Dragon Dynasty is onto something good: Asian action movies with and without martial arts – and even non-Asian martial arts movies. D.O.A.: Dead Or alive is an unlikely hybrid of Charlie’s Angels and Enter The Dragon; The City of Violence is the latest action movie from Korea’s Ryoo Seung-wan, whose work is being compared to Quentin Tarantino; and Hard Boiled – the classic John Woo cop drama. Whether you’re looking for flashy fun or action with substance, these movies bring it!
D.O.A. – Dead Or Alive
Most critics wrote off D.O.A. as junk, even though it brought a McG/Charlie’s Angels sensibility to the “invitation only” deadly tournament sub-genre of martial arts movies – like there’s something fundamentally wrong with watching scantily cad females kick the crap out of men, or play beach volleyball. Well, they’re wrong! At least, they’re partly wrong…
D.O.A.: Dead Or Alive is based on the video game of the same name, which would normally count as three strikes against it. Thing is, it takes the fighters from the film, gives them just enough backstory to keep them from all being the same and then sticks them in that classic tournament structure. Cory Yuen [The Transporter] is the director and, if anyone knows martial arts movies, it’s him.
Each of the characters comes to the tournament via a different route. Kasumi [Devon Aoki], for example, is a princess who leaves her family to find her brother [Ryu Hayabus, played by Kane Kosugi, who disappeared after he was invited to the previous year’s tournament] and is followed by the assassin, Ayane [Natassia Malthe] who has been assigned to kill her for leaving.
Christie Allen [Holly Valance] is a cat burglar who’s run into a bit of a sticky wicket and forced to flee a potentially huge grab; Tina Armstrong [Jaime Pressley] is a pro wrestler who seeks to get out from under the shadow of her father, wrestling legend Bass Armstrong [Kevin Nash], and Helena Douglas [Sarah Carter] is the daughter of tournament promoter Donovan’s [Eric Roberts] late partner. Helena stumbles onto Donovan’s plan to steal the fighters’ abilities and make himself an invincible fighting machine and the four women have to find a way to stop him.
The action is fast and furious and the women are, in fact, scantily clad for the better part of the movie. The martial arts choreography is excellent [Yuen provided the choreography as well as directing the film]; the sets are surprisingly cool, and the whole thing zips by in an economical eighty-six [!] minutes.
D.O.A.: Dead Or Alive is fluff. It literally is a female Enter the Dragon, but played more for humor than drama. The acting is adequate – but really doesn’t need to be anything more. Yuen’s direction keeps things moving, and gets the maximum bang out of both the fights and the laughs. It’s not great art but it’s not [quite] softcore porn, either – it’s in that nebulous area in between. You may not ever watch it again, but you’ll probably enjoy it once [even if you might not want to admit it…].
Features: an eleven-minute featurette, East Meets West: Behind the Action of D.O.A., and the Theatrical Trailer.
Grade: D.O.A.: Dead Or Alive – C+
Grade: Features – D
Final Grade: C
The City of Violence: Two-Disc Ultimate Edition
Seung-wan Ryoo has been steadily building a reputation as Korea’s best action director. The City of Violence is the movie that he and his martial arts director, Doo-hung Jung always wanted to make. It’s a tale of five friends who bond in high school and then go their separate ways, returning to their hometown only when one of them is murdered.
Like the best action movies, the action is structured out of the characters. When his friend, Wang-jae [Kil-Kang Ahn] is murdered, detective Tae-su [Jung Doo-hung] returns home for the funeral – where he encounters his old friends, Pil-ho [Beom-su Lee], Dong-hwan [Seok-yong Jeong] and Seok-hwan [Seung-wan Ryoo]. Tae-su and Seok-hwan search for an answer as to why their friend should’ve been killed and their investigations lead to a land development deal being brokered by Pil-ho.
In a genre where revenge is a highly regarded and honorable motivation for a character – and where revenge is usually seen as generating a sense of satisfaction and liberation – The City of Violence utilizes the characters of Tae-su and Seok-hwan to tell a story that suggests the opposite might be true – revenge may be selfish and deadly.
It is interesting that, in order for us to buy all the amazing action set pieces in The city of violence, we first have to be able to relate to the characters. Despite their inexperience as actors, director Seung-wan and martial arts director Doo-hung bring many colors to their characters. Doo-hung’s world-weary detective is lightened by an infectious grin and impish sense of humor. Seung-wan’s “younger brother” may torment his older brother for being dim, but he also shows compassion when it comes to their mother’s sixtieth birthday.
The actual fighting is stunning. Whether taking on a quartet of street gangs [one in baseball uniforms emblazoned Warriors!], or working their way through four layers of protection to face Wang-jae’s killer, the sheer artistry of the choreography is enough to render one breathless. When you consider that all the stuntwork is being performed by the leads and the members of the Seoul Action School [Korea’s only school for developing action stars and stuntmen], you have to be impressed with the level work being done.
The biggest – and most jaw-dropping – set piece is the finale, which finds Tae-su and Seok-hwan running a gauntlet of dozens of bodyguards/thugs to get to the killer. First, they face dozens of thugs in a closed courtyard armed only with wooden swords. Next they have to face almost as many while trying to cross a narrow bridge. Then comes what looks to be a modest tearoom, but as a series of doors slam open, we see it’s a long, narrow corridor – filled with another bunch of thugs.
Finally, battered, bleeding and bruised – not to mention exhausted – the two break into the VIP room where the killer has been enjoys the fruits of his murderous labors. Now there are only thugs left, but these four [three men and a woman] are better than all the previous thugs combined!
Like many action flicks, injuries were sustained during shooting. When Seung-wan tears his cruciate ligament, it comes from a moment that was used in the movie – as does a scene in which a stuntman is hit in the head by a flying bicycle. If the action looks real, it’s because Doo-hung’s choreography looks real – and it’s certainly real enough to cause injury to an unwary performer who’s just a tenth of a second too slow.
When I think of The City of Violence, with its blend of character and martial arts mayhem, words like exhilarating, or amazing come readily to mind. It’s one of those films for which the word “awesome” is actually appropriate – the action, coming as it does, from the characters, is awe-inspiring. The City of Violence is a must for any serious fan of Asian action movies. It is even more so when you consider that without any big name stars, the film was made on a very low budget!
Features include: Disc One: Director’s Commentary [sub-titled]; Trailer Gallery [original teaser and Korean Theatrical Trailer; Dragon Dynasty Promo], and Bloopers Reel; Disc Two: Pre-Production [five featurettes]: The Evolution of Action; Creating emotive Action, with Action Director and Star Jung Doo-hung; The City of Violence: Development and Pre-Production; The Art of War – Conceptual Designs; Battle Plans: Technical Tests and Pre-Training; Production five featurettes]: Performance Management: Interviews With the Cast of The City of Violence; Blow-By-Blow: A Behind-the-Scenes Exploration of Action Scenes of The City of Violence; Two Against The Rest: The Making of The City of Violence; A Walk on the Wild Side, and Council of War: A Commentary on the Movie’s Action Scenes with Action director Jung Doo-hung.
Grade: The City of Violence – A
Grade: Features – A+
Final Grade: A
Hard Boiled: Two-Disc Ultimate Edition
John Woo’s Hard Boiled is one of the greatest action films of all time. If you’ve seen Hot Fuzz, you’ll recognize at least one of the film’s signature moves. In Hot Fuzz, when PC Butterman [Nick Frost] asks gung ho Sergeant Nicholas Angel if he’s ever fired two guns while leaping through the air – and when angel does just that in the film’s blazing finale – the film’s writers are referencing Tequila’s [Chow Yun-Fat] signature move from Hard Boiled!
John Woo began his directing career working on comedies [about which, the less said the better], before discovering he had a knack for action. One of his earliest films, Last Hurrah For Chivalry, shows his knack for filming martial arts while maintaining character and a solid plot. Between Chivalry and Hard Boiled, Woo directed thirteen films, including action classics A Better Tomorrow I & II, The Killer and Once a Thief.
Hard Boiled is a classic Hong Kong revenge flick with a hard-bitten cop named Tequila as its protagonist. When his partner is killed by gun smugglers, he resolves to bring them down. Unfortunately, he is out manned and outgunned – only the surreptitious actions of an undercover cop working within the gun running Triad saves him. He forms an alliance with that cop, Tony [Tony Leung] and the blood begins to flow.
Woo’s story, scripted by Barry Wong, introduces Tequila as he plays sax in a bar. Clearly, he’s more at home there than anywhere else – even if subsequent events show that he has a knack for mayhem. The bartender, Mr. Woo, seems to be his sole friend and confidante away from work [he’s also played by John Woo].
With just that one aspect of the character, Woo breaks ground, jazz not being the most popular form of music in Hong Kong at the time. By being a jazz fan and musician, Tequila becomes unique before he ever fires a gun. Cow Yun-Fat’s talent and charisma make this aspect of the character utterly believable.
Thus, when things go bad and the action begins in earnest, we are already on Tequila’s side. There’s no forced humor [though there is humor, and wit] to make us laugh with [or at] the character, so our support feels natural. As a result, when Woo’s incredible action set pieces begin, we aren’t just amazed by the action, we have a clear and certain stake in the outcome for Tequila. It’s a bravura piece of work from all concerned.
And, oh, yes… if you thought the scenes of Clive Owens carrying a baby while shooting bad guys in Shoot ‘em Up looked familiar, you’ll see something very similar here.
Features include: Disc One: Audio Commentary by Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey
Logan; Disc Two: A Baptism of Fire: A Featurette With Iconic Director John Woo; Interview Gallery [Partner In Crime: An Interview With Terrence Chang; Art Imitates Life: An Interview with Co-Star Philip Chan, and Mad Dog Bites Again: An Interview With Leading Villain Kwok Choi]; Hard Boiled Location Guide [a tour of locations from the film]; Trailer Gallery [Hong Kong Theatrical Trailer; U.S. Promotional Trailer], and Stranglehold Video Game Mini-Making-Of [Tequila comes to video games].
Grade: Hard Boiled – A+
Grade: Features – A
Final Grade: A+
Eclipse Review Posted by Sheldon Wiebe
Originally Posted on 09/13/07