POLICE STORY (15) ***
This movie was one of Jackie Chan's most successful movies ever as he succeeded in bringing kung-fu
action into the present day. Chan Ka-Kui (Chan), a youthful but impulsive cop, has been asked to
protect a witness named Salina (Brigitte Lin) who has evidence to bust her boss Chu Tao (Chua Yuen)
as he has been drug-dealing. She refuses to cooperate until Chu Tao kidnaps her and threatens to kill
Although the humour has suffered due to translation difficulties, and the pace in the middle is a bit
draggy, this has some absolutely astounding action sequences, such as: the car chase through (literally
through) a shanty town on a hillside; and the shopping mall finale where Jackie takes on the whole of
Chu Tao's gang of thugs, sending them spiralling into windows and glass objects left, right and centre.
Jackie's stuntwork has him doing stuff like sliding down a pole and breaking the Christmas lights as he
does so, and being thrown off a first-floor balcony and crashing through a wooden pergola-like structure
before hitting the very hard floor below. Probably best if you try before you buy.
DRIVE (18) *****
This is easily Mark Dacascos' best film to date and really showcases what he can do! Toby (Dacascos) is an escapee who holds a bionic implant in his chest that makes him stronger and faster (in combat in particular, not that he's any slouch); he's escaping from a group of Hong Kong terrorists who want to seize this implant, and somehow a local man who dreams of being a top songwriter (Kadeem Hardison, a successful outrageous comedian) gets caught up in the action, which never seems to stop right from the very beginning to the climax.
This is the closest Hollywood have ever come to recreating the fast, frenetic martial-arts action that Hong Kong fans have come to expect, and the choreography is more than acceptable (even the stunts are almost as painful!). Dacascos flips, kicks and punches his way out of any bad situation that the terrorists try to put him in; and Hardison's quips are more than a little amusing (even the cast and crew sometimes struggled not to laugh out loud at times, apparently!). Definitely recommended even if
you're not a kung-fu fan! NOTE: Drive took just six weeks to film, and cost a paltry US$6m!
RAPID FIRE (18) ****
This is Brandon Lee's best film out of the ones he lived to complete, without a doubt.
Jake Lo (Lee) is a student whose life is put in terrible danger when he witnesses a killing by
a city tycoon named Cyrano. Help comes in the shape of Ryan (Powers Boothe) and
together they manage to stop Cyrano and his goons!
Brandon has amazing charisma, his martial arts are suitably impressive, the fight
choreography is pretty good and quite quick, and his acting ability was quite apparent
(you really could believe he was in danger). Recommended, although it is quite violent at
times. NOTE: Lee borrowed some bits from previously made Jackie Chan movies as
homage to Chan (which Chan is flattered by) including Police Story and Dragons Forever.
See if you can spot them...
FIST OF LEGEND (18) ****
This is essentially a remake of Bruce Lee's Fist Of Fury, with Jet 'Lethal Weapon 4' Li assuming the lead role as a student who has returned to his kung-fu school after learning that his teacher had been killed by the leader of a local Japanese school (in the period this film was set in, apparently Chinese and Japanese people did not get along). He then goes to the school in question and challenges the Japanese master there (after beating his loyal students
senseless in a vain attempt to stop him earlier) using the same style as his late
teacher against the Japanese, who it turns out was nowhere near good enough
to defeat his teacher. Jet then believes his teacher had been poisoned, and
turned out to be right. Tensions mount as treachery from one of the Chinese
school's students is suspected, and more tradition is challenged when it turns
out that Jet's love interest is Japanese. The film's climax includes a lengthy
bout against champion fighter Billy Chow.
This is a brilliant remake; the fights are crisp and clear (although the
multiple attacks are of the old 70's style one-at-a-time rather than the proper
simultaneous attacks that Jackie Chan had long since introduced), the music's
pretty good, and Jet is always a joy to watch when he fights. NOTE: The video sleeve spells Jet Li as Jet Lee; unlike with the Bruce Lee-alikes in the 70's, this IS the same man.
DRAGONS FOREVER (18) ****
This was the last of three Jackie Chan movies to co-star the burly-but-able Sammo Hung (of Martial Law fame) and the superbly gymnastic Yuen Biao. Jackie plays a womanising lawyer who is hired by a woman who's trying to combat against the dumping of toxins originating from a factory run by Yuen Wah (who originally made his name by doubling for Bruce Lee in gymnastic bits - Lee was not a gymnast, and he injured his back in 1969 so he couldn't have done such manoeuvres anyway). Jackie, however, falls for the woman's daughter; Sammo, hired by Jackie to help, falls for the Jackie's client; and Yuen Biao gets caught in the middle when he fails to bug the two ladies' house without detection. After a few tests of loyalty, and Sammo's capture by Yuen Wah, Jackie and Biao go into action and rescue Sammo from the factory (which it turned out refines narcotics). Brilliant stuff in here, including Jackie's usual disregard for his own safety in the stunt department, not to mention his duel against undefeated
world champion fighter Benny Urquidez as the chief cocaine tester. Sammo gets some meaty fights as well, but Yuen Biao gets comparatively little, which is a shame (he and Sammo and Jackie were feuding in real life at the time, which ultimately led to the three never making a movie together again). Sammo choreographed the fights and directed the movie, so unsurprisingly the action is top-notch, and it's considered to be a firm favourite among Hong Kong fans despite its initial poor showing in the East.
RUMBLE IN HONG KONG (15) *
This is one of Jackie Chan's pre-stardom movies whose real title is Young Tiger (the Rumble bit is probably to cash in on the success of Rumble In The Bronx, which had only recently been released in cinemas at the time). Jackie plays a baddie (yes, I kid you not, not that he actually liked doing it) who is loyal to his boss and will stop at nothing to protect him from capture from the police.
Yuk! This movie is total crap! The dubbing's among the worst I've ever seen, with voice actors that sound like they were loosely gagged at times, and the film itself is dated and slow-paced. And Jackie as a BADDIE? No, sorry, can't recommend this to anyone; if you must have a Jackie film with Rumble in its title, go for Rumble In The Bronx; it's ultimately a lot more satisfying experience.
STREET FIGHTER (12) **
This is a live-action movie based on the then-hit Capcom arcade beat-'em-up video game Streetfighter II. Guile (Jean-Claude Van Damme) seeks revenge on M Bison (Raul Julia in his final film before his death) after capturing his friend Blanka (who looks bloody stupid in this movie) and goes to rescue him, aided by Cammy (Kylie Minogue - oh, brother!). All the other video game characters are in here, but, to be honest, this movie really isn't worth much, Van Damme's kicks are often slower than most reasonably-experienced martial-arts students here in the UK, and the whole thing's just disappointingly average. NOTE: Benny Urquidez helped choreograph the fights, and also makes a very brief appearance as one of the escaping prisoners during Ryu and Ken's escape attempt.
HAND OF DEATH (15) *
This was the first movie to be directed by John Woo (Hard Target, MI2 and Broken Arrow are among his Hollywood movies), and stars Dorian Tan, a very able and flexible Tae Kwon Do expert; Sammo Hung and a very young Jackie Chan. Tan is asked to protect a messenger from an evil clan, and eventually end up taking on a ruthless gang who are killing a whole heap of Chinese
people. This is really not that great; it's a draggy movie, it has some really cheesy dubbing, Sammo has Goofy-like teeth (!), and overall it just feels really wanting. Although Sammo choreographed the fights, they aren't enough to save this from the mire.
NOTE: The reason that Jackie looks a bit different here is because he still had not yet had his cosmetic surgery (that came a year later in 1976), so his eyes are his original slit-eyes. Also, Jackie had a very nasty accident where he was knocked out when a wire failed to save him from injury.
CHINA O'BRIEN (18) ***
This is the film that made fighting female champion Cynthia Rothrock a star on video.
Lori 'China' O'Brien (Rothrock) quits her job as a policewoman when she is forced to kill
a child in defence, and drives to her home town. In doing so she learns that the town is
being overrun by a corrupt individual named Summers, who seems to own everything from
the law to the fire department and more. After her father is killed, she goes into action with
the help of old friend Matt (Richard Norton, Aussie karate exponent) and an outsider named
Dakota (lethal quick-kicker Keith Cooke).
All things considered, this isn't too bad. Fights are pretty varied and have an excellent
sound when blows connect. The only thing that really annoyed me is that the only blow
Cynthia received on-screen is a slap to the face (worse still, in the sequel China O'Brien 2
she doesn't get walloped at all!), which makes the thing a bit fantasy-like. It's still more
interesting than a lot of the movies Rothrock has starred in since.
NOTE: The director was Robert Clouse, who also directed Enter The Dragon.
MORTAL KOMBAT (15) **
This is another film-based-on-video-game release, in the vein of Street Fighter, only this is probably a bit better. Liu Kang (Robin Shou) and a group of other fighters are transported into another world to take part in the deadly Mortal Kombat in order to save the world from the man in charge of Mortal Kombat, Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). That's basically the plot, but there are some class fights in it (in particular the fight between Liu Kang and Reptile (played by Keith 'China O'Brien' Cooke) where kicks
come thick and fast. At times it's a bit silly, but it's probably one of the better game-to-film releases.
PROJECT A (15) ****
This is the first of three collaborations with Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao in a Jackie Chan film. Set at the beginning of the 20th Century in Hong Kong, Dragon Ma-Yu Loong (Chan) is the sergeant of a Coast Guard that are soon recruited by the local police after their ships have been blown up. Much mayhem ensues as Chan, under the watchful but mischievous eye of Inspector
Tzu (Biao) of the Hong Kong police force, attempts to capture an adversary in a posh hotel. The Chief of Police, who happens to be Tzu's uncle, does not like this idea, whereupon Dragon quits the force (and apprehends the aforementioned adversary single-handedly). It soon becomes apparent that there is a traitor in the midst of the police force, and after finding out that supplies are being smuggled to devious pirate Sanpao (Dick Wei), Dragon and the Coast Guard are reinstated and, flanked by Tzu and former adversary Fei (Sammo Hung), the trio tackle Sanpao and his gang!
This is the first Jackie movie to have all the bits we now associate with a Chan film: the spectacularly choreographed, quick-paced fights, the comedic situations and the dare-devil stunts (look out for Jackie's risky 40ft fall from the top of a clock-tower!). Definitely best if you're watching the subtitled version rather than the earlier dubbed versions, though...
A sequel followed, Project A II, but it is not a patch on this film (especially as Sammo and Yuen were not in it). NOTE: The bicycle chase through the alleys has, allegedly, had its pole-through-spokes bit 'borrowed' for a similar stunt in Indiana Jones and
the Last Crusade, which would suggest that, even though Jackie didn't crack America until twelve years later, film-makers watched his progress anyway.
RUSH HOUR (12) ****
Although Rumble In The Bronx helped Jackie get recognised in the United States,
this is the movie that allowed him to expand that further, although for Jackie fans it
could be a bit of a disappointment. Annoying cop Carter (Chris Tucker) has been
tricked by the FBI and put on a 'bulls**t assignment' where he has to babysit
Inspector Lee (Chan), just flown in from Hong Kong to try and find out who has
captured a little Chinese girl. After a run-in with the FBI, they allow Lee to assist.
Unfortunately things go wrong for Lee and Carter and they are soon disgraced, and
Lee sent to the plane to Hong Kong, where Carter manages to coax him into returning
to the case. All this culminates in a Chinese exhibition where Carter and Lee get a nasty shock, as well as attempt to rescue the Chinese girl and foil the plans of baddie Juntao. Why could it be a disappointment for hard-core Jackie fans? Well, his usual antics have been watered down somewhat, stunt-wise and fight-wise, at the behest of American insurance companies, and it shows. Jackie's fight scenes are good, but are over too quickly, and the stunts are comparatively tame compared to his usual risky ones. On the plus side, the comedy between him and Tucker is the real star of the show, as East meets West in a
buddy-buddy movie. Worth a look anyway, and the out-takes are funny enough to warrant a look too.
EASTERN CONDORS (18) *****
Sammo Hung is one of several convicted men who have been sent on a highly
dangerous mission in Vietnam that, if completed successfully, will win each man
a small fortune and their freedom. The snag is, Sammo and co don't actually
know what their mission is and quite a few end up losing their lives (no thanks to
a traitor in their midst who is secretly siding with the Vietcong) before Sammo
bullies it out of the commanding officer. This film also features Yuen Biao and
Joyce Godenzi (who would later become Sammo's real-life wife). Look out for
Yuen Wah as the lead baddie (who has one of the most annoying giggles ever).
This is an amazing war film with some superb martial artistry thrown in in regular doses. It's quite violent at times, but it has a great story, pretty good acting (by HK standards) and it's hugely enjoyable.
JACKIE CHAN'S WHO AM I? *** (12)
Jackie is one of a group of mercenaries who complete a mission in South Africa and then become the victim of a double-cross, which results in Jackie falling from a helicopter into the forest below and losing his memory. In an attempt to discover his identity, his journey takes him into several confrontations with the CIA, and his trail eventually leads him to Rotterdam in The Netherlands, where he finds out about a potentially lethal energy source that a gang plan to use as a weapon! It's up to Chan to stop them!
This isn't bad actually. There's the usual comedy, stunts and fights - in fact, there's an amazing stunt Jackie does where he slides down a long 45-degree slope on a building in Rotterdam, and that's just after taking on two fighters, one of which is a highly-flexible Dutchman (played by Ron Smoorenburg). There's also a wince-worthy clog-fight that is quite amusing.
There's a fair bit of good stuff in here. Take a look.
NOTE: This was the first film that Jackie had directed in six years, after the financial mess that was Operation Condor (it was a good film, but it cost considerably more to make than it should have). NOTE: There are occasions where Ron Smoorenburg had to be doubled during his fight scene, as he was not always able to perform to Jackie's demanding timing standards.
THE WAY OF THE DRAGON (18) ****
This is my favourite Bruce Lee movie. Tang Lung (Lee) travels to Italy to help out his uncle in his restaurant, which is constantly under attack by a group of thugs who want the land. At first Lee has difficulty adjusting to the culture, much to the annoyance of Nora Miao, but as soon as the attackers make their first major threat, Tang Lung defeats them in dazzling Chinese style!
After more failed attempts, they get American Karate Champion Colt (Chuck Norris, himself a six-times-undefeated middleweight karate champion) to take on Lung in the Coliseum and this is considered to be one of the best fights ever captured on film.
In fact, this film actually flows better than Enter The Dragon, and it was actually Bruce's favourite film of all the ones he made (he directed it, too, which probably helped). When you see the speed of his punches and kicks, you can see why he still gets revered a quarter of a century after his death. A true classic.
RUMBLE IN THE BRONX (15) ***
This is the movie that, after four previous failed attempts to do so (The Big Brawl,
both Cannonball Run films and The Protector), finally allowed Jackie Chan to
break into the American market; in fact, apparently when it first came out, the only
thing that beat it for sales at the time of its opening weekend was Jurassic Park!
Jackie plays a Hong Kong cop who travels to New York to meet his uncle
(Bill Tung) and attend his wedding, and help him sell - and look after - his market
when interested buyer Elena (Anita Mui) takes over the reins. What Elena is not
told is that the market is always under attack from a rival bike gang led by Tony
(the late Marc Akerstream) and his girlfriend Nancy (Françoise Yip). Fists and
bodies fly as usual, with Jackie doing his usual stunt stuff (including a jump from
a multi-storey car park roof to a fire escape on the building on the other side of an alley!)
This is quite fun, although the ending is a bit naff (not anyone's fault as such; Jackie broke his right ankle jumping onto a hovercraft and trying to turn to avoid smashing his head on the hull when he landed) and the dubbing's not great, but Jackie dubbed himself, which helps. Have a look and be entertained.
CITY HUNTER (12) ****
This was a film made to satisfy Jackie Chan's Japanese fans, and as such is based on a then-very-popular comic series of the same name. Jackie is the City Hunter of the title who, after being told to search for a young woman, ends up on a cruise ship that gets hijacked by MacDonald (Richard Norton) and Muscles (British martial artist Gary Daniels in a role he has to date never bettered - look out for the way he comes out of the box splits!). Comic mishaps aplenty are to be expected, but the best bits are (a) when Hunter has to fight against two giant guards in the cruiser's cinema theatre where Bruce Lee's Game Of Death fight against Kareem Abdul Jabbar is playing; Hunter keeps coming off worst until he picks up tips from the on-screen Bruce, and (b) where, during a fight with Muscles, Hunter is thrown into a StreetFighter 2 arcade machine and starts to hallucinate that he and Muscles are characters from the game (they even dress up as the characters in question); this bit is hilarious! It is a bit silly, but it's fun silliness and could be worth a giggle or three! NOTE: It is rumoured that Jackie - shock, horror - used a stunt double in
this movie; during the skateboard chase he broke the instep of his left foot, which is said to have caused him to be doubled in the fight against Richard Norton. NOTE: If you're wondering why, on the StreetFighter 2 game screen, E Honda's surname is spelt Honde [sic], it's because a certain car company is called Honda and the makers feared legal action. Doh!
UNDER SIEGE (15) ****
This is the movie that made Steven Seagal known big time (in fact, I believe it is the only movie he has starred in that made it into cinemas, but don't quote me on that!). Seagal plays Casey Ryback, a cook with attitude, who gets involved in a siege on a battleship he is working on, and is soon having to fight for his life and rescue the captured prisoners. The big baddie is Strannyx (Tommy Lee Jones), who we learn Ryback has had more than a passing acquaintance with. The action in this is Aikido at its finest (with a few blows from the striking arts thrown in) as Seagal gets through baddies like they were chocolate bars. He truly is awesome, and I think you'll enjoy the movie too!
UNDER SIEGE 2 (18) ***
This is the sequel to the above; the reason I have reviewed this and not some other sequels is that, as regular filmgoers know by experience, most sequels are trite and not always worthy of the attention. This is one that is, although it's still not quite as good as its predecessor. Steven Seagal returns as Casey Ryback, and he and his niece are on a passenger train which - you guessed it - gets hijacked and its passengers kidnapped and held for ransom by a tycoon who used to work for a company
that has put a satellite weapon named Grazier One in space that has immense firepower, and this evil man threatens to use it to blow up major places in the world. As before it's up to our man Ryback to foil his plans. As you may have guessed by the fact that this has an 18 certificate, this is more violent than its predecessor. Although in general the action is good, and quite adrenalin-charged, there are some bits that spoil the illusions somewhat, mostly in the guise of a few undercranked bits and some
very obvious blue-screening. Still fun, though.NOTE: Undercranking is a term used for the process whereby a sequence is
filmed at fewer frames per second than usual, so that when it is played back it looks faster than it really was. This is an accusation that is often geared towards the fight sequences in Hong Kong movies.
SHANGHAI NOON (12) ***
Jackie Chan stars as Chon Wang (sounds like John Wayne!) and is one of a group of Chinese people sent to America in the late 1800s to rescue their princess (played by Lucy Liu of Ally McBeal fame). In doing so Wang encounters a rejected outlaw (Owen Wilson) who teaches him how to use a gun in exchange for some martial arts training. The plot is a bit flimsy, but the action is great fun, and is more like a Jackie movie than Rush Hour ever was. Move over, Clint Eastwood - here comes the Chanster!
NOTE: This film features the only notable bar-room (saloon, really) brawl in a Jackie flick since Project A in 1983. It's quite entertaining; there's even a bit where Jackie uses a pair of antlers as a weapon! And I don't even need to mention that weapon he manufactures using rope and a horseshoe! Or - shock horror - the climax which features Jackie using the extremely difficult to master three-sectioned-staff! Yee-haaaaa!
ARMOUR OF GOD (15) ***
This is one of Jackie Chan's most successful movies of the 1980's; in essence it's a bit like a Hong Kong-style Indiana Jones film. Jackie is Asian Hawk, an adventurer who has been attempting to find the five pieces of the sacred Armour Of God for, if all five were to fall into the wrong hands, the world would be under severe threat. In doing so he ends up making a deal with a collector who also wants the Armour Of God, who sends Jackie and his friend in search of it; unfortunately for Jackie the collector insists
that his daughter (Lola Forner) go along with them. There is also another complication; Jackie used to be the member of a pop group called The Losers (a play-on-words of the real-life band The Wynners) and one of the girls who used to sing in that same group has been captured and put in a monastery dungeon in Yugoslavia, and the monks there want the Armour in exchange
for her release!
This is a bit of a mixed bag; there were quite a few behind-the-scenes problems with this one (see NOTE below), some of which resulted in Jackie's hair changing length for no apparent reason during the opening section. Also some of the humour is, as you may expect, not always intelligible to Western audiences (mind you, the East had similar problems with some of Chris Tucker's quips in Rush Hour), which is odd as Jackie's movies are supposed to be about doing rather than talking. There are some stunning action sequences (such as the car chases and the bit where Jackie takes on a whole roomful of monks in a daring rescue), but this is essentially another one that you should try before you buy if you can. NOTE: This film is best remembered by every Chan fan as the one that nearly killed him; in jumping from a castle wall to a tree he fell and smashed his head on the rocky ground fifteen feet below, which put him in hospital for two months while he recovered from a very serious skull fracture. To this
day he has a coin-sized hole in the back of his head where a rock went through (he protects this during fight scenes) and a permanently ruptured right eardrum. The former is responsible for the hair-length changes in the early section of the film; before the accident he had been asked by original director Eric Tsang to cut his hair short, which he (reluctantly) did. After the accident, the short hair left the hole visible, so he allowed his hair to grow long again to hide it (Golden Harvest's boss Raymond Chow said
that he looked more powerful with long hair anyway); he also fired Tsang and took over the directing reins himself for the remainder of the film (which is probably just as well as the opening fight scene is a bit limp and slowly-executed in comparison to what Chan fans expect).
OPERATION CONDOR (15) *****
This is the sequel to Armour Of God (qv) and sees Jackie return as Asian Hawk (well, that's what the video sleeve says anyway - though in the film he's never referred to as this; just as Jackie!). This time he has been asked by the collector from the previous film to locate an old German WW2 bunker in the Sahara Desert because there's a stash of gold hidden there. Jackie is accompanied by three women, one of which is the granddaughter of one of the Nazis who, along with seventeen others, tried to find the gold but disappeared trying. On arrival, Jackie and co notice that there are only seventeen bodies in the bunker (one of which was the girl's grandfather, who we find has been murdered); then get the shock of their lives as Adolf, the eighteenth member and only survivor of the failed attempt, is still alive and takes the four adventurers hostage. It's up to Jackie and co to stop Adolf's attempt to get the gold in a finale that leaves you in awe!
This film was the most expensive Hong Kong film at the time (1991), costing over HK$80m (which was a lot more than it should have costed, but Jackie was finding it difficult to oversee everything), and it is a bit of a corker! Jackie's humour actually works quite well this time around, and the fights (especially the one in the wind tunnel) are absolutely awesomely choreographed! Although the only version available in the UK is dubbed, this did not ruin it for me much! Check it out (although you will probably
want to throttle the three female leads before too long with their whining)! NOTE: Some unofficial books claim that Jackie was (dare I say it?) doubled for the motorcycle stunts.
BEST OF THE BEST (15) ****
This is one film that Stuart Anslow reckons captures the true essence of the martial arts (not just Karate, as is featured here). Eric Roberts, Chris "Reservoir Dogs" Penn and Phillip Rhee star in this film about a team of karate experts who are attempting to train (under the watchful eye of Coach Frank Couzo (James Earl Jones) and Miss Wade (Sally Kirkland), who has researched the Korean opponents and helps with the training) for a tournament to take place in Korea in three months' time. Throughout their
training they all team up to overcome their personal qualms and leave their minds cleared for the tournament...
The fight sequences are fantastic, and the structure isn't too bad. Those that don't do martial arts in real life may not find it their cup of tea, but others may well like it. Three sequels to date have followed, but not only is Phillip Rhee the only one that starred in all four, but the sequels are pretty poo anyway. NOTE: Dae Han, who fights against Phillip Rhee's character, is played by
none other than Simon Rhee, Phillip's brother.
THE KARATE KID (15) **
Most people, whether they have a martial-arts background or not, will have seen - or at least, heard of - this mid-80s film that stars Ralph Macchio as a new kid on the block, Daniel LaRusso, who gets harassed and beaten by a group of rival school youths known as the Cobras, who all study karate under the dodgy training regime of Sensei Kreese (Martin Kove). The heat
intensifies as Daniel falls for the Cobra leader's ex-girlfriend (Elisabeth Shue, most recently seen in The Hollow Man) and so he seeks the aid of an Old Man named Mr Miyagi (Noriyuki Pat Morita) to teach him Karate, but as Daniel was to find out, this man does not use orthodox methods to teach! To be perfectly honest, this really is rather dated now. Few people will find it entertaining enough to consider a classic, I would imagine. Two sequels and a semi-sequel (The Next Karate Kid, which replaced Macchio with Hilary Swank) followed, but they are no better. NOTE: One of the Cobras is Chad McQueen, martial-arting son of legendary actor Steve McQueen!
BEVERLY HILLS NINJA (12) ***
This is a spoof of kung-fu movies. A baby is found swept ashore in a basket and a group of ninjas find it. The ninja master looks after the baby boy during his growth into a man, naming him Haru (the late comedian Chris Farley, who also performed his own (painful!) stunts; this was to be his final completed movie), and training him in the art of Ninjitsu. Unfortunately Haru just clowns around and messes things up, much to the annoyance of adopted brother Gobei (Robin Shou, from Mortal Kombat (qv)).
Whilst the Ninjas are on a mission, an American woman (Nicollette Sheridan), who calls herself Sally but is really named Alison, finds the temple and asks for Haru's help (she thinks he's a Ninja) in Beverly Hills to stop a bunch of criminals. This is where the problems start; although he's reluctant to let Haru go, the Master insists that Gobei be in his shadow on his journey. This leads to some comical encounters as Gobei is literally taking knocks to protect Haru! This is pretty funny, and some of Farley's stunts will make you wince! Considering he was not a martial artist, Farley does some pretty good spinning kicks. One of the baddies is played by Keith Cooke (from China O'Brien 1 & 2) and is as lethal as ever kick-wise. NOTE: The part offered to Robin Shou was originally planned for Jackie Chan, but he turned it down. NOTE 2: It's rumoured that Chris Farley's tragic early death was due to a
depression he was in after seeing Steven Seagal.
TIMECOP (18) ***
This is one of Jean-Claude van Damme's better movies in terms of plot, although it's still not good enough to win him - or the moviemakers - any awards! The Muscles from Brussels plays police officer Max Walker who has his life torn apart after his wife (Mia Sara) gets killed by the evil Senator McComb (Ron Silver) in 1994. It turns out that McComb has been using time-travel - which wasn't to come into being until not long after this nasty incident - to go back to the past and attempt to eliminate Walker
so that he could not foil his plans in the future to abuse time-travel, for Walker gets the job of being top Agent in charge of policing time and making sure that nobody abuses time-travel for their own benefits or for evil deeds towards others, or otherwise alter time by changing things. This isn't too bad; it's quite enjoyable, in fact. The fights, while nothing too fancy, are competent enough, I suppose, and as far as I know van Damme has not done the box splits since this movie (at the time of writing this)!
NOTE: If the people in the film 'can't go into the future, because that hasn't happened yet' what exactly is returning from the past? Oops!
WHEELS ON MEALS (15) ***
This is the second of three Jackie Chan movies that partnered him with his former Peking Opera buddies, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao (the other two were Project A and Dragons Forever - any others were not really Jackie movies and usually only featured him in a supporting role). David (Biao) and Thomas (Chan) live together in Spain and run a mobile fast-food van named Everybody's Kitchen. Problems arise when a woman named Sylvia (former Miss Spain Lola Forner) comes into their lives, because she can inherit a fortune if she can be protected from her greedy uncle. Also along for the ride is dodgy private eye Moby (Hung).
This has some quite good comedy that does not suffer as much through translation as other Hong Kong movies have, and the Sammo-choreographed fights are awesome as usual. The best fight is between Chan and former kickboxing champion Benny 'The Jet' Urquidez, and is regarded as Chan's best fight scene ever captured on film.
BLOODSPORT (18) ***
This was Jean-Claude van Damme's first starring role (but not his first appearance in a movie). This film is based on a true story about a real-life fighter named Frank Dux (who would later be involved in Van Damme's directorial début The Quest years later), who Van Damme plays. He trained for years under the eye of Master Tanaka (the late Roy Chiao (Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom, Dragons Forever), who died in April 1999) and entered the Kumite in Hong Kong, which is a full-contact fighting
arena that the authorities seem to know nothing of. Dux is in for the ride of his life, for there is a champion that is out for blood at the Kumite, namely the brutal Chong Li (Bolo Yeung (Enter The Dragon)). This isn't bad, although it looks a bit silly now, the fights are pretty good, and showed real promise for Van Damme. Unfortunately his more recent fight scenes tend to be a bit rubbish and predictable in comparison to those in earlier movies like this. NOTE: Two sequels followed, with the mantle being taken over by Daniel Bernhardt; the second has some good fights, but the third is pretty cack and derivative.
NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER (15) ***
This stars Kurt McKinney as Jason Stillwell, a teenage karate student who is obsessed with Bruce Lee and wants to be like him. He studies in his father's dojo until some thugs (with the help of Ivan the Russian (a pre-stardom Jean-Claude Van Damme)) run the family out of town and they move to Seattle. Unfortunately, impersonating Bruce Lee only lands him in trouble and he
keeps getting beaten up. Then, on visiting Lee's grave, he is later visited by Bruce Lee's spirit (Kim Tai Chong), who gives him guidance and greatly improves his ability. Just as well, as in the climax he is forced to fight against Ivan in a no-holds-barred ring-fight! This is quite enjoyable, and has some good fight action and messages about martial arts, but like Bloodsport and The Karate Kid, it is a bit on the silly side (especially after McKinney has beaten up a group of thugs and tells them to 'get out of here!' whereby the beaten thugs just get up and leg it!). It's still worth a look.
Two sequels followed - at least, two that retained the No Retreat No Surrender title over here in the UK. The second stars a pre-stardom Cynthia Rothrock, but the film is total crap. The third is OK, and features Keith Vitali (Wheels On Meals), but not quite up to the standards of this first movie. NOTE: Kim Tai Chong was the one who took over from Bruce Lee to help
complete Game Of Death.
GAME OF DEATH (18) *
This remained unfinished at the time of Bruce Lee's tragic death in 1973, and was not finished until 1978, and even then it was vastly different to what Bruce originally wanted. Billy Lo (Bruce Lee/Kim Tai Chong) is a martial arts film star who runs
into trouble with a group of thugs, led by Gig Young and Dean Jagger. I can't really describe much of the rest of the plot, because it's really rather limp. Which just about sums up this movie. This is an embarrassment to all things Bruce, not to mention kung-fu movies in general. Kim Tai Chong's fight scenes are not a patch on the two fights that the real Bruce managed to film (against Dan Inosanto and former student basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabbar), and his attempts to imitate Lee's animal wails are really cringeworthy. There is also a really vile image where an actor has a cutout of Bruce Lee's head positioned on top of his own! Other bits have had bits from Bruce's other movies taken to make it seem more Lee-like, but this movie is still not worth looking at. All anyone can really ask is: 'Why?'
TWIN DRAGONS (12) ***
This is a movie that has Jackie Chan playing two roles at the same time, and Jackie did it mainly to learn about special effects (which he was not really used to at the time as in Hong Kong there were no blue-screens etc as HK budgets could not stretch to accommodate such expensive techniques), which feature in this quite a bit as Jackie plays two roles on screen at the same
time. Two twins were separated at birth; one stayed with his parents to live in America and became a concert musician and conductor named John Ma, while the other who was raised by a drunk woman roughed the streets of Hong Kong and became a mechanic named Boomer who also has a passion for racing. Problems start to arise among people who know either twin when John Ma comes to Hong Kong to conduct his first orchestral performance there, and people mistake Boomer for him, and vice versa, which leads to amusing conflicts and situations. You see, not only do the actions of one twin affect the other directly, but also Boomer can fight while John Ma cannot fight to save his life! Unless...no, I won't spoil the ending. This is not a classic, but it is a lot better than Van Damme's similar Double Impact movie, which was released around the same time. Be warned that no outtakes are at the end of this movie. NOTE: This was a charity film that was to raise money to build a Hong Kong directors guild; as far as anyone knows it never happened. The film was a hit, though.
SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW (18) ****
This was Jackie Chan's first major hit, and set the standards for the comedy kung-fu genre. Jackie plays a young man who was raised in a kung-fu school solely to be the other students' punchbag, so one day he learns Snake Fist from the last remaining master (the late Simon Yuen, father of director Yuen Woo-Ping). Problems are made aware early on; there's a rival clan known as
the Eagle Claw clan who have sworn to kill anyone with knowledge of Snake Fist kung-fu, and one of the best fighters is a lethal kicker played by Korean Tae Kwon Do expert Hwang Jang Lee. In one scuffle with this tough man, Jackie learns that Snake Fist alone cannot match the Eagle Claw technique, so after seeing his cat fend off a snake, he combines the Snake Fist style with his self-developed Cat's Claw, and is victorious! This is brilliant; the humour is priceless, and the kung-fu sequences set new standards like never before seen at the time (1978). The fight between Chan and Hwang Jang Lee is superb, and some of the latter's bootwork is amazing! Recommended. NOTE: Yuen Woo-Ping is the man who would later in life get to train the
stars of blockbuster sci-fi movie The Matrix.
DRUNKEN MASTER (15) ***
This was made immediately after Snake In The Eagle's Shadow, and contains much the same cast, but this story is loosely about legendary fighter Wong Fei-Hung, although this is supposed to be when he was a naughty youth before becoming this legend (no-one really knows what his pre-legendary status life was really like). After causing too much mischief, Wong Fei-Hung (Jackie
Chan) is sentenced to some of his uncle (Simon Yuen)'s arduous training to discipline him. He escapes his uncle, but is soon beaten up by the mighty hired assassin Thunderfoot (Hwang Jang Lee) and runs back to his uncle, who then teaches him the Eight Drunken Fists styles of kung-fu (only in this set of styles Wong actually has to be really drunk!). Eventually it all
culminates in a massive ruck between a drunken Wong Fei-Hung and Thunderfoot in a dazzling battle that still remains a joy to watch. Perhaps a little draggy at certain (rare) intervals, but still a gem. Beware of horrendous dubbing if you are watching the VHS version, whereas the DVD version has an optional subtitled version.
As you can all see just by looking in the Hong Kong sections of movie stockists (and, to a lesser extent, American efforts), there has been no shortage of either martial-arts movies or movies that contain martial arts (I don't call Tomorrow Never Dies a kung-fu movie, for instance; it's more an action movie that just happens to have chop-socky in it courtesy of Michelle Yeoh). If the truth be told, though, many of the older kung-fu movies are probably ones you will find out are absolute trite if you ever watch any, and this is not helped by really amateurish dubbing. Fortunately most of the more-worthy ones are available in either dubbed or subtitled versions so at least we have a choice. One thing to note, however, is that the Hong Kong Classics label's subbed releases tend to use the original Hong Kong subtitles rather than digitally remastered ones. This can lead to some occasional problems of white text clashing with any white objects at the bottom of the screen, but the most serious problems here are the subtitles themselves: I myself have only found one occurrence of this, but some HK subs are really small and hard to read from a distance; the other problem is that some of the translations are really terrible, almost as if some had been an attempt at translating Chinese word-for-word ('Don't shoot! There are combustibles around!', 'Could it be just a kidding?', 'Don't shoot! I'm police, not thief!', 'Don't you dare to beat me up!' and 'B.S.!' are just some very amusing examples). Some other subtitles from Hong Kong have a
problem where somebody says lots of words and it is translated to just 'Why?' or something, which can be a bit off-putting.
Most UK releases have remastered and improved subtitles that either have a black drop-shadow to get around the white-on-white problem, or are put in the black borders at the bottom of the screen (most subbed movies are widescreen versions).
At the end of the day, you pay your money and you take your choice. Whichever sort of translation you prefer - or even if you prefer the English language American efforts - you are sure to find something that you will find entertaining if you are at all interested in martial arts in movies. Enjoy!
Martial Art Movie Reviews
by Anthony Whitaker
Martial Art Movie Reviews
Ever since Bruce Lee burst onto cinema screens in 1971 with The Big Boss,
martial-arts movies (or 'chop-socky' movies, as some critics call them) have
fascinated generations of filmgoers the world over. For the first time ever, a hero had
a better excuse for winning the fight and saving the day than simply being 'the good
guy', and this new approach changed the overall feel of action thrillers from then on.
After Lee's tragic death in 1973, a death that left the whole world in shock, many
new fighters tried their hands (and feet) at filling his shoes. Unfortunately even to this
day no one has had quite the impact that Bruce did, not even his own son Brandon
who died in 1993 under suspicious circumstances during the making of The Crow.
There have been a few notable people who have made it big and have had
phenomenal success, not to mention taken kung-fu cinema to new levels of
greatness; the most well-known of these people is the Hong Kong superstar
Jackie Chan, who has successfully combined kung-fu with vintage comedy and crazy
, self-performed stunts, and he also saved the kung-fu genre from complete
eradication after a half-decade of Bruce Lee-like copycat movies (some of these dire movies even had stars that physically resembled Bruce Lee and had been given stage names like Bruce Le, Bruce Li and Bruce Liang - nobody was fooled by them, and the films were all dismal flops at the box office).
Enough intro; on with the action:
ENTER THE DRAGON (18) ***
This was the first film Bruce Lee starred in that was shot in English (it was also his last completed film) and has a bit of a James Bond feel to it. Lee has been asked to enter a tournament that is actually a ploy for the
leader Han (Shih Kien) to recruit fighters to protect him while he and his gang manufacture drugs. The film co-starred John Saxon and Jim Kelly.
The biggest problem with this film is that ever since Jackie Chan managed to come up with much quicker fighting pace and multiple attacks that really are multiple attacks (as opposed to one-at-a-time while the others stand in guard positions in the background) this does look a bit dated now. Bruce is still amazing to watch, but unless you are a real devotee of all things Bruce you may not think a great deal of this. Cool music, though
(composed by Lalo Schifrin, who would later compose the music for Rush Hour).
NOTE: Look for a very obvious appearance from a pre-stardom Jackie Chan getting his neck broken by Lee in the cavern fight, and also look out for a very young Sammo Hung in the opening fight against Lee.