The Butcher, The Chef, and the Swordsman Review

March 30, 2011

No one in my town was excited about The Butcher, The Chef, and the Swordsman. I’m basing this on the fact that I was the only one in the theater when I went to see it. The idea of a private screening is a shame though, as parts of the film are so delightfully psychedelic, that I would love to see how a casual audience would have reacted to it.

Not exactly an anthology film, the slightly confusing story of The Butcher, The Chef, and the Swordsmen starts with a butcher named Chopper (Liu Xiaoye) who falls for Madam Mei (Kitty Zhang), a woman living in the House of a Thousand Flowers. Chopper attempt to get Mei is interrupted by the swordsman Big Beard (Senggerenqin) and is ejected from the brothel. Chopper meets a stranger who carries a cleaver who tells Chopper a story of about a famous restaurant known for it’s glorious eight-course meals. Only the dwarf chef (Mi Dan) knows how to prepare these meals and takes on an apprentice (Ando Masanobu) to teach his secrets. The apprentice however, has a secret vengeful agenda, that comes to place as the chef tells his apprentice the story about Fat Tang and how he came into possession of the special cleaver.

Butcher, Chef and the Swordsmen plot
Fig 1. Plot structure of the The Butcher, The Chef, and the Swordsmen

Take that Inception! We don’t have dream within a dream but a story within a story within a story. The plot in the film is scattered with the most interesting one being the second cooking themed story involving the chef. I can’t recall the last time that food has looked so good on film. The singularly-named director Wureshan’s background in television commercials must have had some part in this, but I’d also give praise to the Polish DP Michal Tywonluk.

I can’t exactly say who I would recommend this film too. If you are in it just for the action, the fight scenes are an editing mess with so much quick cutting it’s not easy to make out what’s exactly happening…and when you do it’s usually not as interesting. On the other hand, we have humorous scenes that are filmed exactly like a Street Fighter II battle complete with health bars. Wureshan says that he’s mostly influenced by American cinema, but the story in this film feels very Chinese while the energy and pacing feels more Hong Kong oriented. The acting in the film has it’s fair share of mugging and genuine talent, but it suits the story. Oh, and Kitty Zhang on the poster is a bit of a tease.

Kitty Zhang in The Butcher, The Chef, and the Swordsman

Yes, her rose-printed head is the most prominent one on the poster, but she’s hardly in this. Not that it’s a problem as I throughly had a good time watching The Butcher, The Chef, and the Swordsmen but I can’t say I’m rushing out to see it again or grab it on DVD. If what I mentioned above peaks your interest than I encourage you to seek it out. I’m definitely up for whatever Wuershan will release next time. Maybe cut it down to one story next time?


Drive Angry Review

March 14, 2011

Nicolas Cage is Milton, an escapee from Hell who’s on a mission to find his child in the dirty south. Along with a waitress named Piper (Amber Heard), Milton seeks out a Satanic cult who will perform a child sacrificing ritual in three days. Three groups are trying to stop Milton: the police, the cult itself, and a mysterious man known as The Accountant who is attempting to get Milton to return to the firey depths. Sounds like a deliriously fun mess but a quick look at director Patrick Lussier’s resume sums up what got my goat in Drive Angry.

Film posters of Patrick Lussier's films

Doing mostly sequels and remakes isn’t going to put you on my “Directors To Watch” list unfortunately. All the problems I associate with his filmography come to fruition in Drive Angry: it feels derivative of films with similar themes that were more fresh the first time around. It’s a schlocky story no doubt, but I’m a firm believer that even a simple story can be made interesting if the right talent are involved to inject it with excitement. In Drive Angry, we have the schlock set-up but none of the right ingredients that make this rocket take off.

Nicolas Cage as the lead of Milton doesn’t work. Cage must be a bit embarrassed from the wave of parodies of his over-the-top antics in films like The Wicker Man as he is totally sleep walking through his role of Milton and comes off as bored. Milton isn’t very interesting to begin with. Being undead, Milton is invincible against gunfire and other such punishment. That’s exciting when the character is a villain like The Terminator or Michael Myers, but as a hero, you never feel like Milton’s in any great danger. Perhaps if his main rival played by Billy Burke didn’t resemble a youthful Neil Young, he’d have a foe worthy to come back from the dead to fight with.

On a trivial note, Cage’s haircut is hidden on the poster. I think it’s because he’s beginning to resemble Chad Kroeger from Nickelback. They used to really look like each other in Con Air in the early 2000s, but I’m guessing that things have come full circle for 2011.

Nicolas Cage Drive Angry Chad Kroeger

The action scenes are nothing to write home about. One scene involving Piper jumping between two speedy vehicles begins to build some excitement, but the chase ends as soon as that jump happens. Another scene involving a tanker truck crash is ruined by having the tanker become a blob of ugly CG as soon as it takes flight. I’m not anti-CG, but I prefer it when directors use it creatively to make the impossible happen. Good examples include the gonzo car chase in Wanted or the liquid metal T-1000 in Terminator 2. In Drive Angry, you just feel cheated seeing this blog of computer graphics leaping into the air. The last scene worth noting involves a gun fight between Milton and a host of baddies. While the shootout happens, Milton is having sex (fully clothed) with an anonymous woman who is stark naked! This might work if this film were more like Crank, but it does not fit the context of Cage’s brooding character as I have no idea why these two decide to fool around in bed. I can’t shake the feeling of theft either, as a similar sex-n’-shootin’ scene already happened a few years ago in Shoot ‘Em Up. Were you hoping to make Shoot ‘Em Up 2 at one point Lussier?

Despite a lack of storytelling skill or quality action, Drive Angry does boast some actors trying who try to resurrect a dead script. Amber Heard does tries very hard to give her character a bit of grit and William Fichtner’s role of the Accountant also manages to give the film a bit of a punch that it desperately needs. Fichtner chews on the scenery every time he appears. If these two were given a script worthy of their effort they put forth, I’d be able to give Drive Angry a recommendation. Otherwise, I’d suggest Drag Me to Hell and Grindhouse for a better slice of supernatural-tinged schlock.


Miami Connection Overview

March 12, 2011

Miami Connection is a 1980s martial arts film that has recently been touring North American theaters in hopes of finding a cult following for lovers of bad cinema. I mean really, really, bad cinema. The Troll 2 and The Room variety. It features competent martial artists who are stuck in a mess of incompetent filming, acting, writing, music, lighting…anything that generally makes a good movie. The trailer gives a good idea of what to expect.

If anyone knows of an original trailer, I’d love to see it!

This trailer only scratches the surface of the multiple problems with this film. The story starts in Miami at night when a cocaine deal goes bad. (Going bad meaning that a team of black-cloaked ninjas swarms a gang of thugs and steals their coke). The ninja leader Yashito (Si Y Jo), takes the drugs to his buyer named Jeff (William Eagle). They meet at a local nightclub where unbeknown to Jeff, his sister Jane (Kathy Collier) is a singing with a band called Dragon Sound.

The members of Dragon Sound are all martial artists, including John who is romantically linked with one of the singers named Jane. The members of Dragon Sound are confronted by rival bands (who are jealous of Dragon Sounds gigs and popularity) and Jeff’s gang (who doesn’t like John dating his sister Jane). After various unsuccessful fights between the gangs and Dragon Sound, Jeff accidentally falls to his death. This brings Yashito’s attention to Dragon Sound who sends his squad of ninjas to finish them off.

Cheesy doesn’t begin describe Miami Connection. It crosses the boders of cheese into always fascinating “what were they thinking?” territory. For starters, the protagonists (who all look about 20 years too old to be in college dorm buddies) have no charisma. Zip. Nil. Even your average Disney protagonist have a bit of an edge to them, but these guys make Shirley Temple feel like Gordon Liu. When they aren’t giving martial arts a bad name, Dragon Sound also manage to ruin rock music. Their “Against the Ninja” song in the trailer will rekindle everyone’s memories of the worst qualities usually associated with 1980s music. And I’m not even going talk about the second song: “Friends Forever“.

Another scene that goes on forever showcases a martial arts demonstration. Not a fight, just a mock demonstration which includes moves that involve people’s noses are grabbed between toes. Why is this in the movie!? I’ve concluded that it’s in the film to pad the running time or to promote YK Kim’s training dojos. What’s most unfortunate about Miami Connection is that during the fight scenes, all the actors are obviously competent martial artists who do show off some sort of skill. But most of these fight scenes take place at night and are poorly lit and edited which ruins any genuine enjoyment of them. I do not want to spoil too much more, but I must mention my favourite scene that involves the ninjas arriving to ambush Dragon Sound on motorcycles (!). As soon John spots them, he flatly delivers the line “Aw no…Ninjas!”.

For me, bad films have to have one continuous over the top level of awfulness to make them enjoyable. Miami Connection begins to lose it’s shtick when the goof ball dialog becomes minimal and the story fails to go into the crazy improbability of let’s say…Ninja III: The Domination. I would still recommend watching it if for the good amount of cheap laughs as it’s still a minor, but still pretty amazing piece of bad cinema.

Miami Connection VHS cover

Whenever I see a film as bad as Miami Connection, I get obsessed with it. How was it made? Where did it go wrong? Who’s to blame? I’ve done a little research about the production of the film. And it mostly surrounds the actor, writer and co-director YK Kim.

In the early 1980s YK Kim created one of the largest Taekwondo organizations in the world. He had schools in eight locations including one in my current home: Ottawa, Canada. In 1985, Kim was approached by the Korean filmmaker Woo-sang Park who had the film’s basic plot in mind after watching Kim being interviewed about one of his Taekwondo books. Park had previously made the mysteriously ninja-less film known as Ninja Turf. Kim was not an avid film fan and only watched about two or three movies a year, but agreed to to help make the film. For the production staff, Kim hired many of his martial arts students who either had a role in the movie or contributed props and facilities. Kim also put forth his own money (over one-million dollars) to aid the film’s production. Co-producer William Young said the total budget of the film ran ”seven figures, a couple times over.” Miami Connection never had a written script as Woo-sang Park fed lines to actors before filming.

On watching a private screening of Miami Connection, Kim said the film made him feel physically sick. On trying to sell the film to Cannes International Film Festival, he was told “It isn’t a movie”. Down but not out, Kim read eight books on film making and by 1987, he had re shot most of the film including changing movie’s ending and adding new dialogue. The film received negative reviews from critics, and Kim did not expect the film to turn a profit. ”I know I lost money in the movie, but I do not regret it at all…I’m very proud to have finished it. I can work hard to pay off my debts. That’s a piece of cake.”

YK Kim has not made another film since Miami ConnectionMiami Connection as after a jarringly bloody battle finishes the film, we are left with this quote.

I still believe in your vision YK Kim! For more fun, check out his new career as a “modern philosopher” which is as humorous as his film.

Source 1 | Source 2.


Gallants DVD Review

March 5, 2011

Despite what my other reviews suggest, I do enjoy action films. Shocking, right? I’m even willing to step outside the safety boundaries of John Woo and Jackie Chan films to get my Hong Kong fix. Gallants fits this mold. It doesn’t have brand name directors and the leads are Bruce Leung and Kuan Tai Chen. Not exactly young pups, as they are mostly known for their seventies and eighties films. Having them as the leads, it’s easy to assume the film will be wallowing in nostalgia. The trailer certainly reeks of the seventies (not that I’m complaining!)

I recommend letting this music play as you browse the blog for maximum effect.

Gallants thankfully goes beyond parodies and tributes. The story involves Cheung (Wong You Nam) who works at a real estate company where he is sent to settle a property development dispute in an old teahouse. On arriving, Cheung finds that it was was previously a kung-fu dojo until Master Law (Teddy Robin Kwan) had fallen into a coma. The tea house is operated by Dragon (Chen Kuan-tai) and Tiger (Bruce Leung), two of Master Law’s original students. One night, the tea house is broken into which causes Master Law to be sent to a hospital. Master Law awakens in the hospital and does not realize how many years have gone by, and tries to rejuvenate the dojo.

Gallants is a bit of a mixed bag but is a generally satisfying experience. The action works and the comedy is never trying, but the film is hindered by it’s low budget and occasionally wandering script. What saves it is good action scenes (including a great final showdown involving former Bruce Lee impersonator Bruce Leung), occasionally funny gags and the best part: Teddy Kwan. As soon as Kwan’s character springs to life, he steals the show and even brings an emotional weight to the film out of nowhere. Want to know how much drama he brings to the table?
Listen to this music from the DVDs menu screen.

I do not recommend letting this music play as you browse the blog.

Even the DVD menu music knows it’s all about him and the feeling of getting older. Outside the film, the DVD is as classy as imports get. A nice looking package that includes a making-of feature that involves behind the scenes footage and interviews (all thankfully subtitled in English). The video is widescreen and anamorphic and features subtitles that are Engrish free. You get the lovely trailer and uhh…a music video by MC Jin. Remember when he was in the Ruff Ryders? I can assume in 20 years, Hong Kong will have a remake of Gallants that will feature an aging MC Jin waking up from a coma to resurrect Hong Kong Hip Hop. Let’s hope this blog doesn’t still exist at that point.


1990: The Bronx Warriors Review

February 25, 2011

I’m fascinated by director Enzo G. Castellari. Unlike the average Italian genre directors who usually stuck to giallo and horror films, Robert Mr. Castellari attempted to make several action films in his career and seems to be quite proud of his work.

Depends on the movie indeed. My first experience in watching 1990: The Bronx Warriors was at the Babylon Nightclub on mute. Top Obviously, I was only really able to grasp what was going on after a theatrical showing. In this film, cheap nba jerseys Castillari cuts a nice slice of rip-off pie that swipes ideas from The Warriors and Escape From New York. The film is set in the futuristic year of 1990, where the Bronx is declared a no man’s land and is overrun with violent gangs. Anne (Stefania Girolami), the daughter of the president of the Manhattan Corporation, runs away from home to the Bronx where she runs into Trash (Mark Gregory) Fairview the leader of the gang called Riders. The President sends an ex-cop named Hammer to retrieve Anne and wipe out the gangs.

I’m okay with plot rips-offs I’m fine with as long there are interesting things happening cinematically to carry Look the film somewhere new. There are some wholesale jerseys in The Bronx Warriors, but it’s all amazingly miscalculated. Our unique gangs include a roller 2016 skating gang (in full knee pads and helmets), tap-dancing gangs that tap-dance while they fight and whose make-up would give Visage a wholesale mlb jerseys run for their money. And least interesting is a gang of pseudo-zombies who are never really explained. This would be fine and dandy if they were all convincing bad-asses right? Outside the American actors (specifically Fred Williamson), the acting and dubbing of the cast induces more giggles than awe, especially Trash who shows no charisma in lead role at all. What kind of name is ‘Trash’ anyhow? It’s hard to get behind someone named Trash. Not that the others have better ones.

Try to guess who’s who before rolling over!

Wasn’t that great Neikos fun? It’s like you known these guys for years now! So can Trash, Review Ice, Hammer and Hot Dog fight? The action scenes do not cut it. For battles, they are wholesale nfl jerseys mostly restricted to unrealistic fist fights and blunt object beatings that resemble swashbuckling films more than street brawls. I can not recommend the film unless you are totally in love with trash cinema, especially the Italia-brand: Bad dialog, rip-off story line, and bad ideas. This one would have it all if the action scenes were thought out a bit more and could at least reach the level of enjoyably-bad.