Martial Arts

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.

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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)

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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)

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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.

Kickboxer: Retaliation (2018)

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Kurt Sloane returns as he finds himself facing his most dangerous challenge yet in this long-awaited sequel to the 2016 reboot Kickboxer: Vengeance.

It has been eighteen months since Kurt Sloane avenged his brother Eric’s death when he killed Tong Po in an underground fight. Having left his past behind him, Kurt is now a professional mixed martial artist gearing up for a title shot. However, after his latest match, he finds himself accosted by two U.S. Marshals, who tell Kurt they plan to implicate him in the murder of Tong Po. Soon enough, Kurt finds himself back in a world he never expected to return to.

Waking up in a Thai prison, Kurt learns that the one responsible for his return is Thomas Tang Moore, the man behind the underground fights. He informs Kurt that he was set to become his new champion until he left Thailand. Thomas decides that Kurt will stay and face off against the new underground champion, Mongkut. Mongkut is 6’10” and 400 pounds. When Kurt refuses to fight, he finds himself against other prisoners. However, as he learns that his wife Liu has been kidnapped, Kurt accepts the challenge and finds himself not only reunited with Master Durand, but some other prisoners decide to help Kurt as he prepares for the fight of his life.

Kickboxer: Vengeance, the reboot of the hit 1989 martial arts film Kickboxer, definitely helped Jean-Claude Van Damme come full circle as the mentor with stuntman Alain Moussi showcasing his acting chops as the new Kurt Sloane. Announced even before the film was released, this sequel definitely lives up to its promise when the filmmakers promised more action and more champions. The film lives up to its subtitle as it is now the other side who seek retaliation with Kurt himself looking to seek retaliation for both his and his wife’s kidnappings.

Alain Moussi is back as Kurt and once again, he wows the audience with his martial arts skills. However, the project once again gives him the chance to showcase his acting chops as someone determined to go against the authority. In this case, it is the organizers of the very underground fight ring both he and his brother were involved in. Moussi’s Kurt finds himself in a rut and seeks the mean to find any available resource to help him in his quest for redemption and as the title indicates, retaliation. And that includes the return of Master Durand, once again played by the original Kickboxer himself, Jean-Claude Van Damme. Durand himself is given quite a twist to the plot that allows him to bring both a bit of comic relief and emotional drama while training Kurt.

In addition to Van Damme’s Durand, Kurt finds himself some more mentors within the prison walls. As a matter of fact, he has a team of trainers that include boxing legend Mike Tyson, UFC fighters Fabricio Werdum and Roy “Big Country” Nelson, soccer star Ronaldinho, strongman Brian Shaw and even some monks to help him with his speed. Christopher Lambert really hams up the screens as the mastermind behind the operation, Thomas Moore. The former Highlander himself even gets in on a sparring scene involving swords against Van Damme while Sam Medina’s return as Crawford is quite bigger than in the first film. Medina still hams it up at times and does all he can to help break Kurt.

As for Sara Malakul Lane, she is given less screen time as Liu but she truly makes the most of it and even finds herself in a pivotal situation that leads to the ultimate showdown. Jessica Jann, replacing UFC fighter Paige VanZant, is not bad as Gamon, Liu’s friend who becomes another ally to Kurt, who looks to be close to another new character, Travis, played by Nicholas Van Varenberg, who is the youngest son of Jean-Claude Van Damme himself. Travis is also revealed to be Durand’s son in the film.

However, the one to look out for in the film is the new big bad fighter and that is another strongman in HafÞór Júlíus Björnsson as Mongkut. Standing 6’8” and 400 pounds, the athlete turned actor, best known as “The Mountain” Gregor Clegane on Game of Thrones adapts himself quite well when he is set to perform action scenes and when a secret about Mongkut is revealed, it calls for the strongman to unleash his fury against two ill-fated opponents during training. Björnsson is a man of few words and lets his action do all the talking for him. There are cameos from two more fighters, MMA legend Wanderlei Silva, who has a short fight against Kurt in the film’s opening sequence as Glory Kickboxing champion Rico Verhoeven, who plays the new fighter of backyard fight promoter Joseph King, reprised by a swooning Steven Swadling.

The action in this film is much more exciting. From the opening fight set on a moving train to the showdown between Kurt and Mongkut, the moments of action are great to watch. Two highlight fight scenes are actually long take fights. The first, set to blues music, shows Kurt having to fight various local prisoners when he refuses Moore’s offer at first. The second is set to the surf classic “Wipeout” when Kurt trails a member of Moore’s organization responsible for Liu’s kidnapping. The final fight pitting Kurt and Mongkut lasts a total of about fifteen minutes with a very pivotal twist midway that is shocking at first but then lives up to the name “retaliation”. The fight choreography by Jean François LaChapelle and co-star Moussi makes the most of the fighters involved in the film. The promise was to deliver more action packed excitement and this sequel truly lives up to its promise. Despite a little bit of overload with slow-motion shots, the film ranks better than its predecessor in terms of action.

Kickboxer: Retaliation truly lives up to its promise of more exciting action and is a step above Vengeance. Alain Moussi continues to make himself known as one of the next generation of action heroes with his ability to do all of the action himself and bring some emotional drama in his role of Kurt Sloane. The supporting cast of fighters along with legends and the hulking HafÞór Júlíus Björnsson adapting well to the action makes this a sequel truly worth watching.

Here’s hoping they can somehow top this with Kickboxer: Armageddon or make it on the same level.

WFG RATING: A-

Well Go USA presents an Acme Rocket Fuel/The Exchange/Headmon Pictures production. Director: Dimitri Logothetis. Producers: Robert Hickman and Dimitri Logothetis. Writers: Dimitri Logothetis and Jim McGrath; based on characters created by Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mark DiSalle. Cinematography: Gerardo Madrazo. Editing: Christopher Bell and Daniel McDonald.

Cast: Alain Moussi, Christopher Lambert, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mike Tyson, Sara Malakul Lane, HafÞór Júlíus Björnsson, Miles Strommen, Sam Medina, Roy “Big Country” Nelson, Fabricio Werdum, Wanderlei Silva, Brian Shaw, Ronaldinho, Jessica Jann, Nicholas Van Varenberg, Maxime Savaria, Kamel Krifa, Frank Edgar, Renzo Gracie, Steven Swadling, Rico Verhoeven, Renato “Babalu” Sobral, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.

Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie (1997)

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In 1997, the series Power Rangers Zeo was coming to an end. What better way to kick off the next Power Rangers series with a full-length feature film that has a very shocking twist and the return of an original Ranger without her powers.

Angel Grove has been the home of the Power Rangers, protectors of the Earth against the likes of Rita Repulsa, Lord Zedd, and even Ivan Ooze. Their latest challenge comes in the form of Divatox, an evil space pirate hellbent on releasing an ancient warrior known as Maligore from his imprisonment in a volcano on the island of Maranthias. In order to complete her mission, Divatox must kidnap the kind alien warrior Lerigot, who has the key to release Maligore. It is up to the Rangers, Red Zeo Ranger Tommy; Green Zeo Ranger Adam; Yellow Zeo Ranger Tanya; and Pink Zeo Ranger Katherine to protect Lerigot from Divatox and her minions.

During training for a martial arts competition, Blue Zeo Ranger Rocky injures himself and is deemed unable to assist the Rangers. The Rangers soon learn that in case Maligore is released, the Rangers’ Zeo powers will be useless. Therefore, they must now gain new powers and become the Turbo Power Rangers. Still wearing their Zeo colors, the Turbo Power Rangers have new vehicular Zords and now much head to Maranthias to stop Divatox. Meanwhile, Rocky’s replacement as the Blue Ranger has arrived in the form of pre-teen youngster Justin, which shocks everyone.

Divatox has kidnapped former Power Rangers Jason and Kimberly during a diving expedition along with resident airhead bullies Bulk and Skull in exchange for Lerigot. Duped into thinking the exchange will take place, Divatox has everyone under her grasp and she intends to release Maligore and weark havoc on the world.

This action packed sequel is a step up from the original in terms of mainly its action sequences. The plot is still pretty much child’s play, but this is a children’s action film we are talking about. The Ranger characters are derived from the 1996 Super Sentai series Gekisou Sentai Carranger.

While the original Power Rangers Zeo team appear in the film, one can’t help but be stunned at the injury sustained by Steve Cardenas’ Rocky character. As the original replacement for Austin St. John as the Red Ranger, Cardenas has superb martial arts skills, and his absence may have made the film somewhat inferior. However, 11-year old Blake Foster, a martial artist who was discovered while training, takes over suitably as the new Blue Ranger. He is obviously doubled when he is in Ranger form (a cue from the Kibaranger of 1993’s Gosei Sentai Dairanger, in which Kibaranger was actually a kid as well), but Foster gets to strut his martial arts skills in one fight scene.

This time around, replacing veteran Jeff Pruitt is Alpha Stunts co-founder Koichi Sakamoto heading the fight choreography this time around. Bringing his unique style of costumed combat that helped make the sequel Guyver 2: Dark Hero a more exciting sequel than its predecessor, Sakamoto and the Alpha Stunts team did a great job with the fights much like the way Pruitt unleashed his excellent choreography skills in the original film.

However, the kicker here as to why this may be seen as a more superior sequel is the finale, pitting the oversized Maligore against the new TurboMegazord. Where the first film had ridiculous looking computer effects to showcase the Megazord, in this film, the producers decided to do it in true Japanese tokukatsu form. It truly works here as it does with the Power Rangers universe and is far better to see than the cheesy computer graphics that could have potentially ruined the PR world.

In the end, Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie is a superior sequel over its predecessor, especially with the true form of tokukatsu replacing horrific CGI effects.

WFG RATINGB+

20th Century Fox presents a Saban Films production. Directors: Shuki Levy and David Winning. Producer: Jonathan Tzachor. Writers: Shuki Levy and Shell Danielson; based on the television series “Power Rangers” created by Haim Saban and Shuki Levy; based on “Gekisou Sentai Carranger” by Toei Co. Limited. Cinematography: Ilan Rosenberg. Editing: Henry Richardson and B.J. Sears.

Cast: Johnny Yong Bosch, Nakia Burrise, Steve Cardenas, Black Foster, Jason David Frank, Catherine Sutherland, Jon Simanton, Hilary Sheperd-Turner, Austin St. John, Amy Jo Johnson, Paul Schrier, Jason Narvy, Ed Neil, Carla Perez.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995)

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In 1993, the world was introduced to the Power Rangers, an Americanized adaptation of the Japanese annual Super Sentai series. With the success of the television series, 20th Century Fox unleashed the first of two feature-length films that combined elements from three Super Sentai series.

In the city of Angel Grove, a construction site becomes the home of an unearthed artifact. A claw with a huge purple egg is unleashed. That night, Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa open the egg and a mysterious alien named Ivan Ooze appears with plans of world domination. He has learned that Zordon, his one-time nemesis, is still alive and that he will have to deal with the Power Rangers.

The Rangers are Red Ranger Rocky, Blue Ranger Billy, Yellow Ranger Aisha, Black Ranger Adam, Pink Ranger Kimberly and White Ranger Tommy. When they learn of Ivan Ooze’s appearance, they try to fight off Ooze’s goons but it proves to be too little too late. Ivan has destroyed the Rangers’ command center and has put Zordon on life support, causing the Rangers to lose their powers.

In a last ditch effort, the Rangers must travel to a distant planet where under the watchful eye of Dulcea, they must train in the art of Ninjetti and find “The Great Power”. Meanwhile, Ivan Ooze is planning to take over Angel Grove by turning the residents into zombies and digging up his master creation, a giant sized-robot monster.

In 1993, producer Haim Saban unleashed the phenomenon known as the Power Rangers to children everywhere…at least in the United States. Two years after its inception and a roster change on part of three actors, the feature film finally was released. Yes, it is a kids’ action film and yes it can be very cheesy…but this is cheesy in a very fun way.

Complete with the colorful costumes that the kids love (based off 1992’s Super Sentai series Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger and 1993’s Gosei Sentai Dairanger) plus the rigorous action sequences choreographed by martial arts expert Jeff Pruitt, the comic relief lies in the all too sarcastic villain.

Veteran actor Paul Freeman hams it up as the sarcastic Ivan Ooze, an evil mutant whose plans on world domination even gets the best of series villains Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd. The duo get ample screen time, but most of it is spent in a snowglobe. Meanwhile, Australian actress Gabrielle Fitzpatrick  plays Dulcea, the Rangers’ mentor in the art of Ninjetti, which takes a page from the 1994 Super Sentai series Ninja Sentai Kakuranger.

Of course, aside from the Rangers and Zordon, along with automated sidekick Alpha 5, school bullies Bulk and Skull return to the big screen as well. They are more throwaway roles for the most part, but they do try to help the Rangers out during the very bad CGI-filled finale. The finale is perhaps the worst part of the entire film due to its lack of good CGI effects to represent the Rangers’ Zords not to mention Ooze’s combining of himself and robot monster.

While this is considered a campy look at the Power Rangers, the sequel, Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie fares just a tad better, but give them credit. After all, this is a kid’s movie we’re talking about here.

WFG RATING: C+

20th Century Fox presents a Saban Films production. Director: Bryan Spicer. Producer: Suzanne Todd. Writers: Arne Olsen and John Kamps. Cinematography: Paul Murphy. Editing: Wayne Wahrman.

Cast: Karan Ashley, Johnny Yong Bosch, Steve Cardenas, Jason David Frank, Amy Jo Johnson, David Yost, Paul Freeman, Paul Schrier, Jason Narvy, Gabrielle Fitzpatrick, Nicholas Bell, Peta-Marie Rixon, Mark Ginther, Julia Cortez

Dragonball: Evolution (2009)

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Japanese anime involving martial arts action has a tendency to go through a live action version now and again. From Fist of the North Star with Gary Daniels to the recent Takashi Miike film Yatterman (2009), the live action version of the most beloved of Japanese anime, Dragon Ball is nothing but disastrous.
Dragon Ball, created by Akira Toriyama, revolves around a young martial arts warrior named Son Goku, who joined forces with the teenage Bulma, desert bandit Yamcha, pig character Oolong, and the elder Master Roshi, to find the seven magical Dragonballs, which when brought together, summons the eternal Sheng Long, giving the founder the perfect wish.

Dragonball: Evolution, written by Ben Ramsey, follows Goku, a martial arts warrior who has just turned eighteen years old. His grandfather, Gohan, gives Goku a Dragonball to keep sacred. A legend has foretold of an alien warrior named Piccolo who returns after 2000 years to find the Dragonballs and make his wish to take over the world.

The first twenty minutes of the film look like a bad version of your basic teenage fight film in the vein of Never Back Down. Goku is seen as a martial artist who made a vow never to fight and has eyes for the high school beauty, Chi Chi. However, he is seen as a nerd who gets bullied by your average high school bullies. Chi Chi, on the other hand, learns of Goku’s martial arts and shares with him her knowledge of inner energy, or “Qi”.

The film picks up somewhat with the arrival of Bulma Reeves, a no-nonsense biker chick who uses heavy artillery and capsules that turn into vehicles. When Bulma learns Goku has a Dragonball, the two embark on a quest to find the rest after Gohan is killed by Piccolo and his new henchman Mai.

The duo soon find Master Roshi in the form of Hong Kong film legend Chow Yun-Fat. It is a good guess that Chow decided to do the film to break away from his usual serious fare. The script somewhat did an injustice to Chow’s performance as Roshi. In the anime, Roshi is seen as the martial arts mentor of Goku and it shows in the film, but Roshi’s fun side was a major part of the manga and anime and there isn’t much of that here in the film. Chow is meant to have a serious role here, and he does his best to work with the script.

Sadly, the character of Yamcha, played by Joon Park, wasn’t given any ample time and therefore, does not participate really in any action. Like his anime counterpart, he does what he does for the money, but his foremanner is completely the opposite of the anime. In the anime, Yamcha is deathly afraid of women yet in the film, he flirts like Bulma as if he tries to act like Stephen Fung’s character of Match in Gen-X Cops. As for the villain Piccolo, James Marsters, best known for his role of the vampire Spike on the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, should have been the perfect villain. However, it is sad to say that Marsters was completely wasted as all he did was mostly smugged and talked. Even in the climactic battle, he wasn’t given much to do as he took on Goku.

The fight scenes, choreographed by Jared Eddo and Jonathan Eusebio, had the potential to be the redeeming factor of the film. Like most Hollywood productions, there is the required quick cuts and close ups as well as some wirework. However, one of the biggest problems with the fight sequences, notably in the fight where Goku takes on his bullies at Chi Chi’s party, was the overuse of the slow motion technique. It felt too much like Peter Parker’s Spidey Sense in the 2002 Spider-Man film, but done in overkill fashion.

Many fans saw the trailer and had the feeling that the film would truly do injustice to the Dragon Ball name, and sad to say, those who felt that way will feel the same way about the movie. The Dragon Ball anime fans will have a field day. Akira Toriyama felt a little uncomfortable with the film version and he should have stuck with that feeling. It is even sadder that Stephen Chow is credited as producer of this really bland version of one of the most famous Japanese anime in the past few decades.

Redemption came afterwards for director James Wong, producer Stephen Chow, and screenwriter Ben Ramsey, not only offering public apologies, but in Ramsey’s case, he directed the awesome martial arts action-drama Blood and Bone that same year and of course, Stephen Chow has now continued to make his mark as a director in films like Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons and The Mermaid.

With that said, if you love manga and anime, only see Dragonball: Evolution as to see how not to make a live-action version. You’re better off with either Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins (a Taiwanese unauthorized version) or the current web series Dragon Ball Z: The Light of Hope. If there comes another chance to make a feature-length live-action adaptation, let’s hope they do things right.

WFG RATING: F

20th Century Fox presents a Star Overseas Ltd. Production. Director: James Wong. Producer: Stephen Chow. Writer: Ben Ramsey; based on the manga “Dragon Ball” by Akira Toriyama. Cinematography: Robert McLachlan. Editing: Matt Friedman and Chris G. Willingham.

Cast: Justin Chatwin, Emmy Rossum, Jamie Chung, Chow Yun-Fat, James Marsters, Joon Park, Eriko Tamura, Randall Duk Kim, Ernie Hudson, Texas Battle, Megumi Seki, Ian Whyte.

The Dragon Tamers (1975)

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Everyone knows John Woo as one of the best action film directors in the world today. During his early days as a director, he tackled the kung fu film and this film, his second as director, is quite interesting as we get to see a look at the motifs that would later become a trademark of the Woo-style of action filmmaking.

The film revolves around two martial artists from China who are well versed in different styles. Fan Zhongjie is a kung fu expert who has arrived in Korea with the intention to have a spar with a respected Tae Kwon Do master, Shen Rongzheng. Along the way, he meets Tae Kwon Do coach Nan Gong and the two become friends. Nan is actually a protégé of Shen and has eyes for Shen’s daughter Mingmei. Another student, Jindi also has eyes for Nan Gong and becomes jealous of Mingmei.

While Fan is quite good at kung fu, when he is introduced to Yan, who has taken over Shen’s school after retiring, things start to unravel. Yan challenges another Tae Kwon Do master, Bai-Mu. Yan loses heavily and Fan asks that Bai-Mu train him in Tae Kwon Do for his spar with Shen. When Shen finally accepts the spar, it is clear that Fan has no ulterior motives, but to show his skills against Shen. When Fan wins the duel, it may have caused some sort of anger and sorrow, but Shen ultimately respects Fan and welcomes him as a friend. When Fan begins training Mingmei, the two fall for each other, something Nan Gong ends up not being happy about.

Meanwhile, the town’s other martial arts schools are being targeted for a takeover. Yan and his younger brother Gong have been going to the local schools and giving them a choic: ally themselves with the Yan school or face their wrath. To add some insurance to their wrath, the Yans hire a lunatic fighter and Baifeng, a female martial arts champion from overseas. When Fan and Nan hear of the Yan’s plans and Bai-Mu is seriously injured, they decide to put their differences aside and take on the Yans and their thugs in a final confrontation.

John Woo wrote the screenplay and directed this pretty underrated kung fu film. It is definite that Woo definitely knows what he is doing here as his style runs smoothly with his very own script that seems to revolve around the Korean art of Tae Kwon Do. Add some international flavor by casting actors from Japan and Korea, where the film was shot and is set, and you have quite a pretty good martial arts film.

I have to admit, it was tiring seeing James Tien play villains in films and it’s great to see him more as a likable character in the form of Tae Kwon Do coach Nan Gong. He runs a school with mainly female students and yes, he is in love with his teacher’s daughter. While he played likable characters in Bruce Lee’s The Big Boss and Fist of Fury, he always felt short-lived. Here, he plays co-lead alongside the great Carter Wong as a kung fu expert who ultimately combines his kung fu with Tae Kwon Do to stop the villains.

In a nod to perhaps the western, the villains mainly wear black and in some scenes, wear capes as if they were magicians. As much as that proves to be laughable, they make up for it in skills. While Korean actor Kim Ki-Joo played the older brother, it is clear the real leader is younger brother Gong, played by Yeung Wai. Yeung and Tien would reunite in Woo’s Hand of Death in role reversals. However, the twist comes at the very tail end of the film. Just when you think the film is over, a surprise comes. Look out for the following Woo-style motifs: the doves (in which they fly with James Tien looking on) and the use of slow motion at the right moments as well.

The action director of the film is Chan Chuen and he does a pretty good job in using the skills of Tien and Wong as well as Kim and Yeung. The opening fight scene involves two groups of female fighters taking each other and in one section of this fight, three girls are fighting in the mud and yes, there is some nudity involved, which may bring one to worry that this would be a film similar to The Association, which was released that same year. Thankfully, it is not even close to that. Hapkido grandmaster Ji Han-Jae gets some nice fight scenes himself, or more like great sparring scenes first with Tien then Wong.

The Dragon Tamers is an underrated kung fu film. It is an early look at John Woo’s style of action filmmaking and the cast does quite well. Definitely worth a rental.

WFG RATING: B

A Golden Harvest (HK) Ltd. Production. Director: John Woo. Producer: Raymond Chow. Writer: John Woo. Cinematography: Lee Seong-Chun. Editing: Peter Cheung.

Cast: James Tien, Carter Wong, Ji Han-Jae, Kim Ki-Joo, Yeung Wai, Kim Chang-Suk, Chie Kobayashi, Ryoko Ina, Chan Chuen, Hsu Hsia, Woo Jeon-Yeong, Nami Saijo, Keiko Hara, Park Seong-Jae, Lee Dae-Yeob.