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  • The Prodigal Son

    The Prodigal Son

    ★★★★

    How's this for a Father's Day special?

    THE PRODIGAL SON is the perfectly refined version of the formula that was developed in pictures like DRUNKEN MASTER, THE YOUNG MASTER, MAGNIFICENT BUTCHER, and KNOCKABOUT. Director Sammo Hung along with stars Yuen Biao and Lam Ching-Ying craft a faultless collection of comedic and exciting set pieces strung along a classic kung fu tale of self-discovery and becoming an adult.

    Yuen Biao plays Leung Chang: the son of the wealthiest merchant in town.…

  • Fighter In The Wind

    Fighter In The Wind

    ★★★★

    FIGHTER IN THE WIND (2004, SOUTH KOREA)
    Dir. Yang Han-ho

    FIGHTER IN THE WIND is a martial arts film in the purest sense in that it explicitly asks the question: "What is valuable about martial arts training?" It stands with 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN, Chiba's KARATE trilogy, and even ROCKY as films that attempt to draw out the meaning from fighting, and naturally ask us to ask ourselves why we find this sort of thing so compelling to watch.

    The…

  • War of the Arrows

    War of the Arrows

    ★★½

    WAR OF ARROWS represents the first serious disappointment I've felt since once more charging unto the breach of Asian action cinema. Don't get me wrong, it's a fine film with an exciting premise and a couple very memorable sequences, but it's all wrapped up in a contrived, flabby, and melodramatic backstory that makes the first hour a slog.

    Directed by rising star Kim Han-Min (the similarly idiosyncratic THE ADMIRAL: ROARING CURRENTS), WAR OF THE ARROWS is a period action drama…

  • The Fate of Lee Khan

    The Fate of Lee Khan

    ★★★★

    THE FATE OF LEE KHAN lifted my spirits after a horrendous week, it's a wonderful collection of set pieces and character actors having fun with a story of spies and traitors on the northern frontier at the tail end of the Yuan Dynasty.

    King Hu's film is a collection of his favorite tropes: the country inn, the evil bureaucrats, the warrior maidens, a collection of people drawn into a remote location with ulterior motives and secret talents. Hu's films are…

  • Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades

    Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades

    ★★★

    BABY CART TO HADES is one of the lesser LONE WOLF AND CUB films, which means it's still a damned good time at the movies. While the action is still furious, the insights into Ogami's parenting still fascinating, and the world he inhabits is still pitiless, the lack of central Yagyu villains in this picture makes it feel like just another set of adventures, as opposed to the continuation of the revenge story in the first two parts.

    In this…

  • Fong Sai Yuk

    Fong Sai Yuk

    ★★★½

    Watching FONG SAI YUK (or as it's known in America, THE LEGEND) for the first time was a profoundly thrilling experience, almost comparable to the first time I saw DRUNKEN MASTER. I can't think of a better encapsulation of this review: this movie lifted my spirits.

    This is going to be a shocking and controversial admission but... I'm not as familiar with Jet Li's filmography as I ought to be. They all seemed to get released by Dimension films at…

  • Unleashed

    Unleashed

    ★★★

    EDITORIAL NOTE: When I pressed "Play" on the DVD there, it asked me if I wanted the "Unrated" or "Extended" version of this fine film. Since I'm grown now, I chose the "Unrated" version, and so that's what these remarks are going to confine themselves to. There were two instances of partial female nudity, so if you're in a rut and the Wi-Fi's down that's probably the one to go for.

    UNLEASHED is a film I first saw in theaters…

  • The Way of the Dragon

    The Way of the Dragon

    ★★★½

    THE WAY OF THE DRAGON is the first and only film Bruce Lee completed as a director, and by default it represents his most personal on screen work. It's a lively, clever film with tremendous action and great insight into Bruce Lee's development as a storyteller.

    THE WAY OF THE DRAGON was the result of two consecutive films Lee had made (THE BIG BOSS and FIST OF FURY) that had smashed every box office record in Hong Kong. Though they…

  • Fist of Fury

    Fist of Fury

    ★★★★

    FIST OF FURY is a seminal martial arts film, a powerful work of popular art, and the film that most distinctly demonstrates what was unique and powerful about Bruce Lee as a performer.

    It's also a kind of stealth sequel to THE BIG BOSS, the film Lee, director Lo Wei, and producer Raymond Chow had made the year before that had shattered all box office records in Hong Kong and caught Hollywood's attention. The stories are unrelated but the thematic…

  • The Big Boss

    The Big Boss

    ★★★

    THE BIG BOSS is a film that cannot be discussed outside of the historical context surrounding it. It is the Hong Kong film debut of Bruce Lee, a monumental event that changed the landscape of Hong Kong cinema forever, and the beginnings of the contemporary martial arts picture that continues to this day.

    As a film, it's pretty good.

    Lee plays Cheng Chao-An, a Chinese worker who has joined his cousin in Thailand working for an ice factory. The ice…

  • Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

    Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

    ★★★★

    HARA-KIRI, both the 1963 original and this remake by Takashi Miike, are samurai films without peer. They cannot be remade as kung fu pictures (LADY SNOWBLOOD into BROKEN OATH), science fiction (HIDDEN FORTRESS into STAR WARS), cowboy movies (YOJIMBO into A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS), or gangster movies (LONE WOLF AND CUB into ROAD TO PERDITION). That's because this story is a revenge tale that springs from the merciless honor code of the samurai, one which is unique in the annals…

  • The Divine Move

    The Divine Move

    ★★★½

    THE DIVINE MOVE is part COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO and part HOUSE OF GAMES. A revenge-thriller with strong martial arts choreography, great humor, some truly evil bad guys, and the great conceit of the game of Go itself, which helps the film feel unique.

    Between this film and REIGN OF ASSASSINS, Jung Woo-sung is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors working today. Here he plays Tae-seok, a professional Go player who tries to help his gambler brother cheat a…