Enter the Fat Dragon (2020)

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A Hong Kong action comedy which feels like a throwback to the crazy, cameo-filled Chinese New Year specials of old, pioneered by the likes of Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan. This shares a title with a Sammo Hung Bruceploitation flick from 1978, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end; other than the fact that its star, Donnie Yen – a remarkably svelte 56 year old – spends most of the film wearing a fat suit. (More on that later.) Like Sammo’s original concept, this is more of a homage to classic Canto-comedies and the spirit of Bruce Lee, set in an alternate …

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The Fifth Commandment (2008)

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Humourless action yarn produced and written by its star, Rick Yune (The Fast and the Furious). He cuts a lean figure as the film’s conflicted antihero, but is completely inert in terms of on-screen chemistry. But then again, nearly all of the cast seem to be afflicted with the same debilitating habit of delivering dialogue in a husky, stoic monotone, as if they’re auditioning for voiceovers on movie trailers. There’s nothing of great originality here; even the fight scenes are butchered by some overzealous editing. Yune plays an orphaned survivor of a brutal gang attack, who is raised as a …

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Raze (2013)

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An atmospheric, intense indie fight film with shades of The Hunger Games, designed as a vehicle for New Zealand stunt performer and frequent Tarantino collaborator, Zoë Bell. She plays Sabrina, a tightly wound ball of violent fury, who wakes up in a strange prison-like setting where an angry drill sergeant and his all-male army force young kidnapped women to fight to their deaths. Sabrina is ex-military, so she makes light work of most of her fellow, more vulnerable inmates, smashing their heads in with her fists. The death matches are part of a weird, age-old, cult-like operation run by an aristocratic …

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Samurai Marathon (2019)

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Inspired by true events, this Edo period drama – based on a 2014 novel by Akihiro Dobashi – tells the origin story of the so-called ‘Samurai Marathon’, which takes place annually in the city of Annaka, Japan. The arduous running competition – in which many of its participants adopt feudal-inspired fancy dress – was created by Annaka clan leader, Lord Itakura, during the twilight years of the shogun as a means of training his samurai to be prepared for impending battle. But the film is far removed from your typical underdog sports movie, and the marathon itself is used as a …

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Red Sun Rising (1994)

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Straight-to-video cop movie with a strange slice of Japanese mysticism thrown in; namely a study in the art of the ‘death touch’, embodied by James Lew’s creepy assassin who spooks out hot girls with his hypnotic eyes and makes his enemies spew their guts up and die just by pointing a finger at them. He’s the top bodyguard of a Japanese gangster who killed Don “The Dragon” Wilson‘s police buddy back in Kyoto. Wilson lands in a racially divided Los Angeles at the height of a gang war (a sort of Crips versus Bloods scenario) to find the Japanese baddies …

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Shaolin Temple (1976)

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There’s an epic sensibility to this accomplished Shaolin film from Chang Cheh, marking the culmination of his work with longtime collaborators Ti Lung and David Chiang, and the start of his output with the so-called ‘Venoms mob’, including Taiwanese stunt-people like Philip Kwok, Chiang Sheng and Lo Meng, each of whom have supporting roles. To some extent, it also marks a culmination Cheh’s work with Fu Sheng, taking his fourth and final run-out as Fong Sai-yuk at a time of change for the actor, who was eager to work with new directors. Then there’s the absence of fight choreographers Lau Kar-leung …

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Bleeding Steel (2017)

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Baffling sci-fi action film which follows a trend for globe-trotting, produced-by-committee adventure yarns starring Jackie Chan. These films brim with colour and motion, but contain very little context, character or consequence (similar examples include the empty spectacle Chinese Zodiac, ludicrous Indian co-production Kung Fu Yoga, and cross-continental head-scratcher Skiptrace). Chan is always affable in these purely commercial exercises, even if his 60-plus years of experience and talent is often wasted. This one sees Chan play a Hong Kong cop who buddies up with two Taiwanese music stars (Show Lo and Nana Ouyang) to protect his estranged daughter from a team of …

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The Mercenary (2019)

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A good, reliable, old-fashioned slug-fest; the type of simple B-movie that Van Damme would make in between work-outs in the early 1990s. The 1993 film Nowhere to Run immediately springs to mind. That had a similar small-town white-saviour vibe; a repentant killer seeking atonement for past crimes who then continues to kill many, many more people, only this replaces romance for religion as the central character’s key motivation. Maxx (Dominiquie Vandenberg) is a cold-blooded mercenary left for dead in a Colombian jungle by a member of his own gang. He is rescued by a priest and taken back to the …

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Hydra (2019)

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Impressive directorial debut from action director Kensuke Sonomura, part of Re:Born director Yuji Shimomura’s stunt-team whose credits include John Woo’s Manhunt and the excellent martial arts comedy Bushido Man. This takes a simple narrative device and spins it into a convincingly hypnotic and well-measured revenge thriller, punctuated by two innovative, extended combat scenes; both of which are disorientating displays of close-quarters knife- and ground-fighting which meets the criteria of being both exquisitely choreographed and realistic enough to be believable. Masanori Mimoto plays mysterious chef Takashi, who cuts a brooding, intense figure in the kitchen at Tokyo’s Hydra bar. Takashi clearly …

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Tiger Love (1977)

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Tiger Love (1977)

This gets really weird, really quickly. Believing her boyfriend (Lo Lieh) to have been killed, Hu Chin leaps off a rock in a suicidal death plunge, only for her fall to be broken by some trees. She wakes up to find herself next to a tiger (a real, actual tiger). In her panic, she pisses herself, which the tiger interprets as some form of power move. So instead of eating her, the tiger decides to nurse her back to health inside its tiger cave. Flash-forward 18 years and Hu Chin has since given birth to the sprightly Stephen Tung Wei, …

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