Thursday, October 13, 2011

FLICKS OF THE WEEK: September 25 - October 1, October 2 - 8


The Heroic Trio is an excellent fantasy action film that showcases three talented Asian actresses: Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui, and Maggie Cheung. These three separate women inhabit a world where demonic forces constantly interact with the world of the living, often bringing about terrible crimes, and in the case of this film, heartless kidnappings. What's most interesting about this film, is that the three main characters are all on opposite sides of an ongoing war between malevolent spirits in the underworld and the law enforcement agents of the world above. Anita Mui's character is a vigilante hero of sorts who lives her ordinary life as a simple detective's wife, while Michelle Yeoh plays the right hand agent to the Lord of the underworld, leaving Maggie Cheung's character to straddle both sides in the role of the mercenary.

All three women cross paths in various portions of the film, often setting off extravagant fight scenes while opening up the overall depth of the storyline and intertwining their own personal stories. I really enjoyed the coming together of their little group and the inevitable bond that they eventually share between each other. The film is all kinds of fun, taking that Charlie's Angel's style plot and giving it some energy and dare I say, kick. Now I've got to hunt down the sequel.

Spiritual Kung Fu is a wonderful and obscure little film from Jackie Chan's early career, when he was still making movies under the Lo Wei Motion Picture Company banner. The film follows a trouble making young man named Yi-Lang, played by Chan, who seems to be the class clown of sorts at a Shaolin Temple. The movie starts out rather carefree, mostly focusing on Yi-Lang's antics and comedic moments, but then quickly starts to delve into more serious territory after a sacred book is stolen from the temple. The texts describe a deadly form of Kung Fu and the only way for the style to be countered is for goofy Yi-Lang to be taught by a handful of equally goofy ghosts. Yeah, you heard me right.... ghosts. And these aren't your normal kind of ghosts either, they're some kind of disturbing hybrid of nightmarish mime clowns. It you think my short description is scary, just wait until you see these creeps in motion. Dear god, I'm still having nightmares.

It's wacky and frightening as all hell, but for some reason Jackie seems to make it feel natural, fun, and believable. There's a great deal of comedy in the training segments between Yi-Lang and the ghosts, showcasing some of Jackie's expert comedic timing, while giving us a rough draft of what would come later in some of his most classic films. I really enjoyed this flick, like most of Jackie's extensive catalog of films, and I had one hell of a time with the over the top concept of having ghosts teach Mr. Chan how to kick ass. If you're a fan of the Chan, then you have to check this one out.

Supercop 2, the sequel to the amazing and classic first Supercop entry, is a wonderful action packed Hong Kong film starring the spectacular Michelle Yeoh. In this entry, Yeoh takes center stage returning as the hard as nails cop, Jessica Yang. The film opens up as a more personal portrayal of Yeoh's character from the first film, still exhibiting Michelle's expertly crafted martial arts skills yet at the same time allowing for us to see her shown in a more emotional light. We come to find that she has a tragic love story behind those fierce kicks and tenacious flare, and the added layer of her character's background adds a great deal of breadth to the film. The main story arc of the film follows Yeoh to Hong Kong, where she is assigned a mission to hunt down a group of high-tech bank robbers before they make their next big score. The real twist of this seemingly simple plot, is that Yeoh's estranged boyfriend is the leader of this gang. There are some interesting moments during the film, where Yeoh's character must struggle between the reignited feelings for her long lost love with the painstakingly real duties of being a police officer.

The entanglement between these conflicting emotions are expertly crafted by series director Stanley Tong and Yeoh handles it with all the grace that such an accomplished actress can. Not every moment in the film is as dramatic as I've described. There's one scene in particular that just seems right out of left field in its absurdity and random nature, and that would be Jackie Chan's small cameo. All you need to know is that Jackie is in drag and there's a lot of boob grabbing. I really loved the film, even with its random moments of silliness. The decision to go a more serious route with the sequel was pure genius on the filmmaker's part, allowing Yeoh to really thrive in her character and take the film on in her own way. Excellent flick.


The Fabulous Journey to the Center of the Earth is a fabulously silly adventure film that is encumbered by its low budget, yet doesn't let that fact hold it back from being quite entertaining. The film follows a small group of assorted people as they travel into a mouth of a volcano, that just so happens to be the entrance to a whole new world that lies in the center of the earth. The movie has a great deal of outlandish locations and creatures, the most memorable being the larger then life field of tortoises, giant sea creatures, and a gigantic ape who could have been the distant cousin to the legendary King Kong.

The main core of actors do a commendable job with the material and each of them get equal screen time and their own reasons for being on this fabulous journey. The film also moves rather quickly, never settling in one location for more then a few minutes before having the entire cast flee from some monstrous being or horrible turn of events. It's a strange thing, yet once the team of adventurers arrive in the center of the earth, they don't really have any endgame for what to do. They literally just roam around aimlessly, with no particular goal in sight. I guess you don't really need a complicated plot with these kind of films, just the introduction to a world bathed in fantasy and a continuous series of set pieces that keep the viewer entertained and curious on what happens next. In the end, the film is just downright goofy fun. It never takes itself too serious and it's always willing to push on to the next otherworldly locale. I had a great time watching this group of curious adventurers go from one outlandish situation to the next. Definitely check it out if you're a fan of films like The Land That Time Forgot, The People That Time Forgot, The Lost World, and The Lost Continent.

Shaolin Wooden Men is another early Jackie Chan film that happens to feature one of his first starring roles. Chan plays a mute character who, after witnessing the murder of his father as a child, vows to become a Shaolin monk and learn martial arts to avenge his father's death by the hands of a nameless skilled assassin. After falling to the bottom of the class, Chan meets an imprisoned man on the Shaolin temple grounds, whose origins are a bit of a mystery. The man agrees to teach Chan a devastating and lost style, previously banned by the Shaolin monks, if he continues to bring food and drink to him everyday. Chan agrees and starts his training. There are a few twists and turns along the way, because unbeknownst to Chan, the imprisoned man has a long history of manipulation and murder that directly effects Chan's life, giving way to some very tense moments of realization on Chan's part.

Another aspect of the film that is very memorable is the inclusion of the Shaolin Wooden Men, which amounts to the Shaolin temple's rating system on whether you've reached true Shaolin Monk status. A person that wants to test their worth must pass through a number of corridors filled with rows upon rows of wooden dummies, all being manipulated and moved by an intricate pulley system. Only the most skilled will make it through to the end. You'll either love the concept or be put off by the test of skill, because the wooden men are rather wooden, only being able to move in certain ways. In my opinion, the mechanism of the wooden men is just brilliant, making for an impressive sequence of events that really up the creative aspect of the picture. Jackie performs masterfully in this scene, really selling the fact that this trial of strength and skill is something of a nightmare for young Shaolin pupils.

Overall the entire film is excellent, begging the question, why is this film not talked about more often? It has all the elements of Jackie Chan's earlier work and the staples and archetypes of what would be heralded in some of his most renowned films. Shaolin Wooden Men is just excellent and if you can get your hands on the Hong Kong Legends DVD edition, then do it. The film is a true classic and highly recommended for any fans of Jackie's work.

No comments:

Post a Comment