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Some of you have asked me for a list of movies we’ve reviewed.

Some of you have asked me for a list of movies we’ve reviewed–So here is a partial list to look at:

  1. A Little Woo Goes a Long Way: Red Cliff Parts 1 & 2.
  2. The Hurt Locker–Not Crap Not A Rose.
  3. The Zero Effect
  4. Miami Vice (2006)
  5. Bananas
  6. Yes Minister & Yes Prime Minister
  7. Arrested Development
  8. 12 Rounds
  9. Real Men
  10. Bad Lieutenant—The Original Not That New Crap
  11. Crank Yankers
  12. Heavenly Mission
  13. Law Abiding Citizen
  14. Armored
  15. Avatar
  16. Battle of Wits
  17. The Divine Weapon
  18. Baian The Assassin
  19. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  20. Bravo 20
  21. Diggs Town
  22. Shutter Island
  23. Lake Placid
  24. Liberty Stand Still
  25. Idiocracy
  26. Double Indemnity
  27. Frost Nixon
  28. Kung Fu the Series
  29. Looking for Mr. Good bar
  30. The Confessor
  31. Spinout
  32. Dazed and Confused
  33. The Pentagon Wars
  34. Black Hawk Down
  35. Harlem Knights
  36. Once Upon A Time in China
  37. Walking Tall
  38. The Postman
  39. Office Space
  40. Zatoichi
  41. Fight Club
  42. Judgment at Nuremburg
  43. Joe vs The Volcano
  44. Witness for the Prosecution
  45. The Big Lebowski
  46. Thunderbirds
  47. King Rat
  48. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
  49. Blade Runner
  50. Operation Petticoat
  51. Substitute 2 Schools Out
  52. Reindeer Games
  53. The Magic Blade
  54. Four Brothers
  55. Wild Things
  56. Tai Chi Master
  57. Silver Streak
  58. Stir Crazy
  59. Passenger 57
  60. Wall Street Money Never Sleeps
  61. Robin Hood (2010)
  62. Pink Panther
  63. Valliant Ones
  64. The Tick
  65. Detective Dee
  66. Viva Las Vegas
  67. The Party
  68. The Million Heiress
  69. On the Waterfront
  70. China Town
  71. Shao lin Wheel of Life
  72. 9th Gate
  73. Punishment Park
  74. FM
  75. Bottle Rocket
  76. Turk 182
  77. Heathers
  78. Samurai Fiction
  79. Glen Gary Glen Ross
  80. Inside Job Battle of Los Angeles
  81. Smokey & The Bandit
  82. Sharkeys Machine
  83. The Third Shadow
  84. Malone
  85. Hara-kiri
  86. City Heat
  87. Keeping up with the Joneses
  88. Musashi 1954
  89. Zen & Sword and Showdown at Hannyazaka
  90. Musashi NHK Series
  91. Duel at Ichijoji Temple (1955) a/k/a Zoku Miyamoto Musashi: Ichijôji no kettô.
  92. Movies 3&4 of the 5 Part Series–Musashi Birth of the 2 Sword Style and Musashi Miyamoto 4: Duel at Ichijoji Temple.
  93. Musashi NHK Part 2
  94. Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island
  95. Body Slam
  96. Iron Eagle
  97. Run
  98. The General
  99. Divine Weapon Redux
  100. Harvey Birdman Attorney At  Law
  101. Owls Castle
  102. 13 Assassins
  103. Chain Reaction
  104. The Chill Factor
  105. The Dark Crystal
  106. Escape from New York
  107. The Interpreter
  108. A certain killer
  109. Rough Cut
  110. My Fair Lady
  111. McFarlane vs Judge
  112. McFarlane vs Judge
  113. McFarlane vs Judge
  114. A Cruel Story
  115. Heart Break Ridge
  116. Posse
  117. Monk (Series)
  118. Men Who Tread on the Tigers Tail
  119. Love American Style
  120. The John Larroquette Show
  121. The Ropers
  122. Cannon Ball
  123. Top Gun
  124. Beverly Hills Cop
  125. Hero
  126. Kill Bill
  127. Kill Bill

I will try to get this list current and keep it that way.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on January 10, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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Detective Dee—The latest “wuxia” movie recommended by our woman from the land down under.

Detective Dee—The latest “wuxia” movie recommended by our woman from the land down under.  With guest co-author Bonnie (who has not actually seen the movie but still feels free to offer an opinion and research and who may have imbibed some sense of Detective Dee via osmosis when her parents were reading the Judge Dee mysteries based on this character many years ago).

I am sitting in the Houston airport for the next 9 hours waiting for my plane to  . . . well you’ll read about that later.  Anyways, I asked Dangerous what she thought the next movie we may want to take a look at should be and she said take a look at Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010).  So I did.

Detective Dee is played by Asian movie and pop legend Andy Lau (Battle of Wits—Mozy Warriors and many others) and is a good “popcorn” movie.  Detective Dee is the latest “wuxia” movie directed by Tsui Hark—a pioneer of the wuxia genre.  Wuxia films are particular to China; they blend martial arts with chivalry and tend to have a protagonist who is similar to, but not quite the same as, a Western knight-errant.

Not only does this movie have Andy Lau in it (which always makes it a must-see in my book), but it is directed by the formidable Tsui Hark (who will, incidentally, be helping to judge the feature films category at the Cannes Film Festival this year). Hark also directed Once Upon a Time in China (for a link to our friend Silver’s masterful review of that flick, click here). Standing at 5’9” (it’s amazing what you can find out on IMDB), he is considered a master of the kung fu action genre and, from what I saw (and what Bonnie didn’t see) here, I have to say that he is a master of the wuxia subgenre as well.

The story is about a woman who is about to become emperor and unite China.  Naturally she is getting many people in the kingdom all pissed off because a woman is about to ascend to the throne.  In honor of her coronation a 1,000 foot Buddha is being constructed overlooking the palace.  Officials working on the statue are starting to self-immolate; that is, bursting in to flames from the inside out. (I hate it when that happens!) With the coronation not far off the soon to be empress needs these crimes solved to avoid any taint on her ascension to the throne.

She calls in Detective Dee, the Sherlock Holmes of China.  Dee also happened to be one of the leaders of a revolt against her when he emperor-husband died under mysterious circumstances.  I guess when you need the best you need the best.

Detective Dee starts his investigation which begins to reveal an ugly trail of deceit and murder perpetrated by the Empress to seize power. Her motto is “everyone is expendable in the pursuit of power.” As Dee gets closer and closer to finding the truth, the stakes get higher and higher for his life. However, it is Dee’s old assistant, who was tortured by the Empress to the tune of having one of his hands cut off, who is responsible for the Phantom Flame deaths. His axe to grind is simple: revenge. He was tortured for years and as we know, payback’s a bitch. His plan is to have the Buddha crash down on the coronation ceremony, killing everyone in the palace. Dee figures this out and puts a stop to the madness.

This movie is interesting because the viewer does not have a clear “hero riding on a white horse” to sympathize with. The Empress and the assistant are each quite a piece of work; the Empress has got a trail of dead bodies as long as the Boston Marathon, while the assistant has been putting beetles into people to cause them to self-immolate (they weren’t really immolating themselves out of anguish over watching a woman ascend to the throne, as it turns out).

Any of you who know anything about me know I am a big Asian movie fan.  So it’s good to see another big budget, big screen Asian movie hit the theaters, though it probably will not get any decent play in the states a la Red Cliff (bastardizing the movie by leaving two hours of film on the cutting room floor).

 
7 Comments

Posted by on October 31, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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Our Woman From Down Under Looks at “Valiant Ones.”

As you may recall, our woman from the land down under, Dangerous Meredith, won any DVD of her choice and she happened to choose “Valiant Ones” (a/k/a Zhong lie tu).  Directed by King Hu, with action choreography by Sammo Hung.  So let’s see what Dangerous has to say:

Valiant Ones

Directed by King Hu, with action choreography by Sammo Hung.

Cast and crew  found here:

http://www.hkcinemagic.com/en/movie.asp?id=2572

Final fight scene:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NF_gDlm0SyU

The overall look to this film is elegant and spare. It is mostly set in a forest, with some interior shots of headquarters and tents. Some of the action also takes place on a sea-shore, and the first action scene happens in and around an inn in a poor fishing village. The costumes could be considered as being tasteful rather than glamorous, and feature scholars’ robes, peasant dress and soldiers’ uniforms. Even the high officials’ rich robes feature somber colors. The palette for the art direction in this movie sits harmoniously with the greens of the forest and the blues of the sea against which it is set: blues, grays, beige’s, browns and whites predominate. The occasional red of some soldiers’ uniforms is a nicely judged splash of color.

The performances could be called elegant and spare as well. Although the actors all use the ultra intense eye focus and graceful and stylized placement of gestures, limbs and bodies that is (to me anyway) a hall mark of kung fu movie acting, there is no really ‘big’ or extravagant acting here. The simple plot and action choreography do not seem to call for it. Our heroes are a band of fighters that have been called together to take on a troupe of pirates that are threatening to colonise part of China’s coast. The fighters are experienced and adept martial arts veterans. They are taciturn, dignified, cunning and of serious intent. Outrageous shenanigans are not their bag. In keeping with the austere overall tone of this movie, even the villains are not as over the top as in some chopsockies.

It is as if director King Hu has done away with anything that could be a distraction to the forward motion of his plot. There are no tizzy costumes, no fake tiger skin rugs, no bizarre and gurning villains in this film. The one female warrior is nicely dressed, yes, but she does not wear a pastel coloured costume or fake eye lashes. Instead the intentness of the Valiant Ones, the build of tension as they wait for the pirate attack on their forest camp, the ploys they use to outwit the pirates, are presented to us in a steady unfolding of plot.

The action scenes break out as a necessary expression of the tension and contained energy that builds during the film. The action scenes are embedded skillfully in the narrative, as they are in the best kung fu movies. In one way, the dialogue scenes could be seen as setting the scene for the fights. But in another way, the plot developments and expression of character and feeling that is contained in the choreography seems to initiate and make sense of the atmosphere in the dialogue driven scenes. The libretto of this film has a nice balance between dialogue and action, and these 2 components have been skillfully integrated.

The lovely choreography in this film is interesting. One the one hand it is by far the most flamboyant and fanciful element of this movie. But, compared to other kung fu movie choreography, it is (as with all other aspects of Valiant Ones) pared down and more austere. There are no balletic, acrobatic, wire fu inspired fantastic flights of fancy here. The movement is elegant but not in the least bit quirky or whimsical or baroque. The fight scenes do their job – they serve the plot – and then they contribute just enough beauty to ensure the aesthetic appeal of the film (but not one jot more). I have just finished blogging about the fight in the White Lotus temple in Once Upon A Time in China 2. Choreographed by Yuen Wu Ping, this fight scene does a grand job of supporting its host movie’s themes and narrative but could also stand alone as an independent piece of performance art. None of the fight scenes in Valiant Ones could quite do that. The intention behind the choreographing, directing and filming of the action here is quite different.

Editors Notes:  Dangerous always writes almost metaphysical reviews of movies which are a welcome change of pace from your run of the mill recitation of the facts.

Thanks Dangerous!

 
6 Comments

Posted by on October 22, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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Tai Chi Master [太極張三豐] (1993) By Silver

Tai Chi Master [太極張三豐] (1993)

Starring Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Chin Siu Ho, Fennie Yuen, Yuen Cheung Yan, Lau Shun, Yu Hai, Sun Jian Kui

Directed by Yuen Woo Ping

Expectations: High. Haven’t seen this one in years and remember really liking it.

2 1/2

Wow. I was not prepared for the visual assault provided by Yuen Woo Ping’s Tai Chi Master. I had seen this a couple of times as a teenager, but it’s been so many years and for whatever reason, my mind was a near-empty slate in regards to this film. That being the case there wasn’t as much nostalgia as I had expected, as I remembered only very random things sprinkled throughout the film, making it almost like watching a brand new movie. In any case, Tai Chi Master is a highly entertaining kung-fu fantasy flick with a ridiculous amount of excellent wire-assisted fights.

Your enjoyment of wire-fu is essential to liking Tai Chi Master. Back in the day, I always greatly preferred your standard hand-to-hand fight to an overblown, high-flying one. These days I have softened quite a bit on that and I’ve come to fully appreciate what wirework can bring to a kung-fu film. My recent viewing of the Shaw Brothers classic Shaolin Intruders fully solidified me as a wire fan and Tai Chi Master is another great example of wirework done extremely well.

The film opens with the meeting of Tian Bao (Chin Siu Ho) and Jun Bao (Jet Li). Jun Bao is introduced as the senior student but due to his smaller size, Tian Bao bullies him into calling him senior. The two become friends and do everything together, sharing in chores, punishment and training. Tian Bao’s violent lust for power informs his every action, while Jun Bao’s focus is more on helping others and trying to be good. They are opposites but inseparable, a human yin-yang. As they age and become more rebellious, Tian Bao constantly tries to pull one over on the masters, but one day it all backfires and the two friends are thrown out of the temple.

This relationship is the heart of the film and its story. I’m not going to lie and tell you the emotional depth is anywhere on par with superior Hong Kong films like Once Upon a Time in China, Ip Man or even The Killer. The story may revolves around this brotherly relationship, but it’s all fairly superficial and not a whole lot more than excuses to have crazy fights. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the story and it works well within the context of the film, but it is more akin to your standard blockbuster style of writing that has a tendency to be a bit shallow. But the great thing about Tai Chi Master is that it knows this about itself and never tries to fool you into thinking it is more than it is. In true blockbuster form, the incredible action and sheer number of insane fights coming at you should be enough to keep you entertained. In fact, there were so many fights that I found myself as fatigued as the combatants on screen towards the end of the picture. Tai Chi Master is really a film that demands multiple viewings in order to properly take it all in, as a single run through will leave you spinning like the Tasmanian Devil.

For those not following my website and my occasional Hong Kong film reviews contained there, I have recently restarted my Hong Kong film obsession. Fans of such films are familiar with certain conventions used throughout the industry that just aren’t prevalent in Western cinema. Of course there’s the realistic stunts, the well-shot fight sequences, the oddly placed humor. Tai Chi Master has all of those in spades, but they aren’t what I speak of. The thing that I hadn’t run into in this new phase of my Hong Kong obsession was one that I knew would be inevitable. The eunuchs. Tai Chi Master marks the return of the eunuch to my film vocabulary and what a welcome return it is. The eunuch in this film, played by Sun Jian Kui, is absolutely fantastic and such fun to watch. Towards the end of the film, he has a rather gnarly swordfight with one of the heroes that is easily one of my favorite scenes in the film. Yeah! Eunuchs! I didn’t realize how much I had missed them. My teenage brain was unable to fully comprehend why a castrated man gained supernatural powers, but I accepted it. These days, I welcome it with open arms.

Tai Chi Master is a lot more comic than I remember it being, so initially it was sort of off-putting, but after I got into the groove I really enjoyed myself. Jet Li is great in his role as Jun Bao, and gets to show off his wonderful martial skill at the absolute highlight of his Hong Kong career. The scenes when he loses his grasp on reality and talks with the ducks are funny and completely different than any other role Jet has ever played. If that’s not enough to sell you on the film, Michelle Yeoh busts in with a fiery performance and proves why she is one of the top female martial artists of the silver screen. Director Yuen Woo Ping does a good job with the camera, complimenting his inspired fight choreography well. My favorite moment of choreography in the film is by far the fight between Tian Bao and Jun Bao on the log structure. I greatly enjoy fights where the stakes are constantly ratcheted up and the fighters must compensate, and this fight completely fits that bill.

I do wish that there was more actual Tai Chi in the film called Tai Chi Master. One of the few things I did remember was when Jet circled the water with his hands and noticed how it deflected the hard ball by being fluid and using the ball’s energy. These moments of martial creation are fantastic, and while I realize they happen when they do for a reason, somehow I think I would be more satisfied if they happened earlier and we got to see more on screen Tai Chi. Oh well, a minor complaint for an otherwise pleasing film. Highly recommended to wire-fu fans, as well as Jet Li fans. I wouldn’t start here if you’ve never seen a Hong Kong film though, as I think this one might be a bit too weird to win a new fan over.

 
11 Comments

Posted by on September 11, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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Dangerous Takes A Look At: Magic Blade (1976) Shaw Brothers Classic.

Made in 1976

Director – Chor Yuen

Producer – Runme Shaw

Action directors – Wong Pau Gei, Tong Gai

Cast – Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Ching Li, Tanny Tien Ni

I have spent the last couple of years ricocheting between brain dead temp work and stints on social security. Many nights I have returned home after enduring shifts of reception work that made me despair of the human race or interviews at my local Job Service Agency fending off attempts to get me to embrace a career in telemarketing. Fortunately this is all behind me now (I have recently been successful in landing a job I like). But my challenge over the last 2 years has been keeping the nasty grey world I have inhabited from eroding my sanity. Fortunately for me I had a way – I knew of the existence of kung fu and wu xia movies. I knew the answer to my problems was to collapse on the couch, suck back a cheap bottle of rotgut cleanskin red wine, and watch a chopsockie. Whether it’s an old Shaw Brothers extravaganza or a Jet Li New Wave spectacle, there is nothing in the world like a martial arts film to blast the cobwebs from your brain and purge the toxins from your soul. It’s amazing how much the Shaw Brothers fanfare at the beginning of one of this seminal production house’s films can cheer me up (what the hell is Shawscope anyway?). A favorite movie of mine – one that I have often reached for after the greyest days – is the wu xia pian The Magic Blade, produced by Shaw Brothers and made in 1976. The martial arts film genre is a huge and varied one that has something for everyone. Those who like their chopsockies flavored with heavy doses of testosterone tend to favor the films of Bruce Lee or Chang Cheh. I prefer my martial arts films to be more on the fantastical or whimsical side. I feel that The Magic Blade delivers these qualities in spades.

I will not summarize the plot of this film as I do not want to give anything away. When I first watched this movie I knew nothing about it. As scene after scene unfolded, each more extravagant and imaginatively choreographed than the last, I literally felt my eyes widen. Many fans of the martial arts movie genre love these films for their creative audacity and The Magic Blade does not disappoint. Each scene has something that catches the attention. This might be a quirk of character, an aspect of staging, the way the choreography incorporates sets or props, or a plot development. The plot has been arranged so that the movie flows smoothly from one lavish set piece to another. The many villains of the film are enjoyably sinister to watch, and are a varied lot with each boasting a peculiar character trait. My personal favorite is the cannibalistic Devil Grandma – a vile, cackling octogenarian with a novel approach to food vending. A special mention must also go to Tanny Tien Ni, who, in her role as a femme fatale, raises smirking and sneering to Gold Medal Olympic level standards.

Against a cast of such dynamic baddies, Ti Lung holds his own as the hero of the movie. He wears a costume that, sadly, reminds me of the poncho made out of regulation blanket that my Girl Guide troop leader instructed me to make and wear to our camps when I was a wee slip of a girl. He carries this garment off with far more élan than I did, and manages to combine soulfulness and nobility in his depiction of a lone wandering swordsman. Ti Lung always ramps up the eye candy quotient in any movie he is in, but he is quite a good actor as well. There are 2 scenes which demonstrate this. The first is where Ti Lung and the film’s heroine (nicely played by Ching Li) discuss the lonely life of an itinerant swordsman in an idyllic setting bedecked with flowers. The second, set in a windswept alley, is where Ti Lung’s character interacts with a woman who has fallen on hard times and been forced to turn to prostitution. This scene is so moving it literally reduces me to tears. These 2 quite lovely and sensitively acted scenes are deftly incorporated into an otherwise pot boiling plot. They add dimension to the film without slowing it down.

A special mention must go to the art direction in this film – it is gorgeous. Exotic, beautiful, and sometimes gothic sets, props and costumes are a definite part of this film’s appeal. The colours are vivid and lush, and the detailing on many of the props and costumes is really nice. Overall, the film is very well shot. I often think of kung fu movies as being more like filmed physical theatre than the classic ‘realistic’ western films I grew up with. This sense of theatricality is pleasantly reinforced by the luscious art direction in The Magic Blade.

I am not sure what else I can say without giving too much information away. All you red blooded blokes out there will be rewarded with the sight of someone’s breasts and a tiny bit of lesbian fondling in the final scenes. All viewers (regardless of gender / sexual orientation) will find themselves rewarded with a stylishly made and well acted fantasy action that is jam packed with inventive fight choreography and leavened with doses of fruity melodrama. The Magic Blade is wu xia pian at its entertaining best. Get a DVD copy and save it up for the next time you have a particularly bad day.

 
10 Comments

Posted by on August 22, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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We take a look at Once Upon A Time In China

My new partner in crime at http://silveremulsion.wordpress.com and I have decided to collaborate on some of the finest Asian movies we’ve seen and give you, the reader, our thoughts on these films so you can make an informed decision on whether to view them or not.  Also, if you have seen any of the movies we decide to collaborate on we would love to hear your comments on the matter.  Again, this is one in a series we are going to do together so stay tuned for some great Asian movie reviews from two movie connoisseurs.

China has had a very tumultuous history, including hundreds of years of civil war, a humiliating defeat in the opium war and a bloody occupation by Japan.  It was during the dark times between the opium war and the Japanese occupation that a Chinese folk hero, physician and martial arts expert was to emerge — Wong Fei-hung (1847-1924).  Wong Fei-hung, a legendary figure, would, among other things, later inspire his countrymen to endure even bigger ordeals in the last century.  The legend of Wong Fei-hung has also inspired dozens of films.  In my opinion the best is Once Upon a Time In China, a 1991 Hong Kong kung-fu epic directed by Tsui Hark.  This film had five sequels and was among the first to introduce Jet Li as its main star to Western audiences.  Li as Wong Fei-hung provides the viewer with a fine performance especially given that role was played very early in his career.

The plot:  On the surface the movie seems simple enough, as my colleague said, almost Shaw Brothers simple, but in reality the story is very complex and transcends the many martial arts films whose plots can easily be summed up in a single sentence.  Wong Fei-Hung, like his countrymen, is forced to endure the humiliation of American slavers, local gangs, a renegade martial arts master and even his own wayward (but well-intentioned) students.  As if these problems were not enough, he has to contend with his growing affection for Aunt Yee (Rosamund Kwan) which is important as to movie is set around the end of the 19th century when there were great social changes in China.  This is typified with his relationship with his “Aunt” Yee (who is not related to him by blood), as she would be taboo to marry.  The fact that this is a series of films allows the relationship to develop slowly also setting it apart from many Hong Kong films where romances are very fast-moving and unrealistic.

The action sequences are superb, which is unsurprising considering that they are choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping, though dim-witted critics who can find fault in anything point to the wire-work and use of doubles.  The final showdown is a stunning success of editing as Jet Li was injured and had to be doubled for many of the shots that weren’t above the waist, but his extraordinary  fist techniques make up for this.  The film has a long running time for a martial arts movies so for once there is plenty of time for story and action.

Hong Kong movies don’t come much better than this.  Anyone who is a fan of wire-work and/or the likes of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon should hold this movie in high esteem—either that or they are a communist.  I could not agree more with my new partner in crime at Silver Emulsion.  You must check out his take on Once Upon a Time In China at http://silveremulsion.wordpress.com — you would be a fool not to.

 
14 Comments

Posted by on April 25, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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