The Bodyguard (2016) (Super Bodyguard)


Wu Lin gets ready to run the gauntlet.

Wu Lin gets ready to run the gauntlet.

(2015) Action (Independent) Yue Song, Xing Yu, Becki Li, Wai-Man Chan, Jiang Boa-Cheng, Dong-Mei Xu, Colin Chou. Directed by Yue Song

NYAFF

When you become a bodyguard, you literally take the life of another person in your hands. It is your job to do everything within your power to protect that person and keep them safe from harm. For some bodyguards (and you would include the Secret Service in this category) that may be at the expense of your own life.

Wu Lin (Song) is a martial arts expert whose master has just passed away. Leaving the village here he has studied for years, he goes to the big city to search for his fellow apprentice Jiang Le (Yu) who had left under bitter circumstances. The master, you see, had chosen Wu Lin to wear the Iron Boots and learn the secrets of the Way of 105 Kicks. The Iron Boots add to his leg strength, making Wu Lin’s kicks lethal. He also cannot take them off, which probably makes Dr. Scholl’s a necessity.

Jiang is heartbroken to hear about the death of his master and now owns a bodyguard service and invites Wu Lin to be a part of it. Industrialist Jia-Shan Li hires Wu Lin to be the bodyguard for his daughter Fei-Fei (Li) after Wu Lin saves Jia-Shan from a group of thugs. Fei-Fei turns out to be a spoiled poor little rich girl who wants nothing to do with Daddy and less to do with Wu Lin.

As it turns out, she has great need of his services when it turns out that there are some pretty nasty bad guys after her. Wu Lin saves her once but eventually even his skills can’t protect her and she and her father are taken. The man orchestrating all the mayhem turns out to be someone intimately familiar with all the parties involved – and with an army standing in between him and Wu Lin, it will be a minor miracle if Wu Lin can save the girl (and her father) and defeat the bad guys.

Like many martial arts movies, the plot really isn’t very important. Basically, the story serves as an excuse to set up elaborate martial arts displays, and Song – who not only directs and stars but also co-wrote and edited this sucker – is a natural, reminding me (as he did other critics) of a young Jet Li. Song has the kind of potential to equal the onscreen achievements of that martial arts legend.

The fight scenes are pretty amazing, to be honest, with elements of the fantastic but solidly rooted in the crime procedurals that are all the rage in martial arts movies these days. Combining the two is certainly a smart move and Song utilizes the elements of both, integrating the two harmoniously and organically. Points for that.

Negative points for being a bit cliché in terms of the filmmaking; there is the “romance is blossoming” montage set at a beach house and set to flowery music as well as a villain so villainous that he all but crushes the skull of a kitten beneath an iron boot except that it’s Wu Lin literally wearing the iron boots, but never mind that.

Chinese cinema buffs will recognize the name of Collin Chou, but he has little more than a cameo appearance here and no fight scenes, so don’t let that fool you. Besides, there are plenty of amazing fights and jaw-dropping stunts to keep even the most jaded fan of the genre grinning ear to ear. The performances here are solid enough, although not spectacular (although Song shows tremendous promise) and while the dialogue is a bit cheesy, no more so than most Asian martial arts films.

Think of this as a Wuxia gangster film and you aren’t too far off the mark. This, incidentally, has nothing to do with the Whitney Houston/Kevin Costner film of the same name; the Chinese translation of the title is actually Super Bodyguard and there is also a Sammo Hung film also titled The Bodyguard coming out this year as well (which is also known as My Beloved Bodyguard – confused yet?) just to keep you on your toes.

In any case, fans of martial arts films will have much to appreciate here, getting to see a rising star in the genre show off his chops. There are a few cringe inducing moments (such as when a young boy whips out his thing to urinate on Wu Lin) but not enough not to recommend this, particularly to those who like their action with Asian spice.

REASONS TO GO: The stunts range from the spectacular to the sublime. A nice mash-up of genres.
REASONS TO STAY: A little bit disjointed. Cliché in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s some brief nudity, some rude humor and plenty of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Yu was, prior to his acting career, an actual Shaolin Monk.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/25/16: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Proof of Life
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: High-Rise

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The Forbidden Kingdom


Clash of Titans.

Clash of Titans.

(2008) Martial Arts Fantasy (Lionsgate) Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michael Angarano, Collin Chou, Liu Yifei, Li Bingbing, Morgan Benoit, Deshun Wang, Yu Yuan Zeng, Xiao Dong Mei, XiaoLi Liu, Juana Collignon, Jack Posobiec, Thomas McDonnell, Zhi Ma Gui, Shen Shou He, Bin Jiang, Michelle Du, Crystal Kung, Jia Xu Wei, Ju Shi Xiao, Meng Guo, Alexis Bridges. Directed by Rob Minkoff

It takes great courage to become more than what you are and while that is rare, it does happen. Sometimes it comes from the most unlikely of people.

Jason Tripitikas (Angarano), a resident of a tough neighborhood in South Boston, loves martial arts films. He longs to be like the ancient heroes of China, with Kung Fu skills bordering on the supernatural. The sad reality is, however, that he is afraid, not confident in himself and while very knowledgeable about the various styles and moves of his martial arts heroes, is unable to put them into practice.

He often visits a pawn shop in Chinatown where the elderly proprietor (Chan) often stocks rare and out of print martial arts movies of the Shaw Brothers era. When Lupo (Benoit), a neighborhood bully with a hair trigger, discovers that Jason is friends with the pawn shop owner, he forces Jason to use his influence to get his gang into the store for the purpose of robbing the old man. Jason, too afraid to stand up, reluctantly gives in to his tormentor. Once in the store, however, things go horribly wrong. When the thugs are unable to find the store’s money, in a fit of pique Lupo shoots the old man. Jason, realizing that he is next in line, grabs an old staff to help him get away, but he is trapped on the roof with a gun pointed at his head. That’s when things get really crazy.

It turns out that the staff is a powerful magic weapon that once belonged to the immortal Monkey King (Li), and when the mischievous monarch insulted the powerful Jade Warlord (Chou), the Warlord challenged the Monkey King to a martial arts duel, but tricked the Monkey King into putting down his staff. The Warlord then turned the Monkey King into stone, but the Monkey King, just before the Jade Warrior had worked his magic, sent his staff out of his world and into ours. However, once the staff is returned to its rightful owner, the spell would be broken and the Monkey King would end the tyrannical reign of the Jade Warlord.

This is explained to Jason by a wandering drunken scholar (Chan again), who helps Jason escape from soldiers of the Jade Army. They are helped by a beautiful young musician (Yifei) who is on a mission of her own: vengeance against the Jade Warlord, who killed her family. However, en route to the Mountain of the Five Elements, where the Jade Warlord’s palace is, the staff is stolen by the Silent Monk (Li). After a furious fight with the drunken scholar, they at last realize that they have the same mission and agree to join forces and train young Jason in the ways of kung fu. However, they are being tracked by a wicked witch (Bingbing) who has been sent by the Jade Warlord to retrieve the staff and kill those who carry it. With an entire army and wielders of immense supernatural power arrayed against them, how can they restore the staff to the Monkey King and find Jason a way back home?

In many ways, this is Chan’s movie and he carries it strongly, easily falling into the character of the drunken master whom he has played many times in many movies earlier in his career. Li, whose character the Silent Monk is onscreen most of the time, doesn’t get a lot of dialogue and little to do but be stoic in between bouts of kicking derriere. However, when he is in his persona of the Monkey King early in the movie and then again near the very end, he is delightful, showing an impish sense of humor he rarely gets to display.

Yifei is almost supernaturally beautiful, playing the eventual love interest, and when she does get to fight, she holds her own. Bingbing and Chou are both marvelous in their villainous roles, particularly Bingbing who has a vicious kind of charisma. It is Angarano who winds up being the weak link; it isn’t that he’s bad, he’s just very bland. You get no sense of the inner fortitude he must display as the movie progresses, and his transition from timid nebbish to brave warrior just doesn’t work.

The fight sequences are staged by the great Woo-Ping Yuen, who did the same for the Matrix trilogy as well as many legendary Chinese martial arts films. Although there are several wire sequences (for which Yuen is justifiably best known), the movie isn’t dominated by them. Most of the martial arts sequences are staged on the ground. Another Asian legend, cinematographer Peter Pau, is behind the lens, and his vistas of placid Chinese villages and barren deserts are breathtaking. The sequences that take place on the Mountain of the Five Elements utilize some nicely done CGI. The American-Chinese co-production makes use of some of the best aspects of both schools, an advantage the filmmakers use to the fullest.

Chan is absolutely delightful and clearly dominates the movie. While the storyline is a bit complicated, it is told in a fashion that is not and winds up being a lot easier to follow than you might imagine. The smattering of Chinese mythology and fantasy are nicely adapted for the Western palate, although filmgoers better versed in those subjects might get a kick out of some of the in-jokes and homages the filmmakers insert from time to time. Then, of course, there’s the fight sequence between Chan and Li. Even though in many ways both men are past their primes, they deliver a fight that is absolutely breathtaking and while some might find it overly long, true aficionados won’t want the sequence to end.

Director Minkoff, best known for family movies like The Lion King, The Haunted Mansion and Stuart Little, delivers a movie that while fairly violent, is nonetheless suitable for all but the most sensitive. While there are some pretty impressive throw-downs, the violence is almost of a cartoonish nature and there is little blood and almost nobody dies, at least as far as can be seen.

Even Da Queen liked this one, and she’s not a big martial arts fan. The tone is lighthearted enough to keep things from getting too self-important, while not so lighthearted as to become farce. Duly noted are the Wizard of Oz similarities – the hero falling from the sky, meeting a trio of characters and following the road to the Emerald – or Jade, in this case – City. Sure, there are some people who just will not EVER desire to see any sort of martial arts movie, which of course is a matter of taste, although there’s just a hint of film snobbery in that decision. Those that are willing to brave the waters will find some wonderful entertainment here and while not visually in the league of Hero or Curse of the Golden Flower nor as well-made as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, nonetheless this is worthy of your entertainment dollar. Spend it wisely, grasshopper.

WHY RENT THIS: Chan is absolutely delightful. Lighthearted tone but not farcical. Nifty CGI.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Angarano doesn’t cut it here. A little bit on the derivative side.
FAMILY MATTERS: Plenty of martial arts action and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: This marks the first time that Asian martial arts legends Jackie Chan and Jet Li have appeared together in the same movie.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: A ton of extras including a blooper real, a retrospective on the careers of Li and Chan and how they almost worked together on several occasions, a look at the Chinese mythology that inspired the story, and a featurette on scouting the gorgeous locations within China. All of these are available both on the DVD and Blu-Ray editions of the film.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, M-Go
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $127.9M on a $55M production budget.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Journey to the West
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday

The Matrix Revolutions


The Mtatrix Revolutions

I’m swinging for his brains…just swinging for his brains, what a gloriou feeling I’m happy again!

(2003) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, Monica Bellucci, Jada Pinkett Smith, Harold Perrineau, Lambert Wilson, Daniel Bernhardt, Harry Lennix, Stuart Wells, Matt McColm, Collin Chou, Mary Alice, Ian Bliss. Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski

 

Early on in The Matrix Revolutions, the Oracle (Mary Alice, taking over for Gloria Foster, who died shortly after filming The Matrix Reloaded) tells Neo “Everything that has a beginning also has an end.” If that’s true (and the line is repeated at least once more, so the filmmakers must believe it), then perhaps it is a good thing that this trilogy of groundbreaking movies called it a day.

Picking up almost immediately where Reloaded ended, Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Bane (Ian Bliss) are in coma-like conditions, although Neo’s brainwaves read like he’s jacked into the Matrix, though there are no signs of him in the computer construct. Where he is, actually, is an in-between place, a train station controlled by the Merovingian (Wilson), for moving illegal programs from the machine world into the Matrix.

Much of this is explained by a couple of low-level programs who want their daughter, the oh-too-cute Sati (Atwal) to survive in the Matrix because she would be deleted from her own world. You see, machines need love too.

Trinity (Moss) and Morpheus (Fishburne) are ordered by the Oracle to go rescue Neo (inasmuch as she orders anybody). She sends her personal bodyguard, Seraph (Chou) to accompany them. They confront the Merovingian and get him to release Neo in a most unsatisfying way; it seems like somebody got written into a corner and couldn’t quite figure a way out.

Neo knows that everything is coming to a head. The machines are hours away from breaching the walls of Zion and time is running out. The human city is preparing for a last stand, hoping to hold out in the dock (where the breach will come), but most know the odds are against them, including defense commander Lock (Lennix). Neo announces that he must go to the Machine City in order to save humanity. He and Trinity leave, with Morpheus and Niobe (Smith) piloting the craft back to Zion in a desperate race against time.

Meanwhile, Agent Smith (Weaving) has become more and more powerful, having taken over the Matrix, and is now threatening both the machine and human worlds in order to end an existence he believes to be pointless. It is Neo’s destiny to face Smith with all three worlds hanging in the balance.

If the plot summary above sounds confusing, consider that this is a condensed version of what goes on. Part of the main problem with The Matrix Revolutions is that the Wachowski brothers are trying to tell too many stories at once. Most of the subplots are unnecessary and get in the way of the main story. Sure, the effects are out of this world, and there are some fine performances (Fishburne is definitely one of those guys who highlights any film he’s in), but the overall effect is a bit overwhelming.

There are many good things about the movie. Trinity’s character goes in an unexpected direction, and Moss really nailed the role, even more so than in the first two movies. Mifune (Lees), the Trainman (Spence) and Link (Perrineau) turn out well in brief roles, and Seraph and Niobe are awesome. However, there are too many characters that just flit across the screen. Bellucci is barely evident (which is nothing less than disappointing), and did we really need the kid in this movie at all?

Things blow up, lots of things. The battle for Zion is as spectacular as you can imagine, even more so. The final fight between Smith and Neo is everything it was meant to be, but I spent a lot of time in the dark theater trying to will the story forward through the many interminable subplots.

The first Matrix was successful in large part due to the directness of its storytelling. Sometimes a director’s scope can exceed the grasp of the storyline, and this is one of those occasions. Initial critical reaction has been awfully harsh on The Matrix Revolutions and I suspect unduly so, but maybe the movie is so disappointing because it wouldn’t have taken much for it to be a hell of a lot better. There is some talk of the series continuing, although much of the Neo plotline is neatly wrapped up here. Still, there remain some loose ends. Frankly, I’m more ambivalent about the idea of a fourth Matrix installment than I was about the second two, and maybe that’s where the Wachowskis ultimately failed.

WHY RENT THIS: More amazing visuals. Final battle between Neo and Agent Smith is as advertised.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too many subplots. Confusing storyline. Doesn’t really add anything to the mythos. Completely unsatisfying.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s a whole lot of violence and brief sex.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The first film to premiere in the Walt Disney Concert Hall (brand spankin’ new at the time) in downtown Los Angeles.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: The White Rabbit feature on the The Matrix Reloaded disc is also present here.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Chronicles of Riddick

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Peep World

The Matrix Reloaded


The Matrix Reloaded

Definitely not “Singing in the Rain.”

(2003) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, Monica Bellucci, Daniel Bernhardt, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Anthony Zerbe, Harold Perrineau, Collin Chou, Gloria Foster, Lambert Wilson, Harry Lennix, Randall Duk Kim. Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski

 

Movies like this create a lot controversy by their very nature. A messianic figure, cutting-edge special effects and an overall hipper-than-thou feel. All of this and being the most eagerly-anticipated movie of the year, sure to be a box-office bonanza. No pressure here.

Those who saw the “Animatrix” episode that played before the theatrical version of Dreamcatcher (or downloaded it off the internet) know what is revealed early on in the picture. Some time has passed since the events of the first Matrix movie, and changes are coming to both the computer-generated world of the Matrix, as well as the bleak world of reality. Neo (Reeves) is responsible for the “awakening” of an unprecedented number of humans, swelling the population of Zion. However, one of the hoverships has discovered that the machines are drilling — directly above Zion — and hundreds of thousands of Sentinels follow the drills. Should the drills arrive at Zion, millions will die. Possibly the entire human race will be wiped out.

The Oracle (Foster in her final role; she died in 2001) has urgent information for Neo, but Agent Smith (Weaving) is close on Neo’s tail, and Smith has become a rogue program in the Matrix (a virus, maybe?), out of control and self-replicating, leading to a spectacular sequence in which Neo takes on hundreds of annoyed-looking Agent Smiths.

There are others who don’t want those questions answered, but Neo knows that the only way to save humankind is to access the machine world’s mainframe, source of the Matrix, and take it on. In order to do that he will have to rescue the Keymaker (Kim) and get a specific key from him. However, he must find the Keymaker first to do that and he’ll have to take on the Merovingian (Wilson) to get there. Once he finds the key, what’s behind the door it unlocks calls into question everything we knew, or thought we knew about the world of the Matrix.

The movie ends on a cliffhanger note, which leaves the viewer vaguely unsatisfied. Still, there’s a lot to digest, a very complex storyline and some of the most amazing visuals imaginable. As action movies go, this one may be the one that takes the cake – at least in terms of the first part of the decade.  The freeway chase scene which features lots of leaping onto and from moving vehicles is one of the most thrilling ever filled and is worth the price of buying the DVD or Blu-Ray all by it’s lonesome.

On the minus side, Reeves continues to be one of the most wooden actors ever. He’s unconvincing as a messiah, and his relationship with Trinity (Moss) generates no chemistry. Thankfully, the other players – Morpheus (Fishburne), Link (Perrineau), Niobe (Smith), Persephone (Bellucci), Seraph (Chou), the Twins (Neil and Adrian Rayment), Commander Lock (Harry Lennix), the Merovingian (Wilson) and Counselor Hamann (Zerbe) – more than make up for Reeve’s lack of emotions.

This is a great action movie that set the standard for that genre circa 2003. That said, it isn’t perfect, and go in knowing there are some fairly major flaws. However, after seeing it in theaters back in the day I was left anticipating the final chapter – The Matrix Revolutions – which came out later that same year and therefore the movie accomplished mostly what it needed to.

WHY RENT THIS: Incredible action sequences. Some great supporting performances. Visionary and unique.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Doesn’t live up to the first film. Relationship between Neo and Trinity lacks heat. Reeves still curiously flat as Neo.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s plenty of violence and a little bit of sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Aaliyah was originally cast in the movie to play Zee but she died in a plane crash before filming began. Nona Gaye was cast in her place.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There’s a 22-minute featurette on the making of the freeway chase scene, one of the best in history. There’s a making-of featurette on two promo commercials for product tie-ins (yes, really) and a parody skit from the opening of the 2004 MTV Movie Awards. The Blu-Ray edition includes a music video from P.O.D. and a look at the making of Enter the Matrix, the videogame that served as a compliment to the movie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMNCE: $742.1M on a $150M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: The Lightkeepers