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Brief thoughts on Beyond: Two Souls (PS4)

genre: adventure, interactive drama

Beyond: Two Souls is what you call an interactive drama. This interactivity consists of very limited control of movement, touching items and quick time events. After having played it for a few hours I am not sure if I want to play it any more.

For one thing the story is incredibly weak. Granted it could very well be there is more to the story later on. However in this case it doesn't matter much since it failed to grab me. Quantic Dream did much better with their previous games like Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain. Those were flawed as well but they had incredible effective and compelling stories that made you want to see how they would end. With this one I simply don't care. I recognize and appreciate some of the dramatic elements but the lack of control or influence on those is a very frustrating affair. You aren't given the option to redo an action to see what else is offered. At least not in game. I believe you are given the option to replay chapters to make different "choices" and thus earn different trophies. But honestly I can't see myself doing that since I am already quite bored. They could have remedied this by giving more control to Jodie and Aiden. 

I have to admit that there is something about how the game tries to evoke sympathy for Jodie and what she has to deal with from as long as she can remember. Is Aiden her protector? Or just an evil entity wanting to stick around as long as possible? Normally I would be fascinated and intrigued to find out. However now I simply don't care since I haven't seen a real pay off for being invested. There are too many times where events escalate so quickly and dramatically after barely having done something significant. And you don't really have an option to avoid that outcome. It completely breaks the enjoyment for me. 

Beyond: Two Souls is very boring and I am so glad that I did not decide to purchase a copy. In that regard PSN NOW is a real blessing. This way you can play games without feeling cheated or robbed. Yes, I caved to try out this service. And so far, it has really saved me some Euro's. 

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Review Soldier Boyz (1995): Dirty Dozen heroic bloodshed style!

genre: action, drama

Soldier Boyz is about Major Howard Toliver played by Michael Dudikoff  who suddenly feels compelled to recruit 6 teenage prisoners for a special mission. Probably because he thinks it will teach them a lesson. 

The whole premise obviously is taken from The Dirty Dozen with three major differences. The teenagers might be criminal but they clearly are lightweight compared to the prisoners in the classic. Second, their age. Who in their right mind would ever approve these kids, criminal or not, to be put on such a mission? Third, the teens aren't soldiers. They have no training whatsoever. Some of them are proficient enough because of their gangbanging past but come on.

You might have guessed it, the premise is totally ridiculous. However, if you can manage to get past this you will be able to enjoy Soldier Boyz. Why? Because it does offer good choreographed action and the right context to make the action more exciting. Director Louis Morneau might not be a big name but he knows what matters in action flicks like this. He is aware that there is very little to no point to tell a complicated story. First and foremost, it's the action that counts and everything else should be in service of that action. Morneau does exactly this. It's my guess he must be a big fan of Hong Kong cinema or at least John Woo because he has implemented some of his style and choreography. It's far from perfect but surprisingly effective since it's fun to watch. It does look like some bucks have been spent on the action sequences to make them look good. 

For some reason there is a lot of hate towards this film. I understand that the premise is over the top and borderline ludicrous. But this is a B movie and it doesn't pretend to be more than an action film. Everything is in service of the action. It does exactly what it is supposed to. Granted it rushes through characterization and story. But how many films get bogged down by those elements? The direction is so competently done that you still become invested in Dudikoff's team and their task. The group of actors also roll with the plot like it's Shakespeare and do their best to sell you the plot. One of them is so gangsta that he holds and shoots his guns sideways. If he had received proper military training that would have never been allowed. But isn't that the ultimate expression of defiance towards the man? There is a character nicknamed monster who most likely has mental issues. Another example of the US government doing a poor job taking care of their own. They even included a girl who demonstrates to be just as capable or even more so to get the job done. It's not much but there is enough there to breathe life into basically canon fodder.  And believe it or not this is one of the best films Michael Dudikoff has starred in. He is as competent as ever. So what more do you want?

My advice to just roll with the premise and you will find enjoyment with this very competently made little action flick.

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Review Undeclared War a.k.a. Sheng zhan feng yun (1990): Decent and nothing more!

genre: action, crime, bullet ballet

In my never ending search for bullet ballet / heroic bloodshed titles, Undeclared War, gets mentioned quite often. But somehow it's hard to find proper reviews for it. It could be the fact that at the time the title wasn't that successful but also that it's hard to get a DVD copy. Well, I managed to get a hold of one and I finally was able to watch it. So here are my thoughts on it.

It definitely is not a title that is going to blow you away. But for what it was offering it's not that bad. Director Ringo Lam thought it necessary to go international probably to make it more appealing for a larger audience. In this he succeeded. It's one of those dime in a dozen titles most people would watch when it's on television and then forget about it. And in case you couldn't tell I am being sarcastic. The normal audience back then didn't appreciate Hong Kong titles as they should have. This was only reserved for the happy few (like me) who couldn't get enough of them. The title would have been more popular if he had increased the bloodshed for example. And in this case it would have made sense since the characters do keep referring to an undeclared war. How can this be the case if there are only a few shoot-outs and explosions?

What about these shoot-outs? They are kinetic and stylish enough but there are only two or three proper ones. And they don't last that long. But when they appear it is thrilling and exciting because the terrorists under leadership of Hannibal (Vernon Wells) are very ruthless. Too bad though that the duration of those action sequences are relatively short. A real shame because the buddy cop elements are also very minimalistic. The dynamics between Danny Lee and Peter Liapis were decent and they would have been able to convince the viewer of their new found friendship. Had they been given the time and events to do something worthwhile with it. The characters barely talk to each other. I mean it's all reactionary. There isn't a single scene where they actually sit down and converse. In a buddy cop film you have to have at least one of those scenes. Speaking of Vernon Wells. He is severely underused. As is Olivia Hussey. Same goes for Danny Lee. Now I think about it. There is no real lead. I mean even if you would classify Peter Liapis as one he still acts and is featured as a side character. It really would have helped the immersion if we had followed the story from someone's perspective instead of just viewing events with very little involvement at all. Besides this way we would get some idea what the characters are about. I am not familiar with Peter Liapis but he is quite competent as an actor. He certainly has a charm to it. But like I said, nothing is done with these characters outside the main plot. 

Overall Undeclared War is a decent title but it's not offering anything fresh or creative. Nor is it providing the heroic bloodshed some of you were hoping for. 

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Review Wonder Seven a.k.a. 7 jin gong (1994): A guilty pleasure of mine!

genre: action, martial arts, bullet ballet, crime

Confession time! Wonder Seven for a long time was among my favourite Hong Kong actioners. After now having seen it back since forever I think that younger me was out of his mind.

In my defence I did watch this film multiple times in an era where almost all Hong Kong action flicks were much better than Hollywood ones. And to be fair the action in Wonder Seven is very solid and entertaining. Still it does feel like some of it hasn't aged well. I blame this on the heavy use of wireworks. They way it's implemented might have worked back then. Now it just looks cheesy and useless. Too much of it is fantastical and in it simply doesn't mesh with the modern setting. However if you can overlook this big flaw you will be treated to some old school slow motion gun play a la John Woo. Director Tony Ching (A Chinese Ghost StoryA Chinese Ghost Story II) also worked on A Better Tomorrow II as action director. Now I don't know how much he actually was involved with the choreography in that classic but if I compare the bloodshed in this film to the latest John Woo film Manhunt it's clear to me that Woo was behind it all. Tony Ching must have picked up something from Woo. Not saying that Tony Ching himself isn't capable. But if I had to guess is that he is more specialised in wuxia related combat. The gun play truly is exciting. Especially in the finale. Too bad it was over before I knew it. I would have immensely loved it had they increased the action tenfold. I mean what is the point of having all these goons coming in from all angles to then be dispatched off so quickly. These sequences easily could have been prolonged. Then again I am someone who has watched Hard Boiled over fourty times and still loving it as much as the first time I watched it. I can't get enough of it. 

Another problem is the story or more the lack of and how the characters are portrayed. Now I am one of those people who isn't too hung up about stories in action flicks as long as they are functional and provide context for the action. It's in this department where the film fails. It skips things like building up characters and giving them actual backgrounds. It's kind of pointed out in their introduction who they are. But that is limited to their speciality. The Wonder Seven apparently are orphans trained by an old agent of some secret organization who do all kinds of secret stuff. And they seem to like each other very much. That is all the info you will get on them. Same thing goes for Michelle Yeoh's character. She is alligned with the super baddie and it is clear she doesn't like him much and yet is still very loyal. Until she meets one of the Seven. Yes, there is even some flirting. In an incredibly childish manner. It was at this point I was wondering who this film was intended for. Tonally the film is all over the place. Lot's of comedy and lightheartedness intertwined with death, chaos and betrayal. Super baddie was very aware he was in a bad film and hams it up big time which makes me think this film was meant for kids. It's the only explanation that makes sense. Still doesn't explain why it deals with certain adult themes but I guess they were optimistic or convinced could handle all what it is throwing at them.

Overall, you aren't supposed to take this film seriously. Just focus on the action sequences and you will have a good time especially if you are watching it for the first time. Just don't expect too much.     

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Review New Police Story a.k.a. San ging chaat goo si (2004): Pretty dark and serious outing for Chan!

genre: action, crime, martial arts

For whatever reason Jackie Chan chose the Police Story franchise to start with the new style Jackie Chan who is devoid of comedy and slapstick. He is super serious all the time and even manages to put in in some heavy and sweet romantic elements into this pretty dark adventure. Whether it is the desire to show more of his acting skills or whether he realizes that he won't be able to do certain stunts any more because of his old age, it does raise the following question. Is new style Jackie Chan worth watching?

The way Chan has presented himself in this film it certainly is worth your time. However you will have to endure some cheesy but effective melodrama before you get to enjoy the kick ass action you normally get from Chan. Action wise you will get your fix for sure. There are some completely insane stunts featured in New Police Story that prove that Chan was still very capable of dazzling stunts and acrobatics at the time. Most of the combat consists of gun play and a fight or two. The first time I watched this it bothered me heavily that this film was so low on martial arts action. Having watched it for the second time I think I can appreciate it more. Especially if you compare this to the atrocious Police Story 2013

Even the plot is pretty thrilling and compelling. Daniel Wu and co are certainly interesting villains. The addition of mysterious and wacky Nicolas Tse who provided the little comic relief was very welcome. So then what is left to be critical about. The tone. New Police Story is too dark for it's own good. The first three in the Police Story franchise were much lighter films that were filled with goofiness. Police Story 2 was a good example of how goofy it could be next to being dead serious. It was one of the main elements that gave the franchise it's charm. New Police Story is quite depressing as it paints a very bleak picture of the world Jackie Chan resides in. It is something you will have get to used to since Jackie Chan took it upon himself to be on the path of seriousness with very varying results. In this case tough it worked out as New Police Story certainly packs a punch. 

Also check:

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Review Operation Mekong a.k.a. Mei Gong he xing dong (2016): I'll be damned. Dante Lam actually made one I loved!

genre: action, crime

Let me be totally honest here. I am not a big fan of Dante Lam. I don't think he is the worst director or even bad. I just fail to see how he is any kinds of brilliant. While I still think the latter I do have to admit that he has improved himself somewhat. So much so that I found myself enjoying Operation Mekong from start to finish.

That being said this is the kind of movie that is hard to screw up. It's not like it has a lot of story or depth to it. In essence you are witness to a military or espionage operation where a lot of focus is put on the tension and the action. And in that department Dante Lam has managed to create some genuine thrills. Although I do have to point out that Lam's take on military operations is unrealistic and incredibly fantastical. But that is exactly what makes it so awesome. You have characters including a dog doing impossible things. It's what makes it super fun and incredibly exciting. Especially regarding Bingo the dog who goes full Sam Fisher (stealth) one minute and full Rambo the next. And most astonishing is the fact that Bingo is an equal in every way. For that alone this film deserves credit. 

The villains are a little cartoonish and super evil but again what normally would detract from the viewing experience enhances the joy tenfold. Especially when they are insulting the Chinese for being dogs or worse. They themselves are quite despicable. I mean child soldiers? Really? I doubt this is based on truth. Actually now I think about it a particular scene involving child soldiers is directly lifted from Good Morning Vietnam. In that film it made sense historic wise. In here it was to add to the threat and dread coming from these super villains. And yes, Dante Lam has been very effective incorporating such plot devices. 

Operation Mekong seems very similar to Extraordinary Mission which should not be surprising since it deals with the same topic. However I would say that Operation Mekong is far more kinetic and energetic. Not saying that it makes it a better film. More that you aren't given a chance to think about what really is transpiring in the film. While not that deep itself Extraordinary Mission does give more food for thought than Dante Lam's take on the Golden Triangle drug trade. But we will have to see which one holds up better in the long run.

For now I would suggest to all the people who enjoy good action flicks to watch both of them. They are easily in the top tier of Asian action films. And I hope that the sequel to Operation Mekong (Operation Red Sea) will be just as good.

Also read:

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Review Five Element Ninjas a.k.a. Ren zhe wu di (1982): High quality Kung Fu flick on all levels! And ninjas. Do I really need to spell it out how awesome ninjas are?

genre: martial arts, action

Five Element Ninjas starts out pretty conventional with two martial arts schools battling it out. Then one of the opponents, a Japanese samurai defeats one of the good guys who is so ashamed of it that he feels compelled to kill himself. In return one of the good guys acts out a little vengeance by defeating the samurai. Apparently this also weighs heavily on the samurai and feels compelled to commit suicide as well. However not before warning the good guys of what is to come.

I think you can guess what that is. Yes, ninjas! The samurai was very buddy buddy with a bunch of ninjas and they feel compelled to seek out revenge for his death. Plus they want to conquer and dominate the martial arts world at the same time. Once the ninjas make their entrance the good guys are in real trouble since obviously the ninjas are very very deadly. It is pure joy to see them in action and display all the ninja goodness you would expect from them. I won't spoil it any further but let's just say that the story has a few nice twist and turns that will completely catch you off guard. To a point that I was a bit confused about the direction this film was going. Until I realized that there was still forty minutes to go and that the best was still to come.

One of the things you will notice that apart from the traditional weapons they also make use of  customised weapons with special functions which are surprisingly effective. Most characters in this film wield these weapons with such ease. Or at least make it seem that it's easy. But you can tell that often this is not the case at all. Only making everything so much more impressive. All the fighters involved are truly exceptionally skilled martial artists who give you their best. And you can sense that when the fights start especially later in the film where things have gone super dark.

Five Elements Ninjas at one point does distract you with a sub plot that I could have done without but to be fair I was completely charmed by the actress playing Senji (Chen Pei-Hsi). She has femme fatale written all over her face. And she seemed to have a lot of fun playing her character. I am surprised to find out that she hasn't been in more films. She has that unique kind of presence stars are made of. So I have no clue what went wrong here. In any case her character is at the forefront of doom and disaster making the final acts extremely satisfying. Believe it or not there are some scenes so over the top and brutal you will laugh real hard at first but then will be overwhelmed by it's awesomeness. If it weren't for the actors and their approach to this material it easily could have become a farce. And it rarely will feel like a comedy. Actually I suddenly realize how comical some of the events might seem if you describe them. But trust me it's serious business. 

I am very glad I purchased the Blu ray (including DVD) of Five Elements Ninja since it will be a title I will watch from time to time. The film has all the ingredients I crave in a good martial arts and it has ninjas. I can't stress enough how awesome they are! They are people they are!

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Review Extraordinary Mission a.k.a. Fei fan ren wu (2017): Stick with it and it will reward you!

genre: action, crime, bullet ballet

In my search for older and newer heroic bloodshed titles I came across this title. Extraordinary Mission does feature some elements but it has more common with Infernal Affairs than let's say A Better Tomorrow.

Since it does take the film give around 80 minutes to get to the sizzling action sequences. In these 80 minutes you get served an undercover cop thriller that has been done to death. But it was effective enough in relation to the action in the finale. The film makes sure it hits the right notes in the dramatic interactions the main characters have. However I do have to state that it really is a story you have seen a million times over. You just have to be in the mood for that kind of thing. I wished they would leave these tropes alone and come up with something new or refreshing. 

Perhaps one could say that the Chinese propaganda that is heavily present in this film is that fresh element. In this case it's not problematic. Although I am sure some poor souls will take some of the topics discussed as truth. Like Chinese cops and military should be seen as the ultimate protectors of the people. But let us be real here. As everywhere else in the world where drug trafficking is huge people on all sides are involved. And I do I really have to point out that most of the problems regarding drug trade could be eliminated if these drugs were made legal. 

Huang Xuan as Lin Kai is a very charming lead since he is convincing as the undercover cop who wants to fulfil his duty no matter the costs. It's not explicitly said but you get a real good idea why he is so driven. This is important to know since it makes you care about him. Seems such a simple plot mechanic and yet many modern film makers can't be bothered these days. Fortunately director Alan Mak knows the importance of such mechanics and embraces them fully. The result is a serious tone and tension very similar to that of Infernal Affairs which shouldn't be that surprising since Alan Mak directed that film as well.

It is asked of you to endure the slow 80 minutes but then the action is full on. It's exciting and exhilarating and very well choreographed. There were some moments one in particular which are very ludicrous. But they were so much fun that I was very willing to forgive the film makers for their unbridled enthusiasm. Besides with all that seriousness going on it's nice to laugh for a bit. 

Extraordinary Mission is definitely one of the better Chinese productions recently and I wouldn't mind this getting a sequel.

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Halloween Horror Movie Marathon 2018: Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum, The Night Eats The World, Still/Born and Ghost Stories

Halloween was here and like many it was time for my yearly tradition to hold a horror movie marathon. There were many titles to choose from but mostly I chose ones that were recommended by other sites. I think I chose well except for one title. Mrs. P. only watched three of the four. And from those three she only liked two of them. This one title BTW I don't agree with at all. I dug it from start to finish. 

And this title was the first we saw:

Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018)

It's a South Korean found footage film where a group of paranormal investigators decide to go visit one of the 7 most scariest or freakiest places in the world in order to get a million views for their streaming channel. Naturally this is a very good idea and we feel very sorry for these characters....

In all honesty for once I didn't dislike the characters. Even when it seemed that most of them didn't take the ghost hunting as serious as they should. They did grown on me even after their questionable attitude towards their venture. Very rarely did they pause or stop to ask themselves whether they should go through with it or not. Now, the film does a real good job of misdirecting you. Showing you places and events that lead to nothing special. I think most people (including Mrs. P.) had problems with this since it never lead to the investment into the events and the characters. However I believe that this was deliberately done to give maximum effect to the horror that eventually does come. And believe me all the lack of thrills and suspense is made up twenty times over since the intensity and creepiness is cranked up enormously. So much so that it never lets up once it starts.

Granted this thrill ride of scares and horror is what makes Gonjiam good. However it never gives us the answers to the questions raised. Here was a real good chance to go deeper into the mythology of the haunted asylum and they didn't even bother. The real reason why the asylum was closed is super mundane but that doesn't matter. They could have come up with something so sinister and dark so that it would be more than just thrills and scares. While hints of dread they could and should have increased that tenfold. The actress portraying the director of the asylum already managed to gave me chills just because of the way she looked. I was very willing to believe that this lady who is portrayed as someone caring was quite the opposite. The film gives you enough clues for you to come to that conclusion. I would have liked to see more on this person.

Still, I totally enjoyed this film since I was fully invested from the start. And therefore I was completely embracing the horror goodness that was leashed upon us. One I can recommend for sure.

 Immediately after this we decided to watch:

The Night Eats The World (2018)

It definitely is a little different from the usual zombie flicks. But to state that it was the most innovative? Hardly. However it did choose to portray a character who was very pragmatic and practical. A character who I was rooting for all the way even when at times he did make some mistakes. The whole approach to zombies is different as it's less focused on violence and gore but more how to go on after an apocalyptic event. But don't let this fool you. The zombies are no joke. They are fast and are almost silent. They don't moan and groan. Normally I get bored easily when the focus is on one man and his activities. In this case I was compelled throughout. So another one I can recommend.

Then it was time to watch:

Still/Born 2017

Still/Born is a more conventional horror story however one where they still managed to keep things fresh. I really have to give it to the mostly unknown actors to take the material seriously. Especially Christie Burke and Jesse Moss make events believable. Even when there are certain moments that are too convenient and illogical. But that is to be expected in horror films. So as long as it keeps things exciting you won't hear me complain about them. One of the best elements of this horror film is that it constantly makes you doubt of what is going on. It seems to be steering into one direction then to go into a completely different one. Unfortunately there is one flaw that is almost unforgivable. The under use of Michael Ironside. Why have him in the film if you aren't going to give him something worth wile to do. 

Despite this huge flaw Still/Born does deliver overall against my expectations which is always good. 

Last on the list is:

Ghost Stories (2018)

I don't know why exactly. But I had high hopes for this anthology film.  Perhaps because it was an anthology film and that usually horror shorts are stronger and better because they have to get to the point quicker. 

Unfortunately Ghost Stories is a total bore. It's never creepy or scary. And it is completely predictable. Well, maybe not for the twist at the end. But it's one that won't impress. Because it's one you would never be able to deduce. The film never gives you clues to it. How is that even fun? I like it when a film blatantly tells you what it's about and then to misdirect you to the extent that makes things seem very plausible but still will have you question how it got past you. It could very well be that there are some clues given. Only I was never made to care. 

Very disappointing. One to avoid!

Overal this horror movie marathon was a succes. I had fun and was even up for more. Then the sun arose and I realized it was way past my bed time. 

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Review Filmography Iko Uwais

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