Last week got a little bit busy for me, so I couldn’t edit together Graeme Noble’s classic picks of the week. So I’m making up for lost time by attributing today’s bundle to international action superstar, Donnie Yen. And not for nothing either, considering he has another one well on the way to a release in a few months from director Teddy Chen titled Kung Fu Jungle with co-star Wang Baoqiang.
Yen is still in the middle of bringing the goods together with other films ahead as well, including the second chapter to Iceman 3D, and 70’s crime thriller, Dragon City. Nonetheless, Yen has done some incredible work in the past three days that can still use your attention, as well as appreciation.
Circus Kid – 2/5, A poor movie that should have been better considering Donnie Yen, Yuen Biao and Ken Lo are involved. They are all wasted. Some of the fights are okay, but in the end of it all, really, you’re just left thinking, ” ..What a waste!”.
The story follows a circus troupe displaced during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai. Yen plays the righteous constabulary who unknowingly assists the local criminal element when the troupe runs afoul of them. But when Yen falls for Wu Ma’s daughter (Fenny Yuen), he figures out what’s up and helps the troupe. The group hangs together while the high-flying acrobatics and circus stunts amuse. The martial arts action, interspersed throughout, is entertaining, especially the multiple fights with the opium traders that climax the movie.
Look for Yen’s early fighting when he runs down a thief with fellow officers and later when he comes to the rescue of the troupe at story’s climax; one of the villains Yen takes down is a greedy Brit played by Hong Kong Action Cinema author Bey Logan.
City Of Darkness – 4/5, A bad movie that is saved by no less than 12 fight scenes. Some of the fights are very mediocre but there are about 4 or 5 very high standard fights. Billy Chow has the best of them early on and the end fight between Chou and Donnie Yen is fantastic!
Yen’s appearances in this low-budget Taiwanese actioner are all too brief. He fights in fine form and his acting’s loose and natural. Yen plays a seasoned cop reluctant to return to the fray, but as a big brother figure, he comes to the assist of his friend Pen, a troubled cop still on the force. Much of the plot involves a power-hungry, vicious, and greedy villain named Duan Mu who wants possession of a legendary treasure and will do anything to get it; Duan Mu has a crooked cop, Pen’s superior, in his pocket to assist. Two misfits and a brother and sister discover they not only share the pieces of a jade necklace, but a father, and their necklace is the key to the treasure.
There’s an exciting grocery store shoot out in which Yen shows what he can do. Later, when he takes on a bandana-wearing giant, he tells him ‘You don’t fight with size but with your brain.’ Yen uses both, unleashing well-placed kicks and lightning-fast hands and impaling the guy on a stake. In the climactic fight scene in the woods, he takes on the villain. They’re both all punches and kicks, but Duan Mu unfairly releases a blade from his shoe which Yen’s character must evade. After defeating him, rather than kill him, Yen leaves him to suffer in shame for the errors of his ways.
Legend Of The Wolf – 5/5, You’ll either love this movie or hate it. I love it and I think it’s a masterpiece. Some of it is too fast and you can’t see all the fights but the improvisation is good enough. Donnie is on top form and his kicks are wonderful. It’s a great great movie!
Yen’s directorial debut is part Twilight Zone, part gang tale and all martial arts, the latter causing Hong Kong critic Po Kam-hung to gush, ‘a single blade against the axe-gang, flying dagger between the legs, double crutches defeating the iron chain, bare fists against the “eagle’s talons.”’ Also known in Asian markets as The New Big Boss. Cranked up and inventive action sequences, experimental camerawork and editing, and rhythmic flow indicate Yen’s direction for future films.
The story centers on the Wolf, an aged hitman formerly known as Man-hing, and played by Yen. Present time scenes are set in a blue-lit Batcave where Wolf’s loyal partner (Ben Lam) plays Alfred to Yen’s Bruce Wayne. The Wolf lurks at frame’s edge throughout. Ben (Edmond Leung) contacts the Wolf over the Internet to set up a contract killing; instead, Wolf and his partner seek to convince Ben, like many before him, of the error of his ways. Ironically, this violent action film carries a non-violent message, despite a decapitation, some heavy fighting, and even eye gouging. Still, the fight sequences are original and enervating, including two battles in water, unusual weapons pitted against the hero, and quite possibly the most phenomenal hand-to-hand running fight sequence recorded on film. Hong Kong critic Po Kam-hung calls the movie ‘a surprisingly exhilarating kung fu film.’ Watch for Yen’s explosive power in his arsenal of jumping kicks—splits, spins, front and back.
Low-key lighting, high contrast combinations, and the accompanying soundtrack set the moody and nostalgic tone. Legend serves as an elegy for a time when kung fu movies reigned supreme, but with a difference. Yen abandons the old-time linear filming style of his elders, with blocked moves and predictable rhythms for a hyperbolic action style, drawing on his interpretive and improvisational skills as a filmmaker. New and unexpected rhythms keep viewers feeling the emotional range of the Wolf/Man-hing, as he vacillates between confusion, anger, and love.
Through a series of flashbacks, Man-hing is revealed as a gang member who’s lost his memory and knows only to wait for the woman he loves (Carmen Lee). While the younger Man-hing lives up to the wolf stereotype—bloodthirsty and fearsome—the old man more truly and sadly resembles the misunderstood real species.
Holy Virgin vs. Evil Dead – 3/5, No action until the 2nd half of the movie and Donnie Yen, Ken Lo and Ben Lam all give out great performances. Donnie’s kicks look fantastic and his fights with Ken Lo are great. Trashy movie though, but some nice fights are thrown in!
This cornucopia of martial arts, a vampirish moon monster with green-glowing eyes, naked female victims, a white-suited machine gunning army, crocodiles, flesh-eating fish, and a princess is a wild ride. Yen plays bookworm professor Shiang Chin-fei. During a picnic celebration, his female students are chewed apart by the moon monster (Ken Lo) that appears when the moon turns red. At first Chin-fei is a police suspect, but as the corpses mount, the cops realize there are supernatural forces at work. An archaeologist specializing in esoteric religions, a detective buddy, his ex-wife (now involved with the cop on the case) and the cops all assist in Chin-fei’s attempt to clear his name and solve the case. They travel to Cambodia to visit the Holy Virgin, princess of the High Wind Tribe. Early on there’s lots of female nudity, mostly tied to the activities of the moon monster that ravishes and then devours his victims, even baring his bottom in one scene. once the story settles in, however, the shift is to mystery and adventure, until the climactic hypnotic ritual conducted by villain Ma Tian, who wants to resurrect his power on earth as the God of All Mothers! For some this movie is a guilty pleasure.
This is the first movie Yen shot in Thailand, here substituting for Cambodia, and much is made of the group’s inexperience in a strange land. The princess leaves her mountain enclave and she, as well, is a foreigner to the inhabitants below. Chin-fei’s first encounter with the moon monster leads to his being knocked unconscious as he tries to protect his students; the monster’s superhuman powers are much in force throughout, and multiple shootings, electrocutions, and stabbings don’t affect his mortality. He badly injures the cop on the case (Ben Lam) and hurts the princess. only when the characters unite forces do they overcome monster and god, with automatic weapons, lots of kung fu, and a special sword through the top of the creature’s head during an eclipse of the moon.
Shanghai Affairs – 4/5, A decent movie but it lacks action. There are two proper fights to speak of and they are both between Donnie Yen and Yu Rong Guang. Both men display sufficient skills and the choreography is different but I like it.
After graduating from medical school in England Tong Shan returns to China and opens a clinic in a small village near Shanghai to treat poor people. He is forced to use his formidable kung fu schools to protect the village from the Axe Gang who plan to destroy the village and build a casino there. Tong Shan meets Yue Siu in hospital and successfully treats her for an illness that made her mute. The two of them fall in love and are bitterly opposed by Yue Lo who wants to protect his younger sister.
After curing Yue Siu, Tong Shan discovers that missing children from the village are being murdered and their bodies harvested for organs. Appalled by this hideous crime, Tong Shan sets out to discover who is the culprit.
Iron Monkey – 5/5, good story and very good fighting. Both Donnie Yen and Yu Ron Guang are in fine form here, especially Donnie’s kicks. Lots of fighting, some of it wired but its an all round excellent movie and good period piece made in the 90’s.
The movie is a remake of a 1977 film by the same title. Set in Zhejing province during the late Qing dynasty, common people are starving due to famine and refugees are inundating Canton. The boy Wong Fei-hung and his father Wong Kei-ying, an herbal medicine doctor and martial arts master, travel to Canton to buy herbs. There, they are drawn into the exploits of the Iron Monkey, a combination Monkey King-knight errant benefactor who hides his face to right wrongs and rob from the rich to give to the poor (in actuality he is Dr. Yang, a physician who administers to the poor and rich alike, but charges according to what one can afford to pay.) Loyal to the government and a law-abiding citizen, Wong Kei-ying agrees to capture the Iron Monkey for the law. The people are enraged and won’t even sell him food. Eventually Wong Kei-ying discovers the corrupt and treacherous officials behind the façade of law, and he joins forces with the Iron Monkey to defeat renegade Shaolin monks and an evil eunuch who are in cahoots with the government.
While Yu Wing-gong plays the title Robin Hood-like character, Donnie Yen, in his portrayal of the noble Wong Key-ying, father of the young Wong Fei-hung (played by a young girl), steals the show. Classic action sequences alternate with strong drama centered upon a father-son story. This movie serves as a backstory for many contemporary viewers familiar with movies celebrating the adult Wong Fei-hung as hero, including Tsui Hark’s once Upon a Time in China series (and it’s no coincidence Tsui produced this one). Here the story reveals the source of Wong Fei-hung’s values his father. Mutual respect between Wong Key-ying and the Iron Monkey, despite their different approaches, celebrates Chinese culture.
Yen’s collaboration with Yuen Wo-ping on this film led to innovative and amazing action sequences. First is Yen showing off extraordinary skill using a simple umbrella as a weapon against a group of combatants. The attacks come from all sides and angles, and the choreography is three-dimensional. Next is Yen’s no shadow kicks against renegade Shaolin monks, which influenced martial arts action for the decade. The shadowless kick happens so fast that even the opponent’s eyes cannot follow it (never mind the audience). To execute the kicks, Yen designed a technique whereby he delivered a shower of kicks against a stationary opponent and under-cranked the camera to only a few frames a second. During playback, the effect is of a superhuman martial artist in action. Also spectacular is the climactic fight sequence in which Wong Key-ying and Iron Monkey join forces against the evil eunuch, fighting by balancing on poles over a raging fire.
Mismatched Couples – 4/5, A very good movie that is highly entertaining and features some nice comedy too. Some nice break dancing sequences in the movie as well, and Donnie looks as good as ever. Not much fighting here but the ending does feature a stellar kickboxing match between Yen and actor Dick Wei!
This lightweight comedy capitalized on the breakdancing phenomenon. A very young Donnie Yen tries to romance an upper class girl while also arranging a match for his sister. In the interim there are lots of juvenile and silly pranks and comedic gags. Yen’s flexibility, agility and grace are on display, from him putting on his shoes to riding a bicycle. And there’s lots of breakdancing fu as Yen combines breakdancing and martial arts when he takes on a rival (Kenny Perez) in a dance off at a party. An insane macho streetfighter obsessed with being the top dog keeps challenging Yen until they finally duke it out in a gym, using western boxing and tae kwan do kicks, as well as numerous props, as weapons the rope of a boxing ring, weights, a trampoline and a jump rope. Yen is thrown, trapped, and pulled, but eventually wins the day. It’s an astonishing performance. Yen also exhibits crackerjack comic timing.
Sha Po Lang – 4.5/5, A well-made movie with some good acting performances. There’s a decent amount of fighting in this one and Donnie looks great. His fights with Wu Jing and Sammo at the end are both high standard, particularly for the weaponry bash with the ruthless Wu Jing.
Style – Modern fighting
Chan (Simon Yam), an articulate senior detective nearing the end of his career, is taking care of the daughter of a witness killed by ruthless crime lord, Po (Sammo Hung). Martial arts expert Ma (Donnie Yen) is set to take over as head of the serious crime unit, replacing Chan who wants an early retirement. Jet (Wu Jing) is Po’ s cold-blooded righthand man.
When an undercover agent is found dead three days after Ma joins the unit, Chan thinks it’ s the work of Po and sends people to bring him in. With no evidence, Po knows he will walk free in no time. Desparate to put Po behind bars, Chan decides to plant evidence in order to convict him. The whole unit is in on it, except Ma who they know would not want to be involved. But when the evidence mysteriously disappears, Ma finds himself drawn into the battle between Chan and Po.
Written by FCSyndicate & Asian Cinema contributor Graeme Noble (6/5/13). Noble is an acclaimed independent filmmaker and actor, and represents one-half of his award-winning independent film company, Noble Brothers Productions with brother John-William Noble. For more information on his work, visit http://www.noblebrotherproductons.org.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.