The Art Of Self-Defense

Brief synopsis:

Casey is a diffident and somewhat reclusive accountant, who decides that he needs to protect himself after getting beaten up whilst out getting dog food for his dachshund dog. He tries to purchase a handgun but is told they need to do a background check, and he would have to wait to take it home.

Passing a karate school, curiosity takes him in to watch a class. He is immediately hooked and decides to take up the martial art. It soon becomes apparent that his sensei is not a normal martial arts instructor.

Is it any good?

The Art Of Self-Defense is both amusing and dark, with brilliant performances from the main protagonists. Definitely not a conventional film, and told in a quirky, understated fashion, The Art Of Self-Defense is worth a watch.

Spoiler territory:

Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) lives alone with his small dachshund dog. Working as an accountant, his work colleagues find him odd and view him with disdain when he tries to join in the conversation they are having, moaning about their boss, Grant (Hauke Bahr).

Casey is seen as a bit of a company favourite, as Grant seems to give him preferential treatment. On his way home from work, Casey is confronted by an anonymous group of motorcyclists. They chase him, and even as he begs, give him a beatdown. Casey is beaten to such an extent he ends up in the hospital.

Fearing for his safety after the ordeal, Casey is too afraid to even go out and buy dog food. He decides to purchase a handgun. The shop owner helps him to pick out the gun but tells him he will have to wait a week to collect the gun. Casey leaves the store. On his way home he stops at a small karate dojo.

The instructor, Sensei (Alessandro Nivola), is explaining aspects of the martial art to a group of rapt students. Casey is sold. The next evening, he returns to join. There is a different class being taught. It is a children’s class, and the instructor is Anna (Imogen Poots). Casey approaches her after the class, breaking one of the cardinal rules of the dojo: He steps onto the mat whilst still wearing his shoes.

Anna brusquely tells him to get his shoes off the mat. Apologising, Casey asks about joining the class. She tells him to come back the next day. Returning the next evening, Casey meets the enigmatic Sensei. Casey is befriended by Henry (David Zellner), who tells him about their class and about the black stripe that Casey notices on some of the students’ belts.

Henry tells him it is for the night class. He is a little excited, as he tells him as he believes he is going to get asked to join the night class. In the class, Sensei addresses the class and invites one of the class to his special, invitation-only, night class. It is not Henry.

In the class, Casey is paired with Kennith (Phillip Andre Botello). He quickly finds out that the class is not for the faint of heart, as he is struck and kicked hard by Kennith. Casey is hooked on the class, practising and attending nightly, Sensei encouraging his obvious zeal. Casey gets a call from the gun shop but tells the owner he no longer needs a gun.

Sensei has another announcement. He promotes Thomas (Steve Terada) to an instructor, even though he has Anna, who instructs the children, in the class. She is, notably, the only female in the class. Casey talks to Anna. She tries to warn him not to get involved with the club.

Casey is still off work after the attack, and Grant calls him telling him that he has run out of holiday days and needs to return to work. An emboldened, by his newfound skills, Casey, returns to work. He bullies the same colleagues who viewed him with disdain, forcing them to do press-ups with him.

He loses his job when he punches Grant in the throat for asking for some documents. Now unemployed, Casey focuses even more on his karate. He tells Sensei about his new status of unemployment. Sensei employs him to organise his accounts. Sensei invites Casey to the night class. Henry sees that Casey has the invite, and decides he will go along as well.

The night class proves to be darker than the normal class. Sensei begins the class by inviting Henry to the front of the class and breaking his arm for coming to the class without an invitation. Anna beats Thomas unconscious in front of the class.

After the class, the class pair off and strip so as to exchange massages. Sensei takes Casey to Anna’s changing area, explaining that, as he is not yet strong enough to massage one of the men, he will massage and be massaged by Anna.

Later in the night, Casey gets a call from Sensei. He tells him that he has found one of the men who attacked him. Casey goes to meet him. Sensei tells him the man is in a bar and points to a motorcycle, saying it is his. A drunken man comes staggering out of the bar. “It is him,” Sensei insists. Casey is not sure.

Casey approaches the man and asks him if he recognises him. Insensible with drink, the man can barely stand up. Sensei insists that Casey takes revenge. Casey knocks the man to the floor, the man hitting his head as he falls. He sees Sensei filming him. He takes the drunk man’s keys and goes to the motorbike. They are not for the bike.

Sensei invites him out on a special mission the next night. The night class go out on motorcycles. Casey is told to ride with Anna. They are looking for someone to attack. Anna sees someone and approaches them. The man has a gun and, feeling threatened, shoots her in the leg. Casey beats the man to a pulp. Casey takes Anna to get help for her wound.

Casey confronts Sensei but is easily bested. He decides to return to the dojo late at night, and check out Sensei’s office. After discovering Henry’s hanging corpse in the dojo, he finds tapes of all the students doing incriminating things.

The next day, Sensei comes in and finds Henry hanged in the dojo. He takes him down and puts his body in the incinerator. Casey comes to see Sensei. He challenges him to a fight. They meet later in the night, in front of the class. Casey shoots him dead. He tells the class that there are going to be some changes. He puts Anna in charge of the school. The end.

The Art Of Self-Defense is a quirky dark comedy, with elements of Fincher’s Fight Club, with Eisenberg channelling his best autistic persona as Casey, and Nivola brilliant as the psychopathic Sensei. Poots’s Anna is, bravely, not utilised as a love interest, not in the traditional way. Though Casey reacts after she gets shot, there is no story for a Casey and Anna union.

Written and directed by Riley Stearns, The Art Of Self-Defense is an unexpected film that moves at a good pace, and has good performances from all involved. At 144 minutes long, the film potters along quite nicely, with Stearns fashioning a tight tale gently ribbing the machoism of martial arts.

The Art Of Self-Defense is not for everyone. Nivola’s Sensei is cruel and manipulative, and the inhabitants of the night class are weak-minded, allowing Sensei to instigate random attacks on strangers in some macho ritual. Though Anna explains her reasons for remaining in a class and environment where she is not respected, the reasoning is quite feeble.

It is only the incriminating tapes that allow Sensei to hold sway over their group. Still, it is a little odd that none of the group seemed to resent him. All that being said, I did enjoy The Art Of Self-Defense and feel it is worth a watch.

Avengement – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: Cain Burgess is out for revenge after being set up by his older brother, Lincoln. Imprisoned after getting convicted of manslaughter whilst doing a job for his sibling, Cain finds his stretch in prison is a daily battle for survival after Lincoln puts a bounty on his head. When he gets granted permission to see his dying mother, Cain escapes and goes after those who betrayed him.

Is it any good?: from a film purist point of view, not really. Starring Scott Adkins—the budget, accent-free JCVD—it is good on action and moderate on acting. Having said that, as a bit of a fan of mister Adkins particular brand of teak-like performances and a lover of a good action film, Avengement is ninety minutes of brainless, fun, entertainment.

Spoiler territory: Cain Burgess(Scott Adkins), a resident of HMS Belmarsh prison, is allowed a temporary release to go and see his dying mother (Jane Thorne). A highly dangerous individual, he is accompanied by six police officers, but he is too late to see his mother who dies before he can see her. Cain escapes from his escort.

He heads to a pub, the Horse and Jockey. Quickly overpowering a couple of security guards at the entrance, he goes in and sits at the bar. The barmaid, Bez (Kierston Wareing), serves him a beer. In the bar, a small group of men are talking business. Mo (Leo Gregory) is telling Vern (Beau Fowler) about the precautions that Hyde (Nick Moran), taking instruction from Lincoln (Craig Fairbrass), has implemented.

Mo asks him if he did not hear about the incident where Rook (Daniel Adegboyega) not only got his hand cut off but ended up dead? Vern just wants to keep doing business. Mo calls to Tune (Thomas Turgoose), who witnessed the incident with Rook. Tune begins to recount the story. He tells how Rook went to confront a mysterious figure that was watching them.

He saw that Rook got his hand cut off and went to help him. Tune says he could not catch the guy because he ran off scared. Cain, who had been listening from his perch at the bar, starts laughing. Tune takes offence. What is he laughing at? Cain accuses him of spinning a bit of a yarn. He recounts what actually happened.

He actually killed Rook and Tune ran off, scared witless. The two door security comes bursting in. Cain gives them a bit of a beating and pulls a shotgun from his coat. He tells everyone to back up. Hyde comes down from the upstairs office wanting to know what all the commotion is. He sees the gun-wielding Cain.

I’ll be leaving soon…

One of the security tries to disarm Cain and gets shot in the leg for his troubles. Cain tells the rest of them to put their mobile phones into a pickled egg jar. The security man is still screaming. Cain knocks him unconscious. Mo tells Hyde that Cain says he killed Rook. Hyde recalls Tune claiming to have chased the assailant away. Is Cain lying then? Tune hesitantly claims that he is.

Cain pulls a bag from his pocket and throws it on the table. He tells Tune to open it. The bag has Rook’s severed hand is in it, verifying Cain’s story. Hyde, cool in the face of Cain’s anger, goads him a little, asking him if prison had turned into a killer. Cain hits him with the butt of the gun. He tells him to get his phone out and call Lincoln. Hyde does as he is told.

Cain, his teeth aluminium and face scarred from many a battle in prison, recounts to the group, how he came to be so battle-hardened. A fighter by trade, he displeased not only his brother Lincoln, but also Hyde, Rook and Lincoln’s accountant, Stokes (Terence Maynard).

A fight he was in, lost them all a great deal of money because he refused to throw it. Cain goes to see his brother nonetheless, telling him he wants to buy a gym and asking him to loan him the money.

Lincoln tells him that he does not lend money to family as it is bad for business. Cain insists he can make his venture work. Lincoln says he will let him have the money if he does an easy job for him. Cain agrees. He is to go and see Hyde. Hyde tells him he is to follow a woman, Mabel Lidell (Teresa Mahoney), who Hyde is going to give a bag to. He is to grab the bag off of her.

Cain takes the job. He grabs the bag off of Mabel but she chases after him. In the chase, she gets hit by a car and killed. Cain is sent to HMS Belmarsh prison for manslaughter. From the time he gets there, he finds that he is a target, getting attacked on the first day, stabbed and having his jaw broken and teeth knocked out.

Cain’s mother comes to see him in prison. He asks her to tell Lincoln to come and see him. He continues to get set upon in prison. The prison counsel extends his sentence after each altercation.

Whilst fighting in the prison yard one day, beating the granny out of several prisoners, one of the defeated prisoners tells him that he has a bounty of twenty grand on his head which why everyone is trying to kill him. The bounty had been put up by his brother.

In the prison, they kept coming for him and Cain kept fighting. He got scalded, stabbed, punched and kicked. His sentence was extended again. Cain’s mother comes to visit him again. She tells him she has cancer and is dying. Then he was allowed to go and visit her, he escaped.

Why do you people keep trying to hit me?!

Cain keeps recounting his story. He tells them about how he heard about his brother’s entrapment business through detective O’Hara (Louis Mandylor) and how his brother had ripped off one hundred and fifty families. Cain, at that time, did not know anything about his brother’s business. O’Hara’s partner, Evans (Ross O’Hennessy), has a different approach to getting information.

He beats Cain up. Back in the pub, Lincoln arrives at the pub. Cain confronts him about the bounty. Lincoln tells him that he had to do it because he was talking too much. Cain tells him that he did not say a word, Lincoln tells him that his man on the inside, Evans, told him differently. Cain tells him that Evans was not to be trusted.

Lincoln wants to call Evans. Cain tells him that will be a little difficult. He is dead. He killed him. Lincoln tries to talk Cain around. Hyde, who is on the floor kneeling in front of him, goads him. Cain blows his head off. Cain tells Lincoln that he went to see his accountant and had all his money transferred to the families he ripped off. He told Stokes to leave town.

Cain is at a stand-off. Lincoln tells him he is going to die in the pub. Cain tells him he only wants to kill him. Bez hits Cain with a bottle and the men in the bar attack. Lincoln stays back, sending the rest to take a beat down from the relentless Cain. When only Cain is left standing, Lincoln points the dropped shotgun at him. He pulls the trigger.

The gun is not loaded. Bez gives Lincoln a knife and he tries to stab Cain. Cain overpowers him and kills him. Cain apologises to Bez for messing up the bar and leaves. The end.

Avengement is rip-roaring fun. As is always the case with Adkins’ movies, it is all about the fighting and the fighting is great. The story is engaging enough and makes for a nice vehicle, especially by putting Adkins’ Cain in a situation where he is literally required to fight all of the time.

Written by Jesse V Johnson and Stu Small, with Johnson also on directing duties, Avengement zips through its runtime. Heavily influenced by Guy Ritchie in its styling and even mimicking his writing style, Avengement is a respectful homage, leaning toward flattery rather than awkward replication.

Johnson, who has directed a couple of other films I have reviewed—Triple Threat and The Debt Collectorthat have featured the ever-prolific Adkins, shows a real flair for directing action with the fight scenes looking fast, fluid and brutal, whilst still showing what is actually happening, action-wise.

As I have mentioned before, Adkins is not at his strongest as a thespian. That being said, he is highly watchable and if you give him enough things and people to hit and kick, he is worth your subscription money. He is surrounded by enough talent and is adept enough at film to work with his limitations.

Fairbrass, who back in the nineties made a bit of a name for himself, inhabits the role of the antagonist perfectly, physically imposing enough to create fear and mature enough to scowl convincingly. Moran as the snarky Hyde, adds to the Ritchie vibe, having made his name in Ritchie’s breakout film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

If you like action films and do not want to have to think too much about the plot, Avengement is a ninety-minute blast.

Triple Threat – review (Netflix)

Billionaire’s daughter, Xiao Xian (Celine Jade) is in Maha Jaya promising to use her inherited wealth to help bring down organised crime in China. In the jungle, a band of mercenaries, led by Devereaux (Michael Jai White) are tasked with freeing Collins (Scott Adkins), another mercenary for hire been held in an Indonesian military camp, hidden within a village.

Amongst the band of mercenaries, besides Devereaux’s close associate Joey (Michael Bisping), are Payu (Tony Jaa) and Long Fei (Tiger Hu Chen), two friends and local mercenaries for hire brought along for their knowledge of the region. They believe they are on a humanitarian mission to free fellow countrymen.

When the mercenaries attack the village, Jaka (Iwo Uwais), who lives in the village with his wife (Sile Zhang), is awoken by the gunfire. As bullets riddle every building and hut, she is killed, dying in his arms. Jaka goes out to try and confront the mercenaries but is beaten unconscious by one of them.

Devereaux and his men go to find Collins. Payu asks where the women and children are, Devereaux does not answer. They free Collins and leave. Jaka regains consciousness and finds everyone in his village dead and the homes burned to the ground.

Jaka wants revenge. After burying his wife and the other villagers, he goes to Maha Jaya. He finds Payu and Long Fei at an underground fight club. They are both excellent fighters and so gamble on their ability to earn some money.

Payu beats his opponent, helping Long Fei to win his bet. Jaka pays so he can fight Long Fei. He tells Long Fei who he is and says he wants to kill him. Long Fei beats him. Pays and Long Fei take him to their home and nurse him back to health.

We’re mercenaries! Hence the big guns and stuff…

They tell him that they did not know what the mission was and that they were double-crossed and left to die. Jaka makes his peace with them and encourages them to drink to show solidarity. They wake up the next day and he is gone. Jaka has informed the police of their whereabouts and both the men get arrested.

Collins, now in charge, is waiting, with his crew, for Xian to come out of an interview. Jaka calls him and tells him that Payu and Long Fei are alive and have been arrested. Collins and this crew try to kill Xian as she exits the interview. Xian’s bodyguard, Liang (Jennifer Qi Jun Yang) tells her to get to the police station.

Collins and his crew hit the police station, killing all of the officers as they look for Payu and Long Fei, not realising that Xian is also in the station. When they find out she is in the station, Payu and Long Fei help her to escape. Whilst in the station, Collins loses half of his crew, only Devereaux and Joey are left alive.

They chase Xian, Payu and Long Fei through the streets of Maha Jaya. A policeman stops Collins and Jaka disarms the policeman and knocks him unconscious, allowing himself to get closer to Collins and his crew. He tells Colins that he is after Payu and Long Fei.

Xian, Payu, and Long Fei manage to evade capture and lay low for the night. They come up with a plan. They will use Xian as bait to bring Collins and his crew out. Collins egress to meet with them. He does not plan to honour their agreement, instead, planning to kill them all.

Payu also has a plan. They meet at the appointed place and time. Payu takes out the extra men that Collins’ has hired to ambush them. A gunfight ensues. Jaka shows his true colours and ends up fighting Devereaux. Long Fei fights Joey. Payu and Collins have a running gun battle.

Jaka, who had been holding his own against the far bigger Devereaux, begins to take a beating. Joey and Long Fei keep fighting, Long Fei knocking him unconscious with a breeze block. He goes to help Jaka, who is being choked to death by Devereaux. Devereaux knocks Long Fei unconscious but Jaka kicks him on to a spike, killing him.

Collins and Payu are both out of bullets and begin to fight hand-to-hand. Jaka comes to help Payu. Collins holds his own against both of them. He hands out beatdown on both of them.

Collins goes to kill Xian. Long Fei, regaining consciousness, dives in front of the bullet. Payu comes back and hands Collins a beating. Collins pulls a knife, but Payu stabs him with it, plus his own dagger, killing him.

Joey comes back and grabs a gun, trying to kill all three of them. Xian shoots him dead. The police come, called by Jaka, and collect them. They arrest the person behind it all, Su Feng (Monica Siu-Kei Mok). The end.

Take that! And that!

Triple Threat is brilliant, entertaining, nonsense. With a couple A-list martial arts stars in Iwais and Jaa, and a couple of B-list stars in Jai White and Atkins, plus the semi-retired mixed martial arts star Bisping in the cast, this film was always going to be action first and story second, and so it proves.

With Jai White and Adkins in the roles of villains, roles that suit their limited acting abilities far more than leading man roles, both embrace their parts, along with a quite impressive Bisping, as snarling, mean mercenaries.

The story is so convoluted and silly, with Adkins’ Collins only being imprisoned in the middle of a village so as Jaa’s wife can get killed; a whole village died for a plot point.

Iwais’ Payu and Chen’s Long Fei are not perturbed by their mercenary friends mowing down an entire village to apparently free a few women and children and do not twig that something might be amiss until they find that they are only there for one person.

Not that they do anything about it. They would have been happy to carry on with their lives, lives that the same mercenary crew they had been an unwitting part of tried to end. Had it not been for Jaka, they would have probably just put it down to experience and hope to never accidentally run into them again.

Written by Joey O’Bryan, Fangjin Song and Paul Staheli, Triple Threat, as I have mentioned, is weak on story and cohesion. Directed by Jesse V Johnson however, it is big on action, as one would expect. The fight scenes are kinetic and with the talent on show, brilliantly fluid and inventive.

Adkins, who is always good value for money as long as there is fighting, has great fun spitting out his lines and snarling up the screen, whilst Jai White and Bisping, both big, physical units, bring a certain amount of menace.

For anyone into fighting or who has an appreciation of the martial arts, Iwais, Jaa, and Chen are a joy to watch, all three highly proficient in their chosen styles. At 97 minutes long, Triple Threat zips through its runtime, the action carrying the silly story easily.

If you enjoy a good actioner and can ignore the massive plot holes and silliness—these mercenaries, ex-soldiers, are possibly the worse shots in history, managing to miss their intended target from mere metres—Triple Threat is a blast for an entertaining 90+ minutes.

The Debt Collector – review (Netflix)

     French (Scott Adkins) is struggling to keep his traditional martial arts dojo open. He has got very little money coming in and another, more profitable martial arts operator, Roger (David William Ho), is trying to buy him out. French is also behind on his rent and needs to make money fast. He asks a friend, Alex (Michael Paré), to get him some work. Alex tries to dissuade him from that path. French says he is alright with it. 

    Alex sends him to Tommy, a local collector. Tommy takes him on, pairing him with a long-time collector, Sue (Louis Mandylor). They do a few collections together and French proves to be an excellent asset.  Tommy calls them in for a special job.

    They all go and see Barbosa (Tony Todd), a mobster who lives a faux Hugh Hefner/Scarface life. He wants Tommy’s men to find and punish a man called Connor Mulligan (Jack Lowe). He tells Tommy that Connor stole money from him when working for him in at one of his clubs.

Tommy asks how badly does he want him beaten. Full treatment, a good beatdown. Barbosa also has a fiancee, Amanda (Rachel Brann) who has a thing for Connor, though she acts as if she could not care less. 

    Sue and French begin to do the rounds. They go and see various people who know Connor. All of them say the same thing; Connor is a really good guy and Barbosa is setting him up. One of the tips tells them to follow Amanda. She leads them to Connor. They are about to put a beating on him but are interrupted by his young daughter, Laine (Josie M Parker). 

    Connor explains that he fell in love with one of the girls who worked for Barbosa, the mother of Laine. Barbosa did not like it and took it out on the woman, beating her whilst she was pregnant. She died and Laine was born prematurely.

Conscience gets the better of French and he persuades Sue not to beat up Connor. They meet Amanda on the way out of the building and she tells them that Barbosa is setting them up and has sent men to kill Connor.

     French and Sue go back up to Connor’s apartment and save Connor. They take a couple of guns from Barbosa’s henchmen and a gunfight ensues. Sue gets killed during the gunfight. French also takes some shots but escapes the apartment. Tommy comes into the apartment. He tells Barbosa he knows he set them up and kills him. 

   French staggers bleeding to the car and tries to drive away. Connor and Laine, having got away, have dinner in another city. Laine asks if the cows have a good life before they become steaks. Connor tells her they do. The end. 

    The Debt Collectors is an okay actioner starring Scott Adkins. Adkins is not a very good actor. He is a great martial artist, which his sixty-plus film credits more than demonstrates. He is just not an actor. Not that that really matters. The action in The Debt Collector and pairing him with Mandylor ably hides his deficiencies. 

   Written by Jesse V Johnson and Stu Small, with Johnson also directing, there is a strange artistic choice of interspersing the film with scenes of cow rearing and farming and, towards the end, slaughter. It is supposed to, I suspect, mirror the story. Unfortunately, the film and story is simply too weak to accommodate oblique references. 

    The main story of the collectors being double-crossed by Barbosa, whilst good enough for the film, is not introduced until fifty minutes into the film. The film is only ninety-five minutes long. Before that story is introduced, the film is just a collection of fight scenes, the initial story, of French trying to raise money for his dojo and rent, forgotten. 

    The script is perfunctory rather than good or bad, moving the story from one fight scene to the next. There is a little character development, but not much. It really is not that kind of film. This is the kind of film where you just tell the actors ‘you’re a bad guy’ or ‘you’re a good guy’ and they work out the details on the fly. 

   For a director with fifty credits to his name, Johnson made some odd creative decisions. Besides the excessive cow love, he also put in an unnerving amount of fade to black scenes, which really did not go with the story or the character.

Fade to blacks are usually employed either at the end of a film or after a particularly emotional scene. I’ll give you one guess as to which of those two options was not employed in this film. 

    As much as I have pointed out the many flaws in The Debt Collector, it is a watchable and enjoyable film. If you are expecting high concept or story, you will be sorely disappointed. If you approach it with the intention of watching a film where a lot of people take an ass-whooping, you will probably enjoy it. 

     Though it is obviously no John Wick, The Debt Collector is an enjoyably silly romp for ninety-five, brainless, minutes. 

Maria – review (Netflix)

     Maria (Cristina Reyes) was a top assassin for Ricardo De la Vega’s (Freddie Webb) Black Rose crime syndicate, under the name of Lily. Seven years before she had told Kaleb (Germaine De Leon) a fellow assassin, son of De la Vega and her lover, that she wants to stop killing people. Kaleb tells her that he will speak to his father after one last job. 

     During the job, Lilly/Maria goes into the location and kills everyone, ending up in a bedroom with a mother and child cowering in fear. Kaleb, who is with her, orders her to kill them. She refuses and shoots him in the leg. The family put a hit on her. 

    Mr Greg (Ronnie Lazaro), the man who trained Lily/Maria and most of the elite assassins, helps her to fake her own death and disappear. Seven years later, Lily, having left that life behind and living now as Maria, has a family, a husband, Bert (Guji Lorenzana) and daughter, Min-Min (Johanna Rish Tongcua). 

     Bert is a supporter of Governor Villanueva (Johnny Revilla), a man he believes will bring an end to the Black Rose syndicates criminal activities. De la Vega, who had supported the governor during his campaign, is not happy and wants the governor dead. He tells Kaleb and his brother, Victor (KC Montero), to kill the governor. Victor and Kaleb do not see eye to eye. 

    Victor feels that their father favours Kaleb, whereas he believes that Kaleb is a liability to the family business. Whilst planning total out the governor, Kaleb spots Lily/Maria. He decides that he has to find her and sends men to get her. When some men try to come for her whilst she is out shopping, she is forced to kill them and realises that her past has caught up with her. 

    Lily/Maria rushes home and tells a confused Bert that they have to leave. min-Min begins to cry seeing her mother so distressed. There is a knock at the door and Kaleb and his henchmen have found them. Lily/Maria kills half of them, but Kaleb grabs Bert and demands she surrender. Lilly/Maria stops fighting. Min-Min goes running toward Bert and Kaleb kills her. That causes both Lily/Maria and Bert to fly into rages and the fighting starts again. Bert gets killed.

    Lily/Maria puts a couple bullets into Kaleb, knocking him to the ground, him wearing a bulletproof jacket, his men drag him from the house, retreating. A distraught Lily/Maria leaves the scene, going back to Mr Greg. Mr Greg, as the man who is known by everyone, has an agreement with the Black Rose and they will not attack him. He tells Lily/Maria that she should disappear and not take revenge. 

    Lily, insisting on being called Maria, states that is not an option. Kaleb sends Miru (Jennifer Lee) to get Maria. Maria attacks the Black Rose drug business as she goes looking for Kaleb. She then goes to a nightclub where she fights with Miru and kills her. She goes to the club manager (Ronnie Liang) to find out where Kaleb is. He gives her a mobile phone. She kills him when he insults her. 

   Kaleb calls her. They are to meet at the docks to finish their feud. Victor is told by their father to help him. Victor plans to kill everybody, including Kaleb. Maria goes to the docks and kills Kaleb’s men. Victor’s men try to kill Kaleb and the rest of his crew, but Mr Greg starts to kill them from a sniper position. 

   Victor retreats leaving only Maria and Kaleb for the final battle. She kills Kaleb. De la Vega tells Victor to avenge his brother. The end. 

   Another day, another Netflix offering and, in keeping with the standards they seem to have set for films, they have Maria, a Filipino film of dubious quality. Maria is not good, it is watchable for the some of the fight scenes – though having recently watched John Wick 3: Parabellum, it is hard to be impressed – the story is convoluted and messy and the acting is uneven. 

    Reyes as the lead character Maria is quite good and believable in the action scenes, as are Lorenzana as Bert and Tongcua as little Min-Min. The main villains, however, are awful. The terrible script does not help, though I suspect that as it is in three languages – English, Filipino and  Llocano – that may have contributed to the unevenness. Does not help the acting though. Germaine De Leon is particularly teak like as Kaleb, and KC Montero’s Victor is not much better. Freddie Webb as De la Vega makes the two sons look like Tony award-winning thespians, so woeful is his, not at all intimidating, performance as the boss of the Black Rose family. 

      The close of the film pointed towards a sequel, with the obvious revenge of the De la Vega’s story set up with the killing of Kaleb. Hopefully, they can find better writers, Pedring Lopez, Yz Carbonell and Rex Lopez having written this effort. It is directed by Pedring. Pedring is also credited with having come up with the story, or he watched John Wick and thought he would replace John Wick with a girl and set it in, his home, the Philippines.

    The directing is quite good even if, in parts, very derivative of better films. At ninety minutes long, Maria is not a long film but it does take nearly half its runtime to get into its stride, with the first half of the film filled up with unfinished ideas, torturings to show how bad the bad guys are and wooden deliveries. 

   Maria is not unwatchable, but I cannot, in good faith, recommend it either. It is not good. 


Lady Bloodfight – a review

    SO….Lady Bloodfight is a film. in the dictionary sense of the word. It is over one hundred minutes long, has a beginning, middle and an end, and it has moving images that one can watch. It is basically a female version of Bloodsport, the Jean-Claude Van Damme martial arts starrer. All the women are very attractive. That is all that can be said with regards as to what is good in this film. 

   Four minutes into the film it is apparent that this is not going to be a great watch. It opens with two women fighting on a rooftop. Shu (Muriel Hofmann) is fighting Wai (Kathy Wu). They are evenly matched and their match is decided a draw, much to the disgust of Wai. They are sent away to find a student each to teach, who might represent them in the next Kumite tournament, five years hence. 

   Two mysterious Chinese men go about recruiting women from around the globe to fight in the next tournament. Meanwhile, Wai’s would be student, Ling (Jenny WU), walks into her dojo and proceeds to beat up her best student. Wai, mildly impressed by her attitude, sacks off all her other students and decides to train the feral Ling for the Kumite. 

   Shu waits for the spirits – really – to send her a student. After encountering a multitude of unsuitable candidates. Jane (Amy Johnston), is a blue-eyed, blonde, who has traveled to Hong Kong in the hope of finding out what happened to her father, who just happened to disappear under mysterious circumstances whilst attending a Kumite tournament. 

   When she is set upon by a small crew of unscrupulous miscreants, she is forced to fight and is winning until one of them knocks her near unconscious and hands out a bit of a beatdown on her. Shu, witnessing the scene, intervenes and gives the thugs a quick bashing before taking Jane back to her place. 

    Jane, who I forgot to mention had already suffered a bit of a beatdown whilst on American soil, having insulted and embarrassed a patron of the white collar diner she used to work in, he and his buddies decide to set upon her in the underground carpark. She promptly handed out an ass whooping on the four of them, but not before taking a fierce bruising herself. 

    Back in Hong Kong, the twice concussed Jane asks Shu to train her in martial arts. Shu, highly spiritual and given to meditation, agrees to train her if she will enter the Kumite tournament. Jane agrees after Shu brings a bird back to life. Yeah, she can do that. 

    There is a training sequence, flitting between Jane and Ling. Jane’s training is based around the tenants of most martial arts, with Shu always counseling her to remain in control. Ling is encouraged to attack with brutal ferocity. 

   We quickly get to the tournament, where the women fight with unrestrained ferocity and Chinese people, the men, in particular, are made to look very bad. There is one black person in the film, a female boxer in the tournament. She is killed immediately. Jane is befriended by one of the other fighters, Cassidy, played by the brilliantly named Jet Tranter. She could use some help with her IMDB profile page though! 

   Cassidy is chatty and happy in contrast to the brutish Svietta (Mayling Ng) who relishes beating on every opponent she meets. As soon as Svietta and Cassidy are matched up in the contest, you know it is going to end badly for Cassidy. Svietta slits her throat, traumatising Jane. 

Jane, who due to using her newly improved fighting skills to go and hand out a beating to the Chinese gang who beat her up when she first got to Hong Kong, is abandoned by Shu, has to face Svietta in the semifinal fight.

    With Ling waiting in the final, Jane, of course, beats Svietta. In the course of beating Svietta, Jane suffers many more injuries herself. As she waits in the changing room, Mr. Sang (Kirt Kishita) comes and tells her that he killed her father and Wai’s brother, a brother Wai believed to have committed suicide because of a broken heart after breaking up with Shu, hence her hatred for her. 

   Mr. Sang is convinced that Jane will either forfeit the final or suffer defeat because of her injuries. Happy that his wagers remain safe. Jane goes to Shu and convinces her help her with her injuries so as she can contest the final. 

    Jane fights and defeats Ling in the final, forcing Mr. Sang to try and flee. He confesses to the murders and Shu and Wai become friends once more. The end. 

    Let’s start with that which I admire most in film and television, the actors. The script really does not serve them at all in this film, with Jet Tranter’s Cassidy getting probably the least raw deal. Every other character is a two dimensional, cliched, stereotype. Jane is the fish-out-of-water trier, who comes good and overcomes. Ling and Wai are the bad women/girl who realise the right path, in the end, Shu is the wise one, who sees that she, perhaps, is not always right.

    Every cliche is ticked off. A quick peruse of the IMDB page of all the lead characters shows that they are all competent martial artist. Not that the camera work would have you believe that. It is, at times, unnecessarily haphazard and shaky. The fight choreography is good, however. 

     Some of the costumes are highly impractical for fighting – the floaty nonsense they wear for the opening fight scene is particularly ridiculous. The gratuitous use of blood make-up had me believing that they perhaps got it free or it was left over from an abandoned Tarantino film. Every punch causes a huge blood splatter. Every punch. 

    what really lets this film down, however, is the script. It is simply woeful. Bey Logan, who is credited with the screenplay and story, has a whole slew of credits for low to medium budget martial arts action films, none which are familiar to me. 

   Admittedly, the script does not scrape the depths of Anne Rice’s infamous efforts in Interview With A Vampire all those years back, but it comes close. With the poor script and Chris Nahon’s – not Nolan – lacklustre directing, it is a miracle that this film is watchable at all. The pacing is quite sprightly, which definitely helps, even if it does mean that the story lacks depth.

    Bey sacrifices story for fight scenes, creating unnatural situations so as to shoehorn them in. Lady Bloodfight – a really rubbish title for a film – is a film that improves, though not greatly, as it goes along, almost as if they were learning as they went along in the making of the film.

Lady Bloodfight is not an unwatchable film, but nor is it a must see. If you have a couple of hours to waste and have not much else going on, there are worse ways to waste that time. 


The New Legends of Monkey – review

Monkey was a late seventies Japanese television series that aired in the early eighties here in the UK. Quickly gaining popularity, it became a cult hit, with every teenage schoolboy – as that is what I was when it aired – rushing home to see it. Less violent than another martial arts series of the time, The Water Margin, Monkey told the story of three gods – Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy – and a monk – Tripitaka – who journey across China in search of ancient scrolls in order to save the world from demons. 

    As is the modern way and – some would say – the laziness of present-day production companies, remakes are a popular and – as long as they remain lucrative – will always be used as a proven route to a successful show. 

   The Legends of Monkey is the modern remake of Monkey. Though not a beat for beat remake, The Legends of Monkey is inspired by the cult classic and takes not only the premise but also retains the same characters, with even the boy monk, Tripitaka, being played by a woman. Originally played by the late Japanese actor, Masako Natsume, the modern incarnation of Tripitaka is played by Luciane Buchanan, a New Zealander of Tongan descent. 

   The production is a joint venture between the Australian Broadcasting Company, Television New Zealand and Netflix, reflecting the affection and popularity of the original show in that part of the world. 

   Chai Hansen takes the title role of the mischievous and egocentric Monkey, with Josh Thomson being Pigsy and Emilie Cocquerel, the only notable departure from the original series, with her taking the role of Sandy originally played by the male actor Shiro Kishibe. 

   This Antipodean interpretation of the show retains other elements of the original that made it so beloved around the globe, namely the fighting and the humour. Having made the decision to keep the central story premise and setting, there was the very modern and not at all unexpected furore over the casting of the actors. Wherein the original show had an entirely Japanese cast portraying a Chinese story – it was, after all, a Japanese production – the show was made in a very different time. It was pre the internet age, before social media, it even predates Netflix by almost twenty years. 

    That being said, the production boldly decided against casting any Chinese actors, casting predominantly from New Zealand and Australia. Not being Chinese myself and having little knowledge of how even how the original series was received in China – if it was even aired in China – this is not really an issue I feel I can confidently comment on. From my point of view, however, maybe it is the heightened sense of race-erasing that is in the media or my love of the original series, but when the show was initially announced and the cast was made known, this was the first thing that I noticed. 

   Still, I wanted to watch the show and give it a chance. I am glad that I did. The series is, as is the Netflix model, a ten-episode binge-able watch. Like the original show, they keep it short with each episode less than half an hour in length, comfortably sitting in sitcom territory. As it is a martial arts comedy, the drama is kept to a minimum, being just enough to carry the story but not so much as to be heavy or overwhelming. Truth be told, none of the elements that make up the show are dominant. The comedic moments are chucklesome as opposed to laugh-out-loud, the martial arts is competent without ever becoming truly dynamic. 

   The sets and costumes are good and show good production values, whilst the effects, though not of a Hollywood standard, are credible enough so as not to pull you out of the story. The strongest thing in Monkey is the aforementioned cast. They all inhabit the roles in a way that pays homage to the original show without parodying it. The supporting cast is also very good, with Rachel House as Monica, the gruff cyclopic innkeeper, a standout.

   Though not an unmissable show, I do feel that The New Legends Of Monkey is good enough to deserve a second season. I for one would be happy to see the further adventures of Monkey, Tripitaka, Pigsy and Sandy. Here’s hoping.