Tag Archives: Film Review

Film Review: Ip Man 2

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

Ip Man 2

Having fled the village of Fo Shan, Ip Man (Donnie Yen) and his family end up in British Hong Kong, where the master plans to open a school to train students. He gets a good deal on a rooftop studio and sets up shop. But no one is coming, and he is finding it hard to make ends meet. To complicate matters, his wife Wing-sing (Lynn Xiong) is pregnant with their second child. Just when things seem bleak indeed, Ip Man begins to acquire students, although they aren’t always able to pay the school fees. But at least it’s a start.

Trouble soon arrives in the form of the other martial arts masters in Hong Kong, led by Master Hung (Sammo Kam-Bo Hung). They summon Ip Man and lay down their rules. First, he needs to prove himself to them through battle. He has to stand on a table and fight all comers until the incense burns down or until he loses. He accepts the challenge and proves himself.

At this time, the Chinese are very much under the thumb of their imperial masters, the British. Some of

them are less than respectful… or honorable. A British boxer known as the Twister (Darren Shahlavi) comes to town to participate in an exhibition of Western-style boxing. But the cocky fighter wants to show the Chinese how superior he is to them, and interrupts the display of the various schools to challenge them. It’s on! But can the Chinese win, with the odds stacked against them, and the crooked police supporting the British masters?

The second film in the series sees Ip Man and his family relocated to Hong Kong and in much more desperate conditions than the first film. Still, he is determined to provide for his family, at the same time maintaining his principles. There is a casualty from the first film, Ip Man’s friend Quan, who was shot in the head by the Japanese and is not the same man. I liked this one as much as the first, great fight scenes, and I love Ip Man’s wife, who doesn’t want to disturb his focus on this very important match just to let him know she has gone into labor. Look at the end for a small cameo by a little guy who will become the real Ip Man’s most famous student! Looking forward to the next film. I’ll give this one 4.5 Stars.

Film Review: Curse of the Golden Flower

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 Curse of the Golden Flower


All is not well in the Imperial Palace. The Emperor’s second wife (Gong Li) is ill with what the Emperor (Chow Yun-Fat) has diagnosed as anemia. For the past ten years, she has been taking prescribed medicine every two hours. But recently, another ingredient has been introduced to her medicine, one that may do her irreparable harm if continued.

Crown Prince Wan (Ye Liu) was born of the Emperor’s late first wife. The new Empress has born two sons of her own, Jai (Jay Chou) and Yu (Junjie Qin). However, Wan has been having an affair with the Empress. He is also interested in Chan (Man Li), the daughter of the Imperial Doctor. The Emperor intends to remove Wan as Crown Prince in favor of Jai, little suspecting that his second son wishes to avenge the wrong being done to his mother. But these secrets are just the tip of the iceberg for these imperial family.

 

This opulent film is set during the Tang Dynasty, a very ostentatious time in Chinese history. A time in which male domination was complete, as can be seen in the way the women in the story are treated, even the Empress. So much deceit, so many lies. This story is a veritable historic soap opera, based on a played called “Thunderstorm”. The sets are incredibly beautiful, with a fantastic eye for detail, including but not limited to the sets and costumes. The action is exciting and well choreographed. Altogether a gripping film. I especdially enjoyed seeing Ye Liu as Crown Prince Wan, as I loved him The Chef, the Actor, and the Scoundrel.  I give this film 4.5 Stars.

Film Review: Ip Man

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

Ip Man

Fo Shan is a Chinese city renowed for its kung fu masters and their schools. The strongest kung fu master is Ip Man (Donnie Yen), who leads a quiet life with his wife and son and is much respected by the city. Possessing a strong sense of honor, he isn’t one to stand aside when some punks from up north come to town intent on starting their own school and beating up the other kung fu masters. Ip Man quickly teaches the bullies a lesson.

 

But the peace of Fo Shan is destroyed when the Japanese occupy the city, and much of the city’s population is decimated. Those who are left struggle to survive, including Ip Man, whose beautiful home has been confiscated. Having a family to feed, Ip Man goes to work shoveling coal. One day the Japanese arrive with a proposal, their interpreter being Ip Man’s friend Li (Ka-Tung Lam). Those who are willing to fight the Japanese in bouts of kung fu will receive a bag of rice if they win. These fights are for the Japanese general, Miua (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), whose second-in-command, Colonel Sato (Tenma Shibuya) is a sadistic, bloodthirsty man with no regard for human life. When one of Ip Man’s friends, Lin (Xing Yu) suddenly disappears, Ip Man realizes he has been killed by the Japanese. He requests to fight ten men. But when he wins, he doesn’t take the rice, as that was never the reason for him to fight.

 

General Miura wishes Ip Man to fight again, but he is nowhere to be found. And Li says he doesn’t 

know where he is, no matter how much they hurt him. But things come to a head, when Ip Man realizes he has to take a stand. He begins by teaching the factory workers at his friend Quan’s (Simon Yam) cotton mill how to defend themselves. And then he agrees to fight General Miura, although Li warns him that if he should win, Sato will kill him.

This film was recommended to me by a co-worker and I loved it! Everything about the film is good, from acting to story to direction to cinematography. I love the fight scenes! Ip Man is loosely based on an actual kung fu master, one of whose disciples was actor Bruce Lee. There are three more films in this series and I intend to watch and review them all. Ip Man is a great character. I love the scenes with his family, showing that he isn’t necessarily perfect and has room to improve, which of course he does. I highly recommend this film and give it 4.5 Stars.

Film Review: Detective Dee: Four Heavenly Kings

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

Detective Dee: Four Heavenly Kings

Empress Wu (Carina Lau) has been mistrustful of Detective Dee (Mark Chao) ever since the emperor (Chien Sheng) bestowed the Dragon Mace upon the loyal detective. The empress approaches the head of her royal guard, Yuchi Zhenjin (Shaofeng Feng), relying on his loyalty despite knowing how close he is to Dee. She questions whether should she request him to take the Mace from Dee would he do it?  He replies that should he do that, Dee would be subject to execution, his family ruined. She swears she will protect them all.

The Empress lies…

Empress Wu has brought some newcomers to court to replace Dee, claiming they have greater powers. Huan Tian (Aoyue Zhang) and his group demonstrate their abilities before the royal couple. Wu sends them to retrieve the Mace, but that is easier said than done as Dee is wily and no man’s fool. In the meantime, he has been sent on a fool’s errands, but he sees through this and hurries back to the Bureau when someone trips the alarm.

 

Yuchi is torn between his loyalty to the empress and his friendship for Dee, but Dee’s faith in his friend 

never wavers. It is imperative that he figure out what is going on before something terrible happens – namely, the destruction of the Tang dynasty! And what exactly is on the Empress’s agenda?

This was a really good movie, action-packed and full of intrigue and mystery, as well as magic, and a little comedy. It’s easy to accept how evil the Empress is from earlier acquaintance with her. She is a very power hungry woman. But she is also human and fallible, as we discover.  I liked the interplay between the female assassin (Sichuan Ma) and Dee’s right hand man Shatuo Zhong (Kenny Lin). I have to admit I missed the doctor from the last installment, but that did not detract from my enjoyment of this film..

Ancient grudges, sinister magic, spirituality, intrigue… this film has it all and then some.  I’m sad that there are no more movies with this same cast, although there appear to be others utilizing the same character.  I think I’ll give those a pass. Although there may be, if the glimpses in the ending credits are any indication. If you are interested, check out the Judge Dee stories, the original inspiration for Detective Dee. I reviewed the first book on this blog already.

I’ll give this film a strong 4.5 Stars

Film Review: Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon

Dee Renjie (Mark Chao) is newly arrived in the Imperial Capital with the intention of joining the Court of Judicature and Revision. There is tension in the city due to the attack of a mysterious sea monster which destroyed many ships. Empress Wu Zetian (Carina Lau) has charged Yuchi (Feng Shaofeng) with solving the problem within ten days. A courtesan is also arriving in the city, Yin Ruiji (Angelababy), who is to be a sacrifice to the creature. Dee overhears a plot to kidnap her. As he fights the kidnappers, Yin is kidnapped another sea creature who is more humanoid than the one she is meant to be sacrificed to. Dee rescues her and the creature escapes. Yuchi has Dee arrested and Yin put into protective custody, but Dee is able to escape with the aid of a friendly medical assistant Shatuo (Lin Gengxin).

Yin is visited by the sea creature again, which is when she realizes who he is – her missing lover, Yuan Zhen (Kim Bum). Masked thugs attack the house, but luckily, Dee, Yuchi, and Shatuo arrive to save the day and Dee is able to rescue Yuchi. Yin covers for Yuan so he can escape, then tells Dee the truth abut her lover. Dee, using his remarkable powers of deduction, deduces that the culprits come from the small war-ridden nation of Dondo, who plan to use Yuan to poison the imperial tea and kill the emperor. They find Yuan and take him to the Imperial Doctor Wang Pu (Kun Chen), who uncovers the cause of Yuan’s transformation and is able to cure him.

 

But how to deal with the enormous sea dragon that is still menacing the kingdom?

This film takes place before Detective Dee: The Mystery of the Phantom Flame. This is Dee’s first case and Mark Chao’s first appearance as the detective. I loved this film from the beginning. I thoroughly enjoyed the first film and was not disappointed with this one. The action is fast-paced, young Dee is as delightful as his older self, and just as clever. Watching him square off against the Empress is a delight. Keep a special eye out for the appearance of Kun Chen as Doctor Wang Pu. He is just delightful (and he has a monkey arm. You’ll have to watch to find out why).

 

There is a third movie in the series, and hopefully will be others, and I will watch it, for sure. In the meantime, I’ll give this film a strong 4 Stars.

Film Review: Mojin: The Lost Legend

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 Mojin: The Lost Legend

In ancient times, a Chinese emperor who was strapped for cash allowed for the formation of the Mojin Xiaowei, official tomb raiders who would enter tombs to “borrow” gold for the use of the emperor. The practice has carried into modern times.  One group consists of Hu Bayi (Kun Chen), Wang Kaixuan (Bo Huang) and Shirley Yang (Shu Qi). Twenty years previously, Hu and Wang and another partner, Ding (Angelababy) found themselves in a tomb with their fellow party members. The three wished to leave the tomb but the others foolishly decided to destroy the statuary, which did not end well and brought about the death of Ding, whom both men were in love with. Twenty years later, another bad scenario causes Hu, Wang, and Shirley to leave China for New York City, but life is not good and Hu decides to quit.

 

Wang tries to carry on, but it’s not easy when you’re only one person out of three. However, he is 

enlisted to go to China to search for the Equinox Flower – the same flower that was involved with the death of Ding. He tells Hu, who says he isn’t interested, so Wang goes on, hoping Hu will follow, which he and Shirley do. Leading this new group is Sister Hong (Xiaoqing Liu), head of a global corporation who is determined to find the flower for altruistic purposes. The Mojin trio find themselves in the same tomb where Ding lost her life, Is history about to repeat itself? Can the ghosts of the past truly be laid to rest?

 

This was a fun movie to watch, reminding me of Raiders of the Lost Ark but with even deeper roots in Chinese history. I loved the dynamics between the main characters, and the love/hate relationship between Hu and Shirley. You just knew that when push came to shove, neither would abandon the other one. Same with Hu and Wang, longtime friends. I watched one of the bonus selections about Kun Chen in which they dealt humorously with their relationship and suggested the actors were together. The movie was exciting and action-packed and did not actually delve into the realm of disbelief – it all made sense. I understand, unfortunately, that the Mojin Worm Valley did not fare so well, being not exactly a sequel or a prequel and having been recast for some unknown reason. The reviews are really bad, so I’ll pass on that. I do recommend watching the Lost Legend, and I’ll give it a solid 4 Stars.

Film Review: Sanjuro

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 Sanjuro

 

Iori Izaka (Yuzo Kayama) is the nephew of the chamberlain, Mutsuta (Yunosuke Ito). He hopes to enlist his uncle’s aid in making much needed reforms in the village, but his uncle doesn’t seem interested. The superintendent, Kikui (Masao Shimizu) is very interested, and tells Iori to gather his friends quickly so he can speak to them. As the young men discuss their plans, they are startled to discover that they have been overheard by a ronin sleeping in the next room. Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune) is quick to tell them why they are wrong and, without even knowing either the superintendent or the chamberlain, he can describe them to a tee. Too late, he realizes the meeting is to take place at the spot where they are. And actually they are already surrounded. If they are to survive, they must listen to Sanjuro.

 

Sanjuro bluffs his way out of the situation with the men, and garners an invitation from vice-chamberlain Muroto to work for him. They learn that Iori’s uncle has been kidnapped and his wife and daughter are being held. The young men protest when Sanjuro tells them they need to rescue the women first,claiming that they must save the chamberlain. But common sense prevails when Sanjuro reminds them they don’t even know where he is being held, and perhaps the women have overheard something. Through the use of Sanjuro’s crafty plan, they rescue the women. Mutsuta’s wife (Takako Irie) is grateful but serene. She advocates that they not use so much violence, but that isn’t always possible. Especially when the young men don’t listen to Sanjuro and attempt to carry out their own plans.

 

They hide in one of the young men’s homes, which just happens to be next to the home of Kurofuji, one of Kikui’s allies. Who would look for someone under their very noses? The enemy is cunning too and lead them on wild goose chases because the young ones are so quick to react. They just might ruin one plan too many!

 

Sanjuro is the sequel to Yojimbo, with Toshiro Mifune once again playing the titular character, a wandering ronin. I liked this film as much as I liked Yojimbo. It definitely made me laugh at times.  I loved the interplay between Mutsuta’s wife and Sanjuro. I think he would prefer not to kill either, but sometimes he is pushed into a situation where it is inevitable. She is a great character, and so is her daughter Chidori (Reiko Dan). Once again, the cinematography and direction are excellent, as is the soundtrack. Definitely worth watching. I give this film 5 Stars.

Film Review: Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

Following the death of her husband, Empress Wu (Carina Lau) has been regent, but now she is to be inaugurated as empress. An enormous statue is being constructed for the occasion, but it’s imperative that it be completed on time. However, during an inspection of the statue, an official goes up in flames, burned to death. But how? The Empress’ chaplain, speaking through his special deer, suggests that Detective Dee be put on the case. But Detective Dee has been imprisoned for the past eight years, following his denouncement of the empress’ regency!

Under the watchful eye of Pei Donglai (Chao Deng) and Shangguan Jing’er (Bingbing Li), Detective Dee (Andy Lau) is placed in charge of the investigation, but only after the second mysterious flaming death.  Jing’er has been given express orders from the Empress to guard Dee, while Pei mistrusts him immensely. There are those who believe the deaths were caused because the men were disrespectful of the talismans placed on the statue. But Dee doesn’t subscribe to that particular theory. Yet he’s at a loss to explain their spontaneous combustion. Can he solve the mystery before the scheduled inauguration?

 

This is definitely a very interesting whodunit, with a lot of twists. Detective Dee is a great character, 

unconventional and yet very steadfast in his loyalties, remaining true to his principles. I wish there were more movies featuring Andy Lau as the detective, but the next two films are actually prequels about the younger Dee. I’ll watch them too, of course.

I loved the action sequences, the story was well-written, and I felt the film had great direction. All of the actors did a good job, but I especially enjoyed watching Andy Lau. This was a fun film to watch. I give it 4 Stars

Film Review: The Great Battle

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 The Great Battle

When Emperor Li Shimin (Park Sung-Woong) of the Tang dynasty invades the Korean kingdom of Goguryeo, he is met in battle by forces led by General Yeon (Nazeeh Tarsha). Yeon believes his defeat is due to the refusal of one of his commanders to obey his orders to send troops to the battle. He brands Commander Yang Man-Chun (Zo In-sung) a traitor and dispatches the head of his cadets, Sa-mul (Nam Joo-hyuk) to the Ansi Fortress to kill Yang. Sa-mul is from Ansi and is loyal to his general and doesn’t even know Yang, so he agrees to under take the mission.

On his arrival, Sa-mul encounters Yang just outside of the city. The commander is helping an older couple whose wagon has become stuck. Yang isn’t stupid and he figures out why Sa-mul is there, but welcomes him anyway, and tells him that he can carry the flag in battle and stand next to him, thus showing the people that he is fighting. Just then word arrives that Yang’s two lieutenants are at it again, and Sa-mul follows everyone to see what the fuss is about. A conflicted Sa-mul follows Yang at night and begins to see what the commander is really like and he begins to question his mission.

 

The Emperor decides to attack Ansi Fortress next and is determined to take it. The odds certainly seem 

in his favor, as he has 200,000 men to the 5000 men defending the fortress. But Yang refuses to be defeated, and he devises plans to keep the wolf at bay. But how long can he keep this up without some sort of reinforcements? And how likely is that considering General Yeon wants him dead?

This was a really good film, one I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved the human element as the young Sa-mul began to think for himself based on what he saw rather than just blindly obeying orders. I laughed at parts, and at others I cried. The battle scenes were magnificent and truly epic. You can’t help but root for the underdog against the Tang oppressors, and you can’t help but admire Commander Yang. I give this film 5 Stars.

 

Film Review: Kagemusha

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

Kagemusha

In the time just before the Edo Period in Japan, rival war lords known as daimyo were often at each other’s throats, vying for supremacy. One such lord is Shingen Takeda (Tatsuya Nakadai), while his fiercest competitors are Ieyasu Tokugawa (Masayuki Yui) and Oda Nobunaga (Daisuke Ryu). One of Shingen’s commanders is his brother Nobukado (Tsutomu Yamazaki), who resembles him to such a degree that he sometimes takes his place in the field. One day, purely by chance, Nobukao runs across a petty thief who is about to be crucified and looks even more like Shingen than he is. In fact, they could be twins. So he brings the thief back with him, thinking he’d be useful as a double for the war lord.

The thief (also played by Tatsuya Nakadai) grudgingly accepts his role as double. His presence becomes even more crucial when Shingen is shot in battle. It’s imperative that his enemies not know. When the war lord dies, the thief is thrust into the position of the new war lord and has to learn about a whole new life. Nobunaga and Tokugawa begin sniffing around at rumors that Shingen is dead, trying to learn the truth. Shingen’s son Katsuyori (Ken’ichi Hagiwara) is itching for war but cooler heads prevail. He might be a little salty since he is not his father’s heir, rather his son Takemura (kota Yui) is. He realizes his father is dead but has to pretend otherwise. The angry Katsuyori heads off to take a castle on his own. When Shingen/thief discovers this, he feels he has no choice but to support his “son”:

.Inevitably, the truth comes out, and now the battle begins.

This film is one of Kurosawa’s finest. It’s big and beautiful, with the most amazing cinematography and music. The role of the thief/double was originally given to actor Shintaro Katsu (best known for playing Zatoichi, the blind swordsman/masseuse), but creative differences ended that and Nakadai received the role instead. The production ran out of money before the film was finished, but thanks to a little help from Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, they persuaded Twentieth Century Fox to come to Kurosawa’s aid, and the rest is history.

In a historic note, less than thirty years later, in 1601, the Battle of Sekigahara cemented Tokugawa’s

position as shogun, and the family would continue to rule for the next 250 years. Kagemusha is a very rich film, and Nakadai gives a stunning performance as the poor thief, caught up in a world he never wanted to be a part of, but his devotion to Shingen during the brief time of their acquaintance led him to do what he considered to be the right thing. I give this film 5 Stars