Dark Arena - Famous martial artists are
being abducted by a scheming millionaire to
participate in highly illegal, full-contact
tournament... to the death! The world's greatest
fighters are caught in the middle as they fly to a
secret hideout in mainland China, where the perils of
the Dark Arena await...
Genre: Martial arts.
Director: Wilson Yip.
Starring: Tommy Chu, Rock Li, Louis Zhuang, with Andy Lau, Gina Carano, Jason Statham, Natasha Henstredge, Gina Torres, Michelle Yeoh, Dan Chupong, and Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Release date: October 7th 2012.
Review: If the question is "Did we really need another Bloodsport/Dead or Alive rip-off?", the answer must be "Who cares?", at least when we're talking about Wilson Yip's Kumite: Dark Arena. This pure combat film is filled to the brim with martial arts stars showing off their styles in what must be considered more than cameos. Yip has assembled a truly international cast that covers not just Asia (including maverick actor Andy Lau, grande dame du Kung Fu Michelle Yeoh and Tony Jaa stunt team member Dan Chepong), but from Europe (hard man Jason Statham, smoking hot Natasha Henstridge, and international star Jean-Claude Van Damme) and America (MMA beauty Gina Carano and Firefly star Gina Torres).
The three principal roles belong to Tommy Chu (as an undercover law enforcement agent), Rock Li (basically as himself), and pro wrestler Louie Zhuang (in a surprising rough romance subplot with Carano). Seperately or together, they must put an end to Lenoir (Lau)'s reign of terror, or die trying. Cue plenty of fighting action in the way Hong Kong cinema does best. What else are you watching these films for? The acting?!
Master - The year is 2100 A.D. Highly-skilled
Terminators invade the villainous Clone Master's
mansion. Can they destroy the clone banks before the
sinister Jellies can decimate their forces? It's Kung
Fu vs. Clone Fu in a future we dare not think about!
Genre: Science fiction.
Director: Rob Tam.
Starring: Tommy Chu, Louie Zhuang, and Xi Fu.
Release date: September 20th 2012.
Review: Like a throwback to American 80s action films, Clone Master, director Rob Tam's latest, throws in a lot bullets flying - a feat in a picture about Luddites who refuse to use firearms - and shocking gore at every possible moment. The featured Terminators (no one ever accused Tam of being wholly original) are zen anarchists fighting against the oppression of amoral Clone Masters who have extended their life spans and brought the world back down to a feudal society. The best fight, however, isn't the climax against the Clone Master, but rather an impressive battle under raining sprinklers against real life quadruplettes and Wushu champions, the Tse Sisters. But violent. So violent.
Nominally, the star of this film is Hong Kong veteran Xi Fu as Terminator leader Rising Dream. Not unexpectedly, he gives a Golden Horse worthy performance (certainly too good for a plot of this caliber). However, it's heartbreaker Tommy Chu who rises most to the occasion as the fanatical, sour and sadistic Shadow Lotus. This is Chu's second atypical role in a row, and his legion of schoolgirl fans might be pining for the days when all his movies looked like music videos. One thing's for certain, he's attracting attention of all genders and ages with his last few performances. Could our resident pretty boy have grown (and dirtied) up? Providing some comic relief, we have Louie Zhuang (Arnie Chow), visibly relishing the 80s shmaltz aesthetic imposed by the director.
Off-puttingly violent - Hong Kong is well-known for killing kids in its films so as to make the villain truly villainous, but this is ridiculous - Clone Master will nonetheless be popular with fans of the genre and there is already talk of two sequels, Clone Master II: Navel Battles and Clone Master 3: Send in the Clones, which may or may not feature the same cast or director. Oh Hong Kong, don't ever change.
|Pucks of Fury
- More violent than Shaolin Soccer! More exciting than
Kung Fu Dunk! Now China brings its special brand of
high-flying sports to the hockey rink as a team of
misfits must defeat evil the Blades of Bad to save the
Genre: Sports comedy.
Director: Stephen Chow.
Starring: Louis Zhuang, Rock Li, Maki Roll, Tommy Chu, and Xi Fu.
Release date: September 6th 2012
Review: If Shaolin Soccer is the gold standard of Chinese sports comedies, and Kung Fu Dunk is the bronze, Joy Luck Studios' newest definitely takes home the silver. Hockey is a strange sport in China, and director Stephen Chow and his all-star cast are definitely playing by "Chinese Rules", but Pucks of Fury only confirms this reviewer's belief that the Shaolin sports' franchise should eventually cover every sport and replace Air Bud as the leader in that field. (Come on, China! That bar is so low you can walk right over it!)
No one will accuse Pucks of Fury of being a complex, human story, but they certainly can't call it boring. The well-meaning comedy has some off-putting violence at times, but the tricks and gags get SO crazy, audiences can't possibly see it as anything more than a live-action cartoon. The character are quirky and lovable. The baddies are evil and twisted. And the sports are heavy on anime-inspired special effects, zen mysticism and over-the-top action. Don't put anyone in the penalty box for this, but we're told the director had no working knowledge of hockey!
That's where former K'un L'un Coolies forward Louie Zhuang comes in. The actor was brought in as sports consultant and action choreographer, and necessarily played a role in it, bringing his trademark wrestling moves to the ice as well. The nominal hero of the piece, however, is played by young up-and-comer Rock Li, fresh off his success in Bullet Ballet. He is perhaps perfectly cast as a young man with his heads in the clouds (or, to his coach's despair, up in the stands). Also on hand is Maki Roll as a foul-mouthed, grumpy, but essentially sympathetic, hard-headed goaler; XI Fu playing identical twins (thus trading basketball coaching duties for some real on-ice action); and most surprising of all, Tommy Chu in a game-changer of a role as the fat Buddha of the team, sending vibes of positive chi and winning the hearts of millions despite wearing a sometimes unconvincing fat suit. We predict the ladies will love him anyway and that this film will create a new generation of chubby chasers. This fat reviewer thanks you, Mr. Chu!
|Bullet Ballet -
When a ballerina returning to Hong Kong with her
troupe accidentally grabs a cache of drugs and cash
bound for the local Triad lodge, her life is in the
hands of the carrier - her lover - and his two blood
brothers sent to kill them both!
Genre: Gunplay drama.
Director: John Woo.
Starring: Xi Fu, Louie Zhuang, Rock Li and featuring Liu Shishi
Release date: August 26th 2012
Review: John Woo's newest takes the idea of his balletic gunplay action films to a new level by actually incorporating ballet into it, ending as it does on a ridiculous fight sequence on stage during a forced performance of Swan Lake, substituting "swans" in tutus for his usual trademark doves.
For young up-and-comer Rock Li, this is a star-making role. He's been good as an acrobatic martial arts fighter in past efforts, but here gets to show a little more acting between a slow-burning romance with Hong Kong cutie Liu Shishi and a leadership role in the Triad plot that finds more experienced actors like Xi Fu, as a gangster longing for a different kind of life, and Louie Zhuang, providing good-natured comic relief. Rock Li proves he can do more than stunts and kung fu, though his nascent fan base may leave the theater disappointed he didn't do more of those things.
Western fans of Hong Kong cinema will not be surprised to find thoroughly despicable villains, but might perk up at the inclusion of Terrance Stamp, even if it's just a cameo (and stunt casting).
Good set pieces in cool locales, solid action beats, fun credit sequences, and a decidedly international soundtrack, Bullet Ballet (not to be confused with the Japanese film of the same English title) is a must for John Woo aficionados.
|Gun Fu Zombie - On the rural
island of Cheung Chau off the coast of modern Hong
Kong, the locals hold a three-day festival each year
to keep the dead at bay by preparing and leaving them
buns. If they do not prepare the buns, the villagers
fear the wrath of the walking dead. In the hills, Dr.
Zhang Mok, a renowned scientist, hopes to find the
Gwai Ngaam (the Demon-Stone), a relic that, according
to folklore, can give the dead a will of their own...
Director: Rob Tam.
Starring: Tommy Chu, Xi Fu, Maki Roll, and Rocky Li
Release date: July 23rd 2012
Review: Exploitation director Rob Tam can't have it both ways. Either his heroes are complete badasses, or the situation is literally hopeless. His latest opus (if such a word can be used in relation to Tam's work) is an uneasy mixture of John Woo-style gunplay, as rather unlikable gangsters unload a seeming endless number of weapons into the faces of just-as-endless number of zombies that might as well have been latex bags of blood and viscera, and the kind of nihilistic horror one might find in a Lovecraft short story. A difficult marriage of themes.
The actors certainly do their best with the material even as the director tries to sideline their characters' personal subplots with just more action and violence. Still, there's a nice contrast between the two factions (Red Sky and White Crane), each using a younger and older actor, in reverse positions. Girls following Tommy Chu's career may be disappointed by the finale, but will squee to numerous "cool" shots and high-flying action, certainly, though others' tastes may instead side with the always sympathetic Xi Fu, the stoic and loyal Mako, or the edgy Rock Li (a young actor still looking for his unique voice).
And you have to pick sides, because the twist is that at soon as these characters are left alone, they start fighting amongst themselves, and we're left without a proper last act. But it seems part of the plan, and in this unusual structure, we may find something to redeem Tam's otherwise by-the-numbers zombiefest. In its doom-laden ending, he seems to be saying that death is the great equalizer, and in a sequence dripping in irony, judges his characters and their petty concerns.
This reviewer is afraid that if this movie is successful (and a lot of drek finds a way to make oodles and oodles of money), the studio might order a sequel. If so, one wonders who is left to take on the protagonists' roles...
Shaolin - 1736: The Fall of Shaolin Temple.
The students of San Te, renowned creator of the 36th
chamber of Shaolin, young monks enduring the rigorous
training required to master Kung Fu refuse to
relinquish their Chinese heritage and find themselves
caught between the treacherous Pai Mei's pupils and
the Emperor’s Royal Guard.
Genre: Period martial arts.
Director: Chang Cheh.
Starring: Tommy Chu, Xi Fu, Maki Roll, newcomer Rock Li, and featuring Gordon Liu in a dual role!
Release date: July 19th 2012
Review: Traitorous Shaolin is yet another retelling of the destruction of Shaolin Temple, and it tries very hard to please with clever tricks, such as classic martial arts star Gordon Liu returning to two roles he helped popularize - San Te and Pai Mei - a huge blockbuster show stopper as its climax, and many, many high wire wuxia tricks. That it succeeds in great part thanks to this cleverness should not be seen as a flaw, but celebrated. After all, a story oft-told should have something to set it apart.
Old Chang Cheh stalwarts Xi Fu and Maki Roll are in this, which comes as little surprise to Asian cinema fans, while Gen-Y heartthrob Tommy Chu is generally out of his element as an ascetic monk, though each actor more or less still plays to type. Much of the film's success must be credited to new-comer Rock Li, fresh off the wushu circuit, whose natural ability is used to incredible effect in numerous action sequences. More than an acrobat fighter - and the type that comes to cinema only once or twice per generation - he has a pleasant, open face that will charm movie-goers hopefully for years to come.
Action fans will love the numerous hyper-fantastic set pieces inside Shaolin Temple and out, from a surprising tether-ball chamber sequence to the incredible Shaolin Temple battle that literally uses a cast of thousands. However, it's Japanese ex-patriot Maki Roll who represents the real heart of the film as the scholarly monk Li. The well-scored scene of him walking through the battle, pondering the loss of the Chinese way of life, is a directorial and acting tour de force. All the more incredible then that the scene is apparently the result of a the actor forgetting where he was in the script. If true, Chang Cheh proves that he can use accidents to great effect.
Traitorous Shaolin will entertain with its mix of action and character moments, even if the story feels entirely familiar. 3 Stars
(E! Insider) Tommy Chu goes bald for a movie? WHAT was he THINKING?! Hey E! HK fans, this is Lily Xin once again with your weekly celebrity update!
This week director Chang Cheh brings us a new movie called Traitorous Shaolin. The movie is set in the 18th Century and revolves around an ancient Shaolin Temple...which leaves this E! reporter wondering....WHY was Tommy Chu cast for this? Sure, he was playing his usual rebelious, defy all the rules, self....except with no hair, no guns, no cars and no sex! I kept asking myself WHY OH WHY was I even bothering!
...but then Tommy took off his shirt to fight one of the main bad guys. I was back to melting in my seat and all was well!
E! Insiders have heard, however, that Tommy wasn't too happy with his manager's decision to get him in this movie. E! HK had this inclusive interview with him on the matter.
E!'s Stacy: So Tommy, why Traitorous Shaolin?
Tommy: First of all, it's nice to see you again Stacy. You look pretty as ever.
E!'s Stacy: *giggles uncontrollably*
Unfortunately, that's all we could get before Tommy and Stacy were photographed leaving the interview room together holding hands. Aren't they cute?!
This has been Lily Xin saying: GET IN LINE LADIES!