Sunday, August 29, 2010

Tekken (2010)

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Tagline:

Survival is no game.

Summary:

Namco's highly popular video game franchise Tekken is finally brought to life on the silver screen! The live-action movie adaptation features the familiar story setting, characters, and their distinctive martial arts styles from the famous fighting game series. Set in a dystopian future where corporations have replaced governments, the fantasy action movie focuses on the Iron Fist Tournament where fighters battle each other to death until only one is standing. A young fighter with a dark secret enters this deadly competition with the aim to avenge his mother's death and confront his evil dad and grandpa. Dwight Little (Brandon Lee's Rapid Fire) directs an ensemble cast that includes Jon Foo (House of Fury), Luke Goss (Hellboy II), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat), and Cung Le (Bodyguards and Assassins), with fight choreography by Dion Lam (Doom, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li).

Movie Review:

I don't know anything about Tekken (the game). I was always a Mortal Kombat kid, and others were Street Fighter kids. By the time Tekken had come around, all arcades local to me were closing down or being replaced with dancing games and the like, so I never had a chance to actually play the thing. Sure it hit the PS2 but by that time I had no desire to really check it out. I don't get to play many games anymore, and when I do it's usually something like Galaga or Phoenix. So with that in mind, this review is based solely on what I watched. I don't know how accurate the representations of the characters were and frankly I don't care. I'm here for the action.

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(screenshot from the game that I've never played)

It's sometime in a post-global war future and the corporations run everything, including governments. Eight companies divided up the world, with the Americas going to the largest of them all - Tekken. Each year the companies put on a fight for the punters involving all the best fighters from each corporation, the "Iron Fist" tournament, and this year Tekken will be the host country.

Our main character, Jin Kazama (Jon Foo), is running through the derelicts outside Tekken city known as The Anvil being shot at by renegades and military types, all to the tune of some meathead nu-metal wrestling music. There are posters of the Tekken leader Heihachi Mishima (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) hanging everywhere with the motto "Strength Through Order" emblazoned on them, so you know this is some sort of 1984 future we are dealing with. It's a pretty exciting start to the movie, with Jin bolting along roof tops under the lights of following helicopters and eventually Jin escapes.

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He goes to meet a crazy underground technology dealer and offers him a device he has just stolen from the Tekken corporation. Getting a reasonable price for his wares, Jin leaves and goes straight to a bar (though he's like 16 or something) and flaunts his cash around, buying black-market coffee and fruit from another dealer. The end of curfew siren sounds and Jin heads home to his mother who dissaproves of his anti-Tekken runs, no matter how much coffee and oranges it gets him. We have a little emo scene "Is this what father would have wanted?" and Jin bails to go see his bimbo girlfriend. While he gets his end away in an alley, the Tekken military types (they are known as Jacks for some reason. Perhaps jackboots?) smash into both the tech. dealers warehouse and through Jin's mother's roof, yelling at them in Japanese looking for Jin and the stolen wares. Not finding him, the buildings are blown up with missiles from the hovering choppers.

After arriving home to see the devastation Jin has a few flashbacks of his childhood past. Apparently his mother knew martial arts and had taught him from a young age. Jin assumes that Tekken was responsible for the death of his mother so signs himself up for an open fight in the hope of rising to the top and killing the Tekken boss, Heihachi Mishima.

The open call fights are designed to wet the punters appetite before the main tournament and occur in small caged arenas and are televised. Jin gets admitted by former Iron Fist combatant Steve Fox (Luke Goss) and goes up against another former Iron Fist fighter, "Martial Law". Jin gets a few hits in on the guy before going down. But, by the power of his flashbacks, Jin manages to get up and K.O. the guy. Steve Fox is so impressed with the fight he decides to become Jin's manager and get him into the Tekken tournament.

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Inside the flashy walls of Tekken - a total contrast to the slums of The Anvil - Mishima's son and security officer Kazuya (Ian Anthony Dale, who played Scorpion in the awesome Mortal Kombat: Rebirth short/preview - watch that now if you haven't) is doing this years roll call of combatants. They are:

  • Raven, representing G-Corp - lethal ninjitsu expert and former military intelligence
  • Eddie Gordo, from Valencorp - capoeira master and underworld enforcer
  • Sergei Dragonov, from Ruscorp - sambo fighter, trained by the defunct Russian military
  • Anna Williams and Nina Williams - sisters and assassins, fighting for Eyderdex, and masters of koppo and aikido
  • Christie Montiero for Vectrocorp - a skilled mixed martial artist, played by the hot Kelly Overton
  • Miguel Rojo - zapote specialist, basically punches them in the head a lot
  • Yoshimitsu - master swordsman, wears a full body suit and looks like an android
  • Bryan Fury - a power boxer, kempo fighter and current Iron Fist champion, played by Gary Daniels

And with Jin as the "People's Choice", there are ten fighters in this years competition. Jin meets all the combatants who generally give him the cold shoulder, except for Christie Montiero who's just a tart at heart. Jin makes evil eyes at Mishima up in the control room.

The fights in the movie are all good quality, which is of course the main reason anyone is watching this (Kelly Overton's rack not withstanding). Starting with Raven vs. Eddie Gordo, we get to see the skills that the actors bring to the table - all of which I understand actually trained in the martial arts they portray in the movie. Eddie Gordo puts on a good display of his cappoeira skills but is ultimately owned by Raven. Jin is picked for the second fight against Miguel Rojo and strolls in to the ring doing his best Bruce Lee impression. Jin lays the first punch but Miguel ducks and weaves his way around the blows before knocking Jin to the ground. "Do you know where you are? This is Iron Fist!"

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Jin gets his second wind and drags Miguel around a bit, but again is flattened to the ground. Through the awesome power of the flashback (a recurring medium), Jin gets a third wind and finally connects some decent blows and dislocates Miguel's shoulder. Fueled with anger, Jin keeps laying into the guy well after the bell rings. This impresses Christie who goes to Jin's room after the fight looking for a screw, though the two go for a dance instead. This scene was made for all the horny sixteen year old boys in the audience as the camera is always panning down to Christie's jiggling arse, revealing the two-inch crack left by her well positioned leather pants. After their date, Jin retires to his room and is attacked by a ninja in the dark. He fends the ninja off but is injured; thankfully Christie hears the scuffle and rescues him, the ninja vanishing.

Round three is the one that had to happen to satisfy even more teenage boys watching - Nina Williams vs. Christie Montiero - and it's a total cat fight in purple and white bikinis. Jin says he is sure that Nina was the ninja that attacked him, so Christie makes the fight personal, with flicking hair and one liners, ultimately flattening Nina.

Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is always good as a bad guy and this movie is no exception. I can tell without researching that he has been done up to look like his video game character; his eyebrows are so over the top he just has to be. For a megalomaniac that posters the city with his portraits, the guy is rather respectful of the tournament and is annoyed by his son's constant efforts to undermine him. Like a spoiled brat Kazuya has a tantrum, and using his security manager powers orders the Jacks guards to arrest his father. Kazuya declares the rest of the tournament to be fights to the death. He really is the BAD guy in Tekken.

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Tekken is a predictable, but enjoyable fighting movie. It's very, very DTV, which makes me all the more surprised that it will be getting a US theatrical release in 2011. A downside to it is it has, as Matt at the Direct to Video Connoisseur would say, a Gary Daniels bait-and-switch. He plays a role almost as small as he does in The Expendables. Ultimately he has a fight with Sergei Dragonov with chains which is pretty brutal, and finally he has a fight with Jin. It is great to see Daniels really putting his kickboxing skills back onto (digital) celluloid. There is a nice sub-plot about his body being half bionic with illegal implants but it's not explored very far. I guess that is the trouble with a movie that has to show ten fighters in the ring in ninety minutes yet still wrap a plot around it all - the fighter you really want to see has to share the ring with the other fighters. I guess that's why anime serial Yu Yu Hakusho spent an entire season of 42 episodes in the ring.

I've no idea if Tekken game fans will enjoy this or if they will get all comic-book-nerd and complain that Bryan Fury's hair was the wrong shade of grey, but as a dumb fight movie it did the job well enough for me.

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The Video:

Sharp and clear, but obviously digital cameras were used. The ususal problems are present; the darks gets consume by grain and the lights get blasted with white.

Trailer:

More Screens:

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dark Breed (1996)

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Tagline:

The Unknown has revealed itself.

Back of DVD:

Captain Saxon (Jack Scalia) an agent for the top secret Omega agency, has been given the assignment of tracking down and either capturing or killing the crew members of a secret space mission who returned to Earth against orders.

They are all infected with an alien parasite, and are trying to bring its eggs back to Earth. The eggs are lost in an accident, and both Saxon and the astronauts are trying to locate them. What could the government want them for?

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Movie Review:

This is a seriously action packed sci-fi movie from PM Entertainment. It pretty much never lets up. There are only a few very short scenes where the stars retreat from the action to catch a breath before heading out to another car chase and resulting explosion. And it almost entirely works as well.

A NASA space shuttle plummets to Earth and crashes into a lake. Almost immediately the area is surrounded by military personal and helicopters trying to secure the scene. Jack Scalia arrives, a military Captain for the Omega agency (a secret government branch of some description) and receives his orders from his superior, Mr. Cutter: Take control of the rescue operation and don't lose the friggen astronauts because they are infected with something. Nearby, a fireball crashes through the roof of a factory.

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Whilst everyone is looking for them, the astronauts quietly climb out of the water, but not all is quite right with them. This is obvious when they kill off any soldiers that get in their way - including punching a fist right through a guys stomach and out through his spine - and then steal a van. At seven minutes into the movie the first car chase is on but it is short lived as Scalia takes a rocket launcher and blows the thing up. The astronauts are hardy types and escape the fireball. They also speak as if their voices have been processed, much akin to the Goa'uld from Stargate. The five 'nauts stand in the the middle of the highway and cause a massive traffic pile up. One approaches a cop, declares that he is NASA, beats the cop senseless, snaps his neck and steal his car. The others take a truck, leading us onto a second car chase. This is about twelve minutes in.

Jack Scalia gets to the truck by dropping out of a helicopter and onto the roof. Once inside he wrestles with one of the astronauts, a former colleague apparently. "What the hell happened to you Joe?" he asks. "Your friend Joe has evolved." Scalia is strangled and thrown off the truck, but that's okay because the truck slams into traffic, its cargo falls onto the cop car and explodes in slow motion. This scene obviously cost a bit as they showed the crash three times. The cop car lands on its side and slides along the ground. Dark synth choir music plays over the top, and four of the five astronauts escape in the trucks cabin car.

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I get the feeling from the first twenty-five minutes that PM managed to get their largest budget ever on this movie. The amount of explosions and firepower is pretty amazing. Every single scene has a large fireball in it, usually the result of a bazooka being shot into a car. The special effects are also pretty respectable for a (comparatively) small mid-90's movie, with some not-too-disgraceful CG and regular effects in play. A drunk bum goes to see what that fireball was that crashed through the factory roof in the beginning and finds a metallic capsule with buttons on it. He stupidly presses one and it opens up, revealing some glowing green objects. Next thing you know a blue laser shoots from inside and sends the guy flying into a wall. That bit was pretty funny.

Scalia and his female Lieutenant Burgess are briefed the following morning by one of the top dogs at the Omega agency and it's reaffirmed to them the importance of capturing the astronauts, though this time it's 'dead or alive'. They are unaware though that out of the six original astronauts, and excluding the one hospitalised, only four are on the run. The sixth is Scalia's ex-wife who exits the water by herself when the search has retreated. She pushes buttons on an alien looking device and looks pretty hot whilst doing so. At the Omega hospital, the Doctor is examining the downed astronaut. His muscles flex with CG effects of something under his skin and he breaks free, thrashing around the hospital squealing like a pig, until Scalia pushes him through three separate glass windows and Omega soldiers blow him away.

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Dark Breed a very B sci-fi action movie, drawing on the best parts of Aliens, Predator 2, Species, Stargate and Dolph Lundgren's I Come In Peace. It's quite dark, in atmosphere and scenery as most of it occurs at night. The acting is suprisingly reasonable from most parties, though Scalia is deadpan for the most part. When he tries to get emotional, he fails. When an ex-marine drunk bum approaches the team's stakeout van asking for change, Scalia gets all teary. "Third recon? God bless you buddy." Ham. You can almost see the American flag waving behind him.

The astronauts escape to an abandoned warehouse and sleep. When they awake they seem normal. Joe, the leader, says that "they aren't sleeping, they're here" and that they must destroy themselves to save mankind. Before he gets the chance to pull the trigger, the astronauts get re-possessed one by one by their parasites and start searching for the downed capsule. Interesting note; one of the astronauts is Johnson from all the RoboCop movies. Omega soldiers including Scalia and his team turn up and trash the place looking for them, including another bazooka fired at an astronaut. This time it does get him, though somehow he survives. These alien parasites are resilient bastards. If you were hit by a bazooka to the face, you would no longer have a face.

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Scalia's ex-wife makes her appearance in a real chicks-with-guns moment and fires warning shots with a machine gun. She yells to Scalia, "Tomorrow. Second honeymoon." then blows up the injured astronaut. The female Omega doctor commences an autopsy - right there in the warehouse - but is scared off when she is attacked by the dead guys heart! It flies at her like an Alien facehugger. She refuses to do any more autopsy and is arrested, taken to headquarters and tortured for her insubordination.

Scalia sneaks into the Omega HQ and does some Hollywood OS computer hackery to find out more about what happened on the failed NASA mission. Lot's of "Damn, it's encrypted" then just entering a password to get in. The computer echoes the same message that the MOTHER computer said in the original Alien - "Capture specimen. Original mission parameters eliminated. Crew expendable." Scalia now pissed, triggers the alarms which alerts the guards and he has a punch-on before heading to Mr. Cutter who in true James Bond fashion explains the entire plot to him. Upset with the answers he receives, he flees Omega with the female doctor and is instantly put to the top of the country's most wanted list. With the doctor in tow, Scalia follows the words of his ex-wife and goes to the location of his second honeymoon to await contact.

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Dark Breed is an enjoyable flick and like I said in the opening paragraph, almost works well. The problem is it takes itself entirely too seriously, only letting its guard down on a few brief moments. It needed more humour to 'fun' it up a bit. Sure the huge amount of explosions and gunplay is great, but without humour it actually does get a little tiresome. No one-liners, no comedy relief characters. Scalia's ex-wife is pretty good eye candy though and does get a slight bit of humour when she orders half the menu at a cafe just to piss off the waitress. She then explains that she is here to help destroy the others of the Dark Breed before the shit really hits the fan.

The movie ends in a huge three way battle between Omega troops, the Doctor, the ex-wife alien, Scalia and his loyal team members, and the alien astronauts themselves. Finally one of the aliens matures and bursts out of his human host's skin revealing, basically, a Predator crossed with an Alien - just not as good. They snarl like the demons from the video game Doom and make for some gory kills and are unintentionally hilarious. The budget on Dark Breed may have been one of the largest for PM, but that still amounts to guys in rubber suits for aliens.

Fun and action packed, and worthy of a re-watch, but it could have been funner if the tone was just a little lighter.

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The Video:

The DVD was of very good quality, demonstrating a sharp fullscreen presentation with solid stereo sound. Nothing spectacular but I doubt any PM Entertainment movie will ever boast a spectacular presentation. Extra special mention to perhaps the ugliest menu on a DVD I have ever seen. Go Flashback Entertainment! Runtime 96 minutes.

Trailer:

More Screens:

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Low Blow (1986)

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Tagline:

When the odds are against you... Hit first, hit hard, and hit with a LOW BLOW. Man's deadliest weapon is still his fist.

Back of DVD:

On the outskirts of San Francisco, a killer is loose, armed only with his mind. The leader of a mind-warping cult, Yarakunda (Cameron Mitchell) needs only to utter a few words to send his followers on a rampage of murder and destruction. When the daughter of wealthy industrialist, Templeton (Troy Donahue), falls under his evil spell, Templeton decides to fight back. He hires an ex-cop, Joe Wong, turned private investigator who is known on the street for getting jobs done. With the help of 5 special underground martial arts fighters, they penetrate the commune on a dangerous rescue and destroy mission.

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Movie Review:

First some corrections. That poster, as cool as it is, has nothing to do with anything. The poster would have you believe this movies is about some sort of vigilante trucker who takes on the local punk gang. There's no-one in Low Blow that looks anything like anyone in that poster, especially not Leo Fong who is the complete antithesis of that muscly guy! Also, it appears to me that the Yarakunda cult don't do anything except sew crops, let alone raise insane killers.

Written, produced by and starring Leo Fong I knew this would be a crazy low budget affair from the outset. A robbery is taking place at the local deli. Fong hears gunfire from his office so comes down to investigate, opens the door and shouts to the cook "Hey, where's my ham sandwich!". The gunmen order him to sit down, but Fong takes out his pistol and shoots the gun men dead. He turns to leave then quips "Forget about the sandwich". Excellent start.

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Fong gets chewed out at the police station by the Captain ("I aughta nail your ass to the wall!") and he is reminded that he is no longer a cop. Cut to a scene of a girl at some sort of cult commune being brainwashed by a blind guy in a black cape (Cameron Mitchell), then back to Fong at a cafe ordering chicken soup. The chef really puts on the "me so solly" routine as he takes a live chicken and chops it up (off camera) for the soup, but Fong stops short of eating it when he hears somebody being mugged in the street. He runs to help, beats up the muggers and gives them the advice "I never wanna see you again." Fong retires to his beaten up jalopy of a car, swears at it in Chinese then drives away.

This movie had absolutely no budget; surely less than something like Ghetto Blaster. They afforded widescreen cameras which is something in 1986 but I think that left no money for an audio guy or a cast that could act. This isn't a huge problem though because Low Blow is an absolute riot. I had my mouth open in disbelief for the first fifteen minutes it was so much fun.

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Leo Fong can't act. He is atrocious and has less facial expressions than Keanu Reeves. He also can't fight very well. There's one scene when he trashes a car with a plank of wood but it's like watching an old woman bat somebody with her handbag. It doesn't matter though because he does it all so hilariously you just keep watching. He is also a hysterical driver, one of the intentional pieces of comedy constantly used throughout the movie. Leo drives badly but he parks much worse, always driving the car up the curb or hitting it into a pylon; it's fantastic stuff.

As we've learnt, Fong is no longer a cop. He is in fact a Private Investigator and bounty hunter, and obviously quite a bad one too as he doesn't seem to be able to pay his bills. Fong sits in his disgraceful office in a singlet top and not much else. A client does come to see him though - John Templeton, form John Templeton International. His daughter, Karen has been missing for two weeks and he wants her found. She seems to have run off to join the aforementioned Yarakunda cult. We see her in the yard with a dozen other workers ploughing the field, receiving a pep talk from the crazy second-in-charge Karma (Akosua Busia). She's a total nutter and it becomes increasingly obvious over the course of the film that she is taking advantage of the leader of the cult, Yarakunda himself (also known as Papa.. hahaha), that blind old man in a black cape that preaches love and peace - not at all the sewing of seeds and general warmongering promoted by Karma. The woman is clearly possessed and in need of an Exorcist in this scene (check out the video links at the end of this review).

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Fong starts investigating the case and asks around town about Karen. He attends a lecture on Yarakunda and discovers that the woman Karma is actually a con pulling a scam to get peoples money. The lecturer warns Fong away from going, but determined to solve the case and get the girl back, Fong starts recruiting fighters from boxing rings and street hustling to help infiltrate the commune. A little later on he even holds a fighting competition in a dirt pit to find the best fighters; one of the winners is a huge muscle lady! Funny, funny stuff.

It seems that once you are in this cult you are here to stay. A kid, clearly now disinterested in the teachings and ploughing, tries to escape but is quickly brought down by Karma's cronies and thrown into a cell. Fong drives his jalopy to the commune and posing as a reporter gains entrance. This is short-lived as the cronies run a check on his licence plate, discover he is a P.I. and throw him in the cell with the kid after a brief torture session (Karma bites his ear and kicks him in the nuts!). He comes up with a hilarious attempt to escape by lighting a barrel on fire and beating up the guards when they come in to attend to it. Leo and the kid steal a commune car and escape, the kid firing a shotgun out the rear window and Fong driving through a meticulously erected wall of cardboard boxes!

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Eventually Fong get's his gang of temporary mercenaries together and they infiltrate the commune and obviously rescue the girl. The best part of this is seeing a young Billy Blanks in his first ever role losing to Fong's awesome display of martial arts!

There is a lot of funny bad action in Low Blow, I couldn't possibly list all the highlights, and at only 86 minutes the movie does not overstay it's welcome (though 75 minutes would have made it tighter). My second favourite scene is the one I mentioned earlier of Fong trashing a car with a plank. This is special because not only are the occupants still in the car, but once he gets bored with the plank he cuts through the roof with a readily available circular saw! By the end only the bare frame of the car is left.

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My absolute favourite scene, which you can also see in the clips below, is a fight between Fong and a beefy guy. The guy strangles Fong and says "I got you now, Chinaman!" Fong wrestles the guy to the ground and in a display of brute strength punches through his face, leaving a puddly mess of skin and bones! Totally over the top. I love it.

There are plenty of clips on YouTube of this great movie, mostly supplied by the one dedicated user. Make sure you check them out, then find a copy of the movie, invite your friends around and drink to Leo Fong!

Clips:

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    The Video:

    Surprisingly for a movie of this vintage and obviously low budget the picture was sharp and clear for the most part, and 16:9 enhanced (though the bit was not set on the DVD and required manual switching). The problem is the audio. I'm sure the DVD is a clear representation of the source material, but that source material is bad. Half the cast mumble their lines, especially Fong, and it doesn't help that the soundtrack never stops. Some scenes require the cast to shout at each other which just causes bad audio clipping. I think they must have borrowed some knackered microphones from the local school!

    Trailer:

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