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Black Panther (2018)

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Marvel’s King of Wakanda returns after his appearance in Captain America: Civil War and this structured storyline and driven performances by the cast make this a definitely must in Marvel’s filmography.

T’Challa is the former Prince of Wakanda who is known as the Black Panther. A week after his father’s death from an explosion at the United Nations, it is time for T’Challa to become the new King of Wakanda. The decision is supported by all by M’Baku of the Jibari Tribe, who have been in exile since the first Black Panther was unleashed. When M’Baku challenges T’Challa for the throne, T’Challa defeats his opponent and shows respect to the exiled warrior.

Meanwhile, arms dealer Ulysses Klaue has stolen Wakanda’s most important resource, vibranium, and plans to use it for weapons. He finds a worthy ally in Erik Killmonger, a former soldier who secretly has ties to Wakanda. When Erik’s true intentions are revealed, T’Challa begins to question everything he has experienced in his life when a dark secret is revealed. To make matters worse, CIA agent Everett Ross has learned first hand that Wakanda is not the third-world country he long thought it to be. When the throne of Wakanda is threatened, T’Challa will make a decision that will not only change his life but perhaps that of Wakanda as well.

When the character of Black Panther, first created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in an issue of The Fantastic Four, appeared in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, fans were excited about the appearance of the King of Wakanda. Nearly two years later, under the direction and co-writing of Creed and Fruitvale Station helmer Ryan Coogler, Black Panther has his solo film and it is more than just a typical superhero film.

The film is a welcome meshing of Marvel superhero, emotional tense drama, and life as seen in perhaps, a film from Nigeria (Nollywood), Ghana (Walakiwood), and the likes. Having experienced seeing some of these African films, the film does bring a bit of that element when it comes seeing village life. The film’s emotional content which forms the basis of the story is amazingly great as this is not just a superhero film, but the story of a young king who comes across a series of challenges and obstacles to make his kingdom run right. Even more so, the story does add a dash of perhaps Shakespeare in terms of a dark revelation that could risk the entire kingdom and cause it to fall on its knees.

Chadwick Boseman returns to the role of T’Challa and he does a great job as both an embittered superhero and a king who is trying to keep his kingdom intact when a mysterious newcomer comes to the hidden nation with the most evil intentions. And surprisingly, Michael B. Jordan proves to be that villain in the form of Erik Killmonger, a former military officer who goes from mercenary to something far more worse than anticipated. Lupita Nyogo’o and Danai Gurira provide great support as Nakia, T’Challa’s ex turned spy for the country and lead general and military mentor Okoye.

Letitia Wright’s Shuri proves to be a great little sister to our hero and she and Boseman play each other off so well and Shuri is definitely a Marvel version of James Bond character “Q”, with her technical experience. Daniel Kaluuya, fresh off his star-making turn in Get Out and Winston Duke make the best of their characters of W’Kabi and M’Baku, the latter of who would be known in the comics world as Man-Ape. Angela Bassett also makes the most most of her time as Ramonda, the mother of our King with John Kani appearing in some Lion King-inspired sequences as T’Chaka, the ill-fated father of our hero (see Captain America: Civil War to see the fate of T’Chaka). Forest Whitaker brings some of the tension and spirituality behind the hero as local shaman

How about the action of the film? In a word, spectacular! Despite a few beats of extreme close-ups, the action is generally great. Not only does Black Panther look great in his action sequences with Boseman undergoing training in martial arts by The Protector 2’s Marrese Crump for his fight scenes, there are some great combat sequences, not only from Boseman, but Danai Gurira. Where in The Walking Dead, she wields a katana against the undead, in this film, she proves to be quite handy with the spear. In what can be considered a noble move, whenever T’Challa is challenged to combat, he is forced to lose his power in order to make the challenges fair and this is to clearly see if T’Challa is worthy of keeping the mantle of Black Panther.

So how does Black Panther fare in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? It holds amazingly well as it proves to be more than just a superhero film. Don’t expect anything involving any Infinity stones but expect this as a cool-down before the impending Infinity War. Definitely one of the best in the MCU.

WFG RATING: A

A Marvel Studios production. Director: Ryan Coogler. Producer: Kevin Feige. Writers: Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole; based on the characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Cinematography: Rachel Morrison. Editing: Michael P. Shawver and Debbie Berman.

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyogo’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Letitia Wright, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Andy Serkis, Forest Whitaker, John Kani, Sterling K. Brown, Denzel Whitaker, Florence Kalumba, David S. Lee

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I Come in Peace (1990)

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Dolph Lundgren faces off against an intergalactic terror in this sci-fi-action mashup that holds even today.

Houston detective Jack Caine is on an assignment to ensure that his undercover partner Ray Turner, makes a deal with the White Boys criminal organization, led by Victor Manning. However, when Caine stops two thugs from robbing a liquor store, Turner’s cover is blown and he is killed by Manning. However, it is after Manning arrives that a mysterious figure arrives. The mysterious figure is an alien who has arrived and decimates most the White Boys gang and steals their drug shipment. Caine finds his partner dead and decides to wage a one-man war against Manning, much to the chagrin of his superiors.

Caine, however, is forced to work with FBI agent Smith on the assignment involving the murders of the criminal organization as well as a series of murders that have plagued Houston. Innocent people are found with drugs in their systems bearing puncture wounds on their foreheads. Caine discovers that the mysterious alien who has arrived is the one responsible. This comes after a bounty hunter from the same planet is mortally wounded while tracking the bad alien down. Caine and Smith decide to stop the deadly alien before more people are viciously murdered.

After his turn as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV and playing He-Man in Masters of the Universe, Dolph Lundgren meshes sci-fi and action with this cult classic of a Houston cop sent to face off against an alien being who is revealed to be a drug dealer on his planet. While the idea is farfetched, one can’t help but appreciate the film because this would become a breakout role for German powerhouse Matthias Hues, fresh off his debut role as Yuri the Russian in No Retreat, No Surrender II in 1987.

The film is just as Lundgren’s as it is Hues, who looks menacing as the alien who forces heroin in his victims before puncturing their heads to take their brain fluid, which is the drug of choice from his home planet. The 6’5” Hues also has a forearm weapon that shoots deadly circular saw blades that can only be attracted by magnets. His opening scene alone in which he just arrives brings a sense of scares with his look and one-liner which reflects the title, and his opening action involves nearly decimating an entire organization with his blades sans the boss himself.

The film also sets up the buddy action film, in which Lundgren’s no-nonsense unorthodox Caine and Brian Benben’s by-the-book FBI agent Smith. Both actors work well together, playing the “good cop, bad cop” motif to a tee. The two even attempt a role switch which only doesn’t work well only because Benben at times, can be quite comic fodder, which would go on to work well on the long-running HBO series Dream On from 1990 to 1996. However, generally, they work well together.

I Come in Peace definitely lives up to its cult classic status, thanks in part to Dolph Lundgren and Brian Benben’s buddy-action chemistry and a breakout performance by Matthias Hues as the villain.

WFG RATING: B+

A Vision PDG film. Director: Craig R. Baxley. Producer: Jeff Young. Writers: Jonathan Tylor and Leonard Maas Jr. Cinematography: Mark Irwin. Editing: Mark Helfrich.

Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Brian Benben, Betsy Brantley, Matthias Hues, Jay Bilas, Jim Haynie, David Ackroyd, Sherman Howard, Sam Anderson, Mark Lowenthal, Michael J. Pollard, Jesse Vint, Alex Morris.

Jarhead 3: The Siege (2016)

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The U.S. Embassy is under attack and the Marines must come to the rescue in this in-name third installment of the military action films.

Marine Cpl. Evan Albright has been stationed to a U.S. embassy in the Middle East. Every day, the embassy is met with protestors. Albright, known to be a loose cannon, does his best to get along with his fellow Marines and stay in the gunnery sergeant’s good graces. However, one day, he notices a mysterious figure watching them from below. When Albright may think he knows the identity, he goes straight to Ambassador Cahill, thus face the wrath of both Gunny Raines and RSO Kraus.

However, Albright’s suspicions prove to be correct when the embassy is suddenly attacked by a band of insurgents led by renowned terrorist Khaled Al-Asiri, who was thought to have been killed in a drone strike just two weeks prior. The Marines set out to protect both the Ambassador and a local, Jamal, who is revealed to be Khaled’s brother, having turned over a new leaf. With the body count rising, Albright, Raines, and the rest of the squad must do whatever it takes to protect the embassy and take down the insurgent group.

The Jarhead series is quite interesting as the original film was based on a true story. Capitalizing on their “straight to DVD” sequels, Universal’s 1440 brand brought us Jarhead 2: Field of Fire, an unrelated sequel and then comes this third film, which only has a small relation to the original with Dennis Haysbert making an extended cameo as Major Lincoln. However, Lincoln is just on the back burner for the most part.

Charlie Weber makes for a good lead as Albright, the troubled hero who joined the Marines due to his affected childhood. Albright feels the world is against him but he has something to prove to himself, he tends to be at times reckless, causing the ire of both superiors and fellow Marines, with Scott Adkins in a non-martial arts role as Gunnery Sgt. Raines. Adkins pulls off a Midwestern or Southern American accent as Raines, who takes nothing from no one and proves to be a worthy leader when it comes to action. British actress Sasha Jackson is quite well as Olivia, the assistant of the Ambassador whose life is in jeopardy when the insurgents attack. She also plays a vital part of the mission in two key scenes. As for Hadrian Howard, he pulls it off nicely as the lead terrorist with Charlie de Melo playing a vital role in Jamal, the reformed brother of lead terrorist.

While the action mainly consists of bullets flying and explosions, there is a major scene involving fisticuffs. The scene involves Albright and fellow Marine Lopez, played by Erik Valdez, going hand-to-hand with two insurgents in the ambassador’s residence. It is a nicely shot close quarters action sequence with stunts and beats of comic relief despite Dante Basco’s government worker and blogger Blake being the real comic relief of the film.

Jarhead 3: The Siege is what you would expect from a straight-to-DVD military action film. Some great sequences, some one-liners, and a pretty good cast including Charlie Weber and Scott Adkins leading the way. If you can get past the fact Adkins doesn’t showcase his fight skills and brings more of a straight edge acting role with some gunfire, then you will enjoy this film.

WFG RATING: B

A Universal 1440 Entertainment production. Director: William Kaufman. Producers: Jeffrey Bach and Phillip J. Roth. Writers: Chad Law and Michael D. Weiss. Cinematography: Mark Rutledge. Editing: John Gilbert.

Cast: Charlie Weber, Scott Adkins, Tom Ainsley, Sasha Jackson, Dennis Haysbert, Stephen Hogan, Erik Valdez, Dante Basco, Hadrian Howard, Charlie de Melo, Joe Corigall, Romeo Miller.

47 Ronin (2013)

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The famous Japanese legend is given a supernatural twist in Carl Rinsch’s story. Despite the film being one of the biggest flops of 2013, the film is actually worth seeing.

In the times of feudal Japan, a young teen is found in the forests of Ako. Thought to be a demon, he is revealed to be half-Japanese, half-Caucasian. Lord Asano, the ruler of Ako, offers the boy shelter and takes him in. As the boy, to be known as Kai, grows, he begins to fall for Mika, the daughter of Lord Asano. However, the romance is verboten due to their differences in both class and race.

Years later, Kai assists Asano’s loyal samurai Oishi in a forest where he believes there is trouble awaiting. Lo and behold, a demon arrives and while many of Asano’s men are hurt in the battle, Kai is able to defeat the demon. Kai has pledged his loyalty to both Lord Asano and Oishi yet still has love for Mika. Meanwhile, Lord Asano is given a visit by a rival, Lord Kira and the Shogun. When a competition is to be held by Asano samurai Yasuno and a behemoth member of Kira’s samurai, Yasuno is out of commission. Kai takes Yasuno’s place and brings disgrace to the house of Asano when his cover is blown. Instead of death, he is beaten mercilessly and even more shocking, Asano learns of the love his daughter has for Kai and shuns her as a result.

Lord Kira, hellbent on taking over Japan, relies on a witch to set up Asano for a trap. Using her powers, the witch puts Asano under a spell to think Kira is raping Mika. However, when Asano attacks Kira, Kira is revealed to be alone and as a result, the Shogun decides that instead of execution, he offers Asano to regain honor by seppuku, a ritualistic art of suicide. The Shogun declares Oishi and the rest of the men ronin (masterless samurai). Kai is also banished. However, Oishi is forced into a pit in an attempt to have his will broken. While Kira wants Mika to marry him, the Shogun gives Mika a one-year grievance period before the wedding. The ronin are also forbidden from seeking revenge for their lord.

A year has passed and Oishi is free from the pit Lord Kira had imprisoned him in. However, instead of having his will broken, Oishi has had only one thing in mind: revenge. With help from his son Chikara, Oishi is set to bring the ronin back together and because of his honor, he decides to get Kai, who has been sold to slavery and forced to fight in the pits of a pirate-like area. What Oishi soon learns is that Kai is no ordinary faithful halfbreed.  He has a dark secret, one that could help the ronin get their revenge on Lord Kira and bring honor back to the fallen House of Asano.

The story of the 47 Ronin is one of the most legendary stories to come out of Japan.  The story is that Lord Asano’s house was fallen to the evil Lord Kira. The loyal samurai of Asano were banished and became ronin. Oishi led the ronin to attack Lord Kira in order to regain honor to the house of Asano. Starting out as a kabuki play, it became one of the first jidai-geki (period films) in the 1910’s and 1920’s. There have been many variations of the story brought to films but none like this. Chris Morgan, writer of the last four installments of the Fast and Furious installments (including next year’s number seven), and Hossein Amini wrote the screenplay based on an idea by Morgan and Walter Hamada. The idea was to take the legendary story and add a twist involving the supernatural. Interestingly enough, the main legend is still there and the supernatural elements involving witchcraft and demons add a nice touch to the story.

Many are wondering what Keanu Reeves is doing in the film. Well, his central protagonist of Kai was created for this version of the film and he proves to be vital to the overall story. However, it is clear that while he is given top billing, this is definitely Reeves and Hiroyuki Sanada’s movie. The veteran Sanada gives out a wonderful performance as the ronin leader Oishi, who overcomes a year of imprisonment with one goal in mind. It is clearly Oishi who is the real leader and star of the film, with Kai as his most trusted ally.

While there are those who will complain that the virtually all Japanese cast speak English, one can only guess is to bring a style similar to those of graphic novels and to attract an international audience, the Japanese cast speak English. However, the ensemble Japanese cast is top-notch in their roles. Tadanobu Asano plays it very sly as the evil Lord Kira while Battle Royale and One Missed Call actress Ko Shibasaki does quite well as Mika, the lovelorn daughter of Asano who is in love with Reeves’ Kai. One can’t help but love Rinko Kikuchi. She is definitely a great talent who gives out one of her best performances here as the evil witch who uses her powers to help Lord Kira achieve his power. She even has a lustful inclination towards Kira, forcing her Mika into some sort of submission with dangerous threats. In his limited screen time, legendary Cary Tagawa makes an impact as the Shogun while one has to give kudos to debut actor Takato Yonemoto in his role of the likable Basho. The former hospital worker and film buff plays one of those characters one would just like to pal around with.

The action scenes are nicely done as well. Where to begin in terms of the hard work the cast pulls off in the frenetic action? Tsuyoshi Abe, a veteran martial artist and stuntman, served as sword master while the collaborating team of Nikki Berwick, Stephen Oyoung, and Zhang Peng served as the film’s fight choreographers. These three are definitely veterans in the stunt field and their hard work pays off here. One can’t help but praise Reeves into the hard work he tends to bring when it comes to action scenes. As if he does well performing unarmed combat in films, he pulls off some handy swordwork with his fellow cast members and the battle sequences get better as the film progresses, leading into a nicely shot final battle sequence.

So the question is if the film is decent, why did it flop? Perhaps bad timing a lack of decent promotion?  Whatever the case is, this reviewer recommends a rental and possible buy for Carl Rinsch’s 47 Ronin. It is not that bad at all with the supernatural elements adding a nice touch to a legendary story with a stellar ensemble cast. Even more, one cannot underestimate the hard work of Keanu Reeves in terms of performing action. Maybe after all these years, has he finally found his calling? Only time will tell. Nevertheless, definitely rent this film.

WFG RATING: B+

Universal Pictures presents a Mid Atlantic Films/H2F Entertainment/MPC/Stuber Productions film. Director: Carl Rinsch. Producers: Eric McLeod and Pamela Abdy. Writers: Chris Morgan and Hosseini Amini; story by Morgan and Walter Hamada. Cinematography: John Mathieson. Editing: Stuart Baird.

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Rinko Kikuchi, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Tadanobu Asano, Min Tanaka, Jin Akanishi, Masayoshi Haneda, Hiroshi Sogabe, Takato Yonemoto, Hiroshi Yamada, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Togo Igawa.

2047: Virtual Revolution (2017)

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A bounty hunter finds himself torn between his job and the fate of the world in this sci-fi film that blends elements from Blade Runner and The Matrix.

It is the year 2047. Ninety percent of the world has been known as the Connected. The Connected are the citizens who find their daily live in a virtual reality. Nash is a local bounty hunter who also is one of the Connected. His virtual world comes in the form of medieval times. On top of that, Nash is still reeling for the death of his girlfriend Helena. When Nash learns that there have been deaths in the virtual world, he has been assigned to find out who is responsible.

The ones responsible are a band known as the Necromancers. It is unclear why the Necromancers are killing in the virtual world but Synternis Corporation wants answers. As Nash begins his investigation, he finds himself beaten on some occasions but after successfully getting rid of some of the Necromancers. However, when a chance encounter with the leader of the Necromancers reveals something he never imagined, Nash finds himself conflicted between what truth is real and what truth is fiction. His decision may change the fate of the world as we know it.

From the mind of Guy Roger-Duvert comes this film that is highly influenced by sci-fi classics with a dash of French-flavored sci-fi epics that in its 92 minute running time starts out rather confusing but soon finds its meshing in the second half of the film. The film starts out like Blade Runner with the character of Nash, played by Mike Dopud, narrating the tale about a revolution but begins with how 90% of the world is now living through virtual reality and it has caused the non-connected to live virtually like thugs.

Jane Badler, star of the hit 80’s mini-series V, stars as Dina, Nash’s handler and leader of the Synternis Company, who just wants one thing and that’s to ensure Nash does his job. It may seem at first that Nash’s only ally in the investigation is hacker Morel, played by French actor Maximillien Poullein while Kaya Blocksage plays the leader of the Necromancers, whose confrontation with Nash leads to our hero having to make a choice.

The virtual reality sequences are nicely handled and provide a lot of action.  Nash’s world of virtual reality is that of medieval hero Swal, played by martial artist and stuntman Emilien De Falco but in one pivotal scene, he does take the avatar of a female futuristic warrior named Kate, played by Petra Silander. The lines between the real world and virtual reality do bring a sense of confusion at times but the second half helps smooth things over and brings quite an interesting ending.

2047: Virtual Revolution is not a bad indie sci-fi, but is clearly a middle of the road film. If you can get past the confusion of the real world and virtual reality, then stick around for the second half to get a full understanding of the film.

WFG RATING: C+

Wild Eye Releasing presents a Lidderdalei production. Director: Guy-Roger Duvert. Producer: Guy-Roger Duvert. Writer: Guy-Roger Duvert. Cinematography: Cyril Bron. Editing: Sylvain Franchet.

Cast: Mike Dopud, Jane Badler, Jochen Hägele, Maximillien Poullein, Kaya Blacksage, Petra Silander, Emilien De Falco, Nicolas Van Beveren.

Accident Man (2018)

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Scott Adkins brings his dream project to life in this exciting adaptation of a British comic book from the director of Savage Dog.

Mike Fallon is an assassin. He specializes in making his hits look like fatal accidents. After performing a job, he goes to a local pub to let the tension out by beating up locals then goes to the Oasis, a pub where he meets with fellow assassins. Together, they work for Big Ray, who works with Milton, a shady handler from New York. When Mike is given a new job to take out an accountant, he learns of a possible set up after he is sent to pick up the money.

However, Mike has learned that his ex-girlfriend Beth has died. At the funeral, he is confronted by Charlie, Beth’s girlfriend who reveals that at the time of her death, she was pregnant with Mike’s baby. Mike soon learns that the job may have been committed by one of his fellow assassins. As Mike wages war while looking for answers, he learns that Beth’s death has resulted from something major and while he has broken protocol amongst his fellow assassins, he is ready to avenge Beth’s death at all costs.

If you don’t know by now, Scott Adkins loves keeping busy by doing what he loves most: making movies and kicking serious tail. The first of an astonishing six films set for release this year alone, Adkins has made it clear that this film is a dream project. Based on Pat Mills and Tony Skinner, Adkins co-wrote the film with Stu Small and it seems like the central role of Mike Fallon is truly a natural role for the British martial arts ace.

As Fallon, Adkins provides both the narration and gets to showcase both his action and acting skills as the titular character. Many may see this as perhaps a martial arts John Wick, but that’s far from the case as the original comic was created in the 1990’s. Adkins is great here as someone who loves his job and goes as far as after performing a hit, goes to a pub just for kicks to start a fight. However, he can’t stop thinking about the woman he loved, the only one he ever loved, and how they were great until he let his ego get the best of him, forcing her into the arms of another woman, played by Twilight Saga’s Ashley Greene, who doesn’t bring much to the table and has limited screen time but serves as a catalyst for Mike’s mission of revenge.

The introduction of the other assassins in the film comes right off of a comic book. Oh right, this film is based on one. While some of the supporting characters are lesser known, they still tend to make an impact. For example, Carnage Cliff, played by Ross O’Hennessy, is an axe murderer who’s not the brightest star in the galaxy with Stephen Donald’s Poison Pete, living up to his name, doesn’t really talk much but growls a lot. Perry Benson’s Finicky Fred provides the much needed comic relief of the film as he comes up with inventive ways to do the deed and with that comes a reference to our hero in terms of the latest “invention”.

However, the big threats come in the form of Ray Park, Michael Jai White, and Amy Johnston. Park, best known to Star Wars fans as Darth Maul, and White play ex-military mercenaries who when they are not kicking butt or killing, bicker about which Special Forces unit reigns supreme. In other words, they are the “married” couple of the assassins with Johnston’s Jane the Ripper being a true femme fatale, even seen in her flashback when she began training in kenjutsu under a cameo-appearing Roger Yuan.

What is very interesting about the film is that the entire second act is actually a flashback sequence of how Mike becomes an assassin. While it may seem unorthodox to have this set in the middle of the film and running a good 15-20 minutes of the film nonetheless, it serves as a cool down, an intermission if you will before things go full speed ahead and that’s when the fun really begins. Ray Stevenson, as Big Ray, turns it up as Mike’s mentor and boss, who finds himself in a situation he never imagined with David Paymer as the foil who for one reason or another, tends to rile Mike up knowing he can’t do much about it because there are three rules at the Oasis: no spitting, no killing, and no beating up Milton, Paymer’s character.

Tim Man, Adkins’ go to guy as of late for fight choreography, once again delivers some intense martial arts action sequences. Adkins gets to throw down first against some throwaway goons at a local pub and then takes on Man himself, who makes a cameo appearance as a biker for the Triads. However, it is when Adkins takes on Park, White, and Johnston that stand out. The two-on-one fight between Adkins and the blue gi-sporting Park and White is quite fun to watch. And it is safe to say despite taking the lead in both Lady Bloodfight and Female Fight Club, Johnston gets to really show what she is capable of in a feature film as this showcases some of her best work in the action department yet.

Accident Man is definitely a wild ride and great action film that may make one wonder why there would be a lengthy flashback sequence in the middle of the film. Just think of that as an intermission to the really fun stuff! One of Scott Adkins’ best films yet.

WFG RATING: A-

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents a LINK Entertainment production in association with Six Demon Films. Director: Jesse V. Johnson. Producers: Craig Baumgarten, Scott Adkins, Ben Jacques, and Erik Kritzer. Writers: Stu Small and Scott Adkins; based on the Toxic! Comic by Pat Mills and Tony Skinner. Cinematography: Duane McClunie. Editing: Matthew Lorentz.

Cast: Scott Adkins, Ray Stevenson, David Paymer, Ashley Greene, Ray Park, Michael Jai White, Amy Johnston, Perry Benson, Nick Moran, Ross O’Hennessey, Stephen Donald, Tim Man, Brooke Johnston.

Kill Order (2017)

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A young teen learns who he really is in this Canadian sci-fi martial arts action film.

David is a high school student plagued by constant nightmares. His uncle attempts to help him calm his nerves. However, on one fateful day, David’s life changes forever. During class, a SWAT team swarms in demanding to look for David. David soon finds himself transforming as his eyes turn bright blue and singlehandedly destroys all members of the team. David begins to learn that he is not who he thinks he is.

David learns that his uncle is not his uncle but rather Dr. Andre Cheng, who was involved in an experiment that took young orphans and turned them into fighting machines. The quest slowly leads David to the corporation where he was located before he learned that Andre has protected him from the corporate heads, who want to use the fighters for their own evil intentions. When those close to David begin to become victims of the corporation, David uses his fighting skills to fend himself while there is possible dissention within the company when one of their own has created the perfect killing machine without authorization.

A well-blended of science fiction and martial arts action, director James Mark makes his (no pun intended) mark on the action genre with this nicely shot meshing of experimentation and sci-fi action. While the plot is something done quite a bit in the genre, the film’s highlight is truly the action, which features some awesome martial arts action performed by the director’s brother, lead actor Chris Mark.

Chris Mark truly makes the most of his role as David, the high school student who has a target on his back because of the reality involving his nightmarish visions. With his performance, Chris Mark is truly an action star on the rise. He’s got the skills and from his performance as this troubled youngster, he’s got the chops. David is the definition of a literal tortured soul whose visions of a burning body triggers his transformation into a martial arts fighting machine, signified by the bright blue in his eyes.

Daniel Park makes the most of his role as Andre, David’s “uncle”, as he does all he can to protect him while Denis Akiyama’s Fujitaka, the head of the Saisei Corporation, perfects the mastermind role of the character who orders nearly everyone with the exception of the mysterious Yin, who has gone against protocol and sends his own team to follow David while he has created a perfect killing machine without authorization from Fujitaka. Reuben Langdon, a staple of action films as a stuntman and video game performer, spends nearly all of the film speaking in Japanese for his role of Fujitaka’s assistant but sadly, no action for this renowned stunt performer. In his case, his acting chops make up for it.

The action is truly a highlight of the film. A well-made combination of wirework and exciting martial arts action is sure to help solidify this film as one of the top action films of the year. For his first action sequence, Chris gets to take on a SWAT-like team led by a cameo appearing Alain Moussi, the star of Kickboxer: Vengeance and the recently released Kickboxer: Retaliation. The rest of the action shows Chris’ agility in performing both the hard stunt work in terms of falls and his frenetic martial arts skills, which seem to derive from taekwondo, tricking, and some nice swordwork and staff work in some cases.

Kill Order is a solid sci-fi martial arts film that should bring up Chris Mark’s name as one of the top new names in action cinema. The finale does leave room for a sequel and for this reviewer, one can hope that it does happen and we get to see Chris Mark in action again very soon.

WFG RATING: B+

RJLE Films and Raven Banner Entertainment present an Iron Bay Film and Media and 2X Entertainment Inc. production. Director: James Mark. Producer: Byron Kent Wong. Writer: James Mark. Cinematography: Justin Lovell. Editing: James Mark.

Cast: Chris Mark, Daniel Park, Denis Akiyama, Melee Hutton, Jessica Clement, Jason Gosbee, Reuben Langdon, Alain Moussi.

RLJE Films will release the film on DVD, VOD, and Digital HD on February 6, 2018.

Karate Warrior 4 (1992)

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The second Karate Warrior, Larry Jones, is back and he finds a new opponent but also finds some internal conflict in this fourth installment of the Karate Kid-ripoff series.

Larry Jones has become popular with the local college crowd after defeating resident bully Joe Carson in a karate match. Larry is also in a stable relationship with Sammy. Joe, still reeling from the defeat, has hatched a plan to get back at Larry. To do so, he plans to use Larry’s sister Julie, who meets new student Bruce. Bruce is actually in cahoots with Joe. When Julie learns of Bruce’s ruse, she is visibly upset and Larry comes to her rescue.

When Larry learns Julie has left home to seek refuge with his estranged father, at first Larry is not happy. However, Larry soon accepts it and when he wins a motorcycle race against Bruce, Joe is more than mad. Larry eventually makes up with his father and Julie, but Joe hatches a plan that involves stealing from Mr. Masura’s club and nearly poisoning Larry when Bruce challenges Larry to a karate match. When Larry ends up in the hospital, will he be able to make it to the karate match on time?

There are good movies, bad movies, really bad movies, and movies that are so bad that you can’t take off your eyes off of it. This fourth installment of the Fabrizio de Angelis-directed ripoff of The Karate Kid seems to be more in the latter two if anything. It seems like de Angelis, still using the “Larry Ludman” pseudonym must have heard about Roger Corman’s Bloodfist films and perhaps attempted to ‘”compete” with the B-movie king, only let’s face it. Corman’s films are so much better.

The original Karate Warrior was the debut of young Kim Rossi Stuart and the second film, which would mark Stuart’s last in the series, was a bit of an improvement in terms of its action. Then, the inevitable happened. A new actor was cast as a new character and he’s given the clichéd teen getting bullied and as a result, learns karate from a Japanese master who in this case is Masura, who runs a restaurant. The only connection with this whole series is the “golden kimono”, which was passed on from original warrior Anthony to newcomer Larry, played by Ron Williams, who reprises his role from the original.

However, if there is one thing smart that de Angelis has done, it is that he has wisely connected the third to final installments, which makes up the Larry Jones arc of the series. The film truly has that teen B-movie feel without all the usual adult matter that made the teen movies of the 80’s what it was, but it still has that cheesy feeling, but add of course, karate to the mix. They involve the kids having fun at the beach and dealing with bullies.

Williams still remains laughable when it comes to both his training and even climactic fight, in which this time he takes on Edward Wan, who plays the character of Bruce, hired by the previous film’s big bad bully Joe, once again played by Christopher Alan. Of course, Joe results to having to act like he’s the big bad all over the place and only shows his skills in one scene where he’s bullying kids during a volleyball game. In a nod to perhaps another de Angelis-directed martial arts teen flick, Karate Rock, David Warbeck plays Larry’s estranged father, with whom he reunites with at the most crucial moment.

Karate Warrior 4 is just another expected “so bad it’s good” teen martial arts film from the mind of Fabrizio de Angelis. At least he connects this with its previous entry, but it’s still ultimately laughable.

WFG RATING: D+

A Fulvia Film s.r.l. production. Director: Fabrizio de Angelis. Producer: Fabrizio de Angelis. Writers: Dardetto Sachetti and Olga Pehar. Cinematography: Nick Gemser. Editing: Adriano Tagliavia.

Cast: Ron Williams, Dorian D. Field, Christopher Alan, Edward Wan, Scotty Daffy, Katy Johnson, Lauren Russell, Richard Goon, William Rothmell.

Black Mask 2: City of Masks (2002)

blackmask2 Hong-kong-icon

Six years after Jet Li played a superpowered hero, a new star’s attempt to breakout is marred by a ridiculous story and a very mixed bag of action courtesy of the duo behind the original film.

Kan Fung, involved in the same experiment that once created the 701 Squad, has decided to escape and look for a cure. However, as he searches for a clue, he fights crime donning a black mask and is known simply as Black Mask. The higher ups sends someone of its equal, Lang, to find Black Mask and bring him back. However, for the new Black Mask, that’s just a tip of the iceberg as he may have found a cure and finds the scientist responsible, Dr. Marco Leung.

Meanwhile, King, a major wrestling promoter in Bangkok, decides to make a spectacular show with some of his top performers. However, he has been working in cahoots with Moloch, a scientist who has been using animal DNA to fuse with human DNA. When one of the performers, Iguana, slowly transforms into the half-human/half-iguana monster, Black Mask shows up in time and even goes as far as attempt to help Iguana, who rather sacrifices himself to the chagrin of his girlfriend, Chameleon, who blames Black Mask for the whole ordeal. Soon Black Mask learns that before he can cure himself, he must stop not only Moloch and the wrestlers, but his old arch enemy Lang as well.

When Jet Li’s 1996 original Black Mask was a hit in Hong Kong and performed decently in its 1999 U.S. run, Tsui Hark decided to make a sequel. While the likes of Louis Koo and Raymond Wong (not to be confused with the star/producer of the All’s Well Ends Well films) were in the running for the role of the new Black Mask, Tsui found his new lead in American-born Taiwanese actor Andy On, who had virtually zero martial arts experience when he was cast but as you can see by his films today, On is one of this generation’s top names in Hong Kong’s action cinema.

The problem with this sequel is that On seems to have been cast at the time only for his looks and athleticism, and yet with having to train for the film, he is still given a limited performance in the action department. It seems like On is relegated more to just bouncing off walls with the occasional kick. It is truly a far cry not just from Jet Li in the original, but even compared to his action performances today, it is clear that On suffered from “rookie syndrome”. Thankfully, after this film, On underwent great martial arts training and soon broke out with roles in Star Runner and New Police Story and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Why screenwriters Jeff Black and Charles Cain decide to use professional wrestling as an output for our hero will definitely never be answered, but the film’s use of international stars does help a little. Rob Van Dam already has had experience in Hong Kong films, with his roles in two 1990’s Seasonal Film productions, Superfights and Bloodmoon. For his third and final Hong Kong production, Van Dam perhaps has the most experience in that department but like On, is relegated to more CGI effects and not enough groundwork. Traci Lords, Oris Erhuero, and Robert Mukes try to make the most of their roles as the other infected wrestlers with future Leatherface actor Andrew Bryniarski, with doubling by co-star Silvio Simac, makes the most of his limited appearance as the first infected star, Iguana.

Yuen Woo-Ping’s action on this film is a far disappointment from the original. However, it is fair to say that the climactic action sequence, in which Black Mask has his final confrontation with the wrestlers and his old nemesis Lang, played by another action hero today, Scott Adkins, is truly the best action of the entire film. While the CGI may tend to mar some of it, On does find himself more grounded facing the likes of the aforementioned Silvio Simac, who unleashes his nice kicking skills against On before On takes on Adkins, who gives the viewers a taste of what he will unleash just two years later in his breakout role in 2003’s Special Forces.

If you like both Andy On and Scott Adkins, two great action stars in today’s films, then check out Black Mask 2: City of Masks to see where these two started and get ready for a long-awaited reunion as these two will be together in the upcoming film Twilight Zodiac. However, don’t expect anything grand as this is truly an inferior sequel. But don’t discredit On and Adkins as they made the most of it.

WFG RATING: D

China Star Entertainment presents a One Hundred Years of Film Ltd. Production in association with Film Workshop. Director: Tsui Hark. Producer: Tsui Hark. Writers: Jeff Black and Charles Cain; story by Tsui Hark, Laurent Courtiaud, and Julien Carbon. Cinematography: Horace Wong and William Yim. Editing Marco Mak and Angie Lam.

Cast: Andy On, Scott Adkins, Tobin Bell, Jon Polito, Rob Van Dam, Traci Lords, Oris Erhuero, Robert Mukes, Sean Marquette, Teresa Herrera, Michael Bailey Smith, Silvio Simac, Blacky Ko, Terence Yin, Andrew Bryniarski.

Black Mask (1996)

blackmask Hong-kong-icon

Jet Li becomes a superpowered one-man army in this 90’s sci-fi/martial arts hybrid that holds quite well even today.

Tsui Chik was once part of an experiment that made him lose all the pain nerves in his body. He became an elite member of a government assassination group known as the 701 Squad. However, grown tired of killing, Tsui makes his escape and has hidden for over a year. Now living a quiet life as a library worker, Tsui’s life changes forever when he learns that his former comrades have gone rogue, killing various gang leaders in an effort to steal information from the police themselves.

When Tsui discovers what is going on, he soon puts on a black mask and begins using his skills once again to take on his old rivals. This causes conflict with local detective Shek Wai-Ho, Tsui’s entrusted friend, who soon learns the identity of the “black mask”. Things go from bad to worse when Yeuk Laan, a current member of the 701 Squad recognizes the “black mask” as well and informs the leader of the team, Commander Hung. With the help of co-worker Tracy, Tsui Chik plans to take down his old team before it’s too late.

Since his debut as a 19-year old in The Shaolin Temple, it was clear that Jet Li was destined for superstardom and that was solidified with his breakout performance as the real life folk hero Wong Fei-Hung in Once Upon a Time in China. Li reunites with that film’s director, Tsui Hark, who serves as co-writer and producer of this modern day sci-fi/action film that takes a somewhat clichéd idea and adds the sci-fi twist of our hero being superpowered due to an experiment.

Jet Li truly has that charisma that works with an action role. Clearly having the skills, Li also possesses some pretty good action skills as someone who has a range of emotions. When we first see him as the library worker Tsui, he has that happy go lucky vibe that should being smiles to viewers. Of course, when it comes to action, viewers want Li to deliver and deliver he does. Despite the action filled prologue that fills the opening credits, a fun quick brawl has Li taking on some potential robbers in a restroom shortly after Sean Lau’s detective beats them up and walks out.

As for Lau, his character of Detective Shek is both a hard-boiled type and somewhat understanding for the most part when it comes to why Tsui doesn’t want to fight. However, when Shek learns Tsui’s secret, he realizes he may be dealing with a vigilante and while Tsui wants to help, some decisions our hero make doesn’t bode well with Shek and thus, leads to an all-out brawl in a cemetery. Many today don’t see Lau as an action type, but he handles himself pretty well, relegating to using a Western boxing style of fighting as opposed to Li’s frenetic martial arts style.

Pop star turned actress Karen Mok may seem to play a damsel in distress type in library worker Tracy but soon finds herself to be a vital asset and partner to our hero. Canadian-born model and actress Françoise Yip, fresh off her role in Rumble in the Bronx, gets a more action-orientated role in Yeuk Laan, a member of the 701 Squad who finds herself conflicted. She remains loyal to our lead villain Commander Hung (played with a crazy long-haired Patrick Lung Kong) and yet she feels somewhat indebted to our hero from an incident that is flashed back a few times throughout the film.

As for Yuen Woo-Ping’s action, they are a pretty good mix of wirework and grounded martial arts. Of course, the mere fact that the hero and villains are superpowered thanks to a government experiment, it is clear that wirework is necessary to show the enhancements of those characters. Li’s frenetic martial arts skills are well worth seeing, especially when he dons the Black Mask to face the likes of Winston Ellis and a short but stellar fight against British kicker Mike Lambert in a warm-up before the long-awaited showdown between Li and Lung.

Black Mask is a fun adventure that meshes sci-fi and martial arts with a dash of the superhero genre. Ultimately a fun film in Jet Li’s filmography. The film would get a U.S. release via Distant Horizon in 1999 after Li’s successful Hollywood debut in Lethal Weapon 4.

WFG RATING: B

A Win’s Entertainment Ltd./Film Workshop Production. Director: Daniel Lee. Producer: Tsui Hark. Writers: Koan Hui, Teddy Chen, Joe Ma, and Tsui Hark. Cinematography: Tony Cheung and Venus Keung. Editing: Cheung Ka-Fai and Ettie Feldman.

Cast: Jet Li, Sean Lau, Karen Mok, Françoise Yip, Patrick Lung Kong, Anthony Wong, Xiong Xin-Xin, Henry Fong, Sze Mei-Yee, Roy Szeto, Chan Suk-Yee, Ken Lok, Dion Lam, Russ Price, Moses Chan, Mike Lambert, Winston Ellis.