Martial Arts of Shaolin (1986)

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The Shaolin Temple trio of films left a strong cultural impression. They brought Jet Li to the big screen, as one of several members of the Chinese national wushu team brought on board to execute the impressive choreography. They also featured extensive shooting at the temple itself, lending a real sense of history to proceedings. These combined factors brought about something of a renaissance for the Shaolin temple at the time and its martial arts tradition. The first two films … (read more)

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Rise of the Legend (2014)

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A title like this one could be seen as either portentous or incredibly bland and the one-sentence synopsis on the back of the box doesn’t give much away. The major point of interest in Rise of the Legend sounds like it’s Sammo Hung playing the big bad, but it turns out this is actually a gritty origin story for the legendary Wong Fei-hung.

At the time of this film’s release another notable folk hero, Wing Chun master Ip Man, … (read more)

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Lady Detective Shadow (2018)

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I love wuxia movies — unlike fantasy settings in other cinemas, Hollywood for example, it has been a prominent mainstay of Chinese cinema for decades. For the uninitiated, think back to Crouching Tiger or 90s Hong Kong: period Chinese setting, murky political intrigues, heroic figures battling for a higher cause… or perhaps just for supremacy. There’s something about these worlds that draws you in, whether it’s via the lyricism and allegory of King Hu’s films, or the labyrinthine intrigue and … (read more)

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Call of Heroes (2016)

Feel the call of the hero. At least try — the movie really wants you to. Alas, the basic setup of Call of Heroes is a tense, action-packed opportunity gone begging. It’s not bad, just frustratingly less than it could have been.

We enter the story at ground level with teacher Miss Bai (Jiang Shu Ying), as she chaperones a group of children from the decimated Stone City to the town of Pucheng. Stopping at an inn, they witness a … (read more)

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Jailbreak (2017)

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With the decline of Hong Kong as an action film epicentre, it’s been exciting to watch other film industries step up to fill the vacuum. Marketing for Jailbreak positions it as Cambodia’s follow up to films like Thailand’s Ong Bak and Indonesia’s The Raid — a comparison begging to be made. While not quite in the same league, Jailbreak nevertheless goes all out to provide an entertainment-stuffed escapade in its own particular style.

The premise for this grind through the … (read more)

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The Scorpion King (1992)

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No, not that Scorpion King. Erase the horrifying CGI amalgam of The Rock’s head on a scorpion’s body and the still-running franchise that it became from mind. This Scorpion King is way more interesting to watch. First glimpsed by a school kid through a window at night, he’s ever-ready to spring to the defence of his disabled father with his superlative martial skills and distinctive scorpion-style moves. Hero material. Except his father is a lecherous slave trader and the … (read more)

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Blood of Wolves (2018)

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You only have to do a little digging to come to the understanding that the origins and history of the yakuza aren’t necessarily written in stone. Sources conflict about how they began – as ronin or samurai family retainers, or special police formed to fight organised crime – but most sources can agree that regardless of where they started, their main characteristics involved crime, violence, and their own specific set of codes and rules.

Blood of Wolves maintains this essence … (read more)

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Shoplifters (2018)

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Imagine, if you will, a movie where nothing much happens. Now, imagine being captivated by it. Now imagine going away feeling like you just witnessed some of the best, most wonderful cinema you’ve seen in a while. A long while. That feeling? That’s the Kore-eda effect.

Okay, fine, it’s not like Hirokazu Kore-eda is the only director who has the deftness and sensitivity to take the mundane and make it watchable without going over the edge into sentimentality and melodrama, … (read more)

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