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Review The Promise a.k.a. Wu ji (2005): A Chinese fairytale with something extra!

genre: action, drama, fantasy

If there ever was a film that is severely underrated then it surely is this one. Even when it has been a while I have seen it I do remember the impact it had on me. For the sake of fairness I will try to watch it again as soon as possible. But for now my old review written in 2006 will have to do.

Right from the start you will notice that The Promise is an immensely beautiful fairytale. Everything worked, the music and scenery were top notch. The special effects were great. I must admit that the scene with the bulls running reminded me of the Lion King and that at that moment I thought this movie would be ridiculous. Instead it was the opposite. Most of the the themes are very serious ones like love, honor and betrayal. Only the ending was a bit confusing, but I think they did that to add some extra dimension or mystery to the story. I understand why many reviewers were a bit disappointed with this as they were probably were expecting a martial arts film. Although martial arts is featured it's not the focus. 

I enjoyed every minute of The Promise and that is more than I can say about most of the Hollywood films that came out in 2005.

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Review The Warrior's Way (2010): Very unique project!

genre: action, fantasy, martial arts, western

The Warrior's Way is what you call a hodgepodge of martial arts, fantasy and western. Usually these aren't genres that blend well unless you have a good director at the helm who is capable of making you overlook certain flaws. So what about The Warrior's Way?

Visually The Warrior's Way is extremely stylish and beautiful. Enough for me to overlook the lack of plot and characterization. At least for the first couple of viewings. For multiple viewings the film definitely is coming short. Jang Dong-gun as Yang, a member of the Sad Flutes clan, isn't allowed to do much with his character. He is made into the brooding silent type with very little to no background. Not much is explained about the Sad Flutes clan either other than that they are extremely deadly assassins who don't tolerate failure. It's all so bland and superficial that even Ti Lung is wondering why he is in this film. Now it could also be that Ti Lung just has aged very terribly and can't help the way he looks. However he still is capable of pulling out some decent moves. But in all honestly the saddest flute (Ti Lung) isn't nearly as dangerous as the film wants you to believe.

Action wise The Warrior's Way is flashy and enjoyable enough. Heavy use of CGI and other effects. But it does look like Yang and others are very capable. Enemies are slain before you know it while the main character manages to remain untouched. I was willing to go with it but I can imagine that some might think it detracts from the tension and therefore excitement. 

The real scene stealer is Danny Huston as the main villain who truly is despicable. He makes it seem so easy to depict such a vile person. Kate Bosworth is decent but at times it did feel like she tried to hard to appeal to the audience. Odd duck in the mix is Geoffrey Rush. He mostly plays the comic relief in a ridiculous film that strangely lacks the awareness of being ludicrous. 

I can't quite put my finger on it but despite all it's flaws I dug this film. It does seem that director Sngmoo Lee is a fan of the wuxia / martial arts genre as he pays tribute to it and has tried to make something unique. I think he succeeded and should be recognized for it. Give it a chance. It's far better than you think!

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Review Anna (2019): Nikita 2.0 with a sniff of John Wick.

genre: action, thriller, espionage

A few months ago a trailer of Anna was released. A female assassin fails to shoot her target because her gun jams and she is forced to fight with every guard present. This action sequence is exciting and well choreographed. Very reminiscent of what John Wick or Atomic Blonde have brought only this time Luc Besson is at the helm. Naturally this got me psyched for Anna. Now I just finished watching this film and I think Besson is slipping.

Why do I think this? First of all, this action sequence most of the people already have seen in the trailer is THE best action scene in the whole damn film. So if you were hoping for more of these you definitely are going to be disappointed. Mind you there is a decent action scene towards the finale which is good in it's own right. Only it doesn't come close to the one of the trailer. There are some minor scenes or montages with some action in it but they are over before you know it. I personally wanted more action scenes like in the trailer. And can you blame me? If you are going to promise Anna is going to be non stop action then you better feature non stop action.

For whatever reason writer/director/producer Luc Besson decided to put all his focus on the intrigue. Now had this been done in a way that was truly surprising then yes I would have welcomed it. Unfortunately this is not the case since almost every twist and turn can be predicted. He even foreshadows his plans by making it abundantly clear that our main character Anna plays chess. So you just know no matter how things appear she is always going to be one step ahead. Another flaw is the fact that Luc Besson rehashes his own film Nikita. Almost beat for beat the same film although with a bigger emphasis on espionage during the cold war. Is Luc Besson getting nostalgic? Look, the idea of rehashing Nikita and giving it a John Wick flavour is quite brilliant. If only he had committed himself to it fully. It's like he forgot what he was set out to do. Now I think about it there is a film out there that does exactly this that shares many similarities with Luc Besson's old story. The Villainess. Definitely one you need to check out if you are still hungry for that action goodness.

Still I must say that the good cast and the way the film is told do make the viewing experience pleasant. Underwhelming and disappointing but ultimately entertaining for sure.

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Review Dagon (2001): A very deep one, get it?

genre: horror, mystery, fantasy

Dagon might not be a title that will ring a bell. At least not to the common horror fan. But what if I told you that it easily is one of the best horror films ever made. Is it perfect? Far from it. To be honest if you want to tear this film apart it has more than enough flaws to speak out against it. However it does contain elements that completely make you overlook all of these flaws.

First of all, Dagon is quite relentless when it comes to atmosphere and terror. It never wastes a second of film to give you the elements that make the stories of Lovecraft so great. I can't quite put my finger on it but director Stuart Gordon very masterfully combines body horror with the true and subtle kind of horror. Perhaps one could argue it could and should have been more subtle. On the other hand there is no point in being careful since the main characters are stuck and can't actually flee from the island they land on. It doesn't really matter that there are monsters at play. They aren't really the ones that are causing the terror. It's the invincible force at play directing evens from afar. And who is this invincible force? Dagon as mentioned in the title or Cthulhu the deep one? I will leave it up to you but I think it's quite obvious. Now undoubtedly this film might have started some wild discussions among Lovecraft ones whether Dagon and Cthulhu are the same. It doesn't help that this film combines two different Lovecraft tales (Dagon and The Shadow Over Innsmouth) which adds to the confusion. However it only adds to the terror since the seemingly unrelated story elements do intensify the events.

It's important to realize this is a Spanish film directed by an American director. This combo is golden. Especially since some of the actors do shine and amp up the eeriness to the maximum. Macarena Gómez (who you might know from Musarañas a.k.a. Shrew's Nest)  is a prime example of dangerous sexiness. Still, the real scene stealer is, Francisco Rabal, as Ezequiel who makes everything truly compelling by explaining what is going on and what is at stake. Like how easily an existing religion gets discarded by greed and vanity. Raquel Meroño as Bárbara plays a woman who is not only intelligent and crafty she also is not afraid to kick ass when it counts the most. 

If like me you weren't sure about this title then fear not. Dagon gives you the full lovecraftian horror experience and then some. A must watch!

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Review The Dead Don't Die (2019): Jim Jarmusch doesn't love zombies!

genre: comedy, fantasy, horror

Jim Jarmusch doesn't love zombies but was persuaded by friend Tilda Swinton who had starred has a vampire in his Only Lovers Left Alive (2013). In that movie the vampires kept calling people zombies. To which she asked Jarmusch when he was going to make that zombie film. Jarmusch: " Tilda, we don't like zombies remember? " Tilda: " Yes, I think you could dó something with that. " And thus The Dead Don't Die was created.

When the trailer came out on Youtube I was impressed by the cast. Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Tom Waits and so many more. Apparently according to Jarmusch they only got paid a bowl of oatmeal. So basically they are in the film because he asked them too. Now one could say they could be commended to work for free. However some of them clearly couldn't be bothered to give a good performance. Does that hurt the film? No. Because it's the lack of real freshness and creativity that affects the film. The Dead Don't Die is not a bad film. It is actually quite entertaining. Only it's a shame that nothing new has been done with the genre. At times Jim Jarmusch is trying to be clever without actually giving you something clever to sink your teeth in. Like for example the fact that Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) and Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) sometimes refer to the script as they are aware they are actors in a film. Very meta. But quite pointless. Unless the only thing you should be taking from it is that Ronnie Peterson already foreshadows how the film is going to end. " This is all gonna end badly "

Whether that is a good or bad thing could be argued. But like I said nothing fresh or creative has been done with the zombies. Jarmusch himself states his zombies are different because they hold on to one aspect of their previous lives. A lot of zombie films have covered this already. The original Dawn of the Dead directed by George A. Romero basically built the whole film on this premise. So yes it is obvious Jarmusch has not seen enough zombie films to realize it has been done already. But I could have overlooked this had the film been funnier. There were times I laughed. Then there were moments where it looked like I was supposed to laugh but couldn't because it was annoying or stupid. Chloë Sevigny  as Officer Mindy Morrison is an example of this. She is so terrified that instead of fighting back she instantly gives up. But not before berating her colleagues who actually are dealing with the situation they have been dealt with. Perhaps Tilda Swinton amps up the weirdness factor and one could perceive that as funny. I didn't think so. She is just weird.

Overall The Dead Don't Die can be entertaining if you aren't too demanding. But can I recommend this? No, for that it is too lacking. It simply is not delivering that zombie goodness I crave.

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Review Police Story III a.k.a. Super Cop a.k.a. Ging chaat goo si III: Chiu kup ging chaat (1992) (Blu-ray) (4K Ultra-HD Remastered Collection / Hong Kong version): An action classic!

genre: martial arts, action, bullet ballet, crime

Here I will be reviewing the 4K Remastered (Hong Kong version) of Supercop III. No, this is not an actual 4K or Ultra HD Blu-ray. It's a normal Full HD Blu-ray (1920 x 1080). However it's source is 4K. Does this matter much? To give a more detailed answer to that, I would have to purchase the normal Blu-ray and then do a proper and fair comparison. For now I would say it certainly makes a difference. The picture quality is super clean and crisp. Almost like it was shot today. The sound is very good as well. Although here and there the volume fades out a bit as if it is occurring in the distance and can seem a bit too clean. I usually don't pay that much attention to  the extras but there is hardly something there of interest. Well, for example the interview with director Stanley Tong is in Cantonese but for some reason not subtitled. The movie itself is but not this interview. That to me is lazy. In any case I can recommend people to purchase this version if you want to own the film. Now to my thoughts on this third part in the highly successful franchise.

Some people claim this is the best title in the Police Story franchise. However I don't think that is actually fair to the others since for example this one differs in tone compared to the first two. ( For good measure I am going to exclude the spinoffs and the later films because they have very little to do with the original franchise.) All of the parts were quite serious and dark at times but the first two definitely also had more slapstick comedy usually involving Chan Ka-Kui (Jackie Chan) and May (Maggie Cheung). May is also present here but her part is relatively small compared to the previous two. Police Story III does feature comedy but significantly less than before. It also has more gun play and stunt work. Actually everything seems larger and more adventurous. Now this does come with a caveat. There are less fights to be enjoyed. But don't get your panties into a twist. The ones that are featured are very much worth it.

But the best new addition to the franchise is Michelle Yeoh. She and Jackie have real good chemistry and she like Jackie does most of her own stunts and combat. Considering the fact that she officially hasn't been trained in martial arts and stunt work that is quite impressive. Naturally she has received some form of training for her films. But would you be able to tell she is not a real martial artist? I doubt that. She does seem to have a real aptitude for martial arts. It's incredible fun to see her kick ass in the same vein Jackie does. If you didn't know any better she could be his equal. Of course she is not but she looks like it. Next to that she also has a very big screen presence. At times she completely takes the attention away from Jackie. Let's face it. She is a very beautiful and graceful woman. How can you look and not admire her? Her comedic timing also is very good. It's far more subtle and genuine than Maggie Cheung's antics.  

Overall Police Story III is a real blast from start to finish. Actually it's a classic. One you can enjoy over and over again without ever getting bored.

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Review City Cops a.k.a. Beyond the Law a.k.a. Free Fighter a.k.a. Fight to Win a.k.a. Miao tan shuang long (1989): These many titles for a single movie usually is trouble!

genre: martial arts, action, crime

Whenever a title comes along that has so many titles usually that is a real bad sign. Especially in this case since there actually is a Cynthia Rothrock title named Fight to Win. To make matters worse even the cover of the DVD is called Fight to Win but features photo's of City Cops. I swear that is solely down to confuse and trick the buyer. I get it you want to sell your movie. But to stoop this low? Anyway so what of City Cops? Is it any good? 

For starters if you were hoping for Cynthia to have the lead you will be disappointed. She is a prominent but secondary character. Unfortunately that means you will have to put up with other actors as main characters. In this case they are quite decent. But deserving to be the leads? Nope. As much as I like Michael Miu, Kent Tong and Shing Fui-On they just don't have what it takes to steal the show. Fortunately for us even as a secondary character Cynthia owns every scene she is in. It also looks like they tried to make her seem like she is a fool. But Cynthia is clever enough to play along and be even more charming. Her scenes with Shing Fui-On are very funny.

The biggest problem City Cops has is the fact that it tries so hard to mimic similar but better action flicks without knowing what actually made those good. Which in any of these kind should be the action. And while the action that is present is exactly the type I enjoy there simply is not enough of it to be enjoyed. On the whole there are like three major action sequences. One in the intro, one in the middle and the final battle. The first two are over before you know it. The final action sequence is the first real scene where you actually can marvel at the good combat that is displayed. Fights and gun play are intertwined. Most prominent as the villains are Michiko Nishiwaki and Mark Houghton. Houghton even more since he almost is in every scene. You would think that they would get the most of these and Cynthia by having them battle it out to to their deaths. But I guess the film crew had a bus to catch or something. Since their fight is over in a heart beat.

Another the problem is the lack of real story and direction. It's too minimal even for martial arts flicks. Not uncommon for Hong Kong action flicks to make up stories as they go and I wouldn't be surprised if this is the case for this also. All the more astonishing why then they actually bothered with the story. Had they just shown one major action sequence after another it would have increased the fun factor tenfold. 

As it is now it's just too lacking to say it's worth your time. A real shame if you ask me. Overall it's entertaining enough while it lasts. But nothing else.

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Review The Matrix Trilogy (1991-2003): Despite it's many flaws this is a classic and iconic trilogy for sure!

genre: science fiction, action, adventure

In 1999 I went to the cinema and watch The Matrix. I had no idea what it was going to be about and how big it would become. But once I finished watching I realized I had seen one of the best films in film history. Now I am first to admit that it is heavily flawed but especially compared to the sequels definitely did a lot of things right. 

First of all The Matrix keeps you in the dark about it's universe and the characters. Through Neo, step by step you learn more and more. What is The Matrix? That was the question that was lingering throughout. It was totally compelling and thrilling. Same could be said about Neo being The One. Neo himself has no idea who he is. Morpheus knows. And believes. Well, he and Trinity are very firm believers. Not every character thinks so. They can hardly blamed as they are very aware of the dire situation they are in. 

But what really blew our minds back then were the visuals, the special effects and the action. Mind you the action was inspired and derived from Eighties and Nineties Hong Kong Cinema. No matter what you say in those two decades Hong Kong gave us the best action ever produced. And it still continues to inspire Hollywood. Or do you think John Wick would have existed without it? Think again. The Wachowskis even hired one of the best action and martial arts choreographer in the world, Yuen Woo-Ping. Without him The Matrix would not be what it is. He actually made Keanu Reeves, Trinity, Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving look like they were true martial artists. 

Granted if you aren't into martial arts or action then it is very possible that The Matrix might not be that appealing. Although I do think that the science fiction elements are extremely well done and still have an impact today. As they do give you food for thought. What is reality? When is something real? Does something need to be physical and tangible? Or already when you think or dream it is? Are machines to be feared? Or are humans the ones we need to look out for? What would you choose? The red pill or the blue pill? Where in the hell can I get those cool outfits and glasses?

The Matrix is an action packed thrill ride from start to finish. Back then I had no idea that The Matrix was going to be a trilogy. As I was concerned The Matrix finished strongly. Imagine my surprise when I heard sequels were coming. I was ecstatic. 

For a long time The Matrix Reloaded was a big favourite of mine. I am very aware that compared to the original it's even more flawed and certainly more convoluted. However visually and action wise it was far more spectacular. Even if some of the CGI was very obvious and fake looking. But honestly, I didn't care. Pure because of it's awesomeness. Neo fighting hundreds of Smiths never gets old. Hell, it's one of those classic moments that I kept playing over and over again in Path of Neo.

When you already have seen The Matrix Reloaded multiple times the viewing experience can get a tiny bit boring in certain sequences. Mainly because it contains mystery elements that aren't mysterious to you any more. It's at these moments where you realize The Wachowskis didn't go deep enough. They easily could have put a spin or several spins on the narrative to make you doubt continually. What if The Matrix is a figment of Neo's imagination? What if he is just an ordinary person like you and me living a plain life?

The Matrix Reloaded very clearly is focused on action, action and more action. The plot basically serves to tie events together and to show us more of the world and it's inhabitants. In hindsight the whole plot concerning The Merovingian could have been left out and it would not have made of a difference. One of the most compelling elements that is tied to him is downplayed and discussed in such a casual way that it's easily missed. Ghosts, werewolves and vampires are part of his crew. Now he explains how and why they are possible with this world but to not have them heavily featured in the films is a missed opportunity. Why not have some sequences where it's shown what The Merovingian refers to? Because it would then more tension and suspense would be added. 

But the shear insanity of what is displayed on the screen is mesmerizing. In essence The Matrix Reloaded is trying to top the original just because they can.

I think The Matrix Revolutions was the first part that disappointed me. In my opinion the ending is quite weak and too biblical. Yes I am aware that Neo is meant to be a Jesus like figure. Still doesn't mean the ending couldn't be dark and negative. 

Although it is claimed that the ending is ambiguous. That can be argued since The Architect from The Matrix Reloaded basically tells you everything you need to know about the fate of Neo and the humans. It's pretty grim and pessimistic. Only do you care? Or let me rephrase that. Are you made to care enough? I think it is in this aspect The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix revolutions dropped the ball. 

However this is not the part that had me disappointed. It was the big battle between the humans and machines that I found to be underwhelming. I had expected much more death and dramatic impact. The way it played out was far too convenient and predictable. Also seeing how big Zion was it should have been bigger and more spectacular. 

Another thing that didn't feel right was the almost complete abandonment of bullet time and the ultra stylistic combat. It's done to emphasize the raw and realistic nature of the war without actually showing the reality of war. The devastation should have been bigger.

I do have to admit that The Matrix Revolutions is my least re watched title and that for the sake of fairness I should watch it again soon to see if I still feel the same. 

Despite it's many flaws I can't deny that I did like it for the most part. And that I do love the entire franchise for it's entertainment value. The Matrix trilogy had an impact on me and continues to do so. Therefore it is definitely a franchise I can recommend. 

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Review Stone Cold (1991): Grown Up Bam Bam destroys biker gang!

genre: action, crime

For some reason I never picked up Stone Cold even though it was always there in the video rental store begging me to pick it up. Most likely I didn't because I had no clue who Brian Bosworth was. Actually still don't. But I have a better understanding of him and this film.

Believe it or not Brian Bosworth is a solid action hero. It didn't take long for me to accept him as one. Acting wise he obviously needed work but as debuts go he did pretty OK. Fortunately the plot doesn't allow him to speak much. Most of the talking is done by Lance Henriksen, William Forsythe and Sam McMurray. They are also the ones that give this film that special something. Next to the kickass action. Very skillfully director Craig R. Baxley makes you overlook one big fault in the plot. That is the fact that no gang leader would accept an outsider. If a prospect doesn't come from within the ranks or as proposed by a member no way an capable leader would allow such a guy even near them. I know that I am supposed to suspend disbelief. But in order to sell this you have to explain or at least give a good reason why someone would be so trusting. They do give one very late in the film. But to say it's acceptable? Well, fortunately like I said you are never really given time to think about things like these too hard since events start happening and Brian usually is always in the middle of it in favour of the gang.

I liked how certain members do protest against certain actions of leader Chains Cooper (Henriksen) since according to them that is going too far. Smart leaders of course would avoid such public killings even if it was just for the sake of deniability. But thank god, because it gives us an over the top villain who makes the film so much fun. Nancy (Arabella Holzbog) is one of the protesters and gets punished for her disobedience. She is supposed to be the old lady of Chain but is treated very badly and gets discarded the second he gets tired of her. Unfortunately she is stuck and can't flee as easily as she wants too. So she finds some comfort in Stone (Bosworth) who technically is playing her so that he can turn her to testify against Chains. Arabella is one of the characters who gave this film that extra meat to chew on.

First and foremost though it's the action that steals the show. It's the over the top kind but never to the extent where you would think it was impossible. The action itself is all old school and well choreographed. It's exactly the type of action I never can get enough of in slow weekends. Combine this with the killer pacing and you have a real winner on your hands. I wished I had known this back then. Still better late than never right?

Definitely one to check out if you like early Nineties action flicks. It's one of the best.

Also check these titles from the same director:

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Review Dark Angel a.k.a. I Come in Peace (1990): Buddy cop film with a twist!

genre: action, crime, science fiction

An alien drug dealer comes to Earth to collect the endorfines from people. With these endorfines he makes a special drug that seems to be huge in outer space. He would have been able to carry on if it weren't for Det. Jack Caine (Dolph Lundgren) and Special Agent Arwood 'Larry' Smith (Brian Benben) who do whatever they can to stop him.

If you are overly critical there is a lot to bitch and moan about. But if you are an action aficionado and are willing to give this film a chance it will be quite rewarding. It basically is a buddy cop film with a twist. The twist being having to deal with an alien drug dealer who has very neat toys. One of them is a disc that once shot will keep on going until it gets stuck or turned of. This disc basically looks like an ordinary CD. Back when I first saw this film it was something I hadn't seen or used that much before. Although in that year or perhaps one year after I had purchased my first ever stereo system with cd player. One of the best inventions ever if you ask me. In any case it's a cool weapon. Matthias Hues is cast as this alien and he really looks like one. He doesn't speak much but when he utters the words ' I come in peace " you know something really bad is going to happen.

Of course Dark Angel can't escape the cliches however in my opinion does enough to make it compelling. The science element I just discussed. But there is also a lot of laugh provided. Brian Benben might be the last one you would expect to play a cop but his comedic timing makes him a very worthy addition. Plus he seems to have some good chemistry with Dolph making Lundgren even more believable as a hard boiled but sophisticated cop. I mean he drinks wine instead of scotch or beer. Let that sink in people.

Overall Dark Angel will guarantee  a fun viewing experience throughout. So do watch it when you get the chance!

From the same director:

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