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Yamada: The Samurai of Ayothaya (2010) and Dangerous this one has choreography for you.

Yamada: The Samurai of Ayothaya is a 2010 Thai action movie directed by Nopporn Watin. The film features renowned Muay Thai boxers Buakaw Por. Pramuk, Saenchai Sor. Kingstar, Yodsanklai Fairtex, and Anuwat Kaewsamrit along with its main cast of actors.

The lead character in the film is based on an actual historical figure Yamada Nagamasa, a Japanese samurai/adventurer who later became a governor in the Ayutthaya Kingdom (1590-1630).  Yamada is the true story of how a samurai warrior came to serve as one of the personal bodyguards of King Naresuan the Great.  Yamada’s story is laced with beheadings, broken bones and many bloody wounds; however, he was eventually granted a lordship and served as governor of Nakhon Si Thammarat.

The young samurai, who lived during the Edo period, came to be a soldier in the Japanese volunteer regiment in Ayothaya.  The higher-ups of regiment were using him as a scapegoat to justify the failure of the soldier’s inability to subdue the Thai.  Ninjas try to assassinate the samurai in a dark alley.  Vastly outnumbered, the young samurai puts up a good fight but is seriously wounded.  Four Thai fighters appear just as the ninja are about to be dealt the fatal blow.  The Thai fighters brutally kill most of the assassins while a few escape.  In accordance with their Buddhist teachings, they take the samurai to their village, tend to his wounds and treat him as a guest.  Over time and under the watchful and wise eye of Sir Monk he begins the road to recovery.  The viewer quickly sees that Sir Monk is the people’s spiritual and de facto leader whose wisdom is greatly respected even by the King. 

While Yamada recovers, there is another assassination attempt on his life.  Though far from healed, Yamada again dishes out some serious punishment on his attackers who must also contend with the village Boxers who quickly arrive on the scene.  After the enemy is driven away, the boxers blame and beat Yamada for causing trouble in their otherwise peaceful town.  One look from Sir Monk and the Boxers stop the beating and are hauled into the temple to have a serious word regarding their inappropriate behavior.  While Sir Monk takes the Boxers out to the proverbial woodshed, he tells them that he and he alone has the authority to kill whitey.  An order that will only be issued if Yamada starts to hurt the villagers.

As Yamada recovers, he begins to contribute around the village by doing chores and eyeing their forging process.  When he is back in shape, he attends the Boxer’s practice and foolishly challenges one to a bout.  The eight weapons of Muay Thai – fists, feet, knees and elbows make quick work of him to the point of embarrassment.  One of the boxers suggests that he ask Sir Monk to teach him the techniques of Muay Thai training.  These training sequences are set against the beautiful backdrops of temples and lush forests.  It is interesting to watch the blending of the Thai boxing style with Yamada’s lifelong samurai training especially when he uses his sword.

Yamada’s martial arts background helps him quickly learn the Thai style and at the end of the training, Sir Monk makes him an officially sanctioned warrior with holy tattoos and all.  Sir Monk’s approval permits whitey to join King Naresuan’s personal bodyguards.  Yamada sticks out like a sore thumb as a mostly white clean-shaven man when compared to his dark skinned and the crazy hairstyles of his comrades.

Though he has become a full-blown warrior, he is still not fully accepted by the other Boxers or villagers.  We start to see Yamada begin the extremely secret process of forging Japanese steel and what are unquestionably the best swords in the world alone since no one will help him.  Later we find out that the sword he was forging is for the boxer who has taken extra time to practice with him after hours to help Yamada perfect his skills.  Sir Monk is contemporaneously meeting with his top fighters who are preparing to try out to be the king’s guard and battle a rival nation state in a customary contest.  Here Sir Monk takes the Siamese warriors to task by telling them (and the blacksmiths) that Yamada is by far the best forger in the village and that his swords (which Sir Monk still has) are the most perfect weapons he has ever seen.  As a demonstration of the exquisite artisanship Yamada is capable of Sir Monk throws up a flower petal and as it falls to the ground, it is cleanly split in half when it comes into contact with the samurai’s blade. 

The bodyguard tryouts are nothing short of merciless but whitey makes it through—much to Sir Monk’s delight.  These tryouts are wonderful representations of this ancient and effective style of fighting.  The survivors are sent to engage their Burmese counterparts who have not won this gruesome contest in years.  Here again we are treated to seeing Yamada’s deeply ingrained samurai fencing techniques combined with his new hand to hand combat style.  I believe that one reason Yamada is so effective with his sword against the enemy is that the natives have never contended with a full-blown samurai using the most deadly of weapons.

After returning as victors, Yamada believe he must bring finality to the Japanese question and returns to that dark alley where he was almost killed, again facing an army of ninjas and the head of the Japanese spy ring that wants him eliminated.  He makes mincemeat of the ninjas but is ultimately saved by the fighter he gave the sword to who takes a bullet meant for him—his savior dies at the scene. 

Putting Muay Thai fighters and samurais together is a fantastic idea for a movie.  It also shows that humans can change and redeem themselves, even in the hands of an enemy.  This film is astonishing not only because it shows a path of redemption, but because it features some brutal Muay Thai boxing that is very realistic, striking and primeval: these guys are the real deal champion Thai boxers and I sure as shit would not want to meet them on unfriendly terms.

This movie did a fine job with what many might say was an interesting, though not epic, historical story.  I recommend this film to anyone (that means you Dangerous) who is interested in the choreography of martial arts, as it is real and something I have not seen before.  Watch and if you don’t like it let me know why.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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It has been too long since we did a series. Well here is a real blast from the past Lone Wolf and Cub.

The Lone Wolf & Cub series has a cult following (including me).  All but one of the movies was made in 2 years:

Sword of Vengeance (1972)

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972)

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades (1972)

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril (1972)

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons (1973)

Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell (1974)

A total of seven Lone Wolf and Cub films featuring Tomisaburo Wakayama as “Ogami Ittō” have been produced based on the comic. They are also known as the Sword of Vengeance series, based on the English-language title of the first film, and later as the Baby Cart series, because Itto’s young son Daigoro travels in a wooded baby carriage pushed by his father.

The first three films were directed by Kenji Misumi, released in 1972 and produced by Shintaro Katsu, Tomisaburo Wakayama’s brother and the star of the legendary 26 part Zatoichi (the blind swordsman) film series.  The next three films were produced by Wakayama and directed by Buichi Saito, Kenji Misumi and Yoshiyuki Kuroda, released in 1972, 1973, and 1974 respectively.

A word or two should be said about Tomisaburo Wakayama.  While he is known best for his role as the Lone Wolf, he, like his brother, were prolific actors.  Wakayama was also an excellent martial artist obtaining his 4th degree black belt in Judo as well as other martial art disciplines including Kenpo, Iaido, Kendo and Bojutsu, usually learning them when he prepared for filming.  He and his brother came from a family of Kabuki actors that toured Asia and the west.  After a two year tour in the U.S., Wakayama had enough and left his family’s acting troupe to take up the martial arts.  He was subsequently hired by Toei as an actor and the rest is history.  He has had roles in over two hundred films, including a famous scene in Ridley Scott’s Black Rain (1989) starring Andy Garcia and Michael Douglas take a look http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jC46eTGpf1M.

Some background & the first movie Sword of Vengeance. 

Ogami Ittō, formidable warrior and a master of the suiō-ryū swordsmanship, functions as the Kaishakunin (the Shōgun’s executioner), a position of high power in the Shogunate.  Ogami Ittō is the Shogun’s enforcer over the daimyō of Japan (lesser domain lords).  When the Shogun ordered samurai and lords to commit seppuku, the Kaishakunin had the “privilege” of assisting in the deaths by decapitating the subject to stop the self-inflicted torture of disembowelment; in this role, Itto is entitled to brandish the crest of the Shogunate, by law acting in the Shogun’s place.  So you can’t screw with him.  I can only imagine what coming home from work every day was like “hi honey I am home . . . long day at the office decapitated three people” and the like—interesting dinner conversation.

Shortly after Ogami Ittō’s wife Azami gives birth to their son, Daigorō, he returns from work to find everyone viciously murdered except his newborn son.  The patsy’s are three samurai from an abolished clan trying to take revenge of their lord against Ittō for his “assistance” with the lords death.  Itto’s knows that this is a scam planned by Ura-Yagyū (Shadow Yagyu) Yagyū Retsudō, leader of the Ura-Yagyū clan, to seize Ogami’s powerful position.  Somebody planted a funeral tablet with the shogun’s crest on it inside the Ogami family shrine, supposedly signifying a wish for the shogun’s death.  When the planted tablet is “discovered” its presence dooms Ittō to traitor status and he relinquishes his post.

The 1-year-old Daigorō is given a choice a ball or the sword (see clip).  If the kid chose the ball, his father would kill him and himself, sending him to be with his mother.  Luckily the child crawls toward the sword.  Itto has now become one of many rōnin wandering the country as the assassin-for-hire team that becomes known as Lone Wolf and Cub, vowing to destroy the Yagyū clan to avenge Azami’s death and Ittō’s disgrace.

While cruising the country Itto does a little advertising by hanging a banner off his back “Ogami: Suiouryo technique” (Child and expertise for rent).  His marketing plan works when he lands a job from a Chamberlain to kill a rival and his gang of henchmen who are out to kill chamberlain’s lord.  The chamberlain decides to test Ittō, but he makes quick work of the chamberlain’s two best swordsmen.  His targets are in a remote mountain village that is host a number of natural hot-spring spa pools.

When Ittō reaches the hot-spring village, he finds that the rival chamberlain and his men have hired a band of ronin that have taken over the town and are doing your usual raping, looting and pillaging.

The ronin discuss killing Ittō, but decide to let him live if he will have sex with the town’s remaining prostitute while they watch.  The prostitute refuses to have any part in it, but then she’s threatened by one of the men, a knife expert, and in order to save the woman, Ittō steps forward and disrobes, saying he will oblige them.

The episode takes one more trip back to the past, for the dramatic beheading and blood-spurting scene in which Ittō defeats one of Yagyū Retsudo’s best swordsman, with the aid of a mirror on Daigoro’s forehead to reflect the sun into the swordsman’s eyes.  To the disgrace of Retsudo.

Then we have the big showdown.  It is revealed that the baby cart has some James Bond type of secrets – several edged weapons, including a spear that Ittō uses to take out the evil chamberlain’s men, chopping one off at his ankles, leaving the bloody stumps of his feet still standing on the ground.  (See Clip).

The movie ends.  Don’t worry folks this is just part one of the series we are going to look at each of them.  Up next, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972).

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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Ok She said she hates Kill Bill. I say only little people hate and one should enjoy art for art’s sake.

JPFmovies does not take challenges lightly.  The gauntlet thrown down in the “review” of Kill Bill 1 must be dealt with as a matter of honor.  We will address with the issues raised by Bonnie seriatim.  Unlike the reviewer of Kill Bill 1, the film should be placed in context before simply spouting derogatory comments about the movie.  The evil Bill (David Carradine) comments, “You know I’m all about old-school.”  What makes this film interesting is that the same could be said for director Quentin Tarantino.  In this film, Tarantino pays homage to such great genres such as Hong Kong martial arts films, Japanese chambara films (my favorite), Italian spaghetti westerns, girls with guns and revenge.  Each genre gets to bathe in the light the director’s tribute and Tarantino gives substantial screen time to each of his favorite sources of inspiration.

Kill Bill was originally scheduled for a single theatrical release, but with a running time of over four hours, it was separated into two volumes (probably because American audiences don’t have the attention span to watch a four hour movie—they did the same thing to Red Cliff).  Kill Bill Volume 1 was released in late 2003 and Kill Bill: Volume 2 was released in early 2004.  The volumes follow a character initially identified simply as the Bride a/k/a Kiddo.  In Volume 2, the Bride (Uma Thurman) continues her revenge mission against Bill and her former colleague’s f/k/a the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (DiVAS), seeking payback for their vicious objection to her wedding.  Thurman handles the film’s many physical challenges and she makes the Bride a believable killing machine—or as believable as necessary in a film that surfs through a gravity defying movie cosmos.  She makes the most of every scene by taking the viewer along into her struggling victories, defeats, for her savage attacks and counterattacks.

Volume II starts with the Bride flashing back to her wedding rehearsal.  Bill, her former lover and the leader of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, unexpectedly arrives to wish her well and during their discourse, it is revealed that the Bride has retired from the assassination squad and left Bill as his lover in the hopes of providing a better life for her unborn daughter.  Seconds later the other assassination squad members rout the wedding rehearsal on Bill’s orders.

Back in the present, Bill goes to warn his brother Budd (Michael Madsen also in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992)), a bouncer at a “gentlemen’s club” and former Deadly Viper member, that he is next on the list.  Here Budd (at least partially) takes responsibility for his actions confessing that she (the Bride) deserves her revenge and that they deserve to die.  It is interesting to note that the only character who acknowledges his culpability is the only member that is not killed by Kiddo.  Yes he dies a painful death, but not at the hands of Kiddo.  When Bill asks if he has been keeping up with his sword skills, Budd (untruthfully) also tells his brother that he pawned his priceless Hanzō sword in El Paso for $250.00. 

She arrives at his shoddy trailer and bursts through the door, expecting to ambush him, but Budd is waiting for her and shoots her in the chest with a double-barreled shotgun full of rock salt, then drugs her.  Budd calls Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), another former Deadly Viper member, and offers to sell her Kiddo’s Hanzō sword for a million dollars cash.  He then seals Kiddo inside a coffin and buries her alive.

A flashback takes us to Bill dropping Kiddo off to be trained by the legendary martial arts guru Pai Mei (Gordon Liu).  After what looks like torture, she eventually gains his respect and learns a number of techniques, including the art of punching through thick planks of wood from inches away, and a skill taught to no-one else of killing using non-lethal touches to certain pressure points.  She uses the former skill to break out of the coffin, claws her way to the surface, and then asks for a glass of water.

Elle arrives at Budd’s trailer for their transaction but has hidden a lethal black mamba with her money.  The snake kills Budd.  Elle calls Bill and blames Kiddo for his brother’s death, and thinking that Kiddo is still buried alive, takes the credit for killing Kiddo.  As she exits the trailer, she is ambushed by Kiddo, who had arrived there soon after Elle.  In the middle of an all-out melee in the trailer, Elle taunts Kiddo with the news that she poisoned Pai Mei out of revenge for his snatching out her eye after she called him a miserable old fool.  In return, Kiddo then plucks out Elle’s remaining eye and leaves her screaming and thrashing about in the trailer with the pissed off black mamba.

Now all that is left is Bill.  Kiddo finds him deep in the Mexican countryside, and is shocked to find her four-year old daughter B.B. (Perla Haney-Jardine) alive and well.  She spends the evening with Bill and B.B watching “Shogun Assassin II.”  After B.B. has gone to bed, Bill shoots Kiddo with a dart containing a truth serum and questions her.  A flashback recalls Kiddo’s discovery of her pregnancy while on an assassination mission, and her resulting decision to call off the assignment and leave the squad.  Kiddo explains that she ran away without telling Bill in order to protect their unborn daughter from him and his life.  Though Bill understands, he remains unapologetic for what he did, explaining that he’s a murdering bastard and there are consequences to breaking the heart of a murdering bastard.  They fight, but although Kiddo loses her weapon, she disables Bill with Pai Mei’s super fatal pressure point technique, which he secretly taught her.  Bill, aware of the technique and that he will shortly die, makes his peace with Kiddo and dies.  Kiddo departs with B.B. Later they are seen watching cartoons in a hotel together.

A long movie, yes.  A good movie, yes.  The complaints that it is too violent I think are unwarranted as the violence is reminiscent of the over the top martial arts films of the late 1960’ and 1970’s.  Like the martial arts films of the 60’s and 70’s, the violence is to over the top is comical.  When Kiddo chops off a limb what is obviously thick red paint spews from the victim like a fountain—just like the movies Tarantino is emulating.  There is little attempt at realism here instead it borders on the absurd (which is fine by me).

As for Carradine playing a jerk, let us not forget this film resurrected his career and proved that he could play roles other than is most famous Kwai-Chang Kane character  from the 1970’s series Kung Fu as well as bringing Sonny Chiba back to the silver screen.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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