Shanghai Knights (2003)

AKA Shanghai Kid 2

Starring Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Tom Fisher, Aidan Gillen, Fann Wong, Donnie Yen

Directed by David Dobkin

Expectations: Super low. I remember hating this.


When I saw Shanghai Knights in 2003, it put me off Jackie Chan movies for years. Re-watching it was an equally painful experience; out of all the modern American films Jackie made up to this point, Shanghai Knights was easily the hardest to sit through. But in the nearly 15 years between watches, I’ve become a lot more able to sort through my feelings and process them into some kind of understanding. In 2003, I simply hated the film, but now in 2017 it’s more disappointment I’m feeling.

Shanghai Knights takes the Shanghai Noon boys and drops them into 1800s London, under the auspices of finding the killer of Chon Wang’s father. There’s a little more to it, but that’s pretty much the only thing that matters. Almost everything else is filler or distraction, and very little of it helps to further much of anything. The weak story of action setup can work in a Jackie film (see: Mr. Nice Guy), but this sort of thing lives or dies depending on the person watching it. The comedy of Shanghai Knights is far from funny or entertaining (most of it coming through inane references to popular things from our era), and the action, while good and a step up from the original film, is the source of much of my disappointment.

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Wu Xia (2011)

Wu Xia [武術] (2011)
AKA Dragon, Swordsmen

Starring Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tang Wei, Zheng Wei, Li Jia-Min, Jimmy Wang Yu, Kara Hui, Yin Zhu-Sheng, Chun Hyn, To Ning

Directed by Peter Chan

Expectations: High, but still guarded.


It’s all in the title. By titling this tale by the name of an entire genre of film, the filmmakers involved immediately acknowledge that this is something of an homage. Of course, it’s an homage to wuxia films, specifically The One-Armed Swordsman and films of its vintage that came out of the Shaw Brothers studio. While Wu Xia does not take its cues directly from any one film, there are many elements at work here that would fit in beautifully to a late ’60s Shaw Brothers flick, so for someone like me who’s doing his own homage in review form, this is like a direct I.V. of awesome.

Donnie Yen plays Liu Jin-Xi, a paper maker in a small village. One day working on some paper windows, a couple of thugs enter the shop and demand money from the owner. Liu cowers in fear behind a counter until he decides to take action and do whatever he can to stop the violent outbursts of the two men. As a martial arts fan this scene is somewhat disappointing because we all know Donnie Yen is a total badass, but he spends most of the fight just holding on to the one guy’s midsection. Despite this, the fight is fun, although it gave me a bad feeling that Wu Xia would be yet another modern Hong Kong film where a martial arts star is placed into the role of a man who does not know, and does not over the course of the film learn, martial arts. So let me just say this: keep watching. You will be rewarded.

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SPL (2005)

SPL [殺破狼] (2005)
AKA Sha Po Lang, Kill Zone

Starring Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Simon Yam, Liu Kai-Chi, Jacky Wu Jing, Timmy Hung Tin-Ming, Ken Cheung Chi-Yiu, Austin Wai Tin-Chi, Uncle Ba Suk, Danny Summer

Directed by Wilson Yip

Expectations: High. I’m totally stoked to be wowed.


OK, right off the bat I just want to say that this is definitely not the revelation in martial arts cinema I was led to believe it was. In 2005, Hong Kong films had fallen into disrepair, cranking out ugly CG-aided fights with their greatest stars off to find their fortunes in Hollywood. Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen, tired of this bullshit and wishing to recapture the 80s/90s glory days, created SPL, a film that would feature fights as they were done in the past. This was a line in the sand to everyone else, to prove definitively that fantastic martial arts choreography and performers trump any and all CG bullshit. In that, they handily succeeded, but in the grand scheme of things, SPL isn’t worthy of the high praise.

The film opens with a car crash. A group of cops were transporting a witness, his wife and their daughter when an assassin rammed them with his car. It instantly killed everyone except for two of the cops and the little girl, and it was yet another crime added to the résumé of Wong Po (Sammo Hung). Because the witness was unable to testify, Wong Po was released, but Inspector Chan (Simon Yam) vows to nail his ass at some indeterminate time in the future. Donnie Yen gets roped into this struggle later in the film, and there’s some personal melodrama draped over the whole thing, but that’s it in a nutshell.

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Seven Swords (2005)

Seven Swords [七劍] (2005)

Starring Donnie Yen, Leon Lai, Charlie Yeung, Lu Yi, Lau Kar-Leung, Sun Hong-Lei, Kim Soo-Yeon, Michael Wong Man-Tak, Chi Kuan-Chun, Jason Pai Piao, Duncan Lai, Tai Li-Wu, Zhang Jing-Chu, Huang Peng, Ma Jing-Wu

Directed by Tsui Hark

Expectations: Moderate. It seems to have a lot going for it, but I don’t want to get too excited.


Back in my teenage years, Tsui Hark was one of the mystical, incredible directors that I loved. He was responsible for some of the best films Hong Kong had to offer, most notably the Once Upon a Time in China films and Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain (among many, many others). Like lots of the big Hong Kong directors though, he emigrated over to the US in the late 90s, hoping to find grand success on the larger American stage. Instead, he found heartache and disappointment with a pair of underperforming JCVD films, Double Team and Knock Off. To be fair, I’ve only seen half of Double Team and the first few minutes of Knock Off, something I plan to remedy at some point, but from these small bits one might guess he had lost his knack for filmmaking. Seven Swords is a few years later, but it proves why Hong Kong filmmakers should stay in Hong Kong (unless an American studio is willing to give them free rein, which is never going to happen).

On the surface, Seven Swords is yet another play on the Seven Samurai framework. A helpless village is being assaulted by bandits and they need the help of seven rogue swordsman and all that. Here it’s slightly tweaked where the Emperor has sent out an edict where all practitioners of martial arts are to be killed. General Fire-Wind and his brutal army are parading around the land, killing and beheading whoever fits the bill. They happen upon a remote village and quickly plan their assault. Two of the villagers, along with veteran martial arts choreographer and all-around Hong Kong legend Lau Kar-Leung, venture out to Mount Heaven in search of some help from the hermit swordsmen residing there. So yeah, the setup is very Seven Samurai, but the rest of the movie is anything but.

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Flash Point (2007)

Flash Point [導火線] (2007)
AKA City With No Mercy, City Without Mercy, The Signal

Starring Donnie Yen, Louis Koo, Ngai Sing, Ray Lui, Xing Yu, Fan Bing-Bing, Kent Cheng, Xu Qing, Teresa Ha Ping, Helena Law Lan, Tony Ho Wah-Chiu, Irene Wong Yun-Yun

Directed by Wilson Yip

Expectations: High. I’ve been pumped to see some more of the Wilson Yip/Donnie Yen films since I saw Ip Man, which was quite a while ago at this point.


Donnie Yen is a badass motherfucker. This should be a given, but some may not yet be familiar with his work. Flash Point isn’t a good starting point, but it will show you (eventually) just how badass Donnie Yen is. See the problem with this one, despite featuring the current reigning badass of Hong Kong cinema, is that it’s actually not much of a martial arts film until the final scene. There are flashes (and points), where bits of martial arts are sprinkled in but it never really lets loose until the final fight. This is a supreme disappointment to me, but regardless of this Flash Point remains entertaining and fast-paced throughout.

Yen plays a ruthless cop that has a nasty habit of beating the shit out of every criminal he takes down. He’s got a high rate of success at cracking cases, but the suits at the police force don’t like his brutal methods. In other movies this might be a vital plot point, or perhaps a wake-up call to Yen’s character, but in Flash Point it’s basically meaningless until the very end of the film when it all gets brought back around. Not that you need a point or a moral to the story. Anyway, he’s on the prowl for some asshole Triad dudes that are trying to make off with some money they fucked a bunch of Vietnamese gangsters out of. I recently wrote about the underdeveloped plot in Merantau, and how it wasn’t necessary to the film to have it be much more developed. In Flash Point we have the opposite, where the plot is too developed and becomes so convoluted at times that it’s hard to keep track of what exactly is going on. The thing is, it doesn’t matter. Before you know it, you’ll catch back up and figure out what’s going on. This isn’t a Bergman film, so the real reason you’re here is for a fun thrill ride, and Flash Point delivers on that promise.

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Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010)

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen [精武风云] (2010)

Starring Donnie Yen, Shu Qi, Anthony Wong, Huang Bo, Kohata Ryu, Yasuaki Kurata, Zhou Yang, Huo Siyan, Shawn Yue, Ma Yue, Ma Su, Chen Jiajia, Zhang Songwen, Lü Xiaolin

Directed by Andrew Lau

Expectations: Moderate, I heard this wasn’t that good.


I’m a huge fan of Donnie Yen and I’d love to come out and say that everybody needs to check out the latest of his films to hit stateside. I’d be lying through my teeth if I did though, because Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen is a major disappointment. I even went into the movie with tempered expectations after hearing it was just alright, but the actuality of watching it was even worse than I had prepared myself for. This is a real shame because Donnie Yen in the role of Chen Zhen sounds like an awesome setup to me.

The film opens during World War I where Donnie Yen and some fellow Chinese brethren are doing their best to stay alive amidst the explosions in the devastated war zone. Yen eventually kicks it into high-gear and single-handedly annihilates the opposing force with a mix of superhero spunk and martial skill. The action here is ridiculously over-the-top & unbelievable but it’s incredibly fun. If only the rest of the film could keep up the pace and boisterous nature of these opening moments.

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Once Upon a Time in China 2 (1992)

Once Upon a Time in China 2 (1992)

Starring Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Rosamund Kwan, Max Mok, Zhang Tielin, David Chiang, Hung Yan-Yan, Yen Shi-Kwan

Directed by Tsui Hark

Expectations: High. I haven’t seen it in a while and I’m really looking forward to the Jet Li / Donnie Yen fight.


So back when I started this site in April, I wrote up some of my thoughts after revisiting one of the classics from my youth, Once Upon a Time in China. I’ve wanted to get down to business and watch the much-loved sequel since then, but only recently got around to it. Wow, I gotta say… this one is even better than the first. It’s possible that I feel this way because I recently watched the original and I had less of an adjustment period, but whatever, Once Upon a Time in China 2 is a damn pleasing film.

While the recently reviewed Ip Man was set during the Second Sino-Japanese War, Once Upon a Time in China 2 takes place just after the First Sino-Japanese War. Taiwan has been handed over to Japan and outside influence is getting stronger. The White Lotus clan is angry that Westerners have come to China and brought all their nasty wares with them. They wish to kill the foreigners and rid the land of everything related to them. Led by the Immortal Kung (Hung Yan-Yan), they are ultra-nationalists and will stop at nothing to achieve their goals.

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