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.

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Weekend Roundup (11/23/2013 to 11/24/2013)

giroud vs boruc 11232013

Quiet weekends are usually good weekends and in this case, it was damn good!  Saturday morning started out well with a good win from Arsenal at home against in-form Southampton and my, was it a cracker!  The Saints played very well in the first half, but some luck from Artur Boruc’s horrible work in front of goal saw Arsenal’s Giroud steal the ball from him to score on the spot (muhaha!).  Despite what the BBC’s written, luck wasn’t the only thing that helped us will that day.  With solid defending, great build-up play and a penalty for us due to Per getting his jersey yanked, we convincingly closed out the kind of game that we would usually falter with years ago.  How’s that for a good start to the weekend?

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Naika Reviews “Ashes of Time: Redux”

Rivers of blood and the froth of death runs rapid in the minds of those that follow the way of the sword, but for anyone that has ever loved and lost, nothing could cut more than the razor of heartache, and nothing could dig deeper than the dagger of loss.  For stories such as this, no other filmmaker can express these ideas through the world of wuxiapian quite like Wong Kar Wai.  Whether it’s across the neon streets of Hong Kong or amidst the parched wastelands of a mongolian desert, Wong expresses the triumphs and tragedies that befall the memories of sword fighters with flawless grace through his only wuxia film, Ashes of Time.

Based on Jin Yong’s famous wuxia novel series, The Legend of the Condor Heroes, Ashes of Time was released in 1994 as a prequel / companion piece to the novels, acting as Wong’s imaginings of what he feels are the emotional origins of the book’s characters, centering on the unorthodox and carefree Huang Yaoshi (played by Leung Ka-Fai) & the bitter Ouyang Feng (acted out beautifully by the late Leslie Cheung).  Ouyang Feng is more central to the story than Huang since he acts as an intermediate for assassins and mercenaries, placing his quest for glory amongst swordsmen aside for reasons that are revealed later in the film.  Leslie Cheung’s portrayal of Ouyang Feng is clever, informative and balanced since it is his character that creates the narration, monologues and exposition that help to flesh out the story, while Leung Ka-Fai’s portrayal of Huang introduces us to the notions that drive one to forget the past.  For many a Wong fan, the film has come under considerable criticism over the years for how “elliptical” and “nonsensical” the plot is, but I feel that these criticisms have little to do with the merits of the film and more to do with peoples’ taste on how they think movies should deliver or flesh out a story.  In reference to what other net reviewers have pointed out, Wong’s work on Ashes of Time has less to do with what’s exactly being said and more to do with how the film makes YOU as a viewer feel as you watch the film.

Bridgette Lin turns out a stunning performance in Wong Kar Wai's "Ashes of Time: Redux" (2008)

With that said, the performances from all the actors and actresses involved in the film are nothing short of outstanding.  I for one possess no grasp of the Chinese language, but the amount of feeling and emotion portrayed by everyone, from Charlie Yeung carrying eggs in the desert to Bridgette Lin’s stunning, if not marvelous turn as two characters in the film, paints a vibrant portrait of jiang hu angst that is made more grandiose thanks to the creative eye of Wong’s long time cinematographer, Christoper Doyle.  And with Wong Kar Wai alum Tony Leung rounding out the cast as a blind swordsman, I think we got ourselves a FINE film to watch.

Although most wuxia films focus a great deal of it’s time on fighting, Ashes of Time avoids all of that to give the viewer something more cerebral, if not lasting, with evocative visuals and strong acting.  However, opinions on the film became more divided when, in 2008, Wong re-edited the film and released it as Ashes of Time: Redux, which is readily available on DVD and on Netflix streaming.  More commercially available then the original film, the re-edits and the new score have either alienated older fans or re-introduced new fans to a film that was seldom seen outside of the arthouse circle.  I for one am of the latter, so I am unaware of the differences between the two, so maybe it’s a bit too soon for me to sing praises for this version of the film, but at least in my honest opinion, Ashes of Time: Redux is a brilliant piece of filmmaking.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, nothing can cut deeper than the edge of one’s memories.  Pain and sadness, longing and regret, and the lust for conquest that drives broken individuals towards the way of the sword are what color the characters that we find in Ashes of Time: Redux.  The film has divided many a movie fan over its unorthodox storytelling and out-of-character viewpoint of the wuxia world, and yet the film is remembered and loved by many for those very same things. Wong Kar Wai has given us a vibrant painting that not only provides us with a bleak view of how cruel the way of the sword can be, but a longing look at how our memories haunt our present and cloud our future, no matter how fearless we seem to be.  Like the pain that we find ourselves feeling over things we wish were long forgotten, it continues to come back even more when we actively try to forget.  However, despite all of this, there is a duality that is present in this motif.  Only by embracing the past for what it is, we come to eventually learn more from ourselves, let go, and, possibly, succumb to the remarkable possibilities that may be hidden right in front of us.  In the end, a sword can only strike down so much…

Naika Reviews “In The Mood for Love”

Maggie Cheung (L) & Tony Leung (R) in Wong Kar Wai's "In the Mood for Love" (2000).

There’s no other way for me to open up the New Year (aside from moping about football and women) than to discuss film, and as of yesterday, I was completely enthralled by what some individuals consider to be a gem of a film, and that film is Wong Kar Wai’s In The Mood for Love (we’ll abbreviate it as ITMFL from this point on).  Atmospheric, elegant, dark and often times subdued, ITMFL is something that deserves to be seen by anyone who considers themselves to be a lover of film.

While already high on my kick of only two of Wong’s films, the dreamy Chungking Express and the ever-wondrous Fallen Angels,  I was determined to see out all of what I didn’t get to finish on my initial viewing of ITMFL years ago on the IFC channel, and it was well worth it.  Set in 1960s Hong Kong, ITMFL tells the story of two neighbors, Chow Mo-wan (played with ease by Tony Leung) & Su Li-zhen (played by the ever-gorgeous Maggie Cheung, who, by the way, is miles apart from the ditz I saw in Police Story), who slowly realize that their respective spouses are having an affair with each other.  From there, the two of them gradually begin to form a friendship consisting of Su rehearsing her reactions to her husband’s infidelity with Chow, strolls in the streets and pairing up to write martial arts serials in newspapers, all the while promising to each other that neither one would indulge in the infidelities that their partners have.

While it may seem to be a simple idea of a love story to some, the beauty of this film lies in its execution, which is where Wong’s work really shines.  The use of repetition and slow moving shots gives the viewer a sense of how time passes between our two would-be lovers, who both give subtle and nuanced performances of characters who yearn for love without compromising their ideals.  Special attention has to be paid to Maggie Cheung, whose every expression and gesture, from the flash of her eyes to the movement of her body as she strolls with a new, vibrant cheongsam, is more evocative than any line of dialogue.  Tony Leung impresses as always with a debonair yet tortured demeanor as he portrays a journalist who edges closer and closer to the woman he grows to love, all the while trying his hardest to bury it.  In addition, the film’s score lends itself to the drama as “Yumeji’s Theme” gravitates our two characters closer and closer to each other in slow grace.  Couple all of this with some amazing cinematography from Christopher Doyle & Lee Pin Bing and what you have here is a certified masterpiece.

Nuanced and subdued, ITMFL is Wong Kar Wai’s love letter to the lovelorn, an ode where every glance and gesture between our two protagonists is a window into their intentions and desires.  With a breathtaking balance of both art and drama, ITMFL is a lurid study of loneliness and longing, illustrating the notion that in some cases, the silence and space shared between two people can create a bond that is tighter than what any ring or vow could create.

Hungry for action? Naika Reviews “Wheels on Meals”

(From L to R) Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao are ready to whip some Catalan ass in “Wheels on Meals” (1984).

By all accounts, the immigrant experience for anyone anywhere will always be a tough one.  From learning a new language to shifting towards new customs and eating habits, the road to both assimilation and success is a long and confounding one with few tangible rewards hanging at the end.  Countless stories have been told to illustrate these perils, but since this article is a film review, I am obviously obliged to say that all of these stories suck until it’s put on a reel.  With all this in mind, I think it’s safe to say that film has always been a veritable medium for expressing these harrowing journeys of migrants seeking fresh opportunities elsewhere, but none have ever seemed as entertaining as one particular venture involving three “dirty Chinamen” rampaging the streets of Barcelona in what would be one of the greatest fucking films the 80’s had ever seen, and that film is Wheels on Meals.

Set amidst a multicultural Barcelona in the early 80’s, the film draws on the ordinary exploits of two migrant cousins who run a Chinese fast food van, Thomas (played by the awesome Jackie Chan) and David (played coyly by the acrobatic Yuen Biao).  The opening scene depicts their daily routine of stretching and sparring before getting the van going for some lunch time goodness, for which the people of Barcelona seem to enjoy rather well.  However, the business is always beset by colorful delinquents, for which the two cousins are more than capable of dispatching in grand style.  It seems rather odd to find two of Hong Kong’s most well known action stars (count in director / writer / God Sammo Hung in the mix and you have three) making ends meet in Spain, but the welcome change in scenery makes the film an adventurous ride from the get go.  Sure it’s not the familiar sites of Asia, but seeing these guys wow the crowds with their stuntwork throughout Barcelona must’ve been something else.

Things start to become complicated with the inclusion of Silvia (played by the stiffy-riffic Lola Forner), a troubled pickpocket who David goes head over heels for.  She’s obviously the proverbial trouble woman for these two, even going so far as to play hooker to snatch some cash; and if that’s not all, we’ve got a bumbling private eye named Moby (played by Sammo Hung, who it seems, is make an ode to Yusaku Matsuda’s role in Tantei Monogatari) thrown into the mix too.  And with some shady noblemen and quickfooted characters in suits, the movie quickly become one memorable action romp throughout the streets of Spain.

Lola Forner is hankering for some asian dong in “Wheels on Meals” (1984).

Sammo Hung’s eye for action is really what made this film great, and if the fight sequences don’t grip you in some way, then chances are you’re a fucking asshole.  I don’t care if you’re Mother Theresa or St. Peter, but if I don’t hear a “Holy Shit” or a “How the fuck did Benny kick out those candles” from your lips then you must be some asshat that hides under a rock and watches shallow shit like “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” or something.  Even the little piddly fights out on the street are so hard hitting that you could swear you heard your grandfather shake in his coffin when Yuen Biao spin kicked some dirty Spaniard onto the pavement face first.  And let’s not get started with Jackie Chan here.  My boy had the BEST fight in the film, if not, one of the best fights EVER filmed (with Benny “The Jet” Urquidez of course).  I mean look, LOOK at this fight!!

See?  What the hell did I tell ya?

There’s so much that has been said about this film over the course of its life, so to be perfectly honest, there’s not much I can add that others haven’t already highlighted.  On the surface, Wheels on Meals is a tale of two guys trying to make a unique living in a place that doesn’t entirely seem like home to them, but in its heart, it’s an action movie made for action fans by action gurus.  It’s clear that I love this movie a lot, but the love has to spread.  From the setting, to the goofy characters and finally the fights, Wheels on Meals is a window to what Hong Kong action cinema offered in the 80s.  For some of you out there, this may not be your cup of tea, but if you’re looking for something that will spark that legendary love for asian action cinema that some of us film geeks have, then look no further.  Wheels on Meals is a gem, and yes, it’s streaming on Netflix too, so watch it, A.S.A.P.!!!

Jackie Chan (L) & Yuen Biao (R) are trying to make a living in Barcelona in Sammo Hung’s “Wheels on Meals” (1984).