Mulan II (2004)

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This direct-to-video sequel does well to unravel much of the magic of the first film, most notably in substituting its original themes of loyalty, courage and honour for a far more predictable Disney fairytale where everyone defaults to heteronormative gender stereotypes. Taking place a month after the events of the first film, its now the sanctity of marriage which needs protecting (yawn). Despite being the ‘hero of China’, Mulan toils in the fields like a peasant worker showing kids her kung fu while her family fret about when she’s getting married. Meanwhile, her boring warrior boyfriend, Li Shing, is promoted …

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Mulan (1998)

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A welcomed hit for Disney following the slightly damp reception for both Hercules and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Like many of the other titles released during the so-called ‘Disney Renaissance’ in the 1990s, this is based on another well-known story – in this case, the Chinese poem ‘Ballad of Mulan’, which dates from the 6th century and tells the fictional story of a woman who disguises herself as a man to replace her ageing father in the Imperial army. Its a rather refreshing take on the legend, with hand-drawn visuals inspired by Chinese art and locations (among them the …

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The Cyprus Tigers (1990)

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Apart from some diverting stunt work and action scenes – de rigueur for a Phillip Ko flick – this is pretty hideous stuff, and we’re not just talking about the suits. A flop on release, the gags are broad and dodgy, and include two Chinese actors playing crude Japanese roles (Luk Chuen, Robin Shou), a repeated homophobic skit which seems to find the idea of a gay cop hilarious, and Winston Ellis getting the brunt of some awful racial slurring – all very indefensible. And then there is the subject of Conan Lee, who leads the lampooning in his first …

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Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

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No doubt encouraged by Patty Jenkins’ female-fronted DC Comics smash, Wonder Woman, and Marvel’s fourth-wall-breaking Deadpool, Margot Robbie revives her klutzy, anarchic turn as Harley Quinn from 2016’s plodding Suicide Squad with renewed verve and vigour – sticking a baseball bat to the patriarchy and narrating her own story in a typically chaotic and meta fashion. She talks directly to the camera, scrambles up the time-line, and, in one particularly strange moment, breaks into a musical number, riffing on Marilyn Monroe. It sounds subversive, although it never fully commits to its own weirdness, eventually settling into a more formulaic superhero …

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Suicide Squad (2016)

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Strangely inert, weightless and tonally abstract comic book caper from DC, attempting its own version of Marvel’s excellent and joyful Guardians of the Galaxy, but this never comes close to replicating that film’s heart, energy or pathos. There are attempts to revive the spirit of Guardians by retrofitting a soundtrack of ironic pop and rock classics, but no amount of Queen or AC/DC can cover over the film’s exposition-heavy dialogue, or its pervasive, washed-out and downbeat tone. There seems to be around three different films going on here – some more interesting than others – and it is constantly fidgeting …

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Six Directions of Boxing (1980)

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Convoluted cop-based chopsocky where a skinhead David Chiang leads a police investigation into two rival kung fu gangs and a stash of stolen weapons. Chiang apprehends the main culprit – a snake fist fighter played by Lung Tien-hsieng – and instead of throwing him behind bars, he holds him in a cave at his father-in-law’s country shack until he can gather enough evidence to send him to the slammer. The father-in-law is played by Simon Yuen in one of his last film roles, and his daughter is played by Nancy Yen, and the two form a neat kung fu duo …

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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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