Posts Tagged ‘martial arts’

Samurai Quack ?!?

Fri ,26/12/2014

came across this earlier this week – apparently they spoofed Samurai Jack on the more recent Duck Dodgers series – you can watch it here on YT – just fast forward to the 10:25 mark….this still has Mako in it (voice of Aku in the original) – it was done the year before he passed away…..


May creeps ever closer…

Fri ,14/03/2014

to Gojira’s return! But in the meantime (april 4), it looks like Gina Carano may have to do – what she does so well – kick a**!


Summer movies, 2013 – belated…..

Tue ,19/11/2013

So the summer movie-going season kind of hit a wall in mid-July due to work and other commitments, sadly. But that’s why the DVD was invented, rightl? 🙂 So I finally saw Pacific Rim this afternoon on DVD. While I’m sure the effect of mecha-robots and kaiju slugging it out was diminished somewhat by watching it at home – it was still entertaining.

Likes: – the way the soundtrack draws you in when the battles intensify (this was done well IMHO in other recent movies, notably The Avengers);

– The robots are pretty cool, even if not that original (we’ve seen them all pretty much a zillion times before if you have seen Transformers or any anime mecha from Gundam onward through Evangelion) although I was a bit disappointed the majority of the battles occur at sea rather than on land – gotta smash up those buildings and stomp the people and cars! One of the mecha uses an actual ship as a bat at one point, so that’s pretty cool, too, even if I think they have a bit of a comparative scale issue on that point;

– The actors are all fairly unknown (to me, at least) save Idris Elba, who seems to be really hitting the big time of late. Charlie Day also resembles Sam Rockwell more than a little bit – I was surprised it wasn’t the latter. I’m glad they did it that way and not just have a bunch of big names who demand more money and more screen time – stories like this are about kaiju and the men/women who waste them with huge robots, first and foremost!

– the fact that the robots didn’t just win the war at first go and that the kaiju kept coming back, meaner and more vicious.

And, then the inevitable gripes and spoilers (alert!)

– it’s been pointed out many times over that building big robots to take out big monsters wouldn’t work. Godzilla proved that with Mechagodzilla, and that was guys in rubber suits (and arguably, both characters were bad guys anyway)! Suffice it to say that with mecha, you just have to disbelieve from the word go, or you can’t enjoy it;

– why, oh why don’t the robots simply RIP OFF THE MONSTERS’ HEADS when they fight them? It’s obvious from the start of every fight that trying to punch them out (especially when half submerged in water) DOES NOT WORK. Nor does throwing them around, on the few times they try it. And when you have pilots trained in martial arts and that have flexible swords mounted in the back of the mecha, using those skills and weapons more than as an afterthought *might* make sense – who knew? Again, a boxing match works best on land, and more likely between guys in rubber suits who don’t have the benefit of CGI weapons. 🙂

– the whole thing of the monster shorting out all the mecha in one of the later battles excepting the Gypsy Danger because they were ‘digital’ and it is ‘analog’ is completely bogus. Do you really think that shorting out wires and hardware depends on whether there’s a CPU? The answer is NO. Fried wires and computers are fried, period, guys. Ask any Cylon, old or new.

– there are a few too many ‘fight to the last man’ cliches here, but at least the movie doesn’t drag them out, so they don’t distract *too* much.

– I don’t care how many helicopters you use – there is no way they could lift a mecha like that? But barring some other plot device (like how the Autobots could fly when the plot suited it), not sure how you resolve that one….?

All in all, an entertaining ride, even if not seen on the big screen. Next up, catching Elysium and Oblivion on DVD to finish out summer movies …. three months late!

A final word – throughout this movie I was constantly saying to myself – Gojira would have kicked ALL their a**es! Thankfully we only have to wait until the start of next summer to see it happen……muhhahhah!


Samurai Champloo!

Sun ,05/05/2013

Well, it’s been awhile since I watched any anime – but what’s cool is that despite having thought I had watched most of the ‘really’ cool series (Initial D, Ghost in the Machine, Cowboy Bebop, etc.) there was still at least one more great one out there – Samurai Champloo. Just watched the last episode today, sad to end it.

This is the next series done by the director of Cowboy Bebop, Shinichirō Watanabe. Completed in 2004, it tells the story of a young girl, Fuu, seeking a ‘samurai who smells of sunflowers’, accompanied by two master swordsman – Mugen (a fairly wild man/criminal type who literally lives on the edge nearly the entire series) and Jin (reserved, quiet dojo master fighter who says little but can clearly handle himself). The two effectively act as Fuu’s bodyguards (not always successfully) for the interesting and sometimes crazy situations that crop up along their journey. The story is set in Japan’s isolationist Edo period (late 1600’s to 1800’s) so it’s a very rural society with only basic firearms becoming available, possibly through limited European influence/trading. The travelers journey for a long time across Japan, ending near Nagasaki.

There are a number of interesting parallels with Cowboy Bebop, if you pay close attention. The three main characters vary wildly in personality and are largely thrown together by circumstance, much like the crew of the Bebop in the earlier show. While the journey of the Bebop is a bit more disjointed, an overwhelming sense of wandering without knowing why, where or how is a strong influence on both series. And the characters of both seem to be running from their past lives while somehow circling back to confront them at the same time. Finally, in thinking about it, I can see where Mugen and Jin are arguably the two halves of Spike Spiegel from Bebop – the crazy wild side that loves to fight and thrives on excitement and conflict (Mugen); and the measured, calculating, quiet side that still retains an edge (Jin).

But there are plenty of new things to enjoy about Samurai Champloo, too. The pervasive influence of music and specifically, hip-hop in the theme and at various intervals where you least expect it. The ability of the stories to relate history while putting a new (sometimes blatantly fictional) spin on it. Ultimately, taking a rather simplistic concept that’s been arguably done many times (Kung Fu, the original Hulk tv series, even Samurai Jack) yet still creating something new and very entertaining.

Like most anime, we don’t get to see *all* the motivations of the main characters – many are left to the imagination. And in the usual anime way, there is endless posturing and one-upmanship that I’m starting to think is just a facet of Japanese society (old or new) – but never having been there, i’ll have to take that one on faith for now. And there are a few cliff jumps in this show that are unbelievable (meaning not possible to survive if you did it) but i’m picking nits here.

In summary, I’d have to conclude Samurai Champloo was a very pleasant surprise as to the quality and entertainment value and ranks among the best anime I’ve seen to date, surely up there with those mentioned above – Check it out if you get the chance!


Matthew Polly, part two…

Wed ,13/02/2013

So I finished Matt Polly‘s second book – Tapped Out – a day or two ago. Like his earlier book (American Shaolin, reviewed here), it concerns martial arts and fighting methods – only here, fast forward about 15 years from the earlier book and he’s been assigned to write a book about Mixed Martial Arts fighting, which he deems can be only truly honest if he actually gets in the ring and fights someone as the goal of his training. So over a two year span, he trains in New York and Las Vegas, surveying a number of martial arts methods and known expert coaches along the way. It’s an entertaining read and while I would never follow this course myself, nor have I any interest in MMA, UFC or similar (watching or following), I do enjoy those kung fu movies, so it wasn’t a stretch to enjoy this book.

His ending fight is on YouTube (big surprise) and can be seen below. After reading the blow-by-blow description in the book, the actual video seems a lot more tame, but that ignores the fact that barring reading his books, watching Bruce Lee and other kung fu movies and watching Gina Carano in her recent movie, I know nothing about fighting, so I’m sure being removed from it like this doesn’t convey the full intensity of being IN the ring by any means.

You can also see interviews with him about Tapped Out and an earlier piece with Craig Ferguson regarding American Shaolin too – enjoy!


Matt Polly vs. David Cexton:

Matt Polly on inside MMA:

Matt Polly on Craig Ferguson (discussing American Shaolin):

American Shaolin – a great read!

Mon ,14/01/2013

So this past holiday, I purchased a book for my brother called American Shaolin, and started reading it at the same time myself. It documents the story of an American (barely) twenty-something, Matt Polly, who decides to drop out of college for a couple of years midstream and study kung fu at the famed Shaolin Temple in China. The events in the book take place in the early ’90s. Mr Polly toughs it out over the course of two years in training to ultimately gain considerable skill in kickboxing and in speaking Chinese, despite the intervention of corrupt landlords, dysentery, (some) arrogant Shaolin monks, administrators and local townspeople who are fascinated by and yet often look down him at the same time, and the infrequent nags of homesickness and libido (he was barely 20, after all! 🙂 But he certainly prevails in the end, and despite dramatic differences in culture and mentality, shares several real, human connections with the reader he made along the way.

I liked this book. In part because of the fish out of water aspect, in part because of the ’98 pound weakling’ central character that the vast majority of American males growing up can certainly identify with (especially nerdy males like myself), and in part because over the past few years I have become far more interested in learning a lot more about Asia than I ever was in the past. I have spent some time overseas (Europe) at roughly the same age, and while my experience was in a student group, not by myself, there are definite similarities I could remember while reading Mr Polly’s story.

It’s also interesting to contrast this book with the Tokyo Vice book I read in November. That book takes place in largely the same timeframe, although I think Mr. Edelstein was slightly older, and of course he was in Japan, not China. But some of the same situations occurred, and it’s interesting to see how they both reacted to them, despite one being a reporting job and the other several years of martial arts regimen. The human element across both books has many common points, in other words. And certainly in both cases, it’s an interesting change to see a society that is more open about one-upmanship to each other. Here in the States, we like to pretend that sort of thing doesn’t exist and everyone is on the same playing field and competes with similar opportunities, but it’s simply not true. In these books it’s clear that in Japan and China (at least in the 90’s, may have changed a bit since) – you acknowledge those who may have power over you, but you are also allowed to work towards challenging and eventually replacing that same people. And it’s expected. Now certainly Mr. Polly points out many situations where this hierarchy system works to prevent nearly ANYTHING from getting done, and that’s a bad thing. But it’s still interesting to see how it works in practice vs. how we live here in the USA.

Check it out – you won’t be disappoointed. I think I may have to read Mr. Polly’s next book about MMA soon, too!


More summer movies….

Tue ,07/08/2012

So had an opportunity to crank through many more movies in the past few weeks, given two flights to Europe and an overnight stay in the Roma airport on the way home.

First up, was the recent Muppets movie. Having been a huge fan of the original 70s show, and the first original movie (none of the rest, however), I was looking forward to this. And despite negative nellyism from some of the original Hensonites, i thought it was pretty good, one of the highlights being the ‘muppet or a man’ song from FOTC’s Bret McKenzie, love that song!

Next up: Haywire, starring Gina Carano, a Muy Thai-trained kickboxer and not a traditional actor. Basically a spy thriller with multiple twists, and she’s essentially a female Jason Bourne – and it totally works. Great support roles from Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas (when was the last time I saw him in a movie?), Bill Paxton and Ewan McGregor. This movie kicks a** – literally. Watched it a second time on the way home! The IMDB rating is way off, this is more like a 7.5 or 8, definitely.

Next up: Rumble in the Bronx. This is one of the movies that made Jackie Chan big in the states, and as usual with his later movies, it’s a mix of crazy action, martial arts, crazy stunts and silliness at times. One of the ongoing gags is that the movie is set in ‘the Bronx’ yet was filmed in Vancouver, BC – so there are mountain ranges(?) in the backdrop at infrequent intervals, which of course makes no sense, and near the ending ‘hovercraft chase’ they simply leave them in there for about the last half hour. Oh well. As per usual, Jackie plays a sometimes-clumsy badass who protects those who need it and tries to right wrongs along the way. He’s not a cop in this one, which is good, but goes for broke in more than one action sequence, which is why we love him.  What’s also a bit funny is the overuse of old 80s and even 70s cars (one of the cop surveillance vehicles is a classic 70s VW Bus – go figure – I’m sure it helped the budget aspect.

Next up, Beat Takeshi’s  The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi.  This is a modern interpretation of a long, long running Japanese samurai series, done by one of Japan’s most famous actors (Takeshi Kitano).  It tells the story of a blind masseur who journeys from town to town earning his meager living, but reveals himself to be a brilliant sword-fighting avenger when rival gangs take over the town and exploit/extort the townspeople.  So I saw this movie several years ago and wanted to rewatch it, to compare to all the recent martial arts/etc. movies I’ve been watching lately.  Have to say – still excellent, very well made and not afraid to insert some laughs along the way (not unlike that of Stephen Chow‘s Kung Fu Hustle, which came out the next year in 2004) with great fight scenes but just beautiful filmmaking generally.

Finally, since I didn’t finish watching Bill Maher‘s Religulous yet – I’ll finish with the light sci-fi flick Time After Time, where H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) travels into the future (1979 San Francisco) to stop Jack the Ripper (the always dastardly David Warner).  I never saw this movie back when it came out, although I always meant to.  While it is a fairly predictable ‘fish out of water’ story as to Wells – David Warner’s Jack the Ripper is likely just as menacing as a real one would be, save that he’s dressed in 70’s leisure suits, which definitely makes his daytime appearance less intimidating 30+ years later, to say the least.  Still, there are some twists and turns to the plot, and it’s nice to see Malcolm McDowell be the nice guy for once (he’s usually the bastard villain like Warner).  Certainly far better than say, The Black Hole of the same era….!

Once I had watched all these, it was nearly time to board the plane and head back to Seattle…..a rivederci, Roma airport…..


Beware……The Iron Monkey!

Sat ,16/06/2012

Iron Monkey stars a (pretty young, this is from 1993) Donnie Yen and Rongguang Yu as two Shaolin traditionalist kung fu masters brought together (by fate?) to battle a series of corrupt govt. officials.  Rongguang Yu is ‘the iron monkey’ – a kung-fu vigilante by night who acts as a local Robin Hood against the thieving local governor.  Donnie Yen shows up with his son as a traveling physician who gets roped into a dragnet and set to capture The Iron Monkey when his kung fu skills are revealed to the police.  But he learns that things aren’t as they seem rather quickly, and ends up as The Iron Monkey’s ally in a series of crazy kung fu battles by the end.

While there is a lot of wire work in this movie, it’s not really a bad thing.  There’s still plenty of over-the-top fighting and action scenes.  Also getting into the mix is Donnie Yen’s kid, Wong Fei-Hong (actually played by a 13 year old girl, Sze-Man Tsang), and Dr Yang’s assistant, Miss Orchid, who apparently have pretty darn good kung fu of their own.

It’s a pretty predictable set of characters and easy to pick who’s good and bad, enabling the movie to get on with the fight scenes – and boy do they.  As compared with the later Ip Man, Donnie Yen is more of an over-the-top kung fu wizard here, and certainly has the moves to back it up.  Rongguang Yu is no slouch,  and the bad guys aren’t far behind in ability, either.

Also in a unique twist, here the main bad guy has a ‘poison punch’ – can’t remember its name – that leaves a huge bloody handprint on the victim, and causes him/her to die within about 30 minutes from the poison’s spread through the victim’s body.  This (to me) seems likely to be the inspiration for the ‘deadly’ punch Uma Thurman hits David Carradine with in the second Kill Bill movie to finally off him at the end of her revenge spree.

In summary, another great martial arts movie – not sure how I found out about it – probably a trailer on a different DVD – definitely a great one!


Jackie Chan – is the MAN!

Sat ,16/06/2012

So I watched one of Jackie Chan’s earliest movies a couple days ago – Police Story.  This was a pretty entertaining movie, despite being from 1985 and very low budget.  Several things really stand out, however:

1) the stunts in this movie are simply out of control.  Given its budget (according to the DVD featurette’s, only $2M)  and genre, there are NO special effects here – just a slightly crazy team of stuntmen led by Jackie Chan (who also directed it) who was obviously taking more than a few risks himself here.  The car chase and bandit shootout early in the movie has to be seen to be believed, and the ‘mall brawl’ at the end is also very memorable.  I won’t spoil either for you.

2) I had read where Jackie Chan (like probably many other asian martial arts stars of his era) struggled to make his own way in the wake of Bruce Lee’s passing.  Ultimately besides many cop-action movies that involve crazy stunts but no apparent wire work (unlike the more ‘traditional’ kung fu movies) – he also settled on including humor wherever possible and not taking himself so seriously.  It’s apparent here – when they do human interest-type scenes, he’s hamming it up and usually taking the brunt of the joke – and while sometimes clumsy or obvious – often it’s simply funny, too.

3) As I try to do with most asian movies if possible – I watched it in Chinese with subtitles, rather than dubbed.  I’m still of the opinion that this conveys the best sense of the original actor rather than another unseen person’s second interpretation – here the subtitles are sometimes a bit off (although I’ve seen far worse) but generally do a good job.  Some of the scenes are way over the top anyway, so no amount of dialog is going to make the scene believeable anyway – and that’s why we go to the movies, no?  🙂

I may have to now go back and see Rumble in the Bronx again (saw it many years ago but don’t remember a lot of it) to see the difference 10 years made in JC’s onscreen mayhem – Here JC is so young and probably trying a bit too hard, vs. the later movie, i’d wager.

This is DEFINITELY a great movie to see if you like such films – don’t miss it!


Dragon, reviewed.

Thu ,20/10/2011

So after many months of waiting for the DVD from the library, finally got to watch Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story from 1993. This is a somewhat fictionalized account of Bruce Lee’s life and career – BL is played by Jason Scott Lee (no relation) and there are other cameos from actual Bruce Lee students and friends throughout the film.

Having now seen all the BL movies (there are only 4, after all) and several other documentaries/etc. I can truly say this is an entertaining, well done film, for the most part faithful to the subject matter and BL’s life and career. Jason Scott Lee is convincing as Bruce Lee generally and in the multiple fight scenes. I also liked that they really tried to show BL as a family man, and while definitely someone obsessed with personal growth, martial arts and ultimately success in film, that he’s not as easy to figure out on the surface as you might think. And they included nods to Lee’s humor as well – there are a number of sequences that reference humorous bits from the movies or earlier documentaries, which was nice.

Certainly with a career as varied and intense as Lee’s was (despite being tragically cut way short), the film still manages to touch on many points of his life and career, even though they overdo the ‘grudge match’ he had with a chinese ‘master fighter’ (in that case won easily, probably easier than even in the movie) because at the time his teaching of Americans the ways of Kung Fu were considered forbidden. And it shows the struggles he had financially in addition to dealing with the 60’s fairly racist America (from an Asian perspective) we tend to overlook these days. The Wikipedia article otherwise details differences between reality and this film, but there aren’t really that many.

I think this movie is a great intro to BL if you haven’t watched his movies or know anything about him other than seeing posters (and hearing people screech and scream when playacting at kung fu). At minimum it should inspire interest to watch and enjoy more…..? 🙂