revenge

Only God Forgives (2013)

onlygodforgives Denmark-iconfrance-iconusa-iconsweden-icon

From famous Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn comes this tale of revenge set in the underworld of Bangkok.

Julian is the owner of a local Thai boxing gym in Bangkok. However, he is not just a gym owner. He is also a gangster who years ago, killed his father with his bare hands. This led him to Bangkok, where he is involved in a drug running operation led by his own mother, Crystal. When he learns of his older brother’s death, he finds his life has become more complicated.

While Crystal commands Julian to find and kill the ones who killed his brother, Julian cannot find himself to do so. The reason is that the killers were not only a top ranking rival criminal, but a sadistic and corrupt police officer named Chang. As Julian finds himself torn between revenge and redemption, Crystal begins to start a war with the rival gang. Finally, Julian decides the only way he can settle the score with Chang is to challenge him to a one-on-one fight.

Nicolas Winding Refn is quite the director. Gaining a major following with his Pusher trilogy, he made a major switch to Hollywood with Drive, which was a breakthrough role for former child star Ryan Gosling. The former Mouseketeer and the Danish director re-team for this film set in the criminal underworld of Bangkok. What is interesting is not only Gosling having much dialogue, but the amazing use of visuals in the film. Gosling’s Julian can be seen many times in a dark room with a visual as if he is constantly in confession in church, hence a meaning to the film’s title. Refn’s visual tactics further enhance the underworld of Bangkok’s “red-light districts”, which are shot with a red color filter.

The highlight of the film is Officer Chang, played with sadistic charm by veteran Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm. It is clear he is not only a dirty cop, but one who takes very extreme measures for interrogation. Armed usually with a sword, he is quite handy with anything sharp. In one very disturbing scene, he interrogates one of Crystal’s men by turning him into a human torture rack that would make fans of films like Saw and Hostel root him on. After appearing in smaller roles in films like The Hangover Part II, the role of Chang is definitely Pansringarm’s breakout role. He recently made a cameo in Isaac Florentine’s upcoming Ninja: Shadow of a Tear as a corrupt general in Burma who interrogates in Chang-style against Scott Adkins’ Casey. It is as if he channeled his role here and brought it to the Florentine film.

Kristin Scott Thomas can be viewed as a villainess of the film in her role of gangster Crystal. While there is no real protagonist in the film, Thomas brings a sense of craziness in a motherly type of fashion. She constantly berates Julian for not only not doing his job to find his brother’s killer, but goes as far as constantly saying how jealous Julian is of his brother, even in front of Julian’s girlfriend Mai, played by Thai actress Yayaying Rhatha Phongnam.

Which brings us to the very few action scenes. Refn could be a filmmaker who, if he ever decides to make a full-blooded martial arts film, can make it work in terms of shooting action. An opening fight sequence between two Muay Thai boxers is shot very well with the use of long shots and overhead shots. Those expecting quite a fight between Julian and Chang will be somewhat disappointed as Julian only gets less than two shots with Chang constantly beating the bejesus out of him. As Chang shows his power, it juxtaposes with a statue of a Thai boxer. However, Refn brings a sense of realism into this fight sequence. Realism is something not too often seen in martial arts fights in films. However, Refn makes it quite watchable using the right camera angles and editing techniques, even if the fight is one-sided. That’s why should Refn ever do a full-on martial arts film, he truly proves he has done his homework.

Only God Forgives is not a martial arts film per se, but Refn’s visuals combined with the two actual fight sequences in the film and the breakout performance of Vithaya Pansringarm make this a somewhat decent film from the Danish director. One can only hope Refn will one day do a full martial arts film because he definitely has the potential to do one.

A Gaumont/Space Rocket Nation/Wild Bunch/Motel Movies presentation in association with Bold Films in co-production with Film I Väst, DR/FilmKlubben, and Nordisk Film ShortCut. Director: Nicolas Winding Refn. Producers: Lene Børglum, Sidonie Dumas, Vincent Maraval, and Hanne Palmquist. Writer: Nicolas Winding Refn. Cinematography: Larry Smith. Editing: Matthew Newman.

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Kristen Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Gordon Brown, Yayaying Rhatha Phongnam, Tom Burke, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Pitchawat Petchayahon, Charlie Ruedpokanon, Kowit Wattanakul, Wannisa Peungpa.

Advertisements

Showdown in Manila (2017)

showdowninmanila usa-icon

An action ensemble cast joins Russian powerhouse Alexander Nevsky for this throwback action film which marked the directorial debut of Mark Dacascos, known to most today as the Chairman of Food Network’s Iron Chef America.

Nick Peyton has attempted numerous times to find the mysterious crime figure known as “The Wraith”. During their latest attempt, Nick is wounded by the Wraith’s top men but ultimately survives, hoping to one day seek retribution. The chance arrives when Matthew Wells is murdered at the hands of the Wraith’s organization and his widow seeks justice by hiring Nick and new partner Charlie Benz to find the Wraith.

On the streets of Manila, Nick and Charlie encounter various clues that may lead them to the location of the Wraith. When Nick finally finds Dorn, one of the Wraith’s cohorts and one of the guys who gunned Nick down, Dorn finally reveals where the Wraith is located. However, learning exactly where he is, Nick knows that he and Charlie will be not be able to capture him alone. Nick puts in a call to some old allies to help him on this dangerous mission. Will Nick get the Wraith and finally seek retribution for both himself and Mrs. Wells?

Alexander Nevsky is truly making his mark known for his low-budgeted action films which, depending on your taste, are either “love them” or “hate them”. After making his directorial debut with Black Rose, he has joined forces with Andrzej Bartkowiak, the director of Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 the Grave, and 90’s action hero and current Iron Chef America chairman Mark Dacascos on this film, which takes its inspiration from The Expendables.

This time around Mark Dacascos makes his directorial debut on the film and has a cameo appearance as the ill-fated Matthew Wells, whose death triggers Nevsky’s Nick to not only capture his arch-nemesis and seek retribution for his near-fatal shooting. However, what stands out is that while Dacascos makes the most of the locations and budget, Nevsky, who also served as a producer, helped bring in a slew of 90’s B-movie action stars to the forefront and have them align with himself for its third and final act.

Much of the film focuses on the ongoing investigation of the location with the Wraith, played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, a veteran known for epic villain roles such as Yoshida in Showdown in Little Tokyo, Sangha in Kickboxer 2: The Road Back, and Shang Tsung in the first Mortal Kombat movie. Here, he is the mastermind known simply as “The Wraith” and he spends most of the film hidden. After the film’s opening action sequence, he is sporadically seen until the third act, instead leaving the work to 90’s powerhouse villain actor Matthias Hues to do the dirty work. Tia Carrere, who gained fame for the late 90’s action series Relic Hunter as well as appearing in films like the aforementioned Showdown in Little Tokyo, doesn’t get much action but stands more as the woman who hires our heroes to find out who killed her husband.

As for Nevsky, he has a new partner in Straship Troopers’ Casper Van Dien and the two have chemistry meant for a buddy action comedy. Nevsky’s by-the-book hardcore cop complements Van Dien’s laid back womanizing detective. However, the third act, set in the jungle is where the action really picks up as fans of this throwback era will have the likes of Cynthia Rothrock, Don “The Dragon” Wilson, and Olivier Gruner along with Dmitriy Dyuzhev as fellow Russian Victor, all of whom play characters who have worked with Nevsky’s Nick at one point.

In charge of the film’s action sequences are Al Dacascos and Emmanuel Bettancourt with Sonny Sison serving as second unit director. Al Dacascos, the father of our film’s director, is a martial arts legend, finding the style of wun hop kuen do, itself based off Kajukenbo. While many would expect with a cast of 90’s action stars a style similar to what was seen back in the day, with the resources they had to work with, Master Dacascos utilized more realism by providing short and quick fights that sporadically come throughout the film with the finale in the jungle combining both martial arts action and gunfire galore.

If you are a hardcore action film that expects plenty of fisticuffs and love that low-budget feel to it, add to the mix a 90’s B-movie dream cast, then Showdown in Manila is worth taking a look. If you’re expecting something along the lines of a martial arts epic considering the cast, then you will want to avoid this one. This is one instance where as mentioned, you will either “love it”, “like it”, or “hate it”. Nevertheless, this is one team I’d be happy to align myself with.

WFG RATING: C+

ITN Distribution presents a Hollywood Storm/Czar Pictures production. Director: Mark Dacascos. Producer: Alexander Nevsky. Writer: Craig Hamman; story by Hamman, Alexander Nevsky, and Mark Dacascos. Cinematography: Rudy Harbon. Editing: Stephen Adrianson.

Cast: Alexander Nevsky, Casper Van Dien, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Tia Carrere, Matthias Hues, Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, Olivier Gruner, Dmitriy Dyuzhev, Mark Dacascos, Iza Calzado, Robert Madrid, Polina Butorina.

ITN Distribution will be releasing this film to select theaters on January 19, 2018 followed by a VOD and Digital HD release on January 23, 2018.

Fist of the North Star (1995)

fistofthenorthstar usa-icon

This live action adaptation may not suit the faithful of fans of the original Japanese manga and anime. However, martial arts film fans will like this as one of the highlights of British action star Gary Daniels, as he displays some of his best kicking on screen.

In a post-apocalyptic future, the deadly Southern Cross Army, led by Lord Shin, has been wreaking havoc across the lands. As a result, many are left in dire poverty. However, there is one hope to stop the Southern Cross. The “hope” comes in the form on a wanderer. That wanderer’s name is Kenshiro, the only remaining exponent of the “North Star” martial arts school.

For Kenshiro, it is more than helping those victimized by the Southern Cross, but it is personal. Kenshiro and Shin, arch rivals for a long time, fought with Shin overpowering Kenshiro and not only left him for dead, but has taken Kenshiro’s love Julia. Julia has become Shin’s personal slave and even worse, Shin is responsible for the death of Kenshiro’s father, Ryuken. It is up to Kenshiro to bring peace back to the lands and stop the Southern Cross once and for all.

Upon viewing this for the first time when it was HBO in 1996, I knew there was an anime movie and manga, but hadn’t seen it prior to this version. While this version will not be exactly be pleasing who have seen the manga and anime before, the martial arts film fans will most likely get a “kick” out of it. Directed by Tony Randel, this is actually a pretty good martial arts action film that highlights the talents of one Gary Daniels.

Gary Daniels has been a fan favorite for years. His impeccable kicking skills are some of the best seen on screen. This shows some of his best skills yet and in addition, he pulls off the dramatic side quite well. When he executes the titular move, a series of punches that end with a shot to the head, causing the opponent’s head to literally explode, it is not bad. This is first seen when he takes on veteran stuntman Nils Allen Stewart, who plays baddie Zeed.

Costas Mandylor makes the best of his role as the evil Shin, the head of the Southern Cross and he is able to perform his action scenes quite well with Christopher Penn as henchman Jackal, who looks primarily nasty due to him having to tape up his face to prevent himself from the effects of the North Star. Isako Washio makes the most of her role as the kidnapped Julia, who spends the film as a true damsel-in-distress. Dante Basco provides much of the comic relief as Bat, a young man who becomes Kenshiro’s ally in the wastelands.

Winston Omega, Daniels’ real-life martial arts teacher, choreographed the film’s fight scenes and as mentioned, make Daniels and Mandylor look good. While Daniels is known for his awesome kicks, he gives Mandylor a chance to shine in the action department, emplying more of a Western boxing with dashes of perhaps Muay Thai from what it looks like. Of course, while Costas’ real life brother Louis is the more action-orientated star, Costas does stand out here as a worthy villain especially in the climactic showdown between Shin and Kenshiro. As a warm up to that finale, look for an awesome fight scene involving Kenshiro disposing of a slew of Southern Cross thugs with his amazing skills.

While hardcore fans of the original manga and anime will find disappointment in today’s age, Fist of the North Star is a pretty good 90’s adaptation which features Gary Daniels and Costas Mandylor as the top of their game as Kenshiro and Shin. Martial arts enthusiasts may just want to see this one, even if it is just one time.

WFG RATING: B-

Overseas Film Group present an OZ Motion Pictures production. Director: Tony Randel. Producer: Mark Yellen and Akihiro Komine. Writers: Tony Randel and Peter Atkins; based on the original manga by Buronson and Tetsuo Hara. Cinematography: Jacques Haitkn. Editing: Sonny Baskin.

Cast: Gary Daniels, Costas Mandylor, Christopher Penn, Isako Washio, Melvin Van Peebles, “Downtown” Julie Brown, Dante Basco, Nalena Herron, Malcolm McDowell, Tracey Walter, Clint Howard, Leon “Vader” White, Nils Allen Stewart, Tony Halme, Andre Rosey Brown.

The Divine Move (2014)

thedivinemove southkorea-icon

The Asian chess-like game of Go, or in this case, Baduk, gets deadly in this action thriller from director Jo Bum-Gu.

Tae-Seok is a young man whose skills in the game of baduk has led him to help his elder brother Woo-Seok, who’s in a jam. Woo-Seok has been challenged to take on “Player”, a gangster working for one of the most vicious crime lords in the area, Sal-Soo, also known as the Killer. When the ruse is discovered, Tae-Seok is brutally beaten and Woo-Seok is mercilessly killed by the Killer, who frames Tae-Seok for the murder.

Imprisoned for seven years, Tae-Seok learns to fight with the help of an elder prisoner and his men. Perfecting his skills, he is offered to join the elder prisoner after he is released. Tae-Seok would love to take the offer, but at the moment, he has one thing on his mind: avenging his brother. To do so, he changes his look and goes after each of Killer’s men by challenging them to baduk and then getting his revenge, until he can get to the man himself in a game that will decide who lives and who dies.

A truly brutal film, director Jo Bum-Gu takes You Sung-Hyup’s script about a baduk player who uses his game and fight skills to seek revenge, is quite interesting. For those unfamiliar with baduk, or the game go, it is similar to chess that it involves strategy but involves the use of “territories”. The game plays a crucial factor in the film overall as the game ultimately leads to violence throughout the film.

Jung Woo-Sung truly makes an impact in the film as the revenge-seeking Tae-Seok, who goes from a bushy, bearded scared man to a clean cut revenge seeker in the film. It is apparent he only has one thing on his mind after getting brutalized, seeing his brother dead and then getting framed for that death. Seeing Tae-Seok train to fight is quite an interesting training montage seen that leads to the quest for revenge.

Some of the thugs in the film are incredibly vicious. Notably Choi Jin-Hyuk’s “Player” and the big boss himself, Lee Beom-Soo’s “Killer”. They are inexplicably mean-spirited and when things don’t go their way, they resort to violence and this leads to Tae-Seok using an “eye for an eye”. The character of “Tricks”, played by Kim In-Kwon provides some hysterical comic relief in the vein of Joe Pesci’s Leo Getz in the Lethal Weapon films as he is a talkative slapstick goofball. Ahn Sung-Ki does quite well as another sidekick, “The Lord”, an elder expert who joins Tae-Seok as well.

In charge of the action scenes is Seoul Action School’s Choi Bong-Rok. Choi has the cast use close quarter combat as well as some technical style fighting. However, the close quarter style brings a more brutal, realistic style of fighting that looks at times very heart-pounding and exciting. In an exciting scene, Tae-Seok actually competes in a game of baduk against an opponent inside of a room in near sub-zero temperatures that leads to an all out knife fight between the duo. The climactic finale is also quite exciting and shows Jung at the top of his game.

The Divine Move is a pretty good movie that shows Jung Woo-Sung in his one of his best performances. The concept of turning baduk into a potential “game of death” is quite interesting and the combat scenes are nicely done. A definite rental with strong optional purchase.

WFG RATING: B+

CJ Entertainment presents a Showbox/Mediaplex production. Director: Jo Bum-Gu. Producers: Park Man-Hee, Yu Jeong-Heon, and Hwang Geun-Ha. Writer: Yu Seong-Hyeop. Cinematography: Kim Dong-Young. Editing: Shin Min-Kyung.

Cast: Jung Woo-Sung, Lee Beom-Soo, Choi Jin-Hyuk, Kim Myung-Soo, Ahn Sung-Ki, Kim in-Kwon, Lee Si-Young, Ahn Gil-Kang, Lee Do-Kyung, Jung Hae-Kyun, Ahn Seo-Hyun.

 

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (2017)

kingarthurandtheknightsoftheroundtable usa-iconThailand-icon

The legend of Camelot is given a modern twist from the makers of the Sharknado franchise.

When King Arthur banishes the evil witch Morgana and her son Mordred to the ends of the universe, Morgana vows revenge against anyone in King Arthur’s bloodline as well as those of the Knights. Flash forward 1500 years later in Thailand. Ex-military officer Penn is a descendant who does not believe in the legacy he is supposedly known for. He has a girlfriend in Jenna, a fellow student at the dojo they train in. However, Lucas, an apparent descendant of Merlin, believes in the legacy and swears by it.

When Morgana and Mordred re-emerge, Morgana makes her intentions clear. To gain the ultimate power, she must gain Excalibur. Regaining some of her powers, Morgana begins her wrath of destruction, even possessing local police to serve as her loyal warriors. When Penn, Jenna, Lucas, Georgina, and the returning Gunner all find themselves affected and hunted down, they soon find a mysterious ally who will have to do only one thing: make them believe their legacy and fulfill their destiny.

Having adapted Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers as a modern day adaptation, The Asylum returns with another modern day take of a legendary story, in this case, King Arthur and his knights. Sharknado 5 writer Scotty Mullen crafted a pretty decent tale set in modern day Bangkok featuring many stunt performers and actors who have a career in Thailand today.

Kickboxer: Vengeance’s Sara Malakul Lane really hams it up to quite an effect as the evil Morgana, who seeks the power of Excalibur and uses her powers to attempt to get her way. In the pivotal role of Penn is stunt performer Eoin O’Brien, who can be seen in films like Tekken 2: Kazuya’s Revenge and Never Back Down: No Surrender. For his first lead role as a non-believer turned the descendant of the King himself, O’Brien handles himself pretty well as he not only deals with having to learn of his legacy, but a conflict within his own ranks when the return of Gunner possibly brings back an old rivalry not only within their military ranks but a love triangle between Penn, Gunner, and Jenna.

The supporting cast makes the most of what they have to work with. As Lucas, Alex Winters is the hardcore military man who teaches Penn a thing or two about him needing to come to terms with his past and his legacy. Tanja Keller’s Georgina is a hardcore warrior who takes no remorse but finds herself bonding with an unexpected supporting character. Elidh MacQueen’s Krista becomes the key to the heroes living up to their legacy. Jon Nutt’s Gunner is a bit of annoying character with his over the top way of convincing the group of their destiny while Russell Geoffrey Banks’ Mordred seems to have a bit of undecidedness in terms of what he wants to achieve and his character is perhaps more conflicted than even our heroes.

The final act starts of promising until it takes a much unexpected turn that is flat out ridiculous. While the film’s apparent final action set does live up to its promise and all looks to be safe and sound in Bangkok, Mullen’s script decides to bring something that is not a dragon, but something far worse and that is said in not a good way. While it shouldn’t be a surprise considering that the Asylum made this, but they have done better with their endings to their other films. The actual finale is quite a disappointment in this case. It is as if the ultimate villain mode looks like it could have came out of the 1995 Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers big screen film and those who have seen it know exactly where this is headed.

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table starts out very promising for an Asylum film with a good concept. However, that concept takes a very atrocious turn in the film’s final act that just nearly destroys the overall effort.

WFG RATING: C-

The Asylum presents a Benetone Films production. Director: Jared Cohn. Producer: David Michael Latt. Writer: Scotty Mullen. Cinematography: Josh Maas. Editing: Rob Pallatina.

Cast: Sara Malakul Lane, Eoin O’Brien, Alex Winters, Kelly B. Jones, Russell Geoffrey Banks, Jon Nutt, Asia Marie, Tanja Keller, Elidh MacQueen, Byron Gibson, Ron Smoorenburg.

Fist 2 Fist II: Weapon of Choice (2014)

fist2fist2 usa-icon

This in-name sequel to the 2011 martial arts action film brings back Hapkido master Jino Kang, but sadly if compared to the first one, it’s a disappointment.

Jack Lee is an ex-assassin who used to work for mob boss Michael Banducci . However, after an assignment of wiping out a Triad boss and his men, Jack has retired and raised his niece Jamie as his own child after the death of his sister and brother-in-law.

Six years has passed and Jack has settled down raising Jamie while working as a legitimate businessman. However, one night, Jack’s life changes forever when a group of masked men kidnaps Jamie, leaving Jack to take out who is left. When Jack discovers that the last remaining masked man is a former comrade of his, Jack comes to the realization that his former, Banducci, is responsible. With the aid of police detective Ash , Jack must rely on his old skills to retrieve Jamie, no matter the cost.

Hapkido master Jino Kang co-wrote and co-directed this film with his editor, Tony Urgo. As much as this reviewer wanted to like it, the film is not as good as its predecessor. Had they not used the Fist 2 Fist name to capitalize on Kang, it still wouldn’t make much of a difference. It is not that Kang is a bad actor, but it is obvious the film is truly flawed in its execution due to the fact that is it a routine action film about a former hitman forced into action when his niece is kidnapped.

Even the villains of the film were not too convincing throughout the film. Banducci comes off as a Bud Bundy lookalike that doesn’t really have a reason for Jack to go back to his way that is not convincing and his number one man, Orloff (played by stunt coordinator Armen Mishin) is pretty much robotic in his performance. The two lead females pull off more convincing performances with Katherine Cielo as a hard-boiled detective who eventually becomes Jack’s love interest while Kelly Lee Dennis (who has a bit of a resemblance to Hong Kong starlet Kelly Lin) does well as the ticked off kidnap victim, who even gets a bit of action herself.

Kang himself choreographed the film’s fight scenes and the opening scene could have been done well with the right amount of camera angles and editing. Sadly, quick cuts and close ups plagued the quality of that fight. The film’s only redeeming factor, and that is saying it mildly, is the final set action piece where Kang goes after Banducci once and for all and to do so, he must fight his way through various fighters of different styles. Kang takes on the like of wushu experts, a staff fighter, and fighters skilled in bushido. What has to be said, which is laughable, is that the credits mention some of the styles used in the film with one credit of a few stunt fighters reading “just fighting”. And that’s being literal.

If you are curious to see Jino Kang’s latest, that’s fine, but this reviewer says Fist 2 Fist II: Weapon of Choice, is a pretty big disappointment compared to its fight-heavy predecessor. Only see the film for perhaps the final action piece, but other than that, it’s pretty much safe to say, avoid this “film of choice”.

WFG RATING: D

A Black Belt Productions LLC Production. Directors: Jino Kang and Tony Urgo. Producer: Jino Kang. Writers: Jino Kang and Tony Urgo. Cinematography: Eric Gustafson. Editing: Tony Urgo.

Cast: Jino Kang, Douglas Olsson, Katherine Celio, Artem Mishin, Kelly Lou Dennis, Don Williams, John Carney, Steven Menasche, Robert D. Parham.

Fist 2 Fist (2011)

fist2fist usa-icon

Hapkido master Jino Kang unleashes this action packed drama co-starring Human Weapon star Bill Duff in the villain role.

Kang plays Ken Min, a martial artist who used to be part of a gang run by Tokyo Joe. When he decided to go straight and turned in his former comrade, Ken has made it a living to do good by teaching martial arts at the local community center. While Ken takes in a new student in former hoodlum Jim, he also receives the news that the community center has lost all of its funding and will have to close eventually unless Ken can raise $100,000.

Meanwhile, Tokyo Joe has been released from prison and has a score to settle with Ken. He gathers a gang of thugs for an upcoming martial arts competition. When Joe finally confronts Ken, he makes him an offer that Ken has no other choice but to accept. Ken and his students Jim, Gen, and Erik must compete against Joe’s goons for a prize of $100,000. Ken takes his students to train with experts in Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts, and Muay Thai Kickboxing. Meanwhile, Ken’s wife Mimi, who once was Joe’s ex-girlfriend, confronts her old beau and is kidnapped as a result. Ken must now make the ultimate sacrifice to save his wife and settle the score with his former comrade turned enemy.

The martial arts film is quite an interesting genre to work with. While most may forget the story and focus on the fight scenes, there have been some exceptions where the story is crucial to the action. Jino Kang’s directorial debut here, originally titled Hand 2 Hand, is one of those films where the story proves to be crucial to the action. Hapkido expert Kang does quite well as Ken, the possible tragic hero of the film as a man who attempts to atone for his sins by becoming a martial arts teacher. He still has a bit of guilt about his past and it drives into overload when he takes in new student Jim, well played by Peter Rollojay Woodrow. However, it seems like Ken’s other students Gen and Erik seem more along the lines of throwaway characters rather than of importance.
Bill Duff, star of the reality series Human Weapon, plays it off pretty well as Tokyo Joe, a former hood who thrives on fighting and even had made money promoting fights while serving time. Duff spends most of the film grimacing and setting up as Ken’s former comrade turned rival. While he has a lackey in Bruno, played in typical foil-type by James Hiser, one of his fellow thugs should have had a better chance as the lackey for this type of film. Former Ultimate Fighter Tim Lajcik plays the recruiter of Tokyo Joe’s gang, Rocky. Lajcik should have had the chance to show his mixed martial arts skills on screen, but is sadly relegated to showing his skills during a training sequence. For a martial arts action film, it would have made a little more sense to have Rocky be the lackey and perhaps, have the chance to show his MMA skills on screen.

What martial arts fans will find astonishing is the appearance of real-life martial artists playing themselves as they train Ken’s students in various styles. Muay Thai fighter Armando Ramos, who appears with Kang in the opening fight sequence, trains Jim in Muay Thai. Charles Gracie trains Jim in the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Eddie Bravo trains Jim, Gen, and Erik in grappling arts while the legendary Gene LeBell trains the trio in his art of Judo.

The film’s action sequences, choreographed by Kang, showcase a combination of kickboxing-style fights, Kang’s predominant style of Hapkido, and Mixed Martial Arts. Some of the fights seem to look like something expected in Tae Kwon Do competitions. In the opening, Kang takes on a thug who looks to have a bit of Capoeira in his arsenal but seems more along the likes of Tae Kwon Do. As for the Mixed Martial Arts fights that dominate the finale, the camera angles look pretty decent and the editing isn’t too bad. However, the problem comes in the lighting. At times, it is difficult to see any impact due to the darkness of the cage fights. Those hoping to see an exciting finale between Kang and Duff will be disappointed as the fight doesn’t last long despite a good use of slow motion techniques used at the right times. The fight should have been done better and not feel rushed, yet Kang does get an A for effort. Let’s hope he does better with his next film.

Fist 2 Fist is a pretty good introduction to Hapkido master Jino Kang. For those who may not have heard of him, he definitely proved himself to be a first-time filmmaker here despite a lackluster final fight. He is set to appear in another film, and one can only hope he will improve with it. Definitely worth a rental.

WFG RATING: B-

A Black Belt Productions LLC Production. Director: Jino Kang. Producers: Jino Kang and Kurt Nangle. Writer: Jino Kang. Cinematography: Kurt Nangle. Editing: Tony Urgo.

Cast: Jino Kang, Bill Duff, Michael Bauld, Peter Rallojay Woodruff, Michelle Choi, Tim Lajcik, Michelle Tan, James Hiser.

Acts of Vengeance (2017)

actsofvengeance usa-iconBulgaria-icon

Antonio Banderas goes silent as he seeks revenge in the latest film from action auteur Isaac Florentine.

Frank Valera has been dedicated to his job as a top lawyer who’s known for his fast-talking ways. At times, his job would get in the way of his life with his wife Sue and daughter Olivia. However, on the night where Frank missed her daughter’s recital, Frank gets news he never would expect to hear. Sue and Olivia were found dead, victims of a murder. Confronted by his now former father-in-law, Frank begins to search for clues as to who killed his family.

After numerous failed attempts from the police, Frank even finds punishing himself by competing in underground brawls at a local bar. One night, Frank comes upon a book from Marcus Aurelius, mentioning the ways of the stoic. Deciding to train his body by taking up martial arts and taking a vow of silence, Frank vows he will speak again when he discovers who has killed Sue and Olivia. During his quest, he finds a reliable ally in local nurse Sheila, who also fights her own demons. Together, they are determined to find who has killed Sue and Olivia.

Antonio Banderas is truly making the most of his recent surge as an elder action hero type, recently showcasing what he is capable of in films like Security and Gun Shy, not to mention his hilarious action turn in The Expendables 2. However, this is perhaps one of his toughest action-orientated roles yet because of the intense physical training his character endures and the fact he does it in a silent manner. And Banderas truly does an excellent job in the pivotal role of Frank, whose gone from having it all to having nothing and seeking redemption within himself and for his deceased family.

Paz Vega brings some ample support in the role of Sheila, a local nurse who finds Frank after his first skirmish under his newfound meaning to seek revenge. She becomes the closest person he can trust in his mission of revenge while Karl Urban plays a police officer who attempts to help Frank until a certain point where he can no longer assist. Jonathan Schaech makes the most of his limited screen time as the police detective in charge of Frank’s case.

Director Isaac Florentine not only brings his style of filmmaking to the table but the filmmaker, who is also a martial artist, brings his skills in front of the screens as Frank’s karate teacher while the film’s fight choreographer, Tim Man, would play Frank’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu teacher in the intense training sequence of the film. Banderas handles himself quite well in the film’s action sequences, showing the dedication he brings to the film.

Acts of Vengeance may seem like a generic action film title, but Antonio Banderas really brings it both showcasing his skills as an elder action role type and doing it all while keeping silent. Isaac Florentine continues his streak as a polished action film director with this film.

WFG RATING: B

Millennium Films present a Nu Boyana Film Studios Production. Director: Isaac Florentine. Producers: Les Weldon and Yariv Lerner. Writer: Matt Venne. Cinematography: Yaron Scharf. Editing: Paul Harb, Ivan Ivanov, and Irit Raz-McBride.

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Paz Vega, Karl Urban, Jonathan Schaech, Cristina Serafini, Lillian Blankenship, Robert Forster, Isaac Florentine, Tim Man.

Lady Whirlwind (1972)

ladywhirlwind Hong-kong-icon

Angela Mao takes center stage in this classic kung fu film that takes the revenge theme and doubles the action with Mao and Chang Yi doing what they do best.

Tien Li-Chun is a young woman who has come to town to look for someone. She finds a local casino and learns that the casino owners have been rigging the games to rip off money from the locals. When she is confronted by the manager, Tien unleashes her martial arts skills against the manager and his men. The manager is the brother of female crime boss Tiao Ta-Niang, who runs the local syndicate with Tung Ku.

The person Tien is looking for is Lin Shi-Hao, whom she blames for her sister’s suicide many years ago. However, three years ago, Lin was left for dead by Tung Ku, but was nursed back to health by Hsuang Hsuang. Lin has been looking for a way to get even with Tung. However, when Tien gets in the picture, Lin offers for Tien to get her revenge, but only if he can get his revenge against Tung first. When Tung brings in an old classmate from Japan, Wen Tien, his skills prove too much for Lin, who goes off to learn Tai Chi. Upon his return, Lin and Tien, despite their eventual duel, decide to team up to stop Tung Ku and his gang before it’s too late.

While Bruce Lee was the kung fu king, Golden Harvest was making more kung fu films with director Huang Feng, who had a top star in the female action legend Angela Mao. While by today’s standard it may seem dated, this film can be said to be quite the classic. What may sound interesting is that despite the film being called Lady Whirlwind, most of the focus doesn’t really go to Mao, but actually that of her co-star Chang Yi. Mao does get a long fight scene in a casino, where she faces a young Sammo Hung (who also serves as fight choreographer) and countless thugs. However, after that scene, she usually appears to confront Chang’s Lin and challenge him. Eventually they must join forces if Mao wants to get her revenge.

As for Chang Yi, he truly is a kung fu film legend. He plays a tortured soul who, like Mao, seeks revenge. However, his mission of revenge is that against the gang leader who left him for dead, played by veteran Pai Ying. Despite the fact that screenwriter Wa Toi-Chung he they needed to add a Japanese character to show the constant tension between Chinese and Japanese during the war, the fact that Mao’s story and Chang’s story is connected and does in fact, make for an interesting storyline. Yet, they didn’t really need to add a Japanese character in the mix. The character of Chin Yuet-Sang’s Wen Tien didn’t need to be a necessity as Japanese.

As mentioned, Sammo Hung served as the film’s martial arts director and as always, he makes his stars look good. It is apparent he learned well under the tutelage of Han Ying-Chieh. He lets Mao unleash her kicking skills and in one nice sequence, Mao actually does a scissor leg takedown against Hung himself in the casino fight sequence. Sure, it may look dated, but it was just a precursor for Hung’s frenetic style and the use of the scissor leg takedown in films. Of course, there is a bit of insane wirework used in the film, but it’s ultimately forgivable.

Despite its date, Lady Whirlwind is a classic Angela Mao film. The interweaving of the revenge plots mixed in with Sammo Hung’s action makes for a pretty good kung fu film.

WFG RATING: B+

A Golden Harvest (HK) Ltd. Production. Director: Huang Feng. Producer: Raymond Chow. Writer: Wa Toi-Chung. Cinematography: Lee Yau-Tong. Editing: Peter Cheung.

Cast: Angela Mao, Chang Yi, Pai Ying, Oh Kyung-Ah, Anna Liu, Chin Yuet-Sang, Sammo Hung, Kim Nam-Il, Yeung Wai, Huang Feng.

Adkins Seeks Revenge in “Accident Man” Trailer

Scott Adkins is back and this time, he’s looking for revenge!

In Accident Man, a live-action adaptation of the now-defunct Toxic! comic by Pat Mills, Adkins is the titular character, Mike Fallon, an assassin who makes his hits look like accidents. When the love of his life is killed, he pinpoints that his colleagues may be responsible and goes on a mission of revenge.

Ashley Greene, Amy Johnston, Ray Park, Michael Jai White, and Ray Stevenson co-star in the film, directed by Jesse V. Johnson. Tim Man, a frequent collaborator with Adkins, serves as fight choreographer.

Accident Man is due for release in 2018.