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31 Mar


The Wrath of Vajra is…different. Anti-Japanese films are nothing new from the Chinese, but this film is about a rogue WWII martial art master that began a cult of warriors that worshiped the God, Hades. His recruits would come from stolen children from around the world to become unstoppable warriors. After WWII, the master is imprisoned and his former students are left to carry out his vision. Escaped student, K-29 returns to fight to the death against his “brothers” in a series of tests that include a battles against a “giant-like” master and “demon-inspired” fighter, until the final show down with the disciple/leader, K-28. The kung fu and action sequences are good, but the story is too outside the octagon for me and has too many predictable plot choices to make it a great film. However, die-hard kung fu fans will appreciate the skill sets of Yu Xing and Sung-jun Yoo. Everyone else pales in comparison.


Chuck’s Grade: B-

Adam’s Grade: N/A

DRUG WAR cooks up something new

28 Dec


America is no stranger to films about crystal meth and the dark characters that are associated with the narcotic, however, in mainland China director Johnnie To breaks new ground by cooking up an interesting gangster film that has a snitch willing to say or do anything to save his life with an undercover cop determined to bring a group of gangsters to justice by any means necessary. Police captain Zhang  (Sun Honglei) takes information from Timmy Choi (Louis Koo) and runs with it by impersonating different gangsters while at the same time pumping Choi for more and more information, until it leads him to the major players behind the drug trade. Choi’s integrity and loyalty are being tested while Zhang  battles with his ego and obsession. Both actors give strong performances that lead audiences along to an amazing climax featuring ultra violence from every possible direction. I liked the film, but buying into the cops’ sting was difficult for me.


Chuck’s Grade: B

Adam’s Grade: N/A

The Grandmaster is a delicate and deliberate work of art

19 Sep


Wong Kar-Wai is one of China’s most celebrated and respected directors because his aesthetic eye is unmatched, much like his the title of his latest film, The Grandmaster starring Tony Leung as Ip Man, the martial art champion of Wing Chun that has become a household name among Netflix audiences familiar with the Donnie Yen films. This interpretation easily replaces the previous versions. It chronicles his life before and after the Second Sino-Japanese war as a well-respected kung fu master selected to represent the Southern styles against the undefeated Northern Grandmaster. The film is beautifully shot and every single detail is accentuated by Wong Kar-Wai’s ability to make the familiar look strange. Tony Leung’s performance is equal to his character’s name and Zhang Ziyi’s (Gong Er) keeps the film from becoming a one-dimensional martial art film. Her presence and her character’s objective, as well as her obstacles deepens the story. The Grandmaster is a delicate and deliberate work of art.


Chuck’s Grade: A

Adam’s Grade: N/A

The Great Magician is a tired act

20 Aug


The best trick this film pulls off is getting critically acclaimed actor, Tony Leung Chui Wai (Chang Hsien) to agree to do this turn of this turn of the century farce about love, magic, and China’s strained relationship with imperial Japan. I kept hoping several of the main characters would simply disappear because the acting was so atrocious that it made it difficult to get through the film in one viewing. Actor Lau Ching-wan (Bully Lei) is supposed to be Leung’s rival for Zhou Xun’s (Yin) affection, but I did not see the appeal for such a buffoon of a character. The rest of the cast is equally unsatisfying and really unnecessary for most of the film. Director Derek Yee is a veteran artist of Hong Kong cinema and has written and directed some very good films recently (Protege, Shinjuku Incident, and Triple Tap) but he had nothing up his sleeve this time. The Great Magician is a tired act.


Chuck’s Grade: F

Adam’s Grade: N/A

The Sorcerer and the White Snake

14 Jul

The Sorcerer and the White Snake

The Sorcerer and the White Snake is a Chinese fantasy film based on a story that has been passed down for generations. Although, some of the cultural references will be lost on domestic audiences, the poor acting from the supporting characters cannot be ignored.The female actresses (Huang Shengyi and Charlene Choi) are gorgeous, but their love stories are beyond juvenile and much too drawn out.  Jet Li’s character is interesting as a demon “buster” monk, but the film is not about him. His kung fu powers serves as the story’s deus ex machina.  I am sure young people who enjoy shape-shifting and demons will find this very polished film entertaining, but for me, I was bored out of my mind.


Chuck’s Grade: D

Adam’s Grade: N/A

The Descent: What are friends for?

12 Jul


Most people fear something and The Descent delivers a fright. It is plain scary. Who would have guessed a British horror film would be one of the creepiest films to date. Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) is invited by her friends to explore a cave in the mountains. A rock falls and blocks the spelunkers from leaving. With limited supplies, the tension among the friends rise, but things get much worse when a savage breed of creatures show up.

Neil Marshall has created a movie that dwells on several different fears: claustrophobia, darkness, and the fear of the unknown. The direction and cinematography are executed in a way that captures the fear and reveals the characters going through an array of emotions. Unfortunately, the acting is average and the banal first act prevents it from becoming an all time classic. However, The Descent will scare you and it is great to recommend to one of your unsuspecting friends. What are friends for?


Adam’s Grade: B

Chuck’s Grade: N/A

Ronan’s Escape (short film) forces audiences to think about change

25 May


Bullying is a hot-topic issue that has received considerable attention from the film community in the last couple of years. A. J. Carter writes and directs one of the most powerful short films on the subject by allowing the actions to speak for itself. He does not pull any punches and presents an accurate depiction of young people targeting one of their classmate, as well as the potential impact it can have on its victim.

Ronan is a 14 year-old boy who has been labeled a “loser” by his peers. He attempts to persevere through the physical and mental abuse, but finds himself frustrated, embarrassed, hurt, and alone. Carter storytelling is more complex than the sparse words he uses throughout the film. He allows audiences to witness the behavior and to think about their potential role and responsibility when it comes to treating others with respect. Ronan’s Escape is a thought provoking short that forces audiences to think about change.


Chuck’s Grade: A

Adam’s Grade: N/A

Interview with a Hitman is interrupted

13 May


I used to love the stone cold killer movies where a macho lead actor would shoot his way through the film, but many of these films would try to soften the lead character when it came to affairs of the heart. Interview with a Hitman is no different. Everything is going great, until he meets the girl, but like the film we must start at the beginning. Viktor is a young boy that gains employment as a Romanian hitman after the mob kills his father. Unlike other films, Viktor is perfectly fine with his father’s death because he lacks emotion and compassion of any kind, which makes him the most respected and feared killer eastern Europe. The adult version of Viktor (Luke Goss) is perfect for the part. His high cheek bones and cold eyes intimidate the camera. My problem lies with the execution of the interview and his relationship with Bethesda (Caroline Tillette). Both feel like an interruption.


Chuck’s Grade: B

Adam’s Grade: N/A

Assault Girls scores points, but not enough

7 Apr


Writer and director Mamoru Oshii creates a different type of science fiction film that I think is still in its infancy phase, but may become a more successful entertainment in the future. Films depicting video game sequences. I understand there are many video game inspired movies, but Oshii’s film is different. The plot is about four characters who appear only in their avatars’ form. They are attempting to get to the game’s next stage. We are never introduced to the real people playing  and the characters’ deaths are only virtual and can be re-upped at will. The film follows three gorgeous and strong female avatars and a lone male trying to defeat a giant sandwhale. Although, the film scores many points for style, it lacks the substance to transcend the story to another level. After the film ended, I felt like I was part of the game, but wish I hadn’t played because I had more important things to do.

Chuck’s Grade: C

Adam’s Grade: N/A

The Crush (short film) is fleeting

6 Apr


Many young boys develop a crush for one of their elementary teachers, but in this Irish short film from writer/director Michael Creagh takes this idea and creates a scenario where the young boy is going to prove his worth by exposing his teacher’s boyfriend as an unworthy jerk.  Some people will find the humor in this film, but others might find a young boy threatening an adult with a gun as a disturbing thought because of our society’s proliferation of school shootings and youth violence. The idea is dangerous and I like the fearlessness of the Creagh to bring this to life, but the cast does not have much of an onscreen presence and the script is forced and unrealistic in some parts. The Crush grabs your attention, but like most crushes its impact is short-lived and fleeting.


Chuck’s Grade: B

Adam’s Grade: N/A