Movie Review – Wolf Warrior 2

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EXPECTATIONS: A jingoistic and entertaining piece of garbage.

REVIEW: Chinese action star Wu Jing is an actor that I have been following for quite a surprisingly long time. Ever since he was appeared in Tai Chi Boxer, a low-budget martial arts film, he has shown his martial arts skills, but never really standing out from the crowd. It was only until SPL, where he played a formidable and sadistic henchman and fought against Donnie Yen, that was when he was recognized worldwide.

Since then, he has appeared in more movies, playing more villains like in Invisible Target and Fatal Move, and also playing more heroes with ample charisma like in Twins Mission and City Under Siege. It was after all the action roles, he gained an interest in directing, which he achieved in his directorial debut, Legendary Assassin, which was a passable action film that drowned in its self-importance and excessive wirework.

He then tried again with Wolf Warrior, a solo-directorial debut about the Chinese Army fighting against foreign mercenaries. The film was ripe with B-movie goodness, but it never harnessed it due to its low budget, shoddy film-making and excessive (if amusing) flag-waving, leaving the film to be a disappointment.

Now, we have Wu Jing returning to the director’s chair with Wolf Warrior 2, a country-trekking sequel with a bigger budget and input from the makers of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, including the same stunt people and even Frank Grillo. Will the film be a marked improvement over the sloppy original or will it end up being a disaster for all involved?

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After the events of Wolf Warrior, Leng Feng (Wu Jing) returns to his hometown, but he doesn’t get the welcome committee he expected and due to a conflict (among many in the film) he gets sent to prison and expelled from the Chinese Special Forces.

And faster than you can say “Chinese Rambo“, he goes into exile in Africa, drowning in gallons of alcohol and pining over the death of his superior officer/love interest Long Xiaoyun (Yu Nan, in a cameo).

But the peace is interrupted when an uprising occurs and he must retreat to a Chinese destroyer, which strictly evacuates Chinese civilians. But when he overhears guards talking about needing someone to rescue workers at a factory and an important doctor who knows the vaccination for Lamanla (Yes, that’s actually what it’s called), Leng Feng volunteers.

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To be perfectly blunt, no one watches these types of films for the plot; people want to see these films for the action and the momentum that can carry the audience to see more action. And thankfully, Wolf Warrior 2 is a huge improvement over the original in that regard.

Utilizing long takes, a bigger budget and vast locations, Wu really went all out with the fight scenes, which are brutal and hard-hitting; the car chases, which involve driving through a village and a tank battle; and the gun battles which crash, bang and wallop as they should. Action scenes involving drones and an uprising are the standouts in the film, as well as the final fight scene between Wu and Grillo, which is an improvement over the underwhelming climactic fight in the original film involving Wu and Adkins. The opening action scene involves a fight underwater and it is both ridiculous, thrilling and very reminiscent of the climactic fight scene in the Jackie Chan film, First Strike.

There are also many unintentionally hilarious moments which suits its throwback B-movie tone. Scenes with absolutely no care about logic, storytelling or even basic human decency. Like the use of a piece of glass used to kill many people, how Leng stops a rocket in a way that has to be seen to be believed, incredibly offensive portrayal of Africans to the point that it ends up being moronically laughable eg. when an African mother throws an elbow drop on a soldier that would make Dwayne Johnson cringe; and the flag-waving (which isn’t as much as the original) that is taken to its logical conclusion where Wu literally fashions himself as a flagpole to wave the China flag, there is plenty of things to laugh at, and definitely not to laugh with. It is the sheer ineptitude that makes all these moments funny.

But here’s the thing: we’re not living in the 80’s and early 90’s anymore and nowadays, the many things in Wolf Warrior 2 that would have been expected back in the past, would be strongly frowned upon today and rightfully so. The killings of the African people in particular are incredibly excessive to the point of being mean-spirited; some of the portrayals are quite racist and embarrassing (like the elbow drop) and like many of the China-market films (eg. Operation Mekong and The White Storm), China steps into foreign territory to solve something without any assistance from home authorities. Basically, it’s them saying “Get the hell out of our way, we’ll take it from here!”. Some of these criticisms can be overlooked, but there will be people out there who will be offended, if not outraged.

Speaking of outrage, for those who are gung-ho on plot and filmmaking as well as the action, will be laughing at how the story is told. There are numerous plot holes (How does Leng know where the hostages are when he crashes through a building with an SUV?) and contrivances (A character gets cured of a virus overnight), incredibly bad dialogue (A henchman actually cries angrily about manners peoples’ mothers should be teaching) and lapses in basic logic (Injuries heal as soon as they’re inflicted).

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And the performances is just as haphazard as the storytelling. Wu Jing as Leng Feng is a solid leading man, who clearly knows his action and has great presence on screen. It’s a vanity project of his as his character is seen as the saviour of everyone on the bloody planet, but does more than enough in the role.

Regarding the supporting cast, that’s where the acting drops down a notch. Celina Jade, who is famous for the TV series Arrow, works with Wu Jing for the second time after Legendary Assassin is likable and charming in her role as Dr. Rachel Smith, even if she isn’t much of an actress. Frank Grillo, in his limited screentime, exudes some much-needed menace while Wu Gang is quite good as the veteran soldier who aids Leng Feng.

As for Hans Zhang, when I was sitting in a packed theater, when he first appeared on-screen, the audience went hysterical, laughing derisively at his presence. Thankfully, his character is meant to look and act foolish, since he is a fuerdai (meaning rich second generation) and a fanboy of the PLA. But through Zhang’s performance, he comes off as annoying and really should have been killed off. Other performances go from wooden (most of the African actors and henchmen) to downright laughable like Oleg Prudius, who is a hoot as the moody Bear and Ding Haifeng, who shouts an order that made me laugh out loud!

Overall, Wolf Warrior 2 is a marked improvement over its predecessor that provides the requisite thrills and action that one would definitely look for. But its sheer moral ineptitude combined with its throwback B-movie tone makes it one of the most unintentionally hilarious films of the year. Or it could outrage and offend many because of it. You be the judge.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Great action scenes

Plenty of unintentionally hilarious moments

Wu Jing is a great action star

CONS

Moral ineptitude involving racism and propaganda

Shoddy storytelling

Laughable acting

SCORE: 7.5/10

Cast: Wu Jing, Frank Grillo, Celina Jade, Wu Gang, Hans Zhang, Ding Haifeng, Chunyu Shanshan
Director: Wu Jing
Screenwriters: Wu Jing, Dong Qun, Liu Yi

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Movie Review – The Villainess

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EXPECTATIONS: A career-defining role for Kim Ok-bin. And also, kick-ass action scenes!

REVIEW: Kim Ok-bin is a South Korean actress that I have been following for a long time (not literally!) and I have always found her to be very talented in a variety of roles, like her dramatic film debut in the horror Voice, to her charming and adorable role in the sex comedy/musical Dasepo Naughty Girls and her comedic role in The Accidental Gangster and the Mistaken Courtesan.

But it was when she worked with Park Chan-wook for the dark comedy/vampire film Thirst that she started having an acting emergence. Nailing both dramatic parts, comedic parts and especially the femme fatale parts like a pro, she won many awards for her performance. Ever since then, her roles have gotten a bit smaller than expected, with small roles like The Front Line and Actresses; and she ended up in box office flops like 11 A.M.

Now, after eight years since her role in Thirst, she finally has a leading role in The Villainess, an action extravaganza from Jung Byung-gil, the director from the action/crime flick Confession of Murder. Gathering great buzz from Cannes, including garnering a 4-minute standing ovation, people have been highly anticipating this. Is the film worth the buzz?

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The film starts off with a spectacular 10-minute action scene, entirely shot in POV, as the main character takes down like 40 people through hallways, staircases and even a personal gym, leading to the title card. So it is advised that audiences should not come late to the screenings, as this takes place straight away after the opening credits.

The film is about the story of a ruthless female assassin named Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin), who from an early age (residing in China, with her father) has been taught to kill. She becomes a sleeper agent for South Korea’s intelligence agency after being caught, which they promise her freedom after 10 years of service. But it’s not all that easy when two men (Shin Ha-Kyun and Bang Sung-jun) from her past and present make an unexpected appearance in her life, bringing out her deep, dark secrets.

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Let’s get to the good and bad already. The good? Kim Ok-bin herself. As seen in The Villainess, she has finally acquired a leading role that is worthy of her talents. Having capable martial arts training before tackling the role, she displays grace and capable physical prowess in her action scenes. Whether she is riding a motorcycle, scaling buildings, firing guns and throwing axes, she easily convinces as Sook-hee, the assassin.

As Sook-hee, the woman within, Kim nails the role with gusto. Lending depth and even a bit of insanity (like her character in Thirst) to her soulful, yet vengeful archetype of a character, she again shows why she made such a fuss back in 2009. If she doesn’t get better roles after this, then something seriously is wrong out there.

As for the supporting cast, they are all fine in the archetypal roles. Shin Ha-kyun (who plays an adversary to Kim Ok-bin for the third time since Thirst and The Front Line) is great as Joong-sang, as he conveys menace in a scary, yet understated manner. Bang Sung-jun is likable and brash as Hyun-soo, a love interest to Sook-hee who is more than he seems. But besting both of the men is Kim Seo-hyung. Playing a mentor character to Kim Ok-bin once again since Voice, she just nails the part of the ice cold personae, as Kwon-sook.

Now, let’s get to the action scenes. Overall, they are fantastic. Apart from the opening scene, there are scenes on motorbikes, buses, edges of buildings, restaurants and other settings, and they are all shot with so much energy and verve that it becomes almost surreal. There’s a scene where Sook-hee tries to escape from a training facility and the way the world uncovers (with smooth editing and long takes) is just so dream-like, it becomes almost enchanting. Some may find it disorienting due to the style utilized i.e. handheld camera shots, so those who suffer with motion sickness be warned.

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Now let’s get to the bad. Or a better word, mixed. The story itself is nothing new; basically an amalgam of prior assassin films like La Femme Nikita and others, but the storytelling is refreshingly free from spoon-feeding and pandering towards the audience, unlike Hollywood blockbusters, which would have characters stand to point at something and explain the plot. But the plot is told with lots of flashbacks that it does tend to get convoluted at times. Thankfully, the story is told with three distinct acts that makes it clear enough for the audience to latch on to.

Also, the drama in the film tends to be quite cheesy at times. Although some of the cheesiness makes sense due to the events of the plot but when it becomes more sincere, some of the drama becomes so melodramatic, that it can be quite laughable. And another flaw (which may be laughable itself) is the level of violence. With the amount of weapons involved including guns, knives, hammers, axes, ropes, cars, hairpins etc; it is bloody, gory and uncompromising, which will both thrill and befuddle, so be warned.

Overall, The Villainess is a much-needed shot in the arm in terms of action films, female-led films, Kim Ok-bin and South Korean cinema. I hope that after this film, both Kim Ok-bin and director Jung Byung-gil will be appreciated for their efforts and move on to do more ambitious work.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Kim Ok-bin gives a fantastic performance

Good supporting cast

Spectacular action sequences

Storytelling is refreshing due to lack of spoonfeeding

The editing and camerawork create a surreal feel

CONS

Cheesiness in the storytelling

The story can be quite convoluted

SCORE: 8/10

Cast: Kim Ok-bin, Shin Ha-kyun. Bang Sung-jun, Kim Seo-hyun, Jung Hae-kyun
Director: Jung Byung-gil
Screenwriters: Jung Byung-gil, Jung Byung-sik

Movie Review – Okja (Sydney Film Fest 2017)

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EXPECTATIONS: Another fantastic entry into Bong Joon Ho’s filmography.

REVIEW: Okja is a film involving a giant mutated pig. What more do you want? But seriously, in order to understand the hype of the film, you have to know the filmmaker Bong Joon Ho.

Bong Joon Ho is an acclaimed Korean filmmaker who has made some incredible films. And the reason he is so acclaimed is his assured directorial hand in mixing genres that usually do not associate with each other and executes them brilliantly. And he also adds a sense of humour, regardless of how inappropriate the tone of the film is.

His impressive resume so far includes films like the strikingly dark comedy Barking Dogs Never Bite, the comic-confronting crime thriller Memories of Murder, the blockbuster monster film The Host (not the film starring Saoirse Ronan, thank goodness), the old-fashioned mystery-noir Mother and the dystopian epic Snowpiercer.

Considering the critical acclaim that Bong has received, having expectations reaching levels other than high is an understandable reaction. Seeing how this was the closing film of Sydney Film Fest 2017, it was likely that Okja would end it with a bang. Does it?

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An Seo Hyun stars as Mija, a young girl who lives in the mountains with her grandfather (Byun Heebong) and is a caretaker and loving companion to Okja, a giant super pig. Life seems simple enough but that eventually changes when a family-owned multinational conglomerate takes Okja for themselves and transports her to New York, where image obsessed and self-promoting CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) has big plans for Mija’s dearest friend.

With no plan and only her sheer focus, Mija vows to get her back but the journey will be hard going, going through many obstacles like capitalists, fat cats, greedy consumers, demonstrators (led by Paul Dano). Will Mija succeed in bringing her best friend home?

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Just like his earlier films, director Bong deals with a lot of issues and ideas like consumerism, animal rights, the environment and capitalism; all while forming an action-adventure film and a political satire at the same time. Even with all that baggage, it’s a miracle that Okja works as well as it does.

Even though the issues are serious, Bong never backs out from adding a touch of humour into the mix, as he places the targets both the characters and themes and satirizes them with verve. For example, the characters Bostick and Henshall play, who foolishly contribute to their cause by starving themselves to leave a minimal environmental footprint.

But this does not mean Bong doesn’t get straight to the point, as he steers the film into very dark territory, particularly in the final act. This may be the first film that I praise due to the fact that it almost made me throw up.

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All the themes pack a thematic punch as well as an emotional punch, as it adds to the heart of the film, which is the bond between Mija and Okja. The peaceful scenes between the two are executed very well (complete with references to the anime film, My Neighbour Totoro), without being overstated or sappy. There’s even a scene where the family are gathering together to eat and it is reminiscent to one of the scenes in The Host.

There’s a scene where the two take a shortcut back home and it ends up being more than they bargained for. The scene is thrilling, action-packed and skillfully foreshadows what is to come between their relationship.

Speaking of action scenes, they are all gleefully manic, yet intricately composed. There is a scene where Mija arrives in Seoul and single-handedly shakes the corporation, resulting in a fantastic car chase, leading to a shopping center that reaches its beautifully realized climax with the use of “Annie’s Song” by John Denver.

But none of it would be as good as it looks without the cinematography by Darius Khondji, who is clearly embracing the resources of what digital filmmaking can do. The CGI modelling of the creature itself is quite impressive, considering the budget, which is only $50 million.

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The acting from the ensemble cast are all either fun, unhinged or thankfully, genuine. An Seo Hyun, who impressed in the 2010 remake The Housemaid, is the solid rock of the film that keeps the film grounded, as she convincingly conveys both the tough, determined side and the paternal side of her character. The former is shown perfectly during a funny scene where Mija tries to enter the government floor entrance.

On the other side of the spectrum, Jake Gyllenhaal gleefully hams it up figuratively as well as literally. Tilda Swinton vamps it up as well as camps it up as the primary antagonist, Lucy Mirando, and she nails it, as usual while Paul Dano, in an example of off-kilter casting as with Gyllenhaal, is surprisingly cool as the leader of the animal rights group.

The smaller roles from the conflicted Steven Yeun, the fiery Lily Collins, the comically dedicated duo of Devon Bostick and Daniel Henshall, the fatherly Byun Heebong, the weaselly Choi Woo Shik, the subtly menacing, scheming Giancarlo Esposito and the overworked and nasally Shirley Henderson all immensely contribute to the fun.

Like Okja itself, the film tends to lumber a lot, veering in many directions and tones, sometimes going on-the-snout with its themes, and like Gyllenhaal’s character, its rebellious and off-kilter filmmaking may turn people off. But like a roller-coaster, it is exhilarating stuff, and it rarely ever abides to filmmaking conventions and tropes. Okja was a film that had everything I hoped for and I wish more films like this would get made, regardless of where it comes from.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastically rebellious direction from Bong Joon Ho

Mixing of genres and ideas is done really well

The ensemble cast is great

Action scenes are very thrilling

CONS

The filmmaking and Gyllenhaal’s performance will polarize

SCORE: 9/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, An Seo Hyun, Byun Heebong, Steven Yeun, Giancarlo Esposito, Lily Collins, Yoon Je Moon, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, Devon Bostick, Choi Woo Shik
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Screenwriter: Bong Joon Ho, Jon Ronson

Movie Review – Kung Fu Yoga

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EXPECTATIONS: An insufferable experience from the once-great Jackie Chan.

REVIEW: Before I get into this review, let’s get the b-word out of the way. I am a fan of Jackie Chan. Ever since I saw one of his films on SBS, I became a huge fan of his due to his incredible dexterity, his creative fight choreography, his amazing stuntwork and his likable aw-shucks persona.

But like every action hero, the thing that defeats them is age, but Chan has always compensated with more creative fight choreography, a sharper focus on acting and and branching out from his likable persona.

But ever since 2009, he’s hit a major snag that has rendered his reputation from being extremely likable to something a lot more polarizing i.e. he became a supporter of Communist China.

Since then, the quality of his films have dropped massively, with very little effort involved from everyone including fight choreography, ill-disciplined use of the high budget and the incredibly childish sense of humour that seems to be present to pander to the China market.

And last but not least, the jingoism and xenophobia is incredibly blatant that it is quite easy to be thrown out of the film. Cases in point: Skiptrace, Shinjuku Incident, Chinese Zodiac, Dragon Blade, Railroad Tigers; the list goes on.

And now, we have Kung Fu Yoga, an action/adventure that seems to be a throwback to the Armour of God films, with all the globetrotting and action you would expect. But can this film break the negative trend or will it sink into it?

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Jackie Chan plays Jack (who else?), a world-renowned archaeology professor, and his team are on a grand quest to locate a lost ancient Indian treasure when they are ambushed by a team of mercenaries and left for dead. Using his vast knowledge of history and kung fu (what else?), Jack leads his team on a race around the world to beat the mercenaries to the treasure and save an ancient culture.

Now that is a simple enough plot that is easy to follow. But boy, is it terribly told. The introduction to the film is incredibly emblematic of this flaw. It involves a five-minute backstory all told in terribly rendered CGI that could have only come from a PS2 game but what is bewildering is that it has absolutely no effect or relevance to the plot whatsoever!

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But hey, who cares about the plot in a Jackie Chan film? All we want is the action! Is the action good in Kung Fu Yoga? Nope, not at all. The choreography looks sloppy, uninspired and worst of all, boring. The stunts obviously look wire-assisted, the CGI implemented looks absolutely atrocious and the sets look incredibly cheap. Nothing in the action scenes thrill or amuse and it just ends up being tedious. When a major highlight in an action scene involves a horrific looking CGI lion in a car, believe me, you’re in trouble.

So, when you have terrible action scenes in a Jackie Chan film, all you have is, well, a whiff of something you’re sure not to like. There’s the xenophobia and jingoism present throughout i.e. how there are no Indians that can find an Indian artifact in India, and can solve the puzzle inscribed on the artifact. In Indian. Or how the film actually has the guts to provide a ham-fisted moral lesson from the Chinese to Indians, about something they read from an Indian artifact! And the character actually says “Stop teaching me about my own country!”

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And there’s also the blatant plagiarism that the film steals from eg. Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Fast and the Furious films, Tomb Raider and the James Bond films. And there are many details that took me off guard. Like, why is there the use of bells in a university? How do you distract wolves with kung fu stances and snowball throwing? Why is it that a gunshot does not echo throughout the ice cave to signal that someone is in the cave? How is it that the ice cave, which is believed to be in the middle of nowhere, have two people come out of the cave through a staircase? With handrails?

Asking all of these, and many other questions, just made me realize that the film didn’t entertain or distract me from any of those flaws. The actors are no great shakes in their performances and most of them were clearly hired for market appeal rather than thespian chops. Or even charisma.

Even for those who are talented, like Eric Tsang, they disappear faster than Jackie Chan’s reputation in Hong Kong. And the tone is all over the place; the film is clearly aiming for family-friendly (or so it says) humour, and yet there are instances of adult language and violence involving deadly animals.

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Now the end credits is actually the best part of the film. And not because it meant the film was over. I personally hated the way they remixed the original song, but the dance number looked very nice and is well choreographed, by Farah Khan no less.

Kung Fu Yoga is a massive disappointment for fans of Jackie Chan, fans of cinema, Indian fans, Indian people in general and is just a complete embarrassment for all involved. Even the Indians didn’t like the film when the film was released there. That tells you what you need to know.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Okay dance number in the end

Eric Tsang in a very small role

CONS

Everything else

SCORE: 2/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Jackie Chan, Disha Patani, Aarif Lee Rahman, Sonu Sood, Lay Zhang, Mu Qimiya, Zhang Guoli, Eric Tsang, Amyra Dastur, Coco Jiang
Director: Stanley Tong
Screenwriter: Stanley Tong

Movie Review – Dead or Alive

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EXPECTATIONS: Something downright gonzo from maverick director Takashi Miike.

REVIEW: Takashi Miike, back in the V-cinema era, was a complete madman. Not in a human state, but in his creative state, the images and ideas he comes up with can only come from a man who is completely bonkers.

This is the man who directed a film which had to have barf bags in some of the cinema screenings. This is the man who filmed a TV episode for a horror anthology that had been banned for being too disturbing. This is the man who filmed the most amazing cockfight ever seen on screen. Okay, the last one is debatable but the point is, this is a man whose filmography cannot be seen without one thinking with befuddlement and interest.

With a man who has made so many gonzo works (including Fudoh: The Next Generation, Audition, Gozu, Ichi the Killer, Visitor Q etc.) Dead or Alive would rank somewhere near the middle in the gonzo scale. With V-cinema stalwarts Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi as the leads in an old-school cop vs. criminal story, you know Miike has got something up his sleeve.

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Dead or Alive starts off with the most energetic and craziest 10 minutes that few have rivaled to this day. Already, we see people getting blown to bits, a woman jumping to her death, corrupt cops snorting a LONG line of cocaine, sex scenes of a homosexual nature and more gonzo goodness.

That basically is the litmus level telling whether the film is right for you. But despite all of the bizarre flourishes, the story is surprisingly reserved, consisting of your typical cops and robbers conflict, with themes like loyalty, brotherhood and justice.

One of the best touches of the film is the bizarre sense of humour towards genre tropes. Films of this type usually glamourizes the criminals in favour of sympathy or empathy toward the characters. But in the case of Dead or Alive, criminals are portrayed as they are: scums of the earth.

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There’s a stupefying scene where Aikawa’s character asks one of his informants for information, but as the scene plays out, the informant is getting ready for a bestiality shoot, including the actress and dog. And one other scene that is even more graphic, a mob boss is seen torturing a woman by forcing her to swim in a pool of her own feces. It is scenes like this (including the introduction and the ending) that makes the film a cult-classic pleasure.

But is there substance to back the film up? Surprisingly, there is ample evidence of it. The lead characters, Ryuuichi and Jojima, are given plenty of backstory; like how one is trying to save his terminally ill daughter while the other is trying to reconcile with his estranged brother. They both have clearly defined motives and are thankfully portrayed with enough sympathy and empathy by Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuichi. They are both clearly aware of the film’s intentions and are clearly having fun with their archetypal roles, elevating them with both charisma and acting chops.

The supporting cast are all film with Miike collaborators like Ren Osugi, Renji Ishibashi and others are all great with their roles, as they both honour and turn their roles on its head with gusto.

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In the case of flaws, there are many that need to be mentioned and considered. Firstly, the film’s pacing is quite haphazard, considering the frenetic nature of the introduction and conclusion. For some, the film’s second act is a slow crawl compared to all of its madness.

Secondly, the treatment of women in the film is quite disturbing and will definitely turn people off. It can be seen as a commentary towards Miike fans who enjoy his brand of bonkers gonzo violence or it can be seen as a commentary on misogyny. Either way, the message is clear: misogyny is an unspeakable and irredeemable evil. And lastly, the humour can be quite polarizing. For some, it can be seen as hilarious while others will see it as either silly and even offensive.

But if one were to describe Dead of Alive in singular words, it would be as it goes: Gonzo. Unforgettable. Crazy. Silly. Bizarre. And those words encapsulate what Dead or Alive is, in a nutshell. For those who are daring, this is the film that will blow you away, whether you’ll like it or not. I guarantee it.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Great leading performances

Fantastically bizarre sense of humour

Enough substance towards the characters

CONS

Irregular pacing

Humour will turn some people off

Treatment towards women

SCORE: 7.5/10

Cast: Riki Takeuchi, Sho Aikawa, Renji Ishibashi, Susume Terajima, Ren Osugi
Director: Takashi Miike
Screenwriters: Ichiro Ryu

Movie Review – Girl’s Blood

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EXPECTATIONS: A trashy, sexy and fun experience.

REVIEW: For those who want to get down to the nitty-gritty, here’s the basis of the story in the film, Girl’s Blood. It involves women kicking ass in cages, with ridiculously tragic backstories of most of the characters and a lesbian love story. Now for the kicker: this is all set and wrapped up in a backdrop of female empowerment.

Now I know what you’re thinking. A film with a story such as this could only possibly be seen as a trashy and prurient experience that would feel right at home back in the 1980’s. But this film came out in 2014 and it is actually based on a novel, written by Kazuki Sakuraba, the author who also wrote My Man, which was made into a critically acclaimed film of the same name, starring Fumi Nikaido and Tadanobu Asano.

So you would now expect the film to be more conservative. BUT, the screenwriter of Girl’s Blood is Takehiko Minato, who’s responsible for many pinku films such as Be My Slave, What’s Going On With My Sister, Flower and Snake: Zero and of course, Legend of Siren XXX. But he has also written the screenplay of Bitter Honey, which is basically an adult version of Ponyo.

Moreover, the film is directed by Koichi Sakamoto, who’s famous for directing tokusatsu series like Kamen Rider, Power Rangers and specializes in fight stunt-work. So potentially, we have a film that is directed by a former stuntman, which has a story that could have a tone of both equal prurience and puritanism (sort of), based on source material from a critically-acclaimed female author, written for the screen by a screenwriter who specializes in pinku films. Will this film be a trainwreck or will it somehow transcend its origins to be more than the sum of its parts?

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The story starts by introducing four of our main characters. The first one is Satsuki (Yuria Haga), a woman who has a sexual identity crisis. The other character is Miko (Ayame Misaki), who is a S&M queen who has a haunted backstory involving being estranged from her family. The third character is Mayu (Rina Koike), a young woman who has psychological problems due to her youthful image and lastly, Chinatsu (Asami Tada), a fighter who, through numerous attempts, tries to run away from her abusive husband (Hideo Sakaki).

All four women are competing in a cage fight tournament after a martial arts faction threatens to take over the territory of Girl’s Blood. But their differences make them more like foils rather than comrades.  To make matters worse is the fact that the faction is run none other by Chinatsu’s husband. Bonds will be made, minds will be tested, demons will be unleashed; will the women overcome all obstacles and win?

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First off, it is really quite a miracle to say that this type of story actually has a sizable budget and it shows. The production values, the cinematography, the music are all well-done. Special credit goes to the sound design, which is quite striking and adds to the brutality of the fight scenes.

And now the cast. All of the main actresses acquit themselves to their roles with such sincerity and straight-faced conviction, that they give the story a lot more credibility that it ever requires. Yuria Haga is convincingly tough and conflicted as Satsuki and it must be said that she deserves credit for her brave decision to go nude for her love scenes.

Ditto to Asami Tada, who plays Chinatsu as a interesting, enigmatic presence and is quite a good sport in the fight scenes. The chemistry between the two is subtly present as they make glances and eventually become intimate with each other. Ayame Misaki is very charismatic as Miko, as she certainly has a fun presence about her; while Rina Koike is cute, but almost to a fault. Few stand out of the supporting cast, including Misaki Momose (who stood out in Gothic Lolita Psycho) who again combines cuteness and sadism in an entertaining fashion.

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As for the men, they all go over-the-top to the point that bounces between cartoony and pantomime. Hideo Sakaki is beyond sickening (in a good way) as Chinatsu’s husband while Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi is a hoot as the manager of Girl’s Blood, whenever he shows up.

It’s a credit to the above that it is as stellar as it is, since the story is incredibly ridiculous, bizarre and blatantly empowering/exploitative to the female gender. The backstories of the characters are so outlandish (one of them is haunted by her past involving cosplay while another is haunted due to confinement and, ahem, spillage) that it is a minor miracle that the film manages to become mildly poignant and affecting in the final act.

And it is because that every aspect of the film plays it out as sincere as they can. The story is told completely straight, without a sense of irony or any amount of winking from the actors. It also helps that the characters have clear motives as to why they choose to fight in the ring and they all pay off in a satisfyingly cathartic fashion.

Or the film can be seen as the ridiculous story that it is and can be unintentionally laughable when it passes its plot points and backstories as a source of drama. Fittingly, that type of shoddiness is expected from the pinku genre, but it stands out more due to its sizable budget. Either way, entertainment is still entertainment.

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And best of all, the fight scenes. Director Koichi Sakamoto knows his way around filming action and the fights are well-choreographed and well-shot, considering the numerous stunt doubles on display. The approach to the fight scenes focuses more on brutality and grappling, rather than grace and fluidity, as the editing and sound design clearly dictate, and they are thrilling to watch.

And now with the flaws. With a running time that is close to two hours, the film is overlong and could use some trimming during the character moments. Also, as much as the film is sincere in its storytelling, the tone shifts can be quite abrupt at times i.e. a scene of brutal violence can lead up to a comedic scene involving BDSM.

Also, it is quite leery and exploitative, although it is expected from the genre it inhabits. We see the women participating in mud wrestling, cosplay, shower sessions, lesbian sex scenes, training montages, BDSM sessions, sex dreams and of course the congratulatory moments that involve the use of the garden hose. If the film had a pillow fight, it wouldn’t be out of place at all, to be honest. But despite all of that, the film never goes into vulgar territory, despite a scene of sexual violence that fortunately the filmmakers convey as just that: a sickening display.

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Overall, Girl’s Blood is a bizarre mix of prurient pinku tropes and conventions told in an ultra-sincere manner that somehow makes it better than it should have been. With committed performances, brutal fight scenes, fun exploitation and outlandish characters, the film certainly earns its reputation as a guilty pleasure.

Quickie Review

PROS

Committed performances from its female leads

Well-executed fight scenes

Ultra-sincere approach to its story is surprisingly cathartic

CONS

Quite exploitative

May engender unintentional laughs

Overlong running time

SCORE: 8/10

Cast: Yuria Haga, Asami Tada, Ayame Misaki, Rina Koike, Misaki Momose, Hideo Sasaki, Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi
Director: Koichi Sakamoto
Screenwriters: Takehito Minato, based on the novel “Red x Pink” by Kazuki Sakuraba

Movie Review – Extraordinary Mission

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EXPECTATIONS: A jingoistic and eventually tiresome action film.

REVIEW: Director Alan Mak is perhaps well known as the co-director of the classic HK crime films, the Infernal Affairs series, but he can be a good director in his own right, with A War Named Desire as a shining example. But for the most part, he co-directs with other collaborators like Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs, Initial D), Felix Chong (Moonlight in Tokyo and the Overheard films).

But ever since the immensely crushing disappointment from Confession of Pain, his output has been up and down with the middling The Lost Bladesman, the Overheard sequels and The Silent War. But now, he has teamed up with cinematographer Anthony Pun, who makes his directorial debut, with Extraordinary Mission. From its previews, it looks like a throwback to 80’s action films starring Chuck Norris, but having Alan Mak could show that it’s aiming for a thriller vibe. Will the film live up to its boastful title or will it end up being a jingoistic and distasteful mess like Operation Mekong?

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Huang Xuan stars as Lin Kai, a cop who is enlisted by his superior, Li Jianguo (Xing Jiadong) to infiltrate a drug cartel, known as the Twin Eagles. In order to do his job, he befriends Eagle (Duan Yi Hong), a duplicitous and conniving man whose motivations seem to hint a lot more than just monetary gain.

Eagle also has a daughter, Qingshui (Lang Yueting) who also serves as his right-hand man, and she has reservations about Kai’s introduction into the cartel. But as time goes on, Kai’s operation starts to gradually spiral out of control when he becomes addicted to heroin, which unearths hidden demons from his past. And speaking of hidden demons, Jianguo also has some that could drive the operation amok and risk the life of Kai. Will Kai succeed on his mission?

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From glimpses of the trailer and posters, Extraordinary Mission looks very similar to Operation Mekong, an action film which also dealt with drug cartels and undercover missions AND was also based on a true story. But Operation Mekong was also unbearably jingoistic, incredibly distasteful and thin story-wise.

Thankfully, Extraordinary Mission is almost nothing like Mekong, as it has the hard-hitting action that audiences want, but it also has storytelling chops and superior acting that make it a much more substantial experience than one would expect.

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Firstly, the positives. The story may not stand out in terms of ingenuity, but it is well-told and Mak’s reliance on thrills, rather than action, makes a nice alternative approach with such a story. It also helps that Mak cares about his characters and his story, that he develops them efficiently and succinctly, without resorting to much jingoism (like Operation Mekong).

The cat-and-mouse games between Kai and Eagle makes for enjoyable viewing and adds a palpable tension that pays off in its insane climax, which contains some of the most insane stunts I’ve seen in recent years. All crisply captured with Pun as co-director/cinematographer, it must be said that cars should never be used in that type of way around humans. That’s all I’ll say on that matter.

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Another positive is the actors. While the cast are not known for their star-power, they all do very well with their archetypal roles. Huang Xuan is likable, charismatic and convincing in his action scenes as well as his dramatic scenes. In particular, the scene where his character goes through massive bouts from his heroin addiction, he never resorts to histrionics and that makes the scenes all the more powerful.

Duan Yi Hong is quite great as the villain, Eagle. Duan plays the role as surprisingly understated, considering the character’s reprehensible actions, but thankfully the script (by Felix Chong, co-writer of Infernal Affairs films; and film director) gives Eagle a backstory that makes the role more than just a moustache-twirling villain, imbuing him with surprising empathy.

Lang Yueting, whom I’ve enjoyed her performances in Office and Mountain Cry, makes the most out of her small role as Eagle’s daughter/henchman. She has very few lines of dialogue, but her subtle expressions make her stand out, making the most out of her underwritten role. The supporting cast all do well with their roles, but it is the three above that ensure credibility to the film.

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As for flaws, the story does follow a predictable path (with some twists), the drama may be a bit melodramatic (the musical score and contrived dramatic beats) and the overblown climax may take some out of the film, Extraordinary Mission is a solid thriller that lives up to its marketing, if not its title.

Quickie Review

PROS

The acting is quite impressive

The stunts are unbelievably audacious

Focus on character and plot lends power to the drama (particularly the climax)

CONS

Nothing new in terms of storytelling

Can be a bit overly dramatic at times

SCORE: 7/10

Cast: Huang Xuan, Duan Yihong, Lang Yueting, Zu Feng, Xing Jiadong, David Wang
Director: Alan Mak, Anthony Pun
Screenwriters: Felix Chong

Movie Review – John Wick: Chapter 2

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EXPECTATIONS: More bang for your buck.

REVIEW: Keanu Reeves is by far the most versatile actors ever, when you consider his acting range. From comedic roles like his iconic slacker character, Ted “Theodore” Logan to the action heroes like Jack Traven from Speed and Neo from The Matrix films; dramatic roles like in River’s Edge and Hardball; and even villainous roles like in The Gift and Man of Tai Chi. Clearly from his filmography, you can’t criticize the man for lack of trying.

Although his choices have not always resulted in successes i.e. his performances in Dracula and Much Ado About Nothing, when he picks the right project, you can bet you are going to hear about it. Case in point: John Wick.

An independent action film with no Hollywood backing, directed by talented stuntmen making their directorial debut and starring many talented character actors. When it gathered incredibly positive buzz at screenings, it became a cult hit, mainly thanks to video sales.

And now we have the long-awaited sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2. Promising more hard-hitting action, more memorable characters, more ample story, more world explorations and no deaths of canines, will it live up to the immense hype and equal the quality of its predecessor?

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The film starts off basically minutes after the events of the first film, where John Wick ties up one loose end that involves a fun action scene in a warehouse; complete with a fun cameo by Peter Stormare.

Then Wick tries to go back to his self-imposed retirement, but an old acquaintance of his (played by Riccardo Scamarcio) comes back into his life and demands a favour that can only result in Wick getting back into the killing floor once again.

Bounded by a sacred blood oath (as encapsulated by a marker), he is hired to assassinate a high-ranking mob boss but little does he know is that this will spur a tumultuous turn of events that will make the retirement of John Wick cut short once again.

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First things first, is the film as good as the original? Unfortunately, no, but it is definitely not from lack of trying. Let’s start with the problems. In the first film, Wick had an emotional motivation that linked to the death of those dear to him, whereas in the second film, he feels obligated due to a oath made years prior. It is not as compelling as it should be, and it does harm the film somewhat.

Secondly, since audiences were raving about the world that the first film built and teased, director Chad Stahelski decided to explore the world in a more expansive way. While there are some moments and features that are quite fascinating (seeing veteran actors like Laurence Fishburne and Franco Nero will never be a flaw), it does very little in the long run due to the fact that it hinders the pacing as well as making some of the action scenes strangely anti-climactic. Clearly, Stahelski is aiming to make another sequel, but his directing chops are not good enough to make the disparate moments anything more than they really are.

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But if you can get over those flaws, John Wick: Chapter 2 is still a blazing time at the movies. As with most sequels, the action is bigger and John Wick: Chapter 2 is no exception to that rule.

The use of long takes are more plentiful, the environments are more expansive and the choreography is much more ambitious. One scene in a train station is striking due to the fact that it combines both character and action together to make a thrilling and oddly amusing experience.

The actors are clearly committed to the physical toils they go through with their action scenes and it pays off in the long run. Common, in particular, proves a worthy foil to Reeves as they fight twice (in the scene mentioned above) and it is quite a thrill to watch.

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Speaking of moments that are odd, John Wick: Chapter 2 has a more comedic touch that yields surprising results. At times, it is quite reminiscent of the old Pink Panther films, where an antagonist would attack our hero at any moment.

There are moments where Stahelski is expanding his directing chops by establishing mood and it becomes very effective in conveying the stakes of the plot. A scene where Wick meets his mark (played by Claudia Gerini) is quite haunting and unexpected.

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And the performances all hit their mark with ease, even down to the smallest of parts with Reeves leading the pack with his sheer presence and commitment; and to the smallest part from Gerini, who makes a big impression in her one scene.

Overall, John Wick: Chapter 2 is a very serviceable sequel that could have been an improvement over its predecessor if it weren’t for its ambitions far exceeding the film’s grasp. A gunshot can only travel so far, but at least Wick still has a few surprising tricks up his sleeve.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Action scenes are much more creative

Acting is spot-on

Stahelski expands on his directing chops

CONS

Muddled storytelling

SCORE: 7.5/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, Lance Reddick, John Leguizamo, Claudia Gerini, Ian McShane, Bridget Moynahan
Director: Chad Stahelski
Screenwriter: Derek Kolstad

Movie Review – Free Fire

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EXPECTATIONS: A fun time with guns-a-blazing!

REVIEW: The films by British director Ben Wheatley have all been incredibly distinct from another and are all very well-done. Whether going through the genre of crime, psychological horror, dark comedy, dystopian drama and historical surrealism, you can never accuse Wheatley of doing the same trick twice. But the crucial through-line that Wheatley applies into all of those films is a streak of black humour.

In his most commercial film to date, Wheatley has assembled a who’s who of talented character actors in a simple premise that is so ingenious, that I’m surprised that no one has done it earlier. But the premise can be both easy to achieve and to fail so will Wheatley and his cast/crew succeed with a perfect headshot?

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Set in 1970’s Boston, Justine (Brie Larson) plans a handover with two groups of arms dealers (led by Vernon and Ord, played by Sharlto Copley and Armie Hammer) to meet up in a dilapidated warehouse for a huge arms deal.

With character actors like Cillian Murphy, Jack Reynor, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Noah Taylor, Enzo Cilenti, Babou Ceesay and others) as the dealers, it only takes one of them to be the party pooper and once the shit hits the fan, it’s every man (and woman) for themselves.

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Basically, what we have here is an elongated and grimy shootout with two sides going at it. Or is it three? Or more? Who the hell knows? The characters sure don’t! Funnily enough, the obliviousness, the unruly feel and the realistic approach to the film-making is what makes the film a hilarious time at the cinema.

One of the reasons Free Fire is a fun time is due to how Wheatley gets rids of the Hollywood sheen of filming action scenes and goes for a painfully realistic vibe, that elicits lots of laughs. No one poses, no one does any amazing feats (like diving with two guns blazing) and no one ever comes out looking cool. This ain’t no John Woo film, folks. People get hurt. Really…really…bad.

Wheatley also utilizes the environment effectively, as he ups the difficulties the characters face to survive with humourous aplomb. People crawl on the gravelly dirt with sharp rocks, broken glass and jagged metal poles everywhere and wince in pain and it makes the experience both cringe-worthy and groan-worthy in the best of ways.

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The script is also very-well written by Wheatley and prime collaborator Amy Jump, with many quotable lines that are guaranteed to leave you in stitches at some points (Protection from infection!) and numerous character touches add much colour to the film. Like the fact that most of the dealers wear fancy suits or the amusing resilience of some of the characters (Drugs can have that effect on people).

But the almost-miraculous feat of the film is that the film sustains the interest of the audience with its short running time, location shifting and tight editing. The economy and efficiency of Wheatley‘s storytelling certainly helps, as he introduces his characters swiftly, shapes the dynamics distinctively, sets the wheels in the motion and he never throttles back on the momentum of the plot.

But the film wouldn’t be entertaining as it is without the talented ensemble cast. Brie Larson charms whilst convincingly standing her ground; Armie Hammer effortlessly exudes cool with a bit of a sinister edge; Cillian Murphy makes for a surprisingly shy lead; Jack Reynor is amusingly aggressive; Enzo Cilenti and Noah Taylor bicker nicely; Sam Riley is hilariously resilient and unhinged; Michael Smiley is sharp while being world-weary and Babou Ceesay is likable as the smooth, straight man of the group.

But the man that steals the show is Sharlto Copley. Clearly a very talented actor, but somehow, people don’t utilize his talents very well. Whether he’s overacting for all the wrong reasons like in the remake of Oldboy or appearing in films with terrible scripts like Chappie and Elysium, he can barely catch a break.

Ironically enough, neither can his character and Copley damn near steals the show as Vernon. Whether he’s making terrible flirtatious exchanges with Justine, making deals for survival with Ord or improvising so-called safety measures, Copley is a total blast in the role.

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Despite all the things the film gets right, there are flaws that prevent it from being truly amazing. The ending ventures towards the familiar, which is surprising and disappointing, considering Wheatley‘s prior films. And it is because of the ending that the film doesn’t leave a big impression when one leaves the cinema, leaving the film to be nothing more than a very entertaining genre exercise, instead of the grand film it could’ve been.

Free Fire is Wheatley‘s most accessible film that entertains with its wonderful cast, the witty, quotable script and Wheatley‘s confident direction. It may not hit a bullseye with perfect accuracy, but unlike the characters, it’s certainly ain’t a bad shot.

Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastic cast

Wheatley’s assured direction

Realistic approach provides shocking laughs

CONS

Ending doesn’t quite hit the mark

Doesn’t leave a huge impression overall

SCORE: 7.5/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Jack Reynor, Babou Ceesay, Enzo Cilenti, Noah Taylor, Patrick Bergin
Director: Ben Wheatley
Screenwriters: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley

Movie Review – Kong: Skull Island

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EXPECTATIONS: An incredibly silly, yet very entertaining monster mash.

REVIEW: Monster movies were my jam back when I was a kid. Just seeing two colossal creatures beating each other with whatever environment they are in at their disposal was such an incredible delight. With fantastic examples like the various Godzilla films, King Kong films, Mighty Peking Man, The Host (2006) and War of the Gargantuas, it just goes to show that sometimes, the simplest pleasures can be the best.

And it seems that Western films are getting back into the genre, with sterling examples like Cloverfield, Peter Jackson‘s King Kong, Pacific Rim and of course, the latest Godzilla entry. And now we have the latest reiteration of Kong with Kong: Skull Island. With an up-and-rising director (this being Vogt-Roberts‘ first studio film), a vast and talented supporting cast (with multiple Oscar winner/nominated actors and rising stars) and a huge budget (almost $200 million) in their disposal, will this be the entertaining monster mash the trailers hint at?

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Set in 1973, Tom Hiddleston plays James Conrad, a former British Special Air Force captain who served in the Vietnam War, who is hired by William “Bill” Randa (John Goodman), a senior official for Monarch, a secret government organization, to head an expedition to go to an uncharted island for extensive research.

Those who come along in the expedition include army personnel like Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) a US Lieutenant Colonel and leader of his helicopter squadron (consisting of Toby Kebbell, Thomas Mann, Shea Whigham, Jason Mitchell and others); Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), a war photojournalist and peace activist and Houston Brooks and San Lin (Corey Hawkins and Jing Tian), whom both work for Monarch, and others.

As they arrive on the island, they quickly realize that they have stepped in a place that they should have never stepped in as the inhabitant known as Kong (motion-captured by Terry Notary and Toby Kebbell) takes a stand to defend his land from the intruders. As the expedition crew makes plans to fight for survival against Kong and the other monsters on the island, some of them begin to see that Kong is worth saving.

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Let’s get one thing straight: this film does not have the tone of Gareth EdwardsGodzilla. So for those who want their monster films dark and serious would probably be deterred by the film’s lighter tone. But for those who relish the campy, silly monster films of yore will be highly entertained.

The trailers for the film promise loads of monster battles and boy, do we get them! Unlike the relentless teasing of showing Godzilla in the 2014 film, Kong is shown in the very first scene and has a constant presence throughout the film. The action scenes are plentiful, distinct and pack a massive punch.

The scene where Kong appears before the expedition crew for the first time is the highlight of the film. Other action scenes include giant insects, pterodactyls, octopi and of course, the Skullcrawlers, and they are spectacular to behold, thanks to Jordan Vogt-Roberts‘ direction, Larry Fong‘s graphic novel-like cinematography and John Dykstra‘s handing of the special effects. There are some inventive touches in the action scenes that also add to the fun like the use of a flashing camera or the use of toxic gas.

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Speaking of Vogt-Roberts, it is very clear that he is a huge fan of genre cinema and animation, particularly with Studio Ghibli. Besides the obvious references to Apocalypse Now and Platoon, the visual splendor and film-making references acclaimed animated films like Princess Mononoke (the settings and monsters), Spirited Away (the monsters) and even Laputa: Castle in the Sky (the scene where the expedition crew go through the storm to enter the island).

Although the splendor may interfere with the logic in the story (Would anyone stand still if an explosion happened that close?), thankfully, the film doesn’t really take itself seriously, therefore the splendor always adds to the fun. I also liked the fact that there are no shoehorned references or excessive foreshadowing to future films, unlike films of other established universes.

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The violence of the film is also a surprise that actually shocked me quite a bit. Considering that this is an M-rated film, the implications of said violent scenes still make a huge impact, like how a soldier meets his end with an incoming helicopter or how another soldier meets his end in a bamboo forest that is similar to a scene in Cannibal Holocaust.

Speaking of the lighter tone, contrary to the 2014 Godzilla film, Kong: Skull Island actually has a sense of humour. Everyone in the film clearly knows the ridiculousness of the story and the premise and they all have fun with it. So much so, that it’s quite hard to believe that this film is set in the same universe as the 2014 Godzilla film.

Almost every monster film has weak characterizations and Kong: Skull Island is no exception. Fortunately, the majority of the ensemble cast are all charismatic enough to stand out regardless. Tom Hiddleston basically reprises his role from The Night Manager as James Conrad; meaning that he gives a stoic, heroic and controlled performance that suits the film. Brie Larson capably exudes charm, sympathy and some much-needed wit to the proceedings, while John Goodman and Samuel L. Jackson chew some scenery with gusto.

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The majority of the supporting cast have their moments like Corey Hawkins as a passionate geologist and Thomas Mann, who gives an amusing performance that is clearly inspired by Bill Paxton‘s performance in Aliens while Shea Whigham and Jason Mitchell are an amusing duo with their banter. Toby Kebbell is fine as the sympathetic family man of the squadron, but he isn’t given much to do, probably because he was too busy helping out with the motion-capture process of the film.

It doesn’t excuse the wasted talent of Jing Tian, who contributes nothing to the film. It’s a shame because she has made big impressions as an action heroine in films like Special ID and The Great Wall. She is basically a shoehorned plug-in for the China market (since one of the production companies for the film is a Chinese film company), therefore she ends up joining the list of highly talented, yet wasted actors like Zhang Jingchu (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), Fan Bing-bing and Wang Xueqi (Iron Man 3).

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Fortunately, the film compensates with John C. Reilly, who is the standout of the film. The trailers seem to hint that he was cast in the film for comic relief, but he ends up more than that and registers as a convincing action hero. His character has a solid backstory and also has a scene during the credits that was surprisingly poignant.

As for flaws, alongside the thin characterizations, the light tone can sometimes conflict with the serious parts of the film, which can confuse some on how to react. There’s a scene involving Shea Whigham‘s character that felt so out of place that I wasn’t sure if it was meant to be taken seriously or it was meant to be funny. Although the film lacks an emotional through-line unlike the last Kong film, it makes up for it with fun.

Overall, Kong: Skull Island was a lot of fun, with many spectacular monster battles, a likable ensemble cast, outstanding visual splendor and a standout performance from John C. Reilly.  Don’t leave the film during the credits, as there is a scene proceeding it for your pleasure.

Quickie Review

PROS

Spectacular monster battles

Astounding visual splendor

Vogt-Roberts’ enthusiastic direction

Likable and self-aware ensemble cast

CONS

The light tone conflicts with the seriousness of some scenes, leading to some unintentional laughs

Waste of Jing Tian

Thin characterizations

Lacks emotional through-line

SCORE: 7.5/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Toby Kebbell, Jing Tian, Corey Hawkins, Terry Notary, Thomas Mann, Shea Whigham, Jason Mitchell, John Ortiz, Miyavi
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Screenwriter: John Gatins, Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Conolly