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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Maximum Impact (2017)

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For a film featuring so many action stars – and a title which sounds like a combination of two Van Damme films (Maximum Risk, Double Impact) – this meandering surveillance comedy is actually very light on the physical stuff. That’s disappointing enough, but it’s the least of the film’s worries. A Russian-American co-production butchered in an overzealous ADR process, the script has been rendered completely void of any vigour or zing (quite important for a comedy), and the best efforts of a top-notch Hollywood cast are wasted in routines which mostly fall completely flat. Mark Dacascos and his hired muscle, …

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Redcon-1 (2018)

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A daring, highly ambitious UK zombie film which attempts to achieve a vast amount in terms of style, production and scale despite its low budget. Director Chee Keong-cheung (Underground) produces effective, gory carnage in the rabid style of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, before settling into an emotionally wrought second-half which leans more towards the excellent Korean film, Train to Busan. Then there is a Mexican influence courtesy of El Mariachi producer and actor, Carlos Gallardo, with a Mad Max-style biker gang in ‘Day of the Dead’ masks and occasional bursts of traditional song. The energetic first-half involves a crack team of …

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Vengeance (2018)

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Former WWE hard-man Stu Bennett steps into more heroic territory with this UK indie, even if he still kicks down doors, shoots people at point blank range and gauges out a few eyeballs. The good guy image is not an easy fit for someone so huge with a face like a rugby player who delivers all his lines with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Writer-director Ross Boyask plays this to his advantage; the dialogue is kept light, sprinkled with decent one-liners, leaving Bennett to concentrate mostly on smashing up the bad guys. As vigilante John Gold, he stomps through the …

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