Directed by: Vincent Kok
Starring: Jackie Chan, Qi Shu, Tony Chiu Wai Leung
This is kind of a weird movie, and it’s right at the edge of when Jackie Chan moved from Hong Kong cinema to mainstream American movies. Somehow this one managed to slip under my radar, which is kinda neat because it’s like finding another old Jackie Chan movie after I thought I’d already seen them all. It’s weird to be happy about making mistakes.
Jackie Chan plays a professional fighter who starts dating a girl under a false identity, and has to keep the relationship going at the same time as he’s dealing with some gang or other. As always. The gang hires some crazy white kickboxer guy who just loves fighting and who kicks Chan’s ass at first, then keeps coming back for more fights just because he enjoys it. A training montage later, Jackie Chan is able to beat the bad guy and get the girl. Aww.
As you may expect, the plot isn’t great (and is an awful lot like most of the movies Jackie Chan did in this time period), but the couple fight scenes with the kickboxer guy are pretty awesome, and full of the Jackie Chan goodness you’ve come to expect. If you’re into that sort of thing (and I assume you are, since you’re watching a Jackie Chan movie), then it’s worth watching just for that, though there are unfortunately not as many of the fight scenes as one might like. Otherwise, it falls a little flat, but whatever, this isn’t exactly Shakespeare. I mean, I don’t remember kickboxing in basically ANY of that guy’s plays. What a loser.
No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)
Directed by: Corey Yuen
Starring: Kurt McKinney, Jean-Claude Van Damme, J.W. Fails
I do indeed love me some bad martial arts movies, and nothing quite hits the mark better than No Retreat, No Surrender. It’s super 80’s, there’s a cartoonishly evil fat kid who’s always messily eating ice cream, a crazy sidekick who’s always dancing, Jean-Claude Van Damme in a non-speaking role, and the cherry on top of it all, the ghost of Bruce Lee. Wow, I love this movie.
Some Karate Kid wannabe wishes he was a great martial artist so he could… uh… beat up fat kids, I guess. He makes a friend for the first time in his life, then gets beaten up for undoubtedly the six or seven hundredth time in his life. He runs off crying to an abandoned warehouse where he prays for his idol, Bruce Lee, to come and teach him kung fu. His wish is inexplicably granted, as the ghost of Bruce Lee (who looks absolutely nothing at all like Bruce Lee) trains him in a series of extended montages. In the end, he fights for America against the evil Russian kickboxer (Van Damme) in a contest that I don’t think has any consequences whether either side wins or not. Powerful stuff.
It takes equal amounts of creativity and laziness to make the mentor in your fighting movie be the ghost of Bruce Lee. I’ll admit, I would never have thought of anything that brilliant. At the same time, they spent about six seconds looking for a guy to play the part, and it seems their only qualifications were for a man who was Asian. Overall, this is a masterpiece of awful filmmaking, rivaling other 80’s masterpieces such as No Holds Barred and Ninja III: The Domination. I think I’ll have to put it on my 50 worst movies of all time list.
The Grandmaster (2013)
Directed by: Kar Wai Wong
Starring: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Ziyi Zhang, Jin Zhang
This film is advertised as the life story of Ip Man, the guy who trained Bruce Lee. That is literally the entire synopsis on IMDb, and it may or may not be true, but there is definitely nothing about Bruce Lee in this movie, don’t be fooled. As it is, if it’s a life story of this guy, he led a very dramatic and action-packed life involving the kinds of things you basically only see in movies. Or maybe it’s just a kung fu movie in the style of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hero. Probably that one.
An experienced martial arts master rejects a hot-headed young man for training, and he vows revenge. He eventually gets powerful and strong and leads an opposing faction to try and take over the kung fu training game in town, I guess. So Ip Man and his wife have to punch a bunch of guys and keep the good guys in charge, etc.
I was a little disappointed that the action was more of the “wire-fu” kind of thing, but it’s kinda obvious since that’s the popular style to go along with a serious dramatic story like this. Basically I got conned with the whole Bruce Lee mention, which is pretty sad since they’ve been pulling that shit with every kung fu movie to come out since the guy died. I’m dumb.
The Man With the Iron Fists (2012)
Directed by: RZA
Starring: Russell Crowe, Cung Le, Lucy Liu
So the guy from Wu Tang Clan made a kung fu movie, huh? It may not be all that surprising that it reminded me an awful lot of House of 1000 Corpses, the first horror movie that Rob Zombie directed. Musicians who love a certain style of film so much and have enough money that they can finally film their dream fan script of the genre. It’s okay.
A shipment of the Emperor’s gold is given to the Lion Clan to deliver safely, but the evil second-in-command Silver Lion assassinates Gold Lion to take over and decides to keep the gold for himself. Can Gold Lion’s son (a guy with armor made of knives), a British gentleman named Jack the Knife (he has a knife that is also a gun) and a humble blacksmith who’s arms were chopped off and replaced with iron arms stop Silver Lion and save all the prostitutes at the place they’re staying from the Emperor’s wrath?
For a kung fu movie, there’s an awful lot of shit going on here. The choreography is passable, but really nothing to write home about and relies too heavily on how much you’re supposed to think all the characters’ unique weapons are cool. Russell Crowe’s dumbass FFVIII knife-gun thing, for instance, is supposed to be really, really cool, and I have no idea how RZA could’ve thought that. There’s a button on it that makes the blade spin around like a blender, it’s like a fucking Power Rangers toy.
Snake in the Monkey’s Shadow (1980)
Directed by: Sum Cheung
Starring: Kang-Yeh Cheng, John Cheung, Tien Hsi Tang
One interesting thing about kung fu movies is that most of them (at least from the 70’s) draw from the same two or three different stories; like someone’s parent/master being killed and they have to get revenge or having to train to take out a local gang that’s terrorizing the townsfolk. This frees up the rest of the movie to mostly be about the actual fighting, and the choreography really ends up determining how good of a film it is. The downside is, of course, when the choreography isn’t that great, like in this movie.
A guy keeps getting beat up, so he tries to get a drunken boxing master to train him. He does, to a point, but is killed by the leader of a gang that the main character beat up just for fun. He must train more to be able to avenge his master’s death, so he goes to a weird hermit guy who lives in the woods and trains in the snake and monkey techniques from his master: an actual snake and a monkey that he ties up and makes fight each other.
There is a scene in this movie where an obviously scared shitless monkey is trying to keep a cobra from killing him. It’s interesting but it smacks bigtime of animal cruelty and that’s not so cool. Otherwise, the only person in the movie who pulls off a convincing martial artist is the main character; the drunken master and the main villain are both pretty poor at it, and that hurts the whole thing. The monkey kung fu hermit in the woods was a pretty neat idea, though.