Chasing the Dragon (2017)

chasingthedragon Hong-kong-icon

Donnie Yen stars in this fact-based film on the life of one of Hong Kong’s most notorious drug lords with Andy Lau reprising a role from a two-film series in the 1990’s.

In the year 1960, a man named Ho and his three best friends escaped China and headed for Hong Kong. There, they make their money by joining gangs in street fights. During one fateful night, Ho and his men find themselves enraging a British police officer, Hunter. However, they are saved by Lee Rock, a recently promoted sergeant major who is as corrupt as his fellow officers, but has the smarts to outwits those who rank above him. Ho and his friends one day incur the wrath of crime lord Chubby, who offers Ho and the others a job after Ho proves himself to have impeccable fighting skills.

As the years go by, Ho gains respect within the ghetto known as the Walled City. Plagued with issues involving his brother, who has dropped out of school and has become a drug addict, to the possible idea of a double cross, when Ho learns that Lee is set up to be framed and killed by the nephew of Walled City’s top gangster Master Dane, Ho saves Lee only to be betrayed by his now former boss, who cripples Ho. No longer being able to fight, Ho decides to use his street smarts when he joins forces with Lee Rock. However, with power comes greed and Ho soon finds himself biting the hand that feeds him as he is set to play a dangerous game that could cost many lives.

Surprisingly, one would never have thought that someone like Wong Jing, who has been more known for his buffoonery of films in the 1990’s, would have written this film let alone direct it. However, he collaborated with cinematographer Jason Kwan, who shares both writing and directing with Wong. However, Wong has had his fair share of serious films such as his Colour gangster film series and he has executive produced the original Young and Dangerous films. It is safe to say that if he’s not out there doing goofball-style films, then gangster films are truly his forte.

It is clear that action star Donnie Yen is slowly branching out into roles that allow him to do both his frenetic action skills and even turn in some dramatic chops as well. Ip Man was just the beginning of that transition period, but this film is truly becoming to take that cake. In what is a very bold move, Yen gets to mesh the two strengths in the first half of the film only to take the dramatic side in the second half as his character is in fact crippled. Yen’s character Crippled Ho is based on a real-life Hong Kong gangster, Ng Sek-Ho, who was one of Hong Kong’s most notorious drug lords. Yen pulls off all the stops to tackle the role and does quite a great job of it.

As for Andy Lau, the Heavenly King returns to a familiar role. In 1991, he starred in a two-part film series produced by Wong and directed by Lawrence Lau entitled Lee Rock. The film series was based on Lui Lok, a real-life officer who was involved in major corruption during the 60’s and 70’s. Lau reprises that role and having played the role before, he just seems like a natural fit. Not only does this film bring some excitement that we have Donnie Yen and Andy Lau in the same film, but they actually play each other well.

What many will find extremely important is that while the focus of the film is on Crippled Ho and Lee Rock, the film has no real good guys at all. As a matter of fact, all of the important characters are extremely bad guys with no remorse towards their actions. Aside from Ho and Lee, we have Kent Tong’s Ngan Tong, who starts out as Lee’s superior only to become his biggest rival within the ranks of the police force. Bryan Larkin’s Hunter is the notorious British officer who has a hatred towards Chinese and yet, he finds himself in a situation where he and Lee have to show some sort of respect towards each other because of their profession. Even Ben Ng’s Chubby switches gears from ruthless to benevolent to even more ruthless as it is he who seals Ho’s fate in the first half of the film.

Chasing the Dragon is a film that proves that one, Wong Jing can make some pretty good serious films; two, Donnie Yen can be a solid actor with dramatic chops; and three, just because a film is about gangsters, there don’t need to be any good guys and this is a film where all the important characters are notorious and if need be, ruthless.


An Infinitus Motion Picture/Bona Film Group/Sun Entertainment Culture Limited/Mega-Vision Project Workshop Limited production in association with Sil-Metropole Organisation, Rock Partner Films, and Red Carpet Cultural Industry Investment Fund. Directors: Wong Jing and Jason Kwan. Producers: Wong Jing, Donnie Yen, Andy Lau, Connie Wong, Ren Yue, Jeffrey Chan, Stanley Tong, and Yang Guang. Writers: Wong Jing, Jason Kwan, Philip Lui, and Howard Yip. Cinematography: Jason Kwan, Ko Chiu-Lam, and Jimmy Kwok. Editing: Li Ka-Wing.

Cast: Donnie Yen, Andy Lau, Kent Cheng, Ben Ng, Kent Tong, Phillip Keung, Wilfred Lau, Yu Kang, Michelle Hu, Xu Dong-Dong, Felix Wong, Niki Chow, Bryan Larkin, Philip Ng, Jonathan Lee, Lawrence Chou, Wang Qianyu.


Hi Dharma 2: Showdown in Seoul (2004)

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2004, Cineworld/Tiger Pictures/KM Culture

Yook Sang-Hyo
Cho Chul-Hyun
Jung Seung-Hye
Choi Seok-Hwan
Yook Sang-Hyo
Park Hee-Ju
Kim Sang-Beom
Kim Jae-Beom

Jung Jin-Young (Jeong-Myeong)
Shin Hyun-Joon (Beom-Shik)
Lee Won-Jong (Hyeong-Gak)
Lee Moon-Sik (Dae-Bong)
Yang Jin-Woo (Moo-Jin)
Kim Seok-Hwan (Sang-Geun)
Lee Hyung-Chul (Goo-Man)
Kim Ji-Young (Elder Bosal)
Jung Han-Yong (Mr. Park)
Han Hye-Jin (Mi-Seon)
Park Shin-Yang (Jae-Gyu)

In this sequel to the 2001 hit comedy that pitted gangsters against monks, the head monk from that film takes some of his fellow monks to Seoul, where chaos is destined to ensue.

With the recent passing of the head monk at their temple, monks Jeong-Myeong and Hyeong-Gak, along with the silent Dae-Bong, learn that their master wants them to deliver a package to Mushim Temple in Seoul. It will be their first contact outside of their temple in years. Their first night there, things do not go as planned when they are kicked out of a local motel. They eventually do reach the temple and find themselves about to be in for a shock.

The next morning, Mushim monk Moo-Jin informs the trio that the Temple is owed a debt of 500 million won to a local construction company led by Beom-Shik, a former gangster who is trying to go legit. Beom-Shik gives the monks three days to raise the money at first but then during a service, takes their collection box, forcing them to be unable to collect the money to pay the debt. When Dae-Bong plays the lottery and wins the 30 billion won prize, but he misplaces the receipt. Even worse, Beom-Shik and his men are determined to make sure the temple is torn down. The monks, having dealt with gangsters before, wage war to ensure the safety of the temple.

The first Hi, Dharma was a hilarious action-comedy that pitted gangsters and monks at a local temple where the gangsters hid out. What helped that film was the chemistry between the lead gangster and the senior monk. For this sequel, it’s now the reverse as we see our senior monk Jyeon-Myeong, reprised by Jung Jin-Young with fellow returnees Lee Won-Jong and Lee Moon-Sik now going to Seoul and having to save the temple there from a new batch of gangsters, led by Shin Hyun-Joon. Original star Park Shin-Yang makes a cameo appearance in his role of now former gangster Jae-Kyu, who now runs a food stall and offers little help to Jyeon-Myeong.

Shin Hyun-Joon’s Beom-Shik is truly trying to go legit but finds himself using means from his past to get his way. However, he has the tendency to berate his cohorts for calling him “boss” and acting all slovenly. Along with that, Lee Moon-Sik’s silent monk Dae-Bong provides much of the film’s comedy due to his only using body language and in the case where he tries to tell his fellow monks he won the lottery, he is mistaken for having a panic attack. Eventually, despite the ongoing rivalry between the two groups, one can guess that if they have seen the original film, they will know how this will turn out.

Hi Dharma 2: Showdown in Seoul is a quite a decent sequel that now reverses the theme with the monks’ fish out of water story in the big city. Some funny comedy by Lee Moon-Sik and the ongoing war between the monks and gangsters has a nice pace to it. This is one sequel worthy of Buddha.


Gen-X Cops (1999)

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1999, Media Asia Films

Benny Chan
John Chong
Solon So
Benny Chan
Benny Chan
Peter Tsi
Koan Hui
Anna Lee
Arthur Wong
Fletcher Poon
Azrael Cheung
Cheung Ka-Fai

Nicholas Tse (Jack)
Stephen Fung (Match)
Sam Lee (Alien)
Grace Ip (Y2K)
Daniel Wu (Daniel)
Eric Tsang (Inspector Chan)
Francis Ng (“Mad Dog” Lok)
Toru Nakamura (Akatora)
Terence Yin (Tooth)
Jaymee Ong (Haze)
Moses Chan (Inspector To)
Gordon Lam (Dinosaur)

Highlighting a new generation of Hong Kong actors, this action-packed film was executive produced by none other than Jackie Chan.

When Dinosaur, a top-ranking Hong Kong gang lord must hide out in the Philippines, he entrusts his younger brother Daniel to take over. Daniel, who has arrived from Canada, has other plans in mind. En route to his escape, Dinosaur is stopped by the Japanese gangster Akatora and in a bold move, Daniel shoots his brother in the head in retaliation for the constant abuse from him. Akatora promises Daniel major funding to help him transport a recently stolen cargo of rocket fuel.

The Hong Kong Police Department have learned of Dinosaur’s death and are tracking down the mysterious Akatora. With rival inspectors To and Chan assigned to the case but in different missions, To slacks off but acts like a big shot to Chan, who comes up with an idea. In searching for cops who may have the look to infiltrate Daniel, Chan meets three recruits who have just been expelled from the academy. After some careful convincing and a major dare, Chan recruits Jack, Match, and Alien, along with Y2K, the sister of the cop who busted Dinosaur before his death, and together, they become the Gen-X Cops. However, their methods to solve the case don’t bode well with To and his men. And what does Akatora really have planned in all the chaos?

In a 1990 interview seen in the documentary The Best of the Martial Arts Films, Jackie Chan had once stated that he is looking for some “new blood” and this film may be a result of that search. Serving as executive producer, he collaborated with Who Am I? director Benny Chan to craft a new film that would mesh the trademark action of Hong Kong and bring in Hollywood-style visual effects with one thing in mind: to introduce a new generation of local actors to the mainstream of the Jade Screens.

Having just made their film debuts between a year and two years prior to this film, the trio of Nicholas Tse, Stephen Fung, and Sam Lee all went from relative newcomers who gained some critical acclaim for their first major roles to mainstream action stars with this film. Tse is the “no regrets” leader of the group Jack, with Fung being the ladies’ man Match while Lee provides some of the film’s comic relief as third member Alien. Add Grace Ip, who plays the technician Y2K and the always fun to watch Eric Tsang as their team leader and you have a sure fire heroic team who rely on both their sharp wits combined with their Gen-X style of doing things.

After his debut performances in the critically acclaimed Bishonen and appearing with Tse and Lee in Young and Dangerous: The Prequel, Daniel Wu breaks through in his role of low level Hong Kong gangster Daniel, who has always wanted respect but never got it. To earn it himself, he does the unthinkable and makes the gangster his own yet at the same time, still serves as a puppet to the real villain of the film, Akatora, played with a sense of mysteriousness from Japanese actor Toru Nakamura. Francis Ng once again brings the level of craziness he is best known for in the role of Dinosaur’s most trusted ally, “Mad Dog” Lok, who seeks to find Dinosaur’s killer and has a memorable scene when confronted by Akatora himself.

Jackie Chan would unleash the action in the form of bringing his stunt team (at the time) leader Nicky Li to choreograph the film’s stunts and action scenes. He even loaned out members Ken Low and Brad Allan to play small roles with Allan even training Tse in some of the martial arts moves necessary for the action. Kudos goes especially to Tse, Fung, and Lee, who perform most of their own dangerous stunts in the film. A Hollywood-based stunt team assisted with some of the aerial stunts of the film but the piece de resistance is the visual effects team who blew up the White House in the 1996 sci-fi hit Independence Day were brought in to blow up one of Hong Kong’s most famous landmarks and its ranks as one of the best things about the film. Finally, look out for a cameo by a certain Mr. Chan as well.

A sequel, Gen-Y Cops, was made a year later and is perhaps known today for the appearances of current Hollywood stars Maggie Q and in his only Hong Kong film to date, Ant-Man himself, Paul Rudd, as FBI agents who are first rivals then allies to the hero cops. Tse was replaced by newcomer Edison Chen with Fung and Lee returning to their roles. Wu and Fung would eventually join forces as executive producers with Wu as the star of the hit AMC series Into the Badlands with Fung as one of the action directors.

Gen-X Cops is a fun action-packed wild ride that showcases the talents of the millennium generation of Hong Kong stars. When Jackie Chan said he was looking for new blood, he found it first with this group.




Mr. Nice Guy (1997)

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1997, New Line Cinema/Golden Harvest

Sammo Hung
Chua Lam
Edward Tang
Fibe Ma
Raymond Lam
Joe Chan
Yau Chi-Wai
Peter Cheung

Jackie Chan (Jackie)
Richard Norton (Giancarlo)
Miki Lee (Miki)
Karen McLymont (Lakeisha)
Gabrielle Fitzpatrick (Diana)
Vince Poletto (Romeo)
Barry Otto (Baggio)
Sammo Hung (Cyclist)
Joyce Godenzi (Audience Member)
Peter Houghton (Richard)
Peter Lindsey (Gronk)
David No (Victor)
Rachel Blakely (Sandy)
Judy Green (Tina)

Jackie Chan stars in this action comedy that may have a bit of a lackluster finale like when compared to most of his films, but clearly has some fun filled fight sequences.

In Australia, Jackie and Baggio are two well-known chefs who appear on both television and do cooking demonstrations at local events. One day, while out shopping, Jackie runs into Diana, a local TV reporter who is evading a group of gangsters. She has a videotape of evidence of a deal gone bad between the gangsters and the local Demons gang. This all comes from a fallout when Tina, one of the Demons, is revealed to have been infiltrating gangster boss Giancarlo and has been killed for her treachery. Jackie protects Diana while defending himself and thanks him for his efforts.

However, upon separating, Diana accidentally takes the wrong video, meaning that Jackie has the tape she needs to take down Giancarlo. When this is discovered, Jackie now has a target on his back. Things become more complicated when Jackie’s girlfriend Miki arrives from Hong Kong. When a case of mistaken identity causes Miki to be kidnapped, Jackie now must do what it takes to make sure Miki is safe and find a way to stop both Giancarlo and the Demons.

After the success of Rumble in the Bronx, it seems like Jackie Chan decided to take a bit of a different route with his next few films, both First Strike and this film in terms of a finale. Rather than doing a final fight sequence, he resorts to using vehicles to stop the main villains of his pieces. However, with this film, that doesn’t take away that Jackie Chan can still provide some fun fights along the way and it is clear that under the direction of “big brother” Sammo Hung, the film does deliver when it comes to the fight sequences.

Another notion in the film is that seeing Chan with three female friends may seem like a re-tread of Operation Condor, but this is clearly not the case. This time around, the trio of Miki Lee, Karen McLymont, and Gabrielle Fitzpatrick all resort to evading and don’t fight back, but more attempt to want to fight each other over miscommunication. Meanwhile, we get to see Chan take on the likes of old friend Richard Norton as Giancarlo, who is his one and only fight scene with Chan provides a bit of comic relief. Chan also takes on the likes of Aussie Choy Li Fut expert Gary Shambrooke, who one can see him as Matt Dillon if he were to have played Cable with his spiked up white hair as well as former JC Stunt Team member Brad Allan and current JC Stunt Team member Paul Andreovski as two of Giancarlo’s men.

Then comes the finale. Where Rumble in the Bronx used a hovercraft and First Strike had Chan go into a car to go off a ramp and crash into the boat where the villain was located, how does Chan plan to top these two? Let’s just say he has a big enough vehicle to unleash close to the amount of road fury in the famous “shantytown chase” in his 1985 Police Story. While some fans will see this as a bit lackluster only because they expect a fight to end the film, this proves to be actually quite maddening in a good way.

Mr. Nice Guy is a pretty fun film in the Jackie Chan library. While it may not a fight-filled finale, the action proves enough to showcase Chan’s talents and has a bit of comic relief to it as well, including a funny cameo from both director Hung and Chan’s friend, singer Emil Chau, as an ice cream man.




TRAILER: Plan B – Scheiss auf Plan A

20th Century Fox has picked up this German martial arts action-comedy and the first trailer has arrived!

The film stars Can Aydin, Phong Giang, and Cha-Lee Yoon of Germany’s Reel Deal Stunt Team as three aspiring stunt fighters who love doing what they do best. However, when a mix-up of addresses lead them to accidentally fall prey to a high ranking gangster, this trio must use their skills to take on the gang.

The film co-stars Eugene Boateng and Henry Mayer. Ufuk Genc and Michael Popescu directed the film from a script by Rafael Alberto Garciolo. Co-star Aydin also serves as fight choreographer on the film.

Plan B: Scheiss auf Plan A is scheduled for a June 8 release in Germany.



King of the Streets (2012)

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2012, Beijing Yue Song Television Culture Co. Ltd./Beijing Pan Asia Visual Culture Communication Co. Ltd./Sina Video China/Beijing Chang Long Television Culture Co. Ltd.

Yue Song
Zhong Lei
Yue Song
Chen Shang (story)
Yue Song (screenplay)
Li You
Liu Zhengma
Yue Song
Zhen Guoan

Yue Song (Yue Feng)
Li Yufei (Xiao Yi)
Yang Junping (Li Shao)
Wang Zaihe (Zhou)
Hou Xu (A-Hai)

Martial artist and filmmaker Yue Song unleashes this film with the cliché of a man trying to change his life but is forced back to action when his quest for a new life is threatened.

Yue Feng is a former legend known as the “Street Fighter” who has been released from prison after serving an eight-year sentence for killing a former enemy. Upon his release, he learns that life after prison is not as easy as it seems. After helping a young woman, Xiao Yi, who was accosted by robbers, Feng gets a job as a transport company when he finds himself nearly framed by two of his co-workers when they deliver computers at a local orphanage. However, Xiao Yi, who volunteers at the orphanage, gets his name clear.

For helping out Yi and vice versa, Feng eventually volunteers at the orphanage. It is here where he learns that a gang led by Li Shao wants the property as it is located where Li wants to build a resort. Despite having the pull, the orphanage’s owner, Mr. Zhou, refuses to sell. When Li and his men threaten violence, Feng finally begins to fight again. He soon learns that one of the gang members is his childhood friend, who had remained loyal to his old friend despite having some jealously over Feng’s skills. When Feng is challenged to fight to keep the orphanage, he must take on the entire gang, including his longtime friend. What will happen and will Feng be able to start life anew once this new mission is complete?

Yue Song, a martial artist from China, seems to pull off a “jack of all trades” with this film. Starting out with some viral videos of his skills, this film marks his feature film debut. Not only does he star in the film, he choreographed the film’s action, edited, served as production coordinator, produced, written the screenplay, and co-directed with Zhong Lei. For his film debut, Yue performs well as a man who is just trying to change his life after a prison sentence. While for the most part, things look to be good, the cliché of having to back to action soon kicks in and does so in a major way.

The supporting cast is quite interesting. Li Yu Fei proves to be the opposite of the “damsel in distress”, even getting in on some action at times as Yi, who eventually becomes a love interest of sorts, for Feng. The issue is that Yang Jun Ping’s Li Shao has the clichéd evil look and his gang members for the most part, have this sort of punk look that just screams “I’m evil and I know it”. This is especially noticeable in the form of Li’s two main henchmen, Wu Shen Bao’s Biao Zi and Fu Hai’s Wang Bo.

As mentioned, Yue Song is the film’s martial arts director and the fight scenes for the most part, look quite good. Yue does like to use a lot of Bruce Lee-like kicks when facing multiple opponents and at times, it seems too repetitive. However, what is interesting here is that the kicking is not the only aspect to Yue’s choreography. Yue incorporates mixed martial arts in some of the choreography, which enhances the action. There is even a nice little swordfight during the climactic bout between Feng and Li’s entire gang in an abandoned building. This climactic bout not only features this swordfight, but shows Feng using everything he can get his hands on and in addition, when an opponent uses an object, Feng deflects and uses the object himself or kicks through anything to get the knockout.

In conclusion, King of the Streets is a pretty decent film debut for Yue Song. He gives a pretty good performance and choreographs the action pretty well, even if repetitive at times. Definitely worth a rental.




The Guy from Harlem (1976)

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In a world where Blaxploitation comes in all forms, this low-budget film cannot be taken seriously as we are dealing with definitive Mystery Science Theater 3000 fare.

Al Connors is a private investigator who has moved from his hometown of Harlem to Miami because there are simply too many detectives in New York City. He takes pride in his job and one day, he gets a visit from his old hometown friend David McLeod, who has been working for the Central Intelligence Agency. Al is hired to protect for 24 hours an African diplomat’s wife who is to meet with the U.S. Secretary of State. Posing as a husband and wife, Al and Mrs. Ashanti hide out in a hotel room but soon learn Mrs. Ashanti is a target of a kidnapping ring by local mob boss Big Daddy.

When Al successfully has Mrs. Ashanti brought to her meeting the following day, he thinks everything is okay. That is, until another crime boss by the name of Harry De Bauld comes to Al’s office. He needs Al’s help in rescuing his daughter Wanda, who was kidnapped by Big Daddy’s men. Al takes the job for $25,000 and begins his rescue mission. When he learns the truth about Wanda’s kidnapping, he intends to make things right by confronting Harry about an aspect of his crimes that estranged the relationship between father and daughter. To make sure everything is right, Al will also have to face Big Daddy.

This 1976’s Blaxploitation film is an attempt to prove that anyone can make a film. While there are definitive films of that genre, namely Shaft and Foxy Brown to name a few, there are others that are not too great but have a cult following. For instance, Dolemite comes to mind there. Then, there are bottom of the barrel fare that just cannot be taken seriously and this film is one of those.

Granted, the blame cannot be placed on lead actor Loye Hawkins, who plays our titular “Guy from Harlem”, P.I. Al Connors. Hawkins makes the most of what has to be some of the most ridiculous material written and had it not been for his performance, this would have been a complete and utter waste of time, which many will feel that is what it is. Basically, the film would have been better off as two episodes of a locally shot television series because it involves our hero in not one, but two cases that are somehow connected and in some aspect, end the same way.

Some of the ridiculous material written includes Al having to hide his “cases” in the apartment of his current girlfriend and she has to leave. What results of course is Al having his way with his “cases” but in an interesting twist, they just involve making out and then cut to next scene, rather than the normal love scenes seen in these type of films. The action of the film is also beyond ridiculous. While they are all fight scenes, they are some of the worst fight scenes ever seen in film. Even young kids who do fight scenes on YouTube look like martial heroes compared to the fights here. There are no sound effects to accompany the hits, camera angles are not great at times, and in one fight, Al uses some sort of ballet move to counter an armbar and then proceeds to choke out his opponent using something that looks more like a move done in CPR situations.

Thankfully, after a small role in a 1980 movie, Loye Hawkins would leave acting behind and focus on his true passion, music. He is the leader of the Loye Hawkins Band, a jazz band these days.

The Guy from Harlem is so bad that if you plan on seeing this movie, take a group of your friends and make it a MST3K night and comment and laugh your way through this film, which just cannot be taken seriously…ever! If you do plan to take this seriously, do not say you have not been warned!

WFG RATING: F (only if you plan to take this film seriously…if not make your own rating)

An International Cinema Inc. Production. Director: Rene Martinez Jr. Writer: Gardenia Martinez. Cinematography: Rafael Remy. Editing: Rene Martinez Jr.

Cast: Loye Hawkins, Cathy Davis, Patricia Fulton, Wanda Starr, Steve Gallon, Lester Wilson, Wayne Crawford, Vaughan Harris, Michael Murrell, Amanda Schon.



American Chinatown (1996)

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Grandmaster Taejoon Lee makes his lead role debut in this film from Miami Connection helmer Richard Park.

Yong is an enforcer for local gang lord Eric. When Eric’s gang begins to have issues with rival crime lord Wong, Yong uses his martial arts skills to ensure that Eric can continue business. While Yong spends most of his free time at the food stall of his mentor and former street legend Jim, his life changes after rescuing Lily, a college student with a taste of the wild life.

Despite his best efforts to avoid her, Yong eventually develops feelings for Lily and the two begin a relationship amidst the war between Eric and Wong. Things go from bad to worse when Yong learns that Lily’s brother is none other than Eric. Upset and betrayed, Eric stabs Yong as a lesson, forcing the young martial artist into retirement. However, when Wong hires two deadly assassins, Max and Billy, will Eric be able to get help from the man whom he felt betrayed him?

It is clear that South Korean director Richard Park can be considered a definitive cult filmmaker. Starting out in his native Korea, he transitioned to the U.S. working with local Korean martial artists like Jun Chong and Y.K. Kim. Here, Park works with Taejoon Lee. For those unfamiliar, Taejoon is the son of Dr. Lee Joo-Bang, who is the founder of the martial art of Hwarang-Do, a style that originates from the styles used by the Hwarang Knights and has instances of Tae Kwon Do, Hapkido, and other martial arts.

As expected, the acting isn’t exactly Oscar worthy. It is more on the level of what to expect for a B-movie. There may be times when the sound may not be clear due to some various technical issues. In something similar to the crazy spoof credits on some Troma films, The Naked Gun films, and others, the boom mic was held by “the most obnoxious disruptive whining chump to ever hold a boom”. No joke. That’s when you know the sound of the film would be affected. However, Lee gets an A for effort and it is not until the second act where we can see a more dramatic performance rather than the robotic one seen in the film’s first half.

Robert Z’Dar, who recently passed away, does pretty well for cult film levels as Eric, Yong’s boss. He has a level of respect for his enforcer until he learns that he is in love with his sister. Bobby Kim does well in a more mentor fashion as food stall worker Jim. The only issue here is when he speaks Korean, there are no subtitles, making it somewhat difficult to understand what he is saying, unless you are fluent or have Korean as your native tongue. And for those expecting Kim to beat up some bad guys alongside Lee will have to wait until the finale where he only gets in about 10-15 seconds of fighting, but that’s okay as he plays more of a mentor here. As for Liat Goodson, she does well, so-so as Lily. Having a British accent, she does her best but her role isn’t really one that makes an impact even in the whole love story angle of the film.

Taejoon Lee also served as the fight choreographer of the film. The film is a chance for Lee to showcase his skills in Hwarang-Do and while it may look like a possible self-defense video of sorts, there are no bad close ups and shaky editing that could mar the film. In fact, if anything, the fights here look good. In one of the strangest twists of the film, Taejoon’s brother Eric has not one, not two, but three roles in the film. He has a nice wicked opening fight scene leading the charge as Eric’s underling Brian. Eric has some impressive kicks as seen in this particular fight. In the middle of the film, he lets his down and sports Kabuki like make-up to play a Yakuza leader who engages in a swordfight against big brother Taejoon. Finally, sporting a Genghis Khan look, he joins Taejoon student and the founder of the Farang Mu Sul style, Michael DeAlba, to play Wong’s assassin Billy.

American Chinatown is a cult film that ranks up there with the likes of Richard Park’s other American efforts, notably L.A. Street Fighters and Miami Connection. While the acting and script may suffer from blandness, the fight scenes bring a sense of redemption as the art of Hwarang-Do comes to life on the big screen.


A Peacock Films Production. Director: Richard Park. Producers: Larry Larson, Taejoon Lee, and Richard Park. Writer: Richard Park. Cinematography: Janusz Fikora and Maximo Munzi.

Cast: Taejoon Lee, Robert Z’Dar, Liat Goodson, Bobby Kim, Jun Sung-Ki, Eric T. Lee, Michael DeAlba.



Fists of Legend (2013)

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The title may seem similar to a famous Jet Li film, but this is not a remake. This is a really great mixed martial arts drama from Korea courtesy of director Kang Woo-Suk (Public Enemy).

Noodle shop owner Lim Deok-Kyu lives a quiet and unexciting life. This is a major difference from his high school days, when he was an amateur boxer. He is constantly berated by his mother-in-law and is ignored constantly by his daughter Soo-Bin.  When unscrupulous television producer Hong Gyu-Min creates a show that shows former high school fighters taking each other on, she invites Deok-Kyu, who at first refuses. However, when financial strife hits him hard, he joins the show and soon becomes a star.

However, with his newfound fame comes a price. Two of his former friends, Lee Sang-Hoon  and Shin Jae-Seok have also joined the show for their own reasons. Sang-Hoon has lost his self-respect as the manager of a PR company when he is constantly harassed by his boss and former friend Son Jin-Ho. Jae-Seok has become a low level gangster who is constantly seen as a mere henchman and wants to become somebody. When the three former friends learn of a tournament that Ms. Hong has created called the “Match of Legends”, the prize is $200,000, they come face-to-face with what could be their destinies.

Mixed martial arts films have been a dime a dozen. Most of the time, they have simplistic plots and rely only on the action. There have been some exceptions, notably Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior (2011). This film, based on an internet comic by Lee Jong-Gyu, is also one of those exceptions. Clocked in at 153 minutes, the film’s narrative is the driving force of the film.

The cast of the film give out great performances, notably Hwang Jeong-Min as Deok-Kyu. Deok-Kyu was an amateur boxer and Olympic hopeful who loses to a rigged contest and goes a downward spiral that nearly cost him everything. At first, he is seen as a loser to everyone, including himself. However, he soon makes a transition from zero to hero and back to zero only to eventually find what is right and does what he can not only to gain the respect of his daughter, but to seek redemption in himself. In fact, an emotional scene midway through the film made this reviewer shed a tear.

While it seems Lim’s story may be somewhat the focus of the story, we learn more about his former friends Sang-Hoon and Jae-Seok, two men who like their fallen friend, lack self-respect and are seen as losers to everyone. Through the use of flashbacks does the viewer fully understand what caused the three friends’ lives to change forever and the road to redemption for all three.

While there are a few antagonists in the film, none tend to come more reviled at times than Lee Yo-Won’s Ms. Hong. Lee plays the role as someone who cares only about the ratings of her creation. She constantly nags and even goes to some threatening to get what she wants when it comes to the talent of the show. At times, she is no better than a gangster who demands money especially when she poses a threat against one of the three guys if he doesn’t accept to go on the show. At least she doesn’t go as far as trying to rig the fights. She just wants a good show to earn the ratings.

Action director Jung Doo-Hong once again dazzles the screen with his choreography. Using mixed martial arts as the central force behind the action, he tends to use distinct styles for most of the film in terms of the characters. For instance, Deok-Kyu is a skilled Western boxer while Sang-Hoon is a skilled tae kwon do kicker. In a twist that may remind viewers of Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown (2011), the three men, along with the other five competing in the big tournament that takes up the third act, train in mixed martial arts under Jason Kim, a MMA champion who is the technical advisor of the show. The editing of the tournament fights is nice for the most, amid a few extreme close ups, but for the most part, overhead and wide shots are nicely used as well as long shots to showcase MMA techniques. They really make the cast, who trained under Jung for the film, look quite nice in the action.

The film had four nominations for four awards at the 50th Grand Bell Awards in Korea. Hwang Jeong-Min was up for Best Actor. Yoo Jung-Sang was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Newcomers Park Jung-Min and Park Doo-Shik were nominated both for Best New Actor for their portrayals of the young Deok-Kyu and Jae-Seok.

If you liked the mixed martial arts film Warrior, then Fists of Legend is definitely Korea’s answer to that film. Note that the word “answer” and not “version” is used. The film brings a good narrative that drives the action as well as some great performances by Hwang Jeong-Min, Yoo Jung-Sang, and Yoon Je-Moon as the three middle aged men who despite being past their prime seek redemption in themselves in the world of mixed martial arts. Definitely worth viewing.


CJ Entertainment presents a Cinema Service Production. Director: Kang Woo-Seok. Producer: Chung Sun-Yeong. Writer: Jang Min-Seok; based on the comic “Legend Punch” by Lee Jong-gyu. Cinematography: Kim Yong-Heung and Lee Bong-Joo. Editing: Ko Im-Pyo.

Cast: Hwang Jeong-Min, Yoo Joon-Sang, Lee Yo-Won, Yoon Je-Moon, Jeong Woong-In, Seong Ji-Roo, Ji Woo.



TRAILER: Bound by Debt

Two brothers are Bound by Debt in the first trailer to the upcoming indie action film from writer-director Anna Mormando.

Anna’s husband Paul Mormando, a champion martial artist, plays Dylan James, a rough and tough underground fighter who is estranged from his family. His brother Robert James (Bobby Ciasulli) is an addicted gambler with a wife and two daughters Alexis (Nikki Silva) and Nicole (Alexis Mormando). When Dylan can no longer fulfill his obligations to the mob, mob boss Mr. Russo (Samuel DiFiore) uses Robert’s gambling addiction and family as leverage against Dylan. The two brothers will have to reunite to save themselves and Robert’s family.

Filming recently completed in New York City with a release coming soon.