Film making through cultures

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

By Sam Kench

Crouching Tiger, Hidden DragonThere are many countries in the world that have their own film industry, but many American kids have only seen a few if any foreign films. There is nothing at all wrong with American movies, but only ever viewing American movies stops people from experiencing the full gamut of styles, tones, and even emotions that the medium of film has to offer.

the killerThe movies a country produces represents the country itself. Different countries focus on different genres of film, and the chosen genre of film can say a lot about how people from that country think. It can show what people find entertaining, what they are conditioned to accept, and it can demonstrate how one culture differs from another.

hard boiledThere are handful of countries that can be used to demonstrate just how different of a movie a culture can produce. China, England, France, South Korea, Taiwan, and India all have different niches and styles.

heroThere was a time when China dominated the world with their Hong Kong action cinema. Although China produces films from all genres, their niche is action movies. Martial arts films and shoot ‘em ups headed by the likes of people such as Bruce Lee, Chow Yun Fat, and Jackie Chan. Chinese action films became known as the best in the world and the country has been since associated with this genre. The films can aim for entertainment and intensity in films such as “Hard Boiled or The Killer, or they can aim for Poetic beauty in films such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or “Hero. The action films made in China would become refined to the point of art. Director John Woo choreographed such elaborate shootouts that his films became known as “Bullet Ballets” or “Bullet Operas” because of the complexity of the action. It grew to the point where a gunfight could say something poetic.

I Saw the DevilTaiwan is a country that eventually grew itself a name in action films. Actions films from Taiwan developed their own specific style. Taiwanese action films have a sense of humor that is very specific to the country and you can tell a film is from Taiwan based purely on directing style. The direction of Taiwanese films has not developed much beyond the old customs of 80’s cinema. Most film industries are still accepting of slow motion, but instant replays are a thing of the past in most countries. Taiwan however still embraces instant replays. Taiwanese action films aim to show you something cool and let you enjoy it, rather than being concerned with telling a deep story.

OldboyDifferent countries focus on different genres. While a country like China or Taiwan focuses on action films as its priority, France focuses on a different genre. France also produces its share of action films, but France has a particular penchant for romance and drama films. Countries can do films in all genres but they tend to zero in on one in particular. China does action, France does romance and drama, England does crime and mystery, Japan and Australia do horror, etc. etc.

Sympathy for Mr. VengeanceSometimes you can tell which country a film comes from based on how they tell the story. Take South Korea and England for example. South Korean films tend to tell incredibly emotional stories with heavy poetic elements. South Korean films such as I Saw the Devil, “Oldboy, and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance tell their stories visually. These films have very little dialogue and the stories are propelled by the striking images that they present to the audience. A great deal of effort and creativity is put into the composition of every shot.

Films coming from England tend to rely on dialogue to tell the story rather than the visuals. Both work perfectly fine for the stories they are trying to tell, but the point is that they are different. The culture of a country influences the media it produces. (More to come on films from England in Part II)

Donnie Yen Double Feature (Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen/Flashpoint)

legend of the fist

Donnie Yen is a well accomplished Hong Kong action star. He has made many acclaimed action films such as Ip Man and Hero. He’s among the ranks of Jackie Chan and Jet Li yet I had never before seen a full Donnie Yen film. I’ve made it my mission to see a handful of Donnie Yen films. I had already seen most of Ip Man before so I decided to start with Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen and then go on to watch Flash Point.

First off is my review of Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen. The title seems very cliche and legend of the fistuninspired. “Legend of the Fist” Very bland and it doesn’t do a whole lot to separate itself from other action movies. However the 2nd half of the title is a bit more interesting. “The Return of Chen Zhen” Chen Zhen is a character that has been in many martial arts movies being played by a number of accomplished martial artists including Jet Li and was first played by Bruce Lee in the Chinese Connection. So Chen Zhen is definitely a character worth noting. The “Legend of the Fist” bit is making more sense now isn’t it? The character has always been associated with a fist, as a trademark.

Donnie Yen has many connections to Bruce Lee. He cites Bruce Lee as an influence, he played Bruce Lee’s teacher in Ip Man, and he has reprized multiple roles previously played by Bruce Lee. He has played Chen Zhen in Legend of the fist as well as the TV series Fist of Fury. Bruce Lee made a movie known in America as Fists of Fury, but the original title was Big Boss. Donnie Yen made a movie called Snow Wolf, but the original title was The New Big Boss.

All these connections make Donnie Yen the obvious choice for the role of Chen Zhen. He even throws in some iconic Bruce Lee high pitched yelling into his fighting. It’s definitely toned down, but it’s still there.

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen opens with one of the coolest action opening scenesequences I’ve seen in a long time. The beginning of the movie has Donnie Yen killing Germans in WWI. They have lots of men and lots of guns. He is just one man, with 3 knives. He sprints and parkours through gun fire and slashes them to pieces in an action sequence that will have you verbally exclaiming.

Now after that incredible opening action sequence, the rest of the film is a bit of a disappointment. It’s definitely not bad, just slower. There are other action scenes, and while they do not surpass the opening fight, they are all still awesome. the only problem is that the connecting bits between action sequences is not incredibly interesting. The film has a decent plot, but it feels the need to reiterate everything that is going on in between each scene.

It’s a shame that the movie peaks with it’s opening scene, as the rest of the movie seems even more slow and monotonous in comparison. The other fights are all legend of the fist 2nd fightsuperbly choreographed and executed. The action is fast and brutal. This is the kind of movie where you wish they swapped a couple of expositional scenes with a few more action sequences.

The final fight at the end of the movie is a little mixed. It begins as Donnie Yen fighting a large group of Japanese soldiers and then boils down to a one on one fight between him and the final villain. The group fight is awesome. Donnie Yen showcases incredible speed and kicks an average of 3.5 people in the face each time he leaves the ground, which is quite often. Unfortunately the one on one fight is a little disappointing. The fight isn’t bad by any means, but it lacks a certain flair, and ends up lowering the final fight.

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen has good action, but terrible pacing. I would almost say that this is the kind of film where you should skip to the good parts. If you watch Legend of the Fist you’ll probably have a good time, but you may be a little bored at parts.

Flash Point (Not to be confused with the sub par TV show of the same name.)flash point poster

Flash Point is not strictly a martial arts movie. It also has it’s fair share of gunplay. At times Flash Point can seem like a John Woo movie, which is a good thing. I got a real Hard Boiled kind of vibe off of Flash Point. There are a number of small similarities between the two films. I wonder if it was an inspiration.

Flash Point, much like Legend of the Fist, opens with a an action scene. In Flash Point the action is very short. It’s only about a minute and a half long, but it sets the tone and style of the movie. It is shot in one continuous dolly shot and looks great.

The next big chunk of the movie sets up the story. The story is actually rather cliche. There’s an undercover cop, a girlfriend in danger, a loose cannon cop who takes the law into his own hands, a bad guy above the law. It’s all been done before. The only slightly different thing is that instead of following the undercover cop whose girlfriend gets kidnapped, we follow his partner played by Donnie Yen. Not many movies do that, most films have you follow the center of the conflict. I think it was a smart move.

Flash Point has an interesting set of characters. The character development is done well and each character has a unique personality, which is something that a lot of action films don’t bother with. At times we follow both the good guys and the bad guys. Wison Yip the director does a very good job with the film. He brings a definite style and tone to the film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. There is a good lighthearted tone that welcomes comedy into the action.donnie yenb

Most of the acting is good, with one really terrible performance that sticks out. There is a woman who plays a cop in an action scene. She has not been in the movie before now, so this is our introduction to her. People start shooting. She’s in cover with another cop. She’s supposed to be either terrified or caught up in the action, but instead she’s smiling away. She is obliviously happy while being shot at, and the movie tries to bring tension when she dies. She get’s killed and it’s supposed to be dramatic and rage fueling, when really, it was her own fault she died, and the audience doesn’t even know her before it happens. I don’t even think she has a name. Just one poorly acted scene. You can’t introduce someone in the same scene you kill them off and expect there to be a dramatic payoff.

The relationship between the undercover cop and his girlfriend is a big part of the movie. The entire final fight scene happens because of them. The problem is that I don’t really buy their relationship. Maybe it’s the writing or maybe they just have poor onscreen chemistry, but I didn’t feel the passion that was supposed to have fueled this suicidal charge at the end.

The action in this film is great. Donnie Yen is also the action director and he brings incredible action sequences to Flash Point. There are some great chase and fight flashpointsequences. Two in particular stand out. The first is a parkour chase through the city that leads to a one on one fight in a market. Both aspects of this scene are awesome and well performed by both men.

The final sequence of the film makes the movie. The best scene in the movie is the two part action scene at the end. Where Legend of the Fist opened strong, Flash Point closed strong. A movie needs to open strong and end even stronger. I think Flash Point succeeded more in this aspect.

The film ends with a two part action sequence. The first part is a John Woo-esque shootout between Donnie Yen and all the bad guys. The shootout is very well done and this is where I  started to notice the very well done camera angles and pans. The camera work may not be important to the casual film viewer, but it does play an important role in the effectiveness of any movie. The shootout showcases some awesome sniper rifle work which again makes me wish that there were more sniperflash point gunfights in movies. True we do have some films about snipers like Shooter or Sniper, but there is always room for more. One of the main villains dies in one of the coolest on screen deaths from any film during this shootout.

Start spoiler * He is blasted into the air and skeet shot several times with the sniper rifle as he falls down onto the roof of a car. Awesome. * End spoiler

After the gunfight it’s down to Donnie Yen and one of the main villains. No guns now just fighting. This fight is incredible. It’s long varied and brutal. The actors take some impressive falls and daring full contact hits. This fight is the highlight of the whole film. I would say that most of the film is not quite there but this final fight makes the movie worth watching.

In closing I would say that neither of these movies are bad at all, but they’re not that great either. They both have great moments, but fail to deliver a consistently great experience throughout. Both films tend to drag, but the action is showstopping. I enjoyed Flash Point more than Legend of the Fist. If you’re going to watch one, then I would say, go with that one.


Ong Bak Movie Review ~ by Sam

Director: Prachya Pinkaew


Ting: Tony Jaa

The title “Ong-Bak” is referring to a stone Buddha head, which is what gives the main character a reason to go on a path of destruction. Someone steals Ong Bak and Tony Jaa, the main actor, needs to retrieve it before the yearly festival or else the village will be cursed. He doesn’t actually want to fight when he has the chance because it is seen as immoral in his village.

The full title is Ong Bak: The Thai warrior the movie as you can probably guess, is Thai made. Supposedly Taiwanese movies have a very particular style of direction and comedy, that can be found here, I guess.

Besides the quest to retrieve the Ong Bak the plot also contains a sub plot of a man who was originally from the village who over a complete story arch re-discovers his pride for his heritage. The main plot really just serves as a way to move from fight to fight and from chase to chase.

The action is handled extremely well. there is a genuine fight club in the movie which serves little other purpose than to add a few extra fights to the movie. The fight club is a location that is visited a few times, and like many great movies when you are done with a location destroy it. The final fight consists of the main character taking down three increasingly difficult enemies and the last completely destroys the entire club. Now that I think about it all of the locations are destroyed after using them, for the most part.

The Writer director also has a co star role and he also serves as the comedic relief. The director really showcases the action and the awesomeness of the protagonist. There is a chase through back alleys that represents this fact. The chase is hilarious as well as awesome, and really shows off the physical prowess and amazing jumping capabilities of the protagonist. I love how the director does the action. There is a little difference that makes a big difference; something amazing will happen, something so cool that you want to rewind it and watch it again and the movie beats me to it with instant replay’s from different angles and slow-motion, sometimes they show the same shot up to 6 times, the movie knows when something is so cool that you want to see it again.

This movie was great, low on plot content, but it was designed to be that. This a great martial arts action movie, that could have started a great f They attempted the franchise but it didn’t do so well. I have not yet seen the 3rd one and I’m not sure that I want to, seeing as the second one was so awful.