Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Kiss Of The Dragon


Jet Li plays a Chinese agent called Liu Jian who was sent from China to Paris to help assist and apprehend a big time drug lord. But the sexy smooth talking French inspector Richard (Tchéky Karyo) is a corrupt officer uses Liu as a patsy to frame in the assassination of the mob boss. Now on the run in a foreign land and far away from home with no help in sight, Liu will have to rely on his cunning, his kick ass karate moves and a little help from an American heroin addict Jessica Kamen (Bridget Fonda) who was forced into prostitution by Richard.


Nothing can be as more menacing and terrifying than the words of the polite and quite request of Jet Li saying "I would very much appreciate it if you don't do that again”. Next thing you know a little quite Chinese takeout place ends up being war zone of Jet Li and the power of the chop stick. The hotel scene features some of the best Harry Houdini escapes tactics and incredible parkour stunts, leading the henchmen into a cat and mouse game. One of the most memorable sequences is when Liu is trapped on a ferryboat. Surrounded by a barrage of endless French Special Forces and Richard’s goons, Liu’s escape seems impossible once again.



Kiss of the Dragon is filled with; fast paced action, deadly martial arts and a pretty grim and realistic view of sex trafficking and prostitution in Europe. Cory Yuen’s choreography really does create a perfect atmosphere of henchmen getting their bone crushed. The final showdown is a fierce two on one against the two twins whose signature moves is a round house boot to the face. 


Thursday, 25 July 2013

Oldboy


Chan Wook Park’s Oldboy is as grippingly thrilling and torturing to watch at times. To describe the plot as “A guy gets locked in a room for fifteen years and doesn’t even know why?” right away makes you want to watch this movie. The agonizing idea of being locked up in a room with only a crappy TV, a journal and your thoughts to keep you company is brutalising enough. With no chance to escape the only way to freedom seems to be suicide. But even suicide is out the question because you would only be saved by your captors and be locked in the room once again.


The constant suspense that keeps you on the edge your seat is fuelled by the psychological agony of the protagonist. Chan-wook Park creates an atmosphere of the unknown and with the protagonist Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi) we embark on a journey of discovering something we could never of guessed or comprehend. 


Whenever I think about Oldboy I always remember what Dae-su Oh’s question “If they had told me it was going to be fifteen years, would it have been easier to endure?” The same question always goes through my mind but even after ten years I still cannot answer it.  To be locked up and imprisoned for fifteen years is a heavy price to pay. But to be caged in a room for fifteen years without even knowing why is honestly indescribable. It is a question of “Why?” that would drive me insane not the prison itself. This is what makes Oldboy such a compelling film to watch. In the film we see the mystery of Dae-su Oh's imprisonment unfold, the intensely dark visceral acts of revenge he embarks on and in the end we are left with a devastating experience.


Wednesday, 24 July 2013

I Saw The Devil


Kyung-chul (Min-sik Choi) helps a pregnant woman with a flat tire with his good grace. This attention of kindness is actually a mask and he brutishly murders her. However this helpless pregnant women’s husband is a highly skilled government agent Soo-hyeon go (Byung-hun Lee). Who now is on a relentless mission to hunt down the serial killer. The once feared killer is now the victim to constant and savage beatings from the monster he created. How far will Kim Soo-hyeon go to avenge his wife and unborn baby?


For someone who consistently watches murderers in psychological thrillers, Kim Ji-woon’s I Saw The Devil is definitely a thriller that pushes the genre to its limit. The murders and beatings we witness are so vivid and gut-wrenching it made me question is this actually a horror? But that is what pushes the genre beyond. The mesmerising brutal journey of vengeance goes far beyond any thriller. I Saw The Devil set the thriller genre to an all new vivid gruesome high; the hand to hand combat of savage beatings and the violence that can only be described as visceral vengeful torture.


What makes I Saw The Devil such a compelling film to watch is the brutal truth of revenge. A government agent who dedicated his life to law and order and to protect the innocent is now driven on a quest of vengeance. The virtuousness he protected is now gone and as the malicious beatings become more horrendous we begin to question Kim Soo-hyeon ruthless pursuit of revenge. Has this deranged quest of revenge blinded Soo-hyeon? Or has he become the nightmare monster of Kyung-chul. In this journey of murder and revenge we discover one thing “Who is the devil?” 


Monday, 22 July 2013

Bloodsport


Newt Arnold’s 1988 Bloodsport was the first major picture that not only brought Jean Claude Van Damme to stardom but showcased his athletic and martial art skills. Performing some pretty intense moves from the helicopter style kicks, splits between two chairs and of course the first encounters of The Muscle From Brussels’s signature 360 round house kick. Jean Claude Van Damme debuted is career portraying an American called Frank Dux. Having been trained Ninjutsu from youth by his Japanese sensei, mentor and father figure, Frank heads to Hong Kong to participate in an illegal underground kickboxing competition. A full deadly body contact tournament which often results to death. Only the world’s best martial artists are secretly invited every five years to take on such a challenge.


This is by far not only one of the greatest Jean Claude Van Damme movies but it paved the way for more incredible martial art films. Bloodsport not only scores for being one of the most violent martial art films but portrays intense chorography. Having been filmed and released in the 80’s Bloodsport also has a fantastic soundtrack. Weird fact, due to limited soundtrack release the Bloodsport soundtrack CD is considered a high collector’s item. Often in auctions it is sold for hundreds of dollars. The soundtrack creates such a magnificent atmospheric vibe that the flashback training montage beats any montage including Sylvester Stallone’s in Rocky. The fighting chorography really did set the level to an all new high. Each fight is as intense, exciting and exhilarating as the last. We all know the final showdown with the main ruthless villain Chong Li (Bolo Yeung). The final showdown between Bolo and Jean Claude will always be one of the most terrifying, thrilling and best of all enjoyable fights ever.


We not only saw the birth of the trademark 360 roundhouse kick, shown several times in slow motion. We witnessed a change in martial art films that sadly now has been forgotten. These days most marital art films relay on CGI, pulling cables and trampolines to create a fight scene that would need weeks of planning. Bloodsport had no CGI, no cable, no trampoline but only real stunts, real hits and was filmed in half a day. Everyone who watched Bloodsport will always remember the iconic fight sequences with Jean Claude and Bolo. No scream will ever shadow the roar of Jean Claude when being blinded by Bolo with a handful of quicklime, and the unforgettable moment when Jean Claude had to purely rely on his senses to win the fight. Better still we witness the birth of the trademark 360 roundhouse kick.


Jean Claude Van Damme’s Bloodsport become an inspirational movie for a whole generation that paved the way for future marital art films. This movie not only set the bar for other martial art films but it became a cult movie. From North America to South America, Europe to the Middle East and Asia, Bloodsport is intentionally loved. There is only two other martial artists in the world that has gained the same level of respect; Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Jean Claude Van Damme was the final piece that bridged both West and East cultures together. Bloodsport was the martial art film that finally showed the world that you don’t have to come from the Far East to be a martial artist movie star. 


Sunday, 21 July 2013

Sudden Death


Jean Claude Van Damme’s Sudden Death (1995) takes place at Pittsburgh, where two NHL hockey teams, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins battle it out for the Stanley Cup championship Finals. The vice president of the United States is also there to enjoy the game. However all hell breaks loose when an insane ex CIA agent named Joshua Foss (Powers Boothe) decides to take the vice president in the VIP lounge and the unsuspecting hockey fans as hostages. Having the entire arena rigged with explosives, his plan is to use the vice president to wire hundreds of millions of dollars to different off shore accounts. If a substantial amount is not in these accounts a hostage will die. Jean Claude Van Damme plays the haunted ex-fireman who is now the stadiums fire marshal Darren McCord who took his kids to the game. However during the outing his daughter is kidnapped by the terrorists and now ITS PERSONAL!!


After the successes of Timecop (1994) it is no shock that reuniting director Peter Hyams and Van Damme would yet again bring another spectacular 90’s action film. Sudden Death is Jean Claude Van Damme’s action packed and yippee ki yaying Die Hard. Just like John McClane in the first Die Hard, Darren is up against some serious odds and the only thing to arm himself with is a walkie talkie and some kick ass moves. Both characters battle their way cracking henchmen’s skulls and shooting their way to the top floor. Unlike McClane, Darren plays the over caring, sensitive father role. They both even have similar surnames; John McClane and Darren McCord.


Die Hard is easily an action film that you can re-watch consistently, watching McClane with the white vest, climbing into air vents and running round the Nakatomi Tower barefoot. Just like Die Hard Sudden Death is a easily re-watchable movie. Watching Darren karate his way to his daughter, deep fry a henchmen’s hand and run around the hockey stadium collecting C4 explosives. It just never gets boring. Darren is both a likeable and funny protagonist. Better still being young, Jean Claude Van Damme’s character is believable enough to toss bad guys into the massive scoreboard and swing from light fixtures. No action movie is ever complete without a villain that we love to hate. No one makes smoking as cool as the villain Joshua Foss; his polite mannerism, dashing smirks, jokingly toying with the terrified hostages as he kills them one by one and best of all the awesome cigarette lighter that puts all smokers to shame.


Thursday, 18 July 2013

Double Impact


Double the Van Damme, double the action! “The Muscle from Brussels” embarks on a dual role as Alex and his twin brother Chad. Both brothers were separated at the death of their parents in a plot organised by the Triad hit squad to assassinate their father. Chad was saved by their father’s body guard and family friend Frank Avery (Geoffrey Lewis). Alex wasn’t so lucky and was saved by their family maid who left him at the door step of an orphanage. Knowing that the Hong Kong criminal cartel will come after them, Frank flees the country with Chad. This leaves Alex to grow up alone as a shady cigar smoking smuggler in Hong Kong while Chad becomes a snobbish successful karate instructor in California. After many years the two are brought back together to team up and avenge their parent’s death. The two brothers have completely different personalities, the odds are highly stacked against them and Alex is constantly suspicious of Chad, certainly when it comes to his girlfriend. None the less they are brothers and they have to take down the gang that killed their parents.


Director Sheldon Lettich certainly does show us constant action and chaos all over the scorching locations of Hong Kong. Better still seeing two Jean Claude Van Damme’s is definitely the novelty that Double Impact wanted to push for. With double the Van Damme which can only mean doubling the explosive action and doubling his signature 360 roundhouse kick. Double Impact is not only packed with karate action and exploding restaurants but it is also full of great humour. This certainly does loosen the atmospheres with Chad’s and Alex’s pikerring and constantly being divided by their personalities. Chad is an arrogant silk underwear wearing playboy with pink shirts and white shorts. Alex is the shady slicked back hair, dark clothes and cigar smoking crook who is very protecting over his girlfriend. In all honestly the only thing they both have in common is that they both know how to kick ass.  


Double Impact is by far one of the most favourable Jean Claude Van Damme movies or at least a runner up. It is easily a digestible action film full of incredible martial arts karate kicks and great humour from the Muscle. Even when tragedy hits the twin brother’s there is still some funny moments with a madly jealous and drunk Alex wanting to kick his brother’s ass. Finally the best fight we can ever imagine, Van Damme vs. Van Damme. Jean Claude Van Damme brings a fantastic amount of energy to the screen and with Director Sheldon Lettich backing him with relentless action. Double Impact is definitely a Jean Claude Van Damme film you have to watch.


Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Hard Target


A woman named Natasha Binder (Yancy Butler) is in search of her missing homeless Vietnam veteran father. After being saved by a mysterious drifter called Chance Boudreaux (Jean Claude Van Damme) she hires him to guide her through her dangerous quest. Natasha and Chance discover that her father has fallen victim to a sadistic business magnate named Emil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen) and his right hand man Pick Van Cleaf (Arnold Vosloo). They uncover that these two men are head of an underground society, that organises a deadly human hunting game of cat and mouse that hunts down homeless men as a form of recreation.


Praised Hong Kong action director John Woo made his explosive debut US career with Hard Target. It was four years later Woo directed one of the most notorious well-loved action films Face Off but unknown to most, it was Hard Target that started his career in the US. However it is frustrating to see how much hate is directed at Jean Claude making straight to DVD films, when it was Jean Claude Van Damme and his questionable or sexy mullet that pushed Woo’s US career. As of all Woo’s films it is pretty fascinating seeing where his explosive and hard hitting action routes came from. Woo’s earlier work, before Nicolas Cage and John Travolta swapped faces, enjoyed some great successes with the 1990 Bullet in the Head and 1992 Hard Boiled. Watching Bullet in the Head and Boiled Hard you can see where Woo got his bigger and brighter inspiration for Hard Target but then, he pushed these inspirations to the next level for Face Off.


The narrative for Hard Target is quite enjoyable and better still what I found most favourable about Hard Target, is the deadly blood sport hunting game. I also appreciated the shift from a safari hunting ground to the urban environment of New Orleans. In the jungle it is hunters or poachers that kill the helpless animals but Woo took this concept and fused it into a urban hunting game, were it is the rich and powerful that hunt the poor and derelicts. 


Beyond Woo’s trademark action and violence and being set in America, there is another fantastic link between Woo’s Hong Kong films and Hard Target. It is the symbiotic relationship between characters that represent the opposite side of the law but morally wants to do good. If we look at Jean Claude’s character Chance he is seen as a broke, out of luck and rough guy. However even though he does show good morals at times, when Natasha asks for help he refuses until he needs the money she’s offering. Later on Chance never care about the money he himself is put on the same boat as Natasha when Chance’s homeless friend killed, making it now personal for Chance. Even though Chance is a problematical good guy and at time has mixed morals, if we look at Van Cleaf and Fourchon it is very clear that these guys are the villains who soul mission in this film is to make money and enjoy the thrills of hunting.


Monday, 15 July 2013

Knock Off


Two sales representatives for “V SIX JEANS” Marcus Ray (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Tommy Hendricks (Rob Schneider) are about to be arrested for unintentionally selling low quality and cheaply made counterfeit jeans. Now to prove their innocents they have to convince their American contact employer Karen Leigh (Lela Rochon) that they are also victims to the counterfeit jeans. If they cannot convince Karen and prove their innocents they will be charged for counterfeiting a branded label causing damages up to millions of dollars.


From the director of the 1997 Double Impact Tsui Hark and staring Belgium Kickboxer champion Jean Claude Van Damme. The two collaborate once again for Knock Off. Jean Claude Van Damme and Rob Schneider are sales representatives for a high class blue jeans company called “V SIX”. Set during the British handover of Hong Kong the odd pair get into big trouble when they realise they have been selling counterfeit jeans. In the midst of all this legal trouble that is ahead of them Jean Claude and Schneider somehow get caught up in the middle of a terrorist scheme involving nanobombs.



With a straightforward and easy to follow story it is not surprising that Tsui Hark's Knock Off is a conventional action film. Explosions, shootouts and massive trucks driving through the city of Hong Kong causing utter chaos. What else is expected when Jean Claude is the action hero? Apart from Jean Claude spectacular martial art skills there are some pretty intense parkour skills. So much so that it seems like you’re watching a Jackie Chan movie; jumping off moving trucks, using the environment to get out tight situations and mastering the art of using any object as a weapon, in Jean Claude’s case a scooter. One of the most amusing and wacky scenes was the beginning race scene with Van Damme and Rob Schneider on the rickshaw.


Tsui Hark's directing toward the camerawork and editing was at times erratic. The extreme close ups and zooming in and out was very confusing and at times 180-degree rule was clearly broken. The characters would randomly switch sides on the screen and often you had no idea when and where the characters walked in. I understand that Hark's wanted Knock Off to be a fast pace action film but he definitely needed to slow down the pace at times. This made the relationship between the audience and characters hard to connect and even harder to fall deep into the story. None the less the Hark’s fast pace editing and camera framing did give loads of energy to the film during action the scenes.

As with any Jean Claude Van Damme film the fighting scenes are always a big plus. Although in most Jean Claude movies we get his signature 360 roundhouse kick, it seems he never got the chance in Knock Off. None the less we do get some pretty epic fight scenes on top of a moving truck and a cargo ship.

For its time Knock Off has some pretty fancy special effects and the action sequence are pretty much the same as any other Jean Claude movie. Knock Off is jam packed with spectacular parkour stunts from the Muscle from Brussels himself. Just like the other Jean Claude films like “Hard Target” or “Double Impact” Knock Off does have the epic shootout scenes and the thrilling fight sequences.