Timecop 2: The Berlin Decision

TIMECOP2 POSTERJason Scott Lee travels back in time for the same reason twice. No it’s not déjà vu; he just travels back in time for the same reason twice. The first time was with the 2003 direct-to-video release of TIMECOP: THE BERLIN DECISION; the second time is with the brand new, June 2010 release, not meant to fool you same with a slightly different title – TIMECOP 2: THE BERLIN DECISION. And guess what? The film has not changed, the fights are still bad and the time continuum for now remains undisturbed.
There is one disturbing piece of video on the revamp that just about summarizes the sleaze factor of Hollywood, with blatant lies sold as the God’s honest truth – but to the folks that made this film, god is just a word.
On paper, the TIMECOP films (Jean Claude Van Damme’s TIMECOP [1994] and this movie) sound interesting. A time machine has been invented and people who abuse its power for personal gain become targets for a time-traveling police force know as the Time Enforcement Commission (TEC). Although the films are far from hi-tech, TIMECOP 2 attempts to push the envelope of the Grandfather Paradox (if you go back in time and kill your grandfather before he meets your grandmother would you still exist?) while debating the long time “What if?” question of righting a wrong from the past.


When good TEC cop Brandon Miller (Thomas Ian Giffith) convinces himself he has the moral obligation to go back in time and assassinate Adolph Hitler as a means to prevent the death of 11 million people, ultra-good TEC cop Ryan Chan (Jason Scott Lee) is there to stop him. However, things go awry as Miller and Chan’s plans don’t go as planned; their paths move toward different plains that result in similar pains.

Stories about time travel are of course not new. Early examples of the theme are mentioned in the Sanskrit epic of ancient India “Mahabharata” (circa 700 BC, about the same time Homer wrote the “Illiad”) and the Jewish Talmud (AD 200). Some early examples that are purely about time travel to the future are the Japanese tale “Urashima Taro” (AD 720) and Louis-Sebastien Mercier’s “The Year 2440: A Dream If Ever There Were One” (1771).
Enrique Gaspar y Rimbau’s book “El Anacronopete” (1887) was the first story to feature time travel via a time machine. H.G. Wells’ novel “The Time Machine” (1895) eventually becoming the blueprint for later time travel stories featuring vehicles that allow the time traveller to pick and choose where and when he wanted to go, such as in TIMECOP 2.
Even 10 years after DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY (1993) and five years after SOLDIER (1998) time had not changed Jason Scott Lee’s martial arts skills or the abilities of the fight choreographer, former Bruce Lee student Jerry Poteet. Bruce recognized that film fight choreography and real fights were completely different animals, yet Poteet and his cinematic protégé Jason wrongly assumed that reel fights should be real-looking rather than creative, entertaining, and dramatic. It has been the curse of American-made martial arts films since the 1970s, only slightly changed during the 1990s, but even then stunt coordinators and directors didn’t know (and many still don’t) how to shoot a martial arts fight scene.
TIMECOP 2On the set of SOLDIER, Jason once told me that Jackie Chan is not a martial artist (true he’s not, but then neither is Jason) and that Chan doesn’t know how to make or shoot a good fight scene. The second part of his comment says it all and that attitude pervades in TIMECOP 2. However, when Jason tries to copy a fight from Chan’s BATTLE CREEK BRAWL (1980), it’s rather pathetic; not even tight camera angles and makeshift editing can hide it.
With a running time of 81 mins, the “action-packed” TIMECOP 2 has 13 fights that cumulatively last about seven minutes. The new DVD, released on June 1, has closed-captions for the hearing impaired, and has English, French and Spanish subtitles. Bonus material include 3 minutes and 30 seconds of behind-the-scenes rambling with actress Tava Smiley and a 10-minute “Making of” track.
So what was the part that disturbed me? During the “Making of” sequence, producer Mike Elliot boldly fibs that the fight choreographers of TIMECOP 2 “are famous in the world. In fact, they were the martial arts choreographers for Bruce Lee in Bruce Lee’s movies.” Huh?
Including TIMECOP 2, Poteet has choreographed only four films. Furthermore, Bruce Lee’s main choreographers included himself, Sammo Hung, and the late Lam Ching-ying. Lee and Lam need to come back and haunt Elliot into telling the truth. Then we’d have a really interesting time travel story to watch.
TIME COP 2: THE BERLIN DECISION (2003). Directed by Steve Boyum. Written by Gary Scott Thompson, based on the comic series by Mike Richardson and Mark Verheiden. Cast: Jason Scott Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Mary Page Keller, John Beck, Tava Smiley, Josh Hammond, Tricia Barry, Sam Ly.

Paycheck (2003) – Blu-ray Review

When the topic of “What was John Woo’s worst American film?” comes up, there are two secure camps: some will tell you without hesitation that it’s MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II and others who’ll say PAYCHECK. MI2 isn’t quite Woo’s fault, beyond accepting a job with an actor-producer-control freak actually calling the shots, which leaves PAYCHECK, a crushingly dull experience that attempts to do to its audience what Uncle Joey Nichols tried to do to young Alvy Singer – mollify him with a shiny object long enough to sneak away.
Using Philip K Dick’s short story as a carpet upon which which star Ben Affleck can chase and be chased throughout whichever Canadian city was doubling for America when the film was made back in 2003, PAYCHECK casts Affleck as reverse engineer Michael Jennings, who is hired by companies to break-down the technology of competitors while isolated in a lab for periods up to several months. Once the job is finished, Jennings memory is erased to the point when the job began and he collects a large – wait for it – Paycheck! Jennings’ next job, which lasts for three years, finds him in the employ of old friend Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart), the president of a Microsoft-like corporation. The problem is, after Jennings’ memory has been erased and he expects to receive payment, he learns that he has forfeited his shares without explanation; all he has to show for the last 3 years of his life are a group of innocuous everyday trinkets that he had mailed himself prior to having his memory blanked, including sunglasses, lighter, ring, hairspray, etc. Before Jennings can reach Rethrick for an explanation, he’s captured by federal agents (including Joe Morton and a pre-Dexter Michael C Hall) and accused of treason. Jennings affects an escape, thanks to the unusual objects he had sent himself, and joins forces with Rethrick employee Rachel (Uma Thurman), with whom he had shared a long relationship that was erased along with his memories. Together they discover the project that Jennings had helped to develop: one that the FBI wants him in jail for and Rethrick wants him dead for, a machine that enables the user to see into the future.
Not long after his celebrated move to America, John Woo found himself in the unfortunate position of being marginalized by his own imagery – all of Woo’s trademark stylistic flourishes are present here, save perhaps the ubiquitous flying doves. By 2003, the sight of mortal enemies standing toe to toe, pointing guns in each other’s face with geometric precision, had moved well beyond trite and was now comfortably ensconced the basement department of DTV potboilers. This leaves PAYCHECK in an unfortunate position; watching the film marching joylessly through the rote narrative sections is tedious and relieved only by the ridiculously hyped-up action sequences that turn a software engineer into an unstoppable fighting machine or expert motorcycle operator. Inconsistencies like these would be a better film’s undoing, but there is so little emotional investment in the characters that by the time Affleck and Thurman have the customary tearful “Don’t you dare leave me, Michael!” during the final action sequence, the result is embarrassingly humorous, though not as funny as Affleck and Eckhart strangling each other with glowing compu-cord straight off the set of Quark.
Many people will tell you that the best actors are the ones that allow the audience to enter inside the character’s emotional or psychological curtain. Affleck, on the other hand, guards that entrance while reclining in an easy chair with a shotgun across his lap. We’ve had this experience before while watching surfing documentaries; we can certainly appreciate a well executed maneuver (and Affleck is quite funny when first incredulously eyeing the items he mailed to himself), but otherwise, we have no frame of reference and experience no vicarious thrill.
Thurman tries hard in a virtually non-existent role; indeed, the screenplay could have written her character out with only minor alterations (we don’t think – and would be happy to hear otherwise – that her character even exists in Dick’s short story). Poor Eckhart was still dripping with the misogynistic Brill Cream that roles in two Neil LaBute films had left him with, and is only now finding roles that show his considerable range. Also look for the usually interesting Colm Feore as an assassin who’s hated for window glass and concrete hallways seems to get in the way of his job. Interestingly, Jennings’ friend and assistant, Shorty, is well played by Paul Giamatti, in the last role prior to his breakthrough in Sideways. We’ve heard that Giamatti is a fan of Philip K. Dick and is currently playing the author in a biopic called The Owl in Daylight. Anyone looking for insights into Dick’s work is advised to save the two hours that are required to view PAYCHECK and wait for Owl to be released.


Paramount’s Blu-Ray idsc of PAYCHECK presents a bright, colorful 1080p image that definitely improves the viewing experience. The film is 6 years old, but the Blu-Ray plays like that of a just-released picture, and the Dolby TrueHD is equally good. Fans of the film – and we will not debate their judgment here – will certainly want to upgrade from the SD-DVD.
All special features from the original DVD have been ported over; they include 2 commentary tracks, one by director John Woo and the other by writer Dean Georgaris. There are also 2 EPK-style documentaries, one focusing on the general production, featuring the usual on-set cast and crew interviews, and the other on the impressive stuntwork. There are also a collection of deleted and extended scenes.
However, like other recent Paramount releases, PAYCHECK‘smenu structure is frustrating. Commentaries, languages, scene selections and subtitles can be accessed via the standard Blu-Ray popup menu, but to get to any of the other extras you have to go out of the film and back to the home screen, willfully ignoring one of the format’s nicest perks.
After the non-performance of PAYCHECK, Woo directed an unaired pilot for a revamped Lost in Space series and supervised a videogame called Stranglehold, a semi-sequel to Hard-Boiled -which utilized much of Woo’s Hong Kong action style and reunited him with Chow Yun-Fat as Inspector “Tequila” Yuen. Since then, however, he has returned to Hong Kong, where he just finished the sequel to the extremely successful period epic Red Cliff, reuniting him with another Hard-Boiled star, Tony Leung. It might sound odd, but as a longtime (and hopefully, future) fan of Woo, we hope we never returns.

The Vampire Effect – Horror Film Review

vampire-effectLike UNDERWORLD, this is an attempt to take vampire mythology and turn it into an excuse for a slick and exciting action thriller. The martial arts action is frequently fun to watch, and the cast is not without its appeal, but these good bits and pieces are stitched together by means of a screenplay that is unusually incoherent, even by the diminished standards of dumb action movies. Forget about plot development and character nuances; this script can’t even figure out which characters should be the ones fighting each other; the final confrontation has a haphazard “well, it had to be somebody” feel.
The premise is built around the concept of an organization of vampire slayers (although, much like the original THE AVENGERS, we never see said organization, only one agent). Judging from the opening battle, our hero loses partners about as fast as Dirty Harry; he blames the organization for sending him unqualified people, but from the available evidence we suspect  he doesn’t do a good job watching out for them. Anyway, his sister falls in love with the prince of an Asian vampire clan, who drink blood from goblets but don’t bite unwilling victims. The prince is targeted by the leader a European vampire clan, who needs the prince’s blood to complete a ritual that will allow him to walk in daylight.
The movie is singularly incapable of narrowing its focus. At first it seems to be about breaking in a new partner, but that gets shunted aside when it turns into Romeo-and-Juliet love story between a vampire and a woman whose brother hunts vampires. This story never takes off at all – there is literally no confrontation between the vampire and the vampire hunter over the girl. Instead, the conflict between the Asian and the European vampires takes over, but instead of resolving this through a confrontation between the leaders of the rival clans, the Asian vampire prince is sidelined for the entire ending, while the vampire hunter’s new partner (for no particular reason) handles most of the fighting.
The combination of vampire special effects and human martial arts results in some entertaining fight sequences, but they tend to go on for too long without offering any clever twists or surprises to justify the length. At least, the hyper-kinetic work seen here is miles ahead of what was available in LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1973), an earlier attempt to mix the undead and kung fu.

Jackie Chan
Jackie Chan

Midway through, the tone abruptly shifts to outright comedy when Jackie Chan shows up for a cameo as an ambulance driver. Chan delivers a few patented sight gags (he was always as much an old-fashioned silent comedian as a fighter), but his scenes are a bit by the book (and it is sad to note that some of his fight work now requires body doubles).
The scene is also marred by one of the script’s bigger idiocies: attempting to elude the Euro-vampires, our heroes invent some story about needing medical attention so they can get a ride in Chan’s ambulance – but he never asks them why they want to be driven away from the hospital where he finds them.
The distinction between Asian and European vampire clans is mildly interesting for those who enjoy reverse racism (after all those yellow-peril films, do we have a right to complain when white people are cast as the one-dimensional villains?) Otherwise, the cliches are a bit dull. I never want to see another film or read another story in which vampires regard blood like a wine enthusiast savoring a special vintage; also, there should be a moratorium passed on the plot device of vampire seeking a way to survive in sunlight.
Overall, this one is only for fans of hard-core martial arts mayhem, preferably on home video, so that they can fast-forward to the action scenes and skip the non-sensical plot.


The English dub of the film is midly distracting but not much worse than most of its type. Jackie Chan, who is perfectly capable of speaking his own English dialogue, seems to have been dubbed by someone doing a Jackie Chan impersonation.
THE VAMPRIE EFFECT (Chin Gei Bin,a.k.a. “The Twins Effect,” 2003). Directed by Dante Lam, Donnie Yen (billed as co-director). Written by Wai Lun Ng. Cast: Edison Chen, Charlene Choi, Ekin Cheng, Gillian Chung, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Jackie Chan, Mickey Hardt, Josie Ho, Ricardo Mamood-Vega.

Undead (2003) – Horror Film Review

Zombies are big business these day, or at least Hollywood hopes so, with RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION opening later this month. So we thought we would take this opportunity to shine the light on a lesser known – but quite entertaining zombie opus – a fun-filled combo of gore and John Woo-style action that is more farce than fear. UNDEAD is an amusingly outrageous Australian variation on the familiar zombie theme, played mostly for laughs but with enough exciting action and horrible makeup effects to qualify as a tongue-in-cheek horror film rather than an outright spoof. It’s not as funny as it means to be, and some of the character conflict is annoying rather than dramatic, but the stunts and sight gags make it worth sitting through the weaker moments.
The film begins with an apparently ordinary day in a small Australian town. The local beauty queen (Felicity Mason), fed up with her life there, is on her way out, when circumstances intervene: a meteor lands downtown, poking a hole through one of the hapless inhabitants. (That the abrupt incongruity of this disruption of dull normality draws chuckles instead of screams is our first hint that we’re not in for a straight-out fright fest.) Then, as in SHAUN OF THE DEAD, the meteor turns people into zombies, whose bite then turns their victims into even more zombies. (To be fair, UNDEAD was released in its native land in 2003, a year before SHAUN.) A gravel-voiced, gun-wielding man (Mungo McKay) comes to the rescue, but in the end it is our beauty queen who rises to the occasion and proves herself to be the true survivor. Along the way, our characters find that their town has been completely surrounded by vast, unscalable wall, completely isolating them from the rest of the world; there is a mysterious rain that causes some unknown changes into the people it touches, after which they a levitated above the town, where they hang suspended in a coma; and just to top things off, some aliens show up….
Obviously, this is not just another low-budget Romero knock-off. The acknowledged intention of the writing-directing team of Michael and Peter Spierig was to craft a film in the manner of Peter Jackson’s early, outrageous gorefests, BAD TASTE and BRAINDEAD (a.k.a. DEAD/ALIVE), two films that pushed carnage well past the limits set by George Romero in DAWN OF THE DEAD (1979) and DAY OF THE DEAD (1985), but which adopted a hyper-kinetic cartoon aesthetic more in keeping with Sam Raimi’s EVIL DEAD II. Into this mix, the Spierig Brothers add a healthy doze of John Woo-style action antics: having the hero dive in slow motion while firing guns, two-handed, at the advancing zombies; or, in a wonderfully over-the-top moment, performing a 180-degree leap into the air, embedding his spurs into the top of a door frame, and firing while suspended upside down. With action like this, the film clearly is not interested in believability; it’s a movie-movie that works as a showcase for bravura excesses of action and gore that are meant to yield laughs more than screams.
Yet, somehow, it manages to avoid losing all credibility. The result is both frightening and funny — a combination of humor and horror somewhat similar to SHAUN OF THE DEAD, although the script and characterizations for UNDEAD are, frankly, not quite up to the caliber of that film. Mason is fine as our heroine, but McKay’s gravel-voice Clint Eastwood impersonation yields a one-note performance that feels fake. The rest of the cast strive to delineate their characters, but they are undermined by a script that forces them to play narrowly defined caricatures (e.g. the over-bearing, authoritative police officer and his insecure junior partner).
In particular, the film stumbles in its attempts to build dramatic tension among the supporting cast. Early on, when the characters are forced to take shelter in an underground lock-up, they begin pointlessly yelling at each other, instead of trying to figure out what they need to do. The effect is forced: it’s the script telling them to tear into each other, without really justifying their reactions, and the performers fall into the trap of trying to goose-up the weak writing by throwing themselves into it full-bore. Fortunately, these missteps are balanced by the nicely-staged action, which elevate the film a level above the usual low-budget zombie-spoof. There is also some well-done prosthetics, including the de rigueur gore expected in this sort of film.
On top of that, there are numerous, impressive computer-generated special effects that provide a larger sense of scale (such as when a small airplane weaves in and out of the levitating bodies floating over town). In the end, UNDEAD is not as sophisticated as the Romero DEAD films, nor as sinister as 28 DAYS LATER, nor as witty and clever as SHAUN OF THE DEAD, but it does not intend to be. The aesthetic here is “cult film” all the way, and on that level the Spierig Brothers succeed, creating mindless movie entertainment that works at least as well as Hollywood popcorn movies like RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE and ALIEN VS. PREDATOR. UNDEAD is the ultimate, ultra-cool, gun-smoking, brain-splattering zombie-action-comedy-gore-flick.
UNDEAD (2003). Written and directed by Michael & Peter Spierig. Cast: Felicity Mason, Mungo McKay, Rob Jenkins, Lisa Cunningham, Dick Hunter, Emma Randall