Hey folks, Harry here with a great set of reviews that set to remind of the 3 coolest titles coming out of Asia (not counting Korea). Of the 3, the only one that I've seen is TOM YUM GOONG - which I absolutely loved many times more than RyougaSaotome. But then, I haven't seen NEGADON and SHA PO LANG yet. And I've heard nothing but phenomenal word of mouth on those two. Here ya go...
Hey there guys, RyougaSaotome here with a set of very
different film reviews. First up is the short film by
Jun Awazu, Negadon.
In the past few years, the kaiju fandom has really taken a hit. Yearly entries of Godzilla have hurt the screen giants reputation, and as much as I loved Godzilla Final Wars, that too also damaged the likely hood of Toho taking anymore chances with that franchise in the near future. Gamera is making a come back with The Littlest Hero's due in only a few months. Otherwise however, Kaiju-eiga is a genre that is severely lacking in creativity right now. Leave it then, to a relative unknown director to come forth, and bring back hope to the old style of film making.
Created entirely from Computer Animation, Negadon is a throwback film to the golden age of scifi in Japan, back in the sixties and late fifties. The story chronicles a scientist, Dr. Narasaki, and his attempts to find redemption after the accidental death of his daughter, during a test of his robot named Miroku. Since then, he's been unable to confront himself, or his giant robot, out of guilt over what happened that fateful day. Meanwhile, a freighter from Mars (Mars is made habitable through a long arduous process) crash lands in Tokyo, releasing a deadly monster named Negadon. The military attacks the massive beast, but to no avail. Finally, Dr. Narasaki sees that he's the only one who can stop the kaiju, and he returns to the docking bay where Miroku resides. He pilots the robot for the first, and last time, in a heated duel with space monster Negadon, resulting in a flashy, emotional ending.
Though the film is only 25 minutes long, Jun Awazu demonstrates that length doesn't matter when the story-telling is so good. I was solely expecting 25 minutes of pretty explosions, and some goofy human drama, but Awazu raises Negadon beyond that, by making Dr. Narasaki a sympathetic character, and giving him a back story that is extremely tragic. Thus, when he pilots his robot, it actually means something. The voice acting is satisfactory in all respects, and manages to never become too melodramatic.
If anything however, Negadon reveals that there are some absolutely amazing CG artists in Japan. Negadon is a visual feast for the eyes in every respect. Every scene, every little detail, and every texture is so fine tuned, there were points where I almost believed that I was watching a live action film. You can film the love and care that went into Negadon's production every minute in the movie. Even the music is crafted in a way that, while not orchestral, very much brings back memories of sitting on Saturday mornings and watching the latest Toho scifi film. In fact, if I had one complaint, it's that Negadon should have been an hour longer. I would have loved to see more of this universe, and more of the characters within it. While it's perfect as a short film, I could see it working as a full length one as well.
If one thing is for certain, it's that director Jun Awazu has definitely carved his own niche in the kaiju/tokusatsu genre. And thanks to Central Park Media, more people will be able to enjoy this gorgeous and emotional in their homes.
TOM YUM GOONG
For the sake of not ending this train of reviews on a sour note, I'll review Tom Yum Goong next.
I loved Ong Bak. I thought it was a macho as hell movie that didn't make any qualms about beating the shit out of it's hapless stunt men, or the star, Tony Ja. It was certainly a showcase for Tony ja's amazing fighting skills, and while the story was corny, and the acting as well, it sufficed because it never tried to be any better than the sum of it's parts. The stunt teams next entry into film, Born to Fight, was a below average film, that was entertaining because of it's wildly spectacular stunts, and hard hitting...well...uh...hits. Tony Ja is certainly an up and coming action star, as his Muay Thai boxing is extremely crisp, even if his acting isn't. He just needs the right forum with which to display his skills in a relevant way. Tom Yum Goong is not that way.
The story goes something like this: a boy growing up in Thailand lives in a village where the elephant is sacred. One day two elephants that he grew up with are kidnapped and taken away, to Australia. In a heat of passion, he quickly pursues the kidnappers, in an attempt to retake his dear friends. What follows after this is a healthy sum of action, and some very drawn out scenes of poorly spoken dialog, English and Thai.
There are many bad martial arts films in on shelves these days. Fortunately for all of us, 90% of the movies are still enjoyable because they never take themselves too seriously. This is where Tom Yum Goong makes a fatal mistake. The movie tries to make the viewer care about the two elephants, but we never spend enough time with them to care. They have no character to them. They're as lifeless as the Ong Bak head in Ong Bak, if not more because these two animals are actually supposed to get some sort of reaction out of us. They just stand around for a while, disappear for about fifty minutes, reappear at the end, and that's it (Excluding the hilarious moment when the huge white guy throws the baby elephant through a window, and it survives). Tony Ja's character probably has about ten lines, mostly consisting of "WHERE IS MY ELEPHANT!", and "WHERE THE HELL IS MY ELEPHANT!".
There is a decent amount of fighting in the movie, but it's a mixed bag. Some scenes have some excellent choreography, while others are just completely boring and dull. An example of this is the beautifully shot fight scene in the spiral stairs building. The camera doesn't cut away for about seven minutes as Tony Ja climbs up the building, and while the shooting is terrific, the action is poorly organized and you can tell the long shot is taking it's toll on Ja. I still give them kudo's though for even trying such a ridiculous shot in the first place, but it doesn't work and it eventually gets boring.
There are a couple of stand out fight scenes in Tom Yum Goong however, and the first comes from a 20 on 1 assault in a Warehouse with motor bikes, and roller blades. it's interesting, and while not the best ever put to film, it certainly kept my attention. The other fight that deserves notice, is the one that occurs between Lateef (Of Zero Gravity fame. ZGStunts.Com), and Tony Ja. Lateef's refined Capoeira style is a great match for Ja's Muay Thai, and it's a very fast paced and breathtaking fight that should have went on longer in my opinion. It easily stole the show, and I'm hoping to see this duel happen again in the future.
Overall, I wasn't really disappointed with Tom Yum Goong, because after reading all the press before hand, it sounded like it was a step back from Ong Bak. The filmmakers tried to take to the Ong Bak formula, and add more to it, but ultimately that's the reason the film suffers. They try to make you care, but it's not the type of movie where that's what you should be thinking about. It takes itself too seriously, and fails for it. Tony Ja is still an amazing fighter, but he needs a movie that's going to really showcase his abilities, as opposed to being merely a demo reel for him.
SHA PO LANG
My Final review, is for a movie that sort of snuck up on me, and slapped me on the back of the head. it's another martial arts film... but it's in another league all it's own.
Hong Kong film has been taking a nose dive as of late, and it's really unfortunate consider it's the same industry that brought about such classics as Internal Affairs et all. Yet every now and then, there's a flash of brilliance amidst all the garbage. Sha Po Lang is not just a flash of brilliance, it's a beacon of hope for Hong Kong style film making, and the return of martial arts extraordinaire, Donnie Yen.
Sha, Po, and Lang are all different Chinese constellations, that supposedly represent destruction, conflict, and greed respectively. This is the theme of the film in that each of the three main actors characterizes one of these constellations. And when all three come together, the results are violent, and explosive. Wang Po (Played by Sammo Hung) is an underground crime boss, who is quickly taking over the city, piece by piece. In the Police Department, there is a task force that is dedicated to bringing this man down. Led by Inspector Chan (Simon Yam), the task force makes it their goal to bring Wang Po's crimes to light, of which there are many. Inspector Chan's is the Godfather of a child who lost her parents when Wang Po silenced two witnesses of a crime. Since then, Chan and Wang Po have been at war, but Chan has never succeeded in bringing the man to justice. Unfortunately for him, he's running out of time, as he is diagnosed with having a brain tumor that is impossible to remove. His replacement, Inspector Ma (Played by Donnie Yen) is introduced as an incredible fighter. However, things complicate when Ma discovers that Chan will go to any lengths to bring Wang Po in, even if it means using illegal methods. Ma doesn't agree with this, even though Inspector Chan and his squad are doing it for the greater good. Hence the conflict between the three constellations begins. All of this takes place on Father's day.
Sha Po Lang's story, while common to Cop drama's these days, is elevated because of the keen writing, and shooting that is achieved. the dialog is right on the mark 99% of the time, and each actor plays their roles seriously, and without slip. This is not a humorous film at all. I've personally never seen Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung play such straight roles. Yet they do an amazing job with it, as does the rest of the cast. Everyone chews up the scenery, and it reflects onscreen. The colors are vibrant, and the cinematography is beautiful. Wilson Yip has done a great job framing each shot, making it eye candy.
Donnie Yen has been out of the acting loop for some time now. He's said in several interviews that he loves to direct, and he also loves to choreograph. Thankfully here, Donnie makes a return to film in grand style. Not only did he choreograph all the fight scenes of the movie, but he's also one of the three stars (Hah! Pun). Ma really comes off as a dedicated cop, yet one who is also troubled by the system which prohibits them from bringing in the guilty, even when the evidence is satisfactory. By the end of Sha Po Lang, he is a changed man, and his final acts enforce this.
Sammo Hung doesn't get as much credit as he deserves in America. He's an outstanding martial artist, and the fact that his size doesn't restrict him, is a testament to his abilities and natural talent. He's also one hell of an actor, as demonstrated here. He plays Wang Po, the gangster boss, but it is not as easily spelled out as that. He has a child, and wife, both of whom he cares deeply about. The film has several scenes where he's seen calling his wife to ask about the new baby they just had together, and it's hard to ever truly hate him because although he's vicious as a crime boss, he's a loving father and husband. when he's a bad ass however, he's truly a bad ass, and Hung does an admirable job showing this in his facial expressions, and in general the way he handles himself.
The third star Inspector Chan, is probably the most complicated of the three. He's spent his entire career trying to take down Wang Po, but every time he's had him within his grasp, Po would use his lawyers to bail him out. Chan wants to be able to take care of his god-daughter, but even he knows he won't live long enough to raise her. His squad is devastated by the news of his tumor, but they try to keep that away from him, remaining strong till the bitter end. Simon Yam proves that he's one of the leading actors in Hong Kong. He holds himself with an air of uncertainty through the film, and when his team starts to be killed off one by one, the viewer can see the anguish and guilt on his face as he receives the phone calls.
Yet at the core of all this depth, Sha Po Lang is still an action film. But does it deliver? Indeed it does. The fight scenes don't start to kick in until about half way into the movie, but when they do, the movie never turns back. In the first half, there are some small teasers at what's to come (Such as when Inspector Ma punches a man so hard, he becomes mentally disabled), but once Jet (Played by Jing Wu) enters the forray, things get bloody messy. Jing Wu has certainly going to be a martial artist to watch in the future. His fight with Donnie Yen is probably one of the most breathtaking ever put to screen. They really go at it for five minutes, and each hit can be felt. It's been said that Yen and Wu's fight was largely improvised, and they were merely instructed to just go at each other. I've read elsewhere that they're thinking of making an SPL prequel, just so that Jing Wu can get more screen time as Jet. I'm certainly hoping and looking forward to that.
The other notable fight, is Donnie Yen vs Sammo Hung. For a martial arts fan, this fight is just as big as seeing Jackie Chan vs Jet Li. Or Jet Li vs Donnie Yen. These are two big martial artists, going at each other, and the screen blazes with their presence. It's not as simple as them merely punching and kicking each other. Rather, there's some wrestling thrown in the mix, some kungfu, and some street fighting. Donnie Yen has done the best choreography of his career with this fight, and that of Jet vs Ma, and it's going to be hard for him to top it in the future. Certainly the lack of wires helped to keep the realistic/ gritty image of the film. This is no Hero. This is a hard hitting story where action merely serves to progress the story, not the other way around.
Sha Po Lang is certainly a film that needs to be seen by as many people as possible. It's a thought out, excellently cut film that never lingers for a moment to long, and never loses the hold it has on it's viewers. Simon Yam has set the bar for future Hong Kong filmmakers. Now it's up to them to try and top it.
Alright, hope you enjoyed!