City Hunter (1993)

City Hunter [城市獵人] (1993)

Starring Jackie Chan, Joey Wong Cho-Yin, Richard Norton, Gotoh Kumiko, Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching, Carol Wan Chui-Pan, Tan Lap-Man, Leon Lai, Ken Lo, Gary Daniels, Eric Kot Man-Fai, Jan Lam Hoi-Fung, Mike Abbott, Louis Roth, Michael Wong Man-Tak, Hagiwara Kenzo

Directed by Wong Jing

Expectations: Moderate.

threehalfstar


City Hunter is another Jackie Chan film that I wasn’t completely in love with during my teenage obsession. I was desperate to recreate that first-time feeling of experiencing Rumble in the Bronx, so something like City Hunter, with its wildly comedic, cartoon tone, wasn’t going to fit the bill. These days my passion for Jackie remains constant, but my expectations and restrictions of what I want to see from him have relaxed and opened up considerably. Now I’m happy to follow Jackie and whatever director he’s working with into any creative experience they can cook up.

In these terms, City Hunter is an impressive work of art. It manages to capture the over-the-top look and the feel of a cartoon/anime in live action, and it keeps this tone and aesthetic constant throughout every aspect of the production. From exaggerated acting and facial expressions, to the breakneck, logic-smashing pace, to the action choreography that is comedic and over-the-top before anything else, City Hunter is stylistically rich, and about as perfect a comic book adaptation as you could ask for. I have half a mind to give it four stars — I was that bowled over by it — but I’ll have to watch it again to see if it holds up and reinforces this strong a reaction.

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Heroes Two (1974)

HeroesTwo_1Heroes Two [方世玉與洪熙官] (1974)
AKA Kung Fu Invaders, Blood Brothers, Bloody Fists, Temple of the Dragon, Fang Shih Yu and Hung Hsi Kuan

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chen Kuan-Tai, Fong Sam, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Chu Mu, Wong Ching, Fung Ngai, Fung Hak-On, Chiang Nan, Wu Chi-Chin

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High, I really like this one.

fourstar


Out of context, Heroes Two seems just like any number of kung fu films that followed in its wake. This is how I first experienced it a few years ago, viewing it after my old cohort Uncle Jasper wrote a review. In the intervening years, I’ve worked my way back around to the film chronologically, and now Heroes Two plays as it should: as a complete revelation to the genre. It’s a call to arms, a new type of kung fu film that would go on to influence and define the genre for many years to come.

Heroes Two originally played with a short intro film called Three Styles of Hung School’s Kung Fu, also replicated on the DVD/Blu-ray for your viewing pleasure. It’s a great little film, showcasing the raw skill and solo talents of the stars of Heroes Two, as well as Chi Kuan-Chun who joins them in the follow-up film Men from the Monastery. Not only does this short film announce the feature’s commitment to presenting actual kung fu on-screen, it also signals that Heroes Two is a special film, bringing something new and unique to the audience. Imagine seeing Heroes Two without ever having seen the multitude of traditional kung fu films that followed it! The feature was a great success, too, ranking #12 among all Hong Kong films at the local box office, with only four other martial arts films ranking higher (Five Shaolin Masters, The Virgin Mart, The Tea House, and Chinatown Capers… if you’re wondering).

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Stephen reviews: Project A-ko (1986)

projecta-ko_1Project A-ko [プロジェクトA子] (1986)

Starring Miki Ito, Emi Shinohara, Michie Tomizawa, Tessho Genda, Shuichi Ikeda, Asami Mukaidono, Daisuke Gori, Sayuri Ikemoto

Directed by Katsuhiko Nishijima


Thirty years ago Project A-ko took the anime industry by storm. It was one of the biggest names in anime, and thoroughly beloved by just about any anime fan in the ’90s. So now, for its 30th anniversary… well, pretty much nothing is happening other than me writing up this review. The franchise has been dormant for the past 25 years, and people seem to have just forgotten about the whole thing. I suspect there are vast swaths of younger anime fans who have never seen it, possibly never even heard of it.

This strikes me as strange. More than any other title, save for perhaps Akira or Ghost in the Shell, A-ko was the face of anime in the West. And if you ask me, I would say A-ko is a much truer definition of the art form. Akira and Ghost in the Shell were great films, no question about it, but they are the face of anime solely because they have mainstream appeal. People who don’t like anime often like those films anyway, because they don’t really represent what anime is like. Anime is about over-the-top absurdism, larger-than-life action, and exaggerated emotions which cannot be portrayed with live action; because human faces cannot actually contort like that.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Project A-ko (1986) →

Magic Island (1995)

magicisland_1Starring Zachery Ty Bryan, Andrew Divoff, Edward Kerr, Lee Armstrong, French Stewart, Jessie-Ann Friend, Oscar Dillon, Abraham Benrubi, Sean O’Kane, Schae Harrison, Ja’net DuBois, Terry Sweeney, Martine Beswick, Isaac Hayes

Directed by Sam Irvin

Expectations: Magic on an island.

On the general scale:
onehalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
twostar


Going into a Moonbeam film, I’ve come to expect a few elements to almost always be present. Things like a trip back in time, a castle, and a kid with an absent or neglectful family, an obsession, and a desire to runaway. I didn’t actively think about these aspects when I started Magic Island, but they’re always hovering somewhere in mind whenever Moonbeam films come up. But get this… Magic Island breaks the mold! There isn’t a castle! It’s not even set in medieval times!

Magic Island is the story of Jack Carlisle (Zachery Ty Bryan of Home Improvement fame), a kid who loves video games, pirates and hard rock. His mother is a professional businesswoman up for a big promotion and all the money that goes with it. Jack isn’t impressed, because even though he’s 13 and he acts like he doesn’t care, it’s pretty plain that he’s lonely and in need of some parental attention and affection. Jack decides he’s had enough, so in preparation for running away he packs a bag with little more than some Rhino Bucket CDs and a Super Soaker. Only the essentials! His Haitian nanny (Ja’net DuBois) persuades him to stay home and have some of her jambalaya instead, also gifting him with a book called Magic Island that quickly sucks him inside its world of pirates and buried treasure.

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Village of Tigers (1974)

villageoftigers_4Village of Tigers [惡虎村] (1974)

Starring Yueh Hua, Shu Pei-Pei, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Tung Lam, Wang Hsieh, Tang Ti, Chan Shen, Ng Wai, Tung Li, Tong Tin-Hei, Chan Ho, Lan Wei-Lieh, Wan Chung-Shan

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng & Wong Ping

Expectations: Moderate, but I generally like Griffin Yueh Feng’s work.

twohalfstar


My chronological review series of the Shaw Brothers martial arts films enters 1974 not with a bang but a whimper. Well, whimper is probably a little strong. Village of Tigers is relatively entertaining, but a 79-minute movie should never feel as long as this one does. Its problems are myriad, its intrigue is slight; it’s the kind of wuxia to see when you’ve exhausted a lot of the better options. The finale is of markedly better quality than the rest of the movie, but even this is not enough to save this rather sedate wuxia from mediocrity.

The story’s lack of focus is one of its major issues, and I could easily describe most of the movie in an attempt to provide even a quick summary. Basically, the titular Village of Tigers is the home to a huge group of bandits who like to go around and pillage. On this particular day, they’re concerned with bumping off the Sword of the Southern Sky, Luo Hong-Xun (Yueh Hua). Meanwhile, Bao Ying Hua (Karen Yip Leng-Chi) is on her way to Wild Date Peak for her grandma’s birthday party, and 9th Miss (Shu Pei-Pei), Bao’s cousin, has discovered that her brother Ba Jie (Tung Li) is in league with the bandits holed up at the Village of Tigers.

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Top 10 1972–1973 Shaw Brothers Martial Arts Films

This list has been a long time comin’, and I’m overwhelmed to finally reach this stage in my review series! As I mentioned in the previous Shaw list (1970–1971), if everything had gone to plan, I would’ve dropped this one sometime in 2014! Real life took precedence over Shaw Brothers, though, as I saw my care-giving role progressively increase over the last couple of years. I’ve recently turned a corner in speeding up this Shaw train, in terms of re-establishing a routine for getting a review out once a week, so perhaps the next list (1974–1975) will actually come within the next year. If nothing else, it feels great to be back to once a week, I always feel like the reviews are better if I see the movies in closer proximity to one another. This list, one the other hand, contains a spread of movies I reviewed from August 2013 to last week, so I’m going to blame any lapse of memory or details on this.

1972 was an incredibly strong year for Shaw films, so this list contained some hard choices. They weren’t as hard as they could’ve been, though, as 1973 wasn’t all that great — especially in direct comparison to the 1972 films! Each year had over 20 films, so I briefly considered doing a Top 20, or a Top 10 for each year, but if I did that the 1973 list would be padded with some Good/OK movies, and I’m not interested in a list with movies that I think are just OK. If you’re interested in what’s below the cut and you don’t want to troll through my review archive, I have ranked lists on Letterboxd for every year I’ve finished already. You can find 1972 here and 1973 here.

As usual, I’ve included links to iTunes/Amazon/YesAsia/DDDHouse for easy access by those intrigued enough to check some of these out. The availability is all current as of the posting of this list.

OK, enough of my caterwaulin’, let’s get to the list!


#10 Pursuit (1972)
Directed by Cheng Kang
Reviewed January 10, 2014

pursuit

Pursuit was the second of three Shaw Brothers films released in 1972 based on sections of the classic Chinese novel Outlaws of the Marsh (AKA The Water Margin). It focuses on the story of Yueh Hua’s character, Lin Chong AKA Panther Head. Where The Water Margin is a grand epic tale of the 108 Liang Shan bandits, Pursuit dials it back and delivers a wonderful exploration of a single member of the clan, in the years prior to where we met him in The Water Margin. Another fantastic piece of cinema from Cheng Kang, Pursuit is the perfect companion film to The Water Margin.

Pursuit is currently only available on an out-of-print Region 3 DVD, which is not currently available from Amazon, but if you check that link from time to time it might come up for sale. Amazon does have the VCD, though, and YesAsia still has the Region 3 Taiwanese DVD release available. eBay is also a great option for your DVD searches.

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Crime Story (1993)

CrimeStory_1Crime Story [重案組] (1993)
AKA New Police Story, Hard to Die, Serious Crimes Squad, Police Story IV, Police Dragon

Starring Jackie Chan, Kent Cheng, Law Kar-Ying, Au-Yeung Pui-San, Christine Ng Wing-Mei, Poon Ling-Ling, Blacky Ko Sau-Leung, William Duen Wai-Lun, Ken Lo, Chung Fat, Wan Fat, Wan Seung-Lam, Stephen Chan Tak-Gwong

Directed by Kirk Wong

Expectations: Moderate.

threehalfstar


Crime Story represents another step forward for Jackie Chan. The film is gritty, realistic, and for the most part without comedy. This is not the recipe for the standard Jackie film, so many fans will be turned off. I understand the sentiment; when I first saw this as a teenager I had the same reaction. Consequently, Crime Story really took me by surprise this time around. It was a revelatory experience; I now see how the film is truly a fantastic piece of work in nearly every way. Where I once felt the film lacked enough “Jackie moments,” I now appreciate it as a wonderfully tense cop drama with a scrumptious Jackie cherry on top. The two styles are brought together incredibly well, too, with Kirk Wong ably guiding the camera to accentuate the exceptional, atypical action choreography from the Jackie Chan Stunt Team.

Inspector Eddie Chan (Jackie Chan) has recently lived through a traumatic encounter where he was forced to kill some men. He insists that he hasn’t been shaken by the experience, but his psychologist remains worried. Meanwhile, a criminal group led by corrupt cop Hung Ting-Bong (Kent Cheng) plans to kidnap the wealthy businessman Wong Yat-Fei (Law Kar-Ying). Eddie returns to active duty and is placed on the security detail to protect Wong, and because this is a movie, his best efforts are not enough to prevent the kidnapping.

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