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A few reviews

TM2YC

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Dick Tracy (1990)
I remember loving this adventure when I saw it at the Cinema (and later rented the VHS) when I was a kid but I don't think I've seen it since. As an adult I can see it's a bit flat story/script wise but I can also appreciate the love, the ingenuity and technical skill that went into the Art-Direction. There are many incredible looking, magical matte paintings and tons of expertly executed split-diopter shots. Cinematographer Vittoria Storaro drenches the sets in primary coloured lights, recalling the look of his earlier 1982 film 'One from the Heart'. He somehow manages to make the actors look like they are walking through Edward Hopper paintings, even when you know it's a real set.

15-years later, advances in computer technology allowed Robert Rodriguez to execute a similar level of deliberate comic-book/film-noir artificiality for half the budget and with arguably more success in his 'Sin City' film. However, there is something hugely impressive in seeing it done the hard way, back in the pre-CGI days.

 

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Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

I didn't expect this movie to be any good, but I figured it couldn't possibly be worse than The Day After Tomorrow. I figured dead wrong. After watching 57 minutes of terrible characters and ginormous stupid explosions filling the screen and seeing I wasn't even halfway through, I shut it right off. I could do something more constructive with my time, like watching alt-right YouTube videos.

I don't rate movies I haven't completely watched, but if I were to rate this monstrous pile of fetid trash, I'd rate it 2/10.
 

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A double-bill of the first two Burton Batman films in 4K on the big screen. Yay!

Batman (1989)
Until Christopher Nolan rebooted Batman and The Joker in studiously realistic fashion (films I also love), I don’t remember the 1989 original getting the kind of criticism it does now from some quarters. Re-watching it again at the cinema, I was reminded why I loved it in the first place. The character fits so snugly into the 80s/50s fusion fantasy Tim Burton created, where pinstripe gangsters and modern tech coexist. The Fritz Lang design aesthetic and the expertly lit shadowy Film-Noir visuals look spectacular in 4K. Danny Elfman's music is note perfect, threatening yet heroic, like the character. In the last shot as the score resolves in a triumphant motif while the camera swirls up into sky gave me goosebumps. A theater audience reminds you how damn funny Jack Nicholson is in the role, when he's not scaring the pants off you. As somebody who has only ever read a few of the more famous comic titles, I can't really comment on how accurate a rendering of the caped-crusader this is but this movie will always be the definition of Batman for me. This has gone way up in my estimation.


Batman Returns (1992)
This has gone way down in my estimation. Seeing it back-to-back with the '89 film, the deficiencies are all the clearer. It looks lack-luster in comparison because of a flatter, more TV lighting scheme. The Gothic designs are terrific but they aren't lit with anything like the same care. IIRC there is only one establishing matte-painting of Gotham (that's re-used from the first film I think?) combined with a tiny looking enclosed set where 75% of the film takes place. The 1989 film occasionally felt confined but at least it was filmed on the backlot with natural daylight and the impression of a few different locations. The scene where the Batmobile tries to drive around the cramped set looks embarrassing. It all takes place in cooky Burtonland, where logic and reality don't intrude. Yes the versions of Catwoman, the Penguin and Christopher Walken's Max Shreck are hugely entertaining and iconic but they add up to too many villains in a sloppy script that loses sight of Batman.

 

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A Taika Waititi double-bill...

Eagle vs Shark (2007)
Lily, an awkward, shy and quiet girl has a crush on Jarrod, a rather pathetic, self-obsessed geek who works at the video game store. Comparisons to 2004's 'Napoleon Dynamite' are inevitable in this film entirely populated by quirky damaged misfits. Taika Waititi's film (his first) goes beyond that by exploring the emotional hinterland that makes these people the way they are. So even when they act very badly, you can understand where the behaviour comes from. I laughed my head off constantly at all the visual jokes in the frame. My hardest laugh was at an incongruous painting of an Alsatian dog that isn't even the focus of the shot... I don't know why? My only quibble is that the fairly arbitrary ending didn't fully deliver on the potential of the material somehow.


What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
I finally got round to seeing this acclaimed Vampire "Mockumentary" co-Directed by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement (and starring them both). The premise involves a film crew which has been allowed into the flat-share of a group of New Zealand Vampires of different ages (or different genres of the film mythos). It's hilarious obviously but the meticulous attention to exploring the real-world and often mundane practicalities of being a Vampire are what make this riveting. You can't enjoy daytime TV, you can't eat chips and dressing for going out clubbing is a chore when you have no reflection. The loose improv feel disguises a very technically accomplished film with many clever practical FX and oldskool in-camera trickery. It doesn't have the emotional weight of other Taika films but the jokes keep you entertained.


I just need to see 2010's 'Boy' now and then I've seen 'em all.
 

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Frau im Mond aka Woman in the Moon (1929)
Fritz Lang's last silent film is a fairly earnest attempt to envision a mission to land on the moon. The launch sequence is remarkably close to the NASA launches that would happen decades later, including multi-stages and the zero-g simulation is also pretty decent for the time. Unfortunately those space sequences come more than 1.5 hours in, the opening half being dedicated to a convoluted espionage plot concerning the rocket plans and a love-triangle eating up more of the screen time. It's worth seeing once for Sci-Fi fans but I found it a slog to get through.


A promotional wheeze had UFA-Studios spend the marketing budget on funding actual rocket experiments by the scientific advisor to the film. One of the people on that project was a young Wernher von Braun, who would of course go on to be instrumental in the Apollo space program. So life, really imitating art. 'Frau im Mond' was considered too close to the secret V2 program, leading to it being banned by the Nazis a few years afterwards. By the way, a kid in the film reads science adventure magazines that mention "Nick Carter" on the covers, which sounds pretty close to John Carter :D .

47925726513_9293595411_c.jpg
 

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Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
The original Spanish title 'El Laberinto del Fauno' translates as 'The Labyrinth of the Faun', so the titular character isn't Pan but he isn't kind Mr. Tumnus either :D . It's taken me far too long to get around to this Guillermo del Toro film (I saved one of the best for last) and for some reason I was expecting a children's fantasy film. Most of the film is actually set in the brutal reality of 1944 Spain under the Fascist rule of General Franco. A young girl has encounters with supernatural creatures, mirroring that reality, or perhaps it's the other way around? The Faun/underworld sequences are creepy, magical and beautiful to look at, centered on a typically brilliant physical performance from Doug Jones, aided by a seamless blend of practical and CGI FX to make him appear to walk on hind legs. The main theme from Javier Navarrete's score really works it's way into your brain.

 

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4pVGYIi.jpg


Ishtar (1987)
I've been curious about this notorious Warren Beatty/Dustin Hoffman box-office bomb (estimated to have lost $40-55 million) since I laughed at the above Gary Larson "Hell's Video Store" joke as a teen. I tracked down the old theatrical cut DVD, rather than the new Director's Cut blu-ray, because I wanted to see the version that took all the flack. I've read about the hilarious production mishaps but even so, how did they manage to spend $51 million on a film this relatively small-scale and lowkey... ESB and RoTJ cost that combined! Were they using $100 bills as napkins in craft service or something? 'Ishtar' has been talked about as one of the worst films of all time, which is ridiculous, it's fine. Hoffman and Beatty as two pathetic and untalented Simon & Garfunkel wannabees are pretty funny. Whenever they are together I was chuckling but the plot involving the CIA, left wing guerillas and middle eastern politics gets in the way. The film is clearly aiming for frenetic farce but just ends up with an over complicated plot that needs to be explained all the time (and I still got confused). The intentionally bad songs by Paul Williams get the best laughs.

 

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Rocketman (2019)
As this is by Dexter Fletcher, the same co-Director (after Bryan Singer left) as the Queen biopic, I was expecting something similarly straight forward and fun from this Elton John film. This is a much more risk-taking kaleidoscope of dream sequences, framing devices, fantasy dance numbers and trippy visuals. The highlights include kid Elton shining a torch in his bedroom upon an imaginary orchestra, a musical pub punch-up and a strangely beautiful balletic dance by doctors and nurses as overdosed Elton is being wheeled into hospital. Countless songs are seamlessly intermingled to tell his life story through music and lyrics.


Film Critic Mark Kermode mentioned the heavy influence of Ken Russell's style (in his ecstatic review above) and that's a great guide for understanding what Fletcher is going for. Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton's mum has one of the most convincing London-area accents I've heard from a Hollywood actor and the whole physical performance is spot on (It's like she's channeling Adele). Taron Egerton and Jamie Bell have great chemistry as Elton and Bernie Taupin. I read on Wikipedia that "It is the first major Hollywood production to show a gay male sex scene on-screen". Really? in 2019? That's kinda pathetic Hollywood. I wasn't expecting this film to be as good, as daring, or as creative as it is. Plus I can't stop humming the music.

 

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Very mild spoilers ahead...

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)
Chapter 3 ramps up the precisely choreographed 'The Raid 2' style action even further than the previous two installments. Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman from 'The Raid 2' have superb cameos, basically reprising their characters to have a franchise vs franchise grudge-match. JW3 takes the violence to new, knowingly-extreme levels, which the audience I watched with gleefully appreciated, laughing along at every OTT kill. I can't believe this got away with a 15-Cert in the UK. There must be more shots of evil henchmen having their nuts savaged by angry dogs in JW3, than in the whole history of cinema combined. That dog sequence, the military-museum fight, the horse scene and the shotgun assault are all unforgettable set-pieces.

However, when things occasionally slow down you get bombarded with voluminous nonsense about the increasingly preposterous world of John Wick, when you just want to get to the next fight. JW1 felt like it portrayed a secret criminal subculture, in the real world, where as JW3 takes place in a fantasy land where everybody is a super assassin. It's starting feel like 'Pirates of the Caribbean' in that regard but with PotC, the endgame is nonsense, where as here, it's at least in service of giving Wick endless excuses for brilliant action to take place. Mark Dacascos steals the show as an assassin who is hilariously a giddy fanboy of Wick's work. This might be the best of three films so far, even if it lacks the characterisation of the first film and I'm looking forward to the next Chapter.

 

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I've no doubt the Wick sequels' choreography is all it's cracked up to be, but, as one who was underwhelmed by the narrative of the first entry (it all builds to... a pier-side fistfight between a super-assassin and an old dude who never particularly disliked him the first place?), the notion of this caper extending indefinitely baffles, and frankly kinda depresses, me.

TM2YC said:
JW1 felt like it portrayed a secret criminal subculture, in the real world, where as JW3 takes place in a fantasy land where everybody is a super assassin. It's starting feel like 'Pirates of the Caribbean' in that regard but with PotC, the endgame is nonsense, where as here, it's at least in service of giving Wick endless excuses for brilliant action to take place.

Thing is, though, no one really dislikes Wick in this world, do they? It's all about following orders and/or collecting a bounty? For a hero who was never particularly likable to begin with?

Eh, maybe I'm just grumpy today. :p
 

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Gaith said:
I've no doubt the Wick sequels' choreography is all it's cracked up to be, but, as one who was underwhelmed by the narrative of the first entry (it all builds to... a pier-side fistfight between a super-assassin and an old dude who never particularly disliked him the first place?), the notion of this caper extending indefinitely baffles, and frankly kinda depresses, me.

The story is definitely not the strongest element of this franchise. At least the first one was "Wick wants revenge on a specific person for clearly defined reasons, so has to kill everyone as a consequence of them trying to stop him", the new one is just "Everyone is trying to kill Wick, so Wick has to defend himself". For almost the entire runtime, Wick has no forward motivation at all... but that action is so damn good I found myself not caring. :D 




A John Woo action double bill...

Manhunt (2017)
John Woo's most recent film has been hailed as a return to his Hong Kong action film roots and was picked up by Netflix. Sadly it never quiet relights that 80s fire but it does have glimpses of Woo's past genius in a couple of the action scenes. The problem is mainly an over complicated plot, mashing 'The Fugitive', the 'Sherlock' TV show, super-assassin movies and even Sci-Fi elements into one over stuffed dish. There are at least six different factions, meaning I occasionally got lost as to who was shooting at who. I most enjoyed the scenes between Masaharu Fukuyama's jaded cerebral detective and his rookie partner (Nanami Sakuraba). I could go for a whole TV series on those two.


Just Heroes (1989)
Director John Woo and lead actors Danny Lee and David Chiang put this Hong Kong action film together purely as a benefit for a retiring cash-strapped Producer, so I wasn't expecting it to be this good. The outrageous gun battles are delivered in spades but it also has plenty of Godfather-style crime-family drama. Some fun humour is in there too with one character remarking that the bullet strewn finale is "Just like 'A Better Tomorrow'!" (an earlier Woo film). Sadly this is only available on an out-of-print French language-only DVD and an old UK VHS tape with hardcoded subtitles (I found the latter on youtube below). Fingers crossed this gets an HD release someday (or any release for that matter).

 

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Do the Right Thing (1989)
I've had the 'Do the Right Thing' soundtrack CD for years but oddly had never got round to seeing the film itself. Like Tarantino, Spike Lee is a pretty poor actor but even Quentin was never vain enough to give himself the co-lead. Luckily you never really mind because Spike surrounds himself with a large and faultless ensemble cast, particularly Danny Aiello's Pizzeria owner, a complex and superbly acted part. Lee expertly ratchets up the racial tension alongside the rising heat of a Brooklyn neighborhood but also packs the film full of salty wit.


I'm glad I watched the old Criterion DVD transfer (a new Criterion blu-ray is out in July) with the deliberate intense orange grade (mentioned in the above video) because it's not there in the blu-ray transfer: https://www.blu-ray.com/movies/Do-the-Right-Thing-Blu-ray/5017/

Fences (2016)
You can't fault all the powerful performances in Director Denzel Washington's 'Fences' and the sepia palette of the art-direction is beautiful too, however it always feels like nothing more than a very nicely shot stage play (which was the origin of the piece). True, having almost the whole film take place within one house and backyard does bring us into the suffocating world of the characters but a great film needs to be more cinematic than this IMO. I'd love to see what Denzel's eye could do with more expansive material, when not Directing himself.

 

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Handman said:
The Streisand A Star is Born isn't worth the trouble.

It was worth it to complete the ASIB set and the comparison made it interesting for me but yeah that about sums it up.

A Star is Born (1976)
Unlike the brilliant soundtrack of the recent remake (which is structurally very close to this version), the songs are simply not good enough, so because the subject is undeniable talent, you never believe in the characters. Despite a good performance from Kris Kristofferson and chemistry with Barbra Streisand, this is by far as the weakest version of 'A Star is Born' yet filmed. Streisand's insistence on wearing her own terrible 70s clothes further hampers things because a pro costume designer would have built narrative progression and changing status  into her wardrobe. I kept imagining a much more interesting movie that could have been made, featuring a feisty late 70s Punk singer, learning from a fading early 70s Rocker.


Having now seen all four versions of 'A Star is Born' I'd rank them like this (the top two are close):

1. 2018
2. 1937
3. 1954
4. 1976

She Gotta Have It (1986)
Spike Lee's micro-budget black 'n' white debut feature film is about a taboo-crossing Brooklyn girl sharing her bed with three men and takes a humorous look at their competition for her affections. The constant 4th wall breaking and lo-fi sound give this an improvisational, documentary touch. None of the cast are top flight actors, so Lee's usual weak acting doesn't stand out so much. Lee gives himself one of the funniest lines when he calls a self-regarding mustachioed guy a "Fake Billy Dee motherf***er".


^ Young Spike's presentation of this trailer is really funny :D .
 

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Two very different films...

Beasts of No Nation (2015)
A harrowing look at the lives of child-soldiers by Cary Joji Fukunaga (currently working on the next Bond film), impressively acting as Director, Producer, Cinematographer and Screenwriter, basing his film on a novel (of the same name) and 6-years of his own research. I'm sure the 70s look and disturbing content is patterned after 'Apocalypse Now' but it's much more grim in tone and Idris Elba's "Commandant" is far worse... at least Colonel Kurtz had the excuse of being mad. 12-year old star Abraham Attah carries most of the film on his little shoulders, saying few words but expressing a huge array of emotions through his face and eyes.


Eddie the Eagle (2016)
I wanted to catch up with this biopic of unlikely ski-jump Olympian "Eddie the Eagle" Edwards (a pop-culture icon in the UK) since it was the first collaboration between 'Rocketman' Director Dexter Fletcher and star Taron Egerton. It's full of sports movie cliches and would probably have been better to have not included Hugh Jackman's totally fictional washed-up-former-star-now-last-chance-coach character trope. However, I largely didn't care because it's a crowd pleasing movie that'll warm your heart, make you laugh, make you cheer and leave you with a massive grin on your face afterwards (unless you're dead inside  ;) ). Matthew Margeson's soaring synth score plays a huge part in the film's success, recalling those big, bold Hans Zimmer soundtracks from the early 90s, like 'Days of Thunder', 'True Romance' and of course 'Cool Runnings'.


The main theme is so damn good! :) :

 

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The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
A gang of Punk kids (the Punk soundtrack is awesome) and three old guys unwittingly re-awaken the Zombies from the "real" incident that inspired George A. Romero's 1968 film. A decade before Wes Craven's 'Scream', this does the same meta thing for the Zombie Genre, with characters discussing the movie rules for combating the undead... all of which only make things worse!  :D Dan O'Bannon's Direction and script are so much fun and the gore FX look realistic, yet taken to cartoonish heights. Apparently this was the first film to introduce fast Zombies, Zombies craving brains and talking Zombies and even has them comically calling in more unsuspecting Paramedics and Cops to restock their food supply. 'The Return of the Living Dead' is a blast.

 

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'Steel' [1997]

I've been re-reading 'The Death & Return of Superman Omnibus' whilst watching the DC animated movies of the same storyline ('Doomsday', 'Death of Superman' & 'Reign of the Supermen') and thought I'd check out this 1997 film about John Henry Irons. I had never heard of it previously, but soon discovered that it wasn't well regarded.

It's a very basic origin story, although it's not made clear whether it's supposed to exist in a DC universe or not. Superman is barely mentioned, though Batman is frequently invoked. But as a pop culture reference, perhaps? Certainly, a 'Batman Forever' arcade game is featured prominently throughout.

Either way, the Batman films seem to be the basis for the design and feel of 'Steel', just without the budget. This film looks cheap, from the sets, location work, effects and most certainly Steel's suit. The cast includes well-known faces such as Judd Nelson and Richard Roundtree (the stand-out acting-wise, though there's little competition). And, of course, Shaquille O'Neal is cast as Steel. Which is where, unfortunately, this film begins to unravel.

Shaq is no actor. Steel, perhaps, but more accurately Wooden. He looks uncomfortable throughout, with no line of dialogue delivered naturally. In a superhero movie, suspension of disbelief is key, and not once was I able to believe that Shaq was anything other than a former basketball star struggling in a career unsuited to him.

Judd Nelson plays his villain as if he's in a real superhero movie (ie. over-the-top dastardly) and Annabeth Gish does fine in a Oracle-lite role - in a wheelchair in front of a computer screen for most of the film. 'Much' hilarity is had with a running joke that Steel can't free-throw baskets (oh, how we laughed) and Roundtree gets to make one Shaft reference (oh, how we laughed again). No doubt much of this must have looked better on paper than the screen, like the chase through a shunting train yard, which lacked any suspense and danger I'm sure they were aiming for.

As a TV pilot for a non-existent Steel show, this would have been OK. As a theatrical superhero movie, it fails. He shoots... and misses.
 

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Boyhood (2014)
Reviews I've seen/read seem to be either sycophantic praise of the "greatest film I have ever seen!" variety, or negative reactions to those types of reviews. It's not one of the best films of all-time but I was glued to the screen for all 2 & 3/4 hours, enjoying all the fragile and sometimes trivial human moments, magnified by the unique viewing experience, created by the 12-year production. The title is a bit misleading because it's as much about the boy's sister and their parents growing pains. I can totally see why it would grate on some people though because there is no overall plot, no clearly defined character arcs, no real beginning and no real end. In fact, once I'd got into the laid back, eclectic groove of the piece, I was praying Director Richard Linklater wouldn't spoil the mood by copping out and artificially injecting some outlandish drama, or unbelievable action into the character's lives (he didn't :) ).


Days of Heaven (1978)
Terrence Malick's second film looks and sounds gorgeous. Every shot is a contender for the most beautiful thing ever captured on film, the dense soundscape hums with the power of nature and the music by Ennio Morricone/Leo Kottke is so evocative of the time and place. However, I felt the four characters were a bit distant and ill defined, so I didn't know what to take away from 'Days of Heaven' beyond the observation that "Fields of wheat, gently blowing in the breeze, lit by golden magic-hour sunlight, sure look pretty". My search for a Terrence Malick film that I can wholeheartedly enjoy continues.

 

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The official BFI 62nd best British film...

Sense and Sensibility (1995)
I might have watched this with my parents when it first hit VHS but it's been 20+ years so I can't really remember. It's Directed by Ang Lee, from a perfect script by star Emma Thompson and also features Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant in one of their early star-making roles. It's testament to all the great casting choices that almost the entire ensemble are still furiously busy working to this day (except the late great Alan Rickman of course). I can't comment on the Jane Austen book but the film works by letting us the audience know upfront who should end up with who by the end, who is true and who is false, so all the obstacles, misunderstandings and unspoken longings create edge-of-the-seat tension. The score by Patrick Doyle is wonderfully romantic.


35mm trailer:


Sense_and_sensibility.jpg


It's also worth mentioning that IIRC the poster has become an iconic graphic design for films of the same genre. You seemingly can't release a period film of this type without a poster featuring two glowing images bisected by a cream ribbon:

belle-greek-movie-poster.jpg


51d5M05dlWL.jpg


71h845xT2IL._SY445_.jpg


220px-ALC_poster.jpg
 

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Rocketman (2019)

Taron Egerton looks nothing like Elton John, yet I felt like spending 2 hours with him.
This is a real musical with 50% of the movie being songs often presented in a surrealistic way.
Even if I like Bohemian Rhapsody, I think Rocketman is the better movie to me because that crazy musical approach of storytelling takes the audience on a trip without any "but did it really happen that way?" moments. Most scenes are simply too staged to always look "realistic" (and I think some people could maybe don't like that) but the feeling that they give to the audience is even more powerful. Again, it's a true musical. You just follow Elton John's feelings during that period of time, and it works great.
(Kudos to Elton John for being the producer of this project and yet have some scenes where he acts like a complete dick.)

And you can tell everybody... this is a good movie.
 

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TMBTM said:
And you can tell everybody... this is a good movie.

^ You should have been in charge of the marketing with lines like that! :) 






Once Upon a Time in China (1991)
I've had a PAL DVD of this for years but the transfer was so rubbish (typical of Hong Kong cinema) that I couldn't get through it. The new 4K transfer in the Eureka! blu-ray boxset is quite different, the detail, texture and colours couldn't be better. Jet Li stars as Wong Fei-Hung, a sort of real-life Chinese Robin Hood figure (other characters in the story could be seen as analogous to Friar Tuck, Maid Marion etc). It takes place in the 19th century Cantonese city of Foshan, as the influence of Westerners is being embraced by some and resisted by others. Director Tsui Hark spends the first third setting everything up but I found the rapid dialogue/subtitles and numerous competing factions a challenge to absorb. That might be down to the characters already being ubiquitous for Chinese audiences (like Robin hood and his Merry Men is for Europeans).

At around the 45-minute mark the action I was waiting for really kicks into full gear, as Wong single-handedly takes out a gang of henchman with an umbrella. That sequence is only topped at the end by the showdown involving warehouse ladders but there is plenty of astonishing martial arts between the two fights. By the end I was cheering on our hero as he storms the enemy "castle" to rescue the "princess". I'm looking forward to 'Once Upon a Time in China II'.


The Wong Fei-Hung "theme tune" kicks ass:

 
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