Kung Fu VIDEO Round-up

Film / Video Reviews
Kung Fu VIDEO Round-up
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May 22, 2001, 05:11

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KEN GOES CHOP SOCKEY!

The editors at Your Flesh supplied me with five recent Hong Kong kung fu/action films for review, featuring two of the most popular current stars of the genre, Jackie Chan and Jet Li. As with anything in life, the quality of the films varied tremendously. To make it easier on the reader (since there were moments that were hard on me and unnecessary to pass along) here's the lowdown in descending order of quality.

TWIN WARRIORS directed by Yuen Woo Ping; Dimension Home Video, US release, 1994

The best of the bunch by far. A kung fu period piece featuring ancient Chinese locations and costumes. The story follows the paths of two students of Shoa Lin after they've been kicked out of their temple for disrespecting the headmaster. One has a good heart (Jet Li), the other is power hungry—it's obvious where this is going 20 seconds into the movie. It doesn't really matter, however, because the fight scenes are fantastic (though they sport a few too many visible wires): acrobatic and very well choreographed. Things get even more interesting after the two warriors go on their “separate paths,” and Michelle Yeoh's character becomes more prevalent. Unlike most stories set in contemporary Hong Kong and China, the women in fantasy films of this type don't need a man to help them straighten out someone's ass (Super Cop, featuring Jackie Chan and Yeoh, is a rare exception). In this film, as with almost every Hong Kong action picture I've seen, there is also an anti-English sub text. Here it's represented by the evil Master Lu, who tries to gain the Emperor's favor by wiping out Li's rebels with the assistance of Li's former friend (who is now a power-mad psychopath). Master Lu is portrayed as a goat-voiced albino.

PROJECT A directed by Jackie Chan; Dimension Home Video, US release, 1995

Not as good as Jackie Chan's masterpiece, Drunken Master II, but right up there. The story is a fairly entertaining series of comic misadventures that follow Chan's association with the Navy and police of 19th century Hong Kong. Unlike Twin Warriors there is very little female presence except as comedic window dressing. Colonial England is present all over the place, from the costumes to furniture to side burns. It's easy to read the harassment of the English Navy by Chinese pirates as an attack on England's presence in China. Again, the best thing about this movie is the action sequences. Project A features some of Chan's best, including the famous Harold Lloyd clock tower tribute which is absolutely astounding. Something that makes Chan's direction so incredible is how the complete course of action takes place on film. There is no use of crosscutting or body double cutaways to interrupt a sequence. His understanding of how to bring action to the screen is much like Fred Astaire's understanding of what would get across the visual motion of a dance number best: he realized that it was necessary to show the complete dancer with the dance.

MIRACLES directed by Jackie Chan; Columbia Tristar Home Video, US release, 1993

This is an earlier project put together by the team of Jackie Chan and producer Leonard Ho and much less effective than 1995'sProject A. This one centers around a roaring '20s Hong Kong gangster (?) story. The madcap events include mistaken identities, dance numbers, and a mainland peasant becoming head of one of the biggest mobs in Hong Kong (played by Chan of course). The story is pretty tedious and the humor is comprised more of mediocre slapstick than wit. It is worth watching (with your remote control on fast forward) however, because Chan's action sequences are stellar. There are three set pieces within the nearly unwatchable story that are worth checking out: a fight in a tea house which features Chan's great use of inanimate-objects-made-animate (chairs, banisters, staircases, etc.), a great slug-fest in a marketplace, and an amazing climax in a rope factory which includes shots from nearly every level and angle of action possible in one sequence of film. Not a great movie, but another example of Chan's astonishing creativity when it comes to dramatic motion.

THE DEFENDER directed by Corey Yuen; Dimension Home Video, US release, 1994 GORGEOUS directed by Vincent Kok; Columbia Tristar Home Video, US release, 1999

I can't put much of a positive spin on either of these films; they're both pretty dreadful. After seeing The Defender and Romeo Must Die I had a difficult time understanding why Jet Li was a Hong Kong (now US?) action star, but Twin Warriors straightened me out. In The Defender, Li portrays a communist bodyguard who is sent to protect a spoiled “capitalist” woman who has witnessed a murder. The story is beyond predictable, but it does contain the great line, “All the kung fu in the world isn't going to help when it comes to women.” Unfortunately, it didn't save this picture either. Gorgeous feels like a remake of a T.J. Hooker episode starring Sylvester Stallone. A romantic “comedy” that features dolphins, the stock market, and a 40 year old Chan making out repeatedly with what appears to be a 14 year old girl (in reality she's a 20 year old Chinese soft core porn star, which somehow makes the whole thing even seedier). The “big fight” scene is fine, Chan is just too good at this stuff to be bad, but the rest of it is awful.

The real movie to see of this type is 2000's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon featuring Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh, and directed by Ang Lee. This film is perfect. It's the only thing in this genre I've seen that's better than Jackie Chan's Drunken Master II, my former favorite. Skip The Defender and Gorgeous and forget about fast forwarding through Miracles, go see Crouching Tiger if you can still catch it somewhere on the big screen, and witness how good the kung fu genre and the cinema can be. If you're in Chicago I recommend that you check out Hard Boiled Records & Video on 2008 W. Roscoe [phone 773.755.2619]. They've got hundreds of great Asian films on video and DVD for rent, plus a creative selection of cool CDs.

-Ken Vandermark

Filed Under: Film-DVD-VideoFilm-DVD-Video Reviews

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