Jennifer Yuh Nelson on Kung Fu Panda 2: Fantasy Film Podcast

Embrace the Po: Hong Kong action is celebrated in KUNG FU PANDA 2.
Embrace the Po: Hong Kong action is celebrated in KUNG FU PANDA 2.

So, there, that’s one New Years resolution out of the way for me. A few months after the theatrical release of KUNG FU PANDA 2, I was able to score an interview with its director, Jennifer Yuh Nelson. With the home video release of the film (in just about every format available, including Amazon Instant Video and a Blu-ray boxed set that also includes the first KFP and a new short film, SECRETS OF THE MASTER), I felt it was time to raise some attention for this beautifully mounted, entertaining sequel.
KFP2 was, I felt, unjustly maligned in its original release. Thing is, what most critics seemed to feel was its greatest flaw — not enough focus on lovable doofus panda Po (Jack Black) — I saw as its greatest strength. Instead of the first film’s fish-out-of-water scenario, the sequel uses Po’s elevation to kung fu master to engage in a full embrace of Hong Kong action, casting him into a story that sees the panda facing off against a megalomaniacal peacock who has developed a weapon that may render martial arts obsolete: the cannon. It’s Jackie Chan enhanced with a lush, animation style — bridging over numerous formats, including 2D and shadow puppets — and highlighted with exquisitely choreographed battle scenes; exciting, funny, and a dazzling visual feast. For the love of martial arts, or pure, bravura animation, you need to see this.
Click on the player to hear my interview with Nelson.


Kung Fu Panda 2: Cinefantastique Spotlight Podcast 2:20.1

Even Awesomer in Battle: The Furious Five Plus One (l to r: David Cross, Angelina Jolie, Jack Black, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu) brace for combat in KUNG FU PANDA 2.
Even Awesomer in Battle: The Furious Five Plus One (l to r: David Cross, Angelina Jolie, Jack Black, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu) brace for combat in KUNG FU PANDA 2.

Ready for another visit from the most awesome martial arts master ever? Well, ready or not, Po, the legendary Dragon Warrior (and roly-poly panda) is back in this follow up to the well-received KUNG FU PANDA. And this time Po (voice of Jack Black) and his compatriots, the Furious Five — Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross) — are facing a challenge that threatens the whole of China: Lord Chen, a power-mad peacock with abandonment issues and a well-stocked armory of newly-invented cannons to back up his claim to the throne. Can Po overcome this threat by confronting the secret of his past that binds him inextricably to Lord Shen? And will audiences find KUNG FU PANDA 2 an exciting and innovative blend of Hong Kong action with energetic CG animation, or is this just another sequel that’s satisfied to serve up more of the same? Join Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons as they debate the issue.


Jackie Chan Presents Gen-Y Cops

genyposterPart of the title of this sequel to GEN-X COPS (1999) basically summarizes the mindset of this film’s production: “Y”. In other words, why was this film ever made? The sham and shame of GEN-Y COPS’  June 2010, Universal Studios Home Video DVD reincarnation is the blatant title change to JACKIE CHAN PRESENTS GEN-Y COPS, as if Chan is actually part of the film, even though he  had nothing to do with the original 2000 release. But of course as the film starts, one of the beginning captions boldly reads “JACKIE CHAN” then a bunch of other companies followed by “Presents…blah, blah, blah.”
At least when Quentin Tarantino attaches his name as the presenter, he’s a fan of the film and ultimately he cares about it. Such is not the case for Chan and GEN-Y COPS. Chan’s goal behind GEN-X COPS and his NEW POLICE STORY (2004) was to promote young new male talents, not unlike the legendary Hong Kong kung fu film director Chang Cheh did in the 1970s. To Chan, these films weren’t about finding new martial arts talent; they were showcasing cute young men acting innocently rugged and tough. Yet GEN-Y COPS lacks this sensibility (if you can call it sensible) as director Benny Chan, who also directed the aforementioned two films, goes off in some awkward directions that I’m sure kept Chan the man away from the set, even if he couldn’t keep his name away from the credits.
If you think that this blatant misrepresentation of using an actor’s fame is a sophomoric stunt to sell a film, that’s nothing compared to the movie’s mainstay. This would be the elite trio of men – Edison (Edison Chen); Match (Stephen Fung); and Alien (Sam Lee)) – a triumpherant of cops touted to be the best of the best, who take on only Hong Kong’s toughest cases, while looking like bratty kids in their 20s and guffawing and gabbing like a trio of adolescent teens. What would be adding to the grandeur of flummery is that these kids (I mean “young adults”) are speaking with Afro-American English-like dialogue, as if mimicking Caucasian rural kids having a racial identity crisis.
In a sort of sublime homage, GEN-Y COPS is a cross between Tsui Hark’s female robot romp I LOVE MARIA (1988) and ROBOCOP 2 (1990), except that the American-made RS-1 killing machine goes awry with “d-roid” rage at the hands of inventor Kurt (Richard Sun), who uses the bashing bot for bad because Kurt feels he was debased by the FBI.
genycops-1Combine the Gen-Y lads with some Gen-XY cops (yes, females); mix in black and white, good and bad FBI agents; then add one Achmed, a Middle-Eastern baddy who wants the android avenger to destroy the infidels – and we have a recipe for stereotypical characters and an archetypical ending that reeks of low budget, weak script and eked out action.
From the action director of Jackie Chan’s PROJECT A II (1987), Nicky Li Chung-chi, one would expect that 13 years later he would be a better fight choreographer. Unfortunately, 13 is an unlucky number in the West, and in a film choc full of Westerners, it’s lucky for us that GEN-Y COPS has only 11 fights with a total screen time of 2 minutes and 38 seconds. Hmm, does this sound action packed to you?
Apart from shooting the fights from close angles – an attempt to hide that the handful of cool techniques and kicks are wire-enhanced – Li and his fight choreography crew made the fights “last longer” by shooting them at 24 frames per second (normal camera speed). If Li had shot them at the typical, Hong Kong fight speed (18–22 frames per second), each fight would have been even shorter.
With a running time of 109 minutes, the DVD can be viewed in English or Cantonese. Including closed-captioned for the hearing impaired, the single disc also has English, French and Spanish subtitles. Bonus materials include Talent Files (all about Jackie Chan), Theatrical Trailers, a “Making Of” documentary, and Deleted Scenes.
Perhaps if this movie was a 1950/60s Disney Film wherein we expected over the top teen-adult characterizations from the likes of Kurt Russell, Dean Jones and Hayley Mills, GEN-Y COPS might have garnered a foul ball home run, landing in a limbo where there exists a sort of Jackie Chan-esque “50-year old virgin in front of females” kind of mentality. But alas poor Yoric, this Hamlet is a cinematic omelet with egg on its face. Thank God for no GEN-Z COPS.
JACKIE CHAN PRESENTS GEN-Y COPS (2000). Directed by Benny Chan. Written by Chan Kiu-ying, Felix Chong, Bey Logan. Action direction by Nicky Li Chung-chi. Cast:  Stephen Fung, Sam Lee, Edison Chen, Maggie Q, Christy Chung, Rachel Ngan, Richard Sun, Paul Rudd, Mark Hicks, Jude Poyer, Anthony Wong, Reuben Langdon.

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.

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.