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Writ last won the day on February 27 2017

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  1. I question the inclusion of The Dark Knight Rises and Spy. I personally don't like either of these films, but taking that bias away, they're not good "action" films. The Dark Knight Rises in particular has terrible action with some of the worst continuity editing I've ever seen. More controversially, I don't think Captain America: The Winter Soldier should be included either as there's too much shaky cam and it isn't even the good type of shaky cam. On a more positive note though, I'd say a lot of the movies they've included are pretty good (I love Gemini Man, absolutely revolutionary in terms of action film making). I personally would add Blackhat, Baahubali, Resident Evil: Retribution (whatever you think of it as a film, check out the quality of those action sequences!) and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets to the list amongst others.
  2. I've been a little slower on watching martial arts films in recent times because I'm trying to catch up on, well, the rest of film history. Here are a few words about a few I've seen recently: Killers Five (1969) (I actually posted this review on Letterboxd) This was a rather pleasant surprise. It's pretty much what it says on the tin, but it gives just a little more to chew on. The characters and their interactions are pretty fun and each of them are utilised as much as they can be in the 81 minute run time. What really got me was the camera work and editing which is interestingly inconsistent (as in different styles rather than sometimes good sometimes bad). I really appreciated the almost Lynchian ("almost" because they're much shorter) tracking shots when our characters are travelling, obstacles be damned, giving these scenes a sense of paranoia. In an almost jump scare-like fashion it would cut back to our characters reacting to something and then it would kinda return to normal shot-reverse shot. Another example is one of the early fight scenes being some pre-Tsui Hark madness with cause (sword swinging), effect (wounds) and consequence (wounded falling over) being separated by hard cuts. It essentially uses a weakness (action being obscured by close ups and fast cuts) and pushes that into beautiful abstraction. Blood Brothers (1973) Chang Cheh is one of my favourite film directors, martial arts or otherwise and Blood Brothers is probably the one that best showcases why. One of his "iron triangle" films, Ti Lung, David Chiang and Chen Kuan-Tai are all in top form. With Chang, you don't need to worry about lack of fighting. What makes this film though is that it also has a really great script. Most of Chang's films had bog standard, or even downright terrible scripts, all made watchable through his masterful direction, but with Blood Brothers, we get the full package with fully fleshed-out characters, character development and top notch action. There's even a pretty decent female role (non-fighting) in this one, and if you know Chang, that's quite the anomaly. The Executioner (1974) (Also posted on Letterboxd) When it's a Sunday afternoon and I'm tired and I really want to watch a movie, but nothing too demanding, movies like this are exactly what I'm looking for. Unpretentious, beautifully grotesque, bone crunching fun. The Executioner II: Karate Inferno (1974) Everything I said about the first one, but interestingly, the director Teruo Ishii didn't want to direct this film so he did everything he could to make it bad. In so doing, he actually just made it really funny. It's still got everything you'd expect from an Ishii film - nudity, violence and nothing particularly classy, but all shot with beautiful cinematography. Reminds me a lot of the Lucky Star films where a bunch of friends just kinda mess with each other most of the movie, but when things need to get done, they manage to do so hilariously and spectacularly. Eastern Condors (1987) Sammo Hung is one of the unsung action film directors. Sure, he's a well known action star, but his film making is severely underrated. While the script in this one is quite weak, he milks as much goodness as he can out of it, building relationships between characters, adding moments of levity to give us a break in an otherwise nihilistic film and of course his trademark fight choreography. The budget in this one looks pretty high as well with a lot of outdoor sets, all manner of vehicles including trucks and tanks, and heaps of weaponry including cannons and grenades meaning you'll see heaps of explosions. This unfortunately means that we get a little less hand to hand combat, but there's still plenty of it in the end and the gun action is still pretty top notch. Not one of Sammo's best because the script moves along a little bit too fast (I'd love to see more of those outdoor sets, but we move way too fast), but definitely worth a watch.
  3. This is great! I haven't posted in some time because life has just been so busy, but I'm so glad that one of my reviews has contributed to this mega compilation. I'll make sure not to dissappear for too long next time because I'd love to contribute more if I can!
  4. Hero (1997) Directed by Corey Yuen I'll preface this review by saying that I've seen both the original Boxer from Shantung and one of the recent remakes Once Upon a Time in Shanghai. Both of them have their strengths and weaknesses as films, and I love some aspects of one much better than the other. Hero is another retelling of that same story from 1997 and just like those two films also has some aspects which I love much more than either of the other two. It feels weird saying this, but if you smashed the best aspects of all three films together, you'd actually get a really great film. As it is, all three films are very good, but they have parts which prevent them from reaching greatness. Let's get into this. The film starts introducing our lead Ma Wing Jing (played by Takeshi Kaneshiro) and his brother Ma Tai Cheung (played by Yuen Wah) attempting to board a train. Off the bat, it looks like your typical 90s Hong Kong action film which is both good and bad. It looks messy as all hell - think The Heroic Trio where a lot of images don't seem to link to each other and it's a little bit difficult to tell what is happening. On the flipside though, these images tend to be absolutely beautiful. I'll be showing a few examples of these a little bit later. One advantage this film has over the original is that it seems to effortlessly build its world. Just a few shots early on - people out on the streets cutting hair, shining shoes, making goods - it sets the scene immediately that while there may be jobs, it doesn't necessarily mean that people will prosper. This is even immediately reinforced by the fact that our two leads are fired from their jobs as soon as we understand this. Many of the classic Shaw Brothers films, as beautiful as they were with their studio-bound sets tended to be rather weak when it came to building worlds and atmosphere unless it was meant to be otherworldly. Hero has the advantage of having outdoor sets and probably a much bigger budget meaning they could actually afford to build the world physically rather than through implication. Of course this is just my opinion, and I'm sure many would argue for the classic SB style of world building. Another thing this film does incredibly well it the dramatic staging. When Yuen Biao's Tam See first enters the film, the way the camera slowly follows his movements, the way Yuen stares at the camera, the larger than life music that is almost like a wrestler's theme song. It builds him up to be the big boss without having to explain who he is. Of course, the characters don't know he is Tam See, but we can pretty safely assume that he is. Shortly after this entrance, we are treated to our first real fight scene of the film. It isn't quite as grounded or brutal as the original, and it isn't quite as gimmicky as the 2014 remake. It is however just as what you'd expect out of your 90s HK action films. Larger than life. We have wuxia styled action in our more traditional-esque kung fu films. The fights are more than just punches and kicks, but the environment plays a big part. Wooden poles, and chairs, and tables, and boxes. Think Once Upon a Time in China. The action is more flashy and less realistic. More Tsui Hark than Chang Cheh. A good comparison actually because this film cuts a lot just like Tsui would in his films, but the shots here are held probably a fraction longer than in any of Tsui's films. And here's an example of one of the beautiful images this film produces. If we were to look at this from a real world standpoint, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but damn if it isn't beautiful. Biao's character, regardless of how well intentioned he is, is still a gangster and a gangster's life is unfortunately a lonely one. He wants to retire, but once you're in, you're in for life. This is a theme that comes back a little later on. Of course our "hero" Kaneshiro has no idea what being a gangster would entail. Almost immediately following that scene is this one. Kaneshiro and Yuen are seen sitting on some stairs. They're working their way up in the world and their ambitions see them above the regular people that go about their lives without question. I just love how Yuen shows this physically - the ambitious ones are half way up the stairs and everyone else is down below. A little later on, we get this shot. Ironically not a particularly beautiful shot, but in it's own way holds a double meaning. Wing Jing has made it to the top and he can now look down on everyone else. But he isn't happy like he thought he would be. The love of his life has left the town and as far as he is concerned, the only other thing in his life is being rich and famous. He's got that, so what now? The only thing he can do is be more rich and more famous. And one more screenshot just because I love this scene: Just an example of the flashiness of the action scenes. Its unique colour scheme doesn't only lend itself to the action scenes though. We have a scene earlier than this one in which we have otherworldly purple and red lights lighting up the dance club. There's definitely a lot to like about this film. I've mentioned much of it, but there really is much more. There is a good amount of humour which actually works! There's a scene in which the Ma brothers are at the police station and try to steal a gun which I found hilarious. There's also Kaneshiro who makes for a great lead. It'll be a controversial opinion, but I actually prefer him over Chen Kuan Tai from the original if only because Kaneshiro is so much more charismatic, and he fits the whole arrogant, ambitious and charming archetype much more. Chen looks so much more humble. I will mention though that Chen's martial arts skills are much better than that of Kaneshiro's, but Yuen works around that disadvantage with some really good camerawork. Another scene I just wanted to make mention of because I found it incredibly interesting is actually rather early on in the film. Kaneshiro's character jumps up onto the stage of the dance club and starts playing the drums. At this point, the cutting of the film actually corresponds to the tempo of the drums. This creates some amazing tension where it cuts between the faces of the Axe Gang, our protagonists, the singer, the hands holding the axes and back between all of them. People thought this type of editing was amazing in the recent Baby Driver, but Hong Kong films seem to have been doing this casually for decades prior. There are a couple things I dislike about this film however. The film is a bit short clocking in at about 90 minutes. This makes the film easy to watch, but the film could have used some time to slow down. A few contemplative scenes would have been nice, as well as a few more character building ones. I think the original Boxer from Shantung had a good length at over 2 hours as it gave the film more time to develop each of the pieces. This one feels very rushed at points. Once Upon a Time in Shanghai has a very similar problem but at least that film doesn't feel like it cut entire scenes out. The other thing I'm not too fond of is the fact that the film turns into a shootout for the iconic fight between Ma and the Axe Gang. In fact, this time, it isn't just 1 vs many because Tam See even survives and a bunch of the other gang members show up to help fight as well. This really is a shame because I love the way that the martial arts was shot in this film and was looking forward to how they would present this fight. It's more comprehensible than Tsui's films, and just as beautiful even if flashy and unrealistic. Luckily it reverts back to some hand to hand combat when both Yuen and Kaneshiro take on Yuen Tak for the final fight, and as short as it is, it's pretty great. To summarise, this is a really good film. I think I probably reviewed this one more as a film than as a kung fu movie, but to be honest, I think the fact that there is just so much to talk about craft wise that it deserves it. To be honest, the three films I've mentioned in this review are all well crafted, but I think this one is the most interesting because it tends to go out of the usual comfort zone a lot more, as well as having actors that just work better for the roles.
  5. Alright, let's try this again since I completely dropped the ball on the previous mutual review I tried to join. I'll be doing 1997's Hero. I promise not to disappear this time!
  6. I do wish I had more knowledge of 90s HK films to contribute more to the discussion, but as it stands, I really haven't watched enough. Two more that might fit the bill of "alternative HK films" might be A Hero Never Dies and Where a Good Man Goes. They are Johnnie To films, but they tend to be overlooked in his filmography - not quite as popular as The Mission or Running Out of Time though I think they're actually more interesting than the latter two. Where a Good Man Goes especially is actually quite unique in his entire filmography with maybe only Throw Down (which is a 2004 film of his) matching it's quirkiness while A Hero Never Dies is absolutely bonkers even by To's crazy standards.
  7. Really sorry for getting back so late as well! I've watched The Master and I've got a bunch of notes written down for it. I'll piece that together into a proper review at some point but I've just been way busier than I expected recently.
  8. I shall be! Currently thinking about what film I want to do this month. I'll be back once I've decided!
  9. Writ

    Atomic Blonde (2017)

    I caught this last week and had a pretty good time with it. Similar to The Villainess, it's carried almost solely by the quality of it's action. The story really isn't much to write home about (the film ends like 3, 4 times? And each of the endings get progressively worse), but the film is absolutely gorgeous to look at and cold war settings for action movies are always fun. But I really didn't care for the story - the parts where characters just sat around talking to each other bored me in pretty much the same way that parts of the first John Wick movie did. Interestingly enough, John Wick Chapter 2 didn't have this problem. So if this is anything to go by, I might make go ahead and make the proclamation that Chad Stahelski is a better director than David Leitch. I really don't know what it is about these slower scenes in Leitch's films that bore me, but if I ever find out, I'll definitely make note of it. Anyway, the action in Atomic Blonde is phenomenal. There is a faux long take in the third act which is absolutely amazing. It lasts like 15-20 minutes and the camera follows Charlize Theron kicking ass as she progresses through a hotel. And damn does she kick ass in convincing fashion. It isn't slick quick kills like it is with John Wick. Here, it's sloppy, brutal, dirty. You feel every punch as they're thrown. Theron's beautiful face is beaten to a pulp, she's hardly able to walk and it's painful just watching, but the movie sticks with it. Leitch finds the beauty in the grotesque and it just works. I'm not much for giving scores, but maybe a 7.5 out of 10? It'd be much higher if it wasn't bogged down by a weak story, witless dialogue (it feels like it's kinda trying to ape Tarantino styled dialogue and it doesn't quite work) and progressively sillier endings (and endings are the parts we all remember making it that much more important), but hey, 10/10 for the action.
  10. Really exciting news! Hana-bi really is one of the best Japanese movies I've ever seen and one of my favourite movies ever. If you only ever watch one Takeshi Kitano film in your life, I'd say that this one should be it. Sonatine might be his most idiosyncratic work, but Hana-bi feels like his most personal, and the absolute perfect culmination of the style he was working towards up till that point.
  11. Writ

    I Am a Hero (2015) - Japanese Zombie Movie!

    I agree with everything here but I would personally add a 0.5 to the score. There are moments of greatness such as the scene that has our protagonist running through the streets where people are just discovering the outbreak. The gore effects are really disgusting and are simultaneously scary and funny. The movie slows down a lot in the second half and brings in anime cliche plot points that go nowhere such as the cute girl who gains amazing zombie powers and yet can never use them when she needs to (which is a stupid plot point and pointless). But for all the fluff, there is heart wrenching character work, great action scenes and a likeable protagonist that keeps the movie afloat. I disagree with One Armed Boxer here though and I think Train to Busan is the slightly superior movie if only because that movie runs along at a much more consistent pace and is more consistently suspenseful and exhilarating. Both are very flawed films, but both are very good entertainment and I really wouldn't mind more Asian zombie films if they continue to be this good.
  12. Writ

    The Villainess (2017)

    I did catch this in cinemas a couple weeks back. Absolutely unbelievable camerawork combined with extremely kinetic action making it probably one of the most exciting films of the last few years. I imagine this is what got the film a spot on the Cannes Out of Competition. However, the story, while having somewhat of an interesting background, is actually very uninteresting and barebones. "Important" characters get pulled in just to be killed for dramatic purposes and big plot points are made with no build up. I always love myself a good melodrama, but the melodrama in this dives right into cheese territory. BUT, this film is 100% worth a watch. Seriously. The action scenes are incredible and I guarantee you've never seen camerawork as involved and breathtaking as the stuff you'll see in this film. It turns ugliness into pure beauty. While the script could've definitely used a lot of work and the tonal control is all over the show, I'm actually really excited to see what else this director puts out if only because he has a lot of potential to in the future make a legitimately great film.
  13. Agreed. I thought it might be controversial for me to say, but seriously one of the most mediocre films I've ever seen, so I'm glad someone around here agrees. Not even saved by the action scenes which are completely incomprehensible even by modern Hollywood standards. Michael Keaton was awesome though, so good to the point that I was actually rooting for him.
  14. Alright, this time for a quick review. I actually watched this film a week ago, but I couldn't think of anything to say. I still can't really think of much, but here are a few thoughts. The Rebel Intruders (1980) Directed by Chang Cheh I really do like Chang Cheh as a director - he elevated bog standard material to the realms of watchability and occasionally near greatness. It's really sad then that every time I want to review one of his films, there really isn't much to say about them. Apart from some overarching themes in his work (brotherhood, honour, all that usual heroic bloodshed stuff), there is very little to talk about with regards to his films. Did I have fun watching this? Yeah, definitely. Are the fights good? It's as good as it gets with the Venoms brand of athletic and energetic choreography. Thing is, Chang always had other things on his mind when directing a film. He didn't care about an interesting or unique story. He didn't care about compelling characters. He didn't care for his female characters a good majority of the time. He was more about showing off the male form in spectacularly choreographed combat. It generally works, but it also makes his films very difficult to analyse or call a favourite because they're so interchangeable with the repeated themes and attitude towards everything but the usual heroic bloodshed cliches. With that said, I don't think I even need to get into the story here. It is worth mentioning that Chang knows his audience and there are a few surprise plot twists because of how well we know his films and his actors, but in so doing, he also wastes some of his actors. There's some potentially interesting material here such as the mistreatment of refugees and the poor and corruption in the higher ranks of the army, but that isn't explored beyond giving our heroes motivation to fight back. And yes, there is heaps of action. The action is definitely top notch with all five of the Venoms showing off their skills in a variety of situations. Some of the costumes are pretty weird, but the simple colour scheme makes it very easy for us to know who is who in the big scraps that this film also has a quite a number of. That said, if you're a fan of Chang, it's definitely worth the watch because it is a very fun film. But as usual, don't expect much more than that to latch onto. It's more simplistic than even a lot of his other films because this one doesn't even seem to care about the characters all that much. But hey, if there's good fights, what more can we ask for in our martial arts films?
  15. Thanks! I've really wanted to get into reviewing movies, and having this obligation to the monthly review thread is great for getting me to do so. Yeah, I also felt the same way - just wanting to complete Lau's entire oeuvre. I haven't even finished seeing all of Lau's "good" films yet, but I really wanted to get some of the weaker ones out of the way. Lau really was one of the great directors of the 70s and 80s, but his commitment to only doing martial arts films means he was generally overlooked as another one of those exploitative trash directors. It's a shame really, but I think in the next few years, especially with the recent average improvement in film literacy throughout the mainstream, his films (especially his best ones) might finally get more respect as perfect expressions of a unique auteur. Anyway, I think I might review one more for this month. It'll be The Rebel Intruders (1980).