Mulan


Viewed – 08 September 2020 Disney+

I never got around to watching the animated original, yet it had always intrigued me … but unlike some other live action Disney remakes of late, I thought this would suit such a take better. Telling the tale of a young woman in ancient China who chooses to join the Emperors army disguised as a man, after an invading army declare war.

This is a gorgeous movie, awash with vibrant colours, beautiful costumes and stunning scenery and locations. Yes, there’s an overdose of CGI and occasionally the use of green screen for backgrounds is a bit obvious, but overall this was a treat for the eyes. Martial arts star Donnie Yen appears as a general who trains up the Emperors army, and an unrecognisable Jet Li appears as the Emperor himself. Jason Scott Lee’s vengeful leader of the invading army is good but he’s overshadowed by Gong Li’s brilliantly ruthless witch, who is definitely one of the movie’s stand out characters. Yet Liu Yifei as Mulan herself is very good, tough yet vulnerable and can handle the various elaborate fight sequences and carries the movie well. Yet the star here is the direction and visuals, Action scenes are plentiful and the camera work is often unique and stylish.

The story is nothing that special though and gets rather predictable. Some of the gravity-defying fantasy aspects can get a bit silly too. Also I found myself having to suspend belief when Mulan was disguised as a man, but still looked feminine to me. However, despite these things, I was still highly entertained from start to finish. One to check out.

Verdict: Recommended

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


Viewed – 29 December 2016  Cinema

George Lucas’ shock sale of his beloved Star Wars to Disney seemed like a concern at one stage.  Yet considering the work he’d done delivering three prequels that seemed to focus more on CGI than gripping narratives with fully fleshed out characters … perhaps it was time for another company to try their hand?  The result?  Well we got The Force Awakens and the rest as they say, is history.  Or is it?  The proposed continuation of the saga was also going to have a series of spin-off movies focusing on plots away from but connected to the main saga.  So despite that last movie’s un-argued success in bringing back a once treasured franchise … it could still all go tits up.

Rogue One

Jyn is the daughter of a scientist who at the beginning of this movie gets taken away to work on the Empire’s latest weapon.  Yes Daddy is helping build the death star.  Cue fifteen years after and Jyn is all grown up and seeking out the rebellion and the man who rescued her after her father was taken.  However along the way she befriends a reluctant assassin (Diego Luna) and his sarcastic droid and also a defected imperial pilot (Riz Ahmed).  Turns out there’s a mission to steel the plans to the death star in hope of finding a weak point, and so sets forth a sort of inter-galactic dirty dozen and boy, was I along for the ride.

droidA different beast to The Force Awakens but every bit as polished and entertaining, this boasts several stunning battle sequences that possibly eclipse that movie and strong performances, especially from newcomer Felicity Jones and her band of brothers, including a blind monk played by martial arts supremo Donnie Yen.  The movie plays itself rather serious for the most part but still finds time for gentle in-jokes and plenty of ‘was that…?’ and ‘hey that’s…!’ visual nods to Star Wars of yester-year.  Effects work is some of the best I’ve seen this year, even down to a shockingly real (sorry…spoilers) recreation of Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin from the very first movie (apart from those eyes…).  Add to this perfect set design, costumes and some gorgeous cinematography and well, this had my jaw hitting my lap on a regular basis.  That much loved mysticism of Star Wars, especially the force, Jedi’s etc. seemed pushed aside however in favor of a more gritty ‘mission’ structure.  It also has to be said, some of the support characters were under-developed.

This could have been just a simple cash-in.  Yet director Gareth Edwards has made an inspired ‘alternative take’ on a familiar franchise and delivers a loving celebration at the same time.  So if you hadn’t figured it out already – I loved this.

Verdict:  5 /5

Dragon Tiger Gate


Viewed – 24 April 2011  Blu-ray

Two brothers in the Hong Kong / Triad underworld are forced to bury their differences when a ruthless gang boss rages war.  Kung Fu legend Donnie Yen plays Dragon, the lead henchman of the White Lions gang, and newcomer Nicholas Tse plays Tiger Wong, part of the much respected Tiger Gate training academy.

The story is thin at best, with bland characters and very little depth.  Yet we’re not here for deep messages and meaning – we’re here to see Donnie Yen and Nicholas Tse kick ass … and does this one deliver!  Director Wilson Yip’s movie is awash with colour, special effects and jaw dropping action, that although ridiculous and fantastical compared to Yen’s much acclaimed Ip Man movies, still packs a helluva punch.   Naturally a compelling story would have gone a long way to caring for these characters, and with well used kung fu movie clichés such as rival fighting schools and silly sounding martial arts styles, this severely lacks anything to sink your teeth into beyond the admittedly beautiful visuals.  Yen remains one of the finest action stars around though, and also choreographs the action brilliantly, even if subtlety and restraint go out of the window.  Nicholas Tse, one of a group of good looking Asian stars more famous for being pop stars than martial artists, delivers a great physical performance and carries the movie well, aided by a nunchuku wielding Shawn Yue, sporting a frightful grey wig, and a likable Dong Jie as a gang boss’ daughter.

So by all means check this out.  It’s packed with action and style, but the limited story and wafer thin characterisation may leave you cold.

Verdict:  3 /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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