Blu-Ray Review: Call of Heroes

Director: Benny Chan
Starring: Sean Lau, Louis Koo, Eddie Peng, Yu Yan, Jiang Shu Ying, Wu Jing
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 120 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 15


My love of martial arts movies has been suffering these last few years. When I first properly developed a love of the genre, I was spoilt by the wealth of classic and new titles being released by Hong Kong Legends, a DVD label that started in 1999 which specialised in Hong Kong action movies. They distributed Drunken Master, which was the first kung-fu film I saw after Enter the Dragon and kick-started my swift trawl through most of the kung-fu movies available to the British public. The label seemed to flourish in the early 2000’s, with Hollywood action movies like The Matrix being famously influenced by their Hong Kong counterparts. However, this trend slowed down as the decade drew on and Hong Kong Legends was discontinued in 2007. Luckily, the mantel of Hong Kong action providers in the UK was passed on to Cine Asia. They continued to release new martial arts movies over here and began to re-release some of the Hong Kong Legends back catalogue. However, Cine Asia’s output slowed down over the next couple of years too and in 2012 they disappeared, much to the disappointment of martial arts fans like me, who relied on them to bring the best of Hong Kong action to the UK.

Just when I thought all hope was lost though, I got an email from one of my trusted PR contacts announcing that Cine Asia was back! Five years after their last new release, they’re re-entering the scene by releasing Benny Chan’s action blockbuster Call of Heroes. I snapped up the chance of reviewing a screener of course, and as you might imagine my excitement and expectations were high. Could it possibly live up to them?

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Blu-Ray Review: A Touch of Zen

Director: King Hu
Screenplay: King Hu
Based on a Story by: Songling Pu
Starring: Feng Hsu, Chun Shih, Ying Bai, Tien Peng, Roy Chiao
Country: Taiwan
Running Time: 180 min
Year: 1971
BBFC Certificate: 12


I generally pass on reviewing films I already own or have seen before (which points to free screener greed as being the key influence on my writing). However, I make exceptions now and again for firm favourites that I’d love to see on Blu-Ray or with added features. A Touch of Zen isn’t a film I’d give a full 5 stars to (as you can clearly see), but it’s a film that deserves to be seen in as high a quality format as possible and one that I was keen to revisit. I often struggle to find the time or enthusiasm to put on a three hour film, but reviewing commitments force me to put them on if I’ve requested a screener. Also, A Touch of Zen was highly talked up to me before my first viewing, so I was keen to watch it again without that level of expectation behind it.

A Touch of Zen has an unusual structure. It’s sort of split into three differing sections. The first hour is an intriguing mystery which sees the unambitious but intelligent painter Gu (Chun Shih) get caught up in some sort of conspiracy simmering between a handful of newcomers to town, Yang Hui-ching (Feng Hsu), Ouyang Nin (Tien Peng) and General Shi (Ying Bai). As we follow Gu through this period, the audience is kept in the dark for most of the first hour, but it remains gripping, aided by some supernatural elements as the old run down house which neighbours Gu’s and houses Yang is believed to be haunted.

Once Gu is let in on the secret behind these mysterious characters, about an hour in, the film opens out into an action thriller though. We discover that Yang is on the run from the Eastern Group (of which Ouyang is a chief officer), effectively the police force of the treacherous Eunuch Wei. Yang’s father has been executed for trying to speak out against Wei and the Group have been ordered to kill the rest of his family too. Hearing of this injustice, Gu agrees to help Yang and Shi, using his intellect and knowledge of the local area to help stage an ambush on the Group’s soldiers.

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Terracotta Classic Kung Fu Collection

Being a martial arts movie fan in the UK is tough. When I first really got into the genre at the turn of the millennium, when I was at uni, a DVD label called Hong Kong Legends appeared and it was like mana from heaven. They released 101 classic martial arts films in total, largely from the Golden Harvest vaults. Through their beautifully remastered DVD’s, usually packed with features, I was able to work my way through the early films of Jackie Chan, discover the joy of Sammo Hung’s master works and uncover a wealth of classic action movies from Hong Kong. Unfortunately, as the decade moved on, key members of the Hong Kong Legends team left to work for Dragon Dynasty in the US and the label’s output dwindled and eventually it folded completely. The Cine Asia label formed during this time, bringing out a number of modern Asian action films and even eventually re-releasing most of the big name Hong Kong Legends releases. They never delved deeper into the wealth of old school kung fu available in East Asia though and eventually they too fell by the wayside.

The biggest martial arts gap in UK home entertainment is the lack of Shaw Brothers films. Momentum Pictures started bringing out a few, but gave up before they really got going. Momentum have disappeared now too (although they were bought up by eOne), so these days fans of old school kung-fu are left with that one bunch of Hong Kong Legends releases, floating around in various formats, and little else to quench their hunger for retro kung-fu violence.

Praise the high-kicking Lord then for Terracotta distribution. Just when all hope was lost, they have introduced their very own ‘Classic Kung Fu Collection’. Since the end of last year, Terracotta have been gradually treating UK fans to some rare old school kung fu classics. They’ve only got four out so far, but as my brief reviews of them all below will attest, they’re well worth a watch and, fingers crossed, hopefully we’ll be seeing more in the future.

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Blindspotting: The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin and Five Deadly Venoms

Blindspot36thChamberOfShaolin2

 

You may notice a distinct difference in the quality of the screen caps contained within this post. 36th Chamber Of Shaolin has a proper widescreen aspect ratio and clear image (straight from the Dragon Dynasty DVD) while Five Deadly Venoms has a poorly cropped 4:3 image that was obviously recorded years ago off TV to well-worn VHS (and then transferred to YouTube where I found it). Was I desperate to catch that second film and willing to watch anything I could source? No. It was actually a bit of a design point.

BlindspotFiveDeadlyVenoms2

Several months ago when I first mentioned this pairing of Shaw Brothers Kung Fu films for my Blindspot, it was suggested to me that I should swing on down to Chinatown and get my viewing copies there. After all, crappy, English-dubbed copies are how most people get introduced to Kung Fu in the first place. Though I completely saw the merit in the idea, I was against it for two reasons…First and foremost, I really can’t handle cropped films and bad dubbing – hell, even Fellini films dubbed afterwards back into their own language (as Fellini intended) drive me a bit crazy since things like intonation never quite match up quite properly when dubbed. I’ve been a stickler for proper aspect ratios since realizing what they were (somewhere during the mid-point of the VHS years) and mostly seethe if I come across a film on TV or DVD in a bastardized form. Secondly, I already had that copy of 36th Chamber on DVD sitting at home on my stack of unwatched films. But the idea of watching at least one of the films in the format in which I would’ve seen my first taste of Kung Fu was still somewhat appealing. My knowledge of Kung Fu is not extensive (loads of Jackie Chan, the more serious Come Drink With Me, the much less serious Mad Monkey Kung Fu and all sorts of clips and scenes from Sunday afternoons long ago), but when I think of it, I do indeed think of desaturated videotape stock, people being cut out of the frame and halting English dubbed in an attempt to match with the characters’ mouths. Oh, and enough whooshing and whacking sounds to make a foley artist break into a sweat.

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DVD Review: Dragon (a.k.a. Wu Xia)

Director: Peter Chan
Screenplay: Joyce Chan, Oi Wah Lam
Starring: Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Wei Tang, Jimmy Wang Yu
Producers: Peter Chan, Jojo Yuet-Chun Hui
Country: Hong Kong/China
Running Time: 115 min
Year: 2011
BBFC Certificate: 15


With Jackie Chan taking fewer and fewer leading roles and Jet Li jumping in and out of retirement, it’s Donnie Yen who has become China’s biggest martial arts movie star of the last decade. He’d been in plenty of action classics at the end of the 20th century such as Once Upon a Time in China 2, Iron Monkey and Hero in 2002, but was rarely the leading man. It wasn’t until 2005’s Kill Zone (a.k.a. S.P.L.) that Yen’s star truly shone in the Hong Kong/Chinese movie landscape. Working as action director too, his speed and strength were front and centre in the fight scenes and the intensity of his performance showed that he had more to offer than playing second fiddle to Jet Li or such.

Or at least that’s what most martial arts movie fans say. I finally got around to watching Kill Zone for the first time last week and to be perfectly honest I was very disappointed after hearing all the praise. Yen’s character is criminally underdeveloped, although the fight scenes are fantastic there are very few and the drama which replaces them is clumsy, poorly delivered and melodramatic. In general, although I think Yen is an exceptional action choreographer and a decent actor, I’ve not been blown away by any of the films he’s headlined over the last ten years to be honest. Even Ip Man, which also garnered a fair amount of praise, was good but not great in my eyes. Nevertheless, I still get excited about his latest releases and here we are with Dragon (a.k.a. Wu Xia), which infuriatingly has taken two years to make it to UK shores. Thankfully my good friends over at Metrodome took up the gauntlet and are releasing it on DVD next week after a short theatrical run back in May.

Dragon sees Yen play Liu Jin-Xi, a man living a simple and peaceful life with his wife and two children, working in a paper mill to make ends meet. When a notoriously violent criminal and his accomplice come into town and Jin-Xi manages to ‘accidentally’ kill them, Detective Xu Bai-Jiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) smells a rat. No ordinary man could fend off such powerful foes, so he follows Jin-Xi around for a couple of days to try and find out who he really is. As Bai-Jiu discovers more than a few skeletons in Jin-Xi’s closet, this past comes back to haunt him and the calm family man must face up to his former self.

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Weekend of Trash X

With the 10th Weekend of Trash (backstory and previous write-ups can be found here – I, II, III & IV, V & VI, VII, VIII & IX) we pulled out all the stops, with a couple of films on the Friday as well as a record-breaking seven whole films on Saturday. We got a nice range of B-movies watched and picked wisely, with the only real dodgy titles being on Friday night.

The reviews are only brief as usual and with so many films being watched and the nature of their quality, my ratings should probably be taken with a pinch of salt. I’ve included clips and trailers when possible too.

Enjoy!





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Weekend of Trash VII

The Weekend of Trash is back (backstory and previous write-ups can be found here – 1, 2, 3 & 4, 5 & 6). The guys visited me for the first time, saving me the trip down to Bristol. We didn’t all get together until the Saturday, but I snuck in a trash-classic on Friday to make up for it. There were no horrors this time around, but we got plenty of action films watched which is fine by me.

The reviews are a bit brief because I’m ultra busy, but I’ve included plenty of clips and trailers for your enjoyment. Lets have a look at what we watched:

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Don’t Interrupt his Kung Fu in any Media Format! Black Dynamite to Kick Comic Book Ass and TV Too.

 

A note from Scott Sanders, director of Michael Jai White’s wonderful blaxploitation homage/parody, Black Dynamite (Kurt’s Review) that we fell in love with last year sees the eponymous hero taking it to the Man in Comics and Animation on the TeeVee. If you haven’t caught up with this film, which is very much in the vein of Edgar Wright’s brand of loving-tribute-yet-still-very-much-its-own-film, then check it out on DVD or BLU-RAY before the blue leisure suit and the nunchucks make it to the hand-drawn world. The film was criminally unreleased by Sony, who only put it out in 6 cities (none of them in Canada, outside of the festival circuit.)

In 2011, our hero will bring his badass brand of kung-fu to two new mediums: the comic book and television.

Released by indie publisher Ape Entertainment with a story by Michael Jai White, Byron Minns, and myself, the one-shot Black Dynamite: Slave Island follows our hero as he seeks to put an end to a mysterious island… where an insidious 19th century legacy of The Man still exists.

As well, we are hard at work on Black Dynamite: The Animated Series for [adult swim]. The show is Executive Produced by Carl Jones (The Boondocks) and will take BLACK DYNAMITE to a new level.

Cinecast Episode 171 – Spiffed Up Stuffy Stuff

 
Waxing (on, and off) nostagic this week with glossy summer product. Two remakes from the heady cheese days of the 1980s dominated the multiplex last weekend: Will Smith Jr. in The Karate Kid and flying tanks in The A-Team. Contrary to what we say in the show it does not get very “spoilerific” at all; if you are over 30, these two films are more or less beyond that (your mileage may vary). Gamble has a quick take on the upcoming weekends behemoth Toy Story 3, from the perspective of someone (perhaps the only one) who didn’t like Toy Story 2. Kurt talks at length on The Duplass’ brother’s Cyrus which also opens this weekend in a few cities. Furthermore, in an ongoing behind-the-curve look at pop-cultural phenomenon LOST, Kurt continues to moan about the bad drama and stalling nature of the narrative, but does praise the heck out of the Season 2 closer and the Season 3 opener (there are *spoilers* ahoy in that conversation, be warned). Rounding out the show are DVD picks, a few other tangents – anyone up for Chinese cultural imperialism, or Communism vs. Fascism in 80s trash? How to parse TV awards shows? Ron Mann’s choice of having comic book authors read lengthy portions of their books on screen? Fashion Fan Boys? Oh, and another round of the piracy, file sharing, copyright debate ensues.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


To download the show directly, paste the following URL into your favorite downloader:
http://rowthree.com/audio/cinecast_10/episode_171.mp3

ALTERNATIVE (no music track):
http://rowthree.com/audio/cinecast_10/episode_171-alt.mp3

 
 
 
Full show notes are under the seats…
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