5 posts categorized "Martial Arts"

March 19, 2012

THE RAID

The-raid-poster Battle Royale
It's Gettin' Real in the Jakarta Housing Block
By Cole Smithey

Writer/director Gareth Evans's brazenly over-the-top martial arts extravaganza sets a new waterline for what audiences can expect from a genre that never gets old. Filmed in a gritty cinéma vérité style by ace cinematographer Matt Flannery (“Merantau”), the well-contained martial arts action movie is a non-stop assault of brutal violence delivered with blinding speed. Unlike Hollywood action movies that sugarcoat their body counts, here we really feel it when a character is suddenly dispatched from their mortal coil with extreme prejudice.

The-raid3

The nuts-and-bolts storyline follows an elite special-forces team of 20 SWAT-like Jakarta troops made up of mainly rookies. Their mission is to raid a heavily guarded 15-story apartment block occupied by Tama (Ray Sahetapy). Tama is one very well defended drug kingpin living on the building’s top floor. Tama keeps tabs on the action below from his bank of surveillance monitors. With no police back up available, the team soon find they have bitten off much more trouble than they can chew. Traitors on both sides of the conflict make undercover moves. Although the plot may sound familiar, nothing feels like a rehash. Every scene is exhilarating, putting the audience in an ideal vantage point for every kick, punch, and kill.

Raid

Team-leader replacement Rama (Iko Uwais) is a one-man fighting and killing machine. Uwais’s unmistakable mastery of tonfas, as used against machete-wielding attackers, provides for some truly jaw-dropping scenes. It’s notable that martial arts master Iko Uwais also served as fight choreographer alongside Yayan Ruhian. The film’s painstaking attention to every detail of complex action involved in every frame is truly astonishing. The corollary precision between camera and stunts carry an instinctive logic. The effect is a physical, visual, and intellectual brainstorm of clear-eyed martial arts violence. Evans smartly gives shape to the unfolding barrage of action sequences by relying on the story’s key aspect, which demands that the diminishing squad of cops must conquer their opponents floor by floor. Bruce Lee famously used the narrative device for his last — unfinished — film “The Game of Death” in which Lee had to overcome attackers from different fighting disciplines on each floor as he worked his way to the top. Here too, several fighting styles are used. Indonesian judo and silat are prominently on display.

Raid2

“The Raid” represents a new breed of action film. Narrative and spectacle are pressed to their farthest limits in the service of a serious-minded drama. An ever-increasing level of complexity in the film’s abundant fight sequences leads to a couple of climatic battles that are categorically exhilarating. Indeed, the filmmakers’ ability to pace the film’s orgiastic spree of clashes not only gives the audience time to breathe, but also allows for the plot’s necessary escalation of physical difficulty. For martial arts fans, “The Raid” is required viewing. For everyone else, it's a dynamic action movie that will leave you stunned and amazed.

Rated R. 101 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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January 31, 2011

IP MAN 2

Mirroring the Master
Ip Man Sequel is a Knock-Out
By Cole Smithey

Ipman2The second half of Wilson Yip's enthralling Ip Man biopic ratchets up its martial arts fight sequences with phenomenal duels that put you on the edge of your seat. The political exigencies of the wartime Japanese occupation that came to dominate Ip Man's family life in his hometown of Foshan, China shift to Hong Kong, then a British colony. In order to teach his Wing Chun style of martial arts, Ip Man must first establish himself against Hong Kong's local kung fu masters.

Crustacean Hate: Ip Man 2 (2010)

Fighting atop an unanchored table amid a sea of upturned stools, Ip Man practices his craft with a calm fierceness that belies the blinding speed of his hands and feet. Donnie Yen is positively sublime in the role. Renowned martial arts choreographer Sammo Hung admirably fulfills the role of Master Hung, a kung fu master every bit as gifted as Ip Man.

IP MAN 2 (2011) - Official Movie Site - Watch IP MAN 2 Online

"Ip Man 2" comes to revel in a heavily pronounced Chinese nationalist theme when a Western-style boxer who goes by Taylor "the Twister" Milos (Darren Shahlavi) publicly insults Chinese boxing. It's been a very long time since a filmmaker has upped the stakes on what audiences can and should expect from a martial arts film. You will not be disappointed.

Ipman2

There is a marked shift from the first film's tone of political oppression toward a more dynamic celebration of Ip Man's mastery of Wing Chun kung fu. The fusillade of blinding punches Donnie Yen executes sounds like a drum roll when Ip Man slips into overdrive during flashy moments of hand-to-hand combat. Doubtless, Wing Chun schools around the globe are enjoying an upsurge in enrollment as an indication of the two films.

Ipman2

With little money and a pregnant wife (Lynn Hung), Ip Man rents a rooftop where he plans to teach martial arts. Naturally, every would-be student is a street punk whom the unassuming master must defeat before they will put any stock in him as their sifu (master). Ip Man's first student, Leung (Pierre Ngo), invites a band of friends who take their lessons seriously, perhaps too seriously.

Ip Man, Martial Arts Master - Wong Kar-wai - Film - The New York Times

An impromptu fight with local thugs lands Leung in Dutch as a hostage that Ip Man must rescue from a watery fish market holding-bin guarded by a butcher-knife wielding gang. The tense situation allows for a crowded kung fu action sequence where Ip Man and his keen student prove their effectiveness against a large group of attackers. Extracting a pair of knives, Ip Man reverses the blades so as to not cut his enemy. Instead, he uses the deadly weapons to batter his rivals into submission. This evidence of the master's restraint is indicative of the modesty Ip Man exerts when he later thanks the two local martial arts masters he defeats for "letting him win." His respectful behavior also flies in the face of Master Hung, who acts as an extortionist for Wallace (Charles Mayer), the racist expatriate police chief who attempts to control the outspoken local press when he isn't lining his pockets with currency he can't stand the smell of.

Ipman2

As a biopic, Wilson Yip's treatment of Ip Man's cult of personality is tilted toward a Chinese self-identity that honors humility. Ip Man's documented troubles with opium addiction are never addressed. His recovery from a gunshot wound he suffered at the end of the first film is given only cursory attention in an opening credit sequence flashback. It's certain that the screenwriters took innumerable narrative liberties in transposing Ip Man's life to the big screen.

Watch Ip Man 2 | Netflix

The Ip Man films stand up better as martial arts spectacle movies than they do as biographical records. Whether or not Ip Man was ever made to test his skills against Hong Kong kung fu masters seems uncertain. It's even less persuasive that he was ever called upon to publicly represent the identity of Eastern martial arts against Western boxing in such a crass environment as a boxing ring against such a cartoonish circus-styled opponent as "the Twister."

Dell on Movies: Ip Man 2

Regardless of their revisionist history brush strokes, the Ip Man films have merit as thoroughly entertaining martial arts movies. They represent an attention to discipline and humanitarian ethics that should never be forgotten.

Ip Man 2 - AsianWiki

 Rated R. 108 mins.

4 Stars

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal!

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October 15, 2006

JET LI'S FEARLESS

The Last Big Jet
Jet Li Delivers a Grand Martial Arts Finale
By Cole Smithey

FearlessHailed as Jet Li’s final martial arts epic, "Jet Li’s Fearless" is an action-packed story about Chinese historical figure Huo Yuanjia who became famous before disgracing himself and bringing tragedy upon his family, only to eventually redeem himself and his country in a national tournament. The movie opens with a 1910 competition promoted by the Foreign Chamber of Commerce in which Yuanjia (Li) must fight four opponents in succession, each representing a different faction of foreign influence in 19th and 20th century China.

Fearless

The breathtaking fight sequence segues to Yuanjia’s backstory as the asthmatic son of a wushu (the inclusive term for martial arts that means ‘avert fighting’) master who attempted to shield his frail son from the fighting skills that he taught his disciples. Director/producer Ronny Yu ("Bride of Chucky") and action choreographer Yuen Wo Peng ("Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2") pack the film with twice the action of a typical kung fu action movie while still rendering a poignant parable of human experience. Significantly, the movie breaks the revenge paradigm of the standard martial arts film genre to embrace the grace and restraint that underlines the philosophy of wushu.

Fearless

"Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself makes you fearless." This quote, taken from Lao Tzu, the father of Taoism, is presented as the premise for the film’s title, and supports Yuanjia’s rise, fall, and eventual rebirth. After his father is defeated in a public match, the young Yuanjia loses a fight to a bully and vows that it will never happen again. Yuanjia remains true to this oath as he diligently trains in solitude for years before battling fighters from around his region, exhibiting an outsized ego to match his increasing fame.

Fearless

With his best friend and trusted accountant beside him, Yuanjia invariably takes on disciples and dilettantes interested in taking advantage of the free food and drinks that he offers them. Yuanjia’s hubris backfires when another local wushu master beats up one of his students, and the revenge-seeking Yuanjia interrupts the master’s birthday celebration to challenge him to a contest that will serve as the action centerpiece of the movie. As party guests flee, Yuanjia and his opponent wield mighty Daoshu swords (single-edged broadswords) against one another in a breathtaking duel that is one of the most electrifying martial arts weapon sequences ever filmed. Before the combat is over, the swords have been chipped apart and the men resort to their most lethal barehanded techniques.

Jet-li-fearless

The aftermath of the fight sends Yuanjia into self-imposed exile that finds him assisted by a blind rural farm girl named Moon (Sun Li). She gradually helps the disconsolate man restore his sense of self. During this second act the unspoken meaning of wushu surfaces in the subtext of the narrative. We witness Yuanjia’s competitive nature in check.

Fearless

For all its phenomenal action-packed combat scenes that feature rarely seen weapons such as the three-section staff and the Qiangshi spear, the movie meticulously fulfills its emotional and thematic context to its historical subject. Jet Li thoroughly inhabits his character’s spiritual transformation with a transparent and uninhibited performance that sticks with you long after the rush of the visual action has subsided. Director Ronny Yu eschews wires and quick cuts instead allowing the audience to savor the full scope of Li’s admirable skill set.

Fearless

In clarifying his public statement about the movie marking the end of his career as a martial arts star, Jet Li has stated that this is the last film in which he will practice the strenuous traditional wushu style of such masters like Huo Yuanjia. At the age of 43, Jet says his body will no longer allow him the hyperbolic displays of athleticism demanded by the genre. He will, however, continue to perform roles that utilize his skills in films like the upcoming "Rogue" opposite Jason Statham, where Li plays an enigmatic assassin. "Jet Li’s Fearless" isn’t just a martial arts movie; it’s a truly great one.

Rated PG-13. 104 mins. 

4 Stars

Fearless


COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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