Quick Takes: Ichi the Killer, The Legend Is Born: Ip Man, John Wick

ichiIchi the Killer [殺し屋1] (1994)
threehalfstar

Starring Tadanobu Asano, Nao Omori, Shin’ya Tsukamoto, Paulyn Sun, Susumu Terajima, Shun Sugata, Toru Tezuka, Yoshiki Arizono, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Satoshi Niizuma, Suzuki Matsuo, Jun Kunimura
Directed by Takashi Miike

Ichi the Killer is the third feature I’ve seen from Takashi Miike, and damn he’s good. A film like this that’s so incredibly bloody and violent, but yet the main takeaway is the need for a deep intellectual discussion… that’s hard to pull off. It ultimately felt like Miike had crafted a film that wonders about the people who watch these kinds of films (or violent, “negative” media in general) with an armchair bloodlust. This all seemed to hinge on one small moment during the finale when a character in extreme peril looks directly into the camera with intense fear, while that same camera is presenting a first-person view from the character instilling this fear in the other. In any case, this is definitely not a film for the squeamish, as it’s one hell of an extreme, sadistic bloodbath. Audition may have gotten the “this movie is so crazy and shocking” press, but Ichi the Killer is a million times worse than Audition. The nipple scene is sheer torture! I literally pushed my chair back as far as it would go, cringed and repeated “Goddamn!” in a whisper for the next 30 seconds or so. Good stuff.

TheLegendIsBornIpMan+2010-3-bThe Legend Is Born: Ip Man [葉問前傳] (2010)
AKA Ip Man Zero
threestar

Starring Dennis To, Crystal Huang Yi, Xu Jiao, Hins Cheung King-Hin, Fan Siu-Wong, Yuen Biao, Lam Suet, Yip Chun, Bernice Liu Bik-Yi, Sire Ma Choi, Rose Chan Ka-Wun, Sammo Hung
Directed by Herman Yau

I initially avoided The Legend Is Born: Ip Man out of respect for the original Ip Man films. I didn’t want to see any watered-down knock-offs. But then it occurred to me that it was no different than all the Brucesploitation films that are a lot of fun, so I plunged in head-first, hoping it wouldn’t be as trashy as a you might expect a knock-off to be. And, you know, it actually felt more respectful of Ip Man’s legacy than Ip Man 2 was! The Legend Is Born even features Ip Man’s son, Ip Chun, in a wonderful role as an elder student of Wing Chun that has developed a more refined and varied approach to the fighting style that revolutionizes Ip Man’s way of thinking. This reminded me greatly of Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do style, and if this section of the film was truthful to Ip Man’s life, then I imagine it was this spirit of openness to other styles and ways of thinking that he would later pass on to Bruce. I loved the focus on Wing Chun in The Legend Is Born, and it’s definitely one for Hong Kong fans to watch. In some ways it actually felt like an older-style kung fu film that is generally no longer made, and you know that kind of thing is a quick way to my heart. And it has Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung in supporting roles!

johnwickJohn Wick (2014)
AKA Sin Control, John Wick: Sin Control

twostar

Starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, Omer Barnea, Toby Leonard Moore, Daniel Bernhardt, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Clarke Peters
Directed by Chad Stahelski & David Leitch

I just didn’t connect with John Wick at all. I blame the fan hype that sold it as some kind of John Woo-style gun movie. I didn’t see that in it AT ALL. The way the violence was handled felt really gross. It’s the same problem I have with a lot of modern horror films: everything looks too damn real or graphic for me to just have fun with it. I am forced to reckon with the reality of the situation, which in this case is John Wick revenge-killing a whole shitload of dudes. All the violence is really flippant and backed by “cool” music, too, so everything about the violence felt glorified and dirty to me. I can’t have fun with that. Does this even make sense to anyone but me? It’s hard to explain. Whatever. I didn’t like it. ’nuff said.

Story of Ricky (1991)

l_15288_0102293_34524ceaStory of Ricky [力王] (1991)
AKA Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky, Riki-Oh, Lik Wong, King of Strength

Starring Fan Siu-Wong, Fan Mei-Sheng, William Ho Ka-Kui, Yukari Oshima, Tetsuro Tamba, Gloria Yip Wan-Yee, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Lam Suet, Koichi Sugisaki, Frankie Chan Chi-Leung, Chan Ging, Chan Kwok-Bong, Chang Gan-Wing, Lam Kai-Wing

Directed by Lam Nai-Choi

Expectations: High. It’s been too long since I’ve seen this.

fourstar


By 2001 AD, capitalistic countries have privatized all government organizations. Prisons, like car-parks, have become franchised business…

Just like real life!

Like Escape From New York, Story of Ricky tells the story of a man being sent to prison. But unlike Snake Plissken, Ricky holds the ability to literally punch through anything, and he does just that in nearly every one of his scenes in the film. And when I say anything, I mean it. The dude puts his fist through everything it comes in contact with: heads, walls, prison bars, stomachs, elbows, other fists… the list goes on. The amount of insanely over-the-top gore is off the chart, making Story of Ricky an absolute must-see.

Continue reading Story of Ricky (1991) →

Gong Tau: An Oriental Black Magic (2007)

Gong Tau: An Oriental Black Magic [降頭] (2007)
AKA Voodoo

Starring Mark Cheng Ho-Nam, Maggie Siu Mei-Kei, Lam Suet, Kenny Wong Tak-Ban, Teng Tzu-Hsuan, Kris Gu Yu, Hui Siu-Hung, Jay Lau Gam-Ling, Kam Loi-Kwan, Fung Hak-On

Directed by Herman Yau

Expectations: Moderate. I love the black magic, and curious to see how a modern, CG-era film can bring the elements together.


Oh boy, did I have high hopes for this one. I may not have expected a whole lot, but I held onto the hope that a 2007 film could push the boundaries much further than an ’80s Shaw Brothers film could, and while that definitely could be the case overall, it is definitely not the case with Gong Tau. This is unfortunate because all the basic pieces of the black magic movie are in place, but instead of compiling them and assaulting the audience with wild, magical antics, Gong Tau instead chooses to try for a more realistic approach. While this might sound like it could take the black magic film into new and interesting territories, it just obscures the awesome of the magic and surrounds it with a whole lot of boring.

Gong Tau‘s story is remarkably similar to Bewitched, probably my favorite Asian horror film from what I’ve seen so far. A policeman travels to Thailand and has an affair, and when he has to return to Hong Kong, he promises that he will return. He doesn’t, and it sends his life into a spiral thanks to the girl’s connections in the black magic world. Kinda. This is one of the stories being told in Gong Tau, and it is ultimately the most important one, but before you get to it you have to wade through a bunch of meandering stuff that is of varying importance. Where the Shaw films presented the setup for why the magic is being laid on its victims up front and at the beginning of the tale, Gong Tau tries to layer it throughout and make it something of a mystery as to who is doing these things to the policeman’s family. While this may work for a first time viewer of a Chinese black magic film, I knew what was going on the whole time, so their obscure storytelling and pointless wondering led me to somewhere a black magic film should never venture: the land of boredom.

Continue reading Gong Tau: An Oriental Black Magic (2007) →

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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