Crazy Uncle Rich’s Hong Kong Theater!

Posted on May 28, 2014

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If you’re interested in the 2013 column, you can see it here.

Jackie Chan Presents: Wushu (2008)

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This movie does a lot of things right.

First off, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo is phenomenal. Don’t miss any chance to see him perform. Fast forward through movies you don’t like just to watch him act, and fight. Heck, watch the beginning of Enter the Dragon to see him, as a young man, duel with Bruce Lee.

Second, it takes the time to really build our relationships with all five main characters. It does a very good job of making them easy to identify and follow. It also gives them all their own story arcs.

 

Verdict: If you want to see an old fashioned kung fu movie with strong characters and excellent choreography (but no gore or adult situations), watch this.

The Legend of Bruce Lee (2008)

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This Chinese limited series TV show uses Bruce Lee’s life, starting with his winning a dance contest as an adolescent, as a springboard for a hagiography (that’s like a biography, except you only say nice things) tinged with fantasy and philosophy.

The acting is mediocre, although Kwok-Kwan Chan’s mimicry of Bruce Lee is very impressive. You can spot where each episode of the series ended by the pacing.

It may be that I should have watched this with subtitles rather than dubbing. It may also be that Bruce Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do does not translate well from print to film.

I think Bruce Lee’s legacy is enhanced by his humanity. That he was nearsighted and had one leg shorter than the other means he overcame more obstacles than some other people. That he came to America, got a college education, and built a successful business is all the more impressive because he came to the States with so little.
Verdict: If you want to watch a biography of Bruce Lee, there are better ones than this.

The Storm Warriors (2009)

 

픙운2Years ago, I saw The Storm Riders (1998) and loved it. It was crazy, over-the-top, wuxia and beautifully filmed. Plus, the villain was legendary martial arts master Sonny Chiba (The Street Fighter, both volumes of Kill Bill), and it co-starred the gorgeous Qi Shu (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).

The Storm Warriors is the sequel. Why they waited for a decade before making a sequel, I have no idea.

Maybe I should have re-watched The Storm Riders before diving into this. I felt this was boring, and did not spend enough time building our emotional connection with the characters.
Verdict: Long-running manga do not translate well into movie franchises, and I think this may be an example of that. See the first movie instead.

Vengeance (2009)

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Johnny Hallyday plays a chef who owns a restaurant on the Champs Elysee in Paris, France. When his son-in-law and grandchildren are brutally murdered,and his daughter hospitalized, in Hong Kong, he makes the journey and swears to get revenge before his past can catch up with him and destroy his memory.

I don’t recall ever seeing Johnny Hallyday in anything before, so this was a treat. I am a big fan of both Simon Yam and Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, so seeing them again was serious Hong Kong happy pills for me.
Verdict: This is movie rooted in primal human emotions and carried by moving portrayals. Well worth seeing, if you enjoy violent gangster movies.

The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman (2010)

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Nothing old-fashioned about this movie, let me tell you. Borrowing techniques from music videos, animation, and video games, Wuershan weaves together three stories linked by a kitchen cleaver made from the top five swords in the martial arts world.

This is a wild ride from beginning to end, and back again. The butcher is the last person to own the cleaver and the story starts with him. Then it jumps back in time to the previous owner, the chef, and tells most of his story. Then it jumps even further back to the chef’s childhood, when a blacksmith made a weapon for an evil swordsman. Then the movie goes forward in time again to resolve the butcher’s tale.
Verdict: Bloody, silly, fast-paced, and never boring, this movie is idiosyncratic in ways I really enjoy. See it if you’re looking for something (very) different.

Dragon (2011)

We love Donnie Yen, and we have since seeing him co-star with Michelle Yeoh in Wing Chun. So I was going to see this movie after Netflix recommended it to me.

Man, am I glad I did!

Some thugs come to a village in China and try to rob the local shop. They are killed in hand-to-hand combat by the town butcher (Yen). The magistrates investigate.

One magistrate is an old-fashioned village official who accepts the surface story because he doesn’t care if two known criminals wound up dead. He prioritizes harmony over truth, and the surface story lets everyone get on with their lives.

The other, played by Takeshi Kaneshiro, is a more modern magistrate. Educated and from the big city, he’s not used to village ways. The surface story immediately arouses his suspicions, and he begins looking in to the butcher’s past. Who is he, really, and why is the village protecting his secrets?
Verdict: Another movie rooted in real human emotions and carried by excellent performances. Well worth seeing, if you don’t mind bloody martial arts action.

The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

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RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan wrote, directed, and starred in this homage to classic martial arts movies like House of Traps, Deadful Melody, and The Laughing Swordsman.

I know RZA is a sincere fan of grindhouse martial arts movies, and I respect him as a composer and musician. I wanted to love this movie, and I only liked it.

In some places, this movie was too close to its source material. The plot points and characters were obvious to my wife and I, because they were direct lifts from older films.

Also, as much as I wanted to love this movie, it really bugged me that RZA and Russell Crowe were heroes in the film. No offense, guys, but why do Westerners need to show up and save people of other cultures?

On top of that, for all his skills as a rapper, musician, composer, and actor, RZA is not a great athlete. Crowe’s character was written so that he didn’t have to be, and that was a good call. RZA acquits himself acceptably, but I kept wondering what Michael Jai White could have done with the part.
Verdict: Pretty darn good, actually, but I’m glad that I rented it rather than seeing it in the theater.

 

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Posted in: Movies