Friday, February 24, 2012


... You had me at the title!

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. Girly intro. However, I (Kelly) am all alone this week as MJ has had to leave town on family business. We wish her a safe journey, and a speedy return back to us here in MN. In the meantime, I will do my best to keep this short, sweet, to the point, yet entertaining enough that you'll come back next week.

This week I am reviewing "Chocolate", a 2008 film starring the amazing JeeJa Yanin in her acting debut. The film was written by Chukiat Sakveerakul (13: Game of Death) and Napalee (The Protector). The film was directed by one of our favorites, Prachya Pinkaew (Ong Bak 1&2, 13: Game of Death, The Protector, Raging Pheonix, Protector 2... Eeeeee!!!)

This is one of my all time favorite movies. Not because of an amazing storyline, or the cinematography, or even the best soundtrack. Rather, it is because of the insane stunts and highly athletic butt-kicking, done by a woman... in a lead role no less. The athleticism and beat-down power of Jeeja Yanin keeps me coming back again, and again. Bravo Ms. Yanin. Bravo!!!

OK, so...the premise of the story is that Zen (Yanin) is a young, autistic child who's mother (Zin) is a former Thai gangster, and whose father (Masashi) is a member of the Yakuza. It really is a very Romeo and Juliet love affair, resulting in tragedy, brutality, a baby and a lost toe (shudder), broken bones, re-arranged spleen, knives, guns, flies... But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Our movie begins with a whole lot of backstory. Zin (the mother) was the former girlfriend of No. 8 (I... errr...Is that supposed to sound tough?), who is the leader of the most brutal Thai gang around... in Thailand. When not trafficking drugs, they spend their time muscling local business owners with their pistol toting Thai Tranny Brigade , gathering up "protection" money. (I'm still researching the situation with Thailand and Transgender peeps as vicious mobsters, as they appear in many martial arts films from as far back as 55 years ago and always seem to have a fashionable, yet deadly score to settle.)


We find ourselves in the middle of a clan standoff between the Thai gang and the Japanese gang. Insert Masusha (the father), an extremely handsome Yakuza heir here. This is one tall, deadly drink of water who could pretty much use his eyes to sneak up on you like a Ninja and kill you inside in complete silence. Aaaannd... you'd probably enjoy it. There is a nugget of information inserted about how Masusha is fascinated with "the imperfect". This man is all about Wabi-sabi! Save that tid-bit for later.

NOW, seated directly across from him with a gun pointed at her head is the amazingly beautiful Zin. She has a scar on her eyebrown from a torn out piercing, thus making her "imperfect". (insert previously stated tid-bit here) But other than that... this is one amazingly well put together woman. There is a heated exchange, Zin gets her hair pin snapped in half, Masushi is now enthralled with this woman.

Zin disarms and nearly pistol-whips the daylights out one of the Japanese gang members. It is here that the No. 8 states his disdain for the Japanese, and lays out a pretty severe threat. This threat continues to be a pivotal element through the remainder of the movie. So, tuck this nugget away for later reference as well.

These two deadly criminals (Masushi and Zin) hook-up secretly and fall in love. No. 8 finds out and the fists of justi...uhhh... injustice fall swiftly. No. 8 mows down some Yakuza gangsters and threatens to destroy both Masashi and Zin for their betrayal. And then No. 8 shoots himself in the foot. Yes. He shoots himself. I'm not entirely sure as to why, but his level of badassery and disdain in noteworthy, and that is your second nugget that you need to tuck away for later.

Zin sends Masushi back to Japan, never to be seen again. Zin then moves into a flat and gives birth to autistic baby Zen... and THEN the trouble begins! Through a montage of heartbreaking scenes involving the diagnosis of Zin's baby and the struggles of being a single parent to a child with special needs, you find yourself TOTALLY absorbed into the story. Zin is told that her child will require special care and attention. In need of help and encouragement, Zin sends a letter to Mashushi... but the letters are intercepted by none other than...

Look at how bad I am in Leopard print!

...the infamous No. 8!

 (Duh, duh, DUUUUUUUH)

No. 8 decides to visit Zin, along with his right hand man... woman... err... Tran. (Again, I'm not sure why all Transgender folks in Martial Arts movies are brutal gangsters...) Shortly after his arrival in Zin's home, he follows up on his earlier threat by chopping off Zin's toe and keeping it as a token. (shudder) That just makes me cringe all over!

So, fast forward a few years and witness the magic unfold as Zen starts to learn through observation and assilimation. What is she learning? Math? No. Ballet? No. FREAKIN' MUAY THAI BRUTALITY!!! Heck yeah! She watches the men next door to her flat practicing with the punching, and the kicking, and the flying knees... So, she starts kicking the crap out of a wooden post. With time, practice, love, and a dramatic montage, our delicate flower blossoms into a teenager OF DOOM!!! Harbinger of the fist!
Zen is now a teenager and, as one could only expect, she and her mother are living in poverty, but rich in their love. Also, they have picked up an orphaned kid along the way named Moom. Zin is diagnosed with some form of cancer. They cannot afford the rent, food, medications, etc. So, every day while Zin is resting, Zen and Moom head out to the public square to perform tricks involving strangers paying to throw crap at Zen's head.

Now, in any other context it would be entirely frowned upon to throw things at special needs kids. However, in the absolute confines of this movie, Zen has lighting fast reflexes... and it makes for a great "danger story" within our main story. And yes... DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME KIDS!!! Cousin Ricky CANNOT, and I repeat CANNOT stop a jackknife thrown at his head. He will get hurt. You will get grounded! Everyone loses.


Some thugs happen upon the scene and toss a knife at Zen's face, which she catches with her bare hand... which is entirely awesome!!! The thugs decide that they're going to "jump" Zen and Moom for their cash. Bad idea??? Absolutely! Moom tries to run while Zen delivers an absolute beat-down. (see clip below)

Shortly thereafter, and as if the relationship between the mother and daughter couldn't get any more endearing and heartbreaking, Zin begins her cancer treatment and is hospitalized. The doctors cannot continue her treatment if they don't come up with some cold hard cash soon. It is here, while Zen watches "The Protector" in the background (see the previous "Gimme My Damned Elephants" blog post) that Moom stumbles upon Zin's old bribes book. He has no idea what it is. He only knows that it says a lot of people owe "Auntie" a lot of money.

The next morning Moom and Zen head out to collect payment. Things go badly. Zen whigs out. The boss of the ice factory sets her up to get a beat down... which turns out entirely tragic for him and his henchmen. So, with a little Bruce Lee "Huuuuuwaaaaaaaa"and a whole lot of "TASTE MY SHOE" style kicking, the battle is won. The money is Zen's.


Now, this pretty much sets the pace for the rest of the film as Moom and Zen go down the checklist, kickin' butt and checkin' off names. Of course, keep in mind that they have NO IDEA what the money is for. They just figure it's loan money or something. SSSSOOOO... they go to a sweets factory, and there is of course a conflict that boils down into fighting. The guys there get stomped, kicked, pants'd, and just overall get the holy H*LL beat outta them...


And then there's the outdoor butcher shop (EEEEEewwww...), riddled with hanging pig guts (EEEEewwww^2), raw meat and LOADS of flies (blerch-o-rama), of which Zen is afraid of. Battle lost due to fear of flies??? Absolutely not. She just puts on a snorkel mask and Moom, who has been relatively useless up to this point, cracks out the dual tennis shaped bug zappers to clear the path for the a$$-kicking. (note my cute insertion of dollar signs in reference to fighting for money. I'm so clever sometimes...) There are meat hooks, butcher knives, pig carcasses, and some rusty nails in this one. Hang on to your seat, cause this scene's got a high "squeamish" rating!!!

AAaaand... It's Zen for the win. And, you'd think they would perhaps take a break from all of the danger in order to stop by the hospital and pay Zin's bill. Nope. It is right about now that Zin figure's out what's going on, the Thai gang starts realizing that Zen has been collecting "their" money. and they decide to send a message by returning Zin's rotted toe to Zen... inside of her chocolate candy container. Zin realized that there is major trouble a-brewin', so she send Moom to get a message to Misashi through the Japanese restaurant where she works. Aaaand... the trannies show up and kidnap Moom. Masashi gets the message and sends men to protect his family. Shortly after his arrival at Zin's flat, the Tranny brigade shows up in eveningwear. Go-go boots, guns and glamour galore! But... they all die in crazy short gunfight. Realizing that he's gonna...

In the meantime, Zin begins to worry about Moom's mysterious absence. She goes to a payphone positioned in a bamboo forest and calls Moom's phone. It is here that she learns of the kidnapping of Moom, the murder of the Japanese protector, and the plan to snuff her, Zen, and Masashi all out at once. PPPPPPPPPerfection!!! But, they forgot to carry the one and factor in the following:

1) Zen beat the crap out of a bunch of guys for getting between her mom and money.
2) Zen has utter devotion to her mother.
3) Masashi is Yakuza. You will die.
4) If Masashi doesn't get you, Zen's knees/feet/fists most certainly will

i.e. I hope all y'all have a good chiropractor you can call on. 'Cause you're gonna need it!

OK, so... we wrap the whole movie with an epic, 10 minute fight scene involving a Japanese tea house, a dojo, a beatdown from a kid that appears to have an unexplained mental/seizure disorder, Yakuza with guns, the return of Masashi with a Samurai sword, the stabbing death of her mother, and a concrete jungle fight that broke heads, noses, legs, backs, and pretty much everything else... FO SHIZZLE!

The film closes with Masashi taking his beloved, "imperfect" daughter back to Japan. All is right with the world. Roll credits.

Now, though I wouldn't NORMALLY do this, I would like to add that people got hurt making this movie. Really, really, reeeeeeeally hurt. I don't mean, "Aaah crap. I totally banged my knee on that thing" type of hurt. I'm talking:

"busted open heads, glass in your eye, you're going to be wearing that neck brace for a while" 

type hurt. SO, to that end, I want to tip my hat to everyone who made this movie happen and put their butts on the line. You're work is MORE than appreciated by this martial arts movie maven!

So, as I stated before, I adore this movie for the fighting. The story is pretty heartbreaking, but the fighting keeps the teary-eyed moments short. I recommend you rent it. It can be found on netflix "Watch Instantly", rented online through iTunes for $4.99, or even rented at my fav rental store here in Robbinsdale, Video Universe... conveniently located on Bottineau Blvd, between RC Liquors and Broadway Pizza.

Have a great weekend everyone!!!

- Kelly

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Good, The Bad, The Weird...

No, seriously.
That's the actual title.

This past week we watched the hilarious Korean action/comedy "The Good, The Bad, The Weird" by Jee-Woon Kim (the Tale of Two Sisters, The Uninvited, Etc.) we weren't sure what to expect going into the film, as it was an accidental find on Netflix. Needless to say, it was good enough to inspire this blog entry... though it was a bit light on the martial arts action. But, there was punching and

Because we were largely unfamiliar with the cast, the only commentary we have is with regard to this guy... and that one, simple, single word is...


Now, this is perhaps the quirkiest, funniest, Korean western you will EVER see. Trains, horses, a treasure map, noodles, zig-zag running through the Gobi desert, punching, and guns.

Our story starts out in a closed door meeting between a prominent Japanese businessman and An unidentified delivery person who is taking a treasure map to Karemaru and collecting payment. He warns of bandits, especially "Park Chang-Yi" (Byung-Hun Lee) Then, the businessman enters into a new room and starts talking to his hired bandit, THE Chang-Yi, about stealing the map back and making everyone rich. Insert moody lighting, a good lookin' bad guy, a little MUWAHAHAHHAA... And you pretty much have the basis upon which the rest of this story is built.

So... Cut scene and you are now you are on a classic steam train rolling through Manchuria. And it is here that you totally scratch your head, wonder why the Manchurians, Japanese, Chinese, Mongolians, and Koreans are dressed in wild west attire. But it will all make sense in about 5 minutes.

So while we're getting over the "Two Worlds Colliding" thing, we first meet the rest of our wildly entertaining cast... and a goose. Yoon Tae-Goo (The Weird) is a seemingly lovable and bumbling thief, presumably on the train by some crazy diving accident.  Park Do-Won (The Good) is our dashing "Hero", hell bent on collecting a bounty on Chang-Yi (The Bad). The goose doesn't really matter to the overall story, but it's there, it made MJ laugh out loud, and it's entertaining... thus it is worth mentioning.

Now, Tae-Goo (The Weird), is completely, randomly lucky, and somehow manages to steal the highly coveted map, not really knowing what it is.  Chang-Yi (The Bad) discovers that the map he has been sent to steal is gone and he takes off shooting after Tae-Goo. But, his efforts are quickly disrupted when Do-Won (The Good) shows up, blasting a shotgun at Chang-Yi. Everyone starts shooting everyone, running-jumping-shooting chaos happens, you have no idea who is on what side, and in the confusion "The Weird" gets away with the map and bullets dancing at his heels as he zig-zag runs through the desert. 

In addition to the insanity, a bunch of Manchurian bandits (who also somehow know about this damn map everyone wants...) watch from a distance as the drama unfolds, having a hilariously exchange about "the idiot with the map".
The Manchurians - aka "The Revolution"

Now, while "The Weird" and his nerd-bandit buddy try to figure out exactly what it is they have in their possession, Chang-Yi returns to his employer, and it is here that we learn exaaaaactly how "Bad" he is. He brutally murders his boss, robs the family safe, which quite honestly holds more than any one person could possibly need, and sets back with his goons to find our "Weird" friend.

Yup... He oozes BAD!!!
By now Tae-Goo has figured out that he has some kind of valuable treasure map and is convinced that it is the key to vast amounts of gold and jewels. (so cliche!) So he is not at all surprised to be attacked from all sides while he is camping out in a Chinese lodging unit in Bandit-ville... because I don't really know what else to call this place, and it sure the heck isn't Margarita-ville. It it at this time that you begin to realize that everyone seems to have picked up their wardrobe at the off-the-rack Prince and the Revolution store, and that it is really hard to decide who's good/bad. 

Insert sheer throngs of "Revolution" people running, shooting, shouting, punching, stabbing, etc. in purple fur and sequin. The whole thing is mind boggling, thus making it quite difficult to decipher who is on what team. All for that one guy with the Mo-Hullet though. You KNOW he's a bad guy.

Both Chang-Yi and the crazy Manchurian gang guy show up at the lodging place. Tae-Goo escapes back to his home and hides the map with his elderly grandmother, whom he shoves in a closed and tell to stay that until he returns. He then hops on his bike and heads back into the desert, only to be blown straight off the bike (the shooting in this film is incredible, hence the blog) by "The Good", who has figured out that even "The Weird" is worth a bit-o-cash, having a small bounty on his head. The Good takes the Weird prisoner and heads out to turn him in and collect his money.

"The Weird" stylin' a scuba helmet for extra protection
In the meantime, everyone thinks that Tae-Goo's friend has the map, so he is visited by both the Manchurians, who threaten him, and the increasingly bad Chang-Yi, who essentially slashes him into just ribbons and ties him to the back of a horse by his ankle and drags him around a bit. 

Eventually the bandit gangs of Bandit-ville, China chase away Chang-Yi and his goons. Then, both The Good and the Weird head off together on their quest to find the hidden treasure... but the map??? It has been taken by the Manchurian gang leader who, at full tilt, leads his band of bad guys entirely in the wrong direction. So, the "Revolution People" (aaaah, Prince. You'll never live this one down) take off running back to try and get to the treasure before anyone else.

That night, The Good and The Weird are settling down by the campfire. The Good tells a story in reference to why he is chasing Chang-Yi. It involves a contest of speed, a lost duel, and payment made by "The Finger Chopper", whom The Good states is Chang-Yi. The Weird disagrees with him and then starts snoring. The Good awakes the next morning to find that The Weird has taken off to find the treasure alone.

At this point, everyone is running all over the place, trying to find the hidden treasure. It closely resembles a scene out of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", but in China and with a lot of shooting, punching and stuff blowing up. And now, somehow, the Japanese Army is involved. (scratches head) The number of bullets and explosions alone should guarantee that everyone dies... and The Weird manages to get away without a scratch, but works with The Good to blow up a canyon and bury everyone inside.

The Weird and The Good arrive at the site of the treasure to find... a doorway. They dig where the treasure is supposed to be, only to find what they deem to be a stinky pipe. The Bad arrives, and the challenge for who is the toughest and fasted is ON!! You get the shifty eyes going between each other, and then Chang-Yi addresses The Weird, saying "Nice to see you again Finger Chopper"! OH MAAAAN!!! 

Gotta love that classic Western showdown feel...
Insert back story montage and then mister handsome pulling off his cliche bad guy glove to reveal that he has a metallic, prosthetic finger. The Weird smiles... the duel of epic shooting is on!!! Boom, boom, Pow, Blast, Boom... and in the middle of all the shooting, the stinky treasure pipe explodes, spooting crude oil all over the place.
Our movie closes with The Good walking into a town square and observing the new bounty listings being put up on the public board.  The Bad gets the face on his notice crossed out. The Weird gets his notice replaced with a higher bounty poster. And The Good??? Well, he rides into the sun seeking out his next treasure.

For good measure, we've included the trailer so that you can grasp a bit of the comedy, action, western type stuff that goes on in this movie.

It is available for streaming on Netflix, and can be rented from iTunes for $4.99. I'm not entirely sure of any video stores that may carry it. (Sorry)

So, check it out and be thoroughly entertained tonight!!

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Protector - Gimme my Damned Elephant!!!

AAahh.. The Protector. The second film by Tony Jaa, featuring some of the most amazingly brutal fighting E-V-A-R!!! And an adorable baby elephant. Yes folks, this week we return to a more recent film with high PPM (punches per minute), amazing feats of human strength, and a storyline that will tug at your heart strings and make you want to back an endangered animals and/or human trafficking foundation.

The Protector (2005) is the second "Lead Role" film by our tough guy of the week, Tony Jaa. I say "Lead Role" as Mr. Jaa has appeared in films as a stunt double, stunt lead and secondary characters since 1994. However, he took his first lead role in Ong Bak (2003). Jaa is another of our favorites here, right up there with Donnie Yen. Bet you couldn't tell.

The story is written by: Napalee, Piyaros Thongdee, Joe Wannapin, Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, and Prachya Pinkaew: and directed by: Prachya Pinkaew (Ong Bak 1 & 2, Chocolate, 13: Game of Death, Raging Phoenix, Born to Flight, etc)

Now, for those of you who are entirely unfamiliar with Tony Jaa, Ong Bak, and Muay Thai, we have three words for you:

LOOK... it's a brutality montage!!

1) Decimate

2) Destroy
3) Utter Devastation (Ok. That's more than one word. But you get the point)

    Essentially, unlike other martial arts that have forms, structure, health benefits, etc. Muay Thai is simply about the complete decimation of your opponent. Period.

    And now on to the movie!

    The film opens with scenes of our hero, Kham, growing up with his family's elephant, Por Yai. Kham's father tells him of their ancestors, the Jaturungkabart (great Thai warriors) whose primary purpose was to protect the King's elephants from attack, lest the elephant the King was riding on should become injured and put the King's life in danger. 

    Kohrn - the cutest baby elephant EVER!

     Through the seconds... err.. years, we mean... Kham and Por Yai bathe together, play together... and then one day about 3 minutes later, Por Yai has fathered a baby elephant named Kohrn (so cute!), and the scrawny Kham from a moment ago has grown into totally buffed out Tony Jaa (cute doesn't even begin to cover it), who seems hell bent on being the best damn Jaturungkabart in the history of 14 letter words. This consists primarily of learning the art of Muay Thai, to which you have just been introduced (see the photos above).

    SIDE NOTE: Now, we need to take a moment to really drive home the elephant love here. These elephants may as well be human for the treatment they receive from their devoted guardians. The Thai people have a deep love for their elephants, as do we, and they are here-to-fore referred to as brothers/sisters.  Definitely not something to be trifled with. Noooo trifling with the elephant love. Got that?

    Ok, back to the story...

    Being so proud of their handsome but endangered family, Kham and his father are of course excited to hear of an opportunity to have their elephant inspected for possible presentation to the King at an upcoming festival. The family packs up and heads to the festival, good times are had by all (including the purchase of a charming bell for young Kohrn), until things go terribly, horribly wrong, as they do in any good movie.

    During Por Yai's inspection, Kham's father realizes that something is wrong, and that these are not official inspectors... but rather are poachers pawing over his impressive animal. When he attempts to stop the poachers from taking Por Yai, he is shot. Por Yai (the elephant) is now incredibly pissed off because these guys killed his "wife", killed his master, and are just all around bad people. Thus, he takes off on a rampage through crowded city streets filled with festival goers. Then, after a very dramatic scene of mowing things down with his enormous tusks, both Por Yai and Kohrn are whisked away... as best as any poacher can whisk two elephants.
    Now, Kham, who just so happened to be off watching a boxing match while all this was happening, is understandably angry.  But we're not talking about normal angry. No, there will be no Miss Piggy karate chop here. We're talking no-holds-barred, I-hereby-solemnly-pledge-to-install-my-knee-where-your-face-used-to-be

    But rather than tell you about it, we'll just show you a small portion of the entire beatdown.

    Ok, so remember that thing we said about not trifling with the elephant love? If you steal Tony Jaa's elephants, he will track you down at your home and break every piece of glass in the house with your face, wrap your arms around your neck, throw you through a table, and then re-arrange your internal organs for good measure.

    This fantastically effective technique allows Kham to quickly find out that his elephants have been taken to Australia by a Vietnamese gangster named Johnny (Johnny Tri Nguyen). 

    (Those crazy vietnamese gangsters, always running off with people's elephants. Pssh.)

    Boat chasing, helicopters, explosions, blah blah blah.... and that all happens before he even leaves Thailand!

    Kham NOW arrives in Australia and we are now introduced to three more key players in our story:
    • Sergeant Mark (the hilarious Petchtai Wongkamlao); A lovable Thai police officer who patrols a predominantly asian portion of Sydney
    • Pla: Presently employed as a call girl trying to pay a debt to that gang that's stealing everyone's elephants. Previously employed as a waitress at Tom Yum Goong, the Thai restaurant operated by the Vietnamese gangster. Please feel free to give a head tilt and a rousing 'Whaaa??'
    • Madame Rose: A transsexual Chinese gangster trying to catch her big break to make it to the top of the food chain. It's good to note that she is Johnny's boss... and has got one serious ego trip going on.
    Kham (Jaa) arrives in Sydney only to get caught up in a high speed chase with a car thief at the wheel. The car eventually gets trapped by the police and said thief thinks that he will be taking Kham hostage. 

    Silly Rabbit! You're about to get your innards re-arranged!!!

    In .3 seconds, Kham has completely immobilized the crook, who is then shot to death by the shady undercover agent with amazing hair. Then, a short chase ensues to apprehend Kham. Just before getting gunned down by the undercover agent, Kham is quickly arrested by Sgt. Mark and gets taken back to the station for questioning... or does he???

    On their way back to the station, Kham spots Johnny outside of "Tom Yum Goong" and escapes the police in order to chase after him. After beating down several guys, surf-fighting on a moving van, and kicking out a streetlight, Kham manages to catch up with Johnny and company in the middle of a drug deal, which he subsequently breaks up... with his fists & feet.

    Johnny then blows a foghorn (opting again not to fight his own fight) that somehow pages every gangbanger within a 5 mile radius. 

    Cue beatdown #2. 

    No fewer than 18 dudes show up on rollerblades, bikes, and whatever else has wheels on it. They quickly surround Kham, thinking they're totally punk and that they can take him.  There's running, jumping, flying, wailing and a whole lot more knees, not to mention the run-ins with the dirt bike AND and ATV, both of which are averted by some serious feats of acrobatics. It is at this point that we realize that the majority of the budget for this film must have been spent on breakable stuff, as both glass and bones again shatter everywhere. The scene ends with Kham running up a pane of glass in order to dodge the ATV, which drives underneath and crashes down two floors.


    Now, Pla (the prostitute we mentioned earlier who seems unwillingly involved with Johnny) finds the battle-weary Kham lying on the street and takes him home to her apartment where he can rest and heal safely. While there he dreams of elephants and warriors in CGI. She leaves him there to sleep and goes to work for the evening, which just so happens to be where Sgt. Mark is working for the evening as well. 

    Madame Rose's boss, Mr. Sim, is having a "friendly" meeting in a mud bath with the police inspector general and a couple of lovely ladies (including Pla), for which Mark is "providing security". An assassin comes in and kills both the inspector general and Mr. Sim. Mark is framed by the aforementioned crooked undercover agent, but manages to slip away after throwing hot wax in a guy's face and then commandeering a segway of all things. Pla escapes by hiding her muddy self until the coast is clear... WITH a secret video of the murders, no less. 

    The game's afoot.

    Having been previously shamed by her now entirely dead boss, Madame Rose poisons two other members of her family (Heirs to the crime empire) and is thus promoted to head up the "family business". Shortly thereafter, Mark and his girlfriend are picked up by Johnny and held captive to prevent them from blowing the plot. Pla goes home and finds Kham escaping a raid on her apartment. Sick of the crap, she leads Kham to a secret entrance at the back of Tom Yum Goong used for VIP customers. "Everyone wants to know what goes on up there" she says. Well, now we're gonna find out. 

    Cue beatdown #3.

    Now, we've seen a lot of fight scenes in our year or so of watching martial arts films. However, this has got to be hands down one of the most impressive fight scenes in the history of film. This four minute fight scene is all one long continuous shot, during which this poor camera person must have followed Tony Jaa up hundreds of stairs, never missing a moment of arm breaking action. The casualties of this glorious display of virtuous, vengeful, victorious testosterone?

    Balconies - 2
    Chairs - 2
    Windows - 1
    Tables - 3
    Sinks - 1
    Screens/Artwork/Decor - 9
    Kiosk - 1
    Body Parts - We lost count at "a whole friggin lot"

    (side note: During the filming of this scene it has been said that Jaa could only repeat it three times in a day before he was entirely wiped out. After watching this scene about 200 times myself, I can clearly see why!!)

    After the camera peeps over the top balcony in a moment of triumph over the superior trail of devastation and weeping left behind, the scene comes to a head as Kham bursts through the door of what we now see to be a VIP dining room for crazy rich people who get a kick out of eating endangered animals. He shouts out for Johnny, demanding to know "Where are my elephants??" The delivery of this line pretty much punches a hole in your soul and breaks your heart. Johnny appears from the kitchen flaunting Kohrn's bell, and a disoriented Kham appears for a moment to be no match for cocky Johnny. 

    But our man, he bounces back, wrapping the rope of the bell around his hand and delivering one of the mightiest beatings we have ever seen. And breaking another window for good measure.

    No worries, Kohrn is found alive and well in the back of the restaurant, along with Mark. Kham also finds racks upon racks of caged animals, as well as a room full of trafficked women about to be sold into the sex trade. Kham takes Kohrn and Mark to a monastery to hide out for a while until things blow over. Aaaaah, a monastery. What could possibly go wrong with this plan? (We've chosen a video snippet as words cannot aptly capture the punching, flying, fire, gong, water, brutality that unfolds)

    (This is officially Beatdown #4)
    After all this, things get a little blurry. Somehow every villain in the movie who hasn't been killed or torn apart inexplicably knows to convene at Madame Rose's headquarters at exactly the same time... right when Kham and Kohrn show up to really express their pissed-off-titude for real this time. 

    In a flurry of fists, elbows and crazy elephant feet, Kham and Kohrn make their way to Madame Rose's throne room (that's the only word for it, it's audacious) just in time to see her presented with the skeletal remains of Por Yai, decorated in a sheath of gold and gems. And just then you just want to cry as your weak, average person fists clench into tight little balls of rage.

    Devastated by this, Kham seems to forget where he is again for a moment and proceeds to fade into a haze of failure, thus making it possible to have the living daylights beat out of him... but not for long.

    The devastation turns to pure unadulterated rage shortly after Kham gets stabbed in the side, thus causing him to 100% snap, and snap, and snap... you know... like arms, noses, legs, necks, whatever is readily available. (sigh) Someday we'll have to sit down with a pad and pencil and actually tally the sheer number of takedowns in this film. The floor is quite literally littered with bodies when he's through. Fo' sho'.

    But then enter the giants. And when I say giants, I mean:


    Here is where it starts to get REALLY ugly. Madame Rose has had enough and signals for her team of goons who are about 3 times the size of poor Kham. In a moment of what could only be absolute stupidity, goon #1 picks up Kohrn and sends the poor animal literally flying through yet another window (what are we up to now, like 30 broken sheets of glass??), and then picks up Kham and throws him into Por Yai's skeleton, breaking of the bones of the front legs. So, game over for Kham, right?


    It is here that, (and this is great, get this... it's awesome... you ready?) Kham stands up, picks up the bones of his murdered elephant and proceeds to WAAAAAAAAAAAAIL on his enemies with them. We've got bashed in faces, bloody noses, sliced tendons... you name it, we got it!

    Madame Rose attempts to escape via rooftop helicopter (how cliche can you be?), and in a final moment of CrAzY, Kham leaps from the rooftop and delivers one more epic double knee kick to his mortal enemy, dropping her through... yes, you guessed it, the glass ceiling of the building below. Kham lands in the gentle, cradling tusks of the now deceased Por Yai and we are left with an abundance of questions. Did he die? Did he go home? Did he have to go through physical therapy???

    That will have to all wait to the sequel to be released this year. I KNOW!!! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT!!! (We'll detail more on this later)

    Something to note about this truly wonderful though heartbreaking film is that it was a bit of a tipping point for Jaa. Shortly after this film is when he entered into Ong Bak 2 and then developed some personal problems, which have continued to be shrouded in mystery to this day. That aside, what we've discussed here is the 108 minute unrated international version of the film. SO, when you go to rent it, be sure to get this version or you will not only have no idea what half of this blog is talking about, but will also be missing out on 25 minutes of bone snapping glory. 

    No fun. 

    Get the international version.

    The Protector is an amazing film that addresses the careless attitudes that many people carry for animals and people, callously casting aside ethics and morals and replacing them with violent, hedonistic practices. But it is also about one person who was willing to stand in the gap and save his elephants and set things right.
    Ultimately, this is a great movie. Watch it. Now. No seriously... NOW. 

    - The Mavens (Kelly & MJ)

    Monday, February 6, 2012

    Wing Chun - Fighting for Honor... with Deadly Class

    Cover of the 1994 Wing-Chun

    Ok. Just to prove that "Punch in the Neck" isn't ENTIRELY about great looking, muscle bound dudes punching and kicking the daylights out of each other, and because we got you so lathered up last week with punching, blood, guns, and 'splosions of "Flash Point", we're going to pull it back a tick and let you all cool off a bit.

    This week, we're going to cover the classic movie "Wing Chun" (1994), starring Michelle Yeoh Choo-Kheng and, you guessed it, Donnie Yen.

    Written and filmed before the groundbreaking film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", which also starred Ms. Yeoh, this film  appears in the traditional, old school Kung Fu movie style. A great story, presented a bit hokey with bits of comedy and over-emphasized punching and kicking noises, yet still a great historical film none-the-less.

    I think it is important to note, before we get too far, that this movie is considered to be quite controversial amongst film buffs, cultural traditionalists, and Wing Chun purists as each group finds themselves conflicted over the depiction of a strong woman (Yim Wing-Chun) who needs no man, who was an important character in Chinese Martial Arts history, and who is presented with comedy bits sprinkled here and there throughout the film. However, I think it is also important to point out the rarity of a female led story such as this one, made prior to the year 2000. Essentially, between cultural standards and genre style, this is all you could get. So, I salute you Ms. Yeoh for your work in this movie!

    HISTORICAL NUGGET (short version):
    Yim Wing-Chun
    Yim Wing-Chun is a legendary Chinese character dating back to roughly the late 1600's-1700's. She was the daughter of a Tofu merchant who was being harassed and forced into marriage by a warlord of the area. The Shaolin abbess Ng Mui, believed to be one of the five founding Shaolin Elders, taught Yim Wing-Chun a martial arts style that was inspired by a fight between a snake and a crane, so that she could protect herself and ward off unwanted advances. Over her lifetime, she and her husband Leung Bokk-Chao developed the martial arts style we know today as Wing Chun. It has been studied by many through the years, including the original Yip Man, Bruce Lee, and yes... Donnie Yen having played Yip Man in IP Man 1 & 2.

    ... And it is upon this brief history that our story is written and played out.

    Wing-Chun is a little bit of a trick to talk about, because you REALLY need to know that background of the story in order to fully “get” what is going on. As was briefly stated, Yim Wing Chun is a famous historical figure in Chinese Kung Fu history. She was trained by a Shaolin abbess and is the founder of the Wing Chun style of Kung Fu. Because she has been told that if she chose to learn Kung Fu in order to get out of an unwanted marriage “proposal”, then she would have to accept that she un-marriable (if that is even a word) and live the life of a spinster.

    K. Tuck that nugget of information away for later.

    Yim Wing-Chun (left) and Tofu Mouth Auntie (right)
    Our story opens with Yim Wing-Chun returning home to celebrate the marriage of her younger sister. Yim Wing-Chun is portrayed as a rather “manly” looking woman, mostly due to the clothes she wears and how her hair is simply pulled back and braided in the style of men from that time. What we adore about Yeoh’s performance here is that she really has adopted the “I don’t care” or “que sera, sera” type of attitude, which is entirely consistent with how the character Yim Wing-Chun must have felt, knowing that she didn't need a man to support or protect her. 
    Now, this doesn't translate into her being unfeeling or independent to a fault, as she and her foul mouthed Aunt (a constant and hilarious companion throughout the film) rescue a young widow who has essentially put herself up for public auction to pay for her husband’s burial. The young widow, Charmy (that name for some reason irritates the hell out of me) is brought home, dressed up and taught by Auntie, in the most incredibly ridiculous of ways, as to how to properly sell tofu in the family tofu shop.

    Charmy the Tofu Girl
    Just as every man in town is noticing and falling over the disgustingly sweet Charmy, along comes the man himself, Donnie Yen, in a fantastically rare comical performance. Now, this man honestly knows his Kung Fu, so don’t get us wrong here as his character Leung Pok-to has been away studying his art for many years, but due to his anxiety over reuniting with his childhood sweetheart Yim Wing Chun, he becomes an exercise in farce. 

    Pok-to sees Charmy hocking her tofu and mistakes her for Yim Wing-Chun, falling head over heels at the sight of her and double fisting the bean curd in an attempt to impress this lovely lady.  Then when Wing Chun shows up, Pok-to mistakes her for a man… and then thinks she and Charmy are involved… and oh the irony!

    And then... enter the bad guy, Flying Monkey. He is the leader of the infamous “bandits” that we keep hearing about throughout the movie. Flying Monkey started the shiznit at the beginning of the movie by trying to kidnap Charmy (shudder), but was in the end disgraced by our heroine. He of course shouted his intent to seek revenge, which is what is now taking place. Pok-to (Yen) happens upon the scene and joins the fight for the honor of his love, which isn't his love, but he doesn't know that. Flying Monkey manages to escape and make a run for it... but then Pok-to's fist manages to breach a wall and nab the “bad guy”. Of course, this is only possible because, as we have previously determined, Donnie Yen's fists are so awesome that they are able to accurately triangulate the position of Flying Monkey and thus nab him for a right proper beat down. 

    It is shortly thereafter that there is a “lovers” setup by the Aunt, and peculiar footbath scene, the admission by Charmy that she is a pretty but useless sack of flesh, unlike Yim Wing-Chun, a tofu fight scene, the accusation by Pok-to to Charmy/Wing-Chun/Man/??? of there being an unchaste love affair going on, and then the eventual kidnapping of Charmy and the challenge to Yim Wing-Chun by Flying Monkey's older brother Flying Chimpanzee. (Insert question regarding the names of the rest of their family)

    Yes you are... No I'm not... Yes you are.. No I'm not...
    Fast forward to Yim Wing-Chun heading out to the “bandit hideaway” to meet Flying Chimpanzee face to face, and Pok-to chasing after her as backup. It is here, along the banks of the river, underneath the gentle glow of flaming torches and a campfire that he discovers that this “man” he has been angry with is really his childhood love. Yim Wing-Chun. Insert an identity argument between Wing-Chun and Pok-to (see, cause she deeply loves him and wants to get married to him but is conflicted over Charmy, and... and... and...), cue Pok-to puking up blood from the beat down he previously received.

    Wing-Chun shows up for the fight, delivers an impressive beat down, and begins to collect both Charmy and Pok-to. But... no, no, no. Flying Chimpanzee isn't willing to accept the beatdown. He re-schedules another match. Wing-Chun accepts, and then shortly thereafter starts puking up blood. (There must have been a significant blood puke budget here) Realizing that she will lose her next match, and will therefore be forced to marry Flying Chimpanzee, she returns to the feet of her master Ng Mui. It is here that she somehow deciphers that smashing a sleeve full of walnuts means to punch Flying Chimpanzee in the gut to thus disable his “Cotton Belly” technique.
    Yim Wing-Chun kicks butt, all the men are required to call her “mother” (I'm sure there is a Chinese cultural joke in there), and she and Pok-to get married.

    Roll Credits.

      All in all, not an earth shattering movie, but a FUN movie none-the-less. Honestly, you really have to look at the whole picture here. 1) Wing Chun, in comparison with the rest of the characters in the film, is a very level-headed and strong person. When you stand her up against the rest of these silly people, she’s incredible! 2) It’s a HK comedy for Pete’s sake. Give the people some credit. 3) I feel like this film portrays Wing Chun as more of a legend than an actual person. You know all those legends and tall tales passed down through generations that are half based in truth and half utterly unbelievable? I walked away from this movie feeling like Wing Chun was a legend, and anyone that great has to pass into legend status at some point, right?
    Lastly, this movie is entirely carried by Michelle Yoeh and her incredible athleticism. And, if for nothing else, it is amazing to see a strong, skilled, leading role given to a woman with some SERIOUS talent. Perhaps had it not been for her participation in this film, she would have NEVER landed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I dunno.

    In short, you have to see the movie for the excellent fighting and minor storyline, despite possible inaccuracies, appreciate that they put a woman in a starring role in any HK film, and buy right into the goofiness.  And then you’ll have a grand old time.