Wira review

For F*** Magazine


Director: Adrian Teh
Cast : Hairul Azreen, Fify Azmi, Ismi Melinda, Dato Hilal Azman, Dain Iskandar Said, Henley Hii, Yayan Ruhian, Josiah Hogan
Genre : Action
Run Time : 1 h 49 mins
Opens : 21 November 2019
Rating : PG13

PASKAL: The Movie, released in 2018, was one of the most successful Malaysian action films ever released. That film’s director Adrian Teh and star Hairul Azreen have followed that up with Wira, an action film of a different stripe. Where Paskal was a military movie, Wira has a heavy focus on martial arts, featuring MMA and silat.

Hassan (Hairul Azreen) is a commando who has taken an early retirement to return to his hometown, where his sister, MMA fighter Zain (Fify Azmi), is in trouble. She is indebted to local kingpin Raja (Dain Iskandar Said), a tyrant who outwardly appears to be a legitimate businessman. Hassan reunites with his father Munas (Dato Hilal Azman) and his childhood best friend Boon (Henley Hii), now a police inspector. Hassan must get in the ring alongside his sister, battling Raja’s equally cruel children Vee (Ismi Melinda) and Rayyan (Josiah Hogan). The battles Hassan must fight are not only in the ring, as he eventually faces off with Raja’s lethal head of security Ifrit (Yayan Ruhian).

Wira is undeniably an achievement for Malaysian action cinema. Director Teh set out to make a film featuring a high standard of action choreography and design, and the fight scenes in Wira are largely spectacular. In addition to playing Ifrit, Yayan Ruhian of The Raid and John Wick: Chapter 3 fame choreographed the fights. The fight between Hassan and Ifrit is an absolute showstopper, while a brawl in a moving bus is another standout sequence. Some of the fights even have the energy of the famous hallway sequence in Oldboy. Hairul Azreen moves with speed and precision and clearly knows what he’s doing. Fify Azmi’s performance is especially impressive considering this is her acting debut.

In addition to the action, there’s an old-fashioned sincerity to Wira that is quite charming. The story is straightforward to a fault, but the brother-sister bond between Hassan and Zain is a credible one. Dato Hilal Azman is a warm and steadfast presence as their father Munas. There is enough to the characters that we can care for them, and the scope is much more focused here than in Paskal, which had to distribute its attention across the various members of a Navy strike force.

The plot of Wira is basically that of Walking Tall: our hero returns from military service to his sleepy hometown to find that it has become overrun with thugs in service of a ruthless businessman, and now he must fight for his people and for the place he grew up in. It’s an utterly predictable story and audiences might find themselves twiddling their thumbs in between the fight scenes. The first half of the film, which involves lots of set-up, is slower than the second half.

Respected director Dain Iskandar Said is clearly having fun playing the cigar-chomping big bad of the piece, but the Raja character can sometimes come off as too cartoony. He also has a penchant for almost arbitrarily switching between English and Malay when he talks, speaking mostly English but then saying a few words or phrases in Malay for emphasis. It is somewhat distracting.

Some of the film’s attempts at humour are likely to be a hit with the crowds who will watch this in Malaysian cinemas, but otherwise feel jarring juxtaposed against the intensity of the rest of the proceedings. Comedians Zizan Razak and Jack Lim show up as two thugs and basically do a lot of mugging for the camera that gets quite annoying. Thankfully, there is not too much of them.

Star Hairul sustained three tears to the ligaments of his ankle while filming a scene that required him to fall from the second storey to the first, because he landed on his feet rather than on his back during one take. Fify Azmi was also hospitalised and has said in an interview that some days were so physically taxing she would immerse herself in an ice bath at her mother’s house.

The film has hidden a connection to Paskal at the very end of the film, and intends to create a cinematic universe of Malaysian action heroes. We wonder how they will explain Hairul Azreen playing two separate characters in Paskal and Wira.

Summary: Wira is slickly produced and pushes the art form of the Southeast Asian action film forward. The story is nothing to write home about and the villains are generic, but it has enough explosive energy to warrant a watch from action movie junkies.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Ip Man 3 (叶问 3)

For F*** Magazine

IP MAN 3  (叶问 3)

Director : Wilson Yip
Cast : Donnie Yen, Zhang Jin, Lynn Hung, Patrick Tam, Mike Tyson, Karena Ng
Genre : Martial-Arts/Drama
Run Time : 1 hr 44 mins
Opens : 24 December 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)
After a five year leave of absence from the role, Donnie Yen is back as legendary martial artist Ip Man. It is 1950 and things are going well for Ip Man, who is respected throughout the land, continuing to run his Wing Chunacademy. Ip Chun, the son of Ip Man and his wife Cheung Wing-sing (Hung), gets into a schoolyard fight with Cheung Fong. It turns out that Cheung Fong is the son of rickshaw puller Cheung Tin-chi (Zhang), also a Wing Chun practitioner who is making money on the side in illegal fighting matches. Said matches are organised by American property developer Frank (Tyson), a crooked businessman who has the British Hong Kong police captain in his pocket. Local gangster Ma King-sang, working for Frank, terrorises the town, threatening the school that Ip Chun and Cheung Fong attend. As Ip Man’s disciples protect the innocent town folk, he must take on Frank and Cheung Tin-chi to prove his supremacy and safeguard his loved ones.

            Yen was initially reluctant to portray Ip Man a third time, saying of the second film “I believe it’s best to end something when it’s at perfection, and leave behind a good memory.” “Perfection” is a very strong word, Donnie. The sheer number of Ip Man-centric projects that cropped up after the success of the first film were also a factor in turning Yen off returning. Somehow, Ip Man 3 happened anyway, with Yen saying this will close out the series for good. This is a mess, with the feeling that a great deal was changed from what director Wilson Yip intended to shoot. The screenplay by Edmond Wong, Lai-yin Leung and Chan Tai-Li comes across as incredibly choppy and lacking in focus. Sure, the action choreography by Yen, Yuen Shun-Yee and Yuen Woo-Ping is expectedly splendid, but it ultimately needs to be in service of a solid story, which just isn’t the case here.

The initial announcements that Mike Tyson had signed on to play the villain and that Bruce Lee would be resurrected via digital trickery both reeked of unabashed gimmickry. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and Lee is played instead by Danny Chan, who does a fun, if over-the-top impression of the pioneering action star. Chan’s movements are appropriately swift, though his attempt at Lee’s signature cocky grin borders on caricature. Chan previously played Lee in the 2008 biographical TV series The Legend of Bruce Lee. Chan bears an uncanny resemblance to Lee and this reviewer is relieved that this is what we got instead of a disconcerting floating CGI head. While it was originally suggested that director Yip’s objective was for Ip Man 3 to follow the master-disciple relationship between Ip Man and Lee, that’s more a B-plot than anything else.

Perhaps even more surprisingly, Tyson is in very little of the film and his is a C-plot. Those looking forward to a showdown along the lines of Rocky vs. Ivan Drago in Rocky IV will come away sorely disappointed. Ip Man doesn’t even meet Frank until more than an hour into the film. Tyson is no actor and looks extremely out of place in Ip Man 3, unable to beat the snatches of Cantonese dialogue he is given into submission. Of course, it wouldn’t be an Ip Man film without a serving of anti-Western sentiment, with a supercilious British police captain also showing up. At one point, Kent Cheng’s Sgt. Po says the line “the two foreign devils are in cahoots!” with nary a sense of irony.

Yen has considerable experience playing Ip Man and his is often considered the definitive portrayal of the master. Ip Man is a combination warrior-sage-saint with no shortcomings to speak of and therefore not terribly interesting, because the filmmakers are too preoccupied with respecting his status to take any risks with the characterisation. Any and all scenes involving Ip Man’s wife Cheung Wing-sing and his son Ip Chun are treacly and cloying. Ip Man also had two sons in real life, but only one shows up. The real-life Ip Chun, now 91, served as the martial arts consultant on this film, as with the two earlier instalments. It is a massive missed opportunity not to have the actual Ip Chun interact with the child version of him in the film in a cameo. Like Yen, Zhang Jin actually is an accomplished martial artist and as such genre aficionados should enjoy seeing the two duke it out. There is a degree of complexity to Zhang’s character, who is an antagonist but not an out-and-out villain, which is appreciated in a film lacking in subtlety.

Audiences have waited a while for the conclusion to Yen’s Ip Mantrilogy and this is far from a truly satisfying final chapter. The stunt casting of Tyson isn’t exploited to its full potential and Ip Man taking Bruce Lee under his wing (chun), something which these films have been building up to, is treated like a side-plot. There are superbly-staged kungfu skirmishes aplenty, but it is difficult to recommend the film solely on that basis. Should’ve left it at two, Donnie.

Summary: Dynamic fights cannot rescue this scattershot threequel which closes out the Ip Man trilogy on an underwhelming note.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Rise of the Legend (黄飞鸿之英雄有梦)

For F*** Magazine


Director : Roy Chow Hin Yeung
Cast : Eddie Peng, Sammo Hung, Wang Luodan, Jing Boran, Wong Cho Lam, Max Zhang Jin, Simon Yam, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Angelababy, 
Genre : Martial Arts
Over the last several years, we’ve had no shortage of films revolving around martial artist Ip Man. Now, it’s time for Wong Fei-hung, the martial artist who was born almost 50 years before Ip, to reclaim the spotlight. This origin story tracks Wong Fei-hung’s (Peng) beginnings as a recruit of the Black Tiger gang in 1868, during the late Qing Dynasty. The Black Tiger gang is locked in a power struggle with the Northern Sea gang for control of the Huangpu Port. The feared leader of the Black Tigers, Master Lei Gong (Hung), recognises young Fei-hung’s talent and takes him under his wing. A new rival gang called the Orphans, led by Fei-hung’s childhood best friend Fiery (Jing), emerges to challenge the Black Tigers. As Fei-hung realises the frightening extent of his new master’s ruthlessness, he resolves to help Fiery and free the town from Lei Gong’s tyranny.

            A martial artist, physician and revolutionary, Wong Fei-hung is among the best-known folk heroes in Chinese culture, depicted in scores of films and television series since 1949. In taking up the mantle of this iconic role, Eddie Peng joins the ranks of Jet Li, Vincent Zhao, Andy Lau, Jackie Chan and dozens of other actors. Rise of the Legend is a slightly unfortunate, profoundly generic title; a closer translation would be Wong Fei-hung: A Hero Has Dreams. Rise of the Legend follows firmly in the footsteps of its predecessors in the historical martial arts flick genre, with the occasional hit-and-miss sprinkling of modern elements. These include bullet time breakdowns, hokey CGI flames and an Eye of the Tiger-esque rendition of the “unofficial Wong Fei-hung theme song” On the General’s Orders, performed by Mayday.

            It’s a given that the film is at its best during the fight sequences and thankfully, there’s no shortage of those. Action director Corey Yuen has proven his mettle both in Hong Kong and in Hollywood, with credits such as Thunderbolt and the Transporter films under his belt. Fei-hung punches through concrete pillars and there’s a lot of leaping through the air. At one point during the climactic fight, Fei-hung climbs up the railing of a staircase using just his hands, as his feet kick at his opponent in front of him. We saw the film in 2D but even then, the gimmicky “stuff flying at the camera moments” are noticeable.

            There’s an old-fashioned theatricality and a slight cheesiness to the proceedings, but one has to accept it as part of a package deal with the high-flying, wham-bam stunts. Eddie Peng has showcased his athleticism in Unbeatable and Jump! Ashinand this is probably the sexiest Wong Fei-hung has ever been. There are plenty of opportunities to gaze upon Peng’s rippled torso and his dedication in learning the challenging nanquanstyle of martial arts does pay off. He shares palpable buddy chemistry with pop idol Jing Boran and the characters’ bond as blood brothers is convincing. Sammo Hung, known for his agility and fighting prowess in spite of his generous girth, lends gravitas and hams it up as he does best. Hearing him bellow “I will make it crystal clear who! The! Master! Is! Here!” is pretty entertaining. Hung played Wong Fei-hung himself in Around the World in 80 Days. There’s also a great cameo from Tony Leung Ka-fai as Fei-hung’s father in the flashback sequences.

            Unfortunately, as is all too often the case in this subgenre, the female characters get the short shrift. Wang Luodan plays Chun, a childhood sweetheart of both Fei-hung and Fiery, caught in a love triangle. We get to see a Qing Dynasty take on “the bro code” play out. There’s also Angelababy as Orchid the courtesan, who knows she’ll never truly win the affection of Fei-hung because a) his heart belongs with Chun and b) she’s a prostitute. These romantic subplots are unable to transcend being merely superfluous.

            There are elements of the film that will be hard to truly “get” unless one has grown up with these stories, so we’ve come up with what might be an entry point for the uninitiated: look at this as a Chinese superhero movie. Wong Fei-hung would be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound if there were any tall buildings to be found. He is taken in by a mentor-turned-villain, like Batman and Ra’s al Ghul. The film closes with a “standing on the rooftop, surveying his domain” shot. Even the title Rise of the Legend sounds like something you’d find after a colon as the name of a superhero movie. This is clearly intended as the first chapter in a new Wong Fei-hung movie series – if you grew up with the Once Upon a Time in China films, it’s unlikely that Eddie Peng will replace Jet Li as your definitive Wong Fei-hung, but if Peng becomes this generation’s Wong Fei-hung, we see no problem with that.

Summary: All the origin story tropes and expected melodrama of a period martial arts flick are here, but so are a good amount of thrilling fights and Eddie Peng giving it his all to take on the iconic role.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Kung Fu Jungle (一个人的武林)

For F*** Magazine


Director : Teddy Chen
Cast : Donnie Yen, Wang Baoqiang, Charlie Young, Michelle Bai, Alex Fong, Louis Fan
Genre : Action/Thriller
Rating : PG13 (Violence) 
Run time: 100 mins
It’s a jungle out there – a kung fu jungle. In Teddy Chen’s martial arts flick, Donnie Yen’s Hahou Mo was once the king of that jungle. A skilled kungfu instructor and martial arts school proprietor who was responsible for training members of the Hong Kong Police, Hahou fell from grace after accidentally killing an opponent in a duel. In the midst of serving his five year prison term, Hahou hears about a series of murders on the news. A deranged fighter named Fung Ya-Sau (Wang) is targeting Hong Kong’s top martial arts practitioners in a bid to prove his supremacy in the various subsets – fistfighting, kickboxing, grappling, weapon-wielding and finally the use of “internal energy”. Hahou approaches Luk Yuen-Sun (Young), the policewoman leading the investigation to offer his expertise and is provisionally released to assist the police. He also reunites with his girlfriend Sinn Ying (Bai) who has been operating the school alone in his absence.

            Audiences get a kick out of seeing feats of well-honed physical prowess on display. That’s an integral part of the appeal of competitive sports and Cirque du Soleil-type performances. In cinema, the martial arts genre best exemplifies this. Kung Fu Jungle reunites star Donnie Yen with his Bodyguards and Assassinsdirector Teddy Chen, with contemporary Hong Kong in place of the period setting of that film. Here, the plot exists primarily as a clothesline on which to hang the kungfu battles but all things considered, it’s not a bad clothesline at all. Our noble hero who’s been wronged has to prove his worth by assisting the wary police in pursuit of a dangerous foe. It’s reminiscent of the 1997 Gary Daniels-starrer Bloodmoon – that film’s director Tony Leung Siu Hong gets a cameo here. Hey, beats the bog-standard “underground martial arts tournament” plot device. We get some exciting set-pieces, including a fight on and around a giant suspended modern art sculpture of the human skeleton. There are chases on foot across rooftops and through canals on speedboats. There’s also a pretty fun meta moment when Ya-Sau storms onto a movie set to face off against action movie star Hung Yip (Fan).

            However, Kung Fu Jungle definitely has its lapses in logic and spots of unintentional humour. For example, when Ya-sau enters the film set to confront Hung Yip, the rest of the cast and crew just hightail it out of there and nobody calls for the cops to, at the very least, wait outside the studio to apprehend Ya-sau. There’s also a moment during the climactic clash when our hero, brandishing a long bamboo pole, is running after our villain, also brandishing a long bamboo pole. It’s very goofy and almost worthy of spontaneous Yakety Sax music. That said, Chen has largely achieved a tonal consistency and there aren’t annoyingly long comic relief interludes as can often pop up in this genre. The action choreography by Yen, Yuen Bun and Yan Hua is energetic, intense and creative, although there is more shaky-cam employed than we would’ve liked. Computer-generated effects in Hong Kong cinema are often jarring and dodgy so it’s a good thing that apart from just a few quick bits, the stunt work is all practical and well-executed.

            At 51, Donnie Yen is still as quick, spry and proficient a martial artist as ever and he just looks awesome onscreen. This reviewer is relieved that after the very embarrassing likes of Special I.D., Iceman and the abysmal Monkey King, Yen’s dignity is more than intact here. True, his acting range is somewhat limited, but “wrongly imprisoned martial arts master” is well within those limits and the focus is rightfully placed on his fighting rather than his acting. Wang Baoqiang works those crazed eyes for all they’re worth and although he does seem like a dangerous, credible opponent for our hero, he has a tendency to ham it up. The “skyward scream” he lets out during a flashback detailing his stock tragic back-story™ really pulls one out of what should’ve been a dramatic moment. Charlie Young does make for a believable woman in charge, though it’s nothing we haven’t seen before in this genre. Mdm. Luk doesn’t let Hahou catch a break and the partnership between the martial artist and the police is always somewhat rocky. Michelle Bai’s role is just that crucial bit more than “the girlfriend” thanks to a great swordfighting scene she gets to herself.

            Aficionados of Hong Kong martial arts movies will have fun keeping their eyes peeled for cameos from personalities key to the success of the genre, including veteran producer and Hong Kong cinema pioneer Raymond Chow, actress Sharon Yeung of Drunken Master and Angel on Fire fame and film historian/screenwriter Bey Logan. The movie ends with a great montage in tribute to many influential filmmakers and actors who have kept the martial arts movie tradition alive and kicking. Kung Fu Jungle does have its overwrought moments but the good number of exhilarating fights and leading man Donnie Yen’s presence makes this worth seeing for anyone who digs kungfu movies.

Summary: An uncomplicated plot, great action sequences, a palpable affection for its predecessors in this genre and Donnie Yen doing what he does best make this a fun rumble in the jungle.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong