måndag 27 februari 2017


As John Wick Chapter Two has hit Sweden like a ton of bricks, I thought it would be proper to pay respect to the director that influenced the style of action. the director´s name is John Woo and his stylized gun violence has most certainly made an impact  on the Wicks. The directors Chad Stahelski and David Laitch have mentioned in several  interviews how Hong Kong Action cinema and John Woo in particular was inspiration for their action saga.

As an  easily influenced teenager, John Woo was,(followed by  Robert Rodriguez Woo-influenced Desperado), the best thing, that ever happaned to me. The Killer is one of the greatest film experiences I have ever seen ( and that was on a VHS tape, mind you) and even his lesser Hollywood-works like Broken Arrow and Mission Impossible II I have fond memories of watching. Good stuff

John Woo started off working in the highly influential Shaw Brother studios and directing a number of kung fu films. One of those was the early Jackie Chan vehicle Hand of Death, one of the few in which Jackies chacter dies. He made several more films (including the abandoned Heroes shed no tears that was later re-edited and released after Woo became a success)  before his breakthrough hit A Better Tomorrow.

A Better Tomorrow was a milestone in Hong Kong action cinema. Not only was Woo re- inventing a genre. He also created a new style of action sequences. He was the originator of what is now referred to in the West as "Gun Fu", in which the guns are an extension of the feet and fists of the characters.

A Better Tomorrow is also considered the first in asubgenre known as "heroic bloodshed" When crafting A Better Tomorrow Woo sought to re-invent the swordplay movie in modern times, using the same themes of chivalry and heroism in a more poetic urban gangster setting. Swordsmen who lived by a code turned into triad gangsters. The code of honor among John Woo´s heroes in these films and to the extent they follow that path leads to their demise. Tragic heroes.  So Woo transferred a lot of ideas from the swordplay movie, exhanged the swords for guns, hence the heroic bloodshed and later culturally revised into the american actionfilm as  the "Gun Fu".

The story focuses on the friendship and malebonding between three protagonists. Chow Yun-Fat plays Mark Gor, a slick well spoken awesome  Triad-dude with a high sense of dignity. .Ti Lung plays Ho, his best friend but also the brother of Kit ( leslie Cheung) who is a cop ( sounds awkward)

Ho and Kit are brothers very close to one another, despite on different side of the law. Hos loyalty to it and his struggling loyalty to the Triads and his best friend gets in the way. Mark and Ho are a different kind of brothers. They are sworn blood brothers by the code of the Triads. 

The two worlds clash when a drug affair goes wrong and Kit and Ho´s father falls victim because of Ho´s ties to the Triads.  Mark goes on a revenge spree while  Kit completely disowns his brother and Ho seeks to redeem himself in the eyes of his brother by giving up his life. and  turns himself in to the police, serves time and when he comes out he is hoping his brother has forgiven him. Fat chance. Kit is more determined than ever to bring down the Triads. And Ho with it if possible.

The heightened reality and the strong melodrama of the piece  might be a bit alien to people these days. In the West, restrained emotions are   looked upon as far more genuine artistic expressions. This type of raw emotions may come across as silly and over the top. But the writing is good and the performances are powerful to make it work. And it ws unusual to have this kind of action film have emotions.  The themes of friendship, betrayal and brotherhood are all there in place and the emotions really are worn on the sleeves.

It was at the time when the film was released in the West unusual with a violent actionfilm to have a great story, emotions and deep symbolic imagery in an era dominated with explosions and exaggerated muscular masculinity. The masculinity on display here,  is more concerned with a much higher degree of emotional expressions unlike the American counterpart that was so influenced by the american traditions of stoic emotionless and cynical portrayals of how a man should act.

The film also launched the career of Chow Yun-Fat as Mark. His cool charisma  and charm made action fans fell in love with him. I mean look at this:

Those last shots are from the films most iconic scene , in which Mark enters a restaurant,plants guns in vases. And as he shoots a bunch of dudes he makes good uses of the guns he has placed. Fucking phenomenal.

Chow Yun-Fat made two-gun fisted action cool. Kids nowadays call it dual wielding. For me it has more of a Western connotation. The gunslinger with two guns, like Hopalong Cassidy. This is somethng Chow Yun-Fat as an actor had to deal with for a long time. He became so synonomous with this gangster persona that the jobs he was offered was the type that fitted the Mark character of A Better Tomorrow or the later films he made with John Woo

There were films that tried to break that persona or at least play with it. Ringo Lams City on Fire and  Full Contact  were highlights that tried to work with his gun fu persona in a bit different way. City on Fire has more in common with French Connection, with its more direct cinema approach than the highly stylized world of heroic bloodshed that we are presneted with here. Full Contact however was fullblown heroic bloodshed-style but an incredible revenge film in which Chow Yun-Fat got to show some different strokes as a physical actor as he played a bouncer rather than a suave looking dude in a suit.

A Better Tomorrow is not John Woos best work. It suffers from an uneven style in terms of actionscenes. The shootout in the restaurant is such a classic piece of stylistic editing and use of slow motion that the rest of the action- sequences fall short because of it. Most of the action sequences are just shot without any real stylistic flourishes to them. Watch The Killer. The restaurant scene sums that film up and Woo elaborated on what he accomplished on that sequence in an entire fucking film.

Here is the legdendary scene, pay close attention to the editing.:

lördag 25 februari 2017


John Wick Chapter Two is the second chapter in the highly revered action saga that re-launched Keanu Reeves into a new phase of his action-person and re-invented him into this rugged bad ass mould. His "deer-in-the- headlights"-charisma has transformed into a more gritty version of it with an older more chiseled-face Reeves. We´ve never seen Keanu quite like this in any other role. Quiet, stoic and incredibly intense. More reliant on focused stares and his incredible physicality than on his line deliveries. When he speaks it is mostly a few syllables or at most one sentence.Sometimes he gets to yell. Seldom has a part been so perfectly suited for him as John Wick. 

A lot of stuff has led up to this point. His collaborations with  JOhn Wick-directors/stunt performers/second unit directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski on The Matrix projects, but also on Reeves directorial debut, the criminally underrated martial arts extravaganza Man of Tai Chi. This laid the groundwork for what Keanu Reeves is today, much like the bodies John buried on that day of his most impossible task and how it built the foundation  for the Russian Mob.

What is great about the style of action in these films is that they´ve managed to incorporate not only the physical spectactle of the human body in the traditions of Hong kong action cinema, but in a video game-esque environment. Whenever John is shooting his guns his actions reminds us of first person shooters, in when you´ve shot one guy  "BLAM!"you quickchange with the tap of a button to the next target " BLAM AGAIN!". Which is why John manages to get som many crazy headshots. I think it is a quite a unique way of modernizing action cinema in an intelligent way. 

At the same time the film teaches us that the underworld organizations are reluctant to use a lot of modern technology. When they are transmitting information,communicating or storing information, they use bigass books, they keep physical records. They use Commodore 64 computers and a 1950´s esque telephone switchboard operations board for communication.

I  think the build up to the action sequences were made more classy in the first one, but in this one they go a bit crazy with symbolic imagery instead, with mirrors, a modern arts exhibit (Reflection of your soul) and all sorts of interesting stuf that gives the film more weight than you´d expect from a straightup genre-piece like this.

A lot of dry humour, has seeped into this one as well. Stuff that is hard to explain in text form, But trust me. This is also a very funny movie. It is also a movie in which  three people gets stabbed with  a fucking pencil

I noticed a homage to John Woos A Better Tomorrow. In that film Chow Yun-Fat places guns in vases at a restauarant fo uses later on. In John Wick Chapter Two, when Wick escapes he has hidden an assault rifle and a shotgun in seperate places which he access as he makes his esacpe. Good shit.

John Wick Chapter Two is a superlative sequel in every way. More world building, more interesting characters that inhabit it, more exotic environments, and way more violence. The fights are longer this time, the body count is higher, the dry humour is developed further and this keeps becoming a very distinct franchise with many legs that can carry it forward as the film ends on a bit of a cliffhanger.

John Wick WILL return!

onsdag 22 februari 2017


An all-female remake of Bloodsport, you say? Directed by Chris Nahon ( Kiss of The Dragon)?
I was  intrigued.  And  I ended up liking it a lot. 

Amy Johnston, plays Jane and when we first meet her, she works as a waitress and unfortunatley is constantly hassled for being a woman who happens to be easy on the eyes. She gets fired from the job because she doesn´t take shit from perverts. Also, her father  disappeared when he entered the deadly martial arts tournament Kumite eighteen years ago  And now that she got time on her hands. Instead of pleasing customers, she might as well please herself for once ( that came out wrong). By finding out what happened to him going to Hong Kong and participate in this exclusive and shady tournament.

At the same time a rivalry between two female kung fu masters ( Shu and Wei) are tasked with taking up prodigees to fight for them to determine which one of them is the best. The fights between them in the last Kumite ended up a draw so it´s  decided to let them fight through proxies be the way to determine who is the best of the best. 

So, there is the Bloodsport formula sprinkled with the kung fu classic The Odd Couple starring Sammo Hung. It  is a pretty good use of formulas, I would say. The rivalry between Shu and Wei  and the reason behind it is explored thorughout the film. It gives the story a bit more layers and it feels like an attempt of making a B-movie with an actual story that is not entirely uninteresting

Jane finds a mentor in  Shu, who agrees to train her. Meanwhile, evil bitch Wei finds another diamond in the rough so the film parallels their development. Shu and Wei will fight using proxies. Kind of like the kung fu masters of The Odd Couple.

It is indeed a Bloodsport movie as several key elements from that film finds itself into this film. We get to see the fights between all the contestants in a montage. 
Though the montages lack a distinct 80´s rocking soundtrack! There is also a female version of Bolo Yeungs classic villain Chong Li and a moment in which the Chong Li character kills  a friend of Jane.

There are small  moments of light humour injected in thefilm that help strengthen the bond between Jane and Shu and details like that elevates it  from your standard productionline action film. It is clearly made by fans of the genre. And it is. Lady Bloodfight is written and prduced by Hong Kong actionfilm expert Bey Logan which gives the film more credit I think.

Usually female on-screen fighting is mostly presented in a way so that the girls doing the fighting stays pretty looking ( Charlies Angels) but here Amy Johnston gets messed up a lot and put through the ringer throughout the film.

It is pretty uncomfortable to watch. But I think it is great to see women being allowed to be presented as ferocious warriors and not just pretty doll faces to look at .

There might also even be some elements of Undisputed in there with the puppetmaster arranger who profits from the tournament through fixed fights. So there are a lot of familiar tropes that has been constructed into a really enjoyable martial arts vehicle for Amy Johnsson. Johnston who has made herself a career doing stunts for big ass superhero movies. Now she gets to act, and does it decently compared to other female martial arts movie-fighters such as Ronda Rousey and Gina Carano. She projects a particular vulnerability , more reminiscient of Uma Thurmans Beatrix  Kiddo, than the other two and as a result is more relatable.

The fights were apparently choreographed by Xin Xin Xiong, a veteran of Hong Kong martial arts cinema. He played Clubfoot in Once upon a Time in China 3 and even though IMDB  fails to mention it, I am fairly confident he choreographed the fights in The Musketeer from 2001

Lady Bloodfight might not revolutionize anything, but it is a solid entertaining martial arts tournament movie. And we need those. Or at least I sure do.

torsdag 16 februari 2017

John Wick (2014)

The upcoming John Wick Chapter Two made me realize I´ve never written a single sentence of this most highly regarded  art film of this generation; a man struggling with his past and whose emotions are taken the shape of gunfights. His internal struggled externalized as physical force. Very exressionistic. Very artful. And the reason why it was nominated for twelve Academy Awards, and won thirteen instead. An unprecedented event in the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.  Over here in Sweden it won the highly prestigous Best Direct-To-Video Award. Well enough, I guess. I still hold a grudge against those c***s***ers in charge who willingly let this gem go straight to dvd and refuse the audience a prime example of A-grade action in a superbly crafted B-movie. 

But let us set aside all the accolades and why this is such a historic milestone in Cinema and look at the mythos of John Wick. It did something new in action-cinema. It actually cared for world building. Something usually reserved for fantasy and/or science fiction.

The plot:

John Wicks wife got sick, died and left a puppy for him to care for. The puppy gets killed duringa breakin by a reckless mob boss son. The mob boss Viggo ( Mikael Nykvist) fuckin hate shis son for doing that, but does what is expected and tries to shelter his son from the upcoming storm that is Wick. The rest is just a tour de force in ass kicking. Wick is a lightning storm of anger. A snow storm of fury. A tsunami of sizzling bullets.  A sharknado of dead bodies flying through the air hitting pedestrians.

Allright that´s enough....

There is not a single moment or frame in this film that does not convey the sense of a strange off beat world. Cops does not seem like a powerful factor. It is almost entirely inhabited by criminals, We do see John use collective transportation, as they stole his Mustang he was left with a fucking Prius in his garage . He must either have felt  himself undignified driving around such a piece of shit car. Or maybe it was his wifés and as a sign of respect or grief he just did not feel comfortable driving his dead ass wifes car. It is very moving and deep and full of possible intepretation. It just goes to show how deep this film goes. It shows us, rather than tells us. We can decide what we are being shown means. As good Cinema should. Writing people on the nose is for pussies. Shooting people in the face however  is for real men. ( well...)

John is a respected citizen by both cops and criminals. Which is a rare thing in the real world. The one that upsets the balance is the dipshit son of the Russian mob boss. Rulers usually get shit sons, which is why it is so hard to create lasting dynasties. And pissing off John Wick who goes under the specifically Russian mythic name Baba Jaga,  is not a good way for your long time family plans. He should have ordered shitson Iosef The Terrible to quickly inpregnate a woman before he got wiped out. In that way Viggo might have saved the dynasty.

The hotel of assassins I like to think is inspired by Richard Starks Parker novels, whcih are actually a good example of  world building. Stark built a world of rules among thieves and in the process he crafted a unique world. The Outfit is an organization built on criminal enterprizes and resides within a hotel where no affairs can be conducted. There is a similar hotel in John Wick, but built for a league of assassins instead.

You get the sense that the world has been built around John Wick, which is a crazy sense to get, but nonetheless true, which makes this scenario and world so much more weird and stylized as a result. You know that John Wick controls it, as much as Neo controls or shapes the world of The Matrix.

That is what you feel.  One man in control of the  world. Even the cops does not want to fuck with Wick.  Wick is the centre of the world. That is usually the case with every single cookie cutter cut and paste action movies. But here it is so absurdly obvious that it has become self aware and that is what makes John Wick such a special movie.

The fights are fast, ecclectic and has a no-nonsense approach to them. The fights builds upon the legend of John Wick and even though he might not fulfll everything that is being told, you get the clear sense of someone who is single-minded and focused. The fights tell us clearly of who he is and what he is. Few action heroes live up to this. Some great uses of dutch angles conveys this in a couple of scenes. It is a daring stilistic choice but it works and they are used sparingly and tastefully.

If you thought I was done with weather metaphors you are sorely mistaken. I find it interesting how storms works itself into revenge stories. Max Payne (the game) and the Klaus Kinski classic And God said to Cain all have upcoming storms/bad weather scenarios play out in the background accompanying the protagonists trajectory of revenge,  It feels very Old Testament. I like it.

The final fight between Viggo and Wick takes place in downpouring rain. A physical, close encounter that feels  painfully sluggish  compared to the last batches of actionscenes. Wick is running out of gas. And from all the weed Viggo has been smoking he must have gotten to the stage of afterglow, because he suddenly he feels a confidence boost that he could take on John Wick!

Kids, don´t do drugs.

John Wick Chapter Two opens in Swedish Cinemas February 24th and I can´t wait to see the next chapter.