what a troubled, difficult and violent young man he has become. From this, it would have been easy for the filmmakers to make just another revenge story. There is a great scene where the young Goddard (Max Slade) is witness to his parents’ slaying and then tormented by one of the killers. It is a tense scene that sets the tone and shows director Joseph Merhi (Executive Target) working at something different, rather than throwing in another car chase. Howell’s early scenes with his estranged wife and son are also nicely played and provide an emotional balance to all the action.

Things do fray slightly come the second half of the film. The plot gets a bit convoluted with a conveyor belt of cliched tough guys being ushered in, clogging up the proceedings with typical bad guy swagger. Ed Lauter (Raw Deal) is on good form as the not so saintly Molls, but is perhaps a little underused. Kristen Dalton (They Nest) provides fiery heat as the gun-toting Rachel and it’s good to see a gal being as tough as the guys. Hitcher boy Howell is on pretty good form, this being one of his better films, but does tend to overact in some scenes.




Which brings us to the action. Like many of PM’s mid-nineties output, The Sweeper features some dazzling stunts and action on what must have been a relatively slim budget. Eschewing CGI, all the stunts are done for real, giving the film a refreshing back to basics feel. The opening chase is a doozy; there are a couple of excellent shoot-outs; and despite being as barmy as hell, the final freeway chase (featuring, among other things, a biplane) is so thrillingly staged you won’t mind how completely over the top ridiculous it is. However, the best is an exciting roof top chase on foot that wouldn’t look out of place in a big budget action fest. Once again, action-meister Spiro Razatos is the man behind the thrills and spills.

What stops the film from being all round solid entertainment is a bad case of continuity. The Sweeper features some jarring continuity jumps that almost spoil the action on screen. The worst example is when a gunfight cum chase taking place during the day all of a sudden switches to a car chase at night. Either something has been cut out or they could only film the car chase at night but whatever the case, it is a glaring mistake that ultimately mars the film.

Overall though, The Sweeper is a perfectly solid action film that for most part manages an entertaining balance between drama and some insane action.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Detective Story



My new review of Detective Story at Far East Films

Click Here to read the review.