Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny – Review

Directed by the legendary Woo-Ping Yuen from a screenplay by The Forbidden Kingdom scribe John Fusco, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is a epic return to the world of the original film directed by Ang Lee way back in 2000.

Donnie Yen as Silent Wolf

Directed by the legendary Woo-Ping Yuen from a screenplay by The Forbidden Kingdom scribe John Fusco, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is a epic return to the world of the original film directed by Ang Lee way back in 2000.  Before looking at the film and its plot and players, it has to be said that there is literally beauty in each and every frame of this “Western” Asian drama.

Yuen and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel manage to make this second journey into Qing China look beyond sumptuous, as each set piece and scene almost bleeds with enough colour to drown the viewer, yet, does not distract from the story or action.  The use of light and careful melding of CG into each frame allows this offering to feel magical and almost Shakespearean.

The casting of Donnie Yen,  to play opposite the iconic Michelle Yeoh is almost serendipitous as it is almost pre-ordained. What with Yen recently killing it in the Ip Man trilogy.  Not that Yen is not already well known as a sensation in Hong Kong as an action star and stunt performer, but the timing is fortuitous to say the least.

Yeoh reprises her role as Yu Shu Lien, who survived the first film along with Sir Te, who is played by a different actor this time around. New arrivals, in terms of actors portraying Chinese martial arts heroes are truly global. Yen plays Silent Wolf, a man thought to have been killed by Lee’s character.

The plot entails protecting the “sword of destiny” as whoever wields the blade is un-defeatable.  Dai wants the sword and Lien, along with her former love Silent Wolf, fight to keep it out of Hades’ hands.

Harry Shum Jr. (who plays a rather larger than life magician in The Shadowhunters on Freeform) plays TieFang a chap playing on the wrong team at the start of the film. Said team is run by Hades Dai (played by Jason Scott Lee) who makes a pretty impressive villain despite not having too much screen time till the very end of the film. Australian actress Natasha Liu Bordizzo makes her debut as Snow Vase, the female warrior who shares a complex history with TieFang.

Also from “across the big pond” is American Actress JuJu Chan, who is not only a real-life martial arts master but a performer who has been called the new Michelle Yeoh and is also compared to Bruce Lee, who plays Silver Dart Shi. 

The wirework is spot on and the fight scenes choreographed with style, grace and, in the tavern fight scene, comedic overtones. Silent Wolf goes to a tavern to place an ad for soldiers to join his army.  After a group of thug-like mercenaries try to force Yen’s character to take them on, the five heroes who do join Silent Wolf step in.

Each hero states their name and where they are best known. After each specialist finishes the last “Turtle Ma” gives his name and says that he is well-known, “in this tavern.” The fight itself is beautifully set up to be breathtaking and funny. Even the tavern’s female proprietor takes part in the battle.

On the opposite end of the action scale, the battle between TieFang, Silent Wolf and Iron Crow (Roger Yuan) on the frozen lake is balletic in scope and presentation. The presentation is a perfect blend of ice skating and martial arts as never seen before. It is,  much like the rest of  the film’s battles; beautiful and breathtaking.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Sword of Destiny has elements that feel distinctly like an American western.  There is even a touch of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (which was a homage of sorts to the westerns of John Ford) apparent in certain scenes. Whether this is down to the screenplay or Woo-Ping Yuen knowing how to appeal to western audiences is unclear.

The film was made to appeal outside the usual Hong Kong cinematic demographic. The Netflix film was released simultaneously on the streaming website and in cinemas.  There are versions in English and in Cantonese, according to the streaming site.  Rather interestingly, if one watches the “Cantonese” version it is apparent that this has been dubbed, just like the English version.

Regardless of which version one watches, the film delivers in entertainment, action, romance and the spirit of fighting and dying for honor and loyalty.

This is a real 5 star film that is epic in scope and presentation. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Sword of Destiny  presents a fantasy version of martial arts that feels real yet magical. Just the fight sequences alone make this well worth watching.

Ip Man 2 (2010): Continuing the Tale

Unknown

Directed again by Wilson Yip (for the last time in the series) Ip Man 2 continues the tale of Ip Man and his rise to worldwide fame. There have been less complaints about the film makers “frugality” with actual events this time around. Picking up where Ip Man finished, the film takes place in Hong Kong.

Donnie Yen reprises his role as the modest yet powerful Wing Chun master Ip Man. But he is not alone, he’s got company from several actors from the first film. Actors Simon Yam, Lynn Hung, Siu-Wong Fan, and Li Chak are all back reprising their roles from the first film.

One very delightful addition to the cast is Sammo Hung, who choreographed Ip Man 1 and 2, playing the overbearing martial artist master Hung-Chun Nam. Despite recovering from major heart surgery just prior to filming, Sammo gives his usual level of acting and (performing all his own stunts and getting injured in the process) fighting.

This time around it’s not just other martial arts masters that Ip Man has to deal with, it’s the occupational British who have claimed Hong Kong for their commonwealth. With an overbearing attitude, which to be far the English in those days practised wherever they happened to occupy, and a clear distaste for the new British commonwealth citizenry; the people who “run” Hong Kong are equal to the Japanese in their attitude if not their actions.

images

Despite this being the real focal point of the film, the actors playing the snobby and dislikable English overseers of Hong Kong are abysmal. Not one of them can decide which accent to use sounding like a strange combination of Australian, quasi-English, American, and God knows what else.

Bad accents aside, the acting level was such that I harboured suspicions that the film makers had grabbed foreign tourists off the street to plug into the roles of the villainous British leaders. In a film where most of the climatic scenes take place against these oppressors, it really hurt not only the credibility of the film but it marred the film’s message as well.

Still, the fight scenes were impressive, the students were likeable, irritating and endearing, and Ip Man’s wife was a lot more understanding this time around.

I need to say a quick word about Siu-Wong Fan who got to reprise his role as Jin from the first film, his character is a reformed man after  the experiences from his interactions with Ip in the first film. He gets more of a part to play in the proceedings as a good guy, but then,  he practically disappears for the rest of the film. I loved what he did with Jin and he was easily my favourite character besides Ip and Hung.

images-1

Donnie Yen has gone on record as saying that this is the definitive Ip Man film and that it easily overshadows the first film. I disagree. While he does a brilliant job, again, as Ip; the film doesn’t have quite the same structure or fluidity that the first film offered. The scenes of Ip fighting Master Nam (and his sycophants) could have been a lot longer although, admittedly, the premise of fighting on a loose table top was pretty damned impressive.

When Ip Man 2 was in its pre-production stage, it was going to focus on Ip’s relationship with famous pupil Bruce Lee. Due to their inability to get legal clearance from Lee’s family in time, Lee’s “appearance” in the film is shortened to just a few seconds of a very young Lee “meeting” Ip Man. A short sequence that was amusing, but intimately un-needed, I thought.

Overall, despite Yen’s assurances that this the Ip Man movie that will gain legendary status, I did not enjoy the film nearly as much as I did the first one. Consequently, I’ve given it a 4 out of 5 stars after taking a full star off for the un-even acting skills of the non-Chinese actors in the film.

Although I am sure that all the “foreign” actors in the film were hampered somewhat by working in a film that doesn’t feature English as its main language, a problem that I’ve noticed in most Asian films that feature English or American actors/characters. I hope that the next project they work on doesn’t handicap them as badly as this film did.

This is available on iTunes at the moment.

images

Ip Man (2008): Donnie Yen’s Masterful Performance

Unknown

It is not often that a film benefits from having not just one legend, but two associated with it. Ip Man has two. Starring the legendary Donnie Yen in what is quite possibly his best role ever and featuring choreography by the legendary Sammo Hung. (Who when asked how he was going to work with Yen to direct the action scenes, Hung replied matter-of-factly, “With my mouth.”) *Wikipedia* 

Both men are well-known for their fight choreography with Sammo nudging Donnie out by sheer number of years that he’s been practising his craft.

Directed with past Yen collaborator  Wilson Yip, Ip Man is the “true story” of Yip Man grandmaster of Wing Chun and master of film legend Bruce Lee. Touted as being semi-biographcal, the film is pretty liberal with the “truth” as things of this nature tend to be. While the rudimentary facts may be correct a lot of things were added to make the film more entertaining.

Despite this frugality with the real facts, the film is a powerful one. The recreation of Foshan in Shanghai looks so authentic you feel as if the film company had really gone back in time to shoot the scenes.

Some complaints were raised about Ip Man’s house being incorrect and that he never shovelled coal during the occupation and the facts of his move to Hong Kong are misleading. But as the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance says, “print the legend.” Or in this case, make it up.

Yen is stunning as the placid, peace-loving martial artist who won’t give lessons and spars with the local masters privately in order to save them the public embarrassment of being beaten.

At one point, he has to take on a usurper from outside the town. This ruffian fights his way through all the Foshan martial art instructors until only Ip Man is left. Going to his home, the outsider brings what looks like the members of every school in the town to watch him beat Ip Man.

Everyone in Foshan knows that Ip Man will be victorious and he is.

Everything changes in 1937 when the Japanese invade China and this is where majority of the drama and tension come into the film.

The legendary Sammo Hung.
The legendary Sammo Hung.

The fight scenes are exciting, original, and furious. The Wing Chun style is breathtaking to watch and the other martial arts battles are impressive as well.

The entire cadre of actors in the film sold their characters and I spotted quite a few familiar faces in it.

My only complaint was that in some instances parts of the story were a bit “over the top” so that it almost felt like a “kitchen sink” drama instead of a biopic. But theatricality aside the film looks, overall, fantastic and I got caught up with the characters and the “true” story completely.

A real 5 out of 5 stars for a film that had me munching my popcorn furiously throughout. I’m now going to “watch’ my way through the rest of the films in this four film series.

Even if you don’t love martial arts films the story of Yip Man could turn you into a fan.

The real Ip Man (Yip Man) and a young Bruce Lee.
The real Ip Man (Yip Man) and a young Bruce Lee.

Twins Effect (2003) AKA Vampire Effect: Pop Goes the Vampire

Cover of "Twins Effect (Sub)"
Cover of Twins Effect (Sub)

Co-directed by Dante LamDonnie Yen, and starring Gillian ChungCharlene Choi (from the Cantopop group Twins), Ekin ChengEdison Chen (The US Grudge 2) and Jackie Chan (in a brilliant cameo). The film was made to capitalise on the Twins popularity.

The Twins Effect is an action/adventure/comedy. While the two girls were the main draw for the film, Donnie Yen asked Jackie Chan to do a cameo so that the film would have a wider audience.

At the beginning of the film we see vampire Hunters Reeve (Ekin Cheng) and Lila (Josie Ho) take on a horde of vampires and their leader.  The leader is Duke Dekotes (Mickey Hardt) who is so powerful that he kills Lila. Heartbroken, Reeve swears to never fall in love with a fellow hunter again.

Reeve’s sister Helen (Charlene Choi) follows her boyfriend who is being unfaithful and is taking another girl to dinner. Helen comes in just as her fella’s new girl says Helen’s name. After making him cut off a fingernail, she plunks herself down at a nearby table where two men are already sitting.

The two men are Kazaf (Edison Chen) who is a vampire prince and his minder Prada (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang). Kasaf falls in love with Helen at first sight and gets her to give him part of her mobile (cell) phone number. After he and Prada rent an old church to live in, Kazaf instructs Prada to help him to woo the girl.

Anthony Wong Chau-Sang is absolutely brilliant as the dour and pedantic Prada. At one point he admonishes Kazaf for falling for Helen. He tell Kazaf, “You don’t date food.”

Reeve has been sent a new partner named Gipsy (Gillian Chung). Gypsy, upon meeting Reeve, develops a case of “love at first sight” and she also meets Helen, who  takes an immediate dislike to her.

Kazaf has managed to figure out Helen’s phone number and arranges a date. Gipsy and Reeve patrol the town and discover that Duke Dekotes is in town.

Helen finds out that Kazaf is a vampire, but she is a modern open minded sort of girl and doesn’t care. She  knows, though ,that she must not tell Reeve. Reeve has found out that Duke Dekotes is killing every vampire prince existing, because they each have a piece of a “spell” or book that allows the owner to become more powerful. Called Night For Day, it allows the owner to become omnipotent and able to move during daylight hours.

Reeve and Gipsy have to stop the Duke and Helen must save Kasaf.

English: Donnie Yen at 2007 Shanghai Internati...
English: Donnie Yen at 2007 Shanghai International Film Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is enough wire work and martial arts in the film to make it more than qualify as an action film. And with Donnie Yen as the Action Director the fights are brilliantly choreographed as well as the stunts. Comedy runs throughout the film and considering the demographic that the film was aiming for works very well.

English: Jackie Chan at the Cannes Film festival.

Jackie Chan’s cameo as the nervous groom whose wedding that Helen and Kazaf gate crash was great. After he is married, Helen and Kazaf bump into Jackie again and he helps them escape some vampires who are chasing them.

Twins Effect is a wonderfully entertaining film that does not take itself seriously. Despite the fact that the producers were attempting to cash in on the singing groups popularity, they did not short change the audience.

One of the better action comedies to come out of China it is definitely worth a look or two. It is one of those films that can be viewed multiple times and never get old. Just remember to not take it seriously, and you’ll have a blast.