The Hunt for Gollum

Yes, Peter Jackson's adaptation of the Lord of the Rings is now inspiring fan films as well. This one actually looks quite well done considering that fantasy films can look quite bad even with a proper budget. The trailer certainly captures the essence of Jackson's trilogy quite handsomely as the story follows Aragorn's hunt for Gollum prior to Gandalf returning to Hobbiton and sending Frodo off to Bree (and yes, the music is original, too).

The film will premiere at the 8th Annual "Sci-Fi-London" International Festival of Science Fiction and Fantastic Film on May 3rd, then almost immediately be available online for free viewing. Be sure to check out the official website for the latest.



This is just a short entry to acknowledge a film that has two of France's more capable and absolutely stunningly gorgeous actresses in one film: Sophie Marceau and Monica Bellucci. Sprinkle on a little news that their film will be screening at the Midnight Screening section of the Cannes International Film Festival, and you certainly have my interest. Looking forward to more information and a trailer soon.

The trailer has been released along with a synopis:
Jeanne a writer, married, with two children - starts to see unsettling changes in her home. Her body is beginning to change. No one around her seems to notice. Her family dismisses these fears as the result of the stress of having to finish her next book, but Jeanne realizes that something far deeper, far more disturbing is taking place. A photograph at her mother’s house sends her in search of a woman in Italy. Here, transformed into another woman, RosaMaria, she will discover the strange secret of her true identity.

via Allocine France

Looks very good to me. I certainly didn't expect a psychological thriller, but I'm very glad it is just to see Sophie Marceau really play with the material. I'm surprised how little of Monica Bellucci there is, but that may be the point...

*Update 2*
There is now a second teaser that is focuses on Monica Belluci's character. You can find it at Allocine here. The premise continues to be increasingly alluring.


The Legend is Alive

Many of you will recognize the name of Dustin Nguyen from his "21 Jump Street Days" and wondered where's he been? Well, for a while, he had to take care of personal matters which hindered him from taking a full load of work. He did appear for a while in the TV show "V.I.P." probably just to pay bills. But he's recently been active in films, primarily in his home country of Vietnam.

The latest work is called The Legend is Alive. In it, Nguyen portrays a mentally handicapped adult who also happens to have fighting prowess. There have been a few films with this type of character lately, most notably Jet Li in Danny the Dog and recently the Thai film Chocolate. However, I think where The Legend is Alive differs from those two examples is that Nguyen is playing up the mental handicap more than the fighting prowess. In Jet Li's film and the Thai film, that mental handicap happened to produce a type "martial autism." In other words, their decreased mental ability is made up by their fighting ability. From what I can gather, Nguyen's character has the ability to protect himself, but it is no more special than anyone who has trained hard to acquire those skills; in the meantime--and while he is fighting--his mental & emotional capacity to grasp the situation is just as handicapped as it is when he is not fighting.

The story really focuses on Nguyen's character, named after Bruce Lee, as he tries to keep a promise to take to America his deceased mother, who gave him his moral foundation and made sure he could handle himself when she was gone. A simple act of asking on the streets whether a certain bus went to America plunges him into the world of human trafficking where he builds new relations with others "being sent" to America. What I think is interesting is that there doesn't seem to be any need on the part of the filmmakers to make Bruce some liberator. He is not and can not rescue everyone from the clutches of the black market. He can, however, reach out to people who have reached out to him; an act of kindness received, an act of kindness returned. Simple morals maybe, but certainly nonetheless effective, especially when Nguyen is expertly playing up the emotional aspects of his character's journey. There just happens to be a little martial arts action in there as well.

I would normally link or embed a trailer with this post, but the quality of the video available online is quite poor. If you're interested in watching it, do a search for "The Legend is Alive Trailer" and you should find it. In exchange, here are some stills from the film.

The film has already been released in Vietnam and won numerous awards at their version of the Oscar's known as the Golden Kites Awards. Let's hope the film will find international distribution soon.



I must apologize for returning to single word titles, but there does seem to be a lot of them around these day. At any rate, Thirst
is the latest from Korean maestro Park Chan-wook. If you haven't seen his Vengeance series (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Old Boy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) you really should. Park is a director with a very unique style that can best be described as courageous. His stylish dexterity with the camera is only matched by an unwavering desire for you to feel every emotion of the characters. It's because of this that he has become one the most internationally praised contemporary Korean directors.

Just check out the impressive trailer.

Park has turned a priest, the symbol of chaste morals & restrained behavior, and turned him into a vampire, a creature that must sustain itself through satisfying its desires; it's a thematic mine field I think he'll gleefully prance through for the gritty emotional fruit that could bear. Unflinching in its presentation and crafted with skill, this is definitely high on my list of films to see. It just got selected to compete at Cannes, so the heat on this film should start building.



This film looks like it might have all the right elements to be a possible classic. It's based on the exploits of historical folk hero, Ishikawa Goemon, a Japanese version of Robin Hood by some accounts. It has a stellar cast of well-known and capable actors. The production design and art direction are exquisite and fantastic. The official website is slick and full of content. This might be a a film I should be truly excited about. So, why the guarded and apprehensive comments?

Well, this is the second film by Kazuaki Kiriya. His first film, Casshern had me very excited. Like Goemon, it was an adaptation of a heroic figure, Tatsunoko Production's "Casshern: Robot Fighter." It, too, boasted a stellar cast and the production design and art direction were first-rate. Kiriya, a former fashion photographer and video director, knew how to package his film with glorious production stills of the cast (see above) and knew how to market the film by using the internet to release copious amounts of art work and video diaries on the official website. He was certainly going for a style no one had done in Japan before, namely, actors performing before almost all CG environments. The trailers displayed a world and action that had never been realized in Japanese genre films. I was bristling with anticipation to see it. I bought magazines that featured exclusive cast photos. I had a friend buy the souvenir program booklet sold only at theaters. When the film was released, reviews were tepid to negative, mostly laying the blame squarely on Kiriya's style which they accused of being too much like a music video. I ignored them, chalking it up to haughty cineastes who were ready to skewer someone who hadn't gone through "the system" and to permanently label him "only good for MTV."

Then I saw the film. There was certainly a story in there about the futility of war and its consequences on those who keep fighting without remembering why. Unfortunately, it was so poorly told that it would take a Dadaist to really make sense of the narrative. Kiriya's video background was a glaring flaw in an otherwise very pretty film. He almost certainly approached the story as segments, directed them that way, and then edited these "snippets" together as is. Sadly, there was no connective tissue between any of the scenes, any of the cuts, or even between the acts. It just unspooled, disjointed, minus the music to give it any rhythm like a music video.

So here we are again. It has taken Kiriya almost 5 years to complete Goemon. The trailer below looks fantastic. The visuals are again top-notch. But it's a trailer. It fits exactly into Kiriya's style. Short segments that tease content, but doesn't necessarily have to deliver any narrative consistency. It is breathtaking to watch and think about the possibilities. And yet, the specter of Casshern still lingers. Did he pull it off this time? Did he learn?

Don't get me wrong, I want very much for this film to be good. This is a style of filmmaking that I think can bring Japan's genre stories to life in a way only Japan's visualists can; the incredible style and form one can see in manga and anime can finally be realized in live-action. Afterall, it was the limits of live-action (there's a matter of the "the system" but that's another discussion) that prompted some of Japan's leading animation directors to forgo the camera and draw out their stories instead. However, it hinges on Kiriya's ability to deliver a solid film, not a video, a film. Early word is that Goemon is quite an improvement over Casshern, but considering how much there needed to be improved in the latter, I'm not sure if that bodes well for the former. Japan will find out on May 1st.


Last Ride

I've been reading a lot lately about the emergence of Australian cinema; if you haven't caught a hint of this yet, you probably will someday soon if films like Last Ride are any example. The films stars Hugo Weaving in a much smaller, quieter but no less commanding role than you're probably accustomed to seeing him. It's an intimate road movie of a father who takes his son with him as he travels to escape authorities after committing a brutal crime. This trailer really showcases the close nature of the direction between the father and son against the backdrop of Australia's very vast horizon. The contrast is quite stunning.

I have high anticipations for how Weaving will portray the monster with a fatherly heart—or father with a monstrous heart; acting in his native voice will certainly liberate his performance. His relationship with the boy will be key as it was in Clint Eastwood's A Perfect World. In fact, this film will most likely hinge on the character of the son. Should he realize that his father's promises and reassurances are as empty as the landscape he's been taken to, what will he do?

The film is set to open in Australia on July 2nd. I'm fairly sure with an international star in the lead, it will have no problem finding distribution or festival screenings at a city near you.


The Good, The Bad, and The Weird

I realize I wrote three posts in a row with single word titles, so I'm making up for it now with probably one of the longest titles posted yet. Anyway, let's get the obvious out of the way...yes, it's a remake of the The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. The plot still revolves around three central characters all searching for the same thing. Each of the three are archetypes playing off one another. And yes, it's still a "western." The setting is in the deserts of China and if you think this can't possibly work, check out the trailer:

(source: Hancinema)

Only through the familiar set up of this reinterpretation does this film resemble its inspirational source. In fact, if the title wasn't what it is, you might not realize it immediately. As you watch it, however, it will dawn on you that there's something comfortable about the story, but it has so much that is different stylistically, and that is what true "remakes" should be about. As The Magnificent Seven suffused Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai with the unique setting and grand heroics of the American frontier, I think The Good, The Bad, and The Weird infuses something uniquely Asian, and more importantly, uniquely Korean into Leone's masterpiece. Backed with the appropriate budget, a director who understands both the stylization and reinterpretation required, and 3 of Korea's top actors to give the characters life, the film looks to have the grand set pieces, a wry humor, and production design to successfully distinguish itself.

Hollywood has been doing a lot of remakes based on Asian properties, and I think it's about time that Asia begin returning the "favor." I think Asia has a special eye for storytelling and deep rooted sense of "myth" which could show that a poorly developed property in Hollywood, might have had much more potential if it had been put into the right hands. If anything, a fresh reinterpretation of an American (North, Central, or South) or European film could be a good exercise for Asian directors in telling stories that aren't within their comfort zone, and that can only lead to better filmmakers.



I know this film's already been out and doing great (and unexpected) business at the box office, but I wanted to write about the powerful performance of Liam Neeson in this film. I am amazed that we haven't really seen this type of ferocity on display in any of his roles up to date. It's actually the level of intensity that I wanted to see in Quai Gon Jin, a Jedi with passionate convictions who wasn't afraid to express it. It's a shame, really. His imposing figure and that deep, rough voice have seemed perfect for a journey into darker parts of a man's psyche. Christopher Nolan gave us a peek by casting him in Batman Begins, but he was still playing mainly a mentor character. He still wasn't in "badass" territory.

Taken allows Neeson to finally show some rage; some calculating cruelty dedicated to accomplishing one thing: getting his daughter back. I have read reviews calling this a revenge picture; I disagree. This is one of those "search-and-destroy" films that just happens to revolve around more personal goals than any sort of grand scheme.

I must also give credit to director Pierre Morel. He's a master of stylized action as seen in 2004's Banlieue 13 (District 13), but he gave Neeson the psychological playground to portray his character with heart, even if that heart is slightly frozen. Morel is a veteran of Luc Besson's EuropaCorp, serving as cinematographer and cameraman on several of their films, so he is well versed in bringing Besson's scripts to reality.

I hope to revisit this title here with a review someday... For now, be sure to check out the trailer over at Apple. And if you haven't seen it yet, it's due on DVD and Blu-ray on May 12 in an extended cut that edits back more intense scenes from the European version.



When it comes to thrillers/noirs, there are two school of thought: the Philippe Marlowe, crime in the naked city type or the rat in the maze type. Czech filmmaker Julius Ševčík's Normal shares more in common with Dark City or The Third Man than The Maltese Falcon or Double Indemnity. The film is gorgeously shot. The old world environment complete with narrow cobbled streets, dim wrought iron lamps, and a city dominated by a central feature like a castle or church heavily contribute to the aesthetic. Conveniently, the old eastern block lends itself to this type of film as the production design certainly did not have to travel too far into history to find the appropriate look: dark wool coats, integrated fender sedans, porcelain tubs, soldiers in authoritarian-styled uniforms, and huddled masses.

From what can be gathered from the trailer, the young, male protagonist seems to be seeking truth amidst a world or perhaps his own sense of reason, that is gradually deteriorating. The official pitch is that this young man is a lawyer defending a serial killer. Even more amazingly, this is a fictional account of the life of a man named Peter Kürten, a German serial killer dubbed The Vampire of Düsseldorf, as told by this young lawyer. The air around the protagonist is thick with intense gazes that could reveal ulterior motives. Certainly the more he peels away the veil surrounding the killer and his crimes, he could plunge further into a much deeper darkness than that of the late night streets featured in the trailer. And, I am not sure how famous actor Milan Kňažko (Kürten) is in his home country, but the wrinkles-dare I say cracks-on his tight-lipped face are perfect for the high contrast lighting being employed; he's a Sin City character without prosthetics!

With the title as it is, questions certainly abound and finding out what it all means is why these kinds of films, when executed well, will always have a place in cinemas. The film was released in March, so I hope it will be picked up for distribution wherever you live.


Vengeance *UPDATED*

There's something so very right about an angry Gal stalking the streets of Hong Kong with a gun in his hand. That's French music icon Johnny Hallyday as a father who comes to Hong Kong to avenge his family with the aid of some able bodied locals. Behind the wheel is Johnny To.
*UPDATE* The second trailer has been released in honor of the film being selected to compete at Cannes in May:

(The first trailer and teaser are still available on the official website)

While other Hong Kong directors have somehow fallen by the wayside-either trying to launch international careers or not being as productive as in their earlier career-Johnny To has remained, if not become, the sole flag bearer of Hong Kong cinema in recent years. His output has been tremendous, releasing a film (or two!) a year; he has managed to refine his style, yet remain true to his trademarks. He has explored typical HK cinema themes, and evolved them for the 21st century. This project is just one of those ways he is exercising his directorial muscles. He's telling a revenge flick-nothing new there, but he's cast a French icon in the lead for a mostly English language outing. You can find To regulars such as Anthony Wong rounding out the cast, but you see hints of new ideas and visualizations that still amaze you every time he releases a film. To is still able to imbue tried-and-true Triad or HK crime stories with a sense of cool I find very few other directors whose name isn't Andrew Lau have been able to do.

In any case, I am personally in love with the fact that he's cast one of my favorite contemporary French actresses in this film, Sylvie Testud. I just hope her role won't be regulated to flashback snippets. If this film is just a warm up to working with French talent, meaning the long rumored remake of Melville's Le Cercle Rouge to which To has been attached, and if he is truly gunning to cast the legendary Alain Delon in it, then you can already count me in.


3:10 to Yuma

The Western, a much beloved film genre, may have seen a decline in proliferation as the decades passed, but certainly not in quality. There is a strange phenomena that affects certain things that we love that were once plenty but now rare. If one is going to tackle some thing that is so loved by others (and presumably oneself), damned if you're not going to do it right. Thankfully with the western this often holds true to a splendid degree.

Beautifully shot against the desert landscapes os Arizona, 3:10 to Yuma frames a gritty story of one man's search for respect against the rocks, plains, and hills it is all too easy to forget still exist. The story is laid out simply as notorious outlaw Ben Waid (Russell Crowe) is captured and subsequently chaperoned to a prison-bound train by a posse barely up to the task. That posse includes hard-luck case Dan Evans (Christian Bale), who attempts the task not only out of a sense of justice and demand for the monetary reward that comes with it, but in an effort to prove worth to his family who he's let down an unfortunate number of times. While his family's circumstances are not entirely of Dan's own making, the desire to prove himself to his wife and more notably his sons sets him on the path to which he refuses to falter.

The film re-enforces the harsh and difficult life the "old west" was to those who had to live through it, but does so in the exposition of everyday happenings. The arrival of Ben Waid's gang of robbers and thieves into town brings fear and violence, and it's no wonder so many would rather lock themselves in than deal with any antagonism. Arrogance leads to Waid's capture and transport, but only after a fair bout of crime and terrorism have left those who would see him put away with little other choice. The journey to the train station under tight deadline-- all the while trailed by Waids' vicious gang-- allows Waid to unwrap the motives and weaknesses of his captors, where he hits wall after wall with the stubborn Dan Evans.

3:10 to Yuma has a lot of great things we love to see in westerns. Sprawling vistas, gunfights, frantic horse rides, strong supporting cast, and cool cameos. But it also offers lead acting at its best. Crowe falls into the role of the charismatic villain with ease, yet avoids the cliches so often associated with such characters. There is no over the top bravado or excessive cruelty just to tell the audience "I'm the bad guy." In fact when Waid does resort to violence it is seen as his last choice and is ten times more chilling because of it. Crowe plays Waid as an intelligent, if devious, criminal; someone who may or may not have set out for a life of an outlaw, but found one just the same and will not relinquish that which he's already gained. His foil throughout the adventure brought to life by Bale, who presents an amazingly grounded character at the threshold of events that will define his life. Bale is truly the rock of the movie, each scene as Dan Evans peeling back the onion skin of a hard luck case that seems to never catch a break. By the climax of the movie, where everyone else has quit by Evans vows to get Waid to that train, Waid himself can't ignore the lengths one man has gone through for deserved respect. It is impossible not t root for Evans and want him to succeed. Bale turns in great performances as standard, but here may be one of his best.

Modern westerns may come few and far between, 3:10 to Yuma delivers so much of what we love it more than makes up for the wait.


Dead Snow

Just when you think there can't be a cool, new zombie movie...

It must be a bottomless well for those with a creative bent, and the hooks seem to present themselves just when you think that well has run dry. Dead Snow gives undead fans something I'm surprised hasn't been done before, but am eagerly looking forward to: Zombie Nazis! The trailer presents a sharp looking romp through the usual zombie tropes, with shades of Evil Dead for good measure. Everybody knows Nazis make the best bad guys, alive or dead.

Watch the Trailer.


First Squad

What's this? A title logo in Cyrillic and Japanese Katakana? There are some interesting films and filmmakers coming out of Russia these days (a future post), but a collaboration of a Russian story with Japanese animated storytelling would have sounded too wild and speculative 10 years ago. First Squad seems to be the perfect vehicle of this inaugural union, combining the unique and fascinating history of Russia with the visual acumen a top animation studio such as Studio 4C can bring to the project. Set in World War 2 Russia, the plot makes use of the wartime situation and local folklore to create a story that fuses contemporary warfare dramatics with fact-based fantasy. The result is both visually arresting and at the same time, an interesting perspective on Russia's struggles in the second World War.

Here's the official synopsis:
It is 1942. The Red Army is putting up a violent and effective resistance against the German invaders. 14 year-old Nadya is a medium. In a deadly air raid the girl is shell-shocked. Recovering from her concussion, Nadya discovers her new gift – the ability to foresee the “Moments of Truth” - the most critical moments of future combat encounters, in which one person’s actions will decide the outcome one way or the other.
Nadya’s ability is indispensable for the classified 6th Division of the Russian Military Intelligence, which is waging a secret war against the “Ahnenerbe” – an occult order within the SS. The Ahnenerbe summons from the realm of the dead the powerful prince of darkness, Baron von Wolff. With him on their side they hope to change the course of history and achieve world domination. To oppose the Baron, Nadya decides to enlist the support of her old friends from the beyond – the Pioneers of the First Squad.

The folks over at Twitch Film scored an interview with the creators in which they talk about the source material, mainly a popular series of illustrated books in the 1980s that were, according to them, "the closest Soviet propaganda ever came to making comics and satisfying the huge demand for action heroism among the young." With this rich source material, I think it is safe to say that this will be a unique entry in animated feature films. Post-production is progressing with the filmmakers targeting a winter release. View the trailer and other goodies at the very stylish Official Homepage.



It's no secret that we love our science-fiction films to reflect actual science in their story. Unfortunately, these days "space films" or "technology films" are often mistaken for science-fiction. Real science fiction stories do not necessarily have to be set in space or involve any type of technology. Think about that for a while...

This debut film by director, Duncan Jones has been making the festival rounds and seems set for a wider release...sadly still the art house route, but I should be thankful this film is being distributed at all.

The story centers around Sam Rockwell's character, a contract employee working alone on the moon for a company that provides clean energy on Earth from resources sent from the moon. With his 3 year contract almost over, Rockwell's Sam Bell looks forward to returning home; that is when he discovers he is not alone. This encounter will heighten his sense of loneliness and push his grasp of reality to the breaking point when he is so close to leaving it all behind.

Apple now has the trailer available in SD and HD versions. The official site has yet to go live, but you can sign up to be alerted when it does.

The film mixes a few familiar themes or concepts from past films, but the setting of the Moon is what makes it work. This isn't deep space. He can see home from his window. His family is an easy video call away, no lag time for communication. And this is exactly what makes the sense of isolation so much more intense. Just like the last hour of your work day can sometimes feel like the longest hour of your life, Sam Bell's two weeks might as well be an eternity.
Look for the film in theaters this summer.



Gaumont's "JCVD," a French-language meta-movie parody par excellence, constitutes the headiest stretch of the beefy star's career since, well, ever.
That's a quote from Variety. If Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler has rejuvenated the career of bad-boy Micky Rourke, then JCVD might have just resurrected the career of 80s action maven, Jean-Claude Van Damme (his initials making up the title for those of you taking notes). In the film, Jean-Claude plays himself, or at least a likeness of himself-an aging action star whose personal life is on course to be smashed against the rocks in a sea of mounting problems. This ultimately comes to a head when he stumbles upon a robbery at the post office; unfortunately, due to speculative circumstances and gossiping, the media believes it is Jean-Claude who is perpetrating the crime, seizing on the tabloid sensationalism of what they assume has to be the man's last gasp for attention.

There is a lot poking fun at the industry and self-depreciation, but mixed in with this is a layer of melancholy which one might think a mirage; however, it becomes obvious as the film progresses that there is a genuine honesty at work culminating in a scene every review I've read has talked about; it's a monologue that, if scripted, demonstrates acting skill we'd not yet seen or, if unscripted, is some of the most honest, naked, soul-bearing ever put to film. I believe this scene is from where the main poster image was taken.

You can find the trailer over at Apple. Meanwhile, the real Jean-Claude Van Damme is hard at work on the post-production of an action-drama set in Southeast Asia called The Eagle Path which he also directed with Doug Milsome (Full Metal Jacket) behind the lens. Color me curious...


Black Dynamite

What do you know of Blaxploitation films? I grew up watching them on television without being aware of the genre. All I knew was that the films were fun to watch, packed with action, sometimes humor, but most of all a simple to understand yet serious message. Black Dynamite by writer/director Scott Sanders is just such a film. What makes this work special, however, is that it's not an old film resurrected from the past; this is a new film that is perhaps not so much a homage, but perhaps a renaissance of Blaxploitation. Every level of production is so spot on that it would be easy to argue that this is some restored, forgotten film of the genre. From the film stock to the cinematography; from the production design to the art direction (look at that poster!); from the script and directing to the original soundtrack, it is obvious that Sanders understands what he is doing. Better yet, everyone around him "gets it" as well. What they've managed to create looks to be a highly entertaining film that is also a throwback to simpler days:

Played by Michael Jai White, (yea, the guy from Spawn who also shares co-writer credit) the hero, Black Dynamite, takes action against those who would corrupt his community. He's cool, suave, manly, and the upholder of justice/virtue when others around him give in to "the man." He is absolutely confident in who he is. These qualities are all central to Blaxploitation which grew out of a need in the black community in the late 60s and 70s for films that were about them; that spoke to them. The only people who could do that were black filmmakers. Needless to say, the studio "system" was still largely engaged in entertaining whites, so black filmmakers had to do things themselves. The budgets were modest, but the creativity, talent, and most importantly, the enthusiasm were boundless. I won't go into the history of the genre here; there is an excellent summary of it on the Black Dynamite official homepage. Suffice it to say that this film captures the mood of the era with a casual wink of the eye that is just as charming as the title character.

The film has been playing the festival circuit, recently bringing down the house up in Park City (Sundance) and should hopefully be making it's way to an art house theater near you. Whether or not Scott Sanders will make another film like this is unknown. For now, I'll just revel in what he's created already.


The Storm Warriors

Back in 1997, a unique film came out combining wuxia with the latest CG effects at the time. The film was called The Storm Riders, a very satisfying evolution of the genre that was both a narrative success as well as a visual feast; certainly the first Chinese comic come-to-life. It was helmed by a young director named Andrew Lau. He went on to create this little trilogy known as Infernal Affairs. Well, jump forward 12 years later as the sequel, The Storm Warriors, is now in production. Both Ekin Cheng & Aaron Kwok reprise their roles as Wind & Cloud respectively with Simon Yam and Charlene Choi also joining the cast. In the director's chair(s) are Danny and Oxide Pang (The Eye, the original Bangkok Dangerous).

As with any good wuxia film, the story focuses on a threat to the country, this time by a Japanese warlord named Lord Godless. After either imprisoning or eliminating the land's martial artists, only our heroes are left. According to the official introduction of the film, The Storm Warriors will pit Wind against Cloud as Wind makes the decision to study darker arts in order to increase his power to defeat Lord Godless. Unfortunately, as warned by a little green "martial arts master" in another series, darkness ends up consuming him. Cloud and his allies will be forced not only to battle the villain, but a former friend as well. How will it end?

It certainly sounds epic and I believe this is going to be the Pang Brothers' first outing into something of this scale. Visual stylists that they are, one can already get a sense of the production value being employed, both in these character illustrations:

and in this brief teaser:

One will also note the visual style of the film, relying on heavy use of green screen, digital grading, and speed variations ala Zack Snyder. There is another clip of a battle scene available on the official website under "Top Secret" that has been a source of controversy among net denizens. Most people seem to hate it. For a wuxia film, it is certainly different, but I must caution those who look at it and assume this is part of the movie. The fact of the matter is, you don't know that. Also, there are parts of this video that seem to hint that this is nothing more than a sizzle reel, a test of whether the visuals can be achieved that's shown off to investors. The final look of the film is still largely unknown. With the film slated for a December release, I am sure we will eventually find out. For now, however, be cautiously optimistic at the prospect of the return of Chinese fantasy films.


High Kick Girl!

This is not some gimmick image. Though the obvious draw of a high school girl in her school uniform shooting her leg straight up like that might be the intention of other kinds of films, lead actress Takeda Rina is the real thing. Buzz about this film spread like wildfire after a short clip made it to YouTube, a hilarious vignette that showcased Takeda's skill. That vignette has made it to the opening segment of the official trailer:

Through the film's official blog (Japanese only), the filmmakers have released segments of behind-the-scenes videos showcasing Takeda and the other cast members in rehearsal sessions. Most of them have been collected at this YouTube page and unfortunately, they seem to make up the bulk of the official trailer. Though the appeal is that these performers will perform their own stunts sans wires or CG, and that Takeda will be doing her own fighting, it leaves little room for selling what the film is about. What will be the tone of the narrative? Will we see a Karate Kid style "be the best you can be" feel-good story? By the little dialogue featured in the trailer, and the synopsis on the production blog, perhaps not. Imagine if you will, the character of Daniel rejecting Mr. Miyagi and actually joining the Cobra Kai because he thinks he is better than Miyagi gives him credit. That seems to be the journey of Takeda's character, Kei. Ultimately, she learns she joined the wrong side and... let the action begin!

Obviously, the film isn't going to be pontificating much. We have a protagonist who's appetite for skill outweighs her maturity; it's typical adolescent stuff. The hook will be her encounters with all manner of fighters as she tests her skills and is tested by others' skills. I think the filmmakers are aiming for more entertainment than another karate film that came out in 2007 called Kuro-Obi (Black Belt) which was certainly more philosophical and informative.

For a time during the 60s, karate films were the mainstay, with Sonny Chiba's adventures as the Street Fighter leading the way for other Japanese action films. When Bruce Lee appeared on the scene, filmmakers turned to kung-fu. I wonder if anyone these days would recognize the difference. I believe kung-fu became popular because it is more cinematic; it's graceful moves, when choreographed skillfully, is breathtaking on film. Karate, with it's more staccato, hard, linear nature doesn't photograph well, no matter how well choreographed. However, thanks to the emergence of Muy Thai films, it seems the world is ready to accept more hard-hitting, less "pretty" martial arts in their films, so I hope High Kick Girl will be just one in a growing list of karate films coming out of Japan.