Showing posts with label Martial Arts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Martial Arts. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Review: First "MORTAL KOMBAT" Film Has Not Lost its Immortal Charm

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 50 of 2023 (No. 1939) by Leroy Douresseaux

Mortal Kombat (1995)
Running time:  101 minutes (1 hour, 41 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for non-stop martial arts action and some violence
DIRECTOR:  Paul Anderson
WRITER:  Kevin Droney (based on the video game created by Ed Boon and John Tobias)
PRODUCER:  Lawrence Kasanoff
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  John R. Leonetti (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Martin Hunter
COMPOSER:  George S. Clinton


Starring:  Robin Shou, Christopher Lambert, Linden Ashby, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Bridgette Wilson, Talisa Soto, Trevor Goddard, Chris Casamassa, Francois Petit, Keith H. Cooke, Steven Ho, Gregory McKinney, and the voices of Frank Welker, Ed Boon, and Kevin Michael Richardson

Mortal Kombat is a 1995 martial arts and action fantasy film directed by Paul W. S. Anderson.  It is the first film in the Mortal Kombat film franchise, and is based on the video game series, Mortal Kombat, which began in 1992.  Mortal Kombat the movie focuses on three martial artists who find themselves entered into a martial arts tournament that will decide the fate of Earth.

Mortal Kombat opens in the dreams of Liu Kang (Robin Shou), a former Shaolin monk.  Kang dreams of the death of his brother, Chan (Steven Ho), at the hands of Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), a powerful sorcerer.  Now, Kang is determined to avenge his brother's death, and to do this, his most enter the tournament, Mortal Kombat.

Mortal Kombat is a martial arts tournament that is held once every generation between the representatives of the realms of Earth and Outworld .  There have been nine previous editions of the tournament, and the realm of Earth has lost all of them.  If the warriors of Earth lose this tenth tournament, the realm of Outworld and its Emperor will invade the realm of Earth.

Although Kang's former comrades in “the Order of Light” are reluctant to have him represent them in the tournament, Lord Rayden (Christopher Lambert), the god of thunder and defender of the realm of Earth, believes Kang is the right choice.  In addition to Kang, Rayden has chosen two other entrants, Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby), a movie star who wants to prove that his martial arts skills are legitimate, and Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson), an American special forces operative, who is hunting another entrant in Mortal Kombat.  That would be Kano (Trevor Goddard), a criminal allied with Shang Tsung.

Kang, Cage, and Blade travel to Shang Tsung's island where they meet Princess Kitana (Talisa Soto), the Emperor's adopted daughter, who wants to ally with the Earth warriors.  With its strange rules, Tsung's weird warriors, and lurking danger, Mortal Kombat will test the warriors from the realm of Earth to their limits.

I first saw Mortal Kombat when it was initially released to theaters in August 1995.  I liked the movie, but at the time, I was not overwhelmed by it.  I do remember it fondly because I saw it with coworker who was a fellow college student and also a dear friend for many years.  Since then, I have grown fond of Mortal Kombat, and I have wondered why over the years.

The Mortal Kombat video game and subsequent film adaptation are hugely influenced by the legendary Bruce Lee's classic 1973 martial arts film, Enter the Dragon.  There seems to be some kind of mental and dream time connection in my mind and imagination between this first Mortal Kombat film and Enter the Dragon, which is one of my all-time favorite films.  [However, I have only watched the 1997 sequel, Mortal Kombat Annihilation, in its entirety once, and I have not seen the 2021 franchise reboot, Mortal Kombat.]

Mortal Kombat is by no means perfect.  Some of the dialogue is stiff, and is made stiffer by the actors' deliveries, especially in the case of Bridgette Wilson as Sonya Blade and Linden Ashby as Johnny Cage.  However, the two aren't always bad, and I find them rather likable.  Christopher Lambert is unfortunate as Lord Rayden, I'm sad to say; everything about his character is forced and contrived.  Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is over the top and melodramatic as Shang Tsung, but I really dig his performance and his character.  I think there isn't enough of Tagawa's Shang Tsung.

The two best things about Mortal Kombat 1995 are Robin Shou as Liu Kang and the film's soundtrack.  Shou, an underutilized Hong Kong-born actor, is magnetic as Kang, and Shou is the one that makes the film more than just a standard martial arts/action-fantasy film.  Mortal Kombat also features The Immortals' single, “Techno-Syndrome,” with its signature yell of “Mortal Kombat!”  It lifts this movie any time a few strains of it are played, and the music certainly creates a sense of anticipation for me.

So Mortal Kombat is by no means a great film; it may even be a mediocre film.  For me, however, it seems to get better each time I watch it.  I think I hear the opening notes of “Techno-Sydrome” now.  “MORTAL KOMBAT!”

7 of 10
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Monday, December 4, 2023

The text is copyright © 2023 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.



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Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Review: "ENTER THE DRAGON" and Bruce Lee Are Still Kicking Ass 50 Years Later

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 43 of 2023 (No. 1932) by Leroy Douresseaux

Enter the Dragon (1973)
Running time: 102 minutes (1 hour, 42 minutes)
MPAA – R for martial arts violence and brief nudity
DIRECTOR:  Robert Clouse
WRITER:  Michael Allin
PRODUCERS:  Fred Weintraub, Raymond Chow, and Paul Heller
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Gilbert Hubbs (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Kurt Hirschler and George Watters
COMPOSER:  Lalo Schifrin


Starring:  Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Ahna Capri, Kien Shih, Bob Wall, Angela Mao, Betty Chung, Geoffrey Weeks, Marlene Clark, Peter Archer, Ho Lee Yan, and Bolo Yeung with Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yeun Wah

Enter the Dragon is a 1973 martial arts and action film directed by Robert Clouse and starring Bruce Lee (1940-1973).  An international co-production between the United States and Hong Kong, the film debuted one month after Lee's death on July 20, 1973.  Thus, August 19, 1973 was the fiftieth anniversary of the film's American release.  Enter the Dragon focuses on a Shaolin martial artist who travels to an island fortress to compete in a martial arts tournament and to also spy on the tournament's benefactor, a mysterious drug lord.

Enter the Dragon opens on the grounds of a Shaolin temple and introduces Lee (Bruce Lee), a highly proficient martial artist, martial arts instructor, and Shaolin monk.  Braithwaite (Geoffrey Weeks), a British intelligence agent, approaches Lee about spying on a crime lord and drug kingpin named Han (Shih Kien).  Braithwaite convinces Lee to attend the high-profile martial arts tournament that Han is holding at his private island fortress.  Attending the tournament would be a good cover as Lee has already been invited.  Before he leaves for Han's island, Lee learns that the man who murdered his sister, Su-Lin (Betty Chung), is Oharra (Bob Wall), one of Han's bodyguards.

While traveling to the island, Lee meets two friends who have also been invited to the tournament.  Both are martial artists and Vietnam veterans.  They are Roper (John Saxon), a white man who is deep in debt because of gambling, and Williams (Jim Kelly), a black man with deep ties to the martial arts in his community.

Once on the island, Lee begins to gather evidence of Han's drug trafficking, but Han is no ordinary criminal.  His tournament is no ordinary martial arts tournament, and Lee, Roper, and Williams are about to discover just how dangerous Han and his tournament are. 

Enter the Dragon is considered one of the most influential action films of all time.  The film's success contributed to the mainstream worldwide interest in the martial arts, and it continues to inspire filmmakers and storytellers to this day.  In addition to film, the influence of Enter the Dragon can be seen in television productions, video games, comic books, and Japanese manga (comics) and anime (animation).  It revolutionized the way Asians, Asian-Americans, and even African-Americans are portrayed on screen, especially in action and martial arts films.  The film also had an impact on mixed martial arts (MMA), including on the clothes and uniforms that MMA fighters wear.

Enter the Dragon is obviously a huge influence on the Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter video game franchises.  The original Mortal Kombat film, 1995's Mortal Kombat, borrows numerous story elements from Enter the Dragon, so much so that it would not be incorrect to call 1995 film a re-imagining of Enter the Dragon.

Obviously, Bruce Lee is magnetic in this film.  Decades after his passing and the arrival of this film, Lee still seems like a natural born movie star.  In this film, he is both subtle and graceful and over-the-top and explosive as needed, but yet he made space for the rest of the cast to shine.  John Saxon is both world-weary and witty as the underutilized Roper, and Jim Kelley, the first African-American martial arts film star, had enough screen time to turn this into his breakthrough role.

Rich in atmosphere, Enter the Dragon is at times odd and eccentric, and it would have been better served by another ten minutes of storytelling – at least.  However, those last twenty or so minutes of the film were like nothing ever seen in American films at the time, and today, still seem revolutionary.  Here, Lee is a coiled cobra, striking like lighting.  He is both time and lightning in a bottle, unleashing his energy while blowing the minds and expectations of the audience.  Fifty years after its original theatrical release, Enter the Dragon is ageless and timeless, and, while the earthly Bruce Lee is long since gone, the cinematic Bruce Lee is eternally youthful and alive and kicking.

10 of 10

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

You can buy a 50th anniversary 4K copy of ENTER THE DRAGON here at AMAZON.

2004 National Film Preservation Board, USA:  National Film Registry

The text is copyright © 2023 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved.  Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.



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Friday, September 3, 2021

Review: "SHANG-CHI and the Legend of the Ten Rings" Rings My Bell

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 54 of 2021 (No. 1792) by Leroy Douresseaux

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
Running time: 132 minutes (2 hours, 12 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and language
DIRECTOR:  Destin Daniel Cretton
WRITERS:  Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton, and Andrew Lanham; from a story by Dave Callaham and Destin Daniel Cretton (based on the Marvel Comics)
PRODUCERS: Kevin Feige and Jonathan Schwartz
CINEMATOGRAPHER: William Pope (D.o.P.)
EDITORS: Elisabet Ronaldsdottir, Nat Sanders, and Harry Yoon
COMPOSER: Joel P. Best


Starring:  Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Meng'er Zhang, Fala Chen, Michelle Yeoh, Wah Yuen, Florian Munteanu, Jayden Zhang, Elodie Fong, Arnold Sun, Harmonie He, Ronny Chieng, Benedict Wong, Tim Roth, and Ben Kingsley

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a 2021 superhero film directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and produced by Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.  It is the 25th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) series.  The film is based on the Marvel Comics character, Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu, that was created by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin and first appeared in the comic book, Special Marvel Edition #15 (cover dated: December 1973).  Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings focuses on a young martial artist who is forced to confront his past and his father's deadly criminal legacy.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (or simply Shang-Chi) opens one thousand years ago and focuses on Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung), a warlord who found the “Ten Rings,” mystical weapons that grant their user immortality and great power.  Wenwu establishes a secret society of warriors called the “Ten Rings,” and begins to conquer the world.  In 1996, while searching for a legendary village, “Ta Lo,” Wenwu meets the village's guardian, Jiang Li (Fala Chen).  The two battle, but eventually fall in love and have two children, a boy named Xu Shang-Chi and girl named Xu Xialing.

Decades later, Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) has adopted the name “Shaun” and is living in San Francisco.  Along with his long time best friend, Katy (Awkwafina), he works as a valet at a fancy hotel.  One day, while taking the city bus, Shang-Chi and Katy are attacked by a Ten Rings squad led by the assassin, “Razor Fist” (Florian Munteanu), who wants to steal a pendant given to Shang-Chi by his mother.  Fearing that the Ten Rings are going to steal a second identical pendant given to his sister, Xialing (Meng'er Zhang), Shang-Chi decides to track her down.  Waiting for him, however, is a conspiracy that will inadvertently free a great evil known as the “Dweller-in-Darkness.”  To stop that, Shang-Chi will finally have to confront his past and grasp his destiny.

If I am honest, I will admit that I love martial arts fighting scenes in television and especially in movies.  I prefer fighting as performed by Asian or Asian-American actors.  Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings gives me both, and the fight scenes are spectacular, so much so that they movie could never give me enough to satisfy me.  The general choreography of the action scenes is quite good, as seen in the bus-battle sequence, and it is clear that Shang-Chi's fighting style and techniques are influenced by the martial arts films of legendary Chinese actor/stuntman, Jackie Chan.

With flashy visual effects, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings also explores Asian culture, offering nice peeks into both family dynamics and Chinese culture and myths.  In a way, Shang-Chi is a movie that blends a story of family with an an exploration of a fantasy world that is similar to the one in Disney's recent animated film, Raya and the Last Dragon.  This immersion in a different world and culture allows Shang-Chi to set itself far apart, the way Black Panther stood out from other Marvel Studios films.

Shang-Chi also offers the combination of the prodigal son and the gifted-kid motif that both Raya and other Marvel films (like Iron Man and Black Panther) offer.  In that role, Simu Liu is versatile as Shang-Chi, an incredibly talented fighter who is also a happy-go-luck every man.  I found Liu's Shang-Chi likable from the first moment I saw him on film.  Tony Leung is an intense, dramatic heavy as Shang-Chi's shady father, Xu Wenwu; it's a gritty, edgy performance that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings needs in order to keep the story from flying away in its flights of fancy.

I do think that Marvel tries a little too hard to convince us that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is part of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.  We got that with the appearance of Wong (Benedict Wong), a character that appeared in Doctor Strange (2016), but an end credits scene is ready to pound it into our heads, as if we never had a clue.  The film, especially its flashbacks and in its quiet moments, sometimes falls flat.  That keeps it from being the kind of next-level Marvel film, that Black Panther and the better Avengers and Captain America films are.

Still, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an exceptional film, both in its story and in what it represents.  Shang-Chi is Marvel Studios' first film with an Asian director and a predominantly Asian cast, and it shows those distinctions with pride, while being wonderful and entertaining.

8 of 10

Friday, September 3, 2021

The text is copyright © 2021 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for syndication rights and fees.


Thursday, September 2, 2021

Review: Jackie Chan Really Rumbles in "RUMBLE IN THE BRONX"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 53 of 2021 (No. 1791) by Leroy Douresseaux

Rumble in the Bronx (1996)
Running time: 90 minutes (1 hour, 30 minutes)
MPAA – R for some language and violent sequences
DIRECTOR:  Stanley Tong
WRITERS:  Edward Tang and Fibe Ma
PRODUCER:  Barbie Tung
EDITOR:  Peter Cheung
COMPOSER:  J. Peter Robinson


Starring:  Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Francois Yip, Bill Tung, Carrie Cain-Sparks, Morgan Lam, Marc Akerstream, Garvin Cross, Alf Humphries and Kris Lord

[Destin Daniel Cretton, the director of Marvel Studios' “Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings,” has said in interviews that the films of Jackie Chan heavily influenced his Marvel film.  I decided to go back and take a new look at the first Jackie Chan film I saw, “Rumble in the Bronx.”]

Rumble in the Bronx is a 1995 Hong Kong martial arts film starring Jackie Chan and directed by Stanley Tong.  Both Chan and Tong directed the film's action choreography.  Rumble in the Bronx was released in Hong Kong in 1995.  New Line Cinema released an English-dub version of the film with a shorter run time than the original version in February 1996.  The film also introduced Jackie Chan to a mainstream audience in the United States.  Rumble in the Bronx focuses on a young man from Hong Kong who uses his martial arts skills to take on a street gang and murderous mobsters while visiting his uncle in New York City.

Keung (Jackie Chan) comes to New York City to attend the wedding of his Uncle Bill (Bill Tung) to his bride-to-be, Whitney (Carrie Cain-Sparks).  Uncle Bill, who lives in the Bronx, is also about to sell his grocery store, “the Wah-Ha Supermarket.”  Keung meets Elena (Anita Mui), the woman who is buying the supermarket, and he ends up agreeing to stay in the U.S. a little longer to help Elena with the transition of ownership

What Keung does not know is that his uncle's store and this Bronx neighborhood is plagued by a street biker street gang led by a man named Tony (Marc Akerstream).  Keung thwarts the gang members the first time he meets them, but he also meets a Danny Chan (Morgan Lam), a disabled Chinese-American boy whose sister, Nancy (Francois Yip), is a member of the gang.  Keung attempts to help Danny and Nancy, while in constant battle with Tony and his crew.  However, neither Keung or Tony know that they are about to become entangled with a vicious crime lord, White Tiger (Kris Lord).

I had heard of Jackie Chan by reputation long before I had a chance to see Rumble in the Bronx.  Prior to the release of that film in 1996, Chan was an international movie star, but only had a cult following in the U.S.  I do remember that a friend of mine at the time was a huge Jackie Chan fan and went out of her way to see his films.  Also, the fact that Rumble in the Bronx was set in New York City, but was actually shot in and around Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada fascinated some commentators.

The truth about most Jackie Chan films is that they are not about the plot, but are an excuse to show the amazing martial arts, acrobatic, gymnastic, and stunt skills of Jackie Chan.  Chan is an amazing performer and a charismatic movie star, even when speaking in what is not his first language, English.

At the time of the U.S. theatrical release of Rumble in the Bronx, I read an article that said that Chan had been seriously injured while performing his own stunts over forty times.  For much of his career, Chan has done most of his own stunts, and Rumble in the Bronx shows Chan in all his glory.  Watching it, I saw many instances in which he did things that could and should have killed him.  But Chan is like a real-life superhero, getting up every time he is knocked down.  Once I started watching Rumble in the Bronx this most recent time, I had a hard time stopping for anything.  Chan moves so fast that it makes the film seem to be shorter than it actually is.

Rumble in the Bronx is also a bit odd beyond Chan's act.  The film is surprisingly humorous, making it a delightful action-comedy, but it is also unexpectedly violent, including depicting a brutal kind of murder that one would not expect in this film, considering its humorous slant.  However, Rumble in the Bronx also includes one of my favorite Jackie Chan stunts, the scamper through the grocery cart.

Rumble in the Bronx is not a great Jackie Chan film, but truthfully, it was the perfect film in which to introduce mainstream American audiences to one of China's greatest movie stars.  And, also truthful, Rumble in the Bronx is quite enjoyable.

6 of 10

Thursday, September 2, 2021

The text is copyright © 2021 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved.  Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


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Thursday, March 18, 2021

Review: "THE SWORD OF DOOM" is a Thrilling Jidaigeki

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 24 of 2021 (No. 1762) by Leroy Douresseaux

[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

The Sword of Doom (1966)
Dai-bosatsu tôge (original title)
Running time:  119 minutes (1 hour, 59 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Kihachi Okamoto
WRITER:  Shinobu Hashimoto (based on the novel by Kaizan Nakazato)
PRODUCERS:  Sanezumi Fujimoto, Konparu Nanri, and Masayuki Satô
EDITOR:  Yoshitami Kuroiwa
COMPOSER:  Masaru Satô


Starring:  Tatsuya Nakadai, Michiyo Aratama, Yuzo Kayama, Yoko Naito, Kei Sato, Tadao Nakamaru, Ichiro Nakaya, and Toshiro Mifune

Dai-bosatsu Tōge (The Pass of the Great Buddha) is a 1966 Japanese period drama (a “jidaigeki”).  Also known by the titled, The Sword of Doom (the title by which I will refer to this film for this review), the film is directed by Kihachi Okamoto from a screenplay by Shinobu Hashimoto and is based on a novel written by Kaizan Nakazato.  The Sword of Doom focuses on a sociopathic samurai who relishes killing people.

The Sword of Doom introduces Ryunosuke Tsukue (Tatsuya Nakadai), a master swordsman with an unorthodox fighting style.  Amoral and ruthless, Ryunosuke believes that one's sword is one's soul.  We see him kill an elderly pilgrim; needlessly kill a man in a duel; and kill several of that man's clansman who ambush him shortly afterwards.

To make a living, Ryunosuke joins the “Shincho Group,” a rogue band of ronin who take it upon themselves to murder and assassinate for whatever reason they decide.  However, the wanton murders and other unconscionable acts he has committed have created a trail of vendettas that follows Ryunosuke closely.  He has also drawn the notice of two people in particular:  a young man, Hyoma Utsugi (Yuzo Kayama), whose brother Ryunosuke killed, and Shimada Toranosuke (Toshiro Mifune), another master swordsman, whose skill unnerves Ryunosuke.

First, I feel obligated to give you a warning, dear readers.  The Sword of Doom ends abruptly during the middle of a fight between Ryunosuke and dozens of assassins in a burning courtesan house.  It leaves many plot elements and subplots unresolved, including those involving Hyoma Utsugi and Shimada Toranosuke.  Apparently, Kihachi Okamoto, the director of The Sword of Doom, planned to adapt the novel upon which the film is based as a trilogy, but the other films were never made.

That said,  I think that The Sword of Doom is a tremendous samurai film, and, while I have not seen that many samurai films, it is one of the best I have ever seen.  There are three things that draw me to this movie.  First, I like the way the film focuses on Ryunosuke.  It is as if Okamoto points his camera through Ryunosuke's flesh and blood and into his soul.  This film is an examination of an amoral man's interior life; it is an investigation of how such a man lives with and justifies himself.  While Ryunosuke may act as if he does not care about anyone, as the film goes on, he clearly cannot deal with a reckoning – odd for a man who acts as if he is above it all.

The second element that makes me really like this film are the sword duels and group battles.  The battle between Ryunosuke and his victim's clansman at the end of the Spring 1860 segment is bracing, while the duel that initiates this battle is a feast of anticipation.  The fight at the end of the film is just crazy, mad, and crazy-mad-good; seeing Ryunosuke hack, slash, and stab so many of the men trying to kill him made me fell almost delirious or almost sick.  However, I think the best fight in this movie involves the character played by one of my favorite actors.

The late Toshiro Mifune could have made a toilet paper commercial exciting filmed entertainment.  His mere presence in The Sword of Doom elevates the film.  It is as if Mifune first appears in this film to let the viewer know that this movie has a higher purpose than being just another jidaigeki.  When Mifune's Toranosuke kills the perpetrators of a botched assassination attempt, he defines this movie as both a rumination on the evil actions of an evil man and as a tale about the kind of bold men who must fight powerful evil men.

The Sword of Doom is about the struggle of good men of good action against men with evil minds and evil swords.  If not for the abrupt ending, I would say that The Sword of Doom is a perfect film.

8 of 10

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The text is copyright © 2017 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


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Friday, September 4, 2015

Review: "Transporter 2" Offers Good Fight Scenes, Little Else

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 141 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Transporter 2 (2005)
Running time:  88 minutes (1 hour, 28 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action, sexual content, partial nudity, and brief language
DIRECTOR:  Louis Leterrier
WRITERS:  Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen (based upon characters created by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen )
PRODUCERS:  Steve Chasman and Luc Besson
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Mitchell Amundsen
EDITOR:  Walter Mauriot, Christine Lucas Navarro, and Vincent Tabaillon
COMPOSER: Alexandre Azaria


Starring:  Jason Statham, Alessandro Gassman, Amber Valletta, Katie Nauta, Matthew Modine, Jason Flemyng, Keith David, Hunter Clary, Shannon Briggs, François Berléand, and Raymond Tong

Transporter 2 is a 2005 French action thriller from director Louis Leterrier and maestro Luc Besson and stars Jason Statham in the title role.  It is a sequel to the 2002 film, The Transporter.  In Transporter 2, mercenary Frank Martin is in Miami, Florida where he is implicated in the kidnapping of  the young son of a powerful U.S. government official

Transporter 2 is set in Miami, Florida.  There, ex-Special Forces operative, Frank Martin (Jason Statham), lives in retirement, but is still providing services as a transporter.  Martin is a professional driver with almost-supernatural driving skills in a supa dupa car who can transport anyone or anything – no questions asked.  For the past month, Frank has been the driver for the wealthy Billings family, driving young Jack Billings (Hunter Clary) back and forth to school.

When Gianni (Alessandro Gassman), a powerful gun-for-hire and criminal operative, has Jack kidnapped, Frank rushes to the rescue.  However, Jack has been injected with a deadly virus as a ploy to poison his father, Jefferson Billings (Matthew Modine), and in turn spread the deadly virus, killing Mr. Billings’ government and business associates.  Frank defies and eludes the FBI, who believes that he is behind the plot, while he tries to uncover Gianni’s master plan and stop a disastrous epidemic.

There was no reason for a sequel to 2002’s The Transporter, other than that it was an international box office hit.  Transporter 2 is not as good as the first, mainly because the original had Frank Martin in a romantic entanglement that was the humanizing element of the film against its manic martial arts-inspired fight sequences and unrelenting gun violence.  Corey Yuen, the director of the first film, is back for Transporter 2 only as the fight choreographer, and while his successor, Louis Leterrier, benefits from Yuen’s work on the fight scenes, Leterrier didn’t inherit anything else from the original.  Thus, Transporter 2’s fight sequences are excellent in keeping with the spirit of The Transporter, but there just ain’t no soul.  I was only mildly entertained with this as a movie, but I bet electronic games fans would get a kick out of this as a video game.  We shouldn’t buy tickets to the cinema to see a flick and get instead a video game.  The child character, Jack Billings, could have been the soul of this film, they way the love interest was in the original, but Jack is just the object that starts the ball rolling towards a series of violent, supernatural, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon/Hero martial arts fight scenes.

Jason Statham has a nice film personality, but this time he wears Frank Martin as if he’s just a video game character and Transporter 2 is just the latest installment in a video game franchise.  If you waited to see the first film on home video, it would only be right to wait for Transporter 2 on DVD and home video, as it is inferior and should not be honored with the movie ticket purchase you didn’t give the first film.  This might sound nerdy and pretentious, but Transporter 2 is a pedestrian fight movie with great fights, but the kind of story that shows up in made-for-cable action movies.

5 of 10

Revised: Thursday, September 3, 2015

The text is copyright © 2015 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for reprint syndication rights and fees.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Review: "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" Reboot is Actually Good

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 8 (of 2014) by Leroy Douresseaux

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Running time:  101 minutes (1 hour, 41 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
DIRECTOR:  Jonathan Liebesman
WRITERS:  Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, and Evan Daugherty (based on characters created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird)
PRODUCERS:  Michael Bay, Ian Bryce, Andrew Form , Bradley Fuller, Scott Mednick, and Galen Walker
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Luis Carvalho (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Joel Negron and Glen Scantlebury
COMPOSER:  Brian Tyler

MARTIAL ARTS/FANTASY/ACTION with elements of comedy

Starring:  Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Tohoru Masamune, Whoopi Goldberg, Minae Noji, Abby Elliot, Pete Ploszek, Danny Woodburn, and the voices of Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Johnny Knoxville, and Tony Shalhoub

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a 2014 martial arts fantasy and action film from director Jonathan Liebesman.  The film is based on the media franchise, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (also known as the “Ninja Turtles” or by the abbreviation, “TMNT”), which began with a black and white comic book created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird and first published in 1984.

This recent film is also a reboot of the TMNT film franchise, which began with a 1990 film and its two sequels (released by New Line Cinema).  Warner Bros. Pictures released a computer-animated TMNT film, also entitled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in 2007.  The new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie focuses on a group of mutated turtle warriors that emerge from the shadows to protect their home, New York City, and the TV reporter who helps them.

The film introduces April O'Neil (Megan Fox), a television news reporter at station Channel 6.  She has been researching a gang called the “Foot Clan,” but few people take her or her investigation seriously.  April's cameraman, Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett), humors her, but would rather date April than believe in her as a serious reporter.  April's boss, Bernadette Thompson (Whoopi Goldberg), tolerates the young reporter's ambitions, but is deliberately oblivious of April's findings.

April tracks members the Foot Clan and witnesses their attack on a subway station.  There, April meets a group of vigilantes determined to foil the clan.  Much to her shock, however, they are four teenage mutant ninja turtlesRaphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and Leonardo (Pete Ploszek and Johnny Knoxville).  They introduce April to their mentor and surrogate father, Splinter (Tony Shalhoub), a mutated, anthropomorphic rat who is a master of the ninja arts.  April also gets caught up in Splinter and the turtles' war against the Foot Clan's leader, The Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), who has a connection to April's past.

Michael Bay and his production company, Platinum Dunes, are two of the entities behind Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2014.  Bay, who has dedicated his efforts as a film director to the Transformers movie franchise for the last decade, has also restarted many movie franchises through remakes and reboots.  Thankfully, this new Ninja Turtles movie is not like Bay's Transformers films or like some of his horror movie reboots.

Many of the sound effects in this movie sound like sound effects in Transformers movies.  However, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2014 director, Jonathan Liebesman, keeps the Michael Bay touches to a minimum.  Using the work of writers Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, and Evan Daugherty, Liebesman makes a straight-forward movie.  It manages to be cute (as when the Turtles bang out a hip hop beat with nunchucks and beat-boxing).  The film also manages to offer well-staged martial arts fights and the kind of explosive action sequences that the original film could not.  The film also hits some nice notes about the bonds of family and friendship.  This movie has the kind of story and action that makes it serious-minded enough to appeal to older audiences while entertaining younger viewers.

I know that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2014 got a lot of bad, poor, and mixed reviews, but these critics and reviewers probably take either themselves or this movie too seriously (or both).  For a good time, however, invite these Turtles over, and, of course, enjoy this movie with pizza.

6 of 10

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The text is copyright © 2015 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.

Review: Original Teenage Mutanta Ninja Turtles Film is Still Fun

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 7 (of 2015) by Leroy Douresseaux

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Running time:  93 minutes (1 hour, 33 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Steve Barron
WRITERS:  Todd W. Langen and  Bobby Herbeck; from a story by Bobby Herbeck (based on characters created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird)
PRODUCERS:  David Chan, Kim Dawson, and Simon Fields
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  John Fenner (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  William D. Gordean, Sally Menke, and James R. Symons
COMPOSER:  John Du Prez


Starring:  Judith Hoag, Elias Koteas, Jay Patterson, Michael Turney, Raymond Serra, Sam Rockwell, James Saito, Toshishiro Obata, David Forman, Leif Tilden, Michelan Sisti, and the voices of Corey Feldman, Josh Pais, Brian Tochi, Robbie Rist, David McCharen, Michael McConnohie, and Kevin Clash

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a 1990 martial arts fantasy and action-comedy film from director Steve Barron.  The film is based on the media franchise, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (also known as the “Ninja Turtles” or by the abbreviation, “TMNT”), which began with a black and white comic book created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird and first published in 1984.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the film focuses on a quartet of anthropomorphic ninja turtles and a TV news reporter, as they battle a ninja criminal gang.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opens in New York City (late 80s or early 90s).  The city is in the midst of a crime wave of pick-pockets, burglaries, and general thievery.  Rumors abound that the thieves are mostly young children and teenagers, perhaps connected to something called the “Foot Clan,” which apparently originated in Japan.  This is according to April O'Neil (Judith Hoag), a television news reporter at station WTRL – Channel 3.

In fact, O'Neil comes across some of these very same thieves ransacking a news van, and they promptly attack her.  A mysterious band of warrior rescues April, introducing her to a world under the streets and in the sewers of the city.  April's rescuers are four anthropomorphic turtles; these mutated, man-turtles walk and talk, and, like other teenagers, they love pizza.  They are also ninja warriors, according to their mentor and surrogate father, Splinter (Kevin Clash), a mutated, anthropomorphic rat who is also a master of the ninja arts.

Now, April and these four teenaged mutant ninja turtles:  Raphael (Josh Pais), Michelangelo (Robbie Rist), Donatello (Corey Feldman) and Leonardo (Brian Tochi) unite to unravel the secrets of the city's crime wave.  Street vigilante, Casey Jones (Elias Koteas), joins them, but will all of them be enough to stop The Foot and its leader, The Shredder.

1990s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the first movie in a franchise that would yield a total of three films.  Years later, Warner Bros. Pictures would release a computer-animated TMNT film, also entitled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2007), which I still have not seen.  In fact, I had not seen a TMNT movie since the second film, which was released in 1991.

With the release of Paramount Picture's reboot of the franchise, also entitled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, earlier this past summer (2014), I decided to revisit the 1990 film.  I vaguely remember liking it then.  I was surprised to find that I actually liked it after recently watching it again.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1990 is quaint, but irresistibly cute and likeable.  Everything about is 1980s cheesy:  the sets, the clothes, the music, the attitude, and the Turtles' dialogue.  It's as if every teen movie, good or bad, was strained of its slang and lingo to create the dialogue for these teenage mutant ninja turtles.  The entire movie also looks like it was shot in the ghostly, abandoned sets of 1980s break-dancing movies.

Still, if you like the Ninja Turtles, it is hard not to like this movie.  Back in 1990, I did like the Ninja Turtles, so I liked their hit movie debut.  A quarter-century later, I find that I still like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1990.  I might even find myself watching it again.

5 of 10

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Review: "14 Blades" is Martial Arts with Western and Persian Stylings

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 41 (of 2014) by Leroy Douresseaux

14 Blades (2010)
Jin yi wei – original Chinese title
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:  Hong Kong/China; Language:  Mandarin Chinese
Running time:  113 minutes (1 hour, 53 minutes)
Rating:  MPAA – R for violence and bloody images
DIRECTOR:  Daniel Lee
WRITERS:  Daniel Lee, Kwong Man Wai, Tin Shu Mak, and Ho Leung Lau; from a story by Daniel Lee and Siu Cheung Chan
PRODUCERS:  Xiang Dong, Zhang He-Yun, Zhang Hong, Si Jian-Jun, Zhao Ping, Xu Ping-An, Wang Qi-Shun, Yi'an Sun, Susanna Tsang, Tianyun Wang, and Cui Xiao-Wen
EDITORS:  Ka Fai Cheung and Man To Tang
COMPOSER:  Henry Lai


Starring:  Donnie Yen, Wei Zhao, Chun Wu, Kate Tsui, Yuwu Qi, Ma Wu, Kar-Ying Law, Xiang Dong Xu, Chen Zhi Hui, Sammo Hung, and Loi Kwan Kam

14 Blades is a 2010 martial arts (wuxia) and historical drama from director Daniel Lee.  The film, a co-production of China and Hong Kong, received a limited theatrical release in August 2014 after making a film festival appearance in 2011.  14 Blades focuses on an imperial secret agent who is hunted while he tries to stop a conspiracy against the Emperor.

14 Blades opens in China during the late Ming dynasty (a period taking place from 1368 to 1644).  It is a time when the imperial court is plagued by corruption, and the young emperor is incompetent and seems more interested in pleasure than in governing.  He is protected by the Jinyiwei (the Brocade Guard), a secret police force and clandestine royal guard.  They ensure peace and stability and have the authority to execute almost anyone.  Their leader is called Qinglong (Donnie Yen), and he carries with him the Fourteen Blades, a box containing 14 different steel blades with which he executes his duties... and people.

Far from the imperial Forbidden City, the Emperor's uncle, Prince Quing (Sammo Hung), hatches a conspiracy with the traitorous royal eunuch, Jia Jingzhong (Kar-Ying Law).  Their plot involves taking control of the Jinyiwei and betraying Qinglong.  They succeed, and Qinglong soon finds himself wounded, hunted, and on the run.  He finds shelter with Boss Yong Qiao (Ma Wu) and his men in the Justice Escort Agency.  Boss' daughter, Hua Qiao (Wei Zhao), becomes attracted to Qinglong and is determined to assist him in his fight to protect the Emperor and the country from chaos and destruction.

My summary of 14 Blades does not do this epic film justice.  There are enough supporting characters with their own causes and motivations to turn 14 Blades into a television miniseries.  However, the film's core, Qinglong, remains strong, and when the beautiful Hua is added, 14 Blades suddenly has heart, an emotional center to go with the lust for revenge and the film's blistering marital artist action.

Donnie Yen and Wei Zhao give heartfelt, deeply emotional, thoughtful, and strong performances.  They make everything about their respective characters:  external conflicts, internal struggles, motivations, ideals, wants, and love seem genuine and honest.  They are believable and likeable; they draw the viewer to this film.  In fact, like a superstar athlete does for his teammates, Yen and Zhao make their fellow actors betters.  Their characters make the other characters even more interesting and engaging.  I would love to see these two actors in another movie similar to 14 Blades or in a romantic drama.

14 Blades is obviously a martial arts film, but the film also has suggestions of an Ancient Persian romance and an American Western film.  The former comes through in some of the locales, in the costumes, and in certain musical strains in Henry Lai's score.  The latter is also suggested by some of the settings, but also by the staging of some scenes and sequences and in the poses and attitudes of both heroes and villains.  Most notable is the Clint Eastwood-like pose and attitude that Donnie Yen frequently strikes.

That makes 14 Blades something different, even if the story occasionally becomes a bit muddled.  Still, its colorful characters and lavish costumes; to say nothing of the flashy fight choreography makes this movie thoroughly enjoyable.  With its attractive lead couple, 14 Blades, while different enough to stand out from other marital arts films, tells a familiar story of love and bravery that will captivate audiences.

7 of 10

Saturday, September 6, 2014

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Friday, June 6, 2014

Review: "47 Ronin" Lacks Magic

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 29 (of 2014) by Leroy Douresseaux

47 Ronin (2013)
Running time:  119 minutes (1 hour, 59 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, and thematic elements
DIRECTOR:  Carl Rinsch  
WRITERS:  Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini; from a screen story by Chris Morgan and Walter Hamada
PRODUCERS:  Pamela Abdy, Eric McLeod, and Scott Stuber
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  John Mathieson  
EDITOR:  Stuart Baird
COMPOSER:  Ilan Eshkeri


Starring:  Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi, Min Tanaka, Jin Akanishi, Masayoshi Haneda, Hiroshi Sogabe, Takato Yonemoto, Shu Nakajima, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

47 Ronin is a 2013 samurai action movie and historical fantasy.  The film is a fantasy-based, fictional account of the legendary “forty-seven Ronin” and an incident in which they were involved that took place in the early 1700s in Japan.

47 Ronin tells the story through Kai (Keanu Reeves), a half-Japanese, half-English outcast.  He lives in the domain of Ako, which is ruled by the benevolent daimyo (lord), Takumi no Kami Asano Naganori (Min Tanaka).  Lord Asano found Kai, when he was a child, lost in the forest.  Despite being scorned by most people in Ako, including Asano’s samurai, Kai finds deep kinship with Asano’s daughter, Mika (Ko Shibasaki), who loves the half-breed.

Asano is tasked with hosting the Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa).  Lord Kira Yoshinaka (Tadanobu Asano) is also invited, but Kira wants Ako to be merged with his domain, Nagato.  Joined by a conniving Witch (Rinko Kikuchi), Kira masterminds a series of events that ruins Asano.  The Shogun orders Asano to die with honor though seppuku (ritual suicide).

Lord Asano’s samurai are cast out and become Ronin (samurai without a master).  Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), the leader of Asano’s men, finds Kai, whom he once despised, and together they plot revenge against Lord Kira.  The duo gathers Asano’s former samurai, and soon there are 47 Ronin on a mission to kill Kira.  But the ruthless daimyo is more crafty and cunning than these Ronin imagine.

47 Ronin was not exactly a box office bomb, but it reportedly was a money-loser for Universal Pictures.  I think Universal Pictures spent around $175 million on a movie that does not know what it wants to be.  47 Ronin looks like an American version of an epic samurai period drama (a “jidaigeki”).  At the same time, the film is filled with fantasy and supernatural elements such as yokai (creatures of Japanese folklore) and magic.

I think that at one point, Universal wanted to make 47 Ronin a kind of epic fantasy franchise like the Lord of the Rings films.  What the movie studio ended up with was a samurai movie with supernatural elements awkwardly tacked onto it.

47 Ronin is not a bad movie, nor is it a particularly good movie.  There are characters, scenes, and sections of the plot that I really enjoyed and even found riveting.  One actor I really liked was Hiroyuki Sanada who played Oishi, Lord Asano’s chief counselor.  This is really Oishi’s movie; Sanada gives a nice performance filled with delicacy and grace.  Keanu Reeves is Keanu Reeves – intense presence, but wooden delivery of dialogue.  So I can recommend 47 Ronin to people who like samurai films, knowing that viewers may have a mixed reaction towards it.

5 of 10

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Review: "Seven Samurai" is One of the Best Films Ever (Happy B'day, Akira Kurosawa)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 81 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Shichinin no samurai (1954) – B&W
Seven Samurai (1954) – USA title
Running time:  206 minutes (3 hours, 26 minutes) - USA restored version
DIRECTOR/EDITOR:  Akira Kurosawa
WRITERS:  Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni, and Akira Kurosawa
PRODUCER:  Sojiro Motoki
COMPOSER:  Fumio Hayasaka
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  Takashi Shimura, Toshirô Mifune, Yoshio Inaba, Seiji  Miyaguchi, Minoru Chiaki, Daisuke Katô, Isao Kimura, Keiko Tsushima, Kamatari Fujiwara, Yoshio Kosugi, Bokuzen Hidari, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Yukiko Shimazaki, and Kokuten Kodo

The subject of this movie review is Seven Samurai (original Japanese title: Shichinin no samurai), a 1954 samurai drama and period adventure film from director Akira Kurosawa.  Set during Japan’s Sengoku period (warring states period), the film focuses on a poor village, the bandits that attack the village, and the seven unemployed samurai that the villagers recruit to help defend themselves.

Not only do I consider Seven Samurai to be one of the ten best films every made, but I also love it as one of my all-time favorite movies.  I was surprised to learn that the film is believed to have contributed structural narrative innovations to film storytelling or was among the first to use those innovations.  That’s great, but I don’t need that information on innovations to know that Kurosawa’s film overwhelms me.

Late 16th century, Japan:  a small farming village finds itself annually besieged by bandits, who usually arrive just after harvest so that they can steal the villagers’ crops.  Tired of being beaten into starvation, a small group of farmers leaves the village and heads for a town in hopes of convincing a large number of samurai to defend their village from the encroaching bandits.  The farmers happen upon a scene wherein a master samurai, Kambei (Takashi Shimura), disguises himself as a monk in order to save a child kidnapped by a madman.

Impressed by his bravery, the villagers convince Kambei to help their village, although the only payment that the farmers can offer the samurai is enough rice to eat.  Kambei and the farmers make the same offer to a number of samurai, many of whom are greatly insulted by the offer.  However, six others eventually accept, including a scruffy ronin (Toshirô Mifune) and a novice samurai.  The seven samurai and the farmers return to the village, where together they build the rest of the villagers into a militia, while the bandits lurk in the nearby forest.  Eventually, the bandits’ raids on the village begin, and it culminates in an epic, bloody battle pitting the samurai and villagers against the bandits.

Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is one of the ultimate auteur films, coming from a director, who like Stanley Kubrick, is an ultimate auteur.  It’s hard to believe that there is anything on the screen that Kurosawa didn’t want, and everything is so carefully considered:  the composition of scenes, the cinematographer, the execution of the action, the editing, the lighting, etc.  The film filled my senses, controlled my emotions, and had my mind on overdrive as I tried to figure out the next move, the next scene, or the narrative flow.  I have found very few films to so move me with such power, exhilaration, fear, anticipation, and Seven Samurai even has a few laughs.

If you’re looking for flying, super powered samurai, this isn’t it.  If you want an epic film about honor, sacrifice, and duty set in a romantic past, Seven Samurai is it.  This is easily one of the ten best motion pictures ever made.

10 of 10

1957 Academy Awards:  2 nominations:  “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White (Takashi Matsuyama) and “Best Costume Design, Black-and-White” (Kôhei Ezaki)

1956 BAFTA Awards:  3 nominations:  “Best Film from any Source (Japan), “Best Foreign Actor” (Toshirô Mifune of Japan), and “Best Foreign Actor” (Takashi Shimura from Japan)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Updated:  Sunday, March 23, 2014

The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Review: "House of Flying Daggers" is a Martial Arts Spectacle (Happy B'day, Ziyi Zhang)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 71 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Shi mian mai fu (2004)
International English title: House of Flying Daggers
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:  China/Hong Kong; Language: Mandarin
Running time:  119 minutes (1 hour, 59 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for sequences of stylized martial arts violence and some sexuality
DIRECTOR:  Zhang Yimou
WRITERS:  Feng Li, Bin Wang, and Zhang Yimou
PRODUCERS:  William Kong and Zhang Yimou
EDITOR:  Long Cheng
COMPOSER:  Shigeru Umebayashi
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau, Ziyi Zhang, and Dandan Song

The subject of this movie review is Shi mian mai fu, a 2004 Chinese and Hong Kong wuxia film that is known in English as House of Flying Daggers.  A romantic drama and martial arts-fantasy, the film is directed by Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern).  House of Flying Daggers follows a police captain and the beautiful member of a rebel group he breaks out of prison.

China, 859 A.D. – it is near the end of the Tang Dynasty, and corrupt leaders rule over the country.  However, a revolutionary faction known as the Flying Daggers challenges authority, robbing from the rich to give to the poor.  Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Leo (Andy Lau), two police detectives, believe Mei (Ziyi Zhang), a blind dancer, is a member of the group.  They hatch a plan for Jin to pretend to be a rebel-of-sorts who rescues Mei from jail.  He then accompanies her to the north country in the hopes that she will take him to the House of Flying Daggers.  However, Mei’s beauty bowls over Jin, and he finds himself determined to protect her on their perilous journey; on the other hand, it seems as if no one is who he or she says he or she is.

As a follow up to his internationally acclaimed film known as Hero (2002, but released wide theatrically to U.S. audiences in 2004), director Zhang Yimou once again delves into China’s legendary martial past in Shi mian mai fu or House of Flying Daggers.  House of Flying Daggers is similar to the 2002 film except that House is more like a musical poem with romantic trappings, with romance having both the modern connotations and its 19-century literary and artistic meanings.  Hero was an epic tale of espionage, romance and revenge that looked at China’s mythical past as a celebration of Chinese nationalism.  Flying Daggers is more emotional; the stunning cinematography (by far the best of 2004), the luxuriant costumes, the abundantly colorful back drops are meant to evoke feelings more than to get the viewer to think about the film’s surprising plot twists and turns.

Action choreographer Tony Ching Siu-Tung, who worked with Yimou on Hero, once again turns in some delicious fight scenes that are different from his work in Hero and meant to fit the mood and impressionistic flavor of Flying Daggers.  The cast is also quite good, and it’s a shame that Ziyi Zhang was once again ignored by Oscar, as she was for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  She has a wonderful talent for playing dualities:  coy to aggressive, innocent to beguiling, weak to strong, and helpless to fully capable.  Her face is a small mask, capable of a seemingly endless array of subtle shifts that embellish both the character and the story.  Takeshi Kaneshiro, who almost gets lost next to Ziyi Zhang, plays Jin with his heart on his sleeve and his soul open for the audience to see the conflicting emotions within him, a performance that really drives this film’s tricky plot.

House of Flying Daggers is a visually arresting film (frame after frame of breathtaking, mind-bending beauty), maybe more so than Hero.  However, the film does seem to dry up on several occasions, and the script is careless with some of the character motivation.  Still, the film’s intense and overwhelming visual beauty makes it a must see for lovers of cinema, and fans of Asian cinema and hot martial arts will also certainly like this.

8 of 10


Saturday, April 23, 2005

Updated: Sunday, February 09, 2014

2005 Academy Awards, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Achievement in Cinematography” (Xiaoding Zhao)

2005 Golden Globes, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Foreign Language Film (Hong Kong)

2005 BAFTA Awards:  9 nominations: “Best Film not in the English Language” (William Kong and Yimou Zhang), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” (Ziyi Zhang), “Best Cinematography” (Xiaoding Zhao), “Best Editing” (Long Cheng), “Best Production Design” (Tingxiao Huo), “Best Costume Design” (Emi Wada), “Best Sound” (Jing Tao and Roger Savage), “Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects” (Angie Lam, Andy Brown, Kirsty Millar, and Luke Hetherington), and “Best Make Up/Hair” (Lee-na Kwan, Xiaohai Yang, and Siu-Mui Chau)

2005 Image Awards: “Outstanding Independent or Foreign Film”

The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Review: "Unleashed" is Brutal (Happy B'day, Bob Hoskins)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 74 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Unleashed (2005) – USA title
Running time:  102 minutes (1 hour, 42 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong violent content, language, and some sexuality/nudity
DIRECTOR:  Louis Leterrier
WRITER:  Luc Besson
PRODUCERS:  Luc Besson, Steve Chasman, and Jet Li
EDITOR:  Nicolas Trembasiewicz
COMPOSERS:  Neil Davidge, Massive Attack


Starring:  Jet Li, Morgan Freeman, Bob Hoskins, and Kerry Condon

The subject of this movie review is Unleashed, a 2005 martial arts and crime film from writer Luc Besson and director Louis Leterrier.  The film was a French, British, and American co-production and was originally released under the title, Danny the Dog, but released in the United States as Unleashed.  The film centers on a man who has been enslaved by the mob since childhood and trained to act like a human attack dog, but who one day escapes his captors and attempts to start a new life.

On and beneath the mean streets of Glasgow, Bart (Bob Hoskins) destroys those who won’t pay their debts to him.  The fiery gangster has a nearly unbeatable weapon he uses to encourage debtors to pay him what they owe, one he also uses to put would-be rivals in their place.  This secret weapon is Bart’s enforcer, Danny (Jet Li), a martial arts fighter of near supernatural ability.  Danny has been kept a prisoner, for all practical purposes, by his “Uncle Bart” since he was a boy.  “Danny the Dog” wears a collar and lives the simple existence that Bart has crudely and cruelly fashioned for him; Danny can’t even remember his origins.  When Bart pulls his collar off, that’s the signal for Danny to attack, and he will either maim or kill – always as Bart dictates.

However, a chance encounter with a soft-spoken, blind piano tuner, Sam (Morgan Freeman), offers Danny a chance to find out what kindness and compassion are.  When a gangland coup inadvertently frees him, Danny finds his way back to Sam and begins to live with the kindly old soul and his daughter, Victoria (Kerry Condon).  They open their home and hearts to him, but the past comes knocking back into Danny’s life.  Now, he has to fight the mob to protect his new family and keep from returning to his old one.

Luc Besson is the French director of flashy action films such as The Fifth Element, but he has also produced a number of martial arts inflected films, including The Transporter franchise.  He went directly to the Hong Kong source for his Jet Li vehicle, Danny the Dog, known for its American release as Unleashed.  [I do not know if this film was re-edited and shortened by a few minutes, in addition to the name change, for its U.S. release.]  Unleashed is one of the few really good English-language martial arts dramas to hit the screen since Bruce Lee’s films in the early 1970’s.  What makes this film a solid and compelling production in which the drama is equal to the martial arts sequences is having two fine dramatic actors:  Morgan Freeman, who is arguably the best American actor working today, and Bob Hoskins, a superb character actor who is too often an afterthought.

Freeman does his wise old black man routine, but this time with a twist.  Sam is a man of culture with impeccable taste.  He is a man who savors life, and his other senses so deeply drink of life that it is as if he weren’t blind.  Kind yet vigilant, he is the ultimate father figure – protector and encourager.  Hoskins gives his Bart many flavors.  On one hand, he plays the gangster as a petty and petulant hood looking for his share; on the other hand, he is all too human in his cruelty.  There isn’t a whiff of the supernatural or paranormal about what Bart does; he is just a bad man.

Jet Li is the star, and even Jet fans like myself must face up to the fact that Li isn’t a great actor when he has to speak English.  He is, however, a great performer regardless of the language he speaks.  Those all-around, all-star abilities that a movie star must have – a blend of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual – he has.  Li lights up the screen every time he’s on, and he always draws attention to himself, no matter how many good actors may be on screen with him.  A human dynamo, Jet Li is truly a martial artist and a film artist.

Unleashed is quite good, but falters in the end – letting the drama whither on the vine so that Li and his adversaries can have their big, final confrontation, and what a confrontation it is.  The film plays at being an epic, but Besson’s script can’t be bothered with developing conflicts and motivations; we’re here to see Li fight and the script focuses on giving us that.  Watching that final battle makes me wonder when Li is going to get his “Crouching Tiger,” but in the meantime, we can enjoy Li’s best English language effort… yet.

7 of 10

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Updated:  Saturday, October 26, 2013

The text is copyright © 2013 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Review: Fight Scenes Cut Nicely in "The Wolverine"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 50 (of 2013) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Wolverine (2013)
Running time:  126 minutes (2 hours, 6 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language
DIRECTOR:  James Mangold
WRITERS:  Mark Bomback and Scott Frank (based on the characters and stories appearing in Marvel Comics)
PRODUCERS:  Hugh Jackman, Hutch Parker, and Lauren Shuler Donner
EDITOR:  Michael McCusker
COMPOSER:  Marco Beltrami


Starring:  Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Brian Tee, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Will Yun Lee, Ken Yamamura, and Famke Janssen

The Wolverine is a 2013 superhero movie from director James Mangold.  Starring Hugh Jackman in the title role, it is also the sixth film in the X-Men franchise.  This film is not a sequel to the previous Wolverine solo movie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009).  In the new movie, an old acquaintance summons Wolverine to Japan, where the hero becomes embroiled in a conflict involving family, gangsters, and ninja.

Following the events depicted in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) lives as recluse in an isolated forest outside a small town in the Yukon.  He is haunted by the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), whom he was forced to kill (in X-Men: The Last Stand).

A young Japanese woman named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) has been tracking Logan.  She tells him that an old friend who was once the young soldier he saved decades earlier during World War II wants to see Logan before he dies.  Once in Japan, Logan meets Ichiro Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), now a dying old man who is the head of a Japanese technology empire.  He makes Logan a shocking offer, one that forces Logan to confront his demons.  Logan considers himself through with being a soldier and a hero, until he is forced to protect Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), from several kidnapping conspiracies.  Although weakened and ailing, Logan is determined to show his adversaries that he is still the animal known as The Wolverine.

Hugh Jackman has come to embody Logan/Wolverine the way Christopher Reeve embodied Clark Kent/Superman, beginning over 30 years ago in Superman: The Movie (1978).  Jackman carries The Wolverine on his broad, muscular shoulders, but given the hoopla leading up to The Wolverine’s release, one would think the film would be an all-time great superhero movie, but it is not.

Don’t get me wrong.  The Wolverine has some superb and exhilarating action sequences and fight scenes – the kind for which fans of Wolverine in comic books have been waiting.  The fight on top of a moving bullet train recalls the great battle at the end of the first Mission: Impossible movie in 1996.  This is solid entertainment, but much of the character drama seems contrived.  The screenplay by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank, who rewrote the original version written by Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (who does not receive a screen credit), turns the good female supporting characters into mere accessories to Wolverine.  The mutant known as Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) is under-utilized, so she is ultimately wasted.  Many of the male supporting characters are just caricatures of Japanese men or stock bad guys.

But Jackman saves the day.  With the help of the action stuff, Jackman makes The Wolverine the best superhero movie of Summer 2013.  Just getting a chance to see him in action makes me forget about the things in this movie that bother me.  Jackman takes what could have been merely entertaining and gives it that extra-something that only true movie stars can give.

7 of 10

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Review: "Bulletproof Monk" Not a Misfire

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 54 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

Bulletproof Monk (2003)
Running time: 104 minutes (1 hour, 44 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for violence, language and some sexual content
DIRECTOR: Paul Hunter
WRITERS: Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris (based upon the Flypaper Press comic book)
PRODUCERS: Terence Chang, Charles Roven, Douglas Segal, and John Woo
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Stefan Czapsky (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Robert K. Lambert
COMPOSER: Eric Serra

MARTIAL ARTS/ACTION with elements of adventure, fantasy, and sci-fi

Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott, Jamie King, Karel Roden, and Victoria Smurfit

The subject of this movie review is Bulletproof Monk, a 2003 martial arts and fantasy film starring Chow Yun-Fat and Seann William Scott. The film is a loose adaptation of a three-issue comic book miniseries published in the late 1990s.

After I first saw trailers and television commercials for Bulletproof Monk, I was sure that the movie was going to be a giant turkey bomb. The fights looked like cheesy, Matrix, bullet time, rip-offs, and the idea of a kung-fu mentor looking for a “chosen one” rang all too familiar. Worst of all, the film had Chow Yun-Fat spouting instant pudding Far East mystical mumbo-jumbo. The ads turned out to be quite misleading (in fact, those responsible shouldn’t necessarily lose their jobs if this film flops because of poor ads, but they should, at least, get demerits from their bosses), and the film is quite good, although the film still has one of those chosen one characters and lots of mystical quasi-Buddhist wisdom dialogue that even fortune cookie makers wouldn’t touch.

Somewhere in Tibet is an ancient scroll wherein is written the secrets to great power. Every sixty years, a new monk is chosen via prophetic signs to protect the scroll. In 1943, the Monk with No Name (Chow Yun Fat, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) takes responsibility for the scroll. 60 years later, the monk is in New York running from Strucker (Karel Roden), a sadistic Nazi holdover from the Forties who wants the secrets of the scroll. His granddaughter Nina (Victoria Smurfit) now leads the chase to capture the Monk with No Name. During one of those chases, the monk meets Kar (Seann William Scott), a young pickpocket who just so happens to possesses some formidable martial arts skills. Of course, the relationship between the two begins as an edgy one, but soon it’s sometimes difficult to tell who is the mentor and who is the “mentee.”

Director Paul Hunter, known for his music videos, shows great ability in creating a sustained rhythmic style in Bulletproof Monk. The material is old hat; Hunter just makes the film exciting and energetic. He creates a sense of drama, suspense, mystery, and intrigue through the flow of the film. He even stages the mystical and philosophical musings so that they seem interesting and move the story forward. Rather than just being the standard dialogue you’d hear in a martial arts flick, the wit and wisdom of the monk actually serves the story.

The acting is good. Fat has never seemed more comfortable and relaxed in an English language film than he does here. He’s the coolest silent, stoic hero since Clint Eastwood, and the camera loves him. There’s just something heroic and, well, mystical about his visage when it appears on a giant movie screen, and like Eastwood, his best work needs to be seen in a theatre. Seann William Scott, forever burdened with the Stifler character from the American Pie films, proves himself to be a screen idol in the mold of Keanu Reeves. Like Reeves, the camera loves Scott; he has a naïve and goofy, but charming look that can sell him as a part time rogue, but a rogue destined to be a hero. His performance and his character’s transformation really remind me of both Reeves performance and of the character Neo’s transformation in The Matrix.

Bulletproof Monk is pure fun and very entertaining. You don’t have to check your brain at the door because the film isn’t that simpleminded. There’s chemistry between the leads that is actually heartwarming and inspiring. The evolution of the teacher/pupil relationship here is one that rings true. They are the center of the story, and when their dynamic works and the fight scenes are good, then, the movie is probably good.

Bulletproof Monk does have some shaky moments, and sometimes, the characters don’t always ring true. The villains are such stock characters that the actors precariously balance appearing both pathetic and dangerous, although Ms. Smurfit plays her part with absolute relish. Still, Bulletproof Monk is a good action film with some excellent fight scenes in the spirit of The Matrix, and the soundtrack is also pretty cool.

Though I do wonder why, after centuries of having Asian protectors, the protectors of the scroll all of a sudden have to be white people. Would predominately white audiences accept Jet Li as King Arthur?

6 of 10

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Review: "Dragon" is Martial Arty

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 28 (of 2013) by Leroy Douresseaux

Dragon (2011)
Wu xia – original title
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: China/Hong Kong; Language: Mandarin
Running time: 98 minutes; (1 hour, 38 minutes)
MPAA – R for violence
DIRECTOR: Peter Chan
WRITER: Oi Wah Lam
PRODUCERS: Peter Chan and Jojo Yuet-Chun Hui
CINEMATOGRAPHERS: Yiu-Fai Lai (D.o.P.) and Jake Pollock (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Derek Hui
COMPOSERS: Kwong Wing Chan, Peter Kam, and Chatchai Pongprapaphan


Starring: Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Wei Tang, Jimmy Wang Yu, Zheng Wei, Li Jiamin, Kara Hui, Li Xiaoran, Yu Kang, and Wan To-shing

Wu Xia is a 2011 Hong Kong martial arts film and historical drama from director Peter Chan. The film stars Donnie Yen as a sinful man who is leading a new life until his former master and a determined detective begin hunting him. Yen is also the film’s “action director.” Wu Xia, which was originally just under two-hours long, was edited down to 98 minutes and released in the United States as Dragon, late last year (2012).

Dragon is set in 1917 and takes place mostly at Liu Village on the border of Yunnan on the southwest edge of China. Liu Jin-Xi (Donnie Yen) is a village craftsman and papermaker who lives with his wife, Yu (Wei Tang), and his sons, the older Fangzheng (Zheng Wei) and the younger Xiaotian (Li Jiamin). Jin-Xi’s quiet life is irrevocably shattered by the arrival of two gangsters who attempt to rob the local general store.

Jin-Xi stops them, but one of the criminals is the notorious Yan Dongsheng (Yu Kang). Xu Bai-jiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro), a detective sent to investigate the case, is shocked that a local village craftsman could single-handedly stop two hardened criminals, especially Dongsheng, an escaped convict and trained killer. Bai-jiu suspects that Jin-Xi is actually a martial arts master and perhaps, a member of one of the region’s most vicious gangs, the 72 Devils. The detective doggedly pursues the shy villager, but he is unaware that his investigation has drawn the attention of China’s criminal underworld.

For fans of martial arts films, Dragon has many spectacular fights scenes, and some of them are spectacular because they look so odd. But it is all good and also stimulating for lovers of martial arts battles in movies. Sometimes, I found my mind being bended by what I saw, to the point that my imagination seemed inspired by the fighting.

There is, however, an art house sensibility to director Peter Chan’s film, as if Chan refused to allow Dragon to be only fists, fingers, feet, and elbows of fury. Chan takes Oi Wah Lam’s superbly layered script and turns the film into a rumination on nature vs. nurture, the character of the law, and the vigor and influence of human emotions. Chan structures the story in order to ask a few questions. If blood always leaves a trail that one can trace back to a man’s past, then, is that man a slave to the dictates of his blood relations? Is it by tradition, genetics, or both? Is the execution of law more important than acts of humanity? Can man control or alter his emotions?

There is also a mythological strain in Dragon. For its universal father versus son conflict, Dragon offers a sire whose voice and exclamations can rouse thunder, so it is not a stretch to think of the final battle as a brawl between Odin-All-Father and Thor-Son. In fact, this may be the sire-vs.-the-fruit-of-his-loins clash with the most at stake since Darth Vader fought Luke Skywalker over the forest moon of Endor in Return of the Jedi (1983).

Dragon has many excellent performances, but Donnie Yen and Takeshi Kaneshiro are the standouts. As Liu Jin-xi, Yen is a force of nature; physically, he is brilliant – his face capable of assuming and conveying myriad emotions and thoughts. His performance is all outwards, and not internal, so he confronts the viewers and makes them engage with the character he is playing. Kaneshiro as Bai-jiu offers a performance that is more interior. His performance sends out intriguing bits of information about the implacable detective in a way that makes the character as charming as an old friend.

As the director of the film’s action, Yen makes Dragon exhilarating and mesmerizing martial arts entertainment. As the director, Peter Chan tickles the brain, as he tackles dynamic human themes and conflicts. By any name, Dragon or Wu Xia is a dragon, a fire-breathing beast that is too smart to be just another Chinese fight movie.

9 of 10

Monday, April 15, 2013