Kung Fu Hustle

Viewed – 22 April 2011  DVD

I’ll admit to not really having much prior knowledge of prolific action-comedy star Stephen Chow before sitting down to watch this.  I had naturally heard the fuss over the much acclaimed Shoalin Soccer but again didn’t get around to watching it.  So this is something I’m viewing more out of word of mouth than anything else.  Chow plays a down on his luck guy who wants to be part of a notorious local gang rather than be a poor beggar.  Yet as he is generally a good person, becoming an evil henchman comes with some difficulty.  When the gang are humiliated after getting beaten up by a group of peasants in a poor village however, Chow see’s an opportunity, and vows to defeat the peasant villagers in order to prove his worth.

This knock-about farce of a story is livened up considerably by some outrageous and very entertaining action, blending wire-enchanced kung fu with excellent special effects, making this a visual tour-de-force.  Directed and written by Stephen Chow this is a frenetic and often laugh-out-loud funny experience that whilst barely worrying about a cohesive plot or three-dimensional characters, makes up for this with pure cinematic fun.  The set design should also be applauded as should be the often very imaginative and stylish camera work, and with what can only be described as cartoon-like fight choreography from none other than Yeun Wo Ping (The Matrix, Kill Bill), this is a spectacle that’s very hard to dislike.

Verdict:  4 /5

Ip Man 2

Viewed – 19 March 2011  Blu-ray

Martial arts superstar Donnie Yen reprises his role as legendary kung fu master Ip Man, the fabled mentor of Bruce Lee in this much-anticipated sequel.  Following Man’s migration to Hong Kong in 1949, living in poverty and unable to afford the rent, he attempts to open a martial arts school to teach the local youths his Wing Chun fighting style.  Yet this soon attracts the attention of other martial schools, most notably that of gang leader Hong Zhen Nan (Sammo Hung), who is working with corrupt British officials to stage a boxing tournament.

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Ip Man

Viewed – 15 March 2011  Blu-ray

As the second instalment of my renewed interest in all things far-eastern action orientated, we come to this much acclaimed biopic of Wing Chun master Ip Man, who among other things also went onto mentor none other than Bruce Lee.  Donnie Yen plays the quietly spoken martial arts expert trying to live a peaceful life, until the Japanese Army invade and take over the country, causing his legendary skills to truly be put to the test.

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14 Blades

Viewed – 11 March 2011  Online Rental

I have been out of the asian action cinema scene for a while now, having been heavily into all things kung fu, martial arts and Hong Kong related some years ago.  Yet of late I’ve had a yearning to rediscover the movies I used to love so much, and with a somewhat resurgence in their popularity thanks to the prolific output of martial arts superstar Donnie Yen, now was as good a time as any to get back into them.

Donnie Yen plays Qinglong, a secret service agent during the Ming Dynasty who has sworn an oath to protect the empire using his 14 specialist blades passed down to him during a sacred ceremony.  When the emperor’s Imperial Seal is stolen and Qinglong set up for the crime, he sets out to find the real culprit, kicking plenty of ass along the way.  Now this is a very loose join-the-dots interpretation of the story as to be honest I found it very hard to follow.  It’s complicated and vague at the same time, and with some poor subtitles for this viewing, keeping up with who was who and what was what was an uphill struggle.  Yet Donnie Yen is excellent as the deadly warrior who discovers a softer side to himself when he kidnaps a young woman (Zhao Wei) so a group of escorts will help him in his mission, and finds himself falling for her.  Directed by Daniel Lee (Black Mask, Dragon Squad) this well shot and attractive looking movie is filled with breathtaking action, with some excellent sword fighting, wire-assisted acrobatics and imaginative, cool looking characters.  The main villain, a Medusa inspired femme fatale is wonderful too, and an easy match for a hard-as-nails Donnie Yen. 

It’s sad then that the surrounding story is told in such a fragmented and incoherent manner, as otherwise this would have been an easy recommendation.  As it stands, if you love asian action movies, this still delivers … but the poor story telling lets it down.

Verdict:  3 /5