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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

47 RONIN are turning over in their graves

30 Dec


The film’s director, Carl Erik Rinsch is probably kneeling before a room of executives at Universal and offering to perform seppuku for the dismal 47 Ronin starring Keanu Reeves. Everyone knew the film was in trouble long before its eventual Christmas release date, but I (Chuck) am a martial art film junkie and wanted to give the film a fair viewing. Unfortunately, the film lived up to its bad press by putting together a poorly assembled re-interpretation of the legendary story about Japan’s most famous samurai. There was no cohesion from scene to scene because the production is unable to balance the fantasy with the real story. Rinsch tries to honor both ideas, but it simply does not work. The special effects are distracting and predictable. Also, Universal Studios should be ashamed of themselves for thinking a  story about a group a men known for gaining honor through mass suicide would be a successful holiday blockbuster.


Chuck’s Grade: D

Adam’s Grade: N/A

THE MAN OF TAI CHI is stopped by Keanu Reeves

27 Dec


Keanu Reeves does many things right in his directorial debut. He hires Woo-ping Yuen as his Action Director and he casts Tiger Hu Chen as the lead character, as well as using martial art legend Yu Hai to teach the style’s life lessons. There is some great choreography and variety to the film’s action sequences. Tiger Hu Chen’s adversaries all bring something different to the table. The problem arises when Reeves casts himself as the main antagonist, which was cool to watch him play the villain, however his acting range bleeds into Nicolas Cage territory when he attempts to be menacing. It is almost comical at times and the film would have been served better if he took a back seat and stayed in the director’s chair. Also, his “fighting skills” have diminished since the Matrix Trilogy, although he keeps his signature black outfits.  The Man of Tai Chi has some moves but it cannot evade Keanu’s poor acting.


Chuck’s Grade: C+

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

Only God Forgives is a polarizing acid trip

8 Aug


Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow-up to Drive felt like a polarizing acid trip. You either love or hate his approach to filmmaking. It is stylistic with substance to back it up. Only God Forgives is no exception, but I found the stylistic side dominating the substance in this film. The symbolism and metaphors mix with the spirituality as audiences follow Julian (Ryan Gosling), a drug-smuggler living in Bangkok is compelled to find and kill whoever is responsible for his brother’s death.

Unfortunately, the plot is thin and its pace is uneven. However, Larry Smith’s cinematography is beautiful and his distinct color pallet collaborates with Cliff Martinez brooding score to help Beth Mickle achieve her dark and dangerous production design. This film will surely divide audiences because Gosling appears lost at times and is not technically equipped to carry out the martial art requirements of this role. The sublime succumbs to the ugly underworld and the film cannot recover.


Adam’s Grade: B

Chuck’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

Iron Sky crashes like the Hindenburg

18 Jan


Every once in a while a critic wants to give readers a one sentence response to a film, or even, a one-word review. I will refrain from my adolescent urges and say a couple nice things about the movie, and then proceed to the justified censure. Iron Sky is about a bunch of Nazi’s living on the moon for sixty years and preparing for an invasion of Earth. Granted, the idea is original and the film’s trailer is quite intriguing, but the on-screen action and story does not live up to the expectations. The film is tongue and cheek humor that satirizes the United States’s conservative politics, which is fine, but most of the jokes crashes like the Hindenburg. As for the cast, there is no balance between the actors. The supporting roles are over the top obnoxios while the leads are simply not interesting. Everyone looks uncomfortable. Iron Sky is a one-joke film that can’t sustain the humor.


Chuck’s Grade” D+

Adam’s Grade: N/A


3 Jan


Haywire is a fast paced action thriller that follows a betrayed covert operator that wants to exact revenge on her former employers. Director Steven Soderberg’s film features Hollywood’s next big action star. Her name is Gina Carano, a former mixed martial artist that has real fighting skills and good looks that gives her an on-screen presence not seen since Chuck Norris retired his black belt. Granted, Carano’s acting ability is rough around the edges, but there are moments that reveal her potential for becoming a natural. The fight sequences are great, but there are some clunky scenes, as well as some unrealistic logistics for the sake of pacing. Soderbergh puts together an interesting cast: Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Bill Paxton, and Ewan McGregor. My main criticism is that these actors did not have enough to do because of a lean script. Hopefully, Carano will get an opportunity to turn this character into a successful franchise.


Chuck’s Grace: B

Adam’s Grade: C+

Reservoir Dogs understands less is more

22 Dec


Quentin Tarantino’s debut film, Reservoir Dogs is one of those rare films that redefines the way audiences understand cinema. His independent film featuring an all star cast of fresh and seasoned actors opened the door to a film style that would feature unapologetic dialogue, skillful non-linear storytelling, charismatic characters, and unforgettable on-screen violence.

The film opens with a group of men talking about Madonna’s song, “Like a Virgin,” and then abruptly transitions to Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) screaming for his life in the back seat of a getaway car speeding to the hideout.  Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) believes the job was a set up and everyone becomes a suspect, but the audience knows who the “rat” is for the majority of the film, which is a genius stroke by Tarantino. Everything from the set and music to Steven Wright’s voice is perfect.

The film is simple, but the execution separates it from other low-budget movies. Tarantino understands less is more.


Adam’s Grade: A

Chuck’s Grade A+

House of Flying Daggers is at the pinnacle of wuxia cinema

8 Nov

Director Zhang Yimou best known for his colossal accomplishments with the 2008 Olympic ceremonies and his movie Hero, creates a gorgeous masterpiece that places his film at the pinnacle of Chinese Wuxia cinema. The film’s Cinematographer Xiaoding Zhao captures every hue and tint of color in a way that makes an audience feel like they have fallen into another world.

The story follows the arrest and escape of Mei (Ziyi Zhang), a beautiful blind dancer/rebel that belongs to the House of Flying Daggers group. Ziyi Zhnag has become the most recognizable Chinese actress in America and this Zatoichi-like character is by far her best role because all of the action revolves around her movements. Chinese actor/singer and “Superstar” Andy Lau delivers another exceptional performance as the police captain (Liu) and his partner Takeshi Kaneshiro (Jin) is torn between loyalty and love. House of Flying Daggers is the one of the most complete and successful martial art films of all time.


Chuck’s Grade: A+

Adam’s Grade: B+