Ultimate 2000s Blogathon Kick-off: SPL: Kill Zone 殺破狼 (2005)

Today is a very special day! Ultimate 2000s Blogathon officially kicks off today! Like previous years, both myself and my amazing co-host Drew from Drew’s Movie Reviews will both be sharing our kick-off movie on our respective blogs. To start things off, it only makes sense to kick off with a Hong Kong action crime thriller called SPL: Kill Zone. Hong Kong movies have always been a big part of my life and while its struggled through some of its content, Kill Zone breaths new life into this genre with its fantastic cast and its surprising how I haven’t reviewed it here yet.

SPL: Kill Zone 殺破狼 (2005)

SPL: Kill Zone

Director (& co-writer): Wilson Yip

Cast: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Sammo Hung, Jing Wu, Kai Chi Liu, Danny Summer, Ken Chang, Austin Wai

A near retired inspector and his unit are willing to put down a crime boss at all costs while dealing with his replacement, who is getting in their way. Meanwhile, the crime boss sends his top henchmen to put an end to their dirty schemes. – IMDB

2000s Hong Kong films was a bit of a mixed bag full of some dumb humor, recycled ideas and predictable plot lines. But in between all this, they had some great films with great casts that stood out, maybe even call it a decade of great crime thrillers from Infernal Affairs to Election to this film. Call this something of a comeback film that brought together some big stars as well as welcoming Donnie Yen back to the Hong Kong scene showing that his martial arts has not lost one bit of speed. The starting scene changes the pace of the entire film whether it is with its main inspector, Inspector Chan who takes in the orphaned child and realizes his days are limited or crime boss Wong Po’s release after insufficient evidence which sets off the pressing time limit for Inspector’s team to catch him.

spl kill zone

Right in the opening moments, we get a good idea of the personality of everyone here. Be it Donnie Yen‘s character Inspector Ma’s first appearance on scene going head to head in the car with Inspector Chan’s team and then their conversation of his past events. While we’ve already seen Inspector Chan and the bond with his team and the quick introduction of each member as Ma Kwan looks at his desk of the team. It shows their character and their role in the movie which brings them to what starts off this film and the vengeful events that start. Kai Chi Liu, Danny Summer and Ken Chang play the three members of this team who are all capable in their own manner and create a balance. The first two of these names are seasoned actors in the business already. Its this bond between the team of five that builds up during the film that makes this film even more valuable as they make us care for each of them.

spl kill zone

With a competent team, there has to be the other side of the spectrum and Sammo Hung‘s Wong Po does exactly that. Call him the mastermind throughout most of it with each scene very much making his presence known. Sammo Hung, despite his age, also flaunts some impressive martial arts move as he goes head to head in some fast-paced fighting scenes up against Donnie Yen.It helps that his top henchman is a white clad martial arts powerhouse, Jack played by Jing Wu, in one of his first roles. Jing Wu truly shows off his skills especially when his scenes are not a lot of talking but a lot of brutal “execution” for our characters leading into a fantastically shot alleyway fighting scene with Donnie Yen.

Qi sha (Seven Killings) is the Power Star; Po Jun (Army Breaker) is the Ruinous Star; Tan Lang (Greed Wolf) is the Flirting Star. According to Chinese astology, these three stars, with their changes, could create or destroy that beautiful life of yours. – SPL: KillZone

Nothing beats a crime thriller like having a nice background story to investigate. There is a lot going on here with parallel storylines and investigations that intertwine each other gradually. There is a lot of style here as well. While it embeds its foundation in Chinese astrology, the script itself embeds all these things just like how Seven uses its seven sins. It also has the brutality of films like Election. The fighting scenes are meticulously shot as well as the chase scenes. There is this real sense of what is the limit of ethics and morals of being a police officer when faced with the triad and its ruthless crime boss. Between the team and Donnie Yen’s addition that shows a friction between injecting himself and being accepted. A different person and a different approach gives Inspector Chan’s long time team and Inspector Ma the division that makes this an extra layer to explore in the story.  At the same time, Kill Zone also adds in a heavy dose of Chinese belief in karma.

spl kill zone

SPL: Kill Zone is a one of a kind action crime thriller. It defines its genre so well in what makes Hong Kong films so worth watching. 2000s brought about a new wave of crime thrillers that gave itself a lot of twists and intertwined plots that gave it so much more depth. Whether its for Donnie Yen or Sammo Hung or Simon Yam, no doubt the more known actors here, this film gives it a nice blend of impressive fight scenes, brutal almost execution moments, and a thought-provoking themes about morals and ethics as well as choices and karma. Its fast-paced and ramps up its intensity with each scene and its frictional moment between its characters making it such a joy to watch over and over again.

Remember to head over to my co-host Drew at Drew’s Movie Reviews to check out his kick-off review and give him a follow to not miss any posts from the Ultimate 2000s Blogathon! We have a little hashtag set for this blogathon #ultimate00sblogathon if you want to give us a mention or share some of the posts! 🙂

As always, you can find the full list of entries updated daily HERE!

Tai Chi Zero (2012)

Yesterday was my best friend’s birthday.  I’ve showed some pictures of us together and all but she’s like my sister.  She’s actually been reading my blogs lately and I’m extremely happy about that.  So I decided that since she’s been talking about wanting me to check out Tai Chi Zero on Netflix for a while,  I’ll do it just because its her special day! I’ve been meaning to for a while but I get a weird vibe from the movie itself so lets see what I thought about it…

tai chi zero posterDirector: Stephen Fung

Cast: Jayden Yuan, Qi Shu, Angelababy, Eddie Peng, Tony Ka-Fai Leung, Mandy Lieu, Da Ying

Lu Chan/The Freak (Jayden Yuan)  was born  unusual with a weird horn-like growth on his head.  His mother (Qi Shu) always believed that he was special unlike his father who constantly neglected him.  His mother’s last words to him were to do one thing well and that was to perfect his gift, the ability to learn kung-fu steps quickly and be  a master of kung fu. He was taken in by the Divine Truth Cult that exploited his gifts in war, however, the doctor advised him to leave and seek the Chen Style Kung-Fu which was a powerful form of Tai-chi in Chen Village which was never taught to outsiders.  That was the only chance to save his life to balance the energy in his body. At Chen Village, Master Chen is not there and his disciples including Yu Niang (Angelababy) stops him with stages to make him get through before allowing him to learn the arts.  However, at the same time, a previous resident, now a chief engineer, Zi Jing (Eddie Peng) for the government to enforce a railroad that the town opposes to be built through their village comes with his technology to force his way.  Luchan may be the town’s only chance of survival.

tai chi zero fight

Tai Chi Zero is a peculiar Chinese action movie.  It reminds me of a mash-up of Kung Fu Hustle, Shaolin Soccer with combat video games and comic books style (similar to Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World).  For a good part of the beginning, I felt like it was ripping off those movies.  I can’t say its a great film because the story wasn’t really all that good, however, it did have some pretty good action sequences.  I mean guess who the action director is? Sammo Hung, guys! No one can really beat Sammo Hung at this.  I have immense praise for him.  In the position of director, we have Stephen Fung. I like Stephen Fung a lot when he was an actor.  As I looked through his earlier directing efforts, I realized that I have seen two of them.  I really can’t say I enjoyed those much which makes this one shine in comparison.

tai chi zero angelababy

Its a pity that the script wasn’t more engaging because the cast did a great job at the character portrayal.  I didn’t have many hopes for them since I can’t really take an actress with the name of Angelababy very seriously and she hasn’t really done any impressive roles before this, but I have to say she did alright.  She’s slowly earning my respect.  Our main character was played by Jayden Yuan, 2008 Olympics Wushu champion.  I can’t say he had to do an incredible amount of dialogue or acting but hey, he sure can fight.  I’ll give him that! He was pretty incredible.

tai chi zero tony ka fai leung

The person I think deserves mention is definitely our Grandmaster, Tony Ka Fai Leung.  I’ve reviewed a few of his movies before, most recently being Cold War (check out the review HERE). After his exceptional performance in the Hong Kong mob flick Election, this actor has been way off the charts awesome. I used to ignore his movies and I really can’t get into his appeal but to me, he’s really been involved in some pretty great movies and in this one, he really brings out everything.  He adds hints of humor, great fights and has some of the relevant and meaningful dialogue.  He was the perfect choice for the role. Playing the bad guy in this one is Eddie Peng, who coincidentally was also in Cold War and played Tony’s son.  You know how some people just have that bad guy look? Eddie Peng has that! He looks bad-ass all the time, which makes him really good when he’s being really bad.  Does that even make sense?

tai chi zero monster

The main thing you need to remember when walking into this movie is to throw out that whole balance of everything working out.  This movie is plain weird.  The best part are definitely the fight scenes.  Everyone does great.  Everything single one is worthy of applause and that last final battle was set in stages and man, just one *spoiler* (maybe the trailer has it, but I never seen it), once you see stage one and all those fruits and vegetables flying out the doors and windows, I couldn’t help but to laugh at the craziness of it all! *spoiler ends* That last fight is so much CGI, its ridiculous! The only way you buy into this movie is to buy into that.

Its tough to say whether I recommend it.  Its definitely an original and unique martial arts movie.  Stephen Fung deserves every bit of credit in that.  Its definitely worth a watch, however, I did have to take a good 15-20 minutes to get used to it and the beginning didn’t really appeal to me as much.  But, once the movie starts flowing and we get into Chen Village, things start getting a whole lot more fun and entertaining and its full of amazing fights and kung fu/tai-chi moves.  If thats your thing, you might just enjoy this peculiar little film.

Fantasia Festival: The Last Tycoon (2012)

I finally made it to see my first movie of the film festival.  I am organizing my time to see a few more as I start feeling better gradually 🙂  Although I did miss the one that I anticipated the most, I did end up finding a few that I missed the first time I was looking at the whole list of movies.  Last night, I went to see the historical crime thriller The Last Tycoon! Let’s check it out!

the last tycoon posterDirector: Jing Wong

Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Sammo Hung, Francis Ng, Xiaoming Huang, Monica Mok

Cheng Daqi (Chow Yun-Fat)  is one of the biggest mob bosses in Shanghai in 1937.  From the time when he was just a poor boy (young Daqi by Xiaoming Huang) working at a fruit stall at the countryside, he rises up after seeking refuge in Shanghai from being framed for killing his boss and afterwards being saved by a secret service soldier Mao Zai (Francis Ng), who also teaches him how to kill.  In Shanghai, he uses his guts and courage to move up in the underworld mobs and eventually is taken as an apprentice under Mr. Hong (Sammo Hung), one of the biggest gangsters in the early 1900s who is also a police captain.  As he uses his quick thinking to help his master and then saves him from the new General, he rises up to be Mr. Hong’s sworn brother and together they earn money and get involved into different types of businesses until 1937 when they are asked to help against the Japanese invasion by the secret service unit there.  At the same time, Daqi’s old flame ends up in Shanghai with her husband who also has a secret agenda.  Daqi now has to worry not only for himself and his family but also make the choice to save his country and also balance it between his old love.

the last tycoon showdown

Fantasia categorized this as a historical crime thriller.  I hold out on that a little mostly because I’m not completely sure if there is a historical factor to it.  For one, the invasion of the Japanese did in fact happen and I believe my mom told me that one of the characters there is based on a true historical character.  I still have to do a bit of research on it. Regardless, this was very much an action thriller packed with a whole lot of underlying political values and morals in both a coming of age as we watch how Cheng Daqi moves up to become one of the biggest mob bosses in the underworld of Shanghai and also the struggles to maintain a balance between making the right choices of becoming allied with the Japanese as they invade Shanghai (and China as a whole) or to use the power he had to conquer and defend. It was also a story of brotherhood and loyalty.

The last tycoon chow yun fat

Chow Yun-Fat’s character was definitely refreshing.  Its been a while that he has been in an action thriller where we see him fully engaged in action to fight and shoot.  He is absolutely a great actor and in this flick, he leads it very well.  Even his younger self played by Xiaoming Huang, which I came to learn from my mom and is also in real life an actor that Chow Yun-Fat has taken under his wing to teach him better acting skills, was pretty impressive.  Cheng Daqi needed someone to reenacted by someone with the tough and calm charisma that Chow Yun-Fat can bring especially when faced with the scheming parties that surrounds him in this flick. He had so many good quotes also! This one was in the trailer:

I’ve never been afraid of anything in my life…except being a traitor. – Cheng Daqi (Chow Yun-Fat)

Another one they used in the Cantonese version final trailer:

I personally would want to rewatch it in Cantonese because thats the original language of the movie even though I saw this in Mandarin.

the last tycoon daqi hong mao

Sammo Hung had a smaller role in The Last Tycoon.  However, Francis Ng as Mao Zai who plays a controversial and pretty intense character who is a government commander who also has some secret service type of description behind it.  I’m a huge fan of the peculiar characters that Francis Ng chooses to act.  He always lives up to them and he brings exactly that, character. There’s always some new charisma that he can bring on screen and this one was no exception.

the last tycoon huang xiaoming

On the reigns of this movie, we have director Jing Wong.  I’ve reviewed a few movies by him before and he is one of my absolute favorites as he directed most of the Stephen Chow movies and this is the second movie he collaborates with Chow Yun-Fat after God of Gambler.  He makes this movie with a lot of style.  As we enter into Shanghai, we see the contrasts of lights and architecture and just the glamour of all the fame with the nightlife and the mobs underworld.  The setting is just so nice to look at.

the last tycoon chow yun fat shanghai background

Aside from that, we open with beautiful music that reminds of the era that its set in.  The soundtrack in general matches the scenes perfectly.  Whether its the songs that they chose during certain scenes or the background music that makes this movie feel majestic, courageous and maybe even a bit patriotic.

This probably won’t be the best Chinese action movie that I have seen but it does have an amazing style that director Jing Wong brings to it.  Chow Yun-Fat comes back with not only action but plays the role of Cheng Daqi in an outstanding way.  With him, Xiaoming Huang is an amazing young actor that portrays the guts and courage and desire to rise up from the younger Cheng Daqi.  Francis Ng brings in the intensity in the movie.  Its a pretty awesome movie in general and definitely worth a watch! 🙂

Project A (1983)

After watching Die Hard and looking at the young Bruce Willis and his nimble ways, I had nostalgia for one of my favorite Jackie Chan movies of when he used to actually do really crazy stunts.  Plus, I’ve been taking a break from movie especially foreign ones 😉 So here I present to you: Project A!

project a posterDirector: Jackie Chan

Cast: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao

In the 19th century Hong Kong, it was ruled by the British as a colony.  However, their waters were endangered with pirates.  The Coast Guards had already set sail 2 times before with no success and now the government don’t want to give them any more money. When their ships are sabotaged right before they sail, they are disbanded to the police.  Lung (Jackie Chan) who was a Coast Guard Sergeant  now a land police has learned through his good friend, also a thief, Fei (Sammo Hung) that a law enforcer official is being bribed by the pirates to sell them information and arms.

project a stunt

This is possibly my absolutely favorite Jackie Chan movie.  This movie is crazy.  He does some intense stunts and from the bloopers, you know that he incurred lots of serious injuries.  I always refer this movie to others when they say that they love Jackie Chan and his comedic mix with action stunts.  This is about as hardcore as he can get. Plus, he directs and acts in this along with a very young Sammo Hung. Do you know Sammo Hung? Because he was the big boss, who was extremely nimble for his size in Killzone.  Now I love that movie to bits. It was the best Donnie Yen comeback ever! Okay, wait, we’re not talking about Killzone.  (Excuse the tangent, lack of sleep does that to my focus…).

project a sammo jackie

This movie actually has some good comedy.  Plus, Jackie Chan doesn’t only make us hold our breaths with his stunts, but some of them just makes us laugh out loud at his painful experiences.  The story itself is actually quite good as well. Its an old Hong Kong pirate movie.  We don’t get a lot of pirate movies in the Hong Kong movie industry.  The chemistry between Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan is fantastic as friends who don’t particularly believe in the same thing.  Plus, there is another very great martial arts actor Yuen Biao.  Do you know this guy? He’s totally awesome also.  I don’t have specific movies that I know him very well from but he always does a great job.  This movie was casted with the best action stars.

project a jackie yuen biao

This one is entertaining to put it simple.  Its my favorite and it has decent effects, a decent storyline, good laughs and has the best action and stunts. Forgot to mention that it has some nice background sound effects to match the movie and the scenes, some parts really add to it.  Jackie Chan performs his own stunts so with the danger level of what he does, he deserves lots of applause for his effort.  I really don’t know how to make this sound even better, if you want, watch the bloopers/outtakes…in the old version of this movie, they always had this at the end credits, not sure if they have it anymore.

What do you think? Dangerous enough for you? Do you have a favorite Jackie Chan action flick? Have you seen some of his pre-Hollywood movies?

Oh, and if you want to catch this, PLEASE watch the original and read subtitles.  The dubbed version is really bad…I can’t emphasize that enough..