Naika Reviews “Mr. Vampire”

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Did you ever wish there was a horror film that had slapstick comedy, practical effects, amazing stunt work and Hong Kong fight choreography?  Well this Halloween, look no further than to the Hong Kong classic that is Mr. Vampire from 1985.  Even though it wasn’t the pioneer of the jiang shi (or “hopping corpse”) genre, Mr. Vampire’s the one that made it famous all over Asia.  Its success was so massive that it spawned 3 sequels and a slew of other films that would recycle the same actors in vaguely similar roles from the original.  Ain’t that crazy?  Produced by Sammo Hung and starring fellow Hong Kong stuntmen such as Lam Ching Ying and Chin Siu-ho, Mr. Vampire is an action-packed horror comedy of the Hong Kong kind that’s so crazy that it can’t be missed.  So let’s all be adventurous and dive right in.

Master Kau and Master Four-Eyes (Lam Ching Ying and Anthony Chan respectively) are two Taoist priests who run a business transporting recently dead jiang shi back to their hometowns for a proper burial.  Using special paper talismans to reanimate and control these stiffs, both men are portrayed as pros who know that handling hopping corpses ain’t for laughs.  However, this wouldn’t be a comedy without their two stoopid apprentices, Man-choi (the late Ricky Hui) and Chau-sang (Chin Siu-ho).  Their dumbfuckery is best seen in the film’s opening, where Chau-sang’s prank on Man-choi blows off the all-important paper talismans that immobilize their jiang shi clients.  With a bunch of hopping-mad stiffs on the loose, Kau and Four Eyes hurriedly (and hilariously) come to the rescue to not only subdue these stiffs, but to save their students from themselves.

Master Four-Eyes (L) and Master Kau (R) give a big ‘F*CK YOU’ to their apprentices before they go out for some Yum Cha in Ricky Lau’s “Mr. Vampire.”

The plot rolls ahead once we’re introduced to the wealthy Master Yam and his daughter Ting Ting (the bodacious Moon Lee Choi-fung, in her first big role before becoming an action star).  Yam is looking to have his father reburied elsewhere in order to bring more luck to his family and invites both Kau and Man-choi to a Western-style brunch, hoping to enlist their help. This scene in particular is a bit goofy given that both Kau and Man-choi have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to anything West of China, and Ting Ting, being the most knowledgeable of the bunch, gets a few giggles in at our heroes’ expense.  However, this payoff doesn’t come without her getting creeped out by the leery eyes of Man-choi.  Yuck!

It’s only when Master Kau agrees to rebury Yam’s father do things start to get spooky.  Upon exhumation, our merry band of Taoists are shocked to discover that the corpse has yet to decompose, prompting fears that this stiff may come back to terrorize the living.  With all this in mind, Kau and company decide to move this would-be jiang shi into their lair for confinement.  However, since we have TWO DUMBSHIT apprentices here, things do NOT go as planned.  Not only does our corpse escape, its ferocity ignites a hilarious car-crash of events where Kau, Man-choi, Chau-sang and Ting Ting all team up to fight a jiang-shi which grows more powerful after each battle.  Oh, and did I mention that throughout all of this, Master Four-Eyes, the only other priest in this group, is away guiding other hopping stiffs for burial?

Moon Lee endures another Bey Logan impersonator in Ricky Lau’s “Mr. Vampire.”

Though the plot (minus the spooky) seems pretty standard for Hong Kong fare of the 80s, Mr. Vampire makes up for that with hilarious hi-jinks that are centered around polished stunts and special effects.  My guess is that Sammo Hung’s hand as producer was essential for making the action here as bombastic as possible.  With the legendary Yuen Wah as the invincibly evil “Mr. Vampire”, we get to see how our heroes fight this terror with full-impact hits, painful falls and amazing pyrotechnics once Wah’s burned alive….twice!  The Hong Kong fight choreography also adds rhythmic intensity to scenes where our heroes either need to block hits, run like hell or scream like babies.  One of the standout scenes for me is how Chau-sang deals with a recently turned jiang shi in a prison while Master Kau looks on from his cell after being wrongly convicted for the death of said jiang shi.  Chau-sang hides, runs, fights, does flips, and screams for his life like a madman, and it’s ALL AWESOME!  This fun mixture of humor and action, combined with the scary groans of the jiang shi, transforms your typical Hong Kong fight scene into a heart-pounding set-piece that delivers laughs AND scares.  With scenes like this peppered throughout the film, it’s no wonder that Mr. Vampire was such a massive hit all over Asia.

However, let me be clear and say that  Mr. Vampire isn’t without its flaws.  Some scenes tend to drag a bit, especially those that feature the insufferable Billy Lau.  Furthermore, some of the humor found in Mr. Vampire is, unfortunately, a bit dated.  This is especially the case when it comes to our perverted apprentices, as well as a scene where the mental handicap of a rice-seller’s son is shown for laughs.  Also, am I the only one who thinks that Moon Lee should be beating-up zombies left and right instead of being a damsel-in-distress who gets sidelined for household stuff?  Though this movie pre-dates her status as a Girls-with-Guns alumnus in the Hong Kong film industry, I still wished Moon had more to do in the ass-kicking department.  These issues aren’t exactly deal-breakers for me, but I think we can all see why folks might be turned off by this, especially when it comes to the dated jokes.

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Man-choi (L) gets scared shitless by Chau-sang in Ricky Lau’s “Mr. Vampire”.

Despite these concerns, Mr. Vampire emerges as a rockin’ film that showcases the best of what Hong Kong cinema had to offer in the 1980s.  Filled with fights, laughs, scares and mishaps, this film delivers with universal thrills in a uniquely Chinese cultural package.  Now, it’s easy for the casual viewer to be intimidated by the myths that surround the jiang shi, but if you go into it with an open mind, Mr. Vampire will reward you handsomely.  The fact that jiang shi mania swept Japan, South Korea and the rest of Southeast Asia decades ago is ample evidence for this.  Furthermore, with recent films like 2013’s Rigor Mortis leading the genre’s revival (which, I might add, features both Chin Siu-ho and Anthony Chan), this is probably THE best time to sit down and see this awesome classic.  So set the holy water aside this season, and gear up for a horror comedy that’ll leave you burnt, bruised and hopping mad for some high-kicking Hong Kong action.  Thank you all for reading and have a Happy Halloween!!

Naika Reviews “Tampopo”

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There is no greater film about food than Tampopo.  Period.  I’ve never seen Ramen Girl or Spanglish, nor have I raided my Barnes & Noble for Babette’s Feast.  Noodles, whether it’s ramen, liangpi, pho, char kuay teow, boat noodles, pancit and so on and so forth, have now found a place in the American food landscape, and there’s no better way to celebrate that than to savor the flavors of this movie.  In my youth, Tampopo was this mysterious film that would just sit in my video store, waiting to be discovered.  My brother and I finally rented the DVD in the 2000s and we were literally BLOWN AWAY.  You have to understand that for Asian-Americans like us, there was literally no respectful representation of Asian food in American TV or film.  Tampopo, however, was different.  Tampopo wasn’t just an indie darling, or some East Asian village flick that stoked white audiences’ “allure for the Orient.”  It was a daring, modern-day comedy that asked you to not only take food seriously, but to realize that serious people make it their life’s work to make good food for you.

But let’s take a step back and shoot the shit about the details.  Tampopo, for all the adjectives I’ve provided on the last paragraph, is, to its core, a movie about a struggling business.  Our title character is a working class Mom who’s struggling to keep her late husband’s ramen-ya afloat, and it’s only through a combo of factors that she runs into the gruff, cowboy trucker named Goro.  After sharing his thoughts about how bad her ramen is, Tampopo becomes driven to make her business shine and enlists the man’s help to fire it all up.  After giving her a few tips, Goro soon goes to work in getting our lovable Mom into fighting shape.  Literally.  Either through jogging, pot lifting relays or ramen assembly speedruns, Tampopo’s journey to become a true noodle artisan is just packed with so much fun that even the pickiest of viewers will watch.

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This leads us to the next big reason why Tampopo is such a fun flick: she ISN’T the only focus here!  Throughout the course of the movie, we’re treated to a wealth of vignettes from foreground characters who all have their own food journeys to share.  Some of these include a dim sum consumer with a toothache, a con man with a knack for Peking Duck and a stuffy Europhile whose course on pasta etiquette goes south for all the right reasons.  And, without giving away too much, let’s not forget the amazing Koji Yakusho with his portrayal as a scene-stealing gangster whose eye for food is second to none.  Thanks to these stories, Tampopo transcends its former status as a ‘Ramen Western’ into a full-blown celebration of Japan’s urban food scene in the 1980s.

However, Japan’s pre-bubble food scene wouldn’t have been what it was without the allure of Ramen and its status as blue collar cuisine.  When the film does shift back to Tampopo , we see how much consideration goes into every single element of a bowl of ramen.  From the texture of the noodles to the details of making the right broth, Tampopo’s desire to become a top chef reveals that making ramen isn’t just some process that comes out of a pot or a microwave; it’s the ultimate reflection of working class Asia, where humble, hard-working customers demand genuine food from genuine people.

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The times, however, have changed.  This is 2018, and, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last thirty years, ramen is in the big leagues now.  That being said, Tampopo functions as a window into a not-so-distant past devoid of Yelp, overseas ramen-ya and our predisposition for Michelin stars.

All in all, Tampopo is a paean to the epicure in all of us, showing us firsthand that ‘slinging hash’ isn’t just a way to get by, but a chance to express ourselves through senses beyond sight and hearing.  Even though we’re unable to smell or taste what’s on screen, Tampopo is a visual feast that stokes both our hunger and curiosity without the need for explanations.  This is especially the case when it comes to the preparation of dishes that aren’t ramen, including omelette rice and Korean barbecue.  However, despite these gorgeous gourmet scenes, this film has more to offer than meets the eye.  When we get to the meat of it, Tampopo is, at its core, a heart-warming study on the values of passion and cultivation.  This is best exemplified through our title character’s own journey, where she transforms herself from a sullen cook and widow into a passionate, knowledgeable and vibrant chef whose determination and resilience blossoms beyond the evolution of her ramen.  From here, we can safely say that Juzo Itami’s film isn’t just an ode to the gourmet in all of us.  It’s a potent and vibrant reminder about our capacity to savor the tangible, to love furiously, to share joy with others and to realize just how timeless exuberance can be in the pursuit of mastery.

Naika Reviews “The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter”

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Of all the Shaw Brothers films that I’ve watched over the last few years of my life, I just keep coming back to The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter.  I loved the ultra-violent Five Element Ninjas, and I just recently viewed the dark and moody Ti Lung film, The Magic Blade, so the studio definitely knew what it was doing when it made this immense, yet diverse library of action films year after year.  So in one sense, this movie shouldn’t have stood out that much.  On the one hand, 8 Diagrams is a by-the-numbers tale involving personal and familial dishonor, but on the other hand, it’s an action-packed whirlwind of mayhem featuring some of the best fight choreography imaginable. Director and fight coordinator Lau Kar Leung has helmed many, many excellent films for the Shaws throughout his career, including the 36th Chamber of Shaolin, My Young Auntie, Heroes of the East and Martial Club, but what makes 8 Diagrams so powerful is its raw blend of savagery, angst, betrayal and retribution.   There’s no doubt that this film has some flaws, but I guarantee you that it will be one of the most memorable Shaw Brothers offerings one can ever recommend to those who love kung-fu films.

The first thing that needs to be fleshed out about this film is the basis for the plot.  8 Diagrams is loosely based on a collection of  mostly fictional folk tales, novels and plays about the Yangs, a Song Dynasty military family known for their strength, bravery and loyalty.  Led by patriarch Yang Ye, the large family helped to defend China from both the Khitan-ruled Liao Dynasty and the Tangut Western Xia Dynasty.  Most notably, Yang Ye had seven sons who he apparently rode into battle with and two battle-hardened daughters, all with his wife She Saihua, who was adept in both martial arts and archery.  However, as some of the stories indicate, Yang Ye’s fellow generals had grown jealous over his exploits, including Pan Mei, who would be one of the main antagonists of the film.  These rough details would eventually become the backbone of the 8 Diagram Pole Fighter.

The film basically begins with the jealous Pan Mei, as he, more or less, bullshits his daughter, a consort to the Song Emperor, into sending troops out to wreck the Yang family during their Northern campaign against Liao invaders.  From here, we cut away into battle where Yang Ye and his seven sons are introduced, fighting against the Liao.  They wreck the invaders with their immense spear-fighting, but out of nowhere, Pan Mei emerges .  With a Liao General and the Liao Prince (portrayed by the amazing Wang Lung Wei) by his side, it’s revealed that Pan Mei has laid a trap for Yang Ye in order to not only get rid of his rival, but to help the Liao Dynasty take over.  The Yangs are furious, but the Liao have a new weapon under their sleeve that’s basically a staff that ensnares the Yangs’ spears and makes their spear-fighting obsolete.  With this new weapon, the Liao make short work of the Yang family as brother after brother is slaughtered.  One is hung up by spears.  Another is trampled to death.  One is stabbed in the belly and so on, and so on.  Amidst this chaos, only Yang Liulang (the 6th Son, played by the late Alexander Fu Sheng) and Yang Wulang (the 5th son, our main character, portrayed by Gordon Liu) are left, while Yang Ye, cornered by Pan Mei to surrender, commits suicide instead.

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With Gordon Liu’s character lost in the wilderness after the battle, Fu Sheng’s 6th Son goes insane and straggles on home.  It’s through him that much of the film’s angst and dishonor is exemplified once he encounters both his mother and sisters.  This scene is particularly gripping given that the 6th Son details the deaths of all of his siblings under a spell of  child-like madness while both his family and servants react in horror with each new grisly revelation.  The scene ends in what would be one of the film’s penultimate scenes, where the 6th Son finally reveals the fate of his father to everyone.  His Mother’s faints, the sisters kneel in mourning, and these actions ripple out as the surrounding servants all kneel in sadness as they take in the realization that the entire family is finished.

After this, the rest of 8 Diagrams’ running time is spent cutting back and forth between what happens in the Yang household and the fate of Yang Wulang.  Much of what happens at home relates to how the family deals with the 6th Son’s madness while She Saihua, his mother, navigates new obstacles once Pan Mei names the family as traitors.  As for Yang Wulang,  I think it’s safe to say that it’s almost a retread of the 36th Chamber to some degree as he, after surviving a narrow escape from Liao pursuers, decides to leave worldly matters to become a monk at Wutai Mountain in Shaanxi Province (notice that this is NOT Shaolin Temple in Hebei).  Before doing so however, he angrily says goodbye to his life as a soldier by chopping off the blade of his spear, turning it into a staff.

What follows is a riptide of self-reflection, anger and training as Yang Wulang does his utmost to earn his keep as a monk.  The training sequences in particular are a highlight for their focus on staff-fighting with a wooden wolf dummy (a canny metaphor for the film’s antagonists).  Another thing to note is the amount of time it takes Wulang to ‘mellow-out’ his war-like temperament.  This is exemplified in an impressive training sequence where he uses his staff to untangle a bundle of tree vines.  It’s all about self-cultivation here, and for some brief moments in the film, Wulang’s desire for vengeance slowly goes by the wayside.

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However, things all go to hell once the great Kara Hui is involved.  Through a series of situations that will probably spoil a great deal of the film, Kara’s 8th sister tries to get in contact with Yang Wulang, but unfortunately for her, Pan Mei gets a whiff of this and decides to intervene.  Luckily for us, Wulang get wind of this himself, and feels compelled to save her.  By this time in the film however, Wulang is already a high ranking monk who is, more or less, a shadow of his former self.  The Grand Abbott, portrayed to amazing effect by the late, great Phillip Ko, senses this in his pupil and challenges him, giving us one of the most remarkable fights ever put into film.  Seeing this one fight on YouTube alone was THE reason why I sought out this classic, especially since it features some very complex set pieces.  If you don’t believe me, see it below.

However, a Shaw Brothers film isn’t complete without a final fight, and by all regards, it is MONUMENTAL.  I refuse to spoil the details but all in all, it’s a whirlwind of mayhem, revenge, blood, screaming and a demolished inn.  It’s one of the most satisfying brawls that I’ve ever laid eyes on and it continues to call out to me whenever I need my Shaw action fix.  If anybody is STILL on the fence about this film, then definitely see it for this last fight alone.

Overall, 8 Diagram Pole Fighter is, to me, one of the best offerings I’ve ever experienced from the Shaw Brothers library.  It not only illuminates a little-known piece of Chinese history to Western audiences, but it does so with drama, angst and god-tier fight choreography.  Gordon Liu, Kara Hui and the rest of the Lau Kar Leung gang are at the peak of their powers here, and it’s a total shame that more couldn’t have been done with Fu Sheng’s character due to his death on set.  If there was anything else I could say that were negatives about the film, it would probably have to do with the inaccurate subtitles from Dragon Dynasty, along with the film’s brief conclusion.  Otherwise, 8 Diagram Pole Fighter is an amazing film that not only deserves repeated viewings, but it demands a spot on your DVD shelf, reminding us all how awesome Hong Kong action films used to be.

A Touch of Sammo

Sammo Hung is one hell of a legend when it comes to Hong Kong Cinema.  How he fights so fast with his frame defies imagination, so I try my best to find what I can from him here in the States.  So let’s get a few of my favorite fights together from Mr. Hung and check out the master at work.  Don’t forget to pick up your jaw from the floor.

I’ll definitely post more fights in the future, but for now, these’ll do.

T-Square’s EWI Legends

Those that do follow me know how much of a huge T-Square fan I am, and one of the signature sounds of the band comes from the EWI – Electronic Wind Instrument.  Manufactured by Akai, the EWI has been described by the gang from Video Games Live! as a ‘terminator flute’ and to be honest, it’s true.  It’s easy to dismiss the instrument because it sounds like a over-hyped synthesizer, but it packs power if you know how to play.  Given that T-Square had three sax / EWI players during their history, I decided to show my favorite live performances that  you can find on YouTube, so please check the videos out below and enjoy!

Takahiro Miyazaki was T-Square’s third saxman and EWI artist before band legend Takeshi Itoh returned.  Here he’s jamming to the amazing Knight’s Song, which would eventually become Masahiro Andoh’s “Moon over the Castle” for the Gran Tursimo game series.  Watch how the tempo of the band makes him almost explode!

Second is the insane Masato Honda.  Many fans consider him to be the best and most talented front-man of the group due to his amazing improvisations.  He’s a great artist but I still think Itoh-san is the best.  I don’t care how crazy his version of Truth is, but that’s Itoh’s song.  However, Honda-san’s got TONS of EWI hits to his name.  Samurai Metropolis, Door to Tomorrow, Little League Star, Crown & Roses and more.  However, for my money, his EWI hit would have to be Faces.

And lastly, Takeshi Itoh, the legend of T-Square, has that ONE song.  The song that put them on the map.  The song that made them an international sensation.  The song that no one forgot….TRUTH.  Seriously folks, ’nuff said.

Naika Talks TIME FORCE: The Show That Brought Me Back to Power Rangers

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It was in 2001 when I first ran into Time Force on a Saturday morning.  As some of you may know, I was a big devotee of the Power Rangers during the Saban / Fox Kids days but veered off of it after the amazing end of Lost Galaxy.  The time travel aspect seemed a bit weird to me and, frankly, I didn’t bite.  Fast forward 14 years later in 2015, where I found myself not only watching Linkara’s History of Power Rangers to kill time, but returning to where I left off in my fandom of the show.  That’s right peeps, I finally saw Time Force and I LOVED IT.  Everything about the show was so fun yet fresh, while still retaining that campy attitude that made MMPR so lovable at the time.  Looking back, I can safely say that thanks to Time Force, I’m finally back to being a Power Rangers fan.

14 years is a long time, and much has happened to me in my life.  When I finally sat down to watch Time Force, the first thing I thought to myself was “Jesus, I should’ve watched this back in the day!”  However, if I did, I probably wouldn’t have been that productive during my college days.  Besides, try telling a girl in college that you still watch the Power Rangers at that time and I’m SURE you would’ve been laughed off the park.  Anyways, what I SHOULD say is that my regret for not watching Time Force came much earlier as I watched Linkara’s review of it.  Oddly enough, it didn’t spoil anything for me.  Instead, it primed me for the awesomeness that would come when I finally saw Wes and the gang in action against the madness of Ransik.  Full of awesome action and a decent story (for a PR show), Time Force not only helped me rediscover my love for the PR franchise, but it was a way for me to pass the time while living alone.  My girlfriend at the time (now wife) had to relocate for her Ph.D., and it would take me almost 10 months to reunite with her.  It wasn’t easy living for either of us at that time, but we made it work.  Looking back now, rediscovering the Rangers really did cheer me up because living without your girl is utter hell.

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What I love the most about Time Force is how much of a goofy family the team is, and how important the idea of togetherness is to the group.  In many ways, Jen, Lucas, Trip, Katie, Wes and Circuit are like college roommates who not only had shitty jobs, but lounged around on their free time, ate tons of junk food, lived in a drafty apartment (clock tower), watched movies and played jokes on each other.  Mind you, this is how they are WHILE they’re catching bad guys and being Rangers.  It’s as if the Power Rangers franchise grew up with its audience, where at first, it started out as a tale about positive high-schoolers who wanted to save the world, and they would slowly mature into adults who either went off to discover new galaxies, joined a Ranger version of the National Guard or became Timecop impersonators seeking to relive their college days.  Whatever the case may be, these later seasons after Power Rangers in Space displayed a more grounded sense of friendship and togetherness under the backdrop of much darker themes, with Time Force being the best of the three.  This not only makes Time Force a perfect season for occasional binge-watching, but it’s also a great introduction to the Power Rangers Universe for new fans (i.e. My Wife).

Now, a show like this wouldn’t be what it is without the action.  The Timeranger footage first of all is amazing, so we seriously have to give it up to Toei and the JAC Stunt Crew for making the Japanese action such a thrill to see.  However, a PR show wouldn’t be what it is without Koichi Sakamoto and his stunt team for truly bringing the pain when it comes to the U.S. fight scenes.  There’s a plethora of painful falls, combos and acrobatics here in Time Force, and Koichi’s gang do their utmost to bring you explosive action from start to finish. The stunt team even have fun with themselves by filming an impressive yet hilarious homage to Jackie Chan with the fictitious “Frankie Chang.”  Although Koichi’s crew does double for the Ranger actors frequently (plenty of wigs and stuff), he does give the likes of Erin Cahill, Kevin Kleinberg, Michael Copon, Deborah Estelle Phillips, Kate Sheldon and Jason Faunt the chance to do some of their own fighting, which is always neat to see.

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However, the standout stunt fighter in Time Force would have to be Dan Southworth.  The stuntman / actor did an outstanding job with his portrayal of Eric Myers, the Quantum Ranger, and took the fandom into new heights as he blurred the line between being a rival and being an absolute bad-ass.  Besides doing all of his own stunts and fight work, he’s proved himself to be one of the best actors on the show by making Eric the kind of anti-hero that hasn’t been seen on Power Rangers since the Magna Defender.  As Dan has stated in many interviews, Koichi Sakamoto had a huge hand in giving him the chance to audition for Time Force, and it’s paid off massively for both him and the Power Rangers franchise.  From the stunts to the explosions, from the fights to even Dan Southworth, Time Force wouldn’t have been as good without Koichi Sakamoto at the helm, and it shows.

Another big element that made Time Force such a hit would have to be the villains.  Without question, the tokusatsu monster designs are amazing here, but what I’m really talking about is the characterization of Ransik, Frax and NadiraVernon Wells was totally over-the-top as our main antagonist, yet he gave so much memorable depth and grayness as Ransik that you can’t help but sympathize with his lot in life.  And he had bone swords!  That is fucking COOL!!!  Nadira on the other hand can be a bit strange for a villain at first, but trust me, you’ll warm up to her eventually, especially towards the end.  In many ways, she’s like a psycho valley girl… with superpowers.  Lastly, Frax deserves special mention as a villain who’s maniacal, cunning and duplicitous.  However, as many of us know, Frax also has secrets of his own buried in the past that, in many ways, make him more man than machine. All in all, Time Force would never be what it is without villains that not only engage our heroes in equal standing, but challenge our own notions of what a villain on Power Rangers can be.

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Another element that I can’t leave out when talking about Time Force is the Zords.  They are amazing in this season, and this is especially the case for the Time Force Megazord.  It’s the first time in the series where we get to see the main megazord exhibit two separate modes of transformation which yield two different combat modes.  The Mode Blue Time Force Megazord utilizes quick moves, jump kicks and fast-paced gun-fighting to wear down opponents.  The Mode Red Time Force Megazord however is used more often and has that conventional robot look, especially since it utilizes a saber and shield.  Mode Red also has the coolest finishing move for a Zord with what I call the “Countdown Slash.”  When a mutant is hit with this, time stops, the Megazord Saber acts like a clock and once all the hands hit 12, the Rangers say “You’re Time’s UP!” This freezes our adversary down and he or she gets sent to the slammer.  Neat, huh?  Furthermore, the Time Force Megazord has a host of other robot allies, including the Time Shadow Megazord (which can combine with the Time Force Megazord to make two additional modes for the Shadow Force Megazord) and the Quantum Ranger’s awesome Q-Rex.  Now it might not sound like a lot of zords, but trust me, Time Force has got your robot fix covered!

Finally, Time Force wouldn’t be such a standout season without the amazing work of the main cast.  Each and every one of the main Rangers brings something so fresh and unique to the franchise that it begs you to wonder why they didn’t go ahead with that rumored second season.  Now, the first shout-out most definitely goes to Erin Cahill’s amazing performance as Jen Scotts.  She was the first Pink Ranger to act as a leader on Power Rangers and showed all the nerve, emotion, control and conviction to earn that title.  This is especially evident in the first few episodes because when we first meet Jen, everything comes crashing down for her after losing Alex.  However, events like this help Jen grow into a capable and empathetic Ranger who loves her team, sticks to her ideals and never gives up.  It isn’t easy being both a leader and a woman in the superhero world, but Jen shows us that vulnerabilities can lead into strengths in the most dire of circumstances, making her one of the most memorable Pink Rangers in Power Rangers history.

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Much love also goes to Katie Walker, portrayed by Deborah Estelle Phillips.  Katie in many ways is the true big sister of the group, who displays not only superhuman strength but a super gigantic heart.  Whenever she’s not clobbering Cyclobots, she’s giving emotional support to the team either through funny banter or rib-crushing bear hugs.  This makes episodes like “Future Unknown” such a treat for fans who want to see more from her.  Oh, and let’s not forget “Legend of the Clock Tower,” where she basically meets a crappy poet, beats up colonials and changes time for good (holy shit)!  As many of us know, Katie gets the least amount of development as a main Ranger, but that doesn’t diminish her standing in my book.  Like Tanya and Aisha before her, Katie goes into the history books of the PR universe as an amazing female character who can not only topple armies and save the world, but can do so with a whole lot of heart and soul.

Since Time Force is a show that involves high-tech officers from the year 3000, there’s nobody that visually embraces this notion more than Trip & Circuit.  One is a green-haired alien genius with a crazy gem that helps him see into the future, while the other is a super-duper cute baby robot owl who can summon zords.  Seriously, can you beat that?  That’s like the dynamic duo times ten!  Also, my wife LOVES Circuit, and it’s especially cute to see him interact with all the Rangers (including Katie at the end of the heartbreaking-yet-adorable-but-still-ominous “Circuit Unsure”).  Now among the Rangers, Trip is the gentle genius who’s got a heart of gold, but has a tendency to be a bit naïve with folks who will take advantage of this.  Nevertheless, I think it’s that innocence and willingness to trust in the goodness of others that makes Trip such a positive character on Time Force, especially in episodes like “Trip Takes a Stand.”  And if he’s ever in a pinch, Circuit arises from his backpack to the rescue.  Like Trip, Circuit’s very innocent, but he’s always willing to go above and beyond to help the Rangers save the day.  This obviously puts him at risk, and unfortunately, he does get abducted, tampered with, and even takes a bullet for the team.  However, that only means that Circuit is a lovable bad ass that, like Trip, can go the distance.  Remember, this is the same lovable owl that told ERIC, THE QUANTUM RANGER, to go do his fucking job during “Movie Madness” (my wife loves that scene because Circuit goes “WHOOOOAAAAH” when Eric tries to swat him off of his SUV).  Lovable to a fault, Trip & Circuit are the tech wizards of the team, but just because they’re nice doesn’t mean they can’t whoop your ass sideways.

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However, I seriously need to put a word in about Lucas Kendall.  There isn’t that much to Lucas since he’s either chasing girls or traffic tickets, but he’s shown to have a lot of consideration for others once he warms up to them.  Whether it was about Trip being a Xybrian on the first episode of the show, or when he’s dealing with Dr. Zaskin’s daughter in “Bodyguard in Blue,” Lucas can get pretty annoyed with others who inconvenience him.  However, that goes full 180 once both parties are put in a life-or-death situation.  Another thing you’ll notice about Lucas is that he has these suave mannerisms that he exhibits throughout the show.  These can include his obsession with hair gel, love of cars, his grin and even his tendency to straighten his hair, especially during his fight-and-chase in Part 2 of “Movie Madness.”  Hell, he even pioneered the Polaroid Selfie in “Dawn of Destiny!”  There may not be much to Lucas, but all in all, he’s cool.  Besides, how many suave, Asian, race-drivin’ time cops have you seen on TV anyways?

Lastly, we need to have a word about Jason Faunt as Wes Collins.  Despite being a clueless rich kid, Wes’ enthusiasm about being a Ranger gave him the impetus to fight for his place within the team.  Furthermore, his happy-go-lucky nature, selflessness and overall status as ‘the reluctant heir’ was a breath of fresh air for the franchise, where Red Rangers generally seem to be born leaders chosen by fate.  However, in order for Wes to have any sort of character development, he needed help, and his interactions with his Father, Eric, Dr. Zaskin and the rest of Time Force were instrumental in giving us a sense of how far he’s come since the beginning of the show.  Finally, Wes’ story can’t be complete without his tense-yet-tender relationship with Jen.  It’s clear early in the show that he simply rubs her the wrong way in almost every department, especially in terms of looks (ahem, Alex).  However, they slowly begin to trust each other like real partners would, making the last episode of Time Force such a bittersweet moment once everything is said and done.  All in all, these are the reasons why Wes is one of my favorite Red Rangers of the Saban Era.  Not only is he willing to sacrifice everything for love and friendship, but he’s a carefree and spirited guy who’d love nothing more than to do the right thing as a Power Ranger.

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Despite its inherent awesomeness, Power Rangers Time Force isn’t without its faults.  I think we can all agree that there’s some plot holes peppered throughout the show, where we’re left wanting a bit more explanation with respect to the future.  Nevertheless, the writers did an excellent job adapting Timeranger to make a show that not only stayed true (to a degree) to its source material, but added enough detail to make Time Force unique in its own way.  This season of Power Rangers is nothing like the campy high-school antics we would find in the first five seasons, but one full of consequences, loss and ultimately, separation.  However, that’s also complimented with an amazing level of mirth, camaraderie, reconciliation and forgiveness.  It’s easy to use the Angel Grove years as a way to dismiss the franchise as a whole, but take one good look at Time Force and you’ll see that it’s not only a great kids show, but an amazing landmark for the Power Ranger franchise in terms of risk-taking.  Time Force was the PR show that finally got honest with itself to make something memorable, and to this day, fans cite it as one of the best seasons of the Power Rangers Universe.  It’s the season that, in many ways, put action and characterization ahead of super powers.  It’s the season where we lose a Ranger in the FIRST EPISODE.  It’s the season where thirty / forty-somethings can ask themselves, “Was I like that in 2001?”  It’s the season where women aren’t sidelined BUT are actually leaders okay, LEADERS!  It’s the season where villains can finally find a path into redemption and yes, it’s the season where I, after 14 odd years, can finally say to myself, “I love the Power Rangers, and you know what?  That’s okay.”  Thank you Time Force.  Thank you for bringing me back to the action.

Happy Year of the Rooster!

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Year of the Rooster?  How about year of the Orange Clucker???  Here’s hoping that you’re ready to eat a ton of bird because this year will be so full of guano that the only comfort you’d have is knowing where all that shit came from.  It’s ONLY BEEN A WEEK and the Donald has shat on everything you could think of.  Please be merry, please enjoy dumplings or a hot pot and PLEASE think of positive things folks.  We’re in for a long one, so let’s celebrate now, and get ready to bring it to “Donny” in the coming year.