The Hostage (1998)

Much like some nightmarish Escher-like painting, my quest to get to the end of David A Prior’s filmography appears to get further and further away no matter how many movies I watch. I’ve passed the point where I’m providing useful information to you, dear reader, and now it’s some war of attrition – which leads us to a slight backtracking and 1998’s “The Hostage”. I picked it because it features Ted Prior in a leading role, high billing for Dana Plato, just a year before her unfortunate death (I talk more about her in my review of “Compelling Evidence”) and Cynthia Rothrock, one of our favourite kung-fu / action movie stars.

But then, as the credits rolled, I noticed our old friend David A Prior as second unit director! This isn’t on IMDB (although I submitted a change after seeing this), and second unit directors do stuff like film stunts and establishing shots and so on. Was he bored and owed someone a favour, or did Ted lobby to give his brother a few days worth of work? We’ll never know.

ASIDE: Dana Plato was directed by three men the ISCFC has covered extensively: Donald Farmer (“Compelling Evidence”), Michael Paul Girard (“Different Strokes: The Story of Jack and Jill and Jill”) and now this. This represents…well, nothing great, that’s for sure.

This is a story of a pathetically incompetent group of high-end thieves, who are out-thought and out-fought at every possible opportunity by security guards, cops and a few scattered FBI agents. Their plan, such as it is, is useless, their execution worse, and apart from Ted (playing a character called Ted) they’re all schlubby and don’t move like they’ve had any training at all. The guy who’s set up to have a big role, being the first person we see and getting a lot of screen time at the beginning, is unceremoniously shot in some crossfire about halfway through and never mentioned again, and the ending is stupid.

So, with all that being said, let’s do some recapping! After an irrelevant cold open, presumably just there to get it to feature length, we meet Ted, who’s sad that his wife is dead. He’s a former soldier of some sort, and decides the best way to earn money is to sign on with an Alex “Infowars” Jones lookalike criminal mastermind, who has picked a super-rich businessman as his next target.

The team are boring and indistinct, and you will not go to your grave wishing I’d spent ages listing them all for you, so let’s just move on. The rich businessman, rather than having an office, does his business from a relatively large suburban home, with lots of assistants and computers just in the dining room or the kitchen or wherever. This might be a deliberate choice or it might be that someone associated with the production had a big house they could film in (I’ll go with the latter), but there it is.

Three years of planning have led to this moment. Three years. So they walk in the door, act suspicious, the businessman’s guards ask them who they really are, then everyone starts shooting. I’m an idiot and I could have come up with a better plan than that after about ten minutes! The crooks are outnumbered and the guards have more guns – also, they call the authorities for help almost immediately. First, some cops turn up, then FBI hostage specialist Cynthia Rothrock. There’s a cool bit where some cops are sexist but the main cop, a fellow called Sparks, says “if she was a guy, you’d be running round saying yes sir admiring what a badass he was” which is perhaps the only line of any note in this whole experience.

Anyway, the plan rolls along, and they don’t bother doing anything like having either side be good guys or bad guys, or even just people you want to see succeed. It’s a businessman who might or might not be a scumbag against some thieves who might or might not be psychos. Later on, both sides even dress the same, to really amp up the confusion.

I feel like there’s not a lot of point saying more, as nothing really happens. One interesting thing is it’s shot on video, giving everything that ugly sheen. I’m surprised Prior and Rothrock agreed to take part in what amounts to little more than a home video, but one would presume their cheques cleared before they set foot on the set.

I’m not entirely sure this movie was ever officially released. The version I found says “for screening purposes only” and the only other online review of this I read got it from the same place as me – also, one of the actors commented on it and said they thought it had never been released either. So, good luck getting hold of a copy, if this review has for some reason made you want to watch it.

Director Bryan Todd (who also acts as one of the criminals) is now in reality TV, having made a Jersey Shore spin off about Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino’s post-superfame life among other things; writer Zac Reeder is an executive producer on “Outpost”. So, this movie didn’t kill either career, although it probably should have done. Oh, and there are actors by the name of Rob Lowe and Don Johnson as goons and extras, and no I’m not going back to check if it’s a couple of really well-hidden cameos by former A-listers, and not just a non-union production not giving a toss about the names they use.

A really genuinely tedious experience.

Rating: thumbs down

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Youtube Film Club: City Cops (1989)

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In a genre and era rife with sexism and homophobia, it takes a special movie to really stand out from the crowd. “City Cops” is that movie, though, with numerous scenes that left me open-mouthed with amazement that, even in 1989, this was seen as acceptable. I really don’t know where to start – it can’t be the plot, because it makes no sense, and it can’t be the acting, because it’s all terrible, and the dubbing is done by the same two guys and one woman for the entirety of the cast, leading to the unusual sensation of most conversations sounding like one guy talking to himself.

Cynthia Rothrock, who deserved far far better than this, is FBI agent Cindy (no surname given). Some guy they need for some reason is in Hong Kong, so she’s asked to go over there and pick him up. On her own, with seemingly no “hey, local police, we’re on our way” communication beforehand. When she gets there, she meets two local cops who seem way more bothered about trying to pick up women than they do with showing even the most basic level of competence at their jobs – I’ll call them Sex Pest and Moron, because I honestly don’t remember their names in the movie. The Captain demands that she be subservient to him, and she agrees because she’s a woman and women should absolutely not do or say anything to contradict a man.

 

Right, we’ve established the basics. A huge chunk of sexism to start the movie off, the sort of sexism that just thinks it’s the normal way of the world, which is even worse. But the worst is yet to come, and it centres around the FBI informant. We meet him, dressed as a woman (let’s call him Cross-Dresser), in a shopping mall. Sex Pest and Moron are trying to track down someone who’s been molesting women in the mall, and this criminal feels up Cross-Dresser, and when he’s arrested says because he tried to molest a man, it doesn’t count – so they just trip him up and he falls, hands first, onto an old lady, which counts as molesting in their book.

 

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L-R – Cindy, Moron, Sex Pest

The two cops realise that Cross-Dresser is the guy that Agent Cindy is looking for, so decide for reasons unknown to take him to dinner. At one point, Moron drinks from Cross-Dresser’s glass of water, to which he says “aren’t you afraid I have AIDS?” After a solid few minutes of homophobia, Cross-Dresser (seeing an opportunity to escape, although why he’d want to is never mentioned) claims he was Rock Hudson’s boyfriend, and while Sex Pest is off scrubbing himself with bleach, Cross-Dresser disgusts Moron so much he’s allowed to go off to the bathroom on his own, so escapes. Sex Pest comes back to the table, shouts “where’s the queer?” and Moron says he didn’t want to accompany him to the bathroom, for fear “he’d probably rape me up the bum”. And scene!

 

Now, it seems way more likely that Cross-Dresser was dressed as a woman in order to avoid the police, not because he was gay. There’s quite a lot of scenes where the dubbing makes no sense, indicating that some plot changes have occurred from the original Hong Kong movie…but then again, who knows? Zero reference is made to his sexuality again, and he spends the rest of the movie in “male” clothes.

 

Sex Pest and Moron, because they’re bored of Cindy, decide to play a trick on her, selling her as a prostitute to a local loan shark while they’re in a bar. Sex Pest then comes on to one of the waitresses, who according to the movie just happens to be Cross-Dresser’s sister…his preferred seduction technique (one shared by Jackie Chan in a lot of his Hong Kong movies) is to hover a hair’s breadth from sexual assault until the woman relents. Plus there’s a Japanese yakuza gang knocking about, although if you held a gun to my head I wouldn’t be able to tell you what their relation to the rest of the plot is.

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As the film wheezes on, Sex Pest gets his girl, and then while on a stakeout, Moron gets a kicking so, for reasons I will never understand, Cindy gives him a good massage. As she’s rubbing his chest, her face appears to be trying to convey a growing romantic attachment, and even though he’s an awful cop, an awful human being and has a face like a smacked arse, they start a relationship. I mean, you can’t have a woman in a movie without her needing a man to complete her as a person! Haha!

 

There’s a decent fight at the end, but it’s too little, too late. It’s best thought of as a horrible relic from a less enlightened time (even though 1989 is way too late for this sort of garbage to be acceptable), and unless you’re a Rothrock completist, best steer clear of this one.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Youtube Film Club: China O’Brien 2 (1990)

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The denim-iest front cover ever

 

Competence in 80s and 90s martial arts cinema is by no means a given (witness the work of Ron Marchini if you’d like an example) so it’s nice to see one where everyone involved knows what they’re doing. Robert Clouse, director of “Enter The Dragon” and the first “China O’Brien”, has the good sense to keep the first movie’s stars – Cynthia Rothrock as Sheriff China; Richard Norton as teacher / former special forces guy Matt; and Keith Cooke as one-handed Native American badass Dakota – and let them do what they do best.

After the bombshell of finding out that China’s real name is Lori (thanks to a plaque she’s awarded at the beginning) we get cracking with the plot, which is only tangentially related to any of our heroes. One of the locals is in the FBI’s witness protection programme after ratting out criminal Charlie Baskin, but he also stole $5 million from him, unbeknownst to his family. Charlie busts out of jail and goes on a revenge spree against the people who put him behind bars, including, best of all, getting the judge as he’s on stage at a magic show. Was he just really confident or had no-one warned him a killer with a grudge against him was on the loose? Anyway, the baddies need the money to do a big drug deal and thanks to a mole inside the FBI, know where it is.

 

So China and her crew protect the family while hunting down Baskin and his seemingly limitless army of goons (seriously, that 5 million isn’t going to be much when you’ve divided it a hundred ways) and the story progresses as these stories do, with minor characters getting picked off and so on. Not a single one of the villains is any good at fighting, though, which means China and the boys go through them like a warm knife through butter.

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When this movie really picks up is in the last 20 minutes. Up to then has been okay, if a little slow, but it’s as if they all suddenly go “crap! We’ve got all these cool ideas for fights and stunts but we’ve already done the first hour! Let’s just cram it all in!” Basically, everything after the extremely odd one-camera scene – where all the main heroes are having a conversation in one shot, as if their second camera broke so they had to cram everyone into one corner of one room to film them – is a masterpiece of martial arts cinema.

 

You’ve got Richard Norton in an immaculate white t-shirt / double denim combo, not a bit of dirt or blood on him after all the fighting; China kicking someone clean through a wall (like they had a wire-fu special effects guy, but only for a day’s filming); someone getting a piano dropped on them; one goon hiding inside a toilet; China killing someone with a bow, after evidently forgetting she put down her gun for ever because she didn’t want to kill anyone else; and, perhaps best of all, KNIFE HAND GUY! He just shows up out of nowhere, has a cool fight with China and that’s it. He’s so awesome he makes it to the poster above, despite only being in the movie for maybe 45 seconds.

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There’s a couple of smaller performances that according to IMDB were the result of them realising the film was too short and having to go back months later for reshoots. Billy Blanks, taebo master, star of such gems as “No Retreat, No Surrender 4” and “TC2000” and perhaps the worst actor I’ve ever seen in my life, shows up in an uncredited role as “Zebra Print Zubaz Pants Guy” and gets his ass kicked swiftly – I’d like to think he was just hanging out on the set, visiting his martial arts buddies, and the director paid him a few hundred dollars to get beat up on camera. The other oddity is Baskin has a girlfriend at the beginning who’s obviously a bodybuilder, and it seemed a no-brainer that she’d be fighting China at some point. Unfortunately, she just disappears from the movie after a few scenes, wasted opportunity and all that.

 

It’s not what you’d call a great film, or even a very good one. The first hour is too slow and while I love Rothrock and Norton, neither of them are great actors so it can be a bit of a slog to get through their scenes. But what it does have is that super-entertaining final act. Norton wears a Canadian tuxedo to a funeral, it doesn’t so much have an ending so much as “this line’ll do as a last one, cut”…it’s got it all.

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Rating: thumbs up

Youtube Film Club: China O’Brien (1990)

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We love Cynthia Rothrock here at the ISCFC. From managing to maintain some dignity in the truly rotten “Tiger Claws” series, to a fun turn in “The Magic Crystal” to the genuinely great “No Retreat, No Surrender 2”, she’s managed to not exactly elevate her material; but to sort-of act at the same time as being one of the most talented screen martial artists ever.

“China O’Brien” would probably be no.1 if you did a “Family Fortunes” round on naming a Rothrock movie. I’ve never seen it before, but (aside from the 80s high school movie love) I was a bit of a snob in my youth, watching indie, arthouse and “serious” foreign movies; my friends, sensibly, enjoyed stuff like this. If you like, you can see ISCFC as me catching up on my teens, and hopefully recommending some fun stuff to you, but you don’t come here to read my dull life story!

China O’Brien is a cop as well as a martial arts teacher, and one day one of her students, a young angry black man, decides he’s had enough and tells her she wouldn’t last two minutes in a real fight on the street. She’s all “you know how I feel about violence” and then agrees to meet him in a back alley at 10pm? It turns out she thinks this is a demonstration, something the movie struggles to tell us, or perhaps they wanted to put us on the back foot from the beginning? Anyway, after realising she’s in a real fight she then, completely out of character, shoots someone emerging from the shadows. This is…a kid, maybe? (again, the movie isn’t interested in telling us)…and she’s forced to hand in her badge and gun. After very minimal soul searching, she’s off to Beaver Creek, Utah, the small town she grew up in to visit her Dad, the Sheriff.

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So the movie is that classic “hero rides into town” story. But the villain in this, Sommers, manages to differentiate himself from other movie villains not by chewing scenery, but by having zero respect for the law from the very beginning. On a routine call to a lumber yard, Sommers’ people decide to ignore the Sheriff, then when he tries to arrest them go full-on to murder him and China, using chainsaws, guns and all sorts. Then, the Judge (who’s in Sommers’ pocket too) threatens to have the Sheriff charged with wrongful arrest! It’s hammered home that this is a very bad man, but when the Sheriff and his Deputy are blown up, that’s when I’d be calling in the FBI. They sort of mention they’re thinking of doing it, but that never happens.

China decides to stay in town and stand for election for her Dad’s old job, and luckily she’s got some help, in the form of her old high school boyfriend turned special forces soldier turned teacher Matt – the great Richard Norton, who co-starred with Rothrock in “The Magic Crystal”. Now, Norton is Australian and makes no attempt to hide his accent; it’s a toss-up which is odder between that and the final member of their little gang, “Dakota”, a Native American who’s played by Keith Cooke (who does not appear to be Native American at all), whose mother was forced into prostitution. So, it’s the three of them against Sommers and his goons – the townspeople, apart from the people who Sommers has in his pocket, are all firmly on China’s side.

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It’s a riot of odd haircuts and magnificent clothing choices, as China rocks the Hammer pants regularly, and numerous townsfolk sport weird and wonderful variations on the mullet. It’s also a riot of acting styles, with Rothrock and Norton almost convincing you they’re human beings. No, I’m sorry, I was being mean – there’s one scene where Norton gives Rothrock a little peck and she performs “girlish glee” as well as I’ve ever seen it done. The rest of the cast are convincingly sleazy-looking local hoodlum types.

But you don’t see a Cynthia Rothrock movie for the acting. She’s an amazing martial artist, as is Norton, and they work at the absolute top of their abilities here. The camera is sped up a few times but they’re still incredibly precise, well-choreographed, demanding and real-looking stunts. I will also never get tired of seeing sexist rednecks looking surprised after “little girl” O’Brien absolutely whups their ass. The fight round the bonfire is a little masterpiece, and it’s almost worth the cost of admission on its own.

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It’s a great movie. You know what you’re getting and the film does not disappoint. Okay, the lawlessness doesn’t ramp up throughout, starting at a “we are prepared to murder someone in a bar for no reason” level and staying there, but the extreme black and white allows you to sit back and enjoy, with no fear of double-crosses or twists or any of that. Just pure fun and ass-kicking excitement. It’s also a movie with two rather unusual bits of trivia attached to it, first of which is the director Robert Clouse, who’s best known to us as the director of “Enter The Dragon”. While this isn’t quite as good as that, it’s still got the pedigree of a director who knows how to film martial arts.

Second is a rather nondescript song which plays as China drives to her home town, performed by a band called “Tess Makes Good”. This is none other than Tori Amos, after her brief attempt at pop stardom with Y Kant Tori Read but before “Little Earthquakes” would make her an international superstar. This movie is the only way to hear this song, should you be an Amos completist, as the soundtrack was never released and she never put the song out herself. Anyway, here it is:

Rating: thumbs up

Youtube Film Club: Manhattan Chase (2000)

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Genre mashups have been pretty big business for a while, but in all the zombie-comedies, scifi-westerns and war-werewolf movies, no-one apart from the makers of “Manhattan Chase” thought of creating the kung-fu / super-intense family drama combination, and now you can watch it too.

This represents the nexus of three of the ISCFC’s favourite review subjects – Loren Avedon, Cynthia Rothrock and Godfrey Ho. Yes, the king of splicing two mostly unrelated films together had a go at making a real movie, under the name Godfrey Hall, and this was amazingly his last movie before retiring to teach filmmaking (whether his course notes were just notes from two different courses, thrown together mostly at random, is sadly unknown). If you’ve never heard of this movie, don’t be surprised because it was barely released anywhere – Ho failed to sell it in either the US or Hong Kong, and now Youtube is basically the only place you can get hold of it.

Loren is Jason, a Mob hitman who is caught, just as he’s about to kill someone, by cop Cynthia Rothrock and locked up for 6 years. When he gets out, he just wants to re-establish his relationship with his son, so despite being asked to resume his old job, he says no. His old cellmate offers him a place to stay, and all seems well; unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Jenny, who steals some drugs from her stepfather in order to sell them and make a new life for herself, only to witness her stepfather beat her mother, before Jason’s old crew pop in and and start shooting, looking for the drugs (Jenny escapes, everyone else dies).

You’re then assaulted by the first of a hefty pair of coincidences that bring the characters into each others’ orbit. Jenny, as she’s running from the assassins, literally falls over Jason’s car as he’s just driving his son around. He offers to help her; at the same time Jason’s ex-wife comes into town, looking to see the son she abandoned just after he was born. The ex-wife’s sister? Cynthia Rothrock. If you can swallow those, then…nah, still not sure you’d stomach the reveal of just who the main villain is.

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If I had to guess, I’d say Godfrey Ho never bothered with any shooting permits, because there’s no way he could have afforded them for where he filmed. He’s definitely in New York, and films in real locations – Central Park, busy Manhattan streets, a public monument in Queens, and lots of filthy broken-down side streets with famous landmarks in the background. If you want to see what a city’s really like, look at its low-budget films, and “Manhattan Chase” will definitely show you that.

Despite Rothrock being top billed, she’s not really in it too much – Godfrey Ho took two scenes with Avedon and Rothrock sharing the screen, a few Rothrock-and-sister scenes and some of Rothrock chasing criminals, including one amazing scene where she kicks a bad guy through a table, which is just sat in the middle of a filthy alley; he sprinkles them throughout the main plot, Jason and Jenny vs. the Mafia, and hey presto! That Ho magic is in full effect.

Due to the use of natural light, and perhaps the cameras, everything feels cold and miserable in this movie. This isn’t helped by the tone of the conversations, which are about loss and family breakdown and honour and death – given its pedigree, I have to assume most of this tone is accidental, the result of a script by someone for whom English was not their first language (the credited writer, “Lisa Cory”, has this as her only credit, which leads me to believe it’s Ho under a pseudonym).

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Weirdly, Loren Avedon stands out like a sore thumb – not a wild overactor like the Mafia guys or a calm underactor like Rothrock and his former cellmate, he has the look in his eyes of a man who knows he’s on borrowed time, that his dreams of a happy family future are fading fast. Given that he’s previously excelled at fighting and light comedy, this is a pretty impressive turn from him, and is probably his best performance in anything we’ve seen of his so far.

As we take brief detours to see perhaps the fakest fake boobs of all time, a truly bizarre gunfight in Central Park, and a very fast-developing romance, we move towards an ending which is both very downbeat, followed immediately by the least likely coda I think I’ve ever seen. Good old Godfrey!

It’s absolutely worth watching, although not for many positive reasons. The fights are too few and far between, but it’s just so strange! Watch it and be sad that Avedon never got that bigger budget role he thoroughly deserved.

Rating: thumbs down

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Youtube Film Club: The Magic Crystal (1986)

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Andy Lau is like the Chow Yun Fat you’ve never heard of – a similarly great actor, one who can comfortably turn his hand to serious drama, Woo-esque gun-fu, knockabout comedy, and is also a fine martial artist. He’s been in “As Tears Go By”, “God Of Gamblers”, “Saviour of the Soul” and perhaps most famously to Western audiences, the “Infernal Affairs” series (which Martin Scorsese remade as “The Departed”) and “House Of Flying Daggers”. He never made the move to the USA, but he’s great and this looks like a fun early film from him.

I think this movie summed up in a paragraph will have you either racing for the door or clearing your schedule for the next few hours, so here goes. The Hong Kong police’s elite group is called “The Hunting Eagles”, which consists of Andy Lau and his sidekick, who I’ll call Comic Relief. They’re called to Greece, so take Andy’s nephew (Comic Relief Jr) for no reason. While there, they kick ass, meet the KGB and two friendly Interpol agents; Comic Relief Jr smuggles a giant green crystal back into the country, which starts talking to him and doing ET-style behaviours. The KGB follow them back to Hong Kong, there are a number of fights, comic scenes and chases, then Comic Relief Jr uses the crystal to blag his way back on a plane to Greece. Everyone follows them there, there’s an Indiana Jones-style chase through a secret cave underneath the Acropolis in Athens, which it turns out was built by an alien 2000 years ago when he crash landed there. Then there’s a big final fight.

A while ago on British TV was a show called “Eurotrash”, which showed weird (usually smutty) clips from the rest of Europe: the gimmick was, rather than subtitling the clips, they’d just substitute their own dubbing with ridiculously inappropriate accents. I think they got their inspiration from this movie – Comic Relief has a weird posh English accent, three or four of the cast sound exactly the same, and best of all is the main KGB guy, played by the Australian Richard Norton. For some unknown but wonderful reason, the filmmakers chose to dub him with an Italian accent and it’s so rubbish that it’s a guaranteed laugh every time he’s on screen.

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Everything about this film is weird, like the most far-out Jackie Chan 80s movie (with the added bonus of not having Jackie’s rampant sexism throughout). They film at the actual Acropolis, and I would bet that there is zero chance of a movie in 2014 being allowed to film there for any amount of money. They mix genres with no regard for if any of it makes sense – from heist thriller to comedy to science fiction to farce to matinee adventure to kung fu – and do it at breakneck pace.

Comic Relief does basically nothing past the first 2 minutes, and that Andy Lau continues to work with him makes me wonder if the actual plot of the movie and the dubbed version are different (for instance, in the dubbed version of the movie, he’s just a friend of the family, but he really ought to be Comic Relief Jr’s dad). Cynthia Rothrock is one of the Interpol agents and is absolutely amazing – while not an actor, her martial arts ability is just off the charts and her multiple fights in different styles with different weapons are a joy to behold, all done at top speed (even if there’s a little film-speeding going on). Lau has a couple of great fights, including the gym scene and the umbrella scene….there are plenty of memorable little characters too, including Andy’s sister and the police captain.

There’s too much comedy in this movie to need so many characters who only exist for laughs, ultimately (although Sexist Comic Relief and what the magic crystal does to him is definitely worth it). Still, it rips along at an insane pace and the big reveal is so off-the-charts weird that I wonder if the filmmakers were told to crowbar in bits from “ET” and “Indiana Jones” but had seen neither so they had to sort of guess. And calling it “The Magic Crystal” is a bit of a swizz- a far more appropriate title would be “The Magic Glowing Green Lump”. It’s just so damned odd!

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Andy Lau is a great leading man, even early in his career like this. I wish he’d made the leap to Western movies, but then I think “could I name a good Jackie Chan movie after he went to the US?” There’s a few, but it’s a tiny handful, and also, seeing how the great Sammo Hung fared, acting in his second language, makes me glad Lau never tried.

Rating: thumbs up

Youtube Film Club: Tiger Claws 3 (2000)

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I’d call the end of this film an insult, but that would imply that the filmmakers understood human emotion well enough to insult people. With the honourable exception of a fine OTT turn from Loren Avedon, everything in this film is stupid or confusing –  although even his use is weird because he’s a top-level martial artist and doesn’t fight at all. It’s like having Fred Astaire in your movie and not bothering to have him dance.

Jalal Merhi and Cynthia Rothrock are back in New York, and it seems at some point in the last decade Jalal had an acting lesson because he has several emotions in this movie. Well done, sir! Anyway, they nearly arrest a guy dressed like a ninja, and thanks to this save the contents of a warehouse, which leads to them getting invited to a charity event, for some reason held in the same place that most of part 1 was set – the gym with the huge tiger painted on the wall. If only New York had any other nice places!

Anyway, like 20 people are at this fundraiser, so it’s obviously a huge failure. They still have the big event of the evening, though, which is Avedon (the amazingly named “Stryker Goodenough”), who looks strangely familiar to our two cops, unveiling three old martial arts outfits which belonged to some masters from 500 years ago (or 2000, depending on which bit of dialogue you listen to). A few chants and some lightning later, and we’ve got three ancient and evil martial arts masters running around! I’m really not sure why this was the centrepiece of the evening, in case you were wondering.

Everyone who was there dies, with the exception of Jalal. Yes, sorry Cynthia – since you and Jalal never really shared any screen time in the previous two, and had negative chemistry, perhaps it was for the best. Anyway, the Three Furies (I don’t know what they’re really called, but that’ll do; it’s either that or “imagine the three baddies from Superman 2 were Chinese”) go on a bit of a tear through New York – when Stryker finds them to control them, he uses them to take over the Chinese mafia territory. The main mafia boss has an English accent, which I found a bit weird, but “a bit weird” is a low level for this movie so I let it slide.

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Jalal needs to train in the even ancienter and secreter art of the Black Tiger to defeat the Furies, so luckily there’s Master Jin (Carter Wong, “Big Trouble In Little China”), the same guy who trained Stryker, knocking about to help. Problem is, the Black Tiger style looks absolutely ridiculous, lots of “jazz hands”, but…ah, who cares. As Jalal and Jin are driving to the training venue, he asks where it is and Jin says “I don’t know where it is, but I know how to get there”. Now, when they arrive it’s a large house with a training barn off to the side, and Jin clearly owns it. Why not just tell him where it is? YOU SUCK, MOVIE

So Jalal trains, in a series of montages that martial arts movie fans will have seen a hundred times before, and despite Jin not knowing where it is, Stryker does and sends some goons out to kill them all. When he dispatches the killers, he’s wearing a towel and the Furies are eating fried chicken. At some unspecified point in the future, one of the killers comes back to say they failed; Stryker still wearing a towel, Furies still eating fried chicken, same room. How fast were they?

There are a very few fun things in this movie, though. One is Russell Peters, the standup and occasional actor, as a cop. Aside from a tiny part in a Canadian indie movie 6 years before, this is his first role, and he’s great. Well, at least compared to everyone else – he and Avedon act rings round the rest of the cast. Then there’s a scene where Jalal goes to a bar to brood, but because he’s a Muslim and teetotal, he buys the old man sat across from him booze and watches him drink it. Quite clever, I thought.

Loren, you magnificent bastard

Loren, you magnificent bastard

As I only watched this series of movies to see Avedon in part 3, I now just wish he’d been the star of all of them. They’d have been lighter, funnier, the action would have been better and the rest of the cast might have felt like upping their game a little. But Merhi paid for them, and that means Merhi got to star in them.

Oh, and the ending is…it was all a dream. WHAT? He wakes up at the fundraiser, just in time to stop Avedon, who he remembers is the guy he was trying to arrest the other day, and that’s that. Cynthia is still alive, the crowd boos, and we can all go home. What a horrible mess.

Rating: thumbs down

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