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Some of you have asked me for a list of movies we’ve reviewed.

Some of you have asked me for a list of movies we’ve reviewed–So here is a partial list to look at:

  1. A Little Woo Goes a Long Way: Red Cliff Parts 1 & 2.
  2. The Hurt Locker–Not Crap Not A Rose.
  3. The Zero Effect
  4. Miami Vice (2006)
  5. Bananas
  6. Yes Minister & Yes Prime Minister
  7. Arrested Development
  8. 12 Rounds
  9. Real Men
  10. Bad Lieutenant—The Original Not That New Crap
  11. Crank Yankers
  12. Heavenly Mission
  13. Law Abiding Citizen
  14. Armored
  15. Avatar
  16. Battle of Wits
  17. The Divine Weapon
  18. Baian The Assassin
  19. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  20. Bravo 20
  21. Diggs Town
  22. Shutter Island
  23. Lake Placid
  24. Liberty Stand Still
  25. Idiocracy
  26. Double Indemnity
  27. Frost Nixon
  28. Kung Fu the Series
  29. Looking for Mr. Good bar
  30. The Confessor
  31. Spinout
  32. Dazed and Confused
  33. The Pentagon Wars
  34. Black Hawk Down
  35. Harlem Knights
  36. Once Upon A Time in China
  37. Walking Tall
  38. The Postman
  39. Office Space
  40. Zatoichi
  41. Fight Club
  42. Judgment at Nuremburg
  43. Joe vs The Volcano
  44. Witness for the Prosecution
  45. The Big Lebowski
  46. Thunderbirds
  47. King Rat
  48. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
  49. Blade Runner
  50. Operation Petticoat
  51. Substitute 2 Schools Out
  52. Reindeer Games
  53. The Magic Blade
  54. Four Brothers
  55. Wild Things
  56. Tai Chi Master
  57. Silver Streak
  58. Stir Crazy
  59. Passenger 57
  60. Wall Street Money Never Sleeps
  61. Robin Hood (2010)
  62. Pink Panther
  63. Valliant Ones
  64. The Tick
  65. Detective Dee
  66. Viva Las Vegas
  67. The Party
  68. The Million Heiress
  69. On the Waterfront
  70. China Town
  71. Shao lin Wheel of Life
  72. 9th Gate
  73. Punishment Park
  74. FM
  75. Bottle Rocket
  76. Turk 182
  77. Heathers
  78. Samurai Fiction
  79. Glen Gary Glen Ross
  80. Inside Job Battle of Los Angeles
  81. Smokey & The Bandit
  82. Sharkeys Machine
  83. The Third Shadow
  84. Malone
  85. Hara-kiri
  86. City Heat
  87. Keeping up with the Joneses
  88. Musashi 1954
  89. Zen & Sword and Showdown at Hannyazaka
  90. Musashi NHK Series
  91. Duel at Ichijoji Temple (1955) a/k/a Zoku Miyamoto Musashi: Ichijôji no kettô.
  92. Movies 3&4 of the 5 Part Series–Musashi Birth of the 2 Sword Style and Musashi Miyamoto 4: Duel at Ichijoji Temple.
  93. Musashi NHK Part 2
  94. Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island
  95. Body Slam
  96. Iron Eagle
  97. Run
  98. The General
  99. Divine Weapon Redux
  100. Harvey Birdman Attorney At  Law
  101. Owls Castle
  102. 13 Assassins
  103. Chain Reaction
  104. The Chill Factor
  105. The Dark Crystal
  106. Escape from New York
  107. The Interpreter
  108. A certain killer
  109. Rough Cut
  110. My Fair Lady
  111. McFarlane vs Judge
  112. McFarlane vs Judge
  113. McFarlane vs Judge
  114. A Cruel Story
  115. Heart Break Ridge
  116. Posse
  117. Monk (Series)
  118. Men Who Tread on the Tigers Tail
  119. Love American Style
  120. The John Larroquette Show
  121. The Ropers
  122. Cannon Ball
  123. Top Gun
  124. Beverly Hills Cop
  125. Hero
  126. Kill Bill
  127. Kill Bill

I will try to get this list current and keep it that way.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on January 10, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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Yes only 6-8 months late we finally get the Hero review written by none other than Bonnie! Savor this review we had to file suit to get this review done.

Hero is a movie so rich in content that I almost can’t bear to watch it.  In my opinion, nobody should sit down and watch Hero from beginning to end in one sitting.  What you should do is get the DVD of Hero and watch a section at a time.  Better yet, watch each section several times.  This isn’t the kind of movie in which the plot slowly unfolds.  Though yes, it is one of those movies where the plot line is gradually revealed to be radically different than the way in which it was previously presented, even that isn’t the point of Hero.  What is the point?  Visual art painted in motion, the artful juxtaposition of cinematography with not only martial art but also the art of etiquette, ritual and ceremony.

Here is the story.

As the movie opens, we meet Nameless, a Prefect (the lowest rank in the kingdom of Qin).  He has come to let the Qin Emperor know that he has defeated, and killed, the emperor’s three legendary assassins, Sky, Broken Sword, and Flying Snow.  The Emperor, naturally, wants to know how Nameless managed to defeat such peerless warriors.  As Nameless tells the story, we see it unfold — first his telling, then the version told by the Emperor, who is shrewd enough to read between the lines, and then Nameless’ correction of the details overlooked by the Emperor.  The question is, did Nameless truly defeat Sky, Broken Sword, and Flying Snow — or did he conspire with them, convincing them to lay down their lives in order to give him the opportunity to get close enough to the Emperor to have a chance at slaying him?  Or was there a conspiracy, but one in which there was dissension in the ranks?

The answer to all these questions, the real crux of the matter, lies in the question of whether or not it was possible for Sky and Flying Snow to throw their matches with Nameless so skillfully that the Emperor’s own troops could be made eyewitnesses to testify on Nameless’ behalf.  Likewise, was Nameless skillful enough to defeat Sky and Flying Snow by apparently, but not actually, killing them — with a sword stroke so precise that it appears to kill, but allows one’s opponent, later, to be revived?

I’m not going to tell you the rest of the plot, because it is so convoluted that, frankly, you should just watch the movie and see it unfold for yourself.  Let’s move on to the actors, who are incredibly awesome.  This is a star-studded cast.  We have Jet Li (five time Wushu gold medalist) as Nameless.  Donnie Yen, who often stars in films with Jet Li, plays Sky – and these two incomparable martial artists deliver what I consider to be the best scene in the film, the duel between Nameless and Sky.  Broken Sword is played by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, who you should recognize if you have seen Red Cliff, in which he played Zhou.  (If you have not seen Red Cliff, you are excused from the rest of this review – please take four hours RIGHT NOW to go watch Red Cliff.)  Maggie Cheung, an actress who from the age of 18 has been handed role after role in Hong Kong films without even having to audition, plays Flying Snow.  Because Hero unfolds several different plots for your consideration (and the Qin Emperor’s), each of these actors essentially played at least three different roles.

I can’t speak in any kind of an educated way about the cinematography of this film – I’m not an artist – but I have to bring it up, because it literally makes the film.  Hero’s director, Yimou Zhang, should join the ranks of Kurosawa in film history.  Each scene is Hero is up to Kurosawa’s standards – and that is saying a lot.  These scenes also bring to mind the duel between Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu in Kill Bill (another Quentin Tarantino film, though I am puzzled about Tarantino’s role in Hero – the credits mention him somewhat ambiguously).

Each scene has a color theme, and the actors wear different colors depending on the plot variation that is being acted out.  The use of color in Hero can only be described as exquisite, and it is something that you almost never see in American films.  (Or rather, I have almost never seen it – but I don’t watch as many movies as the rest of you JPFMovies fans.)

And then there are the truly sweet parts of the film.  Nameless and Sky stopping their fight to give coins to the blind Biwa player, asking him to play on as they duel.  The calligraphy teacher telling his students to keep practicing even as arrows rain down through the school’s roof and walls.  Broken Sword’s decision not to block Snow’s fatal sword thrust, just because he needs to make a point.  The lesson being taught again and again here – let’s not miss it, please – is that it’s not about WHETHER you live or die.  It’s about HOW you live or die.  That’s the point of all the etiquette.  It’s not some cute cultural reference or cinematic device – not ultimately – what it’s about, is dignity.  

Some movies are all plot. Some are all about the character development – and/or the cast. Some movies focus purely on cinematography.  Some movies push a strong moral. This movie does it all.

Finally, I know JPFmovies has been waiting a long time (probably more than six months) for this review.  But now do you see why?  Any sort of proper consideration of this movie takes a person in a million different directions.  How can it even fit in a blog post?  In 800 words or so all I have done is to sketch the outlines of Hero for you.  Can you blame me for taking so long to write this?  (JPFmovies can!)

Go forth and watch this rose of a movie, but just a little at a time, as if you were eating a box of chocolates – I know it’s Christmas, but that’s no reason to stuff yourself.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on December 25, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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If there was one man in Japan who deserved a six-post series of reviews, who would it be?

Post your guesses in the comments section below. The first installment will appear late Wednesday night. Happy hunting! (Silver and Dangerous, I will be appalled if you don’t already know who this is, but please hold off on posting your answers until Tuesday night to give the dilettantes a chance to guess.)

Here are your clues:

  • arguably the greatest swordfighter of all time
  • for a while, supported himself by teaching children to read and write
  • had three adopted sons
  • some (Bonnie) consider him commitment-phobic
  • fought on the losing side at Sekigahara
  • self-taught
  • punctuality-challenged and
  • at least one old lady considered him a real jerk!
 
7 Comments

Posted by on April 10, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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Samurai Fiction: The Original Kill Bill—Sorry Quentin Tarantino The Cat’s Out The Bag.

Quentin Tarantino, meet Hiroyuki Nakano. Oh, wait a minute. Sorry, my mistake. You’ve already met. Well, can I introduce you to Kinji Fukasaku? Oh, sorry, that’s right. You’ve met him too. In fact, Quentin, you know almost everyone in this room, don’t you? Ah well, go and mingle. But just so you know, your cat is out of the bag now. You’ve been mining Asian movies for ideas for years, haven’t you? Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

 

As for the rest of you Tarantino fans out there, if you haven’t done so already, meet Samurai Fiction – a delight of a movie rivaled only by Kurusawa’s Sanjuro. Nobody could doubt the absolute awesomeness of a good Japanese martial arts flick – but likewise, nobody watching one could doubt that these samurai seriously need to chill out and take a five minute break. Well, Kurusawa in Sanjuro and Nakano in Samurai Fiction give us that break, poking a little fun at samurai seriousness while not denying us our martial movement fix for the day. Evidently Tarantino was as delighted as the rest of us by these and other great Asian martial arts films – and he plagiarizes them – oops, I mean pays homage to them – shamelessly.

 

Samurai Fiction’s opening titles, in which samurai performing kata are silhouetted against a red background, were in turn satirized in blue & black in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1. Also, Tarantino used Hotei’s famous instrumental track “Shin Jingi Naki Tatakai” (“Battle Without Honor or Humanity” – the title of a classic yakuza movie by Kinji Fukasaku, a major influence on Tarantino) as background music for Kill Bill Vol. 1. Hotei played Kazamatsuri in Samurai Fiction and composed its soundtrack.

 

Tarantino admits that he gets his ideas from old movies mainly Asian and anyone with any knowledge of both movies would see that Tarantino takes names, significant parts of stories and other elements from Asian cinema.  When asked about plagiarizing ideas from other movies, he stated, “I lift ideas from other great films just like every other great filmmaker.” Is that why the ear-cutting scene from Reservoir Dogs was STOLEN from Django? Or why one of the fighting scenes in Kill Bill Vol. 1 is basically an exact copy of a scene from Samurai Fiction? Those are more than some pretty big ideas.

 

That said, let’s get down to business.   The film was directed by Hiroyuki Nakano and it is almost entirely black-and-white, and follows a fairly standard plotline for a comedy and jidaigeki samurai film, but the presence of Tomoyasu Hotei’s rock-and-roll soundtrack separates it from the films it was inspired by, such as the works of Akira Kurosawa. A loose spinoff was released in 2001, as Red Shadow.

 

While the film is nearly entirely in black-and-white, paying homage to older samurai movies, this allows for the artistic and dramatic use of color; this is most noticeable whenever a character is killed, and the screen flashes red for a moment. Color is used to dramatic effect at the beginning and end of the film as well to focus the audience in what they are watching.

 

The plot centers on Inukai Heishiro (Fukikoshi Mitsuru), the son of a clan officer. One of his clan’s most precious heirlooms, a sword given them by the Shogun, has been stolen by the samurai Kazamatsuri (Tomoyasu Hotei). Against his father’s advice, Heishiro insists on retrieving the sword himself. His father sends two ninja after him to make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.

 

Kazamatsuri wounds Heishiro, and kills one of his companions. The young noble ends up staying with an older samurai (Morio Kazama) and his daughter Koharu (Tamaki Ogawa) while he heals from his wound and plans his next move. The older samurai tries to dissuade him from fighting, but Heishiro’s honor won’t allow him to leave Kazamatsuri alive. The older samurai, who turns out to be the master Hanbei Mizogushi, convinces him to fight Kazamatsuri by throwing rocks rather than with swords.

 

Meanwhile Kazamatsuri settles for a few days at a gambling house owned by Lady Okatsu (Mari Atsuki), who falls in love with him. Then one night one of the ninja sent to protect Heishiro bribes her to poison his sake for one thousand gold. She does, but Kazamatsuri tastes the poison and kills Okatsu. He then kidnaps Koharu in an attempt to get the master Mizoguchi to fight him.

 

Mizoguchi reveals to Heishiro that he killed Koharu’s father, and has since never drawn his sword on another man, despite his immense skill. They then go to find Kazamatsuri and rescue Koharu. While Mizoguchi stalls Kazamatsuri, Heishiro takes Koharu aside and says he will marry her if Mizoguchi wins. Kazamatsuri fights Mizoguchi, who only draws his sword after his opponent destroys his wooden sword. He then disarms Kazamatsuri near a cliff. Kazamatsuri, admitting defeat, commits suicide by jumping off the cliff. Heishiro and the others go to the bottom, where there is no sign of Kazamatsuri’s body, but Koharu spots the stolen sword at the bottom of the river, where Heishiro retrieves it.

Flash forward one year. Heishiro has married Koharu, the sword is restored, and Mizoguchi is now an official in Heishiro’s clan.

 

The film has a number of inside jokes and allusions. For example, the stolen sword that is at the center of the plot was a personal possession of Toshirō Mifune, the star of many of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films. One of Heishiro’s closest friends is named Kurosawa.

 

Between the rock and roll background and Hotei’s portrayal of Kazamatsuri’s cool disdain for the skills of the bumbling samurai who pursue him, it’s impossible not to become lost in admiration at Hotei’s ability to slide effortlessly and apparently in a state of total relaxation, from noncombat to combat situations — for example, when he is confronted by young Heishiro and his companions, Hotei as Kazamatsuri is so unconcerned by their presence that he turns coolly away to take a leak by the side of the road before responding to their taunts and challenges.

 

So, Tarantino fans, and those who think American cinema is the cat’s ass, why don’t you smell an Asian one? Why do I watch so many Asian movies? Apparently what I’m really doing is watching the future of American moviemaking, since American directors are so bankrupt of ideas that they have no recourse but to follow foreign filmmakers meekly as they lead them around by the nose.

 
23 Comments

Posted by on February 25, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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Detective Dee—The latest “wuxia” movie recommended by our woman from the land down under.

Detective Dee—The latest “wuxia” movie recommended by our woman from the land down under.  With guest co-author Bonnie (who has not actually seen the movie but still feels free to offer an opinion and research and who may have imbibed some sense of Detective Dee via osmosis when her parents were reading the Judge Dee mysteries based on this character many years ago).

I am sitting in the Houston airport for the next 9 hours waiting for my plane to  . . . well you’ll read about that later.  Anyways, I asked Dangerous what she thought the next movie we may want to take a look at should be and she said take a look at Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010).  So I did.

Detective Dee is played by Asian movie and pop legend Andy Lau (Battle of Wits—Mozy Warriors and many others) and is a good “popcorn” movie.  Detective Dee is the latest “wuxia” movie directed by Tsui Hark—a pioneer of the wuxia genre.  Wuxia films are particular to China; they blend martial arts with chivalry and tend to have a protagonist who is similar to, but not quite the same as, a Western knight-errant.

Not only does this movie have Andy Lau in it (which always makes it a must-see in my book), but it is directed by the formidable Tsui Hark (who will, incidentally, be helping to judge the feature films category at the Cannes Film Festival this year). Hark also directed Once Upon a Time in China (for a link to our friend Silver’s masterful review of that flick, click here). Standing at 5’9” (it’s amazing what you can find out on IMDB), he is considered a master of the kung fu action genre and, from what I saw (and what Bonnie didn’t see) here, I have to say that he is a master of the wuxia subgenre as well.

The story is about a woman who is about to become emperor and unite China.  Naturally she is getting many people in the kingdom all pissed off because a woman is about to ascend to the throne.  In honor of her coronation a 1,000 foot Buddha is being constructed overlooking the palace.  Officials working on the statue are starting to self-immolate; that is, bursting in to flames from the inside out. (I hate it when that happens!) With the coronation not far off the soon to be empress needs these crimes solved to avoid any taint on her ascension to the throne.

She calls in Detective Dee, the Sherlock Holmes of China.  Dee also happened to be one of the leaders of a revolt against her when he emperor-husband died under mysterious circumstances.  I guess when you need the best you need the best.

Detective Dee starts his investigation which begins to reveal an ugly trail of deceit and murder perpetrated by the Empress to seize power. Her motto is “everyone is expendable in the pursuit of power.” As Dee gets closer and closer to finding the truth, the stakes get higher and higher for his life. However, it is Dee’s old assistant, who was tortured by the Empress to the tune of having one of his hands cut off, who is responsible for the Phantom Flame deaths. His axe to grind is simple: revenge. He was tortured for years and as we know, payback’s a bitch. His plan is to have the Buddha crash down on the coronation ceremony, killing everyone in the palace. Dee figures this out and puts a stop to the madness.

This movie is interesting because the viewer does not have a clear “hero riding on a white horse” to sympathize with. The Empress and the assistant are each quite a piece of work; the Empress has got a trail of dead bodies as long as the Boston Marathon, while the assistant has been putting beetles into people to cause them to self-immolate (they weren’t really immolating themselves out of anguish over watching a woman ascend to the throne, as it turns out).

Any of you who know anything about me know I am a big Asian movie fan.  So it’s good to see another big budget, big screen Asian movie hit the theaters, though it probably will not get any decent play in the states a la Red Cliff (bastardizing the movie by leaving two hours of film on the cutting room floor).

 
7 Comments

Posted by on October 31, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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Our Woman From Down Under Looks at “Valiant Ones.”

As you may recall, our woman from the land down under, Dangerous Meredith, won any DVD of her choice and she happened to choose “Valiant Ones” (a/k/a Zhong lie tu).  Directed by King Hu, with action choreography by Sammo Hung.  So let’s see what Dangerous has to say:

Valiant Ones

Directed by King Hu, with action choreography by Sammo Hung.

Cast and crew  found here:

http://www.hkcinemagic.com/en/movie.asp?id=2572

Final fight scene:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NF_gDlm0SyU

The overall look to this film is elegant and spare. It is mostly set in a forest, with some interior shots of headquarters and tents. Some of the action also takes place on a sea-shore, and the first action scene happens in and around an inn in a poor fishing village. The costumes could be considered as being tasteful rather than glamorous, and feature scholars’ robes, peasant dress and soldiers’ uniforms. Even the high officials’ rich robes feature somber colors. The palette for the art direction in this movie sits harmoniously with the greens of the forest and the blues of the sea against which it is set: blues, grays, beige’s, browns and whites predominate. The occasional red of some soldiers’ uniforms is a nicely judged splash of color.

The performances could be called elegant and spare as well. Although the actors all use the ultra intense eye focus and graceful and stylized placement of gestures, limbs and bodies that is (to me anyway) a hall mark of kung fu movie acting, there is no really ‘big’ or extravagant acting here. The simple plot and action choreography do not seem to call for it. Our heroes are a band of fighters that have been called together to take on a troupe of pirates that are threatening to colonise part of China’s coast. The fighters are experienced and adept martial arts veterans. They are taciturn, dignified, cunning and of serious intent. Outrageous shenanigans are not their bag. In keeping with the austere overall tone of this movie, even the villains are not as over the top as in some chopsockies.

It is as if director King Hu has done away with anything that could be a distraction to the forward motion of his plot. There are no tizzy costumes, no fake tiger skin rugs, no bizarre and gurning villains in this film. The one female warrior is nicely dressed, yes, but she does not wear a pastel coloured costume or fake eye lashes. Instead the intentness of the Valiant Ones, the build of tension as they wait for the pirate attack on their forest camp, the ploys they use to outwit the pirates, are presented to us in a steady unfolding of plot.

The action scenes break out as a necessary expression of the tension and contained energy that builds during the film. The action scenes are embedded skillfully in the narrative, as they are in the best kung fu movies. In one way, the dialogue scenes could be seen as setting the scene for the fights. But in another way, the plot developments and expression of character and feeling that is contained in the choreography seems to initiate and make sense of the atmosphere in the dialogue driven scenes. The libretto of this film has a nice balance between dialogue and action, and these 2 components have been skillfully integrated.

The lovely choreography in this film is interesting. One the one hand it is by far the most flamboyant and fanciful element of this movie. But, compared to other kung fu movie choreography, it is (as with all other aspects of Valiant Ones) pared down and more austere. There are no balletic, acrobatic, wire fu inspired fantastic flights of fancy here. The movement is elegant but not in the least bit quirky or whimsical or baroque. The fight scenes do their job – they serve the plot – and then they contribute just enough beauty to ensure the aesthetic appeal of the film (but not one jot more). I have just finished blogging about the fight in the White Lotus temple in Once Upon A Time in China 2. Choreographed by Yuen Wu Ping, this fight scene does a grand job of supporting its host movie’s themes and narrative but could also stand alone as an independent piece of performance art. None of the fight scenes in Valiant Ones could quite do that. The intention behind the choreographing, directing and filming of the action here is quite different.

Editors Notes:  Dangerous always writes almost metaphysical reviews of movies which are a welcome change of pace from your run of the mill recitation of the facts.

Thanks Dangerous!

 
6 Comments

Posted by on October 22, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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