Kung Fu Killer (AKA Kung Fu Jungle, 一個人的武林, Yī Gè Rén De Wǔ Lín): a ‘Maritial Arts Maniac’ is making his mark by fighting – and killing – the best of the best in each of the traditional fighting disciplines. Donnie Yen fronts this movie, which is absolutely crammed with HK & Chinese action legends in supporting roles and bit parts – from this aspect it almost feels like a love-letter to the industry that has served up some of the most influential and heart-pounding action movies of the past few decades. Despite this, and including fights centered around boxing, kicking, grappling, swordfighting etc the film struggles to deliver. The the action scenes are a 50-50 mix of good old-fashioned kung fu and the worst of modern fights (shaky cam, quick cuts, too much wire work, lazy CGI) – leaving a lot of the action as sketchy and hard to follow. There’s also a lot of ropey and wholly unnecessary CGI of inane things like hanging washing, traffic and bamboo sticks – all of which should have been done in-camera given the budget of the movie. The choice of villain being a physically disabled person with an axe to grind also felt like a misstep. Despite the stellar cast, and grand ambitions this movie falls down through a distinct lack of originality – it feels like you’ve seen the story, fights, and characters do all of this before. I used to expect a lot more from Donnie Yen, but these days, he appears to be more interested in quantity over quality.
Special ID (Tè Shū Shēn Fèn, 特殊身份): an undercover cop finds himself in danger when he’s set on a collision course with an old protégé. Tonally, this film is an absolute mess; there’s Loony Tunes style moments of slapstick comedy in the middle of realistic MMA-Style fight scenes; despite it being a big-budget movie with slick intentions it continually returns to the super-cheese with bawdy music and silly melodramatic over-acting; there’s also a few sleep-inducingly boring scenes (one about Tattoos in particular). The timeline is all over the place, jumping around with no explanation, unaided by the lax direction and editing. There’s some woeful Volvo product placement: not satisfied with having their ‘City Safety’ mode blatantly pimped, there’s an entire fight scene AROUND THEIR CAR – it also doesn’t blow up when it’s dropped from height, unlike those rubbish Land Rovers!!! Ppsschhhtt!!! On the plus side, the action is generally impressive (particularly the two elongated fights at either end of the movie) despite some superhuman abilities being thrown in to the mix here and there. I love Donnie Yen and will watch anything he’s in, but he’s going for a Jackie Chan style cheeky-chappy role here, and doesn’t quite have the charm/charisma to nail it. In the end, this is amounts to little more than another completely forgettable Asian undercover cop film – with two decent fight scenes.
IP Man (AKA Yip Man) [Blu Ray]: partial-biogaphy of grandmaster martial artist Yip Man, as he fights to protect his town through the Japanese invasion of 1937. This is a jaw-dropping homage to the old martial arts films; choreography, subtle wire work, sound effects and filming of the action. This all peaks during a 1-on-10 fight indoors, which is action-tastic, bone-snappingly brutal and phenomenal to watch. Storywise, the film starts off amazingly with random schools of martial artist groups challenging each other to fights, but as soon as the war / Chinese history kicks in it slows the film down to a crawl. Annoyingly, there’s random leaps forward in time about every ten minutes; is it a week, month or year… we don’t know. Outdoors the BD picture great, but inside it’s very grainy – and the entire second half (invasion) looks depressingly washed-out and devoid of any colour. Films that handle the Sino–Japanese war have a tough job, and IP man succeeded nationally (although falls down internationally) in doing this; because it’s over-sentimental – but you can’t hold that against such a nationally proud, historical piece. Overall, IP Man starts with a massive bang, but the entire second half becomes a bit of a struggle, although the great action will keep you in your seat.
Dragon Tiger Gate [Blu Ray]: Two step-brothers and a random come together and fight the evil Lousha Gate to save their martial arts school. Based on a Chinese comic (Oriental Heroes), there’s some sweet-ass stylish opening credits, and more generally the acting’s decent by comic adaptation standards. The story’s a bit overcooked and strays pretty deeply into the field of cheese with the metaphors, dreams and visions – which gets a little tedious. What makes this watchable is Donnie Yen’s jaw-dropping action choreography (and 14 year old emo girl’s haircut!), particularly the 2x restaurant scenes. The baseball field and gate bit are also fairly good – although the final boss fight has far too much SFX, which loses the innovative and live action feel of the earlier battles. The Blu Ray picture’s good, and vibrant when it needs to be, the HD sound is loud, proud, punchy and clean. Although the story’s not up to much, Dragon Tiger Gate is some harmless action fun.
Flash Point: The story was pretty much a dumbed down version of the Departed (which is a dumbed down version of the Infernal Affairs Trillogy!) but it was easy to watch as it didn’t really make you think. The best thing about this film was the non-stop ass-kicking fight scenes scattered throughout, that culminate in a HUGE 20 minute action scene. The combat is all pretty realistic and based on Mixed Martial Arts. After watching some of the features the reason it’s so good was that they drafted 5 legendary fighters to help choreograph and film the action. It’s pretty much a Tony Jaa film, but not as cheesy and far more life-like. Well worth buying / renting / lovefilming if you like your action flicks.