Every Christmas I get a bunch of Amazon vouchers and I usually use them to purchase a couple of BJJ books, but this year there doesn't seem to be much interesting published so instead I bought a ton of martial art DVD films. I love Asian cinema and comedy martial art parodies, but they have to be very good. So here's a very quick review of what I've been watching...

Ip Man
Chinese wing chun master Ip Man is the best kick ass martial artist in town. But when the Japanese arrive and destroy everything he holds dear, Ip Man decides to take on the enemy and single handedly win the Second World War. Ok, I slightly exaggerated that last bit, but I'm guessing there is a lot, and I mean a LOT of artistic licence going on with the actual facts in the life of the real Ip Man. Still, with Donnie Yen in the lead role, and very gritty sepia toned photography, it does not fail to entertain. 7/10

Red Cliff
Lord of the Rings meets, er, more Lord of the Rings, but in a John Woo epic stylee. This film is four hours long and needs two DVDs to carry the story. I can't remember much about the plot, my brain was bludgeoned by the endlessly intense epic battle scenes. But it was damned good. 9/10

Shinobi
The Emperor of Japan decides to wipe out those pesky and potentially troublesome shinobi warriors who live deep in the mountains by inviting them to, er, kill each other...and guess what? They do as they are told! Eh? Maybe I'm missing something but even considering all that honour and warrior code stuff in ancient 17th Century Japan, surely you need a better plot device than that! Anyway, this film is strongly influenced by manga comics, X-Men films and the TV series Heroes. It tries too hard to be cool but there are some nice scenes and it all looks beautiful. 5/10

Curse of the Golden Flower
Man I love Zhang Yimou films. His early work, such as Red Sorghum, Raise the Red Lantern and Ju dou are some of my all time favourite Chinese films. Latterly he's been doing a lot of epic martial art historical films (Hero, House of Flying Daggers and now this film), and he does them very well indeed. Colour is a strong theme in all his films and this one is no exception. You need sunglasses to keep from being blinded by the opulent use of shimmering gold, blinding yellows, expensive greens and dreamy blues. The story? Oh something about a coup attempt on the Emperor, who cares? It is a work of art. 8/10

Fearless
I know I know this Jet Li film has been out for ages but for some reason I missed it first time round. Arrogant fight-anyone Jet Li is traumatised when he kills someone and seeks refuge in the countryside, then comes back to right wrongs by, er, fighting some more. Apparently it's based on a real person who, in the early 1900's, became famous because he beat up some of Europe's finest fighters in mixed martial arts matches. This film is ok, I watched it free on Youtube and I'm glad I did not buy the DVD. 5/10

Redbelt
Just deviating from the Asian cinema theme here, I couldn't resist buying this movie about a BJJ instructor who is cornered into accepting a prize fight. It's by well-known director (and BJJ practitioner) David Mamet. This film is like Marmite. I'm afraid I hate Marmite and I really found this movie to be quite awful. The only saving grace are the actors Chiwetel Ejiofor and Emily Mortimer. Sorry, but it didn't work for me. 2/10

Foot Fist Way
Haha this martial arts McDojo parody had me in hysterics. But it's not just a piss-take, I think the film makers showed a deep-rooted affection for the martial arts of middle America. Reminded me a lot of the excellent Napoleon Dynamite. 8/10

Fighter
This is a Danish film about a muslim Turkish schoolgirl who secretly trains kungfu against her family's wishes. It's a flawed film, I don't think all of it works and the martial art scenes just pure fantasy...but I found the real life scenes of how the lead actress Aisha deals with the torments in her life very powerful and ultimately I loved this film and found it very rewarding to watch. 9/10

Three Kingdoms
More Chinese historical battle drama. This one is based around an epic battle lasting decades against the wannabe Emperor Cao Cao. Our hero starts off as a peasant nobody enlisting in the army and, through a series of heroic, and frankly miraculous, deeds, he eventually becomes a general and undefeated leader of the pack. This film feels like a ten part mini series that has been chopped down and edited into one 100min movie. It jumps from one scene to another at a frantic pace. I liked Sammo Hung as the embittered old fogey and Maggie Q is sooooo cool, dressed like an oriental gothic goddess. But overall, meh. 6/10


Umm, as you can tell I'm not really any good critiquing movies. I think I'll stick to BJJ for now.

12 comments:

cookster_328 said...

If you love awesome kung fu movies of old then I have only 2 words for you: "prodigal son".

go watch it!! :-)

Meerkatsu said...

ok, thanks!

slideyfoot said...

Seconded: Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung and Lam Ching Ying made for one hell of a cast. Frankie Chan is great in it too. I put up a mini-review on Flixster a few years back.

I used to love the old Hong Kong Legends DVDs, so shame they went out of business (though the related Premier Asia is still around? Or not?). If you haven't already, you should check out Dragons Forever and Drive, both of which used to be on HKL (might still be floating around on eBay or something somewhere). Seriously fantastic commentaries and extras on HKL.

Still, I haven't run out of cool BJJ stuff for my own vouchers yet, as even if there isn't something new, there is always something old that's great. ;)

Meerkatsu said...

It may interest HK cinema buffs to know that my grandfather was renowned director Li Han Hsiang.
Whenever I visited HK as a child or whenever he came over, there was always a huge entourage of HK and TW movie stars. Some of whom I have since recognised in various movies, most I have no clue who they are as I don't watch a lot of old skool Asian cinema (to my shame). But there you go, my claim to fame, and the reason why I got involved with chaperoning Gordon Liu around the UK when he visited a few years back.

slideyfoot said...

Cool, although I haven't watched many old school kung fu films myself. I've just got a bunch of the HKL releases (so that's mainly Bruce Lee, along with various stuff from Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, along with random films like Drive and Hapkido).

Looking at Liu's IMDb confirms my non-buffdom, as except for Kill Bill, I'm not sure I've ever seen anything with him in it, or any of your grandad's films. ;)

slideyfoot said...

Although I might have seen one if he did something with Jet Li: there was a film in the iMDB list that had an English title of 'rooster vs centipede' or something. I can definitely remember a random fight scene where Jet Li puts on a rooster costume and fights with claws.

Can be a bit confusing when those films have so many different titles in the West. ;)

cookster_328 said...

Return to the 36th chamber of shaolin. One of Gordon Liu's finest hours :o)

When i was a kid i went through literally the whole kung fu rental section of our local video shop. Pretty much any shaw brothers production i've seen at one time or another. I also had virtually the whole Jackie Chan back catalog on VHS - snake in eagles shadow, fearless hyena, magnificent bodyguards etc.. I am a MASSIVE kung fu movie nerd.

Am going to check out Red Cliff. Wanted to watch it when I saw the trailers for the cinema release but didnt get round to it!

artofjits said...

I just couldn't get my head around foot fist way and I was expecting big things.

Great round up, I will keep a look out for some of the more obscure.

Meerkatsu said...

Yeah Foot Fist Way is not a laugh a minute, but then I like my black comedies to be laid back and slow, just like Nap Dyn. Considering it is a first time effort by the director and most of the actors, it's a marvellous film. But I agree, certainly not the 'best ever' just enjoyable and crafted with lots of attention and care.

@cookster - you da old skool MA film man!

Jason said...

How would you rate "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"?

Meerkatsu said...

Aw man, Crouching tiger is a beautiful work of art. I first saw it in Hong Kong before it got all the recognition in Europe and the States. I had no clue what was going on as I can't speak Cantonese (it was a dubbed from Mandarin version) so me and my wife watched it in a smoke filled cinema where people yapped on mobile phones, talked loudly and basically were annoying as hell, but you know what? We didn't care, this film utterly captivated us. I've watched it over a dozen times since.

Interestingly, whenever I talk to HK buddies about the film, they just say, meh, it was okay, nothing special. But nearly everyone I speak to in the UK who has not grown up on a diet of wire-fu TV shows, loves the film as we do.

DK said...

Hey Seymore, watch a film called "Dragon Tiger Gate" its a slightly newer film but its great.