Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009)

For those of you who came in late, powerful forces are converging on the streets of Bangkok in preparation for the ultimate battle, a war between terror and beauty, light versus dark, yin versus yang, and good versus evil.   The terror, the dark yang side, is led by Bison (Neal McDonough), who is not a fading animal on the American wild west plains but an ever present crime boss with endless power, whose past holds a shocking secret.  Bison’s syndicate, Shadaloo, is taking over the slums of the Thai capital, a task overseen by Balrog (Michael Clarke Duncan), a massively built enforcer and killer whom no one in his right mind would walk a green mile with.  Bison also has his horns and hide hoofed in with the voraciously vicious Vega (musician Taboo), a masked, talon-wielding assassin; part Wolverine and part the inscrutable Han man from ENTER THE DRAGON (1973), Vega’s weapon is tailor-made for slashing and stabbing attacks.  However, those of you who lived during the 1970s may remember that the Vega was a tin-can built car barely more powerful than a Ford Pinto.  The only difference is that a Pinto could explode, and Vega, like his car namesake, does not explode on screen – dud.
Anyway, as Bison instigates a wave of violence in the slum districts, grabbing power and land no matter what the cost to its residents, a champion emerges.  Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk) is a half-Caucasian, half-Asian beauty, who is on a path of vengeance because Bison kidnapped her father.  Yet for her final chapter of revenge, she too has a secret weapon on her side: her kung fu master, Gen, who in the film is not a play on the official language of Togo but a once feared criminal who now fights for the forces of good because of the resulting trauma he inflicted on Chun-Li when he assassinated someone before her eyes.  So rising up out of the ashes of video game time is not a phoenix, but a new-look Robin (Shou, that is), a veritable shoe-in for an actor attuned into the real martial world and the unreal martial gaming world.
Robin Shou as Gen in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-liOne of the smartest things the filmmakers of STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI did was at the 11th hour cast the ruggedly muscular Robin Shou over Collin Chou and Kane Kosugi to replace Rick Yune as Gen, the former vicious killer turned kung fu master. This decision should have set the film up for a grand high noon spectacle far superior to the franchise’s earlier showdown, STREET FIGHTER (1994), which starred the late Raul Julia and the late-to-the-creative-choreography sweepstakes Jean-Claude Van Damme, who sadly made the film as exciting as an afternoon nap.
Unfortunately, this brings us to one of the most insipid things the filmmakers of STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI did during the 12th through umpteenth hour: they did not use the talent of the only legitimate martial artist and kung fu star in the film.  In a twist of ironic coincidence without coincidence, Shou had actually worked for the enemy; I am of course referring to his first major Hollywood role in MORTAL KOMBAT (1995), more than a decade ago, when the Mortal Kombat and the Street Fighter video game franchises were the two most popular games of their time, vying for superiority.  After the MORTAL KOMBAT film pummeled and trounced STREET FIGHTER into the ground, in terms of both box office and cinematic kung fu choreography (MORTAL KOMBAT went on to become one of the highest-earning independent films of that time),  it led to the Mortal Kombat video game enjoying victorious sales.   After this defeat, it was not until 2009 that the other video game franchise stepped up to the camera again, and this time it was really personal as they snatched away KOMBAT’s golden boy and infused STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI with one of the last few remaining legitimate legendary martial arts stars of yore. 
Too bad it didn’t pay off. Someone should have said to director Andrezj Bartkowiak, “Yore approach is wrong.” The filmmakers disconnected their hard drive from the video game mythos and tried their hand at creating new legends. But to paraphrase Brad Pitt’s 1995 film, STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI was more like LEGENDS OF THE FAIL, as it not only lacked punches but it also lacked punch.
Regardless of what critics say about martial arts film – whether it’s CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000) or the best kung fu film ever made LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF CHINA (1982) – the ultimate reason anyone really watches is for the action.  With Shou’s extensive experience in Hong Kong film, and with fight choreographer Dion Lam’s resume (the MATRIX films, 1998’s THE STORM RIDERS), the martial arts in STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI should have been fantastic.  Instead, we see the worst either of these Hong Kong action veterans have ever done.
The fight choreography creativity is as weak as a squashed ant buried under two tons of rock.  Adding to the fights ineffectiveness was the almost whistling-like sound effects used during many of the wire-fu gags, stunts that made the actors look airy-fairy rather than loaded with magical martial arts skills.  Again, the travesty is that the only cast member who could have made the fights look as damaging as the video game was Shou.  Instead, the film uses actors and actresses who punch and kick with noodle-like arms and feet, while trying to cover up the inadequacy of their ability by using wire gimmickry and too many close shots during the fights.  If the sound editors had at least employed those over-the-top sound effects heard in early Shaw Brothers kung fu films, they might have sold the power of the techniques or at leasted created audio distractions from the flimsy martial arts maneuvers.
However, a wee bravo should go out to the filmmakers for casting Cheng Pei-pei (the original choice for The Oracle in THE MATRIX RELOADED), in a cameo as the mysterious shopkeeper Zhilan, the character who points Chun-li down the path to Gen. But “a-gen” it was not enough.
Rumor has it that a third MORTAL KOMBAT film is in the making.  Let’s hope they are intelligent enough to cast Shou as the rustic, ancient warrior Liu Kang who with age, humility and wisdom can lead his fellow fighters to take on Outworld in a new Inworld.

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Does Downey hit a “Holmes” run as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective?

A Barrage of Baritsu
A Barrage of Baritsu

Growing up in England and reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories of Sherlock Holmes, scanning 1960s English comic books featuring Holmes-influenced characters, and watching the eloquently shrouded Holmes in umpteen TV shows and films, one can become attached to the Holmes that was. Comparing the original Victorian Holmes with the new DARK KNIGHT-inspired Holmes portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. in the SHERLOCK HOLMES is like contrasting the early Dr. Who portrayals by William Hartnell and Tom Baker (1963-1981) to the subsequent new millennium Dr. Who incarnations embodied by Christopher Eccleston, David Tenant, and now Matt Smith. As a traditionalist, I lean toward the originals, because those visions reflect an honesty of creation and character over glitz and glamour, without appeasing the convictions of the self and bowing to the weakness of ego.
Part of this contemporary shtick – a  Holmes wrapped in scruff, filth, and addiction – consists of suggesting that Holmes and Watson are more than mere flatmates: their relationship includes hints of homosexuality – the cinematic clues are hidden within the riddled words of the gypsy soothsayer who ruminates to Watson and Holmes in a desolate back street of London.
SHERLOCK HOLMES opens with a display of somewhat macabre sensibility: as denizen of the dark arts Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) is about to perform the last of a series of ritualistic murders, Holmes and Watson (Jude Law) burst in to rescue the latest victim and defeat the black magic master. As Blackwood is about to bow to the broken neck fate of the hangman’s gallows, he warns Holmes that he welcomes death as part of his new life. In fact, Blackwood’s day of execution will further darken the soot-laden skies of 1890 London, which is just recovering from the ominous cloud created by another evil criminal, Jack the Ripper. When Blackwood seemingly makes good on his promise, his apparent resurrection panics London and confounds Scotland Yard (so named because it was built on land owned by Scottish Kings). In keeping with contemporary banter, the Yard calls in their, “Holmie.”
Although the look of SHERLOCK HOLMES captures the grittiness of 1890 London, Downey’s new fangled portrayal of the great detective abandons the traditiona, Victorian-English aspects of Holmes in favor of a brazen, impertinent and abrasively jealous take on the character. Also missing is Holmes’s signature quote, “Elementary my dear Watson.” At least Downey’s English accent was far superior to Kevin Kostner’s Robin Hood Nottingham lilt in ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991).
However, there is an interestingly novel element of SHERLOCK HOLMES that does derive from the literature but has rarely been fleshed out on screen. Besides being a habitual cocaine user, Conan Doyle’s Holmes was a practitioner of a mystical fighting art that was introduced in “The Adventure of the Empty House,” in which Holmes returns, apparently from the dead, and reveals that he did not go over the Reichenbach Falls with Professor Moriarty at the end of “The Final Problem.” Instead, Holmes escaped the death grip of his arch nemesis by using a self-defense system known as baritsu. It is interesting how veins of Fant-Asia have circulated into something that is seemingly non-Asian.
In case it may have slipped anyone’s mind, Fant-Asia was the term coined in the early 1990s to describe the genre of Hong Kong martial arts films made during the 1980s up to the mid-‘90s, which uniquely combined elements of sex, fantasy, sci-fi, and horror with high-flying wire work and over-the-top martial arts choreography. Since then, the term has grown to include just about any Asian genre film that has one or more of the aforementioned elements, whether or not it includes martial arts. To paraphrash one of Holmes’ famous sayings, “What is afoot here?” In other words, what is Asian about SHERLOCK HOLMES?
After the fall of the Tokugawa Shogun, Emperor Meiji opened Japan’s door to Western science, technology and military weapons during a period of Japan’s history known as the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912). Baritsu is a martial art created in 1898 by Edward William Barton-Wright, a British engineer who lived in Japan for three years during the Meiji Restoration. Barton-Wright studied jujitsu and upon his return to England presented his knowledge as a new self defense system named partially after his Barton namesake and partially after jujitsu, thus “bartitsu,” later shortened in the press to baritsu by way of a reporter’s misspelling of the art. Apparently, Conan Doyle was so enamored of the fighting art, that he made Holmes a practitioner. Thus, in a sense, very British Holmes contains an element of Asian influence.
Conan-Doyle also subliminally included something rather Asian in his original conception of Holmes, something that could be seen as the foundation for the characteristic calm of the detective’s demeanor. It is rooted and hidden in Conan Doyle’s interest in the mysticism of India, specifically the meditative sound of “ohm.” The Cockney accent of East London would pronounce “Holmes” without the “H,” thereby calling the centered detective “Olmes.” How incredible it is it that Fant-Asia has been alive and well and lurking beneath the facade of Victorian England’s most famous detective since 1887, the year the first Sherlock story A Study in Scarlet was published.
Happy New Year everybody, a new decade of Fant-Asia is arriving. 

2009 San Diego Asian Film Festival – Fant-Asia & Asian Extreme – Freakeh

Talk about being disarmed
Talk about being disarmed

With this past year’s economic climate, most of America’s major Asian Film Festivals in the United States have drastically cut their programs, showcase fewer films and run for fewer days. The New York Asian Film Festival, which has been around for almost 30 years scaled back their program from last year’s eight days, to this year’s two and a half days. Even the powerhouse Los Angeles Asian Film Festival had major cutbacks. But the only Asian Film Festival in the country to go beyond the call of cinematic duty to support Asian made films and Asian filmmakers is the San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF), which started in San Diego, CA, October 15th, and still has one more week of fantastically far-out and freaky frightening Fant-Asia films to go. So essentially, this festival is running for a whopping 14 days and is featuring 200+ films from 20 countries. This says a lot about the organizers and their passion to not bow to the economy but to put themselves out there to show the world that Asian film is worth the time and effort.
A new program added this year is the SDAFF Extreme series, four fantastically far-out and freaky frightening films (not a typo folks, but a wee bit of déjà vu) that is worth getting out here just for this quartet that will be music to the ears for Fant-Asia film fans. First off there’s the “What? Are you kidding me?” Japanese ALF meets HELLO KITTY, an a-mews-ing feature NEKO RAMEN TAISHO (aka PUSSY SOUP). If you’ve heard of the 1960s FELIX THE CAT cartoon, then please sing the following to the same cadence of the famous TV animated series. “Taisho the cat, the wonderful, wonderful, cat, whenever he gets in a fix he reaches into his ramen bowl of trix. Taisho the cat, the wonderful, wonderful cat, you’ll watch the noodle contest, your eyes will freak, your mind will squint with “huh?”, watching Taisho fall in love with a…cat?” The Taisho cat puppet living in the real human universe is so pathetically bad, up there with the pets.com dog puppet, that it’s really just rip-roaring to watch.
Part blaxploitation, part spaghetti Western and part chambara (samurai sword fighting film), AFRO SAMURAI: RESURRECTION is all Japanese anime as Afro Samurai and his mudslide brother Ninja Ninja (both voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) are en route to find the holder of the second head band. In the wacky samurai world of Afro, whoever owns the second headband can challenge the holder of the first headband, and not before. The holder of the first headband is Sio (voice of Luck Liu), a deranged, sexy femme fatale trying to resurrect Afro’s dead father and use the father to kill Afro. What is engaging about the film is picking out the various Japanese samurai films that have perhaps influenced AFRO SAMURAI. Parallels from the LONE WOLF AND CUB, WICKED PRIEST and HANZO THE RAZOR series came to mind. But the one that even the director Leo Chu and producer Eric Garcia did not see, was that Ninja Ninja sounded like Donkey from the SHREK cartoons. Jackson undoubtedly “burro-ed” the voice to prod at Eddy Murphy’s Donkey character but did so without being an ass.
DETROIT METAL CITY, is Japan’s interpretation of over the top Fant-Asia ecstasy of action milieued into a surreal social environment of death metal and head bangers as Soichi (Ken’ichi Matsuyaama) accidentally goes into a music audition to sing songs about pop tarts and rainbows and get challenged by Gene Simmons to hell-spawn himself into dark music to destroy all bands. Will it be the KISS of death or the kiss of success?
The final SDAFF Extreme is for “surreal” a blood-gore fest for a feast at the festival full of frenetic and frantically fearful feeding frenzies as the title says it all, VAMPIRE GIRL VS. FRANKENSTEIN GIRL. Filled with blood-lusting sucking vampires, a frazzled and freaky Frankenstein girl, hip hopping homicidal nurses, insanely insane mad scientists, and new and improved Japanese ways to disembowel and dismember puny humans, it’s just a simple but crazzzzy love story gone awry.
Lee Ann Kim, a first generation Korean American and the executive director of the San Diego Film Foundation, which she founded in 2000 with the Asian American Journalists Association of San Diego, talks about the challenges of doing the banner year 10th anniversary and why during such difficult economic times it was decided to go all out when film festivals globally are cutting back. “At the beginning of the year we had to make a decision,” Kim shares, “Doing a 10th anniversary with so many films and with the economy being so hard, we had to decide on whether we keep it small or go all out, balls to the wall. Although all the other festivals scaled back big time, we have a reputation and because this is our milestone year, the 10th year, we decided to go two weeks.”
Besides the SDAFF Extreme program what other ways are there to indulge yourself with the latest and coolest Asian cinemateque creations in horror, anime and more, at San Diego’s hippest film festival? If you thirst for more femme fatale vampire there is THIRST, a South Korean dark comedy about a priest turned vampire. Zatoichi returns to the big screen, or should I say Zatoichi-ette in the form of ICHI, an ERA (equal right amendment) version of the classic Japanese chambara film series Zatoichi. But instead of burning her bra like the women in the 1970s ERA movement, Ichi will be burning her opponents with some slice and dice, human vegematic swordswoman ship.
Oh yeah, beware of STRANGE BREW. Although it is the title of a very famous song, one of the Cream of the crop from the 70s, this is a collection of twisted tales from the cream of the crop shorts submitted to the festival. There’s also the southern California premiere of K-20, a Japanese fantasy actioner with a $20 million price tag that stars Takeshi Kaneshiro as Hikichi Endo who is approached by the mysterious K-20 to do a job that puts him in harms way where he must hunt down K-20, before the police gun down Hikichi. MUSHI-SHI is about a “bugcatcher” who heals victims of supernatural creatures, a character who could have been useful to the astronaut who discovers the truth about clones in the Japanese futuristic angst driven story THE CLONE RETURNS HOME.
Although the SDAFF is an international film festival with a yearly increase in non-Asian audiences, they have held on to their identity as an Asian Film Festival rather than switch their name as Kim offers a few parting words. “For me,” she beams with glee, “I really appreciate it when I walk into a film and see lot of non-Asians watching the films. Many people have asked me change the name of the festival, saying you can’t grow if you don’t change it to the International Film Festival. They feel that this is just for Asians, and I say not. I feel if I change the name we are giving in to what they want us to do. What is wrong with it being Asian? Asian encompasses such a vast amount of the world. I feel it is our purpose to open ourselves up to the largest community possible, because our mission is to connect them to a human experience, regardless of who you are or where you are from.”
For information in regard to the films, dates and times, how to get to the Ultrastar Cinemas Mission Valley Hazard Center where the films are being shown, and other cool stuff about the SDAFF please visit www.sdaff.org
Furthermore, for those who can’t get out to the festival, many of these Fant-Asia films are available for purchase at www.hkflix.com, as well are many of the martial arts films that are also being featured at the festival such as Donnie Yen’s YIP MAN and John Woo’s RED CLIFF, both films having their West Coast Premiere at the festival.  (Check out the Film Festival program guide for the complete martial arts film listing.) 
 Three final cool notes about the festival that are totally impressive: Perhaps a small thing, but I’ve noticed over the years that audiences often bring their own kinds of snacks into the films, now that is something you never see in movie theaters; this year the festival offers for the first time an interactive booth, where filmgoers can get a free “Qi Reading” for their health and well being; and a final important thing, each year the SDAFF raises awareness and supports worthy causes during the films’ screening, this year their causes being Water Conservation and the Fold a Prayer Cancer Awareness Campaign. Bravo, bravo and bravo.

Fant-Asia: 2008 San Diego Asian Film Festival – It's Baaaack

Big Man on Japan Campus
Big Man on Japan Campus

At last year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF) audiences squeaked and freaked at the outrageously warped horror/sci-fi film fortune cookie features that were uniquely Asian with movies like I’M A CYBORG BUT THAT’S OKAY; THE VICTIM; and ANG PANAMA. These far-out films were deliciously wrapped around a whole afternoon with George Takei and his traveling one-man factory of stories that were carried live on the worldwide web of Internet insanity. Well, move over 2007…the 2008 SDAFF is coming in for a landing more powerful than the Starship Enterprise crashing into Klingon.
Starting the crash landing is DORORO, a Japanese fant-asia film set in 3084, where Japan’s future has taken a giant step backwards and where samurai wars still exist but monsters and demons control the country. Hyakkimaru (Satoshi Tsumabuki) is a warrior born out of 48 demons and his quest is to find and destroy these demons in order to become human and create peace between the warring clans. As Hyakkimaru follows the red brick road to Kagemitsu’s bloodletting Oz (which includes battles against a giant spider, a large tongue-wagging lizard, blood-sucking caterpillars, and a demonic butterfly to name a few), he is joined by Dororo (Kou Shibasaki), but eventually Hyakkimaru’s dream of becoming human melts into a demonic nightmare.
And what Asian film festival would be complete if it were not replete with a hearty helping of the architectural angst of Japanese anime. From the creators of APPLESEED, comes VEXILLE, wherein director Fumihiko Sori’s edgy and brooding undertone pays freakazoid homage to the shabu-shabu pot of BLADERUNNER, MATRIX and ROAD WARRIOR uniquely boiled into the underpinnings of GHOST IN THE SHELL and STAR WARS. In 2067, Japan’s robot technology is so advanced that against UN regulations they isolate themselves from the rest of the world. This of course makes the paranoid Americans believe that Japan has now become a major threat to the world, so the future George Bush sends in special forces led by Vexille (voiced by Meisa Kuroki), who discovers that Japan has eked out some shocking unknown technology that sends up more red flags than the Chinese fans at the 2008 Summer Olympic gymnastics venue. Naturally as things go awry, cybernetic tyranny goes far beyond Dr. Who’s attack of the cybermen.
The last time we were vexed by a boy and his “talking” dog, Don Johnson gained Hollywood notoriety with his telepathic “blood” relationship in A BOY AND HIS DOG (1975). Perhaps influenced by DEAD LIKE ME, Takeshi Kaneshiro’s (THE RETURNER) eerie role as the Grim Reaper, who walks the earth with his talking dog in ACCURACY OF DEATH, ventures not so much into the macabre of death but the celebration of life. Takeshi plays more of an Angel of God assigned to spend a week with each of three unfortunate humans at three different periods of time, who have been chosen to suddenly die: In 1988, a young office lady, who lives an unlucky life she hardly considers worth living, is nearing the chopping block; in 2008, the death-worthiness of a middle-aged yakuza trapped in the middle of a gang war approaches that proverbial guillotine; and in the future, a feisty hair stylist, who has reached the end of her life and alienates her entire family, is wickedly close to the ax-man’s coming. It is the Japanese Grim Reaper’s job to decide if any of them deserves a second chance or if he must levy upon them the ultimate tax.
The menu culminates with a duo of manga mania. Directed by Hideo Nakata, L: CHANGE THE WORLD is a spin-off of the riotous crowd pleaser DEATH NOTE anime TV show and live action film, where in this rendition, the slightly Goth hero L (Kenichi Matsuyama) must save the world from a group of fanatical eco-terrorists who unleash a biological weapon on the planet. A huge box office success in Japan, this film established Kenichi as a superstar and matinee idol and it is not only required viewing for DEATH NOTE fans, but is also a viral must see for all.
By parodying everything from classic Japanese kaiju television like ULTRAMAN to pro wrestling, BIG MAN JAPAN is mirthful manga mockumentary where a TV camera crew yawningly follows around middle-aged loser Dai Sato (Hitoshi Matsumoto) and just as the mundane reaches abysmal ultra-boredom, Dai gets a call from the “Department of Baddie Prevention.” After electrocution treatments, Dai transforms into Dainipponjin (Big Man Japan), a 500-foot tall superhero who must now protect Japan from an enclave of bizarre giant monsters such as the eyeball monster and the repulsively repugnant Stink Monster.
For those unable to make it to San Diego for these cool films, do not fret: titles such as DORORO, VEXILLE, L: CHANGE THE WORLD and even I’M A CYBORG are available for purchase at www.HKFlix.com. However, if you are able to commit yourself to this wild and wooly fest, which runs from October 9-16 and features more than 120 films from 17 countries, check out www.SDAFF.org.

Forbidden Kingdom: Jackie and Jet Meet Expectations – DVD Review

Forbidden Kingdom DVD
Over the years, I have interviewed several screenwriters of American made martial arts films, and each has boasted how they are working on a screenplay for Jackie Chan and Jet Li, where the top two, living and still fighting on celluloid, martial arts screen legends of all time, were totally up for making the film.  For whatever reason all those scribes failed, it was the silent one, John Fusco, a true practitioner of the martial arts, where ego and boasting are not important, he is the one that won over the hearts of Jet and Jackie to finally come together to etch his name into the annals of martial arts cinematic history folk lore.
The Chinese martial arts movie dream team, the real dynamic duo of kung fu, Jet and Jackie fighting against each other and for each other, eclipses anything Hollywood could ever had hope for, which included their one time Schwarzenegger-Stallone pipe dream team, something that ego prevented and money could not buy.  Yet with Jackie and Jet, it was the spirit of the martial arts that coagulated the current blood of today’s kung fu film, to create a permanent battle scar that everyone would be proud to wear as a reminder of a true historical meeting between two great martial arts powers.  Only Bruce Lee vs. Sonny Chiba would have been comparable.
As one expects with any film these days, to finally get that DVD, at least in this case, is something more special.  To be able at a whim to watch history over and over again, to recapture a moment of time like an old episode of Mike Wallace’s TV show BIOGRAPHY, where rare footage of the subject added such dynamism to the story, THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM comes to DVD with some fantastic special features that cements this magical anticipated moment that only a Beijing opera star fighting a wu shu athlete could transcend.
The saga traces the journey of an American teen, Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angaran), who while hunting down bootleg kung fu DVDs in a Chinatown pawnshop makes an extraordinary discovery that sends him hurtling back in time to ancient China.  Upon landing, Jason is charged with a monumental task: he must free the fabled warrior the Monkey King (Li), who has been imprisoned by the powerful Jade War Lord (Collin Chou; MATRIX: RELOADED).  Joining Jason on his quest is an inebriated kung fu master Lu Yan (Chan), the stolid Silent Monk (Li again) and the fledgling Golden Sparrow (Liu Yi-fei).  But only by learning the true precepts of kung fu can Jason hope to succeed in his mission and in a very WIZARD OF OZ-like motif, find a way back home.
To listen to the commentary by screenwriter Fusco conversing with director Rob Minkoff, simply adds a new dimension and appreciation for the steps, processes and coming together of all the individual elements that made FORBIDDEN KINGDOM possible.  Like a soaring eagle capturing the vector updrafts rising from a valley, Fusco’s firm grasp of martial arts and martial arts cinema provides valuable insights and cool stories that elevates the flight of the film to peaks where only the strong birds of spirit can bring clarity and understanding.
Besides the film itself, the special features section of Disc 1 also contains several other valuable slices of FORBIDDEN KINGDOM movie marvelry and wizardry, which include:  The Kung Fu Dream Team, featuring interviews and behind the scenes footage with Jackie, Jet, Fusco, Minkoff and the old master himself, Yuen Woo-ping; Dangerous Beauty, where with interviews and more behind the scenes footage, we are introduced to the characters and actresses that played Golden Sparrow and the Bride with White Hair, Liu Yi-fei and Li Bing-bing respectively; Discovering China, a historical map showing the path trodden to finding the awe-inspiring and beautiful Chinese landscapes used in the film; Filming in Chinatown allows the audience to visit the largest movie studio lot in the world, Hengdian World Studios, where not only most of the great fights were shot, but also where Boston Chinatown found its way into China; Monkey King and the Eight Immortals, which starts off showing Fusco practicing authentic martial arts (not cinema stuff) leading into descriptive histories of who the Monkey King and the Eight Immortals were and their place in real martial lore; Blooper Reel, which features some truly funny outtakes with Jackie, the kind that do not look rehearsed like from some of his RUSH HOUR films; and Deleted Scenes, where Fusco and Minkoff describe the scenes and their setups that never made the final cut.
Audio choices include English 5.1 Dolby Digital EX or English 2.0 Dolby Digital, which can be viewed in conjunction with English or Spanish subtitles.
The Lionsgate release also includes a Disc 2, which features a digital copy of the film that can be downloaded onto either your PC or MAC, where it can subsequently be transferred to your video enabled iPod, iPhone or Apple TV.

Jackie Vs. Jet

 But the bottom line to all of this, truly comes down to what all kung fu film fans have hoped for, nay, prayed for…the time when Jackie Chan and Jet Li cross hands beyond the boundaries of Hollywood’s lack of vision and letting these living legends really demonstrate their martial arts abilities, as evident by the DVD describing that one section of one fight was had 120 takes.  It is the power of Jackie and Jet, under the scrutinizing and perfecting eye of Yuen Woo-ping.  Ultimately we must thank Fusco for having the right vision to inspire and bring together the three proverbial masters into one master film.

Sulu in San Diego: An Intimate Interview, Part III

In Part I of this chat with George Takei at the 2007 San Diego Asian Film, the actor talked with SDAFF founder and executive director Lee Ann Kim about his experience on STAR TREK and his relationship with Gene Roddenberry.  In Part II, he discussed lobbying for Captaincy in the STAR TREK movies, his memories of being forced to live in a Japanese internment camp during World War 2, why he came out of the closet, and his disdain toward Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and President George W. Bush.  In Part III he reveals his satisfaction doing the William Shatner Roast on Comedy Central, how he got involved in THE HOWARD STERN SHOW and HEROES, and how he met Bruce Lee. As with the first two parts, rather than write this as an article, I felt that it would be more respectful to share Takei’s words using Q&A format so his nothing is taken out of context. Read More

Sulu in San Diego: An Intimate Interview, Part II

Actor Geroge TakeiIn Part I of an intimate interview with George Takei at the 2007 San Diego Asian Film Festival, SDAFF founder and executive director Lee Ann Kim asked George Takei about his experience on the original STAR TREK television show and his relationship with Gene Roddenberry.  In Part II, the actor discusses his ascension to captaincy in the movie series, his reasons for telling the media he is gay, and his political views on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and President George W. Bush.
As previously mentioned, because of the touchy nature of the topics he chose to discuss, rather than write his quotes into an article, I felt that it would be more respectful to share Takei’s comments in Q&A format, so that his words are not taken out of context.
LEE ANN KIM:  Did you have to do any lobbying in order to try go up the ranks on the Enterprise over the years?
GEORGE TAKEI:  We had seven regular actors and two battling for supremacy. Bill Shatner was the ostensible star of the series, but once the series was on the air, Leonard Nimoy had more fan letters than any of us, including Bill Shatner.  And Bill got very insecure.  So there was a battle royale going on and they were lobbying for their characters and when you have the two leads in a series trying to get as much time as possible, it was difficult for the rest of us to get to say more than just, “Aye aye, sir,” and, “Warp 3.” Read More

Sulu in San Diego: Intimate Interview with George Takei – Part I

George TakeiIt’s been a while since the San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF, which I wrote about here and here) and it’s given me time to digest all that was wild, woolly, cool, creepy, sad, mad, angry and far out.  At the end of the day, George Takei’s appearance was the one event that encompassed all these emotions as he revealed more about his life and career from the aspect of being a Japanese-American actor living and working in Hollywood than with his run-of-the-mill appearances at STAR TREK conventions.  When was the last time he spoke about being gay and the angst that goes with that to Trekie fans?  Never.
Lee Ann Kim (LAK), an anchor for KGTV (San Diego’s ABC TV affiliate) and the executive director of the San Diego Film Foundation invited me to be the SDAFF’s official blogger and arranged for me to be present during Takie’s interview.  Armed with a tape recorder and camera, I had front row seat furor and witnessed this event first-hand, which was simulcast over the Internet to millions of Takei fans worldwide.  The buzz had the electrified fans whirring all over the world, watching Kim ask the actor about his newly named cosmic namesake, whichprompted him to blurt, “Oh, my – I am now a heavenly body.” I am of course referring to the asteroid formerly known as “1994 GT9” that has been renamed “7307 Takei” in honor of the actor.  All of us that were squeezed into Theater 6, sat around like little children with wide-eyed wonder hanging on every word that Takei was willing to share…and share he did. Read More

Out from the Ashes of the San Diego Asian Film Festival

sdaff-logo.jpgFinally, after a freaky week of fires, evacuations and bright red skies at night, things are settling down in San Diego, and so it is with great joy that my mind has settled and I can fill everybody in on what turned out to be the first film festival that I have ever attended. How appropriate is it for me (an Asian film fan, gladly boasting a video collection of over 3300 Chinese martial arts films – almost half of them on betamax) that my first festival was the 2007 SAN DIEGO ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL. It was also an honor to have the festival ask me to be an official blogger, providing me with a press pass, and of course now that I live in San Diego, I was there 8 days out of the week and took in about 24 films.  As they say in mandarin Chinese, “Hao” (good).  Read More

San Diego Asian Film Festival

If you are a major fan of Asian films like me, then perhaps that buzz you hear behind you is not a swarm of bees filled with the rage of alarm pheromone fury chasing you, but the electric, eclectic fizzing sibilation of the fast approaching 2007, San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF), which will be held in San Diego, October 11th – 18th.

THE VICTIM - a Thai film about an actress haunted by the ghost of a murder victim she is playing in a film.

Although Asia’s most successful genre is martial arts, over the past 10 years, one could argue that macabre Japanese, Korean and even Thai horror movies have now slithered, oozed and floated into the American consciousness. Then of course there is a consistent hypnotized fan base in the U.S. that have been sucked into the freaky world of Japanese anime, something tht (you may not have realized) subliminally began when you were a kid watching KIMBA THE WHITE LION or ASTROBOY. Read More