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All the reviews of the films released in 2019

Click on the image underneath for all the reviewed titles that were released in 2019. Do consider this a work in progress as it will be updated regularly.

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Review Underwater (2020): A remake of Leviathian?

genre: action, adventure, horror, science fiction

Ever since I had heard about Underwater I was intrigued. It really did look like a film that is right up my alley and was so glad to finally watch it. And for the most part Underwater certainly has it's moments especially the first half hour. 

With a film like this you will have to suspend disbelief right from the start otherwise you will have a hard time enjoying it. Naturally it's not possible for people to live underwater. Even if the station is the most high tech and advanced there is. Sure there are articles claiming that it is technically possible there are quite a few caveats. I won't go into these now but it's safe to say that any of the events in this film are very unlikely and pure fantasy. That being said Underwater doesn't waste time to thrust itself into a tense adventure. But after thirty minutes or so the film loses steam. Now there are some redeeming elements to this film. Only they don't go as deep enough I was hoping. 

In hindsight Underwater looks and feels like a remake of the far superior Leviathan (1989), That film already went into Lovecraft territory a little and Underwater seemed like it was going deeper.  (Leviathan also is a masterful blend of Alien and The Abyss.) Unfortunately it doesn't. Sure it has one blatant element and some smaller references to Lovecraftian mythology but that is about it. To me that is very disappointing and a missed opportunity. The film could have made itself stand out by embracing the mythology and the cosmic horror more. Instead of dread you get served action scenes that are hard to make out. There were many moments I looked away for a bit (few seconds) and then completely missed what had happened. Honestly I didn't really care that much since Underwater is predictable as hell. That is another thing I don't really understand. To have Kristen Stewart parade as an Ellen Ripley type of hero preferably in her underwear as much as possible (which does nothing for me since she is far too skinny for my taste) was already a bold move. Then why not go further and at least tried to make a memorabele film. BTW Kristen Stewart does a good job as the hero. I am not a fan but people critisizing her performance in this one have no clue what they are talking about.

Overall Underwater is a decent watch and with it's normal running time of 95 minutes never feels like a chore. Even if I would have preferred more depth and substance. 

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Quick Review Control (PS4): It's an OK game. I don't get where the praise is coming from! (spoilers: Although there is not that much to spoil really!)

genre: action. adventure, third person shooter
release: 27 August 2019

When I got word about Control and how well liked it was, I thought I was going to be in for something special. I almost was convinced to purchase it for the full price. Something I very rarely do. Then as luck would have it they offered the game on PSNOW. See sometimes subscriptions like these are handy. So what do I think of Control?

Somehow I had imagined this was going to be a hybrid of Quantum Break and Max Payne where you would have these special telekinetic abilities you could use in bullet time. As someone who loves slow motion in general especially John Woo style that sounded awesome to me. Then after playing a few missions it hit me. There is no bullet time mechanic. Honestly that hurt a little. But wasn't something that put me off the game. I actually enjoyed the core mechanics and especially the launch ability. Only I realized that apart from some other abilities you gain and can expand on, the core mechanics are the meat of the game. I know they want you to get immersed in the story and that the gameplay is in service of this story. However here is where Control completely fails.

Yes. the story was compelling at the start. Soon though it became obvious that there wasn't that much to the story. Yes like with Dark Souls there is a lot of lore and world building in the collectibles and dialogue. But honestly in my opinion you should be able to get immersed in the world without having to read and explore every thing. I myself do like to explore in games. And very likely I am not done with the game yet even if I have finished the main story and a majority of the side missions. But what did I accomplish with this game? The last missions basically puts you in situations where you have to fight wave after wave without getting the chance to save in between. You die,tough, start over. Ok, fine. Then when you finally are able to finish the mission you get the confirmation you stopped the threat and that you are the new director now. Jeez, didn't the game make you the director like at the very start of the game already? Sure often the journey is more important than the destiny. If only the journey was really worth it. Jesse basically is the same person as when she started out. Only now she has gained some abilities and skills to deal with enemies. 

And you are going to need them if you are planning to clean up the remaining hiss. The difficulty spike is enormous and more a case of having patience. Up until this point there is no real reward (apart from gaining ability points) for completing the main game and these side activities. And for me that is problematic. Especially if people are praising the hell out of this game. I mean what did this game really offer that was so special and amazing? Sure it has some lovecraftian elements. Immensely bare bones and superficial. If you aren't familiar you won't even recognize it. Then what's the point? Keeping things abstract and open ended is laziness of the highest level. If you have a point of view or something to tell then do so. Don't make me go on a goose chase and not offer something in return. This exactly is the case here.

I played a little more and it is getting harder and harder to put in time and energy into this game. It had real potential to be more than it is. But ultimately lets down considerably. 

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Review Drunken Master a.k.a. Zui quan (1978): A martial arts classic!

genre: martial arts, comedy

On the Blu-ray (Eureka! The Masters of Cinema series) I own there are many specials. One of them is where Jackie Chan is being interviewed about Drunken Master. The first question is why do you think Drunken Master is so popular. Then Jackie Chan replied he wasn't exactly sure. He had intended it for the Hong Kong audience only and back then wasn't thinking about the international appeal. In his humble opinion Drunken Master was one of the first to bring a martial arts comedy like this and people always like the first. I don't know if Jackie Chan was being humble or he truly thinks this. But let me tell you that he is wrong.

Granted if you watch the film now maybe here and there the film is a little dated. However the comedy bits and the fights are of excellent quality and still hold up. That in combination with the performances is what makes Drunken Master a classic. There is a sincerity to the film you rarely see. I mean like in most Kung fu films fights start very quickly for no good reason at all. But what is more interesting there isn't your classic good versus evil plot going on. If you think about it most characters in this film are heavily flawed. Even Jackie Chan as Wong Fei Hung isn't quite like the folk hero he is known for. One could say he is mischievous but I'd say he is even villainous at times. Sure one could argue that he is very young and not worldly yet. But he is very aware when he has done something wrong and never ever apologizes for his behaviour. Yet you will still root for him since Jackie Chan makes you do that.  Hwang Jang-Lee as Thunderfoot, the main baddie, you will recognize from many other Kung fu flicks. In a short special called Kicking action or something like that you see Hwang kicking people. It's impressive as hell. He is fast and kicks like he could break you into little pieces if he wanted to. Sure his character is ruthless and very eager to kill but isn't downright evil. Once he humiliates Wong Fei Hung he allows him to flee. He could have been a real prick when they meet for the second time but demonstrates restraint. BTW he also is featured in Millionaires' Express where he plays one of the samurai. 

Naturally the one and only real scene stealer is Simon Yuen Siu-Tin as Sam Seed or Beggar So. He is the father of actor /  director Yuen Woo-ping. You will see the resemblance if you are familiar with Woo-ping.  With his red nose he is the pivotal archetype of what a true master entails. I know many people might disagree with me but I wonder how much The Karate Kid would have been a hit if it weren't for Drunken Master and Simon Yuen. The way he is hard and ruthless on his students and yet shows kindness and mercy when it's necessary. If all the masters portrayed in the films that were made after Drunken Master aren't modeled after him I will eat my shoes. Of course they are. It's so obvious. 

Drunken Master basically is template of many Jackie Chan films that followed and many other martial arts films. Why? Because it does things you can relate to. It's a tale of an underdog trying to come on top but has to train and work real hard to achieve his goal. Sounds familiar? That is like almost every sports and martial arts film ever made. So yes, Drunken Master is a classic through and through and a must watch even if you aren't a fan of martial arts. 

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Review The Millionaires' Express a.k.a. Shanghai Express a.k.a. Foo gwai lit che (1986): Funny Eastern!

genre: action. comedy, western

The Millionaires' Express is something you don't see everyday. In hindsight I would say it's a parody and tribute to the Western genre and old school Kung fu films. It's subtle and over the top at the same time. Like for example the misunderstood hero (Sammo as Chin Fong Tin). He wants nothing more to be with his girlfriend but for some unknown reason can't be with here. It's one of the running gags. Very effective and hilarious when you give it some thought.  

From start till end you will be entertained. Everything what is happening concerning the Millionaires' Express is a setup for the grand finale in the last twenty minutes! Somehow Sammo Hung managed to create a western in Chinese setting. Even one character in particular seems to be a parody of Clint Eastwood. A lot is going on in the movie but the real action picks up at the final. If you come in expecting this to be a non stop action film then you might be slightly disappointed. The approach is different. It's more a farce where you get introduced to quite a lot of characters. If you are familiar with Hong Kong films then you will recognize a high number of actors.  It's one of those extra elements that increases the viewing experience. 

If subtle comedy isn't your thing then fear not. There are a lot of jokes that are easy to understand for everyone because they are very visual. One example is a man who seems to be cheating on his wife. While on the train he visits his mistress by climbing on top of the train and without any problems he walks to the wagon where his mistress is residing. Meanwhile a hoodlum has a lot of difficulties maintaining his balance while he is on top of the train. When the two encounter the adulterer greets him like he is taking a stroll while the hoodlum almost falls off the train. This is just so hilarious especially when you consider how many more excuses this guy has come up with to go from woman to woman. 

I also recognized a parody on Wong Fei Hung (a famous Chinese hero). It was easily one of the funniest scenes in the film. Anyhow all the different characters have their objectives and will be put in very funny scenes which will come to a climax in the last twenty minutes. The action is more than wonderful. Yuen Baio and Jang Lee Hwang (Korean martial artist famous for being the villain in "Drunken Master") steal the show! Not to say that all the others weren't great but Yuen Baio and Jang Lee Hwang (one of the samurai) simply stand out. As they show some excellent moves and skill. There are some small sequences with Cynthia Rothrock and Richard Norton but they were too short for my taste. Yukari Oshima plays one of the samurai and does enough to make an impact. Sammo Hung himself also shows off his talent and skills with a lot of finesse. 

Millionaires' Express delivers on humor and action. What more do you want? One of the best films Sammo Hung as ever made!

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Review Enter the Fat Dragon (1978) a.k.a. Fei Lung gwoh gong (1978): Sammo Hung is brilliant!

genre: martial arts, action, comedy

Enter the Fat Dragon is basically a parody and big tribute mixed in one where Sammo Hung is channeling Bruce Lee whenever he can. He is just itching to get into fights. Fortunately for him he is quite good in beating up people. But it constantly gets him into trouble.

I don't know whether it was intentional but if this was the case then actor and director Sammo Hung surely is brilliant. It is implied that had Sammo's character Lung stayed out of other people's businesses that everybody would be better off. The fact that he is convinced he is really helping out and beating up bad guys makes the predicaments he puts himself in quite hilarious. There is one scene where he helps out his cousin acting out revenge on a thug by supposedly destroying his car. But you probably guessed that this car doesn't belong to the thug. Nope. It belongs to the restaurant owner of the restaurant where he just was hired. 

But of course the villains are disgusting and despicable. Their motives might be questionable still they aren't to be underestimated since they basically take what they want and don't quit until they get it. Especially when it comes to women. It's a real joy to watch Sammo beat the crap out of them while mimicking Bruce visually and sound wise. The fights themselves are very well choreographed and are pretty spectacular. 

Overall another competently made film that honors the memory of Bruce Lee and the impact he had on the martial arts world. A must watch for sure!

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Review First Strike a.k.a. Ging chaat goo si 4: Gaan dan yam mo (1996) Jackie Chan goes the James Bond route!

genre: action, martial arts, comedy, espionage

To be honest I am a little puzzled as why First Strike has to be seen as part of the Police Story franchise. Apart from Jackie, Uncle Bill (Bill Tung) is the only returning character. Not even a reference to the older parts.

Tonally it is also a very different beast. First Strike is far more comedic than Police Story I and II. And both films were very serious of nature but had comedic moments in them. Perhaps it's on par with Supercop (Police Story III) except that film was intertwined with serious action. First Strike while definitely bringing you spectacular action is mostly goofy and silly. Mind you it's the kind of goofy I appreciate and love but still it might be a required taste for some. I guess it makes sense for Jackie and co to venture into espionage but I wished he had taken it a little bit more serious. And with that I mean thrill and suspense wise. How could he had achieved that? By making the villains ruthless as hell and leave a high body count. '

Normally the Police Story films have a little more plot and characterization than the usual Jackie Chan film. In this part they can't be bothered. Not once do they establish that Jackie's character Ka-Kui is a super cop and that he is very competent. For the most part he is considered a wild card as he is not really being taken seriously. It doesn't help that at least in the version I watched that Jackie's own voice dubbed sounds horrible. Then again what does it matter if you get to witness Jackie Chan at his best doing all kinds of crazy stunts and fighting. Now I think about it, the film moves in quite a fast pace. Personally I would have loved to see more fights but perhaps that would not match that well with the James Bond route. 

Overall this is a very entertaining Jackie Chan film and I wished he would do more of these although a bit more serious in tone.

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Review A Better Tomorrow (4K Ultra HD Remastered Collection Blu-ray) a.k.a. Ying hung boon sik (1986): A classic like this deserves better treatment but I guess this will have to do!

genre: heroic bloodshed, action, crime, drama

Disclaimer: This review is mostly going to be about the quality of the Blu-ray. Although I will add some thoughts on top of the original review.

Like with most of older HK films the prints haven't been preserved well. It's almost like a lottery to find one that can offer the HD quality every cinephile deserves. I had hope this 4K Ultra HD would be the one. Unfortunately this is not the case.

For what it's worth. I do think it's a step up on the DVD I had. The image is clean, crisp and barely has any graininess. So it does look like they had some work done on this transfer. And to avoid confusion this is a Blu-ray (1080p) that is transferred from a 4k Ultra HD. The audio quality is good. Only at certain times the volume of the dialogue gets turned down a notch in favour of the background music. I am not sure whether that was a good idea. Although I have to say it did make some of the scenes extra dramatic. 

There are some specials (not in HD) you might find interesting. That is if you understand Cantonese. For some reason they didn't bother to add English subtitles to these specials. The Codes of Bullets looked interesting. Although I am not sure who this is aimed at. It almost looks like an advertisement how to effectively kill someone.

One thing I want to add on the film itself. I understand that Kit felt betrayed by his brother because he never told him he was a triad member. Despite this fact Sung Tse-Ho never had given him any reason other than that. He always was very loving to him. His never ending anger towards him always felt unjustified. Especially after he redeemed himself in many ways. He goes out of his way to leave the life he had lead and be a better and upstanding citizen. A cop as obsessed and blinded as he is simply is not fit to be a cop. Life isn't black or white. People aren't black or white. There are many sides to people even criminals. Besides you have all kinds of criminals and some of them are bankers. Do you think you could treat all the criminals in the same vein? Of course not! 

Another thing that bugged me about the plot was the fact that Mark would just wait for Sung and let himself be treated like he was. I get that he was loyal  and it was quite dramatic but he still could have been waiting at the top. That being said it makes the finale grand and epic so I shouldn't complain too much. 

Should you purchase this Blu-ray? There is no doubt you should. It's the one that put Chow Yun-fat and John Woo on the map internationally. And I for one am very grateful.

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Review Ghostland a.k.a. Inicident in a Ghostland (2018): Disappointing!

genre: drama, horror, mystery

Amidst the real terror, the outbreak of the Coronavirus that has become pandemic I thought this horror film would be a nice distraction. Instead it was one of disappointment and aggravation.

Maybe the real horrors of life are infinitely more scary and films would never be able to compete with that. Then again I have been able to enjoy some Jackie Chan films earlier today without having real life interfere with my viewing experience. Besides I was really psyched about this film due to all the raving reviews. That should have been my first warning sign. How come a film this good is relatively unknown? I mean there are quite a few people who haven't seen Hereditary yet but they have heard of it. So what makes this film different? 

As flawed as Hereditary was it did have a consistent sense of tension and dread. Ghostland has tense moments for sure. But a consistent sense of dread is nowhere to be found. Apart from my own sense of fear for being disappointed. Because at one point a character stated something that basically gave away the twist early on. Now if Ghostland had offered more than that one twist like playing around with it as one big misdirection for some other reveal then I would have been on board all the way. I like to be surprised. If a film manages to misdirect you in an obvious way just to trick you and then reveal a killer twist you never see coming then to me the film has succeeded. Unfortunately Ghostland doesn't offer anything more. To make matters worse they even repeat the twist because apparently they think it's so clever. Trust me it's not. 

For some reason the writer H. P. Lovecraft is an essential part of the film. This filled me with promise it never could deliver. Actually I find it quite insulting for writer / director Pascal Laugier to compare himself to H. P. Lovecraft. At least Lovecraft understood how to be foreboding and instill dread the right way. Laugier basically just resorts to torture porn and unrealistic villains. I mean really. When are people like Laugier going to understand that really dangerous people look like you and me. You can't see them coming. As for the witch and ogre. Please! How can you not notice them?

Ghostland can offer a distraction if you are not to odemanding. But for an avid horror fan like me it falls short and never delivers on it's own premise. 

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Review Police Story (4K Ultra HD Remastered Collection Blu-ray) a.k.a. Ging chaat goo si (1985): A Jackie Chan claasic!

genre: action, comedy, crime

Before I start with the actual review I will say a few things about the quality of this Blu-ray. The 4K Ultra HD Remastered version on Blu-ray of Police Story 3: Supercop is amazing so in my enthusiasm I assumed this would be just as stunning. Unfortunately this is not the case. 

And to avoid confusion. These aren't 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays. But the sources they are transferred from are 4K. Begs the question what prints those 4K are transferred from. Since apparently with the first Police Story the original source is questionable. Mind you the image is clear and crisp. The audio quality is good as well. But I am sure a true audiophile will have some issues with it. I do have an ear for quality sound. Only I choose not to get this in the way of my enjoyment. That being said the overall quality of image and sound is on par with most quality Blu-rays. However especially image wise I had hoped the colours would pop as much as in the Super Cop 3 version. So that it would give me that extra joy and viewing pleasure. Then again some distributors only can work with what they have been given. The fact that most Hong Kong films have been poorly preserved is a tragedy in itself. One can only praise the efforts for these distributors and publishers to bring you high quality transfers. 

Over time I might revisit this review and do a comparison between the DVD version and this Blu-ray. To see if it really matters that much. In my opinion it definitely does. 

So now the actual review

Police Story is a Jackie Chan classic. Is it a masterpiece? Yes. Does this mean it's perfect? No. It's very flawed. However it is one the first modern Hong Kong action film to combine good story telling with big budgeted spectacle. The action and stunt sequences truly are spectacular. But it might take some time to realize this. Jackie Chan probably was aware of this and thus the Jackie Chan blooper reel was born. It's in this reel where you get to see how dangerous the stunts were. Almost every actor got hurt in some way. Thing is had this been a Hollywood blockbuster film most likely the film would have had more explosions and other effects. And thus would have been experienced as a bigger movie. Still I think Jackie Chan has demonstrated to have vision with him opting for realism. The stunts and action sequences are intense, fun and lasting. It very much packs a punch in the same vein as it originally did.

The comedy bits aren't as strong and funny as in other works of Jackie Chan but there will be a lot of times where you will be laughing at the absurdity of it all. Somehow I remember more comedic antics but that could be because it has been a long time I viewed Police Story again. 

Definitely a must watch if love good action films. Rush Hour and every other American Jackie Chan film doesn't even come close to this. 

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