Little Big Soldier

Jackie Chan, to most of us, needs no introduction. He has been a fixture in martial arts films for so long, he can arguably called one of Hong Kong & China's living legends. It is unfortunate, however, that like many of his brethren from HK, his excursions into the American market has been hit and miss, some would claim more the latter than the former. In recent years, it seems that Chan has been satisfied to accept a "paint by numbers" project for Hollywood to cash a paycheck which he funnels into a project in China or Hong Kong.
Take for example two projects which should be coming out for 2010. There is the Wil Smith produced, China relocated remake of The Karate Kid in which he plays the "Mr. Miyagi" to a young boy played by Smith's son (i.e. "paint by numbers"). Then there is Little Big Soldier a film which, from the following synopsis and trailer, has far more thematic potential:
It was the darkest of times in China, when ruthless warlords waged battles to satiate their endless aggression.  Millions of lives perished, and those who survived had only two choices - kill or be killed.
The battalions of warring states Liang and Wei collided in a bloodbath that lasted from dawn until dusk.  Only two men were left standing - a FOOT SOLDIER from Liang (Jackie Chan) and the rival GENERAL from Wei (Wang Leehom). The Soldier survived because he is an expert in playing dead, with a device strapped on his body which protruded like an arrowhead for added realism.
The Soldier captured the wounded General, hoping to use the enemy as his ticket to freedom - by handing the General to the Liang warlord, the Soldier could be honorably discharged and return home to his peaceful life.  The young General, though taken captive, was condescending towards the Soldier.  The two men were often at loggerheads during the long and winding journey.

It is a shame that the Hollywood seems satisfied with relegating Chan or other experienced martial arts actors like Jet Li to two-dimensional action roles because it is obvious that Chan (and Li for that matter) are as interested in flexing their thespian skills as displaying their already well known martial skills. Recently, Chan took on a role in which he absolutely did no fighting whatsoever (The Shinjuku Incident) and Li will be doing the same in Ocean Heaven. And while the trailer above sells some of the action scenes in Little Big Soldier, something tells me that the majority of its runtime will be spent developing the Midnight Run-esque relationship between the Foot Soldier and the General, and that can only be a good thing....


14 Blades

Daniel Lee's latest film is based on accounts of the "Jinyiwei (brocade-clad army), the Ming emperors' own version of the CIA. The organization was set up in the late 14th century by Ming dynasty founder Zhu Yuanzhang (Emperor Hongwu), first as his own personal guards numbering in the hundreds, and later gaining many more other responsibilities (including intelligence, of course), reaching their apex in the 16th century with a total force around the low six figures." [Twitch Film]. Donnie Yen will be playing one of the Jinyiwei, who were masters of the 14 Blades—eight for torture, five for killing, and the last blade reserved for suicide when a mission failed. The story centers on the Imperial Court being taken over by evil eunuch JIA. The best of the Jinyiwei, QUINGLONG (Yen) and XUANWU, are assigned to steal a list identifying those still loyal to the Emperor. However unbeknownst to Quinglong, the Jinyiwei have fallen under the control of Jia, and during the mission Quinglong is betrayed by Xuanwu and barely escapes with his life. Now as the most wanted man in the land Quinglong must seek out and rally the loyalists to rise against Jia and restore the Emperor to power. In his way are the deadliest assassins in the land, his former brethren, the Jinyiwei.

The above preview gives a glimpse at the stunning cinematography, set pieces, production design (the 14 Blades and the case they come alone is noteworthy!) and action that promises to be more along the lines of classic Hong Kong martial arts films like Dragon Inn (which also dealt with this sect of assassins), rather than the more recent, lush imagery and philosophical wuxia of say, Hero. That's not a complaint. In fact, it is great to see a revival of both styles utilizing contemporary cinematic techniques and technology. With a veteran like Yen taking on a role of a type of "James Bond" complete with "gadgets", we can at least expect the film to deliver on entertainment. Let's hope the fascinating, historically based concept will hold up as well.

Masters Returning to Wuxia II

As stated earlier, there seems to be an influx of Chinese auteurs returning to the fold recently. This time, it's the most auteur-esque of them all, WONG Kar-wai who has not delved into this genre since his debut film Ashes of Time. The prospect of this unique visionary returning to wuxia alone is reason enough to get excited, but what will it be about? Entitled The Great Master, the film will be Wong's take on the story of Ip Man, the legendary Wing Chun practitioner who was Bruce Lee's master. Recently, Donny Yen took on the role of the master in the film Ip Man so it will be fascinating to see what Wong's spin on it will be. Oh, then there is the preliminary (and far from final) cast list: Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li, Zhang Zhen and Zhao Benshan. Not enough? How about rumors that the goddess Brigette Lin is considering coming out of retirement to appear in this film!
However, we should all be familiar with Wong's well earned reputation for making films at a glacial pace. The film is to start filming this month, but it will be anyone's guess as to when we will see the final product....


Stills from True Legend

Sina.com has posted some gorgeous stills, some in high resolution, from YUEN Woo-pings's upcomingTrue Legend. You can view more by clicking here. This is truly becoming a must watch film for 2010.


Masters Return to Wuxia

There are some exciting projects coming together or already in production in Asia, so I thought it might be time to explore some of these for the month of December. I'll start with two films that are sure to generate quite a bit of anticipation among film fans, particularly of martial arts films.


Beyond having the incomparable Michelle YEOH and Vincent ZHAO (The Blade) in the cast, what is most remarkable and exciting about this film is that it is being directed by the legendary YUEN Woo-ping, his first in 12 years. Many people will be familiar with Yuen as the action choreographer for some of Hollywood's recent blockbusters, but there are those of us who remember Yuen as the director of some of the martial arts genre's representative films, including Drunken Master starring a young Jackie CHAN. True Legend will be focused on Beggar Su, a popular folk hero who has appeared in many martial arts films, including the aforementioned Drunken Master, portrayed by Simon YUEN. This time, however, director Yuen will cover Su's story from his days as a wealthy man who loses his fortune and reputation through machinations against him; penniless, he devotes himself to martial arts and rises up as a hero for the people, earning the monikor: "King of Beggars." From the teaser trailer below, the production design and more importantly, the action hearken back to the golden age of wuxia films which Yuen helped usher.

RAIN OF SWORDS (in the Pugilistic World) [working title]

With the success of the Red Cliff duology, it seems that John WOO has finally realized that things are certainly better back home after repeated and arguably mixed results in Hollywood (FACE/OFF being his best in my humble opinion). And while several projects to which he was attached to direct have fallen through, it seems project has begun production. The story centers on "an assassin (Yeoh) [who is] responsible for the death of a prominent court official. [She] goes into hiding and meets the slain official's son (Korean actor Jung Woo-sung) and falls in love without knowing his true identity. Assassins eventually catch up with Yeoh and Jung as they discover each other's identity and a tense, three-way standoff ensues." Sounds like classic John WOO themes transported to dynastic China. The Red Cliff saga displayed Woo's ability to employ some of the excellent character dynamics and storytelling he is known for, yet matured and adapted for the material. Add the impeccable costume designs of WADA Emi (Hero), and we could be looking at the renaissance of the Hong Kong action maestro. I, for one, will be more than happy to see John WOO retire the twin .45s and explore the wuxia genre. Below are the first stills from the production courtesy of Sina.com.