Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Cinema-Maniac: Kamikaze Taxi (1995)

Today’s film is three things; an arthouse film, a leisurely pace film at nearly three hours long, and very mindful of the heavy theme it touches on. On paper, arthouse is typically something I ignore as some will typically sacrifice narrative worth for alluring visuals. Depending on the film the abstract accompany by pleasant visuals can add to something, and other times just feel like a complete waste of time. The lack of any middle ground in terms of quality, from my experience, prevents me from checking more arthouse films. However, Kamikaze Taxi is an exception in both areas; it’s exactly what I expected out of a arthouse film, but exceeded everything I thought it could possibly be. I am willing to go as far as to say this film might just be an underappreciated classic.

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“No need to fear. We’re just going to kill you.”

KamiKaze Taxi follows a revenge-seeking man, and his foolish friends plan to rob a yakuza gang. Despite that simple synopsis, the film covers much broader subjects beside vengeance. It touches on violence in many perspective from the conceived honorable sacrifice of a Kamikaze to the senseless nature of war. You might even be surprise for a film that has plenty to say about violence there’s hardly any of it to be found within the actual film. Instead, you’re treated to a cast of fleshed out characters with some level of depths to them. Tackling heavier subject matters, especially for the Japanese audience, on a nuance level.

The film begins in a pseudo-documentary style, commenting on the presence of Japanese with foreign upbringing, and how they are not looked upon as “true Japanese”. Further illustrating this is the first sequence where young Yakuza Tatsuo Minami (Kazuya Takahashi) is introduced to Senator Domon whom comments he hopes Tatsuo is a full blooded Japanese from his Korean sounding name. It’s not just a one off comment that makes up Senator Domon character, but several scenes throughout the film where he freely share his racist remarks, even on live television. Later receiving characterization on his likes for Jazz music, and perceiving himself as a true Kamikaze with his boastful nationalistic pride. All the major characters in the film receive this level of characterization.

Slow moving as it might be in its pacing it uses that to have secondary character to provide humanizing moments amidst the aftermath of a violent sequence. One such example of this occurred early on in the movie; Tatsuo job is to set up Senator Domon with women to sleep with, and after a bad night (which occurs offscreen) he has a lengthy conversation with the women involved. Being unable to view them the same way his Yakuza brothers do, and it’s many moments like these that elevate Kamikaze Taxi into something special. What short bursts of violence it contains become layer with meaning for the participants, and for the viewer weaves an engaging narrative sharing a intimate understanding on it complex issues.

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“Bite on this while I kill you gently”

Kamikaze Taxi starts with Tatsuo Minami story of desiring vengeance is just the beginning of the movie before transitioning into the meditative phase of a road movie an hour in. It is right here where an already good movie with a great foundation becomes even better. On the other corner we have the other major character of Kantake (Koji Yakusho). The unlikely bond, and connection Tatsuo, and Kantake form elevates the preceding events of simple ideas, but broad introductions, and give them depth here. Themes such as what is truly consider Japanese, the long term effects of violence on a person, what defines a Kamikaze or Yakuza, moving from past prejudice, and other subjects fully develop.

One of Kamikaze Taxi noteworthy scene requires the characters to reflect on their life choices through a seminar of sort. Encompassing the comedic, and the dark nature of its characters into a single sequence. Scenes like these are a dime of dozen in Kamikaze Taxi allowing even minor characters to influence the larger narrative in the end.

Not bound to just tackling contemporary issues specifically pertaining to Japanese culture it also delves into more universal themes. The already mention viewpoints of violence, pride, love, freedom, and ultimately forgiveness. Much like its characters, the story leisurely makes several stop during its journey. Either to build the bond between its lead through something simple like navigating a map of Japan, or taking a breather from the harrowing situation with a drink. Characters aren’t afraid to discuss the harsher aspects of life the closer they get to their journey’s destination, even contemplating simply escaping from their dangerous endeavors. Through their many exchanges, understanding these characters along with developing the fictional backdrop tackling real issues become easier to grasp.

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What better way to end a fun party than telling everyone about my tragic past.

The journey this film will take you on isn’t all smooth. For an ambitious film with a desire to tackle a number of themes it is riddle with some issues. One of these being the complete disappearance of the pseudo-documentary framing device from the narrative. It’s disappearance isn’t harmful to the movie since it setups all the working pieces that later pay off once they get fleshed out. What is potentially harmful to the viewing experience is the circling around of established information. Kantake in the movie expresses his issues finding work in a country because of his ethnicity, but the documentary portion of the movie already set that up in its opening minutes. In context, Kantake explaining his situation makes sense, but within the narrative it’s just reiterating information with nothing adding on to it. They also eventually disappear from the movie making it have narrative inconsistency in its execution.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle for viewer in this movie is the way it ponders. There’s a lengthy sequence at some hotel where the characters are enjoying downtime from their journey. What occurs is a series of goofy antics before getting into the characters reflecting on their choices that led them to this moments. These halts in the movie can take several minutes before offering anything that could progress the story. Naturally being all over the place when it shifts gear into being a meditative road movie. These issues might detract from the experience for some viewers, and to a greater extent hurt the viewing experience since the film delve into many subjects.

By the end of the film, it’s obvious by how much I gushed about the writing I simply was in awe from such a thought provoking piece of cinema. Rarely does a film for me ever reaches the narrative heights Kamikaze Taxi accomplishes in virtually all aspects. I was never bored watching Kamikaze Taxi thanks to its engaging characters whom I grew to like a lot on their journey. Spending so much time leisurely developing, and fleshing out everything it tackle created an rich experience not offered to me in many films. Its shortcomings aren’t things I’ll excuse, but they are weaknesses I can forgive for everything I feel it excels in creating.

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In its natural habitat, the third wheel.

Director Masato Harada helms the film with ease. Visually arresting with it neon nights city, flute center score, and a dreamlike mood that make it an absorbing viewing. The Peruvian flute like music in particular grew on me over time giving the film a unique soundtrack that I can’t recall other Yakuza movie ever having. With the exception of a few scenes requiring over acting, Masato Harada is able to keep the film realism in tact. Providing the film a grounded touch that it needed, especially during the more solemn scenes when characters are opening up about themselves. Rarely ever using music to influence the audience what they should think during an important character building scene. He also isn’t afraid to inject a bit of humor to prevent the film from becoming overly moody. One sequence where his direction is a bit of a misfired is when Koji Yakusho, and Taketoshi Naito (Senator Domon) only scene together involves an over the top outside inference in their encounter. It’s pretty odd witnessing something over the top happen in the movie when everything else is somewhat grounded.

Standout actor here is obviously Koji Yakusho as Kantake who provides the film most grounded performance. Carefully able to hide the inner turmoil of his character without making him come across as emotionless towards those around him. Without question, his shining moment of acting is when during an long take he reveals his tragic past to the other actors. It’s a scene that is perfectly solemn, and delivered with the right amount of emotion. Overshadowing his co-star Kazuya Takahashi who plays Tatsuo. Takashi isn’t bad in his role either; displaying his character insecurity to fully be a Yakuza with such a sensitive side to him. As the film progresses, Kazuya portrayal of Tatsuo slowly matures into a deep thinking young man by the end. Embodying the puzzling mindset of Tatsuo perfectly. When together, Koji Yakusho, and Kazuya Takahashi are simply wonderful together.

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Those wounds are nothing compare to what I went through in Battle Royale.

Taketoshi Naito who plays the racist, and at times misogynistic Senator Domon does a great job in his performance. By choosing to not over act his character feels more humanize, and detestable for it. Benefiting the film by giving it a more realistic depiction of this film’s version of a villain without actually being one. Mickey Curtis who makes sporadic appearances in the film is a treat to watch. His laid back attitude as a Yakuza underling rightfully gets across his character experience. When needed too, he definitely display his tougher side. Finally, Reiko Kataoka who just like Koji Yakusho later becomes a mainstain in the story. She also deliver a great performance on the level of Koji Yakusho, and Kazuya Takahashi. These onscreen chemistry is simply perfect able to make you believe they have created a great bond together despite the small amount of time they spent together.

Kamikaze Taxi is my kind of art film; slow moving, but visually alluring, loosely meditative narrative, and handling of several subject matter gracefully. It’s a film that was a more than pleasant discovery during my viewing, and giving me far more than I could have ever expected from it. I expected, from the trailer, a lengthy Yakuza epic with violence throughout, but instead what I got is a far more ambition, humanizing film that not provides frank criticism on Japan’s culture, but also a film that never bored me, and serves as a personal reminder the profound power arthouse cinema can have.

Rating: 10/10

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Cinema-Maniac: The Tigers (1991)

Today’s film, The Tigers (1991), might simply come across as just another obscure Hong Kong film forgotten by time. However, it’s the star studded of the Five Tiger Generals of TVB that will ensure it place in Hong Kong cinema history, even the reason is superficial. The Five Tiger Generals of TVB consisted of Michael Miu, Kent Tong, Felix Wong, Andy Lau, and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai who were the most popular young actors in Hong Kong during the 1980s. If you’re a fan of even one of these actors than eventually you’ll stumble upon this film on their filmography, and like me, be surprised by the amount of talent in the film. Sadly, whose in the film is about as interesting as it ever gets. While some of the Five Tigers of TVB have gone off to star in some classic films that have become landmark films in Hong Kong cinema. The Tigers (1991) is going to be a footnote in it stars legacy.

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Hong Kong’s Finest

The Tigers follows fives Cops that find their careers, and their lives in jeopardy when they spend a gangster’s bribe money after releasing him from custody during a drug bust. The movie’s premise immediately falls upon when it decided our first introduction to our characters sould be them betting on horses while on duty. It’s this initial irresponsible impression the film is unable to shake off becoming detrimental in its failing. Before the whole “should we take the money” plot point comes into play. Everything leading up to that plot point paints our officers as goofy, and easy going. Not treating what case they’re currently assigned to seriously. So when the officers are considering whether, or not to take away a suitcase filled with money, and not report it to anyone of course it comes across something they would do without question. Except for the fact it wants to present this fall into temptation with shades of grey, which you can’t do when only one out of the five characters presented actually appears to be taking their job seriously.

So seeing one officers who’s remaining silent on the matter, and not telling his superiors talks to another corrupt officers to remind him why he became an officer is sketchy. For starter, the silent officer values his friendship more so than upholding justice, and yet this character thinks he holds the higher ground when compared to his friends who actually took the money, and spend it. Obviously, just because the character sees corruption in his line of work, is in a position to prevent it from getting worse, and not participating in it doesn’t make him an upstanding officer. If the characters were more fleshed out in terms of caring about their jobs than maybe all the conversations about how they will make things right might actually hold some weight.

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Missing from this still image, slapstick humor.

Another weakness from the writing is the uneven characterization for its large cast of characters. Most of them can be defined as easy going officers whom want to make more money. Some of the characters are decently developed, and some fleshed out with their own subplots most of which don’t matter in the long run. However, on the other half you get characters who just come across as background fodder despite being established as good friends. There’s also the noteworthy weakness that none of the officers are given traits to stand out. All are jokey, partially serious, and slowly crack under pressure. Homogenizing nearly all the characters unknowingly. Also, since the film is incapable of developing characters the “mind games” the corrupt officers take part in against the film’s villain feels dragged out. When the “mind games” portion start around the end of the first act virtually no progress in the story is made until the climax of the movie comes. This is because it feel like the story is prolonging the inevitable by having scheme, after scheme failed in either getting the villain killed, or getting the police officers locked up.

Dialogue doesn’t fare any better being the routine “what does being an officer mean to you”, “what separates your action from criminals”, and “we are bound to uphold the law, not break it” variety with conversations going where you would expect them too. The issue with this are the characters participating in these conversations never had the high ground. From the opening that showed the officers not taking their line of work seriously, even during a police raid making sex jokes, all the way to the end these officers simply come off as irresponsible, and stupid. You would think characters who’ve all been serving various amount of years in the police force would know how to hide the fact they illegally acquire a huge sum of money during a raid. Apparently not since the characters aren’t able to hide their tracks for simple reasons like buying an expensive car that can’t be bought on their budget, or giving a daughter a large sum of cash for her to start her business. Made even stupider by the fact they mentioned earlier in the movie they wouldn’t do these of things to because they could caught, yet still do it.

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Seriously, we’re surrounded by fog, and looking over mountains, and you still wear sunglasses!

Now comes my biggest point of criticism in the writing; it’s inability to represent morality in shades of grey, or black and white. The villain of the film for instance uses his hold over the officers for his own needs. Never at any point in the film is he given a fair shake that would allow him to be sympathetic. This cartoonish villain doesn’t belong in the same story that is attempting to make police officers that took bribe money appear morally grey. A villian who enjoys giving our main characters a difficult time, and takes pleasure in killing some of them muddles it’s execution of being morally ambiguous. You end up with a film with a cartoonish villain who has nothing much going for him besides being evil. However, when one of the police officers takes the stolen money to pay for his brother education it’s meant to be a noble cause. You simply can’t do that because then the villain becomes justified for demanding the police to do his bidding for taking the money he made through (likely) illegal means. This issue could have been easily remedied if the film didn’t attempt to make what the police did with some sense of righteousness.

As for the actual story of the film that’s hard to discuss because nearly all character arcs are never balanced out in its nearly 2 hours runtime. A subplot revolving around an old police officer trying to reconcile with his daughter that doesn’t add much to the movie. It would have helped if the reconciling part wasn’t resolved by a third party after one conversation that basically amounted to “Your dad does care for you, have you considered that”. Another storyline would be an officer finding his brother during a raid doing shady activities. That plot point feels like it just disappears after its brought up. Instead of using this moment to create an interesting dynamic between the brothers it chooses not to do anything with it because it’s not a well written movie. There’s also another officer who worries about getting killed because it’ll mean his family will be left with no money. This officer is hardly ever shown interacting with his family rendering what could have been an emotional drive seem shallow.

When it tries to be thrilling it fails because inevitable sequences are dragged out; like the police releasing a gang leader from custody in order to get the villain killed, and there being a fight that breaks out. Whenever the story acts like whatever it does is a big deal it gets boring over time before realizing you still have over forty minutes left in the movie. Tonally, there’s no balance in it. It’s somewhat comedic in the beginning of the film, and than suddenly turns dark before the first act ends. The writers had a bunch of ideas about what story they wanted to tell, and just called it a day before developing them into something cohesive that would work in anything it attempted to do.

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Cool moment brought to you by Andy Lau.

Despite my gripes with the story my actual biggest disappointment from the movie is generally the weak performances from its star-studded cast. Sure, maybe Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau is the only name you recognize, but Tony Leung, Felix Wing, Miu Roi Wai, and Ken Tong aren’t small players either. First of all, Andy Lau performance in the film is weak. Usually he can make the most even out of cardboard characters. Sadly in this movie his usual charm is nowhere to be found, and when it comes to his dramatic chops the poor direction hurts him. For example, there’s a sequence where he sees one of his friend getting killed, and while he’s mourning a song he sang for the movie is inserted into the sequence with on the nose lyrics about how conflicting his character is. It made a dramatic scene unintentionally funny, and it’s doesn’t help either the song used in this sequence is also used to close out the movie further hammering the point in.

There’s the beginning of the movie where most of the cast are acting goofy. Andy Lau during the brief lighthearted moments appears to be having fun. His dramatic acting is the opposite delivery scene after scene like he’s directly reading of from the script without adding his own touch. Becoming robotic in nature when delivery his scenes. Rarely does he deliver a scene in the movie that feels natural because once the lighthearted moments end he always looks pissed off. This could have been remedied if the writing included more moments of Andy Lau character expressing how conflicting he was about the turn of events. While Andy Lau does have the acting chops to play a unrepentant character the direction gives him little on how much to convey in scenes.

Tony Chiu-Wai Leung who plays Tai-Pi fares worse than Andy Lau. Whereas Andy Lau will have moments that displays the strength of his acting abilities. Tony Chiu-Wai isn’t allowed that luxury as he suffers the most from jarring tonal shifts. He overacts the comedic bits of his character so whenever he does any serious scene it’s difficult for him to come off convincingly. Seeing him be overly goofy detracts from his dramatic scenes, and in return almost comes off the worse among the star studded. Also, his goofy clothing dressing up like a teenager with his baseball cap adds to the problem.

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Yes that’s a dummy, but in a boring movie this moment is a highlight.

There’s Miu Kiu-Wai who unlike Tony Chiu is simply wooden. His lack of effort to emote eventually makes him disappear into the background, and make you forget the fact he’s in the film. At least Felix Wong Yat-Wah who is constantly just making an angry face for the entire film stands out a bit. Sure, Felix Wong unmoving angry face makes it impossible to care for him, but he puts effort in emoting when it he has too. Tony Chiu is the weakest link in the film in terms of acting.

The only actor who delivers a good performance in the film is easily Ka-Yan Leung as Uncle Tim. Unlike the rest of the cast, his performance is more grounded, and in line with the film’s end goal. He never borders into the realm of silliness like his other co-stars thanks to his committed performance. He never lets up on his serious portrayal being one of the oldest actor in the cast, but when requires he’ll loosen up a little bit in moments that don’t require him to be serious. In these moments, it’s not jarring seeing him having fun, and most importantly refrains himself from being overly silly like his other co-stars. There’s also a surprise appearance by Shing Fui-On who keeps appearing in obscure Hong Kong movies I write about, and here he’s once again casted as a criminal. He’s does fine, but I find his appearance more amusing more than it actually should be. There’s also Philip Chan as a superintendent which is another surprise.

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Not a fan of Tony Chiu (guy in red cap) look in this movie. Just comes across as someone trying to recapture their youth.

Ken Tong plays the villain in the movie, and typically over acts in virtually all his sequences. His character is to dislike, but it’s biggest drawback is falling into the annoying category. When Ken Tong starts taking up more screen time as the film progresses so his obnoxious evil laughter. Over acting while constantly laughing is a recipe for annoying. Sure, it makes you want to see Ken Tong gets killed quickly in the movie, but when’s far from subtle in his acting it diminishes the payoff. His over acting further highlights weakness in the writing going out of his way make his character detastable by any means. In a ironic way Ken Tong succeed in bringing to life this over the top villain, but at the cost of being increasingly annoying.

If you’re expecting any thrills from this film you’ll be disappointed. Aside from the fact the script is terrible written, director Eric Tsang doesn’t know how to rack up tension. I’ve already went into lengths about a majority of the actors inability to balance the tone of their material, but Eric Tsang is just as responsible for that. Committing mistakes that an amatuer is more likely to make; like inserting a song from Andy Lau during a death scene, and the right on the nose lyrics (paraphrasing) “I know I’ve done wrong, so let me take the blame” is not how drama should be delivered. While on music, it’s largely forgettable. His biggest strong suit is obviously comedy since he felt the most comfortable helming those scenes, and simply having fun, even if the humor was off. However, the absence of tension is noteworthy, especially if you’re making a mind game between two opposing forces, and the only thing you could think of to raise tension is by having loud music play more frequently throughout the movie. There’s also the lack of action, but since it’s more in line of a crime thriller the lack of them isn’t a criticism. Although, the poor quality of them is. From a shootout that is ruined by slapsticks to the climatic sequence in a mall that relies to heavily on making its villain nearly invincible to make it exciting. It’s a climax not worth sitting through a chore of a film.

The Tigers only appeal is the star studded cast of actors whom headline the movie, but even than only Ka-Yan Leung comes out looking good. It’s just a complete mess in representing it’s morality, handling its characters, and especially building tension for what’s meant to be a thriller. For something that has a star studded something better should have been expected than what was given. Even if you’re not a fan of any of these actors, this film doesn’t come close to being a worthwhile watch by any means.

Rating: 1/10

Cinema-Manic: Best of the Best (1992)

Best of the Best follows Dee (Jacky Cheung) a member of the SDU, Hong Kong’s version of SWAT, who engages in a personal vendetta when his new girl Heidi (Sammi Cheng) turns out to be the daughter of evil triad Ngan Kwan (Paul Chun). If this synopsis sounds like an interesting movie to you, sorry to say, but it’s a slough of a movie to get through. Before the title card of the movie comes up, it shows Dee enjoying a birthday as a kid with his brother, and father resulting in a tragic incident resulting in the death of his brother. The person responsible for accidentally killing his brother is Little Ball (Ng Man-tat), Dee’s own father, whom hit his own son in the head with a gas cylinder during a scuffle with a criminal. At first, I thought the story was going to take the route of being more of a drama with some action sequences sprinkle in. This sequence while rushed sets it up that way. It doesn’t happen as the film is neither about redemption, forgiveness, and moving forward. Instead, what’s the movie focuses on romance that feels undercooked despite the amount of time dedicated to it. On top of that, opportunities that could have taken more advantage of the premise to the romance eventful isn’t taken.

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I could also use drink after watching this movie.

So dumbfounded by this, imagine my surprise less than half an hour into the movie seeing meandering scene, after meandering scene to only realize it’s going to focus on the romance aspect of its story. Confusing since the movie takes a while before even introducing the love interest Heidi, yet feels compel to rush the growth of the relationship. It takes so long before the actual main story props it head in making previous events feel disjointed. Going from a rescue mission inside a mall to a date doesn’t make a good transition between directions. Granted, action logic dictates a damsel in distress might fall in love with the hero after saving her from four gun wielding masked goons, and pulling her out of a car seconds away from exploding. However, action movie logic doesn’t excuse the rushed romance, the lack of direction, tonal inconsistency, and especially boredom. Half the reason for my boredom results in the same the couple simply talking about daddy issues, and the other time talking about running away when both characters grown adults. They don’t have the same restrictions applied to them if they were teenagers meaning they have less obstacles in their way if they both choose to run away together.

A major reason for this feeling like a chore to me was the lack of involvement with the characters. For example, Dee works with SDU, and no point considers putting his father, or any other love ones under some sort protection from  Ngan Kwan once his men attack him more frequently. Pointlessly endangering people around him that shouldn’t be caught up in it just because he’s head over heels for Heidi. Then there’s also Heidi who also doesn’t go to police to ensure her lover safety. Heck, she could have threaten her father to that she would tell the police incriminating details about his dealings just to make sure he backs off. She doesn’t do this either. Aside from not getting help when available, there’s also the lone that Dee’s conflict with Little Ball remains underdeveloped for the whole film. Once the time skip occurs, there’s no expansion on the trouble relationship between Dee, and his father. There’s no step forward for Dee to finally forgive his father, and there’s no progression in forgiving himself for the incident that push his son away from him.

There’s also the untapped potential of exploring years of hatred Dee has against his father action as a abusive police officer. If explored, it would explain why Dee is dedicated as he is to being a good SDU officer. Bringing me to the gift his brother gave to him before he died. While the sentiment is nice to have its main character carry around a memento he cherish from his brother it’s no point used to further expand on anything. There’s a point in the film where Dee’s loses the gift his brother gave him while dealing with his drunk father on the streets. Instead of using as another hurdle that has to be overcome, or Dee finally letting go of the tragic event. What the film does is simply play some sad music, close up on Jacky Cheung being sad, and end. Scratching my head wondering what was the point of establishing Dee’s brother gift as something significant if the story itself doesn’t do any with it.

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Jacky! Don’t asleep on duty!

Characterization is fairly handle well. While the romance of Dee, and Heidi suffer because it’s chooses to rush instead of building it is their weakest point. As individual characters their some interesting ideas surrounding them. Sadly, that all they end up being, ideas that could have been. For instance, the film after the timeskip is somewhat lighthearted during it romantic scenes, but the film progresses it slowly get harsher. However, because of the opening sequence the harshness immediately goes into lighthearted, and back into harshness instead of just being a steady flow from one tone to another. Then finally, despite the 90 minute length of Best of the Best half of it simply feels like it meanders around. This could be due to several reasons; it’s nearly half an hour before the main storyline even gets established, information that be given out quickly take longer than needed, and around half of the plot points don’t go anywhere. Even when there was action on screen the feel even made those boring due to a lack of urgency stemming from characters disappearing, and appearing inconsistently in the story. One thing it is consistent at is failing to create anything remotely engaging.

Jacky Cheung plays SDU officer Dee, and his acting is above average. It isn’t good because simply feels like he directly reading from the script instead of being the character. There’s many moments where Jacky Cheung is meant to be saddened by certain events, but puts on a sad face, and calls it a day. However, the limited material him (along with the rest of the cast) is his biggest hurdle. In that sense, he what is required of him adequately enough. However, it is a rather poor showing of his acting abilities when he comes across no differently in his tearjerker scenes as he does in his romance scenes.

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Looks like someone else is drinking their troubles away as well.

Sammi Cheng plays Heidi it’s underwhelming. When she’s meant to be cheery she is cheery. When she has to be sad she is sad. In this movie at least, she’s not capable of doing much with her material coming off unconvincing whenever she is required to be serious. Her only decent moments of acting are when the film picks up a lighter tone. However, as soon as that disappears her delivery feels robotic. Paul Chun plays Ngan Kwan, and with the exception of one scene in the climax he’s even worse. Given the direction wanted to do something serious, Chun over acting is out place in the movie. He can’t make a one dimensional character any fun, or hateable since he simply just shouts all his lines, and hoping scary sounding music will help mask some of his stoic line delivery.

The best actor is Ng Man-tat, and that’s simply because he comes off as the most pathetic out of the cast. Man-tat character is constantly depressed whenever he talks to his son, and attempts to be happy when he’s not around. During his dramatic scenes, he pour everything he could into those scenes more than the writing actually did. Convincingly getting across he’s a tortured soul who still wants to be a good father, but doesn’t know the right path. It’s Ng Man-tat who is the one bright spot among the better than average acting. Sadly, that puts everything else beneath him.

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One of the film’s few rare moments of not being boring.

Final thing worth even bringing are the action scenes, and they are all poor. Director Herman Yau simply wanted to get them done as quickly as possible. Making what little action is has seem underwhelming because there’s no coordination in it. There’s also a lack of creativity in them; like a chase sequence that requires Jacky Cheung to run away from a dozen armed goons. A majority of the chase sequence simply has him running through alleys, throwing some objects to throw his pursuers off, entering a more confined place to get a lead, and just barely making it into a taxi to getaway. There’s other action sequences like these, but very few have of them have me as bored as Best of the Best. The climax suffers from a lack of proper staging as Jacky Cheung simply goes into a wide open public area, start shooting baddies, and enters a building to confront Paul Chun. This whole climatic sequence doesn’t have much happening in it. The one stunt that occurred in this scene involved a stuntman laying down in a incinerator of sorts for a couple of seconds before the camera cuts. It’s not spectacular in execution, but it’s something eventful that required effort to capture. This is one of those films where even the action won’t keep you awake.

Best of the Best aims to be more than your standard average action, but ends up being worse as a whole because of it. It’s a half baked drama with boring characters, a romance that overtakes the story forgetting it’s intention, and becoming a total mess of a movie by the end it. It’s a movie that doesn’t accomplish anything, nor rewards viewers with much for their investment in it.

Rating: 2/10

Cinema-Maniac: Coco (2017)

Despite living in the west, my interest in Western animation is usually on the low side. A major reason for this being a majority of animation produce in the West, specifically the US, tend to be comedies, and there’s hardly much to consume in other genres. Due to this, I find viewing animation outside the US far more interesting. However, Pixar is the only animation studio that has me still giving western animation a chance. Unlike Disney, whenever Pixar releases a movie I look forward to it, even if it doesn’t match up to their great films. Their films usually have efforts put into them, and no matter how familiar their story feel never once do I get the impression they’re factory produce, or soulless like I typically do with Disney animated movies. Especially from the 2010s which is easily their worse decade for animation. With today’s film, it doesn’t break away from the path of familiar storytelling, but when you have filmmakers whom believe in their product wholeheartedly, and have a understanding of good execution it’s all you need for a good film.

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So, this is where Disney passion for animation is at. 

Coco follows aspiring musician Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), confronted with his family’s ancestral ban on music, indirectly entering the Land of the Dead during Day of the Dead festival. Now, Miguel has to find his great-great-grandfather, and get back home to his family in the real world before the sun sets. In terms of writing, the story isn’t anything special. Things you expect from a company owned by Disney are here; a plot twist to reveal the villain, a misunderstanding of events leading to hatred of a major character, a time limit for main character to return home or stay alive, an adult who hates the profession of the main character is pursuing, and yes, the host of silly side characters, and a silly pet. These plot points, or plot devices alone don’t harm the film in the long run. The good execution of a familiar story is what helps overcome anything predictable. For starter, when it comes to Miguel great-great-grandfather it’s obvious to veteran movie watching where the plot actually goes. What prevents the eventual plot twist from harming the movie is characterization. Throughout the movie, several moments in the film are dedicated to displaying the importance of family, and remembering the dead. By having Miguel experience hardship with his family, and seeing there’s more to the Land of the Dead than he original thought. It minimizes the damage the plot twist would of had otherwise if certain aspect of the world weren’t shown. 

 

Another positive is the whole theme of family the movie obviously enforce is heartfelt, even if it won’t make you cry. Miguel family bond is the foundation of the movie, and so whenever it goes for any big emotional scene it feels earned. The natural progression of conflict always remain personal to its characters. As well as add some interesting ideas into the fold. For example, there’s the consequences of being forgotten being shown in a scene in the movie. While the character it happens too won’t make you feel sad for it, it does get across the consequences perfectly. One such thing isn’t rarely ever shown as a negative in family films is the pursuit of a dream. In Coco, it shows how the pursuit can impact the people whom love you, and in a lesser way shows how success can influence those around you negatively. 

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Eating sandals still beat eating Spanish food XD

There’s also the balance of humor, and drama thrown into the mix. It slightly prefers going for drama, but the great pacing always ensures a balance of both. Being able to easily take seriously, while not getting the tone diminish with its humor. Tonally being balanced for the whole film. One slight irritation for the film is some of the Spanglish dialogue. It makes sense nearly all of it would be spoken in English since it’s an English production, but for some unfathomable reason there is the odd Spanish word thrown in. In context it makes sense since it takes place in Mexico so Spanish is abound, but at the same time a country whom primary language is Spanish has a majority of people speaking English. That’s more of a deliberate decision that won’t hurt the film in the long run. What does, like mention earlier, is familiarity. It doesn’t do anything against your expectation for these kind of stories. So it’s really depended on your familiarity with movie watching, but even than it not huge knock against the film since it’s executed right.

 

The voice cast of Coco do a good job in their roles. Anthony Gonzalez (the youngest in the cast at 13) does good in his role. It helps that he doesn’t have to carry the heavy dramatic scenes for someone his age. However, he’s still display range of emotion convincingly. Mostly thanks to him being given good direction, and not simply shouting his line like younger age actors would tend to do. His delivery is also like that of true professional. Treating voice acting as seriously as he would if he were doing it in front of a camera in live action. His best moments are easily when his dialogue revolve around his passion for music, and his delivery comes across as passionate. Expressing the joy music brings to him, and the disappointment that he can’t share it with his family.

Gael Garcia Bernal, who is a pretty good actor, is no surprised that he turned in another good performance. He carries a majority of the film heavily dramatic scenes on his shoulder. Just like he’s able to in live action movies I’ve seen him in, when it comes to voice acting he’s able to bring a high caliber performance into his role as Hector. Coming off as a convincing goofball in the beginning of the film before turning into a tragic character as it progressed without it feeling jarring. Bernal is so good that even in scenes when he does an 180 he pulls it off with ease without ever feeling like he’s breaking the film’s tone. His best scenes are easily the ones when he speaks about wanting to see his daughter again. During these scenes, you simply feel the heartache in Bernal words in his line delivery for some effective dramatic scenes. Needless to say, I’m a bit of a fan of Gael Garcia Bernal as an actor despite me not seeing Spanish language movies frequently. His voice acting performance in Coco, makes me keen to see if he’ll try voice acting again.

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Here’s Miguel playing the cords of the Simple Plan song “I’m just a kid”

Supporting cast also do a tremendous job in their role, though Anthony Gonzalez, and Gael Garcia Bernal are the standout. Only other standout performance is Alanna Ubach who is just as good as Gael Garcia Bernal, but with a good singing voice. Hearing her unexpectedly sing in the movie was a nice surprise. The animation isn’t flashy, but the world, and character designs are colorful. Everything in the Land of the Dead is given such vibrant colors to make it pop on screen. It wears it’s Mexican influence in design in pride from the clothing of the characters, to having music players play correct cords on their guitar strings, to capturing the way the people speak. The music in the film is good, though stuff I typically don’t care for. Despite my background of being Hispanic, I actually don’t care for Spanish music.

Coco doesn’t hold a candle to Pixar great movies in terms of writing, but the execution makes it better than it should have been. It has a colorful world that is filled with likable characters, and a heartfelt story about family. It does more than enough right that it’ll make taking the trip worthwhile regardless of age.

8/10

Cinema-Maniac: Ready Player One (2018) Review

Ready Player One is set in a future where a virtual reality world called the OASIS is the biggest thing on Earth. One of its deceased creator challenges its users to find all his Easter Egg to give the winner his fortune. An unlikely young hero named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) decides to join the contest, he is hurled into a breakneck, reality-bending treasure hunt against evil corporation IOI. Very sloppily written, the best time Ready Player One shines is when it doesn’t try to encompass everything out of reach, and simply focuses on being a piece of entertainment. It’s breakneck speed ensures there isn’t a dull moment to linger on in its nearly two, and a half hour runtime. Something else that’s somewhat of a positive are the pop culture references, for the most part, are simply there. Not drawing too much attention to them despite the large number of iconic characters to be seen on screen. There also isn’t a reliance on pop culture knowledge to understand the story itself. Granted, even knowing just a little bit helps add to the appeal of Ready Player One. For me, it was the The Holy Hand Grenade reference from (possibly the greatest fantasy film ever made) Monty Python, and the Holy Grail that was a nice surprise.

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Not even a DeLorean capable of time traveling can outrun the almighty King Kong.

When it comes everything else this film does plenty of things that works against itself. Mostly how it feels disingenuous in delivery its “experience the real world” message. For starter, the lack of proper world building in the real world. Sure, the OASIS is a fantastical place where a majority of people go to avoid the harsh reality of their life, but those harsh realities are simply ignored in the film. Most you’ll get about the hardship of this future is the main character Wade lost his parents, and his current living conditions. There are also other aspects of the real world that are explained, but just like Wade parents, they come across more as decoration since it rarely shows the real world effects on its people. I sound like I’m being oblivious that this was the intended effect, but when Wade himself doesn’t show any concern for a family member dying within the film why should I care. Wade obviously doesn’t since all he does is simply acknowledge his caregiver has died, and moves on from it. Nothing about that plot point was handle properly making it seems like constant addiction to escapism is great.

Another issue is not enough time is spend in the real world itself for its message to be meaningful. Wade, and the other characters are rarely seen in the real world absorbing its actual beauty like it proclaims it has. You can claim something all you want, but when you don’t actually show it the results is disingenuous. Where’s the connection Wade makes with the real world, and its people. Absent within the film. Bringing up another point that if it wasn’t for Wade constantly ignoring the real world he would have never made the connection with his online friends in the OASIS. Reiterating, “experience the world” in this movie is forced. Why would people prefer to live in the real world if they live in slums over living in the OASIS where they can obtain anything they want. There’s a case to be made for living in the harsh real world, though you won’t find it here.

Speaking of disingenuous, all the pop culture references in the film just feel like they exist. While I’m sure Spielberg, and his crew has some connection to some of the things he references, all of it becomes homogenize. There’s no connection to a majority of it. If you notice something you love on screen chances are high it’ll disappear as just quickly. This issue applies with the pacing disregarding characterization. The most fleshed out characters are the creators of the OASIS; Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg), and James Halliday (Mark Rylance) whom are given more characterization than the main cast themselves. Morrow, and Halliday also have a more fully realize conflict that gets explored as the film progresses unlike the main storyline that refuses to evolve. A big contributing factor to this is Halliday, and Morrow storyline deals with a trouble friendship whereas the other main storyline becomes save the world ordeal from the onset.

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Even the main character more engaged in this subplot than their own.

When the movie begins, the OASIS users are competing against each other, and evil corporation IOI desires to win the grand prize. By the time the movie gets to it climax, this storyline has hardly evolve into anything beyond its introduction. Contributing more to a lackluster storyline is the writing makes the villains idiotic, and a plot point later on in the movie removes the whole underdog trait of its hero. It’s simple for IOI to find Wade Watts address, but it’s nearly impossible for the same group whom seemingly have dozen of drones ready to blow up anything be able to find Wade later on in the climax. This includes the fact there surveillance cameras seemingly all over the world which is a bigger leap in logic that IOI can’t find them. Like I wrote earlier, when Ready Player One is simply a film focusing on being a piece of entertainment it succeeds, but when it wants to capture the emotional investment it fails. If you removed the whole “experience the real world” message from the writing than issues regarding the lack of world building is gone. Instead, it prefers escapism over reality, and during the portion of the story it actually accepts that part of itself is when it’s a good film.

Tye Sheridan plays Wade Watts, and while his performance here didn’t impress me as much as he did in Mud (2012), he’s fine overall. While his enthusiasm for the OASIS is an aspect of his character he sells to the viewer successfully, everything else about his character ain’t as easy to sell. Some of this can be blame on the screenplay, like the scene where Sheridan is supposed to mourn the loss of a family member for less than a minute before it moves onto something else. When this happens, it’s reasonable he wouldn’t be able to emotionally capture what his character is feeling, and portray that in a way where the viewer can become further invested. Other times it’s purely his fault, like typically falling back to wide eyes facial expression to constantly show how he’s in awe of everything he sees. Showing some more enthusiasm would help him, though he also lacks the ability to get across the urgency when the film needs it.

Tye Sheridan co-stars are a bit better in balancing the area Sheridan lacks. Olivia Cooke for example is able to properly get across the urgency of a scene. There’s a moment in the second half of the film where she discovers where she’s being held captive, and her reaction is something appropriately out of a horror movie. She’s more rounded as an actor in this movie because she’s able to do a lot with little. There’s Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, and Hannah John-Kamen whom play the evil adults. As expected, they play the evil adults as you would expect. Mendelsohn especially comes off the most slimy, though the direction is a bit confused if he should be over the top evil, or humanized evil. Making it impossible for Mendelsohn to be memorable as a villain. T.J. Miller, and Hannah John-Kamen are the opposite simply being over the top in their portrayal. Being more than comfortable to make their characters come off as cartoons, and it works surprisingly well in the movie because of the already silly nature of the movie. There’s also the remaining co-stars of Win Morisaki, Lena Waithe, and Philip Zhao that make up the rest of the heroes. These three actors material are the most limited making them go into autopilot acting when the second half hits, but they do their best. Not on one point did I feel these three actors were phoning in their performance in spite of the thankless material.

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This has to be the strangest assortment of characters I’ve seen in movies recently.

The two best actors in the movie without question are Simon Pegg, and Mark Rylance. Simon Pegg took a while for me to notice as it’s simply something I didn’t expect from him. Relying more on his dramatic side as a actor Pegg eases his way through scene after scene. Being effectively dramatic in everything without ever over acting, or stepping out of bound in his role. However, Mark Rylance is even more impressive in his performance. Without question he is the complete package as an actor in the movie; sincere, funny, believable, and captivating all at once no matter what scene he is. Rylance, and Pegg scenes together are easily the best in the movie, but Mark Rylance presence alone is something that hugely benefited Ready Player One. Without MarK Rylance in the movie, what would be missing is the only actor who is able to capture something heartfelt within a script that feels artificial with it dramatic scenes.

Steven Spielberg visuals aren’t convincing, but within the context of the movie they are more than fine. Since everything takes place in a virtual reality world accepting the plastic looking visuals is easy. What’s not easy is the blurriness that comes whenever the camera moves quickly. Whenever there’s too much going on screen it’s difficult for the camera to stay focus, especially in the climax of the movie where the blurriness makes it difficult to spot the many pop culture figures. However, during the action sequences the freedom of placing the camera wherever Spielberg wants leads to some visually stunning setpieces. In particular, the racing sequence in the beginning in the movie is a sight to behold, especially the amount of effects on screen all at once. My favorite set piece involved obviously involved Mecha-Godzilla (because I grew up with the franchise) fighting against two other iconic robots which I won’t spoil as it best to experience that fight blind. When it comes to music the original pieces of music was during the climax, and a orchestrated piece played that sounded similar to the classic Godzilla theme music. Aside from the obvious insert classic songs from The Bee Gees, Blondie, Prince, and a few other from the era. Music in the movie is nothing that stands out.

Ready Player One is a decent blockbuster made by Spielberg, but misses the magic that made blockbusters like Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, and Jurassic Park special. Missing is the heart, and the connection the filmmakers had with these creations, and recreating the joy it brought to them to a whole new audience. Gone is the wonder, missing is the heart, and absent is the emotion the story attempts to capture, but gave up on at some point. Whenever Ready Player One isn’t pretending it’s something it is not the film is enjoyable experience, and thankfully it’s like that for a majority of the run time. Disappointing yes, but also very entertaining.

Rating: 7/10

 

SPOILERS BELOW ON SOMETHING THAT BUGGED ME

I didn’t know where to put in this my actual review since it’s not detrimental enough to cripple the movie quality, but it did bug the Hell out of me. When the climax draws to a close, and Wade Watts bids farewell to James Halliday. Wade asks Halliday what he is, and Halliday simply leaves without answering. If Wade encounter with Halliday was simply explained away with it being programmed for whoever won the challenge than I would have been okay, but Halliday says it not. So, either James Halliday became a sentient being that somehow managed to live in a video game, or Halliday actually alive somewhere in the world, and is a big dick for making his best friend, and everyone he cares about that he’s dead. Either way, that minor detail bugs me to end.

Nitpicking A Joke (Contains Spoilers)

When the heroes are off visiting the world of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, there’s a moment where Aech, whom is presume to be male at this moment, making out with a corpse he temporarily sees as a beautiful woman. Once it reveals that Aech is a woman, the scene immediately didn’t make sense. I mean, there wasn’t anything in the movie to indicate she’s bi-sexual, or a lesbian. It was something that left me scratching my head. Sure I laughed when I saw it, but when thinking on back on it. This moment just feels like it got overlooked during the writing process.

Cinema-Maniac: First Shot (1993)

I always disagreed with the notion that there’s a set number of ways to write stories. However, there are times where it does feel like that is the case. Not just in movies, but in general media that I consume. It also doesn’t help in the little time I did spend in college taking classes on writing further expanded my knowledge on fictional writing. One thing I didn’t need to learn in my classes is that execution is key. No matter how many type of stories you write, or experience understanding how to make those elements work together can lead to making a good product. Hence, today’s movie while overly familiar for viewers who’ve seen The Untouchables execute the same general story into a decent film.

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Alright, time for another full body checkup from the entire force.

First Shot is set during a time of widespread police corruption, Wong Yat-chung (Ti Lung) is a stubborn cop who takes on both the mob and the political establishment. In terms of story, it’s lifts from heavily from Brain De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987). If you’ve seen that film than you more, or less will know what to expect from First Shot. However, if you haven’t seen The Untouchable, here’s a couple of lifted plot points. In both, you have a good guy cop against the corrupt police system, the main character recruiting at a academy to ensure the officer they recruit aren’t corrupted, the struggle to maintain a key witness safe from the film’s villain, a scene with the main character departs from his family to put them in police protection, a vocal confrontation between the film’s hero & villain surrounded by the press after a ally of the protagonist gets killed, and both leading character getting betrayed by other high ranking officers. Also, both movies are based around true events. To call the writing of First Shot uninspired would be an understatement.

Now that the similarities have been brought up, the area they stand apart in are easy. First Shot is significantly less subtle with its portrayal of factual events. For starter, all the corrupt police officers have no qualm about showing how corrupt they are in public. Dialogue goes of it way to reinforce this fact in several scenes. There’s the slimy villain whom typically who to do something evil whenever he’s onscreen. Making the preceding events in the story a basic good guys versus bad guy story. It keeps the viewer engage in its predictable story by fleshing out its heroes, and going through fulfilling character arcs. Just like in The Untouchable, no one in this film safe from death, and it’s uncertain who is exactly next up on the chopping floor. The cast of First Shot aren’t fleshed out enough to ensure you’ll care about them, but you will see beyond them cannon fodder.

Another advantage to the film is the chase itself to lock up the villain. Seeing the heroes coming inches close to lock away their man is an engaging part of the film. Same with the deviation whenever it goes away from it source of inspiration. Alleviating the serious with some comedic scenes which generally tend to be less over the top than films typically produce in Hong Kong around this time. Resulting in a dynamic cast of heroes who makes the film somewhat worthwhile when action is absent.

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Man, looks at that face on the left

What garner mix results are some of the subplots. While characters are generally fleshed out, minus the villains, some of the subplots come out of nowhere. In the middle of the film’s climactic action sequence, one of the character reveals he’ll take revenge against the man who killed his father. This plot point was never brought up beforehand making it a convoluted way to add tension in the climax. There’s also the romantic subplot which isn’t as bad, though doesn’t come across as tragic as the film expected it to be. Would have probably helped if it didn’t immediately switch gear into a climatic action sequence over lingering on the fact an important character just died. There’s also the unexpected gay bar scene where the heroes have to undercover to gather intel, and it’s um, something odd to place into the movie to get a quick laugh. I’ll leave it at that.

What it lacks in writing quality it makes up for it in star power. For starter, the usually great Ti Lung delivers in being a good leading man. While nowhere near his best work, Ti Lung in First Shot becomes the embodiment of his character making the typical good cop feel more human. Unlike the writing, Ti Lung imbues more emotion into scenes than what would have been required of him. For example, when he’s confront Simon Yam in alley it would have been enough if Ti Lung just come across as a bitter man. However, Ti Lung comes across as more understanding, and disappointment from how he deliver his dialogue. Of course, Ti Lung partakes in some action sequences, but there’s not much of them here in terms of gunplay. What there is in fight sequences are also brief, though well put together to make up for the lack of action. I wasn’t expecting Ti Lung to partake in a choreograph fight sequence against Waise Lee in the climax, but I welcome that.

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Do you feel lucky punk? Well, do yah?

Simon Yam delivers the best performance in the cast as Sam Mok. Portraying a police officer who seeks redemption for his misgivings. He comes across the most humane out of his co-stars. While other actors also do a good job, they do feel samey since the script doesn’t offer much differentiation between them. Yam is the exception convincingly turning around a character whose fearful for his life as a officer, and seamlessly transform it into an officer looking to do right. Portraying the film’s closest thing to a complex character in a natural progression despite having to share the screen with several other actors. All the while never losing his charming side to him that makes him likable.

Maggie Cheung in the film doesn’t offer much in her role. He does well, but unfortunately unlike her male co-star she only gets one moment to portray any sadness for her character. She given much of the exposition to deliver, although she does make the most of what she can in a thankless role. Then there’s Canti Lau, and Andy Hui playing the young cadets who are best friends. While the script never capitalizes on the potential of these characters the actor sure do. It’s unlikely you’ll be shedding tears whenever one of these two bites the dust, but you’ll care to some degree. Canti Lau does pretty well in his fight scenes.

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Diner scenes, typically the most dangerous for criminals

Waise Lee plays the film villain, and chews the scenery in all his scenes. He holds nothing back in comically playing his playing role as serious as possible. He lacks much in the way of facial expressions aside from looking angry in every scene he’s in. Same thing applies to Batt Leung-Gam who plays a silence henchman. He lacks the menacing presence for his type of character, but makes up for his appearances with his fighting abilities in his action sequences. Director David Lam does a competent job helming the movie, but nothing to elevate the movie unlike his cast of actors. Finally, Lowell Lo composed the music for the film. While the only piece of music in the film that stands out is the one that plays the movie out during the ending credit it’s all around serviceable. It’s hardly noticeable, but does the job fine.

First Shot is a solid crime action flick in its own right. It doesn’t come close to matching it’s source of inspiration, The Untouchable, on any level. What it does do is execute a similar story into a straight forward action movie with mild success.

Rating: 7/10

 

Poor Subtitles Quality

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My favorite badly sub line of the movie

In the off chance you somehow manage to find a viewable copy of this by any means the hardsubs are very poor. Several times throughout my viewing of the film would there be grammatical, and spelling errors. Other points portions of the subtitles would be cut off making it easy to lose vital information. Considering at the time of this posting I’ve yet to find any other official release of First Shot. The poor subtitles will be a drawback for anyone with a passing interesting to view it, or unintentionally fun by how bad it is. Either way, take that in account you plan on viewing First Shot at any point.

Cinema-Maniac: The Isle (2000) Review

Art house films is a part of the whole spectrum of movies that I don’t care for to be honest. It’s pretty obvious by the movies I choose to see. The challenge of seeing such a film is not a turn off, but the absent of substance I tend to find is. Art house cinema, unlike everything else related to movies I encounter, is the likeliest home of some of the most shallow piece of filmmaking that I can find. In particular, the smugness of these filmmakers that become present in their work thinking they made something deeper than it actually is. With this kind of mentality being equally common in art house cinema as the thought-provoking films that stick with you I’m happy engaging in it as little as I do. Preventing viewing experience like the one I had with The Isle from being a frequent thing.

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Suh Jung recreating my reaction watching this movie

The Isle is about mute Hee-jin (Suh Jung), who operates a fishing resort, forming an unlikely bond with shady customer Hyun-shik (Kim Yu-seok). What little there is too the story is underwhelming. This is one of those art house movies that pad out their runtime by showing you every single action of their character not related to the story. Typically, it would be characters walking long distances, but this case its seeing Suh Jung drive people, or herself in a boat around the fishing resort. Things that take up minutes of screen time with little substantive dialogue to connect a theme, or a message of any sort. Being more damaging in this movie since entertainment is not a focus of the film. There’s also numerous occasions of seeing people do random activities at the fishing resorts whether it be seeing them poop on the resort, or attempting suicide. It’s the mundane atmosphere of nothing visually exciting happening that make the “shocking” scenes “hard” to watch. It’s easier to be shocked by something when the film has nothing happening in terms of story.

Characters simply go through the motion of events, and are more about displaying abstract ideas with nothing concrete to center the characters. One can ponder why a woman would shove a several fishing hooks up her vagina, but one can also be bored by such a sight when the only thing gather about its characters are abstract. Same with the abstract characteristic thag Hee-jin becoming possessive when saving a suicidal man’s life. Maybe Hee-jin is possessive, but with little foundation to her as a character she could also simply be a woman overstepping her boundary in preventing a suicidal man from taking his own life. Either of these notions could be correct. By doing so, it would defeat the movie intentions when simply throwing non-correlating interpretation at it, but when there’s no foundation for characters to connect to themes anything goes.

Hyun-shik character best gets across the clumsy writing of the movie. His shady background once reveal involves him being a wanted man, along with the brief details of the crime committed. By the way the story is written this revelation is just mundane. By choosing to remove raising action, and the essence of conflict from the writing everything seems equally dull. It’s not the intention of the film to portray such events, or people as dull. Rather it has something to say about the human state of suffering, and the way different ways people communicate is more sincere, even if against the familiarity one is use too. I know, that’s quite a mouthful of a sentence. In the movie itself, it doesn’t come off that way. Unlike great art house movies, you’ll won’t find working pieces that connect everything together. It has substance, but it’s all over the place that’s more than likely to leave your pondering what was the point than being provoked by it.

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The Isle (2000) can look beautiful at times.

Actress Suh Jung despite playing a mute delivers a fantastic performance. Conveying an arrange of emotion, and inner turmoil of her character through her body language. Bringing to life a tragic character of its own kind rare to be seen in films. Taking pleasure in portraying the more sadistic side of her character, and improving the movie with her presence. She might lack any memorable lines of dialogue to speak, but when she’s as good as she is there’s no need for it. Aside from the cinematography from Seo-shik Hwang, Suh Jung is practically the only thing the movie has going for it.

Actor Kim Yu-seok whom plays Hyun-shik does well in portraying a lost soul, wandering soul. Awkward, sincere, and crazy are the impressions he’ll give you with his performance. When it comes to his acting he best shines with Suh Jung whom together create a strange onscreen couple. One’s that is odd as it is fascinating, and a bit charming when fish hooks, or knives aren’t around. Much like Suh Jung, Kim Yu-seok is also able convey the same inner turmoil of his character to similar success. There are other actors in the movie whom do adequately in their roles, but Suh Jung, and Kim Yu-seok are the only actors with substantial material to dig into.

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Kim Yo-seok: “You see your life story, but all I see is my pet bird in a cage”

Director Kim Ki-duk (whom also wrote the movie) creates a visually alluring film that is absorbing. Almost dreamlike with the mist covering the water resort to add to its surreal mood. Using a wide variety of camera angles to show its beauty, setting the atmosphere accordingly enveloping the viewer into a trance with the calm mist, and smoke above the water to put them in a trance. Consisting of primarily long takes to provide the viewer more than enough time to absorb everything in, and out of this fishing resort. It’s easily an alluring movie displaying beauty in the mundane. Granted, when the “disturbing” scenes came around I wasn’t grossed out by them, but with fantastic dreamlike cinematography I can’t anyone who found the grotesque moments hard to watch.

The Isle is a visually absorbing movie with a fantastic performance by Suh Jung, but that’s about its only outstanding features. With a emphasis on minimalist storytelling, and acting it’s one of those up to interpretation type of art house movies. Why it doesn’t work is simple, it doesn’t center the substance, or themes to anything concrete to cohesively connect the dots. It won’t provide much to think about when it comes to themes, characters, or interpretations. Instead, all you will remember are certain scenes that might make your stomach turn.

Rating: 4/10

Cinema-Maniac: Man Wanted (1995) Review

One factor that can dictates what I choose to watch is sometime having a single actor I like. Simon Yam for instance, is one of my favorite actors whom I first saw acting in Johnnie To films like Exiled (2006), Election (2005), Triad Election (2006), and Vengeance (2009). After those strings of movies, I still started noticing Simon Yam in more films I’ve watched, and everytime he proved reliable in delivering solid, to great performances in all his roles. Seeing him in any film I come across whether it’s him headlining it, or in a supporting role I always take pleasure in seeing Yam on screen. It doesn’t matter the quality of the movie he ends being as he’s typically a bright spot in them. It’s no different here in the average action crime film Man Wanted displaying no matter what film he’s in, Simon Yam makes it a bit better.

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Simon Yam, master of the blindfire

Man Wanted follows undercover policeman Lok Man-wah (Simon Yam) setting up a sting for a notorious drug lord, and his friend Luk Chan-fung (Yu Rongguang). There’s more to the story than the synopsis implies as the first arc of the Man Wanted would have been the climax in any other Hong Kong action crime film. What this film ignores is the tedious busywork of other movies like it. Plot points you can find in heroic bloodshed movies showing blood brothers bonding, the undercover officer uncertain where his loyalties lie, and the head criminal betrayal by the one he felt he trusted the most are quickly dealt with. It caught me off guard since in Hong Kong action films of these kind, these plot points are sprinkle throughout the story instead of being quickly dealt with. However, some plot points like the orchestrated death of a love ones are saved down the line, and aren’t as effective as they should be.

Man Wanted biggest issue is the melodramatic romance overtaking everything else in the story. Establishing early on some romantic tension between Lok Man-wah, and Yung (Christy Chung) while also piling on to the fact that Lok Man-wah has a girlfriend. The script doesn’t delve much into Lok Man-wah being conflicted between the women he love, but rather is more conflicting where his loyalties lies. The more interesting aspect of Lok Man-wah character is typically shoved aside so the movie can plow through it material to meet an end goal. Instead of simply having Lok Man-wah tell Yung he can’t pursue a romantic relationship with her. Lok Man-wah just continues seeing Yung, and makes her believe there’s a possibility for a romantic relationship. If this love triangle was use for anything thematic like tackling the hardship of staying committed than yes I can forgive it. However, simply having it here for Lok Man-wah to have a back-up woman is a pretty poor decision. Especially nearly every scene involving Lok Man-wah, and any of his two lovers have dialogue on par with corny romance dramas. There’s also the plot point that Lok Man-wah quickly gets over the death of one of the women he loves, and rebound with the other very quickly. Meaning whatever time was spent with either character was pointless if it got tossed aside as quickly as it did.

Leading into another issue of characters simply acting stupid. Not just the police force whom didn’t bother searching for a body to confirm a drug dealer death, but the lone fact as a officer Lok Man-wah does some stupid things. For example, there’s a scene where Lok Man-wah drives Chan-fung to a school so he can pick up someone, but instead Chang-fung ends up kidnapping a rival drug lord child, and results in a brief gunfight at a middle school. In all his years of experience as an officer, Lok Man-wah decides to drive him to the police station parking lot, and decides not to turn him in to the authority when Luk Chan-fang gives him his word he’ll leave town after settling business. Apparently Lok Man-wah thinks placing his trust in a man he betrayed, whom also kidnapped a kid from a middle school, and started a gunfight with citizens around in a middle school is a guy he can trust to keep his word. There’s also the typical character of the superior officer not getting along with the lead character, although given how stupid some of the people act in this movie the superior officer behavior is reasonable this time around.

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“I don’t care if I’m on fire! I’ll kick your ass”

Finally, the one aspect the film does mildly well is characterization. Despite there never being a feeling of raising action, the characters have some meat to them. Motivations come across as reasonable, even if the action they do goes against their characteristics. A good amount of time is focus on Lok Man-wah turmoil of where his loyalties lies, and tackles that part well. Focusing more the relationship he made in both world rather than morality within them. Doing a fine job getting across he doesn’t know what world he belongs in. Another thing the film does well is make you question the outcome of the movie. Adding enough twists to it climax that makes the climax slightly more interesting than the entire movie before it. There’s some good to be found within the messiness of melodrama, and stupid characters.

Simon Yam presence in the film is enjoyable, and delivers a solid a performance. Without strong material, Yam in the movie rarely comes off as the character he’s portraying. However, he is able to make his character not come across as bad as he is. Yam delivers the right amount of emotion in every scene he’s in preventing scenes from being too melodramatic, or over the top no matter how hard the direction, and screenplay want to them to be. He eases through the film no problem as a leading man. Making sure there isn’t a weak scene he’s in, even when no action is abound. For a non martial artist, Yam performances in the few choreographed fight can trick you into thinking he is one. His gunfights here on the other hand will the lack action choreography he’s capable of like in films like in John Woo’s Bullet In the Head (1990).

Roongguang Yu plays villain Lu Chan Feng pretty well. Standing toe to toe to Simon Yam in terms of acting. The only downside to his performance is the closer it reaches the end the more over the top he acts. Going from acting somewhat subdue of his character to eventually becoming absurd. Both Christy Chung, and Eileen Tung whom play Simon Yam love interest, and the supportive character. They do fine in their roles, but only Christy Chung gets much meat in her material. She’s allow to express a wider range of emotion for her character. Another thing that helps is, like Yam, she underplays the more melodramatic dialogue to make it better than it is. Aside from them, there is Cherie Chan Siu-Ha who either is too melodramatic, or over acting. Plus, her sporting an afro out of nowhere for the rest of the movie prevents her from being taken seriously.

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Seriously, what is up with that afro

When it comes to the action they are the only thing that somewhat stand out, but not by much. The fight sequences are good, though end as quickly as they start. Given that Simon Yam isn’t a martial artist the lack of them makes sense. In terms of choreography, Yam doesn’t do anything impressive. His fight sequence in the beginning of the movie has him making quick usage of his props to take care of three men. No high flying moves, or elaborate counter moves are to be found in this, and the other fight scene. It’s impressive that Yam looks convincing doing them.

Unfortunately, these short skirmishes are the only time the action tries to be above your standard fare. Gunfights on the other hand are very simple with the cover, and shoot approach to them that tend to make gunfights boring. Benny Chan tries to remedies these by having bullets piercing make sparks fly when in contact with anything, and makes explosive look a lot more deadly than they actually are. One example involves a shootout at a port, and the films villain throw a grenade at some police officers shooting at him. This grenade is point blank next to some officers, and yet when the grenade explodes, the police officer don’t blow up into pieces, nor do they seem harmed by it. Other gunfights aren’t as silly, though the lack of creativity are consistent in them all. Like the one where Simon Yam simply goes to a warehouse, and kills a dozen men simply flailing around the guns he’s dual wielding instead of incorporating anything that would make Yam looks like an expert gunmen. Doesn’t even bother to dodge, or duck while being shot at either. Sure, I’ll buy every bullets miss hitting Simon Yam in this warehouse shootout, but he’s capable of much more. Same with Benny Chan when it comes to filming action sequences. Only thing left to comment on is the music is not effectively used during the romantic scenes giving the vibe of a cheesy romance drama. Music during everything else is fine if unremarkable.

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Yep, whoever is in that car is dead. Right?

Man Wanted doesn’t stand out in any special way. If it wasn’t for the fact it starred Simon Yam, and was directed by Benny Chan I would have definitely would have given this a missed. As an actor, Simon Yam has appear in better action films, and the stuff here doesn’t make use of his commitment as a actor. Having Yam perform more simplistic fight scenes, and gunfights than what he usually does. Benny Chan as a director knows how to space action sequences in his story, and understands what makes good pacing. Unfortunately, this film shows even he who occasionally make films better than they should be can’t make up for all it shortcomings. As hard as the whole production tried, it still came out average.

Rating: 5/10

Cinema-Maniac: G4: Option Zero (1997) Review

Action movies typically isn’t the genre people will go digging through for a good story, and Option Zero (1997) will remind some of why. Directed by Dante Lam, whom I consider to be China equivalent to Michael Bay, has been sloppy in the films I’ve seen him helm. A common problem with Lam films is starting off good, and losing steam as it goes on as so far every film I’ve seen from Dante Lam feels longer than it should be. Also just like Michael Bay thing for explosions, Dante Lam also has knack for making action sequences pop out from the screen. It’s a skill of his that can be seen in the film in one lengthy action sequence in Option Zero, but unfortunately the faults that plague his movies are more present here than his strengths in his feature film debut as a director.

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Anthony Wong: See the wood on the ship? Emote more than that.

Option Zero follows the private lives of some of its key members of the HK police force known as SB, and how that affects their work in the field. It’s unfortunate that all these cops live very boring lives. For starter, when the SB officers aren’t talking about anything job related they are either talking about sex, or romantic relationships. In a movie that is just 11 minutes shy from being two hours this cycle of job procedural, sex jokes, and romantic drama dialogue wears you out. Aside from these things, there’s nothing the film characters choose to talk about. If a conversation seems like it’s going to break this cycle, it goes right back into its familiar routine.

Whenever Option Zero focuses on the SB officers doing their jobs all the task feel largely unrelated to one another in the overarching story. Capture a group of criminals dead or alive in a hotel, go chase after a criminal with valuable information, stop a gun deal, and finally protect someone important. Even if you spot the small connection, it doesn’t build up to the climatic action sequence in any form. A shootout that occurs in a container port 55 minutes into the movie, has a South Korean criminal, who evaded the SB officers in a previous action scene, killing off a major character only to have that same Korean criminal disappear for over 40 minutes before haphazardly just putting him in the climatic action sequence. You go almost half the film length without any build up towards that encounter, and when you do get to the climax there’s no confirmation if this South Korean criminal is the same that killed off a major character earlier. All the action sequences simply happen without the excitement one would hope these sequences would provide.

Now the meat of the film’s plot focus on romantic relationships. Initially, I was on board to see how the SB officers job would take a toll in their personal lives, and all it amount to was serviceable. It has too many subplots that get scatter around during the run time, half of which don’t even bother to get properly resolve. For example, there’s a love triangle in the movie involving our lead character Ben Chan (Julian Cheung), Chan’s current civilian girlfriend Kelly (Carman Lee), and Monica Leung (Monica Chan) who is basically Chan’s best friend. Monica who gets written like a third wheel, gets mentioned pretty early in the movie, and gets established as clearly having a crush on Chan. Leading to some interesting scenes like when Chan gets asked by Kelly if she’s the first person he’ll think about if he’s dying. Other times, it’s the soap opera treatment of “you never notice my feelings, or will you will never love me like I want you to”. This plotline, despite becoming the focal point of the movie as it progresses simply ends. There’s also no mention if Monica relationship with another character evolve into anything more romantic affecting another subplot by having no resolution.

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Missing here is some cheesy music.

Other characters in the film also suffer the same fate of repetitive dialogue; talk about their job, talk about sex, and than talk about relationship to reiterate once again. Dialogue related to the SB officer work is purely exposition while anything related to sex is a jab at comedy. Unfortunately, the jab at comedy eventually stop to become the equivalent of a bad high school drama. Something gets brought up that appears to be a big deal only to be forgotten about over time. Like Chan’s partner Sing (Anthony Wong) having a things for boats, and not using that characteristic of Sing for anything even though a scene is dedicated to it, or the fact Sing wife possibly cheated on him is also dropped. The supporting characters are only here to provide some fluff to the story since it’s main plotline doesn’t have much to sustain itself during the runtime. Getting multiple scenes of characters simply hanging around each other like friends. Despite the length the film would go to provide characterization, even forgetting it’s an action film for half of it runtime, characters still come out feeling flat by the end.

Finally, the G4 unit finally pops up in the final stretches of the film, and it’s simply more melodrama. The part of this being a police unit that only takes in the best is expected dialogue, but after many melodramatic scenes it would be nice to return to its characters prioritizing something else on their minds besides love. It’s this circling around the same three topic that make these characters shallow. Without going in depth into what it chooses to talk about everything feels detached emotionally. The film can whatever amount of time it wants on developing it cast, but without adding, or evolving their plotline beyond their introduction the effort seems wasteful. It has it mind set on something, but doesn’t bother developing it to the best it can be.

Julian Cheung is our stiff leading man in G4: Option Zero. He’s unable to express much, even during the action sequences he even struggle to show the most basic signs of struggle. However, seeing Cheung being passable in a action scene is better than him trying to emote in the dramatic scenes. His delivery lacks any emphasis on emotion typically wearing the same expression from beginning to end. His other co-star like Alex Cheung Hung On also suffers from the same issues. However, since Alex Cheung isn’t on screen frequently he’s comes off as passable instead of stiff like Julian Cheung. Carman Lee, and Monica Lee fare a little bit better, though not by much. Their dialogue delivery as the emotional support, or unrequited love is what you would expect them to be. They’re fine, and unlike their male co-stars, can carry a scene by their acting chops.

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Anthony Wong in the film best action sequence

My favorite character in the movie was Sing, and that’s because Anthony Wong was playing the character, even in a lesser effort in terms of acting, is still far memorable than any of his co stars. He’s the most believable with his performance encompassing his middle aged, slightly overweight, physical appearance of a veteran officer. Wong unique appearance easily makes him stand out among the more physically fit looking cast. By becoming Sing, Anthony Wong provides the film only moments of good drama, and comedy since he bothers to mold the weakness of the script into a strength. Easily being able to do the drama, the comedy, and action side of his role convincingly. Unlike the script, Anthony Wong found a way to balance the different tone into his performance never feeling out of character in anything he does. Anthony Wong is the only actor in the film who gives a good performance despite the weak material he was working with. There’s also a cameo from Michael Wong whom starred in the previous two installments of this franchise. His appearance adds nothing to the movie. There is one other actor, Paul Cheng Jang Bong whom plays a South Korean criminal who acts as a sorta-foil, but his performance is onenote leaving little to add on.

The film’s best action sequence is easily a lengthy shootout in a container port. It’s the only action sequence that feels inspired, and where the action choreography shines. Asides from keeping the action movie, the gunplay here in particular have more emphasizes in bullets piercing the background. In this container port action sequence, there’s a very brief shotgun bout between a SB officer played by Anthony Wong, and a Korean criminal that’s easily the highlight of the sequence. Not only do both characters barely miss each other, but quickly have to evade each other gun fire in from a close range. If the film had more dynamic gunfights like this brief shotgun bout than it would have been worth sitting through 40 plus minutes of characters moping around about love, or death worth it. Aside from this container port shootout, the action sequences are sub-par, even the climax itself doesn’t high end things on a high note.

Option Zero is a messy movie that will leave action junkie, or anyone craving a good story unsatisfied. There’s not enough to the story to keep events interesting, and the action sequences only once rises above your average action movie from China/Hong Kong, but even it’s one good action sequence won’t keep you around. Anthony Wong is the one positive G4: Option Zero has to offer, and that’s only when he’s onscreen. Being an example of melodrama, romance, and action not coming together like it should. 

Rating: 4/10

Cinema-Manic: Savage Dog (2017) Review

There was a time where straight to home video action films were the absolute worst the action genre could provide. Nowadays the notion hasn’t changed, but there’s been a steady rise in quality thanks to talented filmmakers knowing what to provide to its audience, and without it feeling like a cheap cash grab. One actor in the forefront in these straight to home video action movies is Scott Adkins. An actor who appears in some big budget movies in bit roles like Doctor Strange (2016), and The Expendable 2 (2012), but is mostly stuck in lower budget efforts. The trait most of these lower budget efforts share is Scott Adkins always work with competent directors whom also share his desire to make the best possible film despite their limitations. Sometime they work as mindless entertainment like with Ninja 2: Shadow of A Tear (2013), and Close Range (2015), while duds like El Gringo (2012), and Eliminators (2016) being just as common in his filmography. One thing his film can be counted on for is supplying good action sequences, and thankfully Savage Dogs falls into the category of Adkins better films.

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Adkins: “They won’t release me until I improve my acting.”

Savage Dog is set in 1959 Indochina, following Martin Tilman (Scott Adkins), who is due for release from Den-Dhin-Chan labor camp run by Vietnamese warlords and European war criminals, but the corrupt forces running the jail will do everything in their power to keep him locked down. Telling a simplistic story in its heart, but aiming higher than it could achieve. The first half of the film focuses more on developing characters, and trying to tell a story about finding a purpose. Using the first half purely as buildup to eventually rein in the carnage the second half of the movie will be dedicated too. While the sentiment is admirable, the execution is simplistic on all front. Characters are typically shady, and money hungry all in the effort to evade consequences for betraying their country. It sounds like these characters have depth to them. In actuality, that’s about as far is it goes for developing most of it characters whom just meant to add to Tilman body count. It easier to root for our ex-British officer whom is hunted down by his own country when one of your villains is a ex-Nazi. Also, characters reiterating multiple time their all ex whatever of a certain country helps too.

In spite of a runtime of 94 minutes, the pacing is generally slow, but works in service of the movie. This does negatively affect some aspect of the story, like Martin Tilman romantic relationship that is meant to be the dramatic core of the film doesn’t work. Most of the bonding between Tilman, and his lover is glossed over. The other aspect of Martin Tilman that is tackle somewhat well is Tilman looking for purpose in his life. Evolving from his introduction into a satisfactory character arc. Aspects of Tilman past are kept limited, and to the point. Supporting characters are fine. Isabelle (Juju Chan) arc revolves around her believing in the good of people, and keeping that belief. She doesn’t grow beyond her introduction, and mostly serves the role of just being the love interest. One other positive could be Isabelle doesn’t become a damsel in distress, but at the same time it means she becomes useless to the story after the first half of the movie is done.

The only other character left to mention is Valentine (Keith David) whom also serves the film narrator whenever needed. Out of everything in the writing, Valentine narration is easily its biggest fault. Whereas the previous faults mention contributed somewhat positively to the bigger picture, Valentine’s narration could have been entirely removed. Sometimes stating the obvious, and sometime summarizing the purpose of a scene in a couple of sentences. For example, when there’s a scene of Isabelle, and Tilman relationship becoming more romantic, Valentine tells the audience exactly what they’re seeing. Same with when Tilman is brutally fighting as a bouncer against some unwelcome guest, and Valentine’s states (paraphrasing) that something savage has awaken within Tilman. Quite insightful in stating the obvious. Most silly of all, is given the fate of Valentine’s character he’s basically narrating from beyond the grave leading to some confusion. Sure, revealing the death of Valentine’s character could be considered a spoiler, but given his only purpose is get to killed, and provide pointless narration it’s better to have you prepare beforehand about that odd narrative choice.

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So, this is Colonel Sanders with a clean shave.

Lastly, the second half of the film is where it finally picks up. Seeing Tilman embraces his anger, and seeing him kill a dozen, or so people like a one man army is it biggest strength. Narratively, the first half did a competently enough job to make this action onslaught satisfying. The hero is easy to root for, and the villains are easily detestable. Unfortunately, the first half is a hindrance with very little interesting things happening. Since the material never raises to the level it wants, die hard fans of Scott Adkins movies, or action junkies can endure the rough first half, but the average viewer isn’t as likely to stick around. For those who stick around will receive everything they could want from a lower budget action film starring Scott Adkins, even if it takes a while to get there.

Scott Adkins takes the lead as Martin Tilman. In terms of acting, Adkins takes a wholly serious role. Unlike his usual film, his cockiness that he portrays in some of his roles is absent here. Removing part of his charm that can be found in El Gringo (2012), and Accident Man (2018). When wholly serious, Adkins limited range of acting shows a lot, especially in the first half. Struggling to displays the years of violence, and yearning for a purpose Tilman is meant to have. Some of Adkins weak acting is hidden by having him participate in some fight sequences in the first half where believing Adkins is a expert fighter is easy to accept. Believing Adkins is a lost soul of sort is a pill not as easy to swallow. However, in the second half of the film, Adkins improves as the stunt work, and action sequences he’s good as performing become more prevalent than his dramatic chops. Adkins lack of strong acting chops is forgivable since the second half highlights his strength better.

Supporting cast on the other hand come off as decent. For instant, Juju Chan whom plays Isabelle does good all her dramatic scenes. It’s night, and day how easily Juju Chan can emote in her delivery compare to Adkins. However, she’s also quite a capable actress able to work within Adkin limited dramatic chops to make a scene work better than it should. Just like the rest of the cast, the only issue I have with her acting is it’s mostly one note. Keith David whom plays Valentine delivers a good performance. He’s able to be more loose since his character isn’t as serious compare to everyone else. However, his best part of acting is when he’s narrating, giving some power to his narration, even if it’s ultimately pointless.

Finally, the cast of evildoers themselves. Vladimir Kulich is easily the best actor among them, though because of bad writing he reiterates the same dialogue multiple times throughout the film. He performs the role of a ex-Nazi without hamming it up, or being cartoonish. Marko Zaror plays another one of the baddie, as well as being the only other person, besides Cung Le, who can stand evenly with Adkins. Performance wise, both Zaror, and Cung Le are mostly one note. Cung Le has to come across as intimidating while Zaror somewhat has to give off a similar vibe. They do decently since they aren’t required to express much in their characters like Scott Adkins.

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Explosions make Adkins sleepy.

When it comes to action, Savage Dog tries to be more realistic than Adkins usual film. Just a bit so the usual high kicks, and more elaborate martial art fight sequences Adkins is known for are tone down. Yet, don’t become a detriment to the action sequences. What partially makes up for this is sometime seeing gore within the action sequences. There’s isn’t a lot of gore, but when seeing the sight of a man face getting blown off by a shotgun at point blank range in a close up shot, or seeing Adkins decapitate someone’s head what gore it has truly satisfies. Not to forget some of the gore special effects are surprisingly good despite the film obvious, limited resources.

The fight sequences in the film are easily the standout of the film. They make up a majority of the action bits. Fight sequences in the first half are entirely one sided having Adkins easily beat whoever he’s fighting. Adkins fight are more of a bare-knuckle variety mostly punching his opponent with maybe the occasional kick. Just when you think you’re tire of seeing similar looking fight scenes. The second half allows Adkins to fight tougher opponent on two occasion. One of them is against Cung Le who gives Adkins a good beating. Unfortunately, the fight between Cung Le, and Adkins ends anticlimactically. Granted, the way it ends makes sense in context, but it just strange it chooses this moment to go against action movies norms.

The final confrontation between Adkins, and Marko Zaror is also a good one. It’s the only time in the film where Adkins has to overcome a foe whom has the upperhand in a fight. Unlike previous fights, the “realism” is slightly more removed here whenever both Adkins, and Zaror trade blows with knives. It doesn’t end the film on a bang since nothing elaborate is done in the film, but it does provide the film final moment of gore before ending which is probably one of the best moments in Scott Adkins career.

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How much get can I get for this head?

The other action set pieces typically have Adkins blowing holes into peoples with guns, and barely getting hit with bullets non-stop. Gunplay is more interesting than your average action movie with Adkin seemingly being quick enough to dodge gunfire regardless of what gun is being used against him. Seeing someone get shot is made satisfying when seeing blood squib explode in small amount. Only negative to the action sequence requiring Adkins basically taking out an entire army at their base is the low budget here becomes the most apparent. Throughout the movie, the small budget is concealed well enough, but this particular set piece instead of seeing dozen of men go after Adkins at once you likely see at most 3, or 4 go after Adkins. It doesn’t feel like Adkins took out an entire army. However, that’s a small complaint against it. Jesse V. Johnson knows how to crafts, and capture action satisfactory.

Savage Dog ambition is never met, but is far better than your average straight to home video action film. Offering a refreshing setting, solid acting among the cast, and some good action sequences with the rare moments of gore to enjoy once the carnage kicks in. It’s a not a film I would give a general recommendation since it’s faults easily can ruin the experience for an average viewer. At 94 minutes, for fans of action cinema craving for another solid flick, or fans of Scott Adkins this is recommended to check out.

6/10