LEGENDARY ASSASSIN (2008) review

  With Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Donnie Yen approaching their fifties or even sixties, and looking to extend their acting ability as a way of staying relevant (which all three did superbly), the world of movie martial arts has been in dire need of a new beacon. For a while it looked like Tony Jaa was the heir apparent, with films like Ong Bak 1 & 2 and Tom Yum Goong displaying his amazing abilities. But his output has been both surprisingly sparse and strangely compromised by shady ties with the Thaï mob. But one other name deserves mention, that of Jacky Wu Jing. Wu was spotted in the mid-90’s by the great Yuen Woo Ping, but apart from two minor films, he didn’t do much in that decade to get himself known. But at the beginning of the noughties, he started cropping up in a variety of supporting roles where he more often than not played the “silent but deadly henchman with a strange hairstyle”. Films such as Wilson Yip’s S.P.L. (where his alley fight against Donnie Yen became an instant classic), Benny Chan’s Invisible Target and Dennis Law’s Fatal Move firmly put him on the map, but in order to really leave a mark, he would have to become a leading man, and Legendary Assassin was in 2008 his second attempt at that (the first one being Dennis Law’s Fatal Contact in 2006).

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ROYAL WARRIORS (aka IN THE LINE OF DUTY 2) (1986) review

Royal Warriors, also known as In The Line Of Duty, was at the time Michelle Yeoh’s second fully-fledged film role (after bit parts in two Sammo Hung films) ; the first one had been Yes Madam!, where she had more of a supporting role next to Cynthia Rothrock, but had one or two big fight scenes. So it’s safe to say Royal Warriors, where Yeoh has top-billing, was the real introduction to her talent(s). Directed by David Chung (who would direct Yeoh once again the following year in Magnificent Warriors), Royal Warriors is about a cop (Yeoh), an Japanese ex-cop (Hiroyuki Sanada) and an air security agent (Michael Wong) who together foil the hijacking of a plane, by killing the two persons who attempted it. As a result, two blood brothers of the killed hijackers swear revenge on the ‘heroic trio’. The plot is fairly simple, but the film does a number of things much better than a lot of Hong Kong action films of the time (like Tiger Cage 2, for instance).

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WHAT PRICE SURVIVAL (1994) review

The one-armed sworsman is a fixture of Chinese cinema, from the original Shaw Brothers trilogy directed by Chang Cheh and starring first Wang Yu, then David Chiang, to countless crossovers (including Zatoichi vs. the One-armed Swordsman) and variants (for instance The One-armed Swordsmen or The One-armed Swordswoman). But by 1994, when Daniel Lee’s What Price Survival was released, it had all but disappeared, due in part to the fact it had been done to death, and in part to the fact that Wu Xia Pan’s and costumed epics in general weren’t that popular anymore during the eighties.

What Price Survival is Daniel Lee’s very first film and, as he wrote it, one of his most personal. Its setting is contemporary, but in a timeless way by which people still carry swords. Visually, as with any Daniel Lee film (save for the odious Black Mask), it is a treat : gorgeous snowy landscape captured by Lee’s DP of choice Tony Cheung, dozens of men in black long coats wielding swords, two lovers playfully fighting through lonely rays of light in an abandoned mansion… Narratively however, the struggle for coherence begins.

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TIGER CAGE 2 (1990) review

In the eighties, director and martial arts choreographing god Yuen Woo Ping was trying to push forward in the limelight one of his most gifted disciples, Donnie Yen. First, Yen worked for Yuen as a stuntman, then the pair collaborated on three urban action films under the banner of the ill-fated D&B Films Company: Tiger Cage, In The Line Of Duty 4 and Tiger Cage 2. The latter only has a vague thematic kinship to Tiger Cage: it is not properly speaking a sequel, as Donnie Yen doesn’t even play the same character. Or does he? The truth is, in those late-eighties thrillers Yen always played more or less the same character: a tough, naively macho cop, with an almost childish inability to properly communicate with women. Here he is surrounded with a fairly interesting cast including Shaw Brothers legend Lo Lieh, future Once Upon A Time In China star Rosamund Kwan, the highest-paid actress in Hong Kong (at the time) Carol “Do-Do” Cheung, as well as the Michelle Yeoh-wannabe Cynthia Khan and Robin Shou of Mortal Kombat fame.

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