Happy new year everybody! Hope everyone had a good one. We’ve got a lot of stuff to get to this week so let’s get to it…
Badass of the Month – December 2010
Rueben “Rooster” Cogburn, played by Jeff Bridges– True Grit
At first glance, Rooster Cogburn may not seem the type to be Badass of the Month material, being sort of fat and old, one-eyed and drunk. When it comes down to it though, we’re talking about a lawman that’s all business when it comes to dealing death to ruffians and outlaws; a man with an itchy trigger finger and a badge that lets him use it. He may not be the youngest or the fastest, but when the chips are down at the end of True Grit, there’s no doubt in my mind he’ll prevail. Rooster’s just too tough and mean not to come out on top.
Asian Cinema Explosion: End of the Year Blowout, Part 2 – Badass Asian Film Awards
Alright so, it’s been one heck of a year for Asian Cinema, and I felt like handing out some awards for some of my favorites from this past year. Here we go!
Best Fight Scene
Dojo Fight – Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen
It was a REALLY tight race for this award, and several movies were able to provide stunning examples of close quarter, hand to hand combat in 2010, but at the end of it all, this sequence from Legend of the Fist just did it for me with its iconic imagery. This set piece features Donnie Yen, adorned in the white outfit Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury, walking into the villainous Japanese Dojo and simply wiping out every soldier and karate master in sight. To me, this scene was symbolic as Donnie Yen’s coronation; inheriting the mantle of the world’s best screen fighter from the previous actor who had portrayed Chen Zhen, Jet Li in Fist of Legend, who had inherited the title from Fist of Fury’s Bruce Lee. Watching Yen pound the crap out of 30 guys is simply majestic in its brutality and grace.
Chase through the Desert – The Good, The Bad, The Weird
As close as the fight scene category was, this setpiece from Kim Ji-woon’s Korean Western completely blew away any straight up action sequence from not only Asia, but from any film in the world this year. The scene is just pure contained chaos from beginning to end and makes the chase at the end of Stagecoach look like a Sunday stroll through the woods. The sequence features Kang-ho Song’s The Weird on a motorcycle racing through a wasteland followed closely by a horde of Mongols, the Japanese Army, a mounted group of villains lead by Byung-hun Lee’s The Bad, and our lone hero, Woo-sung Jung’s The Good. The setpiece is a masterwork of action by Kim Ji-woon; never over-editing the scene or using a lot of visual effects, instead favoring real explosions, real stunt work, and real danger.
I just can’t get enough of this sequence and actually feel a degree of sadness when it finally ends. Imagine the truck chase from Raiders of the Lost Ark, combined with the manic brutality of The Road Warrior’s finale, and the freewheeling abandon from the finale of John Ford’s aforementioned classic, Stagecoach. That comes close to the visceral adrenaline rush this sequence manages to give you.
Trash Dump Shootout – Vengeance
Yakuza Vs. Upstart Chinese Gangsters – Shinjuku Incident
Chen Zhen Vs. The German Army – Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen
Iko Uwais – Merantau
It’s sad to say, but there’s a shortage at the top of the list when it comes to the great martial arts stars that are actively working right now. Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and Sammo Hung are no longer able to physically perform the way they were able to a decade ago. Of the top martial arts stars in the world, Donnie Yen is nearing 50 and has vowed to retire in the next few years and Tony Jaa completely quit movies in 2010 to become a Buddhist monk. That is why it’s so refreshing to see a star like Iko Uwais break out this year in a movie of such high quality like Merantau. For those that haven’t seen it, the movie is the Indonesian answer to Ong Bak, and does for the martial art of Silat what Ong Bak did for Muay Thai.
What really makes Merantau outstanding though is that Iko Uwais is not only able to do jaw dropping stunts, but does a wonderful job of bringing an emotional center to this movie as well with a pretty terrific acting performance. While still a little rough around the edges, Uwais’ performance is easily as good as JeeJa Yanin’s lauded turn in Chocolate fromthe year before. On a journey to become a man, Uwais’ Yuda must try to find his path in the big city, and ends up protecting a girl from becoming a sex slave. While the plot seems familiar, the emotional depth the film brings is uncommon, and Uwais’ physical attributes as a martial artist and an actor certainly break him away from the pack. For fight film fans out there, Merantau is definitely one to take a look at.
Dennis To – Ip Man: The Legend is Born
Huang Xiaoming – Ip Man 2
Jackie Chan – Shinjuku Incident and Little Big Soldier
It made me as happy as I’ve been in a long time this year to see Jackie Chan bounce back from mediocrity in his film work. While The Spy Next Door stunk up multiplexes stateside (though he did have some success in The Karate Kid remake), Chan had his most sensational year in Hong Kong in over a decade. Why the big comeback? Because Jackie did what he’d been teasing he’d do for a decade; concentrate on serious dramatic acting and finally stop trying to relive his action movie heyday. Though both Shinjuku Incident and Little Big Soldier feature terrific action sequences, neither is anywhere close to being as action heavy as Chan classics such as Supercop or Drunken Master 2, but thankfully that doesn’t even matter because Chan is so watchable that you’re still captivated by his screen presence.
Shinjuku Incident is especially a memorable experience because not only is it not a Kung-fu movie of any kind, it even dares to show you a Jackie Chan that is ready to have sex with a prostitute or kill in order to get what he wants. This is an amazing performance that shouldn’t be missed by Jackie Chan fans. Also of the highest order is Little Big Soldier, which does have Jackie in his more comfortable, impish form, but still acting his pants off, as he plays a soldier in Ancient China, stuck behind enemy lines and trying to get to his homeland. Funny and touching, the pathos displayed by Jackie is phenomenal and we even get a few minor fight scenes for our viewing pleasure.
Vincent Zhao- True Legend
Sammo Hung – Ip Man 2
Yuen Biao – Ip Man: The Legend is Born.
Best Martial Arts Film (China & Hong Kong)
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen
This is a close race between this film and Ip Man 2 for me, but I think that Ip Man 2 simply goes off the rails a bit at the end of the movie and turns master Yip into a superhero, which undercuts the sort of amazing dramatic impact the first movie was able to possess. On the other hand, Donnie Yen’s Chen Zhen is supposed to be a pulpy hero, fighting a guerilla war against the Japanese occupying forces in Shanghai, so the sort of whiz-bang mentality of the movie is more appropriate. The combination of vigilante superhero movie, wartime rebellion flick and oldschool martial arts tale works swimmingly as a continuation of the story from both Fist of Fury and its remake Fist of Legend. We see Chen Zhen fight the Germans and beat them to a pulp in WWI and then watch him return to Shanghai incognito, letting his daytime Bruce Wayne-like persona fight the Japanese in public, while the costumed Chen Zhen destroys his villainous foes with his lightning quick fists and feet after the sun goes down.
Again Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen symbolizes for me how Donnie Yen has officially taken the reigns from Jet Li as the world’s biggest Martial Arts star, who had previously inherited the title from Bruce Lee. This is Yen stepping into the biggest role of either of his predecessors’ careers and then infusing the character with the right mix of grace and brutality. Each fight in this film is a small, violent ballet, with Yen’s charisma being so on target we completely buy every ridiculous moment. Legend of the Fist may not work for everyone, but for me it’s a symbol of just how far Donnie Yen has come in the last few years in becoming the biggest and best Martial Arts star in the world.
Ip Man 2
Reign of Assassins
Best Martial Arts Film (Other)
A few years ago, a little film named Ong Bak, along with its star, Tony Jaa, set the world on fire by giving us the type of wild energy that fight films used to in the heyday of Hong Kong’s film industry. Free of CGI and wirework, the only special effect of the movie was Tony Jaa’s athletic ability and how far he could push himself onscreen. That’s nearly exactly the feeling I got watching Merantau out of Indonesia earlier this year, with Iko Uwais lighting up the screen and bringing a compelling dramatic performance to the screen as well. The movie just grabs you early on and doesn’t let go till its final, action-packed moments. Uwais may not have Tony Jaa’s physique, but what he does have is terrific screen charisma and natural gifts as a martial artist that I think will prove to be a force to be reckoned with in the near future. A hero’s journey with real heart and spectacular action, Merantau is a movie well worth seeking out.
Blades of Blood
Best Asian Film of 2010
The Good, The Bad, The Weird
The Good, the Bad, the Weird is not only the best Asian film to get an American release in 2010, it was one of the best movies I saw all year, period. Set in WWII, and taking place in vast wastelands within Korea and China, this Korean Western features three men in pursuit of a vast treasure, destroying all in their path to obtain it. Director Kim Ji-woon puts on a clinic in the action department, constructing one amazing set-piece after another, and reminding us that a team of real stuntmen and horses can be a hundred times more exciting than giant armies or robots made of CGI. This is a masterclass in pop entertainment right up to the very end, as bullets fly and villains go down by the score.
Kim Ji-woon is rapidly emerging as the most versatile director amongst the standouts in Korean Cinema. While I do love the work of Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook and would admit that they’re both making films as good as any director in the world right now, I can’t help but admire what Kim Ji-woon is doing with his career. He started small, worked up to the marvelously creepy A Tale of Two Sisters, then the gangster flick A Bittersweet Life, and now The Good, The Bad, The Weird is the culmination of his abilities as a director. With his next film, I Saw the Devil, getting raves the film maker is establishing himself as the next big thing, and with amazing pictures like this one under his under, all the attention is well deserved.
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen
Ip Man 2
That’s all this week folks. We’ll be back soon with my movies to look out for in 2011 and my favorite Badasses of 2010.
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.
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