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The Raid 2: Berandal Review

May 4, 2014

Despite managing to experience an early screening of The Raid 2, I’m already late with a review. No walk outs at my screening, but if I could shove the entire internet audience in, its reception would lead to a World War III among the audience. For those who don’t want to read me going over the film in nauseating detail, just read the headlines.

It’s not bad

Your own appreciation and/or tolerance of The Raid 2 is in how you approach it. I’ve created a Coles Notes version of the review for those who don’t like things written in paragraphs.

1 IT HAD A LOT OF HYPE

Just like its predecessor, The Raid, the film arrived with of a shitstorm of hype. Action-lovers were quick to the internet to vote the 9 and 10s on IMDb as soon as the first premieres happened. Even worse was that The Raid 2‘s early reviews compared the film to The Godfather (!) After hearing that, I tried to avoid all promotion, gushing, trailers, and reviews until I could see the damn thing myself. I had trouble avoiding the trailer, as YouTube “suggestions” got the better of me, and my regular Twitter feed wanted to see and hear every little bit they could. I succumbed to watching a single trailer, but that was it. Not bad for avoiding it like the plague.

With this kind of hype, I don’t think anyone could go in and be 100% satisfied. Is it the best action film ever? To some maybe, but what are you comparing it too? Is Drunken Master 2 your favourite? Dirty Harry? The Killer? Terminator 2? Mad Max 2? These are films that excel in different ways and can’t all be measured by the same yard stick. So once the phrase “best _____ ever” comes into play, we all enter with different expectations of how it’s going to trump whatever we imagine to be the best in the genre. So if you are expecting this film to be similar to Mad Max 2, you are shit out of luck.

2 IT HAS A PLOT

People have told me after seeing this that the plot is dumber than a bag of hammers. Firmly plant me in the audience who wants his film peppered with a story that tries to do something different. These carbon copy screenplays leave me bored to tears when action isn’t happening though, so you have to really admire some of the cast or crew to watch them go through the same old hat that many times, right?

This is going to be problematic for those who loved The Raid for its simple “kill the guys” plot. Simple isn’t bad, but simple with innovation is best. Unlike The Raid, which limited itself to individual grungy rooms, The Raid 2 takes place in various locations that include car chases, long lush hallways, dance clubs, prison bathrooms, and gives the viewers new characters and new locations to cause havoc! As the plot progresses, they up the ante involving the gangster plot and Iko Uwais’ character moving through the ranks as an undercover cop in the crime underworld. Not exactly deep, but I’m not expecting Ingmar Bergman either.

This movie doesn’t have a stronger story underneath the action scenes like the gangster films of Johnnie To or John Woo. It lacks their more in-depth views of Cop/Gangster politics and their own personal views on how their characters act in their lives. It’s closer to a Luc Besson produced film, with lots of flashy scenes and attempts at character development. It’s all rather baroque in that sense: it looks nice, but lacks the depth to bring any real meaning to it. That’s fine by me though, as you see scenes as cartoonish as a shotgun to the face or a women walking off a porno set with a rubber strap-on. Set your expectations accordingly.

3 DOES SECONDARY THINGS
BETTER THAN THE RAID

From the opening scene, it feels like less of a low budget film than The Raid. Sets are decorated wisely and we are constrained to a single building where each floor looks the same. This leads to great scenes, including a car chase organized by the Hong Kong team headed by Bruce Law. The secondary cast is much stronger too, with good performances by Tio Pauksadewo as the mob boss and Ryuhei Matsuda, who almost resembles a subdued J-pop boy band member. Enough has been said about Hammer Girl and Baseball Batman elsewhere, but I enjoyed these James Bond-esque villains who deliver the goods. They aren’t exactly fleshed-out, but they give us enough of a break from Iko Uwais, and allows other characters to display things that are desperately missing in The Raid, such as humor, or y’know, different locations. I don’t think anyone laughed at my screening of The Raid, but there were more much needed humorous touches in The Raid 2.

I have really mixed feelings about Yayan Ruhian, the long-haired character in the film. Yayan’s side-plot isn’t needed in an already 2+ hour film but contain good choreographed action during his finale. Here’s hoping you can integrate him better into the plot next time, Gareth!

4 SOME MAJOR THINGS ARE
WORSE THAN THE RAID

Early action scenes in the film do not entirely work. Evans sets-up the two prison action scenes at the mudpit and the washroom, quite admirably building the right amount of tension before they should take off. However, as soon as they start, they are plagued by shakey-cam and are bit hard to follow what’s going on, especially with Uwais battling several people at once.

As the plot progresses, I found the shaky cam less obtrusive or perhaps less prevalent. This brings up my theory: do we only really notice these techniques in films when we are frustrated with a film’s plot points or when scenes run on too long? Other shakey-cam pioneers, like Lars von Trier, have cams moving around like they’re manned by a drunk, but I only notice it during scenes where I’m getting a bit bored about extended conversations about fly fishing or whatever is happening in Nymphomaniac. But back to The Raid 2, when Iko leaves prison, I got into the film more and ta-da, the shakey-cam seemed less distracting. Magic!

Most frustrating for me is that the biggest problem I had with The Raid is still present: Iko Uwais’ acting. It doesn’t live up to the standards of the rest of his cast. His facial expression never changes beyond a brooding stare. That being said, he can brood with the best of ‘em, but even Batman cracks jokes with Alfred once in awhile and Christian Bale is mocked incessantly for his Nolan Batman series online. Iko’s brow never changes, even during the following events:

Iko Uwais in The Raid 2

I had to keep myself from giggling in the theater when we see Iko on a toilet looking quite cross at something at one point in the film. It’s revealed that he’s just about to meet up with a host of baddies who are eager for his blood outside his stall, but it looks like he’s just intensely upset about his lack of Pepto Bismol. Iko is a long ways away from other leading men who can balance out facial reactions to match a scene.

So, The Raid 2 fixes several things I tolerated in the first film and offers a greater amount of variety and whiz and bang. What it lacks, however, is a story that pushes it beyond the action that is inherent in the films of To, Woo, or Ringo Lam. It also needs a leading actor with the skill and charisma of Chow Yun Fat. If you can overlook the hype machine and want to see a flashy, lengthy film with lots of violent action, The Raid 2 lives up to such standards. If you want the next The Killer or Exiled, you’re going to be checking your watch. If you are looking for crazy action reminiscent of golden era Hong Kong, then just wait until they get out of prison in the film. I hope Evans doesn’t abandon action films entirely, but with such hype erupting before these films even screen, how could his next work be anything but underwhelming? Maybe he needs to take a break and come back to The Raid franchise once the hype for these films settles down.

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Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai DVD cover is crap

December 24, 2011

So I’m back. School is done for another semester and I can actually get down to some reviews. Despite not blogging, I did manage to catch several action films theatrically during my school time, namely Die Hard, Eastern Condors, and Attack the Block!.

But holidays are still busy times, so let’s focus on something that caught my attention. the horrible cover of Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai by Mike Taxi Takashi Miike. Let’s take a peek.

UK Hara-Kiri DVD cover

At first glance, it’s a bit generic but I’m not expecting a Criterion or Masters of Cinema cover here. The lame age warnings on the cover are typical Region 2 DVD stuff that appears on everything from Goodfellas (Gangster violence!) to My Neighbor Totoro (Gangster catbus!). There’s some just some really odd decisions on this cover. Let’s examine the most obvious glaring problems.

Bad Compression DVD Hara-Kiri

Well, this is difficult. For those who have been collecting Asian films on DVD for a while this kind of bad quality is sometimes expected, but why is the sword such nice quality? Is it that hard to find a decent resolution screen capture from this film? or a promo photo? Let alone one that doesn’t have some splatter brush on the sword. Eau de photoshop is what I’d refer to this if I was critiquing work at school.

Photoshop dorkery aside, let’s get what’s wrong with this filmwise. Take a closer look to the bottom of the cover of this package.

Ken Watanabe Harakiri

That’s odd. I don’t recall Ken Watanabe being in this film. In fact, he seems to have kept his clothes from The Last Samurai.

Yep. Surprisingly, this isn’t even the worst offender on the cover. Look who we have in the left corner.

Toshiro Mifune Harakiri 2011

Now we have some serious problems. That’s Toshiro Mifune who starred in several of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films. He’s dead. Did Takashi Miike use some stock footage of Toshiro and shove him into this film?

Regardless of these problems, I took two seconds and fixed this cover from total humiliation in just two seconds.

Fixed DVD Cover
Eh, no one cares about that Empire quote anyways

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Colombiana Review

September 8, 2011
Luc Besson starts a script
Luc Besson writes a film script as I blog

Luc Besson fans generally praise some of his 90s films such as The Professional, Nikita and The Fifth Element. On the otherside, we has his detractors who claim his films are poorly told stories derivative of American and Hong Kong action films. Personally, I’m on the fence about his works. Some people have referred to him as the French Spielberg or the French John Woo, but since he’s slowed down his film output (outside making animated films or movies involving woman who releases a pterodactyl in Paris), I’m leaning towards the group that believe he’s more like a French Roger Corman. Since the 2000s, he’s been more active churning out scripts for French directors who are now handling a lot of the major Hollywood action films. These include Louis Leterrier (The Transporter, Transporter 2 and The Incredible Hulk), Pierre Morel (District B13, Taken and From Paris with Love). I’m not sure how Besson and Europa pick directors, but Morel claims to have started at Europa by making tea for Bessson and crew.

For those not in the know, Roger Corman managed to make a lot of quickies that usually worked, but (in my opinion) usually range from bad to average. Besson is in the same boat and I usually put his screenplays to blame which often feel rushed and lack good story-telling techniques. That’s why when I see his name attached to a script, I get a bit concerned! Columbiana is not exception. Directed by the amazingly named Olivier Megaton, it’s a slick film but manages to simply be quite …average. I mean really really average. All the actors are all superbly okay: actin’s okay, clean visuals with a sexy lead who dreams of being a killer at a young age to get her revenge on the people who killed her parents. You’ve seen it all before not only in Besson’s films like Nikita, but in his other productions with revenge as an ingredient.

I don’t even know if I’d recommend it for seasoned Besson fans as it’s just far too familiar to anyone who’s seen his earlier films. Even if you ignore Besson and are one of the world’s few Olivier Megaton fans, you’ll find he’s toned down action in comparison to his previous film Transporter 3 leaving nothing but revenge story in it’s place until the final act. The action during the fist fight at the end is some of the worst I’ve seen from a major studio production. Why am I having so much trouble following punches between two people in a single room? I’m going to assume that the action is toned down as well Corey Yuen was not involved with the action choreography, as he was in Transporter 3. Unless you can pass seeing the attractive of Zoe Saldaña in motion, then you can gi…

Luc Besson starts a script
Well, that was fast.

Damn you Besson, you finished your script before I finished my blog. But yes, Colombiana will hardly leave you breathless if you remember it at all after leaving the theater. Avoid!

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Sucker Punch Blu-Ray Review

August 19, 2011

Sucker Punch is a film I put off seeing in theaters as the cinema of Zack Snyder…let’s face it, he’s not my bag! In my eyes, Snyder’s Frank Miller adaptation 300 is a lesser film than Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is obviously stronger better than the remake and Watchmen was always un-filmable. I haven’t read the original comic, but only the character of The Comedian stood out for me as a memorable superhero. With those previous experiences, I’ve put off on watching Sucker Punch until yesterday. Time to play catch-up with the rest of the internet.

After minutes of deep thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is Snyder’s worst film yet. Here’s a handy chart.

Zak Snyder Filmography: His films aren't great
I haven’t seen that owl movie he made. Chart Incomplete!

Sucker Punch is an original story that Snyder penned with the idea of a film that contains action scenes that “aren’t limited by the physical realities that normal people are limited by, but still have the story make sense so it’s not, and I don’t mean to be mean, like a bullshit thing like Ultraviolet“. Ouch! Take that Kurt Wimmer! To do so, Snyder had created a film that revolves around a young girl nicknamed(?) Babydoll who is sent to an insane asylum/brothel/magical-emporium where her plans to break-out involve gathering four (or is it five?) everyday items. To get these items, Babydoll performs dances which put her into a fantasy world where she battles various monsters/robots/dragons with her pack of wigs.

Why wigs? That’s pretty much what the characters in this film amount too in separating themselves from each other. There’s already a dozen articles online from various sources about how much of how the females are treated in this film, but let’s face the facts: both men and women in this film are pretty characterless. Whether it’s the villains who are distinguishable because they have accents or are silent drones such as the I, Robot-esque robots from the bomb-on-a-train hijacking scene. The girls in this film are not divided by personality but by their hair-cut. My least favourite of these girls is the main one: Babydoll. The unending close-ups of her face and her overall plasticity make her character robotic and lacking in a personality. Doll-like might have been what they were going for, but it translates all too literally. The story explicitly states she is 20 years-old, but I really get some serious pedo-bait vibes from her. It’s PG-13 though, so nothing overly sexual happens unless corsets and upskirt shots during the action scenes tickle your fancy. If your sadomasochism is your game, these girls don’t even get bruised. I smell a film that was chopped up to get a PG-13 rating. I wonder if the level of gore in films like 300 and Watchmen had anything to do with that?

Babydoll gets a visit from Pedobear
Tough luck bear! She’s 20!

The actors in this film are still thankfully more competent then let’s say…Corey Yuen’s DOA. The action scenes are silly steampunk infused malarkey but I’m still not a fan of how Snyder handles them. His scenes are large and fantastical but when you overlay physical characters (whether it’s Babydoll in Sucker Punch or Leonidas in 300) in these green screen arenas. If I can’t feel that a character is really there, how can I myself as a viewer feel like I’m there with them? Perhaps these scenes work better in a fully-animated works like that owl film which will not be named here. Unless someone wants to send me a copy of that, I’m not going to be watching it anytime soon. For a contrast of how these computer-boosted fights look to real-scene locations, look no further then the credit sequence involving a cover Roxy Music’s “Love is the Drug“. It’s more cinematic than anything in the story…it’s more steamy too if you were looking for that!

If you a fan of the film, both the image and sound quality on the American blu-ray which is what’s expected for a film this new. The “Extended Cut” should not be confused with a “Director’s Cut”. It involves slightly extended action sequences and an added dance scene. No extra story details are hidden within to flesh out the film. The bonus features are a joke. There are four animated blips to expand on the fantasy sequences. Their narrations feel like they should be in the latest Mortal Kombat game while they only raise further questions for me. Do these scenes that are dreamed up by Babydoll need back-stories? Are they even happening? Does anyone care?! Bah! Even more of a joke is the information involving the soundtrack which ends with Zack Snyder announcing that yes! Even he himself drives around in his car listening to the soundtrack involving Bjork’s “Army of Me” as well as the covers of “Sweet Dreams” and “Where is my Mind?”. Since there is a unique choice of covers for the film, it’s a mighty shame there’s no information of why these songs were chosen. In short: it’s an ad for the soundtrack.

Sucker Punch does live up to Snyder’s desire to make something better than Ultraviolet for the fact alone that it does not include a baby in a suitcase like Ultraviolet does. The cast has the ability to act with their limited characters, but I wouldn’t rush to check it out. As far as films go in the cheesy category of Heavy Metal magazine influenced fighting-girl-gangs go, it’s better than Corey Yuen’s DOA but not as strong as let’s say…Johnnie To’s The Heroic Trio. Even if you are a Snyder fan, approach which lowered expectations.

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True Legend Review

August 1, 2011

Watching True Legend can be a frustrating experience. It is Yuen Woo-ping’s long-waited return to the director’s chair since 1996 and after making a huge name for himself in Hollywood. 14 years is a long time to wait for a new film from him and I’m afraid that it still has the problems I associate with the director…not to mention he has picked up a few new problems along the way.

True Legend‘s plot involves Su Can (Man Cheuk Chiu) who leads a military troop to save a prince from a large fortress of enemies in the mountains. In return, the prince promises that the Emperor will make him governor of Hu Bei. Su’s step brother Yuan (Andy On) is jealous but Su shows love and respect to Yuan and asks the prince to make Yuan governor instead. Five years later, Su has left the military life and is attempting to perfect Wu Shu while living with his wife Ying (Xun Zhou) and their child, Feng. Yuan returns from to the family to seek revenge as he has learned that Su’s father killed Yuan’s father. Yuan has mastered an evil martial arts technique called the Five Venom Fists. Unaware of Yuan’s revenge, Su has a welcome party for him but Yuan gets his revenge by decapitating Su’s father. He expresses his desire to be with his sister and her son as a family. Su finds his father murdered and is ambushed by a pair of ninjas. After fighting them off, Yuan manages to take Ying and Feng and escape. Wuan catches up with him near a raging river, where Ying is hit with the Five Venom fist and tossed into the rapids. Ying jumps in after him and recovers next to an unconcious Wuan in forested mountain area. Wuan is revived by Sister Yu (Michelle Yeoh).

Plot break! So far so good right? This first part of True Legend is pretty enjoyable and I was surprised how much I was enjoying it. Some scenes are really beautifully shot, specifically the wide mountain ranges and a great fight scene at the Hukou Waterfall.

This video below showcases the waterfall:


The Hukou waterfall. You have to imagine in Andy On fighting over it yourself.

The plot so far is no great shakes, but it’s enjoyable in a Shaw Brothers style and has solid looking production values. The CG work so far is kept to a minimum with CG daggers being tossed and avoided and it isn’t terribly distracting. The only completely intolerable effect so far is seeing Su Can being tossed into the raging river which. This would have been so much more effective with some clever editing instead of the lame special effect which resembles them vanishing before they hit the water. Yuan’s Five Venom Fist has given his skin a purple tinged veiny look which is cornball, but Andy On is totally scenery chewing in this role so it suits his over the top character. Speaking of the actors, Man Cheuk Chiu is not as strong as one would hope as the lead. This is his first feature film performance in a few years and I wish it was a bit more charismatic.

As we return to the plot in True Legend, the film really begins to fall apart. As soon as we get to the mountain, we have run into an old problem from the past that has always plagued Yuen-woo Ping films: the drama. The story begins to lose itself as Su Can begins to encounter the Wu Shu Gods (played by Gordon Liu and Jay Chou)…or does he? There’s a story involving that he may have gone crazy while training but it’s poorly developed and doesn’t really relate as the story progresses. Did I mention that Man Cheuk Chiu is fighting Jay Chou on an ugly CG mountain range? The mountain looks particularly fake especially in contrast with the gorgeous shots of the real mountains and rivers seen earlier in the film. Jay Chou as the God of Wu Shu is appointment’s: He uses some fancy weaponry, but the more talented players (namely Liu and Yeoh) are wasted by just making brief appearances here and do not get a chance to flex their action abilities. This is particularly unfortunate considering how much Yeoh is promoted as being in the film on the Chinese posters. You know who gets much more screen time?

This…kid…bah. Prepare for him crying, shouting, screaming and whining if you sit down for True Legend. He’s used to very excessive melodramatic effect to try and squeeze some emotion from the audience. I don’t have any sympathy for him at all and was sighing with relief when the scenes with him end.

Continuing with the plot, I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that Man Cheuk Chiu goes to rescue the little brat from Yuan where the two have a decent battle which includes a fight within a well and him ripping off Andy On’s armor to a gory effect. This fight scene also confusing includes several pots being broken. I mean a lot! True Legend was shown partially in 3D in China, and I must assume that this is one of the 3D scenes as it get increasingly funny watching pot after pot being smashed. A final fight with Yuan sounds like a good end to an already overlong film, but there is a very unnecessary second act tacked on involving Yuan and the horrible child. This scene is not terribly related to the previous scenes and involves Yuan going up against a group of Russian wrestlers. Sounds cool on paper but once you find out that wrestlers who are mostly able to just grapple and choke their way through a fight, it’s not exactly a visually entertaining choreography. This scene also has David Carridine in it as the anti-Chinese head of the wrestlers. I’ll assume he’s anti-Russian as well as he seems to keep his wrestlers in cages before the match. In the print I saw, the film is dedicated to Carradine which feels very strange to me.

That’s True Legend in a nutshell. Strong first bit, and then totally crumbling after. I wonder if other powers at be had their hand in True Legend. Yuen stated in an interview with Variety that he preferred to shoot on real locations as others would look fake. Then why shoot God of Wu Shu battle scene on this horrible CG mountain? I suppose it doesn’t matter too much as with or without special effects, True Legend completely loses itself as they hit the mountain range. Perhaps get a good script Yuen and a better cast and you’ll be back on track.

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