Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Birth of the Dragon (2017)

Director: George Nolfi
Notable Cast: Phillip Ng, Xia Yu, Billy Magnussen, Jin Xing, Jingjing Qu, Simon Yin

When the word started spreading around online that the latest Bruce Lee focused film, one surrounding the events of his fight with Wong Jack Man and entitled Birth of the Dragon, it was not good. Fans were upset that the film seemed to treat the entire thing like an excuse to exploit Bruce’s fame and fortune and worst yet, neither Bruce Lee nor Wong Jack Man were the protagonists. It was actually a young white guy that was driving the story forward. Fast forward to a month prior to its release in theaters and producers stated that the film shown at festivals was just an early cut of the film and that this one, which was getting a wide release thanks to WWE and Blumhouse, would take fans’ concerns into account for a better movie. If that was the case, then I have no need to see the first cut of the film because Birth of the Dragon suffers from the exact same problems that fans were concerned with originally. The entire concept is flawed and no amount of Phillip Ng charisma, Xia Yu deadpan seriousness, or Corey Yuen fight work can save the film from simply being awkward. There are certainly moments when one can see some appeal to Birth of the Dragon, but it’s hard to get around the glaring flaws of the film on its foundational levels.

Monday, August 28, 2017

New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Last Days of the Boss (1976)

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Notable Cast: Bunta Sugawara, Jun Tatara, Sanae Nakahara, Sakae Umezu, Isao Bito, Takuya Fujioka, Koji Wada, Chieko Matsubara, Masayuki Sone, Eitaro Ozawa, Mikio Narita, Rinichi Yamamoto, Masataka Iwao, Michiro Minami, Kenichi Sakuragi, Takuzo Kawatani
Also Known As: New Battles Without Honor and Humanity 3: Last Days of the Boss, New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: The Boss's Last Days

With Last Days of the Boss, Kinji Fukasaku seals off the second series of Battles Without Honor and Humanity films on a very entertaining sprint. Like its director predecessor, The Boss’s Head, this entry is less about recreating the density and complexity of the original series and it tries to be more in tune with the action packed exploitative efforts of 70s Japanese action films instead. This leaves New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Last Days of the Boss as a rip-roaring ride of morally gray characters, blissfully chaotic action set pieces, and a wake of bodies that starts stacking up immediately. It’s perhaps the furthest that the series has moved away from its roots as dramatic gangster realism, but it’s hard not to still see the gleaming entertainment and depth of character work that Fukasaku brings to the table with all of his films from this era. Perhaps one of the weaker films when it comes to tight writing and expertly crafted tension, but it’s also a film that replaces those things with a wild and chaotic ambition that doesn’t betray the tone of the series either.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Columbus (2017)

Director: Kogonada

Notable Cast: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Rory Culkin, Michelle Forbes, Parker Posey

Columbus, Indiana. . . the place I have lived most of my life. I want to say this before making headway into the review, as I hope that there is some sort of perspective that I can bring while speaking of Columbus, based in the place in which I have spent the majority of my life. Did I ever think that something would be shot here locally? No. Seeing this work, I must say, I am glad that it has happened, and while it most certainly gets the architecture and beauty of Columbus very much correct, I do think it sort of lacks exploration of the people of the town, and the darker side of things, but I digress. I want to base this on its own merits, and with that in mind, I have ended up being pleasantly surprised with Kogonada's directorial debut.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She Cat Gambler (1972)

Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Cast: Meiko Kaji, Junzaburo Ban, Sonny Chiba, Tamayo Misukawa, Shingo Yamashiro, Yukie Kagawa

If you look back to when the review for Wandering Ginza Butterfly was posted here at Blood Brothers, you’ll see that it happened well over a year prior to the posting of this review. If you read that review, you’ll also see that the film was a disappointment for me in its scattered approach and uneven genre bending that it attempted to do which, while putting two and two together, are inherently connected. This gap waiting to watch the second film of the series, Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She Cat Gambler, is essentially intentional as there needed to be time to cleanse the palate before digging in. However, this may have been a mistake. She Cat Gambler not only partners the iconic Meiko Kaji with Japanese superstar Sonny Chiba for the film, but it’s a more cohesive and impressive film overall. It has impressive star power, a more effective script, and an execution that gets everything to meld into one much more striking cinematic experience.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Once Upon a Time (2017)

Directors: Zhao Xiaoding, Anthony LaMolinara
Notable Cast: Liu Yifei, Yang Yang

I will admit, I had no clue whatsoever what this film was going in, which is the purest mindset you can go into a cinematic voyage with. I was told "You will be reviewing a big budget Chinese fantasy romance film", and I said "Cool!". As I sat down, and prepared myself for a visual treat, I was immediately sucked into the world, and then spat right back out as I began to realize that the visuals, and everything else for that matter, weren't quite what one would initially think. Confusing? One moment...

Lady Bloodfight (2017)

Director: Chris Nahon
Notable Cast: Amy Johnston, Muriel Hofmann, Jenny Wu, Kathy Wu, Jet Tranter, Ng Mayling

Having tempered expectations when going into straight to home video action flicks is usually the smart approach to appreciating the genre. Not that the style doesn’t have its merits, as I mentioned not to long ago in my review for Boyka: Undisputed 4, but the smart approach usually means you’ll have more fun in appreciating them for what they are. This is the case with Lady Bloodfight. On paper, the idea of a Bloodsport/Kickboxer knock off seems predictable and unnecessary, yet the attached stuntwomen and talent behind the film would indicate it would be something much more effective than the trailers and hum-drum concept would indicate. While this is true, there is much more to Lady Bloodfight than its ‘been there, done that’ plot and narrative would have one believe, it’s still a mixed bag of efforts that is benefited from one’s skepticism of the entire thing when going into it. For fans of the martial arts tournament films that ruled the lower budget realms of the late 80s and early 90s in western action cinema, Lady Bloodfight has something to offer in its modernized throwback style but it certainly trips on some of its own ambitions as it goes leaving the entire thing feeling a bit mixed. Yet, it’s hard not to be pleasantly surprised with it in the end. It’s fun, it has some great moments, and it showcases that Amy Johnston can hold her own as the lead in a film.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Ronin (1998)

Director: John Frankenheimer
Notable Cast: Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgard, Sean Bean, Skipp Sudduth, Michael Lonsdale, Jan Triska, Jonathan Pryce

Director John Frankenheimer had a long and quite fascinating career. While he was mostly known for his work the 60s and 70s (with credits like The Manchurian Candidate and Birdman of Alcatraz under his belt) he would have a variety of hits and flops throughout his lengthy filmography that makes it one of the more interesting careers to follow. One of the gems of his career though is the 1998 throwback espionage action thriller Ronin, featuring a substantial cast anchored by Robert DeNiro. While it’s somewhat of a surprise that Arrow Video chose this film for release in their catalog because of its ‘newer’ release date, it shouldn’t be a surprise when one sees the film and the quality of its execution to understand why it’s become a well-loved cult classic. Not only is Ronin a phenomenal flick, but it’s one that truly does harken back to a 70s style of action film making where the tone and the subtle feel of the film highlights its strengths. Sure, it might have looked even better when it comes after the strange misfire that was The Island of Dr. Moreau in 1996, but the film has remarkably held up after nearly 20 years and it deserves the following it has garnered.

Friday, August 18, 2017

New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: The Boss's Head (1975)

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Notable Cast: Bunta Sugawara, Ninji Kobayashi, Kan Mikami, Ko Nishimura, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Tsunehiko Watase, Sanae Nakahara, Mikio Narita, Meiko Kaji, Junkichi Orimoto, Hideo Murota

The biggest flaw in the rebooted New Battles Without Honor and Humanity film is the fact that the first film of the trilogy is too much like its predecessors. It tried too hard to be like the original five and it came off as redundant and rushed, even with its strong direction and performances. The second of this trilogy, New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: The Boss’s Head, attempts to rectify that major issue by bringing in an entirely new story with some of the stylistic choices of the series, but some new additions and approaches. The results are definitely a step up above the first as the new ground in the film makes for a much more interesting film that pulls a bit more away from the documentary-esque structures and dense character interactions for a more straight forward yakuza action affair. Fans may be a bit more mixed on it for its deviations from the core style, but it’s a refreshing spin that has its own effective merits.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Adventurers (2017)

Director: Stephen Fung
Notable Cast: Andy Lau, Shu Qi, Jean Reno, Zhang Jing-Chu, Tony Yang, Sha Yi, Eric Tsang

With the popularity of heist films still a thing, it’s not all that shocking that the Chinese film market would want to get in on it too as the Hollywood market seems to be doing quite well over there with the style. Marvel is doing it with their Ant-Man films, the Mission: Impossible series continues to draw in crowds, and the world-wide phenomenon that The Fast and the Furious franchise has become with its globetrotting action heist adventures only seems to generate more revenue as it goes. Thusly, we get a more Mission: Impossible inspired version of Once a Thief in The Adventurers, which sports Stephen Fung in multiple facets behind the camera along with a massively impressive cast to go with it including the critically acclaimed and box office draws of both The Everlasting Andy Lau and Shu Qi in tow. Like many of the western films mentioned above, The Adventurers sets its sights on big screen suave with its international settings, cast, and adventure that’s mostly carried by the sheer charisma of its cast. It’s not a film that will have critics swooning for a new franchise, but it’s a film that earns its merits by being fun and exciting in its execution if nothing else. The Adventurers sets out for high stakes international adventure and finds a massively entertaining film in the process.

New Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1974)

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Notable Cast: Bunta Sugawara, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Reiko Ike, Nobuo Kaneko, Sanae Nakahara, Kunie Tanaka, Shingo Yamashiro, Jo Shishido

Kinji Fukasaku’s intense and impressively crafted original Battles Without Honor and Humanity series was perhaps the epic highlight of his career with dense character builds, massive gangster plotting, and gritty execution of striking effectiveness. It was also notably popular with theater goers in the mid-1970s that pulled in some serious box office revenue. So it’s perhaps not all that surprising that Toei would eventually want to keep it running. By eventually, I mean that the first entry of the New Battles Without Honor and Humanity trilogy would be released the same year as the fifth installment of the original series. Toei and Fukasaku didn’t waste any time, I suppose. This new chapter of the series, with no connection to the original five, would see the director and new writers Fumio Konami and Misao Arai start to take the franchise in a new direction with three unconnected stories using many of the same principal cast members from the original series as new characters with new stories to tell under the banner. The results, while intriguing, are mixed and don’t nearly hold a candle to the original run. The first film of the series has its merits and stands on its own decently well, but considering some of the phenomenal films that Fukasaku released in this period it does seem to be a step back in quality which should be noted even if fans are certain to find plenty of enjoyment out of them.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Re-Animator (1985)

Director: Stuart Gordon
Notable Cast: Bruce Abbott, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson

It was only last year that Arrow Video dropped on fans the fantastic new version of Bride of Re-Animator and it started a lot of online conversations about when the US would finally see some kind of new deluxe package for the original Re-Animator. Well leave it to Arrow to follow through on the unspoken promise and dropping a massive limited edition box set of the cult classic to match their previous release. Re-Animator is a film that uses its perfectly blended quirky tones of horror and comedy in the perfectly prescribed dosage and it’s quite deserving of a release like this. So not only does this film remain the iconic black comedic horror classic that has situated itself as a universal film to love for cult audiences, but this massive release matches the spunky and off beat style in an artistic manner, playing up images and content to spin fans into a fever pitch. This is the kind of collector’s release that not only showcases the a fantastic film in a grand manner, but it matches that kind of love with the features and packaging. Truly, the only thing better would have been if it came with a note attached to it that said, “Cat dead, details later.”

House on Willow Street (2017)

Director: Alastair Orr
Notable Cast: Sharni Vinson, Carlyn Burchell, Steven Ward, Zino Ventura, Gustav Gerderner, Dimitri Bailanis, Zelmia Bezuidenhout, Nicole de Klerk

One of the things that I love and hate about IFC Midnight as a distribution company is that the films that grab for release can be of varying quality. Not just in the scope of various niche genres underneath the banner of modern cult cinema, but even in quality of execution. House on Willow Street was a flick that I had decent expectations for. The trailer was solid, it had lofty production values, and the simplistic concept had me sold right away as four kidnappers accidentally kidnap  a young woman who may not be what they think she is. Unfortunately, the film is much more hit and miss in its execution than it should have been. For every fantastic moment and inspired horror punch, there is one that’s almost stunningly silly and off the mark. It leaves House on Willow Street to be an entertaining film in the end, but hardly as effective and impressive as one might expect.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Kung Fu Yoga (2017)

Director: Stanley Tong

Notable Cast: Jackie Chan, Disha Patani, Amyra Dastur, Aarif Rahman, Miya Muqi, Sonu Sood, Yixing Zhang

Stanley Tong and Jackie Chan have produced some phenomenal films together. Starting with Supercop (or as the rest of the world knows it, Police Story III,) the two have made some highly entertaining pieces of Hong Kong action spectacle. Even if their most recent output together has been less than stellar - The Myth was the last one that Tong directed, although he served as a producer on both Chinese Zodiac and Dragon Blade – it’s still a tempting combination that proves to be interesting. This leads us to Kung Fu Yoga, the massive money making hit in Asia, that sees the two reunite for another globetrotting comedy action adventure film. If anything, the conceptional idea of combining Hong Kong and Indian cinematic values is fascinating and on that level Kung Fu Yoga works as a kind of outrageous spectacle to be had that focuses on being more family friendly and easy to consume than anything else. On any other level, Kung Fu Yoga is a chore to watch and often sacrifices everything to try and awkwardly smash a Bollywood influenced essence into a modern Jackie Chan adventure flick like Chinese Zodiac. The results are awkward are best.

S Storm (2016)

Director: David Lam
Notable Cast: Louis Koo, Julian Cheung, Vic Chou, Ada Choi, Dada Chan Ching, Janelle Sing Kwan, Bowie Lam, Sek Sau, Lo Hoi-Pang, Jacky Choi, Derek Tsang Kwok-Cheung, Phillip Keung

Sometimes, being a dedicated film consumer means being a glutton for punishment. In this case, that meant watching S Storm. There is no official reason for me to watch S Storm nor is there any kind of benefit to reviewing it really, but I felt like I had to because I saw and reviewed the first film, Z Storm, for the site. The second of this newly minted franchise, S Storm might actually be inferior to its lackluster predecessor in a lot of ways. This is quite the statement. Z Storm, also starring Louis Koo, was about as underwhelming as it was flawed in its execution as a crime thriller and this sequel seems dedicated to dethroning it as one of the most irrationally crafted films I’ve seen lately. Despite some interesting ideas surrounding illegal betting and the corruption task force investigating it, S Storm is confusing, hollow, and more often than not utterly illogical in how it goes about telling its story. By the time the credits suddenly rolled out of left field at the end, I was almost impressed at how the film undercut itself at every turn and, if there is anything to be said, in that regard I should applaud it.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Boyka: Undisputed 4 (2017)

Director: Todor Chapkanov
Notable Cast: Scott Adkins, Teodora Duhovnikova, Alon Aboutboul, Julian Vergov, Brahim Achabbakhe, Paul Chahidi, Martyn Ford, Emilien De Falco, Tim Man

“Bring me your fucking champion.”

Perhaps this is just preaching to the choir, but by this point it’s pretty obvious that low budget, straight to home video action films are their own kind of art. Scoff if you want, but it’s true. Like most any other niche genre, it now has its own fanbase, its own rules, and its own set of expectations to be judged by. When it comes to this artform, it’s also pretty obvious that the Undisputed franchise are some the best there are, turning a fairly decent, but ultimately forgettable prison boxing flick into a strangely effective and rather brilliant straight to home video franchise. By introducing the world to Scott Adkins’ “most complete fighter in the world” Boyka as the villain in Undisputed II, this series suddenly had one of the most interesting action film characters in the last couple decades. Following his exploits has only proven to give the series more momentum in both quality and style, leading up to the best film of the franchise thus far, Boyka: Undisputed 4 (or just Boyka: Undisputed if you go by the main title card.) This fourth entry into the series showcases perhaps the best writing yet and continues to feature the high flying and impressive fight sequences this series has come to embrace. It’s a film that truly shows off the art form the genre has become and fans are going to eat it up.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Daggers 8 (1980) / Snake in the Monkey's Shadow (1979)

DAGGERS 8 (1980)
Director: Cheung Sum, Wilson Tong
Notable Cast: Wilson Tong, Meng Yuen-Man, Lily Li Li-Li, Peter Chan Lung, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Alan Chui Chung-San, Wong Yat-Fei, Sai Gwa-Pau, Cheung Sum

Truthfully, I stumbled into Daggers 8 on accident. The trailer for the film was randomly suggested to me on YouTube after watching something else martial arts related and I was sold. The film looked like the perfect blend of camp, strong action, and silly gimmicks. While Daggers 8 is not nearly as perfect as one would hope in balancing those three things, all three are most certainly available for those to enjoy as the film plays out. The weakest element of the film, despite the awkward dubbing, is the story which has our hero, played with the silliness and arrogance of early Jackie Chan knock off roles by Meng Yuen-Man, leaving his life under his scholarly father to pursue the life of becoming a kung fu expert. Along the way he finds three different teachers, but all three are mysteriously killed by the same assassin (played in straight face by Wilson Tong) who deals in effective killing styles with his titular eight knives.

A Cure for Wellness (2017)

Director: Gore Verbinski
Notable Cast: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Ivo Nandi, Adrian Schiller, Celia Imrie, Harry Groener

Upon hearing so many mixed opinions on A Cure for Wellness from trusted friends and critics, it was hard not to be skeptical of Gore Verbinski’s somewhat hefty return to the horror genre. It looked slick from trailers, but there was certainly a distance that it seemed to create in its viewers that didn’t spell great things. However, now that I’ve taken time to sit down with the film, I’m shocked there isn’t more love for it. It’s easy to see why more mainstream movie people would dislike A Cure for Wellness based on its somewhat abrasive approach, mixture of intent, and extensive run time, but it’s a film that uses its meticulously assured hand in crafting a cinematic experience that’s both modern and completely rooted in a decades old style that makes it both fascinating and strangely effective. A Cure for Wellness is the throwback modern horror film that the mainstream horror genre desperately needed and no one understood on its release. It’s a film guaranteed to develop a devout and voracious cult following in the years to come.