Kung Fu

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

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2012

20th Century Fox

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov

Produced by Timur Bekmambetov, Tim Burton and Jim Lemley

Screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith based on his novel “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”

Two things before I jump into this review:

1) I’ve read on the Internet and heard from friends of mine about how historically inaccurate the movie is. Folks, if you’re expecting historical accuracy from a movie titled ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER then you most certainly are watching the wrong movie. You need to be watching 1940’s “Abe Lincoln In Illinois” starring Raymond Massey as Abe Lincoln. Seriously. It’s an excellent movie that I’ve seen about two or three times now on Turner Classic Movies. It’s well worth your time.

2) People complaining that the movie wasn’t like the book. Sigh. Folks, haven’t we grown past that by now? True, I haven’t read the book but now, having seen the movie I plan to. But from what I know of the book the only way it could have been done justice was as a six hour miniseries on HBO and Showtime. Would that have been better than the 1hr. 45 minute movie we do have? I dunno. But I do think it worth pointing out that the same guy who wrote the book wrote the screenplay. I like to think he’s an intelligent enough writer to have realized that novels and theatrical movies are two different mediums and what works for one may not necessarily work for the other. Bottom line is all I know is that I enjoyed and respected ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER the movie for what I got out of it: It’s a superhero movie in historical/vampire/horror movie drag.

We’re introduced to Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) as a boy living and working with his parents on a southern plantation owned by Jack Barts (Marton Csokas) Barts is a vampire who kills Lincoln’s mother and the grief stricken youth sets out on afailed attempt to get revenge ten years later. He’s rescued by the professional fearless vampire killer Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper) who takes on the young man as an apprentice. Lincoln is no good with conventional weapons like guns or knives but he’s a regular Jet Li with an axe. Henry develops an unconventional fighting style for Lincoln using the axe and then sends him out into the world to kill vampires. Well, Abe does that in spectacular style and he also finds time to enter politics and romance Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead)

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Now here’s when things get more than a little wacky: turns out there’s this vast secret vampire empire led by The First Vampire, Adam (Rufus Sewell) that controls the southern United States. Slaves are used not only as labor for the humans but as food for the vampires. The movie gives us the outrageous notion that Lincoln became President and fought The Civil War not just to end slavery but to break the back of this secret vampire empire. The tide of The Civil War is turning against The North but President Abraham Lincoln has one desperate ploy left: a trainload of silver that is deadly to vampires that he has to get to the Union Army at Gettysburg. Armed with his trusty axe as well as his faithful sidekicks (Anthony Mackie and Jimmi Simpson) can Honest Abe defeat Adam and his vampire hoard and still get to Gettysburg in time to deliver his address?

I think the thing I admire most about ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is that no matter how silly and how ridiculous things got, the actors kept a straight face and played the material with respect for what they were doing. And yes, it is an outrageously silly movie. It’s the kind of movie where even though this takes place in 19th Century America, everybody and I do mean EVERYBODY knows Kung Fu. Abraham Lincoln takes hits to the chest that throws him a good fifty feet but he gets up as if nothing happened and proceeds to kick vampire ass with relish.

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You won’t get a bad word out of me about the acting. Benjamin Walker looks and acts so much like Liam Neeson in some scenes it’s scary. And he gives the role all he has. In fact, he gives it more than he really has to but to me that only showed how committed he was to selling us on his incarnation of Honest Abe Lincoln as Vampire Hunting Superhero. Anthony Mackie, Dominic Cooper, Jimmi Simpson and Mary Elizabeth Winstead all turn in solid performances. If there is a complaint I have it’s that Rufus Sewell isn’t given enough to do. But then again, I never think Rufus Sewell is given enough to do.

The action sequences are absolutely jaw-dropping if totally impossible and again, that’s what lends to the superhero aspect of the movie. There’s a fight Honest Abe has with a vampire in the middle of a stampede of hundreds of wild stallions that has to be seen to be believed and the entire train sequence near the movie’s end has already become legendary.

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So should you see ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER? I say yes. It’s a really bizarre mixture of outrageously mashed-up historical/fantasy material married up to serious acting and flavored with incredible action/fight sequences that you would expect to see in a Hong Kong Kung Fu flick. You might not like it but I can guarantee you one thing: you will not be bored. It’s got an amazingly strong visual style and more than any movie I can think of in recent memory it plays like a live action graphic novel. I had a good time watching it and I think that if you approach it in the right mood, you will too. Enjoy.

Rated R

105 Minutes

The Man With The Iron Fists

2012

Universal Pictures

Directed by Rza

Produced by Eli Roth and Marc Abraham

Written by Rza and Eli Roth

It’s not necessary for you to have watched 1970’s Kung Fu movies as obsessively as I did and still do to enjoy THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS but it sure doesn’t hurt. This is the real thing in that while watching it I actually felt like I was in a 42end St. grindhouse back in the ‘70’s. The only thing missing was the smell of pot and the snoring of a wino in the last row. The style and characters and story are such vintage Kung Fu movie swave that it’s easy to just settle back and enjoy the sheer outrageousness on the screen.

In the small community of Jungle Village there is constant warfare between various clans battling for supremacy. The Lion Clan is the most powerful and due to special weapons created by Thaddeus the Blacksmith (Rza) they are able to defeat their hated enemies and prepare for a huge shipment of gold bullion that is to be transported through their village. It’s guarded by The Geminis (Andrew Lin and Grace Huang) and an army of warriors equipped with rapid firing crossbows. But this doesn’t deter Silver Lion (Byron Mann) the new leader of The Lion Clan. What does worry him is that Zen Yi, The X-Blade (Rick Yune) is returning to Jungle Village to investigate his father’s highly suspicious death. Silver Lion hires Brass Body (David Bautista) a seven foot tall mercenary who backs up his superhuman strength with the supernatural ability to turn his body into living brass to kill Zen Yi.

Meanwhile, a mysterious stranger right out of a Sergio Leone western comes to town. Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) apparently is there only to smoke opium and bang as many of Madam Blossom’s (Lucy Liu) whores as he can. But his hedonistic behavior hides a cunning, devious mind that has schemes on getting the gold himself.

Thaddeus is content to stay out of the conflict. He only cares about earning enough gold through his blacksmithing to buy his girlfriend Lady Silk (Jamie Chung) out of Madame Blossom’s  service and build a new life together far away from Jungle Village. But Thaddeus soon learns that everybody must pick a side in the epic battle for possession of the gold. Even him.

THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS starts out fast and strong and never slows down it’s plot for an instant. There’s always something interesting happening on screen, whether it’s a knock-down-drag-out beatdown or Russell Crowe getting his freak on or Silver Lion scheming with a mysterious hooded man to get the gold. All the while Rza is narrating in a voice that sounds nothing like how I imagine a black man in the 19th Century would sound. Matter of fact, Thaddeus sounds like he came to Jungle Village straight from Brooklyn’s Brownsville. But oddly enough, it just adds to the fun of the movie which also borrows heavily from spaghetti westerns. It’s also cool how each of the characters have their own special weapons with the standouts being the combined Bowie knife/pistol carried by Jack Knife or the armored suit that is made up of bladed weapons worn by Zen-Yi which gives him his nickname of The X-Blade.

You don’t go to a movie like this for the acting but it helps when it’s as good as it is here. Madame Blossom is a role Lucy Liu could play in her sleep but she throws herself into it fully. Rza was a little too laid back for me to be the main character but I think it was a wise move for him to let the more experienced actors carry the bulk of the movie. Rick Yune and the Master Killer himself, Gordon Liu also do solid acting jobs. I had a lot of fun with Byron Mann as Silver Lion because if there’s one thing I love, it’s a bad guy who enjoys being a bad guy. He struts through the movie with a psychotic grin and hair that any member of an 80’s heavy metal band would envy.

But nobody in the movie throws himself into their role with as much gusto as Russell Crowe. He looks as if he’s having the time of his life being in a Kung Fu movie and for much of the movie’s running time we’re not sure what the deal is with this guy Jack Knife. When he’s not drinking or smoking dope or banging whores he’s creeping around the village in disguise, quietly gathering information and observing what’s going on.

So should you see THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS? Absolutely. I loved how this movie is such an unashamed throwback to those wonderful 70’s Kung Fu movies done with style, fun and substance. Everybody looks as if they had a great time making it and from the sound of it the audience I watched the movie with had an equally good time watching it. I know I did.

96 minutes

Rated R

True Legend

 

 

2010

Shanghai Film Group

Focus Features

Directed by Yuen Woo-ping

Produced by Bill Kong

Written by To Chi-long

 

If you’ve been hanging out here with me or over at Better In The Dark then you’ve probably heard me going on and on about how much I miss Manhattan’s 42end Street of the 70’s and 80’s.  I spent a lot of time and money seeing movies on that old street, lined on both sides with grindhouses.  If you had even as little as ten bucks in your kick you could spend the whole day going from one theater to the other watching double and even triple features.

One of these theaters was famous for showing nothing but a triple feature of Kung Fu/Martial Arts movies.  That’s right.  During the entire decade of the 80’s you could go see three Kick ‘Em Ups for three lousy dollars at this one theater.  I don’t believe it ever lost money as I recall it always being damn near packed.  A lot of those movies were horribly dubbed, poorly shot and looked as if they’d been made in somebody’s backyard but damn if they weren’t fun.  Sure, we still have Kung Fu/Martial Arts movies being made today but oftentimes to me they come off looking too slick, too polished, too expensive and too well made for me to fully enjoy them.  “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and Jet Li’s “Hero” are good examples of what I’m talking about.  Oh, I liked them both a lot but they’re both too art-house and much too self-important for my taste

I guess that’s why I liked TRUE LEGEND so much.  Even though it is extremely well made, professionally polished, slick and a lot of money obviously spent on it, it was made in the true spirit of those Kung Fu epics of the 70’s and 80’s.  There’s just enough story to support us from one scene of spectacular asskicking to the next and it’s a wild story that goes from one twist to another with a gleeful abandon in a way that satisfied a long-time Kung Fu movie fan like me.

 

The movie opens with the great warrior General Su Can (Vincent Zhao) rescuing his prince from a forbidden mountain top fortress.  Any movie that opens with an insanely over-the-top battle that most movies would have ended with catches my attention right away.  In gratitude, the prince wants to give Su a governorship but Su turns it down.  Su persuades the prince to give the governorship to his step-brother Yuan (Andy On).  Su wants to go back home to be with his wife Ying (Zhou Xun) who is Yuan’s sister and open up his own martial arts school.

We jump five years ahead and now Su is a renowned Wu Shu master, raising a son, Feng with his wife and preparing to welcome Yuan home.  It’s a bloody homecoming indeed.  Yuan has hated Su for years because Su’s father killed Yuan’s biological father.  Su’s dad raised the boy and his sister as his own children but Yuan’s the kinda guy who holds grudges for a looooong time.  To ensure his revenge, Yuan has learned a forbidden evil martial arts technique called The Five Venom Fists and has had some really wicked, demonic looking armor grafted onto his arms, legs and torso.

Yuan’s kills Su’s dad, Su’s entire household of retainers, staff and family.  And that’s just before lunch.  Before he’s through he’s beaten the piss outta Su and thrown him down a waterfall.  Ying follows her husband and Yuan thinks they’re both dead.

Not so.  They’re found by a herbalist physician,  Sister Yu (Michelle Yeoh) who nurses them back to health.  Su is obsessed with once again fighting Yuan and getting revenge.  But his confidence is shattered.  He regains it when he encounters The Old Sage (The Great, Great Man Gordon Liu) and The God of Wu Shu (Jay Chou) and begs to be their disciple.  The Old Sage tells him that once he defeats The God of Wu Shu he can be their disciple.

Now that’s all the set-up I’m going to give you and actually it’s all you really need as from here on out the movie goes in a couple of directions that you really need to be ignorant on if you want to truly enjoy it.

The acting in this one is nothing to rave about but let’s be honest here; you don’t watch a Kung Fu/Martial Arts movie for Academy Award winning performances.  But it’s always good to see Gordon Liu in a Kung Fu movie where he belongs and Jay Chou reminds me here of why he was the only thing good about the recent “Green Hornet” movie.  Don’t look for Michelle Yeoh to bust any moves as her role is little more than an extended cameo.  As is David Carradine who appears in the last twenty minutes of the movie as the ruthless manager of a cadre of bloodthirsty fighters.   Su takes them on in a really outstanding fight scene where he demonstrates the Drunken Fist, battling his opponents on a platform over a pit of hungry tigers.

So should you see TRUE LEGEND?  If you like Kung Fu movies I recommend it highly.  I’ve read some reviews that claim the fight choreography is unmemorable and I have to wonder what movie those reviewers saw because I found the fight scenes in TRUE LEGEND exhilarating and exciting.  The only odd thing about the movie is that it goes on for another twenty minutes for the battle against Carradine’s fighters when there really is no need as the movie’s story has ended but hey, I’m not gonna argue against twenty more minutes of Kung Fu mayhem, especially when it’s this much fun.  TRUE LEGEND is no masterpiece of the genre but it’s a damn good movie and that’s all it has to be for me.  Highly recommended.

115 minutes

Rated