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7/10
Absolute Insanity, You Can't Help But Like It!!
30 May 2020
From director Yudia Yamaguchi, the same mind behind the insane Meatball Machine, Yakuza Weapon, and equally insane, Chromartie High The Movie, comes something like you've never seen before. The over-rated, but likeable Tak Sakaguchi stars in this insane, wacky and totally messed up adaptation of a popular manga, where schools (of adults) face each other in deadly games of baseball. With exploding balls, brutal weapons, and opponents that are zombies, the film starts the insanity from the get-go and doesn't let up for its full running time!

Remade in 2011 as Deadball, with Tak back in the same role, this low-budget insanity is filled with ridiculously bad dialogue, over-the-top acting, silly fight scenes, and wild FX that go from looking great to looking so bad its funny. Produced by Versus director, Ryuhei Kitamura, of which Tak was first introduced to the world, Battlefield Baseball offers musical numbers, violence, martial arts, daft plot twists, and insane characters. Its as if Kitamura told Chow Sing Chi, Wong Jing and Jeff Lau that there was a $1000 budget, and to give him some ideas for a sports themed film. Its just plain mental. But alas, I have seen some pages from the original manga, and to be honest, its even more insane.

There's just far too much going on to try and put into words, but I can't deny that it is a lot of fun, incredibly silly, but highly entertaining for the most of its running time!

Not to be taken seriously by any means...

Overall: It makes Shaolin Soccer seem almost like a serious drama. Has to be seen to be believed!
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8/10
New-Wave Classic That Still Entertains!!
29 May 2020
Johnnie To's remake of the Shaw Brothers 1975 hit, The Invincible One (aka Disciples Of Shaolin), is indeed a classic of the Hong Kong New Wave era. With a great performance from all its main cast, a memorable score by William Hu Wei Li, gorgeous cinematography by Horace Wong, and fantastic fight choreography courtesy of the late, great Lau Kar Leung - who incidentally was the action director on Chang Cheh's original film. A modern take on a classic story of redemption and doomed love, wrapped up in a coming-of-age tale that, unfortunately, doesn't have the happiest of endings...

When I had this on VHS from the brilliant Made In Hong Kong label, I wore out the video tape in no time at all. I loved it then, and still love it as much now. Produced by Mona Fong and the Shaw Brothers studio, The Bare-Footed Kid may offer nothing new as such to long-time fans of kung-fu films, but it still feels as fresh and looks just as amazing today as it did all those years ago!

Aaron Kwok is just gorgeous and wonderfully cute in this as the titular character, naïve and innocent to the world around him, abused by many and easily led astray. This is one of my favourite Kwok movies, and think he is just wonderful in everything from the drama and comedy, to the awesome kung-fu action scenes. Kwok is supported by the amazing Hong Kong film legend that is Ti Lung, a man with a secret past who now works for the equally impressive Maggie Cheung, both of who are also lovers, As the boss of the bye factory, Maggie runs a fair but tight ship producing top-quality fabrics, helping the needy, and making great business which angers her competitor, played by the great Kenneth Tsang.

Tsang is as wonderfully wicked as always as the boss of the Dragon Spinners; the gangster dye factory causing all the trouble. After a great martial-arts tournament, Tsang tricks Kwok into working for him with a new pair of shoes, and a promise of big money. Of course, Aaron doesn't have a clue of his new masters plans in putting his new friends...

As mentioned, the film is shot beautifully with thanks to cinematographer Horace Wong who has shot everything from Twin Dragons to The Myth, King Of Comedy, and pretty much, every major John Woo hit. His mix of handheld shots and epic sweeps are aided by some wonderful lighting, making almost every frame of The Bare-Footed Kid, just gorgeous to look at. The incredible night scene with Ti Lung and Maggie Cheung going out on a date in the pouring rain, is one such scene - and one of many.

The legendary Lau Kar Leung provides some crisp and powerful kung-fu fights, a lot of which is aided by wires, although not in a distracting way. The only let-down for me in this film was a couple of moments of over-cranking during action. It didn't need it, and while noticeable, did not ruin the action on-screen at the time as it was brief. Regardless, both Kwok and Ti Lung get to kick ass a number of times, and both look amazing doing it. Ti Lung's tea-house battle and fight for survival is a highlight, as is the epic finale with Kwok taking on everyone. Just brilliant!

Wu Chien Lien, who had starred with Aaron in A Moment Of Romance 2 that same year, starts off as a pretty unlikeable girl but soon turns things around, taking a fancy to Aaron and becoming closer after the murder of her father, of which Kwok was a part off unknowingly...

Fans of Sammo Hung's Blade Of Fury and Jet Li's Fong Sai Yuk movies will love The Bare-Footed Kid. With stunning fight sequences, romance, emotion and melodrama, you can't help but fall for it!

Overall: Beautifully directed, funny, charming and action-packed, The Bare-Footed Kid is a modern classic and highly recommended!
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The Banquet (2006)
10/10
A Stunning Film In Every Way!!
29 May 2020
Warning: Spoilers
It seems that director Feng Xiao Gang can do no wrong! His 2006, loose adaptation of Hamlet is stunning in every possible way, giving revered epics such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and House Of Flying Daggers, a run for their money...

Set in the time of the Tang Dynasty and the Five Dynasties, this tale of betrayal, murder, love, and assassination is breathtaking in its cinematography, direction, art design and action sequences, courtesy of its executive producer and fight choreographer, Yuen Woo Ping. The main cast is incredible, offering Daniel Wu (Into The Badlands) in one of his best roles, with a supporting cast that equally impresses!

Although working off the backbone of the famed Hamlet tale, Feng Xiao Gang adds enough of his own originality to make this stand out. With the crown prince (Wu) off studying dance and music at a forest theatre, his uncle (played brilliantly by Ge You), takes advantage of this and kills his brother the king, taking both the throne and the Empress (played wickedly by the beautiful Zhang Ziyi), before sending out assassins to finish-off Wu in a stunning action scene at the amazing forest theatre. This set, and action-piece, are just beautiful and worth the price of admission alone. Of course, the crown prince survives only just, and makes his way back to the palace to find his family in tatters, and more attempts on his life from both his uncle, and younger mother - once his lover.

Visually, The Banquet is just amazing. From the stunningly cinematography to its gripping and beautifully lit visuals, you can't help but be sucked in by every frame. From the scene where the assassins kill themselves on a bridge; their blood dripping down through onto the guards below, to the wonderfully captured scenes of the highly detailed palace exterior (reportedly the largest set ever built in China), and even the brief but violent polo game, The Banquet is certainly never dull to look at courtesy of Zhang Li who worked with Feng on A World Without Thieves, and John Woo's epic Red Cliff movies.

The incredible and renowned Yuen Woo Ping, who also serves as an executive producer to the film, handles the films fight choreography, along with his brothers Yuen Cheung Yan and Yuen Shun Yee. From the aforementioned forest theatre attack, to the second assassination attempt on Wu in the palace - with the crown prince taking on a small army of guardsmen in what should only be a training session of swordsmanship, before they exchange wooden swords for real ones - the fights are violently beautiful, and offer just as much excitement as its critically acclaimed, cinematic peers. A young Max Zhang, star of Master Z, Ip Man 3, and SPL 2, is also involved as one of the stuntmen for the production.

Feng regular Ge You is as wonderful as always, playing the conniving and power hungry new Emperor who, having killed his reigning brother, is determined to get Wu out of the way in order to rule the kingdom. Having taken over the role reportedly offered first to Gong Li (who passed due to scheduling conflicts with the equally as beautiful, Curse Of The Golden Flower), the beautiful Zhang Ziyi stepped in. Impressing since her introduction in Zhang Yimou's film, The Road Home and Ang Lee's, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ziyi is as equally impressive here as the young Empress with a bite. As mentioned, I think this is one of the strongest roles, and most impressive, I've seen Daniel Wu in offering some great acting with his moments of emotional drama and obviously, the action. The Banquet has many great supporting roles, each of who offer nothing to complain about with recognisable faces such as Huang Xiao Ming from Ip Man 2, Saving General Yang, and The Last Tycoon, Zhou Xun and Feng Xiao Gang regular, Fan Wei.

With a dramatically dark end, which takes place at the films titular banquet, Feng Xiao Gang see's his viewers off with a final monologue from Ziyi before she suffers her fate at the hands of an unknown assassin; her life dying out to a beautifully haunting track sung by Jane Zhang and composed by the Oscar Winning composer Tan Dun. Famed for his work on Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Dun looks after the films score in The Banquet delivering an equally beautiful soundtrack to accompany its grand visuals, dramatic and action sequences...

*This HK release runs about 6 minutes longer than the UK released version.

Overall: An incredible piece of film-making, and stunning cinematic experience make The Banquet one of Feng Xiao Gang's finest, and one that is highly recommended!
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7/10
A Modern Take On The Old-School Kung Fu Tale!!
27 May 2020
Warning: Spoilers
This surprising Thai flick begins about 10 years before its main time-line where we see how a gang of insecure men kidnap kids and abuse them, using them as beggars and who-knows-what-else. After 3 brothers try to escape, they are brought back to the gang's leader and are brutally attacked leaving one brain damaged, one deaf, and one blinded after the gang boss stabs him in the eyes with a skewer. A fourth boy, Pong, who was kidnapped the night before, witnesses the abuse and screams for help resulting in the cutting of his tongue, leaving him mute!

The opening of Bangkok Assassins is quite a dark introduction lightened only by the arrival of an old kung-fu master his adopted granddaughter, who saves the boys by using some old-school, mystical kung-fu - much like any amount of Hong Kong films, and the South Korean hit, Arahan.

As we jump 10 years forward, the kids have now grown up into handsome teens (especially the gorgeous Tomo Visava Thaiyanont), and now masters of kung-fu themselves, are set on finding their abusers as they go about their daily lives. The young girl, now played by Kaew Jarinya Sirimongkolsakul, is quite hilarious at times as she constantly tries to get selected for the local X-Factor show, failing miserably.

Another few years pass, and Pong has left, trying to move on with his life and find love, the blind brother gives driving a go (with the help of the deaf bother), and sister is still trying to get into the X-Factor. The brother Naa, now the very handsome Mario Maurer, has stayed with the master at his temple learning kung-fu and more. Clearly the master has made many enemies in his life, as a gang of older foreigners turn up to assassinate him, but with no joy...

It turns out, the master was part of the Jantra Alliance. A group of kung-fu masters in Thailand who have possession of some mystical Dragons Tear stone, put in Naa to save him. The monky-faced ninjas, led by an unknown westerner, have been sent out to retrieve the stone, leading to the death of their master who has his own kung-fu powers unlike anything the brothers have ever seen before!

When I first watched Bangkok Assassins I was left somewhat underwhelmed, but upon revisiting it, can actually see what a well written, and well made movie it actually is. Sure, the guys aren't genuine fighters, but they do their best and look good doing it. They each gain a certain power which aids them in their battles, but its not over-used and the CGI is passable when it comes about. While it starts with a serious message, and has many dramatic moments throughout, the film also cheers its viewers up with some genuinely funny Chow Sing Chi style comedy moments, though without detracting from anything meaningful...

Its clear that write and director Yuthlert Sippapak is a huge fan of Hong Kong cinema and especially that of its golden years. He combines some nice action (albeit not enough for a film marketed in the action genre), inspired by his peers with that wonderful 'mo liei ta' comedy blended in just right. The film is shot wonderfully, nicely paced and one of the better films I've seen from Thailand in some time that doesn't involve Tony Jaa or some Jaa rip-off trying to be the next Ong Bak. While the ending isn't a glorious, martial arts packed finale as one had hoped, it still ties things up nicely and ends with a nice twist, and emotional close.

Overall: While hardly original, Bangkok Assassins is still a great film, well made and an entertaining modern take on the old-school kung-fu film!
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4/10
Worth The Watch For Daniel Only!!
25 May 2020
This independent Thai film was penned by an Aussie, directed by a Dutchman, and led by Englishmen. Each of these men have clearly spent a lot of time in Thailand, and have gained the support of the film community there, but my god, I only wish they would have refined a lot of things here before starting production!

Bangkok Adrenaline is so badly written, directed and acted, you feel like its 90 minute running time doubles in length as you painfully sit through the dreadful comedy sequences, most of which director and co-star Raimund Huber is on-screen for along with co-writer and giant, Conan Stevens. Its completely unfunny, with poor comic timing and happens way too much. So much so, that apart from the lengthy (and messy) end fight, Huber focuses way too much on trying to be a comic actor than letting the action happen.

Conan of course, has starred in many Hong Kong and Thai productions, but even he is dreadful in this and doesn't get to do much in the way of action. The handsome Gwion Jacob Miles has the looks and the moves, but his acting isn't the best. That isn't helped by his trying to be a tough guy with a posh English accent...

In fact, the only saving grace of Bangkok Adrenaline is the gorgeous Daniel O'Neill who looks amazing on screen, in action, and in his brief on-stage strip-bar scene. He plays Dan, the leader of this group of friends who get into trouble with some gangsters, after gambling in Bangkok. The set out on a plan to kidnap a millionaires daughter to raise the money owed, and things get out of hand!

Gorgeous Dan, who plays Dan in the film, was lucky enough to get to Hong Kong in the early 2000's to be a stunt performer on Jackie Chan's Accidental Spy, and The Medallion before getting to fight the man himself in The Twins Effect. The English born actor and martial artist looks incredible in his moves, and I only wish we could see more of him - and preferably under the eyes of a better director.

Raimund Huber, who has a few martial arts action films behind him now, delivers a very uneven, messy and below average flick. The scenes between Dan's fights are both boring and drag on far too long. The direction on shots jumps from flat to WTF, with the camera work on some of the end fight being so close and personal, you lose sight of what is going on. The making of documentary on this release is shot better...

The team behind the fights and action is pretty decent, including a young Tim Man (who gets a brief fight against O'Neill), Ron Smoorenburg and more, resulting in some fun fights. If I were Huber, I'd stop getting in front of the camera, and re-edit this film into a short where the amazing Daniel O'Neill just fights his way across Bangkok to save his friends!

Overall: Painful to watch for the most of it, but worth sitting through to see Daniel in action!
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6/10
Underrated Donnie Yen Flick Worth The Watch!!
24 May 2020
Having done his part as an action director, or uncredited director, in many films since the start of his career, the great Donnie Yen made a point of becoming a serious director around the late 90's, launching with the fantastic Legend Of The Wolf. It was a great debut, though not without its flaws, and following that came this and Shanghai Affairs a year later!

With beautiful cinematography by Wong Ka Fai, Ballistic Kiss is an art-house, martial arts thriller. Its important to know that before watching, as fans of Yen's work (both before and after SPL) may find it somewhat disappointing. It doesn't have explosive, powerhouse fight scenes every few minutes (although they do come about), nor does it have insane stunts and cop chases like his Yuen Woo PIng directed vehicles did. Instead, the Kiss has style, with stylish Hong Kong action - almost as if Wong Kar Wai had directed The Killer...

Donnie still gets to throw some amazing moves, and we get a good dose of gun-fu, but while it is far from being as amazing as the John Woo classic, Ballistic Kiss still makes for a damn good movie, and an important piece in Donnie's career. Although Bey Logan's script could have been refined somewhat, Yen works with what he has and delivers on the action and his performance in the role of a hitman with a heart, who falls for his hostage, played by the lovely Annie Wu.

Packed with visual flair and keeping a steady pace, Ballistic Kiss is accompanied by a memorable score that reminded me of a Studio Ghibli movie, some beautifully lit shots, and a great cast. Donnie's Shanghai Affairs co-star, the great Yu Rong Kwong, appears briefly for a great shoot-out against Yen, and it was nice to see big Mike Woods pop up for a bit in what would be his last role in a Hong Kong movie.

Overall: Heroic bloodshed at its most stylish, and an underrated Yen flick, Ballistic Kiss is pretty damn good and shows Donnie in a one-time-only role that doesn't disappoint!
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7/10
Madness, Flawed, Fun, Action Packed!!
23 May 2020
With a spate of murders happening across the city, cops Zhang and Li set out to find who is behind them. Their only link is that all the victims were dating the same unfortunate girl. This gives Zhang the idea (and chance) to date her in a bid to lure out the killer...

Badges Of Fury sounds a lot more serious than it really is. The opening five minutes of the flick lets you know exactly what kind of film you are in for. From ridiculous deaths to its nutty opening credits and dodgy CGI, the film yanks at its audience's legs, as if Wong Jing had directed Naked Gun. From the cute and hilarious Wen Zhang dressed in a kilt for a stake-out, to the wonderful Jet Li poking fun at himself and his movies - with his character here named Huang Fei Hong; any fans and critics who have crushed this movie because of its misleading artwork, need to go back and have another go!

The 10 minute mark gives us our first bout of action, with the kilted Zhang taking on the awesome Collin Chou in some Crouching Tiger styled fighting at a roof-top party. The fight soon moves into a stairwell where Jet Li takes over, leaping from floor to floor with some great moves and stunts keeping things exciting. Minutes later, as Li flies towards Chou, leg extended for a finishing move only to be stopped by Zhang, who bursts through the door offering a cheeky (but welcoming) up-skirt shot as he whips out his gun. Of course, his entry leaves poor Jet hanging in the door frame, and lets Chou escape...

While I can certainly see the flaws of director Wong Tsz Ming's first feature, its certainly not as bad as most people are making out. I've seen worse from seasoned directors, and while it may seem insanely stupid, messy and over-the-top at times, no-one would have made the same remarks had this been a product of Hong Kong cinema's golden era. It would have been just another crazy Hong Kong movie. The film is packed with so much outrageous and overly ambitious comic situations, scenes and camera angles, it can only be best described as a live-action cartoon. And at the same time, maybe that's its problem?!?

Written by Charcoal Cheung Tan (honestly), the same man who penned classics such as Once Upon A Time In China 2 & 3, Iron Monkey, The Assassin, and Wonder Seven also wrote The Sorcerer And The White Snake which starred Jet Li and Wen Zhang, in 2011. You would think with movies like this behind him, Badges Of Fury may have been something a little bit better, but at the same time, Charcoal has clearly written this script in a relaxed state and something he didn't really have to take too seriously, often taking inspiration from his past ideas regarding this films action scenes.

The legendary Corey Yuen Kwai handles the fight direction, and while its all practically wire-based with some hand-to-hand among the insane moves, it definitely works and offers a lot of fun. There's a great fight between Jet Li and Wu Jing in an apartment, with Zhang trying to help, only to get hit at every move; the aforementioned stairwell fight; a great battle between Zhang and the wonderful Leung Kar Yan and his friends in what is one of the highlights for me (Leung Kar Yan should definitely be doing more like this); to the epic end fight between Jet Li and awesome Bruce Liang who returns to form harking back to his character in the epic Kung Fu Hustle, and more!

I say kudos to the director for a pretty entertaining film. While not perfect, nor is it anything like the artwork and promo materials may be selling, Badges Of Fury is a murder mystery all wrapped up in some plain-crazy-fun, with a host of great fight action and a fantastic cast list (most of which are cameos). I'll not give away the ending, but I do recommend a watch for anyone who is a fan of Chow Sing Chi or Wong Jing comedies, or simply just to see some great modern day wire-fu action...

The post-credit bloopers let you see just how much the cast and team seemed to be having making it.

Overall: Not to be taken seriously by any means, Badges Of Fury does have its flaws, but proves to be entertaining at the same time!
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7/10
Flawed Yes, But Very Entertaining And Action Packed!!
23 May 2020
Jumpin right into the action, we watch as a gang of baddies dressed in Red-Ex uniforms run through a village to evade the chasing cops. The gang includes Ken Lo, Hung Yan Yan, Andy On and Simon Yam to name but a few. As the gang breaks, and the feet fly, Yam breaks off with gang leader, Eddie Cheung, who just happens to have the copper-plates they stole, for their counterfeiting operation. As the rest escape, Cheung soon gets caught and is taken by the police to be executed in a sports field - complete with audience, one of which is his daughter, Bernice Liu.

The one and only Michael Chan Wai Man, from The Club and Project A 2, sports one of the worst wigs yet and plays the more, mature member of the triad gang. He calls for the voting of a new head of the family. Simon (known here as Funky), gets chosen and quickly starts putting his foot down which angers some of the contenders for the throne. Liu's brother (Chris Lai) soon returns home to sort the will, but with Cheung leaving everything to his children, the tempers of his triad peers soon rise and it isn't long before Chris gets killed in an explosion. Of course, Bernice Liu sets out for revenge!

Dennis Law has forever received nothing but bad criticism for his films - most of which I do enjoy. He's one of the few Hong Kong directors that actually tires hard to recreate the very-much-missed, golden days of Hong Kong action cinema, but often with flawed results. Although he studied film in LA, Law went on to work in real estate before Bad Blood presenter Charles Heung coaxed him back into film. He worked with Johnnie To as a producer for a bit before setting out on his own journey as writer and director. While both of these subjects have never been his strong point, he still gets the job done, often with a great cast and some pretty sweet moments. Here, he is aided by his old friend and ace-director, Herman Yau, as director of photography...

In Bad Blood, Law brings a great cast together along with some new faces, and works alongside JC Stunt Team member Nicky Li for some amazing martial arts action. Helping Li is Huang kai Sen who has worked on many great movies as an actor and action director, such as Invisible Target, Rob-B-Hood, Kiss Of The Dragon, and Black Mask. Its a great team-up as most of the action in Bad Blood is what saves it from becoming a pretty forgettable movie. Nicky Li had also choreographed the fantastic action in law's Fatal Contact, and does just as great a job here.

While the fight for the throne amongst the triad gang may be the main story of the film, the sub-plot with Andy On gets me a little more excited. Complete with large birthmark on his face, On has befriended a mute girl played by the super tiny yet highly impressive Jiang Liu Xia from Coweb and True Legend (of which she also co-starred with Andy in). Aside from enjoying kicking the hell out of each other, the pair like to ride around town at night on their motorcycle, picking out gangs for a fight to see how quickly Jiang can take them down in a bizarre training method. It makes for a lot of great action and is a close to the late 80's/early 90's Hong Kong style of film-making we all miss. With a hint of unspoken romance between them, I would like to have seen more about them in the film. But alas, this crime-thriller is also known as the King Of Triads for a reason, although more notably should have been named, Queen Of Triads due to Bernice Liu's role as the twisted, Audrey. I haven't seen a lot of Bernice, but her portrayal of Audrey is quite good, and she definitely impresses in the action department.

As well as being flawed in its writing, the film is void of any excitement during the dramatic scenes, offers some tired performances from its aged cast, and some silly directional choices here and there that has its audience asking 'why?'. But, as mentioned, Bad Blood is saved by its fight scenes offering some of the most exciting and brilliantly choreographed action of its time. And while the action is aplenty throughout, its just a shame that Dennis Law kills off most of his best fighters before the end, resulting in a fun-but-short-lived face off with Liu versus Jiang Lui Xia before going out with a bang!

Overall: Once you get past the flaws, Bad Blood features some fantastic martial arts action and stunts that will get any Hong Kong film fans excited!
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7/10
Lengthy But Fun Kung-Fu Comedy!!
22 May 2020
Having just starred in The Tattooed Dragon with Jimmy Wang Yu and Sylvia Chang, and also directed by Lo Wei, the wonderful Sam Hui's follow-up role was in this wacky kung-fu comedy, set in modern day (70's) Hong Kong. Sharing the screen with kung-fu queen, Polly Shang Kwan, the two stars play con artists who befriend a bunch of street performers and decide to join their troupe. All seems well until a sister of the troupe gets sold to a gangster, leading to Hui and Kwan stepping up to save the day!

Sounds simple enough, but this Golden Harvest production from Lo Wei is pretty nuts in many ways. Polly Shang Kwan plays Chiili Boy - a guy, with boobs - but when Chilli Boy must go undercover to save the sister from a gangster, he (she) disguises oneself as a girl to trick them. Then she gives away her big reveal at the end..!?!

Anyone who doesn't know what they are watching, or understands the long-time tradition of females playing males (and vice-versa) in Chinese theatres and movies, might just be a bit lost.

Opening with a great animated credit sequence much like the classic, Pink Panther movies, the gender-bender tale of Chilli Boy and Hui's, Embroidered Pillow may seem a little dated today, but it does make for a fun watch. It has plenty of comedy, lots of neat kung-fu fights, and a cast of who's who in early 70's Hong Kong cinema including the fantastic, Angela Mao Ying, Tien Feng, Carter Wong, Billy Chan, Lo Wei himself, and a young Lam Ching Ying, Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah in the background. In fact, I would go as far to say that had Raymond Chow convinced Lo Wei to use Jackie Chan in Sam's role, we may have seen a different back-catalogue of our hero today!

It would have been the perfect vehicle for Chan, with the fighting and the comedy, which is all he ever wanted to do - instead, landing a number of serious roles with Wei (most of which I do adore of course). Regardless, the young Sam Hui is as wonderful as always, though over-shadowed by Polly who gets a bit more attention and most (if not all) of the action. After-all, it is her movie...

While its middle may lag somewhat for plenty of drama and a bit of comedy, the last 30 minutes makes for a fun ride with a few short scuffles leading to a lengthy end battle. This is headed by Kwan and Angela Mao Ying against some kung-fu veterans, and is a lot of fun to watch with some great moves. The big baddie is played by Han Ying Chieh, who also choreographed the action, along with Mars for stunts.

The team would return a couple of years later for the equally as fun, Chinatown Capers which continues their adventures!

On a side note; its interesting to see just how many films director Lo Wei had made with the (then young) Golden Harvest studios before breaking off a few years later to direct Jackie Chan in a number of movies with mixed results. This of course led to Golden Harvest taking Jackie off Wei, and thus began the start of a legend..

Overall: Maybe a little too long in its running time, Back Alley Princess is a fun watch nonetheless and packed with stars!
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8/10
Classic Shaw's That Highly Entertains!!
20 May 2020
This historical epic opens like the closing-battle of most other kung-fu movies, with the massacre of the famed General Yang and his army, slaughtered by the invading Mongolians - led by Tien Feng (Young Master, The Assassin). From there, the 14 women of his family (including wife and daughters) set out on a blood-soaked revenge mission, which doesn't disappoint. Cheng Kang's action-packed classic explodes with many great characters, all of who give great performances, with hundreds of extras and a host of great kung-fu and weapons battles!

As with most Shaw Brothers productions, the sets and costumes are outstanding with such great attention-to-detail, complimenting the amazing cast on offer. The ladies of the 14 Amazons all do a great job as the vengeful daughters, both in the acting and action department. The action choreography of course, is looked after by the fantastic Tony Ching Siu Tung and Shaw Brother's regular, Leung Siu Chung. Leung worked as action director on classics such as Billy Chong's Sun Dragon, TheThunderbolt Fist, The Two Cavaliers with Wang Yu, and many more. Most of these fights include using the family weapon which is a spear, so any fans of the incredible 8 Diagram Pole Fighter will enjoy it - and even more so with its many similarities.

The legendary stories of the Yang Family have been passed down for generations, and told countless times in Hong Kong cinema. The Yang's took part in many wars for many years, although was not without its losses. Anyone who's not a fan of the old-school kung-fu movies can check out Frankie Chan's 2011 update, Legendary Amazons, which is great fun and just as action-packed...

Director Cheng Kang, the same man behind classics such as The Sword Of Swords with Jimmy Wang Yu, The Flying Guillotine 2, and Gambling Soul which would be his last as director. But most importantly, he gave us his son - Tony Ching Siu Tung - who would go on to bring Hong Kong film fans some of the greatest martial arts action films ever made!

The fights come often enough, from large-scale war battles to one-on-one action, such as the fight between a young Bolo Yeung and Shaw Brothers superstar, Yuen Hua, and are wonderfully choreographed, inventive and exciting to watch - not to mention violent at times. One hilarious thing I must point out though, is the fact that most of the bad guys are dressed like little Santa's which just adds some unintentional humour to it all, but its hardly distracting...

Overall: Epic in its running time, action and cast, 14 Amazons is wonderfully scripted, beautifully shot and directed, and highly entertaining!
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The Assassin (1967)
8/10
Classic Wang Yu Swordplay Drama From Chang Cheh
19 May 2020
Having also made the epic One-Armed Swordsman the same year, prolific director Chang Cheh and a very young Jimmy Wang Yu, teamed up to bring us the very character-driven, swordplay drama, The Assassin - set during the Warring States period over 2000 years ago. Inspired by the Chanbara films from neighbouring Japanese cinema, the Shaw Brothers produced film is beautifully made, with great sets, nice fight scenes (albeit fewer than usual), and great performances all round...

Although he was skinny-as-a-rake and hardly looked threatening, Wang Yu had only a handful of films under his belt by this stage, but was clearly impressing the Shaw Brothers bosses and directors landing himself leading roles with his good looks and energy. Forced into hiding after his school is attacked by political rivals (at which point I think I saw a young Yuen Cheung Yan jumping around), Wang Yu is soon found by a minister-in-exile (Tien Feng, from The Young Master) who needs the swordsman's services to assassinate a rival politician - offering him a chance to avenge the deaths of his teacher and brothers. Declining the offer, to look after his sick mother, our hero moves on. Years pass, and after the death of his mother, Wang accepts the job and sets out on a suicide mission to exact revenge for his lost ones!

The Assassin is without-a-doubt, a Shaw Brothers classic. While just as exciting as most of the swordplay films they were producing in the 60's, Chang delivers a film akin to watching an old Hammer horror film of the same era. The colours, the drama, the pacing - they certainly don't make them like this any-more. Rich in characters and costume, with wonderful cinematography and a host of familiar faces, The Assassin is well worth the watch for many reasons...

Although it has quite a slow-burning middle, which might put off most viewers - this character-driven drama is still gripping to watch. When the fights come about, they offer some bloody and brutal action choreographed by Shaw regular Tong Gaai, and a very young Lau Kar Leung, who also gets a nice bit-part role as one of the Officials assassins. The epic, 10 minute end battle in particular is just fantastic with our hero taking on an army, single-handed!!

Similarly retold in 1998's wonderful film, The Emperor And The Assassin, and in the incredible 2002 epic, Hero with Jet Li...

Overall: A beautifully crafted film and all round classic. While heavy on drama, fight fans won't be disappointed either!
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8/10
Better Than Part One & Action Packed!!
17 May 2020
For me, Azumi 2: Death or Love is a much better film. Gone is the overly artistic and CGI spoiled cinematography and long-drawn dramatics, replaced by a constant stream of martial arts, swordplay and ninja action that highly impresses. That said, it still carries some great performances, a more refined plot, and stronger choreography. The first 35 minutes alone is swamped with fight scenes against warriors and ninjas, sent by Kanbei, the surviving right-hand man of the shogun Kiyomasa (Naoto Takenaka) who lost his life after a surprise attack from Azumi at the end of part one.

Joined by Nagara, the only member left of her assassin clan, they battle their way across the land hunted by ninjas until they come across a small band of bandits led by a guy who looks identical to Azumi's first love, and man she had to kill in part one - Nachi. The mission continues...

Azumi 2: Death or Love features direction by Shusuke Kaneko, a veteran director behind the likes of the successful Death Note movies, Gamera: Guardianof the Universe, and many more. A more seasoned director, Kaneko brings a much tidier and cleaner look to his production - with the overly stylised look of Kitamura's films absent. Continuing right from where we left the story in part one, this sequel continues the comic book adaptation with more wild characters including a ninja giant called Roppa - inspired by that of Tessai in the amazing Ninja Scroll, complete with boomerang blade - a highlight of the 1 hour mark, of an already fantastic battle!

The film also benefits from having fan-favourite Chiaki Kuriyama joining the fight. The star of hits such as Kill Bill, Battle Royale, and Blade Of The Immortal, Chiaki plays a twisted little ninja girl which should delight viewers...

Battle after constant battle, death after death, Azumi 2: Death or Love offers action fans almost 2 hours of non-stop fights and ninja action. A much more mature production than part one, with great performances all round, violence and great production values - I'm only sorry we didn't see a part 3 from the same director before the craze died!

Overall: My favourite of the 2 films, this is well worth the watch and is jam-packed with great fights, ninja action, and story!
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6/10
Deserves A Watch, Preferably In Widescreen & Original Language!!
16 May 2020
Warning: Spoilers
The wonderful Cynthia Khan opens the film, as a mainland cop leading a stake-out to stop a deal between two gangs trading in a widely sought-after painting that has been stolen between China and Japan by thieves and governments for centuries. After a snake upsets things and the action kicks-off, Khan finds herself in the sight of the enemies gun, only to be saved by her mysterious lover played by Waise Lee. Jumping to Hong Kong, we meet Moon Lee .Through a brief flashback, we quickly learn that dirty old Waise is dating her also, but that is interrupted as we jump back to Khan, who has arrived in the city to look for him. Some thugs try to pull a fast one on her, but Moon steps in to help leading to our first real bout of femme-fatale action!

Nishiwaki plays her usual gangster-leader character, with connections to Moon Lee's feisty girl, and the Osh gets the best intro as a Japanese fighter. Dressed in a kimino, she takes on a small army of soldiers using a pair of sai before we learn that she is now ready for her mission - to go to Hong Kong and retrieve the painting. The great Chin Kar Lok co-stars as a cop, playing a comedy sidekick to Khan & Lee, while trying to protect them from gangsters, offering a lot of energy both comically and physically as things start to unravel around them and trouble comes light in the shape of the aforementioned love-triangle, and gangster problems.

You can no doubt guess where Avenging Quartet is going after the first 10 minutes, and with such amazing stars already in place, you should be excited! After all, the promotional material and DVD artwork sells it as one of the most exciting Hong Kong action movies ever with stars Khan, Lee, Yukari Oshima and Michiko Nishiwaki donning full leather outfits and machine guns! But alas, this mid nineties flick fails to deliver the wow-factor it so proudly promotes, leaving it as a middle-of-the-road action movie with okay fight scenes and a case of, what-could-have-been. And once you get past that, it actually isn't all bad...

Director Stanley Siu Wing, who started with Shaw Brothers, never really made a big splash with his directed work such as Outlaw Genes, New York Chinatown, and Winner Takes All (to name but a few), even with decent stars, as well as penning the flawed Drunken Master 3 with Andy Lau. The fight action is looked after by Lam Moon Wa; fight director of Kirk Wong's classic film The Club, Yuen Biao's Hero Of Swallow, and Billy Chung's Lady Supercop, made the same year as this. I have to say though, neither Wing or Wa are the strongest of directors, which is probably one of the main reasons for Avenging Quartet's let-downs!

Lee, Khan and Oshima had starred together in the previous years film, Death Triangle (aka Yes Madam '92: A Serious Shock), which was a much better offering. Part of that was because it had a stronger production team behind it - especially in the action direction. The one thing Avenging Quartet holds strong though is the character development of each of the girls (for the most part), with a lot of drama backed by great performances by the main cast - especially Cynthia Khan and Moon Lee, with the scene involving the former and Waise getting captured, coming across quite brutal and dramatic. Its just such a shame this wasn't balanced better with the action, allowing for a tidier, better directed production. The end battle featuring all four girls in a burning building is actually pretty sweet, offering more of brutal and gritty femme-fatale-fight that doesn't end well at all, and while certainly not the best thing they've ever done - is still worth the watch.

Avenging Quartet is far from perfect, and while many believe it should have been so much more due to its infamous promotional material, the film isn't half-bad at all with its silly plot strengthened by some great performances and okay fight scenes. Personally, I would like to see a cleaner, widescreen print in Cantonese as I believe it would make it even better, as this (seemingly only) version (named Tomb Raiders) released in the west, is such a terrible cropped and dubbed print, you can understand why fans are put-off!

Overall: Not amazing, but far from terrible , Avenging Quartet gets better as it moves along and proves to be quite an entertaining martial arts thriller with a great cast!
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Azumi (2003)
7/10
Fun Comic Book Action That Entertains!!
16 May 2020
Opening with a brief background of our titular hero - a young girl crying over her dead mothers body, until a passing ninja master and his boys take her in. Jumping forward a number of years, and Azumi is now one of the best of this team of teenagers, trained in the art of ninjitsu to become assassins for their. All seems good and well until one evening after dinner, he calls the 10 happy souls together and orders them to slay each other to leave half a team and leave their mountain home for their mission, which is to kill a threatening shogun warrior! Kitamura surprised the world with his ultra-violent, martial arts zombie flick, Versus, and in this comic book adaptation continues the violence and gore, albeit on a higher budget. The initial slaying of best friends and secret lovers (unfortunately killing off the prettier boys of the gang), is a pretty dark moment, and Azumi certainly doesn't lighten up after that... While I enjoy the most of Ryuhei's films, I wouldn't say he's the greatest director in the world with a few flaws always showing up (even in his best work), and for me, Azumi is definitely one of his best. The beautiful Aya Ueto is just fantastic as the young heroine, and the rest of the cast do a great job alongside her with well fleshed out characters and some memorable performances. The wonderful Naoto Takenaka, from the fantastic comedy The Waterboys, and equally fantastic Shinjuku Incident with Jackie Chan, stars as the shogun with a target on his back - protected by an army of ninjas, and very determined to stay alive overall.

For me, Azumi lets itself down in its over-use of just passable CGI, sometimes used in fight scenes and at times to enhance surroundings or backgrounds. Its a small gripe, but it does go against it because it is so noticeable. Thankfully, the glorious and violent comic-book ninja and swordplay action, allows for silly moments like that to forgiven. While not always amazing or well edited (a Hong Kong fight choreographer would really have helped here), these fights also allow for some great use of angles which do help make Azumi a visual treat that betters the viewing experience!

Of course, the film's highlight comes with its epic grand finale as Azumi takes on 100 men single-handedly in one of the most impressive action sequences to come out of Japan. It is a fight scene that makes the ticket price worthwhile by itself, and is well worth the watch...

Overall: While it may be too slow for some, Azumi wins with some nice fight sequences, cinematography and performances that help make it a fun watch!
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7/10
A Great Closure To The Trilogy!!
15 May 2020
Out of the three Axis films, this one would have to be the one most different. It comes across for the most of its running time like a 90's Hong Kong movie, with less focus on the propaganda-style sentiment, heroism and melodramatics, and instead, gives us more gritty action - blending air-attacks and explosions with hand-t0-hand combat, and violent combat at that!

Opening once again with a massive action-packed war scene, the film follows a band of soldiers as they make their way to a Japanese camp to destroy the planes the enemy has been using to mow-down the Red Army as they march forth...

The army is followed by a female reporter who is there to take photos of everyone in action, whether its on the front-line or on the toilet. She doesn't miss a thing. Axis Of War 3 is a much darker and action filled movie than its predecessors, but doesn't break the flow of bringing this epic trilogy to an end and shows some gritty realism of war, from the violence to the loss, and the breaking of humans pushed too far.

If only they had gotten this balance right from part one, there would probably have been less criticism of its 'propaganda ways' and seen as the war movies they are. Either way, it doesn't bother me and the Axis Of War trilogy has certainly proved entertaining in many ways, over-riding its flaws and making for a good watch!

Overall: A great end to a great trilogy, Axis 3 finally settles things for the action fans. Best watched all in a row...
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6/10
Fantastic War Action With Heavy Melodramatics!!
14 May 2020
Opening right in the middle of war, and with ground troops trying hard to avoid and escape attacks from the air, Axis Of War 2 opens most impressively with some incredible battlefield scenes! While the CGI of its planes may cause a chuckle here and there, the destruction they cause and explosive action that follows is some of the best I've seen in a war movie, yet!

Told through flashback by a grandpa on a plane (in 2010), we learn that this young man, Yazi, in war has been forever scarred by what he saw. Losing family member after family member, experience death and dishing out death, Axis Of War Part 2 steps up the game from its predecessor offering more action than before, a bigger cast, more locations, and lots of marching across China - no matter what the odds...

Again, there are some odd moments of sentimentality and rousing speeches to the country backed by glorious and intrusive music, such as Yazi stroking Chairman Mao's hair while talking about his dedication to the cause, or the same boy and a soldier girl singing to a small army of warriors while crossing a field in slow-motion to try and unite them with her army. This was hilarious, resulting in the warriors taking them hostage as the girl yells to her fellow soldiers not to fire or hurt them because they are the Red Army. It doesn't last long, and is really just a moment to show how patient and fair the Red Army are - as well as good singers.

After a light-hearted moment of dancing around the campfire, the troops head off again on their march with Chariman Mao in tow, staying safe and stopping here-and-there for some dramatic poses and thoughts to access the situation. This all leads to a closing battle on a bridge of chains, crossing a raging river into the fortified citadel, looks fantastic, and is a explosive and dramatic action packed ending to the long march!

Overall: Drops the teachings for action and melodramatic sentiment, but still entertains...
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6/10
Impressive Start To A Great Trilogy!!
14 May 2020
While it may lack the polished look of other Asian war movies such as Assembly or Brotherhood, Axis Of War still has its moments, bringing together the birth of the Peoples Liberation Army and the tragic civil war that happened in 1927...

Opening and closing with some very impressive war action, the story in-between focuses on the politics and brotherhood of its characters, and war leaders. Penned by no less than 5 people, Axis Of War is the first of an epic Chinese triliogy about the Communist Alliance's campaign of war against the country's warlords and barons. Testing of allegiance and nerves are pushed to breaking point as they work on the best course of action to take in starting their attack!

Hong Kong legends Ray Lui and Waise Lee join a prominently Chinese cast, with performances impressing throughout, and many dramatic moments off-and-on the battlefield. Axis Of War Part 1 may put some viewers off with its lack of action, but stick with it as it stills proves to be an entertaining movie. Even though it was made in 2010, it has an old, classic look to it - with some gorgeous cinematography - which actually works.

Another thing that may put viewers off is the overly melodramatic moments of the soldiers talking about, and sacrificing themselves for, their country. While many will cry about too much propaganda (in all 3 movies), I don't see that its any different to most US army movies where they wave their flag in dramatic slow motion and mow-down the enemy in heroic fashion as they scream Amer-cuuuhhh!!. While it may come across here that everyone is just so great in their actions and decisions, one must remember that its just a movie, and the approach to war movies from around the world doesn't always have to be as big, loud and brash as Hollywood makes them...

Axis Of War impresses not only in its war scenes and performances, but also in its vast number of extras. No CGI of numbers here - what you see is real, and it only gets bigger with each film!

Overall: While not perfect, Axis Of War is still worth the watch and the start of a great trilogy...
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8/10
Beautiful, Heartfelt, Entertaining!!
11 May 2020
Director Feng Xiao Gang does it again, delivering yet another incredible movie full of humour, heart, drama, karma and of course, great performances. Andy Lau and Rene Liu play a modern day Bonnie & Clyde type of couple - conning and thieving their way across China. As tensions mount between them, with Liu gaining some regret and change of heart after a trip to a temple - strengthened by the meeting of a young Wang Bao Qiang, star of Detective Chinatown, who shows her much kindness.

Soon after, Wang must take the train home and along with him, 60K in cash. On the same train he meets once again with Rene, who introduces him to partner Andy who promise to look after him - Rene, in return for his kindness, and Andy with the intent to get his hands on Wang's money!

Also on the train are another band of thieves lead by Uncle Bill (Ge You). These include Gordon Lam and Li Bing Bing, and upon hearing of Wang's 60K on-board, set out to divide his protectors and steal the money. As relationships are tested, trust in humanity pushed, and finding ones own morals, we are taken on a beautiful train ride through China watching as each gang of thieves fight for their winnings, whether its by dancing and deflecting razor-blades, or outwitting the opposition using their brain...

A World Without Thieves is just gorgeous to watch. While a simple story, Feng likes to peel the layers of each character, making sure we don't tire of this extensively long train journey and at the same time, entertain us with his usual, well-crafted dialogue. There are plenty of light-hearted moments along the way, but nothing that detracts from the drama and moral that he is trying to get across.

Emotional and well acted, the film starts out with some funny scenes, with the humour soon trickling-off in the second half, leading to some serious dramatic moments, you can't help but fall or Feng's wonderful storytelling and lessons on karma. Wang stars in what was only his second feature film to date, and already showed then just how great an actor he was. Flawed yes, but well worth the watch!

Overall: Wonderfully filmed and directed, A World Without Thieves is another outstanding piece of work from the great Feng Xiao Gang!
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7/10
One Of Dudikoff's Best, And Very Entertaining!!
11 May 2020
Dear holy fuh! The opening 5 minutes of Avenging Force is so utterly daft, you'd be forgiven if you thought it wasn't going to get any better than that. Two injured soldiers hurry through the Louisiana swamps, trying to avoid a gang of killers dressed so fudging stupid and barking like animals, you can't help but laugh - but thankfully, it does!

Sam Firstenberg, Michael Dudikoff and Steve James had all met the year before with the first American Ninja, and with Avenging Force we see a much more polished production, with its two stars showing a more natural, on-screen chemistry between them. Firstenberg takes us on a fun action-adventure that is like The Most Dangerous Game (or Hard Target) meets American Ninja, with the film playing out like a lost chapter of the latter...

Former secret agent Matt Hunter (Dudikoff) must help his best friend (James) who is running for Senate, and receiving death threats from a right-wing organisation called the Pentangle. The same group like to hunt down humans while dressed in odd masks, led by John P. Ryan from Class Of 1999, and just happen to be adept in the martial arts. Initially written as a sequel to Invasion USA (where Chuck played Matt Hunter), the role was tweaked for Dudikoff when Norris rejected it, and at the same time, separated both movies so there was no connection. All for the better I think as Avenging Force proves to be one of Dudikoff's best, and could have been just another Chuck Norris movie.

Croyden born actor and screenwriter James Booth plays Dudikoff's boss here, as well as writing the script. Booth would go on to star in American Ninja 4 as one of the best-worst-bad guys I've ever seen. With great production value, and some fantastic action scenes (and stunts), the film moves along at a great pace for its lengthy running time. Although Michael Dudikoff still looks slightly awkward in action, he does a lot better than his American Ninja movies. Steve James is as great as always, and looks to be having a great time kicking ass and being back on screen with his old friend!

The film gets darker as it rolls along, with the assassination of James' family, including a brutal shot of Dudikoff getting shot off the roof. Obviously, the finale sees Dudikoff take place in the hunt as the hunted, taking down the bad guys on the way and a one-on-one against John P. Ryan in the weapons room...

Overall: More nonsensical 80's American action cinema, but one of the better ones!
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4/10
Underwhelming And Out-Dated!!
10 May 2020
Watching today, almost 20 years after its release, Andrew Lau's Avenging Fist looks kind-of dated in its CGI and childish approach to what was - an unofficial film adaptation of the popular fight game, Tekken. From its opening scene, showing the handsome Lee Hom Wang and Chin Kar Lok flying through a Bladerunner-esque city before annoying crowds of people in its neon-lit streets like 12 year old's - you get the impression that this is going to be one of those Hong Kong films that just tries to hard and ignores the real talent of its stars, opting to saturate the screen with so much visual effects, it spoils your viewing pleasure!

Wang plays Nova, Yuen Biao's son who is trying to get his hand's on the Power Glove. He likes to take part in a fighting tournament where most of the fighters have some kind of superhero like ability. One such fighter is a very miscast Stephen Fung, who looks like he would break if the wind picked-up. He just looks so out-of-place...

Andrew Lau was completely the wrong choice for this project. While Wong Jing couldn't get the official rights from Namco to make it Tekken, he does his own thing much like with the super-fun Future Cops which rips off Streetfighter 2. I think if Wong had taken the reigns here himself, bringing the same amount of nonsensical comedy to Avenging Fist, it wouldn't have been such a mess and a much better film. Lau takes it down many roads, most of which are too heavy in drama or soppy romance, with the comedy falling flat when it comes about, such as a silly disco-dance-fight-off, or its childish adult stars who only got cast because they look pretty. There should have been so much more to love here!

Even fight director, Corey Yuen Kwai's choreography is pretty lame for the most of the time, offering overly-glorified wire-work (much like that in Romeo Must Die), blended with CGI that detracts from what's on offer. I was so excited when I first heard about this as it had the big-screen return of Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao together for the first time in years - and while they are the highlight of the film (with the fantastic Biao actually being the most interesting character of the whole thing), its just not enough to make Avenging Fist as good as it should be.

Roy Cheung plays Combat 21, leader of an underground movement known as the Red Dragons who also want the Power Glove. He has kidnapped and controlled Biao as a mask wearing killer, who he sends after his own family, where he soon bumps into fat detective, Sammo Hung (who turns out to be Ekin Cheng in his younger-days-flashback), but instead of a long-awaited kung-fu showdown, Biao throws a bomb and escapes. Hung had just come off his success of Martial Law in the the States, but the following 5 years of his career would deliver a host of failures that many thought was the end of the legends finest work. Biao wasn't doing too well either in this period, and its more the pity that this film couldn't have been any better in helping put such amazing stars forward again to the new, younger generation who this was clearly aimed at...

They say it was one and a half years in the making, but I'm guessing a week of that was spent on the action. Over-stylised, over-talky, overly-romantic - Avenging Fist is a massive failure at bringing Tekken to life for the right reasons, and hits below the belt in the action department which is unfortunate. The last 20 minutes is the best of the film, including where Biao gets to show some decent moves!

Overall: All but for the legends, the rest of the cast are dreadful. Avenging Fist is worth the watch once, but only to see what-could-have-been...
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9/10
Classic Shaw Brothers Kung Fu Drama!!
10 May 2020
Director Sun Chung, who brought us classics such as Human Lanterns, A Fistful Of Talons and more, delivers a colourful, kung-fu filled epic full of great characters, beautiful sets and costumes, and top performances from its main cast - especially Ti Lung and Ku Feng!

Wonderfully remade in 1992 by Chui Fat, this original Shaw Brothers tale is a little more light-hearted but without being silly, and while its characters (especially the eagles) may seem like they've just stepped out of a panto, its all really played quite serious. The eagles in question include Ti Lung himself, as the renegade member, Johnny Wang Lung Wei, Eddy Ko, Dick Wei, and a host of other recognisable faces. They are led by the wonderful Ku Feng from Killer Constable, Rob-B-Hood, and the most of the Shaw Brothers library. He has brought the eagles up as killers, having kidnapped them as kids, teaching them nothing but fear and fighting.

While Sun Chung has provided us with some fantastic films, he never seemed to get as much praise as the legendary Lau Kar Leung or Chang Cheh did. I've always found his work offers something a little different to the others, with more on-location shots and an edgier look to his films. The Avenging Eagle offers plenty in terms of kung-fu action, with long-time Shaw's action directors Tong Gaai and Wong Pau Gei providing choreography.

The Avenging Eagle won Best Editing for Drama at the Golden Horse Awards of its time, offering some beautiful cinematography, and a tight script blending love, revenge, redemption, and brotherhood told in a series of flashbacks from both leads, Ti Lung and Fu Sheng as they make their way towards their destiny...

All-in-all, this is classic Shaw Brothers fun that is well paced and fight-filled, with the fight at the inn being one of my favourites. The epic 15 minute finale, that sees Ku Feng donning some iron claws to take on our heroes, is one of the best (non-Venom/non-Lau Kar Leung) end fights to come out of the studio!

Overall: Highly recommended for old-school kung-fu fans, Avenging Eagle is well worth the watch!
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Avalon (2001)
8/10
Visually Stunning, Slow-Burning, Sci-Fi That Entertains!!
10 May 2020
Celebrated director Oshii Mamuro is renowned for his slow-paced, attention to detail, and complicated storytelling - yet at the same time, always delivers an amazing film to his audience. While Ghost In The Shell (and Innocence) are revered as two of his best, Avalon slips in between playing almost like a live-action filler, complete with nods to his GITS characters, visuals and more!

Although a Japanese production, Mamuro opted to shoot the whole thing in Poland which lends itself to a more dystopian-type setting. Soaked in a sepia-tone filter, the film crawls along at a snails pace allowing the audience to think, as Oshii delivers a convoluted script that may call for a second viewing to understand just about everything.

Using a completely Polish cast also offers something different. They do a pretty good job too in both the drama and action department. With the addition of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra (along with the Tokyo Pop Orchestra and Kenji Kawai) used throughout the score, Oshii brings a film that is unique in style and execution, yet very entertaining. When Oshii began working on Avalon, he didn't know it would take a full decade to bring it to light, and while it shares similarities to The Matrix, it was beat to the screens by only a couple of years. That said, the Wachowski's have never denied stealing ideas from the man's work, so it wouldn't surprise me if they had gotten wind of Avalon long before its completion...

While a slow-burner, Oshii fills each shot with enough stunning visuals to keep viewers watching, whether in the real world or in the game. While I'm not a huge fan of the sepia-tone look, it wasn't unbearable to sit through and helps the colour explode on screen when it comes about. Very artistic in its approach, I often wonder how Avalon would have looked as an anime ,and just how much more could have been added had it not been live-action. In her search for a hidden level called Avalon in the game, Ash is made to question the difference between what is real, and what is not!

Stunningly shot, there is no denying that every shot has been well and truly thought about here, especially when in the game. While it aids the slow pace of it all, the cinematography also helps create a cold but powerful atmosphere that action fans may dislike, but fans of classic sci-fi will love...

Overall: Avalon plays like a thinking-man's Ready Player One meets The Matrix (in story, not action), at a much slower pace. But worth the experience for sure!
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Avengement (I) (2019)
9/10
Brutal, Violent And Bloody Brilliant!!
10 May 2020
The amazing Scott Adkins plays Cain, a soft-hearted fighter who proposes a new business plan to his gangster brother, Craig Fairbrass. Along with his partner in crime, Fairbrass gives Scott a small robbery job to do that lands him in one of the UK's toughest prisons where he is abused, attacked, assaulted and pushed into becoming a brutal, cold blooded killer, with only his cancer-ridden mum coming to visit him!

Upon her death, Scott is allowed just 5 hours to go and see her, taking this chance to make his escape and begin his revenge on those that got him put away. In jail, he learned that his attacks and assaults were organsied by his brother, who as it turned out, was bankrolling him...

I've long been a fan of director Jesse V. Johnston, and more-so the team-ups of him and Scott Adkins. With Avengement, both take their relationship to the next level creating one of the most brutal and violent action-revenge flicks I've seen in a long time. Its like the most aggressive episode of Eastenders ever made as Scott takes the gangsters hostage in their London pub, taking them on a journey of his story as we go from the robbery to his escape. You can't help but feel sorry for Cain as a character - a naive man, caught up in a run of bad luck under the direction of his brother. The pain he suffers, both physically and mentally, is just crazy as we watch the man-turned-monster go through hell, brought within inches of his death multiple times before his escape.

While the plot may be simple, the execution of Avengement fleshes it out somewhat. With one man against many, we are taken on an action-packed and brutal journey with Scott giving one of his best performances to date. He is incredible as Cain, and obviously in action (as always)!

It was nice to see Adkins, Debt Collectors co-star Louis Mandylor pop up in a small role. It was also great to see my good friend Beau Fowler in a prominent role, and going fist-to-fist with Adkins in one of the most violent fights of the 21st Century. Beau, a fantastic filmmaker in his own right, has attended my film festival a few times and is definitely one to watch for, as a future hero of action cinema. The great Mark Strange also gets a chance to trade moves with Scott. Having took on the character of Bruce Lee in Ip Man 4, and Batman as one of the League of Shadows in Batman Begins, Strange probably faces his scariest opponent yet in the rage-fuelled, Cain.

Avengement is quite simply, outstanding! Hollywood action stars and directors have nothing on this team, and while simple in its plot, the film wins with its incredible action, amazing performance by Scott Adkins, tight direction by Jesse - and even memorable score. You just can't deny the energy and work put into it...

*Stick around for a post-credit scene

Overall: Brutally brilliant and violent, Avengement is one of the best from the Adkins/Johnson team!
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6/10
Still Impresses, Although Could Have Been Better!!
8 May 2020
With a shorter running time, you'd be forgiven for thinking the closing chapter of this adaptation felt somewhat, rushed. Yes, there's still the high production values, beautiful cinematography, and attention to detail - not to mention the added bonus of the armoured titan and colossal titan (played by the wonderful Jun Kunimura) in action - yet something feels missing.

Some of that is the smaller cast, with the characters moved out of the city, and some of it is less horror as very few titans show up on their journey. The film spends the majority of its time playing out as a rescue mission for Eren (played by the handsome Haruma Miura), which leads to some big action pieces, lots of blood splattering, and some great shots with the team on their wires!

While stunning and impressive seeing the titans in action, the overall finale seemed a little underwhelming considering what Eren could really do with his ability. Still, putting the obvious changes and flaws aside, the film entertains and wraps things up as a two-parter.

Overall: Best watched back-to-back with part one, the conclusion could have been bigger on time and action, but ultimately, entertains!
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7/10
Flawed & Changed Yes, But Still Entertains!!
8 May 2020
Shinji Higuchi's 2015 adaptation of the phenomenal hit series Attack On Titan, has received scathing reviews and harsh criticism from fans - and as one of those fans, I can understand why. But my hat is off to the director and his team for brining the incredible tale of humanity versus evil to the cinematic world, albeit with a few flaws and changes throughout. Such changes come in the form of names, characters stories and sub-plots, and exchanging the animes warm coloured tones of reds and browns, for a colder, blue tone. I do like this though, as the blood and explosions look amazing on top of it.

The opening 26 minutes of part one alone, offers more action, destruction, horror and violence than most Hollywood films of the same genre do in 90 minutes. And while shot on a fraction of the budget its Western counterparts would have on-hand, Attack On Titan offers a stunningly filmed, entertaining film with high production values, gorgeous art design, detailed sets, great score and more...

If you were to watch this version and its sequel, before even going near the anime, you would be blown away. The set design is amazing, backed by some gorgeous visuals and great performances from its cast. Live-action Japanese adaptations of animes come a dime-a-dozen these days, with very few staying faithful to their source material, and often looking very low budget in its look and visual effects. While this adaptation may suffer in the former, it tries hard to win over its audience with better than average CGI in bringing these titan monsters to life!

While its no Pacific Rim, the towering titans still do the job, looking incredibly terrifying for the most part as they chase down the villagers, tearing buildings apart, and ripping bodies apart with their teeth - as the blood spurts and flies through the air, hitting whoever is in its way. It's actually quite violent and not shy on gore - with an insane end battle between titan Eren and the enemy.

As mentioned, I can understand the outrage of fans. The amount of changes are crazy, but lets look at it like this...

Taking almost 1000 minutes of anime, and even more pages of a comic book, and trying to fit all of that into 90 minutes is just crazy! As a director myself, I can understand why things need to be altered to suit, having adapted a book into a film which didn't work out 100% as faithful as I had hoped. And the hate for these two films does become a bit overkill when you consider what massive changes the MCU does for their movies, totally shaking up the comic book world of Marvel and letting fans down - yet, it works and people accept it!

Attack On Titan is not a terrible movie, quite the opposite in fact. Gorgeously made, with plenty of horror (the titan baby is quite disturbing), action and violence, the film totally entertains if you can pull yourself away from its source material, and offers something never before seen on film. Sure, its not Hollywood, but it certainly does the job!!

Overall: As its own movie, Attack On Titan is pretty damn good. As an adaptation, it lets the fans down. But you can't deny its entertainment values and stunning visuals!
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