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Hong Kong goes West - When Hong Kong film makers attempt to break the Western market - part 6

Darren Murray
Hong Kong goes West - When Hong Kong film makers attempt to break the Western market - part 6

It would turn out that Enthiran wouldn’t be the only Indian film that Yuen Woo Ping would work on. He would go on to create the fight scenes for the romantic thriller I (2014). Although it does have some well directed fight scenes throughout the film, its excessive length and overstretched plot don’t do the film any favours, making viewing of I a decidedly mixed bag. It also pales in comparison to his work on the previous year’s Man of Tai Chi.

In some cases, there are a number of films that have fleeting appearances from Hong Kong stars, like Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014). Although Li Bingbing plays a main role in the film as Stanley Tucci’s assistant, there is blink and you will miss it appearances from the likes of Michael Wong and Ray Lui. This is possibly due to a large part of the film being filmed in Hong Kong and the need for the production to use local people in the film.

After the end of her television show Nikita, Maggie Q would continue in television, this time starring in Stalker (2014 -2015), a police procedural about victims of stalking. The show was short lived, with only one season being shown before its cancellation. The main plotline of the show would turn out to be unresolved. The only thing of note in regards to Stalker was that Maggie Q met her Fiancé Dylan McDermott on the show.

During this time, Maggie Q would also play a small role in the science fiction movie Divergent (2014), although her screen time is limited. She has returned for the other two entries in the series Insurgent (2015) and Allegiant (2016).

Michael Mann’s Blackhat (2015) may not be one of his all time classics like Heat (1995), but it still makes for an exciting cyber thriller. Headlined by Chris Hemsworth, the majority of the film takes place in Hong Kong which enables the production to bring in some Chinese talent.

This comes in the form of Leehom Wang who has starred in a good deal of Hong Kong films in his career, with films like China Strike Force (2000), The Avenging Fist (2001) and Little Big Soldier (2010). In addition to this he had a role in Ang Lee’s Lust Caution (2007), where he had co-starred earlier with Blackhat co-star Tang Wei.

Tang Wei is no stranger to Hong Kong films herself, showing up in director Peter Chan’s Wuxia (2011) and smash hit Monster Hunt (2015) amongst others. As well as Leehom Wang and Tang Wei, the film also has a smaller role for Andy On, who stars as a Hong Kong inspector.

Jason Statham has done some of his best fight scenes when Yuen Kwai is working as choreographer. This is evident in even smaller scale films such as Wild Card (2015), which is essentially a crime drama with a small helping of bone crunching action thrown in.

Wild Card features one of Statham’s best performances with him being ably backed up by the likes of Stanley Tucci, Anne Heche, Michael Angarano and Milo Ventimiglia in smaller supporting roles. Wild Card was previously made as Heat (1988) which starred Burt Reynolds. Both versions of the film were based on the novel by William Goldman, although Wild Card boasts a screenplay by Goldman as well.

Both films have their drawbacks, with Heat having poorly shot action scenes but a great lead performance from Reynolds, whereas Wild Card has excellently shot action scenes but can be guilty of having a slower pace and being anti-climatic. Wild Card certainly looks better that Heat, with director Simon West being far more accomplished than directors Dick Richards and Jerry Jameson.

The fact that Daniel Wu is from America, it is perplexing why it has taken him so long to find success there. Primarily working in Hong Kong cinema, he has appeared in a variety of excellent productions, with highlights being Teddy Chen’s Purple Storm (1999), One Nite in Mongkok (2004) and Overheard (2009).

Wu has a background in martial arts but has chosen for the majority of his career to focus on more dramatic roles, which although may contain action scenes aren’t primarily martial arts scenes.

As mentioned earlier Wu had previously a supporting role in Man with the Iron Fists before he would star in the AMC television series Into the Badlands (2015) which is loosely based on the Journey to the West Legend. Wu Plays the lead role of Sunny, getting ample chances to show his martial arts prowess, with the action scenes being suitably violent and well choreographed.

Daniel Wu’s friend and fellow Hong Kong star Stephen Fung was one of the producers of Into the Badlands, with him also contributing to the series as action director. Fung would go on to direct episodes for the upcoming second season.

In regards to Stephen Fung, he was originally scheduled to direct the remake of 1980’s classic Kickboxer (1989). The film had hardly begun production before it was announced that Fung had left, to be replaced by John Stockwell.

It hasn’t been made totally clear the reasons behind Fung’s departure, although upon viewing the film it is evident that there were some issues with the production. Kickboxer: Vengeance (2016) isn’t the disaster that was expected although there are some clear issues with the film such as Jean Claude Van Damme’s voice being dubbed by another actor in certain scenes.

The Cinemax television series Strike Back (2010) had already been running for four seasons before Michelle Yeoh would show up in 2015 for the fifth season. Originally introduced as the wife of a British politician, it wasn't long before Yeoh's true purpose in the show was revealed, with her going on to be the lead villain throughout the remainder of the season.

It could never be complained that Strike Back has a lack of excitement, with extremely violent action throughout, rivalling many big budget action movies of the time. Lead actors Philip Winchester and Sullivan Stapleton make for great action heroes, doing a lot of their own stunts.

Surprisingly Yeoh's action scenes in the show ere limited although she is still good in the role. She is suitably backed up by the great Will Yun Lee who plays a Korean general in cahoots with her.

At the time of its release, season 5 was meant to be the last season of the series, but it has recently been announced that the show is to return to screens in 2018, but with a change of cast.

RZA would return as his character the Blacksmith  for The Man with the Iron Fists 2(2015), which although not as fun as the original works better as an action movie, with director Roel Reine taking over the helm as director.

Considering that it does not have the budget of the original film, the sequel still looks expensive. This is partly to do with director Reine who always seems to get the most from his budget.

This time RZA takes a backseat and plays a more supporting role, with Dustin Nguyen essentially playing the lead. Hong Kong actor Carl Ng is extremely over the top as Master Ho, clearly relishing his villain role. There is also a smaller role for his fellow Hong Kong actor Andrew Lin, who fans may recognise from films like 2000 AD (2000) and the more recent Triple Tap (2010).

More recently actor Daniel Wu has worked on the fantasy movie Warcraft (2016), based on the popular role playing game. Although the film wasn’t as well received as expected, there is still enjoyment to be had and is better than its reputation would give it credit for. The film was enough of a success in China for a sequel to be considered.

In regards to Wu, he can’t be seen on screen with his performance being all done through motion capture, just like his fellow co-stars Toby Kebbell and Clancy Brown. Unless you were told there is no way of knowing that it is Daniel Wu portraying the main villain of the film. At least Warcraft gave Wu a chance to work on a big budget production for change, and enable him to raise his profile in the West.

With his work on Into the Badlands and to a lesser extent Warcraft, Daniel Wu has been getting a number of offers to work on Hollywood productions. Most recently it was announced that he would be co-starring with Alicia Vikander and Walton Goggins in the adaptation of the video game Tomb Raider (2017).

Fans had waited 16 years for a sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). There had been multiple rumours regarding a sequel and the cast through the years, with Jet LI at one point being rumoured to star. Eventually it would be streaming service Netflix that would bring it to the screen.

Expectations were probably too high for any film to live up to, with the sequel Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016) going on to receive considerably poor reviews.

This is unfortunate, as even though it pales in comparison to the original classic, it still stands up as an enjoyable Martial Arts film, closer in style to director Yuen Woo Pings directorial output than the works of original director Ang Lee.

Michelle Yeoh is the only returning face from the original film, although takes somewhat of a back seat at some points with Donnie Yen being the main focus this time round. The main drawback of the film are the two young stars in the film-Harry Shum Jr and Natasha Liu Bordizzo, who pale in comparison with Zhang Ziyi and Chang Chen who played similar roles in the first film.

One major difference from the first film was that the production was shot in English, which can be a bit jarring when comparing it with the Mandarin spoken in the original, although all of the principal cast are fluent in the language.

Both Yen and Yeoh give good performances in the film and not surprisingly perform their action scenes with ease. The action is choreographed well by Yuen Woo Ping and his stunt team although there is nothing here that rivals the excellent work that he had carried out on the original. If nothing else at least Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny raised Donnie Yen' profile in the west.

With her association with Netflix by starring in their production of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, Michelle Yeoh would go on to co-star in their television show Marco Polo (2015-2016). Originally introduced in the short movie Marco Polo: 100 Eyes (2015), Yeoh would go on to play a main role in the second season of the show.

Yeoh gets to take part in a good deal of the shows action, working alongside the terrific Tom Wu, who stars as 100 eyes. The second season has an epic feel to it, looking even more expensive than the first. Benedict Wong as Kublai Khan is still one of the main draws of the show as well as the excellent action scenes. In addition to Michelle Yeoh, also look out for a small role from Hong Kong star Collin Chou.

Due to the expensive production costs this would unfortunately prove to be the last season, with it not being given a proper finale.

In the same year Yeoh would also show up in the sequel Mechanic: Resurrection (2016), although her screen time is fleeting, with her being used in a non action capacity. The film still comes recommended, being one of Jason Statham’s more enjoyable films of late. Any realism that the first film strived for is thrown away and in its place is a film that can be compared with the best that Cannon films were releasing in the 1980’s.

Michelle Yeoh’s most recent film credit was a supporting role in the small scale Morgan (2016), a sci-fi tale from director Jake Scott, son of the more famous Ridley. This wasn’t Yeoh’s first foray into the realms of sci-fi, with her co-starring in the earlier Sunshine (2007), although that film was better realised.

Morgan has decent performances from the likes of Kate Mara, Paul Giamatti as well as Yeoh herself, but the film is overall a disappointment, offering nothing new to the genre. Visually the film stands out, with Scott at least sharing something in common with his father.

Michelle Yeoh is clearly a fan of science fiction with her recently being announced as one of the stars of the new Star Trek show, Star Trek: Discovery (2017). Hopefully this will turn out to be a substantial role for her that truly lets her show off her talents.

In regards to Donnie Yen’s international success, it was a case of better late than never. Multiple attempts to break the American market with films like Highlander Endgame (2000) and Shanghai Knights (2003) proved to be futile. With this he had returned to Hong Kong to become one of its most popular action stars, going on to make classics like S.P.L (2005), Flash Point (2007) and the IP Man Trilogy.

With these, Hollywood finally began to take a clearer interest in Yen’s talent. By 2016, he would find himself taking part in possibly the biggest film franchise on the planet, co-starring in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016).

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) is a very different type of Star Wars story, being more like a men on a mission film ala The Dirty Dozen (1967) or Where Eagles Dare (1968), with the focus being the team that attempt to steal the plans of the infamous Death Star.

Although actress Felicity Jones gets top billing, the film is really an ensemble piece, with every character getting their chance to shine. Although Yen only gets one main fight scene, his character is still more interesting than either Jones or her co-star Diego Luna who lead the team. Backed up by the equally great Jiang Wen, Yen steals many of his scenes and it’s a shame that due to the nature of the film that he probably won’t be making any further appearances in the Star Wars universe.

It would be a number of years after the release of The Green Hornet before Jay Chou would grace American movies with his presence. He would end up playing a small part in Now You See Me 2 (2016), a slightly poorer sequel to the smash hit original. Chou’s role doesn’t amount o much, with him only on hand for a handful of scenes.

Due to the success of both the Now You See Me films in China, a Chinese made spin off has been announced, with Chou as the lead.

Director Zhang Yimou has made his fair share of classics, with art house fare like Raise the Red Lantern (1991) and Shanghai Triad (1995) as well as his martial arts epics Hero (2002), House of Flying Daggers (2004) and Curse of the Golden Flower (2006).

That is why it surprising that he would end up making the sadly lacking The Great Wall (2016).Made as a Chinese American co-production, the film is suitably lavish in parts with the money clearly shown on the screen. What is disappointing is a poor lead performance from Matt Damon, and the majority of the Chinese cast being given short thrift, other than lead actress Tian Jing, who is actually more of the lead hero than Damon.

The Great Wall also has small roles for the likes of Zhang Hanyu, Eddie Peng and the great Andy Lau who at least gets more screen time than his other co-stars. Sadly it’s a non action role, with him being the Chief Strategist. At least it has given actress Tian Jing more opportunities in the West, with her showing up in two big budget productions, Kong: Skull Island (2017) and the forthcoming Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)

Director/Producer Luc Besson has been involved previously in bring Hong Kong talent to the West. He produced what is undoubtedly Jet Li’s fines Western films, Kiss of the Dragon (2001) and Danny the Dog (2005). He also has used action choreographer Yuen Kwai on multiple occasions, most notably on The Transporter series.

Once again he would be producing a film with Chinese talent, this time Chinese/French co-production Warriors Gate (2016). Similar in some respects to the earlier Jackie Chan and Jet Li film The Forbidden Kingdom (2008), Warriors Gate sadly isn’t half as fun. Like The Forbidden Kingdom its main issue is that it chooses to focus on a teenage character from the present instead of the more interesting characters.

The saving graces of the film is a supporting role from Taiwanese-Canadian actor Mark Chao, who is no stranger to Hong Kong films having starred in Tsui Hark’s Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon (2013). The film would have fared better if it focused more on Chao’s character, as he is fluent in English, is quite a good actor and handles his action scenes well.

Dave Bautista also has fun with his bad guy role, getting all the good lines although doesn’t get many action scenes, which is surprising considering his wrestling background.

Hong Kong actor Francis Ng has a smaller role, with his dialogue being noticeably dubbed by what sounds like James Hong. This is one of the film’s major failings as Ng is clearly the best actor in the cast who is not only wasted in a silly role, but gets his voice dubbed for his troubles. In addition to Ng, Hong Kong legend Kara Hui appears briefly as a mountain spirit.

Although her previous two television shows came to an end before their time, this hasn’t stopped Maggie Q from further television work. Her most recent show is the political thriller Designated Survivor (2016) which at this time is still running. Of her three shows, this is the first that she isn’t the lead character, with Kiefer Sutherland filling that role.

As well as co-starring in Designated Survivor, Maggie Q can be seen in The Crash (2017), a lacklustre financial thriller starring Frank Grillo as well as the recently announced show Queen of Canton, where she will once again co-star with Dylan McDermott.

It only took Vin Diesel sixteen years to get round to making his own sequel to the successful XXX (2000). In that time another sequel had been made, focusing on a different agent played by Ice Cube. XXX: State of the Union (2005) wasn’t as well received as the first film in the series, partly down to the missing Vin Diesel.

Still XXX: State of the Union is still an enjoyable no-brained action film, much in the same style as the first film.

For years Diesel had been speaking about his return to the franchise, partly due to his continued success with the Fast and the Furious franchise, another series that he had left only to return to at a later date.

XXX: The Return of Xander Cage (2017) is by far the silliest entry of the series, but is also the most fun. This third entry knows exactly what type of film it is, getting the balance of comedy and action just right. The sequel also has the bonus of having Donnie Yen in a supporting role, who almost steals the film from Vin Diesel.

Although Rogue One was a better showing of Yen’s dramatic potential, XXX: Return of Xander Cage has Yen in full action mode, with him performing in a number of exciting fight scenes throughout the film. As well as Yen the film also has enjoyable supporting turns from Ruby Rose, Deepika Padukone Rory McCann, Chris Wu and Thai action star Tony Jaa.

Of course XXX: The Return of Xander Cage isn’t up to the standards of Donnie Yen’s best, but for a Hollywood production it gets the job done. It has also led on to further Hollywood work for Yen, as it has been recently announced that he is going to play the lead in the film adaptation of the video game Sleeping Dogs (2014).

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Donnie YenHong KongIndiaLi BingbingMaggie QMichelle YeohZhang Yimou

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