Archive for the Martial Arts Category

Wong Kar-Wai’s “The Grandmasters” Final Trailer – film set for early January 2013 release in China [Mtime.com / Sweet & Sour Cinema]

Posted in Kung Fu, Martial Arts, Sweet & Sour Cinema, Yuen Wo Ping 袁和平, Zhang Ziyi 张子怡 on December 29, 2012 by Zuo Shou / 左手

“The Grandmasters” 《一代宗师》 final trailer: http://movie.mtime.com/104896/trailer/41852.html

Slated for January 8, 2013 release in PR China

“The Grandmasters” is this blog’s most anticipated film yet, since the work of Wong Kar-wai [Wang Jiawei] is much admired here. While this writer has been in China several years, this is the first of auteur Wang’s films to be released in that time. It’s kind of astounding when you think about it, but that’s Wong Kar-wai’s dilatory film-making for you… Not a fan of male lead “Little” Tony Leung [Tony Leung Chui-Wai / Liang Chaowei], whose career has been serially disappointing for quite some time. Hope he doesn’t screw this one up (cough “Red Cliff” cough). — Zuo Shou

“Shaolin” [新少林寺] (2011) – Exclusive Review [Sweet & Sour Cinema / Sweet & Sour Cinema Exclusive Review]

Posted in Andy Lau 刘德华, Buddhism, China, Fan Bingbing 范冰冰, Hong Kong, Jackie Chan 成龙, Kung Fu 功夫, Martial Arts, Nicholas Tse 谢霆锋, Shaolin Temple 少林寺, Sweet & Sour Cinema, Sweet & Sour Cinema exclusive flim review on September 9, 2011 by Zuo Shou / 左手

“Shaolin” [新少林寺] (2011) – Review by Zuo Shou 左手

Directed by Benny Chan

Starring: Andy Lau, Nicholas Tse, Fan Bingbing, Jackie Chan

Review of Mandarin version, w/o English subs

[Qualifier: this reviewer is not fully fluent in Mandarin, which may affect the film appreciation]
***

Watching this film – the title literally meaning “New Shaolin Temple” – was a happy circumstance for this long-time martial arts film fan: a cinematic experience that surpassed expectations and reached epic significance.

The rich mythos of Shaolin Temple has been heavily mined in action films over the years, yielding several classics: “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” and “Return to the 36th Chamber” (both starring the inimitable bald-pated Gordon Liu], and Jet Li’s sensational debut “Shaolin Temple” and the sequel “Kids from Shaolin”.

With these classics in the back of my mind, “Shaolin” was looking just ok in the previews, the simulated Shaolin Temple sets having a kind of blah dusty-brown production design. [Jet Li’s “Shaolin Temple” had the distinct advantage of being shot in the authentic environment.] The assignment of HK director Benny Chan had me feeling ambiguous, as he’d previously made some “OK” action movies. I find that while the martial arts in his films can be fine to outstanding, the direction and surrounding elements tend to be pedestrian. It also was weighted with leads getting on in years, Andy Lau and Jacky Chan (who is actually more of a guest star).

The film begins in a milieu of military internecine contesting. Set in a [pre-?] Republican warlord era, Andy Lau is the focus as an amoral officer who, along with his evilly-coiffed 2nd-in-command Cao Man [Nicholas Tse] conquers Chinese territory which includes the legendary Buddhist Shaolin Temple, home of Chinese kung fu. Lau desecrates the place in just the opening minutes.

The first thrilling action sequence is a rollicking battle atop horse-drawn carts jostling at high speeds, which coincides with Lau’s major reversal of fortune.

From this point, the film follows Lau’s redemption, which starts out in a rather lackluster manner. Comparing the scene where Lau cuts his own hair to surrender into monkhood is lackluster compared to the blazing masochistic passion of a similar scene with Gordon Liu in “Eight Diagram Pole Fighter”. Also the plot and ancilliary characters seem to be just kind of plodding along, and one wonders if it’s going to be a good film after all.

Before you know it, it’s turned into something like Jacky Chan’s “Drunken Master II”, with slaves, a foreign plot to rob China of its priceless treasures, and Chinese running dogs facilitating the plunder. All of which is very much to the good; I can’t remember the last time an anti-imperialist theme was used so effectively in a Chinese action film.

Some strong action set pieces explicating Buddhist philosophy bring things up to the next level, and Jacky Chan suddenly is in the middle of the best comic relief action sequence – aided by a bunch of kiddie kung fu monks — that I’ve seen in years. An army attacks Shaolin Temple, and the film is very successful in showing the overcoming of firearms with fists and wit – something that’s usually just a laugh-out-loud proposition on the cinematic screen.

By the end the Temple blows up real good – really, the pyrotechnics are top-notch; the monks have adjusted their ethics dogma and armed themselves with slashing blades to dispatch the wolvish foreigners and their minions to hell, and Andy Lau is redeemed in an amazing scene, I can’t really think of a better representation of Buddhist salvation on cinema. In fact, considering all the films which have been based on Shaolin Temple, mostly they are concerned with the conflict between worldliness/violence and seclusion/pacifism. This one seems to me to have the best portrayals of Buddhism as redemption, making it probably the best overall allegory of the essence of Buddhism. I suppose it’s a credit to Lau that he can credibly pull off his character’s ultimate transformation.

The action by Corey Yuen and Yuen Tak is uniformly excellent without overdoing the wirework or CGI.

Honorable mention should be given to Fan Bingbing, who plays Lau’s warlord wife. While she’s basically a guest-star damsel in distress, she actually shows improvement as an actress, doing some decent emoting that transcends her recent transformation into eye-candy fashionista and cosmetics spokes-model. There’s also a resonant cameo by the actor who played Jet Li’s mentor in the original “Shaolin Temple”, here as the Temple’s abbot who gets a memorable stage exit.

Overall a film which verges on classic-hood, flawed by a mainly mediocre production design and lack of stronger directorial hand to tighten up the first half of the film. By the standards of 21st Century martial films, it’s a classic…
***

Film Business Asia’s review (by Derek Elley) rates the film 7 out of 10. “Potentially epic tale ends up as okay popcorn entertainment.”

Film Business Asia “Shaolin” review link: http://www.filmbiz.asia/reviews/shaolin

Action star Jet Li pays tribute to Tai Chi master – PHOTO [People’s Daily]

Posted in China, Jet Li 李连杰, Martial Arts, Sweet & Sour Cinema on April 16, 2011 by Zuo Shou / 左手

April 11, 2011

Jet Li (R, front), an action star, takes part in the memorial ceremony for Yang Luchan, a Tai Chi master, in Yongnian County, north China’s Hebei Province, April 10, 2011. Jet Li appeared in the new site of Yang Luchan’s cemetery in Guangfu ancient City of Yongnian County, to attend the "The Memorial Ceremony for the Founder of Yang Style Tai Chi – Yang Luchan", on Sunday. It is said that Jet Li, who has once studied the Yang style Tai Chi, will play the role of Yang Luchan in the movie of "Tai Chi" produced by Huayi Bros. Media Group, 2011. (Xinhua/Wang Jiuzhong)

Full photo article here

Aiming for No 1 in welcoming the world – China shifts tourism strategy [People’s Daily]

Posted in Beijing, China, China Scenery, France, Guilin, Hangzhou, Japan, Martial Arts, Shanghai, Tourism, USA, Xi'an on February 24, 2011 by Zuo Shou / 左手

February 20, 2011

China’s travel industry will shift focus from the country’s places to its people this year, according to a recent announcement by the China National Tourism Office (CNTO). "China Culture Tour 2011" is its theme this year and, "Travel to appreciate and experience Chinese culture" is its new slogan.

Responding to the call from the government body charged with promoting inbound tourism, travel companies have been scrambling to cultivate itineraries that go beyond visiting scenic areas to engaging the cultures that inhabit them.

China, which has long been Asia’s top destination, recently overtook Spain to become the world’s third most visited country, after the United States and France, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).  The UNWTO said last March that it expects the country to seize the top spot by 2015.

China received 134 million inbound tourists last year, a 5.8 percent year-on-year increase.  Tourism foreign exchange earnings reached $45.8 billion, a 15.5 percent increase over 2009, according to figures from the China National Tourism Administration, under which the CNTO operates.

Japan contributes the most tourists at 3.318 million last year.  While about 40 percent come on business, the number of culture-seekers is growing, Japan Tourism Marketing Co senior consultant Yoko Hayano says.

David Deng, marketing manager of Chinatravel.com, the website of China International Travel Service, Guilin Co, Ltd, says his company has developed more cultural options.

"Cultural travel experiences, such as learning kungfu, cooking and language … will be one of the most popular travel themes this year," he says.

China Odyssey Tours has piloted a cultural immersion project for foreign guests in Zhejiang’s provincial capital Hangzhou. The China Educational Tour fuses taiji martial arts and cooking classes with factory and school visits.

"Sightseeing is just one branch of travel.  Cultural experience is the root," the company’s promotions specialist Zhang Yuan says.

Zhang says that "traveling deeper" will be another hallmark of inbound travel this year. She explains this as going beyond the longstanding icons – Beijing, Shanghai, Shaanxi’s provincial capital Xi’an and the Guanxi Zhuang autonomous region’s Guilin city. Continue reading

“Gallants” Review – this blog’s exclusive [Film Business Asia / Sweet and Sour Cinema Exclusive Film Review]

Posted in China, Hong Kong, Kung Fu 功夫, Sweet & Sour Cinema, Sweet & Sour Cinema exclusive flim review on February 4, 2011 by Zuo Shou / 左手

DISCLAIMER:  Film viewed without English subtitles by this reviewer, who is semi-fluent in Chinese.  Furthermore, I’m writing this several months after viewing it (late Spring 2010).

“Gallants” (打擂台) review

by Zuo Shou 左手

This kung fu confection had the best trailer of 2010, with a distinct “Old School” martial arts film flavor and some apparent wit, so I was rather interested to see it.

In my part of China, this film was in and out of theatres in 2 weeks, maybe less.

As the film began, I was disappointed that it wasn’t in Cantonese, which was one of its unique selling points:  “we won’t dub it in Mandarin for the mainland”.  I later discovered that results varied for audiences on this language factor depending which part of the mainland they saw the film in.

The film was pitched as humorous throwback to HK’s action film heyday, and indeed the stars and many supporting roles are 70’s action heroes now at senior ages, including David Chiang and Leung Siu-lung (梁小龍, still quite amazing several years after his comeback in 2004’s Kung Fu Hustle 功夫).  A bit of amusement can be had playing “name that performer” as familiar faces from the genre appear.  There’s also several funny touches  –  Bruce Leung was sporting an authentic-looking 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics T-shirt (?!?) at one point.  However, “Gallants” is not really a comedy and it’s not really a full-fledged actioner either, so its marketing must be termed as rather misleading. 

Regarding the kung fu, the action can’t be faulted; it’s very sharp and even clever at times.  However, it is sparse and if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve pretty much seen the film’s kung fu repertoire.  The other thing is that while it might sound amusingly nostalgic to have kung fu cinema stars battling in old age, it must be said that while these guys should be complemented for staying in shape, their days as martial arts leads are quite far behind.

The film has at least two laugh-out-loud scenes, including a kind of parody of the grueling training sequences that used to be obligatory in martial arts genre films.  But it’s more complex than just a knockabout comedy; the film is ultimately aiming for a kind of bittersweet, elegiac tone that comes from looking back at a beloved art form’s former peak.  While it does succeed in capturing that tone somewhat, at other times it lapses into arid, or ambiguous, melodrama; I’m especially thinking of the film’s rather artsy “Pyrrhic victory” climax.

I give the film credit for not making some cheap and easy choices that a Hollywood production might.  The “sifu” who emerges from his decades-long coma would probably have been impressed into a “fish-out-of-water” cliche in a US film; “Gallants” doesn’t go there.  The film also gets credit for daring to not to have a lobotomized Hollywood happy ending…a consistent strong point of many HK action films.  Finally, it’s rather remarkable that a couple of young directors/screenplay writers made what is fundamentally a meditation on aging.

So while “Gallants” wasn’t quite what I was expecting, this little film did resonate enough with me despite its faults to give it qualified approval.  The more knowledge you have of the Shaw Brothers’ era martial arts films and their ilk, the greater the possibility you will enjoy it.

*******

Film Business Asia reported that the Hong Kong Critics’ Society award this year for Best Picture went to “Gallants”, and “Gallants” Teddy ‘Robin’ Kwan was awarded Best Actor.

*******

“Gallants” review excerpt [Film Business Asia]

Rated 6 out of 10

by Derek Elley

15 May 2010

…Gallants is a good idea weakened by a loose script and a lack of strong dramatic structure.  It’s more a film of small pleasures – including…dusky teahouse interiors and…nostalgic production design – than the film it promises to be at the start.

Full Film Business Asia review here

Shaolin (新少林寺) Film Review [Film Business Asia / Sweet and Sour Cinema]

Posted in Andy Lau 刘德华, Fan Bingbing 范冰冰, Jackie Chan 成龙, Kung Fu 功夫, Martial Arts, Nicholas Tse 谢霆锋, Shaolin Temple 少林寺, Sweet & Sour Cinema on February 2, 2011 by Zuo Shou / 左手

by Derek Elley

1 February 2011

Potentially epic tale ends up as okay popcorn entertainment.

Rated 7 out of 10

=Excerpt=

…As a popcorn movie, Shaolin is an entertaining two-hour-plus ride, with strongly drawn characters, some good action sequences (Andy Lau’s 劉德華 early escape with axes and horses, the temple’s final destruction), and handsome production values with a grey, dusty look to the temple scenes.  Its main problem, as with many of director Benny Chan’s (陳木勝) films (Gen-X Cops 特警新人類, City under Seige [sic] 全城戒備), is that it still promises much more than it actually delivers.

The movie’s original version was reportedly around three hours, and a lot appears to have disappeared in the cutting room while trying to get it down to just over two…

Full article here

New “Shaolin” film release in China pushed to early 2011 [Film Business Asia / Sweet & Sour Cinema]

Posted in Andy Lau 刘德华, China, Fan Bingbing 范冰冰, Jackie Chan 成龙, Kung Fu 功夫, Martial Arts, Nicholas Tse 谢霆锋, Shaolin Temple 少林寺 on December 7, 2010 by Zuo Shou / 左手

By Stephen Cremin

7 December 2010

Benny Chan’s (陳木勝) martial arts film Shaolin (新少林寺) has had its China release date pushed back to 19 Jan 2011 from its previously announced December slot.

The move was expected — with regional distributors tipped off last month — as it would otherwise have competed head-to-head with co-producer Huayi Brothers’ (華誼兄弟) romantic drama If You are the One 2 (非誠勿擾2).

The film’s A-list cast includes Andy Lau (劉德華), Nicholas Tse (謝霆鋒), Fan Bingbing (范冰冰), Wu Jing (吳京) and Jackie Chan (成龍). It is the first film in 28 years officially endorsed by the Shaolin monastery.

Shaolin will still face tough competition in January, a month that is expected to see the China release of high-profile foreign blockbusters…

Article link: http://www.filmbiz.asia/news/shaolin-kicked-into-2011