Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Best Asian Films of 2015

Top 10 Asian Films of 2015 

It's always hard to do a top 10 list of Asian films for a certain year, with release dates varying worldwide. A Japanese film that comes out in Japan in 2014, might not be released in the UK or USA until 2015... If at all. So, allow me some freedom with the release year. Some films on this list might have came out in their home country in 2014. Anyway, on to the list!

10. The Assassin

For my full review of Assassin click here

Hou Hsiao-Hsien's The Assassin is a stunning film. With beautiful costumes, sets and exquisite fight scenes, packed with a wild original soundtrack. Unfortunately the confusing plot and lack of emotion causes the story to drag and almost feel like a chore at times.

Nie Yinniang(Shu Qi) is a deadly female assassin who has been raised and trained as a killer by a nun Jiaxin. After failing to kill her target out of sympathy during a mission, Yinniang is punished by receiving the ultimate test from Jiaxin. She is sent to Weibo to kill the military governor Lord Tian Ji'an(Chang Chen) and send the region in to chaos. This is no easy task as Yinniang was originally arranged to marry Lord Tian before her disappearance.

This sounds like a basic plot, and it should be. But with the story telling and dialogue that HHH uses in his film, the story ends up extremely muddled. Rather than flashbacks, we are treated to more dialogue of characters explaining previous events, which doesn't make the story any clearer.

There are a few great fight scenes in this film. Excellently choreographed. With an interesting style which sometimes is so quick it takes you a second to release who has the upper hand or dealt the last blow. This is not a Kung Fu film, and don't expect House of Flying Daggers.

This is one that I think everyone has to see for themselves and make up their own mind. Many love it. And many hate it. It won best director at Cannes which is a high accomplishment!

9. Yakuza Apocalypse

Takashi Miike goes back to his roots with the Yakuza genre. Only this is no ordinary Yakuza film, this is a Yakuza Vampire Martial Arts Comedy. And it is completely Barking mad!

When Kageyama is bitten by his dying vampire boss, he must get used to his new powers before seeking revenge.

This is one of those films where you have to be on Miike’s wave length to really get it. It's crazy and chaotic but it's also a well made film.

The action is great, some well executed fight scenes. And Mad Dog(The Raid) really shines as a skilled Fighter who disguises himself as a geeky tourist. The main villain, the toughest opponent, the person everyone fears…. Wears a giant frog mascot costume. This really has to be seen to be believed.

A wild fantasy film from Miike, which may not be accepted by everyone. But if you let your guard down and accept the craziness, you are in for a highly entertaining ride.

8. Wild City

Ringo Lam is back with his first feature film in 12 years! It's not his greatest film, but it's a solid entertaining action flick reminiscent of the Golden age of Hong Kong cinema.

A cop-turned-bar owner befriends a drunken woman at closing hours and finds himself pursued by her former lover and the thugs he employs. The chase turns deadly when the bar owner's deadbeat brother and a suitcase full of cash enter the picture.

The streets of Hong Kong have never looked better in Ringo’s City Trilogy. Stylishly shot with beautiful cityscape backgrounds, visually Wild City is a treat for the eyes. And for something to keep your eyes on the screen, can you spot the giant UK boyband poster in the background of a serious fight scene?

Louis Koo and Shawn Yue are both excellent leads, and believable as half brothers. Koo always brings the charm and has great star appeal. While Yue is still fresh and cool as a representative of a modern Hong Konger.

Full of great action, from chase scenes, to fight scenes, to shoot outs and some stellar car chases which are equally gripping and stunning.

One of the great Hong Kong directors is back, not with the loudest bang we had hoped for, but a bang nonetheless. And now we can be optimistic in what Ringo’s next film will be.

7. Assassination

The latest big blockbuster hit to come out of South Korea, becoming the 8th highest grossing film in Korean cinema history.

Assassination is a highly enjoyable espionage action film directed and co-written by Choi Dong-hoon who gave us 2012’s big hit The Thieves.

While Korea is occupied by the Japanese Army in 1933, the resistance plans to kill the Japanese Commander. But their plan is threatened by a traitor within their group and also the enemies' forces are hunting them down.

A fun historical drama that has elements of a western film with a bit of John Woo chucked in. Fantastic action from the stylish shoot outs to car chases. The costumes, sets and locations are all excellent in painting the picture of 1930’s Korea.

The story can be somewhat complex as it unravels. Full of twists, some you see coming and some that surprise you. Double crosses and Triple crosses are present so be sure to give this film your undivided attention.

The only really downfall is the length, at 2 hours and 20 minutes it felt a little bloated and could have done with about 15 minutes taken off.

A very fun enjoyable film which will satisfy the fans of Korean cinema and the fans of Hollywood period adventure films.

6. SPL 2

A great new Hong Kong action film starring Wu Jing, Tony Jaa and Max Zhang.
A follow up to the 2005 hit film SPL(released Internationally as Kill Zone), this is a sequel in name only.

A undercover cop attempts to find the mastermind of a drug syndicate. When his cover is blown, he winds up in a Thai prison. Surprisingly, he is a bone marrow match for a guard's daughter.

The storyline can be a bit confusing, and gets a bit muddled near the end. But that takes a back seat to the action, which is superb.

Think of the classic SPL fight scenes but add in a bit of The Raid and you'll know what you are in for. Some great bone crunching fight scenes with some in your face brutality. A highlight is a massive prison riot with Kit (Wu Jing) trying to get a phone signal while taking on Jaa!

The story may drag a little but it's worth it for the insane fight at the end, which might get a little silly, but it is fantastic. One of the better Hong Kong action films of recent years, highly entertaining.

5. Saving Mr Wu

A surprisingly sharp, intelligent thriller from China. Directed by Ding Sheng who brought us The excellent Little Big Soldier and Police Story 2013 and starring Andy Lau and Liu Ye.

Saving Mr Wu is based on the real case of a TV actor Wu Ruofu being kidnapped and held for ransom.

Police race against time after criminals posing as cops kidnap a Hong Kong movie star (Andy Lau) and threaten to kill him.

Told in an interesting way with flash backs and shot handheld, this is a fun fast paced thriller which never gets dull.
Andy Lau basically plays himself, the character Wu has been changed to suit Lau more, and it works well with some charming moments. Andy again shows just how great an actor he is in this one.

But it's Qianyuan Wang that steals the show. Wang plays the villain, the brains of the operation, the main guy behind the kidnapping. And he is superb! He plays the psychopath brilliantly and his last scenes are chilling.

Very enjoyable film which probably hasn't received the recognition it deserves.

4. 100 Yen Love

100 Yen Love is an independent Japanese sports drama. Directed by Masaharu Take and starring the wonderful Sakura Ando(Love Exposure).

Ichiko (Sakura Ando) lives at her parents' home. She rarely hangs out with other people. Ichiko and her sister's relationship goes bad, causing Ichiko to move out and live alone. What brings happiness to Ichiko is to watch a middle-aged boxer (Hirofumi Arai) practice at a boxing gym. The boxing gym is located between the 100 yen shop where she works and her home.

The real selling point of this film is the lead actress, Sakura Ando. She delivers a stunning physical performance as a 32 year old slacker who discovers herself through boxing and embarks on a drastic life journey.

100 Yen Love isn't full of clichés and doesn't play similar to other big sports and boxing dramas. The story and characters develop in such a way that you never quite know where the story is going and make the result hard to guess.

A unique blend of drama, tears and comedy will have you hooked on this acclaimed Japanese film which certainly packs a punch.  

3. Black Coal, Thin Ice

Released in 2014 but it's UK cinema release was 2015.

A very dark Detective thriller, Black Coal, Thin Ice. A great mainland Chinese film which surprisingly made it past their censors.

An ex cop and his ex partner decide to follow up on investigation of a series of murders that ended their careers and shamed them, when identical murders begin again.

Fast paced Noir filled with twists and turns and some truly gobsmacking shocking moments. Excellent performances from all the leads especially Gwei Lun-Mei who is really incredible.

Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. Black Coal, Thin Ice is actually getting better reactions from the critics than the viewers. 

Brilliant film! Tense and exciting start to finish.

2. Veteran

Veteran went on to become a huge hit for South Korea in 2015, and ended up making it as the 3rd all-time highest grossing film in South Korean cinema history.

Detective Seo Do-cheol is tough and merciless when it comes to crime. But while investigating a high-profile case, Seo finds out that arrogant young millionaire Jo Tae-oh the third-generation heir to powerful conglomerate Sinjin Group is pulling some strings behind the scenes. However, no matter how rigorously Seo's team pursues him, Jo always escapes with the help of his wealth and connections.

Made by successful director Ryoo Seung-wan who gave us hits such as Crying Fist, The City of Violence, Arahan and The Berlin File and starring Hwang Jung-min(A Bittersweet Life/A Man Who Was Superman) and Yoo Ah-in(Antique/Tough As Iron).

Veteran is a great Action Comedy which is reminiscent of some Koreans films from the late 90s and early 2000s. It's a solid flick helped along by the lead performances. Seo Do-Cheol is a great badass Detective who is likeable and lights up his screen with his excellent fight scenes. And Jo Tae-oh is one of the most memorable film villains I have seen for a while, he is pure evil and completely smug which will have you eagerly waiting for him to get what he deserves.

Extremely fun film!

1. Ip Man 3

Donnie Yen is back as Master Ip, the role which really propelled him globally as a mainstream martial arts star. Director Wilson Yip returns to team with Donnie for their final Ip Man installment.

When a band of brutal gangsters led by a crooked property developer make a play to take over the city, Master Ip is forced to take a stand.

Ip Man is the grandmaster of Wing Chun martial arts. But if you aren't aware of this then go watch Ip Man 1 and 2 immediately.

Legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping takes over from Sammo Hung who choreographed the previous 2. This doesn't make a drastic change in the fighting style as it comes off very similar and with many returning signatures such as the quick chain punches.

Ip Man 3 is first and foremost a Martial Arts film. And it definitely delivers with fantastic Kung Fu and some of the best fight scenes you will see all year. There is a fight in a lift against a Muay Thai fighter which is exhilarating!

But, the final fight scene against Max Zhang(The Grandmaster/SPL II) steals the show here. Not only is it the best fight scene in the film, but it's on the best in the Ip Man series. The style, the moves, the weapons, the speed. It's hard to think of any recent martial art scenes that are so crisp and accurate.

A large bulk of the story focuses on Ip Man’s relationship with his wife Cheung Sing-wing(Lynn Hung). Previously she hasn't had a large role and more just watched from the sidelines. But in Ip Man 3 the pair have to deal with something which brings them closer together and gives the film more of an emotional boost than the previous outings.

Mike Tyson also delivers a great role as a villain. Not the best actor, but he suits this role very well. And the fight scene is handled nicely with Tyson using his powerful punches for an up close hard hitting fight.

Fantastic film. Better than Ip Man 2 but not as good as the first. But that's still good enough to make it my top Asian film of the year.

So there we have it, my top 10 of the year. Some surprises in there! And some which have probabley been left out. There are also some I haven't got to see yet and some haven't been released English friendly. So let me know if I am missing anything!

Friday, 8 January 2016

Shaw Brothers Season on Film 4 (UK) January to February

Great news martial arts fans! Film 4 is having a Shaw Brothers Season and showing a different Kung Fu film each Friday for 4 weeks in a row!

Click here for more details

And it just so happens to be 4 of the best Shaw Brother's films of all time! Great selection!

In best to worst order I'd rank them:
King Boxer
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
One Armed Swordsman
Come Drink With Me

But they are all brilliant and very important films. Essential viewing! Check them out.

And Buddha bless you.