Bleeding Steel movie review

For inSing

BLEEDING STEEL

Director : Leo Zhang
Cast : Jackie Chan, Show Lo, Nana Ouyang, Tess Haubrich, Callan Mulvey, Erica Xia-Hou, Kym Gyngell, Damien Garvey
Genre : Sci-fi/Action/Adventure
Run Time : 1h 47m
Opens : 21 December 2017
Rating : PG13

It was five years ago when Jackie Chan said CZ12 would be his last action movie. 63-year-old Jackie is still trucking, and is dipping his toes into the sci-fi genre with this film.

Jackie plays Lin, a highly-trained officer who has a run-in with Andre (Callan Mulvey), a ‘bioroid’ run amok. Andre is the creation of bioengineer Dr. James (Kym Gyngell), who has been placed in witness protection but is being hunted down by Andre. While Lin is working the case, his terminally-ill daughter lies dying in the hospital.

Years later, Lin, now living a new life in Sydney, Australia, discovers that Andre is still alive. The evil bioroid has his sights set on university student Nancy (Nana Ouyang), with whom Lin shares a mysterious connection (it’s really not mysterious at all, much as the movie would like to think it is). Hacker/thief Leeson (Show Lo) has been tailing Nancy, after finding a clue in the possession of Rick Rogers (Damien Garvey), a novelist who has written a story which bears striking similarity to the Dr. James case. Lin, Nancy, Leeson and Lin’s former police partner Susan (Erica Xia-Hou) must defeat Andre and his fearsome henchwoman, known only as ‘The Woman in Black’ (Tess Haubrich).

 

Bleeding Steel is spectacularly stupid, a stunning misfire that demonstrates how fundamentally China-based studios misunderstand the science fiction genre. Sure, there’s plenty of goofy sci-fi out there, but we’ve also seen smart, sophisticated genre films and TV shows in recent years which utilise the allegorical potential of sci-fi to comment on society.

Bleeding Steel can roughly be classified as cyberpunk, a subgenre authors like William Gibson and Neal Stephenson are closely associated with. This movie takes elements like genetic experimentation, mechanical organs, Frankenstein’s Monster-type cyborgs and futuristic blasters, mashing them up into a bizarre, confused product.

The movie’s conception of ‘cool’ seems firmly stuck in the 90s. The villain looks like the love child of a Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s incarnation of Mr. Freeze from Batman and Robin. His base of operations is a cross between the Helicarrier from The Avengers and the Star Destroyer from Star Wars.

The opening of the film contains a brutal, bloody firefight, indicating an intense, serious tone. All this flies out the window when the audience is served up ridiculous image after ridiculous image.

In addition to sci-fi gadgets and weapons that look surprisingly low-rent given the film’s high budget, Bleeding Steel tosses in a dose of the mystical. Nancy is seeing a medium who administer hypnotism to help cure Nancy of her recurring nightmares, and Australian illusionist Cosentino makes an inexplicable cameo as himself.

The action is generally fine. Jackie incorporates props into his fights, as we’ve come to expect from him, but this feels a little out of place in what is ostensibly a cutting-edge, high-tech movie. We get several decent-sized explosions and the shootouts are appropriately intense, if one can overlook how fake the prop blasters appear. Jackie and Haubrich face off on the roof of the Sydney Opera House in a sequence that wants to be impressive but is clearly hampered by safety precautions that were put in place. It all leads up to a generic “escape the collapsing lair” sequence.

Jackie is a safe distance from obnoxious, since this is more of a straight hero role and not quite a comedic one. But if obnoxious comedy is what you’re after, fret not, because Show Lo is on hand to provide it. As the comic relief sidekick, he is often straight-up irritating. An extended sequence in which he’s in drag is totally incongruous with the rest of the movie.

Nana Ouyang is sweet and likeable, but there’s a particularly uncomfortable scene in which another character rips open her blouse and we see the 17-year-old actress’ bra. It’s not in a sexual context, but still seems exploitative. Erica Xia-Hou handles the action beats competently, showcasing some impressive moves in a one-on-one fight with Mulvey. She pulls double duty, having also co-written the screenplay.

Mulvey, who had supporting roles in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, plays Andre. For all the carnage the character wreaks, he’s never genuinely frightening, in no small part because he looks hilarious. Mulvey delivers a performance befitting an old episode of Power Rangers.

As the femme fatale henchwoman, Haubrich struts about in a pleather get-up, coming off like a budget Eva Green.

There’s some novelty in seeing Jackie try new tricks, and in some parallel universe, there’s a version of Bleeding Steel that really worked, one that gave Jackie the opportunity to sink his teeth into a new genre. Instead, it feels like the iconic action star has been haphazardly grafted onto a silly sci-fi mishmash which generates more unintentional laughter than thrills.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

The Lego Ninjago Movie

For inSing

THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE 

Director : Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan
Cast : Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Jackie Chan, Abbi Jacobson, Kumail Nanjiani, Zach Woods, Michael Peña, Fred Armisen, Olivia Munn
Genre : Animation/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 41m
Opens : 28 September 2017
Rating : PG

After taking a journey to Gotham City in The Lego Batman Movie, this second spin-off of The Lego Movie whisks audiences to Ninjago. This mythical realm, which incorporates elements of Feudal Japan with modern metropolises like Hong Kong, is constantly under threat of invasion by the evil Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux). As a result, Garmadon’s son Lloyd (Dave Franco) is shunned by the citizens of Ninjago. He finds acceptance in his mother Koko (Olivia Munn), as well as his friends Kai (Michael Peña), Jay (Kumail Nanjiani), Nya (Abbi Jacobson), Zane (Zach Woods) and Cole (Fred Armisen). Lloyd and his friends have secret double lives as ninjas who operate giant mecha and protect Ninjago City from Garmadon’s attacks, under the tutelage of Lloyd’s uncle, the wise Master Wu (Jackie Chan). Lloyd is torn between his duty to defeat Garmadon’s troops and his desire for a normal, loving relationship with his estranged father, with the fate of the city and Lloyd’s bond with his friends at stake.

Lego’s Ninjago theme is one of its more successful product lines in recent years, running since 2011 and spawning an animated series. The film departs from the plot of the series, but Dan and Kevin Hageman, who wrote the TV show, receive a ‘story by’ credit here. Meshing a Feudal Japanese aesthetic with anime-inspired mecha-punk, the underlying design principle provides endless interesting possibilities for toys of all kinds.

The Lego Ninjago Movie, like its predecessors The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie, is primarily a long, elaborate toy commercial. However, it’s entertaining enough to justify its existence. The photo-realistic animation by Australian-based visual effects house Animal Logic is vibrant and hyper-detailed – while the process of animating this film must’ve been technically complicated, it looks like the animators had lots of fun doing it.

There are lots of jokes and several delightful visual gags, but parents should bear in mind that the film is heavily geared towards the younger set. The humour isn’t embarrassingly juvenile, but it tends towards extreme silliness. The film has six credited screenwriters, usually a sign that things will be scattershot and cluttered. Like The Lego Batman Movie, it has a bit of a ‘punched-up’ feel to it – the presence of comedians brought in to add jokes after the script has already been written is strongly felt. The Lego Ninjago Movie also borrows heavily from classic martial arts movies, and its moral is as old as the hills – ‘the power was inside you all along’. While The Lego Ninjago Movie winks and nods at its influences, it’s also too straightforward in its plot to come off as particularly inventive.

Our team of heroes is pretty much the Power Rangers – colour-coded teen ninjas who operate giant, awesome mechas themed to each of their personas. As with most movies featuring an ensemble cast, there isn’t nearly enough time to give all the characters enough definition. As such, everyone in the team apart from Lloyd feels defined by their powers and some superficial character traits. This is clearly Lloyd’s story, with everyone else taking a backseat and some talented comedians given short shrift in the voiceover booth.

Franco lends Lloyd enough likeable earnestness such that he doesn’t come as a boring, de-facto hero. Theroux steals the show, relishing the over-the-top villain role and giving Garmadon oodles of personality. Lord Garmadon belongs to the Dr. Evil/Dr. Drakken/Mojo Jojo school of comical supervillain. The strained relationship between pillaging, conquering dad and city-saving son generates laughs and, eventually, warm fuzzy feelings. It is interesting that all three theatrically-released Lego movies thus far have featured father-son relationships so heavily.

Jackie Chan’s wheelhouse might be physical comedy, but he proves adequately adept at funny line delivery. There is very little that distinguishes Master Wu from similar characters like Kung Fu Panda’s Master Shifu, or indeed The Lego Movie’s Vitruvius. Chan does figure in the film’s framing device, which we shan’t spoil.

Kids are sure to leave the theatre pestering their parents to buy one or more (likely more) of the tie-in Lego sets. Adults might roll their eyes at some of the goofier jokes, but the film moves along quickly and is entertaining enough that you won’t hear too many complaints from accompanying adults.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Kung Fu Yoga

For F*** Magazine

KUNG FU YOGA

Director : Stanley Tong
Cast : Jackie Chan, Aarif Rahman, Zhang Yixing, Miya Muqi, Sonu Sood, Disha Patani, Amyra Dastur, Zhang Guoli, Eric Tsang
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 47min
Opens : 26 January 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

kung-fu-yoga-posterAfter hanging out with John Cusack and Adrien Brody in the Mongolian desert in Dragon Blade, Jackie Chan sets his sights on India with this Chinese New Year blockbuster. Jackie plays renowned archaeologist Jack Chen, who is enlisted by Indian professor Ashmita (Patani) to locate the fabled lost treasure of the Magadha Kingdom. Jack assembles his team, comprising his assistants Xiaoguang (Zhang Yixing) and Nuomin (Muqi) and the treasure hunter Jones (Rahman), the son of Jack’s old friend. Along the way, Jack and his crew face off against Randall (Sood), a billionaire who claims to be the rightful heir to the treasure. The adventure takes Jack and his cohorts from Xi’an, China, to the Tibetan glaciers, to Dubai and finally to Rajasthan, India.

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Jackie Chan has had a long association with the ‘adventurer archaeologist’ subgenre. From the Armour of God series to its semi-reboot CZ12, and from The Myth to the animated series The Jackie Chan Adventures, you’d think Jackie would have gotten the formula right by now. No such luck. Kung Fu Yoga might not be as jarring a cultural mishmash as the afore-mentioned Dragon Blade, but it’s still an ungainly, vaguely insulting creature. Things are preposterous from the outset, with a bizarre video game-esque animated prologue setting the scene. The story of Wang Xuance, a Tang Dynasty guard officer and diplomat who was sent as an ambassador to India in the 7th Century, serves as the jumping-off point for the plot. The chunks of exposition are ostensibly to lend the film some historical plausibility, but everything is so ridiculous that they needn’t have tried.

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Kung Fu Yoga’s central quest is difficult to care about, and even when Jack and company are menaced by armed mercenaries on snowmobiles, there’s little urgency or peril to be found. The film’s globe-trotting is poorly justified, with the story leaping from locale to locale without much rhythm. Shooting on location in such places as Svínafellsjökull, Iceland and Rajasthan, India does give Kung Fu Yoga a sense of scale, but this is undercut any time the action moves into patently phony underground tombs. The scenes set in India showcase regrettably retrograde clichés like snake charmers, levitating yogis and the Indian rope trick. This lazy exoticism was already embarrassing in the 1983 Bond film Octopussy, let alone in 2017.

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The action sequences are mostly gag-driven, lacking the robust kinetics of classic Jackie Chan fights. While Jackie has maintained himself far better than many action stars his age; his martial arts prowess is not enough to salvage Kung Fu Yoga. The film’s central set piece is a wacky car chase through the streets of Dubai, featuring such shenanigans as a pet lion in the backseat of Jack’s car. While China Daily has claimed that this is a real big cat, it is often obvious that many of the shots feature a computer-generated lion. Not a terrible one, mind you, but conspicuous enough to stick out. Besides the lion, Kung Fu Yoga is positively stuffed with digitally-created critters, including elephants, wolves, cobras and hyenas. This contributes to the film being an altogether cartoony affair.

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Leave it to Jackie to force some preachiness into an action-adventure comedy. “I told you, the treasure doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to the whole world, it belongs to the people,” he proclaims beatifically. Not quite as snappy as “it belongs in a museum!” Speaking of Indiana Jones, Kung Fu Yoga cribs heavily from the series. There’s even a female student who stamps her eyelids with heart shapes to woo Xiaoguang, exactly like the student in Raiders of the Lost Ark with “LOVE YOU” written on her eyelids. We can’t decide if we love or hate that Jack actually name-checks Indiana Jones in the film itself. It’s a rip-off passed off as a homage, which is as gleefully shameless as it gets.

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The supporting cast is attractive and serves mostly as window dressing. Patani’s character introduces herself as a professor of archaeology, which is about as believable as when Denise Richards played a nuclear physicist. Patani seems like she’s reading off cue cards most of the time. It’s more than a little creepy when Jack makes googly eyes at Ashmita, considering the 38 year age gap between Patani and Jackie.

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Zhang Yixing a.k.a. Lay of Exo fame is just here to fulfil the unwritten rule that every Chinese blockbuster movie must include at least one boyband star. The camera leers lasciviously at Miya Muqi, dubbed “China’s most beautiful Yoga instructor”. Rahman comes to closest to exhibiting any discernible personality, working his roguish charm for all it’s worth. And yes, his character really is named ‘Jones’. In the meantime, Randall’s motivations do not stretch beyond “this belonged to my ancestors and now it belongs to me! MINE!” so Sood is stuck playing an utterly generic villain. Aamir Khan was briefly attached to play Randall, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts with Dangal.

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Some spoilers about the film’s ending follow.

[SPOILER ALERT] It ends with a dance party. A dance party. A. DANCE. PARTY. Minutes after Jack and Randall engage in a battle to the death, Kung Fu Yoga closes with a big, obnoxious, dance number. It reads as a case of “there are Bollywood actors in the film so that’s something we have to do.” [END SPOILERS]kung-fu-yoga-jackie-chan-and-disha-patani

There’s a less cynical, more engaging China-India co-production hidden deep beneath the grating silliness that fills Kung Fu Yoga. Given the resources available to director Stanley Tong and the production, a straightforward adventurer archaeologist yarn shouldn’t be that difficult to get right.

Summary: Unfunny jokes, pulchritudinous but wooden co-stars, ropey visual effects and a dose of Jackie Chan’s signature self-aggrandisement make Kung Fu Yoga a cross-cultural embarrassment.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Jackie Chan Misadventures: Kung Fu Yoga Press Conference

For F*** Magazine

THE JACKIE CHAN MISADVENTURES
F*** meets Kung Fu Yoga stars Jackie Chan, Disha Patani, Amyra Dastur and Muqi Miya and director Stanley Tong in Singapore
By Jedd Jong

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Crashing supercars, almost drowning in Icelandic ice caverns and getting chased by stuntmen pretending to be hyenas is all in a day’s work for Jackie Chan and company. The 62-year-old actor was in town to promote his latest action comedy Kung Fu Yoga. Joining Jackie were leading ladies Disha Patani, Amyra Dastur and Muqi Miya, as well as director Stanley Tong. The group held a press conference at the Equarius Hotel on Friday afternoon, ahead of a meet-and-greet session at Plaza Singapura and the film’s gala premiere at VivoCity that night.

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Kung Fu Yoga also stars Aarif Rahman, Zhang “Lay” Yixing and Sonu Sood. In the film, Jackie plays archaeologist Jack Chen, who is joined by his associates on a globe-spanning odyssey in search of the fabled lost treasure of the Magadha Kingdom. Jack and his team are pursued by the descendant of an ancient militia leader, who claims the treasure rightfully belongs to him. This quest takes Jack and his allies from Xi’an in China to Tibet, to Dubai and to Rajasthan, India.

A prop from the film, a jewelled sceptre called “The Eye of Shiva”, was on display. The piece boasts a pink crystal with 28 facets and was created especially for the production by Swarovski.

2017 marks 25 years since the release of Police Story 3: Super Cop, which was the first of several collaborations between star Jackie and director Tong. These include Rumble in the Bronx, Jackie’s first foray into mainstream American cinema, and the fantasy adventure The Myth, in which Jackie also plays an archaeologist named Jack and which was also filmed partially in India. “I watched his movies growing up,” Tong stated.

“I think everybody watched my movies growing up,” Jackie remarked.

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“I never thought I would have to opportunity to help him direct a film,” Tong said. On the cross-cultural elements of Kung Fu Yoga, Tong explained that “Kung Fu represents the culture of China and Yoga represents the culture of India.” He added that both disciplines were not merely about a few moves or poses, but a complete philosophy, which he attempted to incorporate into the plot.

Host Danny Yeo asked Jackie about a medical emergency which Jackie experienced recently. Jackie expressed surprise that Yeo found out about this incident, since it had been kept under wraps. “It’s all Stanley’s fault,” Jackie said to laughter. He explained that after he felt some pain in his abdominal area, Stanley told him it was nothing to worry about, and they carried on filming. While shooting The Foreigner in London, Jackie was ordered to stop work by the on-set medic and was hospitalised. It was discovered that his abdominal skin and muscle had atrophied, and Jackie underwent a five-hour-long operation.

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“I tried to get back to work as soon as possible,” Jackie said. Shortly after the procedure, he flew off to Iceland to resume filming on Kung Fu Yoga, where he dived into the frigid ice cavern waters. “I could have paused production and waited a few months to recover, but I knew the whole cast and crew were already on location,” Jackie continued.

Tong tried to delay the shooting of the underwater scenes, but said “you can only tweak the schedule so much, so Jackie persevered.”

Jackie insisted on doing the scene without the help of a stunt double. “I’m still around, thank heavens,” he said to applause.

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The 24-year-old Patani was impressed with Jackie’s work ethic. “I think he’s a superhuman and I especially learned a lot from him when I was shooting,” she enthused. “It doesn’t matter how harsh the conditions are wherever we’re shooting, he’s always there before anyone else. He’s always, always up for it.”

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Patani had to film the underwater sequence alongside Jackie, who bemoaned how all the safety divers would rush to Patani’s aid, ignoring him. “Everyone went to save her, and nobody went to save me!” Jackie described the harrowing situation, being submerged in cold temperatures and unable to grip the scuba mouthpiece because the hose wasn’t long enough.

“He’s Jackie Chan, he’s super-strong, so nobody really thought about that, that he needs help,” laughed Patani.

“Jackie has filmed for hours with a shark, so I knew he could handle it,” Tong quipped, referring to Police Story 4: First Strike.

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Making Kung Fu Yoga was a novel experience for 23-year-old Dastur, who plays the sister of Patani’s character. “My first scene ever was when Stanley threw me into this huge sand pit,” she recalled. “We had Jackie’s stuntmen being hyenas and they chased after us. It was so funny, imagine guys crawling around the floor in these green little jumpsuits!”

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Tong was aware of needing to up to ante to cater to increasingly discerning audiences. “Every film that I’ve made with Jackie has something new in it,” he declared. “There must be an original element, while keeping the action and comedy that have become Jackie’s trademark. Now, the audience is more demanding. If the film has only one setting or a small number of action sequences, audiences will find it boring.”

The film’s central set piece is a wacky car chase through the streets of Dubai. The production had help from Dubai’s princes, who lent the crew their luxury supercars. The stunt drivers ended up crashing Ferraris, Lamborghinis and MacLarens. “I was wondering how we were going to repay the princes,” Jackie mused.

“They didn’t want us to repay them, all they wanted was to have a meal with Jackie and get his autograph,” Tong revealed. “We had crashed a yellow car, and the princes had another car of the same make, but only in blue. So, they repainted the blue car yellow overnight so we could replace the crashed car,” Tong said, praising the royal family of Dubai for being as gracious and accommodating to the film crew as they were.

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Due to a mix-up in the schedule, Muqi Miya’s flight was delayed, and she arrived at the press conference late. The model and yoga instructor has been called “the goddess of Yoga”, her steamy pictorials earning her legions of admirers online. “I’m happy to breathe the clean air here in Singapore,” she said, having just gotten off the plane from Beijing. After Yeo called her a “Yoga expert,” Muqi demurred, motioning to Jackie and saying “I have to tell everyone that the real expert is him.”

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Is there anything new under the sun for Jackie? “Over the years, I’ve done pretty much everything,” Jackie stated matter-of-factly. “Every year, I have to wrack my brain for how to provide a new experience for my fans.” Jackie described going from the historical epic Dragon Blade to the contemporary action-comedy Skiptrace, and from that to the WWII-era adventure Railroad Tigers and then to Kung Fu Yoga. Jackie promised that his next film, the thriller The Foreigner, will be a serious affair.

Jackie said that he hopes to emulate the long-lived careers of such Hollywood actors as Clint Eastwood, Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman. “As I’ve said before, I want to be viewed as an actor who can perform action. I am not an action star,” Jackie declared empathically. “I’m an actor who knows how to do action. The life expectancy of an ‘action star’ is very short.“

Kung Fu Yoga opens on 27 January 2017.

Photos by Jedd Jong 

 

 

 

Railroad Tigers (铁道飞虎)

For F*** Magazine

RAILROAD TIGERS (铁道飞虎)

Director : Ding Sheng
Cast : Jackie Chan, Xu Fan, Huang Zitao, Darren Wang, Wang Kai, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 2h 5min
Opens : 29 December 2016
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

railway-tigers-posterIt’s all aboard the Jackie Chan express – destination: Thrillsville. In this period action comedy, Jackie plays Ma Yuan, a porter working at a railway yard in Japanese-occupied China. Ma Yuan leads a motley crew of odd-job labourers who form a resistance against the Japanese, calling themselves the “Railroad Tigers”. The team includes tailor Da Hai (Huang) and Fan Chuan (Wang Kai), the former soldier and current proprietor of a noodle shop. Ma Yuan’s family has been killed by Japanese forces, and he is seeking to make a new life with the pancake vendor affectionately known as “Auntie Qin” (Xu). Ma Yuan, Auntie Qin and company harbour a wounded soldier named Da Guo (Darren Wang), whose compatriots have been killed, stalling a crucial mission to blow up a bridge. Ma Yuan and his fellow Railroad Tigers take it on themselves to complete the mission, with the psychotic commander Yamaguchi (Ikeuchi) and his men standing in their way.

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Railroad Tigers is the third collaboration between Jackie and director Ding Sheng, who also directed Little Big Soldier and Police Story 2013. It’s reminiscent of The Good, The Bad and the Weird, which also pitted a ragtag gang against the Japanese military during the Second World War. It fits into that broader sub-category of wartime capers like The Dirty Dozen. For the most part, this is a fun ride. There are several ambitious, explosive action set-pieces, amusing moments of physical comedy and a merry band of misfits to root for. The sequences set in and around moving trains must have been a logistical nightmare to coordinate, so credit to action director He Jun of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team is due. The cast and crew weathered temperatures of -20°C while shooting in Liaoning and Shandong in China, suffering for their art.

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The film does have its fair share of issues. It succumbs to a common pitfall of ensemble war movies, that of having too many characters, some of whom are difficult to distinguish from each other or could have been combined for efficiency. Ding also edited the film, and it is choppy and uneven in patches. The use of title cards to introduce each new character is unnecessary, and the 3D-animated interludes, while stylish, tend to take one out of the film. The film’s climax is intense and exhilarating, but it is also protracted and bloated. There is a healthy amount of practical stunt work and miniature effects, but there are still computer-generated shots that stick out. This is all topped off with a completely superfluous celebrity cameo in the film’s closing moments.

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Jackie has grown into ‘father to his men’-type roles nicely, and his turn as Ma Yuan is thankfully free of the self-aggrandizing egotism that has plagued some of his recent projects. Jackie is still involved in most of the action and his comic timing remains as sharp as ever. Xu gives the overblown proceedings warmth and authenticity as the ‘auntie’ who sells pancakes by day and helps the rebellion by night. As is de rigueur in present-day Chinese blockbusters, there must be at least one boyband teen idol to attract the young female demographic; that role falls to Huang Zitao here. Wang Kai steals the show as the dashing, highly skilled Fan Chuan, while Ikeuchi is just the right amount of over-the-top as the blustering villain.

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The way the Japanese soldiers are depicted in Railroad Tigers is akin to the portrayal of the Nazis in the Indiana Jones films. While some might find it distasteful that the historical atrocities of the occupying Japanese forces are glossed over in favour of a pulp villain approach, it fits the generally light-hearted tone of the film. There are Japanese characters who are painted as buffoons, but then again, the Railroad Tigers themselves partake in significant quantities of buffoonery.

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Railroad Tigers lacks the cohesion and focus to be the supremely entertaining, tightly-constructed romp that it could’ve been, but it delivers the action and the comedy in heaping helpings. There’s a bit in which tank turrets function as swords in a delightfully bizarre ‘duel’. That finale, as drawn out as it is, is an absolute corker.

Summary: A rousing, white-knuckle tale of the scrappy underdogs vs. big bad military forces, there’s a bit too much going on in Railroad Tigers to keep track of but it’s plenty of fun.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Skiptrace

F*** Magazine

SKIPTRACE

Director : Renny Harlin
Cast : Jackie Chan, Johnny Knoxville, Fan Bingbing, Eric Tsang, Michael Wong, Zhang Lan-Xin, Eve Torres, Winston Chao
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 47 mins
Opens : 22 July 2016
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

Skiptrace posterThe boy who cried wolf would be really great friends with the actor who cried “I’m retiring from action movies.” Jackie Chan knows which side his bread is buttered on, and is back in another action comedy, playing Hong Kong cop Bennie Chan (Chan). Following the death of Bennie’s partner (Tsang), Bennie has been pursuing billionaire Victor Wong (Zhao), whom he believes to be a criminal mastermind known as ‘The Matador’. Bennie has been caring for his partner’s daughter Samantha (Fan), the head of guest relations at a casino in Macau who gets mixed up with Victor’s thugs. Wheeler-dealer American gambler Connor Watts (Knoxville) happens to be in the casino at the same time, accidentally coming into possession of evidence that could prove Victor’s guilt. Bennie tracks Connor down to Russia, freeing him from Russian mobsters so Connor can be taken back to Hong Kong to testify against Victor. With Samantha in danger, Bennie and Connor become unlikely partners, traversing across China and racing against the clock.

Skiptrace Johnny Knoxville and Jackie Chan at the border

Skiptrace hasn’t had a particularly smooth production process: Sam Fell was initially set to direct the film but was replaced by Renny Harlin, Seann William Scott dropped out for Johnny Knoxville to take his place, and cinematographer Chan Kwok-Hung drowned off Lantau Island on the set of the film. Jackie himself had a near-death experience filming in a roaring Guilin river. There’s an awkward herky-jerkiness to the pacing of Skiptrace, and teaming Jackie up with a fast-talking American sidekick couldn’t reek more of Rush Hour’s leftovers if it wanted to. The plot is cliché-ridden and while there are several action sequences which showcase Jackie’s signature prop comedy fighting style, these seem awkwardly slotted in instead of unfolding organically within the plot. A fight in a Russian packing plant that sees Jackie use an oversized Matryoshka doll to fend off ex pro-wrestler Eve Torres’ generic henchwoman is moderately fun, but serves more as a reminder of Jackie’s past glories than anything else.

Skiptrace Johnny Knoxville and Jackie Chan on the river

Picturesque locations including China’s Guangxi and Guizhou Provinces and parts of Mongolia add a travelogue element to the bog-standard buddy action comedy premix. Bennie and Connor get mixed up with locals and are both fishes out of water as they wander through the middle of local festivals, traverse raging rapids on a raft made from inflated pig skins and play drinking games with Mongolian tribespeople. It all looks intended to make Western audiences exclaim “Oh, how exotic!” Even then, Skiptrace often looks embarrassingly cheap. A sequence in which Bennie and Connor escape their pursuers via zipline features some painfully subpar green screen work.

Skiptrace Johnny Knoxville and Jackie Chan in broken cart

Jackie’s no-nonsense detective driven by revenge, who is encouraged to loosen up throughout the film, is quite the bore. “It’s all the same: cop from Hong Kong, cop from China,” Jackie bemoaned of his Hollywood film roles in an interview he gave in 2004. How little things change. Knoxville gets stuffed into a trashcan, splashed with mud and has a horse defecate mere inches from his face, but then again, the former Jackass star is probably best friends with indignity. The wily American who tries to talk his way out of everything is a tired trope that Skiptrace fails to put even the slightest spin on. The dynamic between the two characters is predictable: chalk and cheese have to become unwilling partners to stay alive, overcoming initial distrust of and dislike for each other. A large amount of the comedy falls flat, but the emotional beats are absolutely dead on arrival, and there’s nothing to either of these characters for the audience to grab on to. There is a bit when Jackie performs quite the unexpected cover of a hit song that did bring a smile to this reviewer’s face.

Skiptrace Fan Bingbing and Jackie Chan

Despite getting third billing behind Jackie and Knoxville, Fan’s time onscreen is brief and she plays little more than the damsel in distress. The cardboard villains (thugs in business suits, tattooed Russian street toughs, a corrupt official or two) are unable to amount to compelling challenge for our heroes. While Harlin’s earlier filmography includes the relatively entertaining likes of Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger, he’s also responsible for such infamous bombs as Cutthroat Island and The Legend of Hercules. With Skiptrace, it seems like Harlin was putting together a flat-packed Ikea-esque action comedy but missed a few steps during assembly. In the grand scheme of things, the 120-minute running time is far from merciless, but this still comes off as a slog rather than a romp.

Summary: Sure, it’s impressive that Jackie Chan still kicking at 62, but Skiptrace feels long past its sell-by date, laboured and clumsily made instead of light on its feet.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Kung Fu Panda 3

F*** Magazine

KUNG FU PANDA 3

Director : Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Alessandro Carloni
Cast : Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Kate Hudson, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, James Hong, Randall Duk Kim, Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 95 mins
Opens : 10 March 2016
Rating : G

The rotund, ever-enthusiastic harbinger of awesomeness himself, Po (Black) the Dragon Warrior, has returned to deliver swift justice and wolf down dumplings in the third instalment of the Kung Fu Panda series. The fiendish spirit warrior Kai (Simmons), who formerly fought alongside Master Oogway (Kim), is intent on capturing the chiof all the kung fu masters throughout the land, imprisoning them within jade amulets. In the meantime, Master Shifu (Hoffman) announces his retirement and tasks Po with training the Furious Five, comprising Tigress (Jolie), Viper (Liu), Monkey (Chan), Mantis (Rogen) and Crane (Cross). While Po struggles with his new responsibilities, his biological father Li Shan (Cranston) arrives to take his long-lost son to a secret panda village. This incites the jealousy of Po’s adoptive father Mr. Ping (Hong). When Kai has his sights set on the panda village, Po must transform his ungainly kin into a fearsome army to defeat their powerful foe.

            It can be said that 2008’s Kung Fu Panda was something of a turning point for Dreamworks Animation, eschewing excessive popular culture references (but still keeping an all-star voice cast) in favour of something more character-driven, drawing upon Chinese culture for design and story elements. Kung Fu Panda 3 retains much of what made the first two films appealing: it’s breath-taking to look at, the characters are loveable and it’s heartfelt. However, true poignancy seems just out of the movie’s grasp, and the philosophy being dispensed doesn’t go much deeper than “believe in yourself”. Also, even though the stakes seem pretty high, with an immortal villain going after all the kung fu masters in the land, the sense of devastation is insufficient. These films have to strike a balance between depicting battles against evil and kid-friendly goofing off. The scales are ever so slightly uneven here.

            What’s great about Po is there are still lessons for him to learn and challenges for him to conquer; he might have come a long way but there’s still a distance to go yet. This film delves into Po’s crisis of identity: he’s been raised by a goose his whole life, but then his actual dad enters stage left and introduces him to a whole village of pandas he’s never known. What does this make Po? It’s roly-poly slapstick first and depth second, but it counts for something that the filmmakers have figured out a way to keep Po’s character from reaching a comfortable plateau. Black wears the role like a second skin and Po’s earnestness, fanboy attitude and moments of self-doubt are traits many viewers identify with.

            Kai has all the makings of a formidable villain, but something’s missing and this reviewer can’t quite pinpoint what. As the series’ first supernatural baddie, he’s easily the most powerful of the foes Po and company have faced off against. Simmons does a decent gruff bellow and the character design is physically imposing. In terms of impact, he is perhaps on par with Tai Lung from the first film but lacks the almost unsettling menace of Kung Fu Panda 2’s Lord Shen. His motivations are also significantly less developed than those of the afore-mentioned previous antagonists.

            Cranston contributes an affable warmth to the part of Li Shan, with a “dopey dad” vibe that brings to mind his role as Hal in Malcolm in the Middle. The conflict between Po’s two dads seems like a stronger driving force for the story than the oncoming threat of Kai’s attacks. Ping’s initial suspicion of Li Shan and how he comes to terms with the fact that Po’s biological father is back in his life is both funny and touching, giving Hong a little more to do than just be the fussbudget. Of the Furious Five, Jolie’s Tigress gets the most screen time and the team’s resident stoic gets to show a little bit of a soft side as she bonds with a little panda girl. It seems like Mei Mei, a panda who has amorous designs on Po, was originally given more to do in the story. As it stands, the character is largely inconsequential. Perhaps it stems from the re-casting of the role, with Rebel Wilson replaced by Kate Hudson due to scheduling conflicts.

            The martial arts sequences choreographed by animator Randolph Guenoden continue to be outstanding and a portion of the film takes place in the Chinese spirit realm, which changes the look up a little. There are a number of specific lines and jokes that are direct call-backs to the first two movies, which should make watching all three back-to-back somewhat rewarding. As far as we’re concerned, the franchise has yet to outstay its welcome, but Kung Fu Panda 3 shows signs of why one might be worried.



Summary: Kung Fu Panda 3 is spectacularly animated and gives Po more character development, but its underwhelming villain and emotional arcs that show promise but fall short of sublime are a bit of a disappointment.

RATING: 3.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Dragon Blade (天将雄师)

For F*** Magazine

DRAGON BLADE (天将雄师)

Director : Daniel Lee
Cast : Jackie Chan, John Cusack, Adrien Brody, Choi Siwon, Wang Ruoxin, Lin Peng, Jozef Waite
Genre : Action/Martial Arts
Run Time : 127 mins
Opens : 19 February 2015
Rating : PG13 (Violence)

     

      Chinese New Year movie season is here again and to usher in the Year of the Goat, Jackie Chan takes us on a cross-cultural journey down the Silk Road. In this historical action epic, Chan plays Huo An, commander of the Protection Squad of the Western Regions – a Han Dynasty CHiPs of sorts. Framed for treason, he is sent to a labour camp on the outskirts of China, where he crosses paths with Roman general Lucius (Cusack). Lucius is being pursued by the cruel Tiberius (Brody) who, having killed his father and poisoned his young brother Publius (Waite), wants the 36 districts around the Silk Road to bow to him. Huo An and Lucius form an unlikely alliance against the tyrant, choosing unity over discord as numerous armies gather in the desert to face off.



            Dragon Blade begins with a proclamation that it is based on a true story – it’s based more on fanciful conjecture than anything else. The premise requires heaps of suspension of disbelief to swallow but over the course of the film, most anyone would find it hard to suspend their disbelief. Many viewers might in fact become best friends with their disbelief. Writer-director Daniel Lee has delivered an uproarious celebration of unintentional hilarity. With a USD $65 million budget, the most expensive film production in the history of Chinese cinema is a lavish, ill-conceived mess. While the costumes designed by Thomas Chong are meticulously crafted and shooting on location in the vast expanses of the Gobi Desert lends the picture sufficient production value, this does little to give weight to the hokey story and generally terrible performances. A 15 minute stretch of the film in which Lucius’ and Huo An’s men put aside their differences to collaborate on an ambitious construction project feels like the plot is being put on hold, until one realises that is supposed to be the plot.

            Upon first meeting Lucius, Huo An asks “is there any way no fight?” Let’s break this down: the Romans all speak English – fine, it’s hardly the first movie to do that. Huo An is supposed to have somehow learned English and his halting command of the language is meant to establish a communication barrier. That’s iffy. Finally, the Romans are all shown singing in Latin. Then again, would Jackie Chan mangling Latin dialogue be any better? Because the proceedings are so melodramatic and possess no real tension or weight, this reviewer decided it was more fulfilling to decipher the logic behind why anyone in this movie speaks the way they do. Later on, Huo An gets to deliver the gem of a line “you look down on human”, as if extra-terrestrial invaders have entered the fray – which might as well be the case, given how ridiculous the plot already is anyway.
            Judging from interviews, career choices and his philantrophy, Jackie Chan views himself as a beacon of understanding between cultures and indeed, most of his movies can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of cultural background, the controversy surrounding Chan’s personal politics notwithstanding. Here, this translates into an awkward preachiness, the film’s heavy-handed message of joining hands and singing “kumbaya” around the campfire coming off as equal parts simplistic and pretentious. Huo An is a stoic leader with a tragic past – while Jackie Chan has excelled at more serious roles before, that is clearly not his forte. Points for trying something different and while he still excels at the sword-fighting sequences, he seems ill-suited to the part and his signature childlike playfulness and unique approach to screen fighting is sorely missed.

            After decades of Asian actors struggling to cross over into the American film market, it seems high time we get more Hollywood actors floundering about in Asian movies. John Cusack truly looks like he doesn’t want to be there – he famously divides the projects he chooses into “one for them” and “one for me” and it’s plenty obvious which category Dragon Blade falls into. Adrien Brody doesn’t do much for most of the film, snarling and issuing threats in menacing tones. While Brody has done some good work in smaller films as of late, he still very much is the “Oscar Curse” incarnate. Here’s it’s painfully clear that playing a scary Ancient Roman villain, ala Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator, isn’t for everyone. As the young prince Publius, Jozef Waite delivers one of the most awkward, stilted performances we’ve seen from a child actor in recent memory.

            Bad movies are a denarius a dozen. Movies that are bad in as fascinating and novel a way as this one is are rarer. Sitting through Dragon Blade was the most fun this reviewer has had in a theatre in ages, many moments sure to elicit howls from audiences. From the superfluous framing story featuring Vanness Wu as an archaeologist to the United Colours of Benetton moral to the most eclectic cast of the year (which manages to fit in a Korean pop idol, a French singer, a China-based British child star and an Oscar winner), Dragon Blade is nothing if not entertainingly bizarre. It may only be February, but we’re calling this the funniest comedy of 2015.

Summary: A “so bad it’s good” novelty in the extreme, Dragon Blade is a baffling cross-cultural mishmash that has to be seen to be believed. Highly recommended in the most ironic sense.
RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Blade Runners: Dragon Blade Singapore Press Conference

For F*** Magazine

BLADE RUNNERS
F*** meets Jackie Chan and the stars of Dragon Blade in Singapore
By Jedd Jong
From left: Choi Siwon, Mika Wang, John Cusack, Jackie Chan, Lin Peng, Adrien Brody
                A week ahead of the Chinese New Year release date of Dragon Blade, the film’s cast arrives in Singapore to meet fans, grace the red carpet premiere and speak to the press. It is a Tuesday morning and F*** is at the Pan Pacific Hotel Singapore as Jackie Chan, John Cusack, Adrien Brody, Choi Siwon, Lin Peng and Mika Wang enter the ballroom for the press conference. Surely one of the most eclectic casts ever assembled, it’s not every day that an Asian action star sits alongside an Oscar winner and a K-pop singer to field questions from reporters.
                Photographers go into frenzy, jostling each other as they crowd around the stage to snap a shot of the actors. “Please, sit down. Let’s have some order, thank you,” Jackie exhorts in Mandarin. They obey. “Ah, now, much, much better!” he says, satisfied.
                Used to wearing many hats, Jackie is the producer, star and action director on Dragon Blade. Jackie plays the protagonist Huo An, a general of the Silk Road Protection Squad who is framed for treason and forced to work in a slave labour camp on the outskirts of China. He explains that he spent seven years preparing the film, which was filmed in the harsh climes of the Gobi Desert. Jackie rattles off some staggering figures: 350 crew members, 800 extras and 200 horses were required to pull the movie off. “It doesn’t matter how difficult the filming process was, if the audience enjoys the film, all the sweat, blood and tears are worth it,” he says.

                The involvement of Hollywood actors Cusack and Brody is unprecedented in the history of Chinese cinema. For both of them, it was a thrill to participate in a martial arts movie, seeing as they grew up on classic Golden Harvest Hong Kong movies. “We were great Jackie Chan fans, Bruce Lee fans, and saw all the martial arts movies so to be able to work with Jackie as an actor but also a visionary choreographer of actions and stunts, all the standards he puts in his movies, it was quite a thrill,” Cusack says. He portrays Lucius, a Roman general in exile who meets Jackie Chan’s character Huo An in the desert. Though initially wary of each other, Lucius and Huo An put aside their differences to concentrate on rebuilding the outpost of Wild Geese Gate.
                Brody agrees, saying “this is my childhood and adolescent fantasy, not only do we get to collaborate in a deeper dramatic capacity, in a creative way, but in a martial arts sense, it is such a thrill, it is beyond a thrill to learn from Jackie and to be able to play together, it was really very exciting.” Brody plays the villain of the piece, the tyrannical, power-hungry Tiberius, who has pursued Lucius across the desert.
                Jackie says that having worked in movies for 54 years, he has gotten used to the pressure of making a movie and that he believes that the old ways are often the best. “These days, audiences enjoy films like the Transformersmovies and Spider-Man, as well as wire-fu action movies,” he says, saying he is adamant about retaining traditional ways of performing stunts, which he jokingly calls “stupid methods”. “Today, in Hollywood movies, there would be a piece of green cloth wrapped around the sword so it would look like the sword is slicing in real close without hurting anybody. Our method is really stupid – we did it for real. I feel that it’s a miracle that I can still be making action films at my age.” Jackie reveals that Cusack hit him twice in the hand by accident while filming a sword fight scene.
                “Well, we had a very long fight in the middle of the desert and sooner or later, you hit each other!” Cusack says sheepishly. Cusack and Brody were able to offer their input on the English segments of the script to ensure the dialogue sounded natural.
                Jackie may not feel the pressure, but actress Lin Peng certainly does. “Working with this director and cast, the pressure was immense. In this film, I’m playing a fierce warrior woman, so it was very demanding in terms of the martial arts. Jackie has very high standards for martial arts, so the pressure was on,” she says.
                Lin Peng has a scene where she is seen nude from behind. Jackie explains that he gave her the option of using a body double, but the actress decided to go the full Monty for real. Emphasising that he didn’t intend on leering at her, Jackie says “only I could see her naked body, but I assured her, ‘I’m not a pervert, I’m not looking at you in a sexual manner’.”
When Lin suggests that this is probably the most challenging entry in Jackie Chan’s recent filmography, Jackie admonishes her, saying all his movies are challenging to make. “Every film I make is challenging, it’s just that you don’t know it,” he counters. He elaborates on coordinating the casting of all the extras, including the actors playing Roman soldiers and the multi-ethnic schoolchildren. “They would say ‘it’s because of you, Jackie, that we’re here’. We had to teach them all the basics of acting. We needed to take care of these extras and create a friendly atmosphere for them. I’d make sure to eat with them and chat with them, because I didn’t want their first experience on the set of a Chinese film to be a negative one,” he says.
                Jackie emphasises that no matter how physically strenuous the shoot was for the actors, the crew had it worse. “I always say, actors have to be considerate of and grateful to all the crew members on set. Actors have it the easiest! They come to set late and leave early. Anywhere I go, I say the crew has it the hardest and we all have to recognise the contributions of those working behind the scenes.”
                Relative newcomer Mika Wang plays the other lead female character, a schoolteacher who is married to Huo An. “This is my first time working with Jackie and I feel very lucky to have the opportunity. Jackie has taught us so much, both in terms of filmmaking and in life,” she says. When she describes the finished movie as “awesome”, Jackie interjects with a rebuke again.
                “Never call your own movies ‘awesome’.” Jackie says in a finger-wagging tone. “Say they’re ‘okay’. You have to be humble always, that’s what I’ve taught you!”

K-pop star Choi Siwon of Super Junior fame plays Huo An’s right-hand man in the film, Yin Po. Jackie had requested that he be cast in the film after positive experiences working on charity shows with the singer, who is hugely popular across Asia. Most of the fans at the mall appearance and red carpet premiere later that night are there for Choi Siwon alone. Choi likens learning fight choreography to learning dancing, and hopes he will get to showcase his moves by actually dancing in a future film project. “I love Singapore”, he says at one point.

                “That sounds like insincere flattery,” Jackie remarks.
                East-meets-west films haven’t exactly had a sterling track record – 47 Ronin, anybody? On what gives Dragon Blade its, well, edge in this subgenre, Cusack says it’s that “the quality control standards of Jackie and [director] Daniel Lee are incredibly high so this a very top-of-the-line movie.” He states that the production value was on par with that of the Hollywood blockbuster 2012, which “played here in China.” Perhaps he’s just a little jet-lagged, we’ll forgive the one-off geo-confusion – after all, Singaporeans are pretty used to having their country mistakenly thought of as a part of China.
                Jackie has lofty ambitions for this film and is particularly enamoured with its message. He says the one phrase that jumped out at him in the screenplay for Dragon Blade was “live for peace, turn foes into friends”. “Today’s world is in such dire need of peace that I felt I had to make this movie,” Jackie proclaims. “I felt that I had a mission with this film. With Chinese Zodiac, it was about the conservation of antiques. In Dragon Blade, it’s all about peace. I think everyone must have a sense of responsibility to create peace. My hope is that everyone can watch this movie and be touched by its message – Al Qaeda, the Middle East, the United States, my hope is that everyone can watch this movie and learn the value of peace.”
              Terrorists being compelled to put down their arms after watching a Jackie Chan film? You never know.