Skiptrace (2016)

Skiptrace [絕地逃亡] (2016)

Starring Jackie Chan, Johnny Knoxville, Fan Bing-Bing, Eric Tsang, Eve Torres, Winston Chao Wen-Hsuan, Yeon Jung-Hoon, Kira Shi Shi, Michael Wong Man-Tak, Dylan Kuo Pin-Chao, Zhang Lan-Xin, Na Wei, Charlie Rawes, Mikhail Gorevoy, Sara Forsberg, Jai Day, Richard Ng

Directed by Renny Harlin

Expectations: Pretty low.


Skiptrace was released a couple of years ago, and if I was a competent film reviewer doing a Jackie Chan series I might have reviewed it back then. I chose not to for a simple reason: Skiptrace didn’t look great, in fact it looked like a film that I didn’t mind waiting to see whenever I reviewed my way up to it. That time has finally come, and I can’t say that I was wrong to wait. Skiptrace is as bad as I thought it would be, but somehow knowing exactly why it’s bad just makes it seem worse than before. I’m not a fan of the Shanghai Noon films, and that’s what this film most closely resembles, so I imagine if you like those you might like this one, too.

We begin in the past, where Bennie Chan (Jackie Chan) scales a dock structure to help his friend (Eric Tsang) with the giant bomb strapped to his chest. Eric Tsang, knowing he is beyond help, jumps into the water below and explodes, leaving Jackie with the guilt and the responsibility to care for Eric’s daughter, Samantha (Fan Bingbing). Meanwhile, Connor (Johnny Knoxville) is a scumbag hustler who happens to meet Samantha in a Macau casino. While there he sees a man murder a woman; the same man who Hong Kong policeman Bennie Chan has tried to convict since he killed Eric Tsang. Somewhere in there Connor and Bennie meet up and the chase is on, with Chinese drug runners and a group of Russians in hot pursuit. It’s hard to describe, but it doesn’t play so disjointed while you’re watching it.

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A Tale of Three Cities (2015)

A Tale of Three Cities [三城記] (2015)

Starring Lau Ching-Wan, Tang Wei, Qin Hai-Lu, Boran Jing Bo-Ran, Huang Jue, Elaine Kam Yin-Ling, Li Jian-Yi, Jiao Gang, Phillip Chan Yan-Kin, Wang Zhi-Xuan, He Ya-Fei, Xiong Ao-Yu, Yuan Wei-Xuan

Directed by Mabel Cheung

Expectations: Moderate. I’m curious to see the story dramatized.


After watching Mabel Cheung’s 2003 documentary, Traces of a Dragon, about Jackie Chan’s parents and their wartime struggles before arriving in Hong Kong, I was immediately intrigued to see A Tale of Three Cities, Cheung’s 2015 feature film version of the story. Like everything with me, though, “immediately” turned into 16 months later, so the true story of the documentary wasn’t quite so fresh in mind. This probably worked out for the best, allowing A Tale of Three Cities to exist a bit on its own, although I was also surprised just how many events in the movie I do remember from stories in the documentary. The question of which one better tells its tale is one I’m not entirely sure I can answer, although for me I’d lean towards the documentary. Regardless, it is quite the incredible story that you’re not likely to forget however you take in its specifics.

Our story begins during the Second Sino-Japanese War, with a series of events showing us the food chain of war. Whether we acknowledge it or not, the world generally exists on the principle that everyone is out for themselves, and only the strong survive. The context of war adds a huge amount of chaos to the mix, changing circumstances in a moment, for both good and bad. This is communicated expertly by Cheung in these opening moments, and in terms of the film’s plot it eventually introduces us to Chen Yuerong (Tang Wei), a mother of two young girls who has just become a widow. Cheung chooses to introduce the male lead, Fang Daolong (Lau Ching-Wan), many years later, in the early 1950s when he is working in the kitchen of the US consulate in Hong Kong. We don’t know of his struggles to get there, but the depth of his experience is easy to spot in his eyes and the way he carries himself.

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Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018)

Starring Thomas Lennon, Jenny Pellicer, Nelson Franklin, Charlyne Yi, Michael Paré, Barbara Crampton, Udo Kier, Alex Beh, Matthias Hues, Skeeta Jenkins, Anne Beyer, Victoria Hande, Betsy Holt

Puppet Cast: Blade, Pinhead, Tunneler, Torch (as Kaiser), Amphibian, Mechaniker, Grasshüpfer, Mr. Pumper, Junior Fuhrer, Autogyro, Money Lender

Directed by Sonny Laguna & Tommy Wiklund

Expectations: Low, but it’s getting some good reviews.


The idea of a Puppet Master movie without the input of Charles Band was probably great news to many fans. Band’s films have always been low-budget, but Full Moon’s recent output is noticeably more threadbare and trashy than anything from their ’90s heyday. Their last Puppet Master film, 2017’s Puppet Master: Axis Termination, was a great step in the right direction, but I can’t argue that anyone other than die-hard fans will get much out of it. That being said, a Puppet Master film without Band seems weird to me, as Band’s wacko sense of lighthearted macabre is an integral part of the foundation to nearly every Full Moon film. Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich has its own style and tone, which introduces its own problems and shortcomings, and as such it is likely to split both fans and newcomers alike.

Edgar (Thomas Lennon) is a 40-something comic book creator returning to live at his parents’ home after his recent divorce. Nearby a puppet auction is set to happen at the Toulon Mansion, once home to the Nazi puppet maker who died in a stand-off with the police. Edgar still has a Blade puppet found by his brother when they were kids, so he decides to go sell it at the auction. There’s a bit more to it, but that’s all that matters for my purposes here. It’s a ridiculously simple set-up, and not a very elegant one. The film is truly not concerned with telling a story, though; it’s nothing more than an excuse to bring a bunch of people to one location so the puppets can wreak havoc on them. If that’s all you want out of a Puppet Master movie, then this one definitely delivers. That has never been the focus of Band’s Puppet Master movies, but this is a parallel series so that’s not entirely surprising.

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Ravenwolf Towers (2016)

Starring Shiloh Creveling, Evan Henderson, Maria Olsen, Michael Citriniti, George Appleby, Sonny King, Jesse Egan, Rosemary Brownlow, Arthur Roberts, Robert Cooper, Nihilist Gelo, William Paul Burns, Tarashai Lee

Directed by Charles Band

Expectations: Not much. Perhaps a variation on the Evil Bong store format.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


Usually I try to keep up with the latest offerings from Full Moon, but Ravenwolf Towers slipped through the cracks. It originally debuted as an episodic series in December 2016, with new episodes to be released every subsequent full moon. My intentions were to review the complete series, like I did with Trophy Heads, their previous episodic release, but Full Moon stopped releasing new episodes after the third came out in February 2017. For a while I assumed they were just behind schedule — it happens to the best of us — so I continued to wait, and in November 2017 they released a feature-length version combining the three released episodes. My intentions were to review it ASAP, but then I got behind schedule myself and now here we are in the latter half of June 2018 and I’m finally reviewing Ravenwolf Towers. Why do I relate this long-winded history of putting off Ravenwolf Towers? Well… because Ravenwolf Towers is fantastic, a real achievement for Full Moon, and I’m sorry I ever waited to watch it. I imagine there are others who were similarly waiting to watch it, and I hope by relating my story I might get people off the fence and onto their favorite Full Moon streaming platform to watch it!

Ravenwolf Towers takes place in the titular building, a rundown hotel in Hollywood that’s been around since at least the 1920s. Jake (Evan Henderson) is hired on as an assistant manager, and things get weird before he even has a chance to settle in. The entire top floor is leased by a single family, access to this floor is only available via a special key to the elevator, and the family is not to be disturbed unless absolutely necessary. Ivan Ivanoff (George Appleby) — a character from the Decadent Evil movies and, most recently, Puppet Master: Axis Termination — rents a room and pays cash to avoid the standard forms and questions. His presence suggests a supernatural evil is afoot, but perhaps a better clue is the deformed monstrosity of a man who hides in a wardrobe and rips off a man’s arm during the film’s intro! 🙂

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Police Story 2013 (2013)

Police Story 2013 [警察故事2013] (2013)
AKA Police Story: Lockdown, Police Story – Back for Law, Police Story Legend, Police Story 2014

Starring Jackie Chan, Liu Ye, Jing Tian, Yu Rong-Guang, Yin Tao, Na Wei, Liu Yi-Wei, Liu Hai-Long, Liu Pei-Qi, Coulee Nazha, Zhou Xiao-Ou, Zha Ka, Zhang Lei

Directed by Ding Sheng

Expectations: I don’t expect much, honestly.


The convention of making a spiritual successor to a film series and attaching the year of production to the title is a common occurrence in the Hong Kong industry. Usually nothing carries over except the general idea of the series, and in the case of Police Story that’s a policeman overcoming insurmountable odds. I guess you could call it a reboot, but from the examples I’ve seen, the new films aren’t necessarily trying to recapture the same energy or style of the originals. Take the difference between Police Story 2013 and New Police Story as an example. New Police Story is a more serious version of the original films — it’s a new Police Story — and still includes many death-defying stunts and fights. Police Story 2013 is an entirely different style for a different time, losing much of the action and going for the tense tone of a thriller.

My point with this long-winded ramble is that while the film’s title makes sense within the context of the Hong Kong industry, I feel like the English-speaking audience would have watched it more open-minded without a connection to Jackie’s well-loved, action-packed series. Nearly every review I glanced at was negative, and many of them referenced how much better previous Police Story movies were, so my logical conclusion is that the title connection clouded the viewing experience somewhat. I find myself trying to decipher the largely negative reaction to Police Story 2013 because I loved the film, specifically because it was a different take on the idea.

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Evil Bong 777 (2018)

Starring Sonny Carl Davis, Robin Sydney, Jessica Morris, Michelle Mais, Brooks Davis, Mindy Robinson, Peter Donald Badalamenti II (as The Don), Caleb Hurst, Adam Noble Roberts, Elina Madison, Tonya Kay, Jillian Janson, Tanya Tate, Circus-Szalewski, K. Harrison Sweeney, Noelle Ann Mabry, Leya Falcon

Directed by Charles Band

Expectations: High times.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


Another 4/20, another Evil Bong movie! Somehow the last entry, Evil Bong 666, was one of the series’ high points, but I’d be lying if I said this gave me too much hope for the next film; it’s always better to have low expectations and be surprised, than to expect everything and be disappointed. In any case, my fears were mostly for naught, as Evil Bong 777 is nearly as fun and inventive as the film before it. My main complaint is that it’s more of a tease than a movie; the villains don’t do much of merit, and it ends on a fairly unsatisfying cliffhanger. That being said, the Evil Bong films were never about delivering a complete and balanced experience to the audience. Instead, they offer a range of oddball characters in oddball situations, and on these terms Evil Bong 777 does quite well.

Evil Bong 777 begins with a short recap of the events of Evil Bong 666 for those who forgot what happened, which is likely a large portion of the “medicated” audience. I definitely didn’t remember the specifics, and if there’s one thing I know about Evil Bong, it’s that intricate knowledge of the plot is essential to the series. 😀 Anyway, upon seeing the colorful images from a 4/20 gone by, I recalled all the weird fun that made up Evil Bong 666. To my surprise, this helps the Evil Bong 777 experience considerably, allowing you a minute to readjust your mind to the whacked-out world of Eebee and friends before diving back in. The recap also gave me the idea of a DVD extra where fans of the series try to explain the movies to people who have never heard of them; I’m positive the reactions would be hilarious. For my purposes here, though, I’ll just say that Rabbit, Faux Batty Boop, and Misty (along with the Gingerweed Man and Eebee) are behind the Venice Beach Magical Weed Dispensary where many of the films have taken place, but before you can say “Puff, Puff, Pass” they’re taking the weed circus on the road to Vegas thanks to a convenient Splyft limo ride.

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Manhunt (2017)

Manhunt [追捕] (2017)

Starring Zhang Han-Yu, Masaharu Fukuyama, Ha Ji-Won, Stephy Qi Wei, Jun Kunimura, Nanami Sakuraba, Angeles Woo, Yasuaki Kurata, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Tao Okamoto, Naoto Takenaka

Directed by John Woo

Expectations: A new John Woo action movie… I love these! But I have very little expectation to love this one, honestly.


John Woo has made over 30 films in various genres, but he is best known for his heroic bloodshed films set in the dangerous world of cops and criminals. His last film to fit the category is 1997’s Face/Off, so calling Manhunt a highly anticipated film would still undersell the considerable excitement of action fans worldwide. There is virtually no film that can stand up to 20 years of pent-up desires, though, and Manhunt is no different. It is not the next Hard Boiled, and it will never achieve such widespread classic status as The Killer or A Better Tomorrow. Regardless of this, Manhunt is a very enjoyable film in its own right, and a nice return for John Woo to the style that made him an international sensation. The focus on the overall style is particularly key, as the film itself hardly resembles Woo’s masterworks in any literal sense.

Du Qiu (Zhang Han-Yu) is a Chinese lawyer working in Japan for Tenjin Pharmaceuticals, a powerful corporation developing cutting-edge drugs. After a company party, Du Qiu is found in his apartment with the corpse of a woman beside him. Charged with murder, Du Qiu escapes the arresting cops and runs for his life. Japanese policeman Yamura (Masaharu Fukuyama) suspects a set-up, and with his recruit sidekick Rika (Nanami Sakuraba) he begins investigating beyond what the initial facts indicate. These threads converge and overlap throughout the film in clever ways, developing the bond between Du Qiu and Yamura, just as you would expect in a heroic bloodshed film from John Woo. The relationship feels undercooked compared to the perfectly executed ones in The Killer or Hard Boiled, though.

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