Ip Man: Kung Fu Master (2019)

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This straight-to-digital release plays like a ‘greatest hits’ of all your favourite Ip Man tropes from the last decade. There’s the neo-noir aesthetics and rain-drenched, slow motion battle scenes from The Grandmaster; there’s a contrived bout in a boxing ring pitting Ip Man’s Chinese kung fu against a Japanese military karate fighter, like Wilson Yip’s first Ip Man film; there’s even an excursion into superhero territory in which Ip Man dons a black mask to fight crime in scenes lifted from an entirely separate Donnie Yen movie, Legend of the Fist. So, zero marks for originality, but the film offers enough …

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Rapid Fire (1992)

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An exciting action vehicle for Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, who is promoted to leading man status after his role as Dolph Lundgren‘s sidekick in Showdown in Little Tokyo. Lee shows great poise and presence as a lithe kung fu fighter, although he clearly has more substantial chops as an actor, bringing an engaged, boyish masculinity to the somewhat two-dimensional role of Jake Lo, an arty biker dude whose parents were killed during the Tiananmen Square protests. Back in the USA, Jake witnesses a gangland shooting by the Sicilian mafioso, Serrano (Nick Mancuso, delightfully devilish), a red-wine-swilling cliched crook …

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Crazy Samurai Musashi (2020)

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Crazy Samurai Musashi (2020)

Less of a film and more a mad experiment, this uses one of Miyamoto Musashi’s most famous legends as inspiration to create a relentless, almost hypnotic 77-minute one-take fight scene. The wonderful enigmatic Versus star Tak Sakaguchi steps up to play Musashi in this insane endeavour, and we follow him every intimate step of the way as he single-handedly slices through 400 (who’s counting?) clan-members and mercenaries. Director Yuji Shimomura (Re:Born) will occasionally provide respite from the monotonous killing spree by focusing in on Tak’s face, and occasionally breaking away to allow his star to stop for a drink of …

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Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

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With a majority Asian cast and crew and boasting Disney’s first Southeast Asian princess, this magical fantasy action film carries a sense of poignancy beyond the studio’s usual animated fare. It is also vibrantly animated, meticulously researched, and powered by an entirely wholesome message of unity and togetherness in troubling times. ‘Southeast Asia’ is a particularly broad geographic term, encompassing around 10 separate countries each with their own language, culture and identity. Similarly to how Marvel’s Wakanda represents a vision of an African utopia unspoilt by colonialism, this conjures up the mythical, magical backdrop of ‘Kumandra’ which seems to be …

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Russian Raid (2020)

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As the conspicuous title would suggest, this is advertised as a Russian version of The Raid, drawing unfortunate comparisons to what is essentially a modern martial arts masterpiece. In the film’s defence, the title is only really relevant in a small number of details; its largely single-set location, heist premise and succession of hand-to-hand combat scenes. It never once comes close to recreating The Raid‘s sense of anxiety, creativity, or heart-pounding energy. It follows Nikita (played by stunt performer Ivan Kotik), a zen-like lone-wolf military man who keeps fit by Cossack dancing and pounding log cabins with his bare hands. …

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36 Deadly Styles (1979)

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Hwang Jang-lee reprises his evil Silver Fox role and Bolo Yeung wears dreadlocks in this ham-fisted phooey from cult master Joseph Kuo. The story focuses on the Ming Chu clan who will stop at nothing to retrieve a highly coveted kung fu manual for the ’36 styles’. This includes pillaging, terrorising and picking on young temple recruits, like Cheung Lik and his Buddhist uncle, Wong Biu-chan. Jeanie Chang and her burly father, Fan Mei-sheng, also want a piece of the action, so they leave their bean curd business in the village to do battle. Max Lee’s shapes are sublime in …

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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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