Archive for the Martial Arts Category

Mortal Kombat

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Martial Arts with tags on April 27, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Well, it may have taken 29 years, but Mortal Kombat finally got a movie adaptation as violent as the video game. If that sentence makes you giddy with excitement, then this will put you in nirvana. I enjoyed the comparatively wholesome PG-13-rated 1995 release from director Paul W.S. Anderson on the level that it was silly fun. Its wildly popular techno soundtrack (KMFDM, Utah Saints, Gravity Kills) was a bonus. It entered the Top 10 Billboard albums and greatly influenced the musical landscape during the latter half of the 1990s.

A little background history: Mortal Kombat was developed in 1992 by Midway Games for arcades originally. When it was ported to home consoles, many parents were shocked to discover that action had “advanced” far beyond the gameplay in Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. They now accentuated graphic (albeit pixelated) violence. Its display of gruesome killings called “fatalities” was controversial. So much that it helped spawn the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) that created the rating system still used today.

It’s unnecessary, but there is a detailed backstory. The screenplay by Greg Russo, Dave Callaham, and Oren Uziel sets up a situation with an international cast of characters. The saga begins as a period costume drama in 17th century Japan. There are two rival factions: the Shirai Ryu ninja clan vs. the Lin Kuei. Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is attacked by Bi-Han (Joe Taslim), who murders Hanzo’s wife and son. Afterward, Hanzo is then whisked away to the Netherrealm by Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), the God of Thunder. We then flash forward to the present day. Earthrealm and Outworld are two dimensions engaged in an ongoing feud.

Planet Earth isn’t doing so great. The Outworld has already defeated Earthrealm’s warriors in nine of ten “Mortal Kombat” tournaments. A distinctive dragon mark identifies the chosen gladiators on Earth. Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is just such a person, an MMA fighter with a family. The evil sorcerer Shang Tsung (Chin Han) wants to decimate all of his Earthly opponents before the last tournament can even occur. He dispatches Bi-Han, who unceremoniously changes his name to Sub-Zero for reasons that were unclear to me. I guess it sounds cooler. Sub-Zero is intent on destroying Cole. Jax (Mehcad Brooks), Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), and her captive — a wisecracking mercenary named Kano (Josh Lawson) — come to Cole’s aid. They later add Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang) to their fold.

I admire films with dramatic tension and twists of unexpected events. This is not a tale dependent on a story per se. It’s an excuse to highlight a series of hand-to-hand combat scenes each one featuring a grotesque assassination. It spotlights gore, gore, and more gore. One guy’s arms are completely ripped off. The pugilistic demonstrations are plentiful but not particularly well photographed. I would have preferred more long shots. Martial arts movies and musicals have that in common. Instead, we get lots of quick edits and closeups that often obscure whether these people have the ability to actually fight.

“Finish him!” was the famous command from the announcer that prompted the user to execute a grisly slaying of their opponent. This production honors that tradition. My #1 death is when Kung Lao throws his hat and it cuts a human body literally in half from top to bottom. Its razor-rim is THAT sharp. It’s my “favorite” because it made me laugh. Also, the nod to Oddjob’s derby in the James Bond flick Goldfinger did not go unnoticed by me. Truth to tell. I don’t relish seeing someone brutally disposed of. However, one needs that mentality in order to savor this movie. No surprise that fans have warmly embraced this picture with enthusiasm and glee.

04-23-21

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Posted in Action, Adventure, Martial Arts, Superhero with tags on August 9, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles photo starrating-1andahalfstars.jpgTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a really ugly film. Part one of the original trilogy, also with the same exact title, was released back in 1990 and it confounded expectations to be quite good. Its massive popularity ($260.6 million in 2014 dollars) generated two sequels, each of dwindling quality. A computer animated entry entitled TMNT in 2007 built on the success of the 2003–2009 TV series. Now we’re given a new interpretation on the first motion picture and it’s a sloppy, bewildering mess. The scattershot construction would be bad on its own terms, but when compared to previous incarnations, it achieves a new low.

The history of an established franchise is severely corrupted . The mythology of our beloved foursome is devalued in favor of a tale largely focused on Megan Fox’s character. Reporter April O’Neil is trying to get information about a villainous organization called the Foot Clan that is terrorizing New York City. Side note: A fun drinking game might be to take a drink every time there is a close-up shot of her posterior. At one point, the director actually has her bouncing on a trampoline. I’m not kidding. Fox is not believable as the ambitious go-getting journalist she is supposed to be here but it’s too easy to pick on her so let’s simply move on. The Foot Clan is led by Shredder who looks like a samurai Transformer in a suit of armor with Ginsu knives for hands. He’s ridiculous. Yet he is relegated to secondary villain status in deference to the ubiquity of evil industry mogul Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), a villain as generic as they come. At various junctures his malevolent plan is thwarted by 4 shadowy vigilantes. April sees this and reports her findings to her boss (Whoopi Goldberg). Naturally neither she nor anyone else believes her. Just who are these 4 masked defenders? What follows is a lot of indecipherable nonsense.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles manages to be a really ugly piece of entertainment in a myriad of ways. Dreary events are connected by loud lumbering disorganized mayhem punctuated by lots of noise, all strung together. The action set-pieces are so stridently generic that I couldn’t even describe them immediately after this headache was over. The dimly lit “excitement” is so cluttered, your eyes will glaze over from the miasma of the chaos. A large part of the story has nothing to do with ninja turtles, but rather a bunch of human beings that wouldn’t have enough presence to activate an automatic door, let alone occupy the focus of a movie. And the turtles themselves look disgusting, like gooey roided-up hulks impregnated with reptilian features. We never get to know the characters. The four of them were completely interchangeable as far as I was concerned. I couldn’t differentiate their violent militarized personalities apart. They do wear different colored masks at least. I think one wore glasses. Perhaps even more grotesque is Splinter, their rescued lab rat mentor who learned Ninjutsu from a book he found. He sports rat facial hair and the Asian garb out of an old martial arts flick. He’s voiced by Tony Shalhoub (!). The atmosphere is extremely depressing. The only time some 90s magic is shown is when the turtles start beatboxing in an elevator. It’s at that moment the production starts to feel a little fun, but the second that’s over, the feature reverts back to being a dour desecration of the lighthearted source material. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had me shell-shocked.

08-07-14

Fist of Legend

Posted in Action, Drama, Foreign, Martial Arts with tags on January 26, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Fist of Legend photo starrating-3stars.jpgFist of Legend is a Hong Kong action film set in Shanghai in 1937 when the city was occupied by Japanese forces. Chen Zhen (Jet Li) learns that his Chinese martial arts teacher Huo Yuanjia has died in a battle with a Japanese fighter. Distraught he leaves for China immediately to avenge his death. Upon arriving he beats Ryoichi Akutagawa, the man responsible, with such ease, he suspects foul play and this prompts an investigation that leads to, what else? More combat. This is a 1994 remake of 1972’s Fist of Fury, which starred Bruce Lee.

Fist of Legend is really highlighted by some impressive fights that favor realism over wire-driven choreography. However the plot is still your standard issue mix of escalating racial tensions between the Japanese and Chinese, differing methods of rival martial arts schools, and good old fashioned revenge. This barely made a dent in Hong Kong’s box office when it was first released. I didn’t find the story to be particularly revolutionary but connoisseurs of the genre have since labeled this as one of the greatest martial arts pictures of all time. It certainly paved the way for Jet Li’s launch into Western cinema. The bouts are admittedly pretty spectacular. One especially exciting scene occurs when Jet Li visits the Japanese dojo to challenge the assailant who killed his master teacher. His many students attempt to stop him but Jet Li’s talent proves too formidable and he defeats the entire class, even taking a moment to tie his shoes in the process. Later Jet Li challenges a surprisingly sympathetic Japanese Karate Master in a field…blindfolded. And finally there’s the climatic battle where he goes against General Fujita, the Supreme Killer. Any one of these would be an incredible set piece, but taken together it’s a lot of bang for your buck. If a martial arts film is judged by the quality of its fight scenes then Fist of Legend is worth checking out.

Blu-ray Notes: In the original multi-lingual movie, Cantonese and Japanese is spoken by different actors. Unfortunately there is no original language option. All 3 audio choices on the Blu-ray are dubbed: Cantonese, Mandarin or English. You’re going to get weird synchronization issues regardless of which version you chose. I can’t speak for the Chinese options, but the English voiceovers are hopelessly wooden and unnaturally stilted. I found Cantonese with English subtitles to be the most acceptable.

Big Trouble in Little China

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Martial Arts with tags on December 25, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketA Chinese street gang, the Lords of Death, have kidnapped Wang Chi’s green eyed fiancée. That’s the “big trouble”. The “little China” is San Francisco’s Chinatown where she’s taken.

John Carpenter’s amalgamation of action / adventure / comedy / fantasy is a loving, send up of a martial arts films. John Carpenter directs frequent collaborator Kurt Russell in their 4th partnership together following Elvis (1979 TV Movie), Escape from New York (1981) and The Thing (1982). Kurt Russell is clearly playing it for laughs channeling a screwy version of John Wayne. It’s a performance rooted firmly in camp. “I’m a reasonable guy, but I’ve just experienced some very unreasonable things,“ he says at one point. In fact he’s frequently prone to casting witty one liners that sound more like catchphrases than actual dialogue. And that’s just fine because the whole production is ridiculously over the top.

Big Trouble in Little China is focused on a colorful cast of characters. Where else can you go toe to toe with a villain that will blind you by staring into his glowing eyes or the energy blasts from his mouth? Those powers are embodied in evil sorcerer Lo Pan memorably played by James Hong. He’s flanked by The Three Storms (Rain, Thunder and Lightning) lesser sorcerers who look like they’re wearing huge lamp shades on their heads. Their first appearance is a wonderful showdown that combines two warring gangs: the Wing Kong, commanded by Lo Pan and the Chang Sings (the “good” guys). I’ve never seen or heard so many thunderclaps and animated lightning bolts discharging from people’s hands. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention those bizarre creatures. Words cannot accurately describe one I’ll simply call the Floating Eyeball Monster. It must be seen to be truly appreciated.

At times the narrative is a bit disjointed and difficult to follow. There are a lot of personalities highlighted in the story. It’s definitely one of those movies that improves on repeated viewings since it’s hard to process everything that’s happening. (I watched it twice before writing this review.) The confusing kidnapping scene at the airport feels like it was edited with a hacksaw. Also why does Lo Pan want to become a flesh and blood man when he’s so much more powerful as an immortal? But in the end, none of that really matters because this is a picture that aims to simply entertain and largely succeeds. The tone is goofily tongue in cheek with many laughs sprinkled throughout sensational action sequences. I think the film’s purpose is best encapsulated in this exchange:

Jack Burton: Somebody tell me what is going on!
Wang Chi: The truth?
Jack Burton: I can take it.
Wang Chi: We don’t know.