Kate (2021)

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Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes polonium poisoning look cool in this neon-drenched, self-aware and formulaic fight film from Netflix and 87North Productions – master purveyors of the mid-budget Hollywood head-stomper. As an action star, Winstead shone in Scott Pilgrim, was wasted in Gemini Man, and damn-near stole Birds of Prey. She undergoes the obligatory months of training to perform as the titular Kate – an ambiguous title for a rather unambiguous character. She’s a Tokyo-based assassin, groomed into an uber-killer from a young age by shady father figure Varrick (Harrelson). Following a one night stand, she discovers she has been fatally …

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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

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A charming, inventive and entertaining live-action debut for the superhero Shang-Chi, originally modelled on Bruce Lee and first introduced into the Marvel comics at the height of the kung fu boom in the 1970s. Shang-Chi might not have the same superhero clout as Spider-Man or Captain America, but this origin story very much positions him as an integral player in the ongoing – and increasingly convoluted – Marvel Cinematic Universe, with all the bloated backstory that requires. The character also signals the arrival of Marvel’s first Asian superhero in a film with mostly people of colour in the lead roles. That is …

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Notorious Nick (2021)

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“Notorious” Nick Newell is a retired mixed martial artist born with only one arm who became XFC Lightweight Champion in 2012. He is something of a disability icon, especially considering how he spent his entire competitive career fighting against non-disabled people. It makes his accomplishments even more incredible – almost too incredible to effectively work as theatre. For years, the sport tied itself in knots over the ethics of allowing Newell to compete at the highest level, with the UFC’s Dana White flatly refusing to have him join his organisation. There was also pushback from within the MMA community, with …

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Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins (2021)

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The Snake Eyes elements formed some of the most interesting moments in the previous two films in this most commercial of franchises – existing only to shift more Hasbro toys – so a standalone story dedicated to the Joe’s sword-wielding, silent ninja seems, on paper, to be quite an intriguing prospect. This has a huge budget (circa $100m) and great people working on it – including hot property in the fight world, like the actor Andrew Koji, fresh from the Warrior TV series, The Raid‘s Iko Uwais, and Donnie Yen‘s long-time fight partner, Kenji Tanigaki. The film should have finally provided a …

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Take Back (2021)

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A tiny-budgeted female-led riff on Taken starring Gillian White – wife of Michael Jai White – as a woman with a special set of skills, hunting for her kidnapped step-daughter. The young girl has been taken by Mickey Rourke, playing a notorious sex trafficker with a shed full of stolen women. In the absence of having a character, Rourke’s performance seems to mostly involve mumbling, sitting down, the occasional bit of walking, putting on sunglasses, and then taking them off again. Michael Jai White plays Gillian’s husband and karate instructor in a nice reference to their real lives. Despite playing …

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Assault on VA-33 (2021)

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“Nothing ever happens in sleepy Oakside,” says police chief Michael Jai White, returning to his sudoku. Meanwhile, a Russian terrorist (played by Weston Cage Coppola, son of Nic Cage) and his group of hired goons have broken into a veterans’ hospital where a high-profile general is seeing his shrink – they plant bombs in the building, hold the general and the patients hostage and start demanding ransom money. But wait, the Die Hard references don’t end there. There’s a Bruce Willis in the building in the form of Sean Patrick Flanery, an ex-soldier with PTSD whose doctor wife is one …

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The Fatal Raid (2019)

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This isn’t a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it is so much better than the first film, 2016’s Special Female Force. The original was a goofy, dated take on the goofy, dated Hong Kong cop farce The Inspector Wears Skirts – a cringingly sexist, sizest horror-show. Jacky Lee’s unofficial sequel is a far moodier, intense film which – although prone to the odd perverted moment in which its central female cast strip-off in slow-motion before a gun fight – is a largely competent, solid action film which owes a debt to crime classics like Heat and the …

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Boss Level (2021)

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A mid-budget, high-concept sci-fi actioner from WarParty Films – run by the very likeable duo of Joe Carnahan and Frank Grillo – which is funny, adventurous, oddly endearing, over-the-top violent and kind of nuts. Roy (Grillo) wakes up in a repetitive time loop – think Groundhog Day meets Grand Theft Auto – in which assassins continually kill him over and over again; chopping off his head, destroying his apartment and shooting him to ribbons for reasons he can’t understand. He’s a tough guy – an ex-soldier – which means he can get quite far into his day before the assassins ultimately …

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Luc Van Tien: Kung Fu Warrior (2017)

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Dedicated to the ‘golden age of kung fu action cinema’ – it’s written in the credits – this is Andy Long’s love letter to the Jackie Chan movies he watched as a child in Germany, inspiring him to study martial arts, grab a camcorder, and attempt to make it in the movies. Andy – now a top stunt coordinator and distinguished member of the JC Stunt Team – displays the full scale of his devotion to the art of action with this low-budget Vietnamese indie. He not only stars in the film, but he is also the executive producer, editor, …

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Raging Fire (2021)

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Benny Chan’s final film before his death from cancer at the age of 58 is not only one of his best, it’s also one of the best Hong Kong action films for decades. Hong Kong has always been the perfect setting for an edgy, neo-noir cop thriller, and although there is much to commend about this exceptional film, Edmond Fung’s cinematography certainly deserves special praise. He captures a tone which turns the urban metropolis into a menacing, neon-lit cipher for Gotham City – bolstered by Nicolas Errèra’s foreboding score – complete with masked gangs, embittered police, kidnappings and violence. The premise is …

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