The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)

Starring Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Michael Angarano, Collin Chou, Liu Yi-Fei, Li Bing-Bing, Ye Xiao-Keng, Wang De-Shun, Morgan Benoit

Directed by Rob Minkoff

Expectations: Curious. I don’t remember it being very good.


The Forbidden Kingdom is far from great, but it is worthy of respect and attention. It is an American-produced fantasy wuxia, and I’m having a hard time thinking of any other film that fits that bill. For that alone it is interesting, but it’s also the first (and so far only) film that stars both Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Martial arts fans will no doubt want to see that, especially since the film contains a great fight between the two Hong Kong legends. Jet Li even plays the Monkey King during the film’s intro and finale! There’s so much I enjoy about this movie, but no matter how much I want to love this film for what it is, its missteps are hard to overlook.

The major problem is that while it features Jackie and Jet, neither of them are the lead. That honor goes to Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano), an American teenager obsessed with Hong Kong movies. His room is adorned with posters of Shaw Brothers films and Bruce Lee, The Monkey Goes West plays on his TV, and he even has a Sega Dreamcast. It’s almost like the character was based on my own teenage years! I wouldn’t ask the shopkeeper for an “early Shaw Brothers movie featuring a guy doing leopard style,” though. I’ve also never said, “Sick! Ten Tigers of Kwantung,” although if I did find a copy of the Shaw classic in a secondhand store, I would say something like “Oh shit! Ten Tigers of Kwantung!” so perhaps they weren’t too far off the mark. 🙂

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Killer Clans (1976)

Killer Clans [流星蝴蝶劍] (1976)

Starring Chung Wah, Yueh Hua, Ku Feng, Ching Li, Wong Chung, Lo Lieh, Danny Lee, Yeung Chi-Hing, Cheng Miu, Ngaai Fei, Wang Hsieh, Lam Wai-Tiu, Chen Ping, Ling Yun, Fan Mei-Sheng, Teresa Ha Ping, Kong Yeung, Tin Ching, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Ku Kuan-Chung

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Super high. Been looking forward to these Chor Yuen wuxias for a long time.


In the lineage of Shaw Brothers wuxias, Killer Clans represents the dawn of a new paradigm. The number of wuxia films released by the studio had diminished considerably from the early days of the genre, when literally every martial arts film was a sword-swingin’ tale of chivalrous heroes. In the few years prior to Killer Clans, a good portion of the wuxias released by Shaw were actually holdovers from earlier years, finally released and then promptly forgotten. But Killer Clans, based on Meteor, Butterfly, Sword (流星·蝴蝶·劍), a 1973 novel by Gu Long, performed well enough to make the year’s box office top 10 (either #6 or #7, depending on the source).

To say that this new direction in wuxia filmmaking was a success is an understatement, but it almost never was. Like Chang Cheh, ever searching for a subject that would light the fires of passion, Chor Yuen felt stagnant and in need of a fresh style of film. Chor had abandoned wuxia filmmaking for Cantonese comedies (The House of 72 Tenants, etc.) and dramas (Sorrow to the Gentry, etc.), but the diminishing box office takings of these films demanded he look elsewhere for his film ideas. He decided to adapt some wuxia novels in a style unlike the traditional Shaw wuxia film, but Run Run Shaw rejected every one of his pitches saying that they wouldn’t make money.

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Leapin’ Leprechauns! (1995)

Starring John Bluthal, Grant Cramer, Godfrey James, Tina Martin, James Ellis, Sylvester McCoy, Sharon Lee Jones, Gregory Smith, Erica Hess, Mihai Niculescu, Dorina Lazar, Ion Haiduc

Directed by Ted Nicolaou

Expectations: Moderate.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


The Moonbeam films share so many similarities that I am no longer surprised to see re-used elements; I actually look forward to them now. Leapin’ Leprechauns comes from the mold of Dragonworld, though it uses its building blocks uniquely to make for a much different film experience. Shot on the rolling green hills of Ireland Romania, Leapin’ Leprechauns introduces us to a world of wonder and fantasy, the people who believe in it, and a few who do not.

Michael Dennehy (John Bluthal) has lived peacefully on Fairy Hill his entire life, and now in his elderly years gives brief tours of the grounds to visitors on bus excursions. He lives in harmony with the living world around him, including the wee leprechauns and the fairy folk. One day, Michael comes upon a pair of surveyors examining the land, and much to his surprise they’re working under the orders of his son living in America, John Dennehy (Grant Cramer). John wants to turn the land into an amusement park called Ireland Land, so he invites Michael to see the grandkids in the US (getting him out of the way for the surveyors to survey in peace). It’s kind of an inverse of Dragonworld, where an American boy is orphaned and comes to live in Scotland with his grandfather. In the back story of Leapin’ Leprechauns, John must have moved to the US at a young age with his mother or something, because he has zero trace of an accent or respect for his Scottish heritage. This makes me wonder about the wild, roving days of Michael, but all of this is far outside of the confines of Leapin’ Leprechauns.

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The Sexy Killer (1976)

The Sexy Killer [毒后秘史] (1976)
AKA The Drug Connection

Starring Chen Ping, Yueh Hua, Si Wai, Wang Hsieh, Angela Yu Chien, Tin Ching, Chan Shen, Lee Pang-Fei, Yeung Chak-Lam, Lam Fung, Lau Kwok-Shing, Tung Lam, Kong Yeung, Lin Wen-Wei, Mi Lan, Lam Yi-Wa

Directed by Sun Chung

Expectations: Pretty high.


Expectations can be a film’s worst enemy at times. In the case of The Sexy Killer, I went in thinking about how I had enjoyed the exploitative Shaw films I’d seen in the last few years, as well as how much I liked Sun Chung’s earlier films in my Shaw series (not to mention The Avenging Eagle). But The Sexy Killer was not strong enough to stand up to this kind of pressure. It disappointed me at nearly every turn, only redeeming itself with a great third act (but still a marginal film overall). I may like The Sexy Killer more on a re-watch, but I feel like I’d reach for The Kiss of Death or something from Kuei Chih-Hung’s filmography before I willfully sat down with this one again.

The Sexy Killer begins strong, though. We open in a rock ‘n’ roll club, where teens dance the night away to saxophone-infused atonal jams. One of these dancers is Gao Wanjing (Mi Lan), but she is really here for a more deviant reason: She’s looking to score some heroin to quiet her addictive yearnings. When the dealer comes around she agrees to “do anything” for her fix, and before we know it, the police are investigating the scene where her unconscious body has been found. Her sister, Gao Wanfei (Chen Ping), has come with the cops and she can hardly contain her rage when she sees her sister in such a sorry state. Gao Wanfei is sick of police bureaucracy and their slowness in cleaning up the city, so she vows to do some cleaning of her own.

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Rush Hour 3 (2007)

Starring Chris Tucker, Jackie Chan, Max von Sydow, Hiroyuki Sanada, Yvan Attal, Yuki Kudo, Noémie Lenoir, Zhang Jing-Chu, Tzi Ma, Dana Ivey, Sun Ming-Ming, Roman Polanski

Directed by Brett Ratner

Expectations: Fairly low. I feel confident I’ll enjoy it, though.


The Rush Hour films are made to entertain. None of them are great, but they carry a certain charm. Jackie is always a joy in any form, and I like what Chris Tucker brings to the table. The two have an effervescent chemistry perfect for the age-old buddy cop premise. It’s just that by the time we get to Rush Hour 3, that’s about all we have to hang our enjoyment on. For me, this was enough to make the movie fly by in a haze of dumb jokes, action and entertainment, but I imagine others would be less forgiving.

The story they have the boys propping up this time will be relatively familiar if you’ve seen Rush Hour. Since this is Rush Hour 3, we know a basic formula has been established, but this is more than that. It’s certainly an odd choice to make from a screenwriting standpoint. I appreciate the idea to bring back characters from the original film, such as Ambassador Han (Tzi Ma) and his now-grown daughter Soo Yung (Zhang Jing-Chu). But it also mirrors the original film’s story in a lot of painfully obvious ways, to the point that I had figured out one of the late-film “Oh, shit!” twists by the time the opening scene was over. I understand wanting to bring the series back to where it started (and was successful), but this is a bit too close, no? It makes the film feel like the product it is, and this seriously hampers its ability to resonate with its audience.

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Boxer Rebellion (1976)

Boxer Rebellion [八國聯軍] (1976)
AKA Spiritual Fists, Bloody Avengers

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Leung Kar-Yan, Jenny Tseng, Woo Gam, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Li Li-Hua, Sun Yueh, Tsui Fu-Sheng, Liu Wei-Bin, Richard Harrison, Henry Bolanas, Wong Cheong-Chi, Han Chiang, Someno Yukio, Yeung Fui-Yuk, Lam Fai, Chiang Tao

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High.


Of all the films that Chang Cheh directed over his career, Boxer Rebellion was one that the director thought was among his most successful (in artistic terms). The film’s depiction of the Boxer Rebellion and its anti-foreigner sentiment did not agree with the British censors in Hong Kong, so the film was only released in a heavily truncated version (with something like 30–45 minutes edited out) and with the title changed to Spiritual Fists. The film failed miserably under these conditions and this angered Chang Cheh, because as the editor of his memoir notes, “he really poured his heart into Boxer Rebellion.” Later in the book, Chang expresses the wish that someone would rescue the film from a “musty closet” so that it may be seen as intended, if for no other reason than to pay tribute to the work of Fu Sheng held unseen within. Chang died in 2002, but if he had lived just another few years he’d have seen his dream realized when Celestial restored and finally released the full version of Chang’s epic film in 2005.

I have not seen the edited version of the film, but this restored, original vision is without a doubt one of Chang’s finest efforts as a director. He had previously made epic films that brought together large casts and told big, sprawling stories, but not a single one of them is anywhere close to the level of scale and scope seen in Boxer Rebellion. Chang talks in his memoir about tiring of making Shaolin pictures around this time, so once again he looked to craft something new for the Hong Kong market. He set his sights on the war picture, first shooting Seven Man Army (to less-than-satisfactory results, according to Chang), and then following it up with Boxer Rebellion, the highest budgeted Hong Kong film at the time. The resulting film shows a clear influence from its predecessors, with the scale of his epics like The Water Margin or The Heroic Ones, and the intimacy of his Shaolin films like Heroes Two or Disciples of Shaolin.

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The Brotherhood III: Young Demons (2003)

Starring Kristopher Turner, Paul Andrich, Ellen Wieser, Julie Pedersen, Andrew Hrankowski, Landon McCormick, David Johnson, Matthew Epp, Carl Thiessen

Directed by David DeCoteau

Expectations: Moderate. I liked the first two.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


The Brotherhood III: Young Demons is a disappointment in every way, and I say that as a fan of David DeCoteau’s brand of B-Movie. Those looking for something along the lines of the first two Brotherhood films will find only a shred of similarity, and while I love originality and films that dare to take their own journey, The Brotherhood III: Young Demons isn’t forging any new paths. It is literally almost entirely composed of people wandering through darkened school corridors. There is a slight plot to facilitate the characters’ wanderings, but even that is far from fresh.

Lex (Kristopher Turner) runs “The Game” after hours at his school. The players dress up in medieval fantasy garb and hunt through the school for clues, while Lex monitors them on the security cameras and taunts/helps them over the intercom. But tonight’s game is slightly different, because Lex has been given an ancient book of Egyptian magic. It’s a fun premise for a horror film, changing up the traditional “trapped in a location” story line… the only problem is that I’ve seen this specific variation before in 1990’s Shakma.

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