Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon


Viewed – 07 May 2022 Blu-ray

Asian Cinema Season

Generally, you can’t go wrong with a movie starring veteran action star Sammo Hung. He grew up with Jackie Chan, and although he has remained in Chan’s shadow, mostly due to not making his name in America – his movies and his Kung fu skills are clearly on the same level. This 1990 buddy cop movie has never had much fanfare outside its native Hong Kong, and after watching it … I’m surprised.

This is top-drawer Sammo Hung with some fun comedy and several quality Kung Fu fights. The plot is rather none-sensical though, serving more as an excuse from Hung and Karl Mak’s often funny squabbling banter. Karl Mak is comes across a tad misogynistic but still entertains, and proves a capable fighter in his own right. However as a vehicle for Hung, this showcases his comedy skills equally with his fighting, this time doing a spot-on Bruce Lee impression throughout – which I’d have liked a bit of explanation for, but it’s never explored.

Direction by kung Fu veteran Lau Kar-wing is decent with the fights well framed and delivered with often clever camera work (especially during the climactic warehouse scene). I’d say if you enjoy Hong Kong action cinema, this is one of the more immediate fun ones, with the action spread throughout the movie (not just at the end) with entertaining characters and decent comedy. Just a shame about that er… plot.

This new release from Eureka Classics boasts decent image quality. Not incredibly sharp but clear and detailed enough. The soundtrack offers up original Cantonese mono, or 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio English dub. Although this isn’t a showcase for your surround system. Dialogue is clear though and the English dub is surprisingly good. There are two audio commentaries, the first from Asian film expert Frank Djeng and martial artist / actor Robert “Bobby” Samuels. The second has action cinema experts Mike Leeder & Arne Venema. Then there’s a collector’s booklet featuring an essay by James Oliver. Add to this interviews with crew and stunt co-ordinators. There is also a second disk covering the career of stuntman Mark Houghton. No interview or anything with Sammo himself though seems a strange oversight.

Verdict:

(the movie) Good+

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

Hero


Viewed – 11 March 2022 Blu-ray

Asian Cinema Season

Not often has Chinese / Hong Kong action cinema been privy to the big budgets you see for a major Hollywood production, but following the Oscar success of Ang Lee’s acclaimed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon came this lavish, beautifully filmed movie. Director Yi-Mou Zhang’s (Raise the Red Lantern) 2002 action/drama stars Kung fu star Jet Li as a lone assassin on the brink of completing his mission, who recants his journey and the foes he has overcome to be before his intended target.

Kung fu art

Told in a series of flashbacks, what’s most notable about this is that each flashback is given its own colour scheme; sequences shot in garish red with red costumes and red tinged scenery, or blue costumes and blue scenery and so on. It’s a very effective approach and looks stunning. Add to this several visually creative fight scenes, and although the style is excessive and not exactly realistic, it gives the movie a distinct personality.

As this is mostly of the wire-enhanced style martial arts, it can occasionally look a bit silly, but under Zhang’s direction it’s cool and exciting more often than it’s not. Li is stoic throughout, but proves an effective lead, even if the more emotional and deeper performances come from Maggie Cheung (In the Mood for Love) and Tony Leung (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings). The story at times gets bogged down in philosophy too, and isn’t quite as engaging as I’d have liked. Regardless, this was still very entertaining and is possibly one of the best looking movies I’ve ever seen. Check it out.

Verdict: Recommended

Titane


Viewed – 28 February 2022 online rental

I certainly like movies that are different and push boundaries, and the various French movies I have seen over the years have certainly done that. The last one to really stay with me was ‘Raw’, a nice little coming of age movie… with cannibalism. So when i saw all the attention that movie’s director, Julia Ducournau was getting for her follow up, the Palm D’or winning Titane – I just had to see it. This tells the story of a young woman, Alexia who when she was a child was involved in a car accident, and had a titanium plate placed in the head. As an adult she is a dancer at an auto-erotica show fetishising cars when an encounter with an over-zealous fan ends tragically.

Like a French take on David Cronenberg’s Crash, complete with his brand of body-horror this started out interesting, but quickly took a turn for the worse as the main character goes on the run, changes her sex and reacquaints herself with her weirdo fire-fighter father. As an exploration of a disturbed individual, it makes little coherent sense, throwing in a phantom pregnancy and drawn-out scenes of homo-eroticism and borderline incest. There’s some hints if you look for them of why characters are doing what they’re doing, but its all incredibly vague snd I just watched this with a puzzled expression on my face.

Performances are ok, the main actress is involved in some challenging scenes and comes across convincingly unhinged. There’s also an underlying LGBTQ message here too, but it mostly went over my head. Overall, this was one of the most bizarre movies I’ve seen for a while, and sadly not in a good way. Another acclaimed movie that disappoints.

Verdict: Poor

Once Upon a Time in China


Viewed – 12 February 2022 Blu-ray

Asian Cinema Season

During my obsession with all-things Hong Kong Cinema in the nineties, I considered this 1991 movie one of the top-tier titles. A historical Kung-fu epic that follows the story of Chinese folk hero, doctor and martial arts practitioner Wong Fei Hung (Jet Li). We’re dropped into a period in his life when western invasion looms on the horizon as he struggles to defend the way of life off the Chinese people during political and domestic turmoil.

Director Tsui Hark delivers a fine balance between historical drama and Kung fu action, in a beautifully filmed and highly entertaining movie. At times the budget feels stretched and there’s a few times it feels rough around the edges … and performances by the English / American actors are quite bad. However, where it matters it delivers. Co-starring Hong Kong veterans Yuen Biao and the exquisite Rosamund Kwan, we get strong scenes of character and emotional drama in between the action. The story which focuses on learning the right path, not letting other influences steer you astray etc. works well.

Yet it’s in the various action sequences where this excels. Tsui Hark knows how to showcase the various Wu Shu martial arts on display, and although some of it is of the ‘wire-enhanced’ variety – it’s exhilarating. That theme-tune also enhances every scene it’s used in. Main villain Iron Vest (Yen Shi-kwan) is a formidable opponent for Jet Li but is also a sympathetic character with depth I wasn’t expecting. Li himself is fantastic, and although an on set injury meant some stunts had to be performed by a stunt double, it’s barely noticeable. However his stoic yet likeable performance as Fei Hung is career defining and made the movie for me.

The Blu-ray, part of a Eureka Classics box set has the movie in decent condition, although I feel the picture could be a tad better for a 4K restoration. Soundtrack is presented in original stereo Cantonese, Mandarin or 5.1 English dubbed. Extras-wise there’s a commentary from Hong Kong cinema expert Mike Leeder and filmmaker Arne Venema. There’s also a documentary on real life historical figure Wong Fei Hung, which is in three parts spread over the first three movies in the set. Add to this interviews and a small booklet and this is decent treatment for one of the genuine classics of the genre.

Verdict:

(the movie) Recommended

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

Asian Cinema Season


Announcement

You may (or may not) have noticed that I’ve posted a few reviews lately covering Hong Kong Kung-fu movies, and considering that Hong Kong and Asian Cinema has been an on / off passion of mine, I thought I’d begin a season, with me posting reviews of any Far Eastern movie I own on Blu-ray that I haven’t previously reviewed, and plan to group them all together in their own section, located via my ‘special stuff’ page.

This will cover movies featuring Jackie Chan, Jet Li etc, as well as titles from Korea and Japan. Hope you all like this idea and I may continue it with other themes in the future.

Craig.