TAI CHI II (1996) review

3jfKvELNyO1Ye3lzUI6kd7Wyuu8

Billed as a sequel of sorts to the great Tai Chi Master, Tai Chi II is actually not only narratively unrelated to the illustrious Jet Li/Michelle Yeoh pair-up (also directed by Yuen Woo-Ping), but also spiritually disconnected from it : there’s not much Tai Chi in it. It tells of Jackie, a young Tai Chi disciple (ok, that’s the main Tai Chi connection) who spends his time pissing off his parents (a likeable pairing of Yu Hai and Sibelle Hu in her last film role), a beautiful girl’s (gorgeous Christy Chung) current boyfriend (Mark Cheng), and more dangerously, a gang of opium smugglers led by an angry Gweilo (Darren Shahlavi) who spouts such penetratingly written lines as “Damn you devil Chinaman”. It is notable for being Yuen Woo-Ping last feature film as a director before a 14-year hiatus that ended with 2010’s True Legend. But it is also the feature film debut of Jacky Wu Jing, a national Wushu champion who once seemed destined to be the next Jet Li, but through some bad career management has for now ended up a very reliable and likeable martial arts supporting actor instead (he was recently superb in Benny Chan’s Shaolin).

(more…)

DRUNKEN MONKEY (2004) review

When Liu Chia-Liang, the legendary director/actor of the Shaw Brothers’ heyday, directed Drunken Monkey in 2003, he was coming off a nearly ten-year hiatus from movies, having last directed (and butted heads with) Jackie Chan in the indisputable classic Drunken Master II. He was 67 years-old and the kind of costumed martial arts movie he had been famous for (like My Young Auntie, Mad Monkey Kung Fu or The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, to name only a few) had been out of fashion for a long time. Indeed, thrillers about undercover cops or cgi-heavy action extravaganzas were all the rage, and Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung Kam-Bo were working mostly overseas. Sure, Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou’s Hero had triumphed domestically as well as internationally, but they represented painterly wire-fu rather than the more down-to-earth, blistering brand of kung fu that Liu had been famous for.

(more…)

MY YOUNG AUNTIE (1981) review

My Young Auntie was the breakout film for Kara Hui, a young actress with a background in ballet, who was legendary director Liu Chia Liang’s protégé and, some say, his mistress. Gossip aside, she was indeed quite a sensation, earning the Hong Kong Film Award for best actress in this award show’s first ever edition in 1981. And you can see why: cute and graceful, sprightly and playful, she was – and is – also a fine actress capable of immediately earning the public’s sympathies. In a way, she was superseded shortly after by Michelle Yeoh, a more striking performer in every way ; still, Hui remains a unique presence to this day, having made a bit of a comeback after a string of obscure films in the nineties. Directed by Liu Chia Liang, My Young Auntie has Kara Hui play a young woman of modest origins, who is married by a kind and wealthy old man who fears his fortune could go to his cruel brother after his impending death. After he dies, Hui meets his nephew (played by the director himself) and his son (Hsiao Hao), a hyperactive student. She then has to impose herself as the family’s dean (although she’s younger than everyone), while fending off the cruel brother’s attempts to reclaim the inheritance.

(more…)

BORN TO DEFENSE (1986) review

Most major martial arts actors, like Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen or Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, have often adopted a very hands-on approach in the creative process by action-directing and/or directing, and even sometimes writing, the films they starred in. Jet Li on the other hand has mostly stuck to starring, except in the case of Born To Defense, which he directed, choreographed and starred in in 1986, after The Shaolin Temple (1982) made him an overnight sensation.

In the film, Li (looking like he’s barely out of puberty) plays Jet, a World War II hero who comes homes only to find American soldiers bullying his people. After they destroy his rickshaw, he finds himself penniless and agrees to serve as a sparring partner, or rather glorified punching-bag, for the soldiers. Things escalate when a towering American (Kurt Roland Peterson) challenges Jet, to destructive results. As you can see from this brief synopsis, Born To Defense doesn’t have much of a plot. After an introductory war scene, and a few minutes dedicated to Jet’s cautiously optimistic homecoming, the film devolves into a repetitive succession of scenes featuring either Jet fighting an American, or Americans abusing Jet and his friends.

(more…)

STAR RUNNER (2003) review

  Bond (Vanness Wu) is a high-school student whose real passion is Muay Thai kickboxing, which he practices at a club headed by Lau (Gordon Liu). His ambition is to enter the prestigious Star Runner competition, and he devotes himself to that goal at the expense of his school work. Having to take Summer classes, he meets the young Korean teacher Mei Chiu (Kim Hyun-Joo), and soon enough they’re in love. But as his focus moves from training for the competition to romancing Mei Chiu, someone else is chosen by Lau to represent the club in the competition, and Bond is expelled for having resisted this decision. But not all is lost as Bill (Max Mok), a washed-out former martial arts champion, takes him under his wing and teaches him to incorporate elements from other martial arts into his muay Thai. Together they form a team and enter the Star Runner competition, with an eye on challenging Tank (Andy On), the reigning champion.

(more…)

BLADE OF FURY (1993) review

  Blade of Fury is a peculiar film within the abundant filmography of Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, the director : it was an assignment he took to help Lo Wei, the once-prominent director of two Bruce Lee films, Big Boss and Fist of Fury. Now fallen from grace, Lo Wei needed a well-established director badly to step up and direct this Wu Xia Pan during the early-nineties craze for the costumed epics. In came Sammo Hung, but serendipitously, the plot for Blade of Fury is said to have deeply echoed Hung’s personal beliefs, which he seldom got to express in film, given the often lighter tone of his other films as director. In the film, the legendary Ti Lung plays Tan Szu-Tung a government official travelling to Beijing with his disciple (Cynthia Khan), where advancement awaits him. On the road he meets Wong Wu, a lone swordsman (Yeung Fan), who helps him thwart a bandit raid. It’s the beginning of a friendship that will lead to the two joining forces to try and implement reforms in imperial China.

(more…)