The Empress And The Warriors

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Ching Siu-tung is known to most for his exquisite Chinese Ghost Story trilogy as well as a popular choreographer in numerous worldwide hits, but he had not had a hit as a director for many years. The Empress And The Warriors blends light-wuxia elements within a more authentic historical context and sees epic battle scenes and martial arts set pieces wrapped around a simple love triangle and the tale of a woman trying to restore peace between warring nations. There isn’t anything particularly original in the plot or the way it is told, but for both those new to this type of cinema and veterans there is plenty to enjoy.

Kelly Chan gives a great performance as the young ruler of one of China’s many kingdoms, forced into rulership after her father is killed and under the tender guidance of Donnie Yen as the fearsome General Murong. Chan isn’t the typical lilting beauty, and is willing to throw herself headlong into danger and warfare to protect her nation, and it is during one of these encounters that she is gravely injured and later ‘rescued’ by Leon Lai as Duan – a loner who leaves deep in a forest unwilling to get involved with the problems of mankind. As she heals her body, her mind wishes to return to fight for her kingdom, but her heart yearns for the peaceful life with Duan. Naturally war finds its way to her and more swordplay ensues.

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As expected, we have artful, breathless action with superb choreography, but we also get a stellar cast, beautiful shots, and powerful soundtrack. As mentioned above, the plot isn’t too convoluted – a mixture of standard revenge and romance which should not alienate any newcomers, and the action is swift without being overblown – veterans will enjoy seeing Donnie Yen suiting up and recognise that it’s a return to form for the director. Not a masterpiece by any means, but still a strong action movie with plenty of heart.

Have you caught this ‘little known in the West’ movie? How do you think it holds up against other martial arts epics? Let us know in the comments!

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Triangle: Hark Tsui/Ringo Lam

Triangle

Amazon’s blurb, and indeed the dvd case itself, state that three masters of Hong Kong Cinema come together to create a masterpiece. 3 Masters yes, but what they have created is hardly a masterpiece. It is a complex but messy film following three storylines, each with three characters, intertwined by the main plot involving the three central characters. From the outset this is difficult to follow, with relationships between all three groups overlapping at different points until the final section where everything comes together. The ending is exciting enough, but ultimately is not satisfying and i expected more action throughout. However it is not an action movie, more a drama and the packaging seems a little misleading.

Triangle follows three ‘almost friends’, losers who want a big break to escape their respective lives. One works for the mafia and owes money- they are threatening to kill him and his mother. Another owns an antique shop, but wants a big score, and the final is married to a semi-psychotic woman who is having an affair, torn by memories of a past love. One dark night, while they discuss get rich quick schemes, a mysterious old man appears and tells them about a box which may solve all their problems. With no other option, the three men attempt to claim the box for themselves, but hot on their heels are the cops and the mafia.

The central characters could have been more interesting if the story had been told in a less haphazard way. Perhaps this was intentional, to reflect the chaos of their lives, but it menas we have less sympathy for them and cannot relate as well as we might. There are lots of funny moments, the usual quirky moments and offbeat minor characters to spice things up, but sometimes these do not work and only complicate things further. The acting is all sound from the ensamble cast- with lesser actors this would have collapsed. The final twenty minutes is the highlight, with all factions coming together and the chaos, comedy and action reaching a peak, meaning we don’t know who to trust, who will get out alive, or who will get out with what they came for. One for fans of the directors, or those curious to expand their asian collection

Shanghai Kiss

Shanghai Kiss

I am not a fan of romantic comedies. The genre as a whole as it stands at the moment offers no intelligence or excitement, and says absolutely nothing to me about my life. The main flaw with most, aside from being naturally predictable and bland, is that they are neither romantic or funny. With any genre of course there are exceptions- Amelie, Enchanted and to a lesser extent Heartbreakers are of recent note. Those films were exceptions though, because they offered something exceptional: Audrey Tautou flawlessly charming performance in Amelie; lots of Disney in-jokes in Enchanted; a darker side in Heartbreakers. Shanghai Kiss manages to stand above the mire too- the exceptions being Ken Leung and the fact that the film shifts between LA and China. For me, being a fan Chinese film this came as a plus- it gives a refreshing break from the usuall saccharine streets of the US. Ken Leung is an actor i could, and do watch for hours, thanks to Lost and Saw.

The film doesn’t stray too far outside the rom-com realms of normality- the characters are typical, and the plot and situation are not too surprising. Leung’s character is bored with life in LA, and when a tragic event calls him back to his homeland, he begins a typical journey of self discovery, questioning what and who he wants. His main love interests are- LA: the usual pretty, wholesome teenage blonde American stereotype, and Shanghai: the usual mysterious, exotic Asian type who brings his life into doubt. Although these are typical characters, the performances are strong enough not to make them bland or annoying. Some of the cinematography is stunning and offers something different for the genre, and although it is slow moving with few big laughs, and doesn’t at any point try to impress any laboured humour on you; the speed of the film if anything reflects Leung’s meandering life.

Overall, not too bad as romantic comedies go, with some good performances and ideas, but perhaps still to slow, soft, and light for the taste of some people.

As always, feel free to leave your thoughts on the movie- have you seen it?

Game Of Death

Game Of Death

Structurally and historically a mess, Lee’s final film had the potential to be the greatest ever martial arts movie. Unfortunately, Lee died well before filming was completed, and his vision was never finished. However, the producers managed to finish the film by taking what had already been filmed, mostly fight scenes, and make a story round it, one based roughly on the many pages of scripts and ideas that Lee had left behind. As Lee’s original story was so complex though, and probably only he could have made it the way it should have been, the finished product is a mere shadow of the what was in Lee’s head. The story sees Lee’s character, a famous martial artist and actor faking his own death so that he can uncover the corruption of those who had previously tried to kill him. Not even his girlfriend is aware that his death was a fake. As the film progresses, Lee stalks the bad guys, his girlfriend gets suspicious, and Lee reaches a pagoda where he must overcome the trials of each floor in order to reach the top, and fulfill his revenge. Lee’s original script focused much more on the Pagoda scenes, with each floor showcasing a different martial arts style that Lee must overcome, using his own ‘way of no way’ style. With each floor completed, he would achieve a higher level of spiritual and fighting skill. The fight scenes are easily some of the best ever filmed, skillfully thought out, and beautifully directed, and no-one since has been able to capture the technique, skill, or intensity of Lee. The other fight scenes are also good, including the motorcycle scene, and Shower room fight. If anyone has any of the Hong Kong Legends DVDs they feature many deleted scenes, the Game of Death one being particularly good- The glass house fight is a classic. The actors brought in to finish shooting are unsure of themselves, which comes across on camera, but this is understandable considering they were finishing a film starring a man who had died years before. The music is excellent, the story messy, but the fights stand out. The overall tone of the film is dark and ominous, as Lee’s character is almost killed mysteriously, then fakes his own death, and the ending is not conclusive. Footage of Lee’s own funeral is used, which both adds to the tone and leaves a bad taste. However, it is a vital piece of work for any fan of Lee and should be remembered for its ideas, if not for how it eventually turned out to be.

 This 2 disc special edition contains many special features, and as with the other Lee films in this collection, they are all necessary for fans. There are deleted scenes and documentaries- but the real draw is the 40 minute cut of the film’s fight scenes as Lee originally planned them. A tragic glimpse at what could have been.

As always, feel free to leave any comments and thoughts on the movie- Could this have been Lee’s masterpiece?

Police Story 3: Stop In The Name Of The Law!

This Chop Foey film continues the story of Superchop Stevie Chan played by Marital Arts Master Jack Chan. The film stars the 4 most famous Chinese actors ever – Chan, Maggie Cheung as his wife, Michelle Yoyo as his boss, and Butch Wiffy as the bad guy. Chan’s Uncle decides to send him to mainland China to infiltrate a Drug Baron called Samedi. Chan must join the group by pretending to be a prisoner and getting it on with Samedi’s left leg man known as Clive. He gains Clive’s trust by busting out of prison together. This scene featured over 500 real prisoners having a riot- Chan fought his way through every one of them and later made sure they returned to their cells after warning them that he would return to finish them off if they tried to make a run for freedom or a run for escape. It is a big excitement scene with lots of kicks and stuff, and one part sees Chan using another inmate as a bat, swinging his way happily through hordes of murderers, rapists, and tax avoiders.

Later Clive takes Chan to Samedi’s Lair where they have some 7-Up and a few games of monopoly. Chan wins (using the boot) and Samedi huffs, killing a few henchmen. Chan thinks he may be in2deep this time. They go to free Samedi’s mistress, Lady Tibet, who has special bank codes but is on death row for walking backwards down a dark alley. Eventually Samedi sees Chan is really a cop (he should have stopped wearing his sheriff’s badge) and tries to kill him. There is a tragic event and Chan goes all Bruce Lee, killing all the bad guys in a ferocious 40 minute finale over roads, rooftops, rivers, racecourses, using cars, carts, copters, capers, and cartwheels. It is packed full of actions and is lovely to watch, especially with a few cans of cant.

Best Scene. When Chan kills a bad guy with a monopoly board, quipping ‘DO NOT PASS GO, SILLY BAD MAN HEAD!’

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