Friday, February 14, 2014

The Warlords - When revenge goes too far…



Some time ago, I (Kelly) took the time to watch “The Warlords” starring Jet Li, Andy Lau, and Takeshi Kaneshiro. And, much like the first time I watched "Shaolin", I made the mistake of watching it alone. As a result, there was much weeping and gnashing of the teeth, and I’m fairly sure I went through a whole box of kleenex with the epic crying and sad. 


But I digress.


“The Warlords” is the most epic epic that modern Chinese film making has epiced. Fo realz. This is 2 hours and 6 minutes of epic ERHMAHGERRD that just keeps sinking to new levels of ERHMAHGERRRD that you honestly couldn’t fathom. And, when you pair this with the knowledge that this reflects a very specific time in China’s long and tumultuous warring Qing Dynasty period, you find yourself sort of emotionally devastated and numb… and shocked… and sad. 

OH, and thank you Andy Lau for your giant crocodile tears, because that makes the sad SO MUCH MORE SAD!!!!


Anyway...




The story begins with bloody bodies, monks, smoke, and generalize death and burning through the countryside. General Pang Qingyun (Jet Li) finds himself as the only survivor in this widespread bloodbath that has happened. 






And, within minutes you can see that there is some adverse effect to his mental state. And in all honesty, it is the first 10 minutes of this films that defines the  “DEAR SWEET GOD!!!” that will unfold. 

You know, that pivotal moment in your own psyche when you can’t decide if you want to just passively run away and cry... 




or snap completely, lose your sh*t, and 
BURN THAT MOTHER TO THE GROUND!!!!!




OOoh, sorry… Have I gone too far here?


The General wanders into a shelled out looking home, finds a woman, has a thing, and THEN builds his new strategy for revenge as he realizes that he was a tool to the “big guys”, sitting in the big chair, playing Chinese checkers with the lives of the people under their “governorship”. And thus we set out on a wicked, twisted, winding, HOLY CRAP, two hour path to revenge.


Ok. Shortly thereafter, the General wanders into a rebel camp. The people are generally happy, but entirely unaccepting of outside people. That is, unless they get the endorsement of the rebel leaders, and beloved brothers: 

Zhao Er-Hu (The strong fist of the people)
Zhang Wen-Xiang (The wild eyed little brother optimistically dreaming of ultimate power and wealth). 
The two brothers are as close as close can be, inseparable, and are sworn by blood to be loyal to the very end. And, though it would be easy enough to switch teams and joint the resistance, this would make for a fairly happy, champion-esque, western style film with rainbows and unicorns at the end.


This is most certainly NOT that movie.


Rather, these men are “mainlanders”, but are most certainly NOT idiots. But the General is faaaaaar more crafty, is a master of strategy and waging war. So, yeah. That’s pretty straightforward math right there.OH. And that lady that he had the “thing” with. Yeah. That’s the deeply loved lover of the older brother. Ssssso, there’s that whole secret love affair and ultimate “knife in the back” element that you need to keep in mind for future death by a thousand emotional swords bit.


Now, through each step of this film you see shocking realizations, role reversals, fear where there was once none, the breaking down of a people at the hands of one hellbent on revenge, the technicalities of historical, cultural relationships within Chinese Imperial and military culture. You see how dangerous zealous loyalty can be, how personal perspective is a miniscule factor in the whole of existence, how it takes only one sick and manipulative/strategic mind the drive apart family to the point of betrayal, and ultimate how, when revenge is the fuel behind action, the actions of the one are no better than the actions of the many. Innocent people to die. And in the end, sucky people have nothing to show but the sucking hole of destruction left behind. 



... And SERIOUSLY General Pang Qingyun! 
Let it go man. 
Try picking up a friggin' hobby, like woodcrafting or chicken recipes. It seemed to work out ok for General Tso!


Moral of the film: People suck. They suck a lot. But people in high places of power and those with an out of control revenge rage suck even more. They suck with the most epic suck that ever sucked.

The End.

Now, if I am being entirely vague about the “nuts and bolts” of this movie, that’s because you REALLY need to watch it as any details I give will ruin the experience. No. I'm serious. You need to witness the utter breakdown and the lengths that General Pang Qingyun takes the brothers Zhao Er-Hu and Zhang Wen-Xiang to in order to get back at the political people/clansmen he felt betrayed by.

True story.

But this is a REALLY great film. The cinematography is stellar. Historical costuming, amazing. The writing and acting is mind blowing. The brutality and violence… on an 11. 

You can rent this film from any of your local retailers. It is also on Netflix, and could likely be rented or purchase on any of your digital platform retailers (iTunes, Amazon, etc). Next week’s blog will be co-written once again by myself and our darling MJ who has been away for a few weeks on family related stuffs. So, be sure to go out and get your Depends before then. 

-The Maven (Kelly)




Friday, October 25, 2013

One Down, Two to Go - Jim Kelly Rocks. That is all.


Earlier this year, we were met with the VERY sad news of the passing of Jim Kelly on June 29, 2013. He was a super brotha' with mad skills, bringing martial arts to the African American community and establishing action film clout for men and women of every color and creed.

Yeah. We loved him that much.

So, as a sort of tribute to his work, as well as to reflect on movies of the time, we have chosen to review his 1976 martial arts film, "One Down, Two to Go". Written and Directed by Fred Williamson (King of "Blaxploitation" films), produced by Po' Boy Productions and Camelot Films.






Kelly in Enter the Dragon

Add caption
Now, if you are not familiar with the plight of African Americans in the 1960-1970's, the Civil Rights movement, or the Blaxploitation genre... this film and subsequent review IS going to feel awkward. But please know... we love Jim Kelly. Deep, deep love.





He was a mega athlete participating in track, basketball, football, AND tennis, and became a Karate ROCK STAR... How could you NOT love that??


But we digress. And now on with the review. 


 Our film opens up to a Karate Tournament Extravaganza of epic proportions. And, unlike other actions films of this time period... those guys are punching, kicking, fighting, and killing each other FO REALZ! No, seriously. We're talking pre-MMA full on beat downs here. Make sure the kiddies are in bed!!!


 
All of a sudden, Chuck (Jim Kelly) strolls onto the scene wearing the BADDEST pre-Eddie Murphy, skin tight, all leather, red and yellow track suit thing in all of it's glory. And I (Kelly) can't help but be reminded of some of those 1970's McDonald's uniforms and somehow feel as though this wardrobe choice was a disservice to our man. NONE THE LESS... he sports it. He sports it well. He strolls on over to his school's corner to watch the fights and coach his men in each round. And, in two shakes of a rabbit's tail you become keenly aware that "whitey" is up to no good. This is entirely evidenced by their pasty skin, bad suits, comb overs, shifty eyes, and sketchy orchestration. Crazy crackas!


The white guys are the crooked promoter, a crooked ref, a bookie (no additional crookedness needed), and two apparent thugs... though the denim beret says otherwise. Then we are entirely yoinked back into the ring as a Lionel Ritchie dead ringer has entered into the fight. And, as it turns out, that man can kick ass AND break hearts. Fo realz. Distraction sets in upon the realization that the lighting is poor, the language is entirely off the wall, and... Oh, yeah. The fights are fixed. Surprise!



Ok, so… to summarize. The fights are fixed. Chuck the walking McDonald’s advertisement knows it. All the white fellas are behind it. The thugs are assigned to keep good ole Chuck out of the way until the fights are over, and an epic chase ensues. You with us so far? Excellent.



**We interrupt this blog for a very important Public Service Announcement, brought to you by The United World Leather Pants Organization**
The wearing of our pants, especially in red, is not conducive to epic ass-kickery. Please be warned that should you attempt to move your legs in any fashion at all, significant chafing, binding, or the appearance of wussiness may occur. And your friends will say that you kick like a pansy. Unless you're Donnie Yen, but we digress.
**This concludes our announcement**

But anyway, things escalate pretty quickly, and in a totally unfortunate and non-ninja-like move, Chuck is shot by the denim beret-clad dude. Don’t worry, it’s just a flesh wound. At least that’s the impression we get when Chuck runs off-screen, and the thugs walk away like ‘Meh, good enough.’



Keepin' it classy at the Holiday Inn


In the meantime, Chuck’s man wins the fight, despite the fights being fixed (someone is TOTALLY losing their job over that one). Chuck’s buddy Cal has realized that Chuck is missing, so he checks into his room at the entirely swanky and exclusive Holiday Inn, the most happenin’ place in… Randomsville, USA, to freshen up a bit, then goes off to meet with the sleazy greasy promoter dude to gently suggest that he and Chuck would like their $400,000 for winning the fight, post-haste. Because Chuck couldn’t possibly be bleeding to death in an alley somewhere. Let’s worry about the money instead. When it becomes apparent that Mr. Sleazy Promoter is not going to hand over the cash, Cal becomes suspicious (well, ok, more suspicious than he already was), and runs off to look for Chuck, while greasy promoter man calls his boss to let him know there’s trouble and he better make off with the cash quick. And you now KNOW this is pre-1990, simply because the waiter brings a house phone to the table for him to make the call. And don't even try to tell us you haven't always wanted to pull the 'Waiter! Phone!' thing.



So Cal goes back to the Holiday Inn, for no reason whatsoever other than to fill the Holiday Inn appearance quota for this film, because we’re pretty sure they sponsored it. Then he (Cal) FINALLY, something like four hours later when the man could have died from any number of things, not the least of which would be his BULLET WOUND,  heads out in search of Chuck. He checks the bar where Chuck’s girlfriend works, where he discovers that Chuck’s truck has been towed from the fight to a garage next door.

Slaptastic!


Gary Oldman. Wait, no. What?

Cal goes to investigate. Epic smackage occurs. A random sheriff dressed like an ancient fisherman shows up, seemingly with no other purpose than to stop Cal from killing the mechanic. Though we have no idea how he knew: a) That Chuck was missing, b) Where Cal was, or c) Why Cal was backhanding the mechanic to begin with. We have to assume from this that the Sheriff has mystical old-man powers beyond our comprehension and therefore must be tolerated for the remainder of the film.



Meanwhile, on the other side of town…
Chuck arrives in an alley, all bleeding and stuff. Like we told you was probably happening. When his girlfriend finds him, he declares that it is merely a flesh wound, and he’s entirely ok, despite the blood and the lame arm. He also produces a list of his posse’s home phone numbers, which he apparently keeps in his pants at all times for occasions such as this. You know. Like you do. Or did, in the 1970’s before smart phones allowed you to assemble your posse via Bluetooth.


Not cool, man. Not cool.


So the girlfriend goes to call the posse, Cal comes and stuffs Chuck (yes, tall, injured, bleeding Jim Kelly) into the back of his Ford Pinto, the Sheriff shows up to ask a single nagging unnecessary question (I think this is supposed to be ironic since Chuck’s in the trunk), and then everyone drives off into the night to epic chase music with lots of tweedling guitar.


So Cal drives Chuck and his girlfriend to the middle of nowhere, where they pull him out of the trunk and everyone fills everyone else in, resulting in the brilliant revelation that they aren't going to get paid the money they won (gee, what was your first clue?). Then there's more driving off into the night as Chuck's girlfriend says they are going to stay at her Grandfather's cabin to lay low for a bit. Little do they know they are being followed by a tow truck, and accompanied some really funky slow jams that don't fit the scene unless someone plans to start undressing in the car in a moment's notice.

NOTE: Yes, this blog is in fact skimming dangerously close to the edge of being racially awkward. But, so is this movie.

The music continues to indicate that something sexy is happening... if playing "mob doctor" could ever be sexy I guess. Which is about what's happening here, as Chuck's girlfriend tries to fix his boo-boo and Cal runs off to... we don't know, guard the place. Sexily. Because the music says that's what's happening.

Turns out he was just going to sleep in his car. Nothing sexy about that. Also not good that he gets beaten to death at first light by several badly dressed men who followed them in the tow truck. Honestly, the shock of those color patterns alone probably killed him. No beating required. He was dead soon as his eyes opened.
See what we mean? What are they supposed to be??
Girlfriend (we still haven't figured out her name) goes outside to find Cal beaten to death, then is attacked by the same gang of thugs. She is raped and beaten, and it is here we're going to take a moment to be deadly serious. The portrayal of the weak, struggling girl in this scene makes us fairly sick. Especially given that the girl's boyfriend knows Kung-Fu and she does not appear to have ever learned the first thing about how to defend herself. Can we just say, please please please, take a self-defense class? This is near and dear to our hearts. Seriously, ladies especially, think about it.

ANYWAY, enough with the seriousness.

At this point, Chuck thinks everyone has been gone way too long, so he goes out to investigate and ends up in a one-armed battle and is overtaken by Tony Danza, until in a brilliant move Girlfriend tries to shoot 'em up with a gun she found in Cal's pocket, gets knocked unconscious, and gets carried off, while Chuck runs off into the brush to regroup, knowing he can't possibly take on six guys, even if their wardrobe selection does suck.

We finally figure out now that our story takes place in New York. If we couldn't tell by the Twin Towers pictured in the freeway scene, we would know by the EPIC CRAPPY DRIVING! Apparently, even in the 70's, no one knew how to merge. And though it was entirely acceptable to cross three lanes of traffic in a single bound back then, not so much today. We Mavens are from Minnesota... we have first hand knowledge of crazy-aggro-bad-drivers and the craptastic traffic they create. So much so that just watching bad driving on film makes us shake our heads and grimace in physical pain.
Seriously, WHAT about this merge looks acceptable? Ok, fine, he used his signal. But that's it.


The really terrible drivers turn out to be Chuck's pants-note-posse, who (accompanied by some very funky musics) proceed to some sort of hippie haven where random shirtless members of what we assume to be the film crew are shootin' the breeze and passing a joint. Yeah, we're confused too. Actually, they're meeting at the bar Chuck's girlfriend told them to come to. Armed with a massive gun and a cigarillo as long as a Slim Jim, they walk in and order a Southern Comfort/7 Up with three green olives, and an orange juice. They also give the cigarillo to a dog. What? When they can't find Chuck, they tear shit up, make their presence know, and then promptly announce...
"We'll be at the Holiday Inn."
And then they proceed to walk there. Let us reiterate... the men who took prostitute filled limos to the bar are now going to WALK to the Holiday Inn. We think we're supposed to be impressed by that level of bad-assery. Not sure. Moving on.

In Chuck's room at the Holiday Inn (which they just, you know, have access to without even asking for a room number or anything) they find a contract for the fights, which leads them to the bank to check on the money that Chuck was SUPPOSED to receive for winning.



THIS FILM IS SO RIDDLED WITH INAPPROPRIATE RACIAL STEREOTYPES!!! A Jewish banker. Really? What next? A Chinese Laundromat? Anyway, the poor little Jewish Banker spills it that a Mr. Mario took the money for the contract out of escrow and made off with it. So in short, they were ripped off. Which we already knew. *sigh* Make with the punching soon, please!

Meanwhile, the other member of Chuck's posse heads to the Dojo of the trainer of the peeps who lost the fight and ends up in a broom battle to the... well, not to the death, more to the lame-flopping-on-the-floor. The trainer is spilling HIS guts (gosh, these bad guys are all pushovers...) when Uncle Fester from da' Bronx attacks from behind for the karate chop win. At which point we get the best line of the ever-lovin' film:


Uncle Fester backs off and the trainer is taken at gunpoint to.... somewhere. And remember that dog from the bar? Apparently if you give a dog a cigarillo, he's your buddy for life, because he shows up occasionally just to growl at the bad guys for the remainder of the film. True story.

So now the posse is after this Mr. Mario fellow who stole the monies. J (the posse member with the hand-cannon) busts in on him, and is told to take the money on the table and go. Little does he know... OH NO! BEHIND YOU! HE'S GOT A GUN!
Oooof. It's a good thing you wore your
maroon shirt for 'Get yourself shot at work' Day!










Oh, who are we trying to kid, you know he's not going to get shot. In fact, if you're a fan of Star Trek, you know the greasy bad guy is going to die the second you catch sight of his red-toned outfit. But Mario has a backup plan....




SECRET BUTTON COUCH!

Apparently what this secret button couch does is summon the dumbest employees from the ranks to be shot dead in the stairwell and parking ramp. Anyway, long story short, Chuck's posse makes off the the money and kills everyone in the building, including Mr. Mario.

Go Team!!! 

And after a brief interlude with Gary Oldman Sheriff during which he says 'Sure you just killed 6 people, whatever, here, you can have your gun permits back.' (?????) And we are back at the Holiday Inn. Why? Likely because the director was paid to make it happen. Just sayin. But because they need a reason to be there, there's a random sex scene. And another explanation of the entire plot, during which the posse shows the first signs that they might actually go looking for poor injured, bleeding Chuck. On their way out to find him, they run into some more bad dudes... and promptly blow them up using only their gun-fu.
Magic Six-Shooters of Endless Undoing
The posse tracks one of the cars that was chasing them back to the garage from the beginning of the film, where they wave their guns around and make with the threats until they get an idea where Chuck is. Lots of denim, leather, bad hats and greasy hair.


It's like a scene from GREASE, but with less dancing and way more black guys.




The posse drives off to the middle of nowhere and stumbles across the cabin where Chuck and his lady were hiding out like... 45 minutes of film ago. They pretty quickly figure out that something went wrong, and come across a kid who leads them to where Chuck is hiding. Aaaaaaand practically dead. Way to go, guys. And then they find out that Chuck's girlfriend Terry (so THAT'S her name!!) is missing and run off to look for Mr. Rossi, the mastermind of the entire deal-gone-bad, so see if they can find her.

What better way to find your friend's girlfriend than to bust in on a millionaire's dinner party?
Rossi insists that he doesn't know anything about the missing girl, or the whole deal for that matter. The posse hauls him off to the bar to talk to his goons to find out where Terry is where another big oooole gunfight breaks out. And once again, the music indicates that there MAY in fact be peril. That, or this building houses a 70's art rock band. We're not entirely sure. There is random explosive fire as a result of gunfire near palettes, people and cars blow up all over the place, and the good guys win. And Chuck FINALLY gets to a hospital.

And we close with a cigarillo smoking dog.


This film is just one giant pile of unrestrained A.D.D., bad editing, inappropriate stereotypes, and gunfire.. and racism. Which in hindsight, we probably should have stated in the first five lines of this blog. Oops.


In closing, we love Jim Kelly and feel that though he was loved by fans, his MAD talent was sadly overlooked time and again. Rest in peace good sir.