Hi folks. Welcome to the most remarkable kung fu movie review ever. Why? Well, for one thing, it almost didn’t happen. It’s true. Y’see my life is basically the equivalent of a beer soaked ashtray right now and I’ve simply been unable to write this damned thing. Actually it’s been a pretty vicious cycle. I sit down with a vague idea of what I’m going to write about (stuff that I normally would be jazzed on, actually) and then all the unresolved trash that has piled up over the last, oh I don’t know, ten years rears it’s particularly ugly fucking head and the whole thing fizzles out after about two bad sentences. How then are you reading this, you ask? Well, due to a little gentle prompting from the capo de Shovel himself (our beloved Jeff Lawrence) and a little bit of a "fuck the dumb stuff" attitude I’ve just decided to go with the flow and see what happens. Sound good to you? I sure hope it does because this is the only trick currently left in my bag.
Well, where should I start after that highly inspiring intro? I know, I’ll start off with one of the few bright spots in the past few weeks. I’m warning you, it ain’t much.
I finally got to see Shaolin Temple III (Martial Arts of Shaolin). This Mainland production, directed by the master Lau Kar-Leung, was officially the last must see Jet Li film for me and it was worth the long wait. It’s an excellent old-school, no-wires kung fu flick and, as you might expect, the mixture of the ever graceful Li, scores of world class Wu Shu artists and one of the genre’s true legends is, at times, awe inspiring. There are moments that simply defy description, including the spectacular finale which is now one of my five or so favorite Li fights. A must see for those crazy folks who think Jet Li is only good for high class wire-fu.
Oh, I’ve definitely got to mention this as it colors my review. The copy I saw was the single worst tape I’ve ever seen in terms of quality. Easily. It was probably a fortieth generation bootleg of an old full-screen English dub, subtitled in Russian. Some of the scenes were so washed out they appeared to have been rendered using only two horribly mismatched shades of gray and a "red" that reminded me almost immediately the putrid special effects gore in Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive. Specifically the lawn mower scene (by the way, can any of you believe Jackson is doing the Lord of the Rings? It’ll almost certainly be better than Ralph Bakshi’s abominable animated adaptation, but still… Jackson? Weird. Anyway, back to the task at hand…) All in all, I might as well have been watching a tape that had been through three cycles in one of those industrial prison-style washing machines filled with boulders. A handicap like that and I still give the movie a hearty, hype-filled recommendation. That’s got to count for something….
While I’m here, anyone wanna spot me a couple hundred thousand dollars, a case of Laphroaig and a plane ticket to Tokyo? It doesn’t have to be right this second…
Failing that, how about Catherine Zeta-Jones’ phone number?
Ahem (slight return)…
Anyway, while on the topic of my Mainland main man, did you know that the official Jet Li website is now open for business? It is and it’s amazing. Really well-designed, much involvement from the man himself and chock full of content, this site is a must-visit for anyone with even a passing interest in the subject. Check it out, drop them a line telling them what a fantastic job they’re doing and while your at it, tell ’em I sent you. The url is http://www.jet-li.com/ (duh.)
Well, since I have no plan for this thing and I’ve got a little momentum going I guess I’ll continue this Jet Li-fest and ruminate a little on the upcoming American release of Jet’s Black Mask. Artisan Entertainment picked up this stylish superhero flick and are planning to drop it into theaters on May 14th (re-edited, dubbed and sporting a new soundtrack from Tommy Boy Music). I can’t vouch for this particular version, but in general Black Mask ranks amongst my top ten from Li and certainly qualifies as one of the more pleasing takes on the superhero genre I’ve yet seen. Batman and Nipples director Joel Schumacher could learn a thing or two from the look and feel of this wonderfully moody film. Also, it features supporting turns from two of the finest actors currently working in Hong Kong, Lau Ching-Wan (Too Many Ways to be Number 1) and Anthony Wong (The Untold Story,) as well as a little taste of possibly the best screen fighter working today, the amazing Xiong Xin-Xin (Hung Yan-Yan). Not too shabby if you ask me.
If that doesn’t sell you how about a little mean-spirited comparison shopping? Okay? Here goes…. You could throw the above elements into a barrel, edit them at random and at the very least the finished product would still be better than Twin Dragons.
I have to ask. What was Dimension thinking?
Speaking of that thing, did you folks know that it was directed by both Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam? Unlikely as it may seem, it was and I can’t imagine a bigger waste of their time and talent than that embarrassingly unfunny Jackie Chan ego-stroker. Sure, I’ll be the first to admit that the fights are generally pretty good (the fight on the yacht is amazing) and the countless cameos of famous Hong Kong directors are fun, but the rest of the film is a phenomenal bore and served as a harbinger of the self-indulgent, lame projects that started to flow out of Jackie with regularity after his last great film Drunken Master II (1994). I mean, it’s a remake of a bad Van Damme movie (Double Impact??– I’ve tried to block it out). No good can come from such an unwholesome beginning, can it?
Wanna know the worst part? It was a benefit for the Hong Kong Director’s Guild. Hard to believe considering the many great directors that call Hong Kong home, but it’s true. I can’t imagine a more un representative film. Please save your money and do a triple feature of Police Story, Prison on Fire and The Blade instead.
I think that’ll do since the scoreboard currently reads lots of content and just a slight hint of stressed-out freak. To be honest the ratio is a lot better than I expected and next month I promise I’ll be normal (well, whatever that means).
This article first appeared in Shovel #13, June 1999.