With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Thursday, January 30, 2020

ASHFALL reviewed

capelight pictures / MPI Media Group 
Directed by LEE Hae Jun and KIM Byung Seo
Starring LEE Byung Hun, HA Jung Woo, Don LEE,
JEON Hye Jin, and BAE Su Zy
South Korea, 2019, 130 minutes

Ashfall, a disaster action-drama from South Korea, opened nationwide on January 17th. I watched an online screener on my iMac at home.

Captain CHO In-chang (HA Jung Woo) is about to end his dangerous field career in the Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit of the South Korean Army, which is a good thing as his wife Ji-young (BAE Su Zy) is do to have their first child soon.

Unfortunately Baekdu Mountain, along the border between North and South Korea, undergoes a 7.8 volcanic eruption, with more to follow. This at a time when a US. warship is en route to pickup North Korea's last six nuclear warheads, ending the demilitarization of the North.

Professor KANG Bong-rae (MA Dong Seok, a.k.a. Don Lee), a Korean-American seismologist, has identified three more lava layers, the first two small, but the third is really big and will lead to massive devastation. Fortunately he thinks he has a plan that will minimize the eruptions. Unfortunately it involves CHO leading a time into North Korea, stealing the six nuclear missiles and detonating them at a precise place in the labyrinth on mines near the volcano.

Jun-pyong (left) and In-chang (right); photo credit: capelight pictures

To locate the warheads, In-chang's team needs the assistant of a North Korean military officer, RI Jun-pyong (LEE Byung Hun) He's a master of betrayal, making him an unreliable ally with an agenda of his own. Oh, and he has to be recovered from a North Korean military prison! Later in the film, as In-chang and Jun-pyong drive towards the mountain with the nukes, I couldn't help but thinking of Frodo and Sam going to Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings. The difference here being that Jun-oyong is not the ever-reliable friend that Sam was.

The premise of the movie admittedly is pretty far out there, but then again so was that of John Woo's Face/Off, one of my all-time favorite action movies, and within a few years of its release, doctors began performing facial transplants, albeit not as complex as those depicted in Woo's film. So Ashfall viewers have to really suspend their disbelief and go along with this fine flick on its own terms. It's well worth the ride.

Click here to watch the official trailer.

The list of theaters at which Ashfall was scheduled to open on January 17th can be found in my release announcement post that day by clicking here. Check local listings to see if it's still playing in your area.

AsianCineFest Rating: 3 out of 4 stars (good); a solid action flick.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

NE ZHA returning to theaters on January 31st in honor of the Lunar New Year

Well Go USA
Ne Zha / Nezha zhi motong jiangshi
Written and directed by Yang Yu
China, 2019, 110 minutes

In observance of the Chinese Lunar New Year, Well Go USA Entertainment will rerelease the Chinese box office hit animated-feature Ne Zha in select markets on January 31st.

With somber understanding that this is a very sensitive time for many in the Chinese community and with the cancellation of many Lunar New Year releases, Well Go USA wanted to give a Lunar New Year gift with an English dubbed Ne Zha.

The Lunar New Year is the Chinese festival launches on the new moon and celebrates the beginning of a new year on the traditional Chinese calendar. The first day of the Chinese New Year was Saturday, January 25th, initiating the Year of the Rat, which runs through February 8.

In addition, Well Go USA Entertainment has created an English-dub version of the trailer, now available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYSiEFeMbZ0

In Ne Zha, a young boy, Ne Zha, is born from a heavenly pearl by the Primeval Lord of Heaven, Yuanshi Tianzun. Born with unique powers, he finds himself as an outcast who is hated and feared. Destined by prophecy to bring destruction to the world, the young boy must choose between good and evil in order to break the shackles of fate and become the hero.

Produced by Beijing Enlight Pictures and written and directed by first time director Yang Yu (aka Jiao Zi), Ne Zha is currently the highest-grossing animated feature in China’s film history with box office gross presently at $535 million and over 100 million admissions. Ne Zha is on course to pass Wandering Earth and become China’s second-highest grossing film of all-time by the end of its theatrical run. Ne Zha is also the highest-grossing animated IMAX feature in China’s film history, and the second highest-grossing local language IMAX feature of all time in the market.

BATTLE OF JANGSARI reviewed; now available on home video

Well Go USA
 Battle of Jangsari
 Directed by Kyung-taek Kwak
Starring: Kim Myung-Min, Minho Choi, George Eads, and Megan Fox
South Korea, 2019, 104 minutes

Battle of Jangsari, a fact-based Korean War film, has come to digital-on-demand, Blu-ray + DVD combo pack and DVD today, Tuesday, January 28th from Well Go USA Entertainment. I watched the Blu-ray version.

To support General MacArthur's planned landing at Inchon, several diversionary attacks were to take place elsewhere on the peninsula. One of these was at Jangsari in Yeongdeok, North Gyeongsang Province, on the eastern coast of the Korea peninsula. The attack was carried out by minimally-trained student soldiers who had not even been issued military service numbers. Basically they were being used as "cannon-fodder".

KIM Myung -Min portrays LEE Myung-Jun, the officer in charge of the attack. This character is based on Lt. LEE Myung-Heum, who spent years trying to get the student soldiers their well-deserved service numbers and recognition.

Megan Fox (Transformers, Jennifer's Body, and Prudence in a memorable episode of Two and a Half Men) portrays Maggie, a character inspired by Marguerite Higgins, an American reporter and war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune, and, to a lesser extent, photographer Margaret Bourke-White. Fox does a decent enough job in her role, although she is perhaps a bit too eager and earnest in her portrayal.

George Eads has a small but significant role as an American general who does right by Maggie.

The film is well shot and edited. It makes effective use of Maggie's part of the story to occasionally take a break from the plight of the student soldiers. The Blu-ray version was visually stunning, a real godsend in immersing the viewer in the overall story, but especially in the combat sequences.

The Wikipedia entry for the film says that it is the second installment, after Operation Chromite,(a.k.a. Battle for Incheon: Operation Chromite), in a trilogy, though there's no source sited or information about the third film. Whether there actually is, or will be, a third film, Operation Chromite and Battle of Jangsari do make for a good home video double feature.

Disc Specs:
-- Audio
    -- Korean DTD-HDMA 5.1
    -- Korean Stereo
-- Subtitles
    -- English
    -- Off
-- Bonus
    -- "Making of" featurette
    -- Trailer A
    -- Trailer B
    -- U.S. Trailer
-- Trailers
    -- The Divine Fury
    -- T-34
    -- Swing Kids

AsianCineFest Rating: 3 out of 4 stars, good; a solid, interesting and well-made war film

Friday, January 24, 2020

AKIO JISSOJI: THE BUDDHIST TRILOGY to screen at Japan Society NY on two Saturdays in February

Japan Society NY
Akio Jissoji: The Buddhist Trilogy
(This Transient Life, Mandala, and Poem)
When: Saturday, February 15 & Saturday, February 22, 2020
Where: Japan Society NYC
333 East 47th Street
Tickets: $14/$11 seniors & students/$10 Japan Society members
Special Offer: Purchase all 3 Akio Jissoji films in the same transaction
and receive $2 off each ticket

After making a name for himself in the late sixties as a boundary-pushing writer and director for the sci-fi television series Ultraman, Akio Jissoji went on to emerge as an equally innovative independent filmmaker with a trio of highly experimental and visually daring narrative features released through the Art Theater Guild (all scripted by Toshiro Ishido) that offer transgressive interpretations of Buddhist philosophy and the existential problem of impermanence. Long unavailable on home video outside of Japan, the complete “Buddhist Trilogy” makes its overdue debut at Japan Society with brand-new digital remasters.

The full schedule and information about each of the three films is available here.

Please note: These films contain strong sexual content including depictions of sexual violence.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

JIANG ZIYA coming to North American theaters on February 7th

Well Go USA
Jiang Ziya / Xin feng shen jiang zi ya
Directed by Teng Cheng and Wei Li
China, 2019, 110 minutes

Well Go USA Entertainment will release Jiang Ziya the next 3D animation in a series of animated films from Bejing Enlight Pictures in North American theaters on February 7th, 2020.

Based on an ancient Chinese myth, the film follows Jiang Ziya, a top commander in the divine army of the Kunlun Sect. Before Jiang Ziya can ascend to his new position among the Gods, he is ordered to execute the Nine-Tailed Fox Demon who threatens the mortal realm’s very existence. But when the Fox Demon shows him a dangerous secret, he is unable to complete his task resulting in his banishment to the mortal realm forever. Ten years later, atop the ruins of war, Jiang Ziya is once again faced with a challenging decision – follow the will of heaven regardless of innocent life lost or find his own path to righteousness.

Produced by Beijing Enlight Pictures, Jiang Ziya is the second movie in series of films following the box office hit Ne Zha. Currently the highest-grossing animated feature in China’s film history, Ne Zha generated a total box office revenue of nearly $720 million and passed Wandering Earth to become China’s second highest grossing film of all-time only behind the 2017 action thriller Wolf Warrior 2.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

THE KNIGHT OF SHADOWS reviewed; available today from Well Go USA

Well Go USA
The Knight of Shadows / Shen tan Pu Song Ling
Directed by Jia Yan (a.k.a. Vash)
China, 2019, 109 minutes

The Knight of Shadows (a.k.a. The Knight of Shadows: Between Yin and Yang), the newest action-comedy from Jackie Chan, debuts today on Digital, Blu-ray™ Combo Pack and DVD from Well Go USA Entertainment. I watched the Blu-ray version.

Chan stars as Pu Songling, a legendary demon hunter who tracks down beasts that enter the human dimension, assisted by a lawman protégé and a motley group of friendly monsters. Most specifically, Pu is asked to investigate the mysterious disappearances of young girls from a small village. When he discovers evil forces are kidnapping the girls to feast on their souls, he sets out to save humanity from the inhuman invasion journeying through hidden worlds and colorful dimensions in this fantastical martial arts action-comedy.

First off, I must say that I immensely appreciate Chan and his incredible contributions to Asian cinema, especially in terms of action and comedy. I had the great fortune of attending all three events at which he appeared in New York when he received the Star Asia Lifetime Achievement Award at the New York Asian Film Festival in June, 2013. He even signed my copy of his autobiography, I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action.

That aside, Jackie is nearing his 66th birthday, and simply can't do what he used to. And at times it shows in this film. I'm thinking, for example, of a set-piece in which he fights off a number of peace officers who are being controlled by a demon. There's the kind of moves using a chair that fans will be familiar with, but they're much less complex and vigorous then what we used to see, a shadow of their former selves. Others may not notice this, or care if they do, but I was saddened to see moves that I thought brought out when Chan used to be able to pull off but no longer can.

On the other side, some things do come off very well. Of lesser significance is Chan's face, which seems to have been digitally de-aged, somewhat like what was done to De Niro and others when they played younger versions of themselves in Scorsese's The Irishman. On the more positive side, there's a terrific scene in which Pu faces off against a female demon in a room filled with mirrors. It's snappy, well-edited and the effects are top notch.

Personally I hope that Jackie will continue to make action-comedies. Straight dramas have always been beyond his range and natural talents, and straight, heavy action films are now beyond his physical capabilities.

The Knight of Shadows is a period piece, and personally I prefer Chan's action-comedies set in contemporary times, such as Chinese Zodiac (2012) and Kung Fu Yoga (2017). While both Chan's period and his contemporary action-comedy films may have more faults and be less spectacular than earlier films made when Jackie was much more fit and able, I find them pretty much delightful.

Disc Specs:
-- Audio
    -- Mandarin DTS-HDMA 5.1
    -- Mandarin Stereo
    -- English DTS-HDMA 5.1
    -- English Stereo
-- Subtitles
    -- English
    -- Off
-- The Knight of Shadows trailers
    -- Teaser (English Dub)
    -- Trailer A (International Version)
    -- Trailer A (English Dub)
    -- Trailer B (International Version)
    -- Trailer B (English Dub)
-- Previews
    -- Kung Fu Monster
    -- Ne Zha
    -- Kung Fu League

All-in-all, The Knight of Shadows is a pleasant martial arts, action-comedy, most definitely worth watching.

AsianCineFest Rating: 3 out of 4 stars (good)

Monday, January 20, 2020

Romantic actioner ONE NIGHT ONLY is now available on DVD

Cheng Cheng Films
One Night Only / Tian liang zhi qian
Directed by Matt Wu
Starring Aaron Kwok and Yang Zishan
China, 2016, 90 minutes

Chinese romantic actioner One Night Only comes to DVD today, January 20, 2020 from Cheng Cheng Films.

Mixing high-octane actions with moving romance, One Night Only stars Hong Kong's legendary Aaron Kwok (Cold War, The Monkey King; also recipient of the  Star Asia Award at the New York Asian Film Festival in 2015). The film follows a him, a gambler, and actress Yang Zishan, a hooker, as they spend a suspenseful night together racing through Bangkok's underground world trying to win their fortune and dignity back. With style and energy, Matt Wu's debut wins as an emotional rollercoaster that contemplates love and fate.

IT WAS A FAINT DREAM playing at Japan Society NY on February 7th

Japan Society NY
© Courtesy of Arrow Films
It Was a Faint Dream / Asaki Yumemishi
Directed by Akio Jissoji
Starring Janet Hatta, Kotobuki Hananomoto, Minori Terada, and Shin Kishida
Japan, 1974, 120 minutes

When: Friday, February 7, 2020 at 7:00 PM
Where: Japan Society NYC
333 East 47th Street
Tickets: $14/$11 seniors & students/$5 members

Following the brash and ultramodern "Buddhist Trilogy," Akio Jissoji's fourth film for the Art Theater Guild is an ethereal costume drama set in the Kamakura shogunate era of Japan's mid-13th century that finds the director continuing his exploration of Buddhist concepts through the life of an imperial concubine who, after suffering several misfortunes, abandons the court to find herself anew as a nun. Filled with indelible scenes of pictorial beauty, Jissoji's flair for inventive visual storytelling lends hypnotic power to this intimate epic of sadness and spiritual awakening reminiscent of Kenji Mizoguchi's The Life of Oharu (1953).

Special Offer: Contact the box office to learn more about a special discount if you are a ticketholder of any of the films in the related series, Akio Jissoji: The Buddhist Trilogy. Applicable to non-members only.

Related Event: Akio Jissoji: The Buddhist Trilogy

This screening of It Was a Faint Dream is part of Japan Society NY's Monthly Classics film series.

South Korean political drama THE MAN STANDING NEXT opening soon in two California venues

Capelight Pictures
The Man Standing Next
Directed by WOO Min-ho
Written by Lee Ji-min
Starring LEE Byung-hun, LEE Sung-min, KWAK Do-won,
LEE Hee-jun, and KIM So-jin
South Korea, 2020, 114 minutes

The Man Standing Next, a South Korean political drama, will open at CGV Buena Park on January 24th and CGV Los Angeles on January 31st. The film tells the story of a 1970 scandal in the KCIA, the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, and is based on the non-fiction hit book KCIA Chiefs.

In the 1970s, Korea is under absolute control of President PARK (LEE Sung-min) who controls the KCIA, the organization with an edge over any branch of government. The director of KCIA, KIM Gyu-pyeong (LEE Byung-hun), is a shoe-in for second-in-command. In the midst of reign of fear, a former KCIA director, PARK Yong-gak (KWAK Do-won) who knows all about the government’s obscure and illegal operations, exiles to the U.S., where he opens the floodgate to the investigation of ‘Koreagate’. As tension escalates, stifling political maneuvering by those desiring power collide explosively.

For the official movie teaser visit: https://youtu.be/rODF85LAUcg

Sunday, January 19, 2020

BATTLE OF JANGSARI coming to home video on January 28, 2020

Well Go USA
 Battle of Jangsari
 Directed by Kyung-taek Kwak
Starring: Kim Myung-Min, Minho Choi, George Eads, and Megan Fox
South Korea, 2019, 104 minutes

Battle of Jangsari, based on the true story of student soldiers sent as a diversion to MacArthur's planned landing at Inchon, comes to digital on demand, Blu-ray + DVD combo pack and DVD on January 28th from Well Go USA Entertainment.

At a critical point in the Korean War, American General Douglas MacArthur decides to attack and secure Inchon on the west coast of the Korean Peninsula. In support of this surprise attack, the South Korean army sends a small, inexperienced battalion of student soldiers as a diversion to the eastern coast of the peninsula. With little ammunition, low food supplies and second-hand weapons, the soldiers head for the frontlines of Jangsari beach.

Friday, January 17, 2020

South Korean Comedy SECRET ZOO opens in Los Angeles and Buena Park on January 24th; nationwide release planned for February 7th

Capelight Pictures
Secret Zoo
Directed by SON Jae-Gon
South Korea, 2020

Secret Zoo, a heartwarming and zany comedy about a zoo struggling to stay afloat while not having any actual animals will open on January 24th at CGV Cinemas in Los Angeles and Buena Park. A further nationwide release is being planned for February 7th.

When a young lawyer, Tae-su (AHN Jae-Hong), eager to lock down a full-time position at his prestigious firm, is tasked with revitalizing a failing zoo in only three months all seems lost because of one glaring issue—the zoo has no animals. Not to be defeated, the zookeepers and Tae-su concoct the crazy idea to dress humans up as animals and make it believable.

Secret Zoo stars AHN Jae-Hong, KANG So-Ra, PARK Young-Gyu and is directed by SON Jae-Gon.

For the official movie trailer visit: https://youtu.be/WPdCjA2Gfys

WARRIORS OF THE NATION debuts on Digital & Blu-ray™ on February 18

Well Go USA
Warriors of the Nation / Huang Fei Hong: Nu hai xiong feng
Directed by Marco Mak
China, 2018, 92 minutes

After the Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese army tries to once again gain control in China by hiring a secret organization, The White Lotus Society, to kidnap the military minister. Wong Fei-Hung and his disciples must stop this attack to prevent another war from starting in the martial arts action epic Warriors of the Nation, debuting on Digital and Blu-ray™ on February 18th from Well Go USA Entertainment.

Directed by Marco Mak (chief editor on the iconic film Once Upon a Time in China) featuring classic, over the top, old school martial arts, Warriors of the Nation stars Wenzhuo Zhao (Once Upon a Time in China franchise, True Legend), cinema newcomer Lubing Li, Miya Muqi (The Monkey King 2) and Kenya Sawada (Street Fighter).

At the end of the Sino-Japanese War, a top military officer, Zhang Zhidong, is kidnapped in the middle of the night by a militant organization called the White Lotus Society. When he overhears a sinister plot to overthrow the central government by China’s own military officials, Wong Fei Hung knows he must rescue Zhang to protect China and prevent another war from happening. With Vincent Zhao reprising his legendary role, follow the next chapter in Wong Fei Hung’s story with spectacular classic martial arts action.

ASHFALL released nationwide today

capelight pictures / MPI Media Group 
Directed by LEE Hae Jun and KIM Byung Seo
Starring LEE Byung Hun, HA Jung Woo, Don LEE,
JEON Hye Jin, and BAE Su Zy
South Korea, 2019, minutes

Featuring an all-star cast, South Korean action drama Ashfall expands into additional theaters and will be released nationwide today, January 17th. The film, which stars LEE Byung Hun, HA Jung Woo, Don LEE, JEON Hye Jin and BAE Su Zy, opened to a successful weekend over the holidays, which has led to an expansion in multiple top markets.

In the face of a disaster that will engulf both North and South Korea, a mission is put into action to stop a super volcanic eruption.

An unexpected eruption of Korea's tallest volcano, which straddles the China-North Korea border, leaves the Korean peninsula in shambles. Seismologists warn this is only the preliminary eruption -- A devastating super-eruption is still to come.

Yoo-kyung (JEON Hye Jin) is Chief Secretary to the President of South Korea. While her team puts together an emergency countermeasure for the impending national crisis, she meets renowned Korean-American seismologist, Bong-rae (Don LEE). Bong-rae presents a theory that could possibly stop the volcanic explosion. Despite a very small possibility of success, the two decide to set the plan into motion.

In-chang (HA Jung Woo) is only days away from completing his service with the Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit of the South Korean Army. An accident during a missile dismantling operation leaves him in charge of the team, and he is called away to his last mission before returning home to his wife, Ji-young (BAE Su Zy).

In-chang's team secretly reaches out to a North Korean elite officer, Jun-pyong (LEE Byung Hun), who holds the key to the mission to stop the volcanic eruption. However, Jun-pyong keeps acting erratically. With doom looming, everyone must work together to avoid imminent devastation.

Full theater listing as of January 17th:
CGV Cinemas Buena Park, CA
CGV Cinemas Los Angeles, CA
AMC Ridgefield Park, NJ
AMC Plymouth Mtg, PA
AMC Bay Terrace Bayside, NY
AMC Alderwood Cinema Lynnwood, WA
AMC Mercado Santa Clara, CA
AMC IMAX Metreon San Francisco, CA
CENT Century 20 Daly City, CA
CNMK Century Sea Tac Mall Federal Way, WA
AMC Alderwood Seattle, WA
AMC Veteran's Expressway Tampa, FL
AMC Streets of Woodfield Chicago, IL
AMC 20 Niles Chicago, IL
AMC Empire 25 New York, NY
AMC Forum 30 Detroit, MI
AMC Fullerton 20 Los Angeles, CA
AMC Studio 30 Houston, TX
AMC Grapevine Mills Dallas/Ft Worth, TX

Click here to watch the official trailer.