Archive for Kung Fu

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen

Directed by: Wai-keung Lau

Written by: Gordon Chan

Produced by: Gordon Chan, Wai-keung Lau

Starring:  Donnie Yen, Chen Zhen, Qi Shu, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Yasuaki Kurata

Language:  Cantonese with English subtitles

Run Time: 105 minutes


In what seems to be extremely common in action movies coming out of China, Donnie Yen returns to fight off the….. wait for it….. the evil Japanese in the loosely based historical action movie Legend of the Fist:  The Return of Chen Zhen.  The Return of Chen Zhen takes place in the period after World War 1 when the British and Japanese are exerting their influence over the Chinese mainland.  Supposedly dead, Chen Zhen returns to Shanghai, under an alias of a fallen soldier he had served with during the war to help protect his country from the evil foreign forces.  The plot sounds bland because, well, there’s nothing original about it.  All of the Blockbusters to come out of Communist China need to be approved by the government and are just a rehashed version of the same propaganda over and over again.


Perhaps my favorite aspect of the movie is the glamorous set design of the Jazz/Swing club that the most of the movie takes a place in but there’re other good things as well.  The acting is done well, the way the characters look and of course the intense action scenes that Yen is famous for.  The viewer can even get into Yens horrific fake moustache and laugh about how no one can pull off the leather super hero outfit that he wears(after finding it prominently displayed in a store window).


The plot of Legend of the Fist would have so much more potential if it just had a new villain and offered some original aspects in the story itself.  It seems as though directors have a virtual checklist of events that have to happen in every new kung fu movie.  Evil Japanese characters?  Check.  Innocent masses?  Check.  Evil Characters shut down local newspaper or kill off intellectuals?  Check.  This plot would be forgivable if it had been told maybe once or twice but not the multitude of times that it’s been done in the last year or two.  Some movies with similar plots are Yip Man, Yip Man 2(both of these star Yen and are simply amazing), Bodyguards and Assassins, Fearless and Shaolin.


The story is good, the action scenes are everything we’ve come to expect from Donnie Yen but the main problem is the lack of an innovative story.  We all like a superhero but it’s the villain that makes the hero important and China needs another villain besides the Japanese or the British.  Legend of the Fist is a good kung fu/action movie for people who aren’t kung fu fans or aren’t familiar with the age old story of the oppressive Japanese and British.  Yes Japan and Europe did horrible things to the Chinese but that’s no excuse to make virtually every martial arts movie about that.  It’s gotten to the point where fans of the genera can’t do one of the things we like doing which is having a kung fu movie marathon with the newer blockbuster movies that have come out of china.  Honestly if you want a kung fu movie that does most of these things better you’d be better off watching Yip Man on Netflix.  Legend of the Fist is absolutely worth the watch if you’re a Donnie Yen fan or just want to have a random night out with friends watching action movies but if you’re an avid fan of kung fu movies Legend of the Fist is just more of the same with some pretty bells and whistles.



13 Assassins


13 Assassins

Directed by: Takashi Miike

Written by: Kaneo Ikegami (based on a screenplay by), Daisuke Tengan (screenplay)

Produced by: Minami Ichikawa, Tôichirô Shiraishi, Michihiko Yanagisawa

Starring: Kôji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Yûsuke Iseya, Gorô Inagaki, Masachika Ichimura, Mikijiro Hira

Language:  Japanese with English subtitles

Run Time: 141 minutes


Director Takashi Miike (Audition, One Missed Call) explains, “Sword-fighting scenes are about LOVE. Without brotherly love, we could not shoot such violent sword-fighting scenes.”  If violence represents love than 13 Assassins is one of the most romantic and loving films made in the last few years; a chick flick if you will, filled with not only blood but with strong male characters, intelligent dialog and ruthless antagonist.   Well, maybe 13 Assassins isn’t really a movie about romance and lacks all of those warm, friendly moments that make up most modern day action movies but is that really a bad thing?   Picture this: a handsome rebel who does some sort of dangerous work meets a beautiful woman in need.  Sound familiar?  That’s the plot to almost every action movie that’s been released in the last few years and it’s exactly the opposite of what we see in 13 Assassins.


13 Assassins chronicles a suicide mission where a small group of samurai plot to kill a corrupt, brutal member of Japans ruling class who is in line to become the next Shogun.  While the basic idea sounds simple, it’s the execution that makes the movie shine.  The main characters, good and evil, have deep philosophical ideals behind their actions which are rooted deeply with what it means to be a samurai.  13 Assassins showcases a mix of drama, subtle conflict, and of course, extreme violence much in the same ways that have characterized Miike’s previous films.


Almost everything about the film’s production is done well aside from a few aspects with bad cgi effects and a few over the top visuals.    The sets are beautiful and authentic with a great deal of attention to detail.  The music enhances and meshes with the story as do most of the sound effects.  While most of the cinematic details are brilliant there are still some flaws, such as extreme close ups during battle scenes which throw the viewer off a bit(since that usually means the actors can’t really do the more intense action scenes) but all of that can be forgiven when the sheer volume of work that went into the choreography.


13 Assassins fills the void left behind by the swarms of those cookie cutter action movies that are produced by untalented Hollywood writers.  America needs is a different kind of action movie, one that’s raw, dark, where the characters aren’t handsome charming womanizers but actually have depth and believe in something.  In the end 13 Assassins is a brilliant action film but be warned, the action scenes are extremely long so if you’re not into action than it may be best to skip this film.  This movie is a must for fans of Miike’s work, fans of samurai movies and people who are tired of watching common stylized action films.  13 Assassins is indeed an action movie made with love; the love of the actors, directors, producers and everyone else involved in the production of the movie.  13 Assassins will be part of the San Francisco International Film Festival so be sure to take the chance to see it on a big screen.



Kung Fu Chefs

Directed by: Wing Kin Yip

Written by: Cyrus Cheng, Eddie Chu, Simon Liu, Po Wang, Joey Yuen

Produced by: Jeremy Cheung

Starring: Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, Vanness Wu, Cherrie Ying

Run Time: 93 minutes

Who would have thought that the best chefs in the world would know how to fight in addition to cooking luxurious dishes?  It’s true, well maybe not in the real world, where our cooking competitions are interesting but lack the real excitement that only a street fight could bring.  Kung Fu Chefs mixes two of my favorite things, good food and a hefty dose of kung fu action.  While Kung Fu Chefs isn’t the best kung fu movie out there, it is an entertaining watch for all of those people who enjoy cheesy low budget action/comedy movies.

Starring the legendary Sammo Hung as the disgraced master chef Wong Bing-Yi, who has an almost super natural ability to cook as well as fight, and Vanness Wu as Lung Kin-Yat, a recent graduate of kung fu cooking school, Kung Fu Chefs has an awesome cast.  One problem with most action movies is that the main character, the guy who’s supposed to represent the common man, is always some muscular, ruggedly handsome action star but the heavy set Sammo Hung actually looks like he could be a real chef which makes the action scenes extremely entertaining.  Think about it, who wouldn’t want to see an episode of Iron Chef where Mario Batali smacks some punk upside his head when he gets out of line?  Hung may not be a real life Batali but in the film, he could be one of his long lost relatives.

The basic plot itself is simple, after being kicked out of the Village, a prestigious restaurant and school, and having the Dragon Head Cleaver, a legendary weapon/chef knife, stripped from him, Wong Bing-Yi travels, sample and judges restaurant cuisines. During his travels Wong gives an unfavorable review of his meal at the Four Seas Restaurant, the head chef challenges Wong to a chefs dual (see it sounds silly already) stating that he would leave his family business if he lost.  We all know what happens, Wong wins and now that the restaurant was left without a cook, Wong steps in to help the struggling establishment.  It doesn’t take long for Wong’s arch enemy, his nephew, to discover that he’s begun cooking again which starts a war between their two restaurants.

Kung Fu Chefs was shot on a low budget so of course it isn’t one of those artistic kung fu movies, like Crouching Tiger, which have taken over the genera over the last few years. Kung Fu Chefs is more of a comedy which takes you back to the days of those late night martial arts movies that used to play on television years ago.  Even though the action is cheesy, the cooking can’t possibly be right and the whole story is a little off, you can’t help but love the old school feel of the movie.  If you’re like me and love the nostalgia of those old low budget action movies, be sure to check Kung Fu Chefs out.  This movie will be part of the Mill Valley Film Fest so you’ll also have the chance to watch it on a big screen.

Rating: 6 out of 10