Friday, June 25, 2010

Movie Review: Born to Fight

Kerd Ma Lui

Thailand, 1984

Genre: Pulp Action

93 minutes

Panna Rittikrai, the man behind Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong, directs and stars in Born to Fight, one of his earliest films. A Hong Kong lawyer uncovers an embezzling plot and must flee to Thailand seeking protection from a fearsome gang of enforcers.

Marketed as the film inspiration for Tony Jaa’s own stunt career, Panna’s work is easily recognized in this piece of history. Panna himself was heavily influenced by the films of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, and numerous references to both action stars make their way into the movie (try counting how many times Panna swipes his nose). Still, this piece represents a landmark in the development of Thai action cinema, and pioneered many of the stunt techniques seen later in his films with Tony Jaa.

While the production quality is definitely reflective of the low budget and undeveloped photography skills, the movie is rather entertaining for what it had to work with. The acting is unsurprisingly wooden and melodramatic, but the dialogue is genuinely clever and humorous at times. Panna relies on a number of classic slapstick gags for comic relief, which doesn’t always feel appropriate for the moment, but the talents of his comedic co-star help sell the cheesiness of the jokes.

Like his protégé, Panna uses the film to demonstrate his numerous skills in stunt performance and choreography. Fast paced fight scenes and full-contact strikes became the cornerstones for his wild success with Ong Bak, and his use of a variety of martial arts styles would be seen again in Ong Bak 2. Leaps off cars, over dirt bikes, into flames, and through floorboards make up rest of the stunts and illustrate Panna’s still rough style of choreography.

While Born to Fight obviously can’t compare with the far more polished works made more than twenty years later, the movie is still very much worth checking out. Taken for the 70s era B-movie that it is, Panna directs a fun romp through rural Thailand, with spit-takes, motorbike chases, and fights against a team of ninjas. Choppy and clumsy at times, Born to Fight represents the first in an amazing legacy of hard-hitting Thai action films.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Movie Review: The Road Warrior

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

Australia, 1981

Genre: Action, Dystopia

95 minutes

Mel Gibson stars as Max, the Road Warrior, in his breakout hit. A desolate man in a desolate world, Max finds himself between a roaming community harboring a fuel tanker and a vicious street gang that wants it.

While not my usual fare when it comes to fight films, The Road Warrior is an interesting take on the classic Western story of a town in danger and the lone rider that comes to their aid. However, instead of a strong and silent guardian of the weak, Max is only out for his own interests, and is more dragged along by the circumstances as they unfold. Even as the action builds to the final climax, he is revealed to be just a pawn in a much grander scheme. It’s refreshing to see a character so completely human, taking the lumps as they come and just making the best decisions available at the time.

The Road Warrior, without a doubt, is a landmark in post-apocalyptic fiction. With fantastically bizarre characters and world design, director George Miller’s vision of a leather-punk dystopia straddles the line between the macabre and comical. The predecessor of countless imitators and parodies, nothing is like witnessing the original in its entirety. The film itself can be difficult to follow at times, as the limited dialogue and intense action sequences often leave the viewer to figure things out for themselves. Luckily, the story and actors are strong enough to make it fairly easy to pick up the pieces as they fall. There are a few hiccups in performance throughout the movie, but for the most part the actors know what situations call to be nuanced and when to be extravagant.

Like the name implies, the heart and soul of the film lies in the thrilling action sequences, almost all of which take place as high speed pursuits on the open road, set against a gorgeous desert in the Australian outback. Without CGI or blue screen effects, the impact of real crashes and real explosions can be felt in your very bones. Heart-pounding and hard hitting, the intensity of each scene only builds the movie higher and higher. Opening with small, isolated skirmishes at the start, the film moves onward and upward to a full-scale siege and a hell-or-highwater chase sequence in an armored Mack truck. Even thirty years after its release, it still holds up as a fast and furious action flick by today’s standards. Brutally fun, graphically intense, and energetically strange, it’s no wonder that The Road Warrior remains one of the best cult classics of all time.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Strikeforce: Los Angeles Quotes of the Night

"That grazed the chinny chin chin!" -M. Ranallo

"They also say never hook with a hooker, right?" -S. Quadros

"Is his English good or what?" -M. Ranallo

"Cyborg drops him like names at a hollywood party!" -M. Ranallo

"We're in Los Angeles, maybe he's auditioning!" -M. Ranallo
"I've been in a movie with Robbie, he's not that good." -P. Militich

Monday, June 14, 2010

UFC 115: Catch The Hat Thief!

There's been a disturbing trend growing in MMA where fans steal a fighter's hat as they walk to the cage. This is low, really really low. Fighters probably get sponsorship deals from those hats, and by stealing them, you are effectively stealing part of their paycheck.

This stops here.

MiddleEasy has post up these animated GIFs from UFC 115 this past weekend, where the thieves can be seen in the act. If anyone recognizes these guys, let's track them down and bring them to justice!




Here are close-up stills of the perpetrators. The man who steals Ben Rothwell's beanie may or may not be the same guy waving his arms in GIFs 1 and 3, but he looks pretty similar.





Together, I know we can nab these guys!


Friday, June 11, 2010

The Reel Deal on Chuck Liddell

Hi everyone, today we're looking at Chuck Liddell, former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, who takes on the former Middleweight Champion Rich Franklin this Saturday in Vancouver. The main event of UFC 115, Liddell was supposed to fight fellow Ultimate Fighter coach Tito Ortiz, but Ortiz was forced to drop out of bout for unknown reasons.

So how does this new match up suit the Iceman? Not well. Coming off of more than a year hiatus, Liddell will be facing a much younger fighter, and a former title holder at that. Looking at his last few fights, it really seems as if Liddell's best years are behind him. In his last fight, he was Knocked Out by current 205 pound champion Mauricio Shogun Rua in the first round.

Before that, he suffered KO defeats at the hands of Rashad Evans and Quinton Rampage Jackson. It seems like the Knockout artist we came to know and love is now being beaten at his own game. As his speed and power seem to fade, he was unable to finish off a struggling Wanderlei Silva back in 2007, and even lost to journeyman fighter Keith Jardine by Split Decision.

While everyone hopes for the Old Chuck to return to the cage, I fear that an Old Chuck is all we're going to get this saturday. Rich Franklin is a remarkably well-rounded fighter, and is famous for his unparallelled physical conditioning. While Franklin hasn't demonstrated the KO power to finish off top tier opponents, against an aging Hall of Famer, the fight is his to lose.

I predict Rich Franklin will beat Chuck Liddell by Unanimous Decision based on superiour offensive volume and physical conditioning.

Movie Review: Flash Point

Dou Fo Sin

“Flash Point” or “City With No Mercy”

Hong Kong, 2007

Genre: Crime Drama

88 minutes

Donnie Yen returns as a hard-nosed cop, bent on taking down a dangerous gang of Vietnamese smugglers. With his partner undercover within their organization, the ties of friendship and loyalty are tested as the gang hunt down the mole.

Last week we looked at SPL, the first collaboration between director Wilson Yip and action star Donnie Yen. Originally intended to be a spin-off from SPL, Flash Point was later changed to be a stand-alone film due to copyright issues. With much of the same team working on this film, it would be easy to assume that it would live up to its predecessor. However, this is not the case. While the fight choreography and the action sequences definitely surpass the already high bar set by 2005’s SPL, the other elements that made the first film so great were sorely overlooked.

Yen plays a carbon copy of his character from SPL, a by-the-books investigator with unbelievably strong fighting skills. Whereas in the previous film he was an outsider taking over an established team, however, in Flash Point he’s already heading an investigation against a trio of Vietnamese brothers. The villains, like Sammo Hung’s character, also have a tragic backstory, as they try to assert themselves in the criminal underworld, all while taking care of their senile mother. This is where the film begins to fall apart. While acted fairly well in comparison to other fight films, Flash Point’s plot becomes overly complicated in its attempts to give every supporting character some element of tragedy. Contrived and melodramatic, it takes itself far too seriously as it progresses towards the action-packed climax. By the end of the movie, it becomes apparent that the characters are simply fighting for the sake of fighting, having lost any sense of reason or motivation. If this was a simpler film, this would have been fine, but as it was, the ending becomes clichéd and overdrawn.

It must be said, however, that the fights themselves are absolutely fantastic. Yen demonstrates every bit of his athleticism and agility in his action scenes, utilizing an even larger repertoire of martial arts styles than he did in SPL. The final scene between him and Collin Chou is lengthy and impressive, a full eight minutes of hard-hitting, gut-busting, and bone-breaking action. It is and rightly should be hailed as Donnie Yen’s finest choreography to date, using a cinematically beautiful combination of kung fu, kickboxing, and submission grappling. While the film as a whole probably won’t last as an exemplary piece of film-making, Flash Point is still worth picking up just for the chance to see a suplex in a kung fu movie.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Movie Review: SPL

Sha Po Lang

SPL or “Kill Zone”

Hong Kong, 2005

Genre: Crime Drama

93 minutes

Donnie Yen stars in this police thriller as a new inspector on the force, taking over a retiring officer’s squad. However, not all is as it seems, as he watches the case against the city’s biggest mob boss start to fall apart.

SPL, or “Kill Zone” in America, is hands down one of my favorite films of all time. Full of underhand deals and mystery, Wilson Yip directs a masterpiece of drama and intrigue. Like a Greek tragedy, the cast of characters all have their own flaws, all of which contribute to their own ends. In addition to Donnie Yen, SPL boasts an all-star cast, including Hong Kong veterans Simon Yam and Sammo Hung, and rising action star Jacky Wu Jing.

Not a typical kung fu movie by any stretch, Yen directs a fantastic series of action sequences throughout the film. The first two acts of the film are without of any real fight scenes, but instead use gun fights and chase sequences. Still, by the end of the film, the final fights are well worth the wait. Exhibiting absolutely stunning choreography in his fights against Wu Jing and Sammo Hung, Yen demonstrates his multiple martial arts influences, drawing from non-traditional movie styles like Judo, Wrestling, and BJJ. Yen even admits on the DVD that a great deal of the choreography was inspired by the UFC.

Action aside, the film is a deep and engaging exploration of the themes of fatherhood and how the lives on both sides of the law affect it. From endearment and adoration to estrangement and indifference, SPL runs the gamut of father-child relationships. Like any good tragedy, the flaws of the human condition are explored and exposed for what they are. The film is absolutely amazing in this regard, full of strong symbolism and powerful performances by the cast. Really, the action is secondary to the merits of the film itself, an added bonus to an already gorgeous piece of cinema.

There are a hundred reasons to go track down this movie, and I can’t think of one why you shouldn’t. With great work in both the acting and the action, a moving story, and beautiful photography, SPL needs to be staple viewing material for any fight film fan. Even five years and stacks of other movies later, I can still say that this is one of the best in the genre and best in the industry. If you can find a copy of SPL at your local video store, it is absolutely imperative that you pick this up and give it a viewing.