SCREEN SHOTS

Black Belt - - CONTENTS - BY DR. CRAIG D. REID

Our en­ter­tain­ment edi­tor casts his crit­i­cal eye on the mar­tial arts com­po­nents of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, The Thou­sand Faces of Dun­jia (Tsui Hark, Yuen Woo-ping), The Mon­key King 3 (Aaron Kwok) and the new Karate Kid qs se­ries Co­bra Kai.

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

For the fad­ing rem­nants of the Re­sis­tance, it’s no longer a bat­tle to de­feat the First Or­der; it’s a last-gasp ef­fort to sur­vive. Their con­tin­ued ex­is­tence de­pends on desert bump­kin Rey (Daisy Ri­d­ley) and her quest to find and learn the Jedi mys­ter­ies from sole-sur­viv­ing Jedi knight Luke Sky­walker (Mark Hamill). Sky­walker’s fail­ure to raise a Jedi army for a fi­nal cru­sade against the New Or­der has made him a lost soul, but he re­luc­tantly ac­cepts Rey as a stu­dent. If only he can re­lease his guilt and re­con­nect with the Force so both can ful­fill their des­tinies. The fight chore­og­ra­phy in Star

Wars: The Last Jedi treads new ground. The best bat­tle is when Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey face Snoke’s blood-red ar­mored body­guards — with each guard wield­ing a tra­di­tional kung fu weapon that has a glossy space-age sheen.

The coolest weapon in the movie is a sword-length pole that breaks into solid-but-flex­i­ble sec­tions, which en­able it to be used like a whip to trap an op­po­nent’s weapon. It’s a tran­si­tional tool mod­eled af­ter the Chi­nese nine-sec­tion whip, which con­nects slen­der pieces of steel and places a knife­point at the far end. This real-life soft whip was orig­i­nally a solid iron weapon with nine ver­te­bra-like sec­tions fused to­gether.

Also su­perb is the scene in which Ren and Rey are fight­ing mul­ti­ple at­tack­ers within the same frame. Like Don­nie Yen’s Rogue One pole fight, it uses a low cam­era an­gle, a wide-an­gle lens and a dolly to track the ac­tion, and it works won­der­fully. Even bet­ter, the wide an­gle al­lows us to see both ac­tors flow­ing from one move­ment to the next.

The fi­nal duel in­volv­ing Ren and Luke is akin to those that hap­pen in

wuxia nov­els when com­bat­ants square off on a spir­i­tual level. It’s been done once in Chi­nese cinema — Yen vs. Jet Li in Hero (2002) — and the at­tempt we see in Last Jedi is ad­mirable.

THE THOU­SAND FACES OF DUN­JIA

This Tsui Hark–pro­duced, Yuen Woop­ing–directed work is a de­mented fant-Asia film de­rived from a foun­da­tion of wuxia lit­er­a­ture that dates from China’s War­ring States pe­riod

(475 – 221 B.C.). Amer­i­can crit­ics claim Tsui is re­hash­ing Marvel/DC films, in which mod­ern writ­ers cre­ate sto­ries from 80 years ago. But that’s not en­tirely ac­cu­rate. Tsui, when he was just 13, be­gan writ­ing and draw­ing comics for Viet­namese news­pa­pers while be­ing in­spired by ma­te­rial that was 2,000 years old.

In Chi­nese folk­lore, he­roes used fan­tas­ti­cal phys­i­cal skills in ad­di­tion to Taoist necro­mancy, I-Ching div­ina­tion and feng shui read­ings to bat­tle spir­its, ghosts, devils and mon­sters. In this re­spect, The Thou

sand Faces of Dun­jia does not dis­ap­point. The Chi­nese ti­tle of the film is Qi­men Dun­jia, with the phrase re­fer­ring to an an­cient oc­cult school whose strat­egy of war goes be­yond any­thing Sun Tzu cov­ered. The plot has an alien mon­ster land­ing on Earth, and those who would de­liver us from evil — the seven-mem­ber Wuyin Sect, in­her­i­tors of Qi­men’s magic — find them­selves fight­ing a gi­ant devil carp. Then they learn that the an­gry alien has part­nered with its earthly coun­ter­part.

Hu­man­ity’s only hope is for the sect to find the ul­ti­mate weapon, the De­stroyer of Worlds, be­fore the mon­sters do. Fur­ther­more, they must find their sect’s myth­i­cal anointed leader, who’s be­lieved to be a young maiden waif im­pris­oned in a men­tal ward. Mean­while, the united mon­sters get closer to gain­ing con­trol of the De­stroyer of Worlds.

Dun­jia quickly be­comes a VFX spec­ta­cle in which vil­lains fight less with phys­i­cal skills and more with so­phis­ti­cated posturing, kung fu poses, and con­torted fin­ger and hand ges­tures that un­leash their evil. One feisty fight oc­curs in a ghost town when a pos­sessed mor­tal ac­cesses his chi to ma­nip­u­late an army of hov­er­ing cir­cu­lar blades sur­round­ing his body. With mar­tial fury, he sets the ro­tat­ing ra­zors on the he­roes with slic­ing-and-dic­ing gore. Thor may throw a ham­mer, Scar­let Witch may wave a hand and Luke may hold a lightsaber in a sim­ple pose, but none of them com­mands the cool­ness that Chi­nese su­per­heroes do, with their full-body ex­pres­sions that mesh with their char­ac­ter’s kung fu skills.

The movie doesn’t end with the type of rock-and-roll bed­lam we’ve come to ex­pect from ac­tion di­rec­tor Yuen. In­stead, he in­tro­duces a fear­less leader and a way­ward rube con­sta­ble to spice things up — and pave the way for a se­quel.

THE MON­KEY KING 3

If you’ve seen Jet Li in The For­bid­den

King­dom (2008), you may re­call that he por­trayed Swuin Wu-kong, aka the Mon­key King. The char­ac­ter comes from the 100-chap­ter Chi­nese clas­sic known as Jour­ney to the West, writ­ten in the 16th cen­tury. In the saga, Wukong, ac­com­pa­nied by his kung fu broth­ers Zhu Ba-jie (a pig that wields a rake) and Xia Wu-jing (a sand crea­ture that uses a monk’s spade), sets out to pro­tect a Bud­dhist monk named Tang San-tsang as he trav­els to In­dia to col­lect sa­cred scrip­tures.

In the lat­est in­car­na­tion of the story, ti­tled The Mon­key King 3, the out­ra­geously en­ter­tain­ing Wu-kong (Aaron Kwok) scraps with gi­ant scor­pi­ons and tack­les a jilted an­drog­y­nous River God. He’s also pro­tect­ing Zhu, Xia and Tang from Asian ama­zons who are bent on ex­e­cut­ing them for the crime of be­ing male.

The duel against gi­ant scor­pi­ons is in­ge­nious. It re­minds one of the man-mon­ster matches seen in old flicks

that fea­tured Ray Har­ry­hausen’s spe­cial-ef­fects wiz­ardry. It sounds strange, but this film­mak­ing tech­nique makes the scor­pi­ons’ move­ments more fan­tasy-gen­uine rather than crisp and clean.

When Wu- kong springs into full­fight mode, wield­ing his golden pole like a tor­nado, his body spin­ning like a Tas­ma­nian devil, he blocks the scor­pi­ons’ pin­cers and stingers, then bashes them in the nick of time be­fore his friends get maimed. It makes the ac­tion feel some­how au­then­tic.

A re­cur­ring is­sue in su­per­hero films in the East and the West is that you feel the char­ac­ters aren’t in any real dan­ger. When this hap­pens, it’s even more im­per­a­tive for the ac­tion chore­og­ra­pher to make the fights more vis­ually thrilling by cre­at­ing never-be­for­e­seen ways for the he­roes to wage war and bran­dish their weapons. In this re­spect, Mon­key King 3 is a suc­cess.

What makes it more in­ter­est­ing is that the film’s endgame isn’t about Wu-kong’s trans­for­ma­tion or mat­u­ra­tion. It’s about how the fate of the world is hang­ing in the bal­ance: Will Tang fall in love with a woman, or will he choose his love for mankind?

CO­BRA KAI

It’s been 30 years since Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Mac­chio) de­feated Johnny Lawrence (Wil­liam Zabka) with an off-bal­ance, white-cranekung-fu-in­flu­enced, Ok­i­nawan goju

ryu jump­ing front kick at the 1984 All Val­ley Karate Tour­na­ment. But just as Daniel- san thought it was safe to walk the shin­ing streets, h-ee-e-re’s Johnny! By now, you’ve prob­a­bly heard that

The Karate Kid (1984) is get­ting a 10-episode re-kick on YouTube Red. The new se­ries, ti­tled Co­bra Kai, will re­veal how the ri­valry be­tween the now mid­dle-aged mar­tial artists has evolved. It begs the ques­tion, Is it go­ing to be a re­match or a test of who is the bet­ter teacher?

Daniel is now a fam­ily man who owns the Val­ley’s top car deal­er­ship, which runs smoothly thanks to his wife’s busi­ness savvy. Johnny has never quite got­ten over his de­feat. He’s be­come a short-tem­pered, bor­der­line-al­co­holic sin­gle par­ent to his street-smart son, who of­ten fends for him­self. Spawned by a chance en­counter with Daniel, Johnny’s last grasp at find­ing him­self hinges on re­dis­cov­er­ing his roots and re­open­ing the de­spi­ca­ble dojo.

The man re­spon­si­ble for recre­at­ing Karate Kid’s fight chore­og­ra­phy but with a 2018 look is Hiro Koda, a long­time yoshukai karate prac­ti­tioner who be­gan his film ca­reer in 1992. Even though it’s touted as a com­edy, it ap­pears that Co­bra Kai is in good com­bat­ive hands.

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