Thursday, April 9, 2020

Hawk the Slayer (1980)

In medieval England the evil warlord Voltan, the Dark One, is pillaging through the land, killing innocents and looting towns. His latest conquest is the kidnap of a local abbess, demanding a high ransom for her return. Wanting to rescue her but unwilling to pay a ransom for fear of the long-term consequences, the church tracks down brave warrior Hawk, who has an old connection with Voltan, and is eager for revenge. Together with the help of a diverse band of fighters, Hawk must take the fight to Voltan and end his reign of evil for good...

Hawk the Slayer is the ultimate in fantasy cheese from the 80s! Taking its place proudly alongside such films as Deathstalker, the Ator series, and more, it's a =. The film has always had a bit of a spotty reputation, and based on the clips I'd seen and things I'd read, I had no reason to suspect/think otherwise. However, now I've finally seen it, and can safely say that I really enjoyed myself!

The story to Hawk the Slayer is pretty traditional stuff, though the convent aspect is a pretty neat one, not seen terribly often. All the expected cliches are amusing to see, and the story's never lazy, with nice developments, and good foreshadowing.

Something I like about the story is how small-scale it is. When you boil it down it's just about defusing a hostage situation with one nun. Epic fantasy plots are great, but it's also nice when a movie knows when to keep things small. Not every story needs to be the biggest thing ever, and it's good sometimes seeing a smaller story that's treated with just as much gravitas as something bigger.

The characters here are a neat and varied bunch. Getting to the leads first, Hawk is the strong but silent type. I wish he'd have opened his gob a little bit more, but you do at least get a bit of insight into his personality, and at times his actions speak louder than words.

Voltan the Dark One is a neat villain. The relationship the two have is well-defined, simple but effective. The story we're told in flashbacks is pretty cliched, and Hawk's girlfriend could've ended the movie much earlier if she's simply stabbed Voltan then untied Hawk, but then we wouldn't have this adventure, and Hawk would be leading a much more boring life. Voltan's explosive personality and sense of entitlement gives him an interesting presence. He's furious at Hawk for 'taking away' his love, but completely ignores that he murdered her, ignoring that and putting all the blame on Hawk the Seducer. Also interesting is the side of him we see when with the mysterious evil wizard. He becomes a lot more weak and desperate, almost submissive.

The most bizarre thing about these two brothers is the clear and obvious age difference! Jack Palance looks positively elderly (sorry Mr. Palance!), and yet he and Hawk are supposed to be siblings? Perhaps it would've been better if he was Hawk's uncle, and brother to the old man at the start of the movie. Voltan having a son Hawk's age also raises more questions, though the reveal that he's adopted does clear that up a little. Lastly, I did wonder why Voltan was American, but at least the casting of yank John Terry the hero makes that consistent.

Hawk's crew consists of crippled warrior Ranulf, Crow the elf, Baldin the dwarf, Gort the giant, and an unnamed witch who Hawk simply calls 'woman'. Dude, I get she might be a bit secretive, but you can at least ask her for her bloody name! The witch is a suitably mysterious and enigmatic lady, while Gort is the more jovial and talkative bruiser of the group. Baldin is amusing enough comic relief, and serious when the time calls for it, and silent but weird Crow almost got too little to do, but had some very nice scenes later on. Ranulf is pretty neat too, but only gets to do so much when the cast is this big. Together they're a pretty overpowered bunch, but the movie knows not to make them too unstoppable. As for who makes it through the finale, some losses are very well done, but others happen very abruptly, not feeling necessary.

The supporting cast are decent to mixed. The abbess doesn't appear much, but is likeable, while the other head nun you can see where she's coming from but groan as you see what she does. Voltan's impetuous son Drogo is pretty ridiculous though. [He's =.] "I am no messenger. But I will give you a message...OF DEATH!". Overall, there aren't really any failures in the cast, and while it was touch and go whether there were too many, or if they were all utilised properly, none really felt superfluous.

The acting here is quite varied. It ranges from effective, with both boisterous and quieter subtle performances, to a little wooden, to outright hammy! John Terry isn't a bad lead. He absolutely looks/nails the part, but while I wouldn't say he's emotionless, he could stand to show a bit more life. It would've made us care for him more, and made it seemed like Hawk cares. Then there's the great Jack Palance! How a cowboy actor from the States got cast in a British medieval fantasy is anyone's guess, but he's clearly having a lot of fun! He can get very over-the-top, laughably so in places (DROGOOOOO!!!), but he's a very distinct personality, and gives the movie a lot of character.

Aside from its main players, this is a who's who of British media talent, with actors/personalities like Bernard Bresslaw (getting the meatiest performance I've ever seen from the guy, delivering superbly!), Christopher Benjamin, Patricia Quinn, Roy Kinnear, Graham Stark, and more.

By far the best thing about Hawk the Slayer is the music. It has to be heard to be believed! In no other fantasy, or film period could you hear an 80s synth-pop  disco, mixed in with spaghetti western and oriental tunes! I know it sounds crazy, but the themes in this film are fantastic, and so much work has been put into them. They're cheesy at times, but in the best possible way, and never bad.

What I also really admire about the score though is that despite such an eclectic mix, it's never cluttered. The tunes are short and sweet, enough that you wish they'd last longer, but they never overstay their welcome, or sound like endless cacophonies. The western style whistles are cool, and never overused. The movie actually could've stood to use a few more in fact!

The effects are nifty. None are really bad, many are goofy, and everything convinces in the right ways. The costumes are all fun (especially Voltan's Darth Vader half-mask), the giants and dwarves/elves are suitably sized, and look decently convincing despite still being relatively human. There's plenty to see here, from flying magic swords, to lasers, floating magic circles, and more. Never a dull moment visually. That leads me into the movie's appearance. The locations are great! There's a very authentic feel to the arboreal surroundings, and I like the colour the film has. It's got a bit of medieval grime to it without looking colourless and grim. My only complaint is that the crew got a bit carried away with the fog machine in many scenes! It's like they were worried the film might look cheaper or not epic enough without a constant supply of smoke/haze. They were wrong.

The direction by Terry Marcel is quite good for the most part. Fight scenes are mostly rousing and fun, and introduction scenes and location bits are well-shot. The editing during the fight scenes can sometimes look weird though. The quick-cut effect they use to show arrows being shot superhumanly fast is cool, but it does look more like editing than anything the characters are actually doing, and the fights can get a bit chaotic at times. Some of them are also over very quickly!

I avoided Hawk the Slayer for years because I was worried it wasn't gonna be good, but it proved me so wrong! Some might enjoy it as a so-bad-it's-good film, but to me it genuinely is good, in an endearing and fun way. It's a shame we never got a follow-up as the movie's ending teases, as that could've been an extra slice of cheese for a nice fantasy pizza! As it is, this is a great way to spend a nice evening in...

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

A Beach Party Essay: The Perils of Eric von Zipper

It's that time of year again, to discuss the deeper artistic merits of the lauded Beach Party series, and once again chart the = journey of one Eric von Zipper, Rat Pack Esq.

This time round, the burgeoning musical star Sugar Kane has been = publicity stunts, and been = by a bunch'a no good stinkin' beach bums!

And even ends up facing off against a true/real kidnapper, who ties up the poor helpless Sugar onto a log of wood headed for a buzzsaw   And yet despite this brave struggle...von Zipper is knocked out almost immediately and Frankie Avalon saves the day. Why? Well because he loves silent films of course, and whoever saw Buster Keaton get the girl? Like 3 times outta 10! (this figure may be erroneous).

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Brandon Lee (1965-1993)

Martial arts superstar Bruce Lee carved out fame for himself from an early age. = talented  practicing his skills and eventually opening up classes of his own and teaching many. Gradually he moved to acting, and became the icon we all know and love, appearing in films such Fist of Fury, and Enter the Dragon. Tragically, he died at the height of his fame, at far too young an age

Brandon Lee always had a tough act to follow. Comparisons between him and his father would have been as unwelcome as they were inevitable. Thankfully when he began a career in movies he took a cue from Jackie Chan's book and focused on making himself different. This paid off spectacularly, as Brandon is well known for his comedic skills and his charismatic grins, on top of his superb martial arts, in contrast to the more serious action roles his father dominated. Talent and hard work certainly ran in the family, and Brandon was an active and energetic guy with a clear drive to do what he wanted in life.

Lee wanted to be an actor even since his youth on his father's sets. His career began fittingly with a supporting lead role in Kung Fu: The Movie, then as the next generation in the aptly titled Kung Fu: The Next Generation. After Bruce developed the show's concept but wasn't included as the star as he wanted (inadvertently paving the way for his film career in China), it's a = for Brandon to take the reins, even if only briefly. Following this he took part in Legacy of Rage, a Hong Kong production that would be his first time as a leading man. While the title was there to remind audiences who Brandon was, as if they'd forget, he cuts a distinctly different figure already from his father, delivering an effectively emotional performance that's been consistently praised through the years even by those who didn't like the film.

Brandon's career took a global/international detour to Africa where his next film Laser Mission was made. After this, things took root in America, with  such as Showdown in Little Tokyo and Rapid Fire. The first was exactly the film professional critics love to hate, but he shone as a bright point for most, while Rapid Fire was more successful critically, and allowed for Brandon's fame to grow even further, before finally leading to dark superhero film The Crow, and Lee's tragic accidental death on set.

One of the things I like most about Brandon's filmography is how diverse and eclectic it is. You've got cheesy 80s action, over-the-top 90s action that's cheesy in all new ways, dramatic kung fu roles, heroic bloodshed, and superhero fiction! No two of his films are alike, and there's always something new on display.

Lee apparently expressed wishes to pursue more dramatic projects rather than let action dominate his career. While it'd be a bummer for all us action-hounds out there, that would have been an interesting decision I feel. It's always good to branch out, and never remain pigeonholed into one genre. And that ensures you appear in less bad films. Jean-Clause Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren for example, bless them, have appeared in more than a few stinkers. When you're appearing exclusively in one thing for a while, a lack of quality control can occur as you find yourself picking whatever roles are offered, while a broader acting range can keep things perpetually fresher, if done well. And besides, I doubt he would've stopped appearing in action altogether!

It's a real tragedy what befell Lee. Nevermind what kind of career he would've had, I also mourn for him as a person, and what he could have done with his life outside of cinema. Quoted on Brandon's grave is a sweet epitaph, a passage he read during an interview, regarding his stance on the future.

"Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, or five times more? Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless..."

Brandon Lee Blogathon: Rapid Fire (1992)

Jake Lo is a bright college kid with a tragic past. Having lost his father in a failed protest in China, he's become disillusioned with life. When some activists trick him into showing up at their benefit party Jake reluctantly accepts to speak to the audience, but before he can he witnesses crime lord Tony Serrano shoot a man. After escaping their clutches, Jake is taken by the police, who quickly realise the break they have here, and put Jake immediately into witness protection, against his will. No sooner than Jake's arrived at the safehouse, some corrupt officers try and kill him and pin a murder charge on his head. Now on the run from both Serrano's thugs and the police, Jake must team up with a rogue cop who does business his own way, and take the fight to Serrano...

Rapid Fire is a quintessentially 90s action film. It's got everything you'd expect, and more, with fights aplenty, babes, car chases, explosions, and kung fu! Sign me up!

The movie sets up its plot well, and it doesn't take too long for us to get what's going on, or for the plot to really kick into gear. The protagonist is a good one, with a very effective backstory! His reactions are believable as he's suddenly thrust into this dangerous free-for-all, he's pissed without being belligerent or annoying.

A man-on-the-run story by design, the pacing is fine, and never boring. The film moves briskly enough, and has got enough twists and turns to keep you happy.

The action is really good here! Some of it is grounded and believable, with close-quarters fights, and tense stand-offs. Then we get the crazier moments, with guys whipping out shotguns and shooting speeding cars so many times they flip over and explode twice! It strikes a good balance, never being too much, and always entertaining.

The romance here is all telegraphed from a mile away, and is handled so cheesily, but in an amusing way. You might groan at the cliches or laugh at the handling of them, but it's never bad, just very funny.

Something I really respect about Rapid Fire is how political it is! While otherwise a straight and conventional Hollywood action film, it also shines a spotlight right in the Tienanmen Square Massacre, and isn't afraid to criticise the brutally oppressive Chinese regime. More of that please, Hollywood! Free China!

The characters here are good. Jake Lo is a nice lead character, with a sympathetic backstory. He's pissed off a lot of the time here, but never whines, and isn't dour all the time either.    Detective Mace Ryan (what a name!) is a fun though insane addition, getting some really over-the-top moments. His character is quite well detailed, and we really come to understand him. He also can't bowl for shit!

Policewoman Karla is a likeable addition. Maybe a bit unnecessary, and despite being ordered by a wounded Mace in the climax to forget him and help Jake, she's nowhere to be seen (leading Jake to have to go back in and rescue the guy!), but she's nice, and not too bitchy, gettinhgsome funny moments here and there too.

The villains are pretty neat. Serrano may be a typical Italian mafioso head, but the character is fun and villainous enough to want to follow. He gets one really good moment when with a crooked associate, who's been sent in by the cops with a wire. The guy's trying to get out of there as fast as he can, while Serrano slowly plays with him before revealing he knows. Overall the film gets across well his character of trying to stay strong in the face of waning credibility and tough threats.

The other villain is Kinman Tau, a ruthless Chinese criminal mastermind, and the main antagonist of the film, as well as the one whose actions spur the film into...well, action. He's pretty good, and has his moments (namely the stickfighting scene at the beginning), but he disappears for so long that you feel surprised when you see him again. 'Oh yeah, that guy', you'll think. When he does return he's good, and a decent final baddie, though the lack of screentime does have an effect.

Where Rapid Fire disappoints is in a couple of areas. For a start, there are too many characters! Not all of them are major, but it still feels like too many people to remember. We've got the 'Free China' group at the start, including the pretty blonde, who vanish entirely after the first act. Then there's the myriad mobsters, Serrano himself, his crooked contacts, and Tau and his gang! With Jake and the cops too, it's a bit hard to follow who's who at times.

The other big issue is connected to this. The main villain of the film is Serrano. He's the one Jake witnesses killing someone, he organises the hit on him and makes his a wanted man from the cops too, and there's a long climactic fight to finally take him down!...An hour in. And he's successfully arrested! What happens next you ask? Tau is upgraded to the main villain, and the rest of the movie is devoted to stopping him. Not a terrible direction to the plot, and Tau has been a presence from the beginning, but the problem is so much weight was = on Serrano and his attachment to the plot, so to see him defeated earlier than expected and refocus the plot onto a new big bad is pretty disappointing and disorienting!

This also has a double effect. Not only do you go through this big action setpiece that feels like the climax but isn't, but the movie then keeps going with a whole new climax. Just when your brain thinks the movie's wrapping up it keeps going. The Serrano plot was built up so heavily as the main draw that once he's defeated, it feels like we're watching the last act of another movie altogether.It's a little exhausting having to watch both these setpieces back-to-back.

There are other issues with the film, such as the sheer amount of cops that get killed (]Jesus, Mace, you are so fired!]), and the = moments of the action setpiece with Serrano. It's silly that pretty much no other cops ever show up. Where it gets really ludicrous though is when the bad guys casually whip off a cloth and reveal a 50 cal. machine gun, and promptly mow down = with abandon! It's unbelievable and depressing! I thought these guys wanted to keep a low profile! They were gonna kill Jake to avoid notoriety, and here they are turning downtown L.A. into a warzone!

Ok, back to some positives. The action in Rapid Fire is exemplary! Fights are expertly choreographed, there's an equal amount of gunplay and fisticuffs, and Lee is more than able to show off his skills. He's a marvel to behold as he punches, kicks, and strikes his way through foes with abandon, with too many highlights to mention. Maybe my favourite is when the cornered Serrano begs "Not the face", and Brandon promptly hits him nowhere but the face! The posters to Rapid Fire declare Lee is unarmed and extremely dangerous, and this is one time where the advertising didn't lie!

The music here is neat. There are plenty of good action beats, softer moments, a fair amount of 90s saxophone, and the crowning highlight of the film-A pair of songs by rock band Hardline. They're cheesy and =, but really fun. The first, Can't Find My Way, is effective over the love scene, and I Will Be There is an amusing way to play the movie out, and it feels cathartic to hear such a track after [balls-to-the-wall] action for a whole movie. It also has a pleasant melancholy feel to it, knowing that this is Brandon Lee's final film before The Crow. I don't know if that makes sense, but it gives me a sense of sadness and happiness =.

The acting here is very good. Lee is an endearing and energetic lead, who can fight just as well as he can smile! Powers Boothe is lots of fun as crazy cop Mace, while Kate Hodge is a decent love interest. Nick Mancuso is good as the villain. He and his goons can sometimes be amusingly Italian, but are all fine, and never border on self-parody. Tzi Ma plays against type as the villain (many may know him as the kindly Consul Han from Rush Hour), and is neat! He looks intimidating enough despite his age and stature, and makes for a good final opponent.

Rapid Fire is a pretty flawed picture, but it's still a great time! It's got much to recommend, and you're sure to enjoy yourself here if you're an action aficionado.

Brandon Lee Blogathon: Legacy of Rage (1986)

Brandon Ma is a nice young man working two jobs to support his girlfriend May and their future plans of raising a family. The kind of guy to swoop in and help those in need, and not afraid to fight back when victimised, Brandon lives well, but has made the mistake of being friends with Michael, the son of a ruthless crime lord. Michael as inherited all of his father's evil and cunning, and more, and has a plan of his own. Since he and his father's business is threatened by a greedy corrupt cop, Michael uses Brandon as a scapegoat, and orchestrates him to be blamed for the cop's death. This leaves Brandon imprisoned for 8 years, and Michael all prepared to move in on May, who manages to flee in time. Eight years later, Brandon has learned of his 'friend's' betrayal, and with the help of a kindly convict he met in prison, he'll get his revenge and reunite with May if it's the last thing he does...

Legacy of Rage is a rarity in Brandon Lee's short filmography, and a very welcome addition, in that it's a Hong Kong production! I'm glad Lee had the chance to act in at least one film in his other mother country. Thankfully the movie is a good one too. A mix of genres, Legacy of Rage is a brisk film that has elements of drama, action, and more, making for a diverse picture.

The movie gets off to a good start, introducing us to all the characters well. It then shows us all of Brandon and May's plans for the future, which you just know are gonna be crushed, and sure enough they are. Brandon spends the middle third in prison, but thankfully this is never boring, nor grinds the pace or plot to a halt. The eight years soon end up passing (maybe a little too quickly, and almost no-one seems to have aged!)

The romance is well crafted. Even though everything that happens is fairly standard stuff, it's the execution that's important. The characters share chemistry, and have a few good scenes together. Unfortunately they only get one and a half scene after May's forced to flee Hong Kong, and that's it!
although I hated the scene where Brandon burns her letters! I get why, because he thinks she turned to another man, but he should've read them, and realised the truth, and kept these precious mementos! He was gonna learn the truth in 5 minutes time anyway.

Something I like about the movie is that people help Brandon a lot. Things maybe pretty bleak, but = is there to help May, the manager helps, and so does the prison captain, even Brandon's new boss when he gets out of prison likes him and gives him chances. It's little things like this that stop the movie from becoming unbearably depressing. Even though his life still sucks you = without switching the movie off from too much grimness.

The climax is where I have mixed feelings. Theoretically I friggin' hate it all, if not for the ending's superbly played emotions and music. But more on that later. For a start, let's discuss the genre shift. There are a couple of minor scuffles and brawls in the earlier parts of the film, but it's more of a crime-thriller than action. That all changes in the final 15/20 minutes, where Legacy of Rage suddenly becomes a 'heroic bloodshed' movie! Now, this action is all great, and I wouldn't so so far as to say it feels out of place, but it might be a little at odds with the rest of the movie. It could be annoying to some expecting this to be a full-blown action film only to get it just in the ending. I don't object to the direction the creators took this climax, but perhaps they could've kept it more consistent and had more of a [crime-thriller] suitable ending, with maybe Brandon using Michael's now vast empire [against him] to take him down, in a fit of poetic justice, then he could either be jailed (for maximum karma!) or killed. =

Now to come to the real problem with the climax-Its conclusion! Anyone who's seen the movie will know what I'm talking about. Something happens here that is just plain depressing! It's not necessary at all. I feel that Michael had already done enough to Brandon for the story. Now is the time for revenge, not for more to be taken away. Overall this is a big fat downer!

Thankfully the ending makes up at least a little for this, and it a very sweet conclusion. It's interestingly directed, it showcases the friendship between Brandon and Hoi, with no words necessary, and despite being relatively brief, it's a really nice conclusion to the film, with the music being the absolute standout.

The imaginatively named Brandon is a very good protagonist. We're introduced to him perfectly when a young child has missed the bus (what a shock!), and he hauls the [toddler] up on his shoulder and runs through the streets of Hong Kong until he catches up at the bus's next stop. It's a cheesy intro, but it's fun, and instantly endears you to Brandon.

He's a real sweet guy, and you feel bad for him for all the shit he goes through, and all the opportunities he misses out on. He's a real Count of Monte Cristo figure in that regard. Thankfully he too gets his revenge, and we're behind him all the way!

Michael meanwhile is a loathsome villain. He's an absolute scumbag and you pray for his violent death. During the early minutes his sliminess is immediately apparent the way he comes on to May, and talks to Brandon. He'll sidle up to him and say stuff like "Hey, I hear your relationship's not going so well", and before Brandon can have a chance to say that's bullcrap, Michael continues with "You can dump her and I'll take care of her. I don't mind used goods". Ohhhh noooo! What a son of a bitch! Thankfully Brandon punishes him suitably for that 'joke' as he claims it to be.

He's a traitorous bastard too, as we see when he's disturbingly willing to throw his best friend under the bus just to get rid of an obstacle, and to get May all for himself. During the montage where he builds his business up, we see him  and grow increasingly unhinged.

Poor May just can't catch a break in this film, but thankfully she spends the 8 years while Brandon's in prison not depressingly badly. She's a sweet enough girl, and nice love interest, though vanishes for a while in the midsection. She never feels underused or = written though.

Then there's Hoi, or 'Four-eyes'. He's cool! An unassuming gun runner (a good one I hope!), this scrawny little nerdy guy is a great help, and surprisingly badass! He's an honourable and noble friend, and you really = between him and Brandon. My only complaint is that after meeting Brandon on his release and promising the two would do great things, the movie forgets him for a while! Thankfully he's back in full force for the climax, and survives too! Phew.

The supporting cast are all quite good. Some may appear less than others, but they all feel distinct, and lively, from the weaselly corrupt cop, to Brandon and May's sympathetic manager, and the lonely Mr. Huang/Tang. At first he seems like a possibly dirty old man who can't take No for an answer, but thankfully he proves to be the opposite, and

The acting in Legacy of Rage is great. Due to the film's tone, Lee has none of the comedic charm he'd show in later movies, but he still delivers a performance of a very different kind. He handles the serious/emotional material very well  As for whether this is actually him speaking on Chinese I'm not sure. He could speak it, but maybe he got dubbed over anyway? Who knows, but =!

Michael Wong does too good a job as the evil Michael, and you spend the whole movie wanting to deck him. Regina Kent is spunky and cute as May, with moments of good drama, and Mang Hoi is fun as Hoi!...With these names the way they are I'm surprised they didn't hire someone named May!

The action is another highlight for this film. The stuntwork and choreography is great, and even though wirework makes a couple of thugs jerk unnaturally when shot, the impacts from their falls are very much real! The gunplay is super neat, as well as super ridiculous, with hundreds of rounds fired, blood splattering everywhere, and bodies falling left right and centre. It gets so insane that it actually distracts from Brandon's martial arts! Thankfully the last 5 minutes showcase that to great effect. We get other cheesy moments too, such as a grenade with a hilariously long fuse. Coming only moments after a previous one blew up instantly, this grenade stays stuck in Brandon's car for nearly half a minute!

The direction here is very good too. Stylish and colourful, each scene has something cool about it. Fight scenes are staged well, and even some simple conversations are framed neatly. The soundtrack is very nice too. We've got tense and brooding tracks, and calm and tender ones, with the aforementioned scoring during the ending making for a wonderful/lovely listening experience.

One last thing to discuss is the title-While the characters in this film certainly have something to be angry about, the name is more reflective of the star and his father, which is an odd thing to name the movie after. They'd probably share more of a legacy in philosophy, tranquility, and asskicking moreso than something as negative as rage. It's a neat enough title though, and serves the film alright.

Overall, Legacy of Rage might not be perfect, but for a first leading role it's more than what someone could ask for, and is a great first outing, as well as a fun action and emotional drama in its own right...

two brandon, umbrella rain, car gun, uzis, duo

Monday, March 30, 2020

Brandon Lee: Television Appearances

During his short career, Brandon Lee appeared a couple of times on TV, in a continuation to Kung Fu, further solidifying his attachment to the series his father had first developed, and an episode of Pat Morita cop show Ohara, where he got to play a villain for a change!...

Kung Fu: The Next Generation

Johnny Caine is the troublesome son of the current Kwai Chang Caine. After a heist gone wrong, Johnny is sent back into the care of his father, and the air is frosty for a while, but with some luck the two might get through to each-other. However, a criminal friend of Johnny's keeps trying to get him back into the game for another big job...

Kung Fu: The Next Generation was an unsold pilot to a tv series that never was, instead giving way to the more successful The Legend Continues. As far as sequels go I really quite enjoyed it! It's very different from the original series, but in a good way, that makes it stand out as its own unique ting, while also being familiar enough to not feel like a completely different property.

The story is a good one, telling a = '= father and rebellious son' =, but without all the usual cliches. I really liked its presentation here. The father doesn't come across as preachy or annoying, and the son most importantly isn't a dickhead! He's got his rougher side, but is never obnoxious, and comes around believably.

There's a good balance here between fighting and emotion, with a nice philosophy, that's true to Kung Fu. The series and the martial arts! It never feels boring, and it could teach a thing or two.

Onto the characters, the appropriately but confusingly named Kwai Chang Caine is a good guy, and a nice teacher and father. He's presented as super perfect, but this is the point, and part of Johnny's feelings of frustration and inadequacy. Johnny is likeable enough, with his criminal activities and snappiness never making you dislike him, and you feel invested in where his character goes, hoping he becomes better.

Mick is a real effective villain. He's such a passive-aggressive dick, and you can really feel the peer pressure that emanates from him, and how he can attract = youths to join his =. He's the kind of person who says they owe you big time one second, then = as soon as you're unsure about =. I thought they owed you?

The acting here is all good. David Darlow is a worthy enough descendant to Caine, and comes across as an old-fashioned mystical guy in a modern world, keeping to all the old traditions. He also looks like David Carradine, which I really like. It's much better to have Kwai Chang Caine's descendant look like Carradine, rather than just be played by him, as it feels more authentic and less cheap.

Brandon Lee delivers a good performance, getting across a tougher and frustrated side, but also a softer one, and never being really horrible or irredeemable. Miguel Ferrer delivers a typically good performance too, although I was a little confused where his characters manipulations ended and inconsistent writing began.

The action here is pretty decent, with a few good hits here and there. Darlow probably wasn't a martial artist, but the same can be said for Carradine in the original show. This does a decent job of hiding any potential lack of true skill, though he does look a bit too [unassuming]. Lee gets some good moments. We don't see anything amazing, but it's all entertaining enough.

Overall, Kung Fu: The Next Generation may not be the best TV pilot around, but I'd be quite interested in seeing what it could have been. I hope The Legend Continues is a worthy follow=up to the groundwork this laid down...

Ohara: What's in a Name

Senior police detective Ohara is feeling [down in the dumps] as the anniversary of his wife and daughter's death comes closer. Just as he intends to stay at home for the occasion, his daughter's friend Diane shows up out of the blue, with a favour to ask. When on a trip to Japan she met an older gentlemen, who lavished her with all sorts of gifts. Despite making it quite clear she wasn't interested in a romance, he's refusing to take No for an answer. It soon becomes apparent there's more to the case though...

Ohara was a unique series, and a diverse one as it was one of the few shows of the time to have an Asian lead. Unfortunately it had a short-lived and == had quite a tumultuous life. It's an example of a show killed not only by low ratings, but excessive studio meddling.    Then he'd use martial arts if necessary, then he had a conventional partner, then he carried a gun, etc. None of these ideas would make for a bad show by themselves, but it's frustrating to see a good concept bandied about and diluted like this, and all for nothing since the show was cancelled anyway.

Thankfully What's in a Name is a good example of the series' good quality. Having seen no previous or future episodes of the series, and with no real = idea of the constant format changes, with only this episode to go on it certainly comes across well. I've always had a soft spot for the show, and wished for a proper release.

The story here is a good one. It introduces the characters and their backstories well, everyone interacts well with each-other. There's a good balance of comedy, drama, and criminal intrigue, with none stepping over the others.

One of my favourite moments of the episode was when Diane is talking to her Japanese friend Kazu, telling why she can't be with him and he needs to understand that...and he actually listens! He decides to respect her wishes, listening to reason, and the two part as friends once more. What a surprisingly against type moment!. Of course, the moment is ruined somewhat when he's murdered by his son. Oh well, you win some, you lose some, Diane.

It's the second half which gets more action-packed. There's a murder, a hunt for the 'suspect', and finding the real killers. The identity of the real bad guys is pretty obvious, but thankfully this is never really a whodunnit, and it takes the time to flesh out its baddie, even if only a little with a TV episode runtime.

The acting here is great. Pat Morita is a very nice lead, balancing many emotions perfectly. Robert Clohessy does well as his sidekick, who's a bit of a jokester, but shows genuine concern for his friend. Katherine Moffat is nice as old family friend Diane, while Robert Ito is good as the Yakuza leader, coming across as antagonistic, but not overtly villainous, and has a softer side. Brandon Lee meanwhile is having fun as the villain! His only time as a bad guy he really sells the role here, and you wouldn't wanna cross him! Unless you're Pat Morita, that is!

What's in a Name is a good episode of Ohara, and a perfect introduction. I hope to see more of it someday, and with any luck it'll get a proper release in the future!

Brandon Lee Blogathon: Kung Fu: The Movie (1986)

Kung Fu: The Movie isn't really much of a movie, as its title suggests, but more like an extended TV episode. With shows from the 70s and 80s, you'd often come across stories that were too long for one episode, but not long enough for two. That'swhat this film feels like. Taking no =, and made on the budget of a TV program, it feels like a = saturday night adventure stretched to an ill-advised length

The other big problem with this is the plot. The focuses should be on the mysterious man tailing Caine, and the revelation therein, with the Manchu being the villain. Instead the majority of the plot concerns a local opium smuggling gang, and what time isn't spent with that is = carting boxes of lettuce around! Words can't express how frustrating it is to be given glimpses of an interesting and impactful A-story, only to spend most of the time watching the mediocre B-plot.

As an introduction to the series it's ok I suppose, but its more staid and dull = might make people believe the TV series is more of the same, when it may well be more fun and energetic

The tone of the film isn't exactly peppy. Chinese people (including children) are forced to work in shitty conditions and everyone just = to live with it, there's the spectre of constant racism, people die, and even the noble sheriff gets killed, and is rarely mentioned again. The climax is oddly dour! Caine goes to the trouble of blocking a bullet with his body, for nothing, and =!

Where the movie excels is in the classic aphorisms and wisdom, and to its credit the film still has an Oriental feel despite being set in the Old West

The fight scenes, few of them as there may be, are pretty decent, with the best being the one at the end. Though the fact that it focuses more on weapons than = means we don't get to see a great deal of Brandon Lee's skills. The final battle with the Manchu also disappoints, because he's ready to = two on one with twin scimitars!...When he's shaken to death by the camera without a single blow.

The acting here is ok, though no-one really excels. David Carradine is good in the lead role, though.=. Brandon Lee delivers good performance, but doesn't appear enough to really sink his teeth into the role. Mako is entertaining as the main antagonist, and is able to shine despite his lack of screentime. William Lucking can always be trusted to play a good minor villain, and Luke Askew is good as the noble Sheriff. Kerrie Keane is nice enough as the =. Martin Landau is here as the main = villain, but you'd hardly know it. He barely appears, and does practically/pretty much nothing. And finally the great Keye Luke has a small but effective role here, and he's eminently likeable no matter what!

Kung Fu: The Movie is an alright picture, but not on par with the original series it follows, or that enjoyable. It also doesn't offer much of Brandon Lee, unfortunately.