Thursday, 31 May 2012
Wednesday, 16 May 2012
Friday, 11 May 2012
4 ASSASSINS (aka FAR AWAY EYES) (2011)
Written & Directed by: Stanley J. Orzel
Starring: Miguel Ferrer, Will Yun Lee, Mercedes Renard & Oliver Williams
A rather stylishly shot action drama, 4 Assassins sees a quartet of killers meet in a swanky Hong Hotel room. They are there to discuss a hit that seemingly went wrong: two people were to be killed but only one body was found. The assassin in question is Marcus (Yun Lee) who swears there were two bodies and he terminated both targets. His partners in crime, however, do not believe him. There is old friend and mentor Eli (Ferrer) who despite caring a lot for Marcus knows he is lying and knows that Marcus is no longer a reliable killer. Then there is Cordelia (Renard), Marcus’ old flame and a ruthless killer herself and who also sees that Marcus has become weak. Rounding out the foursome is Chase (Williams) who is really only there to be annoying, British (so therefore, annoying!) and to provide tension within in the group as all he would really like to do is shoot Marcus in the head. So the four squabble, reminisce, have dinner and wait for the inevitable phone call signalling it is time to terminate Marcus.
4 Assassins might, unfortunately, be light on the action but it is still a satisfying little drama about killers contemplating their profession and coming to terms with the fact they have to kill one of their own. Despite the absence of copious action and the confined setting, the film never drags and tension is built quite nicely even if the climax if fairly predictable. The dialogue isn’t always quite as sharp and clever as the makers would like to think it is but the cast share genuine chemistry: especially Ferrer and Yun Lee who really feel like old friends and infuse their characters with actual personality. Now, the set up might not sound like the most appealing (a group of contract killers stuck in a hotel room chatting and having dinner) but, as mentioned, tension is built well and the film benefits from some striking photography. Frequent flashbacks are also included as the four discuss previous missions and we get to see them at work: these scenes also feature much of the, limited, action.
There are a couple of nice hand-to-hand combat scenes including a somewhat brutal scene that sees Cordelia taking a beating on her first assignment, a silly sequence involving a car in Wales of all places (!!) and the requisite amount of silencer based gun action. It would have been nice to have a bit more action or at least another fight scene but 4 Assassins still works thanks to the likeable cast and stylish production design. It’s certainly a B-movie that is classier than you might first think and it’s always good to see the much-underrated Miguel (Robocop) Ferrer getting a nice meaty part.
Thursday, 3 May 2012
WAR OF THE ARROWS (2011)
Written & Directed by: Kim Han-min
Starring: Park Hae-il, Ryoo Seung-yong, Moon Chae-won, Kim Mu-Yeol, Lee Han-wi
Orphaned as youngsters, in a barnstorming opening sequence that features dogs getting speared by arrows and sets the momentum and edgy tone for the rest of the film, Nam Yi (Park Hae-il) and his younger sister Ja-In (Moon Chae-won) are adopted by a friend of their now dead father’s. Nam Yi grows up, non-surprisingly, troubled and has become somewhat of a lay about much to the chagrin of his adopted father. However, despite his lazy combative attitude, Nam Yi is a master of the bow and arrow. In fact, he is an absolute badass, an expert at hunting, able to hit a target from a great distance and possesses the ability to curve an arrow around an object/target. When Korea comes under attack by Manchu Invaders, Ja-In is captured and taken away for a life of enslavement. Snatching up his trusty bow and arrows, Nam Yi sets off in hot pursuit in order to save his sister and kick starts a chain of events that sees the slaying of the Manchurian leader that in turns sets a horde of bloodthirsty Manchurian warriors on Nam Yi’s trail.
A blistering epic that for once, and thankfully, eschews grand scale battle scenes featuring hundreds of faceless extras or the need to craft every scene in striking colours in order to create a moving painting for grit, verve and good old fashioned chase fuelled action. That’s not to say War of the Arrows isn’t well filmed or features well mounted and ambitious action scenes as it certainly does, it’s just a refreshing change to see an epic not afraid to get dirty, grit things up a bit and feature several characters pursuing one another and locked in battle rather than the fatigued sight of hundreds of extras/CGI soldiers battling it out which is ever so popular in epic period Eastern action films of late. The camera work is still impressive stuff, if a little heavy on the shaky cam now and again, and thanks to some excellent production and costume design and location work, the film has a realistic bite to it no matter how insane the action gets.
While everything is great from the production design to the stellar acting it’s the action that really sells War of the Arrows. Utilizing a weapon that is seen all too little in action cinema (at least to the extent here), the film puts the bow and arrow front and centre and because of this the action really flies. From the sound the arrows make cutting through air, to the neat trick of curving arrows around obstacles to the awesome sight of a “half pound” arrow cutting up the landscape and its targets much like a gun would, the bow and arrow based action is stunning stuff. Yet it is the momentum the filmmakers inject into proceedings that makes War of the Arrows such a delight to watch. Things build nicely with characters introduced and a good bit of historical back-story dropped in (in the form of the Korean’s given the chance to “run” back to their homes and if they can survive the harsh elements of the landscape and the Manchurian arrows they can have their freedom back) but the action kicks off big time when Nam Yi relentlessly attempts to rescue his sister and then flee the pursuing bad guys. Momentum, a sense of fear and some genuinely threatening antagonists (things all too often missing from action cinema these days) propel the action to impressive heights: not least in an incredible moment where certain characters make the insane decision on how to cross from one cliff to another, in mind boggling fashion, in order to carry on pursing Nam Yi. Exhilarating stuff.
War of the Arrows is very much an action picture at heart but never looses focus on character or telling a good story. Some of the more serious minded and those who always bang on about plot this and plot that may be irked by the streamlined narrative but with so many Eastern historical epics getting bogged down in their own importance and melodrama it’s welcoming to see an epic deliver on the entertainment and action as well as the drama.
Excellent stuff. See it.