As I said in my last column, as a guy that just loves movies and especially action movies, I’m in absolute heaven right now. While there has been some fun to be had in the theaters in the last couple of months (Kick-Ass, The Losers and the totally solid Iron Man 2), the last month or so has been a whirlwind for me, because I’ve managed to get my hands on a number of phenomenal Asian films that have simply floored me. Terrifically, this hasn’t just been from one part of Asia either, as entries from several different countries have been blowing my mind, and the amazing thing is there are several more to come.
I’ve been able to get my hands on brand new films, recent offerings that managed to elude me, and I also managed to secure some old-school genre classics. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get to them all very shortly in this column. I’ve been having so much fun lately, that it hasn’t even hit me that hard that the summer is in full swing, and once that gets going in my head, I might just explode from having too much fun and excitement. For now though, I’m just happy to be able to be excited about these movies, which in turn has sort of got me excited for all movies lately.
Just to add to my general enthusiasm, a story from Cannes this week reports that Jackie Chan is planning on making a new Drunken Master sequel. Chan has been doing amazing work as of late in Asian productions such as The Shinjuku Incident and his new film Little Big Soldier, so perhaps this is exactly the right time for him to pass the torch in this film and maybe even give Wong Fei-Hung a grand send off! You can read about it here.
The thing is though, even if this project never gets off the ground, there are still a ton of upcoming movies to get excited, most of which are even still coming out this year. These movies range from eagerly awaited sequels (at least by me) to new films from Hong Kong movie legends. While 2009 came down to just two movies for me when it came down to best martial arts film of the year (Ong-Bak 2 and Ip Man respectively), 2010 is coming at us with a heavy assault of martial arts madness. Of course, release dates are still a bit dodgy so far, but hopefully I’ll get to see a lot of these movies as soon as possible or at least before the year is up! So here we go…
New Legends and Old Masters
Ip Man2 Starring Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung. Directed by Wilson Yip.
For those that remember, I put this film on my list as one of the ten movies I was most looking forward to this year, and though early word on this film has been less enthusiastic than for the first Ip Man, I still can’t wait to see what Donnie Yen and director Wilson Yip have come up with. For my money, the duo are to modern Hong Kong cinema what John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat were in the 1980s and ’90s. After Killzone, Flashpoint and Ip Man, these two have yet to do any wrong in my eyes, and I can’t believe the same team making an Ip Man sequel, which includes a fight between Yen and Sammo Hung, could be anything less than great.
Ong Bak 3 Starring Tony Jaa and Dan Chupong. Directed by Tony Jaa.
Although it ended on a cliffhanger, Ong Bak 2 was such an action extravaganza that I named it as one of the Top 10 films of 2009. If Ong Bak 3 is somehow not as spectacular as its predecessor, it might be the biggest disappointment of 2010 for me. Trailers have indicated nothing less than incredible action, and on top of that, Dan Chupong, perhaps the second biggest action star in Thailand, next to Jaa, is officially on board as one of the movie’s major villains. Expect some of the most incredible fights you’ve ever seen, elephant-centric stunts, and complete insanity all around.
Reign of Assassins Starring Michelle Yeoh and Woo-Sung Jung. Directed by John Woo and Chao Bin-Su.
If Red Cliff is any indication of the direction that John Woo is headed with the rest of his film making career, then sign me up. While his last picture was an epic war film that included martial arts elements, his new film, co-directed by Chao Bin-Su and produced by long time film making partner Terrance Chang, looks to be his first full on Martial Arts picture since before A Better Tomorrow made him the hottest director in Hong Kong. With Woo getting back to his roots, this looks to further send him on the path back to prominence after the giant success of Red Cliff.
Michelle Yeoh plays an assassin who quits in order to live out the rest of her days as a normal person, but when she is found by her former clan, an all out war breaks out. Imagery so far has this looking a lot like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but a fight in the trailer in which Yeoh stands off against a killer with flaming swords certainly peaks my interest, and hopefully this won‘t end up feeling like a retread. Also, look out for Korean actor Woo-Sung Jung, straight off of The Good, The Bad, The Weird, who has definitely showed his action chops off in the past in both the amazing “kimchi western” as well as the 2001 Korean battle epic Musa: The Warrior.
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame Starring Andy Lau. Directed by Tsui Hark.
This is the new supernatural thriller/martial arts epic from Tsui Hark, the director responsible for some of the most important Hong Kong films of all time, including the Once Upon a Time in China series. I do go back and forth on my affection for Hark, as I love the insanity of his films such as Time and Tide, The Blade, and his Jean-Claude Van Damme efforts, but I also think he’s a director that can let a production get away from him, and too often his movies can be too “style over substance” to the detriment of his pictures. On the other hand, this film looks like a complete blast, and the inclusion of Andy Lau intrigues me quite a bit. This looks like bedlam from start to finish, but if it manages to make sense, this may be a return to form for one of Hong Kong’s most important directors.
True Legend Starring Vincent Zhao, Zhou Xun, Jay Chou, Gordon Liu, Michelle Yeoh, and David Carradine. Directed by Yuen Woo-Ping.
With a title like True Legend, this movie could just be about director Yuen Woo-Ping. We’re talking about a man that is considered perhaps the greatest screen martial arts choreographer of all time. He has staged the action or fights of over 50 films, including Fist of Legend, Once Upon a Time in China I&II, The Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Kill Bill, Kung Fu Hustle, Unleashed, Fearless, and The Forbidden Kingdom. He has also dabbled in directing, calling the shots on nearly 30 pictures, including The Drunken Master, The Tai Chi Master, and Iron Monkey to name just a few.
I’m incredibly excited to get to check this out very soon, as the movie is about the character of Beggar So, a real life Chinese folk hero and the founder of drunken boxing. I imagine this was an intensely personal film for Woo-Ping to make, because the role of Beggar So was actually instrumental in the director originally becoming a success; showing up as the martial arts master to Jackie Chan’s Wong Fei-Hung in Drunken Master and Sammo Hung’s Butcher Wing in Magnificent Butcher, two films that helped put Woo-Ping on the map as a director. In fact, the role must be especially important to the film maker, as it was even originally played by his father, Yuen Siu-tien, in Drunken Master and the successful spin-off Dance Of The Drunk Mantis, before his untimely death in 1979.
Look for some absolutely insane fights, as well as some interesting roles for Hong Kong legends, including Gordon Liu, Michelle Yeoh, and the late David Carradine, who died during post-production on this film. Having recently watched star Vincent Zhao in Tsui Hark’s The Blade, I can tell you the actor has the goods when it comes to fight scenes, and it’ll be interesting to see Jay Chou in throw down in this movie, as his next film will be to star as Kato in the long delayed Green Hornet. All in all, it’ll be amazing to watch how this unfolds.
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen Starring Donnie Yen and Anthony Wong. Directed by Andrew Lau.
While I am partial to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, if I was going to show someone their first martial arts film to get a sense of the genre, I’d probably show them Fist of Legend before all others. One of my favorite Hong Kong films of all time, Fist of Legend is a remake of the classic Bruce Lee film Fist of Fury, both pictures telling the story of Chen Zhen, a student who takes vengeance after the death of his master during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai. As my introduction to martial arts films and Jet Li, Fist of Legend had a profound influence on my love of Asian cinema and my love of cinema in general.
Now, while I would have loved to have gotten a follow-up film back in the day, I may just get the next best thing this year. Officially, Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen is a continuation of a 1995 TV series version of Fist of Fury starring Donnie Yen, but any extension of this story is welcomed, and it seems fitting that Yen will get to officially portray this role on the big screen. This a character with a rich legacy established by two of the greatest screen martial artists ever, and I can’t think of a better candidate to carry on that legacy than Donnie Yen.
Directed by Infernal Affairs‘ Andrew Lau and co-written by Gordon Chan, the director of Fist of Legend, the story will take place seven years after the events of the original story, and will have Chen Zhen battling the Japanese as a vigilante as he infiltrates the Chinese mob, who look to form an alliance with the occupying forces. If this film is even half as good as its predecessors, Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen could end the year being the best martial arts film of the bunch. With a top notch crew and the biggest star in Hong Kong, this looks tailor-made to be one of the signature films of this era of Hong Kong cinema.
I know Summer movies are getting in full swing, but I’ve got a few more tales of revenge, samurai, and karate champions I’ve gotten to see lately that I can’t wait to talk about, so expect me back soon with more Eastern awesome.
Robert Sutton feels the most at home when he's watching some movie scumbag getting blown up, punched in the face, or kung fu'd to death, especially in that order. He's a founding writer for the movies section of Insidepulse.com, featured in his weekly column R0BTRAIN's Badass Cinema as well as a frequent reviewer of DVDs and Blu-rays. Also, he's a proud Sony fanboy, loves everything Star Wars and Superman related and hopes to someday be taken seriously by his friends and family.