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Stars: Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chow Yan Fat, Chang Pei Pei
MA rating: two scenes-4.7; most of the film: no rating (0)

I have watched this film multiple times, on big screen and now on small screen (love those bootlegs).

Because of the tremendous hype and awards that this film has received, I felt it necessary to weigh in with a thorough review that reflects not only my strong feelings, but also the thoughts of serious Chinese film watchers and martial arts practitioners with whom I have discussed the movie at length.

This film is overrated and not deserving of the universal acclaim it has received. It tries to do a lot, accomplishes some things, but does not do any one thing superbly. It is not, as some idiot critics have preposterously swooned, "the Best Film Ever Made".

It is a "bag of wind" that benefits from the popularity of Ang Lee, Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yan Fat among western viewers and critics, most of whom are tragically uninformed about the genre and the history of the genre. Eye candy quotient from Zhang Zi Yi is a distraction that adds to the fascination among western audiences. (Additional evidence of a commercial feeding frenzy: a soundtrack by Yo Yo Ma and a theme song by Coco Lee, who is aggressively lobbying to be the Asian Christina Aguilera.)

People who are well acquainted with "flying people" movies and martial arts cinema probably wonder what the fuss is about. I expected sweeping romance, action and drama and came away feeling "nothing special".

In general, it is not a pure martial arts film, nor should it be judged as one. It is closer to an "art" film, but doesn't even hold up to that measure. The cinematography, while good in spots, is not spectacular. It is not a particularly poetic, mystical, romantic nor passionate. There is a great deal of talking and explanation and dead spots. It is a "flying people" film with two decent martial arts sequences and a lot of hot air.

Storywise, is a meandering and quite conventional story based on a standard wu xia (mo hop) novel by Wang Du Lu. It meanders and lurches along the way a typical Hong Kong TV flying people series. But it is even less interesting and more ponderous. Too many characters (lack of focus). Breaks in the story. Lack of action. 

Ang chose to focus the story on the women (thus, critical patterings about a Chinese version of "Sense and Sensibility"), In my opinion, the lack of strong and interesting male characters dilutes the drama entirely.I do not consider the Chow nor the bandit characters well developed. These foils for the women were cruical in establishing the emotional backgrounds of the women.

The finale is quick, extremely disappointing and almost laughable, considering the arduous buildup.

There is an extremely annoying and seemingly endless "flashback" scene in which Zhang goes off into a desert romance with the uninteresting and charmless bandit boy character. This entire portion of the film, which should have been left on the editing room floor, is bad enough to flush the entire film down the toilet. The incessant use of the elements from this "romance" (the comb, the bad poetry,etc.) is vomit-inducing.

Action: The bulk of the film's action is expensively done "wire/ special effects fu" and nothing but. Yuen Woo Ping has sold his soul to "Matrix" wire. Flying, flying over rooftops, flying everywhere. Magic? Not for anyone who's seen flying people movies. In fact, the flying here is less interesting than flying in cheaper productions.

Two duels between Michelle and Zhang are good, but wire enhanced. The first, the
opening duel in the dark, features very fast, intricately choreographed wu-shu influenced movie kickboxing. The second sequence is a wu shu weapons fest (sword, hook sword, spear) which is also excellent. Michelle's performance does not exceed the level of her past films, but she is awfully good here. Zhang, who is like Michelle, dancing-trained and martial arts-coached (byYuen), is surprisingly agile. There is a big question as to how much wire (and stunt stand-in) was involved.

Note: These two scenes, when seen on a small screen without the distraction of big sound effects, are less impressive (thus my downgrade from a 5 to a 4.7).

The true achilles heel of the movie is Chow Yan Fat. He simple CANNOT FIGHT and none of Yuen's trickery disguises this. His attempt at "dash and panache" (Jet Li-like one handed Wong Fei Hung sweep) is laughable. Michelle can clearly wipe the floor with Chow, which is pitiful because Chow is supposed to play the sword master of sword masters. (If Jet Li had been cast in the role, things might have been different.) The rest of the cast is nothing special at all.

The much ballyhooed duel on the tree tops was silliness. Looked like two people falling through branches. The popular tea house battle (Zhang vs. the army) was predictable, heavily wired and greatly reminiscent of "Drunken Master II".

At times Ang brings the camera so close to the action so you can't get a good sense for what it happening.Perhaps intentionally.  Ang did not stock the cast with true Chinese martial arts experts. Too bad.

Acting: Standard performances from all cast members except for Michelle Yeoh, who manages to squeeze a tad out more emotion out of her facial expressions than normal. Chow mumbles stoically. I felt no particular passion from the dynamic between the characters. Zhang pouts, slams around, acts like a girl brat. She is unlikeble from beginning to end.

Script: Not surprisingly, western critics have convinced themselves that the script contains emotional content---content that does not exist. Upon multiple viewings, the script was garden variety, if that. Boring, yes. Hokey, in spots.

Cinematography: Critics swoon that the film "captured the soul of China". Unlike historical epics such as "Romance of Book and Sword", it does nothing of the sort. The mainland Chinese locations are not fresh. (Gee, how many hundreds of times have we seen the desert and the Forbidden City?). They come across (for some reason) to look like "fantasy China" rather than "real China" (Wudangshan, Forbidden City, etc. do not need dressing up). None of the scenes feel as big nor as sweeping as they should. The sets look fabricated and sanitized---almost like a set from Mortal Kombat. Ang seems unable to let China be what it is, just as he was unwilling to let the action go un-wired and un-enhanced.

Bottom line? Snooze. Flying people films have been around since the 1960s. For critics to claim that Ang Lee has not transcended the genre is an insult to the many film makers that he has merely emulated and imitated this one time. It is also disrespectful of the pioneers of martial arts cinema---from Bruce Lee to Sammo Hung and Lau Kar Leung to Jet Li and
Donnie Yen---to pronounce it to be "the greatest martial arts film of all time"

I can only say that casual flying people fans might enjoy it anyway. But if you've seen the likes of "Swordsman" (I and II), "Dragon Gate Inn", "Zu/Warriors from Magic Mountain", "Fiery Dragon Kid", "Moon Warriors", "Kung Fu Cult Master", "Once Upon A Time In China" (which I consider a fine example of wire flying), etc. etc. you will not be blown away.

Rumor has it that Jet Li was slated to play the Chow character but stormed off, refusing to participate. He did himself a tremendous favor.

Stars: Chiu Man Cheuk, Annie Cheong. MA rating: quantity-3, quality-4.5

Sleazy Hong Kong rape/cop/kink thriller about a trio of cops who run into trouble with a sadistic gang of rapists. Although director Charles Heung uses the opportunity to exploit Annie Cheong (gratuitously), the film holds up as an example of slicker than average late night Hong Kong trash cinema. Surprisingly, one of Chiu Man Cheuk's better performances. The kickboxing scenes are typical fast flurries broken up by flashy (wu shu influenced) kicks.

Stars: Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Andy Lau, Wang Yu. MA rating: 0

This 1990s production, spearheaded by Wang Yu, is a remarkable abomination. I can only imagine Wang Yu's thought process as he "created" it. Something along the lines of, "I've got it! I'll do an exact remake of 'Cool Hand Luke', only set in a Chinese prison! I'll steal almost every scene directly from the original! And I'll twist Jackie, Sammo and Andy into starring in it, cuz they owe me favors!!" And so you have it. 'Cool Hand Luke', with the big
stars sleepwalking through it, taking turns at stolen scenes. Martial arts? Well, Jackie gets the only kickboxing scenes (generic). Sammo, surprisingly, does nothing except side kick a prison dog. The finale seems like an attachment (Jimmy must have needed a way to end the suffering). Suddenly, the three stars get released from prison in a "La Femme Nikita" type mission, and they go out in a blaze of gunfire. AVOID THIS ONE AT ALL COSTS.

Stars: Dean Shek Tin. MA rating: 1

An unintentionally hilarious film starring Shek, who typically plays humorous snivelling perverts, as a Buddhist monk. He plays it straight, but he is so hilarious looking and silly, and try as he does, he STILL comes across like a comedy pervert. There is fighting in here, but it is hysterically bad.]

Stars: Yuen Biao. MA rating: quantity-1 quality-3

Garden variety cheapo cop movie that is basically a waste of time. Biao actually doesn't have a lot of screen time, and what he does is go through the motions (very generic kick boxing and some jumping over banisters, etc). What a waste of talent. Avoid.

CENTURY DRAGON (Bruce Lee documentary)
Stars: various Hong Kong celebs. MA rating: 0

Avoid unless you are one of those insane Lee nuts who must see everything that has anything to do with Bruce. Poorly produced, extremely boring (and rambling) interviews with Hong Kong people who knew Bruce Lee. Many of these people are marginal figures (co-stars of his films, friends, folks he hung out with). Almost no martial arts except for one short segment at a wing chun school (now run by students of Wong Shun Leung). Peek in the background for shots of beginning students doing chi sau.

Stars: Tam Tao Liang, Lung Chun Erh, Lo Lieh. MA rating: quantity-3 quality-4

Fairly typical but pretty solid mid-1970s Taiwanese sword and fist intrigue, laced with elements of "flying people". Produced in the late middle of Tam's career. His kicks here (mostly left-sided) are still quite good. Lung Chun Erh was one of the better but overlooked female movie fighters of that era likewise executes with snap and style.

Stars: Jackie Chan MA rating: 5 (stuntwork), 4.8 (MA), 5 (overall)

Among Jackie films, this is an underrated masterpiece. I have always believed that Sammo Hung brings out the best in his "si hings" (Jackie and Yuen Biao), and vice versa. As the director of this WILD actionfest from the late 1990s, Sammo deserves a standing ovation. I think this is one of the top five Jackie films ever made, capturing the most appealing comedy and Chaplin/Buster Keaton style physical skills of Jackie. Unlike slicker and more "international" Jackie efforts, "Mr. Nice Guy" is a throwback. A simple, very 1980s style comedy smash 'em up that is pure action and chase, and not much else---and it doesn't try to be anything else (and who wants it?!). There are no distractions or dead spots. The result is thrilling, hysterically slapstick and high entertainment. Jackie and Sammo know each other, and they know action, and it shows. The timing of the action sequences, down to the minute details, is exceptionally good here. Much of the infighting that Jackie uses vs. the thugs is great. Story: Jackie, the innocent, literally walks in on a mob/drug situation involving a stolen tape. The gangsters proceed to chase Jackie across Melbourne, who must fight his way through shopping centers, into weddings, over rooftops, in vans, on public transportation, across construction sites, etc. etc. using every possible trick. It is absolute mayhem. What's more, the stuntwork and action start quick and then BUILDS. Sammo has a small and hilarious cameo.The finale is an outrageous destructo-thon that has to be seen to be believed.

Stars: Ekin Cheng, Ken Lo, Yuen Biao. MA rating:no rating; quantity-2, quality-n/a

An unusual epic based on a wildly popular comic book/fantasy, starring Ekin, today's most wildly popular HK star. Contains many elements that a teenage HK audiences dig (popular pretty boys, bad dialog, several pretty girls who pout and whine). Belongs more in the 'flying people' camp (so unable to rank). I give this film high marks for production values, interesting use of historical footage, and very nice location shots (China and a lavish recreation of New York Chinatown in 1912), and for the non-fantasy portions of the script: it is the first film that has dealt with the history of Chinese-American immigration in a dignified, heroic and somewhat convincing fashion. Regrettably, after a nice first half, the story turns away from the immigrant angle (a big wasted opportunity), bogs down and finally gives itself up completely to the comic book aspects, and a rivalry between sects (If you're into that stuff, you'll like it.) The action scenes are semi-ridiculous (all special effects) (reminds me of bad Mortal Kombat or bad shaving cream commercials). Ekin is primarily window dressing, does not come off as a skilled MA. His long hair (his trademark) is irritating (who in 1912 had a 1999 Hong Kong rock star mane?). Small "elder statesman" part for Yuen Biao, who gets a few of the only non-special effects fight scenes. He looks stiff in them (not flexible, slowed down by injuries/age?). Ken Lo's small part is non-martial arts.


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Stars: Sammo Hung. MA rating: 0 (avoid!!!)

Every once in a while, Sammo participates in a non-martial arts, non-action film to practice his acting. "Eight Taels of Gold" for instance. This turd is a lifeless oddity about Sammo dying in a car accident, having his penis donated to another man (Kenny Bee), then coming back to life without his "little bird". The entire movie has Sammo obsessing and pouting about it. The "what would happen if" aspect of situation does not hold up for 2 hours.
"Penile fixation" indeed. He finally gets it back in the end but there is no humor or drama worth staying awake for. Zzzzzz.

Stars: Lo Lieh, Yasuki Kurata. MA rating: 2

A Shaw Brothers "chop socky" pre-Bruce Lee classic that was a worldwide hit during the "kung fu craze" of the 1970s, starring a young Lo Lieh. Pre-Bruce films feature bad technique, a lot of action, a lot of gore, a lot of loud slapping sounds and bad greasy hair. This is no exception. It deserves credit for what it was, a precursor of a generation of "training for revenge" films, structurewise. Lo Lieh's deadly technique consists of the tackiest elements found in MA cinema. His hands turn red, the soundtrack pulses with the "wah wah" music stolen from the American TV series 'Ironside". Watch it for fun. Don't look for form cuz it ain't there.

Stars: Jet Li, Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, etc., Eddy Ko, Conan Lee, James Lew
MA rating: Jet Li-5, movie quality-2.5

In the middle of the silliest installment of this popular and now tired series is an out of place Jet Li as a furious, deadly serious and frightening bad guy that no one can disrespect. Although his scenes are not long, he stops the show cold with his intensity; as if he walked out of another film, and he does not belong here. It is shameful waste of talent for Jet, the
quintessential Chinese screen hero to the world, to have let himself be used by Hollywood producers in this average picture with strong racist overtones, unfunny racial humor and triad stereotypes. Jet thoroughly wipes out Mel and Danny with frightening skill, then is killed crudely and gruesomely. This film should not make anyone happy, neither Jet fans (who should fast forward through the final death scene to avoid throwing things at the screen), nor
Lethal Weapons/Mel fans (because they were completely embarrassed). Eddy Ko and Conan Lee appear in non-fighting roles. West Coast martial artist James Lew squares off against both Gibson and Jet.

Stars: Josephine Siao (Siu Fong Fong), Chiu Man Cheuk, Kenneth Lo. MA rating: 5

Directed by Corey Yuen and Jeff Lau. A very modern, smart, fresh, late 1990s action comedy that earns the highest ranking on every level. Should appeal to both fans of current HK cinema (it's well produced/directed/acted) and martial arts fans. Story: a quirky gambling-addicted, aging Hong Kong cop (Josephine Siao) gets set up in a marriage of convenience to a mainland Chinese master card player and super fighter (Chiu Man Cheuk). The two of them, and their respective families and jumbled romantic interests, get caught up in a mess involving Chiu's former triad colleagues. This summary doesn't begin to do justice to how well the movie works. The fun comes from touching, laugh-out-loud funny and engaging characters and a plot that works the chemistry well. A multi-dimensional and sparkling performance from Josephine Siao carries it. One of Chiu Man Cheuk's finest performances as well (Corey Yuen gets the best out of him). Finale is a big battle between
Chiu and Kenneth Lo that is reminiscent of the climax of "Bodyguard from Beijing"; furious wu shu-laced wildness that is wire-enhanced and not realistic (being kicked in the air, flipping and landing on one arm?), but fun. Lo does his crazy kicking (first time since "Drunken Master 2"). Trust me, you will have a great time watching this one.

Stars: Cynthia Khan (Yeung Lai Ching), Moon Lee, Kara Wai Ying Hung, Ng Kwun
Yue. MA rating: quantity-2 quality-3

Very silly, lightweight installment of series that is the HK female equivalent to "Police Squad". Despite the heavy duty girl kung fu cast of greats, the talent is wasted. The occasional kickboxing, and the kickboxing finale (vs. a male kicker who is quite good) is generic. Cynthia Khan, who plays the straight, sober and cocky super cop, gets more screen time and more MA time than the others. Her kicks, oddly, are very straight legged and lack altitude. Moon, the faster and slicker fighter by far here, is wasted playing a cutesy type. She comes on a bit at the end. Wai Ying Hung the "crazy woman" is somewhat wasted as a comedy foil. She gets to lampoon her classic kung fu Shaw Brothers past with forms, but it is not interesting.

Stars: Taiwanese cast including Lung Chun Erh, Lo Lieh. MA rating: 3.7

A fairly solid Taiwanese produced costume cheapie starring a rather stiff but heroic minor star who also co starred in "Adventure at Shaolin" and "One Foot Crane". (He is listed in some credits as "Shaking Eagle"). A Ming patriot travels the countryside to join up with fellow anti-Ching rebels. Along the way, they have a comedic run in with Lung Chun Erh (as a fighting street performer) and her father. The patriot juggles his mission with evading Lung and father, who want him to marry the girl. A white haired Lo Lieh plays a white haired invincible villain. Styles: indescribable, mid 1970s amalgum of southern Chinese systems (low stances, hard styles).

Stars: Jackie Chan, Bradley James Allen, Tony Leung, Shu Qi, Chow Wah Kin
MA rating: quantity-2 quality-5 (highest possible)

1999 lightweight, meandering and long romance comedy about a ditzy innocent Taiwanese girl (Shu Qi) who eventually becomes involved with a mega-wealthy HK executive (Jackie). Within this otherwise forgettable affair (which contains only little Jackie stunt fun) are two jaw-dropping, very long, mano vs. mano and serious kickboxing scenes pitting Jackie against Bradley James Allen (who also co-starred in 'Gen X Cops')---arguably some of the best stuff ever filmed. Allen shows Bruce Lee-like lightning quickness and Lee-like wide spectrum of technique with notable elements from tae kwon do, capoeira, some wu shu. The guy is simply tremendous. He moves at warp speed, and it is only minimally undercranked/enhanced. Jackie, meanwhile, shows off his own best physical moves since 'Drunken Master II', using a similar recipe as Allen, but he is no match for Allen. For the sake of the story, Jackie finds an amusing way to prevail. As it has been throughout Chan's movie fight career vs. clearly superior enemies (Benny Urquidez, Hwang Jang Lee, Bill Wallace, etc.) it is not entirely convincing. In any case, Jackie must be applauded for these two tremendous sequences, which should be analyzed and debated by all MA film fans, over and over. He deserves kudos for putting himself through what must have been a grueling training regimen to go against Allen at his now-ripe age.

Stars: Philip Ko, Kara Wai Ying Hung. MA rating: quantity-2, quality-3

Action directed by Jackie Chan, this mid 1980s waste of time seems like an excuse for Jackie to work his stunt crew in a very bad film. Comes across like a stunt practice with guys falling off cars, using objects, jumping off banisters, etc. (It's not even as entertaining as that sounds). Story is lame. A bunch of inmates chase a fellow inmate for secret loot. Ninety percent of the film is silly/talky/loudmouth /lightweight Hong Kong sitcom material. The few kickboxing scenes are sloppy, not well done. Avoid.

Stars: Sam Hui, Maggie Cheung, Nina Li Chi, Dean Shek. MA rating: 2

Singer/comedian Sam Hui Koon Kit is cast here in a leading hero role as an assassin who must battle rivals from another (Japanese) school of assassins. Despite his earnest attempt to Jackie it up, Sam fails to convince. All the MA is wire-assisted (obviously) and uninteresting. The film as a whole has a glossy but empty feel. A waste of time. As usual, Dean Shek can't help making the production into a smug and smirk, Hong Kong star walk-thru.

Stars: Pai Ying, Angela Mao, Don Wong Tao. MA rating: quantity-2, quality-2.7

This is a 1970s Taiwanese production that fans of "inn intrigues" such as "Dragon Gate Inn" might enjoy, but martial arts hard cores will likely find it lacking. Setting: near Mongolia. Story: on the eve of a big horse riding competition, a bunch of shifty-eyed thieves, riders and government agents plot and sleaze at an inn (run by Angela Mao Ying). The plots and counterplots drag on and on, and are interrupted occasionally by fairly simplistic, slow and short fight scenes. Pai Ying, the cocky Chow Yun Fat of the 1970s, gets most of the screen time. He slimes, sleazes, oozes arrogance and "mystery", and doesn't display much martial arts skill (slapping and hitting aimlessly). Unfortunately, Mao Ying and Don Wong, the superior screen fighters, are wasted in relatively small roles (just two fight scenes each). Mao Ying, whose role here is limited to facial expressions and acting
suspicious for most of the film, uses some snake fist during the finale, along with her usual kicks, but this is not one of her better performances. Don Wong uses his typical mix of tiger and eagle claws.

Stars: John Liu (Liu Chung Liang) . MA rating: 5

A straightforward, fight-filled late 1970s kicking festival. Liu (zen kwun do/Korean kicking variation) is in his top form here. From the opening credits (a long fight sequence), this film satisfies. Liu plays a young man who trains under not just one but three masters in order to avenge the death of his parents. Of note: Liu's hand techniques, usually overshadowed by his
kicking, is very good in this one. The "first master" (who appears in the first half) is a Korean tae kwon do player who co-starred in numerous Taiwanese productions (such as "Inheritor of Kung Fu", "Blood Child").

Stars: Chin Kar Lok, Lam Ching Ying
MA rating: quantity-2, quality-3
Early 1990s production (probably shot around the same time as "Martial Arts Master Wong Fei Hung", which also starred the same two). This film, which is another variation on the Fong Sai Yuk legend (Kar Lok in in the lead role, and Lam Ching Ying as Hung Hei Kwoon), takes a lot of time to get rolling. Kar Lok plays it goofy and boyish. The action, too much of which is sped up and clumsily wired, is sporadic until the end. The final battle is lengthy. Kar Lok does not carry well; his moves seem strange, left-sided (lefties are always weird to look at) and short-armed---not flowing. There is no doubt about his physical talent. He is extremely acrobatic and well trained. He just needed a better choreographer. (For a better performance, check out Little Heroes On the Run) Lam, as is the case in many of his film roles, does not get enough action, but what he does is nice.


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Stars: Venoms (Sun Chien, Kou Chui, Lo Mang, Chiang Sheng, Lu Feng), Wang Lung Wei, Wei Pai, Wai Ying Hung. MA rating: 4.5

Directed by Chang Cheh. Solid and satisfying Shaw Brothers production in which an evil Ching dynasty warlord (Wang Lung Wei) pits three northern Shaolin court instructors against a group of south Shaolin masters, hoping to trigger a bloody fued. Action and training scenes galore. Notable performance by Sun Chien, who plays a refined and diplomatic Ti Lung type of character. Sun (as usual) is the kicker. The rest of the well-known Venoms cast play experts in light skill, power, mantis, pole, two-section long staff, and wing chun (Wei Pai). As was the case with the film "Shaolin Martial Arts" almost
of the "Shaolin" style depicted are more fantastical rather than authentic. For instance, the mantis training scenes, in which the Venom trains by pulling giant rubber bands isometrically, are quite ridiculous and have nothing to do with true preying mantis style whatsoever. And the wing chun training (breaking out of an enclosed wooden box) is somewhat philosophically true to (some) wing chun principles, but pure fantasy. Typically violent, gory and dark Chang Cheh finale should please hardcore Shaw Brothers fans.

Stars: Mostly unknowns. MA rating: quantity-high 1, quality-2

Strange 1990s film about a blind old homeless man who lives in the street overpasses of Hong Kong (Kowloon and Causeway Bay), who gets mixed up with punks, a dour (annoying) sunglasses-wearing/overcoat wearing "kung fu assassin" assigned to bump him off. This is a forgettable cheapo film (lots of whining children and family members). The old man's "great martial arts" skills consist of simple ugly block and hit moves, undercranked and intentionally shot from weird angles. The assassin has some talents but is greatly wire assisted. Bypass this one unless you are really bored.

Stars: (n/a) MA rating: quantity-near 0, quality-1

Lightweight and utterly forgettable HK film combines "modern youth fun" with triad action. A slim, smart-aleck, floppy haired guy, supposedly an instructor of tai chi, gets mixed up in a caper involving a "cute" girl and mobsters. This guy's "tai chi" bears no resemblence to any kind of tai chi. What he does is uninteresting and not very athletic. Laughably, he throws in
a smattering of "Bruce Lee"in his showdown with the villain. Embarrassing.

Stars: Pearl Cheung Ling. MA rating: 0

Fairly typical 1970s female swordswoman film, complete with slow pace, non-choreographed hacking, inn intrigues and a vendetta. Unfortunately the film suffers from not much action and, surprisingly, not enough Cheung Ling (the second half bogs down badly). It has nevertheless attracted a cult following. Although from a MA standpoint, there isn't much here, fans of the films of Chang Pei Pei, Hsu Feng, and similar pre-choreography era female sword epics may still enjoy the film for artistic and cultural reasons.

Stars: Jackie Chan, Lung Chun Erh, Kam Kong, James Tien.
MA rating: quantity-3, quality-no rating

Oddball comedy produced during Jackie Chan's unfortunate early period, in which Golden Harvest could not successfully market him. He had failed to sell as a straighforward kung fu hero, and failed to appeal as a villain. Given creative license for the first time with this film, Jackie played it 100% silly as a dumb idiot who steals the identity of a knight errant. This is the lowest-brow Jackie slapstick you will find---Jackie getting beaten up by everyone, getting kicked in the butt, sticking his butt out, "girl fighting technique", tweaking noses, falling all over himself, spitting, throwing eggs, etc. Yes, he does it all acrobatically, but for kung fu purists, there isn't much here. In his autobiography, Jackie wrote that he considers "Half A Loaf" one of his personal favorites, but very much a love it or hate it proposition. For fans of silly Jackie fare, it is a must see as it is a precursor to Jackie's later goofball, stunts-but-no-kung fu efforts (such as "Young Master").

Stars: Ti Lung, Ku Feng, Wong Yu, Wang Lung Wei. MA rating: 5

Ti Lung is a noble instructor and exponent of "Shaolin Pole" who gets caught up in a feud between warring clans vying for control of a town. Eventually, he teaches Wong Yu and both must take on (the very maniacal) Ku Feng. This was one of the finest Shaw Brothers productions, and there is no arguing the quality of the weapons techniques. Ti Lung: pole (variation on wing chun six-and-half point pole) and wing chun empty hand variations. He takes on sabre, spear, large crowds of attackers. Final battle with horse knife expert Ku Feng is memorable. Long training scenes. Highest recommendation.

Stars: Moon Lee, Yukari Oshima, Billy Chow. MA rating: 4.5

Moon Lee and her partner are bungling undercover cops chosen to pursue a rapist killing bar girls. Along the way, they also stumble (literally) across a sinister triad arms dealer and Yukari Oshima (a Japanese assassin). Kickboxing, guns, car chases and light situation comedy. A near-prototype of the kind of fun action film that these women fighters made famous from late 1980s through the mid 1990s, and one of the most satisfying.

Stars: Jet Li, Bridget Fonda. MA rating: action-4.8 film-3.4

At the time of this writing (July 2001) this widely anticipated film is considered by many to be Jet Li's best western-produced movie to date. It has also been called the "anti-Crouching Tiger", and in some ways it is. It is Jet Li, a serious, bona fide fighter and the premier film fighter of the day, giving us wire/special effects-free action.

Story: Jet plays a highly-trained, sober-as-a-rock Chinese government agent sent to France to assist a diplomat. He is framed by corrupt Frenchmen, and then chased through Paris by a nasty bunch of killers. He befriends a down-on-her-luck American hooker (Bridget Fonda), who is a victim of the same bunch of goons. As friends, they help each other clear the record. As seems to be the case in every film marketed to western audiences, Jet once again
plays a Chinese guy, on the lam and out of place in a western city. Besides being a hopeless stereotype, Bridget Fonda's character is not well developed, nor is the relationship with Jet's character. The French thugs are garish stereotypes. There is a major hole in the story: if Jet is so adept with acupuncture needles, why does he only use them in the finale?

Film: Modern, violent urban action thriller with conspiracy overtones, and the prerequisite spies, guns, sirens, double crosses, cell phones and explosions. Not exactly original. Jet, who came up with the story idea, seems preoccupied with inserting himself into these kinds of films.

Acting: If you have seen "Romeo", "The Master", "Dragon Fight", "Black Mask" or even "Bodyguard from Beijing", what Jet does here will come as no surprise whatsoever. Although he attempts to play a cooler, more savvy agent, it is unconvincing. Despite the bad haircut, Jet is still Jet. Bridget Fonda is wasted entirely.

Action: 1. Jet Li can fight, and fight tough, unvarnished and nasty. No pretty Wong Fei Hung stuff here, and nothing classical. Just quick, brutal, and technically-sound martial arts techniques, applied. Simple, effective strikes and kicks, joint locks, and techniques adapted from classical systems (like baguazhang), adapted to street use. 2. The quality of the action is tough and relatively joyless. Think mean Jet Li in an overcoat, doing a Segal, with a faint nod to what he did in "The Master" or "Hitman". 3. Jet and choreographer Corey Yuen spice things up by letting Jet use many objects and the terrain (boats, etc.) in taking out his foes, and he does so with as much panache as Jackie Chan. Great stunt work. 4. One highlight: Jet taking on an entire karate school using, among other things, escrima sticks. This scene brings to mind "Chinese Connection". 5. Another highlight: Jet fights two sadistic blonde kickboxers using not only his physical skills, but his brains (use of terrain again). 6. Another highlight: Jet fights a huge muscular guy, and plays it smart.

Fans of Jet Li and HK fighting action will find little to criticize. However, in the back of my mind, I am disappointed that nobody in the past 25+ years (not Jet, Sammo, Jackie, nobody) has come close to depicting combat with the timeless depth and intensity of Bruce Lee--- even with benefits of hindsight, bigger budgets, western directors and modern technology. (It is a question of film, acting and spirit, not just choreography.) Every ballyhooed new
release like "KOD" that fails to meet that particular standard makes me wonder if anyone will crack it.

Stars: Tam Tao Liang, Angela Mao, Lung Chun Erh, Wang In Sik. MA rating: 3.7

Late 1970s Taiwanese production. The "devils" are, not surprisingly, the Japanese (who are assisted once again by the effete snivelling traitor played by Ngai Ping Oh). Tam is a Robin Hood-type country character who happens to be a super fighter and a thorn in the side of the Japanese occupation during the Chinese Republic era. Interesting finale has Tam in a "Game of Death" type floor-by-floor fight up a tower occupied by various fighters, including
Europeans brandishing fencing swords, Indian wrestlers, and hapkidoist Wang In Sik. Tam is in reasonable form here with his patented left footed kicks. In the later part of his career, he is a bit slower. Angela Mao's role, as daughter of a local police chief, is somewhat limited. A fun movie.


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Stars: Wang Tao, Lung Fei. MA rating: 3.5

Routine, late 1970s Taiwanese production starring usual suspects (you'll recognize them). The plot involving a son's revenge (for an anti-Ching Dynasty father killed protecting a Ming treasure map), takes too long to get going, and meanders into typical inn battles, and too much silly beggar "comedy". About halfway, the film finally settles. In his training scenes, Wang falls back on his usual hung-gar based hard style hands and stancework. He does more kicking than usual in this one. Fine staff and spear work. Lung Fei plays the nearly invincible white-haired bad guy, and puts in one of his best performances.

Stars: Lau Kar Fei, Fu Sheng, Lau Kar Leung, Philip Ko Fei. MA rating: 5

One of director/choreographer Lau Kar Leung's final Shaw Brothers productions, and his darkest work. Doom is the mood (reflecting the demise of Shaw Brothers, classical martial arts cinema at the time, Lau's personal troubles and the death of Fu Sheng, which took place during production). The story: a family of spear experts is betrayed, ambushed and wiped out. Two survive. One goes mad. The other hides in a Buddhist temple, trains for revenge, never allowing his rage to diminish. The MA action is first rate Lau Kar Leung, and includes long temple training scenes. Some of the action is especially brutal and hard edged. This film should not be viewed in the same sitting as "36 Chamber of Shaolin" due to some overlap in the temple training (one reason it did not get a high review the first time around). In its own right, it is its own dark masterpiece.

Stars: Leung Kar Yan, Philip Ko Fei, Wang Lung Wei. MA rating: 2.6

Despite great cast, a disappointing late 1970s comedy that is surprisingly unsatisfying. Not enough action, poor story (way too much conman/bumpkin humor and gags), bad haircuts. Ko Fei has an embarrassing trick: a horse style kung fu, complete with whinnying.

Stars: Wang Tao, Chang Yi. MA rating: 4.7

Very solid Taiwanese production, and in terms of story, one of the more well-written and well-paced films for Wang Tao. Here, he is the lazy/spoiled son of a family of staff experts. After a humiliating incident, which results in him being disowned, Wang becomes a wanderer who must reignite and refine his skills (yes, training scenes galore) to retrieve honor. Wang's staff work is very good. Although the finale is a bit more abrupt than I would have preferred, this is a good movie.

Stars: (Gordon) Lau Kar Fei, Fu Sheng, Wang Lung Wei. MA rating: 5

Directed by Lau Kar Wing. Interesting comedy showcasing Fu Sheng's broad spectrum of skills (one can easily see from who Jackie Chan "borrowed" action comedy), and Lau Kar Wing's very modern brand of directing for the time (this film has more in common with the look and feel of 1980s work by Sammo Hung, etc. than "classic" Shaw Brothers). All three stars are in top form, and the choreography is crisp and fast. Acrobatic variations of hung gar and "movie fu".

Stars: Chin Kar Lok, Eddie Ko Hung, Billy Chow. MA rating: 3.8 (quantity-2)

Released in 2000. Mainland China-HK co-production combines well known ("veteran") cast with many unknowns. Story is nothing new: spoiled rich young man (played by Kar Lok) who gets through life faking it as a fighter finally must train to save a honor of a disgraced MA school (Ko Hung's) that lost to an evil one (led by Billy Chow). Modestly wired action has the feel of a HK TV series, and is unfortunately limited to the beginning and the end, which involve tournaments. Attempt by Kar Lok to be slapstick and silly falls flat. It is also sad to see how much weight Kar Lok has gained in recent years. Nevertheless, he remains pretty agile, even if his moves don't look pretty (perhaps because he is a lefty). Some of his moves are just weird. Ko Hung, on the other hand, shows off very clean techniques.

Stars: Wang Qun. MA rating: 5

Epic mid-1980s mainland Chinese production (China Film Inc.), fictionalized legend of Yang style tai chi founder Yang Luchan, and his attempts to learn tai chi from Chen Chan Hsing (of the original Chen style. (Yang modified the Chen style to incorporate more sweeping motions). The second half features more drama than action. Nevertheless, this is a serious tai chi student's dream, and is full of well-choreographed tai chi training, performed by Wang and a high caliber mainland Chinese cast (many players from the Beijing Wu Shu Academy). Very obscure and probably hard to find.

Stars:Bruce Lee, James Tien, Dan Inosanto, Ji Han Jae, Kareem Abdul Jabbar. MA rating: 5 (highest rating possible)

The documentary Bruce Lee: Warrior's Journey was broadcast on American Movie Classics channel on July 2, 2002. This broadcast was a significant moment in Bruce Lee film history. This excellent documentary contains a treasure: a 30-minute restoration of the finale of Game of Death, as conceived and scripted by Lee, according to Lee's own detailed Game of Death notes (he was working on the film right up to the time of his death) and using newly discovered original 35mm footage, and new dubbing, sound effects and music. What we get here is most of the film's finale, the complete duels with Dan Inosanto (escrima/kempo), Ji Jan Jae (hapkido), Jabbar ("ultimate unknown stylist/X factor") with the original storyline, action sequences, and dialogue are restored to the extent possible. The finale was to also feature battles with Lee student Taky Kimura (hand-oriented stylist) and Wang In Sik (kicker) but these segments were never shot. The documentary wrap thoroughly explains the original Lee concept for the film.

The resulting segment, which combines never-seen Game of Death film (master takes selected by Lee himself) with many of the now-familiar segments that were used in the grotesquely different 1978 release (note:some of them, we now know were OUTTAKES!) , can be considered the first true, pure Bruce Lee film since 1973. The master takes, properly sequenced, are a revelation----arguably the highest and purest expression of Lee ever captured on celluloid. In many important ways, the "best ever". Finally, we see not only the technical fighting brilliance, but also the depth that drives it. Finally, we see the high water mark of "real" martial action (this style of film fighting has, to date, never been duplicated or approached). Finally, the clips make sense. Finally, it's Game of Death.

The Game of Death restoration serves as a startling reminder about 1) Lee's spirit, how he embodied and expressed this spirit, 2) the fact that he was truly on the verge of taking both martial arts and film to higher, deeper level, and sadly 3) how time, stereotyping, ignorance, and exploitation have combined to dilute and distort the real Bruce Lee.

Bruce Lee:Warrior's Journey clears the record definitively. A must-see.

Stars: Leung Siu Lung (Bruce Liang), Meng Hoi. MA rating: MA-5, film-1

Directed by Ng See Yuen. A cheapo 1970s attempt at an "international" action film, complete with shaky and gratuitous "travelogue" shots of Rome and electric jazz-orchestra sound track. Untalented Italian/Euro cast, unamusing slapstick humor and a story that makes little sense: bumbling Italians recruit a kung fu fighting waiter from the local Chinese restaurant (!) to rescue a kidnapped toddler. Trapped therein, however, is the amazing Leung Siu Lung, who proves in his action scenes that he was one of the supreme kickers in film. A still very young Meng Hoi tosses in some acrobatics and nunchaku (yes, the ghost of a certain Bruce Lee haunts this Roman production). If one stretches the imagination, it's possible to see the precursor of "Kiss Of the Dragon" here: a super Chinese guy in "mod" clothing kicking the crap out of Euros.

Stars: Stephen Chow, Yuen Wah, Lee Hai Sheng, Jow Lung, (Bruce) Leung Siu Lung. MA rating: no rating

Every Stephen Chow production, for whatever reason, creates worldwide flatulent noise. This one is no exception. First and foremost, this is not, repeat, not, a kung fu film. It is a high-production-budget crude Hong Kong gutter comedy that uses martial arts as a prop. Think of the silliest, most manic and childish cartoon---"Roger Rabbit"---run it through the sick, scatological mind of Stephen Chow, and this is what you get. Nose picking, fuck you-shit that, thugs everywhere, ultra cartoon violence. And it is all special effects. It is unfunny and silly beyond words. "Yelling" kung fu that blows people into outer space. "Gay" kung fu. "Frog" kung fu, the proponent actually becoming one. Crazy shit, and more crazy shit. Chow himself is no fighter, never has been one, and he doesn't show any skills here. Meanwhile, Chow deserves credit for reviving a host of great but underappreciated 1970s-1980s legends (Lee Hai Sheng, Yuen Wah, Jow Lung, Leung Siu Lung) starring roles, as old masters. Their scenes, silliness aside, bring back memories, even though this film generally sucks. At least Chow knows who his papas are.

Stars: Tony Jaa . MA rating: 5 (highest possible)

Although this site reviews Chinese films, certain films that take all of Asia by storm, like this 2003 release from Thailand, demand attention. This film is freaking unbelievable, on many levels. For martial arts, it doesn't get any better than this. For wild stuntwork, on par with anything Jackie Chan's crews have done, it's also up there. Tony Jaa immediately earns a place in the pantheon of great film martial artists with his complete performance as a Thai fighter, who leaves his village to seamy Bangkok to retrieve his village's sacred relic. This is showcase for spectacular fight choreography, and Jaa and the crew are the real deal. Technically superb. Little if any "enhancements". The action is wall to wall. Particularly refreshing is seeing Thai martial arts, without other influences.

Director: Tsui Hark. Stars: Donnie Yen, Lau Kar Leung, Leon Lai, Sun Hong Lei, Duncan Chow, Tai Li Wu, Charlie Young . MA rating: Donnie Yen-5, rest of film-between n/a and 2

Here is the modern affliction, which I will call the "Crouching Tiger" disease. Every year or so, China/Hong Kong explodes with the latest overblown big budget/big cast/big buzz flying people swordplay "can you top this?" epic. Usually included in the buzz is a director's revelatory Ang Lee/Yang Zi Mou ego trip, the resurrection of forgotten or unappreciated stars, and new unworthy young singer-stars and singer-starlets jumping on the latest martial arts bandwagon. From "Crouching", to "Hero", to "House of Flying Daggers" (and even "Kung Fu Hustle"), we arrive here, at "Seven Swords". Tsui Hark's Hong Kong star-studded noise is a literally noisy, angry, grunting clanging-steel sword-and-sorcery type of production that feels more like a western-made gladiator epic ("Gladiator", "Troy", etc.) than a Qing dynasty Chinese historical fantasy. What could have been a classic and very Chinese movie, about a band of seven renegade martial arts masters and their beleagured village, battling a Qing tyrant, is lost in an unpleasant, artlessly expensive but somewhat interesting production full of... too much.

The entire production is special effects-overkill, and I mean, every inch of it, from the overblown Dolby sound to the cinematography to the fighting, the bizarro weaponry---all of it so enhanced and wired-up, that it is an anime comic book. Every goddamned thing is a special effect, including the cast. Maybe that was the whole idea. (If Hollywood ever shoots a film version of, say, "The Mighty Thor" or a better version of "Conan the Barbarian", they should use this film as a guide, and Donnie's performance as a model.) Bottom line on the MA: There is constant violence, but not much in terms of beautiful martial arts. Two of the greatest screen fighters are wasted. Even though he is not the main star, Donnie Yen steals what show there is, playing a typical Donnie Yen brooding, nearly silent killer protagonist (and fortunately, he gets most of the finale). But even he is all wired up. Lau Kar Leung does not get to as much fighting as he should have, for whatever reason, and is reduced to doing what annoys me the most about him---playing a fretting old troupe leader. Leon Lai, ludicrously, is cast as one of the seven fighters, despite him having zero martial arts skill. It doesn't matter, because he's "enhanced" up with the rest of the film. (Here again is "Crouching" disease. If non-martial artists Chow Yun Fat got the starring role as the greatest swordsman in the world, so can Leon Lai.) There are overtimes of S&M sprinkled throughout---metal, iron, chains, armor, sharp weapons, growling barbarians, armies clashing, the suggestion of rough sex, leathered-up weaponized chicks, dirty faces, abused and insane whores, sadistic nut jobs (on both sides), blood and gore, agony, screams....it's enough to make me watch Ann Hui's "Romance of Book and Sword" series, and old TVB mini-series, to cleanse my eyes and mind, to remind myself what grace is,. or was. "Seven Swords" will undoubtedly thrill a wide swath of the population. It did not make the cut of a cranky old schooler like me. Meanwhile, here's hoping the soon-to-be-released (fall 2005) cop thriller "Sha Pa Long", featuring the clash of martial arts film gods Donnie and Sammo Hung, and Jacky Wu Jing (not worthy of god status, a hard-to-watch punk, but genuinely skilled), turns out to be the real thing, that puts Donnie and Sammo back to the summit of the genre, where they belong.


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Stars: Jet Li, Yuen Biao, Kent Cheng, Yuen Chung Yan,Rosamund Kwan
Director: Tsui Hark. MA rating: 5

The groundbreaking first chapter of an epic series that redefined the Wong Fei Hung legend and sparked a generation of new Wong Fei Hung films and television series (that continue to this day). Because this wonderfully shot Golden Harvest/Tsui Hark film, more than any of its successors and imitators, resonates with a take on Opium War-era Chinese history, and themes of nation, country, honor, and anti-imperialism, it stands alone. For this reason, and because of a fresh take on the martial arts, it has earned a significant MAGTHKF upgrade.

The political theme sounds with the opening sequence, in which Qing Commissioner Lin Tse Tsui, who opposed the British during the Opium Wars, appoints Wong Fei Hung to become the trainer for the (anti-foreign) BlackFlag militia. Lin hands Wong a fan on which the Unequal Treaties have been penned, reminding him (and the audience) that China must be defended from foreign invaders. The entire film is built around this theme, and hits upon many time-honored historical points of nationalism throughout---opium, imperialism, theChinese slave trade to California, corrupt compradors, greed, etc. The scene on the opera stage, in which Wong Fei Hung tries in vain to prevent themassacre of innocents from indiscriminate foreign guns is an artful political statement, echoing tragic Sino-Western clashes, particularly the Boxer Uprising.

While a majority of sequences, choreographed by Yuen Woo Ping, are heavily enhanced with wire and object-based wire tricks (a craze at the time), but the skill of Jet Li needs no mention. In the above-mentioned opera stage scene, Jet Li’s staff work is the star. His mastery is obvious, even where he is wired up. Yuen Chung Yan plays a renegade kung fu master who is deceived into fighting Wong Fei Hung in the final fight scene. Yuen Biao plays Ah Foon, mostly as a comedy foil.

Stars: Wu Jing, Lau Kar Leung, Chik Kun Kuan, Gordon Liu (Lau Kar Fei) .
MA rating: 2

Let's see. Directed by Lau Kar Leung, choreographed by Lau Kar Leung and Lau Kar Wing. Starring Jacky Wu Jing. Drunken and monkey. Advertised as the "first real martial arts movie of the new millenium". Can't miss, right? Wrong. There is a tacky, lightweight quality to this chatty production, reminiscent of Lau Kar Leung's not-very-good Drunken Master 3. That forgettable film had a similar cast-of-too-many (wink-wink) stars (new and old), the now stereotypical nattering old master portrayal from Lau Kar Leung, the same feel, same unfunny humor. A few decent fight scenes. But they are completely overshadowed by the irritation sparked by the rest. There is nothing fresh about either drunk or monkey film kung fu. Chik Kun Kuan, stiff in his prime, remains stiff. Wu Jing is irritating to begin with, his skills aside. And his skills don't have a good vehicle here.

Stars: Man Chi Leung, Felix Wong Yat-Wah, Wai Ying Hung . MA rating: 5

1984 Shaw Brothers production featuring the film crossover by two Hong Kong television stars Wong Yat Wah and Man Chi Leung. Excellent showcase of both swordplay and empty hand work. It is too bad that Wong Yat Wah did not star in more traditional martial arts films, to add to his long and fine television career (which include some of the most enjoyable Chinese kung fu and sword series).

Stars: Carter Wong Ka Tat, Chia Ling, Chang Yi, Kam Kong . MA rating: 2.5

Mid 1970s Taiwanese production and Shaolin epic directed by Joseph Kuo. One of the many retellings of the Shaolin versus Emperer Yongzheng legend. Much ballyhooed at the time for its sets and "special effects", it is very quaint by modern standards. (A burning model of a temple? Uh, okay.) In any case, this was fairly typical of the era in everything from the middling MA performance of the cast to the stodgy plot.

Stars: Jet Li, Carla Gugino . MA rating: quantity-3, quality-4

This must rank as one of the campiest and unintentionally funniest of Jet Li films. The sci-fi parallel universe story is an unoriginal premise that pits a good Jet Li versus an evil Jet Li. The resulting plot is obvious---identity confusion, good Jet being framed for murder, etc. The good Jet Li uses pa kua chang. The bad Jet uses hsing-i. There should have been more, and better, MA, but this movie is a scream. Contains the funniest Jet Li line of all: "I am nobody's biiiiitch!!!".

Stars: Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, (Jacky) Wu Jing, Simon Yam. MA rating: 5

This highly-anticipated 2005 big budget production promised a summit meeting between three worthy representatives (and arguably the best) of three different generations of great screen fighters (all of whom have connections to Yuen Wo Ping), and it does not dissapoint.

Let's start with where it falls short. The film in general is not startling in originality. It is a dark, gritty, ultra violent, and very typical hard-boiled Chinese/Hong Kong cop versus gangster story, the likes of which Hong Kong action film watchers have seen a hundred times. Donnie Yen's pissed-off hothead cop is a role he has played almost as many times. Even Simon Yam's so-righteous-he's-borderline-criminal number is too familiar. Jacky Wu Jing's white-haired asshole assassin is very reminiscent of similar characters (the killer in "Black Rain" comes to mind immediately). Too much of the film focuses on the bitter feud between Simon Yam (the cop) and Sammo (the big mob boss), and this back-and-forth animosity is all threats, guns, police stations, car chases, anger, more anger, trash talk, refuse to back down, etc.

It is when the Simon Yam portion of the story wanes that Donnie takes over, all eyes are on the three fighting stars, and the handful of big action scenes between them, and viewers finally get what they want. Among the scenes: 1) Sammo singlehandedly fights off a legion of cops, and is only controlled when Donnie jumps in; the use of groundfighting/grappling/jujitsu techniques is standout and fresh. 2) Donnie versus Wu Jing using knives. Some improvisation happened during this blistering sequence. 3) Donnie versus Sammo finale. Both pull out all the stops in a super violent and amazingly choreographed duel that combines 1980s style "real" action, with wild stunt work. Some of it is so wild, you will cringe. According to the coverage of this film at www.wu-jing.org, this sequence was a great "harmonic covergence" between Sammo and Donnie (who had never worked with Sammo), during which Sammo's veteran chops produced surprising results.

Sammo Hung is, and remains, as fast and as powerful, and as good a film fighter, as ever. Donnie is arguably today's finest overall screen fighter (along with Jet Li). Both do it all, and have it all. It was enjoyable seeing the younger and versatile Wu Jing play a bad guy (Wu Jing as a lead hero has never been right, because of his strange looks and acting).


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