Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon


Viewed – 07 May 2022 Blu-ray

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

Once Upon a Time in China


Viewed – 12 February 2022 Blu-ray

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

What I’ve been watching


I thought I’d start doing a series of posts on here that cover my viewing habits outside of reviewing. I’ll offer brief thoughts and cover a number of titles, which at least doesn’t leave some movies without an opinion or two. So let’s get started…

This weekend I watched two movies that I have in my collection, starting off with believe it or not, a Buster Keaton movie. I have been inspired of late by various YouTube channels (shout out to Luke at Razorwire Reviews) that cover movie collecting, and some have covered the silent era. I’ve not watched any of Keaton’s movies before and recently purchased a 3 movie set. So I started off with 1928’s ‘Steamboat Bill Jr’ one of his most famed that I enjoyed quite a bit (and loved the last ten minutes). It was quite different and fun to experience a silent movie, with a very entertaining piano / orchestral accompaniment which I’m guessing was newly produced for the restoration. Keaton is certainly very likeable and the stunt work in this one is impressive. I can say this certainly made me thirsty for more.

Steamboat Bill Jr

I’m not sure what it is, but I’ve been attempting to revisit my past love of Hong Kong cinema but can’t say they are having the effect on me they once did. I suppose I’ve changed a bit. It may also mean I won’t rush to get the Blu-ray releases that are coming out lately … but those I have purchased, I do intend to watch. One such title is ‘Mr Vampire’ from 1985, a fantasy comedy-horror set in a small town that seems quite used to the presence of vampires and ghosts. The comedy is amusing but very silly and isn’t as enjoyable as the various vampire encounters where the main action takes place. Director Ricky Lau certainly knows how to film action and the stars here are very skilled in Kung-fu and acrobatics. Effects work, make-up etc is dodgy and the story is weak, but overall I still enjoyed this.

Mr Vampire

I also finished season three of Ozark on Netflix. A solid season with a powerful ending. Ozark has easily become one of my favourite shows of late. I also finally began watching the third season of The Handmaid’s Take – a great opening episode, as intense and brilliantly acted as ever. Can’t wait to continue with this.

Well that’s me for now. Expect more reviews as well as similar blog posts to the above, soon…

Craig.

John Wick


Viewed – 22 April 2015  Cinema

During the nineties I had a bit of an obsession with Hong Kong action movies, everything from Jackie Chan to the two-handed gun-play of John Woo.  Hollywood quickly followed up on this and the action genre became infused with the influence of far eastern cinema, spawning the likes of Face / Off and The Matrix trilogy.  There we come to Keanu Reeves, perhaps not the first person you may have thought of to deftly wield guns and kick ass considering he came from Bill & Ted, but this good looking and decidedly cool actor soon garnered a reputation as the go-to guy for such movies.

john-wick

He’s been fairly quiet for a while so this come-back vehicle seemed perfectly suited.  He plays the title character who following the death of his wife, lives out a peaceful existence with his sleek muscle car and pet dog.  However an unfortunate brush with a Russian gang causes a break in at his house, his car getting stolen and his dog to get killed.  Only thing is, the gang had no idea who they were messing with.

Perhaps an unintentional homage to classic movie franchise Death Wish albeit with ultra-stylish action that borrows (to an extent) from John Woo … this also feels like it’s own beast, and is carried well by Keanu on ice-cool form as a non-stop killing machine.  I sometimes think he’d have made a great Terminator.  Support comes in the shape of Willem Dafoe’s seasoned veteran as well as a sultry, sexy Adrianne Palicki.  On villainous duties is Michael Nyqvist (Ghost Protocol, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) who proves a more than suitable if clichéd mobster.  The set-up is simplistic and the characters slight and under-developed … but for this kind of movie where action is king, we get several stylish, well-edited and gripping encounters, all with a little tongue-in-cheek humour thrown in.  I also loved the backdrop of the ‘agency’ that looked after Keanu and his kind (featuring a cameo by Ian McShane) … certainly an idea that could be further developed in sequels.

As the directing debut of former stunt co-coordinator Chad Stahelski, this shows promise for a new visionary in the action movie field.  Roll on the already announced John Wick 2.

Verdict:  4 /5