Thursday, October 30, 2008


All 130 Yuen Biao films should be watched by everyone, now, and this is one of the best places to start.

Plot: Like his universally acclaimed Prodigal Son, Dreadnaught is an action comedy involving the traditional Chinese theatre. Yuen plays 'Mousy', a milquetoast laundryman who has unwittingly practiced his grandfather's Eagle Claw kung fu technique every day when wringing and hanging the laundry. He is, however, too cowardly to collect payment from the locals, much to the chagrin of his big sister. So it's up to one of Wong Fei Hung's pupils, Fong (Leung Kar Yan, sans beard for once!) to encourage him to stand up for himself. Meanwhile, twitching psychotic White Tiger is on the lam and ends up in town. He teams up with Wong Fei Hung's rivals in an attempt to destroy them.

Fights: This is Yuen Woo Ping at his most inventive: no wire work; just superb, inventive choreography. Highlights include a fight between the incredible Kwan Tak Hing (who plays Wong Fei Hung in his older, respected physician years) and a belligerent patient, whom he cures whilst fighting; and later a demon tailor (the always menacing Fung Hak-On) who is desperate to slice Wong up, but ends up unintentionally measuring him for a suit as Wong evades his attacks. Leung Kar Yan shows minimal chops as he is in a cameo, but at least we get a good dragon race sequence (a la Young Master) that involves him. Also his end fight with the 'twin demons' in the opera house is creepy and pretty original.

Since Yuen's character is no fighter to start with, he is limited to two fights; but both excellent: a chase with White Tiger that is equal to Project A, and the final showdown which also includes Wong Fei Hung: Mousy's laundry technique is used to overcome White Tiger's 'shooting sleeve' and the acrobatics are outstanding.

Trivia: The 'Kung fu laundry' scene was copied (almost identically) by Chris O'Donnell in 'Batman & Robin'

Version watched: HKL print

Overall: 4.5 out of 5, superior pacing and comedy, with inventive acrobatic fights

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Chocolate (2008)

Thai producer
Prachya Pinkaew's Ong Bak and semi-remake Tom Yum Goong were a huge breath of fresh air for kung fu cinema in the last 5 years: while Jackie Chan continues to produce pockets of brilliance, Jet Li focussed on wire work and wuxia, which to me is a massive waste of his talents, with only Fearless getting back to his wushu roots. Prachya Pinkaew's near-suicidal stunt team have built a reputation for gleefully hurling themselves into real danger: few kicks or punches are pulled, and the scenery becomes a part of the action again in a way not seen since Jackie Chan's heyday. The brilliant (if uncharasmatic) Tony Jaa was the first star to emerge from this formula, with brutal Muay Thai techniques showcasing more unusual kicks (especially knee strikes) and elbows. The plots to his movies are paper-thin (baddies steal something, Tony gets it back), so it's good to see that with Chocolate the formula has been extended to something more complex, and with a different debutante: 22-year old female JeeYa Janin.

The plot: An ex-mob mother is ostracised due to her love of a rival yakuza. He returns to Japan, leaving her to care for their autistic daughter (Zin) who is brought up in a Muay Thai training school. When mother falls ill , Zin and her tubby chum discover an accounts book of people that owe her mother money - they do not realise this a loan shark book from her mob days. Zin has copied the Muay Thai techniques from the school, and avidly consumes Tony Jaa's movies and violent Playstation games.

And so cue a series of fights with the debtors - all of which are set in different factories: ice, packing, meat. Finally the old boss and his transvestite(!) gang get wind of this and we end with two showdowns: one involving the returned Yakuza dad in a restaurant, and then spilling out to the city for the final showdown.

And she's called Chocolate because she collects M&M's.

Treatment: Now, this has caused quite a split among the Kung Fu forums. As mentioned, Jin is autistic (apologies if this is a genaralisation) and her mother is struck with (presumably) leukemia. In my opinion both conditions are treated respectfully, and (as far as I can see) realistically. Zin's mood swings and perception of the world are well realised. Of course, this doesn't have the depth of, say, "The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night" or "Rain Man", but its both good enough for this context and touching in its own right. The point that she could not possibly be such a good fighter without formal training is, well, pointless: Ong Bak and Tom Yun Goong are equally ludicrous but just as exciting.

Fights: Again, controversial: some believe these to be slickly edited to make JeeYa Janin look better, and that she is merely flexible/acrobatic with no real technique. I completely disagree, I've tried some of the kicking combos she pulls off and have got nowhere close. The combos are varied and imaginative, making very good use of kicks/elbows/ad-hoc weapons as well as the scenery. The stunts are superb; especially in the end fight on the side of a building (Harold Lloyd would be proud). Only let down is the swordplay sequence, which is just as weak as the one in Kill Bill.

The outtakes show several meaty smacks in the face, the stunt team really earned their keep.

Overall: 4.5.out of 5, another modern day classic from Thailand with plenty of action, and nice to see that plot complexity is improving.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Return of the Kung Fu Dragon

Plot: Idyllic Phoenix island is ruled by a kindly Emperor and his three Generals, masters of Sunshine Kung Fu. This idyll is shattered by Magic Fox (or at least he should be called Magic Fox), a White Haired Fox so foxy that he has his own attendant beard porter. He takes over the island castle, and the king's wife and daughter are protected by a magic mist that transports them to a nearby mountain and shrouds them for 19 years. This appears to be ample time for our Polly (for it is she) to develop a Jack Douglas-type twitch in her kicking leg, which also invokes a horse-clopping noise. After much betrayal, mistaken identity, andludicrously irritating companions, we come to the training where Polly is taught a form of chess boxing. This style overcomes Magic Fox, and all is well again.

White-Haired Foxiness: 10/10 for style (the aforementioned beard porter), 4/10 for fighting

Pretty...lazy, to be honest. It doesn't seem to know whether it wants to go for punch-and-block or shapes, and you get a pretty lacklustre mix of the two. Polly can do way better than this (I think there are maybe six kicks in the whole film). The climactic fight with Magic Fox at least features the gimic of being performed on gravel paths over hot rock (well, they pretend it's hot, at least) using Polly's new found chess boxing, but it's really too little, too late.

Overall: 1.5 kicks out of 5, some fun but the intentional humour is weak and the fights are pretty lazy as a whole. Worth watching once for Polly on occasional form.