Who Am I? (1998)

whoami_1Who Am I? [我是誰] (1998)
AKA Jackie Chan’s Who Am I?

Starring Jackie Chan, Michelle Ferre, Mirai Yamamoto, Ron Smerczak, Ed Nelson, Ron Smoorenburg, Kwan Yung, Mike Ian Lambert, Yanick Mbali, Washington Xisolo, Chip Bray

Directed by Jackie Chan & Benny Chan

Expectations: Interested to revisit it.

threehalfstar


Who Am I? was Jackie’s last Hong Kong production before re-entering into the Hollywood machine with Rush Hour. Like the last four or five of his films, Who Am I? continues the trend towards eliminating Cantonese dialogue in favor of English; to the point that this film only has a small handful of lines that aren’t in English. It’s still very much a Hong Kong film in feel, but the shift towards a more sustained and consistent American tone is a defining element of Who Am I?. Where Mr. Nice Guy was an Americanized version of the Hong Kong filmmaking philosophy of the ’80s (action above all else), Who Am I? is more an attempt to blend Hong Kong-style action and stunts into the structure of a traditional American action film.

Jackie plays Jackie Chan (yep!), a highly trained military operative on a mission in South Africa with an elite strike team. They pull off their mission without a hitch, but somewhere along the way Jackie was left behind. We aren’t privy to the exact events just yet — unless you’re watching the US cut that reorders all the flashbacks to not be flashbacks! — we just know that a tribe of African natives has taken him in, providing everything necessary to make a speedy recovery. But Jackie’s not just physically injured, he’s also lost his memory. The tribe calls him “Who Am I” due to a language barrier, and while he’s happy living with the tribe, he’s also eager to leave and reclaim his identity.

Continue reading Who Am I? (1998) →

Supermen Against the Orient (1974)

supermenagainsttheorient_1Supermen Against the Orient [Crash! Che botte… strippo strappo stroppio, 四王一后] (1974)
AKA Three Supermen Vs The Orient, Three Fantastic Supermen in the Orient

Starring Robert Malcolm, Antonio Cantafora, Salvatore Borghese, Lo Lieh, Shih Szu, Tung Lam, Alberto Farnese, Jacques Dufilho, Isabella Biagini, Kong Ling, Lau Wai-Ling, Yeung Chi-Hing, Chan Ho

Directed by Bitto Albertini (with an uncredited assist from Kuei Chi-Hung)

Expectations: Super low.

onestar


No one expects to like every movie they watch, but I generally enjoy most Shaw Brothers films, even the ones that don’t really capture me. I have enough affection for the studio, its stars, and its production style to get me through a boring film. For better or worse, that’s how it is. So it’s surprising when I run into one that I pretty much hate. To be fair, there are some things that I liked about this co-production with Italy’s INDIEF, but overall Supermen Against the Orient has to be one of the worst Shaw films I’ve seen. At least it’s only barely a Shaw Brothers movie, which is partly why it didn’t play well for me.

In 1967, Gianfranco Parolini directed The Three Fantastic Supermen, and it was so popular that it spawned an entire franchise. I’ve heard of them, but this is the first I’ve seen. From what I can tell, it’s a loose series, swapping out characters and actors regularly, but there is a core framework that remains constant. Similar to James Bond, our main character is an FBI Agent who is sent to far-off exotic locales to thwart some kind of devious behavior. Along the way he teams up with a pair of well-meaning thieves who possess bulletproof super suits, and together they all save the day from the bad guys. This vague description of the formula can also serve as a plot description for Supermen Against the Orient, since none of the specifics about the villains or what they’re doing actually matter. There’s a drug deal and some kidnapped people, but I couldn’t tell you much else about why everything was happening.

Continue reading Supermen Against the Orient (1974) →

Beanstalk (1994)

beanstalk_8Starring J.D. Daniels, Amy Stoch, Margot Kidder, Patrick Renna, Richard Moll, Richard Paul, Stuart Pankin, Cathy McAuley, Cindy Sorenson, David Naughton, Dominique Adler

Directed by Michael Davis

Expectations: Moderate.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


As you might have figured out by the title, Beanstalk is Moonbeam’s attempt at adapting the classic fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk. The story is one that just about everyone is familiar with, but Beanstalk does a great job of keeping the basics and updating the story in a lot of fun and entertaining ways. Beanstalk does away with the antiquated setup of Jack trading his cow for a handful of magic beans, replacing it with a cross between Back to the Future‘s Doc Brown and the mega-hit from the year before: Jurassic Park. A cryptozoologist (played with reckless glee by Margot Kidder!) runs a dig site somewhere in the desert, and she unearths a bunch of huge beans and a giant skull. This might be the site of Jack’s original beanstalk, but other minor details later in the film suggest that Jack’s tale was merely one of a few beanstalk scalings over the years.

Anyway, Jack (J.D. Daniels) is helping his mother (Missy from Bill & Ted, Amy Stoch!) pay the overdue rent payment by taking a load of antiques to sell. A bully (Patrick Renna) starts screwing with his box of treasures, throwing one into the street. The money these antiques will bring is very important to Jack and his mother, so he runs out into the street to catch the porcelain dog before it smashes on the asphalt. He catches it, but the cryptozoologist happens to be driving by and almost hits him with her motor home. A crate full of the giant beans flies off in the ruckus, and because Jack is a scheming whiz kid always looking for his next big idea, he decides to take the crate home in hopes that it contains something valuable or useful.

Continue reading Beanstalk (1994) →

Shaolin Martial Arts (1974)

shaolinmartialarts_2Shaolin Martial Arts [洪拳與詠春] (1974)

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Leung Kar-Yan, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Chiang Tao, Fung Hak-On, Irene Chen Yi-Ling, Yuan Man-Tzu, Lo Dik, Chiang Nan, Fung Ngai, Simon Yuen Siu-Tin, Lau Kar-Wing, Lee Wan-Chung

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Extremely high. I love the first two Shaolin Cycle films, and have wanted to see this one for years.

fourstar


Shaolin Martial Arts is a brilliant evolution of the kung fu movie that features a huge and incredibly talented cast. They really brought out the big guns for this one, including Shaolin Cycle stars Alexander Fu Sheng and Chi Kuan-Chun, Leung Kar-Yan (AKA Beardy) and Johnny Wang Lung-Wei in their film debuts, Gordon Liu in his Shaw Brothers debut (his only previous credit was as an extra on the 1973 independent film The Hero of Chiu Chow), Lau Kar-Wing, even Simon Yuen shows up as a cranky old master. And that’s just the bigger names, as the film also boasts wonderful performances from Chiang Tao, Fung Hak-On, Chiang Nan, Fung Ngai, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Irene Chan Yi-Ling and Yuan Man-Tzu. But despite this varied and well-used cast, not a single one of them are the true star of the film.

The monumental cast is but one half of the creative puzzle, and the matchless team of writer/director Chang Cheh, co-writer Ni Kuang, and action choreographers Lau Kar-Leung and Tang Chia have truly created something special and unique with this film. Where Heroes Two and Men from the Monastery told dramatic tales of folk heroes running for their lives after the burning of the Shaolin Temple, Shaolin Martial Arts is about the passage, preservation and impermanence of knowledge. Shaolin itself is the star of the movie, and more specifically: the Shaolin martial arts. The film’s Chinese title translates to Hung Gar and Wing Chun, so this focus on style and martial technique is even clearer in the original language (similar to how Heroes Two is called Fang Shih-Yu and Hung Hsi-Kuan in Chinese).

Continue reading Shaolin Martial Arts (1974) →

Mr. Nice Guy (1997)

mrniceguy_2Mr. Nice Guy [一個好人] (1997)
AKA No More Mr. Nice Guy, Mister Cool, Nice Guy, SuperChef

Starring Jackie Chan, Richard Norton, Gabrielle Fitzpatrick, Miki Lee Ting-Yee, Karen McLymont, Vince Poletto, Barry Otto, Peter Houghton, David No, Judy Green, Jonathan Isgar, Sammo Hung, Emil Chow Wah-Kin

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: Interested to revisit it.

threestar


Mr. Nice Guy was the first brand new Jackie Chan film to be released while I was a fan. I often find that films (or albums) with this distinction hold a special place in my heart, as they struck me right at the genesis of my fandom and I was in a prime mindset to receive them. Mr. Nice Guy never did much for me, though, outside of a couple of the action scenes. Regardless, I was eager to revisit the film, both as a Jackie Chan vehicle and as one of Sammo Hung’s last films before his 19-year directing hiatus (which ended with this year’s The Bodyguard). Mr. Nice Guy is a fairly weak film when judged on traditional merits, but as an internationally appealing Hong Kong production, it’s an overwhelmingly fun, unsung gem.

Traditionally speaking, the main strike against Mr. Nice Guy is its story. It’s so thin that it’s something of a miracle that the whole thing doesn’t crumble into an incoherent mess. It’s more of a set-up than a true story, but as much as this hinders the film, it also allows the action to flourish. There are lots of fun chases, fight scenes, and athletic Jackie Chan stunts… perhaps more than in any Jackie film since Rumble in the Bronx. It feels like Jackie was finally back to full strength after his broken-ankle setback on Rumble, and the amount of classic Jackie action in Mr. Nice Guy benefits greatly from this. So in a way, the thin story is actually one of the film’s biggest strengths that lays the groundwork for the action to build on top of.

Continue reading Mr. Nice Guy (1997) →

The Virgin Mart (1974)

virginmart_1bThe Virgin Mart [販賣人口] (1974)
AKA When the Kung Fu Hero Strikes

Starring Wong Yuen-San, Betty Ting Pei, Sek Kin, Elaine Kam Yin-Ling, Eddy Ko Hung, Woo Gam

Directed by Kao Pao-Shu

Expectations: Pretty high, based on my previous love of Kao Pao-Shu’s Lady with a Sword.

twostar


I had one recurring thought throughout The Virgin Mart: “What a weird movie.” Hong Kong filmmakers love to mix genres and tones, and that’s something I love about the country’s films, but it just didn’t work for me in The Virgin Mart. The film blasts off with searing rock ‘n’ roll and a montage of neon lights and pretty girls. This emotional wave of fun night life imagery is quickly challenged by the introduction of Lin Ying (Woo Gam) and Mao Song (Eddy Ko Hung), a prostitute and her pimp, still within the opening montage. As we make our way into the film proper, it becomes apparent that this is also going to be an over-the-top comedy at times. Huh. OK. Perhaps something is lost in translation, but when they strap an unwilling woman onto a Qing dynasty metal sex chair called “The Joy Rider,” and play it for laughs, I just can’t go along with it.

The Virgin Mart is also largely without a distinct plotline. After the intro montage we meet a bunch of new characters, including a few that are actually important and integral to the film and its world, such as the big boss Qiang Han (Sek Kin), another prostitute Mei Ji (Betty Ting Pei), and the film’s hero Kang Tai (Wong Yuen-San). We see how the prostitution operation lures unsuspecting young girls to Hong Kong, we see the pimps battling a rival group’s men, but there’s hardly any narrative to hold these disparate bits together. Kang Tai is the man they target as a fall guy for their organization, but after he’s introduced early — stating that all he wants to do is “Just fight” — he’s absent from the film for quite a while.

Continue reading The Virgin Mart (1974) →

Stephen reviews: Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985)

NightontheGalacticRailroad_1Night on the Galactic Railroad [銀河鉄道の夜, Ginga Tetsudō no Yoru] (1985)
AKA Kenji Miyazawa’s Night on the Galactic Express

Starring Mayumi Tanaka, Chika Sakamoto, Chikao Ohtsuka, Hidehiro Kikuchi, Junko Hori

Directed by Gisaburō Sugii


If you’ve been around this site for a few years, you may recall a film I reviewed a while back called Spring and Chaos. It was a biopic about Kenji Miyazawa, Japan’s foremost literary figure. This film is the adaptation of Miyazawa’s most famous book, Night on the Galactic Railroad. And these two films have more than a passing connection. Now that I’ve finally seen Night on the Galactic Railroad, I can see just how strongly it influenced Spring and Chaos. That later film is as much a tribute to this film as it is to Miyazawa himself.

Watching this film also drove home just how indebted the Galaxy Express 999 series is to Miyazawa’s original novel, though this film’s adaptation of the book came out quite some time after Galaxy Express. In fact, the two titles are nearly identical, with “galaxy express” and “galactic railroad” simply being alternate translations of “ginga tetsudō.” Any way you slice it, Miyazawa’s little fable has had a massive influence on anime and manga, to say nothing of what it did to Japanese literature.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985) →

Page 1 of 201123...10...Last »

Subscribe via Email!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 60 other subscribers

Ongoing Series

Top Posts & Pages