Hong Kong goes West - When Hong Kong film makers attempt to break the Western market - part 4
It would be three years after the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon before Chow Yun Fat would star in another film. Surprisingly he decided to follow that classic up with the comic book movie Bulletproof Monk (2003), which was sadly beneath him at this point in his career.
The plotline is overly simplistic, making the film feel as if it was aimed at children. Hong Kong action director Tung Wai was on board to work on the fight scenes, although his work here doesn’t show him at his best with an overuse of wire-work. Director Paul Hunter preferring to use quick cuts instead of showing the skills of the stunt performers doesn’t help the action either.
As well as having involvement from Chow Yun Fat and Tung Wai, the film also has John Woo and Terence Chang listed as producers, although it is not clear how involved they were in regards to the final product, as the film clearly went through a number of reshoots with the director commenting that he had changed the ending and removed a number of scenes due to feedback from a preview audience. The deleted scenes are available on the DVD release of the film.
Considering that Jackie Chan’s previous Hollywood movie The Tuxedo didn’t exactly show him at his best, it was somewhat of a surprise that Shanghai Knights (2003), sequel to the earlier Shanghai Noon would turn out to possibly be his best Hollywood feature, almost reaching the high point of his Hong Kong work.
Considerably sillier than the original film, Shanghai Knights this time has Chan and Owen Wilson travelling to London and getting involved with the villainous Aiden Gillen. The film has a great number of Chan’s trademark action scenes. The best of these has Chan taking on a group of thugs with an umbrella in a scene inspired by Singing in the Rain (1952), one of Chan’s favourite films.
The film also has the added bonus of having Donnie Yen show up as one of the films villains, taking on Chan in a memorable fight scene. Due to this, the fight between Chan and Aiden Gillen in the finale fails to live up to what had come before, but this is a minor fault in an otherwise excellent action film.
Although the idea of Jackie Chan starring in an adaptation of Around the World in Eighty Days (2004) sounds ridiculous, it would turn out to be one of his better Hollywood efforts. Chan works well with co-star Steve Coogan with them making a good double act. The globe-trotting adventure also gives Chan various action scenes containing the usual excellent choreography, almost up there with the previous year’s Shanghai Knights.
Director Frank Coraci directs the film and its action scenes with a sure hand, surprising considering that his previous films were comedies like The Wedding Singer (1998) and the Waterboy (1988). It does help the film that Jackie Chan himself was action director.
As well as Jackie Chan the film also has Karen Mok, here credited as Karen Joy Morris, playing one of the main villains of the film, General Fang. Mok is great in the role, chewing the scenery every chance she gets and also handles herself well in her fight scenes with Chan.
There are also appearances from a number of other Hong Kong stars such as Sammo Hung, Daniel Wu and Maggie Q.
French Director Julien Seri’s Le fils du vent (2004), would be another overlooked international action movie to feature the work of a Hong Kong action director, this time being Xin Xin Xiong who fans will remember as portraying Club Foot in Once Upon a Time in China 3 (1993).
Originally released in France under its original title, it would then be re-released under the name of The Great Challenge in 2006 only to be re-released yet again in 2010 as Sons of the Wind: Bangkok Ninjas. This does the film a disservice, as although the film is not a classic, it didn’t deserve its shoddy release schedule.
Made as a loose sequel to the Luc Besson produced Yamakasi (2001). Le fils du vent is a better realised film in terms of action with a number of excellently done parkour and fight scenes, with Yamakasi member Chau Belle Dinh being especially impressive in a more leading role.
The fight scenes by Xin Xin Xiong are well done, the highlight being a fight scene that takes place on bamboo scaffolding that looks especially dangerous. Xin Xin Xiong would create a similar scene in his later Hong Kong directorial effort Coweb (2009)
With the first Transporter film being a surprising success, a sequel was quickly put into development. As mentioned earlier, Louis Letterrier took over as director giving the film a much slicker look than its predecessor. Transporter 2 (2005) turned out to be even better than the first film with better production values, partly due to the change of location from France to Miami.
There are also a number of great action scenes, choreographed yet again by Yuen Kwai, with the action even more over the top than the original. The film is pretty much The Jason Statham show, with him appearing in almost every scene, with co-stars like Matthew Modine and Amber Valletta not getting a great deal to work with. Only Francis Berleand from the original film gets a chance to shine in his limited screen time as French Cop Tarconi.
In the same year Jet Li followed up Cradle to the Grave with the excellent Danny the Dog (2005). Alternatively known as Unleashed, the film finds Jet Li as a man who is kept like an animal by gangster Bob Hoskins. Hoskins has him wear a collar, which he only removes whenever he wants Li to fight.
Li manages to escape and falls in with kindly Morgan Freeman, a blind piano tuner, and his stepdaughter (Kerry Condon). Everything is going well until Hoskins tracks him down, with the majority of the action coming in the second half of the film.
Directed by Louis Letterrier, coming off strongly from Transporter 2 and produced by Luc Besson, Danny the Dog in my opinion is the best of Jet Li’s western output. Jet Li has never exactly been the best actor, but the role of Danny plays to his strengths. Morgan Freeman as usual gives solid support, but it is Bob Hoskins who steals the show, chewing the scenery every chance he gets.
The majority of the film was shot in Glasgow, Scotland, which gives the film a different feel from other similar action thrillers. This time Yuen Woo Ping carried out the action choreography, although it is more in line with his 1980’s output, with the fights being increasingly brutal, and the polar opposite of his work in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).
Director Andrzej Bartkowiak had previously worked with a Hong Kong action director on two of his previous films as director, with Yuen Kwai working on both Romeo Must Die and Cradle to the Grave. Perhaps this is the reason he employed Hong Kong action director and stuntman Dion Lam to be action choreographer on Doom (2005), an adaptation of the famous video game.
Like most movies based on video games, it fails to live up to expectations. That is not to say that there isn’t fun to be had, with the action being suitably violent, although considering it is based on Doom, there isn’t as much action as expected.
Although the promotional material tried to sell the film as a vehicle for WWE star The Rock (Dwayne Johnson), the lead role is actually played by Karl Urban. Both Urban and The Rock handle themselves well throughout, although The Rock gets the better of the two roles.
Not a complete success but also not a complete failure, Doom makes for a decent time filler. The action is well done, although Dion Lam doesn’t get a great chance to show what he is capable of, with the only fight scene of note being the finale between Urban and The Rock.
Andy Cheng has continued to work in Hollywood on films like Welcome to the Jungle (2003) and more recently Olympus has Fallen (2013), although he hasn’t left Hong Kong cinema totally behind, assisting Sammo Hung on the fight scenes for Tai Chi Zero (2012).
After working as fight choreographer and stunt performer, he finally made his directorial debut with the DTV thriller End Game (2006). Surprisingly, End Game turned out to be a political thriller, and not the action movie that was expected. There are a number of smaller scale action scenes and a well done car chase during the film, but there is nothing that any other DTV director couldn’t handle.
For a DTV movie, End Game has quite a good cast, led by regular DTV performer Cuba Gooding Jr. Gooding Jr gives a decent performance as a burnt out Secret Service agent trying to solve the assassination of the president. There is a solid supporting cast including Angie Harmon, Anne Archer, James Woods, Peter Greene and Burt Reynolds.
The main drawbacks of the film are that the plot when revealed is ridiculous and the film ends up being anti-climatic. It is still a decent time waster as long as the viewer doesn’t expect too much.
Considering his success of late, it is surprising how difficult Donnie Yen found it to break the Hollywood market. Although he had already made appearances in Highlander: Endgame, Blade 2 and Shanghai Knights, fame in the Western market still eluded him.
Due to this he found himself working behind the scenes on a number of projects. He directed the opening cinematic of the video game Onimusha 3 (2003), which features another Hong Kong movie star, Takeshi Kaneshiro before moving on to co-direct the Hong Kong movies The Twins Effect (2003) and Protégé de la Rose Noire (2004).
From this Yen travelled to Britain to work on the British action thriller Stormbreaker (2006) as action director. Based on Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider novels, it was envisaged that Stormbreaker would be the start of a series akin to the Harry Potter series. Sadly this was not to be. Most complaints made against the film have been in regards to changes from the novel, which are surprising as the script was written by Horowitz himself.
Donnie Yen only really gets fleeting chances to show his skill as an action choreographer, the best of these when lead actor Alex Pettyfer takes on a gang in a scrap yard. Luckily the same year would have great success with his own starring vehicle S.P.L.
After making his American directorial debut with Belly of the Beast, Ching Siu Tung would travel further afield for his next international film, working as action director on the Indian superhero movie Krrish (2006).
Made as a sequel to the earlier Koi... Mil Gaya (2003), Krrish was one of Bollywood’s first attempts at a superhero movie, which can be evident at some points in the film with it being overly long like many Bollywood films. This is down to the musical numbers that are peppered throughout. There is no denying that the film is well made, being excellently shot with high production values, although the special effects can vary in quality.
In addition Hrithik Roshan makes a great leading man and does well in his action scenes, which are well choreographed by Ching Siu Tung although don’t measure up to his Hong Kong work.
Yuen Kwai would have another stab at directing a Hollywood feature at this point, going on to make D.O.A. Dead or Alive (2006), an adaptation of the popular fighting game. Completely ridiculous although it can’t be denied that it gives its audiences exactly what they would expect. The majority of this being made up of beautiful woman fighting people whilst wearing the skimpiest of clothing.
As well as beautiful woman, D.O.A. boasts Eric Roberts with magic glasses, a role for Hong Kong star Collin Chou, wrestling legend Kevin Nash and Kane Kosugi showing up as Ryu Hayabusa of Ninja Gaiden fame.
Yuen Kwai directs the film with considerable skill, seemingly knowing exactly the type of film he was making with it being similar in tone to his earlier Hong Kong movie So Close (2002)
Considering the success overseas with the Infernal Affairs trilogy, it is surprising that the Hollywood debut of director Andrew Lau managed to fly under the radar. More surprisingly was that it was headlined by a big Hollywood star in the shape of Richard Gere. The Flock (2007) is a serial killer thriller supported by good performances from its leads, Richard Gere and Claire Danes, and shot in an unflashy style, fitting the tone of the film.
It is not clear what attracted Andrew Lau to make The Flock, as even though it is well made, there is nothing included in the film that any other director could handle. For anyone interested in The Flock I would recommend the British release of the film, as this is director Andrew Lau’s own cut of the film. As previously mentioned the version released in America was taken from Lau and re-cut by producer Phillip Martinez, removing a number of scenes and also including additional scenes shot by another director.
Jason Statham clearly wasn’t happy with working with just one Hong Kong fight choreographer, that he felt the need to sign on for In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007), which had him working under Ching Siu Tung. That has to be the reason as any other explanation on why he would choose to make an Uwe Boll film wouldn’t make sense.
The film would actually turn out to be one of Boll’s better films, although when you look at the dreck he has produced in the past like House of the Dead (2004) and Alone in the Dark (2005), it wouldn’t be hard. The film is still terrible with actors like Ray Liotta and Burt Reynolds looking uncomfortable and bored.
Even Jason Statham only really comes alive during the films action scenes. Lead actress Claire Forlani is possibly the worst offender, with her seeming to get over her son’s death quite quickly. Of course a lot of the blame for this could be put on Boll who doesn’t seem to know how to direct an actor.
The only saving grace of the film is the well-choreographed action, although Ching has done better before and since. The idea of working on a Hollywood feature with big stars must have been too much for Ching to turn down, and he is the only one that comes out of the film looking well.
After starring together in The One, it would be a number of years before Jet Li and Jason Statham would share the screen. With War (2007), their screen time is more evenly matched as Statham had become quite the action star himself in the interim. There were a lot of expectations on War, most of which the film doesn’t really meet, with the on screen confrontation between Li and Statham being nowhere as memorable as it should be. The sudden ending doesn’t do the film any favours either.
Director Philip G Atwell gives the film an overall slick look, and audiences should be thankful that the film goes for an R rating, with the majority of the action being quite violent. Both Li and Statham get a handful of well-done action scenes, once again choreographed by Yuen Kwai, but both have certainly done better.
For Hong Kong cinema fans also look out for Mark Cheng who plays a small supporting role but still manages to make an impression. Li also gets to take on Japanese martial artist Kane Kosugi, although it is a wasted opportunity and over in less than a minute.
Jackie Chan would finally return to the Rush Hour Franchise at this point, with the third entry in the series, Rush Hour 3 (2007). It is apparent that they didn’t save the best till last, with Rush Hour 3 being a sub-par entry into the series, with the formula now starting to wear thin.
Rush Hour 3 is also the least action heavy of the three films, focusing more on the comedy aspects of the film. There are a number of good action scenes, but don’t even come close to any of Chan’s best. One of the highlights is a fight between Chan and lead villain Hiroyuki Sanada that takes place in the Eiffel Tower, although the use of CGI dilutes the scene.
Chan has spoken in the past that he could never understand the appeal of the Rush Hour series, although he has since said that he was considering making a fourth part. There has also been a short lived television series in the meanwhile, with martial artist Jon Foo taking over the Chan part.
2007 would also be the year that Hong Kong director Oxide and Danny Pang would direct their first Hollywood feature. Although the two brothers hail from Hong Kong and worked behind the scenes on a number of Hong Kong features such as Storm Riders (1998) and A Man Called Hero, they initially found success as directors in Thailand with Bangkok Dangerous (2000).
They end up going back to Hong Kong and directed a number of well received movies such as The Eye (2002) and Re-Cycle (2006). That is what makes their Hollywood debut so disappointing, with The Messengers (2007) being just another generic horror movie, offering nothing new to the genre.
The Pang Brothers fared slightly better with their second Hollywood endeavour, Bangkok Dangerous (2008), a loose remake of their earlier success. The setting of Thailand was retained, but with Nicolas Cage this time portraying the lead. Not exactly the best of the Pang Brothers or even Nicolas Cage, but also not even close to their worst. Bangkok Dangerous at least has good visuals and well done action scenes, although the film pales in comparison with the original.
After starring in Bulletproof Monk, Chow Yun Fat would head back to Hong Kong to star in the critically acclaimed The Postmodern Life of My Aunt (2006) from director Ann Hui. In the same year he would also star in the Zhang Yimou’s epic Curse of the Golden Flower (2006).
His next Hollywood feature after these would be a small supporting role in Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End (2007). He makes a commanding presence but sadly got little to do in the final overly long film. In the same year Chow loaned his likeness to the video game Stranglehold (2007), with him once again portraying Inspector Tequila from Hard Boiled (1992).
Flying under the radar, at least in my country, was the CBC mini-series Dragon Boys (2007). The plot is based around Asian Canadian gangs, and the attempts of a Royal Mounted Policeman trying to take them down. It gave the underrated Byron Mann a rare leading role and Hong Kong legend Eric Tsang a main role outside of his native Hong Kong.
It is unfortunate after the first two entries in The Transporter series were so enjoyable, that the final part of the original trilogy, The Transporter 3 (2008) would prove to be such a disappointment. Although Yuen Kwai was once again brought in to choreograph the action, it is poorly shot be director Olivier Megaton, who decides to just shake the camera a lot when action is happening, obscuring the movements of his actors.
It also has one of the most annoying female co-stars to appear in an action film, with Natalya Rudakova sucking the life out of any scenes. It is clearly obvious that she is not an actress. The only plus points for the film is the always dependable Jason Statham and the great Robert Knepper who plays the films main villain, although he doesn’t exactly pose a physical threat to the film’s hero.
For years fans of Jet Li and Jackie Chan had been asking if the two would consider making a film together. They both always stated they were just waiting on the right project to come along. Most fans didn’t expect that project to be The Forbidden Kingdom (2008), a family fantasy film based around the Journey to the West saga. Surprisingly The Forbidden Kingdom turned out a lot better than expected, featuring a number of well done action scenes, choreographed by Yuen Woo Ping.
The film does have its drawbacks, mainly having the film focus on Michael Angarano’s character when fans really want to see Chan and Li. Also with the family audience being the focus the action is pretty much bloodless, although it does give fans an eventual chance to see Jackie Chan and Jet Li face off against each other.
As well as Chan and Li, the film features other Hong Kong performers in supporting roles, with Colin Chou playing the films main villain and Li Bing Bing portraying a character heavily influenced by Brigitte Lin’s character from Bride with White Hair.
The Forbidden Kingdom would also be the last American made film of Chan’s in this decade, excluding his voice over work in Kung Fu Panda (2008).
After his small appearance in Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End, Chow Yun Fat would once again play a supporting role, this time in the dramatic Australian co-production The Children of Huang Shi (2008). Based upon the life of British Journalist George Hogg (Jonathon Rhys Meyers), who went on to save a group of orphaned children during the Japanese occupation of China.
Chow gets considerably more screen time than he had previously in Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End, working well alongside lead actor Jonathon Rhys Meyers. Michelle Yeoh is also great in a supporting role, but gets less screen time than her co-stars.
The Children of Huang Shi isn’t a must see, but is a well-made film about an important point in history. Fans of the actors will also probably want to give it a go as long as they don’t expect an action movie like some of their Hong Kong Work.
Considering the amount of Hong Kong talent that was involved in the production of Bodyguard: A New Beginning (2008), it is a shame that it isn’t the success that you would hope for. Made in the UK by director Chee Keong Cheung, the film has an extremely cheap look due to the film being shot on digital camera, which severely detracts from the other qualities that the film has.
The film does have decent performances, with Hong Kong actor Vincent Sze having a rare leading role as the Bodyguard of the title. Audiences may recognise him from the likes of SPL (2005), Dragon Squad (2005) and Chinese Zodiac (2012). It also gives supporting roles to Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa, Richard Ng, Carl Ng and even Big Silly Head himself Shing Fui On. Bodyguard: A New Beginning would unfortunately prove to be Shing’s last film, which is a shame.
The main cast and the action are the saving graces of the film. The action isn’t brilliant but is done well enough and is suitably gritty, choreographed by Anthony Caprio, a former member of the Jackie Chan Stuntman Association.
For reasons best known to himself, Hong Kong superstar Chow Sing Chi would produce a very Hollywood take on the Dragonball manga and anime. Dragonball: Evolution (2009) has since been disowned by not only Dragonball creator Akira Toriyama, who had no involvement in this production, but also script writer Ben Ramsey.
Instead of going for an Asian actor to portray lead character Goku, the film makers went for the extremely white Justin Chatwin. The supporting roles are also played by western actors such as Emmy Rossum and James Marsters who plays Lord Piccolo.
Chow Yun Fat does at least show up as Master Roshi, although it isn’t exactly one of his better roles even though he still manages to act his co-stars off the screen. At least the film visually looks good, but most fans of the manga and anime have a right to be upset.
Dragonball: Evolution would prove to be director James Wong’s last feature to date, with him going on to mainly work in television.
After making The Forbidden Kingdom with Jackie Chan, it would only be supporting roles that Jet Li would take part in, excluding any Hong Kong films. These only really amount to The Expendables (2010) series of films, with Li being one of the main members of the team, at least for the first film.
Li doesn’t get as much screen time as Sylvester Stallone or Jason Statham, but still gets more to do than other members of the team such as Randy Couture and Dolph Lundgren. The most memorable scene for Li actually involves himself and Lundgren going up against each other, both of them using their difference in size against the other.
Once again Jet Li had the expertise of Yuen Kwai to choreograph his own fight scenes, although the remainder of the action was handled by other action directors. Li would show up in the other two entries in the franchise but his screen time was limited, with the third film amounting to no more than a cameo.