Martial Arts

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

The Killer Elite

1975

United Artists

Directed by Sam Peckinpah

Produced by Martin Baum

Screenplay by Marc Norman and Stirling Silliphant

Based on the novel “Monkey In The Middle” by Robert Rostand

THE KILLER ELITE is most definitely a lesser Peckinpah entertainment. But lesser Sam Peckinpah is still better than most other directors on their best days. It hasn’t got the wild, chaotic and yet balletic violence of some of his earlier movies. It’s not as energetic as his other, earlier movies. And the story doesn’t deal with the themes Peckinpah is known for such as men searching for redemption and justification in a violent and dishonorable world. The two reasons for this could be because Sam Peckinpah wasn’t allowed to rewrite the screenplay and this was when Peckinpah began using cocaine. (allegedly it was the star of this movie, James Caan who introduced him to the stuff) and adding the yayo to Peckinpah’s already legendary intake of alcohol didn’t make for the best of working conditions.

In any case, whatever the reasons for the way it turned out, THE KILLER ELITE is essentially a straight-up cloak-and-dagger action flick. We got double crosses, gun fights, car chases, ninjas, martial arts…it all adds up to a satisfying package.

Mike Locken (James Caan) and George Hansen (Robert Duvall) are mercenaries working for a company called Communications Integrity. It’s a private intelligence/military/espionage corporation that contracts itself out to official government intelligence agencies to do the jobs that for one reason or another they can’t do. Locken and Hansen have been friends and partners for years and that’s the only thing that saves Locken on their last assignment together. Hansen has sold out to a rival corporation. He kills their latest client, an East European defector and goes against orders to kill Locken as well. Instead he shoots out Locken’s knee and elbow, crippling him.

As far as Locken’s bosses, Weybourne (Gig Young) and Cap Collis (Arthur Hill) are concerned, his career is over. But Locken undergoes an intensive period of rehabilitation that includes studying martial arts and actually becomes pretty damn fearsome at using his cane as a weapon. And the rehab pays off when Cap Collis comes to him with a job. An Asian client , Yuen Chung (Mako) needs protection from assassins while he’s in the United States. While the C.I.A. are supposedly in charge of his security they pass the job along to ComTeg because of who’s leading the assassination team: George Hansen.

Locken recruits two former ComTeg operatives as his backup for the assignment. Mac (Burt Young) is an expert driver who now owns his own garage where he builds custom made vehicles for security work. Jerome Miller (Bo Hopkins) is a weapons expert who doesn’t have all the spots on his dice. But what none of them are aware of is that they’re all pieces on a bloody chessboard and the game is an internal power struggle between Cap Collis and Weybourne.

You have to sit through a lot of plot exposition before getting to the good stuff but it’s worth it. I like the scenes of Locken regaining the use of his leg and arm and I appreciate that the story doesn’t turn him into a Jim Kelly level martial arts master. He’s good but he’s not that good. I enjoyed the humor in the scenes of him recruiting Mac and Miller. Burt Young and Bo Hopkins obviously are having a lot of fun in their scenes together and I wish they had had more. Burt Young gets a lot of mileage out of his character Mac who is an unashamed slob. Unkempt is a polite word for his appearance. But put him behind the wheel of a car or a .45 automatic in his hand and he’s pure dynamite. And quite unexpectedly he takes on the job of being Locken’s conscience, forcing Locken to re-evaluate his own worth in this shadow word of death and deceit.

There’s a couple of terrific action sequences such as a Chinatown shoot-out and a battle between Locken, Mac and a hoard of katana wielding ninja. There’s a really goofy scene involving Mac’s wife Josephine (Sondra Blake) who calls everybody ‘Mr. Davis’ when Locken is around. The funniest scene is probably the one where Mac is trying to defuse a bomb attached to the underside of their getaway car while a cop is standing over him, kicking his legs, demanding he come out from under there while Locken is calmly explaining to the cop why that isn’t such a hot idea.

So should you see THE KILLER ELITE? Yes. I will be the first to say it’s not one of Sam Peckinpah’s best but it’s a solid action flick that has good performances from everybody and more than enough story to hold your interest until the ass-kicking commences. Highly recommended.

122 minutes

Rated PG

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

Silent Rage

1982

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Michael Miller

Produced by Anthony B. Unger

Written by Edward D. Lorenzo and Joseph Fraley

Chuck Norris is best known today for that Internet phenomenon known as “Chuck Norris Facts” which attribute all kinds of superhuman feats and godlike acts of toughness to him.  I think that if Bruce Lee were still alive or if Jim Kelly were still active in the movies and martial arts, they would be the subjects of that meme and not Chuck Norris.  But there’s no denying that for most of the 1980’s Chuck Norris was one of the most prominent action stars of that decade, faithfully cranking out one movie after another for Israeli filmmakers Menahem and Yoram Globus and their Cannon Films.  Matter of fact, it seemed as if Chuck Norris had a new movie coming out every week, so quickly was he making them.

I’m pretty sure I saw SILENT RAGE back in the day as during the 80’s I went to the movies at least twice a week and I’ve seen just about every Chuck Norris movie made during that period.  Yes, even “Invasion U.S.A.” and “Firewalker.”  But for every stinker he made, Chuck Norris also came out with some pretty damn good ones that still hold up today such as “Lone Wolf McQuade” and “Code of Silence.”  And then there’s the movie we’re talking about now; SILENT RAGE which for my money is the goofiest movie Chuck has ever done.  He never made one like it since, which is a shame because there’s a lot I like in this one.  The best way to describe SILENT RAGE goes like this; imagine if “Halloween” had starred Chuck Norris instead of Donald Pleasance.  SILENT RAGE blends martial arts and science fiction with the slasher movie genre better than you might think.

One bright sunny day in a small unnamed Texas town, mental patient John Kirby (Brian Libby) loses it and takes an axe to the family he’s been living with.  He’s subdued by Sheriff Dan Stevens (Chuck Norris) after an extremely brutal fight where John Kirby demonstrates his superhuman strength fueled by his bloodthirsty psychotic rage.  It isn’t until he’s beaten up half a dozen cops, broken his handcuffs and kicked his way out of a police car that somebody finally gets the bright idea it might be better to shoot the shit outta this sucker and get it over with.

John’s psychiatrist Dr. Halman (Ron Silver) shows up and takes the body back to the hospital.  Amazingly, John is still alive even after being shot numerous times.  Halman’s boss, Doctor Spires (Steven Keats) sees this as an opportunity to try out his experimental drug.  Spires believes he can genetically modify a human’s DNA so that a human’s natural healing process will perform an at accelerated rate.  Spires pumps John full of his homemade funky cold medina and indeed, John’s wounds heal themselves in seconds.

Halman isn’t so sure this is such a hot idea.  He recommends that Spires destroy John Kirby before he gets loose as there is no way to cure or curb John’s homicidal rage.  And now that he is for all intents and purposes, indestructible, he’s the perfect killer.  Quite naturally, Spires doesn’t see it this way and in fact, thinks that he can use John to get rid of a few obstacles in his way to being rich and famous and that includes not only Dr. Halman but Sheriff Stevens as well.

SILENT RAGE is quietly astonishing to me in that I could easily believe this started out as a straight up-and-down slasher movie because so many of the tropes of the genre are put to use.  You’ve got your indestructible killer who can seemingly appear and disappear.  And is apparently psychic since he can anticipate where and when his victims are going to be. You’ve got your sympathetic characters who get killed while trying to do the right thing.  You’ve got your false scares where you think the killer has jumped somebody only to be followed by the actual scare.  You’ve got your indestructible killer being put down by a hail of bullets only to get back up and resume his killing.  And you’ve got your idiots who even after they’ve seen this guy get shot and get up numerous times still insist on turning their backs on him.

What sets this apart is of course, Chuck Norris, who has no business being in the slasher genre yet amazingly plays all of this absolutely straight.  We do get to see him use his martial arts skills on a barroom full of rowdy bikers but that’s only the warm-up for the fight we really want to see: Chuck against this unstoppable killer who can’t be hurt or killed.

In order to eat up the running time until this final conclusion we get the subplot with the rowdy bikers and Chuck’s romancing of Dr. Halman’s sister (Toni Kalem.)  What’s really interesting about this romance is the strong suggestion that Stevens simply banged her for fun and just walked away without a word.  That’s a far cry from the usual Chuck Norris character who is virtually saintly in his dealings with women.  I also can’t remember a Chuck Norris movie where F-bombs were tossed around so carelessly and so many bare boobs were shown.  Chuck even gets a sex scene in this one.  Now, we’re not talking swinging from the chandelier here but let’s face it, in most Chuck Norris movies, romance and/or sex isn’t a priority.

Even the casting is eclectic for a Chuck Norris movie.  I’ve mentioned Ron Silver and Steven Keats.  Now, you may not be familiar with Steven Keats by name but go Google a picture of him and I bet you’ll slap yourself upside da haid and go; “I know that guy!” William Finlay who plays The Phantom in Brian DePalma’s “Phantom of The Paradise” is in this one as is Stephen Furst who we all know as Flounder from “National Lampoon’s Animal House” and Vir Cotto on “Babylon 5”.  There’s also Lillette Zoe Raley whose name you don’t know but who provides the movie with its best special effect.  If you see the movie you’ll know what I mean.

So should you see SILENT RAGE?  I certainly think so.  If you’re a Chuck Norris fan you probably already have seen this but if you haven’t, give it a try.  The sheer goofiness of seeing Chuck Norris in a slasher movie is worth your time.  I know I wasn’t bored and I don’t think you will be either.

Rated R

103 minutes