Rob-B-Hood (2006)

Rob-B-Hood [寶貝計劃] (2006)
AKA Robin-B-Hood, Project BB

Starring Jackie Chan, Louis Koo, Michael Hui, Teresa Carpio, Yuen Biao, Gao Yuan-Yuan, Charlene Choi Cheuk-Yin, Terence Yin Chi-Wai, Conroy Chan Chi-Chung, Andrew Lin, Matthew Medvedev, Ku Feng, Ken Wong Hop-Hey, Ken Lo, Hayama Hiro, Cherrie Ying Choi-Yi, Candice Yu On-On, Chen Bao-Guo, Nicholas Tse, Daniel Wu, He Jun, Ng Kong

Directed by Benny Chan

Expectations: Kinda high. I’ve come to expect good things from Benny Chan.


Rob-B-Hood is kind of a weird movie. Contrasting the modern realism in Benny Chan and Jackie’s previous collaboration, New Police Story, Rob-B-Hood feels like an attempt to revive an ’80s style focused on providing wild entertainment over believability. Apparently the film was originally intended to finally reunite Jackie, Sammo and Yuen Biao, too, lending further credence to this idea. But while the criminal character dynamics between Jackie, Louis Koo and Michael Hui recall early ’80s movies like Wheels on Meals, Rob-B-Hood owes an even bigger debt to the Aces Go Places series. The obvious connection is the baby who is often in harm’s way, but elements of that series’s James Bond riffs also find their way into Rob-B-Hood.

Thongs (Jackie Chan) and Octopus (Louis Koo) are master safecrackers, and we meet them in a hospital’s pharmacy. They are stealing high-priced drugs while their leader, Landlord (Michael Hui), waits in the getaway van outside. Crosscut with this is the birth of a child, which seems insignificant at first but wouldn’t you know it, they showed this birth to us for a reason! Imagine that. Mid-way through the criminals’ escape attempt, a disgruntled and mentally unstable ex-boyfriend of the baby’s mother abducts the kid. At first, he even tries to drag the mother along for the ride, still in her hospital bed. This fiasco gets the heat off of Thongs and Octopus, but as luck would have it, when the crazy ex-boyfriend loses control of the baby and it falls down a couple of stories in the hospital’s open lobby, Thongs is able to jump off the escalator, save the kid’s life, and return him to his mother. Thongs and Octopus are now free to leave the scene of their crime, but their story with this infant is far from over.

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New Police Story (2004)

New Police Story [新警察故事] (2004)

Starring Jackie Chan, Nicholas Tse, Charlie Yeung, Charlene Choi Cheuk-Yin, Daniel Wu, Dave Wong Kit, Andy On, Terence Yin Chi-Wai, Hayama Hiro, Coco Chiang Yi, Ken Lo, Yu Rong-Guang

Directed by Benny Chan

Expectations: Low.


Titling this film New Police Story evokes memories of Jackie’s successful series of films than ran through the ’80s and ’90s, but the “new” indicates that it’s a reboot or otherwise unrelated. It’s true, Jackie doesn’t play the loose Chan Ka-Kui character, and this film’s character is almost a polar opposite to Ka-Kui’s reckless, Supercop spirit. Jackie plays Senior Inspector Chan Kwok-Wing, a straight-laced man who gets the job done through discipline, strong leadership and efficiency. With a lead character like this, the film takes on a seriousness that none of the Police Story films carry, but anyone who has seen Crime Story will recognize the tone. So a more apt title might be New Crime Story, which is ironic since Crime Story was released in Japan under the title New Police Story. Confused yet? Anyway, what matters is that New Police Story is more Crime Story than Police Story, something that’s not readily apparent thanks to the title. I guess Hollywood isn’t the only film market to title based on name recognition.

A group of young thugs rob a bank in wild fashion, specifically asking for the police to be called when they finish gathering the money. Instead of swiftly making a getaway, they stick around to confront the policemen, seeing the situation as a game, complete with points for kills & property damage. After causing massive casualties, the robbers escape, and now Senior Inspector Chan Kwok-Wing, the force’s most successful investigator, is tasked with finding their hideout and bringing them to justice. He’s so confident in his abilities and those of his men that he brags about catching them within three hours, but when the assault on their hideout is launched, literally everything that could go wrong does. Chan is the staunch veteran going up against the youthful new breed of criminal; New Police Story could also be called No Hong Kong for Old Men. 🙂

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Around the World in 80 Days (2004)

Starring Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, Cécile De France, Jim Broadbent, Karen Mok, Ewen Bremner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sammo Hung, Violet Pan Ying-Zi, Daniel Wu, Kengo Watanabe, Maggie Q, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Rob Schneider, John Cleese, Will Forte, Kathy Bates, Robert Fyfe, Ian McNeice, David Ryall, Roger Hammond, Adam Godley

Directed by Frank Coraci

Expectations: Low, but it has Jackie and an Arnold cameo, so…


I haven’t seen the 1956 version of Around the World in 80 Days since I was a kid, but my initial feeling was that it didn’t seem like something that lends itself to Jackie Chan. But this new version isn’t so much a remake as it is a complete fantasy/steampunk re-imagining with Jackie Chan’s style in mind from the genesis. A new sub-plot focuses on bringing Jackie’s talents to the forefront, and while it definitely isn’t the most inspired story line, it’s more than enough to entertain and justify the stunts and fights we all look for in a Jackie movie. Fans of the novel and the classic, Oscar-winning film will likely be disappointed by this re-telling, but I feel like fans of Jackie might really enjoy themselves if they click with the film’s comedic style (which probably skews a bit younger than Jackie’s other US films). I know I did, and to be honest I was expecting a total stinker!

Passepartout (Jackie Chan) robs a precious Jade Buddha from the Bank of England and is in need of shelter. He finds it with Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan), an inventor with a rich, creative mind for science. Fogg lacks much life experience “outside the lab,” though, rarely venturing from his home. One of the few places he frequents is the Royal Academy of Science, where he’s regularly laughed at and thought of as an eccentric thinker who lacks the practicality to be useful to the field of science. In a bid to rid themselves of him, the head of the academy, Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent), bets Fogg that his calculation of being able to circumnavigate the world in 80 days is incorrect. The stakes are immense: if Fogg wins, he becomes head of the academy, but if he loses he must give up inventing for the rest of his life. Oh, and a bunch of henchmen are in pursuit of Jackie and his Jade Buddha the whole time, further complicating their travels.

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The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

the_man_with_the_iron_fists_2012Starring RZA, Rick Yune, Russell Crowe, Byron Mann, Lucy Liu, Dave Bautista, Jamie Chung, Cung Le, Daniel Wu, Zhu Zhu, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Andrew Ng, Grace Huang, Andrew Lin, Chen Kuan-Tai, Leung Kar-Yan, MC Jin, Pam Grier, Jon T. Benn

Directed by RZA

Expectations: Low, but hopeful.

twohalfstar


The Man with the Iron Fists is a strange movie, without a doubt. But I don’t think it’s bad; it’s more oddly misguided than anything else. What’s weird is that it feels this way based almost completely on how much RZA gets right in his homage to the classic kung fu films of the Shaw Brothers. Yes, “right.” The sets are magnificent and recapture the opulence of Shaw sets beautifully, the wirework is delivered with top-notch Hong Kong skill, and the story is filled with the wide range of colorful characters that any good wuxia demands. The weapons are suitably eccentric, and the battles are all well choreographed (by Corey Yuen), too. If you didn’t know any better, you might think that The Man with the Iron Fists was actually a Chinese production. RZA actually managed to resurrect the spirit of classic kung fu films, but — and this is where the “strange” comes in — the lens we experience all this classic kung fu goodness through is that of modern American filmmaking.

So because the film has so much good working for it, the bad sticks out and demands to be reckoned with in more apparent and frustrating ways than would otherwise be noticeable. The choice to film primarily in English is an expected one, but, at least for me, many of the actors sounded more like ’70s kung fu dubbing than actual actors in a scene. This could be bad acting, poor direction, or it could be by design. If it is intentional, that’s one hell of a bold choice for an unproven, first-time director making what is essentially a large-scale vanity project, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was true. I’m sure RZA grew up watching the dubs that made their way to the States in the ’70s, and as a result has a nostalgic fondness for them. No matter what the reason, though, it’s off-putting, especially to someone like me that has never really grown fond of those iconic dub jobs.

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Europa Report (2013)

europareport_5Starring Christian Camargo, Embeth Davidtz, Anamaria Marinca, Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Wu, Karolina Wydra, Sharlto Copley, Dan Fogler, Isiah Whitlock Jr.

Directed by Sebastián Cordero

Expectations: Pretty high. I do like my sci-fi.

threestar


Europa Report is the movie you’ve dreamed of if you’re a big fan of Ben Bova’s novel Mars (or presumably any of the many sequels to it that I never read). What that means is that Europa Report is a movie that takes space exploration seriously, and is therefore much more realistic and unique than the usual action science fiction movie made by Hollywood. Enjoyment of a film like Europa Report takes patience, investment and a genuine wonder about the mysteries the rest of our universe holds to discover if we ever do make it up there.

Europa Report is essentially a found footage film, but, unlike other films in this sub-par genre, this does not equal handheld shaky-cam nonsense. All of the cameras are fixed to the walls of the Europa One spacecraft, capturing the day-to-day lives of our astronauts from many different angles. This removes the one main barrier to entry that plagues films of the genre, and it helps us enter this scientific world seamlessly. We are merely watching video feeds like security guards, or, if you want to role-play, mission control.

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Mini-Review: Shinjuku Incident (2009)

Shinjuku Incident (2009)

Starring Jackie Chan, Naoto Takenaka, Daniel Wu, Chin Kar-lok, Xu Jinglei, Fan Bing-Bing, Masaya Kato, Jack Kao, Yasuaki Kurata, Lam Suet, Ken Lo, Kenya Sawada, Paul Chun

Directed by Derek Yee

Expectations: Moderate. Jackie Chan is always good.


It’s important to know going into Shinjuku Incident that it is not an action film. The DVD box will have you believe otherwise, but it is merely a ploy to get you to watch it because you like Jackie Chan and his action films. Thankfully I knew this, so my expectations were properly set for the crime drama that it is. It’s not without some limited moments of action as dictated by the story, but none of it is choreographed in any way, shape, or form like a martial arts film or even your standard Hong Kong crime action film. Shinjuku Incident shares more with Scarface or The Godfather than it does Police Story, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

With that out of the way, the film is a pretty good one. Directed by Derek Yee (star of one of my all-time favorite kung-fu films, Shaolin Intruders), Shinjuku Incident tells the story of Nick (Jackie Chan) who illegally enters Japan in an effort to better his life. He meets up with a group of friends already living there and together they struggle to survive in the harsh world of the Yakuza-controlled Shinjuku district. This early period of the film sets up the characters nicely, with their motives and struggles feeling rooted in reality. The film takes a turn at about the halfway point and becomes even more interesting by throwing Nick into a couple of sticky situations. Watching him react and seeing him make key decisions is where the film hits its stride, tying in earlier plot points and characters into its complex weave.

I’m pretty tired of crime drama these days as I rarely see anything that’s truly original, and Shinjuku Incident definitely doesn’t innovate in any major way, but it remains enjoyable throughout thanks to excellent acting from the entire cast. Jackie has a couple of actiony sequences and believably acts like he doesn’t know what he’s doing, struggling to hold his own against more seasoned fighters. Beyond the physicality though, Jackie brings a muted, thoughtful character to the screen that never ceases to be entertaining. The film also features some pretty good use of gore, which adds a lot to the visceral impact of the film.

Having recently seen The Town, I can’t help but compare the two similarly themed films. While The Town is more exciting, Shinjuku Incident is much more layered and full of character depth than The Town, and is a much more rewarding film for it. There are definitely better told crime boss tales, but Shinjuku Incident is still worth your time if you enjoy the genre and / or Asian cinema.




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