Youtube Film Club: Tiger Claws 2 (1997)

Jalal Merhi? Never heard of him

Jalal Merhi? Never heard of him

Dear Jalal Merhi in 1990 – please spend some of that stack of cash you have on acting lessons. Just a bit, so it looks like you’re supposed to be on camera, and that you and your ex-girlfriend feel like you’ve ever shared a room before. It’ll pay off! The garbage sequel to your garbage first movie might be more fun then!

In a frankly confusing opening involving undercover operations gone wrong, Chinese gangs and arms dealers, we see Bolo Yeung again. In case you haven’t seen part 1, he was a serial killer who murdered other martial arts masters with the “Tiger Claw” style of kung fu, which mainly involved scratching someone’s face and them dying immediately. Now, you need to forget the serial killer thing, because the movie does! He’s sat in a cell at a police station, not a prison, despite having been incarcerated for at least nine months (the elapsed time between part 1 and this is never really mentioned), and some people working for the super-evil Dai Lo Fu come and bust him out.

Because you have the opportunity to watch these movies for free, I don’t feel bad about spoiling them. Dai Lo Fu is, it turns out, Bolo’s brother, and he’s organising an underground martial arts tournament on the Chinese Centennial in order to…open a time portal to the ancient past, take a load of modern weapons through and take over the world. Now that’s a plan! Luckily, Tarek (Merhi) can enter the tournament, as does ISCFC favourite Evan Lurie (main villain in “Hologram Man”, playing an arms dealer here), and a bunch of other weird-and-wonderful looking fighters.

Cynthia Rothrock is third billed in this, despite the poster above, which is about right. She’s Linda, and is now a cop in San Fransisco; she and Tarek split up after the first movie but when they re-establish contact, despite him sounding about as excited as if he’s reading the phone book out loud, she’s incredibly hot for him. Dear me. Anyway, all roads lead to San Fransisco, so when they’ve met up again and got bored of pretending this is about police work, the move just turns into a martial arts tournament.

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It’s a very curiously made film. My wife was half-reading a magazine during this, and she looked up during a spell of very loud dramatic music to see someone just walking down a street. “Is this supposed to be exciting?” she asked, and as it was about the tenth scene where the action and the music didn’t match at all, I sadly had to say no. There’s a substantial stretch of the movie, where Linda is trying to fight her way out of the bad guys’ dungeon and Tarek is fighting the guys upstairs, where the two stars were obviously filmed weeks or months apart – they cross paths during the final battle and the camera is very careful to never include them in the same shot.

Even in a genre not renowned for its logical choices, this manages to be even more puzzling than usual. First, of course, is Bolo – Tarek at one point calls him an honourable man, which considering he’s a serial killer WHO MURDERED HIS FRIEND is at best a dubious choice of words; plus, given his arrest was definitely on the news, as would be his escape, no-one seems to give a damn that he’s just walking the streets. Right at the beginning, the villains have to ditch their vehicle because the cops will be looking for it – you’re probably okay, lads, there are zero cops in this garbage – and choose a bright yellow old-fashioned food truck as their vehicle of choice. What? Tarek has a photo of Linda in his apartment, and it’s the cheesiest headshot you’ve ever seen in your life. Why do people in films use publicity headshots from their real acting career? Why not take a Polaroid out into a park for half an hour?

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The magic portal ending can be left as the truly magnificent choice it is, but one character walks through it and never comes back. This is, very very sadly, Bolo Yeung’s last acting role – no idea why he walked away, as he was the rare shining light in what seems like hundreds of poor quality movies (he actually acted for Merhi again in 2007, apparently, but the film remains unreleased, which sounds like some complicated tax dodge).

The one minor positive about this movie is the fighting. Rothrock is really, really good, and the film lets her have a few scenes where her skills can shine. Merhi is a better fighter than he is an actor – oh, by the way, he in real life owns a few martial arts schools teaching tiger style, so you can see these movies as advertising – and the tournament itself is okay, while making no-one forget “Bloodsport” or “Enter The Dragon”. The ridiculously cursory way they dispatch the main bad guy at the end is worth a laugh too, as if the filmmakers realised they’d forgot that bit so quickly filmed ten more seconds with extras in the same outfits.

I preferred this to the first one, but in the same way I’d prefer to get punched in the groin once rather than three times.

Rating: thumbs down

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Double Impact (1991)

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I think this is how the pitch meeting went.

JCVD: I have an idea for a new action movie, where I play twins.
Producer: Okay! How are you going to tell them apart?
JCVD: Well, one of them has terrible dress sense, and the other is a violently misogynist homophobe!
Producer: Here’s a blank cheque!

JCVD plays Chad and Alex, twins separated in infancy, thanks to their father being double-crossed by his business partners in building a tunnel from Hong Kong to the mainland. Chad is taken to an orphanage, eventually becoming a low-level smuggler, and Alex is kept by Frank, his Dad’s old head of security and taken round the world, eventually settling somewhere in the USA, probably, where they run a combined aerobics / karate school. Luckily, both brothers have identical accents and are equally badass at martial arts. Wait, what? Ah, never mind, let’s get to the good stuff.

Chad, in his line of work, gets to meet his Dad’s old friends, who are now into big-league drug running. But Frank turns up with Alex, the two brothers rescue each other a few times, and they decide to work together to take down the drug operation and get back their rights to the tunnel and all the money it earns.

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Writer / director Sheldon Lettich had worked with JCVD before, on “Bloodsport”, and that formed a friendship that went on til at least 2006 (Lettich hasn’t really worked since then). This is their second film as director and star, after “Lionheart”,which sounds pretty awesome too, and that relationship helps JCVD, whose strengths are played to throughout. I worry about making too much of this, but he can act! Kind of! We have visual cues to which brother we’re watching at all times, but he does make an effort. He’s also credited as a co-writer.

The fights are really well staged too. When the two brothers fight each other, the angles are all done well and there’s no real moment where one guy is in an unnatural position because it’s JCVD’s stunt double. The firefights aren’t quite so strong, as no-one seems to be able to shoot worth a damn unless it’s plot-relevant, but none of it is bad.

We’ve got strong fights, a director who knows the best way to use his star, great locations (it looks like Hong Kong just closed off streets for them whenever they asked) and a really strong plot. Yes, really strong – their attempts to take down the criminal enterprise are handled well, with Alex’s girlfriend Danielle on the inside working for the evil land development company providing tension. It’s a real action thriller film rather than just a bunch of fights strung together.

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The rest of the cast is loaded with good people. Bolo Yeung is the main henchman, and is great as always, but though he was around when they were infants, he appears to have not aged a day in 25 years. At least give him a bit of grey hair, you guys! Plus, fans of horror cinema might be interested in a very brief cameo from Julie Strain as a martial arts student, from around the same time she was a Penthouse Pet, right at the very beginning of her career.

But as I mentioned above, there’s some serious problems. Alex calls Chad “faggot” on multiple occasions, and when Chad has to rush off to save Danielle without Alex, he gets drunk, waits for them to get back then hits her, pretty hard. Does he apologise or show any growth before she rushes back into his arms at the end? No, he just saves the day and, as we know, women are prizes to awarded for competence, not people with their own thoughts, feelings or agency.

Provided you’re prepared to talk to any impressionable viewers of this about the occasionally rotten attitudes, you’ll really enjoy this. It looks great, moves along quickly, has loads of action and also shows you just how insanely packed with people Hong Kong was at the time – it’s always fun to see how much access film crews used to be able to get to stuff before landowners realised they could charge them for everything they did.

Rating: thumbs up

Bloodsport (1988)

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Frank Dux is a lucky man. In an era like today, when fact-checking is almost instant, his rather wild life story would have been pulled apart in seconds; yet, growing up when he did, he was able to become a successful martial arts trainer, friend of celebs and bestselling author.

To quickly break it down – he almost certainly never fought in the kumite (the secret underground fighting tournament), as the address he gave for the organisation was his own home. The trophy he claims to have won was just bought at a local trophy store, as a reporter found the receipt. He almost certainly never trained with the famous ninjitsu master he claimed. His prior military service can’t be verified. Add that to the list of kumite records (a tournament there’s no evidence for the existence of outside Dux’s book) displayed at the end of the film that Dux apparently still holds, and you’ve got an impressive amount of lying.

But who cares? Jean Claude Van Damme is kicking ass! There’s a moderately confusing first ten minutes where he jumps forward and backward in time (the only clue is the hair), a jumble of scenes where he breaks into Master Tanaka’s house, gets his ass kicked by Tanaka’s son then becomes friends with him, gets trained by Tanaka himself, joins the army then comes back to see the dying Tanaka before heading off to Hong Kong for the kumite. This whole bit feels really weirdly edited – Tanaka’s son dies off screen, for reasons never stated, and did Tanaka win the kumite himself as a young man?

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The film is basically one big fighting competition with a few little scenes dotted around. Forest Whitaker, already a pretty famous actor by this point, must have fancied a few weeks holiday in the Far East, as he plays one of the two CIA agents tasked with taking Dux home – the only reason being is he’s so amazingly awesome a soldier, they can’t afford him dying in this tournament. Bit flimsy, eh? Then there’s a sexy reporter who wants to get the scoop on the kumite; the great Donald Gibb (“Ogre” from the Revenge of the Nerds movies) as another American competitor; a lot of funny little turns from “locals”, and Bolo Yeung, well-known to anyone who’s seen a martial arts movie, as Chong Li, the no.1 fighter in the kumite.

For most of the first 30 minutes, my wife was insisting we’d seen this before, fairly recently, but the problem was it’s just really similar to a lot of other movies. The montage! The insanely strong villain! The wacky best friend! The love interest! This film does manage to separate itself from the pack by having a healthy dose of racism in it – among a few other references, primarily it’s the chief black fighter doing an impression of a monkey (I guess he’s trying to do monkey style kung fu, but it looks nothing like that). Add a little sprinkling of sexism in there – the reporter is absolutely useless – and you’ve got yourself a 1980s martial arts movie.

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This all sounds like I hated it, and nothing could be further from the truth. It’s so much fun! JCVD is having the time of his life, most notably in a scene where he evades the CIA agents in a chase through Hong Kong. He’s ripped in this movie like he never was before or since, too, and the camera loves him. The fighting is fun, the styles of the characters does tell sort of a story (when they can be bothered) and the ending is nice and satisfying. I did wonder why Chong Li, a man who’s killed several people in the kumite and cheated in the end, was so popular, but thinking that much about this awesome display of ass-kicking is a fool’s errand.

Rating: thumbs up

Youtube Film Club – TC 2000 (1993)

The birthday haul

The birthday haul, top middle

By gum, there’s a lot of fighting in this film. Just when you think some plot is going to break out, someone runs into someone else and there’s a flurry of punches and kicks. This film has more fighting than the previous record holder, “Hey, Everyone, Let’s Fight For A Really Long Time” (1973, USA).

I’d give you the plot, but it seems sort of pointless. Oh, go on then. There’s been an environmental apocalypse, and most of the survivors have been forced underground. There are a few people still living on the surface, and most of the people we see are baddies, the street gang “The Picassos”. Underground, we’ve got two good cops, Jason Storm and Zoey Kinsella (Billy “Tae Bo” Blanks and 90s queen Bobbie Phillips), and a bunch of evil cops who want to…god knows. Kill everyone on the surface, I think. Zoey dies and gets transformed into a robotic evil super-cop, Jason quits the force and goes topside, and there meets good guy Bolo Yeung who trains him and finds a bunch of guys to help him stop the evil cops and the Picassos at the same time.

That’s pretty much it in terms of plot. You won’t watch this film and go “dammit Mark! Why didn’t you tell me about the weird tower that they can turn on and it’ll heal the world’s atmosphere?” You will watch this film and enjoy an absolute ton of fighting, though. Everyone in this film can fight. The random hoboes that approach Jason can kick ass, and with virtually no guns in this world, all the cops are amazing martial artists too.

Zoey is turned into a TC2000X, which is an upgrade from the normal stuff the cops get, which is TC2000. She’s part-robot, and in no way does this feel like “Robocop” at all. Fortunately, while kicking ass and being an awesome robot cop she gets to keep wearing her high heels…apart from the stuff her stunt-double does, which being shown in slow motion gives you ample opportunity to see her wearing flats. Considering the incredible high-pitch of sexism that runs through so many movies, this barely registers, which is sad. What isn’t sad is Bolo Yeung as the surprise good guy. He’s so evil-looking that I think after he beats you up, he finds out where you live and then goes and beats your family up, just because – but in this film he’s the mentor, trainer and friend to Jason, and he seems to relish being a good guy for once.

I don’t think Billy Blanks relished anything, or hated anything. In fact, it’s extremely difficult to tell from his face BECAUSE HE’S A TERRIBLE ACTOR DO YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE He clearly wasn’t hired because he’s a regular when it comes to Oscar nominations. He does get one sweet comeback though, when one of the baddies goes “Time to die” and he replies “time to get a new watch” before knocking him out.

All these guys pale into insignificance, though, next to my favourite guy in the film. Bolo and Jason are getting their gang together, and most of them look like pretty badass guys, except for one man, who I’m going to give a superhero name, Middle-Aged Man Man. MAMM for short is just a guy who looks like he wandered into the training area on his office job’s lunch hour and decided to join in, and sadly he’s one of the first to die. But Middle-Aged Man Man, we salute you.

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So, in conclusion, if you really liked “Project Shadowchaser 3” and see the DVD with this film on it too, then it might be worth a watch – or, if you’re on some weird monomaniacal mission to watch every sci-fi kung-fu film ever made (which, thinking about it, probably wouldn’t take you that long). Anyway, might as well give it a miss.

Rating: thumbs down