The Swordsman (2020)

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Period action film from South Korea set during the tumultuous transition between the Ming and Qing dynasties – the backdrop for many, many kung fu films – which is both a broiling political revenge drama and a story about a father’s devotion to his child. It’s a credit to first-time writer-director Choi Jae-hoon that both themes fit so seamlessly and effectively together. Korean heartthrob Jang Hyuk is superb as the titular swordsman, Tae-yul; devout protector of the reigning Joseon dynasty monarch until a coup sees the king forced into exile. Tae-yul flees to the misty hills – hiding from the secular …

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Once Upon a Time in China and America (1997)

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With Jet Li and Tsui Hark back behind the franchise, you would be right to expect more from this lukewarm offering. Filmed in the USA, there is a clear Hollywood incentive behind the production, and under Sammo Hung‘s direction, the ride is a lot quicker and quirkier than the original trilogy. It’s a film of two halves: the first section sees an amnesiac Wong Fei-hung being adopted by a tribe of Native Americans; the second half is a far more nationalistic tale about Wong’s newly created American-based Po Chi Lam being threatened by bandits. Highlights include a knockabout with Hung …

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The Postman Fights Back (1982)

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Ronnie Yu’s directorial debut is a powerful, sometimes savage political romp, shot entirely in Korea with high production values and smart direction taking it a notch above your standard kung fu fare. Set during the formation of the Chinese Republic, the story focuses on a popular folk tale about four dead-end types who are sent on a special mission to transport a secret cargo to the ‘Lo Yang Pass’ in seven days. The team become patriotic heroes when the cargo is revealed to be a stash of weapons heading for notorious warlord Yue Sai-hoi to help in his quest to …

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The Intergalactic Adventures of Max Cloud (2020)

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Here’s something a little different for fans of Scott Adkins, sending up his hard-boiled action-man persona as a gung-ho, high-kicking, all-American space captain inside a 90s video game. It’s another experimental step in Adkins’ quest to find more challenging material, and even if the film never quite rounds off his characters’ two-dimensional aspects, it’s still a bravado performance. The film itself is a bold UK sci-fi action comedy which just about pulls off its high-concept on a low-budget. It excels way beyond its expectations thanks to a wonderful score, an excellent retro-futuristic aesthetic (from its lighting to its sets and …

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Haymaker (2021)

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Globe-trotting indie drama about an unlikely romance between a transgender pop star (real-life pop star Nomi Ruiz) and her bodyguard, a former Muay Thai fighter (played by the film’s writer, director, co-producer and editor, Nick Sasso). As they tour the world, they mix work and pleasure until a fear of compromise forms a rift in their relationship. In his directorial debut, Sasso (known mostly for visual effects) shows promise, neatly observing the more humanistic aspects of the central dynamic through candid moments which blend fact and fiction. Nick is a natural in the ring, and the backstage footage of Nomi …

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Incoming (2018)

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Low-budget Serbian space movie which never fully delivers on a promising premise, set in a future where the International Space Station has been turned into a prison to house some of the world’s worst terrorists. Before you can say “Die Hard on a spaceship”, the prisoners break out and take control – one of them has a background in flying spaceships, obviously – and set course for Moscow on a suicidal death plunge. With a gung-ho crew of American astronauts trapped on board, violence ensues with primitive weaponry – the best being some makeshift bottles of exploding piss. This being …

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Abduction (2019)

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Silly yet enjoyable martial arts fantasy with an 80s throwback feel – think Highlander, Big Trouble in Little China, that sort of thing – about an inter-dimensional race of cloak-wearing, shape-shifting, time-hopping kung fu wizards who kidnap humans for their chi. They create an immortal human army by attaching glowing green spiders to their necks, for reasons which aren’t entirely clear, other than to provide a steady stream of stunt performers for the fight scenes. They kidnap the daughter of Scott Adkins – big mistake – and the wife of Andy On – another huge error. The individual stories of …

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Highlander (1986)

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A commercial and critical failure upon its initial release, this bombastic action fantasy achieved popularity in Europe before becoming a cult video hit, spawning many sequels, a TV series, books and video games. The film’s divisive elements are clear to see – a bizarre supernatural premise, hammy acting, over-the-top action – but its these very same elements which have also helped to guarantee its reputation. Director Russell Mulcahy borrows many of the same tricks he learned as one of the most popular music video directors of the 1980s – long tracking shots, dry ice, extreme close-ups and noir-ish back-lighting – which …

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Zatoichi (2003)

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Takeshi Kitano’s singular, updated vision of one of Japan’s most iconic pop culture characters is an exhilarating watch, with tender moments juxtaposed with comedy and scenes of bloody violence. As writer, director and star, the idiosyncratic filmmaker replaces his trademark guns with a Samurai sword for the first time in his career, undergoing a bleach blond transformation to play the blind swordsman and part-time masseuse popularised by Shintaro Katsu for decades on Japanese television and film. Although this is far removed from the Yakuza bloodletting of his earlier films, Takeshi fans will still appreciate its unique sense of humour, embodied by a number …

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Odd Couple (1979)

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Those expecting Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon larking about may be significantly surprised when this totally different masterpiece hits you, probably the best weapons movie ever made and featuring some of Sammo Hung‘s most technically intricate choreography. Its the story of two martial rivals; the King of Swords (Sammo) and the King of Spears (Lau Kar-wing, brother of Lau Kar-leung). They are both formidable fighters, but their ongoing feud (contested every ten years) has yet to determine a winner. A deal is struck: both ageing masters will teach their skills to one lucky star pupil each, who will in turn continue …

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