The Iron Mask: Mystery Of The Dragon Seal

May 29, 2020

Jackie VS Arnie – Better Late Than Never

Cartographer Jonathan Green (Jason Flemyng) and Peter The Great (Yuriy Kolokolnikov), tsar of Russia, help Cheng Lan (Yao Xingtong) free her village from the clutches of a witch (Ma Li). The Iron Mask is director Oleg Stepchenko’s second film starring Flemyng as Jonathan Green. The first was 2014’s Viy – The Forbidden Kingdom in English – which was a popular hit in Russia.

The big selling point this time is that The Iron Mask features Arnold Schwarzenegger fighting Jackie Chan. Schwarzenegger plays James Hook, captain of the Tower Of London, where the Master (Chan) and Peter The Great share a cell. Admittedly, the onscreen clash between two of cinema’s biggest action stars would have been more compelling twenty-five years ago when they were in their prime, but its still fun even if they’re both slower and creakier now. Despite their star billing, neither Chan nor Schwarzenegger’s character is remotely central to the plot. The script struggles to stay focused, mixing in magic, steampunk, Alexandre Dumas’ The Man In The Iron Mask, and martial arts, choreographed by Chan’s Stunt Team and He Jun.

With a cast of Chinese, Western and Russian actors, most of the performers have their dialogue dubbed, which is distracting, and although the sets and costumes are great, the CG is not up to American blockbuster standards. Tilted towards the family market, rather than hardcore action fans, the movie works hard to be likeable, making it easier to forgive its shortcomings.

Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain – Where Star Wars meets Chinese mythology

May 22, 2020

Released in 1983, Tsui Hark’s Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain was the first big budget special effects extravaganza in Hong Kong movie history. Inevitably, the visual effects from the pre-digital age can look dated now, but the film is such a wild ride of imagination and invention that it’s easy to forgive the occasionally visible wirework and camera tricks.

The plot is, to put it plainly, utterly bonkers. Tang Dynasty China is overrun by warlords, all fighting for dominance. Army scout Ti Ming-Chi (Yuen Biao) is saved from monsters lurking in an abandoned temple by Ting Yin (Adam Cheng), a swordsman who travels the land rooting out evil. They encounter Zen Master Hsiao Yu (Damian Lau) and his pupil I-Chen (Mang Hoi), but despite Hsiao and Ting being defenders of righteousness, they refuse to join forces out of pride and stubbornness. The impending emergence of the Blood Demon poses an existential threat to the world, but the forces of good are too busy squabbling to unite against evil, so the responsibility for saving all mankind falls to Ti,  I-Chen and a young sword-maiden (Moon Lee, whose character is never addressed by name) when their masters fall to evil’s clutches.

There’s a great supporting cast that includes Sammo Hung in two separate roles, first as a solider and then as the wizard Long Brows, who tries to keep the Blood Demon contained using a magic mirror. Brigette Lin plays the Ice Queen of the Celestial Palace, who has magical healing powers. Her performance here, all remote, haughty beauty and imperiousness, serves as a template for the characters she would play in the 1990s in movies like The East Is Red, The Bride With White Hair, and Deadful Melody.

The film is packed with striking images and wonderful character and costume designs. Tsui Siu-Keung plays Heaven’s Blade, a deity who has chained himself next to the entrance to the Demon Realm to stop anyone passing through. With a long white beard and a gigantic ball and chain, Heaven’s Blade looks like a manga character (or manhua if you want to be picky about it) brought to life on the screen. However, Tsui’s main sources of inspiration came from wuxia novels and early Chinese wuxia cinema. The concept of the swordsman whose blade flies through the air at his command is a popular one in wuxia literature, found in Xiang Kairan’s 1928 novel Legend Of The Strange Hero. It was brought to the screen in an adaptation often considered the first true wuxia film, also from 1928, called The Burning Of The Red Lotus Monastery, and flying swords of one sort or another have been a staple of wuxia storytelling ever since, from Zhang Yimou’s House Of Flying Daggers to Tsui Hark’s Flying Swords Of Dragon Gate. Likewise, the characters in Tsui’s fantasy tale are connected through their participation in the wu lin – the martial world – another holdover from the literary tradition. That’s why the forces of good – the swordsman, the Zen Master, the wizard Long Brows, and the Ice Queen – all know each other by name and reputation, even if their pride prevents them working together for the greater good.

Despite the fantastic subject matter, Tsui manages to inject a political angle into the story. Yuen Biao’s character Ti is introduced reporting to the two generals who command the Western Shu army. One instructs him to order the troops to proceed by land, the other insists they advance by sea. Both threaten to behead him if he disobeys. It’s easy to read the scene as an allegory for Hong Kong, caught between China and the West, and in a broader sense as an attack on the incompetency of the powerful. Later in the film, when the Blood Demon looks poised to bring about annihilation, the warlords are too busy fighting each other to even notice that the world is on the brink of destruction. So, there’s a message amongst the brightly coloured chaos.

The action is choreographed by Mang Hoi and Corey Yuen, offering a great blend of acrobatics, martial arts, and comedy. The early scenes with Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao are a delight, perfecting balancing swordplay and gags before the special effects take over. As no one in Hong Kong had any experience with visual effects, Tsui brought in Robert Blalack, who worked on Star Wars, as a consultant, and the special effects in Zu Warriors… set a new standard for a Hong Kong production. Several sequences still impress now, particularly when Hsiao Yu throws a huge burning roof beam at a demon. The film is a direct forerunner to such effects-heavy classics as A Chinese Ghost Story, Mr Vampire, Swordsman II and the New Wave of Wuxia films in the 1990s, right up to Tsui’s Detective Dee trilogy.

The new Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment is a beautiful restoration of a Hong Kong classic that was ground-breaking when first released and one that remains enormously entertaining. Sure, the plot becomes ever more gleefully outlandish, but the sheer energy and freewheeling creativity carry the viewer giddily along.

Burlesque

November 24, 2019

Burlesque question

Treat Her Like A Goddess

August 9, 2019

Goddess.jpeg

Hipster Iron Fist Part 2

March 24, 2017

Hispter Kung fu

Hipster Iron Fist

March 24, 2017

ironfistset hipster 1

The Many Moods Of Meatloaf

December 15, 2015

Hey baby, how’s it going?

Meatloaf_02

 

Whatcha got there? Bacon sandwich?

Meatloaf_03

 

Dang, that looks tasty.

Meatloaf_04

 

Holy moley, is that mustard?

Meatloaf_05

 

It is!

Meatloaf_06

 

I need this.

Meatloaf_07

 

No, don’t eat it!

Meatloaf_08

 

You devil!

Meatloaf_09

 

No, no, no, it’s totally fine. Do whatever the hell you want.

Meatloaf_10

 

AHHHHHH! At least leave me the pickles!

Meatloaf_11

 

I shall neither forgive nor forget this most grave trespass against my person. You shall pay most dearly.

Meatloaf_12

Ah, poetry

May 13, 2015

Hide And Seek.

 

Let’s play hide and seek, they said.

So they did. Now Sam is dead.

He didn’t hide just anywheres,

He didn’t hide under the stairs.

He wasn’t down behind the bar,

He wasn’t in the back of the car.

He didn’t crouch behind a stack of chairs,

Or beneath the bed with teddy bears.

Sam was hiding in a drain,

Unware that after heavy rain,

The water comes rushing in a flood

And so poor Sam is gone for good.

We’ll never forget our little friend.

Now you go hide, I’ll count to ten.

Disney Princesses Who Are Tired Of Your Crap

February 5, 2015

Re-imagining Disney Princesses is all the rage on social media these days. Disney Princesses with realistic hair. With realistic waist sizes. As Bollywood models. As Steampunk heroines. As Star Wars characters. Not wanting to be left out of all the fun, I humbly present my contribution – Disney Princesses Who Are Tired Of Your Crap. Enjoy.

Cinderella-PMS1PocahontasPMS_2Belle_redo2  jasmine-pmsLittlemermaid_Tourettes SnowWhite_PMS

Black Friday

November 28, 2014

BlackFriday